Left or Right?

Fighting & In-fighting
Fighting & In-fighting

Picture the scene: a country on the verge of complete decay. People with no money, no food; social unrest in the streets, freedom of speech does not exist and Big Brother has such power that people cannot trust their own neighbours. This is a state in collapse, ready to implode and disappear.

Birth of Peace
Then, just as this nation is about to evaporate into nothingness a group of people appear who are ready to fight for survival, fight for freedom and fight for the right to speak out. The non-violent Solidarność is born and with it one of the most famous figures of the 20th century, Lech Wałęsa. Solidarity manages to negotiate  a level of cooperation with the communist authorities and set in motion a remarkable turn of events which, domino-like, bring about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism in Eastern Europe.

Beginning of the End
After the incredible success of the Round Table Talks which sees Solidarność sit down with their adversaries the communists, Solidarity remarkably gain a foothold in government and soon the right-wing, with Solidarity as its chief flag-bearer, becomes a real force to be reckoned with. Poland’s future looks bright and its political system seems to be reaching an equilibrium of sorts. However, with power comes intoxication and Poland’s right-wing begins to bicker, quarrel and eventually fragment. Factions appear and the unity of Solidarity crashes to an unceremonious end.

When Right is Left
A united right-wing is no more. In fact, the idea that the right-wing was ever unified was simply illusory and at most pie-in-the-sky. Solidarity was a trade union. Its doctrine of workers’ rights and equality was socialist in nature, not right-wing. The leaders of Law and Justice (PiS) and Civic Platform (PO) may share a common heritage (in Solidarity) but neither would dream of being called socialist. In reality, the closest Poland has to a Solidarity-like party is the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), the offspring of the communist Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR), sworn enemies of Solidarność.

PiS vs. PO
Polish politics is a strange beast. PiS claims to be right-wing, although at times it appears to be socialist (worker rights, pensioner rights and social hand-outs), whereas at other times it verges on fascist extremism. PO, also claiming to be right-wing, is often seen to be ultra-liberal, at times dangerously (for them) conservative. Anyone who did not know that they shared a common heritage would be most surprised. It might prove useful to finally do away with this leftist-rightest distinction as it does justice neither to Poland’s parties nor does it help in categorising them.

The Church
The terms left and right do not seem to mean anything anymore. They have become worn-out and arbitrary. In fact, the closest we can get in describing them is through the dichotomy: pro-church/anti-church, or to be more specific, pro-Catholic/anti-Catholic. In other words, in Poland, a right-wing party is (generally) a pro-Catholic party whereas a left-wing party is an anti-Catholic party. If this is the case, does this make Poland a secular or a religious state?

5 thoughts on “Left or Right?

  1. The fission of Solidarity’s inheritors into so many diverse spheres only demonstrates one thing – that Solidarity truly represented the vast majority of the Polish people, at that time.

    And I wonder whether the disintegration of traditional left/right schemes isn’t being paralleled elsewhere in the world. We’re familiar with the British political system; ‘New Labour’ is (or has been – more changes afoot, I think) an odd mix of ‘leftist’ political correctness and Thatcherite economic policies. Meanwhile, David Cameron’s Tories talk of greenness, and at least two of his shadow cabinet are openly gay (let’s see _that_ happen in Poland – can you think of a single out gay figure in Polish public life?), while his distaste for Europe and his economic proposals are reminiscent of his antecedents.

    I don’t need to remind you of Norman Davies (and others)’ contention that mid-century Fascist and Communist ideologies ‘met round the back’ and shared fundamental concepts of governing in many ways; and after the war in Poland, of course, the Communists ended up adopting elements of both Dmowski’s and Pilsudski’s nationalisms for their own purposes.

    No, the (politological) problem lies in the left/right classification, which has patently had its day. The Communist experiment should have cured political scientists of that misapprehension, but 20 years after its end, people still think in those terms.

    I’d suggest something like ‘nationalist’/’internationalist’ as a new political construct – you can put Putin, Mugabe, Ahmadinajad and the Kaczynscy on (various points along) one side, and Obama, Kevin Rudd of Australia, Vaclav Havel on the other. But it says something that I had to think very hard of some internationalist examples; the worrying rise in nationalist thinking all over the world is testimony to hard times ahead.

    Some day, one of my answers is going to be longer than your original post. 😀

  2. Jimster,
    As always, I love reading your replies. Muchos dziękos. 🙂
    I think the nationalist/internationalist idea is a decent one which, in effect, boils down to being tolerant and open. Perhaps open/closed may be a more reliable reflection of this?

  3. I was re-reading Anthony Beevor’s Spanish Civil War lately and was struck by how similar Franco’s Nationalists were in world-view to the PiS crowd. The ‘Beatas’ were like our Dewotki, the Carlists like 1930s versions of Młodzież Wszechpolska.

    At least today’s Poles with a different worldview to PiS aren’t faced with the rotten choice of stalinism or anarcho-syndicalism.

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