Here we present an article by Polish Marxists from Czerwony Front (Red Front) about the presidential elections in Poland, which took place on 28 June and 12 July 2020, resulting in the re-election of Andrzej Duda. We outline the position of Polish Marxists in relation to the elections and what the elections themselves mean for the Polish working class.
On 28 June this year, finally, the first round of elections for the president of Poland took place, after the farce of the May “correspondence vote", which cost the state budget 70 million zlotys, despite ultimately not taking place. As was to be expected, the winner of this exclusively male competition was Andrzej Duda, a candidate supported by the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), obtaining 43.5 percent of the vote. Far behind him, with a result of 30.46 percent, was Rafał Trzaskowski, the candidate of the liberal establishment and the current president of Warsaw from the Civic Platform (PO). Behind these two were: the liberal Catholic and media personality Szymon Hołownia (13.87 percent), Krzysztof Bosak (6.78 percent) representing the extreme right, Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz from Polish People’s Party (PSL) with 2.36 percent, and Robert Biedroń, supported by the Left (2.22 percent). Significantly, the Left candidate Biedroń had a worse result than Magdalena Ogórek, the 2015 candidate of the previous incarnation of the Left – SLD (Alliance of Democratic Left) – and who has become a popular journalist of the right-wing media. It is a waste of the proverbial ink to write about these irrelevancies.
As the first round had not been conclusive, on 12 July we were witnesses to a rerun of this dull charade – this time however, it was between only Duda and Trzaskowski, i.e. a fight between the conservative right and the liberal right. The former ultimately emerged victorious with 51.03 percent of the vote, whereas the latter obtained 48.97 percent.
We, Polish Marxists associated with Czerwony Front, did not support any of the candidates in the first round, and in the second round we called for a boycott of the elections. Why did we take such a position? And what conclusions can we draw from the election results, especially as pertaining to the condition of the left in Poland?
Theory, theory and theory again
Marxist theory is the accumulated experience of the working class collected over the centuries. Thanks to theory, we can analyse current events and draw conclusions. The issue of elections and democracy occupies an important place within Marxism.
Communists are not utopians – unlike the reformists we do not delude ourselves that by voting it is possible to make a lasting social change. The “revolution at the ballot box” is an oxymoron, for historical experience teaches us that no ruling class has ever given up power without a fight and bloodshed. All the more so because, as human society progresses to capitalism, each successive ruling class is more powerful than the previous one and has better and better means of controlling the exploited and keeping power.
This is why we, as communists, do not lie to the proletariat; we do not tell fairy tales like: “the poor majority can vote out the rich minority” and create a new, just society. The bourgeoisie will never allow that. Even if a left-wing government, after an electoral victory, attempts to reform the foundations of the capitalist system, the answer of the bourgeoisie will be a ruthless fight against such a government and open sabotage by the institutions of the bourgeois state, which will torpedo all initiatives of the leftist government, as well as by the owners of capital. Ultimately, if necessary, the bourgeoisie will resort to military coups, civil wars, or foreign invasions. As Lenin wrote:
“The supersession of the bourgeois state by the proletarian state is impossible without a violent revolution.” (V.I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, Chapter I).
It’s true, there were times when socialist parties won elections and created governments that were supposed to arrive at socialism peacefully. However, capitalism on these occasions was never overthrown, and the limitations of this mode of production were never overcome. Nevertheless, it has become the rule that such leftist governments end up in rivers of blood, shed by reactionary coups and foreign interventions. Latin American history provides examples in abundance.
The working class cannot seize power through the institutions of the bourgeois state or use its apparatus to build socialism. The bourgeois state must be smashed and replaced with a completely qualitatively new proletarian state.
Lenin, following Marx and Engels, wrote:
“Revolution consists in the proletariat destroying the “administrative apparatus” and the whole state machine, replacing it by a new one, made up of the armed workers. […]”
“The point is not at all whether the “ministries” will remain, or whether “committees of specialists” or some other bodies will be set up; that is quite immaterial. The point is whether the old state machine (bound by thousands of threads to the bourgeoisie and permeated through and through with routine and inertia) shall remain, or be destroyed and replaced by a new one. Revolution consists not in the new class commanding, governing with the aid of the old state machine, but in this class smashing this machine and commanding, governing with the aid of a new machine.” (V.I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, Chapter VI).
But then, are the communists rejecting elections within the bourgeois republic and calling for a boycott on every occasion? On the contrary.
The communists recognise the electoral struggle as one of the manifestations of the class struggle. Popular voting is a barometer of support for political parties, so it allows to verify to some extent support for a proletarian party. Only to some extent, because even the most moderate workers’ party has to deal with revulsion and attacks of the corporate media and state institutions (see the case of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK).
In Engels' opinion:
“And lastly the possessing class rules directly by means of universal suffrage. As long as the oppressed class – in our case, therefore, the proletariat – is not yet ripe for its self-liberation, so long will it, in its majority, recognize the existing order of society as the only possible one and remain politically the tall of the capitalist class, its extreme left wing. But in the measure in which it matures towards its self-emancipation, in the same measure it constitutes itself as its own party and votes for its own representatives, not those of the capitalists. Universal suffrage is thus the gauge of the maturity of the working class. It cannot and never will be anything more in the modern state […]” (F. Engels, Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State, Chapter IX)
Above all, the elections are an excellent opportunity for communists to present our programme and reach the masses with it, which in “normal” conditions would often be very difficult. Moreover, a communist elected to office – whether a councillor, deputy or senator – gains another platform for the proclamation of revolutionary slogans. A communist deputy would guard the interests of the proletariat not only at the parliamentary rostrum, but also on the front line of the class struggle – alongside the striking and demonstrating workers. Due to their office, such a communist would have a chance to garner much greater interest from the media and the public opinion, and thus have better opportunities to reach proletarians engaged in their daily struggle for survival.
A perfect example – and proof of the effectiveness of this tactic – are the Bolsheviks, who staunchly defended the programme of the socialist revolution in the reactionary tsarist Duma, gaining more and more popularity among the workers.
Therefore – unlike anarchists – we do not reject voting on principle.
However, we shall bear in mind that there are situations where an electoral boycott is advisable. This was the situation in Russia in 1905, when the revolutionary tide was on the rise. Similarly, Polish communists boycotted the parliamentary elections in January 1919, counting on the imminent outbreak of a revolution, and relying on the Workers' Councils (soviets) sprouting like mushrooms after the rain.
Whom to support, whom to vote for?
So where are these communist candidates for state positions?
It should be emphasised that building a mass workers’ party is a sine qua non condition for running in elections. Without adequate human and financial resources, it is impossible to conduct an election campaign, let alone control a possible communist deputy – the temptations to participate in the bourgeois state machine are enormous and can easily lead one astray into political corruption. As is well known, there is no such party in Poland. So our primary task at this point is to build the nucleus of a future revolutionary party, educating cadres and training in theory.
The present situation of Marxists, not only in Poland but also all over the world, resembles to a certain extent the situation of Leon Trotsky's supporters in the period before World War II – grouped first in the Left Opposition and then in the Fourth International. They were few and had little influence among the proletariat. Therefore, they supported the candidates of socialist or communist parties, often operating within these organisations in accordance with the tactics of entryism. However, a final barrier which cannot be crossed, was – and still is – maintaining independence from other classes, especially the bourgeoisie. As communists, we cannot participate in coalitions with bourgeois or petty-bourgeois parties – including the so-called “popular fronts” – nor support the bourgeois politicians.
However, there is nothing to prevent us from giving critical support to sincere Social Democrats such as Adrian Zandberg or Maciej Konieczny (Polish MPs of Together Party – Partia Razem). Yet we must give support bearing in mind that they are not revolutionaries, but reformists – and, unfortunately, they belong to the right-wing of the reformist tendency in the Polish workers’ movement. By no means are they seeking to build socialism, even through parliamentary methods, but to only gain moderate reforms within the limits of capitalism. They are also characterised by morbid anti-communism and their notorious competition with the right-wing about who is the most patriotic.
However, it is extremely important that the communists give critical support to the reformists so that they gain power, for only through the experience of social democratic rule can the working class learn that reformism is a dead end, and that the reformists will – in the last analysis, whenever they come to power – act in the interests of the bourgeoisie.
In times of crisis, social democracy can only be a custodian of capitalism: carrying out, with a mandate from the proletariat, the most severe “reforms", i.e. cuts and austerity, like basically all parties of Western Social Democracy, but also the neo-reformist Syriza.
That is why, in response to the doubts of the English communists in the 1920s, Lenin instructed them to support the Labour Party, explaining:
“It is true that the Hendersons, the Clyneses, the MacDonalds and the Snowdens are hopelessly reactionary. It is equally true that they want to assume power (though they would prefer a coalition with the bourgeoisie), that they want to “rule” along the old bourgeois lines, and that when they are in power they will certainly behave like the Scheidemanns and Noskes. All that is true. But it does not at all follow that to support them means treachery to the revolution; what does follow is that, in the interests of the revolution, working-class revolutionaries should give these gentlemen a certain amount of parliamentary support.”
Further Lenin writes:
“[…] the fact that most British workers still follow the lead of the British Kerenskys or Scheidemanns and have not yet had experience of a government composed of these people—an experience which was necessary in Russia and Germany so as to secure the mass transition of the workers to communism—undoubtedly indicates that the British Communists should participate in parliamentary action, that they should, from within parliament, help the masses of the workers see the results of a Henderson and Snowden government in practice, and that they should help the Hendersons and Snowdens defeat the united forces of Lloyd George and Churchill. To act otherwise would mean hampering the cause of the revolution, since revolution is impossible without a change in the views of the majority of the working class, a change brought about by the political experience of the masses, never by propaganda alone.”
“[…] we must, first, help Henderson or Snowden to beat Lloyd George and Churchill (or, rather, compel the former to beat the latter, because the former are afraid of their victory!); second we must help the majority of the working class to be convinced by their own experience that we are right, i.e., that the Hendersons and Snowdens are absolutely good for nothing, that they are petty-bourgeois and treacherous by nature, and that their bankruptcy is inevitable; third, we must bring nearer the moment when, on the basis of the disappointment of most of the workers in the Hendersons, it will be possible, with serious chances of success, to overthrow the government of the Hendersons at once […]” (V.I. Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder, Chapter 10)
It should be emphasised that the communists support all reforms to improve the position of workers within capitalism, even when carried out by the right. Our task, however, is to remind the working class that, without the seizure of power by themselves and the destruction of the bourgeois state, no reform can be fully realised and will never last. The bourgeoisie, using the state apparatus, i.e courts and civil service, will do whatever it takes to blunt the edge of any reform. The bourgeoisie will scrap reforms as soon as the pressure exerted by the working class lessens. Just look at what happened to the welfare states where, after the disappearance of the threat of the USSR, most of the gains of the previous period were gradually dismantled.
Dreaming of a proletarian president
Nobody assumes that, in current conditions, a truly revolutionary candidate for president will suddenly appear in Poland. However, one can imagine a candidate worthy of the support of every revolutionary, even if they were not entirely our cup of tea. An honest social democrat, standing firmly on the basis of a socially progressive programme, which bypasses PiS from the left, instead of pandering to the liberals, could completely change the campaign discourse and draw attention to the key problems of working Poles.
Robert Biedroń was by no means such a person. Any genuine Marxist could never lend him their support. While representing the coalition of the United Left, he was also a member of its most liberal, anti-socialist component – the Spring Party (Wiosna in Polish). The activists of the Spring Party are known more as the orphans of the fractures within Polish liberal parties, such as Nowoczesna or old Civic Platform, than as people of the Left. Spring's identification with the party of President Macron – and this during the demonstrations of the yellow vest movement – says more than a thousand words about the nature of this party.
In our opinion, Spring Party and its leader are not at all credible representatives of the left. Whilst the Left platform contained such policies as building cheap housing and defending workers' rights, it became clear during the election campaign through his speeches that Biedroń himself is no supporter of these policies. These were likely included in the programme due to pressure from the Together Party. He spoke of them rarely and without any conviction, focusing rather on the typical liberal chatter along the lines of “let's smile at each other and Poland will become the land of milk and honey.”
Biedroń was therefore not even a reformist candidate to whom a Marxist could give very critical support, but just another liberal in disguise.
The usual voters of the Left, who did not vote for him, probably thought similarly about Biedroń. While a year ago in the parliamentary elections the Left achieved a good result – 12.56 percent – now their candidate did not manage to exceed 2.5 percent. The fact that organisations that verbally support socialism, such as the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) and its youth wing, were encouraging people to vote for Biedroń, is utterly laughable, although not unexpected. The support of such tiny grouplets does not in any way change the general rejection of Biedroń as a representative of the Left.
Another thing is that, according to the polls, as many as 44 percent of the voters of the Left in 2019 chose Trzaskowski in the first round. At the same time, Trzaskowski was the most popular candidate amongst entrepreneurs and senior managers – this says a lot about the left-wing electorate in Poland. Meanwhile, people identifying as workers, unemployed and retired voted en masse for Duda. A significant part of the Left's voters are liberal petty bourgeoisie, for whom the inhuman austerity, when implemented by liberals of Civic Platform, would be better than the oppressive PiS police state, capable however of certain social concessions to the proletariat.
What has happened in Poland has parallels in other parts of the world. A layer of workers who used to vote for Left parties have become disillusioned. This is the result of one of the many crimes of Social Democracy – which implemented the most brutal social cuts, starting in the 1970s, despite winning elections thanks to leftist programmes. Some of these working-class votes went to abstention and, in some cases, even to right-wing demagogues. In some cases this has alienated the proletariat and made it break with its traditional organisations. Our task is to win the support of the workers for the proletarian, Marxist programme.
Andrzej Duda's victory in the second round of the presidential election, despite the enormous mobilisation in liberal circles, ultimately buried the hopes and dreams of the pro-EU faction of the Polish bourgeoisie. However, already before the second round of the elections, it became obvious that the biggest loser of this year's presidential elections was the Polish working class.
2020 was by no means kind to Polish workers. The COVID-19 pandemic and the associated “anti-crisis shields” (government COVID-19 emergency measures) devastated the already weak labour laws, and shifted costs from capitalists to the workers. The PiS government during the pandemic did not carry out any social transfer for the sake of the working class, but they did so with the layers of the so-called entrepreneurs.
Despite this draconian strategy, the candidate of the government camp won both rounds of the elections. To understand how this happened, we need to take a close look at the working-class experience with the presidential candidates: Andrzej Duda (PiS) and Rafał Trzaskowski (PO).
None of the candidates have any significant achievements, and are therefore only avatars of their parties.
Andrzej Duda is not treated in Poland and among the Polish working class as an independent politician. He is a mere puppet of Jarosław Kaczyński – the leader of PiS. This binds Duda, for better or for worse, with all the actions taken by the government, but these are currently assessed relatively positively by Polish society. This is the result of a number of projects aimed at modernising Poland outside big cities, such as combating transport exclusion, which over the past few decades of privatisation has meant that many places in Poland lost bus or rail connections with larger agglomerations.
Another factor were the plans (though not yet implemented) to move government agencies and institutions into the countryside. Another source of support for the government is the introduction of the minimum rate on the “piece-work contracts” (a kind of precarious contract used by Polish capitalists to circumvent labour law) in 2017, which is revalued each year (PLN 13, PLN 13.70, PLN 14.70 and PLN 17, respectively). They also helped workers on these contracts access healthcare in Poland easily. Unemployment under the PiS government has dropped to a record low level of 5 percent (January 2020). For comparison, during the period of PO rule it was around 13 percent. And finally, the 500+ Programme, i.e. the first real social programme in the Third Polish Republic, provided each family with 500 PLN for every child in a household. All of the above adds up to real material sources of support for Andrzej Duda.
The support for PiS lies exactly in these social gains, and comes despite the totally reactionary excesses of the government such as attacks on women's rights and approval for violence against the LGBT community. The march of PiS government towards a police state continues, but has not yet outweighed the “social” and “pro-worker” nature of it.
The liberals knew from the beginning that these elections would be difficult for them. However, despite the substitution of candidates in the middle of the presidential campaign (from Kidawa-Błońska to Trzaskowski) and “a gift” from Duda in the form of vicious attacks on the LGBT community, which resulted in mobilisation for Trzaskowski, they still lost out. A young, dynamic, smiling neoliberal lost to the social reforms provided under PiS rule.
The only thing Trzaskowski proposed was the continuation of the neoliberal EU model in the form of the rule of the Civic Platform. Were it not for Duda's inept attempt to mobilise the homophobic electorate, Trzaskowski's campaign would be devoid of any content except being anti-PiS, which would be reflected in an even worse election result. It is worth noting, however, that despite this campaign, Trzaskowski did not express his support for the LGBT community in any way, while instead attempting to win votes from the extreme right, represented by the far-right coalition, Confederation.
The future of the Civic Platform as an organisation is now in question. We can probably expect that it will be absorbed by a liberal big-tent organisation called “Civic Coalition” or a new, contentless creation by Trzaskowski, called “New Solidarity”. The activity of the “non-party” celebrity Szymon Hołownia is also based on winning the support of a part of the liberal electorate. However, no juggling with logos and name changes can alter the fact that the liberal parties are completely sterile in content and unable to gain the majority of support on Polish soil.
The biggest losers among the participants of the second round of the elections are undoubtedly the reformists who succumbed to pressure from liberal elements and decided to support Trzaskowski. They chose to do so without promise of any concessions from the liberals. It has been proved once again that it is impossible to create a leftist alternative to the status quo without relying on the working class.
There was a real flood of activists and supporters of the so-called left-wing parties trying to convince people that Rafał Trzaskowski is the lesser evil and calling for a vote for him to “stop PiS", even accusing the latter of fascism.
We have to cut ourselves off from such milieu and these kinds of individuals. We do not need them for anything. The fact that, in the opinion of many proletarians, this is precisely what the Left looks like is a serious obstacle to the reconstruction of the credibility of the workers' movement in Poland.
The position of the Czerwony Front is notable, as it is the only organisation of the Polish Left that has not succumbed to liberal blackmail and persuasion to “choose the lesser evil”. Bearing in mind that the second round of the elections was only a competition between representatives of two camps of the Polish bourgeoisie, not really different from each other (especially when it comes to contempt for working people) our organisation called for a boycott of the voting. We pointed out that we do not reject participation in bourgeois elections on principle, but that does not mean that the proletariat is to vote for a candidate of a hostile class. The proletariat had nothing to gain from these elections. We emphasised that our goal was to build the nucleus of a revolutionary party of the Polish working class.
We should not delude ourselves that mere complaining and cursing the reality in Polish will lead us anywhere. Let us devote our time and energy to building a revolutionary organisation, so that we will never again face such a hopeless dilemma: which representative of the right-wing to vote for.