Over the past few years, Poland has seen a drastic rightward shift under the Law and Justice Party (PiS) government. Since coming to power in 2015 and returning in 2019, the party’s governance has been marked by an undermining of institutions. The party that won the elections by running a hyper-nationalist, homophobic and anti-Russian campaign and stressing its socially conservative credentials has also launched campaigns targeting communists, leftists and minorities, including the LGBT community. It has also sought to subjugate the judiciary through a set of reforms that have sparked widespread protests across the country. Peoples Dispatch (PD) spoke to representatives of the Communist Party of Poland (KPP) on the policies of the PiS-led government, its implications and the resistance to them.
Peoples Dispatch (PD): Could you talk a bit about the nature of the Law and Justice Party and how it managed to return to power in 2019?
Communist Party of Poland (KPP): The current Polish government of the PiS party is a combination of reactionary nationalism and some social slogans. Despite the social rhetoric, it serves the interest of the capitalists and of course, it is not interested in the protection of the workers’ rights. The government taps into the anti-neoliberal sentiment and has benefited from the mistakes of the main opposition party Citizens’ Platform (PO). When the PO was in power (2007-2015), it served the interest of big capital and made a series of social cuts, which made it very unpopular. However, the PiS government is also allied with neoliberals. The prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, was a banker. The deputy prime minister, Jarosław Gowin, comes from the Alliance Party that combines social conservatism and economic liberalism.
The government may have a problem securing another term due to the increasing number of economic scandals that involve its members and corruption cases. Despite this, it remains popular although its support may quickly erode. Poland is currently entering the initial stage of the capitalist crisis. The main indicators are the slowing down of the economy and rising inflation. The government claims that it aims to reach zero deficit in the state budget for 2020. With the approaching crisis, this means social cuts and placing the main burden on the working class.
The other issue is the collapse of the pension system. After partial commercialization, workers’ pensions are relatively low and pensioners are among the groups most threatened by poverty. Many elderly people are living in bad material conditions. The most difficult is the situation of the working-class women with lower salaries and precarious contracts as they also have low pensions.
PD: What is the plight of the Polish working class, youth, women and students under the PiS regime?
KPP: The situation of the working class continues to be bad. The PiS government has implemented some form of social security for certain people through schemes such as the 500+ scheme (low-income families get about Euros 115 per month per child and all families get the amount from the second child on). But this is not enough to improve their material status. Although unemployment is generally relatively low, it remains a problem in some regions where industries were shut down. Underpaid and precarious jobs are still the main problem. Youth are often employed on the basis of contracts that do not guarantee social security and decent salaries. The other problem is the rising cost of living, especially in urban areas. The prices of basic commodities, electricity and petrol are increasing. We are still witnessing a gap in wages between women and men employed in the same jobs.
All these contribute to the high level of migration. Over 3 million people migrated to western Europe since Poland entered the EU in 2004. A majority of these people are not going to come back.
Capitalists in Poland, despite the lack of workers in certain professions like construction or cleaning services, do not raise wages but instead prefer to employ foreign workers, especially from Ukraine, who are lowly paid and exploited. Even if they are working legally, their status is very low. Recently, there has been an increase in the number of Indian workers in Poland, especially in low-paid services such as food delivery.
PD: What are the factors contributing to the rise of ultra-nationalism and far-right tendencies in Poland?
KPP: Nationalism is part of the ruling party’s ideology. The authorities rewrite history to justify their rule and distract people’s attention from social issues. Media is the main tool of this propaganda, as it spreads lies about recent history. It slanders the workers’ movement, downplays and ignores the victory over fascism, and whitewashes Nazi collaborators. In 1999, a public institution, the Institute of National Remembrance, was set up, ostensibly for research into history. But in reality, it was and remains a hub of nationalist propaganda. Its establishment was supported by both the PiS and PO which back the distortion of history. This institution also influences teaching programs. Polish schools promote the nationalist vision of history and are also responsible for the rise of the far-right.
The other aspect is the use of extremist propaganda by the establishment parties in their electoral campaigns. PiS, in its campaigns, keeps harping on the theme of “dangerous refugees flooding Poland” and threats of terrorism. This has greatly contributed to the rise of racism. The last election in October 2019 saw the emergence of an extreme right-wing coalition called Konfederacja (Confederacy). This coalition advocates an extreme pro-capitalist economic policy, alongside nationalism and anti-semitism. The groups which are part of this coalition used to be marginal but have been able to rise due to the climate of fear and hatred which is a result of the ultranationalist campaign run by the authorities.
PD: The far-right in Poland under the leadership of PiS has been persecuting communists, minorities and the LGBT community. The communist party itself and its publication are under attack from those forces. Could you explain the reasons for this? What steps are you taking to resist this persecution?
KPP: The regime, in order to legitimize its rule, attacks national, sexual and other minorities. Such attacks are also part of the government’s political strategy to divert people from social issues and suppress their class consciousness. Anti-communism is a part of this deceptive policy.
The Communist Party of Poland has been facing the threat of a ban for a long time. Last year, an amendment to the penal code made the promotion of communism and even the possession of communist symbols illegal. This new law was approved by parliament but was put on hold after it was sent to the Constitutional Court to check whether it is in accordance with the constitution. However, the Constitutional Court itself is dependent on the ruling party.
Members of the editorial board of our party’s newspaper Brzask are facing trial. They are accused of “promoting a totalitarian system of the state” by publishing texts about the need for a social revolution and some historical material of the Communist Party of Poland from before the Second World War. Among the accusations mentioned by the prosecutor was the publication of articles that presented the October Revolution and the Soviet Union in a positive light. The trial has been going on for over 4 years. The accused were acquitted by the court twice. However, the prosecutor filed an appeal and the case resumed on March 3.
We are going to use the trial to show the fraudulent nature of these accusations, and to promote our ideas. The KPP has already received solidarity from various communist parties across the world. The European Communist Initiative has issued a statement denouncing the anti-communist persecution in Poland. Members of the European Parliament of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) also intervened and issued their statements. In many countries, pickets and demonstrations were held in front of Polish embassies. We still need more international support and media coverage of the trial. [An international day of solidarity with the Polish communists was held on March 2].
PD: What’s your take on the Euroscepticism of the PiS regime? What are their true intentions behind the controversial judicial reforms?
KPP: The PiS regime is only moderately Eurosceptic. It does not question the European Union as an international alliance. It also does not oppose the capitalist system and alliance of the big European capital that directs the Union. The regime criticizes some values of the EU, but this is purely for propaganda purposes. The Polish government wants a different EU which will in theory ensure more freedom for the member states but in practice mean closer ties with the United States. The PiS supports the foreign policy of Donald Trump and is even more sympathetic towards Washington’s imperialism than previous Polish governments. The PiS government decided to send troops to Iraq and refuses to pull them out of the country. It also supports the coup attempt in Venezuela and other US-led attempts to destabilize so-called “rogue states”.
The true intention of the judicial reforms is to subordinate the judicial system to the ruling party. They want to influence the nomination of judges and punish those who oppose governmental control. The PiS is using the fact that the judicial system is in crisis. Trials last very long and judges often issue unacceptable verdicts that serve the interests of capital and are against the people. This reform will not change this situation. For example, the poor will not gain access to better legal help and representation in courts. The court proceedings will also not be faster.