Resistance is not enough. What we need is a good vision, a strategy derived from it, and furthermore, effective tactics of daily struggles in Poland. A vision that may be supported not only by the majority of Poles, but also in which supporters of the current government will not feel alienated.
Marek Beylin thinks about such a project in “Gazeta Wyborcza”. He correctly notes that different ideas need to compete – the quest is not only for a regime change, but for electing such a force, that will adequately respond to problems which, exposed by PiS, gave them the control over the state.
There is therefore no return to the idea of a Third Republic and a narrative of a successful post-communist transformation, even if such a story may be defended by statistical data. When the sum of individual experiences of bigger and smaller injustices and inefficiencies in the functioning of the state (both on a national and local scale) surpassed critical levels it turned out that an alternative narrative, proposed by PiS and recently also by anti-establishment parties, such as Kukiz’15, is better in organising public imagination.
Regaining the initiative
If we want to confront this vision of reality an auto da fe combined with defending the Third Republic after 1989 and just admitting its mistakes is not enough. One needs to look forward and regain the initiative from PiS. The most interesting part of creating an alternative vision is that there are quite a few diagnoses of the situation. Polish society has been thoroughly probed and described. We know what its problems are, how the class divide looks within its ranks and how it influences participation in culture and political life. We also know much of what we do not know.
The problem of the former ruling party was that it was never interested in this knowledge – even though Civic Platform (PO) funded the Instytut Obywatelski (Civic Institute), which under the leadership of Jarosław Makowski became one of the most interesting Polish political think-tanks. I highly recommend to the politicians of PO reading the reports it created during recent years. Better late than never. They even may understand why they lost the elections and why they should not have high hopes for a quick return to power.
There are also many projects of reforms – here I can suggest reports from a former deputy Prime Minister, Jerzy Hausner, such as „Państwo i My. Osiem grzechów głównych Rzeczypospolitej” (We and the State: Eight Cardinal Sins of the Republic).
We know what to do to create a decent state working on the basis of our potentials, material and non-material capital. Protest against PiS rule, resistance from some professional circles and main public institutions (such as universities) showed that during the transition, structures of social life connected to the idea of an open democracy as a way of organising public life emerged. How to transform this potential into a successful political project?
The key can be found in creating a narrative that will be able to oppose the one proposed by PiS. The leader of the party, Jarosław Kaczyński, often uses one of the primal anthropological mechanisms – denouncing ‘the Other’; stigmatising him and enabling a mimetic passion of hatred and vengeance for real and imagined harms suffered from his hands. It was a mechanism perfectly summed up by late anthropologist, René Girard. A mechanism once put into motion often stops only when it uses up the accumulated energy during a real, bloody war. It seems as no coincidence that the last great book of this author is „Achever Clausewitz” – „Finishing Clausewitz”.
How to stand up to this logic? It may be done either by violence imposed from the outside i.e. by a state that gains power over the violence that runs through the life of the clans. It can also be done differently, by using the second basic anthropological mechanism organising the life of societies – the logic of a gift. It allows to create relations of interdependence with the Other, who thanks to this positive exchange becomes a partner in creating all things common – connections that build a society.
If we assume that the Third Republic was a historic moment of transition from real socialism to real capitalism, then most of the injustices of this phase were simply a result of a primitive accumulation of capital. Karl Marx would consider it a necessary step towards the destruction of feudal structures that even during the Peoples’ Republic of Poland era there saw a constricting of the Polish society and a creation of a bourgeoisie – a modernising force par excellence. This phase came to an end not because of a popular rebellion. The PiS project, even though it uses the populist rhetoric, is a project of consolidating the parts of this post-transformation bourgeoise under the banner of national capitalism.
In search of an alternative narrative
The people may have some limited gains out of this, since one of the foundations of this model will be stimulating domestic demand – hence the idea of 500 złotys (ca. 120 euro) per child per month. It will not be an emancipatory and inclusive project – the condition of this redistribution will be conserving the social structure along the lines of “traditional Polish values”. No mingling of races, cultures and – it is worth also adding – classes.
The only good alternative is a project focusing on an authentic inclusion and political empowerment of the lower social strata, up until now excluded from politics and representation. A project similar towards the one that was a source of a great success of Brazil during the President Lula era, when the bourgeoise understood it needs to share the cake, but when the division of resources was not limited solely to redistribution (ie. the Bolsa Familia programme). An issue as important as redistribution was recognition that took form with the Pontos de Cultura incentive that supported the inclusion to cultural life.
We do not have to look just towards the Brazilian tradition. The same idea underpinned the project of late 18th century fighter for American and Polish independence, Tadeusz Kościuszko, that he wrote down in the Proclamation of Połaniec. Is there a political force capable of renewing this project in the 21st century and confront it with a 19th century paternalistic vision of solidarity? A vision of a decent state, founded on the principle of social justice as a virtue that tells us that no matter our race, culture, class or faith, we are have a right to dignity and a potential to create the commons?
Right now, sadly, I do not see such a force. .Nowoczesna (.Modern) showed that it is not able to redefine the language from its electoral campaign. PO still thinks that criticising PiS is enough. The left-wing Razem (Together), as I understand, focuses more on the critique of the Third Republic than on searching for an answer to a question on how in the social and economic context of today may create the commons as a basis for social bonds and political agency.
But this is just the beginning. The final will (I hope) result in a new political project (or projects) that draw the best from the spirit of the Declaration of Połaniec and the first Solidarity to create a vision of an open Commonwealth, integrating and filling the gaps in everything that we achieved in the spheres of society, culture and critical thought.
This article was originally published the “Antymatrix” blog of the author.