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The Collapse of the New Polish Left

Together banner carried during the May Day march in Warsaw (2022)

Together banner carried during the May Day march in Warsaw (2022). Autorstwa Tomasz Molina - Praca własna, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link.

Damian Winczewski is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Philosophy and Sociology, University of Maria Curie-Skłodowska, Lublin, Poland.

It is widely assumed that the fundamental reason for the longstanding failures of left-wing movements in Poland is that there are structural barriers in the form of institutionalized anticommunism. According to this narrative, any thinking based on classically leftist values is associated with a Marxist perspective, and has no chance of acquiring a prominent position in public discourse. It is excluded on the grounds of being associated with “totalitarian communist ideology,” the promotion of which is banned in the Polish constitution, on par with Nazism.

In this situation, Polish citizens are condemned to choose between the ideological messages of the liberal and conservative camps. Representatives of both, as well as the media and all ideological state apparatuses, treat communism as if it were “constructed as a supreme, unqualified, and above all undifferentiated evil, that is, reduced to one form,” by which the ideology of anticommunism fulfills its objective, which is: “not to explain a particular social phenomenon, but to legitimate the existing structure of class power.”1

Institutional anticommunism extending into general antileftism is a problem that all leftist forces in Poland have to face. While its importance is indisputable, it also provides a convenient legitimization for the opportunism of left-wing activists and intellectuals, who for years have formulated their messages in such a way as not to violate the ideological status quo. The result is a de facto reproduction of the democratic-liberal program, but with an added left-wing tinge in the form of limited criticism of the transformation of the political system and some neoliberal practices. At the same time, for years, the malady of the left has been low popular support among the working class and the consequently modest size of its electorate, which is limited to the progressive part of the metropolitan middle class. Frustrated by this, leftist intellectuals have been looking for ways for the left to regain its subjectivity. Faced with the presupposed abandonment of the so-called totalitarian Marxist perspective, they are forced to maneuver between the liberal camp, with which they identify so-called democracy, and the conservative camp, which some leftists see as a force opposed to neoliberalism.

Contrary to appearances, Poland over the past three decades has not been simply a peaceful country of citizens who have accepted the order of neoliberal capitalism with forbearance. In almost every one of these decades, the country was shaken by major social protests involving hundreds of thousands of workers challenging the official status quo and public policies. All of these opportunities have been squandered by the left (as broadly understood) and its intellectual elite, who are increasingly immersed in various forms of petit bourgeois ideologies. While tempting with verbal radicalism, these ideologies remain without much impact on the field of social practice and are increasingly dominated by disputes between liberals and conservatives, for whom the left has become a mere appendage. The result is a ridiculous volte-face of the Polish left, which has become one of the most prowar and militaristic political groups in the country. At the same time, it has become a key ally of the neoliberal parties that prevailed in the election of October 2023, and who want to roll back the social reforms introduced by the nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS). This article aims to provide the Western reader with an abridged record of the material processes that have led to this.

The Lost Decades: From the Mass Strikes of 1992–93 to the Financial Crisis of 2008–09

The ideological vicissitudes of the Polish left are rooted in the socioeconomic failure of People’s Poland, as well as the founding myth of capitalist Poland created in the subsequent years. According to this myth, the oppressed Polish people fought for democracy and economic freedom throughout the Communist period for patriotic reasons. The main political camps, currently represented by Donald Tusk’s liberal Civic Platform and Jarosław Kaczyński’s conservative PiS, claim at their core the legacy of the anticommunist opposition from the period of the People’s Republic of Poland and consider themselves the heirs of the Solidarity movement. Both parties conceive of Solidarity as a patriotic movement, the primary goal of which was to free Poland from the Soviet sphere of influence and attach it to the countries of Western democracy.

The prevalence of the above narrative is often presented as one of the sources of the inability of the leftist agenda to secure a stronger position in public discourse. Polish left-wing intellectuals have attempted to counter right-wing hegemony, publishing works on the left-wing origins of the workers’ opposition in the People’s Republic of Poland. The more critical of these publications address the serious problem of the schism that occurred between leftist oppositionists and the working class itself under the previous regime. This gap between intellectuals and workers continues to have serious consequences for the left to this day.

Most of the left-wing oppositionists of the Communist era, such as Karol Modzelewski, Jacek Kuroń, Adam Michnik, and others, came from families with leftist traditions who became part of the apparatus of power after the overthrow of capitalism in Poland after 1944. Guided by socialist values, these children of privileged party families supported the first workers’ uprisings and were active in opposition intellectual circles, focused on reforming the system from within. However, in the 1960s and ’70s, left-wing oppositionists faced with noticeable political and economic malaise—implying the impossibility of a systemic reform of the People’s Republic of Poland—moved to liberal positions.2 As a result, figures such as Michnik and Kuroń became the vanguard of neoliberal “shock therapy,” leading to the decomposition and pauperization of the working class. A few of them, including Kuroń, later admitted their mistake and beat their breasts.3

Most scholarly works, including those by Western authors studying the transformation in Poland, present the 1990s and the subsequent decades as a period of the total triumph of capitalism, which met with rather little resistance—on either ideological or economic grounds—from the working masses.4 Statistics indeed show that the level of protest activity of Poles during the decades prior was low, even compared to those in other Eastern European countries. Nevertheless, in 1992–93, Poland was shaken by a massive wave of strikes. This wave was larger in scope than the strikes of 1988, which led to the final breakdown of formal socialism.5 More than one million people participated in them, opposing privatization and its conditions. Overall, in the first years after the transformation, strike activity in Poland was among the most intense in Europe, with lower participation in marches and traditional demonstrations.6

Shortly afterward, the post-Solidarity right-wing government collapsed and, after only three years of capitalism, the majority of society elected the heirs of the previous system to power. The Social Democrats of the Alliance of the Democratic Left, however, continued neoliberal reforms, albeit on a smaller scale. In 1997, after the right had returned to power, the launch of further stages of privatization was again met with significant social resistance, triggering a wave of strikes in 1999–2000, in which the main groups of protesters included farmers, miners, health care workers, teachers, and armament plant workers. The wave was much smaller than before, but it still amounted to almost one thousand individual industrial actions.7 In those years, the left in Poland saw the opportunity of joining the European Union and catching up with the standards of the Western welfare state model. However, the Alliance’s rule, which took effect in 2002–03, can unquestionably be judged as discrediting the left, leading to its eventual downfall. Despite the reluctance of public-sector workers to embrace the most radical manifestations of the capitalist transformation, such as price-gouging and privatization, the left, once again in power, became, in the opinion of many, the most neoliberal government after 1989. As in other countries, the mainstream left was dominated by a local version of TINA (“There Is No Alternative”), according to which the only economic orientation could be economic liberalism.8 This resulted in further protests and society’s move away from the left, who never returned to power. As a result, since 2005, power in Poland has been alternately shared by the liberal right and the nationalist right.

Since then, the protest activity of the masses in Poland has indeed decreased significantly. However, in the 1990s and 2000s, it was not at all as limited as is thought today. There were quite a few workers’ protests, but they took on a mostly spontaneous and illegal character. This was due, among other things, to legal regulations and the low level of unionization, which make it extremely difficult to organize legal protests.9 This included the protest at a cable factory in Ożarów in 2000, which was fervently supported by many activists on the radical left at the time. Many protests took new forms, such as illegal roadblocks staged by impoverished farmers. Overall, in both the Communist era and the newly established Third Republic (a colloquial term for the Polish state after 1989), protests were cyclical, and one of their main determinants was the gap between the levels of capital accumulation and social consumption.10 The protests, especially those organized in the 1990s, had an impressive scale for Eastern Europe, and each time caused a rise in society’s confidence in the left. However, the lack of an alternative to liberalism and the threat of unemployment curbed the rebellious mood of the working class.11

It seems that the turning point in the recent history of the Polish left and its decline was the great financial crisis of 2008–09 and its effects in Poland. Formally and according to liberal propaganda, the Polish economy turned out to be a so-called green island, as it recorded economic growth even under the conditions of the crisis. However, this effect did not translate into social welfare, and by 2012 there was a more than 5 percent decline in household final consumption expenditures.12 This was accompanied by the extinction of the biggest wave of protests after the 1990s, when around a quarter of a million people participated in industrial actions in the years 2007–08.13 Despite the economic crisis and the decline in living standards, the liberal Civic Platform governed unwaveringly for two terms, from 2007 to 2015, without encountering major social unrest. The scale of workers’ protests has decreased significantly since then. Overall, according to statistics, from 2008 to this day, the number of people participating in strikes does not exceed several thousand per year (excluding anomalies in 2019–20, which saw major strikes in support of teachers and reproductive rights).14 The protest activity of Poles is only 50 percent of that in the rest of Europe, with protests that are most often relatively short and do not exceed several days.15 In summary, it took a dozen or so years to break the resistance of the Polish working class to neoliberalism. One important factor was also the capitulation of the Polish left, in whom workers had placed their trust after waves of protests in 1992–93 and 1999–2000 carried the leftists to power. However, its eventual discrediting, the economic crisis, and the disciplining of the working class by years of neoliberal policies led to the petrification of the political scene by both liberals and the nationalist right, the latter of whom adopted social slogans and became nominally the only opposition to liberalism. The right’s electoral success and its ongoing rule since 2015 seem to be primarily due to social apathy and a history of failed attempts at active resistance against neoliberal practices.

The Rise of a Nationalist State

Intellectuals, activists, sympathizers, and supporters of the left have been in an extremely difficult position since the Alliance of the Democratic Left compromised itself in the 2000s. Those who have not surrendered to liberalism have been looking for years for a viable alternative to the Alliance. It is not the purpose of this article to describe the entire history of this search over the last three decades. All that can be said is that leftist intellectuals at the time were concentrating on finding a powerful ally that would allow them to regain contact with the masses. At the beginning of the 2000s, a natural ally seemed to be the alter-globalist movement and the movement opposing the war in Iraq—a demonstration against the U.S. invasion held in Warsaw in 2001 gathered nearly a million people, and today is considered one of the largest single protests in the history of the Third Republic of Poland. However, in the following years, with the financial crisis and the successively decreasing protest activity of Poles, left-wing activists proved unable to go beyond their local bubbles located in the largest cities.

After 2008, the reign of the liberal Civic Platform provoked public resistance, but this was largely rechannelled by right-wing and nationalist movements into other issues. This can be evidenced by the popularity of the nationalist annual Independence March. Resistance against this political event proved to be a devastating defeat for the liberal left and its allied antifascists. Organized by fascist groups such as the National-Radical Camp and All-Poland Youth since 2010, the Independence March has become a mass event gathering tens of thousands of people from the broader right, bringing together moderate supporters of PiS with radical nationalists from home and abroad, who set the tone for the manifestation.

Then, the watershed year of 2015, when PiS nationalists took full power, finally arrived. It is widely reported that the success of the nationalist right was determined by an illiberal vision of the state, the introduction of reforms such as the lowering of the retirement age, promises of significant state investments in the economy, and a significant increase in social assistance. Liberal commentators in Poland have often claimed that PiS nods to the platform of the classical left, with state interventionism and social programs at the forefront.

At the same time, one may doubt to what extent PiS economic policy is actually illiberal and prosocial, since, apart from its flagship “500 plus” program, equivalent to Western European child benefits and the lowering of the retirement age, many of the demands—such as inexpensive state housing—have not been fulfilled. In the public sector, wage freezes and a truly neoliberal and authoritarian management style have been commonplace for years. Nevertheless, the label of a party pursuing social demands and opposing liberal hegemony has stuck to PiS.

Also in 2015, supporters of the “authentic Left” tried to rally under the banner of the Razem (Together) party, which was founded largely by former left-wing youth activists from the 2000s who were frustrated with the policies of the Alliance of the Democratic Left. In its early days, the party brought together people from a wide range of backgrounds, from the liberal left to self-identified socialists and communists. With its radical (by Polish standards) economic program, it also attracted many people hitherto uninterested in politics. Like few alternative left-wing parties, it could count on recognition in the mainstream media.16 At the beginning, the party’s distinctive feature was precisely its focus on the economy at the expense of worldview issues, which translated into a good first electoral result (3.62 percent).17

The Together party was intended to be the Polish version of the Greek Syriza or the Spanish Podemos, drawing on the leftist heritage of the Solidarity movement and bringing together members of the precariat, whose work is based on junk contracts. The party was united by a desire to implement a genuinely social democratic program and turn Poland into a welfare state following the example of the Scandinavian countries. After the elections, Together party activists took part in a number of key antigovernment protests, including demonstrations against the government’s attacks on the judicial branch, the famous Black Protests against the abortion ban, and the large teachers’ protest in 2019. However, the party, like all supporters of the “authentic Left,” was hobbled by serious programmatic and ideological disputes. There is no space to discuss them here, but one can surmise that their source was the same problem as always—namely, the lack of rootedness among the wider social masses. Ultimately, the party adopted the mainstream course, geared towards a coalition with the Alliance of the Democratic Left, the Greens, and the center-left Spring party. This process was also linked to purges in the Together party, where those suspected of Marxist and communist sympathies were excluded as a result of fears of the reaction of the general public. The party eventually came to terms with the Alliance of the Democratic Left, which, along with Spring, formed a new grouping called the New Left. This constituted the establishment of a broad “leftist” coalition, which entered the parliament in 2019, supported by a small percentage of voters. This coalition, while using typically social-democratic economic slogans, has not been able to go beyond a narrow, middle-class, metropolitan electorate. Their main problem for years has been the dilemma of whether to enter into a close alliance with the liberals from the Civic Platform, thus stopping the conservative, authoritarian reforms of PiS, or to maneuver between the two parties by tactically supporting some of the social moves of the ruling party.

This outline of the political situation in Poland, which, after its neoliberal transformation has been ruled alternately by liberals and nationalists, constitutes a context for the reflections of contemporary politically active left-wing intellectuals. Having largely abandoned the Marxist apparatus as obsolete, they attempt to resort to or create new, fashionable concepts that intend to re-empower the left. In fact, however, these turn out to be ideological justifications for increasing opportunism.

Ludomania: In Search of New Left-Wing Populism

The term ludomania, which can be translated as “mania for the people,” is understood in Polish literature as a kind of fixation of Polish intellectuals on the common people. It usually refers to Polish thinkers and poets of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who were fascinated by peasants and tried to adopt their way of life. Historically, the expression ludomania was used interchangeably with chłopomania (“mania for peasants”), which—according to the shortest dictionary definition—means: “an exaggerated and naive idealisation of peasants and village life.”18 This term was directed at the often-decadent Polish intelligentsia, who, weary of life, wished to find its meaning in the simplicity and freshness they believed the peasantry embodied. They were impressed by the music, clothing, customs, and straightforwardness of peasants. They thought that peasants led a picturesque life, far more interesting than dull city life. They admired the physical stamina of peasants and the beauty of peasant girls, some of whom they took as their wives. They delighted in the customs, rituals, and colorful costumes of villagers. They contrasted the supposed idyll of rural life with urban corruption. The intelligentsia elevated peasants above all other classes by sympathizing with them and praising their virtues while criticizing the gentry.19

Despite its verbal fondness for the lower classes and condemnation of the bourgeoisie and the gentry, ludomania has a conservative ideological trait. This aspect was pointed out by the Polish Hegelian-Marxist historian of philosophy Tadeusz Kroński as early as the 1950s, when he claimed to find elements of ludomania in the writings of Polish messianic philosophers. In general, Polish messianists active around the middle of the nineteenth century expressed the view that the Polish nation, suffering at the hands of its partitioners, had a mission to save humanity, and that Polish philosophy had a specifically national character.20

This kind of ludomania, conceived as an unreflective fascination with adopting the worldview dominant among the lower social strata, perpetuated itself as one of the stereotypical weaknesses of the Polish intelligentsia. However, as a historical phenomenon expressed by the intelligentsia of the modern era, it was closer to the conservative and nationalist worldview. What philosophers and writers saw in the people was primarily national potential. The vital forces dormant in the peasantry were, in the eyes of the intelligentsia, to be awakened and harnessed as part of the common effort of the whole society striving for national liberation.

Nevertheless, in the twenty-first century, ludomania became the domain of a new generation of the Polish left-wing intelligentsia, who began to view the “ordinary people” who voted for conservatives offering social benefits as the repositories of class consciousness. These “ordinary people,” guided by a kind of rationality, supposedly make choices in accordance with their own interests, in spite of liberals from big cities who are detached from reality and focused on defending an abstract democracy that masks brutal neoliberal practices. For some years now, the term “popular class,” a calque of the French classe populaire, has been all the rage in political journalism.21 Researchers of the “popular class” acknowledge that Poland has seen the decline of the working class, and that modern sociology should refer to Pierre Bourdieu’s division between upper, middle, and lower (popular) classes, to which the relevant economic, cultural, and social capital corresponds.22 Left-wing columnists writing about the popular class devote more space to the supposedly distinctive cultural practices of this class than to its economic dependence.

The term popular class was introduced into the mainstream by a team of researchers led by Maciej Gdula, a liberal-left sociologist and member of parliament from the current New Left, also a prominent columnist for Krytyka Polityczna (Political Critique), the main think tank of the liberal left in Poland, which was originally intended as a resource for intellectuals opposed to both neoliberalism and conservatism. This popular class includes a broad group of skilled and unskilled manual laborers, as well as farmers (who are seen as a homogeneous class stratum) and workers performing simple services (such as shop and supermarket employees), security guards, call center assistants, and others with, at most, a secondary education.23 Thus, this term seems to include people belonging to the working class and the peasantry as well as service workers who are often classified, according to another fashionable theory, as the precariat. In their research, left-liberal sociologists mainly focus on cultural issues, such as the popular class’s presumed aversion to education, museums, higher culture, and active leisure activities, with the instability of employment as its characteristic economic feature.24 Overall, researchers of the “popular class” are unconcerned with the role of its representatives in the relations of production and reproduction of the capitalist system, regarding certain common cultural distinctions—of a rather pejorative nature—as a sufficient bond.

Be that as it may, the terms popular class or popular classes have been present in the vocabulary of many progressive intellectuals for a decade now. This has influenced their perception of the rule of PiS. In the view of the most extreme of them, PiS almost represents a “people’s government” that, after almost three decades of the ideological and economic domination of neoliberalism, has begun to restore the dignity of people outside the middle and upper classes. The development of so-called ludomania in Poland was fostered by new theoretical fashions that, in the eyes of intellectuals of the younger generation distancing themselves from People’s Poland, were intended to replace or seriously modify what they perceived as the discredited or “archaic” theoretical apparatus of classical Marxism. The common element of these tendencies is the replacement of precise analyses and terminologies related to studies of production relations and the role of class struggle in the overall context of the economics of the capitalist system in Poland with abstract narratives.

The Real Struggles of Recent Years

Attitudes towards the popular class have divided leftist sympathizers. Some believe that it should be “regained” by the left. This involves approaching the political choices of its representatives encouraged by the social programs of PiS with understanding, and taking this as a signal that the majority of the population is, in fact, leftist, and expects more statist economic policies. This is why some columnists associated with the coalition comprising the Alliance of the Democratic Left, Together, and Spring have been calling for years for a radical social program to persuade the people voting for PiS to switch sides.25 In contrast, researchers associated with the left-liberal think tank Political Critique argue that the votes of the lower social strata cast for PiS are the result of a perfect knowledge of their own interests, which turns into cynicism and acceptance of the pathological behavior of politicians as long as their interests are satisfied.26

A similar attitude is also evident in the circles of the radical leftist intelligentsia, who see a new subject of progressive politics in the “popular class” voting for conservatives. This is best exemplified by the July 2017 open letter to the circles of the Polish left, entitled “Farewell to the Third Republic,” signed by dozens of leading intellectuals representing, among others, the milieu of the Together party, the academic periodical Praktyka Teoretyczna (Theoretical Practice), and the monthly Nowy Obywatel (New Citizen)—the latter a tribune of the Polish alt-left whose editors openly sympathize with rightist governments and receive subsidies from them. Although the authors of the letter emphasized their critical attitude to the appropriation of state institutions by the right, they recognized that the struggle between liberals and conservatives opened up a great opportunity for the left, which should oppose the liberal elites and take the side of the abstract “gray man,” representing the beneficiaries of government social programs.27

Despite swaggering declarations, the representatives of the left were in no way able to exert any organizational influence on or take any meaningful advantage of the two great social movements that swept through Poland at the end of the decade. One of them, the Black Protests, opposed the repressive abortion law, which sparked protests in over 150 cities in 2016 and significantly changed the perception of abortion and the influence of the Catholic Church on Polish society.28 Despite the measurably progressive social effects, the movement’s leadership was centralized and the movement itself was instrumentalized and used by liberal leaders to build their political careers around the Civic Platform.

Despite the proclamation of the great success of feminism and the power of civic society by some researchers, the protests did not actually change the balance of political power.29 The biggest labor event, however, was the large teachers’ protests in April and May 2019, held just before matriculation examinations. It was motivated primarily by the dire economic and organizational situation of teachers, who usually earn little above the minimum wage and whose working conditions had been steadily deteriorating for three decades. The strike covered 78 percent of schools in Poland and involved hundreds of thousands of teachers, but proved to be a major defeat for the organizers—primarily, the Polish Teachers’ Union, which originated from the left-wing trade union tradition. As a result of the government’s intransigence and propaganda campaign, teachers were forced to capitulate. Many were punished for participating in the strike and deprived of salaries for its duration.30 As a result, the government has continued its antilabor reforms and burdened teachers further with problems arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and the wave of Ukrainian migration following the outbreak of war with Russia. In practice, the slogans of the new populism promoted by the leftists hit a vacuum and they were left to play the role of an appendage of the liberal salon. Paradoxically, it was only the war that enabled them to come out of the shadows. However, this too failed to deliver the results expected by the left.

War and “Westplaining”

In recent years, following the full-scale Russian military intervention in Ukraine and the outbreak of a massive international-scale crisis in which the Polish authorities have played a major role, the reconstruction of the intellectual and political identity of the Polish left has become even more difficult. At present, the majority of its representatives speak with one voice with the government camp, supporting the militarization of the country and even competing with the government for bizarre, militaristic ideas. At the ideological level, the dissociation of the Polish left from its Western anti-imperialistic counterpart has been justified by the concept of “Westplaining,” which was introduced into the public debate by Jan Smoleński and Jan Dutkiewicz, both columnists for Political Critique. According to them, “Westplaining” is basically any criticism of the United States and NATO. It allegedly treats the peoples of Eastern Europe as objects and ignores their belief that the United States and NATO are agents of rescue from and an alternative to centuries-old Russian colonialism.31 In other words, according to columnists associated with the Polish left, criticism of Western imperialism in a period of war is forbidden because support for it is the democratic will of the East European peoples. This is how Polish leftist activists compensate for decades of failures and missed opportunities: by lecturing their Western colleagues from a position of moral superiority and making themselves spokespeople for an abstract populace, while the real Polish working class, after years of being left alone in class struggle, is already completely indifferent to such leftist messages. The Polish left is now deluding itself into believing that it will win the favor of the people by affirming a conservative ideology allied with Western imperialism. At the political level, this has resulted in the departure of the Together party from the left-wing international organizations of the Progressive International and the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025. The space of debate on the Polish left has, in turn, been filled by texts about the usefulness of Western intellectuals such as Yanis Varoufakis, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Mariana Mazucatto for Russian propaganda, and criticism of Western imperialism has begun to be met with such strong epithets as the “anti-imperialism of idiots.”32

Thus, the Polish left, guided by a peculiarly understood ludomania resulting from the detachment from its real class base, has for the moment become an outspoken amplifier for Western imperialism and is competing with conservatives for ideas aimed at the further militarization and escalation of the situation in the region. This is particularly true of the group associated with Political Critique. It has recently become famous for the successful public fundraising for the purchase of a Bayraktar combat drone, organized by its editor-in-chief, Sławomir Sierakowski—who is also a winner of numerous U.S. scholarships and grant programs.33

This project seems to be part of the broader and extremely bizarre strategy of the new Polish Left, which Gdula describes as “democratic militarisation.” According to Gdula, attempts to peacefully resolve the conflict with Russia are an illusion in light of its power and influence. Therefore, his stated goal of left-wing politics is to convince people with pacifist and antiwar sentiments (including those in the West) to support going to war, which is, in turn, to exemplify a truly anti-imperialist stance. His argument for the leftist character of this stance is the fact of the supposedly democratic nature of the war effort in Ukraine, where representatives of the LGBTQ+ community have allegedly taken up arms, and which he claims is a model for other countries. Ultimately, the West’s military and economic war against Russia would be beneficial for Russia itself and would bring about genuine democratic reforms.34 Those circles that are considered more radical hold not very different opinions.

These are just snippets from among dozens of texts by left-wing intellectuals and politicians who, with better or worse arguments that can be more or less sensitive to imperial, colonial, and class issues, boil down, in essence, to calls for virtually the whole world to engage in a war with Russia, the defeat of which would open wide the gates of the Eastern European public sphere to socialist discourse, grassroots democratization, and prosocial reforms. All of this is happening in an atmosphere of rampant inflation and an economic crisis, neither of which has provoked any wider public protests so far.

Leaving aside the validity of the individual arguments, for those who have not come to terms with the prowar narrative, the atmosphere is reminiscent of that in Germany in 1914, when social democrats invoked Karl Marx and Frederick Engels to justify the war against Russia as an emancipatory issue and a matter of values such as freedom.35 The Polish left continues to celebrate its so-called successes. Self-satisfied columnists believe that in recent years, thanks to their efforts, the political discourse has shifted to the left as the mainstream has begun to debate, for example, affordable housing. The very act of engaging in prowar rhetoric is considered to be at least as much of a success, because “left-wing arguments in support of Biden’s policies” indicate Polish intellectuals’ independence from their more cautious, pacifist Western colleagues, whose arguments they have been busy rewriting and interpreting as their major activity for many years.36

Meanwhile, the leftist coalition has had consistently low support for a long time. This was confirmed by the recent parliamentary elections, held October 15, 2023. As a result of the deepening economic crisis, increasing arms expenditures, and other costs associated with Poland’s position as a key ally of Ukraine, the ruling nationalists failed to retain full power despite their formal victory (35.38 percent of the vote) in the elections. Contributing to this, in addition to the discontent of public-sector workers, a significant role was played by loud mass protests of farmers—the main voter base of PiS—who were dissatisfied in particular with the import policy on Ukrainian grain. The left, using a very moderate social program and waging a political struggle mainly on identity issues, fared very poorly despite all this. It received 8.61 percent of the vote, losing almost a third of the seats in Parliament, although the Together party itself slightly increased its representation. Overall, the New Left received the smallest working-class support of all parties (only 5 percent of the vote), with their biggest supporters appearing to be the metropolitan middle class. Despite this, they have announced great success, as they could become an important part of the new government under the leadership of the neoliberals of the Citizen Platform (which won 30.7 percent of the vote). These politicians, in turn, are already announcing cuts in social spending and the need to “balance the budget.” To paraphrase the ancient king of Epirus, Pyrrhus: A few more such successes of the left, and there will be no left at all.


  1. Filip Ilkowski, “Anticommunism as Ideology: The Case of Contemporary Poland,” Communist and Post-Communist Studies 54, no. 1–2 (2021): 1–23.
  2. Paweł Szelegieniec, “The Rise and Fall of the Revolutionary Left in ‘People’s Poland,’” Historical Materialism 29, no. 2 (2021): 143–87; Michał Siermiński, Dekada przełomu: Polska lewica opozycyjna, 1968–1980 [The Decade of the Breakthrough: The Polish Left-Wing Opposition, 1968–1980] (Warszawa: Książka i Prasa, 2016).
  3. Andrzej Walicki, “Klęska w zwycięstwie. Samokrytyka Kuronia i źródło jego błędów [Defeat in Victory: Kuroń’s Self-critique and Source of His Errors],” Krytyka Polityczna, September 12, 2020.
  4. See, for example, Jane Hardy, Poland’s New Capitalism (London: Pluto, 2009) and David Ost, The Defeat of Solidarity (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2006).
  5. Andrzej Grajewski, “Drugi Sierpień (1988) [The Second August (1988)],” Uczyć siȩ z historii, March 16, 2019.
  6. Paulina Sekuła, “Aktywność protestacyjna Polaków w latach 1989–2009 [Protest Activity of Poles in 1989–2009],” Polityka i Społeczeństwo 3, no. 11 (2013): 91–92.
  7. Sekuła, “Aktywność protestacyjna Polaków w latach 1989–2009,” 92–93.
  8. Waldemar Wojtasik, Stąd do wieczności. Ewolucja programowa SLD 1991–2006 [From Here to Eternity: Evolution of the SLD Program 1991–2006] (Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Marina, 2008).
  9. Tomasz Kacprzak, “Anatomia strajków [The Anatomy of Strikes],” Acta Universitatis Lodziensis: Folia Oeconomica 207 (2007): 3751.
  10. Jarosław Urbański, “Anatomia polskich protestów pracowniczych [The Anatomy of Polish Workers’ Protests],” February 11, 2008,
  11. Jarosław Urbański, Prekariat i nowa walka klas [The Precariat and New Class Struggle] (Warszawa: Książka i Prasa 2014), 167–69.
  12. Anna Śleszyńska-Świderska, “Konsumpcja a wzrost gospodarczy w Polsce. W cieniu globalnego kryzysu gospodarczego [Consumption and Economic Growth in Poland: In the Shadow of the Global Economic Crisis],” Nierówności społeczne a wzrost gospodarczy 38, no. 2 (2014): 352–64.
  13. Sekuła, “Aktywność protestacyjna Polaków w latach 1989–2009,” 92.
  14. Central Statistical Office of Poland (GUS), Mały Rocznik Statystyczny Polski [Small Statistic Yearbook of Poland] (2022), 138.
  15. Wojciech Orowiecki, “Strajki pracownicze we współczesnej Polsce [Workers’ Strikes in Contemporary Poland],” presented at Praca jako pole walki [Labour as a Battlefield] conference, Warszawa, March 5–6, 2022.
  16. Marek Mazur, “Partia Razem w prasie opiniotwórczej przed wyborami parlamentarnymi w 2015 roku [The Together Party in the Quality Press During the 2015 Parliamentary Elections],” Polityka i Społeczeństwo 15 (2017): 59–72.
  17. Marek Tyrała, “Postulaty programowe a sukces wyborczy na przykładzie partii PiS i Razem w wyborach parlamentarnych w Polsce w 2015 roku [Election Programs and Electoral Success: The Cases of the Law and Justice Party and the Together Party in the Polish 2015 Parliamentary Election],” e-Politikon 17 (2016): 146–68.
  18. Słownik języka polskiego [Dictionary of the Polish Language], s.v. “chłopomania,” Polish Scientific Publishers (PWN),
  19. Stanisław Dziedzic, “Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer: w dziewięćdziesięciolecie śmierci artysty i polityka [Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer: On the Ninetieth Anniversary of the Death of the Artist and Politician],” Niepodległość i Pamięć 21, no. 3–4 (2014): 9–48.
  20. Tadeusz Kroński, “Koncepcje filozoficzne mesjanistów polskich w połowie XIX wieku [Philosophical Concepts of Polish Messianists in the Middle of the 19th Century],” Archiwum historii filozofii i myśli społecznej 2 (1957): 81.
  21. Przemysław Sadura, “Polacy dzielą się na klasy ale to nie klasy dzielą Polaków [Poles Are Divided into Classes, but It Isn’t Classes That Divide Poles],” Krytyka Polityczna, June 4, 2021.
  22. Maciej Gdula and Przemysław Sadura, Style życia i porządek klasowy w Polsce [Lifestyles and Class Order in Poland], (Warszawa: Scholar, 2012); Maciej Gdula and Przemysław Sadura, Praktyki kulturowe klasy ludowej [Cultural Practices of the Popular Class] (Warszawa: Institute of Advanced Studies, 2015).
  23. Dorota Olko, “‘Tylko nie dres, bo się źle kojarzy.’ Rola wizerunków ciała w kształtowaniu podmiotowości w klasie ludowej [‘Anything but a Tracksuit Because It Has Negative Connotations’: The Role of Body Images in Constructing Subjectivity of the Popular Class],” Teorie i praktyki kultury wizualnej, no. 30 (2021).
  24. Maciej Gdula, Mikołaj Lewicki, and Przemysław Sadura, Kultura i klasy społeczne na Warmii i Mazurach [Culture and Social Classes in Warmia and Mazury] (Olsztyn: Centrum Edukacji i Inicjatyw Kulturalnych w Olsztynie, 2014).
  25. Jasiński, “Odbić PiSowi robotnika [To Recapture the Worker from the PiS],” Trybuna, October 21, 2019.
  26. Sadura, S. Sierakowski, Polityczny cynizm Polaków [Poles’ Political Cynicism] (Warszawa: Institute of Advanced Studies, 2019).
  27. Żegnaj III RP! List otwarty do środowisk lewicowych [Farewell to the Third Republic: An Open Letter to the Left],” Partakyka Teoretyczna, July 24, 2017,
  28. Paweł Szelegieniec, “Behind the Black Protests,” Monthly Review 70, no.1 (May 2018): 45–59.
  29. See K. Jacobsson and E. Korolczuk, Civil Society Revisited: Lessons from Poland (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2017).
  30. Ziółkowski, “Strajk nauczycieli w 2019 [The Teachers’ Strike in 2019],” Zeszyty Naukowe WSG 5 (2020): 245–69.
  31. Smoleński and J. Dutkiewicz, “Zachód chce nam objaśniać świat. Czego nie wie o Europie Wschodniej [The West Wants to Explain the World to Us: What It Does Not Know of Eastern Europe],” Krytyka Polityczna, March 16, 2022.
  32. Krawczyk, “Antyimperializm idiotów [Anti-imperialism of Idiots],” Kontakt, February 2, 2022,
  33. Michał Sutowski and Agnieszka Wiśniewska, “Zrzutka na Bayraktara dla Ukrainy [A Whip-Round to Buy Bayraktar for Ukraine],” Krytyka Polityczna, July 1, 2022.
  34. Gdula, “Szkodliwe złudzenia i rozsądne cele lewicowej polityki w sprawie wojny w Ukrainie [Harmful Illusions and Reasonable Goals of the Left-Wing Policy on the War in Ukraine],” Krytyka Polityczna, June 13, 2022.
  35. Domenico Losurdo, War and Revolution (New York: Verso, 2015), 85.
  36. Majmurek, “Lewica po roku wojny [The Left after One Year of the War],” Krytyka Polityczna, February 23, 2023.
2023, Volume 75, Number 07 (December 2023)
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