A number of discussions devoted precisely to this matter has been recently held in Poland. Although some people believe that the left wing is actually redundant, I am not a fan of such a radical statement. In my opinion, the current poor state of the left, on the one hand, was a key factor which contributed to the success of the right-wing populists, and on the other, its ideas for a political platform made its appeal to the centrist-liberal movements grow weaker.
The leaders of the left have no recipe for neither themselves, nor their parties. It seems that they have no clue who to address, what people consistute their target audience – whereas in order to create a viable political option, defining and gathering the core, loyal electorate are indispensible. And although it is not only a problem typical of only Polish parties, in our country it is manifested in a particularly radical form: the lack of any left-wing representation in the Parliament. In many places in “the West” we witness the weakening of socio-democratic and socialist parties and a significant increase in power of right-wing populists, who start to better (at least rhetorically) address the needs of the previously socialist electorate.
It is not true that we face a drastic crisis of liberal movements – it is the alternative to these organizations that has changed radically as a result of a deep structural crisis of the left wing. To put it plainly and oversimplifying a little, the democratic struggle in the Western world takes place between the “liberal” and “non-liberal” camps. It is quite normal that after a long period of the dominance of the “liberal” movements – in case of Poland: eight years of the rule of Civic Platform (of course, labelling this party as liberal is yet another oversimplification – the point is that people believed it to be liberal and as such it was perceived), must have led to a shift towards a “non-liberal” force. That’s what happens in democracies. Historically, the process of stabilizing the Western world was based on the fact that the left was always an alternative, while socialist parties – which, despite a different program – kept order in the system and did not break any democratic principles or the rule of law. Now, the democratic exchange of “liberal movements” is not utilized by the left (as was usually the case) but by populists of a completely new kind. From this point of view, the left gave up the power in Poland to Law and Justice. And this mechanism can be observed in many other countries.
This is why the question of what is the future of the left is more than in place in the context of thinking about the stability of the Western democratic systems. Left-wing parties in the post-war period have undergone a huge evolution and separated themselves from the classical working-class electorate. At the same time, completely new social processes took place and as a result changed both, professional groups and the way the world is perceived by the previously conservative middle class or the size of big-city electorate.
Now, the main line dividing the society goes between those who desire openness, tolerance, cooperation, trade and those who wish to be separated from others by a fence and who seek safety in tradition and nation, while at the same time deeming trade as a threat. This divide starts to be more visible geaographically: the residents of big cities versus the inhabitants of the provinces. Meanwhile, the left – especially in Poland – positioned itself across this divide, in turn losing the popularity among both groups.
After the “moral revolution” in 1968, the left more actively used and still uses liberal slogans of the sexual revolution – the revolution which now reflects the prevailing way of thinking of the big-city middle class, but which in Poland is to a great extent foreign to the excluded groups or the inhabitants of provinces, who still remain very conservative. At the same time, the leaders of the new Polish left (Barbara Nowacka of the United Left party or Adrian Zandberg of the Together party), due to their cultural and social background, education, or simply their language and behavior, address their political offer to middle class and are credible in their eyes – this, however, does not work for the working-class electorate or the province’s electorate.
Meanwhile, the political life of the leaders of the post-Polish People’s Republic left has come to an end. At the same time, the middle class in its sheer size reluctantly listens to the new (detached from reality) slogans referring to the fight with neoliberalism, increasing taxes or skepticism towards the idea of international trade that simply enables people to make more money. As a consequence, the leftist parties achieved not the best results in the recent parliamentary elections and did not manage to take place of the Civic Platform after eight years of its dominating position on the political market of left-wing ideas.
The left has to make a strategic decision concerning with which electorate it wishes to cooperate and which electorate does it want to influence most. If liberal slogans (organic to the current group of leaders) related to tolerance, fight against discrimination and building an open society were to prevail, the only chance of success is an alliance with liberals and a shift towards the big-city electorate. The result of such a cooperation would be also an ideological change in liberal parties. Both, Civic Platform and the Nowoczesna party are more conservative than their electorates – what discourages their voters.
An alliane of Nowoczesna and the new left could finally create a dream party for middle class: ideologically liberal and economically responsible. Another possible way – relating to the working-class electorate from smaller towns would mean that the current leaders would have to be moved aside and the left would have to find a new face for its movement – a person who would speak the language of these groups and would be credible in their circles, preferably a union activist. This also means that the ideological platform would have to be moved into the shadow or abandoned altogether. Change of discourse, resolving to emotional arguments rather than rational argumentation. Entering into competition in social slogans with Law and Justice but at the same time respecting the rule of law, democracy and the general pro-European attitude.
Which way will the left opt for? One thing is certain: as long as it is divided and does not know who does it want to address, it has no chance of succeeding. Maybe it could go in both directions? With Barbara Nowacka ideologically liberalizing the platform of the Nowoczesna party and thus strengthening and addressing the needs of its electorate. And a brand new, socialist left, with a new leader who would succesfully reclaim part of the Law and Justice electorate? We shall wait and see.
The article was originally published in Polish at http://lenkowski.liberte.pl/czy-lewica-jest-w-polsce-potrzebna/
Translated by Olga Łabendowicz