Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Travails of the Left

'There's no one to vote for' is the phrase repeated with depressing regularity when discussing the current elections. So with many fatigued by the two dominant right-wing parties in Poland, does the left have a chance to make a breakthrough at next month's parliamentary elections?

An opening emerged for the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) following the relatively good result of its leader, Grzegorz Napieralski, in the Presidential elections last year. Napieralski ran an energetic campaign which, although low on political content, was carried out without the support of much of the party's 'old guard'. The surprisingly high result for Napieralski (14%) meant that he had an opportunity to widen the political base of the SLD, allying with different movements and individuals on the left.

Napieralski would claim that he has managed to do this. The SLD is standing on a joint list with the Green Party, the Womens' Party and the Labour Union. Although the latter is now little more than a satellite of the SLD, the Green Party and Womens' Party are small but genuinely active parties, with broadly left political programmes.

However, Napieralski has managed to isolate the party from a range of other left activists both due to political principles and organisational maneuvers.

No one is quite sure what the SLD stands for. On the one hand it has proposed a number of progressive social policies that would help society's poorest and build the country's public services. However, it has combined this with an economic programme that is based upon liberal principles.

One of the biggest mistakes of Napieralski has been to bring the ex-Prime Minister - Leszek Miller - back into the fold. Miller is the most vocal advocate of neo-liberal economics within the party, even proposing a flat-income tax rate whilst in power. He follows the Blairite dictum that the left should be supporters of liberal economic policies, that he believes will drive economic growth.

Following this philosophy, the SLD has signed an economic pact with the Polish Business Centre Club (BCC) based around the principles of fast economic growth, improving public finances, creating a friendly environment for business, developing technology and innovation and (finally) a fair distribution of wealth. Although short on detail, the pact confirms the SLD's wish to be seen as the most 'pro-business' party in Poland.

As well as allowing the politics of Miller and the 'old guard' to gain dominance, Napieralski has also given them prominent positions on the party's electoral lists. The most galling example of this, is Miller gaining first place in the SLD's electoral list in the city of Gdynia. Genuine left activists have generally found themselves lower down these lists with little hope of entering parliament.

All this has led to some dissatisfaction within the ranks of the SLD. In August the prominent gay rights activist, Robert Biedron, withdrew as an SLD candidate after he failed to gain a prominent position on the SLD list in Warsaw. Biedron has subsequently decided to stand as a candidate for the populist liberal Palikot Movement. Also the regional trade union leader, Barbara Kramarz, has resigned as an SLD candidate stating that by signing an agreement with the BCC then the SLD has shown that it is left-wing only in name.

There remain some real left-wing activists on the SLD list, that deserve the support of all those hoping for a renewal of the left in Poland. These include the Green Party and Womens' Party candidates, ex-Health Minister Marek Balicki and MichaƂ Syska from the Ferdinand Lassalle Centre For Social Thought.

The more that such candidates get elected, the stronger the left's chance is of opposing the current political course of the SLD and its aim of entering a coalition government with Citizens' Platform.

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