The Progressive Post

🇵🇱 The Polish Left: a story of a fall. And a rise?


Editor-in-Chief, Res Humana bimonthly, Warsaw

This June, Polish progressive parties recorded their worst political appearance in history. To survive, they must rethink their strategies and introduce an audacious recovery plan.

Although Poland is among – if not the – most EU-enthusiastic society within the Union, the 2024 June elections did not translate this fact. One reason may be that the country is still at the beginning of the road to rebuilding democracy and the rule of law after eight years of Jarosław Kaczyński’s Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) experiment with gradual, but consistent, sliding towards ever more rigid authoritarianism. Domestic issues clearly have prevailed over European ones, even though the Union is now standing at a crossroads – with the war at its borders, the inevitable end of the belle époque of peace dividend, anxiety concerning the future of Euro-Atlantic relations (in case the US November election brings Donald Trump back to the White House), migration pressure, dissatisfaction of various social groups from declining living standards, the AI-provoked reshuffling of the economy looming on the horizon and the climate crisis.

Generally, Poles are aware of those upcoming changes, but in the campaign, the political parties chose to focus the debate on national issues. At its closing, there was an outburst of patriotic emotions linked with tensions on the Polish-Belarusian border and the continuous Lukashenka-sponsored attempts to traffic people from the Middle East and Africa into the EU. Prior to that, numerous proofs of the abuse of public money for political purposes by the previous (PiS) government were disclosed. There also was a big debate on PiS’ inability to counteract Russian interference with sensitive areas of the functioning of the state. The Green Deal was widely criticised due to its alleged contradiction to the interests of Polish farmers. In fact, no actor stood in defence of the EU plans, including the Left, who restricted itself to the idea of amending current policies. At the outset, Kaczyński tried to base his narratives on the notion of sovereignty (‘threatened by Brussels and Berlin’). However, in view of the election outcome, this argumentation evaporated.

Donald Tusk’s Civic Coalition (Civic Platform plus three small parties of differing natures: left-wing, liberal and Green) managed this discourse well. It gave the main ruling party the first position at the finish line, although with less than one percentage point ahead of PiS (37.06 against 36.16 per cent). The ‘Freedom and Independence’ Confederation, openly anti-EU, received as much as 12 per cent of votes, an unusually high number. What is even more alarming, the smaller government parties suffered a serious defeat: the centre-conservative Third Way with a surprising 6.9 per cent, half of its support in recent national (eight months earlier) and regional (two months ago) elections, and the Left with just 6.3 per cent.

The latter result was not, unfortunately, unexpected. The left-wing coalition consisting of New Left (Nowa Lewica) – formed three years ago as a merger of the traditional Social Democracy, for years dominant on the political scene, with Wiosna (‘spring’) expressing expectations of younger generations – and Razem (‘together’), another party of the young, more labour-oriented, has been losing support from 12.5 per cent in 2019, through 8.6 per cent last autumn, 6.32 per cent in April regional elections to the lowest result ever this June. These figures show that Polish left-wing parties have a structural problem, probably being unable to identify and address issues important to the society – which is vastly socially sensitive, strongly pro-European and undergoing a quick social change. The Left’s campaign has not shown its European devotion, be it concerning the climate crisis, the rights of women (including abortion), or the need for deeper integration – also through amending the EU treaties (for example to respond to security challenges). These postulates have been raised by Lewica on many occasions, but this time the communication concentrated on domestic needs, like the idea of solving the housing problem through a special European fund.

Now, these parties will have to rethink their strategies. It is certain that they will spectacularly lose the forthcoming presidential election (Summer 2025). Nowa Lewica will continue to be part of the government coalition, maybe somewhat weakened, as its MPs are necessary to guarantee the stability of the coalition. The Polish left has three and a half years to find remedies and to regain strength.

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