Social Protest Alternative to Clerical-Syndicalist Manifestation

On Sept. 29, the largest demonstration in years took place in Warsaw. Although it turned into something of a general „opposition” protest, it was initiated by the CatholicTV station Trwam and was joined by Solidarity, which mobilized around 30,000 people from all of Poland. Below is a brief analysis of such protests in Poland and why we feel it is so important to go into the streets with another message.

While the economic crisis is hitting working people and the tiny middle class in Poland with tremendous force, the right, including the far-right, are making huge headway in society, mobilizing people into a reactionary movement. Instead of any real analysis of the economic and political forces behind the current situation, the current rulers are blamed, leaving the postulates of capitalism untouched. While great parts of society are alienated, they feel hopeless to do anything. They then become mobilized by issues such as national pride or religion. However much of the real frustration relates to the social exclusion of large layers of society, especially the elderly and the poorer working class.

The leaders of the right therefore channel social frustration in this direction. It is also a way to build the right-wing electorate, as the message they bring is simply that, if they were in charge, none of this would be happening.

Anywhere between 50-100,000 people demonstrated during the day. The largest group present was from the union Solidarity, whose mobilizing efforts rarely reach this level regarding worker-related issues. The leader of Solidarity, speaking to the press on the 29th, called this union a „Christian” one and it is important to note its large right-wing and conversative base. However, a large part of their participants just treated this as yet another „opposition” protest.

The tendency to build such an „opposition” mentality is quite dangerous as it brings together various social forces which, although united „against” something, can actually be for something quite different. It is one of the methods of the elites to draw people into support for it. In this case, it was clear that the Solidarity leadership, which have often acted as the political vassals of the Law and Justice Party, are using their membership and resources to aid the ambitions of this party to gain more power.

The ZSP has, in general, always avoided „opposition” types events. A few years ago, when the conversative, clerical right had more power, and even fascists had posts as ministers, we also avoided this as the „opposition” was in fact created and manipulated by the liberal elite. Now the neoliberals, only slightly less clerical and with a more pro-European politics, are in the majority and the „opposition” changed its face. But our politics remain the same and are outside the political establishment. It is against all government, not the particular governments of any political option. It is against all power and for self-management of society and rejects the idea of placing value in regime change.

As it happens, the Tenants Defense Committee had the idea to march on this day before the announcement of this grand manifestation. Then this large mobilization was announced and this demonstration had to be reconsidered. Part of the reason for this was that there would also be a large number of extreme-right on the street, including fascists thugs who threaten to attack members of the ZSP. However, it was the members of this organization which rather insisted on marching and would not be intimidated, placing great importance on bringing a message to the streets, despite the social climate of the day.

Despite some efforts to invite more people to this demonstration, the Tenants and ZSP went alone, with only a couple of leftists joining. Such was and is the retreat of the microscopic Polish left in face of such manifestations.

The last two days prior to the demonstration, the TV announced that it was unclear if we would even be able to march given the fact that the clerical-syndicalist manifestation declared that it would go on the same route, only starting from the opposite end, at about the same time. As it turned out, they could classify themselves as a „religious procession”, a type of event which requires no permission. At the beginning of the demonstration, despite the fact that we were a few kilometers away, we found that the Catholic media had set up huge screens where we were gathering and was blasting broadcasts, so in fact, we could only speak when we moved from that place.

We encountered many groups of people along the way: unionists going to the other manifestation, people who just came out to look at the event, Varsovians just going about their daily business, tourists to the capital. Despite the scare that the media was trying to build, things went normally; we encountered supportive people but also the occasional yuppie scum or fascist who always make the same stupid remarks. And as usual, we just tell them off and continue.

There were some good speeches, especially made by tenants who had a deeper analysis of the situation. Relating to the slogan of the other manifestation, which was „Wake up Poland”, these people really called on people to wake up, noting the actions of the banks, developers and speculators and their connection with the political elite. There were many calls for people to develop class consciousness, even to the middle class people who have jobs now and are indebted with mortgages and other loans and whose future is quite precarious. It has been for years that these people care little about the poor, adopting the neoliberal ideology of blaming them for their own situation. This is also the ideology of the main media, so it is widespread and important to confront.

Many people stopped to listen and thousands of leaflets were handed out. The tenants' leaflet also criticized the idea that people can just go out on a few symbolic demonstrations which don't really address the issues and called on people to organize themselves and take part in grassroots work like the Tenants Defense Committee. This addressed one of the main issues we face: the inability of people to mobilize and self-organize, which makes the manifestations such as this clerical-syndicalist one look like the only social movement to many people.

The police, seeing that we wanted to march to the end as planned, said that they would hold back the manifestation until we finished ours, which lasted 2.5 hours. At the end, we came almost to the starting point of this manifestation and we set ourselves up in a square on the roundabout. There we gave more speeches and both people from this manifestation and other passersby stopped to listen.

After the tenants left, members of ZSP tried to have some encounters with members of Solidarity. In particular, there is one region where the workers have taken different stands than the union hierarchy and have taken more militant action. (In the past we have had some good contact with some rank and file from this region.) In the past few days, this region even started to call for a general strike. This is something quite different than the positions of the union leadership – although even the union boss started to repeat this threat, to make a political impact. All those we met were of the opinion that the word „strike” is just a political game to the union boss. However, it is no game for some of the rank and file workers, who support more resolute action than their union has taken.

We handed out a special issue of „Direct Action”, which had an article calling for strikes and analyzing why they were being supressed. As usual, such things aroused the interest of many workers who complained about the inaction of the unions.

Despite the quite adverse atmosphere of the day, we marched as planned – although perhaps with fewer people. More importantly, we refuse to take the defeatist posture of others who think that it is impossible to bring another message to the streets when the right-wing are there. The streets are still full of people and there is also a lot of socially excluded and frustrated people who just wind up at manifestations like this because they are the only large events organized or perhaps the only ones they are aware of.

In times like this, the right is making steady progress because the left has been in retreat. What is worse is what they have done with fiascos such as the Nov. 11 coalition. For the past 2-3 years, they have gone into coalition with the despised neoliberal establishment, to „confront” the right-wing. At first, some years ago, this was an anti-fascist march, organized by anarchists. Then, a few of the anarchists, with the sponsorship of the German left and Polish liberals took over and the fascists organized a response, gathering thousands of right-wing people to their side. These people are right-wing and nationalistic but the fascists managed to gather a lot of support in „opposition”, since this counter-event was now seem as an event of the liberal establishment, backed by euro cash. It is hard to see any bigger fiasco in European „anti-fascism” than this. What started as an annual march gathering a few dozen lunatics had around 20,000 people last year. Having experienced such a resounding defeat, the left-liberals have no idea about what can be done and simply keep behind closed doors or sit in their cafes, having no response to this. In the meanwhile, the organizers of this years' Nov. 11 nationalist march brought 130,000 leaflets to the Sept. 29 manifestation and hope to mobilize even more people this year.

The fiasco of Nov. 11 is the fiasco of the left and of parts of the „anarchist movement” which appeared hand and hand with the elites and which believe that only in a coalition with such people are they able to mobilize. It has been this attitude with completely shut them off from both the more radical anti-fascists, as well as large parts of the working class, to whom they had no message. And they still struggle to find anything of relevance to say. Now the work of these „movements” is confined to cafes, universities and intellectual media, completely isolated from huge segments of society which are suffering from this crisis and who are at a loss about what to do.

Our struggle however is in the street, not sitting out of sight. We hope that during the day we encountered a few people who will actually consider what we've been saying.

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