Which Way for the Left?

The Polish left-wing think tank Naprzód (Forward) co-organised a day-conference with transform! to discuss the common challenges facing the Polish and European left. How can the left rebuild itself in a situation when politics is increasingly dominated by the conservative and neo-liberal right?

The conference took place on 27 May in the headquarters of the Metalworkers’ Trade Union in Warsaw and was attended by over 50 people. In the first panel representatives of the Polish left (Piotr Ikonowicz from the Social Justice Movement and Aleksandra Kluczka from the Green Party) alongside those from Czech (Jiri Hudecek from the Party of Democratic Socialism) and German left (Heinz Bierbaum from Die Linke), discussed the topic of the left in Poland and Europe. The problems of building a movement of working people and reaching out to broader layers of society and particularly youth were discussed.

The second session was devoted to the issue of women and social movements. Representatives of the Polish women’s movement (Ewa Dąbrowska-Szulc) and the Polish Teachers’ Trade Union (Magdalena Kaszulanis), discussed with those from the Czech Republic (Dagmar Svendova – transform! europe) and Slovenia (Luka Volk – 8 March Institute) about the rise of the women’s movement and the role of women in wider social movements. Poland has recently seen huge social protests against the proposal to ban abortion in the country. Also, the teachers’ union is involved in a campaign to call a referendum to stop the government’s proposal to reform the education system. There was a lively discussion about the role of women in these movements and the relationship between the women’s movement and the left. This involved the issue of what is the relationship between class and gender and to what extent the rights of women should be central to the campaigns of the left.

The final panel involved a discussion about non-voting and how the left can attract support for those that do not vote in elections. This session was devoted mainly to the situation in Poland and Hungary, which both face the common difficulties of being governed by an authoritarian conservative right, where the left is weak and marginalized. These issues were discussed by Attila Vajnai (Workers’ Party of Hungary) and Gavin Rae (Naprzód), who shared the experiences in Hungary and Poland. Attila expressed the opinion that the left has to learn from the election campaigns of those such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn and use social media to motivate young people to participate in elections. Gavin Rae described Naprzód’s current research project into non-voting in Poland, which is looking at who are left-wing non-voters in the country and how may left-wing parties help to activate them.

This conference was the second public event organized by Naprzód, after its first conference on Authoritarianism and Nationalism in Europe was held last November. Naprzód is seeking to create a dialogue between the Polish and European left, in order to help deepen cooperation between them and help strengthen and build the left in Poland.