Poland’s Iron Consensus

The new Polish parliament represents a full spectrum of opinion — from the liberal right to the populist right to the ultra-conservative right.

The relatively monolithic composition is hardly a surprise. With a solid right-wing electoral consensus before the October 25 elections, the Right’s strong showing just signaled that its hegemony is firmly intact. The ultra-conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) won an outright majority of seats, replacing the center-right Citizen’s Platform (PO), which came in second.

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Meanwhile, the compromised social-democratic post-Communists and the young, new left were completely shut out. If the Polish left is to revive itself and break today’s iron consensus, it must learn from this election and the past decade of right-wing rule.

Winners and Losers

Despite being considered a winner of post-Communist transition, Poland has experienced very uneven development; vast amounts of wasted human capacity, social dislocation, and poverty coexist with pockets of wealth and success. The transition has produced a small upper-middle class and a much larger class far behind, leading many young Poles to emigrate in search of something better — the largest single emigration in recent European history.

In the quarter-century since 1989, Poland’s capitalist transformation has been marked by a relatively unbroken sequence of reforms — carried out by everyone from ex-Communist apparatchiks to Catholic arch-conservatives — that have ushered in not only capitalism but its harsh neoliberal variant. The country’s initial transformation began with a heavy dose of “shock therapy” in the early 1990s, while the past two decades have brought a more measured pace of reform that is slowly completing the neoliberal revolution. Read More