In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • A Communist Comeback?Poland's Longing for Paternalism
  • Marcin Król (bio)

That the forces of the communist ancien régime won a big victory in the recent elections in Poland is of course important, but we can easily underrate or overrate its significance. We overrate it, I submit, when we fear that communism or "really existing socialism" is about to be revived—whether as an ideology, a system of power, or both. Such a restoration is out of the question for several reasons:

  • • There is surely no way back at all to anything like the old Soviet Union (though it is also true that there is no easy path to a liberal democratic Russia).

  • • There is no way back from the free market economy, although leftist (especially "peasant") parties may impede its development and may even try to introduce protectionism and quasi-socialist welfare policies.

  • • There is no way back to a totalitarian ideology, for the triumph of concepts like human rights seems (across most of Europe at least) to be unquestioned and definitive.

  • • There is no way back to any kind of authoritarian rule in Poland, for Poles are very pleased with the freedoms that now prevail and will refuse to accept any restored or new-model restrictions.

  • • Finally, there is no way back because postcommunist leaders (whether Polish, Hungarian, Slovak, or Czech) clearly do not want to go back, although the desires of some of their constituencies are not so transparent.

On the other hand, we underrate the significance of the recent [End Page 85] electoral results in Poland—170 out of 460 Sejm seats for the ex-communists and 130 for their former allies in the Peasants' Party—when we fool ourselves into thinking that:

  • • The ex-communists are really promarket, and hence pose no great danger to the development of the Polish economy. (The first part of this statement happens to be true, but the second part does not follow from it.)

  • • The election results came about only or primarily because earlier governments had to take tough steps to reduce inflation, losing any chance at popularity in the process.

  • • The change of government was just a normal fact of political life. One party (or rather a clutch of parties descended from Solidarity) lost and two other parties won. Such alternation happens all the time in the West, so why not also in newly democratic Eastern Europe?

  • • It is a glitch, a passing phase, and soon the voters will wake up and realize how stupid they have been. We shall have new elections in a year or so, and the "right" people will win them.

  • • Society behaved really stupidly in electing ex-communists to the parliament; what society needs, therefore, is a stem lesson, a good hard slap in the face, as it were. Thus the worse the old communists do, the better not only for the present opposition, but for society as a whole in the long run.

All of these opinions have been expressed already in the Polish mass media. We could quote more, but the above examples should suffice. If we want to avoid both overrating and underrating this halfway comeback of former communists, we must examine in more detail two aspects of the Polish "social imagination" (which are also partly applicable to other postcommunist countries) and then proceed to analyze the consequences of the new situation. The revolution of 1989 in Poland was undoubtedly the outcome of two ideas, myths, symbols, or illusions: Solidarity and the "independent nation" (ojczyzna or "fatherland" in Polish). Other postcommunist countries did not have Solidarity, but they were influenced by the myth of Solidarity and had as its equivalent some version or other of the idea or myth of "democracy." All of them, of course, also desired "independent nationhood."

Solidarity and Civil Society

"Civil society" became a watchword at the beginning of the 1980s when Solidarity (both the union and the concept) was at its height. Today we know full well that while the opposition in communist Poland may have sown the seeds of civil society, it had neither the time nor the opportunity to complete the tedious and complex task of nurturing the plant to maturity...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 85-95
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.