Hundreds of thousands of women across Poland have taken to the streets to protest against a ruling to outlaw nearly all abortions, made by the country’s top court, whose independence has been repeatedly undermined in recent years by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party. Below is a translation of a recent social media analysis by Przemek Wielgosz, Editor of Le Monde Diplomatique’s Polish Edition
A revolution has been taking place in Poland for a week now. According to police, 430,000 people demonstrated in 410 cities on Wednesday, October 28th. Their anger, caused by the proposal for another tightening of repressive anti-abortion laws in Poland, could not be confined to their homes or Facebook.
Thousands of demonstrators are occupying the streets every day, despite the justified fear of a second wave of the epidemic, which the government has belittled, by lying premeditatedly to people that the virus has passed, masks do not need to be worn and our health services do not need support. Today, the people responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people waiting for treatment in cash-starved hospitals or evicted from their homes have the audacity to blame the protests for the increase in Covid cases. Who knows, perhaps that was the point of the judgment of the pseudo-constitutional court. After all, the governments needs scapegoats.
Perhaps it was a question of quickly pushing such a right-wing ban, while it was still possible, before the epidemic sweeps the state of the Law and Justice Party from the face of the earth. Or maybe they just wanted to shackle women under the cover of a creeping lockdown. After Law and Justice Party leader Kaczynski’s de facto call for violence, everything can be expected. A state of emergency introduced at the hands of fascist militias? You don’t need much imagination to envisage such a scenario. But that’s not what is most important today.
What is important, however, is that the right, when attacking women’s rights, has once again miscalculated. It is also important that the context in which the pseudo-court judgment took place was the epidemic, which both deters people from taking action but has also led to a great accumulation of anger that has just exploded. Perhaps, if it weren’t for the epidemic, the demonstrations would have been even bigger. But they are already strong and determined enough, and may last long enough to overthrow the authorities. This does not mean that this will automatically happen, and in any case not necessarily now.
Nevertheless, the fact that the protests have spilled over into hundreds of small towns shows that we have found ourselves at a point of no return. The ruling right wing has lost what it never really had, but what it had skilfully claimed to have: an image as a social party above all else, which only occasionally has to throw some red meat to the Church and its fundamentalist electorate. This image has just blown up in its face. Today, no one believes it is a social party, except perhaps a few dupes of the right. Current events once again argue that Law and Justice and the right wing Confederation are waging a culture war as a substitute for policy. They do it because that’s their deepest nature. It is the essence of their idea for Poland.
The conservative-national political project is based on the subjugation of women, constant mobilization against minorities and variously defined strangers and enemies, as well as pacifying the workers. The fight against women from the beginning has a class dimension here, because the outlawing of abortion (but also restrictions on access to contraception, sex education, divorce) will hit the poorest women hardest, those from small towns and the peasantry. It will also be a blow to care and reproductive workers – nurses, teachers, preschoolers, babysitters – who, as experience of the ongoing pandemic demonstrates, are providing the basis for the functioning of the economy and the survival of society in general. The representatives of these groups know this perfectly, which is why they take to the streets in hundreds of towns where no one had ever heard of demonstrations before.
This notorious social government is meant to serve an abstract ‘nation’, but what exactly is it? A nation based on the rhetoric of the right relies upon a negative identity; it is defined only by exclusion – indicating who does not belong to it, who threatens it and who allegedly betrays it. That is why the favorite political game of Law and Justice and the Confederation, which has just lost its image as an anti-system party, now that it is in power, boils down to excluding from this holy body more social groups daring to claim their rights. It is for this reason that the physical attacks by fascist militias on women, which a few years ago the same militants wanted to defend against refugees, come as no surprise. In the nationalist vision of the world, the beaten people are not real Polish women, because they dared to take to the streets. Similarly, the participation in the strike automatically excludes nurses or teachers from the Community of Poles, as affirmed by the right.
Contrary to our fears, today we are not facing a choice of whether to fight for women’s rights or to fight the government of Law and Justice and its Confederation facilitators. It’s a false alternative. One without the other is simply not possible. Except that the order of things is the opposite of what liberals seem to think. The current situation is a kind of permanent revolution. Democratic demands can only be achieved by fighting for women’s rights. Their attainment is a condition for, not an addition to, progressive political change. Awareness of this fact is felt in the streets. Therefore, there is no question for a large number of demonstrators of any new compromise. If the whole thing were to end with some kind of deal, it would be merely a restoration of right wing hegemony in a new guise – but again at the expense of women and, consequently, democracy.
We are convinced today of how false were the ideas of rebuilding the left on the corpse of women or by enrolling supporters of social justice into the Law and Justice Party. Indeed, recent years have shown that the exact opposite is true. The fight for reproductive rights is proving crucial to the left’s credibility. The electoral defeat of Law and Justice and the end of subordinating the prosecutor’s office to the interests of one party, ensuring the freedom of the judiciary, will be merely a masquerade without the achievement of full reproductive rights. As is the case with social rights, human rights without women’s rights are just pillars of unfair privilege. The distance shown by the leaders of the opposition Civic Platform to the protests shows very well that the universal and class dimension of the issue of the right to abortion is very much a problem for them. Today, their calls for reason and the postponement of abortion are not only not the right solution, but part of the problem that the crowds on the streets are protesting against. We can see in all their short-sightedness that fundamental democratic deficits exist on both the sides of both right-wing bonapartism and the liberal-conservative opposition.
Contrary to appearances, the question of democracy or being anti-Law and Justice in the broad protest movement is not the only issue facing women today. After all, it is women who control this movement, they give it its dynamism and form, their subjectivity and efficiency produce democracy on the streets. It’s women who shout ”Fuck Law and Justice” and ”Get the Fuck Out” and they know exactly why they do it. They simply recognize a strategic truth not seen by the strategists of the parliamentary opposition, or those who would like to reduce current events to ’identity politics’ of a certain part of the activist movement. This truth is that the path to ousting the right is through winning women’s rights. This is a necessary condition for it. To paraphrase a certain gloomy figure from the enemy camp – there is no other way.* Certainly not today in Poland.
[*Kaczynski made a speech a few days ago where he kept saying, ”There is no other way” but for ”the public” to defend the Church and the nation on the streets from the attacks of the left. – translator’s note]
Image: A banner against earlier changes in abortion law in Poland, which reads, “We want doctors, not policemen.” Author: Zorro2212, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.