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Issue #1753      October 19, 2016

Culture & Life

“Doctors not missionaries”

I see that, in Poland, the reality of what the overthrow of Socialism really means is finally beginning to sink in. About time, I hear you say? Well, yes, but remember the unfortunate history of the country, wedged between – and until WW1, actually divided between – Tsarist Russia, an expansionist Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The justly-named Great War put an end to all three of those empires.

Polish women protest against abortion ban.

After WW1, an independent Poland – safely under the domination of its landed gentry – was established as a buffer against the danger of Revolutionary Russia. Anti-Russian sentiment was encouraged and the all-powerful Catholic Church exerted all its influence to oppose Russia and “Godless Communism”. The ruling landlords were more than happy to support such policies. As early as 1921, thanks in part to the foolishly provocative machinations of Trotsky, Poland went to war with Soviet Russia and seized a large chunk of territory which the USSR did not recover for 20 years.

In the decade prior to WW2, while Nazi Germany developed its armed might and prepared for a war of imperial conquest, a war in which the German army would of necessity have to pass through Poland, landlords’ Poland prepared for war not with Germany but with its large neighbour Russia. Polish cavalry rehearsed invading the Russian steppe, Polish governments refused to co-operate with any moves to restrict German aggression, Polish diplomacy supported every anti-Soviet action. At Munich, Poland even seized its share of Czechoslovakia, blind to what was clearly looming on its own horizon.

Although Britain and France had both “guaranteed” Poland’s security, only the USSR was in a position to actually do so and that the Polish gentry resolutely refused to countenance. So when Hitler finally invaded and the Anglo-French guarantees proved in fact to be worthless, the Polish government fled the country. The Red Army moved to occupy the territory seized by Poland in 1921 and deny it to the invading Nazis.

Thousands of Polish Jews were evacuated to the east. When they returned at the end of the war, they were shocked to find themselves reviled by Polish Catholics, who pelted their trains with stones and shouted at them to “Go home – we don’t want you here!”

Poland was almost the only European country where the Communists were unable to unify the anti-Nazi Resistance movement. Polish workers and poor peasants, led by the Communists, formed a partisan army to fight the Nazis but anti-Communist and anti-Soviet Polish nationalists formed the Armia Krajowa (the notorious AK). The latter was far more interested in fighting Communists than Nazis, with whom they were politically in sympathy.

“Specially trained groups of AK terrorists waylaid and murdered Red Army soldiers and spokesmen for the [Soviet-backed] Warsaw regime. ... AK terrorists killed 594 Red Army officers and men over a period of eight months ...”(Sayers & Kahn, The Great Comspiracy).

The Catholic Church in Poland was fiercely anti-Communist as well as anti-Jewish. The Nazi propaganda that had equated Jews and Communists was eagerly absorbed by the priest-ridden Polish nationalists. After the war, the country was awash with weapons and the former members of the Armia Krajova and bandit groups such as the so-called “Forrest Brothers” were easily able to turn to terrorism in their attempts to stop the formation of collective farms or the establishment of state or collective enterprises. Communist activists were assassinated with frightening frequency.

When the Nazis retreated from Eastern Europe, the Abwehr left cells of intelligence agents behind to organise espionage and sabotage for after the war. This network was taken over in full by the US. Nowhere did it have as much support as in Poland, thanks in large part to the unfortunate role of the Catholic Church.

Like all the Socialist countries, post-war Poland had to exist in conditions of economic and political siege. This inevitably caused problems, but these could have been surmounted as they have been in Cuba, for example, if the Party had had the full support of the people. In Poland, however, the Party’s support was patchy at best.

US and other imperialist intelligence agencies worked assiduously behind the scenes and US propaganda services worked openly and equally assiduously to destabilise Socialist Poland, disrupt its economy and discredit Socialism itself. The demagogue Lech Walesa was able to opportunistically use real grievances in the Gdansk shipyards to create an anti-Communist “union”, which he called “Solidarity” and which imperialism and the ultra-left embraced with equal delight.

After 1989, and the overthrow of Socialism in most of Eastern Europe, an outcome greatly facilitated by the machinations of Gorbachev, Lech Walesa became President of the new anti-Communist Poland. The term “Communist” and Communist symbols such as the hammer and sickle were banned – and still are.

“Democratic” elections were held under conditions that guaranteed success for a far-right government, which has taken Poland into NATO, engaged in joint exercises with the US rehearsing a war against Russia, and overseen the destruction of the country’s ship-building industry. Poland is now economically subservient to Germany where many of its workers must now seek employment if they do not want to starve.

Astonishingly, in these conditions, Poland’s far-right government – at the behest of the Catholic Church – has sought to overturn some of the basic rights that date back to the country’s Socialist past. The Church has proposed a new law that would make it almost impossible for women to get abortions.

That the Catholic Church, or indeed any church, can put forward laws is itself a sad commentary on the country’s political situation, dominated as it is by right-wing extremism. But all is not lost. Thousands of Polish women declared a national strike against the new law. Over 5,000 angry women marched in Warsaw on what they dubbed “Black Monday” – in mourning for their reproductive rights – with signs reading, “We want doctors not missionaries” and “A government is not like a pregnancy – it can be terminated.”

Protests in solidarity have been held in other countries, alarmed at this retrograde grab for power by a Catholic Church seeking to reclaim the untrammelled power it had in parts of Europe before WW2.

Poland’s progressives are determined that it shall not succeed.

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