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20 Program on Central and Eastern Europe

The Infirmity of Social Democracy in Postcommunist Poland

1992 Jan Kubik


In this essay I will offer an interpretation of the seemingly paradoxical situation whereby the existence of a large potential social democratic constituency did not result in the creation of strong and popularly supported social democratic parties.! I will try to demonstrate how the discourse of socialism (social democracy) was used, abused, and misused in Polish public life from the 19705 through 1991, and turned into a very unreliable and unpredictable political weapon once communism collapsed. In particular, I will examine hidden social functions of the communist/socialist ambiguity. After (1) outlining the four modes of socialism's public existence, I will demonstrate (2) how this ambiguity was constructed and used by the communist authorities and (3) how it was "disarmed" during the symbolic confrontation between the state, the Catholic Church, and the organized opposition in the late 19705 and 19805. Next, I will briefly discuss (4) the deideologization of the political discourse in the early 1980s and (5) the temporary disappearance of socialism and/or communism/socialism from the public life, particularly during the 1989 parliamentary elections. Finally, I will (6) sketch the resurrection of the communist/socialist ambiguity in the most recent (1990-91) political debates and its impact on social democracy's political infirmity.