Thursday, 20 August 2009

Radical Democracy 101

The previous week I spent at the seaside with Młodzi Socjaliści (Young Socialists). I had been invited to their summer camp to teach about social movements, ecology, gender, and other "New Left" topics. It fit well. The programme of the camp combined economic and cultural issues with lessons in the history of Socialist movement in Poland.

It was an important encounter, for me personally, especially because of the meetings with witnesses of Socialist tradition. It reminded me of my own experience in the late 1990s. It was sad times, with their overwhelming impression of "there is no alternative," and with the chronic shock therapy passing for "coming back to normalcy" (or even "to Europe"). In 1990s, I felt like Odysseus on the island of Lotus-Eaters: not remembering who I was, where did I come from, and unable to fix a direction.

And then, like Odysseus in a poet's song, I recognised myself in the history of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), with its long and noble tradition of struggle for national independence, democracy, and socialism. Established in 1892, it is the oldest political party in Poland. Until 1948 it was a major party on the Polish scene. Although now it is marginal, its heritage still matters. PPS has never been enmeshed in undemocratic regimes of any sort, either capitalist (before 1939) or -- at least nominally -- socialist ones (after 1948). Its history is a story of failed efforts to build democratic socialism in Poland: after 1918, after 1945, after 1989... But it is not just about failure. Above all, it is a reminder that our past could have been quite different. And our future still can be.

That is why I felt deep intimacy at the camp. Młodzi Socjaliści are a Polish youth movement affiliated with the European Left; they also closely cooperate with PPS. As in the sad 1990s, it still requires a substantial dose of non-conformism to describe oneself as Socialist in today's Poland. I wonder what is more difficult: to come out as gay or lesbian or as Socialist. But, as Hannah Arendt taught us, politics is basically about courage -- or it is rubbish. In the courage of young people proud to be Socialists, there is some irresistible attraction. No wonder their ranks are growing. I am smiling to the thought that this is real politics, after all.

Adam Ostolski

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