Polish women’s revolutionary moment

October 30, 2020

by Terry Moon

[See update at end of this post] While what is happening in Poland may not be a revolution, it most certainly is revolutionary. Women are leading a movement that is not only protesting the Catholic Church’s inhuman attack on women’s freedom, but is as well mounting a deep challenge to the fascist-leaning Polish government.

As of Oct. 30, when this was written, over 100,000 mostly women, a great many in their teens and early 20s and supported by many men, marched in Warsaw after being in the streets for eight days. They did not confine themselves to Warsaw, there were demonstrations throughout the country—including in Krakow, Wroclaw, Szczecin, Lodz, and other cities.


Women protesting anti-abortion law blockade a road in Kraków, Poland, Oct. 26, 2020. Photo: Franciszek Vetulani.

They chanted “I think, I feel, I decide!” protesting a Constitutional Tribunal court ruling making it unconstitutional to terminate a severely damaged fetus where “prenatal tests or other medical indications indicate a high probability of severe and irreversible fetal impairment or an incurable life-threatening disease.” The inhumanity of such a law is clear from the words of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who revealed his fanatical position in 2016: “We will strive to ensure that even pregnancies which are very difficult, when a child is sure to die, is severely deformed, end with the mother giving birth so the child can be baptized, buried, and have a name.” That cruel attempt at controlling women’s lives led to one of the largest demonstrations in Polish history.

In 2016 the PiS tried to change Poland’s already restrictive law to a bill so harsh that even miscarriages would be investigated and it would only allow abortion if a woman’s life is “directly threatened.” Then as now, tens of thousands of women took to the streets, engaged in a general strike, skipped classes, saying “NO!” to such barbarity. Then as now it was not only the massive size of the demonstrations or their passion for a freer Poland; it was as well the revolutionary history of Polish women that caused the rabidly anti-abortion Prime Minister and the ruling Law and Justice party to back down in what had been reported as a “humiliating climbdown.”

Because of what happened in Poland in 1980-81 with the Solidarnosc movement, Poland’s leaders recognize a revolutionary moment when it appears. That is why this time—under the pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic—they are pulling out all their tricks, calling this movement for freedom “Left-wing fascism.” Kaczynski yelled at opposition lawmakers, “You are destroying Poland.” Like Donald Trump, his partner in neo-fascism in the U.S., Kaczynski wants to paint people fighting for their rights as the enemy: “You are exposing a lot of people to death, you are criminal,” he screamed.


Not satisfied with siccing the police on women protesters, he called on his followers to defend churches “at any cost.” Heeding his call, on Oct. 29 the neo-fascists All-Polish Youth attacked women in Wroclaw, Poznan and Bialystok. Fellow fascist Robert Bakiewicz said his followers would form a “Catholic self-defense” force, a “national guard” to confront what he dubbed “neo-Bolshevik revolutionaries.”  He continued, “If necessary, we will crush them to dust and destroy this revolution.” The results were that women protesting in some churches were kicked, beaten, thrown down stairs and stomped on. Police fired tear gas into crowds in at least one confrontation; some arrested thugs had knives and clubs; and in Warsaw a car plowed into two women protesters, sending one to the hospital.

What else is new in this moment is the relationship forged between the women’s movement and that of LGBTQ+ people who are also under attack. The new minister of education pontificated that LGBTQ+ people are not equal to “normal people,” supports corporal punishment, “and said women’s key purpose in life is to have children.

As of Oct. 30, the president of Poland, Andrzej Duda, one of the main figures leading Poland to a fascist future, seemed to break not only with Kaczynski but with his own past by stating in a radio interview that “It cannot be that the law requires this kind of heroism from a woman.” He proposed allowing abortion if the fetus would die before or after birth, but for no other “incurable life-threatening disease.” Such a ridiculous compromise has changed nothing. It was only after seven days of creative and militant protests across Poland that he finally spoke up, fearing that the situation would get out of control as this year women took their fight directly to the state and the Church.


They challenged the state by staging a nationwide strike on Oct. 28, where over 400,000 people protested in over 400 cities across Poland. They defied the ban on public gatherings and marched on the Parliament, blocking traffic in 50 cities and pulling in other workers from office buildings and the street. They fought the Church by vandalizing church buildings; staging sit-ins at cathedrals with coat hangers to remind all of what happens to women when abortions are illegal; marching down church aisles dressed as handmaids in red cloaks; and interrupting masses. Grupa Stonewall, an LGBTQ+ group, posted a video of a protest at a church in Poznan, chanting “We’ve had enough!”  Women hung posters on church walls and fences, labeling churches as “Women’s Hell,” and picturing crucified pregnant women.

Polish women know that this fight goes beyond the crucial right of women to control our own bodies. As actress and protest participant Emma Herdzik said: “Now it’s not really just about abortion, it’s a protest about the loss of humanity”; while 19-year-old student Julka Wojciechowska, spoke for many saying: “I am so furious! They have no right to decide about my life, about my personal decisions, about my future. They don’t understand young people. They don’t understand the world now, but they are trying to regulate our lives. We will never allow that.”

Once again, Polish women are holding a beacon for others to follow.


UPDATE as of Nov. 11, 2020.  So widespread, powerful and militant were women’s response to the Polish government’s underhanded attempt to ban abortions where there’s “a high probability of severe and irreversible fetal impairment or an incurable life-threatening disease,” that it was forced to indefinitely postpone implementing the law. The demonstrations lasted for two weeks–with over a million in the streets each night–creating the largest outpouring of people since the collapse of Communism in 1989.

Marta Lempart, a member of “the grassroots women’s movement Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet (OSK, or All-Polish Women’s Strike)” said, “I think it is a whole backlash against a patriarchal culture, against the patriarchal state, against the fundamentalist religious state, against the state that treats women really badly.” That those in the streets were marching for women’s control of their bodies and much more is seen in how OSK is also demanding expanded rights for LGBTQ+ people as well as women, universal healthcare, the separation of church and state and the independence of the judicial branch of government which was illegally stacked by the PiS.

Women’s words tell the story. As Maria Kowalczyk, 38, told The Guardian: Poland is “years behind. In this country, because of the politics and doctrine of the government and the religious fanatics, someone who is different is worse. The way they treat LGBT people, migrants, all minorities–and now women … Society has had enough. Forcing a mother to give birth to a baby without an organ is simply insane”; Julia Estera, 30, Łódź, said, “We are a religious state where we are all demanded to think in one possible way.” Bianka, 15, and Maja, 16, said Poland’s youth would not back down. “We don’t want to live in a country where we don’t have a choice, where everything is decided for us.” A young male historian, Andrzej Kompa, said he’s protesting “not just against this hell for women, decided by this so-called constitutional court, but against this government, against church involvement in political affairs, for minority rights. Simply for freedom.”

In the wake of the demonstrations, the popularity of PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski–who was the power behind the anti-abortion ruling–has plummeted to where 70% of Poles want him out of office.

No one, least of all Polish women–who have taken to the streets in the hundreds of thousands in 2016 as well as now to stop another attack on their limited right to abortion–are fooled into thinking that the government’s step back on imposing the draconian abortion law is either permanent or represents an understanding that women must have control of their own bodies. Women know that the law–which was halted by not publishing it in an official journal–could be changed at a moment’s notice.

The Polish neo-fascists would do well to listen to Raya Dunayevskaya, who, understanding the power of a freedom movement, wrote in the 1980s that “The Women’s Liberation Movement of this age is, indeed, at a different stage, a very different stage. It has raised altogether new questions and made a new contribution and done so globally.” One of those global differences, is seen, she writes, “with the demonstration for abortion rights in Italy in 1976, when a hundred thousand women marched and brought down the government.”[1] Polish women aim to do the same.

[1] Raya Dunayevskaya, Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution (University of Illinois Press, 1991), p. 101.

2 thoughts on “Polish women’s revolutionary moment

  1. Without the sub-revolutionary revolution of the working class of men and women, no social-human-problem can be solved! This must be well understood.
    Yes, I believe, one must believe Lenin’s statement that: “Without a coercive revolution, it is impossible to replace the bourgeois state with the proletarian state. “The destruction of the proletarian state (the dictatorship of the proletariat – I), in other words, the destruction of any state is possible only through” decline “.”, Lenin – the state and the revolution.
    Without death – the decline of the state, the liberation of society is impossible, and ultimately the destruction and non-existence of society is inevitable. The worker and the one who does not accept the continuation of the class struggle until the class war and the victory of the coercive revolution of the proletariat and the establishment of the state of the proletariat as the last state of class societies that will disappear with the classes and the workers themselves as a special class. A communist man, a revolutionary worker, is not one who strives for his own liberation and that of human society, and is doomed to live a life of slavery in today’s exploitative and mortal society.

    Women’s liberation is generally possible only when the proletarian communist revolution has won. The victory of the communist revolution is not possible without the participation of the mass of working class women.

    Our world can be destroyed without a world revolution – a continuous Marxist revolution! Because the capitalist system has insurmountable contradictions and contradictions, and with each passing day the intensity of its inherent contradictions increases, and also according to the law of revolutionary dialectic-materialist dialectic, everything that is born one day, along with growth and development. And the constant changes mark his death!

  2. The Left, since the beginning of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the mid-1960s, has been lecturing women that workers make the revolution and women have to wait for their liberation until after. And yet, revolution after revolution have failed women and men too, for that matter. Nowhere are women free, only in some places are they better off than other places.

    Marxist-Humanists discern that Karl Marx had a multilinear approach to revolution, seeing that it could come from many directions and subjects of revolt—including women. That is what we are seeing today in Poland—a reach for a new human society. Just as it will take workers—women and men—to destroy capitalism, so it will take women to destroy sexism/misogyny. History has shown us that for revolution to succeed, it must be total from the start.

    In her work, Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution (p. 109), Raya Dunayevskaya answers comrade Hamid Ghorbani. There she writes:

    “Not to see how very pivotal the Man/Woman relationship is as concept, to attempt to reduce Women’s Liberation to ‘an organizing idea,’ as Sheila Rowbotham does, is, to this author, but the other side of the coin of what Lenin did in 1902, when he seemed to reduce Marxism to an organizing idea, adding further that his was the only type of organization that was truly vanguard. To do that in 1981 does not exactly answer the burning questions of the day. Furthermore, Lenin had the saving grace of making revolution integral to all his concepts. Social revolution does come first, provided it is not—indeed revolution cannot be—without Women’s Liberation or behind women’s backs, or by using them only as helpmates.

    “Quite the contrary. History proves a very different truth, whether we look at February 1917, where the women were the ones who initiated the revolution; whether we turn further back to the Persian Revolution of 1906-11, where the women created the very first women’s soviet; or whether we look at our own age in the 1970s in Portugal, where Isabel do Carmo raised the totally new concept of apartidarismo. It is precisely because women’s liberationists are both revolutionary force and Reason that they are crucial. If we are to achieve success in the new revolutions, we have to see that the uprooting of the old is total from the start.

    “It will not do to rewrite history, and it certainly will not help, in digging into the 1917 Russian Revolution or the 1919 German Revolution, to repeat the same 1902 answer (as both Stalinists and Trotskyists do)—‘the party, the party, the party’—and then to claim that, because Luxemburg did not have ‘a vanguard party’ and Lenin did, that that alone explains the success of the Russian Revolution and the failure of the German. If that is all there is to it, how does one explain the transformation of that first workers’ state into its opposite, the state-capitalist monstrosity we know today? No, that glib, fetishistic answer will not do, especially since there was enough life left in the German Revolution, even after it was beheaded, to have been followed by two others, which likewise failed. No one should know this better than the Women’s Liberationists of our era, who, from all these different vantage points, have raised the question of decentralization, apartidarismo, new forms of organization which are not elitist and which do not separate practice from theory.”

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