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.
‘I THINK, I FEEL, I DECIDE’
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.
FEAR OF REVOLUTION LEADS TO REPRESSION
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.
WOMEN TAKE FIGHT TO STATE AND 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.” Polish women aim to do the same.
 Raya Dunayevskaya, Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution (University of Illinois Press, 1991), p. 101.