Road blockade in Krakow, 26 October. Photo: Franciszek Vetulani / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0, license linked at bottom of article Road blockade in Krakow, 26 October. Photo: Franciszek Vetulani / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0, license linked at bottom of article

Fascists have joined forces with the Polish government to attack women protesting against the abortion ban, but women are fighting back, reports Reece Goscinski

The escalation of Poland’s women’s strike in response to the Constitutional Court’s abortion ban has emphasised the importance and effectiveness of direct action against the populist right. Both the ruling Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice Party) and Polish Catholic Church have been taken by surprise as the women’s movement galvanised public support. 

The protest against a total abortion ban. I never seen something like that. It is turning point for Poland! Women protesting on streets! @strajkkobiet #tojestwojna

— Bart Staszewski ᴸᴳᴮᵀ ????️‍???????????? (@BartStaszewski) October 30, 2020

Women vs. the State

As protests against the abortion ban gained momentum this week, the movement took aim at Poland’s institutions creating solidarity networks with other elements of the working class. On 25th October, the protesters targeted Poland’s powerful Catholic Church as they disrupted masses dressed in The Handmaid’s Tale attire and vandalised buildings with abortion helpline numbers. Statues of the former Polish Pope John Paul II were smeared with red paint, posters depicted a crucified pregnant woman, and protesters held signs demanding the abortion of the government.

Whilst many would have predicted the vandalism to be counterproductive in a predominantly Catholic nation, the demonstrations received support from groups such as taxi drivers, miners, farmers, and Poland’s socially conservative trade union movement. At the town of Nowy Dwór Gdański in the north of Poland, farmers joined Strajk Kobiet (women’s strike) by driving their tractors at the front of the march in an act of solidarity. Poland’s mining union Sierpień ’80 also issued a statement supporting the protesters. This comes as a challenge to the hegemony of the country’s largest trade union and former ruling party Solidarność who have been supportive of PiS.

The protests also influenced liberal and left MPs to hold pro-choice slogans in parliament resulting in scuffles with the ruling party. Strajk Kobiet has also been successful in moving public opinion on the matter. A poll conducted by rmf24 suggests 54% of the public support the protests whilst 73% do not support the Constitutional Court’s decision.

The success of the women’s movement delivered a significant challenge to both the government and the church. PiS leader and deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński claimed the protesters were seeking to destroy Poland “at any cost” and encouraged nationalist groups to “defend the churches.” The party also claimed that Netflix and Tik-Tok had radicalised the youth to supporting “left-liberal” views and the parliamentary speaker accused the strike of utilising Nazi imagery. Government attempts to control the narrative peaked when state TV claimed “leftist fascism is destroying Poland” (“Lewacki faszyzm niszczy Polskię”) and Pope Francis called for the “protection of every human life from contraception.”

Following the demonstrations in churches, priests utilised the violent assistance of fascists and nationalist groups who have adopted an interpretation of Polish-Catholic identity to shape their ideologies. Far-right groups forcibly removed women from churches and actively blocked entrance into cathedrals in what they referred to as a “Catholic defence force against neo-Bolshevik revolutionaries.” Violent clashes between the far-right and protesters peaked when two women were run over by the security services and armed black shirts took to the streets of Wrocław and Białystok on Wednesday night.

Taking on the system

Resistance movements taking place in central and eastern Europe have shown how to construct solidarity networks between differing sections of the working class. In both Poland and Belarus, women have been at the forefront of campaigns resisting oppressive policies, the repressive state apparatus, and fascist street thugs with the aim of fundamentally changing the societies they live in. These movements should act as an inspiration to socialists internationally as women continue the fight back against right-wing populism.

As the movements progress, it is necessary for socialists to organise around systemic questions and develop a class-based orientation. Recent articles by David Harvey and Mick Wattam have argued the importance of aligning democratic values and critiques of capitalism to produce a more just society. Through the development of these ideas socialists can work to resist right-wing populism, advance socialist ideas through theory and practice, and produce a future better for all.

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