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Exclusionary Egalitarianism and the New Cold War

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 August 2017


It seems clear that there is a common ideological foundation linking Putin, Le Pen, Orbán, Erdoğan, Trump, Kaczyński, and others, but labeling that ideology has been difficult. Many in the media have called them “populists,” but this term can be misleading and imprecise. This essay focuses on Poland in order to propose a genealogy that transcends conventional divisions between left and right. The phrase “exclusionary egalitarianism” helps us recognize the intertwined commitments to both racism and nationalism on the one hand, and an opposition to inequalities of wealth and status on the other. While the analogy to the radical right of the 1930s is helpful, there is an even closer link to the “national communists” of the 1960s and 1970s.

Critical Forum: Russian Influence in 2016 US Presidential Election
Copyright © Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies 2017 

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1. The idea that we have entered a New Cold War has been gaining currency among pundits and journalists for the past couple years. I'm not sure whether it will continue to make sense now that both Putin's Russia and Trump's America are on the same side. See Julian Borger, Luke Harding, and Patrick Wintour, “Cold War 2.0: How Russia and the West Reheated a Historic Struggle,” The Guardian, October 24, 2016, at (last accessed May 1, 2017); Simon Tisdall, “The New Cold War: Are We Going Back to the Bad Old Days?” The Guardian, November 19, 2014, at (last accessed May 1, 2017); Dmitri Trenin, “Welcome to Cold War II,” Foreign Policy, March 4, 2014, at (last accessed on May 1, 2017).

2. For some examples of Putin's evocation of the USSR, see Damien Sharkov, “Russia's Putin: I've Always Liked Communist and Socialist Ideas,” Newsweek, January 25, 2016, at (last accessed on May 1, 2017). On Putin's relationship to the USSR, see Brown, Archie, “Vladimir Putin and the Reaffirmation of Central State Power,” Post-Soviet Affairs 17, no. 1 (2001): 4555 Google Scholar; Godzimirski, Jakub, “Putin and Post-Soviet Identity: Building Blocks and Buzz Words,” Problems of Post-Communism 55, no. 5 (2008): 1427 Google Scholar. On the broader role of nostalgia among Putin's electoral base, see Munro, Neil, “Russia's Persistent Communist Legacy: Nostalgia, Reaction, and Reactionary Expectations,” Post-Soviet Affairs 22, no. 4 (2006): 289313 Google Scholar; Nikolayenko, Olena, “Contextual Effects on Historical Memory: Soviet Nostalgia among Post-Soviet Adolescents,” Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008): 243–59Google Scholar; White, Stephen and McAllistar, Ian, “Putin and his Supporters,” Europe-Asia Studies 55, no. 3 (2003): 383–99Google Scholar.

3. Some good summaries of recent events in Poland, see Remi Adekoya, “Xenophobic, Authoritarian—and Generous on Welfare: How Poland's Right Rules,” The Guardian, October 25, 2016, at (last accessed May 1, 2017); Jan Cienski, “Poland's ‘Powerholic,’” Politico, August 7, 2016, at (last accessed May 1, 2017); Gerhard Gnauck, “The Most Powerful Man in Poland,” Deutsche Welle, October 25, 2016, at (last accessed May 1, 2017); Maciej Kisilowski, “Poland: A Country without a Constitution,” EU Observer, January 6, 2016, at (last accessed May 1, 2017); James Traub, “The Party that Wants to Make Poland Great Again,” New York Times Magazine, November 2, 2016, at (last accessed on May 1, 2017); Jan-Werner Müller, “The Problem with Poland,” New York Review of Books, February 11, 2016, at (last accessed May 1, 2017). An official report on Poland by the European Commission for Democracy through Law (commonly known as the Venice Commission) can be downloaded at (last accessed May 1, 2017).

4. Zoltan Simon, “Orbán Says He Seeks to End Liberal Democracy in Hungary,” Bloomberg, July 28, 2014, at (last accessed May 1, 2017).

5. Paul Hockenos, “Vladimir Putin's Little Helper,” The New Republic, April 19, 2016, at (last accessed May 1, 2017). On Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico's defense of Putin, see “EU Should Drop Russia Sanctions, Slovak PM Says after Meeting Putin,” Reuters, August 26, 2016, at (last accessed May 1, 2017). On Marine Le Pen's connections with Putin, see Vivienne Walt, “Why France's Marine Le Pen is Doubling Down on Russia's Support,” Time, January 9, 2017, at (last accessed May 1, 2017). On Zeman's relations with both Trump and Putin, see Anthony Faiola, “Meet the pro-Russian, Anti-Muslim European Leader Who Was Just Invited to Trump's White House,” Washington Post, January 11, 2017, at (last accessed May 1, 2017).

6. The actual purpose of this new paramilitary force is unclear, and it has provoked serious fears among the anti-PiS opposition. See “Prywatna armia Macierewicza? Czym będą Wojska Obrony Terytorialnej,” TVN24, November 26, 2016, at,3/wojsko-macierewicza-mieso-armatnie-czym-beda-wot,695027.html (last accessed May 1, 2017); Daniel Flis, “PO: Macierewicz może użyć Wojska Obrony Terytorialnej przeciwko Polakom,”, November 20, 2016, at (last accessed May 1, 2017).

7. This worldview was captured in the film Smoleńsk (Directed by Antoni Krauze. Wasaw, Poland: Kino Świat, 2017, DVD). The movie received horrible reviews, and was generally ignored by moviegoers in Poland (aside from PiS party loyalists).

8. The examples are endless, but to get the tone, see Dmitry Babich, “Warmongering in Warsaw,” RT, (April 19, 2016): at (last accessed May 1, 2017).

9. Kaczyński summarized his views on the EU in an interview last summer: Jacek Nizinkiewicz and Michał Szułdrzyński, “Kaczyński: Nie jestem dyktatorem,” Rzeczpospolita, July 10, 2016, at (last accessed May 1, 2017).

10. On the foreign policy tensions within PiS regarding the lands of the former USSR, see Paweł Kowal, “Kwestia ukraińska jest kluczowa dla Polski,” Gazeta Wyborcza, December 22, 2016, at (last accessed May 1, 2017).

11. Paweł Wroński, “Białoruś. Dobry sąsiad mówi po polsku” Gazeta Wyborcza, January 8, 2017, at,75968,21216602,bialorus-dobry-sasiad-mowi-po-polsku.html?disableRedirects=true (last accessed may 1, 2017). Some reports suggest that Bielsat might survive in some form, though its future remains precarious. Luiza Łuniewska, “Biełsat będzie istniał. Premier daje gwarancje,” WP Wiadomość, January 5, 2017, at (last accessed May 1, 2017).

12. A summary of the government's policy vis-à-vis Ukraine, which still remains unchanged, can be found in this interview with foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski: “‘Państwo leżące za Ukrainą’; Waszczykowski o polityce wschodniej,” TVN24, January 25, 2016, at,3/waszczykowski-o-polityce-rzadu-pis-wobec-ukrainy,613436.html (last accessed May 2, 2017).

13. For an official definition of polityka historyczna, see the website of the Instytut Pamięci Narodowej (Institute for National Remembrance) at,Pamiec-i-polityka-historyczna.html (last accessed May 2, 2017) The IPN is a statutory government agency whose purpose is to manage communist-era archives and promote the memory of Polish victimization in the 20th century.

14. The director of the recent film Wołyn (Poland, 2016), Wojciech Smarzowski, has stated that he did not want his film to contribute to PiS's polityka historyczna. That hasn't prevented PiS supporters from appropriating the film for their own purposes. See “Wojciech Smarzowski odmówil przyjęcia nagrody od prezesa TVP Jacka Kurskiego,” Onet film, October 5, 2016, at (last accessed May 2, 2017).

15. For a view of this controversy from the perspective of those disappointed with PiS's ongoing friendship with Ukraine, see “Ustawa ws. ludobójstwa na Wołyniu. ‘PiS uległo naciskom międzynarodowym’” Polskie Radio Jedynka, July 11, 2016, at,Ustawa-ws-ludobojstwa-na-Wolyniu-PiS-uleglo-naciskom-miedzynarodowym (last accessed May 2, 2017). For a discussion of Ukrainian reactions to PiS rhetoric, see Maciej Zaniewicz, “Będzie gorzej. Jak przetrwać kryzys w relacjach polsko-ukraińskich,” Eastbook, July 27, 2016, at (last accessed May 2, 2017).

16. See Ola Hnatiuk, “Wracam z Polski,” Kultura Liberalna 42, October 18, 2016, at (last accessed May 2, 2017).

17. After briefly receding, we are again seeing old orientalist arguments about the stubborn “backwardness” of eastern Europe, along with claims that Poles and Hungarians are like “problem children” who were never “mature” enough for democracy. A particularly egregious example is Sean Hanley and James Dawson, “Poland isn't a Democracy and it Never Was,” Foreign Policy (January 3, 2017) at (last accessed May 2, 2017).

18. On the role of the so-called “afera taśmowa” (tape affair) in bringing down the previous government, see Wojciech Czuchnowski, “Jak Platforma Obywatelska przegrała z podsłuchami,” Gazeta Wyborcza, December 29, 2016, at,75968,21176988,jak-podsluchy-demolowaly-platforme-obywatelska.html?disableRedirects=true (last accessed May 2, 2017). On the conspiracy theories about Russian involvement, see “Sensacyjny wątek rosyjskich służb specjalnych w aferze podsłuchowej,” Radio Zet, June 9, 2015, at (last accessed May 2, 2017); “W aferę taśmową zamieszane są rosyjskie służby” Newsweek Polska, June 9, 2015, at,artykuly,364693,1.html (last accessed May 2, 2017).

19. For a summary of the suspicions regarding the Defense Ministry, see Rzeczkowski, Grzegorz, “Sekrety MacierewiczaPolityka 42 (2016): 2023 Google Scholar.

20. This argument was made recently by Andrzej Leder, Prześniona rewolucja: Ćwiczenie z logiki historycznej (Warsaw, 2014)Google Scholar. For a darker version of a similar argument, see Zaremba, Marcin, Wielka Trwoga: Polska 1944–1947: Ludowa reakcja na kryzys (Kraków: 2012)Google Scholar. An earlier endorsement of the use of the term “revolution” for the 1940s in Poland came from Kenney, Padraic, Rebuilding Poland: Workers and Communists, 1945–1950 (Ithaca: 1997)Google Scholar. Other examples are Fidelis, Malgorzata, Women, Communism and Industrialization in Postwar Poland (Cambridge, UK, 2010)Google Scholar; Gille, Zsuzsa, From the Cult of Waste to the Trash Heap of History: The Politics of Waste in Socialist and Postsocialist Hungary (Bloomington: 2007)Google Scholar; Lebow, Katherine, Unfinished Utopia: Nowa Huta, Stalinism, and Polish Society, 1949–1956 (Ithaca, 2013)Google Scholar. A classic example of the alternative framework emphasizing Soviet conquest can be found in Hammond, Thomas T., ed., The Anatomy of Communist Takeovers (New Haven, 1975)Google Scholar.

21. A number of scholars, from different disciplinary perspectives and dealing with many different times and places, have explored the issue of blending strong ideologies of exclusion with egalitarian and redistributive social goals. For example, see Cavers, David W., “Nationalism, Ethnicity, and the Cultural Politics of Identity,” Totem: The University of Western Ontario Journal of Anthropology 1, no. 1 (1994): 2231 Google Scholar; Connolly, William, Identity/Difference: Democratic Negotiations of Political Paradox (Ithaca, 1991)Google Scholar; Gullestad, Marianne, “Invisible Fences: Egalitarianism, Nationalism, and Racism,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 8, no. 1 (2002): 4563 Google Scholar; Honig, Bonnie, Political Theory and the Displacement of Politics (Ithaca, 1993)Google Scholar; Kendi, Ibram X., Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (New York, 2016)Google Scholar; O'Sullivan, DominicIndigeneity, Ethnicity, and the State: Australia, Fiji, and New Zealand,” Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 20, no. 1 (2014): 2642 Google Scholar; Poyer, Lin, “Egalitarianism in the Face of Hierarchy,” Journal of Anthropological Research 49, no. 2 (1993): 111–33Google Scholar; Spragens, Thomas Jr. Civic Liberalism: Reflections on Our Democratic Ideals (Lanham, 1999)Google Scholar.

22. For example, see Dumont, Louis, Essays on Individualism: Modern Ideology in Anthropological Perspective (Chicago, 1986)Google Scholar; Eriksen, Thomas Hylland, “Being Norwegian in a Shrinking World: Reflections on Norwegian Identity,” in Kiel, Anne Cohen, ed., Continuity and Change: Aspects of Modern Norway (Oslo, 1993): 539 Google Scholar; Dahl, Hans Fredrik, “Those Equal Folk,” Daedalus 113, no. 1 (1984): 93108 Google Scholar; Richard Reeves, “Saving Horatio Alger: Equality, Opportunity, and the American Dream,” The Brookings Essay, August 20, 2014, at (last accessed May 2, 2017).

23. In this paragraph I am extending ideas I first explored in Democracy and Discipline in Late Nineteenth-Century Poland,” Journal of Modern History 71, no. 2 (June 1999): 346–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

24. On the importance of nationalism for Stalin, see Suny, Ron and Martin, Terry, eds., A State of Nations: Empire and Nation-making in the Age of Lenin and Stalin (Oxford, 2001)Google Scholar.

25. I made this argument in Poland in the Modern World: Beyond Martyrdom (London, 2015), 231–57Google Scholar.

26. Lynne Haney has argued that in Hungary, even domestic violence prevention was significantly weakened after 1956. See her book Inventing the Needy: Gender and the Politics of Welfare in Hungary (Berkeley, 2002)Google Scholar.

27. On Gomułka's nationalism, see Marcin Zaremba, Komunizm, legitymizacja, nacjonalizm: Nacjonalistyczna legitymizacja władzy komunistycznej w Polsce (Warsaw, 2001)Google Scholar. For a comparative perspective, see Tyszka, Krzysztof, Nacjonalizm w komunizmie: Ideologia narodowa w Związku Radzieckim i Polsce Ludowej (Warsaw, 2004)Google Scholar. On Moczar, see Lesiakowski, Krzysztof, Mieczysław Moczar “Mietek”: Biografia polityczna (Warsaw, 1998)Google Scholar. On the antisemitism that emerged at this time, see Stola, Dariusz, Kampania antysyjonistyczna w Polsce 1967–1968 (Warsaw, 2000)Google Scholar.

28. On nationalists and communists in the immediate postwar years, see Curp, T. David, A Clean Sweep? The Politics of Ethnic Cleansing in Western Poland, 1945–1960 (Rochester, 2006)Google Scholar; Fleming, Michael, Communism, Nationalism and Ethnicity in Poland, 1944–1950 (London, 2010)Google Scholar; Kunicki, Mikołaj, Between the Brown and the Red: Nationalism, Catholicism, and Communism in Twentieth-Century Poland: the Politics of Bolesław Piasecki (Athens, Ohio, 2012)Google Scholar.

29. As I've argued elsewhere, nationalism was not always so central to Polish nationalism, but it had become so by the interwar years (if not even a bit earlier). See Porter-Szucs, , Faith and Fatherland: Modernity, Catholicism, and Poland (New York, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

30. On Catholicism, the US, and the Cold War, see Coppa, Frank J., The Policies and Politics of Pope Pius XII: Between Diplomacy and Morality (New York, 2011)Google Scholar; McGreevy, John T., Catholicism and American Freedom: A History (New York, 2003)Google Scholar; McNamara, Patrick H., A Catholic Cold War: Edmund A. Walsh, S. J., and the Politics of American Anticommunism (New York, 2005)Google Scholar.

31. Andrzej Romanowski, “Kościół, lewica, wojna,” Znak 681 (2012): at (last accessed May 2, 2017). Piotr Kosicki has argued that there were, in fact, some serious efforts across Europe to start a dialogue between communists and Catholics. Kosicki, Catholics on the Barricades: Poland, France, and “Revolution,” 1939–1956 (New Haven, Forthcoming).

32. The key texts that marked the attempt to establish this alliance were (from the right) Cywiński, Bogdan, Rodowody niepokornych (Kraków, 1971)Google Scholar; and (from the left) Michnik, Adam, Kościół, lewica, dialog (Paris, 1977)Google Scholar. On the role of the Church in the anticommunism of that time, see Kubik, Jan, The Power of Symbols Against the Symbols of Power: The Rise of Solidarity and the Fall of State Socialism in Poland (Park, University, Pennsylvania, 1994)Google Scholar.

33. I explain this more fully in Faith and Fatherland, 267–71.

34. Perhaps the most infamous recent articulation of this conspiratorial interpretation of Poland's past is Kania, Dorota, Targalski, Jerzy, and Marosz, Maciej, Resortowe dzieci: Służby (Warsaw, 2015)Google Scholar. For an example of the presentation of the leader of the Solidarity movement as a communist agent, see Cenckiewicz, Sławomir, Wałęsa: Człowiek z teczki (Poznań, 2013)Google Scholar.

35. Ost, David, The Defeat of Solidarity: Anger and Politics in Postcommunist Europe (Ithaca, 2005)Google Scholar.

36. GDP figures from: The Conference Board: Trusted Insights for Business Worldwide, at (last accessed May 2, 2017). Attitudes about family well-being assembled from the monthly reports on “nastroje społeczne” (literally “social mood,” loosely “public sentiment”) prepared by the Centrum Badań Opinii Społecznej (Center for the Study of Social Opinion, CBOS). These reports can be downloaded at (last accessed May 2, 2017).

37. I have dated this from 2005 (when PiS first took power) rather than 2001 (when PiS was founded). All the talk of a PiS-PO alliance back in 2004–2005 indicates that a great many people still believed that PiS was a reiteration of AWS—that is, a conservative Catholic party that would still fit within the broad framework of a liberal parliamentary democracy. After 2005, it became clear that this was not the case. I have deliberately removed the Church from this final diagram, because I don't perceive a significant Catholic force in Polish politics today that is independent from PiS. The episcopate and most of the clergy have hitched their star to Kaczyński, and henceforth their fates are inextricably linked, for better or worse.

38. The situation in the US is more complicated because Trumpism has been hitched to a Republican Party that remains strongly libertarian. I think Trump's voters (at least, the white Midwesterners who were crucial to his victory) are very similar to their European counterparts in their exclusionary egalitarianism, while Trump's cabinet (and probably Trump himself) remains closer to traditional Republican libertarianism. This means that Trump will have to walk a tightrope to maintain the support of his base.