[dropcap]A/dropcap]cross much of Europe, the economic crisis and dread of Islamic immigrants has boosted the fortunes of the populist right. In France, the National Front candidate won almost a fifth of the popular vote in the first round of the presidential elections this spring. Parties that preach fear and loathing of cultural tolerance are part of the governing coalition in both the Netherlands and Hungary. But, over the past decade, a cosmopolitan populist movement on the left has been steadily growing in what may seem a rather unlikely place: Poland. Under the modest name of Political Critique (Krytyka Polityczna), the group, which does not yet run its own candidates for office, employs close to 200 paid staffers and boasts at least ten times that many dedicated volunteers in clubs all across the ethnically homogeneous nation of 38 million.
Unlike their counterparts on the right, the members of Krytyka, whose average age is around 30, see no conflict between stoking their intellectual passions and cultivating their political ones. In Warsaw, staffers run a major publishing house and a popular website, edit a lively journal, and operate a hip restaurant and bar with the brash/ironic name of “Brave New World.” Meanwhile, in the coastal city of Gdansk, they campaign to lower jail sentences for drug users. In the depressed industrial center of Lodz, they battle for affordable housing. In Ciesyn, on the Czech border,, they set up a major after-school program for poor children. Several local clubs sponsor “critical universities” that offer free evening lectures given by professors and non-academic writers on subjects ranging from consumer cooperatives and internet rebels to lesbian novels and “animal studies.” On a trip to Poland last month, I met with Krytyka staffers who spoke as knowledgably about performance art, recent documentary films, and post-modern fiction as they did about the dominance of “neoliberal” economics and the persistence of anti-Semitism in their country.
Read fullMichael Kazin’s text on The New Republic