The Post-communist Cleavage.

Social Bases of Politics in Poland after 1989

by Mirosława Grabowska (Author)
©2021 Monographs 360 Pages


The book begins with a discussion of Lipset-Rokkan's theory of cleavages and its continuations. The author's interpretation of this theory is applied to a historical context: the communist system that divided society into communist and anti-communist sides. They survived the fall of communism, resulting in the post-communist cleavage. This cleavage manifested itself in social identities, electoral behavior, the shape of the party system and the attitudes of party elites. The problem of generalizing Lipset-Rokkan's theory is considered – its scope and applicability to the various post-communist countries. The problem of persistence is also discussed – the post-communist cleavage was sustained by various factors, but also weakened by the actions and choices made by the party elites.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Introduction: Cleavage – people – institutions
  • Part One: Theory and History
  • Chapter I The Concept of Social Cleavage
  • 1. Introduction. Terms and Theory
  • 2. The Formation of Social Cleavages and Political Parties in Western Europe – Lipset and Rokkan’s Theory
  • 3. Interpretations, Continuations, Applications
  • 4. Conclusions
  • Chapter II Three Historical Events, the Sources of Social Cleavages
  • 1. The Reformation
  • 2. The French Revolution of 1789 as an Example of a Democratic National Revolution
  • 3. The Industrial Revolution
  • Chapter III Communism as an Occurrence Bringing About Social Cleavage
  • 1. Communism and Post-Communism: Terms
  • 2. The Communist System and the Two Sides: Pro- and Anti-Communist. The Case of Poland
  • 3. Cleavages in Other Countries of the Region: the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the Czechoslovak Prague Spring of 1968
  • 4. The Communist System in Polish Sociological Research
  • 5. Summary and Conclusions
  • Part Two: People
  • Chapter IV Identity and Social Cleavage. Post-Communist Identities
  • 1. Identity in the Social Cleavage Theory and in Historical Analysis
  • 2. Social Identity in Theory and Research
  • 3. Social Identity in Surveys
  • 4. Post-Communist and Anti-Communist Identities
  • 4.1. Definitions and Research Issues
  • 4.2. Post- and Anti-Communist Identities in the Context of Other Identities
  • 4.3. Determinants of Post- or Anti-Communist Identities
  • 4.4. The Influence of Post- and Anti-Communist Identities on Voting Attitudes and Behaviour
  • 5. Summary and Conclusions.
  • Chapter V Electorates: Rooted in Post-Communist Cleavage or Simply Chaotic?
  • 1. Introduction. Terms and Theory
  • 2. The Formation of Sides and Electorates
  • 2.1. Before the Great Change
  • 2.2. 1989 – Year One
  • 2.3. The Shaping of Sides and Electorates in Subsequent Elections
  • 3. Summary and Conclusions
  • Part Three: Institutions
  • Chapter VI Political Parties in the Face of the Post-Communist Cleavage
  • 1. Political Parties and Their Different Types throughout History
  • 2. Theoretical and Practical Approaches to Parties and Party Systems
  • 2.1. Theoretical Approaches to Parties and Party Systems
  • 2.2. Political Parties as Complex Research Subjects
  • 2.3. The Crisis of Parties in Contemporary Democracies
  • 3. Peter Mair’s Concept of How Parties and Party Systems formed in Post-Communist Countries
  • 4. The Formation of Parties and Party Systems in Post-Communist Countries – Theory and Practice
  • 5. Particular Characteristics of Party and Party System Formation after Communism
  • 5.1. The Powerful Presence and the Great Absence: Communist Parties and the Rest
  • 5.2. The Impact of Communism as a Troublesome Research Problem
  • 5.3. Lack of Application of Existing Theoretical Concepts to Analysis of the Impact of Communism
  • 6. Summary and Conclusions
  • Chapter VII Political Party Elites in the Face of the Post-Communist Cleavage
  • 1. Post-Communist Cleavage on Different Levels of Social Life
  • 1.1. Post-communist Cleavage on the Level of Political Party Elites
  • 1.2. Parliament Members Elected in 2001
  • 2. Methodology and Practice of Research into Delegates to Party Congresses
  • 3. Social and Political Characteristics of Party Elites
  • 4. Possible and Impossible Coalitions
  • 5. Summary and Conclusions
  • Chapter VIII Summary. And What’s Next?
  • 1. Summary
  • 2. The Issue of Generalisation
  • 3. Persistence
  • 4. The Religiousness of Polish Society
  • 5. Political Parties and Voters in the Light of Post-Communist Cleavage
  • 6. The Format and Mechanics of Party System Functioning
  • 7. An Attempt to Grasp Implications of Cleavages in General and the Post-Communist Cleavage in Particular
  • Annex
  • Bibliography
  • Index of Names

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The fall of communism was the most important historical development of the second half of the twentieth century. I was there, both as a witness and a participant. The time we are living in now is the time after communism. The last thirty years have witnessed revolutionary changes in Poland; their scope and their depth give an idea of the opportunities we have created and how we have benefitted from them. At the same time, we are experiencing particular problems and limitations of history. In ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire’, Karl Marx writes, ‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.’1 Lord Acton, in turn, in his Inaugural Lecture on the Study of History, observes, ‘If the past has been an obstacle and a burden, knowledge of the past is the safest and the surest emancipation.’2 History limits and binds, but also provides resources and equips us with values and abilities with which we step into the future. That is what this book is about, the complex relationship of the communist past with the present and future, and the relationships of people, their beliefs and their actions, with institutions.

This book has drawn from many sources and has been powered by various motivations. These include my own experiences both before and after 1989, but also mistrust of easy generalisations, hasty conclusions and prejudices that are prevalent in political discourse and in the press.

Apart from personal and civic motives, academic connections have been important. My introduction to American political science and the sociology of politics came in 1990 when, as a visiting scholar at Stanford University, I took part in Seymour Martin Lipset’s seminar. In the 1993/ 94 academic year, as a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, I participated in Michael Walzer’s Transitions to Democracy seminar. This was a unique opportunity not only to read widely but also to engage in fascinating discussions about Poland from a non-Polish viewpoint – that is to say, within a non-Polish frame of reference – which recognized the theoretical significance of the Polish ←9 | 10→case. Even when we are wary of the mechanical transfer of theories, concepts, and standards from one context to another, it is worth reading American and, more generally, Western literature in the fields of political science and political sociology. It is worth reading for inspiration, for its ideas that can be – not uncritically – borrowed, for the knowledge amassed through research about the mechanisms of phenomena that are not ours, and increasingly also for knowledge about our own societies and democracies after communism. It also proves that studying the effects of a communist past on politics after communism is no easy task.

There is now a significant body of work in the fields of political science and sociology of politics in the post-communist countries, including Poland. We have our own classics, without which it is impossible to write about party problems or electoral behaviour.

Apart from books and articles, conferences and seminars, there have been many discussions and private conversations, above all among colleagues and friends in the Department of the Methodology of Sociological Research at the Institute of Sociology, University of Warsaw, directed by Prof. Antoni Sułek, and in the Department of Socio-Political Systems at the Institute of Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences, directed by Prof. Edmund Wnuk-Lipiński.

In its current English-language version, this book is a translation of the Polish original, Podział postkomunistyczny (2004), slightly abridged and amended. Chapter VIII, which addressed the need to look at the transformation of the political scene, is utterly new. For there were changes, which earlier only began to manifest themselves, but which came into full view during the 2019 Polish elections to the European Parliament, with the formation of the European Coalition. It is now clear that this initiative runs afoul of the idea of post-communist cleavage discussed in this book: it unites a number of parties, including the post-Solidarity Civic Platform and the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance.3 These changes have become clearer still in the structure of the party system, where the main axis of competition is now between the Civic Platform and the Law and Justice, which both derive from the democratic opposition and claim to continue the tradition of the Solidarity. We cannot disregard the political developments of the last decade, all the more so as they directly concern the theoretical model of socio-political divides presented in this book. ←10 | 11→The model of post-communist cleavage has to be confronted with the dynamic changes which are occurring on political scene of today’s Poland – both in the structure of the party system and society itself.

Many colleagues have given me in-depth critical feedback about earlier versions of various parts of this book. I did not always follow this advice. For it is the author who takes full the book’s final shape. Above all, I would like to thank Tadeusz Szawiel, my husband, who read and commented on numerous versions of the manuscript, shared my enthusiasm for the idea, and gave me encouragement to continue writing whenever my enthusiasm waned.

←11 |

1 Marx K., ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.’ In: Marx K., Surveys from Exile. Verso, London 2010, p. 147.

2 Acton J.E.E.D., Essays on Freedom and Power, sel. G. Himmelfarb. The Noonsday Press, New York 1955, p. 28.

3 The direct successor of the Polish United Workers’ Party was the Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland [SdRP]. In 1999 the SdRP was folded into the Democratic Left Alliance.

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Introduction: Cleavage – people – institutions

History and politics, identity and memory – that is what this book is about. We remember our own experiences; beyond that, our families, our community and our culture ‘remember for us.’ ‘The poet remembers. (…) The words are written down, the deed, the date.’4 But memory is not only about the actions and interactions that have been written down. It is contained within our life stories, in how we understand ‘me’ and ‘us,’ in what we do and what we do not do, in what we are proud of and what we are ashamed of, in what attracts and what repels us. Sometimes it can be hard to explain: it is simply who we are.

Politics after communism: I participate in it as a citizen but also as a scholar, trying to describe, explain, and understand.

With the outbreak of freedom after 1989, sociology and political science were faced with new possibilities and new challenges. Libraries could buy key titles, classic texts were translated, much was learnt from overviews of variable quality. Thousands of works by Polish authors came out: research and theory in the fields of the sociology of politics, the psychology of politics, or simply political science. Despite all this output, despite the accumulation of empirical knowledge, we never achieved a widely accepted, in-depth diagnosis of our situation, or a theoretical model with which to explain it. There were many reasons for this, but the underlying cause was really quite banal: what we wanted to describe and to explain was very difficult.

I think I have found a concept, which I develop in this book, which can bring together a general theory with historical particularities, and looks to deep, complex mechanisms as an explanation for surface phenomena. This is the renowned theory put forward by Seymour M. Lipset and Stein Rokkan in ‘Cleavage Structures, Party Systems, and Voter Alignments.’5

Although fifty-three years have passed since the publication of ‘Cleavage Structures,’ the concept continues to be an unceasing inspiration to theoreticians ←13 | 14→and researchers, even those with a very different approach from the authors.’6 Scholars apply it both to the countries of Western Europe7 and to new democracies, including the countries of Eastern and Central Europe. There is analysis of the relationship between divides on a societal level, which are sometimes simply the characteristics of a given society,8 and political parties and party systems, with reflection as to whether these are actual cleavages, or only parties and electorates adjusting to each other. Some scholars emphasise the role of social processes, others underline the agency of political parties, and yet others try to take into account both ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ determinants.9 It does seem that there are those who discern historical determinants, but only somewhere in the background, when they talk about critical junctures or new cleavages overlaying old ones. Or, like Liesbet Hooghe and Gary Marks, when they point to the changes after the financial and migration crises in Europe, where party systems have unfrozen as a consequence of a decline in the ability of religions and social classes to shape party preferences. The old political parties are limited in how ←14 | 15→much they can make use of the new transnational cleavage, connected, above all, with changes brought in by the European Union. In the opinion of Hooghe and Marks, Lipset and Rokkan’s theory suggests that changes to the party system do not happen continuously, and that after periods of relative stability, with the usual competition for voters, there comes a sudden change, and new political parties emerge as a response to this critical juncture. Indeed, the economic and migration crises of the last decade could be precisely such a juncture. They are being addressed, on the one hand, by parties of the radical right and, on the other hand, by environmental parties. The party system in any country mirrors the history of both earlier struggles and current divides, so reactions to these crises are not – and cannot be – identical: in the countries of Southern Europe, parties of the radical left invoke class divisions, while in most of the former communist countries the radical right is exploiting a transnational cleavage, mobilising against change, while the radical left is either weak or completely absent.10

My interpretation of the concept of cleavages differs from both the classical and the newer interpretations, as it explicitly considers historical factors. This interpretation makes it possible to treat communism as an occurrence that splits societies, just as the Reformation, the national democratic revolutions of the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, and the industrial revolution once did. And if, as Lipset and Rokkan maintain, these three great occurrences generated social divides in which political parties could then root themselves, one can reasonably expect communism to generate a cleavage that would shape values, attitudes, and electoral behaviour, let alone political parties and party systems.

This book has multiple perspectives and many layers. It begins with history but, importantly, the historical perspective does not simply make an appearance as a starting point; it is one of the major players. History is understood not as some abstract imperative, but as people’s lived experience, their memories and actions. Grasping the power of the past in forming the present and future is one of the aims of this book.

Sociology and social psychology provide the viewpoint for analysis of social identities; sociology and political science give the parameters for analysis of electoral behaviour, electorates and the institutions of political parties and their elites.

←15 | 16→

The structure of the book reflects these multiple perspectives. Part One is theoretical and historical. It contains an introduction to Lipset and Rokkan’s theoretical model of cleavages and its continuation, my interpretation of this theory, and historical analyses that follow from this, including an analysis of communism as an occurrence that splits societies. Part Two focuses on people, their identities and their electoral behaviour, which give confirmation of the existence of communism-generated post-communist cleavage. Part Three deals with political parties and party elites in relation to the cleavage created by communism. The new Chapter VIII seeks to confront the concept of post-communist cleavage with issues of theory but also, in particular, with the dynamic changes on the Polish political scene, in the structure of the party system, and in the population as a whole.

The intention of the book in its entirety is to reconstruct the multidimensional process that consists, first, of proof of the existence of communist and post-communist cleavage, and, second, of a portrayal of the historical, political, and social mechanisms that gave rise to this cleavage, its staying power, and its upholding – or not – by important public institutions.

First three chapters should be treated as a theoretical and historical whole. Chapter I provides essential explanations of the employed theory and concepts. The original idea of cleavage refers to a social divide and its accompanying political divide (and I emphasise this conjunction). When I want to indicate the particular dimension or level of cleavage, I write about the divide on a societal level or the divide on a party political level. I hope the reflections in Chapter I and the given context will serve to avoid any doubts or lack of clarity about the meaning of this fundamental term.

What are the parameters of my thinking, analysis, and conclusions? Lipset and Rokkan’s dynamic model of cleavages explicitly refers to the countries of Western Europe. Its continuators, however, applied it to other regions as well, often without theoretical or methodological reflection. My interpretation of this theory allows it to be expanded to cover post-communist areas, which I do in Chapters III and VI in particular, referring to the countries of Central Europe, albeit unsystematically. I think my findings have the status of justifiable hypotheses in relation to all post-communist countries. Still, they are most likely in the case of the countries of Central Europe, less so for those of South-East Europe and least likely for the post-soviet Eastern European countries.

Along the same lines, Lipset and Rokkan’s concept of cleavages could be expanded to other regions if there were occurrences there which divided the populations. A society could also be cleaved by a purely local occurrence, as long as it was of significant duration, violent, and complex, if it played out at the level ←16 | 17→of the masses, of the elites and of institutions, and if it engaged people’s emotions and values, identities, and life stories.

Identifying such local occurrences is an empirical task. The case of Ireland can serve as an example. Ever since the sixteenth century Ireland had struggled for its independence, first with England then with Britain. Finally, the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) led to the signing of a treaty to create the Irish Free State (1922). This result split the population and a civil war broke out, with one side supporting the treaty, later represented by the Fine Gael party, the other opposed to it, later represented by Fianna Fáil. Peter Mair11 argues that although Ireland has the objective conditions to support class politics, in that workers have a developed class identity and are largely organised into trade unions, still the correspondence between class membership and party preference is low. He explains this by pointing out that two competing parties that have dominated the political scene had grown out of a historical conflict. The sides of the cleavage that had formed then, the identifications that were created and tempered in the heat of authentic group emotions, proved to be enduring. Fianna Fáil was able to define the situation in such a way as to create and maintain a kind of national and Catholic state of mobilisation, which was helped by the division of the island and the continuing existence of Northern Ireland. One could say that the occurrences rooted in the War of Independence and the Treaty that ended it, seventy years before the publication of Peter Mair’s paper, stamped that history onto the political sides. And so it remained for a long while,12 despite so much changing: during this time Ireland achieved full independence, joined the EU and became a more affluent country than the UK.

The contents of the following two chapters show that the Reformation, the democratic national revolutions of the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, the industrial revolution (Chapter II) and communism (Chapter III) were processes with the similar distinguishing features of long duration and a complexity that affected different realms of life at the level of the elites, of institutions and of the masses, engaging people and encroaching on their life stories. This is ←17 | 18→how they could create social divisions in which political parties and formations would put down roots. The nature of these occurrences or processes turns the imagination towards ‘hot’ metaphors, of the shapes and forms of cleavages being forged in the heat of battle, rather than the cold freezing hypothesis of Lipset and Rokkan.13

I wish to underline straight away that these chapters of historical argumentation do not contain original research into the Reformation, democratic national revolutions, the industrial revolution or communism. I interpret them, for the purposes of this book, from the perspective of the theoretical model of cleavages. I bring out those of their features – long duration, violence, and a multi-layered nature – thanks to which the divides that occurred during their course could become permanent, institutionalised and politicised. Thus, Chapter III does not actually document the history of communism and post-communism. The history is there as a force for shaping identities, attitudes, and behaviour, while the centre of interest is the legacy of communism: the cleavage into post- communists and anti- communists, or at least non-communists.

In Part Two, the focus of the analysis shifts to the post- communist cleavage at the individual and group level. Both chapters argue for the existence of this cleavage, based on differences in people’s identities (Chapter IV) and in electoral behaviour (Chapter V).

Chapter IV examines and analyses social identities understood as perceived membership of a category or social group, similarity to its other members, and group identification. Identities are changeable phenomena, multifaceted and dependent on context, thus difficult to research. However, their operationalisation through the I-sort procedure described in this chapter, has enabled the use of surveys to study identities on a mass scale. This has yielded some interesting results. In brief: at the turn of the century post-communist and anti-communist identities still existed and, what is more, affected membership of organisations, attitudes and electoral behaviour.

Electoral behaviour is comprehensively and systematically analysed in Chapter V, from the angle of the theoretical model of post-communist cleavage. This chapter reconstructs the formation process, since 1989, of the sides of the cleavage and their electorates. It highlights the formative role played by the first democratic elections of 1989: this was when post-communist cleavage first ←18 | 19→manifested itself on a mass scale. The chapter then charts the persistence of the sides from election to election. In general, one can say that people who voted for the post-communist side, represented by the Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland and then by Democratic Left Alliance or their candidates, were highly likely to vote the same way in subsequent elections up to 2001. Similarly, those who voted for one of the parties representing the post-Solidarity side were highly likely to do so again, though not necessarily for the same party. At the very least, they would not vote for Democratic Left Alliance.

Here it is worth drawing attention to the distinction made by Bartolini and Mair between the flow of votes between parties on the same side of the cleavage, within the same ideological bloc, and the flow of votes between parties on opposite sides of the cleavage, between blocs.14 In Poland, there was more stability, or voter loyalty, in relation to political representatives on both sides of the cleavage. On the post-communist side, stability and loyalty dominated, at least until 2003–2004, while on the post-Solidarity side, the flow of votes was, as a rule, between parties on the same side of the cleavage. There can be no doubt that after 1989 the sides had taken on their shapes, although throughout the 1990s the post-Solidarity side had problems – not at the level of the voters, but with their political representation. Then after 2003–2004, it was the post-communist side that had the problems.

Clearly, no cleavage, however deep, however built up and preserved by political institutions, is guaranteed to last. For instance, some scholars maintain that in the developed nations of the West, the class system is weakening or even disappearing right before our eyes.15


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (March)
communist system political parties political elites electorates social identities
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 360 pp., 3 fig. b/w, 55 tables.

Biographical notes

Mirosława Grabowska (Author)

Mirosława Grabowska, professor at the Faculty of Sociology of the University of Warsaw, focuses on the sociology of politics and religion. She authored or edited 17 books and over 100 articles. She was visiting scholar at Stanford, IAS, and a visiting professor at the universities of Wisconsin and Mainz.


Title: The Post-communist Cleavage.
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