The day I signed up to the Marxist Student Federation had a purely accidental character. What if I had chosen a university in another city? What if I had decided not to go to university at all? What would my politics be if I had never moved away from my home in Poland to a small town in South Wales?
The period when I lived in Poland for the first twelve years of my life was key to developing my view of the world. We lived in one of the major industrial cities in the north, a city once known for its great shipyard and architecture, now scourged by mass unemployment and in turn, depression and disillusionment. Poverty was on the order of the day for myself and most of my friends, but we didn’t know anything else so we just made the best of it. We didn’t think about the irony as we were walking through a street called Ulica Robotnicza (Workers’ Street), and there were so many people without work or even without a roof over their heads.
One thing I remember clearly was the tired look on my mother’s face when she came back from a twelve-hour shift in the factory, asking if we could assemble a few boxes of screws for her next shift at 6am next morning. She was too exhausted to complete this “homework”, so myself and my little brother, aged 10 and 8, used to do it for her, for about an hour and a half in the evenings. I only saw my Dad about once a month whenever he returned for the weekend from Germany where he was a construction labourer, an illegal one until 2004. He didn’t tell us at the time, but he wrote memoirs about how he lived with 12 other workers in one tiny basement room. He made some incredible sacrifices to put food on our table. What I didn’t know at the time was just how common this situation was throughout Poland and further afield.
Moving to the UK was a major shock. I was 12 then, and I spoke the most English of us all, so I helped my mother fill out mountains of paperwork and make countless phone calls to navigate the faceless bureaucracy of the Home Office. Settling into school was even harder. It took many fights before some people stopped making racist comments and insults.
Eventually after school, at the age of 14, I asked my mother why we were so poor. She responded by asking me what I thought the reason was. I regurgitated what I had learned at school in Poland: that it was because Polish people had only been free of totalitarianism and communism for around 20 years and so hadn’t had a chance to get rich yet.
My mother and step-dad were bewildered by this. They told me about what life used to be like: full employment, subsidised holidays, school clubs. They told me what their early life was like. They said it wasn’t perfect, and that the government was privileged and corrupt, but Poland didn’t used to be as poor as it is now. In other words, if the old regime was still there, we wouldn’t have had to leave Poland. As working class people, our basics needs would have been met, with some room for personal development.
I was amazed. My whole worldview changed in less than a few hours, and I understood communism to be a society in which there are no rich people, but there are no poor people either. Of course that’s a bit of a simplification, but even in this basic form, the idea was very appealing to me. I used the internet and various online forums to find out more about communism. I had never been this excited about anything. At the first opportunity I ordered the Communist Manifesto online.
I also started reading articles about capitalism. I saw the news about poverty in all these different countries, about wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. I read about kids my age who are living in hell. I became convinced that no future generation should go through a fraction of what myself and hundreds of millions of other children are going through. And I learned that it is the task of the communists to put an end to these horrors. So I became a communist.
I started attending protests, attempting to unionise my workplaces, and most importantly joining and trying out various different socialist groups. My desire to change the world prevailed for many years. But none of the activities or groups I participated in ever really felt like it brought about any fundamental change. I started to become a bit disillusioned with the various types of “revolutionaries” I had come across.
I went to my local Marxist Society at the age of 19, and the level of political discussion and the clarity with which revolutionary theory was explained was the factor which rejuvenated my spirit, right from the very first meeting I attended. I rediscovered Marxist theory and discovered Trotsky’s writings which helped me understand everything in much more depth. I remember reading an article by the British Marxist, Ted Grant, about the Polish trade unions in 1980, and I had to put the pamphlet down for a second just to take stock of how spot on Grant’s analysis was.
It didn’t take long for me to be convinced that, of all the groups on the left that I had come across, the International Marxist Tendency (www.marxist.com) had the most detailed and profound understanding of Marxist theory, history and current events.
I Joined the International Marxist Tendency in January 2017 and, even though I’m still learning, we’re building our numbers and influence in South Wales. I’m able to say more confidently than ever: there has never been a greater cause on earth than the struggle for socialist revolution.
by Maciej Krzymieniecki, Swansea Marxists