What Happened to the Polish Multitude? Representation of Working People in Polish Postcommunist Cinema

By Mazierska, Ewa | Framework, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview
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What Happened to the Polish Multitude? Representation of Working People in Polish Postcommunist Cinema


Mazierska, Ewa, Framework


To my mind, 1989 corresponds to 1968. While 1968 had broken down the walls that closed our society, 1989 broke down the wall that defended "real socialism," from the world market.

-Antonio Negri1

Some of the main changes brought about by the collapse of communism were related to work. Capitalism replaced communism and, with that, free market replaced a regulated, centrally planned economy, post- Fordism replaced Fordism, and flexible employment and unemployment replaced jobs for life. However, surprisingly few Polish films made after 1989 put at the center of their discourse the question of work, career, class, and social advancement. Equally, little has been written on this subject. I address this gap in research by examining three Polish films made after 1989: Psy/Dogs (1992), directed by Wladyslaw Pasikowski; Komornik/Bailiff(2005), directed by Feliks Falk; and Silesia, directed by Anna Kazejak- Dawid, which is the first part in an omnibus film Oda do radosci/Ode to Joy (2005), of which the two remaining parts were directed by Jan Komasa and Maciej Migas. The central issue of my discussion is how the situation of working people, as represented in these films, compares to that of workers in the Polish films made in the 1970s, the last de cade before communism collapsed. Before I discuss Dogs, Bailiff, and Silesia, I characterize the Cinema of Moral Concern of the 1970s, the last distinctive paradigm of Polish "communist cinema."

My main conceptual tool to describe similarities and differences pertaining to the repre sen ta tion of work in these two cinematic paradigms is "multitude," borrowed from the books by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, who transplanted it to postmodern discourse on work from the writings of Hobbes and Spinoza.2 "Multitude" can be understood as a global citizens' movement against various forms of oppressions, including economic exploitation. "Multitude" conveys an idea that under certain conditions, people belonging to different social classes might collaborate to overturn what Hardt and Negri call an "Empire": an oppressive po liti cal system that spreads across national borders. Hardt and Negri use "multitude" to describe the po liti cal, social, and cultural conditions in the late capitalist world, but this concept also adequately captures the situation under late socialism. The Solidarity movement in Poland, which spread to practically the whole of the Eastern Bloc and resulted in its collapse, was, in my view, the perfect embodiment of "multitude." As Slavoj Zizek notes, it was a po liti cal alliance between many divergent and potentially antagonistic positions, including conservative nationalists, business- oriented individuals, the Catholic Church, farmers, artists, intellectuals, workers, and old disillusioned leftists. It happened, as Zizek puts it, "under the banner of a signifier which stands, as it were, on the very border which separates the po liti cal form from the pre- political, and 'Solidarity' was the perfect candidate: it is po liti cally operative as designating the 'simple' and 'fundamental' unity of human beings which should link them beyond po liti cal differences."3 Of course, Solidarity as multitude was possible because of the nearly universal hatred of the "Soviet Empire" in Poland and despite the numerous divisions existing in Polish society, between and inside social classes, and certain seeming advantages of living under the communist system.

Hardt and Negri purposefully play down the differences between those who make up multitude because unity in diversity is at the core of this concept. The most important relation for them is that between multitude and Empire. I am, however, as interested in the relation between those who belong to these social forms as between multitude (real and potential) and Empire. For this reason, I employ Pierre Bourdieu's concepts of "capital," "field," and "habitus." At the heart of these concepts is a conviction that the social world should be considered in terms of relations, which are constantly shifting: "the real is the relational.

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