History of Poland (1945–89)

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The history of Poland from 1945 to 1989 spans the period of Soviet communist dominance imposed after the end of World War II over what had become the Polish People's Republic. These years, while featuring general industrialization and urbanization and many improvements in the standards of living in Poland, were marred by social unrest and economic depression.

Near the end of World War II, the advancing Soviet Red Army pushed out the Nazi German forces from occupied Poland. The Yalta Conference sanctioned the formation of a new compromise coalition provisional government of Poland until free elections. Joseph Stalin manipulated the implementation and a practically communist-controlled Provisional Government of National Unity was formed in Warsaw, ignoring the Polish government-in-exile based in London.

The Potsdam Agreement of 1945 ratified the westerly shift of Polish borders and approved its new territory between the Oder-Neisse and Curzon lines. Poland, as a result of World War II, for the first time in history became an ethnically homogeneous nation state without prominent minorities due to the destruction of indigenous Polish-Jewish population in the Holocaust, the flight and expulsion of Germans in the west, resettlement of Ukrainians in the east, and the repatriation of Poles from Kresy. The new government solidified its political power over the next two years, while the communist Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR) under Bolesław Bierut gained firm control over the country, which would become part of the postwar Soviet sphere of influence in Central and Eastern Europe.

Following Stalin's death in 1953, a political "thaw" in the Soviet sphere allowed a more liberal faction of the Polish communists, led by Władysław Gomułka, to gain power. By the mid-1960s, Poland began experiencing increasing economic, as well as political, difficulties. In December 1970, a consumer price hike led to a wave of strikes. The government introduced a new economic program based on large-scale borrowing from the West, which resulted in a rise in living standards and expectations, but the program meant growing integration of Poland's economy with the world economy and it faltered after the 1973 oil crisis. In 1976, the government of Edward Gierek was forced to raise prices again, and this led to another wave of public protests.

This vicious cycle of repression and reform[b] and the economic-political struggle acquired new characteristics with the 1978 election of Karol Wojtyła as Pope John Paul II. Wojtyła's unexpected elevation strengthened the opposition to the still authoritarian and ineffective system of nomenklatura-run state socialism practiced at that time, especially with the Pope's first visit to Poland in 1979. In early August 1980, the wave of strikes resulted in the founding of the independent trade union "Solidarity" (Polish Solidarność) led by electrician Lech Wałęsa. The growing strength and activity of the opposition caused the government of Wojciech Jaruzelski to declare martial law in December 1981. However, with the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, increasing pressure from the West, and continuing unrest, the regime was forced to negotiate with its opponents. The 1989 Round Table Talks led to Solidarity's participation in the 1989 election; its candidates' striking victory gave rise to the first of the succession of transitions from communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe. In 1990, Jaruzelski resigned as the President of the Republic of Poland and, after the December 1990 elections, was succeeded by Wałęsa.

Creation of the Polish People's Republic (1944–48)[edit]

Wartime devastation, border and population shifts[edit]

Poland suffered heavy losses during World War II. While in 1939 Poland had 35.1 million inhabitants,[1] at the end of the war only 19.1 million remained within its new borders.[1] The first post-war census of 14 February 1946 showed 23.9 million due to migration.[2] Estimates vary, but up to 6 million Polish citizens died from war-related causes between 1939 and 1945.[3][4] Due to the multiethnic diversity of prewar Poland reflected in national censuses, the number of ethnic Polish victims (a part of the above total) was perhaps 2 million. The approximate figure of 3 million Jewish Polish victims is generally accepted.[5][6][7] Minorities in Poland were very significantly affected: before World War II, a third of Poland's population was composed of ethnic minorities; after the war, Poland's minorities were all but gone.[8] The Polish educated class suffered greatly. A large proportion of the country's pre-war social and political elite perished and a large proportion were dispersed.[9][10]

Poland, a predominantly agricultural country with poorly developed industrial base compared to Western nations, suffered catastrophic damage to its infrastructure during the war, which caused it to lag even further behind the West in industrial output. The losses in national resources and infrastructure amounted to over 30% of the pre-war potential.[11] Poland's capital of Warsaw, over eighty percent destroyed in the aftermath of the Warsaw Uprising, was among the most devastated cities.[12] However, the more economically backward eastern regions were lost by the Polish state and the more highly developed western areas acquired. Already in 1948 the prewar level of industrial production was exceeded in global and per capita terms.[13]

Destroyed capital of Poland, Warsaw, January 1945

The implementation of the immense task of reconstructing the country was accompanied by the struggle of the new government to acquire a stable, centralized power base, further complicated by the mistrust a considerable part of society held for the new regime and by disputes over Poland's postwar borders, which were not firmly established until mid-1945.[14] In 1947 Soviet pressure caused the Polish government to reject the American-sponsored Marshall Plan,[15] and to join the Soviet Union-dominated Comecon in 1949.[16] The Soviet forces present engaged in plunder of the former eastern territories of Germany which were being transferred to Poland, stripping it of valuable industrial equipment, infrastructure and factories and sending them to the Soviet Union.[17][18]

After the Soviet annexation of the Kresy territories east of the Curzon line, about 2 million Poles were "repatriated" (moved or were transferred or expelled) from these areas into the new western and northern territories east of the Oder-Neisse line,[19][20] which were transferred from Germany to Poland under the Potsdam Agreement.[21] Others stayed in what had become the Soviet Union and more went to Poland after 1956.[20] Additional settlement with people from central parts of Poland brought the number of Poles in what the government called the Recovered Territories up to 5 million by 1950. The former German population of 10 million had fled or was expelled to post-war Germany by 1950,[8][22] of which 5 million were involved in involuntary transfers in the "Polish part of the operation". The expulsion of the Germans was the result of the Allied decisions finalized in Potsdam.[20]

Map showing the different borders and territories of Poland and Germany during the 20th century, with the current areas of Germany and Poland in dark gray

With the repatriation of Ukrainians from Poland to the Soviet Union and the 1947 Operation Vistula dispersing the remaining Ukrainian minority,[23] and with most of the former Jewish minority exterminated by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust and many of the survivors emigrating to the West and to newly created Israel,[20] Poland for the first time became an ethnically homogenous nation state.[8] The government-imposed and spontaneous movements of people amounted to one of the greatest demographic upheavals in European history.[20]

Warsaw and other ruined cities were cleared of rubble — mainly by hand — and rebuilt with great speed (one of the successes of the Three-Year Plan)[24] at the expense of former German cities like Wrocław, which often provided the needed construction material.[25] Wrocław, Gdańsk, Szczecin and other formerly German cities were also completely rebuilt.

Historian Norman Davies found the new Polish frontiers, from the Polish interests point of view, entirely advantageous, but realized at the cost of enormous suffering and specious justifications. The radically new Eastern European borders constituted a "colossal feat of political engineering", but could not be derived from immemorial historical determinations, as claimed by the communist propaganda.[26]

The Regained Territories Exhibition (Polish: Wystawa Ziem Odzyskanych), a propaganda exhibition celebrating "the restoration of the Recovered Territories to Poland" after the end of Second World War, was opened on 21 July 1948 by Bolesław Bierut and lasted for 100 days. About 2 million people visited the exhibition and the Iglica monument was built in front of the Centennial Hall in Wrocław.

Consolidation of communist power[edit]

The PKWN Manifesto, officially issued on 22 July 1944. In reality it was not finished until mid-August, after the Polish communist Moscow group was joined by the late-arriving Warsaw group, led by Gomułka and Bierut.[27]

Even before the Red Army entered Poland, the Soviet Union was pursuing a deliberate strategy to eliminate anti-communist resistance forces to ensure that Poland would fall under its sphere of influence.[28] In 1943, following the revelation of the Katyn massacre, Stalin severed relations with the Polish government-in-exile in London.[29] However, to appease the United States and the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union agreed at the February 1945 Yalta Conference to allow the formation of a coalition government composed of the communists, including the Polish Workers' Party (Polska Partia Robotnicza; PPR), as well as pro-Western elements in exile and in Poland, and subsequently to arrange for free elections to be held.[30]

After the prewar Communist Party of Poland was eliminated in Stalin's purges in 1938 (some five thousand Polish communists were brought to Russia and killed), a group of survivors, led by Marceli Nowotko, Bolesław Mołojec and Paweł Finder, convinced in 1941 the Soviets in Moscow of the need to reestablish a Polish party. The conspiratorial core of the new Polish Workers' Party was assembled in Warsaw in January 1942, and after the deaths or arrests of the above leaders there, Władysław Gomułka emerged as the PPR's First Secretary by the end of 1943. Gomułka was a dedicated communist in the national tradition of the Polish leftist movement, who loathed the Soviet practices he experienced while being trained in Russia and Ukraine in the 1930s, but was convinced of the historic necessity of alliance with the Soviet Union. He may have survived the purges because of being imprisoned in Poland for illegal labor-organizing activities in 1938–39. Throughout the German occupation, Gomułka remained in Poland and was not a part of the Moscow-reared Stalin's Polish circle. In Polish society of 1945, Gomułka's party was marginally small in comparison to other political groups.[31]

With the beginning of the liberation of Polish territories and the failure of the Armia Krajowa's Operation Tempest in 1944, control over Polish territories passed from the occupying forces of Nazi Germany to the Red Army, and from the Red Army to the Polish communists, formally led by their Polish Committee of National Liberation (Polski Komitet Wyzwolenia Narodowego; PKWN), an early government, from late July 1944 in existence in Lublin. The Polish communists became the most influential Polish factor in the politics of emerging Poland,[32][33] despite having minuscule popular support.[34] PKWN recognized the legal continuity of the March Constitution of Poland, as opposed to the April Constitution.[16][35] On September 6, PKWN issued its momentous land reform decree, the consequences of which would fundamentally alter the antiquated social and economic structure of the country. Over one million peasant families benefited form the parceling of the larger estates.[36]

Thus from its outset, the Yalta decision favored the communists, who enjoyed the advantages of Soviet support within the Soviet plan of bringing Eastern Europe securely under the influence of the Soviet Union, as well as control over crucial government departments such as the security services (this activity was initially dominated by Lavrentiy Beria's Soviet NKVD).[27][30] Beginning in the later part of 1944, following the defeat of the Warsaw Uprising and the promotion of the populist program of the PKWN, the London exiled government's delegation was increasingly seen by the majority of Poles as a failed enterprise, its political-military organizations became isolated, and the resistance against the new communist political and administrative forces decisively weakened. The population was tired of the years of oppression and conflict and the ideas expressed in the PKWN Manifesto and their progressive implementation attracted widening social support.[37] From 1944 in liberated areas, responding to promulgated slogans, workers spontaneously took over existing factory installations, established workers' councils, undertook reconstruction, activation and production. A considerable labor struggle and compulsion were necessary for the PPR to claim the factories and enforce its own rules.[38]

The Prime Minister of the Polish government-in-exile, Stanisław Mikołajczyk, resigned his post in 1944 and, along with several other exiled Polish leaders, returned to Poland, where a Provisional Government (Rząd Tymczasowy Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej; RTRP) had been created by the PKWN and functioned from January 1945.[3][33] This government was headed by Edward Osóbka-Morawski, a socialist, but the communists, mostly non-PPR Soviet employees, such as Michał Rola-Żymierski, held a majority of key posts.[31] In April 1945, a Polish-Soviet treaty of friendship and cooperation was signed; it severely limited the possibilities of future Western or émigré impact or internal cooperation with non-communist political forces in Poland.[16][39] The consecutive early Soviet-influenced governments were subordinate to the unelected, communist-controlled parliament, the State National Council (Krajowa Rada Narodowa; KRN), formed by Gomułka and his PPR in occupied Warsaw in January 1944. The communist governmental structures were not recognized by the increasingly isolated Polish government-in-exile, which had formed its own quasi-parliament, the Council of National Unity (Rada Jedności Narodowej; RJN).[40]

Communist propaganda poster depicting the Armia Krajowa as "putrid reactionary midgets"

The Yalta agreement stipulated a governmental union in Poland of "all democratic and anti-Nazi elements". Mikołajczyk, who accepted the Yalta terms, went to Moscow, where he negotiated with Bierut the shape of a "national unity" government".[41]

The new Polish Provisional Government of National Unity (Tymczasowy Rząd Jedności Narodowej; TRJN) — as the Polish government was called until the elections of 1947 — was established on 28 June 1945.[33] Osóbka-Morawski was kept as Prime Minister, Gomułka became First Deputy Prime Minister and Mikołajczyk Second Deputy and Minister of Agriculture. The government was "provisional" and the Potsdam Conference soon declared that before a regular government is created, free elections must be held and a permanent constitutional system established.[41]

The communists' principal rivals were the veterans of the Armia Krajowa movement, Mikołajczyk's Polish People's (Peasant) Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe; PSL), and the veterans of the Polish armies which had fought in the West. Of particular practical importance was Mikołajczyk's People's Party, because it was legally recognized by the communists and thus able to function within the political arena. The People's Party wanted to prevent the communists from monopolizing power and eventually establish a parliamentary polity with a market economy by winning the promised elections.[42]

Soviet-oriented parties, backed by the Soviet Red Army and in control of the security forces, held most of the power, concentrated especially in the Polish Workers' Party under Władysław Gomułka and Bolesław Bierut. Bierut represented the influx of appointees to the Polish party coming (during and after the war) from the Soviet Union and imposed by the Soviets, a process accelerated at the time of the PPR Congress of December 1945. The Party's membership dramatically increased from perhaps a few thousand in early 1945 to over one million in 1948.[24][31][43]

As a show of communist rule and Soviet domination, sixteen prominent leaders of the Polish anti-Nazi underground were brought to trial in Moscow in June 1945.[44] Their removal from the political scene precluded the possibility of a democratic transition called for by the Yalta agreements.[45] The trial of the defendants, falsely and absurdly accused of collaboration with the Nazis, was watched by British and American diplomats without protest. The absence of the expected death sentences was their relief.[41] The exiled government in London, after Mikołajczyk's resignation led by Tomasz Arciszewski, ceased to be officially recognized by Great Britain and the United States on 5 July 1945.[46]

In the years 1945–47, about 500,000 Soviet soldiers were stationed in Poland. Between 1945 and 1948, some 150,000 Poles were imprisoned by the Soviet authorities. Many former Home Army members were apprehended and executed.[47] During the PPR Central Committee Plenum of May 1945, Gomułka complained that the Polish masses regard the Polish communists as the "NKVD's worst agency" and Edward Ochab declared the withdrawal of the Soviet Army from Poland a high priority.[39] But in the meantime tens of thousands of Poles died in the postwar struggle and persecution and tens of thousands were sentenced by courts on fabricated and arbitrary charges or deported to the Soviet Union.[45] The status of Soviet troops in Poland was not legalized until late 1956, when the Polish-Soviet declaration "On the legal status of Soviet forces temporarily stationed in Poland" was signed.[48] The Soviet Northern Group of Forces would be permanently stationed in Poland.[32]

Rigged 1946 referendum and first elections of 1947[edit]

ORMO paramilitary police unit during street parade at the Victory Square, June 9, 1946, Warsaw

Stalin had promised at the Yalta Conference that free elections would be held in Poland. However, the Polish communists, led by Gomułka and Bierut, were aware of the lack of support for their side among the general population. To circumvent this difficulty, in 1946 a national plebiscite, known as the "3 times YES" referendum (3 razy TAK; 3×TAK), was held first, before the parliamentary elections.[49] The referendum comprised three fairly general, but politically charged questions about the Senate, national industries and western borders. It was meant to check and promote the popularity of communist initiatives in Poland. Since most of the important parties at the time were leftist or centrist – and could have easily approved all three options – Mikołajczyk's PSL decided, not to be seen as merging into the "Government Bloc", to ask its supporters to oppose one of them: the abolition of the Senate.[50] The communists voted "3 times YES". The partial results, reconstructed by PSL, showed that the communist side was met with little support; in Kraków where the actual ballots were counted, only 16% of the population voted in favor of their proposed Option One.[51] However, the large-scale electoral fraud and intimidation won the communists a claimed majority of 68% in the carefully controlled poll,[50] which led to the nationalization of industry and state control of economic activity in general, land reform, and a unicameral national parliament (Sejm).[24][30][52][53]

The communists consolidated power by gradually whittling away the rights of their non-communist foes, particularly by suppressing the leading opposition party – Mikołajczyk's Polish People's Party (PSL).[42] In some widely publicized cases, the perceived enemies were being sentenced to death on trumped up charges — among them Witold Pilecki, the organizer of the Auschwitz resistance, and numerous leaders of Armia Krajowa and the Council of National Unity. Many resistance fighters were murdered extrajudicially, or forced to exile.[54] The opposition members were also persecuted by administrative means. Although the ongoing persecution of the former anti-Nazi and right-wing organizations by state security kept some partisans in the forests, the actions of the Ministry of Public Security of Poland (UB, Polish secret police), NKVD and the Red Army steadily diminished their numbers. The right-wing insurgency radically decreased after the amnesty of July 1945[55] and faded after the amnesty of February 1947.[56][57]

By 1946, all rightist parties had been outlawed,[30] and a new pro-government Democratic Bloc was formed in 1947 which included only the Polish Workers' Party and its leftist allies. On 19 January 1947, the first parliamentary elections took place featuring primarily PPR and allied candidates and a potentially politically potent opposition from the Polish People's Party, whose strength and role had already been seriously compromised due to government control and persecution.[30] Results were adjusted by Stalin himself to suit the communists, whose bloc claimed 80% of the votes. The British and American governments protested the poll for its blatant violations of the Yalta and Potsdam accords.[58] The rigged elections effectively ended the multiparty system in Poland's politics.[16][24][30][52][53] After the referendum dress rehearsal, the vote fraud was much better concealed and spread into various forms and stages and its actual scale is not known. With all the pressure and manipulations, a NKVD colonel charged with the election supervision reported to Stalin that about 50% of the vote was cast for the regime's Democratic Bloc nationwide. In the new Sejm, out of 444 seats, 27 were given to Mikołajczyk's party.[59] Stanisław Mikołajczyk, who declared the results to be falsified and was threatened with arrest or worse,[59] fled the country and other opposition leaders also left.[53] Western governments did not act further and the Poles felt abandoned again. In the same year, the new Sejm created the Small Constitution of 1947. Over the next two years, the communists monopolized their political power in Poland.[3][30]

Polish United Workers' Party and its rule[edit]

1951 East German stamp commemorative of the Treaty of Zgorzelec establishing the Oder–Neisse line as a "border of peace", featuring the presidents Wilhelm Pieck (GDR) and Bolesław Bierut (Poland)

Additional force in Polish politics, the long-established Polish Socialist Party (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna, PPS), suffered a fatal split at this time, as the ruling Stalinists applied the salami tactics to dismember the opposition.[60] Communist politicians cooperated with the left-wing PPS faction led by Józef Cyrankiewicz, prime minister under new president Bierut from February 1947. The socialists' originally tactical decision to collaborate with the communists resulted in their institutional demise.[42] Cyrankiewicz visited Stalin in Moscow in March 1948 to discuss the idea of a party merger. The Kremlin, increasingly uncomfortable with Gomułka's communist party leadership, concurred, and Cyrankiewicz secured his own political place for the future (until 1972).[61] In December 1948, after the removal of Gomułka and imposition of Bierut as the communist Polish Workers' Party chief,[62] the PPR and Cyrankiewicz's rump PPS joined ranks to form the Polish United Workers' Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza; PZPR), in power for the next four decades. Poland became a de facto single-party state and a satellite state of the Soviet Union.[24] Only two other parties were allowed to exist legally: United People's Party, a small farmers' party, and the Democratic Party, a token intelligentsia party (see also: political organization in Poland 1945-1989).[30]

As the period of Sovietization and Stalinism began, the PZPR was anything but united. The most important split among the communists occurred before the union with PPS, when the Stalinists forced Gomułka out of the PPR's top office and suppressed his native communist faction.[62] The PZPR had become divided into several factions, which espoused different views and methods and sought different degrees of the Polish state's distinction and independence from the Soviet Union. While the official ideology, the Russian version of Marxism, was new to Poland, the communist regime continued, in many psychologically and practically important ways, the precepts, methods and manners of past Polish ruling circles, including those of the Sanation, the National Democracy, and the 19th century traditions of cooperation with the partitioning powers.[31]

With Poland being a member of the Soviet Bloc, the Party's pursuits of power and reform were permanently hindered by the restrictions and limits imposed by the rulers of the Soviet Union, by the resentful attitude of Polish society, acutely conscious of its lack of national independence and freedoms, and by the understanding of the Party managers that their positions would terminate once they stop conforming to the requirements of the Soviet alliance (because of both the lack of public support and Soviet reaction).[63] Poland's political history was governed by the mutual dependence of the Soviets and the Polish communists.[46]

The nomenklatura political elite developed. It comprised leaders, administrators and managers within the ruling party structure, in all branches of central and local government and in institutions of all kinds. The nomenklatura members were appointed by the Party and exercised political control in all spheres of public life, for example economic development, industry management or education. For the Party, the privileged nomenklatura layer was maintained to assure the proper placement of people who were ideologically reliable and otherwise qualified, but the revisionist dissidents Jacek Kuroń and Karol Modzelewski later described this system as a class dictatorship of central political bureaucracy for its own sake.[38] The Polish public widely approved the many social undertakings of the communist government, including family apartment construction, child care, worker vacation and resorts, health care and full employment policies, but the special privileges granted nomenklatura and the security services were resented.[64]

Stalinist era (1948–56)[edit]

"Stalinism in Poland" redirects here. For Stalinism in general, see Stalinism. For the state-sanctioned art of the period, see Socialist realism in Poland.

Repression and its limits[edit]

The show trial of Captain Witold Pilecki, sentenced to death and executed May 1948

The repercussions of Yugoslavia's break with the Soviet Union reached Warsaw in 1948. As in other Eastern Bloc countries, there was a Soviet-style political purge of communist officials in Poland, accused of "nationalist" or other "deviationist" tendencies.[65] In September, Władysław Gomułka who opposed Stalin's direct control of the Polish PPR party, was charged, together with a group of communist leaders who like Gomułka spent the war in Poland, with ideological trespasses, and dismissed from the post of the party's first secretary.[65][66] Gomułka, accused of "right-wing nationalist deviations", had indeed emphasized the Polish socialist traditions and severely criticized Rosa Luxemburg's SDKPiL party for belittling Polish national aspirations.[67] More insidiously, the Soviets claimed Gomułka's participation in an anti-Soviet international conspiracy.[68] Following Bolesław Bierut's order, he was arrested by the Ministry of Public Security (MBP) in early August 1951 and interrogated by Romkowski and Fejgin as demanded by the Soviets.[69] Gomułka was not subjected to physical torture unlike other communists persecuted under the regime of Bierut, Jakub Berman and other Stalin's associates.[70][71] Under interrogation he defiantly conducted his defense, threatened to reveal "the whole truth" if put on a trial, and remained unbroken. Gomułka was thus placed in prison without a typical show trial until released in December 1954.[69][72] Bierut, heading the victorious faction whose members spent the war in the Soviet Union,[66] replaced Gomułka as party leader (the PPR and then the PZPR) until his own sudden death.[30] Gomułka remained protected by his Polish comrades to the best of their ability and the record of his sometime defiance came in handy when in 1956 there was an opportunity for the Polish party to reassert itself.[62]

The Stalinist government was controlled by Polish communists originating from wartime factions and organizations operating in the Soviet Union under Stalin, such as the Union of Polish Patriots. Their leaders at that time included Wanda Wasilewska and Zygmunt Berling.[37] Now in Poland, those who remained politically active and in favor ruled the country, aided by the MBP and Soviet "advisers", who were placed in every arm of the government and state security as a guarantee of the pro-Soviet policy of the state. The most important of them was Konstantin Rokossovsky (Konstanty Rokossowski in Polish), defense minister of Poland from 1949 to 1956, former marshal and war hero in the Soviet Armed Forces.[73][74] Military conscription was introduced following a postwar hiatus and, under the careful tutelage of the Soviet advisers, the army soon reached its permanent size of 400,000 men.[75]

The Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, initially called the Stalin's Palace, was a controversial gift from Soviet leader Joseph Stalin

The Soviet-style secret police and the central security office Urząd Bezpieczeństwa (UB) grew to around 32,000 agents as of 1953. At its Stalinist peak, there was one UB agent for every 800 Polish citizens.[76] The MBP was also in charge of the Internal Security Corps, the Civil Militia (MO), border guard, prison staff and paramilitary police ORMO used for special actions (with over 100,000 members). The ORMO originated from popular self-defense efforts, a spontaneous reaction to the explosion of crime in the power vacuum of 1944–45. In February 1946 the PPR channeled and formalized this citizen militia movement, creating its ostensibly crime control voluntary ORMO structure.[77]

Primarily in Stalin's lifetime, the public prosecutors and judges as well as functionaries of the MBP, Służba Bezpieczeństwa and the GZI WP military police engaged in acts recognized by international law as crimes against humanity[71] and crimes against peace. One example was the torture and execution of seven members of the 4th Headquarters of the combatant post-Home Army Freedom and Independence (WiN) organization in the Mokotów Prison in Warsaw, after the official amnesty and their voluntary disclosure. All executed members of the WiN took active part in anti-Nazi resistance during World War II.[78] The postwar Polish Army, intelligence and police were full of Soviet NKVD officers who stationed in Poland with the Northern Group of Forces until 1956.[79]

Mass arrests continued during the early 1950s. In October 1950, 5,000 people were arrested in one night, in the so-called "Operation K"; in 1952 over 21,000 people were arrested. According to official data, there were 49,500 political prisoners in the second half of 1952.[80] In one very shocking case, the former Home Army commander Emil Fieldorf was subjected to several years of brutal persecution in the Soviet Union and Poland before being executed in February 1953, just before Stalin's death.[81]

Resistance to the Soviet and native Stalinists was widespread among not only the general population but also the PZPR ranks, which limited the oppressive system's damage in Poland to well below that of other European communist-ruled countries. Political violence after 1947 was not widespread. The Church, subjected to partial property confiscations,[16] remained largely intact, the marginalized to a considerable degree intelligentsia retained its potential to affect future reforms, the peasantry avoided wholesale collectivization and remnants of private enterprise survived. Gradual liberalizing changes took place between Stalin's death in 1953 and the Polish October of 1956.[82]

Nationalization and centrally planned economy[edit]

Avenue of the Roses, Nowa Huta

The last Polish–Soviet territorial exchange took place in 1951. Some 480 km2 (185 sq mi) of land along the border were swapped between Poland and the Soviet Union. The adjustment was made to the decisive economic benefit of the Soviet side due to rich deposits of coal given up by Poland. Within eight years following the exchange, the Soviets built four large coal mines there, producing 15 million tons of coal annually.[83][84][85] Poland increased its area of scenic wooded ecosystems in the western part of the Eastern Carpathian Mountains and its territory became even more compact.

In February 1948, Minister of Industry Hilary Minc attacked the Central Planning Office of Poland as a "bourgeois" remnant, the Office was abolished and the Polish Stalinist economy was born. The government, headed by President Bierut, Prime Minister Cyrankiewicz and Marxist economist Minc, embarked on a sweeping program of economic reform and national reconstruction.[86] Poland was brought into line with the Soviet model of a "people's republic" and centrally planned socialist economy,[30] in place of the façade of democracy and partial market economy which the regime had maintained until 1948.[24]

The relationships of ownership of the industry, the banking sector and rural property after the nationalization and the land reform were fundamentally altered. The changes, implemented in the name of egalitarianism, enjoyed broad societal approval and support.[64]

The structure of the Polish economy was established in the late 1940s and the early 1950s.[38] Soviet-style planning begun in 1950 with the Six-Year Plan.[30] The plan focused on rapid development of heavy industry ("accelerated industrialization" driven by Soviet military demands)[38] and (eventually futile) collectivization of agriculture. Among the main projects was the Lenin Steelworks and its supporting "socialist city" of Nowa Huta (New Steel Mill), both built from the scratch in the early 1950s near Kraków, of which Nowa Huta soon became a part.[87] The land seized from prewar large landowners was redistributed to the poorer peasants, but subsequent attempts at taking the land from farmers for collectivization met wide resentment. In what became known as the battle for trade, the private trade and industry were nationalized. Within few years most private shops disappeared from Poland.[30] The regime embarked on the campaign of collectivization (State Agricultural Farms were created),[24] although the pace of this change was slower than in other Soviet satellites.[30] Poland remained the only Eastern Bloc country where individual peasants would continue to dominate agriculture. A Soviet-Polish trade treaty, initiated in January 1948, dictated the dominant direction of Poland's future foreign trade and economic cooperation.[88]

In 1948 the United States announced the Marshall Plan initiative to help rebuild postwar Europe and thus gain more political power there. After initially welcoming the idea of Poland's participation in the plan, the Polish government declined the American offer under pressure from Moscow.[16] Also, following the Uprising of 1953 in East Germany, Poland was forced by the Soviet Union to give up its claims to compensation from Germany, which as a result paid no significant compensation for war damages, either to the Polish state or to Polish citizens.[89] Poland received compensation in the form of land and property left behind by the German population of the annexed western territories.

Despite the lack of American aid, the East European "command economies", including Poland, made some progress in bridging the historically existing wealth gap with the market economy driven Western Europe.[90] Because of the capital accumulation the Polish national income grew in real terms by over 76% and the agricultural and industrial production more than doubled between 1947 and 1950. The economic transition and industrialization were accompanied and made possible by massive social transformations, as peasants migrated and were converted into city dwelling working class (1.8 million between 1946 and 1955) and the country went through a period of rapid urbanization. The influx of cheap labor and the availability of the Soviet market facilitated an accumulation of resources, despite low productivity and insufficient investment in new technologies.[38] The centrally planned socialist economies of Eastern Europe did relatively better than the West in terms of the post-war years growth, only to sustain economic damage later, especially after the 1973 oil crisis.[90] However, the rise in living standards caused by the earlier industrial dynamics was not comparable to that in the West.[38]

Reforms, resistance and beginning of de-Stalinization[edit]

The new constitution of 1952 guaranteed universal free health care.[91] In the early 1950s, the Stalinist regime also carried out major changes to the education system. The communist program of free and compulsory school education for all, and the establishment of new free universities, received much support. The communists screened out what facts and interpretations were to be taught; history and other sciences had to follow Marxist views approved by ideological censorship.[30] During 1951–53, a large number of prewar professors who were perceived as "reactionary" by the new regime was dismissed from universities. The government control over art and artists deepened. The Soviet-style socialist realism became the only formula accepted by the authorities after 1949. Most works of art and literature presented to the public had to be in line with the views of the Party and thus present its propaganda (see also: Socialist realism in Poland).

The reforms often brought relief for a significant part of the population. After the Second World War many people were willing to accept communist rule in exchange for the restoration of relatively normal life; hundreds of thousands joined the communist party and actively supported the regime. Nonetheless, a latent popular discontent remained present. Many Poles adopted an attitude that might be called "resigned cooperation". Others, like some of the remnants of the Home Army, the Freedom and Independence organization that originated from it and especially the National Armed Forces, actively opposed the communists, hoping for a World War III that would liberate Poland. Those who took up arms against the communist regime are collectively known known as the cursed soldiers. Most had surrendered during the amnesty of 1947, but brutal repressions by the secret police continued and some fought well into the 1950s.[14][28][d]

Cardinal Wyszyński, Primate of Poland

The communists further alienated many Poles by persecuting the Catholic Church.[30] The PAX Association created in 1947 and led by the former prewar far-right activist Bolesław Piasecki, attempted to divide the Catholic movement and promote a communist rule-friendly, collaborationist church.[87] The PAX did not get very far in molding the Catholic public opinion, but published numerous books and officially approved daily Catholic press. In 1953 the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński was placed under house arrest, even though before he had been willing to make compromises with the government.[24][30] In the early 1950s, the war against religion by the secret police led to the arrest and torture of hundreds of Polish religious personalities, culminating in the Stalinist show trial of the Kraków Curia. The Office of the Council of Ministers (government) produced a list of regime-approved bishops.[92][93] See also: Polish anti-religious campaign.

The constitution of 1952 officially established the Polish People's Republic and on paper guaranteed all sorts of democratic rights and freedoms. In reality, the country was controlled extra-constitutionally by the Polish United Workers' Party, which used its own rules and practices to supervise all governmental institutions specified in the constitution.[94] The post of President of Poland was replaced with the collective Council of State, but Bierut, the Party's first secretary, remained the effective leader of Poland. In the future, the existence of a constitution with democratic provisions would give the opposition a legal tool and a way to pressure the regime.

Stalin died in 1953, which was followed by a partial thaw in Poland.[95] Nikita Khrushchev became first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The PZPR's Second Congress deliberated in March 1954. Cyrankiewicz, previously replaced by Bierut, was returned to the post of prime minister (to remain in this capacity until December 1970). The Six-Year Plan was adjusted to increase production of items for popular consumption. Khrushchev, present at the Congress, asked Bierut for the reasons of the continuing detention of Gomułka, "a good communist"; Bierut denied having specific knowledge of Gomułka's imprisonment.[96]

Following the defection to the West and revelations of its official Józef Światło, the Ministry of Public Security was abolished in December 1954. Gomułka and his associates were freed from confinement and censorship was slightly relaxed.[90] The two notable periodicals braving the prohibitions were Po prostu [Simply] and Nowa Kultura [The New Culture] (Po prostu was closed down and its defenders brutally pacified in October 1957, just one year after Gomułka's rise to power).[97][98] From early 1955, the Polish press engaged in criticizing the Stalinist recent past and praising the older Polish socialist traditions (social democratic Marxism and national independence). Political discussion clubs were on the rise throughout the country. The Party itself appeared to be moving in the social democratic direction. Leftist intellectuals, who had joined the Party because of their commitment to social justice, were heading in that direction more decisively and they soon gave rise to the Polish revisionism movement.[67]

In February 1956 Khrushchev denounced Stalin's cult of personality at the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party and embarked on a reform course.[97] The de-Stalinization of official Soviet ideology left Poland's Stalinist hardliners in a difficult position.[53] While unrest and desire for reform and change among both intellectuals and workers was beginning to surface throughout the Eastern Bloc, the death of Stalin's ally Bierut in March 1956 in Moscow (the veteran hardliner chief was attending the Soviet party's congress)[99] exacerbated an existing split in the Polish party.[53] In March Bierut was succeeded by Edward Ochab as first secretary.[90] As the 20th Congress launched also a process of partial democratisation of Polish political and economic life, Ochab engaged in reforms intended to promote industrial decentralization and improve living standards.[38]

The number of security agents was cut by 22% and, by a widespread amnesty, 35,000 detainees across the entire country were released. 9,000 imprisoned for political reasons were freed in all. Hardline Stalinists, such as Jakub Berman, Roman Romkowski and Anatol Fejgin, were removed from power, some arrested.[100] Berman, dismissed in May, by Gomułka's decision was never prosecuted.[99][101] Under Gomułka, a few perpetrators of Stalinist crimes were prosecuted and sentenced to prison terms. A much broader plan to charge the responsible and verify all of the security apparatus was formally presented by the prosecutors, but the action was not approved by Gomułka, who counted among the Stalinist persecution victims, as did his wife. Gomułka conducted some purges and reforms but did not want to destabilize the security system, now under his control, by wide-ranging formal prosecutions.[102]

Gomułka's road to socialism (1956–70)[edit]

Polish October[edit]

Beginning on 28 June 1956, workers in the industrial city of Poznań, who had repeatedly, but in vain petitioned the authorities to intervene and improve their deteriorating situation,[103] went on strike and rioted in response to a cut in wages and changed working conditions.[90] Demonstrations by factory workers turned into a huge city-wide protest.[103] 16 tanks, 2 armoured personnel carriers and 30 vehicles were brought to bear by a local military commander. Some of them were seized by the protesters, who also broke into the local government buildings.[103] 57 people were killed and several hundred injured in two days of fighting.[104] Several major military formations entered the scene, but the army's role was mainly that of support of the police and the security forces action.[99][103][a] At the Poznań radio station, Prime Minister Cyrankiewicz in his widely publicized speech warned and threatened the rioters: he "…who will dare raise his hand against the people's rule may be sure that… the authorities will chop off his hand".[90][103] Of the 746 people officially detained during and in the aftermath of the disturbances, almost 80% were workers. The authorities launched an investigation, attempting to uncover a claimed premeditated instigation and involvement by Western or anticommunist underground centers. Such efforts were unsuccessful and the events were found to have been spontaneous and locally supported.[103] The Poznań revolt's lasting impact was that it caused a deeper and more liberal realignment within the Polish communist party and its relationship to Moscow.[90]

Deeply shaken by the protests and violence,[90] the 7th Plenum of the Central Committee, held in July 1956, split into two groups, the "ethno-nationalist" Natolin and the "reformist" Puławy factions, named after the locations where they held their meetings.[105][106] Natolin consisted largely of communist officials from the army and state security, including Mieczysław Moczar, Zenon Kliszko and Zenon Nowak, who advocated the removal of "Stalin's Jewish protégés", but were themselves of Stalinist sympathies.[107] Puławy faction included communists of Jewish origin from the security apparatus, many of whom spent the war in the Soviet Union, disillusioned opportunists, and members of the old communist intelligentsia. Many were former Stalinist fanatics, past Gomułka's enemies, now turned liberal reformers, supporters of Gomułka's return to power.[66][108] Both factions supported the Sovietization of Poland with somewhat different aims, but the staunch Stalinists lacked the support of Khrushchev. The regime turned to conciliation: wage rises and other reforms for the Poznań workers were announced. In the Party and among the intellectuals demands calling for wider reforms of the Stalinist system were becoming more widespread and intense.[105]

Realizing the need for new leadership, in what became known as the Polish October, the Politburo chose Gomułka, who had been released from prison and reinstated in the Party, and the Central Committee's 8th Plenum elected him without a Soviet approval the new first secretary of the PZPR.[16][90] Subsequently Gomułka convinced the Soviet leaders that he would preserve the Soviet influence in Poland.[30][53] Gomułka's elevation was preceded by ominous Soviet military moves and an arrival of Soviet high-level delegation led by Khrushchev, which flew into Warsaw to witness and influence the upheaval in the Polish party. After the sometimes confrontational encounters and negotiations, they soon returned to Moscow, where the Soviet leader announced on 21 October that the idea of an armed intervention in Poland should be abandoned. This position was soon reinforced by the pressure from communist China, which expressed its great power aspirations and demanded that the Soviets leave the new Polish leadership alone.[109] On 21 October in Warsaw Gomułka's return to power was accomplished, giving rise to the era of national communism in Poland.[107] Gomułka pledged to dismantle Stalinism and in his acceptance speech raised numerous social democratic-sounding reformist ideas, giving hope to the left-wing revisionists and others in Polish society that the communist state was, after all, reformable.[67] However, the end of Soviet influence in Eastern Europe was nowhere in sight. On 14 May 1955, the Warsaw Pact was signed in the Polish capital, to counteract the earlier establishment of NATO.[75]

Many Soviet officers serving in the Polish Armed Forces were dismissed,[53][74] but very few Stalinist officials were put on trial for the repressions of the Bierut period. The Puławy faction argued that mass trials of Stalinist officials, many of them Jewish, would incite animosity toward the Jews. Konstantin Rokossovsky and other Soviet advisers were sent home, and the Polish communist establishment and system took on a more independent orientation.[24][30] Gomułka realized that the Soviets would never allow Poland to leave the Warsaw Pact because of Poland's strategic position between the Soviet Union and Germany. He agreed that Soviet troops could remain in Poland and that no overt anti-Soviet outbursts would be allowed. However, Gomułka formalized the Polish-Soviet relations and the unprecedented, in the Soviet-allied state relations, military cooperation treaty signed in December 1956 stated that the stationing of the Soviet forces in Poland "can in no way violate the sovereignty of the Polish state and cannot lead to their interference in internal matters of the Polish People's Republic".[110] Poland avoided the risk of a Soviet armed intervention of the kind that crushed the 1956 Hungarian Revolution in October. Gomułka had a pragmatic awareness of political realities and for the duration of his career he rewarded the Soviets for his internal leeway with loyal support. In one act of defiance, the Polish delegation at the United Nations abstained in November 1956 from the vote condemning the Soviet intervention in Hungary.[111]

There were repeated attempts by some Polish academics and philosophers, many related to the prewar Lwów–Warsaw school - such as Leszek Kołakowski, Stanisław Ossowski and Adam Schaff - to develop a specific form of Polish Marxism. Their attempts to create a bridge between Poland's history and Marxist ideology were mildly successful, although stifled due to the regime's unwillingness to risk the wrath of the Soviet Union for deviating too far from the Soviet party line. Kołakowski, a leading revisionist, was verbally attacked by Gomułka in 1957, expelled from the Party in 1966 and in 1968 had to emigrate.[112][113][102]

Scaling back of campaign promises[edit]

The Fourth Congress of the Polish United Workers' Party, held in 1963

Poland welcomed Gomułka's rise to power with relief.[53] Many Poles still rejected communism, but the realities of Soviet dominance dictated that Poland could not shake-off communist rule. Gomułka promised an end to police terror, greater intellectual and religious freedom, higher wages and the reversal of collectivization, and to some degree he fulfilled these promises.[16][24][30] The intelligentsia stratum experienced significant gains, felt as "a certain diversity and revitalization of elite public life". The revisionist Club of the Crooked Circle, a discussion group, survived until 1962. Other forms of collective public expression, legally guaranteed academic autonomy and even an (unequal) opposition-regime polemic lasted until the major shake-up of 1968.[67][114] This was in marked contrast to the treatment afforded workers, whose self-management councils that had spontaneously formed in 1956 were neutralized and brought under control of the Party by 1958.[38][67]

In October 1957, Poland's foreign minister Adam Rapacki proposed a European nuclear-free zone that would include the territories of Poland, West Germany, East Germany and Czechoslovakia.[111] In August 1961 the new Berlin Wall cemented the division of Europe.

After the first wave of reform, Gomułka's regime started to move back on their promises. The communist control over the mass media and universities was gradually tightened, and many of the younger and more reformist members of the Party were forced out. The reform-promising Gomułka of 1956 turned into the authoritarian Gomułka of the 1960s. Although Poland enjoyed a period of relative stability in that decade, the idealism of the "Polish October" faded away.[16][24][30] The decisions made at the XIII Plenum of the Central Committee (1963) meant a definite end of the post-October liberalization period. The demise of Gomułka's tactical allies, the Puławy faction, gradually replaced by Gomułka's own people, was marked by the removal from the Politburo of Roman Zambrowski, the leading Jewish politician.[115]

Poland under Gomułka's rule was generally described as one of the more "liberal" communist regimes.[3] However, Poles could still go to prison for writing political satire about the Party leader, as Janusz Szpotański did,[116] or for publishing a book abroad. A March 1964 letter, signed by 34 leading intellectuals and delivered to the office of Prime Minister Cyrankiewicz, criticized the worsening censorship and demanded a more open cultural policy, as guaranteed by the Constitution.[117] Jacek Kuroń and Karol Modzelewski were expelled from the Party and from 1965 imprisoned for written criticism (the Open Letter to the Party) of the Party rule and pointing out the contradictory nature of the supposedly workers' state.[118] Kuroń and Modzelewski accused the regime of betraying the revolutionary cause; like many younger Polish reformers, they spoke from leftist positions and were ideologically closely aligned with Western radicals of the 1960s.[119]

In the following years, the regime became steadily less liberal and more repressive. Gomułka's popularity declined as his initial vision lost its impetus.[30] He reacted to increasing criticism by refusing to budge and insulating himself with the help of cronies, of whom Zenon Kliszko was the most influential. Kliszko's advice in the long run turned out not to be constructive. Intellectuals, students and other Poles became disillusioned and frustrated with Gomułka regime's record and his own self-righteous style. Within the Party, the Minister of the Interior Mieczysław Moczar and his nationalist-communist faction, "the Partisans" (and the much broader system of political clientele known as Moczarowcy),[115] were looking for an opportunity to assert their dominance.[66][120]

By the mid-1960s, Poland was starting to experience also economic difficulties and the appreciable thus far standard of living improvements were showing signs of stagnation (during 1960–70 real wages for workers grew only by an average of 1.8% per year). The postwar economic boom was ending and the increasingly globalized and integrated world economy was becoming inhospitable to national development operating behind trade barriers.[121][38] Similar to other communist regimes, Poland was spending too much on heavy industry, armaments and prestige projects, and too little on consumer production. The failure of Soviet-style collectivization returned the collectivized land to the peasants,[30] but most of their farms were too small to be prosperous and productivity in agriculture remained low. Economic relations with West Germany were frozen due to East German interference and resistance to economic integration. Gomułka attributed the signs of economic decline to the faulty implementation of the fundamentally correct directions issued by the central organs of the Party. He failed to appreciate the corrective role of the market, whose feedback could not be replaced by theoretical computations, planning and administrative decisions.[122] On the other hand, pursuing conservative investment rather than consumption oriented economic policies, his regime generated no foreign debt.[123]

From 1960, the regime increasingly implemented anti-Catholic policies, including harassment, atheistic propaganda, and measures that made carrying out religious practices more difficult.[124] In 1965, the Conference of Polish Bishops issued the Letter of Reconciliation of the Polish Bishops to the German Bishops.[125] In 1966, the celebrations of the 1,000th anniversary of the Baptism of Poland led by the Primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and other bishops, who toured the country, turned into a huge demonstration of the power and popularity of the Catholic Church in Poland.[126] In fierce competition, the state authorities conducted their own national celebrations, stressing the origin of the Polish statehood,[126] but the display of the Polish Church hierarchy's command of enormous crowds in a land ruled by the communists must have impressed the Catholic prelates in the Vatican and elsewhere. The state-church dialogue, symbolized by the presence of the few Znak independent Catholic deputies in parliament, was rapidly deteriorating.[16]

1968 events[edit]

Standard-bearers of the 27 Tank Regiment, mid-1960s

By the 1960s, rival regime officials and their followers, generally of a younger generation, had begun to plot against the rule of Gomułka and his people. Poland's security chief Mieczysław Moczar, a wartime communist partisan commander, based his appeal on anti-intelligentsia and anti-Jewish sentiments and became the chief challenger.[16] The party leader in Upper Silesia, Edward Gierek, who had been exposed to the communist ideology while growing up in a working class environment in Western Europe, also emerged as a possible alternative leader. From January 1968, Polish revisionist opposition and other circles were strongly influenced by the developing movement of the Prague Spring.[127]

In March 1968, student demonstrations at Warsaw University broke out in the wake of the government's banning of the performance of a play by Adam Mickiewicz (Dziady, written in 1824) at the National Theatre in Warsaw earlier that year,[128] because of its alleged "anti-Soviet references". Subsequently state security and ORMO units attacked protesting university students in several major cities.[129]

Following the current enforcement activity and in the wake of the growing citizen discontent in the following years, a massive expansion of the ORMO force was undertaken; at its peak in 1979 it reached over 450,000 members.[77]

In what became known as the March 1968 events, Moczar used the spontaneous and informal celebrations of the outcome of the 1967 Arab–Israeli war and the Warsaw theatre affair as pretexts to launch an anti-intellectual and anti-Semitic (officially designated as "anti-Zionist") press campaign, whose real goal was to weaken the pro-reform liberal party faction and attack other circles.[16][24][129] Thousands of generally secular and integrated people of Jewish origin lost their jobs and some 15,000 Jews emigrated between 1967 and 1971.[130] Of prewar Europe's largest Jewish community, just several thousand people were now left in Poland.[131]

Other victims were college students, many of whom were expelled from their institutions and had their careers destroyed, academic teachers who tried to defend the students and the academic institutions themselves: Warsaw University had several departments administratively dissolved. Liberal intelligentsia members, Jewish or not, were removed from the government and other places of employment. Leftist intellectuals and student leaders lost what was left of their faith in the ostensibly socialist government. Finally the Party itself was purged of many thousand suspect members, people who somehow did not fit the new environment of intolerance and hatred.[132]

The revisionist dissident prominence in the 1968 events overshadowed the equally significant awakening taking place among the working class of Poland. Gdańsk, where thousands of students and workers fought the police on March 15, had the highest in the country rate of administrative detentions and court cases.[133] The greatest proportion of people arrested and imprisoned in March and April 1968 in Poland were classified by the authorities as "workers".[134]

An internal attempt was made to discredit Gomułka's leadership, but there were aspects of the ongoing witch hunt which he found to be to his advantage and he tolerated it until the societal damage wrecked by the Moczar movement had become irreversible. Gomułka's regime reasserted itself and was saved by a combination of international and domestic factors, including the Moczar faction's inability to take over the party and state apparatus. The Soviet Union, now led by Leonid Brezhnev, was preoccupied with the crisis in Czechoslovakia and not inclined to support personal changes in the Polish leadership.[129]

In August 1968, the Polish People's Army took part in the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.[16][53] Some Polish intellectuals protested, and Ryszard Siwiec burned himself alive during the official national holiday celebrations. The Polish participation in the crushing of the Czech liberal communism (called socialism with a human face, and, according to David Ost, constituting the crowning achievement of Marxist revisionism) further alienated Gomułka from his former liberal supporters.[53][132] But within the Party, the opposition to Gomułka faded and the 5th Congress of the PZPR in November reconfirmed his rule. Brezhnev, who attended the gathering, used the occasion to expound his Brezhnev Doctrine, a self-granted Soviet right to forcefully intervene if an allied state strays too far from the fraternal course.[129]

Treaty with West Germany, food riots and the ousting of Gomułka[edit]

Polish 1970 protests. Demonstrators in Gdynia carry the body of shot and killed Zbyszek Godlewski.

In December 1970 Gomułka scored a major a political victory when Poland obtained a West German recognition of the post-World War II borders.[24][53] The German side secured the right to emigrate to West Germany for the residents of Poland of German identity and to help financially those who stayed by granting pensions: hundreds of thousands eventually became affected.[135] German Chancellor Willy Brandt, who signed the agreement, also asked on his knees for forgiveness for the crimes of the Nazis (Warschauer Kniefall). His gesture was understood in Poland as being addressed to all Poles, although it was actually made at the site of the Warsaw Ghetto and was thus directed primarily toward the Jews. The notable reconciliation process between the Polish and German nations was initiated five years earlier, when the Polish Church issued its famous Letter of Reconciliation of the Polish Bishops to the German Bishops, criticized then by the Polish government.[24]

Gomułka felt proud and secure after the new treaty with West Germany, his milestone political achievement. It signified a lasting trend in Poland's international policy: extricating the country from the disproportional dependence on Russia, and compensating the security vulnerability by building good relations with Germany.[136][135]

But the event could not mask the economic crisis into which Poland was drifting, exacerbated by Soviet demands for more military spending. Although the system of fixed, artificially low food prices kept urban discontent under control, it caused further economic strain. In the long run the situation was unsustainable, and on 12 December 1970 (just before Christmas), the regime suddenly announced massive increases in the prices of basic foodstuffs, the government's main source of hard currency when exported.[30] The new measures were incomprehensible to many urban workers, and their provocative timing (the most intense food purchase period for most Polish families) led to strong social reaction and ultimately Gomułka's fall from power.

On 14–19 December 1970 mass demonstrations against the price rises broke out in the northern coastal cities of Gdańsk, Gdynia, Elbląg and Szczecin.[16][30][53] In violent confrontations at those and other locations 19 public buildings were destroyed or damaged, including the Party headquarters in Gdańsk and Szczecin.[135] The PZPR Central Committee was deliberating in Warsaw, but a smaller conference, led by Gomułka, issued an authorization for a limited use of lethal force to defend lives and property. Among the leaders of the Party who arrived on the coast and directed the local enforcement actions, initially in Gdańsk, were Zenon Kliszko and Stanisław Kociołek. In Gdynia, the soldiers were instructed to prevent protesters from returning to factory buildings; they fired into a crowd of workers emerging from commuter trains.[30] Fatal confrontations took place also in Szczecin. The exact number of people killed in the region in December is not known, but is believed to be higher than the officially given figure of 44.[137][138]

The protest movement spread to other cities, leading to more strikes and causing angry workers to occupy many factories (see also the 1971 Łódź strikes). The general strike across Poland was scheduled for December 21, 1970.

The Party leadership meeting in Warsaw recognized the danger that the working class revolt presented to their system, and, in consultations with the disturbed Soviet leaders, proceeded with arranging the resignation of Gomułka, who was by then stressed out and ill. Several of his collaborators were also removed. Edward Gierek was drafted as the new first secretary. Mieczysław Moczar, another strong contender, was not trusted (or was even blamed for the current debacle) by the Soviets.[137] Afterwards prices were lowered, wage increases were announced, and sweeping economic and political changes were promised. Gierek went to Gdańsk and met the workers personally, apologizing for the mistakes of the past, and saying that as a former worker himself he understood their plight and would now govern Poland for the people.[139]

The Polish opposition movement, traditionally led by the intelligentsia, after the two heavy blows of 1968 and 1970 was in disarray and silent. Its tenuous connection with the "communist" party was permanently broken, but a new strategy had yet to emerge.[132] However, already in 1971 Leszek Kołakowski published in the émigré Kultura journal a seminal article entitled Theses on Hope and Hopelessness. It attempted to theoretically necessitate and practically justify a civil democratizing resistance movement, valid even in the repressed and seemingly deadlocked society of state socialism.[140]

Gierek decade (1970–80)[edit]

Catching up with the West[edit]

Gierek, like Gomułka in 1956, came to power on a raft of promises that everything would be different from now on: wages would rise, prices would remain stable, there would be freedom of speech, and those responsible for the violence at Gdynia and elsewhere would be punished. Although Poles were much more skeptical than they had been in 1956, Gierek was believed to be an honest and well-intentioned man, and his promises bought him some time. He used this time to create a new economic program, one based on large-scale borrowing from banks in the West — mainly from the United States and West Germany — to buy technology that would upgrade Poland's production of export goods. This massive borrowing, estimated to have totaled 10 billion US dollars, was used to re-equip and modernize Polish industry, and to import consumer goods to give the workers more incentive to work.[30][53]

For the next three years (1971–73), the new regime optimistically engaged in reform and experimentation and for the first time many Poles could afford to buy cars, televisions and other consumer goods. The authorities made sure that the workers received proper wages. The peasants had their compulsory deliveries abolished, were paid higher prices for their products and free health service was finally extended to rural, self-employed Poland. The intellectuals had censorship eased and Poles were able to travel to the West and maintain foreign contacts with little difficulty. Relations with the Polish emigrant communities were strengthened. There was some cultural and political relaxation and an improved freedom of speech environment, exercised for example by the respected weekly Polityka of the Polish Party. Massive investments were made, expected to both improve the standard of living of the various segments of society and establish an internationally competitive Polish industry and agriculture, based on purchases of Western technology.[139] The modernized manufacturing would result in a vastly expanded export of Polish-made products to the West, which in turn would generate hard currency to pay-off the debts.[141]

This "New Development Strategy", based on import-led growth,[141] depended on the present global economic conditions and the program faltered suddenly because of worldwide recession and increased oil prices.[3][53][142] The effects of the 1973-74 oil crisis produced an inflationary surge followed by a recession in the West, which resulted in a sharp increase in the price of imported consumer goods, coupled with a decline in demand for Polish exports, particularly coal. Poland's foreign debt rose from US$100 million in 1971 to US$6 billion in 1975, and continued to rise rapidly. Continuing borrowing from the West had become increasingly difficult. Consumer goods began to disappear from Polish shops. The new factories built by Gierek's regime also proved to be largely ineffective and mismanaged, as the basics of market demand and cost effectiveness were often ignored.[24][53] The significant internal economic reform, promised by the Gierek team, had not materialized.[143]

The Western credits thus helped Gierek's policy of consumerism and helped spur industrial growth, but just for a few years. The industrial production grew by an average of 10% per year between 1971 and 1975, only to dwindle to less than 2% in 1979. Debt servicing that took 12% of export earnings in 1971, rose to 75% in 1979.[141]

In 1975, Poland and almost all other European countries became signatories of the Helsinki Accords and a member of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the creation of which marked the high point of the period of "détente" between the Soviet Union and the United States. Despite the regime's promises that the freedoms listed in the agreement would be implemented in Poland, there was little change. However, the Poles were gradually becoming more aware of the rights they were being denied and emboldened by the knowledge of their government's treaty obligations.[30]

Gierek government's growing difficulties led also to increased dependence on the Soviet Union, including tight economic cooperation and displays of submissiveness not seen under Gomułka's rule. The constitution, amended in February 1976, formalized the alliance with the Soviet Union and the leading role of the communist party. The language of the proposed changes was softened after protests by intellectuals and the Church, but the regime felt it needed additional authority given the indebtedness to the West and the deepening economic crisis. The divisive issues raised helped to coalesce the emerging circles of active political opposition.[30][139][144]

Nevertheless, the regime of Gierek deemphasized the Marxist ideology in Poland and the successive "communist" governments concentrated on pragmatic issues and current concerns.[145] In Polish economic politics new lasting trends were initiated, such as the emphasis on individual initiative, personal aspirations and competition, which some interpreted as an attack on egalitarianism. Sections of the intelligentsia, nomenklatura and small business gave rise to the emerging middle class. The new "socialist" ways were less totalitarian, stressed innovation, modern management methods and engaged workers, all seen as necessary to push the outdated economy past the constant crisis stage. Poland of the 1970s became more open to the world and entered the global economy, which permanently changed society, creating at the same time a new type of crisis vulnerability. The opposition thinking, its promotion of society formed by active individuals, developed along complementary concepts.[146]

Economics and politics of chronic shortages[edit]

A queue, a common sight in Poland's shortage economy in the 1970s and 1980s

The fear of a repeat of the 1970 worker rebellion kept prices artificially low. In June 1976, in an attempt to reduce consumption,[141] the government introduced a long-announced and several times delayed, but radical price increase: basic foodstuffs had their prices raised by an average of 60%, three times the rate of Gomułka'a increases from six years before. The associated wage rises were skewed toward the better-off part of the population.[139] The result was an immediate nationwide wave of strikes, with violent demonstrations, looting and labor unrest at the Ursus Factory near Warsaw, in Radom, Płock and other places.[147] The strike leaders were arrested and put on trial.[141] Otherwise, the government quickly backed down and repealed the price rises. The regime's retreat, having occurred for the second time in several years, amounted to an unprecedented defeat. Within the rigid political system, the government was neither able to reform (it would lose control and power), nor to satisfy society's staple needs, because it had to sell abroad all it could to make foreign debt and interests payments. This quandary, combined with the daily reality of the lack of necessities, facilitated the consolidation of organized opposition.[139]

The 1976 disturbances and the subsequent arrests and dismissals of worker militants gave rise to the development of, more significant than in the past, contacts between the workers and the intelligentsia opposition to the regime. A group of intellectuals led by Jacek Kuroń and Adam Michnik founded the Workers' Defence Committee (Komitet Obrony Robotników; KOR).[24][53] The aim of the KOR was to assist the worker victims of the 1976 repression.[16][142] Working to support the spontaneous workers' movements, the dissidents in a practical sense accepted the leadership of the working class in opposing the regime. The economic and political failures of the Gierek government led many intellectuals to join or rejoin the opposition. Among the new opposition groups formed were the Confederation of Independent Poland (KPN), Free Trade Unions of the Coast (WZW) and the Movement for Defense of Human and Civic Rights (ROPCiO).[16] The idea of independent trade unions was first raised by the Gdańsk and Szczecin workers striking in 1970, but was later developed and promoted by the KOR and its leftist collaborators, which led to the establishment of the Free Trade Unions in 1978, the precursor of Solidarity. The KPN represented the minority at that time right wing of the Polish opposition scene.[148] The opposition members tried to resist the regime by denouncing it for violating the Polish constitution, Polish laws and Poland's international obligations. They fit within the post-Helsinki Soviet bloc human rights movements and for the most part had not yet developed more radical, anti-system orientations.[139]

For the rest of the 1970s, resistance to the regime grew, assuming also the forms of student groups, clandestine newspapers and publishers, importing books and newspapers, and even a "Flying University".[30] The regime practiced various forms of repression against the democracy movement.[149]

Polish Pope John Paul II[edit]

Millions cheer Pope John Paul II in his first visit to Poland as pontiff in 1979

On 16 October 1978, Poland experienced what many Poles literally believed to be a miracle. The Archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, was elected Pope at the Vatican, taking the name John Paul II. The election of a Polish Pope had an electrifying effect on what was at that time one of the last idiosyncratically Catholic countries in Europe.[16] When John Paul toured Poland in June 1979, half a million people came to welcome him in Warsaw, and in the next eight days, about ten million Poles attended at least one of his numerous outdoor masses.[150] Overnight, John Paul became the most important person in Poland, leaving the regime not so much opposed as ignored. However, John Paul did not call for rebellion; instead, he encouraged the creation of an "alternative Poland" of social institutions independent of the government, so that when the next crisis came, the nation would present a united front.[151][152]

Polish emigration[edit]

The government in exile in London, unrecognized since the end of World War II, ridiculed by the communists, to many Poles was of great symbolic importance. Under President Edward Raczyński it overcame years of internal squabbles, and, after the election of the Polish pope and at the time of the increasingly assertive Polish opposition, improved its image and standing.[153]

The large Polish emigrant communities in North America, Western Europe, and elsewhere, were politically active and lent significant support to those struggling in the country. The staunchly anti-communist American Polonia and other Poles felt grateful for the leadership of President Ronald Reagan. Of the Polish institutions in the West the most important were the Radio Free Europe, whose Polish section was run by Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, and the monthly literary Kultura magazine in Paris, led by Jerzy Giedroyc and Juliusz Mieroszewski.[153]

Final decade of the Polish People's Republic (1980–90)[edit]

Failing economy and labor unrest of 1980[edit]

By 1980, the authorities had no choice but to make another attempt to raise consumer prices to realistic levels, but they knew that doing so would likely spark another worker rebellion. Western bankers providing loans to the Polish government at a meeting at the Bank Handlowy in Warsaw on 1 July 1980 made it clear that low prices of consumer goods could no longer be subsidized by the state.[154] The government gave in and on July 1 announced a system of gradual but continuous price rises, particularly for meat. A wave of strikes and factory occupations began at once, with the biggest ones taking place in Lublin.[142][155][156]

Lech Wałęsa speaks at the 1980 strike in Gdańsk Shipyard

The strikes reached the politically sensitive and restless Baltic Sea coast, with a strike at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk beginning on 14 August. Among the leaders of this strike was Lech Wałęsa, an electrician who would soon become a figure of international importance. The strike wave spread along the coast, closing the ports and bringing the economy to a halt. With the assistance of the activists from the KOR and the support of many intellectuals, the workers occupying the various factories, mines and shipyards across Poland were organizing as a united front. They were not limiting their efforts to seeking economic improvements, but made and stuck to the crucial demand, an establishment of trade unions independent of government control.[142][155] Among other issues raised were rights for the Church, the freeing of political prisoners and an improved health service (see also Jastrzębie-Zdrój 1980 strikes).[156]

The leadership was now faced with a choice between repression on a massive scale and an agreement that would give the workers what they wanted, and thus pacify for the time being the aroused population.[157] They chose the latter, and on 31 August, Wałęsa signed the Gdańsk Agreement with Mieczysław Jagielski, a member of the Party Politburo.[142] The Agreement acknowledged the right of employees to associate in free trade unions, obliged the government to take steps to eliminate censorship, abolished weekend work, increased the minimum wage, improved and extended welfare and pensions, and increased autonomy of industrial enterprises, where a meaningful role was to be played by workers' self-management councils. The rule of the Party was significantly weakened but nonetheless explicitly recognized, together with Poland's international alliances.[157] It was seen as necessary to prevent Soviet intervention by more moderate forces, including leading intelligentsia advisers and the Catholic hierarchy.[142] The fact that all these economic concessions were completely unaffordable escaped attention in the wave of national euphoria that swept the country. In addition to the Gdańsk Agreement, similar documents were signed in Szczecin (Szczecin Agreement), Jastrzębie-Zdrój, and at Katowice Steelworks. The period that started afterwards is often called the first part of the "Polish carnival" - with the second one taking place in the late 1980s.[158]


25th anniversary of Solidarity, summer 2005 in Gdańsk

The Gdańsk Agreement, an aftermath of the August 1980 labor strike, was an important milestone. It led to the formation of an independent trade union "Solidarity" (Polish Solidarność), founded on 17 September 1980 and originally led by Lech Wałęsa.[16][156] Initially, in the KOR's tradition, Solidarity was an ostensibly non-political movement aiming at reconstruction of civil society.[119] Suddenly thrust into legal existence and prominence in 1980, Solidarity and the Polish opposition in general lacked a constructive program or consensus regarding further developments.[159] Early in 1981, a network of new union organizations at the enterprise-level was established; it included the country's main industrial complexes such as the Lenin Steelworks in Kraków and the Silesian mines.[156] In 1981, Solidarity accepted the necessity of a political role and helped form a broad anti-ruling system social movement, dominated by the working class and with members ranging from people associated with the Catholic Church to non-communist leftists.[156][160] The union was backed by intellectual dissidents, including the KOR, and adhered to a policy of nonviolent resistance.[161][162] According to Karol Modzelewski, the Solidarity of 1980–81 was permeated by the idea of brotherhood between intelligentsia and workers.[147] Solidarity became a major political force in opposition to the regime.[142]

The ideas of the Solidarity movement spread rapidly throughout Poland; new unions were formed and joined the federation. The Solidarity activity, although concerned chiefly with trade union matters (such as replacing the nomenklatura with worker self-management in enterprise-level decision making),[h] was universally regarded as the first step towards dismantling the regime's dominance over social institutions, professional organizations and community associations. Removing the ruling formation or breaking the dependence on the Soviet Union was not on the agenda.[163] By the end of 1981, Solidarity had nine million members — a quarter of Poland's population and three times as many as the Polish communist party. Using strikes and other tactics, the union sought to block government policies.[142] The aims of the original Solidarity (1980–81) were to reform socialism, not to introduce industrial private ownership or promote capitalism in general.[164] Solidarity was an egalitarian and collectivist movement. It did not postulate any re-privatization of state-owned or small rural property; such concepts were beyond the axiological horizon of Polish society.[64] Apart from workers, both individual farmers and students created their own independent organizations: Rural Solidarity and Independent Students' Union.

In September 1980, in the aftermath of the labor agreements, First Secretary Gierek was removed from office and replaced as party leader by Stanisław Kania.[16] Kania made promises of the sort that Gomułka and Gierek had made when each came power. But whatever goodwill the new leader gained, it lasted for an even shorter period than it had been the case in 1956 and 1971, because there was no way that the regime could have kept the promises it had made at Gdańsk, even if it wanted to. The authorities were still trapped by the contradiction: if they followed economic necessity, they would generate political instability. GNP fell in 1979 by 2%, in 1980 by 8% and in 1981 by 15–20%.[142] Public corruption had become endemic and housing shortages and food rationing were just some of the many factors contributing to the growing social unrest.

At the communist summit in December 1980 in Moscow Kania argued with Leonid Brezhnev and other Warsaw Pact leaders, who pressed for an immediate military intervention in Poland. Kania and Minister of Defense Wojciech Jaruzelski declared their determination to fight the "counterrevolution" in Poland on their own. In regard to Solidarity, they felt, there was still a chance for its healthy, working class current to prevail, not the KOR-instigated anti-socialist, troublemaking elements. President Jimmy Carter and President-elect Ronald Reagan made urgent phone calls to Brezhnev and the intervention was postponed.[165][166]

Among the mass protests that occurred at that time were the winter 1981 general strike in Bielsko-Biała, the nationwide warning strike in the spring of that year and hunger demonstrations in summer. The warning strike took place in the aftermath of the Bydgoszcz events, during which the authorities resorted to violence to suppress Solidarity activists. The planned general strike was called off after Solidarity's questionable deal with the government, but the negotiators worked under a threat of Soviet intervention.[166]

Minister Jaruzelski became also prime minister in February 1981. In June, the Soviet Central Committee pressured the Polish Party for a leadership change, but Jaruzelski received strong support from the military members of the Polish Central Committee. The extraordinary IX Congress of the PZPR took place in July. Kania was reelected the Party's first secretary, while the organization's internal reformers suffered a defeat. At the State Defense Committee meeting on Sept. 13 Kania was warned by the uniformed cadres that the progressing counterrevolution must be terminated by an imposition of martial law. The PZPR regional secretaries soon issued the same demands. Under the circumstances, in October First Secretary Kania stepped down and Prime Minister Jaruzelski became also the Party chief.[166]

The existence of Solidarity and the political liberties that the movement brought paralyzed the authoritarian state and the state-controlled economy. Everyday life was becoming increasingly unbearable and the public displayed sentiments of extreme volatility. The hostility of the nomenklatura toward Solidarity was rapidly increasing.[166] In September and October, the First Congress of Solidarity deliberated in Gdańsk. It issued a call for workers in other East European countries to follow in Solidarity's footsteps.[167] For its part the government, not consulting Solidarity, adopted a plan of economic measures that could only be implemented by force. In the era of Brezhnev, there could be no peaceful resolution to the situation that developed. In early December, Jaruzelski was pressured by his generals and colonels for an immediate forceful action. The Soviets now expressed a preference for the conflict to be resolved by the Polish authorities, but Poland, according to Karol Modzelewski, was lucky to avoid a carnage of foreign intervention.[166]

Imposition of martial law, "market socialism", systemic implosion[edit]

General Wojciech Jaruzelski led the People's Republic during its final decade and became one of the key players in the systemic transition of 1989–90

On 13 December 1981, claiming that the country was on the verge of economic and civil breakdown, and alleging a danger of Soviet intervention,[168] General Wojciech Jaruzelski began a crack-down on Solidarity. Martial law was declared, the free labor union was suspended and most of its leaders detained.[16] Polish state militia (Milicja Obywatelska, the police) and paramilitary riot police ZOMO suppressed the strike action and demonstrations. A series of violent attacks included the pacification of Wujek Coal Mine during which 9 people were killed.[142] The last mass street demonstrations that Solidarity was able to muster occurred on 31 August 1982, the second anniversary of the Gdańsk agreements.[169] The "Military Council of National Salvation" banned Solidarity officially on 8 October.[170] Martial law was formally lifted in July 1983, though many heightened controls on civil liberties and political life, as well as food rationing, remained in place throughout the mid-to-late 1980s.[171]

During the chaotic years of Solidarity and martial law, Poland entered a decade of economic crisis more pronounced than in Gierek's years. Work on the major unfinished projects that had begun in the 1970s drained the available investment outlays, little money was left for replacing obsolete production equipment and the manufactured goods were not competitive on the world market.[172] Managerial ineffectiveness, bad organization of production and shortages of inputs and raw materials were among the factors that contributed to further deterioration of workers' morale. 640,000 people of productive age left the country between 1981 and 1988.[173]

The regime of General Jaruzelski unsuccessfully tried various expedients to improve the performance of the economy.[16] To gather foreign currency, the government established in all Polish cities a chain of state-run Pewex stores, where goods could only be bought with Western currency, as well as issued its own ersatz U.S. currency (bony). The government allowed more small-scale private enterprises to function, departing further from the 'socialist' model of economy. Ideological considerations were abandoned and priority was given to pragmatic issues and moves.[174] Searching for ways to improve the economy and conscious of its alienation from the industrial working class, the regime turned toward market reforms with an increasingly significant elite-oriented liberal (from the mid-1980s)[175] component. Marketization, formalized by a 1988 statute on economic activity, was a process that would continue past the mid-1990s.[146] Neoliberal processes may have been initiated by Deputy Prime Minister Zdzisław Sadowski and the government of Zbigniew Messner, then developed further under Minister Mieczysław Wilczek (author of the statute) and Mieczysław Rakowski's government.[175] "Market socialism" was introduced, as the regime leaders lost their faith in the socialist system and even the nomenklatura managers were threatened by the declining economy.[172][146] The enterprises were to be made independent, self-financing and self-managed, which included workers' councils.[172] Owners of private businesses did well in the final years of the People's Republic and the number of such entities increased.[146][172] Foreign investment was also encouraged, but limited marketization failed to deliver an economic turnaround.[176][172] The practice of centralized economic decision making had not been overcome, while the newly autonomous enterprises moved toward a rather spontaneous, chaotic partial privatization of dubious legality, but with a significant middle-level nomenklatura component. On a more basic level, countless ordinary Poles took advantage of the changing attitudes and became involved in a great variety of income-producing activities.[172][146]

The deepening economic crisis caused a marked deterioration in quality of life of ordinary citizens and resulted in increasing political instability.[173] Rationing and queuing became a way of life, with ration cards (kartki) necessary to buy basic consumer staples such as milk and sugar. As Western governments applied economic sanctions to express their dissatisfaction with the government repression of the opposition, access to imported luxury goods became even more restricted. Most of the available scarce resources of Western currency had to be used to pay the crushing rates on Poland's foreign debt, which reached US$23 billion by 1980.[171][177] The government, which controlled all official foreign trade, responded by continuing to maintain a highly artificial exchange rate with Western currencies. The exchange rate worsened distortions in the economy at all levels, resulting in a growing black market and the development of a shortage economy.[178] The omnipresent and destructive underground economy was characterized by phenomena such as bribery, waiting lists, speculation, direct exchanges between enterprises and large percentages of personal incomes deriving from secondary activities. Societal degradation was accompanied by unprecedented deterioration in the areas of biological environment and physical and mental health, which included steadily increasing mortality rates. In the late 1980s, the PZPR feared another social explosion because of high inflation, depressed living standards and deepening public anger and frustration.[173] The authorities themselves, facing an increasingly disorderly and unmanageable system, felt perplexed and powerless.[146]

Politics of the People's Republic's last years and the transition period[edit]

In the mid-1980s and even as late as 1987, Solidarity was seen by many, including most of its activists, as likely a thing of the past.[179][173] It persisted solely as a rather small underground organization, supported by various international institutions, from the Catholic Church to the Central Intelligence Agency.[180][181] When most senior Solidarity figures were interned or otherwise neutralized by the authorities, Zbigniew Bujak, head of the Union's Warsaw branch, remained in hiding and was the leader of the clandestine organization until his arrest in 1986.[148] But the post-martial law general public showed signs of tiredness and disappointment, as it had become apparent that Solidarity was not a united front.[146]

Starting from 1986, other opposition structures such as the Fighting Solidarity, the Federation of Fighting Youth, the Freedom and Peace Movement (Ruch Wolność i Pokój) and the Orange Alternative "dwarf" movement founded by "Major" Waldemar Fydrych began organizing street protests in form of colorful happenings that assembled thousands of participants and broke the fear barrier which had been paralysing the population since the imposition of martial law. The liberal periodical Res Publica negotiated with the authorities its officially published release.[146] By the late 1980s, the opposition was again strong enough to frustrate Jaruzelski's reforms, including his failed attempt to gain a popular mandate for changes in a national referendum held in November, 1987.[174]

The ruling communist/military establishment slowly and gradually came to realize that a deal of some sort with the opposition would eventually be necessary and would have to include the leading Solidarity figures. Solidarity as such, a labor union representing workers' interests, was unable to reassert itself after the martial law and later in the 1980s was practically destroyed.[e] Its name had continuously been used, but the opposition movement split to form rival groups of different political orientations. The Solidarity organization as a mass movement, and with it its dominant social democratic element (supporters of democratic socialism), had been defeated. Solidarity was now represented by a small number of individuals, of whom Lech Wałęsa, Tadeusz Mazowiecki and Leszek Balcerowicz were about to assume particularly decisive roles. They were proponents of unfettered free market, strongly influenced by the American and West European financial and other interests.[146][182][175][g]

The perestroika and glasnost policies of the Soviet Union's new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, were a crucial factor in stimulating political reform in Poland.[16] Gorbachev essentially repudiated the Brezhnev Doctrine, which had stipulated that attempts by its Eastern European satellite states to abandon the communist bloc would be countered by the Soviet Union with force.[183] The developments in the Soviet Union altered the international situation and provided a historical opportunity for independent reforms in Poland.[146] The hardline stance of US President Ronald Reagan was also helpful. The specter of a possible Soviet invasion was thus largely removed, which eliminated the key argument which had repeatedly been employed by Polish regimes as a justification for maintaining a pro-Soviet rule in Poland.

Nationwide strikes broke out in the spring and summer of 1988, but were discontinued after the intervention by Wałęsa, who secured the regime's commitment to begin negotiations with the opposition.[174] The strikes were the last act of active political involvement of workers in the history of People's Poland. According to the researcher Maciej Gdula, the political activity that followed was conducted exclusively by the elites. It was neither inspired by nor consulted with any popular social organization or movement, as some of the opposition leading circles freed themselves from their previously strong relationship with the masses. No longer secure as undisputed leaders, Polish dissidents of the KOR-Solidarity generations were eager to bargain with the weakened regime.[146]

In September 1988, preliminary talks between government representatives and Solidarity leaders ensued in Magdalenka. Numerous meetings took place involving Wałęsa and the minister of internal affairs, General Czesław Kiszczak, among others.[184] In November, Wałęsa was allowed to debate on national TV Alfred Miodowicz, the chief of the official trade unions, which turned out to be a great public relations error on the part of the government.[174]

By the close of its 10th plenary session on 18 January 1989, the communist party had decided to approach the leaders of Solidarity for formal talks. From 6 February to 4 April, 94 sessions of talks between 13 working groups, which became known as the "Round Table Talks" (Polish: Rozmowy Okrągłego Stołu), radically altered the structure of the Polish government and society.[16] Jaruzelski, Prime Minister Mieczysław Rakowski and Wałęsa did not directly participate in the negotiations. The government side was represented by Czesław Kiszczak, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, Janusz Reykowski and Stanisław Ciosek, the Solidarity opposition by Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Bronisław Geremek, Jacek Kuroń, Zbigniew Bujak, Władysław Frasyniuk and Jarosław Kaczyński, among others. The talks resulted in an agreement to vest political power in a newly created bicameral legislature, and in a president who would be the chief executive.[183]

Apartment block residences built in People's Poland loom over the urban landscape of the entire country. In the past administratively distributed for permanent use, after 1989 most were sold to residents at discounted prices.

By 4 April 1989, numerous reforms and freedoms for the opposition were agreed. Solidarity, now in existence as the Solidarity Citizens' Committee, was again to be legalized and allowed to participate in semi-free elections on 4 June 1989.[16][183] This election had restrictions imposed, designed to keep the communists in power, since only one third of the seats in the Sejm, the key lower chamber of parliament, would be open to Solidarity candidates. The other two thirds were to be reserved for candidates from the communist party and its two allied, completely subservient parties.[185] The communists thought of the election as a way of staying in power, while gaining some legitimacy to carry out reforms.

When the results were released, a political earthquake followed. The victory of Solidarity surpassed all predictions. Solidarity candidates captured all the seats they were allowed to compete for in the Sejm, while in the Senate they captured 99 out of the 100 available seats (the other seat went to an independent, who later switched to Solidarity). At the same time, many prominent communist candidates failed to gain even the minimum number of votes required to capture the seats that were reserved for them. The communists suffered a catastrophic blow to their legitimacy.[185]

The next few months were spent on political maneuvering. The two formerly puppet parties allied with the communists were moving toward adopting independent courses.[183] The increasingly insecure communists, who still had military and administrative control over the country, were appeased by a compromise in which Solidarity allowed General Jaruzelski to remain head of state. Jaruzelski won by just one vote in the National Assembly presidential election of 19 July 1989, even though his name was the only one on the ballot. He won through an informally arranged abstention by a sufficient number of Solidarity MPs.[16] The new communist prime minister, General Czesław Kiszczak, who was appointed on 2 August 1989, failed to gain enough support in the Sejm to form a government, and resigned on 19 August 1989. He was the last communist head of government in Poland. Although Jaruzelski tried to persuade Solidarity to join the communists in a "grand coalition", Wałęsa refused. Jaruzelski, who resigned as first secretary of the communist party on 29 July 1989, had to come to terms with the prospect of new government being formed by political opposition. Solidarity elected representative Tadeusz Mazowiecki was appointed prime minister and confirmed by the Assembly on 24 August 1989.[183] The new government led by a non-communist, the first of its kind in communist Europe,[24] was sworn into office on 13 September 1989. The communists did not immediately relinquish power, retaining control of key ministries, including foreign affairs, defense and interior.

Mazowiecki's government, forced to deal quickly with galloping hyperinflation, soon adopted radical economic policies, proposed by Leszek Balcerowicz, which transformed Poland into a functioning market economy under an accelerated schedule. Many Polish state owned enterprises, undergoing privatization, turned out to be woefully unprepared for capitalist competition and the pace of their accommodation (or attrition) was rapid.[183][186] The economic reform, a shock therapy followed by more neoliberal restructuring,[187] was in reality an extension of the previous incremental "communist" policies of the 1970s and 1980s, which were now followed by a leap to greatly expanded integration with the global economy with little protection. Among the reform's negative immediate effects were the economic recession and near-paralysis of foreign trade. On longer-term bases, the country experienced quickly rising unemployment and social inequities, as enterprises were liquidated and income was redistributed away from workers and farmers, in favor of the establishment and the entrepreneurial class. The detrimental consequences of fundamental importance included a collapse of Polish industry and further marginalization of labor unions. On the positive side, inflation was brought under control, the currency stabilized, shortages were eliminated and significant foreign investment began. The shock therapy solutions were often dictated by Western consultants, of whom Jeffrey Sachs was best known but also most criticized.[183][175][176][182][188][c][f]

The striking electoral victory of the Solidarity candidates in these limited elections, and the subsequent formation of the first non-communist government in the region in decades, encouraged many similar peaceful transitions from communist party rule in Central and Eastern Europe in the second half of 1989.[189]

In December 1989, changes to the Polish constitution were made, officially eliminating the "socialist" order: Marxist references were removed and the name of the country was changed back to the Polish Republic.[183]

In 1990, Jaruzelski resigned as Poland's president and was succeeded by Wałęsa, who won the 1990 presidential elections. Lech Wałęsa's inauguration as president took place on 22 December 1990; he accepted the prewar presidential insignia from the stepping down President-in-Exile Ryszard Kaczorowski, distancing himself from Wojciech Jaruzelski.[183]

The communist Polish United Workers' Party dissolved itself in 1990, and transformed into the Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland.[16] The Warsaw Pact was formally dissolved on 1 July 1991; the Soviet Union ceased to exist in December 1991 and the last post-Soviet troops left Poland in September 1993.[190] On 27 October 1991, the first entirely free Polish parliamentary elections since the 1920s took place. This completed Poland's transition from a communist party rule to a Western-style liberal democratic political system.

See also[edit]


a.^ The troops were brought in by Minister of Defense Konstantin Rokossovsky. Rokossovsky obtained permission from Fist Secretary Edward Ochab, who shared his assessment of the situation: a widespread counterrevolutionary activity that the militia and the security forces might be unable to contain.[191]

b.^ As characterized by Jane Hardy, (1956 events were) "...the first cycle of a pattern that would re-emerge with increasing severity over the following decades. A slowdown in the ability of the economy to deliver rising standards of living, followed by revolts triggered by price increases, led to reforms based on decentralisation and worker self-management. Recentralisation, repression and reform followed in its wake." To "...a decline in the rate of economic growth and...a fall in real average wages...the ruling class would react by introducing more control in enterprises, a higher turnover of managerial and political cadres, intensified propaganda against ideological revisionism, the suspension of certain investment projects and the reallocation of investment favouring the consumption goods sector and services." But from the late 1960s, "a policy of extensive growth could no longer deliver positive rates of growth and increasing standards of living."[38]

c.^ Mazowiecki and Balcerowicz had a vastly greater freedom of economic action than their predecessors, because neither Gierek nor Jaruzelski could consider triggering high unemployment (it would violate the symbolic legitimation of workers as the ruling class). The Western economies responded to crisis situations from the 1970s onward by utilizing the existing free market flexibilities (deregulation, downsizing, anti-trade union legislation, moving cheap manufacturing to the Third World countries etc.) ever more liberally under the newly dominant neoliberal policies. Such remedies were not available before 1989 for the ruling establishments in Central and Eastern Europe.[192][146]

d.^ Karol Modzelewski wrote the following on the controversial issue of popular support for communist reforms in Stalinist Poland:

"...the extent of social support for the communist power and its undertakings was considerable. Especially as it regards the rebuilding and industrialization of the country, which before the war belonged to the European underdeveloped zone, widespread dissemination of education and the availability of higher education for the youth from peasant and worker families. The mass social advancement related to such transformations naturally affected the attitudes of millions of people, especially the young, for whom People's Poland opened the previously unavailable opportunities."

Modzelewski qualified this view by stressing the greatly limited access to impartial information. Society was intensely indoctrinated at the official level, while families at home, to protect their youth, refrained from criticizing the regime or discussing issues that were deemed not safe.[193]

e.^ Maciej Gdula summarized Solidarity's demise and its subsequent mythologizing as follows:

"Solidarity was put in a golden sarcophagus and turned into a myth, which was supposed to legitimize the change of 1989. But the movement at that time was dead: it was falling apart already in 1981 and it was finished off by the martial law. However, it was precisely this external termination that opened the possibility of its rebirth as a myth."[146]

"...the new order was legitimized to a great extent by the myth of Solidarity. The time between the martial law and the Round Table had to be compressed to make an impression of continuity. There was a moment of lapse, the story went, but then society woke up again and reclaimed power."[146]

f.^ The Balcerowicz Plan enjoyed a consensus of opinion of Polish legislators, who supported it across the political spectrum, together with President Jaruzelski. However, Michael Bruno, chief of advisers of the International Monetary Fund, was surprised when Mazowiecki's government chose the harshest of the transformation plans presented by the Fund. Czechoslovakia and Hungary did not opt for a radical liberal changeover and their systemic conversions resulted in lower than in Poland levels of social inequities.[175]

According to Rafał Woś, "...Poland was a peripheral country, it moved from one relationship of dependence to another, was in a very weak position. The international financial institutions treated our elites like children, not partners. (...) But even then, there was some room for maneuver."[175]

g.^ Among the critics of the prevailing right wing ideology and practice of the Polish transformation were Karol Modzelewski and Tadeusz Kowalik.

h.^ Employee councils that Solidarity managed to push through survived the martial law and the 1980s, only to be eliminated by Leszek Balcerowicz.[194]


  1. ^ a b Piotrowski, Tadeusz (1997). Poland's Holocaust: Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces and Genocide... McFarland & Company. p. 32. ISBN 0-7864-0371-3. 
  2. ^ Norman Davies (1982). God's Playground, a History of Poland: 1795 to the present. Columbia University Press. p. 595. ISBN 978-0-231-05353-2. 
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  5. ^ Haar, Ingo (2007). ""Bevölkerungsbilanzen" und "Vertreibungsverluste"". Herausforderung Bevölkerung Part 6. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. p. 267. doi:10.1007/978-3-531-90653-9. ISBN 978-3-531-15556-2. Retrieved 2009-08-28.  See Google translation from German for a brief overview.
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