Polish Workers' Party

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Polish Workers' Party
Polska Partia Robotnicza
Founded 1942
Dissolved 1948
Succeeded by Polish United Workers' Party
Ideology Communism
Political position Far-left
International affiliation Communist International
Colours Red and Yellow
Politics of Poland
Political parties

The Polish Workers' Party (Polish: Polska Partia Robotnicza, PPR) was a communist party in Poland from 1942 to 1948. It was founded as a reconstitution of the Communist Party of Poland, and merged with the Polish Socialist Party in 1948 to form the Polish United Workers' Party.[1]

Communist Party of Poland and its demise[edit]

The Communist Party of Poland (KPP), a conspiratorial organization of the radical Left, was treated with suspicion by the Communist International beginning in 1933. The party structures were seen as compromised because of being infiltrated by agents of the Polish military intelligence and some leaders, falsely accused of being such agents, were subsequently executed in the Soviet Union. In 1935 and 1936, the KPP undertook a formation of a unified worker and peasant front in Poland and the Party was then subjected to further persecutions by the Comintern, which arbitrarily accused the Polish communists of also harboring Trotskyits elements in their ranks. The apogee of the Moscow-held prosecutions, aimed at eradicating the various "deviations" and ending usually in death sentences took place in 1937–38, with the last executions carried out in 1940. A total of 5,000 activists of the KPP were brought to the Soviet Union to be killed or imprisoned there. Joseph Stalin had the Party dissolved and liquidated in August 1938.[2]

PPR's World War II foundations[edit]

The German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941 changed the course of World War II and with it the nature of Polish-Soviet relations. Pressured by the British government, the London-based Polish government-in-exile, led by Władysław Sikorski, signed an agreement with the Soviet Union, which included a Soviet recognition of the Polish government. A Polish army was formed in the Soviet Union, but was soon taken out of there and into the Middle East by Władysław Anders. The Katyn massacre perpetrated by the Soviets on Polish POWs was revealed and the Soviet Union "suspended" diplomatic relations with the Polish government. Prime Minister Sikorski was killed in an airplane crash in July 1943. All these factors and other, including disagreements about future borders, caused the Polish-Soviet relations to deteriorate and fail.[3]

Joseph Stalin in the meantime, from the summer of 1941, pursued other Polish options, utilizing the Polish communists and other Poles willing to cooperate, many of whom were present at that time in the Soviet Union. Some prewar Polish officers were transferred to occupied Poland to conduct pro-Soviet conspiratorial activities and the Polish communists worked in November on organizing the Poles in the Soviet Union.[3] Among the communist groups that became active in Poland after Operation Barbarossa was the Union for Liberating Struggle (Związek Walki Wyzwoleńczej), whose leaders included Marian Spychalski.

Stalin was persuaded by Wanda Wasilewska (a communist Polish and Soviet politician) to aid the communists in Poland. A September 1941 attempt to transport activists from the Soviet Union to Poland was unsuccessful, but beginning in late December, an initiative group of Polish communists which included Marceli Nowotko, Paweł Finder, Bolesław Mołojec and Małgorzata Fornalska was parachuted in Poland. They had Stalin's permission to create a new Polish communist party, to be named the Polish Workers Party (PPR). The Party, intended in some sense as a continuation of the prewar KPP, was established in Warsaw on 5 January 1942, when some of the new arrivals met with locally active communists.

The PPR, which presented itself as an anti-Nazi Polish patriotic front, distributed a manifesto printed in Moscow entitled To workers, peasants and intelligentsia! To all Polish patriots! in which it called for an uncompromising struggle against the German occupant. A leftist, formally democratic program was proposed and the Party, operating mostly in the General Government, grew to about six thousand members by the summer of 1942. From 1943, an affiliated youth organization existed, called the Union for the Struggle of the Youth (Związek Walki Młodych).

After Nowotko's death and Finder's arrest, Władysław Gomułka became secretary of the Central Committee of the PPR from 1943 until its end in 1948.


The PPR struggled to establish itself with Stalin and the Polish people. Stalin, suspicious of foreign communist parties, preferred to rely on institutions and people directly under his control. Although all decisions in the PPR required Soviet approval, there were no direct orders issued from Moscow[citation needed].

In Poland, the party was unable to attract members because the old political parties maintained a hold on popular support and were well established in the underground government. The PPR's policy of recognizing the Soviet Union's new possessions in Eastern Poland antagonized nationalistic feelings of the people

In November 1943, the PPR set out to gain legitimacy by appealing to the nationalist cause with the publication of the manifesto What Are We Fighting For. This outlined the party's goal of alleged independence and an alleged socialist revolution. This recognition of the nationalist cause and the willingness to join in governing with the other parties was a break from the old communist party's unpopular policy of hostility towards participating in the bourgeois state and parliament. Neither Stalin nor orthodox Polish communists wanted to implement the propaganda goals.

Government in exile[edit]

The internationally recognized representative for Poland was the government in exile in London. Its Delegatura - Home Delegation - headed the administration of the unique underground state in Poland. It consisted of the major political parties and was led by Stanisław Mikołajczyk, the leader of the popular People's Party (Peasant Party). Their underground armed militia, the Armia Krajowa (AK), or Home Army, had a large activist membership dwarfing the small military wing of the PPR's Armia Ludowa, or People's Army.

The PPR wanted to gain political recognition by joining in with the Delegatura and the AK; however, their attempts were unsuccessful because they were seen as Soviet spies. They saw as unacceptable the condition that they renounce membership in the Communist International and they refused to object to the loss of the Eastern territories to the Soviet Union. Thus the Polish Workers' Party refused to join the structures of the Polish Underground State and would create an alternative, communist and eventually successful (with the support of the Red Army) government structure in Poland.

A propaganda photo of a citizen reading the PKWN Manifesto, issued on July 22, 1944


There was conflict within the communist movement over the methods needed to implement power. It was a difference of opinion between the Polish émigrés trained in the Soviet Union represented by Bolesław Bierut strictly following Stalin's policy, and the Polish Communists such as Gomułka. Stalin, mindful of appeasing the Western Allies, negotiated with them in forming an acceptable provisional government for Poland. With the prospect of the Red Army liberating Warsaw, the Polish communists favored a more aggressive approach of forming a parallel separate shadow government.

Gomułka wanted to broaden the party's political base by including other leftist and populist parties. As there was difficulty in communicating with Moscow, this step was taken without Stalin's approval and therefore met with Bierut's objection. The refusal of the major parties to join the PPR necessitated the formation of various subsidiary organizations and parties with parallel names of existing workers and peasant parties. This gave the façade of broad political support.

Unable to negotiate with the Delegatura, Stalin changed his tactics and forged ahead with forming a provisional government for the liberated territories that excluded them. On 22 July 1944, Stalin announced the creation of the Polish Committee of National Liberation, Polski Komitet Wyzwolenia Narodowego, the PKWN.

Consolidating power[edit]

The PPR benefited from various powerful institutions and events that enhanced its position. The failed Warsaw Uprising decimated the AK, removing a popular and powerful opponent. The Soviet army liberation of Warsaw increased the political standing of the PPR. In January 1945, they benefited from Stalin's recognition of it. The Western Allies found it difficult to fully support the Delegatura's interagency and refusal to recognize the new Polish border, and Stalin succeeded in removing the government in exile from the negotiations by refusing to negotiate with them as the sole representative of Poland.

Power destroyed[edit]

The power and coherence of the government in exile was destroyed when its prime minister Stanisław Mikołajczyk, the leader of the powerful People's Party, joined the communist-led government. This resulted in the creation on 28 June 1945 of a new Provisional Government of National Unity, Tymczasowy Rząd Jedności Narodowej, TRJN, which was eventually recognized by the Western Allies as the new government of Poland. It consisted of the PPR, the Polish Socialist Party, Mikołajczyk's Polish People's Party, the Stronnictwo Ludowe and the Democratic Party. The PPR and its allies from the other parties controlled the direction of the new government policies by controlling seventeen out of twenty one ministries.

PPR methods[edit]

The PPR used totalitarian methods similar to the ones used by communist parties in Eastern Europe: the provisional government did not wait for elections to be held; they instituted land reform to win over the peasants. They offered amnesty to wean away soldiers from the opposition AK militia. In April 1946, a new volunteer citizen militia ORMO was formed to help the criminal police (Milicja Obywatelska), political police (UBP), internal troops (KBW), Polish army, Soviet political police (NKVD), and Soviet army to eliminate any armed opposition to the government. The Soviet security force, the NKVD, killed, arrested, harassed, and used propaganda to discredit popular opponents. The AK, seen as representing the Delegatura, was discredited with accusations of fratricide for the failed Warsaw uprising. After it had eliminated all the legitimate opposition outside the government, the PPR concentrated on gaining power within the coalition of the provisional government.

The PPR was weak, faced strong opposition from the Socialist and People's parties, and unlike the other communist parties in Eastern Europe could not win enough votes in an election to be a strong partner in an elected coalition. Using arguments of preventing civil war in society, it suggested an alternative to freely held elections by presenting a "Democratic Bloc", a unified list of candidates to the electorate. The Socialist Party agreed to join in the Democratic Bloc; the popular People's Party refused. The PPR adopted the strategy of delaying elections by holding a referendum which gave it powers to change the political structure of the Senate. It targeted the People's Party by arresting its candidates, harassing them, and denying them access to publicity by organizing workers to refuse to work for them. The referendum result was falsified to give the Democratic Block a majority.

After each successful stage of establishing its power, the PPR relied less on the facade of cooperating with political opponents and more on demonstrating its power using threats and intimidation. In the January 1947 election, the Bloc claimed to have won 80% of the votes. By nearly all accounts, however, this result was obtained by massive fraud. The election results eliminated the popular People's Party from the political scene and demonstrated to the public that there was no political route left for opposition. Mikołajczyk, who would have likely become prime minister if not for this fraud, was forced to flee the country for his life. The PPR dominated the government through their control of placing communist deputies in all ministries. Although the Socialist Party held ministerial portfolios, they had no voice in formulating policies; the work was accomplished by the communist deputies. The PPR strengthened its monopoly by removing any perceived threat, and closing of any avenues for opposition. It increased fear in society by introducing new criteria of offences such as the concept of "whispered propaganda": this made it a crime to disseminate any news that could threaten the regime.

The PPR pressured the Socialist Party to agree to unification in 1948 in order to save their party from destruction. The People's Party lingered on for a little longer before its remains merged with a pro-Communist splinter party in 1949 to form the United People's Party.

The Yugoslavian split with the Soviet Union resulted in a change of policy. Gomułka's criticism of Soviet policy for a united Germany was seen as narrow minded and inappropriately nationalistic. Gomułka's "Polish road to socialism", adapting to conditions specific to Poland, was no longer needed. Stalin tightened his control on the PPR. In August 1948, the Politburo installed Bierut as the general secretary of the PPR. The Socialist party was liquidated and fully merged with the PPR. It signaled the emergence of a new Communist party, the Polish United Workers' Party, (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza, PZPR). It differed from its predecessor, for now a fusion of western ideas with communism was no longer possible, but it would follow the strict Soviet lead of "true" communism and transform Polish society on the Stalinist model.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "JSTOR: The American Political Science Review: Vol. 64, No. 4 (Dec., 1970), pp. 1239-1245". links.jstor.org. Retrieved 2008-03-27. 
  2. ^ Brzoza, Czesław; Sowa, Andrzej Leon (2009). Historia Polski 1918–1945 [History of Poland 1918–1945], pp. 350-354. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie. ISBN 978-83-08-04125-3.
  3. ^ a b Brzoza, Czesław (2003). Polska w czasach niepodległości i II wojny światowej (1918–1945) [Poland in Times of Independence and World War II (1918–1945)], pp. 312–322.