Władysław Gomułka

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Władysław Gomułka
Wladyslaw Gomulka na trybunie.jpg
First Secretary of the
Polish United Workers' Party
In office
21 October 1956 – 20 December 1970
Preceded by Edward Ochab
Succeeded by Edward Gierek
First Secretary of the Polish Workers' Party
In office
Preceded by Paweł Finder
Succeeded by Bolesław Bierut
Personal details
Born (1905-02-06)6 February 1905
Krosno, Austria-Hungary
Died 1 September 1982(1982-09-01) (aged 77)
Konstancin, Poland
Nationality Polish
Political party Polish United Workers' Party
Religion None[1]

Władysław Gomułka (Polish: [vwaˈdɨswaf ɡɔˈmuwka]; 6 February 1905 – 1 September 1982) was a Polish communist leader. He was the de facto leader of Poland from 1947 to 1948, and again from 1956 to 1970. American journalist John Gunther described Gomułka as "professorial in manner, aloof, and angular, with a peculiar spry pepperiness."[2]

Gomułka was a member of the Communist Party of Poland (Komunistyczna Partia Polski, KPP) starting in 1926.

Life and career[edit]

Gomułka was born in Krosno. In 1934, he went to Moscow, where he lived for a year. Upon his return to Poland he was arrested and spent most of his time in prison until the beginning of World War II. During the war, Gomułka became an influential Polish communist and in 1943 convinced Joseph Stalin to allow the reformation of the local communist party under the name Polish Workers' Party (Polska Partia Robotnicza). He was a Deputy Prime Minister in the Provisional Government of Republic of Poland - Rząd Tymczasowy Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, from January to June 1945, and in the Provisional Government of National Unity (Tymczasowy Rząd Jedności Narodowej), from 1945 to 1947. Using his position in the government, he crushed all meaningful resistance to the communists. He also helped the communists in winning the 3 x Tak (3 Times Yes) referendum of 1946. A year later, he played a key role in the 1947 parliamentary elections, which were blatantly rigged to give the Communists and their allies an overwhelming victory. With all remaining legal opposition effectively destroyed, Poland was now under undisguised Communist rule.

Gomułka was now, as he himself said, "the hegemon of Poland". However, a rivalry between Party factions (Gomułka was the leader of the "home" communist fraction vs. Bolesław Bierut of Stalin's Moscow-reared wartime communist group) led to Gomułka's removal from power and imprisonment in 1948. He was accused of "right wing-reactionary deviation", and expelled from the Polish United Workers' Party (as the Polish Workers' Party was renamed following a merger with the Polish Socialist Party).

After the death of Stalinist Prime Minister Bierut in 1956, a brief period of de-Stalinization began, raising popular hope for reform. In June 1956, an insurrection began in Poznań. The workers rioted to protest shortages of food and consumer goods, bad housing, decline in genuine income, shipments of commodities to the Soviet Union and poor management of the economy. The Polish government initially responded by branding the rioters "provocateurs, counterrevolutionaries and imperialist agents". Security forces killed and wounded scores of protesters. Soon, however, the party hierarchy recognized the riots had awakened nationalist sentiment and reversed their opinion. The rioters became "honest workers with legitimate grievances". Wages were raised by 50% and economic and political change was promised.[3][4]

Gomułka with Leonid Brezhnev in East Germany

Edward Ochab, Bierut's successor, invited the now-rehabilitated Gomułka to serve as First Secretary of the Party. Gomułka insisted that he be given real power to implement reforms. One specific condition he set was that the Soviet Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky, who had ordered troops against the Poznań workers, be removed from the Polish Politburo and Defense Ministry, to which Ochab agreed. On 19 October, the majority of the Polish leadership, backed by the army and also the Internal Security Corps, brought Gomułka and several associates into the Politburo and designated Gomułka as First Secretary of the Party. The Soviet leadership viewed events in Poland with alarm. Simultaneously with troop 'maneuvers' on the Soviet-Polish border, a high-level delegation of the Soviet Central Committee flew to Poland. It was led by Nikita Khrushchev and included Mikoyan, Bulganin, Molotov, Kaganovich, Marshal Konev and others. Gomułka made it clear that Polish troops would resist if Soviet troops advanced, but reassured the Soviets that the reforms were internal matters and that Poland had no intention of abandoning the communist bloc or its treaties with the Soviet Union. The Soviets yielded.[5]

A major factor that influenced Gomułka was the Oder-Neisse line issue. Because of West Germany's refusal to recognize the Oder-Neisse line, Gomułka was obsessed with the fear that one day the Germans would invade Poland again, which in its turn would mean a return to the horrors of the German occupation.[6] Gomułka feared the Germans more than he disliked the Russians, and thus he argued in both public and in private that it was necessary to keep Soviet troops in Poland to guard against any future German revanchism.[6] Gomułka felt sincerely threatened by the revanchist statements put out by the Adenauer government, and believed that the alliance with the Soviet Union was the only thing stopping the threat of a new German invasion.[7] Gomułka's experiences during World War II as a resistance fighter against Germans who tried to exterminate the Polish nation had made him into an intense, visceral Germanophobe who told Marshal Rokossovsky that the Soviet Union had been far too lenient in its treatment of the Germans after 1945, and he would have pursued a much harsher course.[8] Gomułka told the 8th Plenum of the United Workers' Party on 19 October 1956 that: "Poland needs friendship with the Soviet Union more than the Soviet Union needs friendship with Poland... Without the Soviet Union we cannot maintain our borders with the West".[9] During his meetings with Nikita Khrushchev during the Polish October crisis, Gomułka stressed that though he wanted Poland to take a more independent line within the Soviet bloc, he would never break with Moscow because of his fears of future German aggression based on their statements rejecting the Oder-Neisse line.[9] Seeing that Gomułka was popular with the Polish people, and given his insistence that he wanted to maintain at all costs the alliance with Soviet Union and the presence of the Red Army in Poland, Khrushchev decided that Gomułka was a leader that Moscow could live with.[7] Gomułka was confirmed in his new position. Information about events in Poland reached the people of Hungary via Radio Free Europe during 19–22 October 1956. A student demonstration in Budapest in support of Gomułka, asking for similar reforms in Hungary, soon sparked the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

Gomułka was initially very popular for his reforms and seeking a "Polish way to socialism",[10] and giving rise to the period known as "Gomułka's thaw". However, during the 1960s he became more conservative under growing Soviet pressure. In the 1960s he supported persecution of the Catholic Church and intellectuals (notably Leszek Kołakowski, who was forced into exile). He participated in the Warsaw Pact intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968. At that time he was also responsible for persecuting students as well as toughening censorship of the media. In 1968 he incited an "anti-Zionist" propaganda campaign[11] as a result of the Soviet bloc's frustration with the outcome of the Six-Day War.[4] It has been alleged that this was simply a thinly veiled anti-Semitic campaign designed to keep himself in power by shifting the attention of the populace from the stagnating economy and Stalinist mismanagement. Gomułka later claimed that this was not deliberate, but the result was that the majority of the remaining Polish citizens of Jewish origin left the country.

In December 1970, bloody clashes with shipyard workers on the Baltic Coast, in which several dozen workers were fatally shot, forced his resignation and retirement (officially for health reasons; he had in fact suffered a stroke). A dynamic younger man, Edward Gierek, took over the Party leadership and tensions eased.

After his death in 1982 of cancer, Gomułka's negative image in communist propaganda was modified and some of his constructive contributions were recognized. He is seen as an honest and austere believer in the socialist system, who, unable to resolve Poland's formidable difficulties and satisfy mutually contradictory demands, grew more rigid and despotic later in his career. His memoirs were first published in 1994.

Decorations and awards[edit]

This article incorporates information from the equivalent article on the Polish Wikipedia.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Above all, however, Mr. Gomulka is an atheist, and he is now strong enough to say so in a country which is not." 'Mr. Gomulka Bolder Against Church', The Times, Wednesday, Feb 08, 1961; pg. 11; Issue 55000; col D.
  2. ^ Gunther, John (1961). Inside Europe Today. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 332. LCCN 61-9706. 
  3. ^ Rothschild and Wingfield: Return to Diversity, A Political History of East Central Europe Since World War II OUP 2000
  4. ^ a b "The defection of Jozef Swiatlo and the Search for Jewish Scapegoats in the Polish United Workers' Party, 1953-1954" (PDF). Fourth Convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities. Harriman Institute, Columbia University, New York City. April 15–17, 1999. Retrieved 2007-10-27. 
  5. ^ "Notes from the Minutes of the CPSU CC Presidium Meeting with Satellite Leaders, October 24, 1956" (PDF). The 1956 Hungarian Revolution, A History in Documents. George Washington University: The National Security Archive. November 4, 2002. Retrieved 2006-09-02. 
  6. ^ a b Granville, Johanna "Reactions to the Events of 1956: New Findings from the Budapest and Warsaw Archives" pages 261-290 from Journal of Contemporary History, Volume 38, Issue #2, April 2003 pages 284-285.
  7. ^ a b Granville, Johanna "From the Archives of Warsaw and Budapest: A Comparison of the Events of 1956" pages 521-563 from East European Politics and Societies, Volume 16, Issue #2, April 2002 pages 540-541
  8. ^ Granville, Johanna "From the Archives of Warsaw and Budapest: A Comparison of the Events of 1956" pages 521-563 from East European Politics and Societies, Volume 16, Issue #2, April 2002 page 540.
  9. ^ a b Granville, Johanna "From the Archives of Warsaw and Budapest: A Comparison of the Events of 1956" pages 521-563 from East European Politics and Societies, Volume 16, Issue #2, April 2002 page 541
  10. ^ "Rebellious Compromiser". Time Magazine. 10 December 1956. Retrieved 2006-10-14. 
  11. ^ Judt, Tony (2005). Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. New York, The Penguin Press (pages 434-435)
Party political offices
Preceded by
Paweł Finder
General Secretary of the Polish Workers' Party
Succeeded by
Bolesław Bierut (as General Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party
Preceded by
Edward Ochab
General Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party
Succeeded by
Edward Gierek