Constitution of the Polish People's Republic

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Constitution of the Polish People's Republic
AGAD Constitution draft with Bierut's annotations 1.png
Draft of the Polish constitution, with revisions and annotations hand-written by Bolesław Bierut
Ratified22 July 1952
Date effective22 July 1952
SystemMarxist–Leninist one-party socialist republic
Government structure
Electoral collegeNo
Author(s)Joseph Stalin, Bolesław Bierut
SupersedesSmall Constitution of 1947

The Constitution of the Polish People's Republic (also known as the July Constitution or the Constitution of 1952) was a supreme law passed in communist-ruled Poland on 22 July 1952. It superseded the post-World War II provisional Small Constitution of 1947, which in turn replaced the pre-war April Constitution of 1935.

The 1952 constitution introduced a new name for the Polish state, the Polish People's Republic (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa, PRL), replacing the previously used Republic of Poland (Rzeczpospolita Polska). The communist-led Sejm (legislature) was declared to be the highest state authority. The real source of supreme state power, the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR), was not regulated by the constitution; it was ruled by its own statute. The constitution legalized many practices that had been introduced in Poland, in the wake of the Soviet Red Army and the Polish People's Army defeat of Nazi Germany in 1944–1945, by Polish-communist governmental bodies, including the Polish Committee of National Liberation (PKWN) and its successors.

Instead of the traditional separation of powers, the constitution introduced the Soviet concept of "unity of the state's power".[1] While the ultimate power was reserved for the dictatorship of the proletariat, expressed as "the working people of towns and villages",[1] the Sejm was granted on paper the paramount authority in government; it oversaw both the judicial and executive branches.[1] However, the Sejm in practice exercised little or no real power. Under the constitution, the Polish Council of State replaced the office of the President of Poland as the head of state organ.[2][3]

The constitution was amended twenty-four times, with the most contentious amendment being that of 10 February 1976. It was significantly amended during the Polish transformation, in 1989 and 1992; from 29 December 1989 the document was known as the Constitution of the Republic of Poland.[4] It was superseded by a new Constitution of Poland on 17 October 1997.

Legislative branch[edit]

In the 1946 Polish people's referendum the Senate of Poland had been abolished with the Sejm remaining the sole legislative body in Poland. Under the 1952 constitution, the Sejm officially became the "supreme organ of state power" under article 20.[5]

The Sejm of the Polish People's Republic started with 425 members in 1952 (one deputy represented 60,000 citizens). However, as the population grew, the number of deputies increased. By 1960 the constitution was amended, dropping the calculation and stabilizing the Sejm at 460 deputies. A "proportional" attribute was dropped from the five-point electoral law previously used. An article in the constitution stated that deputies were responsible to the people and could be recalled by the people, although this article was never used.

Legislation was passed by majority vote. The Sejm voted on the budget and national plans as proposed by the executive. The Sejm deliberated in sessions, which were called by the Council of State elected by the Sejm from its members.

The Sejm also chose a Presidium from its members, with the Marshal of the Sejm always being a member of the United People's Party. During its first session the Sejm nominated the Prime Minister together with other ministers (the Council of Ministers), and members of the Council of State. Many other government officials were also chosen, including the head of the Supreme Audit Office (Najwyższa Izba Kotroli, NIK), members of the State Tribunal (Trybunał Stanu) and Constitutional Tribunal (Trybunał Konstytucyjny), as well as the Ombudsman (Rzecznik Praw Obywatelskich) (the latter three institutions were created in the 1980s).

In practice, like its counterparts in other communist regimes, the Sejm did little more than rubber-stamp decisions already made by the PZPR.

Executive branch[edit]

A meeting of the Polish Council of State during the 1960s

Executive power was held by the Council of Ministers and the Council of State.[1] The Council of State replaced the previous Polish head of the state, the President of Poland (which terminated the presidency of Bolesław Bierut).[6]

Article 29 provided that Council of State members were elected at the first session of the Sejm for the term of the Sejm (established at four years by Article 28).[7] The council was composed of members of the Sejm; they were usually chosen from the dominant Polish United Workers' Party, although occasionally other deputies were chosen.[8] The council acted as the head of state (in practice the body was represented by the Chairman of the Council of State).[6] Article 30 of the constitution set out the authority of the Council of State, including representing the Polish People's Republic in foreign relations and in ratification of international treaties.[7] The council also voted in matters related to the military.[7] It granted citizenship and could invoke pardon.[7] The council not only had legislative initiative under Article 25,[7] but could issue administrative decrees under Article 31.[7] However, those decrees had to be confirmed by the Sejm in its next session. The council also defined the interpretation of laws, which in many countries is reserved to the judiciary.[6][7]

The Council of Ministers also had legislative initiative under Article 25.[7] The composition of the Council of Ministers was set forth in Article 39.[9] The Council of Ministers developed the state budget and socio-economic plans and presented them to the Sejm for approval. After approval the Council of Ministers oversaw the execution of the plans and the budget.[9]


The Supreme Court was the overseer of all other courts, which were divided into regional (voivodeship) and particular (administrative and military). In 1980, the Supreme Administrative Court was introduced. In 1982, the State Tribunal (which also existed in the Second Polish Republic), the Constitutional Tribunal, and the Ombudsman office were introduced.


During its forty-five years of service, the Constitution of the Polish People's Republic was subject to many changes, with its text amended 24 times.

The most controversial amendment was that of 10 February 1976. The proposed amendment declared that Poland was a socialist country, the PZPR was the leading force in the building of socialism and Poland shared "unshakable fraternal bonds" with the Soviet Union. The amendment caused protests resulting in the Letter of 59, asking for inclusion of human rights as stated in the Helsinki Accords.[10][11] The government backed off somewhat, and the final amendment deleted the phrase "citizens' rights depend upon fulfillment of civic duties", changed "unshakable fraternal bonds" to "strengthening of friendship" and made other conciliatory changes, but after the revised amendment passed there were still protests from the Catholic Church and intellectuals.[10][12]

The constitution was heavily amended during the period of political transformation. The amendments purged the document of its state socialist phrasing. Among the more important changes were:


The 1936 Constitution of the Soviet Union was an exemplar act and the Russian translation of the draft text of the 1952 Constitution was personally reviewed and corrected by Joseph Stalin; his modifications were inserted into the Polish text by Bolesław Bierut.[14]

The chief role of the 1952 Constitution was to ratify and secure communist rule in Poland, however, it failed to regulate the main source of power – the communist party (PZPR). The constitution served as a propaganda tool, proclaiming the "Polish People's Republic", and in theory establishing many rights for its citizens.[14] In the 1970s and 1980s, the provisions of the constitution enabled opposition activists to challenge the authorities and accuse them of not complying with the constitution.


  1. ^ a b c d Cieplak, Tadeusz N. (1972). "Section 4. The Government: Introduction". In Cieplak, Tadeusz N. (ed.). Poland Since 1956: Readings and essays on Polish government and politics. New York: Twayne Publishers. p. 206.
  2. ^ Rozmaryn, Stefan (1959). "Parliamentary Control of Administrative Activities in the Polish People's Republic". Political Studies. 7 (1): 70–85. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9248.1959.tb00893.x. S2CID 146421762.
  3. ^ Cieplak 1972, p. 208
  4. ^ "Article 1, Section 1", Ustawa z dnia 29 gruduia 1989 r. o zmianie Konstytucja Polskiej Rzeczypospolitej Ludowej [An Act of 29 December 1989 to amend the Constitution of the Polish People's Republic], Dz.U. 1989 Nr. 75, pos 444 (in Polish), Sejm, Government of Poland
  5. ^ Simons, William B., ed. (1980). The Constitutions of the Communist World. Alphen ann den Rijn, the Netherlands: Sijthoff & Noordhoff. pp. 294. ISBN 978-90-286-0070-6.
  6. ^ a b c Cieplak 1972, p. 207
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Simons, William B., ed. (1980). The Constitutions of the Communist World. Alphen ann den Rijn, the Netherlands: Sijthoff & Noordhoff. pp. 295–296. ISBN 978-90-286-0070-6.
  8. ^ Sakwa, George (1976). The Organisation and Work of the Polish Sejm 1952–72. Birmingham, England: Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Birmingham. p. 7. OCLC 4330848.
  9. ^ a b Simons 1980, p. 298
  10. ^ a b Pełczyński, Zbigniew A. (1980). "Chapter 16. Poland under Gierek". In Leslie, Robert Frank (ed.). The History of Poland since 1863. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. pp. 431–432. ISBN 978-0-521-22645-5.
  11. ^ Paczkowski, Andrzej (1995). Pół Wieku Dziejów Polski, 1939–1989 [Half a century of Polish history 1939–1989]. Warsaw, Poland: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe. p. 429. ISBN 978-83-01-11756-6.
  12. ^ Zirakzadeh, Cyrus Ernesto (2006). "Chapter 5. A World to Be Remade: Sociopolitical Circumstances of Solidarity". Social Movements in Politics, Expanded Edition: A Comparative Study. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 85. ISBN 978-1-4039-6376-5.
  13. ^ See Article 1, Section 4, paragraph 1 and Article 1, section 8, "Ustawa z dnia 29 gruduia 1989 r. o zmianie Konstytucja Polskiej Rzeczypospolitej Ludowej" [An Act of 29 December 1989 to amend the Constitution of the Polish People's Republic]. Dz.U. 1989 Nr. 75, pos 444 (in Polish). Sejm, Government of Poland.
  14. ^ a b "Poprawki nanosił Stalin, ostateczną wersję opracował Bierut" [Corrections made by Stalin, the final version developed by Bierut]. Polskie Radio (Polish Radio) (in Polish). 22 July 2012. Archived from the original on 25 May 2014.


  • Bierut, Bolesław (1956). O Konstytucji Polskiej Rzeczypospolitej Ludowej [About the Constitution of the Polish People's Republic]. Warsaw, Poland: Książka i Wiedza. OCLC 236235145.
  • Rozmaryn, Stefan (1964). Ustawa w Polskiej Rzeczypospolitej Ludowej [Statutory law in the Polish People's Republic]. Warsaw, Poland: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe. OCLC 831357713.
  • Wasilkowski, Jan, ed. (1954). Zagadnienia prawne Konstytucji Polskiej Rzeczypospolitej Ludowej: materialy sesji naukowej PAN, 4–9 lipca 1953 r. [Legal issues of the Constitution of the Polish People's Republic: materials from a scientific session of the Polish Academy of Sciences, 4–9 July 1953]. Warsaw, Poland: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe.

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