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] From the end of World War II the PPR ruled Poland, while the Soviet overall control and the communist (also characterized as state socialist) system were being established in the country.

Communist Party of Poland and its demise[edit]

The Communist Party of Poland (KPP, until 1925 the Communist Workers' Party of Poland) was a conspiratorial organization of the radical Left. The views adhered to and promulgated by its leaders (Maria Koszutska, Adolf Warski, Maksymilian Horwitz, Edward Próchniak) led to the Party's difficult relationship with Joseph Stalin already in 1923–24.[2] The Communist International (Comintern) condemned the KPP for its support of Józef Piłsudski's May Coup of 1926 (the Party's "May error").[3] From 1933, the KPP was increasingly treated with suspicion by the Comintern. The Party's structures were seen as compromised due to infiltration by agents of the Polish military intelligence. Some of the Party 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 Trotskyists 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. The KPP members were persecuted and often imprisoned by the Polish Sanation regime authorities, which turned out to likely save the lives of a number of future Polish communist leaders, including Bolesław Bierut, Władysław Gomułka, Edward Ochab, Stefan Jędrychowski and Aleksander Zawadzki. During the Great Purge, seventy members and candidate members of the Party's Central Committee fled or were brought to the Soviet Union and were shot there, along with a large number of other activists (almost all prominent Polish communists were murdered or sent to labor camps). The Comintern, in reality directed by Stalin, had the Party dissolved and liquidated in August 1938.[4][5][6]

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 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. These and other factors, including disagreements about future borders, caused the Polish-Soviet relations to deteriorate.[7]

In the meantime Stalin, beginning in the summer of 1941, pursued other Polish options, utilizing 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.[7] 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.[8]

A September 1941 attempt to transport activists from the Soviet Union to Poland was unsuccessful, but beginning in late December, a group of Polish communists which included Marceli Nowotko, Paweł Finder, Bolesław Mołojec and Małgorzata Fornalska, was parachuted into 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 local communist activists.[8]

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).[8]

The PPR operated under the Central Committee led by Secretary Marceli Nowotko. Nowotko was killed on November 28 1942. Mołojec took over as secretary, but he was suspected of arranging Nowotko's murder and subsequently condemned and executed by the ruling of the Party court. In January 1943, Finder became secretary (party chief) and the three-person Secretariat also included Władysław Gomułka and Franciszek Jóźwiak.[8]

The Gwardia Ludowa (the People's Guard) military organization originated together with the Party it served. It was led by Mołojec and then Jóźwiak. The Guard attacked Germans in Warsaw and organized partisan units in the countryside, primarily to destroy the German communication facilities.[8]

In February 1943 the PPR undertook talks with the Government Delegation for Poland, a representation of the Polish government in exile in occupied Poland, and the central command of the Home Army, on possible cooperation. The negotiations made no progress because of the irreconcilable points of view of the two sides. After the Soviet Union broke diplomatic relations with the Polish government, the contacts were terminated and the PPR's attitude toward the exile-led Polish authority became hostile.[8]

The war progressively radicalized Polish society and the communists tried to take advantage of the situation by forming a coalition with other leftist and agrarian forces. A common "democratic front" meant as a platform for the future power struggle failed to materialize though, because the rival parties were generally unwilling to cooperate with the PPR.[8]

Polish communist institutions in the Soviet Union[edit]

Facilitated by Stalin, communist-controlled Polish civilian and military institutions were also formed in the Soviet Union. The leading roles in them were initially assumed by Wanda Wasilewska, a daughter of Piłsudski's associate and herself a friend of Stalin, and the Polish officer Zygmunt Berling. The Union of Polish Patriots, proposed and organized from January 1943, had its founding congress in June 1943 and was led by Wasilewska. Berling, Stefan Jędrychowski and Andrzej Witos were also active in the organization's Presidium. After the Soviet authorities closed the Delegation branches in Soviet controlled territories, the Union, assisted by a Soviet agency, established a social welfare department to look after the Poles scattered throughout its range of operations.[9] The Polish 1st Tadeusz Kościuszko Infantry Division, commanded by Berling, was formed beginning in May 1943. The division fought at the Battle of Lenino in October 1943. The Polish National Committee, a nascent communist government, was organized under Wasilewska from December 1943, but its formation was abandoned when Moscow found out about the existence of the State National Council in Warsaw. All the Polish civilian and military activities in the Soviet Union were managed from January 1944 by the Central Bureau of Polish Communists. Among its important members were Karol Świerczewski, Jakub Berman, Aleksander Zawadzki, Stanisław Radkiewicz, Roman Zambrowski, Hilary Minc and Marian Spychalski. Some of them would later form the core of the Stalinist and strictly pro-Soviet (internationalist in outlook) faction of Poland's ruling communists, who worked closely with Bolesław Bierut and were opposed to the national PPR current led by Gomułka. On the military side, the First Polish Corps was formed from the Kościuszko Division and expanded into the First Polish Army in March 1944, still under the command of General Berling. The Army was incorporated into the 1st Belorussian Front.[10][11][12]

Gomułka's leadership, State National Council, Polish Committee of National Liberation[edit]

In November 1943 Finder and Fornalska were arrested by the Gestapo, which also took the PPR's radio equipment. Communication between Warsaw and Moscow was no longer possible. Władysław Gomułka became secretary of the Central Committee of the PPR on 23 November 1943 and Bierut became a member of the Secretariat.[13]

In November the PPR published the "What do we fight for" (O co walczymy) program declaration. General democratic ideas and future elections were proclaimed, while the government in exile and the Underground State were denied the right to represent the Polish nation. Territorial changes after the war were indicated and nationalization of industry was promised together with land reform.[13]

In November the Central Committee decided to create the State National Council (Krajowa Rada Narodowa, KRN), a quasi-parliament rival to the Underground State institutions. The Council was established on 1 January 1944 and chaired by Bierut. Members of splinter socialist and peasant groups were co-opted to participate. The communist partisan military formation was now named Armia Ludowa (AL); it was placed under the command of General Michał Rola-Żymierski.[13]

After communications with Moscow were restored, a KRN delegation left for Moscow. There in June the Union of Polish Patriots had to recognize the KRN as the "true representation of the Polish nation". After a second KRN delegation arrived in Moscow, the Polish communists began working on a temporary executive government to administer the Polish lands (west of the Bug River) liberated by the Soviet and Polish communist armies. On 22 July 1944 the new organ, named the Polish Committee of National Liberation (PKWN), was officially established in the Lublin province. The socialist Edward Osóbka-Morawski was its head and General Żymierski led the defense department, which diminished the role of General Berling. Most of the remaining PPR and KRN leaders left Warsaw and entered the Soviet-controlled territory. Zenon Kliszko and few others stayed in the capital to coordinate communist activities in the still occupied part of Poland.[13]

Government in exile after Sikorski's death[edit]

After the death of Prime Minister Sikorski, the important figures in the exile government in London were President Władysław Raczkiewicz and the newly nominated, Prime Minister Stanisław Mikołajczyk and Commander-in-chief Kazimierz Sosnkowski. During the Tehran Conference (November-December 1943) Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill determined the geographic location of the future Polish state (between the Oder River and the Curzon Line) without consulting or even notifying the Polish leaders. Czechoslovakia, previously Poland's partner for a planned confederation, signed in December 1943 a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union. As a result of the developing Soviet wartime advantage, the Polish government was getting abandoned by its allies.[14]

Early in January 1944, the Soviet forces crossed the 1939 border of Poland. The British pressured the Polish government to accept the Soviet conditions for a resumption of Polish-Soviet diplomatic relations and practical cooperation (a recognition of the Curzon Line border and removal of anti-Soviet politicians from the Polish government), but the Polish side balked. Mikołajczyk advocated compromising with the Soviets for the sake of preserving the country's independence, while Sosnkowski, counting on the outbreak of a war between the Allies (World War III), rejected making any concessions. In February Churchill publicly announced his government's support for a Curzon Line Polish-Soviet border anyway.[14]

In June 1944, Mikołajczyk officially traveled to the United States, where President Roosevelt suggested that he visits the Soviet Union to conduct political discussions. Roosevelt also asked Stalin to invite the Polish prime minister for talks on a resumption of bilateral relations.[15] On 30 July Mikołajczyk arrived in Moscow accompanied by Foreign Minister Tadeusz Romer and Stanisław Grabski, chairman of the National Council. The PKWN had already been established and Stalin proposed negotiations between the two Polish representations aimed at their unification. The talks with Bierut, Osóbka-Morawski and Wasilewska did take place, but Mikołajczyk found the communist ideas and demands unacceptable, even though he was offered the job of prime minister in a combined government. The PKWN leaders were willing to grant the pro-Western Poles only four out of the eighteen discussed ministerial seats. Mikołajczyk reported to the government delegate in Poland that the Soviets would consider establishing diplomatic relations if the Poles could agree between themselves, but "Polish communists were determined to exploit the situation for turning Poland into a communist state". After Mikołajczyk's return to London, the government in exile came up with its own version of compromise proposals which included PPR's participation in the government, but they were rejected by the PKWN.[14][16]

Defeat of Operation Tempest and the Warsaw Uprising[edit]

In 1944, the lack of Polish-Soviet diplomatic relations and the resultant inability to conduct negotiations forced the Polish leadership to undertake political and military actions in an attempt to create a fait accompli situation in Poland that the Soviets would be compelled to accept. According to the planned Operation Tempest, the retreating German forces would be attacked by the Home Army, temporary Polish civilian administration would be installed in the liberated areas and its members, representing the government in exile, would greet the incoming Soviets as the rightful hosts. Accordingly, in the spring and summer of 1944, the Polish underground waged numerous military operations in the areas where the Soviet advance was taking place. The actions resulted in military and political defeats, because the Soviets disarmed, arrested and deported the Home Army fighters, while the Western Allies cultivated good relations with the Soviet Union and were not interested in investigating the Polish claims or lending the Poles practical support. Fighting and winning a battle for Warsaw seemed the only opportunity left for the mainstream Polish independence movement.[17]

The establishment of the PKWN provided an additional motivation for starting the Warsaw Uprising on 1 August 1944. The Soviets did not join the battle and stopped their offensive. The insurgents were being overpowered by the Germans and the belated rescue attempt by Berling's First Polish Army in September ended in a bloody defeat. The Home Army capitulated on October 2, Warsaw was subsequently largely demolished per Hitler's orders, and the Polish government in exile was no longer capable of staging major armed demonstrations in Poland. General Sosnkowski, who had criticized the lack of effective aid to the Warsaw Uprising participants from the Allies, was removed from his top command position in September 1944.[14][17]

Mikołajczyk's resignation, Provisional Government[edit]

In October, Churchill and Anthony Eden went to Moscow, as did Mikołajczyk, Grabski and Romer. They negotiated again with Bierut, Osóbka-Morawski and Rola-Żymierski. Mikołajczyk resisted the British and Soviet pressure to accept the communist territorial and other demands. In November in London the Polish government rejected the Curzon Line border again. President Roosevelt disappointed the Poles by designating the Polish, British and Soviet governments as the proper forum for border discussions, but Prime Minister Mikołajczyk, unable to convince his colleagues of the need for further compromises, resigned on 24 November 1944. The Polish government, now led by Tomasz Arciszewski, was no longer seriously considered by the Allies.[14]

On 31 December 1944, the State National Council converted the PKWN to the Provisional Government of the Republic of Poland, with Osóbka-Morawski as the prime minister. The Soviet Union recognized the new institution and the Western Allies did not object.[14] The KRN and the Provisional Government gradually strengthened their position as the Soviet NKVD facilitated the process by performing large scale arrests of opponents of communist rule.[18]

Communist-led war effort[edit]

Many diversionary military actions and other combat operations were undertaken by the Armia Ludowa and the Soviet partisans in September and October 1944, especially but not only in the Kielce province. At the end of October, led by the AL commander Mieczysław Moczar, most units broke through the front lines to the Soviet-Polish side.[18]

With the renewed Soviet offensive (from 12 January 1945), on 17 January the First Polish Army led by General Stanislav Poplavsky entered the destroyed Warsaw. A part of the 1st Belorussian Front, the following month the Army participated in overcoming the strongly fortified German defenses at the Pomeranian Wall, losing 6,500 soldiers, and in March it took Kolberg. The 1st Armoured Brigade fought within the 2nd Belorussian Front and contributed to the liberation of Gdańsk and Gdynia. The First Army forced its way across the Oder River on 16-17 April and reached the Elbe near Spandau on 3 May. The 1st Tadeusz Kościuszko Infantry Division and other Polish formations participated in the final Battle of Berlin. The Second Polish Army, led by General Karol Świerczewski, operated with the 1st Ukrainian Front. It crossed the Lusatian Neisse on 16 April and, heading for Dresden, suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Bautzen due to poor command. However, the German rescue force heading for Berlin was stopped.[18]

Provisional Government of National Unity[edit]

Further determinations regarding the future of Poland were made at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. The Allied leaders authorized converting the existing Provisional Government to a Provisional Government of National Unity (TRJN), with expanded participation of democratic and pro-Western forces, but no formal role for the government in exile in London. The TRJN was charged with conducting free elections soon, based on which a permanent Polish government would be established.[18]

The exact shape of the TRJN was determined during talks in Moscow on 16-21 June 1945. The KRN and the Provisional Government were represented there by seven politicians, including Bierut and Gomułka, three representatives, including Mikołajczyk, came from the emigrant circles and there were five non-communists from Poland. Mikołajczyk unsuccessfully tried to limit the dominant role of the communists and became only a deputy prime minister. Mikołajczyk's People's Party was granted the right to nominate 1/3 of the KRN members; Wincenty Witos and Stanisław Grabski were the new vice-chairmen of that body. On 28 June 1945 Chairman Bierut of the KRN created the TRJN and on 5 July the USA and the United Kingdom withdrew their recognition of the government in exile.[18]

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. ^ Duraczyński, Eugeniusz (2012). Stalin. Twórca i dyktator supermocarstwa [Stalin: the creator and dictator of a superpower], pp. 172-175 Warsaw: Akademia Humanistyczna im. Aleksandra Gieysztora. ISBN 978-83-7549-150-0.
  3. ^ Brzoza, Czesław; Sowa, Andrzej Leon (2009). Historia Polski 1918–1945 [History of Poland 1918–1945], p. 288. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie. ISBN 978-83-08-04125-3.
  4. ^ 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. 237–238. Kraków: Fogra. ISBN 83-85719-61-X.
  5. ^ Brzoza, Czesław; Sowa, Andrzej Leon (2009). Historia Polski 1918–1945 [History of Poland 1918–1945], pp. 350-354.
  6. ^ Halik Kochanski (2012). The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War, p. 368. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-06814-8.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g 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. 357–359.
  9. ^ Halik Kochanski (2012). The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War, pp. 372–376.
  10. ^ 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. 360–362.
  11. ^ Jerzy Eisler, Siedmiu wspaniałych. Poczet pierwszych sekretarzy KC PZPR [The Magnificent Seven: first secretaries of the PZPR], Wydawnictwo Czerwone i Czarne, Warszawa 2014, ISBN 978-83-7700-042-7, pp. 16–17
  12. ^ Halik Kochanski (2012). The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War, pp. 371–372.
  13. ^ a b c d 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. 362–364.
  14. ^ a b c d e f 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. 364–374.
  15. ^ Halik Kochanski (2012). The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War, pp. 439–445.
  16. ^ Halik Kochanski (2012). The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War, pp. 445–454.
  17. ^ 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. 374–387.
  18. ^ a b c d e 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. 387–396.