Gomułka in 1967
|First Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party|
21 October 1956 – 20 December 1970
|Prime Minister||Józef Cyrankiewicz|
|Preceded by||Edward Ochab|
|Succeeded by||Edward Gierek|
|First Secretary of the Polish Workers' Party|
23 November 1943 – 3 September 1948
|Preceded by||Paweł Finder|
|Succeeded by||Bolesław Bierut|
|Born||6 February 1905|
Krosno, Austria-Hungary (now Poland)
|Died||1 September 1982 (aged 77)|
|Political party||Polish Workers' Party|
Polish United Workers' Party
|Spouse(s)||Liwa (Zofia) née Szoken (1902–1986)|
Władysław Gomułka (Polish: [vwaˈdɨswaf ɡɔˈmuwka]; 6 February 1905 – 1 September 1982) was a Polish communist politician. He was the de facto leader of post-war Poland until 1948. Following the Polish October he became leader again from 1956 to 1970. Gomułka was initially very popular for his reforms; his seeking a "Polish way to socialism"; and giving rise to the period known as "Gomułka's thaw". During the 1960s, however, he became more rigid and authoritarian—afraid of destabilizing the system, he was not inclined to introduce or permit changes. In the 1960s he supported the persecution of the Catholic Church, intellectuals and the anti-communist opposition.
In 1967–68 Gomułka allowed outbursts of "anti-Zionist" political propaganda, which turned into an anti-Semitic campaign, pursued primarily by others in the Party, but utilized by Gomułka to retain power by shifting the attention from the stagnating economy. Many of the remaining Polish Jews left the country. At that time he was also responsible for persecuting protesting students and toughening censorship of the media. Gomułka supported Poland's participation in the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968.
In the treaty with West Germany, signed in December 1970 at the end of Gomułka's period in office, Germany recognized the post-World War II borders, which established a foundation for future peace, stability and cooperation in Central Europe. In the same month, economic difficulties led to price rises and subsequent bloody clashes with shipyard workers on the Baltic coast, in which several dozen workers were fatally shot. The tragic events forced Gomułka's resignation and retirement. In a generational replacement of the ruling elite, Edward Gierek took over the Party leadership and tensions eased.
Childhood and education
Władysław Gomułka was born on 6 February 1905 in Białobrzegi Franciszkańskie village on the outskirts of Krosno, into a worker's family living in the Austrian Partition (the Galicia region). His parents had met and married in the United States, where each had emigrated in search of work in the late 19th century, but returned to occupied Poland in the early 20th century because Władysław's father Jan was unable to find gainful employment in America. Jan Gomułka then worked as a laborer in the Subcarpathian oil industry. Władysław's older sister Józefa, born in the US, returned there upon turning eighteen to join her extended family, most of whom had emigrated, and to preserve her US citizenship. Władysław and his two other siblings experienced a childhood of the proverbial Galician poverty: they lived in a dilapidated hut and ate mostly potatoes. Władysław received only rudimentary education before being employed in the oil industry of the region.
Gomułka attended schools in Krosno for six or seven years, until the age of thirteen, when he had to start an apprenticeship in a metalworks shop. Throughout his life Gomułka was an avid reader and accomplished a great deal of self-education, but remained a subject of jokes because of his lack of formal education and demeanor. In 1922, Gomułka passed his apprenticeship exams and began working at a local refinery.
Early revolutionary activities
Involvement with labor unions and first imprisonment
The re-established Polish state of Gomułka's teen years was a scene of growing political polarization and radicalization. The young worker developed connections with the radical Left, joining the Siła (Power) youth organization in 1922 and the Independent Peasant Party in 1925. Gomułka was known for his activism in the metal workers and, from 1922, chemical industry unions. He was involved in union-organized strikes and in 1924, during a protest gathering in Krosno, participated in a polemical debate with Herman Lieberman. He published radical texts in leftist newspapers. In May 1926 the young Gomułka was for the first time arrested, but soon released because of worker demands. The incident was the subject of a parliamentary intervention by the Peasant Party. In October 1926, Gomułka became a secretary of the managing council in the Chemical Industry Workers Union for the Drohobych District and remained involved with that communist-dominated union until 1930. He around this time learned on his own basic Ukrainian.
In late 1926, while in Drohobych, Gomułka became a member of the illegal-but-functioning Communist Party of Poland (Komunistyczna Partia Polski, KPP) and was arrested for political agitation. Technically, at this time he was a member of the Communist Party of Western Ukraine, which was an autonomous branch of the Communist Party of Poland. He was interested primarily in social issues, including the trade and labor movement, and concentrated on practical activities. In mid-1927, Gomułka was brought to Warsaw, where he remained active until drafted for military service at the end of the year. After several months, the military released him because of a health problem with his right leg. Gomułka returned to communist party work, organizing strike actions and speaking at gatherings of workers at all major industrial centers of Poland. During this period he was arrested several times and lived under police supervision.
Gomułka was an activist in the leftist labor unions from 1926 and in the Central Trade Department of the KPP Central Committee from 1931. In the summer of 1930, Gomułka illegally embarked on his first foreign trip with the intention of participating in the Red International of Labor Unions Fifth Congress held in Moscow from 15 to 30 July. Traveling from Upper Silesia to Berlin, he had to wait there for the issuance of Soviet documents and arrived in Moscow too late participate in the deliberations of the Congress. He stayed in Moscow for a couple of weeks and then went to Leningrad, from where he took a ship to Hamburg, stayed in Berlin again and through Silesia returned to Poland.
In August 1932, he was arrested by the Sanation police while participating in a conference of textile worker delegates in Łódź. When he later tried to escape, Gomułka sustained a gunshot wound in the left thigh which ultimately left him with a permanent walking impairment.
Journey to the Soviet Union and second imprisonment
Despite being sentenced to a four-year prison term on 1 June 1933, he was temporarily released for surgery on his injured leg in March 1934. Following his release, Gomułka requested that the KPP send him to the Soviet Union for medical treatment and further political training. He arrived in the Soviet Union in June and went to the Crimea for several weeks, where he underwent therapeutic baths. Gomułka then spent more than a year in Moscow, where he attended the Lenin School under the name Stefan Kowalski. The ideology-oriented classes were arranged separately for a small group of Polish students (one of them was Roman Romkowski (Natan Grünspan [Grinszpan]-Kikiel), who would later persecute Gomułka in Stalinist Poland) and included a military training course conducted by Karol Świerczewski. In a written opinion issued by the school Gomułka was characterized in highly positive terms, but his extended stay in the Soviet Union caused him to become disillusioned with the realities of Stalinist communism and highly critical of the agrarian collectivization practice. In November 1935 he illegally returned to Poland.
Gomułka resumed his communist and labor conspiratorial activities and kept advancing within the KPP organization until, as the secretary of the Party's Silesian branch, he was arrested in Chorzów in April 1936. He was then tried by the District Court in Katowice and sentenced to seven years in prison where he remained jailed until the beginning of World War II. Ironically, this internment most likely saved Gomułka's life, because the majority of the KPP leadership would be murdered in the Soviet Union in the late 1930s, caught up in the Great Purge under Joseph Stalin's orders.
Gomułka's experiences turned him into an extremely suspicious and distrustful person and contributed to his lifelong conviction that Sanation Poland was a fascist state, even if Polish prisons were the most safe places for Polish Communists. He differentiated this belief from his positive feelings toward the country and its people, especially members of the working class.
World War II
Invasion of Poland
The outbreak of the war with Nazi Germany freed Gomułka from his prison confinement. On 7 September 1939 he arrived in Warsaw, where he stayed for a few weeks, working in the besieged capital on the construction of defensive fortifications. From there, like many other Polish communists, Gomułka fled to eastern Poland which was invaded by the Soviet Union on 17 September 1939. In Białystok he ran a home for former political prisoners arriving from other parts of Poland. To be reunited with his luckily found wife, at the end of 1939 Gomułka moved to Soviet-controlled Lviv.
Like other members of the dissolved Communist Party of Poland, Gomułka sought a membership in the Soviet All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks). The Soviet authorities allowed such membership transfers only from March 1941 and in April of that year Gomułka received his party card in Kiev.
The circumstances of the Polish communists' lives changed dramatically after the 1941 German attack on the Soviet positions in eastern Poland. Reduced to penury in now German-occupied Lviv, the Gomułkas managed to join Władysław's family in Krosno by the end of 1941. However, a momentous development soon took place in the sphere of communist political activity: in January 1942, Joseph Stalin reestablished in Warsaw a Polish communist party under the name of the Polish Workers' Party (PPR).
In 1942, Gomułka participated in the reformation of a Polish communist party (the KPP was destroyed in Stalin's purges in the late 1930s) under the name Polish Workers' Party (Polska Partia Robotnicza, PPR). Gomułka became involved in the creation of party structures in the Subcarpathian region and began using his wartime conspiratorial pseudonym "Wiesław". In July 1942, Paweł Finder brought Gomułka to occupied Warsaw. In August, the secretary of the PPR's regional Warsaw Committee was arrested by the Gestapo and "Wiesław" was entrusted with his job. In September Gomułka became a member of the PPR's Temporary Central Committee.
In late 1942 and early 1943, the PPR experienced a severe crisis because of the murder of its first secretary Marceli Nowotko. Gomułka participated in the party investigation directed against another member of the leadership, Bolesław Mołojec, that resulted in Mołojec's execution. Together with the promoted to secretary Finder and Franciszek Jóźwiak, "Wiesław" (Gomułka) was included in the Party's new inner leadership, established in January 1943. The Central Committee was enlarged in the following months to include Bolesław Bierut, among others.
In February 1943, Gomułka led the communist side in a series of important meetings in Warsaw between the PPR and the Government Delegation of the London-based Polish government-in-exile and the Home Army. The talks produced no results because of the divergent interests of the parties involved and a mutual lack of confidence. The Delegation officially discontinued the negotiations on April 28, three days after the Soviet government broke diplomatic relations with the Polish government. He became the Party's main ideologist. He wrote the "What do we fight for?" (O co walczymy?) publication dated 1 March 1943, and the much more comprehensive declaration that emerged under the same title in November. "Wiesław" supervised the Party's main editorial and publishing undertaking.
Gomułka made efforts, largely unsuccessful, to secure for the PPR cooperation of other political forces in occupied Poland. Bierut was indifferent to any such attempts and counted simply on compulsion provided by a future presence of the Red Army in Poland. The different strategies resulted in a sharp conflict between the two communist politicians.
State National Council, Polish Committee of National Liberation
In the fall of 1943, the PPR leadership began discussing the creation of a Polish quasi-parliamentary, communist-led body, to be named the State National Council (Krajowa Rada Narodowa, KRN). After the Battle of Kursk the expectation was of a Soviet victory and liberation of Poland and the PPR wanted to be ready to assume power. Gomułka came up with the idea of a national council and imposed his point of view on the rest of the leadership. The PPR intended to obtain consent from the Cominterm leader and their Soviet contact Georgi Dimitrov. However, in November the Gestapo arrested Finder and Małgorzata Fornalska, who possessed the secret codes for communication with Moscow and the Soviet response remained unknown. In the absence of Finder, on 23 November Gomułka was elected general secretary (chief) of the PPR and Bierut joined the three-person inner leadership.
The founding meeting of the State National Council took place in the late evening of 31 December 1943. The new body's chairman Bierut was becoming Gomułka's main rival. In mid-January 1944 Dimitrov was finally informed of the KRN's existence, which surprised both him and the Polish communist leaders in Moscow, increasingly led by Jakub Berman, who had other, competing ideas concerning the establishment of a Polish communist ruling party and government.
Gomułka felt that the Polish communists in occupied Poland had a better understanding of Polish realities than their brethren in Moscow and that the State National Council should determine the shape of the future executive government of Poland. Nevertheless, to gain a Soviet approval and to clear any misunderstandings a KRN delegation left Warsaw in mid-March heading for Moscow, where it arrived two months later. By that time Stalin concluded that the existence of the KRN was a positive development and the Poles arriving from Warsaw were received and greeted by him and other Soviet dignitaries. The Union of Polish Patriots and the Central Bureau of Polish Communists in Moscow were now under pressure to recognize the primacy of the PPR, the KRN and Władysław Gomułka, which they ultimately did only in mid-July.
On 20 July, the Soviet forces under Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky forced their way across the Bug River and on that same day the combined meeting of Polish communists from the Moscow and Warsaw factions finalized the arrangements regarding the establishment (on 21 July) of the Polish Committee of National Liberation (PKWN), a temporary government headed by Edward Osóbka-Morawski, a socialist allied with the communists. Gomułka and other PPR leaders left Warsaw and headed for the Soviet-controlled territory, arriving in Lublin on 1 August, the day the Warsaw Uprising erupted in the Polish capital.
Post-war political career
Role in communist takeover of Poland
Gomułka was a deputy prime minister in the Provisional Government of the 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. As a minister of Recovered Territories (1945–48), he exerted great influence over the rebuilding, integration and economic progress of Poland within its new borders, by supervising the settlement, development and administration of the lands acquired from Germany. Using his position in the PPR and government, Gomułka led the leftist social transformations in Poland and participated in the crushing of the resistance to the communist rule during the post-war years. 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 fraudulently arranged to give the communists and their allies an overwhelming victory. After the elections, all remaining legal opposition in Poland was effectively destroyed. In June 1948, because of the impending unification of the PPR and PPS, Gomułka delivered a talk on the subject of the history of the Polish worker movement.
Gomułka's already well-developed antisemitic tendencies were expressed in a memo written to Stalin in 1948, in which he argued that "some of the Jewish comrades don’t feel any link to the Polish nation or to the Polish working class…or they maintain a stance which might be described as ‘national nihilism’". As a result, he considered it "absolutely necessary not only to stop any further growth in the percentage of Jews in the state as well as the party apparatus, but also to slowly lower that percentage, especially at the highest levels of the apparatus".
Temporary withdrawal from politics
In the late 1940s, Poland's communist government was split by a rivalry between Gomułka and President Bolesław Bierut. Gomułka led a home national group while Bierut headed a group reared by Stalin in the Soviet Union. The struggle ultimately led to Gomułka's removal from power in 1948. While Bierut advocated a policy of complete subservience to Moscow, Gomułka wanted to adopt the Communist blueprint to Polish circumstances. Among other things, he opposed forced collectivization, and was skeptical of the Cominform. The Bierut faction had Stalin's ear, and on Stalin's orders, Gomułka was sacked as party leader for "rightist-nationalist deviation," replaced by Bierut. In December, soon after the PPR and Polish Socialist Party merged to form Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR) (which was essentially the PPR under a new name), Gomułka was dropped from the merged party's Politburo. He was stripped of his remaining government posts in January 1949, and expelled from the party altogether in November. For the next eight years, he performed no official functions and was subjected to persecution, including almost four years of imprisonment from 1951 to 1954.
Bierut died in March 1956, during a period of de-Stalinization in Poland which gradually developed after Stalin's death. Edward Ochab became the new first secretary of the Party. Soon afterward, Gomułka was partially rehabilitated when Ochab conceded that Gomułka should not have been jailed, while reiterating the charges of "rightist-nationalist deviation" against him.
Rise to power
In June 1956, violent worker protests broke out in Poznań. The worker riots were harshly suppressed and dozens of workers were killed. However, the Party leadership, which now included many reform-minded officials, recognized to some degree the validity of the protest participants' demands and took steps to placate the workers.
The reformers in the Party wanted a political rehabilitation of Gomułka and his return to the Party leadership. Gomułka insisted that he be given real power to implement further reforms. He wanted a replacement of some of the Party leaders, including the pro-Soviet Minister of Defense Konstantin Rokossovsky.
The Soviet leadership viewed events in Poland with alarm. Simultaneously with Soviet troop movements deep into Poland, a high-level Soviet delegation flew to Warsaw. It was led by Nikita Khrushchev and included Mikoyan, Bulganin, Molotov, Kaganovich, Marshal Konev and others. Ochab and Gomułka made it clear that Polish forces 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.
Following the wishes of the majority of the Politburo members, First Secretary Ochab conceded and on 20 October the Central Committee brought Gomułka and several associates into the Politburo, removed others, and elected Gomułka as first secretary of the Party. Gomułka, the former prisoner of the Stalinists, enjoyed wide popular support across the country, expressed by the participants of a massive street demonstration in Warsaw on 24 October. Seeing that Gomułka was popular with the Polish people, and given his insistence that he wanted to maintain the alliance with the Soviet Union and the presence of the Red Army in Poland, Khrushchev decided that Gomułka was a leader that Moscow could live with.
Leadership of the Polish People's Republic
Relations with other Eastern Bloc countries
A major factor that influenced Gomułka was the Oder-Neisse line issue. West Germany refused to recognize the Oder-Neisse line and Gomułka realized the fundamental instability of Poland's unilaterally imposed western border. He felt 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 future German invasion. The new Party leader told the 8th Plenum of the PZPR 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". The treaty with West Germany was negotiated and signed in December 1970. The German side recognized the post-World War II borders, which established a foundation for future peace, stability and cooperation in Central Europe.
In 1967–68 Gomułka allowed outbursts of "anti-Zionist" political propaganda, which developed initially as a result of the Soviet bloc's frustration with the outcome of the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War. It turned out to be a thinly veiled anti-Semitic campaign and purge of the army, pursued primarily by others in the Party, but utilized by Gomułka to keep himself in power by shifting the attention of the populace from the stagnating economy and mismanagement. The result was the emigration of the majority of the remaining Polish citizens of Jewish origin. At that time he was also responsible for persecuting protesting students and toughening censorship of the media.
Resignation and retirement
In December 1970, economic difficulties led to price rises and subsequent protests. Gomułka along with his right-hand man Zenon Kliszko ordered the regular Army under General Bolesław Chocha, to shoot striking workers with automatic weapons in Gdańsk and Gdynia. Over 41 shipyard workers of the Baltic coast were killed in the ensuing police-state violence, while well over a thousand people were wounded. The events forced Gomułka's resignation and retirement. In a generational replacement of the ruling elite, Edward Gierek took over the Party leadership and tensions eased.
Gomułka's negative image in communist propaganda after his removal was gradually 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. A heavy smoker, he died in 1982 at the age of 77 of lung cancer. Gomułka's memoirs were not published until 1994, long after his death, and five years after the collapse of the communist regime which he served and led.
Decorations and awards
- Order of the Builders of People's Poland
- Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta
- Partisan Cross
- Order of the Cross of Grunwald, 1st class
- "Rebellious Compromiser". Time Magazine. 10 December 1956. Retrieved 2006-10-14.
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- Andrzej Werblan, Władysław Gomułka. Sekretarz Generalny PPR [Władysław Gomułka: Secretary General of the PPR], pp. 25–44
- [Caviar and Ashes: A Warsaw Generation's Life and Death in Marxism, 1918–1968, p. 149]
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- Adam Leszczyński (17 January 2014). "Towarzysz Zenon, prawa ręka towarzysza Wiesława" [Tovarishch Zenon, the right hand of comrade Wiesław]. Gazeta Wyborcza. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
- WP (7 March 2015). "Władysław Gomułka – gorliwy samouk". Galerie: "Dyktatura ciemniaków". Wiadomości. p. 2.
- Gunther, John (1961). Inside Europe Today. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 332. LCCN 61-9706.
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|Party political offices|
| General Secretary of the Polish Workers' Party
Bolesław Bierut (as General Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party)
| General Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party
21 October 1956 – 20 December 1970