Prof. Zbigniew Wiktor
The history of the communist movement in Poland – as an example for the countries of Eastern Europe
Part 1: Revolutionary Transformations
1. Historical Introduction
The subject "Socialism in Eastern Europe" is a many-sided and complicated question because in many countries of this region different historical, economic, social, national, religious and political conditions have predominated. From the time of the Vienna Congress (1815) to the First World War (1914) Poland was subjected to the political domination of the Prussian monarchy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Tsarist Russia. At the end of the 18th century the Polish feudal state was divided among Prussia, Austria and Russia. Until the middle of the 19th century, the so-called "people’s spring," absolutism ruled in Poland, which lasted in Russia until its defeat in the First World War. For the Prussian-German conquerors at that time, the Polish estates they gained served as an agricultural hinterland. However in the Polish estates – as in Russia at that time – besides agriculture, capitalism developed at high speed, especially after 1863. The abolition of serfdom for the peasants, who gained personal freedom and freedom of movement, and the proletarianization of the population in the countryside were prerequisites for a rapid development of capitalist production. There were four centers of capitalist development in the Polish region: Warsaw, Polish Upper Silesia, Lodz and the so-called old Polish industrial area in the center. Here large quantities of national and foreign capital flowed in, here the centers of the Polish proletariat were formed.
Together with capitalist production, the revolutionary workers movement also developed. In this connection, it is worth mentioning that the first translation of the "Communist Manifesto" into Polish was made, for many Polish emigrants and rebels took part in the First as well as the Second International. Two Polish generals, Jaroslaw Dabrowski and Walery Wroblewski, were the last commanders of the Paris Commune in 1871. At the beginning of the 1880s the first volume of Marx’s "Capital" was also translated into Polish by Ludwik Krcywicki. In the 1870s the workers trade unions, and in the 1880s the first workers parties, were formed: the "Great Proletariat" of Ludwik Warynski was active until 1886 in spite of severe Tsarist repression, then from 1888 there was the "Second Proletariat" and from the same year there was the "Polish Socialist Party", founded by Boreslaw Limanowski. In 1893 the "Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland" was formed, which after 1900 became the "Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania". Generally these were cadre organizations which grouped together members both in Poland and among the emigrants abroad. This diversity of workers parties were a sign of the political-ideological fragmentation of the Polish workers movement, which unfortunately also became greatly weakened by the reformism and opportunism of the Second International. In spite of these problems, the Polish workers movement grew very rapidly; there were mass strikes and particularly the revolutionary struggles of 1905-1907.
After the First World War (1914-1918) there was a new situation in Eastern Europe, which was marked by two important historical developments: the imperialist contradictions of capitalism including the bankruptcy of the Second International and the suffering and destruction that were consequences of the war, and the revolutionary situation in Russia: in February the anti-Tsarist revolution broke out there, which the Bolsheviks transformed in October into the socialist revolution. The first workers and peasants state (since the Paris Commune) emerged, which in 1922 became a great alliance of states, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
During the war the revolutionary forces of the workers movement in all of Europe had united; they worked to transform the imperialist war into a revolutionary war. At the end of 1918 and the beginning of 1919 revolutionary worker parties were formed, such as the Communist Workers Party of Poland, the Communist Party of Germany, somewhat later the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and others. In the beginning of 1919 the Third, Communist International was founded in Moscow and Leningrad. Until 1943 it played an important role in strengthening socialism in the USSR and in establishing communist parties throughout the world. It disseminated the main works of Marxism-Leninism throughout the world, it pursued the communist ideal and organized the proletarian resistance against capitalism and fought in an unprecedented way for peace, social progress and socialism as a state of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
As a result of the First World War many new national states were formed in Eastern Europe, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia and the Baltic states. It was a time of revolutionary situations, for example in Hungary, Germany (the November Revolution, the Bavarian Soviet Republic etc.). However in the end the revolutionary forces were overcome and finally almost everywhere authoritarian regimes of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the large landowners ruled. The communist parties were almost everywhere forced underground and their members, especially their leaders, were brutally persecuted.
In Poland, the situation was especially complicated. The Communist Party of Poland organized its own organs of power, the workers and peasants councils, but the political initiative lay on the one hand with the revisionists and opportunists, and on the other with big capital and the nationalists, who were supported everywhere by the big capitalist countries and centers. They incited Poland into war against the young Soviet Union, which also unleashed a wave of Polish nationalism and chauvinism. In 1926 the coup d’etat of J. Pilsudski took place, which introduced a semi-fascist regime and radically curtailed bourgeois freedoms and democratic rights. Poland strove for a friendly policy towards Hitler Germany and sought its political support against the Soviet Union. This policy led Poland into the catastrophe of 1939.
The internal situation of Poland was marked by problems. The reborn Polish state was torn by economic, national, social, political and religious contradictions. About one-third of the population belonged to various national minorities (especially Ukrainians, White Russians, Jews and Germans). The new state had continual economic problems, which were naturally particularly severe during the crisis of the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s. Unemployment was enormous, especially in the countryside. The overwhelming share of the estates belonged to the small class of landowners, the Polish Junkers, who brutally exploited both the small peasants and the agricultural proletariat – and the overwhelming share of Polish industry was in the hands of foreign capitalist companies whose exploitation of the proletariat in the cities was in no way less than that by the Polish Junkers. The class contradictions grew. Worker and peasant uprisings, mass strikes and police terror which left hundreds dead were the consequences.
Although it was illegal, the Communist Party of Poland led large-scale activities and also a parliamentary struggle: in the 1920s it was very successful with its electoral platform "the proletariat of the cities and the villages"; it received almost a million votes, had a parliamentary group of ten representatives and it also achieved good results in local votes, sometimes in alliance with other progressive forces.
The Communist Party of Poland functioned until 1938. Then it was dissolved by the Executive Committee of the Communist International. Until today the reasons and conditions of the dissolution have not been made definitively clear. Nevertheless the Communist Party of Poland led the Polish proletariat in the class struggle for over 20 years; it had great successes in supporting the Soviet Union and won great merit for the spread of Marxism-Leninism. Its political and ideological work created a good basis for the rebirth of the Polish Workers Party during the fascist occupation and after that for the establishment of the People’s Republic of Poland and for the construction of socialism.
2. The Establishment of the People’s Republic of Poland
In September 1939 Hitler Germany attacked Poland and after a month the Polish state suffered a great defeat. In 1940 Hitler Germany conquered first France and then other countries of Europe. In June 1941 fascist Germany attacked the Soviet Union; the war became a world war at the latest from that time. This was a new historic situation; the anti-Hitler coalition was formed and both through the war against the Soviet Union and through the existence of the anti-Hitler coalition, conditions changed for the international workers movement. In the year 1942, in Poland occupied by fascist Germany, the Polish Workers Party (PPR) was formed under the leadership of Marceli Nowotko. This party once again took up the banner of socialism and the independence of the Polish people. The party grew many times over by the year 1945 and became a center of political and military resistance against the fascist occupation. Although it lost many cadres through persecution, there was an even greater influx of new forces so that it became continually stronger. By 1944 it was a strong, widely spread-out and firmly anchored party with base organizations and partisan units, and it also organized illegal organs of power. At that time, Wladyslaw Gomulka was Secretary-General of the PPR.
On July 21, 1944, in the zones liberated by the Red Army and units of the Polish Army the Committee for National Liberation of Poland was established, which would become the provisional government of People’s Poland. A day later, on July 22, 1944, the Committee distributed a manifesto that contained the program of popular democratic reforms, which later led to socialist transformation. A few days later the Committee established its headquarters in Lublin. The People’s Republic of Poland arose as the negation of the state of bourgeois capital and large landowners. The leading force of this change was the working class which in alliance with other classes and strata of the Polish people pushed through revolutionary changes.
In Poland, capitalist development had taken place late in comparison with Western Europe; therefore the revolution had two sides: a people’s democratic one and a socialist one.
Many-sided contradictions complicated the situation, to which the new political system did not always know how to react. One must realize in this connection that at the beginning of People’s Poland the politically active majority of Polish society was under the influence of the large landowners and the big bourgeoisie. These were also supported by the Catholic Church, which had a great deal of religious and ideological influence on the masses. The decisive factor for the emergence of People’s Poland was not a revolutionary mass movement, but rather the defeat of the fascist occupation in Poland and the victory of the Red Army, whose presence on Polish territory paralyzed the activities of the Polish counter-revolution. One must be clear that People’s Poland was established from the beginning as a state of the conscious revolutionary minority. In addition to this problem, the situation was intensified by the half-open civil war, which by the end of the 1940s led to more than 20,000 victims among the Polish communists and their allies. Of course this civil war was supported by the Western imperialist powers.
A revolution cannot be carried out by a small minority; the revolutionary forces must find allies in order to win the support of the majority of the politically active population. The Communists and their allies (Socialists, Democrats, radical peasants movement) had, in order to reach this majority, to also lead the struggle further after the establishment of the People’s Power and during the revolutionary transformations and prove that as a result the living conditions of the working masses would be improved. The situation was made more difficult because there was no revolutionary situation in Poland: the people’s democratic revolution was only possible because of the all-sided support and aid of the socialist camp, above all of its leading force, the USSR. The Soviet Union, its development and aid were of decisive significance for the development of every anti-capitalist revolution. The international balance of forces determined that. The intensive association of the Polish revolution with the Soviet Union was a historic necessity; it resulted from the identity of development, the same goals and interests – just as the present pro-imperialist orientation of the Polish bourgeoisie today – which is unfortunately in power – results from its goals of development and interests.
The integration of People’s Poland into the socialist camp and the alliance with the Soviet Union did not mean a limitation or even liquidation of Polish sovereignty – as current bourgeois propaganda would have us believe; rather it was a conscious decision of the Polish revolutionary forces and a necessity of the development of the world revolutionary process. The Polish revolution had to prove, against the historical burdens of anti-communism and deep-rooted enmity against the Soviet Union, that the alliance with the socialist countries and especially with the Soviet Union was of decisive significance for the revolutionary process and served the interests of the working people, that it was the guarantee for the liquidation of the roots and causes of poverty and exploitation – in order to undermine the basis for anti-communism and to create a new social consciousness.
But it was also difficult for the further process of the revolution, since the Western European imperialist countries very soon after the Second World War went over to a welfare state, which obscured the class contradictions and weakened the internal class struggle in these countries and limited its aims.
The main question for the first stage of the Polish revolution was to win the confidence of the working people, in order for them to consciously take part in the revolutionary transformations. The situation was difficult. First, Poland suffered from great economic and technological backwardness, which had intensified under the fascist occupation during the Second World War. This backwardness played a big role in the competition with the developed capitalist countries. Second, very soon after the Second World War the imperialist countries began an active counter-revolutionary military policy, for they never had abandoned their goal of liquidating socialism. The open threats of war forced the socialist countries including Poland to greatly increase their expenses for defense, which intensified the internal difficulties and problems. Third the counter-revolutionary forces were in a very good situation to wait for new conditions and to expand their anti-socialist efforts from underground – often with the help of the Catholic Church. At the same time they could take advantage of the theoretical, programmatic and organizational weaknesses of the revolutionary forces, for in Poland there were strongly rooted reactionary bourgeois and reactionary late-feudal tendencies, which also left their marks within the revolutionary forces, for the actually politically active were in the ranks of the revolution, in the ranks of the Polish Workers Party and after 1948 in the ranks of the Polish United Workers Party.
3. Historic Changes of People’s Poland in the 1940s
The people’s democratic revolution had to first complete of the bourgeois-democratic tasks, because the remnants of feudalism would have completely checked a socialist transformation. So a radical land reform had to be carried out, which had already begun in the fall of 1944 in the regions liberated by the people’s power. At this time about 212,000 hectares of land were distributed to about 110,000 peasant families. This reform was further carried out through land distribution in the newly won [i.e. from Germany] regions of Poland. The indebtedness of the peasants and their eternal hunger for land were thus lifted, and good conditions emerged for a more productive agricultural production. Large land ownership was liquidated. By 1949 the land reform distributed more than two million hectares of land in the old regions of Poland and more than four million hectares in the newly won regions. The land reform achieved important political results, for it neutralized the anti-socialist forces in the countryside and increased the possibilities for the Communists to form alliances. And it changed the property relationships in the West and North of the country, the newly won regions.
The next step was the nationalization of the large and medium-sized industry, which was carried out on the basis of the laws of January 1946. The nationalization of industry was a decisive prerequisite for the concentration of the means of production in the hands of the Polish state and the introduction of the centrally administered economy as the basis for a planned economy. At the same time, the nationalization created the possibility of using the material potential for the interests of the working people, for the all-sided development of Polish society, for the foundation of the all-sided system of people’s control – exercised by the working class – in production as well as distribution of goods. That meant that the Polish economy, the whole Polish society was developing step-by-step towards socialism. The nationalization also meant the liquidation of the material basis and potential of the bourgeoisie and the economic power of foreign capital, which controlled more than 60% of industry in Poland before the Second World War. This development was accompanied by sharp class struggles and outstanding political successes, so that in the referendum of 1946 and the parliamentary election of January 1947 the counter-revolutionary forces suffered serious defeats.
In the years from 1945 to 1948 People’s Poland had achieved great things and made important gains. During the Second World War the Polish economy lost 40% of its potential; 66% of its industrial enterprises were destroyed. More than 6 millions Polish citizen died either at the front or in the camps. There were especially great losses in the areas of culture, science and generally the products of the intelligentsia. Now the economic system was being reconstructed after this barbaric destruction of the war. Already by 1948 industrial production and domestic production were greater than in 1938.
In the Potsdam Accords, Poland gained its just border along the Oder and the Lusatian Neisse Lausitzer rivers and in the North along the wide Baltic coast. These borders were recognized by the GDR in the Görlitz Treaty of 1950. Poland developed good relations with the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. In 1945 the government of People’s Poland was recognized by the great powers and the decisive majority of the countries of the world. That was one of the bases for the stabilization of foreign relations but also within the country.
In this period unemployment, which in pre-war times had been a chronic mass epidemic, was quickly eliminated. Economic development and the improvement of living conditions were real political arguments in the struggle against the counter-revolutionary forces, against their plans for the preparation of an anti-socialist uprising, and they led to further stabilization and strengthening of People’s Power. Also People’s Poland legally separated church and state, which brought about a new basis for relationships with religious denominations. In September of 1948 both Polish workers parties, the "Polish Workers Party" and the "Polish Socialist Party" united on the basis of Marxism-Leninism after a prolonged collaboration. The "Polish United Workers Party" emerged under the leadership of Chairperson Boleslaw Bierut.
4. The Significance of the Six-Year Plan
Thanks to the good results of the phase of reconstruction, in 1949-1955 People’s Poland was able to move on to the realization of new tasks in the framework of the Six-Year Plan. The plan had a great influence on the further development of Poland, for it changed the socio-economic structure of Polish society, even though all the goals could not be fulfilled – particularly in agriculture and in food production. As a result, Poland was transformed from an agrarian-industrial country into an industrial-agrarian country. Thousands of new enterprises and entire new branches of industry were constructed. The share of the socialist sector in Polish production rose from 1/3 in 1947 to 2/3 after the completion of the Six-Year Plan. Thus the social economy and particularly state industry became the main and decisive material base of the country.
During this time, the foundations of the economic potential of People’s Poland were created, new industries emerged, the industrial basis of agriculture was created, the construction industry and apartment building developed at great speed ("Warsaw speed"). The urbanization of the country resulted and millions of people found better living conditions in the cities. This development was accompanied by the building up of the people’s educational system and the education of new, highly skilled cadre in all social spheres. This rapid industrialization, as we already mentioned above, liquidated mass unemployment – above all in the countryside – which in pre-war Poland affected between five and nine million people.
The Six-Year Plan was the greatest economic achievement of this time and its results formed the stable basis for further socialist transformations. The realization of the plan required the maximum exertion of effort by all classes and strata of People’s Poland and an enormous courage by the Communists. The need to produce arms because of the imperialist policies of "Cold War" and finally the Korean War (for Poland the remilitarization of the Federal Republic of Germany was especially threatening) led to negative phenomena such as the decline in the standard of living of the working people. But the achievements of the Six-Year Plan were so gigantic and they so obviously proved the truth, which the good and reliable socialist road that the people and the political leadership of the country under the leadership of Boleslaw Bierut followed, served the current and future interests of the working class and all working people. That made the struggle for the consciousness of the working people and for the support of People’s Power in Poland easier.
Translated from the German by George Gruenthal
Secretary of the USFSP
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