Post-War Poland, 1945-1948 1969-1981

People's Republic, 1948-1969

A.) Foreign Policy

According to an agreement with Stalin, many Ukrainians living on the Polish side of the border in Galicia, were forced to emigrate, while Polish refugees immigrated from the Ukrainian side. In Poland, Ukrainian rebels resisted for quite some time.
Because of Stalin's orders, the Polish government rejected the MARSHALL PLAN AID offered to it; Poland joined COMECON instead in 1949. Poland joined the UN and regularly supported the Soviet position. In 1949 the eastern bloc's military alliance, the WARSAW PACT, was established at a meeting held in Poland's capital.
During the Korean war, Poland took a neutral position, sympathizing with North Korea. After the armistice of 1953, Polish officers participated in the NNSC (Neutral Nations' Supervisory Commission) that was to supervise the armistice conditions being kept by all belligerents on the Korean peninsula (together with Czechoslovaks, Swedes and Swiss, the commission being presided by an Indian).
Poland and the German Democratic Republic signed an agreement in which the GDR, as successor of the German Empire (the GDR claimed to be the sole legitimate government in/of Germany), gave up all claims on the German territory east of the ODER-NEISSE LINE (and the Stettin/Szcecin area), while Poland gave up any additional reparation claims against Germany.
Although Wladyslaw Gomulka established a Polish Road to Socialism, in deviation of the Soviet model, in 1956, and was perceived by the west as an antagonist of Moscow - this resulted in US bank loans to the Polish state - in terms of foreign policy Gomulka did not deviate from the Soviet course. In 1968, when Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia and ended the PRAGUE SPRING, Polish forces were among them.

Domestic Policy

In 1948 a PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC was proclaimed. A state-planned economy according to the Soviet model was introduced. The non-communist political parties and organizations had either been dissolved or made docile. The CATHOLIC CHURCH as the strongest remaining independent organization found herself under strong political pressure. A CONSTITUTION was adopted in 1952.
In 1953 the Polish government had to reverse her economic policy, ended and even reversed the collectivization of farmland. In 1956, in the wake of DESTALINIZATION in the USSR, moderate WLADYSLAW GOMULKA took over political power in Poland. In order to prevent the HUNGARIAN RISING ignite a similar event in Poland (massive demonstrations on June 28th in Poznan, had an estimated 100,000 participants; the security forces applied water guns and even small arms fire; 75 dead, several hundred were wounded), he made economic concessions and liberalized state control - unpopular hardliners such as Rokossowski were replaced by moderates, state censorship relaxed, an agreement with the country'a Catholic Church signed, defining a modus vivendi and reducing pressure on the latter. Even travel restrictions were eased. Gomulka achieved his short-term goal of avoiding Poland turning into a second Hungary; with long-term consequences - the Poles living beyond their means - that would be burdensome for the future. Gomulka proclaimed a POLISH ROAD TO SOCIALISM; the political unrest that threatened and narrowly was avoided, had provided Gomulka with the opportunity to implement a socialist policy that considerably deviated from the Soviet model, to a larger extent than any other government within the Soviet bloc was permitted.

The Economy

With Poland being declared a People's Republic, a PLANNED ECONOMY was introduced, the industrial facilities nationalized, farms collectivized. Resistance against collectivization was forcefully suppressed.
In Gdansk (the former Danzig) and Szczecin (the former Stettin), large shipyards produced ships for the Soviet navy. Other thriving industries in early socialist Poland were Upper Silesia's coal mining, machinery production (Lodz) etc.
The forced collectivization of farmland had disastrous consequences; Poland - traditionally a grain exporter - had to import food, including grain, to prevent famine. In 1951 FOOD RATIONING was reintroduced. The goals set in the six year plan were not met; the standard of living actually sank. In 1953, Stalin just had died and East Germany had seen massive demonstrations suppressed by the Soviet army, the Polish government reversed her earlier policy, terminated the policy of collectivization and even reprivatized collectivized land, Poland becoming the onlu country of Europe's socialist block in which landowning farmers formed a vital part of the economy. Prices for their products, however, were still set by the state. For the moment the policy was an instant success; the farmers soon producted abundant food.
The 1950es were a period in which communist economic planners looked optimistically into the future. Her cities were rebuilt, new large-scale industrial facilities were constructed. In 1956 the Gomulka administration, fearful of the Hungarian example finding followers in Poland, raised wages and lowered prices. A western observer described Poland in 1964 as having the highest standard of living among the communist nations of Eastern Europe (Kelly 1964 p.124). However, this standard of living was paid for by state subsidies for most products sold on the market. Interestingly, the Gomulka administration was given considerable loans from US banks, which helped to cover up the momentary budget deficit. The observed, relatively high standard of living was one of the causes of the economic decline in later decades.
The situation of Poland's agriculture deteriorated in the 1960es, when poor harvests repeatedly were caused by bad weather. The agricultural sector largely was in private hands; the state channelled investments in state-owned sectors, with the consequence that the agricultural sector declined. Further areas drained of necessary investment were construction and maintenance of housing and the consumer industry, both with devastating long-term consequences.

Intellectual Life

In the early years of communist rule, artists and writers were subject to strict scrutiny; artists had to stick to SOCIALIST REALISM. Yet Poles of all political opinions shared a common experience - the eventful years under Nazi occupation, which artists and writers could reflect upon. The historically accurate reconstruction of Poland's cities was a challenging task, and in no country in Europe a better result was achieved than in Poland. Their expertise was generally recognized, and when historical buildings were restored anywhere in western Europe in the 1980es and 1990es, Polish firms were involved. Monuments memorizing the victims of the Warsaw uprisings, the victims of the Holocaust were erected. Of course, KATYN was a taboo topic.
The government change in 1956 brought a relaxation of censorship; artists were given more freedom to express themselves, even to criticize the system, and they made use of it.
The CATHOLIC CHURCH remained a strong force in Poland's intellectual life. Cardinal STEFAN WYSZYNSKI in 1953 was placed under house arrest (-1956). With the liberalization in 1956, Catholic organizations such as KIK, the Club of Catholic Intellectuals, were permitted to form; they quickly became an integral part of Polish cultural life, if only as a tolerated (yet observed by the secret police) subculture.
In the mid-1960es intellectuals were disillusioned with the Gomulkas regime and the country's economic development. JACEK KURON and LESZEK KOLAKOWSKI openly criticized mismanagement and an economic policy that failed in her goals and was responsible for the misery (1965 resp. 1966). When, in March 1968, the performance of a 19th century patriotic (ant anti-Russian) drama written by Adam Mickiewicz, FOREFATHERS, was closed down by state authorities, student demonstrations followed; thousands were arrested. .

Summary of Vojtech Mastny, "'We Are in a Bind': Polish and Czechoslovak Attempts at Reforming the Warsaw Pact, 1956-1969," Cold War International History Project Bulletin 11 (1998): 230-50, from Cold War Page at MtHolyoke
DOCUMENTS The Warsaw Pact, 1955, from Modern History Sourcebook
31 October 1956, "U.S. Policy toward Developments in Poland and Hungary," NSC-5616, a "sanitized" version with deletions was published in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-57, vol. 25, pp. 463-69; its full version is available at the National Security Archive, RN 66037, from Did NATO Win the Cold War? , National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 14, GWU, facsimile, in English
Memorandum on the Warsaw Treaty and the Development of the Armed Forces of the People's Republic of Poland, 10 January 1957, from Did NATO Win the Cold War? , The Warsaw Pact command and staff exercise MAZOWSZE, conducted in Poland in June 1963, from Did NATO Win the Cold War? , National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 14, GWU
Polish banknotes, from Ron Wise's World Paper Money, and from Currency Museum
Polish Posters of the 1940s and 1950s, from Internet Museum of Polish History
Compilation of documents on the history of the Polish People's Republic, from Internet Museum of the Polish People's Republic, mostly in Polish, includes constitutions of 1947, 1952
Estimates of Death Toll in 1956 Rebellion, posted by Matthew White, scroll down for Poland
Constitution of 1952, from, in German
REFERENCE Eric P. Kelly, The Land and People of Poland, Philadelphia : J.B. Lippincott, (1943) revised ed. 1964
M.B. Biskupski, The History of Poland, Westport : Greenwood 2000
Chapter 23 : Satellites and Soviet Policy, pp.327-352, in : John Gunther, Inside Europe Today, NY : Harper & Bros. 1961 [G]
Article Poland, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1950 pp.553-554, 1951 pp.562-563, 1952 pp.563-565, 1953 pp.567-568, 1954 pp.567-568, 1955 pp.615-616, 1956 pp.553-554, 1957 pp.616-619, 1958 pp.551-552, 1959 pp.550-551, 1960 pp.549-551, 1961 pp.562-563, 1962 pp.551-552, 1963 pp.656-658, 1964 pp.667-668, 1965 pp.642-643, 1966 pp.616-617, 1967 pp.626-627, 1968 pp.626-628, 1969 pp.607-608 [G]
Article : Poland, in : Americana Annual 1957 pp.630-633, 1961 pp.596-598, 1962 pp.604-606, 1963 pp.535-537, 1964 pp.532-534, 1965 p.570, 1967 pp.547-548, 1968 pp.539-541, 1969 pp.542-543, 1970 pp.548 [G]
Article : Poland, in : Funk & Wagnall's New Standard Encyclopedia Year Book 1952 pp.327-329, 1961 pp.264-265 [G]

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First posted in 2000, last revised on March 21st 2007

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