Polish Uprising

   A series of revolts and rebellions that led to a number of liberalizing reforms in Poland. Disillusionment with Stalinist rule in Poland had been developing for some time, and the appetite for change was whetted following reforms enacted by the Polish government after the 1953 death of Josef Stalin that freed 100,000 political prisoners and abolished the detested Ministry of the Interior. Economic changes were also made, with alterations that would allow the system to take heed of consumer demand. The Stalinist system had come under increased criticism by Poles as a consequence of pressures from within Poland and proceedings in the Soviet Union. Writers and intellectuals expressed their resentment at the influence of Stalinism in popular culture, Polish Communist Party members grew fatigued at the subordination of their interests to those of Moscow, and economists urged the creation of a more flexible economic system in tune with Polish rather than Soviet needs.
   Nikita Khrushchev’s endeavors to gain a rapprochement in 1955 with Yugoslavia appeared to offer hope to those in Poland who believed in the validity of “separate roads to socialism,” while the Soviet leader’s denunciation of Stalin at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February 1956 seemed to legitimize calls for a break with Stalinism. Further hope that reform was imminent came when the Stalinist leader of Poland, Boleslaw Bierut, passed away, an event that allowed for election of the liberal Edward Ochab as first secretary of the party.
   With indifference toward the Soviet regime rife, and glimmers of optimism that reform was possible frequent, revolt looked likely. In June 1956 industrial workers in Poznan began to strike against desperate economic conditions that had led to widespread hunger. The revolt was contagious, and soon a general strike began amid an atmosphere of constant protest and riot, with demands no longer merely economic but also political. What ensued was a massacre led by Soviet Deputy Minister of Defense Konstantin Rokossovsky, with 53 demonstrators left dead and hundreds more injured as the government clamped down on dissent. Nevertheless, the reformists’ demands had achieved the support of both the majority of the population and important figures within the party. Aware that such will for change could not simply be swept under the carpet, the Polish communist regime looked for a leader who could achieve reform moderate enough not to cause concern for hard-liners, and yet far-reaching enough to appease reformists. Accordingly, Wladyslaw Gomulka was identified and duly elected as first secretary of the party at the end of October and, in spite of Soviet objections, he went about installing a new, liberal Politburo. Gomulka’s masterstroke was to persuade Moscow of his ability to keep change to a minimum and curtail disturbance to the regime, therefore avoiding Russian invasion, the cruel fate that had met the 1956 Hungarian Uprising. In reality this amounted to discarding the liberal program that the reformists of 1956 had fought to implement, and by the conclusion of the next decade, Gomulka had developed into an orthodox communist leader firmly in the pocket of Moscow.
   Following the lead of the German Democratic Republic, Poland was the second Eastern European country to strive for a release from at least some of the shackles of Soviet rule, and subsequently prompted similar attempts in Hungary. Such rebellions served as early warnings to the Soviet Marxist regime that it was far from infallible.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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