Communist Ships and Shipping

Communist Ships and Shipping

Communist Ships and Shipping

Communist Ships and Shipping

Excerpt

The first ten years of Polish restoration of a shipping industry and the construction of a post-war shipbuilding industry was almost totally obscured by the publicity given abroad to ideological and espionage activities of Communist Party crew members in Polish ships visiting and trading abroad. The most famous incidents took place on board or in connection with the Batory, the ageing flagship of the Polish merchant fleet. At the height of the Stalinist grip on Eastern Europe, during the early 1950s, defections from the Polish navy exceeded those from the Soviet merchant fleet. There were two reasons for this. First, the Soviet Union had forced Poland into the role of major shipping operator and shipbuilder in the Communist Bloc and had imposed Soviet-style political controls on captains and crews at sea who, only a few years previously, had been fighting in defence of freedom with the Allied convoys. Secondly, there were almost no Russian ships on international trade routes during these years from which Russian crew members could defect in a Western port. Add to these reasons the traditional Polish mistrust and even hatred of the Russians, and it is not hard to understand why the period of political indoctrination at sea was certain to produce opposition which would inevitably become known in nations outside the Communist Bloc with whom Polish ships traded.

Ideological controls over Polish industry probably started soon after the war, when the Polish United Workers' (Communist) Party had eliminated pre-war Socialist and agrarian elements from the Cabinet and the Sejm of the new Communist régime. Where shipping and shipbuilding were concerned, the party apparatus was quickly introduced. By 1953, every Polish ship afloat, whether visiting other Communist States or more particularly non-Communist ports, was supplied with one and often several 'political representatives'. Called politruks, they were identical to the political officers borne in Soviet ships since the late 1920s. Apart from their vicious duty of spying on fellow crew members, what caused most resentment among Polish ships' crews was the fact that few of these officials were professional seamen, but had acquired professional status by becoming ships' radio . . .

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