Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Disenchanted Voices: Public Opinion in Cracow, 1945-1946

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Disenchanted Voices: Public Opinion in Cracow, 1945-1946

Article excerpt

Studies on the immediate post-war years in Poland have usually been confined to the policies of the various domestic parties or have touched upon the nation's place on the international stage. But very little has been done on the Polish people and their attitudes during this period. Naturally, there have been many reasons for this historiographical imbalance. First of all, given the political climate in Poland in the latter half of the 1940s, it was hard to gauge people's feelings on a national, or even regional, level. There was no true free press and opinion polls were unheard of at this time. Also, accessibility to Polish archives was far from perfect during much of the post-war period. But the collapse of the Soviet Bloc has provided historians with an opportunity to examine fully the genesis of Communisth in Poland.

Covering the two years following the liberation of Cracow froth German control in January 1945, this paper examines how Poles in the province of Cracow thought and felt about the political developments in their nation.(2) Since sociological surveys from this period are, for the most part, non-existent, documents mainly from the Soviet-sponsored Polish Workers Party (PPR) were used to recreate partially the popular mood in the province. The picture that these files and other sources portray is one of a region that is highly suspicious and critical of the Communists, the security organs they controlled, and the Red Army. Poles in Cracow viewed the PPR as a tool of Soviet domination. Furthermore, documents reveal that not all of the PPR's members were committed Communists. Some in the rank-and-file were far from vigorous in their political rigor, while others had little detailed knowledge of the Communist platform.

However, the research also shows that there strains of hope within the populace that the non-Communist parties and the PPR would come to some sort of political compromise, bringing social stability. But even that hope faded in the end. While not conclusive, the evidence seems to show that after the rigged June 1946 referendum the people's resistance began to whither as the nation slowly accepted the fact that the Communists would remain in power.

As the main agent of the country's sovietization, the PPR faced many barriers in winning any significant amount of popular support. First of all, Poland's Communist were burdened by the legacy of the unpopular pre-war KPP, the Communist Party of Poland. "... In the eyes of the great majority of Poles, the KPP was a foreign, subversive agency of Moscow, bent on the destruction of Poland's hard-won independence and the incorporation of Poland into the Soviet Union."(3) In the aftermath of the First World War, the Communists, refusing to recognize their country's independence, boycotted the 1919 parliamentary elections and supported the Bolsheviks in their invasion of Poland during the Russo-Polish War of 1919-20. Even after the war, the Communists were still hostile towards Polish "bourgeois" statehood.

Unfortunately for the KPRP, the rest of the nation did not subscribe to their Party's revolutionary policies.(4) After deciding to participate in the 1922 elections, the KPRP won only two seats to the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, which were lost by the 1930s. Among the working class, the influence of the Communists was small. Only 77,000 were in the KPRP's trade unions in 1919, compared to 93,000 who were in unions under the influence of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), whose trade union membership swelled to one million by 1921.(5)

The reborn Communist PPR tried to shed that legacy by adopting a different name and changing its platform, especially towards the independence of Poland.(6) But the prestige of the traditional political forces remained quite high during the war, while the underground was solidly united against the PPR and kept it politically isolated.(7) And it was still evident to almost everyone that the PPR was in power after the war only because of the presence of the Red Army. …

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