Academic journal article East European Quarterly

The Polish Socialist Party, 1945-1948

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

The Polish Socialist Party, 1945-1948

Article excerpt

The unification of the Communist and Socialist parties in Soviet dominated countries of Eastern Europe after the Second World War is tightly seen as a point of no return in the process of the establishment of single party states in Central Europe. By 1948 the brief period of political pluralism was brought to an end by the destruction of all parties and organised political life independent of the Communists. The absorption of the Socialist organisations into the Communist movement is generally seen as the culmination of that process.

While the policies of the Communist parties have tended to be the focus of most studies relating to the period 1995-1948, the non-Communist parties have generally been accorded less attention. As a result, their own ideological dilemmas and struggles to come to terms with the post-war reality have been at best ignored, at worst dismissed as irrelevant. In reality, notwithstanding the obvious fact that the Soviet Union determined the course of internal developments after the end of hostilities, the Social Democratic parties of Eastern Europe did adjust to the new reality, did negotiate with other parties to form electoral blocs and among many problems faced, seriously discussed unity with the Communist parties. The case of Poland offers an interesting example of the durability of Social Democratic ideas and indicates the nature of internal conflicts which contributed to its weaknesses.

It is the aim of this article to show the active part played by the Socialist movement in the period following the liberation of Poland. The demise of the Polish Socialist Party cannot be compared with the destruction of the other major political party in Poland, the Polish Peasant Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe--PSL). The distinction lay in the fact that whereas the Polish Peasant Party was viewed by the Communists as a rival and hostile party, the Socialists were treated as a kindred left wing movement. The PPR's hoped that the divisions of the Socialist movement into the Social Democratic and the Communist Parties in the period immediately after the First World War could be reversed and unity of the Left could be re-established. Thus the Communist's attitude towards the Peasant Party was one of hostility whereas in 1945 organisational unity was the main aim of their policies towards the PPS. In the period 1945-1948 Polish Socialists carefully and extensively discussed this issue. The PPS rebuilt its party structure, held on to its old membership and attracted new supporters. It rationally discussed and considered the PPR's stated aim of unity. To sum up, during the brief period of political pluralism, before the Communists presented the PPS with an ultimatum demanding organisational unity, the party leadership remained fully in charge of the party and its membership. Far from consistently shirking the possibility of unity with the Communists, the PPS leadership discussed that possibility, some welcomed it and others opposed the idea.

This article will concentrate on analysing the debates which took place within the Socialist Party during the stated period. It will show how complex were the choices faced by the PPS leadership. The period 1945-1948 was a time of vigorous and uninhibited debates. Many factors combined to create an atmosphere in which the need for unity, even organisational unity, appeared to some to be a correct response to internal economic problems and the growing international threats.

WAR YEARS, 1939-1944

One of the first major problem faced by the newly reconstructed Socialist Party was that of legitimacy. The question of whether the postwar PPS was a new organisation or the continuation of the pre-war party arose because of the party's earlier response to Nazi occupation.

In September 1939, in extremely difficult circumstances caused by the surrender of Warsaw, the PPS publicised a decision to suspend its activities for the duration of the war. …

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