Poland

on the World Today

THERE is a vitality in Poland which is hard to define, probably because it is an expression of qualities which the Polish people possess in great variety and abundance. It has preserved them for a thousand years; it has brought them, stunned but unbeaten, through the recent war.

The German occupation of Poland was an example of oppression, degradation, massacre, and starvation more terrible than a nightmare devised by a host of devils. A dog or a rat had a better right to life than a Pole. The list of crimes has filled many books; suffice it to say that the Germans were responsible for the disappearance of six million people in Poland: that in Warsaw during the Insurrection in 1944, in eight weeks 200,000 citizens were buried under their houses or hunted, shot, and hanged in the streets; that then the Germans systematically, block by block, looted and blew up the greater part of the city.

The evil of those years has left its mark on each man, woman, and child; the ash heap of the Warsaw ghetto and the deserted extermination camps spread round the country bear them silent witness. Remember, then, that the Poles hate and fear Germany.

Russia, too, fears Germany, and it is Poland’s misfortune that her geographical position is of such vital importance to the Soviet Union. Ideologically, Russia is imperialistic, and because she does not trust any country in which those in power do not share her brand of social organization, she must begin by controlling those nearest to her borders. To these countries she can say that their only hope of security against invasion from the West (and to a Polo “the West” can only mean Germany) lies in a reliance on her to defend them. It is a twoedged weapon. How far Russia succeeds depends on the resilience of each country.

By tradition and by character, Poland is an independent nation and will not submit easily to interference from another power. The Poles are an energetic and fiercely patriotic people. The current of life which runs in them is swift, as swift and dangerous as the tides of the Vistula. Their strongest instinct is to survive in a hostile environment. They are a Slav people with a Western culture and, above all, a Western Church: and their culture and their Church are at odds with their Slav heredity.

An unfettered alliance with Russia could be a natural outcome of Poland’s geographical position. But Russia regards Poland as the most important of her satellites, and her Interference in Polish affairs has aroused a deep resentment and a growing antagonism in all but a small percentage of the people. She places her nominees in high positions in the government. If they are to keep their jobs, they must play the Kremlin game. Many are Jews.

The Jews suffered ghastly persecution in Eastern Europe and now look to Russian Communism as a safeguard for their future; without it they might scatter and perish under renewed persecution. For the purposes of Russian Communism the Jew may become a useful scapegoat.

In Poland, as in other Eastern European countries, the Jews are not liked. Before the war there were three million of them, and their influence on the whole economic and commercial life of the country is still resented. Now there are 100,000, and among them men who are dominant in the government and who have been trained by Moscow. Though few Poles will admit it, some of them are capable and honest men who regard Poland as their home and are working for her betterment.

One party in power

The recent merger of the two main parties in Poland — the Socialist (PPS) and the Communist (PPR) — means, in effect, the eclipse of the Socialists and the emergence of an all-powerful United Workers’ Party pledged to support Russian Communism or, to use an old-fashioned term, Bolshevism. In the words of Lenin, when he spoke of the All-Soviet Communist Party, this new party will become the wisdom and conscience of the new stage of the Polish nation’s history.

The Poles exchanged a hated German occupation for an administration which brought them stability, prosperity, a will to work, and — to those who blend a belief in Communism with a love of their country a realization of their potential position as a buffer state between Communist Russia and the democratic West. Since the defection of Marshal Tito, however, the administration, backed by the secret police, has become increasingly ruthless in its control of all phases of Polish life.

Open opposition to the government has disappeared. Fear of the secret police, who in many cases need to go no further than calling the offender up for “questioning,” is enough to produce a passive attitude, a wish to live quietly and inconspicuously. A passivity which leads to resignation can be of benefit only to the government, but fortunately the Poles are not a passive people. They are working hard for their recovery, so they look beyond the present into a future when their strength may yet overcome the impositions of a foreign domination. It is very important that the United States and Great Britain should not let the Poles feel that they are being left to stew in Russian juice.

Apart from the character of the Poles t hemselves, there is another powerful factor of strength and hope in Poland. The Catholic Church in Catholic Poland exerts a great influence, particularly on the peasants, who form the greater part of the population. All over the country, the churches are full, and until the death of the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Hlond, in October of last year, religion was left comparatively free. Since his death the government has shown its teeth; many Catholic schools have been closed and members of religious orders have been turned out of their houses.

Curbing the people

During the occupation, one of the many tenacious features of Polish resistance was the passion for learning which, despite German decrees excluding the Poles from any but elementary education, sent young people to underground schools and universities. Now, once more, the fountain of learning runs but the water is not what it was. Education centers are being formed which will gradually envelop all teaching in the theories of Marx and Lenin. At present they can only take care of the Party member, the man or woman disciple. Children’s schools are still fairly free from ideological penetration but this will change as the supply of teachers increases. The rewritten history of Poland will make strange reading for those who remember.

The whole status of the law is being revised. The official view is that “in the present day a lawyer’s impartiality means that he continues to hold reactionary views.”The law will become an instrument of government; no longer will the people have an independent body to protect them.

There has been plenty of money in circulation, particularly among the poorer and peasant classes. But there are signs that the government will intensify its vigilance against what it calls “speculation.”First to suffer will be any persons who have managed to make a little money through thenown initiative. Already pressure on them is becoming harder; their accounts and transactions are investigated, they are questioned, they are taxed. The government maintains that there is a place for private enterprise, but the government controls it.

In Poland as in the other satellite countries, “economic sabotage" is now a punishable offense. The list of crimes ranges from high-level trading to spending too much money on a meal or throwing away a half-smoked cigarette.

New Six-Year Plan

Just as the members in the government have been purged for the sake of Party purity, so, in industry, a similar shake-up is going on. Many trained managers and executives are being replaced by untrained Party men. The effect on the Polish economy cannot yet be assessed. It has made a prosperous progress in the last three years — so much so that the Three-Year Plan which was due to end in December, 1949, is ahead of schedule and will soon be replaced by a Six-Year Plan.

This Plan, which covers the most mature of the satellites, should be an interesting guide for the future of them all. It will certainly provide for a large-scale movement of workers from agriculture to industry, which necessarily involves collectivization of agriculture. Machines must do the work of men. This extremely unpopular process, known in Russia as kolkhoz, will not be easy. At present, state farms manage about 10 per cent of Poland’s arable area.

The squeezing out of the kulak (or rich peasant) has begun and there is merciless propaganda against him. It is doubtful whether this will succeed, because in Poland there are no class distinctions among the peasants. Life is based on the village and there has been no great shift of population in the past. Families have intermarried for five hundred years and there is consequently no animosity between them: a brother, cousin, father-in-law can be a kulak.

It is a moot point whether there are many people in the government who think that rapid collectivization is smart. It will need large quantities of agricultural machinery, which the Poles have not got, large-scale financial assistance from capital, and, in the words of a government spokesman, “a radical change in the psychology of the individual farmer.” This last will prove the most difficult to achieve.

In industry Poland has made rapid strides, but her greatest bargaining counter, coal, is beginning to reach its peak of production. In 1947, 59 million tons were produced; and in 1948, 60 million tons. Much of this was set aside for export, but as Great. Britain and Germany produce more, their import needs will grow less.

Food and jobs

From coal, the government is turning its attention to its next great asset — food. Before the war the Poles were among the best-fed people in Europe. Under German domination food production was forcibly stepped up; and by the policy of massacre, the overpopulation of the country was removed. There is plenty of food to buy now, though owing to a low standard of wages, the purse is the ration book. There are periodical shortages and lines outside foodshops. The Poles do not like it: they will wait patiently for buses, streetcars, trains — they are used to that — but, not for food. The Communists who rule Poland will do so more successfully if they do not interrupt her increasing material prosperity by too quick a dose of Communist methods.

The Polish people work extremely hard, many of them fitting two or three different jobs into the day because their wages are low. Wages will be increased as the standard of living gets higher, but at present the majority of the people are poor.

Needless to say, living accommodations are very scarce, but if the rate at which the Poles are rebuilding their shattered houses is any indication, this shortage will not continue.

In many ways women are the strength of the nation and their power is evident. They get equal pay for equal work and there are some in high positions in the government. A woman formerly a domestic servant

is in charge of the “recovered” province of Poznan.

What hope for the future?

One of the pitiful results of war in Poland is the small number of children between four and nine years of age. Another is the tragically high incidence of tuberculosis among children and adults; doctors and hospital staffs are hard put to it to stretch their meager resources to the needs of the population. There are three doctors to each 10,000 persons, and fewer in the country districts. Hope for the future is to be found in the steadily rising birth rate.

The Poles love flowers. The first shops to open up in Warsaw after the war were the flower shops. There are many window boxes perched up and down and along the walls of buildings. The Poles are keen window-shoppers, and though the standard of the goods at which they gaze is not high, remembering the immediate past it is remarkable that there is any standard.

Taken by and large, the people who crowd the streets and market places, who stand patiently in lines for transport, who, on Sundays, in their best clothes, go to worship, look well and reasonably happy. They don’t smile much, but they have little reason to do so. There is a drab monotony in their daily life, filled as it is with a constant stream of abjuration and regulation which takes from them their few pleasures and denies them their hard-won liberty.

For the United States and Great Britain the Poles have a warm and lively regard, which their government will do its host to break by distortion and by re-education. It is imperative that the great powers of the West should use every means to support these people. The channels of EastWest trade are open, with reservations on both sides, and the Polish government does business with fourteen of the Marshall Aid countries. This will continue so long as it suits them. In the cultural and educational field there are good opportunities for exchange and no effort should be spared to increase them.

The immediate problems of Poland are the immediate problems of the world. It will take more than the hardships of the present to destroy her faith in her future.