The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Poland

THE final stage of Poland’s Socialization began on November 7, 1949, when by a sleight of hand Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky of the Soviet Army became Konstanty Rokossowski, Polish Marshal, Minister of National Defense, and a member of the Polish Communist Party’s Politburo.

There is a direct line of development from that “transformation” to the latest events in Poland, which show the grim, relentless struggle against complete domination by the men in the Kremlin. Rokossowski’s task was not merely to push through the full Communist program in Poland but also and perhaps above all — to eliminate Polish Communist leaders who, though convinced Communists, hesitated to drop everything Polish in order to become totally Sovietized. He brought with him a number of Russian Army officers whom he made his Chief of Staff, Chief of the Air Force, Chief Inspector of Artillery, and various other important lieutenants.

While Russians occupied such key positions of the Polish armed forces, old-time Polish Communists were purged. Mihal Rola-Zymierski, whose Communist affiliations dated back to the Spanish Civil War, disappeared and was replaced as Marshal, Commander-in-Chief, and Minister of Defense by Rokossowski himself.

Next to feel the axe was Zymierski’s Deputy General Marian Spychalski, a soft-spoken, not very military-looking intellectual in his early forties with two decades of Party service to his credit. for almost two years nothing was heard of Spychalski until be appeared as government witness in the trial of nine high-ranking, former officers of the Polish military forces last August, He, like all other seventeen witnesses, was brought to the courtroom from jail, It was the first indication that the one-time Communist army boss bad been arrested. The four generals, three colonels, one major, and one lieutenant commander of the Navy against whom Spyehalski was made to testify were accused of and later condemned for “eonspiraev to overthrow the government, rebellion, high treason and espionage for the imperialist Western powers.”

It is generally assumed that the trial of the officers was merely a forerunner of much bigger trials of former Communist Party leaders such as Spychalski and Wladyslaw Gomulka, the deposed Deputy Prime Minist er and Secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. This may depend on the course of events in Poland. If the show trial of the military men should turn out to have sufficiently cowed lilt1 “nationalist” elements in the Communist Party, Gomulka and Spychalski may not be tried. Otherwise the regime is likely to stage a big show with Gomulka and Spyehalski as the main figures.

It is significant that neither of them is a London Pole: they owe their indoctrination and their careers to the Kremlin. During World War II Spychalski personally handed over to Stalin the keys to the city of Warsaw. Now he has become the symbol of the Polish brand of Tiloism. It was Spychalski’s sin not to have followed Marshal Zhukov’s advice that the Polish soldier must be “trained in the spirit of boundless loyalty to the motherland and inviolable friendship with the Soviet Army.”

Tiotisr rebwllion in Poland

One of the “confessing" generals on trial also named Spyehalski and Gomulka as the alleged leaders of a Titoist rebellion in Poland. It is Rokossowski’s task to stamp out the last trace of any such “ nationalist “ trend.

As support for bis mission, two of the biggest guns of the Soviet Union, Deputy Prime Minister V. M. Molotoy and Marshal G. Zhukov, were dispatched to Warsaw to tell the Polish people on their national holiday last June that there can be no thought of breaking away from the U.S.S.R. and that Tito would not last long in Yugoslavia. Many political observers accepted this rather unusual prediction by Stalins Deputy as a threat, perhaps even a warning of a forthcoming invasion of Yugoslavia. But the past few months have indicated that Molotov wanted to frighten the Poles. He felt he bad to make bis warning drama! ie.

This incident, the military trial that followed, and the violent campaign against Spyehalski and Gomulka, show how intense is the “nationalist “feeling in Poland. There is always the rankling anger at Russia for having been a partner to the destruction and partition of Poland not only in 1939 but also three times in the eighteenth century. Suspicion that Russia might again make a deal with Germany at the expense of Poland still persists.

The Catholic resistance

Unlike the Soviet Union, Poland is a Catholic country with a very strongly religious population. If one can trust official pronouncements of the Communist regime, there are still some 2000 monasteries and convents in Poland today and the number of nuns has considerably increased during the past twelve months. Whether or not these figures are correct, the bulk of the people is as deeply religious as ever. This is one more obstacle in the way of Sovietization, not only because of the antireligious attitude of the Communists but because of the Rome orientation of the Catholic Church.

This has been a major problem in other Eastern European satellite countries. Consequently the Communist regimes have been trying to establish Catholic Church groups independent of the Vatican and therefore more easily controlled by the national government. Threats and promises, pressure and minor concessions, elimination of Church leaders and government control of Chureh finances, have compelled the Church in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland to make formal arrangements with the Communist regimes. But this has not reduced the hostility of the individual Church member. If anything, it has made him more bitter.

With the death of Poland’s Cardinal Sapieha in July, there remains no priest of cardinal rank behind the Iron Curtain, and it is expected that the campaign for full domination of the Church will be stepped up before long. Successful conclusion of this drive is imperative for a full Sovietization because a country whose overwhelming majority has close spiritual and organizational ties with the Vatican cannot become an organic part of the Byzantine Russian Empire, be it under the Czar or Commissar.

Thus the international influence of the ‘Catholic Church stands in the way of amalgamation of a satellite [ nation with the Soviet Empire and strengthens what Moscow calls “national deviationism.” The Polish Communist leaders made allowances for the religious, historic, and psychological obstacles against Soviet ization. They went comparatively slowly from 1944 to 1949. Two years ago the program was stepped up. The appointment of Rokossowski and the purge of fait hful, Russophile Communist leaders — simply because they desired to preserve some tokens of Polish national tradition marked the beginning of the new era.

The campaign is still far short of Its objective. But about the nature of that objective there can be no doubt. It has become clear in the charges made against General Spychalski in the military trial. It has also been brought out in the charges leveled against former Party secretary Gomulka, the other leader of the fictitious revolution. His crime was that he “did not have faith in the strength of the Soviet Union,” as Nowe Drogi, chief organ of the Party’s Central Committee, put it some time 1 ago. This, incidentally, happens to j be the same unforgivable sin of which Vladimir Clement is, ex-Foreign Minister and most prominent purgee, stands accused in neighboring Czechoslovakia. He, too, is in jail awaiting trial.

The river of Stalin’s Wisdom

Thus while nationalism is the trump card in the U.S.S.R. it is frowned upon as deviationism, Theism, and Spyehalskiism in the satellite countries. Extravagant eulogies of the Soviet Union and of Stalin take the place of pat Holism. One of the wouldbe poets of the Polish regime expressed it as follows: “The wisdom of Stalin a wide river, in heavy turbines conducts the waters, flowing, it sows wheat in the tundras, builds gardens. . . . The wisdom of Stalin comes out of the depths, a subterranean river. . . . You overflow them, river of wisdom, you breathe of health, with the wind of beauty; you break through mountains, subterranean river, you UNITE NATIONS.”

That river of Stalin’s wisdom not only “unites” but swamps nations, submerging their traditions and their individual characteristics under the uniform dullness of the Soviet flood. Thus the Polish Army, for example. has been reorganized as a miniature copy of the Russian. Even the new soldiers’ oath passed by the Sejm (Parliament) a year ago refers merely feetingly to “People’s Poland" but the soldier pledges to fight alongside the Soviet Army.

Russian patterns are being set in every form of life, industry’, trade, and agriculture. The shipping conference at Gdynia, decided to adopt Soviet methods of cargo handling. In order to improve Russia’s strategic position a strip of Polish land was desirable. Poland quickly ceded the land in a deal with Moscow.

But it was made to look like a proof of Soviet help for Poland. Wrole Lzvestia last May: “The Government of the Polish Republic recently applied to the U.S.S.R. Government with a request to exchange a small frontier district situated on Polish territory for a frontier district of equal size situated on the territory of the U.S.S.R. . . . The U.S.S.R. Government agreed to the proposal of the Polish Republic.” And on June 7, two days after the treaty ratification, lzvestia wrote: “The Poles took the initiative. The Soviet Government willingly took up the offer.”

The small farmers balk

The entire Polish economy, too, is shaped according to the needs and plans of the Soviet Union. With the majority of the population engaged in agriculture, the Polish Communists hesitated to rush toward their goal of collectivization of farms. They felt it would take time to break the opposition of the peasants without creating economic chaos.

On January l, 1950— shortly after Rokossowski’s arrival — there were only 250 farm coöperatives. Then Soviet.ization started under tremendous pressure, and twelve months later the number had multiplied almost tenfold. The state has coerced farmers to join by increasing taxation of those who refuse to yield, by lowering prices of farm products bought up by the government, by boosting prices of equipment which only the government can sell the farmers, by withholding machinery or fertilizer from peasants who do not coöperate, and by collecting fines for alleged blackmarket activities.

Brute force has compelled some farmers to sign up. But it has failed to convince them. A few months ago the daily newspaper of the Communist peasant movement complained that the small farmers, who would be expected to be the most ardent followers of the regime, were particularly reluctant to come in. “In our Party,” wrote Wola Ludu, “there is an insufficient number of small farmers. They constitute 61 per cent of the peasants in Poland, while in our Party they number only 27 per cent.”

Not even the most concerted pressure of the state has been able to make farmers rush for the collectives. Today, about three fourths of the arable land in Poland still consists of individual holdings, and well over 10 per cent of it is owned by kulaks, farmers who have more than 25 acres. In fact, government planners have resigned themselves to the fact that even by 1955 no more than 20 per cent of the nation’s wheat will be grown on state-owned land. Perhaps this explains why Deputy Minister Chelkovski announced in the Party monthly that it is a violation of the Party line to persecute kulaks merely because they are kulaks.

To be sure, the Sovietization continues with undiminished vigor, but economic realities have made it plain to the Kremlin that while a living kulak may reluctantly produce food, a dead or imprisoned kulak would not produce at all, and that food is badly needed. Harvests have not been too good in years past. Crop failures cannot indefinitely be blamed on “the imperialistic American beetle" allegedly dropped from U. .S. planes. Even if people believed such propaganda, it would not solve the problem of feeding the population.

Women in the mines

The picture in industry is not much brighter. All factories with more than fifty employees have been nationalized. Big projects have been discussed and promised for the future. But it appears that steel production hoped for by 1955 is no more than 4 million tons despite the acquisition of the heavy industry in what was formerly German Silesia. The 1955 target for coal has been set at 100 million tons (75 in 1949).

Whether these goals will be reached remains to be seen. At present the output per miner per hour is considerably below the pre-war mark and a serious labor shortage has produced frequent, desperate appeals for volunteers. Glos Pracy, the labor union daily, however, reported regretfully that 40 per cent of the volunteers arriving at the mines have been women.

Production of consumers’ goods is utterly insufficient; and since Russia takes much of them under the euphemistic term of imports, still less is left for the people of Poland. Consequently, living standards are extremely low. Despite the fact that agriculture is the main sector of the national economy, Monday has recently been declared a meatless day. There are shortages of many items, and even if goods are available they remain beyond the reach of most people.

Fifteen dollars a week

The monthly income of the average worker or government employee is about the same as the price of a lady’s winter coat or a better skirt. It is equivalent to the price of 40 pounds of butter, 80 pounds of bacon, 4 tons of coal, or the cost of soling 13 pairs of men’s shoes. Thus it has roughly the purchasing power of $40 to $.30.

The Communist Stale provides free of charge certain services for which an employee in this country would have to pay. However, allowing for this difference, the average Polish worker’s or government, official’s income is roughly equivalent to $15 a week. Even the most modest support of a family of four requires from three to four times the basic earnings of a worker in Poland today. Thus, to make ends meet somehow, he must either work extra hours and earn a special bonus or derive some profits from black-market deals.

Workers in certain industries receive a limited amount of goods they produce at wholesale prices. But the worker sells them at black-market profit. Complaints are being met with terror or with the promise that Sovietization would bring improvements and lift Poland to the level of prosperity existing in the Soviet Union. Terror succeeds in keeping people quiet.

The promises are accepted with sarcasm as a little anecdote current, throughout Poland, indicates. Jan, the story runs, has just returned from the Soviet Union. His friends ply him with questions: Is life in the U.S.S.R. really as wonderful as they say? Did he see those supermodern workers’ homes, those stores full of exquisite clothes, those luxurious resorts for workers, those flourishing collective farms? Yes, Jan replies, he has seen all these. And where is Wladyslaw — why did he not return with Jan from the Soviet Union? “Well,”says Jan, “Wladyslaw did not see all this and so he was arrested in Moscow.

The grim part about this little tale is that it refers to two painful points of the current campaign for Sovietization at any price. Moscow has found many ways of draining the resources and reserves of her satellites in order to raise the living standard of the motherland. One of them is a peculiar system of trade agreements reminiscent of the barter deals Hitler made with his junior partners.

Russia robs her satellites

Marshal Tito revealed the details of those trade practices after his break with Stalin. He told how Russia fixes export prices high and import prices low, thus deriving a double profit at the expense of her unfortunate satellite who is compelled to accept the Russian terms. With more than half of all the Polish trade going to the Soviet Union, such trade is an annual tribute exacted from the weaker neighbor. Besides, trade agreements which determine production and distribution in Poland or in any other satellite nation also set the course of the national economy according to the wishes and needs of the Soviet Union.

In the long run such practices are bound to reduce the living standard in the satellite country to a level below that of the motherland. This is one main aspect of Sovietization; after all, the Kremlin cannot arrest all those who, like Wladyslaw, fail to see happiness in Stalin’s paradise. Nor can it permit Jan to go home and tell his friends that thanks to what they have left from the capitalist era, their living standard is still high compared with the life Jan lives in the U.S.S.R. Consequently the peculiar “trade” practices are a vital part of Sovletization: they rob the satellite and enrich Russia.