Two Polish Communists were discussing the political situation. “Thank God,” said one of them, “that between Poland and China there is a nice buffer state — Russia.” This is an old joke, but it epitomizes effectively the differences between Communist countries: China is one of the most regimented, fanatical, dogmatic, belligerent, Stalinist, and least free; and Poland is more liberal, easygoing, anti-Stalinist, peace-loving, and less police-dominated.

Seen from the inside rather than from the outside, from a national rather than from an international perspective, the Polish situation is not that simple. The old boundary which divided the members of the Polish Communist Party (known officially as the Polish United Workers’ Party) into the Stalinists on one side and the Gomulka followers on the other is no longer precise, as a result of the 22nd Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, and also of the mediation carried out by Gomulka himself. But the Polish Communists are still divided into two factions fighting for power.

The outcome of this struggle, similar to those going on in Budapest and Bucharest, in Prague and Sofia, certainly in Moscow, and possibly even in Peiping, is of momentous importance for the whole Communist world, and indirectly also for the West. What is going on inside the Polish Communist Party is a kind of laboratory test that will show whether it is possible for a Communist country to reacquire freedom from within through an evolution of its own structure, brought about by the Communists themselves and without a repetition of the Hungarian tragedy.

Since Gomulka’s comeback and since the 22nd Congress, many political leaders have passed from one camp to the other, but the two trends have remained fundamentally the same. On one side we find what, in the secret jargon of the Communist elite, is often called the Partisans’ Group, since many of its members were leaders of the underground movement. Besides several former leading Stalinists — among them the two Vice Premiers, Julian Tokarski and Zenon Nowak — this group includes some of Gomulka’s closest friends, such as the leader of the trade unions, Ignacy Loga-Sowinski, and one of the most able Polish parliamentarians, Zenon Kliszko.

That both the Vice Premiers should be Stalinists in an anti-Stalinist country seems in itself a contradiction in terms. But then one must remember the rather peculiar circumstances in which the Gomulka regime was born. It coincided in time, and also in many ways in substance, with the Hungarian uprising. It was basically a bid to shake off the Soviet yoke.

In order to save his revolution from being crushed like Imre Nagy’s by Russian tanks, Gomulka had to offer some very definite, convincing guarantees of continued loyalty to Moscow. And this is why he had to come to terms with his former enemies and appoint a number of men trusted in Moscow to some of the key posts in the government and the Party. It is paradoxical that after the 22nd Congress the very men who were brought in to appease the Kremlin turned into an embarrassment to Khrushchev and his anti-Stalinist, liberalizing policy.

The new Stalinists

Generally speaking, the Partisans’ Group mistrusts Khrushchev’s new line and thinks that the process of liberalization, especially if compared with policies in the other Communist countries of eastern Europe, has been carried too far. “Let the others catch up with us, and then we shall continue.” This is an argument which, although it never appears in print or is officially voiced, one hears repeatedly in off-the-record Party briefings. The Stalinists fear that a continuation of the liberalization process could bring about the birth of an opposition against the regime as a whole and a revival of the revisionist tendencies.

There is a strong nationalism and an equally strong anti-Semitism in the mental makeup of the Partisans. The Jews, because of their intelligence, their tendency not to conform, and their Zionist sympathies, are viewed with suspicion by orthodox Communists in all countries and by the Partisans or neo-Stalinists in Poland.

The Partisans advocate a firmer attitude toward the Catholic Church (“No more concessions to Rome”) and a tightening of security measures to control a certain unrest among the workers owing to economic difficulties. They are also against giving the intellectuals too much freedom. A recent law limiting the constitutional right to hold meetings was passed as a result of their pressure.

In foreign politics, although they recognize the necessity of a flexible attitude toward the capitalistic world, they think that an antiWestern stand must be maintained as a matter of principle. They also think that a diminution of international tension can be only a temporary affair and that it does not justify any relaxation of “revolutionary vigilance” at home.

There is no official, recognized leader of the Stalinists, but their most influential exponent is probably Zenon Kliszko. He is fifty-four years old, worked for the underground movement on the political rather than the military side, and is in every way the classic example of the bureaucrat formed by the Communist Party apparatus. Colorless, suspicious, narrow-minded, dogmatic, hardworking, relentless, Kliszko is a kind of small-scale Molotov.

The Gomulka faction

The other faction, known as the Muscovite Group, embraces the supporters of more freedom and independence. It includes most of those who brought Gomulka out of jail and back to power. Among the most influential are Prime Minister Jozef Cvrankiewicz: the two members of the Polish Politburo, Edward Ochab and Roman Zambrowski; the Party press spokesman, Artur Starewicz; the head of the Party organization in Lower Silesia, Wladyslaw Matwin: and the editor of the Party official weekly, Polityka, Mieczyslaw Rakowski. The rank and file is composed of young, enthusiastic, idealistic Party officials and intellectuals whose aim is a democratization of the regime as a whole.

At present those in the rank and file are rather disillusioned and disheartened. They see that the liberalization process is making very slow headway, and occasionally even retreating. They are beginning to doubt that a radical change of structure can be achieved from within. They are Marxists, but they tend to approach problems in a pragmatic rather than ideological way. They have no nostalgia for the pre-war way of life, nor have they experienced, because of their age, the bitterness of the class struggle. They simply cannot understand why the Polish people should not be given more freedom in the political, intellectual, and economic fields.

The top Muscovites, practically all over fifty, are an assorted group. Their liberalism, if it can so be called, stems from different motives; there are those who are sincere, those who automatically abide by whatever Khrushchev says, and those who follow the current trend just to stay in power. They use liberalism to win over the neutrals, the new African nations, and the ex-colonial peoples in general. “If we are not flexible,” they argue, “we shall lose them, and the West will take over.”

In foreign politics, therefore, the Muscovites are even more Khrushchevian than Khrushchev. They are all for international appeasement and cooperation. They are against an open conflict with the Church and would like to avoid anything that could deepen the rift between church and state. There is no antiSemitism among the Muscovites, and many of them are Jews. The leader of the Muscovites is Premier Jozef Cyrankiewicz, a former socialist and a master of political maneuvering whom the Germans put in the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he became the leader of the Polish resistance movement.

Partisans versus Muscovites

In general, the Partisans prevail in questions concerned with internal politics, while the Muscovites take the upper hand when international issues are at stake. When internal questions crop up, the Partisans can blackmail the Muscovites by posing as staunch supporters of the unity of the Party and of Party discipline. If Muscovites do not give in, they can be made to look as if they are not good Communists.

Very often the top Muscovites are embarrassed by the enthusiasm of their own supporters, who would like to push on with liberalization much more rapidly. Here another form of moral blackmail comes into play. The enthusiasts who demand greater freedom for the writers, the artists, the playwrights, the scientists, the film directors, and the intellectuals are told that Khrushchev’s position in the Communist world and in the Soviet Union itself is still very delicate and exposed to great risks. To ease his difficult task, they are urged to soft-pedal liberalization, so that Khrushchev’s internal enemies cannot point to Poland as an example of the consequences that the Khrushchev line can have in weakening Communism.

As a rule, the frequent clashes between the two factions end up in compromise solutions after a lot of discussions and bargaining behind the scenes, with Gomulka often acting as mediator. But the tension is always there, and now and then it breaks out into the open.

One example was the disbanding of the so-called Crooked Circle (Krzywe Kolo), a club of intellectuals of high renown which included an outstanding novelist, Pawel Jasienica; the best-known Polish sociologist, Professor Stanislaw Ossowski; and literary critic Jan Josef Lipski. The question was discussed at the top level of the executive committee of the Party. The then vice minister of the interior, Stanislaw Alster, who defended the club, said among other things: “Let them talk it out of their systems. We can afford a kind of Hyde Park corner.”

Despite Alster’s recommendation and the intervention of such outstanding writers and scientists as Professor Kotarbinski, president of the Polish Academy of Sciences, and Professor Stanislaw Ehrlich, a political scientist, the club was disbanded by order of Ryszard Strzelecki, a top Party leader in charge of cultural affairs and a close friend of Gomulka’s. Alster, a liberal of Jewish extraction, was removed shortly afterward from the Home Ministry and given a minor assignment. The tough neo-Stalinist line had again prevailed.

Gomulka’s in indecision

Gomulka himself is in a very ambiguous situation. He fell into disgrace with the Party because of his fanatical stubbornness in defending the economic freedom of agriculture — as it turned out, for technical reasons. Almost by chance, he thus became a symbol of the liberal trend and of the independence-fromMoscow movement. When the 1956 revolution took place, he was lifted on a wave of popularity, by liberal Communists and Catholics alike, to the Party secretariat.

Since then he has almost consistently disappointed his supporters. He has remained fundamentally a Communist of the old school, honest and sincere but narrow-minded, slow, plodding, dogmatic, unimaginative, and uninspired. He is not even the strong man he was thought to be. He is often undecided and swings like a pendulum between the Muscovite and the Partisan groups.

The man in the street has practically no knowledge of what is going on in higher circles, or of the fight between the two factions. He too is disillusioned by the slowness of liberalization and embittered by economic difficulties, but for him Gomulka is still a symbol of antiSovietism and of national independence. And this is important, as, in the lower strata of the Polish population, the anti-Russian feeling remains very strong. The Polish workers and farmers still believe that they are being exploited economically by the Russians.

Among the higher-income groups — members of the Party machinery, industry and commerce directors, technicians, experts, intellectuals — the anti-Russian feeling, on the contrary, has been decreasing since Khrushchev’s attempts at liberalization in his own country. They feel that Poland, more than any other Communist country, can play the role of intermediary between Russia and the West.