Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 20, No. 8. June 13, 1957
Poland Since Poznan
Poland Since Poznan
"The Polish Earthquake" by K. A. Jelenski in Encounter, August 1956.
"In a Land of Unwashed Brains" and "Two Wandering Satellites" by Peter Wiles in Encounter. October, '56 and January, '57.
"Polish October" by Leo Huberman in Monthly Review, January, '57.
Recent issues of monthly magazine "Poland."
"A spectre is haunting Eastern Europe—the spectre of humanitarian socialism."
That sounds like something George Brown might have said over the dinnertable to Khrushchov. In fact, it is a leading Polish poet writing in Poland's foremost literary periodical.
The aphorism itself, and its being published where it was, are a clue to what is happening in Poland. Gomulka—brave leader of Poland's red underground in the Nazi occupation, prisoner of the Stalinists for half a decade without a trial—has been swept back to power by popular pressure, and has pulled off a revolt against Moscow more spectacular than Titos.
Writing last August. Jelenski (a lightly left Polish exile in Paris) said: The impulse behind the Poznan was hope, not despair."
The thaw-out after Stalin's death went faster and farther in Poland than elsewhere in East Europe—a discredited tyranny lifted the lid off, papers and organisations (including Communist Parly cell echoed with exposures of the past and demands for change. Trumped-up trials, police torture, enforced orthodoxy in the arts—all were dragged into the daylight and chewed over.
Leading figures in the cultural world started damning the "doctrine of the infallibility of the Parly leadership" which had stultified literature and history. Workers began agitating for trade unions that stuck up for their interests instead of grovelling before the production demands of the bureaucracy.
But Poland never was completely Stalinist. Alter all, Gomulka was still alive to take over and save his country from bloodshed; Hungary's Rajk had done to death, and so had most of East Europe's Communist heretics.
Peter Wiles (Oxford economist) deals in his delightfully cynical way with the persistent failure of the Polish intellectuals ever to accept the Kremlin line. The poets, especially, kept a sturdy independence, and proved in the long run Shelly's dictum about "unacknowledged legislators."
He contrasts events in Poland and Hungary—having been in Poznan and Budapest at the critical times. Why did Gomulka succeed where Nagy failed? Because he compromised on the right points (Warsaw Pact, for instance), or because, whereas the Hungarian C.P. was full of sadists and careerists, "Polish Communists are genuinely the nicest Communists in the world."
He compares the criminal stupidity of Mindszenty's provocative behaviour in Budapest with Wszynski's calm realism in Warsaw: "Mindszenty may be of the stuff of which martyrs are made," he quips. "Wyszynski is of the stuff of which Cardinals are made." But the Church position in Poland is one of Gomulka's great achievements. In casting off repulsive Stalinism, he has gained wide support from the whole population. And in establishing that Socialism can exist without Stalinism, he is winning support for Socialism itself—even from sections of the population like the clergy and the grasping peasantry, not naturally predisposed to Socialism in any form.
Freed from the secret police and all the rest of the Muscovite machinery, the positive socialist achievements of the post-war period look much more attractive. There are few Poles who would now favour a return to pre-war conditions.
For Gomulka has put the soul back into Socialism. In a dynamic speech the day of his October victory, he said: "If we say the countryside needs co-operative farming, it isn't just because someone thought up the doctrinaire idea, but because we want to case the peasant's toilsome labour, to abolish all forms of exploitation of man by man. . . ."
Socialisation from above is giving way to socialism based on the people.
In the cities it is the same Huberman (the well-known American Socialist) comments on the new "workers' councils" which are beginning to take over control of their own factories. Cabinet Minister Oscar Lange (Professor of Economics at Chicago during the war) told him the Party was closer to the workers than ever before, and relations with the Western labour movement would be continually strengthened.
The changed atmosphere is vitally reflected in the State-sponsored monthly "Poland." which has burst forth from being just another dull Eastern propaganda bulletin full of tractors, tractorfactories, and tractor-drivers—into a colourful and original magazine that would rival any slick American contemporary in saleability.
There are abstract art, strikingly original photography, startling stage sets, cartoons that are really funny, and intimate information about the doings of ordinary Poles—with accent on youth and students.
A recent issue featuring "Bim-Bom," the young satirical theatre, makes it clear that individuality and cutting social criticism are very much alive in the arts; an article on a club for "young intellectuals" describes heated discussions on Aristophanes, town-planning, juvenile delinquency, Catholic and Socialist morality, and recent work by young Polish poets.
Here is something fresh and welcome springing up inside the Soviet orbit. May it blossom and bear fruit.—C.B.