Social Protest and Political Crisis in 1956
For several decades, scholarship on the Polish crisis of 1956 focused on high politics: the post-Stalin ‘thaw’, factional struggles within the communist Party (PZPR) and the return to power of Władysław Gomułka. Crucial political decisions which determined the course of the Polish ‘October’ were explained by the shifting balance of power within the Party leadership and by the — admittedly often obscured — relationship between Poland and the Soviet Union. A second, more recent, focus is social, using newly available primary sources, including declassified Party and Security archives, to analyse the origins, dynamics and direction of the social protest. As these sources show, Poland in 1956 was the scene of dramatic political mobilisation and participation on a scale repeated only once in the history of communist Poland, the Solidarity period of 1980–81. Political decisions, however, were not plucked from thin air. Politicians responded to shifts, both actual and potential, within popular attitudes and behaviour. Despite their claim to omniscience, and other pretensions of official ideology, communist leaders were acutely aware of the social context of their actions. Following a disgrace, such as the June 1956 massacre of innocent civilians, including children, this turned to nervous sensitivity about the real state of public opinion, which the censored media so strenuously concealed. In practice, therefore, the two approaches are complementary.
KeywordsCommunist Party Public Security Party Leadership Political Crisis Party Committee
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