Volume #23 - 557.|
EASTERN EUROPE AND THE SOVIET UNION
Chargé d'Affaires, Legation in Poland,|
to Secretary of State for External Affairs
DESPATCH NO. 200|
April 18th, 1956|
EFFECTS OF TWENTIETH CPSU CONGRESS IN POLAND|
The new orientation given to Party policy and practices at the Moscow Congress has produced a flood of self-examination, confessions, criticism, calls for change - and a large amount of confusion as well - in Party and Government circles, and among the intelligentsia in Poland during the last six weeks. Those who felt guilty of having indulged in the cult of personality - including the First Secretary of the Central Committee - expressed regret and promised to amend their ways - that is, those who were powerful enough to escape being sacrificed as scape-goats - while those who had genuinely suffered from the previous state of affairs lashed accusations at everybody and everything, including, in some instances, the Party.
2. It is worth noting that the Poles have not yet attacked one of their leading men - whether dead or alive - for having built up a personality cult for himself. The most convenient one would be Beirut, but judging from the tributes which continue to be paid to his memory in the press it is not likely that he is slated for de-sanctification. In any case, Beirut's personality, a rather plain and colourless one, would not lend itself too much to a serious accusation of this sort.
3. As time goes by, however, one realizes that the whirlpool of confessions and accusations has been pretty much confined to the upper crust of Polish Communist society, and if one asks the man in the street whether he has hopes that things will change now his sullen look and negative head-shaking makes it clear that the people have remained aloof and consider all this Moscow-patterned agitation with a sceptical eye.
4. There are rumours that the rulers of the country will allow a greater degree of Parliamentary democracy, but so far this has only amounted in practice to urging members of the Sejm to have more meetings and debates. An article in Trybuna Ludu on March 12 accused the Sejm of not implementing its tasks as an authoritative body through which, according to Article 2 of the P.P.R. Constitution, the working people wield State authority. It went on to state that the Sejm was the supreme body in the country, and asserted that a Sejm which is functioning properly will be the essential factor which will introduce democracy in our life and will help improve and accelerate the socialist construction in our country. It is true that Ochab, the new Communist boss, has not shown a very strong hand yet, but it is most doubtful that the Party would agree to relinquish some of his dictatorial control in favour of a legislative body which might grow ambitious and threaten those in power. Socialism has hardly taken hold in this country, and it would indeed be risky to leave its future promotion in the care of the Sejm. As a matter of fact, a member of the Politburo and Vice-Marshal of the Sejm stated recently that the present political structure in Poland ensured to the masses more participation in ruling the country than the so-called Parliamentary system.
5. It may be of interest here to review the points of discontent which have been voiced chiefly through the press. The death-knell of Stalin's cult was sounded in Poland in an editorial in Trybuna Ludu on March 10. (My Despatch 133 of 13 March?). This was followed by an article by Morawski, a Secretary of the Central Committee, published on March 26 in which he drew the lessons of the Twentieth Congress of the C.P.S.U. for Poland. The article was along the lines of the Trybuna Ludu editorial, but emphasized particularly the justification for a Polish path to socialism. Similar considerations, duly enlarged upon, were formulated by Ochab in his speech of April 6. (My despatch No. 187, 9 April?).
6. The degrading of Stalin was not accepted without reluctance, of course, particularly among the young Communists. Bitter letters appeared in the press which veteran Party journalists did their best to answer. Pro Prostu (In Plain Words), a students' newspaper, carried a letter entitled Am I a Flag Flying in the Wind? in which the writer took issue with the Trybuna Ludu editorial of March 10. A member of the Communist Youth (ZMP), he had believed in Stalin and defended him against many of his friends, and now he was subjected to their scorn and sarcasms. Other articles such as We are Craving for the Truth and Where is the Truth? showed how confused and sometimes irritated some members of the Party were. So far, no very convincing answer has been given, and the Communists are still smarting under the blow.
7. Prime Minister Cyrankiewicz himself joined in the display of apparent liberalism in a speech to the Conference of Architects held in Warsaw on March 27. On this occasion he gave a sort of go-ahead to creative artists in seeking new freedom, although it must still be a socialist freedom. He said he stood for the dynamics of modern, socialist building with the most essential qualities of Polish tradition. I wish to emphasize once more, he added, that neither the Party leadership nor the Government desires to lead Polish architecture by the hand. He then blamed the omnipotence of Stalin who had usurped the role belonging to the nation, the role belonging to the Party, for the distortions of the last twenty years.
8. Architecture is a particularly sore spot with the Poles who cannot forgive the imposition of the alien Palace of Culture on the otherwise soft classical Warsaw skyline, and the erection under Party directives, of entire new districts which are a failure from the standpoint of both aesthetics and functionalism. At the same Conference the Chief Architect of Warsaw confessed having erred in basing the reconstruction of the modern part of the city on directives from the top. I have applied these methods because I thought them correct, that I was thus helping the cause of building Warsaw. Now I see that this method was not only incorrect but also that its application was quite unnecessary. Do I clearly perceive the causes, results, and a new path for the future? No, I do not. But one thing I know for certain - that the methods were bad, that they harmed not only our construction work but that they also broke men, their sincerity, selflessness, the boldness of their revolutionary progressive thought, their desire to criticize and help in finding the right path.
9. One of those who attended the Nineteenth Session of the Council of Culture and Art in the last week of March threw the ball at the Palace of Culture with a strike one against the Russians. We should not build such elephantine giraffe-like constructions as the Palace of Culture and Science which is a caricature, and not socialist art. We all know that, and everybody thinks so now. His words were printed in the cultural weekly Przeglad Kulturalny.
10. At the same session, one Professor Kott referred to the process of the dying ideology and literature, which ensued after 1949 and which so strongly and painfully affected our creative centres. He praised the attempts made in recent times by a few writers such as poet Adam Wazyk who fought for the liberty of expressing their own thought and pointed out that in this process of revival, certainly not devoid of mistakes, but in its basic line creative and refreshing, we have not received aid nor encouragement from the Party leadership. Another speaker recalled that the former editor of Nowa Kultura was swept out of office for allowing Wasyk's Poem for Adults to be printed in the review; he called for the editor's reinstatement. As far as is known, this has not been done, but new poems in the same vein as Poem for Adults have appeared under Wasyk's signature in Nowa Kultura lately. I attach translations? of some of them hereto.
11. The meeting reached the conclusion that the cultural policy of the Party had interfered in creative activity by sanctioning only work which was of assistance in reaching its goals. It was imperative that the artist be granted freedom to depict reality around him and be given complete confidence. More recently a writer asserted in the Cultural Review that the submission of culture to political directives is justified only in moments of great upheaval but is fatal under normal conditions. He claimed that for the future of socialist culture the scientist must not be allowed to submit to anybody in his thinking, whether the Committee, the Minister, the Emperor or the Lord.
12. Along with those critical appraisals of the status of fine arts and literature, several attacks were made in the press against various agencies, either for doing nothing or doing things wrongly. Vigorous denunciations of the Ministry of Justice and the security apparatus have appeared, together with demands for the liberation and rehabilitation of the large number of people who have been unjustly thrown into prison. This, the students' paper asked, should be done more rapidly, with proper clearance of unfounded criminal records and in a public manner, so that their honour be restored to the people involved. An appeal was made particularly in favour of the former soldiers of the Home Army, (A.K.) the London Government underground army which staged the Warsaw uprising in 1944. Those soldiers, although they were granted an amnesty in 1945, have been ostracized and discriminated against by socialist groups and organizations. The same article demanded the revision of history text books on the role of the Home Army. The five years of underground fighting against the Germans are summed up in the leading textbooks as follows: According to the reckonings of the imperialists, the Home Army was to be used against the USSR in order to restore land-owner rule in Poland.
13. The further curbing of the power of the secret police has also been demanded and the suggestion made that its staff be cut by one half. Referring to the changes which should take place in this field, one writer called for an alert public opinion: It would be unreasonable, he said, to expect that the revolution will be made for us by the Politburo or the Central Committee. Nobody will make this revolution for us.
14. Another institution which has come repeatedly under fire recently is the Sejm, as already stated above. The author who criticized the inactivity of Parliament was taken to task by another journalist in the following manner: I am sorry that Jerzy Rawicz, the author of the appeal for an industrious Sejm and long time parliamentary reporter, has completely missed the essential problem, that is, how a parliament should work in a people's State where the Party is the leading political authority. Let us be frank about it: in this sphere no country building socialism has implemented the principles of a People's Parliament and there is no reason to make a secret of the fact that we too have failed to do it. This confession would be impressive, at first sight, but the writer qualifies it by adding: The resolution of the Politburo (which a year ago called for increased activity by the Sejm) is evidence that this matter is the concern of the Party and the article itself in Trybuna Ludu, in spite of its author having missed some points, is evidence that this matter continues to be most pressing.
15. The remedy suggested, however, was in selecting members along vocational groups rather than geographical areas. There was no suggestion towards restoring fully to the Sejm - over the heads of the Politburo-controlled Executive - its function which, according to the Constitution, is to implement the sovereign rights of the nation by passing laws and supervising the activities of other organs of authority and State administration.
16. The trade unions also have had their whipping. A well known radio broadcaster, Edda Werfel, stated blankly in the course of a programme entitled In Our Opinion: I should very much like to know what the trade unions are doing in our country. In our opinion trade unions should decide, whether they are some unnecessary obsolescence or whether they are an institution needed by the working class. In this case the Central Trade Union Council must thoroughly and quite soon change its methods and, what is more important, the essence of its work. A reply appeared in the press in which the critic was taken to task for talking on a subject of which she had no knowledge.
17. A particularly courageous attack was the one against the special stores, commonly called yellow curtain stores, where influential members of the Party, high Government and Armed Forces officials exclusively, are able to buy food and manufactured articles, including imported merchandise and Polish export goods. In an article entitled Behind the Yellow Curtains (copy enclosed) the student newspaper Po Prostu denounced the scandal of these special stores which are overflowing with supplies for privileged people, while the ordinary people have to queue up for hours before half-empty shops. The denunciation has been the talk of the town for the last few weeks, but so far no step appears to have been taken to change this state of affairs.
18. Bureaucrats and planners have also taken a beating - that is, on paper. A prominent writer in reviewing bureaucratic methods had this to say, among other things: Edda Werfel wrote two articles for Trybuna Ludu on technology not in construction but in obtaining the necessary permission for construction. Your hair stands on end when you read these articles. We have bred a special race of people in our country. In ancient Egypt there were specialists in interpreting the will of holy animals, cats, crocodiles or bugs. What a nice thing to do. How much more difficult it is to understand the wishes of a petty official who establishes regulations for investments. One has to study hard for years to learn to avoid all the difficulties thrown in the way of people who wish to construct something in People's Poland. The author then ridiculed official claims that a rise in living standards had taken place in recent years in Poland, and called for the cleaning out of the State Economic Planning Commission, the most authoritative body on socialist planning in this country. They should be told: we have rejected capitalism and we will never return to it. We are on our way to a just country of socialism, but we have found a wilderness of paper bureaucracy on this road. An intrusive interference of offices, voicing inflated prosperity, hampering human effort, facilitating collective swindles - this is not socialism. This is a terrible disease, hard to remedy.
19. The sort of turmoil which the above debates represent would have more significance if it had not been inspired by the example set at the Moscow Congress. Nevertheless, it seems certain that the Poles - particularly those who belong to cultural circles - were glad to seize upon the occasion to drive a number of points home. Some of the attacks against the Party went further, it seems, than the ones made in Moscow, and, if only by indirect implication, came close to amounting to a condemnation of the Régime. This might be a healthy and hopeful sign except for the fact that none of the critics dared pass the barrier of the socialist concept. They all claimed more freedom and equality, as long as this served the socialization of the country. Not one formally challenged the validity of the system itself, and the exclusive control of the Party over the nation. It is as if what was desired basically was a régime not unlike the absolute monarchic or oligarchic systems of the past under which people could operate with a certain freedom within their respective profession and occupation, but were not allowed to question the authority in power, or the system of government. This political concept may perhaps be acceptable to the Russians who have never known modern democracy, but it is more than doubtful that it can ever be suitable for Poland, which has long been directly influenced by Western liberal democratic ideas.
20. It is perhaps worth mentioning that no demand has been voiced for the release of Cardinal Wyszynski and other bishops still under arrest, although it appears more and more evident that the Government is most embarrassed with the situation and may be considering some relaxation in this field. About 60% of the members of the Party are church-goers and therefore cannot escape a certain feeling of guilt in this respect.
21. Another characteristic is that the agitation so far has been chiefly the work of a number of prominent writers and journalists, but that it has not been accompanied by any noticeable unrest among the people nor has it given the man in the street new hopes. From this standpoint the whole affair appears somewhat superficial.
22. The inescapable fact remains of course, after all due credit is given for the boldness and frankness of some of the charges, that this country remains completely under the control of the Soviet master. There may be further interesting manifestations of a long-restrained desire to speak out and give a piece of one's mind, but any serious attempt at changing things is bound to founder on the rock of Soviet control if it goes beyond what is permissible. It is this realization, of course, which induces one to take a sober view of the value and possible effects of the stir-up described above.