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Władysław Gomułka

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Subject: Edward Gierek, Polish United Workers' Party, Polish legislative election, 1957, Politburo of the Polish United Workers' Party, History of Poland (1945–89)
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Władysław Gomułka

Władysław Gomułka
First Secretary of the
Polish United Workers' Party
In office
21 October 1956 – 20 December 1970
Preceded by Edward Ochab
Succeeded by Edward Gierek
First Secretary of the Polish Workers' Party
In office
Preceded by Paweł Finder
Succeeded by Bolesław Bierut
Personal details
Born (1905-02-06)6 February 1905
Krosno, Austria-Hungary
Died 1 September 1982(1982-09-01) (aged 77)
Konstancin, Poland
Nationality Polish
Spouse(s) Liwa (Zofia) née Szoken (1902–86)

Władysław Gomułka (Polish: ; 6 February 1905 – 1 September 1982) was a Polish communist activist and politician. He was the de facto leader of post-war Poland until 1948, and again from 1956 to 1970. American journalist John Gunther described Gomułka as "professorial in manner, aloof, and angular, with a peculiar spry pepperiness."[1]

Gomułka was born in a worker family in Krosno. He received only rudimentary education before being employed in the oil industry of the Subcarpathian region. In 1926, he became a member of the Communist Party of Poland (Komunistyczna Partia Polski, KPP) and was arrested for political activity. Gomułka was an activist in the leftist labor unions from 1926 and in the Central Trade Department of the KPP Central Committee from 1931. In August 1932, participating in a conference of textile worker delegates in Łódź, he was arrested by the Sanation police and then shot and wounded during an escape attempt. Subsequently he was sentenced to a prison term. In 1934 Gomułka went to Moscow, where he lived and studied at the International Lenin School for a year. After his return to Poland Gomułka worked as a regional KPP secretary in Silesia. He was arrested in 1936, sentenced to seven years in prison and remained jailed until the beginning of World War II.

During the war, Gomułka became an influential Nazis, Gomułka became the Party's secretary general in November 1943 (and remained in that position until September 1948, when the Soviet leaders Joseph Stalin and Lavrentiy Beria decided that his leadership no longer served their interests). In occupied Warsaw Gomułka established a national quasi-parliament (the communist version) named the State National Council and was a deputy in that body.

Gomułka was a deputy prime minister in the Provisional Government of the Republic of Poland (Rząd Tymczasowy Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej), from January to June 1945, and in the Provisional Government of National Unity (Tymczasowy Rząd Jedności Narodowej), from 1945 to 1947. As a minister of Recovered Territories (1945–48), he exerted great influence over the rebuilding, integration and economic progress of Poland within its new borders, by supervising the settlement, development and administration of the lands acquired from Germany. Using his position in the PPR and government, Gomułka led the leftist social transformations in Poland and participated in the crushing of the resistance to the communist rule during the post-war years. He also helped the communists in winning the 3 x Tak (3 Times Yes) referendum of 1946. A year later, he played a key role in the 1947 parliamentary elections, which were rigged to give the communists and their allies an overwhelming victory. After the elections, all remaining legal opposition in Poland was effectively destroyed.

Gomułka became the "hegemon" of Poland. However, a rivalry between Polish communist factions (Gomułka was the leader of a home national group vs. Bolesław Bierut of Stalin's group reared during the war in the Soviet Union) led to Gomułka's removal from power in 1948 and imprisonment (from August 1951 to December 1954). He was accused of "right wing-reactionary deviation" and expelled from the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR) (as the Polish Workers' Party was renamed following a merger with the Polish Socialist Party).

The Stalinist General Secretary of the PZPR Bierut died in March 1956, during the period of de-Stalinization in Poland, which gradually developed after Stalin's death. Edward Ochab became the new first secretary of the Party. In June 1956, violent worker protests broke out in Poznań. The worker riots were harshly suppressed and dozens of workers were killed. However, the Party leadership, which now included many reform-minded officials, recognized to some degree the validity of the protest participants' demands and took steps to placate the workers.[2][3]

Gomułka with Leonid Brezhnev in East Germany

The reformers in the Party wanted a political rehabilitation of Gomułka and his return to the Party leadership. Gomułka insisted that he be given real power to implement further reforms. He wanted a replacement of some of the Party leaders, including the pro-Soviet Minister of Defense Konstantin Rokossovsky.

The Soviet leadership viewed events in Poland with alarm. Simultaneously with Soviet troop movements deep into Poland, a high-level Soviet delegation flew to Warsaw. It was led by Nikita Khrushchev and included Mikoyan, Bulganin, Molotov, Kaganovich, Marshal Konev and others. Ochab and Gomułka made it clear that Polish forces would resist if Soviet troops advanced, but reassured the Soviets that the reforms were internal matters and that Poland had no intention of abandoning the communist bloc or its treaties with the Soviet Union. The Soviets yielded.[4]

Following the wishes of the majority of the Politburo members, First Secretary Ochab gave in and on 20 October the Central Committee brought Gomułka and several associates into the Politburo, removed others, and elected Gomułka as first secretary of the Party. Gomułka, the former prisoner of the Stalinists, enjoyed wide popular support across the country, expressed by the participants of a massive street demonstration in Warsaw on 24 October.

A major factor that influenced Gomułka was the Oder-Neisse line issue. West Germany refused to recognize the Oder-Neisse line and Gomułka realized the fundamental instability of Poland's unilaterally imposed western border.[5] He felt threatened by the revanchist statements put out by the Adenauer government and believed that the alliance with the Soviet Union was the only thing stopping the threat of a future German invasion.[6] The new Party leader told the 8th Plenum of the PZPR on 19 October 1956 that: "Poland needs friendship with the Soviet Union more than the Soviet Union needs friendship with Poland... Without the Soviet Union we cannot maintain our borders with the West".[7] Seeing that Gomułka was popular with the Polish people, and given his insistence that he wanted to maintain the alliance with the Soviet Union and the presence of the Red Army in Poland, Khrushchev decided that Gomułka was a leader that Moscow could live with.[6]

Gomułka was initially very popular for his reforms and seeking a "Polish way to socialism",[8] and giving rise to the period known as "Gomułka's thaw". During the 1960s, however, he became more conservative and, afraid of destabilizing the system, not inclined to introduce or permit changes. In the 1960s he supported persecution of the Catholic Church and intellectuals (notably Leszek Kołakowski, who was forced into exile). In 1967–68 Gomułka allowed outbursts of "anti-Zionist" political propaganda,[9] which developed first as a result of the Soviet bloc's frustration with the outcome of the Six-Day War.[3] It turned out being a thinly veiled anti-Semitic campaign, pursued primarily by others in the Party, but utilized by Gomułka to keep himself in power by shifting the attention of the populace from the stagnating economy and mismanagement. The result was that the majority of the remaining Polish citizens of Jewish origin left the country. At that time he was also responsible for persecuting protesting students and toughening censorship of the media. Gomułka was one of the key leaders of and supported Poland's participation in the Warsaw Pact intervention in Czechoslovakia in August 1968.

A remarkable achievement of Gomułka's politics was the negotiating of a treaty with West Germany, signed in December 1970. The German side recognized the post-World War II borders, which established a foundation for future peace, stability and cooperation in Central Europe.

In December 1970, economic difficulties led to price rises and subsequent bloody clashes with shipyard workers on the Baltic Coast, in which several dozen workers were fatally shot. The tragic events forced Gomułka's resignation and retirement. In a generational replacement of the ruling elite, Edward Gierek took over the Party leadership and tensions eased.

Gomułka's negative image in communist propaganda after his removal was gradually modified and some of his constructive contributions were recognized. He is seen as an honest and austere believer in the socialist system, who, unable to resolve Poland's formidable difficulties and satisfy mutually contradictory demands, grew more rigid and despotic later in his career. He died in 1982 of lung cancer. Gomułka's memoirs were first published in 1994.


  • Early life and career 1
  • Activist in the Communist Party of Poland 2
  • Conspiratorial work in occupied Poland, career in the Polish Workers' Party 3
  • PPR's secretary, State National Council, Polish Committee of National Liberation 4
  • Party and government work 1944–48 5
  • "Right-wing nationalist deviation" 6
  • Removal from public life 1949–56, persecution and imprisonment 7
  • References 8
  • Decorations and awards 9
  • See also 10

Early life and career

Władysław Gomułka was born in Białobrzegi Franciszkańskie, on the outskirts of Krosno, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (the Galicia region) on 6 February 1905. His parents met and married in the United States, where each went in search for better life in the late 19th century, but returned to the Austrian Partition of Poland in the early 20th century because Władysław's father Jan was unable to find in America a well-paying job. Jan Gomułka worked as a laborer in the Subcarpathian oil industry, while Władysław's older sister Józefa, born in the USA, returned there upon turning eighteen to preserve her US citizenship and join the extended family, most of whom had emigrated. Władysław and his two siblings experienced a childhood of the proverbial Galician poverty: they lived in an old dilapidated hut and ate mostly potatoes.[10]

Gomułka attended schools in Krosno for six or seven years, until the age of thirteen, when he had to start an apprenticeship in a metal- and tool-working shop. Throughout his life Gomułka was an avid reader and accomplished a great deal of self-education, but remained a subject of jokes because of his lack of formal education and demeanor.[10]

In 1922, Gomułka passed his apprenticeship exams and began working at the local refineries. The reestablished Polish state of Gomułka's teen years was a scene of growing political polarization and radicalization. The young worker developed connections with the radical Herman Lieberman. He published radical texts in leftist newspapers. In May 1926 the young Gomułka was for the first time arrested, but soon released because of worker demands. The incident was the subject of a parliamentary intervention by the Peasant Party. In October 1926, Gomułka became a secretary of the managing council in the Chemical Industry Workers Union for the Drohobych District and remained involved with that communist-dominated union until 1930. He learned on his own the basic Ukrainian language. [11][12]

Activist in the Communist Party of Poland

In late 1926 in Drohobych Gomułka became a member of the Communist Party of Western Ukraine, a branch of the illegally functioning

Party political offices
Preceded by
Paweł Finder
General Secretary of the Polish Workers' Party
Succeeded by
Bolesław Bierut (as General Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party
Preceded by
Edward Ochab
General Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party
21 October 1956 - 20 December 1970
Succeeded by
Edward Gierek

See also

Decorations and awards

  1. ^  
  2. ^ Rothschild and Wingfield: Return to Diversity, A Political History of East Central Europe Since World War II OUP 2000
  3. ^ a b "The defection of Jozef Swiatlo and the Search for Jewish Scapegoats in the Polish United Workers' Party, 1953-1954" (PDF). Fourth Convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities. Harriman Institute, Columbia University, New York City. April 15–17, 1999. Retrieved 2007-10-27. 
  4. ^ "Notes from the Minutes of the CPSU CC Presidium Meeting with Satellite Leaders, October 24, 1956" (PDF). The 1956 Hungarian Revolution, A History in Documents. George Washington University: The National Security Archive. November 4, 2002. Retrieved 2006-09-02. 
  5. ^ Granville, Johanna "Reactions to the Events of 1956: New Findings from the Budapest and Warsaw Archives" pages 261-290 from Journal of Contemporary History, Volume 38, Issue #2, April 2003 pages 284-285.
  6. ^ a b Granville, Johanna "From the Archives of Warsaw and Budapest: A Comparison of the Events of 1956" pages 521-563 from East European Politics and Societies, Volume 16, Issue #2, April 2002 pages 540-541
  7. ^ Granville, Johanna "From the Archives of Warsaw and Budapest: A Comparison of the Events of 1956" pages 521-563 from East European Politics and Societies, Volume 16, Issue #2, April 2002 page 541
  8. ^ "Rebellious Compromiser". Time Magazine. 10 December 1956. Retrieved 2006-10-14. 
  9. ^ Judt, Tony (2005). Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. New York, The Penguin Press (pages 434-435)
  10. ^ a b c Jerzy Eisler, Siedmiu wspaniałych. Poczet pierwszych sekretarzy KC PZPR [The Magnificent Seven: first secretaries of the PZPR], Wydawnictwo Czerwone i Czarne, Warszawa 2014, ISBN 978-83-7700-042-7, pp. 174–175
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Jerzy Eisler, Siedmiu wspaniałych. Poczet pierwszych sekretarzy KC PZPR, pp. 175–178
  12. ^ Andrzej Werblan, Władysław Gomułka. Sekretarz Generalny PPR [Władysław Gomułka: Secretary General of the PPR], Książka i Wiedza, Warszawa 1988, ISBN 83-05-11972-6, pp. 20–25
  13. ^ a b Andrzej Werblan, Władysław Gomułka. Sekretarz Generalny PPR [Władysław Gomułka: Secretary General of the PPR], pp. 25–44
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Jerzy Eisler, Siedmiu wspaniałych. Poczet pierwszych sekretarzy KC PZPR, pp. 178–182
  15. ^ Brzoza, Czesław (2003). Polska w czasach niepodległości i II wojny światowej (1918–1945) [Poland in Times of Independence and World War II (1918–1945)], pp. 362–363. Kraków: Fogra. ISBN 83-85719-61-X.
  16. ^ a b c d Jerzy Eisler, Siedmiu wspaniałych. Poczet pierwszych sekretarzy KC PZPR, pp. 182–185
  17. ^ Andrzej Werblan, Władysław Gomułka. Sekretarz Generalny PPR [Władysław Gomułka: Secretary General of the PPR], p. 5


Gomułka's life and public activity was interrupted by an eight year long period (1949–56) during which he performed no official functions and was subjected to persecution and imprisonment.[17]

Removal from public life 1949–56, persecution and imprisonment

In June 1948, because of the impending unification of the PPR and PPS, Gomułka delivered a talk on the subject of the history of the Polish worker movement.

"Right-wing nationalist deviation"

Gomułka's rivalry with Bierut continued and intensified during the late phase of World War II and the postwar years.

Party and government work 1944–48

On 20 July, the Soviet forces under Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky forced their way across the Bug River and on that same day the combined meeting of Polish communists from the Moscow and Warsaw factions finalized the arrangements regarding the establishment (on 21 July) of the Polish Committee of National Liberation (PKWN), a temporary government headed by Edward Osóbka-Morawski, a socialist allied with the communists. Gomułka and other PPR leaders left Warsaw and headed for the Soviet-controlled territory, arriving in Lublin on 1 August, the day the Warsaw Uprising erupted in the Polish capital.[16]

Gomułka felt that the Polish communists in occupied Poland had a better understanding of Polish realities than their brethren in Moscow and that the State National Council should determine the shape of the future executive government of Poland. Nevertheless, to gain a Soviet approval and to clear any misunderstandings a KRN delegation left Warsaw in mid-March heading for Moscow, where it arrived two months later. By that time Stalin concluded that the existence of the KRN was a positive development and the Poles arriving from Warsaw were received and greeted by him and other Soviet dignitaries. The Union of Polish Patriots and the Central Bureau of Polish Communists in Moscow were now under pressure to recognize the primacy of the PPR, the KRN and Władysław Gomułka, which they ultimately did only in mid-July.[16]

The founding meeting of the State National Council took place in the late evening of 31 December 1943. The new body's chairman Bierut was becoming Gomułka's main rival. In mid-January 1944 Dimitrov was finally informed of the KRN's existence, which surprised both him and the Polish communist leaders in Moscow, increasingly led by Jakub Berman, who had other, competing ideas concerning the establishment of a Polish communist ruling party and government.[16]

In the fall of 1943, the PPR leadership began discussing the creation of a Polish quasi-parliamentary, communist-led body, to be named the State National Council (Krajowa Rada Narodowa, KRN). After the Gestapo arrested Finder and Małgorzata Fornalska, who possessed the secret codes for communication with Moscow and the Soviet response remained unknown. In the absence of Finder, on 23 November Gomułka was elected secretary (chief) of the PPR and Bierut joined the three-person inner leadership.[16]

PPR's secretary, State National Council, Polish Committee of National Liberation

Gomułka made efforts, largely unsuccessful, to secure for the PPR cooperation of other political forces in occupied Poland. Bierut was indifferent to any such attempts and counted simply on compulsion provided by a future presence of the Red Army in Poland. The different strategies resulted in a sharp conflict between the two communist politicians.[15]

In 1943 Gomułka became the Party's main ideologist. He wrote the "What do we fight for?" (O co walczymy?) publication dated 1 March 1943, and the much more comprehensive declaration that emerged under the same title in November. "Wiesław" supervised the Party's main editorial and publishing undertaking.[14]

In February 1943, Gomułka led the communist side in a series of important meetings in Warsaw between the PPR and the Government Delegation of the London-based Polish government-in-exile and the Home Army. The talks produced no results because of the divergent interests of the parties involved and a mutual lack of confidence. The Delegation officially discontinued the negotiations on April 28, three days after the Soviet government broke diplomatic relations with the Polish government.[14]

In late 1942 and early 1943, the PPR experienced a severe crisis because of the murder of its first secretary Marceli Nowotko. Gomułka participated in the party investigation directed against another member of the leadership, Bolesław Mołojec that resulted in his execution. Together with the promoted to secretary Finder and Franciszek Jóźwiak, "Wiesław" was included in the Party's new inner leadership, established in January 1943. The Central Committee was enlarged in the following months to include Bolesław Bierut, among others.[14]

Gomułka became involved in the creation of party structures in the Subcarpathian region and began using his wartime conspiratorial pseudonym "Wiesław". In July 1942, Paweł Finder brought Gomułka to occupied Warsaw. In August, the secretary of the PPR's regional Warsaw Committee was arrested by the Gestapo and "Wiesław" was entrusted with his job. In September Gomułka became a member of the PPR's Temporary Central Committee.[14]

The circumstances of the Polish communists' lives changed dramatically after the German attack on the Soviet Union. Greatly impoverished in now German-occupied Lviv, the Gomułkas managed to join Władysław's family in Krosno by the end of 1941. However, a momentous development soon took place in the sphere of communist political activity: in January 1942, Joseph Stalin reestablished in Warsaw a Polish communist party under the name of the Polish Workers' Party (PPR).[14]

Like other members of the dissolved Communist Party of Poland, Gomułka sought a membership in the Soviet All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks). The Soviet authorities allowed such membership transfers only from March 1941 and in April of that year Gomułka received his party card in Kiev.[14]

The outbreak of the war freed Gomułka from his prison confinement. On 7 September he arrived in Warsaw, where he stayed for a few weeks, working in the besieged capital on the construction of defensive fortifications. From there, like many other Polish communists, Gomułka went to the Soviet-controlled territory. In Białystok he ran a home for former political prisoners arriving from other parts of Poland. To be reunited with his luckily found wife, at the end of 1939 Gomułka moved to Lviv.[14]

Conspiratorial work in occupied Poland, career in the Polish Workers' Party

Gomułka's experiences turned him into an extremely suspicious and distrustful person and contributed to his lifelong conviction that Sanation Poland was a fascist state. He differentiated this belief from his positive feelings toward the country and its people, especially members of the working class.[11]

Gomułka resumed his communist and labor conspiratorial activities and kept advancing within the KPP organization until, as the secretary of the Party's Silesian branch, he was arrested in Chorzów in April 1936. He was then tried by the District Court in Katowice and sentenced to seven years in prison, reduced on an appeal to four and a half years. He spent time in the same cell with Romkowski again. In 1938 in a prison in Sieradz, Gomułka became the official leader of the commune of political prisoners. He stayed there until the outbreak of World War II.[11]

The ideology-oriented classes were arranged separately for a small group of Polish students (one of them was Roman Romkowski, who would later persecute Gomułka in Stalinist Poland) and included a military training course conducted by Karol Świerczewski. In a written opinion issued by the school Gomułka was characterized in highly positive terms, but his extended stay in the Soviet Union caused him to become disillusioned with the realities of Stalinist communism and highly critical of the agrarian collectivization practice. In November 1935 he illegally returned to Poland.[11]

On 1 June 1933 Gomulka was sentenced to a four-year prison term. In March 1934 he was temporarily released for a surgery of the injured leg. He requested the KPP to send him to the Soviet Union for medical treatment and to attend the International Lenin School. He arrived in the Soviet Union in June and went to the Crimea for several weeks, where he underwent helpful therapeutic baths. Gomułka then spent more than a year in Moscow, where he attended the Lenin School under the name Stefan Kowalski.[11]

Gomułka continued his work as a member of the Trade Department of the KPP. Attending a conference of textile industry delegates in Łódź, he was arrested on 28 August 1932. During an escape attempt Gomułka was shot by a policeman and seriously wounded in the left thigh. Despite a long hospital treatment, he was left with a permanent leg disability.[11]

In the summer of 1930 Gomułka illegally embarked on his first foreign trip with the intention of participating in the Red International of Labor Unions Fifth Congress held in Moscow from 15 to 30 July. Traveling from Upper Silesia to Berlin, he had to wait there for the issuance of Soviet documents and arrived in Moscow too late participate in the deliberations of the Congress. He stayed in Moscow for a couple of weeks and then went to Leningrad, from where he took a ship to Hamburg, stayed in Berlin again and through Silesia returned to Poland.[11]


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