1949- 1958

Decade of totalitarianism and relief. After the Soviets installed their administrative structures in Poland and removed any meaningful armed resistance, they transformed the country into a smaller version of the USSR under Stalin's rule. This involved all aspects of social activity. Stalinist influence lasted beyond Stalin's death. Liberalisation from hardline and partial autonomy from the USSR only became possible in 1956, after Nikita Khrushchev broke away from Stalin's legacy. 

Soviet-style centralised state planning was introduced in the Six-Year Plan, which began in 1950. The plan called for accelerated development of heavy industry and forced collectivisation of agriculture. The state also took control of nearly all commercial and industrial enterprises, leaving only family-run shops in the private sector that were harassed by bureaucratic requirements set by the government. Pictured is the construction site of Nowa Huta steel mill, the biggest of all investments approved by the plan, which included also a whole new residential district for Kraków.

Post-war Poland under Stalin's rule became a totalitarian state with omnipresent terror and paranoia of counter-espionage executed by the ministry of public security. Soviet advisers were placed in every arm of the government and state security as a guarantee of the pro-Soviet influence of the state. The communist rule was also backed by tens of thousands of Red Army troops that remained in Poland after WWII. In 1953, at the peak of Stalinism, the secret police totalled 32,000 officers and 85,000 secret agents hidden within the society. No one felt safe, even in the highest ranks of the communist regime itself. Pictured is a trial in 1951.

The Stalinist regime was particularly eager to persecute anyone who was involved in Poland's wartime Underground State. Pictured is the English edition of a book by Kazimierz Moczarski, head of Bureau of Information and Propaganda of Poland's wartime partisan Home Army. Jailed by the communist regime, he shared his prison cell with the Nazi war criminal Jürgen Stroop, against whom he fought just a few years earlier.

A new constitution based on the constitution of USSR was imposed in 1952. The new framework broke the tradition of separation of powers and established the worker– peasant alliance as the leading force in Polish society, exerted by the communist monoparty, PZPR. Pictured is the first draft of the constitution in Russian, with personal revisions by Stalin and his handwritten remarks.

Bolesław Bierut, a pre-war Polish communist, NKVD agent and protégé of Stalin, was Poland's leading figure under Stalinist rule. From 1947, he served as president of Poland until the abolition of the presidency in 1952. Then, he served as Poland's prime minister until 1954 and was also the first secretary general of the ruling communist monoparty PZPR from 1948 to 1956. He mysteriously died during a visit to Moscow in 1956, three years after the death of Stalin. Pictured is a propaganda poster with his mentor.

By 1949, the USSR concluded a treaty of friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance with Poland, which, among other things, granted the Soviet Union the formal right to a continued military presence on Poland's territory. By 1955, the countries under Soviet occupation signed a treaty of collective defense in Warsaw known as the Warsaw Pact, which was created as a response to NATO. In 1956, Poland and the USSR signed a dedicated treaty to fully regulate the Soviet military presence in Poland. Red Army troops in Poland were, however, exempt from any Polish oversight.

The regime aimed to enhance the rise of labour productivity by promoting competition between workers and awarding the best of them with the title of ‘Model Worker’, which was seen as the vanguard of the communist movement.

Hope for liberalisation within the Soviet-imposed regime arose following the death of Stalin in 1953, yet real change only occurred in 1956 after the events known as the Polish October. Pictured is a newspaper announcing Stalin’s death.

Named after the city of Warsaw, FSO Warszawa was the first car produced in Poland after WWII. The vehicle was built under Soviet licence and was identical to the GAZ-M20 ‘Pobeda’. Production started in 1951 and lasted until 1973. Over 250,000 were built in total.

Early on, the communist government avoided persecuting the Catholic Church, and instead sought to stir up anticlerical sentiment within Poland’s traditionally religious society. On the other side, the Polish Catholic clergy denounced the atheism of the regime. In 1949, the Vatican's excommunication of Catholics involved in the PZPR brought open hostility from both sides, including direct repressions against church officials. Pictured is Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński leading a Corpus Christi procession in Warsaw in 1957, shortly after his release from a three year conviction.

Postwar modernisation was fashioned according to the principles of socialist realism, an artistic style characterised by the glorified depiction of communist values and a romanticised vision of a perfect future society. Other artistic styles were banned because they were considered to be ideologically inspired by the hostile and decadent capitalist West. Socialist realism shaped the whole realm of visual arts, from painting to architecture. Pictured is the Palace of Culture and Science, which dominated the landscape of post-war Warsaw. Opened in 1955, it is the most notable example of socialist realism in Poland.

The thaw came in 1956. Workers protests in Poznań (right) involved tens of thousands and were brutally squashed (below right), but highlighted the general dissatisfaction of the people. A few months later, taking advantage of a change of policy inside the USSR, a reformist faction led by Władysław Gomułka (below) came into power in Poland and eventually abated the pervasive Stalinist terror. Many political prisoners were released as part of a general amnesty. Repressions, censorship and propaganda still shaped Poland's internal politics, yet became less intense.

December 12, 2018
1939-1948
Decade of calamity. WWII was an unprecedented disaster for Poland. The country lost not only…
December 13, 2018
1949 - 1958
Decade of totalitarianism and relief. After the Soviets installed their administrative structures in Poland and…
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