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371 ANDRZEJ PACZKOWSKI THE TWENTIETH CONGRESS OF THE SOVIET COMMUNIST PARTY, THE POLISH OCTOBER, AND THE STRUGGLE FOR AUTONOMY IT IS GENERALLY believed that 1956 marked one of the most important junctures in the latter half of the twentieth century due to the changes that took place at that time within the communist camp and in East-West relations . It needs to be pointed out, however, that two crucial developments that year—Nikita Khrushchev’s address, “On the Cult of the Individual and Its Consequences,” delivered at a closed session of the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (February), and the Soviet army’s suppression of the national revolution in Hungary (November)—carried quite different, even contradictory, messages. The former supposedly testified to the “opening up” of communism and its inherent capacity for self-criticism and self-improvement. The latter demonstrated that the Soviet Union was capable of deceit and violence if its leaders thought the national interest and ideological dogma were under threat, and that, despite de-Stalinization, the Soviet Union had not ceased being imperial and aggressive. The Hungarian lesson (and indeed the Czechoslovak lesson twelve years later) left a deep imprint and became a key factor enhancing the stability of communism in all of Central and Eastern Europe until 1989. That dual image of the Soviet Union was also evident in its relations with Poland. In 1956, it expressed itself in the deep inertia of the Soviet system, the Soviet leaders’ predilection for ordering the satellite states around, and the imperative of maintaining internal discipline and unity. The pace of de-Stalinization in Poland substantially accelerated in the spring and summer of 1956 as a result of several factors, including growing public disaffection. The latter reached its peak in late June, when economically motivated strikes in several factories in Poznań evolved into street demonstrations and riots (public buildings were attacked, including the local headquarters of the Security Office) and were violently suppressed by the army. The workers were singing “The Internationale” as they marched out of 372 ANDRZEJ PACZKOWSKI their plants but switched to the national anthem and religious-patriotic songs after tens of thousands had gathered in the city center. Perhaps the revolt would not have taken place or assumed such dramatic scale if it had not been for the rift within the party leadership following the unexpected death of the “Polish Stalin”—Bolesław Bierut—who died on the night of 12 March in Moscow, where he had gone to attend the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU. On 14 March, the Presidium of the Central Committee of the CPSU decided that Khrushchev would personally take part in Bierut’s funeral in Warsaw and discussed his likely successors: Edward Ochab and Aleksander Zawadzki. In his memoirs, Khrushchev cited concern over rumors circulating in Poland that Bierut had been murdered in Moscow as the reason he chose to make the trip. However, beyond ceremonial considerations, it is certain that succession issues were more important to him. Khrushchev took part in the funeral and stayed on in the Polish capital to attend the session of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) that was to elect the party’s new first secretary. His participation in the meeting on 20 March took an unexpected turn: Khrushchev did not restrict himself to the role of observer but joined in the debate about the addition of Roman Zambrowski—a Politburo member and close Bierut aide—to the CC Secretariat. Khrushchev took the floor after one of the speakers asked how the appointment “would be received by the people,” which raised tempers in the auditorium because Zambrowski was of Jewish origin and some of those present thought the statement smacked of antiSemitism . Khrushchev insisted that he “had not the slightest intention of interfering in your personnel policy” and delivered a protracted exposition on the technical division of competencies in the top Soviet party and state leadership , offering it as a model. However, the mere fact that he took part in the session and became involved in an internal conflict within the PZPR evoked adverse reactions. A press communiqué on the meeting did not even mention Khrushchev’s presence, though a rumor that he had attended and spoken out against Zambrowski’s candidacy quickly made the rounds, reinforcing the conviction that Moscow was calling the shots. Hardly anyone believed that Khrushchev had come to Warsaw to admire the recently opened, pompous Palace of Culture and Science...


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