Origins of
the Soviet-Type
Command Economy in Poland

by    Jennifer Parnes


The end of 1947 manifested a transition between the revolutions of 1945 and 1948-50 and thus a movement toward the institution of the system commonly referred to as “Stalinism”.  This time underscored the multifaceted ties between the politics of Stalinism and political forces.  “On one side, in the Polish mountain town of Szklarska Poreba, Stalin’s delegation encouraged Poland and its neighbors to strengthen their “people’s democracies” (Padaic, pg. 189).

 In Warsaw, the Moscow communists led by Boleslaw Bierut rejected PPR leader Wladyslaw Gomulka’s “Polish road to socialism” which had adapted the Soviet model to Polish conditions.  While this progression of events helped to establish the era of Stalinism in Poland, which ended with the death of Bierut and the return of Gomulka to power in 1956, it does not account for other events that took place.  It can say little about what the system looked like or how it operated.

Life in the working class community went unchanged in many ways, but Stalinist Poland was extremely different from what anyone had envisioned it to be.  “Class rhetoric became ubiquitous and was turned against the workers themselves, while the communist party became a nonclass, all embracing social organization (Padaic, pg. 190).  Consequently, there was a system in which boundaries between public and private sectors deteriorated, and people were assembled into participating in Stalinism.


The communist regime was concurrently faced with many obstacles when implementing this system.  They had to deal with major strike waves, prevalent labor turnover, hostile prewar traditions, and serious economic downfalls.  A new Poland could not be created without class conflict, an ideology that had been possessed by so many people for so long.  During 1948, the communists were able to gain the upper hand in the factories and the working class communities.  The essence of Polish Stalinism emanated from negotiations based on the position that workers had ventured into.  “The communists attempted to secure a post revolutionary legitimacy and impose some kind of order in society, the factories, and the party itself” (Padaic, pg. 191).

Prior to World War II, the Communist party leadership in Poland never really had the opportunity to dispossess itself from their doctrinaire approach.  Most of these leaders had embraced ideologies when they trained in the USSR.  They had relatively no contact with the poor peasantry following their reforms did not envelop any sympathy for their present conditions and advocated the preservation and nationalization of large land estates.  Communism had some support from landless workers because their intuition reminded these discouraged peasants that breaking up these estates would transform them into small holders with a vested interest in their land. 


From 1926 until the outbreak of the war, the Communist party was heavily suppressed underground by the Polish police.  They propagated strikes but did not display great activity.  After 1935, they attempted to pursue tactics with the socialists in line with the Cominterns, but their advances were rejected.  Despite frequent Soviet intervention, the party’s leadership in Poland was plagued with Trotskyism and right wing deviation. 

In the first two phases of Poland’s domestic policy after the war, the Communists often adopted programs formulated by socialists, peasants, and liberals.  After it had eliminated the last political opposition in late 1947, the regime in Warsaw became more openly communist and modeled its policies closely after the Soviet prototype.  The first three years following WWII in Poland can be compared with the period of the New Economic Policy in the Soviet Union during 1921-28.  Private trade, light industry, and individual agriculture characterized the era.  The government emphasized protection of the private sector.

By the end of 1948, Communist goals were openly affirmed and pursued.  The adoption of the Six-Year plan (1950-55) dignified a turning point in Polish postwar developments.  It certified the communist objective of preparing the framework for Socialism.  Bierut has been noted to say “[People’s democracy is not] a synthesis or a permanent co-existence of 2 differing social systems but a system which pushes out and gradually liquidates capitalistic elements and simultaneously develops and strengthens the foundation of the future socialist economy” (Staar, pg. 86)


In 1944, the communist party stated that industry, banks, and transportation would be executed by the state temporarily and returned to their rightful owners when economic conditions had regressed to normal.  Nationalization was never mentioned in this July Manifesto.  After policy took a radical turn in 1948 there was no more mention of the July Manifesto, and things took a turn for the worse.

Policies of Polish communists advocated the separating of large estates by following agrarian reforms. The national economy purchased and marketed co-operatives and agricultural collectivization along with the liquidation of kulaks (peasants with large farms employing hired labor).  Collectivization was at first denied as being an aim of the government and was later introduced by the regime in Warsaw.  Wladyslaw Gomulka dictated that he stood on the basis of individual peasant cultivation and rejected the collectivization of farms.  Hilary Minc gave the signal for collectivizing Poland at the July 1948 meeting of the Central Committee.  They said only cooperative farming can introduce bright perspectives for the peasant.”  (Staar, pg. 92).   The main obstacle holding back rapid collectivization of Poland is the strong attachment of the peasant to private ownership of land.


The professed policy of the communists was to change Poland from a predominantly agricultural country into one with accentuating the industrial economy.  The communists hoped to achieve this by developing existing industries and creating new ones.  The initiative was taken in 1946 when a law was passed seizing and nationalizing some 3300 factories, mills, plants, and mines with a greater than fifty labor force.  In the words of a Soviet writer, this time was comparable to the “seizure of the commanding heights by the Bolsheviks early in the Russian revolution” (Staar, pg. 93).  Obstacle such as prohibitive taxation and scarce raw materials were a problem.  Investment planning in Poland has always been forced to include a drastic reduction of facilities for producing consumer goods and a rigorous selection of imports.

 The late 1970’s and 80’s brought with it economic hardships, which resulted primarily from the misimplementation of the Polish, command economy.  Lagging technology, rising inflation, and discontentment among industrial workers all contributed to the mishaps and the need for transition to capitalism.



1.  Staar, Richard F.  Poland 1944-1962: The Sovietization of a Captive People. Hauser Printing Co. Inc.: New Orleans, 1962

2.  Padaic, Kenney.  Rebuilding Poland Workers and Communists 1945-1950.  Cornell University Press: New York, 1997





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