Courtesy Reuters

Beyond the Gomulka Era

Wladyslaw Gomulka's place in Polish history is assured. He was a central, even if highly controversial, figure in Poland's politics in the postwar period. Gomulka ruled the country longer than any other Pole since the eighteenth century-including Jozef Pilsudski, who governed Poland through most of the interwar years.

Gomulka's political program, of course, was that of Pilsudski à rebours. Pilsudski epitomized the old Poland of the landed gentry. Even though he flirted with socialism he had little interest in social reform; his main concern was to maintain the country's independence. Pilsudski saw the main danger to Poland coming from the east and he was bitterly anti-Russian. Gomulka personified the new People's Poland. He was preoccupied with social progress, even if this entailed restrictions on the country's external freedom. In Gomulka's eyes the major threat to Poland was posed by Germany and he was a strong proponent of an alliance with the Soviet Union.

Yet, in terms of personal characteristics and political style, paradoxically, Pilsudski and Gomulka had a good deal in common. In private life they were both modest, almost austere, and their honesty was beyond reproach. Their public careers, moreover, showed several striking similarities. Both were men of strong views and considerable courage, who stood up for their convictions against all adversaries-both fought in the underground and knew the insides of many prisons. Pilsudski and Gomulka alike tasted moments of utter humiliation and great triumph; both were defeated and returned to power. And finally, both Polish rulers, as they grew older, became divorced from the people, intolerant of all opposition, and increasingly autocratic.

Gomulka emerged as a top political leader, on the ruins of Pilsudski's Poland, in the communist underground during World War II. From 1943 until 1948 he was Secretary General of the newly founded Polish Workers' Party. In this capacity he played a key role in helping to establish, despite formidable opposition, a communist system in the country. Yet, in contrast to the other Polish communist leaders, who were totally subservient

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