Author: Wojciech Ostrowski
Institution: Uniwersytet Warszawski
Year of publication: 2014
Source: Show
Pages: 67-102
DOI Address:
PDF: ap/17/ap1704.pdf

The Impact of the Policy of the People’s Republic of China on the Reforms of “the Polish October” 1956.

The death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 started a brutal power struggle between different factions within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Although Nikita Khrushchev, promoting some reforms, became a new Soviet leader, his position was never as strong as the position of Stalin. His report “On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences” known as the “Secret Speech”, was in fact an element of his struggle against the enemy factions. However, the Speech did not improve the position of Khrushchev radically. First of all, it shocked the leaders of the satellite states. For the first time, communist methods were condemned not by “western revisionists”, but by the highest communist leader. For some satellite communist party leaders, the Speech was a threat to their positions based on an almost supernatural authority of the Soviet Union. For others, it was a sign that it was time to express their reformist ideas. This situation provoked factional struggles in other communist countries.
In the light of these events, Mao Zedong as well as other Chinese leaders hoped that the position of China in the Communist block would strengthen and that China could even lead the block.
The Russian factional struggle brought Mao Zedong both certain opportunities and threats. The criticism of a cult of personality encouraged factional struggle in the Communist Party of China. Some factions started to criticise the cult of Mao and his radical ideology and promoted an idea of collective leadership instead. Those tendencies became apparent at the first session of the Eighth Congress of the Communist Party of China held on 15–27 September 1956.
On the other hand, Khrushchev needed Mao’s support because of his weak position in the party and the Soviet Block (Stalin tried to keep Mao on a short leash instead). In fact, in the beginning of Khrushchev’s era, China was officially recognised as a second communist power. In official speeches, communist leaders would use the phrase “the block led by the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China”. The conflict between Moscow and its satellites allowed Mao to play a role of a mediator. It could also lead to a situation when Khrushchev would not be able to make any move in this matter without consulting it with Peking.
All these circumstances led to a conflict between Peking and Moscow, which saved the Polish reforms in 1956. Basing on the “Chinese support”, the reformists won their battle for the completion of the reformist program. Khrushchev was forced to accept the new Polish leadership of Wladyslaw Gomulka who was imprisoned earlier in 1950s as a right wing representative, a nationalist and the First Secretary. Russians also established a new relationship giving more independence to Poland.
The conflict between the Chinese and the Soviet communists had also a great influence on the official propaganda in Poland. In the Polish United Workers’ Party (PUWP), anti-Stalinist movements were growing constantly from 1954. In the mid-1950s, the members of the reformist Pulawian faction in the party controlled the press and other media, and in that time China was recognised as the great power within the Communist Block that adopted much more liberal policy then the Soviet Union did.

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