How Poland Became Communist After WWII?

Many people wonder how Poland became a communist country. I often hear foreigners say the communist regime is still influencing the Polish nation. Is it true? Well, I would say it is not, but there are people that would be more than happy to prove me wrong. I will be discussing the communist regime in Poland after World War II. It is despite the fact that the origins of this movement can be traced back to 1918.

What Was the Purpose of Communism?

First of all, let’s focus on what it means and why it was invented. The word „communism” actually comes from the Latin word „communis”. It means „common”, „general” or „universal”. As a political doctrine as well as a system of beliefs, it was essential to eliminate the oppression and social exploitation of the poorest classes by capitalists. All of that was supposed to be replaced by a society in which there would be no classes and everyone would be equal. This new society was to be based on the idea of collective ownership of goods. Wealth was supposed to be distributed equitably among all citizens.

It means that we would all be working for the same (or similar) salary, and we could all afford the same things. We would all be working for the country and its best interests. The individual will never be as important as society. As you can tell, this movement can still be found in many countries across the globe. One of the best examples: North Korea.

How Was Communism Developed Before Coming to Poland?

One of the most important things before we get to the clue is that the founders of communist doctrine were Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. In 1848, they published the Communist Manifesto, in which they included the basic postulates of the new movement.

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Before we get to Poland, I need to explain that one of the types of communism was Stalinism. A type of political system that developed in the USSR after Joseph Stalin took over the leadership. Among Stalinism’s most notable features were things like: the cult of the leader (Stalin), dictatorship, absolute command over all areas of political and social life, overwhelming terror, and an economy based on centralized planning.

The Beginning – Stalinism in Poland after 1944

In 1944, the Soviet Red Army increased its actions as the German army became weaker and weaker. At the same time, the Polish National Army started its diversionary operation. Its goal was to seize power in major urban centers from the Germans. The action, which began in February, succeeded in many military ways. Often in cooperation with the Red Army. After the battles ended, National Army units were disbanded by the Soviet NKWD. 

That is How Communism Began

In the same year (1944), in Moscow, the temporary Polish government was created. It was chaired by the leader, Edward Osóbka-Morawski. He was completely subordinated to the Soviet Communists in Moscow.

Both potential and actual government opponents were eliminated. Citizens could experience intensified terror organized by the Ministry of Public Security (communists). Poland was forced to strengthen ties with the other Soviet-dominated countries in Europe. The economy was governed by the leader, and the private sector was eliminated.

Tanks in the streets of Poland. The grim everyday life of the early 1980s plunged into martial law. This is one moment of Warsaw’s turbulent history captured in black and white. | Source: Digital National Archive / Public Domain

The government Headed by Wladyslaw Gomulka in 1956

The government made changes in the political and economic system after the strikes of 1956 that took place in Poland. They reduced repression and abandoned collectivization, increased civil rights, and attempted to modernize the economy. It was not enough. People wanted to free the Church, art, and science from the communist influence.

After the political crisis in December 1970 (the workers’ strikes on the coast in December 1970), Edward Gierek’s team took over the government. They adopted the concept of a so-called „strategy of rapid social and economic development in Poland”.So this program was financed by foreign loans. Mostly from the United States. Unfortunately, it turned out to be under inefficient control and collapsed, leaving the country with a huge foreign debt, strikes, and demonstrations.

The „Solidarnosc” Social Union and the Martial Law in Poland in 1980

The dramatic escalation of the economic crisis accelerated the mass strikes across the country in 1980. It all led to the social agreements. It gave rise to the Solidarity Union (with 10 million members, including Chairman Lech Walesa). The authorities, facing a threat to their monopoly of power, imposed a state of war across the whole of Poland. It took place on December 13, 1981.

State of War (Martial Law) in Poland | Year 1982.
Communist Police facing the civilians on the streets.

There were strikes in May and August 1988, and the Solidarity Citizens’ Committee was established in December 1988. This was followed by negotiations between the government and part of the opposition (mainly Solidarnosc). The talks focused mainly on the modernization of the political and social systems and the repair of Poland’s economic system. It all ended with the „Round Table Agreement” in February and April 1989.

End of Communism in Poland in 1980

In April 1989, the NSZZ „Solidarity” was registered as a party. In June, the same year, semi-democratic parliamentary elections finally took place. „Solidarity” won, so they formed a new government, which was composed of representatives of the opposition. Tadeusz Mazowiecki became Prime Minister of Poland.

On February 6, 1989, the roundtable began, which brought an end to communist regime in Poland just four months later.

Was Life Better Back Then?

Sometimes I hear people say that it was much better during the times of communism. You can hear it, especially from the elderly. In fact, many people believe it. Surprisingly, according to the survey organized by, 48% admit they lived much better lives in the 70’s and 80’s.

The most dissatisfied are usually those with the lowest level of education. Retired people who used to be blue-collar workers during the communist era complain a lot as well. Interestingly, those with a high school education also indicate that they have a much harder life now. When asked what would improve their well-being, they say higher salaries. They point out that they belong to the group of the least paid. I can read in the survey that they are not able to accept social injustice. In their opinion, things were fairer during the communist era. Today, there is too much disproportion in earnings. As you can imagine, in the communist era, everyone earned the exact same low salary.

Most common questions about communism in Poland

Was there communism in Poland?

In the period 1944-1989, Poland was called People’s Poland in propaganda, colloquially and sometimes in official government records. During this period, Poland was a non-sovereign state under the political domination of the USSR.

How long did communism last in Poland?

The period of communism was called people’s democracy and last from 1945, through the establishment of the People’s Republic of Poland, to the Round Table in 1989.

Is Socialism and Communism the same?

For orthodox Marxists socialism is a lower stage of communism. Communism would only become possible after the socialist stage of developing economic efficiency and automating production, which would lead to a surplus of goods and services.

What did communism proclaim?

The main leaders of the concept of communism, Vladimir Lenin and Lev Trotsky, in their program preached the creation of a classless society in which everyone would work for the common good. The determination of each person’s needs would also be identified collectively. They also postulated to abolish private property.

What was life like during communism?

Daily life during the communist era was very difficult due to the lack of goods in stores, and constant caution to speak out loud about what one thinks. Censorship, limited access to real information and constant propaganda. On the other hand, people were united and spent time together.

How did the communist authorities use propaganda?

The censorship was part of the propaganda machine in the People’s Republic of Poland. Its headquarters was the Central Office of Press, Publishing and Broadcasting Control. The propaganda of the PRL replicated the communist propaganda of the Soviet Union, being a local Polish version of it.

What kind of music was listened in communist Poland?

Primarily it was inspired by the music of the Beatles. Yet at the time, scout music was also popularized. Festive music was also happily sung as well as patriotic content was also developing.