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Poland Defining the Military's Postwar Role
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    In June 1956, major failures of communist state economic policy brought a large-scale uprising of workers in Pozna demanding "bread and freedom." Polish troops refused to fire on the workers, heralding a political upheaval that ended the Stalinist era in Poland. The uprisings of 1956 greatly alarmed the Soviet Union and ultimately reduced Soviet control over the Polish military and internal security agencies. Poland's Security Service (Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa--SB), which had crushed the Pozna workers ruthlessly, was revamped in 1956. The widely unpopular Rokossovskii and thirty-two Soviet generals were recalled to the Soviet Union in spite of intense Soviet diplomatic pressure. At this critical point, Polish units went on alert in response to a massing of Soviet troops and tanks on the eastern border. Incoming party chief Wladyslaw Gomulka skillfully negotiated Poland's position with the Soviets; backed by Poland's demonstrated willingness to defend itself, Gomulka was able to avert an invasion. Just two weeks later, in October 1956, Soviet tanks would roll into Hungary. The Moscow Declaration and the Treaty of December 17, 1956 then stipulated the sovereignty of the Polish communist elite over the Polish military and established limitations on the stationing and maneuver of Soviet forces in Poland.

    Many of Gomulka's reforms proved short-lived, however, and no full offensive was mounted against Soviet control of the military. In his campaign against "revisionism," which began in 1957, Gomulka gradually returned pro-Moscow officers to key positions. Moscow continued to station troops in Poland, train Polish officers in the Soviet Union, supply Soviet-made weapons, and include Poland in regional defense plans. And in 1957, Gomulka formed the Military Counterintelligence Service to continue supplying the party information about political attitudes in the military. At the same time, he refined and professionalized the Internal Security Corps, which had been discredited in 1956. Political officers received training to give them a higher level of professional military competence and credibility with the troops and their professional counterparts. Nevertheless, experts consider the events of 1956 a watershed in Polish military history. Because Polish forces had helped the Polish communist government to a new autonomy, the military regained some of its prestige and influence in society.

    Gomulka's government sought to consolidate PZPR control of military policy, which in the Stalinist years had been a tangled combination of informal Polish and Soviet lines of authority. Gomulka replaced departing Soviet commanders with Polish officers who had served with him in the wartime communist underground (as opposed to the Soviet-controlled Polish First Army) and with commanders who had prepared their troops to resist the threatened Soviet invasion in 1956. Nominal control of military affairs rested with the Council of Ministers and its National Defense Committee (Komitet Obrony Kraju--KOK; see The Communist Tradition , this ch.). As in all other national policy matters, however, the Political Bureau (Politburo) of the PZPR had the final word in all important policy questions. Personalities and factions continued to dominate policy. Under Gomulka's trusted minister of national defense, General Marian Spychalski, the top grades of the officer corps were riven by political conflict. A conservative nationalist group known as the Partisans became a major force opposing military and political reform. Their leader, internal security chief Mieczyslaw Moczar, gained substantial power in the 1960s by playing factions against one another and purging reformist rivals. In 1967-68, using the June 1967 War between Israel and its Arab neighbors as a pretext, Moczar and his faction instigated the purge of the remaining 200 Jewish officers in the Polish People's Army and the ouster of Spychalski. Moczar's methodology did not yield him complete control, however, because most of the purged officers were replaced by young professionals uninterested in the ideological infighting of the military establishment.

    One such figure was Wojciech Jaruzelski, the lieutenant general who capped a rapid rise through the ranks by replacing Spychalski as minister of national defense in 1968. Jaruzelski's appointment began the retreat of the Partisans' influence. In 1970 the military again was ordered to quell worker riots, this time in the Baltic ports of Gdansk and Gdynia. Jaruzelski refused to transmit the order, and the army generally refrained from action. Although army units inflicted some civilian casualties, the Internal Security Corps again was the main force brought against Polish demonstrators. The army's reaction reinforced the message of 1956 that the Polish military could not be expected to defend a communist regime from the people by suppressing political unrest.

    In the 1970s, the prestige of the military continued to grow while that of the PZPR plummeted because of the economic failures and corruption associated with the regime of Gomulka's successor, Edward Gierek. Through the 1970s and the 1980s, the military took a noncommittal attitude toward major episodes of civil unrest. In 1976 Minister of National Defense Jaruzelski informed Gierek that Polish soldiers could not be expected to fire on striking Polish workers. The army remained strictly loyal to the communist system, but it showed much less loyalty to particular regimes when they came under attack from the Polish population. In 1980, when the Solidarity (Solidarnosc) union set off a series of large-scale strikes in the Baltic ports, the government apparently did not consider using the military to quell unrest. A 1981 poll showed the military behind only the church and Solidarity in the level of respect afforded by Poles to their national institutions.

    While the Polish military remained neutral in internal affairs, it fulfilled completely the foreign duties expected of a Warsaw Pact member. Two Polish divisions took part in the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia that was precipitated by Soviet alarm at that country's experimentation with economic and political reform. In keeping with the Soviet Union's decision to distribute defense responsibilities more widely among Warsaw Pact members, the Polish defense industry grew rapidly in the 1970s and early 1980s. Poland reached fifth place in world arms exports in 1987.

    Data as of October 1992

    NOTE: The information regarding Poland on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Poland Defining the Military's Postwar Role information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Poland Defining the Military's Postwar Role should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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