63. Telegram From the Embassy in Poland to the Department of State1

892. Following represents Embassy’s views this date on “liberation [liberalization]” trend Poland first five months 1956.

“Liberalization” internal and external policies Poland has been treated more optimistically in western, including US, press than Embassy believes warranted. While Poland may, as some commentators allege, be far ahead of other satellites in this respect, there seems be no reason this time consider changes as more than surface nature. Trend appears be extension and expansion “Geneva spirit” abetted by XXth Congress CPSU developments and remains, as evaluated Department’s instruction CA–1363, August 17, 1955,2 “application classic Communist maneuver ‘zig-zag’”. Basic policies appear unchanged and indistinguishable from Soviet policies except for certain tactical expediencies, e.g., special treatment Catholic Church, peculiar to Poland and which have always emitted in post-war period.

Surface changes have been quite numerous and, to casual observers, neutral-minded individuals, and visiting correspondents, probably impressive. Their publicized impressions tend give air respectability to Communist regime. Embassy believes importance these changes consists principally in whether they contain possibility becoming irreversible trend (i.e., ferment that cannot be controlled).

Perhaps most important surface change was spate criticism of regime from press and radio as result greenlight received from XXth Congress CPSU. Embassy believes this wave criticism exceeded regime’s intention to permit, or perhaps even foster, criticism cult of individual and Stalin. Noteworthy, however, that no more than word from Ochab was necessary to establish firm limits to criticism. Consequently, freedom criticize regime is far from irreversible trend although zeal with which Poles seized opportunity demonstrates vividly opportunities dormant but far from dead this field.

Criticism and “free debate” in Sejm, though vaunted in western press, was much better controlled than general criticism described above, in Embassy’s opinion, [and] veiled only thinly Sejm’s continuing rubber stamp character. “Loyal opposition” parties (SD, ZSL and Catholic Deputies) continue now almost historic subservience regime. Only move during recent session approaching hostile opposition was ineffective Catholic Deputies stand against abortion law. This, however, could have been cleverly planned maneuver designed emphasize [Page 173] possibility “opposition”, particularly from Catholic Church. Thus, Embassy believes Sejm still completely ineffective rubberstamp existing to legalize decisions regime. Here again however, spark of democracy far from dead.

While amnesty to 30,000 included by government admission 9000 “political” prisoners, Embassy believes their release does not significantly increase opposition to regime. Even if they not “re-educated”, government appears fully able control them. Moreover, Embassy believes amnesty does not reflect real regime humanitarianism but rather caused by practical considerations concerned with labor force, repatriation drive and desire give appearance humanitarianism to regime. In any event, this still seems to be controlled operation.

Regime’s desire cloak real self under “new look” also reflected in fair number personnel shifts government structure, some (such as “resignations” Berman and Radkiewicz3 ) probably carried out in hope their identification with “cult individual” and Beriaism era would foster idea “new day” dawning Poland. We should not lose sight fact old Communist stooges of USSR in control; Soviet army still here; and Poland’s economy still at mercy USSR.

Final major point alleged “changes” is possibility Poland pursue “own road Socialism” as result Khrushchev-Tito meeting Belgrade.4 Embassy believes this is misconception and that Poland’s divergence from USSR in handling e.g. collectivization and church does not represent “own road” but rather is matter expediency based on failure traditional Communist methods solve certain problems. Furthermore, these divergencies present long before Belgrade meeting. Although church greatly weakened in post-war period, Embassy believes its traditionally independent peasants and dissatisfied intellectuals continue represent fertile ground for exploitation in event irreversible trends becomes apparent.

Number minor surface changes have developed Poland last few months. There seems be somewhat less police control, Poles appear less afraid contact westerners, there is trickle information coming in from west (e.g. 200 copies each Manchester Guardian, London Times and Le Monde are on sale daily Warsaw), technical achievements west are admitted and even praised, semi official Poles express desire contact Embassy officers. Singly these are easily controlled and can be reversed by the regime at will. Taken collectively, there is perhaps [Page 174] possibility that actual and purported changes may engender in independence loving Poles such strong feelings that regime may find it expedient grant further concessions. In time, this could become an irreversible trend. As of moment, however, Embassy believes “changes” well under control.5

Department pouch desired.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 748.00/5–2956. Confidential.
  2. Not printed. (Ibid., 611.00/8–1755)
  3. The resignation of Jakub Berman, Deputy Premier and member of the Politburo, was announced on May 6. An analysis of the importance of this development is in a memorandum from Trivers to Stevens, May 7. (Ibid., Polish Desk Files: Lot 60 D 55, General Political Affairs)

    Stanlislaw Radkiewicz was the head of the Ministry of Public Security until he was demoted in December 1954 to Minister of State Farms. In April 1956, he was dismissed from that post.

  4. See Document 15.
  5. The Department of State commended the Embassy for telegram 892 in airgram A–288, June 27, and recommended that the Embassy prepare a similar analysis in approximately 3 months. (Department of State, Central Files, 748.00/6–2756)