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Tuesday, 23 October 1956

Sir PHILIP McBRIDE (WakefieldMinister for Defence) - by leave - We have had no confirmation of most of the news reports concerning events in Poland since last, week-end. However, Warsaw radio has confirmed that Gomulka has been appointed leader - First Secretary - of the Polish Communist party, and it is clear that the events had their origin in the election of a new politburo. It also appears that there is fairly widespread support for the new politburo, which has pledged itself to fight for independence from the Soviet Union in promoting socialism in Poland. Gomulka has condemned Polish economic policy during the last seven years and has emphasized the determination of Poland to fight . its own way towards socialism; his determination to " democratize " Poland, especially by a return to " open party life " and implementation of the principle that the role of the Communist party is to lead, not to govern; and he has emphasized continued Polish friendship with the Soviet Union. lt appears that Khrushchev and other Soviet leaders arrived unexpectedly in Warsaw during the election of the new politburo and tried, unsuccessfully, to secure the re-election to the politburo of Marshal Rokossovski, the Polish-born Soviet general who commands the Polish Army. Rokossovski has long been unpopular in Poland, where he symbolizes Soviet power. According to the press, Khrushchev and Rokossovski gave orders for the movement of Soviet troops in an attempt to enforce their wishes, but the leaders of the Polish Communist party threatened to break all contacts with the Soviet unless these orders were withdrawn. It appears that early press reports of clashes between Soviet and Polish troops were without much foundation, that the Poles did, in fact, refuse to admit Soviet troops from East Germany.

The move against Soviet intervention in Polish affairs is not unexpected. The two basic factors in Polish political life are the intense Polish sense of nationality, and the Polish attachment to the Catholic Church. Neither the reign of terror nor Communist propaganda has made much impression on these sentiments. Additionally, communism came to Poland with the Soviet army and was, therefore, in Polish eyes, tainted at the source. There was an easing of pressure from the Polish security service in 1955, following revelations concerning some of its infamous methods. This relaxation of fear released forces which had been held in subjection, but not subdued, by the preceding reign of terror. Throughout 1955, Polish nationalism and Catholicism were gradually having an effect throughout the system. At the same time, mismanagement of Poland's economy resulted in discontent among the workers, and there were reports of passive resistance slowing down production.

The demolition of the Stalin myth and the death, at about the same time, of Beirut, the former head of the Polish Communist party, lead to a freedom of expression in Poland which had not been seen in the Communist world for a long time. The Polish politburo was unable to reverse this trend. Reports grew of increasing discon tent, and it was against this background that the Poznan riots occurred in June of this year. The riots forced the Communist party to admit serious deficiencies in the economic system and to seek popular support. There was nobody in the Government, however, with much public appeal. Gomulka's popularity with the masses has yet to be tested. However, if he stands publicly by his old faith that Poland comes before communism, for which he was expelled from the party previously, he should be more popular than other Polish Communist leaders. lt is too early to assess the significance of the recent changes which reflect, primarily, differences of opinion within the Polish Communist party regarding the extent of Soviet intervention in the party's affairs. Gomulka himself has emphasized that friendship with the Soviet Union will remain the basis of Polish foreign policy. It remains to be seen whether he will receive widespread popular support in Poland and whether the Soviet Union will accept the new line of independence for which he stands. Poland is in the grip of an economic crisis, and economic sanctions by the Soviet Union could have far-reaching effects on the Polish economy. The recent events may be regarded, however, as an expression of the traditional Polish yearning for liberty and independence. They undoubtedly will have great significance for other Soviet satellites, in which there are increasing signs of the emergence of nationalism somewhat along the lines of that which prevails in Tito's Yugoslavia.

T lay on the table the following paper: -

Poland - Ministerial Statement. and move -

That the paper be printed.

Debate (on motion by Dr. Evatt) adjourned.

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