What did Gomułka and Khrushchev talk about and could it really end with a stay in Siberia?
The thaw that appeared in Poland in 1955 led to a strong unrest not only in Polish society, but also in the Polish United Workers' Party itself, in which internal struggles for power continued. The fighting coterie quickly realized that it was possible to strengthen its position and thus his chances through an alliance with the previously repressed Władysław Gomułka. This exceptional situation allowed him to return to the political game. He was in a comfortable position, everyone sought his support. Interestingly, it was initially the hardliners of the Natolians who, in the new situation, began demanding rehabilitation of Gomułka for wrongful accusation of a right-wing nationalist deviation and subsequent imprisonment. Later, everyone tried to win his support. This made it possible to plan Gomułka's return to Polish politics and to the leadership of the party.
Meeting with the Soviet delegation
Even Edward Ochab, who held this position, was persuaded to change to the position of the First Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party. The meeting was scheduled for October 19, 1956. When everything had been agreed, and the appointment ritual had been finalized, an external factor - the USSR - became involved in Polish matters . After all, the independent decision of the Polish communists to change the position of the first secretary could not appeal to the Kremlin. On the orders of Marshal Konstanty Rokossowski, Soviet troops stationed in Pomerania and Lower Silesia set out towards Warsaw.
At the same time, a Soviet delegation arrived in Warsaw in the morning of October 19, 1956 which included, next to Khrushchev, the highest-ranking party activists and military commanders of the USSR. Such a situation did not happen often and showed great concern for the Kremlin.
The first signs of hostility already appeared at the airport, when Khrushchev, after leaving the plane, shook his fist at the gathered people . A simple collective farmer never learned manners. According to the account written by Dzerzhinsky, the Polish delegation did not want to talk to the Soviet delegation, already at the airport protesting against the Kremlin's interference in Polish internal affairs . This was clearly emphasized by Gomułka, who saw the arrival of the Russians as such a meddling. The Russians denied it, but at the same time Khrushchev threatened that if things went in the wrong direction, they would be forced to intervene brutally. Interestingly, E. Ochab, who was still the most important person on the Polish side, answered him, stating that in the past Polish communists were in Soviet prisons and they would apparently be sitting again.
To Khrushchev's conciliatory remark that the Soviet leadership never interfered in Polish disputes, Gomułka deftly replied, stressing that if they had not interfered so far, let everything stay as old as possible and let them not interfere now. Khrushchev would not be himself if he had not scared the Poles a matter of fundamental importance for Gomułka, i.e. the uncertainty about the western lands. Further discussion concerned the internal situation in the party, during which Ochab even stated that the Central Committee, consisting of apparatchiks only, among whom there is not a single worker, is responsible for the current situation in the country.
It was also reminded that the situation in Poland was influenced by the Soviet cult of personality, as well as by the omnipotence of the security organs, which had a lot of Soviet advisers. Gomułka also recalled the Soviet officers in the Polish army and that they had long been wanted to cancel. He aptly argued, recalling that the Soviet delegation was asked to come after the 8th Plenum of the Central Committee, i.e. after the election of the first secretary.
The scandal with Khrushchev
"It turns out that we cannot decide anything for ourselves, but only according to your advice," he argued. In the heat of the dispute, he even reminded the Russian delegation of the liquidation of the Communist Party of Poland by Stalin. Gomułka even accused Khrushchev that in his speech at the 20th Congress of the CPSU, he did not say everything about the cult of the individual.
The conversation was clearly not going well. The issue of the delegation's arrival and interference in Polish affairs was repeated several times. Khrushchev finally admitted that they did indeed come against the opinion of the Polish authorities and this is some interference . However, he immediately added that they could not look calmly at the development of the situation in Poland. Even during the official break in talks, there was a sharp polemic. After their resumption, the discussion turned to Bierut, whom Khrushchev considered a great communist, with which Gomułka did not agree. Molotov reacted sharply to this position, reminding Gomułka that he owed him the fact that he was among the living to Bierut. Here Gomułka reacted extremely impulsively, stating that a man can be arrested and even killed, but that he cannot be made to speak untruth. . This part of the talks ended with a dramatic threat in which Khrushchev emphasized that if no agreement was reached, the situation would be serious. However, Gomułka replied again, stressing that the Soviet delegation had to draw conclusions and not interfere in Polish affairs.
In the next part, Roman Zambrowski tried to alleviate the situation, stressing that everyone understood the unique role of the CPSU in the socialist family and no one intends to question it. At the same time, however, he recalled that in the past period Polish-Soviet relations were far from fraternal and in the Polish authorities there were many Soviet citizens, e.g. Kieniewicz was an MP in Poland, although he lived in the USSR.
The Polish side mentioned low prices of coal exported to the USSR. On the other hand, Khrushchev reminded the Polish delegation that the matter of the composition of the Central Committee had become public in Poland and that everyone is discussing it. In keeping with Soviet practice, he added that the street should not be allowed to decide the composition of the Politburo. The dispute over the movements of Soviet troops in Poland was very interesting. After receiving this information, Gomułka demanded that this march be stopped. Khrushchev tried to imply that it was just a routine exercise. Gomułka reacted with allusions arguing that it was interesting that on the day of the arrival of the Soviet delegation, military exercises began in Poland.
As an example of improper conduct and related problems, he mentioned that the tank crushed a man after it hit a train. Gomułka added that he could have considered it a coincidence if not for Khrushchev's threat to intervene. During the discussions, the topic of the interference of the Soviet leadership in internal Polish affairs returned many times. It was all the more important as Khrushchev raised the issue of the people he considered to be the guarantors of "Polish-Soviet friendship" and who were to be removed from the composition of the new party leadership.
"Siberia at best"
Of course, Rokossovsky, whose planned removal from the Political Bureau Khrushchev even considered a breach of the Warsaw Pact, had a special position here. In the course of a sharp exchange of views, Khrushchev went a little way after Gomułka stated that they had no right to threaten Poles, he said that for the USSR it was crucial to securely connect with the Soviet troops in the GDR. Here Gomułka intervened, emphasizing that the term Khrushchev used to say that they were huge troops was inconsistent with the declaration to reduce this contingent. Khrushchev responded directly to this "Do not be naive. We do not want a new march through Warsaw towards Moscow and therefore we are forced to keep troops in Germany ” . The situation was getting more and more difficult. There was no sign of agreement.
Konstanty Rokossowski in Polish uniform
The Polish side has consistently held the position that shaping the party's new leadership is an internal matter and the Kremlin should not get involved in this. The Russians stood by their way. As the so-called young secretaries, around midnight R. Zambrowski left the talks. Those gathered at the door asked him if they would get along . On this he said that he would rather not. Then questions were raised about what would happen to us. In response, Zambrowski said: "Siberia at best" .
The dangerous was indeed serious, because Khrushchev emphasized that he saw that the Polish leadership did not want to take into account the opinion of the Soviet leadership, so he threatened that because it was not certain that the line of communication with the Soviet troops in Germany would not be severed, and that these troops were defended by the entire camp, including Poland, will have no choice. At the same time, he directly indicated the people he considered to be the guarantors of friendship with the USSR. He mentioned not only the name of Rokossowski, but also Jóźwiak, Nowak and Gierek, emphasizing that he wanted them to remain in the Politburo. Gomułka replied that we would decide alone.
Outraged, Khrushchev replied: We are leaving anxiously. We are responsible not only for our country, but also for the policies of the entire socialist camp ” . Gomułka said again that the composition of the Politburo was an internal Polish affair. The Soviet partner replied that the meaning of Gomułka's words is as follows: Come back to Moscow, we did not fall out of the tail . In the following discussion, the subject of the composition of the authorities kept coming back. Jędrychowski emphasized that the Soviet delegation wrongly believed that the Polish-Soviet friendship would last only when people who liked the Kremlin join BP. Zawadzki supported Khrushchev, which Khrushchev liked. He commented that this was the voice of a true Bolshevik. For this he accused Cyrankiewicz of "hacking behind the backs of the Soviet delegation".
The Polish side even went so far as to question the infallibility of the USSR authorities. Gomułka used the example of Yugoslavia condemned under Stalinism . Mikoyan tried to defend the situation by saying that there was a cult of personality then. Gomułka replied accurately, stating that then you thought you were right and now you also think you are right, but it is not true. Upset, Khrushchev directly accused Gomułka of wanting to be a dictator and talking about democracy, and Molotov mockingly added that Gomułka wants to be a dictator-savior . However, he was wrong, because Gomułka boldly reminded him that the Soviet leadership wanted to be the savior of Yugoslavia. Molotov was in trouble and had to admit that they made a mistake, but they recognized and fixed it.
In the final fragment of the talks, Zawadzki appealed to Gomułka to help him get along with the Soviet delegation, but the latter stated that he did not see such a possibility. It was in such an atmosphere that the discussion on the final communication from the talks began. Gomułka stated that he planned that it would mention that both parties agreed that it was necessary to cooperate in the fight for socialism, but that each party should independently solve problems related to its own country, although taking into account the common interests of the camp socialist. However, there was no sign of an agreement, so Gomułka said that the talks had to be ended.
To Khrushchev's question:"in what sense end?" he added that we will finish talking and that Polish matters will be decided by our management . Already in a slightly looser form, the two delegations talked while waiting for a joint communiqué to be drawn up. Also at this stage, Gomułka emphasized that he was of the opinion that "we should solve all internal problems ourselves" . The talks ended around 1 am of October 19-20. Agreement was not reached. There is a widespread belief among historians that Poland was saved from the Soviet military intervention by the attitude of China, which gave a clear signal that they did not want it.
The importance of the conversation
The record of this conversation between the Polish and the Soviet delegation is special. After all, it took place in an exceptional situation. The unstable public mood in Poland, on the wave of the general thaw, could have gone in any, including radical directions. It is obvious that in such a situation the Kremlin would not hesitate to intervene. After all, he could not afford to weaken Poland's dependence, as this would create a completely new situation in the GDR and could lead to the collapse of the system. Certainly, personal ambitions were at work here as well.
For the Stalinist Soviet leadership, Gomułka's emphasis on Poland's right to decide on its internal affairs was a violation of the model of relations within the camp. On the other hand, the Soviet delegation emphasized that the USSR helps the entire camp in special situations, including Poland, and in the event of serious problems on the internal market in the USSR, because this is how it understood the principles of the community's functioning. Therefore, it has the right to influence the situation in individual countries. However, some of the Polish management did not want to agree with this idea. Recognizing the unique role of the CPSU in the "socialist family" and, moreover, understanding the enormous importance of cooperation with Moscow for Poland, especially in the area of post-war borders and Poland's security, it was emphasized that it was the bad experiences of the Stalinist period that caused the present crisis and that if it is not to be repeated in the future, then mutual relations must be built on new principles in which the voice of a given country will be respected. Hence the constant return in the talks to the statement that the CPSU authorities have no right to interfere in internal Polish affairs, that it is the Polish leadership, i.e. in fact Gomułka, who will decide on the composition of the highest party authorities.
It was obvious, because Gomułka's personal experiences before the crisis in 1948 were the best proof that his position would depend on the selection of cadres. And he wanted to have them selected as much as possible. Ultimately, Gomułka managed to introduce his people to the BP of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party and throw out the unwanted ones. Even Rokossovsky was recalled to Moscow, although it was not that simple. Initially, he was sent on vacation. Edward Gierek landed in the Provincial Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party in Katowice, but Zawadzki remained. You could say everything was back to normal, but it wasn't true.
A revolution broke out in Hungary, which was quelled by the military intervention of the USSR. At first, Gomułka was consistent in this matter. During the meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee on November 1, the issue of the intervention was discussed. The Politburo spoke negatively about the military intervention. It was even decided to emphasize in an appeal to the nation that the defense and maintenance of the people's power and the gains of socialism in Hungary should be resolved by the Hungarian people not an outside intervention. At that time, however, the situation in Hungary became radicalized, and Prime Minister Imre Nagy announced Hungary's withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. Thus, the published appeal by the Central Committee called for peace and discipline in defending the "gains" of the Polish October.
Several years later, Gomułka will no longer have such doubts, supporting the military intervention in Czechoslovakia. It does not change the fact that in October 1956 he behaved like a Polish patriot in a conversation with the Soviet delegation. It is a pity that he forgot about it in the following years…