24 Pictures Examining Life in Communist Poland

Chris Niedenthal, Gdańsk, 1988. Stike at the Lenin shipyard, photo: promotional material

Communism in Poland traces its roots back to the late 19th century when the Marxist First Proletariat Party was founded in 1882. Between the First and Second World Wars, in the Second Polish Republic, communists formed the Communist Party of Poland KPP but most of the leaders and activists were killed in Stalin’s Great Purge in the 1930’s and the Party was abolished by Communist International, an international organization that advocated a global communist system.

In 1942, the Polish Workers’ Party (PRR) was established in Nazi-occupied Poland. At the same time, in Moscow, the Union of Polish Patriots was installed with Stalin’s support as a rival communist center. After the Nazis were defeated, the Polish People’s Republic was formed and the PRR and Polish United Worker’s Party (PZPR) were joined.

Under communism, the Polish economy deteriorated. On June 28, 1956, the first major anti-communist protests began in Poznan, a western city close to the German border. 57 protesters were killed and almost 800 arrested, almost all of whom were workers.

As communism became less popular, the government became more and more oppressive, with many anti-religion policies. The State machine was spending too much on heavy industry, armaments and prestige projects, and not enough time on consumer production. In March, 1968, a second wave of protests sprang up, starting in Warsaw after the regime banned a play by the famous Polish writer Adam Mickiewicz. The intelligentsia was targeted and removed from their positions in academia and government.

Because the Soviets invested too much money on military strength, the food prices needed to be artificially low to kept urban discontent under control. On December 12, 1970, the regime suddenly announced massive 60% increase in the prices of basic foods. Food Ration Cards were ntroduced because of the destabilized market in August 1976, and remained a part of life in Poland for the duration of the People’s Republic. Poland’s crisis deteriorated and in 1970, 1971, 1976, a third, fourth, and fifth wave of protests broke out.

In the 1980’s the Solidarity Movement, an anti-commmunism, pro-labor union formed. This led to the fall of communism in Poland. On December 13, 1981, with the country on the verge of economic and civil breakdown, Martial law was declared. Several thousand Solidarity union supporters were imprisoned. The Military Council of National Salvation banned Solidarity on October 8. Martial law was formally lifted in July, 1983 although oppressive policies and food rationing remained through the late 1980’s.

In 1989, the National Assembly Presidential Election was held. The communist party just barely won, despite their representative being the only name officially on the ballot. Solidarity elected representative Tadeusz Mazowiecki was appointed prime minister and confirmed on August 24, 1989. In December, 1989, socialism and Marxism were officially removed from the Polish Constitution. Lech Wałęsa, president of the Solidarity union demanded early presidential elections. In 1990, Wałęsa won the presidential elections.

The communist Polish United Worker’s Party dissolved in 1990. The Soviet Union disbanded in December, 1991.

Chris Niedenthal, Warsaw 1982. Meat store, photo: press material
Chris Niedenthal, Bieszczady Mountains, 1979. Tar worker after a hard day’s work, photo: press material
Chris Niedenthal, Kraków 1982. Vistula clothing factory, photo: press material
Chris Niedenthal, Kalwaria Pacławska, August 1977. Pilgrimage, photo: press material
Chris Niedenthal, girl looking after Christmas Eve carp, photo: press material
Chris Niedenthal, Wrocław, summer 1982, photo: press material
Chris Niedenthan, While searching for oil in Karlino (western Pomerania) in December 1980, a fire broke out. A rumour went around saying that it was a ploy by the authorities to distract Poles and people outside of Poland from the activities of Solidarity.
Chris Niedenthal, Gdańsk 1980. Before leaving for his new job as head of the newly-founded Solidarity trade union, the electrician Lech Wałęsa says goodbye to his wife Danuta in the presence of his mother-in-law, photo: press material
1956 Polish Anti-Communism protest, sign says we ask for bread
Waiting in long lines for bread. topsecretinfodump
there was zero percent unemployment but many workers had nothing to do. Workers chat at the Rawa Mazowiecka meat processing plant. Chris Niedenthal