Difficulties of Implementing Stalinism in Poland and Czech lands

I read two articles for our discussion this week: Remaking the Polish Working Class: Early Stalinist Models of Labor and Leisure by Padraic Kenney and Students, Workers, and Social Change: The Limits of Czech Stalinism by John Connelly. Kenney notes that stalinist regimes sought to transform society through mass social mobilization and integration into political and economic life. He looks at how social mobilization and integration was attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, in two Polish cities, Wroclaw and Lodz, through labor competitions and organized leisure.

Kenney states that in communist Poland, economic problems, non-compliant workers (who often went on strike) and the impracticality of Soviet-scale mass terror meant that the workers’ cooperation was vital to the economic success of the country, upon which in turn rested political success. To engineer the stalinist revolution, the Polish regime had to obtain cooperation from the people on its own terms, differently than other eastern European communist regimes. The purpose behind the labor competitions was to inspire among workers the feeling of being co-owners of the country and the economy. Labor competitions appealed to new workers, but older workers did not readily embrace the new collective identity organized around the Party.

Another way in which the Party attempted to draw workers into a more integrated model of class relations was through state-organized and subsidized paid vacation for workers and employees. Invited to participate in a distinctly bourgeois form of leisure, workers felt that they would have to measure up to a certain standard of behavior that was foreign to them. As with labor competitions, state-sponsored vacations tended to appeal to younger workers. A gap between young and old continued, precisely the opposite of what was intended by the Party. Labor competitions and working class leisure helped to stabilize the regime, but also undermined its intentions. As workers accommodated to the new system, they also retained a separate identities based on perceptions of class differences and hierarchy between young and old. In Students, Workers, and Social Change: The Limits of Czech Stalinism, John Connelly explains why communist efforts to destroy the power of old elites and recruit new elites from underprivileged social strata met with success in places like East Germany and Poland, but did not do so well in the Czech lands. Connelly states that despite the fact that the Czechoslovak Communist Party (KSC) was the most popular communist party in central Europe, and the one place were communism was imposed by native forces, the Czechoslovak communist leadership was unable to transform workers and peasants into Czech elites. The reasons for this include broad resistance of Czech society where traditional notions about social status, supported by traditional educational institutions, remained intact. Workers continued to think of higher educations as alien, and middle and upper classes continued to think of it as their birthright. Another factor that contributed was that the KSC never summoned the organizational will, and never invested the resources needed to shatter this tradition. The top leadership of the KSC also never got involved, but instead relied on lower ranking party functionaries to carry out the goal. Connelly points out that unlike the communist parties in East Germany and Poland, the KSC never obligated factories to send the best workers to institutions of higher educations, never gave high schools and universities strict quotas for accepting working-class students, and did not offer generous scholarships to working class parents who were reluctant to consider higher education for their children. In East Germany and Poland, the percentages of worker and peasant students at Universities climbed to over 50% by the 1960’s, whereas in the Czech lands the number reached a high point of 41.5% in the late 1950’s, then fell to 37.8 in the early 1960’s. Connelly points out the irony that anti-intellectualism in the KSR was at odds with the history of the Czech nation which for decades had valued higher education as a means for social advancement. But he also indicates that the KSC’s higher education policy was an example of an extreme reaction to the most cultivated higher educational establishment in east central Europe, just as Stalinism had been an extreme reaction to the most democratic state in east central Europe.

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