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Irving Howe

World Politics

The Elections in Poland

(17 February 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 7, 17 February 1947, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Enough time has passed since the elections in Poland to form an estimate of what happened in that Stalinist-dominated land. Since we have, in past columns, tried to offer an analysis of the Polish situation, and Labor Action has printed the highly informative dispatches of A. Rudzienski, we shall here restrict ourselves to a few points:

The extent of the totalitarian farce, the open and cynical disregard for the most simple democratic procedures, becomes clearer after a perusal of the dispatches from Warsaw. The Stalinist-dominated government published “election results” which allowed the opposition a little more than 10 per cent of the total vote cast. Yet it was a generally accepted estimate that the opposition had the support of the overwhelming majority of the population. Proof of this is best seen in the dispatches of even those correspondents most sympathetic to the Stalinist government. As starry-eyed a fellow-traveler as Stephen Laird of the New Republic wrote in that magazine that “... a number of observers, including some high neutral officials, say that though the Peasant Party might have won 85 per cent of the votes three months ago in a free election, today it would have won no more than 70 per cent.” Let us grant that: but let us also notice that between the 70 per cent it would have won in a free election and the 10 per cent it was allowed by the government there is a rather considerable difference ...

If further proof of the totalitarian nature of the election is desired, we can turn to the pages of the British New Statesman and Nation, a Stalinoid magazine similar to the New Republic in this country. Its Warsaw correspondent, Doreen Warriner, who falls over herself with clumsy enthusiasm for the Stalinists, is still forced to write that:

“Mikolajczyk, though far less popular than he was a year ago, still has a large following; and, if all governmental pressures were removed, would probably get a majority.”

(The Laird dispatch, incidentally, contains an interesting interview with Mikolajczyk, Peasant Party leader. When Laird asked him if he agreed that as many government followers were beaten up by his supporters as were his people beaten by government agents, Mikolajczyk replied: “This is possible, but the difference is that our people are beaten up in jail.”)

By allowing the opposition a mere 10 per cent of the vote, the Stalinist government was openly flaunting its determination not to take democratic procedures seriously; it was as if it were saying that it intended to maintain its rule regardless of what the Polish masses desired.

What was the actual vote cast in the elections? It is impossible to say, for thousands were forced to cast “open ballots.” Workers in factories were marched en masse to the polls and there government ballots were distributed to them. Since in such situations the government is very often his direct employer, it requires more than a little courage for a worker to vote against it.

It is interesting to note that wherever the opposition was permitted watchers at the counting – only a small minority of election booths – the results were favorable to it. Sydney Gruson reports in the New York Times of January 24, 1947, that:

“... in thirty-five booths where watchers witnessed the entire day’s voting and counting, Mikolajczyk’s party gathered 33,669 against 20,809. The coincidence of a majority for the PSL (opposition Peasant Party) in almost every booth where they had watchers seems too strong to dismiss lightly.”

Under the circumstances the statement of Zygmunt Zulawski, veteran Socialist leader who has remained in opposition to the Stalinist regime, that the government bloc’s election methods were comparable with “those used by ‘the fascist regime’.” (N.Y. Times, Feb. 9, 1947) is a masterpiece of understatement.

But it is unnecessary to belabor the obvious. As must be the case with any election held by a Stalinist totalitarian government, the elections were a complete fake. Now that this parody has been finished, the Stalinist leaders in Poland have made it plain that they intend to tighten the governmental reigns and crack down even harder on any opposition that threatens their rule. They are continuing to label all oppositionists as fascist though, as A. Rudzienski’s article in last week’s Labor Action demonstrates, that is by no means the case. A statement by the Stalinist leader, Hilary Mine, threatening severe measures against any continuation of opposition, clearly indicates an increasing totalitarianization.

Yet it seems unlikely that the Stalinists will quickly or easily succeed. The Polish food situation remains very bad. The magazine World Report estimates that:

“Food shortages may become serious in Poland this spring after UNRRA ends its work. The autumn harvest of 1946 was expected to make Poland generally self-sufficient in food, but recent reports from agricultural areas have been less optimistic. Crop estimates are being scaled down.”

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