Julius Jacobson Archive   |   ETOL Main Page


Quarterly Notes

Bread and Freedom

The Revolutionary Theme of Poznan Working Class

(Summer 1956)

From The New International, Vol. XXII No. 2, Summer 1956, pp. 80–82.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


This is the theme and battle-cry of the Poznan working class. Bread and Freedom: simple and profound; literal, yet eloquent and touching; an elementary appeal and because of it, elemental and thoroughly revolutionary. With such slogans inscribed on their banners, the revolutionary workers of Poznan have struck a mighty blow against dictatorship. Poznan followed by three years the June uprising of East Berlin workers, and because it was the second such event – and because of its special timing – its repercussions are even greater.

The Poznan revolution is far from aborted. The working class of that industrial city has not been crushed. The Poznan revolution was a dramatic, planned revolutionary action which must be regarded as a phase of the mounting revolutionary ferment behind the Iron Curtain. The momentarily “defeated” populace of Poznan, itself, understands this. In none of the reports in the press can one detect that the Poznan workers feel defeated or demoralized. On the contrary, all the evidence points to a defiant working class in Poland’s fourth largest city which understands the service it has performed for democracy, for independence – for Bread and Freedom.

The aspirations of the Poznan workers went beyond the town limits, and their demands were far more general than economic reforms. Their battle against low wages and high production quotas was but an element of their revolutionary protest against political and economic dictatorship, against Russian invaders and Polish Quislings. “Tell the outside world that this is our revolution,” the Poznan workers shouted to Western businessmen in the city (expecting to attend an international trade fair).

In this they were not frustrated. The entire Stalinist empire has been shaken by the repercussions. Poznan was a preview of what lies in wait for the totalitarian ruling class. The entire working class of the city revolted and they had the complete support of the civilian population. More than that, the revolutionary workers were aided by soldiers and even by police. Arms were secured Tanks were captured. Barricades were erected. The hated symbols of oppression, the headquarters of the Communist Party and the local prison were captured, the latter gutted and the prisoners released.

What happened in Poznan can happen in all Poland, and can spread throughout the length and breadth of the totalitarian empire. And this thought strikes home most clearly to the oppressors. They are a hated minority, hated by the workers, by the peasants, by housewives, by the young, by the old, even by many in the army. They could contain the Poznan rising, but they know that the social conditions which generated it exist throughout the empire? Thus, in East Germany, with the Berlin uprising still fresh in mind, the CP responded to the Poznan events immediately and with understandable alarm. The East German Party organ, Neues Deutschland, attributing the Poznan revolt to the work of “provocateurs” issued a warning that could only be intended for the working class of East Germany: “[It is] a big mistake that democratization means a softening toward the brutal enemies of democracy.” Furthermore, “freedom for the people and freedom for provocateurs is a different thing. There is no freedom of the second kind with us.” By “provocateurs” is meant all those who oppose the regime, i.e., the overwhelming majority of the population.

WHAT OF THE “DEMOCRATIZATION” that is going on in Poland? What of the “conflict” between the “softs” and the “hards” in the Polish Communist Party? Following the Twentieth Congress it was in Poland, presumably, that “relaxation” and “democratization” were moving forward most rapidly. Now, all the stupidities which have been uttered from all corners of the globe by politicians and experts who had been taken in, hoodwinked, have been exposed in Poznan. Conflict does exist within the Polish Communist Party. Some bureaucrats want to relax, others fear to do so; some, perhaps, would like to act a little freer of the Kremlin, others fear to chance a show of independence; some want to make concessions to workers’ “grievances,” others in the Party are opposed to any dealings with the rabble. These inner-party conflicts are not to be denied. They are important. But what is of greater importance is to understand the limitations of these conflicts. And their boundaries have been shown at Poznan. The hundreds of workers who were killed, the thousands arrested attest to the limitations of totalitarian “democratization.”

The Polish Party leaders have their differences. Ochab, the Party secretary, is the reputed “hard” Premier Josef Cyrankiewicz, is the “soft.” Ochab is in favor of trials of the Poznan prisoners in a spirit of retribution; Cyrankiewicz favors punitive measures, but, as he assures the British Labor Party, not in a spirit of vengeance. Is there a difference? Obviously. A great difference, a fundamental cleavage, a conflict between one leader moving toward democracy while another stubbornly upholds the banner of totalitarianism? Hardly. Ochab is the “hard” and Cyrankiewicz is the “soft,” but it was Premier Cyrankiewicz who upon learning of the Poznan revolt immediately broadcast over the Warsaw radio: “everyone who raises his hand against the people may be sure it will be hacked off in the interest of the working class, in the interest of raising our standard of living, and in the interest of the fatherland.

Cyrankiewicz the Soft, is prepared to hack off the hands of the entire Polish working class ” in its own interests, of course. It is of such stuff that totalitarian “democrats” and “softs” are made.

POZNAN DESTROYED THE MYTH of totalitarian “democratization.” This myth is not its only victim. It is no less decisive a proof of the bankruptcy of those in the West, intellectuals, real and professed, ex-radicals, superannuated students, academicians, disillusioned nobodies, all of whom will assure you that the working class really isn’t very much. Highly overrated “strata of society.” “Karl Marx,” they will tell you, “is thoroughly outdated, disproven. He said the working class would fulfill its historic mission of liberating itself and all society from oppression and it hasn’t done it yet.” And while the disillusioned, cynical and learned mediocrities elaborate on this theme and write off the working class, the working class, living under conditions of terror, continues to elaborate on its own revolutionary theme of Bread and Freedom preparing to wipe out dictatorship. That is one lesson of Berlin, June 1953, and Poznan, June 1956.

Julius Jacobson Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 15 January 2020