The government, whether we think about it or not, plays a very significant role in all of our lives regardless of our ethnic background. Though there are many differing forms of government, they affect our lives in the same way. Changes in how the government works slowly begin to effect how we carry out our daily actions and over time an entire culture can be changed. For this reason, I chose to take a critical look at how the change of government in Poland from Communism to Democracy affected their culture. In order to do this, I had to examine communism and it s creators. I had to find out what happened to cause communism to take power in Poland and why it eventually crumbled. First, I looked at what communism was all about.
Communism began in the early 19th century in response to the problematic beginnings of modern capitalism (Bottomore 11). At that time communism was the basis for many political settlements, most of which eventually failed. The concept itself was created by Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels, the concept, though, proved only to be effective in theory. Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818, in a place called Trier, in Prussia. His parents were of Jewish descent, however they did not practice Judaism (Payne 17). In 1824, Karl’s father adopted Protestantism. Marx attended the university of Bonn and later the university at Berlin, where he studied in law, while majoring in history and philosophy. Marx eventually married his childhood friend Jenny von Westphalen, in 1843 (Payne 27). After his education, Marx began to associate himself with a group of people who were known for having revolutionary ideas. In 1842 Marx was asked to contribute to the Rheinische Zeitung, a German paper, in Cologne (Payne 83). At the time Marx started, the paper had only 400 subscribers. Shortly after Marx became editor-in-chief and decided to move from Bonn to Cologne. As the paper became more and more revolutionary and widely read, the government decided to censor, and eventually suppress it. The paper was banned in March of 1843. At this time, it had more than 3,400 subscribers from all over Germany (Payne 87).
Karl met his closest friend in September of 1844, when Frederick Engels arrived in Paris. Together they participated in the activities of many revolutionary communities. They helped spur renewed interest in a communistic society with their book Communist Manifesto (Payne 164). In their writing Marx and Engels showed disagreement between ideals and reality in modern society. Overall, Marx said that every social system in the past has been a device by which the rich and powerful few could live by the toll and misery of the powerless many (Clark/Wildavsky 19). They wanted to create a society that would be run by and for the people and everyone would be equal. After years of struggling to get their idea off the ground, the Communist Party, led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, finally succeeded. The system was labeled totalitarianism. Other people called it Stalinism, named after Joseph Stalin, the leader who controlled the government of the USSR for many years after Lenin’s death (Dziewanowski 142).
Joseph Stalin’s rule in no way resembled the utopia that Marx and Engels envisioned. Even 30 years after Stalin’s death the USSR was still ruled by command, not consent. It is ironic, though, because this led to the collapse of the Soviet Communism Party and the termination of the USSR. Joseph Stalin was born on 21 December 1877 to Ekaterina Georgievna and Vissarion Ivanovitch Dzhugashvili (Rigby 19). Vissarion, Stalin s father, was a drunkard and very cruel to his young son. Ekaterina, Stalin s mother, was a washerwoman to support the family. The first three of Vissarion and Ekaterina s kids had died shortly after their birth, so Stalin grew up as an only child. When Stalin was still a young boy he got small pox, which left his face scared forever. His first school was a little church school in Gori (Rigby 19). Gori was full of socialist movements and the Czarist government wanted to educate priests to fight the revolutionary ideas. He entered the school in 1894 for the study of priesthood in the Georgian Orthodox Church. Soon Marxist ideas reached him. He knew little about Marx s theories and the revolution, but never the less it amazed him. He soon started to get involved. He joined the forbidden revolutionary movement when he was fifteen and three years later he was secretly leading a Marxist circle (Rigby 35). In May of 1899, he was expelled from the school for missing an examination but Official Communist literature says that he was expelled for “political balance”(Rigby 19). This political balance eventually earned Stalin the leadership of the communist party in the Soviet Union.
Now that I have looked what communism really was, I needed to find out how it made it s way from the Soviet Union into Poland. After WWII, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin met in order to divide the Europe into zones of influence (Ascherson 137). This meeting would forever become known as the conference at Yalta. Much blame has been placed on Churchill and Roosevelt for allowing communism to take power in Poland, but most of the blame should be placed on Stalin. After the negotiations, Poland was plunged into a state of communism that it would not break out of for many years.
So, then, how has this affected Poland and its people? Well Communism effected probably effected the economy of Poland the most. The way people spend money greatly effects how they live. In the case of Poland s economy, it may be the fall of communism that contributed to their economic blunders. The introduction of higher meat prices led to strikes in factories near Warsaw. A wave of labor unrest began to spread through the country, and many industries and services were disrupted. Workers’ demands for higher wages, however, developed into protests against the economic and political management of the country (Ascherson 163). Once communism lost its grip on Poland, the countries economic problems did not end. Poland was left with large foreign debts and their industries were not very competitive with other countries (Clark/Wildavsky 20). It was around this time that my interview partner, Ziggy, moved to the United States because he and his family were experiencing economic hardships like thousands of other polish citizens.
With so many various types of governments and experimental groups, it is easy to see why Poland s culture is so rich. Because Poland, for the past 50 years, has been subjected to so many governmental changes the people who lived through them were forced to suffer the consequences. Economy, as I mentioned above, has had many violent fluctuations though out the years of turmoil. These changes in Poland’s political structure effect the way people live their lives. In essence, the real importance hear is not the fact that communism changed the way Poland works. It is the fact that something as abstract as a government can have severe effects on the culture of that region. The case of communism in Poland merely exemplifies this fact. Through out the past semester we have studied the differences in the languages of many countries, but by studying language families, we find out that these apparently different languages are often very similar. Although Communism and Democracy are have almost polar opposites views, they have effected Poland in the similar way be changing things like the economy and military presence. Of course, the same is true for governments of different countries as well. The government of England, which is a monarchy, might seem like it has little do with the government of, say, China. Underneath, the surface, though both of these differing types of government are effecting their citizens in the same way. So, one might say that a persons culture depends totally on their government. This is absolutely not true. A culture is made up of many things like art, music, or education and countless other areas that aren’t directly effected by the government. I believe that in this case, rather than having a direct effect on these areas, government has a direct effect on the people who create music or art. For example, if we go back to the time when Poland was being occupied in the beginning of the Second World War, let s say that there was a famous musician whose family had been slain by troops during occupation. Since song writing is a creative outlet for what is burning inside you, that musician s ideas would have probably been affected by the brutal loss of his family and are, therefore, going to be very bleak and full of images of death and destruction. This will reflect in the music that he creates and thus there would be a change in music, an important aspect of culture, which was indirectly caused by governmental change.
Today, Communism is but a footnote in history. Although it is no longer a threat to Poland as it may have been in the past, it left its mark on the people and the culture. From Marx and Engels, who envisioned an equal and harmonious society, to Stalin whose harsh dictation led to the rise and ultimate fall of this system of government, Poland has been there through it all. No one could ever actually gauge the degree with which government affects culture. One thing is for sure, though, since government plays such an important role in the structure of a society, it has to have at least some effects, no matter what they are, on the culture of a particular society.
6. Rigby, T.H. Stalin. Prentice-Hall Press. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. 1966