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Poland in the Modern World: Beyond Martyrdom by Brian Porter-Sz̋cs

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8

CONQUEST OR REVOLUTION? 1945–56

How shall we describe what happened in Poland after World War II? In many older surveys of Polish history you will read about the “communist takeover” or the “Soviet conquest,” but more recently some scholars have urged us to talk about a “revolution” instead.1 The former options underline the role of the USSR in imposing upon Poland the political and economic system that would dominate the country for the next forty years; the latter emphasizes that the far-reaching transformations of the late 1940s had domestic as well as international causes. Although these competing interpretations have provoked bitter debates, they do not need to be placed in opposition. The revolution was real enough: the late 1940s brought fundamental changes in every country of Europe, and the devastation in Poland left people particularly amenable to radical ideas. Regardless of the Soviet presence, the world of 1939 was gone forever. But if the USSR did not cause the postwar revolution, Stalin most definitely channeled it along paths that few Poles would have chosen on their own.

There is a tendency among some Poles to depict the four decades between 1945 and 1989 as a time of foreign occupation, dominated by an illegitimate puppet government that ruled Poland but was not genuinely Polish. If we take this approach, the main storyline becomes the struggle for liberation. Insofar as we talk about daily life under this evil regime, we do so in order to expose the pervasive ...

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