Poles - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. In rural areas, there are the peasants and the gentry. In urban areas, there are the workers, the "intelligentsia" (artists, writers, university-educated professionals, and the upper-echelon white-collar workers), and the old "new class." The "new class," the nomenclatura, consists of the upper echelons of the Communist party and the state apparatus (the two categories overlap). They have lost the Political power that enabled them to assume important posts in Soviet-dominated Poland and are now attempting by both legal and illegal means to retain economic power. Since World War II, the gentry and intelligentsia have been losing their social distinctions, and the peasants have been migrating to the cities and joining the workers.

Political Organization. The political structure is changing rapidly and dramatically, and it is impossible to predict its final form. Poles are struggling with the aftereffects of Soviet domination, but as yet Polish society has not reached a consensus regarding the form the new political structure should take. There is ongoing strife regarding the proper functions and powers of the president, the government (i.e., the prime minister and the various ministries and administrative bodies), and the parliament. The parliament consists of a 100-member Senate and the Sejm with 460 seats. In addition to government at the national level, there are regional and local self-governments. Since 1975, the country has been divided into 49 voivod ships (regional territorial units) and 2,404 local administrative bodies. At both levels there are self-governing legislative bodies and executives. Another area of disagreement concerns the function and structure of the political parties. A basic issue is whether the political structure should encourage ideologically committed parties or ones whose aim is to gain power, with ideological purity being a secondary concern. Another subject of debate is the future role of Solidarity and of labor unions in general—should Solidarity become a political party or should it remain a labor union whose primary concern is the welfare of workers and peasants? These conflicts stem from the fact that from 1940 to 1989 the Government forbade any organizations except government-sponsored ones. The society was deliberately atomized. Today, organizations must be created by people with no experience in organizing and self-government.

Social Control. Families, kin, and neighbors exert strong informal social control, especially in rural areas. The mechanisms range from ridicule and gossip to ostracism, physical punishment, and surreptitious attacks on property. The Formal system consists of courts with appointed judges and prosecuting attorneys. There also are provisions for policing and incarceration. The most commonly seen police are the uniformed militia (MO). Currently, the legal system and the Police are being changed to transform them from instruments of oppression into agencies for the protection of Polish citizens. The judges and prosecuting attorneys are being retrained to prepare them for their new roles and some of the more notorious police units have been or are being disbanded.

Conflict. For the past 1,000 years, the Poles' main conflicts have been with their western neighbors, the Germans, and with the Russians, their eastern neighbors. When the Polish state was weak or nonexistent, wars between their neighbors were fought on Polish territory. This was especially the case during World War II when the Soviet Union and Germany initially divided Poland between themselves and pursued the same policy of killing Poles who might assume leadership roles. In 1941, Germany attacked the Soviet Union and drove its armies from Poland. About three years later, the Soviets reconquered Poland. During the war years, the Poles had several undergrounds fighting whatever foreign army was occupying Poland at the time. The best-known partisan units were the Home Army (AK), which owed allegiance to the Polish government in exile in London. The last vestiges of the partisans were not liquidated until the early 1950s.

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