Date of Award


Degree Name



College of Liberal Arts

Type of Degree


Document Type


First Advisor

Phillip Rutherford

Second Advisor

Anara Tabyshalieva

Third Advisor

Richard Garnett


The aim of this study is to arrive at a holistic understanding of Poland’s place in the Soviet Bloc, 1945 – 1989. Throughout, the study considers historical and cultural linkages between Poland and Russia, drawing parallels and contrasts which have shaped the destinies of both nations. It explains how Poland became part of the Soviet system, the successes and failures of the system, and how common people adapted to and eventually altered the system. Special emphasis is placed on the ‘lived experience’ of the last decade of socialism (1979 – 1989), including oral histories of subsistence economic strategies, black market trading, alternative employment scenarios, parallel political action, and underground communications (samizdat or bibuła.) The study makes several contentions based on interview data, oral histories, and direct communications with over 50 individuals, mainly in the cities of Gdańsk, on the Baltic Coast, and Wałbrzych, 400 miles south on the Polish – Czech border. Among these contentions is that survival in Poland’s dysfunctional economy during the last decade before the 1989 transition depended on innovation, self-initiative, networking, and risk-taking - traits usually associated (by Westerners) with entrepreneurialism within a capitalist economy - not with daily life in a communist state. The study refutes other commonly held Western beliefs concerning socialist-era Poland and the USSR, including negative assumptions about ‘socialist work habits,’ inaccurate generalizations about the uniformity of socialist economic and political orthodoxy, and false interpretations concerning the 1989 – 1991 transition of the Soviet Bloc. In short, to each of these three items respectively, the study demonstrates a prevalence of a ‘proletarian work ethic’ rivaling any found in the West, two very different ‘versions’ of socialism (greatly dysfunctional in Gdańsk while a ‘golden age’ in Wałbrzych), and a vast propensity for a transition bringing social democracy, not unregulated ‘Wild East’ capitalism as fetishized by Western neoconservatives in an effort to co-opt the Soviet Bloc transition to their service.


Russia - Politics and government

Poland - Politics and government - 1945-1980