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Digital Archive International History Declassified

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1980-81 Polish Crisis

The Polish Crisis of 1980-1981 began with a wave of strikes across Poland and the formation of the first independent labor union in a Soviet bloc country – Solidarity. The crisis ended with the imposition of martial law in December 1981. Most of these documents are from Russian archives and record the Soviet response to the Polish crisis, including preparations for military intervention. There are also documents from other Eastern European archives which contain the Communist bloc leaders’ discussions and reactions to the events in Poland. See also the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Warsaw Pact. (Image, Strike Coordination Committee in Szczecin, 1980, Archiwum autora, Stefan Cielak)

  • August 25, 1980

    CPSU CC Politburo Decision Setting Up Suslov Commission

    Politburo resolution establishing a commision , chaired by Politburo member M. A. Suslov, to look at the situation in Poland, inform the CPSU Politburo, and suggest any measures needed to be taken by the Soviet leadership.

  • August 28, 1980

    Special Dossier on the Polish Crisis of 1980

    Memorandum to the CPSU Politburo from the Suslov Commission regarding a request by the Soviet Ministry of Defense to bring up to full readiness 3 divisions of the Soviet Armed Forces. The memorandum cautions the Soviet leadership that, in case the Polish Armed Forces switch allegiance to the counter-revolutionary forces, another 5-7 divisions might be necessary.

  • September 03, 1980

    CPSU CC Politburo Report "On Theses for the discussion with representatives of the Polish leadership"

    Cable to the Polish leadership regarding the position of the Soviet leadership in regard to the agreements reached earlier in 1980 between the Polish Government and the Inter-Factory Strike Committee. The Soviet leadership expresses its concerns with the consequences of the agreements on the role of the Party in Polish society.

  • October 22, 1980

    Proposals Regarding the Introduction of Martial Law for Reasons of State Security and the Underlying Consequences of Introducing Martial Law.

    A proposal for instituting martial law in Poland, in response to the protest movement there. The document breaks down the powers granted to the government through martial law, and notes that the powers of some government organs will need to be broadened.

  • October 29, 1980

    Session of the CPSU CC Politboro on 'Materials for a Friendly Working Visit to the USSR by Polish Leaders'

    The CPSU CC Politboro discusses the anti-socialist movement in Poland, and how the Polish leadership should deal with the crisis. The Politboro begins to form an economic solution for Poland.

  • October 31, 1980

    Session of the CPSU CC Politburo, "On the Results of a Visit to the USSR by the First Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party, Cde. S. Kania, and the Chairman of the PPR Council of Ministers, Cde. J. Pinkowski," 31 October 1980

    A visit from Polish leadership reveals the extent of the crisis. Brezhnev believes that the Polish leadership is capable of maintaining control and quelling the counter-revolution, but that Poland is in dire need of economic assistance from the USSR.

  • November 04, 1980

    Letter from Leonid Brezhnev to Erich Honecker

    Leonid Brezhnev writes to East German leader Erich Honecker, regarding the Polish Crisis. Brezhnev suggests that the Soviet Union reduce oil shipments to the GDR, in order to alleviate Poland's economic crisis.

  • November 14, 1980

    Directive from the CPSU Secretariat, 14 November 1980, Reducing Tourist Exchanges with Poland

    The CPSU CC proposes to reduce tourism between the Soviet Union and Poland, given Poland's political situation.

  • November 25, 1980

    Activities of Opposition Elements at the Gdansk Shipyard - On the Conditions of the New Social-Political Situation

    Report on the situation in the Gdansk Shipyard. Also discusses the opposition's methods, and individual members of the opposition.

  • November 25, 1980

    Record of a Meeting between CPCz CC General Secretary Gustáv Husák and HSWP CC First Secretary János Kádár in Bratislava, (excerpt from Kádár)

    Excerpts from a discussion between Czechoslovak leader Husak and Hungarian leader Kadar on the situation in Poland. Janos Kadar suggests that the source of the crisis rests with mistakes made by the Polish leadership regarding economic policies. However, he still supports Polish leader Gierek, and believes that he should not have been removed from his position of responsibility.

  • November 26, 1980

    Letter from Honecker to Brezhnev

    East German leader Erik Honecker writes to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev requesting that a meeting of the First Secretaries of the Communist Parties in the Warsaw Pact member states be convened to discuss the crisis in Poland. Honecker suggests that any delay in taking action agains the "reactionary forces" would result in the demise of communism in Poland.

  • December, 1980

    Report Warning of Soviet intervention

    An urgent message relating contents of a secret Soviet meeting that outlined plans to bring USSR, East German, and Czechoslovak forces into Poland. This document was not dated.

  • December 03, 1980

    Report of the Chief of the General Staff of the Czechoslovak Army, Colonel General Miroslav Blahník, to Minister of National Defense Army General Martin Dzúr

    Report of the Chief of the General Staff of the Czechoslovak Army, Colonel General Miroslav Blahník, to Minister of National Defense Army General Martin Dzúr regarding troop exercises

  • December 05, 1980

    Werner Krolikowski, "Comment on the Report of the PB to the 13th Plenum of the SED CC, which was prepared and submitted by Günther Mittag," handwritten, [excerpt]

    Excerpt of set of notes written by Werner Krolikowski; includes his fourth point, which discusses the effects of the changes taking place in Poland; addresses socialist development in Poland and counterrevolution.

  • December 05, 1980

    Stenographic Minutes of the Meeting of Leading Representatives of the Warsaw Pact Countries in Moscow

    Leonid Brezhnev and East European communist leaders discuss the strikes of the 1980-1981 Polish crisis and their aftermath and causes, including the formation of the Solidarity Union. The repercussions of the crisis for socialism in Poland and other Warsaw Pact countries is discussed, as well as possible measures to counter the anti-socialist uprising.

  • December 08, 1980

    Report to the Politburo by the Department of International relations of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party

    Report to the Politburo by the Department of International relations of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party regarding the meeting between leaders of Warsaw Pact countries on the subject of dissention in Poland

  • December 11, 1980

    Transcript of the CPSU Politburo Session, 11 December 1980

    The Politburo approves the results of a meeting of Warsaw Pact officials. Kania offers assurances that PZPR will be able to control the Polish crisis on its own.

  • January 14, 1981

    Directive from the CPSU Secretariat, 14 January 1981, with Supporting Cables

    CPSU gives instructions to the Communist Party of Italy on how to deal with Solidarity leader Lech Walesa's visit.

  • January 22, 1981

    Transcript of the CPSU Politburo Session, 22 January 1981 (excerpt)

    Delegation of CPSU Party Officials headed by L. M. Zamyatin discusses the political and social situation in Poland after Zamyatin’s trip there. Zamyatin gives an optimistic report about the PZPR’s efforts to regain control over society in Poland, and comments on the division in Solidarity as well as its strengths and weaknesses that can be exploited by the PZPR. The members of the Delegation discuss possible measures that the PZPR can implement in its counterrevolution against the growing power of antisocialist forces in Poland.

  • March 12, 1981

    Session of the CPSU CC Politburo, 12 March 1981 (excerpt)

    Brezhnev summarizes his meeting with E. Honecker regarding the efforts of the PZPR to suppress the rise of antisocialist political opposition forces in Poland. K.V. Rusakov and A.A. Gromyko respond by expressing their worries about the situation in Poland and criticizing the PZPR for not taking decisive measures to restore order and control over the country.