Suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 19561 gave Eastern Europe a harsh reminder of the ground rules operating within the Soviet bloc. First, member could leave the Warsaw Pact. Second, the states of Eastern Europe had to maintain a Communist monopoly at all times. These two principles were designed to prevent radical change within Eastern Europe. They secured Moscow’s geostrategic interests in the region by setting boundaries that could not be crossed. That did not prevent leaders from taking local initiatives should they so wish, but their willingness to do so differed markedly between countries.
The Polish leader Władysław Gomułka had been brought back to power in October 1956. One of his first external acts was to renegotiate Poland’s relations with the Soviet Union. Though the relationship remained subservient, a degree of formal sovereignty was restored. At home, he preserved the main domestic changes made during ‘October’: the return of agriculture to private hands and improved relations between Church and state. However, realising that the invasion of Hungary was a fate that Poland had missed perhaps by only a few days, he rejected any further reforms. Even modest proposals reintroduce market elements into central planning were dismissed as attempts to ‘undermine socialism’. Poland entered a decade of stagnation.