The event called “Polish October” marked a significant change in the politics of Poland in the autumn of 1956. Stalinism was over, although the era of communism was not yet over.

In late October 1956 the mood in Poland was right for change: Joseph Stalin had died in 1953; his successor in the USSR, Khrushchev, had denounced Stalin on 25 February 1956; the Polish communist leader had died on 12 March 1956. So, during the summer of 1956, when protests by workers in Poznań highlighted the people's dissatisfaction with their situation, this, along with the weakening of the hardline Stalinist faction in Poland, resulted in the rise in power of the reformers' faction, led by Władysław Gomułka. After brief negotiations the USSR gave permission for Gomułka to stay in control and made several other concessions, resulting in greater autonomy for the Polish government.

Gomułka (6 February 1905 – 1 September 1982), although a communist, was initially very popular for his reforms, for his seeking a "Polish way to socialism", and for giving rise to the period known as "Gomułka's thaw". During the 1960s, however, he became more rigid and authoritarian—afraid of destabilizing the system, he was not inclined to introduce or permit changes. Polish October was less dramatic than the Hungarian Revolution of the same year, but it may have had an even deeper impact on the Eastern Bloc and on the USSR's relationship to its satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe.

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