|The Forging of a New Elite: Student Politics in Communist Poland|
|This paper aims to address the historical problem concerning the rise of new elites under and after Communism through a case study of the successive generations of Polish students whose political consciousness was shaped at various stages of Communist rule. Its purpose is to highlight some aspects of elite formation that resulted from the divergent socialisation experiences of students, who were to constitute part of the future elite. Although the collapse of the Communist system in Poland took place in 1989 and its direct causes should probably be sought in economical factors and international political developments, the elite that emerged during the transformation process was formed more gradually and over a longer period of time. Moreover, this political elite was far from ideologically uniform which suggests that its members were imbued with different ideas at various times during Communist rule.
Among the post-Communist elite many started their political careers as students in the Polish People’s Republic. Numerous members of the former Party elite had laid the foundations of their later careers in the official student organisations, while correspondingly many members of the oppositional intelligentsia had sown the seeds of their activism during their student years. Above all, the academic environment provided a unique intellectual climate for the potential emergence of new ideas. Students are especially interesting for their inclination to critically assess their surrounding reality and potentially act upon it. In fact, every incumbent leadership in Communist Poland was confronted with some form of student contestation and contemplated or was forced to adopt changes in the structures of the official youth and student organisations – a certain deviation from the Soviet model. Despite the basic foundations of the Communist system remaining intact until 1989, Polish society underwent social change which is demonstrated by regular recurring crises. Due to the rapid depletion and renewal of successive generations in their socialisation, the political consciousness of students constitutes an ideal type of barometer to detect the effects of this process of change. Therefore, a generational approach can be enlightening to depict the emergence of different ideas.
This paper will point to some distinct generations of students from whose ranks members of the Polish post-1989 elite emerged. The prevalence of certain political ideas and the intergenerational tensions that have appeared will be reflected upon. Its main argument is that at least in part the 1989 transformation was the result of a more protracted evolution that on the one hand co-determined the relatively peaceful manner in which this took place in Poland, while on the other provided the background for political conflicts among the elite after 1989. This contribution is based upon the results of previous studies as well as original archival and field research.