Communism was not always hated and feared by everyone in Eastern Europe. At a certain moment in recent post-war history, a group of influential intellectuals in Poland—now a place where even ex-communist politicians are careful to swear their allegiance to free markets—wanted to reform but still keep a Communist system. That moment was the Polish October, named for the month in 1956 when Wladyslaw Gomulka, a man who believed in a “Polish road to socialism,” took power as First Secretary of the Communist Party. Just as the Czechs in 1968 believed in “socialism with a human face,” the Poles in 1956 believed that Communism could be, in the jargon of their day, “revised” to better fit people's needs. The Polish October was the result of a complex network of events beginning with Stalin's death in 1953, coming to a climax with workers' strikes in June, 1956 in Poznan, and ending in Khrushchev's acquiescence to Gomulka's election in October, 1956. During this period, one of the important contributors to the intellectual ferment that led to the October, the theatre group Studencki Theatr Satyryków or STS, established a cultural niche for alternative theatre that mocked the Communist system and led to one of the most political, vital alternative theatre movements in the world.
* Kathleen Cioffi is an adjunct faculty member in the Communication Department at Central Washington University. She recently earned a Ph.D. in Theatre History at New York University.