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Through the Back Door

The Black Market in Poland 1944–1989


Jerzy Kochanowski

This book analyzes the history of the black market in Poland before the 1940s and the development of black-market phenomena in post-war Poland. The author evaluates the interrelation between black-market phenomena and historical and geographical conditions. At first, the black market stabilized the system by making it more flexible and creating a margin of freedom, albeit in the short term. In the long run, the informal economic activities of the people ran counter to and undermined the official ideology of the state. The author concludes that in post-war Poland, owing to a singular coincidence of historical, political, economic and social factors, the second economy had its own unique character and an endemic presence that loomed large in the Soviet Bloc.

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents


1.Terms and Methods

1.1What Color was the Black Market?

1.1.1Legal Markets

1.1.2Semi-legal Markets

1.1.3Illegal Markets

1.2The Black Market in Communist Poland: Problems with Definition

1.3Literature, Sources, Method

2.Shortage, Greed, Protest: A Short Course in the History of the Black Market in the First Half of the 20th Century

2.1The Beginnings

2.2The First World War and the Interwar Period

2.3Second World War

2.4After the War

3.The Polish (anti) Speculation Curve: 1944–1989

3.1Commission I: 1945–1950/54

3.1.1Trial Period: 1944–1947

3.1.2“We Have Won the Trade War”: 1947–1950

3.2Intermedium I: 1950–1956

3.3Team I (and II): 1957 (and Later)

3.3.1Excursus: Team II

3.4Intermedium II: The 1960s and 1970s

3.4.1The 1960s

3.4.2The 1970s

3.5Commission II: 1981–1987

3.5.1The Road to “Speculation Hell”

3.5.2Provisorium: The Extraordinary Commission: August 10 – October 12, 1981

3.5.3The Front Line of the War on Speculation: The Central Commission

4.The (Historical) Geography of the Black Market in the Polish People’s Republic

4.1General Remarks

4.2Center – Periphery

4.2.1Center – Big Cities

4.2.2Periphery: Municipal and District Poland

4.3The North versus the South

4.3.1The South: It Is Impossible to Bring Socialism to the Polish Highlands!

4.3.2The North: “The Land Fills Your Belly, the Sea Fills Your Pockets”



5.1“Meat Is Problem Number One”: But Why?

5.2Meat on the Black Market: Between Repression and Consent

5.2.1“The Great Battle for Meat”: 1944–1950

5.2.2“State Ribs Will Taste Better…” 1950–1956

5.2.3 “In Gomułka’s Times, There Are Only Crumbs…”: 1956–1970

5.2.4 “When There Are Pigs, There Will Be Smart Ideas…”: 1971–1980

5.2.5“They Slaughter a Pig, Because They Have to Eat …”: 1980–1989 Industry or (Creative) Relapse into Crime“The Veal Woman”: A Retrospective Portrait“Legalize the Illegal Just a Little”: 1984–1989


6.1 A National Hobby: Illegal Alcohol Production

6.1.1The Clandestine Distilleries: Moonshine and the Authorities

6.1.2“He Has a Drinking Habit but Not a Lot of Money”: Determinants, Technology, Geography

6.2“Buy a Bottle, Mister!” Illegal Trading in Legal Alcohol

6.3Excursus: The 1980s


7.1Driving on Bootleg: From the 1950s to the 1970s

7.2“The As-good-as Private Pump”: The 1980s

8.Dollar and Gold

8.1Dollar and Gold: A Panacea for Tough Times

8.2Power, Dollar, Gold




8.3The Greenback Game: Mechanisms and Players



8.3.3Money Changers: A Portrait Study

9.The Tourist Trade in Communist Poland

9.1Trading Tourism: Introduction

9.2The 1950s and the 1960s: “We Are Too Poor to Vacation in Our Own Country…”

9.3The 1970s: “Who Are the Smugglers? Every Single Person that Travels Abroad!”

9.4The 1980s: “The Phoenicians Are on the Move!”

Closing Remarks: Through the Back Door – or the Front?



Index of names