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A Critical Assessment of Professor Marian Kamil Dziewanowski’s The Communist Party of Poland: An Outline of History

Date: 4/22/2005

This paper was written for the panel on “Marian Kamil Dziewanowski (1913-2005): A Tribute to a prominent historian of Poland and Eastern Europe” at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America, June 3-4, 2005, at the University of Pittsburgh.

The Communist Party of Poland covers the history of the most extreme brand of leftist radicalism in Poland from 1832 to September 1958. The author focuses on its ideological, political, and, to a much lesser extent, economic, and social context.

Who was the author? M.K. Dziewanowski was a Harvard and Warsaw University educated journalist and historian. A member of the Arkonia student fraternity, he was a moderate right-winger and a conservative already in the 1930s. Professor Dziewanowski was also a Polish patriot, a Polish nobleman, a Polish gentleman, a Polish Catholic, and, last but not least, a Polish cavalryman. Thus, the topic of his monograph must have been morally repugnant to him. Yet, he addressed it with the utmost scholarly objectivity and integrity. Further, his background allowed him to appreciate the power of things permanent in Poland’s struggle against Communism – Poland’s tradition of freedom and its Christianity, in particular.

Did the book withstand the test of time? Yes and no. Yes, it did, as far as Professor Dziewanowski’s methodology and narrow focus are concerned. And no, it did not, as regards conceptualizing certain historical phenomena. To identify the problem briefly, let us remember that the historian is a slave of his sources.

And what are the Professor’s sources? They chiefly consist of the texts of ideological debates and party propaganda. The scholar also consulted some witnesses, including the Trotskites Isaak Deutscher and Paweł Minc, on the one hand, and the investigative judge Jerzy Luxemburg and the intelligence expert Ryszard Wraga (Jerzy Niezbrzycki), on the other. Yet, Professor Dziewanowski failed to reach the anti-Communist guru Henryk Glass of “Antyk”, who resided then in Great Britain. The historian also underutilized the archives of the Studium Polski Podziemnej in London, most likely as not to endanger individuals still in Poland. Hence, although indirectly, the specter of possible Communist repression caused him essentially to avoid certain topics, and, thus, to censor himself.

Nonetheless, on the positive side, Professor Dziewanowski’s methodological skills are timelessly admirable. They reflect superb critical analysis and trenchant deduction. Despite the paucity of sources, arguably never in the history of scholarly endeavor in the field of Polish studies was so much done with so little by a solitary individual as far as academically unmasking Communism was concerned. So long as the scholar deployed his skills in the areas where the material evidence was sufficient, i.e., Communist ideology and revolutionary propaganda, he was able to produce solid and enduring outcomes. Whenever he strayed away however from the solid ground of verifiable empirical evidence, e.g., by accepting Communist statistics at their face value, an incomplete, indeed skewed picture of events resulted. In particular, this handicapped to a certain extent his understanding of Poland’s Communists during the Second World War and its aftermath. Further, the paucity of the material prevented him to do more than hint, if at all, about certain developments, for example the relationship between Stalin’s secret services and the Communist organization in Poland.

Concentrating on the narrow scope of ideology and propaganda allowed Professor Dziewanowski to avoid some controversial issues. These included several crucial myths: the myth of the żydokomuna (Jewish Communist conspiracy) and the myth of the Polish Workers Party (PPR), its anti-Nazi resistance and its seizure of power. Those myths enjoyed a broad currency in Poland and are based upon lies, propaganda, exaggerations, misinterpretations, and misconceptions. Unfortunately, Professor Dziewanowski lacked the wherewithal to put them to rest.

How about the main thesis of The Communist Party of Poland? The historian set up a dichotomy between the “cosmopolitan” and “native” leftist radicalism. And he preferred the latter. The progression of Poland’s history seems to bear him out. After 1956, Gomułka’s National Bolshevism was better than Bierut’s earlier Soviet cosmopolitism. Relatively speaking, Gierek and Jaruzelski were even more palatable in their “native” ways. But what of Gomułka’s “Polish road to Socialism” between 1944 and 1948? It was certainly much more bloody, causing more deaths, than the succeeding cosmopolitan offensive of Sovietization by Berman, Minc, and Zambrowski. Even after 1956, was Albania better off with Xoxa’s National Bolshevism? Or Ceaucescu’s Rumania?

Professor Dziewanowski largely fails to consider the applicability of the cosmopolitan/native dichotomy outside of the Yugoslav example, which was originally conceptualized by Adam Ulam. Instead, quite helpfully, the author stresses a sui generis nature of the dichotomy in Poland. Thus, he allows logically that different circumstances can produce different outcomes despite analogous ideological context. Hungary’s original Soviet cosmopolitism of Kadar eventually became National Bolshevism in the guise of gulash socialism. Meanwhile, Gomułka’s National Bolshevism culminated in the “anti-Zionist” campaign of March 1968. Both leaders were granted autonomy by the Soviets, albeit under dramatically different conditions. Each took his captive people on a different National Bolshevik journey.

To illustrate how much Professor Dziewanowski could be both right and wrong, let me quote from his conclusion (p. 289): “The problem of liberalizing the Communist system in Poland constitutes a vicious circle; no really essential and lasting changes in Poland’s domestic structure are possible as long as the country remains within the Soviet orbit; on the other hand any attempt to leave the orbit would be suicide, as proved in the case of Hungary.” It all sounded very solid until in 1989 things changed under the influence of, to personalize, Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Wałęsa, and, indeed, Wojciech Jaruzelski.

To conclude, I would like to move that the monograph be reissued with a changed sub-title: The Communist Party of Poland: A Critical Analysis of Ideology and Propaganda. Professor Dziewanowski deserves to be read well into the future.