The Polish Review, Volume 42, No. 2, 1997
Gabriele Simoncini. The Communist Party of Poland 1918-1929: A Study in Political Ideology. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1993. Pp. XI, 270. ISBN 0-7734-9414-6.
In summarizing the disagreements among Polish communist leaders in the early 1920s about the desirability of collaboration with their Ukrainian and Byelorussian counterparts, Gabriele Simoncini cites leftist factional head Julian Lenski’s view: the issue was ultimately “not relevant since the victory of the Revolution would mean that all of Poland would become part of the Soviet Union. These are but a few wxamples of the Polish Communist’s infinite capacity for self-delusion” Simoncini concludes (p. 57).
This book is more of a study of communist self-delusion than of communist political ideology in the first decade of Polonia Reconstituta and, indeed, we can speak of eight decades of communist self-delusion. The last decade culminated with PZPR [Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza - Polish United Workers’ Party] leaders singing the “Internationale” at the January 1990 “congress of dissolution” (the irony well captured in the documentary film Ostatki [Remnants]). Thus Simoncini’s book addresses more than an isolated, episodic aspect of Polish political history. By the same token, the main criticism that can be leveled at the author is his failure to generalize upon the principal finding of his meticulously undertaken archival research and show the relevance of 1920s communist self-delusion to postwar Polish history.
Simoncini began work on Poland while studying at the University of Pisa. Under Joseph Rothschild, he completed his doctorate in history at Columbia University. He also spent four years at the University of Warsaw on a research fellowship from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His lengthy bibliography, comprised almost exclusively of primary sources - and twelve pages of secondary sources, only three English-language - demonstrates how effectively he used his time in Poland, especially once the archives of the interwar Communist Party [Komunistyczna Partia Polski - KPP] and postwar PZPR were opened up. From these Polish archives we learn of the deliberations and decisions of the Comintern related to the Polish Communist Party in the 1920s. There are now even more materials available on this period in the Comintern archives accessible in Moscow.
Simoncini’s aim was to complete an “organic study” of the KPP. Accordingly, “The analysis is overwhelmingly based on documents issued by the Party, through the proceedings of its bodies, conferences, and congresses, through the theoretical and organizational pronouncements of its press, and through the writings of its leaders” (p. 3). Nevertheless, it would have enhanced the narrative if he had engaged existing studies. M. K. Dziewanowski’s seminal The Communist Party of Poland (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959 and 1976) is merely acknowledged in his introduction. By contrast, certain Polish-language histories of the KPP, published in People’s Poland, ought to have been treated more skeptically rather than used as supplementary material. We learn much that is new from Simoncini about the three Ws (Wera Kostrzewa, Henyk Walecki, Adolf Warski), the May error regarding Pilsudski’s coup, the factional fight between majority and minority. But it is not as if a tabula rasa existed. Furthermore, the author shies away from advancing more general propositions: thus the conclusion merely summarizes and restates findings from the empirical chapters.
Despite such shortcomings, Simoncini’s book makes for stimulating reading. The author underscores the courage of Wera Kostrzewa in holding her ground against Stalin at the 1924 Comintern Congress. He documents how KPP leaders were flattered by the attention they thought they were receiving from Pilsudski (by way of one of his intermediaries) as he prepared plans for his coup. KPP leaders could well imagine the Pilsudski was Kerensky and his coup was a prelude to revolution. Though he conceals his normative biases well, Simoncini seems to sympathize with the more liberal approach of the majority faction compared to the minority one. He is at his best, however, when analyzing competing interpretations of KPP leaders of arcane issues such as the role of the petty bourgeoisie in a revolution, and the organizational relationship among Polish communist groups in Byelorussia, Galicia, Silesia, Warsaw, Gdansk, and Moscow.
The reader who follows the KPP’s fortunes cannot help recalling the later follies of Bierut and Gomulka, Gierek and Jaruszewicz, and Grabski and Rakowski, in the 1944 - 1989 period. Many of these rulers, especially.
Gomulka, were familiar with the history of the KPP as Simoncini has reconstructed it, and their political behavior was marked by that history. This book offers many clues about why the postwar Polish communist regime deluded itself for 45 years and, because of this, deserves to be carefully studied.