Przeglad Historyczny, Volume 86, No. 2, 1995
Gabriele Simoncini, Revolutionary Organizations and Revolutionaries in Interbellum Poland.
A Bibliographical Biographical Study. Mellen Press, 1992. p. XI-278;
Gabriele Simoncini, The Communist Party of Poland 1918-1929. A Study in Political Ideology.
Mellen Press, 1993. p. 270.
Gabriele Simoncini, expert in Polish, was for some years a researcher of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Poland. That allowed him to gain an intimate knowledge of sources and literature about the workers’ movement in Poland in the interwar period. The result was the defense at Pisa University in 1982 of a doctoral dissertation titled: Teoria e prassi nei consigli operai polacchi del 1918-1919. After receiving the Italian doctorate, the author continued to research the worker’s movement in Poland, with particular interest in the activities of the Communist Party of Poland. In his hometown of Volterra (Tuscany), he built a very valuable collection of archival documents and reproductions, complete with bibliographic and biographic files.
The first book mentioned here is a pioneering work. It contains bibliographic information about revolutionary organizations and their members in interwar Poland. It contains more than 3,000 entries published mostly in Polish, but also in major European languages, and bibliographic information on more than 600 activists of the communist movement in Poland. Simoncini did enormous work, work which the Party History Department, later renamed Party History Institute, and eventually the Archive KZ PZPR, should have done itself. Apart from the name, that institution was highly solidified within the party structure, possessing Central Committee Sector authorization.
The book’s first part, titled “Revolutionary Organizations,” encompasses the Communist Party of Poland (122 pages), the Communist Party of Upper Silesia, the Communist Party of Western Galicia, the Communist Party of Western Ukraine, the Communist Party of Western Belorussia, the Belorussian Agrarian-Worker Hromada, the Independent Agrarian party, the Union of the Agrarian Left Samopomoc, Kombund, Cukunft, Polish Socialist Party-Left, and individually: May Day, Red Aid in Poland, Trials and Prison, and Councils of Workers and Soldiers. Such divisions are fundamental and ease use.
The second part -- as already mentioned -- contains bibliographic information about more than 600 communist activists. These are mostly necrologies or after-death memoirs, but there are also broader texts from the Polish Biographical Dictionary, the Polish Worker’s Movement Biographical Dictionary, and the biographical section of Z Pola Walki.
Simoncini’s bibliographic study comprises the years 1918-1990. It would therefore require an update for the last years. However, this would be minor, because historians’ interests in the communist movement’s history have diminished very distinctly, not to mention that publications such as memoirs, popularizations, annuals, obituaries, etc., have completely disappeared. The bibliographic study -- as the author states -- grew on the margin of his research of several years on the history of the CPP, the goal of which was the preparation of a CPP history. As of now, we have received the first part, covering the years 1918-1929.
This work has enormous value because it allows the non-Polish reader to make acquaintance with a quite fundamental part of the interwar history of Poland. Until now, this was done only by referring to the book by M.K. Dziewanowski titled The Communist Party of Poland. An Outline of History, which today is of very limited value.
Simoncini divides the book into five chapters which progressively address the revolutionary struggle of the years 1918-1920, the evolution of strategy from 1920-1923, the 1923 Second Congress as a sign of ideological consolidation, the process of so-called “Party Bolshevization” in the years 1923-1925, and finally the factional struggle of the years 1926-1929. His application of chronological sequence represents a most substantial solution to the history. He made diligent use of the archival materials then accessible in Poland and also included published documents, party press materials, and scholarly literature. He did not have access, because it was impossible when he prepared the book, to the III International archive. Nevertheless, this is with no doubt a valuable book. He frequently stresses the strong interconnection between the ongoing processes within the CPP and the internal struggles within the Communist International. The fact is generally known that the CPP, bearing in its name the definition “Polish section of the III International,” was required to execute directives formulated in Moscow. Nevertheless, Simoncini goes a step further by showing the influence of Stalin’s struggle against Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Bukharin upon the line of both the III International and the CPP. The III International archives now accessible to historians should strengthen our comprehension of the still-fragmented events related in this book. Perhaps it will also clarify some essential remaining questions such as the party’s membership in numbers, and the financial sources for its activities. At present we only have estimates and assumptions about these questions.
Simoncini very strongly emphasizes the CPP’s lack of ideological and organizational unity. In contrast to other communist parties that resulted from schisms within socialist parties, the CPP originated as a unification of two ideologically distinct parties. Neither was a Leninist party and both ideological divisions remained visible for a long time. Simoncini states that not only was the CPP not a Leninist party, but on many occasions it assumed anti-Leninist positions (p.235). From the very eginning, deep ideological divisions existed in its leadership. Thus, in 1926-1929, the period of the factional fight with a “minority” against a “majority” led in practice to a party schism.
Simoncini stresses that the CPP was divided not only with regard to ideological controversies, but also that the organizational effectiveness of the Party’s activities left much to be desired. Local party organizations often acted without support from the central leadership, which itself remained outside Poland’s borders to keep secure its still illegal activists. Communications were poor, instructions and directives arrived after delay, and then might be rejected as being irrelevant to the current situation. The propaganda spread by opponents of a monolithic, disciplined, and very well-organized party, had little in common with reality.
In the Polish People’s Republic the studies of the history of the communist movement were monopolized by party historians who enjoyed a special trust by those in power, or by those who found themselves on the side of former Party activists. Even within these groups the level of trust enjoyed would vary, causing a range of access to sources. This did not mean that initiates of the inner circles wrote better works. Often the opposite happened since an inner-circle initiate entered the arena facing intense ideological pressure.
The Government’s then current ideological expectations corrupted works on the communist movement in Poland, with very few exceptions. This was particularly evident in the final conclusions and generalizations. Simoncini is aware of that and very carefully makes use of primary sources, trying whenever possible to rely on original documents.
The picture of the communist movement that arises from this book is rather gloomy. The members spent a great deal of energy in internal fights, while the Party’s agenda inevitably pushed it into the social margins. The Party believed at all times that the proletarian revolution was either an imminent or inevitable fact, and that the Party would then assume its leadership of a great mass movement. This was an illusion.
Simoncini’s book allows us to look at the history of the communist movement in Poland from a foreigner’s perspective. For that reason too it is a very worthwhile book.
University of Warsaw
[Translated from Polish]