Adam Michnik, Letters From Prison and Other Essays (part)
Communist Poland: A New Evolutionism 1976
The historic events that we call the Polish October  were a source of hope that the communist system could evolve. This hope was grounded in two visions, two concepts of evolution. I will label them ''revisionist" and "neopositivist."The revisionist concept was based on a specific intraparty perspective. It was never formulated into a political program. It assumed that the system of power could be humanized and democratized and that the official Marxist doctrine was capable of assimilating contemporary arts and social sciences. The revisionists wanted to act within the framework of the Communist party and Marxist doctrine.
They wanted to transform "from within" the doctrine and the party in the direction of democratic reform and common sense. In the long term, the actions of the revisionists seek to allow enlightened people with progressive ideas to take over the party. Wladyslaw Bienkowski, one of the most typical representatives of this group, defined these ideas as enlightened socialist despotism.Stanislaw Stomma, a leading exponent of the second type of evolutionist vision, called his orientation "neopositivist." In that vision, the strategy chosen by Roman Dmowski at the turn of the century, was to be applied to today's historical and political conditions. Stomma considered himself a Catholic and recognized Catholicism as a permanent component of Polish public life. As head of the Catholic Znak group, he wanted to repeat the maneuver of the leader and ideologue of the national democratic camp and, like Dmowski when he joined the tsarist Duma in 1906, Stomma and his colleagues entered the Sejm of the Polish People's Republic in January 1957.
The group of Catholic activists around Stomma, who based his thinking on analysis of the geopolitical situation, aimed at creating a political movement that, at the right moment, could lead the Polish nation. For Dmowski, that moment came with the outbreak of World War I; for Stomma, it could possibly come with the decomposition of the Soviet bloc.From 1956 to 1959, Stomma's ideas had the partial support of the episcopate, owing to the concessions granted the Catholic Church by Wladyslaw Gomulka's ruling group. Stomma's evolutionist concept differed fundamentally from the revisionist idea.
First of all, neopositivism took for granted Poland's loyalty to the USSR while at the same time rejecting Marxist doctrine and socialist ideology. Revisionists, by contrast, tended toward anti-Soviet rather than anti-Marxist sentiments, as was the case in Hungary. To use a metaphoric comparison, if one considers the state organization of the Soviet Union as the Church and the Marxist ideological doctrine as the Bible, then revisionism was faithful to the Bible while developing its own interpretations, whereas neopositivism adhered to the Church but with the hope that the Church would sooner or later disappear.The two concepts shared the conviction that change would come from above.
Both the revisionists and neopositivists counted on positive evolution in the party, to be caused by the rational policies of wise leaders, not by incessant public pressure. They both counted on the rational thinking of the communist prince, not on independent institutions that would gain control of the power apparatus. Most probably without making these assumptions, neither the neopositivists nor the revisionists would have been able to conduct their public activities, although, as it turned out, adoption of these assumptions inevitably led to political and intellectual defeat. Both the Church's revisionist critics and the neopositivist opponents of the Bible's principles were defeated.The revisionist orientation definitely had some positive characteristics alongside its negative ones. We should remember both the intellectual fruits of the revisionism of that era and the political activity of important groups of the intelligentsia who were inspired by revisionism.The former are obvious: it is enough to recall the outstanding books written by Leszek Kolakowski, Oskar Lange, Edward Lipinski, Maria Hirszowicz, Wlodzimierz Brus, Krzysztof Pomian, Bronislaw Baczko, and Witold Kula. Revisionism, in its broadest conception, was manifested on the literary front in the works of Kazimierz Brandys, Adam Wazyk, Wiktor Woroszylski, and Jacek Bochenski.
All these books, whatever their scientific or artistic value, popularized the ideas of truth and humanism, which were under attack in the official propaganda. The publication of each of these books rapidly turned into a political event.In addition to positively influencing Polish learning and culture, revisionism inspired political activity among the citizens. By opposing passivity and internal exile, revisionism laid the basis for independent participation in public life. Faith in one's ability to exert influence on the fate of society is an absolute prerequisite for political activity. In the case of the revisionists, this faith depended on a belief that the party could be reformed. We can see clearly today that their faith was based on delusions; still, civic activity and open demonstrations of opposition were its real and positive results in the years from 1956 to 1968.
The majority of oppositionist initiatives during that period originated in these circles, not among steadfast and consistent anticommunists. It is important to remember this fact in weighing the responsibility for the Stalinist beliefs of Poland's leftist intelligentsia. It was the revisionist ex-Stalinists who originated and disseminated dissenting points of view among the intelligentsiapoints of view which would later help to revive civil life in Poland in the midst of its difficult reality.And yet revisionism had been tainted at its very source by the belief that the strivings and goals of the "liberal" wing in the party apparatus were identical to the demands of the revisionist intelligentsia. I think that the revisionists' greatest sin lay not in their defeat in the intraparty struggle for power (where they could not win) but in the character of that defeat. It was the defeat of individuals being eliminated from positions of power and influence, not a setback for a broadly based leftist and democratic political platform. The revisionists never created such a platform.
Revisionism was terminated by the events of March 1968. In that month the umbilical cord connecting the revisionist intelligentsia to the party was severed. After March 1968 the idea that a progressive and democratic wing existed in the party's leadership was never to regain wide currency. One of the few people who continued to cherish this political hope was Wladyslaw Bienkowski,2 although his formulations were generally considered as protective coloring and not genuine reasoning. In fact, by popularizing his work, Bienkowski created a completely new style of political activity. Previously, "staying inside the party"that is, appealing for support only to party memberswas an unwritten law of revisionism. Bienkowski gave new substance to the old formulas; revisionism, conceived by him as a belief in the existence of a wise party leadership, was transformed into merciless and unceasing criticism of current leaders and their stupidity. On the one hand, he propagated ideas clearly hostile to the authorities and a program that was explicitly oppositional; but on the other hand, his program was addressed to the authorities and not to the public. Those of Bienkowski's readers who were not party members could not learn from his writings how to live, how to act, and what to do to further democratic change.Also in 1968, the year revisionism died, the demonstrating students chanted: "All Poland is waiting for its Dubcek." For a while, the leader of Czech and Slovak communists became the symbol of hope. To this very day, the myth of Dubcek and the Prague Spring has played an important role in Poland, and the meaning of this myth is far from simple. It serves to justify both radiant optimism and the darkest pessimism; it provides a defense for attitudes of conformism as well as for gestures of heroism. Why?
In October 1956 the threat of Soviet intervention in Poland made a national hero out of Wladyslaw Gomulkaa man who would walk off the political stage covered with infamy and contempt fourteen years later.3 His example reveals the basic ambiguity in the whole myth of the heroic party leader. There are reasons to believe that even if there had been no armed intervention the extreme polarization and open conflict between the progressive wing of the party and the extraparty opposition KAN (club of the Non-party Engagés movement) were bound to surface in Czechoslovakia. It is difficult to predict the future, but I would venture that more than one ''Dubcekite" would quickly have been transformed into a tamer of the turbulent opposition.The myth of the "good" party leader is necessarily ambiguous. Many of those who joined the PUWP defended their decision in the following manner: "This way I will be able to serve the cause of Polish democracy, because in this way alone I will be able to lend effective support to the Polish Dubcek when he appears." So far, this service to the cause of democracy has amounted to service to the totalitarian powers. Those who did not join the PUWP and who declared themselves to be totally anticommunist also use the example of Czechoslovakia to justify their decision to shun all oppositional behavior. These people call oppositionists "political troublemakers," and view the fate of Czechoslovakia and Dubcek as proof that "there is no way anything is going to change here."For me, the lesson of Czechoslovakia is that change is possible and that it has its limits. Czechoslovakia is an example of the fragility of totalitarian stability, and also of the desperation and ruthlessness of an empire under threat.
The lesson of Czechoslovakia is that evolution has its limits and that it is possible.The experiences of the neopositivists should also be closely examined. There is no doubt that their actions had the positive effect of helping to create an independent public opinion and of popularizing a way of thinking that differed completely from the obligatory official style of party propaganda.As I have already mentioned, a starting point for the ideas of the Znak movement in 1956 was geopolitical realism and a rejection of the Poles' supposed predisposition to revolta lesson learned from the tragedy of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. In return for backing Wladyslaw Gomulka's new party leadership, the Znak movement received significant concessions from the authorities. Several Clubs of the Catholic Intelligentsia were formed, and Tygodnik Powszechny, the Znak [Sign] monthly, and the Znak publishing house were reactivated. The Znak movement gained the right to express its own opinions and to formulate its own model of national culture. One cannot overestimate the importance of the assimilation of contemporary Christian thought by Polish intellectual life. It would be equally difficult to overestimate the role of books written by Stefan Kisielewski, Hanna Malewska, Jerzy Turowicz, Jerzy Zawieyski, Stanislaw Stomma, Antoni Golubiew, or Jacek Wozniakowski. Because of the works by these authors, a broad base for a culture independent of official norms and molds came into existence in Poland. Thanks to speeches made in the Sejm by Stefan Kisielewski, Jerzy Zawieyski, and Stanislaw Stomma, young Poles were given an opportunity to become familiar with an ersatz political pluralism. By its very definition, the small group of Znak deputies was destined to fulfill the role of a realistic, pragmatic, and Catholic "opposition to Your Royal-socialist Majesty."