Red concrete

The terms "boors" and "Jews" were general. It was more about worldview than origin. To be clear: both of them were equally rooted in the Stalinist period, says Andrzej Brzeziecki, author of the book "Concrete Mind. The history of hard-line comrades from the Polish United Workers' Party.

TVP WEEKLY: I will venture a hypothesis that the title of your book best suits Kazimierz Mijal.

He was certainly an extremely hardened Stalinist. When it comes to the theory of communism, he was superior in knowledge to many later representatives of the “concrete” movement. However, he was completely detached from reality and his dogmatism led him to create an illegal communist party in Poland, publish leaflets, and finally escape to Albania, and then the People's Republic of China (he founded the underground Communist Party of Poland in 1965, and already in 1966 he left the country - by ed.).

By radicalising, he lost influence on the Polish United Workers' Party. He was once a trusted friend of Bolesław Bierut, then he became the director of one of the banks, but his conspiratorial activities repelled most communists from him. He only gathered a group of like-minded fanatics. Moreover, his behaviour seemed slightly schizophrenic: in the morning he was taken to work at the bank by a driver in a company car, and after work Mijal secretly wrote pamphlets aimed at Władysław Gomułka. His Albanian-Chinese adventure resulted from China's conflict with Moscow after the death of Joseph Stalin. The Chinese were supported by the regime in Albania, which helped Mijal print leaflets. And when he fled Poland, on an Albanian passport, a broadcast channel was put at his disposal. Radio Tirana has become for the passers-by what Radio Free Europe is for anti-communists. Over time, however, Mijal came into conflict with the Albanian authorities and left for the Middle Kingdom. He returned to the country secretly in the 1980s. He lived for a long time in free Poland, constantly dreaming of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The splits among our communists in the first years of the People's Republic of Poland resulted from their, so to speak, geographical experiences?

Party divisions were influenced by their experiences during the war, but also by their origins. Those who came to Poland with the Red Army thought they understood communism better. They went through all the trials under Stalin - sometimes including the Lubyanka prison and labor camps. They felt proven and hardened. For obvious reasons, there were many Jews among them, because the Jewish communists who came under German occupation died in extermination camps.
Meanwhile, a handful of communists operating in the General Government during the war were convinced that they understood Poles better and knew how to convince them to embrace Communism. People like Władysław Gomułka believed that automatically copying the patterns from the Soviet Union on the Vistula River would not work. Mieczysław Moczar, in turn, had the feeling that he was the one who risked his life in the Resistance, when others were sitting in Moscow far from the front, and now, with Moscow's support, they are taking all the power.

Did Leon Kasman's war conflict with Moczar have far-reaching consequences?

Kasman was a Jew who came from Moscow and Moczar could not please him. He was transferred to the Lublin region to investigate the situation in the Polish Workers' Party. Let me remind you that within a dozen or so months, three party leaders died in strange circumstances: Marceli Nowotko, Bolesław Mołojec and Paweł Finder. The first two were killed, most likely in factional disputes, and the third was captured and murdered by the Germans. Moscow had grounds to believe that the PPR was infiltrated and that some provocateur was working within it. That's why Kasman was sent - his meeting with Moczar ended in hatred that lasted for decades. It was no coincidence that they always found themselves in warring coteries.

The right-wing deviation of comrade "Wiesław" et consortes was also part of factional fights?

The Gomułka case was rather an element of broader processes in the communist parties of Central Europe, created by Stalin. He was starting another purge, and the pretext for it was, among other things, the dispute with Yugoslavia. The communists there managed to maintain their independence from the Kremlin. Josip Broz Tito was just as much of a murderer as other communists, he just didn't want to submit to Stalin. He did not risk war with Yugoslavia, but decided to eliminate everyone he suspected of wanting to become independent from him. Gomułka, who spent the war in Poland and also appreciated other political parties, such as PPS, fit the image of the "Polish Tito". There is an anecdote that during the occupation, Gomułka was happy when someone wrote on the wall in chalk: "PPR - dicks." Because until now it was written "PPR - Paid People of Russia". So it was better to be a dick, as long as one was Polish, than a servant of Moscow. Stalin could not tolerate this. Gomułka was imprisoned, but fortunately for him he was not given a show trial or sentenced to death, as happened in Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania.

Where do the terms "Natolinians" and "Puławians" come from?

From the places where the leaders of party factions met. Natolin is a palace in Warsaw, while "Puławians" took their name from Puławska Street, where there was a tenement house inhabited by some supporters of liberalisation. Of course, both names are quite conventional, and many PZPR politicians at that time even denied the existence of both parties.

These were defined by Witold Jedlicki in a famous text published in “Kultura".

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The terms "boors" and "Jews" were circulating in Warsaw among party members at that time. They were vague, so they didn't have to be precise. It was more about worldview than background. To be clear: "boors" and "Jews" were equally immersed in the Stalinist period. There were many Poles in the Security Service fighting the Polish Resistance as brutally as the Jewish Security Service officers. In turn, the liberalism of the "Puławy" people was quite recent; they had previously built a totalitarian state. Some simply tried to escape forward by promoting national and anti-Semitic slogans, others by promoting democratisation and expanding freedoms - especially in the field of culture, science and media. It seems that in both cases, a large part of the comrades sincerely identified with the slogans they propagated. Liberal and national trends existed in Poland earlier. The communists only "jumped" into it.

Why were the people of Puławy the beneficiaries of October 1956 for only a few years?

They believed that it was the beginning of changes, while Gomułka believed that he was just ending them. After taking power, he tried to calm the party and force society to work. After all, at the famous rally, which gathered hundreds of thousands of Warsaw residents, he said that there had already been enough demonstrations - but Poles were just getting started. The people of Puławy also hoped that the changes would continue. Gomułka rejected this, so he turned to Natolin and Moczar - these comrades did not want further democratisation and in this respect they seemed to be more reliable partners than the "Puławians". However, Comrade "Wiesław", like every politician in power, had to maintain balance. So he pushed away the "Puławians", but in 1959 he made it clear to the "Natolinians", with the support of Nikita Khrushchev himself, that they had to obey him. The "Puławians" lost their importance in the 1960s, but the liberal wing of the PZPR was not destroyed. They stayed - because they might be useful someday.

I thought that the "Natolinians" handed over their inheritance to the partisans, but you prove that they concluded an alliance sealed with the blood of Henryk Holland…

“Natolinians” in the 1960s were already "boomers", but Moczar reached out to many of them, counting on support. Holland, who was close to the "Puławians", was not liked by the "Natolinians", but his death took place when Moczar was the deputy minister of internal affairs supervising the secret services. Holland died by falling out of the window of his apartment in Warsaw at Nowotki (today Andersa) Street during a search by the Security Service. It was then assumed that he had been killed, although he probably committed suicide. He was suspected of providing information to Western journalists (on the content of Nikita Khrushchev's speech at the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in which Stalinist policy was criticized - ed.).

For the people of Puławy, Holland's death was a signal to fight the hardliners. However, they were already close to Gomułka and Moczar, whom the first secretary trusted. Many people from Puławy came to Holland's funeral. Incited by Moczar, Gomułka considered the ceremony a demonstration aimed at him. From here it was only a step to the final dealing with the "Puławians". They lost their influence on power, but continued to function on the fringes of politics. Some later supported the anti-communist opposition.
Meeting of Mieczysław Moczar (3P) with a delegation of veterans, 1966. Photo PAP/Zbigniew Matuszewski
How did Moczar endear himself to the majority of veterans?

He understood that he would not gain popularity from supporters of communism alone. He focused on people with a nationalistic worldview. Ultimately, post-Yalta Poland was quite ok for many National Democrats. Borders based on the Oder, a country with virtually no national minorities, strong-arm rule...

Using his influence in the Union of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy, he began to tempt former Home Army members. The message was clear: rank-and-file Home Army members are fine, so we can come to an agreement. Numerous events with the participation of veterans served this purpose. In his memoirs, Moczar wrote warmly about the Home Army partisans, criticising only their command. He appreciated these groups, which were ruthlessly condemned under Bierut. A lot of people must have liked it. Moczar was supported by Colonel Jan Mazurkiewicz "Radosław". Others, however, kept their distance and considered familiarity with "Mietek" to be dishonourable. After all, when he headed the Security Office in Łódź right after the war, he destroyed the “Cursed Soldiers”. Bolesław Piasecki, the leader of the pre-war extreme right and after the war of the PAX Association, bringing together Catholics trying to cooperate with the communists, also saw the partisans as an ally.

You are debunking the myth of a coup at the top of power, allegedly prepared in Olsztyn in 1971.

Because in fact there was none. It was rather Edward Gierek who decided that it was time to move Moczar to the sidelines. In fact, he was removed from the Ministry of Internal Affairs by Gomułka after March 1968, but Moczar was still strong, or was considered to be. His figure was intimidating throughout the previous decade. Comrade "Sztygar" decided that enough was enough. He was at the peak of his popularity back then, so no one could oppose him. Moczar was resting in Łańsk, a government center in Masuria, and he happened to be invited to Olsztyn. Gierek himself, who was in Czechoslovakia at the congress of the local communist party, also unexpectedly appeared there. At the same time, a financial scandal was "discovered" in the Ministry of Internal Affairs dating back to the times when Moczar was in charge of the ministry. People close to "Mietek" were hit. Gierek had an excuse to remove him from the Politburo. Rumours about an alleged coup in Olsztyn, which was blocked, only worsened Moczar's position. He was sent to the Supreme Audit Office, which was later regretted because he entrenched himself there and continued to attack the authorities for many years.

Who, when and to whom wrote the "2000 letter"?

It was established at the end of 1976 on the initiative of representatives of the "Concrete" party. By giving people Coca-Cola, a small Fiat and colour television, and on the other hand appealing to the concept of national community, Gierek gained such popularity that the National Communists, who had taken part in the anti-Semitic heck of the previous decade, had little to do with him.

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Only the crisis of June 1976 breathed wind into their sails. We are used to the fact that the democratic opposition collected signatures for open letters, while such practices also occurred on the other side of the political barricade. The “Letter of 2000", the originator of which was, among others, Ryszard Gontarz, a leading propagandist in 1968, ostensibly expressed opposition to the existence of the Workers' Defense Committee, but in fact he attacked Gierek's team, which he knew perfectly well. Hardliners were allegedly worried about the emergence of a democratic opposition, but thus pointed to Gierek as responsible for the emergence of KOR and tolerating it. During the Solidarity era, the senders of the “Letter of 2000" largely joined the Grunwald Patriotic Union.

The personalities of dogmatists in the times of the late Polish People's Republic remain anonymous today.

At that time, the faces of power were primarily generals Wojciech Jaruzelski, Czesław Kiszczak and Florian Siwicki. The PZPR was pushed into the background during martial law. The anger of Poles was focused on by government spokesman Jerzy Urban, who was not even in the party. His cynical statements to the media earned him the reputation of a scoundrel. Dogmatists had influence in the party structures, but Jaruzelski quite consistently got rid of them, which was called "distributing". Some he "promoted," which often meant being sent to government or diplomacy. This was the fate of Albin Siwak, who, pretending to be the voice of workers, criticised the moves of the party authorities.

This author of memoirs entitled "From shovel to diplomat" wins the strongly contested competition for the stupidest dignitary of the People's Republic of Poland?

I'm not sure if "stupidest" is the best word - after all, he had some political sense, since he made it to the Politburo. It is true that his language was quite simple and the theses he formulated were downright vulgar. At the same time, he was able to express in words some feelings and longings of some party activists. In a way, he portrayed himself as the anti-Wałęsa, and he probably did it effectively. He presented himself as an ordinary worker, although he became a party notable.

Did the women comrades also had concrete minds?

Unfortunately, from a marketing point of view, when women's stories are fashionable today, party concrete is a disappointment. We had very few women at the top of power in the Polish People's Republic, and there were even fewer of them among hardliners. While before 1956 they were exposed in various spheres of public life, later top-down promotion was abandoned. If they did appear, it was rather in the roles of publicists who attacked the liberal intelligentsia or rebellious students in the press.

Was Alfred Miodowicz the last hardliner of an “era that is rightly gone”?

The problem is that from December 13, 1981, the party concrete was in a losing position. It completely lost its power when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in Moscow. But this does not mean that the conservative trend in the party has disappeared. Urban described it quite accurately. According to him, the average provincial secretary did not consider himself a concrete person at all, he would even like something to change for the better, as long as it was not at his expense. However, each innovation had to mean weakening the party apparatus, which is why these local leaders opposed them - especially talks with the opposition. Thus, they unconsciously became "concrete", although certainly very few heads of the provincial party committees in the 1980s had ever read Marx's "Das Kapital", the works of Engels or Lenin.

Miodowicz was not a tough guy like Moczar. He opposed talks with the opposition in order to prevent Solidarity from coming to power. He was the first to say that the Round Table was an agreement between the elites - the party and the opposition - over the heads of ordinary people.

Andrzej Brzeziecki – writer and publicist, graduate of the Faculty of History of the Jagiellonian University. Author of: "Belarus. Potatoes and jeans", "Armenia. Caravans of Death", "Lukashenko. The would-be Tsar of Russia" (all with Małgorzata Nocuń) and "Czerniawski. The Pole who deceived Hitler", "Major Żychoń's great game", "Ostróda'46. How Poles defeated the Soviets" and the latest "Concrete Mind. The history of hard-line comrades from the Polish United Workers' Party. – interview by Tomasz Zbigniew Zapert

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

-translated by Maciej Sienkiewicz
Main photo: "Beton" - orthodoxes, brutes, the core of the Polish United Workers' Party. There have always been people among Polish communists for whom even Gomułka was a liberal and a servant of the capitalists. The photo shows the monument to Vladimir Ilich Lenin by Marian Konieczny, unveiled in 1973 in the Nowa Huta district of Krakow. In the background, on the building, there is a propaganda poster "The Party" by Włodzimierz Zakrzewski from 1955. Photo. PAP/Jakub Grelowski
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