The Culture of Bolshevism and the Polish Intellectuals

Stefan WYSZYŃSKI (1901-1981)



Primate of Poland. B. Aug. 8, 1901, Zuzela (county Ostrów Mazowiecka). In 1924 he finished the religious seminary in Włocławek, 1925-29 studied canon law and social sciences at the Lublin Catholic University (KUL), in 1929 received his doctorate in canon law. From Oct. 1948 archbishop of Gniezno and Warsaw, primate of Poland; from 1953 cardinal. Arrested 1953, held in Rywałd, Stoczek, Prudnik, and Komancza; released in Oct. 1956. In mid-60s, together with the Polish Episcopate, he made a gesture of reconciliation between the Polish and the German nation, addressed to the German bishops; this caused a hostile and violent reaction of the party and state authorities. Member of the Vatican Congregation of the Clergy and the Commission for the Revision of Canon Law Code, he took part in the proceedings of the Second Vatican Council. He played a major role in the election of Karol Wojtyła to the Papacy; in 1980-81 he acted as a broker between the “Solidarity” movement and the communist authorities. His works include: Katolicki program walki z komunizmem (“A Catholic Programme of Combating Communism”, 1937); List do moich kapłanów (“A Letter to My Priests”, 1969); Listy pasterskie prymasa Polski 1946-1974 (“Pastoral Letters of the Primate of Poland 1946-1974”, 1975); Kościół w służbie narodu (“The Church in the Service of the Nation”, 1981); Zapiski więzienne (“Notes from Prison”, 1982); Nauczanie społeczne 1946-1981 (“Social Teaching 1946-1981”, 1990). D. May 28, 1981, Warsaw, a couple of weeks after the assassination attempt on John Paul II, and a few months before the introduction of martial law in Poland.

The selected fragments are from Kultura bolszewizmu a inteligencja polska (“The Culture of Bolshevism and the Polish Intellectuals”), originally published 1938 in Włocławek, reprinted from underground press CDN: Warsaw 1982, pp. 3-6, 13-23, 26-29 and 31-35.


The Bolshevik experiment coincides with a severe worldwide economic crisis. A crisis usually entails intensified efforts of the human mind to finds its root causes. This effort is even more dedicated when it is subjected to the pressure of accumulated experience and the knowledge that unemployment and poverty of the masses lead to moral debasement and disintegration. The causes of this multi-faceted evil lie deeper than in a temporary economic downturn; they are to be sought in the very structure of the economic system and must be directly referred to this evil. This is why so much is being said today about the need to change the system, and not only in the communist or socialist camp, but also among Catholics. When such a phenomenon as the Bolshevik revolution, a reconstruction of society along collectivist lines, occurs in this sort of atmosphere, we should not be surprised if it arouses widespread interest, that here and there it even stirs up some hopes. These are often the hopes of people who are hungry, homeless, and jobless, to a certain extent excluded from the process of the distribution of economic goods; of people for whom questions of economic systems are of secondary importance, since their priority is bread, which they must procure even at the cost of bringing the system down.

The Bolshevik agitation, which exerts a particularly strong influence upon the disaffected (understandably enough from the psychological point of view), proclaimed the creation of a new type of state, which would be a protest against the exploitation inflicted in bourgeois states by thousands of exploiters upon millions of exploited and which would be governed by the proletariat. Naturally, this proclamation was eagerly welcomed by the masses. However, it did not occur to them that power is vested not in the proletariat, but in the party, numbering only 3 million in a country of 170 million citizens. Within these 3 million only a small minority, carefully weeded out through purges, belongs to the proletariat. Likewise, it did not occur to them that being a member of the proletariat does not always give access to the party. The party itself, organized along military lines and having its ruling oligarchy, is in fact not a democratic body, but a means of exercising violence on the remainder of the proletariat and of the citizens. Were it known more precisely what this highly acclaimed constitutional change in the Soviet Union has led to, there would not be so many hopes attached to this fact as there are now.

Reading the countless descriptions of travels in Bolshevik Russia, articles in journals, one sees immediately what impresses the visitors most: energy and audacity in the economic domain, a resolute, strong power exercised dictatorially. The reader confronts these images with the crisis of democracy and parliamentarism in European countries, with the ineptitude of governments in the social and economic sphere, etc. These painfully felt defects create the psychological ground on which dictatorships grow. The reader is not always aware that dictatorial government in the Soviet Union, exercised with the aid of the army, the police, and the GPU, put an end to all civil liberties. Even the very inviolability of the person was helpless in the Bolshevic State against the formidable power of the Cheka. When the Glavnoye Politicheskoye Upravlenye (GPU) was created by a decree of November 16, 1922, it was equipped with wide-ranging powers, including the power to arrest, to impose severe punishments without trial, from exile and forced labor up to the death penalty. The decree of January 3, 1923, issued by the Commissariat of Internal Affairs, confers on administrative organs the power to resettle citizens, even without naming the destination. These powers are even more expanded by the laws concerning emergency measures to be used to maintain the “revolutionary order” (of March 8, 1923, and the decree of March 28, 1924, issued by CIK). The very existence of GPU, as an organ not accountable to the police and to administrative bodies, passing sentences without any established procedure or right to appeal, is highly characteristic of the condition of civil liberties in the Bolshevic State. Freedoms so circumscribed constitute a legally binding system that leaves the individual entirely at the mercy of the state administration.

The situation of civil liberties in the Soviet Union is best illustrated by the existence of a category of people not to be found in any other country: the so-called lishentsy and the byvshy lyudii. They are deprived of civil rights, live outside the law and are robbed of any opportunity for a decent existence under the new conditions. Here are some groups belonging to this category: those using the labor of others for profit, those living from income not deriving from their labor, private merchants, salesmen and commercial agents, monks and priests of all denominations, if their ministry is also their occupation, etc. […]

This bondage is exacerbated by the subordination to the purposes of state of all essential economic goods, which are used by the authorities to exert control over citizens. Having the production and distribution of these goods in its hands, the State makes the citizen dependent on it in the smallest details; no wonder, then, that it can exercise the desired influence over the masses. This task is made easier by the fact that the complete state monopoly of the press deprives citizens of an opportunity to express their views.

Certain costs must be paid by the citizen to have a strong government whose social utility is dubious. It is remarkable that the numerous defenders of constitutional liberties in many countries whose systems of government do not deny these liberties are so admiring of the Soviet Union, which has so blatantly banished these liberties.

Sympathizers of the collectivist system are greatly influenced by their conviction that the whole Soviet system is based on labor. Their ideal is a “State of organized Labor”. We shall put aside the question of whether this ideal is right; but it is worth reflecting whether the organization of labor introduced in the Soviet Union can be found attractive.

Bolshevism divides citizens into those who work and those who do not work; article 68 of the Soviet constitution assigns to the first group all citizens whose livelihood depends on “productive and objectively useful labor”. The question as to who belongs to this group is left to the discretion of the Soviet authorities, and this decision determines the rights of the citizen. Only those who work are entitled to political rights (article 68), are eligible for positions in trade unions and offices, are entitled to lodgings, have easier access to university studies, and are even treated more leniently during criminal trials.

Adopting the principle that he who does not work also need not eat (article 18), bolshevism introduced compulsory labor; but the rewards for this labor are not the same for all citizens. The labor of a certain category of people might not correspond to the revolutionary purpose and might not be of revolutionary use. Therefore, those who perform it will be included in the group of non-workers. They are the lishentsy, people who are outside the law and towards whom administrative organs may exercise unqualified discretion. Indeed, the lishentsy are employed for public works which are, in fact, forced labor. Apart from prisoners, another category used for compulsory labor are inmates of concentration camps, especially numerous in Northern Russia (the Solovets Islands on the White Sea). The labor of these tens of thousands of political offenders is used especially for felling trees. […]

There is pressure to impose various “voluntary” self-restrictions on civil rights, adopted “by their own free will” by citizens, in response to directives of the Central Committee of the Communist party, issued with a view to a better, though remote future. This led to the creation of the institution of so-called subotnitsy, that is workers who restrict their right to rest, and work for the state on holidays if there is an urgent public commission to be done. This moral coercion, backed up by the threat of forfeiting food rations, generated the so-called udarnye brighadii, work-teams that undertake extra work after hours without pay. The freedom of work is also circumscribed by the use of factory workers to perform some urgent tasks.

We should also consider as coercion the campaign of propagating among workers the so-called samozakreplenye, that is attachment to industrial plants, aimed at preventing workers from moving from factory to factory and created a kind of social class: fabricae adscripti. Under the decree from November 1932, missing one day of work or unaccounted absence entails expulsion from the factory, the forfeiture of ration tickets and the expulsion from lodgings. No wonder that under such circumstances and with such consequences hanging over the worker, a “work race” develops in Soviet factories, often to the detriment of the quality of products. As we can see, then, although theoretically work is not compulsory for persons who have civil rights, in fact, as a result of all these “voluntary” self-restrictions, the compulsion does exist.

In practice there is no equality of remuneration for the same amount of labor. Bolshevism has created a whole system of privileges that violate proletarian equality. Moreover, this takes place in the most sensitive area, that of food. The system has engendered a new social morality. Whole categories of industrial workers, specialists, Stakhanovites, heroes of labor, have access to special shops, closed to the Bolshevik proletariat. The Soviet Union creates a new Bolshevik nobility, whose privileges are not within the province of political rights, but within the sphere of gastronomic rights.

The system of labor is an enslavement from which there is no way out under current conditions. There is no way out for workers, as they cannot claim their rights along the path accepted in our country, that is through trade unions – for the only trade unions that exist are state-sponsored, subordinated to the interests of the ruling party and the bureaucratic state administration. What in every bourgeois country is regarded as an attainment of the working class, that is, freedom of association, has no practical significance for the Soviet proletariat. However, the Soviet State cannot abandon this system, because the success of actions undertaken by the Soviet Union is possible only if exploitation of labor is maintained. […]

Admirers of the new Russia speak a lot about the development of education in the Bolshevic State,. Even if we disregard the fact that this growth is observable in every country, we should note that the advancement of culture in the Soviet Union is threatened by the very assumptions of communist thinking.

“Our culture is a Marxist culture”, K. Radek stated in Wiadomoœci Literackie. Marxism is quite disdainful of intellectual culture. The very concept of labor, limited to physical work, must create an unfavorable attitude towards intellectual work. Bolshevism, which gave uncritical credence to all the tenets of Marxism, from the outset used the emotions, rather than reason, as its guidepost. Under the slogan of daloy gramotniye, it launched a campaign against the professional intelligentsia, against specialists and experts, trying to put into effect the assumption that each worker who knows basic arithmetic is capable of managing a factory workshop, and that “every woman-cook is capable of governing the country”, as Lenin said. These premises gave rise to the whole issue of vydvizhentsy, simple workers – self-taught – placed at the head of industrial workshops in the name of principles. Utopian communism remained utopian even after Engels promoted it “from a utopia to a science”, as is evidenced by the history of the Bolshevik revolution. It took the sad experiences with the vydvizhentsy for the authorities – under the pressure of sad necessity – to gain respect for specialists. Having decimated its own professional class, the Soviet Union had to import costly foreign experts, and if these experts were able to achieve anything, this was only because they were exempted from the impact of Bolshevik laws, hostile towards intellectuals and educated people.

Such an atmosphere cannot be favorable to the development of culture. In the Soviet Union there is no freedom of scientific research; in a state which adopted Marxist logic as official, which identifies the purpose of scientific research with its revolutionary utility, objective scientific research cannot exist. In the area of intellectual work bolshevism aimed at a monopoly, wanting thereby to impose on science its criterion: historical materialism, and to inculcate in its citizens the materialist understanding of history. With that aim in view, the paper industry was nationalized in one of the first moves in the economic field. Taking control over all publications, bolshevism made it impossible to print any magazines, leaflets, or books. Communism became the official doctrine of the state, not subject to criticism.

Wanting to enclose citizens in the sphere of collectivist thinking, bolshevism turned Russia into one vast prison that no one is allowed to leave. The idea was that Soviet citizens entirely lose touch with Western civilization; the whole young generation is being brought up in isolation from the Western world, and when this generation takes power, it is difficult to say what terms, what concepts it will use when communicating with Europe. It is in such conditions that a new “science” is created, Bolshevik “science”, based on historical materialism. What cultural value can it possess? The mentality of a Bolshevik citizen, deprived of the possibility of comparing its own achievements with those founded on Christian principles, becomes a narrow, fanatical cast of mind, and by virtue of its materialist standpoint a fundamentally fallacious one, because it is fragmentary. “The culture of nascent socialism” only apparently emancipates the masses. In reality it exacerbates their ordeal by incapacitating the first flights of imagination, forcing it into the narrow bounds of materialist thinking. Having no soul, having no religion, which constitutes the moving spirit of every culture, it injures the creativity of young Russia to such an extent that one cannot see anything in it which would merit the name of a new civilization. One can observe an extraordinary poverty of thought, whether in literature, poetry, and painting, or in sculpture, music, and theatre. The subject matter of literature has been restricted to the world of production, the screeching of cogs and the noise of conveyor belts were introduced into poetry, and on the stage we have scenery resembling mechanized and improved guillotines, we see the inside of factories as a background for the collective human being. This poverty does not surprise us. One could not expect anything more when the human spirit was imprisoned in matter, and its flights were caught in the net of censorship. By enclosing artistic creation within the world of industrial production, within the world of matter, the Soviets willingly condemned themselves to the decline of spiritual forces, which will be unable to carry the burden of even that rudimentary education which is now fed to the ignorant masses. […]

When assessing communism, one must not forget about that which must take the foremost place in this assessment – one must not forget about the human being. For everything that the Soviet Union does has been undertaken for the good of man, although in the name of materialist assumptions. The Soviet Union perceives man as homo economicus; it identifies the satisfaction of all his material needs with happiness, and even with moral advancement. It perceives the solution of the social problem entirely within the sphere of material wellbeing, disregarding the ethical aspect, both in the area of doctrine and in that of the exchange of benefits. Rejecting the Christian religion and the morality founded on it, educators of the collective man assumed that securing certain economic advantages for the Soviet citizen is a precondition of remaking his mentality to the core. They try to compensate for the lack of religious and moral life with a materialist civilization. The development of this civilization does not in any way entail the spiritual advancement of man. In this way materialist civilization, preceding spiritual advancement, reinforces the hegemony of matter, re-imposes on man the bondage from which he has been trying to free himself for ages. The dominance of matter is burdensome even when neutralized by religion. Proclaiming the supremacy of matter is already painfully felt in the “culture of nascent socialism”, which enslaves man to such an extent that he ceases to be a free agent. Man is governed by the material world, and not the other way around. The emancipation of man in the Bolshevik style, by putting him at the mercy of technology and machinery, paves the way for a new era of slavery.

In discarding religious principles, as a hindrance to the material conquest of the world, bolshevism forgot that the material conquest of the world requires many Christian virtues. The material conquest of the presently civilized Europe was once carried out by the contemplative orders, which cut down forests, traced out roads, and built bridges. By forcing people to develop a materialist civilization, in isolation from religious life in its manifold aspects, the Soviet Union wants to prove that “by bread alone man lives”. Today they still avail themselves of those values which for so many centuries were inculcated in the Russian soul by Christianity: patience, courage, diligence, obedience, etc.; virtues indispensable for the development of production. However, what will happen once the Soviets create a new man, completely detached from the influence of Christian virtues? He will lack the spiritual strength to subdue matter and impose order on it. Even the management of matter requires kinship with the world of the spirit. These times are not remote. Even today the question of man appears on the agenda in the Soviet Union. The Soviets built factories turning out products of which four out of five are faulty. “Everything founders on the quality of man”. It is not enough to build Magnitogorsk, you have to maintain it; and that requires some Christian values, the heroism of work inspired by motives higher than earthly wellbeing. Bringing someone up as a useful co-worker in building the new system is impossible in a materialist atmosphere. As long as this atmosphere prevails, the workshops will be a painful sore of the Soviet economy. An editor of Przegl¹d Katolicki is right in pointing out that “we, European idealists,’ bend under the weight of technological achievements, while they, Eastern materialists, have no spoons, no buttons, not to speak about railway engines”.

A crisis of man has begun in the Soviet Union, perhaps more painful than the crisis of the Five-Year Plan. Any system devoid of Christian life will end in such a crisis. A change of system that does not improve man has no significance for society. This is a warning not to build a house on sand, not to adore a civilization divested of religious and moral components. This is a reminder that when one rebuilds one’s own system, when one tries to solve social problems, one should combine economic reforms with religious purpose, thereby ensuring their efficacy.

The inefficacy of bolshevism finds a particularly conspicuous manifestation in the crisis of man, the citizen. Perhaps in the factory, the modern equivalent of Krasiński’s Holy Trinity Entrenchment, we will hear the admission: Galilaee, vicisti!



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