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Chapter 4: Death of our leader

4.1 M&L stands for Marxism-Leninism (1952)

This morning P told me that I have been nominated as the party representative on the commission of job assignments (after graduation). That is not the kind of work I like. But someone has to do this. [...] What a day it was; Ika and I were together all afternoon, up to 9 p.m. First we were alone in my place, then alone near the river. It was a day of big progress in our relations. Ika is highly knowledgeable about the theory of morality. This did not prevent us from kissing and hugging. Unfortunately, only I was the active side. Ika protested that we should not be doing this. Love, she said, is the highest form of friendship; people should know each other very well to really experience it. At the same time she allowed me to caress her. I also told her what I think about true love. She told me about her own recent experience. But I suspect it was a deliberate exaggeration; she probably has not slept with anyone. At some point I told her about Anya. [...]

Yesterday Ika’s mother told me, joking, that I am a bad influence on Ika, she is not studying as much as she used to. [...] I am doing well; with a little luck it might be the first semester in which all grades are B or better. [...] There is a big storm outside, with spectacular lightning. What a beautiful spring storm. [...] As expected, I did receive an A grade in X-ray physics. [...] My military grades were from A to C; that is better than I expected. I went to see the military doctor and asked to be excused from the late-summer military camp because of a health problem. But he smiled and said “all this will be cured at the camp.” I was hesitant to visit him but my mother said that my symptoms (dizziness when I climb stairs) should not be neglected. [...]

I visited Z and his wife yesterday. They convinced me to become an assistant for Marxism-Leninism, a new required course for all engineers. This part-time job calls for 10 formal teaching hours and probably for at least 15 hours of preparation. But I should be able to handle it in parallel with graduate courses. Z said that knowing M&L well is just as important as knowing science. It is the basis of our humanistic ideology, the basis of understanding of everything we do. […] In two days I am going to summer camp. It is a pity that Ika decided not to apply. Her desire to be together seems to be much weaker than mine. She keeps giving me double signals. Why is it so? [...]


4.2 Common cause versus love

The problem of personal friendship is not simple. Several days ago R told me that K got married. Why didn’t he invite me to the ceremony? I was very happy when he said, at the end of military camp, that “Kowalski is my real close friend.” But would I invite him to my ceremony? Probably not. Why not? Whom would I invite? Ika would invite T and B. The only person I would certainly invite is J.

It is important to have close personal friends, people on whom one can count no matter what. But how to create friendship? This question was answered in articles about communist morality; common commitments are the most important factors. But it means that the common cause is loved more than individual people. And what about emotional factors?

Sharing a common cause is not enough; one should spend time with potential friends, pay attention to their needs, discuss personal problems, etc. Ika told me that T is her close personal friend; she has no secrets with her. But they don’t have a common cause. Ika told me that T’s ideology is religion-based, and that she sometimes thinks like our enemies. Does it mean that their friendship is not real? Does it mean it is unstable? It is hard for me to decide. And I won’t ask her these questions. Why not? Because it is too early, our friendship is still baking in the oven. Who should be my true personal friends? Where should I be searching for them? I should think about this without forgetting that my lifelong goal is building communism. [...]

Ika said that I am very selfish; my own personality dominates everything I say. She is probably right. One should be less egoistic; we should speak about general and neutral topics as well. One day we started talking about languages. This is her field, not mine. But I suddenly felt sexually attracted to her. She probably felt the same thing; our general discussion stopped and we were involved in animal activities. Each of us was both selfish (receiving) and not selfish (giving) at the same time. These things are inseparable. [...] Sex reduces serious intellectual preoccupations to the instinctive level; intellectual preoccupations, on the other hand, interfere with the pleasant physiological activity. I should be paying more attention to Ika’s needs. This is as clear as a sunny day. I wish I had more time to analyze other problems today. [...]

The 19th Congress of the Soviet Communist party is starting today. [...] I showed the draft of my essay about happiness to L. He said that it suffers from being one-dimensional. Life is much more complex. A man, he said, is born with seeds for all sorts of developments. That is why different people have different needs. [...] I have only two weeks to choose the topic of my diploma paper. [...]

I should find a way to end my M&L assistantship. This commitment is not compatible with my graduate school learning. One semester is enough. [...] Relations with Ika seem to be deteriorating. It is her initiative. [...] I am now in the Rosa Luxemburg factory, it is my second diploma-related work-project. I met many interesting people here. […] Berler accepted my request to end the M&L assistantship. Will I be able to find an assistantship in my own field? [...]

In the Soviet Union, Poland, and other communist countries, everyone had to study Marxism-Leninism. We were taught that human history was a deterministic process, and that decisions made by communist parties were morally justified. Those  whose relatives became victims of proletarian dictatorship were often told that mistakes were unavoidable on the path toward “our glorious future.”  But this was before Khrushchev’s 1956 speech exposing Stalin’s crimes. That speech, and Solzhenitsyn’s books, were shocking and dramatic revelations about the tyrannical nature of what was going on. The word "tyranny," in the title of my book, is certainly appropriate. And what about the word "freedom?" It is also appropriate; I do feel free in United States of America. The book ends with welcoming words from President Carter.

Solzhenitsyn, by the way, was also a firm defender of communist ideas, before WWII. He too was a child of the Stalinist regime. But how can one understand western intellectuals who defended Stalin? They probably believed that the path of post-revolutionary development was chosen on the basis of open debates within the party leadership. This was certainly not true after the 1930s, once Stalin took control of both the party and the state. Ideology ceased to guide political decisions and became a means of justifying them. Western intellectuals accepted Stalin’s claim that class struggle naturally intensifies after revolution. This unjustified claim was used to explain terror; millions of kulaks (prosperous peasants) were either killed or sent to the gulag. Most Bolshevik leaders, including many of Stalin’s close friends, were executed as spies and enemies. The same was true for top Red Army commanders; 214 of 286 were executed. How many of them could possibly have been spies and enemies of the state? 

Stalin hid his personal involvement with the bloody nature of proletarian dictatorship, pretending to be on the side of justice and morality. Many of his victims believed that crimes against Soviet people were perpetuated without Stalin's knowledge while in reality he was involved in the day-to-day activities of “punitive organs.”  His signature appeared on numerous execution orders, which subordinates were often made to co-sign. Thus they automatically became partners in crime, probably for Stalin’s protection from future accusations.

Tomorrow will be the first job assignment meeting, for those who decided not go to graduate school. I will be sitting as the party representative. I see no rational plan of action; some students will have to take employment outside of their specialty. The committee, mostly professors, has the right to force students to accept what is available.

But is it moral, or economically desirable, to force someone to work outside a specialty? I don’t think so. That is why I will definitely oppose such coercion. The commission chairman is Prof K; he is also a party member. I will tell him, if necessary, that the economy will suffer if people are assigned to jobs for which they are not prepared. Unhappy workers are not good workers. Most of these students are my friends. [...]

4.3 Doctor’s plot affair (1953)

Spring semester starts tomorrow. My goal is to have nothing but As. But is this realistic? Probably not. I am aware of my intellectual limitations. M is much better prepared to be a scientist than I am. This does not prevent me from planning to be admitted later on to a postgraduate program in the USSR. Deep knowledge, and good grades are essential. [...] Yesterday, Ika presented a very correct analysis of our relations. We decided to stay at the level of friendship. I am not happy about this. [...]

Comrade Stalin is seriously sick. I could not concentrate on a lecture after Michal told me about this. And it was not only me. Even in the tramway I noticed how quiet and reflective people were. When I was a child I often asked myself if I would give my life to allow him to live. I would not hesitate to do this now. What was he working on recently? If he survives this massive stroke then it would be a triumph of modern medicine. No matter what happens, he will live in us; he will never be forgotten. [...]



From my diary (in Polish). Red bands of silk with Stalin's face were widely distributed after his death. I wore it on my chest for several days.


Stalin died today. We should be faithful to his teaching. [...] I wonder which of his unpublished personal notes and letters will be available to us. Did he write a diary? All this would help us to understand how he reasoned and worked. [...] The Kremlin doctor’s plot in the Soviet Union was declared a fiction. Jewish doctors accused of conspiring to poison top Soviet leaders were suddenly declared innocent. It is unfortunate that Stalin did not live a little longer, to learn about this. What would have happened to these doctors if he hadn't died suddenly? According to one speculation, they would have been judged and condemned to death, to satisfy Stalin's desire. Doctors benefited from his death, according to this widely known rumor. I wish I knew how to distinguish truth from rumors. I am mentioning rumors because I heard them many times.

Mother came from T, who listen to Voice of America. They heard that frictions develop between Malenkov and Molotov
[top Soviet leaders]. This is enemy propaganda, designed to confuse us and create panic. This doctor’s plot affair shows that the Soviet Union is not afraid to recognize its mistakes. In a capitalist country something like this would be pushed under the rug, to avoid exposing a mistake. Our enemies will try to exploit this episode. Tomorrow our party committee will probably issue instructions about how deal with this. [...]

Spring is here; in the evenings I enjoy walking along dark streets, feeling the delicate warm wind on my face, and smelling odors of first leaves. But something bothers me inside; I am not happy with myself. [...] Yes, I matured during the last year, more in some areas and less in others. I still do not know what my narrow specialty should be. And I make mistakes in dealing with people, especially in ZMP work. [...] My party assignment is ideological offensive at the first year in the College of Telecommunication. I already met several nice ZMP members there. [...]

At tomorrow’s party meeting I will be honored with permanent membership. Here is my application: “I want to receive the honor of membership in PZPR [Polish communist party]. I know the program of the party and I accept the party discipline, to always obey directives, not hide anything from the party, and not stain the honor of membership.” [...] Do I deserve this? I still see in myself some negative characteristics. But they are not essential; I am basically ready to serve the party till the end of my life. [...] Party work will be my first priority; everything else will be next. [...]
My attitude toward communism changed dramatically after 1956. I hope that what follows will correctly describe the evolution of that complex process.

My end-of-semester grades are good, only Bs and As; the average is 4.25. I was so preoccupied with exams that I forgot about a party meeting. How can I admit this? They will say I am ignoring party obligations. Another option is to say that I was sick. But that is unacceptable; that would be lying to party comrades. Well, there is another possibility. I should try to create a situation in which no one asks. [...]

The summer military service (three months in Koszalin) will begin only on July 4. I will leave Warsaw earlier, with H. He invited me to his parent’s home in Gdansk. We will have two days of vacation. [...] In Koszalin we will be learning in the Officers’ Anti-aircraft Artillery School. That is not logical; we were trained as foot soldiers for three years. […]

The next entry is after the return from military school. I expected to find a description of an important episode that took place in Koszalin. But I must not have had my notebooks with me. Let me briefly describe what happened. Some kind of conflict developed between me and captain S, the army political officer assigned to us. Was it about a girl I met one Sunday in the town? I am not sure. It had something to do with wearing my uniform.

At the army party meeting he accused me of not behaving properly in a public place. I really do not remember details, except for one thing. He said something like this: “suppose a foreign reporter took a picture of your clowning, and published it in a capitalist country. What would they say about Polish officers?”

Attempts to defend myself were not successful. They decided that I should be excluded from the party. The final decision had to be made at Warsaw Polytechnic. A party meeting at Polytechnic was called and the case was considered. Fortunately, most colleagues voted against the expulsion. But some people did think that I committed a very serious offense. It is not difficult to imagine what effect exclusion from the party would have had on me, and on my plans. I was really lucky. Except for this episode, I found the course in Koszalin interesting. It did prepare me for handling a battery of four 88-mm anti-aircraft guns.


This is Chapter 04.
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Chapter 01 Brief Summary click
Chapter 02 Extracts From My First Notebook click
Chapter 03 Anya, Ika and Other Problems click
Chapter 04 Death of Our Leader click

Chapter 05 Last Years at Polytechnic click
Chapter 06 Beria was the Villain click
Chapter 07 Aftermaths of the 20th Congress click

Chapter 08 Warm Welcome in France click
Chapter 09 Communists Killing Communists Again click

Chapter 10 Fourth Year in Paris click
Chapter 11 Climbing Toward the Doctorate click
Chapter 12 The End of the Tunnel is Not Far click
Chapter 13 Back to Poland With the Doctorate click

Chapter 14 Missing Diaries click
Chapter 15 Year of Blessings click
Chapter 16 Appendix for questions and Comments click