Review of the book "Diary of a Former Communist

Nadiezhda Mushketova (May, 2014)

Click here to read the original Russian version.

Ludwik Kowalski's book "Diary of a Former Communist " is a simple story of a human life taking place in hard times. But live stories are never "simple." The author describes his evolution from a dedicated Stalinist to an equally dedicated anti-Stalinist. This is an absolutely authentic history. Those events that befell Kowalski, since early childhood, need no embellishment; thay surpass any literary fiction. The book consists of diary entries, showing how his life, year after year, provided examples of the injustice and inhumanity of the totalitarian system. It does not really matter whether the system divides people on the basis of nationality or social origin .

Kowalski dedicated the book to his wife Linda and his family, wishing them never to live under the dictatorship of the proletariat. And there, perhaps, lies one small mistake made by the author--he should have said God forbid anyone live under any kind of dictatorship, no matter who imposes it, the proletariat, true Aryans, or genuine democrats. The book quotes Yuri Piatakov who wrote that if the party demands it, the duty of every true communist is to will himself to forget-- within 24 hours-- everything he once believed. This apotheosis of totalitarianism, its anthem and motto, is even more significant since Piatakov was declared an enemy of the people and executed. Did he think about what he said about the duty of a true communist at the time of his death?

Maybe no less significant is something else. It is not an outright war with Stalin's former associates, which Kowalski mentions in passing; he did not participate in that inner circle struggle. He just describes his childhood and adolescence, when he continued to worship Stalin even after the arrest of his father, a Polish communist who came to the Soviet Union believing in the building of the happiest society on earth.

In 1946, Ludwik Kowalski [at the age of 15] is repatriated to Poland. [Several years later] he became a [student and a] soldier. And here is a trivial episode: he once allowed himself to appear in public imperfectly uniformed. A political officer "accused me of misconduct in a public place. ... He said something like this: 'Imagine that a foreign journalist photographed you in such a bizarre manner and published it in any capitalist country. What would people say about Polish officers?' My attempts to explain were unsuccessful. They recommended my expulsion from the party. The final decision was to be made at the Warsaw Polytechnic Institute. Fortunately, most of my colleagues voted against the exclusion. ... It's not difficult to imagine how expulsion from the party would have affected me and my plans. I was very lucky."

Can you imagine what a "terrible" offense Kowalski committed, and what a profound effect it would have had on international interests of socialist Poland, if the photo had been taken and if it had been published ... How many ifs ! But if we continue to think in the same mode, and if Kowalski were expelled from the party, how could he then expect to study physics, gain internships and work together with Joliot-Curie in France? Imagine yourself living in a society where your career, job, and sometimes life itself depend on your membership in the ruling party ... And imagine what kind of "serious" breaches can lead to exclusion from the party and thus to the impossibility of a successful life.

Kowalski's book is not just a story of disillusionment with youthful convictions. This is a story of a man who became a man. Such an evolution happens in every one of us, but the author of "Diary of a Former Communist" gives us the opportunity to look at this process more closely. The book helps us to think about totalitarianism, what it is, and how its leaders are able to get people to dance to their tune, believing that they are doing this on their own initiative. It seems that the history of Stalinist repression has not taught us to identify and remove from our own souls the roots of totalitarianism. In that context the book written by Ludwik Kowalski can be very useful.