, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 323–346 | Cite as

Internal bolshevisation? Elite social science training in stalinist Poland

  • John Connelly
Social Science Under State Socialism


From the viewpoint of its Stalinist-era creators, the IKKN/INS could at best be described as a mixed success. Despite heroic efforts, it failed to train the cadres that might have permeated Polish scholarship with Marxism-Leninism. If it was the major channel for transmitting Soviet experience to Polish academia, then Poland's universities would not learn to be Soviet—the Polish historian Jerzy Halbersztadt has made the point that the institute was the only direct conduit of Soviet experience into Polish academic life. It even had a major role in educating some of Poland's most famous critical thinkers, although they, unlike their master Adam Schaff, seem less fond of reminiscing about the institute. Leszek Koŀakowski writes that he does not regard his role in the ideological struggles of the early 1950s as a “source of pride”.90

The legacy of the IKKN/INS has also been a mixed one. It was not only a “foundry of revisionists”. For every future critical thinker of world repute, it graduated several cadres who served the PZPR loyally over decades. Adam Schaff recognises this dual legacy. Looking back on a long and active life, he has called the institute a “pearl in my crown”.91 Its members filled top party and government posts throughout the history of People's Poland. Andrzej Werblan served as Central Committee secretary and a member of the Politburo, Sylwester Zawadzki became minister of justice, Stanisŀaw Wroński was minister of culture, Mieczysŀaw Jagielski was the Politburo member who negotiated the Gdańsk accords, Stanisŀaw Kania succeeded Edward Gierek, and Mieczysŀaw Rakowski acted as General Jaruzelski's Party First Secretary.92

Undoubtedly much of the institute's strange course is to be attributed to the designs of Adam Schaff. Despite his Moscow training, Schaff retained an attachment to the Polish academic milieu which had formed him. He may have believed in Stalinist doctrine, but he also believed that this doctrine would show its superiority in competition with other views—even if the competition was far from a fair one. Of course, Schaff tried to retain ultimate control, and to play, as he now calls himself, the “grey eminence”. Nevertheless, his was a very unstalinist way of propagating Stalinism, and he must be given credit for helping to keep a spirit of intellectual inquiry alive in Poland during the dark years of the early 1950s.

Yet Schaff tends to exaggerate his personal role in educating philosophers, dissidents and critical thinkers. This tendency is itself a legacy of the Stalinist period and its concentration of power. Stalinists view the present as their personal creation and therefore reject all criticisms of the past. At the final meeting of the Crooked Circle Club in 1962, Schaff encountered unwonted criticism from, among others, Andrzej Walicki. Schaff shot back at him: “You are ours, you are our creation, a creation of socialism ... we educated you, and we didn't do such a bad job.” But far from being a “creation” of Schaff's, the non-party member Walicki had been denied admission to graduate studies in philosophy. He felt relieved when those in attendance, who knew him better than Schaff did, burst out laughing.93

The point is that the Polish intellectual world maintained its integrity outside the IKKN/INS, and in the end it was the institute which merged into the Polish intelligentsia, rather than the opposite. After 1957 the non-Marxist sociologists and philosophers made their way back to academia, and were joined by many former INS staff members. The basic unity of Polish social science training, and of the Polish intelligentsia, was restored.94

Of course in a larger sense the fate of the IKKN/INS had little to do with the designs of its master. Schaff admits as much, proclaiming that “I did this because I did not know what I was doing!” If he had been asked to start such a project five years later, the answer would have been: “No!”95 The fatal flaw of the Institute for Training Scientific Cadres was cadres: Poland did not have them. By 1956, Schaff and the party leadership, and perhaps Soviet advisers as well, had learned that one could not create an elite party scientific institution almost out of nothing. It would either be party or scientific, because apparatchiki could not become scientists, scientists would not become apparatchiki, and students could not produce teachers. In the Stalinist period, Polish intellectual life had stood in the shadow of the party; yet during the Thaw the relationship was reversed—increasingly the tiny party training institute was engulfed by the shadow of the resurgent Polish universities. Talented young people, even those in the party, made their way into the traditional higher educational establishment.

The IKKN/INS did not, therefore, fail because of its own failings, nor succeed because of its own successes. It was a failed part of a failed whole. To succeed, “mild” revolution would have required decades, and Poland's Stalinists had only a few years. To make matters worse—or better, depending on viewpoint—they did not use these years in a conventional Stalinist manner. Under Schaff's guidance and at somewhat erratic Soviet bidding, the institute became an awkward series of half-measures, reminiscent of much of Polish Stalinism. When Poland's communists fell back and regrouped in 1956, the IKKN/INS occupied a lonely position they preferred to abandon.


High Educational Establishment Critical Thinker Elite Party Politburo Member Ideological Struggle 
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    One example of such reunification was the philosophical institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences, where, in the early 1960s, former INS members Bronisław Baczko, Leszek Kołakowski, Henryk Hinz, Anka Śladkowska-Hochfeldowa worked side by side with Andrzej Walicki, Barbara Skarga, Zygmunt Ogonowski and Lech Szczucki. Ibid., p. 68.Google Scholar
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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

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  • John Connelly

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