- Hurrah Revolutionaries: The Polish Canadian Communist Movement, 1918–1948 by Patryk Polec
Hurrah Revolutionaries is designed to be a social history of politics – one that consciously seeks to fill rather notable gaps in the historiographies of Polish-Canadian studies and ethnic radicalism in Canada. Even better, it is a work which, as the author puts it, is largely “based on recently discovered Polish consular files.” (xx) As such, the expectations of those who care about social, cultural, ethnic and labour history will be high when they start reading the substantive parts of Polec’s work. Polish-Canadian radicalism has most assuredly been understudied, and has either been dismissed as virtually non-existent or a mere adjunct of Ukrainian-Canadian radicalism. The inherent promise to offer the history of Polish-Canadian radicalism the same level of scholarly attention as has already been accorded to the Finnish, Ukrainian, Jewish, Hungarian, Russian and Croatian “lefts” is heady stuff, especially when compounded by the always intriguing prospect of new insights being provided through the use of a heretofore largely untouched set of source materials. In short, the scholarly bar has been set quite high.
Polec starts his work well. In theoretical and methodological terms, he successfully blends Benedict Anderson’s notion of an imagined community with Ian McKay’s “reconnaissance approach” to the history of the Canadian left. Perhaps even more to the point, in his early chapters he does a fine job of setting the problem of Polish-Canadian radicalism in the larger context of Polish-Canadian and Polish history. To accomplish this Polec brings together the best scholarship on the Polish diaspora, 19th century Polish history, and the far from pleasant North American experience of most Polish immigrants in the pre-World War II era. He then moves on to his more substantive research on the Polish-Canadian left – its leaders (particularly Dutkiewicz, Polka and Morski), its organizations (the Polish Workers and Farmers Association, the Polish People’s Association, and the Polish Democratic Association), and especially its press (Glos Pracy was the most important in this regard). It is of considerable importance that Polec never fails to interweave this story with the history of more mainstream Polonia, especially the religious and secular organizations which helped to inform the attitudes of many Polish Canadians. Polec is at his best when describing the antagonism which existed between the patriotism, conservatism and religiosity of most Poles and the overtly internationalist and atheist Polish Communists, particularly when analyzing the ways in which those antagonisms were partially (and briefly) overcome in the late 1930s, allowing the Polish-Canadian Communist movement to have its moment in the sun.
One of the author’s core contentions is that whereas the leaders of the Polish-Canadian Communist movement had, for the most part, been radicalized before they arrived in Canada, much of the rank and file membership were radicalized by conditions in the new world – by the experience of mistreatment at the hands of the often nativist dominant society and by the economic difficulties associated with life in Canada – particularly the experience of the Great Depression. Still, for all the harsh living and working conditions of Polish immigrants and [End Page 219] despite what Polec describes as the heroic efforts of the small and dedicated band of Polish-Canadian Communists who led the movement prior to the mid-1930s, Communists had only limited success with Polish immigrants. The religious and nationalistic predispositions of most Polish-Canadians made them relatively resistant to the appeal of the Communists. In Polec’s analysis, it was the arrival of a new leader in 1935 – Alfred Morski – at the same time that the Comintern was mandating the adoption of the less confrontational tactics and rhetoric of the Popular Front, that changed this, albeit briefly. Between the impact of the Depression, Morski’s seemingly less doctrinaire positions on religion and nationalism, and the growing popularity of the Communist Party of Canada (cpc), the Polish-Canadian pro-communist movement became a significant force. However, it did not last long. The coming of World War...