- Hurrah Revolutionaries: The Polish Canadian Communist Movement, 1918–1948 by Patryk Polec
As a monograph in the McGill-Queen's Studies in Ethnic History Series, this book will be of interest to individuals who study Canadian immigration, ethnicity, and labour history. Polec notes that in the past, radicalism was often viewed as movement of the working class and at times depicted through a Stalinist lens to elicit a "foreign Red Scare." Scholars rarely demonstrate that radicalism was an outcome from members of the working class who attempted to promote their progressive ideology. Similarly in Canada, communism is rarely thought of as a movement that sought to eliminate social, economic, and political discrimination, injustice, and unemployment among immigrants. Polec uses historian Ian McKay's "reconnaissance" strategy to analyze how the Polish Canadian communist movement interacted with the Polish community in Canada by placing relations between them within a broader Canadian context. He also contextualizes the Polish communist movement's relationship with Canadian officials, the Communist Party of Canada, and other ethnic communists including Ukrainians and Polish Jews.
There is a lack of sufficient archival material to determine the number of Polish communists in Canada. Polec suggests that there were between 1,000 and 5,000 members. Unlike the Ukrainian, Finnish, and Jewish communists who constituted close to 95 percent of the Canadian Communist Party's membership, Polish communists were a small minority within the movement. They were soon aware that their "hurrah revolutionism" which stressed ideology over ethnicity would hinder their cause. The movement's success depended on its support for ethnicity since most Polish immigrants remained skeptical of atheism, class struggle, and internationalism, and held onto their ethnocultural heritage. [End Page 228]
Within Canada's Polonia, communists competed with conservatives, progressives, and the Catholic Church for the hearts and minds of fellow compatriots. Polec examines how the Polish communists' process of politicization among Polish immigrants was shaped by their need to sustain cultural markers including religious and national holidays, festivals, funerals, songs, drama, language, and schools. The author demonstrates that these elements "often limited immigrants' ability to accept and discard political ideas." Polish communists adapted to this setting in which "ethnic culture and homeland politics transcended notions of working-class solidarity." As a result, they became dedicated to socio-cultural work within their ethnic community in order to reach fellow compatriots. The Polish communist "vielle garde" understood that class interests would not supersede immigrants' national and ethnocultural interests. Ultimately, the Polish communist movement's initiatives were particularly successful in the socio-cultural realm as they masked their political allegiance with nationalistic patriotism, Polish-language schools, sports and youth organizations, women's groups, and festivals.
Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, Joseph Stalin's tenure as Soviet leader fragmented many communists, especially Ukrainians who increasingly opposed his leadership after the 1932–33 Holodomor (extermination by hunger) in which millions perished. Despite such events, Polec reveals that Polish Canadian communists remained fervent defenders of Stalin and the Soviet Union. With the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on 23 August 1939, Polish Canadian communists had difficulty explaining the communist-fascist alliance between Moscow and Berlin, and the subsequent Soviet invasion of Poland. The Polish communist movement lost considerable credibility among its supporters and sympathizers. Polec argues that the Polish Canadian communists' continued existence was predicated on their flexibility and adaptability. During the interwar period, they supported the Soviet Union as a socialist paradise and promoted "hurrah revolutionism" but later became "patriots and partisans of democracy" and cooperated with the Allied war effort to defeat Nazism in Europe.
In the past, scholarship pertaining to the Polish Canadian community portrayed communists as a small and marginalized group situated outside of the community's larger narrative encompassing "hardy pioneers, committed religious and patriotic leaders, and ambitious community organizations." In Hurrah Revolutionaries, Polec challenges this perception and sheds further light on the communist movement within Canada's Polonia. Based on recently discovered Polish consular files and complemented by existing Canadian and Polish governmental archival records, ethnic and mainstream newspapers...