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  • Books Are Weapons: The Polish Opposition Press and the Overthrow of Communism by Siobhan Doucette
  • A. Ross Johnson
Siobhan Doucette, Books Are Weapons: The Polish Opposition Press and the Overthrow of Communism. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017. 331 pp. $29.95 paper.

Siobhan Doucette has provided the English-speaking reader with a comprehensive examination of the uncensored print media that developed in Poland from the mid-1970s to 1990. Samizdat and underground literature existed throughout the Soviet bloc. What distinguished Poland from other Communist-controlled countries was the mass scale of the uncensored media. That was possible because typewriters producing carbon copy typescripts were replaced by simple printing machines—an echo of the mass production of books made possible by Gutenberg printing machines. The scale was sustainable because independent publications were sold, not given away, and authors and especially printers were paid for their work by NOVA and other independent publishing houses that arose.

The independent Polish press "employed" thousands of authors, printers, and distributors and had an estimated 200,000 readers prior to 1980. From August 1980, when the independent trade union Solidarity was partly legitimized, until December 1981, when martial law was imposed and Solidarity was forced underground, some 1,900 serial titles and some 2,500 monographs appeared. By mid-1981, one third of the population had access to uncensored publications. Hence the accuracy of the Polish term drugi obieg (second circulation) for what developed into an independent media system paralleling regime media and outside the control of the Communist Party, the censorship office, and paper distribution officials.

Drawing on Polish-language literature, including Justyna Błażejowska, Papierowa rewolucja: Z dziejów drugiego obiegu wydawniczego w Polsce 1976–1989/90 (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo IPN, 2010); Jan Olaszek, Rewolucja powielaczy: Niezależny ruch wydawniczy w Polsce 1976–1989 (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Trzecia strona, 2015); and [End Page 253] Paweł Sowiński, Zakazana książka: Uczestnicy drugiego obiegu 1977–1989 (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo ISP PAN, 2013), and on extensive research in Polish archives, Doucette skillfully traces the emergence and evolution of the independent Polish press after the early 1970s in the context of political and social developments during those years.

The independent Polish press filled blank spots and corrected distortions in the official twentieth-century history promulgated by the Polish People's Republic on such issues as the role of the Home Army during World War II, the murder (ordered by Iosif Stalin) of some 22,000 Poles at Katyń in March 1940, the character of the Polish emigration, the operations of the official censorship office, and much more. But the independent press served another and arguably more important function. Doucette makes a persuasive argument that it was the major crucible for the emergence and confrontation of multiple currents of dissent and opposition in the 1970s. That opposition led to an alliance between intellectuals and workers, resulting in the birth of Solidarity. Independently published pamphlets conveyed differing opposition proposals for Poland's future, including Adam Michnik's "New Evolutionism," Leszek Moczulski's "Memorial," and Jacek Kuroń's "Thoughts on a Program of Action." Different tactical views on opposition activism (traced in chapter 3) were aired in the independent press by Michnik, Moczulski, Kuroń, Antoni Macierewicz, Alexander Hall, and others.

With the imposition of martial law in December 1981, the independent press was drastically curtailed. It was forced underground again but not liquidated. During this time, Solidarity decentralized, and its regional bodies issued underground publications (most important was Tygodnik Mazowsze) that received nation-wide reach through reporting by the Radio Free Europe (RFE) Polish Service. In the second half of the 1980s, independent publishing again expanded and diversified, becoming the fulcrum for the reemergence of Solidarity as a national organization and the confrontation of views among its many currents. It was also the vehicle, as Doucette shows in chapter 9, for the civil activism by students, workers, farmers, and others outside the Solidarity organization that resulted in the emergence by the late 1980s of a broadly based independent civil society.

Doucette is not the first scholar to make this argument. In The Spring Will be Ours (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2003), p. 383, the Polish historian...


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