Student Politics in Communist Poland
Generations of Consent and Dissent
Lexington Books 2015
In the conventional narratives of Communist Poland, and Eastern Europe more generally, student activism tends to get short shrift. While the role of students in 1956 is unavoidable and widely acknowledged, after that their role and their relationship to the society at large has been minimized. The famous Kuron-Modzielewski letter of 1964 is treated first and foremost as an intra-elite affair, while the failure of the student protests in 1968 to provoke a broader movement as well as students’ subsequent lack of involvement in the protests of December 1970 have been taken as evidence of students’ lack of connection to broader society. Only in the late 1970s did was that gap bridged, first with founding of KOR after the strikes of 1976 and then during the Solidarity era. This account has been pervasive since the 1970s, and even people with only passing knowledge of Polish history have been exposed to it through Andrzej Wajda’s 1981 film “Man of Iron.” There the student turned factory worker Maciej Birkut recounts first being told by his father the former Stakhanovite turned worker activist that 1968 is not the right time to challenge the governments and then stands by in spite during the strikes of 1970 only to learn of his father’s death. Yet as so often happens when a historian take up a topic that has become so engrained that most people do not even stop to question it. In his new book Student Politics in Communist Poland: Generations of Consent and Dissent (Lexington Books, 2015), Tom Junes reveals that received narrative to be a myth that bears only partial connection to the truth. Covering the development of student politics in Poland from 1946 until the end of Communism, Junes argues that there were 8 distinct generations of students during that period, beginning with the students of the immediate postwar period whose worldview was shaped by their pre-War and War experiences to the students of the 1980s who embraced Solidarity, but felt betrayed by the roundtable negotiations that brought an end to Communist rule in 1989. It is a scrupulously researched book drawing on oral history as well as conventional primary source documents, and it was a pleasure to speak with Junes recently about his research.