Margaret K Gnoinska. Cold War History. Volume 18, Issue 3. August 2018.
Kazimierz Mijal—a promoter of the “China Way” in Polish communism during the Sino-Soviet split—was not only a nuisance to Warsaw’s leadership domestically but had a certain effect on international politics within the communist world. He was used as a political tool by both Albania and China, and complicated Poland’s delicate diplomacy with both Beijing and Moscow. His long biographical and personal journey—forced but also intentional, grounded in belief and shaped by geopolitics—embodies contradictions and paradoxes of the international communist movement which often spread beyond the reach and control of the Kremlin during the cold war.
In late 1966, at the height of the Sino-Soviet split and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China, Chairman Mao gave a warm welcome in Beijing to Kazimierz Mijal—once a high-ranking official in Stalinist Poland and now the self-proclaimed First Secretary of the Communist Party of Poland (KPP). The KPP was illegal in Poland and Mijal had been forced to flee the country and eventually settled in Albania under the auspices of Enver Hoxha. Clearly energised by his own revolution, Mao Zedong urged Mijal to rally the Polish people in the anti-imperialist and anti-revisionist revolution, as well as seizing an opportunity to use zealous comrades like Mijal to reduce Moscow’s influence and discredit Soviet revisionism of Marxist-Leninist thought in Poland.
While there have been efforts to examine the effects of Maoist thought during the Cold War globally, the case of Poland has not yet been given due attention. This article seeks to fill this gap by shedding light on the varieties of ‘believers’ within Communism like Mijal who were open promoters of a ‘China way’ within Polish Communism. In fact, Mijal became the Polish embodiment of anti-revisionism within the international communist movement; he defended Stalin and his legacy and joined those communists who rejected a pro-Soviet orientation, thereby aligning himself with China and Albania. The article also shows that Poland’s engagement with China at its highest levels of leadership offers a nuanced and complex picture of a communist leadership that publicly sided with Moscow in the Sino-Soviet split but behind the scenes continued to make efforts to unite the fragmented communist world while pursuing Poland’s interests. This article argues that Mijal’s actions, clearly a nuisance for the leadership of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PUWP) domestically, had a certain effect on international politics within the communist world by complicating, especially, Władysław Gomułka’s delicate diplomacy with both Beijing and Moscow.
To be sure, Mijal did not manage to garner support among the workers in Poland and thus did not further Beijing’s ambitions of fomenting a radical revolution in the Soviet bloc. His efforts were eventually silenced by the Polish security services on instructions from the party. At the same time, the case of Mijal demonstrates that Maoist thought did resonate to some degree with the younger generation of Polish communists who also saw it as a means of challenging the Kremlin’s control of Eastern Europe. Mijal and his group were able to test the authority of the PUWP, albeit for a short period of time, by trying to awaken the consciousness of a nation heavily influenced by Soviet style communism. And, even though, following the Sino-Albanian split and China’s choice to embark on a path of economic modernisation in the 1970s, Mijal eventually became a useless political tool for both Tirana and Beijing, he did leave a mark on the international communist movement. Therefore, the article also highlights that the Sino-Soviet split emerges as a kind of folding of international Communism in on itself, creating room for people like Mijal whose agency derived from the Sino-Soviet split and who was used by Mao and Hoxha to pursue their own agendas. The article pieces together a story of the creation of some agency—small and limited, and contradictory, but agency nonetheless—that was shaped by ideology and geopolitics.
Despite his long and interesting life—a journey of one man from Poland to Stalinist Albania to Mao’s China and back to Poland after Deng Xiaoping’s ascent to power—Mijal did not leave memoirs, diaries, or a full biography. What we do have available and accessible are some of his writings, interviews conducted by historians and journalists in post-communist Poland, his 1946 official autobiography in the party archives, governmental and party documents, and references to Mijal in other primary and secondary sources. Clearly, such materials should be carefully used and evaluated, as each one is a genre with its own conventions and context. For example, there is no doubt that Mijal, in his official autobiography, placed emphasis on his humble beginnings, obstacles to obtaining education, and his communist consciousness in early adulthood—all of which served to solidify his correct political background in the eyes of communist authorities in post-WWII Poland. At the same time, what is remarkable about Mijal and his commitment to Marxist-Leninist ideology is that he was neither willing to whitewash it nor was he ashamed of it. If anything, he was steadfast in his beliefs and convictions regarding the superiority of the Marxism-Leninism of Stalin and Mao over the capitalist system that he witnessed being implemented in the early 1990s in Eastern Europe.
Also, though Mijal may have exaggerated his sole contribution in mobilising the Poles for a revolution, as well as his close relationship to leaders such as Hoxha and Mao in his days of exile from Poland, other sources corroborate that he was the driving force of promoting the ‘China way’ while still in Poland and then in exile. To be sure, both of these leaders used Mijal for their own political purposes, and it is doubtful that they permitted the level of friendship that Mijal attributes in his later interviews. Still, either unavailable or inaccessible at the moment are documents depicting in more detail his relationship with Hoxha and Mao, as well as Moscow’s actual perception of Mijal. Nevertheless, the available sources not only shed much light on his persona and ideology, but provide a unique and valuable window into one long biographical and personal journey—forced but also intentional, grounded in belief and shaped by geopolitics. Mijal’s life embodied the contradictions and paradoxes of the international communist and workers’ movement that was often beyond the reach and control of the Kremlin during the most crucial periods in the Cold War that involved the gradual disintegration of the communist world.
Mijal as a Polish Force—A Brilliant Ascent and a Gradual Fall from Power
Kazimierz Mijal lived to be almost 100 years old. He was born on 15 September 1910 in central Poland outside of Warsaw into a peasant family. His parents had 18 children in total, including those from their previous marriages, and Mijal was the youngest. According to Mijal, he owed much to his mother, who pushed him to get an education against all odds. In 1926, he began to study economics at the State Trade School in Warsaw while delivering coal and tutoring. He then became the head accountant and manager of a Warsaw pub called Polonia, and later served in the army, where he was injured and received disability. Subsequently, he served as the head of the Organisational and Control Section of the Accounting Department at the Warsaw Branch of the Municipal Savings Bank and audited classes in the Department of Finance and Economics at the School of Political Studies. The outbreak of World War II and the German occupation of Poland, however, prevented him from obtaining a diploma. Mijal claims that he remained unemployed until June 1942, frequenting the Public Library in Warsaw and ‘extensively reading on economics, philosophy, and history.’While we may never fully determine his actual whereabouts during this time, it was during wartime that he became involved in communist activities.
Despite the emphasis in his party autobiography that his humble peasant background and work with white-collar labour unions ‘decisively shaped his class consciousness,’ Mijal began his communist political career very late as compared to many pre-WWII Polish communists. Unlike Bolesław Bierut, Gomułka, and many others, who spent the interwar years in and out of Polish prisons Mijal was never a member of the illegal Polish Communist Party (KPP) that was dissolved by Stalin during the Great Terror of the 1930s. Many of the pre-WWII KPP members were executed at the orders of Stalin, and the ones who did survive, ironically, were serving their prison sentences in Poland at the time. It was not until 1941 that Mijal co-founded the short-lived group Proletariusz and joined the newly formed Polish Workers’ Party (PPR). He soon became useful to the party by helping mastermind one of the largest bank robberies of the Wehrmacht’s accounts in Warsaw, attributing its success to his connections with the Municipal Savings Bank. Subsequently, he became one of the most trusted and best-informed men in Bierut’s entourage. Having served as the secretary of the PPR district in Krakow and the Central Committee (CC) of the PPR in Warsaw, he became the secretary and treasurer of the State National Council (KRN), which constituted the nucleus of Poland’s post-WWII communist government.
As long as Poland adhered to Stalinism and the communist camp remained united, for the most part, bolstered by the Sino-Soviet partnership, Mijal’s political career continued brilliantly and his faith in the progression of Marxism-Leninism in his native Poland, the Soviet bloc, the Soviet Union, and faraway East Asia seemed unquestioned. He never became a member of the Politburo of the PUWP, but served on its Central Committee and held high level governmental positions, including the presidency of the City of Łódź, Chief of the Bureau of the Council of Ministers, member of the Parliament, and the Chief of the Office of the Council of Ministers—the most prestigious post of his career.
Khrushchev’s Secret Speech in February 1956 at the 20th Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) Congress and the upheaval that followed in both Poland and Hungary proved detrimental to Mijal’s political and personal life. A member of the ‘Natolin’ faction within the Polish party, Mijal was horrified when Gomułka—the newly reinstated CC PUWP First Secretary at the now legendary VIII Plenum in October 1956—began to embrace and promote de-Stalinisation. Mijal had been a vehement opponent of Gomułka in the past and was particularly vocal in contributing to his removal from power in 1948. In 1956, the ‘Natolinians’ lost to the ‘Puławian’ clique who generally came from the intelligentsia and advocated the liberalisation of the socialist system. Mijal opposed such changes, seeing them as a ‘great turn to the right in socialism’ that would restore capitalism.
By the late 1950s, the ‘Natolin’ group was no longer influential in Poland’s political life. In early 1957, Mijal was stripped of his position as the Chief of the Office of the Council of Ministers and offered the position of the Director of the National Investment Bank. His political career experienced a major blow in 1959 when he was not re-elected to the Central Committee at the Third PUWP Congress, mainly due to his criticisms of Gomułka’s policies. According to Andrzej Werblan, a historian and a former Politburo member, stripping Mijal of the Central Committee membership was more Khrushchev’s decision than Gomułka’s. Regardless of who made the final decision, the fact remains that Mijal was removed from political life. Nevertheless, he continued to question the aims of de-Stalinisation, seeing it as dangerous to the construction of socialism according to Marxism-Leninism. Even after decades, he continued to claim that Gomułka’s policies of the 1950s, especially his abandonment of collectivisation of the countryside and a more relaxed policy towards the Catholic Church, were harmful to Polish communism. It was in this context that, gradually, Mijal’s political ideas began to align with those of the Chinese leadership, which viewed de-Stalinisation as erroneous, revisionist, and detrimental to Marxist-Leninist thought.
Mijal as a Bridge to China: ‘Grupka Mijalowska’
In the early 1960s, the Sino-Soviet split rocked the international communist and workers’ movement, causing smaller nations within the communist world, as well as communist parties elsewhere, to choose sides in what came to be a deeply ideological and geopolitical dispute with far-reaching consequences for the Cold War. With the clear exception of Albania (and to a lesser degree Romania), all leaders of the Warsaw Pact nations followed Moscow in the Sino-Soviet dispute. The Soviet leadership, however, was keenly aware, and in fact anxious, about the levels of loyalty and allegiance of its Eastern European allies. The Kremlin’s concern was no doubt, and unsurprisingly, brought about by Mao’s ambitions ‘to be the standard bearer for the world’s socialist countries in catching up with and overtaking capitalism and imperialism, and to make China a leading example in the international communist movement.’ To ensure tighter coordination, the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CC CPSU), especially Oleg B. Rakhmanin and Mikhail S. Kapitsa, created multilateral platforms such as the ‘Interkit.’ This institution gathered China experts from the USSR, Eastern Europe, and other Moscow allies with the goal of controlling Eastern European countries’ China policies to make them fall in line with those of Moscow. However, despite the many constraints and limitations placed upon them, Eastern European leaders still managed to challenge and/or test Moscow on its anti-China policy.
Poland seems to have occupied a special place in Mao’s policy among the Soviet bloc nations. The Sino-Polish relationship had a solid foundation developed in the early days of the PRC and was further strengthened by Warsaw’s perception of China’s opposition to the Soviet use of force against Poland during the October 1956 crisis. Also, Warsaw was the site of Sino-American ambassadorial talks, Poland was a member of international peace commissions in Indochina and the Korean Peninsula, and the Sino-Polish Joint Shipping Venture (Chipolbrok) helped China circumvent the US embargo in the 1950s when the young PRC was making its debut on the international stage. The Chinese believed that the Poles wanted to maintain relative independence from the Soviet Union, and they were not too far from the truth. Their analysis of Polish-Soviet relations was generally accurate, highlighting the intricacies of Gomułka’s often trying relationship with the Soviet leadership, his desire to ‘maintain some level of independence’ from Moscow, and Poland’s ‘hopes to improve its relations with China, so as to strengthen its position in the partnership with Russia.’ This and other considerations indicated that Chairman Mao decided to leave some room for manoeuvre in his dealings with Poland.
Gomułka sought to challenge the Sino-Soviet split and mend fences between Moscow and Beijing because he believed that a reconciliation between the two communist giants would strengthen Poland’s national security and advance its economic interests. In doing so, he tested the patience of the Soviet leadership (albeit not to the same degree as did the Romanian and Albanian leaders) and so complicated the dynamics of the communist world. Gomułka’s willingness to question Soviet policies on China made him useful to Beijing’s leadership in its competition with Moscow. Poland was receptive, to some degree and at various points in time, to Mao’s differentiation policy, which began in the latter half of the 1950s and which fit within the larger framework of his radical vision of continuous revolution. Beijing sought to differentiate the Soviet bloc states by the closeness of their relationship with the Kremlin. The policy was aimed at challenging Soviet hegemony in the region, undermining the CPSU’s prestige, and creating a new centre of the workers’ movement that encompassed various parties and groups supportive of the Chinese line. Such ‘differentiation’ also allowed Chinese leaders to further erode bipolar conformism, and Poland was complicit in this process.
The Sino-Soviet divergences, combined with Mao’s differentiation policy towards Eastern Europe, and the tightening of the screws by Moscow on its allies to coordinate their policies, facilitated a brief resurgence of the proponents of China’s version of communism, which Mijal adhered to. The ideas of continuous revolution, the cult of personality, and non-compromise with the West all resonated with veteran ‘Natolinians’ like Mijal who were once supporters of Stalinism and who now saw an opportunity to return from the sidelines to the centre of political and party life in Poland. Though removed from party life and working in the National Investment Bank, Mijal continued to criticise Gomułka’s economic policies, including his Five Year Plan (1961-1965), and became more involved politically. His activism attracted and inspired members of a younger generation of Polish communists who also opposed the stagnant and technocratic version of Soviet communism and took it upon themselves to disseminate more radical Maoist ideas in Poland. The group soon became known as ‘Mijal’s group’ (grupka Mijalowska) and began to challenge the authority of the communist party and test Moscow’s patience.
Initially, the main nucleus of the group, in addition to Mijal, consisted of Lech Opieliński and Stanisław Sienkiewicz. Both were editors of a monthly publication called Chiny. Subsequently, the two most vocal proponents of Maoism in Poland were Józef Śnieciński, a journalist and an employee of the Ministry of Finance, and Krzysztof Jarzębski, an economist in the Ministry of Justice. They often met in secrecy at the headquarters of the Sino-Polish Friendship Association in Warsaw, where they made copies of CCP propaganda materials. Since the Chinese embassy and consulate employees were under constant surveillance by the Polish security services, the main contact between China and Mijals’ group was handled by the Albanian embassy, as Tirana by then had broken off relations with the Soviet Union. ‘The group received a significant amount of money from the Chinese to cover copy costs,’ recalled Gomułka’s secretary Walery Namiotkiewicz. Just like Mijal, these activists were disappointed with Khrushchev’s speech and the changes that were taking place in the communist world. ‘The role of the Soviet Union in the international communist movement began to wane with Stalin’s death,’ Jarzębski explained in the early 1990s. ‘His successors like Khrushchev were not able to fill Stalin’s shoes and were simply eclipsed by Mao.’ According to Śnieciński, ‘Gomułka was not able to fulfil our expectations, so we preferred to form our own group […] We wanted to make a breakthrough in the Polish consciousness.’ These young individuals, supported and guided by Mijal, were attracted to the ideas of a revolutionary change that would galvanise the proletariat instead of the stagnation that was emanating from both Warsaw and Moscow at the time. They were taken by the cult of personality and ‘pure’ ideology of Marxism-Leninism implemented in the cities, factories, and cooperatives in Albania. Śnieciński, in particular, was an energetic young man, and apparently a prolific writer, who became the leader of the group and wanted to act.
Therefore, in December 1963, following the publication of the main theses of the Fourth PUWP Congress—which aimed to glorify the twentieth anniversary of the foundation of post-WWII Poland—Mijal’s group took it upon itself to write a piece that became quite controversial and caused concern among the party leadership. The pamphlet, entitled W walce zwycięstwo! Bierność i milczenie to zguba! (Struggle Brings Victory! Indifference and Silence Only Bring Defeat!), was disseminated to the party apparatus in 10,000 copies (a significant number at the time) with the help of the Albanian embassy. The tone was clearly radical, calling on the working class to ‘eliminate the revisionist vermin and bring about the resurrection of the revolutionary party based on the principles of Marxism-Leninism.’ The pamphlet directly accused Gomułka of ‘purging the old and experienced party leaders devoted to the communist cause.’ This pamphlet was, of course, illegal, and the activities of the group were under constant surveillance by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Although the state security apparatus knew everything about these oppositional activities, it allowed the group to function for some time. The reason for this inaction lies most likely in the intentions and plans of Minister of Internal Affairs Mieczysław Moczar, who wanted to gain more power within the communist party. The existence of ‘Mijal’s group’ appeared convenient because it distracted Gomułka’s attention from Moczar and his supporters’ own ambitions. Overall, however, it must be mentioned that even though Polish security services continued surveillance of CCP propaganda, they were more lenient than, for example, the Stasi in the GDR. This can most likely be attributed to the less authoritarian system in Poland as compared to East Germany, as well as to Gomułka’s policy of minimising confrontations with the Chinese.
However, on the morning of 6 April 1964, arrests of ‘Mijal’s group’ began in full. In all, the security services apprehended around 100 people and some 1,000 were stripped of their party membership. Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Franciszek Szlachcic interrogated some of the arrested members of the group, indicating the gravity of the matter. Although the authorities did interrogate Mijal, he was eventually released and never put on trial. The trial of the younger members of the group, including Śnieciński and Jarzębski, began later that year. Unlike Mijal, these members simply did not have his stature and clout and were sentenced to prison. Śnieciński was sentenced to two and a half years and was conditionally released in 1966, after which he served as deputy editor-in-chief of Horyzonty Techniki. He was kept under surveillance, along with other former members of ‘Mijal’s group,’ during the tense months of March 1968.
Mijal’s name was nowhere to be found in the trial transcripts. As Namiotkiewicz explained years later, Mijal was not sentenced because he was ‘very careful’ in his dealings with the Chinese, unlike the younger members of the group who ‘were taking money from foreign embassies for their activities’ and attempting to foment the working class to ‘organise strikes,’ thereby ‘engaging in illegal activity.’ It is also plausible that a high-profile trial would have political ramifications within the party, as suggested by Mieczysław Rakowski—a candidate member of the CC PUWP and editor-in-chief of Polityka (and subsequently the last First Secretary of communist Poland). Such a trial could give Mijal too much publicity and attract the attention of the working class, which in collusion with intelligentsia could pose a more serious threat to the party.
China’s support for Mijal’s activities seems to have further complicated Poland’s relations with the Soviet Union. The timing of the interrogations and arrests of the ‘Mijal group’ was certainly not a coincidence. They all took place a little over a week prior to Gomułka’s high-level talks with Khrushchev on 13-15 April 1964 in Moscow. The Polish leader had to prove to the Kremlin that he would not tolerate Chinese propaganda, which was clearly resonating with some members of the Polish society at the time. He must have thus been proud, and certainly relieved, to report to his superiors in the Kremlin that the Chinese influence on the party was now ‘irrelevant,’ even though there were still some illegal groups which copied propaganda pamphlets printed in Albania. ‘We have already made arrests of some of these members,’ Gomułka reassured his Soviet counterpart. ‘There are no workers in these groups, only intelligentsia and party members who had “dogmatic” tendencies and were able to influence the party in the past, and who now only criticise our party, the Soviet Union, and propagate the China line.’ The fact that Gomułka emphasised that there were ‘no workers’ in ‘Mijal’s group’ indicates that the Polish leader, just like many others in the Soviet bloc, was terrified of the idea of an alliance between intellectuals and workers, as had happened in 1956 and which was to occur again in the 1970s and the early 1980s. Khrushchev was particularly interested in knowing what aspects of political life the so-called Polish Maoists were able to influence. Gomułka was quick to point out that they ‘attacked’ Poland’s economic policy, as well as criticised unemployment, low wages, and the loss of revolutionary fervour. Eager to close the topic and move on to other matters, Gomułka concluded,
The activities of these groups are not a problem for our party, but I am afraid that they are being taken advantage of and used by reactionary elements, revisionists, and enemies of socialism, adding fuel to the fire and undermining the very nature of socialism.
Here, the Polish leader was clearly referring not just to Poland, but the unity of the communist world and how further divergences would be detrimental to the communist side in its competition with the West on the chessboard of the Cold War.
Certainly, Mao’s support for groups like that of Mijal may have fit in Beijing’s differentiation framework, but this was not the way to coax the Polish leadership to the Chinese side when the Poles were trying to carefully navigate the slippery trails of Sino-Soviet interactions, propping up some vestige of communist unity, and keeping itself in power at home. Prior to the open and radical activities of the members of ‘Mijal’s group’ in the early 1960s, Gomułka did not think that political opposition based on Maoism had any chance of emerging in Poland. After it surfaced, however, and its members were able to play on anti-Soviet slogans and take advantage of the dissatisfaction among intellectuals, party members, and some of the working class in various factories, Gomułka decided to take matters into his own hands. This included not only the quelling of opposition at home for domestic purposes, as presented above, but also a more decisive stance against the PRC at the Fourth PUWP Congress in June 1964.
The meetings held at the Fourth PUWP Congress, which took place on 15-20 June 1964, were rampant with anti-Chinese speeches, some of which honed in on the activities of Mijal’s group. In his speech, Zenon Kliszko, a close associate of Gomułka, made references to the group, which he blamed for trying to ‘”Polonize” the Chinese CP ideological platform and set this “Polish” version of “Sinofied Marxism” against the policies and ideology of our Party…and which violated the Party statutes and the law, by conspiratorially distributing political calumnies against the Party, its policies and its leaders.’ This new stance of the Polish leadership towards China was most likely used for domestic purposes to strengthen the authority and unity of the party, as well as to appease the Kremlin by proving that the Polish leadership was capable of dealing with domestic Maoists. Clearly, Gomułka’s regime was not going to let activities that would question its own rule go unnoticed amid heated Sino-Soviet debates and tensions. It was one thing to have the PRC embassy disseminate its own propaganda materials. It was quite another to have Polish communists such as Mijal and other young men frustrated with Gomułka’s government get directly involved with making pamphlets and distributing them through Albanian connections. After all, Albania had broken off relations with the Soviet Union by siding with China and had sought to erode the prestige and legitimacy of the CPSU in Poland and other Eastern European countries. This, in turn, would incite anti-Soviet slogans that the Polish leader wanted to avoid at all costs, remembering the events of 1956. Thus, although Gomułka may have been initially ‘amused’ by Mijal’s criticism of his ‘revisionism’ in the 1950s, he was not going to tolerate the possibility of Maoism infiltrating deeper into Polish society, nor surely any dissent within the party.
According to Deputy Minister Szlachcic, ‘The leadership of the party was always indignant about pamphlets that were generated from within the party; the leadership was more tolerant of the opposition coming from the right than the left.’ This indicates that the Polish communist party was clearly concerned about more radical critics from within the party than by those who advocated political pluralism and freedom of expression, as was the case in March 1964 with writers protesting the tightening of press censorship (such demands were silenced by the party leadership, which declared that there should be no place for works of art whose ideology was directed against socialism). This shows that people like Mijal were threatening to the party because they were promoting a more revolutionary approach that could mobilise the workers who were stifled by the technocracy and bureaucracy of a party which had forgotten about its role as the vanguard of the proletariat. The paradox, however, is that while Mijal called on the Poles to exercise their right to workers’ democracy via his revolutionary pamphlets, his illegal party called for a return to Stalinism – collectivisation of the countryside, rapid industrialization of the country, socialist work competition, glorification of the Stalinist era in Poland, and eulogising Stalin personally. Gomułka was opposed to Stalinist policies, as they did not reflect the national conditions of Poland and would clearly not tolerate that line.
In addition, the Gomułka of 1964 was different from the Gomułka of 1956, when he encouraged liberalisation in political life. Now, the Polish leader retreated from the ‘October Thaw’ and tightened the screws on his population (although to a much lesser degree than his Eastern European counterparts such as Hoxha, Ceausescu or Honecker). It is noteworthy that only a few years later, Gomułka carried out an anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic campaign to keep his political position, which was threatened in yet another power struggle in March 1968, and that he contributed Poland’s armed forces to quell the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia for fear of spillover. Therefore, his treatment of ‘Mijal’s group’ should be understood within both the domestic and foreign relations context of Gomułka’s policies. Eliminating the threat to his own authority from people like Mijal, however, would further complicate the already difficult relationship between Warsaw and Beijing, as well as add more quirks to the already delicate and unequal relationship between Warsaw and Moscow.
Having been released from interrogations in 1964, Mijal went on criticising Gomułka and his government on their deviations from Marxism-Leninism. He was surely emboldened by Mao’s new policies which stressed open attacks on revisionism. Although the Maoist group was fractured by the arrests, interrogations, and sentences, in December 1965, Mijal took it upon himself to found the Communist Party of Poland (KPP) in Warsaw, which was meant to serve as an opposition faction within the PUWP. He considered the party to be ‘the only rightful headquarters of the communist struggle.’ Other prominent members were Władysław Dworakowski and Hilary Chełchowski, who were members of the CC PUWP and even the Politburo in the 1950s. Interestingly, the choice of the name for the party is actually quite paradoxical, as it referred to the pre-war KPP, which Stalin brutally decimated and dissolved in 1938. Mijal had never been a member of that KPP. At the same time, he deemed it ‘pure,’ ‘healthy,’ and true to Marxism-Leninism, in contrast to Gomułka’s revisionist line. Mijal appointed himself the First Secretary of the Provisional Central Committee of the new KPP. He published Under the Banner of Marxism–Leninism Toward Socialism, which was a revolutionary manifesto that challenged the ruling party and its practices, both past and present. Mijal’s KPP was illegal in Gomułka’s Poland and was under constant surveillance.
To avoid any future arrests and to be able to propagate his cause, Mijal decided to escape to Albania. Tirana proved a logical choice given its close ties with the PRC and open defiance against the Kremlin at the time. Mijal’s actions and his residence in Albania further added to the already high tensions between the Polish and Albanian leaderships, thereby bringing about more fragmentation within the Eastern bloc. The details of Mijal’s escape are still not entirely clear, but based on the available evidence the journey was quite an ordeal and logistics were facilitated by the Albanian embassy. ‘The Albanians provided me with a diplomatic passport bearing the name of Serwet Mehmetko,’ recalls Mijal,
and on 13 February 1966, I left Warsaw’s Central Train Station for Berlin. […] It was very cold and snowing very hard, so I was wearing a padded leather coat, a fur hat, and only carried a small briefcase, no suitcase or other luggage so as not to raise any suspicion.
In East Berlin, the Albanian contact took Mijal to West Berlin, from where he flew to Paris. ‘It was very warm when I arrived in Paris, so I looked like I had just come from the North Pole,’ said Mijal. ‘So, they bought me a light coat which I have to this day.’ From Paris, he flew to Rome, from where he travelled by ferry to Albania.
Mijal in Exile as the Tool of Both Chinese and Albanians
Chairman Mao continued to support the so-called ‘leftist factions’ in Eastern European parties and clearly wanted to take advantage of any differences between them and Moscow. The Chinese leader seems to have understood that Moscow’s relations with each of these Soviet bloc nations varied in terms of the levels of loyalty. Therefore, when Mehmet Shehu—Albanian leader Enver Hoxha’s right hand man—told Mao that all Eastern European parties were Soviet vassals, the Chairman retorted that the presence of leftist factions, especially in Poland and Bulgaria, suggested otherwise. This is why the Chinese leader continued his support for Mijal after Mijal secretly escaped to Albania.
Mijal’s escape to Albania in early 1966 and China’s continued support for his activities contributed to complicating relations between Warsaw and Moscow. Soon after Mijal’s escape, Gomułka had to give explanations—this time to the new leader in Moscow, Leonid I. Brezhnev—as to the influence of Maoists on the Polish population. In his comments, as in the past, he was sure to present the situation as non-threatening to the authority of the Polish communist party: ‘The “Mijal affair” is in no way a reflection of the moods within expelled the party. This is a very narrow group. We have already imprisoned them. And, we have the Albanian ambassador in Warsaw.’ As far as the existence of the KPP, he made it clear that this was ‘pure sabotage’ and ‘not a problem’ because in 99 percent of the cases the propaganda materials from abroad were intercepted by the Polish security services. The Polish leader then eagerly turned to economic matters—his priority—which had always occupied a large part of the high-level talks between the Soviets and the Poles. Clearly, he did not want to engage in a detailed discussion on the issue of Mijal. The fact that he did not mention either Albania or China by name, and made no criticism of Chairman Mao in front of the Soviets, also indicates that Gomułka did not want to add more fuel to the fire engulfing Sino-Soviet relations. The actions of communists like Mijal, however, were of concern for the Soviets, especially those in the ‘Interkit.’
Indeed, while Mijal’s escape to Albania may have reduced his influence, it did not end his efforts to promote the China line to the Poles. This, in turn became a nuisance to Gomułka, who valued economic relations with China, especially given that Soviet-Polish economic relations were marred by tensions and difficulties brought about by his incessant pleas for more import opportunities and economic assistance from the Soviet Union. Therefore, the Polish government attempted to assume as much of a pragmatic attitude toward China as possible by focusing on matters of mutual interest, such as economic and maritime relations. Chinese officials, however, would engage the Poles in ideological polemics, including ‘venting’ about Soviet revisionism. The Chinese were often taken by surprise when Polish diplomats would not engage in such debates, and instead, after listening to the rants, would focus on discussing bilateral matters over a cup of tea. The Chinese clearly perceived their interactions with the Poles through a more ideological lens fueled by Mao’s desire to expand his revolutionary communism and influence in Eastern Europe.
The Chinese leader, however, did not seem to fully grasp the delicate relationship between Moscow and Warsaw. His support for Eastern European communists who were drawn to the Maoist ideology of continuous revolution but whose chances at home to expand it were quite abysmal, in fact, created the opposite of the intended effect. In other words, while Mao may have wanted to help Gomułka gain some kind of a leverage vis-à-vis Moscow, he ended up complicating things for the Polish leader. As demonstrated in numerous exchanges with the Soviets in the early and mid-1960s, and also during the days of the Cultural Revolution in China, Gomułka aimed, albeit behind the scenes, to mend relations between Moscow and Beijing, as he hoped that this would benefit Poland in the long run, not only politically but also economically. Mao’s support for people like Mijal only further complicated Gomułka’s work in trying to bring the Chinese and Soviets closer to reconciling their differences. Mao’s attempts and efforts to prop up any opposition to the authority of the communist parties of the Warsaw Pact nations not only failed to disintegrate the Soviet-East European bloc, but actually encouraged anti-Chinese sentiments in Eastern European countries, including Poland, where the government took unkindly to the CCP secretly supporting the so-called ‘healthy elements’ that wanted to split from and challenge the communist parties in power.
Like Mao, the Albanian leader—Enver Hoxha—was also interested in using Mijal as a political tool. The Albanian authorities provided Mijal with a villa in Tirana where he had a cook who came every morning. He allegedly had much time to read, take walks, and travel all around Albania while enjoying its warm climate. Mijal asserts that he did not receive any money, since the Albanian party officials would pay for everything. It appears, however, that he held a job at the Sino-Albanian Joint Stock Shipping Company, which allowed him to travel abroad, especially to China. While this description of his life seems quite idyllic, the reality is that Mijal was still living in a highly Stalinist state which made sure that, while being protected, he was also under constant surveillance by the security services so as to not pose any threat to Hoxha’s regime. On the premises where Mijal lived, there was a house for a security service employee, and a soldier would also patrol the grounds. In fact, Mijal never left without a bodyguard. While in Albania, Mijal found supporters among other pro-Chinese communists, most notably Belgian Maoists such as Jacques Grippa, who would publish Mijal’s writings like Under the Banner of Marxism–Leninism Toward Socialism for a wider audience outside of Poland in the pro-Chinese Belgian paper Voix du Peuple.
By offering someone like Mijal a place to reside in Albania for about twelve years, Hoxha was able to demonstrate that Albania offered a safe haven for those in the Soviet bloc who had the courage to openly stand up to the Kremlin and support Beijing in the Sino-Soviet split. Mijal, therefore, seems to have served the purpose for the Albanians of being a useful political and propaganda tool against Moscow. He met on several occasions with Hoxha and was highly active in the Polish section of Radio Tirana, a propaganda arm of the Albanian government which disseminated Maoist thought and anti-Soviet slogans aimed at undermining the legitimacy and the authority of the communist leadership in the Warsaw Pact nations. But, since Mijal was not physically in Poland, the influence of his party, whose membership at its peak was hundreds of sympathisers, began to wane. As Deputy Minister of Interior Szlachcic explained in spring 1967, ‘There is no KPP in Poland. There is only Mijal in Albania and a few disgruntled old communists.’
Nevertheless, undeterred, Mijal continued to represent the ‘real Polish Marxists’ as the First Secretary of the CC KPP and visited Beijing in this capacity toward the end of 1966, where he was received by Chairman Mao. He made the trip on a private plane with the CCP Politburo member Kang Sheng, who was on a visit in Albania. Mao met with Mijal in private at his swimming pool in the CCP’s central headquarters, the State Council Zhongnanhai. The visit took place at the height of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China, when revolutionary fervour was fueled by the Red Guards wreaking havoc by propagating Mao’s thought in the most radical of ways. Mijal’s conversation with the Chairman began with discussion of the philosophy of Aristotle, as well as referencing German philosophers, after which political matters were discussed. Overall, however, the exchange was filled with party jargon evoking much optimism for the world revolution. Mao made sure to emphasise to Mijal that if he saw hope in China, he would see hope all over the world, including Poland and the Soviet Union. Mao was clearly energised by his own revolution and exhorted his Polish comrade to organise the working class to rise up against the bourgeoisie. Mijal, on his part, also seems to have been taken by the revolutionary atmosphere, as well as the Chairman’s enthusiasm and support for the communist cause. ‘As I depart China,’ Mijal said, ‘I am more confident about the anti-imperialist and anti-revisionist struggle. China’s revolutionary struggle is my greatest support and it is imperative that we all rally around China.’ Mijal reminisced in his later interviews that Chairman Mao ‘was very kind’ to him and his contacts with Zhou Enlai were ‘very friendly,’ including dinner invitations during his visits to China.
The Chinese press continued to duly report on the visits of Mijal, including his visit in 1969. In addition, it would also reprint KPP manifestos and other writings of Mijal that heavily criticised the policies of the ‘Gomułka clique’ and exalted the ‘theoretical writings of Stalin and Mao Zedong’ as ‘a real treasure-house of knowledge for every revolutionary,’ as well as venerated the alleged positive revolutionary fervour of the Polish people. Despite such support from the centre of the anti-revisionist revolution in Beijing, however, Mijal’s efforts to bring about a revolution in Poland did not materialise. His influence began to wane with the solidification of the Sino-Soviet split and with the new leadership in Poland under Edward Gierek pledging its allegiance to Moscow on China policy and focusing on increasing the standard of living.
At the same time, while Mijal may no longer have posed an official threat to the authority of the Polish party in the 1970s, his interactions with the Chinese were duly reported by the Polish embassy in Beijing to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Warsaw. These included references to Mijal in the Chinese media and his congratulatory letters as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Poland to the Chairman. Unlike his predecessor, Gierek did not have the same aspirations of bringing China back to the communist camp, but he also could not ignore the new role of China in the Cold War chessboard brought about by the opening of China after the turbulent days of the Cultural Revolution and after the Sino-American reconciliation. This is why the Polish government wanted to maintain a good relationship with Beijing, especially for economic gain. Mijal’s illegal party and its activities, albeit no longer threatening, continued to be a nuisance in Sino-Polish bilateral relations, especially since they also included anti-Soviet tones which were unwelcome to people like Gierek who pledged loyalty to Moscow.
Mijal managed to be useful to Hoxha as a political tool in propagating the China line in the rest of the Soviet bloc only as long as the relations between Tirana and Beijing were close and united against a common enemy—the Soviet Union, of course. In 1978, however, the Sino-Albanian split influenced Mijal’s political life. Naturally, he would now be deemed a persona non grata in the Albanian capital since he continued to champion Maoist thought and supported China. ‘They increased their patrol on the street outside of my house and also cut off my phone,’ recalled Mijal on his relations with the Albanians in an interview with Norwegian communists at the time. Indeed, the relationship between Mijal and Enver Hoxha went sour. In fact, in his memoirs, the Albanian leader accuses him of betrayal and ingratitude and calls him a ‘charlatan advocate of the rotten Chinese line.’ Allegedly, Mijal had ‘enormous problems’ leaving Albania, but eventually reached Beijing via Bucharest thanks to the political asylum granted by the PRC government. While in China, he lived in a villa district of Beijing, where the Chinese ‘were very hospitable.’ However, by this time all of his original patrons, including Chairman Mao, Zhou Enlai, and Kang Sheng, were no longer alive. The post-Maoist leadership in China, too, was no longer interested in challenging Moscow’s influence in Eastern Europe as eagerly as it had under Chairman Mao. This, in turn rendered Mijal’s services useless in the new China which was embracing elements of capitalism and opening up to the world. Eventually, Mijal himself became disillusioned with Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms.
Therefore, in 1983, after 18 years of exile, Mijal returned illegally to Poland via Paris with the help of other European communists whose names he would not reveal. There is no evidence as of now that would suggest that he was in some kind of danger in China; on the contrary, the Chinese sought his advice on how to reform China and even arranged a meeting between him and Włodzimierz Brus (a Polish economist who emigrated to England in 1972 and who authored The General Problems of the Functioning of the Socialist Economy). Mijal was also received by Hua Guofeng to discuss economic investment policies in a socialist economy. After a year and a half living in Poland, he was arrested in November 1984, imprisoned for three months, and interrogated as to his activities outside of Poland. But, by then, the Polish authorities must have concluded that a seventy-four year old man did not pose any threat to the system. Besides, he was no longer of any use to either Albania or China.
Following the Sino-Soviet split, Polish leaders like Gomułka and Gierek wanted to keep Maoism out of Poland. They continued to build socialism based on Marxism-Leninism in line with the Soviet leadership, which advocated de-Stalinisation. At the same time, Gomułka, in particular, believed that Poland would best thrive within a unified communist camp that included China, which he viewed as indispensable in the global competition with the capitalist West.
Mijal’s absence would not have necessarily implied better Sino-Polish relations, as factors such as Poland’s place in the Soviet sphere and Mao’s post 1964 policies of openly attacking the revisionism of the Soviet Union played a major role in this respect. However, Mijal’s activities promoting the ‘China way’ in communism in Poland and beyond created a nuisance for the Polish communist party, added yet another layer of tensions between Warsaw and Beijing, and contributed to complicating Poland’s already delicate and uneven relationship with the leadership in Moscow. In addition, Mijal’s activism advocating Maoist China’s revolutionary radicalism contributed to tightening the screws on Polish society. Mijal’s agency, derived from the presence of the Sino-Soviet split, is also an example of the cracks in state socialism which intensified the disunity within Polish communism and revealed that the intricate dynamics of the communist bloc often spread beyond the reach and control of the Kremlin.
In the end, Mijal was not successful in realising his goal of galvanising the intellectuals and working class in Poland to carry out an anti-imperialist and anti-revisionist world revolution. However, his story pieced together here, that is, the journey of one man—from Poland to Albania to China and back to Poland—depicts paradoxes of the international communist and workers’ movement through one fascinating life during key moments in the Cold War.