The essay which follows is the first that Isaac Deutscher wrote in Polish (under the pseudonym ‘Ignacy Niemczycki’) after leaving the country of his birth in 1939. It appeared in February 1942 in the Polish literary weekly WiadomoŚci Polskie (Polish News) which was published in London by a group of Polish war refugees of various political tendencies, most of whom supported the Polish government-in-exile. The paper attempted to maintain the continuity of prewar Polish culture: in its general tone and even its outward appearance it followed (under the same editor) the pattern of the Warsaw WiadomoŚci Literackie (Literary News), the leading organ of Polish artists, poets, and writers in the interwar period. Before the war Isaac Deutscher, immersed in illegal revolutionary activity, would not have had any contact with the pro-establishment WiadomoŚci. He had been expelled from the Polish Communist Party in June 1932 for ‘exaggerating the danger of Nazism.’ While the Comintern was suicidally declaring that ‘fascism and social democracy are twins,’ Deutscher was advocating common action with socialists against the Pilsudski regime. It was his contacts amongst the most militant wing of the Polish Socialist Party who later, in exile in the early 1940s, provided the bridge between Deutscher and the journal with which he had otherwise little in common.
The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union (22 June 1941) sent a tremor through the colony of Polish exiles in Britain. Their traditional hostility to the Russians had understandably increased after the debacle of 1939 when they once again saw their country dismembered by its age-old foes. Then to see Germany and Russia locked in combat provoked a whole range of ambivalent feelings: amongst many there was a sneaking admiration for the might of the German Army, mingled with a suspicion that perhaps more could have been saved by having opted for ‘the other side’. Finally there was a hope that Poland. might arise anew after the two giants had bled each other to death.
In such a charged atmosphere Isaac Deutscher’s forceful and lucid analysis of the contradictory nature of Soviet society became a political act. Against the rightward drift of the Polish Socialist Party, in particular, Deutscher reasserted the indissoluble link between the defence of the ussr and the future of international socialism. Written in 1942, this uncompromising credo set the themes for the whole body of his work in the following twenty-five years.footnote1