Academic journal article Church History

Book Review: Between the Brown and the Red: Nationalism, Catholicism, and Communism in Twentieth-Century Poland: The Politics of Boleslaw Piasecki

Academic journal article Church History

Book Review: Between the Brown and the Red: Nationalism, Catholicism, and Communism in Twentieth-Century Poland: The Politics of Boleslaw Piasecki

Article excerpt

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Between the Brown and the Red: Nationalism, Catholicism, and Communism in Twentieth-Century Poland: The Politics of Boleslaw Piasecki . By Mikolaj Stanislaw Kunicki . Ohio University Press Polish and Polish-American Studies Series. Athens : Ohio University Press , 2012. xxix + 266 pp. $39.96 cloth; $28.95 paper.

Book Reviews and Notes

Political biography has fallen out of fashion, so Mikolaj Stanislaw Kunicki's fascinating biography of Boleslaw Piasecki is a welcome reminder of how the genre can provide insight into larger political issues. Between the Brown and the Red is also a reminder of the pitfalls of biography, which inevitably struggles to balance the role of the individual with the whirlwind of complex social, cultural, and political forces. While Kunicki is not always successful in striking this balance, the merits of this book far outweigh its shortcomings.

Kunicki recounts the career of the Polish right-wing nationalist, sometime fascist, sometime communist, and always Catholic Boleslaw Piasecki. He was a remarkable--and despicable--political opportunist whose public career began in far right student movements of the 1930s and ended with his elevation to Poland's Council of State in the 1970s. As Kunicki convincingly asserts, Piasecki's story reveals "the persistence of the right and of the pluralistic rather than totalitarian nature of East European communism" (181).

Piasecki's success came from his ability to position himself as a broker between the Catholic Church, the communist government, and, perhaps, Soviet influence. Piasecki was a devout Catholic, but his relationship with his Church was a contentious one. As the founder and leader of PAX, a lay-Catholic organization that championed an alliance between the Catholic Church and Poland's communist government, Piasecki struggled to retain influence with both institutions. When he championed communism, most notably in his 1956 book Essential Issues , he alienated the Catholic Church and barely avoided excommunication. Without his Catholic credentials, he equally risked losing influence with the Party, which tolerated his Catholicism precisely because it valued his influence with the Church. As he scrambled to retain influence in both worlds, his life became a metaphor for the struggle to balance nationalist, Catholic, and socialist forces in Poland.

Piasecki's survival, and his persistent political influence for over forty years, is a testament to both his political savvy and his execrable opportunism. …

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