Polish academics gave communist greats less than full Marx

Study of Cold War-era references debunks modern view that citing Marx, Lenin and Stalin was mandatory to avoid censorship  

October 17, 2021
Marx and Engels
Source: iStock
Marx and Engels

Being an academic under a Cold War Eastern bloc regime might seem a less than enticing prospect to many modern-day researchers, with scholars apparently forced to recite the dictums of Lenin, Stalin and Marx.

But a new study has debunked the “widespread” modern view in Poland that the “classics” of such Communist giants had to be cited to avoid research papers being censored.

In fact, such unquestioning deference was “extremely rare” among academics, in one history sub-discipline at least.

The researchers based at the Adam Mickiewicz University and Pedagogical University of Krakow looked at the citation patterns of thousands of documents published on Polish media history in the 60 years after the Second World War.

In all, they found 160 publications that together contained almost 300 full references to works by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – the originators of Marxist theory – and Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin.

But a full-text search of the documents also revealed that just 64 out of the 1,874 total mentions of the authors in these publications were “ritual” citations – a reference to them as an “unquestionable authority” – as opposed to a citation used in a normal academic way. The practice had also faded “almost completely” by the 1980s.

The paper suggests that, rather than such citations, it might have been more important for historians in post-war Poland to produce work aligned “with a particular vision of world history” to avoid the censors. 

Emanuel Kulczycki, co-author of the research and head of the Scholarly Communication Research Group at the Adam Mickiewicz, said the study was sparked by comments that figures such as Marx would likely be “highly cited researchers” if Soviet Union journals were included in modern citation databases.

This “intuition” also “resonated” with a 40-year-old paper by bibliometric pioneer Eugene Garfield that showed Marx and Lenin to be among the most highly cited authors in the arts and humanities at the time.

“We were truly surprised by our findings. They show, first of all, the definitely different (from the Soviet) trend that the scholarly communication in the socialist Poland was experiencing,” Dr Kulczycki said, although he added that the research was naturally limited to one sub-field.

The modern view that such citations had been necessary seemed “more popular now than ever and it fits into the atmosphere of conservative Poland nowadays”, he said, but until their study “no systematic research has been done to prove that opinion to date”. 


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