The Gift of Labor in Stalinist Nowa Huta

Katherine Lebow’s book starts with a reference to Andrzej Wajda’s movie Man of Iron (1981), which depicts one of the leaders of the Solidarność protests in the Lenin Shipyards in Gdańsk in 1980. This movie was a sequel to Wajda’s Man of Marble (1976) which shows the story of Mateusz Birkut, a leading worker-activist in Nowa Huta who became disillusioned with the party and rebellious: a story repeated, more successfully, by Birkut’s son in Man of Iron.

Czlowiek z marmuru 1-F-155-18 Still from Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Marble, 1976, Photo- Renata Pajchel Studio Filmowe Zebra Filmoteka Narodowa

Continue reading

Nowa Huta Couldn’t Be ‘Finished’

Womens’ Brigade, Ostrava-Poruba, Czechoslovakia, 1960s


Unfinished Utopia, Katherine Lebow’s meditation on the meaning and emergence of Nowa Huta as both an idea and a place, is a welcome addition to the growing literature on the postwar socialist city. Working primarily with memoirs, oral history, and previously untouched archival material, Kate draws out the story of Nowa Huta’s founding through the narratives of individual witnesses whose understandings of the city’s history inform a very personal, and at the same time, sweeping commentary on the role of the city in postwar Poland. Unlike books such as mine that take a consciously unemotional and institution-based approach to the study of the postwar city, Kate’s view of Nowa Huta is Continue reading

Nowa Huta, Where Art Thou?

Katherine Lebow’s book looks into Nowa Huta, a new town project that symbolized a wide spectrum of emotionally charged attitudes about socialism, communism, radical industrialization, modern architecture, and huge, top-down state projects, but also resistance and protests. Unfinished Utopia focuses on the largest new socialist town project in communist Eastern Europe under Stalinism, a turbulent period in the post-war history of Poland. Katherine successfully brings into one picture the large scale perspective of a state-socialist regime’s political and ideological project, the urban planning of a model city, and the experience of its various new inhabitants, taking an in-depth view of what such projects brought to tens of thousands of men and women in post-war Poland. We follow a close description of the almost decade long and harsh beginnings of the new industrial city and later when it was integrated into the city of Kraków, an outline of the workers’ protests and the Solidarity movement. Continue reading

Stalinism, Utopia and the Peculiar/Familiar World of Nowa Huta

Katherine Lebow’s Unfinished Utopia is a stunning portrait of a fascinating city—Nowa Huta. Nowa Huta was the largest and most ambitious of a host of planned industrial cities that dotted the landscape of postwar Eastern Europe. Most of its residents worked at the nearby Lenin Steelworks and it served a crucial role in contemporary propaganda as a symbol of Poland’s Communist state’s success at rebuilding the country and constructing a new socialist future. Continue reading

Stalinism on the Frontier of Polish Socialism

We’re pleased to announce the start of our next book discussion, which will be on Katherine Lebow’s Unfinished Utopia: Nowa Huta, Stalinism, and Polish Society, 1949-56 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2013). Similar to Sztálinváros in Hungary and Magnitogorsk in the Soviet Union, Nowa Huta was in that special category of socialist city built where no town had stood before. It was thus situated on the frontier of Polish socialism as a critical node in the country’s industrial development (Nowa Huta means “new foundry” or “new steelworks”) and its social transformation under Stalinism. 7275138In this richly researched study of Poland “first socialist city,” Lebow examines the creation of this new town as a window onto Poland’s first decade under communist rule. She focuses in particular on the experiences of Nowa Huta’s ordinary inhabitants, their engagement and manipulation of Stalinist ideology, and their role in the making of this new city. For many Nowohucians, Stalinist rhetoric about forging a new way of life and creating the New Man and New Woman resonated with their own desires to leave for good the villages from which they came and assume new, decidedly urban identities and living standards. This was a story of spatial, cultural, and social mobility that intersected, as it did in many other countries and cities of the Second World, with rapid industrialization and building socialism. Continue reading

Marx and Mazzini in Venice: The Second World at the 2014 Architecture Biennale

One of Karl Marx’s staunchest enemies was not some calloused old capitalist in a top hat, but another revolutionary, the Italian nationalist leader Giuseppe Mazzini. The two men fought over the very terms of revolutionary action. Where Marx saw class struggle, Mazzini saw a nation in conflict; when Marx called for a ‘horizontal’ solidarity that would unite the world’s proletariat, Mazzini countered with his call for ‘vertical’ solidarity across a nation. Continue reading

Additional thoughts on Plutopia

Thank you Kate, for your reply to my comment. Let me add only a few impressions. In most of the points I fully agree with you, especially on your argument that focuses on the history of the “dirty” aspects of the nuclear industry – waste (mis-)management – which reveals its real character. V printsipe, da. – But a few points I have to add, in order not to be misunderstood as a “‘pro-nuclear’ historian, presenting nuclear power as a solution to climate change.” Continue reading

Plutopia Continued

I want to respond briefly to Kate Brown’s recent thoughtful post. About my use of the term of “comparative history” to describe her book and her preference to see it as a “tandem” history: I appreciate this distinction that she articulated—particularly her focus on the conversation between the two cities, and also that she is situating the two narratives in juxtaposition but letting the readers draw their own comparisons. I share her anxiety that comparative might be an inapt (or perhaps reductive) term for what she’s doing here, in the sense that her book is reformulating the life histories of these two locales as inextricably connected. We leave the book with the feeling that telling the story of one without the other is to rob us of deeper insights. I have really learned something here and thank Kate for getting me rethink my position on the methodological insights possible from such a “tandem” approach.

Continue reading

Second World Socialism

My thanks to Asif Siddiqi and Anna Veronika Wendland for their thoughtful reponses to Plutopia. I know both of these scholars and respect their work a great deal. They summarize many of my main points much more eloquently than I do in Plutopia. The two authors bring their own expertise to this topic, which surpasses mine in the fields of the history of science and technology. I really enjoyed reading their comments and I will try to respond to them here and in future posts. Continue reading