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Dickstein, Szymon

(1858–1884), early Polish socialist, writer, and editor. Szymon Dickstein, who used the pseudonym Jan Młot, was born in Warsaw to a lower middle-class Jewish family. In 1872, he completed gymnasium and then studied medicine at Warsaw University. Even as a university student, Dickstein took an active role in illegal socialist circles.

In 1878, Dickstein, Stanisław Mendelsohn, and Ludwik Waryński composed the Program of Polish Socialists, the founding document of modern Polish socialism. That same year, he was forced to flee Russia. Subsequently in Geneva, he coedited (with Mendelsohn, Maria Jankowska, and Kazimierz Dłuski) the first Polish socialist organ, Równość (Equality), which appeared in 1879 and in which the Program of Polish Socialists first appeared. Dickstein also played a role in the successor publication, Przedświt (Dawn), issued two years later. In 1882, he joined the Proletariat (the first Polish socialist party) and became one of its important theoreticians.

Known for his brilliant and sharp intellect, Dickstein devoted his literary prowess to popularizing Marx. In 1881, he wrote Kto z czego żyje? (By What Do We Live?), one of the most celebrated Marxist publications to appear before World War I. As a popularized version of Das Kapital, Dickstein’s tract was immediately recognized as an extraordinary tool by European socialists. By 1914, Dickstein’s work had been through eight editions and was translated into Russian, German, Ukrainian, Belorussian, Bulgarian, Armenian, and other languages. A Yiddish translation, Fun vos eyner lebt? (1887) appeared in London and was reprinted and disseminated numerous times over the prewar years, particularly by the Bund and the Polish Socialist Party. Other Yiddish works of Dickstein include Hershel der shnayder (Hershel the Tailor; 1903), an interpretation of Marxist theory told through the figure of a simple Jewish tailor (its original edition, Ojciec Szymon, had been published in 1882). In the early 1880s, he suffered bouts of depression and, after falling in love with Jankowska, who was already romantically involved with Mendelsohn, Dickstein committed suicide.

Suggested Reading

Leon Baumgarten, “Dickstein (Diksztajn) Szymon,” Słownik biograficzny działaczy polskiego ruchu robotniczego, ed. Janin Balcerzak and Feliks Tych, vol. 1, pp. 440–441 (Warsaw, 1978); Lucjan Blit, The Origins of Polish Socialism: The History and Ideas of the First Polish Socialist Party, 1878–1886 (Cambridge, 1971); Norman Naimark, The History of the “Proletariat”: The Emergence of Marxism in the Kingdom of Poland, 1870–1887 (New York, 1979).