I was saddened to hear of the death of the great Polish thinker Leszek Kolakowski whose demolition of Marxism helped clear the way for the Solidarity movement. In Britain, or to be more precise among the small band of British leftish intellectuals, he is best remembered for a pamphlet war with the Marxist Historian E P Thompson.
In 1973, Thompson berated Kolakowski for giving up not just on the Soviet regime but on Marxism. “My Correct Views on Everything” Kolakowski’s reply is well worth reading. Not only does he foretell the death of communism with great literary skill – This skull will never smile again” – but he takes on Thompson with joyous use of irony and understatement. Main Currents of Marxism, Kolakowski’s great work, is an austere book. My Correct Views on Everything is a polemmical gem.
Here is Kolakowski on living a lie in socialist Poland
“The official state ideology is in a paradoxical position. It is absolutely indispensable, for it is the only way in which the ruling apparatus can legitimize its power; and it is believed by nobody-either the rulers or the ruled (both well aware of the unbelief of the others and of their own). And in Western countries, virtually every intellectual who considers himself socialist (and even communist) will admit in private talk that the socialist idea is in a deep crisis; few will admit this in print, here buoyant jauntiness is obligatory and we must not sow doubts and confusion “in the masses” or supply our foes with arguments. I am not sure if you agree that this is a self defevingpolicy, I rather think you do not.”
And here he is teasing the double-standards of Thompson’s morality
“Oddly enough, you seem to feel offended by not having been invited to the Reading conference and you state that if you had been invited you would have refused to attend anyway, on serious moral grounds. I presume, consequently, that if you had been invited, you would have felt offended as well and so, no way out of hurting you was open to the organizers. Now, the moral ground you cite is the fact that in the organizing Committee you found the name of Robert Cecil. And what is sinister about Robert Cecil is that he once worked in the British diplomatic service. And so, your integrity does not allow you to sit at the same table with someone who used to work in British diplomacv. 0 , blessed Innocence! You and I, we were both active in our respective Communist Parties in the 40s and 50s which means that, whatever our noble intentions and our charming ignorance (or refusal to get rid of ignorance) were, we supported, within our modest means, a regime based on mass slave labour and police terror of the worst kind in human history. Do you not think that there are many people who could refuse to sit at the same table with us?”