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What the Doctor Ordered

In response to:

Poland Rewrites History from the July 16, 1981 issue

To the Editors:

In his interesting essay, “Poland Rewrites History” [NYR, July 16] Professor Robert Darnton stated, “Marxism has no room for an uprising of the working class against an allegedly proletarian regime.” In this little nutshell is a very serious misunderstanding of Marx and modern Marxism.

He must be aware that there is a very large body of Marxist thought today which holds that the workers’ uprising in Poland is just what the doctor ordered to bring about a revitalized, democratic socialism. Such a movement has far more in common with the vision of Marx and Engels than the exploitative postcapitalist regime that rules the USSR and has been replicated in its client states. Marxism has everything in common with a working class that grows class conscious, organizes itself, takes its fate in its own hands, and proceeds to reorganize society on a more equitable basis. It has nothing in common with conservative bureaucrats in Moscow who masquerade as “Marxist-Leninists” and slander the Polish workers.

The gray barons in the Kremlin, like Professor Darnton, feel that “Marxism” has no room for a Polish Spring. The truth is that the workers’ movement in Poland, if allowed to develop without intervention, could lead to a new alternative both to Soviet-style despotism and the stagnant society of the West. This point of view is presented in a recent book by Daniel Singer, a Polish-born journalist living in Paris and covering Eastern Europe, entitled The Road to Gdansk: Poland and the USSR (Monthly Review Press, 1981). Unfortunately, although it is the first book on the Polish events after the strikes published in the English language, and includes a first hand account of the situation based on personal interviews with all the main actors in the drama, it has not yet been reviewed by The New York Review of Books. I hope it will soon get the attention it deserve, so that a point of view quite distinct from Professor Darnton’s may find an audience.

Jules Geller

Monthly Review Press, New York City

Robert Darnton replies:

In my article, I stated that Marxism has no room for a proletarian uprising against an allegedly proletarian regime, not that it had no explanation for the events in Poland. I know that Soviet-style regimes can be criticized in Marxist terms and the dissenters like Jacek Kuron launched their movement from within the Communist Party. Having expected to encounter anti-authoritarian varieties of Marxism everywhere among the opponents of the regime, I was surprised to find so little of it. Instead, I found an intense and widespread historical consciousness, expressed through everyday gestures and jokes as well as speeches at Solidarity rallies, which struck me as essentially nationalistic in character. For “Poland to be Poland,” many Poles want to throw off all the orthodoxies sponsored by their government. They may find a middle way between Red Square and Madison Avenue. But we may underestimate the depth of their discontent if we imagine them debating fine points of Marxist ideology rather than the history of partitions. Whether we like it or not, they care more about Pilsudski than Gramsci.

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