The Polish philosophy of this century, best known for its achievements in formal logic, is a most impressive cultural phenomenon. In his extensive study of its vicissitudes during the Stalinist period Zbigniew Jordan observes that its beginning can be exactly dated. In 1895, when he was thirty-one, Kazimierz Twardowski returned from working with Franz Brentano in Vienna to take up a chair at the University of Lwow. While in Vienna he had written an important monograph on philosophical psychology and he could well have gone on to a successful career in the highly professional surroundings from which Husserl, Meinong, and the phenomenological movement in general were emerging. At Lwow he found the philosophy of his own country in a loose, amateurish, edificatory condition. Until his death in 1938 he devoted himself to the task of transforming it into what was perhaps the most rigorously and effectively rational philosophical community in the world.
The high standards of professional competence he imposed on the philosophers of Poland can be expressed in two principles which seem straightforward to the point of obviousness. They demanded that absolute priority be given in philosophical work to the greatest possible clarity and definiteness of expression and the greatest possible rigor in argument, with all essential logical steps being explicitly set out. In his view, humanly interesting conclusions can be left to look after themselves: bright ideas will emerge without the assistance of an academic philosophical profession. The prime responsibility of the professional philosopher is to set an example of intellectual discipline by dedicating himself to the strict critical justification, rather than the invention, of ideas and beliefs.
In due course two main lines of activity developed under Twardowski’s influence. The first and better-known of these is the work of the great school of Polish logicians. During the two decades of the life of the independent Polish republic this was the only genuine community of logicians on any substantial scale in the world. The examples of Frege in Germany and of Russell and Whitehead in Britain had had some general influence on philosophy and had inspired an individual here and there to take up full-time work in the field of logic, but they had produced no institutionalized study of logic at an advanced level. A good way to measure the uniqueness of logic in Poland is to compare the main elementary text used there, Lukasiewicz’s Elements of Mathematical Logic which is at once rigorous and sophisticated, with its contemporaneous English opposite number, Susan Stebbing’s muddled and promiscuously put together Modern Introduction to Logic.
THE FIRST TWO major Polish logicians—Jan Lukasiewicz, who died in exile in Dublin in 1956 at seventy-eight—and Stanislaw Lesniewski, who died in 1939 at the age of fifty-three—both came to the subject from philosophy. Both, it seems, felt that Twardowski’s principles could be fully put into effect only by going back to absolute fundamentals, to the strictly formal study of deductive reasoning. Lesniewski abandoned philosophy for logic altogether after the 1914 war, repudiating some early, informal essays on logical topics. Lukasiewicz remained interested in the philosophical implications of his logical work, but insisted that philosophy was intellectually valueless if it was not solidly founded on modern formal logic.
Both contributed extensively to the subject. Lukasiewicz invented a new, economical notation, devised unprecedentedly rigorous systematizations of basic propositional logic, and, by initiating the investigation of many-valued logics, created a kind of logical counterpart to non-Euclidean geometry. He also did some very original research in the history of logic. Lesniewski, like Frege and Russell, sought to provide new logical foundations for mathematics, and in pursuing this aim radically revised predicate logic and invented a new logical discipline, mereology, concerned with the relation of whole and part.
Their work established a lively tradition and they had worthy successors. Alfred Tarski, their most brilliant pupil, who has been in the United States since 1939, produced, in his monograph on the concept of truth, the school’s most distinguished achievement. Under the leadership of Andrzej Mostowski the school is still in effective existence in Poland today.
The logicians of a nation whose language is little known do not find this fact an obstacle to general recognition. Important logical discoveries can be expounded quite briefly and will be largely expressed in the near-Esperanto of formal symbolism. Thus the Polish logicians soon acquired an international reputation. But the equally distinguished philosophers associated with them have had to wait much longer. Of the two leading figures Ajdukiewicz has had only a small proportion of his work published in any of the world languages while the two main works of Kotarbinski have only recently come out in English translation, one of them after nearly forty years, the other after eleven.
Kazimierz Ajdukiewicz, who died a few years ago, is perhaps the more exact, expert, and technically ingenious of the two. But he has been less influential than his colleague Tadeusz Kotarbinski, who is now, at eighty-one, retired but by no means inactive. One reason for this is that Ajdukiewicz has not woven his numerous and penetrating applications of formal logic to central philosophical problems (about meaning, necessary truth, and the existence of abstract entities) into a unitary, systematic form, whereas Kotarbinski’s work is everywhere connected to a central, governing idea. Another reason for Kotarbinski’s pre-eminence is his remarkable qualities as a man.
IN A SERIES of articles in the 1930s Ajdukiewicz developed the outlines of a general theory of language, a kind of conventionalism which sees our conception of the world as determined by the rules through which language is endowed with meaning, rules freely selected from a set of possible alternatives. It is a more radical version of ideas familiar to English-speaking philosophers from the writings of C. I. Lewis and has an even closer affinity to the ideas of Benjamin Lee Whorf, the linguist who held that the forms of different languages could differ so fundamentally as to make translation from one to another impossible and could thus lead to entirely unconnected conceptualizations of the world. But Ajdukiewicz came to doubt the correctness of some of the main assumptions of his argument and proceeded no further with this approximation to a systematic position.
Kotarbinski’s development was in the opposite direction. Early in his career he recommended a program of what he called “minimalism” in philosophy: the study of precise problems of manageable size, in preference to the pursuit of large syntheses (a proposal much like that of a “scientific method of philosophy” made by Bertrand Russell in his Lowell lectures of 1914). But as his reflections accumulated he found, rather to his surprise, that they had a common systematic backbone. This was the theory, first called reism and later concretism, that the only true, genuinely referring names in language are the names of material bodies, whether sentient or not. According to this doctrine all the terms of ordinary and scientific discourse that purport to refer to things other than material bodies—to properties, relations, classes, mental states, social institutions, and so forth—are only apparent names, or “onomatoids.” Such apparent names are, in effect, handy abbreviations. To understand the meaning of sentences in which they occur is to be able, in principle, to translate them into the usually much more complex sentences, referring only to material bodies, of which they are abbreviations.
THE GENERAL FORMULA of reism implies three more specific doctrines: first, a radically realistic theory of perception which takes material things and not private sense-impressions to be the direct objects of the senses; secondly, a nominalist theory of logic, mathematics, and discourse about meaning; and, thirdly, a “somatist” theory of mind which holds that every statement about a conscious, experiencing subject is about a particular, specially organized kind of material thing, viz., an organic body. This is materialism, but of a new kind, semantic rather than scientific, based on the logical analysis of language and not on the findings of the natural sciences.
Since 1945 many English-speaking philosophers have come to accept conclusions that correspond to those of Kotarbinski, although, oddly enough, only as a result of having largely broken away from the logically inspired assumptions about philosophical method which he accepted. Austin and others have undermined the conviction, common to almost all theorists of knowledge since Plato, that private impressions are the immediate objects of perception. Wittgenstein and Ryle have been widely followed in their interpretation of both mental activity in general and of the apprehension of meanings in particular by the behavior, or dispositions to behavior, of embodied human beings—an approach which rejects Descartes’s dualism of the mental and the physical as well as Plato’s dualism of concrete, changing objects of sensation and abstract timeless objects of understanding. But in 1929, when Kotarbinski first rejected them in the work now translated under the unappealing title Gnosiology, the sense-datum theory of perception and a dualistic account of mind and body were almost universal assumptions of the more up-to-date British and American philosophers. Russell, Moore, and C. I. Lewis, for example, never really shook themselves free from them.
The first 385 pages of Gnosiology are a translation of the lightly revised second edition of what was originally published under the title Elements of the Theory of Knowledge, Formal Logic and Scientific Method. From the time of its publication it was the leading Polish philosophical textbook. It was well qualified for the role since the original ideas it contains are embedded, as a statistically small part, in a broad, informative, and economical treatment of the whole range of topics listed in its original title. Instead of reworking the entire text in the light of criticisms and second thoughts, Kotarbinski has added 130 pages of later essays on the controversial issues involved. The book concludes with the long, appreciative, but nevertheless thoroughly critical review that Ajdukiewicz wrote when it first came out.
IT IS NOT SURPRISING that, after forty years, the book should show some signs of wear and tear. In the Preface to the second edition Kotarbinski claims no more for it than the interest of a historical document. But that is over-modest. It remains a uniquely thorough presentation of a substantial and currently lively point of view, one whose chief supporters in the Anglo-Saxon world at present are the “Australian materialists” such as J. J. C. Smart (cf. his Philosophy and Scientific Realism). It is distinguished from comparable works in English by its tentative, conjectural character. On the whole English-speaking analytic philosophers present their views in a demonstrative, apodeictic way. They speak of proof and necessary consequences and argue by reductio ad absurdum. But it is strange that philosophers who regard physical science as the paradigm of human knowledge should adopt the expository stance of traditional abstract speculation, of Aristotle and Aquinas. Those who, like Wittgenstein and Austin, deviate from this practice express themselves with a colloquial, even chatty, inconclusiveness. Kotarbinski displays a well-founded skepticism about the mathematical finality of particular demonstrative-looking arguments in philosophy without lapsing into desultoriness and coaxing. He takes his book’s subtitle “a scientific approach to the theory of knowledge” with a proper seriousness.
Last year the same publisher brought out, under the title Praxiology, a book originally published as A Treatise on Good Work by Kotarbinski in 1955. Its first appearance had a special political interest since it was the first non-Marxist philosophical book to be published in Poland since the imposition of the full Stalinist freeze there in the late 1940s. It contains a civil reference or two to Marx and its subject matter is in some sort of accord with the Marxist principle of the unity of theory and practice, but its style and method are entirely in the Polish tradition of formally explicit rationality. Its aim is to lay the foundations of a science of efficient action. In its first half definitions are elaborated of some leading concepts of such a science: simple and compound action, preparation, cooperation, conflict, and so forth. In its second half principles of efficient action are extracted from commonsense practical wisdom, supported by a wide range of examples and classified with reference to the possible stages of practical undertakings to which they relate. Kotarbinski anticipates the criticism that he is simply giving a scientific appearance to the content of such proverbs as “more haste less speed” and “a stitch in time saves nine.” The generality of the principles at which he arrives is what he offers as an answer. There is certainly no objection in principle to the idea of supplementing piecemeal and empirical rules of thumb in this field by precise, general, and systematically arranged rules of efficient conduct. Praxiology is not very systematic but Kotarbinski does not claim it is more than a beginning. He has at least devised a reasonable vocabulary for the organized and deliberate discussion of the subject.
Kotarbinski has been a prominent figure in Polish public life for a long time, throughout the seismic and mainly terrible period since the death of Pilsudski in 1935. He has not only maintained his integrity in fearful circumstances but has consistently acted with the highest civic courage. The regime of colonels that succeeded Pilsudski had some near-Fascist features. Among them was an institutionalization of Polish anti-Semitism that seems mild only in comparison with the German example. When Jewish university students were compelled to occupy a designated area in lecture-rooms they protested by remaining on their feet during lectures. Kotarbinski, I have been told, abandoned the rostrum and delivered his lectures from their part of the hall. He managed to survive the war, as a book he had written on Francis Bacon did not: all the typescript copies, distributed around Warsaw, were destroyed in the rising of 1944. After the war the Russian-imposed regime sought to benefit from the public esteem in which he was held by appointing him rector of a new university in the manufacturing town of Lodz. At the end of the 1940s the demands of the regime led him to resign. With the return of Gomulka to power in 1956 he became president of the academy of sciences, in place of some police-state functionary, and made good use of this position for the protection of intellectual freedom. Although he is now retired he is still active in defense of the liberal principles which he, more than anyone in Poland, incarnates.
The movement of thought that Twardowski originally inspired penetrated far beyond formal logic and analytic philosophy. It had a strong methodological influence on a progressive group of Catholic philosophers. Twardowski’s example led to the development of a common language for rational communication among thinkers of very different ultimate loyalties. In a way his closest follower is Roman Ingarden, the phenomenologist, widely known for his work in aesthetics, who brings the characteristic rationality of this Polish tradition to bear on material treated with formless enthusiasm by Scheler or heavily pedantic elaboration by Husserl. A full and clear account of the whole movement is now available in English in Henryk Skolimowski’s Polish Analytical Philosophy, which does not confine itself too narrowly to the area marked out by its title. I can do no more than mention the existence of this book since I was the author’s academic supervisor while he was writing the dissertation on which it is based.
THERE IS ALSO a briefer survey of the same field in part one of Z. A. Jordan’s Philosophy and Ideology. However, the main theme of this work is the changes undergone by Marxist philosophy and sociology in the period between their effective emergence in Poland in the wake of Russian occupation and the dissolution of Polish Stalinism in 1956. Until 1948 or 1949 other schools of thought were allowed to continue in public existence; their adherents were allowed to lecture on these ideologically sensitive subjects and to publish books and articles about them. By the end of the 1940s the exigencies of totalitarian rule required an intellectual equivalent of the absorption of all the permitted “progressive” political parties in the Polish United Workers’ Party. The rational philosophers of Twardowski’s tradition were in effect silenced by being confined to lecturing on logic or to translating classical philosophical texts into Polish. But they do not seem to have been unbearably oppressed. Although the leading figures were exposed to anathematizing assaults by rather unskilled ideological hacks they were allowed some right of self-defense. They were not imprisoned or killed or even prevented from doing some sort of intellectual work. The only fatal casualty among philosophers was himself a Marxist, Pawel Konrad. In his essay, “Responsibility and History,” Leszek Kolakowski wrote of him: “…he has been withdrawn from historical circulation, murdered by the missionaries of great historical justice.” In general Stalinist oppression seems to have been less hyperbolic in Poland than in the other Russian colonies in eastern Europe. Gomulka was not tortured and killed like the leading “national communists” of the other satellites. He was not even subjected to the ignominy of a “trial.” But some of the credit for the comparatively humane treatment accorded to the bourgeois philosophers of Poland must be given to Adam Schaff who was until recently the chief ideologist on the central committee of the Party as well as a copiously productive writer.
Schaff, who is Jewish, was trained as a lawyer before the war, which he spent in Russia. Before Gomulka’s return he seems to have been something very close to the dictator of Polish intellectual life. Between 1946 and 1955 he published five substantial books. Although highly partisan productions they were at a far more elevated level than the buffoonery of the then president of the academy of sciences, who said in 1952 that scientific societies should not demand academic qualifications from their members but should throw themselves open to “working people, rationalisers and shock workers,” whose perspicacity and good judgment, unburdened by the routine of academic thinking, would discover the weak points which escape the mind of a scientist (cf. Jordan, pp. 165-6). Schaff survived the thaw without a tremor and has only recently fallen into disfavor, partly because of his flirtations with the subjective problems of existentialism about the meaning of life and moral responsibility, for which he says Marxism must find an answer, and, partly because of his race, in the atmosphere of the revival in a Marxized form of traditional Polish anti-Semitism.
JORDAN GOES with much detail into the efforts of Polish Marxists to make Marxism intellectually respectable in a society accustomed to rational thinking from its academic philosophers and sociologists. They have occupied themselves with the problem of determining the relation between formal logic, so well established in Poland, and the elusive dialectical logic of Marxist scripture. They have been exercised about a set of epistemological issues arising from Lenin’s naive causal theory of perception, and from the connected idea that truth is a “reflection” of objective reality (with its disconcertingly antiquated implications about logical and mathematical truth), as well as from the notion that all truths, except perhaps the first principles of Marxism, are relative and partial. Kotarbinski’s reism had prepared an atmosphere inhospitable to Marxist hypostatizations of social forces and institutions, to the treatment of such things as social classes and methods of production as substantial, independent existences. Finally there was much discussion of the Marxist principle that all thinking is ideological. This doctrine if strictly generalized undermines itself, for it implies that it is itself a piece of ideology, a practical weapon in the class struggle but not an objective truth. An ironically liberating factor in this debate was Stalin’s sibylline rejection of the theory of the linguist Marr. Marr was wrong, according to Stalin, in supposing all forms of consciousness, in particular the institution of language, to be ideological in nature. This led the Polish Beria, Jakub Berman of all people, to go so far as to deny the ideological character of science.
Jordan makes a good case for the view that once the Polish Marxists had made the decision to think about their articles of faith, instead of relying on dogmatic intonings and “administrative measures,” the dissolution of theoretical orthodoxy was inevitable. “The outcome might have been very different,” he writes, “if Polish philosophy had not been steeled for generations against any form of irrationalism by a systematic cultivation of logical and other scientific procedures.” Polish rationality, like Polish patriotism, turned out in the end to be tougher than Marxism. He suggests that the story may have a general significance. Although Polish philosophy was as technical and specialized as the academic philosophy of the English-speaking world which is so often chided for its social irrelevance, “the philosophers’ consistency, persistence and reasonableness…left their imprint on the course of social and political events.” The habit of rationality fostered by Twardowski’s pupils acted as a Trojan horse inside the citadel of the Marxist faith, to which it had gained admission because of the aim of the Marxists to dominate thought as well as conduct.
Philosophy and Ideology is not easy to read. It is written in perfectly reasonable English and there are only occasional symptoms of that Polish difficulty with the definite and indefinite articles of our language whose emblem is the sentence from a Polish savant’s lecture on English grammar: “in English language definite article always precedes noun.” What is rather wearing is the very high level of abstraction at which the discussion is carried on. The Polish intellectual scene is described as if occupied not by persons but by large bodies of words. It thus comes as a refreshing shock when one reads: “it was the manuscript of the treatise ‘On Happiness’ for which Tatarkiewicz risked a shot in the back to save it from the gutter where it was thrown during a personal search in 1944.” Elsewhere it might not occur to the reader that the names he was reading referred to things that had backs to be shot at.
IN 1965 Schaff published a large book called Marxism and the Individual, altogether different in nature from his books in the monolithic period of Polish Marxism. It has not yet appeared in any language but Polish but some idea of its contents can be had from a collection of short articles he brought out in English in 1962, A Philosophy of Man. In it he says that Marxism must give some answer to the questions raised by the existentialists, personal, even subjective, questions about morality and the meaning of life which it has hitherto brushed aside as reactionary and idealistic. In this short work he turns out to be much better at raising these neglected questions, and at rejecting existentialist answers to them, than at providing any but the most sketchy Marxist answers. At this stage he rejected also what he saw as the obsession of revisionists like Kolakowski with the anthropocentric interest of the young Marx in alienation. It must be Kolakowski he has in mind when he writes: “if one can only repeat that morality takes precedence over politics, one confesses only one’s poverty—it does not help in political practice.” In the more recent work, however, Marx’s theory of alienation plays a fundamental part: the dominance of a historically correct regime does not automatically produce that ideal society in which the problems of the individual wither away.
The publication of Marxism and the Individual was the occasion for an attack on Schaff by Jozef Chalasinski, a distinguished sociologist whose conversion to Marxism in the late 1940s had added a considerable feather to the intellectual cap of the regime. In it he links up Schaff’s view that socialism does not necessarily abolish alienation with various ideas of Martin Buber and Daniel Bell about the “homelessness” in the world of “universal man.” Chalasinski’s ostensible objection to universal man is that he is an unhistorical entity; his real objection is that he is a Jew. This was at once perceived by Kotarbinski who came to the defense of his beleaguered opponent Schaff. “We should regard it as an honor,” he said in the polite but unequivocal protest he published early last year, “if our country, while remaining a Polish home, were to be friendly to universalists and prove to be for them as good as a universal home.” Now that Gomulka’s regime is trying to enforce hostility to Israel on its subjects this position will need further support in Poland.
IF SCHAFF was the ablest thinker the newly imposed communist state in Poland had at its disposal to start with, Leszek Kolakowski is undoubtedly the most talented person to grow up as a Marxist within the new system. He began his studies in 1945 under Kotarbinski, and the marks of a rigorous Polish philosophical education are evident in The Alienation of Reason, a book Kolakowski published in 1966 which has just appeared in translation. It was originally called “Positivistic Philosophy, from Hume to the Vienna Circle” and its new title is a little grandiose. It is a fairly short, lucid survey, designed for the general reader, of the course of the philosophical tradition which identifies genuine knowledge with the fruits of scientific method, from its first beginnings with Roger Bacon and Ockham to the present. The story is presented in a rather neutral way. Kolakowski expounds the criticisms that the main elements in the tradition actually evoked, and in a short concluding chapter comments on its general significance in the cultural history of the West. There are occasional Marxist aperçus, such as the remark that logical empiricism in the style of the Vienna Circle is the philosophy appropriate for a technological civilization in which efficiency is the highest value. But for the most part this is a thoroughly professional survey of the history of a particular academic discipline, treated as a fairly autonomous cultural object and with as much epistemological sophistication as is compatible with the book’s popularizing intention. If one knew no more of Kolakowski than this one would be unlikely to suspect that he is basically a Marxist, even if a very independent-minded one.
But that is what he is, and his main interests have lain in social philosophy and in the history of ideas (his first large professional publication was a treatise on the idea of freedom in the philosophy of Spinoza). Study in Russia during the early 1950s encouraged him in the belief that Marxism was in need of revision. By the time Polish Stalinism collapsed in October 1956 he was established as the chief radical critic of Marxism from within. Between 1955 and 1957 he wrote a series of powerful essays which focused and gave direction to the attitude of the young dissident Marxist intellectuals to the upheaval that returned Gomulka to power. They have been collected in German in Der Mensch Ohne Alternative, and a good many of them have appeared in English here and there (one of them, on the concept of the Left, in a recent number of the Evergreen Review). It may be hoped that any English version of this collection will contain, as the German edition does not, that splendidly scornful clothes-line of dirty linen “What Socialism Is Not.” In this, the most politically direct of his writings, Kolakowski says we must begin by seeing what socialism is not. Seventy-two acid negations follow. Among other things socialism is not
a state in which there are more spies than nurses…a state in which one is responsible for one’s ancestors…a state which always knows the will of the people before it asks them…a state which does not like to see its citizens reading back numbers of newspapers.
“That was the first point,” Kolakowski concludes. “But now listen attentively, we will tell you what socialism is—well then, socialism is a good thing.”
Most of what he has written, however, and all the items in Der Mensch Ohne Alternative, are of a more complex and theoretical order than this very plain statement. It could have been written by any democratic socialist but, in 1955-7 at any rate, Kolakowski was a Marxist, however sweeping may have been the revisions he wanted to make of Marxism. Indeed it was just because he was a Marxist that he was in a position to express himself so forcefully in that period of very relative liberalization. In an essay on current and obsolete aspects of Marxism he rejects institutional Marxism, the official ideology of communist states, as a rather degraded form of revealed religion. But he has difficulty in specifying just what intellectual Marxism, the only tolerable alternative, actually is. Some of what Marx said is just false. About much of contemporary social reality Marx has nothing to say. The truths of Marx’s materialist interpretation of history have passed into the common stock of knowledge, and as far as they are concerned there is no more need to make a profession of being a Marxist than there is of being a Newtonian or a Darwinian. What Marxism comes to is a rationally critical attitude to social facts, a determinist method for the interpretation of history, and reliance on a set of interpretative categories like class, capitalism, and ideology; and also, as elsewhere appears, a humanitarian moral commitment to the support of the exploited and oppressed.
Much of Kolakowski’s more professionally philosophical work has dealt with the theology and metaphysics of the seventeenth century. He has applied it in his uniquely thorough exploration of the familiar analogy between institutional Marxism and dogmatic religion. In the most brilliant essay in this collection, “The Priest and the Jester” (which is available in English in The Modern Polish Mind, edited by Maria Kuncewicz), he reveals the theology hidden in modern secular philosophies, including Marxism. They can offer an eschatology (e.g., the idea of communist society as heaven) and a theodicy (solving the problem of evil in history by asserting that suffering and error play an essential part in the realization of the ideal final end). Modern historiosophers, of whom Marx is the most important, provide all the main satisfactions of traditional theology. Conventional “rationalist” polemic against the supernaturalism of religion is naïvely irrelevant; it attacks the husk but not the core. Against the priest, of whatever persuasion, with his conservative determination to hold fast to certain revealed ultimate truths, Kolakowski subscribes to the position of the jester, negatively vigilant with regard to all absolutes.
His adherence to what he sees as authentic Marxism, to a historical vision which insists on the social determination of beliefs, brings about an interesting instability in his point of view. Intellectuals, he argues, must be freed from institutional constraint if they are to perform the useful function of seeing that the decisions of the Communist Party are wise rather than the otiose one of slavishly praising them. But the ideology they produce will still be ideology, indispensable for effective social action, but under the determining influence of social conditions. Ideological convictions can have no eternal, objective validity. But it is better that they should be associated with true beliefs about what can be objectively known, something that is ruled out by institutional Marxism which shores up its ideology with plain falsehoods about current social fact.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THEMES of Kolakowski’s revisionism are brought together in his large, exciting, somewhat chaotic essay on responsibility and history. One simple, rational thesis it presents is that our basic moral convictions, however they may vary and however much they are influenced by social and historical circumstances, are far more certain and well-founded than any historiosophical prophecies about the inevitable course of future history. To the extent that the Marxist account of what is historically inevitable is worthy of credence….it is vague and leaves open many possible ways of reaching utopia. To the extent that it is definite enough to require the abandonment of universally accepted moral beliefs for the effective pursuit of the ideal goal it is superstitious dogma. Kolakowski insists as firmly as any positivist that no conclusions about the moral desirability of an inevitable state of affairs can be validly derived from the fact of its inevitability. But his main point here is that nothing very definite has really been shown to be inevitable.
His twists and turns in attempting to reconcile the thesis that moral beliefs are socially determined with the claim that they are better founded than the historical predictions on whose account the “realistic” revolutionary would set them aside—both of which he wishes to affirm—are perhaps more honorable than satisfactory. This is also true of his efforts to reconcile Marxian social determinism with a view of individual moral responsibility almost as extreme as Sartre’s. His final conclusion is that as agents we cannot predict our own choices: for the individual, only the past is inevitable; to regard oneself as fated to act in a fixed way is to treat oneself as dead.
Responsibility and History begins with a dialogue between a Revolutionary, who is prepared to stake everything on effective cooperation with the inevitable course of history, and an Intellectual (or Clerk, in Benda’s sense), who, for the sake of moral purity, is prepared to detach himself altogether from public, political activity. To the Revolutionary the Intellectual is a futile aesthete; to the Intellectual the Revolutionary is an opportunistic scoundrel. In 1955-7 Kolakowski was anxious to find a third position, politically involved like that of the Revolutionary, but morally autonomous like that of the Intellectual. He would seem to have hoped that the Communist Party, ideologically guided by a free intelligentsia, could produce a society that was at once morally respectable and politically progressive. He did not explicitly put in question the principle of oneparty rule, though this may have been simply expedient recognition of what, at most, Russian power would permit. (Another false either-or, in his view, was that between complete submission to institutional Marxism and the totalistic anti-communism adopted by “renegades” like Koestler: The prevalence of monolithic anti-communism was, he argued, a triumph for Stalinism whose most active opponents conformed precisely to the Stalinist picture of them.)
In more recent times Kolakowski’s relations with the party have changed, both institutionally and intellectually. In October, 1966, he was finally expelled from it for the culminating offense of taking part in a celebration of the tenth anniversary of the liberating upheaval that brought Gomulka back to power. It is a measure of the Gomulka regime’s regression to authoritarianism that it should feel impelled to punish the recollection of the hopes with which it was inaugurated.
A recent essay in Dissent (Sept.-Oct. 1967) paints a bleak picture of the pressures to which non-conforming intellectuals are now once again being subjected. Its author, Dr. P. K. Raina, says that in this harder atmosphere Schaff has regressed toward orthodoxy. An essay on Jesus Christ as prophet and reformer, written in 1965, and published here in a sort of English, villainously misspelled, in the Tri-Quarterly Review for spring 1967, suggests that Kolakowski has moved closer to the position of the Intellectual in Responsibility and History. Christ, Kolakowski says, “was a model of that radical authenticity with which alone every human being can give real life to his own values.” There is a moral attitude, he argues, that, in the European world at any rate, is essentially bound up with Christ, an attitude that sets love above law, rejects violence, proclaims that all men are of one family, asserts the insufficiency of purely material ends, and regards human temporal existence as incapable of being made perfect. It is an attitude which must not be carried away in the general decline of institutional, supernaturalistic, Christianity. To endorse it is to affirm a priority of moral to political considerations that must be impossible for a Marxist. At best it would be consistent with ad hoc alliance with organized Marxism for specific, morally acceptable purposes.
Whatever his current position may be Kolakowski remains the most interesting Marxist thinker of the post-Stalin period, much more sophisticated than the rather crude though personally admirable Milovan Djilas. It is to be hoped that his writings will soon be available in English in a less fragmentary way than they have been hitherto.
POSTSCRIPT: Since this was written news has come of the dismissal of Kolakowski from his chair at Warsaw University, together with five other professors. This is part of the Gomulka regime’s answer to recent student demonstrations, provoked by the banning of an anti-Russian play by Mickiewicz. The grotesque regression to traditional Polish anti-Semitism in branding the demonstrations as inspired by Zionism shows mendacity not ignorance. There is no reason to doubt that in persecuting Kolakowski and his colleagues Gomulka is guided by an accurate idea of those whom the younger generation regards as their moral and intellectual leaders.
April 25, 1968