Chris Harman, 1968 and the historic Open Letter to the Polish Communist Party

Issue: 158

John Rose

1968—a year, but also a mood, an expectation, a world ­bursting with a promise of revolutionary possibility: a shimmering slice of historical time that precedes 1968 and outlasts it. Commemorating its 50th anniversary properly this year, 2018, must itself be an innovative political act—revisiting and re-evaluating its most important moments.

Its greatest political achievement, May 1968—événements de mai—the uprisings in France, students occupy their universities, 10 million workers occupy their factories, President de Gaulle flees the country. A workers’ power challenge to an advanced Western capitalist state. That much may be understood as the main event of 1968. But is the implication that socialist revolutions in advanced industrial countries were thus possible in late “modernity”?

One of 1968’s greatest intellectual achievements, “the Open Letter to the Party” by Jacek Kuroń and Karol Modzelewski, is rarely, if ever, acknowledged.

Kuroń and Modzelewski were young Communist dissidents in one of Soviet Communism’s most strategically important military outposts in Eastern Europe, its Warsaw Pact ally Poland. Their Open Letter, written in 1964, was a closely argued critical Marxist analysis of Polish society. It identified bitter social class divisions, with the Polish “Communist” state bureaucracy playing the equivalent role of a capitalist ruling class, extracting surplus value from Polish workers on shockingly low pay and terrible working conditions with no control either of the work process or the product of their labour.

In 1965 Kuroń and Modzelewski were thrown into jail for this “provocation”, the Polish government thereby dramatising the prestige and authority of the Open Letter. It began its travels across the Polish border, in various forms, to an increasingly receptive audience on both sides of the so-called iron curtain.

In Britain, the tiny International Socialists (IS), forerunners of today’s Socialist Workers Party, enthusiastically welcomed the Open Letter. Its analysis was strikingly similar to the state capitalist analysis of Stalin’s Russia,1 pioneered by the IS founder Tony Cliff. Cliff had argued that Stalin’s industrialisation drive in Russia in the 1930s not only consolidated his very personalised totalitarian dictatorship but also that the state bureaucracy became “an extreme and pure personification of capital”.2 The need to catch up with the West, both economically and especially militarily, exerted competitive pressure to accumulate, similar to the competitive pressure on capitalist firms. Accumulation of capital by the state, based on the forcible extraction of surplus value from workers, at the expense of their consumption needs, was also dependent on the crude “expropriation of the peasantry”.3 In Capital, Marx had called this process “primitive accumulation…a history…written…in letters of blood and fire” when describing it in Britain.4 Cliff noted that “Stalin accomplished in a few hundred days what Britain took a few hundred years to do”.5 The language of “Socialism in One Country” masked the genocidal exploitative processes unleashed. Lenin had explicitly warned against any attempt at socialism in one country.6

The IS published an English language version of the Open Letter in 1966.7 Confirmation of the group’s most iconic political perspective could hardly have sprung from a more authoritative source. It helped enhance IS’s reputation and influence in the UK student movement.

Chris Harman, a graduate student at the London School of Economics, wrote an introduction to the Open Letter and helped its promotion among students. Chris was one of the leaders of the IS group of students influential in the LSE Student Socialist Society, which played a major role in Britain’s first student occupation in 1967. By 1968, a student campus movement had erupted nationally, fuelled in part by resistance to the Vietnam War. Intense political argument questioning society’s institutions, East and West, spread rapidly, involving more and more students.8 Political debate was infectious, with several questions reoccurring: why had “Communism” failed to live up to its ideals? How can “Communism” be an answer to the failures of capitalism and the barbarities of its offspring, imperialism? The Open Letter provided a platform in the search for answers. Marx wrote that philosophers have merely interpreted the world, the point however is to change it. But at the same time he insisted on the need for a scientific interpretation providing the guidelines for changing it. The decisive significance of Kuroń and Modzelewski is their scientific interpretation of the failure of Soviet Communism—or at least of its expression in Poland.

Of course, other books and writers exerted far greater influence on what became a worldwide student movement, for example Jean-Paul Sartre’s trilogy Roads to Freedom and Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man. Indeed Marcuse was momentarily intellectual “guru” for the movement,9 Sartre famously sold Maoist tracts on student demos. But both Sartre and Marcuse spectacularly failed to provide convincing analyses of the failure of Soviet Communism and its subsequent oppressive and exploitative characteristics. Soviet Communism equalled Western capitalism as a legitimate target in 1968.

In Harman’s book on 1968, The Fire Last Time, the Prague Spring chapter10 sits next to the French May chapter. This juxtaposition—coupling even—is not just chronologically accurate, it captures precisely the immense significance of the moment. The Open Letter provided a fresh reading of Marx and Engels, allowing Marxism to be placed simultaneously at the service of the Prague protest movement as well as the “French May”. This was a direct challenge to the Stalinised Soviet Communist version of Marxism, Official Marxism-Leninism, which would be used to justify the repression of the movement when Soviet tanks intervened in Prague later in the year.

In his recently published autobiography, We’ll Ride the Mare of History into the Ground: Confessions of a Bruised Rider,11 Modzelewski explains the impact of the Open Letter in 1968:

The Open Letter was better known abroad than in Poland. I have held in my hands French, Italian, German, Swedish and Japanese copies, there were many more I have only heard about (Czech12 or English) or others I had no idea even existed. Our pamphlet was mainly, if not exclusively, published by ephemeral radical left publishers in the years of 1966-9. It was the time of the youth revolt in Europe and America. The movement was raging against both—the conformism of middle class societies and the authoritarian conformism of bureaucratic communist parties and their Muscovite Mecca.13

In the epilogue, Modzelewski explains his book’s compellingly curious title:

This book’s title is inspired by Mayakovsky’s poem Left March. Mayakovsky was a genius poet—a futurist, who devoted his great talent and charisma to serving the Bolshevik revolution; and in 1930 ended his life with a suicidal gunshot. Left March is not one of his best poems, but the metaphor “We’ll ruin the jade of the past”14 is an excellent description of the Marxist philosophy of history. Every revolution attempts to mount and tame this horse [“jade of the past”], however it is a dangerous ride. “The jade of the past” is a wild, unbroken mustang. We can jump on her back and even ride for some time, yet it is impossible to keep a tight rein on her—eventually, the horse will always take us somewhere, where we never desired or expected to be. This is how—in a nutshell—I see my own life experience.

The Open Letter

As Harman explained in his introduction to the UK edition, the challenge of the Open Letter was so effective because it liberated and restored the language and the theories, concepts and principles of Marx from their Soviet sponsored usurpers.15 In its opening paragraphs, Kuroń and Modzelewski expose the gulf between the ruling Communist Party in Poland and the country’s working class. State nationalisation of the means of production serves to consolidate that gulf, undermining the ideological pretence that state nationalisation is by definition the equivalent of a workers’ state.

In our system, the party elite is…also the power elite; all decisions relating to state power are made by it… The party elite has at its disposal all the nationalised means of production; it decides on the extent of accumulation and consumption, on the direction of investment, on the share of various social groups in consumption and in the national income; in others words, it decides on the distribution and utilisation of the entire social product. The decisions of the elite are independent, free of any control on the part of the working class and of the remaining classes and social strata. The workers have no way of influencing them, nor have party members in general… This Party-state power elite…we shall call the central ­political bureaucracy.16

Later this argument is strengthened, making explicit that the ruling bureaucracy “is a ruling class”:

It has at its exclusive command the basic means of production. It is said that the bureaucracy cannot be a class, since the individual earnings of its members do not come anywhere near the individual earnings of capitalists… This is quite wrong…the property of the bureaucracy is not of an individual nature, but constitutes the collective property of an elite which identifies itself with the state…its class character [depends] only on its relationship—as a group—to the means of production.17

Discussing the origins of the system in the context of the outcome of the Second World War and the ceding of Poland (and other Eastern European countries) to Stalin’s sphere of influence as part of the post-war settlement, the Open Letter identifies Poland’s industrialisation drive as the mechanism that created this new state-based bureaucratic ruling class:

The nature of the task of industrialising a backward country called to life as a ruling class a bureaucracy which was able to achieve this task, since it alone, through its class interest, represented the interest of industrialisation under the conditions—production for the sake of production.18

The Open Letter had an additionally good reason for predicting the emergence of a mass-based revolutionary workers’ movement, resulting directly from its analysis.19 There was a famous historical precedent. Although not on the same scale as the revolution in Hungary in that year,20 in 1956 Polish workers had not only gone on strike but developed democratically elected workers’ councils which, momentarily at least, appeared also to challenge the authority of the Polish state system. However, the state would successfully neuter them by integrating them into its own industrial power arrangements.

Kuroń and Modzelewski called on this experience not simply to demand genuine workers’ democracy in Poland but to locate the demand very specifically in the lessons of 1956. The following passage from the Open Letter is particularly remarkable because it also unwittingly pinpoints with extraordinary accuracy the key debate in Solidarity21 in late 1981 about workers’ control in the workplace, workers’ democracy and state power:

Workers’ democracy cannot limit itself to the level of an enterprise. For when economic and political decisions, the actual rule over the surplus product, and the labour that creates it, do not belong to the working class, then participation of the workers in managing the enterprise must also become fictitious. Workers’ self-rule in an enterprise, therefore, requires full workers’ democracy in the state. The working class organised under such conditions will set the goals of social production, guided by its own interest, the interest of the people living today at subsistence level. The goal of production will then be, of course, consumption for the broad masses. This signifies the overthrow of existing production and social relationships and, with them, the bureaucracy’s class rule.22

Finally, again based on the 1956 experience, and again in extraordinary anticipation of potential weaknesses in the Solidarity movement, the Open Letter called for workers to organise their own independent political party.

The so-called October Left in 1956—a political current made up in large measure of the natural leaders of the working class, youth and intellectual opinion—could have been a substitute for the political vanguard of the mass working class movement. The October Left differed from the liberal current, especially in its views on the workers’ councils, in which it saw the basis for new production relationships and the nucleus of a new political power. But it was not a uniform movement. The left did not separate itself from the technocratic current in the workers’ council movement (the demand that factories be run by the councils did not go beyond the programme of the technocracy)23 nor from the liberal bureaucracy, in the political showdown on a national scale. It did not set itself apart from the general anti-Stalinist front as a specifically proletarian movement. In this situation, it was evidently unable to formulate its own political programme, to propagate it in an organised manner among the masses, to create a party. Without all this, it could not become a politically independent force, and therefore, had to transform itself into a leftist appendage of the ruling liberal bureaucracy.24

The double-edged impact of the Open Letter

Kuroń and Modzelewski were immensely proud of the impact of their Open Letter. But they also noticed the major strategic gap in that impact. As Modzelewski recalls:

The manifesto of two insurgent Marxists from Warsaw was getting a lot of interest and support from the Western contesters. [French student leader] Daniel Cohn-Bendit,25…questioned during his trial for disturbing public order…[when asked to give his name] replied proudly: “Kuroń-Modzelewski”… For the youth, who in 1968 and 1969 were building barricades on the streets of the main university towns and cities of Western Europe, the Open Letter was a compulsory reading. When I thought about it I was envious—why there and not here, at home?26

The Polish state had very effectively isolated from workers the beginnings of a student revolt in Poland in 1968, unambiguously using a deliberately weaponised and sickening antisemitism.27 This had been aimed at student activists like Adam Michnik, son of Jewish Communist parents, who had campaigned vigorously for the Open Letter.

There was an even more serious problem. The Prague Spring was infamously crushed by Soviet tanks in the autumn of 1968. Yet the Open Letter had cast serious doubt on just such a possibility:

It is said that an eventual revolution in Poland would inevitably lead to Soviet armed intervention, the result of which, from the military point of view, is not open to doubt. Those who advance this view assume that everything takes place in “one country in isolation” which, by way of exception, is torn by class struggles while in neighbouring countries there are no classes but only regular armies…planes and tanks.28

When Warsaw Pact planes and tanks were used to suppress the Prague Spring, Kuroń, Modzelewski and Michnik issued the leaflet titled “Time and Again Great Powers Preserve the Existing Social Order Using Tanks”:

Vietnam’s cause is our cause. A right to a revolution, abolish social slavery…freedom from exploitation…from Great Powers’ dictatorship over small nations. We—the Polish left—cannot be silent… Because we remember…the foreign interventions, stifling the Hungarian Revolution… Che Guevara laid down his life for the thousands who die every day in Latin America and Vietnam… Fighting for a sovereign and socialist Vietnam means fighting for sovereign and socialist Poland. A nation cannot be free if its government oppresses other nations… We send our solidarity to the American left, whose fight for peace and freedom for Vietnam means fight for human rights and democracy in their country. We send our solidarity to the Soviet left. We send our solidarity to West German students, French left and Czech intellectuals. Alien to us, the great powers, trading in Vietnamese nation’s blood. Alien to us, the provocative politics of the Chinese bureaucracy. To all who trample the sovereignty of working people in any country, we follow the Spanish antifascists: No Pasarán.29

But Kuroń and Modzelewski were deeply demoralised by the bitter experiences of Prague and Poland in 1968. They began a major rethink, moving to a rejection of Marxism and the Open Letter, and a quest for a new politics, or as David Ost aptly calls it, Anti-Politics.30 This meant that their remarkable political and organisational skills were now adapted to a completely different project—the so-called self-limiting revolution which would become the foundation political platform of Solidarity in 1980-1.31 From 1976, Michnik and Kuroń would help develop KOR, Komitet Obrony Robotników, the Workers’ Defence Committee, to defend workers’ leaders victimised by the government during a strike wave in that year.32 As we shall see shortly, KOR’s evolution would be intimately tied in with that of Solidarity: “When KOR and Solidarity claimed they were not ‘political’ movements, what they meant was that they did not want to challenge the party’s control of the state”.33

As Timothy Garton Ash put it:

“The class of ’68”…thought they discerned a new way forward…“bureaucratic despotic socialism” would not be transformed from above…its internal contradictions made it susceptible to pressure from below…this autonomous “civil society” would reassure Soviet leaders, whose control of Poland’s foreign and defence policy would not be challenged. This strategy was elaborated in a series of essays by KOR members like Jacek Kuroń and Adam Michnik…Kuroń’s slogan “Don’t burn down party committees, found your own!” could hang as a motto over all the workers’ protests in 1980.34

Though this perspective would initially meet with spectacular success, it lacked theoretical underpinnings. The implication was that the Soviet state and its Eastern European satellite system could be reformed. But what was the evidence for this assumption? And did it mean an improved Communism, a democratic Communism or a displacement of Communism, in other words state capitalism, by private capitalism? These questions were left unanswered, though they would come to haunt the movement and ultimately destroy it.

A tremendous opportunity had been lost. 1968 was fast fading from view. But it desperately required a political and intellectual retrospective. On the eve of the 1848 revolutionary wave in Europe, Marx and Engels had published their Communist Manifesto. This document became far more than simply a flagbearer of those revolutions, it accomplished permanent historical status as the foundation statement of communist principles with a resonance that survived the 20th century and continues to reverberate in the first decades of this century. But of course it could not have anticipated the catastrophic outcome of the 20th century’s most important Communist experiment.

1968 now needed its own Communist Manifesto for the Late Twentieth Century if the experience was not going to be wasted and the reasons for the failure of the Communist experiment were not going to be lost, and, above all, to probe much more thoroughly the causes of that failure. Kuroń and Modzelewski’s Open Letter had laid the framework for just such a document. Now it needed fleshing out. If the formation of Poland’s state capitalist ruling class was contingent on the country’s post-war industrialisation, didn’t that reflect the identical process that had occurred in Stalin’s pre-war Russia—albeit without the terror on the scale seen in Russia, that we now call the Gulag?

1968 needed to leave a legacy reaffirming the Bolshevik perspective that socialism in one country was a contradiction in terms, especially in a mainly pre-industrial peasant country, and that the original Bolshevik perspective, based on communist principles of internationalism, self-emancipation, workers’ control and mass participatory democracy, was reflected in 1968’s own values. Trotsky had written: “The revolution…is primarily the awakening of the human personality in the masses…marked by a growing respect for the dignity of the individual and by an ever increasing concern for the weak”.35 But it was not to be. The dumping of the Open Letter also took down the opportunity to use its outstanding analytical tools to make sense of new and unexpected developments in Poland itself in the 1970s.

Poland: crisis of state capitalism

But this theoretical challenge wasn’t entirely ignored. In a pathbreaking article, “Poland: Crisis of State Capitalism” published in two parts for this journal’s first series in the 1970s, Chris Harman showed how the Polish crisis was a symptom that the Soviet system as a whole could no longer withstand the pressures of the global market system and its crises.36

In his last book Zombie Capitalism—responding to the 2008 financial crash—published just before his sadly premature death, he explained what had underpinned that analysis: the fusion of “the analyses of Tony Cliff and Kuroń and Modzelewski”.37 It was a powerful mix. It showed the astonishing penetration by Western capitalism, both its corporations and its banks, into the Eastern European economies, and Poland in particular. It showed that Polish “Communism” was beginning to morph into a hybrid between the Western and Eastern systems, but with a dependency that was increasingly tied to the dangerously unstable rhythms of the global economy.

Several examples came from the columns of the Financial Times. Typically Western bank loans were tied to particular projects: “A consortium of German companies led by Krupp is expected to land orders worth £565 million for two coal gasification plants… The Poles are interested in setting up a joint marketing operation with Krupp to sell the various projects abroad. A consortium of West German banks is working on the financing of the new deal”.38 The Wall Street Journal reported: “Foreign bankers are as happy to lend to Communist governments as to a family business. Happier. They’ve found in governments like Poland…borrowers who will pay at rates Western industrial powers would scorn”.39

The centrepiece of the Polish government’s next “five-year plan” was to be the expansion of Polish copper production through a massive £250 million investment. This was to be provided by a consortium of Western banks but they have demanded as a condition for the loan the power “to demand changes in the copper export strategy as necessary”.40 So we had the extraordinary spectacle of the classic model of Stalinist “command” economic planning, dictated not from Moscow but from the boardrooms of the Western banks!41

Expanding trade with the West but also borrowing heavily from Western banks, might now benefit Poland from Western economic growth but the converse was also true. Western European recessions would now become exaggerated in the Eastern European economies, especially Poland. Just servicing the Western bank debt, which cost Poland nearly a quarter of its export earnings, triggered the red warning lights.

At the start of the 1980s Poland’s production fell by nearly a third, with prices increasing by 24 percent in 1981 and 100 percent in 1982, as real wages fell by about a fifth.42 The burgeoning mass movement of Polish workers that became Solidarity was a direct outcome of these circumstances.

Chris also took the opportunity in Zombie Capitalism to summarise and re-emphasise the sheer ingenuity and innovative approach to a post-Stalinist Marxism displayed by Kuroń and Modzelewski. “Poland and a foretaste of a dire future” is a model of terse writing on the Marxist economics of the crisis of state capitalism, in its death throes. It deserves to be carefully read and treated here as an appendix of this article.43

We have an intriguing—and frustrating—glimpse of the implications, and the high stakes at issue, if Kuroń and Modzelewski had developed this 1970s Marxist analysis. We might have had a recognition that Polish workers were in revolt against a fast-changing global capitalism, as well as the Polish state as an extension of the Soviet state satellite system. This just might have forced a reconsideration of political objectives, strategies and tactics. An open debate about global capitalism could have become part of the “Polish” debate. And it might have made the horrendous embrace of neoliberalism by the Solidarity leaders at the end of the 1980s, with the nauseating background applause from Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, far less likely. But this discussion was instead just confined to the tiny circles of the far left. It had no impact on Solidarity’s birth. In fact the failure to take the two key components of the Open Letter, its similarity to the state capitalist analysis and its revolutionary socialist perspective, into Solidarity, robbed the movement of the absolutely essential debate that it needed from the start.

Solidarity: the “self-limiting” revolution

The Solidarity revolution of 1980-1 in Poland was “the most powerful…advanced working class movement” ever seen “certainly in the ‘Communist’ sphere and perhaps anywhere in the world”.44 We discussed earlier the self-limiting restraints imposed on it by its leaders. But that should not blind us to the sheer scale, depth and ambition of the movement, which grew out of shipyard workers’ strikes at the Polish port cities of Gdańsk and Szczecin on the Baltic coast in 1980.

The renowned Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński was among the first writers to sense the importance of what was happening:

The workers on the Coast have smashed the old stereotypes of the “dumb prole”… The young face of a new generation of workers has emerged: thoughtful, intelligent, conscious of its place in society, and most importantly, committed to drawing all the consequences of the ideological foundations of this system, according to which it is their class that plays the leading role in society.

Kapuściński describes Gdansk and Szczecin as “cities in which a new morality took control. No one drank, no one caused trouble… Crime fell to zero, aggression disappeared. People became friendly, helpful and open to one another. Total strangers suddenly felt they needed one another”. People were motivated not by “wage demands”, but “the dignity of man”.45

The emergence of Solidarity had its roots in earlier battles when the Polish state had tried to make workers pay for its flawed economic policies. In 1970-1, price increases had precipitated mass strikes and demonstrations in the coastal shipyard cities. The security forces had responded with unrestrained brutality, killing hundreds of workers. The regime fell, giving way to a new party leader, Edward Gierek, promising reforms. Yet history would quickly repeat itself. The Polish economy, as we have seen, was floundering. In 1976 Gierek would also now attempt swingeing price rises, provoking strikes and riots, this time beyond the coastal cities, most notably at the Ursus tractor complex in Warsaw and in the city of Radom. According to some reports, three quarters of Poland’s largest plants were hit by strikes. Within 24 hours, the price rises had been withdrawn.46 Once again, fierce repression followed, hundreds of victimisation sackings, police beatings, jailings.

It was at this point that KOR, mentioned earlier, emerged. It comprised of a small number of dissident intellectuals, including Kuroń and Michnik, who would raise funds and publicise the cases of victimised workers. As a sporadic strike movement developed between 1976 and 1980, in response to the deepening economic crisis, KOR would widen the scope of its intervention “breaking the state’s censorship monopoly and providing news of workers’ struggles”.47 Exemplary courage and tenacity characterised KOR intellectuals and worker activists during this period, constantly arrested, beaten by the police, sometimes murdered.48 Some militant workers were drawn towards KOR’s activities leading to the production of underground leaflets and newspapers, the most important of which was Robotnik (Worker). The demand for a Free Trade Union movement began to grow. KOR’s influence on this development was thus well rooted—including its theory of a self-limiting revolution.

The breakthrough came at the Baltic port city of Gdansk in 1980. Anna Walentynowicz, who would become internationally famous as the militant crane-driving grandmother in the shipyard, helped produce Coastal Worker, a KOR newspaper. She was sacked. A strike movement erupted which not only closed the giant, unfortunately named, Lenin Shipyard, but began spreading to workers across the city. It seemed as though the moment to turn the idea of a “Free Trade Union” movement into a reality had arrived.

A strike committee was formed which included Lech Wałęsa, previously sacked from the yard and who had climbed over the wall to address striking workers, along with Walentynowicz. The government was forced to negotiate. Political demands were added to the economic demands, the release of political prisoners, the erection of a monument at the shipyard gates to the workers murdered by the regime in 1970, which were conceded. Demands for full-scale democratisation from the workplace and local communities to all the economic and political institutions of the state simmered just beneath the surface. Not all were agreed, nevertheless, the final outcome was a humiliated government forced to recognise, for the first time in a “Communist” country, a mass-based independent free trade union. In any case, the government understood, in no uncertain terms, that the dynamic of democratisation, sometimes referred to as self-determination and workers’ self-management, was now unstoppable.

The name Solidarity had immediate roots and relevance. When Wałęsa and the shipyard workers voted to end the strike, tram drivers on strike bitterly complained. They had been out in solidarity but had made no gains. Walentynowicz and other women at the shipyard insisted that the strike be reinstated. It was, and the strike committee was expanded to include all striking workplaces.49

Kuroń was one of the political prisoners. He made a fascinating and self-deprecating admission. He said that perhaps it was a good job he wasn’t there: “I would have told them…expecting…independent trade unions…was impossible”.50 Workers had moved beyond the experts. But only up to a point: the self-limiting restriction on the new movement was built into its perspectives. For the next few months the self-limiting restriction would be tested to its limits, reaching a climax at the city of Bydgoszcz. Here its political inadequacy would be ruthlessly exposed, paving the way for martial law which was imposed at the end of 1981.

Martial law, in turn, destroyed the revolution. It’s true that the implosion of Soviet Communism in 1989—and Solidarity was obviously a major contributor to that implosion—found some of the Solidarity leaders and advisers, some recently released from prison, at the so-called Round Table negotiations with leaders of the former Communist regime. But the combination of martial law, the demoralising failure of the self-limiting revolution with deeply reactionary pressures from the West filling the vacuum, had created a transformed intellectual and political climate.

The results were spelled out in stark terms by none other than Karol Modzelewski, who, while still insisting that Marxism was no longer relevant, nevertheless had distanced himself from his old comrades Kuroń and Michnik who had signed up to the agenda of a neoliberal future for a post-Communist Poland:

The Great “Solidarity” of 1980-1 was a collective, egalitarian and, in its core, socialist movement. Two years after the martial law none of these expressions were suitable to describe the ideological stance of “Solidarity” Underground. This is also true in the case of intellectuals… They were still oriented toward “Solidarity” or, to be more precise, what was left of it, but they were using a different language and had different ideas than in 1981…when they co-authored our programme titled “Rzeczpospolita Samorządna”, Self-governing Republic.51 Their compass was tuned to different azimuths…the era of Milton Friedman, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.52

Gwiazda and Solidarity’s “October” moment

Andrzej Gwiazda is a name virtually unknown in the West. But, in a very public clash with Solidarity’s world-renowned leader Lech Wałęsa, at the height of the Bydgoszcz crisis, he could legitimately claim: “It’s my duty to talk because my name next to yours Lech, Anna Walentynowicz and a few others, has become a symbol for those who…fought to get our union”.53

Gwiazda had just spoken on behalf of Wałęsa, unilaterally calling off the general strike over Bydgoszcz in March 1981. He then very publicly attacked the decision. Making sense of this political somersault, and the man who performed it, at the very moment when the taking of political power seemed to be within Solidarity’s grasp, takes us to the heart of Solidarity’s political crisis and ultimate defeat. A crisis built into the perspective of the self-limiting revolution. First, though, we need to understand Gwiazda’s politics.

His intense Polish nationalism had its understandable roots in his hatred of Soviet Communism and its manifestation as Soviet imperial domination and Soviet terror in relation to Poland. He has literally lived with it since the age of five when, at the beginning of the Second World War, his family were a direct victim of the Hitler-Stalin pact. Hitler’s snatch squads took his father54 and Stalin’s his mother and the rest of the family, including Andrzej, to be deported to Siberia.55 Even at five he was “wróg sowieckiego naroda”, enemy of the people.

There is an extensive, almost legendary, Polish literature56 about Gwiazda (and his wife Joanna Duda-Gwiazda)57 that describes the uncompromising childhood, the teenage resistance fighter, constantly expelled from schools, in and out of detention centres and jails. His loathing of Communists meant that his reaction to the Open Letter was simply pleasure that the Communists were now fighting among themselves. He saw no value in its contents. He never trusted the authors, particularly Kuroń. How can you trust even an ex-Communist? Why did they remain silent for so long about Stalin’s crimes? At the same time, though, as a leader of the Free Trade Unions in Gdansk, the movement that preceded Solidarity, and then a chief negotiator, alongside Wałęsa, for Solidarity’s demands to be recognised by the government, he alone insisted that the release of political prisoners, Kuroń in particular, was a non-negotiable demand.58

Ash’s observations show Gwiazda, the militant, revolutionary workers’ leader. On workers’ democracy: people should not vote for “Franek or Gienek”, but for a programme: “that protective clothing should always be provided, for example, or that proper cupboards should be fitted in the changing rooms. And after six months people can say to Franek: What’s happened about the cupboards then? You made a promise… But you haven’t done anything, you creep. We’re going to get rid of you”.59

Gwiazda was not a natural practitioner of the art of the possible: if he had been, he would never have begun the struggle for what seemed to everyone impossible in the 1970s. He was a fighter for fundamental principles, with more than a streak of intransigence. Yet no one who travelled around the country in this week could doubt that Gwiazda was more closely in tune with the mood of the workers than the counsellors of caution.60

The test for Gwiazda and the entire movement and its strategy of the self-limiting revolution would come at Bydgoszcz in March 1981,61 the October “moment” of the Solidarity revolution. The general strike had been called in response to police beatings of Solidarity leaders, in particular Jan Rulewski,62 during stalled negotiations over recognition of Rural Solidarity, embracing some 3 million peasant farmers. All sides and all commentators agree this was the turning point for the movement.63 A four-hour general strike had already proved an immense success: “For the party leadership the most shattering feature…was the almost universal participation of party members, against the explicit orders of the Politburo…the base of the party was in open revolt”.64 There was every reason to believe that an all-out general strike would rally most of Polish society behind it.

We find Gwiazda instinctively hostile to Wałęsa yet unable to break with his old comrade. The resulting confusion reveals the man of principle but now paralysed by lack of political strategic alternative. Having agreed to act as Wałęsa’s spokesman—calling off the strike—Gwiazda sent him an open letter, widely published throughout Solidarity, attacking the decision, which he described as nothing less than a threat to Solidarity’s moral revolution in Poland.65 It pinpoints the scale of the crisis now faced by Solidarity after Bydgoszcz: “Not going into an evaluation of whether or not it was a just decision, we were not authorised to make such a decision… Each shadow that falls upon the union painfully hurts the hearts of Poles. Internal democracy is our union’s prerequisite”.66

But uncoupling the threat to Solidarity’s—and hence Poland’s—potential internal democracy from the justice of the decision itself, to abandon the general strike, disarmed the movement. Disarmed it of the very democratic debate that it needed, at its most advanced moment, for a fundamental shift in strategy and tactics. The ultimate limit of the self-limiting revolution had now been reached. Insofar as there was a theory underpinning it, Ost’s Anti-Politics, “don’t challenge the party’s control of the state”, sums it up. But this had reached its own limit and been found wanting. The prospect of Polish “civil society” somehow democratising itself “from below”, alongside co-existence with the Soviet state satellite system was stalemated. But it was a dangerous, unstable and temporary stalemate.

And here was the great paradox, Kuroń and Modzelewski’s Open Letter had not only predicted such a situation, it had provided the tactics, strategy and even a political programme for overcoming it. But it was “Marxist”; and Solidarity was fighting “Marxism”. The conundrum paralysed the movement at the very moment its resolution could have unleashed its enormous potential.

Gwiazda was one of Solidarity’s most courageous and intelligent revolutionary militants. Could he have cracked the conundrum? We’ll never know. The ­realisation that the enemy wasn’t “communism” at all, but state monopoly totalitarian capitalism, increasingly dependent on the Western banks and corporations of the global economy, was never discussed. The implications were never put to the test.

Instead, Communism had to be destroyed. The left appeared as a trap and a snare—two sides of the same coin. Communists and their former Communist critics, briefly heroic leaders of Solidarity like Kuroń and Michnik, became agents for globalisation and its neoliberal “reform” agenda for a post-Communist Poland, now welcomed by leaders of the former Communist regime. Throughout, the Gwiazdas remained principled trade unionists, but with a left-wing option now firmly blocked, we witnessed the deepening of a right-wing trend in Solidarity that would result in the remnant of the once great movement offering support to today’s right-wing nationalist governing Law and Justice Party. Today the Gwiazdas support this party.

Workers and intellectuals

This raises sharply the question of how democratic debate was conducted, and which debates were conducted, in Solidarity, and in particular the role of its intellectuals. Modzelewski may have abandoned the Open Letter and its Marxist principles but its influence continued to haunt him. He remained, in any case, one of Solidarity’s most effective left-wing intellectuals with enormous respect for the outpouring of mass democratic sentiment that characterised Solidarity from its inception.

The following outstanding passage from his autobiography sharply captures both the strengths and weaknesses of his position.

During the first “Solidarity”, [the] crowds’ attitude towards the leaders was very emotional, too. But there was no blind trust. On every level the activists—from the workplace to the National Commission, and following their suit, ordinary unionists—wanted, more than anything, to self-manage. They would never trust anyone, not even Wałęsa, with their lives. In order to effectively manage this movement we had to continuously intercommunicate with the crowds who wanted, above all, to direct and rule themselves, the unions and Poland. In January 1990 in Wrocław’s Hydral conference room I saw with my own eyes that this spirit of self-governance vanished completely. This “Solidarity” was different. It is not even about the fact that 80 percent of former members never rejoined the movement when it was reactivated. The main reason for this is the fact that this powerful spirit of self-determination was crushed by a violent force [the imposition of martial law] in December 1981 and it never came back. The extraordinary phenomenon of sovereign, collective activism of millions of people has been irretrievably destroyed. The myth survived, and it manifested itself in the strikes of 1988 and triumphed during the June 1989 elections. When “our” government was formed, the righteous “flag-bearer” had to become “our” prime minister and his team. But the myth does not express the crowd’s pursuit for self-decision making; it does not provide the control instruments or a will to control. Where the myth is strong, its depositaries have the free rein. Their decisions are never resisted.67

On the one hand we have the demand for self-determination or self-management, popular control, workers’ control, the single most important spontaneous demand of the movement. On the other hand we have the intellectuals “to manage this movement”.

Modzelewski tells us elsewhere that he won an argument with the intellectuals that the crowd must be trusted to make its own decisions, that its behaviour was perfectly rational. But this still begs the question of the relation between the crowd and the intellectuals. And it raises one question in particular above all others. Can the crowd generate its own intellectuals?

This question never seems to have been put, yet it was intimately linked to the question of how the demand for self-determination could discover the practical politics for its implementation. It was not the task of the intellectuals to grant self-determination or to use pressure from the crowd on the authorities to do so, nor in any case, was it in their gift to do so. It was the task of the workers’ movement itself to mobilise for it. But how? Spontaneity needed to be underpinned by political organisation. But what sort of organisation?68

In 1968 Chris Harman had grappled with exactly this question in response to what seemed to be 1968s spontaneous call for a student-worker alliance. It was seen as the key ingredient for revolution in France’s May ’68. Yet it was notoriously short-lived and, in any case, arguably, it had failed. Yet the idea caught the imagination, perhaps like no other. Tantalising, to be sure, but, to use the jargon, how to concretise it?

Chris addressed precisely this question in a pamphlet essay, “Party and Class”, which also deserves to be ranked as a classic 1968 text.69 He built a powerful case for the creation of worker-intellectuals, juxtaposing and dovetailing several celebrated passages about the crowd in history, from the writings of Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci. Citing Gramsci, Chris traces two possible routes for the active “man of the masses”.70 He is caught between two theoretical consciousnesses (or one contradictory consciousness). One “which unites him with all his colleagues in the practical transformation of reality, and one superficially explicit or verbal which he has inherited from the past and which he accepts without criticism”. If the two are in contradiction, it can result in paralysis, “a state of moral and political passivity”. Overcoming this requires constructing “a determined practice, a theory that, coinciding with and being identified with the decisive elements of the same practice, accelerates the historical process…makes the practice more homogeneous, coherent, more efficacious in all its elements”. The choice is between “having a conception of the world ‘imposed’ mechanically by the external environment…or to work out one’s own conception of the world consciously and critically”.71

But the individual activist among the masses cannot do this alone. She or he requires a political organisation sophisticated enough to respond to all external political, intellectual and cultural pressures. But this must be on the terms set, and guaranteed by, the roots of the organisation among the most advanced stream of the rank and file of the mass movement, the stream least likely to compromise with potentially conservative external pressures and consciously work through an alternative.

Here Chris switches from Gramsci to Lenin, and Lenin’s conception of the political party, but the switch is seamless, suggesting an extraordinarily creative fusion of the thinking of the two political leaders and intellectuals. At issue, is persuading the new members, quoting Lenin, “steadily to elevate them…from a general spirit of protest…to organised membership in the party”.72 Lenin called them “purposive workers”. “Genuine heroes” who have a “passionate drive toward knowledge and toward socialism”.73

Chris then synthesises and draws out the underlying principle: “The revolutionary party exists so as to make it possible for the most conscious militant workers and intellectuals to engage in scientific discussion as a prelude to coherent and cohesive action”.74 Worker and intellectual are not just equals in the party, the worker is beginning to gain confidence in their own intellectual qualities, irrespective of how little earlier learning or reading they may have done in the past. Massive efforts are made to provide a literature and other forms of intellectual communication—in popular form. Gramsci himself had been very clear about the prospects for this bold perspective, identifying the worker-intellectual in the making as nothing less than a democratic philosopher, a “permanently active persuader” with roots among the masses.75

Kuroń and Modzelewski had explicitly identified the political organisation necessary for the development of worker-intellectuals when, in the Open Letter, they drew lessons from the 1956 workers’ revolt in Poland calling for “the natural leaders of the working class, youth and intellectual opinion…a specifically proletarian movement…[with its] own political programme, to propagate it in an organised manner among the masses, to create a party…a politically independent force”.76

In 1980-1, they helped create a movement, Solidarity, with literally thousands of new “natural leaders of the working class.” But by refusing to sanction the independent Marxism that they themselves had begun to pioneer with the Open Letter, they disarmed the new movement, and especially its new young working class leaders, ideologically. This also meant that the regime’s Stalinised travesty of Marxism could only be challenged from the right. Legitimate pressures for democratisation were relatively easily fused with the entirely illegitimate pressures emanating from the Western “liberal democracies”, carriers of liberalism’s latest incarnation, the virus known as neoliberalism.

Drawing together some of the different political and intellectual strands of Chris Harman’s contributions over the years, directly and indirectly relevant, has hopefully helped clarify the extraordinarily creative yet deeply contradictory roles of Kuroń and Modzelewski. But taking as a cue Chris’s tribute to them in his last major work, Zombie Capitalism, the focus for how to define their legacy should be on the unfinished business of the 1968 Kuroń and Modzelewski.

This is not so far-fetched. We have seen the progressive, perhaps even quasi-Marxist impulses, still at work in Modzelewski’s autobiography. But Kuroń too, at the end of his life, called his role as a key promoter of “shock therapy” in Solidarity’s first neoliberal government in the 1990s the biggest mistake of his life.77 Indeed Kuroń was, perhaps, rediscovering at least a respect for the Marxism of his youth.78

John Rose is currently studying the roots of the failure of communism in the 20th century.


1 Cliff, 1988.

2 Cliff, 1988, p168.

3 Cliff, 1988, pp50-55.

4 Cliff, 1988, p54.

5 Cliff, 1988, p54.

6 Cliff, 1988, pp144-145. For how Cliff developed his theory of state capitalism, which involved a break with Leon Trotsky’s view that, however bureaucratically distorted, Russia was still some kind of workers’ state, see Birchall, 2011, p88-127; Callinicos, 1990, p73-79. In 1956 the KGB, Russia’s secret police, commissioned a special translation of Cliff’s book—Birchall, 2011, p117.

Ivan Maisky, the Soviet Ambassador to Britain during the war recorded in his diaries Stalin’s enthusiasm for a leading British Conservative banker, J Gibson Jarvie, who praised the former’s Five Year Plan. But Maisky writes that Stalin always ignored Jarvie’s insistence that Russia was practising state capitalism—Gorodetsky, 2015, p37.

7 Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966.

8 See “The Student Revolt” in Harman, 1998, pp38-54.

9 Ali and Watkins, 1998, p129. Thanks to Ken Muller for reminding me about Marcuse.

10 “Students held huge assemblies into the night discussing every social and political question…workers, slowly, but surely, identified with what was called the ‘reform process’, beginning to force officials out from state-run unions and to frame demands of their own”—Harman, 1998, p123.

11 Modzelewski, 2013. Thanks to Andrzej Zebrowski of Pracownicza Demokracja (Workers Democracy) in Warsaw for our intensive discussions about this book, his invaluable comments on the first draft of this article. I would also like to thank Ela Bancarzewski and Maciej Bancarzewski for their superb translations of excerpts from the autobiography.

12 Czech student leader Petr Uhl published and distributed it widely in Czechoslovakia in 1968, translated from the French, not the Polish, edition.

13 Modzelewski, 2013, Kindle location 2123-2127

14 The quoted translation of Left March is by Alec Vagapov.

15 Harman, 1966. The Open Letter was published in pamphlet form as “A Revolutionary Socialist Manifesto” with a subtitle “written in a Polish prison”, which of course was an error. The authors had received a prison sentence for writing it.

16 Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, p7.

17 Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, p15.

18 Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, p27.

19 Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, pp50-51.

20 See the chapter on the Hungarian Revolution in Harman, 1988, pp119-188, as well as the comment on this chapter, footnote 39 of this article. Also Tamás, 2016.

21 Solidarity is discussed shortly. For the best introduction see Barker, 1986. George Sanford, the British liberal scholar who wrote the first English language comprehensive description of Solidarity’s one and only (1981) national congress, describes Barker’s book as “the most cogent, if inevitably partisan, political analysis, establishing common ground with the radical fundamentalist tendency within Solidarity itself”—Sanford, 1990, p2.

22 Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, pp22-23.

23 The “technocratic current” led the right-wing version of the workers self-management debate in Solidarity in 1981. The professionally trained, economically privileged, technological experts were often the leaders of this movement, and some would see the prizing away of their workplaces from the Stalinist bureaucracy as the first step towards deals with Western financial investors—see also Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, pp69-70. But there was also a left-wing which allied with the rank and file workers. In any case, were the professional technocrats not also proletarians, albeit highly privileged ones? Did they not sell their labour power and create value? Indeed, as technological innovators, which sometimes they were, did they not make a unique contribution toward value creation? See Callinicos, 2014, pp302-303, and footnote 26 on pp301-302, for a discussion on “scientific labour”. Coincidentally, see the extracts from Harman’s Education, Capitalism and the Student Revolt in this issue. Certainly, no one could doubt the proletarian commitment of bicycle design engineer Jan Rulewski, as we shall see, centre stage during Solidarity’s “October” moment, the Bydgoszcz crisis. Rulewski, to this day, still hopes to design a bicycle environmentally adapted to the heavily traffic-laden roads of the 21st century and sees his professional skills placed alongside the workers who would make those bikes as an essential part of the production process in a workers’ self-managed society. And who will deny the proletarian commitment of chemical engineer, Andrzej Gwiazda in 1981? (See the section below on Gwiazda).

24 Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, pp44-45. The Open Letter develops a detailed programme for implementation in its concluding pages—Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, pp59-66.

25 But did Cohn-Bendit properly read the Open Letter? It is not addressed in his book, Cohn-Bendit, 1968. This was a wider problem. It became a flag, a “red rag” to the Stalinist bull, of symbolic protest. But its sharp incisive analysis was too easily glossed over. Cohn-Bendit’s anarcho-libertarianism drew very different conclusions and helped spawn Anti-Politics, the unhelpful part of the 1968 legacy, with a decisive influence on the rise of Solidarity—Ost, 1990.

26 Modzelewski, 2013, Kindle location 2127-2133.

27 Harman, 1998, p124. The regime claimed only “hooligans” joined the 1968 disturbances but most of 1,200 arrests “were in fact young workers”—Harman, 1998, p124. Also Gwiazda’s view: “Almost alone in 1968 he, Gwiazda, tried to mobilise working class support for the student movement”—Touraine, 1983, p146.

28 Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, pp55-56.

29 Friszke, 2010, p493. Thanks to Andrzej Zebrowski for locating this classic leaflet and to Jacek Szymanski for translating it.

30 Ost, 1990. Kuroń would sharply put down any support for the Open Letter. Zbigniew Kowalewski (Łódź region) was one of a tiny number of Solidarity leaders to support it. Kuroń attacked him in the lobbies of the programmatic commission of the 1st national congress of Solidarity in Autumn 1981 as “a schnook (frajer) who still believes in the follies/foolishnesses/stupidities/idiocies (głupstwa) we wrote, Karol and me, in the Open Letter”. Kowalewski reports and comments on this in Nowy Robotnik, number 7 (22), July-August 2005. Kuroń, the year before, had told the general assembly of delegates of Łódź region that Marxism was an “outlived 19th century philosophy”. Unfortunately, Kowalewski’s role, in late 1981, promoting the “active strike” strategy, threatening a response to food shortages with workers’ control over food production and distribution, with strong hints of generalising the strategy, cannot be explored here. I do so in a later publication. Meanwhile see Barker, 1986, pp129 and 139-140, and Kowalewski, 1982, and 1985. Ominously General Jaruzelski warned against “active strikes” in the Sejm, the Polish parliament, and the Polish Communist Party paper attacked Kowalewski’s “active strike” pamphlet just weeks before the imposition of martial law.

31 Barker, 1986, p16.

32 Barker, 1986, p12.

33 Ost, 1990, p1.

34 Ash, 1983, pp22-23.

35 Deutscher, 2003, p138.

36 Harman, 1976; Harman, 1977.

37 Harman, 2009, p375.

38 Financial Times (1 June, 1976), cited in Harman, 1977.

39 Wall Street Journal (7 December, 1981). This later example comes from a new chapter on Poland’s Solidarity movement in the third edition of Chris’s Class Struggles in Eastern Europe 1945-83, published in 1988, p255. Inevitably the chapter overlaps with Colin Barker’s book on Solidarity published two years earlier and it is most unfortunate that Chris does not mention Colin’s book. Chris would have benefited from Colin’s discussion on the prospects for Soviet military intervention in Poland 1980-1, which Chris far too lightly dismisses as a possibility—Harman, 1988, pp273-274. Colin’s insistence that Moscow was ready to intervene (Barker, 1986, p158) is supported by recently published Polish sources, citing US Intelligence assessments—Friszke, 2014, p487. What, though, would have been the outcome of Soviet military intervention? As Chris noted, Moscow was in a far weaker position than at the time of Prague 1968. Its military intervention in 1979 in Afghanistan was having a profound demoralising effect. Like Poland’s, its economy was destabilising from the unstoppable pressures emanating from the global economy. Chris’s superb chapter on the Soviet military intervention in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, reproduced in his 1988 book, provides some unexpected guidelines. Moscow had been in no hurry to dismantle the Hungarian workers’ councils by force. Better to pressurise the Hungarian government to seek out conciliatory elements among the leadership of the workers’ councils. Of course, Moscow may well have been playing for time before the arrests of the workers’ leaders began. But the time lag is important. The “stand-off” provided an opportunity for the councils to assert their strength. They controlled production, not the government. See the outstanding 3,000 word statement issued by the Central Workers’ Council of Greater Budapest, confronting Soviet military forces, on December 6, 1956—Harman, 1988, p177. The outcome of a stand-off between a much weakened Soviet military and Solidarity in Poland’s industrial centres, rallying almost the whole of Polish society behind it, was by no means a foregone conclusion.

40 Financial Times, 5 December 1975; Harman, 1977.

41 See also “The Contradictions of Authoritarian Reform” in Callinicos, 1991, pp40-50.

42 Harman, 2009, p206.

43 Harman, 2009, p205-206.

44 Barker, 1986, p11.

45 Ost, 1990, p9.

46 Barker, 1986, p11.

47 Barker, 1986, p13.

48 Barker, 1986, p215.

49 Barker, 1986, p21. The full story is told in the film Women of Solidarity, see footnote 57.

50 Barker, 1986, p26.

51 Solidarity’s one and only national congress in autumn 1981 called for self-managed workplaces in a self-governing republic.

52 Modzelewki, 2013, Kindle location 6201-6206

53 Persky and Flam, 1982, p171.

54 Kwiatkowska, 1990, p27.

55 Ash, 1983, p4.

56 I would like to thank Maciej Pienkowski, Gdansk translator and researcher, for reading and translating some passages from this literature.

57 See the fascinating interview with Andrzej and Joanna Duda-Gwiazda in the recent magnificent film about the Women of Solidarity, Kobiety Solidarności, made available here (with English language subtitles), thanks to its Polish writer and director, Marta Dzido: v=tAmcnAw4Cu0. In the film they uncompromisingly denounce the Round Table negotiations in 1989 and the deadly embrace of the “free market” of neoliberalism. The viewer will see that the interview takes place in their flat in a tower block which overlooks the remnant of the Gdansk shipyard.

58 Ash, 1983, p65.

59 Ash, 1983, p77.

60 Ash, 1983, pp82-3.

61 Barker, 1986, pp51-55.

62 See footnote 23.

63 US sociologist Jack Bloom quotes Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution on “revolutionary turning points” to emphasise the point—Bloom, 2015, p219-20. Ash also quotes Trotsky’s use of the idea of dual power which sets the scene for just such a crisis—Ash, 1983, p99.

64 Ash, 1983, p157.

65 Persky and Flam, 1982, p171.

66 Persky and Flam, 1982, p172.

67 Modzelewski, 2013, Kindle location 7265-7275.

68 The argument also found its expression in Solidarity’s internal arguments about workers self-management which dominated its one and only National Congress in 1981, Barker, 1986, pp113-120.

69 Harman, 1996.

70 Today of course we would refer to the active woman or man.

71 Gramsci, quoted in Harman, 1996, pp27-28.

72 Harman, 1996, p29.

73 Lih, 2008, p344-345. Alexander Shlyapnikov, Labour Commissar in the first Bolshevik government, was probably the Bolsheviks’ most famous worker-intellectual, learning his Marxism from books and pamphlets as a 14 year old metal workers’ apprentice. He was also steeped in Russian classical literature and, because he worked in factories in different parts of Western Europe before the revolution, was fluent in several European languages. Lenin was constantly fighting with him, famously expelling his Workers’ Opposition faction several years after the civil war but insisting that Shlyapnikov stay on the Central Committee—Allen, 2016.

74 Harman, 1996, p30.

75 Thomas, 2010, pp429-436.

76 Kuroń and Modzelewski, 1966, p44-45.

77 Ost, 2005, p197.

78 See Andrzej Zebrowski’s thoughtful obituary of Kuroń—Zebrowski, 2004.


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