Chris Harman


Polish October

(Autumn 1963)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.14, Autumn 1963, p.34.
Thanks to Ted Crasford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Class Structure in the Social Consciousness
Stanislaw Ossowski
Routledge & Kegan Paul. 25s.

Professor Ossowski holds the Chair of Sociology at Warsaw University. His study of the roles which conceptions of class have had in the social consciousness was first published early in 1957 in Polish. Publication of the book was only made possible by the events of what the author refers to rather optimistically as the ‘Polish October’ of 1956. These facts alone explain a great deal about the book. For it is primarily an attempt to analyse the various conceptions of class structure and to relate these to their social backgrounds. In this way the author hopes to. find a common basis of intelligibility among the different conceptions – especially between those held in the two major power blocs. As he points out, in each bloc apologists for the system call their own bloc classless and point to the class features of the opposing bloc. On the other hand among more objective observers there is considerable discrepancy of opinion over what constitutes class structure. He attempts to analyse these differences and to try to distinguish the extent to which they are caused by different conceptions of reality and to what extent by confusion over verbal usage.

This analysis produces many penetrating insights. But these are often blurred by a failure to overcome basic confusions. Thus in his penetrating analysis of the elements making up Marx’s theory of class he never fully emancipates himself from the fetishistic position of identifying relations to the means of production with the judicial conception of property rights. From the point of view of the readers of IS this fault is aggravated by the author’s attempts to be ‘objective’. This is shown most clearly in his discussion of the structures of the US and USSR. For although he points out that the ruling ideologies of these societies have their roots in the interests of the ruling strata, he refuses to comment on the theories. So, while pointing out the relationship between the reformist programme of the rulers of the USSR, their class position and their theory of non-antagonistic classes, he does not comment on the realism of their theory. Despite the anti-Stalinist polemics, the work is written not from a position of revolutionary socialism but from one of well-meaning, uneasy reformism, which – because of the premises it shares with the ideologies and societies it seeks to, reform – can have no greater effect on the analysis of social structure than did the ‘Polish October’ on the class structure of Poland.

Last updated on 25 March 2010