Ludwik Hass

Open Letter to Ozjasz Szechter


From Revolutionary History, Vol.6 No.1, Winter 1995/96, pp. 111-17.
Transcribed by Alun Morgan for the Revolutionary History Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The following open letter to Ozjasz Szechter was written and agreed by a group of Trotskyist sympathisers in Poland of which Hass was the prime mover. Because of the situation in Poland at the time, it had to be published anonymously. It was taken to Paris in November 1977, and delivered to the representatives of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International and its Polish group, which published irregularly the paper Na lewo (Keep Left). It was also given to Pierre Lambert of the OCI, and to the Revolutionary Workers Party of Poland which had split from Lambert in 1973, and which published Walka Klas (Class Struggle). None of these groups wished to print it, either in Polish or in any other language. Jerzy Giedroyc, the editor of Kultura, after a long period of reflection, also refused to publish it, although it was in reply to a text published in his journal. It is the opinion of Hass that the reason for the refusal by all these bodies to publish it was their quite correct view that this was a sharp criticism of KOR (Workers Defence Committee) which was founded in the autumn of 1976. This may well be true of Lambert’s tendency, as in a European Conference held by his organisation on 27–29 January 1979 there were two Polish comrades present, Edmund Baluka and Kristof Lubowieck, who brought messages of greeting from the Polish Socialist Party in exile, the Peasant Party in exile, and, in special big black type, a message of solidarity from KSS KOR within Poland, all of which were reported in La Vérité, no. 586, April 1979.

Ozjasz Szechter is the author of the Statement to which Hass is responding, and which was published in the monthly Kultura (no. 6, 1977), a Polish émigré literary and political journal published in Paris. Szechter, the father of the prominent dissident Adam Michnik, was an employee of a trade union paper and a deputy manager of a publishing house prior to the collapse of Stalinism. As Hass points out, however, Szechter’s home address shows that he was held in trust by the Polish state, and some other form of employment was possible. Szechter is a typical representative of the Stalinist officials whose denunciations of the past have carefully ignored their own rôles within the apparatus, and who have made an easy transition from being trusted by the Stalinist regime to enjoying a liberal or even Catholic respectability.

The letter should be read in conjunction with the interview that Hass gave in 1981 to Horst Hänisch (below pp. 118–41), to get both his analysis of KOR at the time, and some biographical details of a sample of the many other Stalinist bureaucrats who have since made the easy transition to responsible and profitable positions in present day capitalist Poland.

I AM not just writing to you but addressing the public for, after all, so was the Statement. I realise that my letter will be less effective propaganda than yours. It is obvious that my reply will not be published by the newspapers, nor will it be broadcast on the radio, which immediately took up your Statement, nor in any other section of the media, hostile to the government, but also representing the interests of the world ruling classes. Such is the objectivity of the mass media in the ‘free world’ too, or – something many, including yourself, do not want to accept – the logic of the class struggle, here and as well as there. Therefore the applause that greets one text as opposed to another is uneven, and this is not just because of their intellectual weight. Some light is shed on these matters by Rosa Luxemburg’s old saying, and I use it because apparently quotations from her works are still allowed in the circles of both our and other ‘liberals’. ‘It is a well known fact from the older experiences of the class struggle’ – she wrote – ‘that no-one is more loudly welcomed and celebrated by the reactionary press – even despite striking intellectual and political mediocrity – than the renegades from the Socialist camp, Socialists, who arrive at views pronounced by the enemies of the working class and Socialism.’ (Czerwony Sztandar, no. 44, 16 January 1905)

Simply by this we have already said a considerable amount to each other on matters of principle, but it is still some way from saying everything. After all, our points of view are and should be different, almost contradictory, and not only as a result of divergences on questions of the theory of social development and perspectives on the world, not because of different individual characteristics, but, most of all, because of our completely different experiences of life, and of our places on the social ladder. One sees reality differently, even if one is being critical, from the windows of a flat in the Aleja Przyjaciol [1] (especially if one already used to look out from there before 1956), and a different picture is formed by experiences imprinted on one’s back during many years spent – not voluntarily – in regions near the Arctic Circle, and in the following years trying to live from casual labouring.

Rather, or maybe because of this, I engage in this polemic with your point of view because the issues posed in the Statement are of fundamental importance for social life. I think that you will understand and approve that since such things in the polemic are so existentially fundamental for everybody, I will make no allowances for old age, nor will I wrap up touchy subjects in the wool of evasion. In prisons and labour camps (whose existence, but maybe I am mistaken, you once hotly denied) I spent more years than you. I also have behind me life banishment (history intervened, and it turned that the life banishment was shorter than the wishes of those who pronounced the verdict), which, I think, to some extent makes things equal between us, in spite of our difference in age.

It is not a coincidence that your life confession, synonymous with a critique of present reality, takes place outside of time, and is restricted to the level of present day issues, whilst avoiding the earlier period which gave birth to this reality. You do not say anything about the previous periods of People’s Poland and the episodes preceding it. This allows you to pass over the issues, traces of which still exist, which once shook the Communist movement but which are unpleasant for people of your circle, because of memories of the rôles they played in the distant and not so distant past. Let us take the first example that comes to mind – you are correctly angered at the humiliation or defamation of an outstanding author or a well-known actress. On this occasion you quoted examples, repeated if necessary a hundred times and ad nauseam in the official press, about how in the interwar years individuals from amongst the leading intelligentsia spoke out in favour of those persecuted for their convictions, adding your own comment that they never suffered for it. But you forgot to make a small point about the kind of gratitude shown by some of your friends at that time after many years. Did you not hear a word about the work The Black Book of the Polish Intelligentsia [2], written in the first half of the 1950s, the years which in your mind were not bad enough to deserve a public protest, and about which there is not one evil word in your Statement? Apparently in some archive there is still a manuscript of this book, in essence a compendium for the prosecution files of progressive Polish intellectuals. We will not give the name of the author of this peculiar work so that we cannot be accused of organising a witch-hunt against her. She too – apparently – has converted to ‘liberalism’, of course without beating her breast for her past.

You were not even clear about the approximate period in which you were active in public life – as you say in the Statement – ‘according to my convictions and in good faith’, nor about the period since when you began to act ‘against your doubts or even convictions’. Writing without giving any dates about your disappointment allows you to pass over many inconvenient facts for you and your whole milieu. After all, neither you, nor any of those who now feel ‘injured’, experienced any moral shock at the murders of the leaders of your party in the second half of the 1930s (the party which I still regard as the one from which I sprang), murders together with accusations, as slanderous as they were unbelievable, raised against them that they were agents of the Polish intelligence service, or even Fascists. None of you spoke publicly when in 1938 the perpetrator of these crimes, Stalin, dissolved your party using equally slanderous and nonsensical accusations that it was being infiltrated by provocateurs, and the almost contemporary sounding justification that it was composed of Jews, and therefore ‘Trotskyist’. This did not smell to you of anti-Semitism, as you were so very understanding about it then. You loved the Stalinist system, which you had seen with your own eyes, so much that you made a not inconsiderable effort to bring it into Poland as well! I do not know either whether in the 1940s you were against the well-known method of dealing with the ‘nationalist right wing deviation’, and neither was anything heard from you which questioned the poisoning of the ‘Doctor’s Plot’ at the end of 1952, this being the prologue to a would-be anti-Semitic campaign. [3] You were above all this, you believed that none of these events threatened your social position, you always knew how to adapt or even prosper pretty well. Even when you began to have doubts, which you would express only in your own circle, almost in secret, throwing a blanket over your head, you did not want the ‘mob’ to feel the doubts too, because it should listen to the government, and not raise a hand against it.

So when did your critical views began to take shape? Maybe, by chance, when there was no longer a great Joseph Stalin, his handyman Lavrenti Beria, and the riffraff connected with them, but when they had begun to give place to slightly different people, not your allies. It is strange, but everything points to one thing, which is that you arrived at the conclusion that terrible things were happening in the Polish People’s Republic and other neighbouring countries only when the Stalinist system of government changed into a regime which, by comparison, seems like the Salvation Army. Only then did you begin to shout that everything was dreadful, and that Marx had cheated you. True, at that time your privileges were questioned, and they were limited a little. But no-one has yet presented you with a bill to pay for all your past!

But you personally, cutting yourself off from your own past in such a public manner, from what actually are you cutting yourself off? After all, you are still not cutting yourself off from all that deserved to be condemned. It is no accident that you pass over in discreet silence the dramatic struggle, the struggle of whole sections of the Communist movement with Stalinism, a struggle full of sacrifices, lasting for the last half century – but not in the least hopeless – precisely in the defence of democratic rights, for freedom not for a small elite, but for the broadest masses of the world of labour. On which side and where were you and your friends in the years when anti-Stalinists were not only expelled from the party, denigrated and slandered in such a way that in comparison the present slanders (which are mentioned in your Statement) could be regarded as fine compliments, but were also physically liquidated? You, by your passive approval, then helped in this shameful action, whilst today you are doing everything to erase the memory of the struggle of these people and their tragic fate. Those few, whom a stroke of luck allowed to live and who did not deny this page of their life, you always treated badly and are still doing so, because they represent to you the pang of conscience and the living proof of the fact that your chosen path was not the only one possible. You still continue the same work. The Statement was not disgraced by even one word to honour those murdered martyrs – fighters for the great idea of human emancipation from oppression and exploitation. You must think that they deserve an even greater punishment if they believed in the doctrine of Marx and Engels, and also – Oh! Horrors! – in the teaching of Lenin and Trotsky. But in so thinking you remain alongside the worst of those from whom you announced so publicly that you had broken.

I do not know, and do not intend to investigate, what you personally did in the past decades of the Polish People’s Republic, and I do not know whether throughout the entire period you were merely a modest editor, for which modesty you were given a flat in the best area. I do not inquire into the moral consequences of certain family connections, although I personally think that any statement is incomplete, maybe even false, if your family situation is excluded from it.

And one more thing. Do not you, or anyone from your circle, feel any shame or even pangs of conscience because, during the long years of the Polish People’s Republic – and consequently until today – you were accustomed to power in the world of the privileged? After all, you are not so naive as not to realise that the other pole of privilege is the exploitation of others. When some receive much more than the average in the society, then others must work for them and receive much less. Such a life did not awaken in you any reflection, or any moral doubts. After all, it is a hundred times more appropriate to beat one’s breast (one’s own of course) for all those years of privilege enjoyed, than for the most serious illusions or ideological mistakes which you go on about in the Statement. And does not the flat in the Aleja Przyjaciol arouse any associations, which must unconsciously come to mind in every elderly resident of Warsaw? How could you sleep peacefully in this flat? In a nutshell, you consider this system of privileges and the well-known methods of its defence before 1956 as natural. You did not stammer about it even once in your Statement. Just as when you passed over in silence the struggle of the anti-Stalinist Communists – despite all your assurances and swearing – so in reality you did not break with this world of privilege, exploitation and oppression, and, in the final analysis, you have remained its loyal participant, and a shareholder in it.

Now for the last and the most important matter. You announced loudly, also – or perhaps first of all – to the working class, that Marx and Engels were mistaken when they sketched out the perspective of a classless society. At the same time you declare your readiness to march with it, or rather at its head, towards a better future. I understand this offer as coming not only from you, but from your whole milieu. But I ask you, what sort of a better future? If someone takes away the perspective of a classless society from this class, then, despite all his theoretical, ideological or other adornments, he proclaims its slavery for eternity, and the eternalisation of its position (of course we are speaking about in this life) [4] as a ‘worse’ or lower class. In practice he teaches it that its struggle for emancipation is in vain, that there must exist masters, the owners of the factories and enterprises, and workers, toiling for the prosperity and well-being of their betters. But because in our country it is impossible to give back all the factories to their previous owners and their heirs (most of the factories were built after the nationalisation of industry) in an act of expiation for the damage done by the nationalisation, then there is only one conclusion – the worker must not ‘revolt’ against the managers and others, as it is quite hopeless. Once again you serve the world of privilege in this way, and you make an effort to pacify its gravediggers.

So it is no accident that there was a sentence in the Statement, that the workers’ uprisings in Poznan in 1956, on the coast in 1970, and in the whole of Poland in June 1976 ‘had an economic character’, because the workers should not have had got into their heads the notion that they can change something to their advantage! At the most they should help those from the privileged layer who were unjustly done by, and especially their children, so that they can fully regain their legitimate rights because of their birth and education, and because they possess charisma and were intended to be the leaders of society.

You, one of those belonging to the privileged layer, though due to power, do not even quote the example of Djilas [5], who consciously and of his free will resigned such privileges in order to proclaim his views. You do not have to agree with him, but such behaviour deserves respect. Your opposition only began when other competitors began to remove you from power and to limit your use of privilege. But when the authorities even ‘punish’ the people from this social environment, then they do it differently from the way they punish us, not only the workers, but also the stubborn intellectuals outside the elite. There was no shooting of demonstrators in 1968 because this was a quarrel within the family, but there was in December 1970. [6] You are treated in the same way as the old aristocracy treated its own hereditary ‘oppositionists’. Their wrists were slapped, but they were still considered ‘their people’. For on a class basis everything unites you with those whose actions the Statement criticises, but criticises impersonally. You are linked with them by the interests of this layer, and you only differ in your view about which methods will be the most effective to keep it in power. Everything separates the author of the Statement and those like him and close to him from those who aspire to tear down the division between the privileged and unprivileged, from those who see their aim as a society free from exploitation and oppression, in other words, a classless society. Therefore, all those interested in achieving such a society must reject the suggestions and innuendoes of the Statement, which is a document containing a desperate and sophisticated defence of the world of privilege and inequality. The precise aim of this letter is to help people understand this truth.


1. Aleja Przyjaciol was one of the most elegant and exclusive streets in the centre of prewar Warsaw. It survived the Warsaw uprising of 1944 because until 17 January 1945, when Warsaw was liberated by the Red Army, German officers lived there. After the war, its surviving prewar inhabitants were moved elsewhere on their return, so that the flats could be allocated to those whom the Ministry of Public Security trusted. Aleja Przyjaciol was situated at the back of the buildings occupied by this ministry on Mokotowska Street in whose basements political prisoners were kept and often tortured. The authorities wanted to make sure that they would not be observed by anyone local.

2. The Black Book was a compilation containing complaints and accusations against named prewar Polish left wing intellectuals. It could be used at any time as a document in a trial of anyone mentioned in it. It was prepared by a widow of a member of the Communist Party of Poland, an historian by profession, who was a high functionary in the Ministry of Security. In 1956 she was thrown out of the Polish United Workers Party, but nothing further untoward happened to her. She later published a book on the modern history of Poland, articles in magazines including the theoretical journal of the PUWP, Nowe Drogi (New Way), and, during the state of emergency, a book under a pseudonym unmasking the crimes of the Ministry of Security on the basis of their documents which were unavailable to other researchers. This was published by Solidarnosc’s underground press.

3. The accusations of a Doctor’s Plot against Stalin had repercussions in other People’s Democracies. In reality, it was an attack by Russian chauvinism upon the non-Russian nations of the USSR, not only upon the Jews, but upon others such as the Lithuanians and Moldovians.

4. Hass is making a sarcastic reference here to that fact that Szechter, although originally Jewish, had become, if not a Catholic, a Catholic fellow traveller. [Editor’s note]

5. Milovan Djilas (1911–1995) was a leading member of the Yugoslav Communist Party during and after the Second World War. From the early 1950s he developed a liberal critique of Stalinism, set out most clearly in The New Class, which led to his being jailed for nine years. [Editor’s note]

6. In March 1968 students demonstrated in Warsaw against the dismissal of some of their colleagues from the university. The demonstration was attacked by the security police, student protests took place in Warsaw and other cities, but the working class did not get involved in these protests. The bureaucracy responded by jailing the students’ leaders, and embarked upon a vicious anti-Semitic campaign. In December 1970 workers at the Gdansk shipyard, angered by the announcement of food price increases, marched upon the PUWP’s headquarters. The police fired upon the demonstrators, killing many workers. Strikes and demonstrations then occurred in other cities, and workers were shot down in Szczecin. [Editor’s note]

Last updated on 3.11.2011