Peter Sedgwick

The Polish Spring

(February/March 1970)

Peter Sedgwick, The Polish Spring, International Socialism (1st series), 42 February-March 1970, p.35. (review)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Marxism and Beyond, Lesek Kolakowski, Pall Mall, 40s

Written over the last 10 or 12 years, between the ‘Polish spring’ that brought Gomulka to power and the present icy season that has jailed Kuron and Modzelewski and forced Kolakowski himself into exile, these essays in mordant Socialist rationalism bear reading and re-reading. They present something of the role of the isolated intellectual rallying and reflecting current of opinion, rather than that of the revolutionary engineering the formation of organisations around a programme. But they are grounded in prodigious political experience, allied with a wry wit and relentless intelligence. Here is an extract:

‘Unflagging vigilance over its own meticulous boundary lines is an essential characteristic of every social group that can be called a “sect” – constant control to assure precise and unambiguous criteria differentiating itself from the outside world. There criteria are of various sorts: ideological, organisational, traditional, ritualistic: and the greater their number, pettiness and variety, the more advanced the ossification of the sect. When this condition prevails, it becomes apparent that the social organism, to an ever-increasing extent, no longer sustains itself by natural assimilation and communication with its environment, but somehow, miraculously, through an unnatural process of reproduction, feeds on its own substance ... While it can increase its weight, it can neither develop nor conceive ... Regardless of its dimensions, Stalinism is a sect.’

Kolakowski’s essay, The Concept of the Left, is one of the few pieces of writing that makes sense of a usually incoherent and emotional concept. At first I was startled by his statement that ‘the left, as such and as a whole, cannot be an organised political movement’. However, on closer reflection, this position does not deny the necessity for an organised political movement: it only states that any such movement, however militantly defined, must have its own left.

Peter Sedgwick


Last updated on 21.11.2004