Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 10 No. 1
Ludwik Hass (1918–2008)
I MET Ludwik Hass twice, the first time at the Wuppertal conference on Trotskyist History in March 1990 and the second time at a conference on Social Democracy and Bolshevism in Moscow in July 1991. I also had some correspondence with him about the Polish issue of Revolutionary History (Volume 6, no. 1), much of which is devoted to Hass or is by him and from which material much of this obituary has been derived. We had some difficulty communicating because he had no English, for though he spoke Russian and German as well as Polish, his French was no better than mine and so we spoke in fractured French.
Hass, a small man, was a most impressive individual and seemed quite fearless. We were in Moscow just before the collapse of Stalinism later that year, and, faced with some minor bureaucratic hurdle of the usual Russian kind, Hass went for the minor bureaucrats in his fluent Russian with such fury and contempt that I wondered if we would both end up in the Lubianka, even though I assumed that hopefully he knew what he was doing. But that was typical of him, for according to both Elżbieta Wichrowska and Janusz Maciejewski, he never made any concessions and always expressed himself forcefully about ‘liberals’ or Stalinists ‘not always very politely’. But he was lucky, lucky to have survived.
Hass was born of assimilated middle-class Jewish parents, loyal Poles, educated in the Humanities Gymnasium in Stanisławowo (now in the western Ukraine) and he was at the University of Lvov (or if you are Polish Lwów, or if Ukrainian Lviv, or if Austro-Hungarian Lemberg), where he became a Trotskyist. At the time of the Hitler-Stalin partition of Poland in 1939, he was on the Soviet side of the line. It is not generally appreciated that the Trotskyists maintained themselves in German-occupied Poland for about three years, producing underground journals until most of them were murdered, but generally as Jews rather than as Reds. But this was not so on the Russian-occupied side, for, needless to say, the first people the NKVD arrested were the Trotskyists. However, because of a bureaucratic muddle between the different sections of the Russian political police Hass was sent to Vorkuta and not immediately executed. It is a little bit unclear from the account he gave in an interview to three Polish journalists (Revolutionary History, Volume 6, no 1, p 72) about the situation at the time of the German invasion in August and September 1941 when the Poles, or the vast majority of military age, were released from the camps if they volunteered to join Anders’ army, because he was marched back to the camp. But it would be entirely in keeping with his character if he had refused to serve. Again he was lucky, and because of his education was employed in the office rather than down the mine where he says he would certainly have died. He finished his sentence in the labour camp in 1948, but had to do the same job in the same area as a sort of ticket-of-leave man. Again he was quite fearless, and though it was forbidden he seemed to have travelled through parts of Russia which he was not supposed to do. After the death of Stalin, things got easier and most of the few Poles surviving in the camps were returned home. He went rather later in 1957, among the last if not the very last, after some agitation by a Catholic student organisation seeking the return of all the Poles. Those who had returned earlier had brought news of his existence and survival.
The arrival in Warsaw was quite a performance. At the railway station there was a welcoming delegation of students, but he stepped up on the soap-box provided, announced that he was coming back as a revolutionary to overthrow the bureaucracy and then sang the Internationale giving the clenched fist salute. This everyone thought rather astonishing if not totally mad. Together with others he took part in intellectual discussion circles, made contact with the Fourth International in Paris, and eventually with others was sentenced to three years in prison in 1965 when a temporarily slightly more ‘liberal’ period came to an end.
Politically he does not appear to have been so active for some years afterwards, the times were much less propitious, but he managed to do a massive amount of historical work and produce a few articles about the working-class movement in Poland in the interwar period, and he became the foremost expert on Polish freemasonry with its political role. Most of his efforts, however, bore their publishing fruit later. With the rise of the working-class movement in Poland in the late 1970s he again became active. He believed that it was necessary to enter Solidarność, even if it was Catholic and opposed to Marxism, because that was where the workers in struggle were. The situation started to become critical, and, as Hass points out in an interview with Horst Hänisch  in October 1981, the ideas of a few tiny groups of Trotskyists were starting to be attractive to wider sectors of the class than ever before, to the youth above all. A few weeks later in December the coup occurred, the shutters came down and the bureaucracy negotiated in prison and made a deal with the right wing of Solidarity — helped always by the Church. Hass with the rest of the far-left was kept in prison another year until the situation had been stabilised. When he came out the world had changed, for the possibility of revolutionary situations never last for very long as they are but fleeting moments of opportunity. Hass believed they had made mistakes, but the number of cadres was tiny, and the bureaucracy and the Holy Church were far from stupid.
It was then in this period late in his life that most of most of his scholarly work was finally published, including four of his five books on freemasonry in 1982, 1984, 1987 and 1993. Only in 1979 at the age of 61 was he made a member of the History Institute of Polish Academy of Science, and in 1986 he was made a professor.
Hass never gave up, he remained true to his convictions to the end of his life, and he was a man of enormous, almost suicidal, courage. He leaves a wife and son. A video clip of Hass’s funeral can be seen at http://youtube.com/watch?v=E-Wq4htjuyQ.
Incidentally, we have a good many copies of the Polish issue of Revolutionary History (Volume 6, no 1) and we are making them available at a special price of £2 each + £1 p&p. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will send you my snail-mail address for cheques or POs. Readers abroad will have to pay more for p&p and need to make different payment arrangements with me.
1. Hänisch was a member of the SAG, at that time the affiliate of the British Socialist Workers Party. The interview was never published probably because it needed a certain amount of editing and checking, and Hass was in prison and therefore unavailable.
Updated by ETOL: 1.11.2011