The Marxist


 From the Origins to the Second World War

Institutionalised Marxism

Selected Bibliography



From the Origins to the Second World War

From the very beginning Polish Marxism and Socialist thought tried to come to grips with the problem of national independence. In a Poland devoid of national independence and split between powers who were traditional and secular enemies, the problem of independence became inevitably entwined with that of the freeing of the oppressed classes and the proletariat from both a social structure still strongly characterised by a feudal nature and the production relationships set up by incipient capitalism.

Marx and Engels realised this ineluctable link from the very beginning and saw Polish independence as the only way to free Germany from reactionary Prussia, the loyal ally of Tsarist Russia. They therefore deluded themselves that the Polish uprising of 1863-64 was the start of a new revolutionary era, thus gaining the sympathies of many active Polish members of the International. The first generations of Polish Marxists held other views: the question of independence and Polish patriotism was for them a tool used by the reactionary classes to divide the proletariat and prevent it from forming a class conscience. They therefore preferred to embrace an internationalist creed, relegating independence to a secondary position and thus clashing with the views of their masters, Marx and Engels.

The first group of revolutionaries clearly inspired by Marx's doctrine was formed in Warsaw by the initiative of an ex-student of the Medical Academy of St. Petersburg, Boleslaw Mondsztajn, who was given decisive encouragement by his compatriot Ludwik Warynski (1856-1889). Mondsztajn devoted himself mainly to propaganda, spreading the writings of Lassalle, Engels and Marx and propounding his own politico-ideological programme inspired by the Manifesto. Persecution by the police forced him to take refuge in Galicia , where Boleslaw Limanowski (1835-1935) (the first Polish Socialist to give nationalistic aims priority over those of class, for which he was later to clash with Warynski) introduced him to the Socialists of Lvov . Mondsztajn then moved to Cracow , where he tried to organise a conspiracy. Discovered by the police, he was put on trial with a number of others but got off with a light sentence. Forced to emigrate, he settled in Geneva where Limanowski had founded "Równosc " in 1879, the first Polish Marxist journal.

In the meanwhile a group of Socialists had formed at the University of Warsaw, under the political leadership of Stanislaw Krusinski (1857-1886) (hence the name "Krusinskists"), its most renowned theoretician being Ludwig Krzywicki . When Warynski returned to Poland in 1881, he founded the first Polish workers' party (1882) which he named the social-revolutionary party "Proletariat ", and which only had weak links with Krusinski's group.

The difference between these two groups (social democrats and social revolutionaries) mainly lay in their ideas on when to bring about a future revolution. The social democrats thought it was necessary for the time to be objectively ripe and therefore wished to wait for the evolution of capitalistic production to be complete; the social revolutionaries, on the other hand, focused on the subjective element, believing that the ripening of capitalism should not be evaluated in a single country but on an international scale: when it came about, a revolution could take place even in an "immature" country as long as the subjective conditions were ripe, i.e. the class conscience and the militant spirit.

To pass from politico-social theory to philosophical reflection on Marxism, the first Polish Marxists did not deem it necessary to share a theoretical platform and were therefore against any attempt to encode Marxism on a single, monolithic ontological and epistemological basis (as Plechanov had tried to do on the strength of Engels' Antiduhring). Extraneous to the Hegelian tradition and classical German philosophy, they were closer to the evolutionist positivism that dominated Polish culture in the second half of the 19th century, to Neo-Kantism and in particular empiriocritical thought on the theory of knowledge, although they tried to reject the passivity of the subject and cognitive individualism in favour of the historico-social dimension of human action, as was the case, for example, in Krusinski's interpretation of a priori, which he made relative to the evolutionary process and therefore historically and socially determined: the a priori elements of knowledge are formed in the process of evolution and are therefore the result of phylogenetic development. The affinities with the thought of Herbert Spencer are evident.

Marxism was seen in general not so much as an omnicomprehensive world view, but as a method of research, an instrument with which to gain knowledge of socio-economic reality and its history; in short, priority was given to the methodological and critical side. In addition, the most important Marxists reached historical materialism through prevalently scientific studies rather than humanistic or literary ones. They were not academics trained along the lines of the classical tradition of German philosophy (they were, after all, denied an academic career on political grounds), but rather sociologists, scientists, economists or militants. Their attitude towards Marxism was therefore chiefly interested in its cognitive value, as a theory of real processes, empirically verifiable and therefore sharing the same statute as all other scientific theories, or as a theory of scientific knowledge, as a methodology and epistemology of natural and social sciences. Interest thus focused on the political, economic and epistemological contents of Marxism, against the background of the philosophical problems typical of classical German philosophy. Lastly, it should be recalled that the works that contributed towards forming Marxist and Socialist thought in Poland at the end of the last century were the Manifesto, Socialism from Utopia to Science and The Origins of the Family by Engels, and the first volume of Marx's Capital, which had been translated by Krzywicki.

One of the most significant representatives of this trend was the theoretician of the Polish Socialist Party, Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz (1872-1905). In the Marxist climate of the Second International, strongly influenced by positivism, he interpreted Marxism from a sociological viewpoint, stressing the methodological similarities.

A completely different direction to positivism, in favour of a form of subjectivist, anti-naturalistic philosophy, was taken by Stanislaw Brzozowski (1878-1911), a philosopher, drama and literary critic, novelist and dramatist with a complex personality and a controversial intellectual physiognomy who is hard to place in a single philosophical perspective.

Particularly worthy of mention is the thought of Edward Abramowski (1868-1918), who was important both for his socio-economic work and for his research in the field of psychology and philosophy.

The most significant figure in Socialist and Marxist thought in the inter-war period is undoubtedly Ludwik Krzywicki (1859-1941), even though his activity as a propagandist and political organiser went back as far as the "Krusinskists" of the last century.

In all, Polish Marxism before the Second World War was different from that of both the Second International and Marxism-Leninism, which became the official doctrine in the nearby Soviet Union after the Bolshevik revolution. As Walicki states, "the first Polish Marxists represented an open, authentic Marxist tradition, open to inspiration from other currents of philosophical and sociological thought. It was a Marxism constantly enriched by active participation in a broader intellectual universe than the "Social Democratic Church". At the same time it was often more sensitive to the essential problems of Marxist thought than the rigidly coded Marxism of the Second International".

Among the other Marxists of the period we should mention the work of Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) whose thought, although not devoid of interesting theoretical intuitions (such as her thesis of the abstract-modelistic nature of the Capital), was mainly addressed to the sphere of economy and political debate; in addition, her political activity and theoretical production are more closely linked to Germany than to Poland.

Other significant thinkers included Julian Marchlewski (1866-1925), who was more a militant intellectual than a thinker (his main commitment being to Polish independence) and who supported a humanistic Marxism focusing on the role of the subject and its capacity for transformation; he also dealt with aesthetics, emphasising the social role of art and the need for it to have a practical purpose, as opposed to the theory of "art for art's sake"; the sociologist Stefan Czarnowski (1879-1937), who mainly dealt with the problem of the emancipation of the proletariat and the role of culture, viewing the latter not so much as a simple conscious phenomenon but rather as a set of elements that the social process objectivises and which are shared by social and human groups, being handed down from generation to generation (thus classing culture as what we would nowadays call "material culture"); Zofia Daszyska-Goliska /1866-1934), who dealt with political economy, economic history, the sociology of labour and social politics, which she considered to be an autonomous branch of sociology and conceived of as a system of directives and activities whose aim was a gradual transformation of society in a Socialist direction, thus rejecting any mechanistic and necessitating concept of Marxism; the pedagogist and philosopher Wladyslaw Spasoski (1877-1941), who became a Marxist in the early '30s after an initial adhesion to radical empiricism and neocriticism: he therefore viewed Marxism as epistemological criticism and gnoseology of a false conscience, of metaphysical and religious world views, of idealism, nihilism and social conservatism; and lastly, Stefan Rudnianski (1887-1941), one of the few Marxists in the first half of this century who came from a solid academic background and was basically a professional philosopher who dealt with the history of modern philosophy and the theory of knowledge, especially in relation to dialectical materialism (in the light of which he dealt in particular with the subject-object dialectic).


Institutionalised Marxism

With the setting up of the Communist regime at the end of World War II, the history of Marxism entered a completely new phase. Although the situation was initially a favourable one, the Marxists adopted an attitude of considerable moderation under the leadership of Wladyslaw Gomulka. After the death of Krzywicki Marxism had no scholars of note: its main representatives were journalists and polemicists forged by political struggle rather than scholars with a solid academic background. As in the first half of the century, therefore, Marxism continued to be interpreted as a philosophy along the lines of scientific empiricism, ignoring its links with classical German philosophy. Knowledge of Marxism-Leninism was still poor and fragmentary and its philosophy was thought to be a continuation of the rationalistic tradition running from Descartes to Carnap, thus ignoring the fact that it had its roots in classical German philosophy. This had also been a typical feature of Marxism prior to World War I and so from this point of view there cannot be said to have been a break in continuity.

The Marxists also had to come to grips with the lively, vigorous reawakening in Polish philosophy of trends linked to its traditional components - Catholic philosophy, the phenomenological school and, in particular, the Lvov-Warsaw School which, despite the losses it had suffered during the War and the emigration of some of its most significant representatives (notably  Jan Lukasiewicz , A. Tarski , H. Mehlberg and B. Sobocinski ), represented a wealth of knowledge and an unparalleled example which continued to bear fruit in the work produced by those scholars who had remained in Poland (including T. Kotarbinski and T. Czezowski ) and in the generation of younger scholars who were slowly maturing under their guidance.

Gradually, thanks to the efforts of the Communist Party, a new generation of Marxist intellectuals was formed, counting among its members Julian Hochfeld , Wladyslaw Krajewski, Adam Schaff and Stefan Zolkiewski. The only one with an academic background was Adam Schaff, who had taken a degree in philosophy at the University of Moscow and, on his return to Poland with the Red Army, had been given the first Polish chair in Marxist Philosophy at Warsaw University in 1948. In this position Schaff exerted his intellectual patronage in the defence of orthodoxy and was considered to be the official ideologist of the Polish Communist Party. This role was further strengthened by the publication of the first systematic post-war Polish treatise on Marxist philosophy to be based on accurate knowledge of Marxist texts, even though its interpretation of Marxism was clearly influenced by Soviet propaganda and mainly based on a free paraphrase of existing classics (especially of Soviet origin).

In the late 1940s the political situation changed drastically with the fall of Gomulka and the rise to power of pro-Soviet elements: the Stalinist era had begun. The first consequence was a gradual disappearance of a tolerant attitude in the field of culture and Marxism's increasing alignment with the Marxism-Leninism imported from the Soviet Union, with a sudden increase in the tendency to consider anything that departed from the orthodox as "bourgeois". On the strength of an interpretation of Lenin's works (especially Materialism and Empiriocriticism), the thesis of the party-based nature of philosophy was defended, i.e. the view that the whole history of philosophy was a struggle between materialism and idealism, the latter comprising any philosophical trend that was not strictly Marxist in the sense canonised by Stalin in his Dialectic and Historical Materialism. This led to a decisive ideological attack on all the non-Marxist philosophical currents existing in Poland at the time, i.e. Catholic philosophy, phenomenology and the Lvov-Warsaw School, to the demolition of whose "myth" great attention was paid. Schaff took a leading role in the battle, criticising in particular the semantics of Kazimierz Ajdukiewicz , who was accused of "idealism"; other orthodox Marxists who took part included Leszek Kolakowski and Bronislaw Baczko.

On the death of Stalin (March 1953) hints of a self-critical attitude towards the way in which the polemic against the non-Marxist philosophical currents had been conducted began to spread, and a certain strength was acquired by the views of people such as the logician Roman Suszko (1919-1979) who, although a Marxist, had tried to foster constructive debate, rejecting summary judgements and avoiding automatic connections between philosophical criticism and socio-political criticism.

A clear sign of the change in the philosophical and political climate was given by the change in the Marxist attitude towards formal logic and its relationship with dialectical logic, an issue that had traditionally been a bone of contention between Marxist thinkers and non-Marxist logicians. In effect, studies in formal logic were too deeply rooted in Polish philosophy to prevent them from developing, which they continued to do in the Lvov-Warsaw School. In 1955 Schaff recognised that the source of the Marxist critique of formal logic was the ambiguous way in which it viewed contradiction: in Marxist classics contradiction simply expresses the fact that things and phenomena possess a "polar structure" that can be empirically identified, and the opposition between contrary forces and trends is the origin of movement and development. But contrariety, polarity, the opposition of forces or even the existence of two different aspects in an object are one thing; contradiction, as viewed by formal logic, is another. The confusion between contrariety and contradiction, which goes back to Hegel, was to cause subsequent confusion on the part of the Marxists, criticism of the principle of non-contradiction and therefore of formal logic, as happens, for instance, when one tries to deduce the need to admit the contradictory nature of reality from the existence of movement. Schaff refers to Lukasiewicz's essay on the principle of non-contradiction in Aristotle, but the most immediate connection is with an essay by his greatest opponent, Ajdukiewicz, dedicated to a critique of the connection between change and contradiction.

This more tolerant attitude corresponded in the political sphere to the return to power of Gomulka who resumed his position as Party Secretary in October, 1956, after a series of protests and strikes (the tragic culmination of which was the Poznan uprising of June 28-29th 1956).

Polish Marxism now entered a new phase. 1956 was the year in which the so-called "Marxist Revisionism" gained strength: starting with an article by Kolakowski, its main representatives were Baczko and later Schaff (who proposed a "Marxist Humanism" that was to enjoy a great deal of fortune in the West).

One of the most active thinkers was Kolakowski, whose activity had a more explicit and immediate political significance. In a series of articles collected under the title Responsibility and History, written in 1957, he attacked Marxist historical determinism, which bases Party policy on the idea that history is the final judge of human action. He opposes this view with the importance of individual moral judgement, which is above any form of conditioning by socio-economic forces. This directly challenged the official doctrine of the Party, causing Gomulka himself to react by attacking him personally at the 9th Party Plenum in 1957. The publication of an article on the concept of truth in Marx in 1959 caused him to lose his job as editor of "Studia Filozoficzne" and in a later article he criticised Marxism which had degenerated into a religious dogma defended by a caste of priests. His growing distaste for Communism and his disappointment with Gomulka's failure to introduce reform, which Kolakowski expressed at a student meeting at the University of Warsaw in October 1966, along with the anti-Semitic climate of the time, caused him to be expelled from the University in March 1968, after which he was forced to emigrate and teach abroad.

Other thinkers moved towards an attempt to make Marxist philosophy more scientific through a recovery of national and European epistemological and logical thought. A pioneering role was taken by Suszko and also by Helena Eilstein, who stressed the importance of taking the method of natural sciences as a model for philosophy, and Stefan Amsterdamski. There was a certain opening up towards European culture, thanks to the opportunity offered by scholarships and periods of stay in Anglo-Saxon countries. This gave several Marxists a familiarity with the philosophy of science and contemporary logic, whose methods they often adopted: of significance in this sense is the organisation, in 1957, of the first seminar on the philosophy of science, attended by all the Polish scholars in this field, whether they were Marxists or not. They discussed the works of Carnap, Reichenbach, Popper, Hempel, Nagel, Bunge and Grunbaum, and began to make contact with scholars from other countries. They also discussed the validity, or lack of it, of many of the theses propounded in the Marxist classics.

Two different philosophical trends thus came to be formed in the Marxist environment: the "scientific" school and the "humanistic" school. For the former philosophy in general was above all knowledge of the world and thus epistemology and methodology. It was seen as a sui generis science, based on specific sciences, whose concepts and methods it analysed using the tools of formal logic. With reference to Marxism, this means that its foundation was dialectical materialism, enriched with the methodological and logical progress made by contemporary epistemology, an explicit reference to the Polish analytical tradition and philosophical style. Not only had the much-feared "infection" by now taken place, but the Marxist doctrinal corpus privileged the economic works of the mature Marx, as well as the philosophical ideas of Engels and Lenin, in order to throw light on their scientific nature and their agreement with scientific philosophy, avoiding aprioristic speculation and preferring logic, clarity, and intersubjectivity. This scientific Marxist trend, initiated by Krajewski, was obviously heterogeneous and its scientific nature was interpreted in various ways: some saw it as mainly being based on the popularisation of Leninist and Stalinist ideas concerning dialectical materialism (e.g. J. Ladosz); others saw it as historical materialism, as a general interpretation of history, the correct version of which was supplied by the leading role of the Communist Party; others again tried to make Marxism more scientific by eliminating all its coarse, unacceptable elements and reconciling it with science, making it as rational as possible and in agreement with both common sense and the methodological requirements of contemporary epistemological thought: this is what was done by the group of scholars which formed at the Institute of Philosophy of the University of Poznan, giving rise to the so-called Poznan School. This Marxist "scientism" had a number of positive effects on real Socialism: it created a type of Marxism that was alien to ideological controversy and more independent of political conditioning, thus allowing later generations of scholars to distance themselves from the vulgar forms of Marxism that had been cultivated up to that time.

The initiator of the "humanistic" or "anthropological" school was Kolakowski, and its leading figures included B. Baczko, K. Pomian, S. Morawski and later on Schaff himself, who initially took up a neutral stance (as required by official Party ideology). This school thought that philosophy should deal above all with man and human action; it was therefore inspired by the tradition of classical German philosophy and other philosophical currents that were widespread at the time (such as phenomenology and existentialism). Philosophy thus became an autonomous domain of thought, with its own method, unlike the dialectic or hermeneutic method of the natural sciences. The aspects of Marxism privileged by the school were historical materialism and human action as the creator of knowledge in relation to social context. Although Hegelism, existentialism and phenomenology were criticised, just as the former current had criticised neopositivism, they appreciated its methods, which they opposed to the "positivism" of the "scientific school". They obviously preferred the works of the younger Marx (as Schaff did), along with those of Lukacs and Gramsci, and rediscovered authors such as Brzozowski .

The progressive involution of Gomulka's politics led to a repression of such "revisionist" ferment. 1968 was not only the year in which the "revisionists" were defeated and there was a mass purge in Poland (connected with the violent anti-Semitic campaign which started in March), but above all the year of the "Prague Spring", suffocated by tanks from the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries (August 1968). The most advanced Marxists, such as Kolakowski, Baczko, the sociologist Bauman and the famous aesthetic scholar Stanislaw Morawski, were dismissed.

The fall of Gomulka and the rise to power of Gierek in 1970 led to a gradual "de-ideologisation" of the system; in the field of culture, art and philosophy, this gave rise on the one hand to an extremely sinister opportunism on the part of the bureaucratic intelligentsia, and on the other to open dissidence, which clearly denounced Marxist-Leninist ideology, by now routinely practised and ritualistically proposed as the only correct ideology. The final bankruptcy of real Socialism was announced by the progressive disappearance of the conception of a Marxist world, which has become even clearer in the last two decades. The strength of the dissidents increased even more in the late '70s with the creation of the Workers' Defence Committee (KOR) led by Jacek Kuron, which counted among its numbers eminent intellectuals, scientists, artists, priests and journalists. The activity of this and similar organisations was flanked by a flourishing clandestine press, which published censured works and counter-information bulletins and journals.

This obviously did not mark the end of Marxist philosophy, but it caused the disappearance of its hegemonic role in Polish culture. With the significant exception of the Poznan School, Marxism had split up into a number of trends and positions linked to the personalities of individual scholars, increasingly independent of any orthodoxy and much more closely connected with European thought. Many thinkers embraced an anthropological interpretation of Marxism (including some of those who had previously opposed such a stance): along the lines indicated by Schaff, this interpretation was supported by T.M. Jaroszewski, J. Kuczynski, M. Fritzhand, B. Suchodolski, R. Panasiuk, Z. Cackowski and J. Baka. Others, such as M. Hempolinski, A. Synowiecki, W. Mejbaum and M. Siemek, took up more personal lines of research.

In the repressive climate following the coup led by General Jaruselski in December 1981, which mostly hit philosophers who had come out most strongly in favour of Solidarnosc, it became more and more difficult to be dissidents and Marxists at the same time, as Marxism became increasingly suspect in Polish culture. With the fall of Communism and the first free elections since the War (June 4th, 1989), Marxist philosophy seemed to have disappeared completely and its old supporters either kept quiet or converted to other, more acceptable, philosophies.

Selected Bibliography

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