[dropcap]I[/dropcap] had always wanted to go to Poland, but I couldn’t imagine how. When I was twenty, I thought maybe I’d meet a girl on a train, and…well, see the delicious plot of the movie Before Sunrise. But that was a long time ago, in the days of what turned out to be the false dawn of “The Thaw.” The 1990s dawn of what Poles called “The Transition” was less romantic, more grimly real. Today’s Polish political culture seems to be dominated by a cruel Center Right—“the employers’ party,” people called it—linked with an aggressive Church doing its best to erase memories of Pope John XXIII. I was lectured by a reporter from one of the center-right dailies, who told me why Lodz, once the garment center of Eastern and Central Europe, had disintegrated: “The workers got lazy. They wanted to go surfing.” I asked where the surf was in Lodz. In Polish he cursed my foolishness and said, “You, an American, should know this. There’s only one reason businesses fall apart: the workers.” I thought, Oy vey!
The years since the fall of the Berlin Wall have seen very fast deindustrialization. (The collapse of Lodz is a dramatic case. I didn’t get to see the Lenin Shipyards—or rather ex-shipyards—in Gdansk, but that is another. The “look” evokes Detroit and many other cities of our “rust belt.“) But there was little or no left response. Would-be radicals seemed paralyzed by the stigma of half a Soviet century. Krytyka Polityczna projects a new sense of possibility. The people we met in Warsaw, their headquarters, and in several other cities were mostly in their twenties; their founder, Slawomir Sierakowski (“Slavo”), is in his early thirties. They are scornful of the commissars’ mix of cruelty and stupidity; they say it has nothing to do with them. They translated my book, Adventures in Marxism (Verso, 1999), with a cover picture of Marx on a motorcycle. Their liveliness and free-floating energy remind me of the New Left’s glory days, in its Port Huron phase, before the war, when life felt like a new dawn.
Read the full article by Marshall Berman on Dissent.