Wolfgang Weber
Poland 1980-1981: The Solidarity Movement and the Perspective of Political Revolution

Jacek Kuron’s “Open Letter to the Party” and the Perspectives of the KOR

The Political Program of 1964: Overthrow of the Bureaucracy and Establishment of Soviet Democracy

In 1964, Jacek Kuron and Karol Modzelewski drew up a document for discussion within the Stalinist organizations. It subjected the ruling bureaucracy to sharp criticism and called for its overthrow by the working class. Both men had been politically active during the “Polish October” in 1956, and then had become leading members of the Stalinist youth association, where they championed—in vain—the implementation of the reforms promised in 1956. At the time they were elaborating their discussion text in 1964, they were assistants at the Historical Institute of the University of Warsaw.

After the confiscation of this document and their temporary arrest, they developed it into an “Open Letter to the Members of the Polish United Workers’ Party” and sent it out to the members of all Stalinist organizations known to them, organizations from which they had in the meantime been expelled. Again arrested and convicted of “activities inimical to the state,” they spent several years in prison. Then, just after their release, they took part in the student revolt of 1968 and were again placed under arrest and sentenced to three-and-a-half-year jail terms. The public prosecutor declared that both of them were “instigators of unrest” and that their “Open Letter” was a “collection of all the anti-socialist conceptions which have been formulated by foreign and native revisionists as well as by the theoreticians of the Fourth International.”

At first glance, there is a striking similarity between the arguments and demands of the “Open Letter” and the demands of the Transitional Program, the founding program of the Fourth International written by Leon Trotsky. Kuron and Modzelewski call for the overthrow of the bureaucracy by a workers’ revolution, for the establishment of genuine workers’ democracy with control by the working class of production, distribution and the administration of society. In contrast to Trotsky, however, they do not characterize the bureaucracy as a parasitic layer representing a degeneration of the dictatorship of the working class, but as a new “ruling class of a system of exploitation.” In a number of chapters, they attempt to describe and substantiate this thesis.

One could take the view that these theoretical differences play little or no role, as long as agreement exists on the immediate conclusions and political demands. Indeed, precisely through such reasoning, Kuron and Modzelewski, as well as their disciples such as Adam Michnik, have been characterized as a “Marxist current” by the Pabloites and other revisionist tendencies.[1] But this would be completely false. Behind the theoretical and terminological differences with Trotskyism in this 1964-65 document are political perspectives which are totally hostile to the interests of the international working class and to the perspectives of world revolution. These differences led their advocates, who in 1964 had held very radically-sounding views, to adopt right-wing positions by 1980-81. In those critical years, these advocates contributed to preventing the working class from carrying out the political revolution. The very same Kuron and Modzelewski who 15 years earlier had called upon the proletariat to overthrow the bureaucracy now secured the rule of this bureaucracy against the working class.

Kuron’s and Modzelewski’s “Application” of Marxist Concepts

Kuron and Modzelewski begin their document with the correct statement that nationalized ownership of the means of production, as it was introduced after 1945 under the Red Army occupation and by the bureaucracy it installed, does not mean, contrary to official dogma, that what exists in Poland is automatically, socialist productive relations. The two expose this doctrine of the ruling bureaucracy as a formal, juridical argument: “The concept of state property can conceal different social contents, dependent on the class character of the state.”[2]

Following this, however, the authors themselves remain on the level of formal analogies and juridical definitions. They replace a historical-materialist class analysis by bourgeois group sociology embellished with Marxist terms, in which “groups,” free of social classes, play an independent role:

“State ownership of the means of production is only a property form; the property belongs to the social groups [!] controlling the state. In a nationalized economic system only those who participate in the decision-making by governmental bodies, or those who have some influence on these bodies, can influence the mass of economic decisions (consequently the use of the means of production and the division and utilization of the social product). Political power is linked to power over the process of production and distribution.

“Who has the power in our state? One party has a monopoly, the United Polish Workers Party.”[3]

Ostensibly, the authors make use of the Marxist principle that production and the manner in which it is organized are the basis of every social order and stress the necessity of examining the relations of production. In their elaboration of this, they employ a number of Marxist concepts and state the following:

“the leaders of the bureaucracy consider themselves the representatives of the interests of the working class! If we want to judge this system not by its leaders’ pronouncements but by the actual facts, we must analyze the class character of the bureaucracy. The fact that it holds power neither predetermines its class nature nor satisfactorily explains it. What is decisive in this regard is the productive relationships. We must then examine the process of production and the relationships entered into by the workers, the basic creator of the national income, on the one hand, and by the central political bureaucracy, the holder of the means of production, on the other.”[4]

They then demonstrate with a statistical examination of the distribution of the national income how the major share of the surplus product created by the working class, (i.e., of those products which exceed the amount necessary to maintain the working class as a productive force) is expropriated and consumed by the “central political bureaucracy” and its apparatus. In a formal analogy to the manner in which Karl Marx presented the capitalist mode of production, they then draw the following conclusions:

“Under the prevailing system, the workers get only their necessary living expenses in wages and services. Their surplus product is taken from them by force (they have no control over the amount or how it is allocated) and used for ends which are alien and even inimical to them. Therefore they are exploited—they receive only enough of their product to cover their minimum needs and find the entire power of the state arrayed against them; the product of their own labor confronts them as an alien or hostile force and thus does not belong to them....

“Thus the workers are exploited because they are deprived of the ownership of the means of production—they must sell their labor-power to live....

“To whom do the workers sell their labor-power in our country? To those who hold the means of production in their hands, the central political bureaucracy. By virtue of that, the central political bureaucracy is a ruling class—it has exclusive control over the basic means of production; it buys the labor-power of the workers; it takes their surplus product from them by naked force and economic coercion and uses it for purposes alien or hostile to the workers, namely, to reinforce and extend its own control over production and society. In our system this is the dominant form of property relations, the basis of productive and social relationships.”[5]

The first chapters of the “Open Letter” in particular—from them, these quotations were taken—have been extolled by the Pabloites and bourgeois sociologists as a Marxist analysis of society in Eastern Europe.[6] In fact, the manner in which the authors in their “analysis” apply Marxist concepts reveals, quite to the contrary, that involved here is a complete distortion and falsification of the methods and outlook of Marx and Engels.

Marx Against Proudhon and Kuron

Karl Marx carried out the decisive break with bourgeois economy and developed political economy into a science on the basis of the newly won materialist outlook, “that all social and political relations, all religious and legal systems, all theoretical conceptions which arise in the course of history can only be understood if the material conditions of life during the relevant epoch have been understood, and the former are traced back to these material conditions....”[7] By a critical sifting through of immense historical material and the investigation of all previous economic theories, Marx demonstrated that the economic categories and concepts, in which people and particularly the ideologues of the ruling class at that time understood their social order and the mode of production then in existence, have their material source in the prevailing production relations themselves, and therefore of necessity have a historic character. In a famous letter to Pavel W. Annenkov, Marx writes the following:

“Thus M. Proudhon, mainly because he lacks the historical knowledge, has not perceived that as men develop their productive forces, that is, as they live, they develop certain relations with one another and that the nature of these relations must necessarily change with the change and growth of the productive forces. He has not perceived that economic categories are only the abstract expressions of these actual relations and only remain true while these relations exist. He therefore falls into the error of the bourgeois economists who regard these economic categories as eternal and not as historic laws which are only laws for a particular historical development, a development determined by the productive forces. Instead, therefore, of regarding the political-economic categories as abstract expressions of the real, transitory, historic, social relations, Monsieur Proudhon only sees, thanks to a mystic transposition, the real relations as embodiments of these abstractions. These abstractions themselves are formulae which have been slumbering in the heart of God the Father since the beginning of the world.”[8]

If the “Open Letter” is now examined in light of this question, it can easily be ascertained that Kuron and Modzelewski make the same fundamental error as did Proudhon. They take the categories of Marxist economy, such as wage labor, capital, surplus product, etc., as fixed concepts, emptied of their historical content, and use them like molds into which the social phenomena of the moment in Poland are poured—detached from their internal connection with the international class struggle. This formal, ahistorical method and the resulting distortion of the historical content of scientific Marxist concepts are particularly conspicuous in the key passage of their “Analysis of Production Relations,” where they seek to define the bureaucracy as the “ruling class” and do so by utilizing the category of capital, of which, allegedly, the bureaucracy disposes.

Engels Versus Dühring and Kuron

In his struggle against the petty-bourgeois conceptions and attacks of Eugen Dühring on Marxism, Engels stresses the historical character of the category capital:

“Surplus labor, labor beyond the time required for the laborer’s own maintenance, and appropriation by others of the product of this surplus labor, the exploitation of labor, is therefore common to all past forms of society, insofar as these moved in class antagonisms. But it is only when the product of this surplus labor assumes the form of surplus value, when the owner of the means of production finds the free laborer—free from social fetters and free from possessions of his own—as an object of exploitation, and exploits him for the purpose of the production of commodities, it is only then, according to Marx, that the means of production assume the specific character of capital.... Herr Dühring on the contrary declares that every sum of the means of production is capital, which forms ‘shares in the fruits of the general labor power’, that is, produces surplus labor in any form. In other words, Herr Dühring annexes the surplus labor discovered by Marx, in order to use it to kill the surplus value, likewise discovered by Marx, which for the moment does not suit his purpose.... The idea, however, that capital is simply ‘means of production already produced’ is once again the accepted view only in vulgar economics. Outside of this vulgar economics which Herr Dühring holds so dear, the ‘means of production already produced,’ or any sum of values whatever, only becomes capital by producing profit or interest, i.e., by appropriating the surplus product of unpaid labor in the form of surplus value, and, moreover, by appropriating it in these two definite subforms of surplus value.”[9]

Kuron and Modzelewski employ precisely this same vulgar economic conception that capital is every accumulation of the “means of production and of sustenance,” of things already produced, in order to depict the bureaucracy as a class, which, analogous to the private capitalists disposing of capital, disposes of state capital”:

“In our system, there is no private capital. The factories, the mines, mills and all their products are state property. But, since the state is in the hands of the central political bureaucracy, which collectively controls the means of production and exploits the workers, themeans of production and maintenance in their entirety have been transformed into a single centralized national ‘capital.’ The material power of the bureaucracy, the extent of its domination over the productive process, its international position (extremely important to a class organized as a group embodying the state), depend on the size of the national capital. The bureaucracy thus seeks to increase it, to expand the productive apparatus and investment. The bureaucracy is the expression of the national capital, of its tendency to expansion, just as a capitalist is of his individual capital.”[10]

The Theory of State Capitalism

In place of a historical-critical analysis, Kuron and Modzelewski draw their conclusions from formal logic: private capitalists dispose of the means of production and sustenance—the sum of these things already produced is capital; in Poland the bureaucracy disposes of these things that are a part of state property—thus, these products are “state capital” and, consequently, the relations of production are “state capitalism” with the bureaucracy being the ruling class.

Trotsky, in the struggle against the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy, developed a Marxist, historical materialist evaluation of the Soviet Union and of its ruling regime. He pointed out, in opposition to such theories of “state capitalism in the USSR,” that the working class through the October Revolution and through the measures taken by the government under Lenin—the nationalization of industry, the banks, large landed property, the introduction of a planned economy and the monopoly of foreign trade—had taken the first and, up to that time, the most significant step in history to abolish the capitalist mode of commodity production for the creation of surplus value. The fact that, due to the relative economic backwardness of the country and its continued encirclement by the capitalist world market, the socialist mode of production could not yet be attained, characterizes the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries as societies in transition. However, that does not change the historical and social content of the production relations created by the October Revolution, of the nationalized planned economy, which to this day not even the bureaucracy has been able to reverse. Rather, only on the basis of these production relations, the bureaucracy could acquire its privileged position and social function as the “top planner and distributor,” while at the same time politically disenfranchising and oppressing the working class.

On the other hand, the authors of the “Open Letter” do not even try to analyze to what extent and in what form the production of commodities has been thrust back by nationalized, planned production or whether it continues to dominate in Poland, Eastern Europe and the USSR. Nor do they investigate the decisive question whether and to what degree the gains of the October Revolution—even if in a degenerated and distorted form under the Stalinist bureaucracy—have been extended by the planned economy and by nationalization in Eastern Europe. Neither do they examine whether the state in these countries is a means for the maintenance or development of capitalist production of commodities for surplus value. In other words, contrary to their assertions, they take no position on the question of the class character of state power in Eastern Europe or Poland.

The ahistorical and vulgar economic concept of capital as an accumulation of material things, of the “means of production and of sustenance” and not as an expression of social relations possessing a historical character enables them to place the production relations created by the October Revolution and extended to Eastern Europe after World War II side by side and on the same historical level as capitalist production relations. Thus, they maintain “the bureaucracy is the expression of the national capital, of its tendency to expansion, just as a capitalist is of his individual capital.”[11] Accordingly, there would be, as Engels asserts, “not only the movable and immovable wealth of the Corinthian and Athenian citizens, built on a slave economy, but also the wealth of the large Roman landowners of the period of the emperors, and equally the wealth of the feudal barons of the Middle Ages, insofar as it in any way served production—all these forms of wealth without distinction are capital.”[12]

It is obvious that for such ahistorical, vulgar economics, it is impossible, indeed it cannot even be posed as a task, to discover how and why certain production relations in history have been superseded by others. Actually, the authors of the “Open Letter” do not say in their entire 70-page document how and on the basis of what economic necessities and historical tendencies the production relations created by the insurrectionary proletarian masses under the leadership of the Bolsheviks are supposed to have been overthrown and replaced by new ones. They also do not explain to what extent this new mode of production, “the production relations of the central political bureaucracy,” as they call it, stands historically and economically higher than the preceding one.

Bourgeois Sociology instead of Marxism

In actuality, the working class has been able up until now to defend the nationalized planned economy against the wars of intervention and the imperialist onslaught of World War II as a transitional stage to the higher socialist mode of production, which can only be completed on an international scale. However, it could not guard the Soviet Union against degeneration resulting from the international defeats of the proletariat and from the destruction of the Bolshevik Party and the Third International by Stalin. And when Kuron and Modzelewski speak of “production relations peculiar to the bureaucracy,” they in reality refer to the forms of appearance and to the consequences of this bureaucratic degeneration. More precisely, they deal with the distribution relations which they very aptly and in detail describe in the second chapter of the “Open Letter,” and they deal with the manner of distribution of the surplus product by the parasitic bureaucratic caste and with the bureaucratically distorted forms of state planning.

In their fraudulent manner of “employing Marxist tenets,” they do not, as did Trotsky, view the bureaucracy as the crucial obstacle to the complete, worldwide elimination of the bankrupt capitalist mode of production and to the further development and extension of the socialist mode of production in the degenerated and deformed workers’ states themselves, as well as on an international scale. But rather they proceed in reverse: The production relations—created in the October Revolution!—“have become a serious hindrance to the development of the productive forces.”[13] Hence, “the only and the inevitable solution to this crisis is abolition of these production relations [!] and the abolition of bureaucratic class rule along with them.”[14]

Thus, Kuron and Modzelewski transform Marxism from a method “to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society”[15] into a pedantic stringing together of “Marxist” concepts connected with one another by formal syllogisms and analogies, and into which social phenomena are sorted and filed away.

This is the method of bourgeois idealism and sociology, not of Marx. It has immediate and far-reaching consequences for the political perspectives of the authors of the “Open Letter.”

Marx laid bare the historical limits of the capitalist mode of production in the lawfulness of the production of commodities and movement of capital as an expression of objective social relations in capitalism. He demonstrated that the objective laws inherent in capitalist production, such as the law of value and, especially, the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, condemn the capitalist mode of production to historical demise and at the same time, create the material basis and forces to overcome it: the socialization of production, the international division of labor as the premise of a socialist society, and the modern industrial proletariat as the revolutionary force that can abolish the old system and establish the new, more advanced mode of production. That means: Marx and all Marxists, such as Lenin and Trotsky, derive their strategy of proletarian revolution scientifically from the objective laws, contradictions and historical tendencies of the old capitalist society itself. They consciously conceive of their own thinking as the expression of the historical interests of the working class.

In contrast, Kuron and Modzelewski cannot scientifically justify their call for the overthrow of the bureaucracy. Hence, their thinking remains merely an expression of individual protest against a social power. Precisely because the necessity for its downfall is not derived from the historic-economic laws of development, but rather from a radical reasoning process flowing out of the description of unjust conditions in Poland, the bureaucracy truly appears as something omnipotent, permanent and invincible.

Furthermore, with their ahistorical method, they see none of the gains of the overturn of capitalist relations of production in the Soviet Union and the deformed workers’ states as worth defending. This basically paves the way, given certain conditions that will be explained later, for their turn away from mobilizing the working class for the overthrow of the bureaucracy. It paves the way for them to place their hopes instead on downright reactionary social currents and institutions like the Catholic Church or—after the declaration of martial law—even in the UN or representatives of American imperialism, who link up the opposition to the Stalinist bureaucracy with the perspective of counterrevolution, of restoring capitalism in Eastern Europe.[16]

Theoretical Basis for Later Right-Wing Positions

Thus, as early as 1964-65, this document already contained the theoretical basis for the right-wing, reformist positions which Kuron, Modzelewski and the KOR later championed, even if the political demands of that time still had a radical tinge. From the mid-1970s at least, Kuron on every occasion urgently warned the working class against entertaining ideas of overthrowing the bureaucracy. He used his influence with Solidarity to oppose every demand for free elections to soviets, for the construction of a workers’ party independent of the state and government, in short, to prevent the working class from organizing independently of the Stalinist bureaucracy and its apparatus and thus fashioning its own program. In a 1979 article “The Current Situation and the Tasks of the Opposition,” that was seminal for the policies of KOR and the “experts” in 1980-81, Kuron wrote:

“I am convinced that unrest, an explosion of rage, would be a misfortune for all of us. It must be avoided at all costs. Even if there were no Soviet intervention, we have known since December 1976 that our authorities will not shy away even from mass murder; they will expend even more force for this task. I am convinced that the entire democratic opposition will achieve a democratic form of government and independence by peaceful and gradual means. To aim at overthrowing the current regime today is, in my view, an expression of adventurism. The social costs of such an undertaking are incalculable, its success worse than precarious; so much the more likely is its degeneration into a national tragedy....

“Hence, I propose developing a movement of social pressure (a movement that raises demands) within the framework of the official structures. With such an orientation this kind of movement will not aim at any fundamental overthrow of the regime, but merely at improving it.”[17]

The contrast between this 1979 document and the program and demands of the “Open Letter” appear quite striking. But it does not represent any kind of breach with Kuron’s and Modzelewski’s basic world outlook and class position of 1964-65, even though at that time they called for the overthrow of the bureaucracy. This is the world outlook and method of the radical petty bourgeois, who draws his superficial “revolutionary optimism” not from scientifically grounded, comprehensive perspectives developed over the total history of the Marxist movement, but rather, from his enthusiasm about the radicalism and “genius” of his own thought products and demands based on impressions and eclectically snatched up alien ideas; these are the class positions of the radical petty bourgeois who views the working class only as an oppressed class in need of the advice and help of the “experts” and not as the decisive revolutionary force in society; these are the political perspectives of the radical petty bourgeois who addresses the working class with appeals and uses the proletariat as a forum for his ideas, but who is skeptical of and even openly hostile to the actions and capacities of the working class as soon as it does not instantaneously respond to his “revolutionary calls” or even has the audacity to act contrary to his counsel and sets out to make the revolution, which in the meantime, he has for a long time considered to be too dangerous and a “national tragedy.”

In his above-mentioned letter to Annenkov, Karl Marx points out this relationship between the ahistorical, idealist method of the radical petty bourgeois and the latter’s reformist political positions, which are hostile to the working class and its revolutionary mobilization:

“In place of the great historic movement arising from the conflict between the productive forces already acquired by men and their social relations, which no longer correspond to these productive forces; in place of the terrible wars which are being prepared between the different classes within each nation and between different nations; in place of the practical and violent action of the masses, by which alone these conflicts can be resolved—in place of this vast, prolonged and complicated movement, Monsieur Proudhon supplies the evacuating motion of his own head.

“So it is the men of learning, the men who know how to get God’s secret thoughts out of him, who make history. The common people have only to apply their revelations. You will now understand why M. Proudhon is the declared enemy of every political movement. The solution of present problems does not lie for him in public action but in the dialectical contortions of his own mind....”[18]

The Theory of the Bureaucracy as a “Ruling Exploiting Class”

The pathway of Kuron and Modzelewski from the radical and courageous, though not scientifically grounded, call for the overthrow of the bureaucracy all the way to the cringing, reformist subordination to the Stalinist regime was marked in 1964-65 most of all by their conception of the bureaucracy as a “ruling exploiting class,” an outlook closely linked to their distortion of Marxist class analysis and Marxist political economy. As the previous quotations show, their line of argument is as follows: the bureaucracy controls the state and state property, it also possesses the power to dispose of the means of production and of the surplus product—that is enough to define the bureaucracy as a “ruling exploiting class.”

In order to make this radical-sounding notion fit into their schema of Marxist concepts and make the often-repeated analogy between the bureaucracy and the capitalist ruling class appear to be based on Marxist theory, Kuron and Modzelewski are compelled to turn historical materialism, the scientific conception of history developed by Marx and Engels, on its head. After declaring the Stalinist bureaucracy to be a ruling class solely on the basis of its possession of the power to dispose of the means of production, they now “deepen” their “analysis” with this observation:

“Every ruling class seeks to maintain, reinforce, and extend its hold over production and over society. It uses the surplus product to achieve these ends and it subordinates the process of production itself to this goal....

“Every ruling class sets the goal of social production. It does so obviously in its own class interest, with the intent of tightening and extending its hold on production and society.”[19]

Whereas the capitalists, they continue, set their goal on maximizing their profits—the difference between the costs of production and the proceeds in the market place—the bureaucracy sets as its goal the increase of the surplus product within the framework of the economy as a whole. This surplus product “supplies the funds for investment as well as all the resources devoted to the maintenance and reinforcement of bureaucratic class rule.”[20]

These views have nothing in common with the scientific conceptions of Marx and Engels. In his settling of accounts with the vulgar materialist doctrines of Eugen Dühring, Engels explains the principles of historical materialism and of Marxist political economy in detail and in this connection makes the following comments on the capitalist mode of production:

“Anarchy reigns in social production. But commodity production, like all other forms of production, has its own laws, which are inherent in and inseparable from it; and these laws assert themselves in spite of anarchy, in and through anarchy. These laws are manifested in the sole form of social relationship which continues to exist, in exchange, and enforce themselves on the individual producers as compulsory laws of competition. At first, therefore, they are unknown even to these producers, and have to be discovered by them gradually only through long experience. They assert themselves therefore apart from the producers and against the producers, as the natural laws of their form of production, working blindly. The product dominates the producers.”[21]

In the cases of Dühring, Kuron and Modzelewski, however, it is not the process of production and its objective lawfulness which dominate the producers—the capitalists, as well as the workers—but rather the reverse. Here Dühring’s “man with the sword in his hand,” the capitalist or bureaucrat, dominates the process of production, subordinates it to his detestable objectives (profit or preservation of power). Accordingly, the subjective aims are no longer as for Marx and Engels merely derived forms of the reflection in which the “coercive laws of competition ... come to the consciousness of the individual capitalist as the directing motives.”[22] But rather, they become the point of departure, the sovereign and prescribed supreme law of social production: “Every ruling class sets the goal of social production”—“and subordinates the process of production itself to this goal”!

Kuron and Modzelewski base their case upon this adulteration of Marx and Engels, through which “every ruling class” has been made into a subject standing above and dominating the process of production. In the chapter “The Class Goal of Production,” they draw by implication the following inverse conclusion: the bureaucracy determines the goals of production—the capitalists, an exploiting class, establish the goals of production for capitalist society—hence, the bureaucracy likewise performs this function as a “ruling exploiting class.”

In drawing this conclusion, they base themselves on the indisputable fact that the bureaucracy actually establishes society’s total goals of production and can do so because it rests on the production relations created in the October Revolution. With these production relations, the world proletariat for the first time in history has begun to replace the anarchistic mode of production, subject to the blindly operating laws of capitalism, with planned production under the control of the immediate producers, the workers, and serving their needs. This opening of the greatest and most significant advance so far in the history of humanity, owing to the delays and defeats in the further course of the world revolution, has been limited for the time being to the Soviet Union and hence has degenerated and come to a dead stop. But that does not change a thing with respect to the historical and basic difference between the workers’ state and capitalist society. Nor is this fundamental difference erased by the fact that the Stalinist bureaucracy was in a position to usurp the role as the sole and key planner, the role as the omnipotent and supreme distributor and controller and thus to disenfranchise the working class politically.

For a certain period under specific historical conditions, the bureaucracy has been able to arrogate to itself state power as well as the social functions of planning. It “establishes production goals” and “disposes of the means of production,” while also distributing the surplus product. But to designate by reason of this fact alone the bureaucracy as a ruling class means, indeed, ascribing to this parasitic layer and abortion of history, to this product of social degeneration, a social strength and historical significance which it in no way possesses.

Trotsky on the Character of the Bureaucracy

In the 1930s, Otto Maschl, an Austrian social democrat living under the name of Lucien Laurat in France, advanced exactly the same theories disguised in Marxist formulas about a completely new type of class exploitation in the Soviet Union. Trotsky dealt with this ideological precursor of Kuron and Modzelewski and refuted the theory of economic class exploitation based on the appropriation of the surplus product by the bureaucracy. In this context, he explains the following on the social and historical character of the bureaucracy:

“The class has an exceptionally important and moreover a scientifically restricted meaning to a Marxist. A class is defined not by its participation in the distribution of the national income alone, but by its independent role in the general structure of economy and by its independent roots in the economic foundation of society. Each class (the feudal nobility, the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie, the capitalist bourgeoisie, and the proletariat) works out its own special forms of property. The bureaucracy lacks all these social traits. It has no independent position in the process of production and distribution. It has no independent property roots. Its functions relate basically to the political technique of class rule. The existence of a bureaucracy, in all its variety of forms and differences in specific weight, characterizes every class regime. Its power is of a reflected character. The bureaucracy is indissolubly bound up with a ruling economic class, feeding itself upon the social roots of the latter, maintaining itself and falling together with it.”[23]

Trotsky did not arrive at the characterization of the social layer ruling in the Soviet Union as a bureaucracy on the basis of formal logical analogies, but from continuous and precise investigations into the origin, social roots and political role of this new social caste in the developments of the international class struggle inside and outside the Soviet Union. Trotsky carried out these investigations in the course of an unrelenting struggle against the rise of the bureaucracy and its counterrevolutionary policies.

One year after the founding of the Fourth International and immediately after the outbreak of World War II, Trotsky had to take up the struggle against a tendency around Burnham and Shachtman within the Socialist Workers Party, the American Trotskyist movement. Under the pressure of US imperialism and its war preparations, this tendency broke with Marxism. It rejected the characterization of the USSR as a degenerated workers’ state and, like Kuron and Modzelewski, maintained that the Stalinist regime was headed by a “new ruling class” and differed in no way from the imperialist powers.

Trotsky once again summarizes the social content and historical position of the bureaucracy: “Scientifically and politically—and not purely terminologically—the question poses itself as follows: Does the bureaucracy represent a temporary growth on a social organism or has this growth already become transformed into a historically indispensable organ? Social excrescences can be the product of an ‘accidental’ (i.e., temporary and extraordinary) enmeshing of historical circumstances. A social organ (and such is every class, including an exploiting class) can take shape only as a result of the deeply rooted inner needs of production itself. If we do not answer this question, then the entire controversy will degenerate into sterile toying with words.

“The historical justification for every ruling class consisted in this—that the system of exploitation it headed raised the development of the productive forces to a new level. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the Soviet regime gave a mighty impulse to economy. But the source of this impulse was the nationalization of the means of production and the planned beginnings and by no means the fact that the bureaucracy usurped command over the economy. On the contrary, bureaucratism, as a system, became the worst brake on the technical and cultural development of the country. This was veiled for a certain time by the fact that Soviet economy was occupied for two decades with transplanting and assimilating the technology and organization of production in advanced capitalist countries. The period of borrowing and imitation still could, for better or for worse, be accommodated to bureaucratic automatism, i.e., the suffocation of all initiative and all creative urge. But the higher the economy rose, the more complex its requirements became, all the more unbearable became the obstacle of the bureaucratic regime. The constantly sharpening contradiction between them leads to uninterrupted political convulsions, to systematic annihilation of the most outstanding creative elements in all spheres of activity. Thus, before the bureaucracy could succeed in exuding from itself a ‘ruling class,’ it came into irreconcilable contradiction with the demands of development. The explanation for this is to be found precisely in the fact that the bureaucracy is not the bearer of a new system of economy peculiar to itself and impossible without itself, but is a parasitic growth on a workers’ state. The Soviet oligarchy possesses all the vices of the old ruling classes, but lacks their historical mission. In the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet state, it is not the general laws of modem society from capitalism to socialism which find expression, but a special, exceptional and temporary refraction of these laws under the conditions of a backward revolutionary country in a capitalist environment. The scarcity in consumer goods and the universal struggle to obtain them generate a policeman who arrogates to himself the function of distribution. Hostile pressure from without imposes on the policeman the role of ‘defender’ of the country, endows him with national authority, and permits him doubly to plunder the country.”[24]

Today, almost 50 years later, nothing of this analysis has lost its relevance, least of all its historic perspective, which lies at its core: “Both conditions for the omnipotence of the bureaucracy—the backwardness of the country and the imperialist environment—bear, however, a temporary and transitional character and must disappear with the victory of the world revolution.”[25]

Rejection of the Political Revolution

The Trotskyist definition of the Stalinist bureaucracy as a historically transitory, degenerative phenomenon of the first workers’ state means that the mobilization of the working class in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe for the overthrow of the bureaucracy and the establishment of complete workers’ democracy, i.e., for the political revolution, is an inseparable component of the strategy for the world revolution. However, Kuron and Modzelewski, in according historical vigor and the role of a “ruling exploiting class” to the bureaucracy, implicitly deny the proletariat the capacity to carry through to completion this world revolution. Moreover, their call for the overthrow of the bureaucracy does not rise above the level of radical protest against some durable, totalitarian power, under which the working class is condemned to slavery for a considerable period in the future.

Since the overthrow of the bureaucracy is not historically and economically founded and is therefore basically unachievable, the program and political perspectives for the working class cannot be oriented to such a revolutionary goal, but must be restricted to the minimal program of bettering the lot of all the oppressed.

As is shown in his 1979 article, “The Current Situation and the Tasks of the Opposition,” 10 years after the “Open Letter,” Kuron had indeed drawn the political and practical conclusions of his world outlook and class position. In 1980-81, when the working class was organizing itself in Solidarity and taking up the struggle against the bureaucracy, when the overthrow of the bureaucracy and the seizure of power were placed on the agenda and had come within reach, Kuron at the crucial meeting of the National Conciliation Committee dealing with “The Situation in the Country and in Solidarity”[26] implored the proletariat to avoid revolution at all costs, to limit itself to economic demands and aid his “Program for Rescuing the Country”:

“The most important question in my opinion is whether we should or should not impose restrictions on ourselves. Ought this revolution place restrictions on itself? My opinion runs along these lines: If we do anything that the leaders of the USSR interpret as an attack, they will intervene. I have no doubt about that. That is why I believe this revolution should consciously rein itself in, so as to avoid this danger....

“An idea is now circulating to create a political party that will struggle for free elections and prepare an election program. I do not believe that we should accept that and, once again, for the same reason just cited: self-restriction. Beyond that, we should avoid such conflicts because the question of free elections in the present extremely tense situation in Poland would put off the attempt to exert greater pressure for achieving the necessary solutions to our problems.”[27]

Apology for Stalinism as “Historical Necessity”

In the first three chapters of the “Open Letter,” Kuron and Modzelewski elaborate their economic definition of the bureaucracy as a ruling class. Thereby they enter a course of subordination and capitulation to the bureaucracy. In the next chapter, under the heading “The Origin of the System,” their reformist perspective, and their hostility and contempt for the working class bound up with this economic definition is revealed even more clearly. Judging by this heading, one would expect the authors to make some attempt at analyzing the phenomenon of the Stalinist bureaucracy and its rule in Poland in its historical development and relationship with the international class struggle. Far from it! For Kuron and Modzelewski, the history of the bureaucracy’s rule begins after World War II on Polish soil. Of course, they allude in passing to “our government’s very great dependence on the Soviet bureaucracy,”[28] but they see no reason to come to more precise terms with the latter’s development and its historical and social role.

This question is decisive for appraising the class character of each of the Eastern European states and of the bureaucracies in charge there, and for the perspectives of the Polish as well as for the international working class. But it is dismissed by the authors of the “Open Letter” by inclusion of a subordinate clause, “the Soviet bureaucracy—long since elevated into a ruling class....”[29] How, why, when, through what civil wars and social revolutions was this “elevation” supposed to have occurred? What other types of property forms has the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union devised to replace those created by the October Revolution? Kuron and Modzelewski feel no obligation to answer any of these questions. The reason for their refusal is that behind their radical phrases about the bureaucracy being an “exploiting class” is concealed a reactionary apology for Stalinism, for the bureaucratic degeneration of the first workers’ state and for the Stalinist dictatorship in Poland. They state:

“However, we believe that this process was objectively conditioned by the country’s level of economic development and by its economic and social structure; this holds true for Czarist Russia as well as for the Poland of the interwar period, and for the great majority of countries in our camp. This process was conditioned as well by the relative international isolation of these countries (since the large industrial powers remained capitalist). When capitalism was abolished in these countries, they were backward, with meager industry and a great unused surplus of manpower evidencing itself in unemployment and, most of all, rural overpopulation. Their economies were, in one way or another, under the domination of the capitalists of the advanced imperialist nations.

“In such countries, only industrialization could bring real improvement in the material, social and cultural conditions of life of the rural and urban masses and insure progress for society as a whole. Industrialization, therefore, is in the interests of the entire society and constitutes the principal task of the new governments which abolished capitalism in the interests of the workers and ruled in their name.'[30]

This passage makes one thing clear. Their method of bourgeois sociology and their distortion of historical materialism has led the authors not only to ignore history but, completely in the tradition of the Stalinist school, to falsify it. In order to present the bureaucracy in Eastern Europe and in Moscow as a representative of the proletariat and of “the interests of the entire society,” as a caste that “abolished capitalism in the interests of the workers,” they must conceal the thoroughgoing counterrevolutionary role of the Stalinist bureaucracy since the beginning of the 1930s. Stalin’s ultraleft policies in Germany and his theory of the “social fascism” of the SPD (Social Democratic Party), which made Hitler’s assumption of power possible and paved the way for World War II; the popular front policies of the 1930s, which assured the survival of imperialism, despite the collapse of the world economy—none of these issues merits so much as a single reference by the authors.

The “Open Letter” Conceals Stalin’s Crimes

Stalin’s crimes, which weakened and beheaded the Polish working class, throwing it back for decades, are hushed up. These crimes include: the murder of the entire leadership of the Polish CP by Stalin’s GPU in 1939; Stalin’s pact with Hitler to divide up Poland; the Red Army’s passive witnessing of the suppression by the Nazis of the Warsaw uprising in 1944; finally, the redivision and geographical relocation of Poland’s boundaries in accordance with the treaties of Potsdam and Yalta, etc.

In the case of the postwar history, the authors go from concealment to direct falsification. Stalin and the potentates installed by him in Warsaw did not at first give a thought to overthrowing capitalism, but were at pains to strangle any revolutionary development in Poland, focusing instead on securing an alliance with the national bourgeoisie.[31] Not before changes in international class relations as a result of the Cold War and the Marshall Plan offensive made such an alliance impossible, did the bureaucracy go over to securing its own social basis by extending the nationalized relations of production and a planned economy to Eastern Europe. Still these measures, particularly the manner in which they were carried out, were dictated by the bureaucracy’s most fundamental interests as a privileged, parasitic formation and by its fear of the proletariat, whose revolutionary mobilization represented a threat to it. Yet for Kuron and Modzelewski, even the bureaucracy’s methods, its arbitrariness, its apparatus of suppression have been in the “interests of society as a whole”:

“However, the needs of industrialization required production for the sake of production. Industrialization was a raison d’etre, a primary goal of the new state. It pursued this end despite the specific interests of the other classes and social strata, indeed to a certain extent, against them. Against the peasants, forcibly deprived of their agricultural surplus and constantly threatened with expropriation en masse; against the workers, whose wages were kept at the lowest possible level—and even lower; against the intellectuals and the technocrats. The achievement of such industrialization required that they be deprived of any opportunity of expressing their special interests and of struggling to defend or fulfill them.

“Concentrating all political decisions, as well as control over the means of production and the collective product, in the hands of the new state required that production be freed from regulation by the market, and that the opportunities for the workers, technocrats or peasants to act on their own initiative be as strictly limited as possible. The ‘one-party’ system was introduced to meet these requirements. All other groups in society were prevented from having their own parties—first and foremost, the working class—by placing all organizations under state tutelage, by reinforcing the apparatus of constraint against the producers, by concentrating all news and propaganda media exclusively in the hands of an all-powerful elite, by eliminating the freedom of artists and intellectuals to create, and by establishing a centralized system of economic management. All this was accompanied by massive police terror.

“The elite, in thus concentrating in its hands alone social and political power, as well as power over the productive process and the division of the product created (i.e., ownership), made industrialization its class interest and, in a sense, its personal interest. It made ‘production for production’s sake’ its class goal and the basis for consolidating and extending its rule.

“This elite was thus transformed into a new ruling class, ‘the central political bureaucracy,’ and the state it ruled into a bureaucratic class dictatorship. It can be said, therefore, that the needs of industrializing an underdeveloped country gave birth to the bureaucracy as a ruling class....”[32]

These? are the same theories used by the Euro-Stalinists Carrillo and Elleinstein 10 years later to justify Stalinism: “The Stalinist phenomenon followed the socialist revolution and found its extension on the field of building socialism.... It was the product of the conditions created by history, i.e., by the specific-historic circumstances, by the role of certain people and by a national past that was special....”[33]

“Building Socialism in One Country”

The epistemology at the heart of these theories is the same empiricism and vulgar materialism which enabled Stalin to develop the reactionary perspective of “socialism in one country” in place of the perspective of world revolution. As a theory of knowledge, it views the immediate, transitory and limited phenomena as fixed things-in-themselves, as the very essence, and denies or ignores their all-embracing relationships and inner laws of motion. On this groundwork, Stalin separated the relative form and the momentary, national phenomena of the class struggle—the victory of the October Revolution, the establishment of the first workers’ state, its subsequent isolation and the problems of socialist construction under these conditions—from its international and historical content, from the revolutionary struggle of the world proletariat against capitalist property relations and imperialism. Out of his empirical impressions, Stalin created a world consisting of two camps or “blocs” that confronted each other in a rigid, dead antithesis, completely separated from one another, and therefore capable of peacefully coexisting with each other for decades. On one side, “the socialist camp” of the Soviet Union and later Eastern Europe and China, where within the national state boundaries socialism could gradually be built through the development of the industrial productive forces. On the other side was to be found “the imperialist camp,” in which the working class had no other task than to apply pressure on the respective bourgeoisies and to restrain them from waging war against the Soviet Union.

In such a way, Stalin revised the entire historical evaluation of our epoch as elaborated by the leading Marxists of this century. Lenin and Trotsky characterized imperialism as the epoch of the death agony of capitalism, in which the bourgeoisie is no longer in a position in any country to carry out historically progressive tasks. The two leaders of the October Revolution further saw it as an epoch in which the capitalist mode of production had penetrated not only the whole world, but had come up against its historical boundaries and could only continue to exist by resorting to barbarism, world wars and finally the destruction of all human culture.

For Lenin, Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg, the imperialist war was proof that the establishment of big industries within the framework of the nation-state and the struggle which the banks, the big corporations and the great powers, organized within these nation-states, are waging for the partition of the world, had been transformed from motor forces of historical progress, as in the previous century, into forces of destruction. It was further proof that the reorganization of world economy by the dictatorship of the proletariat on a socialist basis was not only possible, but represented in this century a direct necessity for the working class and for the further development of the productive forces on a higher level in a manner planned and controlled by those who produce. Yet hardly more than six years after the conclusion of the greatest slaughter of entire nations by the imperialists, Stalin declared the development of the productive forces within a national boundary as the strategy of historical progress in this century and as the road to socialism. This perspective corresponded not only to the immediate requirements of the petty and commercial bourgeoisie, strengthened by the “New Economic Policy” (NEP), but to the needs of the privileged state and party bureaucracy, which loathed and feared a continuation of the revolutionary struggles and upheavals begun in 1917. It corresponded in particular to the interests of the imperialist powers. They saw an end to the world revolution and the most favorable conditions for a renewal of efforts to reconquer the Soviet Union, militarily from the outside or from within by a counterrevolution, thanks to the fight waged under Stalin against the Marxist opposition around Leon Trotsky, and the subsequent murder of all the revolutionary leaders in the Moscow trials.

No Break with Stalinism

If one closely examines this complete revision of Marxism, which is the basis of Stalinism and its counterrevolutionary policies—its revision of the Marxist theory of knowledge, of the materialist conception of history, and of Marxism’s political perspectives for the working class—then one can easily verify that Kuron and Modzelewski have at no point broken with Stalinism or come any closer to Marxism. The pivotal point of their programmatic positions and perspectives of 1964-65, as well as of 1980-81, despite the variation and vacillation in their immediate demands, remains the same: like Stalin, they write off the independent revolutionary role of the world proletariat and its historical task. Guided by the theory of knowledge of empiricism and vulgar materialism and saturated by nationalism in their historical perspectives, they base themselves on a single political program: worship of the accomplished fact. Just as Stalin assigned the crucial and leading role in society not to the working class, but to other classes and layers—as, for example, to the national bourgeoisie under Chiang Kai-shek in China, to the social democratic trade union bureaucracy in the 1926 General Strike in Great Britain or finally, under the policy of the people’s front, to “progressive sections of the bourgeoisie”—so too Kuron, Modzelewski and later the KOR and the “experts” of Solidarity ascribe this independent, historical role to the Stalinist bureaucracy itself. They view the working class as an object of the bureaucracy and of its “historical deeds,” under which are included the industrialization of a relatively backward national state, the “development of the productive forces in Poland,” hence the “construction of socialism in one country”: “Industrialization, therefore, is in the interest of the entire society and constitutes the principal task of the new governments.... It can be said, therefore, that the needs of industrializing an underdeveloped country gave birth to the bureaucracy as a ruling class....”[34] The political disenfranchisement, oppression and terrorizing of the working class, the assassination of its revolutionary leaders is then for Kuron and Modzelewski an unfortunate, to be sure, but necessary by-product of the progressive action of the bureaucracy. As Santiago Carrillo, the Euro-Stalinist and Stalin’s devoted executioner in the Spanish Civil War, formulated it: “Under the concrete historical conditions, there was no other way.”[35]

Thus, according to this nationalistic and vulgar materialistic conception, the bureaucracy has fulfilled a historically progressive role, because under it, industries have been built up in Poland on the basis of nationalization. This assertion appears quite ridiculous today, given that General Jaruzelski and other representatives of this “necessary and progressive” regime are currently traveling around the imperialist countries, begging for credits and spare parts for idle and antiquated factories that had been equipped by capitalist companies in the 1970s and financed by Western banks. More essential for Marxists, however, is that the buildup of industry, the expropriation of the capitalists and nationalization of the means of production in a given country are not the decisive criteria for evaluating the regime that rules there. In this connection, Trotsky wrote the following in relation to the occupation of Poland in 1939 by the Red Army and the anticipated expropriation under the control of the Stalinist bureaucracy:

“Inasmuch as Stalin’s Bonapartist dictatorship bases itself not on private but on state property, the invasion of Poland by the Red Army should, in the nature of the case, result in the abolition of private capitalist property, so as thus to bring the regime of the occupied territories into accord with the regime of the USSR.

“This measure, revolutionary in character—‘the expropriation of the expropriators’—is in this case achieved in a military-bureaucratic fashion. The appeal to independent activity on the part of the masses in the new territories—and without such an appeal, even if worded with extreme caution, it is impossible to constitute a new regime—will on the morrow undoubtedly be suppressed by ruthless police measures in order to assure the preponderance of the bureaucracy over the awakened revolutionary masses. This is one side of the matter. But there is another. In order to gain the possibility of occupying Poland through a military alliance with Hitler, the Kremlin for a long time deceived and continues to deceive the masses in the USSR and in the whole world, and has thereby brought about the complete disorganization of the ranks of its own Communist International. The primary political criterion for us is not the transformation of property relations in this or another area, however important these may be in themselves, but rather the change in the consciousness and organization of the world proletariat, the raising of their capacity for defending former conquests and accomplishing new ones. From this one, and the only decisive standpoint, the politics of Moscow, taken as a whole, completely retains its reactionary character and remains the chief obstacle on the road to the world revolution.”[36]

Nationalism—the Path to Capitulation

However, precisely this criterion, the standpoint of internationalism and of the strategy of the world revolution, is so alien to Kuron and Modzelewski. That is why they do not in the least understand the international significance and role of the Stalinist bureaucracy as the chief pillar of imperialism against revolutionary uprisings both of their own Polish working class as well as those of the international proletariat. Their provincial nationalism, inherited from their Stalinist training, completely blinded them to the bureaucracy’s direct and indirect connections with imperialism, as well as to new turns in international class relations. Their petty-bourgeois nationalism led them to capitulate completely to the Stalinist bureaucracy in the 1970s, after having concluded in their “Open Letter” of 1965 that the “general crisis of the system” created the necessity and provided the possibility for overthrowing the bureaucracy. But they deduced this conclusion from observations of the current state of affairs, the contradictions of the Polish national economy alone.

Their analysis of the economic crisis (Chapters 5-8 of the “Open Letter”) views Polish society as though its economy was self-contained, detached and independent of all ties and trade relations with the world economy. Kuron and Modzelewski trace the scarcity of consumer products, raw materials, energy, the distortions and imbalances in the total mechanism of production solely back to peculiarities of the Polish economy under the bureaucracy’s rule following fulfillment of the latter’s “historical task”: industrialization. In contrast, Trotsky analyzed these phenomena as the consequence of the historical backwardness and international isolation of the first workers’ state and the bureaucratic degeneration and misplanning in the Soviet Union. And these phenomena were simply reproduced in Eastern Europe after World War II. Accordingly, in their “Open Letter,” they see the causes for the failure of the workers’ uprisings in 1956 in the “objective conditions,” i.e., the “economic reserves still at the disposal of the bureaucracy” in the Polish economy;[37] in 1965, on the other hand, they regard these “economic reserves” of the bureaucracy as being exhausted and therefore the latter’s overthrow as imminent and inevitable.[38]

The actual development of the class struggle in Poland during the years that followed was determined by factors that they were absolutely incapable of perceiving through their nationalistic spectacles. The post-World War II reconstruction boom of Western Europe, especially of West German industrial and finance capital, began to end in the mid-1960s. After a period when the greatest share of the Federal Republic’s commodities sold on the internal market and the largest portion of its profits reinvested in construction of its own national industry, German capital desperately sought new opportunities for export and capital investment. With the assistance of social democracy and the “new Ostpolitik” (the policy of establishing economic and political relations with Eastern Europe) of the Foreign Minister of the Grand Coalition (1966-69) and later Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt, the “Eastern regions” lost in World War II were once again opened up to the German imperialists and close collaboration with the Stalinist bureaucracy was established. The gigantic credits, used especially by the West German banks in order to gradually get the Polish working class under their control and to subject it again to capitalist exploitation, enabled the Stalinist bureaucracy temporarily to appear strong and to actually end the workers’ uprisings and mass strikes of the seventies by concessions to the working class.

Kuron and Modzelewski capitulated to this pressure of imperialism, as well as to its counterrevolutionary agent in Poland, the ruling bureaucracy, now seemingly more firmly seated in the saddle than ever. They were in no sense prepared for such a development, abandoned the last glimmer of any revolutionary perspectives and, along with all the rest of the “democratic opposition,” sank into the deepest pessimism. They did not grasp the students’ revolt in 1968 and the workers’ strikes in 1970-71 in Poland as an expression of the international crisis of imperialism and Stalinism resulting from the first signs of the break up of the postwar boom and stability of the capitalist world economy; they did not conceive them as part of an international upsurge and revolutionary offensive of the working class, which swept all over Europe and other continents and culminated in the proletarian mass movements of 1968 in France and Czechoslovakia, in the overthrow of dictatorships as in Greece, Spain and Portugal, and in the repeated strike waves in Poland during the seventies and early eighties. Therefore, instead of turning to this international movement of the working class and fighting to unify it on the basis of a revolutionary program, they saw the outcome of the events of 1968 and 1970-71 in Poland and Czechoslovakia as confirmation of their petty-bourgeois conviction of the historical strength and invincibility of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

Hence, ignoring the world crisis of imperialism did not prevent them from being driven by the very real class forces which this crisis unleashed. Their nationalist, opportunist program and petty-bourgeois radicalism, from which they never broke, transformed them, under conditions of intensifying class struggles during the 1970s, from patronizing “friends” of the working class into outspoken enemies of the proletarian revolution and invaluable pillars of Stalinism.


Let us summarize the development of Kuron and Modzelewski from the beginning of their political activity during the workers’ rebellions of 1956 to their role during the struggles of Solidarity in 1980-81 as a whole. The path of their political development began from a position of protest and the call for the overthrow of the bureaucracy by the working class and arrived at the conscious subordination of the latter to this bureaucracy by means of the “self-curtailment of the revolution.” In 1981, as the inevitable confrontation between the working class and the bureaucracy was shaping up, Kuron called for the formation of a “Committee for National Salvation” consisting of representatives of the Stalinist government, the party, the church, and Solidarity. Contained here are crucial lessons for the working class in the degenerated and deformed workers’ states of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in its struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy:

The most diverse oppositionist currents can develop among petty-bourgeois layers and even in working class circles, distinguishing themselves by courage and by the issuance of radical demands on the government. But as long as they do not take up the cudgels on behalf of the principles of Trotskyism, for the strategy of the world revolution and, inseparable from that, the political revolution, they will be compelled under the joint pressure of the Stalinist bureaucracy and imperialism to capitulate, just as Kuron and Modzelewski did. With their limited perspectives, they necessarily will become an obstacle in the struggle of the working class.

A revolutionary leadership capable of guiding the working class in overthrowing the Stalinist bureaucracy and in establishing workers’ democracy in these countries can only be constructed if, as a part of the International Committee of the Fourth International, the World Party of Socialist Revolution, it bases itself consciously on the traditions and the total historical experience of the struggle of the Trotskyist movement against Stalinism and all its revisionist accomplices.

A decisive factor, therefore, for the fate of the Polish working class and of its struggle for the trade union Solidarity was that during the oppositionist workers’ movement of the coastal cities in the 1970s and during the powerful mass struggles in 1980-81, the working class remained cut off from these perspectives of Trotskyism, and remained subordinated to the influence of KOR and its “experts,” syndicalist leaders and of the church. The renegades from Trotskyism, especially the Pabloites of Ernest Mandel’s United Secretariat and of the American Socialist Workers Party, as well as the former leaders of the International Committee of the Fourth International, Healy, Banda and Slaughter, bear the greatest responsibility for that.


Pabloites: a political tendency that in the early 1950s broke with Trotskyism under the leadership of the then-secretary of the Fourth International, Michel Pablo, and Ernest Mandel. It advanced the view that the Stalinist bureaucracy or “left tendencies” within it would play a revolutionary role under the pressure of the working class. Up to today, Kuron and Modzelewski are referred to as “a Marxist tendency” by the Pabloites; see for instance Steffie Engert and Winfried Wolf, Der lange Sommer der Solidaritat (Frankfurt/M, 1981), pp. 141, 187. Winfried Wolf was a leading member of and editor for the Pabloite GIM (Group of International Marxists) in West Germany before he and GIM merged with a Maoist Stalinist organization to form the United Socialist Party or VSP.


Jacek Kuron and Karl Modzelewski, Open Letter to Members of the University of Warsaw Sections of the United Polish Workers’ Party and the Union of Young Socialists, translated into English by Gerald Paul and published in: George Weissman, ed., Revolutionary Marxist Students in Poland Speak Out (New York: Merit Publishers, 1968), p. 18.


Ibid., p. 18.


Ibid., p. 20.


Ibid., pp. 27-28.


As for bourgeois sociologists, see for example, “Marxists criticize Gomulka’s System” in Osteuropaische Rundschau I/II, 1967, pp. I/II. As for the revisionists, see the introduction written by Pierre Frank, a leading spokesman of the Pabloites, to the “Open Letter” published in George Weissman, ed., Revolutionary Marxist Students In Poland Speak Out (New York: Merit, 1968), pp. 9-10. Pierre Frank states the following: “Modzelewski’s and Kuron’s ‘Open Letter’ ... is the first revolutionary Marxist document to appear in any workers’ state since the physical annihilation of the Left Opposition and the assassination of Trotsky. This alone suffices to give the document great historical interest. But it reveals, in addition, the very high level of Marxist culture of its authors and their capacity to undertake a rigorous analysis of Polish society and to formulate, under the difficult conditions in which they lived, a valid program for a genuine revolutionary party of the Polish working class.... This program, in our opinion, was inspired by the same considerations underlying the program of political revolution advanced by Trotsky and the Fourth International for the Soviet Union and comes very close to it.”

“In the same way, the followers of the revisionist theory of “state capitalism,” such as the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, claim the “Open Letter” to be “the most impressive Marxist analysis yet produced from within Eastern Europe' (Colin Barker and Kara Weber, Solidarnosc—From Gdansk to Military Repression [London, 1982], p. 149) and even make it the basis for their analysis of the Polish economy.


Frederick Engels, “Karl Marx, 'A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’—a Review,” Karl Marx (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1971), p. 220.


The Correspondence of Marx and Engels, Correspondence 1846-1895 (New York: International Publishers, 1935), p. 12.


Frederick Engels, Anti-Duhring: Herr Eugen Duhring's Revolution in Science (New York: International Publishers, 1939), pp. 229-30.


Kuron and Modzelewski, pp. 30-31, emphasis added.


Kuron and Modzelewski, p. 31.


Engels, Anti-Duhring, p. 230.


Kuron and Modzelewski, p. 51.




Karl Marx, Capital (New York: International Publishers, 1973), p. 10.


Even as early as the 1970s, the KOR was already working closely with oppositionists from the Catholic church, as a “force in defense of society.” The entire history of Poland, especially the struggles of 1980-81, demonstrates that the church uses its influence on the working class and on oppositionist circles to prevent the working class from overthrowing the bureaucracy and extending the world revolution.

In an interview appearing in the newspaper of the Spanish social democratic party (PSOE), Kuron justified this orientation as follows: “The one thing I can say to you is that I view the role of the Church in the process of democratizing the country as something basic. And when I say Church, I am speaking of the Polish Catholic community, not so much the Church as an institution, and most of all of the movement to defend the Church in Poland. Thanks to this movement, a Church of the workers, peasants, and intellectuals has been built, which is very different from the churches existing in other European countries. This was a very authentic activity, which created a certain freedom during these last 35 years....” (Werner Mackenback, ed., Das KOR und der ‘polnische Sommer,’ Analysen, Dokumente, Artikel und Interviews 1976-1981 [Hamburg: 1982], p. 201).


Mackenbach, pp. 117, 119.


The Correspondence of Marx and Engels, pp. 15-16.


Kuron and Modzelewski, pp. 29-30.


Ibid., p. 31.


Engels, Anti-Duhring, p. 297.


Ibid., p. 235.


Leon Trotsky, The Class Nature of the Soviet State (London: New Park), p. 16.


Leon Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism (London: New Park, 1975), pp. 7-8.


Ibid., p. 8.


See Chapter 3.


Barbara Buscher, ed., Solidarnosc—Die polnische Gewerkschaft “Solidaritat” in Dokumenten, Diskussionen und Beitragen 1980 bis 1982 [Solidarnosc—The Polish Trade Union “Solidarity' in Documents, Discussions and Reports, 1980-82] (Koln: Ruth—Ursel Henning u.a., 1983), p. 239.


Kuron and Modzelewski, p. 39.






See Chapter 1.


Kuron and Modzelewski, pp. 40-41, emphasis added.


Translated from Elleinstein, Geschichte des “Stalinismus' (West Berlin: 1977), p. 125.


Kuron and Modzelewski, pp. 39, 41.


Translated from Carrillo, “Eurocomunismo” y Estado (Barcelona: 1976), p. 177.


Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, pp. 22-23, emphasis added.


In reality, the Stalinist bureaucracy in Poland, Hungary, as well as in the USSR itself was able to crush the working class and recapture its political control only because of the lack of revolutionary Trotskyist leadership; and on that basis the bureaucracy then found its “economic reserves” in the first place not within its national economies, but rather in the conditions of the inflationary boom of the world economy and of the stabilization of imperialism in the 1950s.


See Kuron and Modzelewski, pp. 67-69.