Leszek Kolakowski is one of the most influential Polish intellectuals whose writings played an enormous role in the awakening and development of the antitotalitarian opposition in East Central Europe. Involved for many years in the saga of the neo-Marxist, “revisionist” struggle for a “socialism with a human face, ” Kolakowski reached the condusion that the system was inherently corrupt and that there was no real way to improve it via gradual reforms from above. This essay discusses a number of fascinating topics directly related to the events of 1989: the inner self-destructive logic of Sovietism; the limits of predictive power of what used to be called “Sovietology”; the role of Poland and Solidarity in the destruction of the myth of communist infallibility; and the crucial role played by Mikhail Gorbachev in catalyzing and galvanizing the system's collapse.
Compared to other contributions in this volume, Kolakowski's essay informs the reader about the pre-history of 1989, emphasizing the critical significance of the crises of 1956 and 1968, as well as the meaning of the struggle for national independence and dignity in the coalescence of anticommunist movements. His predictions about the forthcoming debates on the past and the attempts to obtain “certificates of national innocence” are intimately consonant with Tony Judt's contribution to this volume.
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Euphoria is always brief, whatever causes it. The “post-communist” euphoria is over and the premonitions of imminent dangers are mounting. The monster is dying in its own monstrous way. Shall we see another monster take its place, a series of bloody struggles between its various remnants? How many new countries will emerge from the chaos and what will they be: democratic, dictatorial, national-fascist, clerical, civilized, barbaric? Will millions of refugees, escaping from famine and war, stampede into Europe? Every day newspapers provide gloomy warnings; many are written by knowledgeable people. The only thing we know for certain: nothing is certain; nothing is impossible.