Adam Michnik's contribution to both the theory and practice of dissent in East and Central Europe cannot be overestimated. His Letters from Prison (Los Angeles and Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1985, trans. Maya Latynski) were rightly celebrated as crucial for the formulation of the oppositional strategy that eventually led to the end of communism in Poland and in the whole region. In this essay, Michnik discusses the fate of the revolution after the victory of the anticommunist forces and the ethical dilemmas generated by the return of former communist parties to power.
Opposing fundamentalists within both the revolutionary and the ex-communist camps, Michnik suggests that restorations are the inevitable consequence of the refusal to unleash terror. In other words, the democratic game is sufficiently permissive for the ex-communists to use it in order to achieve electoral victories and thus return to governing positions. The first issue is that the former rulers do not return to power through the old means (via coups and in contempt of law), but in a procedural way. Second, their communist mindset has fundamentally changed. The post-communist politicians in countries like Hungary and Poland, Michnik argues, have no ideological zeal and do not aim to build up the classless utopia. Marxism has long since ceased to inspire their actions: far from favoring the restoration of centrally-planned, command economies, these people are staunch supporters (and beneficiaries) of open markets.
Michnik calls for a patient and tolerant approach to restoration. He opposes the logic of exclusion and warns against the neo-Jacobin temptations among the revolutionary radicals for whom nothing would suffice but a complete political annihilation of the former communists. In his usually vivid way, Michnik calls these fundamentalists “anticommunists with a Bolshevik face.”
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When I read in the Polish press about “the return of communism, ” I sometimes think it would be worthwhile to imagine an actual restoration of the communist system. The banging on the door at dawn. The declaration of martial law, the dissolution of parliament, the liquidation of political