Leszek Kolakowski, a Polish philosopher and historian whose decision to disavow Marxism pushed him into exile and made him an inspiration for his nation's struggle against communism, has died. He was 81.
A death announcement placed by his family in the Gazeta Wyborcza
newspaper on Saturday said he died Friday in Oxford, England, where
he had lived for decades, "after a sudden, short disease." It
gave no further details.
His death has elicited an outpouring of eulogistic remembrance
in Poland, where he was respected for his academic achievements and
his opposition to communism.
Poland's Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said Monday that
Kolakowski's body would be returned to the country and buried with
military honors. He did not set a date. Parliament held a moment of
silence for him on Friday.
"For decades he has been the symbol and moral authority of a
Poland that is spiritually sovereign, that defies enslavement, of a
Poland of free thought and unbending soul," wrote Adam Michnik,
Gazeta Wyborcza's editor and a communist-era activist imprisoned
for his resistance.
In exile - first at the University of California, Berkeley, and then Oxford University - Kolakowski wrote books on the history of
ideas, culminating in his most influential work, "Main Currents of
Marxism." Published in 1978, the book described Marxism as "the
greatest fantasy of our century" and said that the ideology
"began in a Promethean humanism and culminated in the monstrous
tyranny of Stalin."
Though in exile for a decade at that point, that work and others
circulated in underground editions and helped to shape the views of
Poland's anti-communist intellectuals and Lech Walesa's Solidarity
movement in the 1980s, which helped trigger the collapse of
communism in Poland.
Kolakowski was born on Oct. 23, 1927, in Radom, Poland. During
World War II, Nazi Germany occupied the country and closed down
schools, part of Hitler's policy of reducing the country's Slavic
population to abject slavery. Kolakowski, in those years, continued
studying on his own, attending an underground high school.
After the war, he graduated from Warsaw University in 1953 and
began a career as a professor and member of the Communist Party. He
soon grew disillusioned with communist ideology and appealed for a
more democratic version of socialism, putting him on a collision
course with the Soviet-backed authorities.
In 1956, during a political thaw after Stalin's death,
Kolakowski and a small group of communist intellectuals started
Straight Talk, a lively journal of critical Marxist theory. The
party leadership branded Kolakowski a "revisionist" and Straight
Talk survived only a year before it was banned.
A 1966 university lecture in which Kolakowski accused
authorities of breaking promises to the Polish people cost him his
party card. He lost his professorship two years later and left
Poland, joining other Soviet bloc philosophers forced into exile
for their views.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to former U.S.
President Jimmy Carter, was quoted by the news agency PAP as
praising Kolakowski as "not only a remarkable philosopher" but
also as a Marxist revisionist who revealed the "ideological
bankruptcy of communism" and helped bring about democracy in
Besides the funeral in Poland, Britain's All Souls College,
where he was an honorary fellow, said there will be a Requiem Mass
in his honor Aug. 1 at Holy Rood Church in Oxford.
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