To Abraham Rotstein (10 April 1956)

From Karl Polanyi
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Text in English to re-read

Dear Abe, I have been longing to see you and talk to you for a long time. Remember, you are the only one with whom I can speak about the deeper meaning of my position and with whom I may still plan for the hope of salvaging some of it. Interest in a paper-back of the Great Transformation is propping up time and again; quite possibly it will suddenly materialize. Yet what we need is its rebirth in the new world. If Moscow had had a Stock Exchange the purging of Stalin could not have been risked for fear of National Bankruptcy. In the moral world it was an event comparable only to Luther's Theses nailed on the Cathedral door; the Roman Church through all its long history is not known to have repudiated its popes, and some of these Renaissance guys would have made Joe look like a sucking babe. The Stalin purge is a metter of a dimension and quality entirely outside our experience. In its most minor aspect, the political, it means the reabsorption of Napoleon into the Convention of 1792, with no Restauration to follow but with the French Revolution of 1789-90 recapturing its standard to continue its work in the original spirit. The eastern world has fallen down on the event, like the audience of a great cathartic tragedy which laughs in the wrong places. Turned mildly Stalinist, it {m}inds it funny and certainly in need of explanation that a people should rid itself of what might… of crime the West had justly branded as such over this last generation. Commentators think aloud in a brown study; why, oh why have they done it? To what purpose? Why confess? Why start a new life? Why, indeed. '1984' had neatly convinced them that mankind was what Orwell thought about it. Some of his teaching has certainly left a taint on us. Here at last was something to show up our inner hollowness, and we did not fail to miss the occasion of proving us deaf and dumb. The Russia of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky the Russia that had something to which the West pinned its hopes of a deeper chested and more broadly shaped man is of course still there; just as China has not lost its millennial spiritual culture in spite the violent re-casting of surfaces in the revolution. The Great Transformation is writing a further chapter of its course, and this time one in which there is a glimpse of hope. What the West is lacking is seriousness downrightness, courage. The reality of society is feared, shunned, not understood. Hence the awful tragedy of those laughs in the audience.


KPA: 49/05, 63