To Michael (21 October 1959)

From Karl Polanyi
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[34] Misi dear,

Your withdrawal to Merton brought us a letter (Ilona's) of the kind that helps life all round. There were those years when I – my confused self – had you living beside me, a young saint; there was some selflessness store inside me, but all it produced was a great love for you, a dedication which was a governing passion over many a year to come; later, still in our youth, life hurt you, I was unable to see it otherwise than that our own family fell victim of a confused ideal of a good life. My passion for se[r]vice became an ingredient in a student's movement which introduced in Hungary a faint echo of the Russian revolutionary commitment to a cause. The intellectual proletariat, mainly Jewish, of small-town background, was affected by, and infused with, a spirit of selfless dedication to the spirit of a movement in that Waste Land. It was a different strata, the forerunner of that Populist Movement which, 30 years later did its regenerative work on a vastly larger scale in an entirely different surroundings. Actually, I was engaged in an effort which I recognize in its true character - the reconditioning of a morally destitute people. This was not done out of patriotism. I was moved by humanism. I leave it at theses flashes of insight. Recently gestures purporting similar recognitions reached me from the other, the Populist, shore.

In failing health, I am reminding us how our separate lives were to us both as massive pillars over which arched an invisible bridge of beauty: or separate singularity, in silence.

To me great happiness was to come in a complete life. There is return to achievement. Also to a mother country which I now love. Ilona and I have decided that our names shall be linked, despite our separate pasts, in the anthology of the new Hungarian poets. This act will survive us. It seems that my daughter, another surprise, will in a vague and yet significant way make use of my work. It made me think of you and your younger son. But I want also clarity to illuminate that bridge of silence so that the setting dusk obscure it not. Very little is lacking, for there was no misunderstanding between us ever, nothing but the separateness due to my limitations, my long fumbling in life. History has outflanked that fumbling. Even if nothing could be done about it, it should not remain unsaid.

The great object which makes me break with the fifty years' rule of mutual non-intervention is this: It falls under one of your instances in the 'Encounter' piece you wanted me to read: that the fading of radical scepticism allows nationalism to resuscitate. True. 1956 re-conquered me for Hungary. More than that: It gave me a mother country (because I had never quite belonged to Hungary; the first language I heard spoken, though I did not speak it, was German, I suppose: the second was English; Hungarian reached me together with French). That's why my roots where not in the Hungarian soil which I touched only at the age of 12, in the Gymnasium.) I admire the fighters of October, I am proud of Gímas Miklós, son of my Galileist friend. They have redeemed Hungar, a non-people, from Ady's 'szégyenkaloda', the “stocks' of history. Unexpectedly, after "listening to the breathing of mankind”, I find myself straining to distinguish one people's moaning. Hence the anthology, the seeking for the mot juste in the sleepless hours, the epic of penetrating the meaning of poems to decypher the patterns of life - the inner lives - of their authors, whose stutterings and hopes revealed reborn souls, the raw material of history still to be. I am a British friend of Hungary? The Yugoslavs may be a sturdier race. The Poles have more polished gifts. But the Hungarian have my affection.

[35] I remember the depths from which they rose: A Magyar-Jewish mongrel, not deserving to be fully accepted as morally civilized, bearing the 'stamp' of the ethically defective, victime of the backyards standards of a church and aristocracy, whose heart (?) was elsewhere. A nobility, fitted with false pride, but without self-respect, linked to the West by a half-assimilated Jewry, not truly Western, and yet hindered in melting into the Magyar stock, in joining together the healthy ingredients of both into a mixture pregnant with possibilities of a great Eastern European people. (The Galilei was the only approximation of an entelechy of Russia's revolutionary Jewish emancipation.) And yet the Magyar stock too was denaturalized by the hothouse brood of a second-class foreign intelligentsia which pre-digested the valuable Western experiences Hungary required to nourish its peasant stock's rich undergrowth. (Maybe the throne was the deliberate mal-mixer of the strata of its semi-colonial domain, safe only as oong as unsound at core.) And what noble beauty shines now forth from its wasted traits! And the spirit of the {cold Wow in the left} that overgrown delinquent teen-ager of the Seven Continents now fostering (the Habsburg way) that hateful Magyar-Jewish miscenegation of corruptions in the Hungarian emigration. Do not be misled by this colourful language to take for an excited impressionism what is actually deep concern over the hideous excrescences of a lapse into immorality of Hungarian émigré strata. When you were here last I warned you to disentangle yourself for the parasite of the Cold War for the sake of your commitments to your new message embodied in the recent works and which demands a personal witness to high character in order to get the ear of those to whom in truth it is directed. What disturbed me most was your gesture disidentification. You said you didn't read that Hungarian Literary Gazette, which is the financial organizing staff of that festering sore. But let us ignore these accompaniments of using money (and much too much of it) to further the moral aspects of what are really immature power policies. Your personal aloofness from going-on was employed to draw on you responsibilities of the disboursers of moneys to Catriona's father and his shoddy pretences of noble loyalties. Unfortunately, I could not go on like this without pointing up those low-points of Western culture - the American gutter press - that was allowed to infiltrate the mother countries of the West (at the hand of some actual achievements.) I would not be your brother if I did not know how bitterly you must have suffered from the routine of American promotion which relegates the Muses to the status of the Marquis de Sade's victims.

What ails me is not of a literary, nor of any esthetic purport, nor is it strictly speaking the pertaining to the political interests of Hungary that are of course sold down the river in great power policy, both protagonists being absolutely self-regarding when it comes to “business”. Muy interest is in the moral values represented by the martyrs of the populist and revisionist cause. The group around “Uj Látóhatár” and around any genuine repositories of Nagy Imre policies are, of course, of incomparable value for any future independent Hungarian policy line both (1) externally and (2) internally. The first requires avoidance of direct or indirect dependance on American money, the second is to unite on broadly common grounds all not Stalinist and not Mindszentyist moral forces in the country. The latter question involves a modus vivendi in the Jewish question. hence the significance of the Populist leadership's determination to seek a reconciliation over the latter. Here lies the central significance of the “Debate on the Populist writers” featured in “Uj Látóhatár”. I urge you to give some care to the readings of Ignotus two pieces with which the debate opened, and the pieces of Márton László and the interview with Zilahy Lajos, in Nos. 3 May-June and 4, (July-August) [36] respectively, 1959. No issue of “Irodalmi Ujság” published over this period contained any reaction to these sensational publications. However, in “Népszava”, Iványi Grünwald Béla, the historian wrote under the title “Gömbos legenda” a grave attack against Zilahy, avoiding any mention of either Ignotus or of Zilahy's resignation from the “Hungarian Writers ass. Abroad”. This fact has been suppressed in the “Iroldalmi Ujság”, too. These items seem as petty as their purport remains obscure to uninformed reader. The group of young statesmen around “Uj Látóhatár” who are cutting loose from the London fount of corruption are the hope of Hungary. Insofar as thy appear to absorb the moral and intellectual substance of revisionism, they may be, for all we can know, also the hope of the world.

You had Péter Kende and associates mail me “The Review” which I found very interesting. Thank you. I will tell them probably that I believe your concluding paragraphs in “Encounter”, Sept. 1959, under the title “Seed beneath the snow” to be essentially true, as far as they go. Yet, the danger that American money may be already on the move to buy up another seed of the future, and thus change the bread of life to poison, made my blood freeze. So that you see the Hungarian interest (apart from the obvious clash with the occupying power)
(1) The manipulation of Jewish viewpoints as a means of sabotageing internal unity of all the sane elements;
(2) The manipulation of all socialist reconstruction forces of the intellect and of morality so as to sabotage the elimination of the Cold War, is an obvious danger to Hungarian external interests.

Have you read Németh László's novel “Égető Eszter”? It means new light on Hungary, and, potentially, on the world.

Le me have some reassurance on the Review, if possible, soon.

See you soon, dear brother.


Bitter disappointment followed on their score. I.P. 1964, ___

Letter Informations

KPA: 57/08, 34-36