To Michael (5 January 1958)

From Karl Polanyi
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Text in English to re-read

[31] My dear brother[1] -

A 17 page letter (plus enclosure) mailed beginning of December and addressed to you[r] university address must have got lost – what a pity. I was elaborating on my old discussion with Mises, on the “young Hegel” (G. Lukacs, 1948[2]); the early Marx (“New Reasoner” n°2) and similar topicalities. Also I warmed you off your Lenin myth concerning Marx's 1875 'Critique of the Gotha Programme'. It was translated by P. Struve into Russian about 1893 or 94 and became focal to Lenin's early work on the Program of the Russian Soc.-Dem. Party, which he drafted in prison, starting with 1895.

Thanks for the Norman Cohen book. He makes out a case for the very late start of social revolutionary movements under the aegis of popular milleninism. This is both new and important (ca. 1380 A.D., pages 209, 213 ff.)

Interest in Ilona's is on the increase. W. Auden is undertaking to look the position in the U.S.; the Canadians are well started; a selection of some half-dozen show pieces are supposed to be published soon in a literary periodical. Also the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is planning a full dress program. Stephen Spender has not yet answered whether he considered printing Illyé's “Ode to Bartók” in 'Encounter'. (Ilona wrote to him some time ago an enclosed Margaret Avison's translation[.]) We wonder he is not out of the country? (Copy of her letter went to Ignotus Pali Szabo Zoltán).

Prospects of our Columbia project continuing for several years are not bad. I liked very much your suggestion that Princeton should offer a fellowship to me. By a coincidence (and to my great surprise) that very thing happened just before receipt of your letter (or rather I was asked by McIver whether I would consider going to the Princeton Institute). I declined, since nothing had changed in regard to course, no possible connection with Hacker's invitation to you and the suggestion made to me. Since I instantly refused, I didn't inquire into detail. Nevertheless, it gave your remark a glittering pointe.

Kennan's position is soundly based on the true weakness of the West - its lack of a normal orientation. On the background of the growing threat to all - enormously enhanced by the A&H morality pioneered by the West - a premium is set on the offer of A WAY OUT. Instead the world was inveigled to trust itself to the assumed moral superiority of the West. This was a wasting asset, if it existed at all. A complete break with this period of adolescence is needed today. We can get a long period of respite from war for the asking. Now that Russian Bolshevism has lost its glamor for those who were mesmerized by it, nothing but the monumental moral failure of the West can restore its world historical prestige. Krushchev has made a clean brest of Stalin's crimes. Who in the West is going to denounce our own crimes? Kennan has opened the door. Who is going to walk through it?

[32] Unless we re-humanize now, we will survive for another few centuries without knowing what-for. The danger is that the present danger will pass and have passed in vain. The Roman Church has been often rejuvenated from filth and decay. The West must transcend socialism by living up the danger beyond it - the loss of freedom in a technological civilization. I have rune out of paper…

Lover K.

P.S. your peculiar views on Russian socialim as being essentially (a market-economy and, therefore, only) an other form of capitalism but accompanied by a nefarious ideology, should make it an acceptable position to “transcend” socialism by declaring neutral in the competition of economic systems - J.S. Mill “On Liberty"” did so, expressly declaring that whether trade was governmental or private, was not an issue of liberty (though he for one preferred the latter alternative.) My position is I suppose somewhat akin to E.P. Thomson's in the “New Reasoner” No. 1 called Hers “Socialist Humanism” (the first few pages of which are very much worth reading[.]) Incidentally, in my last (now given up as lost) letter to you, I made fun of Faludy's phrase “enyén szólva túlhalado it” in reference to Karl Marx. This struck me as provincialism as its smuggest. Maybe I have been overfeeding on Hegel these days, which has made unduly partial to Marx.

I hope my way of formulating our task in the post-Kennan speeches-period is not too abhorrent to you for I'd gladly enlarge on it should you be in a tolerant mood,

Please do write soon again -

P.S. on Lenin. You may be of course right (newly published letters or something - in scholarship everything is possible) but expressly looked up 'State & Revolution' and found the jibes against bourgeois scholars unrelated to this matter. Or did you simply rely on a 'reliable informant'? In that case he did you a bad turn, so it looks to me.

On the Mises conundrum there’s a very interesting comment in Maurice Dobb’s Introduction to the second edition of his own monograph on USSR economy. He gives valid reasons why good economics (i.e. of his own non-Marxian sort) do not apply to the Soviet economy! (He had bean called to account by the C.P. for his neo-classical economics. He insisted on keeping to it, and proceeded to explain why it would not fit Russian conditions anyway. This important paper has been overlooked, I am afraid.) (Incidentally, his econ. history of capitalism ondition is ______ous).

Editor's Notes

  1. This is a copy, the original is in the MPP.
  2. Der junge Hegel - Über die Beziehungen von Dialektik und Ökonomie, 1948.

Letter Informations

KPA: 57/08, 31-32