“I Didn’t Sit Eight and a Half Years in Jail to Build Capitalism”
Polish Stalinism was toppled in October, and Modzelewski initially supported the new party leader Wladyslaw Gomulka. But when Gomulka dismantled the workers’ councils and reestablished bureaucratic dictatorship, Modzelewski and his comrade Jacek Kuron — the history student who he met at Warsaw University in 1962 — delved into all the Marxist oppositionist works they could find, and produced the pathbreaking “Open Letter.”
To say this text was an inspiration to anti-Stalinist leftists worldwide would be an understatement. In the thirty-five years since Trotsky’s deportation from the Soviet Union, no systematic radical left manifesto against Soviet-style socialism had been published, coming from within. There had been plenty of criticisms and complaints, and in 1955 Milovan Djilas made a big stir with The New Class, attacking the system for betraying true socialist principles. But instead of just lamenting the betrayal of socialism, Modzelewski and Kuron offered a Marxist, essentially Trotskyist, diagnosis, and called for a new workers’ revolution to sweep away the statist bureaucracy and introduce genuine socialism based on workers’ power and participation.