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A ruling class should consist of intellectuals – interview with Tadeusz Mazowiecki

Published on April 23, 2012 by: in: Politics

Liberte: You began your career as a journalist and a publicist in 1949. Why did you decide to take part in public life? What was the reason behind your choice?

Tadeusz Mazowiecki: In my opinion, it is hard to find any particular reason in this case. We had to accustom ourselves to a new situation which seemed permanent. We started to rebuild our country although I did not agree with many issues, especially with the ideology of communism. Nevertheless, the Polish had to accustom themselves to the political system and make some plans for the future. Polish elite decided not to withdraw from public life. There was no particular reason. That was rather a way of thinking.

But you could have made some other plans instead of becoming a journalist.

The press – especially weekly magazines – played an active part in heated debates. That kind of work attracted my interest.

The communist government struggled to have a great influence on intellectuals. Politicians aimed to restrict the freedom of speech. Taking this into consideration, intellectuals could not provoke debates on certain matters.

Intellectuals were to conform to the principal rules of the ideology. I was a journalist at Dziś i Jutro[1] at first. Then I became the member of the PAX Association[2]. The world was divided and I rebelled. We had to live behind the Iron Curtain. I did not agree with the ideology and I believed that some kind of rebellion would bring positive results. It would take a long time to describe how I lost hope for the evolution of the political system. The intellectuals who followed Marx lost the hope when they came to a conclusion that the communist ideology could not be humanized.

Did post-war debates raise issues which had been discussed before World War II? Maybe different  subjects were brought up then? What do you think?

I think that both assumptions are correct. The powerful speech of professor Józef Chałasiński[3] serves as one of the examples. He studied the genealogy of Polish intellectuals. I also analyzed the issue. The speech of the professor caused considerable debate on the role of intellectuals and attempts to define various points of view. This subject had been raised before World War II. But generally, the communist government struggled not to allow for such discourse. Life was less than perfect. Some intellectuals were involved in doing business. Some others aimed to rebuild the country or develop technology. There were few experts on modern technology in post-war Poland. The principles of Humanism were also popular. Intellectuals used to oppose the communism and express their opinions.

One cannot forget about the influence of Hegelian philosophy. Was there any discourse between the followers of Marx or Hegel and such publicists as you? Intellectuals tend to provoke debates. How the situation looked like in 1950s?

The communist government victimized the Catholics. The works of professor Kazimierz Kłósak[4], Adam Schaff[5] or Stefan Żółkiewski[6] may suggest that there was some kind of discourse. The Catholics were victimized although nobody closed down the churches. I believe that people read the works of both social groups. No public debate, however, was sparked. The communist government, which claimed that no philosophy is scientific but Marxism, strove to victimize us. The assumptions of modern intellectuals somehow proved the abovementioned claim. There was a common knowledge that religion is against technological progress. It took many years until intellectuals overcame the prejudice. Their works began to be published at Tygodnik Powszechny[7] in the late 1960s. The Council of the Catholic Church brought major changes in 1970s. And then one of the most important events in the history of Poland happened.

You established Więź. This magazine provoked a debate between the Catholics and laypeople. It is worth noting that the works of some non-Catholic journalists, such as Adam Michnik, Wiktor Woroszylski or Jan Strzelecki, were also published there. It seems that the magazine was not just for the Catholics. Am I right?

You are right. The magazine was based on the Personalist philosophy of Emmanuel Mounier and Jacques Maritain. This movement assumed that mankind is the most important in earthly life. Such assumptions may attract the attention of both Catholic and non-Catholic intellectuals. We tried to oppose the communist government with the help of this principle. We used to mention the role of discourse. That was possible after the reforms in 1956. Authorities still believed in the division of Polish society. Jan Strzelecki had similar opinion to us. The writer admitted that he is not a non-Catholic. He just did not answer questions about his faith. But he believed in metaphysical and Personalist values.

In the first volume of Dzieje inteligencji polskiej do roku 1918[8], Maciej Janowski wonders what is characteristic of this social group. He claims that intellectuals tend to exchange their opinions in cafés or some exclusive places. Was it popular in 1950s and 1960s?

There was a number of cafés in 1960s. Intellectuals used to meet at the homes of such people as Zygmunt Skórzyński[9] or Jan Józef Lipski[10]. Name-day parties, during which Polish elite discussed various subjects, were also common then.

You were the representative of the Polish Parliament, serving three terms as the member of the Catholic party Znak. But the Parliament did not play a major role in the People’s Republic of Poland. The Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party and the Politburo of the Polish United Workers’ Party were the most influential. Did you meet any intellectuals among these 460 people? Did you have any opportunity to discourse?

There were several professors, for example Bukowski and Jabłoński. A dispute arose at the beginning of my career in the Polish Parliament. My first speech concerned Polish educational system, which was under the influence of Marxism. I demanded that Polish schools teach various philosophies. The speech, however, ran into a lot of opposition. Among critics were such intellectuals as Władysław Bieńkowski[11], who became an outspoken critic of the political system later. We sometimes provoked debates during committee meetings. But discourse during plenary sessions was out of question.

A well-working relationship between the Catholics and laypeople was established in 1970s. You came to Gdańsk in 1980. In the essay entitled Przeszłość i przyszłość polskiej inteligencji[12], Józef Chałasiński stated that “Poland is our religious and ecclesial value with a ceremonial system governed by the clergy”. Did your visit at Gdańsk and the appointment of advisors symbolize clergymen who come to the faithful?

No, it symbolized that we drew conclusions from the past. The visit at Gdańsk in 1980 was a result of previous events. Students and intellectuals demonstrated in 1968. The working class was set against them. The laboring class protested in 1970. Intellectuals took passive role then. We just drew conclusions from these events. The visit was essential. We wanted to express our solidarity. Our role was to advise. Strike committee was to make decisions. The fact that the strike was not broken gave us some hope for the better. The strike in Lublin proved that the situation was going to change. The protests were not so severely crashed as those in Radom or Ursus. In Lublin, demonstrators demanded the increase of payments. In Gdańsk, workers strove for freedom. They claimed several times that “what matters is not remuneration but trade union”. They behaved responsibly. I had already realized that the communist government did not aimed to develop trade unions. I met many members of various trade unions thanks to my friend from Belgium – Jan Kułakowski. He served as the secretary of a Catholic trade union, which was transformed into the International Labor Organization later. It seemed obvious that the Politburo did not represent the working class. Everyone was aware that the laboring class would not have any representation in case of danger or conflict. I believe that the tension was mounting during my visit at Gdańsk.

The word expert was popular among the members of NSZZ Solidarność[13]. Works committees used to form expert committees on various issues. Did intellectuals strive to become an expert or an advisor?

Not really. Intellectuals served also as trade union authorities. Nevertheless, there was a demand for experts. We – 10 million people – could not remain passive when NSZZ Solidarność had been established. We were aware that was a crucial moment.

The imposition of martial law made the situation more dangerous. Intellectuals, however, became completely united then. Almost every artist demonstrated. Student also rebelled.

Some people did not unite, but not many.

Your government was formed after the elections on 4th June 1989. Until recently, there was no other government referred to as consisting of intellectuals. What do you think of it? Was the government consisting of intellectuals or rather people with certain mission?

The members of NSZZ Solidarność struggled to bring about major changes in Poland. Debates provoked by intellectuals contributed to them. But nobody aimed to focus on the needs of this social group. I am sure that intellectuals must be involved in politics, where the sense of duty and servitude are essential. A ruling class should consist of intellectuals.

It is often assumed nowadays that politicians do not take an interest in the needs of the whole society. They care about particular social groups instead.

I do not agree. Politicians must take an interest in the needs of the whole society. Citizens would oppose otherwise. It is a matter of course. Our history is changeable – the sense of servitude may be strong or vague. But it cannot disappear.

According to many sociologists, Poles may lose the feature that seemed characteristic for Central Europe countries. More and more intellectuals belong to the middle class, whose needs have little in common with social work.

You are right. That is how Polish society evolves. Please note, however, that intellectuals from Western countries have been more influential. I think that we should not judge this phenomenon.

Will this process proceed? One of intellectuals’ dreams has come true recently – a great number of the citizens received education. But well-educated people admit that they have little in common with intellectuals and the etiquette of this social group. What do you think of this phenomenon?

I do not judge this phenomenon. It just takes place as a result of the evolution of Polish society. I believe that the values characteristic for intellectuals, i.e. the sense of servitude and duty, are still present in public life. These values cannot disappear. Intellectuals will take the floor. Economic growth cannot have an influence on every matter. Free-market economy may be contrasted with egalitarianism, which has a positive effect on the evolution of societies. We will always favor equality. I think that a balance between economic and egalitarian values may bring positive results. Politicians in a democratic state with free-market economy should balance the abovementioned values and draw certain conclusions. Those who are not treated on equal terms will demand it.

Will intellectuals – a social group with certain values which emerged after the January Uprising[14] – remain? Do they have any goal nowadays? Maybe Poles need just well-educated people?

I do not know. The social group of intellectuals may disappear, but the values will remain. I believe that these values will be observed not only by intellectuals.

Interview: Marcin Celiński

Translation: Aleksandra Kozłowska

[1] A Polish Catholic weekly magazine published between 1945 and 1956.

[2] A Polish pro-communist secular Catholic organization established in 1947.

[3] A Polish sociologist.

[4] A Polish philosopher and the professor of Warsaw Theological Academy.

[5] A Polish Marxist philosopher.

[6] A Polish scholar and the member of a communist party.

[7] A Polish Catholic weekly magazine.

[8] The History of Polish intellectuals until 1918.

[9] A Polish sociologist.

[10] A Polish critic and literature historian.

[11] A Polish sociologist and the Minister of National Education.

[12] The History and Future of Polish Intellectuals.

[13] Independent Self-governing Trade Union Solidarity.

[14] An uprising against the Russian Empire which took place between 1863 and 1865.

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