Is God Happy? Selected Essays by Leszek Kołakowski - review by John Gray

John Gray

Rent in the Fabric

Is God Happy? Selected Essays


Penguin Modern Classics 327pp £9.99

‘My Correct Views on Everything: a Rejoinder to Edward Thompson’s “Open Letter to Leszek Kołakowski”’, Leszek Kołakowski’s response to the hundred-page open letter addressed to him by the noted historian, ends with Kołakowski writing: ‘I hope to have explained to you why, for many years, I have not expected anything from attempts to mend, to renovate, to clean or to correct the communist idea.’ Published in 1974, Kołakowski’s response includes an account of the experiences of a Russian worker who had been caught trying to cross the Soviet border into Iran in the early 1960s and sentenced to six years’ hard labour in a camp. Writing in Russian in a memoir published in Germany, the worker describes the treatment meted out to three Lithuanian prisoners who tried to escape. Two were quickly caught, shot repeatedly in the legs, kicked and trampled by guards, torn by police dogs and only then stabbed to death with bayonets. Shot and believed to be dead, the third prisoner survived, only to be thrown into a cell where his festering wounds led to his arm being amputated.

Recounting this tale (which comes from the de-Stalinised 1960s, he notes, not the 1930s), Kołakowski was aware that a personal account by an obscure Russian worker would have no impact on the celebrated academic chronicler of working-class movements. A recital of the parochial prejudices of the British Left, Thompson’s epistle

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