The conditions in which a young Polish intellectual studied Das Kapital in the 1920's or 1930's were very different from those prevailing in most countries in the West. To us the Marxist forecast of the collapse of capitalism was not an apocalyptic vision related only remotely to the realities of our daily life. The old social order was crumbling before our very eyes. This was the overwhelming fact of our existence. We could not escape it. My own childhood and adolescence was shaken by it again and again. I grew up in Cracow and in a little town half-way between Cracow and Auschwitz, on a tip of land wedged between the frontiers of three empires. As a boy of ten and eleven I watched the downfall of the dynasties of the Romanovs, Habsburgs, and Hohenzollerns. Overnight there vanished the ancient powers, sanctitities, and fetishes that had held our people in awe for many generations. We felt the hot breath of the Russian Revolution. Then, just across the frontier, the Commune of Budapest flared up and was drowned in blood.
This article can also be found at the Monthly Review website, where most recent articles are published in full.