Witold Jedlicki, 1929-1995

Against the Current, No. 60, January/February 1996

Samuel Farber

WITOLD JEDLICKI, a long-time friend of the Third Camp revolutionary socialist tendency, died in Jerusalem last September.

Witold was my personal friend. I first met him thirty years ago at UC Berkeley where he had just recently joined the Sociology Department as a somewhat older doctoral student. He contacted the Independent Socialist Club (ISC) when he came across a rally organized by that group, the predecessor of the International Socialists (IS), to demand the release of imprisoned Soviet dissidents Andrei Sinyavski and Yuli Daniel.

We then learned from Witold the news about two Polish dissidents by the names of Jacek Kuron and Karol Modzelewski, who had recently been imprisoned in Warsaw for publishing a document entitled “An Open Letter to the Party.” We were thrilled when he described the politics of the two dissidents, which turned out to be remarkably similar to ours. We immediately brought Witold into contact with the editors of New Politics who, in turn, had the entire Manifesto translated and first published it in the English language (New Politics, vol v, no. 3 Summer 1966, 72-99).

As we later learned without much help from his excessive modesty, Witold had played a significant role in the Polish dissident movement of the fifties. He was an active member of the Crooked Circle, the principal group of dissident intellectuals, and later wrote a history of that organization. He also wrote articles interpreting that critical period of Polish history. Those articles left a mark in Polish intellectual and political circles.

As most of the reforms of the fifties were progressively undone, Witold, a Polish Jew, left for Israel in 1960. From there he went to Berkeley in 1964 and returned to Israel in 1969. The political situation in that part of the world had undergone a substantial change with Israel’s victory in the war of June 1967. While still at Berkeley, Witold and I argued strenuously over the ’67 War which I strongly opposed and Witold tended to support, on the basis of the deeply rooted survivalist instincts of East European Jewry rather than on the basis of full blown Zionist principles and politics.

However, as soon as Witold returned to Israel in 1969 and confronted the realities of the new oppression of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza he quickly joined the small but growing circles of the non- and anti-Zionist opposition to the military occupation and mistreatment of Palestinians on both sides of the “Green Line.” Witold was a regular presence in this milieu for some twenty five years. For a time he collaborated with the Alternative Information Center and the publication News From Within. In recent years, he was a close collaborator of Israel Shahak, the well-known Israeli campaigner for human rights.

Having both been brought up in societies where letter writing had not gone out of fashion, Witold and I maintained a steady correspondence since he returned to Israel in 1969. I also saw him when I visited Israel in 1988 and again last August at the French Hospital (across the street from the Old City walls right over the line that used to separate East and West Jerusalem) in what turned out to be his death bed twenty-two days later.

Throughout those years, Witold kept me informed and greatly developed my interest in Polish and Middle Eastern affairs. Witold helped me to make sense of critical political developments in both areas, particularly the Polish events of 1970, 1976, and of course the formation of Solidarnosc in 1980. He was close to some of the founders of KOR (Workers’ Defense Committee), particularly Jan Josef Lipski, a friend since Witold’s young years. Witold’s own brother Jerzy, a well-known historian and university professor, was one of the early advisors of Solidarity.

Witold was not a Marxist. The rationalist spirit of Marxism was as alien to Witold as it is dear to me. As a literal survivor of both Nazism and Stalinism in Poland, Witold developed a kind of “irrationalist” view of the world. No wonder that our last and probably worst argument was about Postmodernism, which Witold found somehow congenial and which I detest. I should add, however, that Witold was an “irrationalist” with a difference. He was a deeply cultured person with a thorough training, which I envied, in the philosophy of science, psychology as well as in sociology properly speaki ng. He was a true humanist grounded in the very best of the Western intellectual tradition.

Most of all, Witold was an instinctual rebel and a declared enemy of oppression and injustice. It is only fitting that Israel Shahak and Witold’s other friends placed the following biblical verse in his tombstone: “Justice, and only justice shall you follow.” (Deuteronomy, chapter 16, verse 20).

ATC 60, January-February 1996

1 comment

  1. This is a very interesting article.

    For some older generations in Poland Jedlicki’s article “Jews and Rednecks” is as famous as Chruschov’s speech.

    But the author’s life (especially after he left Europe)is unknown. I tried to find something in Polish or English. But Jedlicki does not even have an entry in Wikipedia. Maybe his brother should write one.

    I remember readind “Jews and Rednecks” in samizdat in the eighties. I still have the copy, I think

    Just one pedantic correction. Crooked Circle is a street in the Old Town Warsaw. The name of the club which Jedlicki was active in was thus Crooked Circle Street Club.

    PS. The title of the paper was “Jews and Rednecks”, which were the names of the two principal factions in Poland’s communist party after Stalin’s death, around the time of the Hungarian uprising.”The Jews” were former Stalinists turned “liberals” and “the Rednecks” were former Stalinists turned neostalinist hardliners. But this is ancient history….

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