‘The Captive Mind’ of the Anticommunists

Thursday, 12 February 2015, 4:00pm - 5:30pm, IWM library
The famous book The Captive Mind, written by Czesław Miłosz in 1953, became a milestone in the conceptualization of the communist threat in the 20th century. Both for Westerners and for Poles The Captive Mind was crucial to the struggle with the communist threat, along with such books as George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. But the understanding of it was very different on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Intellectuals like Karl Jaspers or Dwight MacDonald (and later Tony Judt) interpreted the book The Captive Mind very differently than Jerzy Giedroyć (Miłosz’ publisher) and Zbigniew Herbert and the entire anti-communist opposition. Actually, Polish anti-communists where much closer to Polish communists in their understanding of it (and of communist ideology) than to Western intellectuals and to Miłosz himself. This paradox is a part of the unwritten story about how the struggle with communism used to arrest the minds of the most intelligent and brave anticommunist dissidents.

Sławomir Sierakowski is the founder of Krytyka Polityczna (Political Critique), a movement of left-wing intellectuals, artists and activists based in Poland (with branches in Ukraine, Germany and Russia), and the Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw. Currently, he is a Visiting Fellow at the IWM.