Communism Never Happened

Seminars and Colloquia

Almost every time a public discussion deals with questions of redistribution or social justice, there is a person standing up and saying something like: “Yes, we know that experiments from history and they all end up in some kind of Gulags!” This can be observed e.g. in debates around Corbynism in the UK or Bernie Sanders in the US, when they are portrayed as vicious Marxists who want to reanimate ugly socialism. The proposition of this talk was to look at the historical experience of Eastern Europe and try to answer the question to what extent it was a communist experience, if matched with the vision and principles of communism as constructed in the 19th and 20th century. The goal was to show that however we evaluate that period, calling it “communist” makes no more sense than agreeing that the German Democratic Republic was “democratic”, because this was asserted by its propaganda and its official name. The talk tried to put forward an analytical framework that allows for a better conceptualization and a more accurate description of the actually existing “communism.”


Jan Sowa is Associate Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. Currenly he is a Visiting Fellow at the IWM.