Seeds Beneath the Snow

Seeds Beneath the Snow

THE BROKEN MIRROR, A COLLECTION OF WRITINGS FROM CONTEMPORARY POLAND, Ed. by Pawel Mayewski; Introduction by Lionel Trilling. Random House. New York, 1958.

This competent translation of some of the writings of the younger Polish intellectuals in the forefront of the recent revolt against Stalinist orthodoxy serves to remind us that those who assumed that totalitarian dominance would extinguish intellectual life were profoundly mistaken. In Jan Strzelecki’s Notes 1950-1953, written, though of course not published, at the high point of Stalinist terror, the insight into the mechanism of totalitarian domination is as at least as penetrating as that of the Western observers who attempted to describe the phenomenon “from the outside.” When Strzelecki writes, “Participation in public and political life may become an instrument of dehumanization,” or “Thus we spread over people and the world the opaque dome of our superstructure…. There are no experiences but those we allow the people to have,” there is a shock of recognition: these men know as deeply as an Orwell the inner mechanism of totalitarian dominance.

It was simply not true, as so many believed, that in totalitarian societies there flourish only opportunists and 198 dupes; the conscious effort not to be duped seems to have become a peculiar stimulus for the development of a critical imagination. When Strzelecki writes, “We have become ascetics of the geometry of organized life,” we realize that he has penetrated the innermost layers of the totalitarian ethos.