Polish philosopher and author Kolakowski dead at 81

WARSAW (Reuters) - Leading Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, who turned against his Marxist beliefs, went into exile and then branded his old doctrine “the greatest fantasy of the 20th century,” died on Friday aged 81.

Kolakowski, who won international renown with his monumental “Main Currents of Marxism,” died in hospital in Oxford, the PAP state news agency said. Kolakowski had lived and taught mainly at Oxford since leaving communist Poland as a dissident in 1968.

“We have lost a man who rendered remarkable services in the cause of a free and democratic Poland,” the speaker of Poland’s parliament, Bronislaw Komorowski, told deputies who observed a minute of silence for Kolakowski.

Starting off as an orthodox Marxist in postwar Poland, Kolakowski became progressively disenchanted and his calls for a more democratic version of socialism led him into conflicts with the censors which finally forced him to move to the West.

In exile, first at Berkeley University in California and then at Oxford’s All Souls, Kolakowski wrote books on the history of ideas, culminating in his “Main Currents of Marxism,” published in 1978, which chronicled the origins, rise and decline of Karl Marx’s philosophy.

Kolakowski argued that the totalitarian cruelty of Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union was the logical end of Marxist thought.

From Britain, he backed Poland’s pro-democracy Solidarity movement which finally overthrew communist rule in 1989. In his later years, Kolakowski wrote plays and short stories and took a keen interest in religious issues.

Writing by Gareth Jones, editing by Ralph Boulton