Rosa Luxemburg

Foreword to the Anthology:
The Polish Question and the Socialist Movement


First Published: The book to which this essay was the Foreword was published in Polish in Krakow in 1905. In addition to the Foreword, it contained several other articles by Rosa Luxemburg, and reprints of articles by Karl Kautsky, Franz Mehring, and “Parvus” (A. Helphand).
Source: The National Question – Selected Writings by Rosa Luxemburg, edited and introduced by the late Horace B. Davis, Monthly Review Press, 1976.
Translated: Original in Polish, translated to German, this version from the German to English. We realize this is not at all a desirable situation, and copyright free translations direct from the Polish would be highly prefered.
Transcription/Markup: Ted Crawford/Brian Baggins
Public Domain: You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the source above as well as the Marxists Internet Archive.

Habent sue fate libelli! as the saying goes, and a fitting epigraph indeed to the present volume, a collection of articles on the Polish question that have appeared, written by various authors, in different journals, in different years, and in different languages. The book, in fact, contains a sampling of the intellectual history of Polish Socialism, and provides us with a conspectus of a truly unique phenomenon, namely, the lengthy debate that took place in the international press around the political program of Polish Socialists, in particular around the International Socialist Congress in London in 1896.

It was no mere coincidence that the internal affairs of Polish Socialists were brought into the European forum and placed before the tribunal of international socialism. Indeed, the exchange of opinion over the tactics of the labor parties in the various countries has become more and more the custom of late in the Socialist International. The history of Jaurèsism[2] or the general strike of the Belgian Labor Party in April 1902[3] – certainly illustrate the point; each provoked a lively discussion in the German, Dutch, and Russian press – and elsewhere as well.

In particular, the opportunist tendency, which reared its head throughout the entire international movement a few years ago, taking everywhere almost identical forms and provoking almost identical counterblasts from the revolutionary flank, gave rise to a curious confraternity among like-minded groups in different countries. Thus its net effect was actually to tighten international bonds, despite its inherent tendency to foster national and local parochialism and fragment the socialist movement. But Polish Socialism occupies – or at any rate once occupied – a unique position in its relation to international socialism, a position which can be traced directly to the Polish national question.

That the Polish insurrections should have aroused the warmest sympathies among European democrats need hardly cause surprise. But it was political interests – not merely the bonds of sympathy – that tied the Polish question to the cause of democracy in the West. From the time that Russian tsardom entered internal European politics, acting, through the Holy Alliance, as the gendarme of international reaction, democrats in France, and especially in Germany, have had to regard it as an actively hostile force which had to be effectively neutralized if a European revolution was to succeed. Yet within Russia itself, within the Russian society, no revolutionary signs were yet visible. The first manifestations along these lines – the Decembrist movement at the beginning of the nineteenth century,[4] and the attempted assassination by Karakozov[5] in the middle of the century – as well as other events occurring later, seemed to have erupted only to illuminate the black night of tsardom’s unbending barbarism with a momentary ray of hope. It is quite understandable, then, that in the eyes of the West, the armed Polish insurrections appeared to be the only revolutionary force at hand; but even beyond that, they served the function of keeping the forces of Russian absolutism occupied, and thus safeguarding the cause of democratic revolution in the West.

Thus the viewpoint of German democracy toward Russia and Poland evolved quite naturally, and Karl Marx, in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, was its radical and most consistent representative. The idea of a declaration of war against Russia, together with a call to insurrection in Poland, constituted the core of Marx’s foreign policy during the March revolution. Marx, who belonged to the most radical left wing of the revolutionary democracy of the time, swung boldly from defensive to offensive tactics in this question as well: rather than postponing a clash with tsardom until such time as it should decide to intervene in Germany, he chose to challenge absolutism from the outset by carrying the torch of war and revolution into Russia itself.

What prospects this tactic actually had for success, or the extent to which it had any basis in reality, need not occupy us here. For the present, our only concern is to establish that in these circumstances, and in them alone, lies the basis for the traditional views on the Polish question that international socialism was later to inherit. Not socialist theory or tactics, but the burning political exigencies of German democracy at the time – the practical interests of the bourgeois revolution in Western Europe – determined the viewpoint that Marx, and later Engels, adopted with respect to Russia and Poland.[6] Even at first glance this standpoint reveals its glaring lack of inner relation to the social theory of Marxism. By failing to analyze Poland and Russia as class societies bearing economic and political contradictions in their bosoms, by viewing them not from the point of view of historical development but as if they were in a fixed, absolute condition as homogeneous, undifferentiated units, this view ran counter to the very essence of Marxism.

To Western democracy at that time Poland was the land of insurgents and Russia the land of reaction – nothing more. Neither the social circumstances, the economic basis, nor the political content of the Polish insurrections had any real existence for either German Socialists or bourgeois democrats, or at least they were accorded very little importance: so little, in fact, that as late as 1875, in his reply to Tkacev,[7] in the journal Volkstaat, Engels begins his enumeration of the factors undermining Russian absolutism thus: “First come the Poles. “[8]

But in point of fact, when Engels wrote these words “the Poles.” i.e., that undifferentiated nation whose sole concern was presumably the struggle for independence, had long ceased to exist – if indeed they had ever existed. For at just this time Poland was experiencing the greatest orgies of “organic labor,” the frantic dance of capitalism and capitalist enrichment over the graves of the Polish nationalist movements and the Polish nobility, by then a thing of the past. Shortly thereafter, history was to provide graphic proof that Poland had ceased to be the land of “the Poles” and had become a fully modern bourgeois society, rent by class contradictions and class struggle: only two or three years after Engels wrote these words, the Socialist movement was to make its first entry onto the stage of Polish history.

For a long time, these traditional views on Poland lay dormant in international socialism. After the last insurrection, the trumpet blasts of national struggle died away. Polish capitalists no longer drew the attention of all of Europe by the clatter of their arms. The bourgeois cry, “enrichissez-vous,” requires universal peace and tranquillity; like the violet, it prefers to hide itself away among the shadows, and shies from nothing so much as from the envious eyes of its neighbors. And Polish Socialists, for their part, far from striving to link their politics with the traditions of rebellion at the outset, did, in fact, just the opposite: from the start they took up a fully conscious and determined stand against these traditions in Polish society, and what is more, abstained from any reliance on them even within the ranks of international socialism itself. Indeed, the first serious Socialist organization in Poland – the “Proletariat” Party – made its opposition to the nationalist movements and its sharp criticism of them the keystone of its class position.[9] The founders and theoretical leaders of the Proletariat Party were by no means unfamiliar with Marx’s and Engels’ opinions on the Polish question, yet they were not in the least confused by them; on the contrary, they regarded them merely as the outworn vestige of old views that had been based on an ignorance of the social content of the nationalist movements within Poland and of the social changes that had taken place within the country since the last insurrection. When the group, Równosć,[10] i.e., Ludwik Waryński, Stanislav Mendelson, Szymon Dickstein, and their comrades called an international meeting in Geneva in November 1880, on the fiftieth anniversary of the November insurrection to make clear once and for all their emphatically anti-nationalist position, among the various letters and telegrams they received was also one from Marx and Engels which tersely summed up the historical relationship between the slogan of Polish independence and the revolution in the West:

The cry “Let Poland live!” which then resounded throughout Western Europe was not only an expression of sympathy and support for the patriotic fighters who had been crushed by brute force – this cry greeted the people all of whose revolts, in themselves so disastrous, always held back the advance of counter-revolution: the people, whose best sons never ceased to carry out armed resistance and always fought under the flag of the people’s revolutions. On the other hand the partition of Poland consolidated the Holy Alliance, that mask for the hegemony of the Tsars over all European countries. Thus the cry “Let Poland live!” in and of itself meant: “Death to the Holy Alliance, death to the military despotisms of Russia, Prussia, Austria, death to the Mongolian supremacy over contemporary society.”

The letter ends with the words:

The Poles therefore played outside the borders of their country a great role in the battle for the freeing of the proletariat: they were its best international fighters. To-day, since this battle is developing among the Polish people themselves, the propaganda and press of the revolutionary movement may support it, may join with the efforts of our Russian brothers; that will be one more reason for reviving the old cry: “Let Poland live!”[11]

In his wide-ranging address to the meeting, Ludwik Waryński said the following in reply to this letter:

The Triple Alliance had its adversary in the International, which had called all working people to struggle under a common banner, the banner of international revolution. But not feeling itself in possession of enough forces to meet the reaction head-on, the International did not trouble itself to subsume the Polish question under a general program for the liberation of the proletariat. It was thought that the Polish revolutionary patriots were the only organized force in the Russian empire that could check the tsar’s efforts to intervene in Europe in support of reaction. For a long time, our part in the international movement was reduced to this. Even the authors of The Communist Manifesto linked their immortal rallying cry: “Proletarians of all countries unite,” with another that was attractive even to the bourgeoisie and the privileged classes in general: the cry “Long live Poland!” This regard and sympathy for Poland, the Poland of the exploiters and the exploited, demonstrates that previous political expediencies have still today retained their force in the eyes of its defenders. But the relevance of these earlier interests is gradually diminishing, and we may hope that they will soon be forgotten.

Waryński was wrong. The Polish traditions were, indeed, forgotten for a time in the international socialist movement; but they did not disappear – even though the historical conditions which had originally given rise to them had changed radically. Even ideology bears the stamp of conservatism, and the ideology of the working-class movement – even granting the thoroughly revolutionary spirit of its world view – is no exception to this rule. In its positions and attitudes on particular questions it lags considerably behind actual developments, to which it must from time to time readjust through a process of radical revision. But the Social Democracy is a party of political struggle, not of philosophical inquiry for the attainment of abstract truths. Hence, it takes up the revision of its old, out-of-date views only when the tangible interests of the working-class movement make such a revision necessary. Traditional views thus often lie for a long time uncontested in the treasure chest of Social Democracy, though the circumstances to which they were attuned may have long since disappeared from the scene. It is only when new developments cause the emergence of new vital needs for the movement which stand in flagrant contradiction with these musty old traditions, and collide with them, that political opinion drags them into the light for a thorough critical review.

That is what happened with Socialists’ traditional views on the Polish question. Though they had been preserved in spirit, practical politics provided them no chance for public airing. There were no Polish national movements that might have given them a new breath of life, and the Polish Socialists had, as we have seen, avoided the embarrassment of these old ideas by simply ignoring them and pursuing a strongly anti-nationalist policy without asking anybody’s permission.

But the entry of the social-patriotic tendency, represented by the Polish Socialist Party, onto the scene in 1893 changed all that.[12] True, there had been previous attempts to link the Polish Socialist movement with a programmatic demand for the restoration of Poland for example, by the group, Lud Polski, in 1881, or the group, Pobudka,[13] in 1889, both under the aegis of B. Limanowski.[14] But both of these two ephemeral groups felt themselves so deeply isolated from the mainstream of international socialism that they made not the slightest effort to link up their views with the Marxist traditions – especially as their program was quite explicitly based not on the theory of modern socialism, but on a peculiar brand of sentimental and metaphysical phraseology.

The Polish Socialist Party was the first to attempt to revive and renovate the dormant legacy of Marx’s 1848 position, and indeed it was quite ambitious in the undertaking. An entire system was created and set into motion to reclaim, so to speak, the old Polish traditions drifting about among socialists in Western Europe. The present volume contains several examples, in particular the article by Herr Hacker from Cracow.[15] This system relied – as one of our comrades aptly put it – on the collecting of “vouchers for the restoration of Poland” from all the luminaries of Western European socialism, vouchers that were obtained by convincing the French, English, Italian, German, etc. Socialists – the letter by Antonio Labriola is a good case in point – that “the whole of Polish socialism wants” the restoration of Poland, and then soliciting from them in advance a show of sympathy for this undertaking. Confronted in this manner by a fait accompli, and having no reason to rack their brains unbidden over the rationality or irrationality of the program of some foreign party, with whose language and terms of combat they were unfamiliar, the Western socialists of course granted the solicited voucher, wrote the requested letters or essays without too much reflection, and said a few words here and there at an occasional meeting – which of course was precisely why they had been invited.

Thus, the diligently accumulated endorsements by prominent figures of the international working-class movement became ritualized into an endlessly repeated litany for social patriotism in the literature of this tendency during the years 1895 to 1896 in the special May edition for 1896, in essays in Przedświt,[16] in Gazeta Robotnicza, etc., Marx, Engels, Liebknecht, Bebel, Kautsky, Bernstein, Guesde, Labriola, Hyndman, Eleanor Marx Aveling, Moteler, Lessner, and so on, were incessantly cited as enthusiastic supporters of the restoration of Poland; at the same time, no opportunity was missed to rekindle the old traditions iii the Western European press.

This unprecedented phenomenon was not the work of chance, nor was it merely the product of bad taste on the part of the custodians of social patriotism. When this tendency first surfaced in the Polish labor movement in 1893 and 1894 it met with an extremely hostile reception. Given the radical anti-nationalism with which Równosć and Przedświt had shaped political opinion in Polish Socialist circles for fifteen years, in the spirit of the old Proletariat Party, this abrupt about-face entailed by the programmatic demand for the restoration of Poland was greeted with the greatest hostility.

From the anti-nationalist perspective long inculcated by the Proletariat Party, the espousal of patriotism, with its indulgent nostalgia for the old watchwords of the rebellions of the Polish nobility, could be viewed as nothing less than a betrayal of the socialist banner and of the class struggle. To overcome this hostile atmosphere and these firmly rooted traditions of the Proletariat Party, an artful argument, based on the class standpoint of the socialist movement, had to be found to justify these new nationalistic demands. But King Solomon himself could not have provided such an argument; for, as the saying goes, ”où il n’y a rien, le roi perd ses droits”: social patriotism simply could not be justified. The notorious bit of sophistry that was hit upon to make this “workers’ “ program more palatable, namely, that the constitution of an independent Poland would surely be more “democratic” than any Russian constitution which might follow after the fall of the tsardom, obviously satisfied only the modest intellectual needs of third- and fourth-rate sympathizers. Accordingly, the simplest way out of these difficulties was through a direct appeal to the traditions of international socialism, by calling upon the names of Marx and Engels and other prominent socialists who succeeded them. A long list of big names in the high court of socialism was made to serve in default of any sound argument in support of the social patriotic program. In this way, the restoration of Poland lost its stigma as the betrayal of socialism – after all, the most accomplished theoreticians and practitioners of the European movement had come out in support of this slogan – and the Polish Socialist Party’s program had obtained the direct sanction of Marxism – hadn’t “Marx himself” attested to its correctness? From this point on, all doubts, misgivings, or aversions in Polish socialist circles with regard to this about-face toward social patriotism were set to rest by reciting over again the litany: Marx, Engels, Liebknecht, Bebel, Eleanor Aveling, Labriola, etc., or perhaps even the other way around: Labriola, Bebel, Liebknecht, Engels, Marx, and so on.

A moment’s reflection is enough to convince one that such a solution to the problem rested upon an utterly primitive, double deception. Socialists abroad were misled into believing that the entire Polish labor movement regarded the restoration of Poland as their programmatic demand, a demand no longer even subject to question, and on this basis expressed their support of it. And Polish Socialists were, in their turn, beguiled by all these proclamations of sympathy from socialists abroad into assuming, also falsely, that the entire international socialist movement urgently required that they stand actively behind the restoration of Poland. Thus, in both quarters, this policy of social patriotism maintained itself only by stifling any critical appraisal, and rested solely on the force of authority – in Europe, on the authority of the entire Polish labor movement, and in Poland itself, on the prestigious names of Marx, Engels, etc.

As we have seen, the authority of Marx himself on this question, even while he was still alive, had no great influence on socialists of the caliber of Ludwik Waryński: it caused them to waver not at all in their views. But for the petit-bourgeois, patriotically minded intelligentsia, from whom the social-patriotic tendency had originally drawn its recruits – because of and not in spite of the nationalist aspects of its program – for them the personal authority of Marx, Engels, Bebel, Liebknecht, etc., was sufficient to purge their minds of any and all doubts. After the long years of a veritable anti-nationalist crusade on the part of socialists of the Waryński stamp, it was an especially agreeable discovery to find that perhaps one had been a nationalist all along, and even so – indeed, almost on that account the purest of socialists.

Now that the traditional views of the Socialist International on the Polish question had finally obtruded into the realm of practical concerns of the labor movement, it became a matter of crucial importance for Polish and international socialism to subject them to a critical analysis. Specifically, it was necessary to do away with the illusions and obsolete views on Poland from which social patriotism had created an imposing obstacle to a socialist class standpoint in the labor movement in Poland – a critical analysis had to be applied to the traditions which had been transformed by the adherents of social patriotism into a veritable article of faith for Polish Socialists. At the heart of the matter was a revision of the obsolete views of Marx on the Polish question, in order to open the way to the principles of Marxist theory for the Polish labor movement.

On the other hand, there was a very immediate aim behind this revival and renovation of the Polish nationalist traditions among socialists in Germany and elsewhere. In fact, these traditions had been specifically cultivated for several years by a newsletter entitled Bulletin Officiel du Parti Socialiste polonais. It was hoped that by imposing the programmatic demand for Poland’s restoration not only on the socialists in the kingdom, but on those in Galicia and the Prussian sector as well, it would be possible to bring the three sectors of the polish labor movement – which were struggling under totally different circumstances – together on a nationalist basis, and thus in opposition to the most vital political interests of the Polish proletariat. Of course, the other thrust of this tendency was obviously to isolate the Polish Socialist movement politically from the class-wide German and Austrian Social Democracy movement, and hence to split the ranks of the German and Austrian proletariat, at that time homogeneous, along nationalist lines.

The high point, the crowning touch to the two-year efforts of the social patriots was to have been the International Socialist Congress in London in August 1896, where the Polish Socialists were to put forward a resolution that would have given sanction to their campaign to get the restoration of Poland recognized as an absolute necessity for the international labor movement. In this way, the nationalist tendency in the Polish labor movement meant to obtain the sanction of the highest Socialist body, with all the material consequences that entailed. Such a sanction would have effectively quashed any subsequent protest that might have arisen from within the ranks of Polish Socialists.

Under these circumstances, the proposal put forward by the Polish Socialist Party at the London congress naturally gave rise to an extensive debate on the Polish question. This debate, which was in part of a theoretical nature, but also extended into the realm of tactics and practical politics, was initiated in Neue Zeit, and later taken up by Vorwärts, the central organ of the German Social Democracy and other German party newspapers (Leipziger Volkszeitung, Sächsische Arbeiterzeitung), and even found its way into the Italian press. The reader will find the entire lively discussion of 1896 and the years following in the present volume.[17] As we – contrary to the social-patriotic tendency – consider it a governing maxim of Social Democracy to encourage rather than stifle critical thinking in socialist ranks, we offer the reader all the stated opinions unaltered, all the pros and cons uttered on the issue at that time, without making the least attempt to impose ready-made answers or final conclusions. We have reproduced all of this abundant material so that the reader himself may have the opportunity to evaluate the discussion independently and form his own opinion and judgement on this problem, so fundamental to the Polish labor movement.

Politically, the immediate objectives of the debate launched in Neue Zeit were certainly achieved. It stirred up quite a few minds, and induced Western European socialists to devote some thought to the political meaning and concrete implications of the Social Patriotic Party, so that the latter’s proposal at the London congress was tabled, and in its place a resolution unanimously adopted that once again, in general terms, affirmed the sympathy of socialists for all oppressed nationalities and gave recognition to their right to self-determination. Of course there had never been any doubts about the sympathy and compassion of socialists for oppressed nations! Indeed, such sentiments follow naturally from the socialist world view. And no less clear and self-evident was – and is to socialists, the right of every nation to independence; that too flowed directly from the most elementary principles of socialism. But the social patriots who submitted the resolution were not interested in a mere blanket declaration of sympathy for all nationalities; rather, they wanted the restoration of Poland acclaimed as a specific political desideratum of the labor movement. The right of a nation to independence was neither here nor there; the crucial concern was to have the campaign of Polish Socialists to establish this right in Poland recognized as correct and necessary. But in effect the London congress ruled precisely to the contrary. Not only did it set the Polish situation squarely on a level with the situation of all other oppressed peoples; it at the same time called for the workers of all such nations to enter the ranks of international socialism as the only remedy for national oppression, rather than dabbling off and on with the restoration of independent capitalist states in their several countries; only in this way could they hasten the introduction of a socialist system that, by abolishing class oppression, would do away with all forms of oppression, including national, once and for all.

This immediate result of our critical attack shows clearly the extent to which the traditional views on the Polish question on which the very existence of the patriotic tendency in the international movement depended – had, for the most part, already outlived their time, and moreover, how diametrically opposed they were to the real interests of the labor movement. This was brought out especially clearly by the fact that the question of Poland’s restoration was posed by the proletariat on the level of practical politics in such a way that it inevitably provoked a whole new series of international questions which opened up perspectives that previously, the time of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung and the 1848 Revolution, had not even existed. Thus, the question was immediately posed: If the international proletariat were to recognize the national restoration of the Polish state as a goal of socialist politics, why then should it not recognize the separation of Alsace-Lorraine from Germany and its restitution to France also as a goal of Social Democracy? Or support Italian nationalism in its efforts to regain Trieste and the Trentino? Even the question of the separatist ambitions in the Bohemian territories was raised.

Furthermore, recognition of the tendency calling for Polish Socialist organizations to separate themselves from the existing socialist parties in the countries involved in the Partition, and, conversely, for the proletariat in the three Polish territories to merge into one workers’ party, gave rise to a whole series of organizational questions. In Germany, not only Poles, but a large number of Danes, Alsatian French, and Lithuanians in East Prussia, live side by side with the German population. The practical consequences of the principle the social-patriotic tendency had adopted for the benefit of the Polish proletariat would have been the splitting up of the united German Social Democracy into particular parties defined along nationalist lines. The same consequences would certainly have followed for many other countries as well, since almost none of the larger modern states has a homogeneous population.

For these reasons, a sanctioning of the social-patriotic tendency would have necessitated a thoroughgoing revision of the existing positions of the international Social Democracy and a regression – in program, tactics, and organizational principles – from a solid foundation in class politics to a policy based on nationalism.

It sufficed, then, to draw attention to the concrete implications and questions inherent in the social-patriotic tendency for the entire affair to be raised from the level of a specifically Polish question to one of truly international import, and thus to draw German, Italian, and Russian comrades as well into the discussion.

Especially the last named. The resolution of the Polish Socialist Party at the London congress, and indeed the whole tendency which would have been sanctioned by its adoption, was of major political importance for the labor movement in Russia itself.

Polish readers who are reasonably well acquainted with the publications of the Polish Socialist Party know that ever since 1893, the year when it first appeared in the public arena, the polish social-patriotic tendency has attempted to justify its existence before the Polish public principally, and in fact almost solely, on the basis of the social stagnation in Russia and the hopeless prospects of the Russian labor movement.[This finds its most pointed formulation in the lead article of issue number 11 of Przedświt, 1894; the following extract is characteristic:

There are some among us who support our program, or imagine that they do, yet make the following reservation: in all our efforts to achieve an independent Polish republic we must not forget that if a powerful rebellion occurs in Russia promising success of the constitutional movement, we too should join forces with this movement and do our part to obtain a constitution. Others go even further, saying: to be sure, independence is imperative for the Polish workers, and sooner or later they must obtain it, but to do so they must first possess constitutional freedoms; only when we are able to organize the masses of workers will we struggle for the ultimate objective of our political efforts – a democratic republic. As we have already stated, such persons are in error if they think we are in their camp; and if they still agree with our demand for independence they do so only because they have not taken the trouble to draw all the consequences from this step. How can one make room for the possibility of a struggle for a constitution in the program when one does not believe in the existence of the forces that could achieve such a constitution? And yet this disbelief is still rampant among us, even since the present political program was formulated. Further, how can our supporters of a “possible” constitution reconcile their efforts with their belief in the reactionary nature of Russian society and the impotence of the socialist elements in Russia, when the combination of these factors forces them to assume from the outset that in Russia our constitutional freedoms are either quite negligible or totally non-existent. In the meantime, none of our arguments enjoys such popularity among our comrades as does the argument of the reactionary nature of Russia.

By rekindling and cultivating the traditional policy on Poland in the West, social patriotism tried to preserve as well these traditional views on Russia within the ranks of international socialism. By systematically portraying the Polish labor movement as the only serious revolutionary element in tsardom, it succumbed to the delusion that the same views on the social situation in Russia that were prevalent at the time of the 1848 Revolution in the Russia of Nicholas I, the Russia of serfdom, had entrenched themselves among German, French, and other socialists. Thus, when the Russian labor movement emerged at the end of the eighties, it found itself faced with a highly unreceptive atmosphere in international socialist circles. And just at the time when the eruption of a mammoth strike of forty thousand workers in the spring of 1896 in Petersburg heralded the beginnings of a mass movement of the Russian proletariat, at precisely this time, international socialism was to declare officially, on the strength of a social-patriotic resolution, that it placed its hope for the fall of tsardom not in the political class struggle of this proletariat but in the national struggle of the Poles in effect, a public proclamation that it placed no stock whatsoever in the Russian workers or their revolutionary struggle.

Thus, the criticism at the London congress of the social patriots’ resolution, and hence, by extension, of the entire traditional standpoint on the Polish question, developed almost immediately into a criticism of the traditional views on Russia: instead of outdated images of the patriarchal Russia of Nicholas I, Western socialists were once again confronted with the picture of a modern capitalist Russia, the Russia of a struggling proletariat, demonstrating categorically that the Russian labor movement had come of age, and had earned the recognition of the international movement as a reality, and a crucial one, that had to be reckoned with.

What had originally begun as an internal affair among Polish Socialists provoked a debate that ended in a thorough-going revision of prevailing opinions in Western European socialism in three areas: the international situation, the situation in Russia, and the situation in Poland.

One hears a great deal of talk about Marxist “dogmatism.” But the revision of the views on the Polish question provides forceful demonstration of how utterly superficial such objections are. True, Polish social patriotism did try hard for sonic time to transform a particular view of Marx’s on a current issue into a genuine dogma, timeless, unchangeable, unaffected by historical contingencies, and subject to neither doubt nor criticism after all, “Marx himself” once said it. However, such an abuse of Marx’s name to sanction a tendency that in its entire spirit was in jarring contradiction to the teachings and theory of Marxism could only be defended as a temporary delusion suited primarily to the intellectual demoralization of the nationalist Polish intelligentsia.

Indeed, the essence of “Marxism” lies not in this or that opinion on current questions, but in two basic principles: the dialectical materialist method of historical analysis – with the theory of class struggle as one of its corollaries and Marx’s basic analysis of the principles of capitalist development. The latter theory, which explains the nature and origin of value, surplus value, money, and capital, of the concentration of capital and capitalist crises, is, strictly speaking, simply the application – albeit a brilliant one – of dialectics and historical materialism to the period of bourgeois economy. Thus, the vital core, the quintessence, of the entire Marxist doctrine is the dialectical materialist method of social inquiry, a method for which no phenomena, or principles, are fixed and unchanging, for which there is no dogma, for which Mephistopheles’ comment, “reason turns to madness, kindness to torment,”[18] stands as a motto over the affairs of human Society; and for which every historical “truth” is subject to a perpetual and remorseless criticism by actual historical developments.

Nor did the Polish Social Democracy ever see as its task the seeking of sanctions for earlier nationalist slogans in Marx’s obsolete views on Poland: instead, the method and underlying principles of the Marxist doctrine had to be applied to the conditions of Polish society. But here it found a theoretical tabula rasa in the archives of Polish Socialism The original founders of Polish Socialism. Waryński and his comrades, who brought scientific socialism to our country, encountered the remains of the nationalist ideology of the Polish nobility, including the theory of “organic labor,” at that time the dominant social ideology. As representatives of the interests of the new class, the proletariat, they had above all to settle accounts with the ideological legacy of the ruling classes, and they proceeded right to the task by branding the theories and earlier movements of Polish nationalism as the expression of the selfish class and caste interests of the nobility, and the theory of organic labor as the expression of the no less material, narrow, class interests of our industrial bourgeoisie. Thus, the Polish Socialists, at the end of the seventies and beginning of the eighties, prepared the way for the theory of class contradiction by struggling against the nationalism of the nobility no less than against the bourgeois notion of “organic labor,” which, as theory, proclaimed the harmony of interests of all social strata. That was the way Marx’s general analysis of capitalist society and its concrete implications – class struggle of the proletariat and socialist program – were brought to Poland. This, too, was a meritorious historical contribution of Ludwik Waryński, Dickstein, and comrades.

However, by setting socialist revolution as the immediate task of the Polish proletariat to counter the political program of the ruling class, Polish Socialists left the labor movement without any political program at all, and placed socialism on a conspiratorial and utopian foundation. In so doing, they condemned the socialist movement to stagnate within the narrow confines of a sect, and within a short time, to disappear from the political scene. [Our views on the successive transformations in the political position of the Waryński group can be found especially in “Dem Andenken des Proletariat (In Memory of the Proletariat Group)] One could use the above‑cited argument to hold one’s own against the nationalist social patriots as long as they opposed socialism on open grounds, under the old, worn-out slogan of harmony of interests and national unity in the spirit of T.T. Jez-Milkowski,[19] or even when they attempted to ally themselveswith socialism, if only in the primitive, incompetent, and naive manner of Mr. Limanowski’s ventures with “national socialism.” But confronted with the modern version of nationalism this argument was bound to miscarry, since the latter had disavowed the discredited theory of national unity and instead hid itself behind the theory of class struggle, appearing on the political stage with the program of the proletariat as its calling card.

Hence, Social Democracy found itself propelled by the precipitous growth of the Polish labor movement into mass dimensions at the beginning of the nineties, and after the collapse of the conspiratorial tendency within socialism was obliged to work out a solid political program for the class struggle of the proletariat. This could only be achieved -in accordance with Marxist theory – by investigating the current trends of Polish society, an investigation which sought the key to the understanding of phenomena of a political, intellectual, and moral nature in relations of production, and the class relations which grew out of them. It was no longer a question of describing the development of capitalism in Poland, to what extent it produced capital concentration, proletarianization, exploitation, in a word, social anarchy and class struggle. Rather, what was necessary was an analysis of this development, and of the extent to which it gave rise to specific political tendencies within society. That is, there was no longer any need to show that the patterns of capitalist development typical to all countries were now appearing in Poland as well; what was needed was to explain the specific features which capitalist development had brought to the social life of Poland as a result of our country’s particular historical and political conditions. In a word, the mere application of the stock, general conclusions of the Marxian analysis of bourgeois society to the case of Poland was not sufficient: it was necessary to undertake an original analysis of bourgeois Poland and in so doing bring socialism back down from its abstract clouds and empty schematism to the soil of Poland. This analysis, the economic aspects of which we attempted to sketch out in The Industrial Development of Poland [Leipzig: Duncker and Humbolt, 1898], was presented in summary form together with all the essential conclusions in an official report of the Social Democracy at the International Socialist Congress in Zurich in 1893.[20]

The result was twofold, with both aspects – one positive, the other negative – logically related: first, it provided a theoretical confirmation of a conclusion which the labor movement had already reached empirically in its mass development, namely, that the immediate political task of the Polish proletariat in the Kingdom of Poland was to join in common struggle with the Russian proletariat to bring about the downfall of absolutism, and institute democracy into political life. Second, it made clear that the struggle for the restoration of Poland was hopelessly utopian in the face of the development of capitalism in Poland, that, on the contrary, this very development had led to the above political program with the inevitability of the iron laws of history.

In this way, Polish Social Democracy was forced to find an independent explanation, as it were, for the social development of modern Poland by applying the principles of scientific socialism to Polish circumstances, in the same way that the Russian Social Democracy was forced to establish a positive program for the Russian proletariat by analyzing the specific social relations existing in Russia itself, and simultaneously mark out the path it was to take by its annihilating criticism of Narodnik theory.[21] Thus, after having travelled along completely different paths, in the positive results of their theories the Polish and Russian Social Democracies found themselves on common grounds – a common political program. There was just one difference: whereas Friedrich Engels had, in 1875, already shown a brilliant insight into the principal mistakes of the Russian Narodniks in his answer to Tkacev in Volkstaat, where he traced out the main lines of capitalist development from the disintegration of the village commune, in the case of Poland, neither Marx nor Engels had bothered to the very end to revise their old position of 1848; in fact, toward the last, they even mechanically applied this standpoint to the Polish Socialist movement, as we saw in their letter to the November Commemorative meeting in Geneva in 1880, and as was more recently made evident in Engels’ preface to the Polish edition of The Communist Manifesto in 1892.[22]

No sooner had Social Democracy come forward for the first time, in 1893, with its criticism of social patriotism based on Marxian social theory,[23] than it became plain that social patriotism was capable of mustering no more than sophomoric arguments for its own defense and justification. This intellectual poverty naturally still maintained a particular brilliance about it since it had to appear in the international arena as well as before the humble Polish public. The partisans of nationalism proved themselves totally incapable of even understanding this Marxian analysis, let alone providing some plausible refutation of it. For example, when it was pointed out what direction capitalist development was taking in Poland, namely, that the material interests of the ruling class were creating increasingly stronger ties between our country and Russia – the social patriots tried to “brand” this whole objective, extraordinarily complex historical process – a process extending from the purely economic foundations through key political interests and issues to the most subtle aspects of ideology – as the subjective striving of Social Democrats toward “organic integration,” or as a subjective concern for whether Polish manufacturers would still have anywhere to sell their “percale” once Poland was restored. The rejoinders of the supporters of social nationalism were on the same level: indignation that socialists should even acknowledge such a contemptible subject as capitalist development; or such magnanimous assurances as we find, for example, in the October 1894 issue of Przedświt, that Socialist delegates to parliament in restored Poland would make it their special concern to ponder over how one might find employment for the workers who would lose their jobs as a consequence of the collapse of Polish industry brought about by the loss of Russian markets. [The future historian studying the “national humor” in modern Poland will find invaluable treasures in the social-patriotic publications. We offer the following pearl in its entirety: “Let Messrs. Scheibler & Co. lose millions in profits they are presently getting from the sale of their percale to various Kalmuks or to Chiwa; we shall hardly grieve about that, and even if a certain number of workers should have to lose their jobs on account of diminished market outlets for the products of Polish factories, we will not renounce independence on that account. It will be the responsibility of the future Socialist faction in parliament to provide for these unfortunates through appropriate parliamentary proposals and to agitate for a shortening of the working day, the right to work, etc.”].

In the face of a real embarras de richesses, of this and similar such naïvetés, uttered in all seriousness, it is hard to decide whether the prize should not go after all to the argument of a certain Mr. Zborowicz, who, like a true Moses, gave social patriotism its ten commandments: these anticipated every conceivable stupidity of this tendency as early as 1892 in the pamphlet, Beitrag zur Program der Polnischen Sozialen Demokraten (Contribution to the Program of the Polish Social Democrats, Berlin: Morawski). The author, who in his quest for “markets” for “our” industry, naively reveals the enthusiasm that he and his followers derive from an objective analysis of Social Democracy, develops the question in the following way, worthy of a Machiavelli: “... if political independence means we lose southern Russian markets, Russia will lose the Lithuanian market, presently dominated by Moscow industries, for the same reason. It will then be open to our industry; and add to that the Galician market which is presently inundated with Viennese products. It seems to me the compensation is worth the loss.”

This mindless and banal reduction of the whole of social relations in bourgeois Poland to the question of market outlets, this attempt to explain the dynamics of the objective historical process in terms of the subjective wishes, apprehensions, and concerns of socialists, showed that in the minds of social patriots the theory of historical materialism and the whole of Marx’s teachings had suffered the same caricaturing as in the minds of the bourgeois critics who periodically “demolish” Marxist doctrine by distorting it and perverting it into some horrible monstrosity. That such arguments, from a tendency that was trying to pass itself off as socialist, could even find their way into the Polish press and into similar articles in the German press – this fact in itself was appalling testimony to the intellectual level of the Polish intelligentsia. This was the harvest of long years during which the minds of our “radical” intelligentsia were educated in the banal and mindless eclectic mishmash of a Limanowski, that insipid socialist slumgullion that flaunts the name of “The Social Theories of the 18th and 19th Centuries,”[24] or in that vulgar, obstreperous “revolutionary” version of socialism that the foreign publishers of the former Proletariat had been dishing up in Walka and Przedświt[25] since the middle of the eighties. The sad fact had at last come out: the Polish intelligentsia had, at best, been educated to believe in the socialist faith but not to think in the spirit of scientific socialism. Just as it becomes immediately apparent in the debates between Marxists and their French and German bourgeois opponents that each side considered the other barbarians, that it was not differences of opinion on particular issues but their entire modes of thought, their Weltanschauung, that separated them, in exactly the same manner the feud with social patriotism resembled a dialogue at the Tower of Babel. Even the replies of the social patriots bore, from the beginning, that characteristic tremolo of exasperation and whining lament that usually accompanies the ripostes of the bourgeois adversaries of Marxism.

The Polish social patriots have this in common with all petit bourgeois utopians: both consider that the discovery of historical facts which controvert their utopian dreams is an act of personal baseness on the part of the discoverer. Not for all the world can they be brought to understand that if there is any baseness involved, it is at most the “baseness” of the objective process of history, but hardly the baseness of those that draw our attention to the particular trends of this process, and that this “base” process is by no means brought to a halt merely by closing one’s eyes to it. It is likewise beyond their grasp that any talk of the “baseness” of history necessarily misses the mark. The dialectic of history has this advantage, that as it undermines and abolishes traditional forms of satisfying social needs, it at the same time creates new forms. “Interests,” on the other hand, for whose preservation social evolution provides no material guarantees whatsoever, are usually, if one looks closely, for the most part obsolete, bankrupt, or even no more than merely imagined.

When the German and French democrats announced their position on the Polish question in 1848 they were guided on the one hand by consideration for the existing national movement of the Polish schlachta; on the other hand, however, they were merely being consistent with the interests of their own democratic politics. They had no connections with the Polish Socialist movement, nor indeed could they have had, since at that time no such movement existed. Today, however, there is one question that takes precedence over all others for us Polish Socialists in adopting a position on any social phenomenon: what are the implications of that position for the class interests of the Polish proletariat? Any analysis of objective social developments in Poland requires the conclusion that a campaign for the restoration of Poland this juncture is a petit bourgeois utopian fantasy, and, as such, is capable only of interfering with the class struggle of the proletariat and diverting it from its path. For this reason, the Polish Social Democracy today rejects the nationalist standpoint out of consideration for the interests of the Polish Socialist movement, and in so doing adopts an attitude diametrically opposed to that formerly held by Western democrats. Thus, the same historical change which turned the restoration of Poland into a utopian dream and put it in opposition to the interests of socialism in Poland, brought along with it a new solution for meeting international democratic interests on this point. After it had become apparent that the idea of making an independent Poland into a buffer and protective barrier for the West against the reactionary Russian tsardom was unrealizable, the development of capitalism, which had buried this idea in the first place, created in its place the revolutionary class movement of the united proletariat in Russia and Poland and in it a far more stalwart ally for the West, an ally that would not merely mechanically protect Europe from absolutism but would itself undermine and crush it.

Nor does this solution stand counter to the national interests of the Polish proletariat. Its real interests in this respect liberty, the free development of the national cultural heritage, bourgeois equality, and the abolition of all national oppression – find their only effective, nay, only possible expression in the universal class strivings of the proletariat for the broadest democratization of the partition countries, to which national autonomy is a self-evident corollary. Beyond this, however, to think that appropriation of the state apparatus in an independent class society under existing conditions is in the interests of the working class is no more than a utopian delusion, rooted in the prejudices of the petty bourgeoisie, and, as such, is alien to the real interests of the proletariat as it is to the thought of scientific socialism in general.

Social patriotism’s total lack of any argument capable of understanding criticism found its most blatant demonstration in the remarkable fact that a foreign theoretician, no less than Karl Kautsky, was needed to defend its position in the discussion being carried on in the foreign press.[26] In preparing this defense, Kautsky found himself faced with the necessity of having to develop entirely from his own resources a wholly original theory in support of the restoration of Poland, inasmuch as among the actual advocates of this program not a trace of a well-grounded argument could be discerned. The reader will see what difficulties confronted this illustrious representative of Marxism in grappling with the problem. Lacking any knowledge whatsoever of social life in Poland, he was forced to deduce the interests of the different Polish social classes from the nature of things – by mere abstract reasoning. In this way, as often happens with abstract reasoning, he arrived at the quite remarkable conclusion that the restoration of Poland was, in fact, an urgent necessity not only for the Polish proletariat, or even for any one particular class, but for all the social classes without exception – the bourgeoisie, the schlachta, the peasants, the petite bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia, and the proletariat. Thus, although the reputedly pure “workers’ program” of social patriotism had achieved in this altogether too congenial conclusion of Kautsky’s a net gain in terms of its actual basis and prospects for success, it had also lost whatever class character it may previously have had; whereupon it regressed to an earlier, more primitive phase, when it represented the harmony of interests of all social strata, to the national-unity theme of the blessed memory of Zygmunt Fortunat Milkowski.[27]

The fact that Kautsky’s article received no direct rebuttal was mainly due to the circumstance that its appearance coincided almost exactly with the opening of the London congress. and it was quite impossible for a reply to be published in such a short space. After the Congress, the discussion of the restoration of Poland no longer possessed the same timeliness and practical import, since, as we have mentioned, the Congress did not adopt the social-patriotic resolution which Kautsky’s essay was meant to support.

Kautsky admitted that the only factual basis for his general argument – the theory of the economic interests of the bourgeoisie and landed aristocracy – had been taken on faith from an article by a Mr. S.G. in Neue Zeit.[28] Behind these modest initials a Przedświt journalist had attempted to place the program for the restoration of Poland on “materialist” foundations, using as a basis a string of statistical fabrications, concocted historical facts, and quotations from various authors he happened to have at his finger tips. From these questionable sources, he shows that Polish capitalism, oppressed by tsardom, must give rise to a national-separatist tendency among the Polish bourgeoisie. As a writer of European stature, Kautsky, of course, could not suspect that such a weed, of the same species as the one that Lassalle had once already pulled up by the roots from German soil in his immortal excoriation of Julian Schmidt,[29] still flourished in the wretched fields of Polish journalism: as the saying goes, “la vermine pullule chez les mendicants.” So he fell prey to the fraud perpetrated by this “national” purveyor of facts. For this reason, it was just and proper that this Polish faker bore the brunt of our criticism, and not the misled German theoretician. As a matter of fact, The Industrial Development of Poland contains a quite substantial, if not complete, survey of the principal statistical falsifications of our Mr. S.G., who, at Przedświt, is presently engaged in drawing up plans of war and gunrunning for the national cause, and has not yet offered one word in rebuttal. Finally, as regards those arguments in Kautsky’s article that are of a purely political and tactical nature, the reader should have no trouble in determining for himself from Kautsky’s articles in the present volume that he has brought his views on the Polish question more closely in line with the Social Democratic position under the influence of facts which reaffirm this position anew every day.

This kind of revision of the traditional views on the national question was begun in Poland in 1896, and has continued down to the present time. In that same year, the Polish Socialist movement in Germany began to dissociate itself from the German movement, a process which has ended – after a long series of unspeakably painful incidents – in 1901 with the Polish Socialist Party in the Prussian sector finding itself completely cut off from German Social Democracy.[30] Much of what we had argued – at that time on an a priori basis – in the first article in Neue Zeit, in spring 1896, to be the logical consequence of the nationalist tendency, was later to be verified with the utmost precision. The political contradiction which the social-patriotic tendency had inevitably to produce between Polish and international socialism – as we pointed out from the very beginning – became a tangible fact in the history of the labor movement in Germany. These experiences could not help but have an impact on the views of German Social Democracy, and they indeed found official expression in the famous declaration of August Bebel and the party’s executive committee: he found it impossible, he said, to reconcile, or even to link up, the program for the restoration of Poland with the class struggle of the Polish proletariat.

In Russia, events took a similar course. The contradiction between the social-patriotic tendency and the Russian labor movement was bound eventually to find expression in practical terms, as the Russian Social Democracy began to grow into a cohesive party. The resultant revision that the Russian Social Democracy had to undertake with respect to the tendency represented by the PPS was set forth in several articles in Iskra, also to be found in this volume.[31] Finally, Franz Mehring, who at that time was engaged in editing the literary remains of Marx, Engels, and Lassalle, and examining their previously expressed views in the light of later developments, undertook a criticism of Marx’s statements on the Polish question from a purely theoretical perspective.[32] The review of the position taken in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, through application of the principles and methods of Marxism, led to a full acceptance of the views of Polish Social Democracy, so that we can now speak of a decisive and conscious shift on the Polish question all down the line, throughout the ranks of international socialism. [One can even say that this turn affects not only the Polish question, but nationalist tendencies of any sort within the labor movement, which today provoke pronounced hostility, and, where called for, sharp rejection.

[The political independence of the Bohemian territories was discussed as early as the end of 1898 in Neue Zeit where Karl Kautsky argued with exceptional trenchancy against this proposition (at that time defended by a certain F. Stampfer), on the basis of the principles and tactics of the Austrian Social Democracy. See this article of Kautsky’s in Die Neue Zeit, 1898-1899, Vol.I, nos.10 and 16.

[The efforts of Italian separatists in Trieste and the Trentino, and parallel nationalist tendencies in Italy, led to a special party conference of the Italian and Austrian Socialists in May 1905 in Trieste, where any solidarity or support of this nationalist movement was expressly rejected by both parties, thanks largely to the presence of the Austrian, Victor Adler, and the Italian, Bissolati.] Kautsky came out against the separatist tendencies of certain sections of the Armenian Socialists in a comprehensive article in the Leipziger Volkszeitung of May 1, 1905.

Finally, the past week has provided us with a thoroughly characteristic phenomenon that was not without a touch of comedy: a violent confrontation between the Galician party and the separatist tendency of the Jewish Socialists within the Polish organization. Following faithfully in the Prussian and Russian territories, the position of the PPS, whose separatism is publicly supported by the leaders of the Galician party, and even using some of the arguments of the PPS, the Jewish Social Democrats isolate themselves from the party of the Galician proletariat as a whole, and thereby give the supporters of social patriotism the opportunity to see the other side of the coin: the fragmentation of the proletariat as the logical result of their tendency. To overcome this tendency, which was threatening its existence, the Galician party took refuge in the authority of the pan-Austrian Social Democracy from which they received a flat condemnation of the separatists, i.e., the Jewish ones.

But the most emphatic proof of the theory offered by Polish Social Democracy in 1893, and which it began to defend in the international movement in 1896, is furnished by the events of the past few months and years. Indeed, as this book is going to press [1905], our country and Russia find themselves in the throes of a deep social crisis. The period from 1896, when the first of these articles appeared, up to the present, comprised an entire epoch in the development of both countries, and today the Hegelian revolutionary “transformation of quantity to quality”[33] is taking place for all to see; the quantitative changes that have accumulated unnoticed are now being transformed into a new quality. We are witnessing the culmination of capitalism’s slow erosion of absolutism from within, a process on which Social Democracy had based its programmatic perspective. And in this process, the two aspects of capitalist growth – to which we have called attention from the first – are finding their raw political expression. The economic merging of Poland with Russia into an economic unit that abolishes the material basis for national separatist tendencies in our society has found reflection in the remarkable circumstance that the Polish nationalist movement, as an effective political force calling for the restoration of Poland, has disappeared without a trace. The war summons all to life and action, and has brought to the surface all revolutionary and oppositional elements in Russian society; even such an essentially trivial phenomenon as Russian liberalism has found itself carried away in quite open revolutionary raptures. The war, the last appeal, which once and for all put to the test of history all aspirations toward independence, wherever even a spark still existed, unveiled before an astonished world a picture of ghostly silence in bourgeois Poland. Indeed, the only significant ways in which the nationalist movement registered the impact of the new revolutionary developments were the renunciation of the program of national independence by one wing of the nationalists, the National Democrats’ formal renunciation in an official declaration of policy in 1903,[34] and in the actual suppression of this program by the Polish Socialist Party, which completely abandoned its slogan of armed insurrection for the liberation of Poland from Russia at the first outbreak of revolution in tsardom. This party’s Political Declaration at the end of January of this year, which makes the demand for a “legislative sejm in Warsaw,” shows the utter bankruptcy of social patriotism in the face of the revolutionary crisis in Russia. In spite of all, it retains its reactionary, nationalistic core intact, as revealed in the fact that the slogan, a “legislative sejm in Warsaw,” is linked with no program for democratic freedoms for the Russian empire as a whole. The Social Democratic program, by contrast, demands a republic for all of Russia with national autonomy for Poland as an organic part of any general democratic freedoms. By its silence, and by its aloof disregard of freedom for all of the tsarist empire, social patriotism reveals its nationalist character and shows after all that it has retained its utopianism fully intact. Indeed, this utopianism becomes all the more absurd, in that the idea of a legislative sejm in Warsaw, suspended in mid-air, so to speak, and not tied down to earth by even a general notion of democracy for Russia, is even more utopian than the restoration of Poland: the latter, at least, was only a reactionary regression to the blunted, historically obsolete idea of an autonomous constitution for the Kingdom of Poland within the absolutist Russian state, as granted by the grace of the Congress of Vienna.

However, by disavowing the slogan of armed resistance to wrench Poland loose from Russia, and by reverting to the slogan of an autonomous Poland, which takes no account of the question of freedom in Russia, social patriotism openly admits that the course of events has quite simply reduced its political program to impotence. The only aspect remaining of nationalism today is its negative side – an aloofness from the revolutionary struggle for freedom in Russia – while its positive side, the demand for Polish autonomy, has turned out to be no more than an empty phrase. This much is clear: those who do not raise the call for Poland’s separation from Russia now, when tsardom is seething with violent revolution, will never do so. In other words, when revolution broke out, the only thing that remained of nationalism was reaction, while its outwardly and formally revolutionary side, that which flaunted the slogan of armed insurrection for national independence, vanished at the first wave of the present revolutionary upsurge, never to be seen again.

The other aspect of this capitalist process manifested itself at the same time in the form of the unified revolutionary class action of the Polish and Russian proletariat against absolutism and vindicated to the world the conclusions with which the author of the present article ended her book, The Industrial Development of Poland, in 1897: “As the Russian government incorporates Poland economically into the empire and cultivates capitalism as an ‘antidote’ to its nationalist opposition, it breeds, by this very process, a new social class in Poland the mighty industrial proletariat – a class, which by its very nature, must inevitably become the resolute opponent of the absolutist regime. Although the opposition of the proletariat cannot have a national character, this inability can only render its opposition all the more effective, since it must then counter the solidarity of the Russian and Polish bourgeoisie, so coveted by the government, with the only logical response: the political solidarity of the Polish and Russian proletariat. The result of the merging of Poland and Russia was a circumstance overlooked by the Russian government, the Polish bourgeoisie, and the Polish nationalists alike: the unification of the Polish and Russian proletariat into at single body to preside over the coming bankruptcy of, first, Russian tsardom, and then the combined rule of Polish and Russian capital” The first liquidation has already begun. The spirit of Marxism has triumphed in the revolution of the proletariat on the streets of Warsaw and Petersburg.

The whole course of social development, now reaching its culmination in the revolutionary upheavals in the tsarist empire, has struck a fatal blow to our nationalism but not to the cause of Polish national identity. Where reactionary utopianism, mired in the past, sees only ruin, defeat, and destruction, the scrutinizing eye, trained to decipher the historical dialectic of revolution, cannot but perceive the opening of new vistas for the deliverance of Polish national culture.

The accusations of “dogmatism” against Social Democracy are no less frequent than complaints about its “doctrinairism”: its alleged intellectual narrowness that is said to be bent on forcing the vast and infinitely varied world of social phenomena into a rigid schema that recognizes nothing but “material interests,” and is deaf and blind to the higher forms of psychic phenomena national sentiments, for example. Marxism can really have only one response to such critics: in Goethe’s words, “Ihr gleicht dem Geist, den Ihr begreift, nicht mir![35]

The Social Democratic world view is reduced to a narrow, intellectually stifling doctrine by just those critics who complain of its doctrinairism. The contrary is true: Marxism is, by its very nature, the most fecund, the most universal product of thought, a theory that makes the mind soar, vast as the world is wide, and as rich in color and tones as nature, urging to action, and pulsating with the vitality of youth. This theory, and no other, provides the key to the riddles of past history, and opens the way to our understanding of society as it continues to unfold; lifting us, “with one wing sustained in the past, the other grazing the future,” it impels us forward in the present to creative, truly revolutionary deeds.

But our being aware of the actual trends of historical development by no means absolves us from involvement in our own social history, or allows us to fold our arms fatalistically across our breasts and like an Indian fakir wait to see what the future will bring. “Men make their own history, but they do so not as free individuals,” says Marx.[36] One could, with full justification, state the converse: men do not make history as free individuals, but they make their own history. Far from blunting or sapping our revolutionary fervor, a sensitivity to the objective movement of history tempers the will and pushes us to action by showing us ways to drive the wheel of social progress effectively forward and by sparing us from impotently and fruitlessly knocking our heads against the wall, which sooner or later inevitably brings disappointment, despair, and quietism; through this knowledge we are protected as well from mistaking, as revolutionary activity, aspirations that have long since been transformed by the forces of social evolution into their reactionary opposites.

As the reader will perceive from the modest selection contained in this book, Marxism alone is in a position to provide an exhaustive explanation for the remarkable, puzzle-ridden history of our society over the last half-century, even to the most subtle nuances of its intellectual physiognomy, its ideology. Only a blustering simpleton would not find it puzzling that a society suffering such outrageous subjugation, whose most elementary national rights have been so systematically trampled under foot, whose intellectual and cultural life has been so brutally stunted – that such a society would not only give up its armed struggle for independence for fifty years, but would also abandon all efforts, however slight, to obtain a European, democratic way of life, and renounce all active opposition to its savage tyrants. Only people who “make” revolution and “rebellions” in small schoolboy cliques can toss off such historical problems and be done with them merely by branding certain classes as “conciliators” and blaming conciliation on a “handful” of their representatives; they, of course, do not understand that given the factual material circumstances of our social development, this “handful” of conciliators turns out to be the entire Polish bourgeoisie with its present historical mission, and hardly that other handful of individuals who discourse on “guns” and rebellions of petit bourgeois utopians. Only the Marxist scholar can best comprehend the deepest inner motives of Polish bourgeois society, its shameful past and its shameful present: he is in the best position to see in what directions our country’s history and the class struggle are driving. Only a penetrating study into the causes of the decline of the rebellious Polish nobility and of the disgraceful history of bourgeois-capitalist Poland, a study unclouded by romantic utopianism, made it possible to foresee the revolutionary regeneration of working-class Poland presently occurring before our eyes. Now, as in the past, it is an understanding of national and class development that enables us to grasp that the only real revolutionary deed at this juncture is bringing consciousness into this spontaneous historical process, there by foreshortening its course and speeding it onward toward its goal.

Doubtless the cause of nationalism in Poland bears a special historical relationship to the class struggle of the proletariat; but not at all in the sense imagined by the social patriots. For them the modern proletarian movement was a scapegoat from which one could exact payment for all the back debts, long since swept away by history, of the aristocracy and petite bourgeoisie, or which could be ordered to make good all the obligations of the bankrupt classes. The relationship was, in fact, quite otherwise. In the framework, in the spirit of the Polish proletarian class struggle, the cause of nationalism itself takes on quite a different appearance than it has in the aspirations of the schlachta and the petite bourgeoisie.

The cause of nationalism in Poland is not alien to the working class – nor can it be. The working class cannot be indifferent to the most intolerably barbaric oppression, directed as it is against the intellectual and cultural heritage of society. To the credit of mankind, history has universally established that even the most inhumane material oppression is not able to provoke such wrathful, fanatical rebellion and rage as the suppression of intellectual life in general, or as religious or national oppression. But only classes which are revolutionary by virtue of their material social situation are capable of heroic revolt and martyrdom in defense of these intellectual riches.

To tolerate national oppression, to toady to it servilely – that is the special talent of the schlachta and bourgeoisie, i.e., the possessing classes whose interests today are reactionary to the core, classes that are the perfect embodiment of that vulgar “gut materialism” into which the materialist philosophy of Marx and Feuerbach is usually transformed in the empty skulls of our humdrum journalists. As a class possessing no material stake in present society, our proletariat, whose historical mission is to overthrow the entire existing system in short, the revolutionary class must experience national oppression as an open wound, as a shame and disgrace, and indeed it does, although this does not alter the fact that this particular injustice is only a drop in the ocean of the entire social privation, political abuse, and intellectual disinheritance that the wage laborer suffers at the hands of present-day society.

But this, as we said, by no means implies that the proletariat is capable of taking upon itself the historical task of the schlachta, as the anachronistic minds of petit bourgeois nationalism would have it; this task, to restore Poland to its existence as a class state, is an objective which the schlachta itself abandoned, and the bourgeoisie has rendered impossible through its own development. But our proletariat can and must fight for the defense of national identity as a cultural legacy, that has its own right to exist and flourish. And today our national identity cannot be defended by national separatism; it can only be secured through the struggle to overthrow despotism and solidly implant the advantages of culture and bourgeois life throughout the entire country, as has long since been done in Western Europe.

Consequently, it is precisely the untarnished class movement of the Polish proletariat, which grew to maturity, along with capitalism, on the grave of the movements for national autonomy, that constitutes the best and only guarantee of attaining, along with bourgeois equality and autonomy, freedom in political life and in our national culture. Thus, from even a purely national perspective, everything that contributes to promoting, expanding, and expediting the working-class movement must be viewed as a contribution to national patriotism in the best and truest sense of the word. But anything that checks or impedes this development, anything that might delay it or cause it to depart from its principles, must be regarded as injurious and hostile to the national cause. From this perspective, the efforts to cultivate the old traditions of nationalism and to divert the Polish working class from the path of class struggle to the utopian folly of Polish restoration, as social patriotism did for twelve long years, represents the politics of a profound anti-nationalism, despite its outwardly nationalist trappings. Social Democracy, sailing under the banner of international socialism, bears in its keeping the Polish national cultural heritage that is the present consequence of the dialectics of history. To understand and foresee this process, and act in consonance with it that is what the Marxist method enables us to do.

[2] Jean Jaurès was a leading French exponent of revisionism, and as such subject to ceaseless attack by Rosa Luxemburg.

[3] In April 1902, the Belgian workers staged a general strike in order to secure the vote. They were unsuccessful.

[4] In December 1825, young officers (Decembrists) in the Tsar’s army sought to introduce Western ideas of reform into autocratic Russia. The uprising was quickly put down.

[5] In 1866, Karakozov made an unsuccessful attempt on the life of Tsar Alexander II.

[6] Rosa Luxemburg’s point of view on this matter has recently been sustained by Hans-Ulrich Wehler – see his Sozialdemokratie und Nationalstaat (Würzburg: 1962), pp.17ff.

[7] Tkacev (1844-1885) was a Nihilist who developed a Blanquist theory of revolution, especially in the journal Nabat (Tocsin), which he edited and published in Switzerland.

[8] This quote by Engels is given in German in Rosa Luxemburg’s original, which, it will be recalled, was written in Polish. The quote is from Engels, Soziales aus Russland (Social Perspectives from Russia), Marx-Engels Werke (Berlin: 1962), XVI11, 585.

[9] The first Marxist group to become active in Poland was founded in 1882 by Ludwik Waryński and others, with the name “Proletariat.” It was obliged to work underground, but still succeeded in organizing several big strikes in 1883. It was in close touch with the Russian organization, Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will), and, like it, adopted terrorist tactics in the late 1880s. Rosa Luxemburg did not approve of terrorism, then or later, but still traced her spiritual ancestry to Waryński, including his rejection of Polish independence.

[10] Equality. The periodical and group by this name were the immediate precursors of the Proletariat group.

[11] Marx-Engels, op. cit., XIX, 239-41.

[12] The Polish Socialist Party (PPS) was founded in London toward the end of 1892, and thereafter worked closely with the sister parties in Germany and Austrian Poland for the independence of Poland. Associated with the PPS was a special committee in London, the Ziriazelc Zagraniczny Socjalistow Palskich.

[13] Pobudka means “alarm,” “reveille.”

[14] Limanowski was also the chairman at the founding conference of the PPS.

[15] S. Hacker, Der Sozialismus in Polen: Eine Entgegnung (Socialism in Poland: A Reply) [i.e., to Rosa Luxemburg], in Die Neue Zeit, 1895–1896, vol.II.

[16] Dawn. At this time the journal was the organ of the internationalist Proletariat group. Later it became a voice for the PPS.

[17] That is, the volume The Polish Question and the Socialist Movement, to which this essay was the Foreword. Cf. above.

[18] Given in German in the original Polish text: “Vernunft wird Unsinn, Wohltat – Plage.”

[19] Zygmunt Milkowski (pseudonym Jez), 1824-1915. Writer and politician, spokesman for the “organic labor” movement, which took the point of view that the main job for Poland was to industrialize, with independence as a secondary consideration. He preached the philosophy of harmony of interests, i.e., against class war.

[20] See Volume I of R.L.’s Collected Works for both of these items.

[21] The Narodnik, or Populist movement in Russia, was active in the last part of the nineteenth century. Its “socialism” was not Marxist.

[22] Marx-Engels, op. cit., XXII. 282ff.

[23] The Sprawa Robotnicza (The Workers’ Cause) was founded in Paris in July 1893 with the collaboration of Leo Jogiches, Rosa Luxemburg under the name “R. Kruszynska”), and Adolf Warszawski, and later, Julian Marchlewski. The following month this group founded the political party, Socjaldemokracja Krolesta Polskiego (SDKP), which, in 1899, through the incorporation of a Lithuanian group, became the SDKPiL.

[24] Historia ruchu spolecznego v drugiej polowie XVIII stulecia (Lemberg: 1888); and Historia ruchu spolecznego w XIX stulecia (Lemberg: 1890).

[25] Class Struggle.

[26] Karl Kautsky, Finis Poloniae?, in Die Neue Zeit, 1895–1896, Vol.II.

[27] Cf. footnote 19.

[28] Die industrielle Politik Russlands in dessen polnischen Provinzen (Russia’s Industrial Policy in its Polish Provinces) in Die Neue Zeit, 1893–1894, Vol.II.

[29] Ferdinand Lassalle, Herr Julian Schmidt der Literaturhistoriker (Julian Schmidt the Historian of Literature), 1862.

[30] The increasing difficulties between the Prussian branch of the PPS and the German Social Democratic Party, ending in the expulsion of the former group, must have been a painful experience for Rosa Luxemburg. She was delegated to work for the Social Democratic Party among the Poles in East Prussia; she was the Polish expert of the German party. She had even joined the PPS, although continuing to criticize its excessive nationalism.

[31] Lenin, The National Question in Our Program, in Collected Works, Vol.VI. In his attitude toward the PPS, Lenin’s position appears to be largely identical with Rosa Luxemburg’s.

[32] Mehring, ed., Aus dem literarischen Nachlass von Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels und Ferdinand Lassalle, Vol.III (Stuttgart: 1902).

[33] This phrase is given in German in the original.

[34] The National Democrats were an outgrowth of a party founded in 1887. They included segments of the bourgeoisie and the big land-owners. Their leading figure was R. Dmowski.

[35] “You are not equal [to me]. You are only equal to what you think I am.” From Goethe’s Faust, trans. Bryan Fairley (Toronto: 1970), Scene 1, p.10.

[36] Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, op. cit., VIII, 115.

Last updated on: 16.12.2008