Karl Marx and Frederick Engels On Poland

Communism, Revolution, and a Free Poland

Marx’s Speech

Speech delivered in French
commemorating 2nd anniversary of Krakow Uprising
Brussels, February 22, 1848


There are striking analogies in history. The Jacobin of 1793 has become the communist of our day. When Russia, Austria, and Prussia partitioned Poland among themselves in 1793, the three powers relied on the Constitution of 1791 which they had unanimously condemned for its alleged Jacobin principles.

And what did that Polish Constitution of 1791 proclaim? Nothing but a constitutional monarchy: legislative power in the hands of the representatives of the country; freedom of the press; freedom of conscience; open court proceedings; abolition of serfdom, etc. And all that was then called Jacobinism! Thus, gentlemen, you see that history was moved forward. What was then Jacobinism has today become liberalism, and in its most moderate form at that.

The three powers marched with history. In 1846, when they incorporated Krakow into Austria and robbed the Poles of their last vestige of independence, they designated as communism what had previously been called Jacobinism.

But, what did did the communism of the Krakow revolution consist of? Was it communist because it wanted to restore the Polish nationality? One could as well say that the war which the European Coalition waged against Napoleon was communistic and that the Congress of Vienna [1815] was made up of crowned communists. Or was the Krakow revolution communistic because it wanted to install a democratic government? Nobody would accuse the millions of citizens of Bern and New York of communistic impulses.

Communism denies the necessity of the existence of classes; it wants to abolish all classes, all class distinctions. The Krakow revolution wanted to extirpate only the political distinctions among classes, it wanted to give equal rights to all classes.

So, in what respect, finally, was this Krakow revolution communistic?

Perchance because it wanted to break the chains of feudalism, to liberate property from feudal obligations and to transform it into modern property?

If one asked French property owners, “Do you know what the Polish democrats want? The Polish democrats want to introduce in their country the form of property that exists among you,” the French property owner would answer, “That is very good.” But if one says to the French property owner, as Guizot did, “The Poles want to abolish the form of property you established by your Revolution of 1789 and which still exists among you,” then they exclaim, “What! They are all revolutionists, communists! The scoundrels should be destroyed” The abolition of corporations and guilds, and the introduction of free competition – this is now called communism in Sweden. The [Paris daily] Journal des Debats [Politiques et Litteraires] goes even further: the abolition of revenues guaranteed to 200,000 voters by corrupt law as a source of income, which the Journal considers rightfully acquired property, this it calls communism. Undoubtedly the Krakow revolution wanted to abolish a certain kind of property. But what kind of property? The kind that in the rest of Europe can no more be abolished than the Swiss Sonderbund [federation] – because neither one exists any more.

Nobody will deny that in Poland the political question is tied up with the social one. For a long time they have been inseparable from each other.

Just ask the reactionaries about it! Did they fight during the Restoration purely against political liberalism and the Voltaireanism that was necessarily dragged along with it?

A very famous reactionary author has openly admitted that the loftiest metaphysics of a de Maistre and a de Bonald reduces itself in the last analysis to a money question – and is not every money question directly a social question? The men of the Restoration did not conceal the fact that in order to return to the policies of the good old days one must restore the good old property, the feudal property and the moral property. Everybody knows that fealty to the monarch is unthinkable without tithes and socages.

Let us go back further. In 1789, the political question of human rights absorbed in itself the social rights of free competition.

And what is it all about in England? Did the political parties there, in all questions, from the Reform Bill [June 7, 1830] to the abolition of the Corn Laws [June, 1846], fight for anything other than changes of property, questions of property, social questions?

Here in Belgium itself, is the struggle between liberalism and Catholicism anything else than a struggle between industrial capital and big landownership?

And the political questions that have been debated for 17 years, are they not at bottom social questions?

Thus no matter what position one takes – be it liberal or radical or conservative – nobody can reproach the Krakow revolution with having entangled a social question with a political one!

The men at the head of the revolutionary movement in Krakow were most deeply convinced that only a democratic Poland could be independent, and that a Polish democracy was impossible without an abolition of feudal rights, without an agrarian movement that would transform the feudally obligated peasants into modern owners. Put Russian autocrats over Polish aristocrats; thereby you have merely naturalized the despotism. In exactly the same way, in their war against foreign rule, the Germans have exchanged one Napoleon for 36 Metternichs.

If the Polish feudal lord no longer has a Russian feudal lord over him, the Polish peasant has not a less feudal lord over him – indeed, a free, in place of an enslaved, lord. The political change has changed nothing in the peasant's social position.

The Krakow revolution has set all of Europe a glorious example, because it identified the question of nationalism with democracy and with the liberation of the oppressed class.

Even though this revolution has been strangled with the bloody hands of paid murderers, it now nevertheless rises gloriously and triumphantly in Switzerland and in Italy. It finds its principles confirmed in Ireland, where O'Connell's party [the Irish Confederation, founded January 1847] with its narrowly restricted nationalistic aims has sunk into the grave, and the new national party is pledged above all to reform and democracy.

Again it is Poland that has seized the initiative, and no longer a feudal Poland but a democratic Poland; and from this point on its liberation has become a matter of honor for all the democrats of Europe.