Frederick Engels 1874

A Polish Proclamation

Originally published in Volksstaat, 11 June 1874. From Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Russian Menace to Europe, edited by Paul Blackstock and Bert Hoselitz, and published by George Allen and Unwin, London, 1953, pp 109-15. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

When the Emperor of Russia arrived in London, the whole police force there was already in action. It was rumoured that the Poles wanted to assassinate him, that a new Beresowski had already been found and was better armed than formerly in Paris. The houses of well-known Poles were surrounded by plain-clothes-men; indeed, even the Police Commissioner from Paris was brought in whose special task it had been to watch over the Poles there, under the Empire. Police precautions along the Tsar’s route from his residence to the city were arranged practically according to strategic principles – and all this trouble was in vain! No Beresowski showed up, no pistol shot rang out. And the Tsar, trembling no less than his daughter, got off with no more than a bad fright. However, the pains taken were not entirely useless; for as a tip the Emperor left each Police Superintendent concerned five and each Inspector two pounds sterling (100 and 40 marks respectively).

Meanwhile the Poles were thinking of quite other things than the murder of the noble Alexander. The society, ‘The Polish People’, published an ‘Address by the Polish Refugees to the English People’, signed by General B Wróblewski, President, and J Krynski, Secretary. This address was distributed in great quantity in London during the presence of the Tsar. With the exception of Reynold’s News the London press unanimously refused to mention it: ‘England’s Guest’ must not be offended!

The address begins by pointing out to the English that the Tsar does not do them an honour but rather insults them by paying a visit at the same time that he is making all the necessary preparations in Central Asia to overthrow English domination in India, and that if instead of listening to the enticements of the Tsar, this so-called father of the peoples whom he oppresses, England were to be less indifferent to the Polish strivings for independence, then England as well as the rest of Europe could safely discontinue its colossal armaments. And this is entirely correct. The background of all European militarism is Russian militarism. Standing as a reserve in the war of 1859 on the side of France, in 1866 and 1870 on the side of Prussia, the Russian army made it possible on each occasion for the leading military power to defeat its enemy single-handedly. Prussia as the first European military power is directly the creation of Russia, even though it has since then unpleasantly outgrown its patron saint.

The address continues:

Because of its geographical position and its readiness at any moment to stand up for the cause of mankind, Poland has been and will always be the first defender of justice, of civilisation and of social progress in all North-East Europe. Poland has proven this irrefutably by its centuries of resistance on the one hand against the invasions of the Eastern barbarians, and on the other hand against the inquisition which formerly oppressed almost the entire Western world. How did it come about that in precisely the most decisive epochs of modern times the Western European peoples could devote themselves without disturbance to the development of their vital social forces? Because, and only because, on the Eastern borders of Europe the Polish soldier stood at his post, ever watchful, ever ready to shoot, always prepared to throw his health, his possessions, his life into the balance. Europe can thank the protection of Polish weapons for the possibility of developing its newly awakened life in the Arts and Sciences during the sixteenth century, that trade, industry and wealth could reach their present astonishing heights. What, for example, would have become of the legacy of civilisation won by the West through two centuries of labour, if the Poles, although themselves threatened in the rear by the Mongol hordes, had not helped the centre of Europe against the Turks, and had not broken the power of the Ottomans by their brilliant victory under the walls of Vienna?

The address further expands on how essential the resistance of Poland is even today in preventing Russia from turning its full strength against the West, a resistance which has even succeeded in disarming Russia’s most dangerous allies, its Panslavist agents. The leading Russian historian, Pogodin says in a book printed at the order and expense of the Russian government, that Poland, up to now a thorn in Russia’s flesh, must become its right hand, by being restored as a small, weak kingdom under a Russian prince. In this way the Turkish and Austrian Slavs may best be trapped:

We shall announce this in a proclamation; England and France will bite their lips, and it will be the final blow for Austria... All Poles, even the most irreconcilable, will rush into our arms; the Austrian and Prussian Poles will again unite with their brothers. All Slavic tribes which are now oppressed by Austria – Czechs, Croats, Hungarians [!], even the Turkish Slavs – will yearn for the day when they can breathe as freely as the Poles then will. We shall then be a race of 100 million under one sceptre and then, you peoples of Europe, may come and test your strength against us!

Unfortunately this fine plan is lacking only its basic premise: the consent of Poland. But ‘all the world knows that to all these enticements Poland answered: “I will and must live, if I live at all, not as a tool for the plans of world conquest of a foreign Tsar, but as a free people among the free peoples of Europe."’ The address then shows in detail how Poland actually carried out this unshakeable decision. In a critical moment of its existence, at the outbreak of the French Revolution, Poland was already crippled by the first partition and divided between four states. Nevertheless it had the courage, in its Constitution of 3 May 1791, to plant the banner of the French Revolution on the Vistula – a deed which placed it far ahead of all its neighbours. With this the old Polish disorder was doomed, a few decades of peaceful development, undisturbed from the outside, and Poland would have been the most advanced and powerful country east of the Rhine. But the partitioning powers could not permit Poland to rise again, and, even less, permit it to revive through the domestication of the Revolution in North-east Europe. Its fate was sealed: the Russians carried out in Poland what Prussian, Austrian and German troops had attempted in vain in France:

Kosciuszko was fighting simultaneously for the independence of Poland and for the principle of equality. And all the world knows that from the moment of its loss of national independence, and in spite of its loss, Poland has been the foremost defender of injured rights, wherever it may be, taking part in every battle against tyranny, thanks to its love of country and its solidarity with all peoples struggling for the cause of mankind. Unbroken by its own misfortune, unmoved by the blindness and bad faith of the European governments, Poland has not for a moment abandoned the duties placed on it by itself, its history and its concern for the future.

But at the same time it has also developed the principles according to which this future, the new Polish Republic, ought to be organised. They have been laid down in the proclamations of 1830, 1845 and 1863:

The first manifesto proclaimed in addition to the unshakeable right of Poland to independent nationhood the emancipation of the peasants. The manifesto of 1845, published on Polish soil in the then still free city of Cracow and endorsed by representatives of all parts of Poland, proclaims not only this emancipation but also the principle that the peasants are to become owners of the soil which they have cultivated for centuries. In the parts of Poland robbed by the Muscovites the land-owners, basing their action on these manifestoes as the basis of Polish national law, decided to settle these internal questions (1859-63) which had weighed upon their conscience, voluntarily and in agreement with the peasants long before the Tsarist so-called Emancipation Proclamation. The Polish land question had in principle been solved by the Constitution of 3 May 1791. If the Polish peasant remained oppressed, nevertheless, this was only the fault of the despotism and Machiavellianism of the Tsar, who based his domination on the enmity between landowners and peasants. This decision had been taken long before the Tsarist proclamation of 18 February 1861, and this proclamation, which was applauded by all Europe and which supposedly gave the peasants legal equality, was only a mask for one of the perennially recurring attempts of the Tsar to acquire foreign property. The Polish peasants are as oppressed as before, but – The Tsar has become the owner of the land. And as punishment for the bloody protest which Poland raised in 1863 against the malicious barbarism of its oppressors, it has had to suffer a series of brutal tortures before which even the tyranny of past centuries would shudder.

And yet, neither the cruel yoke of the Tsars, although lasting for a full century, nor the indifference of Europe have been able to kill Poland. We have lived, and we shall live, by the force of our own will, our own strength and our social and political development, which place us high above our oppressors; their existence is founded from the first to the last on brutal force, the prison and the gallows; and their most important tools of action abroad are underground machinations, treacherous assaults and, finally, conquest by force.

Let us now leave the address, sufficiently characterised by these excerpts, in order to link up with it a few remarks about the importance of the Polish question to the German workers.

Up to the moment when it took possession of Poland, Russia still remained essentially as much a non-European power as, for example, Turkey, no matter how much it had developed and how much its influence in Europe had grown since Peter the Great (in which process although knowing exactly where he stood, Frederick II of Prussia played no small part). The first partition of Poland was in 1772. Already in 1779 Russia sought and obtained in the Peace of Teschen a vested right of intervention in German affairs. That should have taught the German princes a lesson; nevertheless, Frederick William II, the one Hohenzollern who ever seriously opposed Russian policy, and Francis II acquiesced in the complete destruction of Poland. In addition, after the Napoleonic wars Russia took the lion’s share of the former Prussian- and Austrian-Polish provinces, and now stepped forward openly as the arbiter of Europe, a role which it continued to play without interruption until 1853. Prussia was downright proud to be allowed to cringe before Russia; Austria followed unwillingly, but at the decisive moment always giving in due to her fear of the Revolution, against which the Tsar always remained the last support. Thus Russia became the sanctuary of European reaction, without at the same time foregoing the pleasure of preparing further conquests in Austria and Turkey through Panslavist agitation. During the revolutionary years the suppression of Hungary by Russia was as decisive a factor in Central and Eastern Europe has the Paris June Days battle had been for the West; and when Tsar Nicholas soon thereafter sat as judge in Warsaw over the King of Prussia and the Emperor of Austria, the supremacy of European reaction was assured jointly with the supremacy of Russia in Europe. The Crimean War freed the West and Austria from the insolence of the Tsar. Prussia and the petty German states cringed all the more willingly before him. But already in 1859 he punished the Austrians for their disobedience by seeing to it that his German vassals did not take their side, and in 1866 Prussia completed the disciplining of Austria. We have already seen before how the Russian army forms the pretext and support for European militarism as a whole. In 1853 only because Nicholas, relying on his million soldiers – which to be sure for the most part existed only on paper – challenged the West, did Louis Napoleon obtain a pretext, the Crimean War, to make the then rather weakened French army into the strongest in Europe. Only because in 1870 the Russian army prevented Austria from taking sides with France, could Prussia defeat France and achieve the Prussian-German military monarchy. In all these actions of vital national importance we see the Russian army in the background. And unless the internal development of Russia does not soon take a revolutionary course the German victory over France will as certainly bring about a war between Russia and Germany as the Prussian victory over Austria at Sadowa brought about the Franco-Prussian War. [1] Yet, the Russian army will always be of service against an internal [revolutionary – ed] movement in Prussia. Today official Russia is still the sanctuary and shield of the entire European reaction, its armies form the reserves of all the other armies which are charged with the suppression of the working classes of Europe.

But now it is the German workers in the so-called German Empire as well as in Austria who are in the first line of attack by this vast reserve army of oppression. As long as the Russians stand behind the bourgeoisie and governments of Austria and Germany the force of the whole German labour movement is dulled. Thus our first aim is to get the Russian reaction and the Russian army off our necks.

And for this task we have only one reliable ally, but one who is reliable regardless of the circumstances – the Polish people.

Even far more than France, Poland, due to its historical development and its present position, is faced with the choice either of becoming revolutionary or of perishing. And this point invalidates all the silly talk of the essentially aristocratic character of the Polish movement. There are many people among the Polish émigrés who have aristocratic ambitions; as soon as Poland itself starts to stir, the movement becomes thoroughly revolutionary, as we have seen in 1846 and 1863. These movements were not only national; at the same time they were aimed directly at the liberation of the peasants and their acquiring property in their own land. In 1870 the great mass of the Polish émigrés in France enlisted in the service of the Commune. Was that a deed of aristocrats? Does that not prove that these Poles stand fully in the forefront of the modern movement? What has happened since Bismarck introduced the Kulturkampf in Poland, and under the pretext of thus striking a blow against the Pope, hunted out Polish schoolbooks, suppressed the Polish language, and did his utmost to drive Poland into the arms of Russia? The Polish aristocracy attached itself more and more to Russia in order to bring Poland together at least under Russian domination. The revolutionary masses answered by offering an alliance to the German Workers Party and by fighting in the ranks of the International.

Poland has demonstrated in 1863 and further proves every day that it cannot be done to death. Its claim to an independent existence in the European family of nations cannot be refused. But its restoration has become a necessity particularly for two peoples: for the Germans, and for the Russians themselves.

A people which oppresses another cannot emancipate itself. The power which it uses to suppress the other finally always turns against itself. As long as Russian soldiers remain in Poland, the Russian people cannot free itself either politically or socially. But, at the present state of Russian development it is certain that on the day on which Russia loses Poland the [revolutionary – ed] movement in Russia itself will be powerful enough to overthrow the existing order of things. Independence of Poland and revolution in Russia mutually determine each other. And the independence of Poland and revolution in Russia – which is much nearer than appears on the surface due to the boundless social, political and financial disorder and to the corruption penetrating all official Russia – these events mean for the German workers: the limiting of the bourgeoisie, of the governments in short, of the reaction in Germany to their own resources – forces with which we will be able to deal in time ourselves.


1. This was already stated in the Second Manifesto of the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association concerning the Franco-Prussian War (dated 9 September 1870).