The Image of «White» and «Red» Russia in the Polish Political Thought of the 19th and 20th Century

Analogies and Parallels

by Jerzy Juchnowski (Author) Jan R. Sielezin (Author) Ewa Maj (Author)
©2018 Monographs 200 Pages


The aim of the book is to analyze the perception of the Tsarist and Bolshevik Russia in the Polish political thought in the 19th and 20th century. The wide and well-documented research applies an original multidisciplinary approach, combining the methods used in many disciplines, such as history, social science and social psychology. The authors of the book successfully defend the thesis that the perception of Russia cannot be fully understood without considering the «internal» aspects linked to the culture of this country in its psychological and moral dimension, as well as in its literary, architectural and artistic tradition.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • 1 The “Red” and “White” Russian State
  • 2 The Russian and “Soviet” Nation – Comparison and Analogies
  • 3 The Culture of the Tsarist Russia and the Bolshevik Russia in the Polish Political Thought in the 19th and the 20th Centuries: Affirmation-Neutralisation-Negation
  • 3.1 Introductory Remarks
  • 3.2 Personal Subjectivity of Political Thought
  • 3.3 The Culture of the Tsarist Russia: Apologetics, Affirmation and Neutralisation
  • 3.4 The Culture of the Bolshevik Russia: Between Apologetics, Affirmation and Neutralisation
  • 3.5 Concluding Remarks
  • Conclusion
  • Заключение
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

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The Russian-Bolshevik issue constitutes an interesting subject of deliberations, although it proves to be difficult and seems to cause controversy while formulating the conclusions and generalisations aimed at determining social, political and cultural conditions. Therefore, one may observe an interest in this subject. However, upon closer inspection, the issue in question turns out to be complicated, which is why many scholars resort to the substantive-methodological solutions closely resembling the journalistic rhetoric. The conclusions which result from such deliberations have often a general character. Western scholars seem to be afraid of presenting the unequivocal assessments of certain issues concerning Russia and the USSR. Moreover, they are often not able to foresee the actions of Moscow and, sometimes, they happen to make mistakes in predicting the actions of the world power during the period from the 18th until the end of the 20th century.

Until the end of the 19th century, Europe and Russia took control over the whole world. Russia pursued the expansion in the form of conquest and colonialism exclusively on the land. One may assert that while the colonies of major European countries were overseas territories, the Russian colonial system was based on conquering Central European states and Siberia. Central and South Asian states were only a complement to the Russian colonial system which, what is worth noticing, survived almost until the end of the 20th century. The end of the 20th century marked the end of Russia’s global hegemonic ambitions. There were many reasons behind this situation, although the basic prerogative was the fact that Russia, and later the Soviet Union, was an exclusively military power. Russia, unlike the United States, did not combine military and economic power. Only such a combination could enable a power to build a new world order. Only the powers which implemented politicisation of their nations faced the possibility to form a new world order in the era of the expanding industrialisation and related social transformations (mainly due to their pace and the practical propagation of liberalism). The whole nation, not only its political part, became the subject of a state’s activity. The Tsarist Russia and its continuation in the form of the Soviet Russia did not manage to create conditions for the socio-political empowerment of Russians and the subjugated nations. Moreover, the “white” and “red” Russia was an isolated power of its own free will. Thus, it was its choice but also a coincidence.

In the light of the aforementioned issues, the question arises as to whether the reasons of socio-political nature justify the actions and decisions of the Russian state. The answer is that it is not entirely true. The Western scholars often relied ← 7 | 8 → solely on the socio-political analysis while formulating conclusions, assessments and predicting the decisions made by the Kremlin. Zbigniew Brzeziński and Richard Pipes make an exception to that rule, but they are Americans of the Polish or Polish-Jewish origin and understand Russia and Russians. Here the problem arises as Russia, in spite of the absolutist and totalitarian dictatorship, cannot be divided into a nation and a state. The two political actors share a common past and had imperial attitude towards the world throughout the 20th century. Not only communism has been a doctrine glorifying war but that feature is also peculiar to the nation, e.g. in Eastern Orthodoxy which constrains the freedom of thinking. Its conservatism and the practical application of the unity of throne and altar in everyday life resulted in creating a monolith out of the Russian nation and the Russian state. The monolith defies the political science research methods used to study other European states. The assessment of Russianness gets even more complicated when we take into consideration the values cultivated by a nation and a state characteristic for political culture, i.e.: European, Mongolian, Asian and Byzantine one. This peculiar synthesis of political cultures makes Russia a complicated research area and contributes to a specific naivety in predicting the developmental ways of the social system. Therefore, Russia is not only a political actor which proves to be incomprehensible for the West. It is a mysterious, criticised, admirable and interesting state. Therefore, with the use of that disquisition, we would like to convince Western scholars and readers that an attempt to write about Russia without taking into consideration its rich history and division into a state, nation and culture does not have any methodological sense and might result in wrong conclusions. Only a simultaneous analysis of at least the three research areas creates the conditions for objective and accurate judgements. The authors of this book seek to endorse this principle, although they realise the fact that the aforementioned issues require the extensive research in the field of many social sciences and social psychology. Some issues have been just highlighted or even omitted. Hence, the main idea of this book can be summarised in the following statement: the assessment of Russia requires studies in the field of political science and social psychology encompassing all the social strata of Russian society It is related to the so-called spirit of a nation and its culture in a psychic, mental and social dimension, the glorification of a particular type of national heroes, the relationship individual-family-society, as well as to the material dimension connected with the literary output, painting, sculpture and even architecture. Without such a broad approach, Russia becomes unrecognisable as a feudal monarchy and a communist-totalitarian republic. While analysing and evaluating Russia in terms of its international policy, one should take ← 8 | 9 → into account the existing internal relations in the country, including a concealed conflict within the ruling elite. Such a strong correlation between the internal and international affairs does not occur in any other states and nations. It should also be noticed that the strengthening of Stalin’s absolutist power after 1945 gave the USSR, at the one hand, the opportunity to make its position credible in the Western societies. At the other hand, it led to the Cold War and the mutual hostility towards the Western states, mainly the USA. Thereby Moscow was able to threaten Washington with a nuclear war. It was not until the 1960s that the Western civil society started to realise the true intentions of the USSR and its desire to subordinate the world to the interests of the “proletariat’s homeland.”

We cannot understand the reason why the Bolshevik revolution took place and the dictatorship modelled according to samoderzhavie was implemented, unless we realise the role of the intelligentsia in Russia. What might help in understanding Russia’s political history of the first two decades of the 20th century are the alienation of the creative intelligentsia from society and its insignificant influence on the Russian society, as well as the fact that in some aspects the intelligentsia resembled a sect with a mission and ardent opposition to the existing order. The two revolutions were conducted during that period: the Bolshevik and the nationalist-fanatical one. The events which shook the world after the revolution in Russia explain why the majority of scholars focus their studies on political and economic issues instead of analysing socio-cultural aspects. One should also take into consideration the fact that the Russian intelligentsia, at least its substantive part, opted for liberal rule, yet it that had nothing in common with the true liberalism which always creates difficulties in political and everyday life. It requires a lot of intellectual courage and a whole society ready to make social sacrifices and understand that the large-scale conflicts changing the systems of values do not always serve the nation and its interests. Such a phenomenon occurred in Russia – a fact which was noted in Polish political thought. Almost all Polish political strands, starting from conservatives to the socialists from the Polish Socialist Party, predicted the development of the process in Russia which can be called a conservative-communist-nationalist one.

Almost all the intelligentsia, as well as the peasantry, the middle class and a rather small working class looked for ideal political solutions. Only bureaucracy was in political lethargy. Some people opposed absolutism and constitutional monarchy, while others believed in the liberal reforms of the strong Tsarist rulership and overthrowing the cumbersome bureaucracy. There were also members of society who sought socialist and democratic solutions modelled after Western solutions. While synthesising Polish political thought it can be stated that Russia ← 9 | 10 → lived with a hope for reforms until the mid-1920s. The vision of the possibility of democratisation gradually started to wane in the Russian society after the liquidation of New Economic Policy. However, by that time the large majority of society was in a state of a “political lethargy” which was created in a masterly way by the Bolshevik leaders. As one could find in Polish political journalism, the state of the lethargy was so deep that “the society sanctioned the horrendous crimes committed in the name of the belief in a distant utopia”. It should be noted that the West was much more reserved in making such statements, as it did not completely comprehend the essence of the Russian communism and did not realise the true political objectives of the Kremlin’s domestic and international policy covering all the spheres of an individual’s life.

Polish political thought emphasised the fact, which was omitted by the Western philosophers of policy, except for Isaiah Berlin, that Russians were torn between the belief in absolutism and the idea of utopian communism, as well as the distrust of both the regimes. Russians were constantly striving for unspecified monolithic truth which would solve moral and practical dilemmas, as well as those related to the system of values such as freedom, equality and justice, as the values of domestic and international life. At the same time, since the 19th century, Polish political thought has expressed the opinion that the national characteristic of Russia could be defined as a tendency to take extreme stands which were not entirely politically, economically and culturally stable.

According to the authors of the book, Polish political thought perceives the Russian doctrine of the 19th and the 20th centuries through the prism of the cultural history of the Russian lands. That fact made it impossible to express the image of the “white” and “red” Russia without taking into consideration its culture-related philosophical thought, probably at the expense of the political and economic, as well as the theoretical and cognitive doctrine problems.

The accuracy of the conclusions concerning Russia drawn by Polish political thought was primarily based on the identification of “white” and “red” Russia. Lenin, and after his death Stalin, made use of the theoretical assumptions of the radical form of Marxism and, at the same time, drew an inspiration from the experience of the Spring of Nations. Therefore, they focused on the principle of totalitarian dictatorship which surrounded with charisma the dominating political force (the Bolshevik Party), its leader and the civil war. They deliberately made use of the rule and the way of exercising power binding in the Tsarist Russia until 1917 in the form of samoderzhavie, as the Russian people were accustomed to it. In the era of Stalinism, such a way of governing the state and society took an extreme form of political deification and infallibility of the leader of a party and a state. Such actions ← 10 | 11 → resulted in the emergence of the caricature of Marxism in the form of Marxism-Leninism. The adopted theoretical assumptions and conducted political actions had a huge impact on the mindset of the society in the area of social, family and cultural life. The dictatorial political actions, which have lasted for several decades, have become a social genetic code. In the Soviet Union (although the beginnings of this phenomenon dated back to the Tsarist Russia), the union of political thought and political crisis collapsed, which was manifested in the victory of totalitarianism in the USSR and Germany. Such a phenomenon has rarely occurred in Europe. The lack of the civil society’s participation in politics turned feudal tyranny into the communist tyranny which cannot be classified as the tyranny of the majority. The Tsarist tyranny was the tyranny of the minority over the majority and that phenomenon occurred analogically in the inter-war period in the USSR. Polish thinkers noticed that even Rosa Luxemburg criticised the “revolution of the proletariat” in Russia for using coercion and imposing the forms of retaliation on the people’s activity against the previous ruling classes.

In the period 1918–1939, major Polish periodicals published articles which emphasised that the Bolshevik revolution lacked an ethical dimension in the slogan proclamation of democracy. Polish ideologists and politicians opted for compromise because the lack of compromise contributed to the civilisational destruction of the European states and nations, including Russia. The Polish intelligentsia was far from accepting the views aiming at the popularisation of the belief that a republic was a progressive solution, while monarchy was a social relic. The British monarchy and the Bolshevik republic were presented as an example. Furthermore, the thinkers of the Second Polish Republic wondered whether the politics in the 19th and the 20th centuries was the art of governing or gaining power. In particular, they believed that such a solution could be noticed after “the Russian revolution” and the practical application of the doctrine of Bolshevism which reduced an individual to the history in the history of the humankind.

The reference to the military conquest occurred in the political thought assumptions of the Tsarist Russia which opted for maintaining a state and society in emergency state. By and large, the Polish political thought in the 19th and the 20th centuries argued that Russia aimed at war at any price. The situation was conditioned by the fact that the Bolshevik strand arose from Marxism which exposed the idea of the class Messianism and related world conflict. Therefore, the national democratic political thought perceived realism as a real threat, mainly, to the societies of Latin civilisation.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (October)
perception cultural studies sociology social psychology Bolshevik Tsarist Poland
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 199 pp.

Biographical notes

Jerzy Juchnowski (Author) Jan R. Sielezin (Author) Ewa Maj (Author)

Jerzy Juchnowski is a professor, historian and political scientist, as well as researcher at the Institute of Political Science at the University of Wroclaw. His research interests include political thought and contemporary history. Jan R. Sielezin is a professor, historian and political scientist, as well as researcher at the Institute of Political Science at the University of Wroclaw. His research interests include recent history and the activity of political opposition. Ewa Maj is a professor, historian and political scientist, as well as researcher at the Faculty of Political Science at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin. She conducts research on political thought.


Title: The Image of «White» and «Red» Russia in the Polish Political Thought of the 19th and 20th Century
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202 pages