Chauvinism, Polish Style

The Case of Roman Dmowski (Beginnings: 1886–1905)

by Grzegorz Krzywiec (Author)
©2016 Monographs 586 Pages


The book addresses the genesis of Polish integral nationalism and the role of Roman Dmowski as a co-founder of this phenomenon in the development of Polish political thought at the fin-de-siècle. Based on extensive documentary research, it attempts to show a broader picture of modern Polish political and social thinking in context of the late 19th and early 20th East Central Europe. The author reflects on the significance of racial thinking and Social Darwinism of the new nationalist imagination, arguing that its intellectual foundations came from anti-positivist and anti-Enlightenment tradition. He challenges the widespread assumption that Polish nationalism in its early version cherished somehow mild attitudes toward minorities, especially the Jews, claiming instead that enmity toward «Otherness» constitutes its ideological core. A major feature of the book is the contextualization of Polish nationalism against the backdrop of the fin-de-siècle European political thought.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Notes to the English edition
  • Chapter One: The Birth of A Generation
  • Rebellion at School
  • The Student Leader
  • Chapter Two: An Idealistic Revolt
  • The Idealist Revolt. The Nationalist Variant
  • Chapter Three: Racism, Polish Style
  • Chapter Four: In The Face of A Crisis of Civilization
  • Chapter Five: The Kiliński Revolt
  • The Collapse of Warsaw Student Radicalism in the First Half of the 1890s in the Kingdom of Poland
  • Chapter Six: A Journey Towards Ideals
  • Roman Dmowski’s Journalism 1895–1905
  • The only Conservative in Poland
  • Attitudes towards the Jews and the Jewish Question
  • A Vision of Public Order
  • Chapter Seven: The Modern Pole Confronting Turn-of-The-Century Challenges
  • National Democracy at the Turn of the Century
  • Thoughts of a Modern Pole seen by contemporaries
  • Conclusion
  • Chauvinism, Polish Style
  • Glossary of Abbreviations
  • Bibliography and Index of Names
  • Index

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The period under review – the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries – is a particularly interesting time for the historian of ideas. Its most salient feature remains the complex political environment. This is hardly surprising. The accelerated democratization of public life, urbanization, industrialization, as well as other phenomena usually labelled “modernisation processes”, together contributed to a basic reconstruction of the political scene. It is to this aspect that scholars have drawn particular attention.

This work has been written from a slightly different perspective. It is not a history of a political grouping, or of an intellectual current, nor of some ideological movement examined in detail. Instead, the focus is on a broader view of the world that appeared around the year 1900. Although the object here is to attempt to examine intelligentsia radicalism at that time throughout the Polish lands, most of the issues studied will apply mainly to the Kingdom of Poland, where such radicalism was most strongly felt.

A certain type of ideological radicalism will be treated here in great detail: right-wing radicalism. In previous research into the history of Polish ideas and social thought this problem has not been thoroughly analysed. The issue has been reduced to research into twentieth-century social and political history, above all up to the cauldron of the thirties. To a certain extent, this work aims to redress this neglect as a whole.1 This writer’s initial premise is the recognition that both right-wing radicalism, as well as its left-wing equivalent from the turn of the centuries, had (in the most general cultural sense) a similar ideological basis and came from a convergent social base. The birth of both of these radical trends, in Poland as well as in the whole of Europe, was linked to the crisis caused by the accelerated modernization of the second half of the 19th century.

In the Polish lands the radical attitudes that interest us spread for the most part among a new social class, which from the middle of the 19th century was called the intelligentsia. The situation of the Polish intelligentsia at the turn of the centuries exhibits many similar features to that of the educated classes in other European societies, thus the problem which interests us reveals its unique and individual character above all from a comparative perspective. This comparative perspective ← 9 | 10 → refers to three geographical/political areas: the German and the Austro-Hungarian empires, and the territory of the Russian Empire. However, it will be essential from time to time to go beyond the area of Central Europe and evoke a broader European context.

As mentioned, the concept of political radicalism has not found a fitting place in research into the attitudes of the Polish intelligentsia in the second half of the 19th century and at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Thus, at the outset of this book it needs to be explained that we understand radicalism here to be a current, a direction, an outlook aiming to introduce fundamental changes into social and political life. We must also distinguish radical attitudes from radical ideologies. A radical attitude can be defined as a certain determined and uncompromising approach when expressing views and in actions; in the case of radical ideology we are dealing too with a way of looking at politics, one whose aim is to introduce a fundamental rebuilding and redefinition of political and social life.

Polish views on turn-of-the-century radicalisms to a great extent boil down to a study of extremist views and attitudes aiming to implement specific policies. In line with this belief, radicals are those activists or intellectuals who resort to extremist measures to put their convictions into practice, or who also present a more or less convincing rationalization for such a modus operandi. This unintentional, probably not fully understood shift of emphasis from ideology, i.e. comprehensive perspectives with consistent pretensions, to attitudes, that is to say, certain external representations of one’s views, means that research into radicalism in fact entails an analysis of style in politics. In other words, common sense suggests that the radicals are those activists or thinkers who see themselves, or are seen, as such. This is not, let me make it clear, an inherently false premise, but for analytical purposes, of which more anon, it is far from satisfactory.

A second substantive reservation deals with more general, ideological matters. In the second half of the 19th century, a conviction takes root – finding its fullest expression in the ideas of Karl Marx – which holds that radicalism has a progressive social dimension. Thus it will mean an extensive attempt at changing the social order. As Marx and his continuators argued, the ownership of the means of production stands at the source of historical mechanisms – those revolutionary wheels of History with a capital ‘H’ – and that only their transformation can lead to a radical change in humanity’s condition on Earth. Progressive opinion has in principle adopted this way of seeing radicalism. Typical was the fact that the opposing side, i.e. the right in the broadest sense, also adopted this view. Rarely, however – if at all – does one come across in the 19th century someone describing him- or herself as a right-wing radical. In the vocabulary of the time ‘right-wing radical’ was an inherently contradictory concept. ← 10 | 11 →

Hence a sizeable fragment of socio-political reality escaped the writers of the time. For instance, writers from progressive and left-wing circles reduced the whole of nationalist thought, whatever its level, to instigating national hatred and antagonism, or to turning away from the path of progress – a path that had been blazed by the traditions of the Enlightenment. The more optimistic writers maintained that these were the dying strains of the past. From these same circles came the accusation of social opportunism towards nationalistic communities; a not infrequently true accusation after all, bearing in mind that most of the nationalists of the time had normal progressive, indeed socially radical credentials and were abandoning their ideas in favour of a hardly distinctive (at least in the eyes of the progressives) demand for social solidarity.

Groups of the traditional right, in turn, were also unable to deal with the issue of the developing extreme-nationalist movements. Thus, for instance, Polish conservative circles accused the antisemitic weekly Rola, edited by Jan Jeleński, of hating Jews more than they deserved.2 Perhaps the most eloquent criticism of the developing Polish nationalist camp that came out of the conservative-liberal right – a work written by Erazm Piltz Nasze Stronnictwa skrajne (1902) – also dealt with tactical issues. The most fully-developed theme of the whole accusatory piece tackled an issue which was, from the point of view of contemporary nationalist élites, secondary; the criticism referred to the motif of liberum conspiro, known to conservative journalism, and attempts to foment another uprising. Another thing was that this new turn-of-the-century nationalism often grew out of populist social revolt and often assumed very heterogeneous forms, ones which are hard to classify unambiguously.

In any event, the Polish understanding of radicalism was similar to the Western one. Here we may recall the Dreyfus Affair in France, or the attitude towards Karl Lueger’s administrations in Vienna, and earlier to Georg von Schönerer’s activities in the same place, or the activities of Adolf Stöcker and the antisemitic leagues in German-speaking countries. The social right’s attitudes towards new movements were, as we know, quite ambiguous and different in just about every case.

This mental confusion between the social left and the social right on the status of right-wing radicals has had a very significant influence on research into twentieth-century and later radicalism. ← 11 | 12 →

The state of research

Early Polish research into the radicalism of the second half of the 19th century and later focused on a broad spectrum of socially extreme views. Even if one’s understanding of radicalism was not defined unambiguously, then it was clear from the context that this concept referred to developing socialist and communist views, to a certain extent anarchist ones, too, and less often to a certain radically-defined social democracy.3 This approach also enjoyed success after the Second World War (including an anthology by Przegląd Społeczny with an introduction by Krzysztof Dunin-Wąsowicz, biographies of Jakub Bojko, Bolesław Wysłouch, Father Stanisław Stojałowski, and short pieces on Wacław Machajski and Augustyn Wróblewski). The contribution of Marxist historiography to this subject was based here on a consolidation of the position that Communism (Marxism) was a strengthening or an intensification of progressive currents throughout history, since it represented their scientific objectivization. In this latter formulation social radicalism represented an uninformed, though objectively correct approach to social reality. Karl Marx himself acknowledged radical democrats to be sectarians, yet ones making a positive contribution to history. Let the meticulous anthology of texts on radical democrats of the 1860s edited by Felicja Romaniuk serve as an illustration of this way of thinking. She maintains that although it is hard to call the ideologues of the January Uprising revolutionaries, i.e. profound and more aware democrats, such as the members of the Gatherings of the Polish People (Gromady Ludu Polskiego), then surely Jarosław Dąbrowski, Józef Hauke-Bossak, as well as Walery Wróblewski deserve at least the positive name of radical. Romaniuk, one of Marx’s interpreters, wrote: ‘They were indeed dreamers and romantics, hoping to skip a stage of history. Yet sometimes, thanks to such truly noble dreamers thinking into the future, the pace of history accelerates. As they were leaving the historical stage, already the next generation was in practice entering onto the path of scientific socialism.’4

Marxist ideas did, however, influence the diversification of radical and revolutionary attitudes. According to this view, a revolutionary stance differed from a radical one in its appeal to the need for sudden social change. In the most general ← 12 | 13 → sense, it was the degree, not the actual essence, of involvement in social change which differentiated revolutionary from radical stances.

However, problems with radicalism emerged even as the sources of modern ideological movements were being redefined. Of course, the greatest research effort initially focused on the disagreements between specific strains of socialism and the workers’ movement. Accepting one official interpretation of socialism very often meant rejecting its other variants. The process of de-Stalinization in the field of history (leaving aside here how deeply this Stalinization had taken root) above all then meant a re-evaluation of other non-Marxist (or, more precisely, non-Communist) types of socialism. Marxism in historiography, despite its ‘actualizing’ ambitions, had not had a stimulating effect on the ‘modernization’ of Polish historical research. Paradoxically, on the one hand, the adventure with Marxist methodology, often going hand-in-hand with an opening to other trends in social research, e.g. structuralism, for some scholars and their later disciples then led to a greater emphasis on methodology in general, which usually represented a very refreshing contribution to the development of research.

On the other hand, however, in the final analysis, this ‘shot’ of Marxism supported by the authorities produced an inverse effect in the rest of the historical community, i.e. the repudiation of, or an extreme reticence towards any kind of methodology. Subsequent efforts in this direction undertaken by individual scholars went no further than certain academic enclaves (e.g. in Poznań or Lublin, or the Kraków ‘Historyka’ circle), with no aspirations – let alone possibilities – to influence historiography in general. In periodicals documenting the development of the socialist movement on Polish territory these internal discussions on the concept of the utopianism of radical ideologies, indeed a key element in radical thought, also appeared comparatively late and as if by accident.5 The rejection of Marxist methodology did not then mean, in the case that interests us, some new opening for research into radical thought at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. On the other hand, public debates on particular individuals who were evolving from the left towards views with right-wing connotations (as in the case of Stanisław Brzozowski’s later work) rarely took up these changes of view.6

A good illustration of these developing difficulties and the pitfalls associated with defining radical thought at the end of the 19th century is that of the case of ← 13 | 14 → the roots of the grouping which this work will analyse in depth: National Democracy (the ND). From the beginning, the circle of the Warsaw weekly Głos (1886–1894) raised a number of problems linked to the beginnings of integral Polish nationalism. From the point of view of Marxist historiography, but also of a great many scholars to whom progressive traditions were dear, the radicalism of the supporters of Głos (the ‘głosowicze’) was somewhat undermined by their later participation in the creation of National Democracy. In the overwhelming majority of works this movement has been treated as an expression of petty bourgeois aspirations, which only partially reflects the whole grouping’s social base, as well as its ideological ambitions. Attempting to explain the issue of the antisemitic campaign in the pages of the journal at the start of the 1890s, scholars often had recourse to ethical arguments when explaining the attitudes of specific participants in those events. Here the concept of betrayal, or indeed treachery in terms of earlier views appeared. Some historians even raised the argument of a sort of determinism when dealing with certain individuals’ social background: the landowning roots of some members of the editorial staff determined, in their view, the subsequent outlook of members of the National Democratic Party.7 In attempting to analyse the attitude of the Głos circle towards Marxism, or the workers’ or the peasants’ questions, tropes from a Russian context were employed with greater or less success: i.e. the dispute between the narodniks and local Marxist orthodoxy.8 In the 1990s, a great many studies were carried out on National Democracy, ones which maintained that integral nationalism is a modernized, up-to-date version of patriotism.9 The breakthrough of 1989–90 and the subsequent transformation of the social system in Poland also brought about a partial public rehabilitation of the above worldview, and this also had an influence on the growing interest in research into this field. ← 14 | 15 →

Andrzej Mencwel’s essays were an initial attempt to present intelligentsia radicalism around the year 1900, while retaining a traditional conceptual framework.10 These works, written with journalistic flair, met with a very lively reception, although not so much in historical circles. Mencwel, a distinguished cultural historian and anthropologist, some years earlier the biographer of Stanisław Brzozowski, shifted one of the key categories for the author of Legendy Młodej Polski (The Legends of Young Poland) – culturalism – to an earlier period. Yet, in this study of the turn-of-the-century intelligentsia’s attitudes, brilliant remarks, as well as original insights and observations, mingle with altogether arbitrary theories, ones finding no confirmation in the sources or the literature on the subject.

The concept of culturalism, so central to the whole argument, remains debatable. For example, Mencwel argued that it is inextricably linked to the idea of the emancipation of less developed societies and thus represents the telltale ethos of social radicalism. Culturalism was meant to represent a creationist and militant attitude towards both nature as well as society. The radicals, whom the writer has so suggestively presented, were also supposedly linked by a shared militant ethos towards social reality, remaining, it should be noted, in Mencwel’s work as a universal determinant of leftism. But what were the sources of this ethos, if we remove for a moment the human factor? Mencwel writes of his inspiration as follows: ‘I was distressed by the vision of mankind’s place in the cosmos as articulated by Nałkowski, but I was also fascinated by his proud, solitary combativeness; I wanted to understand the painstaking, meticulous, and detailed historicism together with his attitude towards ‘Polishness’, the politics of conspiracies and of young people.’ However, elsewhere he adds: ‘If, however, all the examples I present appeal to no-one, then neither my definition nor conclusions will convince a soul.’11 This last remark can, on the one hand, testify to the writer’s belief in the force of his own suggestion, while on the other it was perhaps an indication of a certain helplessness in the face of the problem.

The name in Mencwel’s first work for the radical grouping – the so-called Varsovians (Warszawiacy), taken from Stefan Żeromski – must raise serious doubts. Of the players key to Mencwel’s study, for instance Wacław Nałkowski, Ludwik Krzywicki, Edward Abramowski, Stefan Żeromski, Stanisław Posner, Stanisław Stempowski, Józef Karol Potocki, Jan Wacław Machajski, Jan Władysław Dawid, and Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz, none was a de facto Varsovian, so it is difficult to ← 15 | 16 → accept that the peculiarly understood city culture – another basic concept in the writer’s vocabulary – was created by these very figures. Some of these heroes did indeed live for a time in Warsaw: Abramowski even signed some of his militant leaflets with the pseudonym ‘Warszawiak’ (Varsovian). However, we should not imagine that it was uniquely this Warsaw period that had a direct influence on their attitudes. For some of these figures it was the contrast – the rotten city v. pastoral provinces: this was one of the key antinomies of their work. Indeed, Żeromski would write in one of his early letters: ‘That God invented the countryside and the devil the city is the honest truth.’12 Focusing, for instance, on only the circle of the ‘first’ Głos, there were perhaps two Varsovians on the inner editorial team. For a time this journal was recognized among the Warsaw élite as a hotbed of alumni from radicalized Russian universities, for all the world some Eastern, ‘narodnik’ transplant. As if confirming this hypothesis, the celebrated articles of Jan Ludwik Popławski – the leading Głos ideologue of the mid-eighties – pointed specifically to the far-reaching degeneration of the Polish Kingdom’s, and especially Warsaw’s élite. Popławski, fascinated by the advances in anthropological sciences, proved that this developing degeneracy of the capital’s élite could be arrested by an influx of fresh ‘tribal material’ from the eastern lands of the former Commonwealth (the Kresy, in Polish). A certain amusing twist to this hypothesis, well-known in its time, was added by the fact that many of the ‘głosowicze’ in fact came from those parts, of which malicious critics immediately reminded the editors Roman Dmowski, however, was a native Varsovian, and moreover one whom Mencwel, by his own criteria, would not have recognized as ‘cultured’. Also the idea of culture, not applied by Mencwel’s contemporaries in the way he himself used it, remains therefore an idiosyncratic creation hanging, as it were, in mid-air.

The notion of emancipation, fundamental too for the deliberations of the author of Etos lewicy [The Ethos of the Left] and understood in its own way, was close to the Polish nationalist movement (excluded on principle from the discussion), and above all to the Warsaw positivists. But then this revolt against positivism has remained one of the basic determinants of the identity of the whole movement under discussion here. When examining these doubts it is hard not to wonder whether the categories introduced by Mencwel retain their analytical usefulness, allowing us to access new areas – or whether, on the contrary, they obscure what we already know. ← 16 | 17 →

Despite all these reservations, this writer’s work still remains an important and inspiring voice not just for the historian of ideas. It also represents an essential reference point for studying problems on the fault line between politics and a broad interpretation of culture. Its not insignificant contribution has been to shift the emphasis from a ‘history of events’ to an archaeology of developing worldviews.

Attempts to find a way out

For use in these introductory deliberations we can introduce a distinction between three basic approaches to the issue of right-wing radicalism. This is rather more my own construction created for analytical reasons than a complete presentation which would permit a complex differentiation between different scholars to be carried out.

The first attempt in Polish conditions to disturb this definitional structure on turn-of-the-century intelligentsia radicalism, i.e. ascribing to radicalism only left-wing connotations, were works linked to a generational vision. The introduction of a generational category made possible a description of the whole complexity of the ‘democratic-radical’ movement, with which the scholar of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries will inevitably come into contact. The generational approach allowed for an overall presentation both of the left-wing as well as right-wing currents which had arisen from the crisis of the 1980s – that ‘ideological muddle’, as Ludwik Krzywicki put it in his memoirs. Just as before, ideas in this domain came from the world of politics. The Catholic publicist Bohdan Cywiński in Rodowody niepokornych (Origins of the Defiant) presented a very provocative attempt at the beginning of the 1970s. Cywiński’s extensive essay is worth mentioning here for a number of reasons. First of all, Cywiński consolidated the concept of intelligentsia radicals. Rebellious intellectuals have found a permanent place in the language and in social history. Secondly, that writer, otherwise a respected thinker engaged in public life, drew attention not only to the political determinants of attitudes then crystallizing. Thirdly, Cywiński inspired with his formulation a series of other studies in this field. His book proved to be a significant cultural event, becoming for many readers a sort of validation of their own intellectual identification. It is worth noting that the distinguished essayist was writing more about the intelligentsia radicals than about intelligentsia radicalism as such. Thus in Rodowody we can find a whole chapter on Dmowski’s Myśli nowoczesnego Polaka (Thoughts of a Modern Pole) – the ideological manifesto of the Polish nationalist right – which is indeed depicted there as nationalism’s definitive farewell to its own radical, meaning also intellectual, roots. For Cywiński it was Żeromski ← 17 | 18 → and his tradition of thinking about Polishness which remained the essence of intelligentsia radicalism. Elsewhere the author of Rodowody has written: ‘The intellectual – the radical and the intellectual – the nationalist of nineteenth-century Poland, spent their childhood together, their youth together […]. As the years passed, their paths diverged ever more, their political differences grew, their policies differed ever more […]. The generation had not even grown old, when within its ranks there existed two quite different and almost opposing, not just ideological, but in fact ethical, directions.’13

One may well accuse generational formulations of abusing the factor of age in the development of ideological attitudes. The concept of the cultural generation introduced by Wilhelm Dilthey (fruitfully used in Polish research in studies of literary history by inter alia Kazimierz Wyka and Alina Witkowska) continues to retain, so it appears, its analytical usefulness. However, a recognition of generational affiliation as a key element in the development of a worldview, or in the creation of any ideology, leaves much to be desired. As everybody knows, the feeling of shared, generational experience is very important, and this gives birth to the temptation to reach for this tool too often. Thus, for instance, Ludwik Hass acknowledged that as many as five generations developed between 1845 and 1905, which would point to a new ideological generation every ten years!14 On the other hand, it is worth recalling that ideological movements usually develop at the intersection of such generational differences.

The second, much more serious attempt to go beyond this paradigm of radicalism involved research into the intellectual roots of the extreme right and fascism. A significant phase in this work was that of the analyses of socio-political conditions in the Second German Reich, and above all in the Habsburg Monarchy at the end of the 19th century. Definitional doubts had already emerged in earlier research into these new forms of political activity. Initial definitions of right-wing radicalism have appeared in the works of Andrew Whitehead on Austrian Pan-Germanism, Roger Chickering’s on the Pan-German League, and John W. Boyer’s on Karl Lueger’s Austrian Christian Social Movement, along ← 18 | 19 → with those of a great many other writers.15 These writers more or less agree that right-wing radicalism – they use this concept more or less interchangeably with the concept of political extremism – was characterized by a strong affirmation of state or nation accompanied by a criticism of the current political élites. In practice, the right-radical political option was linked by an unwillingness to compromise and a tendency towards ruthless solutions. Right-wing radicals often had recourse to violence, not infrequently acknowledging it as a decisive factor in settling disputes. Right-wing radicalism, with aims similar to those which the right had earlier set itself, reached for methods and means similar to those of the anti-system left of the day. Hence some scholars have come to the conclusion that right-wing radicalism was the result of adapting the right to the expectations of a modern mass society. Nationalism – extremely expressed, and very often merging into chauvinism and politically opportunistic antisemitism was becoming the distinguishing feature of radicalism seen this way. The essence of such a post-rationalist way of doing politics would be expressed in the formula politics in a new key,16 proposed by the American historian Carl A. Schorske.

However, when researching the radical right, analysis of these groups’ ideology prompted greater uncertainty. From the ideological standpoint, right-radical movements turned out to be a mixture of very different, often contradictory tendencies. These movements contained elements taken both from the left, as well as from the right, for which no good explanation was found. How can such an approach be applied to Polish conditions?

The problem of right-wing radicalism appeared in Polish research at the turn of the century as if by accident and relatively late. Andrzej Jaszczuk, in a work on the ideological disputes of the second half of the 19th century in the former Kingdom of Poland, has proposed, following English-speaking historians, such a ← 19 | 20 → new definition for the circle gathered around the Warsaw journal Rola, edited by Jan Jeleński.17 Use of this concept emerged, it appears, from a hitherto inadequate vocabulary in this field. In line with common sense, the Rola group (the ‘rolarzy’) were simply seen as antisemites, or else they were defined using a far more opaque concept of right-wing populism.18 With all the limitations resulting from the then context of Polish territory under Russian rule, the ‘rolarzy’ group was in fact exhausting the earlier-mentioned signs of right-wing radicalism. Using similar categories we can also examine access into the National Democrats’ policies both on the Galician scene at the start of the 20th century (initially illustrated by the work of Adam Wątor and Maciej Janowski19, among others), and later in the elections to the First, Second, Third, and above all the Fourth Duma in Warsaw in 1912, when antisemitism in a somewhat pure form became the nationalist movement’s principal propaganda weapon in the Kingdom of Poland.20

English-language writers, but also Andrzej Jaszczuk, legitimately recall that such a radical style of doing politics resulted from the creation of a telltale vacuum after the collapse of the earlier political game, played according to liberal rational rules. In Carl A. Schorske’s formulation, the birth of the radical right supposedly arose from the middle classes’ state of frustration with the current state of affairs. For the British historian Geoff Eley, associated with the neo-Marxist tendency, radical nationalism represented an attempt by the petty bourgeoisie to appear on the public stage after the crisis of Bismarck’s Honoratiorenpolitik.21 John Boyer ← 20 | 21 → saw the sources of the success of Karl Lueger’s demagogic rhetoric in the peculiar rebellion by civil servants of the Habsburg Empire.

But this approach, emphasizing the appearance of a peculiar way of doing politics, does not exhaust the phenomenon of the appearance of the radical right at the end of the 19th century, and in particular the phenomenon of integral nationalism, which took the form of National Democracy in its native cultural context. This grouping, let us recall, was an intelligentsia movement for the first decade of its existence. This second formulation, laying emphasis on the inadequacies of a liberal society, somewhat naturally trivializes the intellectual sources of these new movements.

The third research approach worth quoting here refers to the cultural crisis at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.22 This formulation, which also was born of the by now classic studies on the intellectual genesis of the 20th century, being to a certain extent a development of the second approach (remaining perhaps merely a variant of it), emphasizes the peculiar intellectual climate at the end of the 19th century. Insofar as the approach mentioned earlier underscores the social context of the movements that were forming (studying, like Eley, the electoral structure of the Maritime League; or, like Schorske, pointing out the tension between different cultural generations), writers focused on intellectual history attach greater importance to the ideological foundation of the new currents. These scholars (i.a., Walter Adamson, Roger Griffin, Emilio Gentile, Zeev Sternhell) suggest a close connection between the rise of modern ideologies and cultural pessimism and a sense of the decline of the prevailing forms of political activity.23 ← 21 | 22 →

On the one hand, this would indicate a crisis of the Enlightenment tradition and a portent of its thorough revision, while on the other a reference to the Enlightenment idea with its simultaneous extreme radicalization. The departure point for the highlighted attitude would then be a description of the crisis of liberal society (in the area of concepts, imagination, modes of thinking, but also a peculiarly formulated sensitivity), which revealed itself in the form of a spreading notion of the decline of industrial society, but also the exhaustion of particular forms of the social and political life in industrial societies during that time.

This third formulation lays emphasis on the issue of the individual’s place in modern society and his or her social and above all moral regeneration. Radical ideologies do not set themselves the goal of exclusively activating in turn the hitherto politically and socially passive layers of society, as the leading proponents of this approach say (differing here somewhat from historians of political attitudes and the new style of politics), but want a revitalization, a renewal of whole societies, and so a new, reborn person in a new, regenerated society. The new man remains the best symbol of this thinking. This anthropology, different from former ones (both those with Christian roots, as well as one of classic Enlightenment provenance), represents one of the ideological bonds of a radical worldview so conceived. It is apparently from here, as the proponents of this point of view stress, that the impetus emerges with which these new ideologies attack prevailing social forms, including their style of doing politics, which is different from the prevailing norm. This formulation recognizes that these new forms of political activity find their intellectual and social culmination in twentieth-century totalitarianisms, seeking often quasi-religious forms of political activity for their universalist aspirations, often also aiming for an unusual sanctification of public life with all its consequences.24 This approach from the second half of the 1990s is documented in the academic journal Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions.

It appears that this last formulation creates the most promising perspective for an analysis of ideological radicalism at the turn of the centuries. Firstly, it defines the general framework within which one can fit both the left-wing (i.e. the traditional one might say, radical worldview) as well as right-wing radicalism, not reducing the latter merely to a defined style of politics and not trivializing its ← 22 | 23 → meaning. Secondly, this approach allows for the use of all the research techniques used so far (e.g. the category of the cultural generation, still useful for the study of ideological crises, or the generational revolt). Thirdly and finally, this attitude permits for a much more adequate grasp of the enormous dynamism which turn-of-the-century radical ideologies possessed. There is much to indicate that this third formulation allows us to look at the Polish intelligentsia’s dilemmas in the fullest light of European social thought.

Obviously, research into right-wing radicalism in Polish conditions must, from the very outset, encounter serious difficulties. The first of these difficulties is the temptation to treat Polish integral nationalism as a phenomenon, whose uniqueness releases the scholar from the need to create a comparative perspective. This is no doubt one of the greatest burdens which handicaps Polish analysis in this area. This problem, to which scholars have otherwise long drawn attention, has yet to be appropriately reflected in research.25 For me, the phenomenon of Polish integral nationalism remains a local and thus peculiar case of a broader cultural/political phenomenon, which one can define in simple terms as a revolt against the Enlightenment tradition.

The second difficulty is of a social/cultural nature. Inclusion in this work of the concept of right-wing radicalism leads inevitably to juxtaposing this manifestation with the phenomenon of the extreme right of the 1930s. In my opinion, this is a highly justified assumption, while the central protagonist of this work (Roman Dmowski) remains perhaps the best ideological liaison for this ideological phenomenon that was born at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and which found its ideological and political fulfillment in the totalitarian movements of the first half of the 20th century. It must loyally be maintained that this assumption arouses deep-seated opposition among the majority of my fellow Polish scholars. Even the most staunch critics of the activities of the leader of the National Democrats (both in historical journalism, as well as strictly academic works) maintain the thesis of an essential dissimilarity between the attitudes of this work’s central protagonist and the grouping which he founded at various times.

This initial assumption can be summarized in the metaphor of the two more or less Janus-like faces of Roman Dmowski.26 The ‘first’ Dmowski remains an active ← 23 | 24 → pro-independence politician, the founder of a home-grown nationalist movement, but also the creator of modern thinking about politics (which includes Krzysztof Kawalec, Tomasz Kizwalter, Adam Michnik, and Andrzej Walicki), a key author (who knows if not the most significant such) of the modern formula of political nationality. The ‘first’ Dmowski crowns his life’s work signing the Treaty of Versailles. He is the co-creator (although remembered with some embarrassment in light of later events) of Polish independence. The ‘second’ Dmowski is the politician of extreme nationalism, the propagator of radical antisemitism, a skillful demagogue, beset in later years by murderous phobias: ‘a sophisticated analyst of reality who was a prisoner of his obsessions’, as one of his most fervent critics, Adam Michnik, once wrote.

In my own opinion it is not possible to combine both of these faces into a coherent portrait of unquestionably one of the most influential figures in Polish twentieth-century history. To some extent this work has therefore arisen from a sense of the inadequacy of previous presentations.

The point de départ for tackling the key elements in this study are works and studies on National Democracy and the person of Roman Dmowski. For the student of turn-of-the century Polish nationalism the works of Olaf Bergmann, Andrzej Borkowski, Władysław Bułhak, Alvin Fountain, Bogumił Grott, Urszula Jakubowska, Michał Jaskólski, Stanisław Kalabiński, Krzysztof Kawalec, Teresa Kulak, Jan Józef Lipski, Ewa Maj, Jacek Majchrowski, Jerzy Marczewski, Teodor Mistewicz, Jan Molenda, Jerzy Myśliński, Marian Orzechowski, Władysław Pobóg-Malinowski, Szymon Rudnicki, Mieczysław Sobczak, Jerzy Janusz Terej, Barbara Toruńczyk, Adam Wątor, Witold Wojdyła, and Tadeusz Wolsza (to mention only the authors of the most important monographs on our subject) are essential for further study. Anyone tackling this issue owes a debt to these writers. A special place is held in Polish historiography by the professional oeuvre of the recently deceased Roman Wapiński, who – in the numerous, versatile works he produced over many years – in fact overturned (if not, indeed, set on an academic footing) the issue of National Democracy.

Ignoring the great many lesser, but also relevant studies, this is a base without which it is hard to imagine any solid research in this field. Deserving of a special place for the historian of ideas in this field are the numerous works by Andrzej Walicki on Polish nationalist thought at different times, which, despite not yet assuming a complete, synthetic form, remain a very important, not infrequently also critical reference point.

In the 1970s and 80s, the works of the British anthropologist, Ernest Gellner introduced a unique energy and reinvigorated research into nationalism. His attitude had a strong and creative influence on Tomasz Kizwalter’s synthetic ← 24 | 25 → study.27 In that work the phenomenon of Polish nationalism at the end of the 19th century is treated as the culmination of nineteenth-century modernizing efforts. A study by the young scholar Nikodem Bończa-Tomaszewski, who analyses from this angle the journalism of the first Głos (1886–1894),28 presents a similar formulation.

In work on the ND at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries the study by the American historian Brian A. Porter-Szücs published a few years ago, which is the first attempt at a comprehensive approach to the Polish nationalist movement’s intellectual origins, definitely cannot be ignored.29 This work’s value is based both on its full grasp of the problem, as well as on its original methodological approach. Porter’s work is perhaps the most outstanding study in the so-called constructivist current in research into Polish nationalism and, like Walicki’s work, will be an important reference point here.

The problems of research into intelligentsia radicalism already mentioned impose a certain heterogeneity of modus operandi and source selection. The first chapter of this book, touching on the origins of social revolt, lays greater emphasis on the reconstruction of the social underpinnings, which influenced this and not any other shape of intelligentsia radicalism. Hence in the initial chapters emphasis has been laid on research into social context, cultural conditions, and the socio-political situation, in which Polish young people above all found themselves in the second half of the 19th century.

The basic source for the first chapter is that of personal sources, i.e. memoirs, reminiscences, and to a far lesser degree, diaries and private correspondence. It is difficult at this juncture to mention even a small part of this extensive documentary collection, which, obviously, grew over the years. However, it is worth mentioning that the largest part of these sources was accumulated immediately after Poland regained its independence. Periodicals such as Niepodległość or Kronika Ruchu Rewolucyjnego w Polsce, specially created for this purpose, remain an inexhaustible source for students of the period. Many of the valuable memoirs and testimonies from the turn of the centuries can be discovered in the press of the Second Republic. Official papers, materials created by the partitioning powers’ administrative machinery, including the machinery of repression, have been used here as secondary sources, above all on account of their very selective state ← 25 | 26 → of preservation. In other words, insofar as the task of this work’s first chapter is to depict the social basis of a certain phenomenon of intelligentsia radicalism, beginning with the second chapter, this work’s subject becomes an analysis of a certain ideological project which arises from the generational experience of the grouping here examined.

For the rest of the work basic source material has been the journalistic output of our principal protagonist himself, Dmowski, but seen as far as possible in the context of attitudes of the time among the radical intelligentsia. Thus, on numerous occasions other people from this radical grouping will become second- and third-tier players in this work: Edward Abramowski, Zofia Daszyńska-Golińska, Maurycy Golberg, Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz, Ludwik Krzywicki, Wacław Nałkowski, Józef Karol Potocki, Leon Winiarski, Antoni Złotnicki, or figures ideologically and politically close to our central protagonist, such as Władysław Jabłonowski, Zygmunt Balicki, Jan Ludwik Popławski and others. The main sources in this part of the work are the output of these opinion journals in which we can find work of these writers mentioned: Głos (1886–1894; 1895–1899; 1900–1905), Przegląd Tygodniowy (1886–1905) and Przegląd Wszechpolski (1895–1905), Prawda (1886–1905), Krytyka (1896–1905), Ogniwo (1902–1905), Przedświt (1886–1905), Pobudka (1888–1893), Przegląd Poznański (1894–1896), Robotnik (1894–1905), Sprawa Robotnicza (1893–1896), Tygodnik Powszechny (1891), Kraj (1886–1905) and others. To a lesser extent I have drawn on Tygodnik Ilustrowany, Ateneum, and Biblioteka Warszawska, where the above writers advertised their work. To an even lesser degree and as secondary material, this work uses articles from dailies such as Kurier Warszawski, Nowa Reforma, Naprzód (from 1900), Słowo Polskie (especially up to 1902) as well as belles lettres of the period.

The book’s framework is limited to the years 1886–1905. The year 1886, which is to a certain extent a symbolic date connected with events key for the radical intelligentsia grouping of the second half of the 19th century, is the point of departure for this study. The year 1905 has been selected for the ending date – a time when both for Polish society as such, as well as the professional classes in particular, a new beginning in political life arrived, along with a quickening in public life. From the perspective of the history of ideas, 1905 seems comparable to the breakthrough which 1918 represented for all the Polish lands.

At this juncture it is my pleasant duty to thank those who by reading fragments of this work, through discussion, or by making critical comments have contributed to its creation. Parts of this monograph have been discussed at meetings of the Pracownia Dziejów Inteligencji at PAN’s Historical Institute and also at a doctoral seminar at the Zakład Historiii XIX w. in the History Department of the University of Warsaw and the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. ← 26 | 27 →


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (January)
Polish nationalism Political Anti-Semitism Polish Jews
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 586 pp.

Biographical notes

Grzegorz Krzywiec (Author)

Grzegorz Krzywiec is Assistant Professor at the Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences. He is Coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Seminar on Problems of Anti-Semitism at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw and was a research fellow at, among others, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna and Tel Aviv University.


Title: Chauvinism, Polish Style