The Polish Reason of State in Austria

The Poles in the Political Life of Austria in the Period of the Dual Monarchy (1867–1918)

by Dorota Litwin-Lewandowska (Author)
©2020 Monographs 528 Pages
Open Access


The monograph describes the history of the Polish diaspora in the Habsburg monarchy in the historical, institutional, legal, political, and organizational context. In the period of the Dual Monarchy (1867–1918), the Poles who lived under the Austro-Hungarian regime sought to influence the fate of their nation and state primarily through an active involvement in parliamentary life and state administration. The study of the social and political activity of the Poles in the Austrian partition reveals their political heritage, which influenced not only the Polish idea of patriotism but also the formation of the Polish political culture rooted in the European tradition of parliamentarism and constitutionalism.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • PREFACE: Through Partitioning Austria to Independent Poland: the Political, Civilizational, and Military Dimension of the Polish Raison D’état in 1876–1918 (Jerzy Gaul)
  • CHAPTER 1: The Polish Diaspora in Indigenous Austria (1867–1918)
  • 1. Terminology
  • 2. A Statistical View of the Polish Diaspora
  • 3. Polish Politicians in the Life of the Polish Diaspora
  • CHAPTER 2: Poles in the Main Bodies of State Administration
  • 1. Council of Ministers
  • 2. Prime Ministers
  • 3. Ministers
  • 4. Ministers Without Portfolio for Galicia
  • CHAPTER 3: Poles in the Austrian Parliament
  • 1. The Imperial Council
  • 2. Poles in the House of Lords of the Imperial Council
  • 3. Poles in the House of Deputies
  • 4. Presidents of the Polish Club
  • 5. Political Factions Represented in the Imperial Council
  • CHAPTER 4: Conceptions of the Polish National Interest in Austria
  • 1. The Austro-Polish Compromise
  • 2. Struggle for the Separation of Galicia
  • 3. The Pro-Austrian Orientation
  • 4. Initiatives and Independence Actions on the Eve of the First World War
  • 5. The Decline of the Austro-Polish Orientation
  • Indeks nazwisk
  • Series index

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Jerzy Gaul

PREFACE: Through Partitioning Austria to Independent Poland: the Political, Civilizational, and Military Dimension of the Polish Raison D’état in 1876–1918

Introductory Remarks

After the breakdown of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Polish lands became part of the three partitioning states. The partition of Galicia and Cieszyn Silesia by the Habsburgs in 1772 and 1795 caused that Poles shared the same fate as the Danube monarchy. They constituted not only a diaspora in the multinational state1 but also a significant political force, which played a role in the supreme administrative institutions and the Austrian Parliament.2 The citizens of the previously independent Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth participated in the life of other countries. In fact, this had manifold consequences and, sooner or later, had to lead to re-evaluation of the Polish reason of state.3

There are two ways of understanding the notion of reason of state.4 In the narrower sense, it designates “a justification for a political action of exceptional, ←7 | 8→one-off and temporary nature that intends to prevent a threat to existence of a state community.” A broader definition, in turn, draws attention to “political actions, particularly those of a long-term nature, that aim to secure the vital interests of the State.” It concerns such fundamental issues of the political community as the reason for the existence of a state, its survival and development, the protection of its fundamental interests, political realism or the need to consider objective circumstances.5

The regaining of independence and the reconstruction of the national state formed the canon of the Polish reason of state in the period of the partitions. The main difficulty was that the program of the struggle for independence had to be implemented in an international context, where the most important criterion for the actions of all powers was their reason of state, understood as the interest of the ruler or the state. Raison d’état guided the policy of the partitioning powers’ leaders – Frederick the Great, Catherine the Great, and Maria Theresa. According to Stanisław Tarnowski, “the absolute monarchies of the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries, the reason of state, as the highest principle and the highest law, the reason of state, which acquits everything, allows everything to be committed, were the natural and inevitable result of this elevation of human reason and human will to a place they did not deserve.”6

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There was also another difficulty to implement the Polish reason of state: the point was no longer to pursue the interests of an existing state, since the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was erased from the map of Europe as a result of the partitions, but it was to regain independence and reconstruct the statehood. Therefore, the key question was not how to preserve the state, but how to regain it, not how to ensure its security and sovereignty, but how to fight for national interests in captivity when confronted with the interests of the partitioning states. According to Józef Szujski (1867), “captivity is not external oppression alone, it is not the domination of this or that unpleasant system to a nation […] it is more, because it is the deprivation of a nation of its own government and its own disposition of society. […] Do you know what it means to be free? To be free is to become able to form a government and to reorganize society.”7

For Szujski, the Polish reason of state was not only to pursue Polish interests, because this could be done to a certain extent also in the conditions of captivity, but also to form a government that would carry out necessary, positive changes. “Politics of interest means self-governance, government means independence.”8

Szujski’s understanding of the Polish reason of state raised the bar so high that it was hardly possible to achieve it in the conditions of the captivity. The struggles of Polish patriots concerned the choice of tactics, since the strategic goal of an independent state seemed obvious. Still, many circles, for various reasons, did not have the courage to stand up for it. In the Habsburg monarchy of the mid-nineteenth century, significant opportunities for the realization of the Polish reason of state emerged as a consequence of the adoption of the Constitution, the establishment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the granting of autonomy to Galicia. To solve the issue of the independence of the Commonwealth of Poland and to unite the Polish lands, Polish patriots had to choose between the interests of Poland and those of the Habsburg monarchy; in short, between patriotism and Austrophilism. The ideas of fighting for the Polish reason of state in the liberal Habsburg monarchy changed over time and ranged from loyalty and the Polish-Austrian agreement, through the fight for the separation of Galicia and the pro-Austrian orientation, up to the pursuit of independence.

One can agree with Dorota Litwin-Lewandowska that the offer of the Habsburg Monarchy to Poles in Galicia was also an opportunity for Poles living in the Prussian and Russian partitions. It gave an opportunity to execute many national ←9 | 10→interests and aspirations that were not possible in the territories annexed to the Reich and the tsarist empire.9 For the Poles from the Russian partition, limited by the repressive character of the autocracy, it was obvious to fight for the implementation of the independence program on the most promising grounds. After 1867, the conspirators from the Congress Kingdom did not have to emigrate, as the patriots after the lost uprisings had, since after the political changes there were opportunities for action in the liberal Danube monarchy. The fate of Józef Piłsudski and the socialists, and their relations with the Habsburg monarchy testify to the importance of Austro-Hungarian Empire for the representatives of Polish patriotic groups. Piłsudski did not see any problem in choosing an ally from among the partitioning states. It could not have been Russia, “this Asian monster, covered with a European varnish.” His deportation to Siberia cured him of all illusions about the significance and strength of the Russian revolution and cleared the way for the Western European influence. Piłsudski found an ally in the Austro-Hungarian constitutional state of law, which guaranteed broad autonomy and political and cultural freedoms to Poles in Galicia. As a result, Galicia became an operational base for the socialists from the Russian partition, and in the long term a bridgehead for military preparations to fight the biggest enemy – Russia.10

As I have already mentioned, the Polish reason of state was defined in different ways by representatives of particular political orientations in the years 1867–1918 in Galicia during the autonomous period. The same applies to other partitions, especially the Russian one, whose representatives (Józef Piłsudski and Roman Dmowski) also fought for Poland beyond the battlefield. Indeed, they largely influenced the struggle for an independent state and national interests.

Thus, the focus of this preface will not be limited to the political context of the Polish reason of state, which required Poland to regain its independence, rebuild the Polish state and secure it with appropriate alliances. The Polish patriots sought to fulfil the Polish reason of state also on other levels – civilizational and military. The civilizational reason of state required Poland to be permanently connected with modern civilization and cultivate its values, while the military reason of state required Poles to organize independent arm forces, which would ensure the victory of an independent state and would guard its future borders.

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The political dimension of the Polish reason of state

After the downfall of the Commonwealth, the Polish reason of state required an effort to rebuild the state. The defeat of the January Uprising and the loss of the opportunity for regaining independence brought an awareness of the necessity to seek an ally who would contribute to the pursuit of Polish interests. Naturally, Polish political circles saw Austria as a perfect fit for this role. This widespread belief rested on the assumption that the countries had common interests and enemies. In the memorandum from 1865 addressed to the Austrian Prime Minister Count Richard von Belcredi, Antoni Zygmunt Helcel, a conservative politician and legal scholar, saw the source of Poles’ fondness for the Habsburgs in their earlier ties with the Jagiellonian dynasty, their attachment to Catholicism, and the threat from Russia.11

After the defeat of Austria by Prussia in the battle of Königgrätz in 1866, Polish politicians from the nobility seemed to think that, in the next war, Austria in an alliance with France would defend the Polish interest against Prussia and Russia. The Polish noblemen also hoped for the help of the Austrian court in their conflict with peasants and Ukrainians. In the pro-Habsburg atmosphere, Adam Potocki wrote an address to the Diet of Galicia and Lodomeria (adopted on December 10, 1866), which he concluded with the following words: “With You, Your Majesty, we want to stand and we do stand!” It proclaimed the readiness of Poles to serve the Habsburg monarchy on the condition that they were granted autonomy, that their national rights were respected, and that Austria supported the Polish cause against Russia.12 According to Henryk Wereszycki, it was an offer of an alliance between the Polish nation and the Habsburg dynasty.13 However, the situation changed after the agreement between the Austrian authorities and the Hungarians who remained in the opposition. The establishment of the Dual Monarchy caused disputes among Polish politicians. The “Polish Program” from ←11 | 12→August 8, 1867, signed by Florian Ziemiałkowski and supported by the parliamentary Polish Circle, accepted the dualism of the monarchy; it also emphasized the need to create a strong Austrian state and to improve the administration of Cisleithania in a federalist spirit.14 Franciszek Smołka, in turn, requested to oppose, and not to send a delegation to the Imperial Council in Vienna, first demanding for Galicia a similar self-government and a status like the Hungarian Kingdom had obtained. Eventually the Diet of Galicia and Lodomeria adopted a compromise motion on September 24, 1867 and delegates from Galicia appeared in Vienna at the sessions of the Imperial Council.15 By the settlement reached in 1867 and the adoption of the December Constitution, Austria became the most liberal of all three partitioning states.16 In the Austrian partition, the ←12 | 13→constitution granted considerable autonomy to some Polish Crown’s lands, including Galicia.17

The conservative Stanisław Koźmian raised a fundamental question: what was the Polish “post-partitions patriotism” supposed to look like? The constitutional reforms implemented in the monarchy, including the decentralization of the state and the liberalization of its policy toward non-German nations, inspired pro-Habsburg attitudes in Galicia at the time of the Autonomy. Thus, there was a growing acceptance in Polish society for the Austrian rule, which, to some extent, harmonized with the Polish reason of state. This created favorable conditions for the pursuit of Polish national interests and led to the popularization of the idea of Galicia as a Polish Piedmont.18 The considerable degree of self-government and the participation in ruling made it possible for Galicia to influence decision-making in in the Habsburg state. This influence, however, had its limits set by the ruling elite and the emperor himself, the system of monarchy, and the interests of other nations, especially Germans, Czechs, and Hungarians. Loyalism and sober political calculation also determined the participation of Polish politicians in the parliamentary and governmental work of the Habsburg Monarchy.19

Polish politics in Galicia was dominated for a long time by the Cracow conservatives. The dilemma of how to preserve the fundamental goal of regaining independence at the time of captivity, while using evolutionary means for its pursuit, called for rejection of an irredentist program and advocated turning to reason rather than emotions. The Stańczycy stood for the loyalty to the partitioning state, but they also propagated statehood consciousness.20 In his work, “Z doświadczeń i rozmyślań”, S. Tarnowski pointed out that the nineteenth century was permeated by a pursuit of historical justice, which resulted, among ←13 | 14→others, in Polish uprisings. They did not contribute to the regaining of the independence, since the Polish cause was “an expression of a contradiction between the Christian conscience and civilization and the actual situation of Europe.” It consisted in a retreat from justice to a “struggle for existence,” in which the strongest countries, including invaders, win.21 In a world where both the conscience of the elites and the awareness of the law, to which all should submit, disappeared, there was no place for the Polish state, erased from the map of Europe by the policy of effectiveness.22 In the late 1870s, the persistent belief that the agreement with the Habsburg monarchy may be conducive to the Polish national cause led the Stańczycy to embrace triple loyalism, which meant giving up Polish political aspirations also in the Russian and German partitions.23

Galician democrats saw the reason of state as a long-term goal – the independence of Poland. They assumed that they could “rebuild our homeland through lawful means” (1897).24 Such an attitude was consistent with their loyalty to Austria, especially to the emperor, and, to a lesser extent, to Austrian state institutions. However, their conciliatory position was in fact a political tactics: they were Polish patriots, not Austrian ones.25

For National Democrats, it was crucial to answer the following question: can we strive for a united Poland and its political strengthening, even under a foreign rule? The endeavors of the ideological leaders – Roman Dmowski and Zygmunt Balicki – headed toward a realistic approach to the problem, i.e. to undertake modernization efforts, also relying on underestimated masses. They stressed the importance of understanding that the Polish national interest and its strength are the most important and fundamental element in the international relations.26 According to Balicki, a consolidation of Poles into a strong nation was a necessary condition for Poland to gain recognition on the international arena and regain an independence.27 In Dmowski’s conception, the Polish reason of the state in contemporary European reality came down to the principle that the ends ←14 | 15→justify the means. Thus, in appropriate conditions, Dmowski allowed the use of revolutionary methods, while, in other cases, he recommended the tactics of lawful action or even loyalism. The revived Polish state should adopt the principles of international relations, i.e. prepare for competition and struggle.28

To be sure, it was utopian to believe that, in a short-term perspective, Poles could achieve this goal on their own. National Democrats considered two options. Initially, it was the Austro-Hungarian option and the idea of the division of Galicia into a separate entity within the Habsburg monarchy, borrowed from the Galician Democrats, that appeared to be most consistent with Polish national interests.29 At the turn of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, however, National Democrats began to oppose the Austrian orientation, including the “Austrianization tendencies” in Galicia. This found expression in their loyalty to the partitioner at the expense of national solidarity.30 According to National Democrats, the interests of the Habsburg monarchy and Poles were not identical. Therefore, they treated Galicia as a part of Poland and its future state. They accused conservatives of an excessive commitment to the Habsburg monarchy. It was not unreasonable, since in 1913 W. L. Jaworski claimed: “We do not see any differences between the Polish policy and the dynastic state policy.”31 They saw an alternative in developing an active national attitude and real patriotism in the society, a patriotism based on a sense of the national interest and a responsibility for collective actions.32 That is why National Democrats rejected the concept of Galicia as a “Polish Piedmont” as too backward. They also criticized any service to the state which, in internal politics, drove a wedge between Ukrainians and Poles, while, in foreign politics, was allied with the German Reich, the greatest enemy of Polish statehood.33

Instead of supporting condemned Austria and hateful Germany, National Democrats stood for uniting all three partitions under the Russian rule.34 After ←15 | 16→the revolutionary events of 1904–1906, they decided that the best solution would be neither a revolution, which Dmowski had strongly criticized,35 nor a war, for there was no hope for the modification of state borders. Dmowski called for an end to the fight against the Russian tsardom. Looking for real profits, he was ready to accept the postulate of the autonomy of the Kingdom of Poland and its belonging to Russia, which, together with Poland, was to act as a defender of Europe against Germany.36 In 1906, National Democrats were elected to the Russian State Duma, where they followed the line of the conciliatory camp. Dmowski began to oppose the struggle for independence and to champion the Russian reason of state, as he believed that it was in the interest of Western states, not to weaken Russia, but to strengthen it. Despite the criticism of the tsarist government in the Kingdom, Dmowski’s policy was designed to cooperate with the tsardom also in the event of war in Europe.37 Dmowski’s nationalism diverged increasingly from the traditional understanding of patriotism – democratic, focused on independence, and anti-Russian. Dmowski did not take into consideration the consequences of unifying the Polish lands under the conditions laid down by Russia, namely – captivity under the rule of a despotic satrap. Such a radical evolution of the leader’s views caused further splits within the National Democracy, as his position did not meet with unanimous acceptance among the movement’s members.38

The shift in the tactics of the National Democracy influenced the perception of the Polish reason of state. This was reflected in the controversy between Dmowski and the historian Szymon Askenazy. Askenazy promoted the program of revival of the Polish reason of state, invoking the idea of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the historical imperialist traditions. His program met the ←16 | 17→aspirations of the independence community in Galicia and Congress Poland.39 National Democrats, in turn, promoted their notion of national interest instead of the reason of state based on the idea of a sovereign state. What defined this interest was the role and place of the ethnic community opposed to a hostile international environment. The interest of the Polish nation as a whole became “the highest measure of political values.” Without concealing his anti-Semitism, Dmowski described Askenazy’s program as a threat to the influence of the National Democracy: “He [Askenazy] invented the term ‘Polish reason of state’ in opposition to ‘national interest’ invoked by the All-Polish Youth [a youth organization of the National Democracy’s camp]. The first term could include the Jews, the second – had to oppose the Jews.”40Another difference in their understandings of the Polish reason of state was also based on the fact that Dmowski was ready to unite the Polish lands under the thumb of an authoritarian tsar, which meant giving up the autonomy of Galicia. Askenazy, in turn, believed that the reconstruction of Poland required a large-scale war based on a conflict between the partitioning powers. The result of such an international clash should be “the highest good: the regained existence, freedom, and independence.”41

Piłsudski dreamt of conducting political activity modelled on workers’ movements in Western countries, who enjoyed political liberties in their struggle against the capitalist system. In the Russian partition, this was impossible due to the existence of the “despotic tsarist government.”42 The Habsburg constitutional monarchy, in turn, tended toward the Western model, paving the way for legal political actions.43 Indeed, the same applies to the German Reich in spite of its anti-Polish policy. Since 1982, Piłsudski’s contacts with socialists from the Austrian partition (Polish Social-Democratic Party of Galicia and Silesia – PPSD) furnished an opportunity to pursue the anti-Russian and independence agenda. Also, in order make use of the “sword of parliamentarianism,” Piłsudski and the socialists from Congress Poland supported the PPSD’s efforts to become a member of the Imperial Council during the election of the fifth curia of ←17 | 18→the general election in March 1897, which ended with the election of Ignacy Daszyński and Jan Kozakiewicz to the Chamber of Deputies of the Imperial Council of the 9th term (March 27, 1897 – Sept 7th, 1900).”44 Piłsudski was going “to make a fuss there and fight for our cause” and “to scold the Russian government.”45 He highlighted the importance of the formation of the first socialist faction in the Austrian Parliament. “Undoubtedly, this is not enough for serious victories in the parliamentary legislative activity, but it is enough to keep the predatory appetites of the privileged classes in check and to awaken the masses of the working people unaware of the parliamentary struggle.”46

Piłsudski did not lose sight of national interests, and saw that in the heated battle they were used for evil purposes. In 1901, he distinguished two types of patriotism – possessive and defensive. The former “is currently a political slogan in most European powers. It has millions of bayonets and cannons at its service, thousands of spokesmen in the form of ministers, journalists and scholars, plenty of money squeezed out of the working people. It pushes the nations to a fratricidal fight, it conquers countries and sucks them up like a spider and a fly.”47 Piłsudski condemned possessive patriotism because it was “contrary to the simplest sense of justice, poisoning the moral atmosphere among the partitioning states and life among the oppressed that every decent man, regardless of his convictions, must speak out against it.48 The defensive patriotism, caused, for example, by the assault of the tsarist invader on oppressed Poles, Lithuanians and Jews in Lithuania was a manifestation of natural self-defense of national rights related to the interests and needs of various groups and layers of their population49. For Piłsudski, bringing the Polish raison d’état down to national interests only was a simplification, as it carried the threat of abuse of other national and social groups. Referring to the universal principles binding on everyone, he condemned Polish chauvinists who took advantage of cultural and economic superiority in Lithuania, often with the help of priests who often developed the ←18 | 19→activity of Polonization with the support of bishops. He also stigmatized the patriotism of possessing classes, who, in order to preserve their interests, sought help and support from the tsarist authorities.50 The healthy core of patriotism consisted in “the natural feeling of love for one’s country and its culture, and the defense of the nation’s right to exist independently when this right is violated.”51 It was the most fully expressed in a sovereign state that referred to the imponderables, i.e. values necessary for the survival of a community and preservation of its identity52: freedom, law, tolerance, also for other religions and nations, which are rooted in the tradition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Western civilization. It is for a reason that Piłsudski measured the civilizational development of a given country on the basis of its freedom of speech.53

As a result of different assessment of the threat to national interests, there were formed the so-called orientations, i.e. siding with one of the partitioning states as a tactical ally in the conflict. Certain factions related the fate of Poland with Austria-Hungary, others sought support in Russia. The choice of a lesser evil had its price, because it also entailed choosing the most significant enemy. For the nationalists it was Germany, for the independence camp – Russia. The defeat of Russia meant either the incorporation of the Polish territories into the Habsburg Monarchy or the creation of a Polish state. Both possibilities were only a step toward gaining a triple-agreed independence, the ultimate goal of the independence parties associated since 1912 in the Temporary Coordinating Commission of Confederated Independence Parties (Komisja Tymczasowa Skonfederowanych Stronnictw Niepodległościowych – KTSSN).54

The assassination of the heir of the throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, the difficult to accept ultimatum against the Serbian government and the manifesto “To My People” by Emperor Franz Joseph I led to the awaited by the Austrians war in the Balkans. It quickly turned into an armed conflict with Russia, France and Great Britain, and eventually into a world war, thanks to the system of alliances. For Poles, the outbreak of the war, with the participation of the partitioning countries fighting against each other, meant a shift in the international economic situation. The Polish Club and the Galician factions, as parts of the anti-Russian orientation, opted for resolving the Polish question with ←19 | 20→the help of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, assuming the creation of an independent Polish state within the Habsburg Monarchy (trialism, personal union, secundogeniture). In order to gather all Poles capable of fighting the victorious fight against Russia in the ranks of the Polish Legions, the Supreme National Committee (Naczelny Komitet Narodoty – NKN) was appointed on August 16, 1914. The Committee consisted of Polish deputies to the Viennese Parliament of all political groups and it was chaired by president of the Polish Club Juliusz Leo.55 The NKN actively promoted the Austro-Polish solution and fought pro-Russian attitudes.56

The independence movement consisting of two currents: the socialist-independence and the nationalist-independence movement, was striving for full independence. Initially, the official minimum political program of Piłsudski during the war was to merge Galicia and the Kingdoms of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. He included that in the letter of September 1, 1915, to president of the Polish Club Jaworski; this was also what connected him to the NKN. Cooperation with Austria on the previous terms, without compensation for the recruitment that had been carried out on the lands of the Russian partition, did not give any benefit to the Polish case. From August 1915 onwards, the agitation of Piłsudski’s proponents grew; it regarded the creation of the Polish state, which would include the Kingdom of Poland for its territorial base, with the possibility of incorporating other areas of the annexed lands, and with its own armed forces.57

The attitude of many politicians, who were linked with the pro-Austrian orientation, changed in the summer of 1916. After negotiations, Austria and Germany decided to create a Polish state on the territory of the Kingdom of Poland; the Austrian authorities additionally decided to extend the autonomy of Galicia within the Habsburg Monarchy, which meant giving up the Austro-Polish solution. The abrupt reactions of the deputies of the Polish Club manifested in the resolution put forward by member of the peasant movement Wincenty Witos in ←20 | 21→October 1916. According to the resolution, the Polish Club “protests as solemnly as possible against all attempts to divide Polish lands and expresses the conviction that our historical injustice will be fully repaired.”58

On November 5, 1916, an act was proclaimed, in which the monarchs: German Emperor William II and Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, announced their decision to create the independent Polish Kingdom from the Polish lands, “liberated from the Russian subjugation,” with hereditary monarchy and constitutional system.59 The event was momentous, regardless of the temporary maintenance of the new state’s management in the hands of the invaders and the real intentions of Austria-Hungary and Germany: whether it was a desire to replenish human resources in the armies of central states or a desire to define a framework for the implementation of German political plans and the establishment of a buffer Polish state, which is part of “Mitteleuropa.”60

The act of November 5 was severely criticized by National Democrats. One of the reasons was the change of political concept under the influence of representatives residing in the West. They attempted to gain support of the authorities of the Entente states and the USA for the Polish cause. The mission was difficult, because France and England left the Polish question at the exclusive disposal of the tsarist authorities until the outbreak of the February Revolution of 1917 in Russia. Beside the unification of all Polish territories, the program of National Democrats included also a demand to create a separate country, instead of the previous state of autonomy, and to organize its forces to fight against the threat of the Germans.61 Nationalists put too much faith in the Entente’s selfless engagement in Polish affairs. They emphasized their realism, but were astonishingly blind to the dangerous consequences of reducing the raison d’état only to ←21 | 22→the national interests of Poland. In confrontation with not only the partitioning powers but also the Western states, Poland did not have much chance, because in the game of interests the stronger side always wins.

Such mistake was avoided by the supporters of the independence option, who had no illusions about the discrepancy between the political goals of England and France and the interests of Poland, or about the submissiveness of National Democrats to the Entente.62 On March 21, 1918, Komisja Porozumiewawcza Stronnictw Demokratycznych (KPSD, Democratic Parties’ Negotiation Committee) stated: “In our struggle for freedom, for the existence of the Polish nation, we did not reject any help from wherever it could have come, and therefore from the countries of the coalition. But we shall not build anything on the basis of this help. We consider the coalition only an objective fact that, regardless of its tendencies, its views on Poland, may to some extent distract the pressure of the hostile powers.”63 The only way out of the situation was an active policy of building the Polish statehood. This obliged the coalition “to take into account the fact that Poland as a state already exists and that if the states of the coalition want to play a role or at least keep up appearances of Poland’s benefactors… they must work on improving the already existing form of the state… Should the coalition do something for us while reaching peace, it will only be as much as noticing us as an already existing state and if international customs allow it to interfere in our fate. If Poland were a territory conquered by the Central Powers and those territories could not be considered subdue, the coalition would consider itself completely removed from the right to speak on our behalf.”64 Let us add that the coalition would maintain a similar passivity if it were to win, and there would be no revolution in Russia, and the Tsarist would remain the quarterback in Central and Eastern Europe, who would dictate the conditions for solving the Polish case.65 From this perspective and by virtue of the patent of September 1917 ←22 | 23→issued by the Regency Council we should assess the following: the importance of the act of November 5, 1916, the creation of independent Kingdom of Poland and the Provisional Council of State. They led to a gradual and slow, but increasingly far-reaching reconstruction of statehood, the most important dimension of Polish raison d’état.

When Charles I became Emperor of the Danube Monarchy after the death of Franz Joseph I, the attempt to repair the state and the program of “peace outside and reform inside” were of no use.66 The radical attitudes of the Polish deputies the day before the resumption of the proceedings of the Imperial Council manifest in the resolution passed in May 1817, at the request of the people’s deputy Włodzimierz Tetmajer: “The Polish Club in the Diet states that the only aspiration of the Polish people is to reclaim an independent, united Poland with access to the sea; the Polish Club recognizes itself in solidarity with this aspiration. The Polish Club in the Diet further states the international nature of this matter and considers its implementation a guarantee of lasting peace. The Polish Club in the Diet hopes that the benevolent Emperor of Austria will take this matter into his own hands. The restoration of the Polish State with Austria’s help will provide it with a natural and lasting ally.”67

Another shock for the supporters of cooperation with Austria was the peace treaty signed by the Central States, as well as Bulgaria and Turkey, with the representatives of the Ukrainian People’s Republic on February 9, 1918 in Brest. Putting its own interest above that of Poland, Ukraine promised to provide Austria with food supplies in exchange for recognizing its independence. It paid for this with the annexation to Ukraine of the Chełm and Podlasie Lands, which were inhabited mostly by the Polish population.68 In the manifesto adopted on 16 February by the parliamentary committee in Vienna, it was stated that “we do not want to take other people’s good or territories, but we want the Chełm and Podlasie Lands, which had belonged to Poland for centuries and are Poland’s dearest and martyred children.”69 After the conclusion of the Treaty of Brest, ←23 | 24→Ignacy Daszyński acknowledged that on that day “the star of the Habsburg Monarchy on the Polish firmament died out,” and joined the opposition; in March 1918, he left the Polish Club together with the socialists.70

Emperor Charles tried to save the Monarchy and announced the creation of a new federal state on October 16. The belated manifesto did not save the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but facilitated the emergence of national councils, which were a central factor in the break-up of the Empire.71 On October 15, the Polish Club adopted a resolution put forward by Daszyński at the meeting of the Joint Delegations, stating that the Polish deputies “from that moment on consider themselves citizens of a free, united and independent Polish state,” and demanded the implementation of necessary economic agreements “between the sovereign Polish State and the rest of the Austro-Hungarian State.”72 The resolution marked the end of the Polish Club’s activity in the Imperial Council of Austria and the end of Galicia’s century-long relation with Austria.73 On October 28, in Cracow, the Polish Liquidation Committee (Polska Komisja Likwidacyjna) was established, which declared itself a “temporary district government”; it was at the initiative of Polish deputies, with the exception of the Conservatives. On October 31, the Austrian rule was finally overthrown in Cracow and other cities of Western Galicia.74

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Civilizational dimension of the Polish raison d’état

The participants of the struggle for the Polish raison d’état were faced with the problem of more than its political dimension. If the raison d’état was not to be a short-term game of interests, in which victory belonged to the stronger side, as it happened during the period of the partitions, then there arouse a need for additional security. For the society deprived of its own statehood, this could not be international political alliances, often changeable and impermanent, although rooted in the community which went beyond the occasional sphere of politics and which was based on values and norms. The civilizational community was a matter of priority. During the partitions, many Poles were aware of this dimension of raison d’état. The aim was not only to preserve tradition, but also to avoid such political choices that could prompt the elimination of existing values and norms and push the country into the orbit of another civilization. Poles were forced to answer the following question: “how to act politically in an enslaved country, while working for future independence, in current work not only not to violate basic moral values and norms, but to strengthen them and their development,” in other words, how to avoid conflict between the aspirations for independence and moral and civilizational goals.75

The dilemma of what kind of civilization Poles needed was the subject of lively debate in the nineteenth century.76 The problem concerned not only the degree of modernity, but above all its provenance, i.e. the choice between the West and the East. Poles felt they were the representatives of Western civilization,77 although the Stańczycy pointed to moral and customary problems as a result of “the prematurity of our civilizational development.” Józef Szujski emphasized that Poland, based on the traditions of the West, but remaining in the geopolitical shadow of Russia, faced the question of the future: “what to do about the further East, a different, invasive civilization, based on the unity of the Church with ←25 | 26→the state and the traditions of the Eastern empire.”78 Felix Konieczny claimed that “whenever the ‘synthesis between the West and the East’ was sought in Poland, the East would always triumph. As a result, we turned away from the West and during the reign of the Saxons, we devoted ourselves to… expanding the Turanian civilization toward the West. Stuck in oriental ignorance, we could not understand the distinction between public and private law. Laboriously, we were converting back to the Latin civilization, having lost our independence in these struggles.”79 As a result of the partitions, Poland’s role of a barrier and a defender of Europe against Russia failed. Adam Mickiewicz believed that the Christian Poland had the task of defending Western civilization against “idolatrous and Mohammedan barbarism.”80 On January 1, 1864, Julian Łukasiński postulated in his will: “Poland must be and will necessarily be separated from Russia. The security of Europe, its future stability, requires that Poland, strong and orderly, protected it from Russia, just as it used to protect it from the Turks and Tartars. This was Napoleon I’s plan when the war of 1812 commenced. Until this plan is implemented, Europe will remain in fear.”81

In contrast to the Eastern provenance of the Tsarist regime,82 the two other partitioning states – the German Reich and the Habsburg Monarchy – took pride in constituting part of Western civilization. For the Polish politicians of the time of autonomy in Galicia, it helped to swallow the bitter pill of cooperation with the Austrian invader. The address prepared by Antoni Helcel and presented to the Austrian Prime Minister Anton Schmerling on January 4, 1861, included the conviction of the special dynastic and catholic ties between the Poles and Austria.83 In September 1866, the journal „Czas” (Time), issued in Cracow, informed that the Habsburg Monarchy was to play the role of the barrier protecting Europe from Russia. The Tsarist policy was dangerous to Europe, “because the absorption of the Slavic peoples by Russia would create an enormous state no longer under the emblem of civilized Caesarism, but of barbaric Tsarism.”84 In the aforementioned address to Emperor Franz Joseph, Adam ←26 | 27→Potocki expresses the faith that “in order to exist and bloom stronger than ever, Austria, in its internal political system, will involve the strongest expression of respected freedom, and on the outside, it will be the shield of Western civilization, national rights, humanity and justice. The awareness of its own wellbeing and the conscience of other nations concerned with the Christian and civilizational thought, will not allow Austria to stand alone while exercising this mission.”85 The May Declaration was an expression of hope that the Monarchy will remain the enemy of the tsarist empire due to the difference in terms of religion and civilization shared with the former Republic of Poland. The continuation of the cooperation depended on Emperor Franz Joseph’s insistence on the common principles of Western civilization, nationality rights and justice.86

The need to maintain relations with Austria for civilizational reasons was brought up in the “Polish Program” of the Polish Club in 1867. “We want a strong Austria for it to fulfill the mission given in the course of history; so that it could form a strong shield for modern state life and for the freedom of national development against Moscow’s stiffened absolutism and Asian barbarism, increasingly overtaking more and more in the east of Europe and leveling everything out.”87 On September 12, 1868, during a debate in the Galician Diet, Franciszek Smolka stated that “… Poland must be, that there must be erected a bulwark, without which Europe cannot and will not come to devote itself to the matters of peace, skills and civilization. For it to happen, it is necessary to give Galicia a national and independent government… make it the point of crystallization that would enable Poland to group itself.”88 Stefan Buszczyński, who emphasized Poland’s ties with Western civilization, was a landowner, insurgent and emigrant; he settled in 1868 in Cracow. In his pamphlet “Przyszłość Austrii. Rozwiązanie kwestii słowiańskiej” (The Future of Austria. Resolution of the Slavic Issue), he argued that the Habsburgs should tie their dynastic interest with the interests of the non-German nations, giving them broad autonomy, and lead to a Slavic-Hungarian federation (excluding Austria, which would merge into a German state). “In this way, the whole Slavdom [without Russia – JG] would stand up for the Habsburgs, it would be the shield of Europe against Asian invasions; in this way, the Habsburgs providing freedom and national rights to the inhabitants ←27 | 28→from over the Daugava River, the Dnipro, the Danube, the Elba, the Oder and the Vistula, can save Europe.”89

According to the Stańczycy, after the French-Prussian War and the Berlin Congress, the Polish issue was losing its importance in European politics. Poland was the reservoir of the values of Latin civilization and its task consisted in maintaining the continuity of Western culture and avoiding at all costs the adoption of the Eastern tradition.90 In 1876, Tarnowski referred to the civilizational thread of the Polish raison d’état and enumerated the reasons why Galicia would remain on the side of Austria in case of war with Russia: “… we trust that in such a war, the Austrian Emperor and the army will be on the good side and that their victory will be the victory of Western civilization over the Eastern one, Catholic civilization over the Byzantine or that of St. Petersburg, the victory of the rights of nations over the blind drive of races and masses, and therefore also the victory of the Polish spirit and interest, maybe even material benefit of the Polish cause.”91 In 1891, Tarnowski warned that “in the struggle between Western and Eastern civilization, which is carrying out quietly, and which may once break out openly, if we do not want to deny and lose ourselves, we must hold on to the West against the East.”92 On August 29, 1884, Wojciech Count Dzieduszycki put forward a concept of the “Jagiellonian ideas.” He drew there a parallel between the Jagiellonian Republic and the Habsburg Monarchy – the multinational and multicultural states. “The historical mission of Austria is completely in line with that of Poland. After all, the state ruled by the Jagiellonian dynasty was also the state, in which various nations of various beliefs and of various civilizations united to… defend mutual human dignity.”93

The conviction that the Habsburg state was a part of Western civilization and served the Polish cause was not only an expression of pious wishes. As a consequence of the changes in science, education and culture during the autonomous period, Cracow and Galicia became the center of Polishness. When Marian Zdziechowski crossed the Russian-Austrian border in Szczakowa for the first time after completing his studies in Dorpat, he felt the breath of freedom and understood that “at that moment, Galicia with its autonomy, with Polish schools, with its influence on state affairs and Austrian politics, was for us what the Duchy ←28 | 29→of Warsaw was at the beginning of the century – the focal point of great hopes and a promise of their realization.”94 Many foreigners expressed similar feelings. French historian Alfred Rambaud, who visited Cracow in 1873, noted that, while Warsaw seemed to be a Russified and depressing city, Cracow evoked more optimistic feelings.95 The French diplomat, traveler and writer, Baron Adolphe d’Avril, stayed in 1887 in Lviv and Cracow. He recognized the Wawel Castle as the first European city after his arrival from the East.96

The socialists from the territories of the Russian partition treasured the civilizational assets of Galicia. On many occasions, Piłsudski expressed his belief in the need to rebuild the independent Polish state with democratic political institutions and developed social legislation. He was inspired by the models he saw in Western Europe, where he learned about the benefits of living in the constitutional system for workers’ affairs and political struggle during his travels between 1894 and 1899. By giving the proletariat a democratic system, the independent Poland was at the same time supposed to eliminate the impediments provided by the partitioning government to the civilizational development of the conquered nation. Already in 1895, Piłsudski stationed his companions and himself to guard history, at the easternmost outpost of European socialism, in the historic role of defending the West from the partitioning and reactionary tsarism.97 The message formulated at the end of the nineteenth century by Piłsudski and the socialist became the basic commandment of the Polish raison d’état. The assessment of the founder of the Social Democratic Party of Austria Victor Adler, who saw Ignacy Daszyński as a representative of the Western Social Democratic Party “in the East,” may be a reliable example.98 The anti-Russian and pro-Western direction taken by Piłsudski and Daszyński resulted in the fact ←29 | 30→that a few years later, on November 10, 1912, they found themselves together in KTSSN, and in August 1914, they fought alongside Austria-Hungary against the tsarist empire.

The civilizational theme appeared also in the speeches of National Democrats, who – at the turn of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries – settled in Galicia for good. In the pamphlet published in 1895 “Ugoda czy walka” (Settlement or Fight) Dmowski emphasized that the national struggle against invading Russia was not only of existential nature, but also international, because Poland served as a sanitary cordon of Europe against the expansion of Russia.99 In “Ze studiów nad szkołą rosyjską w Polsce” (From Studies of the Russian School in Poland) published in 1900, Dmowski argued that the Polish-Russian conflict was a clash of two separate civilizations. The difference between Western and Russian culture consisted in the slave mentality of society shaped by long-term political tyranny. On the other hand, the Western world, including Poland, formed communities of free people.100 Dmowski’s conclusions initially did not differ from the negative opinions of opponents of the tsarist: “despite all their state apparatus, I consider the Moskals an Asian horde, not because they carry the Moskal culture to the West, but because they carry destruction everywhere they go.”101

When Dmowski started to criticize socialists, he started including in his writings accents related with depreciating socialists in the civilizational field. In 1902, in his article “Historia szlachenego socjalista” (The Story of a Noble Socialist”), Dmowski, assuming the foreignness of socialism, distinguished, among other things, the social type created by social degenerates: Revolutionists who constituted a recidivism of barbarism and a dangerous anachronism.102 “They seem to be the representatives of primitive, wild peoples lost in the civilizational society, not tied to any higher social organization, striking at every step of the way against our traditional institutions as the bars of the cage.”103 Dmowski compared them to “representatives of the Stone Age” or to the not yet assimilated and not pressed into the notches of the settled civilized life “descendants of the Pechenegs, Cumans and other Asian guests” and their “return to the qualities of the original man.” Among these types, Dmowski saw socialists, because they ←30 | 31→were “the natural enemies of the civilized state existence.”104 In an article from 1903 Dmowski argued that socialism depraved the native intelligentsia and contributed to crisis, disorder and degeneration. He prophesied that an intelligentsia left to its own devices would draw false patterns from the West, remaining a “absorptive crowd.”105

Dmowski justified his opposition to the transfer of liberal elements of Western European democracy to Poland in his book of 1903, “Myśli nowoczesnego Polaka” (The Thoughts of a Modern Pole). He believed that Liberal Democracy cares only about the good of the citizens and freedom, and does not consider the national interest. “As a result of the lack of independence of Polish intellectual and political life in the last century, while formulating its tasks, our democracy almost slavishly followed the Western European one, without taking into account the importance of the fundamental difference between our society and Western European democracy in terms of traditions and political inclinations.” The solution to the dilemma was to be “Polish democracy,” which was opposed to “liberal democracy.”106 He rejected the concept of a nation formulated under the influence of democratic concepts and the development of the English society as a relationship between an individual and a nation based on elements of awareness. He adopted a dangerous assumption about the relationship between an individual and a nation based not on free will but on obedience to the collective will of the nation.107 The anti-Western accents in Dmowski’s writings, e.g. “Wewnętrzna polityka narodowa” (The National Internal Policy) of 1913, was a result not only of his condemnation of the liberal order and market economy in Europe, but also of his anti-Semitic obsessions. He put forward an absurd thesis about the influence of Jews on social life, leading to a crisis of European civilization.108 Anti-democracy, anti-liberalism and anti-socialism meant a growing split with the West, because civilization community was only possible on the basis of identical values.

The anti-Western course of National Democrats was reinforced by the belief that Germany was a threat. In 1908, Dmowski wrote: “The European East is no longer a threat, and the main source of danger for other nations, as well as for ←31 | 32→Poland itself, has become central, German Europe.”109 In the work “Niemcy, Rosja i kwestia polska” (Germany, Russia and the Polish Issue), he criticized the methods used by the German state to combat the Polish culture, which, in his opinion, led to “taking up the foundations of one’s own system: and ‘lowering the legal sense of all its citizens’.”110

As a result of the criticism of the West and the anti-German attitude, the direction of the civilizational development for Poland was diverted in a completely different direction.111 The implementation of the Polish national interest, which, according to Dmowski, consisted in the unification of all Polish lands under the Tsar’s control, led to the undermining of the independence program and the policy of reconciliation. Dmowski distanced himself from the civilizational dimension of raison d’état and stood on the side of Russia, siding against the Germans. The victim of this was the concept of Austria-Poland and Austria bound by an alliance with the German Reich. Although, after all, the choice of an ally in the view of the approaching war had a civilizational dimension as well. European countries divided into two blocks. The Triple Alliance concluded in 1882 between Austria, Germany and Italy, and later repeatedly renewed, had a Western civilizational dimension.112 France and England bonded with Russia and formed the Triple Entente (Entente cordiale). It was a rather exotic alliance, as it included the democratic states of the West and despotic Russia, the representative of the East. Entering a direct alliance with Russia and offering in return all Polish lands, National Democrats placed Poland in the realm of Eastern civilization. Only the Russian revolution saved the country from deadly danger.

The attitude of Piłsudski was different. Together with the radical independence camp, he sided with the Central States, which were politically, militarily and economically in conflict with England and France, although which also belonged to Western civilization. It allowed the civilizational dimension of the Polish raison d’état to be taken into account. Recognizing Russia as the main enemy made it difficult to implement the political and military dimension of the Polish raison d’état, as the obstacle was the alliance with Central States and the Polish Legions, which were part of the Austro-Hungarian army. As long as ←32 | 33→Piłsudski could not stand on the side of France and England and maintained on the side of Central States, Russia was not eliminated from the game, which happened eventually as a result of the Russian Revolution in 1917. As Piłsudski explained to the Russian General Longen Romei, the member of the Allied Commission: “I have always been a friend of the Entente, but above all I had to take care of my homeland’s welfare. This necessity forced me to fight the Tsarist, which did not imply that I had any intention of fighting the Entente.”113 This was not the ex-post confessions of a repentant sinner. As early as 1914–1915, Piłsudski made attempts to establish contacts with the countries of the anti-German coalition and inform the West about his position. The most famous was the mission of Stanisław Patek, who at the turn of 1914 and 1915 visited France and England to meet with French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, among others. During the talks, he informed his interlocutors about the struggle of the Polish Legions with Russia, instead of that with France and England.114

Many Polish politicians, including those from Galicia who supported the settlement with the Habsburg Monarchy, did not understand much about the multidimensional policy pursued by the Brigadier. Piłsudski’s military and political demands toward Central States after the occupation of Warsaw in August 1915 raised fears among the supporters of the Austro-Polish solution. President W.L. Jaworski noted on October 19, 1916: “Does [Piłsudski] believe in an independent Poland? Is he preparing his army, his PMO (Polish Military Organization), his militia, for the moment of the [conciliatory] congress in order to force independence? Will he not meet with National Democrats, the bishops, etc., in these efforts to overthrow all Western concepts? Indeed. Will he be the only one to go for independence, and they for giving the country away to Russia?”115

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Jaworski’s concerns were unjustified, as Piłsudski did not oppose the Western concept and precluded himself from joining the opposition to the Western countries in the future.116 According to the instruction given to his collaborates in the spring of 1917, he expected Western democracies to show “similar encouragement and hope to that brought by President Wilson’s speech.” After the outbreak of the Revolution and the fall of the Tsar, Piłsudski stopped fighting against Russia and caused a crisis and the refusal of many units of the Polish Legions to pledge. As a result of the internment of officers and soldiers by the authorities of Central States, the Legions practically ceased to exist.117

The arrest of Piłsudski on July 22, 1917, by the Germans, could have repercussions on the implementation of the Polish raison d’état on the civilizational level. Maria Dąbrowska expressed such fears by pessimistically assessing this event in her writings. She pointed out that the Commander’s anti-Russian stance was to be seen not only as an expression of his tactical connection with Central States, which his political opponents accused him of, but as a desire to remain in the world of Western European civilization. On August 2, 1917, Dąbrowska noted in her journal: “Although I neither understood Piłsudski’s recent policy, nor admired it, I think it happened very badly, very badly. For the wider world, Piłsudski, and no one else, was the symbol of our Western European position. Who knows anything about Sikorski, Szeptycki or politicians from LPP (Liga Państwowości Polskiej – League of the Polish Statehood). Now, for the world, Piłsudski’s arrest means a failure of the anti-Russian attitude.”118

After Poland regained independence in November 1918, the prioritized tasks were to rebuild the state, create an army and fight for the borders. Piłsudski had no doubt that the raison d’état of state dictated that the fate of the independent Poland in political, military and civilizational terms should be related with the West. To fight Bolshevik Russia, he sought allies in the Entente countries. “And now that there is no longer the Tsarist between me and the Entente, I may sincerely proclaim my friendship for the Entente, with whom we must necessarily forge ever closer ties.”119

For Piłsudski, the civilizational thread was an important premise in defining the eastern borders of the Republic of Poland. In 1919, Piłsudski assured American deputy Hugh Gibson of his willingness to occupy only those lands ←34 | 35→in the East inhabited by the people with an unquestionably Western mentality. His approach to the extent of the eastern border did not involve the restitution of the borders of 1772; the Head of State justified it with the opposites between the political culture of the West and the East. Polish political culture was within the Western European circle because it contained elements of pluralism and democratism and was characterized by the ability of society to control those in power. Such features were not present in the Russian political culture, which was characterized by autocratism and the objective treatment of individuals. Piłsudski stressed the fact that the existence of an independent and free Poland was threatened by the existence of a strong and territorially large Russia, which was imperialist regardless of the nature of the government.120

Military dimension of the Polish raison d’état

The loss of the homeland as a result of the partitions did not mean that the slogan “to break out” on independence was no longer attractive. Among the Poles from Galicia there were plenty of supporters of the armed act, as evidenced by their participation in the uprisings of 1830, 1848 and 1863. Some hoped for Austria to support the January Uprising and therefore the repressive policy of the Austrian government in Galicia – the declaration of a state of siege in February 1863 and the persecution of those who took part in the uprising – was later heavily criticized.121 H. Wereszycki formulated a thesis that the aspirations for liberation and tendencies hostile to the invading state ceased to exist in Galicia after obtaining autonomy. This distinguished the Austrian partition from the Prussian and Russian ones, in which organizations actively engaged in the fight against the partitioning states.122 A significant part in this was played by the Galician conservatives, who condemned the insurgent movement and came to an agreement with the Austrian authorities.

In the Polish society in Galicia, the anti-Russian attitudes did not disappear, and people did not abandon thinking about fighting the partitioning states. This was reflected in the birth of the Galician irredentism, the main goal of which was to gain independence through armed struggle. It was a radical concept, because for many supporters regaining sovereignty was an ideal goal, and intermediate goals, best suited to national interests, were seen in organic work and unification of Polish lands, even parts of them, under the common control of one of the ←35 | 36→partitioning states. The armed conflict was condemned for fear of annihilating the achievements so far.123

At the end of 1895, the National League still claimed that the nation should take an active role in case of war between the Germans, Austro-Hungarians and Russians. In the appeal of November 25, it was recommended to ally “with anyone who will start the fight with Moscow in our country” and to make military preparations.124 Later, the National League abandoned the insurgent program.125 During the Russo-Japanese war of 1904, National Democracy took a reluctant stance to engage on the Japanese side, warning against insurgent agitation and calling for the expectation of an internal revolution in Russia, which would inevitably be caused by the war. In the appeal of the Central Committee of the National League written in February 1904, it was stated: “The first attempts at agitation in this direction have already appeared and will undoubtedly be repeated with the subsequent military failures of Russia. They need to be opposed with all our strength. We cannot allow either foreign governments via their agents to lead our people in a direction that is beneficial to them, or for even a drop of Polish blood to be spilled in useless and thoughtless attempts caused by our own immature nature.”126 The blade of this statement was directed against the military activity of the socialists, to whom the issue of independence and insurgent thought played a significant role. Dmowski, who visited the Land of the Cherry Blossom in 1904, took an active part in opposing Piłsudski’s efforts in order to get militarily involved on the side of Japan.127

Piłsudski had no illusions that international relations at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were dominated by the politics of power and particular interests of individual states. The “simplest sense of justice,” which ←36 | 37→he mentioned in 1901, suggests that he saw a need for norms binding on all states, including the powers whose violation should be condemned.128 The solution was not to wait passively for the unfolding of events and the generosity of the partitioning powers, but to fight the armed struggle with Russia. After the outbreak of the Russian-Japanese War, Piłsudski cooperated with Japan, among others, in the field of intelligence, achieving only half-way military and political results.129 Another challenge was the Revolution of 1905, in which Piłsudski and the Polish Socialist Party were militarily engaged, creating the Combat Organization to fight the Tsarist authorities in the Congress Poland.130

The defeat of the Revolution of 1905 forced Piłsudski to answer the question: What next? He outlined the new concept of action in the article “Jak mamy się gotować do walki zbrojnej” (How Shall We Prepare for Armed Combat) published in February 1908.131 It consisted in, on the one hand, fighting for independence by means of an armed act (uprising), and, on the other hand, to select Galicia as the organizational base. Piłsudski reached the conclusion that the victory in the fight for independence does not require the support of only one social class, but of the entire nation, which would establish a government and declare war on the invader. Since the tactics consisting in a general strike failed, the revolutionary party in the Russian partition could not achieve its goals – independence and the fight against exploitation – by conducting a peaceful battle in a Western-European manner. It had to undertake a confrontation with the use of weapons, forming a people’s army to fight the tsarist army. In the aforementioned article, Piłsudski wrote: “And as it is unlikely in parliamentary countries to call aware a socialist who is not aware of the need to use the tools of parliamentarianism and cannot explain to himself and others how these tools are used, so in a ←37 | 38→state that is not parliamentary but bayonet, one cannot call aware a socialist that who does not know how to oppose the bayonet and does not know what tool to use to oppose it, who cannot fight in the field where bayonet reigns.”132 The consequence of such a stance was the adoption of an irredentist program by the Revolutionary Faction of the Polish Socialist Party in November 1906.

The intensification of international relations after 1908 caused the Polish cause to be raised more and more vigorously by irredentist circles. In June 1908, the supporters of independence formed the secret organization called Union of Active Struggle (Związek Walki Czynnej – ZWC) with a broader political background.133 The Union of Active Struggle aimed for a “revolutionary uprising of Poland against the Moscow invasion,” its goal was the “Independent Democratic Republic,” and its tasks included conducting preparations outside the borders of the tsarist state for a future armed uprising in the Russian partition.134 Piłsudski’s intention was to act as a tactical ally of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the future armed fight.135 Sławek expressed it bluntly: “Not only Austrian brains, but also the Polish ones, were not capable of thinking that the result of the war could be Independent Poland. Mostly it was reasoned that it could be the annexation of Poland from the Russian partition to this country, where Poles were best, so to Austria.”136

An important issue was the legalization of military preparations conducted by the Union of Active Struggle. Piłsudski admitted that the transition to a legal form of military work took place after the meeting with the Imperial and Royal officers of the General Staff, so that the Austrial law would protect the revolutionaries coming from the Russian partition and Galician citizens from the unpleasantness of the administration.137 Despite the fears of being unmasked, practical ←38 | 39→considerations prevailed and there were founded the Riflemen’s Association in Lviv in April 1910 and “Strzelec” association in Cracow in February 1911.138

The rifleman’s organizations, including among others the Polish Rifle Squads, were also formed by secessionists from National Democracy. The latter reluctantly embraced the idea of military training and preparations for war and did its best to create a virtual character for this activity. The paramilitary organizations Polowe Drużyny Sokole (Field Hawk Squads) and Drużyny Bartoszowe (The Bartoszowe Squads) were formed, although their independent character was limited by the party leaders.139According to H. Wereszycki, the activities of the National League before First World War were not of an insurrectionary nature, but were aimed at taming and neutralizing the irredent and hindering preparations for an anti-Russian uprising in the Congress Kingdom, led by a radical left-wing camp headed by Piłsudski.140 Another aspect of the National Democracy’s activity was the propaganda favoring the stand of the inhabitants of Galicia in the conflict between the great powers on the Polish territories and Russia.141

The culmination of the irredentist movement was the congress in August 1912 in Zakopane and the adopted resolution, according to which “the congregation is striving for Polish independence by the means of spreading awareness and organizing the Polish nation in order to enable it to fight the revolutionary struggle for independent existence.” The participants of the congress agreed to support the independence factors and to fight the policy of reconciliation, primarily to “support the organizations aimed at acquainting the broadest circles of the nation with the tasks of armed struggle in particular” against Russia.142 At the beginning of 1914, Piłsudski was convinced that the military movement would be the factor “reintroducing the Polish cause into the European chessboard.”143

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On August 6, 1914, Piłsudski set off for war with an open visor at the head of the riflemen to fight for the independent homeland. Against the opinion of “realistically” thinking politicians, he elevated this idea to the rank of the highest values.144 After the fiasco of the anti-Russian uprising in the Congress Kingdom, the Austrians demanded the dissolution of the rifle divisions. In order to save the Polish armed act, the conservative politicians in Galicia began to form the autonomous regular Polish troops, which constituted part of the Austro-Hungarian army. At the beginning of August 1914, Juliusz Leo and Leon Biliński held talks with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Leopold Berchtold, the Chief of General Staff General Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Minister of National Defence Friedrich Georgi and the Head of the Ministry for Galicia Zdzisław Morawski. The decision was made to form the Legions under Polish control, initially in the form of two legions, based on the already existing military organizations, which were to be used to fight against Russia on the Polish territory in relation with the Habsburg Monarchy, and have veterans’ rights.145 The highest instance of the Polish Legions to provide political, organizational and financial protection was the Supreme National Committee. The Military Department of the Supreme National Committee, headed by Colonel Władysław Sikorski, conducted recruitment in the Kingdom of Poland.

The true attitude of National Democracy toward the legion act is best illustrated by the Eastern Legion case. Initially, it was planned to direct it to the frontline in the Eastern Carpathians. The National Democrats including Stanisław Grabski, Jan Gwalbert Pawlikowski and Aleksander Skarbek led the Eastern Legion to refuse to pledge and caused their dissolution in Mszana on September 21, 1914.146 This action was to a large extent dictated by ideological and political prejudices of the National Democrats toward the creators of the Polish military act and their links with the socialist movement, treated as a phenomenon foreign to Polish society and imposed from the outside.147 During the meeting in Warsaw on August 23, 1914, Dmowski announced to representative of Piłsudski’s proponents, Artur Śliwiński, that “the introduction of an armed ←40 | 41→unit of revolutionaries into the fight against Russia may be explained by the revolutionary ideology, in which real politics is replaced by the dreams of independence, but the joining of responsible politicians is a testimony to the mood, cunningly evoked by Galician chiselers, winning the patriotic feelings of the population and skillfully inducing them to follow the crowd.”148 For Dmowski, the most important element was the real politics, subordinated to the arbitrarily adopted pro-Russian option. He had no sympathy for patriotism and generosity, and their influence on the attitudes of social groups, especially of the youth, and indirectly on Galician rightwing politicians.

Despite the reluctance of National Democrats, the Legiong fought heroically at Dęblin and Rokitna, Łowczówek and Kostiuchnówka, paying a generous tribute of blood for the dreams of free Poland.149 Piłsudski proved himself as a leader and shared the hardships of the war epic with his soldiers. In his understanding of the raison d’état, the armed act was not of an autonomous character, but was inseparably connected with the fundamental goal – regaining independence. Thus, then the time came to subjugate the Legions not to Austrian and German interests, but to the Polish ones, in August 1915, Piłsudski put forward claims toward the central states. The appointment of the Polish government and Diet were to be the price of recruiting the Legions. This resulted in a conflict between Piłsudski and Komenda Legionów Polskich (The Polish Legions’ Order), which secured the interests of the Habsburg Monarchy, and the Military Department of NKN, which sought to expand the Legions at all costs.

Piłsudski’s understanding of the Polish raison d’état manifested in the instruction he gave in spring of 1917. Already during the war, Poland should pave its independence without looking at anyone else and forming its own armed force. This was to be executed on Polish territory with the help of the Central States. All that under the condition of the operation being guaranteed national character, using it only against Russia, which invaded the largest ethnically pure Polish territory.150 Piłsudski assumed that the talks with the Germans would be honest, blunt and loyal, although related with the expectations of the same stance of the ←41 | 42→Germans toward Poland. It was necessary to fight together with Austria against Russia, but not to bound the future of Poland to “any form of organization.”151

Piłsudski did not manage to accomplish the plans to form a national Polish army. Due to the crisis in the Polish Legions after the refusal to pledge in July 1917, and because of the repressions of the Austrian authorities, Polish deputies became more invested in the independence act. They undertook numerous interventions: they defended the legionnaires from the First and Third Brigade who were interned (the Russians) in the camps in Beniaminów and Szczypiorno or recruited (Austrian citizens) into the Austro-Hungarian army and sent back to the Italian frontline, as well as those from the Second Brigade who were detained for the attempt to cross the Russian frontline under Rarańcza in February 1918.152

The deputies intervened in the case of Piłsudski, arrested by the Germans on July 22, 1917. On August 6, 1917, at the meeting of the Polish Club, at the request of the Polish People’s Party, a resolution was passed, in which the following was stated: “The kidnapping of the Leader of the Legions, which vividly resembled the deportation of the patriots by Repnin, caused bitterness and indignation in the whole nation.” People demanded an immediate release of Piłsudski from prison, “whereby the Polish Club considers His arresting as an insult not only to the meritorious Creator of the Polish armed forces, but also to the entire nation.” The Polish Club also accepted Daszyński’s motion: “The Polish Circle protests against the division of the Legions into units consisting of the Austrian citizens and into units of the Polish army consisting of the citizen of the Kingdom of Poland; the Polish Club would deem the incorporation of the legionnaires into the Imperial and Royal army to violate vital interests of the Polish nation, and it would have to stop trusting the Central Powers’ willingness to form a Polish army.”153 On August 6, 1917, in the Viennese Parliament, Moraczewski spoke against the repression of the Austrian authorities against the legionnaires refusing to pledge, demanding the release of the internees from the Szczypiorno camp.154 At the meeting on October 14, 1917, the Polish Club addressed the Emperor to ask for the abolition of the legionnaires, which took place on September 27, 1918.155

←42 | 43→

The Great War gave hope for the resolution of the Polish issue. In March 1916, Askenazy wrote in that “international healing, thorough and lasting, is the main profit that all civilized nations shall seek from this war. But the prerequisite for that is the healing of the European invalidity caused by the vivisection of Poland. Only the restoration of a free Poland will restore a healthy Europe.”156 The dreams of Poles came true in November 1918. Representing various political options, they often fought for the Polish raison d’état on opposite sides. The defeat of the partitioning countries and the victorious Entente helped to rebuild Polish statehood. Those who, faithful to the idea of active struggle for independence, fought in the ranks of the Polish Legions, the Polish Military Organization, the Polish Armed Forces and other military formations also contributed to the success. Also Galicia participated in the struggle for the Polish cause. The long-term support of the Austro-Polish solution was motivated not only by the political calculation, but also by the civilizational and military reasons, i.e. the belonging to the West and the Polish Legions, respectively. It should be remembered that one of the cornerstones of the Second Polish Republic was the Galician heritage.157

Combining all the dimensions of the raison d’état into one tie requires extraordinary craftsmanship. Only statesmen succeed in such art. To a large extent, this was the case with Piłsudski, in the smaller – with Dmowski, who was ready to sacrifice the Western tradition at the price of unifying the Polish lands in the illusory hope of outwitting the Russian Goliath. For Piłsudski, the imponderables were the most important. Worth remembering are the canons of the Polish raison d’état established at the turn of 1918 and 1919 by the Chief of State, who understood it in its fullest sense: the democratic, law-abiding and self-governing Poland in its political, military and civilizational relations with Western Europe.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2021 (January)
Polish-Austrian relations state administration parliamentarism political culture patriotism Polish diaspora
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 528 pp.

Biographical notes

Dorota Litwin-Lewandowska (Author)

Dorota Litwin-Lewandowska, PhD – political scientist employed at the Faculty of Political Science and Journalism of the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin.


Title: The Polish Reason of State in Austria
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