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At the Crossroads: 1865–1918

A History of the Polish Intelligentsia – Part 3, Edited by Jerzy Jedlicki


Magdalena Micińska

The three-part work provides a first synthetic account of the history of the Polish intelligentsia from the days of its formation to World War I. The third part deals with the period between 1865 and 1918. It is the period of numerical growth of the intelligentsia, growth of its self-consciousness and at the same time of growing struggles and rivalries of various political streams. The study concludes with the moment when Poland regained the independence that had been lost in 1795. The work combines social and intellectual history, tracing both the formation of the intelligentsia as a social stratum and the forms of engagement of the intelligentsia in the public discourse. Thus, it offers a broad view of the group’s transformations which immensely influenced the course of the Polish history.


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Chapter 5: At the century’s turn


All the strivings in the social, economic, cultural and scientific fields, which over the two decades after the fall of the January Insurrection the ‘organic workers’ were undertaking in Warsaw or Poznań, were characterised by a thoroughly im- maculate legalism, as I emphasised earlier� A vast portion of the activists’ energy was absorbed by multi-volume, burdensome efforts to gain acceptance for their initiatives from the invader state’s authorities, often resorting to juridical equi- libristic and at the price of concessions� However, pessimism emerged at a rather early stage, and grew stronger and stronger over time, as to whether the legal steps, with their limited range, were capable of stimulating the development of Polish culture and science under the rule of the Romanov and Hohenzollern dynasties, or at least, of maintaining its identity and coherence� Were they able to maintain and broaden Polish national awareness among the lower social strata, in the face of the fact that schools of all tiers had Russian or German as the language of instruction, and the teaching was in the spirit of admiration for the ruling mon- archs? Were they capable of ensuring inter-Partition contacts intensive enough for Poles to preserve the awareness of their unity from before the Partitions? And, lastly, could they withhold the recession of Polishness, as visible particularly in the eastern and western peripheries of the Polish cultural area, in the emigration clusters, and also in the country’s great industrial cities where miserable workers’ quarters were proliferating, and the old traditions...

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