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Russian Realities & Problems An Overview of Russia, with Roman Dmowski's Detailed English-Language Contribution on Pre-Independence Poland

jan peczkis|Monday, October 15, 2012

This anthology not only discusses the situation in Russia just before the Russian Revolution, but also gives much information about foreign-ruled Poland in the late 19th and early 20th century. I focus mainly on the latter.

The savagery of the German occupation of northwestern Poland is recounted by Roman Dmowski, (quote) In the years just prior to the War the papers brought them occasional news about a desperate struggle for existence going on in German Poland, about the unheard-of measures employed by the Germans for the purpose of destroying the Polish nationality, about the law to expropriate Polish landed estates, about the Polish children being flogged because they insisted on praying in their mother tongue, and so on." (unquote) (pp. 83-84).

Dmowski describes how the Prussian-oppressed Poles turned the tables on their German masters, and emancipated themselves from the erstwhile Polish but now pro-German local Jews, (quote) They (Poles) rapidly learned German methods of work and adopted them in defence of their nationality, of their ideals and of their mother language, as well as in the economic struggle in defence of Polish landed property, and in industrial and commercial competition...at the same time they develop a strong middle class and to a great extent Polonised the towns where the Germans and Jews, the latter supporting Germanism, had been strong. In the last decades of the nineteenth century the percentage of Germans in their country was considerably reduced (to 38 per cent against 45 per cent in 1867), while the Jews, pushed out by Polish traders, emigrated to Germany and have nearly disappeared from the country. They now form only one percent of the population (as against seven per cent in 1815). (unquote)(pp. 108-109).

During this process, the peasantry acquired national consciousness, formed Polish banks, advanced in agricultural techniques, became educated, and grew in Polish patriotism. To a lesser extent, the Polish peasantry in Russian-ruled Poland, and still less in Austrian-ruled Poland, followed the example of the Polish peasants in Prussian-ruled Poland. (pp. 111-112).

In other contexts, Roman Dmowski provides evidence to support his contention that the Germans were the main enemies of Poland, and that most Poles shared his position. The Germans not only severely oppressed the Poles in Prussian-ruled Poland, but actively used their influence to cause greater repression of the Poles in Austrian-ruled and Russian-ruled Poland. For instance, when the Polish members of the second Duma (Russian parliament) brought forward a bill for the introduction of Polish teaching in the schools of Russian-ruled Poland, the German press fiercely protested, asserting that this would be a "provocation against Germany". (p. 119). [Parenthetically, this experience shows once again how Polish participation in the Duma was crucial to Polish national development, and why Jewish-backed candidacies to the Duma were recognized as a severe affront to Polish national aspirations, culminating in the Dmowski-led boycott of 1912]. Later, in the just-concluded war (WWI), 4/5ths of Polish public opinion sided with Russia against Germany and Austria. (p. 121).

In describing how masses of Jews came to Poland centuries earlier, Dmowski says, (quote) Then a great Jewish wave came from Germany. Their settlement in the country was opposed by the middle class which was however very weak and had no influence. On the contrary, the ruling class of landed nobles favored the new settlers, who, unlike the Polish middle class which had never reconciled itself totally to the new order of things, did not struggle against the exclusive rule of the country by the nobility.(unquote)(p. 101).

Harold Williams describes the paradoxical situation of the Jews in tsarist Russia, (quote) The greater part of the Jews came into the Russian Empire with the partition of Poland...you have the long tale of their bitter suffering, and at the same time you have such facts as the growing power of the Jewish element in finance in Petrograd and Moscow, in banking, and commerce, and industry, and the very powerful influence of the Jews in the intellectual life of the Russians. (unquote) (pp. 150-151). It is easy to see that the erstwhile Polish Jews increasingly had a vested interest in the perpetuation of the Russian-ruled status quo and the non-resurrection of the Polish state.

Roman Dmowski alludes to the Pale of Settlement imposed by the tsar on Jews and the divergence of Jewish and Polish interests, and then re-affirms his opposition to violence against Jews. He writes (quote) In Russian Poland the Middle Class represents all stages of wealth from the great industrials and merchants down to the small traders and craftsmen, and includes a very numerous class of people of liberal professions. Here the Polish commercial and industrial class feels cramped, particularly because of the herding together in cities with the Jews who, driven out of Russia by anti-Jewish laws, gather in Poland. This explains such facts as the commercial boycott of the Jews in Poland, which is partly a manifestation of the economic energy of the Polish middle class and partly of the tendency of the whole community to strengthen the Polish element in the town populations. The Jews in Poland, it must be mentioned here, in the mass do not belong to the Polish nationality: their language is Yiddish, a German dialect, and they are organized as a separate nationality against the Poles. In these conditions the struggle against the Jews is a national struggle. It must be firmly stated here that this commercial boycott is carried out without any manifestations of violence on the part of the Poles, and that everything written about the use of brutal force by the Poles is pure invention." (unquote)(pp. 115-116).
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