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When Nationalism Began to Hate: Imagining Modern Politics in Nineteenth-Century Poland . Dmowski and Jews

jan peczkis|Monday, October 15, 2012

This book has value in tracing certain 19th century developments in thinking, such as that of the positivists, the Polish left, and anti-independence Polish socialists. It also has a helpful section on the intensity of the Russification of that part of Partitioned Poland under tsarist Russian rule. (p. 79-on). It took on brutal dimensions. (p. 87).


Other than this, Brian Porter (now Porter-Szucs) clearly lacks objectivity. To begin with, he focuses on Jews being increasingly seen by Poles as "others" and "aliens" (e. g, 158, 179, 228) without elaborating how, long before Dmowski was even born, erstwhile Polish Jews themselves had departed from Polish-ness in several major ways. (See the Peczkis Listmania: JEWS AND JUDAISM IN TSARIST RUSSIA).

In evaluating Dmowski and the Endeks, Porter writes, "One could selectively quote from National Democratic texts to show that they supported unqualified aggression, or to demonstrate that they were benign advocates of patriotism and national solidarity. Neither image would be inaccurate, but both would be incomplete." (p. 218). It is ironic for Porter to complain about selective quotations, because, as demonstrated below, he is the worst offender in this regard. Virtually everything he quotes from Endek sources, assuming that the quotations are accurate, is tendentiously cited to make Dmowski look as bad as possible.

As a corrective to this, I present the other side. Documentation for the following points can be found in my reviews under the Peczkis Listmania: UNDERSTANDING POLISH STATESMAN ROMAN DMOWSKI AND HIS NATIONAL MOVEMENT.

Porter falsely accuses Dmowski of inconsistency in opposing the forced Germanization of Poles in Poznania while supporting the forced Polonization of Ukrainians further east. This is untrue. Dmowski was no chauvinist. In fact, Dmowski had said that he would be just as disgusted at a Polish teacher beating a Ukrainian child for speaking Ukrainian as he would be disgusted with a German or Russian teacher beating a Polish child for speaking Polish.

In fact, Dmowski had a flexible response when it came to Poland's minorities. Then again, Ukrainian national consciousness had been, at that time, a recent development, and Ukrainians themselves had differing conceptions about what it meant to be a "Ukrainian" and how this related to Russians and Poles.

Now let us consider this "hate" business that begins with Porter's title of this book. The informed reader realizes that selective accusations of "hate" are a standard left-wing tactic. In actuality, Dmowski never promulgated unilateral hate against anyone. Those who actually knew Dmowski personally said that he had a jovial disposition--quite the opposite of a hatemonger. Dmowski actually faulted Poles when they blindly hated Germans. He pointed out that there are many things that Poles could learn from Germans, and he envisioned a day when Germans and Poles could live in friendship.

Dmowski's antagonism to Jews was never total. It was directed solely against Jews as opponents of Polish natural aspirations. Dmowski always opposed violence against Jews, and was in no sense "ambivalent about pogroms". (p. 231). Far from making "outlandish claims about vast Jewish conspiracies" (p. 232), Dmowski actually taught that it was just as incorrect to overestimate Jewish power and influence as it was to underestimate it. Finally, Dmowski always recognized the fact that some Jews, both converted and unconverted, were Polish patriots.

Nor was Dmowski a scapegoat-seeker. A cursory knowledge of Dmowski's writings shows that he criticized his fellow Poles for accentuating their own problems at least as much as he criticized others for causing Polish problems.

Some of Porter's assertions are particularly egregious. He actually accuses Dmowski of being a "proto-fascist" (p. 155) and even of promoting imperialism. (p. 183, 222). Precisely the opposite was the case. Dmowski opposed fascism to his dying day, and rejected ideas about resurrecting Poland in her 1772 boundaries, even in the form of a Pilsudski-style federation, precisely because the nations involved now had their own identities and would not want to be a part of Poland.

The Endek flirtation with Social Darwinism--a very popular concept among European intellectuals of the late 19th-century--and then more true of Balicki than Dmowski, should not be overstated. As anyone familiar with them knows, Dmowski's later writings show a minimal imprint of Social Darwinist thinking.

Considering all of Porter's misrepresentations of Dmowski noted above, and still others that could be mentioned, the intelligent reader must ask: Where is Porter coming from? He reveals the source of his biases as he comments, "Like Andrzej Bryk, I believe...in the name of imaging a Poland--indeed, a Europe--for the twenty-first century, within which the nation-state will no longer be equated with cultural homogeneity...to envision a world of harmony among nations and diversity within nations." (pp. 237-238). Translating the familiar left-wing code words, the reader can discern a veiled hostility to conventional Polish patriotism and Catholicism.
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