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More Than Independence: Polish Political Thought 1918-1939

jan peczkis|Monday, December 29, 2014

This anthology features many authors and political movements. Owing to its breadth, I focus on a few items.


Jan Jachymek introduces this movement to the reader, (quote) The people's movement was a current of thought of genuinely Polish origin, representing the interests of the numerically strongest social class, the peasantry, from whom the whole Polish nation arose. The first people's movement advocate was, in the general view, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, who epitomized the ideas of fight for the state's independence and the proper position of the peasants in it. (unquote). (p. 211).

The economic views of the people's movement were dominated by agrarianism. Specific policies found themselves between capitalist liberal individualism and Marxist collectivism. There would be different, essentially hybrid forms of ownership. Mining and key industries, banking, etc., would be nationalized. Other endeavors, notably those related to agriculture, would be privately owned. Still others, such as small and medium-sized businesses, would have still another form of ownership, that of cooperative and community ownership. (Jachymek, pp. 252-253).


Leftists commonly accuse Polish conservatives of living in the past. Such was manifestly not the case.

Polish conservatives admired the Jagiellonian idea, but they did not seek a return to pre-Partition realities, even if this was possible, and they were critical of the failings of the First Republic. (Wlodzimierz Mich, p. 36). Conservatives were willing to embrace necessary change. Mich comments, (quote) An evolutionary attitude dominated among the conservatives; they strove for preservation of the continuity of development according to the motto: CONSERVATIO EST CONTINUA CREATIO, rather than for a restoration of the past or invariability of the existing relations. (unquote). (p. 41).


Nowadays, leftists make out of nationalism a dirty word. They lump all forms of nationalism together as one and the same, falsely conflating it with fascism and Nazism. Let us examine Polish nationalism.

Marcin Wichmanowski writes that, (quote) Christian Democrats stressed that "the Christian national ideology is not identical with chauvinistic nationalism, which regards the national interest as the most important and only criterion of all values. We only wish to arouse the active love of Motherland in the nation." (unquote). (p. 192).

Polish nationalists are nowadays often mischaracterized (by neo-Stalinists such as Jan T. Gross) as adhering to a martyrdom-oriented view of Poland as "The Jesus Christ of Nations". This, too, is false. In fact, the Endeks, influenced as they were by positivism, explicitly rejected such a concept. Ewa Maj writes, (quote) National Democrats opposed Romantic, martyrdom-oriented patriotism, too sentimental and anachronistic and totally incapable of adjustment in modern politics. (unquote). (p. 129)


Nowadays, Endeks are often slandered, in many leftist and Jewish publications, as fascists or Nazi sympathizers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Notwithstanding any admiration that Endeks felt for the dynamism of the fascist and Nazi movements (an admiration which, BTW, was hardly limited to conservatives!), their attitude was unambiguous. Ewa Maj comments, (quote) For National Democrats fascism was unique as the product of the spirit of the Italian nation. Any attempts to imitate it in Poland, however, could threaten to pervert the direction of the development of Polish nationalism. The National Party (SN) criticized Nazism for falsifying the national German ideology. The pagan elements, racism and materialism of Adolf Hitler's political conceptions provoked aversion just as the Nazi methods of political fight. They were seen as evidence of Germany's departure from "Roman civilization". (unquote). (p. 131).

Polish conservatives always thought of a necessary balance between citizens' rights and obligations. Interestingly, some of them concluded that the authoritarian tendencies of the post-Pilsudski regime had tilted too far to the latter. (Wlodzimierz Mich, p. 52).


Is conservatism synonymous with propertied interests, as often taught by leftists? Hardly.

Polish conservatives were against the expropriation of property from any owner, and opposed the idea of a compulsory breakup of large landed estates. However, they contended that widespread ownership would eventually eliminate the non-propertied classes of people, and would thus stabilize the social order. (Mich, p. 55).

The fact that Polish conservatives were anti-Communist in no sense means that they gave an unqualified endorsement to western-style capitalism. For instance, the Endeks recognized private ownership of production as the foundation of Poland's economic development, but they also regarded capitalism as synonymous with brutality, greed, and a materialistic outlook that dehumanized labor. (Ewa Maj, pp. 150-151). The Endeks also frowned upon cartels and syndicates, especially when the capital was concentrated in non-Polish hands. (Maj, pp. 151-152).

The National Democrats also had regard for the needs of the working class. Ewa Maj (p. 143) points out that the National Democrats (Endeks) supported legislation that protected workers in terms of such things as wages, length of working hours, insurance for old age, etc. (Maj, p. 143).

While on the subject of economics, the impact of the 1929 Great Depression deserves mention. (Quote) The economic crisis that swept all over Europe was felt in Poland far more acutely than in the wealthy Western European countries. (unquote). (Marcin Wichmanowski, p. 173).
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