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Rosa Luxemburg
In Defense of Nationality

2. Whose fault?

Most of all: Who are the true perpetrators of this oppression, which the Poles must suffer by the Germans? Who should we make responsible for this violent Germanization? The usual answer is: “It’s the fault of the Germans. The Germans are oppressing us.” This is what Polish papers in the Poznan province always write. But is it possible to blame the entire German people, 50 million Germans? This would be a great injustice and a great error, which we would suffer most from. To get a clear picture of the situation, to see where is the actual cause of our oppression, is absolutely necessary, if we want to seriously and successfully start to defend our endangered nationality.

It is crystal-clear that the Prussian government is the foremost author of Germanization. It has been single-handedly pushing a policy of oppression against the Poles for decades. The Prussian ministers of education issue one ordinance after the other, to banish the Polish language from schools, the Prussian ministers of the interior order the police to disband Polish popular assemblies in Upper Silesia and other provinces, the Prussian presidents and district administrators invent dozens of methods to provoke and harass the Polish population. But the government of the German Empire stands behind the Prussian government like a wall. Its Chancellor is also the Prussian Prime Minister. Therefore, the most exquisite harmony usually prevails between the All-German and Prussian governments, especially when it comes to persecuting Poles.

But although they control vast means, the government agencies would be powerless, if influential layers of German society offered resistance to them. Against the express wishes of these circles, the German government, and even less the Prussian, would never dare to persecute the Poles with such tenacity. No government is able to stay long if the whole society sincerely and forcefully condemns its policies. So the Germanization policy of the government must find support among certain segments of the German people, and indeed so it does. We all know these gentlemen Hakatists, who set public opinion upon the Poles like dogs upon rabbits. Who, unasked, of their own evil will, found special associations for the extermination of Polish identity. These most determined agitators for Germanization mostly belong to the class of German landlords and factory owners. It is also true that only a small handful of German landlords and industrialists follows the despicable banner of Hakatism. But how do the broadest segments react to the Hakatist attacks and the government’s Germanization policies? Do they protest, are they outraged, do they try to prevent these policies? The best answer is a look at the German press and the behavior of the various parties in the German Reichstag and the Prussian Landtag.

Both in their press and in the national and district parliaments, almost all German parties are either outright benevolent towards Hakatism or react with cold indifference to the suppression of Polish identity. At best, they bother to quietly grumble against these phenomena, which should cause any righteous person to throw lightning bolts! The Conservatives and the Liberals, the parties of the large estate owners and industrial millionaires, grind their teeth over the Poles and give lively applause to all Germanization assaults. The “free thinkers” of various shades, the agents of commerce and finance, partly give spiritual support to the extermination of Polish identity and partly – to save their honor, after all they are free thinkers! – grumble about Hakatism in this or that minor newspaper. Of course the government gives as much attention to this grumbling as to the barking of a dog. The Catholic party, finally, the so-called “Zentrum” [“Center”], to which the Poles in Prussia have been holding on for decades, like a drunkard to a lamp-post, all this Zentrum does for the protection of the Polish people, is to write occasional snide comments about the Germanization attempts of the government and the Hakatists in its newspapers. However, the critics of this “Zentrum” party are usually so-called “wimps,” whom the government secretly makes fun of. If the Zentrum seriously and honestly cared about defending the Poles, it would find a way! It is the strongest party in parliament, with the most deputies, namely 107. No important law can pass parliament against the opposition of the Zentrum. This happened during the recent project of the fleet reinforcement [1], which meant so much to the government. As long as the Zentrum party raised its nose and pretended not to agree with this burdening of the poor people, so long the bill hung on a silken thread. The ministers crowded the antechambers of the Zentrum, to soothe and convince it by all means. Assume the Zentrum would have declared: We do not agree with the fleet upgrade until the government solemnly promises to cease all further persecution of the Polish people, the government would have had to give in, and the Catholic party would have proven that it really cared about the Polish question. But the Zentrum did not even think about the Poles, instead it stated a different condition: That it would agree to the doubling of the fleet, if the government promised to increase the duties on grain and other foodstuffs! So the Zentrum, this “Catholic” party, showed that it cared not about the freedom of conscience and nationality for three million Polish Catholics, but about the money bags of a few thousand landlords in Germany, who reap golden profits from the increase of prices for agricultural products through tariffs. That this price increase wrings tears of misery from thousands of fathers and mothers among the poor – such things do not interest the Zentrum party.

Indeed, how can you believe in the friendship of the Zentrum folks with the Polish people, how can you expect them to sincerely defend the oppressed Polish identity, when the Zentrum party – particularly in Prussia – consists largely of large estate owners and so-called coal barons, i.e. aristocrats and millionaires, just like the other parties, the Conservatives and the National Liberals. Expecting the German aristocrats and industrial millionaires to defend the oppressed Polish people would be sheer insanity. As we know, most Zentrum deputies are elected in Upper Silesia, the Rhine Province and Westphalia, exactly where the large coal mines and steel mills are. These “Catholic” aristocrats earn millions with their mines, and who are the people who work day and night, in the stifling dark, to increase the gold of these Zentrum party aristocrats? The poor Polish people! In Upper Silesia, hundreds of thousands of Polish miners and smelters sweat for Messrs. Ballestrem, Donnersmarck and others. In Westphalia and the Rhine Province, thousands of Poles, who also bear the yoke of mining and smelting, eke out a miserable existence.

From the labor, the misery and the disadvantages of these Polish people, the Catholic aristocrats make millions, by only giving the Polish miner just enough to feed himself, by keeping him in misery and dirt, worse than their pigs or cows. How can you expect that these “Catholic” aristocrats care about the oppressed Polish people, when they themselves live off the injustice they perpetrate against these people? How can these Zentrum aristocrats ensure that a Polish child can pray in its mother tongue, while they keep these Polish people in such misery that they have neither bread nor clothing for their children?

The hopes of the Poles for the help of the Zentrum party come from earlier times, when Bismarck most brutally persecuted Catholicism in the German Empire and thereby forced the Catholics to unite for the protection of their belief. During this so-called Kulturkampf [“cultural struggle”] [2], 10 to 15 years ago, the Zentrum party was not as strong as today, and due to the superiority of the National Liberals, i.e. the Protestant capitalists, in parliament, it could exert no great influence. Bismarck’s persecution united Catholics of various estates under the banner of the Zentrum party: Silesian and Upper Silesian magnates, Rhineland tradesmen, Bavarian farmers and even a part of the working class. Hence, the Catholic party became somewhat of a representative of the working people and under their pressure assumed a democratic, progressive character.

Back then, the Catholic party also opposed the government, against burdening the people with high taxes, tariffs and military conscription, also against all attacks on the freedom of conscience, language and nationality. The Zentrum party also defended the Polish question more enthusiastically, since, as the saying goes, the starving best understand the starving, the beaten best understand the beaten. When the German Catholics felt themselves, what persecution, oppression and injustice by the government meant, they also felt sympathy for the repression of the Poles.

But times have changed – the Kulturkampf went to hell, together with its founder, Bismarck. The government understood that its persecution of the Catholics only united them more, strengthened them and made them enemies. Today, as we said, the Catholic party is the strongest in the German parliament. The government must dance to its whistle, the persecutions of Catholicism are over, and the newspapers even rumor, that the Jesuit priests might be allowed to return to Germany soon. But how these conditions have changed the Catholic party! When the oppression of Catholicisms ceased, when their own hide no longer hurt, the injustice done to strangers ceased to interest the Zentrum folks. In this colorful jumble of classes and estates, which makes up the Catholic parties, the magnates, the industrialists, in one word, the parasites and reactionaries are taking over. The politics of the Zentrum are also developing a totally different character. Compassion and care for the poor working people have disappeared, just as any care for the Poles. Today, the Catholic party votes in parliament for increasing tariffs, i.e. more expensive food, invents new taxes for the population, votes for increasing the infantry and the navy of the “dear German fatherland.” The Poles, however, it has almost forgotten and only shows them a kind face from time to time, to lead them on the leash, so the Polish parliamentarians will continue to listen to the Zentrum’s command. The defense of Catholicism is just a faded business sign for the Zentrum, a hollow phrase. Finally it has surfaced, that a party consisting of magnates, counts and industrial millionaires cannot be a defender of the poor and downtrodden. In earlier times, the Zentrum members were enemies of the German government and friends of the people, today they are friends of the government and enemies of the people. Our Polish people should finally understand this and stop clinging to the door handle of the Catholic party for old times’ sake. The old times are over.

So we will find no protection with any of the mentioned German parties. If the German government, the Prussian ministers, allow themselves to persecute the Poles so openly, and the Hakatist scum dare to bark at us, the responsibility lies with those classes of the German people, whose applause or silence, or insincere defense of Polish identity, maintain the pressure of Germanization. It is their fault that the government dares to treat three million German citizens like second-class beings, who are not even allowed to have their own language and – as you say – praise God in their fashion! Against the Polish people, the aristocracy, the magnates, factory owners, bankers, coal mine owners, in brief, the entire class of the rich and propertied, who live off other people’s work and by exploiting the population, are united with the German government. Protestants, Catholics, or Jews – to us they are all the same, like the Prussian government, which is dismantling our nationality.

This is no miracle. Such people as the aristocrats, the industrialists, the capitalists, only know one political goal – monetary profit. Their idol is the Golden Calf, their creed is exploitation. All other slogans and phrases their various parties proclaim, like “Patriotism,” “Catholic Religion,” “Liberalism,” “Anti-Semitism,” “Progress” are just cloaks of different size and shape, which always hide one and the same goal: Profit-seeking and greed for riches. When the Prussian Conservatives and Liberals are such burning patriots and want to violently convert Poles into Germans, the only reason is that this Germanization business smells like profit. Is it not becoming for the German bourgeoisie that it can situate thousands of its sonnies in gainful positions in the Poznan district, as civil servants, teachers, newspaper scribblers, merchants and tradesmen and finally can feed some of its peasants off Polish soil? All this would be lost, would stay in Polish hands, if not the necessity to Germanize the Poles had been invented. So long live the dear “German fatherland,” which again served as a dairy cow, and go for the Poles!

But if German patriotism once does not pay, these same Prussian conservatives turn like a weather vane in the wind. For example, it is known that the German farm workers are fleeing from Prussia westwards in hordes, to the industrial cities, because they no longer want to endure hunger and beatings on the Prussian estates. But the poor Polish farm worker from across the border, from the Kingdom of Poland, agrees with everything, is ignorant and therefore gentle as a lamb. And the same German magnates, who want to erase every trace of Polish identity in Prussia, the “sweet fatherland” always on their tongues, order Polish farm hands by the thousands from Poland, because they are cheaper and dumber, because they are easy to fool and do not scorn the whip. So, if exterminating Polish identity pays, long live Hakatism! But if the spread of Polish identity is necessary for the estate, welcome stupid Polish servant! As long as profits flow!

We mentioned above that the Zentrum, the German Catholics, also spread the slogan of defending religion and friendship with the Poles, but at the same time feed off the labor of the Polish Catholic miner and mill worker in Upper Silesia. For them, too, profit is the only creed, while justice, defense of the oppressed, freedom of speech and conscience, are mere phrases, which they proclaim or kick to the dust, depending on what is “good for business.”

Thus looks the upper part, the ruling layer of German society. It is no better or worse than in all other countries, but in no other country does it find such naive people as here in Poznan, who expect protection for the weak and oppressed from this class, who expect the wolves to protect the lambs.


1. On 20 January1900 the draft for the Second Fleet Act was published, which aimed to double the war fleet as specified in the Fleet Act of 1898. Passed on 12 June 1900, despite a broad protest movement, the law served to reinforce the German war fleet to pursue the expansionist policies of German Imperialism.

2. In 1872, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck had taken up the fight against the anti-Prussian aspirations of the Catholic church, which reached its apex in the Mai Laws of 1873. Bismarck was forced to seek reconciliation with the church from 1878 onwards, after his measures did not reach their goal, but instead strengthened the Catholic church. Pope Leo XIII officially ended the Kulturkampf on 23 May 1887.


Next: Chap. 3: Our allies

Last updated on: 24 January 2015