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Rosa Luxemburg
The National Question

2. The Nation-State and the Proletariat

The question of nationality cannot be solved merely by presuming that socialists must approach it from the point of view of the class interests of the proletariat. The influence of theoretical socialism has been felt indirectly by the workers’ movement as a whole, to such an extent that at present there is not a socialist or workers’ party which does not use at least the Marxist terminology, if not the entire Marxist way of thinking. A famous example of this is the present Social Revolutionary Party of Russia, in whose theory – as far as one can speak of such – there are at least as many elements borrowed from the Marxist School as there are elements inherited from the Narodniki and the People’s Will. In like manner, all socialist groups of the petit bourgeois and nationalistic type in Russia have their own fancies which are solely “in the interest of the proletariat and socialism.” The Polish Social Democracy, now in decline, had especially distinguished itself in comparison with the naive, patriarchal – let us say – national socialism of Mr. Limanowski, particularly in that the ”good-hearted” Mr. Limanowski never even used the name of Karl Marx, while social patriotism, from the beginning, sought to legitimize its program with Marxist terminology as a “class interest of the proletariat.”

But it is obvious that the class character of any particular demand is not established by merely incorporating it mechanically into the program of a socialist party. What this or any other party considers a ”class interest” of the proletariat can only be an imputed interest, concocted by subjective reasoning. It is very easy, for instance, to state that the workers’ class interest demands the establishment of a minimum-wage law. Such a law would protect the workers against the pressures of competition, which might come from a less developed locality. It would assure them of a certain minimum standard of living, etc. Such demands have been presented repeatedly by socialist circles; however, the principle has not yet been accepted by the socialist parties in general, for the valid reason that the universal regulation of wages by means of legislation is but a utopian dream under today’s anarchistic conditions of private economy. This is because workers’ wages, like the prices of any kind of commodity, are set up in the capitalistic system under the operation of “free competition” and the spontaneous movement of capital. Therefore, the legal regulation of wages can be achieved only in exceptional, clearly defined areas, e.g., in small communities. And since the general establishment of a minimum-wage law clashes with the current conditions of capitalism, we must admit that it is not a true proletarian interest, but rather a fabricated or imputed one, in spite of the fact that it can be supported by a completely logical argument.

Likewise, one can, in a purely abstract way, figure out various “class interests” for the proletariat, which, however, would have to remain as mere clichés in the socialist program. This is especially so, as, the more that other social elements attach themselves to the workers’ movement, the stronger is the tendency to suggest various sincere but unrealistic demands of these foreign elements as class interests of the proletariat. The other social elements referred to here include those members of society who have been deprived of political shelter by the failure of the bourgeois parties; in this category are the bourgeois and petit bourgeois intelligentsia. If the socialist parties had no objective criterion by which to establish just what fits the class interests of the proletariat, but were only directed by what certain people might think would be good or useful for the workers, then socialist programs would be a motley collection of subjective, and often completely utopian, desires.

Basing itself on historical foundations – on the foundations of the development of capitalist society – today’s Social Democracy derives its immediate interests (the demands of today’s proletariat) as well as its long-range goals, not merely from subjective reasoning about what would be “good” or “useful” for the proletariat, but from examining the objective development of society for a verification of its actual interests, as well as for material means for their realization. It is from this standpoint that the main alternatives for a practical solution to the question of nationality should be examined – those which are suggested by historical examples as well as those which correspond to the slogans popular in socialist circles.

We should first consider the idea of a nation-state. In order to evaluate this concept accurately, it is first necessary to search for historical substance in the idea, to see what is actually hiding behind the mask.

In his article on the struggles of nationalities and the social-democratic program in Austria, published over ten years ago, Kautsky enumerates three factors, which, according to him, make up the “roots of the modern national idea,” as found in the rise of the modern state in all of Europe. These factors are: the desire of the bourgeoisie to assure for itself an internal or domestic market for its own commodity production; second, the desire for political freedom – democracy; and finally, expansion of the national literature and culture to the populace.[1]

In Kautsky’s theory one can see, above all, his basic position, his own view of nationality as a historical category. According to his reasoning, the idea of the nation is intimately connected with a definite era of modern development. The market interests of the bourgeoisie, democratic currents, culture of the people – these are typical aspects of a bourgeois society.

Naturally, we are not speaking here of a nationality as a specific ethnic or cultural group. Such nationality is, of course, separate and distinct from the bourgeois aspect; national peculiarities had already existed for centuries. But here we are concerned with national movements as an element of political life, with the aspirations of establishing a so-called nation-state; then the connection between those movements and the bourgeois era is unquestionable. The history of the national unification of Germany is a typical example of this connection, as the nucleus around which the later German Reich crystallized was the German Zollverein and Zollparlament. Their sponsor, Friedrich List, with his trivial theory of “national economy,” can be more justifiably considered the real messiah of the national unity of Germany than the idealist Fichte, mentioned usually as the first apostle of German national rebirth. This “national” movement, which captured the imagination of the German “people and princes” during Fichte’s time, and which the pseudo-revolutionary Burschenschaften loudly ushered in (in spite of Fichte’s ardent sympathy for the Great French Revolution), basically represented only a medieval reaction against the seeds of the Revolution, which were brought to Germany by Napoleon, and against the elements of the modern bourgeois system. The sultry, romantic wind of “national rebirth” finally died out after the victorious return of Germany to feudal subdivision and to pre-March reaction. By contrast, the gospel of that vulgar agent of German industry, List, in the thirties and forties based the “national rebirth” on the elements of bourgeois development, on industry and trade, on the theory of the “domestic market.” The material basis for this patriotic movement, which in the thirties and forties of the nineteenth century aroused such strong political, educational, philosophical, and literary currents in Germany, was above all, the need to unify all the German territories (which were divided into several dozen feudal statelets and were criss-crossed by customs and tax barriers) into one great, integrated, capitalistic ”fatherland,” establishing a broad foundation for mechanized manufacturing and big industry.

The history of the industrial and commercial unification of Germany is so completely intertwined with the fate of Germany’s political unification, that the history of the Customs Union [Zollverein], which reflected all the political developments and happenings in Germany, passes over, with perfect continuity, into the history of the birth of the present German Reich. In 1834, the Customs Union was born, grouping seventeen minor states around Prussia; and gradually, one after another, the remaining states also joined this Union. However, Austria remained altogether separate from the Union, and the Schleswig-Holstein War finally decided the matter in favor of Prussia. In 1867, the last renewal of the Customs Union became superfluous in the presence of the new national union; and the North German Union, after the Franco-Prussian War, transferred its customs rights and duties by inheritance to the newly formed Reich. In the place of the Zollbundesrat and the Zollparlament there were now the Bundesrat and Reichstag. In this example from modern history, Germany excellently demonstrates the true economic foundation of modern nation-states.

Although the bourgeois appetite for markets for “its own” commodities is so elastic and extensive that it always has the natural tendency to include the entire globe, the very essence of the modern bourgeois “national idea” is based on the premise that in the eyes of the bourgeoisie of every country, its own nation – their “fatherland” – is called and destined by nature to serve it [the bourgeoisie] as a field for the sale of products. It is as if this were an exclusive patrimony determined by the god Mercury. At least this is how the national question appears where the development of capitalism takes place “normally,” without abrupt fluctuations, i.e., where production for the domestic market exceeds production for export. This is exactly what happened in Germany and in Italy.

However, it would be wrong to take Kautsky’s formulation literally; we cannot assume that the material foundation of modern national movements is only the vaguely understood appetite of the industrial bourgeoisie for a “native” market for its commodities. Moreover, a capitalistic bourgeoisie needs many other conditions for its proper development: a strong military, as a guarantee of the inviolability of this “fatherland,” as well as a tool to clear a path for itself in the world market; furthermore, it needs a suitable customs policy, suitable forms of administration in regard to communications, jurisdiction, school systems, and financial policy. In a word, capitalism demands for its proper development not only markets, but also the whole apparatus of a modern capitalistic state. The bourgeoisie needs for its normal existence not only strictly economic conditions for production, but also, in equal measure, political conditions for its class rule.

From all this it follows that the specific form of national aspirations, the true class interest of the bourgeoisie, is state independence. The nation-state is also simultaneously that indispensable historical form in which the bourgeoisie passes over from the national defensive to an offensive position, from protection and concentration of its own nationality to political conquest and domination over other nationalities. Without exception, all of today’s ”nation-states” fit this description, annexing neighbors or colonies, and completely oppressing the conquered nationalities.

This phenomenon becomes understandable only when one takes into consideration the fact that, according to the bourgeois way of thinking, it is possible to have a national movement for unification and defense of one’s own nationality, and at the same time, to oppress another nationality (which is, of course, contrary to the very ideology of the “nation-state”). The German bourgeoisie in 1848 presents a striking example of this phenomenon in its attitude toward the Polish question. As is known, during the revolution [of 1848], when German national patriotism was most evident, Karl Marx and his circle advocated Polish independence; however, he proved to be but a prophet crying in the wilderness. The German “nation-state,” from its first stages of development, did not conform at all with the accepted understanding of a nation-state in regard to nationalities. The borders of the Reich actually split the German nation, dividing it between Austria and the new “national” state of Germany, and putting together the Germans and the racially distinct peoples in territories annexed from Poland, Denmark, and France.

An even more striking example is Hungary, whose struggle for national independence was so much admired in its time. Even our own Polish revolutionary leaders – Bem, Wysocki, and Dembicki – had “tilted their lances” to assist them. But when examined from the viewpoint of nationality, this struggle was nothing more than an attempt to assure class rule of the Magyar minority over a country of nine nationalities, with the Magyars oppressing the other nationalities. The national “independence” of the Hungarians was bought by severing the Carpathian Slovaks from their brothers, the Sudeten Czechs; separating the Germans of Bratislava, Temesvar, and Transylvania from the Austrian Germans; and the Croats and Dalmatian Serbs from Croatia and the Slovenians.[2]

The aspirations of the Czechs are characterized by the same dichotomy. These aspirations arouse distrust among the Germans because, among other things, they are directed clearly at separating the German population of Sudetenland from the Germans of the Alpine countries. The primary objective of the Czechs was to force the Germans, as minority group under the crown of Wenceslaus (Vaclav), into complete dependence on the Czechs in matters of culture and administration. As if this were not enough, the division of the Czech lands created a nationality division for the Czechs themselves by uniting five and one-third million Czechs with three million Germans and nearly two hundred thousand Poles. Still separated from this “national” Czech state were two million Carpathian Slovaks, a group closely related to the Czechs and left at the mercy of the Magyars. Therefore, these Slovaks are also loudly advocating their cause, which has been completely neglected by the Czech nationalists.[3]

Finally, and we do not have to go far for an example, Polish bourgeois nationalism is directed as much against the Ruthenians as against the Lithuanians. The very nationality which had to endure the bitter policy of extermination by the partitioning powers – Prussia and Russia – now refuses the right of independent existence to other nationalities. According to the Stanczyk[4] policy in Galicia, the Poles oppressed the Ruthenians, whose struggle for nationality runs like a red thread through the political history of the development of Galicia in the second half of the last century. The recent movement for national rebirth of the Lithuanians was met with similar hostility in Polish nationalistic circles.[5]

This strange double-edged character of bourgeois patriotism, which is essentially based on the conflicting interests of various nationalities rather than on harmony becomes understandable only when one takes into consideration the fact that the historical basis of the modern national movements of the bourgeoisie is nothing more than its aspirations to class rule, and a specific social form in whose aspirations this expression is found: the modern capitalistic state – ”national,” in the sense of the dominance of the bourgeoisie of a certain nationality over the entire mixed population of the state. A democratic organization, together with general education of the people – these distinctly ideological elements of the nation mentioned by Kautsky – are merely details of a modern bourgeois state, easily attainable by the bourgeoisie within the framework and spirit of the state. Therefore, independence and state unification constitute the real axis around which the national movements of the bourgeoisie rotate.[6]

This matter appears quite different from the point of view of the interests of the proletariat. The contemporary proletariat, as a social class, is the offspring of the capitalist economy and the bourgeois state. The capitalist society and bourgeois state – taking them not as an abstract idea, but in tangible form as history has created them in each country – were already, from the very beginning, a frame of activity for the proletariat. A bourgeois state – national or not national – is just that foundation, together with capitalistic production as the ruling form of social economy, on which the working class grows and thrives. In this respect, there is a basic historical difference between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie develops and is carried in the womb of the feudal class system. Aspiring to assure triumph for capitalism as the form of production, and for itself as the ruling class, the bourgeoisie creates the modern state on the ruins of the feudal system. Within the bounds of the development of capitalism and the rule of the bourgeoisie, the proletariat is next to make itself heard politically – still as part of the bourgeois state. But the state was already from the beginning its natural womb, just as the shell of an egg is for the chicken. Therefore, historically speaking, the idea that the modern proletariat could do nothing as a separate and conscious class without first creating a new nation-state, is the same as saying that the bourgeoisie in any country should first of all establish a feudal system, if by some chance it did not come about normally by itself, or had taken on particular forms, as for instance in Russia. The historical mission of the bourgeoisie is the creation of a modern “national” state; but the historical task of the proletariat is the abolition of this state as a political form of capitalism, in which they themselves, as a conscious class, come into existence to establish the socialist system. The proletariat, as part of the whole society, can take part in national movements of the bourgeoisie, where the bourgeois development demands the creation of a “nation-state,” as was the case, for example, in Germany. But then it follows the lead of the bourgeoisie, and does not act as an independent class with a separate political program. The national program of the German socialists in the forties advanced two ideas, directly opposing the national program of the bourgeoisie: unification with borders which would be based strictly on divisions of nationalities, and a republican form of government.

The interests of the proletariat on the nationality question are just the opposite of those of the bourgeoisie. The concern about guaranteeing an internal market for the industrialists of the “fatherland,” and of acquiring new markets by means of conquest, by colonial or military policies-all these, which are the intentions of the bourgeoisie in creating a “national” state, cannot be the aims of a conscious proletariat.

The proletariat, as a legitimate child of capitalistic development, takes this development into account as a necessary historical background of its own growth and political maturation. Social Democracy itself reflects only the evolutionary side of capitalist development, whereas the ruling bourgeoisie looks after this development on behalf of reaction. Social Democracy nowhere considers its task to be the active support of industry or trade; rather it struggles against military, colonial, and customs protection, just as it combats the whole basic apparatus of the existing class state—its administration, legislature, school systems, etc.[7]

The national policy of the proletariat, therefore, basically clashes with the bourgeois policy to the extent that in its essence it is only defensive, never offensive; it depends on the harmony of interests of all nationalities, not on conquest and subjugation of one by another. The conscious proletariat of every country needs for its proper development peaceful existence and cultural development of its own nationality, but by no means does it need the dominance of its nationality over others. Therefore, considering the matter from this point of view, the “nation”-state, as an apparatus of the domination and conquest of foreign nationalities, while it is indispensable for the bourgeoisie, has no meaning for the class interests of the proletariat.

Therefore, of these “three roots of the modern national idea,” which Kautsky enumerated, for the proletariat as a class only the last two are important: democratic organization, and education of the populace. Vital for the working class as conditions of its political and spiritual maturity, are the freedom of using its own native language, and the unchecked and unwarped development of national culture (learning, literature, the arts) and normal education of the masses, unimpaired by the pressures of the nationalists – so far as these can be “normal” in the bourgeois system. It is indispensable for the working class to have the same equal national rights as other nationalities in the state enjoy.[8] Political discrimination against a particular nationality is the strongest tool in the hands of the bourgeoisie, which is eager to mask class conflicts and mystify its own proletariat.

The advocates Polish nationalists1 of the “very best” social condition state at this point that, whatever the situation. the surest guarantee of cultural development and of the rights of every nationality is precisely the independence of the state, their own nation-state, and that therefore the nation-state is finally also an indispensable class interest of the proletariat. We are hardly concerned with determining what is or would be “the best” for the proletariat. Such observations have no practical value. Moreover, once the subject of “what would be the best” from the standpoint of the proletariat is approached in an abstract way, we would have to conclude that “the best” cure for national pressure, as well as for all types of disorders of a social nature, is undoubtedly the socialist system. A utopian argument must always lead to a utopian solution, if only by leaping to the “state of the future,” whereas actually the problem should be solved within the framework of existing bourgeois reality.

Moreover, from the point of view of methods, the above reasoning contains still another historical misunderstanding. The argument that an independent nation-state is, after all “the best” guarantee of national existence and development involves operating with a conception of a nation-state as a completely abstract thing. The nation-state as seen only from a national point of view, only as a pledge and embodiment of freedom and independence, is simply a remnant of the decaying ideology of the petite bourgeoisie of Germany, Italy, Hungary – all of Central Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century. It is a phrase from the treasury of disintegrated bourgeois liberalism. Since then, the development of the bourgeoisie has proved unequivocally that a modern nation-state is more real and tangible than the vague idea of “freedom” or national “independence”; that it is indeed a definite historical reality, neither very alluring nor very pure. The substance and essence of the modern state comprise not freedom and independence of the “nation,” but only the class dominance of the bourgeoisie, protectionist policy, indirect taxation, militarism, war, and conquest. The bourgeoisie used to use the obvious technique of trying to cover up this brutal historical truth with a light ideological gauze, by offering the purely negative happiness of “independence and national freedom.” For a time this technique paid off. But today it is only necessary to recall the circumstances under which this contention was advanced, to understand that it is simply opposed to what can and should be the class position of the proletariat.

In this case, as in many others, anarchism, the supposed antagonist of bourgeois liberalism, proved to be its worthy child. Anarchism, with characteristic “revolutionary” seriousness, accepted at face value the phraseology of the liberal ideology and, like the latter, showed only contempt for the historical and social content of the nation-state, which it set down as nothing else than an embodiment of “freedom,” of the “will of the people,” and of similar empty words. Bakunin, for example, wrote in 1849 about the national movements of Central Europe:

The first sign of life in the Revolution [of 1848] was the cry of hatred toward the old oppression, a cry of sympathy and love for all oppressed nationalities ... “Away with the oppressors!” reverberated as if from one breast; “Salvation for the oppressed Poles, Italians, and all! No more wars of conquest; just one more war should be carried through to its end – a glorious revolutionary struggle with the purpose of eventual liberation for all peoples! Down with the artificial boundaries which have been forcibly erected by despotic congresses according to so-called historical, geographical, strategic necessities! There should no longer be any other barriers between the nations but those corresponding to nature, to justice, and those drawn in a democratic sense which the sovereign will of the people themselves traces on the basis of their national characteristics!” Such was the cry which rang out among all the peoples.[9]

To these dithyrambics on the subject of national independence and “the will of the people” Marx answered:

Here there is no mention of reality, or insofar as it is considered at all, it is represented as something falsely, artificially established by “despots” and “diplomats.” Against this wicked reality is pitted the alleged will of the people with its categorical imperative of an absolute demand for “freedom,” “justice,” and “humanity.” ... They can demand “freedom” of this or that a thousand times; if the thing is impossible, it will not take place, and in spite of everything it will remain an “empty dream.” ... Just a word about the “universal brotherhood of peoples” and the establishment of boundaries which are traced by “the sovereign will of the people themselves on the basis of their national characteristics.” The United States and Mexico are two republics; in both of them the people are sovereign. Then how did it happen that between these republics, which, according to the moralistic theory should be “brotherly” and “federated,” a war broke out over Texas: that the “sovereign will” of the American people, supported by the bravery of American volunteers, moved the American borders (established by nature itself) a few hundred miles further south, claiming this action to be from “geographic, commercial, and strategic necessities”?[10]

Marx’s answer to this ironic question is clear. “Nation-states,” even in the form of republics, are not products or expressions of the “will of the people,” as the liberal phraseology goes and the anarchist repeats. “Nation-states” are today the very same tools and forms of class rule of the bourgeoisie as the earlier, non-national states, and like them they are bent on conquest. The nation-states have the same tendencies toward conquest, war, and oppression – in other words, the tendencies to become “not-national.” Therefore, among the “national” states there develop constant scuffles and conflicts of interests, and even if today, by some miracle, all states should be transformed to “national,” then the next day they would already present the same common picture of war, conquest, and oppression. The example given by Marx is typical in this regard. Why and over what did the war between the United States and Mexico arise?[11] California was indispensable for the capitalistic development of the United States, first, as a gold treasury in the literal sense, second, as a gateway to the Pacific Ocean. Only by the acquisition of this land could the capitalism of the United States extend from ocean to ocean, entrenching itself and opening for itself an outlet to the West as well as to the East. For the backward Mexicans, California was just a simple territorial possession. The interests of the bourgeoisie were decisive. The “nation-state,” worshiped and idealized by the anarchists as the “will of the people,” served as an efficient tool of conquest in the interests of capitalism.

But even more striking examples of this kind are produced by the history of modern South America. We have already mentioned the double-edged character of the “national” liberation of the Spanish and Portuguese colonies at the dawn of the nineteenth century. Here their further political history, already as independent “nation-states,” interests us as a colorful illustration of anarchistic phrases of “national freedom” and the “will of the people.”

Brazil gained her freedom from Portugal after a hard struggle in 1825. In that same year a war broke out between Brazil and Argentina (which had just been liberated from under the scepter of Spain) over the province of Banda Oriental. Both of these new “nation”-states wanted to scoop up this province, which finally won independence itself as the Republic of Uruguay, but thanks only to the armed intervention of European states which had colonial interests in South America. France and other European countries issued an ultimatum to Argentina, which obstinately refused to recognize the independence of Uruguay and Paraguay. As a consequence, in 1845 another war broke out with the participation of Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil. In 1850, again a war was unleashed between Brazil and Argentina, in which Brazil, with the help of Paraguay and Uruguay, first defeated Argentina and then actually conquered Uruguay. In 1864, she formally forced this “independent” Uruguay to submission by armed action. Paraguay rose up against this action and declared war on Brazil, which was joined by Argentina and Uruguay. This war, lasting from 1865 to 1870, finally assured Brazil, where there ruled not so much ”the will of the people” as the will and interests of the coffee plantation owners, the position of a dominant Great Power in South America. History does not touch upon the rule of the whites in Brazil (who make up less than one-third of the population) over the Negroes and the mixed population, Only after internal struggles was the emancipation of the slaves announced in 1871, but with compensation to be paid to their owners from state funds. Parliament, however, being the instrument of the plantation owners, did not vote these funds and slavery was still practiced. In 1886 the freeing of slaves over seventy years of age was declared; the rest were supposed to wait another seventeen years for freedom. But in 1888 the dynastic party, struggling to hold the throne, forced through parliament the general abolition of slavery without compensation, and this was decisive for the future of the republican movement. The plantation owners stood behind the republican banner en masse, and in the military coup of 1889, Brazil was declared a republic.[12]

This is how idyllic the internal conditions and events in South America look since the time of the rising of the ”nation-states” and the establishment of the “will of the people.” A beautiful complement to this picture is offered by the United States of Australia. Hardly had these states emerged from the position of English colonies and gained their freedom – the republican form of government or the federal system, the very ideal of Bakuninist phraseology – when they began an offensive policy in regard to New Hebrides, next door to New Guinea, and in skillful imitation of the United States of America, declared their own particular national doctrine: that “Australia should belong to the Australians.” At the same time, the growing navy of the Australian Union is an emphatic commentary on this doctrine.

If, on the one hand, political independence, i.e., the nation-state, is necessary for capitalism and the class interest of the bourgeoisie just because a nation-state is a tool of domination (or control) and conquest, on the other hand, the working class is interested in the cultural and democratic content of nationalism, which is to say that the workers are interested in such political systems as assure a free development of culture and democracy in national life by means of defense, not conquest, and in the spirit of solidarity and cooperation of various nationalities which belong historically in the same bourgeois state. Equality before the law for nationalities and political organizations, and the assurance of national cultural development – such are the general forms of the program of the proletariat, a natural program resulting from its class position, in contrast to the nationalism of the bourgeoisie.


The classical confirmation and proof of these general principles is the most famous nationality problem within the framework of the Russian state – the Polish question.

In Poland, the national movement, right from the beginning, took on a completely different character from that of Western Europe. Those who search for a historical analogy for the Polish national idea in the history of today’s Germany and Italy, betray their own misunderstanding of the true historical substance of the national movements in Germany and Italy as well as in Poland. With us Poles the national idea was a class idea of the nobility, never of the bourgeoisie. The material base of Polish national aspirations was determined not as in Central Europe in the nineteenth century, by modern capitalist development, but, on the contrary, by the nobility’s idea of its social standing, rooted in the natural-feudal economy.

The national movements of Poland vanished together with these feudal relations; whereas the bourgeoisie, as the historical spokesman of capitalistic development, was with us, from the very beginning, a clearly anti-national factor. This was due not only to the specific origin of the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie, alien and heterogeneous, a product of colonization, an alien body transplanted into the Polish soil. Also decisive was the fact that Polish industry from its beginning, already in the 1820s and 1830s, was an export industry, even before it managed to control or even to create a domestic market within Poland. We will not quote here all the statistics of the industrial development of our country, but rather refer the reader to our treatise, Die Industrielle Entwicklung Polens [The Industrial Development of Poland] (published also in Russian), as well as to the work Kwestja polska a ruch socjalistyczny [The Polish Question and the Socialist Movement], Cracow 1905. Here we shall recall only the most important outlines of this development.

Export to Russia, especially of the basic branches of capitalist industry, i.e., the production of textiles, became the basis for the existence and development of Polish capitalism from its beginnings, and furthermore, also the basis of the Polish bourgeoisie. As a consequence, our bourgeoisie from the first showed political leanings, not toward the west, to the national unification of Galicia with the Crown, but toward the east: toward Russia. These leanings, after the withdrawal of the customs barrier between the Empire and the Polish Kingdom, increased with the development of big industry. However, the real rule of the bourgeois class in society began after the abortive January Insurrection [1863]. The new rule was inaugurated by the “program of organic work”[13] which meant a renunciation of national independence. Moreover, the class rule of the bourgeoisie in Poland not only did not demand the creation of a united nation-state, as in Germany and Italy, but, on the contrary, it arose on the foundations of the conquest and division of Poland. The idea of unification and national independence did not draw its vital juices from capitalism; on the contrary, as capitalism developed, this idea became historically outlived. And that very circumstance, that particular historical relationship of the capitalistic bourgeoisie to the national idea in our country, became decisive also for the fate of that idea and defined its social character. In Germany, in Italy, as one half-century before in South America, the “national rebirth” carried with it all the traits of a revolutionary, progressive spirit. Capitalistic development embraced this national idea, and historically speaking, elevated it with the political ideals of the revolutionary bourgeoisie: democracy and liberalism. Exactly in this historical sense, the national idea was only a detail of the general class program of the bourgeoisie – of the modern bourgeois state. In Poland there arose an opposition between the national idea and the bourgeois development, which gave the former not only a utopian but also a reactionary character. This opposition is reflected in the three phases of the history of the idea of Polish national independence.

The first is the failure of the armed struggle of the Polish nobility. Not even the most ardent advocates of the theory of “violence and force” in the philosophy of history will explain the defeat of Polish insurrectionist movements as mere superiority of the Russian bayonets. Whoever knows anything about the modern economic and social history of Poland knows that the defeat of the military insurectionists was prepared by the same capitalistic market interest which elsewhere, in the words of Kautsky, comprised one of the main elements of the modern national idea. The endeavors of the bourgeoisie to secure for themselves conditions of large-scale capitalistic production did not involve the demand for a nation-state; on the contrary, the bourgeoisie sought to exploit the annexation, and to paralyze the national movement of the nobility. Thus [in Poland], the idea of a nation-state, an idea essentially bourgeois, was sabotaged by the bourgeoisie, and met defeat in the January [1863] uprising.

The second phase was the inheritance of the Polish national idea by the petite bourgeoisie. In this incarnation, the national idea changed from an armed struggle to a policy of neutrality, and at the same time, began to show its weakness. After vegetating for twenty years away from society – in the eighties and nineties petit bourgeois nationalism lingered in emigration in the form of a half-dozen “all-Polish patriots” – finally, with the opening of the present revolutionary era, it has emerged as an active party on the political scene.

The National Democracy proclaimed its entrance into a politically active phase with a public renunciation of the program of national independence as an unrealizable utopia, and with writing into its program instead the double slogan of autonomy of the country and counter-revolution. Now, after throwing off the ballast of the traditional national program, “National Democracy” quickly becomes the true political force in the society. Having failed in its second petit bourgeois form, the program of the nation-state is replaced by a program which is practical and realizable on the basis of a bourgeois Poland – a program of autonomy.

Finally, the third and last phase in the history of the Polish national idea is its attempt to join the class movement of the proletariat. The twenty-year, social-patriotic experiment of the PPS was the only case in the history of the international workers’ movement where the slogan of the nation-state was made part of a socialist program. And this singular experiment ended after twenty years in exactly the same kind of crisis and in the same manner as the petit bourgeois experiment. At the time of the outbreak of the Workers’ Revolution [1905] in Russia, the PPS, so as to secure for itself a part in active politics and in the life of the society, publicly renounced the program of rebuilding Poland. The National Democracy renounced this program so as to take an active part in the middle-class counter-revolution; the PPS did so to exert pressure for the proletarian revolution.

The crisis, decline, and fall of the PPS, brought on by this renunciation, constituted the third and last bankruptcy of the idea of the Polish nation-state – this time wearing the mantle of the proletariat. The current revolution, that mightiest social upheaval of modern times, which is calling all embryos of life to growth and maturity, and simultaneously tearing up the entire foundation of society with a giant plow, rejected the last trace of the idea of the Polish nation-state, as if it were an empty shell from which historical development had removed all content, and which could only roll about among the rubble of social traditions during the troubles of a period of reaction.

The historical career of Polish nationalism, however, has not yet come to an end. Indeed, it has ended its life as the idea of the nation-state, but it has simultaneously transformed itself from a utopian specter to a realistic factor of social life. The Polish bourgeois-capitalistic development fettered Poland to Russia and condemned the idea of national independence to utopianism and to defeat. But the other side of this bourgeois process is the revolutionary development of Polish society. All the manifestations and factors of social progress in Poland, above all its principal factor, the Polish position proletariat and its part in the general revolution in the Tsarist Empire, have grown out of the foundations of this same bourgeois-capitalistic development. The social progress and development of Poland are in this way united with the capitalistic process by unbreakable historical ties, which united Poland and Russia, and which buried the Polish national idea. Consequently, all separatist aspirations directed at raising an artificial barrier between Poland and Russia, are by nature directed against the interests of social progress and revolutionary development; or in other words, they are manifestations of reaction. But at the same time, the national idea, after the final failure of the program of the nation-state and national independence, was reduced to a general and undefined idea of national separation, and, as such, Polish nationalism became a form of social reaction blessed by tradition. The national idea became a collective ideological shield for the reactionary aspirations of the whole camp of bourgeois classes, nobility, middle class, and petite bourgeoisie. Historical dialectics also proved to be far more imaginative, supple, and inclined to variety than the minds of the politicians, caught in the grip of stereotypes, and speculating in the abstract wilderness of the “rights of nations.” So many Russian, German, and other revolutionaries were, and still are, inclined to regard “national tradition” as a historic vessel, destined by nature for all times, to absorb and carry all sorts of revolutionary currents, as a sea conch, which, according to legend, when carried ashore and lifeless, will always repeat the distant roar of the sea waves when placed close to the ear. This “national tradition,” in these concrete historical and social conditions which created today’s Poland, becomes just the opposite: a vessel for all types of reaction, a natural shield for counter-revolution. Under the slogan of “national tradition” there took place the elections of the National Democracy to the first Duma, protected by the Cossacks from the criticisms and protests of the Polish proletariat. In the name of the “national idea” the National Democrats used bullets to chase away the Social Democratic workers from the pre-election meetings, and even killed several dozen workers in Warsaw, Lodz, and Pabianice.[14] Under the national slogan, workers’ “national unions” were organized by the National Democracy for counteraction against the economic struggle and the revolutionary action of the proletariat. Under the national slogan, National Democratic railroad workers broke the railroad strike, which had been started in December 1905 in Poland, forcing the striking workers to return to work at gun point. Under the national slogan. the National Democracy began a crusade against the general strike and other forms of strikes, claiming they were ruining the “country’s industry and the national wealth.” Under the national slogan, the Polish Circle in the Duma renounced participation in the Vyborg Manifesto deliberations, and in the declaration of the Vyborg Manifesto itself, after the dispersion of the Duma.

Under the national slogan, the National Democracy organized so-called “Polish Falcons,”[15] or, rather, armed fighting squads destined for murdering socialists, making strikes impossible, and so on. Mr. Dmowski, the leader of the National Democracy, declared in its official organ that “socialists are outsiders” and are thus “foreign enemies,” thereby justifying in advance the “national” murders of the socialists. And finally, in the name of the national idea, the future of the nation, and national defense, the Polish bourgeoisie, with the National Democracy at the head, publicly stood behind the banner of “neo-pan-Slavism,” in the ranks of the hirelings of absolutism and the Russian “national idea,” “with no reservations.” The last vestige of the political “national” program – Poland’s autonomy – was thus given up on the altar of counter-revolution. Mistreated by history, the Polish national idea moved through all stages of decline and fall. Having started its political career as a romantic, noble insurgent, glorified by international revolution, it now ends as a national hooligan – a volunteer of the Black Hundreds of Russian absolutism and imperialism.


[1] Die Neue Zeit, 1897-1898, Vol. I, p.517.

[2] The numerical relationship of nationalities in Hungary at that time was more or less as follows:

Hungarians   5,000,000
Rumanians 2,300,000
Germans 1,500,000
Croats    900,000
Serbs    830,000
Ruthenians    443,000

[3]At a press convention of Slavic journalists in June 1898, the Slovak delegate, Karol Salva, from Liptov, called to the Czechs: “If harmony is to exist between us, then not only do we have to bestir ourselves, but you also! I know the reason for your lack of interest in us, up to this time. The region of the Slovaks has been up to now (with a few glorious exceptions) regarded as a foreign country by the Czech people!” Original note by R-L.

[4] Stanczyk was a nickname for conservatives in Galicia.

[5] For example, prompted by such an innocent undertaking as the establishment of an association for the restoration of the right to use the Lithuanian language in the Catholic Church in Lithuania, the Vilna Lithuanian Courier wrote in the summer of 1906:

How many times already have the groundless accusations against the Poles of forced Polonization of Lithuanian lands been refuted! How many times were claims of Lithuanians against Poles proven to have no sound basis – claims that historical developments happened to take one course and not another! The Poles are not to be accused of Polonization tendencies, but, on the contrary, the Lithuanians should be accused of attempts at Lithuanization. If the perspectives, reached by way of mutual concessions and peaceful conventions, of living side by side peacefully do not please the Lithuanians, if they insist on taking advantage of every means of harassing and annihilating the Poles, then let them remember that they were the first to cast down the gauntlet before the Poles and that on them will fall the responsibility for this.

This reference to the ”historical development,” which insured the superiority of one nationality over another (accusing of chauvinism those who are fighting for the existence of their own nationality), along with the obscure threats against the other, call to mind the Prussian HKT which defended the threatened Germans against the “attempts of Polonization,” of Count Stanislaw Tarnowski, who derided the Ruthenes as being concerned primarily with the malicious “harassment” of Poles. Original note by R.L.

The HKT, or Hakata, were German chauvinists, organized in 1894 for the purpose of eradicating the Polish elements in Poznan province. The leaders of the group were Hahnemann, Kennemann, and Tiedemann. – Ed.

[6] The majority of the bourgeois legal theorists, therefore, recognize the independent existence of a state as an indispensable attribute of the “national idea.” Messrs. Bluntschli and Co., the ideologists of their own class, achieve nothing else by using abstract definitions and sub-divisions, than what has been already achieved by the power-hungry bourgeoisie in the course of history. Original note by R.L.

[7] “It is correct,” says Kautsky, “that Social Democracy is the party of social development; its aim is the development of society beyond the capitalist stage. Evolution, as is known, does not exclude revolution, which is but an episode of evolution. The ultimate goal of Social Democracy is the destruction of the proletariat in such a way that the proletariat will take over and control social production, as a result of which the workers will cease being proletarians and constituting a separate class of society. This outcome depends on certain economic and political preconditions. It presupposes a certain level of capitalist development. Therefore, the proletariat has for its task the support of economic development; but its task is hardly to actively support the expansion of capitalism – in other words, it is not to support the growth of capitalist profits. This latter is the historic task of the capitalist class, to which it is loyally attending. We have no need to help them in this and we can help them the less, the more we fight against capitalist methods of development ... We do not need to take a position in favor of replacement of workers by machines, nor of the expropriation of handworkers by factories, etc. Our task in economic development is organization and support of the proletariat in its class struggle.” – Die Neue Zeit, 1898-1899, Vol.I, pp.292-93.

And this same argument, Kautsky adds, applies in an even great er degree to the field of political relations. Original note by R.L.

[8] The working class in Poland was composed of various nationalities intermingled with each other, whereas the ruling class was quite solidly Polish (or German). The author is advocating for the working class – presumably for each of its nationalities – the same rights as nationalities that were enjoyed by the “other” nationalities, of the ruling class, that is.

[9] Mikhail Bakunin, Aufruf an die Slawen, Köthen, 1848, in Zwei Schriften aus den 40er Jahren des XIX. Jahrhunderts, Internationale Bibliothek für Philosophie, Bd.II, nos.11-12 (Prague: 1936), p.27.

[10] It was Engels, not Marx, who penned this answer, in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, February 15, 1849, no.222. See Marx-Engels, Werke, VI, 271.

[11] In the original the author has put “Texas” for “Mexico,” which is obviously a slip.

[12] The extent of the influence of the “coffee” interests on the “national will” in this “national” republic, even after the formal abolition of slavery (which is, moreover, still practiced to this very day), is proved by this next incident. When the coffee plantations caused a great crisis last year [1907] by releasing unlimited amounts of coffee on the international coffee market, thereby causing a drastic fall in prices, the Brazilian plantation owners forced the government to purchase the entire surplus of coffee with state funds. Naturally, a violent shake-up of the finances and entire material existence of the whole population has resulted from this original experiment.

[13] “Return to organic work” – a slogan coined in the 1860s (after the abortive 1863-64 January Insurrection) by the so-called positivists in the Kingdom of Poland, and the Galicia conservatives. Rejecting romanticism and its lofty notions of insurgency and conspiracy, it called for a scientific approach in education, industry, trade, and agriculture as the only means for Poland’s survival.

[14] Pabianice – an industrial city about 10 miles south-west of Lodz.

[15] The Falcons (Sokol) were a youth association in Galicia, founded in 1867 under the political guidance of the National Democracy.

Next Chapter: Federation, Centralization, and Particularism

Last updated on: 11.12.2008