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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter II. Self-determination, democratization, and the homogenizing state

The political stance of woman

Maria Dulębianka
Traduction de Zuzanna Ładyga

Texte intégral

1Title: Polityczne stanowisko kobiety (referat wygloszony na Zjezdzie Kobiet Polskich w Warszawie) (The political stance of woman – paper delivered at the Polish Women’s Assembly in Warsaw)

2Originally published: presented in 1907, published in Ster 1907, No. 7, 8

3Language: Polish
The excerpts used are from: Aneta Górnicka-Boratyńska, ed., Chcemy calego zycia. Antologia polskich tekstόw feministycznych z lot 1870–1939 (Warsaw: Fundacja Res Publica, 1999), pp. 228–245.

About the author

4Maria Dulębianka [1861, Cracow – 1919 Lwόw (Ukr. Lviv)]: painter, social worker and women rights activist. She was born into a gentry family in Galicia. Dulebianka studied painting (she was a student of Jan Matejko, the most famous Polish historical painter of the second half of the century). She also campaigned for the admission of women into the Cracow Academy of Arts. At the turn of the century, she became a close friend of Maria Konopnicka, a well-known poet. In 1907, Dulebianka launched a campaign for women’s suffrage in Galicia. During the 1908 elections for the Galician Parliament she fervently campaigned for candidacy on the ticket of the Agrarian Party. Women’s suffrage was introduced only after the reestab-lishment of the Polish statehood in 1918. In 1914 she supported Jόzef Piłsudski’s attempts to set up Polish military units within the Austrian army. During the Polish-Ukrainian war in Eastern Galicia (1918–1919) she supported the Polish defenders of Lviv and organized charity work for Polish prisoners of war on the Ukrainian side of the front. In 1919 she became infected with typhus in one of the prisoners’ camps and died from that disease. As many other activists of the Polish women movement, she remained forgotten till the new wave of feminism in the 1990s started to search for native traditions.

5Main works: Katalog wystawy zbiorowej dzieł śp. Marii Dulębianki [The catalogue to the exhibition of works by the late Maria Dulębianka] (1919).


6The situation of women became an issue of public debate for the first time during the 1863–1864 uprising. The suppression of the uprising, followed by large scale Russian reprisals, caused the social degradation of the small gentry as well as a noticeable decline in the middle-class male population (due to death during the uprising, migration, or exile to distant Asiatic provinces of the Russian Empire). The new conditions forced at least a partial reformulation of the social status of women. Many of them were now forced to work and to penetrate new social domains. From the 1860s on, there emerged several journals which were for, and more importantly edited by women. This activity was also supported by acknowledged ‘national’ women-writers such as Eliza Orzeszkowa and Maria Konopnicka. Their place within the intellectual elite and their contribution to the discourse of modernization was acknowledged. Yet, they did not formulate any agenda concerning the specific place of women in Polish society.

7The Polish women’s movement underwent serious changes in the last decades of the nineteenth and the turn of the twentieth centuries. Women played an important role in the generation that followed the ‘positivists’ (see Alek-sander Świętochowski, Political directives). They constituted an important part of the student population at the illegal Polish university (one of them being Maria Skłodowska, later Marie Curie), and also fought for women’s right to admission in Galician universities. In the late nineteenth century, female Polish students (along with their Russian counterparts) gained a considerable presence in Western European universities which had begun to admit female students. Women activists at home appealed for the opening of all types of higher and technical education to women, which would allow them to secure their future. Unofficial feminist groups of various political colors were formed, vividly discussing the social and national role of women. The question raised (also pointed out by Maria Dulębianka in her quoted speech) was the place of the women’s question within the Polish national program.

8However, from the 1860s to the 1880s, the Polish women’s movement did not problematize the question of universal suffrage. As a matter of fact, the issue could not be addressed under the conditions of constant martial law in the Russian partition and under the conservative legal system of Austria. The opportunity to raise the question emerged in the aftermath of the 1905–1907 revolution that drove all political groupings in Russia either to legal action or to underground activities. Simultaneously, a campaign was launched for the liberalization of electoral law in Austria. Maria Dulębianka belonged to the group of feminist activists who pledged for a separate and independent feminist movement, free from any other ideological affiliation, be it nationalist, liberal or socialist. She sharply criticized the ‘National Democratic’ and the socialist movements in Galicia, while also being engaged in a polemic with Aleksander Świętochowski and other ‘positivists’ who perceived the independent feminist movement as an obstacle in the creation of the harmonious and progressive society. Dulębianka simply refused what many other Polish female activists before her took for granted: the subordination of women’s cause to the national program.

9The Polish feminist movement was particularly active in the period before 1918. The new independent Polish state introduced a liberal legal system that gave women all the rights that had been debated through the second half of the nineteenth century. During the 1920s and the 1930s, feminist discourse concentrated on questions that had previously been untouched, such as the liberalization of abortion laws, or sexual education. The post-1945 Polish state confirmed all the rights of women and introduced a typical Soviet campaign for their further emancipation that naturally discredited the whole feminist ideology in the eyes of anti-communist opinion. Thus, it was hard to find a feminist current within the anti-communist opposition. Post-1989 political developments led to the proliferation of conservative ideas and legislative practices concerning women. Under such conditions, a feminist movement reappeared, importing Western standards but also rediscovering the native feminist tradition.


The political stance of woman

11There is no doubt that the most significant phenomenon today, in the rapid and all-encompassing evolution of human ideas, is the rising popular awareness of civil equality.

12This is the present day’s most important victory.

13The final testimony to that process will be, or rather is, the woman’s achievement of civil awareness. Admittedly, it took a powerful rattle of the chains of oppression to lead women away from passive servitude and into battle. Today that battle is already being fought. Women have finally realized that they too must take a stand on the grand stage of politics. That in order to fulfill their civil obligations, they must be entitled to all civil rights without exception.

14And this leads us to the second epic victory of today. Only once we realize that the greatest error of our policy in the past, the error that led to our downfall and deprived us of our power, was to exclude the people considered today the foundation of our nation, can we say with equal conviction that another mistake, just as threatening to our nation’s well-being, is to subject women to that same exclusion. The sooner we correct this error and the sooner we stop ignoring and wasting the resources which we do not have in overabundance, the faster will we progress towards the attainment of our national and human ideals. Even if we gain freedom, we shall not be a free nation as long as half of our population is denied its civil rights.

15What other nation is better suited to carry the torch of freedom to others if not the one with such a wonderful tradition of free spirit, the one with so many battles fought for its own freedom and the freedom of others, the one to have suffered through so much pain and torture? All those hardships were endured to the same extent by women, and this has endowed them with a special kind of dignity. Polish women were early to develop, to mature and to pass the test of humanity. Thus they can be bolder in their demands for human rights, but they are also more sensitive to each injustice. The slogan: “Equal rights to all men” is a definite improvement on caste-related slogans of yesterday: “Rights to the nobility,” “Rights to the bourgeoisie,” “Rights to the clergy,” but let us not forget the shortcomings and defects of this legitimate claim based on sex. How superior and more democratic, how much more human is the new slogan heard all around and even triumphant is some places: “Equal rights to all!” [...]

  • 1 The National Democratic Party (1897–1919): political party of the nationalist camp established on (...)

16As we know, initially the ‘National Democratic Party’1 was strongly prejudiced against the emerging women’s rights organizations. Not officially, of course—we were not worthy of that distinction—but in secret; through female members of Parliament we were told, as were you in this very place, that “it is not the time to fight for women’s rights when the rights of the entire nation are at stake.”

17Indeed, no other term in our language is more misleading, unclear, more abused and recklessly interpreted than the idea of what is, and what is not the national struggle or work. Summoned up at every opportunity, however insignificant, even against the most noble of actions, the word becomes a poisoned arrow, mercilessly striking down work and worker alike. It is no surprise therefore that it was also targeted against the emerging activity of women.

18A question arises: is the woman’s position outside of her nation? Would her rights not be the rights of her nation? Is she not part of it?

19I do not presume any ill will, but there is a basic mistake in this claim, a great misunderstanding, one that I emphasize with all the more insistence, as even women fall prey to it, especially those who tend to be less independent in their thinking and support the ‘ational Democratic Party’ at the same time [...]

20How do you tell the work that is in the nation’s interest from any other kind? Where does this work end, and some other type of work, which is not “national,” begin? If working towards women’s liberation is not “national,” then working for the liberation of the people, working to improve the situation of the working class, working for the betterment of any class or estate would not be “national,” hence not worth the time. And if it is not so, if the struggle for the rights of peasants and workers, the rights of children, the rights of any group of people constitutes work done for the nation, which it clearly does, then so does the struggle for the rights of women, for their liberation. What other way is there to liberate and elevate the people and to liberate women, if not by leading them away from humiliating, centuries-long servitude? How do we empower them to work for the nation, if we deny them the right to work? [...]

21To conclude this matter, let me add that the only times when it is not a waste of time—though there really is no time to fight for rights besides the rights of the entire nation—are the times of active revolutions. In those times, however, women become almost more equal than in any other circumstances, and we have seen and are seeing that they often make heroic use of that equality.

  • 2 National Democratic Party.

22Such was the original position of the N.D.2 towards us.

23Under the influence of the lively women’s movement in Galicia in recent years and faced with the threat of many women drifting towards radical parties which support women’s political rights, the N.D. started making concessions, even to the point of saying not only that it is not opposed to women being granted political rights, but that it is in fact willing to support them, although obviously not in the form of women’s suffrage, as that would make little sense to us women, but on the old, tried and proven basis of a curial system. [...]

24Despite this seemingly sympathetic attitude of the N.D. towards our political rights movement, the group of women supporting the N.D., despite all our efforts, refused to be persuaded to organize a women’s rights association for fear that such an organization be detrimental to the national interest.

25On the other hand, in Cracow and Lviv, such organizations were established by more radical groups sympathizing with the ‘Social Democratic Party.’

  • 3 Polish Social Democratic Party of Galicia and Tessin Silesia, formed in 1890, restructured in 1899 (...)

26Unfortunately, raised for centuries to be obedient, women still feel the need to obey someone. With very few exceptions, some listen to the N.D., others to the S.D.3 And so they are conducting all their activities, especially those related to electoral reforms, under the auspices of the latter.

27We have witnessed a whole host of women’s rallies organized to support this reform, during which women merely touched on the issue of their rights, an event that only in passing, while focusing on the demands for equal voting rights for male workers, who, incidentally, despite having been discriminated against in the voting regulations in force at the time, had more rights than women themselves. [...]

28The victory of political democratization must become the victory of women’s rights, but it can only happen if women fight for equality. Without struggle they will achieve nothing. Without their involvement, the matter of equal rights will never be treated with enough momentum that they can be granted political rights whether they demand them or not [...]

29There is also no guarantee that male workers, should they win rights for themselves, will be so willing to share them with women without reservation as women seem to believe will be the case. Note that in countries that introduced popular voting rights for men a long time ago, the women’s struggle has not become any easier. We can see that in France, in Germany or even in the majority of the United States, women were denied political rights as long as they failed to fight for them with enough tenacity.

30Such were the motives of the women who chose this particular tactic when rallying for the electoral reform in Galicia [...]. The S.D. cares primarily for the interests of male workers. Women’s interests, unless strongly bound with their own, are of little concern to them, and despite all declarations to the contrary, the S.D. does not strive for women’s political rights, assuming, as do socialists in other countries, that being conservative by nature, when given voting rights, women would be a negative influence on the progressive movement.

31They are right, but only to a certain extent. First and foremost, there is no doubt that working class women, i.e. the vast majority of women, having gained voting rights, will be behind the working class man all the way. And although there are, admittedly, a lot of conservative, reactionary groups among women, they are no more numerous than those made up of men of all social classes, especially among the peasants, as well as the workers. Yet no one from the ‘Social Democratic Party’ wishes to deny their voting rights based on that fact. A rule is a rule. Either you follow it, or you don’t. [...]

32The idea of nationality is useful, but not in the hands of small-time ideology dealers, peddling it like devotional objects at the walls of the Sanctuary in Częstochowa. Watching all that, as Diderot once called on his contemporaries—“Open your minds to enlarge your concept of God, for as it is now, it could make Him repugnant”—so we feel like calling, “Enlarge your concept of nationality, for as it is now, it could make nationality repugnant.” [...]

33How should we proceed? [...]

34We, the Poles, have a duty and reason to love our homeland more than a Frenchman loves France, a Swede loves Sweden or an Englishman loves England. But the more we love it, the more we want it to be great and noble and free, the more carefully we need to protect it from being flawed. Let there be no harm in this land to anyone, and let there be justice for all. Let there be equal law to everyone and privilege to no one. [...]

35We, women, must work to bring closer that psychological moment when human affairs are no longer governed by national or class egoisms, but by more noble motives of honor and justice. Protect not only the interests of the nation, but protect even more fervently its virtue, honor and righteousness while remembering that out of the two evils there is more dignity for a nation in suffering than in doing harm. [...]

36It would be impossible to discuss individual social matters here, so I will only mention that in class struggle the weak and the oppressed must find in us their unreserved defenders. Even though our principal cause is equal rights for women as the citizens oppressed the most by the political and social system of today, we hold equally dear the cause of liberation for peasants and workers from all material and moral oppression. Proponents of equality and brotherhood, let us support everything that works towards the eradication of all estate and class differences between people and towards making our nation a group of equal citizens working in different professions, according to their talents and preferences.

  • 4 Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe, formed in 1895. Its main intellectual and political activist was Wince (...)

37Today all parties often fight against the privileges of their opponents only to win those same privileges for those who support them. And so, the ‘People’s Party,’4 incidentally the most appealing in its ideology and tactics, says to peasants: “now you must seize the power of government, now you deserve to be the leaders of this nation,” i.e. it tells them that they are now to be privileged. The S.D. says to the workers: now you will come to the fore, as the head of the nation, and the intelligentsia, as camp followers, will follow behind” (quoted verbatim from speeches of party leaders). The N.D. says: “We are Poland,” the rest are not Poles, they are half-Poles, if not straightforward enemies of the nation.

38This is the state of the struggle against privileges today.

39Each of those parties, while claiming all virtues and successes for itself, ascribes all that is wrong to those outside of its ranks [...]

40Abnormal relationships produce abnormal people, thus it is not against people but against abnormal relationships that we must fight. We do not fight any person, party or opponent for the sake of resistance alone. On the contrary, let us give credit wherever it is due, but fight to the end everything that gets in the way of progress and justice ruling human relationships.

41Therefore, let us put all our energy into fighting capitalism as the prime cause of all social abnormalities and in particular the cause of the oppression of the working class. The present capitalist system humiliates and degrades work by turning it into its humble servant and becoming its autocratic master. [...]

42Let us fight militarism as the greatest failure of nations, ruining them economically and morally, and constituting the greatest constraint on civilization as a whole.

43No matter if those fighting for the liberation of the people want to combine freedom with militarism. If German socialists cheer for the army, if French socialists reject all anti-military words, thoughts and acts, if even our ‘People’s Party’ declares itself the enemy of anti-militarism, then we, the women, when we are elected to Parliaments, must fight against militarism.

44But before militarism and capitalism, our first enemy, all the greater because it is so close and common, is every harm done, every incident of oppression, untruth and lawlessness, and it is against those enemies that we must struggle and prevail.

45With those tasks in mind, let us organize quickly, in harmony and unity. Let us not be divided by petty problems and disputes, but rather be united by our goals.

46Remembering these words: “the first step to liberation from captivity is to dare to be free. The first step to victory is to learn one’s own strength.” Let us dare to be free, let us learn our strength!


1 The National Democratic Party (1897–1919): political party of the nationalist camp established on the initiative of the National League. The ideological leader of the National Democratic Party was Roman Dmowski (one of the founders of the National League in 1893). Members of the party supported the solution to the Polish problem with Russian involvement.

2 National Democratic Party.

3 Polish Social Democratic Party of Galicia and Tessin Silesia, formed in 1890, restructured in 1899. In 1919, the PPSD merged with the Polish Socialist Party (PPS). Its main political leaders were Ignacy Daszyński and Jędrzej Moraczewski.

4 Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe, formed in 1895. Its main intellectual and political activist was Wincenty Witos.


Zuzanna Ładyga (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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