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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter V. Socialism and the nationality question

On patriotism

Józef Piłsudski
Traduction de Zuzanna Ładyga

Texte intégral

1Title: O patriotyzmie (On patriotism)

2Originally published: Walka, 1 October 1902, pp. 4–6.

3Language: Polish
The excerpts used are from Józef Piłsudski, Pisma zbiorowe. Wydanie prac dotychczas drukiem ogłoszonych, vol. 2. (Warsaw: Instytut Józefa Pił-sudskiego, 1937), pp. 22–27.

About the author

4See: Józef Piłsudski, Address delivered in Vilnius


5In the 1890s, three modern political movements emerged in Polish politics: the nationalist, agrarian, and the socialist parties. Their activities were illegal in the Russian-controlled regions of pre-partition Poland. This forced them to coordinate their efforts from Western Europe, or to engage in underground activity, walking in the footsteps of their democratic forerunners from the first half of the nineteenth century. The relatively militant character of these movements was one of the reasons for their ideological inconsistency. Along with a lot of uncertainty in political agendas, there were many individuals who shifted camps, moving from the socialist to the nationalist side of the political spectrum (rather than the other way round). Among these three main political trends, the socialists were the most successful in connecting their image with the tradition of national revolts and uprisings, thus attracting a considerably wide spectrum of adherents. At the same time, the socialists attracted groups that refused to correlate national struggle with class struggle. During the first decades of the twentieth century, the spectrum from which the socialist party recruited its followers gradually narrowed down, with its rightist as well as its leftist wings being eradicated. The quoted text refers to the moment right before this major division within the socialist camp.

6In the first decade of the twentieth century, Piłsudski was a well-known political figure but by no means an outstanding theoretician. Nevertheless, his text has the merit of being straightforward and concrete, unlike the more elaborate texts by the Marxist theoreticians Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz or Leon Wasilewski. It summarizes socialist ideology, and, at the same time, marks the starting point of Piłsudski’s intellectual development.

7The socialism advocated by Piłsudski was characterized by a strong conviction about the necessity of restoring Polish independence, and therefore was criticized not only by Polish nationalists, like Dmowski, but also by internationalist social democrats. Rosa Luxemburg (Pol. Róza Luksemburg), contrary to Piłsudski, refused to include the independence of Poland among the postulates of socialism. In her opinion, the Polish working class had to unite with the working classes of Russia, Germany and Austria, since, even if an independent Polish state existed, it would only be a reactionary one. The ideologists of the PPS tried to find a path between these two extremes: modern nationalism and Luxemburg-type internationalism. Piłsudski’s text is an illustration of the belief in the international solidarity of democratic nations intertwined with the principles of proletarian internationalism.

8The impact of the Russian revolution of 1905–1907 caused an open split in the Polish socialist camp. The left wing of the PPS advocated collaboration with progressive political forces in Russia to achieve the autonomy of the Polish Kingdom in a democratic Empire. Piłsudski, on the other hand, set up a new political party, the PPS—Frakcja Rewolucyjna (PPS— Revolutionary Faction), which propagated the idea of Polish independence. The left wing of the PPS gradually merged with the social democrats to form the Polish Communist Party. On the other hand, some former socialists followed Piłsudski in his political pursuits. Many years after publishing this text, Piłsudski described these pursuits as marking a turning point in his political career when he “got off the red tram at the stop named Independence.

9The text reiterates the postulates of nineteenth-century Polish patriotism, based on the democratic ideal of embracing the common cause of all peoples. Piłsudski combined the pre-modern regional patriotism of Lithuania, rejecting at the same time modern Lithuanian nationalism, with Polish national convictions, and a socialist agenda strategically used as an antidote for possible conflicts between East-Central European identities. In 1902, when Dmowski formulated the program of Polish integral nationalism, Piłsudski advocated the struggle against the tsar and declared his belief in the international solidarity of the working class.

10The PPS was among the most significant political forces of the inter-war period. Although many of its leaders declared their personal sympathy for Piłsudski, they disagreed with his internal policy. After the coup in 1926, PPS turned against the government and thus against Józef Piłsudski. During the Second World War, the PPS actively participated in the activities of the Polish authorities both in the territories occupied by Germany and in exile. After 1945, the Party regained official status. In the second half of the 1940s, with the emerging effort to blend the socialist and communist movements, the conflict between the PPS’s socialist patriotism and Luxemburgian internationalism broke out once again. One of the communist leaders, Władysław Gomułka, proposed that the new Workers Party should follow the principles of the PPS. The opposition group, enjoying the support of Stalin, condemned Gomułka and (similar to the Soviet policy towards Josip Broz Tito) accused Polish socialists of pursuing nationalistic agendas. During the communist regime, the PPS belonged to this politically contested tradition. In the 1970s, it became an important point of reference for the left-wing democratic opposition. The party was reestablished after 1989, but it failed to regain its previous influence.

11Piłsudski’s political agenda was heavily criticized not only by nationalists but also by postwar Polish Marxists, who ‘unmasked’ the imperialist undertones of his ideas. Piłsudski’s policies were interpreted as an expression of his personal hatred toward the Soviet Union. In the 1980s, a new wave of historical publications described his policies in a more favorable light, and Piłsudski became a symbolic figure for the right wing democratic opposition. Since 1989, he has commonly been accepted as one of the most significant personalities in Polish history.


On patriotism

13Today, when one nation to another, as one man to another, is not a brother but a wolf, we usually encounter two types of patriotism: one rapacious and the other defensive.

14Both are closely interrelated, since just as there are no winners without losers, there is also no resistance without invasion. The first type—rapacious patriotism—is nowadays the political slogan of most European powers. At its disposal it has: millions of bayonets and cannons; thousands of advocates, ministers, journalists and scientists; and enormous sums of money from the exploitation of the working class. It pushes entire nations to fight in wars, brother against brother; it conquers other countries and sucks out their life blood. But if we look at it closely, we will see that the prime mover of this chauvinist hullabaloo spreading across the whole world is not patriotism proper, i.e. the feeling of love and devotion towards one’s motherland. At the bottom of this trend lies a disease of contemporary nations, based on the suffering and exploitation of the working class.

15In every country, the bourgeoisie, the masters of today’s world, find themselves in warlike competition with their counterparts from other countries and nations. In order to exist and develop, they require the largest possible market for its goods, they have to prevent their competitors from penetrating those markets they conquer by imposing tolls, tariffs, and by granting charters. The larger and more powerful the state, the larger its market and the easier it is to protect its own industry and commerce and to impose favorable prices for its goods on other countries. […]

16The bourgeoisie uses chauvinism to kill two birds with one stone. Capitalism divides the world into exploited and exploiters and provokes the struggle between them. This struggle, which engages an ever-increasing number of working-class people, presents a threat to the hegemony of the bourgeois. National chauvinism, which sets one nation against another, serves to unite what had been ruptured by the class struggle and prevents the disintegration of a decaying society. Like typical despots, the bourgeois try to cover the filth of exploitation and the scale of workers’ poverty behind a tattered rag of national greatness, stained by the blood and tears of suffering peoples.

17Such is the rapacious patriotism in Europe. Russian chauvinism, with which we have had to deal for a long time here in Lithuania, is not altogether different. At its bottom lies the exploitation of a conquered country to the benefit of the invaders. The only difference is that firstly, the process is led not by the bourgeoisie but by barbarous tsarism, which hopes to prop up a waning political system by giving its subjects other countries to exploit like one throws bones to a hungry dog; and secondly, instead of goods, of which there is no excess in Russia, the tsar floods the conquered markets with live cargo—thousands of hungry and willing state officials.

18Rapacious patriotism is in such contradiction to the basic sense of justice, so poisonous to the invaders’ morality and the life of the conquered that every decent man, regardless of his convictions, must protest against it. Among the socialists there can be no two ways about it. They must fight it to the death and reveal its true nature by showing how much human suffering is hidden behind its mask.

19To finish the subject of rapacious patriotism we shall mention Polish chauvinism. True, it does not have a state apparatus at its disposal, and being persecuted and limited by martial laws, it presents no great threat to anybody. Nevertheless, making use of its cultural and economic advantage, it sometimes acts with hostility towards Lithuanians. It is an established fact that priests often engage in Polonization. It happens with the support of bishops and prelates who often send to Lithuanian parishes priests who do not speak a word of their parishioners’ language. Moreover, it is no secret that a certain portion of the Polish intelligentsia is resentful to the development of Lithuanian culture and even tries to antagonize the Polish people against their neighbors.

20Any attempt at provoking nationalist conflicts must be met with our resolute opposition. Conflicts and quarrels drain our strength and allow our persecutor—the tsar—to take advantage and reinforce his rule over us. Down with them! Let us root out among our comrades nationalist and religious prejudices. Among the raging storm of tribal hatred, let us celebrate peace and brotherhood regardless of national and religious differences.

21Defensive patriotism is altogether different. It is caused by an invasion and it spurs people to respond. In principle, it is right, because it inspires people to repair the harm that was done [to them] and to fight for one of the basic human rights that has been trampled. Especially in Lithuania, where no child hears its native tongue spoken at school, where throughout the country there is not a single library or newspaper for millions of Poles, Lithuanians and Belarusians, where the Lithuanian nation is forbidden to print books in its own language, where a significant portion of the society—the Jews—has no access to education and only limited freedom of movement, where it is strictly prohibited to speak the language of some local citizens, and where in the twentieth century there is still religious persecution, the patriotism of the oppressed is a manifestation of a natural self-defense, and the struggle for national rights, in accordance with the needs of all social classes, is an urgent matter on everyone’s lips.

22But even among the conquered nations people are divided into classes: the exploiters and the exploited, and the conflict of interest between them inevitably leaves its mark on the beliefs and actions of each group. Let us then look closely at the nature of our privileged classes’ patriotism and the way in which they defend national rights. […] They claim that the nation should be united in the face of hardships and violence at the hand of our enemies. The respective social classes should, for the time being, lay to rest their conflicts with one another, so as not to diminish the strength of the nation through internal struggle. Those who have led the country so far—the privileged classes—should remain at the forefront of the struggle for independence because of their experience and education, as well as the possibility of attracting attention and support of the world’s powers thanks to their positions and wealth. The working class should follow their lead and trust them completely. This is more or less what all advocates of patriotism say, calling for national solidarity, be it Polish, Lithuanian or Jewish.

23Let us, however, take a closer look at this patriotism in practice, at the way this solidarity is manifested—the solidarity that is supposedly first and foremost the duty of those who proclaim it. Can anyone remember a case where a landowner, a factory owner or a craftsman yielded to the demands of his compatriot workers, sacrificing part of his profits to the common cause? Yet everyone knows of contrary examples. Everywhere we look, we see landowners, factory owners and craftsmen, our “leaders”, seeking help from the invaders’ courts and police against their own people, their “followers”. […] It is curious how national solidarity manifests itself in the acts of its advocates and leaders. It is full of hypocrisy and double-dealing when it prays at the altar of patriotism with the devil of exploitation and dirty dealings in its pocket.

  • 1 Lit Vilnius.
  • 2 Lit Kaunas.
  • 3 Bel Hrodna.
  • 4 Mikhail Nikolayevich Muravyov (1796–1866): Russian statesman and general, governor of the orthwest (...)

24The patriotism of our affluent classes appears is no less repulsive when we judge it by the way members of those classes act toward the invaders. Appalling cowardice is the order of the day, fawning and bootlicking the enemy and their politics. Let us look at our towns’ leaders, whispering patriotic prayers: town councilors of Wilno1, Kowno2 or Grodno3. Poles have a majority in town councils, yet they still vote for increasing the number of policemen and spies, giving away municipal land for the monuments of Muravyov4 and tsarina Catherine, in a word, anything that pleases a given state official. Take a look at our gentry, shivering with fear in the face of even the lowest ranking officials, contaminated with the spirit of conciliation and flunkeyism, protecting their children from rebellious urges and collecting money for scholarships named after governors and ministers. Look at Lithuanian intelligentsia, begging for governors’ consent to give back one church or another. Look at those Jews, who in spite of contemptuous treatment by state officials write submissive applications and use humility or bribes to obtain the smallest of abatements. […]

25As we can see, bourgeois patriotism, whether rapacious or defensive, has one thing in common. It aims at hiding class conflicts behind the veil of national solidarity against other nations and thus preventing the decay of the system in which the bourgeoisie is at the top. Wherever it can, it is rapacious and walks over those it defeats; if, on the other hand, it is on the losing side, it humbly resorts to bootlicking. Hence our attitude towards such patriotism is the same as towards its rapacious kind. We have to fight and unmask it, curbing its influence on the working class.

26There is, however, a healthy kernel of patriotism. It is the natural feeling of love for one’s country and its culture, which leads us to defend the right of the nation to sovereignty wherever that right is denied. […] Our motherland, which has Kościuszko and Mickiewicz among its native sons, saw those two great patriots struggling not only against the invasion, but also against the enslavement of its people by their own masters. In the present situation this noble patriotism must lead our ranks under the red banner of socialism.


1 Lit Vilnius.

2 Lit Kaunas.

3 Bel Hrodna.

4 Mikhail Nikolayevich Muravyov (1796–1866): Russian statesman and general, governor of the orthwestern Territories (including Lithuania and part of Belarus). He was known as a fervent adherent of forceful Russification. Muravyov directed repressions against participants of the November (1830–1831) and January uprisings (1863–1864) as well as against the Lithuanian national movement (he banned the usage of the Latin alphabet as well as the Lithuanian language in print).

© Central European University Press, 2010

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