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Chapter 11

The Awakening of the Polish Nation

After the Poles failed in 1830-1831, and again in 1863, to win back their independence from Russia, they were subjected to harsh rule and a policy of intense russification. During the last part of the reign of Alexander II and under Alexander III (1881-1894), patriotic activity was paralyzed. Most of the leaders of the 1863 insurrection had been executed and their followers exiled to Siberia. Even the Catholic church was deprived of its leaders. While the situation eased somewhat with the ascent of Alexander III, the Polish church was still weighed down with the endless bureaucratic procedures involving the registration in the seminaries of candidates for the priesthood. Conditions among the regular clergy were even worse, since most of the monasteries were closed in 1864.

Even though the Polish language schools had been closed and other restrictions imposed, the national language endured and clandestine language teaching allowed young Poles to retain their national identity. In the early 1880s, the generation of romantic revolutionaries was superseded by a new generation of protesters from the new classes born of the industrial revolution, the working class and bourgeoisie, whose aspirations and methods of attaining them differed from those of their elders. Russian Poland had been industrialized since 1870, and the urban population had increased in proportion. Warsaw, for example, had grown to a population of 594,000 according to the census of 1897. While the aristocracy remained influential in the country, the new classes were beginning to make themselves

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felt in urban areas like Warsaw and Lodz. Karl Marx's ideas reached Russian Poland fairly early. In the early 1890s, two clandestine groups of socialists were already in existence: the Social Democratic party of Poland and Lithuania of Rosa Luxembourg and Felix Dzerjinski* and the Bund (General League of Workers), which was a Jewish organization from Lodz and a major part of the Russian Social Democratic party. The socialists were more interested in overthrowing the czarist regime and reforming the social and economic system than in Polish independence. Some militants concerned themselves with national interests, however, and held a meeting in Paris in 1892 which resulted in a new socialist movement, the Polish Socialist party of S. Limanowski. This party, which published a clandestine newspaper edited by a young radical, Joseph Pilsudski, grew much faster than its social democratic competitors. Patriotism was firmly entrenched in the Polish working class. Pilsudski moved to Galicia where he could easily maintain contact with Polish emigrants, and from there he flooded Russian Poland with clandestine socialist publications.

Alongside the workers, the Polish middle class had their own political organization, the National Democratic party, founded in 1897. It was a party of the moderate opposition, led by Jan Poplawski and Roman Dmowski, both of whom eventually had to flee to Galicia for asylum.

Events of 1904-1905 in Russia had their effect on Poland. Socialists of various leanings organized strikes and attacks on Russian civil administrat- ors. The National Democrats tried to obtain a certain measure of autonomy for Poland out of the situation. Czar Nicholas' manifesto issued in October, 1905, promising a constitution and an elected legislative assembly or duma was greeted joyfully in Poland. Elections for the first duma were held in April, 1906. Despite a call for socialist abstention, the Poles voted overwhelmingly for the National Democratic party's moderate opposition which took all of the seats that year and again in the 1907 elections for the second duma. But the moderate and cooperative attitude of the Polish delegates did little good. Autonomy was refused. Even worse, the new electoral law for the third duma took away over half of the seats the Poles had a right to, considering their proportionate numbers in the Russian Empire.

However, due to the liberalization that followed the Russian revolution of 1905, the Poles recovered some of their freedoms lost in 1830, particularly those regarding use of the Polish language and education. But these concessions were not enough to satisfy a people who had never given up regaining their independence.


*Rosa Luxembourg then went to Germany where she was active in the Spartakist movement. She died

during the Berlin riot of January 15, 1919. Felix Dzerjinski (1877-1926) remained in Russia after the

October Revolution and organized the Tcheka (today KGB).

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In the Prussian provinces, the fate of the Polish people had its highs and lows. An early difficult period paralleled the Kulturkampf (1871-1879) during which Bismarck tried to make the Catholic church toe the line. Polish Catholics, as well as German Catholics, were harassed by the authorities. Stubborn bishops were removed from their dioceses. Bismarck made a compromise with Rome in 1880, and conditions were temporarily ameliorated in Poland. But beginning in 1886, Bismarck embarked on a policy of Germanization in the formerly Polish provinces. He set up a colonization commission to assist Germans who wanted to move in to acquire land with help from the state. The ascension of William II briefly slowed the colonization policy, but it picked up again even more systematically in the early 20th century and numerous clashes ensued. At the Berlin Reichstag, Poland's fifteen deputies led by Albert Korfanty continually deplored this policy of German colonization of Polish land, but they were vastly outnumbered by the German deputies. Though slightly better off than their compatriots in Russia, by 1914 the Prussian Poles were just as aware of the need to unite all Poles into one independent state.

Austrian Galicia, however, was the focus of more activity for independence. It was from his base in Galicia that Joseph Pilsudski organized undercover groups ready to intervene actively in Russia when the opportunity arose. These groups became known officially as "Societies of Tir" in 1910. It was there that the decisive struggle for independence was shaping up, and the tensions in the Balkans in 1912-1913 were a forewarning of imminent action. A provisional government commission including the socialist Pilsudski, the populist Vincent Witos, and generals Sikorski and Haller, was ready to take over a liberated Poland in case war broke out with Russia.

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