Rosa Luxemburg

In Memory of the Proletariat Party



First Published: (Polish) Przeglad Socialdemokratyczsy, January-February 1903.
Source: (German) Politische Schriften, III (Frankfurt: Europaische, Verlagsanstalt, 1968), pp.23-82. (English) Selected Political Writings Rosa Luxemburg, 1971, edited by Dick Howard.
Abstract: The original article contains parts 1-7. This work presents only 1-4. We earnestly hope to find someone who can translate the remaining sections of this work.
Translated: Originally written in Polish, then translated into German (by Tadeusz Kachlak, with the help of Bernherd Blanke and Victoria Vierhelles), this text was translated from the German translation into English by Tom Herbst.
Transcription/Markup: Ted Crawford/Brian Baggins, with special thanks to Dick Howard and Monthly Review Press for permissions.
Copyright: Monthly Review Press, 1971. Printed with the permission of Monthly Review Press. Luxemburg Internet Archive ( 2004.

For many years now on the anniversary of the heroic deaths of Kunicki, Bardowski, Ossowski, and Pietrusinski,[1] social-patriotic skirmishes which only harm the memory of the founders of the first socialist party in Poland have taken place at the graves of those who fell for the cause of international socialism. We are speaking of those yearly festivities which – especially in foreign lands – are organized by the “Polish Socialist Party” [PPS], whose goal is to usurp the past of the Polish labor movement for the use of today’s nationalism in the guise of socialism. We mean the obtrusive homages of that political movement for whose program and political ethic the lives and actions of the fallen were only damnable.

Men who stood on such a high intellectual plane as those four, who met death for an idea with heads held high, and who in dying encouraged and inflamed the living, are doubtless not the exclusive property of any particular party, group, or sect. They belong in the pantheon of all mankind, and anyone to whom the idea of freedom, no matter what its content or form, is truly precious should embrace them as kindred spirits and honor their memory. Especially whenever the academic youth of Poland take part in great numbers in the festivities in memory of the Proletariat Party, we view it with real joy as a symptom of idealism and promising revolutionary leanings among our intelligentsia.

We want neither to monopolize the memory of the heroes of the Proletariat nor to fight for it in the narrow interest of the Party, as for the body of Patroclus. But when the honoring of the memory of the executed becomes a noisy and mindless sport, when it is lowered to the level of common advertising, to the signboard of a political group, and when the ideas and deeds of the Proletarians for which they died are misused and misinterpreted before the people for this base purpose, then it is simply the duty of those who, because of the spirit of their principles, are the heirs of the revolutionary tradition of the Proletariat, to protest loudly. We are no friends of those regular annual festivals in honor of revolutionary traditions which become both commonplace, because of their mechanical regularity, and like everything that is “traditional” rather banal.[2] We are nevertheless of the opinion that, for the present, those who fell on January 28 can best be honored by showing that their graves are not the proper spot for social-patriotic capers or for tin soldiers exercising for the “national uprising”.

It is also unfortunate that the traditions of the socialist movement in our land are so little known to the contemporary generation of Polish revolutionaries. In our opinion, it is time to revive the memories of our past struggle, a struggle which today can be a rich source of moral reinforcement and political instruction. Above all, it is time that the intellectual character of the first influential and organizationally strong socialist party in Poland, the Proletariat, be studied and that it be described in its own words and deeds in the light of historical truth.

He who would correctly evaluate and understand the political ideas of the Proletariat Party, must start from the assumption that this party was not united in its program, that its program and direction were influenced by two distinct elements: by the West and by Russia, by the Marxist theory and by the practice of the Narodnaya Volya.

The social conditions of Congress Poland in the 1880s were a suitable base for a “labor movement” in the European sense of the term. The land reform and the development of industry after the collapse of the last uprising completed the final triumph of capitalism in the cities and, partially, in the country.[3] The positivistic theory of “organic work” swept away the last vestiges of the feudal-national ideology from society and laid the foundation for the social and intellectual rule of the bourgeoisie in a more naked form than in any other country.[4] Modern class antagonism, the economic situation, and the social importance of the industrial proletariat became clear. “Thus the objective conditions which form the foundation of the Marxist teaching were almost totally fulfilled in Congress Poland, and the socialist struggle of the Proletariat could be logically based on Marxist principles.

This view is clearly articulated in the second chapter of the proclamation of the workers’ committee of the social-revolutionary Proletariat Party in 1882: “Our land is not an exception to the general development of European society – its past and present constitution, based on exploitation and oppression, offers our worker nothing but misery and degradation. Our society today shows all of the characteristics of a bourgeois-capitalist constitution, and even though the lack of political freedom gives it a distorted and sickly appearance, this does not alter the essence of its character.[5]

Here too socialism has a modern foundation appropriate to the class structure of society:

“The interests of the exploited cannot be brought into harmony with the interests of the exploiters. These cannot progress together in the name of some fictional national unity. If one also assumes that the interests of the worker in the city and the laborer in the country are the same, one must affirm that the Polish proletariat differs basically from the privileged classes and that it takes up the struggle with them as an independent class which has completely different economic, political, and moral tendencies.”[6]

The proclamation marks the character of the socialist class struggle from the very beginning as purely international and stresses that “economic conditions are the basis of social relations: all other phenomena are subordinate to these conditions”[7] Thus the proclamation formally recognizes historical materialism as the foundation for its weltanschauung. In all decisive points the views of the Proletariat simply transplanted the ideas of Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto to Polish soil.

This general criticism of capitalism, however, does not fix the form of direct action of the Party, nor does it determine its political program or tactics. There is a huge gap between 1) the recognition of the general principles of scientific socialism and their consequences for the activity and duties of the Party, and 2) the theory of the Manifesto, and the direct program and practice of Social Democracy. The political views of the Proletariat Party were to be influenced to a great extent by the Russian Narodnaya Volya.

The entire form of this [latter] organization was stamped by completely different social conditions from those influencing the Polish group. It grew in the soil of a weakly developed capitalistic society in which social existence was still largely controlled by agriculture and the remnants of the ancient Russian system of communal property. The socialist theory of the Narodnaya Volya did not rely on the city proletariat but rather on the owner – the peasant community. It did not strive for the realization and overcoming of capitalism; it sought only to hinder capitalist development. It did not search for success in the class struggle but rather in the efforts of a courageous minority to seize control of the state. If we consider subjective idealism[8] to be the basis of the historical views of the Narodnaya Volya, we see that its theory differs in all essential characteristics from the principles of the Proletariat Party.

To be sure, the Narodnaya Volya was not a perfectly unitary structure: Western influences and the beginnings of Marxist theory can be noted in several areas. Yet the political program of this party is not easily fixed. Only after serious thought and a thorough analysis of the periodic publications of this party can one arrive at a clear answer to the question of how the political action of the Narodnaya Volya may really be understood. Did it aim at the overthrow of personal rule and the calling-in of the Zemsky Sobor in order immediately to enact transitional measures of a socialist nature so as to strengthen the system of communal property which would serve as a future basis for the socialist society? Or did it want first to establish the usual constitutional rights? In its own time, as we shall see, there were those who interpreted the goals of the Narodnava Volya in the latter manner. However, if one is willing to take a fitting label from the history of Western European socialism, then the term “Blanquist” would undoubtedly be the best description of the political strategy of the Narodnaya Volya. Blanquism is a strategy which is determined, on the one hand, to win the trust of the mass of the people, and on the other hand, to seize power by means of a conspiratorial party which then institutes only those parts of the socialist program “which are possible.” This judgement of the Narodnaya Volya is precisely that of the Russian Social Democrats,[9] whose programmatic publications contain a wide and exhaustive critique of the historical Weltanschauung; and the economic theories of that party as well as of its political methods.

Considering their contrasting perspectives, the influence of the Narodnaya Volya on the Proletariat at first seems incomprehensible, and the uniting of such different elements appears as a near insoluble problem. While in its basic views the Proletariat Party was founded on common European-international bases, the Narodnaya Volya was a purely “home-made” Russian structure. The correct understanding of how and why these two completely different ideas nevertheless united is very important because of the decisive role played by this union in the history and final demise of the Proletariat Party.


There were three phases in the intellectual development of the founders of’ the Proletariat Party. The second of these, which had the most influence on the program of’ the Party, is closely tied to the activities of the brightest mind and most influential leader of Polish socialism at the time, Ludwik Waryinski.

The first phase lasted until about 1880. It was a time of theoretical fermentation, specially among the socialist émigrés in Switzerland. Its literary organ was the Równosć [Equality] of Geneva. The theory of scientific socialism its economics as well as its general critique of the bourgeois social order is, at bast to an extent, recognized in this periodical. However, concerning the application of this theory, the program of direct political action, the standpoint of the Równosć is not at all clear. Its views are enunciated in the so-called Brussels Program of 1878. After setting forth the economic and social foundations of socialist society in its first four points, this program declares that the realization of these principles should be the task of a “general and international revolution.” On this basis the program goes on, somewhat vaguely, to call for a “federal alliance with the socialists of all countries”. Concerning practical activity, the program contains only a fairly obscure declaration that “the foundation of our activity is the moral concurrence of the means with the end.” In a very general manner it names as the “means which contribute to the development of our party”: organization of the energy of the people, oral and written propaganda about the principles of socialism, and agitation, “that is, protests, demonstrations, and any sort of active struggle which is directed against the contemporary social order and which is in accord with our principles.” Finally, there is the allusion that, in view of the lack of success of legal means of struggle, this program can be fulfilled only “through a socialist revolution.”[10] Political demands, or any sort of call for direct action, are not to be found in this program.

Thus, the Równosć group does not differentiate between the three divisions of Poland. It applies its principles and actions in exactly the same manner in Galicia as in the Posen area or in Congress Poland. If, in fact, the socialists set up no special program designed to fit the conditions of a particular region but prefer to try to achieve the international socialist revolution through some “organization” of workers, then the various national-political conditions of the three divisions of Poland are of no significance and require no special procedures. Not only that the program of the Równosć could be applied just as well or poorly in England, France, or Germany as in the individual divided sections of Poland. The socialist political standpoint at that time becomes clear in only one aspect – in its rejection of nationalism, in its rigorous internationalist attitude. In the lead article of Równosć, “Patriotism and Socialism,” we re ad: “Of the patriotic parties there are still some small groups left which hold to the belief that they will once again raise the flag for the ’freedom of the fatherland,’ that they will plunge one last time into battle with the enemy, and that they will then see the dear fatherland once more! Let us respect every genuine feeling of these men, who yesterday were ready to offer everything, just as they are today. But we Polish socialists have nothing in common with them! Patriotism and socialism are two ideas which cannot be brought into accord.[11]

At an assembly in Geneva in November 1880, Ludwik Waryński stressed:

What differentiates our present meeting from so many previous ones is the way in which we relate to one another – we Polish socialists and you, our Russian comrades. We do not appear before you as champions of the future Polish state, as the oppressed subjects of the Russian state, but rather as representatives and defenders of the Polish proletariat in relation with you, the representatives of the Russian proletariat. The ideals of Slavic confederation, of which Bakunin dreamed, are entirely foreign to us. We are completely indifferent to these or those borders of the Polish state, which so excite our patriots. Our fatherland is the entire world. We are not the conspirators of the “thirties”, who seek out one another in order to increase our own numbers. We are not the fighters of 1863, who were bound together only by a mutual hatred of the Czar, and who lost their lives on the field of the nationalist struggle. We have no national enemies. We are countrymen, members of one great nation which is even more unfortunate than Poland, the nation of the proletariat.[12]

In even stronger language, the Równosć announced in a lead article: “We have broken once and for all with patriot programs; we want neither a feudal nor a democratic Poland and not only do we not want it, we are firmly convinced that the struggle for the restoration of Poland by the people today an absurd idea.”[13]

Excepting this strongly international attitude, which had, to be sure, a much more positive political significance in our land than in other countries, Polish socialism of the time, in ignoring the political struggle, showed an unconscious kinship with anarchism. We have no possibility today of determining what extent individual members of the Równosć group actually held anarchist views. But considering the quick transition to a more mature political position, one can assume that the anarchistic waverings were, more than anything else, a symptom of the multiplicity of opinions within the group.

In any case, it is characteristic of the views presented in the Równosć that the national-political conditions in any country could only present an obstacle to the international tendencies of socialism. The founding of separate socialist parties, as well as the political battles which are the results of particular national conditions, were recognized as only a necessary evil: “Our ideal remains an international union, and if the given political conditions of a wide international organization did not create obstacles, if they did not absorb a part of the socialist forces into the battle with the government, then the foundation of a common socialist organization would already be present in the economic conditions.”[14] What can be inferred from this is, at best, the fact that the organic connection of the economic relations with the governmental institutions was then, at least for several leaders of the Równosć group, a complete mystery. The basic teaching that every class struggle is by its very nature a political struggle also appears to have made no impression on the group’s leaders. This is logical in light of the fact that although the Równosć strove for the “ideal” of an international union, it did not understand that the collapse of such a union and the birth of individual labor parties in each state are necessary and progressive phenomena at a certain stage of the socialist struggle.

But, as we have already said, a decisive change took place in the program of the Polish socialists. In the summer of 1881, we can already see the transition to the second phase of development of the group’s program under the influence of Waryński. The program of the worker’s of Galicia in the first year of the magazine Przedświt [Dawn] shows us the ideas of the founders of the Proletariat already in full maturity, while the political character of the program also becomes completely clear. On the one hand, the international and anti-national standpoint is just as obvious as in the previous phase. Yet as Waryński’s group moved into the realm of practical political activity instead of continuing to spread hazy socialist propaganda, even its anti-nationalism assumed concrete and palpable forms and attained to a position of some importance in the overall political views of the group.

If, for example, in Waryński’s speech, the solidarity with the Russian revolutionaries and the negative evaluation of Polish nationalism seem only to stem from the international character of socialism’s final goal and this had been the view of the Równosć – then this same idea is developed by Przedświt explicitly as the basis of a minimal program, or more exactly, as a political strategy for socialists. Waryński’s critique of the social-political union Lud Polski [The Polish People], which became prominent in August 1881 with a proclamation announcing its program, is especially representative of the political position of Przedświt.

Other socialists of the Geneva group, Brzezinski, Jablonski, Padlewski, spoke against the above-mentioned proclamation because, among other things, “we see the goals of socialism not as far-off, ultimate goals (as does the proclamation of the Lud Polski) but rather as the only goals. Thus, while other socialists of the group were still completely unaware of the relationships between the final goals and the direct political program, Waryński writes with amazing clarity:

In the program of the Lud Polski, that which I have just discussed is not accidental; it is not simply an inaccuracy but an essential part of this program. In contrast to all other socialist party programs and in opposition to the theories of modern socialism, it places the problem of political-national liberation on a level with the common human task of socio-economic liberation. Such a coexistence of general with specific problems as is contained in this proclamation is only possible in a single program when the specific problem is treated as a minimal, short-term demand. Otherwise, it is completely unintelligible how such individual problems as alleviating political oppression in the various regions of Poland can be equated with social and economic liberation. In other words, a poor understanding is shown for the fact that liberation from socio-economic servitude also signifies a simultaneous emancipation of the individual and the group from material and moral oppression. Therefore, I view the removal of political-national oppression in the program of the Lud Polski as a poorly formulated “minimal program” and I must discuss it as such.

After Waryński has demolished the equation of a program of national liberation with the final goals of socialism in a few words, he analyzes the same postulate as an immediate task of the proletariat:

Without asking why the Lud Polski union formulates this mini mal program so vaguely, without asking why it does not clearly set this as an immediate goal of its efforts, I feel that the establishment of such a program for all three divisions of Poland, or for each separately, has only it negative effect on the work which the socialists must keep in mind as their practical duty.

The minimal program set up by the socialists assumes a day-to-day struggle with capital. Their goal is not a “national re birth” but the widening of the political rights of the proletariat in order to enhance the possibility of building mass organizations for the struggle with the bourgeoisie as a political and so cial class.

The “Program of the Labor Party of Galicia” was composed of similar stuff, although it was written not only for the Polish people but also for the various proletarian groups of those nations which had united themselves into one party in Galicia. This fact should serve as an answer to those who want to talk of the special conditions of development in our society. We also advise our socialist champions to think a bit more about this fact.

It is easy to see that in Posen the socialist movement will go the same way as in Galicia. There, too, the Polish and German workers will unite to form a strong organization which is not only conditioned by eternal relations, but in its content and its essence is founded on the principles of international solidarity ... We do not doubt that in Congress Poland, too, men who well understand the obligations of socialism and who are truly devoted to the cause of socialism will contribute to the development of the socialist movement in the same direction there.

We have tarried at this quotation because, as the reader with a thorough knowledge of modern socialist thought will recognize, it is a prime example of the Social Democratic creed. That which separates the Social Democratic position from those of other socialist movements is, above all, its conception of the transformation of the modern society into a socialist society. In other words, its conception of the relationship between the immediate tasks of socialism and its final goals.

From the standpoint of Social Democracy, which bases its views on the theory of scientific socialism, the transition to a socialist society can only be the result of a phase of development, of greater or lesser duration. This development, to be sure, does not preclude the necessity for the final conversion of society by means of a violent political overthrow, that is, by what is usually called revolution. However, this resolution is impossible if the bourgeois society has not previously passed through the necessary phases of development. This development must take place in the objective factor of the socialist overthrow, the capitalist society itself, as well as in the subjective factor, the working class.

Beginning with the principle of scientific socialism that the “liberation of the working class can only be achieved by the working class itself.” Social Democracy recognizes that only the working class as such can carry out the overthrow, that is, the revolution for the realization of the socialist transformation. By working class, it means the truly broad mass of the workers, above all the industrial proletariat. Thus a prerequisite for the conversion to socialism must be the conquest of political power by the working class and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, a necessary step for the institution of transitional measures.

But in order to be able to fulfill this task, the working masses must be fully aware of their goal and become a class-organized mass. On the other hand, the bourgeois society must have already reached a state of economic as well as political development which allows the introduction of socialist institutions. These prerequisites are dependent on one another and influence each other reciprocally. The working class cannot attain to any organization or consciousness without specific political conditions which allow an open class struggle, that is, without democratic institutions within the framework of the state. And conversely, the attaining of democratic institutions in the state and their spread into the working class is – at a certain historical moment, in a certain phase in the development of class antagonism – impossible without the active struggle of a conscious and organized proletariat.

The solution to this apparent paradox lies in the dialectical process of the class struggle of the proletariat fighting for democratic conditions in the state and at the same time organizing itself and gaining class consciousness. Because it gains this class consciousness and organizes itself in the course of the struggle, it achieves a democratization of the bourgeois state and, in the measure that it itself ripens, makes the bourgeois state ripe for a socialist revolution.

Elementary principles for the practical activity of Social Democracy depend on the above conception: the socialist struggle must be a mass struggle of the proletariat. It must be a daily struggle for the democratization of the institutions of the state, for the raising of the intellectual and material level of the working class, and at the same time, for the organization of the working masses into a particular political party which consciously sets itself against the entire bourgeois society in its struggle for a socialist revolution.

The appropriation of these principles to the Polish socialist movement and their application in this movement were extremely important and difficult tasks. In contrast to the nations of Western Europe, the situation of the socialists in Poland is complicated by, on the one hand, the three sorts of political conditions under which the Polish proletariat must live [in the three divisions of Poland] – this is especially true for the specific political conditions of the most important division of Poland, the Russian zone – and on the other hand, by the national question.

These important and difficult tasks were accomplished for the first time in the history of the Polish labor movement by Ludowik Waryński (as the above quotation has shown), who formulated the Social Democratic principles so clearly and precisely. Neither before nor during his time do we hear equally cogent statements from other Polish socialists.

Concerning the national question, Waryński rejects the rebuilding of Poland with the same decisiveness shown by the Równosć group; however, he places the solution of the problem on a completely different level. The Równosć group explained its negative position on nationalist tendencies as resulting from the contradiction of these tendencies with the international goals of socialism as sell as with the group’s own indifference to political work in general.[15] Waryński, on the other hand, rejects the nationalist program not because of the ultimate goals of socialism but because of the priority of immediate problems. He opposes the politics of the workers to the politics of the nationalism.

Since the goal of the day-to-day effort of the Proletariat Party is the organization and enlightenment of the working class, Waryński deduces that its political program can be neither that of the overthrow nor that of the establishment of states. Rather, its program must be the winning and widening of the political rights which are absolutely necessary for the organization of the masses within the bourgeois states in which they are active.

Waryński defines two principles of the Social Democratic political program for the Polish proletariat: 1) as the starting point for political action, the recognition of the existing historical and governmental situation as a given condition; 2) as the goal of this political action, the democratization of the given political conditions.

Thus if the negative conclusion deduced from these principles was the rejection of the program for the re-establishment of the Polish state, then the result would have to be the formulation of a Social Democratic program or better, three separate programs for the Polish proletariat. If the political conditions of each of the three divisions of Poland are viewed as decisive in determining the action to be taken by the proletariat, then it must be realized that a single program for all of the workers of the three parts of Poland is impossible, that the program and action must be different in each division, and yet that within each of these three zone’s, the program must be completely equally applied to all national groups.

Waryński expresses this in the aforementioned article in relation to the Posen area and to Galicia. This concept was first related to the Russian zone in a somewhat later document, which is the product of the most mature thinking of Waryński and his group during that middle phase of Polish socialism directly before the formal organization of the Proletarat Party. This document, an appeal (dated November 8, l881 to the Russian socialists by a group of former members of the Równosć group and the editorial staff of the socialist magazine Przedświt, was printed in the December 1, 1881), issue of Przedświt. The goal of this appeal was to convince the Russian socialists that they should work with their Polish comrades in formulating a common program. It was the boldest political consequence of Waryński’s principles. Not only the conclusion but also the way in which it is substantiated by Waryński’s characteristically clear and emphatic thinking are of such note that we do not hesitate to reproduce the entire final section of this document here.

After an interpretation of the significance of the political struggle in Russia and the historical decline in importance of the question of Poland, the appeal closes with the words:

We now summarize:

a)Socialism is here, as it is everywhere, an economic problem which has nothing in common with the national problem and which, in practice, takes on the form of the class struggle.

b) Guarantees for the progress of this struggle and the future victory of the proletariat in the social revolution are 1) the maximum development of the socialist consciousness of the working masses and 2) their organization as a class on the basis of their class interests.

c) Political freedom is necessary to the realization of these goals. The lack of this freedom places a mass organization of the workers of Russia before an enormous obstacle.

Further, in agreement with the conclusions reached in a discussion between the Równosć group and the Russian comrades during the previous year:

a) The character of the social-revolutionary organization is influenced solely by general economic interests and the political situation.

b) The organization of the socialist party can be accomplished, on the one hand, on the basis of economic conditions, and on the other hand, on the basis of the existing governmental-political conditions. In the latter case, the boundaries of nationality cannot serve as a foundation for the organization of the party.

c) It follows, therefore, that the socialist party of Poland cannot exist as a homogeneous unity. There can only be Polish socialist groups in Austria, Germany, and Russia, which form unions with the socialist organizations of other nationalities within the particular state. This does not, however, exclude the possibility of connections with one another and with still other socialist organizations.

Finally, the following should serve as a guideline:

a) The success of the terrorist struggle for political freedom in Russia is dependent on the collaboration of the organized work ing masses of different nationalities within the Russian state.

b) Emphasis on the Polish national-political problem can only harm the struggle for political freedom in Russia; nationalism can only operate to the disadvantage of the working class.

If we view everything said up to this point, we come to the following results:

I) The organizing of a common socialist party containing the socialist organizations of the various nationalities in the Russian state is an absolute necessity.

II) The welding together of groups previously fighting separately on the political and economic fronts is also absolutely essential to the intensification of united struggle.

III) The formulation of a political program which is common to all socialists active in Russia and which fulfills all of the above conditions is indispensable.

A glance is sufficient to assure us that we have here a document of extraordinary significance for the socialist movement in Poland. It is clear that the “Appeal of December 1881” formulates a political program which is, to a great degree, Social Democratic and completely identical with the ideas of the contemporary “Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania.”[16]

This is true not only for the general principles: the impossibility of a common program and common organization for the Polish socialists from all three divisions of Poland, and the indispensability of a common program and a common organization for the socialists under each divisional power. It is also true for the decisive rejection of a programs of independence for Poland. But most important, the appeal of the Przedświt and the old Równosć formulates for the first time a positive program of Social Democracy for the Russian zone: the winning of political freedoms, i.e., constitutional forms within Russia.

But that is not all. The attentive reader will notice that in the appeal itself, Waryński and his comrades presuppose that the Russian socialists set themselves the same goal. In the Appeal, they clearly mention the activity of the Narodnaya Volya. They speak, without a second thought, of the “terrorist struggle for political freedom in Russia” and view this terrorism on the part of the Russian party simple as a tactic in the struggle for the overthrow of the Czar and the establishment of democratic freedoms in the European sense. In addition, they attempt to found this view, as far as is possible, in Social Democratic theory when they declare that the terrorism of the Narodnaya Volya will only have political significance when it is supported by the conscious action of the organized working class throughout the state.

Doubtless, terrorism would not be viewed today by Social Democracy, Polish or Russian, as an appropriate and useful forms of struggle. The Social Democrats, enriched by the experiences of the Proletariat Party and the Narodnaya Volya, understand that terror cannot be combined with the mass struggle of the working class: instead, it only makes that struggle more difficult and dangerous. But Waryński and his comrades in the year 1881 could not have had this knowledge. They had to believe in the indispensability and usefulness of terrorism in Russia, for in that moment in which they appeared with their Appeal the terrorist party of Russia stood at the apex of its power and actually appeared to shake the very foundations of czarism.[17] We can a1so note precisely the same viewpoint in the basic publications of the Russian Social Democrats, who examined the entire theoretical and practical foundation of the Narodnalya Volya four years after Waryński had articulated his position.

Thus, the most striking fact here is not the recognition given terror itself but rather the fact that the appeal of the Polish socialists attempts to give terrorism both Social Democratic goals and a broad foundation in the class struggle.

To what extent this conception of the Russian socialism of the time corresponds to reality will be seen presently. There is, however, another side of the subject which is important. Waryński’s group, in developing their own program, arrived at a purely Social Democratic standpoint, and from this standpoint, they sought unity of program and action with the Russian socialists.

This moment is the high point in the development of the founders of the Proletariat, and also a turning point in their history. As soon as the last political consequences were drawn, Waryński and his comrades applied their program in practice to the formal organization of the Proletariat Party in Poland. This is the beginning of the third and last period of development for the Party.


The appeal to the Russian comrades shows that the Polish socialists at the end of 1881 had attained a Social Democratic position in the following two points: 1) the general principle that the political program of the Polish proletariat should be the same and common with the program of the proletariat of the occupying powers, and 2) the recognition of the fact that in the Russian zone, this program had to contain both the overthrow of personal rule the struggle for political freedom and a parliamentary-democratic form of government.

Although these two conclusions belong together and modify each other logically, they nevertheless came into contradiction as soon as the Polish socialists attempted to apply them in practice. The general Social Democratic principle led them to seek unity of program and action smith the Russian socialists. But Russian socialism of the time was in no way Social Democ racy Warynsk i’s group named the struggle for a constitution as an area suitable for common action; but this had absolutely no relevance to the program of the. The Polish socialists knew that the struggle against czarism could only be led by the organized masses of workers; but the Russian socialists carried out no mass agitation, and neither in theory nor in practice did they base themselves on the working cl ass. In reality, the Narodnaya Volya did not fight for “the widening of the political rights of the proletariat” or for the impose of “creating mass organizations for the struggle with the bourgeoisie” as Waryński, in the spirit of Social Democracy, had formulated the contents of a political program. The Nalodnaya Volya fought simply for the “seizure of power.” Its goal was the immediate establishment of some of the transitional forms of the socialist resolution. Yet in this seizure of power, the Narodnaya Volya did not depend on the actions of the class-conscious masses, on the organization and struggle of the industrial proletariat, but rather on the conspiratorial machinations of a “courageous minority ... Thus Waryński’s decisive principles had to lead to a conflict when they were applied in practice.

If the socialist movement in Russia at that time had stood firmly on a Social Democratic base as is today the case, with the exception of only a few organizations, then the principles of the founders of the Proletariat Party would have led, on the one hand, to a completely harmonious collaboration between Russian and Polish socialists and, on the other hand, to the flowering of a labor movement with a conscious Social Democratic character at the beginning of the eighties.

Since there was no Social Democratic movement in Russia at the time that the Proletariat Party was organized but only a conspiratorial party of Blanquist stamp, the Polish socialists found themselves in a dilemma. They could either forego unity of program and action with the Russian socialists in order to preserve their own Social Democratic program and take up the struggle for the overthrow of czarism in Poland by means of mass agitation and organization of the Polish workers; or they could reject their Social Democratic program with its idea of mass struggle and subordinate themselves to the methods of the Narodnaya Volya in order to follow their principle of unity of action with Russian socialism.

The resolution of this dilemma was decisive for the fate of Polish socialism for almost a decade; indeed, it was fatal. We do not hesitate, however, to recognize that the selection of the second alternative was all too natural and understandable under the prevailing conditions. In view of the fact that Russia itself had to be the decisive terrain of the Polish struggle against the ruling system of Russia; that Congress Poland came into question only secondarily; that the Narodnaya Volya far surpassed the Polish socialist party in both membership and political significance; and that while the Proletariat Party had scarcely been formed, the Narodnaya Volya had already gained a very important moral and political victory in the assassination attempt on the thirteenth of March, which seemed to affirm the program and strategy of the Narodnaya Volya before the eyes of the entire world – under all these circumstances, it is understandable that the Polish socialist organization had to try to join the Russian movement.

To what extent the Narodnaya Volya ruled the imagination of the time and what great hopes for a political overthrow in the near future it awoke, is witnessed by the words of F. Engels in 1894. Concerning this epoch in Russia, Engels says:

“At that time there were two governments in Russia, the government of the Czar and the government of the secret executive committee of the terrorist conspirators. The power of this secret ’associate’ government grew from day to day. The overthrow of czarism seemed to be imminent. A revolution in Russia had to rob the European counter-revolution of its strongest support, its greatest reserve army; and in the process it would give the political movement of the West a new and powerful momentum – and infinitely better operating conditions.”[18]

If sober researchers of social history such as Engels and Marx – for the above words also characterize the views and feelings of Marx at the time [i.e. in 1881] – rich in their own experiences from the revolutionary history of Europe, gave such clear directions for the evaluation of historical processes of development, if such researchers could so overestimate the results of the activities of the Narodnaya Volya, then it is no surprise that the Polish socialists, who stood in the middle of the arena of struggle from the first moment of their political activity, had to fall under the unbelievably strong influence of this party.

Thus, after Polish socialism, from its development in the spirit of West European Social Democracy, had drawn the political conclusion of the necessity of a union for common action with Russian socialism, the given concrete conditions had to lead it gradually into Blanquist paths. Its history is, from the moment of the formal organization of the party until its downfall at the end of the 1880’s, a continual turning toward Blanquism and away from the position which had been articulated in the Appeal of December 1881.

Naturally, it would be false to assume that the Polish socialists found themselves in a position in which they could actually make the conscious choice as discussed above. We have formulated these alternatives in order to provide an analysis of the real situation. Waryński’s group was, however, not so categorically aware of this real situation because the true nature of the Narodnaya Volya, and its contradiction with the position of Waryński and his comrades, was nowhere near so clear and could not be so easily defined in 1882 as was later possible with the help of facts and documents. In the Appeal of the Waryński group, we saw that there were many Social Democratic illusions about the activity of the Narodnaya Volya.[19] Besides this, among Polish socialists, as a careful reading of socialist literature of the time shows ( Równosć, Przedświt, and pamphlets there was none other than Waryński who could have been such an observant and capable Social Democrat as the Appeal would lead one to expect.

Thus, the spiritual union of the Proletariat with the Narodnaya Volya was accomplished not as the result of an earnest discussion of the socialist idea in Poland but rather as a natural outgrowth of the general situation. Further, since the history and physiognomy of a fairly small group, as the leading socialist organisation in Poland has been until now, in a period of only a few years is determined not only by great key ideas in a process of logical development but also by numerous accidental personal elements, the Proletariat, because of the unequal theoretical maturity of its individual founders, had to come under Russian influence all the sooner. Although the publications and activity of the Proletariat did not distinguish themselves by their unity, the removal of Waryński from the field of struggle following his arrest in the fall of 1883 was enough to send the movement hurtling into the morass of hopeless political conspiracy.

If we want to underline the difference between the Weltanschauung of Social Democrats and so-called Blanquism, we must above all show that Blanquism did not possess its own theory in the same sense that Social Democracy does, that is, a theory of the development of society toward socialism. In any case, that is not a specific characteristic of just this splinter party of socialism, since the theory of Marx and Engels is the first and, we might add, until now the only successful attempt to found socialist tendencies on the scientific concept of the laws of historical development in general and of capitalist society in particular. The previous utopian theories of socialism, if one can indeed speak of theories, limit themselves essentially to justifying socialist efforts through an analysis of the failings of the existing society in comparison to the perfection and moral superiority of the socialist order.

Because Blanquism, like all of these socialist schools, supported its views by negative criticism of the bourgeois society and of private property, it represented only a sort of strategy for practical activity. In this respect it betrayed its lineage from the radical revolutionaries of the great French Revolution and represented an application of Jacobin tactics to socialist goals, the first attempt at which was the conspiracy of Babeuf. The basic idea of this strategy is the limitless belief in the ability of political rule to carry out, at any time, any economic or social change in the social organism considered good and useful.

To be sure, the theory of scientific socialism also sees in political rule a lever for socialist overthrow. Yet, in the conception of Mars and Engels, the role of political power in revolutionary times is that of an “agent” which simply puts into practice the results of the inner development of society and finds its political expression in the class struggle. According to the well-known Marxian analogy, in revolutionary times political power plays the role of a “midwife” who accelerates and eases the birth of the new society which was already alive within the old. It follows that essential social changes by means of political power are only to be achieved at a specific stage of social development. Political power as an instrument of overthrow can only function in the hands of a social class which is, in the particular historical moment, the agent of the revolution. The aptitude of this class for the long-term control of political power is the only legitimization for the correctness of the revolution.

Inasmuch as Blanquism does not recognize this theory, or rather does not even know this theory, it treats political power as a tool of social overthrow completely outside the context of social development and the class struggle in general. This tool stands ready to serve anyone who happens to control it at any time. From this standpoint, the only conditions for revolution are the will of a resolute group and a conspiracy, whose goal is the seizure of power at the most propitious moment.

”Blanqui,” says Engels in his well-known article in the Volkstaat in the year 1874, “is essentially a political revolutionary socialist only in feeling – sympathizing with the sufferings of the people. He has neither a socialist theory nor specific practical suggestions for social aid. In his political activity, he was basically a ‘man of action,’ of the belief that a small, well-organized minority attempting a revolutionary coup at the proper moment can, by virtue of a few initial successes, sweep the mass of the people with it and thus make a victorious revolution. Since Blanqui conceived every revolution as a blow struck by a small revolutionary minority, the necessity of a dictatorship after the success of the venture follows directly – the dictatorship, of course, not of the entire revolutionary class, the proletariat, but rather of the small number of those who had ‘struck the revolutionary blow’ and who had been organized previously under the dictatorship of one or several others.”[20]

We see that the strategy of the Blanquists is aimed directly at the carrying out of a social revolution without taking into account any sort of transitional period or developmental phase. Blanquism is a recipe for the making of revolution under any conditions and at any time; it ignores all concrete historical-social conditions. Blanquism appeared as a universal strategy which could be applied to all countries with the same degree of success. But nowhere could the application of this method of action exercise so decisive an influence on the fate of socialism as under the conditions peculiar to czarism. The strategy of a sudden “leap” directly into social revolution had to influence fatally the political physiognomy of a party which worked within the framework of a state with an absolute-despotic form of government. Therefore, one can best follow the influence of Blanquism on the Polish socialists step by step in the gradual changing of their political views.

In September 1882, the official published program of the Proletariat Party had already distanced itself significantly both from the standpoint of the article by Waryński in Przedświt, No.3-4, and from the views of the Appeal to the Russian comrades. As we have already implied, this document sees the socialist future of Poland finding a foothold on the ground of scientific socialism and in the principles of the class struggle and historical materialism. The character of the actual program is, however, not so easily determined. Here there are three parallel sections, namely demands of the party “in the economic area,” “in the political area,” and “in the area of moral life.”[21]

If we ignore the last part as practically insignificant, then most noticeable in the first part is, on the one hand, the parallel formulation of the demands which form the content of the socialist revolution: “1) that the land and the means of production cease to be the property of the individual and become the common property of the workers, that is, the property of the socialist state, 2) that wage labor be converted into communal work, etc.”; on the other hand, the formulation of the political demands which, at first glance, have the content of parliamentary-democratic institutions designed for the bourgeois state: “1)complete autonomy of political groups, 2) the participation of all citizens in the making of laws, 3) direct election of all public officials, 4) complete freedom of speech, press, assembly, organizations etc. 5) completely equal rights for women, 6) completely equal rights for all religions and nationalities, 7) international solidarity as a guarantee of the common peace”.

It is almost impossible to say to what category this program actually belongs. Upon close examination, two different interpretations are possible. The political demands listed here, with the exception of the first, which is not entirely clear, remind one of the usual minimal program of Social Democratic parties. But just this placing of these demands as coordinates of the demands for a socialist revolution awakens the suspicion that they were not related to the actual bourgeois social order. At the same time, it is doubtful whether they were supposed to deal with the socialist society. since they take so strongly into account the actual social order based on inequality of classes, sexes, and nationalities. Perhaps we have here not a minimal program but a program which is aimed at the transitional period after the seizure of power by the proletariat, and which has as its goal the kindling of the socialist transformation.

The pattern of a similar program, which also puts political-democratic demands and socialist reforms on the same level and which aims directly for the transitional phase after the revolution, is found, for example, in the demands of the “Communist Party of Germany” formulated by the central committee of the Communist League in Paris in 1848, and carrying, among others, the signatures of Marx and Engels.[22]

One must nevertheless emphasize that the above program by the creators of the Communist Manifesto, contains no trace of Blanquist strategy as is claimed, for example, by Eduard Bernstein among others. In order to undertake the setting of prices, need only be aware that Marx and Engels formulated it under the fresh influence of the February Revolution in France and the outbreak of the March Resolution in Germany. It is well known that both overestimated the revolutionary momentum of the bourgeoisie and calculated that the European bourgeoisie, once they were swept into the whirl of the revolutionary movement, would – over either a short or a long period – run through the entire cycle of their power, that they would re-make the political relations of the capitalist countries “in their own image,” following which the surge of revolution should itself carry the petty bourgeoisie into their place and then finally the proletariat. In this way, the proletariat could follow directly on the heels of the bourgeois revolution in order to carry out its revolutionary task of the emancipation of all classes.

Today, rich in historical experience, we are in a position to recognize the utter optimism of this view. We know that the European bourgeoisie began their retreat immediately after the first revolutionary storm; and after they had suppressed their own revolution, they brought society onto its “normal” course, and once again under their control. We know also that the economic conditions in the Europe of 1848 were very distant from that degree of maturity which is necessary for a socialist revolution. Capitalism was not preparing itself for death but, on the contrary, for the true beginning of its rule. The phase which seemed to separate the communists of 1848 by only a few years from the dictatorship of the proletariat has broadened to an epoch that has lasted half a century and, even today, has not arrived at its conclusion.

The reason, however, which led Marx and Engels to set forth such a program of action based on the workers’ revolution was not the desire or hope of skipping the phase of bourgeois control but only an inaccurate estimation of the actual rate of social development under the influence of the revolution. Under the conditions of activity of the Proletariat Party, it is difficult to find analogous circumstances which could explain the program of the Polish party. If we want to attribute to its demands the character of a program appropriate to the transitional stage, then the only assumption which we can still make is that the Proletariat had already assumed a Blanquist position, at least to some degree.

It must, however, be noted that, outside of this confusion of final goals with immediate goals, the program of the Proletariat as a whole is saturated with the spirit of the Social Democratic philosophy. This is proved by the influence of the idea that the socialist revolution can only be completed by the working class, that only the mass struggle, the organization of the proletariat and its enlightenment can bring about the conditions necessary for the future society. The idea of agitation and of the organization of the masses is the leitmotif of the entire program and makes clear that the Party was then preparing itself for a long period of work on the basis of the daily interests of the proletariat.

A few sections of the program in which the Proletariat views political freedom as the prerequisite for organization and mass struggle also point in this direction. This evokes the formulations of Waryński in the Przedświt of the previous year. “We disapprove strongly,” we read in the program, “of the lack of freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, of assembly, of organization, and of the press – because all of this impedes the development of the workers’ consciousness. It awakens a religious-national hatred and fanaticism. It renders impossible the propaganda and mass organization which alone can lay the cornerstone for the future organization of the socialist society.” And somewhat further: “We will fight on against oppression both defensively and offensively. Defensively, insofar as we will allow no changes for the worse; offensively, insofar as we demand an improvement of the living conditions of the proletariat in the Russian state.”

If, in spite of this, we do not find a clear and categorical articulation of the struggle against czarism and for democratic freedoms in the program – a certain indecisiveness and wavering of political values predominates – still this program and the bases of its positive views show absolutely no Blanquism. The only fact which can be determined on the basis of this document is that the position of the Polish socialists had already lost much of that crystalline clarity which so characterized it in the documents of the Geneva group which we analyzed. Nevertheless, one must bear in mind that the program of 1882 is the work of the Warsaw group working in the homeland and that Waryński, after he had moved his activity into the Russian zone, probably had to depend much more on the comrades there, who stood under the influence of the Russians much more directly than did the Polish emigrants in Switzerland. But if the character of the official program of the Proletariat Party is most distinctive in its unclarity, still the further forms of its activity allow no more doubt about the growing influence of Blanquism. If we now look over the entire development of the Proletariat, we shall have to characterize the program of 1882 as a transitional phenomenon which, through its very lack of clarity, reflects the turning point between the Social Democratic and the Blanquist phases in the development of Polish socialism.


In the preceding section we investigated deductively the transition of the party founded by Waryński and his comrades from a Social Democratic to a Blanquist standpoint. This transition was viewed as the logical result of the application of the Party’s guiding principle – namely, common action with Russian socialism – under the given conditions.

This conclusion is palpably confirmed by an analysis of the documents from the activity of the Proletariat. These show how the Polish socialists literally took over the views and tactics of the Narodnaya Volya at every new approach to that party. This process can be precisely observed chronologically. For example, the first document of 1883 – only a few months after the Appeal of the Workers’ Committee, the formal program of the Proletariat – is representative in this respect. We are thinking of the resolution which was approved by the “Congress of Representatives of Several Social-Revolutionary Groups,” which made the first step toward mutual contact and toward the construction of a rigidly organized social-revolutionary party. Admittedly, this document does not make clear which “social-revolutionary groups” are meant, nor does it bear the official signature of the Proletariat Party. Yet its very publication in the “official section” of the Przedświt as well as its general political tendency – i.e., agreement with the views of Waryński and his comrades – leaves no doubt that we are confronted with the ideological views of a group of the Proletariat’s most influential activists, if not with those of the whole Party or its leaders. We shall not stress the practical importance of these resolutions here, although they later appear in various publications as the foundation of the confidential agreement with the Narodnaya Volya. Rather, we wish to view them simple as symptomatic of the mood of the Polish socialists shortly after the Party’s founding.

The resolutions, whose guiding principle, just as in the Appeal to the Russian Socialist Comrades, is the formation of a single party with a common program for the Russian state, begins with the characteristic question: “Should a particular Polish-Lithuanian-White Russian revolutionary party be formed?”

Unanimously: No! On the contrary, the Polish, Lithuanian, and White Russian groups should join a unified party which is active within the borders of the Russian state.

What should be the activities of this party?

The activity should be concerned with two areas: first, social-revolutionary propaganda and agitation; second, the struggle with the Russian government at its center.

If the end of the last sentence – which is aimed at the activity of the Narodnaya Volya – betrays the conspiratorial position with regard to political struggle, then the following paragraph is still more characteristic.

Political agitation may be regarded as sensible only when political oppression goes hand in hand with economic oppression. If, for example, the government placed itself on the side of the propertied class, then the struggle with the latter would be at the same time a struggle with the government. It, on the other hand, the government depends on no social class and yet through its pressure hinders the work of the social-revolutionary party, then it should – and this is quite possible – be overthrown by a conspiracy. In addition, the close cooperation of the masses of the people on the basis of the antagonism between their interests and the interests of the propertied classes is an indispensable condition for the further progress of the revolution.[23]

Anyone who is familiar with the theories of Russian socialists will immediately recognize here an echo of the views of the Narodnaya Volya, which, for its part, had inherited them from the Bakuninists.

As early as 1874 the editor of Nabat, Tkachev, who was one of the first Russian Blanquists, formulated the theory that the czarist government was “based on no particular social class” and that it therefore “could and should” be overthrown. Tkachev announced that “this state appears to be a power only from a distance ... It has no roots in the economic life of the people, it does not personify the interests of any particular class ... [In Germany and the West – R.L.] the state is not a fictitious power. It stands with both feet on the foundation of capital and personifies certain economic interests [In Russia – R.L.] the situation is exactly the opposite: the existence of our social system is due to the state [...] which itself has nothing in common with the present social order. It has its roots not in the present, but in the past.”[24]

This theory of a Russian state which “floated on air” formed only a part of the larger theory of Russia’s “independent” development, which dominated the conceptions of the Russian socialists during the seventies and eighties. Economically, this theory was represented by the conclusion that capitalism in Russia was an “artificial flower” which had been “transplanted” into Russian soil by the Russian government, and by the conviction that the system of rural communal property was the proper form for the Russian political economy.

Naturally the connection between the economic relations of a society and its political system had become completely confused. The economic relations, insofar as these were considered in their capitalist form, were viewed by this theory as the arbitrary product of political power. On the other hand, according to the theory of the Narodnaya Volya, czarism stood in marked opposition to rural communal property, this natural form of political economy. The only logical answer to the question “On what does the Russian state base its existence?” was that the Russian state “floats on air” or, as it is more precisely formulated in the program of the executive committee of the Narodnaya Volya: “This governmental-bourgeois tumor maintains itself solely by means of naked force.”[25]

After the entire extant political system of Russia had been, in this way, traced back to pure political power, it was a logical deduction that the removal of this system could only be a question of power. Thus it was decided that the almighty government “can and should be easily overthrown by conspiracy.”

Already in 1874, Friedrich Engels had refuted this train of thought, as he immediately and with extreme profundity pointed out the weak aspects of the theory of the Russian Narodniki. He demonstrated that the Russian state did not “float on air” at all, but rather that it leaned very heavily on the class of noble landholders while also depending on the developing bourgeoisie. He showed that it was those Russian socialists who did not recognize the material bases of the czarist government who were actually “floating on air.” Engels also pointed out that the Russian Obshchina [peasant commune D.H.] which the “independent” Russian socialists saw as a basis for socialism in Russia’s near future, was a suitable basis, not for a socialist order, but for the Oriental despotism of Russian czarism. He also noted the signs of decay within the Obshchina and prophesied its further dissolution, if left on its own, under the influence of the steadily growing bourgeoisie.

In a word, although Engels did not point out the positive tasks of the Russian socialists and did not take into consideration the future actions of the industrial proletariat in Russia, he did destroy the fantastic concept of the “floating on air,” “independent” path to socialism in Russia. At the same time, he explained that people like Tkachev and other socialist Narodniki who think that Russia is closer to socialism than the western countries because “since Russia has no proletariat, she also has no bourgeoisie,” still “have to learn the ABC’s of socialism.”[26]

In effect, the ABC’s of socialism, namely Marxian socialism, teach that the socialist order is not some sort of poetic ideal society, thought out in advance, which may be reached by various paths in various more or less imaginative ways. Rather, socialism is simply the historical tendency of the class struggle of the proletariat in the capitalist society against the class rule of the bourgeoisie. Outside of this struggle between two completely discrete social classes, socialism cannot be realized ‑ neither through the propaganda of the most ingenious creator of a socialist utopia nor through peasant wars or revolutionary conspiracies. The Polish Socialists, as we saw, based their formal program on the basic principles and wanted to center their activities on the class struggle of the proletariat. Essentially however, they failed the ABC’s of socialism in the above-cited document as badly as the Russian Narodniki.

As soon as our revolutionaries took over the view of the Russian Narodniki that the Russian state was not tied to any social class, was “floating on air,” and that this state could therefore easily be overthrown by a conspiracy, they artificially separated their political struggle from the rest of their socialist activities. They separated the struggle with the government, which they viewed as the particular task of the conspirators’ party, from socialist agitation and the class struggle, which they saw as the task of the working class in Poland. This conception conforms to the categorical division of the tasks of the party into 1) “propaganda and social-revolutionary agitation” and 2) “struggle with the government at its center,” as stated in the cited resolutions.

We mentioned previously that it is a characteristic of Blanquism that it views political power as the means for a social transformation, independent of both social development and the class struggle. Although the Polish socialists did not accept this theory in its common form indeed, as we have already seen, they worked consciously and with great conviction from the standpoint that “the liberation of the working class can only be accomplished by the working class itself” – they did, in fact, assume a Blanquist stance when they unconsciously but factually accepted the views of the Narodniki about the Russian state. The hope for the possibility of carrying out a socialist overthrow directly, without going through the bourgeois-parliamentary phase, had to be the logical result of their position.

Actually the Party publications show this development in their perspective very early. In the Polish magazine Proletariat five numbers of which were published on a secret printing press between September 1883 and May 1881 a characteristically (for conspiratorial socialism and anarchism) ironic sarcasm toward the “bourgeois freedom” of liberalism is apparent. While the second number of Proletariat contains the satirical poem A Liberal Hymn to the Year 1880 in Expectation of a Constitution we find in the lead article of the same edition the following original viewpoint concerning the advantages of the “new slogan” which had just been adopted by the Party:

The struggle, which has already begun, has still a third advantage: it throws the bourgeoisie into the arms of the government with the hope that the government’s almighty support can save them from the enemy who is trying to destroy their privileges. The struggle welds these two elements even tighter and makes them a single enemy of the working class no longer hidden behind a mask of empty phrases.

At first glance it is puzzling how, in the earliest stages of the socialist movement where even the most elementary democratic freedoms are non-existent, the growing reaction of the bourgeoisie can be viewed as a favorable development. When the bourgeoisie throws itself into the arms of the government, it prolongs the existence of czarism and at the same time fortifies all of those things which, in the words of the program of the Proletariat, “impede the development of the workers’ consciousness, which make impossible the propaganda and mass organization necessary for laying a foundation for the future construction of a socialist order..”

But the standpoint of the program of 1882 was, as we have seen, no longer that of the Party in 1883, and the position from which the Party evaluated political phenomena was now completely different:

It [the reaction of the bourgeoisie – R.L.] does of course make the struggle more difficult at first in that it alienates large circles of neutrals and even many of those who are actually dissatisfied with the government. It does, however, create firmer foundations for the struggle. It gives the struggle a direction and thereby prevents that seduction of the masses by the ruling classes which was either possible or actually practiced until the outbreak of the struggle. At the same time it guards against an adulteration of the revolutionary movement.

The standard for the evaluation of political conditions is here no longer the indispensability of gradual organization of the masses, i.e., the requirements of the daily struggle, but rather the regard for the moment of “outbreak,” the immediate preparation of the social revolution.

This view of the situation of socialism in Poland coincides harmoniously with the Proletariat’s view of the situation in Russia and of the activity of the Narodnaya Volya. As a result of the terrorist attacks of the latter, “a high opinion of the strength of the revolutionaries is formed by the people so that they must finally begin to ask themselves whether it might not be better to align themselves with the revolutionaries, whether these would not return the lands, forests, and pastures to the people. It is up to the revolutionaries to say ‘yes’ to the people, and the fate of the revolution is decided.”[27]

”Indeed,” one must remark with Engels, “an easier and more pleasant revolution could not be imagined.” No longer is there discussion about the preparatory work of enlightenment and organization of the working class. On the contrary, one postulates that the mass of the people have an inherent inclination toward change in the social order. From this viewpoint, all the partial changes within the existing system of government, such as democratization of the state, naturally appear to be insignificant trivialities and a waste of time. In the third number of October 20, 1883, we see the following declaration in the article “We and the Bourgeoisie”:

The masses [of working people – R.L.] recognize their inability to carry out a coup – they are looking for men whom they can trust, to whom they can entrust their leadership. Until then, they remain silent. Who if not us could and should win this trust! However, in order to win it, we must show by our deeds that we are the enemies of their tyrants, that we do not shrinkfrom the battle which we are today carrying on in their behalf, that we are trying to give to the masses that which belongs to them, and that only therefore do we reject that game of the bourgeois parliaments in which an unenlightened majority gives the decision about the overthrow into the hands of its enemies. Thus, it seems to us that an energetic provisional government – made up solely of socialists – is the best guarantee of as complete a transfer of property to the working class as is possible.

That is a classic statement of belief in the Blanquist spirit – the contrasting of a “provisional government of socialists” with the “game of the bourgeois parliaments”in which the political program in its actual significance is fully ignored.

In the same vein, the manifesto of the French Blanquists, published in 1874 in London, announces, “We are communists because we want to arrive at our goals without having to stop at intermediate stages, at compromises, which only delay victory and prolong slavery ...”[28]

In his critique of this manifesto (which bore the signatures of thirty-three Blanquists), Friedrich Engels stated,

The German communists are communists because they see and strive toward their final goal through all of those intermediate stages and compromises which are created not by themselves, but by historical development. That final goal is the abolition of classes and the construction of a society in which private ownership of land and the means of production no longer exist. “These thirty-three are communists because they imagine that if they only have the good will to skip over all the, intermediate stages and compromises, they can. And if, as is of course certain, things “break loose” tomorrow and they come to power, why then by the day after tomorrow “communism will have been established.” If that is not immediately possible, then they are not communists. Such childish naïveté, citing impatience as a theoretically convincing argument!

The fourth number of Proletariat shows certain variations with respect to a return to Social Democratic views. In the articles We and the Government, we read

However, until the final phase of struggle our movement will have to pass through various stages. One of the maw tasks of our preparatory work is the struggle against the attacks of governments which, representing the interests of the bourgeoisie, persecute us, i.e., we must defend political freedom from this base conspiracy against the desires of the people. Yet political freedom has not protected the people from oppression: we value it for another reason: In order to be successful, our activity needs daylight in which it can develop wide and free. Only when forced to does it become a secret conspiracy. Under conditions of political freedom, an effect on the masses is achieved more easily, their consciousness is more quickly awakened, they gather more quickly around the banner of the social idea, and their organization becomes possible to a very high degree. The struggle with the political difficulties set before us by governments must be especially tenacious where political oppression rules in its primal and most shameless form, where complete arbitrariness governs, where the most primitive human rights are totally ignored. Here, the overthrow of the government must be one of the main points of the socialist program of action.

On the basis of the above quotation, it could appear that the Proletariat Party did understand the necessity of winning political freedoms before the “outbreak” in order to make agitation and organization possible in greater measure. But here too the strongly one-sided and flat, formalistic evaluation of political freedoms merely as technical aids for the activities of the socialists is obvious. The objective, historical side of the parliamentary-bourgeois forms of government as an indispensable stage in the development of the capitalist society is totally ignored. Since parliamentary democracy is viewed only as an external means of facilitating preparations for the “outbreak.” the logical conclusion that the struggle for the realization of democratic forms is a necessary and primary task of the working class is not needed. On the contrary, the view remains that the winning of these freedoms is, to be sure, a pleasant development which cannot be rejected, but which, if necessary, call be foregone.

These are essentially the conclusions which the Proletariat draws in the second part of the article “We and the government”, which appeared in the fifth and last number of its Warsaw magazine:

Should the government – having been frightened by the progress of our revolutionary work – approach our more or less patriotic bourgeoisie and make a few political-national concessions to it in order to bring it into a common struggle against us – well, please do. We will certainly not protest against such concessions. But we will make an effort to use all of that which was done for the bourgeoisie against it and the government.

An even clearer representation of this pure Blanquist conception of political freedoms appears in the closing section of the same article, where conclusions are drawn from the two fundamental articles:

“We conclude: The present state has a single basic significance for us. Since the state ties its existence closely to the maintenance of the existing economic system, it defends the privileged classes and oppresses and persecutes the parties which strive for social liberation. Destroying the governmental apparatus simply means toppling the barrier which stands between us and our goal ...”

The discussion here is no longer about despotic government but about the “present state.” Thus, the peculiarly Russian form of government is identified with the institution of the class state as such. Therefore, the task of the socialist party is not primarily the progressive reform of governmental institutions but rather the “destruction of the governmental apparatus,” i.e., the direct overthrow of the government which, since it is based on class rule, is a fortress of the bourgeois system of domination.

Finally, in 1884, after Ludwik Waryński had been arrested and had disappeared from the field of battle, the development in political thought criticized here appears in full regalia in the most important document of the Party’s history, the formal agreement with the Narodnaya Volya. This contract which, as usual, officially recognizes the connections between the Polish and Russian socialist movements only long after they had actually been established, is an excellent counterpart to the earlier Appeal to the Russian Comrades. It shows the long path of political change which Polish socialism covered in the short period between the end of 1881 and the beginning of 1884.

In the report of the central committee of the Proletariat to the executive committee of the Narodnaya Volya, we find the declaration that the

fighting units [of the Proletariat Party – R.L.] which have been trained and organized for battle should be deployed at the proper moment as reinforcements to aid in the overthrow of the existing government and the seizure of power by the central committee. The central committee itself will be based upon the masses, since it will be the only true representative of their interests, and will institute a series of economic and political reforms through which the existing concepts of property will be forever discredited. The central committee will carry out that part of the socialist program whose realization at the moment of overthrow is possible.[29]

Here the “overthrow of the existing government” (pravitelstvo), i.e., czarism, is obviously conceived as the direct prelude to social revolution. The struggle against despotism completely loses its character as a daily struggle on the soil of bourgeois social order. The distance between the minimal demands and the final goal, between the political program and the program of socialist overthrow, disappears and the daily activity becomes mere speculation about the impending “outbreak” which will immediately usher in the social transformation.

In accord with this, the central committee discusses the details of the “outbreak,” promises not to begin the “overthrow of the state” (gosudarstvjennyi perevorod) until the signal from the executive committee of the Narodnaya Volya, reserves for itself independence “in its creative work” after the overthrow, etc.

Enough. We have here, despite the views on class struggle, mass action, etc., which are stressed in other parts of the document, a typical Blanquist program. Thus, this document,which crowns the practical realization of that idea which was expressed in the Appeal to the Russian Comrades, is also the end point of a series of gradual changes within Polish socialism.

[1] These four militants were leaders of the Proletariat Paris who were hanged on January 28, 1886, as part of the government’s reprisals for a series of assassination attempts in Poland. Kunicki was second-in-command of the Party: it was he who signed the tactical agreement to work with the Narodnaya Volya, of which Rosa Luxemburg speaks below.

[2] Rosa Luxemburg was, despite this passage, a great believer in the importance of the traditions of the working class and its revolutionary development. The importance of tradition, the importance of history and of historical consciousness runs like a red thread throughout her life and work. Cf., for example, the great stress which she placed on the May Day celebration, and the stress on the history of the labor movement in the debate concerning the Party School, as well as the next paragraphs here.

[3] In 1863 the Polish nobility rebelled against its czarist master, attempting to win the oppressed serfs to its side with arguments showing that the Czar was responsible for their misery The rebellion was defeated. To prevent the nobility from future demagogic appeals to the serfs, the Czar abolished the institution of serfdom in Poland. This signified the end of the feudal-natural economy, and led to the development of Polish capitalism. This was especially the case in Congress Poland, the Russian-controlled sector of what had been the nation Poland, where Rosa Luxemburg was born.

[4] The theory of “organic work” developed in Poland among a segment of the rising bourgeoisie after the failure of the 1863 rebellion. Through “organic work” it was hoped that Polish economic development would be furthered

[5] Z Pola Walki (Geneva: Verlag “Walka klas.” 1886) p.27. (R.L.)

[6] Ibid., p.29. (R.L.)

[7] Ibid., p.32. (R.L.)

[8] The reference is to a common tendency among radical movements to divide “truth” from “reality” in an undialectical manner and to use the former as a measuring rod to criticize the latter. The origin of the term is in Kant’s “critical” philosophy methodologically, however, it characterizes the utopian current of socialist thought which was particularly strong in Russia at the time. In Social Reform or Revolution, Bernstein’s rejection of Marxism is shown to lead to an idealism of the will. Marxism is not an “idealism” in this sense because it shows dialectically how the seeds of the socialist future are contained already in the capitalist present.

[9] That is, the party of Plekhanov, Lenin, Trotsky, Martov, etc.

[10] All citations are from Równosć, Year I, No.I (October 1879). (R.L.)

[11] Równosć , Year I, No.2 (November 1879). (R.L.)

[12] Report of the International Assembly Called on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the November Rebellion (Geneva 1881), pp.77 and 83. (R.L.)

[13] Równosć, Year II, No. I (November 1880). (R.L.)

[14] Równosć, Year II, No.3-4 (January-February 1881). (R.L.)

[15] In this regard, the following part of an article by K. Dtuski, Patriotism and Socialism, is characteristic: the idea of socialism is greater and more inclusive than the idea of patriotism. It begins in the domain of political relations in which patriotism lies and, basing itself on economic grounds, demands the transformation of social relations. In this, it regards economic conditions only as the background on which all other relations and interests are grouped, which are bound up with the lives of whole societies as well as individual men.” Równosć, Year I, No.2, November 1879). (R.L.)

[16] That is, the party of which Rosa Luxemburg was one of the founders and leaders, and in whose paper this article appeared.

[17] On March 13, 1881, the series of terrorist actions of Narodnaya Volya culminated in the slaying of the Czar Alexander II. Cf. Engels opinion of the power of Narodnaya Volya, see below.

[18] Friedrich Engels, Internationales aus dem Volksstaat, Soziales aus Russland (Berlin 1894), p.69. (R.L.)

[19] This can be seen in the following statements of the Równosć concerning the attack of March 13, 1881, on Alexander II. The Równosć analyzed the program of the Narodnaya Volya. and attributed to it “a moderate demand for a constitutional monarchy”. According to the Równosć, the authors of the March 13 attack wanted no more than concessions. “We want changes in the political form of the present regime that is what the Narodnaya Volya [also] wants.” Równosć, Year II, No.5-6 (March-April 1881). R.L.)

[20] Internationales aus dem Volksstaat, pp.41-42. (R.L.)

[21] Z Pola Walki, pp.30-31. Also, Przedświt, Year II No.4 (October 1882). (R.L.)

[22] The most important demands are: 1) All Germany shall be united into an indivisible Republic; 4) General arming of the people; 11) All means of transportation: trains, canals, steamboats, highways, the post office. etc., shall be taken over by the state. They shall become the property of the state, and shall be put (gratis) at the disposal of the poorer class; 12) Creation of state workshops. The state guarantees the subsistence of all workers, and cares for those incapable of working; 17) Universal, free education. (R.L.)

[23] Przedświt, II, No.17, May 14, 1883). The editorial staff of Przedświt adds the proviso to the above resolutions that it is not in complete agreement with all the views expressed in these resolutions. For us, however, the views of the activists working in Poland at the time are of primary importance. Besides, the editorial staff does not list the points on which its views differ from those expressed in the resolutions so that a basis for any sort of conclusion about its standpoint is non-existent. (R.L.)

[24] Cited in Internationales aus dem Volksstaat, Soziales aus Russland, p.50. From An Open Letter to Friedrich Engels, which appeared in German in Zurich. (R.L.)

[25] Kalendar Narodnoj Woli, p.5. (R.L.)

[26] Internationales aus dem Volksstaat, Soziales aus Russland, p.50. (R.L.)

[27] Proletariat, No.2 (October 1, 1883). From Russia. (R.L.)

[28] Internationales aus dem Volksstaat. Zwei Flüchtlingskundgebungen, p.45. (R.L.)

[29] Westnik Narodnoj Woli, No.4, 1885, p.242. (R.L.)

Last unpdated on: 13 February 2012