Wiktor Marzec. Rebelia i reakcja: Rewolucja 1905 roku i plebejskie doświadczenie polityczne. Łódź: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego, 2016. 524 pp. 49.90 PLN (paper), ISBN 978-83-242-3001-3.
Reviewed by Robert E. Blobaum (West Virginia University)
Published on H-Poland (May, 2019)
Commissioned by Anna Muller (University of Michigan - Dearborn)
“The history of societies is also the history of class struggles,” claims Wiktor Marzec in the introduction to his extensive analysis of the Revolution of 1905 in the Russian-ruled Polish Kingdom. “Our present, with universal suffrage, the theoretical foundation at least for political equality and access to a certain range of social services and defense against the more powerful, is the effect of millennial social struggles in the name of a better tomorrow,” he continues. “The Revolution of 1905-1907 was an episode in this struggle, one of several attempts in Polish history of mass attempts at democratization from below” (pp. 14-15, all translations by me). By the end of this book, however, this neo-Marxist future is not realized in the dialectical struggle of “plebian rebellion” and the reaction of elites to the “political intrusion of the masses into the public sphere,” but a new political order in which the exclusive, xenophobic, nationalist project of Roman Dnowski’s National Democratic Party (Endecja) emerges victorious (p. 29).
Marzec’s book is the product of a fertile mind, so fertile in fact that it struggles to define itself, settling in the end for a hybrid between “popular intellectual history” and a “historical sociology of the political” (p. 46). During Poland’s communist era, the Revolution of 1905 received a great deal of attention, at first because of its place in the communist heritage itself, then later as a field ripe for legitimate social and labor history of the kind produced by the late Anna Żarnowska and Władysław Lech Karwacki. Regime change in 1989 led to a backlash against studies “tainted” by Marxism and against social history and its offshoots more generally, leaving to scholars outside of Poland, including Scott Ury (Barricades and Banners: The Revolution of 1905 and the Transformation of Warsaw Jewry ) and me (Rewolucja: Russian Poland, 1904-1907 ), continued research on 1905 and the larger significance of the transformation of Polish and Jewish political culture that accompanied it. Marzec convincingly challenges my earlier overemphasis on the role of the tsarist regime at the expense of the Endecja’s “nationalistic reconstruction of the [political] community” and takes issue with, but does not necessarily disprove, our interpretation of the relationship between democratization and the rise of modern political antisemitism (p. 35).
Marzec places his own study within a trend of “revisionist works reinterpreting the events or processes of Polish history” against the “old school” of Polish historiography, including the “Warsaw-centric” studies of the intelligentsia before and after 1989 at Warsaw University and especially the Warsaw branch of the Polish Academy of Sciences, which would come as a surprise to the intellectual heirs of the late Jerzy Jedlicki (p. 39). In contrast to this “Warsaw school” and its diminution of social and labor history, Marzec sees himself as part of a new “Łódź school” of studies of modernity, popular culture, and class. These dichotomies are clearly overdrawn; some fine social and cultural histories since 1989 have also come from scholars based in the same Warsaw institutions housing historians of the intelligentsia as well as others outside of Łódź, even if their points of emphasis have not necessarily been on the urban industrial working class of the revolutionary era.
That said, Marzec has nonetheless produced a major contribution to our understanding of how the 1905 revolution in the cities became the defining moment in a profound reconfiguration of Polish political culture with a legacy that stretches well into the present. He divides his study into three interrelated parts replete with long though relevant theoretical discussions along the way: “Rebellion,” “Revolution,” and “Reaction.” The first part focuses on the emergence of a “proletarian public sphere” and the insistent “political subjectivity” of industrial workers, beginning with assertions of a new “self-esteem” coming out of the relatively successful January general strike of 1905 and subsequently expressed in the street, factory, mass meeting, workers’ autobiographical writings, and an “imagined community” (à la Benedict Anderson) of industrial labor constructed by the socialist press. “Revolution,” surprisingly the shortest of the three parts, discusses the transformation of the “political field” through the crystallization of competing political identities that emerged out of the “negative unity” in relation to the Russian autocracy during the January general strike. The dynamic of divisions between and within the socialist parties and the appearance in the summer of 1905 of the Endecja-sponsored Narodowy Związek Robotniczy (NZR, or National Workers Union) are featured here, with emphasis on the latter as the key moment in the polarization of political discourse. By that time the National Democrats had recognized their own weaknesses in the arena of urban mass politics heretofore monopolized by the socialist parties and used the NZR to address this political liability.
“Reaction” is then measured in the Endecja’s positioning itself to profit from concessions contained in the October Manifesto and especially Duma elections, and by its gains during the counteroffensive against labor conducted by industrialists ending in the Great Łódź Lockout of 1906-7, which featured civil war conditions of murderous paramilitary violence and coincided with tsarist pacification of the revolutionary movement. However, Marzec is less interested in the historical reconstruction of these developments than in the transformation of nationalist political discourse from its radical, democratic, and populist origins to one characterized by elitism, fear, and disdain of the “masses” who had to be controlled in a hierarchical, disciplined, and authoritarian national order. He views this development not so much as one sparked by revolution but as earlier tendencies culminating in it, thus making the revolutionary era the turning point for the crystallization of ideological pathways and political practices that will shape Poland’s future. For this reason, half of the “Reaction” section is devoted to an intellectual history of National Democratic thinking up to 1905.
This ground has been well covered by Brian Porter (When Nationalism Learned to Hate: Imagining Modern Politics in Nineteenth-Century Poland ), though Marzec gives the familiar story a new twist. Whereas Porter’s inquiry into Polish nationalist discourse raised the question “Who is a Pole?” to examine the abandonment of the civic for the ethnic nation, Marzec asks “Who is the People (Lud)?” even though he ends up in basically the same place. The populist vision of the lud expressed in the 1880s by Jan Ludwik Popławski, the leading ideologue of what would become the Endecja, of an integral, supra-class national community acting in solidarity, was replaced on the eve of the revolution by one defined in terms of ethnicity, tribal belonging, and love of fatherland. The latter development is commonly associated with the early twentieth-century “modern” texts of Zygmunt Balicki and especially Dmowski, though as Marzec shows, their earlier pronouncements about popular participation and direct democracy more closely resembled those of Popławski.
The change in the basic concepts of National Democratic discourse at the beginning of the new century Marzec views as a response to the challenges of a multifaceted modernity and its creation of an “empty space” that was now refilled by principles derived from biology. The nation thus became discursively transformed within a relatively short period of time into “an objectively described, but mythically worshipped national organism,” which became the ultimate justification of politics (p. 373). Marzec’s points are that the interests of the lud in National Democratic thought now became subordinate to those of the “nation,” which the Endecja had granted to itself the natural right to represent, and that its philosophical-ideological incorporation of “the masses” into politics while excluding them at the same time had already been completed by 1905.
Denouement then comes during the revolution, “the conjuncture of crisis” as Marzec puts it, as the Endecja is forced to confront and react to plebian rebellion, in part out of fear of the mobilized masses who had acquired a political voice of their own and one not in line with “national policy” but ideologically prepared for actions to bring those same masses under the disciplinary control of an authoritarian-minded party leadership. Rhetorically, plebian rebels are transformed into an anarchic “mob” in conditions of “chaos” favorable only to the “wild” and “barbarian” enemies of the Polish nation, in other words, socialists and Jews, for which the National Democratic antidote is “organization” and “order.” The Endecja’s change of place on the political landscape recast it as the country’s modern conservative party, occupying the main place on the political right, pushing aside older, elite conservative formations but accommodating the interests of their urban and rural upper-class constituencies in the process. It also accommodated Russian imperial rule, particularly in the Russian State Duma, since it could not rule on its own in the Polish Kingdom.
Marzec’s rendition of the Endecja as Poland’s modern conservative movement, however, underestimates National Democracy’s internal dynamic toward incremental radicalization, particularly when faced with electoral challenges and its ability to spawn even more radical offspring in the decades to come. And it was the radicalization of the newly crystallized political identities that led to polarization, a process visible not only on the right but also on the left. In this regard, Marzec’s emphasis on the Endecja comes at the expense of other political actors, especially Józef Piłsudski’s “Revolutionary Faction” of the Polish Socialist Party as well as the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL), both of which experienced tendencies toward military-style discipline under conspiratorial and increasingly authoritarian leaderships. Socialist and nationalist political movements among Jews are essentially ignored, even if Zionism emerged as triumphant from the revolution as the Endecja and indeed in tandem with it, one of the key points of Ury’s work.
Each attempt to reconstruct history is shaped by the circumstances of its own era. My work on the Revolution of 1905 took place against a hopeful background of constructing civil society during the late 1980s and early ’90s, and hence my more positive spin on the possibilities and new institutions that came out of the early twentieth-century upheaval. Marzec in his conclusion returns to the theme of workers’ political subjectivity, which was suborned during the interwar period, made superficial during the Stalinist era, and then demonized as “hooliganism” when workers expressed opposition to an increasingly “nationalized” Polish People’s Republic. That subjectivity was regained in 1980-81, according to Marzec, only to have it stripped away again after 1989. Meanwhile, the ethnic, exclusive vision of the hegemonic nation—one eliminating political difference and class antagonisms—came to accompany every public debate. If, as Marzec argues, “Plebian political experience and reaction to it ... is the broad logic of the political field of modernity” in Poland, the resulting “re-equilibrium” that established itself after 1989 is a bleak one where the right promises “the people” resentment-filled revenge while simultaneously seeking control over it to prevent any serious reconstruction of the social order (p. 457). We know the end of this story because we have heard it before. The Polish right succeeds to win elections against its divided opponents and to subvert the democratic institutions that brought it to power.
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Robert E. Blobaum. Review of Marzec, Wiktor, Rebelia i reakcja: Rewolucja 1905 roku i plebejskie doświadczenie polityczne.
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