The Soothsayer proclaiming “beware the Ides of March” was never presumed by Shakespeare to be a happy man for making his proclamation. When Caesar says “set him before me: let me see his face,” I cannot imagine any but a grave, solemn face. Had a modern, liberal democrat written the play in Shakespeare’s stead, no doubt the Soothsayer would have stood at the head of a throng of “activists,” waving the flag of the color-coded revolution du jour, tearing down Caesar’s statue, shouting with glee “beware the Ides of March and freedom for the Gays!” Shakespeare, wiser than the modern liberal democrat, understood tragedy. Caesar calls the Soothsayer “a dreamer.” I would call him an Imaginative Conservative whose blessing is his curse of prescient nightmares. Either way, the Soothsayer is never presumed by Shakespeare to be a happy man, because Shakespeare knew that when a Tyrant is deposed by the dagger, it is not liberalism that flows freely from his veins, only blood: pools of blood, rivers of blood, oceans of blood.
Like the Soothsayer in Julius Caesar, Imaginative Conservatives play similarly marginal roles in political affairs. Like the Soothsayer, Imaginative Conservatives are ignored as “dreamers.” Yet Imaginative Conservatives, let us never forget, are, like the Soothsayer, also right. Will future generations remember a certain Soothsayer on these pages whispering that the American Caesar beware? For my part, I note with no satisfaction that two of my own most depressing predictions about the near-term fate of Europe, documented on these pages, have come true. In an essay published on the 25th of February, while my fellow Poles were ecstatic about events in Kiev and the mainstream media trumpeted the triumph of “democracy,” I predicted that Ukraine would “soon become the sight of a terrible, bloody civil war.” I was right. In another essay, published July 19th, I wrote of Poland: “look for calls for German tanks to follow on the heels of the present calls for German leadership.” Little more than one month later, the New York Times ran an editorial by a leading Polish liberal democrat, now a visiting fellow at Harvard, whose words again proved my prediction correct:
“What’s odd is that the NATO member with bases closest to Russia is none other than Germany; if Russia attacked Poland or the Baltics, German troops would be among the first to respond. With that in mind, why does Germany resist moving NATO troops farther east, where they will be in a better place to face down, or even prevent, Russian aggression?”
Why indeed. For some answers, let us again turn to the ignored and forgotten father of post-war Polish conservatism, a Soothsayer and a dreamer, Henryk Krzeczkowski. On the basis of my studies of this sage man, I have come to recognize the essence of my own political inclinations as amazingly similar to his: I call this political idea Tragic Conservatism. Here, I hope to give voice to Tragic Conservatism as I have come to recognize it through Mr. Krzeczkowski because I believe that in Tragic Conservatism we might find the key to our political salvation as a free people. But first, a few more words about Mr. Krzeczkowski’s credibility as an authority on conservative political affairs, words necessitated by the fact that having only completed high school, Mr. Krzeczkowski held no academic titles, and to my knowledge his only brief academic experience was as a beadle at the Polish Academy of Sciences–which is somewhat more noble than a janitor, but nowhere near a professor.
I am of the opinion that this beadle’s work is superior to any Polish academic of the post-war era, let alone any European academic of the post-war era. Part of the reason Mr. Krzeczkowski is an expert on World War II and its immediate aftermath as well as the father of Poland’s conservative political movement (no matter how far his children move away from him), beyond the content of his work (which defends itself quite well), is the one title he ever attained in his life: Major of the 1st Army of General Berling.
Soviet intelligence officer of the Polish People’s Army under General Berling, Major Henryk Krzeczkowski, whose birth-name of Herman Gerner was formally changed into his new Polish name by none other than the supreme commander of the Soviet Polish People’s Army, General Michal Rola Żymierski, found himself serving in the Stalinist army after his country was invaded and he himself kidnapped and taken deep into the USSR. Major Krzeczkowski was a veteran of the Soviet prison camp and the Eastern front. Major Krzeczkowski returned to Poland from a defeated Berlin, wearing his uniform, after having taken part in the decisive battles of the war. His hometown of Stanislavov was lost to Ukraine and is now known as Ivano-Frankivsk. Major Krzeczkowski, in short, knew a thing or two. We would all be wise to lend an ear to him. Writing about the Western Allies and World War II, he argued in 1974:
“The West, for its part, agreeing without the least bit of scruples, with a sense of relief even, to the elimination of Poland from the family of independent states; in fact acting to make this elimination a reality, nevertheless took care to maintain the illusion of faithfulness to its’ previous commitments only to that extent to which the West considered it necessary for the maintenance of tensions in Polish society–tensions making it possible to irritate Russia; and to irritate Russia only when the West found an opportune occasion for it which was, at the same time, a safe occasion for the West.”
Major Krzeczkowski, a conservative in the Anglo-American tradition from start to finish, was no Soviet propagandist. His critical assessment of the West is a testimony of his intelligence and his nationalist patriotism, not of his subservience to simple-minded Communist propaganda. Major Krzeczkowski, like many Polish nationalist-conservatives who sided with Stalin following 1941, understood what Poland’s pre-war leaders failed to understand about the West–even as the West continued to stab them in the back in London throughout the war: namely, that Britain and America would never lift a finger to aid Poland, and that anyone who thought that they would (or should) was either a naïve fool or a traitor in the pay of Western interests. Major Krzeczkowski also understood the ideas of Marxism and the National Question which, to a greater or lesser extent, animated Soviet doctrine in both theory and practice. Even when Major Krzeczkowski argues that the Russian doctrine favoring the “People’s Republics” was hastily composed due to the pressing priority of the war itself, he does not fail constantly to make such statements relative to the extent to which Stalin was closer or farther from a national-communist approximation of the world. Certainly, Mr. Krzeczkowski recognizes the rise of Poland’s Communist Leader, Władysław Gomułka, as the victory of the “nationalist wing” of the Polish Communist party. The fact that Major Krzeczkowski is capable of actually seeing different wings of what appeared to lesser minds as a homogenous ideological juggernaut puts him far ahead of many conservative analysts of present day Russian and world affairs.
Thus, of the post-war Communist government of Poland, Major Krzeczkowski opined: “In accordance with a realistic understanding of the situation, efforts were made following the catastrophe to prioritize the preservation of those policy elements of Polish national interest which were arguably necessary for, at the very least, the maintenance of Polish political institutions which might, in future, be the basis for the reconstitution of the Polish state.” That is to say: According to Major Krzeczkowski, it is a fantasy to believe that all Polish patriots, post-1945, magically found themselves in England leaving only ideological Communists in the rubble of Warsaw. Certainly the aforementioned General Rola Żymierski, who had fought against the Bolsheviks in 1920 and defended the democratic and constitutional government of Poland against Piłsudzki’s coup d’état in 1926, was not a Communist ideologue as much as he was an opponent of the Piłsudzki Sanation and the later “dictatorship without a dictator,” which led Poland to ruin. If we regard all the Communists who came to power in Poland in 1945 as mindless Stalinist drones, we succumb to Western propaganda which, from 1939 onward, specialized in talking about Polish liberty whenever the West needed someone to do to Russia or Germany what Britain and America dared not do themselves.
Such conclusions are not arrived at on account of some fantastical methodology meant to unmask Western man as evil, let alone meant to “rehabilitate” the Communists who ruled Poland following World War II; rather, they are the result of calm geopolitical analysis. Major Krzeczkowski was severely attached to realistic geopolitical analysis. This was likely not a testimony to his pathos in the face of mass oppression, but rather was the result of his almost maniacal conviction, obvious to this reader, that only clarity in political thought and political action might rescue Poland from destruction in the future. As one of Major Krzeczkowski’s political pupils put it “what is a man to do with his life, if that life is destined to be lived under Communism? What is a man to do with this life if he is confident that life itself must always have in view the permanent things?”
Major Krzeczkowski’s conservatism could not be anything but tragic, because insofar as the calling of a conservative is to preserve the institutions which constitute the fabric of all that is noble in society, what is a conservative to do when all of these institutions are destroyed in an apocalyptic catastrophe so total as to have erased them for all eternity? Major Krzeczkowski’s conservatism, then, was of the highest order: it was a conservatism with no illusions, a conservatism which not only denied the theoretical possibility of human progress, but allowed only for the duty to halt decay and wrench order from the jaws of chaos. It was also a conservatism which despised all manner of abstraction, all manner of departure from reality, because the moral challenges of the times were so vivid, so clear, that no thinking man could morally afford not to make thought the servant to action and only the coward or the émigré could dabble in “l’art pour l’art.”
Major Krzeczkowski was a realist because his times demanded it. What distinguishes him from all other Polish thinkers is his insistence that Poland’s geopolitical condition demands such realism always. He is, for all intents and purposes, the total opposite to Gombrowicz; so celebrated by the Western liberal émigrés precisely because in his narcissism and liberal rebellion against Polish identity, Gombrowicz absolved the Western soul of the cruel burden of a guilty conscience and absolved the Polish soul of the crueler burden of political duty. Major Krzeczkowski, as a soldier who sided with Stalin and spent his life fighting for Poland’s liberty and independence against both Russia and the West, is the liberal émigré’s worst nightmare; his tragic example shames them and makes their Western patrons uneasy. Thus, like Polish founder Roman Dmowski, whom Major Krzeczkowski admired deeply, the Major himself is unknown in the wider world.
This realism colored his historical methodology to the extreme, even when dealing with moral subjects like fascism that, in the Western mind, are “obvious.” As Major Krzeczkowski wrote in his scathing review of Gore Vidal’s novel, Washington DC: “Hitler was not some devil who, jack-in-the-box like, leapt unexpectedly from beneath the floor only to vanish unexpectedly as well. All literary truth in political fiction can only be the result of first discovering historical truth and of the ability to demonstrate how this historical truth functioned as a force which shaped the character of men, which conditioned their psychological and moral reactions.” This was the basis of his casual, stern insistence that the Poles who looked to America and Britain for salvation were simply wrong-headed, no less so than Communist ideologues or those who wished to build phalansteres.
With this methodological spirit in mind, I would like to draw the reader’s attention to one of many interesting facts, which demonstrate that Major Krzeczkowski’s Tragic Conservatism is timely and relevant in our day and age as well: a recent Freedom House report, cited rather gleefully in the German press, argues that “democracy” in Eastern Europe is in peril. Listing a group of Eastern European countries which have failed to “consolidate” their democracies, the report concludes that Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic are “failing” in maintaining and enriching their democratic institutions. Why, the German press warns, a Romanian candidate for EU commissioner might even be a “KGB agent.” Of course, it is but a mere coincidence that the Czech President has openly called for lifting sanctions against Russia, that the Hungarian Prime Minister is battling against German banks and foreign interests plundering his country, that the Slovaks, Romanians and Hungarians who all border Ukraine are hesitant over antagonizing and inflaming the region.
What is truly disturbing, and truly sickening about this spectacle, is the presumption on the part of Freedom House and its German partisans that the people of Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic need to be “taught” democracy, that their nations and cultures are small children, born only yesterday, still learning to walk and in peril of falling unless the bastion of liberalism and freedom that is Germany does not give them some lessons. This presumes that the drudgery of Communism on account of which these Eastern European nations suffered privation was a result of their immaturity, not of British treason and German bombs which ended in Soviet tanks.
Noteworthy is the fact that Poland is not on the German list of countries which “failed” to “consolidate” democracy according to Freedom House. Naturally, Poland is a “success.” It is a success because for the past seven years it has been ruled by a man with the quintessentially Polish name of “Donald” and the quintessentially Polish last name of “Tusk,” whose political party was funded by agents of the German Secret Services who brought him bags full of cash. Poland has been a success because its former President, Mr. Lech Kaczyński, coincidentally fell from the sky in an airplane carrying him and the leaders of his political party, who all died leaving no one alive and organized in Poland to oppose Mr. Tusk’s party effectively. Upon taking absolute power over the State, Mr. Tusk conveniently reversed Mr. Kaczyński’s policies of blocking attempts by foreign companies at buying majority shares in large Polish firms in sectors of the economy of strategic importance. Also, unlike the inter-war years, when the Poles, denied economic control over the port city of Danzig, built an entirely new port city in Gdynia, just a few kilometers away, Mr. Tusk’s Poland–possessing the former Danzig Port and the new Gdynia Port, happens to be incapable of getting them operational and profitable, to the delight of Germany. Weeding out any sense of history and patriotism in his people, Mr. Tusk has created a Poland full of young men and women who think it is natural to move to England in search of a job, and who wish one day to be as “progressive” as Germany because they are embarrassed by Poland’s Catholic and family culture. While historical analogies are hardly ever accurate, we could say that Mr. Tusk’s Poland is a restoration of the post-Piłsudzki “dictatorship without a dictator.” It is, like the Sanation State, a fig, a paper weight, a state waiting to collapse at the first hint of geopolitical crisis.
Finally, Germany considers Poland a success because Mr. Tusk, after heading a government which first announced that it wishes to see Germany lead Europe and Poland to lose its sovereignty in a German-led Federation, then screamed to the high heavens that Poland is threatened by Russian invasion and desperately insisted on foreign occupation to save it (but never asked its own parliament for an increase in Polish expenditures on the Polish army). Mr. Tusk, having completed his mission of making Poland a German vassal, has now decided to move to Brussels where he was rewarded with a salary fifty times that of the Polish Prime Minister and the unenviable position of (unelected) “President of the European Union,” where he will busy himself studying the English language, since by his own accounts, he only speaks the German that his grandmother taught him while his grandfather was busy serving in the 328th Grenadier-Ersatz-und Ausbildungsbatallion of the Germany army. True, his service–like that of Major Krzeczkowski in the 1st Polish Army–was likely compulsory, but unlike Major Krzeczkowski, who never hid his wartime service in General Berling’s Polish army and who was proud enough to return to his homeland wearing his uniform and believing the army he served had liberated and preserved Poland on the map of Europe, Mr. Tusk, Sr. was not so forthcoming about his wartime tribulations.
This reluctance was not merely on account of who won and who lost the war; returning to Warsaw in any military uniform in 1945 was not bound to win the enthusiasm of the sort that American soldiers experienced in the classic photographs from New York City. As Major Krzeczkowski wrote: “The establishment of government administration [in Poland in 1945] is met with a united hostility in the public at large, who did not even trust those soldiers wearing Polish uniforms.” This hostility, born of the loyalty of the majority of the citizenry to the Underground National Government, still holding out for the British Navy to arrive at Danzig, would eventually turn to general apathy and play itself out in the second Polish Civil War and Polish-Soviet war against Ukrainian Banderists just after what the West calls “World War II.” In any event, it is obvious why, according to Freedom House, Poland is a successful “consolidated” democracy–it does the bidding of the West, it demands nothing of the West, it has no policy of its own because it does not perceive Polish national interest. Men of character such as Dmowski or even Piłsudzki are nowhere to be seen.
In fact, if one takes a cursory glance at those “unconsolidated democracies” which, according to Freedom House and the German press, have failed to build democratic systems, we find that these “failed democracies” are governed by men who happen to oppose all foreign occupation of their nation states–whether by Russian or German troops and who have cultivated good relations with Russia. The Prime Minister of Slovakia, for instance, has said: “I would sooner resign from politics than let a single foreign army base be opened in my country.” The Prime Minister of Hungary, meanwhile, sensing–like the Poles–that his country may be threatened by events in Ukraine, did what any rational statesman would do: He did not beg America and Germany for soldiers; instead, Victor Orban put Hungarian soldiers on the border with Ukraine, made clear to the Ukrainian government that Hungary would defend the lives and property of the Hungarian ethnic minorities in Ukraine, executed clandestine military operations to that effect, and mended Hungary’s ties with Russia in a prudent and pragmatic manner, while remaining within the EU and NATO. Romania and Bulgaria, both of which rely heavily on trade with Russia and peace in the region, have also been working hard towards de-escalating tensions rather than raising them. I will not even bother mentioning the eternal realism of the Turks, who have for decades mastered the art of foreign policy. Thus, while the Western press may blame these nations, their real interests are preserved. Only Poland, a de facto failure, prefers good headlines to real respect–and it has them.
All of this brings us back to World War II and the West. How is it that Germany, the focal point of fascism and empire in the twentieth century, is now the arbitrator of which European nation is “democratic” and which is “not democratic?” How is it that the measure of democracy is the EU insistence that Serbia, apparently not yet taught “democracy” by the tonnage of bombs NATO dropped on her in the 1990s, must now fund a massive Gay Pride Parade to “prove” how “democratic” it is? How is it that the nations which were either forced by threats to succumb to German demands or simply invaded by Germany, are now treated as culturally backwards nations which must learn democracy from Germany? The answer to this question has much to do with the ignorance about World War II omnipresent amongst common Western citizens and the men and women who exercise political power in the West now. But it also has to do with the fact that unlike Eastern Europe and Russia, the West has never undergone its own perestroika, let alone the sort of soul-cleansing that all of the East has undergone–though it yet might. The lack of catharsis is the path to hubris in a nation as surely as the lack of confession is the path to mortal sin in a man.
In the West, Winston Churchill is regarded by the British and Americans as a heroic man, and Marshal Petain, though controversial, is in practice not ostracized in French memory. After all, the French benefited from having Marshal Petain as their shield while General de Gaulle was their sword. Yet in Poland, in what surely amounts to the greatest pathology in the modern liberal Polish mind, the following is accepted: Englishmen can and do praise Churchill for his prudence in working with Stalin against Hitler to preserve England, but Poles, if they wish respectfully to study, let alone praise the nationalist Communist Polish military leaders like Berling, Żymierski and Major Krzeczkowski–Polish nationalists who sided with Stalin to preserve Poland on the map of Europe in the face of German invasion, British betrayal and domestic capitulation–are shouted down by the current Polish “right” for being “pro-Communist,” while this same said modern Polish “right” waves Ukrainian flags, preaches Ukrainian nationalism, and ignores the murder of Poles by German-funded Ukrainians. What kind of patriotism is it to wave foreign flags and spit on your own soldiers? What kind of a political choice is it when the Polish left begs for German occupation while the Polish right begs for American occupation?
All the while, the Polish state is–as its former Internal Minister has said, a fiction which “exists only in theory.” That this is true is evident from the current political divisions in Polish society which, just as in the inter-war years, are now primarily not shaped by the political ideologies or programs of participatory political parties, but rather are the result of the comportment of those parties to the West and the East. Poles support parties largely on the basis of perceptions about which geopolitical direction their nation should prefer: the German (cleverly now known as “European”) or the Russian (always portrayed as Communist, never as having something to do with a flat tax, gold, religion, or scientific progress) or the American. This fact, in and of itself, is cataclysmic because it demonstrates the failure of Polish political thought to conceive of a program that would make Poland’s citizens look first and foremost not to Germany or Russia, not to Brussels or Washington, D.C.–but to Warsaw, to the Polish interest, to Polish concepts and Polish forms. Major Krzeczkowski labored mightily under Communism to imagine such concepts and forms and to prepare talented young men to go forth to perfect and develop them as a distinctly Polish political idea.
For a time, it seemed that Poles were on the right track to achieving their own modes and orders, whether on the left or the right. But now, Mr. Sierakowski, calling in the New York Times for German occupation of Poland, has decided that Germany–a modern, progressive socialist democracy and the economic backbone of the socialist European Union–is a better guarantor of social democracy and progressivism in Poland than any of the Polish leftist parties. Those who call for American soldiers in Poland have likewise concluded that America is a better guarantor of national security than any Polish national army or Polish national security idea. We are thus witness to a mass Polish capitulation, a great “shrugging off” of the hard duty of self-government. Other Poles, depending on their political ambitions or persuasions, likewise find themselves taking the side of stronger states, incapable of relying on the Polish state. There is no Polish raison d’état upon which to rely. The level of vacillation and indecision is poisonous. The largest conservative Polish party on the right, just two years ago having organized a vast pilgrimage to Hungary to express its support for Victor Orban (in and of itself indicative of a level of angst over their intellectual shallowness as a political force) have now undone their ties, ceased their praise, quieted their enthusiasm–all because they ignorantly believe the liberal chattering classes that Orban is a Russian ally or an enthusiast of “Putinism” and failing to see through the fog of their hatred of Russia that Mr. Orban is above all an Hungarian patriot. These are just some examples of present Polish incompetence which bring to mind Churchill’s chilling words in 1944 to the London-based Polish government in exile when conferring with them in Moscow:
“You are no government if you are incapable of taking any decision. You are callous people who want to wreck Europe! I shall leave you to your own troubles! If you want to conquer Russia, we shall leave you to do it! I feel as if I were in a lunatic asylum. I don’t know if the British government will continue to recognize you! I shall have to call on the other Poles and this Lublin government may function very well. It will be the government! It is a criminal attempt on your part to wreck, by your Liberum Veto, agreement between the Allies. In this war–what is your contribution to the Allied effort? What did you throw into the common pool? You may withdraw your divisions if you like. You are absolutely incapable of facing facts. Never in my life have I seen such people!”
Poles, if they remember Churchill’s words, view them as treason. Major Krzeczkowski, who, unlike the Polish London government in exile, was capable of ‘facing facts’ and had no desire to “conquer Russia”, was not incensed at the British policy. He was not incensed by the British policy because he understood the geopolitical reality of the proximity of Poland and Russia versus the distance of the British Isles. The defense of Poland was the responsibility of Poles. Relations with Russia (and Germany for that matter) was the responsibility of Poles. The Polish government in exile had failed in its’ duty from the outset of the war, and arguably from earlier when it stupidly stood athwart the III Reich on the basis of promises made by a third party. What free nation cedes its’ national security to another?
I am sure Major Krzeczkowski would have agreed with Churchill about the Polish government in exile that they are “no government” if they are “incapable of taking any decision.” In fact, Major Krzeczkowski did agree, which is why he supported the Communist Lublin Government and would have likely done a better job at the negotiating table with Winston Churchill than the London government in Exile. Major Krzeczkowski wrote in 1980:
“I consider the transformation of the Lublin committee into a provisional government to have been the formal and de facto conclusion of the era of the II Republic of Poland and the beginning of a new State, with a new geographic, political and social outline. This State was formed on the basis of agreements between the Allies in Potsdam and Yalta, without the participation of the nation which was the subject of these decisions…nevertheless, a legitimate argument in favor of accepting this chronology is the common acceptance of the fact of the birth of a new Polish State by the Polish people.”
He accepted the reality of the new Communist Polish state for the same reasons why he fought in Stalin’s army: not because he was a Communist, but because he understood reality. The Second Republic had failed. The Polish people survived the war, and the State made for them by Stalin and Churchill was at least a Polish state–something that many previous international conferences in the nineteenth century had never entertained. Sadly, like many Poles who were capable of heroic deeds and excellent thought, Major Krzeczkowski spent most of his life after World War II teaching English as a foreign language and writing essays on political philosophy, which were read by a very small group of people, rather than working in government, which was clearly his talent. Major Krzeczkowski’s talents, recognized and immediately put to use by the Soviet Union during World War II–where he served in intelligence, worked in the diplomatic corps, and also fought on the Front–were wasted by the Polish government and by the Polish academia. They were not wasted by “Communists” or by “Communism”–but by the inability of Poles to put their best and brightest to good use. As one of Major Krzeczkowski’s few admirers in Poland wrote: “He could have been Poland’s Disraeli.” Indeed, if the Soviet Union could give him such a great field for his talents, it should not have been beyond Poland to have made him a Prime Minister or at the very least a Member of Parliament. Instead, he was a translator who taught English as a foreign language. He refused, despite having the chance on more than one occasion, to leave his nation permanently, always returning after the Communists allowed him to travel. He refused ever to make a name for himself in the West or to bathe in the glow of a “political refugee.” He recognized, like Poland’s founder, Roman Dmowski, who was likewise rejected and marginalized by his people, that the duty of a citizen remains, independent of his compatriot’s comportment.
That Major Krzeczkowski was not Poland’s Disraeli is living proof that Poland, as a nation, has a long way to go before it is capable of achieving political maturity. As ever, in contradistinction to many other nations, Poland has little time to make this journey. A first step would be recognizing the geopolitical realities Major Krzeczkowski outlined and, with malice towards none–be they British or Russia–finally taking responsibility for their own nation. As for American conservatives, the lessons of Major Krzeczkowski are even clearer: when your formal state fails you and leads your nation to ruin, you do what you have to, even accepting the most unimaginable of political solutions, if that is the only realistic way of arriving at political salvation. Of this, Ms. Christoff-Kurapovna has written brilliantly in these pages, and Major Krzeczkowski’s example illustrates her point: American conservatives who find themselves looking to Russia more and more to save America from itself need not worry: The best of the Poles had to do the same in far more dire circumstances.
 The Churchill quotation is a compilation of the BBC version and the version presented by the Piłsudzki Institute of America.
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