Editor’s Note: This essay was written by Roman Dmowski in 1937 and translated by Peter Strzelecki Rieth. Roman Dmowski is the Founding Father of the II Republic of Poland and the originator and principal political philosopher of Polish nationalism.
In this brief work, my aim is to clearly elaborate upon the most important aspects of our foreign policy towards our Eastern neighbor in this new era. I consider this matter to be urgent, for in no other area of our politics are we threatened with the possibility of committing blunders as great as in this one—and yet this is an area of primary importance for us.
The situation in Russia has undergone a deep revolution, no less in its interior than in its exterior aspects. The entire world’s view of Russia has also changed. I am convinced that the world’s view of Russia will continue to change quite rapidly, possibly heading in an altogether opposite direction than what we witness today. Unless we realize the essence of these changes, we will pay very dearly for it–we will pay a higher price than any other nation. Given our geographic location, we must know Russia and understand the conditions of Russia’s emerging essence better than any other nation in Europe–if we do not, we will fail to determine the correct path in our relations with Russia and we will become a mere tool; easily manipulated for the benefit of the political interests of foreign nations.
Above all we must learn how to think about Russia; something we have never really been capable of. Poland has taken the burden of war with Moscow upon itself from the old Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom and has waged this war for a long time; yet for Poles as such, the Muscovites have remained a distant nation, a people unknown and incomprehensible. They remained this way until Poles encountered them—unfortunately in encounters that were too close for comfort—these encounters were all the more unfortunate because they made it impossible for us to look at the Russians in perspective; to understand what Russia is, what her role in the world is, and what our situation in relation to Russia is.
In the two centuries of Russian history which are of greatest importance for Poland, from the times of Peter the Great to the war of 1914-1918, the lack of effectiveness in our politics, and the prevalence of disorder in Poland lead to Poland being solely capable of reactive politics towards Russia, to instinctive reactions which – if they served any interests – they certainly did not serve Polish interests.
Our struggle against Russia in the XIX century is a history littered with sacrifice and martyrdom. It is a struggle which has brought forth the greatest patriotic poetry the world has yet seen. Yet–as we fought, our thinking did not mature; we gained nothing in intellectual understanding from our experience, we did not deepen our comprehension. Quite the contrary–the longer we fought, the more our thinking became childish, the more it became a caricature of thought. Our comportment towards Russia became more and more thoughtless, and pitiful.
Following our last, most illogical uprising, during which time we once again ended up serving as a tool for foreign interests; a tool of our enemies in fact, there came a great breakthrough in our national psychology–yet this breakthrough did not yet make our comportment to Russia wiser, let alone worthy of a sovereign nation.
Part of our people, seeing the prospect of economic trade between Russia and Poland arising from industrialization, began to take up the banner of abandoning all political aspirations; they ceased to think about politics. Others spoke of Polish uprisings with such menace as to prepare us to give up all hope of our own state and prepare us for foreign occupation. Finally, others—primarily young people—arose who came under the allure of revolutionary Russia and the socialist movement. These people volunteered to Russify themselves. They not only spat upon our uprisings, they expressed contempt for the entire history of Poland, for Polish creativity in all of the areas of life, and became fanatical true believers of the New Russia. They still wanted to rise up and fight—only this time it was not against Russia, but merely against the Tsar.
One understands that these were all new political tides; they did not envelop the entire nation, but rather only a small portion of it; yet it was the most dynamic portion. The national instinct and national aspirations did not die. Nor were they passive. Within this new, more realistic atmosphere, a more realistic struggle in defense of Polish nationalism arose, a struggle to deepen the Polish spirit in our people. Many individuals, often alone and with no help from outside, carried on this struggle to great effect. This struggle was principally defensive, it did not seek any political formula for itself, it did not labor in the realms of political thought. It saw an enemy in Russia, but not once did it make any attempt to understand the nature and circumstances of this enemy.
As this struggle became more organized, as a new generation arose with greater ambitions and aspirations, a search began for the political forms within which to carry out these aspirations. For this new generation, it was no longer sufficient to pray to ancient Poland or to look with fondness towards future Poland in the Church—they demanded a path, in the here and now, in the short or not-too-long term, towards the creation of their own Polish state. In order to make out this path, in order to begin to see its’ outlines, they had much to learn, they had to do a great amount of thinking.
The hardest of their duties was thinking about Russia. Thinking clearly about Russia was difficult for a number of reasons. Past generations were completely incapable of thinking about Russia. The lesser minds (who are always in the majority) held fast to a patriotic orthodoxy rooted in a tradition of armed uprisings and romantic poetry.
Every Pole, from the moment of childhood, from the first day in school, came into contact with an unhealthy manner of thinking about Muscovites which made it impossible for them to think calmly and logically about Russia. This error of thinking was always exploited by the ambitious, and later, when socialism—under the influence of a new nationalist movement—began its’ evolution towards Polish aspirations, the leaders of the socialist movement recognized that the traditional thoughtlessness of Poles towards Russians gives socialism an excellent venue for influencing the Polish people. Thus the old slogans were reborn and once again one could hear the old comportment towards Russia—lacking in all careful thinking, uncritical, rooted in shallow sentiment, refusing to accept any logical argumentation—this inspired the revolutionary spirits. Thus the Poles took from German socialism the slogans calling for an overthrow of the Tsar. To these patriots, every attempt at political thought was a blemish on the cleanliness of Polish patriotism. This attitude towards Russia, which called for struggle against Russia with slogans about national honor at every step, was—in point of fact—the most embarrassing of Polish political attitudes because it expressed the rebellious mentality of Slave Morality.
This negative attitude of the Slave towards his old Master survived in many souls—even after Poland regained its stature as a state. Even today, when the Russians are no longer our masters, but merely our neighbors, politicians in Poland who consider themselves serious still give ample displays of the extent to which they are Slaves insofar as they express themselves towards Russia with slave morality resentment.
The location of Russia and our attitude towards Russia was further complicated by the Russian revolution itself. We had not even learned how to think about Russia, and suddenly we had to learn how to think about Soviet Russia. We also often fail to remember that independent of whether or not Soviet Russia endures, Soviet Russia is still Russia, and as such it remains an eternal and principal factor in the political calculus of the Polish state. As such, Russia must therefore become the chief focus of our political thought: we must understand the essence of Russia, we must understand the meaning of Russia, we must understand the power of Russia, her geopolitics, and finally her politics. We must understand this because the conditions of our statehood demand it. It will be hard to achieve such thinking immediately, particularly given how incapable of political thought our people are now.
Russia has been the subject of my thinking for quite some time now. It is possible I have not given more time to thinking about any subject in our politics as much as I have given to thinking about Russia. Early on, I came to the conclusion that the key to the future of Poland, the first condition that had to be fulfilled if we wished to regain our own state, is to understand what Russia is and to anticipate—as far as it was possible—the future role of Russia, and to formulate our plans and ambitions on this basis. I also found myself experiencing something far more painful to me as a Pole than any repressions that the Tsar could inflict: namely, I experienced the great pain of humiliation in the form of our passive acceptance or our tendency to give ourselves to the Russian state as eternal slaves. I was tired of a conflict in which the only side which had any brains was the Russian side, who kept losing all respect for us because we could not think. The Russians began to feel themselves superior to us because we thought of ourselves—if we thought at all—as inferior.
I therefore decided that it was my duty to craft a new politics for Poland with regard to Russia—a real politics. Not a politics calculated to extract some short-term benefit, but a politics which would weigh down and change the future course of the national history of both Russia and Poland. Only this kind of politics, rooted in a fundamental understanding of Russia and Poland, rooted in a clear logical relation between our goals and the means towards their realization, aimed at the ultimate prize which was the rebirth of the Polish state – only this kind of politics, in my view, was worthy of a civilized nation.
The fast pace of change in the international situation and the internal situation of Russia itself compelled me to hasten my work, and did not grant me the luxury of rooting the foundations of my political science as deeply as I would have liked too, let alone clearing its’ path of several problems.
There were great barriers in Russia, and in Poland no less. Russians, in the years before the first World War, despite several failures in their politics, were infected with hubris; my own nation was wary of undertaking a political course that would not give immediate results. My efforts were opposed by a concert of German-Jewish-Polish clackers who would not shut up and attempted to snuff out all of my efforts. I patiently listened to sermons and lectures on the part of various idiots who were convinced that I was deficient in patriotism or political realism.
Nevertheless, my work led to certain results in the people’s minds, though not as great as I had hoped because there was little time for it. My work brought far larger results in practical Polish politics during the Great War and bore fruit during that war.
I do not consider my work to be completed. Russia exists today as our neighbor; and the future will inevitably show her to be our most important neighbor. For despite all of the work that the Germans now undertake to gain our ear, it appears to me that their role and power–today still giant–will recede with time. I also believe that Russia is now approaching the threshold of becoming a world power. Our nation must recognize with clarity what the location of Russia means, and what her role in the world will be. Our nation must also have a very clear understanding of what it is that we wish to achieve relative to Russia. This challenge is the hardest one to befall Polish political thought, but it is also the most important task for the future generations of Poles. It is the most important task in our foreign affairs.
This area requires great work, not only because the mentality of Poles up to this point is what it is, but also because it is in this area that a variety of interests clash with one another–interests which are either foreign, superficially friendly or outright hostile. These interests will attempt to exploit us for their benefit.
We must therefore above all bring clarity to our thinking. We must weed out that which is unreasonable, that which remains on the basis of earlier, sadder times. We must rid ourselves of these mental burdens which continue to operate upon our minds and impact our politics and provide fodder for foreign interests.
The Russian question, independent of the political forms governing modern Russia, is so grand a thing that it obliges not only us, Russia’s closest neighbors, but the entire civilized world, to contemplation. Unfortunately, the capacity for thought in our world has been greatly weakened these days. What little capacity we have for thinking is often used up on present concerns. But the matter of Russia is not merely an extremely interesting one from the point of view of practical politics, but above all it is an epic mystery which the Western historians have never properly set upon to consider.
I wish to look upon the matter above all from this perspective. This will result in two kinds of benefit: first, it will prepare us to understand the modern condition of Russia in the world, and next it will remove us from thinking about merely the present political concerns and elevate us towards a logical political thought that is shorn of emotions.
From Roman Dmowski, “Works” 1937 Book VII (p. 123-129), “The post-War world and Poland.” Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.