1903-1981: Anarchism in Poland

Anarchists in Poland, 2002
Anarchists in Poland, 2002

An account of anarchist ideas and practice in Poland through the 20th century.

Submitted by Steven. on September 13, 2006

An anarchist movement of Narodnik (Russian anti-capitalist democratic activists of the late 19th century) and anarchist ideas from Russia and Western Europe came into existence at the turn of the 20th century. The ideas were by no means uniform, from the uncopromising and controversial Nechaev, gallant Bakunin, anarcho-communist prince Kropotkin or Leo Tolstoy, promoter of a pacifist christian negation of statehood.

The first and most significant anarchistic group in the pre-independence Poland originated in 1903 in Bialystok and consisted in an enormous part of Jewish people. In the next years some similar centres came into being in Nieznow, Warsaw,Lodz, Siedlce, Czestochowa, Kielce and a couple of other towns.What particularly intensified activity in all centres was news from the Russian Revoluution, Bloody Sunday in St Petersburg. These groups took part in terrorist activity as well as propaganda actions such as attempts on police officers' and factory owners' lives. There were also bank robberies to gain funds. Nowadays the majority of us anarchists entirely reject such methods but to understand the motivation to act in this way it is important to realise the level of cruelty and despotism of the tsar's authority. For example in Warsaw, on Governer general Saklow's order, 16 young anarchists, (about 18 years old) were murdered by the authorities and their bodies thrown into the Vistula. Shots at demonstrating workers were not uncommon either.

At the same time material popularising the ideas of anarcho-syndicalism came pouring in. Adherents of this kind of anarchism repudiated terrorism claiming it did not contribute to an increase in society's consciousness, but on the contrary averted it from anarchism and caused disarray in the movement. That is why anarcho-syndicalists encouaraged other anarchists towards propagandistic activity and joining trade unions.

The best known theoreticians of Polish anarchism were Edward Abramowski, Waclaw Machajski and the anarcho-sydicalists Dr Jozef Zielinski and Augustyn Wroblewski. Edward Abramowski claimed to be a non-state socialist . However it should be noted that the word "socialism" at that time did not have such a limited meaning as it has nowadays and a majority of groups of liberation, leftist groups and struggles for independence identified with it. Abramowski presented his views in works such as "Ethics and Revolution", "Republic of Friends " and "A Public Collusion Against Government". As an alternative to the state system were , in his opinion, gratuitous trades set up by rules of common affairs and mutual services associated in bigger co-operatives. Only they are a support of a real freedom, give welfare, order, justice and brother hood to the individual. Furthermore they are organised from the grassroots, spontaenaeously without compulsion.Existing associates should form on a specified territory a free commune without authority and police. However the lack of a supposedly indispensable repression machinery does not mean the eruption of chaos into human life art all. The reverse happens- it releases energy and fervour that were being reduced in a system so far and that make people wanting to create the surrounding reality and to find themselves in it. An example of a big growth of social consciousness in the big solidarity days and then the repression of 13/12 is the best evidence of an enormous potential in people who have realised that they can change something in their life and surroundings at last. But let's return to Abramowski's theories. An unquestionable authority of those days, Tolstoy, had a considerable influence on his views. Follwoing him he advocatied non-paymnet of taxes and refusing to join the army. At the same time as being against the church as an institution he referred to Jesus' sermons which in his opinion denied statehood and authority. In his book "A public collusion agfainst governemnt" he gave some instructions about how people should struggle with the Tsar for thier own national maintenance. it certainly did not mean promoting another dictatorship which statehood is. Abramowski was also (as every anarchist) opposed to national socialism. He prophetically warned "The politics of modern socialism is not a politics of strengthening and extending national authority that tends not towards setting people free but towards towards authorising everything which can be authorised only in their life."

Another popular polish anarchist was Waclaw Machajski, born in 1876, an originator of a new current, so-called machajewszsczism. Originally he was a patriotic activist in the PPS party but gradulaly he came to anti-intelligentsia views. he claimed that all the greatest evil that surrounds people comes form ideas and ideologies of intellectuals. Although the consequence of that attitude was the setting aside not only of democracy and socialism but anarchism as well his ideology was closely related to this movemnt. Foretelling the constraints that follow socialism he augured an arrival of a slavish system in which bureaucratic machinery set up by intelligentsia would constrain an ordinary workman. During the interwar period syndicalist ideas had reercussions in the Union of Trade Unions ( ZZZ in Polish) this was 130000 strong and active from 1931-1939. The association presented itself to join the IWA. It is still active today and assembles anarcho-syndicalist and syndicalist trade unions. During the war the ZZZ and other organsiations formed the Polish Syndicalist Union (in polish ZSP) which actively battled against fascists. However it was not isolated from other formations and coperated with the National Army (AK) and the People's Army (AL). An illegal newsheet, the Syndicalist, was published and ZSP detachments took part in the Warsaw Uprising.

Anarchistic ideas reappeared after the war at the same time as the Alternative Societies movementand the Sigma club which originated in the early 80s. Other groups like the Autonomous Anarchistic Federation of Lublin, Freedom and Peace, Intercity Anarchistic Federation and Orange Alternative shot up like mushrooms after that. They were all active against the communist system however as distinct from Solidarity they defended themselves with irony and humour and refusing to join the army than more traditional methods. A lot of the radical ecological activists came form these movemnts. Some still exist and there are new ones as well such as Social Activity Membership in Slupsk. Anarchist ideas of the workers movemtn found a lot of support. A group of the Anarchist Federation published a paper "Works" in Nova Huta.

An inspiration to that kind of activity was often the original Solidarity which has a lot of syndicalist features in its programme. "the only possible way to change the actual situation is to set up authentic workers' autonomies which would make the employees the real master of a factory. Our association demands a restoration of the autonomous nature of the co-operative. It is necessary to pass a new bill which will protect from administrative interference." This was passed by the National Deputies conference of NSZZ (Solidarity) in 1981. The real programme of this association is now much less radical and far from the original.

It should be said that Polish anarchist history is not as impressive as the Spanish, Italian or Russian. [this is according to the Polish authors of this piece] A strong desire for its own statehood after years of slavery won in Polish society. As always this situation gave independence to only a minority, to the majority only new chains.

From Black Flag magazine