A lack of centralisation brought the Polish Commonwealth to a state of total disorder which its enemies used for their advantage. The lack of centralisation in the struggle for independence has thus far been the main obstacle towards this goal.
As we perceive it today, we will easily implement this assumption of ours, which until recently was not congruent enough with our politicians' convictions. We feel the sudden urge to do so as we consider it the key to our history, a historical starting point in the present situation. As we look to the beginning of our history, we do it just to communicate the matter firmly, to rest it on the foundation of the past.
Poland's greatness was created in the era of the Bolesławs. Bolesław Chrobry, the first genius of our nation, liberated our native lands from under the passivity that was so characteristic of the Slavs, he imbued his generation with a spirit of resourcefulness to do great things and outlined the two main national aspirations: resistance against the Germanic West, and care over the Slavonic lands subdued by the Varangians. Fighting unceasingly, he held unlimited power over the serfs. His rule was strong, because it was popular; it was popular, because it was useful and corresponded to the honour and destiny of the nation. This Polish Napoleon stands as a testament to our greatness, an infallible signpost of our strength throughout history.
It was only after the last brave heir of Chrobry's thought and another Bolesław, Bolesław Krzywousty, drew his final breath that the era of turmoil and decline began. The strength of the duchies lessened, the power of the clergy and nobility grew in strength to the detriment of the throne, the influence and pressure of the Germans and the East increased. After two centuries of discord, the restorers of the state reinstated Chrobry's thought. They sought to centralise power in their hands, and although it was not able to match the original, the unification of judicial courts, the slow removal of privileges, the restoration of royal laws to their former power, and care for the people all helped to place the state on a new, strong foundation.
Starting with the end of the Piast dynasty, an unlucky star appeared over the nation. Poland grew in terms of territory, importance and freedom, but this concealed a disease that spread increasingly rapidly over the body of the state: the lack of across-the-board associativity towards a single public interest. The selfish politics of Louis and the political infancy of the first Jagiellons undermined the authority of the throne and destroyed the interests of the state. The clergy's oligarchy awakened the competition with the oligarchy of the magnates, the magnates put the nobility into political motion, and the subsequent vicious circle of clergymen and knights confederated against the people and the rule of the throne was assured. We wouldn’t have anything against the development of Polish freedom, against the achievements of liberty and the independence of the Sejm, we even admit that these achievements have a prominent position in the history of ideas of Christian civilisation, but this does not mean that they were any less disastrous for Poland as a state, fatal to the national mission in that they were not balanced by a strong sense of civic duty and obedience, that being busy with continuing internal strife, the country was torn apart by forces intended to act in the interests of the outside, to a certain extent bringing back this Slavonic passivity which succumbed to the influence of opponents. In the finest times of our history, in the days of victories and triumphs, everywhere we find an undisciplined individualism free of the constraints of universal good, with private interest dominating over the public one, with the dependence of the most vital matters on the whims of particular interest, we hear a single cry calling for help for the Commonwealth of Poland.
Somehow, the wisest of kings, the most enlightened of generations in our history fiercely sensed the need to concentrate the public interest. This feeling is to be attributed for the act of union with Lithuania and the enforcement of laws during Sigismund Augustus' time, as well as the pursuits of King Stephen Báthory, the one who was closest to Chrobry's thought. Alas, this interest failed to gain focus or attention, either in the Sejm, or in the throneroom; centuries passed in internal conflict, and a complete dissolution loomed on the horizon.
"I am the guardian of national good" – said the great Stephen Báthory yet his early death prevented the completion of his magnificent work. The unpatriotic Sigismund III destroyed what remained of the harmony between the king and the throne. Poland once more broke down into independent domains ruled by magnates, into particular interests of schemers. The ultimate decentralisation came under the guise of liberum veto. The Commonwealth resorted to begging at the doors of noble residences and lordly castles. The enemy manoeuvred in the underbelly of the homeland with ease, and whenever patriotism temporarily united the fighters to combat the alien invasion, hurt ambition was instantaneously able to confederate them to do battle for their own glory. Heroic bouts of self-sacrifice are only an inch away from malicious wilfulness, public virtues border with shameless self-interest, evidences of greatness border with testaments to ultimate ineptitude. In this context, the neighbouring states only grew in strength and organised themselves.
This image becomes clearest at the moment of the ultimate downfall. Foreign power dragged the throne under its exclusive influence. The fate of the country depended both on it and the quarrelling of feudal lords. What remains good and noble in the nation hurried to join the confederacy in order to expel the invader. The first partition put the nation on the path to reason. Patriots begin by establishing and increasing royal power, as well as improving the executive power, resulting in the Constitution of May 3. Magnates, representatives of decentralisation, and politicians unite in Targowica for the sake of their own private interests. Poland stands up to fight for independence under Kościuszko's lead, and for the first time the subjugated serf joins the ranks of the insurgents.
Polish flaws survived Poland's political downfall. God gave the nation two great tasks: regaining independence in order to take up its historically destined position, as well as a moral and political rebirth. What it did not conduct during its existence, what it planned during its ultimate fall, it was to do in the days of cruel martyrdom. Past generations gave the nation a burning passion for freedom; harsh servitude was to teach it that freedom can exist only alongside order, civic equality and respect for the law. Public interest, so often neglected during happy times in the past, left a burning mark of alien persecution befalling ever so often in the form of limitless oppression.
The fact remained that many years had to pass in order for the flogging to bring the nation to discovering the philosopher's stone of its existence, to discover the measure needed to remedy the deeply-rooted evil. Regretful habits of pre-partition wilfulness and individualism lingered and still persist in the nation's nature. The particularism of caste-like and biased interests, the lack of trust and suspiciousness, the ambition and daring disregard to opinions, the indifferent domesticity and undisciplined roughness were all an epidemic in our society, no matter the estates and groups. The arrogance of the magnates and wilfulness of the nobility found its place amongst the aristocracy and the seemingly tumultuous disposition of demagogues. National struggles failed due to the lack of abnegation for the holiest pro-independence thought, ailed due to the lack of authority backed by public opinion that would force everyone to work for a single cause.
This is when the spirit of unity appeared in the nation, binding individuals into organisms allied under the banner of a single thought, this was when the commitment to civic solidarity manifested itself. There was a need for authorities that could make people listen. This pursuit, at first confined in a tight circle, desired a wider territory and – in a way unheard of in history – the nation formed a Government opposing the invading government, arousing widespread obedience and discipline. This government did not elect any famous authorities, it stood nameless, reaching out to the nation with a programme of independence, impartiality, and absolute obedience to its orders. Instead of names, it quoted actions, instead of signatures – seals with holy emblems. Its call was swiftly answered with a sacrifice of blood, labour and property.
None of the blows inflicted upon the enemy could reach deeper. None of the problems presented to European political wisdom could go anywhere further. None of the victories achieved by the national spirit could be more profound. Poles won a victory over themselves and thus became invincible. The enemy lost its main ally – the discord among our ranks. No one across Poland, except for lunatics and traitors, dares to stand up against the national authority which guarded the public good and made the nation equal in a single camp of public labour.
The programme of independence presented by the National Government is this magic word that replaces names, signatures, and transparency. It keeps the society in the best of moods, one that should always be present. However, there can be no more half-hearted measures and interim programmes. In its presence provincial interests that played this role in the history of Poland, as well as particular and private interests must step down.
However, the only means of keeping a uniform train of thought across Poland is to centralise power in a single place as much as possible. Warsaw, as a result of opportune circumstances, became the heart of Poland, its political Paris. The government established within its walls knows the best measures to defeat the enemy, knows the best ways to awaken the nation. Just like provincial and estate organisations in certain parts of Poland were the beginning of a new era of focusing national elements, strict obedience to Warsaw's authority becomes the next level on this path to development.
This position should be used to look at the autonomy given by the National Government to more distant provinces or those subject to specific conditions. The autonomous bodies of the Government remain under its control, exercised by authorised Commissioners, those bodies remain in constant communication, and as the most familiar with provincial relations, they remain the civil authorities within their borders. They cannot change the national programme in any way or impair the centralist policy of the Government; on the contrary, their strength, popularity and authority lie in the mandate granted from the top and depend on the trust offered by the province – that they will support the Government's perspectives and goals as much as possible.
After explaining the second main principle of the Government: focusing the nation's strength in a single focal point, placing them under a single thought and single authority, we arrive at the public opinion, and the need for its complete support in favour of this principle, despite its profound resonance, the need for all possible material help and moral support to the Government and its bodies, for it to oppose disorganisation, laziness and insubordination on the path to national progress. We repeat once more that just as permanent opposition to authority, often unfounded and derived from pure arrogance, brought our political existence to ruin, the creation of a strong Government may save us from any deformity on the way to our holy goal.
One of the most widely recognised flaws of the Commonwealth can be found in its lawlessness, its anarchy. It did not originate from the absence of governmental bodies, nor from the lack of justice – of course we can theoretically brag that we have never had any bureaucracy, that we had officials equipped with broad direct powers, we had the beautiful institution of elected courts, based on the most noble of principles, we had an entire rank of dignitaries and officials, and there would have been no lawlessness if only they had fulfilled their functions. Our lawlessness, therefore, was not the fault of institutions, it was caused by losing the concepts of government and authority, losing respect for the law among the people. It took centuries to lose respect for the law and abandon the concept of government, while the deficiency of political devices was the greatest contributor. The nobility, having gained a complete spectrum of laws since the free election, as well as resourcefulness in the fullest sense of the term, left the distribution of positions and royal lands in the hand of the king, unaware that it turned governmental and enforcement functions into the king's political tool. The king, stripped of power, resorted to the only measure that allowed to regain it, while the nation entrusted him with the most important functions of the society and renounced its trust to the government, believing that it is easier to earn awards and bread at the king's side. The most harmful thing that may happen in a state is to leave justice, order and security at the mercy of political struggle. This is what happened in Poland. The king did not ask a starosta what can he do, but what does he think; the nobility did not ask what he should do, but what is his influence. Officials lost their necessary neutrality both before the court and the nation, and since the nation was stronger, they became fearful of it and its nobility. The law was bent into shape according to those it concerned. Mr. Łaszcz walked around in a coat with letters of exile sewn into it, while Mr. Wołodkiewicz – during his tenure as Marshall of the Lithuanian Tribunal – sued Mr. Przeździecki for a gauntlet and a cat o' nine tails lost somewhere in his lands.
These seem to be far away and strange tales. And yet, take a look into
your own heart, into the ins and outs of your disposition – what could be more
uncertain than the concept of government, the idea about its conditions and
necessity? Aren't we averse to everything referred to as "official"?
And we are not discussing the rule of a government we are subjected to, but the
one whose creation we influence ourselves. Do we not understand our autonomous
institutions, ever so often bound above all with loosening the rigour of the
law, while we should demand its most strict enforcement and show the most
conscientious obedience, because they are ours? Do we not judge them from a
purely political perspective? Do we not ask what does it think, rather than
what can it do, what is its influence, rather than what does it do? Do we not
consider its political nature to be the only competence? Is it not a firm
belief that we can manage everything using only a handful of theoretical
generalities, that it is better to have a positive opinion, since no task is
too difficult? The
Polish proverb “It isn’t saints who make clay pots” ( or everything can be learnt with a bit of practice) is a Polish proverb for a reason, and Polish provinces are the homeland of these extraneous agitations and protectorates that aim to replace the main condition: competence. Isn't plurality of offices and holding prestigious offices our Polish disorder? Is it not an affliction to perceive offices as awards of merit, and not as the path towards merit? Is there any other reason for this sad and undoubted fact that true organic work among us is yet to come? If every undertaking, every work is followed by the nervous impatience of political thought or, even worse, of contradictory political thoughts, if this thought does not allow priests to primarily be priests, officials to be officials, and teachers to be teachers, if one's work is not measured by what it makes, but whether it precisely follows a political plan drawn up by this political party or other, if it is the only measure for recognition or contempt – how may one expect a divided society to form an undertaking, whose essence lies in disengagement from everyday politics, in attempting to leave behind indefatigable impressions for every future and for every eventuality? No! Unfortunately, just as the Commonwealth was not able to recover the lost notion of government, we – with our disregard for the tradition of May 3, accompanied by enthusiastic endeavours concerning the education reform and social reforms – still are not able to even attempt recovering the lost concept of national property and remain faithful to the principle: sink or swim; we cannot gather the courage to regain the governmental instinct using our small capital, because – just as our fathers perceived government as a struggle for political principles, and ultimately lost it thinking that it would save them from despotism – we perceive every labour of man and of the society as a struggle for our future existence, oblivious to the fact that the form cannot change if there is no existence – and existence means work, consensus, resourcefulness, education, common prosperity. And we shan't live to see this work until this cease-fire comes about, until every ambitious future political leader drags this cart of public interest, stuck in the mud of fruitless political struggle, like a simple low-rank soldier, until the number of commanders falls, and the number of simple workers rises.
Józef Szujski (1835–1883) –historian, writer, politician and journalist. He was born on 16 June 1835 in Tarnów. After graduating from St. Anne's Gymnasium (1854) he studied philosophy and law at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and at the University of Vienna. He published four volumes of Dzieje Polski podług ostatnich badań (“History of Poland according to recent research”) between 1862 and 1866. He took part in the January Uprising as a soldier and supporter of the democratic left, as well as the publisher of the Cracow newspaper of the National Government entitled Naprzód (“Forward”). After the fall of the uprising, he became an advocate of renouncing conspiratorial activities, began speaking in favour of legal work under autonomous Galician institutions and promoted conservative ideas, although still in 1865 he argued with Paweł Popiel, a representative of the older generation of conservatives, when the latter published his “Letter to Prince Jerzy Lubomirski”, in which he proposed a programme of moving people responsible for the outbreak and subsequent support for the January Uprising away from governing national matters. He was one of the founders of Przegląd Polski (“Polish Review”) and a co-author of Teka Stańczyka (“Stańczyk's Portfolio”), passing as the main and most creative representative of Cracow's Stańczycy group. He was elected to the Diet of Galicia and Lodomeria (from 1867) and the Imperial Council in Vienna, and finally – became a member of the House of Lords from 1879. In 1869 he became a professor of the newly created faculty of Polish history at the Jagiellonian University, in 1873 he took the office of secretary general at the Academy of Learning, and held the position of rector of the Jagiellonian University during the academic year 1878/79. He died on 7 February 1883 in Cracow. Notable works: Dzieje Polski podług ostatnich badań, (1862-66), Historii polskiej treściwie opowiedzianej ksiąg dwanaście (1880), Rozstrząsania i opowiadania historyczne (1876), Dzieła, 20 volumes (1885-96).
Parafrazy myśli rządowej (“Paraphrases of governmental thought”) constituted a series of articles published during the January Uprising in Naprzód; the presented article was published in an issue dated 10 June 1863. (reprinted from: J. Szujski, O fałszywej historii jako mistrzyni fałszywej polityki. Rozprawy i artykuły, Warsaw 1991). At this time Szujski was a supporter of the struggle for independence by means of a national uprising and preached the need to submit to the authority of the National Government After the fall of the January Uprising, he adopted a more conservative viewpoint, criticising the independence conspiracy movement – a fragment of the article Dawna Rzeczpospolita a jej pogrobowce. Ustęp z obszerniejszego studium. Prelekcja na korzyść komitetu bratniej pomocy uczniów Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego miana d 10 marca 1871 przez Prof. Józefa Szujskiego – given the title Bezrząd (“Lawlessness”) by the editors of this volume – originates from this particular period.