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Right Wing Poland Has Historic Roots
November 13, 2017
by William P. Meyers

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Fascists Ruled Poland Before Hitler Invaded

The recent nationalist, racist rally in Warsaw [See Nationalist March Dominates Poland's Independence Day, New York Times, November 11, 2017] appears to represent an acceleration of the growth of nationalism and religious chauvinism and Poland. Most would trace this back to the fall of communism. But the roots of Polish nationalism are much deeper.

It is easy to forget that Poland was a fascist nation before Hitler's troops invaded it in 1939. Poles never adapted well to being part of the larger government units. While Poland had existed as a separate nation as late as 1795, before World War I Poles lived in within three larger nations: Russia (under the czar); the Austrian empire; and Germany. Of course many Poles had no problem with that, but Polish nationalism remained strong. In particular, Poles mainly stuck to their Polish language, despite schools being conducted in German or Russian.

With Germany and Austria defeated in World War I, Russia grabbed by Bolsheviks who had to fight a civil war to maintain their rule, and support from the victorious imperialist nations, Poland as a separate, sovereign state was recreated in 1918.

As everywhere, the new nation had numerous political and social factions. It had sizeable ethnic groups besides the Poles, notably Germans, Russians, other slavic groups, and of course Jews.

At the end of World War I the Catholic Church, long the bastion of monarchism, was adapting to the modern world by adopting a new system sometimes called corporatism (from the Latin for Body, not from favoring business corporations, but because the ruler was the Head and democracy, free speech, and religious freedom were not to be practiced by the people who formed the body, much as the Church sees the relationship between the Pope and laity). Corporatism came to be labeled Fascism after Mussolini's fascist movement took over Italy (with the Pope's blessing).

I would call the Polish government between 1918 and its end in 1939, particularly after Pilsudski's coup in 1926, Fascist. Certainly it was authoritarian. However, it was a homegrown fascism, differing in many details from that of Mussolini, Hitler, Franco and Petain. As strongman Pilsudski treated Jews and other minorities relatively well, as long as they were loyal to his regime. But anti-semitism and Polish ethnic supremacist views were prevalent in the general population. After Pilsudski's death in 1935, restrictions on Jews and other minorities intensified.

Hitler's attempt to exterminate the Jews of Poland is well-documented. Of more interest, in relation to current events, is the occupation of post-war Poland by the Soviet Union. The leaders of communist Poland were ethnic Poles, but their ideology was of international working-class solidarity, and the real politics was serving the ruling class of the Soviet Union. Nationalism, and Roman Catholicism, simply went underground. There was little direct opposition to the communist state. Since Poland was technically sovereign, and Poles had little experience with democracy, this was fine for all parties. In particular, the Catholic Church suffered little persecution, though atheism was promoted in schools along with science and communism.

While there is a strong Modern contingent in Poland today (Modern: mainly reality based, rather than based on factually wrong traditions like religion or ethnic beliefs), there is also a strong, tradition bound, mostly Roman Catholic, nationalist and even racist segment of Polish society. These are loosely correlated variables. There is an internationalist trend in the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, or one could be racist and in some other religion.

Why did Poles mostly retain Roman Catholicism, while East Germany became mainly modern? Why are some of the originally Islamic former Soviet Republics mostly modern, while others have large groups of people who prefer more rigid, conservative forms of Islam? I don't know. It is just an interesting question.

I do believe that Roman Catholicism, to be swallowed by anyone, requires a narrowness of mind that also is the basis for nationalism and racism.

The main change in Polish nationalism today, as was evident in the demonstration last week, is the new prime enemy is Islam. To atheists, the Catholic Church and orthodox Islam are essentially the same ball of wax. Which is probably why they hate each other so fiercely: each appeals to an authority, and neither can prove their authority is the right one.

More generally, why do different individuals within the same culture choose different identities? I suspect that some of the choices stem from personality and natural capabilities. Some have to do with the extent that people surrounding an individual present variations. But a lot of it is probably just random, not in the sense that there is no cause, but in the sense that individuals are complicated and cultures are complicated, so sorting out which are the crucial variables for a given individual, family, neighborhood, or nation is not a practical endeavor.


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