Page images

Poland, with only one fifteenth of the population, has of recent years been mulcted for nearly one fourth of the entire revenue of the Russian Empire. Besides supporting between two and three hundred thousand foreign functionaries, oppressors, and criminals, the Poles have furnished a large part of the funds for Russia's activities in Siberia and central Asia, for the money raised by taxes is not spent in the country. The Poles, powerless to legislate for themselves and to control the expenditures of the tremendous taxes wrung from them, have had to struggle. against the handicap of the most miserable roads in Europe. In this day of international commerce, when transportation facilities mean much, Russian Poland, both in proportion to inhabitants and to area, has fewer railways than any other country in Europe. Taking wagon-roads and railways together, Russian Poland holds the lowest place among the civilized countries of the world. Russian Poland is perhaps also the only country of the world where public primary education has fallen off in the last four hundred years. The Russian exploiters, filling their treasury with Polish money, maintained, according to the census of 1912, only 4641 primary schools in Poland, with 282,000 pupils. This means one school for every 2750 inhabitants, while the rest of Russia enjoys a school for every 1430 inhabitants. In the same territory, in the year 1500, the Poles had a primary school for every 2250 inhabitants. The most sweeping suppression of public education in Poland has come since the establishment of the Duma. In 1906 nearly a thousand primary schools were closed in Poland without explanation or justification. In the kingdom of Poland, right down to the opening of the present war, the régime of bitter oppression continued. There was no liberty of speech, of association, of teaching, of press, and even the private expression of one's opinion led to banishment, imprisonment, or death.

Despite the ill will and incompetency of the bureaucracy, Russian Poland has prospered wonderfully from the industrial

It is

point of view, and has gained steadily in importance as a manufacturing country. Warsaw has grown to over a million inhabitants, and the growth of Lódz is comparable to that of the great industrial cities of Germany, England, and America. In their industrial life the people of Poland have benefited by the union with Russia, for they have been able to develop their manufactures with the view of supplying the needs of the greatest country of Europe-a country in which industry is far behind that of other nations. not surprising that those who have benefited by the open door to Russian markets have been willing to submit to political persecution and even to economic discrimination. What matters it if railway rates are so arranged that freight from Warsaw to Moscow pays a considerably higher tariff than freight from Moscow to Warsaw? As long as Russia cannot compete with Poland in manufactures, the industrial element in Poland is willing to grin and bear this discrimination: But it is not the same for agriculture, which is, after all, the chief source of wealth of every country. Russian Poland is marvelously rich, and its inhabitants are as industrious as any in the world. They get along. But how much better they could do if they had a fair chance! Under Russian rule Poles have emigrated in great numbers, and hundreds of thousands who ought to have plenty to do at home must go every year to Germany to find work at living wages.

From the purely material point of view the Poles cannot claim to be badly off under German rule. They have benefited fully as much as the Germans themselves by the prosperity of the German Empire since its unification. Roads are good and well kept up. Railways are abundant. The economic organization is superb. One has only to study the figures of Polish bank balances in Prussia to see that the Poles have received their full share of the prosperity which has come to Germany in the last thirty years. More than this, despite hostile legislation, they have personally enjoyed the protection and privi

leges of the German laws. There are schools for all in Prussian Poland. Polish working-men share in the benefits of enlightened German social legislation. The press is free. For this reason Posen, and not Warsaw, has become the center for books, magazines, and newspapers in the Polish language. German Poles have everything but the right to be Poles and govern themselves. The attitude of the Prussian Junker to the Pole is very similar to that of the English Tory to the Irishman: "You have the full dinner-pail. Your union with us is of enormous benefit to you. Why, in the name of Heaven, are you not satisfied?"

Up to the outbreak of the war in 1914, Russia, Germany, and to a certain extent Austria, ignored the possibility of the resurrection of the Polish nation. They had declared so repeatedly that the independence of Poland was a chimera, that "agitators" who kept alive the feeling of nationality among their Poles were criminals and working against the best interest of their people, that the rest of Europe, the whole world, in fact, had ended by believing that the Polish question was dead. No more striking illustration of this can be found than in the simple fact. that three years ago a writer could not get published in a big newspaper, much less in a leading magazine or review, any article dealing with the possibility of the resurrection of Poland. I know, for I I know, for I have tried. The invariable answer was that there was no interest in the Polish question or that the Polish question did not exist.

But when the participants of Poland came to blows among themselves, the world awoke suddenly to the fact that the Polish question was not dead, that the Poles had kept alive through a century of martyrdom their consciousness of race, and that they were numerous enough to have a decisive effect upon the issue of the


How bitterly the Germans must have rued the Prussian policy of antagonizing the Poles! What an advantage the Central Powers would have enjoyed

had the Prussian Landtag shown toward the Poles in the last decade the same liberal spirit as the Austrian Reichsrath! If Germany and Austria-Hungary had been able to get together at the very beginning of the war, and had announced to all the Poles that they intended to restore Poland as an independent nation, Russia would have been powerless to strike a blow on the eastern front. But chickens came home to roost for Germany immediately. In view of the bitter Prussian persecution during the last decade, how could the Poles be expected to have more faith in German promises than in the words of the Grand Duke Nicholas? The Poles did not know where they stood, and had little reason to put any faith at all in the fair promises of either side.

The first months of the war were a period of enthusiasm, when clear, detached thinking was virtually impossible for any one. No man with red blood in his veins could be really neutral. One simply had to take sides, and the fact that Russia was the ally of France, and that the offensive movement of the Russian armies relieved the pressure upon Paris, was sufficient for men of liberal thought throughout the whole world to do their very best to accept and believe the Russian promises made to Poland in the Grand Duke Nicholas's proclamation. Even in August, 1914, however, it was very difficult to take at face-value this stirring appeal for Polish friendship. The Russian change of heart lay under the natural suspicion of being due to expediency and determined by the military exigencies of the moment. This suspicion grew when the grand duke's promises were not confirmed by an imperial ukase. Then came the temporary Russian successes in Galicia and the capture of Lemberg. Russia had her moment of great opportunity. But instead of conserving. Polish liberties enjoyed under Austrian rule in this historic Polish city, Russian officials, military and civil, started right in on the old policy of sweeping Russification, and let the Poles understand clearly that there was no hope of emanci

pation from Russia. It is not too much to say that had Russia been successful in her initial campaign and kept the Germans out of Poland, we should have heard no more of the promises of August, 1914.

Hard a blow as it was, then, to the cause of the Allies, the entry of the Germans into Warsaw was a distinct step forward for the realization of Polish aspirations; while the failure of the Russians to capture Cracow and their debacle in eastern Galicia could not be looked upon by the Poles in any other light than as rescue from a great danger.

I do not mean to infer by this that the success of the Central Powers, if permanent, would have resulted in the restoration of Poland to independence or autonomy. The decisive success of either group of belligerents, in a short war, would have meant for the Poles merely the passing from Scylla to Charybdis. Victorious Germany would not have needed to conciliate the Poles any more than victorious Russia. In fact, had the war lasted only one or two years, the question of Poland and her aspirations would easily and quickly have been forgotten in the peace conference. Had Germany been victorious, no voice would have been raised to compel her to settle the destinies of central and eastern Europe in any other way than in accordance with her own selfish desires. Certainly a protest in behalf of Poland would never have come from the German people. Is not the impotence of liberal sentiment in the imperial Reichstag to prevent the execution of Prussian iniquitous measures in Posnania during the last decade sufficient proof of this? On the other hand, had Russia been immediately and overwhelmingly successful, could liberal public sentiment in France and England have forced the czar's government to do the square thing by the Poles? We cannot forget the remarkable words of Lord Castlereagh to the House of Commons after his return from the Congress of Vienna in 1815. His comment upon the failure to resuscitate Poland was simply this: "There was undoubtedly a strong feeling

in England upon the subject of independence and a separate government of Poland; indeed, there was, I believe, but one feeling, and, as far as I was able, I exerted myself to obtain that object." Nothing was ever done for Poland, even at the time of the events of 1831, 1846, and 1863, by the British Government and the British people.

BUT now that the Great War has entered its third winter, and the destinies of Europe are still in the balance, the question of Poland is more acute than ever before, and Poland has at last her opportunity to reappear upon the map of Europe. Both groups of belligerents have come to the realization that complete and overwhelming victory, even if they cherish the hope that it is still possible, will be too dearly purchased by the indefinite continuation of straight fighting. They are paying much more attention to scoring moves by manoeuvers of diplomacy than they did before the failure of the Verdun and Somme offensives. No field for conciliation and bargaining seems more profitable than that of Poland.

On the principle that when the whole loaf cannot be obtained half a loaf is better than nothing, tremendous pressure is being brought upon Russia by France and Great Britain to speak out plainly and unreservedly on the question of the future of Poland. It is being represented to Russia that the errors which followed the Galician victories of 1914 be not repeated after the Galician victories of 1916. Above all, the Poles must be offered the union, fully safeguarded, of Russia's Polish territories with whatever Polish territory may be wrested from Austria-Hungary and Germany. Germany has reached a similar conclusion in regard to the Poles, and has taken advantage of the AustroHungarian reverses at the hands of Russia and Italy to force the Austrians and Hungarians to reason. The Central Powers will undoubtedly establish an autonomous régime for reconstituted Poland in the very near future. If, through the stubbornness of Russia, the Allied Gov

ernments are foolish enough to allow themselves to be anticipated in making such an offer to the Poles, they will in self-defense have to match the proposal of the Central Powers. Otherwise, not only will they antagonize the Poles, but they will also alienate the sympathy of neutrals and of the genuinely liberal elements of their own electorates. For have they not proclaimed from the housetops that they are waging this war for the freeing of oppressed and subject nationalities?

The Poles are undoubtedly placed in an extremely embarrassing and delicate situation. For nearly one and one half million Poles are fighting on opposing sides, and another half-million of military. age are within the spheres of influence of the two groups of belligerents, and are being called upon to take arms "against the oppressor" in "liberating" armies. What Sir Roger Casement did in Germany is being done to-day among prisoners of war in all the prison camps of Europe. The invitation to treason (for it is treason to fight with the enemy against the nation of which one is a subject) is being given to Poles everywhere. The invitation is coupled with a threat. Both sides tell the unhappy Poles that if they do not now choose to "fight for Poland," the promises will naturally be withdrawn. As Germany and Austria have the greatest number of Polish prisoners and hold virtually all of what is ethnographically Polish territory, the danger is greatest to Poles of Russian subjection who are at present at the mercy of the Central Powers. There is only one way of safety, and that is for the Poles to stick resolutely, on technical grounds, to their present allegiance, and not to spoil the future by acting for one or the other of the belligerent groups. The people of Russian Poland suffer at the hands of Germany by such a stand, but they will not lose in the long run. For if they are loyal to Russia during this period of trial, the self-respect of the Allies will never tolerate putting them back again under Russian slavery when the war is ended. Similarly, after what has happened in Ire


land, the English people cannot hold against the Poles of Galicia and Posnania the fact that they remain loyal for the duration of the war to Austria and Germany.


All the world is longing for peace. must begin now to prepare for the difficult task of making peace. A durable peace can come only through the determination of enlightened men throughout the whole world to see that justice is done to every race involved in the struggle. Otherwise, another treaty of Vienna or of Berlin will impose upon our children and our grandchildren a sacrifice of blood and treasure and a burden of human suffering similar to that which we are making and bearing during these years of horror.

Foremost among the problems to be solved is that of the future of Poland. There is only one satisfactory solutionthe renascence of Poland as an independent state. Lovers of justice and friends of peace must work for this object with all their heart and soul. To this end it behooves us to establish a propaganda of information, free from bias and prejudice, so that the reasons for this only safe and just solution of the Polish problem be put clearly before those who are fighting, those who are paying the price of the fighting, and those whose sympathy goes out to the fighters and the sufferers.

THERE are four considerations that we would do well to comprehend and ponder over in connection with the future of Poland.

I. The reconstituted Polish state must not be made subject in any way to Russia.

Notwithstanding the enormous amount of ink that is being used these days to prove that Russia is the "big sister" of the Slavs, it is certainly not true in connection with the Poles, and it is doubtful if it is true in connection with any Slavic nation. We cannot bank on what Russia some day may become. To-day she is far behind other European nations in civilization, and will remain so as long as eighty per cent. of her population is illiterate. Her Government is a corrupt Ori

ental despotism. The blood of her people is mixed, and the Asiatic strain is large and recent. During the approaching period of constitutional development .her leaders are bound to show a narrow and fanatical nationalism, which makes impossible understanding of or proper relations with a subject nationality. The Poles, on the other hand, are a pure Slavic race who have received their culture and laws and religion from the West. They have nothing in common with the Russians. As a part of the Russian Empire they would prove the same thorn in the flesh to the Russians of the twentieth century as they have been to the Russians of the nineteenth century. After the experiment of the last hundred years it is unwise to yoke together again two nations in a different stage of development, of different background, and with different ideals, making the more advanced nation the political inferior of its social inferior. It may be advanced that the "guaranty of Europe" would protect autonomous Poland from Russian bad faith and aggression. But is bitter experience no teacher? In a great political organism only the relative feebleness of the predominant nationality safeguards the autonomy of other nationalities.

It is unsafe for the future of Europe to increase the dominions of Russia toward the west by the extension of the czar's sovereignty over German and Austrian Poland. This statement needs neither amplification nor argument to thinking


2. The reconstituted Polish state must not be made subject in any way to Ger


Germany, with less excuse than Russia (for she pretends to, and actually does, enjoy a far higher degree of civilization and enlightenment), has a black record of arrogance toward and intolerance of other nations whose legitimate aspirations have stood in the path of her political and commercial expansion. Her good faith cannot be depended upon. If Poland, either as a semi-independent or autonomous state, is placed under the tutelage.

of Germany, the Germans will leave no stone unturned to bind the Poles hand and foot. Although the new Polish state would have about fifteen million inhabitants, it would stand little chance of resisting German aggression. For ninety per cent. of the Poles follow agricultural pursuits. Their industries and commerce are almost entirely in the hands of Germans and Jews; so they would be powerless to use the weapon of economic boycott against Germany, and would gradually be assimilated by their powerful Western neighbor. German statesmen and publicists know this fatal weakness of Poland, which can be remedied only by a wholly independent national life. The Germans have studied their trump-cards, and do not hesitate to undertake the management of a united Poland.

The suggestion that reunited Poland be made a constituent member of the Hapsburg dominions is equally inimical to the realization of Polish aspirations. The present war has irrevocably committed Austria-Hungary to a common destiny with Teutonic Europe. Vienna and Budapest will continue to act with Berlin.

3. The boundaries of the reconstituted state must be determined not on historical grounds, but solely by conservative, unsentimental ethnological considerations, and by sound economic and political considerations.

In this the Polish question is similar to many other questions that will come before the makers of the new map of Europe. The most perplexing problem of forming national boundaries, of reconciling conflicting national aspirations, is that of irredentism. Irredentism is a term used to describe the desire of states which have come into existence in the nineteenth century to extend their boundaries so as to include adjacent populations of the same race and language and adjacent territories which were in the past historically theirs. Most of the later states that have appeared on the map of Europe are strongly influenced by irredentism. Irredentism is the cause of the antagonism and rivalry

« PreviousContinue »