On the ideological duties of Polish political emigres
Added: 2017-10-30
Added: 2017-10-30



Among the issues which the subsequent waves of Polish political emigration had to face, the question of legitimization to represent national interests was of particular importance. The significance of this problem was felt immediately after leaving the country, which, what needs to be strongly considered, happened as a result of the defeat of an uprising or a defensive war. This is how it was in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In their first reaction to exile, immediately after being forced to leave the country, emigres treated themselves as a formation whose main task was to prolong the struggle for independence. Attempts were made to combine the propagation of the “Polish cause” in exile with maintaining resistance in the country. Generally, these efforts brought far-awaited, short-term results, however, both the cases meant acquiring the right to act on behalf of the national interest.

The conditions for success of the plenipotency of this kind were both the program, at least tentatively agreed with those involved in the Polish independence movement who remained in the country, as well as the development of institutions confirming uniformity. In both the cases, the task turned out to be difficult, in fact, exceeding the capabilities. The possibility of agreement with the authorities remaining in the country seemed easy only on the assumption that the basis for unifying all views would be the common goal of regaining independence. In practice, and not only because of the lack of a clear mandate, the emigres were not certain, whether while speaking on their own behalf, they were at the same time speaking on behalf of the country. For some, this dilemma found expression in treating the foreign country as a place for preparation of a new uprising, which obviously settled the mandate of leadership outside the home country as well as within the country after the start of irredentism. Some assigned to themselves the right to speak on behalf of the people deprived of the ability to articulate their needs, and not only because of the political situation.

For others, as for example for Adam Czartoryski the leading figure of the political life outside the country after the November Uprising, the solution was to combine the leadership of the independence movement, in both the institutional and programmatic sense, with services performed for the country, which resulted in the conviction that their position was of a dual nature. On the one hand, they were to give inspiration from abroad to thought and action in their homeland, and on the other – they felt obliged to willingly submit to the decisions made in the country. The speeches given by Czartoryski on the occasions of the anniversaries, like May 3 and November 29, published in Paris, had the qualities of speeches of a ruler. According to his biographer, they possessed characteristics of the “great exposés of heads of governments.” Prince Czartoryski addressed the inhabitants of all parts of partitioned Poland and representatives of all social classes, he described the circumstances of the past struggle for independence, suggested social reforms, raised ethnic, economic and religious issues. Having decided not to accept the crown, which he was persuaded to do and which would determine his status not only abroad but also within the country, he acted as a person with the right to formulate a political programme for his country. Acting from abroad, he at the same time considered himself compelled to respect decisions made within the country. When in 1846, the National Government announced its establishment in Krakow, he immediately recognized it.

Although the unsuccessful uprising was co-organized by the emigres, with whom Czartoryski shared nothing more but the common experience of exile, his gesture did not mean that the entire Polish emigration spoke with one voice. The programmes of individual groups did not come into one common message, condemning all emigration to the fate of a politically non-homogeneous and organizationally heterogeneous organism. While for the conservative part of emigres Czartoryski was de facto the king, for the leftists he was the one, who “diminished the motherland” and whose social programme was far too conservative. The measure of the scale of the problem were the insurmountable obstacles in establishing a joint representative office, acting as a parliament in exile. The reasons for this state of affairs were manifold, mainly caused by differences in a world-view and political believes, but they also resulted from various assessments of the reasons for being in exile.

An even greater reason for the difficulty in defining the nature of the leadership of Polish emigration, was the situation of the Polish nation, subjected to repressions and pacifications, and forced – no matter how unwillingly – to accept the post-defeat conditions, in which it was to function. This situation prevailed during both the intensification of terror and liberalization. In the 1930s and 1940s, in the Kingdom of Poland, the Russian authorities allowed only for the articulation of a compromise programme – finding by the way some executors of it – yet from the mid-1950s the situation began to change.

Unsuccessfully trying to keep the Polish cause on the international cause list, the emigres – who referred to the courts, governments, peoples, or consciences, depending on the worldview of a particular groups and the means at their disposal – were faced with a combination of international circumstances which seemed to create a situation favourable to their expectations. The conflict between the Western powers and Russia, which took the shape of the Crimean War, did not have a connection with Poland, however, it was expected that the West’s victory would change the European order, understood as the circumstance which would allow for the return to the autonomous Polish Kingdom formula at least, if not for regaining independence. Despite the realisation of the scenario considered to coincide with these expectations, the victory of the Western powers and the defeat of Russia, they proved to be in vain, which resulted with the series of disappointment revealing the real influence and capabilities of the emigration.

The defeat of Russia did not change the position of the Polish cause, but it did not remain without effect on the situation in the country. The “Post-Sevastopol Spring,” which began in the mid-1850s, brought to power the margrave Aleksander Wielopolski loyal to St. Petersburg, who, however initiated some reforms. They did not take into account the postulate of independence, aiming to broaden the scope of autonomy, but they actually improved the situation of the part of the country dependent on Russia. At the same time, they sustained Wielopolski’s position as the leader of the political scene, straining the mandate of emigres to speak on his behalf. Their criticism of Wielopolski’s policy successfully neutralized the emerging underground movement. This could have led to the conclusion that the emigres, unable to influence the situation in the country in a manner suitable for their desires, could not play the role of effective opposition, being overtaken by local elements having much more appropriate instruments.

A similar situation arouse some time later, after the defeat of the January Uprising, which was the end of the old and the beginning of a new wave of emigration. The authors of the idea of Positivism, being enforced in the Kingdom of Poland, due to the internal and international situation distanced themselves from the armed struggle for independence. The position of the Polish cause at that moment was such that there was no possibility of any external support, therefore, it was decided to give primacy to solutions other than independence, such as industrialization, increase of the material standard of living, development of education, and modernization of the social order. This program – combined with the memory of immediate consequences of the uprising, which destroyed not only the hopes for freedom but also the effects of Wielopolski’s policy – although not satisfactory for everyone but still valuable, brought about forty years of interruption in insurrectionary initiatives, as well as the achievements beneficial to the generations of successors of Positivism, who, at the same time, remained critical towards those achievements.

Since the end of the 1860s, the situation deserving attention of the emigres has changed in the part of Poland located within the Imperial-Royal Austro-Hungarian Empire. The autonomy of Galicia, which allowed preservation of the national identity and taking care of culture and language, put into question the desirability of activities carried out outside the country, and prompted to move them to the area where they could have been more effective. Also for other reasons, emigration was gradually becoming less alluring. The progressing industrialization of the Kingdom of Poland brought to life the working class which, over time, became the carrier of subsequent attempts at armed struggle. All this, did not negate the sense of political activities outside the country, but narrowed their scope considerably. The land of exile, while losing the status of a place of permanent activity, became the area for conducting activities which were difficult or impossible in the country.

Responsibility towards the people who could not speak in a free voice was not an issue which only the emigre political groups were facing. The task, which resembled a set of principles and was formulated differently than it was usually done by political organizations, was this time undertaken by literature, and more broadly by culture, which found good conditions for development in exile. This task kept paving its way to the country, not without hindrance, nevertheless effectively, and finally it turned out to be present there in a wider dimension than the programs of emigre political groups. Even though it was not expected to do so, it played the role usually ascribed to the world of politics, and, while remaining free from “evil quarrels,” placed itself above all conflicts, strategies of action, and political views in the country. It counteracted the erosion of the national feeling, consolidated resistance to the policy of the invaders, and created a canon of attitudes for present and future generations. It gained the status of a more permanent and universal phenomenon than programs and manifestos, justifying – sometimes in spite of their contents – the unity of the emigres and the country.



After September 1939, the emigration, resulting from the defeat suffered by Poland, faced challenges similar to those which needed to be handled by the emigres of a century ago. Also in this case, the problem came down to the question on what terms to arrange relations with the country? To agree the emigration policy with the country’s aims, lead the country, or try to impose solutions that the emigres, for various reasons, found optimal? The transfer of the state institutions as well as a large part of the political elite to exile made things a little less difficult. Establishing the centre of power, based on the constitution, determined the relationship between emigration and the country in the formal and legal sense. Nevertheless, the presence of representatives of the power apparatus, activists of a number of political groups including those of the opposition, writers, scientists, and journalists outside the country, seemed to determine the right of emigration to formulate a program understood as common. An additional argument in favour of this thesis was the political change that took place after the defeat. In Paris the pre-September opposition took over the power, which further legitimized their right to speak on behalf of the country, being more than judgmentally disposed toward the policy of the governments responsible for the size of the defeat.

Gen. Władysław Sikorski, gathering together all the most important tools for practicing politics, was convinced that he managed a government universally accepted in the country and outside of it, whose program embodied both the common feeling and raison d’etat. This assumption was authorized not only by the conviction that there was no alternative to his policy, but also by other reasons. The Prime Minister did not have sufficient political base in the country to ensure control over the political and military underground, therefore he saw the way out of the situation in subordinating all to the centre located in exile.

In the first period of the war, this policy generally brought expected results due to the identification with the government’s priorities. In the programme, not particularly developed, Sikorski placed the emphasis on the struggle for independence using both diplomatic and military methods. As future supplements, the political reforms, foreign policy adjustments, and territorial transformations were announced. They were supposed to turn Poland into a country free from internal shortcomings and geopolitical dangers which caused the tragic experiences of 1939. Declarations formulated in international and geopolitical terms resulted in the projects prepared for the peace conference expected after the war. Gen. Sikorski, who was neither an ideologist nor a political thinker, but above all a practitioner, attached importance to issues such as a guarantee of security and independence of the state.

Initially, the government’s policy did not meet with criticism and counteraction. The reasons for that included the resilience of the Prime Minister, who skilfully convinced public opinion about the uniqueness of both his person and his politics, the general military situation, and the circumstances of the Poles in the country. The unprecedented terror, which the two occupiers chose as a method of perpetuating their rule, facilitated neither the organization of underground political life nor the creation of an underground army, inducing the acceptance of leadership located outside the country.

The assumptions adopted by Sikorski survived the defeat of France in 1940. Although it somewhat depleted his authority, or even provoked attempts to make him resign, it did not affect the conviction of the majority, including the public opinion in the country, that his policy fully served the idea of independence. Hopes were associated with the names of both the Prime Minister and the Commander in Chief. A change in the position of the Polish cause was brought by the outbreak of the German-Soviet war. The government was faced with the need to find a formula for an agreement with the Soviet Union, a more of an ally of the allies than of Poland itself, nevertheless, a state whose position had to be taken into account in the new chapter of the war. The agreement signed in July 1941, known as the Sikorski-Majski agreement from the names of the signatories, turned out to be the end of uniformity of the emigre policy, and also complicated the relations between emigration and the country, undermining the emigration’s primacy. Recognizing the content of the agreement as an error, which caused the issue of the Polish eastern border, was a fracture in a fairly uniform position of both the emigration and political underground in the country. The former state of relations, that is supremacy of the authorities in London, has been maintained. However, it did not prevent the gradual emancipation of the centre within the country, caused not only by differences of opinion on issues as fundamental as foreign policy which undermined London’s leadership, but also the growing strength of the underground. The latter, was justified by the increasingly extensive organization of the Underground State, strength of the underground army, and social support. All this steadily turned the underground authorities within the country into a partner, rather than the recipient of suggestions and commands.

This situation has clearly manifested itself in the final phase of the war. Even though the Government Delegate in the Country took the post of the Deputy Prime Minister of the government, and the underground representation of the parties, Council of National Unity, issued (March 1944) the declaration announcing far-reaching social and economic reforms, all this did not undermine the importance of the emigre authorities, but proved a change in relations. It was obvious for political and military reasons that the right to decide about the organization of the uprising and the date of its outbreak should be left to the internal underground authorities. However, it proved the importance of the underground, shifting the focus from emigration to the country. It was all the more obvious because, as from July 1944, Poland was the area of operation of the communist centre of power, established according to Stalin’s will.

Subsequent events proved the independence of both the centres, the one in exile and its national representation, both operating in conditions of a higher necessity, according to their own, not mutually consulted or agreed, ideas for saving independence. The government in London condemned the resolutions of the conference in Yalta (February 1945), stating that they constituted another partition of Poland and could not be binding for the Polish nation. With this statement, the London Government also argued that it has the right to speak on behalf of the general public, hoping at the same time that this right would give its protest the expected meaning. This position was met with the statement of the Council of National Unity, which found it necessary to accept the Yalta arrangements with understanding, despite being aware of the verdict which they really were. In the finale of the tragic war, the centres of power both in exile and in the country adopted different positions, in both cases with the conviction that they serve to save all that which still seemed possible to be saved.



The end of the war did not mean the end of the activity of emigration in the form, in which it was formed in 1939. Non-recognition of the decisions taken at conferences in Yalta and Potsdam, treated as an expression of the primacy of force over the law, was reflected in the continuation of state institutions in exile. According to the emigres, the People’s Republic of Poland was a structure brought into being against the principles of international law, ruled without democratic legitimacy against the will of the people. The status of the authorities in exile was thus defined by legalism, understood as constitutional continuity of the state.

The experiences of the last stage of the war, especially the tragedy of the Uprising, instilled in the programs of the emigre political institutions and also in political thought and attitude of the emigration, the conviction that by representing the idea of independence and attempting to act for the nation, the emigres could not induce behaviour which would lead to repressions and casualties. Certainly, this did not mean the renunciation of the power to decide about the fate of the country, which resulted from the existence of a constitutional centre of power. It rather meant correcting the division of power, in relation to the period of the war, brought about by the memory of the victims. At the same time, it did not mean the resignation from retaining the idea of independence, which proved to be the most important in both the attitude and the program of the legalistic centre.

This principle was accepted by political parties operating outside the country, however, a conviction that the decisions on internal solutions will in the future be taken by the people in free Poland did not turn out to be particularly inspiring for political thought. Political parties recognized the right of the nation to speak about its fate as natural, however, with the passing of time they became increasingly less oriented in the realities of the country. Therefore, not always aptly interpreting the ways of thinking and the strategies for participation in the public life adopted there, they did not give the impression of being able to meet the demands of modern times. The dependence on their own traditions and their own system of values, which they could not or would not revise, made it difficult for these political groups to face the current situation. Their programs, statements and positions were not the result of agreements with the country, and were not usually made with the country’s interest first in mind. Resulting from the assumptions adopted before the war, and thus not arising from the current situation in the country, these programmes were a product of the circumstances caused by the activities of different groups, operating in exile as political organisms addressing only a small group of sympathizers, and drawing their reason to remain out of both their own standing, as well as the past. All that did not induce political thought to become an inspiration for the country, reducing it to a mere ritual, justifying the existence of the institutions from which it emerged.

These tendencies were strengthened by a conflict caused by the system of presidential election, which in the years 1947-1954 led to the breakup into two camps, both assigning themselves the right to act as legalistic institutions. This, of course, affected the efficiency of the emigration in international space, as well as caused a gradual increase of passivity of these emigres who did not participate directly in political life. In such conditions, the programs of political institutions above all facilitated their participation in political life, and did not addresses the recipients in the country. This process was intensified by the changes taking place in Poland, that is, by the increasing possibilities of building the country’s own subjectivity (from 1956). The assumption that these procedures were supported by the programs of legalistic institutions, or, according to different views, of political parties, would definitely be a farfetched thesis.

This situation did not impede the persistent labelling of the country as a victim of the regime, which was, therefore, forced to be silent as well as to manifest the non-existent support for the regime, and which remained, however, faithful to the idea of freedom and independence, thus sharing, even if indirectly, the ideals of the emigration. All forms of opposition and resistance were used to justify this view. Above all, the anti-system protests (like for example Poznań 1956) which resulted mainly from anti-communist tendencies or the struggle independence, and to a lesser extent from social reasons, served here as sustainable arguments. These unrests legitimized both the existence and the attitude of the emigration, cast as a defender and a representative of the rights and aspirations of the country.

In a situation reminiscent of the one in which the post-November emigres had found themselves, an increasing importance was attributed to writing. It became increasingly even more important, while the world of institutional policy and the political thought resulting from its existence, became limited to the old forms and, against all efforts, also turned out to be ineffective. Emigre literature, in the broadest sense of the term, being rather a supplement and a peculiar means of expressing attitudes than a counterpart, became a testimony of martyrdom condemned to oblivion in the country, of struggle for truth, as well as a defender of compromised identity, and the tool, the form, and the content of the message addressed to the country. Literature, without coherent solutions which would be a projection of a plan agreed upon by all, was an expression of diversity resulting from world-view and political reasons, sympathies and institutional connections. Political thinking, whose forum of existence appeared mostly in journalism, but also in diary, memoir, and documentary literature, as well as in the majority of the “criminal books” published outside the country, reflected the divisions, the dominant feature of which was steadfastness – an attitude which led to the absolute non-recognition of order imposed by the communists in country, demanding independence and sovereignty. This arrangement was co-created by speeches taking various forms, referring to the past and the present, the situation in the country, and in the world.

Proper disputes, discussions and polemics in many cases may be regarded as a continuation of the debates held after independence, and sometimes even before 1914. The attention of the authors was attracted mainly by important political events which turned into contemporary history, and among them also by geopolitics, where modernity was treated as continuation of phenomena that were taken into account in the past. The limitation of the sphere of interest to the Polish cause, made it difficult to come to any contact with issues which did not seem to be related to it. While, especially after the end of the war, attention was directed to federalism, seen as a solution to the security issues of Central and Eastern Europe, far less interest was given to the process of European integration, which does not mean that it remained wilfully unnoticed.

According to some, most of the considerations did not reach the rank that their subject deserved, for the participants were inclined to put on their former attire, recreating orientations that no longer applied. The position, in which Poland found itself after the Second World War, required solutions emerging from the present, free from the past, which in this case not only did not help, but even prevented the formulation of concepts that deserved to be called political. This was not tantamount to completely new proposals, it was more about adjusting arguments and language to post-war conditions. An advocate of this method was, in the case of the Ukrainian question, Jerzy Giedroyc, editor of the Paris Kultura, in whose office, by the way, hanged a portrait of Adam Czartoryski.

In addition to the interest in Eastern politics and, more broadly, geopolitics, Kultura undertook a position towards the practices of communist governments, treating them not so much as a political diagnosis, but as a resultant suggestion. Taking into account the changes in political situation in the country, the Eastern bloc and the world, noticing the plasticity of the communist system, rejecting the facade and taking the trouble of delving deeper into the situation, it recommended moderate social pressure on the authorities, seeing it as the chance to change the politics of the regime in the process of evolution which would change its nature. As the driving force behind the changes, Kultura envisaged the working class, putting the responsibility for its political and civic education on the intelligentsia.

Conclusions stemming from the considerations referred to above, sometimes very different in results, sometimes even contradictory, while reaching the country had an impact on the recipients. Even if the resonances of these inquiries were perceived only by a few, and even if not all of these few accepted them, they did not fall into the vacuum. Their inspiring significance was determined by those properties which created their value through contrast with the blunt image of the present and the past, supersaturated with ideology and one-dimensional, used by the communist propaganda. Apart from the themes they touched, which had no right to exist in the communist reality, they were a manifestation of pluralism, freedom of expression and individualism. In favour of the emigration, they proved the disproportion between the community of diverse views, which was their collective author, and the collectivist “socialist society,” condemned to enforced unanimity.

They are, therefore, possible to be understand not so much, or at least not only, as a proposed way of thinking addressed to the people in the country, but as an ascertainment of the state in which this way of thinking remained, negating the genesis of its position, revealing the deformities and lies with which it came to live, helping to preserve distinctiveness and identity. From the mid-1970s, the reception of this idea was reflected in the style of thinking and the scope of interests of the Polish democratic opposition. The underground publishing movement benefited from publications brought out by the emigration. The books which have gained a unique position outside the country, confirmed it now, reaching the domestic recipient and proving the similarities of interests and needs. Independent intellectual life became a forum for analysing problems that had not yet been touched and, although were so close, have been treated as far too distant. This was the case, for example, of the Polish-Ukrainian issue which was no longer understood only as a historical problem, nor was it any longer identified exclusively within the Polish-Soviet relations.

Culture, treated as an area of resistance and struggle, turned out to be the priority for the emigration of the 1980s, commonly referred to as ”Solidarity emigration.” Not trying to organize itself in political groups, recognizing that the sense of its actions was to support all undertakings directed against the martial law, which outside the country were represented by the Union’s representatives, the emigration saw its duty in defending the endangered values. Being aware of the fact that a large part of the readers of the magazines established after December 1981 stayed in the country, it recognized its obligation to support the struggles undertaken there. This subordination, which in any case did not restrict the right to criticize the policy of Solidarity, proved that the new wave of emigration, without resigning from representing the interests of the country, took the form of an organism based on partnership, speaking with one voice.





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