Rafał Chwedoruk



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Rafał Chwedoruk

Polish Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism in the 20th century

Scientific research into Polish Anarchism and generally the radical left has always been poorly developed in Poland. One of the reasons for this was political constraints. However almost every trend of the Polish labour movement – both democratic socialism and communism and Syndicalism developed in ways that were different from the western experience.
One example of the specific nature of the Polish labour movement was the parallel existence of Anarchism, whose main trend was Anarcho-Syndicalism and, originally, Polish Syndicalism. Whereas Anarchism simply attempted to emulate the ideas and methods of Anarchism from other countries, the roots of Syndicalism were different from those in the countries of western Europe. The Polish Syndicalism stemmed from neither socialist ideas nor the labour movement. What happened in Poland was a rare evolution from nationalism to Sorelism, and then to radical left that was close to Anarcho-Syndicalism. Temporarily, this trend achieved a certain significance in the Polish labour movement in the 1930s and 1940s.
The Polish Syndicalism was based on various ideological and historical inspirations – the ideas of Sorel and Georges Valois, the experiences of the French CGT and the Spanish CNT, as well as nationalism and the so-called national labour movement, which, apart from Poland, existed also in Czechoslovakia as represented by the Czech National Socialist Party1. The Polish variation of Syndicalism stemmed therefore from similar roots as Nationalism Socialisms, also Fascism, it incorporated France’s Sorelism and revolutionary Syndicalism, and finally it came close to the Anarcho-Syndicalism of the FAUD and CNT type.
Ulrich Klan and Dieter Nelles were right to argue, which other researchers confirm, that the ideas of G. Sorel did not exert a big influence on Anarcho-Syndicalist ideas and movements in different countries including France2. More often Sorel is perceived as a forerunner of fascism. As Éduard Berth, one of the more distinguished disciples of Sorel, was right to discern, Sorel while being an ordinary spectator of the labour movement, because according to his own theories no one else but the proletariat itself was eligible to be the actor, he was a spectator with a special commitment and passion.3 However, in Poland Sorelism did exert a real influence on the labour movement. Sorel’s followers, although of intellectual origin, decided to be someone more than just a spectator.

I. Reasons for Anarchism’s weakness as a social movement in Poland.


In the 19th century, when Anarchism was growing as an independent political movement, the Polish territory had been partitioned by three invaders, Russia, Prussia (Germany), and Austria (Austro-Hungary). In each partition, Anarchism took on a different shape. In the relatively liberal Austria prevalent were reformist tendencies, and among anarchists the dominant trend was Anarcho-Syndicalism. In the Russian partition only a violent revolutionary struggle was possible, whereas in the German partition the socialist movement attracted marginal support. Besides, all modern political trends had to focus their attention on the question of Polish independence and national self-determination.
As a result, ideologically, the labour movement had from the beginning been divided into two trends. The bigger one attracted quite extensive social support and it combined the ideas of socialism, democracy and Polish independence. It echoed the well-known arguments of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who were enthusiastic about an independent Poland and in the restoration of Poland they saw the condition for a successful socialist revolution in Europe. The 20th century Polish Syndicalism was located near this Polish Marxist and independence-oriented socialism. The second trend of the Polish labour movement was radically internationalist and it opposed the independence of Poland. This was the reason for its isolation in society. Rosa Luxemburg was the symbol of this movement. It was this tradition that the post-1918 Anarchism stemmed from.
Two world wars rolled over Poland during the 20th century, which was what strengthened the significance of the national question in Polish politics, and which weakened all ideologies praising internationalism.
The problem that the Polish labour movement faced were constraints on political liberties, first under the regimes of the invading monarchies, in the years 1926-1939 under the specific semi-dictatorship, then under the Nazi occupation, and finally, after 1945, under the Communist dictatorship that destroyed all left-wing traditions except the Communists themselves.
Another significant question was the social structure. The Polish territory was of a mainly agricultural character, and the development of industrial capitalism was limited. The working class made up a social minority, with only a part having a developed a social awareness, which was mainly skilled workers affiliated to the Polish Socialist Party (PPS)4. The working class was politically divided between the left and the right. The conflict between the workers and the bourgeoisie was not a major one in the Polish society. Also the character of national culture was not a favourable one. Substantial was the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, which was very conservative and ruthlessly hostile to any political trends that were independent of it. Moreover, in society dominant was the ethos of the gentry and that of the peasants, which was connected with the rural life. Low social self-organisation was a disadvantage.

The Polish society has until today remained post-traditional, i.e. one combining different types of society.

II. Beginings of Anarchism on the Polish lands.
Tendencies close to Anarchism were strong among Polish socialists in the 1880s. They believed in a world-scale revolution. One can say that in the then dispute between Marx and Bakunin followers they were distant from both parties alike. Poles were also active in the First International5. It is worth noting a small organization called “Solidarity” Workers’ Party founded by Kazimierz Puchewicz, which existed in the 1880s and whose programme was close to the Syndicalism of years to come6.
In the Austrian partition Anarchism began to develop in Cracow, a town that was an oasis of liberties in the 19th century. Anarchism grew among dissidents from the Polish faction of the Social Democratic Party operating in the Habsburgs’ state. They published “The Workers’ Cause” periodical, attempted street campaigning and concentrated on workers’ rights protection and critique of the Socialists. The programme was a simple copy of the western-style Anarcho-Syndicalism. The leader was ex-socialist and psychiatrist Augustyn Wróblewski7. However, despite the widespread severe social conflicts, Anarcho-Syndicalists failed to develop a wider activity and stayed in the background of the Socialist movement8. The main theoretician of revolutionary Syndicalism until 1918, which explicitly incorporated the Western European ideas, was Józef Zieliński (1861-1927), an author of some ideological brochures9.
However, in the Russian partition at the time of the revolution 1905-1907 the Polish territory was a venue for numerous strikes and street fighting, where Socialist parties played the main role. Anarchism sprang up on their margins with such organizations as Revolutionary Avengers10. The ideological level of these groups remained rather low. It was then that the negative stereotype was developed on the Polish lands due to illegalisme11. This caused a huge gap between the Socialist parties and the Anarchists. World War One brought a complete end to the Polish Anarchist movement.

III. Anarchism in the 1920s – no hope for autonomy.


Ironically, the creation of an independent democratic Polish state caused a very difficult situation for Anarchism. The Republic of Poland was the work of the socialist movement and Józef Piłsudski, who had Socialist background. It was a parliamentary democracy with social legislation that made it one of the most modern countries in Europe. In central and southern Poland most of the working class supported the Socialist movement which included many heroes from the struggle for national independence. The main political conflict was the one between the so-called national independence left and the nationalist right that resented democracy and social legislation. In December 1918 several left-wing groups established the Communist Party. Following Rose Luxembourg tradition, it opposed the idea of an independent Poland and boycotted the first democratic elections in 1919. In the war between Poland and Soviet Russia in 1920 the Communist party supported Lenin’s country. It remained illegal and in social isolation.
The activists involved in the restoration of Polish Anarchism were having similar dilemmas as western Anarcho-Syndicalists, many of whom at that time were debating whether or not they should co-operate with Lenin’s Communists and their International. Their common opposition to the Socialist party and Piłsudski12 helped Anarchism and Communism to permeate. Once the Third International and Anarchism split up, groups of Anarchists turned up in Poland who cut their links with the Communist Party of Poland. However they did not form a cohesive structure. They published several works of Kropotkin in Polish13.
In 1926 a part of the Polish army loyal to Piłsudski and backed by the PPS and its trade unions abolished the government of the nationalist right and some centrist parties. It was the first and last time that the Communist Party endorsed Piłsudski. Anarchists were the only left-wing formation not to support the overthrow. Then, they continued to consider all governments after 1926 as Fascist14.
Social support made a dramatic swing to the left. It was also the Anarchists that took advantage of it. After many meetings, in July 1926 the Anarchist Federation of Poland(AFP) was created that brought together representatives of different Anarchist trends. However the organisation’s statutes brought no new ideas but reproduced old Anarchist standards. The programme called for direct action and economic fight as opposed to political fight. The AFP was explicitly revolutionary, as its enemies it considered all political parties, and particularly ferociously it fought the Socialist movement15.
The AFP first attracted public attention on the occasion of the Sacco-Vanzetti16 campaign. They tried to work among the working class, publish periodicals “The Anarchist Voice” and “Class Struggle”. However, serious repressions fell upon the Anarchists who, along with the pro-Russian Communists, were recognised by the decisively anti-Russian government as forces hostile to Polish national independence. At least a dozen or so people were imprisoned for being members in the illegal AFP17.
Anarchists failed to reach the working class. Several hundred were active in the AFP and sociologically they were very similar to the Communist Party, which had about 3,000 members. AFP members and supporters were almost exclusively people from the Jewish minority18. In Poland the Jewish community was concentrated in free professions, the middle class and petit bourgeoisie, and, unlike in Western Europe, it made up a sizeable “rabble proletariat”. Politically, religious conservatism dominated in this ethnic minority. Anarchists and Communists could count on young dissidents from conservative Jewish boroughs, who were not interested to take part in the Polish socialist movement and who could easily indulge in the temptations of political radicalism19. This is why the AFP was not a workers’ organization, and probably dominant were people who could be referred to as ‘declassed’ in Marxist terms. What is significant, the most important representatives of Polish Anarchism and AFP had relations with the Communist movement. Interestingly, the Polish Anarchist Josef Goldberg, known as Jerzy Borejsza, was a friend of Bonaventura Durutti during his stay in France. After World War II, in the Stalinist era, he was the Minister of Culture in Poland!20
The year 1931 brought an end to the classic disputes of that time between Anarcho-Syndicalists and Anarcho-Communists (that had started in 1923). The former prevailed in the AFP, too21. But at the same time Polish Anarchism suffered another crisis and the AFP nearly stopped its activity. Polish Anarchism repeated the sins of Communism: ideological dogmatism, sectarianism, and hostility to the rest of the left. It was not by accident the the rescue arrived from abroad.
In September 1932, one of the FAUD leaders, Thomas Pilarski, came through to Poland with the help of Polish diplomats. He was helped by his ex-colleague from the Silesia region’s Spartacus, Arka Bożek, who 1926 was a member of the ruling party in Poland. Pilarski undertook an active co-operation with the Polish state, e.g. as a speaker of the Polish radio in Silesia, broadcasting programmes against the Nazis and German nationalism to Silesian people. Pilarski was the object of NSDAP hatred, and the Nazi diplomacy unsuccessfully called the Polish government about him22. Pilarski started work in the pro-government and Syndicalist-dominated Union of Trade Unions (ZZZ). It was by his advice that young people joined the ZZZ from the weakening AFP, which was carried through in accord with the AIT23. Pilarski was quickly promoted in the ZZZ. Particularly many Anarchists were members in the youth organisations affiliated to the ZZZ. Far-reaching pragmatism was what characterised Pilarski. His main inspiration was anti-Fascism and the objective a common front of the left against international Fascism. Anarchists in the ZZZ promoted the idea of uniting this union with the Socialist trade unions. Pilarski and his associates radicalised the pro-government union in social affairs on the one hand and were extremely careful in their relations with the government on the other.
Therefore, Polish Anarchism practically began to execute the so-called “boring from within” strategy of entering a formally non-Anarchist trade union. A similar tactics had been applied by French Anarcho-Syndicalists at the turn of the century and similar discussions were held in other countries, e.g. the USA24.

IV. Polish Syndicalism – Sorelism in Central Europe.


The creation of a uniquely Polish trend in the labour movement was a result of several factors. First, the general intellectual mood at the turn of the centuries. The concepts of Bergson, Nietzsche and others had an impact on the Polish lands. In the Socialist movement this led to discussions about reinterpretation of Marxism in the spirit of Subjectivism. Consequently, Polish Marxism was far from dogmatic25. Original theoreticians came to the fore including Edward Abramowski, who believed himself to be a Socialist and Cooperativist, though today he is rather regarded as an Anarchist. Abramowski preached the ideas of moral revolution pre-empting social and economic change26. Next, Jan Wacław Machajski, who used to be regarded as Anarchist by his contemporaries and who believed Marxism was a bourgeois weapon against the real working class movement27.
The second key factor was the direct influence of the Sorel thought on Polish left-wing intellectuals. The radical revolutionary sentiment in central Poland, certain disappointment at the failure of the 1905 revolution, the crisis of the Socialist parties, the critique of the mainstream Polish culture, all built the space for Sorelism28. The actual founder of Polish Syndicalism as an idea was Stanisław Brzozowski, an eccentric philosopher and literary critic. In the years 1909-1911 he acquainted himself with Sorel’s works. He argued the ideas of a so-called labour philosophy, he perceived the proletariat as a heroic founder of a new society. He based his reasoning on radical anthropocentrism. Like Sorel, Brzozowski experienced many intellectual fascinations, and Syndicalism was one of them, though not an accidental one. “By all means, [Brzozowski] was the founder of the first consistently anti-Engels interpretation of Marxism…” His disease and premature death ended the convoluted way of the Polish thinker29.
It was the Sorel, Brzozowski and Abramowski ideas that exerted an influence on

Stefan Żeromski, one of the most famous Polish writers in history, and the most important left-wing writer in the Polish labour movement history. Right after World War One, disappointed at the rising domination of the right in Poland, he published two Syndicalist texts30.



Soon, the Syndicalist movement referred to the Brzozowski and Żeromski ideas directly.
Another factor was the specific character of Polish nationalism. Contrary to what it seems, it had democratic roots, close to the left. The 1880s saw a rebirth of Polish conspiracy organizations dedicated to fighting for restoration of an independent Polish state, based on rural classes, democracy, and co-existence of nations. A part of them was socialist in character by combining national and socialist ideas. But all of them attacked the Polish upper class. One of these secret organizations was the “Zet” Polish Youth Union31, which organised young people in patriotic work. It set up the National Youth Organisation (OMN), which played a similar role among secondary school youth. By the end of the 19th century a broad national democratic movement had been established comprising political parties and different social organizations on all lands under partitions and on exile. It combined the romantic idea of independence with positivist methods. “Zet” was part of it. Its ideology was based on the formula of three justices: national, political, and social.
Unexpectedly, during the 1905-1907 revolution, the National Democracy leader Roman Dmowski directed this movement against the revolution and towards co-operation with Russia. Military clashes with left-wing organizations followed in central Poland. Dmowski found that it was Germany that was the main enemy of Poland, which is why one should choose to co-operate with Russia. This led to a split within National Democracy. The consistent advocates of Polish independence and opponents of conservatism left Dmowski. Among them were peasants’ and workers’ parties, as well as the “Zet” and OMN youth organisations. During World War One they started to co-operate with the national independence left backing Piłsudski and they came to be a firm element of the broad centre and left alliance backing this politician.
After World War One “Zet” played a role in the fight for Polish borders. The secret (sic!) Patriotic Union and many other organisations were established. “Zet” wished to be present in all fields of the social life.
Ironically, “Zet” was a movement with no ideology. It argued a chaotic mixture of nationalist, patriotic, democratic, solidarity and socialist slogans (from 1912 it endorsed the idea of nationalising of key industries). The binding element for this movement was the fight against Polish nationalism, which was ultra-Catholic on the one hand and liberal in the economic sense.
“Zet” tried to reach different social strata including workers and peasants in order to integrate them with the new state through carrying through the idea of social justice. The parliamentary crisis in Poland in the years 1919-1926, corruption, struggling between parties, as well as the economic crisis and social injustice set the stage for an ideology that was left-wing socially and anti-parliamentary at the same time.
Here is the time to mention the next factor. The leaders of Syndicalism played an important role in creating this ideology. Kazimierz Zakrzewski was a young historian on a scholarship in Paris. That is where he found his fascination with Sorel’s ideas on the one hand and on the other the CGT practice under the leadership of Leon Jouhaux. He came to Poland as an advocate of Syndicalism and as such he published his works until roughly 1924. Another key figure was Jerzy Szurig, who was connected with the Socialist movement and during World War One he fought in the Polish volunteers’ legion in France. He also came to be a Syndicalist, but more for socialist inspirations.32
In 1926 “Zet” endorsed the overthrow that Marshal Piłsudski carried through against the right-wing government. The new governments had no clear ideology. Piłsudski was no longer a Socialist, but he stayed far from nationalism and conservatism. The “Zet” activists wished to set the government in a socially more radical direction. Whereas Piłsudski’s associates wanted to create workers’ organisations affiliated with the government in order to be independent of the PPS. To this end “Zet” officials founded an official organization called the Union for Republic Development (ZNR)33.
At this time Syndicalist ideas began to dominate. ZNR workers’ groups were established, periodicals “The Syndicalist” and “Solidarity of Labour” were published. As a result, in 1928 the trade union federation was founded with a name referring to the CGT, the General Federation of Labour (GFP). Its programme was purely Syndicalist34. GFP had about 40,000 members and thanks to the government’s support it could develop without obstacles35. The Syndicalists and the state authorities argued the idea of unity of all trade unions which would oppose the political divisions between workers. This is why the Union of Trade Unions (ZZZ), was established in 1931 uniting the GFP and smaller non-Syndicalist unions. It became one of the biggest trade union federations with maximum popularity of some 170,000 members. GFP officials held the chief positions in ZZZ management. With time, ZZZ became ideologically a Syndicalist union. Also the ZZZ leader, Jędrzej Moraczewski, ex-Prime Minister in 1918, and PPS member for many years, advocated Syndicalist ideas. ZZZ operated well-established press, e.g. the nation-wide daily newspaper “The Workers’ Front”36. Zet’s youth organisations united and in 1927 they formed the Polish Democratic Youth Union (ZPMD). Soon it became explicitly Syndicalist and one can state that it was more radical than the ZZZ.
The ideology promoted by Polish theoreticians of Syndicalism, the key representative was Prof. K. Zakrzewski, was eclectic and original. One can find elements of Sorel’s ideas and those of his followers, such as Georges Valois and S. Brzozowski, as well as elements of Polish nationalism, trade union Syndicalism of the French CGT and Spanish CNT, but also ideas widespread in the German conservative revolution and national socialist movements at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Whereas Marxism understood as historical and philosophical materialism was rejected.
The ideological attitude was based on heroistic axiology which championed the idea of service and sacrifice of the individual for the sake of idea and community. Creative heroism was juxtaposed with passiveness that was typical of a bourgeois society. One can say that this was an attempt at psychologising socialism. The subjective side of historical process and the importance of conscious will were emphasized instead of only objective factors.
Polish Syndicalism featured strong collectivism. The supremacy of community over the individual was strongly accentuated. This had a universal dimension in the subjugation of a citizen to the national community, as well as a class dimension in the supremacy of class interest over the individual’s selfishness.
Polish Syndicalists identified the notion of people and nation. They argued that the Polish nation was a proletarian nation and it largely consisted of lower classes, therefore the measure of Poland’s strength should be the work of the people, not the affluence of bourgeoisie and landowners. One can say that starting from national, or nationalist, principles, they arrived at Syndicalist and socialist conclusions.
The ideological core of Polish Syndicalism was the critique of Liberalism which was believed to be the ideology of bourgeoisie comprising political liberalism, individualism, and capitalism. Polish Syndicalists recognised the heritage of the French revolution, but found that in the 19th century Liberalism became a conservative force. In rejecting Liberalism they referred to capitalism in the first place. In criticising it they used traditional socialist arguments, but also some nationalist elements, e.g. critique of transnational capital, especially Anglo-Saxon, and, in the Polish context of Upper Silesia, the German capital. Polish Syndicalists were also close to the concepts of the so-called proletarian nation, prevalent on the Fascist right.
The critique of Liberalism meant also a rejection of the parliamentary system. A special critique was addressed to political parties. They are supposed to artificially divide the working class with abstract ideologies created by an alienated party elite, demoralising the proletariat. Syndicalism is an organisation of workers on a purely economic base. However Polish Syndicalism never took on the anti-intellectual character that was present in French Syndicalism37. Sydicalists devoted a lot of effort to negate the socialist movement accusing it of taking on a Liberal stance and cosmopolitism. Syndicalists rejected the idea of membership in any international organisation. One can say that they attacked nationalism with socialist arguments and socialism with the nationalist ones. Their attitude to Anarchism is well illustrated by the words of K. Zakrzewski: “proletarian Anarchism which emphasises the necessity of complete and immediate abolition of the state apparatus is an extreme and utopian variation or, rather, distortion of the Syndicalist ideology”38.

Polish Syndicalists were also explicitly anticlerical39.


It was the resolution that was meant to be the response to the crisis brought by the 19th century Liberalism and Capitalism. It was not defined however40. Like the socialist movement, Syndicalists were far from the concept of a military overthrow in Poland fearing the possibility of invasion from Germany or Soviet Russia. The government overthrow on 1926 the Syndicalists kept naming “The May Revolution”.
Up to the mid-1930s Polish Syndicalism was original in combining Socialist anti-Capitalism with anti-Liberal elements of Fascism, especially the French one, close to the ideas of Georges Valois. K. Zakrzewski wrote about two anti-Liberal revolts, both making up the phenomenon of an anti-Liberal revolution. The first one, of 1917, was the work of the proletariat. The second one, of 1919, was the war veterans’ revolution, e.g. in Italy41. They both were defeated. Therefore, in order to overcome the dying Liberalism, they should be combined. The homogenous working class and uncompromised war heroes are the basis of the revolution. In the Polish context Piłsudski embodied the idea of an alliance of workers and war veterans. This is why the ambivalent attitude to Fascism and Communism. Until 1930 it was possible to find positive opinions, e.g. of Zakrzewski, about the Italian Fascist revolution and Fascism as a universal form of anti-Liberal revolution. However, with time Syndicalists found the Fascist regimes as reactionary and capitalist, and therefore as betraying their own ideas. They condemned Communism for its ideological dogmatism and above all for the Polish-Russian relations, but they appreciated the anti-Liberal aspects of internal life in the Soviet Union.
The future model of society in the Syndicalist thought was an attempt at combining anti-Etatism that was close to Syndicalism with the idea of a strong state authority that the post-1926 governments advocated in Poland. The state was supposed to be strong thanks to the power of the people and their awareness. Trade unions were supposed to be the basis for social organisation. In fact, they would have held the local power, organised production and distribution. Besides parliament there would have been the social economy chamber elected by the unions and the state, which would decide about the economic policy. The management of production on the state scale and of factories would have been in the hands of workers. This system was called non-Liberal democracy. Evident are here influences of Anarcho-Syndicalism as well as Corporationism, although officially the latter was what Syndicalists fought against. The paradoxes and mixing of Syndicalism with elements of conservatism were also evident in the question of the elites. On the one hand Polish Syndicalists remained radical egalitarians, but on the other they believed that in a creative work a new elite would be born, mainly a workers’ elite. Here, Sorelism and inspirations with Pareto’s theories were combined with the visions of proletarian purity and a specific Syndicalist anti-establishment populism. Inspired by Sorelism, Syndicalists perceived the social structure not only as divided into classes, but also into creators and parasites. The latter category was denied a place in the new society.
Polish Syndicalists paid a lot of attention to the peasants. Like Polish Socialists, they hesitated between the concepts of supporting petty farmers and attracting petty owners to the labour movement, and the vision of centralising and nationalising the land.
With the help of state authorities, the ZZZ developed quickly to become one of the major trade union federations. The biggest organisations, like in the Socialist unions, were mainly metal workers and miners. The state authorities’ friendly attitude was what attracted two very different groups of workers to the ZZZ. On the one hand it was a workers’ elite – skilled workers with good salaries employed in state owned factories. On the other hand ZZZ attracted the least skilled workers directly threatened with unemployment. ZZZ opponents accused this federation of clientelism and offering employment in return for membership in a pro-government organisation. At the peak of its development in 1934, ZZZ had nearly 170,000 members42.
The strongest base of the GFP and ZZZ was in Warsaw, especially in the state companies producing military equipment and tobacco. The second base was Upper Silesia, which was the venue of Polish-German confrontation. Here, the ZZZ attracted workers who were not happy about the opposition Christian Democracy and therefore competed for support with the Socialist unions43.
From 1930 several members of parliament were representing pro-government parties on behalf of the ZZZ, but they did not belong to the elite involved in Syndicalism to the biggest extent. The ZPMD was one of the biggest students’ organisations in Poland. While fighting the nationalist right that was dominant at universities, it co-operated with other left-wing and centrist organisations. It published several regional periodicals in academic centres44.
Like the socialist movement and “Zet”, the ZZZ created many affiliated organisations. The biggest one was the Stefan Żeromski Workers’ Institute for Education and Culture (RIOK), which was the venue for intensive Syndicalist propaganda and workers’ culture. RIOK’s cultural and educational work resembled the analogical work of Socialist organisations and German Anarcho-Syndicalists of FAUD45.
The ZZZ took on a pro-government stance, fought against the right-wing opposition and competed with the left. But in social and economic matters it was independent. Year after year it was more and more distant from the government’s policy that limited social politics. The ZZZ took also part in many strikes, especially in Silesia. Sometimes it opted for an agreement with the employers, and sometimes it belonged to the radicals. However, with time its conflict with the government was developing more and more.
The ZZZ was subject to triple infiltration. On the one hand its policy aroused an ever bigger discontent of the state authorities, which attempted to influence the union through its supporters from outside, on another the illegal Communists tried to work within secretly, and on the other the Anarchists headed by Pilarski were more and more active in the ZZZ and RIOK46.
After Piłsudski’s death followied an ideological decomposition of the ruling block. The conservative forces which were distant fro the left began to prevail. A symbol of its radical attitude and independence was the ZZZ’s 4th Congress in 1937. To the astonishment of many, the participants used for the first time official Socialist symbols and sang the Red Flag, a PPS song. They also adopted a resolution of solidarity with the Spanish Republic, while the Polish Government had adopted a neutral position. The ZZZ programme had now become explicitly Syndicalist, e.g. the remnants of class solidarism were dropped.

ZZZ publications presented reports from Spain. The leading Polish Syndicalists praised the CNT, clearly criticising the “ideological” Anarchism of FAI47. They were nearer the position of the so-called “treintistas” and the Syndicalist Party of 1930-193648. As one of the texts stated, „Syndicalism does not reject political movements, it only works for more stress to be put on trade unions which are more coherent than political parties”49. Polish Syndicalists advocated the idea of a People’s Front, i.e. an agreement of Syndicalists, all trade unions, the Socialist and peasants’ parties against the Fascist menace. Therefore they rejected Communists.


The Government, which was becoming more and more conservative, decided to cause a split in the ZZZ and the ZPMD. In 1937 a part of the members left, being led not so much by ideological pretensions, but by the fear of losing the privileges coming from support for the Government. As a result of the split the ZZZ shrank to 40,000 members. Its publications were regularly censored by the state. The activists were threatened with prison and faced numerous administrative repressions50.
The authorities refused to legalise the Young Syndicalist Association. The ZPMD members who were loyal to Syndicalism operated within RIOK. Among them was a group of Anarchists. With Tomasz Pilarski’s assistance, the ZZZ established relations with Sweden’s SAC, which was supposed to co-ordinate the Polish issues on behalf of AIT51.
As a result, before World War Two, the Syndicalist movement in Poland took on a clearly left-wing character. It was a small but combative trade union and with the management’s consent an Anarchist group worked within its structure. Apart from the Sorel inspirations, their interest in anti-Fascism and Syndicalism in the spirit of “treintistas” played a more and more important role.

V. Syndicalists and Anarcho-Syndicalists against Nazism – the climax and the resolution.

The Syndicalists connected with the “Zet” movement were one of the first organisations of the resistance movement. As early as in October 1939 the Polish Syndicalists Union (ZSP), was created by ZZZ activists headed by Szerig and Zakrzewski. At the same time ZSP leaders played an important role in the combatant resistance, and especially in the informational and propaganda work. Between 2,000-4,000 people became ZSP members, which was less than in the three biggest parties of the underground, but more than many other small political parties. The strongest parties operated in Warsaw and on the area of the Central Industrial Zone between Warsaw and Cracow. Whereas the subsidiary Socialist People’s Polish Party of Freedom (SLPPW) operated in Lviv. Syndicalists published almost 10 newspapers and periodicals, some of the ideological character. They created their own combatant units which carried out numerous combatant activities. In 1942, like the majority of Polish political parties, these units became part of the Home Army (AK) which was subject to the Polish Government in London.
The ZSP had a decisively left-wing vision of social and economic relations. It was combined with an anti-German attitude. This dual characteristics was reflected in such slogans as “national classless society” or “it’s not the bourgeois masters, but … workers, peasants and intellectuals will take in hand the sword of King Chrobry”52. The ZSP remained loyal to the Polish Government on exile until the end. However it refused to enter the political structure of the Polish Underground State composed of representatives of the Peasants’, Socialist, Nationalist, and Christian Democratic parties. At the same time it criticized severely the policies of the authorities prior to 1939. As its own enemies it found the pro-Russian Communists and the nationalist right. Apart from its anti-Communism which was widespread in Polish politics at that time, ZSP also criticised strongly western capital. The ZSP was involved in the creation of alliances of the socialist left, liberal democratic parties of the intelligentsia, and the Syndicalists themselves. This was meant to be the third force in Polish politics. The Syndicalists were the most anti-Communist faction in this alliance. The leading ZSP officials were murdered by the Nazis53.
The Syndicalists not connected with the conspiratorial “Zet” and the ZZZ Anarchists did not become members of the ZSP. They founded the “Freedom” Syndicalist Organisation (SOW), in 1940 (under this name from 1942). The leading roles were played by Anarchists including T. Pilarski54 from 1942.

One can say that the SOW was the synthesis of Polish Syndicalism and Anarcho-Syndicalism. This was represented in the quotations in SOW publications quoting Piłsudski, Brzozowski, as well as Bakunin and Malatesta. Unlike ZSP, the SOW saw the future of Poland in a more international context. For example, they used the term European Union as vision of a post-war community of nations. Like ZSP, they took part in developing “the third force” in Polish politics. SOW combatant units operated mainly in the environs of the city of Kielce. Generally, this organisation comprised several hundred people55.


The Warsaw Uprising 1944 was the climax of Polish Syndicalism. As part of the AK, ZSP created the 104th Syndicalist company. This was a 200-member strong formation which played an important role in the combat. Its soldiers wore black and red bands. In the second part of the uprising the 104th company combined with groups of SOW soldiers to create the Syndicalist Brigade in September 1944. A black and red flag was hanging on the building this unit captured. The Syndicalist Uprising Alliance was its political representation. However the combined ZSP and SOW forces failed to develop a common approach to a potential agreement with the Communists, which came to be real in the event of the uprising’s failure. SOW was ready to accept subjugation to Communist authorities, whereas ZSP leader Stefan Szwedowski consistently refuse56.
In February 1945 ZSP was officially disbanded. For some time its commanders hoped to continue conspiratorial work against the Polish Communist Government, but in the face of repressions and lack of social support they gave up their concepts. They were trapped, like the whole non-Communist left. They accepted the social reforms introduced by the Communist party, industry nationalisation, division of land, and restoration of western territories by Poland. But at the same time they found Communists as Russian agents, and the Polish left including the Syndicalists stemmed from anti-Russian traditions. They did not accept the authoritarian tendencies of Communism, either57.

VI. Anarcho-Syndicalism after World War Two.


Activists connected with the “Zet” movement were not allowed to perform any functions in the state after World War Two. Many of them faced arrests. Few of them joined the parties supporting the Communists, the Democratic Party (SD), and the PPS (liquidated in 1948). With the end of Stalinism in 1956, the authorities allowed Syndicalist veterans to organize themselves in an official organisation of veterans58.
The fate of Anarcho-Syndicalists was completely different. Pilarski and Paweł Lew Marek undertook work in the Communist trade unions and in the party59. They believed that in this way they would have an influence on the situation of the working class in Poland. In Łódź a legal publishing co-operative operated, dominated by Anarchists and Syndicalists, which published works of Kropotkin. Attempts were made at legalisation of an Anarchist organisation, which obviously ended in a fiasco60. In 1953 Pilarski was arrested and Anarchists were removed from involvement in public work. In many cases they worked in working co-operatives. Pilarski maintained a letter correspondence with Anarchists living in Sweden.
After Szwedowski and Pilarski died in the 1970s, the continuity of Syndicalism and Anarcho-Syndicalism in Poland was severed.
Syndicalist ideas returned to Poland in a different fashion in the 1980s. The large “Solidarity” trade union which was a form of anti-Communist revolt was accused of Anarcho-Syndicalism by the authorities.
When “Solidarity” was illegal in the 1980s, many opposition groups were created and among them the Polish Syndicalists’ Group comprising a dozen or so members61.
A punk-rock subculture continued in Poland from the end of the 1970s, directly drawing from the British patterns. Popular were Anarchist slogans, though not referring to the writings of Anarchist classics. In 1981 the illegal Movement for Alternative Society (RSA) was founded. The Anarchism of the 1980s concentrated on cultural issues, not social economic, e.g. it fought against censorship62. It was not until the second half of the 1980s that an interest in strike and workers’ issues appeared. Anarchism also grew more and more ideological. One could find texts about Durutti in illegal punk publications. In the second half of the 1980s it was explicitly declared that the fight against the system should be waged “on the basis of Syndicalism”63
The Polish Anarchism evolving, symbolically, from Sex Pistols to Durutti was a phenomenon. In a country that fought against Communist dictatorship the Anarchists were almost the only ones to condemn both this dictatorship and the capitalism of the west. In the year 1989 and later they accused the Solidarity elites of betraying the workers’ ideals64.
After 1989 Anarcho-Syndicalism was the most important trend in the Anarchist movement. Different communities declared allegiance to it, there were attempts at founding the Free Trade Unions. Anarcho-Syndicalism “rejects all that hampers people – states, political parties, reformist trade unions…” – stated the contemporary advocates of historical Syndicalism65.
In the 21st century young anarchists established the Polish Syndicalists Union (ZSP)66. In a way, therefore, the historical tradition of the radical left in Poland comes back.
Diversity is a principle underlying Anarchism. This is how the practice of Anarchism looked as a movement and ideology. The Polish case fully reaffirms this.

1 For more about Czech national socialism see J. Harn’s, O vyvoji programů českeho národniho socialismu [in:] Politické programy českeho národnihu socialismu 1897-1948, Praha 1998; about Austrian national socialism before NSDAP see B. F. Pauley, Der Weg in den Nationalsozialismus. Ursprünge und Entwicklung in Österreich, Vienna 1988, pp. 35-40.

2 U.Klan, D. Nelles, “Es lebt noch eine Flamme”. Rheinische Anarcho-Syndikalisten/-innen in der Weimarer Republik und im Faschismus, Grafenau-Doeffingen 1990, p. 28. Apart from Poland, Sorelism exerted some influence on the Italian labour movement – see V. Gianninazzi, Chez les soreliéns italiens, [in:] M. Chazrat(ed.), „Cahiers l’Herne Georges Sorel“, Paris 1986, p. 201. But in principle the Italian and Polish cases were completely different both in content and form.

3 E. Berth, Georges Sorel, „Clartè” 15 IX 1922, [in:] M. Chazrat, op. cit., s. 359.

4 In France, delay in industrialization played a role in development of Syndicalism – see H. Dubieff, Introduction, [in:] Le Syndicalisme Révolutionnaire, textes choisis Henri Dubieff, Paris 1969, p. 7.

5 E.g. A. Notkowski, Ludwik Waryński, Wrocław 1989, p. 94.

6 Statutes of the “Solidarity” Workers’ Party [in:]: F. Tych (ed.), Polskie programy socjalistyczne 1878-1918, Warsaw 1975, pp. 201-204. Similar pre-Syndicalist organisations existed in other countries, e.g. the Italian Workers’ Party – see W. Hilton-Young, The Italian Left. A Short History of Political Socialism in Italy, London-New York 1949, pp. 18-20.

7 E.g. A. Wróblewski, Jestem anarchistą, „Sprawa Robotnicza” 15 IV 1912.

8 Anarchism was also present among Polish emigrants.

9 The titles of Zielinski’s brochures themselves point to the classic Anarcho-Syndicalist content- General Strike, Hypocritical Socialism, Combatant Trade Unions, Is Anarchism possibile in Poland? -Strajk powszechny, Obłudny Socjalizm, Bojowe Robotnicze Związki Zawodowe, Czy w Polsce anarchizm ma rację bytu. All these texts were published in Paris.

10 T. Szczepański, Ruch anarchistyczny na ziemiach zaboru rosyjskiego w dobie rewolucji 1905-1907, Warsaw 1992; W. Kołodziej, Anarchizm i anarchiści w Rosji i Królestwie Polskim, Toruń 1992, pp. 38-75.

11 For more about illegalisme see D. Grinberg, Ruch anarchistyczny w Europie Zachodniej 1870-1914, Warsaw 1994, p. 299-305.

12 See the file of Jan Straszewski [in:] The Archive of New Records, Warsaw, vol. 5579, ch. 1-14. It should be mentioned that the international Anarchist movement after 1920 supported Soviet Russia – see Die internationale Reaktion gegen Russland, „Der Syndikalist” 1920, no. 28.

13 In Paris, Anarchist immigrants Publisher periodicals “Najmita” (The Mercenary) and “Walka” (The Struggle).

14 Dlaczego robotnicy nie powinni iść do wyborów?, „Głos Anarchisty” II-III 1928, no. 2.

15 AFP. Conference materials 24-26 July 1926, Archive of New Records, mf 1805/2; Walka Klas. Stanowisko Sekretariatu AFP, Głos Anarchisty” IV 1927, no. 4.

16 See W obronie Sacco i Vanzetti, „Głos Anarchisty” X 1926, no. 4. About Polish Anarchism in the years 1919-1929 see History of Polish Anarchist Movement 1919-1929, „Die Internationale”, April 1930, [in:] „Rebel Worker”, special supplement no. 4.

17 Trials at Regional Court’s Prosecutor’s Office in Cracow, Archive of New Records, vol. 134, ch. 17.

18 Among the founders were members of the Jewish socialist party Poalej-Syjon, see: Silesian Regional Office, Archive of New Records, vol. 25557/28, ch. 94-96. First illegal Anarchist publications in the 1920s were published in Yiddish.

19 More about this process in Poland in S. Krajewski, Żydowscy komuniści-problem dla nas?, „Jidełe”, special issue, spring 2000, p. 151.

20 B. Fijałkowska, Borejsza i Różański. Przyczynek do dziejów stalinizmu w Polsce, Olsztyn 1995, p. 28. However in the ideological field they distanced themselves from Leninist Communism – see Do anarchistów i syndykalistów wszystkich krajów. My polscy anarchiści za granicą[proclamation], [in:], Łódź Regional Office, [in:] Archive of New Records, mf 1583/12, ch. 44. In one of the texts Communist Party was accused “counter-revolutonary and pro-Germanic questioning” of the western borders of Poland – see K. Staszewski, Polityka zagraniczna, „Walka Klas” VI 1933, no. 6.

21 IAA im Jahre 1931, „Pressedienst” 10 IV 1932, no. 5.

22 In Poland, Pilarski supported the work of Polish intelligence against the Third Reich – see Krystyna Żurawska, 7 V 1945, Collection of workers’ movement files, [in:] Archive of New Records, vol. 509/128, ch. 525.

23 Letter from T. A. Pilarski to S. Szwedowski, [in:] National Library, Warsaw, manuscript 16266/3.

24 see Foner, The IWW 1905-1917. History of the labour movement in the United States, vol. IV, New York 1965(1973), p. 426.

25 In the PPS the interest in Sorel was not big and was confined to several articles in the press – see Waldenberg, Sorel en Pologne, [in:] M. Charzat, op. cit., pp. 232-233, 240.

26 About E. Abramowski see in A. Walicki, Stanisław Brzozowski and the Polish beginnings of “Western Marxism”, Oxford 1989, pp. 209-212.

27 The best known English language writer about Machajski was Maxwell Shatz.

28 In Central Europe the best known interpreter of Sorel was the Hungarian Istvan Szabó see A. Bözöki, M. Sükösd, Anarchism in Hungary: Theory, History, Legacies, New York 2006, pp. 131-143.

29 For more about Brzozowski in English see A. Walicki, Stanislaw Brzozowski and the Polish...; in German: H. Politt, Stanislaw Brzozowski-Hoffnung wider die dunkle Zeit, „Opera Slavica” Neue Folge 31, Wiesbaden 1996. It is worth noting there were no conservative interpretations of Sorel in Poland.

30 For more about Żeromski and his Syndicalist-Sorelian inspirations in English see E. I. Zawacki, The utopianism of Stefan Żeromski, “The Slavonic and East European Review”, vol. XXI 1943, pp. 101-112.

31 Zet is one of the most mysterious organisations in the 20th century Poland. About its history see P. Waingertner, Ruch zetowy w II RP. Studium myśli politycznej, Łódź 2006

32 For more about L. Jouhaux see B. Georges, D. Tintant, Leon Jouhaux. Cinquante ans de Syndicaliste, Paris 1962.

33 For more about ZNR see P. Waingertner, “Naprawa”. Z dziejów obozu pomajowego, Warsaw 1999.

34 J. Szurig, Założenia programowe Generalnej Federacji Pracy, Warsaw 1929.

35 Ruch zawodowy. Streszczenie wykładów Adama Kellera w Szkole Oficerów Policji w Warszawie 1930/1931, UW Lubelski [in:] The State Archive of Lublin, vol. 212, ch. 9-12.

36 For more about ZZZ history see S. Ajzner, Związek Zwiazków Zawodowych 1931-1939, Warsaw 1979; in English see The ZZZ, „Rebel Worker” 1989, no. 4/5.

37 But at the same time unlike Sorel, the rhetoric of Polish Syndicalism was not anti-democratic.

38 K. Zakrzewski, Dwa kierunki, „Głos Powszechny” 9 V 1937.

39 H. Ułaszyn, Zasięg antyklerykalizmu w Polsce, Poznań 1933.

40 The lack of clarity of revolutionary self-identification should bring no surprise. As one of researchers stated, one may doubt whether e.g. the French CGT was indeed revolutionary during its Syndicalist episode – see P. Mazgaj, The Action Francaise and Revolutionary Syndicalism, North Carolina 1979, p. 9.

41 K. Zakrzewski, Od Lenina do Hitlera, Warsaw 1931, pp. 39-40. In Poland the main veterans groups were connected with Piłsudski and fought against right wing parties.

42 L. Hass, Organizacje zawodowe w Polsce 1918-1939, Warsaw 1963; J. Malański, Pracownicze związki zawodowe w Polsce, Warsaw 1934, p. 82-88.

43 Z. Hojka, Polski ruch zawodowy w województwie śląskim (1922-1939), Katowice 2006, pp.184-186, 231, 234-236.

44 Program ZPMD. Dla Polski, 1936 rok, [in:] National Library Warsaw, manuscript. 3814; A. Pilch, Studencki ruch polityczny w Polsce w latach 1932-1939, Warsaw-Cracow 1972, pp. 32-35, 58-59, 94,

45 A. Światło, Oświata a polski ruch robotniczy 1976-1939, Warsaw 1981, pp. 604-623. About FAUD’s activity in this field see H. Rübner, Freiheit und Brot. Die Die Freie Arbeiter-Union Deutschland. Eine Studie zur Geschichte des Anarchosyndikalismus, Berlin/Köln 1994, p. 169-265.

46 S. Szwedowski, Ruch zetowy. Syndykaliści, [in:] National Library Warsaw, manuscript 15626.

47 E.g. K. Zakrzewski, Sezon letni, „Front Robotniczy”, 20 VI 1937; H. Halpern, Kataloński eksperyment, „Front Robotniczy” 6 IX 1937; W. Głuchowski, Prawda o Hiszpanii, „Front Pracownika Umysłowego” 3 XI 1936.

48 For more about “treintistas” see R. W. Kern, Red Years/Black Years. A political History of Spanish Anarchism 1911-1937, Philadelphia 1978, pp. 103-130; W. L. Bernecker, Anarchismus und Bürgerkrieg. Zur Geschichte der Sozialen Revolution in Spanien 1936-1939, Hamburg 1978, pp. 23, 38-41

49 Z. Ziółek, Właściwe metody walki robotniczej, „Front Robotniczy” 5 VII 1936.

50 Urząd Wojewódzki Kraków. Sprawozdanie sytuacyjne 1937 rok, [in:] Archive of New Records, vol. 1559/10, ch. 17; Relacja Wincentego Balasińskiego, 28 X 1965, CA KC PZPR, [in:] Archive of New Records, Relacja 8, ch. 3.

51 Precisions du Rapport de Secretariat de l’AIT, [in:] Archive of New Records, vol. 455/1, ch. 41. O SAC czyt. np. G. Woodcock, A History of Libertarian ideas and Movements, Cleveland 1962, pp. 433-438.

52 Outline of SLPPW programme, [in:] National Library, Warsaw, manuscript 15628; „Sprawa” 3 VI 1944. King Chrobry’s sword was a symbol of Polis nationalists referring to the Polish King of the 10th and 11th centuries

53 See more about ZSP during the war in: R. Chwedoruk, Polscy syndykaliści lat II wojny światowej. Działalność i myśl polityczna, „Zeszyty Historyczne” 2006 vol. 154, pp. 52-102.

54 Pilarski played an important role in the „N” campaign – the Polish underground’s propaganda addressed to German soldiers.

55 It is worth noting that a small Anarchist organisation existed in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw – see Suplement B, [in:] P. L. Marek, Na krawędzi życia. Wspomnienia anarchisty 1943-1944, Kraków 2006, p. 298.

56 For more about Syndicalists in the Warsaw Uprising see Brygada Syndykalistyczna w Powstaniu Warszawskim(Relacja Dowódcy), [in:] National Library, Warsaw, manuscript 15636.

57 R. Chwedoruk, op. cit.

58 ibid.

59 see Okręgowy Komitet Związków Zawodowych Robotników i Pracowników RP w Krakowie do UW w Krakowie, 25 III 1945, [in:] Komitet Wojewódzki PPR w Krakowie[in:] The State Archive Cracow, vol. 29, ch. 22.

60 Spółdzielnia Wydawnicza Słowo. Plan wydawniczy na druga połowę 1947 roku, [in:] Ossolineum Library, Wrocław, vol. 15958. After the war an analogical situation took place in Communist Bulgaria – see D. Daskalov, Anarchizm w Bolgarija i borbata na partijati protiv niewo, Sophia 1973, pp. 195-201.

61 See „Syndykalista Polski” XII 1984, no. 1. General references to the tradition of pre-WWII Syndicalism.

62 For more about Polish Anarchism in the 1980s and 1990 see R. Antonów, Pod czarnym sztandarem. Anarchizm w Polsce po 1980 roku, Wrocław 2004.

63 J. Waluszko, „Wolna Trybuna, „A Capella” 1987, no. 5.

64 P. Rymarczyk, Dzieje pewnej zdrady, „Rewolta” 1989, no. 2.

65 ABC anarchosyndykalizmu, Kraków-Słupsk-Mielec 1998, p. 3.

66 From the end of the 1980s an interest grew among young Anarchists in the history of Polish Anarchism.


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