Rosa Luxemburg — On Denationalization

In this 1893 article, Rosa Luxemburg harshly criticizes the policy of Russification in Poland, embodied by Governor General Gurko and deals a sharp blow to the local bourgeoisie, content with the gag of Tsarism as long as it maintains profits and privileges.

Introduction

The Russian Empire was well known for its brutal methods of suppressing local cultures of the annexed countries, erasing their language, history and traditions. This started to take on the shape of official policy undertaken by the regional governments under Tsarist directives, known as “Russification.” Naturally, the Russian-occupied Poland, where Rosa Luxemburg was born and raised was deeply affected by Russification and its consequences.

In “On Denationalization,” the term “denationalization” denoting not the process of transferring an asset from public ownership to private ownership and operation as it is contemporarily used and understood, but a literal process of ridding the nation of its nationness, Luxemburg analyses the recent policy measures of Tsarism in Central Europe, which can be shortly described as denationalization. In essence, this word means erasing the very being of a nation and its individuality for the sake of assimilation and easier subjugation. Luxemburg, even though she is known as an eager opponent of national liberation and self-determination (the idea that she rejected it totally or on a principle is not only an ahistorical fabrication and far removed from her actual stances, but harmful to the legacy and relevance of Luxemburg to the “third world” and decolonial discourse), staunchly criticizes the attempt to completely whitewash Poland, declaring, that:

by striving for political freedom for our proletarian cause, we will fight against denationalization as well, because we need a government, which will let us have the greatest amount of freedom to organize, to let us speak in our own language, and to let us elect our own bureaucrats ourselves.

However, evident as the danger of deviating to a nationalistic line and exploiting social-patriotic rhetoric to further the point of how horrendous national oppression is, Luxemburg does not forget to keep her discourse in the spirit of Proletarian Internationalism and connects the policy of Russification and the resulting denationalization to global revolutionary ends:

The Russian worker, who neither desires nor requires the denationalization and gagging of others, because he must strive for freedom just like us, will shake hands with us for a better cause than that for which the industrialists of Moscow and Łódź shake each other’s hands. He will shake hands with us in a common struggle against all oppression by capitalists and government.

For the worker is here and everywhere the only champion of absolute freedom, economic, political, and national, because he alone does not seek to rule over others and wants to get rid of his masters himself.

The entire policy of Russification is played out by Tsarism through the hand of Count Iosif Vladimirovich Romeyko-Gurko, a Russian field marshal and the Governor-General of Poland in 1883–1894. He is who Luxemburg aims her pen at and sarcastically “honors” his achievements in this “field.” According to her, the ultimate cure to the poison of national oppression is the international cooperation of workers and a world Socialist revolution.

The Acheron wants to thank Maria, Moritz and Korn for assisting with the translation. The Acheron Translations is a series which aims to make non-English Marxist theory widely available and accessible to English speaking audiences.

Rosa Luxemburg — On Denationalization

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the government of Governor General Gurko

Published in “Sprawa Robotnicza” №1, July 1893

On the 7th of June, our Governor General Gurko celebrated the 10th anniversary of his “useful deed.” On this occasion, Russian government newspapers listed a variety of virtues and accomplishments of the great Lord at the former royal palace for “Fatherland and Tsars.” We too cannot ignore this important moment because the “great Lord” has also rendered extraordinary services to us — the Polish workers.

Who else do we owe it to that we have to use a foreign language in almost every instance in our own country? If we have a trial, almost everything happens in Russian. The institutions where we have to register or apply for a passport are controlled by Russia. At school our children are taught in a foreign language, leading to them not understanding anything. On the railroad, in the railway workshops, people are starting to speak Russian and hand out Russian documents. But despite us workers not enjoying high sciences or state newspapers, we too are affected when education in our country suffers, when newspapers in the provinces are closed, when our scholars are driven from the universities and idiots being sent after us. Mr. Gurko has such great merits to us. For that be glory and honor to him!

But we should not give him all the credit — he was not the one who came up with this whole denationalization policy and he was not the first one to implement it. Our country and Lithuania still remember his noble predecessors — Murawjow-Wieszatiel [1] and others. For a long time we have seen the rapidly increasing Russification and gagging of our country, and our Governor has only the honor to be the best and most eager servant of the Tsar in these plans and projects.

Where did the Tsarist government get these ideas from, and what do they want to accomplish? We are seeing exactly the same or an even worse Russification of the Germans in Riga, Dünaburg and Dorpat, of the Finns and generally all peoples that are subject to them. Everywhere they want one language, standardized authorities, one culture and if they manage, one religion — the right faith. Turning all of the hundreds of millions of subjects into one big herd, that is held together by the Tsarist whip and that trembles before it, that is the ideal of our government, that is what they are pursuing and that is why it Russifies all countries. If there are different peoples, different languages, different cultures in the state and the government only have a whip, then it can easily fall apart. When everybody has it bad, everyone wants to flee and will move elsewhere. But to hold all peoples and countries together so that they cannot fall apart and form a unity under one whip, this is what a government always strives for, and not just ours, but the German, Austrian, Hungarian and others do the same.

And all these governments are always pursuing the same policy: winning over the rich everywhere and gagging the poor with them — that is the best way to bind the country to you. Our government operates the same way.

While Russifying all countries as far as possible, it simultaneously protects the Lords everywhere — the aristocracy, the manufacturers, the tradesmen, the bankers — against the working class. It has helped them eagerly with setting up factories in our country, not sparing millions of tax money collected from the people, to give them the opportunity to enrich themselves and then to share with them the booty that was extracted from the workers. It has built railroads to Russia so it could sell its goods on Russian markets. The government founded banks, companies, stock markets for them and if it introduces its own language wherever it can, the bourgeoisie is ready to renounce patriotism and all ideals for the sake of the beloved penny, and still bows and gives hand kisses. But if our worker tries to attain a better life for himself from his exploiter, the Polish manufacturer will ask just as humbly for the Cossacks and Gendarmes for his Polish “brothers” as the German Scheibler or Geyer. [2]

So all is well in the world. The government wants to rule and steal taxes. That is why it Russifies and gags everything that lives with one hand, and with the other it strokes the exploiters everywhere so that they do not rebel against its power and share with it the profits that they have squeezed from the people. The rich gentlemen want to live well at the expense of others without working, so they humbly endure the despotism and Russification of the government to help them get rich, protect them in Russian markets and gag the workers.

But as the saying goes: der Mensch denkt, Gott lenkt [man thinks, but God directs]. The government and the gentlemen want one thing, but another comes out of their politics. They do not even consider that the working people are not a flock you can treat as you please. Need forces the worker to think. If he just begins to look around, he sees that everyone is against him. When it is necessary to flay the worker, the Polish gentleman forgets his Polity and humbly holds the Russian knife. When it is necessary to gag and pacify him, the Russian government forgets its hatred of Poland and presses the Polish gentleman to the heart like its own beloved Russian sons of the same sort.

So the Polish worker sees that the capitalist exploitation, the political oppression, and the denationalization, that all of this is one and the same rule over him in different forms, but with one goal. And like that a fight against one form becomes a fight against many different ones. By striving for a better life, for higher wages, for shorter work days, and for the abolition of all exploitation, we cannot disregard the fight for an elected government, for political freedom. And by striving for political freedom for our proletarian cause, we will fight against denationalization as well, because we need a government, which will let us have the greatest amount of freedom to organize, to let us speak in our own language, and to let us elect our own bureaucrats ourselves.

There is still one outcome of this government policy that comes entirely unexpected for mister Gurko. While they sponsor the Polish capitalists and for the purpose of denationalization unite them with the Russian ones, like a clan with its offspring, the oppressed Polish worker will unite himself with the oppressed Russian worker, the stepsons will unite against the gruesome stepfather. The Russian worker, who neither desires nor requires the denationalization and gagging of others, because he must strive for freedom just like us, will shake hands with us for a better cause than that for which the industrialists of Moscow and Łódź shake each other’s hands. He will shake hands with us in a common struggle against all oppression by capitalists and government.

For the worker is here and everywhere the only champion of absolute freedom, economic, political, and national, because he alone does not seek to rule over others and wants to get rid of his masters himself.

When he telegraphed from his castle at the Zjazd [3] to Łódź in May 1892 [4]: “Do not spare the Gentlemen,” Mister Gurko never thought of the fact that the very ones he had shot at, will eventually ruin his eager “doing” and that of his worthy predecessors and honorable successors.

Footnotes

[1] Murawjow, M. N. (1796–1866) — a statesman of noble origin, close to the Decembrists in his youth, turning away from their movement soon. The Minister of State Domains under Alexander II. As an open reactionary and staunch supporter of serfdom, he was a bitter opponent of peasant liberation. In 1863 he was appointed governor general to put down the Polish uprising. Because of his cruelty, he was nicknamed “the executioner.”

[2] A German textile industry in Łódź.

[3] A street in Warsaw, where the former Royal Palace is located.

[4] Referring to the bloody suppression of the great May demonstration of 1891 and 1892.

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The Acheron In Motion is run by a passionate Communist from a post-Soviet state, publishing about revolutionary history and the fundamental theses of Marxism.