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Henryk KAMIENSKI (1813-1866)



Social activist, political journalist, economist and philosopher, despite his noble background a representative of the mid-nineteenth-century radical democracy. B. Feb. 25, 1813, Ruda (Lublin region), first cousin of another leading radical democrat, Edward Dembowski. In 1842 he began political activity as the intellectual leader of the radical Society for the Polish People (Stowarzyszenie Ludu Polskiego); next year he went abroad, where he came in contact with members of Polish Democratic Society (Towarzystwo Demokratyczne Polskie). Having outlined in the treatise O prawdach ¿ywotnych narodu polskiego ("About the Vital Truths of the Polish Nation", 1844) his conception of revolution as an act of the masses, he began setting up at home a network of propagandists, for whom he published in Paris the famous Katechizm demokratyczny czyli opowiadania s³owa ludowego ("The Democratic Bible, or Folk Word Narratives", 1845). 1843-45 he put out the work Filozofia ekonomii moralnej ludzkiego spo³eczeñstwa ("A Philosophy of Moral Economy for the Human Society"). Arrested in 1845 and exiled to Vyatka, after five years he returned home, and in 1852 he left for Switzerland to settle there. He retreated from the radicalism he had previously espoused and turned towards conceptions of social mutuality and praising the aristocratic Polish past; the fragment quoted below and Demokracja w Polszcze ("Democracy in Poland", 1858) are from this period. D. Jan. 14, 1866, in Algiers.

The selected fragments are from Rosja i Europa. Polska ("Russia and Europe. Poland", under the penname XYZ), originally published by Ksiêgarnia Polska: Pary¿ 1857, reprinted from Czytelnik: Warsaw 1999, pp. 83-87 and 113-120.


   Of all opinions about Russia the most fallacious is the one which ascribes to it the "enactment of revolutionary utopias", because the ideal it fought for is supposed to be "the abolition of inheritance and equal distribution of land". This "principle, one of the foundations of national life", preserves Russia from disturbances which otherwise might rightly be feared in the East. Not only has this opinion been pronounced, but it has also been universally adopted and taken to lengths that its original author may never have dreamed of. Communism in Russia came to be regarded as unquestionable, not requiring any further proof. [...]

   It is easy to begin a polemical argument when the subject of contention is firmly given and clearly defined, but this is exactly what we lack here. For what is communism? Explanations differ from author to author. Who is to be believed? Whose definition is to be accepted? What are we to do with the ungraspable generalizations that so far have only a vague form both for their advocates and for their detractors? What are in fact the utopias of the European revolutionaries, we ask? In what way can we at least affirm what their object is, not to speak of coming to a judgement as to their value? Where can we make contact with them either in their precise scientific definition, or in their practical application? The whole problem is that such terms as communism or revolutionary theories are volatile and imprecise, impossible to reason about in the state in which they are presented. If only their authors were established and made their suppositions or assertions truly intelligible, firmly defining them, it would be much easier to handle them. For the difficulty lies not in refuting the said assertions, but in grasping them in their vagueness. [...]

   Here in brief are our collected opinions, as far as they can be articulated:

   The possession and distribution of land in Russia is by no means the establishment of a higher social condition, i.e. such as Europe has before it, or at least such as authors or advocates of revolutionary utopias want to ascribe to it or impose on it. On the contrary, the possession and distribution of land in Russia is establishment of an undoubtedly and tangibly lower condition, which Europe left behind so long ago that it does not even remember it.

   Opinions to the contrary arise from an optical illusion which induces one to take what one came from for what one is advancing towards.

   Let us add a more general note. Much may be learned from Russia, through analogy, by the researcher of the past, though not of the future. A great many features of customs and social life from several centuries ago have been preserved - in many respects it can be regarded as a kind of Herculaneum or Pompeii. Yet just for this reason one should not expect anything new stemming from progress, be it virtue or vice. It seems obvious that the realization of any revolutionary theories should be expected in the most advanced, and not in backward countries.

   The facts upon which opinions about communism in Russia are based are materially true, but Mr. von Haxthausen, who until now is the only source in this respect, grants them much greater significance than they possess. Above all, he assigns them an erroneous meaning, which has been taken up by everyone. It is known that the most numerous social class in Russia, the peasantry, remains in serfdom, i.e. they are not even in the possession of their own persons, which belong to the landowners - that people are only a necessary adjunct to land, just as livestock, etc. Yet what nobody suspected before Mr. von Haxthausen appeared on the scene was that anyone would be able to discern among the Russian peasants relations far surpassing those prevailing in the enlightened world. For the utopias of the revolutionaries are supposed to be fulfilled not in the entire nation, but only among those miserable serfs; and these revolutionaries should not complain, for the author meant it as a flattery. The facts are as follows: the land belonging to a group, or a commune - which, we must remember, is not in possession of itself, if we exclude exceptional cases - does not have permanent owners with ownership rights. Every few or every dozen or so years it is divided into parts, not necessarily equal in size, but related to the distribution of duties performed for the landowner and peasant-owner. Both this distribution and the corresponding repartitioning of land are carried out by the villagers, if their master gave them leave to do it. If not, he does it himself, but then he does not apportion, but rather hands out or imposes, as his arbitrary will or fancy might tell him. The latter case, that of imposing land, must be taken into account as it changes the picture to a considerable degree. Yet it is logical that the landlord take away land from someone in order to give it to somebody else, or even leave someone with nothing, as it often is the case. These are the facts, and regarding them we agree with Mr. von Haxthausen, not only in general, but apparently in all particulars as well, although we do not necessarily put them together in the same fashion. However, what we see is not only different; it is diametrically opposed! How do we establish who is right? The best course seems to be to look for the reason behind these facts, the reason which contains their meaning and explain their effects. We expect to find it primarily in the relation between master and subject, and secondarily in the condition of farming in a country where the population and territory are in inadequate proportion to each other. We first give the outcome of our quest, but this does not absolve us from presenting a proper proof.

   This reason is not communism.

   This reason is serfdom.

   In it we will find the explanation of all relations which have been ascribed to communism, and of many others. If there is no permanent possession of land by the farmer in Russia, this is so only because serfdom bars him from access to possession.

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