Organic work

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Organic work (Polish: praca organiczna) was a term adopted from Herbert Spencer by the 19th century Polish positivists, denoting an ideology demanding that the vital powers of the nation be spent on labour (i.e. work at the foundations) rather than fruitless national uprisings against the overwhelming military presence of the neighbouring empires. The basic principles of the organic work included education of the masses and increase of the economical potential of the Poles. This was to turn the Polish lower classes into a modern nation and put a stop to the successes of Germanization and Russification, pursued by the occupiers of partitioned Poland.[1]


Increasing oppression at Russian hands after failed national uprisings (the November Uprising of 1830-1831 and the January Uprising of 1863-1864) finally convinced Polish leaders that the insurrection was premature at best and perhaps fundamentally misguided and counterproductive.[2] During the decades that followed, Poles largely forsook the goal of immediate independence and turned instead to fortifying the nation through the subtler means of education, economic development, and modernization. This approach took the name Organic Work for its philosophy of strengthening Polish society at the grass roots, influenced by positivism. For some, the adoption of Organic Work meant permanent resignation to foreign rule, but many advocates recommended it as a strategy to combat repression while awaiting an eventual opportunity to achieve self-government.


Neither as colorful as the Polish rebellions, nor as loftily enshrined in national memory, the quotidian methods of organic work proved well suited to the political conditions of the later nineteenth century. The international balance of forces did not favour the recovery of Polish statehood at that time given that both Russia and Germany appeared bent on the eventual eradication of Polish national identity. The German Empire, established in 1871 as an expanded version of the Prussian state, aimed at the assimilation of its eastern provinces inhabited by Poles. At the same time, St. Petersburg attempted to russify the former Congress Kingdom, joining Berlin in levying restrictions against use of the Polish language and cultural expression. Poles under Russian and German rule also endured official campaigns against the Roman Catholic Church: the Cultural Struggle (Kulturkampf) of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck to bring the Roman Catholic Church under state control and the Russian campaign to replace Catholicism by extending Orthodoxy throughout the empire.


The Polish subjects under Austrian jurisdiction (after 1867 the Habsburg Empire was commonly known as Austria-Hungary) confronted a generally more lenient regime. Poles suffered no religious persecution in predominantly Catholic Austria, and Vienna counted on the Polish nobility as allies in the complex political calculus of its multinational realm. In return for loyalty, Austrian Poland, or Galicia, received considerable administrative and cultural autonomy. Galicia gained a reputation as an oasis of toleration amidst the oppression of German and Russian Poland. The Galician provincial Sejm acted as a semiautonomous parliamentary body, and Poles represented the region in the empire government in Vienna. In the late 1800s, the universities of Krakow and Lwów became the centers of Polish intellectual activity, and Kraków became the center of Polish art and thought. Even after the restoration of independence, many residents of southern Poland retained a touch of nostalgia for the days of the Habsburg Empire.

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Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Maciej Janowski (2004). "The Rise of Positivism". Polish Liberal Thought Before 1918. Central European University Press. p. 166. ISBN 9639241180. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  2. ^ Tadeusz N. Cieplak (1972). "The Znak group in Poland". Poland Since 1956: Readings and Essays on Polish Government and Politics. Ardent Media. p. 88. Retrieved September 7, 2012.