Anarchism in Poland first developed at the turn of the 20th century under the influence of anarchist ideas from Western Europe and from Russia.
Prior to Polish independence from the Russian Empire, several anarchist organizations emerged within the area that would become the Second Polish Republic. The first of these, known as “The Struggle”, formed in Białystok in 1903. In the following years similar organizations established themselves in Gniezno, Warsaw, Łódź, Siedlce, Częstochowa, Kielce, and other towns. One of the most active, a group known as “International”, had its base in Warsaw. This group, composed of Jewish workers, organized strikes throughout the city during the Polish insurrection of 1905.
The tsarist régime (which controlled much of Poland before 1914) acted with a high level of despotism. The authorities commonly fired on demonstrating workers. In January 1906 the authorities arrested sixteen members of the International group and shot them without trial.
Significant Polish theorists of anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism included Edward Abramowski (1868-1918), Jan Wacław Machajski (1866–1926), Augustyn Wróblewski (1866–1923) and Rafał Górski (1973–2010).
The pioneers of the Polish anarchist movement were the movement of Polish Brethren, active in the 16th century. It was one of the Protestant currents with a clearly anti-state, anti-war and communist attitude. Among the Brethren, there were representatives of commoners, bourgeoisie and nobility. They professed the principle of brotherhood of all people. They refused military and state service, condemned the death penalty, and rejected the possibility of having landed estates benefiting from the serfdom of peasants.
The beginnings of the Polish anarchist movement can also be traced to the circles of the nineteenth-centuryradical democracy. It leaned towards the idea of communal administration, and thus the self-government of communes, combining democratic freedom and equality with a strong moral bond. Joachim Lelewel, for example, referred to the rules of communal administration. The Polish Democratic Society also referred to this idea. The development of the theory of communal rule was influenced by contacts with European anarchism. Although Polish democrats were not too interested in Proudhon‘s works, the views of the Pan-SlavistMikhail Bakunin were warmly received. Many Polish emigrants ended up in the Bakuninian Society of International Brothers. Polish supporters of anarchism tried to combine the traditions of the commune with new forms of action, like strikes.
In 1864, the Polish Republican Center was established. It was founded by Józef Hauke-Bosak, Ludwik Bulewski and Leon Zienkowicz. It was the Polish section of the Universal Republican Alliance, created by Giuseppe Mazzini.
In each of the partitions, anarchism took a slightly different shape. In the fairly liberal Austrian Partition, where reformist tendencies prevailed, anarcho-syndicalism was the most popular among anarchists. The situation was different in the Russian Partition, where only a revolutionary struggle was possible. In the Prussian Partition, the socialist movement, and thus anarchism, could count on little support.
Daniel Grinberg points out that the first Polish group known by name to refer to anarchism was the Polish Social-Revolutionary Society, operating in 1872 among Polish emigrants in Zurich. Influenced by Bakunin, it adopted an anarchist agenda. However, when Józef Tokarzewicz joined the organization, he created a new program, the idea of the stateless nature of the future Polish society, present in the Bakuninist version, was abandoned.
Another anarchist organization was Free Brethren. This group functioned in 1897 in Galicia, among teachers and junior high school students from Kraków. Its program, apart from anarchist ideas, also contained folk and national-democratic themes. The Free Brethren approved of individual terror.
In 1903, an anarchist group called Walka was established in Białystok on the initiative of Jewish weavers. Combat activists established contact with the circles of the Russian organization Land and Liberty and Western anarchist groups organizing the transfer of instructional materials, money and weapons. The fight practiced economic terror and agitated among the unemployed in the Białystok region. The biggest actions of the conflict were: the successful attack on the district office in Krynki, where the anarchists managed to obtain large amounts of passport forms; shooting the chief of the Białystok police; an attempt to assassinate the scab-employing factory owner Kogan in 1904.
With the outbreak of the 1905 Russian Revolution, new anarchist groups began to appear in Poland. That same year, an anarcho-communist organization called the Black Banner was founded in Białystok by Juda Grossman-Roszczin. According to some estimates, the Black Banner groups in Białystok alone numbered around 500 people. In 1906, they created a strong federation that included Polish and Jewish weavers, tanners, furriers, tailors and carpenters. The Black Knights – as they were also called – advocated economic terror, and above all a so-called unmotivated terror directed at all representatives of the bourgeoisie. The Black Banner was also active, for example, in Vilnius.
In 1905, a group of about 120 people called the International was active in Warsaw. This organization announced a manifesto calling for a general strike, conducted agitation among Warsaw workers, organized sabotage, set bakeries on fire and distributed bread to the poorest. In the same year, there was also the Warsaw Anarchist-Communist Group “Internacyjnyał”, which carried out bomb attacks and extorted money from wealthy entrepreneurs. The “Internacyjnyał” group also carried out a lively propaganda activity. One of its appeals read:
Forward brothers, for the great struggle of which all tyrants so fear, forward for anarchist communism and social revolution! Death to tyrants and the bourgeoisie! Death to multiple owners and dictators! Down with private property and its defenders Democrats! Long live the solidarity of the class struggle of the proletariat! Long live the social revolution! Long live anarchist communism!— Our fight is hard, but it is fruitful – the appeal of the “International” group of October 1905, [in:] Appeals and proclamations of Polish anarchist groups
The former socialist Augustyn Wróblewski was active in the Austrian Partition. He created a group in Krakow, the press body of which was the anarcho-syndicalist magazine “Sprawa Robotnicza”. The Galician anarcho-syndicalist movement, however, never developed significantly.
While groups operating in Poland were often inclined towards terror, Polish thinkers associated with anarchism were rather in favor of peaceful and more constructive solutions. Apart from Machajski, who “was a rebellious Marxist rather than an anarchist in the strict sense”, mention should be made of Edward Abramowski, Augustyn Wróblewski and Józef Zieliński.