For All Nails #295: The Third Republic

By Johnny Pez

From Zoë Montgomery's The Russian Revolution (New York, 1967):

In the wake of the disastrous uprising of 1881, the surviving members of the Polish szlachta became disillusioned with the idea of armed resistance. Three times in the previous eighty years the Poles had risen up, and each time the resulting Russian reprisals had been worse. In the months following the fall of Warsaw, 40,000 Poles were shot out of hand, while another 78,000 were exiled to Siberia.

Ryszard Januszajtis of Wilno most eloquently expressed the dominant sentiment of the time in his 1883 manifesto "Resistance is Futile":

The yearning for statehood is an evil temptress, promising the Polish people endless delights, enticing them into the shadowy alleyway of insurrection, only to leave them at the mercy of a pair of brutal footpads named Germany and Russia. Poles! Ignore the siren song of this faithless whore!

Januszajtis was one of the leading voices in what came to be known as the Movement for a Parallel State. Over the next fifteen years, the Poles created a set of parallel - or as we would say today, underground - institutions: schools, businesses, banks, even police and courts. Thus, when the revolution broke out in St. Petersburg in 1900, the Poles already had their institutions in place. When General Malenkov withdrew the army garrisons from Warsaw on 7 June for use against the Hrishchiev regime in Kiev, the functions of statehood were immediately taken up by the Poles, who had their own provisional government in place within 24 hours. Thus was the Third Republic born.

The one organ of state the Third Republic did not possess was an army, for that the Russians would never have permitted. However, as the Tsarist army was pulled apart by competing generals, noblemen and politicians, fragments began to turn up at the doorstep of the provisional government in Warsaw. Individual Poles deserted, and larger units fleeing defeat at the hands of one or another self-proclaimed military governor made their way to what was rapidly becoming the most organized state to emerge from the Revolution. As well, ethnically Polish veterans of the German army made their way to the newly reborn Polish state, and exiles from the fall of the Second Republic returned from Hungary, Italy and France. By the end of the summer, these fragments had been organized into the Army of the Polish Republic.

Initially, the APR was stationed along the border of the Germanic Confederation, in anticipation of a replay of the events of 1881. However, the government of Chancellor Gengler had been unprepared for the speed with which the Russian Empire disintegrated, and paralysis seemed to grip the political establishment in Berlin. Fear that a repetition of the Bloody Eighties was at hand sent the National Diet into a frenzy, and Gengler was forced to dissolve it in September 1900. As stories of the growing chaos within the former Tsarist empire filtered in, the new Polish state ceased to be seen as a potential threat, and came to be regarded as a necessary bulwark against the spread of disorder. On 27 November, the Germanic Confederation officially recognized Poland's provisional government.

By this time, Stanislaw Leschetizky, who had run the parallel postal system prior to the Revolution, had emerged as the leading figure in the provisional government. (As one of his early supporters joked, "He knows where all the dead letters are buried".) With German recognition in hand, Leschetizky had the APR redeployed to the east, in order to deal with the roving gangs of bandits that were coming out of the disintegrating empire. Absorbing some of the gangs, and defeating the others, the APR was able to push past the Bug into the lawless lands beyond. Upon entering Bielsk, site of the Second Republic's great victory over the Russians twenty years before, General Zygmunt Dapski is said to have wept as he gave orders for the Polish flag to be raised.

When the APR reached the Niemen River in late February 1901, it came into contact with forces under the command of Vladimir Malenkov, who by this time had declared himself Chief of State of the Russian Republic. Although Malenkov refused to recognize the new Polish state, which he fully intended to reconquer in due course, his ongoing struggle to subdue the Socialists of the Free Russian Republic prevented him from taking any action against it. The Niemen served as the de facto border between Poland and Russia for the remainder of Malenkov's tenure as Chief of State.

Meanwhile, in Warsaw, the provisional government issued a call for elections to a constitutional convention to be held in April 1901. When this body finally met in Warsaw's Belvedere Palace, it quickly became clear that there would be no unanimity of opinion on the shape of the Third Republic's government. The Monarchists, made up for the most part of the landed magnates, wanted to revive the elective monarchy of the Commonwealth. The Republicans were divided between the Staszak faction of Lech Staszak, mostly business owners and industrialists, who favored a strong executive on the Mexican model; the Leschetizky faction, mostly urban professionals and petty landowners, who favored a parliamentary government; and the Socialist faction, made up mostly of intellectuals, urban workers and landless peasants, who favored a Neiderhofferian government. In the end, Leschetizky was able to form an alliance with Staszak and the Monarchists to create a government based on that of the CNA, with a President chosen for a six year term by a popularly elected National Council with a membership of 250. Elections to the National Council were held in July, with a plurality of seats won by Leschetizky's Polish Freedom Party. A coalition of the PFP and the moderate Kornecki faction of the Socialists elected Leschetizky President on 27 July 1901.

Forward to FAN #296: Red Sea Morning.

Forward to 14 April 1967: Ferdinand the Bull.

Forward to Poland: Uneasy Lies the Head.

Return to For All Nails.