By Michael Fleming
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Additional resources for Communism, Nationalism and Ethnicity in Poland, 1944-50 (BASEES Routledge Series on Russian and East European Studies)
Modernist approaches have led in different directions. Luxemburg argued her position with Lenin, who, while recognizing the contingent historical nature of nations, also framed class revolution in national terms. Lenin, of course, also had practical considerations in mind, seeing Polish aspirations to independence as an additional challenge to the common foe, the Russian Tsar. Lenin’s use of nationality was highly instrumental. For him, the key determining factor as to whether a national movement should be supported was the degree to which it would aid the socialist cause.
However, caution was necessary because Belarusian independence might well give rise to an all-Russian feeling, and thereby compromise Poland in relation to Russia. Knoll claimed that these feelings among the Belarusians were not noticeable, although data on the matter were insufficient. If the lack of any sentiment of separateness persisted, then eastern Poland should be treated as just a borderland area and should be incorporated fully into the Polish mainstream – that is, people of the borderland (‘proto’Belarusians) should be treated as Poles.
Recent theorization on nationalism therefore helps to uncover the significance of the 1935 shift in Polish communist nationality policy. 38 Previously, class was the prime identity indicator; now nationality assumed an unprecedented importance. National identity had been seen as an accident of history: flexible, changeable and of minor consequence; it now became a crucial social marker. And, perhaps more significantly, whereas the understanding of nationality had been firmly entrenched within a modernist framework that emphasized historical development and the civic nature of national identity, it was now transformed radically to a perennialist understanding that placed emphasis on the ethnic nature of national identity.