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The National Democratic Movement (commonly called the Endecja [pronounced en–DE–tsya], a term formed by pronouncing the initials N. D. in Polish) was the leading right-wing nationalist group in early-twentieth-century Poland. Its origins can be traced to a small conspiratorial organization called the National League, which was founded in 1893 by Roman Dmowski, Jan Ludwik Popławski, and Zygmunt Balicki. The League (the existence of which remained secret until 1899) served as the institutional core for a wide range of larger, more public groups. Among these were the Democratic National Party (founded 1897), the Union of Polish Youth (first created in 1887, but reconstituted and absorbed into the structure of the League in 1898), the Society for National Education (an organization dedicated to spreading national identity among the peasantry, created in 1899), and the National Workers' Union (1905).

The Endecja constituted a dramatic break with nineteenth-century traditions of Polish patriotism. Since the country's partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria at the end of the eighteenth century, national activists had staged periodic uprisings in a futile attempt to regain independence. The Poles who participated in the nineteenth century's many conspiracies and revolts represented a wide range of political ideologies, but broadly speaking they were united by a romantic, idealist notion of their cause. A slogan coined in 1830 but repeated incessantly afterward was "For Your Freedom and Ours," which activists deployed to suggest an ideological linkage between the quest for Polish independence and a universal struggle for liberation from both national and social oppression. Because of this legacy, the young national activists of the 1880s and 1890s were easily drawn to those varieties of socialism and populism that could be customized to include national liberation alongside the cause of social justice.

Dmowski, in a sharp repudiation of this tradition, challenged any universal, transnational vision of social or political change. He appropriated the "scientific" rhetoric of late-nineteenth-century positivism, and claimed to offer a more "realistic" approach to the national question. The cause of Polish liberation was not justified by any appeal to universal rights or any abstract notions of justice, Dmowski argued. Instead, he described the nation as a social "organism," locked with other nations in an unending struggle for survival. In that eternal battle, all means were appropriate if they contributed to the nation's objectives. For all their purported "realism," however, the early National Democrats spoke of the nation in idealistic terms. Virtually any objective standard for measuring national identity was inadequate for them, be it language, historical traditions, geography, religion, or self-identification. All these measures, Dmowski and his colleagues believed, led to an overly rigid definition of the nation. Instead, they preferred to speak of a national "essence" or "soul" that manifest itself within an ever-changing social body. Linguistic and cultural homogeneity were extremely important, but they were the results of nation building, not the standards by which a nation was delineated. As a nation expanded, it could use education or assimilation to increase its size, and national boundaries could be set according to strategic interests rather than ethnographic studies or plebiscites.

Among the Endecja's many opponents, two stood out. The socialists were seen by the National Democrats as far too cosmopolitan to be genuinely committed to the national cause. Emphasizing social exploitation could only plant seeds of dissent and disunity within the nation, Dmowski and his colleagues thought, and the use of universal standards of justice could hinder the nation in its struggle for existence. Less central to the Endecja's ideology at the beginning, but increasingly important after the turn of the century, was anti-Semitism. The National Democrats were opposed to every national and ethnic group in northeastern Europe, but the Jews played a special role in their imagination. In the social Darwinist scheme advanced by Dmowski and his colleagues, the Jews had no obvious place, unless one accepted the conspiracy theories already circulating elsewhere in Europe about Jewish plots to dominate the world. During the first decade of the twentieth century the Endecja emerged as the primary vehicle for spreading modern anti-Semitism in Poland.

The Russian Revolution of 1905 was a turning point for the Endecja, because during the unrest its adherents emerged for the first time as a mass political organization. Afterward, they moved from the world of underground activism to open political life, campaigning for parliamentary seats in all three partitions (though their base was strongest in the Russian Empire). When World War I broke out in 1914, Dmowski allied his organization with the tsars—not because of any Russophilia, but because he was convinced that Germany was a far greater danger to Poland. By the time Poland finally regained its independence in 1918, the National Democrats were one of the most important political forces in the country, and although they never held power during the interwar years, they remained a force in public life and helped shape the political and cultural landscape of twentieth-century Poland.

See alsoAnti-Semitism; Nationalism; Poland; Revolution of 1905 (Russia); Russia.


Kozicki, Stanisaw. Historia Ligi Narodowej: Okres, 1887–1907. London, 1964.

Porter, Brian. When Nationalism Began to Hate: Imagining Modern Politics in Nineteenth-Century Poland. New York, 2000.

Wapiński, Roman. Narodowa Demokracja, 1893–1939. Wrocaw, Poland, 1980.

Brian Porter