Polish Uprising of 1863–64

Polish Uprising of 1863–64


(January Uprising of 1863), a national liberation uprising that involved the Kingdom of Poland, Lithuania, and part of Byelorussia and the Right-bank Ukraine.

The uprising was caused mainly by a crisis in the country’s feudal system that demanded radical sociopolitical changes and a yearning for the restoration of Poland’s national independence. The revolutionary situation in Russia from 1859 to 1861 contributed to the rise of the Polish movement for national liberation. In the summer of 1862, the Central National Committee (CNC) assumed the leadership of the conspiratorial organization, called the Reds, that was preparing for the uprising. Provincial committees of Reds were created in Lithuania and the Right-bank Ukraine. Negotiations between the representatives of the CNC and the editors of Kolokol in London in September 1862 and the central committee of Land and Liberty in St. Petersburg in November-December 1862 led to the formation of a Russo-Polish revolutionary alliance. Members of the Committee of Russian Officers in Poland were linked with the insurgents.

The uprising began on the night of Jan. 22, 1863, with attacks, which for the most part were unsuccessful, on tsarist troops at several dozen points in the kingdom. On January 22 the CNC declared itself the provisional national government and issued a manifesto. Agrarian decrees were also published that declared the peasants to be owners of their lands with subsequent compensation to be made to the landlords at government expense. Landless participants in the uprising were guaranteed small plots from the national holdings. The CNC handed over the military leadership of the uprising to L. Mierosławski, who was declared dictator at the outset.

Prussia quickly used the uprising as an excuse to foist the joint Alvensleben Convention of 1863 on the tsar. This drew a sharp reaction from France, Great Britain, and Austria. In pursuit of their political goals, these states made several diplomatic demarches with regard to the Polish question. The tsarist government, convinced that the Western powers did not intend to let the matter lead to an armed conflict, rejected the notes. The policy of the Western powers raised false hopes among the insurgents and did great damage to the uprising.

At the beginning of the uprising, the Whites—the party of the landowning nobility (szlachta) and the bourgeoisie—tried to counteract its spread. But fearing that its social motivations would intensify and hoping for the intervention of the Western powers, the Whites joined the uprising and took over its leadership. Taking advantage of the failures of Mierosławski, who suffered two military defeats in February 1863, they proclaimed the dictatorship of the rebel general M. Langiewicz on March 10, presenting the CNC with a fait accompli. The subsequent military operations of Langiewicz were not successful. Pressed by the tsarist troops on March 19, he crossed the border into Galicia and was interned by the Austrians.

By April, the Whites, who had formed a bloc with the right wing of the Reds, had gained complete dominance in the CNC. Earlier, on March 11, the Whites had seized the leadership of the uprising in Lithuania. From a military point of view the uprising peaked from February to April 1863, during which time the number of rebel detachments increased and the uprising spread in Lithuania, Byelorussia, and the Right-bank Ukraine. However, in Byelorussia, except for the Grodno region, and in the Ukraine it did not get the support of the masses, who viewed the Polish landlords’ leading of the uprising with suspicion, and it was quickly suppressed. In May, M. N. Murav’ev was appointed governor-general of Lithuania and Byelorussia. He unleashed a reign of terror against the insurgents. Soon Governor-General F. F. Berg intensified the terror in the kingdom as well. The White leadership of the CNC, which in May was renamed the Rząd Narodowy, sabotaged the implementation of the agrarian decrees and the plan for the organization of a general people’s volunteer corps. The Whites did not create a unified military center, broke off contacts with the Russian revolutionaries, refused help from the revolutionaries of other European countries, and counted only on military intervention by Great Britain and France. In the autumn of 1863, the Whites began to abandon the uprising.

On September 17 the Reds resumed the leadership. Their government, called the September Rząd, and General R. Trau-gutt, who replaced it on October 17 as de facto dictator, tried to activate the uprising, but the attempt proved unsuccessful. The insurgents in the southern areas of the kindgom and in Lithuania held out through the winter of 1863–64, but by May 1864 the uprising was put down. The tsarist government, while it suppressed the uprising with its military might, was at the same time forced to legalize in the Kingdom of Poland the socioeconomic transformations of the peasant reform of 1864 brought about by the uprising, and it had to speed up the implementation of reform under conditions more favorable to the peasants in Lithuania, Byelorussia, and the Right-bank Ukraine.

The Polish Uprising of 1863–64 and the reform of 1864 was a watershed dividing the era of feudalism from capitalism in the history of Poland. The uprising was the most widespread and the longest of all the Polish people’s liberation movements.

In reaction to the wave of chauvinism kindled by tsarism, the uprising was supported by the revolutionary forces of Russia. Together with Polish revolutionaries, the society of Land and Liberty tried to organize an uprising in the Volga and Ural regions. Hundreds of Russians fought in the ranks of the rebels. In the leaflets of Land and Liberty and on the pages of Kolokol, Russian revolutionaries declared their solidarity with the rebels. The actions of workers in Great Britain and France in support of the uprising played an important role in the preparation for the First International, the founders of which, K. Marx and F. Engels, emphasized its outstanding international importance.


Vosstanie 1863 g.: Materialy i dokumenty, vols. 1–20. Moscow-Wroclaw, 1961–74.


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