Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Chapter 5 - Sick of Everything: Part 2 - Revolution in Poland

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

As if the stress of dealing with his father’s death and his mother’s demands was not enough, Korzybski, with other Poles, faced economic and political strains which had reached a breaking point by the end of 1904 with massive unemployment related to the war. People taking to the streets throughout Poland had increasingly violent clashes with police, who had fired into crowds of protesters. In Warsaw in November, gendarmes (Russian state-security police) attacked a group of demonstrators who were waving a red banner which said,
“Down with the war and with Tsardom, Long live the free Polish people.” [The gendarmes] were met by a hail of bullets from a squad of gunmen. Six men were killed, scores injured, and hundreds arrested. This was the first open challenge to Russian authority in Poland for forty years.(6)
Massive political violence soon followed in Poland and throughout Russia as well. In Poland, a general strike was called at the end of January 1905 and went on for at least a month. For the rest of the year, universities remained empty while work stoppages, riots, and additional general strikes, as well as “diversionary” anti-Jewish pogroms by the police, sporadically occurred.(7)

“National march” by Poles in Warsaw, 5th November 1905. 
This demonstration culminated at the foot of the statue to Adam Mickiewicz, erected seven years earlier, on Krakowskie Przedmieście where Henryk Sienkiewicz delivered a speech to the crowd (private collection).
At Rudnik the peasant workers wanted to participate and decided they should strike too. As usual they consulted with master Alfred, who told them to go ahead and strike—as long as they maintained the farm and continued to feed and care for the animals. Not wanting to stay at Rudnik himself and needing money, he got a job teaching French, German, mathematics, and physics at a junior-college level girls’ school or “gymnasium” in Warsaw. Although he had done private tutoring throughout his time at the Polytechnic, this was his first experience in classroom teaching. The students ranged in age from 16 to 19. Alfred took his teaching role very seriously and taught his subjects in the way he had studied them himself—as forms of human behavior. This helped him to put life into what otherwise could seem like dry, boring topics.

His students liked his classes and worked hard. They seemed fond of him too, but unlike some of the other male teachers at the school, Alfred never received ‘love letters’ from any of the girls during his year of teaching, a record in which he took pride. Apparently the young ladies felt a bit intimidated by him. Not because of any sternness or standoffishness on his part but rather because of his sense of humor. One time as Alfred entered his classroom, he noticed a yellow spot on the ceiling, probably the result of the roof above them leaking. When a teacher entered a classroom, the students were expected to come to standing until the teacher arrived at his desk and signaled for them to sit down. The students had risen and as he arrived at his desk, Alfred looked up at the yellow spot and in his words:

I put my blue innocent eyes on them and I asked an innocent question...: Do you have your dormitories over this class?…The hell I got from the director…of the college. Oh, yes, I was scolded. The girls of course, giggled...and this is the kind of humor which prevented them to write love letters because you can’t imagine with that kind of sense of humor what I could not say about some silly love letter.(8) 
In his later career lecturing and teaching, Korzybski’s at times earthy humor remained prominent and also sometimes got him into trouble with those who considered it inappropriate.

While Alfred taught at the school, the social turmoil continued. Tsarist authorities tried to calm things down by making concessions to the protestors. In April 1905, after years of prohibition, they permitted Polish schools to once again teach classes in the Polish language. I imagine Korzybski must have relished switching from Russian to Polish in his classroom. In September 1905, the Russo-Japanese war ended in a humiliating defeat for the Russian government, which led to further unrest at home. A month later the Tsar felt impelled to call for a written constitution and to announce the formation of a Russian parliament—the Duma—elected in the spring of 1906. With economic problems easing, Russia appeared to have become a constitutional monarchy. On July 3, 1906, Alfred celebrated his 27th birthday.

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
6. Davies 2005, p. 273. 

7. Davies 2005, p. 274. 

8. Korzybski 1947, p. 485. 

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