Stanislaw Brzozowski

 In Italian


Due to his vast, eclectic reading, Brzozowski was at first drawn to a philosophical individualism which valued the active role of the cognitive subject (the thinkers who exercised most influence on him being Nietzsche and Avenarius). In his "philosophy of action", relativising knowledge to the biological organisation of man, he criticised the concept of truth as a timeless correspondence with a given external object: it is man who "makes" truth and not the latter which imposes itself from the outside with naturalistic force. This exaltation of human Prometheanism, of action often viewed in a solipsistic manner, led him to promote a "new philosophy" in which the essence of the world is identified in free human creation. He departed from this almost solipsistic view of the pre-eminence of action in the spring of 1906 when his reading of Labriola and Sorel in Italy led him to the rediscovery of Marxism (mainly as put forward in the Theses on Feuerbach), which he no longer saw as a sort of evolutionary naturalism, propounded by the Second International, but a practical philosophy in which a pivotal role is played by individual subjectivity, expressed both at a cognitive level and in the transformation of reality through work. In this second stage of his thought he elaborated the "philosophy of work": the importance he had previously ascribed to action and individual creativity was now attributed to work, which becomes the only dimension in which all reality is constituted. Brzozowski thus viewed Marxism as a subverting praxis, a determined social action in which all deterministic constraints disappear and the future is subordinate to man's desire for transformation. History is not the work of God or necessity but of man, who is therefore fully responsible for his actions. He now considered praxis to be the only criterion of truth, a development of Kant's thesis of the active role of the cognisant subject. Due to his interpretation of Marxism Brzozowski has often been seen as a forerunner of the ideas of the so-called "Western Marxism" usually connected with the young Lukács and Korsch. In the last stage of his intellectual development Brzozowski became closer to Catholic modernism, influenced at first by Bergson and Le Roy and then by his reading of the works of Newman.


Of impoverished aristocratic parentage, in 1896 Brzozowski studied natural sciences in Warsaw where he led a life of hardship: he was first accused of embezzlement when, as president of the students' mutual benefit association, he used some of the reserve funds to help his father who was suffering from cancer, and then he was arrested by the Tsarist police and charged by his prison colleagues of being a collaborator. These were a warning of the much greater accusation which was to mark him for life. In prison he caught tuberculosis and was sent to a sanatorium, where he spent the years 1899-1902. During his stay there he began to work as a journalist and critic: he wrote his first essays and works aiming at popularising philosophy, he engaged in a polemic against Henryk Sienkiewicz, accused of representing the aristocratic ideals of the minor nobility, and supported the modernist literary movement of "Young Poland" which spread in intellectual circles between 1890 and World War I (a movement he was later to criticise). He also wrote his first important philosophical work, The Philosophy of Action (Filozofia czynu, 1903), which characterised his line of thought in the years 1903-1905. With no fixed employment, he lived on his work as a journalist, giving lectures in various cities in Poland and engaging in further controversies, such as his polemic in 1904 against art as separate from life, reduced to aesthetic mannerism, which he saw represented in the review "Chimera" published in Warsaw. Rejecting the approaches of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), in 1905 he was forced to move to Nervi, in Italy, to seek a cure for his tuberculosis. On his return he was violently attacked by his enemies, who dragged up from his past the mutual benefit association scandal and the charges made during his imprisonment. His next stay in Nervi (1907) marked a turning point in his intellectual development: from this moment onwards he became closer to the thought of Marx. In Florence he made the acquaintance of Prezzolini's "Voce" group, in particular Papini, and he studied Sorel, Bergson and Vico. He also narrowly escaped an attempt on his life following the death sentence passed on him by the revolutionary fringe of the PPS. In the same period (1908) a list supplied by the Central Committee of the Russian Workers' Party was published in Poland, containing the names of agents on the payroll of the Tsarist secret police, including Brzozowski's. The court of honour composed of members of all the Socialist parties by means of which Brzozowski tried to clear his name came to no conclusion after two hearings. Brzozowski did not attend the third hearing, due to a deterioration in his health. Meanwhile, the controversy had flared up all over Poland. Subsequent investigation into the affair did not confirm the infamous charge and it is believed nowadays that it was either due to the existence of a namesake or a provocation on the part of the police. It was,. however, to affect Brzozowski's life profoundly - he remained alone, persecuted and penniless - and also had a negative effect on posthumous evaluation of his works. Having returned to Italy in 1909 after a brief stay in Poland to attend the court of honour hearings, he spent the rest of his life in Florence, where he wrote his most important works. He died of tuberculosis at the early age of 33. In addition to his wife and children, his coffin was accompanied by a few peasants and people from the surrounding villages. According to his dying wishes, a copy of Dante's Divine Comedy was placed in his grave. He was buried in Florence in the Trespiano cemetery, where he still rests.

Main works

- Dziela wszystkie (Complete Works), Warszawa, 1936-1938
- Idee. Wstep do filozofii dojrzalosci dziejowej (Ideas. Introduction to the Philosophy of Historical Maturity), Lwów, 1910 (Kraków, 1983).
- Legenda Mlodej Polski. Studia o strukturze duszy kulturalnej (The Legend of Young Poland. Studies on the Structure of the Cultural Soul), Lwów, 1910 (Kraków, 1983).
- The paths and tasks of modern philosophy, "Dialectics and Humanism", 2, , 1980, pp.79-90.

Selected Bibliography

- A. Chmielecki, Teoria wiedzy Stanislawa Brzozowskiego (Brzozowski's Theory of Science), Warszawa, 1985.
- W. Mackiewicz, Brzozowski, Warszawa, 1983.
- M. Stepien, Spór o spuscizne po Stranisawa Brzozowskim (The Problem of Brzozowski's Legacy), Kraków 1976.
- A. Syska-Lamparska, Stanislaw Brzozowski: a Polish Vichian, Firenze, 1987.
- A. Walicki, Stanislaw Brzozowski and the Polish Beginnings of Western Marxism, Oxford, 1989.

Other Links

A paper of S. Brzozowski, Materializm dziejowy jako filozofia kultury (Historical Materialism as a Philosophy of Culture) (in Polish).

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