BASEES Annual Conference 2022

“A colony of alien capital.” Polish public opinion and foreign investment in 1930s Poland

Fri8  Apr04:40pm(20 mins)
CWB Syndicate Room 2


Jerzy Łazor


The goal of my presentation is to show how revelations about worker exploitation in a French-controlled factory challenged the Polish self-image and made the elites in Warsaw redefine their country’s position in the world. I will do so by analysing the daily press and poetry (including an early work by Czesław Miłosz) published in reaction to the murder of the factory’s CEO by a former employee in 1932.

After the murder, Polish journalists were confronted with uncomfortable facts. Capitalists from France, the country’s principal ally, had avoided Polish tariffs, skirted local laws, and undermined the workers’ prosperity. Some commentators argued that this was akin to colonialism, others voiced their protest using racial arguments.

In my presentation I will concentrate on the following topics: narratives which led to categorizing French actions in Poland as colonial; the racial and geographical assumptions which stood behind these arguments; the impact of this categorization on the journalists’ declared self-identity. 

I will show that commentators adopted two main narratives. According to one, the French were wrong, because they had transgressed an imagined a geo-racial division of the world, based on Western racial categories. According to the other, the French did faultless; Polish workers were backwards and needed discipline. Both narratives were used to bolster the elites’ modern, European identity.