The Polish Peasant in Europe and America

Part III: The Concept of Social Reorganization

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The decay of the traditional social organization is, as we have seen, due to the appearance and development of new attitudes leading to activities which do not comply with the socially recognized and sanctioned schemes of behavior. The problem of social reconstruction is to create new schemes of behavior-new rules of personal conduct and new institutions-which will supplant or modify the old schemes and correspond better to the changed attitudes, that is, which will permit the latter to express themselves in action and at the same time will regulate their active manifestations so as not only to prevent the social group from becoming disorganized but to increase its cohesion by opening new fields for social cooperation.

In this process of creating new social forms the role of the individual, the inventor or leader, is much more important than in the preservation and defense of the old forms or in revolutionary movements which tend merely to overthrow the traditional system, leaving the problem of reconstruction to be solved later. For even when the defense of the traditional organization is assumed by particular individuals the latter act merely as official or unofficial representatives of the group; they may be more or less original and efficient in realizing their aim, but their aim has been defined for them entirely by social tradition. In revolution, as we have seen, the individual can generalize and make more

( 1304) conscious only tendencies which already exist in the group. Whereas, in social reconstruction his task is to discover and understand the new attitudes which demand an outlet, to invent the schemes of behavior which would best correspond to these attitudes, and to make the group accept these schemes as social rules or institutions. More than this, he must usually develop the new attitudes in certain parts of society which have been evolving more slowly and are not yet ready for the reform; and often he has to struggle against obstinate defenders of the traditional system.

We are not concerned here with the methods by which the social leader discovers the new needs of society and invents new forms of social organization; this would lead us far beyond the study of the peasant class. What interests us is, how are new forms imposed upon the peasant communities and what is the social organization resulting? Now, it is clear that in order to have a peasant community consciously accept any institution different from the traditional ones it is indispensable to have this community intellectually prepared to meet new problems. Education of the peasant is thus the first and indispensable step of social reconstruction.

Further, we have seen that social disorganization came as a consequence of the breakdown of the old isolation of peasant communities; the contacts between each community and the outside social world have been continually increasing in number, variety and intensity. It is evident that any attempt of social reconstruction must take this fact into account; a social organization based exclusively upon such interests and relations as bind together the members of an isolated community would have no chance to last and to develop. But, on the other hand, in constructing a new social system those

( 1305) attitudes of social solidarity which are indispensable to assure a harmonious cooperation of individuals in the active realization of their new tendencies cannot be created out of nothing; use must be made of the attitudes on which the unity of the old community rested. Though no longer sufficient in their old form to organize socially the new interests, they can be changed by proper influences into somewhat different, more comprehensive and more conscious attitudes which are better suited to the new conditions. In other words, the principle of the community has to be modified and extended so as to apply to all those social elements with which the peasant primary group is or will soon be in contact-to the whole peasant class, or even to the whole nation. A wider community is thus gradually evolved; and the instrument through which its opinion is formed and its solidarity promoted is the press.

The social system which develops on this basis naturally tends to reconcile, by modifying them, the two originally contradictory principles-the traditional absorption of the individual by the group and the new self-assertion of the individual against or independently of the group. The method which, after various trials, proves the most efficient in fulfilling this difficult task is the method of conscious cooperation. Closed social groups are freely formed for the common pursuit of definite positive interests which each individual can more efficiently satisfy in this way than if he worked alone. These organized groups are scattered all over the country in various peasant communities, but know about one another through the press. The further task of social organization is to bring groups with similar or supplementary purposes together for common pur-

( 1306) -suit, just as individuals are brought together in each particular group.

The more extensive and coherent this new social system becomes, the more frequent, varied and important are its contacts with the social and political institutions created by other classes and in which the peasants until recently had not actively participated (except, of course, those individuals who became members of other classes and ceased to belong to the peasant class). The peasant begins consciously to cooperate in those activities by which national unity is maintained and national culture developed. This fact has a particular importance for Poland where for a whole century national life had to be preserved by voluntary cooperation, not only without the help of the state but even against the state, and where at this moment the same method of voluntary cooperation is being used in reconstructing a national state system. The significance of such a historical experiment for sociology is evident, for it contributes more than anything to the solution of the most essential problem of modern times-how to pass from the type of national organization in which public services are exacted and public order enforced by coercion to a different type, in which not only a small minority, but the majority which is now culturally passive will voluntarily contribute to social order and cultural progress.

Our study of social reconstruction will thus include the following five problems: 1) leadership; 2) education of the peasants; 3) the wider community and the press; 4) cooperative organizations; 5) the role of the peasant class in the nation.


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