Piłsudski, Joseph

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Piłsudski, Joseph

Joseph Piłsudski (pĬlsŏŏd´skē), Pol. Józef Piłsudski (yōō´zĕf pēl´sōōt´skē), 1867–1935, Polish general and politician. He was exiled (1887–92) to Siberia for an alleged attempt on the life of Czar Alexander III, who ruled a large section of Poland. On his return he joined the Polish Socialist party and began (1894) publication of the Robotnik [worker], a secret party organ. Again imprisoned in 1900, he soon escaped. Piłsudski, who subordinated social aims to national emancipation, struggled exclusively for Polish independence. To that end he organized various anti-Russian militant groups—notably, after the outbreak (1914) of World War I, the Polish Legions, which he commanded under Austrian sponsorship. When the Central Powers demanded extensive Polish mobilization in return for vague promises of independence, Piłsudski refused to give his support and was imprisoned (1917) at Magdeburg. Released in Nov., 1918, he returned to Warsaw, assumed command of the Polish armies, and proclaimed an independent Polish republic, which he headed. Meanwhile a more conservative Polish national committee, that had favored cooperation with the Allies in the war, had established itself at Paris and won Allied recognition. A compromise was reached in 1919, when Paderewski became premier while Piłsudski continued as chief of state. Piłsudski used force to expand the eastern frontier of Poland, and the peace treaty with Russia (see Riga, Treaty of, 1921) incorporated several million Ukrainians and White Russians into Poland. In accordance with the Polish constitution of 1921, Piłsudski surrendered (1922) his powers and soon retired to private life. Disagreeing with the policies of the Witos cabinet, he overthrew the government by a coup in 1926. As war minister he exercised a virtual dictatorship until his death. He also was premier from 1926 to 1928 and in 1930. The constitution of 1935 made a pretense of parliamentary democracy. Piłsudski's authoritarian regime was a military dictatorship with slight fascistic overtones, although it never was formalized as in fascist countries. His succession was assumed by a group of military men, among them Rydz-Smigly.

See Piłsudski's memoirs (tr. 1931, repr. 1972); biographies by his wife, Alexandra Pilsudska (1941, repr. 1970) and W. Jedrzejewicz (1982).

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