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Perl, Feliks

(1871–1927), leader of the Polish Socialist Party, writer, editor, and Polish parliamentarian. Born in Warsaw to a Polish-speaking, middle-class Jewish family, Feliks Perl was raised in a Polonizing household, his father having been arrested for participation in the anti-Russian Polish insurrection of 1863. After graduating from a Russian gymnasium in Warsaw, Perl entered the School of Law at Warsaw University, where he joined illegal radical circles and, in 1889, became active in an underground Polish revolutionary organization. In the wake of police repression, Perl fled to Germany in April 1892.

At the time, Perl was a doctrinaire proponent of international Marxism. After encountering independence-minded Polish exiles in Germany and Switzerland, however, he began to advocate independence for Poland. He then traveled to Paris in November 1892 to take part in the founding convention of the Polska Partia Socjalistyczna (Polish Socialist Party; PPS).

During the period before World War I, Perl served on the PPS’s Foreign Committee in London and Zurich, and subsequently was a member of the party’s central committee. He edited and wrote for several party newspapers, as well as composed party brochures. At the age of 25, Perl earned a Ph.D. at the university in Bern. In 1910, Perl published Dzieje ruchu socjalistycznego w zaborze rosyjskim (History of the Socialist Movement in Russian Poland), a meticulously written history of Polish socialism in Russian Poland that remains an indispensable work on the subject. From 1915 until the end of his life, Perl was editor in chief of the influential party daily, Robotnik.

Perl took great interest in the Jewish question, engaging in open polemics with Jewish political leaders and publishing many articles on the subject. From his first article on Jewish matters in 1900, Perl remained a committed integrationist. He argued for the end of Jewish separateness in all forms except religion, and campaigned for the Polonization of the masses, secular education, and the adoption of an exclusively Polish national identity.

In the last period of his life (1918–1927), Perl opposed the demands of Jewish parties for national cultural autonomy. Citing the French model of emancipation, Perl passionately argued that the principle of Jewish nationality exacerbated interethnic tensions by erecting a barrier to Jewish social integration. Nevertheless, the Polish Right used Perl as an example of the “alien” and “non-Polish” influences in the Polish socialist movement, while the Jewish community resented his stand on the Jewish national question.

Suggested Reading

Alexander Guterman, “Assimilated Jews as Leaders of the Polish Labour Movement between the Two World Wars,” Gal-Ed 14 (1995): 49–65; Henryk Piasecki, “Feliks Perl: Historyk i działacz PPS,” Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego 92 (1974): 59–70; Michał Śliwa, Feliks Perl (Warsaw, 1988).