JAN BLOCH (1836-1902). CAPITALIST, PACIFIST, PHILANTHROPIST. Edited by Andrzej Żor. Jan Bloch Foundation – Trio 2014. 196 pages.
Corporate social responsibility is a term I approach with caution. There are 3 reasons for it. Firstly: corporations, or in broader terms business, should not be socially responsible. The responsibility lies with people who do business, work in big corporations, not only at the top, but also at the base. Edward Thurlow (1731-1806), Lord Chancellor of Great Britain during the reign of George III pointed out: "A corporation has no soul to be damned and no body to be kicked". The thought was developed by the American thinker Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862): "It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience. But a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience".
Second reason: I am repulsed by the modern CSR formula, understood as a means to repair reputation damaged by a ruthless pursue of gain. Third reason is a commotion raised by PR people every time their company becomes involved in any, be it the smallest, project – supporting a cross country run or a campaign promoting ear washing.
I recommend reflecting on Bloch's work to everybody, who is truly interested in the social responsibility of big business. Bloch was one of the wealthiest people in the world, and one of the most notable characters of his era. A new book devoted to the "tsar of railways" has just been published with the help of the Jan Bloch Foundation. The previous, very interesting one, was written by his excellency Andrzej Żor, under a deceptive title "Pranks of History" (Figle historii; see below). This one has been co-authored and edited by Mr. Żor, who also wrote the foreword. He contributed two chapters – excellent essays, titled "Kronenberg and Bloch, a Comparative Study" and "Jan Bloch in Contemporary Literature".
Kronenberg is a familiar character. Bank Handlowy in Warsaw and his Foundation keep the remembrance alive. Bloch is not very well known in Poland, and the world often thinks of him as "Ivan", a Russian. This is no accident, as the first International Peace Conference in Hague was organized by Nicolas II on his advice; it gave the world important conventions on the laws of peace and war. Bloch laid the foundations of his great wealth in Russia, which is also quite surprising, because to this day we do not know how a young, barely educated man, seventh of nine children of a poor dyer from Radom, managed to gain money and influence so quickly. He lived and worked in Warsaw, and fearing for its safety in the event of war, he conducted an extensive research on the topic of peace. It resulted in a monumental book on the future of war, foundations of the future statistical service, first museum of war and peace in the world, the Warsaw Polytechnic, and many other achievements. Even the club of the Polish Bank Association occupies a former hospital, built by Bloch. But the Capitalist, Pacifist and Philanthropist was not well-liked – he was lampooned, slandered, mistrusted. Józef Ignacy K. would have ended in prison today, had he dared to spit on the renowned businessman, a former protestant, later a catholic, who although knighted, honored and showered with titles, was in the anti-Semitic empire perceived simply as a Jew.
The book includes a lengthy interview conducted with Bloch during the Hague Conference by William T. Stead, Katarzyna Szwarc's essay "Jan Bloch and the Museum of War and Peace in Lucerne", an important sketch By Elżbieta Mazur and Krystyna Pawlak "Wealth in the Service of Society, describing Bloch's social sensitivity and his achievements, and a revelatory (at least for me) article by Justyna Guze "Jan Gottlieb Bloch, a Collector of Drawings on a European Scale". It is complemented by an extensive bibliography and a name index. I have to admit I have no idea, whether and if can this book be purchased. I have received a copy from Krzysztof Szwarc, the chairman of the board of the Jan Bloch Foundation, with a very nice dedication. Two other people, who help to keep the remembrance of Bloch alive are the tireless author Andrzej Żor and the late dr. Andrzej Werner. Chapeau bas.