Karl Radek

The Polish Question and the International

(June 1920)

Source: The Communist International, June–July 1920, no. 11–12, pp. 2337–2354.
Transcription: Ted Crawford.
HTML Mark-up: Brian Reid.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Poland as an outwork of the European revolution against autocratic Russia; emancipation of the Poles as a problem of the international working class; Poland as the vanguard of the capitalist counter-revolution against the proletarian revolution in Russia, the centre of the proletarian revolution of the world. The defeat of bourgeois Poland – the object of the international working class. At the head of the Polish White Guards, Joseph Pilsudsky, one of the leaders of the Polish Socialist Party, affiliated to the Second International.

All these facts sound like a string of paradoxes. But they are not paradoxes; they are stages of historical development, successive stages of the proletarian struggle for emancipation, and there is nothing so suggestive of this gradual development as the part the Polish question has successively played in the three different epochs of the proletarian movement; two of them belong to the past, the third represents the work of our lifetime.

If we sum up in our mind the speeches and articles on the Polish question published by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels from the year 1845 onwards, and up to the work of Enge1s on the foreign politics of the Tsars, published in 1890, we will see that their point of view, with all the inevitable momentary fluctuations, was on the whole the following:

In Western Europe the proletariat fought in the foremost ranks of the bourgeois revolution. It fought for democracy, meaning to make it a stepping stone for the proletarian revolution, and in this struggle the proletariat struck from the start against two great and powerful adversaries. One of these was British capitalism, the despot of the world’s markets; without having defeated this enemy, all the European revolutions would amount to nothing, since it was the chief power of capitalism. But every victory in Western Europe was marred by the fact that there was in the East a second great reactionary power, feudal Tsarist Russia. Although it was at that time already beginning to decay, under the influence of capitalist development and its force was chiefly due to the conflict of the capitalist Powers; still it disposed of many millions of dull peasants, and could send them to Europe as an army to stifle any revolutionary movement. Every European revolt was exposed to the danger of being stifled in blood by the armies of the Tsar and the bourgeoisie as well as the rising proletarian democracies were aware that there is going to be “Europe either republican or Cossack,” as William Liebknecht put it, and that there was coming a struggle for life and death between the European revolution and the Tsarist reaction, This struggle was an absolute necessity from the point of view of the European as well as of the German revolution. The partition of Poland between Russia, Austria and Prussia made the two latter partners in the robbery with the chief robber. In their fear of losing their prey they had given themselves over for good or evil to the Tsar’s diplomacy, and were vassals of the Tsar. Wanting to get rid of her own feudal lords, the German democracy was faced from the very start with the influence of the Tsarist diplomacy and, apart from all other dangers threatening from Tsardom, had to be thoroughly aware of the immediate Russian danger. To overcome this was a necessity preliminary to all struggle against the reaction in their own country. There was in consequence only one policy for Marx and Engels – struggle against the Russian autocracy, a struggle for life and death. They were searching for allies in the struggle. The only nation fighting against Tsarist Russia was Poland. Never since the partition of Poland did the Poles cease to struggle for their emancipation, “The Poles are always conspiring,” writes the brilliant Polish historian of the uprising of 1831, Mochnatsky. “If they fare badly they revolt to shake off the yoke. They revolt because they cannot help revolting. But if they are doing well they revolt because they can afford it.”

In reality, however, it was not the Poles as a nation who were revolting, but only a small section of the nobility, the former ruling class of Poland. They could not reconcile themselves to the loss of independence of their country and the loss of their own domination. This group was deeply divided in its midst. The fight for the independence of Poland rallied to its standard the aristocratic elements as well, and they depended much more on the support of the democratic circles of capitalist Europe than on the revolution in Europe, which wanted to make the history of Poland part of the bourgeois revolution. But under the same banner fought also honest revolutionary elements. Living abroad they came into touch with the Socialist movement, and tried to transform their fight for the independence of Poland into a fight for Socialism. Marx and Engels declared in the Communist Manifesto, “The Communists have to support the section of the Polish insurgents which has put on its banner the agrarian revolution in Poland”. This section was by no means the most prominent part of the Polish patriotic forces, but it was evident that if Poland meant to mobilise sufficient forces to take up the fight against the Tsar, the wealthy class in Poland – and such was in the first place the Polish landed nobility – had to renounce its feudal privileges, to emancipate the peasants in order that they should be interested in the independence of Poland.

In supporting this section of the Polish nobility, Marx and Engels hoped that it was a genuine revolutionary force they were setting in motion against the Russian autocracy. They considered the independence of Poland a concrete question arising out of the historical situation, an object to be pursued and struggled for by the international proletariat, not out of sentimental sympathy with an oppressed nation, but because the proletariat had a concrete interest in erecting a dam in the East against autocratic Russia, and in releasing a force which would be obliged forever to keep watch against the barbarous East – for the benefit of the European revolution, The attempted insurrections which took place in the lifetime of Marx – those of 1846, 1848, 1863, failed, all of them, but not so much under the pressure of the military supremacy of autocratic Russia, as because the expected rising of the peasants against Russia never came off. The great mass of the nobility meant by no means to give up its privileges.

And such was the tragic comedy of history that the most democratic elements of the nobility, the small nobility, was the least in a position to do without exploiting the peasants, just as it had the least possible chance to make up by capitalist exploitation for the feudal system it would have to give up. Every experiment of a fundamental agrarian reform ended with promises made too late, and never resulted in actual changes for the better. None of them could rouse the national feelings or the peasants toward those who had been their oppressors up to then. All the Polish insurrections amounted to nothing but small attacks, guerrilla war by a small minority; and the Tsarist power was able to suppress them without being put to much exertion. And yet Marx and Engels tenaciously held their opinion. After the suppression of the Polish insurrection again and again in the congresses of the International they wanted to make the working class of Europe a champion of Polish independence, and never stopped advocating the Polish cause, in spite of the strong opposition they met in the French working class.

The struggle for the independence of Poland in the ranks of the First International throws a very curious light on Marx’s and Engels’ view of the problem. The French Proudhonists were opposed to the slogan “Independence for Poland!” and to every support given it by the working class; and their opposition was due simply to the fact that they were Proudhonists. They did not want the working class to acquire political power, they were opposed to any state, not only the capitalist one. Their conception of Socialism was that of a victorious working class; organised in producing fellowships and dissolving capitalist society separately into producing communities and fellowships, linked together by the free circulation of wares – abolishing capitalism in this way. Being opposed to all struggles for a proletarian state they naturally were also against any support of the struggle for the independence of Poland, and the more so as it was the Polish nobility which fought for it. On the other hand Marx and Engels had to face the unpleasant fact that the liberation of oppressed nations was inscribed on the banner of Napoleon III. In supporting the Poles, Marx and Engels ran the risk of giving Bonapartist sham-idealism a foothold in the working class. But Marx and Engels achieved their purpose brilliantly, and knew how to escape the threatening danger. To refute the Proudhonists they advocated not only the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat – i.e. of the proletarian state, as a means of abolishing the capitalistic resistance, but also the necessity of a bourgeois democracy as a foundation on which the working class could organize before it took hold of the political power on a. national scale for the struggle against capitalism. They also knew how to draw the sharpest line between their own point of view and that of Napoleon III, who was playing the game of the liberation of small nationalities.

This was done to begin with by Frederick Engels in his article in the Commonwealth of 1863. He made it clear that he had not the least idea of rousing to political life all the refuse of different nationalities heaped within the, boundaries of the large historic states. There was no question of making all small nationalities independent states. Such a tendency, he declared, was a reactionary one, its aim being to cleave the capitalistic big states, pillars of modern civilisation, and to weaken them for the benefit of the Russian autocracy, which would be given a chance to out-manoeuvre the remaining reactionary nationalities and the refuse, and to win the game, Engels showed that the European proletariat had an interest of its own in the formation of a Polish state which would be a dam against autocratic Russia, and it was desirable in consequence that this state should be reconstructed in its boundaries of 1772, in spite of the fact that the Poles are a minority within these boundaries. Engels wanted even Riga and Odessa to be given to the Poles, in order to make Poland a powerful state. This policy ended in 1871. The year 1871 closed the period of bourgeois revolutions in western Europe. The constitution of a German empire, of a free Italy, made the hope of vast territorial upheavals in the near future appear quite Illusory. The bourgeoisie, which had become conservative, never thought to fight anywhere against Russia. Bourgeois democracy was dying. The working class alone was revolutionary – and only in quite small fractions. The development of the British colonies, the cheap price of bread caused by the competition of the American market, resulted in a total relaxation of the English working class. The French working class recovered but slowly after the defeat of 1871, and in the nineties it began to reappear as a political factor on the stage of history, turning its first steps towards questions of inner politics, not foreign ones, In Germany and Austria the Social Democratic movement was being oppressed by the ruling classes. It breathed a living revolutionary spirit, tried to guard the traditions of the International in politics, to keep its eye on the vast problems of the universe. Wilhelm Liebknecht was the first to raise again the question of the independence of Poland. Frederick Engels did it also in a long essay on the foreign politics of the Tsars. But the attitude of Frederick Engels and Liebknecht bore the signs of a marked change. They had to take two facts into consideration. The one was that Russia was no more a homogeneous anti-revolutionary force. Russia of the seventies and the eighties was in a state of fermentation. The Russian agrarian reforms, the Russian-Turkish war of 1878, the resistance to a capitalist decomposition of Russia, resulted in the “Narodnaïa Volia”, in the struggle of the Russian intellectuals against the autocracy under the banner of the people’s cause and will (narodnichestvo). This struggle took on such dimensions that one might have thought at times that the Russian intellectuals would succeed in breaking the neck of autocracy.

At the same time it became more and more evident that the Poles were able to do other things besides simply conspire and prepare insurrections: or, better to say, they forgot all about insurrections, and became more and more expert in the distillation of brandy and the production of textiles. The export of both the brandy and the products of the textile industry reconciled them with their subjugation to the Tsar. But there was also a revolutionary movement on foot in Poland, and this movement was not concerned with the conquest or the independence of Poland. Its object was the struggle for Socialism, and we see again Marx and Engels in their address of November 27, 1880 sent to the representatives of the Polish Socialists, who had met at Geneva on the fiftieth anniversary of the Polish insurrection of 1830, stating that the Polish proletariat did not fight for the same ends as the Polish nobility. In this letter celebrating the great merits of the Polish revolutionaries who belonged to the nobility, Marx and Engels by no means supported the slogan of a struggle for the independence of Poland. When the Second International was founded in 1869, it expressed the traditional point of view on the Polish question, in authorizing the Polish delegates from all the three parts of Poland, from Russian, Austrian and Prussian Poland to constitute themselves into a separate national section. In the following years the Polish proletarian movement split in two precisely on the question of the independence of Poland, and the position of the different Polish Socialist faction on one side as well as the position of the Second International on the other in regard to this division on principle and tactics was very characteristic.

The Polish working class movement has acquired since 1886 the character of a class movement. The big strikes which swept in a wave over Poland at that time roused the proletariat to participate in public life, and the Socialists were faced with the question or the immediate aims of the struggle. Polish Socialism has originated with a negative attitude in general towards the national question. In its struggle against all forms of bourgeois ideology, the Polish Socialists had very sharply to oppose the ideology of bourgeois patriotism, patriotic fetishism, and the propaganda of the first ideologists of Polish Socialism was concerned largely to the unmasking of the Polish patriots. Their absolutely negative attitude towards patriotism was also due to the fact that Polish Socialism was an outcome of the pressure exercised by the Russian autocracy. It was an illegal movement of the intellectuals, and, very much like Russian Socialism, it did not admit in its first period any successive stages in the proletarian movement. The first fighters for Socialist ideas in Poland looked forward to the achievement of the final aim of Socialism as the result of a short period of organization and revolutionary struggle. The proletariat was to pass immediately out of the fist of the Tsar through the miracle of revolution into the paradise of Socialism. Every intermediary stage seemed to be of no use, and the Polish Socialists naturally thought the constitution of a bourgeois state a treason to the interests of the proletariat. Such a conception was no more satisfying when the movement of the Polish working masses and their theories were showing that the proletariat was in need of a period of organisation, on its way to the revolution. It had to constitute itself as a class, and could not be organised and fight its struggle without having secured the base of political freedom.

The Socialists were faced with the question of a minimum program and a program of successive stages, and they had to solve this question in a definite historic situation. The characteristic of this historic situation consisted in the fact that the period of the great soaring and bloom of the Polish proletarian movement coincided with an epoch of stagnation in the Russian revolutionary movement. It was in brief the time after the great defeat of the “Narodnaïa Volia”, the Russian rural movement of the intellectuals, and before a mass movement of the working class was started in Russia, beginning with the big strikes of the Moscow textile workers in 1896. The same time witnessed a quickening of political life in Poland as well. Whereas, after the defeat of 1836 the Polish nobility, together with the bourgeois class, turned their attention to a desperate race for profits, gave up all political strife and praised this race for profits as organic work, we see on the contrary in the nineties a renewal of patriotism and social reform tendencies on a part of the Polish bourgeois class. This was due to the petty bourgeoisie which, mingled with ruined remains of the nobility, appeared on the political stage to put itself on guard against the proletarising influence of capital. The petty bourgeois class, disintegrating more and more under the influence of capital and pushed under the wheels of history, was looking back to the past when capitalism was weak and the petty bourgeois led a comparatively quiet life. This past was the time of the independence of Poland. Looking back to that past the petty bourgeoisie could not help wondering why Poland had fallen, and why she could not rise to her feet. The petty bourgeoisie put all the blame for it on the Polish nobility, and opposed to the aristocratic policy of the Polish nobility a policy of democracy, a policy of social reform. As a numerous and socially oppressed class it was interested in reforms and united the strife for the restoration of Poland with the strife for social reform, for petty bourgeois Socialism. The Polish bourgeois class was largely Jewish or German, and the nobility having played the part of traitor in Polish history – according to the petty bourgeois historians who measured history by their own dimensions – the petty bourgeoisie demanded the confiscation of the property belonging to the nobles, and the giving over of the works and mills to the workers. This policy had a Socialist appearance, and part of the Polish Socialists did not perceive the petty bourgeois nationalist elements behind these Socialistic demands. They greeted them as a new ally in the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat, a new ally to take the place of their Russian allies, the Russian Revolutionaries. But if the Russian Revolution was dead, as this section of the Polish Socialists would have it, it was clearly impossible to cooperate with the Russian Revolution in elaborating a basis for the struggle for Socialism. On the contrary, it had a chance to be successful only as a separate fight of the Polish working class and the Polish petty bourgeoisie against the Russian autocracy. But this being the case, it was further evident that there was to be only one aim in this struggle – the independence of Poland, and by no means the overthrow of the Russian autocracy. The victory of democracy in Russia seemed therefore quite illusive to this section of Polish Socialists. They declared that, supposing the Tsarist power could be forced to concede some sort of reforms, these reforms could be only very limited liberal ones, not even affording a guarantee of relief from national oppression. These Polish Socialists who were standing on the platform of the struggle for the independence of Poland, constituted the Polish Socialist Party. Their opponents among the Polish Socialists replied to such a way of putting the question (to the statements about the dead silence in Russia), that if this was true, if the Revolution was actually dead in Russia for an indefinite period, then all prospects of winning the independence of Poland were absolutely delusive. With the internal apathy reigning in the country, Russian autocracy would be sufficiently strong to stifle the revolutionary movement in Poland, This section of the Polish Socialists saw in the general situation of Europe a proof against any probability of great changes of the map of Europe, until the victorious proletariat would change it according to its own interests.

This was the time preceding the awakening of imperialistic tendencies in the bourgeois class. The European bourgeoisie seemed unwilling to risk a war on European territory for a change of the European map, and nothing announced as yet the approach of a storm from the colonial centres. The Polish Social Democrats had declined to put the independence of Poland on their program, not only because they did not consider it a proletarian problem, but also because they believed in a certain rigidity in the correlation of forces of the European powers, lasting until the change would be brought about by the Social Revolution. In opposition to the watch-word of Independence for Poland, the• Social Democrats advocated the struggle of all the Russian proletariat for democracy, and they ridiculed the program of the Polish Socialist Party, which meant to sail right from under the Tsarist power into the dictatorship of the proletariat. They thought such politics simply intellectual rot. They based their own policy on the unity of the Russian and Polish proletariat, and tried to make the Polish proletariat draw but one conclusion from the failure of the proletarian mass movement in Russia: that it was the duty of the Polish proletariat to hasten by its struggle the awakening of the Russian proletariat. This point of view, arrived at in a purely empirical way, had been given a theoretical base by Rosa Luxembourg. She raised the question of the relations between the proletariat and the national State, and answered it from the standpoint of Polish development. Rosa Luxemburg declared that it was the bourgeoisie which was interested In the constitution of the bourgeois state as an organ of its power, whereas the historic task of the proletariat was to overcome, not to create, the capitalist State. Wherever the proletariat exists as a mass force, this is sufficient proof that in this particular country the bourgeois class does not need a special national State for the exploitation and oppression of the proletariat as a class, The existence of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the two great modern classes, in a country which, in spite of its national characteristics, did not constitute a national state, led Rosa Luxemburg to the concrete question, why was it that the Polish bourgeoisie had given up the struggle for independence? She showed in a series of brilliant historical essays how the Polish bourgeoisie, grown up under the wing of the Russian autocracy, had found in the autocratic regime an instrument with which not only to dominate the Polish proletariat, but also to expand outside the country. The dependence of Polish industry on the Russian market became the cord which throttled in the Polish bourgeoisie every desire to fight for a national state.

In the struggle between the two tendencies – it created the denomination “Social Patriots”, so popular during the Great War – each faction of Polish Socialism sought to have the International on its side. On one hand, the representatives of the Polish Socialist Party tried to call back to life the old traditions of Marx and Enge1s’ views on the Polish question, and they were supported in the first place by the guardian of those traditions, by Frederick Engels. On the other hand Rosa Luxemburg, writing in one of the most important Socialist reviews in Europe tried to create an understanding of the changes that had taken place in the international as well as in the Polish situation which made it impossible to accept without further criticism the point of view of Marx. The desire to make Poland a dam against Russia signified mistrust of the revolutionary strength of the newly awakening Russian proletariat, and ignorance of the fact that the Russian autocracy in the last decade had been no longer the representative of world reaction, but the paid bravo of French finance.

The Second International – and this is characteristic of its general opportunistic tendencies avoided taking any position in the conflict, and took refuge in empty phrases. A resolution having been proposed by the Polish Socialist Party, representing in accordance with Marx the conquest of the independence of Poland as a direct problem of the European proletariat, the 1896 London Congress of the Second International declared that it stood for the full self determination of all nations, and was in sympathy with the workers of all countries which were suffering at the present moment under the yoke of a military, social or any other despotic power. It proposed to all the workers of the world to enter the ranks of the class conscious proletariat of all countries, and to fight in common with them in order to overcome international capital and to achieve the aims of the international Social Democracy. In this resolution the Second International did not by a single word take any position on the actual points of difference dividing the Polish Socialist Parties. It did not dare to declare itself for the independence of Poland as a concrete political aim. It could not do it for the simple reason that the German Social Democratic Party was by no means willing at that time to take up openly and clearly the defence of the Polish prey snatched by the Prussian eagle. At that time already the position of the German Social Democracy in regard to the oppressed national minorities was an opportunistic one, masked only by common-place expressions of sympathy for the oppressed nations. While pointing at the same time to a necessity of common action of the proletariat in its fight for Socialism, the Second International by no means drew the conclusion that all attempts to break the common front of the proletariat by establishing different political programs within one state could not be admitted. It did not oppose the disorganising work of the Polish Socialist Party, which not only sought to turn the Poles from their class brothers in Russian Poland, as well as in Germany, but launched a wild campaign against the French and German Social Democrats, who had accused the Socialist Party of jingoism. The German Social Democracy, which played the chief part m the Second International, was not in a position to take up a persistent struggle against the Polish Socialist nationalists; it knew well the Polish social patriots would always be able to prove that the German Social Democrats were not any better than they in practice. And so the Second International watched quite inactively the struggle of the different tendencies within the Polish working class, without ever taking an independent position in the contest. The only attempt to arrive at such a position was made by the Russian Social Democratic Party, and found its expression in an article by comrade Lenin in Iskra, the central organ of the then radical Russian Social Democratic Party, of June 15, 1903.

In this article the Russian Social Democracy declared quite definitely that it was the duty of the working class to oppose the forcible inclusion of nationalities within the boundaries of a foreign state. It acknowledged without any reserve the right of every nation to separate from the one oppressing it, but it also said that this does not mean that the Labour Parties are bound in duty to support separatist tendencies under all conditions and everywhere. Since the working class declines to help the bourgeoisie to preserve its estates founded on robbery, it must also actively support the strife of a nation for independence only if this strife corresponds to the interests of the working class. But anyhow the duty of the workers of both the oppressed and the oppressing nations is to strive for a united front in the struggle against capitalism. The working class must be one, without distinction of nationalities, in its fight against capitalism, if it will have a chance of victory which will give it national freedom together with social emancipation. In regard to the Polish question, this article states that the wealthy class of Poland is more and more in touch with the autocracy, and gives up the struggle for independence. At the same time the article agreed with those who pointed to a change in the Polish question from the moment when the Russian working class began threatening the Russian autocracy more and more. The article anticipates nevertheless that there may arise an international situation in which the Polish bourgeoisie would claim the independence of Poland, and then it would depend upon the actual conditions of the moment, that position the working class should take on the question. Such a point of view made it possible for the Russian Social Democracy to act in the sharpest opposition to the national oppressive policy of the Tsarist power, and to win thereby the confidence of the Polish workers. In no country did the Social Democratic Party of the ruling nation stand in such close relations to the working masses of the Polish people as was the case in Russia, where not only the Polish Marxists (the Social Democracy of Russian Poland) were a part of the united Russian Party, but where even the workers contaminated with the nationalistic. tendencies of he Polish Socialist Party, formed a united front with the Russian working class in all decisive moments. But, as already mentioned above such a position was on the whole impossible for the Second International: it required a relentless break with the bourgeoisie, and the Second International, eaten up by opportunism as it was, could not indulge in such a policy. The Russian Social Democracy, on the contrary, was quite capable of that, being in its majority a revolutionary party, and the fact is very significant that the above-mentioned article Iskra was written by Lenin.

The conflicting problems of the Polish movement underwent a test of arms – those of the revolution, and of the imperialistic war of 1914. The first Russian revolution of 1905 showed the real relations of the forces in Poland: the Polish working class as a whole joined the Russian working class and abandoned the Polish Socialist Party. And not only did a large part of the Polish workers fight for the democratic republic in Russia under the banner of the Social Democracy of Russian Poland, which was a part of the Russian Social Democratic Party, but the masses standing in the rear of the Polish Socialist Party were moved by instinct to join the Russian working class and abandoned the Polish Socialist Party. Not only did the majority of the Polish workers struggle for the Democratic Republic in Russia directly under the banner of the Social Democracy of Poland, which made part of the Russian Social Democracy, but also the masses which followed the Polish Socialist Party in their instinctive tendency to unite with the Russian working class, were pushing the Party more and more to the left; causing the majority of the Party to abandon the claim for the independence of Poland. The section of the Polish Socialist Party which would not give up this claim represented a small group of officers without soldiers, and formed an independent party. It did not set its hopes on the workers, and made this clear by giving up the idea of a mass revolution as the means of struggle for the independence of Poland, and creating instead small revolutionary military organizations which were to take up the struggle for independence in the course of the world war, fighting on the side of German and Austrian Imperialism. The bankruptcy of Polish social patriotism during the first revolution resulted in the creation of the shooting organisations started by Pilsudsky, the present commander of the Polish army. The position taken by the working class was the natural result of the fact that in the course of capitalist development the Polish economic structure became entangled with the Russian, the Polish bourgeoisie having become a part of the Russian bourgeoisie, and the Polish working class a part of the Russian working class. And the result of this was that at the beginning of the war there was not a single party with “Polish Independence” inscribed on its banner. The Polish wealthy class in Austria and Germany aimed at the overthrow of the Russian autocracy, and at the reunion of the Polish territories either under the sceptre of the Habsburgs, or as a part of Middle Europe, i.e. simply of the German Imperialist trust. The leaders of the Polish bourgeoisie in Russia were also saying quite openly that the Poles had an interest in seeing the Polish domains reunited within the bounds of the Russian state, and in a more or less close union with it. Fully aware of the international situation, they declared that the time to establish independent small states was over, and that such states did not serve the interests of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie naturally prefers to take part in the expansion of victorious capitalism rather than to be shut in some small state with no direct access to the wide world’s routes. In the industrial centres of Poland the working class took a resolutely anti-militaristic position. It protested against the war, and in the first days of the war the workers in Warsaw tried to make a manifestation against it. The Polish Socialist Party, which had gone over to the side of German imperialism in the name of the Polish workers, found eager supporters in the intellectual class, not in the Polish working masses. The Party suffered in this war a crushing defeat, German Imperialism using it and then throwing it aside, and also jailing its national hero, the head of the Polish Legion Pilsudsky. The adventure of the Polish Socialist Party in trying to win the independence of Poland with the help of German Imperialism ended with the German occupation of Poland and the complete enslavement of the Polish people by the Germans, who had been expected to liberate it. The Polish adventurers who had thrown themselves into the arms of German Imperialism came to one conclusion after their experience – they threw themselves into the arms of French and English Imperialism, and extolled it in the third year of the war as the coming saviour of the Polish nation, with the same fervour as they had praised Germany in the first year. The victory of the Russian revolution and the outbreak of the German revolution smashed the forces which had held Poland in chains for a hundred years. Poland became free, and a situation arose which had been anticipated as a probability by Lenin in his article of 1903, when the Polish bourgeoisie began being interested in the independence of Poland. The Russian revolution was a threat to the Polish bourgeoisie, who saw a chance to defend its interests only by a separate existence as an independent state, with the help of the victorious Entente capital. This did not mean that the Polish bourgeoisie abandoned the dream of profiting by Russian imperialism, and exploiting its own people. Russian imperialism was dead, and the Polish bourgeoisie did not have to renounce it. In establishing its independence the Polish bourgeoisie represented the interests of the proletariat it had been defending within the bounds of the Russian imperialistic state. It sought now to thrive at the expense of Entente imperialism. Imperialistic France, which with the help of her allies not only won the victory over Germany but wants to crucify her in peace time as well, wants an ally against Germany, an ally on the borders of Germany, ready to help French capital to keep down the German people. Poland is to play this part, and the Polish bourgeoisie sells its workers and soldiers to French capitalism as food for the cannons in the coming war with Germany, just the way the Russian autocracy did it before. The Polish bourgeoisie does not get loans as its reward. but it gets cannons and munitions for the Polish army which is to keep down the Polish proletariat. At the time when the Polish state, the Polish republic was coming into existence, people said in different circles that the policy of the Polish Social Democracy, refusing to demand the independence of Poland, had proved to be a wrong one. But the Polish bourgeoisie proves now day by day to the Polish proletariat how right the Polish Social Democracy was to say that the proletariat had no interest in a fight for an independent bourgeois Polish republic, which would only be the instrument to exploit the working class.

But this position of the Polish Social Democracy by no means settles finally the question of the Third International’s attitude toward Poland.

That the Polish working class has to fight with all its strength against its capitalist government, that the international working class has to fight with all its strength against Poland, which has taken up arms against the Soviet government – this is of course beyond any doubt. The question is, what stand the Communist International will take concerning the independence of Poland after the victory of the Polish working class, or at the moment when the Polish White Guards will be defeated by the Red Army of Soviet Russia, which has been forced into war by Poland’s rapacious attack. But even this question will not lead to any dissensions in the ranks of the Communist International.

The Polish people, after more than a hundred years of national oppression, is full of mistrust toward all foreign domination. This alone makes it a duty for the Third International to advocate quite definitely the independence of Poland. The Polish working class must fight now for the defence of its own power in Poland, and not to support the dependence of Poland on any other state. No proletarian State, whether Soviet Russia or the future proletarian Germany, has any interest to force its power upon the Polish people. On the contrary, it is interested in everything that would strengthen the position of the Polish working class in case of victory, and it is therefore in its interest to dispel all nationalistic mistrust in the Polish small bourgeois masses. For these reasons the Soviet Republic recognises openly and frankly the independence of Poland, and for these same reasons the International must also advocate openly and frankly the independence of Poland. The Russian Soviet Republic has declared that if it defeats the Polish White Guards, it has not the least intention of conquering Poland, under any circumstances, and will acknowledge the fullest independence of Communist Poland. Independent Poland will then have to decide how to shape its relations with Soviet Russia and Soviet Germany in case a Soviet Germany will come into existence by that time. It is quite evident that just as the Polish bourgeois is looking for help and support from the victorious West European bourgeoisie, the Polish proletariat will also seek for help and support in the closest alliance with the victorious proletarian states, and the greater the danger threatening the proletariat, the greater the destruction left in legacy by capitalism, the more will they seek for help and support from each other. The behaviour of the Polish working class in the long, years of its struggle for deliverance from the yoke of autocracy and capitalism, the heroic struggle of the Polish proletariat under the Tsarist and the German military occupation – all this shows that, however great in the difficulties in store for them, let the moment arrive when the working class holds the power, and no narrow nationalism will threaten the saint work of the Polish and the world’s proletariat. The International advocated the independence of Poland because an independent Poland would form a rampart against the Russia of the tsars. At the present time the International has its centre in revolutionary Russia, and Poland is to be taken into account, not as a rampart against Russia, but as a bridge from Soviet Russia to proletarian Germany. As a result of the changed international situation, it is world capital alone which looks upon Poland as a rampart against Russia, the home of Revolution. Between the time of the First International, which saw in Poland a barrier between the bourgeois revolution and the hordes of the tsars, and the Third International, an instrument of the world’s revolution, looking forward to have her vanguards joining through Poland the advancing armies of the west European proletariat, stands the epoch of the Second International, a time of radical rhetorics and no achievements, a time of struggle against national oppression with words, and of underhand agreements with the bourgeoisie representing this nation at oppression. The Communist International has nothing in common with this and whenever it wants to remind of what the second International has been, it has only to look at decaying Poland, where we see, at the head of the army which fights against Russia for the interests of the world’s counter revolution, Joseph Pilsudsky, one of the leaders and ideologists of the Polish Socialist Party – the Party which expresses better than any other the substance of the Second International. The best proof that the era of the Second International is passing, that it is doomed to die, is given by the policy of the Polish Socialist Party. In spite of the fact that the war of the Polish White Guards against Soviet Russia is headed by the present leader of the Polish Socialist Party, that the Party backs him in all decisive moments and never dares to criticise him by a single word. In spite of the fact that the Polish White Guard army depends chiefly on the “Pilsudskys” and the young staff of Pilsudsky’s composed throughout of members of the Polish Socialist Party, the Polish Socialist party does not dare to support openly the politics of its leader. The Party supports him in Parliament, helps him to hush up the real state of things, but when dealing with the working masses it is forced, whether it likes it or not, to oppose his policy and to speak for peace in the street manifestations. The Second International is dead, and only keeps up a semblance of life by all sorts of tricks which give it an appearance of life for a time but cannot make it really live. The Third International does its duty not only in issuing manifestoes, not only in passing resolutions. It does its duty in the struggle of the Russian working class, in the feats of arms of the Russian Red Army, in every proceeding of the English, French, Austrian, Italian, German workers who decide upon the blockade of white Poland. And the position of the Third International on the Polish question is not going to be merely a theoretical one; it will have very soon the greatest practical value. The Communist International is at the present hour only an illegal revolutionary organisation – to morrow it will represent a union of proletarian states, and Poland, the Poland of the workers and proletarians, Poland allied with Soviet Russia and the world’s proletariat, will be a member of this revolutionary International, of this revolutionary League of Peoples.

Last updated on 18.10.2011