Max Shachtman


In This Corner

(7 November 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 85, 7 November 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The recent invasion of Poland has been contrasted in these pages with the situation that prevailed during the Russo-Polish war in 1920. At that time, the Red Army, exhausted and ill-equipped as it was, not only succeeded in repulsing the invading Pilsudski forces (backed by Western imperialism), but pursued them on Polish soil. With the Red Army marched the Revolutionary Polish Committee. Supporting it was the revolutionary vanguard of the Polish workers and peasants. Militants everywhere, unconcerned then as they, are now with the frontiers arbitrarily established by imperialism, looked hopefully for the triumph of the Red Army and the extension of the socialist revolution throughout Poland.

The Russian masses, armed and unarmed, were giving a living demonstration of the vitality of international solidarity, of their overwhelming concern with the world socialist revolution. If the march on Warsaw did not succeed then, it was only because Lenin misjudged the revolutionary maturity of the Polish masses and overrated the Red Army’s powers of endurance after years of difficult fighting. Lenin and the Bolsheviks were, however, animated exclusively by internationalist and socialist considerations.

Stalin? His clique is animated, at home and abroad, exclusively by what it believes will preserve the precarious rule of the anti-Soviet bureaucracy. Our press has made that clear for years. But there is undoubtedly more than this involved. Stalin and his bureaucracy are filled with Messianic delusions. The Great Russian attitude of Stalin was observed and condemned by Lenin as far back as 1921 and 1922. In recent years, Soviet life has been poisoned by Stalin with the glorification of the old Czars and their retainers, with eulogies to Peter the Great and other autocrats of the old regime. Stalin is depicted as his great heir and the executor of his ambitions. We may be sure that Stalin has devoted more than one spare hour to a study of the old Czars, their methods and their aspirations, and has increasingly identified himself with them in his mind. What they aimed to accomplish by cunning and brutality, can he not accomplish with his even greater cunning and brutality?

From the Archives of Marxism

In that connection, the by no means dusty documents of Marxism offer an interesting sidelight on the recent events.

“So well had this game succeeded,” reads one of these documents, “and so long had it been played, that, when Poland at last was annihilated, there was no outcry at all in Europe, and, indeed, people were astonished at this only, that Russia should have the generosity of giving such a large slice of the territory to Austria and Prussia.
“The way in which this partition was brought about is particularly interesting. There was, at that time, already an enlightened ‘public opinion’ in Europe. Although the [London] Times newspaper had not yet begun to manufacture that article, there was that kind of public opinion which had been created by the immense influence of Diderot, Voltaire, Rousseau and the other French writers of the eighteenth century. Russia always knew that it is important to have public opinion on one’s side, if possible; and Russia took care to have it, too. The court of Catherine II was made the headquarters of the enlightened men of the day, especially Frenchmen; the most enlightened principles were professed by the Empress and her Court, and so well did she succeed in deceiving them that Voltaire and many others sang the praise of the ‘Semiramis of the North,’ and proclaimed Russia the most progressive country in the world, the home of liberal principles, the champion of religious toleration.
“Religious toleration—that was the word wanted to put down Poland. Poland had always been extremely liberal in religious matters; witness the asylum Jews found there while they were persecuted in all other parts of Europe. The greater portion of the people in the Eastern provinces belonged to the Greek faith, while the Poles proper were Roman Catholics. A considerable portion of these Greek Catholics had been induced, during the sixteenth century, to acknowledge the supremacy of the Pope, and were called United Greeks; but a great many continued true to their old Greek religion in all respects. They were principally the serfs, their noble masters being almost all Roman Catholics, they were little Russians [Ukrainians] by nationality. Now, this Russian Government, which did not tolerate at home any other religion but the Greek, and punished apostasy as a crime; which was conquering foreign nations and annexing foreign provinces right and left; and which was at that time engaged in riveting still firmer the fetters of the Russian serf—this same Russian Government came soon upon Poland in the name of religious toleration, because Poland was said to oppress the Greek Catholics; in the name of the principle of nationalities, because the inhabitants of these Eastern provinces were Little Russians, and ought, therefore, to be annexed to Great Russia; and in the name of the right of revolution arming the serfs against their masters. Russia is not at all scrupulous in the selection of her means. Talk about a war of class against class as something extremely revolutionary;—why, Russia set such a war on foot in Poland nearly 100 years ago, and a fine specimen of a class- war it was, when Russian soldiers and Little Russian serfs went in company to burn down the castles of Polish lords, merely to prepare Russian annexation, which being once accomplished the same Russian soldiers put the serfs back again under the yoke of their lords.

An Interesting Parallel

“All this was done in the cause of religious toleration, because the principle of nationalities was not then fashionable in Western Europe. But it was held up before the eyes of the Little Russian peasants at the time, and has played an important part since in Polish affairs. The first and foremost ambition of Russia is the union of all Russian tribes under the Czar who calls himself the Autocrat of all Russias (Samoderzhets vssrossiiski), and among these she includes White and Little Russia. And in order to prove that her ambition went no further, she took very good care, during the three partitions, to annex none but White and Little Russian provinces; leaving the country inhabited by Poles, and even a portion of Little Russia (Easter Galicia) to her accomplices ...”

Thus Frederic Engels, in The Doctrine of Nationality Applied to Poland, the third of a series of articles he wrote on Poland in the British periodical, The Commonwealth, on Saturday, May 5, 1866.

Although the Stalin regime is not the feudal-military regime of Peter or Catherine or any of the other Czarist autocrats, and the situations are different in more than one other respect (the attitude of Beck’s Poland towards the Jews is but one example!), the parallel in other respects is not uninteresting.

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Last updated on 19 April 2018