Max Shachtman

Stalinist “Liberation” of Poland
an Imperialist Grab

(January 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 4, 24 January 1944, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The war with Germany was justified by the Allied spokesmen, among other things, on the ground that Hitlerism violates the national sovereignty of nations and peoples, does not allow them to live as they see fit and to rule themselves. There is no need to prove this case against Hitlerism beyond the use of facts which are known to every child.

Now that the Allies are beginning to speak of an early victory over Germany, the question rises: what is to become of the countries overrun by the Nazis once the latter have been put to the sword? Is their national sovereignty to be restored, at least to the extent that they enjoyed it before the war began?

If we are to judge by the fight developing over Poland, there is no reason to believe that the Allies hold out any such hope.

The fight over Poland is not just a battle over the eastern territories of the former Polish Empire, it is a fight for that part of Europe which is unmistakably and unchallengedly Polish by tradition, common language and culture and all the other recognizable traits of a nation.

So far as the eastern territories are concerned, the claims of the. government in exile are as notoriously fraudulent as they are old. They are today’s remnants of the old dream of a Greater Polish Empire “from sea to sea” – from the Baltic to the Black. Inhabited principally by non-Polish peoples – White Russians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Jews – who have neither cultural, linguistic nor even religious characteristics in common with the Poles, the only claim that the Polish “Pans” and their colonels ever had to rule over them was the need to sate an imperialist greed.

The persecutions these people’s underwent from the day the Versailles map-makers concocted an “independent” Poland constitute one of the cruellest and bloodiest chapters in the annals of modern oppression. Nobody can say exactly how many of the people in these lands were murdered, how many sent to rot in prison. What can be said, because it is common knowledge, is that the cultural aspirations of these peoples were trampled under foot with the same cynicism and the same methods employed in the days of the Romanovs, their religious feelings and institutions were systematically offended (the anti-Semitic outrages of the Polish ruling class preceded Hitler’s), their political rights were never taken off paper and, above all, their economic status was kept at the lowest possible level. Only the most rabid Polish imperialist could expect any allegiance from these peoples. The blusterings and stutterings of the government in exile, a gang of authentic reactionaries and pupils of the colonels, plus a handful of social-democratic house-pets, will be pointed out to future generations as typical of imperialist effrontery and hypocrisy.

Stalinist “Liberation”

It does not follow in any way from this that the territories properly belong in what is sardonically known as the “Soviet” “Union.” By virtue of what right? The fact that these territories once formed part of the Czarist Empire? Or the fact that they once were part of the Soviet Republics – without quotation marks – and were wrested from the workers’ state by the superior force which Pilsudski’s armies imposed upon the weak and exhausted Red Army? Such a right would exist and be valid, provided the incorporation of these territories into the Union meant the liberation from oppression, or the beginning of such a liberation of the people inhabiting them. That would have been the case in 1920. It is in no sense the case today.

The torments suffered by these peoples under Polish despotism are so widely known that even the bourgeois press refers to them, however discreetly. But they pale beside the organized, systematic, centralized, totalitarian terror against the “blood brothers” of these peoples who have lived for the past decade and more under the rule of the Stalinist autocracy.

The Ukrainian and White Russian “Soviet Republics” are nothing but national fiefs of the Kremlin bureaucracy. They have neither independence in the “Union” nor autonomy. Their rulers are picked and unpicked by this bureaucracy, whom they serve in the same capacity and with the same rights and privileges as the Czar’s governor-generals. The economic strength has been sapped so that the bureaucracy might batten on it; their economic position has been reduced to the status of serfs of the regime.

The Polish knout stings no more brutally than the Stalinist knout. The cemeteries of the Western Ukraine are less numerous than those of the “Soviet” Ukraine, filled as the latter are with the corpses of millions of peasants condemned to death in the Stalinist “collectivization drive” alone. It is not without significance that in their initial drive Hitler’s legions encountered less resistance from the native population of the Ukraine than from the people of the northern part of the “Union.”

Helpless Allies

The fact that “even” the Anglo-American ruling class has given its sanction to Stalin’s demand should cause only a shrugging of the shoulders and not a bending of the knees. What else could it do? Stalin’s “moral” position is flawless from the imperialist standpoint. What could Churchill, for example, possibly say in reply to a blunt accusation from the Kremlin statesmen: “You want us to give up our Poland, but you cling to India like a leech.” You want your colonies? We want ours. You have your amusing elections in India? We have our funny plebiscites in the border states.

More important than the “moral” position is the military position. Neither Churchill nor Roosevelt has as much as a toe-nail on Polish or ex-Polish soil. Mikolajczyk & Co. are better off only in so far as the Polish underground gives them reluctant and suspicious support. Stalin, however, not only has good, solid boots on more and more Polish (or ex-Polish) soil, but has the power to extend a friendly hand to Hitler if an Allied attempt is made to challenge the rights of his boots.

Stalin is not, however, interested in Western White Russia and the Western Ukraine alone. Those territories are taken for granted, and he leaves it to Eden and Hull to find a convenient formula – diplomatic archives are filled with all kinds of them, like the “Curzon line,” which can be tapped for each particular occasion – to justify his, seizures and to make the Mikolajczyks toe the mark – or else. Stalin wants Poland as well, if he can – directly; if he cannot – then indirectly. If he gits thar fustest with the mostest men, Mikolajczyk might just as well retire to Cleveland, like the recently-deceased Smetona of Lithuania. Then, finis Poloniæ! There is no question about it: the Polish government in exile is worried far more about Poland itself than about her former eastern territories.

More accurately, its apprehensions over the eastern territories are due to its apprehensions over Poland.

Two Important Ideas

The fight over Poland underlies what may be called the two most important ideas of our time:

The struggle for national independence and freedom cannot be conducted in a progressive spirit and with consistency and honesty except by the proletariat and its peasant allies. The others are interested in anything but national freedom for all peoples. Conducted by the proletariat, the fight for national freedom must be linked with the fight for social freedom, in which it would find its highest realization, its highest realization, finally, can come in Europe only in the form of a Socialist United States of Europe, freely entered and equitably and jointly ruled by the independent workers’ governments that alone can save Europe from the disintegration, subjugation and chaos to which capitalist barbarism is dooming it.

And second, the seeds of the Third World War are being sown already. World War II is not yet over, decidedly not yet, and the conditions for speeding World War III are being laid. This idea is not peculiar to the revolutionary Marxists. Many capitalists understand it. Many even fear it, for the bourgeoisie does not want war, and especially it does not want the revolutions that come with it But it is helpless to prevent it, as utterly and completely helpless as it proved to be in 1939. The military struggle between the two big camps is accompanied by a feverish political struggle inside the Allied camp. The attempts made in it to come to an agreement on the division of the spoils are condemned in advance to the failure which the essentially temporary character of any imperialist agreement bears from the moment it is adopted. They agreed before, once, twice and ten times. Their very agreements contained the germ of conflict. The agreement over Poland simply injects one of the many germs of tomorrow’s conflict.

The two most important ideas of our time are simply the reverse of each other. The continuation of capitalism means war and barbarism. The struggle of the working class, consistently developed, means peace and socialism. The time for the choice was long ago. But even now, it is not too late.

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