The War with Poland

The Polish Front

Talk with a Representative of the Soviet Press

Transcribed and HTML markup for the Trotsky Internet Archive by David Walters

* * *

First of all, about the causes of the war. They can be considered from two angles: (a) the causes which impelled the Entente to bring about, or to permit, this war, and (b) the causes which drove the Polish Government into war. Poland is, of course, only a means in the hands of the Entente. But this does not eliminate the question why the Polish Government should have agreed to play this base and dangerous role of dishonourable provocateur of a new war.

On the part of the Entente, the Polish war is merely a fresh attempt, an episode in the imperialist struggle against Soviet Russia. And if this attempt miscarries, then the world bosses will step over the political corpse of Pilsudski, just as they stepped over the physical corpse of Kolchak, and proceed to find new measures and new instruments. On the part of Poland itself, the war bears a plainly Bonapartist character, even if this is only third-rate Bonapartism, caricatural, low-powered, literary, combining romanticism with petty knavery: ... in a word ... Pilsudski.

The social contradictions in Poland go very deep. Traditions of revolutionary struggle are very strong. [1] This whole situation is only temporarily (and then not for very long) covered up by a national ideology that is nourished by the not-yetexhausted sentiments of the honeymoon of the independent Polish republic. The party of Pilsudski, ‘the Chief of State’, is partly in the government, partly underground: the bourgeois imperialist party of the National Democrats is partly in the government, partly operating above it, in the ante-rooms of the Entente. Pilsudski tries to support himself on the middle elements – on the urban intelligentsia, or on the upper circles of the peasantry. Napoleon (I apologise for the comparison) also based himself on the peasantry, but only after the latter had obtained the land of the feudal lords. Pilsudski, however, leaves the feudal lords fully in power. They stand above him. Napoleon waged war against monarchist Europe, which was egged on by the French feudal lords. Pilsudski, however, acting on the orders of the stock-exchange and egged on by the Polish feudal lords, is waging war against revolutionary Russia. When Napoleon entered Poland, he proclaimed the abolition of serfdom: Pilsudski, on entering the Ukraine, restores the land to the Polish landlords. Thus, whereas Napoleon, owing to the impetus given him by the revolution, still continued a certain inertia of the progressive movement, Pilsudski, under the impetus of the kicks administered by his great-power bosses, is now carrying out the dirtiest and bloodiest behest of the world counter-revolution.

The feature of Bonapartism in the governmental politics of Poland is expressed in the fact that Pilsudski, having been lifted by a national petty-bourgeois wave, and having got caught up in the class contradiction between the haves and have-nots, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, is trying formally to balance these contradictions with democratic fictions – giving the decisive word in all matters, of course, to the bourgeoisie, and for that very reason being obliged to seek a way out from the inner insolvency of his policy through ever greater inflammation of chauvinistic feelings, kindling of aggressive appetites and sabre-rattling, and, finally, through war. All this goes well enough with the traditions of the Polish gentry who, the more they isolated themselves from the oppressed masses of the working people, covered up their moral emptiness all the more with vainglory, posturing and boastfulness.

Our Soviet diplomacy has shown exceptional restraint in dealing with this cockerel of the Polish gentry, whose comb is covered with gilt tinsel and who has replied to all the arguments of common sense with a warlike ‘Cock-a-doodle-doo’. Not only to representatives of the old school of diplomacy but also to some revolutionaries, it seemed at times that the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs was showing itself excessively long-suffering when it replied to crude provocations with calm and persistent explanation of its point of view. While the principal task which our diplomacy set itself – avoiding war with Poland, even at the expense of very big concessions – was not accomplished (not, of course, through any fault on the part of our diplomacy), nevertheless the contradiction between the two policies, the gentry-Bonapartist one and the worker-peasant one, stood out in full clarity before the whole world.

And this was a very great service rendered by Soviet diplomacy. After all that had happened, after our unconditional recognition of the freedom and independence of the Polish Republic, after our persistent and repeated offers of peace talks, after our openly issued orders to our armies of the Western front not to cross a certain line which we defined publicly – the most double-dyed demagogues and charlatans of the international yellow press will be quite unable to present to the working masses the irruption of the Polish White Guards into the Ukraine as an attack by the Bolshevik ‘oppressors’ on peaceful Poland.

It would, all the same, be a very serious mistake to underestimate the Polish threat to the Soviet republic. There can be no doubt that the war of the Polish bourgeoisie against the Ukrainian and Russian workers and peasants will end with a workers’ revolution in Poland. But, at the same time there are no grounds for supposing that the war will begin with such a revolution. For a century and a half the Polish people were subjected to unheard-of oppression by Tsardom. Hatred for Russia and things Russian, insofar as they were identified during a long historical epoch with the Tsar and things Tsarist, entered deeply into the consciousness of the broad petty-bourgeois masses, taking hold even of a backward section of the working class. This is the historical fixed capital on which Mr Pilsudski wants now to draw bloody interest. We must make not only the advanced Polish proletariat, who know this already, but also the backward Polish peasant, realise that the irruption of the Polish troops into the Ukraine, unprecedented in its insolence and baseness, changes in no way our attitude to the independence of Poland. This independence must not, however, be transformed into a threat to our existence and our peaceful labour – it must be supplemented by friendly relations on the basis of collaboration and the exchange of economic benefits. By its onslaught upon us the Polish Government has proclaimed that it will not allow the Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Russia to co-exist with bourgeois Poland. The Polish working masses must, consequently, understand that peaceful coexistence between Poland and Russia can be ensured only by the overthrow of the greedy and unbalanced Polish bourgeoisie.

Let us not forget that the entire apparatus of the press and other media for processing public opinion are in Poland in the hands of the ruling chauvinist clique. The Warsaw Government is even trying to depict the invasion of the Ukraine as ‘liberation’ of the Ukrainian people from the Muscovite yoke. The initial easy victories of the Polish army served for a time to give support to this sort of official legend. The pressure of the Entente, of its military and economic might, upon the consciousness of the Polish masses is still very great. Fear of losing their independent existence, torn from the hands of French imperialism, is still strong. And these feelings will persist until the Polish people, deceived by their ruling classes, come face to face with another military power which will force them to reckon with it – the power of Soviet Russia and the Soviet Ukraine.

We must inflict a thorough military defeat upon the armed forces of White-Guard Poland, so as to make politically and psychologically inevitable the revolutionary defeat of the Polish bourgeoisie. This second task must be wholly carried out by the Polish proletariat. Our duty is only to facilitate this task, by shortening, so far as possible, the road to Waterloo that is being followed by the Napoleon of the Polish gentry.

It would, I repeat, be extremely light-minded to suppose that victory on the Western front will simply fall into our laps. For a long time the Western front remained in the background. Even after its significance had begun to increase, we continued to despatch our best forces and resources to other fronts. True, Comrade Gittis, during his period as commander of the Western front, did an immense amount of organisational work, but the front was bound, both operationally and morally, by the protracted situation in which we were looking forward to peace talks and obliged ourselves not to cross a certain line. Hence it is quite easy to account for the advantage that the Polish command enjoyed by concentrating substantial forces under cover of talks about ... peace talks, and launching them along the line of least resistance, into Right-Bank Ukraine.

It would show pitiful lack of spirit if we were to take fright at the first successes won by Pilsudski. These were inevitable. They were foreseen. They resulted from the previous development of our relations with Poland. The deeper the right wing of the Polish troops penetrates into the Ukraine, turning against itself Ukrainian insurgents of all kinds, the more fatal for the Polish armed forces will be the concentrated blow which the Red fighters will give them. Our whole task now consists in all-round preparation of this blow. [2] In dealing with this matter, the War Department is only a transmission mechanism. It can only group correctly on the Western front that which it receives from the country. The struggle with Poland must cease to be a partial task for the Western front, as it has been up to now, it must become the most important, fundamental and leading task for all Workers’ and Peasants’ Russia.

May 2, 1920


1. By order of the High Command and of the Government of the Soviet Republic, our units were forbidden to cross the lhie of the Byelorussian and Ukrainian front,which ran through Drissa, Disna, Polotsk, Borisov, Ptich, Chudnov, Pilyava and Bar. [Drissa, Disna and Polotsk are all on the Western Dvina, Borisov is on the Berezina, Ptich is north-west of Mozyr, Chudnov south-west of Zhitomir, Pilyava north-east of Proskurov, and Bar about 40km west-south-west of Vinnitsa.] This order was carefully obeyed by our forces before the Polish attack on the Ukraine.

2. According to the operational plan of the Western front, the main blow was to be directed from the Polotsk-Lepel [Lepel is about 80km. south of Polotsk] area along the line of least resistance. The direction chosen for the main blow was towards Molodechno [Molodechno is where the Minsk-Vilna railway crosses the Polotsk-Warsaw line. Lida is where the Baranovichi-Vilna line crosses the Polotsk-Warsaw line.] and Lida. On May 12 the Commander-in-Chief of the Western front, Comrade Tukhachevsky, after completing the concentration of seven divisions into a shock group, gave the order for the armies of this front to go over to the offensive, and this began on May 14. The 15th Army hurled itself on the feeble units of the Poles’ Lithuanian and Byelorussian divisions, routed them and advanced rapidly towards Molodechno. By switching units from the South-Western front the Poles succeeded in concentrating a sufficiently strong body of reserves, and halted our offensive by a counter-blow in the Postavy direction. We did not attain complete success in our May offensive, but this preparatory operation helped to raise the Red Army’s morale. After this operation, the Western front gradually went over to passive operations (see Map. No. 2 [NOTE: THIS MAP IS 52K IN SIZE]) [The Soviet plan had been drawn up already on March 10, 1920, at a meeting in Smolensk between Gittis, then commanding the Western front, and the commander-in-chief, S.S. Kamenev. At that time there were only eight infantry divisions and four cavalry brigades on the Western front. It was decided to concentrate 22 infantry divisions and the 1st Mounted Army there by April, when an offensive would be launched toward Lida. However, the movement of troops took longer than thad been expected. In particular, Budyonny’s cavalry were able to begin, their move from North Caucasia only so late as April 3. Postavy is about half-way between Dvinsk (Daugavpils) and Molodechno, just inside the present border between Lithuania and Byelorussia.]

1 1

Last updated on: 26.12.2006