The War with Poland

The War with Poland

Report to the Joint Session of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee, the Moscow Soviet of Workers’ Red Army Men’s Deputies, and the Leaderships of the Trade Unions and Factory Committees, May 5, 1920

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

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Comrades, the Northern, Eastern and Southern fronts emerged from the October revolution and the civil war. The Western front, however, we inherited from the old imperialist war with Germany and Austria-Hungary. And our first concern, the first words we spoke, alter the October revolution, were directed to liquidating the front that we had inherited from the past war. Our task consisted in achieving peace. Our gloating enemies have, up to now, reproached us that we fought for peace, that we rose in the name of this peace, and yet, instead, all the horrors of external and internal war descended upon our country. But this merely shows that the working class encounters most fierce resistance on its road, and cannot accomplish its task without severe struggle. By force of arms, by bloody conflict, it has to destroy the very foundations of that order which gives rise to bloody conflict.

The line of the Western front, which we inherited from Tsardom, changed more than once during the three years of the revolution, and its changes reflected great events which shook Europe and the whole world. Kerensky’s government tried, by means of its ill-fated offensive, to change the line of the front: this only led to an enlargement of the area occupied by the Germans. As soon as power passed into the hands of the workers’ and peasants’ soviets we at once tried to liquidate the Western front by proposing peace to the Austrian and German Governments. You all remember that tragic period. After peace negotiations in which we upheld the peace programme of the workers’ revolution, we found ourselves obliged – because we were still too weak – to sign, on March 3, 1918, peace with German militarism, which was then the mightiest of all. At that time, the frontier ran through Yamburg, east of Pskov and Polotsk.

Under the heavy helmet of the German occupation army, pseudo-independent states were fabricated. There was Mannerheim’s Finland, whose hatred for us bore a purely social, reactionary-capitalist character, for, as regards the national question, the Soviet power recognised Finland’s independence from the first day that it began to live and struggle. Estonia was set against us, a country against whose independence we had never raised our voices, and also Latvia, Lithuania and Byelorussia, Poland, and, finally, the Ukraine, which was entirely occupied by May 1, 1918 by Hohenzollern’s troops, summoned by the Kiev Rada.

In that difficult period, our policy towards the border states was the same as it is today. We not only recognised and sanctioned the independence of Poland, we upheld this independence against all-powerful German militarism. Our delegation at the Brest-Litovsk negotiations flatly refused to recognise as representing independent Poland the government of Kucharzewski, that wretched agent for the Berlin vultures. German imperialism badly needed – above all so as to influence the public opinion of its own working masses – to obtain our recognition, direct or indirect, of that oppressive occupation regime in Poland which was given out as being national self-determination of the Polish people. In that period the agents of Hohenzollern were already trying to steal this formula from the Russian revolution and use it as cover for their conquests and oppressions. We were too weak to help oppressed Poland in arms. But we were with the Polish people against its oppressors, and we counterposed to the robber’s lie of German diplomacy our revolutionary truth about Poland. It would be absurd and unworthy for us, a revolutionary party, to take pride in the fact that we did not, even by silence, help the Hohenzollerns to prostitute the formula of self-determination for the Polish people, in those days when, as it seemed, we were dependent on Hohenzollern . . . But can it be doubted that there is no other government in the world which, placed in similar circumstances, would have refused to perform this imponderable, yet very substantial service to German imperialism – getting from it in return an easing of the terms of the peace treaty?

Afterwards, when Count Mirbach came to live in Moscow, and was sometimes to be seen in a box at the Bolshoi Theatre, at sessions of our Soviet Congresses, we did not retreat one inch from our position. Mirbach solicited us to acknowledge, directly or indirectly, that Poland, crushed beneath the Hohenzollern jackboot, was an independent, self-determined Poland.

We said, in reply, that we were obliged to talk with the German hangmen of Poland, that we could talk and might even, perhaps, be obliged to sign a treaty with the Polish government, as the agent of the all-powerful hangmen. But we would never, under any circumstances, agree to say that we saw, in the Poland crucified by German imperialism, a free, self-determined people.

At the end of 1918, on the anniversary of our October revolution, a revolution took place in Germany which had and continues to have immeasurable importance for the fate of the Western front, as also for the fate of the whole world. The border states were shaken: the hour of liberation sounded for the Ukraine. The Kiev Rada, to which Petlyura belonged and which had invited the German troops into the Ukraine, had ceased to exist long since. After making use of it, the Germans had thrown it away like old clothes, and appointed their agent Skoropadsky. He fell after the fall of Hohenzollern. A wave of revolts swept over the Ukraine. Petlyura’s clique complained to the whole world that the Ukraine had been conquered by Moscow’s troops. That was long ago, and since then the Ukraine has seen many changes. But, nevertheless, I consider it necessary to affirm that Moscow’s troops took almost no part in the liberation of the Ukraine from the Skoropadsky and Petlyura regimes. The establishment of Soviet power was achieved by guerrilla forces, by spontaneous revolts, from which fact it can clearly be seen what power is truly popular and truly national in the Ukraine.

After the Ukraine, the whole Western front began to totter.

The German forces-broke up, were discharged, and either departed or, if they remained, offered no resistance. The regular Red forces which made up the thin screen on the Western front were very few in numbers and very weak. Among them were Red Letts, Red Estonians and Red Finns. These units advanced westward without resistance and, I would say, almost without leadership.

By March 1919 Red territory had been widely extended to the West, to include Riga and Vilna. Our Red Army was kept very busy in that period, in the East and the South, both alternately and simultaneously. In the West the flood tide was succeeded by an ebb, and Red territory began to shrink.

But while the outline of the Western front altered, while this line was broken in one place or another, the line of our policy remained unaltered, being based on the principle of complete, sincere and unconditional readiness to recognise the self determination of the peoples who had formerly been part of the Tsarist empire. It was, of course, not easy for us to knock this this truth into the heads of the petty-bourgeois and bourgeois classes of those countries – and it was precisely with them that we had to deal. They were too much accustomed to measure everything with the yardstick of their own views, sympathies and antipathies. For that very reason they did not believe in the sincerity of our intention to recognise their independence, and, just because of that, they supported every step taken against us, when our task was to concentrate all our forces on serving our country’s economic needs.

After the border states had, with the help of West-European imperialism, become capable of creating their own armed forces, they did not only send those forces against their own workers, settling accounts cruelly with them, they did not merely purge a considerable area of territory of the Soviet organisation – they also advanced a considerable distance eastward. The line of the Western front had been altered again.

As regards Poland, after she had seized Lithuania, Byelorussia and a substantial portion of Ukrainian and Great-Russian territory, that is, by the end of last year, it seemed that she had attained a certain equilibrium between her appetite and her strength. We did not have peace with Poland, but military operations did not develop, consisting as they did of more or less significant actions by isolated reconnaissance detachments. No serious engagements took place. On both sides the conviction grew stronger that there would not be war, that the war was over and that, soon, diplomacy would draw the balance and would sign a peace treaty which, whether good or bad, complete or only half-complete, would mean peace. Thus, our Western front lived under the sign of an expected early peace, and our Soviet diplomacy did everything to hasten the coming of this peace.

At this gathering which we have convened as a war meeting, as an expression of everything that is thoughtful and organised in the proletariat of Moscow, in order to issue a country-wide call to war, I consider it necessary to draw the balance of the last period of the work of our diplomacy in relation to Poland, the continuous efforts we made to establish peaceful relations with her.

Through all the changes in the balance of forces and in the line of the front in the West, our diplomacy held to one and the same revolutionary line, that is, recognition of the right to self-determination of the peoples who previously were held under the yoke of Russian Tsardom, and who, for that reason, may be distrustful and inclined to suspect any encroachment upon them by Russia. Only with difficulty, and by deeds, not words, did we compel our enemies to convince themselves that we are the only party, the only state, the only government in the world that really recognises the self-determination of peoples.

But here, too, our enemies, Poland included, said: the Bolsheviks are not united on this matter, there are different groupings among them. Some recognise the independence of Poland, others reject it – there is a war party among them. The bourgeois measured us by the yardstick of the bourgeois state, in which, unfailingly, there exists a war party which, in the manner of Ludendorff, subjects the government of its country to its own will.

Here there is no war party: here there is the clear and distinct programme of the Communist Party, steeped in the blood of tens of thousands of proletarians, and this is at the same time the programme of our government: this programme is binding upon us, and what the programme binds us to do, that we do, that we serve, in word and deed, with our blood and with our lives, in the underground, on the barricades and in power. From the first day that history smashed to smithereens the lid placed by German imperialism over the border states, our diplomacy began to take steps to establish peaceful relations with them, and not least with Poland. The first Polish government formed after the occupation, that of Moraczewski, a petty-bourgeois chauvinist, engaged in hateful and savage baiting of Soviet Russia. In reply to our direct proposals for the establishment of a line of demarcation, an armistice and peace, the agents of Moraczewski’s government, as you all remember, on January 2, 1919 killed members of our delegation, of the Red Cross mission [1], the most peaceful of organisations, which these ‘Christian’, these ‘Catholic’ governments regard as standing beneath the banner of the cross. They killed all the members of the delegation, and at their head Comrade Wesolowski, one of the founders of the party of the Polish proletariat, a worthy, devoted, self-sacrificing and profoundly humane revolutionary and person. That was the first reply of the chauvinist petty-bourgeois government of Moraczewski to the peace efforts of our diplomacy. So then, did our diplomacy cease its efforts? Not in the least! With patience and system which truly deserve the highest recognition, our diplomacy did not let a single opportunity go by, day after day, for stressing that peace was possible and necessary.

Moraczewski’s government fell. It was succeeded by the openly bourgeois government of Paderewski. At first Paderewski seemed disposed to take up a different position in relation to Soviet Russia. A semi-official representative, Alexander Wieckowski, was sent to Moscow. The Commissariat for Foreign Affairs at once engaged in talks with him about all the basic questions of our relations with Poland. Wieckowski went back to Warsaw. There was no reply. Again a wave of bourgeois distrust and bourgeois hatred of Soviet Russia arose in Poland – a wave of hope in the plans of Clemenceau, who was still in power at that time, and of Lord (sic) Churchill, who foamed at the mouth as he threatened us.

On April 18, 1919, the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs again raised the question of Russo-Polish relations. Around this time, the Polish troops, violating all the so-called ‘rules’ of war, disguised themselves as Red Army men, got into Vilna, and seized this Lithuanian city. At that moment, of course, the Polish chauvinists thought that they were strong and we were powerless. Our situation on the other fronts was difficult. Consequently, after seizing Vilna, the capital of Lithuania, the ruling Polish White Guards considered that the time had come to proclaim that they would not talk with the Soviet power, which had violated all international usages – they said this, they who had killed our Red-Cross delegation, they who had disguised their Legionaries in order to capture Vilna in thievish fashion.

On December 22, 1919, the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs put to the Polish Government an open and formal proposal, over the wireless, to enter into peace negotiations. Comrade Chicherin made use for this purpose of statements by the Polish deputy-minister for foreign affairs, Skrzynski, who impudently and lyingly affirmed in the Sejm that the Soviet Government had never put any peace proposals to Poland. On December 22 Comrade Chicherin addressed a formal note to Poland over the wireless, and the entire world read it. However, there was no reply.

On January 28, 1920, that is, more than a month later, a fresh appeal to the Polish Government and the Polish people was sent out, over the signatures of the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, and the People’s Commissar for Military Affairs. This appeal, which was perfectly formal and precise, included in its proposals: first, confirmation of Comrade Chicherin’s note of December 22; second, a categorical statement that we held the territory of Poland to be inviolable; and, third, the announcement that, while awaiting the Polish Government’s reply and hoping for an armistice and peace, we were ordering our troops not to cross a certain line. This line was defined: it was the line on which our troops stood at that moment. We further declared in our note that we had made no agreement, deal or secret treaty, either with Germany (as Poland feared) or with any other country that might be aimed, directly or indirectly, against Poland. Finally, we concluded the document with a declaration that, between Russia and Poland, there was no disputed question that could not be settled peacefully, through diplomatic negotiations, or, insofar as what was involved was disputes over territory, through a plebiscite. That was the document that we issued. Nor did we stop there. Without waiting for the Polish reply, the All-Russia Central Executive Committee had approved and ratified, at its session of January 2, the appeal we had addressed to the Polish Government and people, and issued a declaration in which the peaceful intentions and desires of Russia toward the Polish republic were again clearly and distinctly formulated.

And so, on January 28, we sent our note. Two months were required by the Polish Government before, under pressure from the Polish worker masses, it saw itself obliged to give a formal reply to our note. On March 27, Patek, the Polish foreign minister, proposed that talks begin at Borisov, that is, in a town captured by the Poles, in the zone adjacent to the front. Our diplomats replied on March 28, that is, on the very next day, proposing, first, an immediate armistice, as a necessary condition for peace talks, and, second, that the talks be held on neutral soil, Estonia being suggested. The Polish bourgeois government refused outright to agree to a general armistice, and proposed that the armistice be confined to a small sector near Borisov. In other words, the Polish government said to us: ‘There will be no armistice at the front. While negotiating we shall continue to advance. Here is the little town of Borisov, which we have taken from you. We command you to present yourselves in this place. Here, around Borisov, we shall arrange an armistice for your benefit – three sazhens to the right, three sazhens to the left – but in other sectors, if we so wish, we shall advance.’ I have been told that the archbourgeois and arch-hostile-to-us British newspaper The Times wrote that this was an unprecedented demand and these were unheard-of conditions. Only a barbarian ‘Excellency’, drunk with victory, with his foot on the neck of a prostrate foe, could speak like this. But we are not prostrate, we are and shall remain firmly standing on our two feet. A feeling of disgust at the insolent stupidity of the polished savages of Warsaw affected us very strongly, but, nevertheless, our diplomacy did not allow itself to be ruled by feeling, but listened only to the voice of reason. In calm words, which even jarred on some comrades – ’How can one reply to this insolent provocation in such an unruffled tone?’ they exclaimed – in calm words our diplomats explained that we could not agree to Borisov. This was not at all on grounds of prestige, comrades! You know very well that we despise what bourgeois diplomacy calls prestige. For us all that matters is the interests of the working masses. If a chance to bring peace nearer by 24 hours, or even by 24 minutes, were to appear before us, no prejudices about ‘prestige’ would stand in our way. But the question here was not one of prestige. How could we allow an enemy, armed to the teeth and still fighting, to choose the places where there would or would not be an armistice? And if, in order to rebuff the enemy who was continuing to advance, we needed to direct a blow in the direction of Borisov, were we to let the enemy tie us hand and foot? It is quite obvious that we had to refuse this demand. Nevertheless, we tried to accommodate the Warsaw government. We proposed as venue for the peace talks not only Estonia (to whose government we had applied for permission to organise a peace conference on Estonian soil, and from whom we had received a courteous reply), we also proposed either Petrograd, Moscow or Warsaw. Furthermore, we did not even insist on a general armistice. This proposal of ours was rejected without explanation. On April 7 the Polish Government replied that it would not engage in any further discussion with us about the place where negotiations were to be held. A case unprecedented in history, even in the view of The Times, when the government of a country fighting against us demands, in an ultimatum, that we conduct negotiations in a town it has taken from us and which is almost in the front line! When we propose a number of other towns – ours, Polish or neutral – they reply: we are not going to negotiate with you about the place where negotiations are to be held!

What did our diplomats do? They did not lose their self-control. They did not allow their line to deviate. On April 23 they announced to the whole world, in an open note, that, besides any neutral country, Petrograd, Moscow or Warsaw, London or Paris, they would agree to a different place in the area under Polish occupation. If you want it to be Grodno, all right; if you want it to be Bialystok, let it be Bialystok. Only it must not be a town in the zone of military operations. That was the proposal sent by our diplomats in reply. No answer came. Our diplomats addressed themselves, with our proposal, to the Entente, to Britain and France, who stand behind Poland, and asked them to intervene, if they wanted peace and trade relations with us. No answer. The Warsaw adventurers wanted war at any cost.

Meanwhile, Pilsudski, the ‘Chief of State’, as he calls himself, and commander-in-chief of the Polish Army, was assembling his divisions and preparing his Petlyurist masquerade for conquering the Ukraine. In the way he brought Petlyura – that distinguished war-lord from Sorochintsy fair [2] – into the business, – Pilsudski showed himself to be a true pupil of the German imperialists, even to the point of slavish repetition of details. When, in the spring of 1920, the Germans decided to plunder the Ukraine, they chose as their screen, or fig-leaf, a miserable concern that called itself the Kiev Rada. Petlyura belonged to this outfit, and served in those days as an obedient tool in the hands of Hohenzollern and Habsburg. After the German imperialists had used Petlyura, they cast aside this ridiculous dictator out of Ukrainian musical comedy, like a rag for which they had no further need. When Skoropadsky fell, Petlyura sold his services to the Entente, and used their money to form his bands. However, the Soviet revolution in the Ukraine soon swept him away. Now, when Pilsudski, urged on by the same predatory elements of imperialism, has undertaken to enslave the Ukraine, he is hiding himself behind that very same Petlyura. And the wretched ‘Hetman’, who sold himself to the Austro-German generals and the Anglo-French imperialists, has not failed, of course, to sell his services to the Polish gentry. After Pilsudski had seized, in March, Mozyr, Kalinkovichi, Ovruch and Rechitsa, on April 23 he opened an offensive on the Vothynia-Kiev front, taking Zhitomir and Zhmerinka, and aimed his main forces towards Kiev. At the present moment the Polish forces are directly threatening Kiev and the entire Ukraine, and thereby also Soviet Russia, which is linked to the Ukraine in spiritual, material and military unity.

Having burst like a savage wolf into the Ukraine, Pilsudski issued a foxy manifesto which was supposed to explain that he was not strangling the Ukraine but liberating it. It was with the same recipe that Wilhelm II liberated the Ukraine two years ago. In exchange for Right-Bank Ukraine, where Pilsudski promises to establish Petlyura’s rule (only fools can believe this), Petlyura will surrender to Pilsudski the territory lying west of the line of the Zbruch and the Styr, or the Goryn [3] – that is, all Eastern Galicia, Western Volhynia, Polesia and the Kholm district. This territory comprises more than 100,000 square versts, with a population of seven and a quarter million, of whom Ukrainians, Byelorussians and Great-Russians account for five and a quarter million. Thus, in this Sorochintsy fair, the great war-lord Petlyura is selling five million Ukrainians to the Polish gentry in return for a promise by the latter to make Petlyura their caretaker in Right-Bank Ukraine.

This disgusting deal will be resisted not only by the proletarian and the farm-labourer, not only by the middle peasant of Kiev province, but even by the Ukrainian kulak who lives on the right bank of the Dnieper – the most backward kulak in every way. This will mean a wave of protest and indignation involving 99 per cent of the population. This inevitable protest, rifle in hand, against Petlyura and his master Pilsudski, is a complete and unquestionable guarantee that victory will be ours in the hard and heavy struggle that lies ahead of us.

Yes, the struggle will be a heavy one. The Polish army is not small. It has been formed with great thoroughness during the last year. It possesses a considerable reservoir of manpower: within the present frontiers of Poland there are about 35 million people. True, only a little over 38 per cent of them are Poles, and this fact – the coercive regime of the Polish gentry not only over their own workers and peasants but also over masses of people of other nationalities – will, of course, have a disintegrating effect on the Polish army. But that will manifest itselfjust as will the class contradictions, which are very acute in Poland, and will also have a decisive effect – only after we have struck a conclusive blow.

The Polish working class did not and does not want war. The Polish peasants have received only crumbs from the new regime, the regime of Pilsudski and his gentry allies – or, more correctly, they have received only the promise of crumbs. They cannot support this regime for long; they cannot be enthusiastic for a war that will bring them increased state taxes, and, if it becomes protracted, will reduce them to utter poverty, utter exhaustion.

This is all beyond doubt, but it is not as yet clear to all the Polish peasants. National prejudices are still strong with them. After a long epoch of oppression Poland has, so far, been an independent republic for too short a time. National feeling is still too fresh, the honeymoon period of state independence is still not over, and it is on these sentiments that the ‘Chief of the Polish State’, Pilsudski, is trying to base his policy. Not yet outworn are the distrust and hatred felt by the more backward peasant masses towards Russia and things Russian, because in their minds and memories ‘Russia’ and ‘Russian’ mean ‘Tsar’ and ‘Tsarist’. This is the historical capital from which ‘Chief of State’ Pilsudski hopes to draw interest.

Thus, an extensive reservoir of men, old national traditions, now renewed by the creation of the republic, and a longestablished attitude of suspicion towards Russia and everything Russian – those are the elements which constitute advantages that weigh in the balance in favour of Pilsudski and the forces backing him.

But, looked at broadly, his regime is one that is inwardly weak, and which, not only in its basic features, but also in many details, recalls Kerensky’s. Uncertainty and discord rule all through the higher officer ranks of the army. There are two different organisations among them: the officers who support Pilsudski, and the officers who support the National Democrats – the Polish equivalent of our Cadets and Octobrists. These two organisations are locked together in mutual hostility. The workers are discontented. The peasants are discontented. These are all factors of bitter conflict both among the leading circles and between them and the rebellious lower orders. But all these factors will come to fruition as the final outcome, the crown, of our ultimate efforts. It would be a most profound error to suppose that history will begin by opening up before us the Polish workers’ revolution, thereby sparing us the need to wage an armed struggle. No. So long as wide masses of the peasantry and petty-bourgeoisie in Poland think that the Entente is everything, that the Entente will see to everything, that the Entente wants war with Poland, and that, in order to preserve her independence, Poland is obliged to fight us, if not from internal motives then under the pressure of external force – so long as this view, disseminated and upheld by Poland’s yellow journalists, exerts a substantial influence, there is no other way out for us but to demonstrate that, besides the power of the Entente, another power exists, the power of the Russian workers and peasants, the power of our Red Army, and that any infringement of the frontiers of Soviet Russia and the Soviet Ukraine will meet with a merciless rebuff.

Today, comrades, in these weeks when the working class of Russia, tired, underfed, anxious to get down to peaceful labour, is again addressing itself to warlike tasks, rising up to deliver a merciless rebuff to the Polish gentry – in this period everyone in our country who is honourable, thoughtful and decent, even if he does not agree with our social programme and our methods of action, must recognise that the only force that now defends the independence of the Russian people and the future of Russia is the Russian working class, is the government of that class, the Soviet Communist power. And that, comrades, is why many who were yesterday our enemies, and who today are still our opponents on grounds of principle where social, religious and other questions are concerned, feel obliged to bow before the great role that the working class is now playing, as the pivot on which our country depends and without which it would fall into the abyss. I will quote an example here, a fact about which I was only just now asked in a written note: the example of a General who played a big role in the epoch of Tsardom and who under Kerensky was Supreme Commanderin-Chief, a man who by his age and education is not one of our own people, namely Brusiov. He sent a letter to the chief of the All-Russia General Staff saying that the former government had always made a serious mistake in denying independence to the Polish people, and that the Soviet Government had acted quite rightly in recognising that independence. However, he says, from the moment that Poland – it would have been more correct to say, the Polish bourgeoisie, which grovelled before the former government, licking its hand, but now wants to tear out the throat of the Russian people – from that moment, says Brusiov, it has become the duty of every citizen to help the Soviet power. And he proposes that an advisory board be convened – not, of course, to take command, as some fear -no, an authoritative military advisory board which will set to work on questions of supply, reinforcements, training of commanders, better use of the railways, and so on.

Brusiov is a man from another epoch, from a different school, and undoubtedly he holds views which are far removed from our own. But from the moment when he frankly, honestly and courageously declares that he wants to help the Russian working class with his knowledge and experience, we say to him – welcome. In this fearful conflict we shall accept support and help from all honourable citizens. We were against what the Germans call Burgfrieden, that is, ‘civil peace’. We were against peace between the enslaved proletariat and the robber bourgeoisie. We said: ‘No civil peace but civil war!’ But when the working class is fighting for its independence and freedom, and when representatives of other social classes, which have already been deprived of their advantages and privileges, recognise the leadership of the working class and come to its aid, we say that we shall accept such aid, welcome it and make use of it to our utmost ability.

Comrades, I should like you to carry away from this meeting, as your chief conclusion, the thought that the struggle which lies ahead of us will be a hard and intense struggle. The Polish bourgeoisie knows that, in attacking us, it has put its entire destiny at risk. And those who stand behind it know that White-Guard Poland, oppressor of the Polish proletariat which is linked with the proletariat of Petrograd and Moscow by decades of joint revolutionary struggle – that this White Guard Poland is trying to erect a barrier between us and Europe. The Polish gentry say that the Russians, those barbarians and Scythians, must be thrust far back to the East. But we are striving toward the West, to meet the European workers, who know that we can meet them only over the corpse of White-Guard Poland, in a free and independent workers’ and peasants’ Poland.

The struggle will be a terrible one. But, if you ask me about the likely outcome of this struggle, I say to you that I have never been so sure that we shall be victorious, and shall finally crush the enemy, as I am this time. We have been fighting for two and a half years without a break, and in that period we have learnt something. We have had, of course, and shall continue to have setbacks such as we suffered at Zhitomir, and perhaps more serious ones than that. On the Western front, which was a secondary front for us, and across which our diplomats carried on negotiations for a long time, it was not difficult for Pilsudski to strike at us. But we possess reserves and reinforcements. When we shifted our army from a war footing on to a labour footing, we said that we were winding up our armed forces from a skein into a ball. But if our enemies, seeing our reorganisation, should decide that this is taking place because we have grown weary and want to give up, then we shall put everything into reverse and unwind the ball into a skein. That is, indeed now being done. Our railways, fuelled with sunflower seeds and reinforced by thousands of workers, have been working with redoubled energy. Our labour regiments are moving from every direction towards the Western front. Undoubtedly, these regiments are short of that element which is the salt of our army, that is, advanced workers. It has happened with us more than once that a young, politically immature regiment has failed to show sufficient vigour and strength, but it was enough to add to them just one handful of our salt, that is, a group of Communist workers, for a completely different result to be achieved at once. We are therefore proclaiming a Party mobilisation, with the warning that the struggle will be hard and stubborn. We have taken all measures to secure in every way our needs for the winter campaign that lies ahead, especially as regards supply.

Our first order has been carried out. The Communists of Petrograd, who are already here among us, are setting off today for the front. It is the Muscovites’ turn next, and that of all the rest of the country. Communists – to the Western front!

Torn once again from economic work, they will arrive on the Western front and will say to the many tens of thousands of Red Army men, workers and peasants, who have gathered and will gather there: we, the proletarians of Moscow and Petrograd, have come to you as envoys from the very heart of our country, because this heart is under threat from the Polish gentry and bourgeoisie. Brother peasants, we have not shed our blood in our country in order now to bow like slaves to force, to put our necks submissively under the yoke of Pilsudski and his mighty masters. If the Polish gentry have sought war, if they have forced war upon us, then this war, with all its thunders and calamities, will fall upon their heads, and victory will be ours, victory for workers’ Russia.

The whole of this report was repeated on May 10, 1920 at a meeting in Gomel, and was dedicated to the Minsk command courses, in memory of the encounter before Rechitsa. As given in Gomel, the speech ended with these words:

The town of Gomel, which stands almost in sight of our front, is one of the towns that are potentially endangered. So that this potential danger may not become actual, our front needs to be given a firm, reliable rear. The Polish gentry have many agents in our country. I did not speak idly or in jest about those supporters of Pilsudski and Petlyura that there may be even here, in small numbers. They operate on the railways, they spread lies, poison, slander and provocations among the Russian workers, peasants and Red Army men. These spies try to cause damage everywhere, wherever and however they can. Our task, the sacred duty of all honourable citizens, under these difficult conditions, is to help the Red Army in every way we can. We must keep close watch on the activity of suspicious persons, agents of Pilsudski and counter-revolution, and bring down upon them the merciless fist of the revolutionary tribunal whenever they are found guilty of attacking or harming the workers’ and peasants’ republic.

Today, comrades, I was before Rechitsa. There, on our front, I was told of the indescribable atrocities that have been committed by the Polish White-Guard officers and kulaks on captured and wounded Red Army men. They no longer recognise the status of prisoners-of-war. They are hanging not only Communists but every ordinary non-Party Red Army man who falls into their hands, they are exterminating even the wounded and the sick. Comrades,! asked if this was not an exaggeration, a slander – because one ought not to slander even an enemy. They told me: ‘So-and-so arrived on such-and-such a date, another fought his way here – they are all men worthy of trust, they have all seen, and they all confirm, these frightful atrocities.’

How have we answered this? Today we have issued from the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic an order to all the troops of the Western front not to avenge these abuses on helpless Polish prisoners. If we take a Polish worker or peasant prisoner, comrades, let that Red Army man’s hand be cut off who lifts a knife against anyone who is captured, unarmed, sick or wounded. We fight only against armed men. Why do the Polish gentry shoot our workers and peasants whom they take prisoner? Because they know that an honourable Red Army man always remains a sworn enemy of the magnates and aggressors. But if we sit down beside a Polish worker or peasant whom we have taken prisoner, and put to him our truth, against the lies of Pilsudski and his magnates, then that Polish worker or peasant will become, within a few weeks or a few days, Pilsudski’s bitterest enemy. In this way we transformed into revolutionaries the German soldiers who later revolted against Withelm, and also Austrian and Hungarian soldiers, and soldiers of Kolchak and Denikin. They all passed through our school. We did not shoot our prisoners, but made conscious fighters of them. Therefore, the Polish Legionaries, too, the Polish workers and peasants, whom we take prisoner, must not fear cruelty and execution – no, we must bring them the light of Communism, the light of our doctrine of the brotherhood of all working people. Whereas they have come to us under the yellow banner of robber imperialism, they will leave us under the red banner of revolution and communism. We need ruthless struggle in battle, and magnanimity towards the captive enemy. Ruthless hatred for the magnates and capitalists, an outstretched hand of friendship for the Polish working masses. We will not permit anyone to encroach on our rights, but we will not lay a hand on the independence of the Polish people. And we believe, we know, that the Polish republic will come out of this war different from what it was.

For centuries our country, Russia, stood beneath a banner on which appeared a two-headed eagle. What was the significance of those two heads? One of them bit and tore the Russian working people, while the other was directed at the borderlands – at the Poles, the Lithuanians, the Estonians, the Finns -and menaced other peoples beyond Russia’s borders. Such were the two heads of the predatory Tsarist eagle. We have cut off both heads, we live today beneath a new banner, on which appear a sickle and a hammer, the symbols of labour – and labour leads people to brotherhood.

The Polish republic is not a republic of labour – no, it is a republic of the bourgeoisie and the gentry. Its emblem shows a white eagle: true, an eagle with only one head, but this is the head of a bird of prey, which turns both to the right and to the left, to bite and tear both its own Polish workers and peasants and also the Ukrainians and Byelorussians. This white eagle is already covered all over with blood. And our task now is to cut off the head of the predatory Polish eagle, and thereby to help the Polish workers and peasants to raise over the Polish republic a flag that will display, just as with us, the symbols of labour. And then there will be no enmity between Poland and Russia, there will instead be unity and brotherhood, and we shall all be able to devote all our strength to tranquil, peaceful, honest labour. And then we shall lift our country out of poverty, disorder, want and sickness, and transform it, through the labour of hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants, who are now shedding their blood at the fronts, into a flourishing garden, where people will, amid prosperity and tranquil and happy labour, take pleasure in science and art, and create better conditions for the coming generations, so that all mankind may become, at last, the truly free master of our planet.

It is for that cause, comrades, that we must now give a rebuff to the Polish gentry. And this rebuff we shall give them! They have thrown down their challenge to us, and we shall fight this war to the end. ‘It is for our freedom and yours,’ we say to the Polish workers and peasants, ‘that we are advancing to meet you!’ Long live workers’ and peasants’ Poland! Long live workers’ and peasants’ Russia! And long live the world revolution, which will liberate all the working people!


1. In December 1918 a Soviet Red Cross mission arrived in Warsaw, with the aim of dealing with the problem of Russian ‘displaced persons’ in Poland. The mission was led by a Polish Communist, Wesolowski, and the Warsaw Government accused it of engaging in political agitation. The mission was ordered to leave Poland, but, on the way out, its members were murdered by their escort of Polish gendarmes.

2. The Fair at Sorochintsy is a story by Gogol (in the collection Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka), full of comical Ukrainian peasant characters: Musorgsky based an opera on this story.

3. The river Zbruch, a tributary of the Dniester, was the old frontier between Austria (Eastern Galicia) and Russia (Right-bank Ukraine). The Styr and the Goryn are two rivers in Polesia, east of Pinsk: about 30 miles apart, they run northward into the Pripet. In the agreement made between Pilsudski and Petlyura on April 21, 1920 it was provided that the fate of the districts of Rovno, Dubno and Kremenets, lying between these rivers, should be settled in a later, more precisely formulated treaty.

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Last updated on: 27.12.2006