MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Events



Polish Insurrection (1863-64)

Having been under the yoke of the Russian tsarist autocracy for nearly 50 years, the people of Congress Poland struggled to gain national independence. The Polish national liberation insurrection was brutally suppressed by the tsar.

The original cause of the rising was the tsarist government's decision to carry out a special recruitment aimed at removing the revolutionary-minded youth en masse from the cities. At first the rising was led by a Central National Committee formed by the petty-nobles' party of the "Reds" in 1862. Its programme demanding national independence for Poland, equal rights for all men in the land, irrespective of religion or birth, transfer to the peasants of the land tilled by them with full right of ownership and without redemption payments, abolition of the corvée, compensation for the landlords for the alienated lands out of the state funds, etc., attracted to the uprising diverse sections of the Polish population – artisans, workers, students, intellectuals from among the gentry, part of the peasantry and the clergy.

In the course of the insurrection, the party of the "Whites" (the party of the big landed aristocracy and the big bourgeoisie) attempted to gain the support of Britain and France, in order to secure a profitable deal with the tsarist government.

The attitude of the revolutionary democrats of Russia towards the rebels was one of deep sympathy, the members of Zemlya i Volya secret society associated with N. G. Chernyshevsky trying to give them every possible assistance. The Central Committee of Zemlya i Volya issued an appeal "To the Russian Officers and Soldiers", which was distributed among the troops, who were sent to suppress the insurrection. A. I. Herzen and N. P. Ogaryov published a number of articles in Kolokol devoted to the struggle of the Polish people, and rendered material aid to the rebels.

The "Whites" maneuvered into control of the revolutionary masses, largely due to poor leadership/organisation among the "Reds". By the summer of 1864, the insurrection was brutally crushed by the tsarist troops.

Marx and Engels, who regarded the Polish insurrection of 1863-64 as a progressive movement, were fully in sympathy with it and wished the Polish people victory in their struggle for national liberation. On behalf of the German emigrant colony in London, Marx wrote an appeal for aid to the Poles.


Post World War Two Settlement

In 1943, Stalin wound up the Communist International (Comintern) signalling a new orientation to the “democratic imperialist” powers who were allies in the war agaisnt Hitler.

Side by side with the Bretton Woods Conference, a series of conferences were convened by the ‘Big Three’ [Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt and after Roosevelt’s death, Harry Truman] in Teheran, Moscow, Yalta and Potsdam from November 1943 to August 1945. The object of these conferences was to carve up the world between the Soviet Union and the Western powers.

Churchill recorded the proceedings at Moscow in October 1944 in his diary:

‘The moment was apt for business, so I said “Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans. Your armies are in Rumania and Bulgaria. We have interests, missions and agents there. Don’t let us get at cross-purposes in small ways. So far as Britain and Russia are concerned, how would it do for you to have ninety per cent predominance in Rumania, for us to have ninety per cent of the say in Greece, and go fifty-fifty about Yugoslavia?” While this was being translated I wrote out on a half a sheet of paper:

RumaniaRussia 90%The others 10%
GreeceGreat Britain 90%
(in accord with USA
Russia 10%
BulgariaRussia 75%The others 25%

‘I pushed this across to Stalin, who had by then heard the translation. There was a slight pause. Then he took his blue pencil and made a large tick upon it, and passed it back to us. It was all settled in no more time than it takes to set down, ... After this there was a long silence. The pencilled paper lay in the centre of the table. At length I said, “might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed we had disposed of these issues, so fateful to millions of people, in such an off-hand manner? Let us burn the paper”. “No, you keep it” said Stalin’. [Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy, by Dmitri Volkogonov]

This agreement between Stalin and the leaders of imperialism by which each side agreed not to interfere in the other’s ‘legitimate affairs’, extended not just to the countries named in Churchill’s note, but across the entire globe. It was intended to commit not just the USSR, but also the numerous Communist Parties loyal to the USSR.

Stalin did not have a perspective of leading wars of national liberation struggles in the countries such as China and Vietnam where the Communist Parties held the leading position in the national liberation movements. Nor was it his perspective in the old capitalist countries to make socialist revolution. This was part of the deal which was intended to guarantee the security of the USSR.

This pact did not receive unquestioning support from the Communist Parties in those countries which were to be handed over to the west however. In November 1945, in defiance of an agreement by Stalin that King Peter would be restored in Yugoslavia, Tito declared a People’s Republic. In October 1946, in defiance of Stalin’s instructions, the Greek Communist Party launched a campaign to win control of the remaining one-third of the country they did not already control, and received support from neighbouring Yugoslavia, Albania and Bulgaria, but were abandoned by Stalin and with the massive US aid to the Royalists, they were eventually crushed.

In the countries left under its control, it was Stalin’s perspective not to impose ‘socialism’, but to form a bloc with ‘all progressive forces’ for a peaceful transition through capitalism – ‘People’s Democracy’. In the event, partly as a result of the exclusion of the countries occupied by the Red Army from the Marshall Plan, the Eastern European countries were economically integrated into the USSR, and blockaded behind the “Iron Curtain”.


Potemkin mutiny

The mutiny on the armoured cruiser Potemkin broke out on June 14 (27), 1905. The crew brought the warship to the port of Odessa, where a general strike was in progress. The workers and sailors, however, did not unite on a common front. The Mensheviks were opposed to an armed uprising and held the workers and sailors back from taking offensive action, while the Bolsheviks were strewn with factional fighting.

The tsarist government ordered the entire Black Sea Fleet to hunt down and destroy the Potemkin, but the crews refused to follow their officers orders to fire on the cruiser. The officers were finally compelled to turn their ships around. After eleven days of cruising in the Black Sea, the crew of the Potemkin, short of food and coal, were forced to take their vessel to a Rumanian port and surrender to the authorities. Most of the sailors remained abroad. Those who returned to Russia were arrested and court-martialled.