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International Socialist Review, Summer 1956



The Poznan Uprising


From International Socialist Review, Vol.17 No.3, Summer 1956, pp.75-77, 107.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The June 28 general-strike uprising of the workers of Poznan, Poland, is part of the same historical pattern of working-class struggle against Stalinist rule that was manifested so dramatically three years earlier in East Germany. In Poland, the action of the “June days” was confined to an industrial city of 365,000; in East Germany the movement embraced some 2,000,000 workers in 36 industrial cities and towns. Yet the difference is only quantitative. In their basic character as independent working-class struggles against the Stalinist bureaucracy, the movements were qualitatively identical. For this reason the recent events in Poznan deepen and further illuminate the basic lessons our movement drew from the East German events of June, 1953.

Above all, the Poznan events provide a new verification of the Trotskyist prognosis that a political revolution of the working class will open the path to a new progressive development in the Soviet orbit. In the Poznan uprising, as in the East German, we can observe the concrete forms and modes that the political revolution will take.

Under the oppressive rule of the Stalinist bureaucracy a mass workers’ struggle, beginning as a struggle for economic demands – against speed-up, heavy taxation, inflation, bureaucratic treatment of grievances – tends to become transferred into a political uprising against the regime itself and to assume the character of an insurrectionary movement.

What is the basic cause for this ex-plosiveness in the relations between the industrial working class and the Stalinist regimes? The rule of the bureaucratic caste has become an intolerable fetter on the social, economic and political development of the countries in the Soviet orbit. This expresses itself in the growing conviction of the Soviet working class that life has become unbearable, that a fundamental change must take place, and that if the workers act together for their demands, they can win. In sum, a new revolutionary consciousness is dawning among the workers of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

For the workers to feel, not only that a change is necessary, but that it has become possible, a whole series of new conditions and relations had to appear on the world arena and within the Soviet orbit itself. This is precisely what happened. The outcome of the Second World War with its colonial revolutionary upsurge, and above all the victory of the Chinese Revolution, put world capitalism in a defensive position which it has been unable to alter. At the same time the productive forces in the USSR and Eastern Europe experienced a swift development, disclosing again the superiority of planned economy over the capitalist method of production – even under conditions of bureaucratic degeneration with its staggering overhead expense.

The most important result of these developments has been the emergence of a new generation of the Soviet and European proletariat, numerically even larger than the industrial working class of the United States. This proletariat shows an unprecedented power in relation to the bureaucracy. It senses that its revolutionary thrusts at the bureaucracy will not provide an opportunity for the return of capitalist slavery, but will, on the contrary, add a new and perhaps decisive impulse to the world anti-capitalist movement.

These are the general factors that produced the East German and Poznan uprisings, the Vorkuta strike of 250,000 labor camp prisoners, and undoubtedly countless struggles that have been repressed without ever having become known to the world.

The Stalinist slander that the workers of East Germany and Poznan were led by the nose into a political uprising by spies and agents provocateurs is not merely a crude frame-up, it is a complete abandonment of even a pretense to a Marxist explanation for the violent clash between the working masses and the armed forces of the Polish regime.

Only from the vantage point of an analysis of the bureaucratic caste as a parasitic formation separated from the workers in the factories by their privileges, and their functions as “rulers,” can these phenomena be understood.

The bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, and its appointed henchmen in Eastern Europe, climbed to power by politically disenfranchising the proletariat. To do this they had to destroy the organizations of workers’ democracy in the Soviet Union. In a veritable civil war, in which hundreds of thousands perished, the rule of the workers through their own revolutionary democratic institutions was replaced by the violent rule of the bureaucracy.

The Trotskyist prognosis that a political revolution lies ahead in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, is founded on an estimation of the relation between the workers and the bureaucracy. It defines the overthrow of the bureaucracy as a revolution because only the direct interference of the masses can dislodge the privileged bureaucratic oligarchy. And it defines the revolution as political, as distinguished from social, because the Soviet workers stand upon the achievements of the social revolution of 1917 with the socialized property forms introduced by it. The political revolution can thus concentrate its attention on removing the bureaucratic constraints on these historically progressive social foundations.

In Poznan, as in the earlier East German uprising, the mass of factory workers launched a general strike and a giant demonstration that swept the whole working class into its orbit of action. Was this the work of spies and provocateurs? Even the Stalinist regime is forced to admit that the workers had legitimate grievances. In their efforts to conciliate the Polish working class and keep the Poznan movement from spreading, the bureaucracy has conceded over and over again that the workers had good cause to strike and demonstrate. The Stalinists simply add to this truth the loudly repeated charge that imperialist spies exploited the workers’ movement in order to transform it into an uprising against the state. They haven’t, of course, provided a shred of proof to support this charge. What they have done, and will do, is assert that a mass uprising of workers against their regime is de facto evidence of the work of spies.

The relation between the Polish workers and the Kremlin-appointed bureaucrats is vividly disclosed by the British Stalinist reporter, Gordon Cruickshank, He interviewed a woman trade unionist In Poznan who said, “We were entitled to demonstrate, but there should not have been shooting.” When Cruickshank asked her who she thought started the shooting, she replied, “The government says the hooligans and provocateurs did, but the people say the security men did.” For our part we think history will confirm the verdict of the people.

But the important question is not who started the shooting. What is important in civil war, as in any other war, is the fundamental character of the opposing camps. What was the line-up in Poznan? On one side, the whole working population marching under the slogans of “bread and freedom.” On the other side, the bureaucratic caste and its armed forces.

The question of who shot first fades into insignificance in the face of the gigantic fact that in a showdown, the components of Stalinist-ruled Poland dissolved into its constituent parts: on one side stood the toilers, on the other the functionaries, the security police and troops armed with Russian tanks and guns and staffed by Russian officers.

This crucial fact defines the character of the whole situation. The bureaucracy of the Stalinist party and the government was completely isolated from the factory masses. The lower echelons of the bureaucracy and the military, either displayed open friendliness toward the demonstrators or crumbled in the face of their onslaught. We have ample testimony from the bureaucracy itself to confirm this. Trybuna Ludu, official Polish Stalinist paper, venomously attacked the “lax and cowardly” party functionaries who “scampered for safety and did not return from hiding until order was restored.”

At the same time an “explanation” had to be found by the regime for the admitted defection of sections of the militia, which openly fraternized with the strikers, and according to many reports, turned over arms to the workers. The explanation is provided by an editorial in Trybuna Ludu:

“The peoples’ power does not and will not shoot against the working class ... This principle ... was to a considerable extent responsible for the confusion of such organs as the militia, the prison guards, and even for the confusion of leading Party members. The confused comrades could not in time distinguish a strike demonstration from illegal acts of violence, against which they should have reacted immediately and with all energy.”

Needless to say, the references to illegal acts of violence are a fraud. Why should militiamen be confused about such acts? What “confused” them was the outpouring of the masses, raising slogans and demands with which the militiamen sympathized. It is these mass actions – the strike and the demonstration – that are regarded as impermissible by the regime. “The workers had reason for bitterness,” admits Trybuna Ludu, “but the Poznan events showed that the form of their protest was not proper and it was harmful.”

Exactly! The Stalinist paper reveals its true attitude in these words. It was the “form of their [the workers’] protest” that the bureaucrats condemn. The talk about spies and provocateurs is so much eyewash. The workers’ general strike, the political demonstration, the refusal to scatter at the first shot, the winning over of militiamen to their side, this is what the Stalinist rulers regard as treason and vilify with their charge of “led by imperialist spies.” It is their way of saying that the workers do not have the historic right to remove the bureaucracy by revolutionary means.

The Polish Stalinist party, according to Trybuna Ludu, has become separated from the masses. The party paper threatens reprisals against “those who had responsible tasks in the service of the working people and who, as the Poznan events showed, became separated from the masses and transformed themselves into soulless bureaucrats.” This is strong talk. But in the meantime the heavy hand of the regime is not felt by the “soulless bureaucrats.” The ferocity of the regime is directed toward massacring strikers and jailing worker-leaders on frame-up charges.

In Poland, as in East Germany, the hatred of the masses for the Stalinist regime is intensified by the role of the regime as an agency of a foreign oppressor. This is a profound revolutionary factor in the situation. The Polish working class has suffered deep wounds from the national chauvinist crimes of the Soviet bureaucracy. The liquidation of the Polish Communist Party during the late Thirties in preparation for the Stalin-Hitler pact; the murder of the entire Central Committee of the Polish CP, while living in Russian exile; the partition of Poland in agreement with the Nazis; the cruel betrayal of the Warsaw workers’ uprising in the summer of 1944 by the Kremlin’s army; the bureaucratic and military method used by the Kremlin to transform social relations in Poland after the Second World War; the looting of Polish economy during the occupation; the continued appropriation by the Kremlin of a big slice of the product of Polish industry without regard for the needs of the Polish people; the Russification of the Polish army – all these bitter recollections, current humiliations and sufferings are identified in the consciousness cf the masses with the oppressive Russian bureaucracy and its Polish appointees.

Will anyone dare to plead the case of the Kremlin on the national question as against the grievances of the Polish people? Can anyone claim that the revolutionary right is not with the workers and peasants of Poland? Khrushchev, in his report on Stalin to the Twentieth Congress, admitted that during Stalin’s regime whole nations were lifted off the map and transported like cattle to far-off places. Such large-scale atrocities are inconceivable unless they arise from the systematic practice of national chauvinism by the regime in everyday life. And the atrocity against the Jewish people in the Soviet Union, still not officially admitted, demonstrates to what length Stalinism carried its policy of national oppression.

Khrushchev and Bulganin have admitted that the Kremlin tried to impose its national policy on the Yugoslavs. They didn’t get away with it in Yugoslavia because, in distinction from the rest of Eastern Europe, the proletarian revolution in Yugoslavia had developed considerable, independent force before the Kremlin reached out to strangle its independence. But what the Stalin regime failed to do in Yugoslavia, it did with a vengeance in the rest of the East European zone.

Khrushchev and Bulganin have admitted that the charges hurled against the Yugoslavs – “fascist spies and provocateurs” – were frame-ups. But when the Polish workers raise the banner of national freedom, the same discredited frame-up charge is directed against them.

The Poznan uprising, placed in the context of the line of development signaled by the East German general strike June 17, 1953, which in turn arose out of a turbulent strike movement throughout the countries of Eastern Europe, provides the explanation for what underlies the present crisis in the Soviet bureaucracy and world Stalinism. Far from connoting a “new direction” in the thinking and outlook of the bureaucracy, the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, was only an expression of the defensive posture the bureaucracy has assumed in relation to the masses.

Further events will drive home this appraisal if it needs any more illustration and proof after Poznan. In the meantime it is necessary to grasp that the restiveness within the bureaucracy itself and among the intellectuals has considerable significance if viewed from the proper class vantage point.

Every time we hear of a courageous voice among the students or even in Stalinist party circles, we must reckon that the workers in the factories are making their own calculations and drawing their own inferences from the situation.

It was reported that in the Soviet Union four professors raised the question of a new party to prevent a recurrence of a leader Cult.

In Hungary, the widow of the purged Laszlo Rajk spoke at a meeting of veteran Communists and said,

“Murderers cannot be rehabilitated. They not only have destroyed my husband, held me in jail for five years without permitting me to see my baby, receive food, letters or clothes, but they have utterly destroyed our country’s political and moral life.”

At the same meeting, Professor Gyula Hadju of the University of Budapest, said,

“How can the Communist leaders know what is going on? They never mix with workers or ordinary people, they don’t meet them in streetcars because they all ride automobiles, they don’t meet them at stores or in the market place becavise they have special stores, they don’t meet them in hospitals because they have special sanatoriums.”

This passage from the speech of the 74-year-old professor, who spent 50 years in the socialist movement, reads like an excerpt from Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed.

Another meeting heard the Hungarian Communist writer, Tiber Deri, declare, “It is high time that an end be made to this present regime of gendarmes and bureaucrats.”

In Poland the student paper Po Prostu scored the attitude of the regime towards the problem of unemployment. In an article that appeared one week before the Poznan uprising the paper said:

“This tragic [unemployment] situation is made worse by the fact that our legislature has failed to provide benefits or medical help for the unemployed on the ground that unemployment does not exist.”

Two weeks after the Poznan uprising Pu Prostu analyses the reason, for the widespread unemployment as stemming from “a disparity between the social character of production and the excessively centralized and bureaucratic system of management of the Socialist economy.” That comes very close to hitting the mark!

When you take into account that these statements are made under conditions far from free, they reveal a great deal. For one thing they reveal that the sensitive layers of the youth and the intellectuals detect an inner crack-up and demoralization of the Stalinist regime. This thought must also grow in the factories as the workers feel their way to taking advantage of the crisis of the Stalinist regimes in order to press their class demands. As they assess the experience of Poznan and build contact from factory to factory and from city to city, as the workers find ties with the best of the intellectuals awd students, they will begin the work of forging a Bolshevik party once again. In this historic work, indispensable for the victory of the revolution against the bureaucracy, they will find their way to the program of Trotskyism which has prepared throughout the last 40 years the revival and continuation of the October Revolution.

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