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The New International, January 1944

Notes of the Month

The Meaning of the Fight over Poland


From The New International, Vol. X No. 1, January 1944, pp. 5–7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The imperialists, meanwhile, are not inactive. If they offer nothing to the masses of the people, it is because they have reserved everything for themselves. On this score, there are no differences among them. The differences occur exclusively over which of them is to get what and how much. These differences led to World War I; they brought about World War II; they are laying the basis for World War III.

The advance of the Russian army into former Poland is the clearest case in point right now, not so much for what it is in itself as for what it represents and symbolizes.

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 the Axis, 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 peoples 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 pan 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. Their 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.”

The fact that “even” the Anglo-American bourgeoisie 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.

Stalin’s great advantage lies, as indicated, in the military force at his disposal, and the position it has gained. But political preparations are also at an advanced stage. There is not only a Polish armed force in the Russian army, a force that has undoubtedly been politically organized and “worked on” for some time, but also a half-government in the form of the Union of Polish Patriots. This immaculate creation of the Kremlin is headed by Madam Wassilewska, Führerin of the so-called Polish Communist Party, who arrived at this Kremlin appointment by standing by in prudent silence (or in clamorous approbation?) while the finest heads and hearts of the genuinely communist movement in Poland were stilled by pistols fired in the cellars of GPU prisons. The latest Kremlin proposal on Poland, which proposes some trifling wiggle of the “Curzon line,” makes no mention of the government in exile but takes good care to recognize the status of the Wassilewska Quislings.

Does this mean that if Stalin reaches Warsaw, the GPU will install a Wassilewska government right off the reel? Not necessarily. All sorts of mutations and transitional arrangements are possible for Stalin. Everything depends upon the relationship of forces. It is possible, for example, that Stalin may, temporarily, and under pressure, reconcile himself to a “friendly” government in Poland, that is, a government operating at one or another level of vassaldom to Moscow. The most reluctant vassal would then find itself under constant pressure to make room for the Wassilewskas and other GPU puppets, until the point is reached where the reluctant vassal gives way entirely to the zealous and most subservient tool.

The Role of the Polish Masses

Is there a substantial flaw in the Stalinist scheme of imperialist expansion? There is, but it is not to be found in the Anglo-American allies. England is already orienting toward an acceptance of a division of Europe between herself and Russia. Her imperialist press has spoken for some time in favor of such a partition, with an eye toward excluding the dominant influence of the American colossus. The London Times is in the forefront of this agitation, and its strong advocacy of Stalin’s “rights” in eastern Europe, especially in connection with the fight over Poland, is neither accidental nor isolated. So astute and influential an Empire statesman as Smuts has recently spoken out bluntly in the same spirit. The imperialists are carving up the Old World again, this time with even deeper and bloodier incisions than ever before.

The “flaw” is – the Polish masses. Mikolajczyk has no power to speak of, but the workers and peasants in Poland have a strength and a determination to be free which not even the GPU could easily master. What is more, they are organized into one of the best and politically most advanced underground movements in Europe. If Mikolajczyk & Co. should capitulate to Stalin, in the hope of gaining a few concessions that would make it possible to keep body and soul together, this would in all likelihood have an effect upon the underground movement opposite to the one calculated. Such a capitulation would most likely result in deepening the gulf that divides the common people, whose aim is not imperialistic but liberationism from the remains of the Polish bourgeoisie and its social-democratic aides-de-camp. It would enhance the growing realization in the ranks of the underground that the struggle for national freedom is intertwined beyond separation with the struggle for social freedom, and that the only worthy and reliable banner-bearer of both is not Stalin or Churchill or Roosevelt or Mikolajczyk, but the Polish proletariat allied with the proletariat of the rest of Europe.

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

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 proletariat, 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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