From New International, Vol.12 No.7, September 1946, pp.196-199.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The recent referendum in Poland sheds much light on the political pattern developing in the Russian-occupied countries. It likewise poses in the most concrete terms questions of strategy and tactics for the revolutionary Marxists which in the past have been posed only in theory. The referendum has revealed that the Stalinist puppet regime is still far from having Stalinized, i.e., totalitarianized in the Russian manner, the political life of Poland. Not only does a widespread opposition to the Warsaw regime exist, but the regime has been forced, due to a number of factors, to grant the opposition a measure of legal existence and expression. The two most important of these factors are:
Then, too, the present situation is rooted in the political shifts affecting Poland arising from the changing international relations between 1939 and 1944. Great Britain went to war over the immediate issue of Danzig and the invasion of Poland. The defeated, exile government of Poland became a British ward. The Stalin-Hitler pact was in effect during this period and the role of the exile régime in London, as opponents of both the German and Russian conquerors of Poland, did not contradict British policy. However, when Hitler invaded Russia and the latter became Britain’s ally, a new situation arose. Britain’s obligations to the Polish exile régime (not to speak of its interests in the ultimate Polish settlement) did not permit her to place the destinies of Poland entirely in Stalin’s hands, but it had to bow to Russian policy on Poland.
The re-conquest of Poland by the Russian armies placed all the strong cards in Stalin’s hands. The Warsaw uprising led by Gen. Bor, the last strong bid of the exile régime, was cynically undermined by the Russians. From then on it was a matter of Britain seeking to salvage what it could from the Polish situation. The best that the combined pressure of Churchill and Roosevelt could achieve was the agreement of Stalin to a “merger” of the London exile régime and the Stalinist puppet government on the basis of adding those London ministers to the Stalinist governments whom Moscow passed upon as being “non-objectionable.”
The only prominent figure to accept the agreement and to qualify from the Russian point of view was the leader of the powerful Polish Peasants Party, Mickolaczyk. He returned to Poland to take a place in the government in the spotlight of a world public interest which afforded him some protection against foul play, such as that encountered by the Polish underground leaders who reported themselves to the Russians and were promptly thrown into jail. Banking upon the vast unpopularity of the puppet regime, Mickolaczyk has tried to guard his independence from the Stalinists and, thereby, emerged as the spokesman for the legal opposition.
The fact that the Peasant Party is the sole non-Stalinist force permitted some measure of freedom has made of it the channel for the expression of all variants of anti-governmental views. As a result, the opposition that groups itself around Mickolajczyk is most heterogeneous. Its broad mass base is composed of the small land-owning peasant, the stratagem which furnished the base for the Peasant Party before the war. An added strategy of mass support comes from the old labor movement; the underground Socialist Party (PPS) and the illegalized trade unions, which have no other form of legal expressions since the only labor organizations sanctioned are the government unions operated by the Stalinists. However, the opposition is also supported by the remnants of the expropriated bourgeoisie, former land-owners, the church hierarchy, the old officer corps and others who represent the social props of pre-war Poland. These elements see the peasant opposition as the battering ram to weaken the régime in preparation for their own return to power.
The Stalinist régime has, no doubt, the support of a small section of the industrial proletariat. This is the result of a conscious and consistent effort to consolidate a proletarian base. Its policy of nationalization of industry gives it a socialist coloration in the eyes of some workers, who, like so many European workers, tend to identify nationalization with socialism. Added to this is the manipulation of the food supply by the government for purposes of gaining proletarian support. Exactly to what extent the Stalinist’s efforts have succeeded is difficult to say because in the absence of political freedom there are no reliable data. The Stalinists have perhaps secured the support of a strata of the peasants as a result of the “land reforms” they have carried through. The land division has been more limited than Stalinist propaganda would have us believe (see article by Rudzienski in this issue). However, those peasants who did receive land from the new régime have a stake in its preservation.
The only really reliable base of the Stalinist régime is the new bureaucratic class it is seeking to compose from the state apparatus, the new army officer corps trained in Russia, the army of journalists, professionals, etc., on the state payroll and, of great importance, the new technical personnel at the head of the nationalized economy.
The recent referendum resulted from an attempt to prove to the world that it has a decisive majority. The Stalinists sought to capitalize upon the measures they have adopted which are either progressive in appearance or which appeal to the patriotic (really, chauvinist) sentiments of Poles. However, the referendum had to be so phrased as not to permit the masses to express themselves upon the only real political question that matters – government by GPU terror.
The questions which the Stalinist demagogically selected were:
Mickolaczyk chose to make the referendum a test of strength and a challenge of the régime. He asked his followers to vote “yes” on issues of nationalization and the new frontiers but to vote “no” on the issue of the single chamber legislature. In addition to this conditional opposition of Mickolaczyk reports from Poland told of a considerable underground literature which called for a “no” vote on all three propositions. The Stalinists, of course, promptly described the underground agitation as “fascist.” We need not accept their designation to assume that a considerable reactionary underground exists, in the political tradition of the Legionnaires who came to power under Pilsudski and degenerated into the openly anti-Semitic, fascistic elements who formed the active support for the government of the “colonels” between 1930 and 1939. However, it is just as plausible to assume that a strong underground Leftist opposition exists, composed of those elements who were represented in the anti-Nazi resistance by a widespread revolutionary socialist press which was simultaneously hostile to Stalinism.
The referendum took place in the midst of a campaign of police terror, arrests, assassinations, threats, wholesale raids and secret, nocturnal “disappearances.” The objects of most attention on the part of the Stalinist secret police were the local leaders and organizations of the Peasant Party. Mickolaczyk’s demand for representatives of his party at the polls was refused. His party press was subjected to tightened censorship, including the prohibition to print statements condemning anti-Semitism. Despite this, the government proposition for a single chamber legislature could not rally a vote as large as on the other questions.
The experience of the referendum is one which the Stalinists will seek to avoid in the future, if at all possible. Their main efforts are now concentrated inn forcing the Peasant Party into a single-ticket coalition for the elections of a Constituent Assembly promised for the Fall. Thus far Mickolaczyk has been able to hold his ground and refuse. The Stalinists have not yet
found a way out of the dilemma. Without the consent of the Peasant Party to a single ticket, a real contest, despite police terror, would reveal the real weakness of the puppet régime. Mickolaczyk has gone so far in taunting the Stalinists as to say that in the interests of creating a sizable opposition he will give them a guaranteed 25 per cent of the seats in the Assembly, being sure that they do not have the votes to win them.
The new political pattern of Poland consists, therefore, of a crystallizing bureaucratic class basing itself upon a nationalized economy and ruling the country by police terror, accompanied by demagogic gestures to win some proletarian and peasant support. It is opposed by a broad popular movement of peasants who rally around the banner of democracy and receive support from such divergent elements as the reactionary and fascistic, former rulers, on the one hand, and the best socialist elements of the proletariat on the other.
This political pattern is no phenomenon peculiar to Poland, but extends to all the occupied territories. This poses for the revolutionary Marxists a most critical situation. It gives flesh and blood to the theoretical question which the movement posed when it considered Trotsky’s slogan of self-determination for the Ukraine. The question is: what is the revolutionary Marxist attitude toward a broad opposition that rallies under democratic slogans against a totalitarian régime that basis itself upon nationalized economy?
How do the actual forces in conflict pose this theoretical question? In its crudest form it seems to be the question of the relative weight of nationalization of economy against the relative weight of political democracy. This is becoming one of the touchstone questions of our times. Woe to the movement that chooses wrongly or seeks to ignore it.
The revolutionary socialists, of course, want BOTH, nationalization AND democracy. That is the socialist solution everywhere. In Russia the struggle for the revolutionary overthrow of the régime will begin as a struggle for political democracy as the instrument by which the rudder can again be placed in the hands of the masses. In the United States the struggle for nationalization of economy is the struggle for the indispensable framework for a democratic social, economic and political existence for the masses.
But the essense of politics is not merely what we want. A political line must proceed from the reality of the existing struggle. The main battle lines are not drawn up between a socialist proletarian movement and the Stalinist régime, nor between a socialist proletarian movement and a Mickolajczyk régime. The main battle lines find the Stalinist dictatorship confronted by a popular opposition movement headed by Mickolajczyk. Our problem is to create a Third Camp which will fight both against Stalinist totalitarianism and the bourgeois reaction inherent in the petty-bourgeois peasant movement. But the question is: where are the elements today out of which such a Third Camp can be constructed? Are they in the GPU-staffed, misnamed “Workers Party” and the GPU-staffed government unions? Or are they in the opposition elements grouped around Mickolajczyk? It is precisely in such a posing of the question that the difference between the French situation and the Polish situation comes to the fore. In France the decisive sections of the proletariat are in the Stalinist and social democratic camp. The power, however, remains in the hands of the capitalist class. The class interests of the Stalinist workers require that they engage in a class struggle with the bourgeoisie and aim toward a proletarian solution. The Marxists seek to drive this struggle to its ultimate revolutionary conclusions as a means of breaking the workers from the Stalinist straightjacket, bound in France as elsewhere by the limits imposed by Russian needs. In France, therefore, the elements for a Third Camp are today in the Stalinist and Socialist parties. Without them there will be no socialist revolution in France.
In Poland the case is radically different. The bourgeoisie has, for all practical purposes, been expropriated. The workers do not engage in a class struggle in industry against a cap-tialist owner. Those workers who support the Stalinist régime do so under the illusion that socialism is being constructed or out of purely opportunist motives, like jobs or food rations. Those workers, on the other hand, who wage a class struggle today, do it precisely against the Stalinist overlords of government and industry. In order to wage that struggle effectively they must fight for the democratic rights of existence as a labor movement, the right to free speech, to organization, to a free press, to assembly, etc., all finding their final expression in the slogan, “Out with the Russians!” and “Long live a Free Poland!” These are rights for which the vast majority of the Polish population yearns today and which finds its distorted expression in the Mickolajczyk opposition. It is here that the revolutionary Marxists will find the decisive elements for the Third Camp, i.e., a revolutionary, proletarian, socialist opposition to the Stalinist dictatorship. The political line of the Marxists must, therefore, be one of critical support to the Mickolajczyk camp.
What is meant by “critical support”? It means first of all complete political independence from the Mickolajczyk movement. It means political criticism of that movement. It means independent proletarian organizations in the shops and proletarian methods of struggle, all aimed at wresting the leadership from Mickolajczyk and making the proletariat the leader of the broad people’s movement against the Stalinist régime. The proletariat cannot remain on the side lines when two sections of the nation stand locked in deadly struggle.
If barricades arise between the two camps, on which side do the Marxists seek to rally the proletariat? In Poland today the civil war smoulders underground and we must take a position. Do Polish Marxists condone the GPU arrests of Peasant Party leaders as being the liquidation of capitalist restorationist elements? Or do they actively fight alongside of the Peasant Party leaders to defend them against GPU persecution? For the Marxists, the revolutionary Socialist struggle is the only decisive one in a historic sense. However, where they cannot determine the nature of the struggle, they must lead the proletariat, as an independent force, into that camp which represents the best possibility of socialist advancement.
The leadership of the Fourth International has been not so strangely quiet on the Polish events, as has the Socialist Workers Party in this country. Where do they stand on Poland today? Their International Thesis, adopted by the pre-conference of several months ago, took refuge in the disingenuous formula that they would support the “Red” Army “in so far as” it supported the revolutionary struggle and would oppose it “in so far as” it opposed the revolutionary struggle. Poland represents an occasion for the application of this “policy.” What questions does this brilliant formula answer in Poland today? Which side are they on? They need not tell us that Mickolajczyk is a faker and a scoundrel, an agent of Anglo-American imperialism, etc. We are aware of this. They need not tell us that the Peasant party is not interested in socialism and that it has restorationist tendencies as far as the nationalizes property is concerned. We are aware of this too. Please, tell us the nature of the state that rules in Poland today. Is it a degenerated workers state, already degenerate as it issued forth from the Russian womb? Or is Poland not a workers state despite the nationalized property because the proletariat never made a revolution before losing state power to a bureaucracy? Then is Poland ruled by a bourgeois state? Without a bourgeoisie? Or is there a bourgeoisie? Who composes it? The “fascist” guerrilla bands in the forest? But then it could not be their state, for the state shoots them whenever it can. Or does Mickolajczyk represent an expropriated bourgeoisie fighting a war of restoration against the workers’ state? Please, Comrades, Experts on the Russian Question and Guardians of the Finished Program, does Poland stump you that badly?
Last updated on 6.10.2005