Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History
The first article originally appeared in the April 1966 edition of Kuhura, a Polish-language journal published in Paris, and was translated into English for inclusion in International Socialism no.27, Winter 1966-67, pp.22-5, by E. Sanspere, who added the first paragraph and footnotes.
The second item is the history of the Polish Trotskyists during the inter-war years written by Hass himself, which is translated from his pamphlet Ruch bolszewikowleninistovv (IV Miedzynarodowka) w Polsce do 1945r. Added to it is a translation of the abstract of his speech in German to the International Trotsky Symposium held at Wuppertal from 26 to 30 March this year. It was delivered under the title of Trotzkis Schriften in Polen der Zwischenkriegszeit, and adds valuable background detail on the extent to which the Polish organisation, working all the time under conditions of illegality, had access to the material issued by Trotsky during this time.
At the time of his arrest Hass exercised a major influence on the then Socialist Jacek Kuron, who has now taken a portfolio in the Solidarity government, and Karol Modzelewski, well known for their Open Letter, with its ‘new class’ analysis of Polish society. The most convenient version of this is contained in Revolutionary Marxist Students in Poland Speak Out, Pathfinder, New York 1970, for bound up along with it are Antoni Zambrowski’s Reply to the Control Commission of the United Workers Party, and Isaac Deutscher’s Open Letter to Wladyslaw Gomulka and the Central Committee of the Polish Workers Party, protesting at the arrests. Deutscher had already provided the background history of the party in his essay The Tragedy of the Polish Communist Party, 1958. Both of these can be found in Deutscher’s Marxism, Wars and Revolutions, London, 1984, pp91-131.
Outlines of the events in Poland from 1944 to 1956 that can be conveniently consulted are to be found in Chris Harman, Class Struggles in Eastern Europe, London 1988, pp.26-7, 29-30 and 88-118 (reviewed below by Al Richardson), and Ian Birchall, Workers Against the Monolith, London 1974, pp.100-11 . The main documents produced by this ferment are collected together by Jean-Jacques Marie and Balazs Nagy (Michel Varga) in Pologne-Hongrie 1956, Paris 1966.
A number of small pieces by Trotsky circulated in Poland in addition to those mentioned by Hass. One was his Preface to the Polish Edition of Lenin’s Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, 6 October 1932, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1932, New York 1973, pp.221-7. In 1932 Isaac Deutscher published a transcript of Trotsky's speech to the special commission of the Communist International in July 1926 on the support given by the Polish Communist Party for Pilsudski's coup d'etat, together with a preface written for it by Trotsky on 4 August 1932, entitled Pilsudskism, Fascism and the Character of Our Epoch, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1932, pp.156-65 and n206, p390. (Cf 'Bonapartism and Fascism', 15 July 1934, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1934-35, New York 1971, p.56 and n56, pp.329-30, and Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, Oxford 1970, p.276, n1).
There was, of course, other material written by Trotsky for the internal information of the Polish Trotskyists. In his Greetings to the Polish Opposition, 31 August 1932, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1932, pp.180-1, he mentions the ‘double illegality’ of Pilsudski and Stalin under which the Polish revolutionaries were operating, as well as making reference to their circulation of other Trotskyist literature. On 22 August 1933 he wrote to the Polish comrades to assure them that the discussions for a common platform with the left Socialist and Communist parties (ILP, SAP etc) did not imply any endorsement of the group associated with them in Poland, Dr Joseph Kruk’s Independent Socialist Labour Party (Reassuring the Polish Section, Writings of Leon Trotsky: Supplement 1929-33, New York 1979, pp.275-6), and three further letters were written to them on 28 February and 18 and 28 July 1935 to acquaint them with the affairs and orientation of the international Trotskyist movement (Centrist Combinations and Marxist Tactics, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1934-35, New York 1971, pp.199-205, and Perspectives in Poland, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1935-36, New York 1977, pp44-8).
1. Ludwik Hass
Ludwik Hass, together with several others, was arrested in April 1965 for publishing a pamphlet criticising the Polish government and was sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment in January 1966. He was tried separately from his comrades and they appeared in each others’ trials as witnesses, the apparent object being to place each in a position where he would either commit perjury or incriminate his friends. At the trial of two of them, Modzelewski and Kuron, Hass (although a ‘witness’) was brought to the courtroom in handcuffs. A demonstration took place in which he participated – singing the Internationale and giving the clenched fist salute to the defendants in the dock. During the trial, rather than play down the evidence in order not to incriminate his friends, he stressed the international connections of the group. Jedlicki believes that this line may have been agreed by them beforehand and that Hass on no account wanted to risk the group appearing isolated and unimportant.
Ludwik Hass was born in 1919 or 1920. Before the war he began his studies at Lvov university. There, he entered the KPP (Polish Communist Party) but remained a member only briefly. Disillusioned, he became associated with a Trotskyist group active at the university. He was co-author of the Polish Trotskyist protest against the dissolution of the KPP.  This would have been sufficient to have cost him his life when the Russians entered Poland in 1939, but owing to an administrative error, he was mistaken for his father and given eight years imprisonment plus ‘free exile’ in Russia for life, a standard sentence given by the occupation authorities to politically inconvenient persons. He was sent to Vorkuta prison labour camp. According to his own accounts he endured this solely by watching the camp accountant at work. He learnt accounting in this way and subsequently earned his keep during his ‘exile’.
In exile, he reported weekly to the NKVD , but in spite of this obligation he made some daring excursions into the centre of Russia by train. I think that, as usual, he was less afraid than most people, at least, less afraid than the loyal, innocent Communists. He could always derive satisfaction from the fact that, however he was treated and whatever was done to him, this only confirmed his analysis and predictions on the inevitable evolution of a bureaucratic state, a new class, etc. But above all he had an unusual capacity for physical endurance which, it seems, is an entirely different thing from physical strength, since Hass was physically weak.
In 1956 Hass applied for rehabilitation. The case dragged on, but finally the public prosecutor gave in. In 1957 Hass appeared in Warsaw. After arriving in Warsaw he made two important decisions. Firstly, he joined the Party (now the PZPR); secondly, he entered the History Department of Warsaw University to resume his studies where he had left them in Lvov.
Hass had no illusions about the Party he was joining. His attitude to the Party he once summarised by saying: the Party exists in order to realise the social revolution and consequently a Party which does not do this or is not suited to do this should be dissolved. It should be remembered that at this time, the Party had literally been struck dumb. The whole theory revolved around a few flat orthodox phrases: “the vanguard and leadership of the nation”; “the rights of the State”; “the love of nation and motherland”; “political common sense”; “economic incentives”. It was like the old BBWR  before the war, only more conservative, since in the BBWR, there was at least a minority which expected Pilsudski  to implement social reforms. Nothing was expected of Gomulka  except moderation and manoeuvres to sustain the achieved tolerable status quo. Apart from that, it was the time just before the gentle post-October purge which rid the Party of the last few reasonably worthwhile elements. I distantly remember some story told me by Hass about the kind of transactions which took place in special shops open only to Party members. These shops sold products which were either much more expensive elsewhere or else unavailable altogether (e.g. cosmetics, towels, rubber macs, etc.). In order to cover the embarrassment of this ‘special’ transaction the buyer would use a pre-arranged password like “tell me, comrade, what do you wash with?” or “tell me, comrade, what do you wipe yourself with?” How could Hass deceive himself into thinking that a Party which had acquired these habits (to the exclusion of other habits) could have anything to do with social revolution? The term ‘revolution’ he understood literally, not figuratively. Only a few months after his arrival from Vorkuta, he took part in street demonstrations in Warsaw in October 1957. This fact testifies to his loyalties in the permanent war between Party and people. I should say that Hass was above the increasingly popular ‘positivist’ self-justification, of the kind: outside the Party one is condemned to inactivity, or membership of the Party is a condition for achieving anything constructive, or boycott of the Party leaves it open to takeover by the least worthwhile elements; we must enter the Party in order to civilise it; and so on. It is certain that he did not wish to relieve his isolation as a single unattached repatriate. Hass remained a simple poorly-paid official, at first in the Central Directory of Archives, later in the Historical Bureau of the Central Association of Trade Unions. He never exploited his Party card. He never belonged to an influential clique which aimed at increasing its comforts in life. Hass scorned such things. I never asked Hass his motives for joining the Party, but I can responsibly say that they were quite plain to me. For one thing, he did not enter the Party without striking a bargain. Considering the conditions, he gained something quite splendid: the recognition of his membership of the Party since 1938. I remind the reader that Hass left the Party voluntarily and entered the Trotskyist group. Logically the recognition of his membership formed the precedent for the recognition of Trotskyism as an authentic part of the Communist movement, a precedent for the rehabilitation of Trotskyism. Admittedly, the standards of logic in the PZPR are low, and Hass certainly knew this. I wonder what was in the minds of the ‘comrades’ when they agreed to Hass’ request? They might have thought that the PZPR would corrupt Hass as it had corrupted others, so it was safer to admit him. However, Hass had no intention of being corrupted, and in this world of absurdity, he began to apply logic. Loudly and publicly he proclaimed that he was a Trotskyist and that he was a member of the PZPR as a Trotskyist. Did this tactic get him anywhere, or could it ever do so? One must remember the situation in 1957. No one could yet predict how far the process of transforming the Communist movement would go. No one could know what opposition this process would encounter, what compromises it would have to make. Formally the dogma of ‘a return to Leninism’ held. Whatever one thinks of Leninism and however one judges it, the 1957 PZPR was very far from a return to it. The situation offered, as far as the Communist world was concerned, a fairly strong starting point for internal opposition to the Party. It was easy to see that something was amiss with ‘the unity of theory and practice’. A strong Party could easily have defended itself from such opposition. But the Party was weak, internally divided, and its morale was low. Only one condition was necessary for exerting this kind of pressure: one had to know what Lenin had wanted, what he had stated, and what he had opposed. The Communists did not know, for they had mastered with much skill the art of reading and quoting without understanding. The anti-Communists did not know; to them Lenin and Stalin were the same kind of devil. Hass knew. Quoting Lenin and Marx can only be greeted as a revelation in the Communist world. In the West the classics of Marxism are, after all, read and well known.
Hass thought that the process of de-Stalinisation was very important, and watched it with avid concentration. He had no illusions. He saw decisions being made which were mere stopgaps, the continual withdrawal a quarter of the way, the continual evasions. He had no illusions that de-Stalinisation executed from the top would lead to anything. But he saw that even de-Stalinisation from the top gave opportunities to ask awkward questions and bring up touchy subjects. His aim was to bring about not only a revision of the past, but also a revision of the present. A Party of loyal, subservient Government officials and towel salesmen was not the ideal field for this kind of activity, but in 1957 no one could know where the wheels of de-Stalinisation would stop once they had been set turning.
One more aspect of Hass’ life is fairly important: his national feeling. Hass was a Jew. He had lived on the Eastern borders of Poland, where Jews tended to be assimilated into the prevailing Russian culture rather than the Polish one. This, together with his long exile in Russia and his marriage to a Russian woman, meant that he spoke Russian at home and, especially at first, found Polish difficult. When he applied for rehabilitation in 1956, it would have been quite feasible for him to stay in Russia or to go to Israel. He did not have a family in Poland – they had all been murdered by the Germans. He is thus essentially a Pole by choice. Sometimes I think he chose badly. I am not concerned so much with the fact that, as a consequence of his decision, Hass has again gone to prison for a long time, because Hass never thought in terms of his own skin. What I mean is that if he had chosen differently perhaps he would not have been condemned to such isolation, and perhaps his choice would have been more widely recognised and appreciated. Nowadays the idea of nationality is increasingly often equated with an acceptance of a certain set of beliefs. Words like ‘un-American’ or ‘anti-Soviet’ are evidence of this attitude. ‘A Pole’ is, by definition, generally regarded (by other Poles) as a gentleman who cares for Polish interests above all, regards ‘not rocking the boat’ as a holy obligation, supports the Oder-Neisse line , regards the German border revisionists as Enemy Number One, and does not permit others to disparage Poland. Hass did not hold with this ‘Polish creed’ at all, and publicly said so.
I know that for many, Hass’ concept of Polish nationality will not be acceptable. I am not concerned here so much with simple Jew-baiters who will never forgive Hass for not being Nordic. I am more concerned with those who think that such things as language and place of habitation are merely superficial signs of nationality, and that a more important aspect exists in terms of a willingness to subject oneself to some kind of discipline and sacrifice one’s own individuality to a ‘national interest’, namely all the things which Hass rejected. However, Hass's idea of nationality, although different from this, by no means confined itself to questions of language and geographical location. His Polish nationhood continually expressed itself in such things as a stubborn reiteration of the responsibility of the Polish government for the pacification of eastern Galicia  (before and after the War), and for the forcible resettlement of Ukrainians and Germans.  He had similar attitudes towards the Western territories, holding, in the spirit of Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, that the Potsdam annexation  of these territories was a partition treaty in true imperialist style. Theoretically speaking, as an international Communist he should have cared equally about the repression of the Kurds in Iraq or the Pathans in Pakistan. However, the oppression of the Ukrainians by the Polish Government clearly interested him far more than either the Pathans or the Kurds. Theoretically also he could have been interested equally in the massacres of Poles by the Ukrainians – he knew of these and had not the slightest intention of denying them. However, he was much more interested in the massacre of the Ukrainians by the Poles – for he was chiefly interested in Poland and did not want to see it as an oppressor of other nations or a camp for forcibly resettled people. Hass continually challenged the classical idea of patriotism by loudly proclaiming unpleasant facts which traditional patriots would rather forget. He identified himself unreservedly with the oppressed minorities in Poland - even such unpopular ones as the Ukrainians and Germans. However strange this may seem to traditional patriots, I can only say that he understood his nationhood in just this ‘unpatriotic’, ‘anti-nationalist’ and ‘treacherous’ manner.
Hass’ Trotskyism should also be discussed. Trotskyists are often regarded as Stalinists who lost. It is said that if Trotsky and his supporters had not been defeated, they would have used the same methods of terrorism and dictatorship as Stalin. Their criticism of Stalin is regarded as a propaganda tactic on the same lines as the Stalinist criticism of Auschwitz. This is not the only source of their unpopularity. Trotskyists are generally regarded as typically emigre, salon politicians, their hair-splitting discussions dealing with questions which exist only in their own minds and which lead them from factional split to factional split. Many regard Trotskyists as a group operating with outdated concepts, unaware that times have changed and that their dogmas no longer apply to the modern world.
All these criticisms were levelled at Hass. I am not here to discuss whether they are justified in relationship to Trotskyists in general, for the article is about Hass, not about Trotsky. However I can show that as applied to Hass these remarks were completely untrue and unjustified.
Let us begin with the simplest – the assertion that someone is a salon politician and spends his time splitting hairs; this is quite stupid if the person is risking his neck. Such criticism of Trotskyists may be justified in Paris or New York (and even then not always) but levelled at Trotskyists in Warsaw or Vorkuta it is simply nonsense. Such criticism is a symptom of ‘neo-positivism’, a theory currently popular in Poland, that one should ‘talk’ less and ‘act’ more. If one is to treat such a theory seriously, one could say it completely misses the point and that exerting an influence on public opinion is a legitimate form of activity and not mere ‘talk6. Less seriously, one could say that what this theory really says is ‘listen and don't upset the Government by asking awkward questions’.
The allegation of operating with concepts from a past century is also completely untrue. My main motive in writing this article is not to record Hass’ heroism or dedication, but stems from my conviction that he was of greater value than all these ‘positivists’, was far more aware of reality, and had a far better analysis of the present situation. One of Hass’ basic attitudes was that this ‘regard for reality’ was not a legitimate political attitude but merely a means to get moral comfort when one’s political conscience was not quite clean. It is an illustration of Hass’ better understanding of the current situation that, probably as a result of what he had seen in Russia, he was able to forsee this crisis of theory and the rise of political ‘positivism’.
Finally, the criticism that Hass was an unsuccessful Stalinist – a supporter of dictatorship and terrorism. His understanding of the problems of leadership he expressed in several ways. He felt nothing but contempt for Gomulka’s corrupt regime. He had no illusions about October, and knew that the Party was still quite free to use the whip or the carrot as it pleased. He once said that a return to normal bourgeois parliamentary democracy would, in Poland, be a step forward. This does not say anything about his attitude to the West, with which he did not identify himself at all. The whole question he considered in the light of a choice between the lesser of two evils. However, this opinion states a lot about his attitude towards Gomulka. As well as this, continually and stubbornly, he brought up discussion on such matters as the social gap between the ruling group and the nation; the paradox of a great dignitary of impeccable manners teaching the ‘plebs’ the advantages of Socialism; the mannerisms of the ruling class; the division of the national income; the question of ‘who is best off in Poland now?’. Hass spoke of all these things, in crowded halls, under the noses of Government officials snooping all round him.
What was Trotskyism to this man? He once said that of all the anti-Stalinist opposition groups which arose in Russia, only Trotskyists had the international organisation which gave them a potential for survival. Personally I think that for Hass, it was an expression of revolutionary longing, a yearning for comradeship and plain speaking. He was all too familiar with the empty verbiage of Stalinism. Trotsky, even if he had been a supporter of dictatorship and terrorism, was above that sort of pantomime.
It must have occurred to those who sang the Internationale on that day of the trial that by their action they could do harm to the defendants, give the authorities a pretext for further repression etc. Yet, as facts show, they dismissed the idea immediately. This fact must not be underestimated. It marks the end of the acceptance of the universal panacea: ‘by rebelling, you are endangering not only yourself but others’. It marks the beginning of a new generation of revolutionaries, who reject this kind of well-meaning appeal and thereby deprive the authorities of the most effective way of paralysing the opposition. Already there is evidence that the regime has reacted with alarm – and in this we may find the explanation for the handcuffs on the hands of the prisoner. The first steps of the new revolutionaries have been successful.
1. The KPP was dissolved in 1937 by the Comintern.
2. The Soviet secret police.
3. A coalition of Centre and Left parties which backed Pilsudski after his 1926 coup.
4. Pilsudski was Inspector General of the Polish Forces. He would not accept any official political position, even though he was virtual dictator.
5. The Secretary General of the PZPR.
6. The postwar boundary between Poland and Germany.
7. Eastern Galicia contained two million White Russians (out of a total population of 40 million). Some of them belonged to a Ukrainian nationalist-terrorist organisation, the OUN, which aimed at a split from Poland. The OUN received financial aid and arms from Germany.
8. Resettlement resulted from the acquisition by the USSR of territories in Eastern Poland, and the acquisition by Poland of lands previously in eastern Germany, part of the general Potsdam settlement.
9. International postwar treaty which laid out the boundary changes in Eastern Europe.
Updated by ETOL: 6.8.2003