Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 6 No. 1

Work in Progress

The Polish Left During the Second World War

DR ANITA J. Prazmowska of the Department of International History at the London School of Economics has written a most informative piece entitled The Soviet Liberation of Poland and the Polish Left 1943–45, in which she deals with the relationship between the Stalinist, Socialist and peasant parties. She emphasises the lack of encouragement for the new Polish Communist Party (later called the Polish Workers Party, PPR) shown by the Soviet Union, and the very right wing programme of the party. Stalin did not seem to want any strong left wing Polish party whether it be Stalinist or not. Perhaps he did not trust the Poles. On the other hand, some elements within the Polish Socialist Party seem to have been very left wing, although the exiled leadership had dissolved the party – perhaps, as Dr Prazmowska suggests, because they did not want to see an alternative local leadership emerge. However, a left wing group, the Barykada Wolnosci (Barricade of Freedom), was set up, which attempted to regroup the party within the country, and which later called itself the Polish Socialists. In response, the exiled leadership produced a programme which was vague, but anti-Semitic. At the beginning of 1943 the local Polish Socialists created a new party, the Robotnicza Partia Polskich Socjalistow (RPPS, Workers Party of the Polish Socialists). Its programme criticised the Soviet Union for having abandoned the goal of world revolution (although its war against Nazism was supported), for subordinating the world Communist parties to its national needs, and for pushing its industrialisation policy too fast, with grave social consequences for the Soviet people. The Polish factory workers were to be armed to carry through the necessary social revolution as the war ended.

These do sound very much like Trotskyist formulations, and one cannot help wondering, though Dr Prazmowska nowhere makes this point, whether this was the consequence of the entry of Polish Trotskyists into the pre-war Socialist Party. Although, of course, the Nazis had sent most of the Jewish members (but as Jews rather than as Trotskyists) to the ovens by the end of 1943, or at any rate their papers and organisations had disappeared by then, perhaps some of the non-Jewish entrists, who already had a semi-clandestine organisation dating from before 1939, might have been better prepared than other groups for the Nazi terror, and so might have been able to survive and even flourish politically. But it must be remembered that the RPPS was an alliance of different tendencies, and at least one RPPS leader said, as Dr Prazmowska points out, that only one of these – was it a Trotskyist influenced one? – was ‘anti-Soviet’, so any possible Trotskyist cadres may have been very few indeed. By 1947 all might have perished, and have left little record. It appears that the RPPS created military units, the Polska Armia Ludowa (Polish People’s Army), and had hoped to ally with military units loyal to the Peasant bloc, some of which were quite left wing. The Stalinists were far more right wing, and were consistently eager to create Popular Fronts with anyone, however reactionary, who was anti-German. When in 1943 the two parties tried to negotiate, the efforts failed, although a pro-Stalinist split in the RPPS occurred.

In June 1944 the RPPS renamed itself the PPS Lewica (Polish Socialist Party, Left Wing Faction) and when it is remembered that the original group of that name had in 1918, as Dr Prazmowska points out, been one of the components of the original Polish Communist Party, this seems highly significant, and is again charged with a Trotskyist resonance, as was its call for the destruction of world capitalism. According to Dr Prazmowska, the PPS-L and its umbrella organisations, such as the Central Komitet Ludowy (CKL, Central People’s Committee) which were formed and influenced by it, were real and living organisations even if small, whilst the Stalinist equivalents were pretty fraudulent, and lacked any base. Moscow was hostile to any attempt at joint work. The Warsaw Uprising of 1 August 1944 saw the destruction of both the PPS-L’s military base, the PAL, together with its entire social base in the Warsaw factories, and, in Dr Prazmowska’s words, ‘spelt the end of the independent Polish left wing alternative to the Communists’. The minor isolated remnants of the PAL joined either the Stalinists or the Peasant Party as the Red Army entered Poland. After dealing at similar length with the relationship of Moscow and the left wing of the peasant movement, Dr Prazmowska, whilst calling for more research on the subject, concludes that for short-term pragmatic reasons the Soviet Union’s policies in the war ‘made it all the more difficult for the Polish Communists to build a base in Polish society after the war’. We could add that if the dark and suspicious mind of Stalin had detected incipient Trotskyism amongst the Warsaw working class, however slight, that would have given him yet another reason to allow the rising to be drowned in blood. Furthermore, the tragic events in Poland take on an even greater significance if, as in the rest of Europe, the working class there was shifting rapidly to the left in late 1944, and on that issue it may be significant that, in a letter to me, Dr Prazmowska points out that she has found many references to militant ex-members of the Polish Communist Party ‘spoiling’ things for the PPR leadership in the provinces in 1943–44. Perhaps when Stalin’s Presidential archive is opened to all scholars, the question can be more definitely settled.

Everyone interested in this crucial period of Polish history should certainly consult this article, which deals with matters in much greater detail than is possible here. It is hoped that it will be published by Macmillan in a volume entitled The Soviet Union and Europe in the Cold War (1943–1953), which is the result of the proceedings of a conference of that name sponsored by the Feltrinelli Fondazione and held in Cortona, Italy, on 23–24 September 1994. We are very grateful to Dr Prazmowska for letting us have sight of it before publication. Let us hope that her call for more research on this topic is heeded, and that adequate documentary evidence of the internal workings of the PPS-L will be found, even if the circumstances in Warsaw in late 1944 give grounds for pessimism.

Ted Crawford

International Communism and the Communist International

THE ABOVE conference was held at the University of Exeter at the end of July, and concentrated upon the relationship between Communist parties and the Communist International and the Soviet government. About 40 people attended, with about half of them being contributors. It was well worth attending, with many of the contributors having spent a lot of time in the archives of the Communist International obtaining interesting information. The ensuing discussions were lively and well informed.

Kevin MacDermott made the important point that most historians have used the Moscow archives to reinforce their existing conceptions. Thus conservatives insist that Moscow controlled the Communist parties, whilst the revisionists insist that the parties acted in an autonomous manner, ignoring the diktats that they didn’t like. MacDermott said that a synthesis of the two views was desirable. However, many of the contributors (who tended towards the revisionist view) over-stressed the concept of autonomy. Even if, as Tim Rees said, Orlov and the other Comintern ‘technicians’ (as they were delicately termed in Spain) arrested and killed Andreu Nin off their own bat, it was well within the general approach of Stalinism towards revolutionary Marxists, and cannot be seen as a purely local issue.

Speakers who emphasised the autonomy of Communist parties were interpreting the term in a peculiarly narrow manner. Of course Communist parties bent the commands that came down to them in order to make them fit into the national political scene. But the fact remains that on most issues and in most instances the parties of the Communist International did not stray far from the general line. One exception was Tito, whose devious dealings with Moscow during the Second World War were well shown by Geoffrey Swain. However, insofar as his political approach went, Tito was a conventional Stalinist. There were many examples of individuals leaving Communist parties, and indeed the whole fellow travelling bandwagon of the late 1930s broke up after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939, yet very little of this took an organised form. From the start of the 1930s until the crisis engendered by the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the official Communist movement remained remarkably ideologically solid.

The Communist International itself was treated as some kind of autonomous body seemingly unattached to anything. I pointed to the dichotomy in the Communist International, that, on the one hand, Thorez, Togliatti, etc., wanted to erect in their countries what they thought existed in the Soviet Union, and thought that Moscow wanted likewise, whilst Moscow itself, by the 1930s, was cynically using the International as an extension of Soviet diplomacy, and no doubt saw foreign Communists as useful idiots for whom it was worthwhile keeping up a revolutionary façade.

A major disappointment was the contribution on the German Communist Party by the much-vaunted Aleksandr Vatlin. Not only did he say very little that we didn’t know already, but said nothing on the crucial factor that dogged Moscow in the early years – the conflict between the tasks of the Communist International and the needs of Soviet diplomacy – which would have led to all manner of problems in 1923 had the ‘German October’ been launched.

Yevgeny Sergeev’s paper on the ‘Trotskyite menace’ in Britain in the late 1930s was the most fascinating. Although Soviet agents were quite well informed about the various Trotskyist groups, ‘Trotskyism’ for them was represented by the Independent Labour Party. The Communist Party of Great Britain was, apparently, most lax in dealing with this menace. A contributor to the discussion reported that the CPGB later took steps to amend this, and it managed to introduce an infiltrator into the Workers International League and subsequently the Revolutionary Communist Party, and WIL Central Committee minutes found their way to King Street.

Kevin MacDermott said that Harry Pollitt was considered to have been in contact with ‘enemies of the people’, because of his inquiries about his former girlfriend Rose Cohen (who was imprisoned in the Soviet Union), and had a dossier opened on him in Moscow. Palmiro Togliatti and Georgi Dimitrov were also suspect in the late 1930s, and a show trial of deviant Comintern leaders was to be organised. It is possible, he added, that the refusal of Piatnitsky, the proposed main defendant, to confess caused the trial to be called off.

The grim atmosphere of the late 1930s enabled Stalinists to line up others for the chop. Guilleaume Bourgeois said that two shadowy leading members of the French Communist Party were involved in shady activities. Jean Jerôme’s denunciation of Polish Communists around Que Faire? magazine was central to Stalin’s destruction of the Polish Communist Party, whilst there is reason to believe that Jacques Denis was involved in the abduction and killing of Willi Münzenburg. Bourgeois also reported that, contrary to common belief, Moscow called on the PCF to make unity with the French Socialists in April 1934. He told me that one of the figures central to the assassination of Pietro Tresso was Theo Vial-Massat, later a parliamentary deputy for the PCF. He said that this was no secret, but Trotskyists in France had not been particularly interested in publicising the fact.

The conference was poorly attended. This, I was told, was due to the bizarre budgeting arrangements that are obligatory these days in higher educational institutes, which forced the organisers to set a very high ticket price, which militated against many people, including some from this journal, from attending. The International Communist Party was the only organised political presence, and its members were uncharacteristically quiet, making only one contribution, and generally behaving themselves. A book based upon the contributions to the conference should be appearing in the not-too-distant future.

Paul Flewers

Spanish Archive Set Up

WE HAVE just been informed by its Secretary, Agustín Guillamón, that a Comite de Documentacion Historica del Trotsquismo Español (1936–48) has been set up, and is assembling an archive for the history of Trotskyism in Spain during and after the Spanish Civil War. All those willing to offer documents should send them to Agustín Guillamón, Apartado 22.010, 08080 Barcelona.

British Labour Movement History

READERS WHO have read Harry Wicks’ Keeping My Head will recall that he and Alf Loughton took part in the building workers’ struggles in the late 1940s. Sean Creighton will be giving a talk entitled The Builders Forward: Building Workers and the Labour Government 1945–51 to the London History Workshop Seminar in the downstairs bar of the Fitzroy Tavern, Charlotte Street, London W1, at 7.00pm, Monday, 4 March 1996.

Odd Jottings

THE CONCLUDING volume of Robert Service’s Lenin trilogy, The Iron Ring (MacMillan, 1995) gives an interesting insight into the differences between Lenin and Stalin on the question of a Europe-wide revolution. Soviet archives show that in 1920 Stalin considered that neither Poles nor Germans would want the sort of federal arrangements that had been worked out with the Ukraine. Professor Service avers that Stalin wanted to have a strong Russian-centred federation ‘to act as a counterweight to a future Soviet Germany; but Lenin the Russian was less Russocentric than Stalin the Georgian, and he was apparently untroubled about a Soviet federation in central and Eastern Europe which might not be dominated by Russia’ (pp. 191–2).

Updated by ETOL: 28.9.2011