The Warsaw Commune: Betrayed by Stalin, Massacred by Hitler. Zygmunt Zaremba 1947


We are pleased to publish the first English-language translation of Zygmunt Zaremba’s account of the Warsaw Uprising of August-September 1944. Zaremba, a leading member of the Polish Socialist Party, was involved in the uprising as the editor of the party’s newspaper Robotnik (The Worker) and as a member of the Council of National Unity, the underground parliament in Poland.

The Warsaw Uprising provoked a tremendous amount of controversy at the time, and arguments about it have waged ever since in a large number of books and journals, mainly centred upon the question of whether the Soviet regime deliberately permitted the Germans to annihilate the uprising for its own political ends. So why add to this long-running controversy a small pamphlet originally published in Paris 50 years ago, particularly when subsequent works on the uprising have been much more comprehensive? The answer is that The Warsaw Commune raises a whole number of political issues that have largely been overlooked by the scholars who have written on the subject.

Poland in the Second World War

Poland was very much a focal point in the Second World War. The signing of the Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union on 23 August 1939, with its secret codicils which divided Poland between them, effectively sparked off the war, as the German assault into Poland on 1 September 1939 provoked the British and French declaration of war upon Germany two days later, in accordance with a treaty between Britain and France and Poland signed earlier in the year.

Warsaw fell to the Wehrmacht on 27 September, and the last Polish redoubt fell on 5 October. In the meantime, Soviet troops entered Poland on 17 September. Poland was partitioned and annihilated as a political entity. In the German sector, the northern and western parts were incorporated into the Third Reich, and the larger southern and central parts were put under the rule of the General-Gouvernement. In the Soviet sector, Vilna (Wilno, Vilnius) was handed over to Lithuania, and the eastern and southern parts were set up as Western Byelorussia and Western Ukraine.

Whilst other areas of Europe and the world as a whole saw more intensive military action, the human cost of the war in Poland was proportionally higher than in any other country, including the Soviet Union. Ultimately, Poland lost proportionally more of its population than any other country during the Second World War, with six million of its prewar population dead, of whom 2.9 million were Jews. Eleven million of the Nazis’ 18 million victims were killed in Poland, of whom five million were Jews.

The Nazis’ extreme racist policies were immediately implemented in its sector of the country. The population was segregated between those deemed to be German, and those who were ‘untermenschen’. Poles were forcibly moved from western areas, received inadequate rations, and lived under a ferocious form of martial law. A concerted attempt was made to eradicate Polish culture, in order to turn the Poles into a nation of skivvies for the Third Reich. Jews, herded into ghettos, fared even worse, and were subjected to a state-run pogrom of historically unprecedented proportions. Things became even worse following the German assault into the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, when all of Poland fell under Nazi rule. The repression against the Poles was intensified, and the internment of the Jews in camps and ghettos and their use as slave labour were supplemented by their physical extermination in purpose-built death camps.

Resistance to Nazi rule in Poland started very soon after the invasion in September 1939. The main resistance force was the Armija Krajowa, the Home Army, which claimed to have 400 000 people under its command. It was linked with the Government-in-Exile in London, which was made up of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), the Peasant Party, the Labour Party (a liberal Catholic organisation) and the National Democrats (a right-wing nationalist organisation). The Polish Fascist groups set up their own militia, as did the supporters of the Sanacja government which had collapsed shortly after the German invasion. The Polish Stalinists (the Polish People’s Party, PPR) set up their own armed force later on, the People’s Army, and a number of small left-wing groups did the same with the Polish People’s Army.

Open armed resistance took off from the latter part of 1942, and in 1943 resistance forces controlled large areas of the country. Resistance took many forms, and went beyond military activity against the Nazi authorities. Passive resistance, sabotage and the education of children went alongside pretty much unfettered clandestine political discussion and debate, and a remarkable underground press existed, with something like 1400 periodical titles and 1075 book and pamphlet titles being produced under the Nazi occupation.

The Warsaw Uprising was the culmination of Operation Tempest, although this city was not originally included in the plans of the operation. Tempest was initiated as a series of military actions against the German occupiers in the eastern regions of Poland as they retreated in the face of the Red Army, in order to establish some kind of authority associated with the London government before any Soviet military and political administration was set up, and before the domestic Stalinists could gain any real influence. Nevertheless, the fact that the biggest blow struck by the Polish resistance was in Warsaw was to give a particular political complexion to the uprising. Warsaw was a highly proletarian city; on the eve of the Second World War, over half of its population of nearly 1.2 million were workers. Warsaw had also seen two major urban anti-Nazi battles. When the Wehrmacht approached the city in September 1939, the Socialist workers put up the best fight, demanding arms from army officers who were loath to distribute them, and who were threatened by these workers when they called for a surrender. Then there was the heroic Ghetto Uprising of April-May 1943, when the beleaguered inhabitants of the Jewish Ghetto rose, with left-wingers in the lead, in a ferocious battle against their Nazi tormentors. The uprising of 1944 had a decidedly radical essence, which, as we shall see, has been largely hidden from history.

The Nazis’ revenge on the Warsaw Uprising was brutal; nearly 200 000 of the city’s inhabitants were killed, and the 800 000 survivors were either deported into Germany or dispersed around Poland. Warsaw was levelled street by street to ensure that nothing but ruins remained of the rebellious city. The gamble initiated by the leaders of the uprising failed through a combination of military circumstances and Stalin’s own actions. The crushing of the uprising put the Stalinists in a commanding position in Poland, as the opportunity of building an alternative to them – of either a right-wing or left-wing variety – was to a large degree extinguished.

Did Stalin Betray the Uprising?

Zaremba makes the claim that Stalin deliberately allowed the Warsaw Uprising to be smashed by the Nazis. How valid is this?

Stalin demonstrated his strong disapproval of the Warsaw Uprising right from the start, and his displeasure intensified as the days passed, as his correspondence with Churchill shows. On 4 August 1944 Churchill wired Stalin to say that in accordance with a request from the Polish resistance, he was arranging a drop of supplies to aid ‘a Polish revolt against the Germans’ in Warsaw. Stalin replied next day, saying that the Poles’ information was ‘greatly exaggerated and unreliable’, and doubted whether the Poles could seize Warsaw against the German forces. Churchill asked Stalin on 12 August to help the Poles. Stalin replied four days later, saying that the uprising was ‘a reckless and fearful gamble’, and that the Soviet headquarters was dissociating itself from it. On 20 August Churchill again implored Stalin to help the uprising, saying: ‘We are thinking of world opinion if anti-Nazis in Warsaw are in effect abandoned.’ Stalin replied two days later, saying: ‘Sooner or later the truth about the handful of power-seeking criminals who launched the Warsaw adventure will out.’ [1]

There were several reasons behind Stalin’s antipathy towards the uprising. Firstly, the adoption in the mid-1920s by the rising Soviet bureaucracy of the dogma of ‘Socialism in One Country’ necessarily led to the revival of Great Russian chauvinism, of which anti-Polish sentiments have always been a prominent aspect. Molotov showed this contempt for the country that he helped to carve up, when he declared in October 1939 that with ‘one swift blow to Poland, first by the German Army and then by the Red Army... nothing was left of this ugly offspring of the Versailles Treaty’. [2] Any moves towards independence on the part of the Poles had always been vigorously opposed by the Tsarist regime, and Stalin’s Great Russian chauvinist bureaucracy would be highly unlikely to adopt a more conciliatory approach.

The legacy of Great Russian chauvinism towards Poland was compounded by the experience of the Soviet takeover of the eastern regions of the country in 1939. Here, the bureaucratic expropriation of the Polish capitalist class was accompanied by a thoroughgoing wave of repression, with around 1.5 million people being shifted out to the Arctic and Siberian wastes in 1940 and 1941, of whom nearly half were never to return. Whilst most accounts state that, as in the German-held sector, ‘educated society’ was heavily hit, the Polish left suffered badly as well, as Andrzej Rudzieński later said:

The GPU, which had been securely established in Poland long before this, jailed and deported above all the Communist and Socialist workers and intellectuals and their sympathisers. Only those elements the GPU trusted remained free in the annexed territories, to consolidate the occupation and serve as deputies to the Soviets in the new territories. The PPS, the Jewish Bund and ex-Communists were persecuted savagely. [3]

Although the horrific experience of the Nazi occupation was to moderate anti-Russian feelings in Poland to a considerable extent, suspicions about Stalin’s intentions for the country were to remain.

Secondly, the strategic interests of the Soviet Union were of considerable importance in respect of Stalin’s attitude towards Poland, and as such brought him into direct conflict with the London government. After firstly attempting in alliance with Nazi Germany to eradicate it from the map of Europe, Stalin subsequently recognised that some kind of Polish state would be an ideal buffer zone between it and Western Europe, and, as he explained to Churchill and Roosevelt in the spring of 1945, the territory of Poland had been used by enemies to invade Russia several times before, and it was therefore ‘essential for a future Polish government to seek in practice friendly relations between Poland and the USSR’: ‘We insist, and shall continue to insist, that only people who have demonstrated by deeds their friendly attitude to the Soviet Union, who are willing honestly and sincerely to cooperate with the Soviet state, should be consulted on the formation of a future Polish government.’ [4] The parties that comprised the London government, including the PPS, were adamant about retaining the eastern frontier of Poland that had been established through the Treaty of Riga in 1921. The Soviet government would not entertain any postwar Polish state encompassing lands east of the Curzon Line, over 100 miles to the west of Poland’s prewar frontiers. There could be no compromise here. Relations between the Polish Government-in-Exile and the Soviet regime were poor from the start, and became progressively worse as time wore on. They reached breaking point with the furore following the Nazis’ revealing of the mass graves of Polish officers at Katyń in April 1943, when the London government refused to accept the Soviet bureaucracy’s denial of any responsibility for the massacre.

Thirdly, we must also take into consideration the hidden agenda of the Allies during the Second World War. What the Western ruling classes and the Soviet bureaucracy feared more than anything was a repeat of the working-class militancy that had erupted at the end of the First World War. That war had not only led to social upheavals that shook many countries in the metropolitan heartlands and their colonial empires, and forced the collapse of three dynasties, but had led to the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a revolutionary regime in Russia. The Second World War had been far more of a total war in every sense of the word. Huge unofficial military forces had arisen in many of the Nazi-occupied territories, usually with radical programmes. A repeat performance of 1917 could not be permitted in the aftermath of this war, and the Soviet bureaucracy and the official Communist movement were to play a central role in ensuring that the great wave of radicalism that had emerged during the war was neutralised and rendered harmless.

In Italy, the fall of Mussolini and the defection of much of the Italian bourgeoisie to the Allies following the landings in 1943 was accompanied by a huge upsurge in working-class activity, and the collapse of the Nazi puppet Salò Republic in 1945 saw large areas of northern Italy come under the control of working-class militias. The Italian Communist Party gave its support to the pro-Allied government under the turncoat General Badoglio, actively helped the Allied authorities to disarm the militias, and did nothing when they installed officials from the Fascist regime in government posts. The French Communist Party was the strongest force within the French Resistance, nevertheless, it ensured that the movement was subordinated both militarily and politically to General de Gaulle and other bourgeois leaders, even though after the Allied landings in 1944, large areas of France, including Paris, were under the control of the resistance militias. The Stalinists accepted de Gaulle’s instructions to dissolve all militias.

In both France and Italy, the Stalinists used their positions in the labour movement and in government to promote national unity, class collaboration and increased production, and for the next couple of years helped to subordinate the working class to the reviving capitalist class. Stalinists joined governments in several other countries, including Austria, Finland, Belgium, Denmark and Norway, and played an important role in the labour movements of many other countries, including Britain and the USA. In office or not, the official Communist movement worked hard to dampen down class conflict. Those who did take up arms, as in Greece, found themselves unceremoniously dumped by the Soviet regime. Stalin did all he could to ensure that the working class would be held in check as the war came to a close.

So did Stalin deliberately allow the Warsaw Uprising to be smashed by the Nazis? This was a claim which was made at the time, and continues to be made, but which was also denied at the time, [5] and continued to be denied into the postwar period. [6]

The paper of the Socialist Workers Party, the main Trotskyist group in the USA, the Militant, considered that Stalin had deliberately held back the Soviet forces and permitted the Nazis to crush the uprising, and it condemned the Soviet bureaucracy in no uncertain terms:

But instead of launching more energetically the military onslaught and redoubling their efforts, the Red Army attack was brought to a sudden standstill, by order of Stalin’s generals. Just as Badoglio had turned the Italian proletariat of the North over to the Nazi invaders a year ago, so Stalin determined to permit the Nazis to crush the uprising of the Warsaw proletariat in blood. [7]

Other commentators were less categorical, but were nonetheless suspicious of Stalin’s motives. Tribune, the mouthpiece of the left wing of the British Labour Party, hinted at something being afoot, but never really came off the fence. When the news of the débâcle came through, it commented that the Soviet advance was halted for reasons that were, ‘no doubt, commendable to the Russian Supreme Command’. After saying that the Allied advance in Italy had been weakened by the refusal to help arm the partisan movement in the north and by the bombing of Milan and Turin after the workers ‘had driven the Fascists from power’, it said that the responsibility for not helping the Warsaw Uprising lay with ‘the civilian heads of the Allied governments’:

The reasons are mainly political and they are so disreputable that they are being kept hidden from public opinion. When the war is over and the story can be told in its fullness, many good people who are now complacent will be shocked. [8]

These tantalising sentences beg the question of what Tribune thought the reasons were.

Tribune answered the Stalinists’ reasoning that the insurrection was premature by appealing to Marx. He had thought that the Paris Commune was premature, but, having broken out, ‘it was deserving of the fullest help’. The same went for Warsaw and maybe ‘a dozen other cities tomorrow’. As for Moscow’s calls for an uprising: ‘Those who issue these appeals should be fully conscious of this responsibility.’ [9] However, Tribune considered that any idea that the Soviet forces deliberately held back from helping the insurrection was ‘unjustified’. [10]

It is incorrect to assume that the Soviet forces intentionally refrained from capturing Warsaw at the start of August. The advance of the Red Army towards Warsaw was checked by a strong German counter-attack as it approached the city from the east, and it was prevented from crossing the River Vistula. However, the Soviet forces quickly recovered, and on 8 August the commanders in the field sent plans for an assault upon Warsaw on 25 August to the Soviet Supreme Command for approval. Permission, however, was not forthcoming. Stalin refused to permit Western Allied aeroplanes to land in Soviet-held territory, thus making the provisioning of the insurgents extremely costly. Soviet military activity close to Warsaw did not recommence until 10 September, and prior to that an informal truce seems to have existed between Soviet and German troops in the vicinity of Warsaw. [11] The landings on the left bank of the Vistula in mid-September by Polish units of the Red Army were not given support, and were a failure. Notwithstanding the very real military difficulties facing the Red Army in an assault upon Warsaw, overall the behaviour of the Soviet forces cannot be explained by any other factor than Stalin’s wish to see the uprising fail. [12]

Despite the fact that the military leadership of the Warsaw Uprising was reactionary, and despite the fact that its political leadership was, as we shall see, confused and inconsistent, the uprising represented a healthy proletarian assault upon the Nazi dictatorship, and was a constituent part of the great wave of radicalism that swept around the globe as the Second World War drew to a close. Stalin demonstrated the hatred of a ruling élite against any manifestation of working-class activity. The classic poacher turned gamekeeper, he knew that the Paris Commune had started as a defensive fight of a city against a foreign invader, and had turned into a workers’ revolution. Repeating what he did in Spain just a few years previously, Stalin ensured that the Warsaw Uprising, a proletarian revolt against Fascism that was armed with a radical programme, was smashed.

Ambiguities and Inconsistencies

The stance of the PPS during the Second World War was not without inconsistencies and ambiguities, and these emerge in Zaremba’s pamphlet. Zaremba often refers to the ‘legal’ Polish government in London, even though its legality was dubious. Nobody elected it, and it emerged in the aftermath of the collapse of the Sanacja regime under the blows of September 1939, rather like the Russian Provisional Government’s emerging from the wreck of the Tsar’s regime in February 1917.

Zaremba also refers to the eastern regions of Poland as if they were a legitimate part of the country. These regions were in fact seized from neighbouring countries during the first few years of the existence of the Polish republic. A short war with Lithuania in 1920 resulted in its losing its capital city, Vilna, and sizeable chunks of Ukraine and Byelorussia, including the key city of Lwów, were taken after the war with the Soviet Union in 1920, and handed to Poland under the Treaty of Riga in 1921. Whilst there were large numbers of Poles in these regions, particularly in these two cities, they did not constitute a majority of the population. If one is to object to Stalin’s Great Russian regime taking these regions, then it is equally legitimate to object to Polish designs on them as well.

The PPS steadfastly refused to break from the National Democrats, even though only shortly before the war broke out, PPS leader Mieczysław Niedziałkowski saw them as posing the biggest Fascist threat in Poland, that they were anti-Semitic, especially their youth sections, and that they looked upon the increasingly radical programmes of the resistance movement with alarm. In early 1944 the Centralisation, a radical bloc including the Workers Party of Polish Socialists (a left split from the PPS), Syndicalists and the Bund, called on the PPS to break from the National Democrats and form a united left, but it refused.

Furthermore, Zaremba conflates the terms ‘Bolshevism’, ‘Communism’ and ‘Stalinism’ in a cavalier fashion, as if the Soviet regime during the Second World War adhered to the same principles, and represented the same interests, as it did in 1917.

The PPS played a major role in the formation of the Civic Anti-Communist Committee, which was formally established in February 1944 by 24 political parties and groups, with the PPS leader Franciszek Białas at its head, and existed purely to counter the Stalinists from a right-wing direction, as the name indicates. And yet at much the same time, the Polish Premier, Peasant Party leader Stanisław Mikołajczyk, met with Stalin, and was later to recall that ‘Stalin... noted that the Polish Communists were, in the main, less radical than other political parties – and he named elements of the Peasant Party and the Socialist Party’. [13]

Zaremba also calls for an independent Polish republic rather than for an independent Socialist republic of Poland, although, as we shall see, the programme which he proposes is Socialist in essence. Although this may be because of a reluctance to alienate the Western Allies and the non-Socialist elements in the Polish resistance (although they would not have been happy with this radical programme), the call for an independent Socialist republic would have been an ideal way to oppose the Stalinists from the left, and would have helped to discredit the Stalinist slanders that the Polish resistance was a tool of reaction.

Despite the ambiguous and reactionary stances adopted by the PPS, there are clear signs in this pamphlet of Zaremba developing a political strategy that can only be described as revolutionary. He draws a remarkable conclusion in respect of the role of the working class in a backward country that is undergoing a severe crisis, and in which the bourgeoisie is unwilling or unable to carry out its normal social functions:

As soon as this conflict [the struggle for freedom and social justice] grows, one typical fact becomes apparent: that social class that proclaims the international brotherhood of nations and the solidarity of all workers, and beyond the barriers of races or nations, in times of crisis takes its position in the front rank of those who fight for national freedom. Furthermore, when the ruling classes, powerless or complicit in the event of defeat, make abject concessions to the invader, the proletariat continues to fight in an intransigent manner. Does not this fact point to a new era, and a new relationship of forces – a system in which the working class will take control of the material and moral interests of the entire country and play the leading role in national life? By taking over this role the working class forges an unbreakable unity between the cause of freedom and that of the economic and social transformation of the community. And it is at times of crisis that this feature of the struggle emerges in its sharpest form. [14]

The Polish bourgeoisie was more or less smashed during the war. The Nazis’ programme of turning the Poles into a subject nation of coolies meant the eradication of much of Polish ‘educated society’, and the bureaucratic expropriation of the Polish bourgeoisie in the Soviet sector largely completed the process. Under these sort of circumstances, any attempt to organise public administration and the production and distribution of industrial and agricultural products necessarily falls upon the one remaining class that is coherent and centralised – the proletariat. The tasks of the bourgeoisie become the responsibility of the working class, and in doing so this class will not limit itself merely to those tasks, and will go much further. Without realising it, Zaremba, a Social Democrat, had stumbled upon the essence of Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution.

This radicalism was also shown in the programme that was agreed by the Council for National Unity on 15 August 1944, which called for:

1: A constitution ensuring that governments conform to the will of the people.

2: A democratic electoral law faithfully reflecting public opinion at the time of the general and municipal elections.

3: An agrarian reform sharing out all agricultural land in excess of 50 hectares along with German landed property, as determined by prior decree; the excess of population being directed into industry and manufacture.

4: The socialisation of key industries.

5: The participation of the workers in the management of enterprises and workers’ control of industrial production.

6: All citizens have the right to work and to a decent standard of living.

7: A proper distribution of social revenue.

8: All citizens have the right to education and culture. [15]

This went a lot further than the usual programme of Social Democracy, [16] and, for that matter, was considerably more radical than anything promoted at that time by the official Communist movement, whose programme for Poland not only rejected the nationalisation of industry, but explicitly called for free enterprise.

Missing From History

The political outlook and social composition of those involved in the Warsaw Uprising was no secret at the time. Lucjan Blit, a leading member of the PPS, wrote to Tribune:

I do not know who gave the order to rise. But I do know who forms the overwhelming majority of those fighting for the freedom of my city. It is the Socialist workers from Wola, Powiśle and Żoliborz. It is my comrades from the Smocza Street, who have survived the massacre of the Ghetto. [17]

The US Socialist Workers Party recognised both the class composition of the Warsaw fighters and their aims:

Under the leadership of the great Warsaw proletariat, the Polish masses have fought for five years with unexcelled heroism against Nazi tyranny. They have not taken up arms to exchange one set of oppressors for another. They have not fought for the predatory interests of British imperialism and its Polish henchmen of the London ‘government-in-exile’. Nor have they battled in order to submit to the reactionary rule of Stalin’s bureaucracy and his Polish puppets. They have shown in the course of their tenacious resistance to Hitlerism that they mean to be masters of their own destiny. [18]

Similarly, the Trotskyists recognised that although resistance movements often mobilised under nationalist slogans, the political content of these movements was considerably more radical:

... the widespread Polish resistance movement has adopted a chauvinistic character on its periphery only. Illegal publications that have arrived abroad prove that the illegal movement in Poland in its decisive core is democratically and socialistically-minded. The explanation for this is to be found in the fact that worker cadres form the backbone of the Polish national movement, worker cadres with a rich past of struggles and an old Marxist tradition. [19]

And yet most postwar historians are extremely coy about describing the politics of the insurgents of the Warsaw Uprising. [20] The Union of Polish Patriots and the Polish Committee of National Liberation are always presented as being ‘Communist'; fair enough, they were Stalinist organisations, but the radical political complexion of the Warsaw insurgents is all too often ignored. [21] Others quote the radical programmes, but fail to note the significance of their demands, as if a programme calling for the socialisation of industry under workers’ control is an everyday occurrence. [22]

Some historians either present a distorted view of the insurgents’ politics, or qualify their radical essence out of existence. Stefan Korboński, a Peasant Party leader who headed the civilian resistance, quotes the programme of 15 August 1944, then describes it as part of a ‘trend... to establish in Poland a democratic form of government’. [23] JK Zawodny, another participant in the uprising, says that the Council of National Unity ‘on several occasions called for a reconstruction of Poland based on respect for law and social justice’. [24]

Another school of thought completely ignores the radical programmes that the resistance movement promoted, and sees the uprising as a pure and simple anti-Communist revolt. Hans Roos says that ‘the Soviet government’s passivity, indeed even obstructiveness... made it seem probable that the Russians were more concerned with the destruction of the Polish élite than with strategic considerations’, and that the uprising was ‘the turning point in the struggle between the Communist or Communist-supporters and the anti-Communist forces among the Poles’. [25] Here, the insurgents are seen as representing the basis of a would-be anti-Communist ruling élite. Andrzej Korboński agrees, and refers to ‘the young underground fighters who would likely have provided the backbone of anti-Communist resistance’. [26] Oscar Halecki describes the insurgents as ‘the most devoted and energetic section of the anti-Communist underground movement’. [27] More surprising is Isaac Deutscher, who, despite his considerable political acumen, referred to the Warsaw insurgents as being ‘led by anti-Communists’. [28]

The term ‘anti-Communist’ has a specific definition. It does not merely mean being opposed to the Soviet bureaucracy and its agencies in the official Communist movement. It means being opposed to far-reaching social change, to the ideas and commitments that have fired generations of Socialists. There were anti-Communists in the real sense of the word in Warsaw, and the PPS failed to break politically from them. But that should not detract from the genuinely radical aspirations of those who fought the Nazis, not to return to the backwardness, repression, poverty and bigotry of prewar Poland, but for a genuinely independent Socialist Poland.

A few glimpses of the political trends within the Polish underground can be found in subsequent literature, and the political nature and aspirations of the Warsaw insurgents are occasionally visible. Feliks Gross, a member of the PPS in the 1940s, made a direct equation between the revolution of 1905 in Russia and Poland and the Warsaw Uprising, with both representing the ‘transformation of the underground movement into open revolution with mass participation’. [29] George Bruce says that ‘in Warsaw, many members of the Polish Socialist Party had moved during the occupation far to the left’, and that they were ‘suspicious of both the London Government and the Home Army leadership’. [30]

Even rarer are fuller treatments of the affair. Tony Cliff devoted a chapter to the Warsaw Uprising in his Stalin’s Satellites in Europe, in which he understood that despite the ‘negative, reactionary elements in its leadership’, it ‘had basically a national-liberatory and social revolutionary character’. [31] Julian Hochfeld, a Polish Socialist, contributed a particularly good essay. Published in 1945, ‘The Social Aspects of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising’ places the Warsaw Uprising, along with the workers’ defence of Warsaw in 1939 and the Ghetto Uprising in 1943, in the tradition of democratic revolts and insurrections in Poland. Hochfeld noted how the working class had taken over the leading role in the national struggle from the bourgeoisie, and how the resistance movement in the Second World War was both led by the working class and adhered to a very radical programme. [32]

Generally speaking, however, the portrayal of the Warsaw Uprising as an essentially radical proletarian action has been all but lost. It is for this reason that we are presenting to an English-reading audience Zygmunt Zaremba’s The Warsaw Commune. [33]

Paul Flewers
July 1997

Afterword to the Second Edition

We were gratified by the interest shown in the first edition of The Warsaw Commune. Not only did it sell out within a couple of months, we were also contacted by members of Zygmunt Zaremba’s family, including his daughter, Dr Olena Zaremba-Blaton, who were very pleased that this pamphlet was at last available to an English-language readership.

In order to clarify points made by Professor Feliks Gross of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America in a letter of 9 September 1997 to the Editor, and in a review by Gerry Downing in the Trotskyist, no 2, Winter 1998-99, we had no intention of associating Zaremba with Trotskyism. What we intended to show was that under the conditions existing in Poland in 1944, where the capitalist class had been shattered, Zaremba recognised that the fate of the nation fell to the working class, and that in the course of taking over it would implement Socialist measures. Whilst Zaremba was a life-long Social Democrat, we think that we are right in saying that this is a position which is highly reminiscent of Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution.

Paul Flewers
June 1999


1. Correspondence Between the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR and the Presidents of the USA and the Prime Ministers of Great Britain During the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 (London, 1983), pp 248-55. The official Communist movement followed the same line of reasoning. At first, the paper of the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Daily Worker, talked of the ‘mystery of the Warsaw rising’, and considered that the London government was trying to create ‘bad blood’ between Poles and Russians (Daily Worker, 10 August 1944). The insurrection then became ‘a tragic political gamble on the part of the extreme Polish reactionaries’, and that the ‘honest men and women’ of Warsaw had been fooled into thinking that ‘a genuine rising’ was possible (Daily Worker, 11 August 1944). Soon the paper was categorical: ‘It is now incontrovertible that a cynical trick has been played upon the sympathies of the United Nations, with the lives of the people of Warsaw for counters.’ (Daily Worker, 14 August 1944) This issue also happily reported that the phrase ‘a tragic political gamble on the part of the extreme Polish reactionaries’ had been quoted in Pravda, an unusual reversal of the customary parroting of ‘his master’s voice’ in the Daily Worker!

2. V Molotov, Soviet Peace Policy (London, 1941), p 27.

3. New International, February 1947.

4. Correspondence..., pp 337, 341.

5. The denials were not confined to Stalinist publications. The New Statesman said of the idea that the Red Army had deliberately halted: ‘What an idiotic lie. And how foul when one thinks that nowhere in this year’s campaign has Russian blood flown more freely than outside Warsaw in the gigantic struggle against 12 or 14 of Hitler’s last remaining Panzer divisions.’ (New Statesman, 2 September 1944)

6. See WP and Zelda Coates, Six Centuries of Russo-Polish Relations (London, 1948), pp 175ff). However, their omission of Stalin’s more violent criticisms of the insurgents may betray a certain sense of unease, if not guilt.

7. Militant, 19 August 1944. However, this editorial was to cause some ructions within the SWP. The party’s leader, James Cannon, who at that point was in jail on account of the SWP’s anti-war stand, criticised it, saying: ‘We are profoundly disturbed by the editorial on Warsaw. I earnestly hope it is an incidental error, not a new program.’ (JP Cannon, Letters From Prison (New York, 1973), p 15) One of his colleagues took up the cudgels, saying that there was ‘little information, none of it reliable, and many uncertainties’ about the uprising. The editorial did not take into account whether the Red Army ‘was able at the moment to launch an all-out attack on Warsaw’. The analogy with Badoglio was ‘badly limping’. As to whether the Soviet forces were deliberately held back, he said: ‘... we have no right to put in writing in our press, and in an editorial to boot, such sweeping assertions for which we have no proof and to draw conclusions based on such flimsy information.’ (Cited in New International, March 1945) If the Militant was too hasty in asserting that the Red Army was held back from the start on Stalin’s orders, then Cannon and his colleague were too eager to offer an alibi for Stalin. Anyway, the Militant was not expressing anything out of the ordinary. Only a while before, the SWP – presumably with Cannon’s approval – had declared: ‘Past experience, particularly in Spain, leaves no doubt that the Stalinists, confronted with mass uprisings on the continent of Europe, would be ready to join hands with the imperialists and undertake to do their hangman’s work.’ (SWP Plenum Resolution, 2 November 1943, Internal Bulletin, Volume 6, no 3, September 1944) And shortly afterwards, the party’s journal insisted that the Kremlin was ‘the most valuable agency of imperialism in Europe’ at the time, and that Stalinism posed ‘the gravest danger within the working-class movement to the revolution’ (Fourth International, September 1944).

8. Tribune, 11 August 1944.

9. Tribune, 18 August 1944. Zaremba discusses this below, Chapter Five.

10. Tribune, 8 September 1944.

11. Polish insurgents claim to have seen German and Soviet troops sunbathing within 300 yards of each other. The logbook of the German Ninth Army stated: ‘In order to deflect the charges of passivity and intentional withdrawal of assistance to Warsaw, the Kremlin adopted a special tactic of claiming that a strong German assault east of Warsaw forced the Soviets to limit their operations to defensive... For days after the German operations, aimed at destroying the Soviet Third Armoured Corps, had ended in this region, the Moscow broadcasting station continued to report strong German attacks east of Praga, and dressed up this news with detailed descriptions of battles that were completely fictitious.’ (Cited in S Korboński, The Polish Underground State: A Guide to the Underground, 1939-1945 (Boulder, 1978), p 195)

12. According to Richard Lukas, the military balance was in the Red Army’s favour. The German forces in and around Warsaw totalled five grenadier and infantry divisions and four panzer divisions, with a total strength of 30 355 men and 341 tanks. The Soviet forces totalled 30 infantry divisions, three or four tank corps, one tank brigade and two artillery divisions, with a total strength of 135 000 men and 670 tanks. In Warsaw and its immediate environs there were 66 000 Soviet troops versus 10 078 German troops, and the Soviet forces had five times as much artillery and 100 more tanks than the Germans. Furthermore, the Soviet Air Force enjoyed air superiority (RC Lukas, ‘Russia, the Warsaw Uprising and the Cold War’, Polish Review, Volume 20, no 4, 1975, p 20).

13. S Mikołajczyk, The Pattern of Soviet Domination (London, 1948), p 69.

14. See Author’s Preface.

15. See Chapter Twelve below. This programme was published in a slightly incomplete form in London in Polish Labour Fights (undated, but late August 1944 by internal evidence).

16. It must be remembered that the PPS existed under conditions of clandestinity not only during the Nazi occupation of Poland, but also under the Sanacja regime in the 1930s. This, plus the fact that the Warsaw proletariat played the leading role in the resistance and the uprising and was thus open to radical ideas, ensured that the PPS was likely to adopt a very left-wing programme.

17. Tribune, 1 September 1944. Around 1000 Jews, who were either survivors from the Ghetto Uprising or had been living in hiding, fought in the uprising. Other nationalities represented amongst the insurgents were Italians, Hungarians, Slovaks and Russian and other Soviet citizens. Some were living in Warsaw, whilst others had escaped from German prisoner-of-war camps, or had deserted from the German forces.

18. Militant, 5 August 1944.

19. A Group of European Comrades, ‘On the Situation in Europe’, SWP (US), Internal Bulletin, Volume 6, no 10, November 1944. It should be noted that Tribune had a better understanding of the resistance movements than the Stalinists. The Daily Worker invariably called the members of the European movements ‘patriots’, whereas Tribune was far more discriminating in its descriptions, and would emphasise that many resistance fighters were workers and left-wingers.

20. And Stalinists are extremely coy about mentioning it at all. Janusz Przymanowski’s Polish Road to Victory (Warsaw, 1975) makes just one reference to the Home Army, and none at all to the Warsaw Uprising. Moreover, when referring to the Nazis’ extermination camps, he forgets to say that their victims were overwhelmingly Jewish.

21. For examples of this, see Václav Benes and Norman Pounds, Poland (London, 1970); Norman Davies, God’s Playground: A History of Poland, Volume 2 (Oxford, 1981); Norman Davies, Heart of Europe: A Short History of Poland (Oxford, 1987); Marian Dziewanowski, Poland in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1977); Jan Karski, The Great Powers and Poland, 1919-1945 (Lanham, 1985); Jan Karski, ‘The Warsaw Uprising’, in WJ Stankiewicz (ed), The Tradition of Polish Ideals (London, 1981); Bronisław Kuśnierz, Stalin and the Poles (London, 1949); Richard Lukas, The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation, 1939-1944 (Lexington, 1986); John Coutouvidis and Jaime Reynolds, Poland 1939-1947 (Leicester, 1986), which, ironically, is one of the ‘Politics of Liberation’ series.

22. See Krystyna Kersten, The Establishment of Communist Rule in Poland, 1943-1948 (Berkeley, 1991), pp 50-51; Józef Garliński’s Poland in the Second World War (Basingstoke, 1985), p 245. Kersten cites the manifesto What the Polish Nation is Fighting For of 15 March 1944, which is not as radical as the one issued in August 1944, and Garliński cites the Testament of Fighting Poland of 1 July 1945, which reiterates the central demands of the programme of August 1944.

23. S Korboński, The Polish Underground State, p 195.

24. JK Zawodny, Nothing But Honour: The Story of the Warsaw Uprising, 1944 (London, 1978), p 153.

25. H Roos, A History of Modern Poland (London, 1966), pp 202-03.

26. A Korboński, ‘The Warsaw Uprising Revisited’, Survey, 76, Summer 1970, p 97.

27. O Halecki, Poland (New York, 1957), p 110. His later work, A History of Poland (London, 1978), does not comment on the politics of the insurgents.

28. I Deutscher, ‘Warsaw’s Verdict on Rokossovsky’, Ironies of History (London, 1966), p 191.

29. F Gross, ‘Some Sociological Considerations of Underground Movements’, Polish Review, Volume 2, nos 2-3, Spring-Summer 1957, p 50. The German exiles of the Socialist Vanguard Group noted that the AK was ‘largely built up from workers of the labour and Socialist movements’ (Socialist Commentary, February 1945), and that ‘the manifesto of the Polish underground movement of peasants, workers and non-manual workers was an impressive programme of far-reaching social reform’ (Socialist Commentary, July 1945).

30. G Bruce, The Warsaw Uprising (London, 1972), p 72. Both Jan Ciechanowski and Joanna Hanson say that the increasingly militant character of the Council of National Unity’s programmes reflected the growing radicalisation within Poland, and especially in Warsaw; see JM Ciechanowski, The Warsaw Rising of 1944 (Cambridge, 1974); JKM Hanson, The Civilian Population and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 (Cambridge, 1982), p 61.

31. Y Gluckstein, Stalin’s Satellites in Europe (London, 1952), p 150. This book was published under Cliff’s family name.

32. J Hochfeld, ‘The Social Aspects of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising’, Journal of Central Europe Affairs, Volume 5, no 1, April 1945, pp 36-44. Hochfeld (1911-1966) had been a member of the PPS, and was in a faction which joined the PPR. He was subsequently a professor at the University of Warsaw. Feliks Gross of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America says he was a ‘gifted theoretician of humanistic orientation’ (letter to the Editor, 3 July 1997).

33. Thanks to Ted Crawford and Al Richardson for ideas and advice.