The Polish nationalism of today is a direct continuation and consequence of the nationalism which crushed the workers’ movement in years 1918-23.
Last year we wrote an article analysing the annual Independence March in Poland.1 This year marks the centenary of Polish independence. The nationalist frenzy is already in full swing, hundreds of events big and small are expected to take place throughout the country, including festivals, lectures, exhibitions and competitions. Accompanying this, a minor commodities boom – flags, t-shirts and books, commemorative coins and medals, peddled left and right. Meanwhile, the far right is preparing another Independence March (despite a ban by the Mayor of Warsaw and the President announcing a surrogate state-approved march).
But in 1918 the future of Poland, and the whole of Europe, was far from certain – the spectre of social revolution hung heavy in the air. In the aftermath of revolutions in the Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian empires, states collapsed only to be reborn in new national colours. From 1917 the international working class was increasingly conscious of the need to find their own answer to the imperialist mayhem. Inspired by the events in Russia, workers’ councils spread throughout Europe, powerful strikes and demonstrations gave voice to those ignored by history. Workers’ councils were likewise established in Polish towns and villages.2 The more class conscious of these began to self-organise everyday life and challenge the power of the reconstructed Polish state. Divisions between socialists of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) and the communists of the Communist Workers’ Party of Poland (KPRP) reached their zenith, as the former steered the councils to compromise with the nascent Polish state, while the latter, in the tradition of Ludwik Waryński and Rosa Luxemburg, anticipated a final showdown with the Polish bourgeoisie.
By 1920 the workers' struggle in Poland was smashed by repression and sabotage, with thousands of workers and communists in prison. Year by year the international situation was becoming increasingly bleak. Failed uprisings in Germany, Hungary, Finland and Bulgaria, the rise of fascism in Italy, and the Kronstadt rebellion (which shone light on the increasingly desperate situation within Soviet Russia). By the mid-20s, as the prospect of revolution drifted away, the KPRP itself lost sight of the revolutionary programme, embracing parliamentarianism, the need for an independent Poland – it began to follow blindly every directive from Moscow until 1938 when the party was simply dissolved by Stalin and its militants murdered on a mass scale.
If the existence of the KPRP was short-lived, then so was Polish independence. In September 1939 Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany from the west and the USSR from the east. Another brutal imperialist war followed with millions dead. The occupation of Poland came to an end in 1945 when the state was recreated with its boundaries shifted westwards to suit its new Moscow-based imperialist overlords. It remained under the dominion of the USSR until 1989, when the Eastern Bloc collapsed. Since then Poland has “re-entered” the west, joining NATO in 1999, and the European Union in 2004. Polish independence has turned out to be a utopian dream – it could not and cannot exist without an alliance with one or another imperialist power in exchange for financial and military support. That harsh reality applies equally to all the other new "nation states" that have appeared in the last 100 years. The early KPRP fully grasped the crucial distinction between the struggle for proletarian power and the redivision of the world between local bourgeoisies.
For this centenary we have translated the following agitational leaflet distributed in Warsaw by the KPRP on the first anniversary of Polish independence. It was written at a time when communism meant true internationalism and working class self-organisation – not siding with this or that imperialist power, or falling for parliamentary cretinism. The KPRP, like the other parties of the Communist International, gradually degenerated over the 1920s to become tools of the Russian state. We have previously written about this process3 as well as the fight of the Polish Communist Left to keep the revolutionary programme alive.4 But in 1919 the party was crystal clear on this, there were only two options: an independent Polish state, with the bourgeoisie on top, or the power of the Workers’ Councils, with the working class taking its future into its own hands.
By now it should be obvious that Polish independence did not solve the national question, let alone the social question. Not only that, many of the problems raised by the leaflet remain ever relevant. Profiteering, corruption, attacks on workers’ and human rights, evictions, nationalist hatred and chauvinism, are all ripe in the Poland of today. History has shown those socialists who promised national liberation would deliver socialism to be wrong.5 The Polish nationalism of today is a direct continuation and consequence of the nationalism which crushed the workers’ movement in years 1918-23.
One Year of Bourgeois Dictatorship
A year has passed since the day when, upon the ruins of the Central Powers razed by the Revolution, an Independent Polish Republic was born. It is time to look back on the past year, it is time to consider what this year of state independence has given to the working class.
One year ago the bloody thrones of Wilhelm and Charles turned to dust.6 The great working masses in Germany and Austria began their assault – with them, the proletariat of Poland. The threat of annihilation hung over the capitalist world. The Polish bourgeoisie, terrified, put power into the hands of social-patriots – the former frak Piłsudski stands at the head of the state, frak Moraczewski stands at the head of the “People’s” Government.7
What illusion, what hope, lived within the wide unconscious Polish masses. Independence achieved and “socialists” at the head of the state – it seemed as if finally the ancient chains at the hands and feet of the working class are falling off – there, the Polish working masses have in front of them an open road to Socialism!
But not long did these illusions last. Barely did the working class manage to draw a breath, barely did it make the first steps towards organising itself, barely did it head out into the first skirmish against capital – and already it turned out that the “People’s” Government of “socialists” from the PPS works hand in hand with the bourgeoisie, that with all its might it defends class rule, that it opposes the struggle of the working class for emancipation and instead wants to put it back in the chains of old servitude.
You workers remember the first weeks of “independence”. You remember how the “People’s” Government supported and made it easier for the bourgeoisie to organise itself – how it hindered and made it more difficult for the proletariat to organise itself.
You comrades remember the despicable violations of the gendarmerie in the “liberated people’s Poland”. The raids on workers’ locals, the arrests, the torture of conscious workers, all carried out with impunity. You will remember the bloody massacre of the workers’ demonstration on 29 December.8 You will remember the treacherous assassination of emissaries from the Red Cross of the Russian Socialist Republic, and then dozens of other unpunished murders in the notorious “Łapy".9
But all these crimes, carried out with the permission and cooperation of the “People’s” Government, against the working class of Poland, against the revolutionary cause of Poland – all these violations were only to be the preface to the increasingly shameless economy of the bourgeoisie in the country.
The “People’s” Government, the government of frak traitors, which came down on the fighting working class with such a heavy hand, which did not step back after the suspension of martial law in Warsaw, which effectively brought back those arduous articles of the Tsarist penal code, showed incredible meekness and gentleness towards the bourgeoisie. It did not dare cut short the arbitrary will of the gendarmerie, it did not dare stand against the rampant profiteering, it did not dare encroach on the privileges of the propertied classes. It responded to the monetary boycott, the bourgeoisie’s sabotage, with pathetic whining and crying, it responded to the bourgeois takeover with shameful cowardly capitulation, voluntarily handing power into the hands of the bourgeoisie.
And from this point onwards begins the second stage of the “independence” of the Polish state. There begins the period of unmasked, unrestrained bourgeois counter-revolution. The bourgeoisie takes power – the frak traitors are reduced to the role of obedient lackeys and allies of reaction.
Workers, the things you were promised when the Tsarist government and the occupation was to be finally replaced with a patriotic “national” government of Poland. The things you were promised after winning “independence” - when they wanted to mislead you with the fraudulent delusion of parliamentary elections!
You were promised liberty – freedom to organise, freedom of press, freedom to strike. Was there ever a time when proletarian organisations – from the smallest factory committees to the Councils of Worker’s Delegates – were being driven as much into the underground? Were the prisons ever so full of militants of the workers’ cause? Was there ever a time when the truly revolutionary press was so gagged? Was there ever a time when the bourgeoisie and its government organised itself so fiercely against every strike, every workers’ action? It is sufficient to mention the miner’s strikes in the Dąbrowa Basin, the railway strike in Warsaw, the strike of workers in military factories, the walk outs of workers in public works, and finally the recently violently suppressed strike of agricultural workers! Did the Tsarist butchers or Wilhelm’s bandits ever terrorise the working class so flagrantly, as our native gendarmerie and police drones do today! Was it ever so easy, as today, to spill workers’ blood?
You were promised peace – peaceful coexistence with other nations. And here for a year now we have the most despicable of wars – war with the Russian Proletarian Republic. The flower of the working population of Polish towns and villages has to go to the front, under the command of hooligan officers and generals – to die there for the cause of landowners and capitalists, to kill its worker and peasant brothers of Russia, Belarus, Lithuania and Ukraine, who want nothing more than to emancipate themselves from the yoke of exploitation, to live in a brotherly alliance with the emancipated masses of all other countries! The Polish peasant and worker, shackled into the chains of soldiers’ discipline, is condemned to Cain’s lot, must swell from hunger and freeze in trenches, when the officers shirk at the back, and lead an indulgent lifestyle in the capital! And not only does there seem to be no end to this criminal war – despite multiple peace proposals from workers’ Russia – but the Polish bourgeoisie is constantly trying to instigate new wars. Because only through this national hatred, only through chauvinist incitement, can the propertied classes still live – this hatred between nations is the most effective poison which stupefies the masses and perpetuates the domination of capitalist exploiters.
You were promised fair and just courts – was the Tsarist or occupiers’ bureaucracy ever so shamelessly venal as the functionaries of the Polish state today? Was there ever so much bribery, corruption and thievery as within the offices of the state today?
You were promised the suppression of speculation – even at the worst period of occupation, was profiteering so audacious and unpunished as now? Were prices ever so inflated, and their inflation so tolerated and supported, as today under the government of our native bourgeoisie?
You were promised the regulation of provisions – was the provision crisis ever so prevalent under the occupation? The most necessary products are lacking completely – bread and meat, coal and clothing – whole cities are threatened with food shortage. And the government, which yesterday introduced confiscation of grain from landowners, today backs away and respects free trade, because the parliament of landowners and rich peasants has declared that it will not hand over grain for confiscation, because they need it as payslips! So let the broad working masses die of hunger, let whole cities perish – because the private property of profiteers, thieves and speculators is holy and untouchable!
You were promised the reopening of industry and jobs for the broad masses of the unemployed – was the disaster of unemployment ever more monstrous than now? Not only is there no question of reactivating the factories, but the government allows the factory owners to shut down the remaining ones, to force the workers into submission through hunger. Bah, the government itself serves as an example of this criminal activity – liquidating public works, condemning hundreds of thousands of workers to starvation. And instead of providing jobs, it introduces laws to send workers to France for hard labour, just like the occupiers’ government sent workers under the whip of German capital in the past!
After one year of independence for bourgeois Poland – after one year of bourgeois government the enslavement and misery of the working class is unprecedented – of never known before levels. At the same time, the splendour in which the band of landowners and bourgeois profiteers lives has reached unprecedented, revolting levels. They dictate the law in Poland today, they are the masters of life and death for the millions of proletarians. They command the government and the parliament. The government can condemn tens of thousands of workers to starvation – it will not take a penny from the earnings of the profiteers! The government can evict the poor proletarian families out onto the streets and requisition the locals of workers’ organisations – the houses of the bourgeoisie and the many places of its entertainment are holy and untouchable. The government can drive the workers’ organisations into the underground – but the capitalist profiteers, thieves and speculators can assemble and organise freely.
The Polish bourgeoisie listens humbly to only one master. In its own interest, it crawls on its belly in front of the united bourgeoisie of the Coalition. In it, the Polish propertied classes look for support against the Polish working class, in it they look for help in the fight against the bourgeoisie of Germany and other nations. The lowly crawl in front of the powerful bandits of the Coalition, the surrender of the country to the factual Franco-English occupation – that is the “independence” of the Polish bourgeoisie!
After the first year of existence of the independent bourgeois state, the Polish worker sees the shackles which “independence” has prepared for them. It could not be otherwise. Because bourgeois “independence” is the brutal dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat.
These traitors to socialism, the leaders of the Revolutionary Faction of the PPS, have served and are serving this foul and filthy bourgeois dictatorship. How many illusions have they sown among the masses – illusions for which today the proletariat has to pay for with the most bloody experience? What they did not promise to the workers after independence? What illusions did they spread about the “democratic” parliament – about the parliament which is, and cannot be anything other than, the headquarters of the bourgeois counter-revolution, blind, fierce and unthinking, incapable of even the slightest creative effort!
And even though the illusions burst relentlessly, for the fraks there is no coming back from the path of betrayal and compromise. In life and death, they have teamed up with the bourgeoisie – they are trying to save the rotten, stale, disintegrating edifice of the capitalist state. From within they paralyse all efforts of the working class, they betray and break up all mass action of the proletariat. The whole activity of the fraks – up to and including the recent agricultural strike – is one uninterrupted streak of betrayals. Together with the bourgeoisie, the fraks have declared fierce battle against the primary slogan of revolutionary battle – the slogan of proletarian dictatorship. Together with the entire bourgeoisie the frak party is condemned to inevitable destruction.
Because the working class cannot walk the way of the frak traitors. Naked reality speaks otherwise. Today, in the hour of the final battles, in the hour of the Social Revolution, there is no place for any intermediate “democratic” forms between the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Either bourgeois dictatorship – which we see today in Poland – in which case the working class must be tied in chains of slavery. Or the proletarian dictatorship – which means the ruthless shackling of the bourgeoisie, the bringing down of the old world of exploitation and destitution of the masses.
The working class cannot hesitate – it has a clear path in front of it. To enter into deadly battle with capital, to throw off the disgusting shackles of slavery, to stand in line with the emancipated masses of the whole world and in brotherly alliance with them create a new world, a socialist world – that is the radiant task of the Polish proletariat, that is its historical destiny!
Down with the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie!
Down with the social-patriotic compromise!
Long live the dictatorship of the proletariat!
Long live the Social Revolution!
Long live Socialism!
Warsaw Committee of the
Communist Workers’ Party of Poland
Warsaw, November 1919
- 5For more on the national question see: leftcom.org
- 6This refers to German Emperor Wilhelm II (1859-1941) and Charles I of Austria (1887-1922).
- 7Frak refers to a member of the Revolutionary Faction of the PPS. In the aftermath of the 1905 revolution the PPS split, with the fraks on one side and the PPS-Left on the other. The fraks prioritised national independence over socialist revolution. The fraks returned to the name PPS in 1909, while the PPS-Left merged with the SDKPiL to form the KPRP in 1918. Both the Chief of State Józef Piłsudski (1867-1935) and the first Prime Minister Jędrzej Moraczewski (1870-1944) belonged to the fraks.
- 8The demonstration in Warsaw on 29 December 1918 was called by the KPRP in protest against the arrest of the Red Cross emissaries and the state repression in the Dąbrowa Basin. The gendarmerie opened fire on the demonstration killing between three to ten participants (sources vary) and injuring many more.
- 9On 20 December 1918 five emissaries from the Red Cross of the Soviet Russia arrived in Warsaw to negotiate the repatriation of Russian POWs from Poland. They were interned, accused of being communist spies, put in prison and then expelled from the country. On 3 January 1919, as they were being escorted towards Soviet Russia, the Polish gendarmerie dragged the emissaries into a forest and murdered them. Four were killed on the spot, but Leon Alter (1889-1934) managed to escape. Although shot in the neck, he reached Minsk and revealed what had happened. The murder of the emissaries took place not far from the village Łapy, where just a few days later another Polish communist, Zbigniew Fabierkiewicz (1882-1919), was murdered by the gendarmerie.