In 1922, at the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, Władysław Kowalski (pseudonym Grzech) and Henryk Stein (pseudonym Domski) openly clashed with the leadership of both the Communist Workers’ Party of Poland and the Communist International. This article documents their contribution to the proceedings of the Congress to shed some more light on the Polish Communist Left. For more on the subject check the links in footnotes 2 and 3.
When the First World War broke out, two organisations of the Polish socialist movement found themselves in the internationalist camp: the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL, a sister party of the RSDRP) and the Polish Socialist Party-Left (PPS-Left, a split from the social-patriotic PPS). Following the revolution in Russia, these two parties coalesced, largely around the programme of the former. When the Russian Communist Party was formed in 1918, the SDKPiL and the PPS-Left promptly reorganised themselves into the Communist Workers’ Party of Poland (KPRP) just a few months later. And when the Communist International was created in March 1919, the KPRP was there at its Founding Congress. It is significant that only four organisations formed before the war joined the new International in their entirety: the Russian Bolsheviks, the Polish Social-Democrats, the Bulgarian Tesnyaki, and the Dutch Tribunists. 1 In each case, future militants of the Communist Left played a significant role in the evolution of their organisations towards communist perspectives.
For the first two years of its existence the KPRP was largely free of internal conflict – the party took an active role in the 1918-1919 workers’ councils movement, boycotted the 1919 parliamentary elections, opposed national self-determination and the new Polish state, and called for a clear break with the politics of the Second International, for a new Third International. 2 However, with the failure of the revolution in Germany and the collapse of the workers’ councils in Poland, some tendencies began to argue that the party should reconsider its programme. It was in this context that two divergent currents within the KPRP developed – the Centre, represented by the ‘three Ws’ (Adolf Warszawski-Warski, Maria Koszutska-Wera Kostrzewa, and Maximilian Horwitz-Walecki), and the Left, represented by the ‘Grzechists’ (Władysław Kowalski-Grzech and Henryk Stein-Domski among others). The ‘three Ws’ wanted to update the party programme according to new proposals coming from Russia, the ‘Grzechists’ opposed most of these changes and were critical of some of the recent developments in Russia. The dispute revolved primarily around the question of national self-determination, parliamentarism, agrarian policy, and the united-front. Though in fact it was a battle over what it meant to be a communist party in the first place. 3
The Communist International
‘The Third International of the early days, for which men [sic] fought and many died, which filled the prisons with martyrs, was in reality a great moral and political force, not only because following the war the workers' revolution was on the ascendant in Europe and was very nearly victorious in several countries, but because it brought together a multitude of passionate, sincere, devoted minds, determined to live and die for communism. The mountebanks and petty adventurers hardly counted in the ensemble.’ (Victor Serge, From Lenin to Stalin)
At its Second Congress in 1920 the International truly started to take shape. It was there that the famous Twenty-one Conditions of Admission to the Communist International were decided upon, precisely to keep out these ‘mountebanks and petty adventurers‘. The Congress marked a high point for the interwar communist movement, at a time when the arrival of international social revolution still seemed close. The Left of the KPRP had a chance to leave their mark on this process, but out of the two party members delegated to the congress – Domski and Julian Marchlewski – only the latter showed up. The obvious explanation was that Domski, who at the time stayed in Berlin, simply could not make the difficult journey to Soviet Russia (subject to an armed blockade, and engaged as it was in a war with Poland), while Marchlewski, who was in Moscow, had no such difficulties. It is not out of the question however that there was some political foul play involved – after all, at the Second Congress Domski was supposed to present the case of the Left, and was sent a letter with instructions from Grzech to this end. His absence played into the hands of the Centrists, as did Lenin’s stance at the Congress, during which his new book, ‘Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder’, was distributed to outmanoeuvre the Left (Lenin would later admit: ‘at that Congress I was on the extreme Right flank.’).
However, March 1921 brought with it a number of major defeats: in Germany the March Action was crushed, Poland had won the Polish-Soviet war, while in Russia the Kronstadt uprising broke out, the New Economic Policy (NEP) was adopted, and factions in the party were banned. A few months later, the Third Congress of the Communist International came to the conclusion that the 'first period of the post-war revolutionary movement […] seems in essentials to be over' and so, a change of tactics was necessary. The attempt to revise the political programme of the International met with opposition from the Left. The KAPD, a Left Communist party in Germany, went a step further and in response completely abandoned its efforts to form an internal opposition within the International. The upcoming Fourth Congress was to be a watershed moment – not only for the Polish Left and its struggle within the KPRP, but for the direction that the whole communist movement would take from then on.
At the Fourth Congress, both Grzech and Domski were present for the first time. But so were Warski, Kostrzewa and Walecki, the ‘three Ws’. A clash was inevitable. Zinoviev was the first to bring up the dispute in the Polish party, Warski followed – in his speech he criticised the current which ‘advocates positions counterposed to those of the Party on the Communist Party’s character and role, the use of parliamentary elections, the united-front tactic, and finally on the policies of the Soviet government and the role of the Russian Communist Party as a ruling party that also leads the Communist International’. He accused the Polish Left of constituting a KAPD current, and since by that point the KAPD was out of the International, what Warski really meant was that Grzech and Domski did not belong here either (an argument he had made previously in party literature).
As the exchanges reproduced below show, Domski's approach in these circumstances was to first distance the Polish Left from the KAPD, and then to clarify his real position (not that of the opposition in general). He focused particularly on the question of the united-front and the slogan of ‘the workers’ government’; similarly to the Communist Party of Italy headed by Bordiga, he came out in opposition to both tactics (in a 1924 article, following his experience at the Fourth and Fifth Congresses, Domski further revealed his sympathy with the Italian party and called Bordiga ‘one of the outstanding figures in the International’). On the other hand, it seems Grzech, whose opposition went a bit deeper than Domski’s, did not take the floor even once. By that point Grzech was already estranged from the rest of the Central Committee of the KPRP – so at the Congress he instead filed a complaint against the ‘three Ws’, accusing them of opportunism and liquidationism. All his arguments however were rejected by a special commission, and soon after the Congress, Grzech was removed from party work altogether. Afterwards it appears he abandoned politics. As such, the Fourth Congress was to be his last stand – the final opportunity to defend his views in front of an international audience… the fact he did not speak was quite symbolic.
All in all, the intervention of the Polish Left at the Congress was too little too late. Despite adding their voice of disapproval to that of Bordiga towards the new course taken by the Communist International, its degeneration continued rapidly. With Lenin's increasing illness and subsequent death in January 1924, the toxic power struggle within the Russian party was in full swing. A similar degeneration took place within the KPRP. The new theses supplied by the Fourth Congress served as validation for the Centrists to abandon the original platform of the Party. Under the leadership of the ‘three Ws’, the KPRP then failed to intervene in the 1923 Kraków uprising (following the policy of the united-front, it instead left the initiative to the PPS). The power struggles in Russia soon had a ripple effect in Poland – in 1924, under guidance from Stalin, the ‘three Ws’ were removed from the Central Committee. Domski and his allies made a brief resurgence, only to quickly fall out favour themselves. In 1925, Domski went on a visit to the Soviet Union and was barred from leaving ever again, thus the ‘three Ws’ were promptly returned to the leadership of the party. Subsequently they supported the policy of the Stalinists in China and Britain, finalised the so-called ‘Bolshevisation’ of the party, and welcomed Piłsudski's military coup in Poland. In 1929, the ‘three Ws’ were permanently removed from all party functions. From then on until its dissolution in 1938, the party was led solely by the Stalinist faction of Julian Leszczyński-Leński.
In other words, after 1922 the KPRP was clearly no stranger to opportunist manoeuvres. Ultimately it was also liquidated – not only in a political sense, but also physical one, since nearly all original members of the KPRP were executed during the Great Purge. Both Grzech (who, pursued in Poland, found employment in the Soviet Union and settled there in 1926) and Domski (who joined the United Opposition in 1927, but capitulated in 1929 after being sent to a gulag) likewise perished at the hands of the Stalinist machine. As Serge put it, the Communist International had ‘squandered its forces, disdained its great talents, dispersed, hunted, persecuted the men [sic] of good will who came from the ends of the earth to offer their services…’
The following exchange is an extract from the book ‘Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International’ edited and translated by John Riddell. The parts reproduced here concern the situation in the Polish party and shed some light on the positions of the Polish Left at the time of the Fourth Congress.
Glossary of names (in order of appearance):
Grigory Zinoviev (1883-1936) – joined the RSDRP in 1901, sided with the Bolsheviks in 1903, initially opposed the October uprising in 1917. After the revolution, chair of the Petrograd Soviet (1917-1926) and president of the Comintern (1919-1926). Broke with Stalin in 1925, and joined the United Opposition with Trotsky. Capitulated in 1927. Sentenced in a show trial and executed in 1936.
Adolf Warszawski-Warski (1868-1937) – joined the First Proletariat in 1886, cofounded the SDKPiL in 1893, cofounded the KPRP/KPP in 1918. For a time associated with the Right Opposition. Leader of the KPP until 1929, in 1930 removed from party functions in favour of the Stalinist faction. Capitulated in 1935. Executed in 1937 during the Great Purge. At the Fourth Congress referred to as Michałowski.
Władysław Kowalski-Grzech (1883-1937) – joined the PPS in 1903, joined the PPS-Left in 1906, in 1916 led an ultra-left split that merged with the SDKPiL. Cofounded the KPRP/KPP in 1918, leader of the KPRP and its left current (1918-1922), until removed from party work in 1923. Arrested during the Great Purge, killed around 1937. At the Fourth Congress referred to as Ślusarski and Schreiber (in Riddell’s book Schreiber is erroneously identified as Hesekil Schreiber, but Schreiber was just one of the many pseudonyms that Kowalski used).
Henryk Stein-Domski (1883-1937) – joined the SDKPiL in 1904, cofounded the KPRP/KPP in 1918. Leader of the KPRP (1918-1919, 1925) and its left current. Member of the United Opposition, capitulated in 1929. Executed in 1937 during the Great Purge.
Karl Radek (1885-1939) – joined the SDKPiL in 1904, in 1907 joined the SPD. Joined the Bolsheviks in 1917, initially a member of the Left Communists, then central leader of the Comintern. Joined the Left Opposition in 1923, capitulated in 1929. Sentenced in a show trial in 1937, in 1939 shot in a labour camp.
From the Fourth Congress of the Communist International
Zinoviev: […] I come to Poland. We have an illegal mass party in Poland. Coordinating legal and illegal work is a very important problem, and, in my opinion, the experience of recent years shows that it is not as easy to achieve as we imagined. The Russian Communists had the experience of 1905–6. Our view was that, where a legal movement is not possible, then legal and illegal movements must be coordinated, with the illegal one taking the lead. Now, however, the experience of several countries shows that this coordination is not so easy. In Poland, it was possible and has worked. We have there an illegal party, which is simultaneously a mass party. We have small legal footholds subordinated to the Party. This is possible in Poland because the Party there has already experienced a revolution, in 1905, when it led the working class. This leadership was illegal, but fought in the front lines of the working class as a whole. It enjoys the general recognition of communist workers, won through its effectiveness during the revolution. In Poland, something is working that is much more difficult in other countries, such as the United States, for example, because the illegal party there has not acted as a leader in the eyes of the working class as a whole, and the leadership has not proved itself to this extent. There the relationship, the coordination between legal and illegal work is quite different.
As said, in Poland we have an illegal mass party, an old party with a glorious past. However there are points where the Executive has had certain disagreements with the Polish Party on quite fundamental issues: the agrarian question, the question of nationalities, and, to some extent, that of the united front. We will discuss the agrarian question with our Polish comrades separately. The point of view long dominant on this question among our Polish comrades could, in my opinion, be called old-fashioned and almost Social Democratic. Let me remind comrades of the position on this question taken by the Second Congress. We then grappled with the idea of division of the land of great landowners as a measure to win the peasantry. We ran into some opposition to this proposal from the Italian Socialists. The Fascists have now shown that they understand very well how such a programme can be utilised demagogically in their interests. Such an error can cost us dear in Poland and other countries. Fortunately, the Polish Party has made a turn, and we hope that we will come to agreement with them on the agrarian question, so that we can establish an action programme that will have attractive power for the peasantry as well. The Communist party is a workers’ party. But that does not mean that it makes demands on behalf only of workers. Rather, as a party of the working class, it knows how to lead all oppressed layers in struggle against the bourgeoisie.
We had similar differences with the Polish comrades with regard to the nationalities question. We hope that these differences too have been removed.
As for the united-front question, it has become clear that a minority in the Polish Party – a small minority, if I am not mistaken – was against the united front. However, it is quite significant that such an opposition cropped up in one of the oldest parties. We are convinced that the Polish Party itself will overcome these differences – and probably has done so already. Yet the differences existed, showing how difficult it is to apply the united-front tactic in practice.
Michałowski (Warski, Poland): Comrade Zinoviev offered the Polish Communist Party a good deal of praise, but he did not scrimp on criticism. He praised us as old revolutionaries who understood, among other things, how to combine legal and illegal activity. The most recent election campaign in Poland provided an eloquent example of how, in a country where Communists are persecuted in every way, it was possible to open the road for communism in public political work. As soon as comrades across the country read in the newspapers that a central electoral committee of the Proletarian Alliance for City and Countryside had been set up in Warsaw, local electoral committees were established within a couple of days, almost automatically, in more than forty-five districts across the country – despite the fact that signatures had to be collected to establish such electoral committees and to submit lists of candidates.
We have not yet received the final election results, and there is still no news from some of the districts. Nonetheless, in three districts, Warsaw, Dąbrowa, and Łódź, the number of Communist votes is about 100,000. Our appearance in the electoral arena was something of a surprise for both the bourgeoisie and the government. The Proletarian Alliance was therefore able to legally publish an electoral appeal. But, a short time later, everything was banned and confiscated – even leaflets with our list’s ballot position, number 5. As you see, it was almost automatic for comrades to utilise the legal openings, no matter how restricted they were; it is in comrades’ tradition, instincts and blood.
But Comrade Zinoviev also criticised many things in our party. To begin, I will say a few words about the united-front tactic in Poland. It is true that, initially, our comrades were a bit confused by this slogan. At a party conference held soon after the Expanded Executive session [of February–March 1922], there were three tendencies on this question. The first tendency fully agreed with the Executive regarding the united-front tactic, and it won a large majority at the conference. The second tendency was also in agreement with the united-front tactic, but initially disagreed with making agreements at the leadership level. However, it then joined forces with the first tendency.
So, just before 1 May, our party addressed an open letter to the Polish Socialist Party [PPS] with an invitation to organise assemblies on May Day around immediate demands that were then relevant. While the proposal was, of course, rejected by the PPS executive, it nevertheless succeeded in bringing about a very large movement for the united-front tactic, in the best sense of the word, not only among Communists but among workers of the PPS and, above all, among the unorganised masses. The open appeal to the responsible leaders had the effect of placing the united-front tactic on a broader and public foundation. And, this way, the masses were able to learn more quickly the position of the parties and conclude that we are for unity and the others are against it.
We also had a third current at our party conference, which was opposed not merely to this or that way of applying the united-front tactic but to its entire conception.
This opposition, however, was linked to tactical concepts on other questions that turned it into a distinctly KAP [KAPD] type current. Comrade Zinoviev judged them rightly when he said that our Polish party can handle this current ourselves, and, in my opinion, we can do this quite readily. This current advocates positions counter-posed to those of the Party on the Communist Party’s character and role, the use of parliamentary elections, the united-front tactic, and finally on the policies of the Soviet government and the role of the Russian Communist Party as a ruling party that also leads the Communist International. This current takes positions of a KAP-type on all these questions. It is quite weak, particularly in terms of its ideas, so we will easily be able to deal with it. Ideologically, it is even more naïve and poverty stricken than the related groups in Germany and elsewhere. (Interjection: ‘If that is possible!’) Of course, if that is possible – and, in Poland, anything is possible, because petty-bourgeois Poland is intellectually much more poverty-stricken than the other countries.
However, since the leader of this third KAPD-type current is present in Moscow, our delegation decided to invite him with consultative vote and granted him full rights to take the floor here publicly and explain his current and its line of thinking. I hope that Comrade Schreiber [Grzech] will present his ideas in the same spirit and with the same openness that he did at our party conference.
Comrade Zinoviev also spoke in his report of the agrarian question in Poland. He said that the position of our party on this question is somewhat old fashioned. That term is really a bit too strong. We will have an opportunity to discuss this. I am not fond of being old-fashioned. The question is now being actively discussed in the Polish Party. We are publishing a book on this question for discussion, and also discussion articles are appearing in our press. But I can tell you one thing already: it was clear at our last party conference that almost the entire party believes that, in order to carry out a revolution, the proletariat must go hand in hand with the land-hungry rural population, with the small peasants. And, in my opinion, in countries like Poland, where the small-peasant population is the overwhelming majority of the working masses, that is the most important thing. This perspective must find practical, political, and economic expression, in order to weld the workers and small peasants together into a revolutionary force. Given that our party already has this outlook, I believe that the main practical task is now accomplished, and the programmatic task will be more easily achieved.
I would like to add a few words regarding the slogan of the workers’ government. First of all, I must say that we have not discussed this question either at our party conference or in our literature. The Party as such has not made any decisions, because this question is not posed in Poland at present and is not likely to be posed in the coming period. In my opinion, there is too much speculation on this question, too much haphazard speculation. (‘Very true’ from the Germans)
Criticism on this question focuses on three points. First, that it will either be a government of the Scheidemanns or a coalition government of the Communists with the social traitors. Second, such a government must be based either on parliament or on the workers’ councils. Third, it is either an expression of the dictatorship of the proletariat or it is not.
Well, comrades, I do not believe we have to grope in the dark, because we have real practical historical experience. What did the Bolsheviks do in 1917 before the conquest of power? They demanded ‘All power to the soviets’. At that moment, this signified giving governmental power to the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, who held a majority in the soviets. It meant a workers’ government made up of social traitors who were against a dictatorship [of the proletariat]. In social and political terms, that was the workers’ government slogan expressed through soviets. When and how this slogan can be realised is quite another question. But, fundamentally, the Bolsheviks put the workers’ government demand to outstanding use in their agitation.
In Germany, we had the same situation after the November days . The Spartacists demanded, ‘All power to the workers’ and soldiers’ councils’, that is, to the Scheidemanns and the Independents, who were then a majority in the soviets and were opponents of the dictatorship [of the proletariat]. Thus once again, it was not a Communist government.
That’s the way things were in Poland as well, and everywhere else where workers’ councils were formed. And I believe that is the heart of the matter. It was a stage in our agitation, during a period when conditions produced a historically very important form – the councils – but the central issue was the workers’ government. When we see another revolutionary upsurge, with the working masses once again pouring into the streets and workers’ councils being formed, our historical experience will in all likelihood lead us once again to advance this slogan, demanding, ‘Place all governmental power in the hands of the workers’ councils!’
We will then demand the dictatorship of the proletariat. And, at that point comrades will once again criticise us, just as in 1917 and 1918, saying: ‘What is this? You are demanding the dictatorship of the proletariat, and all power to the soviets, when you have no majority there!’ It is quite possible that we will once again have a great revolutionary movement at a time when we have not yet won the majority of the working class. The revolution will most likely come at a time when the revolutionary ferment and the revolution itself enable us to win the masses much more quickly than we can do today. In all likelihood, we will advance the same slogan, and, fundamentally, it will be the very slogan that the Executive has already tried to formulate in various ways. It will, fundamentally, be the same government, but based on the mass movement.
And, if the Executive has not yet been able to come up with a finished formulation of this slogan, in my opinion that is because two different things are being confused. We are trying both to advance the slogan and at the same time give it a form, which is quite impossible, because the form will depend on revolutionary conditions that permit it to find a broader foundation than is possible today.
In my opinion, we would do well here to think back somewhat on what we did during the revolutionary period. We will see at once that the things that provoke criticism from many left comrades today were not then the object of criticism, even though the views of these same comrades were then much more revolutionary than they are now.
Domski (Poland): Esteemed comrades! I mainly want to respond in a few words to the remarks of my valued Comrade Michałowski [Warski]. He said that the Communist Party contained a faction of KAPD people that made up a quarter of the delegates to the last party conference. I am certain that Comrade Michałowski had no intention of slandering our party. Nonetheless, it is a slander of this party, which Comrade Zinoviev said was among those in Europe with the best revolutionary education, to claim that it would supposedly tolerate for years the presence of KAPDers and regularly, for six years now, elect the leader of these KAPDers, Comrade Schreiber [Grzech], who is with us here, to the Central Committee. It would be a scandal for the Party if these were truly KAPDers and if we had not long since finished with them. But that is not the case. These comrades are not KAPDers. I do not agree with Comrade Schreiber’s anti-parliamentary point of view. But even he is entirely opposed to the KAPD’s outlook regarding putschist policies, trade-union work, centralism in the organisation, and so on. And he has proven in action a thousand times that he is not a KAPDer but a Communist.
Radek: KAPD is not a swearword!
Domski: I do not speak here directly on behalf of this opposition, because the circumstances of illegality make it difficult to represent individual currents within the Party.
Zinoviev: That’s the one good side of illegality!
Domski: Yes, this good side has brought with it the fact that formally I am speaking here only in my own name.
As for the questions touched on in Comrade Zinoviev’s report, I have this to say: this matter of the united front has been intensively tested during the last half-year. We have gathered important experiences, which are not exactly encouraging for the supporters of the united-front tactic, in the form in which it has recently been applied. Of course, when you speak up anywhere against the united front, you get the answer: ‘Well, you just do not understand that we must have the majority of the proletariat with us.’ And, in Moscow, this is put much more harshly: ‘You’d have to be a donkey not to get this.’ Of course that argument is very telling. Effective enough to slay an elephant. (Laughter) Still, it misses the mark. True, we must win the majority of the proletariat, but we must win them for a Communist party and not for a mishmash created on the basis of confused and nebulous slogans.
We have had such experiences with the united front everywhere, above all in Germany but also in Poland. Comrade Ruth Fischer said a great deal about the united front in Germany and characterised quite correctly the errors made in applying this policy.
I’d like to add something to that. When comrades of the German Central Bureau defend this policy, they say: ‘By God! What victories it has brought us!’ This refers above all to the strengthening of our party through this policy. Comrades, look at the situation in Germany: the compromise on taxes, the currency crisis, the inflation. Given that, we have to be very cautious about saying that all the Party’s successes were won entirely by our policy. No, it was entirely different, objective conditions that brought about the gratifying growth of the German Communist Party. And, if we continue the united-front tactic in the present fashion, we will see whether it contributed to the successes in Germany or diminished them.
Comrade Radek cited another ‘success’ of this policy. He said: ‘Our clever tactic during the Rathenau campaign prevented Social Democracy from attacking us, as they did during the Kapp Putsch.’ This was prevented by our policy. At least, that’s how I understood him. I believe, however, that our policy during the Kapp Putsch was much more harmless than it was during the Rathenau campaign, when it still did not prevent the Social Democrats from openly linking up with reaction. Why was that? It was because our policy during the Rathenau campaign was simply not revolutionary, and the situation was much less revolutionary than during the Kapp Putsch. If we once again face such a revolutionary situation and act in a revolutionary manner, no clever tactic will prevent the Social Democrats from allying with the reactionaries and hurling themselves at us.
Radek: What is reaction?
Domski: Well, if you do not know –
Meyer made reference to another such ‘victory’. The USPD has united with the SPD. Yes, a great victory, but it was not ours. It was a victory for the Social Democrats, and we should not dispute that. They had yet another victory. The USPD workers did not protest at all against this unification. A large majority of the USPD workers went over to the SPD quite willingly. And that was because our united-front tactic had prepared the ground so well that the USPD workers slid over to the SPD all unawares leaving Ledebour isolated. (Interjection) If that is what you call a victory, then I wish you fewer such victories. More victories like that and you’re done for!
Fortunately, the Communist Party recognised this error, with the help of the Executive. Now, the united-front tactic is being applied in quite a different way. Every Communist can approve the way it is being carried out now. I think of the factory-council movement in Germany. This is the right policy.
We, in Poland, have also had much experience with the united-front tactic. Comrade Michałowski [Warski] has already spoken of this. We turned to the social patriots regarding a united demonstration. What was the result? In Warsaw, we gave up having our own demonstration. In Kraków, the Polish Socialist Party brutally mistreated fifteen of our comrades. Truly, that was a very encouraging success. It was fortunate that our central committee was not there. (Laughter) This policy also proved to have theoretical consequences. There was a change of government in Poland that brought to power a puppet of Pilsudski’s, Sliwinski. The Communists in Warsaw then perceived that this signified a danger of war with Soviet Russia. In terms of theory, however, this was expressed in quite another way. I must quote here word for word, because otherwise it will be said that I am reading between the lines. ‘The first duty of the Social-Democratic party must be the demand for an immediate political amnesty and freedom for the revolutionary sector of the working class. . . . This is where Communist agitation against the Sliwinski government must start.’
So, since we have a new Pilsudski government, which was fundamentally a war government, we start with the demand for political amnesty.
Radek: That was not a war government at all.
Domski: It was only prior to the elections that it was not a war government. I quote further:
‘A democratic government, well and good. But, judging from the Sejm [parliament] and given its previous methods, this government has no basis for democratic actions. Nor could this be so. Only the struggle of the broad masses for democracy could create preconditions for this. If Sliwinski had the courage to base himself on the masses, and if he had acted in this spirit on taking office through an amnesty and by proclaiming political freedom for the working class, the Communist Party would have won a great deal. And it is just as certain that, by doing so, the democratic government would win just as much, attracting the masses for a certain time and finding in them a broad and solid support.‘
That is certainly an assessment that looks very much like an offer by our party to support this government.
Interjection: He too is interpreting dreams.
Domski: These are the experiences that we have had in Poland. Fortunately,
they are few in number –
Chair (ringing his bell): Your speaking time is over.
Domski: – because we, in Poland, had no basis for this united-front tactic. In Germany, there was a basis for it, but, in France, the united-front tactic only made the crisis in the Party worse and brought it no benefits, at least, not yet. (Interjections)
Chair: Your time is up.
Heckert: I move an extension of five minutes.
Chair: Is there anyone opposed? That is adopted.
Domski: I must cut back my remarks and go directly to the question of immediate demands and the workers’ government, which is now before us. As for the workers’ government, I had the same problem as my friend Duret. I could not understand what this workers’ government means in our policies. But now I have at last got to hear a clear definition of this government. It is a government that can rest on a parliamentary majority just as easily as – Comrade Radek confided to me privately that such a government would not be considered for Poland.
Radek: I did not say that.
Domski: So, Poland too is going to be punished with this government. Obviously, it is an international problem.
Comrade Radek says that a workers’ government is not a necessity but a possibility, and it would be nonsense to reject this possibility. But the question is whether we write this possibility on our banners and thus hasten its realisation. I believe it is possible at the last moment for a so-called workers’ government to appear that is not yet a proletarian dictatorship. But I believe that, if such a government appears, it will be the outcome of various forces: our struggle for a proletarian dictatorship, the struggle of the Social Democrats to prevent that, and so on. Is it right to focus on that? I do not think so. I believe that we must continue now as before to focus on the struggle for proletarian dictatorship. And, if a workers’ government comes to be, this can happen just as easily if we have been agitating and fighting for our full programme.
Our struggle can lead to various results. It can happen that the working masses leave the national party of labour and workers’ party and pour into Polish Social Democracy, as happened in Upper Silesia. That is still a step forward of a sort. But it is not our duty to agitate for such a step forward. We must continue now as before to recruit to our Communist party and, in this way, encourage such a step forward.
Many comrades have another interpretation of the workers’ government slogan. They think that our struggle is for the proletarian dictatorship, but this cannot be said. The working masses are afraid of Communist dictatorship, and they do not believe us when we say that the proletarian dictatorship is not a dictatorship by the Communists.
Now here is what I think. If, while struggling for the Communist dictatorship, we encounter an opponent who paints this ‘dictatorship of the commissars’ in frightening colours, we do not counter that by advancing slogans that are a pseudonym, as Comrade Zinoviev quite correctly said. We will not achieve anything in the struggle by using pseudonyms; we will just create illusions. We must advance our revolutionary slogans in the clearest manner. Of course, we must also advance immediate demands, and we did so in every struggle, to the degree that was needed in the proletarian masses’ struggle to improve living conditions and loosen their chains. Such demands must be advanced, formulated, and supported. But we must not advance slogans that we do not ourselves believe in – slogans aimed at exposing or manoeuvring. We must advance immediate and final demands that we ourselves believe in and want to fight for.
To conclude, I would like to say only the following. The working class is not as dumb and not as cowardly as some think. The working class will fight for the revolution. Anyone who talks to the working class in their language will, over a shorter or longer time, be understood. To view the working class as an army that can be ordered about, uncomprehending, today to the right and tomorrow to the left – this is a misjudgement of proletarian struggle. This struggle can be led to victory only if every soldier understands us, if our slogans and ideology are crystal clear to every soldier. Therefore: no slogans to expose and manoeuvre, which lead the workers astray, but rather genuine demands that express our real goals. Only in this way can the working class carry out its struggle consistently.
Zinoviev: […] I now come to Poland and the speech of our Comrade Domski. I cannot quite forgive our Comrade Domski for a major political mistake that he made even before the Third Congress. It was Domski who wrote an article during the Russian-Polish War that said that bringing socialism to Poland with the Red Army and the bayonets of the Soviet government was not a Communist policy.
Domski: I did not write that.
Zinoviev: Comrade Domski, I have known you for a decade, and I know that you find it very hard to remain silent when you are being criticised. Nonetheless, I ask you to hold your peace. You took this position first in a letter and then in Rote Fahne, and we characterised it then as nationalism of the purest sort. Every proletarian with healthy common sense will say that if the bourgeoisie is holding down the proletarians of a country with bayonets, they will be very lucky indeed if a Red Army, be it Hungarian, Russian, Italian, or even French, can help out the proletarians of a neighbour country. That is the healthy conception of every worker. (Applause) Comrade Domski is obviously no nationalist. It was just a relic of Polish Socialist Party ideology. The Polish intelligentsia is infested with nationalism, and good bit of it survives even among very good comrades. Comrade Domski made this mistake fifteen months ago. I do not say this in order to chop off his head, so to speak. If he has something to teach us today, we will gladly be taught, but we will not forget that he made this major political error.
Now, as to his teaching. I have already criticised what Comrade Domski said about the question of a majority. We are quite aware that we do not yet have the majority in Poland. We cannot use the elections just held by Pilsudski as a barometer. We know that Pilsudski is a swindler, and the bourgeoisie rigged the elections. We know that well, but we also know that we are very close to the majority. We do not have it yet, and we must work to secure it.
He also says that the united front is perhaps good for other countries but is not suitable for Poland. This is the same ideology that we encountered here today: ‘The Executive can act in dictatorial fashion in all other counties and apply the united front there. But my country is something quite different; circumstances there are quite unusual; the working class is different and so too is the Party.’
In my opinion, it’s especially in a country like Poland that the united front is most suitable. You are illegal, but that should not deter you. I see in the Polish Socialist Party’s official publication in Warsaw an article with the headline, ‘Long Live the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government’. I can read that to you in Polish. What does that mean? It means that the slogan of a workers’ government finds an echo in the deepest soul of the masses among both workers and peasants. You have said that we engage in this demagogy because the slogan offers success among the working masses. Comrade Domski says we should oppose the workers’ government and the united front. I say, on the contrary, that if it is already so popular among the masses that even the social traitors use it on a daily basis, that is all the more reason for us to advance the united-front slogan. We must keep this slogan before their eyes every day. We know that the Polish worker and the Polish peasant are not for a bourgeois government but for a workers’ government. We must say to the social traitors: ‘Even though you are traitors, we propose to you the establishment of a united front and a workers’ government.’
That should be the theme of our agitation. Certainly, there are special features in the Polish situation, but these characteristics compel us to make the greatest use of the united front precisely in this country.
The Polish comrades also gave me a speech by Comrade Ślusarski [Grzech], a representative of the Polish opposition, who, unfortunately, did not take the floor. Comrade Domski told me personally not to confuse him with Comrade Ślusarski and not to think their positions are the same. Comrade Ślusarski said the following in his speech to the party conference:
‘When Comrade Lenin says, ‘We will not retreat another step’, I gladly believe that this is his sincere intention. But unfortunately that is impossible. The real dictator of Russia is the peasant. We face the question of the Communist International’s relationship to this policy. The Soviet Russia seeks to use all means to buttress its policy. In this regard, the social mediators and opportunists can exert great influence on government policy. The united-front tactic creates contact with the opportunists and makes it possible for them to exercise this influence.‘
Those are the worst accusations that can be raised against the Soviet government. (Interjection: ‘Levi’) I do not believe that Ślusarski has much in common with Levi. He has probably long since overcome this error, and if this is not the case, I hope he will do so tonight, at the latest. (Laughter) But this is said in Levi’s spirit. So, Comrade Ślusarski, you can see what a slippery slope you are on.
You criticise from the ‘left’, and quite quickly, almost in the twinkling of an eye, you are with Levi. That is a very dangerous course. This error must be corrected as quickly as possible.
Chair: Comrade Domski has the floor for a personal statement.
Domski: The remarks of Comrade Zinoviev regarding my nationalism reflected some minor misunderstandings. (Laughter) The incriminating article was published not during the attack on Warsaw, but, rather, long before this offensive, when no one yet knew that it would take place. This article did not express any fundamental opposition against introducing socialism on the points of bayonets, but rather simply pointed out that under the concrete conditions – (Laughter. A few comrades start singing the ‘Internationale’. All those present join in. The speaker decides not to continue.)
Adjournment: 1:10 a.m.
A written statement by Domski was appended to the congress proceedings.
Statement by Domski
The comments by Zinoviev directed against my supposed Polish nationalism are based on factual misunderstandings. I wrote the incriminating article not during the offensive on Warsaw but much earlier – about the beginning of July. In this article, I did not present any fundamental theory that it is impermissible to bring proletarian dictatorship into a country on bayonet points. I consider such a theory to be entirely incorrect. Under the specific conditions existing in Poland at that time, I thought such an attempt to be a mistake and wrote in the belief that the Soviet government would not make this mistake. I took the liberty, some time later, in a confidential letter to our Russian friends, to make reference to the error. The fact that it was an error was publicly acknowledged the following year by Comrade Lenin.
As for the charge that in my speech I rejected the workers’ government only in Poland – another nationalist conception – I did not make any such statement.
L. Domski (Poland)
- 1While one could argue for the inclusion of the PPS-Left into this group, that party experienced a number of significant splits in years 1916-1918, some going over to the PPS (e.g. the group led by Antoni Szczerkowski ) while others to the SDKPiL (e.g. the group led by Grzech). What is more, a majority within the SDKPiL considered the creation of the KPRP more as just members of the PPS-Left entering the SDKPiL, rather than a true merger between the two organisations.
- 2For a history of the KPRP and a list of sources, see the article ’A Brief History of the Communist Workers’ Party of Poland’: http://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2015-12-19/a-brief-history-of-the-communist-workers%E2%80%99-party-of-poland
- 3For a more comprehensive look at the Grzechists, see the article ‘Who were the Grzechists?’: http://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2016-12-28/who-were-the-grzechists