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The New International, January 1947


A. Rudzienski

Anti-Semitism and Polish Labor

An Examination of Historic Roots


From New International, Vol. XIII No. 1, January 1947, pp. 9–12.
Transcribed &; marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Poland, the land of tombs and crosses, is now an enormous cemetery of the Jewish people, exterminated in the crematoriums of Majdanek, Oswiecim, Tremblinka, etc. But it is a cemetery not only for the Jews, it is the sepulchre as well for millions of Poles and for all the peoples and races of Europe assassinated by the Nazis.

Amidst so much human tragedy, how is it that new pogroms occur, as in Kielce? To answer this question we must study, though briefly, the Jewish question in Poland.

The immigration of the Jews into Poland dates from the Twelfth and Thirteenth centuries when the Polish Princes wished to populate the cities of Poland devastated by the Tartars and the Germans, and stimulate, as well, the development of commerce and urban life. But immigration in large numbers dates from the Fourteenth and Fifteenth centuries, when the Italian Renaissance began to penetrate Poland. The great moving force of this renascence, King Casimir, called at times, the King of the Jews and Peasants, gave to the Israelite immigrants all those guarantees which they lacked in other countries. The waves of emigration from Spain and Germany where the Jews were exposed to religious persecution were directed toward Poland. “Poland had always been extremely liberal in religious matters; witness the asylum of Jews found there while they are persecuted in all other parts of Europe.” (Engels, The Doctrine of Nationality Applied to Poland, The New International, July 1943.) In medieval Poland there were neither inquisitions nor pogroms, nor any other kind of religious persecution. When the Kingdom of Poland was united with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1390, the Eastern territories embraced a variety of races (Lithuanians, Ruthenians, White-Russians, Latvians, Finns, Tartars, Germans) and a variety of religions, among which the Greek-Orthodox was the most important. The variety of races, languages and religions created an atmosphere of tolerance in which the Jews could develop freely. Their religious autonomy was guaranteed by the privileges granted by the Kings and, afterwards, by the parliaments. The Lutheran Reform did not bring to Poland the religious wars; there the biblical disputes took place in a tolerant atmosphere. Not even the victory of the Catholic reaction that was headed by the Jesuits at the beginning of the 17th Century changed this situation in any substantial way. Those of the Eastern Orthodox faith, the few Protestants and the Jews were treated tolerantly by the Catholics.

The Polish nobility was not anti-Semitic. It looked down upon the Jews with seignorial contempt, but with even more contempt did it look down upon its peasant-serfs. In its period of social and economic decadence, the nobility depended on the Jews to administer its wealth, buy its products, and lend money to ruined nobles. Thereby was born the Polish proverb, “Every noble has his Jew.”

The Development of Capitalism

The situation began to change with the development of capitalism in Poland. This development was carried out while the Polish ruling classes did not govern the country, while Poland was partitioned by three powers. The development took place in the intervals between wars and national revolutions, while the liberal nobility and the nascent bourgeoisie, ruined and impoverished by the revolutions, wasted away in Siberia and the dungeons of the Czar. With the growth of industries and cities, the Jews, who replaced in large measure the Polish Third Estate (bourgeoisie), began to acquire more and more economic importance and leaped from social and cultural isolation to dedicate themselves to the active tasks of economic life. Toward the end of the Nineteenth century, the ruined nobility, the bourgeoisie, the intellectuals and the petty-bourgeoisie found themselves face to face with a powerful Jewish bourgeoisie, both commercial and industrial, and with an energetic Jewish middle class which demanded not only an economic role but a political and cultural role as well, in the national life.

The small Jewish industrialist and merchant was much more skillful in the economic struggle than the “noble” Pole who felt himself compelled to engage in commerce and industry. The small Jewish artisan, and the poor shopkeeper labored much more cheaply than the Polish artisans and shopkeepers, forcing a terrible competition on the latter. Here then was the “economic” source of modern anti-Semitism in Poland. Since the Jews, a considerable part of the population, dominated almost all of commerce, small and medium-sized industry and the banks, and since they were an energetic, skillful people dedicated to business constantly, the Poles, with their feudal traditions could not compete successfully with them in the economic life of the country. Marx said in Capital that the Jews were parasites of Polish society. This, however, did not apply to Polish capitalist society where the Jews played an active role as merchants, industrialists and artisans, taking the place of the weak and embryonic Polish bourgeoisie and middle-class. This fact inspired the economic struggle between the Jewish and Polish bourgeoisie, and above all between the respective petty-bourgeoisie. The struggle was intensified by the fact that the Jews adhered to the culture of the occupying powers; German in the Austrian and Prussian sphere, and Russian in the Russian sphere, while the Poles stubbornly combated these cultures, holding fast to the Polish language, culture and literature.

Rise of Political Anti-Semitism

What was as yet missing was the “ideological” superstructure for the latent economic anti-Semitism. The historical tradition of national and religious tolerance in Poland delayed and “postponed” the development of racial anti-Semitism. But the development of the workers movement in Poland, beginning with the birth of the strong workers party, “Proletariat” in 1880-85, and later, the development of the Polish Social Democratic Party (SDKP) and the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), in the 1890’s, forced the Polish bourgeoisie to organize the reactionary party of “National Democracy,” which copied the anti-Semitic pogrom of Russian Czarism and transplanted it onto Polish soil. In 1905-6, when the democratic revolution broke out in Russia and Poland, Czarism unleashed the Black Hundreds in Russia and Poland in order to combat Socialism and divide the workers movement with a program of anti-Semitism. The Black Hundreds of the Czar won the active support and effective collaboration of part of the “National-Democracy” which organized the pogroms against the Jews in Lodz and other Polish cities.

Polish Socialism immediately grasped the danger inherent in anti-Semitism in a country where the middle class was in its majority Jewish, and began to straggle actively against the National-Democratic reaction which organized the pogroms and inspired the slogans: “Don’t buy from the Jew” and “Let national buy from national.” The conscious and politically educated Polish proletariat always fought energetically against anti-Semitism, knowing from its own experience that the ranks of the factory proletariat and artisans were swelled by the impoverished strata of Jews in Lodz, Warsaw, Bialystok and other industrial cities and small towns in Poland. Furthermore, many of the leaders of the PPS as well as the SDKP were Jews. The main theoretician of the PPS, Feliks Perl, was a Jew. Rosa Luxemburg, Tyszka Jogiches, Warski and Radek, leaders of the SDKP were Jews. To a certain degree, it is true, the PPS was infiltrated by anti-Semitism, due to the fact that its leading cadres were drawn from the impoverished nobility and the petty-bourgeois “intelligentsia.” But it would be an exaggeration to affirm that the PPS was dominated by anti-Semitism. The PPS vigorously fought against the anti-Semitism of the bourgeoisie, since many of its prominent leaders and many of its militants were Jewish workers and intellectuals.

It is altogether false to assert that the creation of a Jewish workers party, the “Bund” was caused by the anti-Semitism of the Polish workers. Even if we admit that anti-Semitism infiltrated into the PPS by way of the petty-bourgeois circles, the SDKP was a thoroughly Marxist party, clearly international and proletarian in character which fought anti-Semitism and kept its doors open to the Jewish workers. The “Bund” was the product of the historic conditions in Poland where the Jewish workers lived in the Ghettos that Czarism favored and maintained, isolated from the national life and culture. When the capitalist development forced the Jewish poor to eave the Ghetto and become part of the proletariat, the Jewish workers did not know the Polish language and continued speaking “Yiddish.” This was the reason for the growth of the Jewish Socialist Bund which put forward the program of cultural autonomy, a program against which Lenin, as well as the Polish SDKP, fought actively in the name of international solidarity. The “Bund” was criticized by the Bolsheviks and by the Polish Social-Democrats as a petty-bourgeois and opportunist party which fought against internationalism and always allied itself with the PPS against the Marxist wing of the revolutionary workers movement in Poland and Russia. Nevertheless the Jewish workers of the “Bund” and the Polish workers of the PPS fought arm in arm against the bourgeoisie in Poland. The Jewish workers who spoke Polish belonged to the SDKP and PPS, in spite of the “Yiddish” agitation of the “Bund,” The “Bund,” therefore, was not the product of anti-Semitism on the part of the Polish proletariat, rather was it the product of the Jewish Ghetto, the political backwardness of the country and the influence of the Jewish petty-bourgeois in the ranks of the Jewish workers.

Our thesis is confirmed by the development of the Jewish worker-Zionist organization, the Poale-Zion, and later of the Left Poale-Zion, when the “Bund” was no longer capable of satisfying the nationalistic aspirations of the Jewish petty-bourgeoisie in Poland, who turned to Zionism and raised the banner of a Jewish Palestine. With the growth of class-consciousness among the Jewish and Polish workers, the left wing of the “Bund” (Communist-Bund) and of the Poale-Zion became part of the Polish Communist Party (KPP).

Anti-Semitism in the Polish Republic

The national revolution in 1918, which represented the delayed completion of the bourgeois revolution in Poland, granted to the Jews the full rights as citizens that Czarism had denied to them. The Jewish minority in Poland entered into the national life as a well organized force, and, by virtue of historical, economic and political reasons, independent of the Polish bourgeoisie. In the first parliament (1919) there was a Jewish fraction of 10 deputies, in the second (1923) 34 deputies, in the third (1928) 13 plus some Jews adhering to the Polish group around Pilsudski, and in the last parliament, 6 deputies. The Polish reaction, already experienced in the technique of the Black Hundreds, conserved it and perfected it in order to combat the growing workers movement, which in the years 1918-23 threatened a social revolution. It was during this period that various pogroms occurred, incited by the National-Democrats. However, to the degree that the new Polish state was stabilized, the pogroms disappeared and the Jewish minority incorporated itself more and more in the political and cultural life of Poland. The middle class and the cultured Jews in general rapidly discarded the superficial veneer of German and Russian culture and learned Polish, assimilating the customs and culture of the Polish bourgeoisie. The Jewish proletariat, in large measure, supported the Communist Party of Poland, playing an active role also in the PPS, the “Bund” and the Poale-Zion. Besides assimilating the Polish culture, the Jews developed a cultural and national life of their own. Unlike the Jews in other European countries and the United States, a majority of the Polish Jews did not consider themselves to be Polish but Jewish, in nationality. In spite of this, Jewish-Polish relations improved year after year, and even more after the coup d’état of Pilsudski, who was considered by the Jewish bourgeoisie as a “pro-Semite.” The economic crisis, which began in 1929 intensified the economic struggle between the ruined Jewish and Polish petty-bourgeoisie. In addition, the “Dictatorship of the Colonels” advanced a program of centralizing big business and industry and putting them under the control of the Polish State. Clearly, this program was directed against the middle classes, especially against the lower petty-bourgeoisie, which in its large majority was Jewish. Here was the source of the reactionary cry to “Polonize” the national economy that was directed against the Jews. In agriculture, where the Jewish bourgeoisie played no role whatsoever, there was no program of “Polonizing” the land economy, nevertheless the Bonapartist government sought to annihilate the Polish peasant for the benefit of the big landowner and the state. The expenses of the enormous and omnipotent Polish bureaucracy, inherited from Czarism, were borne above all by the small peasants and the Jewish petty-bourgeoisie. Polish anti-Semitism was the expression of the program of annihilating the middle classes in the interest of monopoly capital and its all-powerful state. Its political role as an instrument in the hands of the reaction in the struggle against the workers and peasants opposition was secondary.

With the coming to power of Hitler in Germany, the fascist tendencies and with them the anti-Semites, received a new impulse and their activity quickened in temper. The reactionary students, frightened by the perspective of unemployment and of competition with Jewish lawyers, doctors and other professionals, demanded “numerical clauses” in the universities, and created “university ghettos” for their Jewish colleagues. The Polish students who opposed this, were attacked together with the Jewish colleagues they defended. The writer passed

through many of these university struggles, defending his Jewish colleagues. The pogroms; organized by the Polish fascists of the National Party and the Nationalist Youth, began anew. The same Pilsudskiists, in spite of their democratic past, allied themselves with the Fascist-Nationalists and supported their anti-Semitic program. Only the final year of the Rudz-Smigly dictatorship saw the growth of the workers and peasants movement, and the easing of the Nazi and anti-Semitic pressure in a Poland confronted by the danger of the German invasion.

German Occupation of Poland and the Tragedy of Jews

On occupying Poland, Hitler proceeded directly to form the Ghettos. The most important was the Ghetto of Warsaw. It is not necessary to describe here the tragedy and the extermination of the Jewish people in Poland, since there are more documented sources and there already exists an extensive literature on this tragic theme. Our interest lies in the Polish-Jewish relations during the occupation and the question of anti-Semitism. Aside from the isolated anti-Semitic actions instigated by the Germans in which criminal elements and Polish fascists took part, the Polish people displayed a great deal of dignity in its misfortune and showed much human solidarity with the Jews against the enemy. All the Nazi attempts to mobilize the Poles against the Jews and to use them as hangmen of the Jews, were defeated in the face of the national dignity and the cold hatred of the Poles for the invader. The hangmen of the ghettos, of the concentration camps were not the Poles, but German Nazis, Ukrainians and Lithuanians. This was recognized by all Jewish sources.

In the tragic uprising of the Warsaw ghetto, the Polish workers’ movement lent all possible moral and material aid to the Jewish people. Even the military actions in the ghetto were, up to a certain point, directed by the military technicians of the Polish underground. We shall not cite the many documents directed by the Polish workers’ movement to the insurgents of the Ghetto. In a proclamation of the “Underground Movement of the Working Masses of Poland (PPS)” of April 1943, issued in Warsaw, there are moving examples of the international solidarity of the Polish workers.

We send our fraternal greetings to the Jewish workers and professionals, who in the face of certain and inevitable death, have chosen to perish with arms in hand rather than submit passively to the executioner. We pledge solemnly to them that their deed will not be lost without an echo. It will join the heroic legend of fighting Poland; it will become the common heritage of the Polish people, a heritage that will provide a firm foundation for the structure of the future reconstructed Polish Republic ... Their action is not an isolated one, it is a link in the uninterrupted chain of resistance, that for four years has been carried on throughout Poland. (Polish Workers, by P. Gross. Roy Publishers, New York)

It is not necessary to cite further documents of the proletarian and human solidarity of the Socialist workers’ movement of Poland. The organs of the bourgeois underground and the famous “Armia Kraiowa” (home army) also solidarized with the Jewish people in their misfortune. The underground organizations made every possible effort to save a majority of the Jews from the flaming ghetto. The peasants and even the Catholic clergy hid thousands upon thousands of Jews in their houses, convents and churches. A majority of the Jews who survived were saved by the Poles at the risk of their own lives. The Nazis did not find, not even in the Polish nationalists and anti-Semites, their allies in the extermination of the Jewish people. Without denying the anti-Semitism of the Polish petty-bourgeoisie we can assure our American readers that the anti-Semitic incidents on the part of the Poles themselves, under the German occupation, were isolated and completely exceptional.

Anti-Semitism in Stalinist Poland

How to explain then, after so much tragedy, after so much solidarity demonstrated in the struggle the recrudescence of pogroms in the “New,” “Democratic,” “Worker-peasant” Poland governed by a Kremlin that “condemns” anti-Semitism?

With the economic expropriation of the Jews by the Nazis and with the nationalization of all big industry and commerce, there no longer exist the economic bases for anti-Semitism in Poland. With the macabre extermination of three million Polish Jews in the crematoriums, there ought not to exist political or racial anti-Semitism in Poland. Nevertheless we see the pogroms take place once more in Cracow, Lodz, and, the latest and most naked outburst, in Kielce.

Undeniably the right-wing Nationalists, who held their anti-Semitism in check under the Nazi occupation, are now fomenting it as an instrument of struggle against the Stalinist government of Warsaw. The Nationalists use the argument that the Jews are lending themselves to the service of the government of occupation. It is true to a certain point that the remnants of the Jewish petty-bourgeoisie and intellectuals, seeing no other salvation, have turned very much pro-Stalinist. It is also certain that within the old Communist Party there were far more Jewish than Polish intellectuals. It is undeniable too, that because it lacks a sufficient number of Polish intellectuals whom it can trust, the Kremlin has handed many posts of trust and responsibility to the Jewish intellectuals, whom it does not consider infected by the Polish Underground. All this, plus the return of the Jewish masses from Russia, awakens discontent in the Polish petty-bourgeois, infected as it is with anti-Semitism. But this does not explain the causes of the anti-Semitic pogroms in Poland, where the workers and poor peasants combat anti-Semitism.

The declarations of the PPS in London and the Peasant Party in Poland condemn the pogrom of Kielce as a provocation of the secret police of Radkiewicz and present trustworthy and convincing proofs. Undeniably, the Polish Underground degenerates in some sectors, devoting itself to pillage and banditry. These bands are completely uncontrollable by the political organs of the Underground and at times they serve as instruments of provocation for the Stalinist police, first appearing as witnesses in the trials and then disappearing, annihilated by the GPU.

The Stalinist bureaucracy’s use of anti-Semitism is veiled by the demonstrative trials and the shooting of the supposed pogromists; a tactic that is very old, very Stalinist, and very reactionary, and exposed long ago by Trotsky.

Stalinist Russia wishes to appear as the defender of the Jews in Poland just as the Russia of Catherine the II, “Semiramis of the North,” “the most progressive country, home of liberal principles and champion of religious tolerance” (the irony is Engels’), appeared before the world as the defender of the Orthodox religion and of the White-Russians and Ukrainians who enjoyed much more liberty in Poland at that time, than in Russia, in order to justify before the world the partitioning of Poland.

The Russia, says Engels, that oppressed all the religions and nationalities, that tolerated no religion other than the Orthodox, “the same Russia entered Poland in the name of religious tolerance, because Poland was said to oppress the Greek-Catholics; in the name of the principles of nationalities, because the inhabitants of these Eastern provinces were Little Russian, and ought, therefore, to be annexed to Great Russia; and in the name of the right of revolution, arming the serfs against their masters. Russia is not at all scrupulous in the selection of her means.” (Engels, ibid.)

How the Stalinists Use Anti-Semitism

This quotation from Engels takes on flesh and blood when applied to the Stalinist reaction of contemporary Russia and helps us greatly to explain the Kremlin’s instigation of anti-Semitism in the interests of its policy of imperialist domination.

The policies of the Warsaw government foment anti-Semitism in accordance with the directives laid down by the Moscow Borgia to achieve the following ends:

  1. To inspire Jewish emigration from Poland with the aim of causing pressure in Palestine against England.

  2. To compromise the workers and peasants opposition and the entire Polish Underground before the eyes of the world as reactionary and anti-Semitic and to isolate it from the international workers’ movement.

  3. To justify the maintenance of the Russian Army of Occupation in Poland, in order to insure “democracy” and “progress.”

  4. To win the sympathies of the Polish reactionaries and nationalists for Russia because she frees Poland of the Jews, thus continuing the work of Hitler.

As the proof of our thesis, we point to the policy of concentrating the Jews in the new Ghetto in lower Silesia. The Jews, who return from Russia and those living in Central and Southern Poland (behind the Curzon line), are moved en masse to Silesia. Only the bureaucrats are permitted to live in Central Poland.

A more evident proof of the racist policy of the Warsaw government are the pogroms carried out in the light of day in the big cities, where there are strong Russian and Polish garrisons and many detachments of police and “workers militias,” that could easily check the instigators of the pogroms in their efforts to form mobs. The pogrom of Kielce was carried out at different hours, from eight in the morning till three in the afternoon, under the eyes of the militias and the army. The Jewish victims had been taken from the building by uniformed officials and handed over to the mob.

For this reason we affirm that the principal cause of anti-Semitism in Poland is Stalinist policy which foments it maliciously and cynically. The anti-Semitic tendencies of the ex-bourgeoisie and the reactionary petty-bourgeoisie play a secondary role here, the principal role belongs to the Borgia of Moscow.

It is very much the fashion to affirm that the anti-Semitism of the Polish people is “biological,” just as it is very much the fashion to assert that the German proletariat is “Nazi” by its traditions and national character. These opinions are quite skilfully spread by the Stalinists throughout the world, in the same breath which praises the Russian tyranny of Stalin. So too did the Proudhonists of the Nineteenth century propagate the cult of a “progressive” Czarist Russia, while they calumniated the Polish democratic émigrés of the period. The Stalinists are supported in these slanders by the nationalistic Zionists and the petty-bourgeois Jews generally.

We leave this kind of reasoning to the nationalist gentry, to the criminal and renegade Stalinists, and to the charlatan petty-bourgeois in the style of Laski, Ziliacus, etc.

We Marxists, armed with Scientific Socialism, know how to discover the causes of each historic phenomenon “by its economic, political and social conditions; we know, too, that there exist neither “anti-Semitic” nor “Nazi” peoples by virtue of their national character, but rather that these phenomena grow out of given conditions. For this reason, knowing and discovering the true causes of the present pogroms in Poland, we accuse the Stalinist criminals of artificially fomenting them.

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