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Irving Howe

World Politics

Poland – The Agony of a Nation

(20 January 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 3, 20 January 1947, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The splendid dispatches which our special overseas correspondent, A. Rudzienski, has furnished this paper and The New International on the Polish situation have given an unrivalled picture of one of the most chaotic and terrible political situations in Europe today. His article in last week’s issue details the manner in which the Stalinists, an unpopular minority in the nation, have wormed their way into the apparatus of other parties in order to render ineffective any opposition to their Moscow-buttressed rule.

Nonetheless, the opposition continues, grows, develops. Dispatches from Warsaw by Sydney Gruson, New York Times correspondent, pile detail upon detail, unnecessary to repeat here, of how the elections scheduled for January 19 are being rigged in the most outrageous fashion. Candidates of the opposition Peasant Party have been kidnapped, murdered and imprisoned. A dissident Socialist group which, unlike the official Socialist Party, has refused to accept Stalinist domination, has been completely barred from the ballot.

And now the Stalinists have worked out a new device: they are “persuading” workers to go en masse to the polls to register an “open” vote – why be ashamed of how you vote, say the totalitarian rascals of Stalinism. Since refusal to participate in this “open” casting of votes is tantamount to a declaration of opposition to Stalinism – a dangerous step involving possible loss of work and bread – this latest Stalinist trick insures them of an electoral victory. (The hungry and weary Polish workers remember that the city of Cracow was punished for its mass opposition to the Stalinist “constitution” in the referendum held last fall by having thousands of its citizens deported from their homes.)

The political situation in Poland is admittedly complex: a Stalinist government supported by Russian bayonets, without sufficient mass support to enable it to rule independently; mass terror as political method; a heterogeneous opposition, both semi-legal and illegal, whose political composition ranges from extreme antiStalinist left to the extreme fascistic and anti-Semitic right.

The outside world is unable to discover the exact internal political differentiation within this opposition, the strength of the various tendencies and their relation to each other; though there is no reason to accept as valid the Stalinist smear of the opposition as fascist. For we do know that during the Nazi occupation there appeared in Poland underground newspapers which were both socialist and anti-Stalinist in character; since the Stalinist state does not permit their legal existence today, such tendencies must function underground.

The choice for revolutionary socialists seems difficult (with the result that some people in the socialist movement, secure in the warm comfort of their Finished Program, keep a discreet silence on the matter.) Should revolutionary socialists, both in Poland and elsewhere, take their stand beside the Stalinist government, which has nationalized much of Poland’s industry and expropriated that remnant of its capitalist class which remained after the war? But that means to support the Stalinist terror. That means to support the Stalinist attempt to consolidate their totalitarian apparatus and destroy the opposition to it. It means for the revolutionary movement to sign its death warrant. For a Stalinist consolidation in Poland would result in drying up of the normal channels of political expression, the imposition of the grey blanket of terror and enforced unanimity. Poland, like Russia, would become the “Land of the Single Opinion.”

But can revolutionary socialists conceive of working with the Mickolajczyk-led opposition? Is he not in favor of the restoration of private property in those industries where it has been abolished? Is he not an agent of Anglo-American imperialism? Yes, of course he is. And it is undoubtedly true that there are anti-Semitic and fascistic groups in the underground which, whether he encourages them or not, look to him for leadership. But let us admit that this is a new situation, which cannot be completely viewed in old ways. There is no doubt that the masses of Poland oppose the government. (Rudzienski’s articles have demonstrated that beyond a doubt; I shall not repeat his data, but merely refer the skeptical reader to past issues of Labor Action.) Even if a socialist opposition to the Stalinist government were to declare itself equally against both the Stalinists and Mickolajczyk, it would be forced in practice to cooperate with the opposition in defense against Stalinist terror.

Against the GPU Regime

The masses of peasants and most of the workers are sympathetic to the opposition. To support the Stalinist government against Mickolajczyk means therefore not merely to aid in the totalitarianization of Poland; it means to isolate oneself from the Polish masses and take one’s side besides the bureaucratic and privileged strata bribed into serving as Stalin’s Polish agents. We therefore say that the task of Polish revolutionary socialists is to give critical support to the opposition camp.

By this formula we mean: the revolutionary socialists would do their best to maintain their organizational independence, and would not tolerate submergence within the opposition. It would continually distinguish its revolutionary socialist program from the capitalist program of Mickolajczyk and would attempt to take over the leadership of the opposition to ensure a politically fruitful struggle against Stalinism. But it would work within and cooperate with the opposition wherever the opposition fought against GPU regime.

Those who disagree with this course must answer the question: When the GPU men come to arrest a Peasant Party leader, do you aid them in the arrest or try to prevent it?

For one cannot stand aside when an incipient civil war is raging, nor can one keep silent merely because it is an unprecedented situation. Those, of course, like the Socialist Workers Party in this country, who make a mockery of socialist ideas by proclaiming Stalin’s Russian prison camp a “workers’ state,” have no logical alternative but to support the totalitarian Polish government against the opposition; for according to their position, is not Poland, with its nationalized industries, a “workers’ state” (since, for them, nationalized economy equals “workers’ state”) and is not Mickolajczyk the representative of capitalist restoration? But since this position is more than a little embarrassing, they prefer the course of silence.

We for our part acknowledge that the position outlined here is fraught with danger, that it requires a most skillful leadership to apply it successfully. But it does point a way out of the dilemma. For the major need in Poland today is to drive out the Russian oppressors, once again to give the Polish masses a chance to determine their own destinies. Given such a chance, we are sure they would choose neither the satraps of Stalinism nor the remnants of the old anti-Semitic arid fascist “colonels” clique which ruled Poland before Hitler’s invasion. To open the gates to the possibility of mass political participation and expression, rather than to help drive in the GPU clamps on those gates, is the purpose of our position.

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