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A. Rudzienski

Problems of the Polish Revolution

An Historical Analysis

(August 1946)

From The New International, Vol. XII No. 6, August 1946, pp. 172–176.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The repeated partitioning of Poland between 1772–1795 by Russia, Prussia, and Austria constituted a great victory for European reaction, represented by Russia, and a defeat for the bourgeois revolution, represented by France. The French Encyclopedists, precursors of the revolution, found many readers, and a very fertile soil for their ideas, in Poland. Simultaneously with the French revolution there began in Poland the long parliament which proclaimed, in 1791, the equality of the bourgeoisie with the nobility, and the political reform of the old Polish feudal state. Catherine II, under the pretext of protecting the old prerogatives of the nobility, suppressed the party of reform with Russian weapons, abolished the Constitution of 1791, and proceeded in 1793 to the second division of Poland. The party of reform answered with the revolution of Kosciuszko in 1794, which was the first attempt to carry out an agrarian-democratic revolution in Poland. Kosciuszko, friend of Washington and. Lafayette, general of the American revolution, understood that the problem of a democratic revolution in Poland centered on the abolition of the privileges of the nobility and the consummation of agrarian reforms. In his manifesto to the Polish people, Kosciuszko called all the peasantry to arms against the Russian oppressor, and promised the insurgent peasants freedom, and the abolition of serfdom. Being under the powerful pressure of the nobility, Kosciuszko could not offer all the peasantry land, limiting this offer only to those who participated actively in the revolution. This was one of the causes leading to Kosciuszko’s – and Poland’s – defeat. In 1795, following the defeat of the Polish insurrection, the third and final division was carried out. But though defeated, the Polish insurrection gave much comfort to the French revolution in its struggle against European reaction.

The defeat of Poland was the defeat of the bourgeois revolution in Central-Eastern Europe. The creation of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw furthered the work of the democratic reform of 1791 and the insurrection of 1794. But the defeat of Napoleon in Russia decided the fate of the revolution in Europe, and in Poland as well. The Congress of Vienna created a mutilated “Polish Kingdom” whose hereditary king was the Tzar of Russia. The forced union of the mutilated remnants of Poland and Tzarism terminated in a Polish national revolution in 1831, which had as its consequence a savage Tzarist repression, a government that ruled over defeated Poland and Lithuania with the aid of the gallows and, exile to Siberia. On the left of the extensive Polish emigration having its headquarters in Paris, “The Democratic Society” was formed, possessing a bourgeois-democratic character, and in 1835 the utopian-socialist organization “Polish People” was created. The young Marx and Engels maintained direct relations with both organizations. In 1846–48, another revolution took place in Poland, headed by the Socialist, Edward Dembowski, who had much influence among the Polish-Carpathian peasants. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung of Marx and Engels wrote on August 1, 1848:

“Since the insurrection of Greovia in 1846, the struggle for the independence of Poland is also the struggle for agrarian democracy, the only democracy possible in Eastern Europe against patriarchal-feudal Absolutism.” [A]

The final Polish national revolution against Russia broke out in 1863, and had as its consequence the liquidation of feudalism in Poland and the tempestuous development of industry and capitalism. As a result of this attempt, Tzarism felt compelled to realize the program of the defeated revolution, to carry out the agrarian reform and emancipate the peasant, a reform which created the economic and social bases for capitalism in Poland.

European Labor and Poland’s Restoration

Marx and Engels unambiguously defended the cause of Polish independence against Russia. The first International, founded in 1864, inscribed on its banner, “Resistance to Russian intervention in Europe; restoration for Poland.” (Engels – The Working-Class of Poland, The New International, July 1944.) The workers’ movement of Europe, the English Chartists as well as the French and German workers demanded the restoration of Poland, and in 1848–49 Marx and Engels demanded a German war against Russia for the restoration of Polish independence. Marx roundly declared that “without an independent Poland there can be no liberty in Europe.” In 1848 Marx demanded the creation of “not merely any kind of a Poland, weak and impotent, independent on paper only, but a strong state, really independent, resting on healthy foundations. Poland must receive the territories she possessed before 1772.” (The First Division of Poland – K. Marx, Neue Rheinische Zeitung)

Lenin and the Russian Bolsheviks inherited this point of view. Lenin always defended the slogan of Polish independence against Rosa Luxemburg, leader of the SDKPL (Social-Democracy of Poland and Lithuania), who was of the opinion that the slogan of Polish independence was “reactionary” and”petty bourgeois.” The Council of People’s Commissars of Soviet Russia passed the following resolution on the 29th of August, 1919: “All the treaties concluded between the government of the old Russian Empire and the government of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, dealing with the division of Poland are being considered abrogated once and for all from this moment on, being contrary to the principle of the self-determination of all peoples, as well as to the revolutionary ideals of the Russian people, who recognize the right of the Polish people to unity and independence.” Thus spoke the Russian Revolution.

Stalin proceeded otherwise. In 1939, by agreement with Hitler, he participated in the division of Poland, occupying 51 per cent of Polish territory, with its 13,200,000 inhabitants. Historic experience teaches us: when there is freedom in Russia, there is freedom in Poland; when the reaction conquers in Russia, Poland loses its independence and national freedom. Engels asserted that the workers’ movement in Europe would be interrupted and checked while this question remained unresolved. “In the present state of affairs in Central Europe and especially Germany, Polish democracy is more than ever necessary.” (F. Engels, The New International, July 1944)

The Problem of the Bourgeois-Democratic Revolution

Leading the way in all of Central-Eastern Europe, the Polish democratic revolution, with its program of reform and the Kosciuszko insurrection, began simultaneously with the revolution in France. However, Poland was a feudal country, without industries, without capitalism, and without a conscious and revolutionary bourgeoisie. As for the party of reform, the participants in the insurrection of 1794, they were moderates, bourgeois reformists, monarchists, akin to the French Girondists. Polish Jacobinism was very weak and was to be found mainly among the artisans, the petty bourgeois and the people of Warsaw. The events of 1831 also developed within the limits of a conservative reformism which was formed by the “progressive” nobility and the moderate bourgeoisie. The left bourgeoisie, represented by the “Patriotic Society” under the command of Mochnacki, theoretician of the revolution, could never maintain a decisive influence over the revolution beyond its very first stages.

A new turn became manifest in the Cracow revolution of 1846, led by the Utopian Socialists. This revolution had been prepared by the “Polish People” organization in Paris and carried out by means of a series of actions and agrarian uprisings in Poland and Lithuania under the leadership of Konarski and the curate, Sciegienny. In the year 1846, according to Marx, the struggle for independence took on a decided democratic-agrarian character. But the tragedy of Poland consisted of the lack of a developed industrial capitalism and of a formed and conscious Polish bourgeoisie which could carry to a conclusion the agrarian and national revolution against Czarism and the Polish nobility. The Polish bourgeoisie was then in its infancy, without class-consciousness, without any roots in the economic and political life of the country, was closely linked to the nobility, and was incapable of playing the role that history had assigned to it.

This state of affairs was confirmed by the revolution of 1863, prepared and initiated by the party of the radical bourgeoisie, known commonly as “The Reds.” Its central committee, headed by the future generals of the Paris Commune in 1871, Jroslaw Dombrowski and Wroblewski (the latter was also a member of the First International and a friend of Marx), proclaimed the agrarian revolution and the emancipation of the peasantry. Due to the weakness of “The Reds” and the revolution, the decree could not be realized, and only in isolated regions did the peasant masses respond to the call of the revolution and take part in the revolutionary struggles. The leadership of the revolution fell from “The Reds” into the hands of “The Whites,” that is, the reformist nobility and the moderate bourgeoisie. The only possible form the national revolution in Poland could have taken was a “Jacquerie,” a peasant war against Czarism and the Polish feudal aristocracy, under the leadership of the revolutionary bourgeoisie. But the part of the bourgeoisie was played by the “intelligentsia” (intellectuals). Stemming in the main from the impoverished nobility, this intelligentsia was incapable of casting aside its social and political traditions. Here was another reason for the defeat suffered by the Polish Revolution.

Tzarism, after putting down the revolution, felt compelled to realize the latter’s program to carry out the agrarian reform. On this economic and social foundation, capitalism acquired not only a market for its products but also the indispensable labor power for industry. In 1870 the “Kingdom of Poland” had only one worker for every 95 inhabitants, in 1882 one worker for every 62 inhabitants, in 1897 one worker for 38 inhabitants, and in 1910 one worker for every 30 inhabitants. These statistics characterize in the best possible form the industrial development of Poland following the revolution of 1863, the agrarian reform and the changes in the social structure of the country. [1]

Rise of the Labor Movement

Paralleling this development, a Polish working class movement began to take shape from 1870 on among the various emigre groups; and in 1880 the first workers’ party, “Proletariat,” came into existence and carried on its struggles under the banner of Marxism.

After the last revolution of 1864, the Polish bourgeoisie became “practical,” ridiculing the struggle for national independence as an idle “dream” and idealizing the “peaceful” pursuits of commerce, the development of industry and capitalist agriculture as the true national task. The proletariat, on the other hand, pursued the course of revolutionary strikes. In 1890, after the decline of “Proletariat” under the Czarist terror, the SDKPL (Social-Democracy of Poland and Lithuania) was formed under the leadership of Rosa Luxemburg and A. Warski, and in 1893 the PPS (Polish Socialist Party), led by J. Pilsudski, Perl, Narkiewicz, Daszynski, etc.; typical petty bourgeoisie. The PPS struggled first of all for the independence of Poland while the SDKP flatly rejected the slogan of independence as “reactionary,” and struggled for the revolution and the democratic republic for the whole of Russia. It is well known that Lenin opposed Rosa Luxemburg’s point of view and declared himself in favor of the struggle for Polish independence. Frightened by the development of the workers’ movement, the Polish bourgeoisie moved from their “peaceful” pursuits to the formation of the National Democratic Party. The creation of this party marked the passing over of the bourgeoisie to the side of reaction and proclaimed its complete subjection to Czarism. The new party not only rejected the slogan of a democratic republic for Poland which had been taken up by the Socialists, but swore loyalty to Czarism, and limited itself to petitioning for the .autonomy of Poland under the sway of the “Czar of all the Russias.” Rosa Luxemburg had reason enough to affirm that Polish capitalism was “bound by chains of gold to Russian capitalism.” (Die Industrielle Entwicklung Polens)

After the First World War and the Russian Revolution, an independent Poland came into being, but it was not the federated state of different nationalities that Engels had outlined. It was, instead, a national Polish state with national minorities. A popular government was formed in Lublin on November 7, 1918, under the presidency of Daszynski, which with one stroke proclaimed popular, democratic suffrage, with equal, direct and proportional rights for all citizens over 21, a democratic government responsible to the Parliament, a popular Polish republic, the social rights of the working class and the eight-hour working day, and promised a radical program of agrarian reform. The government lasted but a few days, but its program could not be wiped out in Poland no matter what the political changes. With this program and with the national independence of Poland, the bourgeois-democratic revolution comes to an end in Poland. The following statistics illustrate this affirmation:

Economic Development of Poland

In 1921 in all of Poland (not only the old “Kingdom of Poland,” the most industrialized region) 15.4 per cent of the population was employed in industry and mining; 72.3 per cent of the population was engaged in agriculture; the remainder was found in other occupations or in the employ of the state.

In 1931, however, industry and commerce employed 26 per cent, 12.6 per cent in other occupations (state employees, liberal professions, etc.) and 60.6 in agriculture. As the reader can see, there was an enormous leap forward in the industrial development of the country.

National production was valued at 19 billion zlotys in 1921. Of this total, 13 billion zlotys, that is, 68 per cent, derived from agricultural production. In 1939, however, agriculture yielded only slightly more than half of the value of the national product. These simple statistics prove that Poland in its period of independence achieved a full capitalist development; contrary to the vulgar notions propagated by the Stalinists, industry played a powerful part quantitatively almost equal to that of agriculture.

Polish agriculture hardly possessed a feudal structure and in any case was less feudal than the agriculture of Germany or England. The percentage of land held by farmers owning more than 50 hectares (120 acres) was about 20 per cent of the cultivable surface of the country, and at the most 25 per cent, while in Mecklenburg the same type of landholders owned 63 per cent of the arable soil, in East Prussia 52 per cent and in all of Germany more than 30 per cent. In England the landlords control more than half the arable land.

Out of 25,589,000 hectares of arable land in Poland in 1920, 6,900,000 hectares were held by landowners in plots greater than 50 hectares. By 1939, 3,000,700 hectares had been distributed among the peasantry, that is, 15.6 per cent of the nation’s arable land, comprising more than 40 per cent of the land of the large landowners.

As we see, the bourgeois revolution carried out the agricultural reform in the “Prussian” manner, not as was necessary in Poland, in the revolutionary “French” way.

The conservative Polish bourgeoisie, grown old without having known any youth, received national independence as a gift from history and from the socialists and populists (peasants). It took this gift with distrust and opposed with all the means at its disposal the full development of the democratic revolution, whose basis, according to Marx, was the agrarian revolution. The bourgeoisie set itself in opposition to the agrarian revolution, to the “French” road, since this would have created a new peasant, radical petty-bourgeois strata, capable of separating itself from the government of the traditional bourgeoisie and of creating a democratic republic of workers and peasants in Poland. For this reason the bourgeoisie chose the “Prussian” road of moderate agrarian reform which assured its political and economic power. At the same time the bourgeoisie sounded the death-knell for democracy in Poland, since the only form this democracy could take was “agrarian democracy,” which would struggle to the end to realize the full program of the bourgeois revolution even against the bourgeoisie itself.

By curbing the agrarian revolution, the bourgeoisie prepared the way for the dictatorship of Pilsudski. The degeneration of bourgeois democracy took the concrete form of a totalitarian dictatorship.

It can be said, therefore, that pre-war Poland was not a feudal, but a capitalist country; that the agrarian reform extended the foundations of capitalism in Poland; and that the Pilsudski dictatorship gave Poland a decisive impulse in the direction of industrial and capitalist development, at the expense of the peasantry and the working class.

The Communist Party and the Problem of the Democratic-Socialist Revolution

With the revolution of 1905 the differences inside the workers’ movement between the PPS and the SDKPL grew more profound. Together with Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg posed the problem of the workers’ government, while the PPS raised the slogan of the independent Polish republic. The SDKP followed the proletarian tactic of struggle, of strikes, of working class action, while the right wing of the PPS proceeded to attempts at bomb throwing against the crimes of Czarism. This tactic of individual terrorism isolated the party from the masses and provoked an internal crisis in the party, bringing about the creation of the left PPS, led by Koszutska, Walecki, Krolikowski, etc. The new organization rejected the terroristic tactic and the exaggerated nationalism of Pulsudski, it also rejected the national nihilism of Rosa Luxemburg. For this reason, the left PPS and the SDKP continued as separate organizations until 1918, even though they had much in common. At the beginning of 1919 the two organizations united and became the Communist Party of Poland, affiliated with the Third International. The union, however, was mechanical, lacking an ideological foundation. Led by Marchlewski, Radek, Kohn and Dzierzynski, the SDKP group viewed the fundamental questions of the Polish revolution in a manner peculiar to itself, denying the existence of the national question, the question of Polish independence. As far as they were concerned, the agrarian problem was the problem of the agrarian proletariat, agricultural workers without land, among whom the SDKP had a powerful organization. As for the peasantry, they did not exist for the SDKP’ers, and if they did exist, they formed a reactionary mass.

For this reason, the Polish SDKP’ers opposed Lenin’s program of “land to the peasantry,” advocating the nationalization of the land and its direct cultivation by the workers’ state itself. The left PPS understood the weak sides of this theory but was incapable of formulating its own program, given the preponderance and the theoretical prestige of Rosa Luxemburg’s disciples. As a result, the traditions of Luxemburgism triumphed over the national and agrarian program of Lenin in the Communist Party of Poland. The KPP, therefore, was incapable of winning the peasant masses to a social revolution. When the Russian armies stood outside the gates of Warsaw in 1920, the Bolsheviks did not divide the land among the peasants of Poland, as they had done in Russia, because such a course was opposed by the Polish Communist Party.

The Russian Bolsheviks pointed to this as the cause of their defeat. In reality, the majority of the Polish proletariat and peasantry observed the Russian advance with distrust, fearing a foreign invasion and the loss of their newly won national independence. This feeling was summed up by the Communist leader, Warski, an old collaborator of Rosa Luxemburg, when he remarked that the Polish proletariat did not desire “a revolution brought by foreign bayonets.”

The events of this period, distorted by the official Stalinist interpretation, must be studied and re-evaluated anew. What can be said in any case is that the Polish Communist Party did not understand the fundamental problems of the democratic revolution as Lenin understood them, and gave proof of its ultra-left bias by abstaining from the general elections of 1919. Instead of pushing the democratic revolution on the road of proletarian power, it isolated itself from the masses. Its politics degenerated into a series of actions without the support of the workers. This debilitating tactic did not and could not push forward the democratic revolution; instead it made possible a bourgeois counter-offensive and the deflection of the agrarian revolution into the channels of capitalist reform.

As a reaction against these policies, the majority group, known in the Comintern as the “right wing,” was formed. Led by Warski, formerly of the SDKP, Koszutska and Wlaceki, formerly of the left PPS, it revised the program and the policies of the party at the third congress of the KPP, putting forward a program on the national and agrarian questions in accordance with Lenin’s views. “The Majority” formulated the famous theory of two stages of the Polish revolution, the democratic and the socialist stages. Taking as its point of departure the premise that. Poland had as yet to complete the democratic revolution, whose historic task it was to solve the national question and carry out the agrarian revolution by means of a democratic worker-peasant government, the majority advocated supporting the PPS and the peasant parties in order to carry out the program of the first revolution. In reality, it understood the fundamental problem of state power in far different fashion than Lenin, who demanded a government of the Soviets. Led by the majority, the KPP thought the first revolution would be carried out under the leadership of the reformists and the populists, and the job of the working class lay in then “pushing” them toward the socialist revolution. The theory had its practical consequences. When Pilsudski carried out his counter-revolutionary action in 1926, the KPP evaluated it as a “petty bourgeois” revolution, and offered him its support! The theory was wrong because the democratic revolution in Poland had been completed in 1919–20, a fact which the Communists had not taken into account. The theory of “two stages” looked to the past, since on the order of the day in Poland, as in Russia, and in all Europe was the Socialist revolution or the counter-revolution. Although the agrarian question had not been completely solved in a revolutionary manner, it could not serve to bring an already outlived democratic revolution back to life. Only a socialist revolution was capable of solving the problems bequeathed by the bourgeois revolution.

From Opportunism to Ultra-Leftism

The opposition which arose between 1927–30 in the party, calling itself the “minority,” was led by Lenski, Rying, Henrykowski. This opposition fought fiercely against the “historical right wing” and the “theory of two stages.” But being a Stalinist opposition, it fought bureaucratically, mechanically and without achieving any revolutionary consequences; it degenerated into the theory of “social fascism,” combatting, as in Germany, the Social-Democrats and the Populists first of all, instead of fighting the party of Pilsudski. This policy helped Pilsudski defeat the democratic opposition, the famous “Centrolev,” a coalition of Catholics, Populists and Socialists, in 1930. Stalin fomented the struggle of the factions inside the KPP in order to further his struggle for power inside the Soviet Union. He stood to gain from the weakening of the KPP, whose revolutionary traditions of Luxemburgism and independent Bolshevism always represented a potential danger to the Stalinist counter-revolution. Fearful of any possible source of opposition, Stalin dissolved the KPP in 1937.

None of the factions within the KPP had been able to correctly solve the problems of the democratic-socialist revolution, viewed as an uninterrupted and permanent revolution carried to completion by the dictatorship of the proletariat, or as Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky put it, by a workers’ government. The merit of the majority lay in the fact that it posed the fundamental problems of the democratic revolution: the agrarian and national questions. But what it lacked was a revolutionary perspective, since it posed on the order of the day the democratic revolution, when this was already an accomplished fact. It lagged behind with a theory that did not correspond to reality. The other faction, the “minority,” criticized the theory of “two stages,” but its criticisms were eclectic and Stalinist in kind, lending themselves to the domestic use of the Thermidorean clique, which feared the leadership of the KPP. Lacking an historic perspective besides, this criticism degenerated into the notion of “social fascism,” which isolated the party from the masses and objectively gave support to “Pilsudskism.” It must be recognized that the historic situation and the march of the counter-revolution in Russia, Germany and the rest of Europe excuses in part the errors of the Polish Communists. Under the strong pressure of Stalinism which was interested in the dissolution of the KPP, persecuted savagely by the reaction in Poland, the party degenerated. But the ultimate blow was not struck by the Polish bourgeoisie; it was struck by Stalinism. In the same cold-blooded manner, he assassinated the prominent Polish Communists as he had assassinated the Russian Bolsheviks.

(Our next issue will carry a second article from the pen of Rudzienski dealing with the Russian occupation of Poland. – EDITORS)


1. S. Koszutski: Industrial Development of Poland.

Note by ETOL

A. The article was actually written on August 19 and published on August 21:

The struggle for the independence of Poland, particularly since the Cracow uprising of 1846, is at the same time a struggle of agrarian democracy – the only form of democracy possible in Eastern Europe – against patriarchal feudal absolutism. (Friedrich Engels, The Frankfurt Assembly Debates the Polish Question III, Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 81, August 20, 1848.

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