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A. Rudzienski

Stalinist Terror Hits Polish Opposition

(January 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 2, 12 January 1948, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A short time ago Warsaw witnessed the opening of a political trial directed against the Polish resistance, particularly the WIN organization (Freedom and Independence), involving on the one hand the American and British Embassies, and on the other some prominent members of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), headed by A. Obarski, one of the 23 Socialist leaders threatened with the death penalty. This cynicism of Stalinist justice compels us to lay bare to America’s workers and Marxist intellectuals the true physiognomy of Stalinist barbarism in Poland.

On entering Poland, the GPU directed its first blows against the Warsaw Insurrection and the heroic Armia Krajowa (Home Army), notwithstanding the fact that this underground army collaborated with the Russians, attacking the Nazi rear guard. In 1944–45, around 150,000 resistance soldiers disappeared into Stalin’s Siberian concentration camps.

The second wave of terror occurred during the period of the “popular referendum” and the “free elections.” In both instances, the reprisals were directed against the entire resistance, principally against the peasant movement. As an epilogue to the arrests en masse, which reached into the hundreds of thousands in a country of 24,000,000 inhabitants, various political trials took place before military tribunals, with hundreds of death sentences being handed down against the accused. The trials were aimed primarily at the WIN, the resistance organization of the middle class, which collaborates with the PPS, against the PSL (Mikolajczyk’s Populist Party) and against the WEN (illegal organization of the anti-Stalinist PPS). The preparation for these trials is far more important than their actual public unfolding. The “questionings” went far beyond all we know of the trials conducted by the Holy Roman Catholic inquisitions in Spain against the Moors, Jews and the heretic sects. Physical and moral torture are the principal method of the Stalinist “questionings.” The accused are subjected to hermetic isolation which lasts entire months until the accused give way. Isolation is accompanied by a regimen of hunger and refined physical and moral torture. Aside from mistreatment during questioning, the accused are subjected to tortures of high and low temperatures in their cells, to ice-cold baths with the water reaching up to their mouths, to tortures with strong reflectors for days and nights in succession, to the torture of going without food and sleep for many days, etc.

There are very few men who can resist this modern inquisition. General Anders himself, of the Polish army, was subjected to the torture of reflectors to the point of having his eyes take on the appearance of big bloody wounds. The literature of the Polish emigration is full of memoirs and accounts of the tortures in the jails of the GPU and the methods of “re-education” in the forced labor camps. We recommend the book Soviet Justice by two Polish ex-prisoners, Zwierniak and Mora, which contains hundreds of accounts by prisoners of Stalin for those who wish to grasp the magnitude of this modern barbarism, which, in its refinements, goes even beyond the methods of the Nazi Gestapo. In addition to the original Polish, this book is available in a French translation.

GPU Prepares Trials

With these methods the GPU “prepares” the political trials against the Polish resistance. The accused present the lamentable aspect of broken and exhausted men. The prosecuting state attorneys and the judges openly play the part of hangmen. The “public,” which appears in the courtroom wearing typical “workers’” clothing and carrying national banners, tries to humiliate the poor victims even more, and as a rule demands the death penalty for the judged.

The most important trials were those of the WRN (illegal PPS) and the WIN, in Warsaw last July, and those of the PSL (Populists) and the WIN in September, 1947. In the first trial the chief accused, Gaiaj, an old leader of the PPS, hero of 1905–06, leader of the anti-Nazi resistance, and the other well-known and self-sacrificing Socialist, Dziegielewski, were accused of underground espionage activities and of preparing the “physical liquidation” of leading personages in the government. As the Minister of Labor declared officially, this trial was the prelude for the big trial of Puzak. and his comrades, secretary-general of the PPS and members of its Central Committee. The trial against the PSL in Cracow was primarily directed against the resistance wing of the Peasant Party, the editors Augustynski, Buczek and Mierzwa, all leaders of the peasant resistance movement against the German occupation in Poland. The accused appeared well “prepared,” the editor, Mierzwa, sick, exhausted by the “questionings” and without teeth. Although they did not call themselves “mad dogs,” as did the victims of the Moscow Trials, some of the accused admitted their “errors” and recommended a change in Mikolajczyk’s policies. This trial was the prelude for the indictment of Mikolajczyk and his collaborators.

However, there was one group of those on trial headed by Professor Stalmach, son of a humble peasant, who defied the pressure of the prosecuting attorney; the judgment of the tribunal and the enmity of the Stalinist “public.” The entire Stalinist and collaborationist press began to bark madly against this one man. The professor’s council of the old University of Cracow was forced to adopt a cowardly resolution condemning the accused. The Stalinist hangmen in Poland must have a bad conscience if they need this kind of argument against the rebellious opinion of the people.

In the recent trial of the WIN in Warsaw, the chief accused, Katowski, accused of espionage and sabotage, confessed crimes as witches in the Middle Ages confessed their sexual relations with the devil. In keeping with the entire proceedings was the manner, in which some of the Socialists of the group of 23, headed by Obarski, were presented at this trial. International action on behalf of the Polish Socialists forced the GPU to divide the accused into various groups and to indict them as spies in order to avoid greater protest. We can assure the GPU that we shall expose their dirty methods before the opinion of the international proletariat.

All these trials serve as a prelude to the decisive and final battle against the anti-Stalinist workers’ opposition in Poland, against the illegal PPS, just as in Russia the trials of the engineers, of the military, of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois opposition served to prepare the liquidation of the workers’ opposition, in the first place, the Trotskyist opposition. However, there are fundamental differences between the Moscow Trials and the Stalinist trials in Poland:

  1. Being completely isolated from the masses, the accused in the Moscow Trials confessed as a rule, while in Poland some of the accused reveal themselves as unbreakable, having the fervent support of the anti-Stalinist opposition.
  2. At the time of the Moscow Trials, Stalin, had the support of the international bourgeoisie, of corrupted writers, “Socialists” and “Communists,” who formed a common front against the “diabolical Trotskyists.” Now times have changed: Not only in that the bourgeoisie, frightened by Stalin, criticizes his persecutions, but also there are signs of an awakening in the left wing of the working class, which does not intend to tolerate further Stalinist terror, nor lend its moral support to the infamous, Stalinist reaction in Russia.

For this reason the GPU is forced to act cautiously and maneuver in preparation for the big trial of the Socialist opposition in Poland. This opposition is far more dangerous to Stalinist rule in Poland than Mikolajczyk’s Peasant opposition. The political solidarity of the Polish workers with the arrested Socialists is demonstrated in a clear manner by the wave of strikes and mass demonstrations which took place in Lodz, Poland’s industrial capital. The solidarity of the international proletariat with the workers’ opposition in Poland is demonstrated by the broad international action in defense of the Polish Socialists. The united action in their defense in Chicago caused an enormous impression among the Polish workers’ circles in France, Great Britain, Belgium, etc.

Nevertheless, Stalin cannot retreat in his attack against the Polish working class. Having defeated Mikolajczyk, the regime is now turning its face squarely against the revolutionary proletariat of Poland. The defeat of the Polish working class would signify the defeat of the international proletariat, the new victory of Stalinist reaction over the working class.

Comrade workers and Marxist intellectuals of the United States, the cause of the Polish workers and Socialists, threatened with the death penalty by the GPU, is your cause. The victory of the Stalinist terror and reaction in Poland would mean a victory for reaction in the United States, would mean more anti-strike and anti-working class laws in the United States. Our cause, the cause of international socialism, is indivisibly one in the United States and Poland for both the Polish and North American workers.

The totalitarian inquisition of Stalin strikes down your class brothers, your Polish comrades, and drowns the whole Polish people in its own blood. The political “witchcraft” trials which began in Moscow constitute the greatest infamy of our times. Raise your powerful voice in protest against the infamous assassin, Wyszynski, who cynically declares that the millions of prisoners in Stalin’s concentration camps are “Trotskyists.” These workers, whether they be reformists, trade unionists, Trotskyists or Stalinist sympathizers, are in action one single thing, the revolutionary proletariat. Only your solidarity action can save the Polish proletariat from the medieval “witchcraft” trials, and the world from infamous Stalinist barbarism.

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