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Rosa Luxemburg, national liberation, and the defeated Polish revolution

February 22, 2018

Part 3 of ‘Rosa Luxemburg and Polish socialism (1893-1919)’

The following piece is an edited excerpt from ‘The Rosa Luxemburg Myth: A Critique of Luxemburg’s Politics in Poland (1893–1919)’, published in Historical Materialism 2018, 26, 1: 1-34. Click here for subscriptions to Historical Materialism. See also:

Rosa_Luxemburg pic

Rosa Luxemburg

By Eric Blanc. This article challenges widespread uncritical portrayals of Rosa Luxemburg. By examining the politics and practices of Luxemburg and her SDKPiL party regarding the national question in Poland, I show that their commitment to proletarian emancipation was undermined by sectarian and doctrinaire tendencies that contributed to the defeat of the Polish Revolution of 1918–19. I argue that the Polish Socialist Party, Luxemburg’s main political rival, posed a viable Marxist alternative for Poland’s revolutionary movement.

National nihilist?

A serious critique of Luxemburg and her party, the SDKPiL, need not repeat the common myth that they rejected all national sentiments and demands.[1] For instance, Trevor Erlacher claims that ‘only Rosa Luxemburg among the major figures of early twentieth-century Marxism in Eastern Europe held to the position of “national nihilism” that Marx and Engels had first hinted at in The Communist Manifesto. Luxemburg opposed any intrusion of national politics, sentiments, and identities into the international workers’ movement.’[2] Krzysztof Tyszka’s recent monograph likewise accuses Luxemburg of ‘national nihilism’ and lambasts her ‘negative attitude to all forms of national struggle’.[3] Numerous other writers have repeated such claims, which misjudge the real issues at stake and obscure the actual political weaknesses of Luxemburg and her party.[4]

In reality, neither Luxemburg nor the SDKPiL – in which she was the main theoretician and political leader – were national nihilists regarding Poland. Rather, they argued that national freedom for Poles could only be won in alliance with the other workers living under the three states (Russia, Austria, and Prussia-Germany) that in the 1790s had partitioned Poland, wiping it off the European map. In the July 1893 first issue of the party’s paper, Sprawa Robotnicza [The Workers’ Cause], Luxemburg declared that ‘here, as elsewhere, the worker is the only defender of every kind of freedom – economic, political, national.’[5] In response to the government’s Germanisation drive in Prussian Poland, Luxemburg wrote a 1900 pamphlet W obronie narodowości [In Defence of Nationality] to promote the defence of Polish culture:

So it is a crime to speak in one’s own language, which you have taken in with your mother’s milk – so it is a criminal offence to belong to a people, into which you were born. Truly, it is high time for the Polish people to shake off its lifelessness, to express its indignation, to rise to fight against Germanisation. How to lead this fight, which path is the most effective to defend the Polish nationality – these are questions that merit serious consideration.[6]

Hardly a national nihilist, Luxemburg often shared the widespread assumption among Poles that they were more ‘European’ than other national groups in Russia. German historian Georg Strobel notes that a conception of Poland’s relatively advanced social structure, ‘developed in the “internationalist” Rosa Luxemburg a seemingly anachronistic Polish social-chauvinism, which broke through again and again especially with regard to Russia, Russians and their social-democratic organisations, parties, and workers’ councils, as well as towards Jews’.[7]

Along these lines, Luxemburg criticised the ‘Tatar-Mongolian savagery’ of the Bolsheviks.[8] Luxemburg argued that while Poles were socially and culturally developed enough to require national autonomy, the same was not true for the ‘backwards’ Ukrainians, Belorussians, Jews, Georgians, Armenians and Tatars (Muslims).[9] Similarly, Luxemburg and the SDKPiL systematically opposed distributing land to peasants, arguing that such a demand was unnecessary given Poland’s level of capitalist development.[10]

Though Luxemburg and the SDKPiL advocated equality for all nationalities, fought the pogromists, opposed antisemitism, and were denounced by right-wingers for being Jewish-led, their approach towards Jews in Poland was sometimes problematic.[11] Luxemburg, who herself was an assimilated (Polonised) Jew, on multiple occasions resorted to antisemitic insults and stereotypes, such as comparing the Jewish Bundists to sugar speculators at the 1907 congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party (RSDRP).[12] During the widespread 1911–12 campaign of Polish workers to keep Jews out of mechanised factories, the SDKPiL, adhering to a rigid assimilationism, tended to side with the Polish workers and publicly placed much of the blame for the conflict on the Jewish refusal to assimilate.[13]

Luxemburg’s adaptation to Polish national sentiments, both positive and negative, raises important questions about her well-known opposition to Polish independence and the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), as this stance cannot be explained by (a non-existent) national nihilism. A sense of historic context is important here. Although Poland regained its independence in 1918, it would be wrong to assume that most Poles saw independence as a necessary and/or achievable goal during the preceding decades. After the defeat of the 1863–4 noble-led Polish uprising, the struggle for secession became widely seen as outdated in both liberal and radical circles. Poland’s first Marxist party – the Proletariat, founded in 1882 – had famously rejected Karl Marx’s advocacy of Polish independence as a rampart of Western democracy against Tsarist despotism.

While separatist sentiment was widespread among the Polish intelligentsia, it was far from clear whether the demand for independence would be supported by the working class, whose national consciousness was far more heterogeneous and ambiguous. As Luxemburg had incessantly predicted since her party’s founding in 1893, the general trend during the 1905 revolution in Poland was towards unity with Russia and Russian revolutionaries. Though the pro-independence PPS became Poland’s largest political formation, secession remained at most a secondary and distant goal for Polish parties (including for the PPS majority); moreover, the ranks of the SDKPiL also massively swelled during 1905–7.[14] It was only during the social and political upheaval of World War One, the German occupation of Russian Poland, and the collapse of the Russian, German and Austrian empires, that the struggle for independence became an immediate possibility and gained massive popular support.[15]

The problem was that Luxemburg went beyond arguing that Marxists should not call for Polish independence. She elaborated a rigid theory that Polish independence was an absolute historic impossibility, because of the ‘organic integration’ (socio-economic incorporation) of Polish territories into Russia, Germany, and Austria. The demand for Polish independence was inherently reactionary and nationalist, thus it could never be supported by Marxists.[16] Significantly, this stance was rejected by an important wing of the early SDKPiL, which saw Polish independence as a possible and positive long-term objective.[17] But from 1903 onwards the SDKPiL was firmly committed to Luxemburg’s stance, which prevented it from flexibly adjusting to the major changes in the Polish national struggle that came after 1914.

Anti-PPS factionalism

In the years preceding World War One, the most questionable aspect of Luxemburg’s stance was her extreme hostility to the Polish Socialist Party – indeed, the politics of Luxemburg and her party was largely defined by their opposition to the PPS and its call for Polish independence. Luxemburg’s party was born in 1893 as a split from the PPS, and the ensuing factional dynamic certainly played a critical role in the evolution of both parties.[18] Unfortunately, much of the historiography has uncritically accepted Luxemburg’s claim that the PPS was a ‘nationalist’ party. For example, one socialist author writes:

The attitude of the Polish Social Democrats stemmed in part from the fact that the reform Polish socialists who belonged to the Polish Socialist Party (PSP) [sic] considered that the struggle for Poland’s national independence from Russia took precedence over every other struggle, including the class struggle. According to the PSP, the struggle of Polish workers for their own emancipation needed to remain secondary because it threatened to disrupt the unity of the Polish people. Thus the Polish Social Democrats correctly maintained that the PSP had betrayed the interests of the international working class.[19]

As such allegations distort the actual orientation of the PPS, it is necessary to outline the trajectory of Luxemburg and her party’s political rival.

The fact that PPS leader Joseph Pilsudski became the nationalist ‘founding father’ of the independent Polish state has cast a long shadow backwards. But by 1918 Pilsudski had long since been expelled from the PPS; moreover, his cross-class militaristic nationalism marked an indisputable break from the party’s early theory and practice. The PPS’s 1892 founding programme explicitly rejected ‘national unity’ as a fiction masking class-antagonisms: ‘Our upper classes use the banner of national unity to fight the increasing consciousness of the toiling masses. This banner is everywhere contradicted by the existing social relations.’[20] Far from advocating class collaboration, the party argued that only the working class could defend the nation and win independence, as the Polish ruling class had capitulated to the occupying powers.[21]

All wings of the PPS promoted class struggle and national liberation – in both theory and practice – though significant internal divisions over how to synthesise and balance these goals existed from the party’s founding in 1892. By 1903, the party’s revolutionary Marxist wing (the ‘Young’) had taken over leadership of the organisation in Poland, though Pilsudski’s current maintained control of the émigré apparatus.

Similarly, all wings of the PPS advocated collaboration with Russian revolutionaries in the fight against Tsarism, though the ‘Young’ were far more emphatic and pro-active about this than Pilsudski, who tended to be sceptical of Russian socialism. During the 1905 revolution the PPS was firmly under the leadership of the ‘Young’ and actively fought for an empire-wide revolution and broad autonomy for Poland in a democratic Russia, relegating the demand for independence to a long-term goal.[22] The PPS was the largest political party in Poland and during the revolution it swelled to 55,000 members, at least fifteen thousand more than the SDKPiL. No less importantly, the PPS was the leading force in Poland’s newly-emerged mass trade unions, the strongest such labour organisations in the entire empire.[23]

Often the PPS was more active in collaborating with the Russian movement than Luxemburg’s SDKPiL: it was the PPS that sent a Polish socialist representative to the St Petersburg soviet in late 1905 to coordinate the empire-wide struggle and it was the PPS which initiated the general strike and semi-insurrection in conjunction with the December 1905 Moscow workers’ uprising.[24] In 1906 the PPS announced its support for the revolutionary politics of the Bolsheviks, declaring that the Mensheviks were moderates whose tactics led to the subordination of workers to bourgeois liberals.[25]

After the downturn in the revolutionary wave, the ongoing conflict within the PPS came to a head. In November 1906, the party majority expelled Pilsudski’s minority wing for prioritising guerrilla warfare and Polish national struggle over proletarian mass action and empire-wide revolutionary unity.[26] Desiring to overcome the disunity of Polish Marxism and aiming to affiliate with the RSRDP, the PPS changed its name to PPS-Left in 1907, dropped the demand for independence from its political programme, and called for a merger with the SDKPiL. Independence, PPS-Left leaders now argued, while a desirable long-term goal, was not an immediately realisable objective – therefore Polish workers should focus on unity with other nationalities for their common revolutionary tasks.[27]

The radical and internationalist politics of the PPS and PPS-Left makes Luxemburg’s continued hostility more difficult to explain. Such an approach was arguably rooted as much in pure factionalism as intransigent internationalism. Consider, for example, Luxemburg’s role in the failed 1903 SDKPiL merger with the RSDRP, during which she prioritised fighting the PPS over unifying with Russian socialists. Soon after the arrival of the Polish delegates to the RSDRP congress in Belgium, Luxemburg decided to change the terms of the proposed merger (even though it had been democratically voted on by the SDKPiL congress only a few days earlier). Luxemburg wired the SDKPiL representatives to instruct them to break off negotiations if the RSDRP refused to drop its point on self-determination:[28] ‘Tell the Russians that after the “Iskra” article the moral value of our joining the Russians (as an anti-PPS measure) is minimal, and it is only the moral issue that we are concerned with … for us the importance of a merger is mostly not practical but moral, as a permanent demonstration against nationalism.’[29] After the RSDRP delegates rejected the SDKPiL proposal, the two Polish representatives left the proceedings, unceremoniously ending the merger efforts.

Even if one believes that the presence of Pilsudski’s wing in the early PPS and its advocacy of independence justified Luxemburg’s initial polemics, how are we to explain her stance against the PPS-Left after 1906? According to Luxemburg, dropping the demand for independence was insufficient, as real Marxists understood the absolute historical impossibility of ever achieving an independent Poland.[30] Thus Luxemburg denounced the PPS-Left as ‘a group of bankrupt social-patriots, who had to break with their own past, but who cannot find the way to a social-democratic position.’[31] To become real Marxists, the article concluded, members of the PPS-Left would have to break with their ‘opportunist’ leadership and join the SDKPiL.[32] As will be discussed below, Luxemburg’s position on the PPS was increasingly rejected by the ranks and local leaders of her party after 1906, contributing to the break of the SDKPiL majority away from Luxemburg’s émigré leadership in 1911.

The defeated 191819 Polish revolution

The Polish revolution of 1918–19 was the ultimate test for Poland’s Marxists. World War One and the 1917–18 revolutions in Russia, Germany and Austria imploded the occupying states, leaving a power vacuum in Poland and unleashing a radical upheaval of workers and peasants. In the wake of the conquest of Polish independence on 7 November 1918, over a hundred workers’ councils, as well as armed Red Guards, sprung up across Poland. The country was engulfed by extreme instability, manifest in ruling-class disarray, soldier mutinies, repeated general strikes and armed insurrections. But despite these favourable revolutionary conditions, Polish Marxists were unable to lead the working class to power.

The big question hanging over this period is whether a different outcome would have been possible had the strategy of the PPS-Left, rather than the SDKPiL, guided the early Polish Communist Party. The PPS-Left was well-positioned to have played such a role. During the 1912–14 proletarian upsurge in Poland, while the SDKPiL was embroiled in factional turmoil, the PPS-Left again became the leading political force in the growing strike wave and union movement. PPS-Left mass influence was further amplified when in 1912 it elected the first Polish socialist ever to the Tsarist Duma.[33] In 1917 the PPS-Left was the largest and most influential revolutionary Marxist party in Poland, it consistently fought against the imperialist war, and it opposed socialist participation in the bourgeois Provisional Government.[34] Though the PPS-Left remained ‘non-factional’ throughout 1917, it declared its unconditional support for the October Revolution, arguing that it marked the opening shot in the world socialist revolution.[35] And its stance on national liberation – self-determination through workers’ revolution – certainly corresponded better to the political dynamics inside of Poland, and was closer to Lenin’s position, than that of the SDKPiL.

Yet despite their ongoing differences on the national question, the Bolsheviks continued to ally with the SDKPiL during these crucial years, just as they had ever since 1906. During 1917 and 1918, hundreds of SDKPiL militants living in St Petersburg joined the Bolshevik party and the new Soviet state, often receiving top leadership posts. Feliks Dzierżyński entered the Bolshevik Central Committee in August 1917 and the Bolsheviks’ Department for Polish Affairs – a section of the Commissariat on Nationalities led by Joseph Stalin – was headed by Julian Leszczyński, a SDKPiL leader who used this position to propagate against Polish independence and national self-determination.[36] The requests of PPS-Left groups in Russia to affiliate with the Russian Communist Party were rejected, on the grounds that the PPS-Left had failed to fuse into the SDKPiL.[37]

As had been the case since 1906, by leaning on the leverage provided by the Bolsheviks, the SDKPiL was able to ensure that the PPS-Left would either have to dissolve itself or remain excluded from the international Marxist movement. Facing this dilemma, the PPS-Left decided in 1918 that the urgent need to form a united Communist party in Poland weighed heavier than any ongoing differences with the SDKPiL. Thus in December 1918 the PPS-Left co-founded with the SDKPiL the new Communist party on the basis of a platform affirming Luxemburg and the SDKPiL’s longstanding position on Polish independence. After twenty-five years, Luxemburg’s party had finally overcome its PPS rivals.[38]

Luxemburg was not personally involved in these developments, as she was in jail in Germany until November 1918. But the approach of the SDKPiL leaders was explicitly and consciously based on Luxemburg’s longstanding positions on Polish independence and the PPS.[39] Testifying to Luxemburg’s continued ideological hegemony, her Polish comrades in 1918 requested that she give a green light to their organisational and political approach during this critical period. Rosa Luxemburg’s final action in the Polish socialist movement, before she was murdered in January 1919 by German counter-revolutionaries, was to give her approval from Berlin to the founding programme of the new Polish Communist Workers’ Party, which declared that ‘the Polish proletariat rejects all political slogans such as autonomy, independence, self-determination … For the international camp of social revolution there is no question of borders.’[40]

Such a stance proved to be politically disastrous at a moment when Polish working people were generally euphoric about the conquest of state independence – even SDKPiL leader Julian Marchlewski noted that Polish workers demonstrated ‘a surge of patriotism, in the best sense of the word’.[41] Proletarian enthusiasm for an independent Poland did not mean support for capitalism – indeed, one of the reasons why independence was so popular was it was proclaimed by a socialist-led provisional government which denounced capitalist tyranny and exploitation, called for the rule of Polish working people, and promised to nationalise the major industries and forcibly expropriate the landed estates.[42]

Yet influential Polish Communist leaders from the SDKPiL called for military intervention by the Russian soviet regime into Poland – indeed, SDKPiL émigré leaders in Russia played a central role in initiating and implementing the Bolsheviks’ catastrophically misguided invasion of Poland in the summer of 1920.[43] ‘The error made by us (former SDKPiL members) was rejecting Polish independence. … Negating independence completely, we thus lost the struggle for an independent Soviet Poland’, Dzierżyński later admitted.[44]

By 1923, the Polish Communist party had come to see the dire consequences of its initial orientation. At its historic Second Congress in the autumn of 1923, the party reversed many of Luxemburg and the SDKPiL’s traditional positions and advocated Polish independence, a workers’ united front, and land to the peasants.[45] But this political evolution had come too late, as November 1923 marked the end of the revolutionary wave in Poland and across Europe.

The defeat of the Polish revolution was not a minor or inconsequential episode. Marxists for many decades had viewed Poland as the powder-keg which could blow up the German, Russian, and Austrian regimes – indeed, it was precisely because of Poland’s strategic importance for the revolution in Germany that the Bolsheviks had invaded in 1920.[46] But despite favourable revolutionary conditions, Poland and the Tsarist borderlands ended up constituting more of a barrier than a bridge to the international extension of the workers’ revolution.

See also


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[1] Until 1899 Luxemburg’s party was named the SDKP – i.e., it did not mention Lithuania.

[2] Erlacher 2014, p. 528.

[3] Tyszka 2004, pp. 64–5.

[4] See, for example, Croan 1992, p. 348.

[5] ‘O Wynaradanianiu (z Powodu Dziesięciolecia Rządów Gen. Gub. Hurki)’ [1893], in Buczek and Tych (eds.) 1957, p. 9.

[6] Luxemburg 1900, pp. 1–2.

[7] Strobel 1974, p. 345.

[8] ‘10.VIII.1909’ [1909], in Luxemburg 1971, p. 46.

[9] Luxemburg 1908b.

[10] Continued adherence to this position after 1917 proved to be almost as damaging to early Polish Communism as its stance on the national question. While the PPS-Revolutionary Faction and various radical Polish populist parties won massive rural support by calling for expropriating the landed estates and giving land to the peasants, the SDKPiL and the early Polish Communist party rejected the latter demand as bourgeois and contrary to socio-economic progress. Thus the Provisional Revolutionary Government – headed primarily by former SDKPiL leaders – established during the Bolsheviks’ 1920 invasion of Poland opposed distributing confiscated lands to the peasants. For a self-critique by a former SDKPiL leader acknowledging that the Polish Communist party’s early agrarian and national policies paved the way for the Polish revolution’s defeat, see Warski 1966, pp. 609–11.

[11] On Luxemburg’s Jewish background and her opposition to antisemitism, see Castle 2012.

[12] On this incident and Luxemburg’s other ‘hostile’ stances on Jews, see Rauba 2005, pp. 177–80.

[13] Strobel 1974, pp. 461–2; Weinstock 1984, pp. 234–5.

[14] Apart from two brief periods – 1892–4 and 1907–10, during which both parties were very small – the PPS (PPS-Left after 1906) was numerically larger and more influential than Luxemburg’s party.

[15] On World War One as the turning point in the ‘Polish question’, see Biskupski 1990. For the impact of the First World War on Polish Marxists, see Tych 1960 and Najdus 1980.

[16] Key works by Luxemburg on the Polish national question include Luxemburg 1977 [1898] and Luxemburg (ed.) 1905. For a general overview of her stance on the national question, see Rauba 2005.

[17] This dynamic reached a high point between 1900 and 1902, when followers of Luxemburg and her line on the national question and the PPS became a minority inside the newly re-founded SDKPiL (in 1896 the original party had been completely destroyed inside of Poland by repression). Thus the 1900 Leipzig party conference announced that the party ‘does not renounce Polish independence’, and resolved not to distribute Luxemburg’s 1895 pamphlet against Polish independence. (‘Zjazd Zagranicznych Grup SD w Lipsku’ [1900], in Szmidt (ed.) 1934, pp. 176–7.) Similarly, the November 1901 SDKPiL congress in Warsaw resolved that it ‘fully recognised the principle of national independence’, but that it did not raise the independence demand in its programme because ‘at the present no one can predict the stages of political development of Poland and Lithuania’. (‘[III] Zjazdu Socjaldemokratycznej Partji Królestwa Polskiego i Litwy’ [1901], in Szmidt (ed.) 1934, p. 275.) This brief period came to an end when the Tsarist police arrested most of the SDKPiL’s new leadership in 1902.

[18] On the history of the SDKPiL, see Strobel 1974, Kochański 1971, Radlak 1979, Najdus 1980, and Sobczak 1980.

[19] Lewis 2000, p. 52.

[20] ‘Szkic Programu Polskiej Partii Socjalistycznej’ [1892], in Tych 1975, p. 250.

[21] ‘Szkic Programu Polskiej Partii Socjalistycznej’ [1892], in Tych 1975, p. 251.

[22] On the PPS between 1904 and 1906, see Żarnowska 1965.

[23] On the PPS, the SDKPiL and trade unions, see below.

[24] Żarnowska 1965, pp. 301–12; Sobczak 1980, p. 386.

[25] ‘Walka kierunków w łonie Rosyjskiej Socjalnej Demokracji’, Robotnik № 132, 4 July 1906.

[26] Pilsudski’s new party became known as the PPS-Revolutionary Faction. Within a few years it was only a marginal force in the workers’ movement and by 1914 Pilsudski’s turn to militaristic nationalism had led him to leave this party too (Ładyka 1972).

[27] In part because the Bolsheviks allied themselves with the SDKPiL, the PPS-Left’s enthusiasm for the former cooled between 1907 and 1917. During this period the PPS-Left situated itself in the ‘non-factional’ revolutionary Marxist camp that included most other borderland parties, as well as Leon Trotsky. The PPS-Left rejected the Mensheviks’ call for an alliance with liberals, but thought that the Bolsheviks had not broken from a semi-sectarian stance towards other revolutionary socialists and the workers’ movement generally (Kasprzakowa 1965, passim).

[28] ‘Depesza R. Luksemburg i Tyszki do Delegatów SDKPiL na II Zjazd SDPRR–A. Warskiego i J. Haneckiego’ [1903], in Szmidt (ed.) 1934, p. 390.

[29] ‘List R. Luksemburg do Warskiego’ [1903], in Szmidt (ed.) 1934, pp. 390, 396.

[30] Luxemburg 1908a.

[31] Rosa Luxemburg [Anonymous] 1910, ‘O druzgocącej krytyce zdruzgotanej partii’, Czerwony sztandar № 176, 20 June 1910.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Kasprzakowa 1965, pp. 141–240.

[34] Strobel 1974, pp. 645–50.

[35] Tych 1960, pp. 116–24.

[36] Dzierżyński would soon go on to head the Soviet secret police (the ‘Cheka’). Leszczyński became Stalin’s main supporter inside the Polish Communist party during the 1920s. For his efforts to purge the ‘Trotskyites’, Leszczyński was rewarded with a promotion to party head in 1929 – a post he retained until he perished in 1937 during Stalin’s ‘Great Purge’.

[37] ‘1918 r., listopad, Moskwa – List Sekretariatu Sekcji i Grup PPS-Lewicy w Rosji do CK RKP(b) w sprawie wstąpienia PPS-Lewicy do RKP(b)’ [1918], in Wydziału Historii Partii KC PZPR 1956, p. 162.

[38] On the PPS-Left’s unification with the SDKPiL, see Strobel 1974, pp. 651–87.

[39] Sprawozdanie ze Zjazdu Organizacyjnego KPRP. Zjednoczenie SDKPiL i PPS Lewicy. Warszawa 1919, pp. 4–5 (Dokumenty życia społecznego, Biblioteka Narodowa).

[40] Sprawozdanie ze Zjazdu Organizacyjnego KPRP. Zjednoczenie SDKPiL i PPS Lewicy. Warszawa 1919, p. 9 (Dokumenty życia społecznego, Biblioteka Narodowa).

[41] Marchlewski 1920, p. 28.

[42] Do Ludu Polskiego. Robotnicy, Włościanie i Żołnierze Polscy! Lublin-Kraków, 7 listopada 1918 (Biblioteka Śląska). The provisional government was headed by Ignacy Daszyński, the leader of the PPS’s sister group in Austrian Poland. By this time, Pilsudski had left the PPS-Revolutionary Faction (renamed simply as the PPS in 1909). The PPS made a shift towards the left during World War One and merged with the ‘Austrian’ and ‘Prussian’ PPS counterparts in early 1919. By tying its support for Polish independence to workers’ immediate demands, the left-reformist PPS proved able during the war and revolution to overcome the former hegemony of the radical Marxists in the Polish labour movement. On the role of the PPS in the revolution, see Holzer 1962.

[43] Former SDKPiL leader Joseph Unszlicht in particular played a crucial role in feeding into Lenin’s mistaken hope that a Red Army invasion would be greeted by the Polish proletariat (Trembicka 1986–7, pp. 178–9).

[44] Cited in Warski 1966 [1929], p. 611.

[45] Komunistyczna Partia Robotnicza Polski 1968.

[46] Analysing the 1920 ‘catastrophe’, Trotsky noted that ‘the error in the strategic calculations in the Polish war had great historical consequences. The Poland of Pilsudski came out of the war unexpectedly strengthened. On the contrary, the development of the Polish revolution received a crushing blow. The frontier established by the [1921] Riga treaty cut off the Soviet Republic from Germany, a fact that later was of great importance in the lives of both countries.’ (Trotsky 1970, p. 459.)

From → Eric Blanc, Poland

  1. prianikoff permalink

    E.B. “SDKPiL émigré leaders in Russia played a central role in initiating and implementing the Bolsheviks’ catastrophically misguided invasion of Poland in the summer of 1920.”

    Strangely, Eric Blanc doesn’t quote Isaac Deutscher, who argues exactly the opposite.

    Here’s what he says in his 1958 interview –“The Tragedy of the Polish Communist Party”

    “When the question of the march on Warsaw came up, (the Polish Communists in Moscow) split in a rather paradoxical manner.

    On the one hand, the old ‘Luxemburgists’, the ‘opponents of independence’, Radek and Marchlewski, [8] spared no efforts to convince Lenin and the Russian Politburo that the march on Warsaw should not be undertaken, but that peace should be proposed to Poland as soon as Piłsudski’s armies had been chased out of the Ukraine. (They succeeded in winning to their point of view only Trotsky, who was then the People’s Commissar for War.)

    On the other hand, the old supporters of independence, former PPS men like Feliks Kon and Łapiński, favoured the Red Army’s march on Warsaw; they maintained that the Polish proletariat was in a state of the utmost revolutionary ferment and would welcome the Red Army as its liberator. “
    Deutscher argues that:-

    “the Red Army’s march on Warsaw was a much more serious and more damaging moral handicap for the Polish Communist Party than had been all of Rosa Luxemburg’s real or imaginary mistakes taken together.”

    Blanc’s bibliography also fails to mention Paul Frölich’s well-known biography of Luxemburg, which is far from being uncritical of her views on the Agrarian or National questions in Poland.
    see “Rosa Luxemburg, Her life and Work” Gollancz 1940, pps 274-5.

    This is curious omission, since Frölich’s life-long partner Rosali Wolfstein was a close friend of Rosa Luxemburg and inherited her papers, which formed the basis for Frölich’s biography – hardly an exercise in hagiography.

  2. Jestem Polką, która studiowała prawo na renomowanej amerykańskiej uczelni w Ratcliff i wiem, że Ameryka ma naukę na wysokim poziomie i jest mi przykro, że Amerykanom historia Polski kojarzy się z komunistami i Różą Luksemburg, a nie np. z Józefem Piłsudskim i Janem Karskim.

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