Domski on the Polish-Soviet War (1920)

As an appendix to our recent article on the Polish-Soviet War(1), which sees its centenary this year, we present here for the first time in English a “controversial” article by Domski, originally published in Die Rote Fahne (No. 136, 22 July 1920), the paper of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). To understand its significance a brief note on the context is required.

We have previously written about Henryk Stein (1883-1937), pseudonym Leon Domski and Kamieński, as part of our research into the Communist Left in Poland.(2) In the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL) since 1904, he was a founding member of the Communist Workers’ Party of Poland (KPRP) in 1918. In the debates within the Second International, on national self-determination he took the side of Luxemburg, and on the First World War that of Lenin at the Zimmerwald Conference. A principled internationalist, he found himself on the Central Committee of the KPRP (1918-1922 and briefly in 1925), where he sided with the Left. First, as part of the “Grzechist” current within the party(3), on the questions of national self-determination, parliamentarism and agrarian policy; and then, on similar grounds to Bordiga and the Italian Left, on the tactic of the united front and the slogan of the workers’ government. In 1919 Domski was, not for the first nor last time, arrested for his revolutionary activity, after which, in ill health, he moved to Berlin. This is how he came to write for the KPD, and there became fraternal with the Left of Werner Scholem, Arthur Rosenberg, Ruth Fischer and Arkadi Maslow.(4)

Today however Domski is primarily remembered, when at all, for being one of the few Polish communists to publicly oppose the Red Army advance on Warsaw. In the factional disputes within the “bolshevised” Polish party and the degenerating Third International, his position had often been misconstrued. In fact, at the Fourth Congress of the Communist International (1922) Zinoviev went as far as to denounce Domski’s stance as “nationalism of the purest sort”.(5) The same accusation, among others, was later used in 1925 to justify Domski's removal from the leadership of the Polish party. But, as the translated document makes clear, Domski’s cautionary approach was neither a case of Polish exceptionalism nor an attempt to devise some kind of principle out of his opposition.(6) Rather, he recognised that a soviet regime will have the firmest foundation where it is brought about by the masses themselves, and that in Poland there was a real danger that introducing it “from the outside through foreign troops would find far stronger resistance from the owning classes and weaker support from the working masses [thus] compromising the soviet regime in the eyes of the proletariat of Western Europe”.

Dyjbas and Tinkotka

August 2020

Notes to the introduction

(1) The Battle of Warsaw and the Defeat of the Revolutionary Wave in Europe

(2) A Brief History of the Communist Workers’ Party of Poland

(3) Who were the Grzechists?

(4) It was at the Sixth Enlarged Plenum of the ECCI (1926) that Bordiga, Domski and Scholem were all denounced by the leadership of the Comintern. Bordiga was the only one to unapologetically stand his ground: 1926, Last Fight in the Communist International

(5) Grzech and Domski at the Fourth Congress of the Communist International (1922)

(6) Two years later Domski would praise Trotsky’s pamphlet on Georgia, which argued that:

A workers’ state, in recognizing the right of self-determination, thereby recognizes that revolutionary coercion is not an all-powerful historical factor. Soviet Russia does not by any means intend to make its military power take the place of the revolutionary efforts of the proletariats of other countries. The conquest of proletarian power must be an outcome of proletarian political experience. This does not mean that the revolutionary efforts of the workers of Georgia or any other country, must not receive any military support from outside. It is only essential that this support should come at a moment when the need for it has been created by the political development of the workers, and recognised by the class-conscious revolutionary vanguard, who have won the sympathy of the majority of the workers. These are questions of revolutionary strategy, and not a formal democratic ritual.

Between Red and White, 1922

Domski recognised that such conditions did not exist in Poland in 1920, but today we should likewise question whether they existed in Georgia in 1921 either. See: Georgia on His Mind: Lenin’s Final Fight against “Great-Russian Chauvinism”

Soviet Russia and Peace

Following the victories of Soviet Russia(7), its enemies secretly hope to tie a noose around its neck as soon as possible. Judging proletarian politics against their own standards, they believe that Soviet Russia, victorious, will now finally reveal its imperialism and, following the examples of Brest-Litovsk and Versailles, stomp on the necks of their defeated opponents.

Soviet Russia has yet again put the hopes of its opponents to shame. In the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, the current in favour of peace prevailed.(8) Even if it was only with a slight majority, it must be kept in mind how great the burden must have been on the willpower of our Russian comrades to forego the total military destruction of their dishonourable opponents, who shamefully trampled Russia’s will to peace, making the work of peaceful construction impossible, and committed countless devastations and atrocities even on their retreat. And yet Soviet Russia declared its willingness to agree to the armistice and offer the defeated enemies acceptable conditions.(9)

This policy is not only honourable, but also clever. We can see how completely differently Russia responds to the suggestion of the Entente to conclude an armistice with Wrangel(10); here it has answered with a decisive “no” and with the demand for unconditional surrender. In Wrangel’s case there was no possibility for the enemy to present the war as a campaign of conquest by Soviet Russia; the class character of this battle, in which the Russian Revolution gives birth to the no less Russian Counter-Revolution, is clear for all to see. The question of Poland is different. Here, the bourgeoisie is making every effort to distort its failed attack on the Russian Revolution into a war of national defence; this propaganda has not – thanks also to the efforts of the social-patriots – been totally unsuccessful, and volunteers have taken up arms.(11) It may be the case that the approach of the Red Army is more than enough, and that Russia need not worry militarily about this phenomenon. But Soviet Russia’s struggle against Polish reaction is not merely military, but rather has a political aim: erecting the dictatorship of the proletariat in Poland. However, this dictatorship can only survive if it comes from within. Only the popular masses who – like the Russian masses – have made their own revolution, are able to willingly bear and outlast all the struggles that come with social upheaval. Conversely, a soviet regime introduced from the outside through foreign troops would find far stronger resistance from the owning classes and weaker support from the working masses. The Entente would thus be presented with the opportunity to foment yet more counter-revolutionary activity in Poland and make all the constructive work of a Polish council government impossible, compromising the soviet regime in the eyes of the proletariat of Western Europe.

All of these connections are totally clear to Lenin, Chicherin, Radek and many other leaders of Russian Soviet policy. They hope, if at all possible, to avoid any and all semblance of politics of conquest and revenge. The Soviet government even opposed the attempt to establish council rule in Vilnius and left the city in the hands of the Lithuanian state.(12) Whether this decision was correct from a national perspective (Vilnius is anything but a Lithuanian city) is up for debate: the important thing is that Soviet Russia clearly repudiated all imperialism through this step and put to rest all mendacious accusations otherwise.

It would hardly be justified either to assume that the Soviet government demands any “safeguards”, i.e. disarmaments, etc., in the peace treaty with Poland. These demands would only make any sense if Soviet Russia had followed the shining example of the Entente in Germany and placed Polish administration and production under police supervision of its missions and commissions. But such a policy is impossible for a proletarian state. For Soviet Russia there can be only one “safeguard” – the communist revolution in Poland. But this would be harmed by any imperialist clauses in the peace treaty – however well intended they might be.

The latest news also shows all the clearer that the Russian Soviet government has not let itself stray following its shining military success and continues to stick to its revolutionary politics, which are foreign to all imperialism. It is not Russia who has embarrassed itself in the newly created conditions, but, on the contrary, the Entente. After all, the Entente has shamefully betrayed Poland, having led the latter astray drawing out its last drop of blood, and set up the conditions for the proposal of an armistice, which Chicherin could dismiss with the scornful remark that Poland would get more favourable terms from him. The new position taken up by the Entente on the Cieszyn question is a similar betrayal.(13) The Entente now wants to drop the referendum in Cieszyn and decide itself on the fate of the territory. Considering that the Poles have the absolute majority in Cieszyn over Czechs and Germans and that the territory was represented by Poles in the Austrian Reichsrat, this position is revealed to be an unequivocal statement in favour of Czechoslovakia. Thus the Entente also stays true to that time-honoured imperialist principle that every defeated enemy – even when it happens to be “friendly” or “allied” – is to be considered loot and an object of trade.

Thus now as ever before, the Entente appears an involuntary helper to Russian Soviet policy. It is typical for this situation that the social-patriots(14) in the Polish Sejm have submitted a motion to reject the peace talks of the Entente and only deal with Russia directly. The wretched social traitors, who only a year ago voted in the Sejm for an alliance with the Entente, are therefore now forced to admit that Poland would now be far better off with the despised Bolsheviks than with the allied Entente capitalists. This episode shows best where to apply leverage in order to throw the whole patriotic racket in Poland up into the air. Already among the working masses in Poland, there are increasing signs of resistance to volunteer armies, who are seen by the workers as “White Guards” and a threat not to the Red Army but to the Polish proletariat itself.(15) The declaration of the state of siege (“special protection”) in Poland also does not necessarily speak to a patriotic mood amongst the population.

The task of proletarian diplomacy will be to finish the job of the proletarian army and trigger the latent revolution in Poland.

L. Domski

Notes to the translation

(7) By 22 July, when this article was published, the Red Army had managed to repel Piłsudki’s attack, who was now on the retreat.

(8) Domski would not have been aware that on 17 July 1920 the Russian Politburo had agreed that the ethnographic Polish border along the Curzon Line be crossed – on 23 July this was accomplished. After the fact, on 31 August, Domski sent a letter to the Polish Politburo reinforcing his stance.

(9) The Bolsheviks tried to secure peace multiple times: on 22 December 1919, 28 January 1920 and 5 August 1920. These proposals were however rejected, despite being advantageous to the Polish government with a border to the east of what was later settled in Riga on 18 March 1921.

(10) Pyotr Wrangel (1878-1928) commanded a White Army in Southern Russia. He was finally defeated in November 1920, when his fleet fled to Turkey.

(11) Established in July 1920, more than 100,000 men had signed up to join the Polish Volunteer Army by September of that year. Once the Battle of Warsaw began in August, the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) organised a recruitment drive among workers to defend the Polish capital from the Bolsheviks.

(12) According to the Soviet-Lithuanian Peace Treaty of 12 July 1920.

(13) Reference to the Polish–Czechoslovak border dispute over Cieszyn Silesia. The planned referendum never took place, instead the division of the territory was decided by the Entente at the Spa Conference in July 1920.

(14) I.e. the PPS.

(15) The Polish government struggled with draft evasion and mass desertion. Enthusiasm was particularly low among workers, peasants and ethnic minorities. In the Kielce region, just in May 1920, over 2,000 deserters were arrested. In the Krosno region, in response to a new wave of conscription, only 1 out of 28 municipalities presented itself for inspection. In the Dąbrowa Basin, strikes against conscription broke out in July 1920, led by the KPRP. On average only 30-50% of those called up responded to the draft. See: Piotr Stawecki, Wojsko Polskie i społeczeństwo w latach 1919-1920 w świetle raportów i komunikatów naczelnych władz wojskowych

Saturday, August 29, 2020