The Polish-Soviet War

Trotsky addresses Red Army during revolutionary war against Pilsudski's Poland

The Bolsheviks and
the "Export of Revolution"

The Russo-Polish War

The issue of making "revolution from without" arose
among the Bolsheviks as a result of the Russo-Polish war of
1920. Its formulation and the ensuing debate were
organically linked to the course and outcome of that war.
In April 1920 Joseph Pilsudski, the bourgeois nationalist
"Libetator" of Poland, launched an
unprovoked attack on the Soviet forces in the Ukraine.
Backed by French imperialism, Pilsudski had ambitions to
recreate "Greater Poland" by bringing the Ukraine and
parts of the Baltic states back under Polish rule. The Soviet
government, which had been desperately trying to
negotiate a peace with Poland, was taken unprepared and
was forced to abandon Kiev and much of the Ukraine. But
the Red Army mustered fresh forces and in June launched a
successful counterattack that sent the overextended Polish
armies reeling in disorderly retreat. By the end of June the
Soviet armies had advanced almost unopposed right up to
the border of national Poland. The question was then
posed point blank: whether to conclude peace with
Pilsudski or to go over to the offensive in a revolutionary
war against Poland? It was this agonizingly difficult
question that the Bolshevik Politburo debated.
No Bolshevik leader considered revolutionary war
against Pilsudski's Poland impermissible in principle.
Rather the debate centered on two interrelated, empirical
questions. One, would the Red Army's advance into
Poland ignite a proletarian uprising leading to
peasant aid to the Soviet forces, mutinies among
Pilsudski's troops, etc.? Two, how would the Soviet
peoples, devastated bv six years of war and civil war, stand
up to a new major war? The stronger the indigenous
revolutionary forces in Poland, the less the demands on the
offensive capacity of the Red Army and behind it on the
Russian and Ukrainian masses.
Of the top Bolshevik leaders Trotsky alone advocated
negotiation of an immediate peace with Poland. Writing
later in his 1930 autobiography, Trotsky explained his
position as follows:

"Even more perhaps than any one else, I did not want this
war, because I realized only too clearly how difficult it
would be to prosecute it after three years of continuous
civil war…
"A point of view that the war which began as one of
defense should be turned into an offensive and revolutionary
war began to grow and acquire strength. In principle,
of course I could not possibly have any objection to such a
course. The question was simply one of the correlation of
forces. The unknown quantity was the attitude of the
Polish workers and peasants."
My Life
Trotsky believed that a Russian offensive against
Pilsudski could hope to succeed only if a proletarian
revolution broke out early on in Poland. And he had good
reason to doubt that a communist revolution in Poland was
so imminent. He listened to the sober estimates of such
leading Polish Communist emigrés as Julian Marchlewski
and Karl Radek. Marchlewski evidently spared no effort to
persuade the Russian Politburo not to undertake the
invasion of Poland. But perhaps none was so opposed to a
war with Poland as was Radek, who believed that Russian
troops marching on Polish soil, even if they raised the banner
 "For our freedom and yours!", would be regarded
by the masses as conquerors and not liberators. Radek
urged the Bolshevik leaders to let the Polish revolution
mature on its own before sending Russian troops to its aid.
There was a definite logic to this position. If the Soviet
government were to conclude a peace with Pilsudski, then
both the Red Army and the Polish Communists would buy
time to better gather forces for the offensive. If Pilsudski
were to reject a generous Soviet peace offer, making war
inevitable, then the Polish masses would be able to see
clearly who was the real aggressor.
Of the other Bolshevik leaders Lenin was most resolutely
in favor of going over to the offensive against Poland. No
doubt Lenin was impressed by the effect on the Soviet
forces of Pilsudski's attack on the Ukraine. The Red Army
certainly appeared ready and willing to rout the retreating,
demoralized units of the Polish army. But what seemed to
have clinched the question for Lenin were the reports he
received from resident Polish Communists like Felix Kon
and P.L. Lapinski. Kon and Lapinksi, who came from the
anti-Luxemburgist wing of the old Polish socialist
movement and would therefore presumably be sensitive to
the national sentiments of the Polish masses, predicted
imminent revolution in Warsaw.
Moreover, Lenin fixed his gaze on Berlin. Revolution
indeed seemed imminent in Germany. Only a few months
earlier the German proletariat had defeated the right-wing
Kapp putsch with a general strike and also had prevented
French munitions shipments from reaching Poland after
Pilsudski's attack on the Ukraine. In a revolutionary war
against Poland the stakes were enormous. A Soviet Poland
would remove the last bulwark sealing off the October
Revolution from Germany. If only the Soviets could
deliver lhe coup de grace to Pilsudski, the entire Treaty of
Versailles would come crashing down, and the floodgates
of revolution would burst open in Germany, spreading
over the entire continent. The very prospect made for an
almost overwhelming argument. To a certain extent Lenin
and the Politburo majority were willing to subordinate the
degree of indigenous support for the sovietization of
Poland to the goal of securing a common border with
Germany, then in the throes of a revolutionary situation.
And certainly with the Red Army on Germany's border in
the period 1920-23, the entire course of modern history
could have been radically altered.
Lenin's most complete statement of the international
significance of the Polish war was given in a speech to a
congress of leather industry workers on 2 October 1920:

"The Versailles Peace has turned Poland into a buffer state
which is to guard against German contact with Soviet
communism and is regarded by the Entente as a weapon
against t the Bolsheviks....

Had Poland turned Soviet, had the Warsaw workers
received from Soviet Russia help they awaited and
welcomed, the Peace of Versailles would have been
smashed, and the entire international system set up as a
result of the victory over the Germany would have collapsed.
France would then not have had a buffer protecting
Germany against Soviet Russia."
Collected Works, Vol. 31 ( 1966)
lronically, in comparison with the differences over the
Brest-Litovsk peace in 1918, Lenin and Trotsky now
switched roles. At that time it was Lenin who had most
adamantly pressed for concluding the "shameful peace" in
order to secure a respite for the newly formed Soviet state.
Trotsky, in advocating his "not war, not peace" position,
banked on a more or less imminent revolution in
Whereas events proved Lenin right in 1918, the course of
the Russo-Polish war did not bear out his optimistic
projections. The Polish peasants, whipped up by the
Catholic clergy, resented the advancing Reds as conquerors
and not liberators. The memories of a century and a
half of national and religious oppression were still fresh in
the mind of the Polish rural majority. And the Red Army's
forced grain requisitions, coupled with some incidents of
vengeance against individuals by raw Russian soldiers,
didn't help win the mistrustful Poles to the Communist
Nor was the Soviet Russian advance welcomed in
general by the urban proletariat, which in its majority was
still under socialdemocratic leadership. The Polish
Communist Party, which had been forced underground
more than a year before, issued a call for a general strike,
but it found no response except among the militant miners
in the extreme southwestern industrial region of Dabrowa.
In Warsaw some workers even volunteered to serve in
Pilsudski's militias. After the Russians' defeat at the
historic battle of the Vistula, Lenin admitted that the
offensive provoked not class war within Poland but
national unity. Spartacist nº29, 1980.


Poloniar kapitalistak, frantziar inperialisten morroi

Red Army
Wojna polsko-sowiecka