Max Shachtman

The Reasons Behind the Russo-Polish Break
Have Little to Do with the Smolensk Corpses

(May 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 18, 3 May 1943, pp. 3 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The severance of Russo-Polish diplomatic relations by the Kremlin has thrown a beam of light on another corner of imperialist policy in the war.

The immediate cause of the break appeared to be the action of the so-called Polish Government-in-exile on the story spread by the Nazis that the Russians had killed several thousand Polish officers, who were their prisoners in Smolensk in 1940. The Sikorski “government” in London reacted to the story by proposing that the International Red Cross in Geneva conduct an impartial investigation of the Nazi charges against the Russians.

The embarrassed Red Cross officials parried with a decision to undertake an investigation, provided they were called upon to do so by all the interested parties. With one of the interested parties, Russia, categorically denying the Nazi charge, and just as flatly rejecting an investigation, the Red Cross was able to duck the problem more or less gracefully. The continued insistence of the Polish Council in London finally produced the Molotov note to its ambassador in Moscow breaking off all relations.

A Convenient Pretext

The Smolensk story is nevertheless only a convenient pretext that climaxes a conflict that has been smoldering for several years, with occasional outbreaks no less spectacular than the recent Moscow action. Whether or not the Nazi story is true cannot now be told. No one is idiotic enough to take the word of Hitler’s professional liars.

Besides, even if they are not lying this time, which is more than doubtful in face of their well-established record, it takes a most impressive amount of gall for Hitler, Goebbels & Co. to appear before the world with a look of horrified indignation on their faces over the alleged massacre of the Polish officers.

They have been engaged, since they took power in Germany in 1933, and especially since the outbreak of World War II, in the wholesale murder of entire peoples. The soil of Poland is stuffed with the bodies of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Hitler’s victims, defenseless civilians, old people and children, male and female, slain in masses by the fascist butchers. And Poland is not the only country the Nazi fiends have turned into a slaughterhouse. Hitler’s avowed aim is not to leave a single Jew alive in Europe; it is an aim he has all but achieved. In lesser, but no less ghastly, degree, all the other peoples now ruled by German imperialism have suffered hellishly at the hands of the Nazis.

This does not mean that the Stalinist regime, whose methods differ in no important respect from those of

Hitler, is not capable of having committed the crime charged against it by the impudent hypocrites in Berlin. To accomplish its aims, the Stalinist bureaucracy in the past has not shrunk from uprooting whole populations from their homes and shipping them transcontinental like cattle, or even from killing off by the thousands those who stood in its way. Its victims include nobody-knows-how-many tens of thousands of Poles and other peoples whom it exiled, during the period of the Stalin-Hitler pact, to God-forsaken holes in the Russian Empire.

The liberal and conservative apologists for Stalin in the United States and England prefer not to speak of these “trifles” today only because the Kremlin is now an “ally” of their own imperialist masters. But their silence does not change the facts in the least. Working class socialists have not begun to forget, either, the fact that Stalin cold-bloodedly framed up and murdered thousands of the best and most loyal revolutionary fighters in Russia during the period of the Moscow Trial atrocities.

All these facts permit the conclusion that Stalin’s GPU was quite capable of wiping out the Polish officers, as the Nazis charge, just as the facts which are commonly known permit the conclusion that the Nazis may have done it themselves. The truth about the affair, in other words, is not to be found in the mere declarations of people who have been guilty time and again of frame-up, falsehood and mass murder. In this case, we have no reason to believe the accusers on either side. We can only wait until the actual facts are properly established.

Sikorski’s Aims

Far more important than the ten or twelve thousand Polish officers (the Nazi liars don’t seem to be too sure of their figures) is the real reason for the break in relations between the Kremlin and Sikorski.

The Sikorski group in London is no more a government than the de Gaulle National Committee or the Giraud camarilla in North Africa. If anything, it has even less right to call itself a government. It was not chosen by the Polish people and is not representative of it. It is composed of as reactionary a gang of landowners, feudal barons, capitalists and militaristic thugs as ever disgraced and exploited long-suffering Poland. It is followed by a servile little clique of “socialists” falsely claiming to represent the Polish workers and peasants, who never authorized them to sit at the heels of Sikorski’s crew of reactionaries and anti-Semites.

The people behind Sikorski & Co. have one interest and one only in the war, and that interest has as much to do with “democracy” or “national sovereignty” as rape has to do with love. They want only to restore their position of power and rule over the former Polish Empire. This means not only their rule over the Polish people but also over the millions of Ukrainians, White Russians, Jews and Lithuanians who were the particular objects of Polish oppression before the war. The record of that oppression is so vile that there are few democratic imperialists in England or the United States who are prepared to argue that they are for its restoration – and that is saying a lot, because these are people who are usually ready to argue in favor of even the most reactionary idea of “their side.”

Attempting to utilize the fact that they are now under British, and to a certain extent American patronage, the Sikorski gang has tried consistently, since Russia became part of the “United” Nations, to have the Kremlin commit itself to a post-war restoration of the pre-war Polish Empire, or as near to it as could be wheedled or coerced out of Russia. Despite all the efforts of secret diplomacy, and the layers of intrigue covering up these efforts, their natural odor has been powerful enough to make an international stink.

Stalin Grinds Own Axe

The new czars of the Kremlin, however, are no so easily wheedled or coerced. They snatched all the Baltic booty they could out of the Hitler-Stalin pact, and they want, very simply, to keep it, and as much more of the spoils of war as they can get, when the war is over.

The fact that they declaim about the “rights of the people,” and that they denounce the graspings of the “Polish landowning clique,” should, of course, fool nobody with any sense. When they marched into former Poland in full agreement with the German, fascists, they showed mighty little concern over the “rights of the people.” Similarly when the occupied the three Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and, later, the southern part of Finland. All they were interested in then, and all they are interested in now, is to consolidate and expand their own bureaucratic-imperialist power, and the privileges and loot that go with it.

The Stalinist gang is no more the rightful or proper or representative ruler of the Ukrainian, White Russian or Lithuanian people than were Sikorski and the Polish feudal lords. The one is not a bit more or less democratic than the other. After the Stalinists and their GPU marched into Poland, and into the three Baltic countries, they organized a “popular election,” “a “plebiscite” that must have turned Hitler dark purple with envy. Stalin’s “elections” – where he nominates the only candidate, for the only “party,” runs him on the only program, has the votes cast with the GPU pistol at the head of the voter, and then counts the votes all by himself – are notorious. They are “effective,” but they have as much to do, with democracy as any “plebiscite” Hitler might organize.

Stalin has made no effort to conceal his intention to rule the peoples he enslaved, with Hitler’s aid, when the war is over. In fact, he has indicated that the Kremlin’s imperialist program goes further than the conquests of 1939 and 1940, not only in Eastern Europe but also in Asia. His Anglo-American allies, of course, have been reluctant to agree to his program in advance. The result has been a half-open, half-concealed, game of jockeying for position between them.

Relations with His Allies

Stalin has demonstratively held off from too close collaboration with the United States and England, as exemplified by his studied insult to Roosevelt and Churchill on the occasion of the Casablanca Conference. His policy has been to say, in effect: “Sign my program of conquest now, or I shall remain stand-offish – or worse.” By “worse,” he means and can only mean, the threat of a separate peace or a less formal understanding with the ally who preceded England and the United States, namely, Germany. Stalin had no qualms about doing that once. It it suited his book, he would do it again without a minute’s hesitation. All that would be funny in such a move would be the embarrassed chorus of apologies for the action by his so-called “communist” parties.

There is no doubt that Stalin has been worried by the counter-game played by his allies on their part, especially by the United States. He would be stupid indeed if he did not understand the significance of all the steps that have already been taken with the clear aim in view of preventing him from realizing Russia’s imperialistic ambitions by protecting the no less imperialistic ambitions of England and the United States on the European continent.

He knows the meaning of U.S. support for Giraud as against de Gaulle, because the former is notoriously anti-Moscow. He knows the meaning of the support given Mikhailovitch in Serbia, as against the Partisan groups in which the Stalinists function and which they seem to control to a certain extent. He knows the meaning of the support given the ridiculous figure of Otto Habsburg, who, wants to reconstitute the monstrosity once known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire – now, as then, a barrier against Russia. Finally, he knows that under the circumstances, two can play the same game.

Naturally, Stalin must trim his sails to the wind. When affairs are going badly for him on the military front, and his dependence on Anglo-American aid is correspondingly greater, he confines his program and protests to sullen mutterings. He not only says nothing about the reactionary rule of the Churchills over India, but is silent about the reactionary rule of the Sikorskis over Poland.

But when his military front is in better shape, or when the military plans of his Anglo-American allies depend to a greater extent than before upon his cooperation, he becomes a lot bolder. His megaphones inside and outside Russia then speak a little less vaguely about the Kremlin’s post-war demands. And he himself summons up enough courage to denounce and break with – the Polish imperialists. Not with the real and powerful British imperialists, who actually and presently oppress hundreds of millions of colonial slaves, but with the miserable skeleton of a Polish imperialist government which USED TO exploit and oppress and which WOULD LIKE TO do it again, but which now represents only ambition and not reality. Not Surprising

There is no reason for surprise or misunderstanding of the latest development. A resolution adopted several months ago by the National Committee of the Workers Party, and printed in the March 1943 issue of The New International, contains the following paragraphs:

“With the first substantial (though by no means yet conclusive) victories over the Germans, the Stalinist bureaucracy is regaining its self-confidence. With regained self-confidence comes the release of repressed appetites and ambitions, and increased boldness in revealing aims and claims which the exigencies of yesterday’s utter dependency upon the Anglo-American partners made it expedient to keep in the background. Obviously inspired by Moscow, trial balloons are already being sent up to see what the reaction would be to the demand that the bureaucracy will almost certainly put forward as soon as the military and political situations permit it, for its own imperialist, expansionist claims, in Eastern and Southern Europe and in the Orient. To think that, in the case of an Allied victory, the Stalinist regime will modestly declare that it has driven the invader off its territory, as of August 1939, and that it is quite content with die restoration of those territorial boundaries, is to be utterly preposterous ...

“England and the United States face an ally who does not hesitate to exploit differences between both of them, but follows as much of an independent policy as any of the partners in either of the two big war alliances tries to follow. The relationships with this partner, Russia, go from bad to worse (from the standpoint of Anglo-American imperialism) as the military situation goes from good to better (from the standpoint of Stalinist imperialism and vice versa. As the fear of a German victory diminishes, the demands of the Stalinist regime grow in scope and intensity of presentation, and the apprehensions of Anglo-American imperialism mount correspondingly. Moscow wants the annexation of at least part of Finland, the three small Baltic countries, Eastern Poland, Bessarabia and parts of Rumania, at least part of Manchuria, not less than three of the five northern provinces of China – or a ‘protectorate’ over these lands which is either the equivalent of annexation or a prologue to it – to say nothing of ‘access to the Mediterranean’ at Turkey’s expense, ‘access to the Persian Gulf’ at Iran’s expense, etc. This is not only indicated by the course of Russia’s foreign policy, but has already been made fairly clear by the apologists and spokesmen for the Stalin regime in the USA. The achievement of this program would make Russia a formidable rival to the capitalist-imperialist powers on the European continent and in Asia. This fact is realized, beyond a doubt, both in Washington and in London; and also in Ankara, which requires constant assurances about Russia from her allies, in the Polish emigré-government circles, which are split right down the middle on the question of Russia’s post-war demands, in those Finnish circles which want to withdraw from the war with Russia but fear the consequences, and elsewhere.”

What Next?

These are the fundamental factors behind the “Smolensk affair.” The interests of the Nazis in driving deeper the wedge between the “United” Nations is, of course, obvious, so obvious that even the columnists understand it. Not so obvious are the fundamental interests of Russia on the one side, and the capitalist-imperialists on the other.

Will the break go deeper? Will it be extended? Without knowing all the details of what is going on behind the scenes, it is hard to say. But it does not seem likely. Anglo-American imperialism cannot afford an open break with Stalin right now. They may compel their vassals in the Sikorski “government” to capitulate to Stalin. They may even go further and kick Sikorski & Co. off their payroll and out of existence altogether, and set up a puppet more amenable to Moscow’s orders and demands.

If they do, or if they are obliged to make other concessions to appease the Kremlin bureaucracy, they will undoubtedly make a heavily-underlined record of it in their private notebooks as a step backward for which they expect or hope to make Stalin pay them back double at a stage of the war more favorable to them.

These are the methods and morals of imperialist diplomacy, and the only real complaint the British and Americans can make is that Stalin is acting just as cynically and unscrupulously and shamelessly as they act, and as imperialists always have acted.

What about the gagged and fettered peoples, whom all these imperialists barter among themselves like so many herds of cattle? Their time will come. When it does come, when they spit out the gag and strike off their fetters, it will be judgment day for all the slave traders, Stalin not excluded.

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