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A. Rudzienski

In Memory of Heroes

Warsaw’s Three Insurrections During World War II

(3 October 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 40, 3 October 1949, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In September we observe the tragic anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War and the fifth anniversary of the Warsaw insurrection against Hitler’s brown hordes.

Warsaw belongs to those heroic and martyrized cities like Stalingrad, London, Budapest and Berlin that marked turning points in the war. But Warsaw is distinguished from these other cities by this—that the imperialist war passed through Warsaw at its beginning, at its climax, and af its end, leaving in its wake dead and barbarous ruins that have not been seen since the remote times of Attila and Genghis Khan.

When Hitler invaded Poland, it was Warsaw which bore the whole weight of the Nazi military machine for three weeks. It was neither the “government of the Colonels” nor the Polish military and bureaucratic organization that stubbornly resisted the Nazi-fascist invasion, but the people, the proletariat of Warsaw.

It was this same people and proletariat of Warsaw that resisted Molotov’s infamous declaration that “Poland, this bastard of the Versailles Treaty, has been wiped forever from the map.” and that resisted the Nazi-Stalin military pact which, said Stalin, was “sealed with blood.”

“Democrats” Indifferent

The people and proletariat of Warsaw resisted and struggled not only against the Nazi-fascist offensiye in a national war against the invader. They also fought a spontaneously social war against the totalitarian reaction, in which they included the national reaction of their own Polish “Colonels.” None of Pilsudski’s generals, colonels and ministers were heroes of this popular war.

It remained for a civic official, a leader of the Socialist Party named Niedzialkowski, and another named Rataj, a member of the Peasant Party, to identify themselves with the movement of popular resistance. They stayed in the trenches and on the barricades to meet the invader with arms in hand, representing, in a way, a popular government born in the heat of struggle. They died with other fighters before a Nazi firing squad.

The uprising of the Jewish ghetto in 1943 marked the second time an isolated and despairing Warsaw rose up against the Nazis. The extermination of the Jewish people by the Nazis, in the face of an almost complete indifference on the part of the great and “humanitarian” democrats, belongs to the most degrading, horrifying and infamous pages in human history. The United States, Great Britain and Russia did not have the planes with which to bomb and pulverize Berlin in defense of 6,000,000 Jews; repressive measures against the Nazis were not at hand in the United States, Great Britain and Russia; against the Nazi prisoners of war in order to save millions of lives.

Although it was a question of thousands of pilots and prisoners of war, Anglo-Saxon blood was too precious, too costly, to spend to save millions of humble Jewish workers and artisans in the ghettos of Poland. “The tragedy of the Jews was conceived of as something fatalistic in its frightfulness by Polish public opinion, and even more so because the civilized world did not react in an active way.” (Information Bulletin of AK [Home Army], April 29, 1943)

To the Last Grenade

The hopeless resistance lasted from April until August. At the end of June, the organ of the underground Nowe Drogi (New Roads) describes the situation thus: “The Germans met with desperate armed resistance. Two or three thousand fighters forced them to retreat and when they returned with heavy machines, guns and tanks a bitter battle ensued at many points. Defense to the last grenade, to the last cartridge. The revolt proper did not last long. It was, of course, drowned in blood.”

In the ruins left by the 1939 campaign, in the old labyrinths, tunnels and sewers, the remaining few hundreds of a people condemned to death by “capitalist civilization” still resisted. While the great “democracies” and the “first socialist country” looked on indifferently, the cowardly Nazis burned and crushed them to death under the ruins, and drowned them like rats in the sewers. The ghetto, the Jewish section of Warsaw, was leveled with the earth. The last few thousand insurgent Jews lie under its ruins.

Only the workers’ underground movement of Warsaw tried to help its brothers, trapped in the ghetto, with arms, munitions and food, but faced by the concentration of Nazi might and the total indifference of the “democracies,” this poor and limited help could not save the ghetto insurrection of 1943. As in 1939, Warsaw struggled alone and hopelessly, abandoned by its democratic “allies” to its own tragic fate.

In 1944, notwithstanding the two previous crushing defeats, the people of Warsaw rose up for a third time against the Nazi hordes. The Warsaw insurrection broke out when the Russian armies were already massed on the left bank of the Vistula in the Warsaw suburb of Prague, and while the Moscow radio and the Polish Stalinist radio were calling on the people of Warsaw to rise up against the Nazi invader, promising the aid and support of the Russian army. Mikolajczyk, who was then in Moscow, received a solemn promise from Stalin that Warsaw would be liberated by the Russians in the first days of August.

Stalin Slanders, Nazis Kill

Nevertheless, when the revolutionary action occurred and dislodged the Nazis from a good part of the city, the Russian press and radio began to slander it as a “bluff” and “an adventure” without popular support and later as a “fascist” and “anti-Soviet” action. The Russians stopped their advance and the Polish detachments that wanted to come to Warsaw’s aid were disarmed. The Allied and Polish planes could not land behind the Russian front in order to help the insurrectionaries.

The Nazi general staff, which had begun to evacuate Warsaw, was given fresh courage by the halt of the Russian offensive and proceeded to the systematic destruction of the embattled city. They used mortars, heavy artillery, tanks and aerial attacks against the insurrectionaries, basing themselves on the costly experience of the destruction of the ghetto. The city was wiped from the face of the earth.

The fighters who had descended to the modern catacombs, the network of subterranean tunnels dating back to medieval times, were exterminated with gas, drowned like rats in the water and filth, burned and crushed to death under the ruins. Approximately 300,000 people were killed and 600,000 interned in the Nazi death camps. Faced with the Russian betrayal, with the new and silent Nazi-Stalinist pact, and with the indifference of the “democracies,” the Warsaw Commune succumbed after 63 days of unequal combat.

Warsaw had been abandoned to its own fate. The powerful Anglo-American forces, which were able to defeat Hitler and demolish the cities of Germany, could not find the planes with which to help save the Warsaw insurrection. So had it been in 1939 and 1943.

On Two Fronts

The explanation of the Anglo-American position is to be found not only in the secret imperialist pacts sighed with Stalin at Teheran and Yalta, but in the character of the Warsaw revolution as well. As in 1939 and 1943, Warsaw struggled on two fronts; not only against the Nazis as invaders, but also against the Stalinists.

In the 1944 insurrection, the struggle on two fronts becomes a much more clearly defined characteristic than in the two previous instances. Now it is not only a question of a national war against the invaders, but of a social uprising against the totalitarian reaction.

The organizers of the Warsaw revolution were the leaders of the anti-Nazi underground, in the first place the Warsaw organization of the PPS (the Polish Socialist Party), the workers’ militias, the illegal trade unions and the Stalinist militia, the AL (Armio Ludowa). The Warsaw proletariat was the backbone of the insurrection, supported by the impoverished “intelligentsia,” students, intellectuals, white-collar workers and peasants. Politically, the insurrection was represented by the petty-bourgeois democracy in arms, the alliance between the PPS and Mikolajczyk’s Populist Party.

The underground government headed by the Socialists recognized the factory delegations as the legal and public administrators of the factories. The petty-bourgeois democracy in arms, caught up in an anti-totalitarian insurrection, contained the seeds of a socialist revolution in mortal combat with the Nazi and Stalinist counter-revolution. It represented a great danger to the forward march of the victorious Stalinist counter-revolution, the only force capable of subduing a rebellious proletarian movement confronted by the decay and ruin of European capitalism.

For this reason, all the reactionary forces, dying Nazism and victorious Stalinism, democrats and priests, the agents of the GPU and Wall Street’s mercenaries, joined together against the people of Warsaw in arms, combined to crush the seed of the socialist revolution in Europe. With reason the London New Leader wrote: “One of the most revolutionary episodes in modern history ended as a tragedy.”

In the Europe of 1944 not one proletarian force could recognize the essential character of the Warsaw Commune. But today, the third socialist force renders posthumous homage to Warsaw.

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