B.J. Widick Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

B.J. Widick

The Red Army Marches

Once Before Red Army Marched Into Poland –
But It WasDifferent

Under the Command of Tukhachevsky the Red Army ofLenin’s Day
Marched to Spread the World Revolution –
UnlikeToday When Stalin Marches to the Aid of Reaction

(13 October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 78, 13 October 1939, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Once before the legions of the Red Army marched behind the hammer and sickle into the poverty-stricken fields of Poland towards Warsaw, and the whole world trembled under the impact of the event.

A brilliant young officer was given command of the troops on the “western front” in the offensive against the Polish Army. He was Mikhail Tukhachevsky, burning with zeal and ambition to extend the socialist revolution throughout Europe.

Opposite the Red Army stood Joseph Pilsudski, harsh dictator, backed by France and England, who dreamed of carving out a vast empire, Greater Poland, from the Ukraine, all East Prussia, Lithuania, White Russia, and Latvia. Repeatedly, Pilsudski had rejected peace terms offered by the Soviet government in 1919 and early 1920. Pilsudski was determined to strike while the Soviet republic was weak. His troops marched towards the Soviet frontier on April 25, 1920.

Contrast Tells Story of Russia’s Change

The Red Army was fighting a “defensive war!” No sooner did Pilsudski open hostilities than the Revolutionary Council of War ordered troops from everywhere to the Polish frontier. On May 20, Tukhachevsky attacked Smolensk to relieve the pressure on Soviet forces on the south-western front where the Polish army was making advances rapidly. Budenny’s cavalry smashed through enemy lines towards Kiev, it was captured on June 12, and the stage was set for the famous march to Warsaw, although the situation on the south-western front was by no means assured.

The contrast between the 1920 march to Warsaw and Stalin’s invasion of Poland this fall tells the tragic story of the decline of the Soviet Union under the iron heel of Stalin; the degeneration of the Red Army through the cancerous growth of Stalinism; the bewilderment of the world proletariat today.

“Could Europe back up this Socialist movement, which the march on Warsaw constituted, with a revolution in the West?” This was the question posed by Tukhachevsky, planning the strategy of the Red Army for its coming victories. Trotsky alone of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party had grave doubts. His knowledge of Poland and its long tortuous history of domination from the outside convinced him that the political consciousness of the Polish masses was not yet developed to a sufficiently high degree to participate in a “revolution from without!”

Saw Masses Rallying to the Revolution

The ardor of Tukhachevsky, however, saw no bounds. “Events say ‘Yes’,” he replied to his own question.

“The German workers manifested open opposition to the Entente. They sent back railway-wagons filled with arms and food which France had sent to Poland’s aid; they refused to unload the British and French ships sent to Danzig with arms and munitions; they caused accidents on railways, etc.”

“From East Prussia came hundreds and thousands of volunteers, who formed a German rifle brigade under the banner of the Red Army. In England, the working classes were also in the grip of a very active revolutionary movement.”

The spectre of world revolution haunted Europe! Field Marshal von Blomberg expressed the views of the German General Staff when he wrote a preface to the German edition of Pilsudski’s memoirs.

“The Russo-Polish war is not merely a matter of interest of soldiers. Its result has a universal historical significance. Its importance for Germany can hardly be overestimated, for in this war something more than Polish national liberty,and the continued existence of the Polish Republic was at stake. In its final aspect it was a question whether the Bolshevik Revolution should penetrate further into Europe and thus impose its rule on Germany as well as other countries. In the Germany of 1920 many of the preliminary conditions essential for such a revolution existed.”

Advances to the Very Gates of Warsaw

Tukhachevsky began his offensive with 80,000 soldiers and a reserve of 68,000 for whom there was inadequate equipment. The Red Armies on the southwestern front were directed by Yegorov, with Stalin as the representative of the Revolutionary Council of War. Tukhachevsky’s plea for a united command had been turned down by the Council because of the antagonism existing between the two commands. Voroshilov, incidentally, was commissar of Budenny’s cavalry, which was part of the southwestern forces.

The Red Army hurled forward with invincible force under the leadership of Tukhachevsky. Vilna fell on July 14. Grodno on the 19th. Brest-Litovsk was taken on August 1st. Pilsudski gave a graphic description of the advance of the Red Army in his memoirs.

“One day they were only about 20 kilometres away from Warsaw and its environs, i.e., only a normal day’s march. This unceasing, worm like advance of a huge enemy horde, which went on for weeks, with spasmodic interruptions here and there, gave us the impression of something irresistible rolling up like some terrible thunderclouds that brooked no opposition.”

Perhaps the Red Army would make the “revolution from without?” Perhaps the German Spartacists and the Russian Bolsheviks would join hands in a Soviet Poland, and the banner of world revolution spread like wild fire over the plains and cities of Europe. Revolutionists throughout the world thrilled at news of every advance of the Red Army. Restless workers impatiently awaited the signal for the greater class struggles ahead. The Red Army of Lenin and Trotsky was on the march!

Allies Rush to Pilsudski’s Defense

Alarmed at the Red Army advances, the Allies rushed French artillery in decisive quantities, with French officers to the aid of Warsaw. Meanwhile, Pilsudski had planned a counter-stroke to stem the tide. He deliberately withdrew vital divisions from the southwestern front and concentrated his main forces against Tukhachevsky. This was partly foreseen by the Red commander and was guarded against by a plan for the Red Armies in the southwest to strike on Lublin and prevent the Polish offensive.

Tukhachevsky finally had obtained an agreement from the Revolutionary Council of War to subordinate the armies in the southwest to his command. His orders were intended to bring a concentration of the Red troops against Pilsudski’s massed might. Yegorov, prompted by Stalin, refused to obey orders and Budenny’s cavalry with Voroshilov’s approval kept going towards Lwow, instead of northward. Exactly what Pilsudski had hoped would happen. Day after day of critical fighting in the western front brought no action from Stalin or his cohorts.

Blunders Are Costly and Fatal

Burning with ambition for a military victory to offset Tukhachevsky’s successes, the commanders on the southwestern front instead marched towards Lwow. For five days the cavalry of Budenny hurled itself against the strongly entrenched Polish infantry at Lwow while Pilsudski was making headway in his offensive against Tukhachevsky. When it was too late and his forces were weakened, Budenny and Voroshilov turned towards Lublin.

Tukhachevsky was forced to order a retreat, under the blows of Pilsudski’s concentrated forces and the treachery of the Stalin-Yegorov-Voroshilov bloc,and the Red Army fell back to a point which marked the boundary between Poland and Soviet Russia until a few weeks ago.

For years Stalin and his cohorts did not even make an attempt to defend themselves from the open charges that Tukhachevsky hurled at them. Only when Russian history was being rewritten to suit the needs of the Stalin bureaucracy was a defense attempted. Of course Trotsky was made the scapegoat. He had participated in drawing up the campaign with Tukhachevsky, and the whole conception was “erroneous”, declared the creator of the Moscow frame-ups!

Stalin Adds a New Chapter to His Crimes

Eric Wollenberg, in his book, The Red Army, summarized the Polish campaign as follows.

“The march on Warsaw was unable to bring about a revolution in Central Europe because of the fact that centuries of oppression at the hands of the Great Russians had left the Polish proletariat not yet sufficiently mature for revolution, coincided with the military blunders associated with the name of Stalin, Voroshilov and Yegorov.”

Viewed in historical perspective, one can well understand how infinitely more difficult has become the task of the Polish and world proletariat to make the revolution when the same Stalin orders the Red Army to march again into Poland, not to spread the doctrine of world revolution, but to assure domination for the counter-revolutionary Stalinist bureaucracy. Stalin must add to his long list of crimes, including his first treachery in Poland, the present invasion of Poland.

B.J. Widick Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 17 February 2018