Party of Poland Gabriele Simoncini
Specialist on Interbellum Poland and Eastern Europe. Coeditor of the Journal Nationalities Papers. At present Professor of History at New York University and at City University of New York. Author of two books and several scholarly articles.
From the foundation of the Communist Party of Poland and throughout its life (1918-1938), ideological purity and unity were elusive and dyadic. Distinct revolutionary orientations among the Party’s components continued to maintain separate beliefs. The former Social Democrats had difficulty respecting Leninist schemes, in particular Leninist notions of the Party. Luxemburg’s speculations permeated their theoretical tradition. On issues like the nature and fall of capitalism and worker democracy, the Social Democrats remained, substantially, non-Leninist. The former Leftist Socialist Revolutionaries had little sense of Leninist tenets regarding organization, and their sensitivity on the national question greatly diluted their internationalism. On the one hand, the mosaic construct of Party ideology guaranteed, especially in the Party’s first years, political debate and theoretical fertility. On the other hand, with the passage of time and ever increasing Soviet arbitration and intervention, that ideological mosaic lost its vividness and disappeared. As struggle for control took over, factionalism and sectarianism reduced the Party to sterility, prompting its dependency on Soviet guidance, and eventually resulting in its destruction.
Political debate in the Party was vivid and alive during its first years. In 1923, at the Second Congress, after a series of shifting strategies in search of the Revolution, a more consistent political line was elaborated. Mostly a product of Adolf Warski, Henryk Walecki, and Wera Kostrzewa [Maria Koszutska] -- the so-called “three Ws”-- this political line allowed articulation of a viable strategy. The Party leadership remained non-integrated organizationally and politically. Part of it resided abroad, in various locations, where at times meetings took place, without the participation of all the leaders. The fact that different leaders, living in different places under different circumstances, perceived Polish realities in different ways, also brought strategic disunity. Part of the leadership, residing in Moscow, was “Sovietized” and integrated into the Soviet society and state. Some leaders pursued an unarticulated application of the Soviet model and experience to Poland; others, on the contrary, disregarding Soviet examples, gave relevance only to the specificities of the Polish situation.
In May 1926, Polish communists endorsed the Piłsudski coup d’état. This decision, made under the Warski leadership, became known as the “May Error” and occasioned a debate that crystallized and polarized a Party “majority” and “minority.” The “majority,” led by Warski and Kostrzewa, was held responsible for the error and for the political line of the Second Congress. Their opponents, the Party “minority”, led by Leński, took a radical leftist viewpoint of the Second Congress and of its “opportunism” in supporting Piłsudski.
Questions of strategy dominated the Plenum of the Central Committee of November 1926. Warski and the “majority” advocated the opportunity of common action with other parties, like the Socialist and the Radical Peasant. This strategy was considered “rightist opportunism” by the “minority,” which branded the Socialists “social-fascist.”0 The resolutions of the Plenum defined the “anti-democratic, fascist regime” as one of long duration, and predicted support for it by the wealthy classes. The resolutions also pictured the Sejm as a mere facade for the regime.0 Leftist parties were branded as fascist and their leaders labeled agents of the regime, in opposition to which the resolutions called for a “worker government,” and for intensifying class struggle on economic objectives, such struggle being considered the instrument for mass politicization and radicalization toward revolution. The Plenum presented for discussion to the Party a document reflecting “majority” positions, a move resented by the “minority,” which charged the “majority” with incompetence in maintaining a Bolshevik style.0 No official mention of factions or factional conflict (their existence was officially forbidden in Communist parties) appeared. Furthermore the Comintern had been informed of such discussion and, in turn, had expressed itself in favor of a discussion within the Party.0
Dissension reemerged soon after, and the “majority” searched for Comintern support against its opponents. At this time (October) the New Opposition in the Bolshevik party had been defeated (Trotsky had been removed from the Politburo, Zinoviev from his leadership in the Comintern). Nevertheless, the struggle continued in the Party (an opposition group of Polish Bolsheviks with Zofia Unszlicht and Henry Domski was active). Considering the situation, the Comintern opted for nonintervention, and a search for compromise was recommended by Bukharin. Stalin waited, showing no sympathy for Warski, Kostrzewa and their fellow comrades, who had expressed strong criticism at the Fifth Comintern Congress of the methods applied in the struggle against Trotsky.
The Comintern summoned the Polish Commission in January 1927. Both factions presented their arguments, asked for recognition, and requested condemnation of the other. The Commission did not take sides. It conceded something to both factions. Then, calling for compromise, it declared that the divergences did not constitute real political opposition (and therefore, opposing factions) within the Party.0 Soon after, the Commission, in a document on the Polish Party, put the “minority” and the “majority” on the same level. It gave both of them the right to appeal to the Comintern individually, allowing freedom of discussion, the right to criticism, and the right to political opposition.0 Thus the factions, far from being reconciled, were, to the contrary, admitted and legitimized. Moreover, the parity principle would soon institute them vertically throughout the Party.
Early in 1927, the two factions had solidified consequent to the general political debate which had taken place in the Party. Moreover, their positions were becoming more rigid with the approach of the forthcoming Fourth Party Congress and the process of nominating representatives to it. The “majority” was still in control of most of the Party. It held firm control over some crucial organizations and proletarian concentrations such as Łódź and the Dąbrowa Basin. On the other hand, the “minority” had acquired visibility and now controlled the Warsaw and Kraków organizations, exercising decisive influence over the Union of Communist Youth.0
The Fourth Congress, held near Moscow, was at an impasse at its very opening in May 1927 because of a dispute over delegates. Denouncing irregularity in the nominating process, both factions disputed the legitimacy of delegates, with both claiming to have most of them. The “majority” had the advantage in the Party. The nominating process had penalized representation of Party organizations from Poland and favored Party organizations outside of Poland, which contained a conspicuous part of the Party’s leadership.
To break the impasse, the Comintern Polish Commission, led by an opportunistic absentee Bukharin, had to intervene and impose authority. B. Šmeral, as the chair of the delegates’ commission, managed to achieve a solution that established a small advantage for the “majority” (twenty-four to twenty). Then the Congress could start ( it was to last three months, with the participation, for the first time, of its entire leadership) only to be suspended by the Comintern Polish Commission.0 The two factions were incapable of conducting the political debate on the agenda. They engaged in furious quarrels and polemical disputes on the “May Error,” in an endless battle of motions and counter motions, depriving the debate of political content. It was the Bulgarian Comintern trouble-shooter Wasil Kolarov who restored order and generated an atmosphere in which the Congress could resume its work.0
The Soviets considered it opportune to keep peace and smooth differences in the Polish Party. At this time Trotsky, after an initial defeat, was counterattacking, charging Stalin and Bukharin with opportunism concerning the delicate Chinese question. The Comintern did not intend to support the positions of the “minority” because they appeared close to those of the New Opposition within the Bolshevik Party. Supporting the “majority” would have implied a move toward “rightist opportunism,” and Stalin, whose preferences were for the “minority,” after discussion with both factions, opted for safer compromise.0 So did Bukharin, with a proposal (rejected by all) for an additional special commission chaired by S. Huberman. Furthermore, both factions had found it worthwhile to distance themselves from the New Opposition, and, quietly assenting to its repression, they now could concentrate on political debate.
The issue of a potential capitalist war against the Soviet Union divided the factions ideologically. The “minority” (as did the Comintern) saw the possibility of war as real and close, while the “majority,” though recognizing the aggressiveness of capitalism, considered war unrealistic.0 A corollary followed: if war was approaching, the Polish communists ought to be prepared to transform a capitalistic war into revolution. This implied a short-term strategy. In case of war the Polish workers and peasants had to be armed by the government, an act that would ease the way for revolution. With the coming of revolution, the non-Polish population of the kresy would gain “social and national liberation.” Acceptance of the idea of an upcoming war was, therefore, reinforcing “minority” radical principles.
The factions also perceived economic conflicts differently. The “majority” defined strike activity as revolutionary, worth the Party’s strong commitment, and pushing the workers onto the revolutionary track. But economic struggles as well as economic improvements were seen by the “minority” as jeopardizing the growth of revolutionary radicalization, and corrupting the revolutionary conscience of the workers. The resolution of the Congress on the issue met the “majority” definition, but generated accusations of economic opportunism by the “minority.”0 In that context, the strategy of a united front with other worker parties was perceived merely as a tactic to discredit their leaderships.0
The agrarian question, defined at the Second Party Congress in 1923, and primarily the product of Kostrzewa’s thinking, underwent a strong attack by the “minority.” Land distribution to the peasants had remained the slogan of the Party since then. Now it was labeled reformist by the “minority,” which was pressing for a shift in favor of nationalization and collectivization, favored by the Bolshevik Party (Fifteenth Congress, December 1928). The question remained undefined at the Congress. But the agrarian policy of the Polish government was strongly condemned.0
Ideological debate at the Congress revolved around the question of the revolution. This question had also been defined at the Second Party Congress where, following Leninist schemes, the proletariat, organized in its revolutionary vanguard, had been chosen to be the guiding force of the revolution. The Second Congress also identified the peasants and the ethnic minorities of Poland as the natural allies of the proletariat, with a worker-peasant government as a transitional phase on the path to proletarian dictatorship. Moreover, the idea of a two-stage revolution had been developed (mostly by Warski), defining the possibility of a democratic phase (a notion derived from Italian Communists) arising from the struggle against fascism in Poland.0 This idea attributed a role to the petty bourgeoisie in the revolutionary process, an idea, articulated particularly by Kostrzewa, which remained a major preoccupation of the ideological dispute.0 The “minority” denied the petty bourgeoisie any autonomous role, opposed the two-stage revolution idea, and charged Warski with responsibility for the “May Error.”0
Furthermore, the “minority” expressed the same strong criticism over the evaluation of Polish capitalism that the “majority” (according to the evidence), considered to be in a phase of stabilization. In tune with the Fifth Comintern Congress, Leński and the “minority” rejected the possibility of capitalist stability both in principle and for Poland, and insisted on the inevitable fall of capitalism.0 The debate at the Congress continued to be characterized by constant, vitriolic factional opposition and rigidity, making Soviet intervention a necessity. The Comintern imposed its decision through the efforts of V. Kolarov, who had a motion declaring the dissolution of factions and the ban of factionalism approved. Formal peace soon broke down, however, over the issue of new Central Committee elections. The Comintern Polish Commission intervened again, assigning ex officio representatives to the new Central Committee: eight for the “majority”(W. Kostrzewa, W. Krajewski, O. Krylik, J. Lubiniecki, E. Próchniak, A. Rozenszajn, N. Szapiro, A. Warski), and seven for the “minority” (M. Bernstein, G. Henrykowski, A. Lampe, J. Leński, J. Łohinowicz, J. Paszyn, W. Tomorowicz), adding two “neutral” non-Polish members from the Comintern (O. Kuusinen and D. Manuilski). This technical solution resulted in Comintern assumption of control in the decision- making process of the Polish Party, while internal strife and factionalism persisted. In the process the “minority” gained room for political action and strengthened its positions, increasing its maximalistic perception of the revolutionary process. Its subjective interpretation of current realities produced unrealistic political slogans incomprehensible to the Polish people. The “majority,” meanwhile, elaborated, as always, more realistic political platforms and slogans, exhibiting greater political sensitivity to the needs and expectations of the workers.
Comintern intervention brought to an end ideological and theoretical disputes of a factional nature. Factionalism, however, remained if only to assume the forms of an ominous sectarianism and Soviet-dictated dogmatism; the irreversible deterioration of the Party had started. In spite of Comintern mediation and compromise activity (whether or not such intervention was aimed at gaining control over the party), Stalin’s personal direct intervention, calling for struggle against the “right-wing deviations” in the Polish Party, set the terms for a new course.0
After the Congress the factional struggle continued in October 1927 at the Plenum of the Central Committee. The forthcoming elections (de facto a referendum on Piłsudski’s regime) scheduled for March 1928 dominated the agenda. Ideologically, the Central Committee continued and confirmed the politics of the previous one held in February. Major political slogans were reiterated. The “minority” insisted on ideological principles, maintaining that all political parties were, equally, enemies, representing as they did just different sectors of the bourgeoisie. It urged that all revolutionary and radical forces run on the Communist Party slate and not autonomously, as recommended by the “majority.”0
The Plenum also condemned the New Opposition in the Bolshevik Party and established a provisional political bureau to reside permanently at the Comintern in Moscow. A final resolution was passed, under pressure of the Comintern representative, stating the obligation for all Party members to respect the instructions deriving from the Comintern through its Polish Commission. The ban on factionalism was reiterated. Further, discussion in the Party of those issues not previously treated by the Central Committee was prohibited. Disobedience of these instructions would cause dismissal from the Party.0
During the March election the Party, revealing the growing importance of the “minority,” focused again on the nature of the Piłsudski regime, labeling it a “fascist dictatorship,” and branding the socialists “social-traitors, the left arm of fascism.”0 Contradictory political behavior took place during the electoral campaign. The “majority” sometimes carried out its political agenda inconsistently. Contrary to its views, the “minority” at times even supported compromise with the socialists. The Comintern had to intervene again to restore order.0
The elections resulted in a very limited success for the Piłsudski regime’s political bloc, in a defeat for the nationalist-centrist forces, and in substantial progress for left, socialist and peasant slates. The Communists gained significantly over what they had done in the elections of 1922, but remained a small entity, having obtained seven mandates.0 Other revolutionary autonomous lists received fourteen mandates.0
The “minority” attacked at the Plenum of the Central Committee summoned in June 1928 to evaluate the results of the election. It accused the leadership of having failed to put together a wide front of revolutionary forces in open association with the Party. It charged the leadership with having prevented wide mobilization by accepting the participation in the elections of separate revolutionary worker and peasant slates. Finally, in response to Kostrzewa’s positions, the “minority” reiterated the correctness of the social-fascism label for the socialists.0 The Central Committee concluded with a relative general agreement with the positions of the “minority.” All parties were declared arms of Polish fascism. The idea of a united front for the grass-roots level only was substantially endorsed. The peril of a capitalistic war against the Soviet Union was emphatically stressed, together with the impossibility for Polish capitalism to gain stability.0
Apocalyptic analyses of the forthcoming collapse of capitalism set the tone at the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in April 1927. The need for compact communist parties and for intensification of their activity as a united front at the grass-roots level were called for. The socialist parties were now defined as bourgeois, and the workers’ most dangerous enemy.
The factions’ approaching participation in the Congress fueled conflict in the Polish party. Both factions tried to acquire supremacy in disregard of Party rules, and at times their disputes even spilled into the streets as they organized separate and opposing rallies. Comintern representatives had to intervene to stop this self-destructive political behavior.
The question of the revolution at the Congress directly involved the Polish party. The two factions, in spite of disagreements, expressed the common position (in speeches by J. Ryng and H. Lauer) that the revolution in Poland would be of a socialist type from its beginning, without passing through a democratic phase. Bukharin, on the other hand, argued that that would be the case for a country in an advanced stage of capitalism. Countries like Poland, at an intermediate level of capitalistic development, would experience a democratic phase through which the revolutionary process would develop.0
Defeated on this common position, the two factions attacked each other vehemently on the issue of imminent war against the Soviet Union, and on “right deviationism.” Both charged each other with “right deviationism.” The “majority,” already labeled in the past as the “historical right” of the Party, was now accusing the “minority” of “rightist opportunism” in the past election campaign.0 Leński requested that the Comintern transfer the Party leadership into the hands of the “minority,” which, according to him, formed the actual majority of the Party. Speaking for the “majority,” Lauer asked that disciplinary measures be invoked against the “minority.” Kostrzewa, in an unclear compromise move, perhaps to retain her position in the leadership, recognized the “minority” arguments as correct.
At the end of the Congress, the Comintern Polish Commission (chaired by Bukharin), after considering the factions’ opposite motions, decided to transfer the leadership of the Party to Poland. It assigned two Comintern representatives (Dimitrji Manuilski and Otto Kuusineen) to the Central Committee, and one to the Political Bureau (Wilhelm Knorin) and three and two members respectively to represent the “majority” and the “minority.” Comintern representative Stiepan Garbuz-Poddubnyj was assigned to the National Secretariat, where the two factions had equal representation, while Wilhelm Knorin went to the Central Editorial Bureau, where both factions also had equal representation.0
E. Próchniak protested vehemently for the “majority.” The “minority” had scored a decisive victory. The “majority” had become the “historic right” chargeable for all mistakes. The Comintern had put the “minority” in power, but was now intervening directly both in the decision-making process and in the internal life of the Party. From now on, and from the inside, the Comintern would operate directly and would be involved in the process of cooptation and condemnation of the Party’s leadership and members.
The decisions of the Comintern Congress were ratified at the Central Committee of the Polish party in November, 1928. Confirming the political formulations of the Fourth Congress, the Comintern Congress stressed the principle of party consolidation through fighting rightist deviationism.0 Both factions declared themselves ready to obey the decision of the majority of the Party (both were confident of being that majority), again factionalism was condemned, and party discipline, including sanctions, was reaffirmed. A further step in strengthening the “minority” was achieved at the expense of the “majority,” which now accepted the new reality, perhaps in the higher interest of the Party.
The Polish Party was now affected by internal developments in the Bolshevik Party, where political differences and doubts about the Soviet model had arisen. Stalin was at this time pressing for complete collectivization of agriculture and total concentration on the development of heavy industry. Bukharin, supported by Rykov, opposed large scale collectivization and concentration on heavy industry. Stalin’s victory and Bukharin’s decline marked the notorious outcome of the struggle, and Polish communists were affected by those Soviet events. In Poland also the political situation was in transition, with the Polish left assuming a firmer stand against the Piłsudski regime and in defense of the constitutional and democratic system.
In January 1929 the Central Committee of the Party was summoned again. Following Comintern instructions, it concentrated on, and reiterated, the danger of a capitalistic war against the Soviet Union. It was believed that the Piłsudski regime was preparing for that war.0 On internal questions, the Socialists were again labeled “social-fascist” and it was declared that the Communist Party had to carry out the struggle solely by itself. Trade unions were also defined as pro-regime and fascist, excepting those clearly revolutionary (mostly yet to be created). This isolationist strategy prompted Comintern recommendations for a wide party action and presence among the workers.0
The Communist Party of Poland, despite its isolationist strategy, permanent illegal status, police repression, and small constituency (at this time it had about six thousand members, in addition to a youth organization) remained a visible political factor.0 Poland was in a difficult economic situation, the world crisis was approaching, and unemployment was already rapidly rising.0
The last factional fight for Party control came with the Central Committee Plenum of June 1929, in Berlin. Leński made vehement charges of right-deviationism and opportunism against the leadership of the “majority,” in particularly against Kostrzewa, for her mild attitude of compromise toward the socialists. Their “social-fascist” nature was reaffirmed. Socialists had now become the greatest danger for the revolution and the worst enemies of the communists. This was the then dominant theory within the Comintern, and Wilhelm Knorin, its representative in the Central Committee, supported that position, siding unconditionally with the “minority.”
The political resolutions of the Plenum insisted on the growing danger of war against the Soviet Union. It was described as a necessity for capitalism, in a state of crisis, to destroy the successful example of the Soviet model. The “minority” had won the long factional conflict. It assumed control, with the Comintern, of the Party leadership. The “majority,” at the end of a period of decreasing power, was completely excluded. It now voted for all the resolutions, perhaps in the name of the greater Party interest; subsequently it was deprived of leadership at all Party levels. Opposition to the new leadership continued to be expressed in a fragmented, individual, and occasional way. Under Popov’s direction, a new Central Committee and a new Political Bureau were coopted, with only one member of the “majority,” Próchniak, included. The ultra-leftist Leński, leader of the “minority,” a model of proletarian and revolutionary purity, was made the General Secretary of the Party.0
Formal approval by the Comintern of the Polish Party’s new course arrived from the Executive Committee in July 1929, with praise for the Bolshevization of the Party. Condemnation of the rightist leaders and their “national-patriotism” was reiterated in October in a resolution by the Comintern Executive Committee Political Secretariat.0
Bound by the ultra-leftist policy of the Comintern, and by the conviction that Poland was approaching an imminent revolution toward which the Party had to lead the people, the Polish communists and their Sovietized leaders were charged with an impossible objective.
* The initial draft of this article was presented at the 26th National Convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies in Philadelphia, USA. November 17-20, 1994.
** In the following notes CAKC PZPR refers to the Central Archive of the Central Committee of the United Workers’ Party, now located in the Archiwum Act Nowich in Warsaw.
Międzynarodówka Komunistyczna 1919-1943. Zarys historyczny. Warszawa, 1974, pp. 288-289.
Uchwały IV Zjazdu KPP. Warszawa, 1928, p. 8
J. Sochacki, Wystąpienie na IV Zjeździe. CAKC PZPR: 158/I-4 t7 k98.
Uchwały IV Zjazdu KPP. Warszawa, 1928, p. 64.
A. Warski, “Gdzie jest prawica?” Nowy Przegląd 1927-1928 (Reprint), pp. 102-107.
M. Koszutska, “O roli drobnomieszczaństwa w rewolucji.” Nowy Przegląd 1926 (Reprint), pp. 566-586. Also M. Koszutska, “O sytuacji politycznej i zadaniach partii”, in Pisma i przemówenia. Tom III. Warszawa, 1962, pp. 212-213.
Uchwały IV Zjazdu KPP. Warszawa, 1928, p. 8.
J. Leński, Wystąpienie na posiedzeniu Komisji Polskiej KW MK. 7.1.1927 r.. CAKC PZPR, am 1628.
B. Kolebacz, Komunistyczna Partia Polski 1923-1929. Warszawa, 1984, p. 252.
Wniosek w sprawie wyborów VII Plenum z Lutego 1927 r.. CAKC PZPR: 158/III t19 k45.
H. Lauer-Brand. “Wystąpienie na VI Kongresie MK...”, in Pisma i Przemówienia. Warszawa, 1970, p. 453 ff.
H. Lauer-Brand. “Wystąpienie w dyskusji nad referatem N. Bucharina na VI Kongresie MK 28 VII 1928 r.”, in Pisma i przemówienia. Warszawa, 1970, pp. 444-445. Also Stenograficheskii otchet VI Kongressa Kominterna. I. Moskva-Leningrad, 1929, p. 242.
Materiały Komisji Polskiej VI Kongresu MK. CAKC PZPR: am 1628.
“List informacyjny Sekretariatu Politycznego KW MK do KC sekcji Kominternu”. NowyPrzegląd 1927-1928 (Reprint), pp. 443-444.
Uchwały V Plenum KC KPP. Warszawa, 1929
“Rezolucja Sekretariatu Biura Politycznego KW MK w sprawach organizacyjnych KPP, luty 1928 r.”, in KPP Uchwały i rezolucje. Tom II. Warszawa, 1955, p. 573.
J. Auerbach, J. Piasecka, “Stan oraganizacyjny KPP w latach 1929-1933”. Z pola walki, No. 1, 1965, pp. 53-56.
See Z. Landau, J. Tomaszewki, Zarys historii gospodarczej Polski 1918-1939. Warszawa, 1966.
Protokoł VI Plenum KPP. CAKC PZPR: 158/III t47 k1-5.
“Rezolucja Sekretariatu Politycznego KW MK o sytuacji w KPP, pażdziernik 1929 r.”, in KPP uchwały i rezolucje. Tom II. Warszawa, 1955, pp. 556-559.