Polish–Soviet War. (Interview)
Added: 2017-10-30
Added: 2017-10-30
Czy występowały jakieś istotne różnice w postrzeganiu Rosji sowieckiej przez polskich decydentów przed wybuchem wojny z bolszewikami oraz bezpośrednio po tej wojnie

Mateusz Ambrożek: Were there any material differences in the perception of the Soviet Russia by the Polish decision-makers before the outbreak of the Bolshevik war and directly after the war? Was Bolshevism seen as the major enemy of the whole state and the Polish society? In which degree was Bolshevism influenced by the traditional Russian culture where Poles are considered the main rivals both on the arena of politics and the whole civilisation? Did the Polish-Bolshevik war strengthen the conviction about Polands hostility among the Russian elites?

Professor Marek Kornat: Both before the military confrontation with the Bolshevik Russia and after it, there was no doubt among Poles that Russia constituted a certain type of anti-civilisation. However, it is quite a different thing to ponder on a problem intellectually than to experience something existentially. This was the experience brought by the war, which was not a war about borders, as it is usually claimed in history textbooks, but a war about independence and survival of the nation.

In 1919, before the outbreak of the Polish-Soviet war, there was a general conviction in the Polish society about the deathly threat for the European civilisation from the new regime which in Russia XXX. Such an approach is clear in all political writings devoted to Russia from that period that I am familiar with. However, evaluations of the Soviet state were always related to specific political calculations, primarily from the perspective of Polands international location. Józef Piłsudski and his circle emphasised the thesis about the necessity of implementing the federation concept, i.e. separation from Russia - in line with Timothy Snyder's term of succession nationsof the former Republic of Poland. What is more, in the light of such perspective, the Bolshevik state seemed a better alternative than tsardom or a national Russia, due to the fact that the whiteswould be the natural allies of western powers. Then, Poland would not be able to find itsplace in the European configuration of powers. The National Democracy and in particular Roman Dmowski assumed that Bolshevism was temporary. It is interesting to note that in that period, Dmowskis opinion was commonly shared. According to him, after the revival of a nationalRussia and the fall of the Soviet regime, circumstances allowing for a Polish and Russian agreement would emerge. Dmowski expected that in such a situation, Russia would have to become reconciled with the existence of Poland within borders that were given to it by the Treaty of Riga in the east. For Dmowski, restoration of a nationalRussia was something positive, but for Piłsudski, it threatened the independence of the young state and might disperse the international atmosphere that was favourable for Poland, which allowed it to be the pivotal factor in the east of Europe.

A thesis that Bolshevism was a type of tool which Russia was trying to use to pursue territorial expansion was very popular among the Polish elites in the inter-war period. Leading experts on Russia, including Jan Kucharzewski, pointed out to the Russian roots of Bolshevism. The specific nature of the Russian civilisation was emphasised by almost all Polish political writers. Thus, it seems that Poland, more than any other country, stressed the Russian roots of Bolshevism. This resulted from the proximity of Russias borders, as well as the Russian heritage, which, in the history of Polish and Russian relations, was characterised by expansionism. In this place, it is worth mentioning the example of Florian Znaniecki who claimed in his work entitled Upadek cywilizacji zachodniej(the Decline of Western Civilisation, 1921), modelled upon the theory of Oswald Spengler, that Bolshevism was a manifestation of commonplace decay of civilisation. In line with this opinion, it might emerge in any society, yet it appeared only in Russia. Znaniecki explained the emergence of this syndrome in Russia by its’ “civilisation juniority.

It was a typically Polish opinion that Bolshevism featured more Russian than Marxist aspects. The thesis that Bolshevism was a tool of Russias imperial expansionism was an important supplement of this view.

In which manner did the Polish diplomacy try to attract the opinion of the western powers during the wars with Bolsheviks?

Here, it is necessary to list several sequences of events. The first one is the idea of Piłsudski and Paderewski from the autumn of 1919 of organising an expedition to Moscow with the aim of quenching Bolshevism, using 500,000 Polish soldiers, equipped by the western powers. However, it was rejected by the western states, as they believed that the proposal of this type was the manifestation of Polish imperialism. The western powers wanted Poland to agree this plan with General Denikin (head of the Russian Volunteer Army) and subsequently make sure that the Polish army, having conquered areas in the east, proclaimed Russian authority on them. Poland was only offered the Bug River border which, upon the request of the British Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lord Curzon, was adopted by the Supreme Council of the Peace Conference in Paris on 8 December 1919.

After the idea of the expedition to Moscow collapsed, another plan emerged: to fight for Ukraine and for the reconstruction of Eastern Europe. In January 1920, the head of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Stanisław Patek, was sent to Western Europe to present the concept of liberating Ukraine. This plan also had no chance of success on account of the reserved attitude of western powers. France was still thinking about rebuilding the nationalRussia, free from communism, whereas Great Britain was observing the situation pragmatically and believed that it was necessary to come to terms with Lenins regime, which eventually bore fruit in a trade agreement of March 1921. In relation to this, a decision was made in Paris and in London not to support Poland in itsactivities for the sake of Ukraine. Obviously, if the Ukrainian state - brought to life next to Poland - had solidified and had become an actual element of the international distribution of power - the opinions of the western superpowers would have been different and they would have become reconciled with the reality. In any case, a lot of aspects confirm this scenario. However, Petliura was not able to accomplish his goal. Piłsudskis Kiev offensive - in alliance with Petliuras Ukraine - resulted in, as we know, conquest of Kiev, yet the city had to be quickly evacuated in the face of Soviet counter-offensive. Once again, the West showed itsdistance with respect to Polands activities. France and Great Britain assumed a waiting stance, which consisted in willingness to observe the development of the political situation.

The third stage of the Polish-Soviet struggle was the Battle of the Vistula in the summer of 1920. During the time of the Battle of Warsaw, the Polish diplomacy tried to propitiate the support of the West by referring to the idea of Poland as the bulwarkof the western civilisation. However, Great Britain assumed the dominant position in the Entente, and it aimed for imposing the Curzon Line on Poland as the alleged territorial compromise with Russia. The Polish government tried to appeal to the western public opinion, quoting the defence of the western civilisation from Bolshevism. These were the declarations made in Odezwa do ludów świata(Appeal to the Nations of the World), probably prepared by Ignacy Daszyński, Deputy Prime Minister of the Government of National Defence. The text made references to the heritage of partitions and the Polish uprisings. It is also necessary to note some moving cases of solidarity with Poland in the West - most often in the Catholic circles of various countries. Nevertheless, the course of the British policy remained clearly unsympathetic. The awareness that the Battle of Warsaw was the fight for the fate of Europe was slight. When talking about the eighteenth most decisive battle in the history of the world, British diplomat, Lord DAbernon, was clearly alone among the people of the West in his times.

It is definitely necessary to note the evolution of the conduct of the Polish diplomacy with respect to the issue of the Soviet threat. It transformed from seeking support in the decision-making circles to appealing to the public opinion. The possibility of efficient foreign propaganda was slight on account of limited finances. The fate of the country was to be decided by military measures, not propaganda and diplomacy. This is the Polish lesson of 1920.

Is it true that the Bolsheviks were capable of making greater concessions, especially territorial, during the Treaty of Riga? What did such approach of the Russians result from?

There is no unequivocal answer to this question. There may have been such a probability, yet it does not follow from the documents available to us that the Bolsheviks were eager for further concessions. Nevertheless, the parliamentary delegation of the members of National Democracy played a dominant role in the Riga delegation. They supported the incorporation programme, that is not taking over the territories located far east, which were settled by non-Polish people, due to the fact that they were afraid of splitting up the states internal consistency. I believe that the chances for greater territorial gains would have been possible only if the Polish side had renounced financial reparations from the Soviet side which were, in any case, reduced, and after the signing of the Treaty remained unpaid, apart from partial recovery of cultural assets.

The problem of evaluating the Treaty of Riga is overshadowed by the inter-war dispute surrounding it. It has to be remembered that the Treaty of Riga was condemned by some of the borderland conservative land-owner milieus, who saw the document as a great tragedy of the nation. The treaty was called the new partition of Polandon account of the division of lands of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania that it introduced. Irrespective of the above, the Treaty of Riga definitely supplemented the Treaty of Versailles and thanks to this, the process of formation of the borders of the new Europe was complete. It was not a permanent order, but it brought freedom for Poland and the Baltic states. Imperial Russia could not annihilate the process of their emancipation. In today's Europe, we have free Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland once again.

How did the Polish Sovietological school interpret the threat of the Soviet Russia in the inter-war period? Did people believe that the doctrine of single-state socialism, adopted by Stalin, would be permanent, or did people consider it a tactical measure only?

It is worth noting that one solution does not rule out the other. The single-state socialismwas a doctrine of building a strong state, possessing a great potential of expansion with the use of the instrument of the war of aggression. Thus, it was an ideal supplement for the theory of a permanent revolutionthat assumed ongoing intensification of political activities aimed at propagation and implementation of the socialist revolution on a broadest scale possible.

Problems emerge when an attempt is made at a synthesis of stances of individual representatives of various Sovietological schools. Extremely diverse interpretations appeared very often. First of all, there was the above-mentioned theory according to which the Soviet state was a continuation of Russian autocracy. This thesis gained support in the 1930s, when Stalin was gradually expanding the range of his autocracy. Thus, communism was the new disguiseof Russian autocracy, developed in the course of centuries. It goes without doubt that a return to the Great Russian model was dominant in Bolshevism after Lenin's death.

Does the perception of the Soviet Union as the main enemy of the Polish independence influence the position of our state on the international arena? A thesis that the Polish-French alliance of 1921, which positioned Poland as the eastern ally of Paris in place of Russia, thanks to which the scheme of neutralisation of Germany in Europe was still sustained, is very popular nowadays. In the last years of the inter-war period, it was possible to notice a gradual reconfiguration of Frances political orientation, especially towards Russia. This entailed the collapse of Polands position in the Versailles system. Did it really look like this at that time? Or maybe it is possible to additionally differentiate other examples of alliances that shaped the international position of Poland in the course of these 21 years?

Piłsudskis Poland, signing the alliance with France, really thought it was the main partner of France in the east. In reality, it performed the role of a substitute allyfor France in place of Russia that has been lost, as Jules Laroche, the French ambassador in Warsaw, said in his memoirs. France entered into the alliance with Poland only because it could not have such alliance with Russia. Paris pursued a policy of waiting. If there had been any real chances for the renewal of a nationalRussia, it would be very probable that the alliance functioning before WWI would have been renewed.

The Russian problem was, in fact, the most important issue influencing Polands international position. Reflections about it may be found in Marshal Piłsudskis view that Russia was a greater threat than Berlin. Piłsudski believed that Poland, having an alliance with France, could, irrespective of anything, count on Frances assistance in fighting against Germans in a potential defence war, because it would be consistent with itsinterests. Until Locarno, such scenario seemed very probable, due to the fact that Polska Sadowa przynieść musi Francuski Sedan(the Battle of Sadowa entailed the Battle of Sedan), as political writers used to say. The chances for procuring assistance in case of a defence war against Russia looked quite different. Piłsudski justly expected that in this scenario, Poles would fight in isolation, as the actual military assistance would not come from anywhere.

As to the nature of the Soviet policy, Piłsudski believed the Soviet Union a state that was less predictable than Germany. Internal perturbations in Russia could, in his opinion, cause aggressive activities outside. For Piłsudski, Germany was more stable and more predictable; in a word, it was more European. Germany belonged to the western civilisation and, in fact, had more ties with the external world than Russia. Thus, from the side of Germany, it was difficult to break all the foreign liabilities and start a new war. On the other hand, Russia seemed an isolated state, less involved internationally, located at the outskirts of the civilisation, forming a separate world. In relation to this, the Polish Marshal believed that the outbreak of a war of aggression on the part of the USSR was more probable than on the part of Germany.

The National Democracy had a completely different outlook on this case. Russia was perceived as a separate world, immersed in itsown problems, which would not be willing to attack Poland. It follows clearly from Dmowskis inter-war articles that he was under the strong impression of the offensive of Japanese expansionism. He believed it would target Russia, which would make it immobilein Europe. Perception of Germany by this politician and his followers was diametrically different. Dmowski believed that after the capitulation of the Second Reich and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Europe could not expect more than 20 years of peace, so his opinions were similar to French Marshal Foch. The leader of National Democracy assumed that Germany would sooner or later act against the order established in the Treaty of Versailles. He believed that Germany would not be reconciled with the limiting of its own territory in such a great degree as it took place in 1919. Everything boiled down to a single question: how to get prepared for the new war with Germany in defence of the Treaty of Versailles? If Poland lost this war, the Versailles order would collapse and once again there would be a serious threat of Germany trying to establish itshegemony in Europe. Thus, saving the Versailles system meant saving Poland.

I can see two schools in the political thought of the Reborn Poland: of Piłsudski and of Dmowski. On the other hand, the perspective of an ordinaryPolish intelligent, learning about the international situation from the newspapers was simple: Russia and Germany were two, equally hostile and possessive evil neighbours. This was definitely the situation until the end of existence of the Second Republic of Poland, even though it cannot be forgotten that Hitlers great armament gave rise to more and more doubts and such events as Stalins cleansing in the army and the party offered grounds for assuming that the Soviet state was weakened, in spite of itsindustrialisation and great armament. For every Pole, the greatest curse was that both neighbouring world powers had a much greater potential than Poland, which exposed us to uneven and ruthless fight for survival in this geographic location that the history has given us.

Professor, thank you very much for the interview. I hope that it will be a gigantic mine of information about the Polish and Soviet relations and mutual perceptions in the period of the Second Republic of Poland for our readers.

Thank you very much too.

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