[from:] J. Berson, Sowieckie zbrojenia moralne, Warsaw 1937.
Finding the golden mean when assessing the Soviet danger is by no means easy. Both among the Polish and global public, the perception of this danger ebbs and wanes, and these movements are justified not so much by objective data but rather by fluctuations in the public mood in Poland, and by ad hoc, usually very short-term, political interests in the rest of the world.
These ad hoc interests cause, at the same time, speakers at Nuremberg to be overly alarmist, and a number of Western societies to be equally misguided in giving credence to the pacifist rhetoric of Soviet statesmen. There are also some (fortunately not too numerous) statements like that made by the Czech General Luža during the Red Army’s manoeuvres in the vicinity of Minsk – he repeatedly called the Soviet army “defenders of world peace”. However, these opinions are “outside the pale”, since they are not generally treated as credible even by the speaker’s compatriots who are usually very sober in their thinking…
The problem of Soviet danger is extremely convoluted and multifaceted, and it is especially complex for Poland, since we face not just Bolshevik but also Russian danger, and therefore a double one.
Inasmuch as the possible danger from the West is exclusively a military one, the eastern one threatens in addition the destruction of everything that is dearest to Poles: our homeland, religion, honour, personal dignity and civil liberties.
The East harbours not only the possibility of military aggression, which the official “Comintern” publications do not even try to hide. According to these plans – completely deranged, but nevertheless revealed by newspapers that are legally published in Moscow – the “Sovietisation” of Poland is to result in the breakup of the Republic into “autonomous socialist republics”: the Silesian, Kashubian, “Western Belarusian” (the Vilnius and Polesia regions) and “Western Ukrainian” (Eastern Lesser Poland, Volhynia and the “traditional” Chełm region) ones. All this would occur in addition to bringing the living standards of workers and of the working intelligentsia down to the unemployed level, although all these people would continue to work very hard, and to completely preventing any, even the most legitimate, protests, and in addition to imposing the yoke of “collective farm” serfdom on the Polish peasant, not to even mention the fact that those people who own anything would be deprived of all their property.
This is the “maximum programme” of our eastern neighbour in relation to Poland, and the fact that the official Izvestia newspaper neglects to mention this programme, which is only featured in “Comintern” writings, should not lull the Polish public into a false sense of security. In fact, even the Izvestia includes statements about “Western Belarus and Ukraine occupied by Polish fascists” when quoting from speeches by “Comintern” dignitaries and Belarusian or Ukrainian “prime ministers”; this term, when used to denote the eastern lands of the Republic of Poland, is very difficult to reconcile with assurances that no territorial claims are being pursued either by the Soviet Union or by Poland.
In fact, even the official Soviet terminology, which is apparently impeccable, turns out to be incredibly flexible. So, even if it is sometimes written or declared that the Soviet Union “does not threaten Poland’s independence in any manner”, such enunciations do not entail any clear commitments, since where required, a formula is used e.g. that “true independence consists in the liberation from the yoke of capitalism” which, in turn, means Muscovite and Bolshevik slavery when translated into our language.
The above example is by no means a product of our malicious fantasies. When speaking in April 1936 in Tiflis to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Georgia’s Sovietisation, Commander-in-Chief of the Red Army Marshal Voroshilov did not hesitate to repeat Stalin’s 1920 statement that “the so-called independence of so-called independent Poland, Finland, Georgia and Armenia (sic!) is actually their dependence on international capitalism and imperialism”. The conclusion of Marshal Voroshilov’s Tiflis speech was that it was only Sovietisation that brought Georgia “true independence”, and in Poland we know all too well what to think on this matter. On the other hand, the political significance of Stalin’s statement being quoted by the highest Soviet military dignitary and of the Moscow newspapers printing it on their front pages in huge letters is indisputable: Soviet leaders still believe that this statement holds.
Similarly, no one should be deceived by the Stalinist formula of “building socialism in one country”, which is sometimes completely misinterpreted as the supposed renouncement of the “world revolution”, i.e. of the Sovietisation of the non-Bolshevik world. However, the fate which has been dreamed up for the world by the Stalinist Soviet Union, and which is not even kept particularly secret, is not very different in terms of the final outcome from that planned by Trotsky who is now described in the press of our eastern neighbour as “the rabid dog of global counter-revolution”. The difference between “Trotskyism” and “Stalinism” lies only in the method: while Trotsky wanted to implement his plan completely recklessly, Stalin is making elaborate preparations and waiting for the most opportune moment for the Soviets; he will patiently wait for that moment even if, in the words of the Komsomol leader Kosarev, the “struggle for socialism’s victory on a global scale” were to be pursued only by the “young generation of Bolsheviks”.
Thus the danger to the world, and above all to Poland, from the present Soviet leadership is perhaps greater, but it is not immediate, and in any case it is more or less predictable in spite of the fact that, judging from the last year’s events in the Soviet Union, volcanic processes beyond our eastern border have by no means subsided.
Moreover, judging from Stalin’s words that are quoted above and were repeated by Marshal Voroshilov in Tiflis, while the Soviet rulers could at a pinch “accept” a different political system in the West, they have clear grievances against Poland and the Baltic states, which were previously included in the Russian Empire, since these did not change their political system together with their “ex-mother Russia”. This is a psychological factor that stems from the traditional Great Russian imperialism and that should not be underestimated, since these traditions have been reinvigorated as “Soviet patriotism” is being cultivated.
Finally, it should be noted that for the Soviets the mere existence of independent national states that had once been conquered by Russia has at least as “revolutionising” an effect on the peoples still suffering under the Soviet-Russian yoke as the mere existence of the “proletarian power” is supposed to have a “revolutionising” effect on the “working masses in the capitalist world”. Among these countries, Poland alone has become a power, which has earned it the Soviets’ respect but has in no way made them more friendly.
So much for the kind of danger posed by the East.
On the other hand, in terms of its current imminence, things are somewhat different. Logically speaking, the Soviet Union’s internal and economic situation does not give our eastern neighbour any room for risky adventures, and the country is anyway not forced to engage in such endeavours by its economic and population dynamics. If the Soviets sincerely wished to content themselves with their officially proclaimed goal of “building socialism in one country”, then, having almost all raw materials at their disposal, a new industry of their own and a huge internal market in their colonial empire that exists in “one piece”, and, moreover, having a considerable surplus of land in relation to the number of their population, they really would not need a war to achieve that goal.
However, Russia used to exhibit the same characteristics, but still was among the most predatory imperial powers. Soviet Russia has also been guilty of conquering the Caucasian Republics outright, and in Ukraine, Karelia, Crimea and Outer Mongolia it pursued less clear-cut conquests. Besides, it has armed itself to the teeth.
Stalin’s words: “We don’t want an inch of foreign land, but we will not surrender an inch of our own” also need to be interpreted, e.g. by asking what the Soviets consider “their own land” in the depths of their souls. Is it not the entire “future global Soviet Union” by any chance?
However, the current leadership of the Soviet Union is realistic. They are obviously fanatics, but rational ones rather than ones driven by their heart alone. This is why currently they could be pushed towards war by an internal catastrophe or by a determination that the potential adversary is completely powerless and its annexation would go unpunished. Both extreme scenarios related to internal developments in the Soviet Union (either Soviet economic plans being too successful and too much progress being made in political consolidation or too complete a collapse of the current regime) would exacerbate the Soviet danger. The situation we are witnessing right now, which is apparently an intermediate stage between success and disaster, requires from the world, and especially from the closest neighbours nothing more than watching closely, being vigilant and remaining strong – not just militarily, but primarily in terms of internal strength.
Thus our future is very much in our hands.
Jan Stanisław Berson (1903–1946), writing under the pen name Otmar, was a journalist who published in Gazeta Polska and Głos Prawdy. From 1932 to 1935, he was a correspondent of the Polish Telegraphic Agency in Moscow, but was expelled in 1935. He used the experience gathered during his stay in the USSR in his books: Nowa Rosja. Na przełomie dwóch piatiletek [New Russia. Between Two Five-Year Plans] (1933–1934), Minus Moskwa (Wołga – Kaukaz - Krym) [Minus Moscow (Volga–Caucasus–Crimea)] (1935), Kreml na biało [Kremlin in White] (1936), Sowieckie zbrojenia moralne [Soviet Moral Armaments] (1937). His descriptions of Soviet reality were highly popular but also often criticised (e.g. by Jerzy Niezbrzycki who wrote under the pen name Ryszard Wraga (1902–1968) – a Sovietologist who published, among others, in Bunt Młodych in the interwar period) as simplistic and naïve. During World War II, Berson managed to leave Poland and travelled to Scandinavia via Lithuania. He was a correspondent during the Finnish-Soviet War.