Zbigniew Marcin Kowalewski
Published in International Viewpoint, No. 73, April 8, 1985, pp. 20-23.


Ethnic cleansing, Poland 1947

Ethnic cleansing, Poland 1947

In George Orwell’s novel 1984, “two minutes of hate” sessions were one of the techniques of indoctrination utilized by the totalitarian regime. Although the system of “oligarchic collectivism” imagined by Orwell does not exist in Poland, the Polish bureaucracy’s arsenal includes a device reminiscent of the “two minutes of hate”. Last year, which was Orwell’s year, this method was used against the priest Jerzy Popiełuszko. It was what incited a group of secret police agents to assassinate him. In 1984 the system of “two minutes of hate” was also utilized against the Ukrainian people. For months in a clearly coordinated way, the official press trumpeted what it called the “truth about the criminal character of Ukrainian nationalism” and about the actions of the “barbaric hordes of Ukrainian nationalists” forty years ago.

The fighters of the Ukrainian liberation movement, who for eight years (1943-1951) waged an armed struggle against German imperialism first of all and then against Stalinist tyranny were presented as “savage executioners”, and as “fascist cutthroats out of the forests”. Their activity was described as “synonymous with crime against humanity”. According to the information that has reached us, this campaign was directly whipped up by the Ministry of the Interior, that is, by the police, which in Poland is the main institution of the state that concerns itself with the question of nationalities. This ministry was the source of all the documents published in the press.

In one way or another, all the press organs of the various factions of the bureaucracy took part in this campaign, from the pseudoliberal weekly Polityka controlled by the deputy premier, Mieczysław Rakowski, to Rzeczywistość, organ of the Stalinist hardliners, including Słowo Powszechne, the magazine of the “socially progressive Catholics,” that is, those who collaborate shamelessly with the bureaucratic regime in all its forms.

Rzeczywistość found no difficulty in basing itself on a statement made in 1943 by the National Party (SN), a formation that represented the most chauvinistic currents in the bourgeoisie and among the big landowners, which was always in the forefront of support for repressive Polish policies in Ukraine and Byelorussia. “Ukrainian society, showing its immaturity or its degeneracy by mass criminality, condemns itself. The weakness and primitivism of Ukrainian society are obstructing its own development.” [1]

In order to understand the present anti-Ukrainian campaign, it is necessary to review the historic events that the bureaucracy are exploiting in this campaign. I will try to do that in the following article.

Following the failure of the Red Army in the war with Poland in 1920, the western parts of Ukraine and also of Byelorussia remained incorporated into the Polish bourgeois state until 1939. The new Polish state continued the traditional policy of the Polish ruling classes in these areas toward the Ukrainian population, which was 90% peasant in composition. It was a policy of national oppression, cultural discrimination, economic exploitation and forced assimilation.

In 1930, in reprisal for terrorist actions carried out by the Ukrainian nationalists, Marshall Józef Piłsudski, the Polish chief of state, ordered the army and police to “pacify” the Ukrainian villages. “It was this that gave the fundamental shape to the experience of an entire people of Poland and Poles,” it says in a book recently published underground in Warsaw, which deals with the relations between Poland and its neighbours. “It was a crime, and one that we had to pay for.” [2] It was this repression that set the stage for the revenge of the Ukrainian peasants in 1943, which I will take up later.

Moreover, western Ukraine was the traditional center of the Ukrainian national movement, especially Galicia, which was called the “Piedmont of Ukraine.” For some time, this movement exhibited a pro-Soviet attitude, turning toward Soviet Ukraine, which after the October Revolution exercised a considerable attraction over the peasants, the workers, the petty bourgeoisie and even the Uniate [Ukrainian Greek Catholic church] priests of the Polish part of Ukraine.

However, this situation changed drastically as a result of Stalinism’s monstrous crimes against the Ukrainian people at the time of forced collectivization. The ensuing famine led to the death of nearly six million peasants in the Soviet Ukraine, and this was accompanied by slaughter of Ukrainian intellectuals and national communist cadres.

Leon Trotsky wrote: “Nowhere did restrictions, purges, repressions and in general, all forms of bureaucratic hooliganism assume such murderous sweep as they did in Ukraine in the struggle against the powerful, deeply rooted longings of the Ukrainian masses for greater freedom and independence. To the totalitarian bureaucracy, Soviet Ukraine became an administrative division of an economic unit and a military base of the USSR.” [3]

After the Stalinist crimes, Trotsky explained, the Ukrainian masses did not want to live in the USSR any more or remain attached to it. On the contrary, they aspired to the creation of an independent workers’ and peasants” state.

The workers of Russia and the entire world, Trotsky said, “must even now understand the causes for Ukrainian separatism, as well as the latent power and historical lawfulness behind it, and they must, Without any reservation, declare to the Ukrainian people that they are ready to support, with all their might, the slogan of an independent Soviet Ukraine in a joint struggle against the autocratic bureaucracy and against imperialism.” [4]

After the German imperialist attack on the USSR, a national liberation struggle developed in the western Ukraine. The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) took the leadership of this fight, and in 1943, in the countryside it founded the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which rapidly grew into a force of nearly 40,000 combatants. Previously, the OUN had been a rightist organization. It had conducted terrorist actions directed against the Polish state and shown a penchant for fascism. Its hope was that Germany would consent to the formation of an independent Ukrainian state.

The bloody repression of every expression of Ukrainian nationalism, and the policy of brutal exploitation of the Ukrainian masses followed by the Nazis quickly dispelled the OUN’s reactionary illusions. At the same time, the OUN was led by other factors to make a deep-going ideological shift. Beginning in 1941, its “expeditionary groups” started to penetrate into the Nazi-occupied Soviet Ukraine and establish contacts with the local population.

As a result of discussions with the population in the Soviet Ukraine, Whose consciousness was shaped by the gains of the October Revolution and the structure of post-capitalist society, and in particular under the pressure of the working class in the Donbass, the leading coal and steel center of both Ukraine and the USSR as a whole, the OUN and the UPA adopted a program not just for a national revolution but for a social one as well.

Left turn

The independent Ukraine that was to come out of the struggle “against both Hitler and Stalin” was to be a democratic state without capitalists or landlords, without “the parasitic class of Bolshevik masters,” without oppression of one nation by another, without the exploitation of human beings by human beings, a state based on social ownership of the means of production and which would build a classless society.

The adoption by the Ukrainian nationalists of a program for social revolution confirmed Trotsky’s thesis that the social revolution in the USSR, which had been betrayed by the bureaucracy and its party, lived on in the property relations and in the consciousness of the workers. This was pointed out by Pierre Frank at the time of the Third World Congress of the Fourth International in 1951. He said then: “What we have learned from the Ukrainian independence movement on this question is also quite significant. As a result of the division of Ukraine before the Second World War, the Ukrainian nationalist movement in Poland contributed to the development of pro-independence tendencies in Soviet Ukraine. But on the other hand, the difference in the social system between the two parts of Ukraine led to the Ukrainian nationalists in Poland evolving toward support for the forms of social ownership in the Soviet Ukraine. This is a phenomenon that must not be forgotten.” [5]

The new revolutionary nationalism that was evolving toward democratic nationalism won the support of the masses in western Ukraine, which had been part of Poland before 1939. When the Soviet army entered this army in 1944, the Kremlin found itself facing the first mass movement for political revolution in its state.

In 1943, when the UPA was set up, in the western Ukrainian provinces of Volhynia and Polesia, a bloody national conflict raged between the Ukrainian peasants and Polish settlers. Massacres of civilians were perpetrated by both sides. The Polish and Ukrainian resistance organisations became involved in the conflict in the two opposing camps. The German authorities, who had every interest in seeing the sharpest possible antagonism between the Poles and Ukrainians, poured oil on the flames. The same was done by the Soviet partisan groups, which had an interest in provoking pogroms among the Ukrainian masses that supported the movement for national and social liberation.

In taking up a war of liberation against German imperialism, the Ukrainian masses at the same time took their revenge for the national oppression they suffered at the hands of the Polish population. Indeed the Polish resistance movement and the authorities of the Polish “underground state” were hostile to the Ukrainian national movement. [6] They thought that in the future western Ukraine should belong to Poland, wanting to maintain the territorial gains the Polish bourgeois state had made in the east.

The Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa – AK) had rejected the UPA’s proposals for putting an end to the conflict and collaborating against the common enemies of both movements, Hitler and Stalin, based on a recognition of the right of the Ukrainian nation to form an independent state.

It is the episode of this conflict primarily that the Polish bureaucratic government is exploiting today. The regime not only obscures the historic background to the 1943 massacres and the historic responsibility of the Polish forces involved in them as oppressor, but it also passes over in silence the reactionary policy followed by the political and military institutions of the Polish “underground state” in the Nazi-occupied western Ukraine as regards the national question.

The historian Jerzy Tomaszewski has even been pillioned by the regime’s press for having dared say that massacres of civilians were carried out by both sides, and that the actions of the Polish resistance against the Ukrainian peasants cannot in any case be considered self-defense.

The official press talks about “propaganda materials fabricated by the Ukrainian nationalists saying the same thing as this Polish historian”. [7] It has also referred to other material that, it claims, “are pure Zionist inventions, like what Professor Jerzy Tomaszewski offers Polish readers.”

Rzeczywistość suggests that “Western tourists of a swarthy type” are trying to buy off some Polish scholars to get them to put forward ideas similar to Tomaszewski’s. It accuses him of “spitting in the face of Poles”, and goes on to say that public presentation of Tomaszewski’s studies of the relations between Poland and Ukraine in the past “will do more harm than good to Polish scholarship, and also to our fatherland, which cannot be a matter of indifference to us who are its citizens!” [8]

The official press portrays Ukrainian revolutionary nationalism and the liberation struggle of the Ukrainian masses as a fascist movement allied to Hitler. Using the method of the amalgam, it talks about the UPA and the two formations set up by the Nazis – the Ukrainian auxiliary police and the SS-Galicia Division as if they were various wings of the same movement. Finally, to top it all off, the official press bases itself on the “political thought” of the most chauvinist and imperialist currents in the Polish right, as indicated byRzeczywistość quoting the National Party’s shameful statement from 1943.

Such an ideological orientation is not new in the history of the bureaucratic dictatorship in Poland. From the outset of its rule, Polish Stalinism has followed a chauvinist policy with regard to the national question. In 1945, the “people’s” government proclaimed that the Polish state should be nationally homogeneous.

More or less openly, the successive ruling teams have remained faithful to this “tradition,” from which Solidarność tried to break in 1981 by proclaiming the democratic principle of a “republic of the nations.”

The Ukrainian population living within the new Polish frontiers established after the Second World War were the victims of the totalitarian “ideal” of a “nationally homogeneous state.” In the wake of the war, in accordance with a deal made with the Kremlin, the great majority of this population (several hundred thousand persons) were forcibly deported to Soviet Ukraine. This included even villages that had traditionally been Stalinist, and was done over the energetic protests of old Ukrainian Communists.

The UPA detachments mounted armed resistance to these deportations and defended the Ukrainian population against pillage, pogroms and murder carried out by the security apparatus, the militia [i.e., the regular police], and the army of “people’s” Poland, as well as by armed detachments of chauvinist Polish settlers. It was in this period that armed groups that came out of the old AK that opposed the Stalinist regime began to collaborate on the ground with the UPA. They helped to protect the Ukrainian population from the persecutions, agitated within the militia and army against the anti-Ukrainian repression, and organized aid for the Ukrainian peasants in the Polish villages. Breaking in this way from the old policy of the AK, they took a democratic position on the Ukrainian question, and some leaders of these guerrilla detachments accepted the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for national independence.

The Ukrainian question in “people’s” Poland was finally “solved” in 1947. At that time only a single Ukrainian ethnic group remained on Polish territory, in the Carpathian mountains, the Lemkos. The Polish army mounted an operation; called “Action Vistula,” for which tens of thousands of soldiers were mobilized. Its objective was to deport the entire Lemko community and destroy the UPA.

The Lemkos defended tooth and nail their right to live on lands they had inhabited for centuries. It was the guerrilla company made up of Lemko peasants and led by Stepan Khrin, one of the UPA’s best military commanders, that waged the fiercest battles, successfully utilizing the tactic of offensive raids against the enemy troops. The Polish army deported 150,000 Lemkos to the north and west of Poland, where they were dispersed and consigned to “achieving a higher degree of Polishness,” that is, to assimilation.

It is worth remembering that it was in this criminal pogrom against the Lemko people that the present chief of the Polish regime, General Jaruzelski, won his officer’s stars. To this day, it is forbidden to talk about the fate to which Polish Stalinism condemned the Lemkos.

It has only been during the processes of political revolution that the legal press has been able to discuss this question. The democratic press recalled the tragedy of the Lemkos on two occasions. In 1957, it was the weekly Po Prostu, the organ of the “October Left,” that did this. In 1981, it was Tygodnik Solidarność, the national weekly of the free trade union movement.

The lands of the Lemkos were entirely cleared of any population. So, the UPA detachments had to retreat to Soviet Ukraine, where they joined the local units of the UPA. For some years more, they continued to wage a heroic struggle, but they were finally mercilessly exterminated by NKVD detachments.

In March 1950, Taras Chuprynka (Roman Shukhevych), the commander in chief of the UPA, was killed near Lvov. Shortly after that, the last groups of Ukrainian guerrillas who fought to the end in the Carpathian forests to eliminate this “prisonhouse of nations” – as they called the Stalinist USSR – were defeated.

“If you add up the numbers of people who died in the 1917-1920 revolution, in the forced collectivisation and in the great purges in the 19305, and in the Second World War, the total comes out to half the male population and a quarter of the female population of Ukraine. With these human beings, the traditions, the ideas, the gains and the hopes of entire generations were destroyed. After such a holocaust, it is remarkable that Ukrainian society still had the strength to manifest its national aspirations after the war. Still more remarkable is the rise in the 1960s of the Ukrainian dissident movement, a new testimony to the tenacity of the human spirit.” [9]

Why did the Polish political police, which does not normally concern itself with history, suddenly take an interest in the Ukraine nationalist movement of forty years ago? Why has the regime’s press, instigated by the Ministry of the Interior, all of a sudden started pounding away on the theme of “Ukrainian fascists and bandits,” a stereotype unfortunately that strikes a chord with a section of the Polish people?

lt It should be noted here that in the past, it was the Jewish minority, which was accused of taking part in “Zionist plots” against the Polish nation and socialism, that was the target of the Polish bureaucracy’s chauvinist campaigns. Today, for the first time, similar accusations are being directed at “certain elements” of the Ukrainian minority. The regime’s representatives claim that veterans of the UPA and the OUN, “who in forty years of peace in Europe have learned nothing raised their heads again in Poland in a time of chaos and relaxed vigilance.” [10] They are talking about a time when a process of political revolution was underway, 1980-1981.

The reason for the campaign

Why is the Ukrainian minority in Poland being attacked? It is systematically discriminated against, denied the right to develop its national culture freely and to preserve its language. It is left with no organization of its own but a feeble social and cultural organization under the direct administrative control of the Ministry of the Interior.

The answer to these questions has to be looked for on the other side of the Polish frontier. In Soviet Ukraine, particularly in the western part, the struggle of Solidarność made a significant impact among the workers and the intelligentsia. A number of Ukrainian dissidents saw the social movement of the Polish workers as an example to follow and as a positive alternative for overcoming the problems of the human-rights defense movement in the USSR, which has been isolated from the working class.

In February and March 1983, leaflets appeared calling for a strike and supporting Solidarność in factories in western Ukraine. In March 1984, leaflets from the Polish organization Fighting Solidarity (Solidarność Walcząca) were distributed in Russian and Ukrainian. They called for the formation of groups modeled on those existing in Poland, under the banner of self-management, solidarity and independence.

Indicating the reasons for the Polish bureaucracy’s anti-Ukrainian campaign, a CPSU bigwig in the western Ukraine, Petro Sardachuk, wrote in issue No 12, 1984 of Kommunist (the theoretical organ of the CPSU): “In carrying on its ideological diversion, the class enemy is trying to take advantage of the history and the special geopolitical situation of the Sub-Carpathian region”. He wrote that the border areas of Ukraine “are the front lines of the ideological confrontation,” proclaiming that “here you constantly smell the smoke of the anti-Soviet fires.”

It is thus clear that Sardachuk was referring to the the dangers represented by the Polish social movement. A short time before this article was published, in the fall of 1983, the Soviet press raised the alarm about subversive activity aimed against the Soviet Ukraine being conducted in Poland, and about the Western imperialist spy centers inciting Ukrainian dissidents to learn from Solidarność and to “adapt to Soviet conditions the methods of creeping counterrevolution” worked out in Poland.

For decades, the Kremlin has feared the liberation movement of the Ukrainian people, the largest oppressed nation in Europe, which inhabits the continent’s second largest country. In terms of territory, population and economic strength, Ukraine represents one fifth of the Soviet Union.

The Kremlin is quite well aware of the fact that it was the Ukrainian masses who unleashed the first political revolution against its regime. The hatred that the Stalinist regime displayed for Ukrainian nationalism in the 1940s is no less fierce today.

Soviet citizens are still being sentenced and executed on accusations of having belonged to the UPA. General Roman Shukhevych’s son is still in prison, after 35 years, because he refuses to renounce his father. Moreover, the UPA veteran Danylo Shumuk, who was a Communist activist before the war, has recently been recognised by Amnesty International as the longest held political prisoner in the world.

The national aspirations in Ukraine are a powderkeg. They have grown apace with the Ukrainian working class, which now represents 75% of the total Ukrainian population. The Ukrainian workers are one of the best educated sections of the working class of the USSR and they have acquired considerable experience in fighting to defend their rights.

In 1962, the Donbas workers waged strikes on a large scale that had a semi-insurrectional character. The national question is becoming more and more closely linked with the problems workers have as workers. “Finding myself as a worker at the bottom of the Soviet social scale, I have felt very directly the weight of economic, social and political and national oppression,” Mykola Pohyba wrote in a prison camp in 1980. [11]

In the Kremlin as in Warsaw, the thought of what might happen if an alliance were to come about between the Polish and Ukrainian social movements stirs panic. So, trying to fan the flames of national hatred between Poles and Ukrainians, of which the chauvinistic anti-Ukrainian campaign in Poland is an aspect, is a typical preventive operation.

Solidarność’s attitude to national oppression

In Poland, such an operation is all the t more necessary from the bureaucracy’s point of view because over the last two years, the underground press of Solidarnosc and the independent publishers have devoted considerable attention to the history and perspectives of Polish-Ukrainian relations. With a democratic educational approach and with an understanding of the need for mutual solidarity against the common enemy, they have explained the bases of the traditional antagonism.

Such activity by the underground Solidarność is an important element in forming a democratic consciousness with respect to the national question and in developing the strategy of the social movement in Poland.

Recently, the Polish Inprekor contributed to this effort by publishing a special on the Ukrainian national question. In this framework, it presented the real history of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. The editors of the Polish Inprekorthink that revolutionary socialists in Poland should include in their program support for the slogan Trotsky raised in 1939: “For a free and independent Ukraine of workers’ and peasants’ councils!” They also believe that revolutionary socialists in Poland should recognise that there will be no self-managed Poland without an independent Ukraine.

This article was signed with the pseudonym Arthur Wilkins and translated by Gerry Foley


1. Jędrzej Seret, “Tragedia Kresów” [The Tragedy of the Eastern Borderlands], Rzeczywistość, No 32, 1984.

2. Kazimierz Podlaski, Białorusini, Litwini, Ukraińcy: nasi wrogowie czy bracia? [Are the Lithuanians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians Our Enemies or Our Brothers and Sisters?], Słowo, Warsaw, 1984, p. 75. Excerpts of this interesting book were published in the Paris magazine L’Alternative, No. 31, 1985.

3. Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1938-39, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1984, pp. 302~303.

4. Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1939-40, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1977, p. 53.

5. Pierre Frank, “Evolution of Eastern Europe”, in Class, Party and State and the Eastern European Revolution, Education for Socialist series, Socialist Workers Party, New York, 1969, p. 51.

6. On the “underground state” in Poland during the war and the Home Army (AK) see the article by Arthur Wilkins [Zbigniew Marcin Kowalewski] and Cyril Smuga [Jan Malewski], “Les Véritables origines de la République Populaire” in the February 4 issue (No. 189) of Inprecor, International Viewpoint’s French-language sister publication.

7. Jacek E. Wilczur. “Nawroty do złej przeszłości” (Returning to an Unhappy Past), Przegląd Tygodniowy, No. 26, 1984.

8. J. Seret, op cit.

9. Bohdan Krawchenko, “La grande famine en Ukraine”, L’Alternative, No. 24, 1983.

10. Jędrzej Seret, “Pogrobowcy Stepana Bandery [The Heirs of Stepan Bandera], Rzeczywistość, No. 50, 1984.

11. See the open letter by the Ukrainian worker Mykola Pohyba, in Cahiers du Samizdat, No. 78, 1981, p. 14.

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