Polish Revolutionary Syndicalists in the Warsaw Uprising

During the war we had very little contact with revolutionary syndicalist militants in Poland. From time to time, the IWA Secretariat would, however, receive brief greetings from some comrades who had survived, but, naturally, there was no way for them to send us reports on the movement’s activities, given the strict Nazi censorship. Immediately after the war, the situation remained tricky and to this day we have not had the opportunity to communicate completely freely with Poland. But the IWA Secretariat has just received a series of interesting documents that afford us some idea of the revolutionary syndicalists’ struggle in that country during war-time. 

Prior to the war, Poland had two syndicalist-leaning organizations. On the one hand there was the Polish Anarchist Federation, a branch of the IWA, and on the other there was the ZZZ. The latter was a trade union grouping, with a membership of 130,000 and it was very close to the IWA. But for the outbreak of war, the ZZZ would assuredly have affiliated to our International. 

During the war and the German occupation, in Poland there were two revolutionary, syndicalist organizations; one of the being the Polish Syndicalist Association, and the other made up of some opposition groups inside the clandestine trade union movement.

In 1944, just prior to the heroic Warsaw Uprising, those two organizations came together for the joint publication of the underground newspaper Syndykalista. During the actual Warsaw Uprising itself, they also brought out another newspaper, Iskra (The Spark).

Over the course of the Uprising the Polish syndicalists played a significant role. They had a hand in the fighting, not as isolated individuals, but collectively, as an organized unit. That intervention in the fighting cost them many lives, as it did the other fighting groups.

It is interesting to examine the contents of the revolutionary newspapers published by the Polish syndicalists during those heroic events. Let us quote a few typical extracts.

Under the headline “Consequences of the Uprising”, Syndykalist wrote on 16 September 1944:

A new phase in public life in Poland is beginning. The masses are taking to the political and social arena. In their struggle they are guided by reasons of their own and the decent instincts of the people. Every fresh idea and every event is enthusiastically argued over in the combative city. A brand-new, self-conscience public opinion is presently emerging.

”A brand-new historical era” is opening up, (the newspaper goes on to announce.) An era of direct action emanating from the bosom of the poplar masses.’

The paper states its view in even plainer terms:

Once the Uprising has ended, there must be a social overhaul carried out.’

Meaning, the article states: ‘a social revolution. Our task as syndicalists is to articulate the will of the people in an organized fashion and, through said organization, carry out the great social overhaul based on social equality and political liberty.’

The very same newspaper in its 20 September edition carries an article under the headline “The Syndicalist Path”, in which we read the following:

What are the syndicalists after? A lot of people who have made contact with us ask us that question. So far item number one in our agenda has been the task of helping mount the Uprising. As to that issue, we are at one with the masses in Warsaw.

‘Our aid to the Uprising is a fact. The leaders of fighting Warsaw now have the chance to carry on with the struggle. Our task now is to ensure the continued unity of all social forces and bolster the fighting spirit, doing whatever needs to be done to meet the needs of the fighters.

‘At the same time as trying to meet the demands of the moment, we already have in mind the life of a brand-new Poland, which we can make out through the flames of the Uprising. Behind the bomb blasts we are listening to the outcry for a more splendid future, an outcry that we must answer right away, today. We must not put our answer off until quieter times. The people wants to know what the syndicalists are after, how the syndicalists mean to resolve all of the issues that will face us once we have driven out the enemy …

‘Syndicalism is a movement for the emancipation of the toiling masses. Syndicalism seeks emancipation of the masses through the free organizations of the masses themselves. Syndicalism is anti-parliamentarist, because, not just from Poland’s experiences, but also from the history of the countries of Western Europe, it knows that it is not possible to collaborate with a parliament.

‘No parliament can or wishes to devise a radical solution to society’s problems. For that reason, revolutionary syndicalism has realized that the only path to emancipation is the path of direct mass action, direct economic action. Syndicalists are convinced that the workers’ economic organizations are the best recourse, not just regarding betterment of day-to-day living conditions, but also educating and equipping the toiling masses by preparing them for a reorganization of social life under their own supervision, without any fatherly oversight from the political parties from above. Building on the feelings of de facto solidarity, syndicalism aims, by means of direct action, to assume the community’s social functions through the workers’ organizations. Needless to say, syndicalists want to harness every industry and all natural assets for the grandest task – rebuilding the country. The war has also altered every circumstance of our lives – not just today but also with regard to our entire future. Thoroughgoing changes have been made to social life, changes that will have to steer us in the direction of social, economic and political equality for all..

‘All who are mindful of Poland’s future must place themselves at the disposal of the whole of society. The war has forced us to conclude that the whole of society must have all economic power at its disposal if it is going to be able to build a new order capable of guaranteeing the security and lives of everyone.

‘Syndicalism’s mission is the organizing of social forces and economic interests into an organization embracing all producers in order to proceed with the overhaul of society in economic, social and political terms.’

So said the Polish revolutionary syndicalists during the Warsaw Uprising, the short-term aim of which was to drive out the German Nazis. 

That Uprising did not succeed. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were murdered by the victors and the city was destroyed and levelled. But the victors’ triumph was very short-lived. 

After the Nazis were finally driven out, Poland recovered her independence, to some extent. But her freedom is still curtailed. No authorization was forthcoming for the existence of a revolutionary syndicalist organization. All workers are required to belong to a single, umbrella organization. Yet we cannot rule out the influence of revolutionary syndicalism, nor its organizational ideas. The movement’s ideas will triumph and it will discover forms of expression according to the conditions that obtain. And such inklings are even now beginning to emerge. 

From Solidaridad Obrera (Organ of the Émigré Spanish Libertarian Movement in North Africa) No 50, 30 March 1947. Reprinted on Actualité de l’Anarchosyndicalisme website of the CNT-AIT (France) http://cnt-ait.info/2000/09/19/los-sindicalistas-revolucionnarios-polacos-en-la-sublevacion-de-varsovia/ 

Translated by: Paul Sharkey.