|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Wrong about the 1944 Warsaw uprising?
IN HIS article on the uprising of the Warsaw ghetto in 1943 (Socialism Today No.75) Jon Dale notes how it helped to inspire the Warsaw workers’ uprising of 1944. He then goes on to claim that Stalin betrayed the 1944 uprising by withdrawing the Red Army from the approaches to the city, explained by Stalin’s fear that the Warsaw insurrection might encourage the Russian workers to "move against the bureaucratic elite he represented". In fact this mono-causal explanation for Stalin’s attitude to the 1944 uprising is far too simplistic; while the blame heaped on Stalin for the failure of the uprising is open to question.
Stalin’s disapproval of the 1944 uprising sprang from a variety of motives. His decision not to openly support the uprising derived more from diplomatic and geo-political motives than fear of the Soviet workers being inspired to imitate the Warsaw workers. With the end of the war approaching Stalin was determined to keep Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe within the Soviet sphere of influence once hostilities ended. This was threatened by the Warsaw uprising of 1944.
The uprising was led by the Polish Armija Krajowa (AK), loyal to the London-based government-in-exile, backed by British imperialism. Stalin, however, supported the ‘Lublin committee’ which he intended to be the new Polish government once the war was over.
Once notified of the uprising Stalin was determined to protect the position of the ‘Lublin committee’. If the uprising led by the AK forces had been a success, then the position of the exiled government in London would have been enormously strengthened. Confronted by a victorious Armija Krajowa, Stalin would have found it difficult to impose his own puppet government once the war was over.
But even if Stalin had wholeheartedly supported the Warsaw uprising of 1944 there were definite limits upon what the Red Army could have done to help. The Soviet armies outside Warsaw were at the end of their tether and at the end of a 300-mile supply line. The Red Army units closest to Warsaw had suffered heavy losses in Operation Bagration that had ground German Army Group Centre to pieces during July 1944. They were in no position in August 1944 to launch a frontal assault on Warsaw.
During August 1944 the Soviet armies did attempt to outflank Warsaw but encountered fierce German counter attacks that blocked their way. In mid-September Red Army units reached the Vistula bank opposite the AK positions in Warsaw. Polish troops fighting with the Red Army made crossings of the Vistula to aid the uprising. During September the Red Air Force flew over 2,000 sorties dropping supplies to AK forces.
On 22 September Marshal Rokossovski ordered the Ist Polish Army to retreat back over the Vistula. He advised Stalin that the Soviet armies were in no condition to liberate Warsaw and that they needed time to refit and regroup.
Undoubtedly, Stalin could have done more to assist the Warsaw uprising of 1944 such as airdrops of supplies in the early days of the fighting. However, to blame Stalin for the defeat of the uprising as Jon does is rather far-fetched.