This work was carried out in coordination with Research Group 626 at Counter Attack which put together an introduction for this issue.

Armed Uprising in Krakow1

Translated by Duarte Martinho

The October and November events in Poland, which formed the end of a strong revolutionary wave, have been almost completely unnoticed and unevaluated by our press. The reason for this can be found partly in the banning of the entire party press and partly in the view that Poland is a secondary theater of the revolutionary war2. This view cannot be warned against often enough. Revolutionary Germany cannot be indifferent to how the balance of forces within Poland is shaped.

Krakow Uprising 1923

Before we describe the struggle in Krakow, we must briefly sketch the situation in Poland. Economically, Poland was in the same situation as Germany in September-October 1923, with the economy in a state of total collapse, inflation, falling real wages and lockouts. Politically: the blackest reaction, reprisals against the workers, and complete helplessness within the ruling class. (Polish Prime Minister Witos answered a workers' delegation: "Do what you want, it's getting worse.") In this situation, the workers’ movement goes on strike. How far the leveling of wages had progressed can be seen from the fact that the locomotive drivers, who belong to the labor aristocracy, went on strike first. They were followed by the rest of the railroad personnel and the postal workers. The government realized that the workers’ movement was serious about the struggle. The most important nerve was paralyzed: the railroads. The government issued a militarization decree – so mindlessly that it even forgot to put the date on the document. The railroaders who were liable to military service did not comply with the draft. The government responded by imposing martial law.

In its healthy class instinct, the proletariat recognised that its most vital interests were now at stake. When the trade unions and the PPS. (the Polish social-patriotic party) issued the general strike slogan on November 5, they were merely authorizing an already prevailing situation. The struggle had flared up without, indeed against, the official and recognized leaders.

The November events and the Krakow Uprising are a textbook example of proletarian class struggle. The government issued a ban on open-air meetings on November 4. On November 6, large crowds flocked to the Workers' House, located in the center of the city. The workers found the access road blocked off by strong police detachments. Behind the police was a company of infantry. The masses pushed into the police cordon, broke through it, and now disarmed the soldiers. The weapons used by the workers for this were, as the indictment states, sticks, bottles and heads of cabbages. Some of the workers were now armed, but the majority were still fighting with sticks. So far, no shot had been fired. The police columns coming to the rescue formed squares with their backs to the inside. The crowd soon gets into a firefight with the police and they are forced to retreat into the back alleys, where they are also met by fire. The policemen flee into the houses. Now they try to set cavalry in motion against the insurrectionaries. What happens resembles a massacre. One by one, 4 cavalry squadrons with a machine gun company move into the fight under cover from three armored cars. In the hail of bullets with which they are received from the windows and the bushes, they have no chance to dismount and are shot down like rabbits. On the slippery asphalt floor, the horses run out and prevent the rear riders from advancing. The crews of the armored cars are wounded and put out of action. A car is captured and taken to the Workers' Home. After a 3-hour fight, the workers are in control of the situation and the city.

What were the conditions of the struggle and where is the secret of its success? They fought with vastly asymmetric means. The proletariat seized weapons with its bare hands. It fought with the courage of a desperate man.

Already in the first clash and in the disarmament of the first soldier lay the later success. Further disarmings were possible due to the partial demoralization of the troops. The disarmament always took place after the first volley of rifles. The soldiers pleaded for their lives and hid for hours in private houses. The proletariat also did brilliantly in purely tactical terms: there was not wild shooting, but the strictest fire discipline: they provided cover and made full use of the terrain Some saw in the use of cavalry a great tactical folly. But even the most stupid commissar should not be taken for such a fool: they threw cavalry into the fight, because everything else was absolutely unreliable. The unarmed proletariat defeated and disarmed, in real firefights, a garrison armed with modern means of combat.

The following aspects are still to be considered: The Polish army is based on general compulsory service; and here: the class composition absolutely has an effect. The soldier allowed himself to be disarmed because he was recently a peasant or a worker, or was soon to become one again. The disintegration of a standing army is likely to be much easier than that of a mercenary army. Another ideological factor: the great spirit of the proletarian revolution, which animated the workers and to which an army of "Order" can never oppose with anything equivalent. Combat strength was also on the side of the military. It fought with half an infantry battalion; 4 cavalry squadrons, 1 machine-gun detachment, 3 armored cars and all the available police. The official military report estimates the crowd in front of the Workers' Home – that is, non-combatants – at 800 people. The casualties of the workers amounted to 16 dead and about 40 wounded, of which at least a quarter were mere spectators. On the part of the military and police, there were 14 dead and 173 lightly and seriously wounded enlisted men and officers.

Thus the proletariat created the necessary conditions for the conquest of power. At least within this city, and thus serves as an outstanding example: this is the way to do it and not otherwise.

The victorious Krakow proletariat tumbled into the arms of the PPS ( the Polish Scheidemäns)3. The PPS concluded a full blown ceasefire with the commanding general and used the opportunity to snatch the weapons from the proletariat by trickery (statements of PPS men during the trial). The PPS became frightened, it had to fall into the arms of the movement in order not to fall under the wheels of the revolution. Then came the same old song and dance. Every promise made to the workers was not kept.

The movement had to collapse because the party that was supposed to lead the movement beyond the insurrection and fuel this revolutionary fire, i.e. the KPP, had absolutely no influence on what was happening and did not take the lead even when circumstances called for it.

  1. “Der Kampf des Proletariats: Ludwig: Der bewaffnete Aufstand in Krakau”, Vom Burgerkrieg: Mitte August 1924. Heft 13, p 11-4. 

  2. “ein revolutionärer Nebenkriegsschauplatz”. 

  3. German Social Democratic politician Philipp Scheidemann.