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17 DARIA NAŁECZ AND TOMASZ NAŁECZ POLISH-SOVIET RELATIONS, 1917–1921 THE UPHEAVAL THAT transformed Russia in 1917 marked a watershed in Polish-Russian relations. Earlier, the tsarist authorities had totally disregarded the Poles’ national aspirations. That policy line was maintained even after the outbreak of World War I. It changed only after the declaration of 5 November 1916, which presaged the restoration of the Kingdom of Poland aligned with Berlin and Vienna. Seeking to undercut that promise and prevent the Germans’ formation of a Polish army that could be a significant factor in the war, Tsar Nicholas II announced in a New Year message to the troops that “the restoration of a free Poland, composed of the three parts hitherto separated,” would constitute one of the primary goals of the war. That signaled a readiness to wrest the Polish provinces away from the rival powers and expand Russia’s own zone of influence westward. The Polish question gained prominence only after the tsarist regime was toppled. The new authorities set about rebuilding the crumbling state of the tsars and pledged to abandon the policy of subjugating the nations inhabiting it. In fact, there appeared to be a race of sorts between the competing power centers. The Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies was the first to speak out: on 27 March 1917, it declared that “democratic forces in Russia recognize the political self-determination of nations and state that Poland has the right to full independence as a state under international law.” The provisional government was more sparing in its promises. Its power base was more moderate, and, furthermore, as the official authority, it tended to weigh its pronouncements. In a manifesto to the Poles adopted on 29 March 1917, it declared that “the Russian people, which has cast off its yoke, grants the fraternal Polish people the right to full self-determination, in accordance with its own will.” It promised to “assist with the establishment of an independent Polish state comprising all the territories in which Poles constitute a majority, as a guarantee of lasting peace in a future, newly organized ˛ ˛ 18 DARIA NAŁECZ AND TOMASZ NAŁECZ ˛ ˛ Europe.” However, it made that promise contingent on a “free military alliance ” between Poland and Russia and the endorsement of those concessions by the future Russian Constituent Assembly. A completely new situation arose after the Bolsheviks assumed power. They cooperated only with extreme leftist parties among the Polish political groupings: Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania and the Polish Socialist Party—the Left. Both these parties were firmly opposed to the restoration of an independent Polish state, considering it an instrument of rule by the propertied classes. The official declarations of Soviet Russia were quite different. The Decree of Peace, adopted on 8 November 1917 and just a day after the coup, contained the principle of immediate peace without annexation, that is, without the seizure of foreign territories or the forcible incorporation of other nations . On 15 November 1917, the Council of People’s Commissars published its Declaration on the Rights of the Peoples of Russia, which sharply denounced both the national oppression of the tsarist regime and the imperial policies pursued by the provisional government. The document guaranteed equality and sovereignty to peoples wishing to remain within the borders of Russia, while those seeking independence were granted the right to self-determination —even to the point of separation and formation of an independent state. At that point, declarations had to suffice since the Russian partition of Poland was occupied by Germany and Austria-Hungary. That state of affairs was consolidated in March 1918, following the peace imposed on Russia by the Central powers at Brest. The dictate led the Council of People’s Commissars to issue a decree on 29 August 1918 that invalidated the partition treaties and recognized Berlin’s right to determine the future of Central and Eastern Europe. The declarations of the Bolsheviks made it easier for the Entente powers to act in favor of Polish independence. The first move was made by US president Woodrow Wilson in his Fourteen Points, unveiled in January 1918, wherein he supported the establishment of a Polish state inhabited by a Polish population, with access to the sea. France, which prized Poland as an ally in the war against Germany, went further. But in order to keep Germany in check and stabilize the new international order, Russia was needed to an even greater...


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