The real Polish issue
The real nature of recent and continuing events in Eastern Europe among the Soviet state, the communist party in Poland, and the people of Poland has been obscured by the inaccurate use of the word "invasion."Skip to next paragraph
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Will Soviet troops invade Poland?
No. It is impossible to invade when Soviet troops are already in Poland, and have been, continuously, ever since the Soviet army pushed the German army back out of Poland in the final phase of World War II.
All the talk is about the methods which Moscow will use to repair its frayed and weakened control over the people of Poland.
There has never been any real doubt that Moscow will insist on regaining that control. Someday the whole Soviet empire is going to come apart. Something will crack the shell of the Kremlin's imperial frontiers and the many people which it holds who would rather be outside those frontiers. That time has not yet arrived and it is inconceivable that the Kremlin would allow its arrival now. Someday it will not be able to delay it any longer. Now it can delay because of the raw power of its armed forces.
The heart of the problem for the Kremlin is its use of the weapon of arbitrary arrest for political reasons. The crucial moment in the rise of the independent union movement in Poland came not when Solidarity forced the Polish communist party to declare the unions to be "independent." It came when Solidarity forced the release of political prisoners. That broke the power of the security police.The ability to make arbitrary arrests for political reasons is essential to moscow's control of Poland.
That power can be regained now only by drastic measures. Perhaps the overt threat of converting Poland into an occupied territory with Soviet soldiers taking over in every city and at every crossroad will be enough to intimidate the Poles. For them there is no "better" way out of the dilemma. They have only a choice between being governed arbitrarily by their own inefficient Polish communist party or living under Soviet rule.
Which is the lesser evil? Probably their own inefficient Polish communist party. At least its members are Poles.
If the threat does not work then the Soviets are bound to send in the troops because failure to do so could be that single shattering blow which someday will break the shell of the Soviet empire. If Poland were to break out of Soviet control, as it was in the process of doing until this past week, the other countries in Eastern Europe would break out too. They could not be held for long without Poland because the main supply lines all run through Poland. Moscow must hold Poland to hold the position in Eastern and Central Europe which its soldiers overran in 1945.
All of this is the price Moscow is paying for not having heeded some sound and friendly advice once offered to it. At the Yalta conference of February 1945, when the German armies were being pushed out of Russia and Poland, President Roosevelt spent much time with Joseph Stalin privately, trying to explain the American "good neighbor policy" toward LAtin America. Roosevelt's purpose was to try to get across to Stalin the idea that Moscow would be better off in the long run to make friends of the liberated peoples of Eastern Europe than to try to control them through force and communist parties.
If Stalin had listened and been convinced the story might be profoundly different today. At that time the Germans were the oppressors of Poland. The Poles were prepared to welcome the Russians as liberators, had they come as liberators rather than as new masters. The same could have applied all through Eastern Europe. If only the Soviets had come in as true friends and pursued a policy of friendship.
But they preferred to play it otherwise. They brought new governments trained in Moscow to each of the liberated countries. they imposed those Moscow-trained governments on the liberated countries. They backed up those Moscow selections with the Soviet army. There was no freedom of choice, no chance for Poland and the others to select their own new rulers. Moscow did not seek friendship. It sought absolute control over Central Europe.
So now Russians have replaced Germans as the people East Europeans most dislike. The memory of Hitler's terror has been replaced by the reality of the new Soviet system of terror, which leaves Moscow with no choice. It must continue to rule by terror, or lose Eastern Europe.