“Warsaw Ghetto Fighters” was originally published in Socialist Voice No. 19 (Summer 1983). It was re-published in Proletarian Revolution No. 68 (Summer/Fall 2003) with an introduction titled “On the Sixtieth Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.” (Socialist Voice was the predecessor of Proletarian Revolution.)
Lenin described the history of each culture as having two component parts, the democratic culture of the toiling masses and the elitist culture of the ruling classes. In graphic strokes, a well-documented record of monumental events – often bloody – testifies to the presence of these two entwined opposites embedded within the history of the Jewish people.
For centuries under feudalism, Jews were a pariah caste in Europe. The craftsmen and other usually impoverished laborers served their exploiters, the upper class – the Rothschilds and their ilk. In turn, these “court Jews” served their masters, the Christian lords, as their merchants and usurers. When scapegoats were necessary, it was the Jewish masses who were persecuted and did the suffering, far more often than the treacherous traders and bankers.
Of course, the wealthy merchants had their Jewish pawns, including the clerics. The rabbis served as the ideological prison guards for the craftsmen, chaining them to their exploiters by preaching hatred of the “enemy,” the gentiles – meaning in reality their fellow urban toilers and serfs who were Christian, not the Christian lords. When mind-rotting religious superstition failed to quash rebellions against the upper classes, the armed lackeys of the lords and their deluded anti-Semitic followers invaded the ghettoes to kill, rape and repress – inspired by their own priests and their own godly drivel. In Eastern Europe, these deadly rampages were known as “pogroms” and their gentile perpetrators were often known as “the cossacks.”
In Western Europe, the advent of capitalism, the bourgeois democratic revolution and the “age of reason” broke down much of the old caste barriers, along with their prejudices and religious furies. At the end of the 19th century, however,with the development of imperialist and counterrevolutionary capitalism, the old anti-Jewish crap began to return with a vengeance, in far more devastating forms. Soon Nazism, decadent capitalism’s last resort, spawned the genocidal massacre of millions of working-class and middle-class Jews across Europe, in addition to untold numbers of other human beings.
Communist revolutionaries insist upon the absolutely critical need for leadership, proletarian leadership. This is not because leadership is inherently good; it is merely inherently necessary. The working class must have its own vanguard party if it is to successfully make the socialist revolution. But the ruling class also depends upon having its leadership accepted. The highly organized Jewish communities were dominated by leaderships which served the upper classes and sought to collaborate with the Nazi masters. Their Jewish police minions, right-wing pro-Nazi Zionist thugs, served as the fist within the ghettoes by repressing potential anti-Nazi mass revolts. Once again, they fulfilled their contemptible duty of serving their Jewish and gentile rulers by trying to ensure the subordination of the oppressed and exploited workers and craftsmen.
To their everlasting glory, the socialist workers of the Warsaw Ghetto rose up to fight the Nazis in spite of the Jewish bourgeoisie and its pro-fascist thugs, and in spite of the absence of aid by the imperialist “democratic” West or the Stalinists in Moscow. We recount the story of this doomed but profoundly heroic revolt in an all-too compressed summary below. This account originally appeared in this magazine twenty years ago, commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the event. We add only a few comments now to place the account in context.
Overwhelmingly, the traumatized survivors of the Holocaust were not Zionists. Unable to stay in countries still swimming in the blood of their families, they found the doors to the victorious “democratic” imperialist nations shut in their faces. With the connivance of the British imperialists, they were shoveled into Palestine. These Jews were thrown into a conflict designed to repress the rebellious anti-colonial Arab population.
In 1948, Israel was founded on stolen Arab land – with the support of Washington, London and Moscow – in a war of ethnic cleansing. Once again, the interests of the Jewish masses were diverted into the service of the Jewish upper classes. Once again, the Jewish upper classes and their thugs serve not only their own interests but the interests of their dominant allies and masters, the lords of Western imperialism, especially those in Washington.
There are certainly vast differences between the class relationships of the past and those of today with respect to Jews and with the creation of Israel. One important role that has been transformed is that the armed fist of murderous repression is no longer solely that of the gentiles. The Israeli colonial-settlers now conduct their own pogroms against other Semites, the Palestinian Arabs, and are now cossacks in the service of the imperialist lords and masters: “Guardians of Western Civilization.”
Ronald Reagan’s invasion of Lebanon in 1983 in defense of both U.S. imperialist interests and those of its Israeli junior partner, referred to in the reprinted article, has now been trumped by his successor’s bloody invasion of Iraq, designed to achieve the same purpose more successfully. The murderous anti-Palestinian role played by the Zionist leader Menachem Begin, the descendent of the pro-Nazi Jewish police force in Europe, is now played by the even more bloody-handed monster, Ariel Sharon.
The role of the heroic Jewish workers who led the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt is now largely played by the Palestinian workers, artisans and small farmers who are the backbone of the intifada, the daily battle of the Arab masses against the imperialist colonial-settler pogromists.
The Arab masses have their own traitors and false leaders, secular in the form of Arafat and Abbas, religious obscurantist in the form of Hamas and its kind. Arabs, like Jews and all other peoples, have a mass democratic class component and an elitist and treacherous upper class component. We note with elation the reports that a rising number of Palestinians are now searching for Marxist and revolutionary answers. Indeed, Marxist internationalism is the only hope for their survival; it is the same consciousness that motivated so many of the Warsaw ghetto workers, whose memory is so befouled by Israel today.
We are also moved by the re-emergence in occupied Palestine – Israel – of a very small but growing number of young Jewish workers who reflect the spirit of the Warsaw Jewish working-class revolt. We are now engaged in discussion with these comrades, who are so seriously trying to find their way to engage in the Arab struggle for liberation. They are firm in the knowledge that it can only succeed if it becomes a working class-led struggle for a Palestinian workers’ state, part of a federation of Middle Eastern socialist states. Jewish workers can attain freedom, economic well-being and all their independent cultural aspirations in such a workers’ state. They can never be free living on stolen land in a sea of hostility.
They know that the bourgeois Zionists have led the Jewish masses into a disaster in Palestine, an eternal war that means not only the continual murder of fellow Arab workers, but in the long run, a death trap for the Jewish workers. Sooner or later, if the Palestinian socialist revolution does not triumph, once again the Jewish masses will be faced with an ultimate betrayal by their own treacherous secular leaders and rabbis. We certainly may add their Western imperialist lords and masters, as well as their new “allies,” the Christian fundamentalists, who have always been such good friends to the Jewish pariahs they treated so well throughout history.
This is the fortieth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising which began on April 19, 1943. The courageous Jewish fighters, armed with only Molotov cocktails and a puny assortment of guns, took on the armored might of Nazi legions and held on for months before being overwhelmed. The “anti-fascist” imperialist powers, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and, above all, the United States, did nothing. Now they do too much.
Today, hired word-merchants dust off the requisite phrases lauding the Warsaw Ghetto martyrs. And the world’s statesmen mouth them. When those oppressed Jews fought tanks and artillery with their hands to stay alive and keep their families out of the ovens, they were a damned nuisance. Now they are damned by great praise.
Did you notice how many official Expressions of Sympathy the Palestinians in Lebanon received from the capitals of the world after they were crushed by the Israeli blitzkrieg? Take heart that we live in a world where even the mightiest of imperialists are still capable of shedding a tear for the unfortunate and oppressed – so long as they are, safely, the victims and in no danger of becoming the victors.
Praise today from the Reagans and the Begins seeks to replace the real heroism of the ghetto masses with cardboard images to suit contemporary national chauvinist(Zionist) needs. The true heroism of the stalwart Jewish fighters of Warsaw came not from the fact that Jews as a whole people were “chosen” or especially ennobled by their centuries of oppression. In the ghetto there were Jews who were capitalists and made profits by trafficking with their Nazi overlords, just as their fellow capitalists from other occupied sections of Europe did. The Jewish capitalists ran the ghetto council (Judenrat), which carried on administrative tasks for the Germans while ghetto dwellers were being shipped out to the camps. There were the Jewish police who guarded the ghetto for their Nazi masters. Not by accident many of these police were Revisionists, the Jewish fascist progenitors of the Begin crew of today. Jews like every other people are divided into classes, classes which in crisis behave very differently from each other. That is why the bourgeoisie collaborated and that is why it was the working class which fought. But given their particular oppression as Jews, these workers fought with particular strength.
It was the Jewish workers who formed out of their own ranks the Jewish Fighting Organization (JFO) which conducted the bitter, doomed war against the Nazis. It was house to house combat – and when the houses were burned down and blasted apart, rubble to rubble combat. And when the few who remained alive were forced from the rubble, they continued the war from the sewers and newly dug tunnels, until in July they were finally annihilated. With them perished the hopes of the last of the 70,000 Jews who had been penned up in the ghetto.
The JFO was overwhelmingly manned and led by workers, class-conscious and imbued with socialist ideals and principles. They fought fascism not on national grounds alone but out of the deep commitment to the struggle for a socialist world so long nurtured in the hearts of beleaguered Jewish workers in East Europe. These were the Jews who began their struggle by shooting Jewish capitalists and Jewish police as they sought to unify themselves in the combat against Nazism. These were the warriors who could have escaped through the sewers to the safety offered them by their allies in the underground Polish workers’ movement. Instead, they chose to stay to fight and die with their families, their people and their class.
However, it would be a lie to leave it at that. Present in the leadership of the Jewish workers were other ideas in addition to socialist consciousness. And these ideas reflected, in part, the mixed consciousness of the Jewish masses. There were illusions in the Western imperialist allies, in the Stalinist Soviet Union, in Zionism and other forms of Jewish nationalism. Each of these viewpoints provided a barrier in the struggle; they helped delay it, they helped give a false sense of the possibility of rescue until it was too late, and more.
The Polish and Jewish workers’ movements had a rich history of political dialogue and polemic. They regarded political debate as a vital part of the class struggle. This was not lost in the ghetto even under the Nazi heel prior to the “final solution.” Dozens of left political tendencies and publications flourished, and political life was intense – as questions of how to fight Nazism and how to win socialism were debated. Exchange, criticisms and polemics from abroad had always been encouraged as part of the vitality of a self-confident movement which, no matter its current state, acknowledged its internationalist heritage.
We too make no apologies for seeking to iron out in debate questions of principle, strategy and tactics based upon past gains and past experience. In fact we learned this, the Marxist form of politics, from precisely such progenitors as the ghetto fighters for socialism. We would do them less than honor if we were to join the ranks of hypocrites and bury their political and military accomplishments in false flattery.
In not giving political support to the dominant political leaderships which carried out the ghetto struggle, we certainly do not wish to forget the small force present at the time to whom we do give our allegiance, the Trotskyists. We have at best incomplete knowledge of their work, but we do know that they fought and died beside their working-class brothers and sisters with honor. We like they give military support and fight alongside our class even when we cannot agree with its current political leadership.
It is not only in Poland that the new round of proletarian struggles are brewing. The whole world is on the eve. As our Trotskyist ancestors did in the Warsaw Ghetto we shall do now. The movement will have all its hesitancies and mistakes which will cost it in blood, but Bolsheviks shall fight alongside their class, always trying to point the way, confident that the mass struggle itself will teach the class its path to a communist world. This time the struggle of the Warsaw Ghetto – writ large – will not be defeated. Our class can and does learn from its history.