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Lessons from the Battle of Warsaw 1920-2020

100 years ago the Poles defeated the Red Army on the outskirts of Warsaw

August 14, 2020

by Robert Trent

100 years ago, on the outskirts of Warsaw, the fate of Europe was being decided in a now-forgotten battle.

On the banks of the Vistula, the Poles faced off the invading Soviet hordes, who having taken control of Russia, decided to expand their totalitarian communist ideology into Europe.

Europe was exhausted by the First World War, worker movements all across Europe were hungry for change and the atmosphere was ripe for rebellion. The Soviets were aware of this, “To the West! March on to Vilnius, Minsk, Warsaw! and onward to Berlin over the corpse of Poland!” commanded General Tukhachevsky in July 1920.

In fact, some Bolsheviks had greater ambitions than merely reaching Berlin, Nikolai Bukharin wrote about taking the war “right up to London and Paris.”

All that stood between the heart of Europe and the almost million-strong Soviet Army was the Poles. The Soviets advanced into Poland at the incredible rate of 32 kilometers a day, pushing the Poles steadily deeper into Poland, until they finally reached the outskirts of Warsaw.

On the 13th of August 1920, the Battle of Warsaw started. Communist propaganda and Western opinion alike predicted the swift defeat of the Poles. So convinced were people that Warsaw would fall that all foreign diplomats chose to flee the city, apart from the Vatican and British Ambassadors.

However, against all odds, the mass mobilisation of Polish society against the Bolsheviks, accompanied by talented Polish codebreakers and cryptologists, combined with the tactical genius of Field Marshal Jozef Pilsudski and General Rozwadowski led the Poles to victory on the 15th of August 1920.

The Bolsheviks were not only stopped, but pushed back, and Lenin abandoned plans for a worldwide revolution, focusing instead on consolidating power in Russia.

Just as the Poles led by King John III Sobieski saved Christendom by stopping the Ottomans at the Gates of Vienna in 1683, they contained the spread of communist totalitarianism in 1920.

Poland would eventually fall, 19 years later, to the German Nazis who would wipe out the country’s elites and leave the country in ruin by 1945, and then to the Soviets who would finish off the job and impose 45 years of communist misery and poverty on the country. The Poles, having faced off the communist threat militarily in 1920, fended it off between 1945 and 1989 culturally and spiritually, never letting themselves or their identity be broken by the communist tyranny.

Having experienced on their own backs the misery of communism, the Poles are perhaps even more staunchly anti-communist than in 1920, and the current Law and Justice government, reflects this.

It is perhaps ironic then, that just as Poland celebrates the 100th anniversary of this glorious victory over communism, and reminisces about how it contained the threat from the East, this time, the threat lies in the West.

It is a more subtle and a cleverer threat, and perhaps thus a much more dangerous one than the primitive communism of the Bolsheviks. Totalitarianism or existential threats do not always come on the bayonets of invading hordes – as we are seeing in the West today, sometimes they come as neatly packaged and alluring gifts. The Polish Minister of Culture, Piotr Glinski recently wrote that “Western civilization has already fallen once. (…) The Roman Empire collapsed not only as the result of a barbarian invasion, but also because it lost self-confidence. Today we are facing the same threat.”

The Western world, reduced to the Western lifestyle, now faces it’s a most severe test in decades: the challenges of the crisis of liberalism combined with an aggressive and ever stronger progressive left and Marxist thought. This crisis is keenly felt in the West; the seeds planted by Marx, his critique of capital and of the accumulation of wealth, 150 years later, have found their way back “home”. Lest we forget, though communism first took power in Russia, Marx “Communist Manifesto” was written whilst Marx lived in Brussels, whereas “Das Kapital” was researched from the comfort of the British Museums reading room, in between multiple cigar breaks, all whilst Marx was married to an aristocrat.

It is precisely in times like these, when society faces not only hardship but is faced with an existential threat, that we ought to look back for inspiration in history. Britain has not been successfully invaded since 1066, and so the Poles provide a wonderful example to draw from; they have defended the peripheries of Western civilization for centuries, repelling the Mongols and the Tatars. In 1683, the Winged Hussars of Polish King John III Sobieski defeated the Ottomans at Vienna. In 1920, the Polish Army led by Pilsudski repelled the Red Horde. Throughout the second half of the 20th Century, the Polish Pope John Paul II led a spiritual war against communism, whereas the Polish Solidarity movement repeatedly challenged communism.

What has given the Poles the will to act and fight so desperately over the centuries? Who knows exactly what the answer actually is, but it would seem the permanent threat to their very existence, combined with a deep love for freedom and their staunch Catholic faith provide at least a partial explanation.

The original article appeared on Summit News and can be accessed here:



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