Noble Frankland

Keeping the bear at bay

Noble Frankland reviews the new history book from Adam Zamoyski

Who would think that a battle as decisive as Marathon or Waterloo took place at the gates of Warsaw in August 1920? Such is the question that Adam Zamoyski poses at the beginning of his account of the war between Lenin’s Soviet Russia and Pilsudski’s Catholic Poland, fought in the twilight between the first and second world wars. The author gives us the clue to the answer, not in the main title of his book, Warsaw 1920, but in its subtitle, ‘Lenin’s Failed Conquest of Europe’. Certain it is that Lenin saw his invasion of the recently re-created Poland as the gateway to Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and eventually, perhaps, Italy. Encouraged by sycophants sitting around him in the Kremlin and, no doubt, also by what we nowadays call the chattering classes plus some feeble-minded intellectuals in the west, he had come to believe that the masses in Poland, Germany and anywhere else the Red army could tread would rise in support of the Communist promise of liberation from the capitalist tyranny of Western societies.

Poland proved him wrong for, though some in the urban areas did side with the Bolsheviks, the masses of the people, who were peasants, did not. Even so, Poland came within a hair’s breadth of defeat by the massive Russian assault which almost took Warsaw. However, buoyed by their profound Catholic faith and led by the inspirational (and very lucky) Pilsudski, the Poles hung on; Warsaw was saved and thereafter the Bolsheviks were put to flight and driven back beyond their starting lines. When the peace negotiations began, it was Moscow and not Warsaw that was at risk. Thus, was the Red Army denied access to Germany and who knows where else and thus was Lenin’s dream of a communist rising in its wake exposed as such.

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