What evidence is there to call the 1919-1920 conflict between Poland and the Soviet Union a "war of independence"? As for a definition of independence, I would say it is a full political, legal, and military independence from another state -- for example, a vassal becoming independent in a war. Note this is based on a comment on this answer.

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    How do you define "war of independence"?
    – quant_dev
    Mar 15, 2012 at 15:01
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    @quant_dev: Your comments strongly suggest that the war was one of independence, so I assume you have a definition in mind. Feel free to add it to your answer. Mar 15, 2012 at 15:07
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    As I know, Soviet-Polish war was for Ukraine, not for independence. Poland captured Kiev, then Red Army attacked Warsaw.
    – Anixx
    Mar 15, 2012 at 15:08
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    "Poland captured Kiev". This is incorrect. Joint Polish-Ukrainian forces captured Kiev from the Russian hands.
    – quant_dev
    Mar 15, 2012 at 15:12
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    @quant_dev: It was an "enemy of my enemy" thing. The Poles and Ukrainians already fought each other in the Polish-Ukrainian War. But both hated the Soviets enough to unite. Their ideas of what to do after they won were quite different - Petliura wanted an independent Ukraine whereas Piłsudski dreamed to revive the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (with Ukraine as part of it). Mar 16, 2012 at 15:47

5 Answers 5


If Germany decided to invade Poland to get back East Prussia that it lost to Poland after WWII - would it be a war of independence?

One needs a lot of fantasy to call the Polish–Soviet War (this seems to be the official name of the conflict) a war of independence. In 1919 Poland was already independent - it gained its independence with the Treaty of Versailles. The issue was rather that Poland wasn't satisfied with the territories it gained and would like to recover all the territories it lost in the partitions. This meant first suppressing the Ukrainian independence movement in the Western Ukraine (Polish-Ukrainian War). But given that Western Ukraine had a large Polish population one could still explain it with defending the newly born Polish state.

This explanation no longer works for the Polish invasion of East Ukraine and Belarus in the course of the Polish-Soviet War. While these territories historically belonged to Poland (they changed hands a number of times actually) they didn't have a significant Polish population. So this had nothing to do with independence. Instead, there were quite obvious strategical reasons:

  • The time was right, the Soviet Russia being disorganized and busy fighting a civil war.
  • The Soviet government never made a secret out of its intention to invade Western Europe through Poland, a war seemed inevitable.
  • Moving the state borders eastwards gave Poland an advantage in case of a Soviet aggression.
  • Poland was hoping to establish a new power that would be able to oppose Germany and Soviet Russia that were threatening it - they were probably thinking of something like the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

And while time proved that Poland's fears weren't unfounded (Poland was once again occupied by Germany and Soviet Union in 1939) - it was a war over territory and power, not independence.

  • Technically, only some parts of (todays) West Ukraine and Belarus belonged to Crown of Poland, rest belonged to Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, that is Grand Duchy of Lithuania. As for reasons why it happened, I have to disagree with you a bit - see my answer. Mar 18, 2012 at 17:44
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    “The Soviet government never made a secret out of its indention to invade Western Europe through Poland, a war seemed inevitable.” While it is true that early Soviet government believed in the idea of spreading the world revolution, it was always very clear that this would be done by supporting communist movements all over the world, not by military aggression.
    – mzuba
    Mar 20, 2012 at 14:45
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    @mzuba: And they would support these communist movements exclusively by peaceful means, right? Neither the rhetoric nor the actions of Lenin's government left any doubts that it would be an armed conflict. Mar 20, 2012 at 15:37
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    @mzuba: If you look at the wars led by the Soviet Union - there isn't, not really. Mar 21, 2012 at 6:48
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    There was no Soviet Union at the time. I suppose you meant Soviet Russia.
    – Anixx
    Nov 9, 2013 at 6:35

The Polish-Bolshevik war (as it is known in Poland, I believe rest of the world use term Polish-Soviet war) is not known as the war for independence. After all, Poland re-gained independence on November 11, 1918 - when I World War ended (which was later confirmed by the Treaty of Versailles).
In this light, things like Greater Poland Uprising, Silesian Uprisings and Polish-Bolshevik war simply could not be treated as independence movements.

As for causes of the war you are asking about, as always there are few. I strongly believe, on one hand it has something to do with distrust between Poland and Soviet Russia (Polish politicians simply thought the Russians want to gain some time and their peace treaty offer is not real.)
On the other hand, it might be very strange for other nations, but there is a concept of Messianism in Poland, that is a few people really believed that "Poland is a Christ of nations", Antemurale Christianitatis and so on. These people really believed that Poland have to fight (and stop) Bolshevism (and that Poland can do that with western military aid). And to be honest, this kind of thinking is quite common in Poland, even nowadays. I came across Polish "historian", who thinks that Piłsudzki saved the world from Soviet domination during Battle of Warsaw. Many people still attribute the win in this battle to some mysterious wonders (divine intervention) rather to the fact that Polish Intelligence broke Soviet Codes and knew exactly (sometimes even better than Russians) of Soviet military movements (and of course they also knew that Stalin is not going to help Tukhachevsky.)

Personally, I don't think it was fight for Great Poland, or re-born of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, it was rather preventive war.

Although, I might be wrong - given the facts like annexation of Vilnius Region and annexation of Zaolzie, Second Polish Republic was fairly aggressive and who knows what Piłsudzki and his friends thought...

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    I believe that Piłsudzki didn't make a secret out of his plans. For example, Wikipedia quotes him with the words: "Closed within the boundaries of the 16th century, cut off from the Black Sea and Baltic Sea, deprived of land and mineral wealth of the South and Southeast, Russia could easily move into the status of second-grade power. Poland as the largest and strongest of new states, could easily establish a sphere of influence stretching from Finland to the Caucasus." Mar 19, 2012 at 7:44
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    As to Messianism, in 1919 most countries still believed that the Soviet regime was unstable and temporary. But I couldn't find any evidence that this was a real reason for the war, the internal instability of Russia seems to have been the important point. So my suspicion would be that "we fought against Communism" is an explanation of the war that came up later, long after the war - which is why I didn't mention it in my answer. Mar 19, 2012 at 7:51

In my opinion, a "war of independence" is war where the very independence of a newly born country is at stake. There is no question that if Soviet Russia won the war with Poland in 1920, Poland would lose independence, which it barely gained a short while before. Therefore, from the Polish POV it was a "war of independence".

Going back in time a little, the Polish-Ukrainian offensive of early 1920 was meant to safeguard Polish independence by creating independent Ukraine under Petlura, and therefore it can also be considered a part of "war of independence".

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    Not any war where independence is at stake is a war of independence. For example, in WWII Britain's independence was at stake, but would we call it "war for independence"? Britain enetered the war to protect their ally Poland, Poland entered the war with Soviet Russia to install a pro-Polish government in Ukraine (which was in accord with Pilsudsky doctrine).
    – Anixx
    Mar 15, 2012 at 18:43
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    @HermannIngjaldsson Poland was not at war with the SU (the Polish govt ordered its army not to fight invading Soviet troops), I guess precisely for the reason so that their Western allies wouldn't have to fight both Germany and Soviet Union at the same time. If Poland had been at war with the SU in 1939, the UK would have gone to war with the SU as well -- treaty obligations. Also, neither UK nor France were allied with the Soviet Union in 1939.
    – quant_dev
    Mar 17, 2012 at 15:35
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    @HermannIngjaldsson Poland did not surrender in 1939.
    – quant_dev
    Mar 17, 2012 at 17:16
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    @HermannIngjaldsson Neither UK nor France were allied with Soviet Union in 1939.
    – quant_dev
    Mar 17, 2012 at 17:59
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    @HermannIngjaldsson Not "shortly later" but in 1941 (almost two years later) after the SU was attacked by Germany. They were neutral to 1939 because it wasn't such a threat to them as Germany and they did not need an additional enemy.
    – quant_dev
    Mar 17, 2012 at 18:26

i think that the Russia would of won if they had of came up with a better and stronger plan to defeat Poland and Ukraine in the war but Ukraine had the first horsed arm and the polish retreated when it came from the front line of Ukraine.

Russia had an advantage because they had more soldiers in the war and Poland and Ukraine had 10-20 thousand less. Poland took Russia by surprise and destroyed their front line of defense and forced them to retreat.

  • This doesn't answer the question that was asked.
    – Steve Bird
    Nov 15, 2016 at 6:14

It was indeed a war of independence that was played out within the larger context of the First World War, the 1917 Russian Revolution and subsequent Russian Civil War.

Poland had been conquered by Russia during the 19th century but Polish identity and nationalism never died. Recognizing this, the Germans hoped to win away the support of the Polish people from Russia during the First World War by aiding Polish aspirations for independence in 1916, albeit in a heavy-handed manner.

After the October Revolution, Vladimir Lenin felt that a great revolution would sweep Europe and Germany was seen as the ideal epicenter. That drove the Bolshevik desire of advancing the revolution with its Red Army into Germany and to do so, it had to advance across Poland, both politically and militarily. Polish independence goals, captured in the ideas of Josef Pilsudski, envisioned a "Greater" Poland that included Vilnius and the western Ukraine. Those conflicting Soviet and Polish objectives made the conflict inevitable in 1919.

By the way, unpublished (secret) articles in the 1939 Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact dealt with the invasion and partition of Poland between Hitler and Stalin. According to the research of Dr. Stuart Goldman, The Red Army did not cross the Polish Frontier until 17 September 1939 because Stalin had to remove the threat of the two-front war by resolving the conflict with Japan over Nomonhan in Outer Mongolia, which was not completed until 16 September when a ceasefire went into effect.

When the Soviets invaded, the British and French seized on technicalities in the language of the military alliances with Poland to avoid going to war with Stalin, acts that may have been dishonorable, but in reality, they had no rational choice. Hitler then betrayed Stalin and attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, sealing the fate of Nazi Germany.

  • You started strongly there, but the last two paragraphs are off topic. Remove those, and add some sources and you are well on your way to some up votes. :-)
    – Kobunite
    Nov 9, 2013 at 9:04

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