THE SOVIET-POLISH WAR, 1920
As an episode in the seventy-four-year history of the Soviet Union, the short war between newly independent Poland and the revolutionary Soviet state does not appear to merit much attention. The almost inevitable conflict to settle claims over what has been a contested border through the centuries did settle the border issue for almost twenty years. But the war was about more than a border. It was about the existence of an independent Poland, it was about the class structure of that state, and it was about the religion that would prevail there. The war took on a degree of ferocity matching that of the fraternal struggle that was finally winding down in the central confines of the Russian heartland.
For those Red Army commanders who were to be leading actors in the Soviet-Polish drama--Tukhachevsky, Egorov, Budenny, Voroshilov, Iakir, and Uborevich--the future evaluation of their performance was destined to be fateful, although they did not realize it at the time. And, if Soviet attitudes toward the independent Polish state that emerged from the war can be deduced from the consistency with which their propagandists referred to Poland as panskaia Pol'sha (landowner- or gentry-ruled state), then Soviet participation in the brutal third partition of Poland in 1940 and the execution in the Katyn Forest of thousands of Polish officers should not have been a surprise.
Soviet historians called the war "the struggle with the last creatures of international imperialism." During Stalin's lifetime it was called the "third campaign of the Entente." In either case the title was consistent with Soviet propaganda claiming that the Polish offensive that started the war was planned and directed by France, Great Britain,