Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 24, 2017

What Caused the Holodomor?

Filed under: Ukraine — louisproyect @ 5:31 pm


Mark Tauger: famines are caused by nature, not colonialism

COUNTERPUNCH, March 24, 2017

Three weeks ago, Grover Furr charged me with spreading fascist propaganda on CounterPunch because my film review of “Bitter Harvest” held Josef Stalin accountable for the famine in Ukraine in 1932-1933. Like the Australian theology professor Roland Boer who blogs at “Stalin’s Moustache”, Furr’s political life revolves around celebrating Stalin’s greatest achievements—such as they were. I advise my readers, especially younger ones, to visit “Stalin’s Moustache” and Furr’s website to get a handle on a school of thought that has largely died a natural death.

Instead of answering Furr’s attack, I will turn my attention to the historiography of Mark Tauger who he describes in a prefatory note as being a “world authority” on the famine. Since Tauger blames a severe drought for the deaths of between 2.5 to 7 million Ukrainians, it is understandable why he would be hoisted on the shoulders of both Grover Furr and Roger Annis, a Canadian leftist and occasional CounterPunch contributor who endorsed Tauger on his “New Cold War: Ukraine and Beyond” website as “One of the world’s leading scholars on the development of agriculture in the Soviet Union”. So, you get the picture. If you are in the business of representing Ukraine as a victim of Stalinist or Putinist colonial brutality, Tauger is essential for turning that victim into a criminal.

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February 24, 2017

Bitter Harvest

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 5:39 pm

Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor

“Bitter Harvest”, opening today at the AMC 25 Theater in New York is the first narrative film treatment of one of the 20th century’s greatest human disasters, the death by famine of millions of Ukrainians due to Stalin’s forced collectivization. The Ukrainians call this the Holodomor. The subject matter alone would make this film worth seeing, no matter your take on what is arguably a highly-charged question for many on the left. Beyond that, it is a dramatically compelling film about the life of a prototypical young Ukrainian from this period, a young man named Yuri (Max Irons, the son of Jeremy) who is torn between the peasant life of his native village and the allure of cosmopolitan Kiev where several his friends have gone to become part of the socialist experiment. For Yuri, Kiev is a place where he can also develop as an artist under the tutelage of instructors imbued with the revolutionary fervor of the pre-Stalinist USSR.

Filmed in the agricultural heartland of Ukraine, “Bitter Harvest” begins with a depiction of the daily lives of peasants that in the 1920s followed patterns that had existed for hundreds of years. It is circumscribed by the growing season, the harvest, religious observations and festivals. Considering the deep roots of Ukraine’s agrarian society, there would be clashes with the new communist authorities under the best of circumstances.

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February 21, 2017

Donald Trump’s team of con men drafts a peace plan for Ukraine

Filed under: Trump,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 8:58 pm

Felix Sater, a key player in a Ukrainian peace plan, once spent time in prison for attacking a commodities broker with a broken margarita glass

For most people on the left, there was unquestionably a preference for Donald Trump’s foreign policy in the 2016 election especially with respect to Russia and more particularly taking its side against Ukraine. Just as was the case with Syria, anybody that Obama or Clinton supported even if only rhetorically was the enemy of the left. This meant that Ukraine became as much of a symbol of evil as the “jihadists” in Syria. Granted that Trump is about as articulate as a garden rake, his reply to George Stephanopolous of ABC News on the Russian takeover of Crimea must have warmed the cockle of the hearts of people like Stephen F. Cohen:

I’m going to take a look at it. But, you know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that also. Now, that was under, just so you understand, that was done under Obama’s administration. And as far as the Ukraine is concerned, it’s a mess and that’s under the Obama administration, with his strong ties to NATO.

So with all of these strong ties to NATO, Ukraine is a mess, Crimea has been taken. Don’t blame Donald Trump for that. And we’ll do better. And yet, we’ll have better relationship with Russia. And having a good relationship, maybe. And having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Now, admittedly it is pretty hard for me to get inside the head of people like Cohen, Mike Whitney and Boris Kagarlitsky but I wonder what they make of the report in yesterday’s NY Times about a “peace plan” Trump’s cohorts have put together. The amateur hour group of diplomats include Michael D. Cohen, who is Trump’s personal lawyer; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Trump look for deals in Russia; and Andrii V. Artemenko, a Ukrainian legislator who is part of a political opposition movement that is taking its cue from Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Artemenko claims that he has evidence of corruption in President Petro O. Poroshenko’s administration, something that does not strain credulity. And it might even confirm that old saw “it takes a thief to catch a thief” since Artemenko spent time behind bars in a Kiev jail in the early 2000s for an embezzlement conviction. He maintains that he was framed for political reasons. Who knows?

Artemenko is obviously aspiring to be the new Yanukovych, the former president who fled to Russia as the Euromaidan protests made him dispensable, even to his own Party of Regions. At a gathering of his party on March 29, 2014 delegates voted to expel Yanukovych and senior members of his government, including prime minister Mykola Azarov, the head of the Ministry of Revenues Oleksandr Klymenko, deputy prime minister Serhiy Arbuzov, minister of the Department of Energy Eduard Stavytskyy, and the head of the Donetsk Oblast Administration Andriy Shyshatskyy. To my knowledge, Victoria Nuland was not in touch with the delegates who voted to boot these people from their pro-Kremlin party.

If ex-con Artemenko seems a bit dicey, he is small potatoes compared to Felix H. Sater, who seems to have stepped out of a “Sopranos” episode. He acted as a middle-man, conveying Artemenko’s peace plan to Trump. It should be mentioned that the plan is not quite what you’d expect from a tool of the Kremlin, at least on the face of it. It calls for the withdrawal of all Russian forces from eastern Ukraine and leasing Crimea to the Russians for 50 to 100 years, as if it were real estate. Since Russia claims that there are no Russian troops in Ukraine, it is not clear what the first plank is meant to accomplish.

Sater, a Russian Jew who came to the USA as a political refugee, was involved with Trump in real estate deals for the better part of a decade. His ties to Trump were first reported by the NY Times in a December 17, 2007 article.

Before Sater got involved with real estate, he was a stockbroker. In 1991, he was celebrating at El Rio Grande, a midtown NYC restaurant, with a friend who had passed the stockbroker’s exam that day. He was also feeling good about the $3,000 commissions he made at work earlier. A bit lubricated from one too many cocktails, Sater got into a beef with a commodities broker at the bar that quickly escalated. According to NY Times, “he grabbed a large margarita glass, smashed it on the bar and plunged the stem into the right side of the broker’s face. The man suffered nerve damage and required 110 stitches to close the laceration on his face.”

Sater went to prison for this assault and was banned from selling stock. That did not get in the way of him forming a stock brokerage with two partners not long after his release. It was basically a “pump and dump” firm that sold securities at inflated prices based on false information. In the mid-90s, there were so many of these criminal enterprises that you needed hired muscle from the Mafia to protect your turf as if you were a crack dealer. In 1995, Edward Garafola, a soldier in the Gambino crime family, tried to extort money from Sater, who hired Ernest Montevecchi, a soldier in the Genovese crime family, to lean on Garafola to back off.

In 1998, the law caught up with Sater. He was charged with money laundering and stock manipulation. Two years later, there was another indictment that named him as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in a $40 million scam involving 19 stockbrokers and members of four Mafia families. He never went to prison for his crimes, apparently because he cooperated with investigators.

Under ordinary circumstances, people like Artemenko and Sater would never be taken seriously by an American president but we are now operating under extraordinary circumstances. When Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and his one-time campaign manager give these two whack jobs the kosher stamp of approval, this tells you that we are not in Kansas anymore. It is likely that Trump lent them his ear since he has had ties to organized crime for most of his career.

Wayne Barrett, the long-time Village Voice investigative journalist who died this year from a lung ailment, exposed Trump’s mafia ties in a 1991 bio titled “Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention”. For a recap of Barrett’s findings, I recommend an article written by fellow Trump biographer David Cay Johnston that appeared in the Politico on May 22, 2016 under the title “Just What Were Donald Trump’s Ties to the Mob?” Johnston writes:

FBI agents subpoenaed Trump in 1980 to ask about his dealing with John Cody, a Teamsters official described by law enforcement as a very close associate of the Gambino crime family. The FBI believed that Cody previously had obtained free apartments from other developers. FBI agents suspected that Cody, who controlled the flow of concrete trucks, might get a free Trump Tower apartment. Trump denied it. But a female friend of Cody’s, a woman with no job who attributed her lavish lifestyle to the kindness of friends, bought three Trump Tower apartments right beneath the triplex where Donald lived with his wife Ivana. Cody stayed there on occasion and invested $500,000 in the units. Trump, Barrett reported, helped the woman get a $3 million mortgage without filling out a loan application or showing financials.

In the summer of 1982 Cody, then under indictment, ordered a citywide strike—but the concrete work continued at Trump Tower. After Cody was convicted of racketeering, imprisoned and lost control of the union, Trump sued the woman for $250,000 for alteration work. She countersued for $20 million and in court papers accused Trump of taking kickbacks from contractors, asserting this could “be the basis of a criminal proceeding requiring an attorney general’s investigation” into Trump. Trump then quickly settled, paying the woman a half-million dollars. Trump said at the time and since then that he hardly knew those involved and there was nothing improper his dealings with Cody or the woman.

This is par for the course. The real estate industry and the mob are joined at the hip in New York. My building was created under the Mitchell-Lama law that was intended to create affordable housing for middle-class people in exchange for tax breaks for the developer, which in my case was the DeMatteis company. The NY Times reported on December 26, 1991:

New York City has revoked a $1.2 million contract with a major construction company that officials say concealed and altered reports about possible ties to organized-crime figures.

The contract was awarded in July to the Leon D. DeMatteis Construction Company of Elmont, L.I., to supervise the building of a $67 million jail annex on Rikers Island. But in a decision made public this week, the city said the company had withheld “troubling” information about its business associations and had submitted an altered copy of a report concerning its possible ties to reputed organized-crime figures.

Now this is the way that business is done in New York. But did anybody anticipate that the White House would be following the rules of the NY real estate game after January 20th? Donald Trump is using his political office to make money. People who have convinced themselves that he is ideologically driven to create a fascist state that will mold people according to some master race schema are deluded. Trump has about as much ideological conviction as the Home Shopping Network.

Even Putin, who is as big a crook as Trump, feels that this “peace plan” does not pass the smell test. Immediately after the NY Times reported on it, he dismissed it as absurd. As I said before, he denies that there are Russian troops in Ukraine. He also insists that Crimea is now part of Russia. Even as articles continue to be churned out on why the Deep State seeks to oust Trump because of his friendliness to Russia, there is scant recognition that the peace plan for Ukraine might signal a policy much more like Clinton’s than people like Stephen F. Cohen might have anticipated. Keep in mind what Nikki Haley, Trump’s Ambassador to the UN, said about the conflict:

The United States stands with the people of Ukraine, who have suffered for nearly three years under Russian occupation and military intervention. Until Russia and the separatists it supports respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, this crisis will continue.

Eastern Ukraine, of course, is not the only part of the country suffering because of Russia’s aggressive actions. The United States continues to condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea. Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine. The basic principle of this United Nations is that states should live side by side in peace.

Showing more clarity than leftist supporters like Stephen F. Cohen, Putin ordered state media to back off from their fawning coverage of Trump. This is probably a reaction to Haley’s comments at the UN as well as concerns about FBI investigations into the contacts that Trump’s advisers had with Russia during and after the 2016 campaign. The peace plan crafted by Artemenko and sponsored by Sater was designed to end the sanctions against Russia. Given the fecklessness of their efforts, which are consistent with the overall ineptitude of the Trump White House, it appears that the sanctions will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Russia is in dire straits now economically, just as is the USA. Their problems are related to falling oil prices while ours are more complex. Although economist Nick Eberstadt is a neoconservative, his article for the echt-neocon Commentary Magazine titled “Our Miserable 21st Century” gives you a sense of how bad things are:

Between late 2000 and late 2007, per capita GDP growth averaged less than 1.5 percent per annum. That compares with the nation’s long-term postwar 1948–2000 per capita growth rate of almost 2.3 percent, which in turn can be compared to the “snap back” tempo of 1.1 percent per annum since per capita GDP bottomed out in 2009. Between 2000 and 2016, per capita growth in America has averaged less than 1 percent a year. To state it plainly: With postwar, pre-21st-century rates for the years 2000–2016, per capita GDP in America would be more than 20 percent higher than it is today.

For both the USA and Russia, a quick fix would be to eliminate its military starting with nuclear weapons. Costa Rica disbanded its military in 1948 and the country has been better off for that, with worries about counter-revolutionary coups being put to rest as well as helping to afford a welfare state some compare to Sweden’s.

The USA spends 600 billion dollars per year on the military while Russia spends a tenth of that. Since Russia’s population is less than half of ours, that would still represent a considerable savings. Instead what we can expect is a ratcheting up of military expenditures as Trump brandishes the sword against China, Iran and maybe even Russia. The world is confronted by what Haile Selassie described as war and rumors of war, words that Bob Marley put to music.

On “Sixty Minutes” last Sunday there was a segment on North Korea’s “threat” to the USA with a top American officer on duty in South Korea, an African-American no less, reassuring his African-American 60 Minutes interviewer that if Kim Jong-un used nuclear weapons, his country would be “wiped off the map”.

In the Junius Pamphlet written one year after the outbreak of WWI, Rosa Luxemburg said:

Friedrich Engels once said: “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.” What does “regression into barbarism” mean to our lofty European civilization? Until now, we have all probably read and repeated these words thoughtlessly, without suspecting their fearsome seriousness. A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means. This world war is a regression into barbarism. The triumph of imperialism leads to the annihilation of civilization. At first, this happens sporadically for the duration of a modern war, but then when the period of unlimited wars begins it progresses toward its inevitable consequences. Today, we face the choice exactly as Friedrich Engels foresaw it a generation ago: either the triumph of imperialism and the collapse of all civilization as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration – a great cemetery. Or the victory of socialism, that means the conscious active struggle of the international proletariat against imperialism and its method of war. This is a dilemma of world history, an either/or; the scales are wavering before the decision of the class-conscious proletariat. The future of civilization and humanity depends on whether or not the proletariat resolves manfully to throw its revolutionary broadsword into the scales. In this war imperialism has won. Its bloody sword of genocide has brutally tilted the scale toward the abyss of misery. The only compensation for all the misery and all the shame would be if we learn from the war how the proletariat can seize mastery of its own destiny and escape the role of the lackey to the ruling classes.

These words are as relevant today as they were just over a century ago.

May 20, 2016

Almost Holy

Filed under: Film,religion,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 4:12 pm

Opening today at the Village East in New York is “Almost Holy”, a documentary about a Ukrainian pastor named Gennadiy Mokhnenko who created the Pilgrim Republic, a home for drug addicted street kids in Mariupol in 1998. Mokhneko is a larger than life character with an absolute conviction that he is doing the right thing even if it involves what amounts to vigilantism. When he goes into a pharmacy that has been selling opiates to children and reads the pharmacist the riot act, you tend to view him in a positive light especially in a society like Ukraine where the cops are frequently nothing but criminals themselves. Although Jesus Christ was only a figure of legend, it is remarkable to see a contemporary Christian trying to emulate that side of the son of god who drove the money changers from the temple.

The film is also of interest as a running commentary on the civil war in Ukraine as Mokhnenko has to dodge rockets and artillery attacks to continue with his mission, which mostly consists of going into what amounts to the Ninth Circle of hell to reach 13 to 17-year-old boys and girls who are living in abandoned buildings or shacks with needle tracks running down their arms and nothing to live for until their next fix. Mokhnenko lays it on the line: Come with him to the Pilgrim Republic if they want to live. Oddly enough, it evokes Arnold Schwarzenegger’s line in Terminator 2 especially since Gennadiy Mokhnenko looks like he is carved out of granite.

The film is a good companion piece to “The Tribe” that I reviewed almost a year ago. Like “Almost Holy”, it was set in a home for Ukrainian society’s marginalized youth—in this instance deaf teenagers who were trapped into gang life and prostitution by the men who ran the institution. Although it would have been obvious to anybody following the recent history of Ukraine, director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiiy made it explicit in the press notes:

A boarding school is better than just a school because it is a closed system, which––like a prison––can be perceived to be a metaphor of the state even if that isn’t the intention. The Tribe is, to a certain extent, a metaphor of the arrangement of the Ukrainian state, at least the pre-revolutionary Ukraine. And the arrangement of the state of Ukraine was based on the principle of a Mafiosi group.

In “Almost Holy”, the children are victims more of neglect than direct exploitation by Fagin like characters. They have run away from impossible situations at home, usually the result of having alcoholic and abusive parents. Indeed, the social portrait that emerges is the same as Russia during Yeltsin’s rule when Jeffrey Sachs’s shock therapy was destroying the economy and driving millions of Russians into drug and alcohol addiction. Now that Sachs has recast himself as an “anti-imperialist”, he would obviously side with the Russian special forces that were bombing Mariupol when the film was being made. In a CNBC article, he justified Russian intervention in the Ukraine using the favorite talking point of the “realists” like Stephen F. Cohen or John Mearsheimer:

Some claim that each country has the “right” to choose its own military alliance: that this is simply Ukraine’s choice to make. Yet the U.S. has never allowed its own neighbors like Cuba (or Nicaragua, Granada, and several others) to choose their own alliances. To claim to Russia that Ukraine’s membership in NATO is Ukraine’s decision alone is the beam in the eye of the West.

So there we have it. If it was all right for the USA to blockade Cuba, it was also all right for Russia to launch a separatist war.

Apart from what it says about life in Ukraine, the film is documentary at its finest. Director Steve Hoover starts with a compelling main character, something that is essential to the success of most documentaries, and uses the camera and film score to sustain your attention for the film’s entire 100 minutes. This is a morality tale that will force many of my readers, who like me tend to be atheists and skeptical of organized religion except for the Latin American liberation theology current, to engage with a personality who in many ways has more in common with the Christian right in the USA. Gennadiy Mokhnenko is not a member of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church but a Protestant sect. For that matter, he doesn’t appear to be functioning as a pastor but much more as a kind of community activist. It should also be understood that he is an anti-Communist, endorsing at one point the trashing of a Lenin statue. As the son of factory workers, he probably came to resent not only the social distinctions of Stalinist society but its failure to at least satisfy the needs of the population as it reached its terminal stages in the 1980s.

In doing some background research on the director, I discovered that I had reviewed his last documentary, which was titled “Blood Brother” and had a main character resembling Gennadiy Mokhnenko:

When I first heard that the documentary “Blood Brother” was about a young American going to India to work with HIV-positive orphans, the first thing that entered my mind was “another Mother Teresa”. The only question is what would motivate someone to take what amounted to a vow of poverty and devote himself to people he barely knew and who were in such desperate straits. Was it religion? Was it a kind of AIDS activism that was prevalent in the USA during the early years of the outbreak?

It turns out that the protagonist, a lean and handsome youth named Rocky Braat who grew up in Pittsburgh, remained as much of a mystery as the film ended as when it began. This, however, is what makes it appealing. You are both impressed with his dedication but at a loss to figure out what makes him tick. In an age when people his age are desperate to find a job—any job—it is a mystery (in the original sense) as to why Rocky would reject that path and choose to live a Christ-like existence. As the press notes state: “Rocky endures a daily diet of rice, a rat infested hut, visa problems.”

Upon further investigation, I discovered what motivated Hoover to make “Blood Brother” and why that troubled some critics. It turned out that Braat and Hoover were both members of the evangelical Greater Pittsburgh Church of Christ, which is part of the International Churches of Christ. This is a church that deploys missionaries and proselytizes for beliefs that are probably not that far from Gennadiy Mokhnenko’s. Although it has no connections to the rightwing fundamentalists who follow politicians like Ted Cruz, it is not exactly an institution that most film critics would feel sympathy for.

Writing for PBS’s POV blog, Tom Roston offered a carefully nuanced assessment of “Blood Brother” and its ties to the International Churches of Christ:

Hoover says he did not have a Christian agenda making the film. It’s up to you if you want to connect the dots the way I have. But, I should add, these questions become more pointed when you remember that the credits direct viewers to the charity LIGHT. Is there an appropriate amount information provided by Hoover’s documentary, or even on LIGHT’s website, to make an informed decision to donate? Presidential candidate Barack Obama had to answer for his pastor, Jeremiah Wright. He confronted those issues and was able to move on — and get elected. Hoover might not want us to go there, but I think this is the price of membership in his church.

I hope three things come from me raising this issue. One, that we can have a constructive discussion about when and whether a filmmaker’s personal life is relevant to a discussion about his or her film. Two, if Hoover puts himself in his next film, about a rogue Ukrainian priest who goes to extreme measures to get drug-addicted youth off the streets, that he considers acknowledging his past doing similar work and mentioning how his faith relates to how he tells that story. And, third, that Blood Brother gets that Oscar nomination. Hoover is a good filmmaker and Blood Brother‘s cause, as it is presented in the film, is more than just.

Keeping this background in mind, it is appropriate to quote Steve Hoover from the film’s press notes as to “mentioning how his faith relates to how he tells that story.” It is also a fascinating account of what it meant for Americans to make a film in a war-torn nation:

The journey of this film began in 2012 when some of my co-workers were commissioned to do a promotional video in Ukraine. While in Mariupol, they met Gennadiy Mokhnenko and spent a few days with him. After listening to his stories and witnessing his amorphous work, they returned with enthusiasm and proposed doing a feature length non-fiction film on Gennadiy. I wasn’t interested in the idea until they shared raw footage with me and further explained some of the context. I was struck by the character of Gennadiy.

Once in Ukraine, we encountered many challenges, the most obvious being that we don’t speak Russian. With the exception of the main subject’s broken English, almost all of the dialogue was Russian. While shooting, we relied heavily on a translator, observation and the main subjects’ limited explanations of events. We had four cameras; two of them were constantly rolling. We committed to filming everything we possibly could, which made for a difficult but rewarding post process.

My life has changed radically throughout the making of this film. Formerly, I was Christian, or I at least identified as one, but I no longer am. There’s a lot to the story. I was raised in a religiously apathetic, broken, Catholic family. I converted to a nondenominational church in college. To me, faith was a solution to the existential confusion I found myself in after a long, overindulgence in psychotropic drugs, which spanned my adolescence. As a teenager, I was obsessed with hallucinating and the drugs were boundless. The faith eventually helped me to pull myself together, giving me guidance, discipline and a moral framework, all of which I didn’t really have beforehand. It also dispelled an attraction I had to heroin. I had never used heroin, but I was always seduced by the idea and a step away from it, along with several friends who came to die from overdoses. My college roommate at the time was dealing and coaxing me with free dope. He has since overdosed and died.

Gennadiy’s former work with drug addled street kids in Ukraine struck a chord with my darker past. Had I been born in Mariupol, Gennadiy would have had me by the collar. I found deeper interest however, not in the kids I empathized with, but in a character I didn’t understand. The story could have gone in many different directions.

Eventually, I found myself standing in a van while our crew was being attacked by an angry Pro-Russian mob in Ukraine. I was both terrified and calm. I knew that if we made it out of the situation, my life would change – this time in a different way. Up until that point, for several years I had resisted coming to terms with the fact that my beliefs had changed. My cultural liberalism didn’t align with the faith, no matter how hard I tried to squeeze it in. I had grown weary of the behavior and practices of the church that I was a part of and increasingly uncomfortable with the social pressures that some of the members were asserting on me.

The van broke through the mob and after a short car chase, I found myself resolute. I would embrace my worldview and move on. I spent the remainder of the year, mostly alone with the edit. Working on the edit of the film was a means of catharsis for me.

Though the making of this film had a distinctive effect on my life personally, this is definitely not a call to action film; if anything, it’s more of a portrait. It is something to look at, reflect on and discuss. In light of current events, I hope it gives people a reason to research the conflict in Ukraine. Although this film isn’t designed to be a political tool, it has obvious relevance to the turmoil between the EU, Russia and Ukraine and offers some context. The film could develop additional relevance as the conflict progresses.

While the film was in development, I was told by different establishments that there was some controversy surrounding the film. Some felt the portrayal of Gennadiy was too objective and people wanted to know “how the director felt about him.” Some liked Gennadiy, while others were disapproving. I believe Gennadiy is confounding, so I wasn’t comfortable telling people how to think and feel about him. I wanted to show the complicated nature of this character and the world he lives in.

May 9, 2016

Ukraine, NATO and Noam Chomsky’s deficits

Filed under: Chomsky,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 6:16 pm


Showing up on TomDispatch, the Guardian, Alternet, CounterPunch and ZNet just for starts is an excerpt from Noam Chomsky’s new book Who Rules The World?, which is basically a variant on the same book he has been writing for 25 years or so. For example, in 2004 he came out with Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance and before that in 1992 What Uncle Sam Wants. Such books have had an enormous influence, mostly beneficial. Unfortunately, given the geopolitical orientation that serves as Chomsky’s compass, there is a tendency to adopt a Manichean understanding of world politics in which the USA symbolizes Darkness. While it is true that the USA is evil, it does not follow that those who oppose it are pure as the driven snow. Of course, an anarchist like Chomsky would never write the same kind of pro-Kremlin propaganda as a Seymour Hersh or a Patrick Cockburn, but he has come dangerously close on occasion and even wandered into their territory.

The most obvious example is Chomsky relying on the word of Cockburn about Syria who he described as “doing the best job of reporting” on ISIS. Probably like so many on the left, Chomsky is simply uninformed about the critiques of Cockburn mounted by Idrees Ahmad and others. It was Ahmad who debunked Cockburn’s characterization of the Assad dictatorship being ISIS’s main enemy. There was abundant evidence that the Baathists had worked out a nonaggression pact not long after ISIS showed up in Syria.

The excerpt does not take up Syria but it does have a section on Ukraine, another country susceptible to Manichean geopolitical reductionism. Chomsky writes:

Of particular concern to Russia are plans to expand NATO to Ukraine. These plans were articulated explicitly at the Bucharest NATO summit of April 2008, when Georgia and Ukraine were promised eventual membership in NATO. The wording was unambiguous: “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.” With the “Orange Revolution” victory of pro-Western candidates in Ukraine in 2004, State Department representative Daniel Fried rushed there and “emphasized U.S. support for Ukraine’s NATO and Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” as a WikiLeaks report revealed.

Russia’s concerns are easily understandable. They are outlined by international relations scholar John Mearsheimer in the leading U.S. establishment journal, Foreign Affairs. He writes that “the taproot of the current crisis [over Ukraine] is NATO expansion and Washington’s commitment to move Ukraine out of Moscow’s orbit and integrate it into the West,” which Putin viewed as “a direct threat to Russia’s core interests.”

This passage encapsulates Chomsky’s intellectual and political deficits when it comes to the traditional Cold War narrative, especially quoting a realist like Mearsheimer. If I read something like moving “Ukraine out of Moscow’s orbit”, alarm bells would go off. How in the world does an anarchist repeat the words of a shithook like Mearsheimer on Moscow’s prerogatives? By this yardstick, JFK had every right to blockade Cuba since it was traditionally in Washington’s orbit. Mearsheimer was a supporter of the first Gulf War, writing an op-ed piece in the NY Times on February 8, 1991 that concluded: “Fortunately, a quick victory will reduce losses on both sides and allow the U.S. to turn to the more difficult task of helping to construct a lasting political settlement in the region.” My suggestion is to stop treating Mearsheimer as some kind of expert witness. He is only a step above Henry Kissinger on the food chain.

Like so many on the left, Chomsky’s tendency is to find the secret telltale document that will reveal the truth about American intentions so that the scales will fall from his reader’s eyes and turn him into a resolute anti-imperialist. More often than not, the smoking gun turns up in Wikileaks as indicated above. What needs to be addressed, however, is the complex interplay of Western and Ukrainian interests with respect to NATO that are by no means as Manichean Black-and-White as Chomsky would have you believe.

Speaking of colors, a lot of the confusion arises with the Orange Revolution of 2004 that grew out of anger over the perception that the presidential elections that year had been rigged. It pitted the Western favorite Viktor Yushchenko against Viktor Yanukovych, whose initial victory was tainted by corruption, voter intimidation and outright fraud. Massive protests eventually led to a recount and Yuschenko being declared the winner.

Whatever Yuschenko or Daniel Fried favored, the fact was that NATO was not popular with the Ukrainian people—a fact that somehow gets lost in the shuffle in the millions of words written about their nation’s post-Soviet history. The Jamestown Foundation reported on a poll taken in 2008:

A recent public opinion poll on the issue, conducted by the Kyiv-based Sofia think-tank from May 7 to 14, showed that only 21.4 percent of Ukrainians are inclined to support NATO membership, and 53 percent of those polled approved of the April failure to secure a MAP [Membership Action Plan]. The poll identified the main reasons for the negative attitude to NATO membership. Most Ukrainians fear that this would spoil relations with Russia (74 percent of those polled), force them to take part in US-led wars (67 percent), exacerbate tension in society (60 percent), prompt more spending on defense (58 percent), and make Ukraine a target for terrorists (58 percent).

With so many leftists regarding the Ukrainians as an undifferentiated mass of puppets whose strings are pulled by George Soros (except in the workers’ paradises in Donetsk and Luhansk of course), this kind of information is best swept under the rug if it ever came up on their radar screen to begin with. People like Noam Chomsky, I’m afraid, only read material that reinforces their own bias.

The will of the people was obviously reflected in decisions made at the top. Despite the fact that the president of Ukraine was all in favor of a hard linkage to Washington, there was little evidence of rapid progress toward that end, nor any signs that Yanukovych, the Kremlin’s best friend, was particularly opposed to ties with NATO.

In 2006, Yanukovych became Ukraine’s Prime Minister, a post that is below that of President but that has significant political weight. He replaced Yulia Tymoshenko, who had been fired by Yuschenko for mismanaging the economy. Despite her reputation as a mortal enemy of Russia and a heroine of the Orange Revolution, she was Putin’s favorite politician in Ukraine and arrested for her part in a crooked deal that favored Russian gas exporters.

Despite his reputation as a fierce opponent of the West, Yanukovych was okay with NATO as Novye Izvestia reported on August 9, 2006:

Ukraine’s newly-appointed prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, is continuing the previous government’s policy of integration into the European Union and NATO. What’s more, at the end of last week the Supreme Rada, controlled by Yanukovych, passed a resolution legalizing the presence of foreign troops in Ukraine. NATO soldiers will soon take part in three military exercises, and NATO vessels will visit Sevastopol in September.

One month later he made a speech at NATO HQ in Brussels that could have been made by Yuschenko himself, as reported by the BBC on September 21:

Today we have the intention of concentrating on deepening relationships of partnership with the Alliance on the basis of Intensified dialogue on membership and the annual goals of action plans.

Ukraine highly values the level of cooperation with NATO. We value continual support for our Euroatlantic desires, support for military reform and democratic and market transformations.

Among the foremost priorities of government activity are strengthening informational work in sphere of relations with NATO. There is not a lack of such programmes, but they need to be augmented with specific content.

And at the risk of beating a dead horse, there’s a Washington Post article dated November 28, 2006 that reveals Yanukovych as a willing tool of the West—the kind of reprobate who deserved a swift kick in the pants from a bona fide anti-imperialist like Noam Chomsky:

“My goal, first, is to develop a strategic relationship between Ukraine and the United States that is predictable, effective and has a good perspective,” he said of his Washington visit, during which he will meet with Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. His aides are still hoping for a meeting with President Bush, however brief. According to protocol, he should meet only with the vice president, since he is not the head of state, but a presidential handshake would imply some acceptance of Yanukovych’s new incarnation.

Ever read anything about Yanukovych like this on TomDispatch, ZNet, CounterPunch, DissidentVoice, Alternet, Truthout or the Nation Magazine? I bet you didn’t.

Now some of you might think that Yanukovych was taking this tack because as Yuschenko’s subordinate he was obligated to. Was he just waiting for the day when he could reveal to the world that he was a genuine fighter for the “axis of resistance” and maybe the next best thing to Lenin today (even if he had to keep that a secret from Putin who described Lenin as Russia’s worst nightmare)?

In 2010, he would run for president against Yulia Tymoshenko, who was widely regarded by the Kremlin’s friends in the west as a mortal threat to Russia, the woman who was on the phone with Victoria Nuland about how Ukraine would become a colony of the West and who shocked the world (or at least the conspiracy-minded part of it) for advocating that the Russians be “nuked” for intervening in Ukraine against Euromaidan. As a candidate he could repudiate his sordid past, just as Donald Trump did when he spoke about making donations to politicians so as to influence legislation that would favor his businesses.

Well, once again reality defies anti-imperialist schemas as the Observer reported on January 10, 2010:

Yanukovych is understood to have angered Moscow by supporting Ukraine’s attempt to join the EU. But Tymoshenko has become the unexpected hero of the Kremlin, after tempering the anti-Russian stance that was a hallmark of her 2004 campaign and early premiership. While remaining avowedly pro-EU, she has built a pragmatic alliance with Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister. The two very publicly ended the drawn-out gas dispute between the two countries last winter and were credited with avoiding a repeat this year. Tymoshenko now calls the Orange Revolution “a revolution of lost opportunities”.

After winning the election, Yanukovych continued to demonstrate the trustworthiness to the West that somehow got overlooked in the analysis of Chomsky, Stephen F. Cohen, John Mearsheimer and other denizens of prestigious American academic outposts. On October 8, 2010 the BBC filed a report titled President reaffirms Ukraine’s EU bid, says ties with NATO “comfortable”. He reassured an audience of French academics and businessmen that he was on the same wavelength as them:

He reaffirmed Kiev’s bid to join the EU. The Interfax-Ukraine news agency at 0950 gmt on 8 October quoted him as saying: “I have always insisted and still insist that Ukraine will never drop either its European integration policy or its ambition to become a EU member.”

“Ukraine has the right to expect more from the EU,” Yanukovych continued. “We are not seeking to have it all and have it now, but we think that it is possible to speak today about the conclusion of an association agreement and about preparations for the introduction of visa-free travel.”

He said that, to achieve this, Ukraine was ready to do “homework” and carry out reforms.

Yanukovych also said that Ukraine was pleased with its relations with NATO, Interfax-Ukraine reported at 0906 gmt the same day.

“Relations with NATO are currently taking shape. They are comfortable for both Ukraine and NATO. They are open and honest, at least,” he said, adding that Ukraine was developing pragmatic relations with the alliance through participation in its peacekeeping missions and fight against terrorism.

Up until this point, the average Ukrainian could give less of a shit about NATO. He or she did want to be part of the EU because they saw it—rightly or wrongly—as an alternative to the kleptocracy they had been living under.

When Yanukovych was essentially blackmailed into backing away from the EU and falling in line with Russia economically and politically, the country erupted. Have doubts about whether Yanukovych was coerced? Then just consider what Fred Weir reported in the Christian Science Monitor on October 23, 2012:

President Vladimir Putin met with his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych at the Russian leader’s country home Novo Ogaryovo late Monday, and declared some progress toward Mr. Putin’s goal of integrating Ukraine’s economy with Russia’s. But he gave no word addressing Mr. Yanukovych’s hope of winning a reduced price for Russian natural gas exports to his post-Soviet nation.

The meeting, though one in a routine series, illustrates that Ukraine may be gradually edging toward Russia as its other alternatives wear thin. The Ukrainian economy, which has few natural resources, has suffered badly in recent years, in part due to the deepening crisis in the European Union, in part thanks to the crippling price of Russian natural gas for its extremely inefficient industry and housing stock. Yanukovych’s insistence on prosecuting and jailing his main opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, has deeply alienated the EU and further complicated any chances for economic integration with the West.

“There are some reasons to think that Ukraine and Russia’s positions are drawing closer,” says Mikhail Pogrebinsky, director of the independent Kiev Center of Political and Conflict Studies.

“If we don’t develop our relations with Russia, Ukraine might be facing serious economic problems,” he adds. “Trade turnover with Europe has been falling due to the recession, and Ukraine’s government budget is in serious doubt. The only direction we can look for financial aid would be Russia. If the worst happens, and there is no money to pay pensions and other benefits, our authorities will be in trouble.”

That might ring a bell. It is just the Kremlin using its muscle on a head of state who had very little leverage. It is just the Russian version of what the Germans did to Alexi Tsipras. Once the Ukrainians got wind of this betrayal, they came out into the streets. They came out not because Victoria Nuland got on the phone with Yulia Tymoshenko or because Daniel Fried “emphasized U.S. support for Ukraine’s NATO and Euro-Atlantic aspirations.” If you’ve had to put up with police brutality, corruption, neglected social services, and a general sense of being a colonial subject, you too would take to the streets and raise hell. It is to the everlasting shame of the Western left that it cannot get it into its thick skull that the Syrians and Ukrainians have the same kind of aspirations as the rest of humanity, no matter what Noam Chomsky thinks.

February 7, 2016

Painting Imperialism and Nationalism Red: The Ukrainian Marxist Critique of Russian Communist Rule in Ukraine, 1918-1925

Filed under: Ukraine — louisproyect @ 9:27 pm

The last thing I would expect from a knucklehead Putinite like Mike Whitney or Pepe Escobar is any kind of engagement with the history of Ukrainian national oppression but it never fails to amaze me how little interest there is for the Marxist traveling circus consisting of people like Roger Annis, the ex-Trotskyist in Canada, Renfrey Clarke, the Socialist Alliance member in Australia, sect leaders Alan Woods and Jeff Mackler et al. Most of these people probably were exposed to what the Fourth International said about Ukraine in the 1960s and have either forgotten it in their dotage or more likely sweep it under the rug. If there’s anybody who can be called the leader of this new breed of Great Russian Chauvinism, it is Boris Kagarlitsky who has a material incentive to be Putin’s spin doctor. His think-tank is funded by the Kremlin.

Stephen Velychenko

There’s one man who has their number. He is Stephen Velychenko, the chair of the Ukrainan studies at the University of Toronto who wrote a two-part series on the traveling circus. This is from part one:.

Kargalitsky’s pro Kremlin audience finds his worker revolution scenario appealing. But given their preconceptions, ignorance of Russian and Ukrainian, and minimal knowledge about either country, they either cannot, or choose not to, know what he omits from his articles. For example, he makes no mention of Russian imperialism, great power chauvinism, non Russian national movements, linguistic and cultural russification of non Russians, or the link between the national and the social questions. He does not dwell on how his imagined “working class” movement was aided and funded in its origins by Ukraine’s pro Russian capitalists (oligarchs); in particular, Rinat Akhmetov, nor that the local Russian extremist leaders are not interested in nationalization – least of all Akhmetov’s holdings. He does not mention either the small size of the neo-Nazi section of the Ukrainian right nor how few Ukrainian citizens support the Russian neo nazi right. [9] For all their Marxist rhetoric neither Kargalitsky or his likeminded reflect on why the Russian neo-Nazi leaders of Ukraine’s imagined proletarian revolution do not associate themselves with Marxism of any kind, why they sport double headed eagles and tsarist colours, rather than hammers and sickles and red banners, why they use Orthodox symbolism, or, why they wax nostalgic over the tsarist empire rather than the short-lived Russian Bolshevik Krivoi-Rog Republic of 1918.

In order to correct the “preconceptions” and “ignorance” that plagues so much of the left, Velychenko has just written a book titled “Painting Imperialism and Nationalism Red: The Ukrainian Marxist Critique of Russian Communist Rule in Ukraine, 1918-1925” that demonstrates in copious detail how the Bolsheviks treated the Ukrainians just like the British treated the Irish. Lenin was probably the most committed to breaking with Great Russian Chauvinism and probably would have been a force for combatting Stalin’s open embrace of it but even he was not immune.

What you can read below is the first nineteen pages of chapter one, a section titled historical background. For people committed to understanding the roots of Ukrainian resistance to Russia domination, even when expressed in a distorted form, Velychenko’s book is essential.

 * * * * *

We propose Union and they want to dominate.
Letter to the editor, Chervonyi prapor, 25 February 1919

In the early twentieth century, the people we now call Ukrainians were much like other peoples in the world. Most were rural, did not live in independent national states, and had little influence on politics. Ukraine, like Poland, was not on any political map of Europe. There were eight Ukrainian provinces in the Russian empire, all centrally administered units with common characteristics that distinguished them from Russian territories. Like Ireland in the United Kingdom between 1801 and 1918, they retained regional particularities that allow them to be classified as a “mixed settler” colony. Ukrainian peasants spoke Ukrainian and did not practice land repartition. In 1900 the numerically small but economically powerful Polish nobility still dominated the three western provinces of Kyiv, Volyn, and Podillia.

The first significant Russian settlement into Ukrainian territories, comprising merchants, administrators, and soldiers, dated from the eighteenth century. Massive settlement of Russian migrant workers, began in the late nineteenth century. By 1900 approximately 2 million Russian speakers, most of whom were Russian, were concentrated in Kharkiv and Katerynoslav provinces. This averaged 10 per cent of the total population of the Ukrainian provinces. Declared Russians constituted 33 per cent of Ukraine’s total urban population, 43 per cent of the population in its eight largest cities, and 52 per cent in its four largest cities. Between 40 and 50 per cent of government administrators were Russian speakers. There was no controlled border between the Ukrainian and Russian provinces to hinder Russian inmigration as there was between the Duchy of Finland and Russian provinces. No border and a century of direct rule by Saint Petersburg, during which time education, administration, the print media, and high culture were all in Russian, meant that Russian settlers had no sense of themselves as immigrants or colonists. They did not become an immigrant minority whose social mobility depended on learning a foreign language and assimilating into the host community. Nonetheless, the Ministry of the Interior in the 1897 census clearly identified Ukrainians (Malorossy) as the “native [korennoe]” population in Kharkiv province and Russians (Velikorussov) as the “immigrant population [prishlym naseleniem].”1

The Ukrainian provinces had fewer industrial workers than Russian provinces because state policy developed Ukraine’s extractive industries and agriculture while neglecting its manufacturing sector. Also factory owners tended to hire incoming poor but semi or highly skilled Russian peasants, whom they preferred to local poor but unskilled Ukrainian peasants. Many of the latter, in turn, preferred to take government subsidies and migrate to Siberia rather than risk going to a nearby factory. Of all workers, 17 per cent came from non-Ukrainian provinces, and of these, 70 per cent were Russian in 1897. Ukrainian speakers were on average 73 per cent of all workers and between 30 and 50 per cent of all urban industrial workers. Twenty per cent of all Ukrainian-speaking workers were urban industrial workers, and Ukrainians were 70 per cent of all workers in settlements not classified as “cities” in the census. In terms of linguistic and socio-economic structure, “the Ukrainian proletariat was totally unlike the Russian proletariat.”2

Although at the turn of the century, Russians who had no sense of themselves as immigrants in the Ukrainian provinces did not have to learn or use the local language, and few assimilated into the host com-munity, the question of whether Ukraine’s urban population would Ukrainianize or Russify was still open. Bilingualism, diglossia, and intermarriage kept boundaries porous and identities ambiguous, and almost half of all incoming workers were from Ukrainian provinces.3 Nor was there yet direct correspondence between language use and political allegiance. Much would depend on future governmental policies. The Polish landowning nobles and urban Russians were a dominant settler-colonist minority on Ukrainian territory. Although Polish nobles initially supported Ukrainian autonomy, it should be noted that that support had faded by the end of 1917 as rural social radicalism brought latent mutual hatreds to the boil.4 Rural Polish and Russian peasants tended to assimilate into the Ukrainian majority; urban Russian dwellers did not. Living in cities with no Ukrainian-language schools, churches, businesses, mass-circulation newspapers, or government offices, they had no need to learn Ukrainian or to culturally assimilate in order to obtain services, an education, a good job, and status. Most Russians, Poles, and assimilated Ukrainians, like settler-colonists and assimilated natives in any colony, looked down on unassimilated Ukrainians. Few among the Russian intelligentsia applied their humanist standards and sensitivities to Ukrainian national issues or supported Ukrainian political demands. It was the dominated indigenous majority-Ukrainian nationality for whom social mobility was contingent on learning a foreign language and adopting foreign cultural norms. All had to learn some Russian, many changed their surnames, many internalized “the colonizer’s image of the colonized” by perceiving themselves as “Little Russians.” Many eventually assimilated and considered themselves Russian. Many of the socially mobile ethnic Ukrainians who admired European modernity and equated it with Russian national identity, linked their own identity with the rural backwardness and poverty they were seeking to escape. Divisions ran within families: one brother might become a Ukrainian nationalist, another a Russian imperialist. Jewish political elites, for their part, by 1917 supported Ukrainian autonomy but, that support did not extend far among their compatriots, who were mostly sceptical or indifferent. “That attitude was reflected not only in comic dismissal of Ukrainian and Ukrainian-language signs; they also passively opposed Ukrainization.” Jewish workers in 191718 volunteered for the Red Guard. None volunteered for Ukrainian units.5

Some bilingual Ukrainians became administrators, traders, manufacturers, patrons of the national movement, and millionaires, but they did not constitute a national capitalist class. Most of Ukraine’s overwhelmingly non-Ukrainian industrialists and bankers identified with the empire. In 1920, the émigré left-SR Mykyta Shapoval noted that Russian, Polish, Jewish, Hungarian, Czech, Rumanian, Belgian, French, and English capital ruled: “In its organization form [sic] this is not Ukrainian but colonial [sic] capital. It is also colonialist [sic] in terms of its economic aim [sic]. It reflects the interests of the metropole and treats Ukraine only as the object of terrible exploitation.” “Colonialist capital has never, in any place, built an independent state from a colony.” He observed that in Ireland, “a colony of intelligent and humane English capital,” the Irish had no option after more than one hundred years of struggle but to engage in “terrorist partisan war.”6

In general, people most of the time do not think about their nationality, and before the war, linguistic-cultural borders were fluid. Educated urban elites had only begun to politicize national identities and draw boundaries between loyal “Russians” or “Little Russians” and disloyal “Ukrainians.” Not every non-Ukrainian shared the anti-Ukrainian Russian-slavophile-based attitudes of the extremist imperial loyalist parties known as the “Black Hundreds.” Ethnic Ukrainians and Russians who supported a loyalist “Little Russian” cultural autonomy could simultaneously condemn Ukrainian political autonomy. Difference did not disrupt everyday life. In 1917 in the town council of Vinnytsia, a typical provincial capital of around 60,000 people, of whom almost 40 per cent were Jewish, “[deputies] spoke in all languages: Polish, Ukrai-nian, Hebrew, various jargons, sometimes Russian, and the spokesman [of the Jewish faction] Spivak spoke in a mix of all of them.”7

Rival elites successfully politicized identities during the revolution as attitudes hardened. Weak Ukrainian governments were too short-lived to appreciably change the views of urban dwellers with Russo-centric preconceptions of eastern Slavic and imperial political unity, who viewed Ukrainians as second-rate, inherently rural, backward, and seditious. As far as is known, most such persons after 1918 still considered Russian a higher culture, which they identified with loyalty to the Bolshevik regime, or the White one. When Anna Dobrovolska in July 1919 faced having to attend church services in Ukrainian in the reestablished Ukrainian Orthodox church subject to Constantinople rather than Moscow, for example, she refused. Her imperial identity trumped her religious convictions, and she denounced the new Ukrainian church to the atheist Bolshevik government as a treasonous organization because it was linked to the Ukrainian National Republic (UNR).8 The Ukrainian-born Russian monarchist Vasili Shulgin was extremely pleased when on his visit to Kyiv in 1925 he heard no Ukrainian in the streets. On visiting Odessa in 1921, a Ukrainian communist reported that “the Ukrainian population is small and totally terrorized … The fear is so great that they are afraid to speak Ukrainian and ask about what is happening in Ukraine in corners.” When he began giving public lectures in Ukrainian, he was considered heroic “because everything Ukrainian is slandered as “Petliurism.” In Mylokaiiv, another Ukrainian communist observed that for local Bolsheviks, “there is no such thing as a Ukrainian revolution [and] the Ukrainian Communist Party is a petite-bourgeois chauvinist national organization.”9

The leaders of the national movement were bilingual political moderates, and after 1905 they could legally form political parties. At the turn of the century, they began to disseminate the idea that the ethnically Ukrainian provinces of the tsarist empire (Rossiia) constituted a political, cultural, and economic entity called “Ukraine,” which was distinct from Russia (Velikorossiia). The leaders began to build a middle-class infrastructure of literate peasants, retailers, and white-collar workers. These people began to wonder why business, education, government, and high culture in “Ukraine” had to be in Russian and not in Ukrainian.10

While the moderate majority of Ukrainian national activists regarded linguistic and cultural assimilation as more significant indices of Russian imperialism than economic exploitation, radicals drew attention to the latter and to the impact of industrialization and commercialization. The Jewish-Ukrainian activist Maksym Hekhter labelled Ukrainian agricultural workers “white niggers.”11 While most national leaders, like their Irish counterparts, considered capitalist urban industrial modernity a threat to Ukrainian nationality, a Marxist minority argued that Ukrainian nationality could only develop alongside capitalist modernity.12 Before the war, self-awareness and self-assertion on the whole remained muted, although antagonisms occasionally surfaced. Ukrainian nationalists focused on cultural-linguistic rather than economic issues and were not extremists; most literate educated Russian speakers, urban white-collar professionals, and industrial workers tolerated “Little Russians” and their folk songs. Some regarded them with condescending contempt, but only the extremist imperial loyalist minority was openly hostile towards the national movement. Russian urban settlers and Polish landowners in the Ukrainian provinces, for their part, did not develop a “creole/mestizo” separatist nationalism as did European colonists in Latin and North America. Urban Russians overwhelmingly identified with the imperial metropole politically and culturally, much as Anglo-Scot loyalists in Ireland, Germans in Bohemia, and French settlers in Algeria did, rather than with their place of residence. Polish nobles, profoundly alienated by peasant land seizures in 1917, opposed Ukrainian independence (unlike their Swedish counterparts in Finland, who backed Finnish independence).

National leaders in Kyiv formed the Central Rada in March 1917 13 That November, its moderate socialist majority proclaimed the UNR an autonomous part of Russia. Instead of declaring independence after the Bolsheviks took power, the Rada sought a federation with the Provisional government then represented by General Kaledin in southern Russia.14 This prompted the Russian Bolsheviks to invade UNR territory in January 1918 in support of their comrades in Kharkiv, who had already on their own initiative occupied UNR cities. The Rada initially enjoyed the support of the 85 to 90 percent of peasants who were poor or struggling and who hoped it would enact land reform. The Rada’s hesitation on this issue led to civil war by early 1918, which Russian Bolsheviks turned into a national war when they invaded on the side of Ukraine’s Bolsheviks. The invasion prompted the Rada to proclaim independence and sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Central Powers (see figure 4, illustration section). In April 1918, with German support, landowners and industrialists overthrew the UNR and installed Pavlo Skoropadsky as Hetman of the Ukrainian State. His regime fell in November with the collapse of Germany and was succeeded by a renewed UNR under the temporary rule of a Directory led by the centrist Simon Petliura and the leftist Volodymyr Vynnychenko. The UNR and its army collapsed in December 1919 after a second Bolshevik invasion that established the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic, but, a vicious partisan war that had begun in 1919 raged on until 1922. The major Ukrainian partisan groups were affiliated with either the SRs, the SDs, the UNR, or Makhno, although they did change sides. The UNR attempted to coordinate and control as many partisan groups as possible, without much success.15

Russians and Russified non-Russians dominated the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic and Labor Party (RSDLP) in the Ukrainian provinces as a “centralist” majority. The many culturally Russified ethnic Jews in that party were secular apostates who were not representative of the religious Jewish majority. As a culturally and politically Russian party in Ukraine, the RSDLP was not a party of an oppressed nation. The provincial party organizations had no ties with one another. The most important branch was in Kyiv province, but almost 65 per cent of party members were in Kharkiv and Kateryno-slav provinces. By December 1917, the Bolsheviks did not yet dominate Ukraine’s approximately three hundred soviets. In 1917 they controlled the soviets only in the large cities – they were 88 per cent of members in Luhansk, 60 per cent in Kyiv, 48 per cent in Kharkiv, 47 per cent in Katerynoslav, 40 per cent in Odessa. Only forty of Ukraine’s soviets present at the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets approved the Bolshevik seizure of power in Petrograd. Only ninety of Ukraine’s soviets ratified their seizure of power in Kharkiv.16

Among the Kyivan bolsheviks were some later termed “federalists” who differed with the “centralist” majority regarding the degree to which Ukraine was to be subordinated to Russia. Both groups cooperated conditionally with the Rada, much like communists were later to cooperate with “revolutionary anti-imperialist nationalists,” until 26 October, when they declared the Rada a “counterrevolutionary bourgeois” organ. This was in reaction to the Rada’s refusal to recognize the authority of Lenin’s Soviet government because it represented only a minority among the country’s left-wing revolutionary democrats.17 Thereafter, Ukraine’s Bolsheviks called for single-party rule in Ukraine, which they claimed was necessary to fight “Ukrainian nationalism.”

Ukraine’s Bolsheviks took power in Kharkiv in December 1917 with approximately 4,500 troops and Red Guards, of whom roughly 2,100 had arrived from Moscow the previous week.18 This group, which garnered only 10 per cent of the vote in the elections to the Constituent Assembly, and which represented less than 30 per cent of Ukraine’s soviets, claimed to be the government of the five Ukrainian provinces that the Provisional Government had formally subordinated to the Central Rada. Bolsheviks in Katerynoslav, Kherson, and Taurida provinces remained formally under Petrograd, not Kharkiv. The Kharkiv government arrived in Kyiv on 30 January (12 February) 1918 in the wake of the Russian Red Army (see figures 7 and 8, illustration section).The allied Ukrainian and German armies expelled it from the city in March. Ukraine’s first Bolshevik government included Ukrainian-born Russians, Germans, secular Jews, some Ukrainians, a few Russians from Russia and was subordinated to Lenin’s plenipotentiary in Ukraine, Sergo Ordzhonikidze.19 This government sought more power than its central leaders were prepared to allow it, and some of Ukraine’s pro-Bolshevik workers supported it as a Ukrainian and not as a Russian soviet government (see figure 5, illustration section). On 1 January 1918, the Kharkiv Bolsheviks declared: “The centre of Soviet power in Ukraine is the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets of Ukraine and its People’s Secretariat … All military units arrived in Ukraine from the north must put themselves under the authority of CEC [Central Executive Committee] of Ukraine and the activities of their commander in Ukraine can be carried out only in the name of Ukraine’s CEC and the People’s Secretariat. “20 Pro-Bolshevik ethnic Ukrainians in partisan units, meanwhile, may not all have been nationally conscious Ukrainians, but they did know their villages were not in Russia and, they refused to fight in Russia. They had been prepared to fight for soviet rule and land but, they mutinied or deserted when they learned that party committees had displaced the soviets, had collectivized land and, (after May 1919), had begun folding their regiments into the Red Army. “We will not fight for Russia,” they told Bolshevik commissars. “But we will fight for [soviet] Ukraine.”21

Most of Ukraine’s soviets had Russian SR, Ukrainian SR, or Ukrainian SD majorities. This diversity was reflected for the last time in Ukraine’s Second Congress of Soviets, held in March 1918. The Bolsheviks had not had time to stack the local assemblies that sent delegates; consequently, that Congress passed pro-Bolshevik resolutions primarily thanks to the presence of armed Russian Red sailors, who denied non-Bolsheviks the floor and threatened to shoot them. From the podium, Bolshevik delegates threatened to shoot the ninety quarrelsome Ukrainian SD representatives, which prompted fifty-five of them to leave. The Congress opened and closed with the singing of the Internationale, but delegates also sang the Ukrainian patriotic song “Zapovit” and the Ukrainian National Anthem.22 In 1919, on arriving in Kyiv, the new government imposed on Ukraine the Russian Soviet constitution, which heavily weighted representation in favour of urban workers and soldiers. Given that the overwhelming majority of these groups in Ukraine were Russian or Russified, Bolshevik rulers thereby effectively disenfranchised the Ukrainian majority. That year, the Bolsheviks also had enough time to ensure that the people voted for them in elections. They could subsequently dominate the Ukrainian-majority villages and small towns and minimize the non-Bolshevik presence in soviets. Moreover, even though the Russian constitution stipulated proportional elections, which in November 1917 Bolshevik leaders had declared “more democratic” than majoritarian ones, in Ukraine they imposed majority voting to eliminate large non-Bolshevik minorities from the soviets.

Local agents did not refrain from force. For instance, in the village of Merefa in Kharkiv province in February 1919, the local Cheka agent referred to “my use of repression” in ensuring that a fourth round of voting established a pro-Bolshevik soviet. In the central provincial town of Horodyshche that spring, a 150-strong Cheka detachment with six machine guns arrived in the wake of the Red Army. Its commander presented the locals with lists of candidates they had to vote for.

Only one list included town residents – local Bolsheviks, who were overwhelmingly Jewish. Instead of electing outsiders, the inhabitants elected the Jewish Bolsheviks.23 As a consequence of such measures, Ukraine’s Third Congress of Soviets in March 1919 was stacked with a 78 per cent Bolshevik majority, who dutifully booed one of the two Ukrainian left-SD delegates who tried to make a speech condemning centralization, Russification, and economic exploitation, forcing him to step down. Only after they had signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of March 1918 did Lenin’s Bolsheviks recognize that the eight provinces claimed by the UNR constituted “Ukraine.” They then ordered their Kharkiv, Katerynoslav, and Taurida (the Crimea) provincial branches to submit to Ukraine’s secretariat rather than to Russia’s. That same month, the Bolsheviks renamed themselves the Russian Communist Party (RCP) and permitted their branches in Ukraine to form a single territorial subunit dominated by its Russian centralist majority. The “Kyivan” minority, led by Mykola Skrypnyk, decided that April to establish instead a Ukrainian Communist Party independent of the Russian party. However, Skrypnyk backed down in May after a meeting with Lenin for which there are no minutes. Afterwards, Pravda (9 May 1918) proclaimed that “the Russian Communist Party Central Committee … has no objection to the formation of a Ukrainian Communist Party in as much as Ukraine is an independent state.” That statement was issued only to prevent a German invasion, however. In reality, Ukraine’s party remained subordinated to Moscow. This was confirmed in July, when representatives of the “provincial committees of the territories in South Russia occupied today by Germans,” at a meeting attended by Lenin’s deputy Iakov Sverdlov, passed a resolution specifying that Ukraine’s Communist Party was to be subordinated to the Russian party. A few days later, Ukraine’s Bolsheviks adopted the name Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine at a secret session of their First Congress. Senior leaders there explained that now that “the proletariat,” meaning the Bolsheviks, had taken power, “the right of self-determination” and national independence were counter-revolutionary and a threat to the working class. Skrypnyk claimed that with the Bolshevik seizure of power, the period of national states had passed and nationalism had become “reactionary.” He stated that the Russian party remained Ukraine’s mentor: “That is why in practice the situation [of dependency] remains as it was.” He added that his earlier proposal for a separate UCP belonging to the Communist International would now involve merely “formal” status. In practice, there was now an informal “unwritten constitution” that dictated that “we belong to a communist party that is one for all countries” — the Russian party. Of the CPU’s 4,314 members at the time, 7 per cent were Ukrainian speakers.24 In January 1919 the CPU proclaimed the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic.

Bolshevik leaders, like Russian liberals and monarchists, sought to preserve the territorial integrity of the tsarist empire. Lenin, however, was flexible. Faced with the military power of the revolutionary Ukrainian national movement, Lenin, in his celebrated “On Soviet Power in Ukraine” and “Letter to Ukrainian workers” of December 1919, offered what he regarded as cultural-linguistic “concessions” along with governmental positions to leaders of the left-wing factions of the Ukrainian Party of Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) and SDs. This did much to end resistance, for opposition leaders no longer saw the need for it.25 The armed resistance that did continue, until 1922, was uncoordinated.

In early 1919 the left-wing faction of the Ukrainian SRs renamed themselves the Ukrainian Communist Party (Borotbists) and allied themselves with the Russian Bolsheviks, claiming that the excesses of the latter were but “isolated incidents” that would not have serious consequences.26 The Borotbists had hoped to establish a Ukrainian Army, but the centralization of the Red Army limited their access to Ukrainian soldiers. On 4 May, Trotsky had ordered all Red military formations subordinated to Moscow; three days later, he ordered Red Ukrainian partisans to be either disbanded or reorganized as subunits of the Red Army. By September he had probably ordered the death of at least three Bolshevik Ukrainian commanders, who died under mysterious circumstances within weeks of one another.27 In March 1920 the Borotbists dissolved their organization and approximately 5,000 of their 15,000 I members joined the CPU. Some were given ministerial positions in May 1920.28 Lenin admitted them into his party, but only as individuals, and he secretly instructed his people to harass Borotbists and remove them from their positions on minor or spurious legal charges. To ensure that the few who did join the CPU would have little influence, the Kremlin ordered its local leaders to form a special “temporary Central Committee” to register and exclude undesirables. By 1922 only 188 former Borotbists remained in the CPU. Similar tactics were later applied to the UCP, which also dissolved itself. As of 1924, only 23 per cent of the CPU and 18 per cent of its central committee were Ukrainians.29

Ukrainian communists emerged from the left wing of the Ukrainian SDs and the “Kyivans” within the CPU. The first theoretical exposition of Ukrainian communism, Do Khvyli, was written in December 1918 by the Ukrainian Bolsheviks Shakhrai and Mazlakh. In January 1919, left-Ukrainian SDs separated from their parent party and renamed themselves “Independentists.” In January 1920 they adopted the name Ukrainian Communist Party. The head of the UNR’s counter-intelligence considered Mykhailo Tkachenko, a co-founder of the UCP who died in December 1919, “the Ukrainian Lenin.”30 The UCP stood for a sovereign Ukrainian communist state with its own party independent of the Russian communist state and party. It demanded independence on the basis of categorical right, not Bolshevik imperial pragmatism. This distinguished them from the Borotbists, who, like moderate Irish nationalists, hoped only for autonomy in return for loyalty.

In 1919, pro-Bolshevik Ukrainians wanted national independence and social justice — in other words, national and social liberation within a socialist Ukraine ruled by its own party and ministries, within a supra-national socialist confederation. Bolshevik leaders for their part regarded their “Ukrainian Republic” as little more than a Russian province; they did not dismantle their pre-1917 centralized party structure or the single imperial economic system inherited from the tsars. In 1923 they offered Ukraine only cultural autonomy within a nominal federation administered from Moscow as a single centralized economic and political unit through ministries controlled by a single Russian-speaking party. This was less than Ukrainians had anticipated but more than the Entente had offered the UNR — that no Entente member-state recognized. Under immense pressure, Bolshevik leaders agreed to linguistic and cultural concessions. In early 1921 they faced the Kronstadt and Tambov revolts, conflicts in Transcaucasia, and opposition from the left and urban workers. Beginning in 1921 they had to keep almost 20 per cent of the Red Army, a million soldiers, in Ukraine; only in 1922 did the army destroy the last bastion of partisan resistance in southern Kyiv province. According to Emma Goldman, who was in Kyiv that year: “Here the very atmosphere was charged with distrust and hatred of everything Muscovite … In Kiev there was no attempt to mask the opposition to Moscow. One was made to feel it everywhere.”

The incomplete statistics available at the time suggested that war and revolution had not markedly changed the national character of the cities, but that the pre-war mass migration of Russians into those cities would likely end while that of Ukrainians would continue.31

Perhaps such figures played a role in Stalin’s decision to extend the concessions first announced in 1919, when in the Tenth Party Congress Resolutions of March 1921, he stated that Ukrainian cities would “inevitably” become Ukrainian. The village as the “guardian of Ukrainian” would enter all Ukrainian towns “as the dominant element — just as Latvian and Hungarian in the end dominated Latvian and Hungarian cities.” There was nothing artificial in supporting this process, he stressed. Rakovskii and Skrypnyk, meanwhile, were complaining about centralization and seeking maximum autonomy for their republic. In the summer of 1922 they blocked an attempt to divide Ukraine into separate economic zones. In October of that year, a CPU plenum called for the broad use of Ukrainian in schools and government: “The Ukrainian proletarian state faces a difficult and complex task: the creation of Ukrainian soviet statehood, Ukrainian schools, the equalization of the rights of Ukrainian with Russian and of the language of the Ukrainian peasant with that of the Ukrainian proletariat, hindering the Ukrainian counter-revolution, and using the Ukrainian national school for its class purposes.”32

Against this background, the Twelfth Russian Party Congress in 1923 sanctioned extensive cultural concessions to all non-Russians under a policy labelled “indigenization.” During the 1920s many viewed this as a long-term strategy to transform the Ukrainian Republic into a national republic free at last of the cultural legacies of Russian domination. Russians would thereby be transformed from settler-colonists into an acculturated immigrant minority.

Stalin hoped to destabilize Poland and Romania, both allied with France, and to that end he supported the creation of a culturally thriving Ukraine to attract the disgruntled Ukrainian minorities in those countries. Stalin, however, in the Enlightenment tradition that separated culture from market, did not match cultural and linguistic concessions with economic decentralization. Moreover, the New Economic Policy (NEP) proclaimed in March 1923 was not implemented in Ukraine until the following year.33 CPU leader Volodymyr Zatonsky, who also saw Russification as a cultural matter unrelated to economics, avoided the colony analogy in his speeches and did not criticize economic centralism. Supposedly, Russification required only an ideological solution: make comrades stop associating the Soviet federation with Russia!34 Some of those who opposed indigenization considered it absurd precisely because it divorced language use and culture from economics and administration. In their view, Lenin’s notion of national self-determination was nonsense as well, because it contradicted his plan for a centralized economic and ministerial system. Among those who backed national rights but realized that indigenization as implemented would never work was the Georgian Marxist Mdivani, who dismissed the official discourse about cultural and linguistic rights as meaningless. Without a national economy there could be no national culture or language, nor any need within the non-Russian republics to learn languages other than the one used in economic relations – which in the USSR was Russian because all the ministries were centralized. Khristian Rakovskii, a Bulgarian who in 1919 ruthlessly imposed Soviet Russian rule in Ukraine as CPU chairman, had become by 1921 an advocate of Ukrainian rights. He noted that Russian imperial tendencies could be combated only if 90 per cent of Moscow’s commissariats were dissolved and their functions placed under the control of the republics. Rakovskii did not doubt the existence of Russian chauvinism, but he now considered it more than an expression of pre-revolutionary attitudes. For him, it was also the product of economic and administrative centralization, and its agents were ministry personnel: “Russian[s] and Russified Jews who [in your Ukrainian ministries] are the most consistent champions of Russian national oppression.” These people’s opposition to “the simple matter” of learning and using another language in addition to Russian was intense.35 UCP spokesmen complained that indigenization was superficial. They explained in 1924 that while linguistic and cultural concessions satisfied the intellectuals, for peasants and workers the real issues were economic, political, and party organizational. It was on these that cultural and linguistic matters were based, yet the indigenization policy ignored all three.36

What Ukrainian communists had called Bolshevik Russian colonialism during the revolution, official representatives discussed and categorized during the 1920s as “errors” or “Luxemburgism” that “the party” and “Leninist policy” had “corrected.” Even Trotsky admitted that extreme conditions had obliged him to commit excesses in Ukraine. After 1923 he opposed the imposition of Russian in Ukraine on the grounds that it would impede Ukrainians’ access to world culture and the ability to learn in their own language. He favoured locating manufacturing industries near resources. At the 1923 CPU conference he said that unless people who understood Ukrainian were placed everywhere, the soviet regime faced collapse.37 In 1924, party leaders explained that it was the pressure of war, not ideology or imperial preconceptions, that had prevented them from eliminating national oppression as soon as they came to power.38 In June 1926 a Ukrainian party plenum resolution included even the proletariat among the guilty and Russian nationalism as a culprit. Some comrades had incorrect views on national issues, and the party underestimated their significance, that resolution stated. It named the majority of the urban population and the considerable number of Russian proletariat and party members as the source of Russian chauvinism.39 Stalin’s deputy, Lazar Kaganovich, strongly condemned Russian nationalism in a CPU Central Committee Resolution of 1928, which listed seven manifestations of Russian and Ukrainian nationalism. Russian party members and bourgeoisie were explicitly identified as the ones who wished to retain Russian domination in Ukraine, who refused to learn Ukrainian, who wanted to restrict Ukrainian identity to villages, and who exploited mistakes to condemn indigenization as a policy that “oppressed” Russians.

But neither set of “errors” was condemned as “counter-revolutionary.” The critique did not label Russian Bolshevism as a form of colonial rule, and sanctions or punishments were never meted out to Russians. Key Ukrainian critics who thought the concessions did not go far enough were not arrested, though they were transferred out of Ukraine.40 Significantly, except for some among the latter group, those involved had treated national-cultural issues as intellectual-political matters associated with “class enemies.” None linked them to economic structures or centralization, except UCP critics, who applied Lenin’s Imperialism to Soviet Russia and analysed the Russian-Ukrainian relationship in terms of empire-colony discourse. Many cultural /linguistic proposals made their way into indigenization policies, but few of the political and economic demands contained in the UCP critiques did so. Economic centralization was not among the officially admitted “errors.”41 Ministries remained centralized, planning regions ignored national borders, and central officials refused to function in any language other than Russian. The 1929 Ukrainian constitution did not give Ukrainian official status; that same year, the All-Union Central Committee directed that all government correspondence, even at the level of the republic, be in Russian. In 1923, Rakovskii noted that anyone waiting for the comrades in Ukraine’s party school to voluntarily learn Ukrainian would wait a long time. Those who worked for central ministries in Ukraine considered learning Ukrainian a waste of time. By the end of the 1920s, 43 per cent of the staff of eighteen ministry branches in Ukraine and 49 per cent of the staff of republic ministries were still totally ignorant of Ukrainian. In 1929, 85 per cent of government bureaucrats still could not function in Ukrainian.42 Much like other colonies, Ukraine was a place where officials were ignorant of their subordinates’ languages, because they expected the ruled to learn the ruler’s language.

Rakovskii and Skrypnyk in 1922 well knew that a hard core of Ukraine’s urban Russians were ignoring or resisting party measures intended to limit if not curtail Russian cultural domination. By that year, hundreds of requests had come in from party members ignorant of Ukrainian requesting to leave the country. Mikhail Frunze, at a 1922 CPU plenum, realized the threat this posed: “In the end everybody would leave.”43 Skrypnyk, like Galiev, asked why those “Russian chauvinists” did not argue their case publicly. In Ukraine, after voting in favour of Ukrainian-language resolutions at the 1923 Party Congress, delegates in the corridors would reply, when addressed in Ukrainian: “Talk to me in a language I can understand.” Senior leaders knew that Ukraine’s Russian and Russified Jewish bureaucrats were strongly opposed to learning and using Ukrainian on the job, that most delegates in Moscow for the Twelfth Congress had no conception of the national issues involved, and that Congress corridor talk was dismissing the debates as theatre. The overwhelmingly Russian or Russified delegates simply voted during the Congress as their patron Stalin had instructed them. Two years earlier, Mikhail Tomsky, at the Eighth Congress, had identified their true opinions: “I think that we will not find in this hall anyone who would claim that national self-determination and national movements are normal and desirable. We regard these as a necessary evil.” At the 1923 CPU conference, Zatonsky observed that “If all comrades spoke their minds there would be a Russian stink impossible to imagine [Russkim dukhom zapakhlo chto i govorit nichogo].”44 A few weeks later, the resolutions of the secret Fourth Conference of senior party activists in Moscow specified that Russian nationalists were to be dismissed from party and government posts, but made no mention of the danger of imperial Russian “great power chauvinism” that Grigorii Zinoviev had castigated during the sessions. In 1925 the purging of “great power chauvinists” from the Red Army, initiated by Trotsky two years earlier, was halted.45 One of Stalin’s assistants at the Nationalities Commissariat wrote in 1930 that in its earlier work, the commissariat “systematically violated the Leninist line [Twelfth Congress resolutions] on the national question.”46

Indigenization was only beginning to overcome Ukraine’s colonial legacy when it was halted. In 1927, Russian in Ukraine’s public communications sphere had only begun to recede from its pre-1914 dominance. Only 8.5 per cent of all published titles in the USSR were in Ukrainian – well below that language’s share of the USSR’s total population. In terms of titles per capita, Russians in Russia had 2.4 books in Russian, while Ukrainians had 1.6 in Russian and Ukrainian. Throughout the 1920s, declared Russians averaged 10 per cent of Ukraine’s population yet more than 40 per cent of published books in Ukraine were in Russian. In 1927, 4,687 titles were published in Ukraine, of which 2,135 were in Russian. Russia that same year published 21,772 titles, of which only 13 were in Ukrainian. Printed Russian books in Ukraine comprised more than 50 per cent of total copies. When broken down by subject and audience, the disproportions are stark and reflect the pre-1917 colonial reality in which Russian was the language of urban modernity. Of 1,174 titles published during the first half of 1927, 43 per cent were in Russian. However, while the number of academic titles in each language was almost equal, of the 508 Russian books, 58 per cent were for children, 37 per cent for workers, and 1 per cent for peasants. The numbers for the 603 Ukrainian books were 36 per cent, 7 per cent, and 44 per cent respectively.47

In 1922, 54 per cent of CPU members were Russian speakers and 11 per cent were Ukrainian speakers. At the 1923 Congress, 47 per cent of the delegates were declared Russians and 20 per cent were Ukrainians As of 1926, 44 per cent of the members were declared Ukrainians, 30 per cent were Ukrainian speakers, and 21 per cent used Ukrainian at work.48 An early 1926 report to Ukraine’s Central Committee reported that of all Ukraine’s industrial and white-collar workers, 59 per cent and 56 per cent respectively did not speak Ukrainian. In addition, 78 per cent of the former and 33 per cent of the latter were literate only in Russian. Also, 35 to 40 per cent of Ukraine’s 49,689 government bureaucrats and 25 per cent of its seventy-one top ministerial personnel were totally ignorant of Ukrainian.49 Urban Russian and Russified white-collar professionals, whose attitudes towards the majority Ukrainians were not unlike those of European settlers in Africa towards Africans and Arabs, voiced their opposition to learning and using Ukrainian throughout the 1920s in Enlightenment/imperialist Russian slavophile terms: “Ukrainian is only a language for songs”; “[the language] is vulgar and unsuited for a subject like physics … Ukraine now is nothing but a part of Russia”; “I won’t Ukrainianize – the Revolution was in Russian”; “Ukrainian is a dog’s language, I won’t study it.” Some employees who knew Ukrainian refused to use it, while a considerable number did not know it at all. While employees could be fired for ignorance of Ukrainian, apparently few were. In a letter from a Luhansk miner, we learn that in fifty-six mines in the region, where Ukrainians averaged 57 per cent of the workforce, Ukrainian was forgotten after speeches were made. Privately, officials said there was no one to Ukrainize because “all our workers are Russians.” Mine committees functioned in Russian, and when Ukrainian workers complained, they were told: “Go to your honkie land [khokhlandiia] and talk your dog-language there.” Cultural clubs functioned in Russian, and there were no Ukrainian-language manuals. Ukrainian posters and announcements were systematically torn down.50

In general, more Ukrainian-language materials were published after 1922 than before 1914, and the government did establish Ukrainian schools and universities. The lower the level within the government and the party, the higher the percentage of declared Ukrainians or Ukrainian speakers, and with each passing year an increasing percentage of these two groups rose through the hierarchy. Perhaps this trend would have dominated in the long term. But there would be no long term. Indigenization was never formally condemned, but it stopped being enforced after 1933. After that year, as before 1917, Russians in Ukraine would no longer face the fate of immigrants everywhere – learning foreign languages and acculturization. They remained settler-colonists. The change was reflected in two speeches by Zatonsky that gave different characterizations of Russian settler-colonists in Ukraine. In 1926 he had considered Ukraine to be undoubtedly a colony of the Russian tsars and bourgeoisie. Both tsarism and capitalism had Russified Ukraine, and the latter had also brought skilled Russian workers into Ukraine. “The Russian proletariat went to factories built in Ukraine.” In 1933 he stated that “the theory that the proletariat in Ukraine, or its majority, came from Russia is totally false.”51 Condemnation of Russian chauvinism ceased that year. Support from Russians and Russified non-Russians opposed to learning and using Ukrainian compensated Stalin for the loss of support from Ukrainian party leaders – although his elimination of the “left opposition” meant in any case that he no longer needed national republic leaders as allies. In 1923, Sultan-Galiev strongly condemned Stalin’s public rationalization of indigenization. It was absurd, he pointed out, to label opposition to Russian great-power chauvinism as “local nationalism” and then claim that the latter was the opposite of the former. Opposition to great-power chauvinism was not “nationalism” – it was simply opposition to great-power chauvinism. It was absurd, he continued, to expect the “young Russian party comrades” who staffed local administrations to fight “local nationalism” if they were “infected” with great-power chauvinism. They would only fan the flames of chauvinism while “beating” local non-Russian communists on the spurious grounds that they were “nationalists.” 52 These remarks infuriated Stalin, but he did not dispense with his false syllogism. In January 1934 he declared that the “greatest enemy” in the non-Russian republics was no longer Russian chauvinism but “local nationalism,” and in 1938 he ordered that Russian be made compulsory in all Ukrainian schools.53 Policy reversals were presented as “correcting errors” – but those reversals reflected Stalin’s thinking as expressed in a September 1922 letter to Lenin.

By 1939, Russian dominated in urban schools, the media, and administration. Massive inmigration of Russians had begun anew. Russians and Russian speakers did not have to learn Ukrainian to receive a job, a promotion, or government services, or to be educated, informed, or entertained. Russian language use still gave status and prestige. Ukrainian language use was relegated “things spiritual” – to ethnography, rural media, scholarship on Ukrainian subjects, and private use. Moscow ministries controlled an economy they administered in Russian. The Ukrainian communist criticism of Russian Bolshevism became relevant again.


November 22, 2015

The Novorossiya Follies

Filed under: Ukraine — louisproyect @ 7:16 pm

Separatists in the vanguard of the struggle against neoliberalism?

Only six months ago I got into a brouhaha with David North, the cult leader of the Socialist Equality Party whose online newspaper WSWS.org was running around like Chicken Little squawking that nuclear war between the USA and Russia was about to break out.

This was the downside of east Ukraine’s separatist movement—it might lead to H-Bombs leveling every major city on earth. But perhaps it was a risk worth taking since the upside would be a kind of liberated territory like Rojava if you took Boris Kagarlitsky at his word: “By contrast [to Maidan], the Donetsk … is the perfect embodiment of the anarchist concept of the revolutionary order.” His co-thinker Roger Annis created a website called www.newcoldwar.org that provided a platform for separatist ideologues such as Halyna Mokrushyna who described her comrades as creating a “new state, free from corruption and nationalism.” The enthusiasm for militias that put a Vice reporter in a makeshift jail might have been lost on some but beauty is in the eyes of the beholder one supposes.

Things have not quite turned out either on the downside or the upside as the pro-separatist left predicted. The only mushrooms to be seen now are those on sale at Whole Foods while the resemblance between the People’s Republics and Kropotkin is purely coincidental.

On November 10th, the NY Times reported on the grim situation facing people living in the breakaway republics:

Children and older people suffer disproportionately. There is little money for schools and to pay teachers’ salaries. Many teachers have simply left. Food is also running short, and hunger is a daily fear for many youngsters.

Many older people have nowhere else to go, and their pensions have been cut off by a hostile government in Kiev. Russia, burdened by its annexation of Crimea and the collapse of oil prices, has no interest in filling the void.

Maybe if Russia weren’t spending all that money on bombing ISIS into the stone age, it would have more money to spend on teachers’ salaries. Then again, the strategy in Syria is not that different than the one for Ukraine, namely to defend Russia’s spheres of influences. In the first instance a warm-water port on the Mediterranean and in the second a block against NATO expansion as the NY Times article points out:

The guns went quiet in eastern Ukraine in September, wrapping up with a cease-fire but with no final settlement. This is a common arc of post-Soviet conflict, visible in the Georgian enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan and in Transnistria, a strip of land on Moldova’s border with Ukraine.

In each case, the Kremlin intervened or provided arms on the pretext of protecting ethnic Russians or local allies, then it installed pro-Russian governments that it has used to manipulate events in the host countries. The contested borders of frozen zones also effectively guard against any further expansion of NATO, since no country with an unresolved border conflict can join the alliance.

Get that? No country with an unresolved border conflict can join NATO. Pretty damned smart of Putin. Start a war over “fascist threats” to make people in eastern Ukraine speak Ukrainian or else they would be put into gas chambers, if you believed Russian television. In my view, the Kremlin’s hostility to Ukraine has more to do with Putin’s ambition to restore Russia’s Great Nation status going back to Catherine the Great than fear of countries like Ukraine or Georgia becoming a launch pad for a war on Russia. Keep in mind that the Czech Republic, which joined NATO in 1999, is one of Russia’s most reliable allies today.

For all of the vain hopes in a Novorossiya, Putin never had any intention of expanding his borders outwards. It was to his advantage to keep Ukraine in a state of limbo and hence to keep it as an irritant to the West.

For an in-depth study of the costs of separatism for the Donbass region, I recommend Pavel Kanygin’s article in Meduza, a journal based in Latvia. Titled “The Donbass War. Assessing the Aftermath How the ‘Russian Spring’ came to an end in eastern Ukraine”, it describes the same precipitous decline as the NY Times.

The war has come and gone, leaving behind poverty and pain. The buses and trams have been stripped of their wifi routers. High-voltage cables smashed in the shelling have been sold for scrap. Half-empty shelves in the stores have become customary. The city’s Petrovsky district still has many living in the bomb shelter of the local mine, fearing renewed artillery strikes. The nearby municipal psychiatric hospital has become home to fighters for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). Already last winter, I joined volunteers taking food and medicine to the neighborhood, where typhoid plagued people crowded in basements. What goes on now in Petrovsky and other areas around Donetsk is virtually unknown. This fall, DPR authorities banned volunteers from bringing in medicine and equated NGO activity with espionage.

After examining reliable statistics on Donbass, Kanygin concludes that the region’s economy has fallen by two-thirds since the start of the war while the price of essential commodities has increased by 50 to 60 percent. Meanwhile showing the same disrespect for independent media that it displayed early on in the jailing of a Vice reporter, the authorities in the “liberated” republics have jailed 8 local reporters. There is also hostility toward NGO’s—probably cheering the heart of Putin’s “anti-imperialist” supporters in the West. Doctors without Borders, whose hospital was bombed by American jets in Kunduz, has been banned for supposedly engaging in espionage and distributing mind-altering drugs.

Meanwhile the armed “liberators” of Donbass would seem to have more in common with the Hell’s Angels than the Kurds in Rojova:

Once, while photographer Pyotr Shelomovsky and I watched, in the center of Donetsk, an intoxicated fighter from the armed group “Oplot” killed a passerby as he left a store with his purchases. The man was talking with somebody on the phone, and the soldier thought he had a background with the yellow and blue colors of the Ukrainian flag on his screen. “You ukrop [a slang pejorative for Ukrainians]!” the fighter yelled. “Go work for them, bitch!” With one strike he knocked the man off his feet, and the impact of his fall broke his neck. Somebody called an ambulance out of habit. But first a minibus with tinted windows and no license plates arrived and whisked the “Oplot” fighter in an unknown direction. Then the ambulance removed the body. After an hour the DPR police showed up, and one of them said with frustration: “Fuck, why did we [even] come?”

As might be expected, some of the separatists have buyer’s remorse over the way things have turned out. The WSJ reported on November 13th:

“It’s more circuses than bread,” said Sergei Baryshnikov, a history professor and doyen of the tiny separatist movement that existed in Donetsk before the conflict.

Mr. Baryshnikov is one of several local ideologues and independent-minded military commanders who have been gradually purged from leadership positions. He was fired as dean of the university just as he had been appointed last year: by a rebel government minister flanked by two men with automatic rifles.

“They tossed out the ideas people,” empowering more malleable satraps, he complained.

The sad state of Donbass could have easily been predicted as I pointed out in a review of “Tangerine” the made-in-Georgia film of 2014 that I reviewed for CounterPunch.

As is the case today with the Crimeans and the Donbas separatists, hope was placed on unity with Russia and still lingers on despite all evidence to the contrary. On May 31, 2014 Russian journalist Yuliya Latynina, reported on Abkhazia’s problems for Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper critical of Vladimir Putin:

There is collapse and devastation. Agriculture is finished; tobacco [manufacturing] is ruined; tourists living in rundown Soviet sanatoriums and ordering one portion of ice-cream for two people in beach cafes make a poverty-stricken segment; even maize has become an imported [product] in Abkhazia, where mamalyga [which is made from maize] is a national food. In addition to this, there is destructive logging of fine wood – as if it was happening somewhere in Papua New Guinea – which is exported to Turkey. However, even this business is coming to an end: Forests have been completely cut down.

As for Ukraine, the Euromaidan protests have had little effect on power relations in the western part of the country according to a Vice news report titled “Two Years After Ukraine’s Euromaidan, Protesters Say ‘Nothing Has Changed’”. One protestor told Vice: “The country is still ruled by corruption. It is still the same people in power, nothing has changed.”

In fact it is exactly the continuation of the status quo that made the prospects of nuclear war so ludicrous. What David North, Boris Kagarlitsky and Roger Annis could not seem to grasp was the class affinities of Barack Obama, Petro Poroshenko, and Vladimir Putin. In the 1950s, during the depths of the Cold War, nuclear annihilation was a much more palpable threat because two irreconcilably opposed social systems existed in the West and the East. The Cold War ended because the bureaucracy in the East learned that it could do even better as managers or owners of capitalist enterprises.

But unlike the situation in 1914 or 1940, there is not the same kind of dead-end inter-imperialist rivalry today. Exxon-Mobil gets the red carpet treatment in Moscow because it has a shared investment in energy exploration with its Russian partners while Putin’s cronies continue to buy 20 million dollar apartments in New York condominiums. This is not exactly what confronted Lenin in 1914. The world has changed a great deal. It is too bad that the left continues to act as if time stood still.


June 16, 2015

The Tribe

Filed under: disabled,Film,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 5:14 pm

In my freshman year at Bard College in 1961, I took a writer’s workshop with celebrated beat poet Robert Kelly who gave an assignment that all of us had trouble with, namely to write a short story without any human beings as characters. It was obviously some sort of technical challenge that we had trouble wrapping our heads around, even if it perhaps was designed to get us to think outside the box.

That was my first reaction to “The Tribe”, a Ukrainian film that opens tomorrow at the Film Forum in NY. I knew that the characters are deaf teenagers in a boarding school in Kiev but I hadn’t anticipated what was in store for me as the film started at a press screening. It began with this announcement:

This film is in sign-language. There are no subtitles or voice-over.

What could possibly have made the director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiiy decide to take this approach? To rise to a technical challenge of making a “silent movie” that defied the audience to not understand a single word being exchanged by the characters? My initial reaction was to bolt from my seat and return home but since I had traveled almost an hour from my Upper East Side apartment to the Film Forum in Soho, I sighed and decided to stick it out.

Not only did I stick it out for the entire 133 minutes, I found it to be a most compelling drama that draws you into the lives of its characters, all of whom are nonprofessionals and deaf.

Although the story is centered in a boarding school, the film will remind you of any number of those that take place in reformatories such as “Dog Pound” or “Bad Boys”. In such films, there is always a newcomer to the prison who despite himself ends up in a struggle with the alpha males who bully and steal from those beneath them in the hierarchy.

“The Tribe” begins with its hero Sergei showing up at the boarding school, where he is shaken down by the gang that runs the institution with the blessings of the administrators. They take him behind the school where out of sight he is forced to strip and surrender any money that he has brought with him to the school. Sergei takes this in stride since he understands that he is outnumbered.

A few days later, the same gang members summon him to a clearing near the school where he is forced to defend himself from their blows. Despite once again being outnumbered, he fights back effectively and nearly throttles the leader of the pack. His fighting skills are so impressive that they recruit him into the gang. Always accepting things almost fatalistically, Sergei accepts their invitation and joins them in nightly excursions to a nearby truck stop where two girls from the school are prostituted to the drivers with the full cooperation of the administrators who get a cut of the proceeds.

Complications arise when Sergei falls in love with Anya, one of the two girls he has been pimping. She is so hardened by her experience in the school that she finds his affection almost incomprehensible. Mostly it is lust that opens her up to him rather than love.

Throughout it all, you understand everything that is going on even though you have no idea what they are saying to each other (unless you understand sign-language.) As a mixture of pantomime and silent film without the titles, the story is communicated by the actions of the characters and amplified by the body language and facial expressions that accompany the “dialog” as the director points out in the press notes:

I never considered the idea of making this film with hearing actors. It would have been an entirely different kind of film. The body language, the sign language they use is natural for them, and it is very individual; much more individual than French, Russian or German spoken by a particular person. People who speak out loud use only facial muscles to pronounce their speech, while deaf people use their entire body to communicate. To me, this is what makes this group unique and extremely interesting.

The press notes also indicate that “The Tribe” resonated with the Euromaidan protests that were taking place just under 10 miles from the filming.

Most of the shooting took place on the outskirts of Kiev, in the district where I spent my childhood. Previously, it was named after Stalin, and even now it’s called “Stalinka”. Most of the buildings here were built by German POWs after WWII. This proletarian district, built mainly of red brick, resembles some of the buildings in New York. Shooting began prior to the protests in Ukraine and completed after the Russian invasion in the Crimea. Our work was quite tense. Some cast members, including actors, participated in protests and street clashes in their spare time. Some days we had to cancel shooting because of road blockades, as the cars with our equipment simply could not get through to the set. Ironically, the producer and I live just four kilometers away from the Maidan.

Finally, as was obvious to anybody familiar with the history of Ukraine, the story had a lot to with the protests even though it never alluded once to the hierarchy that obtained under oligarchic rule:

A boarding school is better than just a school because it is a closed system, which––like a prison––can be perceived to be a metaphor of the state even if that isn’t the intention. The Tribe is, to a certain extent, a metaphor of the arrangement of the Ukrainian state, at least the pre-revolutionary Ukraine. And the arrangement of the state of Ukraine was based on the principle of a Mafiosi group.

For those with an appetite for the fresh and the challenging film (ostensibly those who tend to agree with my reviews), my strongest recommendation for “The Tribe”, a sign of the indomitable character of the Ukrainian artist.

Finally, and once again from the press notes, biographical information on the two lead characters:

Grigoriy Fesenko (Sergei)

Fesenko was born in 1994 in Kiev. His mother is a cleaner, his father is unemployed, and there are three children in their family. Fesenko will graduate from a school for children with hearing impairments this year. He’s interested in everything associated with street culture, and is a graffiti artist, parkourist, and roofer. Currently, his future plans remain unknown. He had previously spent some time playing on one of the Kiev sports society’s deaf football teams, but abandoned football when he was cast in The Tribe.

Yana Novikova (Anya)

Novikova was born in 1993 in a village near the small Belarusian town of Gomel to hearing parents. She became deaf at the age of two weeks due to illness, and her younger sister also became deaf in early childhood. She studied at a boarding school for children with hearing impairments, and loves to dance, draw, and practice pantomime. After graduation, she went to Gomel, where she enrolled in the College of Engineering. After studying for a year, she realized that engineering was not for her. Novikova loves cinema and has dreamed of acting since her childhood. After she heard about the casting call for a small quota of deaf actors from Theater Rainbow (Ukrainian Society of the Deaf) at the Kiev Theatre Academy, she dropped out of college and went to Kiev for the audition. Theater Rainbow did not accept her application, but she was noticed by director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, who invited her to the casting call for The Tribe. During the audition, Novikova utterly eclipsed all other participants.

After she was cast, Novikova lived in Kiev in a rental apartment for three months. She took part in the pilot shooting of The Tribe, despite the fact that she didn‘t know whether or not she was approved for the leading role until shooting began. She is currently living in Kiev and pursuing acting full time.


February 27, 2015

From Serhii Mazlakh and Vasyl’ Shakrai’s “The Ukrainian Communist Party (Bolsheviks)”

Filed under: Ukraine — louisproyect @ 6:22 pm

The surge of national consciousness and the intense will for a free, sovereign, and independent life revealed by the Ukrainian revolutionary national movement completely preclude the very thought of the Ukraine’s return to the status of a colony of some other power. Sooner or later, through the difficult and bloody course of armed conflict or through agreement—the democratic way of resolving issues in dispute between neighboring countries—the Ukraine will be independent and sovereign not only in words but in reality. Either as the result of an extended diplomatic and armed struggle, by maneuvering among states, or through the revolutionary activity of its worker-peasant masses, the Ukraine will become independent. At best, the Ukraine will become completely free in the very near future thanks to the activity and consciousness of its national masses, and the more rapidly and fully this goal is reached the better it will be for the Ukraine and her neighbors. There will be fewer national quarrels and less hostility; the further progress of the Ukraine’s economic, political, social, cultural, and spiritual life will be easier, and the Ukraine’s contribution to the treasury of world culture will be greater. And on the other hand, the less strength and activity it manifests in the near future, the more drawn out is the independence process, the more the Ukraine has to rely on diplomacy or on external assistance—the longer will she remain in the morbid condition of an unsolved national question, and the more the poison of national hostility, quarrels, and incitement will hinder socioeconomic, socio-political, and spiritual-cultural progress. Revolutions not only reveal deeper springs and forces, not only reject all that is superficial and conventional, they are also the locomotives of history. Days in a revolutionary era are the equivalent of decades in more peaceful periods. What demands many long years in a peaceful era may be attained in a few months in a revolution. And just as steel is tempered in the conflagration of revolution, so peaceful development often rusts and corrodes it. If the Ukrainian national question is not settled now, during the revolutionary era, if it is handed on to posterity, like rust it will corrode the socioeconomic and cultural-political development of the Ukraine and its neighbors.

That is why it is so important that all the forces presently contending in the Ukraine, and because of the Ukraine, realize fully the importance of this decisive moment in history. This is especially true for the relations between the Ukraine and Russia. Many socio-economic and cultural-spiritual links have been forged during the two and a half centuries of the Ukraine’s confinement within the boundaries of tsarist and autocratic Russia, but, at the same time, so much filth has collected on these links that they have lost their elasticity and become stiff, incapable of bending with the turns of history. They crack and break, and the break is not clean; rails, beams, and ties point in different directions and intermingle in the most monstrous ways. This process is very painful for both sides of the break: rails and beams wound people; rocks, cement, and coal cover people; dust and chips are thrown in their faces, blinding them; and the crackling and roaring deafens them.

Instead of clearing away individual rails and beams and wasting energy attaching supports to walls which may fall in today or tomorrow, it is better to clear out the whole place, removing the old and installing new rafters.

The sooner this fact is realized, and the more clearly, the better it will be. Soviet Russia should realize this before all others. C. Rakovski spoke the truth when he said that the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic is the heir to the Russian Empire. But the conclusion to be drawn from this is diametrically opposed to the one reached by C. Rakovski at the peace conference.8 It should not be forgotten that Soviet Russia inherited not only a great state but also a lot of rottenness and dirt. One should inspect one’s acquisitions with care; historical experience makes clear that some inheritances should be renounced in order not to ruin completely the possessions acquired through one’s own efforts. Such is the case of the Ukraine. One should forget about the former Southern Russia and remember that the Ukraine rose in its place, forget about the former colony and remember that it is now a sovereign independent country—if not im Sein then im Werden—forget that workers came from Central Russia to work in the Donets Basin and will continue to come in the future, forget about the 2,100,000 Russians living among the 16,500,000 Ukrainians and about the need, for their sake, to regain the birthright. Relations with the Ukraine must find a new set of foundations; they must be based on a real and alive—not a verbal—international unity. It is time to abandon the various scientific investigations demonstrating how insignificant are the ethnographic differences be-tween Ukrainians and Russians, time to forget Valuevism, Stolypinism, and Mymretsovism, time to acknowledge sincerely the right of nations to self-determination, time, in short, to face the facts. It is time to implement Article 5 of the Resolution of the 1913 Summer Conference and reach the appropriate conclusion: either one way or the other. And this conclusion must be reached without fearing that others will differ. Forget about the pottage of lentils, sugar, coal, iron, or grain. These will take care of themselves. And when this is done you will have such an ally as cannot be acquired from any kind of one and indivisible.

The Ukrainian workers and peasants should also come to their senses. In the first place, this will help the Russian workers and peasants to their senses and, second, as the proverb states: Heaven helps those who help themselves.


February 25, 2015

The Ukrainian National Movement versus Great Russian chauvinism

Filed under: Ukraine — louisproyect @ 8:05 pm

As some of you may know, Roger Annis, a one-time member of the Trotskyist movement in Canada, has become one of the most prominent, prolific and ardent defenders of the Kremlin’s attempt to carve a Novorossiya out of Ukraine, and arguably other territory that dates back to the original Russian empire created during the reign of Catherine the Great.

For most defenders of Putin’s foreign policy, support for the Lugansk and Donetsk Peoples Republics is based on the notion that Russia was forced to back the separatists and annex Crimea as a defensive measure against NATO encroachment. There are references to John Mearsheimer’s argument that Russia is entitled to do this because the USA does it as well. Just look at how JFK reacted to Russian bases in Cuba. Why would anybody expect the Kremlin to behave any differently when Ukraine was becoming aligned with NATO and western corporations? That the left would adopt such logic is really quite breathtaking. When you excuse Russia on this basis, where does socialism fit in? It was never a great idea to defend Soviet control over the “buffer states” in the name of realpolitik, and all the more so after Russia became another capitalist society.

Generally I don’t respond to Roger’s articles since most people have pretty much made up their mind on the Ukrainian issues. But I was taken aback when I saw his latest post on his website titled Dramatic Shifts in the political and military situation in Ukraine that includes a link to another article titled Donetsk Peoples Republic proclaims itself successor of the Donetsk-Krivoy-Rog Republic of 1918. The linked article makes the case that the breakaway republics are simply a restoration of the original Soviet republic that followed in the footsteps of October 1917. It states:

The capital of the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Republic was Kharkiv and later Lugansk. The government of the Republic was represented by a Council of People’s Commissars, headed by Artem (Fyodor Sergeyev). In March 1918, the Republic became part of Soviet Ukraine, at the time a constituent of part of Soviet Russia. A year later, an agreement was reached for its dissolution. A Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was declared in 1922 and its capital became Kyiv. It was a founding constituent of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, founded the same year.

Understandably, this historical reference might seem obscure to the average reader, and even some veterans of the Marxist movement who have this blog bookmarked. At first blush, this might seem like a good thing. Who could possibly object to the separatists invoking the infant USSR especially when their enemy has John McCain on its side? Maybe this was Boris Kagarlitsky’s encomium to the Donetsk separatists as “the perfect embodiment of the anarchist concept of the revolutionary order” finally coming true.

As it happens, these questions were very much on mind as I was working my way through a book titled “On the Current Situation in the Ukraine” that is a collection of articles written by Serhii Mazlakh and Vasyl’ Shakrai in 1918 in the context of a faction fight in the Ukrainian Communist Party over Ukraine’s independence. The two largest factions, the left Kievists and the right Katerynoslavists, were both primarily made up of native Russians who regarded independence as a bourgeois deviation. The Katerynoslavists, named after the city of Katerynoslav in the eastern Ukraine, were particularly hostile to independence and regarded the ethnic Ukrainians as peasant bumpkins urgently in need of assimilation into the Russian-speaking working class. In their polemic titled “Unity or Independence”, Mazlakh and Shakrai quote the Katerynoslavists:

In response to the categorical demand of the Ukrainian social-democratic parties for an indication of the attitude of the Communist Party organizations toward the Ukrainian question, we have busied ourselves with what, for the Party, was an empty and objectively stupid matter pertaining to an oppressed nation. . . repetition of ‘words’ about our recognition of the Ukraine’s right to separation at a time when the All-Russian Council of People’s Commissars demands from us a different attitude toward this right—clear and categorical statements and strong agitation in favor of a possibly closer connection between the Ukraine and Russia, against separation and for proletarian-revolutionary unity.

The Kremlin had sent one Christian Rakovsky to help promote “proletarian-revolutionary unity”. Rakovsky had a fairly distinguished career as a revolutionary but when it came to the national question—and Ukraine in particular—he was dreadful, reminding one of the hostile articles in the CPUSA press about “reactionary black nationalism” dividing the working class in the 1960s. Using a good command of Marxist jargon but with little understanding of Ukrainian realities, Rakovsky pontificated: “First of all, the ethnographic differences between Ukrainians and Russians are in themselves insignificant . . . More important is the fact that the Ukrainian peasantry lack what is generally called “national consciousness” . . . The Ukrainian proletariat is completely Russian in origin.”

In a very real sense, Annis, Boris Kagarlitsky and the Borotba group in Ukraine that works closely with outfits like John Rees’s Counterfire and Alan Woods’s IMT is a continuation of the Katerynoslavist tradition, a tendency that can only be described as Great Russian chauvinist in character.

The Donetsk-Krivoy-Rog Republic of 1918 was to Ukraine as Ulster was to Great Britain, an enclave ruled by the privileged enemies of self-determination. It was a reactionary tendency no matter who gave it their blessing, from Christian Rakovsky to Lenin. It was exactly such attempts to create territorial facts on the ground through superior military and economic power that became the counterpart of Guantanamo, the American military base in Cuba, the Malvinas, et al.

Ever since the Maidan protests broke out last year, I have made an earnest attempt to research Ukrainian Marxism that was steadfast against Great Russian domination, whether it originated in the Czarist ministries or the Comintern. Below you can read one of Serhii Mazlakh and Vasyl’ Shakrai’s most useful articles in their campaign against national chauvinism and for the independence of Ukraine.

I want to call particular attention to the concluding paragraphs of the article that refers to Lenin’s article on the lessons of the Easter Rebellion in Ireland in 1916. This article is one of the most important that Lenin ever wrote, calling attention to the need to see revolutions dialectically. Lenin wrote:

To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie without all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church, and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc.–to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution. So one army lines up in one place and says, “We are for socialism”, and another, somewhere else and says, “We are for imperialism”, and that will be a social revolution! Only those who hold such a ridiculously pedantic view would vilify the Irish rebellion by calling it a “putsch”.

This is exactly the way I approach “impure” uprisings such as the Maidan and the ones that have taken place in the Middle East and North Africa. Others, of course, are free to choose their own way of looking at things even if sadly mimics the dogmatic, economistic and chauvinist tendencies of Christian Rakovsky and the Katerynoslavists.

The Ukrainian National Movement Against the Background of the Modern Capitalist-Imperialist Economy

One need not have studied in a seminary to know that we live in the epoch of the higher stage of capitalist development, the epoch of the domination of finance capital, the epoch of capitalist imperialism.

In this epoch the tendency of the capitalist economy to involve all parts of the globe in world trade, all-encompassing economic ties, and economic interdependence is becoming extremely powerful, and finance capital has all the necessary means for implementing and putting into effect this tendency.

The network of railroads covers almost the whole globe; every day gigantic steamships ply the seas and oceans in all directions; subways, submarines, and airplanes, telegraph and telephone wires enfold the earth like a spider’s web, under water and in the air. Thousands and millions of people communicate over them every day and every minute; goods are moved; every news event is broadcast over the whole world within a few minutes; every inquiry or disturbance is at once echoed in the most distant lands. The thousands of economic ties stretching out in every direction are supplemented by those of a cultural character. Financial ties among banks, enterprises, and states; commercial deals; international syndicates and trusts; trade agreements, colonial policies—all establish the closest ties among the countries of the world, strengthen them, and make them more all-encompassing. The bears’ dens whose inhabitants never leave and never hear any news, whose interests do not extend beyond their village, district, or region, are steadily vanishing.

The multilateral international interdependence of individual institutions and of the whole economies of various countries; the international organization of banks, enterprises, and trade relations; the internationalization of learning, literature, languages, technology, arts, fashions, manners, and customs; the many-sided continuing, lively, political relations; the continual intermingling of people of different nations—in a word, the internationalization of all spheres of life by the gigantic productive forces of contemporary capitalist society, are indisputable facts.

But there is another side to this increasing interdependence of modern society and the increasing involvement of outlying areas in its economic life. Side by side with this internationalization of economic, social, political, and spiritual culture goes a nationalization, an intensification of national feeling in the masses, an awakening of their national consciousness. This leads to the consolidation of nations, revives backward and seemingly lost nations, leads them from a state of helplessness and ignorance to one of national consciousness, and impels them to create their own literatures.

And this is entirely understandable. The development and spread of capitalist production among backward peoples draws them out of their patriarchal and feudal conditions of life, by destroying their old methods of production and introducing them to new goods, new ideas, new customs and needs promotes their advance, and by compelling them to seek work in factories and in cities, on railways, leads them into the new culture. Regardless of how simple it is, factory or railroad work demands greater intelligence than work in a village. All this impels them to study, faces them with the necessity of learning how to read and write in order not to get lost, so as to better their position. Before them are spread the wonders and riches of modern capitalist culture. If they are not adopted by the people, they will crush them. But this culture can be adopted only when presented in a suitable form, in a language the people understand. Although some are able to learn one or more foreign languages, and thus acquire an alien culture, the whole nation cannot do this. The people cannot spend so much time in study: one must work, keep house, earn a crust of bread. Someone, therefore, must undertake to acquaint them with the results of scientific investigations and artistic achievements in a suitable form—that is, in their native language. Their children must be schooled in their native language, and this means a need for teachers. They need officials (whether elected or not is unimportant here) who know and use the native language.

In thus awakening the national masses of the most oppressed, crushed, and undeveloped nations, capitalism creates the need for conscious and educated men—the intelligentsia.

The intelligentsia is generated out of the people, although the birth process differs from one nation to the other. Different classes have participated in different ways in contributing to the intelligentsia: bureaucrats, teachers, parliamentarians, party leaders, lawyers, engineers, writers, technicians, speakers, and scholars. We know that every social class has its own intelligentsia. But irrespective of these different class origins and views, the intelligentsia of all classes have common features which justify our viewing them as a separate social group. The principal feature or characteristic of the intelligentsia as a social group is its role in satisfying the spiritual needs of society or of some special social group or class. To perform this task properly the intellectual needs an appropriate means of production. The intellectual’s means of production is the word—his language. In addition, every group of the intelligentsia needs its own special means of production: the physician, medicine and medical instruments; the writer, paper and pen; the scholar, office or laboratory. But the primary and essential means of production of each of them is language—the printed or spoken word, literature, knowledge.

These productive forces affect the intellectual in many ways. On this base is erected the superstructure of the intelligentsia with all of its features good and bad: altruism and the sincere love of one’s own people and of all humanity, disdain for the material side of life, a broad outlook: but also the desire to become a bureaucracy, to live more gaily and spaciously, narrowmindedness, petty-bourgeois attitudes, and timidity.

The intelligentsia is an indispensable product and agent of bourgeois society. In a communist society it may be possible to abolish the intelligentsia as a separate group by transforming all classes into intelligentsia. But until this happens, no class or group can dispense with the intelligentsia. Nor can any nation do without its national intelligentsia.

A nation is interested in having its own intelligentsia to care for its spiritual needs, but on the other hand, the intelligentsia is concerned that the nation be great, strong, and educated because these factors determine the demands for the books of its teachers, officials, authors, and doctors. The capitalist mode of production enforces an increasingly extensive division of labor, the improvement and perfecting of instruments, machinery, and so on. It also leads to an improvement in the means of production of the intelligentsia—his language—because on this depends his ability to express the subtlest variations of thought, feelings, impressions, and so on, and even the further development of the nation. Furthermore, pedagogy holds that the education of the child and his further development as a human being are promoted more effectively by teaching in the native language. This is true generally for all members of a given nation, but it has additional importance for the child who will become an intellectual, for in this way he will learn the language better and use it in all its strength, beauty, and richness—thus with more success. With the exception of a few particularly talented persons, only one who has used a language from early childhood will gain a deep knowledge of it. In modern education it appears that, as a rule, only the native language can be used accurately.

“To master the accomplishments of international culture the intellectual should learn foreign languages, but if he is to make a contribution to culture, this must be done primarily in his native tongue. His initial audience are the members of his own nation. That intellectual is fortunate who is a member of a great nation, and especially of a nation whose language has become a world language. In such a case he speaks to the whole world. On the other hand, the intellectual from a minor nation which is, furthermore, poor and backward, can of course acquire a profound knowledge of international culture by learning foreign languages, but his own contribution to this culture will often fail to reach a public even though his works show extraordinary genius. He is forced to use a foreign language in which his thoughts are less well expressed.

“For this reason no one so ardently desires to see his nation achieve greatness as an intellectual from a minor nation.

“It is precisely those well-educated people who have mastered foreign languages, are most influenced by international culture, and are most concerned with the purity of their own language, who worry about expanding the area in which it is used and about reducing the number of people who read only foreign authors. In short, the most internationalized elements of the nation at the same time appear to be the most nationalistic.”

But we should warn the reader against an error which is often set forth as absolute truth. This is the view that the nation is the invention of the intelligentsia. We must warn the more strongly against this error in view of the currently widespread fashion of scolding the intelligentsia. The intelligentsia indeed deserve this rebuke, but it is not necessary to throw out the baby with the bath water. The intelligentsia may be punished, may be brought to its knees, but the nation cannot dispense with it without doing harm to itself. This is the more true in view of the fact that the sharpest rebukes also come from the intelligentsia.

The intelligentsia’s role in modern society in general, and in national movements in particular, can be explained by analogy with the role of machinery in contemporary capitalist production. The analogy extends to cover the mode of coping with the shortcomings of both intelligentsia and machines.

There can be no doubt that the existence of machines has placed another weapon in the hands of the capitalists for use against the proletariat and against the broad masses of toilers; that machines have given rise to an unprecedented exploitation of the workers; and that they have, by accelerating production, helped the capitalists to gain domination over millions of toilers, thus leading to expropriation, proletarization, and hardship. But there can also be no doubt that the movement against the use of machinery in production which arose in England in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, at the dawn of the modern capitalist era, hurt the workers and not the capitalists. Not only did it fail to help in the struggle with hardship and misery, it even worsened the position of the workers. One should not oppose the machines, but rather their capitalist exploitation at the expense of the toiling masses. One should not abolish the intelligentsia but rather use it in one’s own interests, thus to free all from slavery, transform everyone into intelligentsia, and abolish the abyss between mental and physical labor.

The intelligentsia’s role in a national movement is analogous to the role of the machine in capitalist production. It is not because of the machinery that capitalism exists, develops, and expands; on the contrary, machinery exists because of the existence, development, and expansion of capitalism. National movements do not come into existence and wax strong and active because of the national intelligentsia; on the contrary, the national intelligentsia comes into being because national movements exist and become strong and active.

Capitalism uproots millions of people of different nations, moves them from place to place, mixes them all together, pounds them in the mortar of capitalist production, cooks them in the boiler of the factory, grinds them in the mill of combined enterprises, melts them down in the ovens of “metallurgical colossi,” and shapes them into a new type of iron, cast iron, and steel. Thus nations are born and develop, and national movements appear over and over again, grow stronger, and demand autonomy and independence. This is not reasonable; the productive forces of certain shopkeepers, philistines, and financial titans grow angry at it—but what can you do, history is so foolish, it did not study at the Katerynoslav seminary.

The observation and study of national movements, of the awakening and development of nations, show that the existence of a peasantry is of prime importance for the preservation and formation of a nation. Capitalism, with its capacity for cracking the concrete and iron Chinese walls of particularism and provincialism, even affects the peasant masses when conditions are suitable: a territory, large or small, inhabited by more or less the same nationality. Capitalism wakens these masses, forces them to leave their villages and districts, makes them aware of problems beyond what can be seen from the village belfry. The peasants who migrate to the cities become workers or intellectuals. Although at the beginning of the process isolated workers and intellectuals are quickly assimilated, acquire the veneer of the new culture, and are ashamed of their peasant language and peasant origin—as the process continues, and as they learn more about the new and higher culture, they come to understand the deep abyss which exists between the more cultured and educated and their own browbeaten and illiterate village people. Then they return to their own villages and begin to work with enthusiasm at awakening the peasants’ consciousness, at raising them to the higher cultural level.

“The prestige of the nation to which they belong is not a matter of indifference to the elements in the framework of capitalist production—and least of all to the existing classes and to the wage-worker” The history of the past century presents much glaring evidence that workers do borrow these and other national slogans.

But, although the wage worker can learn a foreign language quickly and become assimilated (this applies likewise to the capitalist, the landowner, and the intellectual) , the peasant has no such opportunity. He lives in a village where foreigners do not penetrate, or at the most pass through for brief visits. He himself rarely visits a foreign city, and, if he does, for such a short period that it is pointless to talk of his acquiring a foreign language.

Thus the peasantry, as the base, and the intelligentsia as the ideologues, the superstructure, have (in recent decades, at least) been the principal agents of any national movement. This contrasts with the beginning of the capitalist era, the period of its struggle with feudalism, when the national liberation movement was headed by the urban bourgeoisie and intelligentsia. To be sure, even today, the bourgeoisie takes quite an active part in the national struggle, as does the proletariat. None of the attempts yet made to remove the proletariat from the national movement, to place them outside or above it, has yielded definite results. Each class or group of course interprets the movement in its own way, but all participate in it.

National movements, in the modern acceptance of the term, appeared at the same time as capitalism itself. And they have appeared not because they were invented by one or another exploiting class of capitalist society for the interest or profit of that class (this feature is very important for national and other movements) , but because capitalism has involved the most closely knit and diverse groups of people in world trade and in a common economic—meaning a common spiritual—life. National movements are more closely associated with the progressive aspect of world capitalism than with its destructive tendencies, its exploitation and degradation of the national masses. This latter fact has a considerable impact on the development of national movements, but the movements, and their depth and pervasiveness among all classes of contemporary society, cannot be explained by this fact alone. No class, including the proletariat, fails to participate in national movements or to advance nationalist demands. Of course, this does not mean that all classes advance the same demands with the same force and enthusiasm. At different times and in different places various classes have espoused various national demands with varying force and obstinacy.

The two eras of national movements must be distinguished from the general historical point of view. The dividing line between these eras was the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 which brought about the national unification of Germany. “There is, on the one hand, the period of the collapse of feudalism and absolutism, of the formation of the bourgeois-democratic society and state, when the national movements first became mass movements and through the press and through participation in representative institutions involved all classes of the population in political life. On the other is the period of fully formed capitalist states with long-established constitutional regimes and a highly developed antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie—a period which may be called the eve of capitalism’s downfall.

“The typical features of the first period are: the awakening of national movements and the involvement in them of the peasants, the most numerous and most sluggish sector of the population, through the struggle for political liberty generally, and for the rights of the nation in particular. The typical features of the second period are: the absence of bourgeois-democratic mass movements and the prominent position of the antagonism between the internationally united capital and the international working-class movement, this being due to the fact that developed capitalism brings closer together the nations that have already been involved in commercial intercourse and causes them to intermingle in an increasing degree.”

Lenin continues in the same vein: “Of course the two periods are not partitioned off from one another; there are numerous transitional links, as countries differ from one another in the rapidity of development of their national movement, in the national composition and distribution of their populations, and so on.”** In another place he gives the following classification of countries “with respect to the degree of their self-determination”:

  1. The advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe and the United States. Here the progressive bourgeois national movements have long since come to an end. Each of these “great” nations oppresses others in the colonies and at home.
  2. Eastern Europe: Austria, the Balkans, and especially Russia. Here bourgeois-democratic national movements have developed, and the struggle has intensified, particularly in the twentieth century.
  3. The semi-colonial countries, such as China, Persia, Turkey, and the colonies, with a combined population of one billion (moo million) . Here the bourgeois-democratic movements have either hardly begun or else have a long way to go.

The above description of the two periods in the history of national movements is evidently applicable only to countries of the first type, but even with respect to them, some limitations must be introduced. England falls in the second group of states with respect to the Irish question. And Norway’s separation from Sweden occurred in 1905, that is, only in the second period.

Again, the description of the second period as characterized by the “absence of mass democratic movements” can be regarded as accurate only within distinct limits. Of course there are no democratic mass movements where bourgeois-democratic movements have ended, where nationally homogeneous capitalist states have been formed, and where a constitutional order has been established—this is only a tautology. But where this has not occurred we see an altogether different phenomenon. We can call it an exception, if that is convenient, but an exception that violates the very rule.

The most characteristic point of difference between the two periods relates to the question: “Who heads the mass democratic movements?”

Formerly it was the bourgeoisie; now it is the proletariat. This is agreed in any discussion of democratic movements generally. But when it comes to that sub-variety of democratic movements which is the national-democratic or national-liberation movement, the objection is at once raised in international phrases that the working class, the proletariat, is an international class concerned with international problems, that it is indifferent to the national question, that the proletariat should pay no attention to national matters, and that nationalism is an invention of the bourgeoisie to deceive the proletariat. These accusations are all absolutely correct when used properly, but harmful if used to attack the essence of the national liberation question. For the gist of every national liberation question lies precisely in the fact that each nationality strives for the formation of its own independent sovereign state. Now what is, and should be, the attitude of the proletariat toward this aspiration to form a national state?

Historical experience shows that the proletariat participates directly in the national liberation movement and cannot stay away from it. It cannot be set aside, placed above the national movement, or in any other neutral position. And regardless of how many international phrases are used, the national question cannot be ignored. The task of the proletariat is not to ignore it, but to solve it. International social democracy has also proclaimed the “right of nations to self-determination,” that is, to the formation of sovereign, independent national states, as a way of solving the national question.

International social democracy set itself the task formerly performed by the bourgeoisie—when it was revolutionary, when it was destroying absolutism and feudalism.

“Social democracy inherited from bourgeois democracy the striving for a national state. Of course we are not bourgeois democrats, but we resemble them in viewing democracy as more than a trifle, as something superfluous and unnecessary. As the lowest class in the state, the proletariat can only assert its rights through democracy. But we do not share the illusion of bourgeois democracy that the proletariat will gain full rights when it does achieve democracy. Democracy is only the basis for the acquisition of its rights. The liberation struggle of the proletariat does not end with democracy but merely takes on a different form.

“Democracy is a vital necessity, not for the bourgeoisie, but precisely for the proletariat. The bourgeoisie has now renounced its former democratic ideals and, at the same time, the idea of a national state. Its present concept of the ideal state goes beyond the boundaries of the national state. It throws these survivals of liberalism into the warehouse of historical curiosities. But we have no reason to do this. We should not take the materialist interpretation of history to mean that the proletariat had to adopt the general tendencies of bourgeois development just because they are determined by economic relations. The proletariat has its own tendencies of development, which are no less economically determined, and it should follow them without worrying about whether or not they contradict bourgeois tendencies.”

Thus we see that national movements admit of only one solution —full democracy. And full democracy means the organization of sovereign and independent national states. This was true for the era of the destruction of feudalism and absolutism and the birth of bourgeois-democratic states. And it is also true for our own era, the era of imperialist capitalism, the eve of the birth of socialism. The same will be true for socialism. We see the past and the present, and we see what will be in the future. And in saying what things will be like under socialism we base ourselves not on what has already been accomplished but on that “tendency in the development of the proletariat” mentioned by Kautsky.

This is what Comrade N. Lenin states:

“Victorious socialism must necessarily establish full democracy and, consequently, not only introduce the complete equality of nations but also implement the right of oppressed nations to selfdetermination, i.e., their right to free political separation. Any socialist party whose activity now, during the revolution, and after victory does not make clear that it will liberate the enslaved nations and establish relations with them on the basis of a free union —and free union is a false phrase if it does not include the right to secession—would be betraying socialism.”

“Marx wrote in his Critique of the Gotha Programme: ‘Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of one into the other. In this period of political transition the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.’

“Hitherto this truth has been indisputable for socialists, and it includes recognition of the fact that the state will exist until victorious socialism develops into full communism. Engels’ dictum about the withering away of the state is well known.

“And since we are discussing the state, this means that we are also discussing its boundaries. In his article, ‘The Po and the Rhine,’ Engels writes, among other things, that during the course of historic a I development, which swallowed up a number of small and non-viable nations, the ‘boundaries of the great and viable European nations’ were increasingly determined by the ‘language and sympathies’ of the population. Engels calls these boundaries ‘natural.’

“Today, these democratically determined boundaries are being increasingly broken down by reactionary, imperialist capitalism. There is every indication that imperialism will bequeath its successor, socialism, a heritage of less democratic boundaries, a number of annexations in Europe and other parts of the world. It is to be supposed that victorious socialism, which will restore and implement full democracy all along the line, will refrain from demarcating state boundaries democratically and ignore the ‘sympathies’ of the population?”

In this we see how deeply and strongly the national liberation movements are linked to the progressive side of the world development of capitalism. Of course, the national liberation movement is not an exception among democratic movements and has other aspects which should not be forgotten. Of course it can be exploited by the bourgeoisie. It should be clear enough that we are speaking here of a “tendency which is to be followed, not blindly, but in full awareness.”

The Ukrainian movement does not appear to be a unique phenomenon in history, but it has assumed such vivid forms and developed in such a distinct and classical manner that it is very important for understanding the character, essence, and laws of development of national liberation movements in general. This study is, and will be, of not only theoretical interest. “Today, these democratically determined boundaries are being increasingly broken down by reactionary, imperialist capitalism [of the great and viable European ions whose boundaries were earlier being increasingly determined by the language and sympathies of the population—V. Sh.-R.]. There is every indication that imperialism will bequeath its successor, so( ialism, a heritage of less democratic boundaries, a number of annexaions in Europe and other parts of the world.”

The Ukrainian movement, along with others, will supply much material for working out the principles and tactics of the proletariat. While the proletariat’s attitude toward national movements has been, sip until recently, more negative, when it has to act as the “dominant class of the nation” it will be forced to adopt a positive policy. The Ukrainian nation inhabits an uninterrupted area from the Carpathians in the west almost to the river Don in the east, and from the Black Sea in the south to the line of the Prypiat in the north. The area of this territory is nearly 850,000 square kilometers.t Even if this figure is considered exaggerated, it will be clear that territorially the Ukraine does not fall among the smaller countries. Here are the areas of some of the larger states of the world without their colonies:


Territory Population
State Year (thousands of Sq.   K) (millions)
United States of America 1897 7,872 63
Turkey 1897 1,631 22.8
Austria-Hungary 1890 602 42.9
Germany 1895 476 52.3
France 1896 465 38.5
Spain 1887 450 17.6
England (including Ireland) 1891 275 38.1


And there are other states with territories of less than 400,000 square kilometers. So even if the Ukraine’s area were reduced by half, that is, if we took only the eight provinces (gubernias) of the former Russian Ukraine (Poltava, Kyiv [Kiev], Kharkiv [Kharkov], Katerynoslav [Ekaterinoslav], Chernyhiv [Chernigov], Volyn, Podillia [Podolia], Kherson) in which the Ukrainians comprise an absolute majority of the population, it would still be territorially comparable to France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Spain, and greater than any other European state except Russia.

We cannot say precisely how many people inhabit this territory, but an estimate of 35 million cannot be an exaggeration. Thus even with respect to population the Ukraine occupies approximately the same place among European states. The number is equally valid as an expression of the population of the territory where Ukrainians form an absolute or a preponderant majority or as an expression of the total Ukrainian population, including those living outside this territory.

For a better understanding of the character of the Ukrainian national movement, its class essence and its various forms, it will suffice to give information on the above eight provinces alone. They differ in no way from the rest of the territory, and their characteristics may thus be considered typical.

Of the 22 million persons inhabiting these provinces in 1897, 16.4 millions or 74.6 percent were Ukrainians, 2.4 millions or 10.7 per cent were Russians, 1.9 millions or 8.5 percent were Jews, 0.4 million or 1.9 percent were Germans, and 0.4 million or 1.9 percent were Poles.

Of the Ukrainians 90 percent are peasants, and the cities are inhabited predominantly by non-Ukrainians. The following are a few characteristic figures:


Percentage of Ukrainians in the Population
District Including the cities Without the cities
Poltava 88.7 98.7
Kremenchuh (Kremenchug) 80.8 98.2
Chernyhiv (Chernigov) 86.1 97.4
Kamianets Podilskyi (Kamenets Podolskii) 78.9 87.0
Kharkiv (Kharkov) 54.9 88.8
Kyiv (Kiev) 56.2 84.0
Katerynoslav (Ekaterinoslav) 55.7 74.1


For this reason one significant characteristic of the Ukrainian movement has been the opposition between the Ukrainian village and the non-Ukrainian city.

Furthermore, social contradictions have been clothed in national colors. Manufacturers, merchants, and landowners were usually either Russians, Poles, Jews, Germans, or Ukrainians of the Skoropadski type. The Ukrainian noble strata had been russified or polonized during the preceding two and one-half centuries. Only during the revolution, when the strength of the national movement became clear to everyone, did some landowners begin to recall their Ukrainian ancestry. All of the grand bourgeoisie—landowners, merchants, entrepreneurs, and bankers—had close ties with Russia because of profitable business interests. Separation of the Ukraine brought them only clear loss. And when the landowners and capitalists now do everything possible to regenerate the one and indivisible Russia, they show a much better understanding of their own interests than Comrade Kulyk imagines.

It could, of course, be maintained that the aristocratic intelligentsia has played a prominent role, especially in the early stages of the new Ukrainian movement in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Thus one could “write history” as follows: I. Kotliarevskii’s Aeneid “gave birth” to the Ukrainian national movement. And Kotliarevskii was (1) of the intelligentsia, (2) a bureaucrat and high official of the Poltava governor-general, and (3) concerned with the problems of landowners (he was an official for special assignments of the governor-general who was himself a landowner). Ergo, as early as the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century the landowners and intelligentsia foresaw the 1917 revolution, and the fear of this proletarian revolution forced them to seek shelter. Their prognostications came true, and we see them first seeking refuge with the Central Rada and then dispersing it and setting up Skoropadski! But this made the productive forces angry, and Shevchenko was made a soldier while Minister Valuev3 (who was clever, even though a landowner!) said: There were no Ukrainians, there are none now and there will be none in the future!

No, the Ukrainian movement depended mainly on the village and was led by an intelligentsia in constant communication with the village. The Ukrainian workers also played an important role in awakening and activating the national consciousness of the peasants and maintained contact with the village. The Ukrainian worker felt the national oppression on his own neck.

The central figure of Ukrainian literature and of the intelligentsia is Taras Shevchenko, son of a peasant serf. Throughout the century Ukrainian literature and art bore a primarily rustic character. It depicted peasant life, took its heroes from the village, and was imbued with a deep and sincere love of the illiterate, browbeaten, and helpless village population. Not from the national character but through a consideration of the Ukrainian people’s exceedingly difficult and abnormal living conditions can one understand the idealistic enthusiasm which runs like a red thread through the history of Ukrainian literature and social thought and of the Ukrainian intelligentsia. The role and character of the intelligentsia in the Ukrainian national liberation movement is better understood if compared with that of the Russian intelligentsia in the general history of the revolutionary destruction of serfdom and despotism. Not in vain did they live together under the roof of the tsarist autocracy!

It was hard work! The enslaved village was silent, only occasionally sending out its sons to anounce that

The species has not perished, The country is still alive.

But conditions changed at the beginning of this century. The capitalism which invaded the Ukraine with a clattering and whistling of locomotives and a wailing of factory sirens also aroused the village. The Ukraine was lighted up by the glowing coal of the blast furnaces; the straw-thatched villages were set afire by the sparks from locomotives and factory chimneys. It is no accident that the rise of capitalist production in the Ukraine, the peasant insurrections in Poltava and Kharkiv (Kharkov) provinces, the divisions among Ukrainian groups along party lines, and the advent of an urban type of literature (particularly in the writings of the talented V. Vynnychenko) all occurred at the same time. “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” That very same 7o percent of coal, 99 percent of beams and channels, 79 percent of rails, and 68 percent of shaped iron with which the Katerynoslavians attempt to strangle and bury the Ukrainian movement were the base of this movement. Ukrainian independence rests precisely on this industry, and not on any higher feelings (“in them, for them”) of these or other “benefactors.” The same combined enterprises which the Katerynoslavians use to offer the Ukrainian people a combined unity will see to it that the Katerynoslavians are left with combined enterprises made up of their own fingers.

We know that revolution rejects all that is superficial and conventional and reveals the sources of deep springs and forces. A revolution is an examination. What do we learn from the revolutionary national liberation movement?

As early as May, 1918, we wrote (in a book which was never published) :

The national movement for the first time gives evidence of its own vigor and strength. Before the revolution the general attitude was that the Ukrainian movement was the invention of an eccentric “Little Russian” intelligentsia, was incompatible with the interests of a majority of the population, had no mass following, and was not supported by any wide circles of “Little Russian” citizens. The movement was considered as limited to so-called cultural demands: schools in Ukrainian, free use of both spoken and printed Ukrainian, etc. The desire for autonomy, for the organization of Ukrainians into a political unit, was viewed as “separatism,” “an Austrian orientation,” “supported by German marks” in order to arrive at the police deduction: “grab ’em and hold ’em.” Although formerly one might have thought that the Ukrainian movement could not pass beyond literary, cultural, and educational matters, since t he revolution only those who are hopelessly ignorant of its real relation to political life can call the Ukrainian movement a “bourgeois invention” or can advance such petty arguments as that the peasants understand Russian better than “Galician” and so on. These views would not be so annoying if held only by the common people, but it is regrettable that even those in high positions in our party7 advocate them even after the proclamation of the Ukrainian Republic.

Only the blind can fail to see that the movement has cm braced the broadest and deepest circles of Ukrainian citizens and has revealed their general desire to become not only a cultural, linguistic, and ethnographic group, but also a sovereign political nation. The initial demands for national territorial autonomy and then for republican status in a Federated Russia evoked a broad and immediate response.

All congresses—peasant, worker, military, party, professional, or educational, whether All-Ukrainian, regional, or district—have unanimously adopted this objective.

The power of this movement for rebirth of the nation in statehood has been so unexpected that even the leaders of t he movement can hardly give it suitable political expression. The movement has also been very influential in Galicia and has awakened the desire to do away with the border dividing the two parts of the Ukrainian nation.

It can be stated with certainty that the Ukraine will not agree to die, or to accept national captivity, regardless of what misfortunes may befall it. This should be kept in mind by every party working in the Ukraine.

The will to organize the Ukraine as a state-political unit within ethnographic boundaries is an incontrovertible fact.

What “ideological” elements enter into the Ukrainian movement?

First, the language. One’s native language, one’s own word, evoke the deepest national feelings. Every Ukrainian has loved his native tongue. In it are historical memories, songs, literature, and also the social-national protest of a people using a “peasant” language against those speaking “noble” languages (Russian or Polish) . It contains a vision of equality with the “noble” nations. It contains the recognition of national unity: we are Ukrainians above everything else.

There were recollections of the historic past—the Cossack campaigns, the struggles with Poland and Muscovy—whose strength was a source of delight. Others—the Petrograd erected on Cossack bones—awoke bitter feelings about a greater culture and enlightenment in the past.

There was protest against socioeconomic and national-political oppression by the Russians, Poles, Rumanians, and Hungarians who were the large landowners, merchants, manufacturers, and officials.

There was protest against the city which leads a luxurious life on the power and money it derives from the village and gives hardly anything in return.

Among Ukrainians there was a desire to organize their own land fund, to increase production, to raise their culture to a higher level.

There was protest against the centralism and imperialism which returned to the Ukraine only half of the taxes which it paid.

There was the desire to exercise one’s own will and power in one’s own house.”

Ukrainians felt that they represented the only democracy in the Ukraine—in contrast to the other nationalities which they viewed as autocratic.

“We have no bourgeoisie, only democracy.”

“We have only socialist parties!”

In the detailed memorandum sent to the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Council of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies we read:

“The ruling circles of the Ukraine are not Ukrainian. Industry is in the hands of the Russian, Jewish, and French bourgeoisie, and the capitalist traders, together with a large proportion of the agrarian bourgeoisie are Poles and Ukrainians who have long since called themselves ‘Russians’ [italics ours]. Similarly, administrative posts are all in the hands of non-Ukrainians.

“But the exploited strata—the peasantry, a majority of the urban proletariat, the artisans, and petty officials—are Ukrainians. Hence, at the present time there is no Ukrainian bourgeoisie [italics in the memorandum] which considers itself Ukrainian. Although the class interests of some individuals and small groups are identical with those of the economically dominant classes, no bourgeois class, we repeat, exists.

“This is why no Ukrainian party has yet failed to include the idea of socialism in its platform.”

What forms did this movement take? How did it make itself noticed?

Through gigantic rallies, mainly of soldiers, in places such as Kiev and Petrograd where there were many Ukrainians; through thousands of peasant congresses, military congresses, and workers’ educational, cultural, and party congresses; through meetings in villages, cities, railroad yards, and factories.

And at times of particular tension it took the form of near-insurrections. There were three such occasions: in the early days of June when Defense Minister Kerenski forbade the convocation of the Second Military Congress, and it assembled in spite of him (the upshot of this “peaceful” insurrection was the proclamation of the First Universal and the declaration of autonomy) —then during the October revolution when the Third Military Congress carried with it the vacillating Central Rada (resulting in the Third Universal and the proclamation of the Republic) —and finally there was the insurrection against the “Bolshevik Russian” government and the Fourth Universal proclaiming independence and appealing to the “German people” (in reality, to Kaiser Wilhelm, Hindenburg, and Hertling) for help against the “Russians” and “Bolsheviks” …

We have not even mentioned the newspapers, proclamations, announcements, and so forth.

But after all this has happened some people still call it an “invention”—a “bourgeois invention” perhaps, but an “invention” nonetheless!

In the same way the Cadet Rech, and even the left-wing Zimmerwaldists in Berner Tagwacht, called the Irish insurrection a “Putsch.”

Here is what N. Lenin wrote about this “Putsch,” this “invention”:

“The term ‘putsch’ [and `invention], in its scientific sense, may be employed only when the attempted insurrection is exposed as nothing but a circle of conspirators or stupid maniacs who have aroused no sympathy among the masses. The centuries-old Irish movement, after passing through various stages and combinations of class interest, manifested itself, in particular, in a massive Irish National Congress in America (Vorwaerts, March 20, 1916) which called for Irish independence; it also took the form of street fighting by a section of the urban petty bourgeoisie and a section of the workers after a long period of mass agitation, demonstrations, suppression of newspapers, etc. Whoever calls such a rebellion a `putsch’ [or an `invention] is either a hardened reactionary or a doctrinaire, hopelessly incapable of envisaging a social revolution as a living phenomenon.”

The Ukrainian people as a nation, regardless of class, have expressed their will with respect to self-determination and their political status.

In tens and hundreds of resolutions at meetings, at congresses of various kinds, large and small, in the party and the public press, in demonstrations on an imposing scale, in armed clashes—the desire has everywhere been expressed to:

  1. Organize themselves as a state-political nation.
  2. Unite the various Ukrainian lands and regions in which there is a Ukrainian majority, regardless of existing political boundaries, into a united Ukrainian Republic.
  3. Declare themselves for an independent republic not in theory but through personal experience and through the course of events.

This we wrote eight months ago.


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