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Without delegate status, the Ukrainians could not present either their “Memorandum” or their Resolution on the National and Colonial Question that the second UCP Congress had adopted before the Comintern had confirmed Lenin’s Thesis on the National and Colonial Question.28 The first document contained ideas later found in the Comintern’s 1920 manifesto and in “Third World” anti-colonial Marxism. Imperialism, it explained, both developed colonial economies and created nations, while simultaneously threatening the colonized with “the destruction of their national political life as well as their national culture.” Because it created a weak national bourgeoisie in backward countries like Ukraine, national liberation coincided with struggle against capitalism, and communists had to lead the national struggle to ensure it continued into a communist revolution. Inasmuch as colonized nations represented capitalism’s “weakest link,” national revolutions in colonized nations had to be exploited and taken beyond their “bourgeois democratic stage.” Without a preceding national liberation culminating in a national state led by an indigenous party (meaning one not based in the imperial metropole), no socialist revolution was possible. Each nation had to have its own socialist soviet republic, which would then closely ally with all others.
The problem in Ukraine was that its colonial legacy had left it with a large Russian urban worker-settler population isolated from and indifferent to Ukrainian interests. As a result, the RCP’s agents in Ukraine, the CPU leadership, imbued with “the imperialist legacy of old Russia,” ignored the national revolution. Instead of supporting and carrying this revolution through its “bourgeois” stage by creating an independent state, for three years CPU leaders had opposed that state, thereby fostering counter-revolution instead of socialism. Their internal party dictatorship, centralization, and reliance on Russian workers and bureaucrats had turned their Soviet Ukrainian republic into a “Russian [Rus.: russkuiu] occupation regime,” which alienated Ukrainians from socialism and their party, provoked a “bourgeois restoration,” and ignited a national war between Ukraine and Russia. Only the UCP, as an independent, indigenous party, could reverse these developments by establishing a soviet socialist republic independent of but allied to Soviet Russia:29
The task of the international proletariat [the communist party] is to draw towards the communist revolution and the construction of a new society not only the advanced capitalist countries, but also the less developed peoples of the colonies taking advantage of their national revolutions. To fulfill this task, it must take an active part in these revolutions and play the leading role in the perspective of the permanent revolution, preventing the national bourgeoisie from limiting them at the level of fulfilling demand of national liberation. It is necessary to continue the struggle through to the seizure of power and the installation of the dictatorship of the proletariat and, to lead the bourgeois democratic revolution to the end through the establishment of national states destined to join the universal network of the international union of emerging soviet republics, based on the forces of local proletarian and working masses of each country, with the mutual aid of all the detachments of world revolution.
The second document, the UCP Resolution, unlike the Comintern Thesis that focused on centralization and the Russian experience as model, linked revolution and liberation with decentralization. It condemned Russian Bolshevik principles as empty rhetoric. Written by Richytsky, it begins with the standard Leninist analysis of how the national bourgeoisie in colonies, who fight against their imperialist rivals for a share of the market, first use its own population but then turn the struggle for an independent national state against the native proletariat and working masses. For the latter, this meant that national independence without the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and a dictatorship of labor meant only a change in owners and imperial protectors. For the proletariat, freedom meant freedom from both their own and foreign bourgeoisie. The thesis then asserts that an independent state was the only means through which oppressed nations and colonies could attain their political, cultural, and economic liberation. Distinguishing between paternalistic-feudal and early-bourgeois societies, the thesis, echoing The Communist Manifesto, specifies that in the latter the proletariat can fight their own bourgeoisie if “it forms itself as a nation organized within the national framework of its country and solves its national question from the perspective of taking the bourgeois democratic revolution to completion and then struggling to establish its dictatorship.” The only way a former colony can be transformed into a soviet republic, equal in status to its former metropolitan center, is if it is independent. Each national proletariat has to free the productive forces of its own country from dependency on the “artificial industrial and financial centers of the former metropolis” and control its own economy.
The “October Revolution,” which took place in a “multinational colonial empire,” was the first to place this historical national program before the proletariat, but “the Russian proletariat failed to rise to the occasion.” Avoiding direct condemnation of Russian party leaders, Richytsky explained that it was the chauvinist and colonialist attitudes of the “Russian proletariat,” which Lenin supposedly foresaw, that had turned Ukraine’s class struggle into a nationalist war that only helped imperialist interventionists. “Soviet power in many former outlying regions (Ukraine, Turkestan, Belarus) was taken by colonialist, petite bourgeois, settler-peasant, bureaucrat, and Russian intellectual elements that exploited bolshevism for their own nationalist purposes.” Terminating these nationalist relationships meant destroying “single and indivisible” Russia, the psychological notion that it comprised a “center” with “regions,” and transforming what had been the empire into a union of independent, federated, united “Soviet Republics of the East.” For the Ukrainian proletariat, the national and colonial question involved terminating colonial ties with Russia and freeing its productive forces from dependency on the old center. The Ukrainian proletariat had to be raised to the level of a national class, and Ukraine demanded the termination of all bureaucratic ties to Moscow:30
The question of development of soviet statehood in forms appropriate to the national specificities of various nations, [including use of] their languages in administration was decided, formally, by the ruling Russian Communist Party in all the former outlying regions of Russia. However, because elements of the russifying petty bourgeoisie and intellectuals usurped soviet power thanks to the weakness and low level of class and cultural development of the proletariat and workers and, the separation of the workers aristocracy of the former non-state nations from the people because of russification, this issue is still far from resolved. The entire [governmental] apparatus of the Ukrainian RSR is filled with russifying elements, its language is Russian, it even strongly opposes using Ukrainian, assimilating even those few Ukrainian elements in it and thus, [the apparatus], bureaucratically isolated by its desks from the masses, is objectively becoming a tool of russification. That is why the call for Ukrainian as the state language is and long will be relevant, and it is the task of the Ukrainian Communist Party to advocate for it.31
In July 1920, without delegate status or a newspaper, a third UCP document, the Declaration to the Comintern, also remained unpublished and unknown. It stressed that Russian Bolshevik promises about language-use, autonomy, and soviet rather than Revkom [revolutionary committee – ed.] rule, had been made under duress. They had been forgotten as soon as convenient, and because of such policy “zigzags,” no one believed any declarations anymore. It stressed that Bolshevik promises about language-use and autonomy were meaningless. The only thing Ukrainians saw was the Red Army, an “organized foreign (Russian) military force” sweeping through their country “as if it were a foreign country.” The Russians who followed and dismissed everything Ukrainian as “counter-revolutionary,” fanned popular resistance and turned what should have been a class war into a national war against imperial restoration.32
Other Ukrainian ideas the Bolshevik leaders preferred foreign Congress delegates not hear were in a February 1920 letter to CPU leader Dmitry Manuilsky. Mazurenko explaining that communists had to temporarily exploit nationalism in the interests of revolution just as they used the state – otherwise their enemies would exploit it themselves. Mazurenko here anticipated an idea Lenin expressed five months later at the Second Comintern Conference:
For us, communists from colonies, the paths and means required on a given territory [to rebuild] are more visible and obvious than they are for those who worked and [continue to] work in the metropole. What is now happening in Russia will also happen in England, the Balkans, Asia and elsewhere; Ukraine, Ireland, India, Macedonia, and on and on. Revolution there will have the nature of national economic liberation and the national movement there will be a revolutionary factor, if the party of the revolutionary proletariat can take it in hand and use it as it should be used.
Decentralizing the old imperial structures was as necessary as establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat on each given territory of each given nationality that would control the economic life of each given nationality. As a temporary expedient, former imperial economies had to be decentralized and placed in the hands of national states controlled by the local proletariats. This would ensure that “capitalists” could not use those states against the “proletariat” and that nationalism would not be used to “divide the proletariat.” These national states could then begin to deal not only with chauvinist tendencies within the petite bourgeoisie but also with “that section of the proletariat that still suffers from it.”33
Richytsky and Mazurenko summarized their position in a letter to Lenin that July – to which there is no known reply.34 They wrote that local Bolshevik leaders and the leaders of Red Army units were treating Ukraine like a hostile territory and were following Russian policies that were totally inappropriate to Ukrainian conditions. Despite six months of stability, they were still relying on Revkoms rather than soviets. Local officials were labeling everything with “a more or less Ukrainian character” as counter-revolutionary. To repress the resulting hostility, they were using “Russian weapons “ and turning what was supposed to be a class war into a war between nations. In addition, local Bolsheviks had submitted to the “old inertia” that demanded the total subordination of Ukraine to the Muscovite center, and this had resulted in a policy to reconstruct the “single and indivisible [Russian empire].” For these reasons, the UCP opposed Russian communist policies and wanted “to make a Ukrainian revolution and Soviet power with Ukrainian internal forces considering its specific circumstances.” Mazurenko and Richytsky condemned the cynical nature of concessions extended to Ukraine and complained that local Russian chauvinist Bolsheviks, emboldened by the recent victory against Poland, were harassing and repressing UCP members.
When Soviet power is endangered or suffers setbacks, ‘ukrainophile’ politicking begins; that is, games with slogans about an independent Ukraine and suchlike; and they run to us for help in the political struggle against Petliura [the leader of the Ukrainian National Republic – ed.] because they feel themselves impotent. And when the front is pushed back, then, accordingly, the politics change for the worse, and this, in turn, adversely affects the front. These zigzag Ukrainian policies result in the masses no longer believing in any of the leaders’ statements and declarations. And one village party cell (in Osnova) characterized the work of the CPU with this classic statement: “our work among Ukrainians is the same as work among the Turks, Arabs, etc.”
Because the Russian chauvinist wing [russotiapske techenie] dominated the Bolshevik party, Ukrainian communists could not focus on the struggle against Ukrainian nationalism but had to divert their energies against Russian chauvinism. Mazurenko and Richytsky concluded with the hope that the leader would understand what local Bolsheviks seemed not to: that a “secret Great Russian chauvinist centralism is disorganizing and dividing revolutionary forces in Ukraine – and in all the colonial [sic] borderlands of the former empire.”
A final set of arguments Bolshevik leaders preferred kept out of Congress debates was in Vasyl Mazurenko’s book Ukraine’s Economic Independence in Numbers [Ekonomichna samostiinist Ukrainy v tsyfrakh] (Vienna, 1921). Here he argued that, from a socialist perspective, there was no economic rationale for the centralization Bolsheviks were imposing within their territories other than they led to power for Moscow, and dependency and exploitation for non-Russian republics. Written in 1920, it is unknown if Mazurenko had a draft version with him in Moscow, however, he and other leaders had already formulated the books’ basic arguments and ideas and had published related articles in their newspaper through 1919. This book statistically demonstrated that Ukraine needed manufactured imports from Russia because of decades of colonialist imperialist exploitation. Noting that Russian publications referred to Ukraine and Poland as “Western borderlands,” Mazurenko asked why the Foreign Ministry wrote books condemning England’s exploitation of India, while, simultaneously, the Trade and Economics Ministry wrote about “reuniting the manufacturing capacity of united Russia.” If Russian comrades used economic argument to justify Indian independence, then they should also use it to justify Ukrainian independence. “Russians who talked about “reuniting our borderlands” so as to “recreate the industry of united Russia,” were like those English who thought in terms of “our inseparable borderland India,” and that England would die without its colonies. Mazurenko explained that factories producing goods in Russia from raw materials imported from Ukraine constituted an economic system of a metropole and an exploited colony. Ukraine must have no more and no less independence than would a soviet Germany or Italy. He wrote that the Comintern had to be told to: “save communism from Muscovite imperialism!”
By keeping UCP leaders with such ideas away from the Congress podium, the sordid issue of Bolshevik policies in Ukraine – a renewed Russian imperialism painted red – remained out of the sight and minds of foreign delegates. Their absence gave credence to official claims and to sympathizers like Steffens and John Reed. Their absence cast doubt on detractors like Bertrand Russell who, one month after the Congress, concluded Bolshevik Russia was a nightmare.
Against this background, Russian government representatives and propagandists today find it easier than it otherwise might have been to utilize, as agents of their revanchist aggressive foreign policy, foreign leftists who are predisposed to think that in Ukraine such policy does not amount to imperialism redux, and who support that imperialism together with fascists and neo-Nazis – as happened in 1939-41. As such, in 2014 the Kremlin’s extreme right and radical left agents formed a pro-Russian anti-EU alliance in the European Parliament.
This article was edited by Grace Mahoney and Oleh Kotsyuba.