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Part I
Chapter 13

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

Stalinist Rule in the Ukraine
by Hryhory Kostiuk

published in the U. S. A. by
Frederick A. Praeger, Inc.
New York

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Part I
Chapter 15

Part One
Stalinist Centralism and the Ukraine

 p62  Chapter XIV

The Suicide of Mykola Skrypnyk

Not until the preparatory moves described above had been made, could Postyshev consider his chief objective: the destruction of the leader of Ukrainian Communism — Skrypnyk.1 This was no easy matter. One can be sure that the Kremlin devoted a great deal of time to the planning of this campaign. Skrypnyk's popularity in the Ukraine was then at its peak. In any other but a totalitarian state it would have been almost impossible suddenly to undermine a man of such high reputation. In the Soviet Union, with complete control of the press and of all means of communication in the hands of the Party, this was possible.

The first salvo against Skrypnyk was fired by Manuilsky in the speech quoted earlier, which stripped the Ukrainian Communist leader of all honors and disclosed an alleged nationalist conspiracy among his subordinates. Much the same line was taken by Postyshev in his speech before the Plenum of the Central Committee of the CP(b)U on June 10, 1933.2 He spoke of several workers in the cultural field who, apparently, had been uncovered as agents of foreign intelligence and enemies of the state, desiring to sever the ties between Russia and the Ukraine. All these men, charged Postyshev, were "hiding behind the broad back of the Bolshevik Skrypnyk." The Ukrainian nationalists, claimed Postyshev, had developed a whole series of pernicious ideas and doctrines (in philosophy — Yurynets, in literature — Khvylovy, in economics — Volobuyev, in linguistics — Krymsky and Tymchenko, in agriculture — Slipansky, in political theory — Shumsky) which were aimed at the abolition of the Soviet government in the Ukraine and the restoration of the capitalist regime. Skrypnyk, who not only abetted but in some cases actually defended such ideas, was therefore directly responsible for these deviations and was guilty of "serious errors."

Skrypnyk's reply to Postyshev before the Plenum of the Central Committee was never printed. Perhaps that fact alone, that the morning papers carried only Postyshev's accusations against Skrypnyk, showed how helpless the latter was. However, enough has seeped though of Skrypnyk's reply to Postyshev to show that the Ukrainian leader was not repentant. On the contrary, he defiantly rejected Postyshev's charge and delivered a lengthy speech accusing Postyshev of  p63 betraying the principles of internationalism and Leninism.3 When these principles were faithfully adhered to, said Skrypnyk, the very same Ukrainian Communists who were now condemned, had been encouraged and regarded as indispensable. It was only because the most recent policy departed from these basic tenets of Communist doctrine that these people had come to be regarded as harmful.4

The impact of Skrypnyk's speech must have been great enough to make a unanimous decision by the Central Committee of the CP(b)U impossible. The Committee merely decided to ask Skrypnyk to submit a more detailed written exposition of his views to the Politburo of the CP(b)U. This he did, sensing that now the last battle between him and Postyshev was drawing near. We can only guess that in his stand before the Politburo Skrypnyk repeated his arguments, perhaps with greater force and determination. Yet his accusers refused to yield. They were determined to crush him, to force him to admit his mistakes, and thus to exonerate all their harsh measures. He was a stubborn old Bolshevik who would not play their game.

While the Politburo was deliberating over Skrypnyk (this lasted several weeks), Postyshev did his best to blacken Skrypnyk's name before the Ukrainian public. On June 14, before a Party meeting in Kharkov, Postyshev made a vitriolic attack on Skrypnyk in the latter's absence.5 At the same time Khvylya, on Postyshev's orders, condemned Skrypnyk's activity as the former Commissar of Education and branded as "nationalist" his system of Ukrainian orthography,6 which was replaced by a spelling system based on that of the "brotherly" Russian language.7 On July 5, 1933, Panas Lyubchenko devoted his entire speech before the Plenum of the Central Committee of the Komsomol to the "unmasking" of Skrypnyk, undermining his prestige among the young Communists.

Seeing that the net was drawn closely around him, Skrypnyk, it was rumored, sought an interview with Stalin, but all his attempts to achieve this were unsuccess­ful. It was obvious that as far as Stalin was concerned, the fate of his old opponent on the national problem8 was already sealed.

 p64  On July 7, 1933, Skrypnyk took the stand before the Politburo of the CP(b)U. He read out the main theses of his view on the national problem. These were rejected unanimously. The members of the Politburo reminded Skrypnyk that he was there not to lecture them but to admit his errors and to repent. He understood that what they wanted from him was unconditional surrender. Moreover, after his capitulation they would seek to use him as an example of the humiliated deviationist. Skrypnyk decided not to yield to these two demands. Realizing the hopelessness of his position and seeing that the herd-like Central Committee was now ready to tear its old leader to pieces in order to please the new one, he made his decision. He would rather die than betray his belief and give himself up than exhibited as a fallen Communist. He therefore told the Politburo that he needed more time to consider his final answer. This pleased his accusers who sensed the possible weakening of the defendant. When, at Skrypnyk's request, they adjourned the meeting until three o'clock in the afternoon, they felt that victory was within their grasp. For Postyshev, Skrypnyk's capitulation was of special importance; it would, as it were, legalize his regime and justify his use of terror. Without it, Postyshev's policy would appear to be blatant imperialism.

During the intermission, Skrypnyk went home to see his wife and son. Then he left for his office in the State Planning Commission. Locking himself in his room, he wrote a letter to the Central Committee of the CP(b)U, then took out the revolver which he had always carried since the days of the Civil War, and shot himself.

The news of Skrypnyk's suicide spread like lightning through the Ukrainian capital. The Central Committee and the Politburo were taken aback; they had not thought for one moment that Skrypnyk would choose this way out of his predicament. It was reported that, on hearing the news, Postyshev exclaimed, "Why ever did he do it?" Indeed, Skrypnyk had cheated him of an important victory.

On July 8, 1933, all the newspapers in the USSR carried an official obituary of Skrypnyk, issued by the Central Committee of the All‑Union CP(b). This is what Pravda wrote:

The CC All‑Union CP(b) announces the death of a member of the CC All‑Union CP(b), Comrade M. O. Skrypnyk, which was the result of suicide.

Regarding the act of suicide as an act of faintheartedness particularly unworthy of a member of the CC All‑Union CP(b), the Central Committee deems it necessary to inform members of the Party that Comrade Skrypnyk fell victim to the bourgeois-nationalist elements who, disguised as formal members of the Party, gained his confidence and exploited his name for their anti-Soviet, nationalist purposes. Having become entangled with them, Comrade Skrypnyk committed a series of political errors and upon realizing this he could not find the courage to overcome them in a Bolshevik manner and thus resorted to the act of suicide.

The Ukrainian Visti published, apart from the official obituary, a lengthy biography of Skrypnyk as well as condolences from the Central Executive Committee,  p65  the Council of People's Commissars and the Ukrainian branch of the All‑Union Association of Old Bolsheviks.

Skrypnyk's funeral was held on July 8, at 2 P.M. Attendance was strictly limited. Apart from his closest relatives, only representatives of the Central Executive Committee, the Trade Unions, and the writers' organizations were allowed to take part. The funeral cortege moved along Sumska Street, which was closed to pedestrians and all other traffic. At the same time, however, thousands of men and women were watching the procession from the windows and roofs of houses along that street. It was a spontaneous, silent manifestation of final respect paid by the Ukrainians to the man who had died defending their rights.9

The funeral orations were delivered by the chairman of the Ukrainian Central Executive Committee — Petrovsky, the Commissar of Education — Zatonsky, and the Commissar of Workers' and Peasants' Inspection — Sukhomlin.10 All three speakers reproached Skrypnyk for having fallen victim to the nationalist conspiracy. "The nationalists," threatened Zatonsky, "who caught him in their net, will pay for it very dearly." These words sound particularly ironic if one bears in mind the subsequent fate of Zatonsky and Petrovsky. They were destined to inherit Skrypnyk's legacy of "nationalist deviation," and to become victims of Stalin's future purges of the Ukrainian Communists.

The Author's Notes:

1 For biographical data see: "Moya avtobiohrafiya" (My Autobiography), in Skrypnyk, Statti i promovy (Articles and Speeches), Vol. I, Kharkov, 1930, pp5‑17; Entsiklopedichesky slovar russkogo bibliograficheskogo instituta Granat, 7th ed. First and second fascicles of Part III, Vol. 41, supplement: "Deyateli Soyuza Sovetskikh Sotsyalisticheskikh Respublik v Oktyabrskoi Revolutsii," pp47‑59; P. Fedenko "Mykola Skrypnyk," Ukrainsky zbirnyk, Munich, Institute for the Study of the USSR, No. 8, 1957, pp46‑68.

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2 Pravda, June 22, 1933.

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3 This account is based on the verbal report of Skrypnyk's speech, given to the author by Ivan Kulyk, a prominent Ukrainian Communist, member of the CC of the CP(b)U, who heard Skrypnyk's defense.

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4 Skrypnyk's charges were confirmed by Postyshev in the latter's speech printed in Pravda, June 22, 1933. Answering Skrypnyk, Postyshev claimed that "the point is not that the situation has now changed. As has been said, earlier these men were suitable and now that the situation has changed they have become harmful."

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5 Pravda, July 3, 1933.

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6 Cf. Khvylya, Vykorinyty, znyshchyty natsionalistychni korinnya na movnomu fronti (To Uproot and Destroy the National Roots on the Linguistic Front), Kharkov, 1933.

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7 Cf. Yu. Sherekh, "Pryntsypy i etapy . . ."; also R. Smal-Stocki, Ukrainska mova v sovyetskii Ukraini, Warsaw, 1936; Vasyl Chaplenko, Bilshovytska movna polityka (The Bolshevik Linguistic Policy), Doslidy i materialy, Munich, Institute for the Study of the USSR, Series II, No. 47, 1956, and, by the same author, "Shche pro natsionalno-movnu polityka bilshovykiv" (More about the National and Linguistic Policy of the Bolsheviks), Novi dni (New Days), Nos. 85‑90, 1957.

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8 Stalin and Skrypnyk clashed over the nationality problem in the discussion at the Twelfth Congress of the Russian CP(b), in 1923.

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9 The present author remembers very clearly how, immediately before the funeral, it was easy for anyone to enter the houses on Sumska and find a place at a window or on a balcony. All the doors were left open — a feeling of communal confidence and unity prevailed over everything else.

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10 Visti, July 9, 1933.

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Page updated: 27 Jan 23