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Part I
Chapter 14

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 16

Part One
Stalinist Centralism and the Ukraine

 p66  Chapter XV

A New Phase of Soviet Nationality Policy:
The November Plenum of the CC CP(b)U

The General Situation

The November Plenum of the CC of the CP(b)U was held in an oppressive atmosphere. The Party itself was in the midst of a wholesale purge of "national deviationists" which, after Skrypnyk's death, became intensified. The country was still suffering from the effects of the widespread famine which, in the progress and summer of 1933, had swept millions of persons to their graves. It was fortunate that the harvest of that year was good; it held a promise of relief from food shortages.

The November Plenum, held only four months after the last Plenum of the Central Committee, had the task of laying down and clarifying the new nationality policy of Stalin and Postyshev. It was imperative that by the time the next Party Congress convened in January 1934, the voices of all Ukrainian Communists should sound in unison. The atmosphere of terror and purge had to be cleared, and the confidence of the rank-and‑file members of the Party had to be restored. The singleness of purpose and the unanimity so essential for the success­ful operation of the Soviet system had to be firmly established. Now that the chief opponents of Stalin's and Postyshev's policy in the Ukraine were either imprisoned or dead, the time was ripe for consolidation of the victory of the regime.

The Agenda of the Plenum

The chief problem before the Plenum was the national question. The very titles given to the speeches stressed that point. Kosior spoke on "The Results of and the Next Steps in the Application of the Nationality Policy in the Ukraine."1 Lyubchenko's speech was entitled "Fire on the Nationalist Counter-Revolution and National Deviationists,"2 while Postyshev's second address was on "The Soviet Ukraine — Indestructible Outpost of the Great USSR."3

Before these important pronouncements, Postyshev briefly reviewed the agricultural scene.4 It was full of brilliant "achievements." The harvest, he claimed, had been gathered with the help of the 10,000 experienced Bolsheviks sent to the  p67 villages to help the farmers, and the general picture was much brighter than the year before. This was chiefly due to the participation of cadres of experienced Bolsheviks, of workers from industrial areas, as well as of children, in harvesting the grain. Postyshev boasted that in 25 districts alone, over 550,000 children had been helping with the harvest. The independent farmer, Postyshev claimed, was losing ground, and over 80,000 farms had joined the kolkhozes in the previous ten months.

In the main, Kosior emphasised the culture and educational achievements of the Soviet Ukraine, as well as her industrial progress. The resolution adopted by the Plenum after Kosior's speech read:

On the basis of the Bolshevik industrialization and socialist transformation of agriculture, on the basis of the firm application of the general Party line and the waging of a ruthless struggle against opportunism and nationalism, it was possible to achieve the complete abolition of the former colonial position of the Ukraine and, interwoven with it, her cultural backwardness.

The resolution also stressed the growth of the Ukrainian proletariat and the strengthening of Soviet Ukrainian culture, which, it claimed, fortified the Soviet Ukrainian state.

How is one to interpret these claims? In one sense they were true. The cultural, scientific, and industrial achievements of the Ukraine were unquestionable. However, they were not at all the results of the new Party policy. They occurred in spite of it, not because of it, and neither Postyshev nor Kosior could lay claim to any credit for them.

The interesting question is why did they claim credit for them? How can we explain the tone of Ukrainian patriotism which pervaded the November Plenum? Why did Postyshev and his lieutenants speak so much about the great Soviet Ukrainian culture, about the Soviet Ukrainian state and her industrial might? There is only one possible answer. The ideas of a Soviet Ukrainian culture and state, fostered by Ukrainian Communists like Shumsky and Skrypnyk, Khvylovy and others, were so widely accepted by the public that it was impossible to uproot them. The murderers of Skrypnyk and Khvylovy decided, therefore, that their only chance of success was to hide themselves behind the ideas of the men they had destroyed and to masquerade as Ukrainian patriots. Otherwise their prestige among the Ukrainian workers and peasants might be undermined seriously. They had, therefore, assumed the role of defenders of Soviet Ukrainian independence. They did not hesitate to promote as their chief assistants Ukrainian Communists like Lyubchenko, Khvylya, Shlikhter, and Zatonsky in order to create the impression that their devastation of the Ukraine was for the sake of a brighter future and in the real interests of that country.

The CP(b)U and the Ukrainians Abroad

In order to reserve for themselves the right to be regarded as the sole protectors of Ukrainian independence and sovereignty, it was first necessary for Postyshev  p68 and his colleagues to repudiate and deny this right to anyone else. First of all they opened fire against the Ukrainian political parties abroad, especially those in the Western Ukraine, under Polish occupation. The aim was to show that the Ukrainian national forces which had emigrated after the fall of the Ukrainian People's Republic and which were continuing their activities abroad, as well as all other Ukrainian socialist, liberal or nationalist parties, could not claim to represent the Ukrainian people or to form a Ukrainian state. They were all, according to the Soviet version, agents and servants of foreign capitalist interventionists. A paragraph in the resolutions adopted by the November Plenum condemned the "interventionist campaign" conducted by all emigre and Western Ukrainian political parties.5

There is no doubt that the events of 1933 in Germany put the Soviet rulers on their guard. Hitler made no secret of his expansionist aims with regard to the Ukraine. "It must not be forgotten," said Kosior at the Plenum, "that the Ukraine occupies a forward position in the Soviet Union in relation to capitalist encirclement." Postyshev, too, stressed the "intense interest of international imperialism, especially that of Germany, in the Ukraine."6

A concerted effort was made by the principal speakers at the Plenum to establish the thesis that foreign imperialists and their servants, the Ukrainian nationalists, had succeeded in infiltrating the Soviet Ukraine. These enemies of the Soviet state, it was claimed, had penetrated the highest offices in the Soviet Ukrainian government and public life. "Nests of counter-revolutionary double-dealers," read the resolution, "were established in some People's Commissariats (Education, Agriculture, Justice), in institutions of learning (the All‑Ukrainian Institute of Marxism and Leninism, the All‑Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, the Shevchenko Institute, the Writers' Organization) and also in the district Party organs."7

Among the Ukrainian leaders abroad who were subjected to the severest attack were above all Andriy Livytskyi, the head of the Ukrainian People's Republic government in exile, as well as Volodymyr Vynnychenko, Mykyta Shapoval, Yevhen Konovalets, Isaak Mazepa, and Metropolitan Andriy Sheptytsky. A letter from Vynnychenko to the CC, CP(b)U, condemning terror in the Ukraine,8 was read in support of these allegations.

Kosior furnished the Plenum with a detailed analysis of the alleged activities of these counter-revolutionary organizations in the Soviet Ukraine.9 According to him the three main centers of subversion (apart from the SVU — the Union for the Liberation of the Ukraine) were: the Ukrainian National Center (UNTs:  p69 Hrushevsky; Chechel; Shrah; Khrystyuk; Kosak; Yavorsky), the Ukrainian Military Organization (UVO: Maksymovych; Shumsky; Bilenky; Solodub — directed from abroad by Konovalets), and the All‑Ukrainian Center of SR's. He further provided "evidence" of the dealings between the Ukrainian nationals (Sukhko and Yary) and the Nazis and revealed the plans which the latter had prepared for a German expansion into the Ukraine. "So you see, comrades," ended Kosior, "what kind of an 'independent Ukraine' this is — everything, from beginning to end has been sold and betrayed in advance to foreign capitalists."10

The "nationalist agents" in the CP(b)U who were arrested during Postyshev's regime (Shumsky, Maksymovych, Solodub, Yavorsky, Volokh, Yalovy, Richytsky, Avdienko, Sirko, Tur, and scores of others) were old Party members, representatives of three different trends of Ukrainian Communists — the Borotbists, the Ukapists, and the followers of Skrypnyk. A less numerous group of those who fell into disgrace were Communists from the Western Ukraine and the remnants of Hrushevsky's group of Social-Democrats. What Stalin and Postyshev were determined to destroy were the Soviet Ukrainian Communists of anti-Moscow orientation, not the mythical enemies from abroad. But the best way to discredit the Ukrainian Communists in the eyes of the public, and the best way to justify  p70 the use of terror against them, was to associate them with foreign interventionists and nationalists.

A Definition of Nationalist Deviation

The November Plenum also served the purpose of making Skrypnyk the chief villain of Ukrainian nationalism. While in June,11 and even shortly after his death, Skrypnyk12 was described as having "committed errors," in November he was branded as a "nationalist degenerate" and the leader of the "nationalist deviation . . . coming close to the counter-revolutionaries, working for the cause of intervention."13 The resolution of the Plenum stressed that "unless the entire CP(b)U realizes the nature of the nationalist deviation headed by Skrypnyk, it is impossible to carry out the true tasks of Bolshevik Ukrainization and the international education of the masses."14

The speakers at the Plenum linked Skrypnyk's activities with the earlier deviation of Shumsky which, it was argued, had never been completely stamped out and had been continued by Skrypnyk. The constant reiteration of these charges in various speeches was aimed at creating the impression that Skrypnyk, the chief culprit, was caught red‑handed as the master mind of nationalist counter-revolution.

What, then, was the complete synopsis of Skrypnyk's nationalist deviation provided by the November Plenum? It can be summarized in the following points:15

1) In his works and activities Skrypnyk betrayed Trotskyite, "Right-opportunist," and, above all, nationalist tendencies.

2) In works on Ukrainian history, Skrypnyk and his school idolized and glorified Ukrainian petty-bourgeois political parties, in particular those from the period of the Central Rada.

3) Skrypnyk advocated the separation of the Ukrainian language and culture from the Russian language and culture. In this and in his pro‑Western orientation, he followed close upon the nationalist deviation of Shumsky and Khvylovy, which he continued.

4) Skrypnyk did not reject but on the contrary was in favor of the Latinization of the Ukrainian alphabet (cf. the nationalists Pylypenko, Kasyanenko and others) and in this way he deepened the gulf between Ukrainian and Russian culture.

5) Skrypnyk and his followers (Rubach, Sukhyno-Khomenko, Hirchak, Ovcharov) were of the opinion that there was a period in the history of the Revolution  p71 when the CP(b)U had an incorrect attitude towards the national question in the Ukraine.

6) At the same time, they perverted the history of the CP(b)U, maintaining that the acceptance of the Borotbist and Ukapist platform by the CP(b)U was advisable.

7) Skrypnyk supported the forced Ukrainization of the non‑Ukrainian proletariat in the Ukraine and through this stirred up national hostility between the working classes in the Ukraine and in Russia.

8) Skrypnyk upheld the struggle against imperialist Russian nationalism and encouraged local forms of nationalism (Ukrainian and others).

9) He regarded the Constitution of the USSR as insufficient because it failed to satisfy the needs of the national republics, and he fought for its modification.

10) Skrypnyk fought against the creation of the USSR as a single centralized federal state, with one foreign policy.

11) Skrypnyk and his school regarded the national question not as auxiliary to the class struggle of the proletariat, but as an independent and decisive factor in the struggle for the liberation of oppressed nations.

12) He belittled Lenin's theoretical teaching on the national question, and completely ignored Stalin's contribution to it.

13) He accused the All‑Union CP(b) of inconsistency, diplomatic insincerity and of double book-keeping with regard to the national question.

14) Under Skrypnyk's auspices Ukrainian scholar­ship, literature, theater and art became permeated with nationalist theories which were aimed at the restoration of capitalism in the Ukraine.

15) Skrypnyk headed the national conspiracy within the CP(b)U.

After such an analysis of Ukrainian nationalist deviation, proclaimed a "major threat to the Soviet state," the rulers of the Ukraine could unfold their own version of the theory of the "multi-national Soviet Union."

The Significance of the New Course in the Nationality Policy in the Ukraine

The November Plenum declared in its resolutions that "at the present time local Ukrainian nationalism represents the chief danger in the Ukraine."

This meant a most radical change in the Soviet nationality policy which, until then, had stressed imperialist Russian nationalism as the major threat to the Soviet state. The latter position, formulated by Lenin, was officially adopted by the All‑Union CP(b) at the Twelfth and Sixteenth Party Congresses.16 It was dictated  p72 by historical developments in the non‑Russian countries of the former Empire after the Revolution. These countries lived through a brief period of independence and their incorporation into the Soviet state could be achieved only after they were assured of the "right to self-determination." This concession to the non‑Russian nationalities was granted not so much on principle as by necessity. Yet it was of the greatest practical importance for the political and cultural development of the non‑Russian nationalities within the USSR, who tried to give this theoretical right some practical content. At no time prior to 1933 did the All‑Union CP(b) dare to alter this tenet of the nationality policy, continuing, at least formally, to recognize the position adopted at the Twelfth Party Congress in 1923 ("all talk about the superiority of the Russian culture is nothing but an attempt to strengthen the domination of the Russian nationality")17 as the correct one.

In the Ukraine, the CP(b)U declared that the chief obstacle to the solution of the national problem and the abolition of national inequality is the survival of Russian chauvinism, which has deep roots in the past.18 Local nationalism was generally considered merely a reaction to Russian chauvinism.19

The new centralist course, set by Stalin, called for a change in the Bolshevik theory of the national question. It was Postyshev's task during the November Plenum to announce the reversal of the traditional Party point of view in the Ukraine. His statement must be regarded, therefore, as marking a turning point in the Soviet theory of the national question. It heralded a new wave of terror against "Ukrainian nationalism," which Postyshev so luridly painted in all its manifestations as the chief threat to the Soviet state.

That the new course in the nationality policy in the Ukraine was immediately interpreted as legalization of Russification may be seen from Popov's speech at the Plenum. In it he complained that the decision of the CP(b)U to publish two more newspapers in Russian20 was taken in some quarters as a signal for an anti-Ukrainian course. Many other papers started publishing in Russian, and some papers in the Donets Basin became bilingual. This, of course, the Party could not officially approve. Popov, therefore, went on to declare that

 p73  the Party will mercilessly unmask all attempts to revise the decisions of the Twelfth and Sixteenth Party Congresses — attempts which are camouflaged by leftist phrases such as saying that the national question has outlived its usefulness, and that there is no longer any need for national republics.21

This only revealed that such "phrases" were now heard more frequently. To condemn them was necessary in order to keep the friendship of the Ukrainians who were still in the CP(b)U (Lyubchenko, Zatonsky, Khvylya, Chubar, Kotsyubynsky), without whose collaboration the new course of the All‑Union CP(b) policy would be difficult to implement. Second, it exposed the double-talk of Popov and Postyshev. While in fact reversing the resolutions of the Twelfth and Sixteenth Congresses on the national question, they still continued to claim their adherence to them. After all, it was not they but those bad Ukrainian Communists who had changed the Leninist policy.

In summing up the November Plenum, it may be said that its resolution lead us to the following conclusions:

1) The development of national consciousness and the economic and cultural growth of the national republics in the USSR prior to 1933 led to the formation of strong anti-centralist forces.

2) Stalin's main blow was delivered against the Ukraine which, because of its political, cultural, and geographic position, represented a serious threat to Soviet unity.

3) In order to conceal the real purpose of the purge and to make it acceptable to the people, the Party paraded under the slogans of Ukrainian patriotism.

4) The task of the Plenum was to discredit once and for all the idea of an independent Ukraine.

5) To achieve this, Skrypnyk and his associates, as well as thousands of those arrested and deported on charges of nationalism, were declared to be instruments of foreign intervention.

6) Ukrainian nationalism was proclaimed the main threat to the Soviet state — a step which sanctioned the rule of terror in the Ukraine.

7) The debates of the Plenum showed that the new course revived the forces of Russification in the Ukraine.

8) The Plenum left no doubt that the new Party policy for the Ukraine was charted by Stalin,22 who emerged as the immediate ruler of that country.

For Postyshev the Plenum marked the triumph of his regime, which now seemed firmly established.

The Author's Notes:

1 Pravda, December 2, 1933. For the resolution of the plenum see: Pravda, November 27, 1933.

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2 Visti, December 11, 1933; also Chervony shlyakh, No. 10, 1933.

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3 Pravda, December 6, 1933.

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4 Pravda, November 24, 1933.

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5 The resolution of the November Plenum, Pravda, November 27, 1933.

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6 Pravda, December 6, 1933.

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7 Pravda, November 27, 1933.

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8 Vynnychenko was a well-known Ukrainian writer and politician, who headed the anti-Communist Ukrainian government in 1917 and 1918. A copy of his letter to the CC of the CP(b)U is preserved in the archives of the Ukrainian Free Academy of Sciences in New York.

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9 Kosior's speech, Pravda, December 2, 1933.

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10 How fantastic the statements produced in support of the evidence fabricated by the GPU were may be seen from the following "confessions" of several witnesses in the trials as quoted in the above speech by Kosior:

Professor Vikul, accused of belonging to the Ukrainian National Center, testified that "beginning with 1927 the organization carried on work directed toward an armed uprising and intervention against the dictator­ship of the proletariat in the Soviet Ukraine. This work was but one link in a chain of general plans of intervention against the Soviet Union. The political center of the organization, headed by Hrushevsky, made agreements as to common activities directed to overthrow the Soviet regime, with Russian Kadet circles, the Russian SR's, the Georgian Mensheviks, and the Belorussian nationalists."

Another defendant, O. Bushkovany, a Western Ukrainian Communist, was accused of being an agent of the UVO (Ukrainian Military Organization). "In the second half of February, 1933," he testified, "Bandrivsky informed me that Sushko (a well-known emigre leader of the OUN) had arrived in Berlin and that, together with Yary (another leader of the OUN), had talked with A. Rosenberg, a foreign affairs expert of the Hitlerite party and an advocate of intervention against the USSR. On the basis of this conversation, Sushko told me that Germany is following a sharp anti-Soviet course, is forming a coalition with Italy, England and France for the purpose of intervention against the USSR, and is exerting pressure on Poland to join the block. According to Sushko, Rosenberg believed that the UVO must undertake immediate action against the Soviet regime, whence Hitler's coming to power and his aggressive course against the USSR have created favorable conditions for the setting up, with the help of intervention, of an independent Ukrainian state."

The defendant Pyrkhavka testified that "the Committee of the Ukrainian Socialist Revolutionary Party abroad, in Prague, fully concurs with the interventionist plans and conducts its activity jointly with Ukrainian fascists headed by Konovalets. Realizing that the local forces which could overthrow the Soviet regime and establish an independent Ukrainian state are inadequate, we also accepted the idea of intervention."

The defendant Kozoriz testified further that the interventionist plans for an "independent Ukraine" would mean division of the Ukraine between Poland and Germany. Thus the concept of an independent Ukraine, which might have had some appeal, was largely obscured.

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11 Postyshev's speech, Pravda, June 22, 1932.

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12 Popov's speech, Visti, July 12, 1933.

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13 Kosior's speech, Pravda, December 2, 1933.

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14 The resolutions of the November Plenum, Pravda, November 27, 1933.

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15 Cf. "Itogi . . ." Pravda, November 27, 1933, and the speeches by Postyshev, Kosior, Popov, and Lyubchenko at the November Plenum.

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16 "The chief danger at the present time is great-power deviation (italics in the original) attempting to alter the basis of the Leninist nationality policy and, under the flag of intervention, concealing an attempt of the moribund classes of the formerly dominant Great Russian nation to regain lost privileges." Shestnadtsaty sezd VKP(b) (Sixteenth Congress of the All‑Union CP(b)), Moscow, 1931, p299.

It is interesting to compare the fate of the "great power" and "nationalist" deviationists. The former were especially numerous in the Ukraine, where many Russian Communists scorned "Ukrainization" and regarded the Ukraine as a province of Russia. One of the earliest Great Russian deviationists was the secretary of the CC CP(b)U, D. Lebed, the author of the "theory of the struggle of two cultures" which implied the dominance of Russian culture in the Ukraine. He was recalled from his post in Kharkov and sent to Moscow to become Deputy Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars. Another high official in the Ukrainian Commissariat of Justice, Malitsky, who opposed "Ukrainization" was also transferred from the Ukraine. None of the "Great Russian chauvinists" in the Party suffered the fate of the Ukrainian "bourgeois nationalists" who were arrested, shot, or driven to suicide.

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17 Leytes and Yashek, op. cit., p298.

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18 XII sezd Rossiiskoi Kommunisticheskoi Partii (bolshevikov) (The Twelfth Congress of the Russian Communist Party [Bolshevik]), Moscow, 1923, p446.

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19 Leytes and Yashek, op. cit., p296.

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20 Unfortunately, no stenographic report of this plenum has been published. For an account of Popov's speech see Visti, December 10, 1933.

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21 The resolutions of the November Plenum, Pravda, November 27, 1933, or Visti, November 26, 1933.

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22 M. M. Popov, in his speech (Visti, December 10, 1933) remarked that "our daily struggle with Ukrainian counter-revolution and national deviation in the ranks of our Party, and particularly with the nationalist deviation headed by Skrypnyk, is guided by the direct leader­ship and assistance of the CC All‑Union CP(b), and personally conducted by Comrades Stalin and Kaganovich."

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