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On January 25, 1937, when the first Moscow trial was about to begin, and the accusations against Pyatakov and Radek were connected with the Ukrainian problem, a special session of the Congress of Soviets of the Ukraine was convened in Kiev to approve the new constitution for the Ukrainian SSR.
The new constitution deprived the Ukraine of the last privileges of an independent internal administration which it had enjoyed under the old constitution. Outwardly, all the trappings of the independent Ukrainian SSR were left intact; thus, according to Article 14 of the new Constitution of the USSR, the Ukraine preserved the rights of a sovereign state.1 But how could those rights be reconciled with other articles of the constitution? In accordance with Article 25 of the Constitution of the USSR, the government of the Ukrainian SSR consisted of the following People's Commissariats (Ministries):2 food, light industry, forestry, agriculture, grain and cattle-breeding state farms, finance, commerce, internal affairs, justice, health, education, local industry, municipal economy, social insurance. However, matters of defense, foreign affairs, foreign trade, communications, transportation, heavy industry, defense industry, the engineering industry and the navy were all delegated to the All‑Union Council of People's Commissars.
Even the fourteen ministries left to the Republic were not, according to Article 47 of the new constitution, entirely independent. They were either "union-republican" or "republican," which implied that, in some cases, they were merely branches of the All‑Union Commissariats. Article 48 mentions the ministries which were only nominally republican and which were, in fact, subordinated to the All‑Union government. They were food, light industry, internal affairs, justice and health. Hence, as Article 49 confirms, only the ministries of education, local industry, municipal economy, and social insurance were left under the jurisdiction of the republics.
Judging by the reports of the Soviet press, the Ukrainian people received this constitution as a great gift to their country from Stalin the wise. They did so in p124 spite of the fact that the new constitution robbed the government of their country of practically all power. The new Soviet Ukrainian government was authorized only to supervise schools, local industry, the sanitation and cleanliness of Ukrainian towns, and to care for the sick! Indeed, the new constitution was the crowning glory of Stalin's new empire. Article 17 of the Constitution, guaranteeing the right of secession to all the republics, sounded like a mockery of the cherished dream of the conquered peoples in view of the impotence of the republic government.
There are good reasons to believe that Panas Lyubchenko, the chairman of the Ukrainian Council of People's Commissars and the nominal head of the Soviet Ukrainian government, fully understood the significance of the new constitution for the Ukraine. He happened to be chairman of the Constitutional Commission and had written the chief report on the projected constitution to the Fourteenth Congress of Soviets in Kiev.
Although unable to change the draft of the Stalin Constitution in any way, Lyubchenko gave his own interpretation of it in a speech at the Congress. In his speech he stressed with extraordinary force and persuasiveness the fact that he believed the new constitution signified the preservation of the status of the Soviet Ukraine as a sovereign state. He reminded his audience of the tragic past of the Ukraine under tsarist oppression and stressed that this could never happen again. "The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic," he said, "has voluntarily united on the basis of equal rights with other Soviet Socialist Republics into a united state — the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics . . . In accordance with Article 14 of the Constitution, the Ukraine independently exercises the functions of her own government, preserving all her sovereign rights."3 Further, Lyubchenko stressed the "feeling of national pride which sprang up in us at the birth of the Soviet Ukraine as a sovereign, proletarian state."
Was it possible that Lyubchenko was so deeply convinced of the strength of the Soviet Ukrainian state that he hoped for a certain modification of the constitution? Was his hope the illusion of the last Borotbist? The answer was provided by Lyubchenko himself eight months later on August 30 when, faced with arrest by the NKVD, he committed suicide.
Soon after Postyshev was removed from the Ukraine, Stalin delivered a second blow to the Ukrainian SSR. I. E. Yakir, the commander of the Ukrainian Military District, was transferred to the command of the Leningrad Military District.4 At about the same time, quietly and unobtrusively, another important p125 figure in Postyshev's entourage disappeared from the Ukraine. Balitsky, the chief of the Ukrainian NKVD, was reported to have been transferred to the Far East. He was never heard of again.
On May 27, 1937, the Thirteenth Congress of the CP(b)U convened in Kiev. The public remained rather indifferent to the recall of Postyshev, Balitsky, and Yakir; people were growing accustomed to sudden changes in their government that they were supposed to elect and in the Party which still called itself the Communist Party of the Ukraine.
The usual political report to the Congress was read by Kosior. The usual resolution, approving the report and adopting several measures recommended by the Central Committee, was approved, and a new Central Committee was elected. On the surface it was a most uneventful Congress. Yet it had a certain historical significance. First, it was the last Congress of the CP(b)U to be attended by the national cadres of the Party, the last prominent participants in the Ukrainian revolution. Second, the Congress demonstrated some Soviet Ukrainian patriotism, with the emphasis on "Ukrainian." This was obvious, even from Kosior's report.5 The first part of Kosior's speech was devoted to a historical survey of the oppression which the Ukraine had suffered under the tsarist regime. Great emphasis was laid on the development of Ukrainian culture and economic strength after the revolution. This growth, he said, could be explained only by the absence of the old colonial and Russification policies of Moscow on the one hand, and by the establishment of the Soviet Ukrainian state on the other. Third, the Congress would pass into history as one from which Postyshev was absent. Fourth, a veiled but tangible attempt was made at the Congress to vindicate the Borotbist point of view,6 and criticism was expressed of the nationality policy in the Ukraine. These sentiments were prominent enough to be included in the resolutions of the Congress:
The Congress finds that . . . in the work of several organizations of the CP(b)U less attention has been paid recently to the question of the nationality policy and the problem itself has been underestimated. This showed itself . . . in the insufficient Ukrainization of the Party, the Soviet, and particularly of trade-union and Komsomol organizations; in the inadequate promotion of Ukrainian Bolshevik cadres to leading Party, Soviet, economic and trade-union posts.7
Fifth, the unity and conservatism of the Party cadres in the Ukraine were striking. The new Central Committee and the Politburo of the CP(b)U consisted largely of old members, except for those who had been transferred from the Ukraine (Chubar, Postyshev, Balitsky) or had been arrested (Kotsyubynsky, p126 Yakir, Demchenko, Holubenko, Dudnyk, Kileroh, Mykhaylyk, Musulbas, Taran, and several others).8
The sixth and most important historic characteristic of the Congress was the fact that the new Central Committee, during the first plenum, held on June 3, elected the following representatives to the Politburo by secret ballot: Lyubchenko, the former Borotbist who had always been barred from the highest organ of the CP(b)U; M. Popov, a former Menshevik, a supporter of the Ukrainian national cadres within the CP(b)U, and a strong critic of Russian centralism who had never before been admitted to the Politburo; and S. O. Kudryavtsev and I. S. Shelekhes, who were both old members of the Central Committee, but who had never before been elected to the Politburo because of their anti-Stalinist sympathies.
The atmosphere in Kiev, after the election of the new Central Committee and the Politburo, was calm and confident. However, this was the calm before the storm which finally became a real tornado, sweeping away all the members of the Central Committee and the Politburo and leaving thousands of other victims in its wake.
Early in 1937, Stalin realized that neither Postyshev, in whom he had placed so much hope, nor the CC CP(b)U which Postyshev had purged, could fulfill his plan for the Ukraine. To do this, new men had to be found, men who would have no attachment to the Ukraine, and who could replace the Party chiefs in that stubborn country. This meant, of course, another and even bloodier purge of the CC CP(b)U, and one which would be final. Stalin did not shrink from this act. Stalin therefore sent no special representative to the Thirteenth Congress of the CP(b)U, as had been customary. There was no need to regroup the existing Central Committee nor to reshuffle the Soviet Ukrainian government. He had decided to liquidate them all.
After the removal of Postyshev, Yakir, and Balitsky from the Ukraine, and the arrest of the command of the Ukrainian Military District, Stalin made further moves to prepare the coup de grace for the Ukrainian government. The Special Security Commission of the CC All‑Union CP(b), created on May 14, 1935, and consisting of Stalin, Yezhov, Vyshinsky and Malenkov, set to work to investigate the Ukrainians. First, scores of agents were sent into the country to collect information about "enemies of the people," or rather to fabricate and elaborate evidence which had already been prepared by the NKVD. When the CC CP(b)U learned of this, it was naturally perturbed about the decline of its prestige in Moscow. It requested, therefore, that the special investigators sent by the Kremlin to the Ukraine report to the Ukrainian authorities and keep them informed of p127 their moves. The Kremlin replied evasively, finally stating, in August 1937, that a special commission consisting of Molotov, Yezhov, and Khrushchev was coming to the Ukraine. A special plenum of the CC CP(b)U was called in connection with their arrival.
It was clear from several attacks on the CC CP(b)U in Pravda9 and from the general atmosphere which prevailed after the February plenum of the CC All‑Union CP(b) that nothing good was to be expected from the visit of the special commission. The situation in Kiev on the eve of the arrival of the Kremlin guests was ominous. Avtorkhanov describes it as follows:
At the same time [as the arrival of Molotov, Yezhov and Khrushchev] several trainloads of "special NKVD troops" arrived in Kiev from Moscow. Side by side with the Kiev NKVD, a new "mobile" Moscow NKVD was established; its purpose was known only to the emissaries of Stalin. Units of the Kiev Military District were replaced by Siberian military detachments.
Kiev resembled a fortress, beleaguered by enemy troops. The district in which the plenum of the Central Committee was held was cordoned off from the rest of the city and patrolled by special Moscow NKVD troops. The local guards at the very entrance to the building of the Central Committee were replaced by sentries selected from the "special troops."10
It was obvious that Yezhov (the chief of the NKVD), Nikita Khrushchev (the future overlord of the Ukraine, but at that time almost unknown), and Molotov (who was to play the part of "diplomat") did not trust the Ukrainian Central Committee and did not feel safe under the protection of the local NKVD. Perhaps they had good reason for their fears.
When the plenum of the CC CP(b)U convened, Kosior was the first to speak; he introduced the main speaker, Molotov. Molotov delivered a long report, full of accusations against the CC CP(b)U. He reinforced his charges with secret evidence collected by the agents of the Special Security Commission. In short, he declared that the CC CP(b)U had failed in the execution of its duty. He demanded, therefore, a vote of non‑confidence in Kosior, the secretary of the CC, and in Khataevich and Popov,11 two members of the CC; in Petrovsky, the Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the Ukrainian SSR; and in the Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, Lyubchenko. Molotov demanded, in addition, that all of them be expelled from the Central Committee, and that Khrushchev be "elected" secretary of the CC CP(b)U.
This pronouncement came as a profound shock to all the members of the Ukrainian Central Committee; the tone was even more cynical and ruthless than that of the declaration made by Postyshev in 1933. After Molotov's speech there was no doubt in the minds of those he had accused that their days were numbered.
p128 Did they submit to Molotov's demand? Did Lyubchenko, Petrovsky, Popov, Kosior and others who knew that their fate depended on the fate of these men decide to capitulate, knowing very well that at any moment Molotov could call in his "special troops"? Their reply must have come as a surprise to Molotov. All of them refused to cast a vote of non‑confidence in Kosior. They stood firm, in spite of the threats of Yezhov and the pleading of Khrushchev. This meant, of course, that the Central Committee of the CP(b)U was expressing a vote of non‑confidence in the Kremlin.
Stalin's emissaries understood that they could not achieve their objective democratically and certainly not by secret ballot. They could have called in the troops and arrested the entire Central Committee, but before doing anything drastic they had to consult with Stalin. According to Avtorkhanov, Molotov held a long telephone conversation with Stalin, after the first day of debate at the plenum. Stalin's advice was to continue negotiations with the CP(b)U, in the headquarters of the "mobile" NKVD from Moscow.
The next day the plenum convened in new surroundings, much less auspicious for the Ukrainians. According to Avtorkhanov, who reconstructed the story of this plenum from reliable reports, Molotov repeated his ultimatum: the members of the Central Committee whom he had named must be expelled and Khrushchev must be accepted as the new secretary. This demand was again rejected. Only then did Molotov present an alternative: all the members of the Ukrainian Central Committee should go to Moscow to discuss the matter with the CC All‑Union CP(b). This request was accepted by the majority, although with some dissension. Lyubchenko openly declared that he would not go to Moscow, since he felt very strongly that the problem must be decided in the Ukraine. This speech was his last. In it he defended for the last time the principle of Soviet Ukrainian sovereignty, insisting that the decision of the plenum should be binding on the emissaries from the Kremlin. However, the majority voted in favor of the journey to Moscow. The plenum was declared ended, and the next day the entire Central Committee of the CP(b)U was scheduled to leave for Moscow.
The mission of the "special commission" of Molotov, Yezhov and Khrushchev had suffered a defeat, if only a temporary one.
After the plenum Lyubchenko went to his office on Funduklievska street. He was determined not to go to Moscow. This meant the end not only of his career, but also of his life. The Prime Minister of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic must have felt at that moment that neither the army, the navy, nor the policy of his state could offer him any protection. He must have felt, too, that the people who were supposed to have elected him cared little about his fate. The choice before him had narrowed sharply; he decided to take his own life. He went to see his wife, who was also a former Borotbist. She agreed to die with him. After sending p129 away their children, a daughter who was a student at the University and a thirteen-year‑old son, Lyubchenko first shot his wife and then himself.12
The news of his death came as a bad omen to the other members of the Central Committee, who were boarding a special train for Moscow. On September 2, 1937, Pravda printed a brief note:
Entangled in anti-Soviet schemes, and afraid of his responsibility to the Ukrainian people for his betrayal of the interests of the Ukraine, the former Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Ukraine, Lyubchenko, ended his life by suicide on August 30.
Nobody knows what went on at the meeting between the Ukrainian Central Committee and Stalin. Today the only living witnesses of this discussion are Molotov and Kaganovich. What is more important, however, is the result of these negotiations. The following figures speak for themselves:
1) Of 11 members and 5 candidate members of the Politburo of the CP(b)U, not one was left at liberty.
2) Of 8 members and 2 candidate members of the Orgburo of the Central Committee of the CP(b)U not a single one survived.
3) All 9 members of the Control Commission of the CP(b)U perished.
4) All three secretaries of the CC CP(b)U (Kosior, Khataevich, Popov) lost their lives.
5) Only two men (P. F. Kryvonos and M. D. Dyukanov) were left of 62 members and 40 candidate members of the Central Committee of the CP(b)U.
6) Not one of the 17 members of the Soviet Ukrainian government was left free.
7) Nearly all the secretaries of the district committees of the Party, the district executive committees, the city soviets, many managers of state enterprises, p130 directors of institutions and chiefs of the Ukrainian Union of Soviet Writers13 were purged.
As if struck by sudden plague, the top administrators and leaders of the Soviet Ukrainian Republic were wiped out. In this unprecedented hecatomb on the altar of Stalin's empire, it is difficult to establish the order of events.
The suicide of Lyubchenko and the breakdown of negotiations between the Ukrainian Central Committee and the representatives of the CC All‑Union CP(b) was immediately followed by the arrest of Shelekhes, Kudryavtsev, Popov, Chernyavsky and several other members of the CC CP(b)U. In quick succession, Porayko, the deputy chairman of the Council of People's Commissars; Khvylya, the chief of the cultural section of the CC; Shlikhter,14 the commissar of agriculture; Rekis, the commissar of finance; Kantorovich, the commissar of health; Zatonsky, the commissar of education; and Voytsekhovsky, the secretary of the Central Executive Committee, were arrested.
The young Communist, Bondarenko, who was appointed to take Lyubchenko's place as chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, was himself accused of being an "enemy of the people." Mass arrests of other members of the Soviet Ukrainian government and of the Central Committee continued without the election of a new "premier."15
After the arrest of his two aides, Popov and Khataevich, Kosior, secretary of the CC CP(b)U, was transferred to Moscow where he disappeared in 1938. The same thing took place in the CEC. Hryhoriy Petrovsky, one of the oldest Bolsheviks in the Ukraine, a member of the Duma before the Revolution, who for twenty years had been chairman of the Ukrainian Central Executive Committee, was also removed from the Ukraine.16
The violent tremor which shook the Soviet Ukrainian administration in 1937 occurred when the new Soviet constitution was supposed to guarantee the Soviet Union a democratic government, justice under the law, and sovereign rights to the Soviet Republics. The chaos that followed the mass arrests of the Ukrainian Communists was so great that all forms of Soviet law were abandoned. For instance, the Central Committee of the CP(b)U was not dissolved, it simply ceased to exist. For some time orders and announcements still bore the signature of Kosior, although he was no longer in the Ukraine. After the arrest of Lyubchenko's successor, Bondarenko, the post of chairman of the Council of People's Commissars remained vacant. The function of chairman of the Central Executive p131 Committee was carried out for a time by S. I. Andreev. He was an old, sick man, who was now chosen to sign the various decrees, some of which he read for the first time after their publication in the press.17 From time to time unknown Party officials came to the Ukraine, all of them with Russian names (Starygin, Lunkov, Smirnov, Lyubavin, Shpilevoi, Teleshev), and replaced the Ukrainian Party chiefs who had been arrested.
The arrests of Ukrainian Communists in 1937 were carried out in connection with the uncovering of the fictitious National Fascist Organization of the Ukraine. What were the charges made against the participants in this organization? Some of them, extracted in Hrynko's confession, have already been dismissed as untrue. The Soviet press contains a number of more specific accusations than those of sabotage, diversion and terrorist activities made at the trial of the Right Trotskyite Bloc. After all, the disappearance of hundreds of men who held high public office had to be justified. One charge was that of criminal activity by the Broadcasting Committee of the Ukraine. Allegedly the Kiev, Kharkov, Moldavia and other broadcasting stations had transmitted funeral marches after the announcement of the verdict of the Supreme Court on the Zinoviev and Kamenev group on August 24, 1936, and on the Pyatakov and Radek group on January 31, 1937. In another instance, a broadcast from Kiev in German omitted references which Vyshinsky had made to the connections between the Trotskyites and the Gestapo. On April 4, 1937, the artist Kovalenko slandered the Red Army during a musical program. On June 12, when news of the verdict in the trial of Tukhachevsky, Yakir, and others was being transmitted from Moscow, the Kiev station went off the air. "Can it be doubted," asked Pravda, "that an enemy organization is active in the Kiev broadcasting station? This is not understood, by either the directors of the broadcasting committee, or by . . . the CC CP(b)U."18 According to another Pravda report, the Commissariat of Education and many Ukrainian schools were "sullied with bourgeois nationalists."19 Ukrainian museums were full of spies and nationalists, who were busily destroying all signs of Ukrainian dependence on Russia and stressing the independent character of Ukrainian culture. They were also wantonly destroying ancient monuments.20 Further, Pravda charged that Ukrainian nationalists were trying to separate the Ukraine from Russia. The "enemy of the people, Khvylya," who had been used four years earlier to prevent Skrypnyk's linguistic policy, was now charged with nationalist deviation in matters of cultural and linguistic policy.21 The Ukrainians had neglected to celebrate Peter the First's Victory over Charles XII at Poltava.22 Ukrainian nationalists were wrecking the national p132 economy and commercial enterprises.23 They were infiltrating the repertory of the Ukrainian opera-houses and of the theaters and had opposed visits of artists from other republics.24
It appears that the activity of the "Ukrainian fascists" was, after all, not as dangerous as one might have expected. The charges in Pravda hardly correspond to the upheaval which Stalin caused in the Ukraine. They are trivial incidents which in no way explain the events of 1937. The latter were the final methods used to subjugate the Ukraine and were decreed on January 24, 1933. It was not enough to destroy the national Communist cadres in the Ukraine, to annihilate the ex‑Borotbists, to deport and execute hundreds and thousands of Ukrainian scholars, writers, and intellectuals and to starve millions of Ukrainian peasants. All the Ukrainian Bolsheviks, or those who had been in any way connected with the Ukrainian revolution, had to perish too. The purgers had to be purged, the most ardent followers of Stalin's new course who had remained in the Ukraine long enough to be infected with the fanatic spirit of Ukrainian resistance had to be liquidated. Stalin's new policy for the Ukraine could only be established by an entirely new set of men, by a complete re‑staffing of all responsible posts.
1 Konstitutsiya (osnovnoy zakon) SSSR (The Constitution [Basic Law] of the USSR), Moscow, GIZ, 1938, pp19‑20.
2 Three kinds of special agencies, the Committee for Provisions of the USSR, the Artistic Affairs Administration, and the branches of the All‑Union Commissariats in Moscow, which enjoyed the rights of Commissariats in all the Republics, are not included in our discussion.
3 "Proekt konstytutsii UkSSR" (A Draft of the Constitution of the UkSSR), Visti, January 26, 1937.
4 Pravda, May 11, 1937. This announcement was part of an extensive reshuffle in the military command which was preliminary to the arrest and execution of Marshal M. N. Tukhachevsky. Among other changes were the transfer of Marshal Yegorov from the post of chief of staff to that of first deputy of the People's Commissar of Defense; the appointment of B. M. Shaposhnikov in Yegorov's place, and the transfer of Marshal Tukhachevsky to the command of the Volga Military District.
5 "KP(b)U v borbe za sotsialisticheskuyu Ukrainu" (The CP(b)U in the Struggle for a Socialist Ukraine), Pravda, May 29, 1937.
6 Visti, June 3, 1937.
7 The resolution of the Thirteenth Congress of the CP(b)U, Pravda, June 6, 1937.
8 For the list of members of the Central Committee of the CP(b)U (Twelfth Congress) see Visti, January 25, 1934; the composition of the CC CP(b)U (Thirteenth Congress): Visti, June 4, 1937.
9 Pravda, 9, 1937.
10 Avtorkhanov, op. cit., Posev, 50, 1950, pp14‑15.
11 Avtorkhanov erroneously lists the name of Postyshev, who by then had been removed from the Ukraine.
12 There are several other versions of Lyubchenko's suicide, each differing in detail, but agreeing in the essentials. Avtorkhanov remarks only that "the Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Ukraine, Lyubchenko, refused to go to Moscow and, in protest, ended his life by committing suicide." See Avtorkhanov, op. cit., Posev, 50, 1950, p15.
P. Pavlov, a former official of the Council of People's Commissars of the Ukraine, gives the following account of Lyubchenko's death in his reminiscences. At the plenum, Lyubchenko realized from Yezhov's behavior and from the tone of Molotov's speeches that "his hour had struck." He excused himself, left the meeting, and went home. There he shot his wife and then himself. See P. Pavlov, "Razgrom Sovnarkoma Ukrainy" (The Rout of the Council of People's Commissars of the Ukraine), Narodnaya Pravda, No. 4, 1949, pp16‑18.
A. Vysochenko, in his book "SSSR bez masky" (The USSR Unmasked), pp94‑96, writes that during the lunch intermission Lyubchenko went home and after shooting his wife and daughter first, committed suicide.
A. Gaev, in his study of Postyshev, relates how Lyubchenko was told of his impending doom while he was about to deliver an address in a Kiev theater. He called off his appearance and went home, where he shot his wife and then himself.
13 The chairman of the Ukrainian Writers' Union, I. Kulyk, was arrested, together with Mykytenko, Krylenko, Kovalenko, Koryak, Kolesnyk, Yosypchuk and other writers.
14 Shlikhter was probably given a reprieve after his sentence in 1937. He was allowed to do some research in the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR. On December 2, 1940, Komunist reported his death as an academician, and nothing more.
15 P. Pavlov, op. cit.
16 Kosior was rehabilitated, posthumously, in 1956 (see Khrushchev's speech, New York Times, June 5, 1956). Petrovsky, who died on January 9, 1958, was rehabilitated two months after Stalin's death and awarded the Order of the Red Banner.
17 Vysochenko, op. cit., p84.
18 "Kto rukovodit radioveshchaniyem na Ukraine" (Who Directs Broadcasting in the Ukraine), Pravda, July 9, 1937.
19 Pravda, September 18, 1937.
20 "Kto khozyaynichayet v muzeyakh Ukrainy" (Who Is the Boss of the Museums in the Ukraine), Pravda, September 25, 1937.
21 Pravda, October 4, 1937, and December 29, 1937.
22 "Politicheskaya tupost" (Political Stupidity), Pravda, October 4, 1937.
23 "Prestupnaya bespechnost Poltavskogo gorkoma" (Criminal Carelessness of the Poltava City Committee), Pravda, October 10, 1937.
24 Pravda, January 3, 1938.
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