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Part II
Chapter 5

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.
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Part Two
The Consolidation of Stalinism in the Ukraine

 p141  Chapter VI


The events in the political, economic and cultural life of the Ukraine since 1930 which we have surveyed were the product of Stalin's era. They were the consequence of his plans, unfolded at the Sixteenth Party Conference of the All‑Union CP(b) and the Plenum of the CC All‑Union CP(b) in April 1929. The decision to accept the so‑called optimum variant of the First Five-Year Plan in industrialization, to begin the collectivization of agriculture, and to give warning to all oppositionist groups in the Party, which was taken at this conference in Moscow, determined the course of Soviet Ukrainian history for the next decade. The structure as well as the character of the Soviet state was also altered by postulating the creation of a power­ful economic base, complete centralization, and political obedience with Moscow at the base.

This meant, on the other hand, the concentration of all power in the hands of Stalin, necessitating a drastic abrogation of local government and of the national and political rights of the Soviet republics, finally leading to the abolition of almost every form of political, social and cultural independence at the behest of the Muscovite leader­ship of the Soviet Third Rome.

The fulfillment of the requirements of Stalin's plan took nine years (1929 to 1938). During that time industrialization and collectivization were accomplished, the dictator­ship of Stalin was firmly established, and the political, cultural, and economic autonomy of the Soviet republics was abolished. All of these measures were achieved at the expense of millions of human lives, accompanied by purges in the ideological leader­ship of the Party and the destruction of native Communist cadres in the non‑Russian Soviet republics. On the ruins of the hopes and ideals of the Revolution of 1917 there arose the new Stalinist state.

Because of her geographic and strategic location, her economic resources, her cultural life and vast man‑power, the Ukraine was destined to play a major role in the creation of Stalin's empire. The new economic reforms, industrialization and collectivization (imposed against the will of the people and carried out in spite of widespread famine), the drastic repressive measures, the new economic exploitation of the country brought the Ukraine in 1933 to the brink of ruin.

These developments caused a crisis in the relation­ship between the Soviet Ukrainian government and Moscow, which was particularly conspicuous during the third All‑Ukrainian Party Conference in July 1932. The conflict between Kharkov and Moscow was a matter of grave concern to the Kremlin, since the leading Ukrainian Communist Party officials found themselves in the camp of the Ukrainian opposition.

 p142  At that time the Communist Party of the Ukraine was far from monolithic; rather, it was a conglomerate of several elements. On the one hand there were former Borotbists, Ukapists, Western Ukrainian Communists, SR's, SD's, Bundists, the Federal-Communists (Lapchynsky's group,1 as well as Skrypnyk's group), and some younger Ukrainian Communists, all forming, in spite of internal divisions, one ideological group of Ukrainian Communists. On the other hand, there was a numerically strong Russian camp, consisting of the Russians and Russified Ukrainians, hostile to the very idea of a Soviet Ukrainian state and nurtured by the remnants of the great-power tradition as well as by opportunist and philistine elements. By the late twenties the CP(b)U was polarized between these two camps, each having its own leaders. Behind the second of these groups stood the Russian Communist Party and Moscow, the center of the Bolshevik dictator­ship; behind the first, the energies of the regenerated Ukrainian nation with its craving for freedom and independence.

The decision of the CC All‑Union CP(b) of January 24, 1933, and the arrival of Postyshev in the Ukraine, with dictatorial powers and a sizable staff, marked the beginning of violent interference by Moscow in the Ukrainian internal situation. This act was intended to forestall further "deviationism" in the CP(b)U and, with the help of widespread terror, to coerce the Ukrainians into accepting the new Stalinist regime. Postyshev's rule in the Ukraine lasted four years and it was brought to a conclusion by Nikita Khrushchev after Postyshev's fall. It was a period of wholesale massacre and destruction, with few parallels in the history of mankind. Here is a partial list of the victims of the Postyshev-Khrushchev era:

1) The Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalic Church with all its clergy, and many members.

2) The Ukrainian Academy of Sciences.

3) The historical school of Professor Hrushevsky.

4) The historical school of Professor Yavorsky.

 p143  5) The Institute of Philosophy, headed by Professor Yurynets.

6) The Bahaliy Historical Research Institute.

7) The Shevchenko Research Institute, headed by Serhiy Pylypenko.

8) The Institute of Linguistics of the Academy of Sciences.

9) The Agricultural Academy and the Economic Research Institute.

10) The Ukrainian Institute of Eastern Studies, headed by Professor Velychko.

11) The Research Institute of Soviet Construction, headed by Professor Trublaevych.

12) The Research Institute for the Deaf and Dumb, headed by Professor Sokolyansky.

13) The Ukrainian literary organizations (over two hundred writers arrested and deported or executed).

14) The school of painting of Professor M. Boychuk.

15) The Berezil theater.

16) The Editorial Board of the Soviet Ukrainian Encyclopedia.

17) The Ukrainian Chamber of Weights and Measures directed by Mazurenko.

18) The All‑Ukrainian Marx and Lenin Institute (VUAMLIN).

19) The School of research on the history of the CP(b)U.

20) The Rukh, Chas, Knyhospilka publishing companies, the Ukrainian State Publishing House, and Molodyi Bilshovyk.

21) The Ukrainian Film Company (VUFKU).

22) A significant portion of the faculty members of all Ukrainian higher educational establishments were arrested.

23) The Ukrainian Conference for the Establishment of a New Ukrainian Orthography.

Most of the members of these institutions were arrested and deported. By the end of 1938, the following categories of people were excluded from political, scholar­ly and public life in the Ukraine:

1) All former members and associates of the government of the Ukrainian People's Republic.

2) All former Ukrainian SD's, SR's, SF's, "Postupovtsi" (Progressives) and Hetmanites.

3) All former Borotbists, Ukapists, members of the Communist Party of the Western Ukraine, and all Galicians.

4) All those associated with the deviations of Shumsky, Khvylovy and Volobuev, and Skrypnyk's entire group.

5) All former emigres who had returned to the Soviet Ukraine.

6) A large part of the old non‑Party intellectuals working in the cultural, literary and scholar­ly fields.

 p144  7) A large number of the younger generation of the intelligentsia.

8) All Ukrainian sympathizers with Trotsky and the Right Opposition.

9) The entire Ukrainian Soviet government and the leader­ship of the CP(b)U (in 1937).2

The terror of 1933‑38 resulted in the extinction of native Ukrainian Communism as a political idea; it also destroyed all the leading representatives of this idea. Moreover, it claimed thousands of other victims who were neither Communists nor, as was charged, "bourgeois nationalists," but men and women devoted to Ukrainian culture, scholar­ship and literature. Ukrainian peasants and workers who dared to voice opposition to the exploitation and subjugation of their country also perished. The methods used in this mass destruction of the Ukrainian people and the intelligentsia were disguised behind fictitious charges of "counter-revolution" and "bourgeois nationalism," as well as of belonging to the mythical "under­ground organization" to which we have devoted special attention in our study.

Tragic as it was, the end of Ukrainian Communism contains a practical lesson in history which Ukrainians are not likely to forget. There were two reasons for the destruction of the Ukrainian Communists. On the one hand they committed an unpardonable political error in accepting on faith the Bolshevik guarantee of "the right to self-determination" without attempting to safeguard this right in any effective way. By allowing themselves to be entirely dependent on the Russian Bolsheviks and by failing to create an effective government of their own, they signed away the independence of the Ukraine. On the other hand, because of their close collaboration with the Russian Bolsheviks, they isolated themselves from the masses of the Ukrainian people and lost their confidence. Thus, at the moment of crisis, when they were subjected to the direct onslaught of the mighty machine of Muscovite centralism, they found themselves deserted by the people.

When considering the mass liquidation of Ukrainian political leaders, scholars, writers, intellectuals, and ordinary men and women during 1933‑38, one question remains unanswered. It is this: Why was Stalinist terror in the Ukraine so harsh and widespread? Or, in other words, why was the Ukraine to dangerous to Stalin? We have attempted to supply a detailed answer in the course of this study. It remains to sum up some of the general conclusions.

 p145  It is clear that in planning to place the Soviet state under his dictator­ship, Stalin sought the support of Russian nationalism. This made him at once the enemy of the "internationalist" wing of the Communist Party (Trotsky, Bukharin, Rykov, Smirnov, Mrachkovsky, Radek, Rakovsky, and others), and of the various republics. In particular, the national Communist leaders of the non‑Russian republics viewed with great apprehension any attempt to reinstate Russian supremacy. For them these attempts smacked of the familiar imperialist policies of tsarist Russia.

The Ukraine, the second largest republic after Russia, became the foremost center of resistance to Stalin's revived imperialism. Partisan warfare against the Bolshevik regime during the Civil War became widespread in the Ukraine. There were many non‑Communist scholars in the Ukraine (Hrushevsky, Yefremov, Krymsky, Chechel, Khrystyuk, Slabchenko, Hermayze, Zerov, and many others). There was public pressure for a sovereign state in the Ukraine. The Soviet Ukrainian leaders, Skrypnyk, Shlikhter, Ravich-Cherkassky, Shumsky, Volobuev, Richytsky, Hrynko, Khvylovy and others provided, in their writings, a solid foundation for the unity of the Ukrainian culture and the economy. The Ukraine produced outspoken critics of Russian culture and arts (Khvylovy's idea of "Romantic vitalism," and an "Asiatic Renaissance"). Finally, the Ukraine's national problems were often discussed at international forums (the Ukrainian issue was debated by the Comintern five times in the years 1920‑28).

The sources of Ukrainian strength were to be found in the long history of the Ukrainian struggle for independence, and in the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917, which led to the creation of the Ukrainian People's Republic.3 Much of this heritage was preserved in the Soviet Ukraine. The Red Army, which, in 1920, destroyed the democratic Ukrainian republic, could not destroy the idea of statehood nor the spirit of the people. Ever since 1920, the Ukraine was a battleground between the centralist forces within the CP(b)U and the Soviet Ukrainian government. During the course of this struggle a center of Ukrainian opposition to the Kremlin policy was formed in the CP(b)U (Skrypnyk, Chubar, Zatonsky, and others). The existence of this opposition became extremely dangerous for Stalin's centralist policy after 1930.

Stalin realized this danger as early as 1926, when he wrote his letter to Kaganovich condemning Shumsky and Khvylovy. However, Shumsky's deviation was only the first major protest against Moscow centralism. Other such uncompromising tendencies in the Ukraine manifested themselves with even greater force during the late twenties, strongly supported by the CP(b)U, in the person of Skrypnyk. The widespread peasant rebellions against collectivization in 1930 could, if unchecked, have had the most serious consequences. These were the reasons why Stalin regarded Ukrainian intransigence as a mortal danger, and why he used such extreme measures to suppress it.

 p146  This poses another question which is also germane to the present inquiry. If the Ukrainian opposition was so strong, why was an attempt not made to return Stalin's attack blow for blow? Why was this opposition merely passive, why did its leaders not organize an uprising against Moscow? It is not easy to supply a satisfactory answer to this question.

In the opinion of the present writer, the reasons for the impotence of the Ukrainian opposition lay in the internal differences within the CP(b)U and in its isolation from the people at the critical period of collectivization. The differences within the Ukrainian camp were cleverly exploited by opponents of Ukrainian nationalism, who prevented the various Ukrainian groups within the CP(b)U from forming a core of active opposition. On the other hand, the Ukrainian people had little faith in the CP(b)U because of its collaboration with the Russian Bolsheviks. The hatred and anger of the people, aroused during collectivization, was primarily directed against the local authorities of the CP(b)U who were fulfilling orders from above. The CP(b)U failed at that critical moment to dissociate itself from Kremlin policy and to come to the defense of the Ukrainian people. Therefore, it lost the remaining support of the people and the ability to form any policy of its own. Indecisive attempts to do this (the Third Party Conference in 1929) were quickly and success­fully quashed by the Kremlin. Several Ukrainian Communists, seeing the tragic and inescapable consequences of Soviet policy, and feeling their own inability to remedy the situation, committed suicide (Khvylovy, Skrypnyk, Lyubchenko). Others, whose personal integrity was not as great, remained at their jobs, doomed to be liquidated in due course.

Was Stalin's policy in the Ukraine crowned with final success? The answer to this question is contained in the events after 1938. In spite of the violent extermination of the Ukrainian opposition, the Kremlin found it impossible to kill the idea of Ukrainian independence, which has continued to plague it up to the present day. Even the most radical methods of Stalin's NKVD proved helpless.

After the Second World War, Stalin's tactics in solving this problem to his own satisfaction changed somewhat. In addition to the stick, the carrot came into play. Concessions were made to the Ukrainian SSR in many outward forms (the recreation of the Ukrainian Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs, admission to the United Nations, the institution of a Ukrainian flag and national anthem) which, no matter how fictitious, have a deeper meaning. The Russification and economic exploitation of the country proceeded at a greater pace than before, but these traditional Stalinist measures threatened to boomerang against the Kremlin as soon as Stalin was dead and the struggle for the succession began. Beria's fall meant a return to the old centralist policies, but it still remains to be seen whether Khrushchev can afford to sit quietly on the volcano of the Soviet nationality problem while promising a better standard of living to all the people.

The Ukrainian problem is still unsolved. The Ukrainian people, their culture, their political and social aspirations, are destined to play an important role in the  p147 future history of Europe. It is not amiss to recall here Eugene Lyons' report of the penetrating observation of a German officer in conversation with an American journalist. "Do you know where we lost the war in Russia?" the German asked.

"In Stalingrad," the journalist answered promptly.

"No, we lost it long before that — in Kiev, when we hoisted the swastika instead of the Ukrainian flag!"4

The Author's Notes:

1 The Group of Federalists of the CP(b)U with Yuri (George) Lapchinsky as its head, originated at an illegal (forbidden by the CC RCP) Party meeting in Gomel in November 1919. This opposition movement in the CP(b)U began as a protest against the centralization policy of the RCP in the Ukraine, against dissolution of the Ukrainian Soviet government and of the CC CP(b)U according to the resolution of the CC Russian CP(b), and against Stalin's open policy of complete liquidation of both the CP(b)U and of the Ukrainian SSR.

The basic demands of the Group of Federalists were as follows: 1) Re‑establishment of the Ukrainian SSR as an independent socialist government; 2) Restoration of the dissolved CC CP(b)U; 3) Establishment of a separate Ukrainian Red Army; 4) Existence of the CP(b)U as an independent Party, separated from the Russian CP(b), and its merger with the Borotbists.

The CC Russian CP(b) after acquainting itself with the demands of the Federalist Group, formally accepted the first three points for realization, while the fourth point was dismissed and the Group of Federalists was gradually liquidated. Lapchinsky left the CP(b)U and became a member of the just then organized (May 1920) Ukrainian CP.

After the merger of the UCP and CP(b)U (December 1924), Lapchinsky was for a rather long time Ambassador to Poland and Czechoslovakia. During the period of terror (1933‑1938) he disappeared without a trace.

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2 Following the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party, many prominent political and literary figures who had been purged in the thirties were rehabilitated. Among the political and military leaders in the Ukraine we find, in addition to Petrovsky, Kosior, Postyshev, and Yakir. Skrypnyk's rehabilitation has been, so far, only partial. His name has been mentioned as a historian of the Communist movement and as a victim of Stalin's "cult of personality." In the literary field some associates of Khvylovy (Blakytny, Kulish, Dniprovsky, Kurbas) have been reinstated, although, so far, their works have not been republished. The plays of Ivan Mykytenko have, however, been republished. So far, the "rehabilitation," meaning­ful as it is, has not brought about any substantial restoration of the purged political or intellectual elite of the thirties, and it is too early to asess its full extent or significance.

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3 Cf. John S. Reshetar, Jr., The Ukrainian Revolution, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1952.

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4 Eugene Lyons, Our Secret Allies: The Peoples of Russia, New York, Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1954, p232.

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