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Chapter 12

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

Ukraine under the Soviets
by Clarence Manning

published by
Bookman Associates
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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Chapter 14

 p115  Chapter Thirteen

The Turning of the Cultural Tide

The Ukrainian Communists did not realize what they were doing when they launched their campaign against the bourgeois intellectuals and the aged scholars in the Academy of Sciences. For the first time since the period of Ukrainization had started, they had definitely called the attention of Moscow to the existence in Ukraine of a survival of the old independent mode of thinking which had animated the Ukrainian leaders in the struggle for an independent state of their own and they had coined a name for it, bourgeois Ukrainian nationalism. That was to recur again and again and lead to their own ruin.

It is remarkable that neither Skrypnyk nor Khvylovy realized this earlier. Both men in their own way were seriously threatening the unity of the Soviet Union, to which as an ideal they were loyal. Both men, Skrypnyk in the political field and Khvylovy in literature, realized the danger to Ukraine of substituting Russianism for Communism. Both men accepted in different senses the basic ideals of Communism and both believed in a Communist International which would offer all peoples full rights of cultural and political development. Neither one understood that the Comintern was a shadow structure which was totally dependent upon the forces operating in Moscow and that the situation in 1928 and 1929 was basically different from that ten years before.

In the RSFSR the charter of liberty for the fellow travellers which had been promulgated in 1925 was practically abolished by the granting of extreme power of control to Averbakh and the RAPP (the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers) which, to all intents and purposes, was issuing orders as to how the writers should support the Five Year Plan.

 p116  It was perfectly natural that a similar situation should develop in Ukraine. The various schools of serious writing, as the Vaplite, stood out against this regimentation and ably defended their position, but that position was indefensible in the face of political pressure and without being conscious of any inconsistency, Skrypnyk, as a good Communist and a member of All‑Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) was willing to exert pressure to bring the literary organization of Ukraine in line with that of the All‑Union Communist Party at the very same time when he was deliberately thwarting the unifying tendencies of that party.

The first sign of the changed order came with the arrest and deportation of M. Ivchenko for his novel Working Powers because it endeavored to express in a concrete form the problem of fitting the ideals of the various national groups into the stereotyped formula which was now fashionable. Next came the difficulties of Khvylovy over his novel Woodsnipes, despite his willingness to secure an opportunity for further work by the destruction of the second part of the novel.

It must be remembered that the groups which were now being attacked were not by their essential declarations anti-Communist. They reflected, rather, the disillusionment of many people with the prevailing manifestations of Communism, the growing realization that the Communist regime was not giving the people that ideal reality which its teachings indicated they should easily win. That was the gist of the drama by M. Kulish, the People's Malakhy, which reflected the contrast between the ideals of a high-minded but somewhat simple village Don Quixote and the realities of life on any particular level. This, as other of his plays, was well presented in the Berezil Theatre, directed by Les Kurbas, a Western Ukrainian who had developed in Kiev into one of the great producers and had pushed the Ukrainian theatrical art to its highest development. Writings of the same character had marked some of the early Russian works of A. N. Tolstoy after the revolution but, being a Great Russian, he was not involved in the endless controversies over the national questions and, like most of the Russian authors, he was able to work out a satisfactory agreement with the  p117 Stalin policies. This was not true of the Ukrainian authors who felt a steadily increasing pressure from the Communist authorities.

The vast majority of the more mediocre authors who had sought to follow unhesitatingly the party line found it very natural to form themselves into the VUSPP (the All‑Ukrainian Society of Proletarian Writers) in 1927. They published a monthly journal, Hart and the Literary Journal, and to show their real internationalism they supported a Russian proletarian journal, the Krasnoye Slovo (the Red Word) and a Jewish paper, Di Royte Welt. It was only natural that this group should seek support by applying for member­ship in the VOAPP (the All‑Union Society of Proletarian Writers) which, of course, was completely under the domination of the Russian Section, the RAPP. They thus became the thinking or unthinking agents by which the Russians could direct their blows against Ukrainian literature.

On the other hand, there came during these years a similar concentration of those writers who rejected bourgeois ideas but who still were working to develop a Ukrainian Communism in the true sense of the word. Yet they were forced to shift their positions constantly and hence there came a hectic but yet vital series of publications.

The Futurists who denied the value of the past and worked in experimental efforts were naturally the opponents of Khvylovy and the Vaplite and finally, in 1927, they united with some of the other radical groups (in the literary sense) to form the New Generation which continually published declarations of policy and of adherence to Communist ideas, but this group also drew upon itself the criticism of the VUSPP because it aimed for the adaptation of literature to the Ukrainian scene.

On the other hand, the Vaplite was very soon compelled to disband. It did so voluntarily but the bulk of the abler writers immediately started to publish the Literaturny Yarmarok (The Literary Fair) in which, under the guise of apolitical writing, they poured out scarcely veiled criticism of their opponents. This, too, was soon under attack and then it was reorganized as the Prolitfront (the Union of Studies of the Proletarian Literary Front). This  p118 device was also too obvious, for the new journal continued to criticize the Russian policy and in 1931 it was forced to disband and most of the members who wanted to continue to write passed into the VUSPP, which, with all its rigid adherence to the party line, could not be too sure as to what that party line really was.

At one point in his career Skrypnyk, who was in many ways opposed to Khvylovy, dreamed of the establishment of a Federation of the Unions of Revolutionary Writers of Ukraine. He succeeded in forcing this upon the Futurists and many smaller leftist groups and also the New Generation, but his failure to make this real in 1931 was but a sign of the future.

By this time the VUSPP, along with the RAPP, had become the dominating force politically and Skrypnyk was forced to give up his endeavors and to allow most of his Federation members to join the VUSPP. This was but another step in the decay of all literary schools and it reflected the period of uncertainty and of a definite degree of opposition to the domination of the RAPP.

By the end of the twenties, the opportunities for independent thinking in literature had grown exceedingly few and scattered. There were still, in general, only the two currents of Ukrainian and Russian Communism, and the former was definitely beginning to wane under the continual attacks that were delivered both by its opponents and the Communist Party through its official organs. Still, up until 1931, Ukrainian literature continued to develop and the literary disputes, often over minor points of literature, thought and culture, animated society and lent a zest to the various writings. These now more than ever began to reflect a growing apprehension over the conditions as they were and the impossibility of equating the ideals of Communism and the realities of the Russian domination of the country.

A more decided blow was given by the decree of April 23, 1932. This ended all literary discussions and abolished all literary societies and groups throughout the entire Soviet Union. In place of these, Stalin announced the establishment of a single society throughout the entire Union, the All‑Union Association of Soviet Writers, and turned this over to Maksim Gorky, perhaps the most prominent  p119 Russian writer of the day but a man who was bitterly anti-Ukrainian and scornful of the national cultures of all the Soviet Republics. His object seems to have been in Ukraine to force the literature to accept the Russian pattern. The new doctrine of socialist realism was promulgated and it was very soon made clear that the destruction of the VSUPP and all the old groups was not a step toward the restoration of freedom for creation but a new move to strengthen, on a somewhat different basis, the government's control over everything that was published.

It was highly significant for this that at the early meetings of the Ukrainian Section, it's organizer, I. Kulyk, appeared in the uniform of a frontier guard of the NKVD as a silent warning to all of those who might be regarded as heretical in any sense. Furthermore Zhdanov as a member of the Politburo of the All‑Union Communist Party, explained the situation. In his keynote speech, he declared:

"Comrade Stalin has called our writers engineers of human souls. What does that mean? What obligations does it lay upon them? It means first that they must know life, so as to represent it faithfully in artistic works, to represent it not scholastically or in a dead way, not simply as an objective realism but to picture reality in its revolutionary development. In this the truth and historical concreteness of artistic representation must coincide with the tasks of the ideal reworking and development of the working people in the spirit of socialism. This method of artistic literature and of literary criticism are what we call the method of socialist realism."

Whatever might have been the effect of the new organization on Russian literature, which had been handicapped by the domination of the RAPP, its effect on Ukrainian literature could not fail to be disastrous. In effect, it standardized all literature on the Russian model and it indicated that henceforth literature and literary men were to be treated as organs of the Communist Party and of the Moscow regime. It was the definite answer to the efforts of the Ukrainian writers of nearly all the conflicting schools to adapt literature to their own purposes and ideals. It took away from the writers all inspiration and desire to use their talents for their own  p120 artistic enjoyment and it rendered it possible for the central government to abolish that sense of republican patriotism which had been so marked during the preceding period in all the non‑Russian republics.

In place of the ideas of the old Ukrainian life which was being brought to an end by the compulsory collectivization and the establishment of the collective farms, in place of the old visions of the unity of the Ukrainian people and those ideals of a new national life that had dominated Ukrainian literature from the time of Shevchenko, in place of the efforts to establish in Ukrainian literature all those branches of art and culture which were stirring in Western Europe, there was now given to the writers, young and old, the command to celebrate and to glorify the actual process of socialist construction in Ukraine, as elsewhere. By 1934 Kulyk, as the organizer of the Ukrainian section, could write of the definite end of the old bourgeois nationalist sentiment as preached by Yefremiv and of the efforts of Khvylovy to reorient the psychology of Ukrainian literature on that of Europe. In his article on the modern Ukrainian literature in a volume on the Literature of the Peoples of the USSR published in 1934, he could pass over in silence, for obvious reasons, all of the great names which had appeared during the preceding ten years and shower his praise upon the young proletarian writers who were willing to follow blindly and, to the best of their ability, the new course.

There were, of course, some of the older and even of the more prominent men who were willing to compromise with the new regime. Among them the outstanding figures were Tychyna and Rylsky. Both of them, after consideration and treatment by the authorities, tried to bend their works to the new ideas but there were many who were unwilling or unable to be untrue to their artistic faith and for them there was not even the choice of silence or writing. They were compelled to conform or vanish and it was not long after the organization of the All‑Union Society of Soviet Writers when this was made abundantly clear.

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