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Chapter 23

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 25

 p195  Chapter Twenty‑Four

The Soviet Cultural Policy in Ukraine
After the War

The Soviet cultural treatment of the Ukrainians after World War II is an inhumanly logical imitation of the making of the Russian Empire during the course of centuries. As such, it is eminently sensible and as an imitation it is unpardonably reactionary and resembles nothing so much as the rise and flowering of Hitlerism.

There was something obscene about the Third Reich. The gatherings at Nuremberg, the use of slogans that were progressive in the time of Charlemagne, the sense of the unity of the Christian world, all were prostituted to serve the cause of a narrow racism which could find no better outlet than the extermination of the Jews and the barking at Europe.

In the same way the liberation of Moscow from the Tatar yoke, the marriage of Ivan III with Sophia Paleolog, a member of the Byzantine imperial family, gave the tsar and the Muscovite Great Russians the notion that they were the Christian people par excellence and that Moscow was the Third Rome. Peter I secularized that religious conception and drove Mazepa as Hetman of Ukraine, to a revolt.

Lenin, a descendant of the old aristocracy and of the Tatars, turned Communist and dreamed of a Communist International. The defeat of his armies before Warsaw and the failure of other plans for world revolution turned the Communist International as a gathering of equal Communist leaders into a Communist RSFSR supporting a group of discredited plotters.

Skrypnyk and Khvylovy did not see this and it was their tragedy as it was the tragedy of the Borotbisty and the Ukapisty, the Ukrainian Communists who had sought independent member­ship  p196 in an ideal organization. Stalin, by his policy in the thirties, blew away that mirage but it required a World War for him to annihilate it.

Soon after the Germans attacked, Stalin dissolved the Comintern to please his Western allies and to dupe them. He substituted the Slav Congress and when he secured the assent of the Big Three to liberate the Slavs, he highly developed this.

As the Red Army, now transformed by fiat of the Council of Commissars of the USSR into the Ukrainian and Byelorussian armies, "liberated" one Slav capital after another, they were followed by cultural missions who talked to the enthusiastic multitudes on the Slav Brotherhood of Nations in terms of 1848, Peter, the Third Rome and Stalin. Rylsky and Tychyna, Korniychuk and Yanovsky, all the outstanding Ukrainian writers who had yielded to the Russian cause and survived the purges, spoke. They praised the new situation and the democratic powers admired this.

It was only a sham because soon there was established the Cominform. Its seat was not in Moscow but its spirit was there. The object of the Cominform was not to create a new and equal gathering of Communist humanity, not the ostensible idea of the Comintern but it was to inform the Communists among the Slavs and elsewhere of the approach to Communism by the elder Communists of the world, the Muscovite Great Russians.

In the purely cultural sphere the answer was the condemnation of formalism, and still more of internationalism. Formalism was a technical school of literary criticism which had contributed something to the study of literature and culture. It was an attempt to put technique above content, or rather to judge content by technique and its advocates, sometimes great scholars in a narrow field, basked in the light of the admiration of their friends, until they considered themselves great.

Internationalism was something else. Its content had been expressed by the Proto­pope Avvakum in 1666 when he announced at his trial in Moscow that all Orthodox Christians had to come to Moscow to learn. Now it was the same. History was to be periodicized between A.M. and P.M. (Ante Muscoviam and Post  p197 Muscoviam, Before and After Moscow). If the before was leading up to a Moscow discovery, it was good; if not, it was bad.

This was proclaimed by Zhdanov of the Politbiuro in 1946 when, under the highest auspices, he began his account. On September 4 of that year, at a meeting of the Union of Soviet Writers in Moscow, he lashed out at various films which had been recently produced and at several Russian authors, especially Zoshchenko and Anna Akhmatova, for not produ­cing a true picture of Soviet reality. Then, warming to his task, he explicitly declared that literature had to be entirely at the service of the Communist Party and that it was the duty of every Soviet writer to lash and scourge the decadent bourgeois west. He berated many of the authors for wishing to learn from the bourgeois writers at the very moment when Soviet literature, the most revolutionary literature in the world, was a hundred times higher and more beauti­ful than the literature of the bourgeois west.

The speech of Zhdanov was the open proclamation of war against all foreign influences in Soviet literature and it was directed against some of the most respected figures, who were apparently silenced. Even Tikhonov was removed from his post at the head of the Union of Soviet Writers for not having exerted himself more strongly against these dangerous heresies.

Yet this speech was not really the beginning, for some weeks before the question was fully brought into the open, at a meeting of the KP/b/U, Khrushchov, the Russian who held the post as First Secretary of the KP/b/U, had received from the Executive Committee of the Communist Party in Moscow full and definite instructions as to the means to be adopted for purging Ukrainian literature and science and for suppressing all traces of bourgeois nationalism. His remarks were reprinted in part by Pravda in Moscow, which summarized them in these words.

"The TsK KP/b/U hadº not paid sufficient attention to ideological work, does not give enough weight to the selecting and the ideological and political education of the cadres in the fields of science, literature and art, has not organized in the press a wide criticism of the hostile bourgeois-nationalist ideology. As a result  p198 in some books, journals and newspaper articles and in the lectures of some Ukrainian historians and literary men there are ideological mistakes and perversions, and efforts to revive the bourgeois nationalist conceptions of the historian Hrushevsky and his 'school.' "

The weight of the attack fell upon the Institute of Language and Literature of the Academy of Sciences of the UkSSR for two books which it had published. One was the first volume of a History of Ukraine which had appeared in 1943 and the other was An Outline of the History of Ukrainian Literature which had appeared in 1945. The authors of both books were accused of having failed to periodicize Ukrainian history and literature according to the Marxo-Leninist tradition and of having followed Hrushevsky and Yefremiv in being deceived by external political events. They were charged with remarks that could be interpreted as maintaining an early separation of Ukrainian culture from Russian, when it was a fact that the three brotherly nations, the Great Russians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians, had had a joint culture until the fourteenth century, after which the Great Russians became the truest heirs and interpreters of the whole. They were charged with idealizing the old bourgeois nationalists as V. Naumenko and O. Levytsky, of admiring the old state of patriarchal private property and of failing to realize the great ideological gulf between Shevchenko, who stood in the tradition of Belinsky, Chernyshevsky, etc., and Kulish who was a liberal and not a revolutionist. They were condemned for having a good word for such national counter-revolutionists as Vynnychenko and Oles and for calling a competent poet, I. Steshchenko, who had been a minister under Petlyura. They forced their own flatterer, Rylsky, to leave his post as head of the Union of Soviet Writers of Ukraine for not having taken a sufficiently firm stand in condemning the mistakes of the other writers, and for a while he was in disfavor.

The accusations penned in Moscow and printed in Pravda and the Literaturnaya Gazeta were reprinted in the Ukrainian papers with even more vulgarity and abuse. They poured out their venom at nearly all the writers and historians who regarded the use of the Ukrainian language as expressing the feelings and the  p199 culture of the Ukrainian people. They condemned nationalist praise of Kotlyarevsky for introdu­cing national pride and feeling into his Eneida, the first book in the Ukrainian vernacular published in 1798. They accused the writers and scholars of deliberately trying to drive a wedge between the Russian and Ukrainian people and of refusing to see, because of their bourgeois nationalist prejudices, that the great Ukrainian writers of the nineteenth century had always drawn their inspiration and been close to the progressive Russian writers, as Belinsky and Chernyshevsky, and they denied the existence of any Western European influence on Ukrainian literature, since all the influence had come from the Russians. They found influences of Gorky on Lesya Ukrainka and cited as her models Russian works which appeared after her works were in print. All this made no difference, for the Marxo-Leninists were in sole possession of the truth and their word was law.

Stalin had declared that the new Soviet literature and culture was to be Communist in content and national in form but it was very soon realized that even this was to be interpreted in a special sense. Any excessive attention paid by writers to descriptions of the Ukrainian landscape which did not bring a glorification of the new factories was treated as an antiquated sympathy with the old patriarchal Ukraine and its bourgeois nationalism. Any mention of the Zaporozhian Sich and the Kozak past, unless it was connected very definitely with the union and longing of the Kozaks for Muscovite rule, was declared to be treasonable and bourgeois nationalist in essence. Thus, step by step the authorities in Moscow and their mouthpieces in Ukraine limited more and more closely the possibility of describing or singing of any of the characteristic features of Ukrainian life and the historic past, while the Great Russians were given free rein to glorify the past of Russia even under the tsars, for it was there that the seeds of the Communist Party were planted and flourished.

This process of tracking down bourgeois nationalism perhaps reached the limits of its absurdity in 1951 when the Soviet critics discovered dangerous thoughts in the war poem of Volodymyr Sosyura, Love Ukraine. It was a graceful, but hardly a great poem.  p200 It had been enthusiastically received in 1944, when it appeared, and the poet was awarded for it a Stalin Prize. The poem was published and republished by the state publishing houses and then it was suddenly discovered that it was untrue, bourgeois nationalist, etc. and the unfortunate writer was forced to repent of his errors. As a matter of fact, even before this, many of the Russian translators had gone out of their way to insert in it various passages celebrating the Volga and the Kremlin as part of the love of Ukraine but they, too, were reprimanded for trying to improve the work instead of condemning it for its real quality.

In every field of scholar­ship, literature, art, and music, the same charges have been brought with logical consistency. Anything which would remind the readers of the old pre‑Communist life is treated as dangerous, but none of the authors, no matter how they have falsified history or the present, has been able to express the great achievements of the new Soviet Ukraine and to catch its spirit and show how it can in any degree differ from Moscow. At the first sign of any independent judgment, the cry is raised of bourgeois nationalism and the work is suppressed.

At the same time the Ukrainian scene is being overloaded with things Russian. Russian theatrical companies are continually traveling around the republic so as to show the real charity and achievements of the elder brother and inspire a desire for imitation of its life and thought under that all‑time world genius, Joseph Stalin. Russian musical ensembles and exhibitions of the works of Russian artists are constantly sent to all the chief cities of the non‑Russian republics, not only to acquaint the people with Russian achievements but still more to give them the necessary patterns by which they should plan their lives and work.

There are constantly published masses of Ukrainian translations of Russian works and books translated from the other languages used in the USSR and it is almost essential for an author to allude to these and especially to the Georgian people as the people of Stalin, if he wishes to avoid the charge of bourgeois nationalism and the attempt to sow hostility between the brotherly peoples.

The institution is even more severe in the field of language.  p201 Korniychuk after World War II emphasized that Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism was not to be sought only by a consideration of the contents of books and paintings. It was reflected in a still more dangerous form in the language of the books themselves. Any author who showed a predilection for the use of the older forms of the language or sought to develop it in any way other than the Communist Party desired was thereby convicting himself of holding nationalistic sentiments and of being dangerously reactionary. He thus accused of bourgeois nationalism even those writers as Yanovsky who had been most rigorous in following the party line in content.

The real significance of this statement of Korniychuk's is shown by the Ukrainian-Russian Dictionary which finally appeared in 1948 under the editor­ship of L. A. Bulakhovsky and M. F. Rylsky. The work was published in Moscow, although it bore the stamp of the Institute of Language Study of the Academy of Sciences of the UkSSR.

In this the authors made no concealment of their program, for they definitely stated that their work was based upon the "spoken" Ukrainian of the government offices (where it was the most corrupted by Russian words), and not the older Ukrainian language as spoken before the introduction of the Bolshevik reforms. They added, too, that they had supplied from Russian whatever was lacking in Ukrainian, for "thanks to the Russian language, the Ukrainian has been able to acquire the capacity to respond to the needs of socialist construction and to satisfy the cultural needs of the Ukrainian people."

Stripped of its Communist jargon, this passage merely means that the Moscow authorities have decided to carry on their policy of russification in a new way. They have recognized the gap between the older Ukrainian language and the hodgepodge which they have produced and they are now insisting on using the words of the older usage in their most narrow and restricted sense, and by refusing to recognize any possibility of development in Ukrainian or any changes in it, they are forcing Ukrainian to become a dead language and by an inverted purism are planning to compel  p202 the Ukrainians to recognize that Russian and Russian alone is in a position to grow and develop.

This is entirely in line with the new philological policy dictated by Stalin after his repudiation of the late Prof. Marr and what was commonly known as Marrism, a theory that Stalin had sponsored for many years. Now he was willing to argue that Russian as the language of the USSR was not only the Russian language as the language of the Russian people but it was also in a new sense a zonal language, the approved language of Socialism and Communism and, as such, it had already absorbed all that it needed and its mission was to replace all those languages which were spoken by people who had awaked to the truth of the Moscow doctrines.

Thus the new theories of language study that were officially accepted in Moscow opened new vistas for cultural oppression and perversion of the Ukrainian masses. They were a signal for renewed efforts, not only to control the Ukrainian cultural life in the present and the future but their efforts were extended to the past and the scholars were set to carry out an artificial restatement of Ukrainian history, literature and culture from the earliest known periods.

It is small wonder then that the modern post‑war Ukrainian literature is becoming more and more a pallid and bloodless imitation of the stereotyped patterns required for Great Russian and that even those authors who have sold themselves to the Stalinist regime are unable to produce anything of real value or of even mediocre excellence. They are turning out the average propaganda material against the imperialistic Americans on the lines ordered by the Politburo with never a thought except the income and perquisites which they are slated to receive and the constant terror lest at some moment by an unfortunate slip they may be accused justly or unjustly of that terrible crime of bourgeois nationalism and lose in an instant all that they have worked for years to win.

The cultural pressure exerted on eastern Ukraine is spread likewise with even more force over those portions in the West which had been formerly under Poland or Czechoslovakia. Here, as former parts of the old Hapsburg monarchy, the writers had had  p203 more opportunity to absorb the current thought of the west than they had had in eastern Ukraine. Therefore, the pressure against them has been applied even more strongly and still more Russians have been sent to remodel the life in Lviv than was necessary for Kiev. The process of russification was started later but it has been pushed more energetically. The net result is the same, — the impoverishment of Ukrainian culture as a whole and the substitution for it of a shabby form of Russian Muscovite Communist culture, which is to be tolerated only until there can be a full absorption.

Yet that process has not been easy. Hardly a week passes that some of the higher units in the Soviet service do not discover a new nest of Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism, and most frequently among the members and officers of the KP/b/U. It has been made evident that the Russian Communists cannot hope to achieve their goal until they have eliminated the entire Ukrainian population. They are trying to do it, but despite the millions of their victims and their attempts to separate the Ukrainian children from their parents and to rear them as slaves for Russian factories, they have not succeeded in winning the population to their views.

From the cultural point of view, the post‑war period has been even more depressing than were the thirties. It has been drabber, like the lives of the people, but it has not served as yet to eliminate that spark of hope which alone preserved the Ukrainians during the hard periods of tsarism when they were subjects and slaves on their own territories, which were not their own to govern or to develop.

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Page updated: 25 Apr 22