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Chapter 4

This webpage reproduces a chapter of


Ukraine under the Soviets
by Clarence Manning

published by
Bookman Associates
New York,
1953

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,
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Chapter 6

 p57  Chapter Five

Ukrainization

The period of the New Economic Policy was likewise the time when the movement for the Ukrainization of the state reached its highest point. This was a complicated political, cultural and scholar­ly movement which aimed to develop the Ukrainian self-consciousness in every possible way and to establish the proper role of the Ukrainian language and culture in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. It took many and diverse forms, and while it developed into a definite opposition to Russian influence and Russian methods, it was not primarily so much an anti-Communist as an extra-Communist movement, even though most of its outstanding leaders were tried and tested members of the party.

The basis for the entire movement is to be found in the slight attraction that Communism as a doctrine possessed for the Ukrainian people. As late as 1927 there were only 122,928 Ukrainian Communists, that is, about thirty-nine for each ten thousand of the Ukrainian population. The bulk of the Communists in Ukraine were Russian and the vast majority of these belonged to the urban proletariat or to the workers in the Donets Basin and Kryvy Rih.

The general period of disintegration during the civil war and the period of Militant Communism had greatly strengthened the power and self-confidence of the peasants and had weakened the power of the city workmen. This showed Lenin and the dominant group that some method had to be found to win at least the passive support of the countryside if new troubles were to be averted.

The Bolsheviks were well aware of the tenacity with which the Ukrainian peasants, whether they were literate or illiterate, clung to their native language. Lenin had used this characteristic with  p58 skill and success in encouraging the Ukrainian opposition to the Russian Provisional Government. The proper recognition of the language had been one of the most insistent demands put forward by all groups which had later come together in the Ukrainian National Republic. The failure of the Bolsheviks in their early occupation of Ukraine to recognize the Ukrainian language had been one of the surest means of arousing opposition to their course and this time with their power established, the Bolsheviks decided to change their policy. As early as December 6, 1919, the Executive Committee of the Russian Communist Party had declared: "In carrying out absolutely the principle of the self-determination of peoples, the Central Committee considers it necessary to repeat again that the Russian Communist Party maintains the recognition of the independence of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic." It encouraged the Russians in Ukraine to learn Ukrainian and to aid in developing this as a weapon for the Communist education of the laboring masses.

Yet all was mere verbiage and even Vynnychenko who, at this moment, was sympathetic to the Bolsheviks in his "Letter to the Ukrainian Workmen and Peasants," published in Forward (Lviv, 30.10. 2‑3, II, 1920), lamented the fact that, despite this, the Ukrainian language did not receive its just due and that many Russian Communists were inclined to look upon even Ukrainian Communists as potential counter-revolutionists.

On the other hand, there was one group of Communists who were sincerely devoted to this goal. They were the former Borotbisty and the Ukapisty who had stressed the need for Ukrainian Communism and who had never lost an opportunity, while stressing their Communist feelings, to express the hope that the Ukrainian Communists might some time be formed into a special party and be duly admitted to the Communist International on a par with all the other Communist parties of the world. They took advantage of the situation offered by the formation of the Union of Soviet Republics and eagerly sought posts in the Commissariat of Education, which was one of the independent republic commissariats. This gave them a very good opportunity to work for the development  p59 of Ukrainian and Ukrainian culture in a field where there could be little expressed opposition.

On the other hand, every step for the fostering of Ukrainian or its development was met by the Russian Communists, and especially by those in Ukraine, with the greatest hostility. This went so far that Dmytro Lebid, the Secretary of the Central Committee of the KP/b/U, declared that there was a conflict of two languages and cultures in Ukraine and that it was not the duty of the Communist Party to interfere in this but to allow the dominant culture to win. In this he was actuated as a Russianized Ukrainian by his hostility to his native language and culture but he failed to win support, for it was very obvious that his policy of favoring Russian was only deepening the gulf between the Party and the Ukrainian peasants, the thing that the Moscow authorities were endeavoring at the time to bridge.

On August 1, 1823, the Communist Party passed a new decree which said: "The government of the workers and peasants regards it as necessary in the immediate future to concentrate its power on the spreading of a knowledge of the Ukrainian language. The former equality existing hitherto between the two most widely used languages in Ukraine, Ukrainian and Russian, is insufficient. Life, as experience has shown, causes the actual superiority of Russian. To remove this inequality, the government of the workmen and peasants will introduce a series of practical means which, respecting the equality of the languages of all nationalities on Ukrainian territory, must assure to the Ukrainian language that place which corresponds to the number and economic importance of the Ukrainian people in the territory of the UkSSR."

It further provided that Russian officials in Ukraine should learn Ukrainian within a definite period. All this sounded well on paper but the date by which Russian officials had either to learn Ukrainian or be recalled was constantly postponed further into the future, and the highest men who came for but short periods and who represented Moscow in the Ukrainian capital stubbornly refused to make any effort to obey these decrees.

On the other hand, every declaration to this effect was eagerly  p60 snapped up by the Borotbisty and the Ukapisty in the Commissariat for Education. In a short time they worked so effectively that nearly all the books published in Ukraine and about 85% of the newspapers were put out in Ukrainian. The circulation of these Ukrainian publications in the villages increased rapidly and aided in produ­cing a sense of relief among the peasants and a tolerance of the situation which was in sharp contrast to the prevailing mood of a few years before.

A network of Ukrainian schools was set up throughout the country with instruction in the native language and the number of students grew rapidly from among the peasant classes. It had been centuries since the Ukrainian language had reached such a state of popularity. The theatres produced plays in Ukrainian as the chief part of the repertory. The cities assumed a markedly Ukrainian appearance and the leaders could look with satisfaction on their results.

The one difficulty was the low level of the instruction in many places but this was equally characteristic of the Russian terrain. The revolution and the Bolshevik laws had abolished the old Russian system of education and had eliminated from the schools the bulk of the older intelligentsia and their children who, on one excuse or another, were excluded from all opportunities for study. The old disciplines were abolished and the Soviet school entered upon a chaotic period. Nevertheless, the changes which the former Borotbist Hrynko introduced, including the establishment of seven year schools which gave the students the right to enter upon a three year course in various technical schools, served to increase rapidly the number of young and partly trained Ukrainians who were available for posts in the government service and who thereby freed the organization from its dependence upon Russian-trained people.

In 1925, he was succeeded in the post of Commissar by O. Shumsky, likewise a Borotbist, who had held the post of Ukrainian Minister in Warsaw. He had come back in 1923 to become the Director of Agitation and Propaganda for the Central Committee of the KP/b/U. An ardent believer in the Ukrainian cause, he  p61 opposed very strenuously all the Russifying influences in the Party and insisted, as a matter of principle, that only Ukrainian Communists should be promoted to prominent posts in the Ukrainian Communist organizations. He even went so far as to insist, when Kaganovich was sent from Moscow as Secretary of the Ukrainian section of the party, that he be removed and replaced by Chubar, an old Bolshevik, and he recommended that Hrynko should be made the head of the state.

Kaganovich, who had been rather on the side of Shumsky in many of his enterprises, now turned against him on the ground that he was breaking Communist discipline and, in a short time, Shumsky was removed and transferred to Moscow, where he received a post as head of the trade unions. From there he was moved to Leningrad to become head of a school of economics, but by this time his star was setting. Shumsky, on more charges, was sent to a concentration camp on the Finnish border. According to the story, he was assured that he had a chance to escape. He tried it and was shot. His leading assistants, Maksymovych, Vasylkiv and Turyansky, were branded as Shumkyists and punished accordingly.

His successor, M. Skrypnyk, took up his work as Commissar of Education under even better auspices. Unlike his predecessors, who had entered the Communist Party from the ranks of the Borotbisty or the Ukapisty and who thereby risked the charge of being Ukrainian nationalists and having bourgeois-nationalist sympathies, Skrypnyk had been an old member of the Russian Social Democratic Party (Bolsheviks). He had been a personal friend of Lenin long before the Revolution. He had been arrested several times by the tsarist government, had taken an active part in the October Revolution of 1917 and was a disciplined member of the party. He was thus above reproach so far as his party standing was concerned.

From the time of the foundation of the Ukrainian National Republic, Skrypnyk had been one of the outstanding Ukrainians in the Communist Party. From the beginning he had taken the definite stand that the Communist organization in Ukraine should be thoroughly Ukrainian, independent of the Russian Communist Party and with a seat in the Comintern. He believed that Ukraine  p62 should naturally have a Soviet government and be an independent state with all the rights and perquisites of the RSFSR and he regarded the war between the Ukrainian Soviet Republic and the Ukrainian National Republic as a civil war in which the Soviet Russians naturally came to the aid of the Soviet Ukrainians. At the same time he believed equally strongly that this assistance should be that of a brother-nation and should have no elements of a foreign occupation.

He was a disciplined Communist and he always acted in accordance with the strictest Communist tradition. He never joined any faction or questioned the vote of his superiors but he remained firm in his convictions, and while he was always in the minority and was willing to yield superficially, he always seized the next opportunity to advance substantially the same points but in a somewhat different form. He was on friendly terms with Stalin and he came to his post after a definite interview with Stalin and with instructions that put him in a position second only to Kaganovich.

The appointment of Skrypnyk with his Communist record showed very well that in 1927 the VKP (the All‑Union Communist Party) was still playing with the idea of making the Communist International a real gathering of supposed equals, united under the leader­ship of a central body in Moscow. It was a tacit recognition of the independence of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic as a political entity, but it was equally the recognition of a Marxian Socialist culture which might lead to some of the later developments of Stalinism. The appointment insured Stalin of the aid of the true Ukrainian Communists in the coming battle between him and the left deviationists.

Once in his own mind Skrypnyk had answered the problem, he did not waver. He accepted the Marxian doctrine that by the development of an urban proletariat he could develop Ukrainians to the point where they would be justified in demanding an entrance into the Comintern as an independent nation. He interpreted the cases of Czechoslovakia and Latvia as exactly that, since the proletariats of Prague and Brno, as well as Riga, had forced  p63 national independence and he set himself to do the same in Kiev and Kharkiv.

Without wavering in his devotion to the principles of Communism, he attacked the problem in the broadest possible way. He stimulated derussification by supporting the Ukrainian press, theatre and schools. Under his influence and work, the cities, including Kharkiv, where Ukrainian influence had been relatively weak, came to be predominantly Ukrainian and in smaller places it became very rare to hear Russian spoken. The State Printing House and the smaller cooperative publishing houses produced almost nothing that was not in Ukrainian and during the few years that he remained in control, there were more Ukrainian books published than in the preceding century and a half.

Skrypnyk was still not satisfied. He extended his activity and patronage of things Ukrainian to all those areas in the RSFSR where Ukrainians were living in compact settlements. He provided Ukrainian papers, books and theatres for those who were living in Kur­shchyna, Voronizh­shchyna, along the Volga, Kuban, Western Siberia and Kazakhstan and the Far East. He sent educated men and women to establish schools and other cultural institutions and, for the first time in history, efforts were made to establish a real community of interests among all the Ukrainians in the Soviet Union.

More than that, he held out a friendly hand to Western Ukraine, which was under Polish rule. Although by this time the entire control of foreign affairs was concentrated in Moscow, Skrypnyk was allowed to arrange for a Ukrainian consul in Lviv and Yur. Lapchynsky, a former Ukapist, was appointed to the post. The consul's duty was to win support for the Communists in Eastern Galicia and, in pursuance of this purpose, Skrypnyk, too, paid a visit to Lviv. He had a certain success in his work and a few Western Ukrainians, as S. Rudnytsky, who came from Prague to become the head of the Ukrainian Institute of Geography and Cartography in Kharkiv, and the mathematician Chaykivsky, entered the USSR. They formed a special club in Kharkiv and had their own literary organization "Western Ukraine." Skrypnyk  p64 even worked out a plan to recruit 8,000 teachers in Western Ukraine to undertake Ukrainian work in the Donbas where the Russian influence was strongest.

At the same time Skrypnyk was a determined Communist and he lost no opportunity for advancing the doctrines of the movement, even at the risk of doing violence to those Ukrainian ideals in which he believed. Thus, in 1928, he demanded a reformation of the All‑Ukrainian Academy of Sciences which had been working feverishly in the same cause of Ukrainization but which, from his point of view, was insufficiently Marxist and Communist. In 1929 he won his point and the Academy was forced to elect to member­ship seven Communists who were chosen for their knowledge of the subject and not for their scientific ability. One of the seven was Skrypnyk himself, and among the others was O. Shlikhter and Zatonsky, the veteran from the earlier Ukrainian Communist movement. He soon promoted Shlikhter to a prominent position and refused to confirm the election of the non‑Communist scholar, Krymsky, to the post of secretary. At the same time he forced the election of several Western Ukrainian members, so that for a few years the Academy did become a real centre to represent all Ukrainian scholar­ship.

Thus, in this complex process Skrypnyk played at times a curious and often contradictory role. He was at once the head of the Ukrainian movement and of the Communist movement in the country and he never realized or noticed the contradictory character of his actions, like Tito in the early years of his dealing with Moscow. Still, during his term of office the Ukrainian movement reached its height and seemed to be flourishing.


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