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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 7

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 9

 p79  Chapter Eight

Mykola Khvylovy

Shumsky and Skrypnyk, as Commissars for Education, defended the position of the Ukrainian language in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and among the Ukrainians in the entire USSR. They worked to break down the anti-Ukrainian attitude that had existed from the beginning in the Communist Party of Ukraine, but as men holding public office and busied with the political and administrative problems that were thus raised, they did not go further. The additional step to point out the road for this newly conscious Ukrainian Communism was taken by Mykola Khvylovy.

Khvylovy, who was born in 1891, was already well known as a Communist writer. A fearless author of strong convictions, he had worked his way early in the Civil War to the position of the Communists and had served as a commissar in the Ukrainian Communist Army. He was now one of the recognized Communist writers and moving spirit of the leading literary group, the Vaplite (the All‑Ukrainian Academy of Proletarian Literature), the members of which were devoted to him.

Khvylovy was an ardent admirer of Trotsky and when the break came between Trotsky and Stalin, he took the side of the former and held, with him, that the cause of counter-revolution had triumphed and that the rise of a Soviet bureaucracy was merely a return to the old unhappy state. Khvylovy had become a Communist solely because of his belief that it was only through Communism and Communist teachings that humanity could achieve its goal of liberation and self-development and he was impatient with anything that seemed to contradict this theory.

 p80  He was at the same time an ardent Ukrainian. He could not bear to see the subordinate position which Ukraine and the Ukrainian Communist Party held in the USSR and he resented the already obvious attempts to present Moscow as the supreme representative of Communism and of a general Communist culture.

In 1925, he began to publish a weekly pamphlet as a supplement to the central newspaper Visti under the title Culture and Life. In this he advocated the development of an independent Ukrainian Communist culture which would be distinct from that of Moscow. His first articles, which were purely literary in character, started a lively controversy in the press and in public meetings. It was difficult to attack him, for he based his arguments entirely upon the official statements of the Communist Party and he revealed the inconsistency which existed in these official statements. The entire Ukrainian section of the KP/b/U was aroused and so was the whole of Ukrainian society. Here was a popular writer who dared, in the name of Ukrainian Communism, to take the statements of the Communist Party (KP/b/U) seriously and to draw the logical conclusions from them. These articles he then republished in book form, Quo Vadis (1925), Thoughts against the Current (1926) and The Sociological Equivalent (1927).

Khvylovy's original arguments had urged the necessity for the new Communist Ukrainian literature to assimilate and build itself upon the great European cultural and literary tradition as exemplified in its greatest and noblest writers and thinkers and not to confine itself to being, as it had been too often in the past, a mere appanage and colony of Russia. He deplored the already evident tendency of Ukrainian Communist literature to base itself on the pronunciamientos of Moscow without testing and analyzing them and this led him to proclaim as his slogan "Away from Moscow."

"The ideas of the proletariat we all know without the guidance of Moscow. Only the young Ukrainian nation, the Ukrainian proletariat and its Communist intelligentsia are the true bearers of the great revolutionary socialist ideas and they must not orient themselves on the centre of All‑Union Philistinism, on the Moscow sirens. They need to orient themselves on themselves and Europe, but not  p81 on the Europe of Spengler, which is declining and which we all hate, but on the Europe of the great civilization, the Europe of Goethe, Darwin, Byron, Newton, Marx, etc. That is the Europe that the first legions of the Asiatic Renaissance cannot dispense with."

In another article he wrote:

"Russia is an independent country. Independent. We too are independent. Insofar as our literature has its own path of development, we must ask ourselves the question as to which of the world literatures it is to follow. It is not the Russian in any case. This is positive without any reservations. Ukrainian poetry must flee from Russian literature as rapidly as it can. The reason is that Russian literature has dominated us for centuries as the master of the situation and has trained our psychology to slavish imitation. To base our young art upon it means the halting of our development.

"The time has come to put an end to all Little Russianism, to Ukrainophilism and to Prosvitalism (an allusion to the net of elementary Ukrainian educational institutions existing before the Communist Revolution), and also to ragtag Moscophilism."

The ideas which Khvylovy expressed about literature had a far wider significance, for they could be applied to every aspect of Ukrainian life and activity. As the discussion shifted to the broader questions that were involved, Stalin, who was engrossed in the struggle with Trotsky, interfered personally. He wrote in April, 1926, as general secretary of the VKP/b [the All Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks)] to the KP/b/U: "If the Western European proletariat look with longing on the banner which waves in Moscow, the Ukrainian Communist Khvylovy has nothing else to say in favor of Moscow but to urge the Ukrainian workers to flee from Moscow. What is to be said about the other Ukrainian intellectuals of the non‑Communist camp, if the Communists begin to speak and not only speak but write in our Soviet press in the words of Khvylovy?"

This was the signal for a new series of attacks on Khvylovy by the complacent russifiers in the Communist Party of Ukraine. All the members of the Executive Committee except Shumsky joined  p82 in the attack and so did their satellites, but Khvylovy stood his ground and reiterated more strongly his demands for an independent Ukrainian cultural development and repeated Trotsky's attacks on Moscow as the centre of the new Philistinism which had devoured the revolution.

By the end of the year, Khvylovy and the Vaplite found it necessary to prepare a formal letter of apology and self-accusation for publication. However humble and self-accusing he was in this letter, he was thoroughly insincere, for he had no intention of changing his course and in a few weeks he resumed his hammering at the forces and advocates of Moscow. He merely sought to gain time to let his words sink in more deeply into the consciousness of the Ukrainian people. His opponents recognized this and throughout 1926 and 1927, they ceaselessly attacked him. In fact, at the end of 1927, at the Tenth Congress of the KP/b/,º Kaganovich declared that Khvylovy was an "echo of the bourgeois and kurkuls who base their hopes for the restoration of a bourgeois government in Ukraine on the forces of an armed foreign imperialism."

Khvylovy's article on Ukraine or Little Russia was refused publication by the Visti on the orders of the party authorities and renewed efforts were made to silence him. This it was impossible to do decisively until the final expulsion of Trotsky from the Communist Party, for the leading representatives of Moscow could not be sure until that time that many of the expressions used by the daring writer would not be incorporated into the principles of the party itself, even though Trotsky had never been known for any pro‑Ukrainianism.

To make his cause more vocal, Khvylovy began to express his basic ideas not only in his publicistic articles but in his artistic stories and novels which were very popular among all classes of literate Ukrainians. The climax came with his Woodsnipes, the first part of which appeared in 1928.

This was strictly a propaganda novel written with all of Khvylovy's artistic skill. In this he depicts types of his Ukrainian opponents, the Russian Bolshevists, the typical careerists, and the character of Aglaya, the new Ukrainian type who speaks in the words  p83 and with the views of the author. She denounces the gloomy devils in the Moscow chauvinists who were bent upon the enslavement of Ukraine in the name of the International. "It is the same Russian intelligent-internationalist, who willingly talks about the self-determination of nations . . . only not of those which are in the Soviet Union. Here it sees only followers of Petlyura and does not notice its own interference. It here thinks that Ukrainian culture exists . . . as an Austrian intrigue. He points out to Europe the achievements of the Russian genius and leads out into the arena the other peoples of the Union, as the Russian tsarism maintained its own zoo for the people it had conquered. In a word, he is an internationalist who, behind his cosmopolitanism, preserves his own zoological nationalism."

The second part of the novel was completed and Khvylovy went abroad. As a result of the storm that this novel aroused, the journal of the Vaplite was suppressed. The moment was apparently chosen in the hope that Khvylovy would maintain his position and be forced into emigration, from which his influence in the Ukrainian Soviet Republic would be lessened, if not destroyed. Instead, Khvylovy promised to have the manuscript of the second part destroyed and returned to Ukraine.

"By destroying the Woodsnipes and thus buying the right to return home . . . and to continue the struggle in more limited forms," wrote Yur. D., in the introduction to the Salzburg edition of the book, — "Khvylovy assured the possibility of the appearance of a number of plays by Kulish, of the pieces of the Berezil, his own compilation of the Literary Fair, the Ukrainian films of Dovzhenko, the Ukrainization of the higher schools, — in a word he postponed for five years the assassination of the great cultural renaissance."

The other members of the Vaplite joined in their own way with Khvylovy in painting the contrasts between the high ideals set forth in the decrees of the Communist party and the sordid reality of the Bolshevik bureaucracy in Ukraine, who were making no attempt to turn the visions of the party principles into the life of the people. All of the writers were attacked as Khvylovy and  p84 sooner or later silenced, even though for some time they worked with him in publishing the Literary Fair, a medley of works of all kinds with pungent introductions and comments.

This tendency became so marked that in 1927, Andry Khvylya, one of the most faithful supporters of the official line of the Party declared of the story of Valeriyan Pidmohylny, the Third Revolution, "It makes it seem as if Makhno was at the head of the revolutionary movement, that the villagers were with him, as their earth bore them, and that the Bolsheviks were running after Makhno and collecting cream, . . . that the Communist Party were a group of plotters, who had no connection with the masses but through espionage were profiting by the great deeds of other people."

Khvylovy found another Communist ally in the person of Volobuyiv.​a He was a young Ukrainian economist who utilized the materials on Ukraine prepared by Professor V. Dobrohayev and published in the central organ of the KP/b/U, the Bolshevik of Ukraine, a series of articles which showed the extent of the exploitation of Ukraine by Moscow. He proved clearly that Moscow was carrying out a colonial policy in respect to Ukraine, instead of treating it as an equal republic. This was a sensational revelation for the twenties. Later the works of both Volobuyiv and Khvylovy were condemned by Moscow as anti-Communist and Volobuyiv, shortly after 1933, was exiled to a Siberian prison.

The growing pressure upon Ukraine, the forced collectivization which was beginning and the beginning of the great famine of 1932‑3, completed the disillusionment of Khvylovy, who up to this time had maintained a stubborn faith in the principles of Communism and its aspirations for a better future for the common man. His later works made it clear that he had lost all hope that the revolution would accomplish anything except a continuation of the streams of blood that were beginning again to flow throughout Ukraine. Yet there was nothing for him to do but to continue his work.

Thayer's Note:

a Михайло Симонович Волобуєв, whose name is usually transliterated Mykhaylo Simonovych Volobuev or Volobuyev. A thorough article on the man and his work — with the glaring omission, however, of any mention of the ten years he spent in exile in Siberia from 1933 to 1943 — can be found on the Ukrainian site Geograf.

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Page updated: 25 Apr 22