Those of us who both know something of Ukraine’s history and wish Ukraine well tend to pray that this time – in the current conflict with Russia – history’s tendency to repeat itself will somehow fail. Moscow’s legacy in Ukraine is not pretty. Despite having by far the largest country in the world in terms of territory, the Russians apparently don’t feel they have enough land and resources, and resource-rich Ukraine is thus a persistent target and victim of Russian imperial war and expansion. This attitude manifests itself not only in Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, but also in Russia’s covetousness toward Ukrainian agriculture and heavy industry in general.
It isn’t that Russia doesn’t already have enough high-quality land to feed its 145 million people, or enough space on which to build a large industrial base of its own. Russia has far more than enough of both. It is that Russia’s corrupt rulers view the effort required to cultivate and develop their existing resources to yield as much per hectare as Ukraine’s – and to diversify and develop Russia’s own industrial potential – as too much trouble. They are content for Russia to remain (in the words of US Senator John McCain) ‘a gas station masquerading as a country,’ with an underdeveloped infrastructure and gross domestic product roughly the size of Spain’s. They can’t be bothered to do the work, and besides, too many Russian oligarchs have their talons dug deep into Ukraine’s sovereign wealth. So Russia wreaks dismemberment, destruction and death on Ukraine, to try to bring its smaller neighbor to its knees. There is an old joke (perhaps Polish) about this phenomenon. A poor Russian peasant with a rich neighbor is asked whether he would like to be living as well as his wealthy compatriot next door. He replies that, no, he would rather see his neighbor living as poorly as he is.
What is happening to Ukraine is a continuation of the Soviet and Russian imperial policies of the past. Just as the despotic Russian rulers Peter I, Catherine II and Nicholas I treated Ukraine as a slave nation, and just as the tyrannical Soviet founders Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin viewed Ukraine as deserving of mass murder and terror, so Putin seeks to destroy the Ukrainian state through war and subversion. Decent people everywhere want to see this behavior end, to see Russia once and for all brought into the community of modern, civilized nations. We want this not just for Ukraine and Ukrainians, but for Russia and its people, trapped in a slavish mindset, revering the ‘strongman’ in their backward, centralized, Asiatic despotism.
The strongman – Putin – entertains an adolescent fantasy. He sentimentalizes the era of Stalin and Hitler, portrayed in Russian history books as a time of great glory for Russians and the USSR. and covets all territories of the former Soviet Union, envisioning them as part of his new ‘Eurasian’ space, Russia’s ‘sphere of influence.’ If, in practice, such ‘influence’ were anything but retrograde, destructive and pernicious, the rest of the world might tend to greet it with less repulsion and more apathy. As it is, the civilized world stands with Ukraine’s aspirations to sovereignty and democracy, hoping that its rich, fertile black earth will not be drenched in yet more blood at the hands of the Russian aggressor. If there is to be any hope for the vast, Eurasian landmass, Ukraine must emerge from this conflict sovereign and whole. Nothing less than the fate of all Europe depends on it.
Following is a translation of an article about Moscow’s aggressive, anti-Ukrainian, imperialist actions during the period when the Bolsheviks were recapturing lost territories of the Russian Empire from 1917 to 1922, to bring them into the new USSR by force. Many like to think of this period as ideologically driven, as a time when committed Communists were building the new workers’ state for the good of all. Unfortunately, the new Soviet leaders were primarily representatives of urban elites, and the urban centers in which they lived in relative comfort at the time (compared with Russia’s terrorized, starving rural population) were themselves in danger of mass starvation. So they looked to fertile, agriculturally rich Ukraine as the solution, and they launched wave upon wave of war and terror on the new democratic state of Ukraine, to bring it under Russian control. These ‘Communists’ looked upon Ukraine with the eyes of Great Russian chauvinists, just as Putin acts in the role of Great Russian chauvinist today.
The Russian president does not view Ukraine as a ‘real country,’ as he once confided to US President George W. Bush, any more than the Bolsheviks did. Putin is essentially a Russian street hoodlum and representative of the post-Soviet mafia, and his mindset is no different with regard to countries such as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova than that of the tyrant Stalin, whom he admires. Despite being a Georgian by ethnic origin, Stalin epitomized ethnic Russian great-power chauvinism in his behavior, fancying himself the ‘Tsar of All the Russias,’ and acting accordingly. And so it is with Putin, who wants to subdue Ukraine, to bring all of its tremendous economic potential under the Russian boot. The history of the formative years of the USSR indicate that Russian foreign policy has not progressed very far in the last hundred years. It is still a chauvinistic, backward and brutal exercise, and the rest of the world can only watch in impatience and disgust as this latest round of Russian imperial drama plays itself out.
20 November 2014
Under the Communists’ omnipotence, the struggle for bread, coal, iron and ore was waged from a position of great-power chauvinism.
The Bolsheviks had their own ideas about Ukraine – as a granary and raw-materials appendage of Soviet Russia – something the UNR (Ukrainian People’s Republic) couldn’t accept. The struggle for bread, coal, iron and ore went on from a position of great-power chauvinism – under the conditions of an omnipotent Bolshevik Party. This is how it was.
Instead of joining. The history of the Ukrainian revolution of 1917-1920 is rich in dramatic events reflecting the search for a national political elite, ways of strengthening democratic statehood with the participation of different segments of the population, protection against internal and external enemies, international recognition, and an understanding with Soviet Russia.
The Bolshevik government’s relations with the Ukrainian People’s Republic that was proclaimed at the beginning of November 1917 were strained. As these relations were clarified, a fundamental question had to be answered: What did Bolshevik Russia want from democratic Ukraine?
‘Take the most energetic revolutionary measures to deliver bread, bread and bread! For God’s sake!’ Already the content of this Leninist quotation allows us to start developing answers to this question. It should be recalled that the Bolsheviks conceived of Ukraine as a granary and raw materials appendage of Soviet Russia, an idea the UNR rejected.
So Lenin and Trotsky began preparing a revolt to topple it. But their attempt failed. Ukrainianized troops of the former tsarist army surrounded the conspirators in November 1917, disarmed them, and sent them back to Russia.
In the UNR, the Bolsheviks saw a real contender in the struggle for power in Ukraine. An ideological war unfolded to discredit the Central Rada, and the idea of convening the All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets was exploited for the purposes of replacing it through new elections. The signal for this was the demand of People’s Commissar for National Affairs of Soviet Russia Joseph Stalin to hold a referendum on self-determination in Ukraine.
It was stated that the CPC [Council of People’s Commissars] of the Russian Federation [the Bolshevik regime’s government or cabinet of ministers ~ Ed.] would be reconciled only with a government established on the basis of the referendum’s results. At the same time, the authorities in Ukraine should belong to the Soviets of Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. They, with or without the Central Rada, should convene the All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets to satisfy the will of the masses. Only in this way would the CPC be able to recognize the authority of the Central Rada.
To put pressure on Kyiv, Petrograd used financial leverage. It stopped the cash flow to Ukraine, creating social tension. When the government of the UNR appealed to Yuri Pyatakov, who at that time held the post of Commissar of the State Bank (Gosbank) in the Russian capital, with the demand to provide 90 million rubles to cover indebtedness to the workers, he said that the provision of financing to Ukraine would be subject to the recognition of Soviet power in the country and the admission of their representative in the capacity of Commissar of the Kiev Branch of Gosbank.
The Bolsheviks were annoyed by their defeat in the re-election of members to the Central Rada in early December 1917 at the First All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets, convened in Kyiv. Their delegates, finding themselves in the minority, were forced to travel to Kharkiv – where at that time the regional congress of the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Basin was taking place – in order to unite with the congress and declare themselves the legitimate All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets.
12 (25) December 1917: The Bolshevik Congress of Soviets in Kharkiv declared Ukraine a Republic of Soviets of Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Deputies and declared it a federal part of the Russian Republic. The All-Ukrainian Central Executive Committee was elected and formed the first Ukrainian Soviet government – the People’s Secretariat – immediately recognized by the CPC of Soviet Russia, which became the main prerequisite for the interventionist policy of the Russian Bolsheviks against Ukraine.
A striking example of the expansionist intentions of Soviet Russia was the appeal of its government, written by Lenin and Trotsky, ‘To the Ukrainian people with an ultimatum to the Central Rada.’ In this openly insincere document, the Bolsheviks declared their recognition of everything ‘regarding the national rights’ and ‘national independence of the Ukrainian people,’ ‘immediately, unconditionally and without restrictions.’
However, the Rada was accused of conducting – under the guise of national phrases – a ‘completely bourgeois policy, which has long been evident in the non-recognition of Soviet power in the Rada of Ukraine.’ The accusations against the Rada for disorganization, disarming Soviet troops and support of General Kaledin were fabrications, attempts at finding a way to go to war with democratic Ukraine.
It was precisely this that was stipulated in the ultimatum. It was noted that, if in two days it did not receive a satisfactory reply to the accusations, the ‘Council of People’s Commissars will consider the Central Rada to be in a state of war against the Soviet authorities in Russia and Ukraine.’
Having received the ultimatum, the General Secretariat immediately sent a response to Moscow pointing out the contradictory statements in this document. ‘It is impossible to recognize the right to self-determination, including secession, and at the same time to crudely violate that right,’ noted the response. The General Secretariat did not accept the form of political governance in Soviet Russia, which ‘generally does not give rise to envy,’ because of the ‘gross wantonness and destruction of freedom,’ and ‘does not consider it necessary to repeat this sad attempt on the territory of the Ukrainian people.’
This answer did not suit the government of Soviet Russia. It was decided to bring the Central Rada ‘to its knees,’ to destroy the UNR by force of arms, and to begin the first Bolshevik intervention against Ukraine. Vladimir Lenin in his directives to [Vladimir] Antonov-Ovseyenko and [Sergo] Ordzhonikidze explained the real reason for such attention to a neighboring state: ‘For God’s sake, take the most energetic and revolutionary measures to send bread, bread and bread!!! Otherwise, Peter [a nickname for Petrograd ~ Ed.] could croak [slang for ‘die ~ Ed.]. Especially trains and troops. Collection and dispatch. Accompany the train. Communicate daily. For God’s sake!’
Indeed, the fate of hungry proletarian Russia depended on Ukrainian bread. As discussed at the meetings of the All-Russian Congress of Councils of People’s Commissars in May and June 1918, ‘Ukraine is the reservoir from which Great Russia has drawn its grain stocks,’ and ‘it is precisely here that the most important portion of residues accumulate.’
If even three of the southern regions of Ukraine were to disappear from Russia, said one of the speakers, then the Soviet government would lose 55% of the harvests of wheat, 28% of rye, 20% of oats and 26% of barley. Besides, the attendees frankly declared, in Ukraine ‘the most important portion of the residues that we threw on the markets of Western Europe has accumulated.’
To execute Lenin’s desperate instructions to Ukraine, the 30,000th Group of the Red Army was transferred from the north, and by the end of December 1917 had taken Kharkiv, Poltava and Chernihiv. The UNR’s proclamation of independence further intensified the aggressive impulses of the Bolshevik army, which at the end of January 1918 launched an offensive against Kyiv. On February 8th (new style calendar), after the shelling of the central part of the city, the massacre of civilians began with extreme brutality and lasted three weeks. The Central Rada and the Ukrainian Government were forced to leave the capital and go to Zhytomyr, and then to Volyn (Sarniy).
At this time in Brest-Litovsk, Soviet Russia was conducting negotiations with Germany and its allies, initiated by the Bolsheviks on 1 December 1917. From December 12th, representatives of the UNR began to participate in the negotiations as an independent party. On 9 February 1918, a peace treaty between the UNR on the one hand, and Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria on the other was signed. The State of the Quadruple Alliance recognized the independence of Ukraine and pledged to give her armed assistance in the fight against the Bolsheviks. However, during the first half of 1918 the Central Rada was to supply Germany and Austria-Hungary with a large number of agricultural products.
In accordance with the treaty, German and Austrian troops went to Ukraine in March 1918 and established an occupation regime, which ensured the presence of a nearly half-million-strong army for the export of food and raw materials. A few Red military units left the borders of Ukraine. The Germans arrived in Kyiv, and with them the Central Rada and its government. So ended the first Bolshevik intervention against Ukraine.
The path to bread is broken. But for this it was necessary to carefully prepare a second intervention against democratic Ukraine. The Bolsheviks began this work in the autumn of 1918. The Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR, on November 11th, ordered the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic to prepare the troops to march on Ukraine within ten days. On November 17th, by a general resolution of the Central Committee of the RCP(b) and the CPC of the RSFSR, a governing body called the ‘Revolutionary Military Council of the Group of Forces of the Kursk Direction’ (V. Antonov-Ovseyenko, Stalin, V. Zatonsky, Yuri Pyatakov) was established. The very same military force consisted of two Ukrainian (Bogunsky and Tarashchansky) [regiments] and several Russian divisions of a total number of 22,000 soldiers, who were waiting for an order to begin the offensive against the UNR.
All power was in the hands of the Revolutionary Military Council. However, to cover up its activities, on 28 November 1918 a Provisional Workers’ and Peasants’ Government of Ukraine was established, headed by Pyatakov and located in the city of Malaya Sudzha [in the Kursk District of Russia, once part of Ukraine ~ Ed.]. It received immediate recognition from Russia and announced the transfer of all power in Ukraine into the hands of the Soviets of Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. On 20 November 1918, its manifesto on the overthrow of Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky was published.
In a confidential letter to Red Army commander I. Vatsetis, Vladimir Lenin explained the real purpose of the formation of the puppet government, ‘… The circumstances have a good side, which makes it impossible for the chauvinists of Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to consider the movement of our troops to be an occupation, and creates a favorable atmosphere for the further advance of our troops. Without this circumstance, our troops in the occupied areas would be delivered into an impossible situation, and the population would not meet them as liberators.’
The Soviet offensive in Ukraine began in late November 1918 in the directions of Kharkiv and Kyiv from a neutral zone in the region of Malaya Sudzha. In answer to the question of the head of the UNR government, V. Chekhov, on why Russian troops had moved into Ukraine without declaring war, People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs of Soviet Russia [Georgy] Chicherin replied that this action was not being carried out by the armed forces of his country, but the army of the Directory [the Ukrainian government cabinet, also referred to as the ‘Directorate’ – Ed.] on the one hand, and the independent forces of the Soviet government of Ukraine, on the other. Soviet Russia ignored the diplomatic efforts of the Directory, which wanted to arrange a conflict at the time of its delegation’s negotiations tion with Chicherin. The announcement by the UNR government on 16 January 1919 of Soviet Russia’s war could not influence the war’s course of events.
On 3 January 1919, the Red units captured Kharkiv, where the Provisional Workers’ and Peasants’ Government of Ukraine – fully dependent on Moscow – arrived. On January 6th, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic [Ukrainian SSR] was proclaimed. On February 5th, the Reds entered Kyiv, where the Soviet government moved on February 8th. By May 1919, the Red Army had taken control of most of Ukraine within the Russian Empire. The Directory and its government were forced to move to Vinnytsia, and often changed their place of residence after that.
Together with an active offensive of Soviet forces against the armed forces of the Directory, the Provisional Workers’ and Peasants’ Government of Ukraine intensified its activities, Its chairman, Christian Rakovsky, appointed to this position by the RCP(b), made a declaration on the unquestioning execution of all his orders and decrees, to the extent that the government was not independent and ‘is not going to create their own independent command, calling the Revolutionary Military Council of the Kursk Direction the ‘Revolutionary Military Council of the Ukrainian Soviet Army,’ ‘so that it is possible to speak about the Soviet Army in Ukraine, not about the invasion of Russian troops.’ ‘That is, to carry out the policy,’ said Rakovsky, ‘that was started with the creation of the Provisional Workers’ and Peasants’ Government.’
In January 1919, the government of Soviet Ukraine declared a program of political and socio-economic reforms in the country ‘to bring the socialist revolution to an end.’ There were clearly defined prospects of the development of the Ukrainian village because ‘the main task of land policy is the transition from individual to comradely farming’ through farms, communes, cooperatives, etc. Under the slogan ‘Land to the peasants!’ they initiated just such forms of ‘comradely land use’ as the best way to achieve socialism in agriculture, causing mass indignation of the rural population.
As in the RSFSR, the policy of War Communism was implemented in Ukraine. Already on 11 December 1918 the government was given the power to carry out food preparations in all areas captured by the Red Army, which meant the transition of the struggle for bread to coercive methods. On 5 February 1919, the Law of the USSR ‘On Seizure of Grain Residues’ was published. A plan for delivery of grain to the state was brought to each village. It was envisaged that 800,000 tons of grain would be received by 1 June 1919. Consequently requisitioning was developed, while crops that had grown in 1919 and previous years were considered ‘residual.’
For the sake of bread and food for hungry Russia, requisitioning groups of workers formed in Moscow and Petrograd were sent to Ukraine. Several of these militarized units of Party, Komsomol [Communist Youth League] and state employees were established by local Soviet authorities in Ukraine as well. The Bolsheviks were convinced that the country had huge surpluses of bread, and that ‘it is necessary to give them to the hungry Russian worker, and give him as much as he needs.’ No attention was paid to the fact that Ukraine simply did not have these mythical stocks of grain.
As they implemented the policy of War Communism in Ukraine, the Russian Bolsheviks inflamed an insurgent war against themselves in the Ukrainian countryside. The peasantry, doomed to starvation, did not want to hand over the remnants of its bread. Its dissatisfaction with the Bolshevik-Soviet regime was growing rapidly. In March-April 1919, peasant demonstrations against the policy of War Communism began in Ukraine under the slogans ‘Down with the Commune!’ and ‘For the Soviet regime – without the Communists!’
If at the beginning of 1919 the rebel forces led by Atamans [Nestor] Makhno, Grigoriev, Green had allied with the Bolshevik forces against the Directory, recognizing the anti-peasant, anti-Ukrainian policies of Russian Bolshevism, by May 1919 they opposed the Soviet regime. The rebel peasant movement became massive, covering the entire territory of Ukraine.
The Central Committee of the CP(b)U [Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine] evaluated the peasant insurgency – which manifested itself with particular force in summer and autumn of 1919 – as a manifestation of the kulak counterrevolution, which had to be ruthlessly suppressed. In July 1919, the Council of Workers’ and Peasants’ Defense adopted a resolution ‘On the Suppression of the Kulak and White Guard Mutiny in Rural Areas,’ which provided for a number of measures directed against peasant uprisings.
Notable policies introduced included: esprit de corps among the inhabitants of villages or districts, repression for possession of weapons, use of military blockades, and so on. Regular military units were active against the rebels, but they were unable to suppress the resistance. In December 1919, Vladimir Lenin named the regions with the greatest surpluses of bread, and Ukraine, where the peasantry opposed the Soviet regime, which was on shaky ground there.
On May 4 1919, Denikin’s army launched an offensive on Ukraine in two directions: Kyiv and Odessa. The Council of People’s Commissars of Russia and Ukraine announced the mobilization of workers and peasants under the slogan, ‘All for the fight against Denikin!’ The mobilization increased the number of soldiers of the Red Army. On May 16th, the head of the Revolutionary Military Council Leon Trotsky arrived in Ukraine and, on the orders of Lenin, initiated the ‘hot iron’ method in the regular army to eradicate ‘guerrilla warfare,’ to strengthen the morale of the Red Army.
However, the administrative-command and repressive measures of Trotsky did not improve the position of the Red Army. Under pressure from Denikin on 24 June 1919, the Whites entered Kharkiv; on the 28th – Yekaterinoslav. On August 1st, the Reds surrendered Poltava; August 18th – Mykolaiv; August 23rd – Odessa. On August 30th, Soviet government agencies were forced to leave Kyiv. Soviet power in Ukraine had been eliminated. Somewhat later, on 2 October 1919, the Central Committee of the CP(b) was dissolved. Most of the territory of Ukraine came under the control of Anton Denikin.
Thus ended the second Bolshevik intervention against Ukraine. Russian Bolsheviks ‘did not sufficiently understand the most important thing about the Ukrainian revolution. Just as in their first entry into Ukraine, this time they also ignored local living conditions, summed up the whole movement according to Russian standards and began to force life into their paradigm. They peaked before that paradigm shattered, and they had to flee from the waves of life that flowed through these narrow and distorted confines.’
‘We really need to return Ukraine to Russia.’ The population of the republic became convinced that the occupation regime established by the Whites in Ukraine was even more reactionary than the previous Bolshevik-Soviet one had been. On the seized territories of southern Ukraine, estates and land were returned to landowners, and in the village a tax on food was established that was no less in volume than the Bolshevik requisitioning. This policy pushed the peasants away from the new government. In the autumn of 1919, rebel forces opposing Denikin consisted of no less than 100,000 soldiers. The White Army was faced with the threat of total disaster.
The scope and massive scale of the rebel movement in Ukraine against the White Guard occupation regime created favorable conditions for the start of Soviet Russia’s third intervention against democratic Ukraine. Previous lessons of the Bolshevik occupation and policy of military communism were considered by the Bolsheviks the benefit of themselves. Before the onset of the next agitation and propaganda machine ran at all turns to camouflage the true essence of the intervention.
This is a fairly convincingly evidenced by ‘Trotsky’s secret instructions regarding the occupation of Ukraine,’ which the UNR troops found near Byrzula in the captured headquarters of a Soviet division. This document had already been published abroad by February 1920. The instructions are the epitome of the Pharisee, the imperial policies of the Bolsheviks. The author openly warned agitators: ‘In Ukraine, that which is spoken of openly in Russia can only be whispered into an ear and then not spoken at all. The ability to remain silent – this is also a form of eloquence.’
Trotsky expressed hope: ‘In preparation for the third campaign in the Ukraine, the Council of People’s Commissars firmly hopes that you do not confound the land of a Russian. To facilitate your work, I consider it my duty to give you some friendly guidance. It’s no secret that it wasn’t Denikin who forced us to leave the territory of Ukraine, but a grandiose rebellion that incited the Ukrainian peasantry to rise up against us. The Ukrainian peasant hated the communes, the Cheka, the food requisitioning units and the commissar-Jews to the depths of his soul. In him awoke the spirit of Cossacks and Haidamaks that had been sleeping for hundreds of years. This terrible spirit that boils and rages – as the Dnipro does on its doorsteps – forces Ukrainians to work miracles of courage. Only boundless credulity and acquiescence ruined all the gains of the Ukrainians every time.’
The main task of the Soviet regime was the consolidation of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat and the alliance between the working class and the toiling peasantry.’ The struggle for bread, coal, iron and ore continued from a position of great-power chauvinism under the conditions of the Bolshevik Party’s omnipotence.