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A Historical Context

Ukrainian Nationalism: What is the Real Story?


Fascistic groups and politicians have become the public face of Ukrainian nationalism in Ukraine today. This fact has been the starting point of many commentators on the current crises in Ukraine. Many writers have taken their analysis one step further to build their solutions to the crisis in Ukraine on the assumption that Ukrainian nationalism equals fascism and has to be defeated. These authors also generally include a history of Ukrainian nationalist struggles presenting counterrevolutionary and pro-fascist examples. (1)

In fact, Ukrainian nationalism today does appear to be dominated by fascistic and anti-communist political currents. This is particularly true of the government in Kiev that came to power through the US-sponsored coup d’etat in February 2014, and armed thugs this coup empowered.

However, this apparent domination of the Ukrainian nationalist movement by fascistic and counterrevolutionary currents has been the case for several decades, particularly since World War II. It should come as no surprise. Nor is it new. Russian Revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky, addressed this problem in 1939:

“When the Ukrainian problem became aggravated early this year, Communist voices were not heard at all; but the voices of the Ukrainian clericals and National Socialists were loud enough. This means that the proletarian vanguard has let the Ukrainian national movement slip out of its hands….(2)

The lesson: If the Marxists, –”the proletarian vanguard”–  let the Ukrainian national cause, (or the cause of any oppressed nationality, for that matter) “slip out out of” their hands, clerics, fascists, and other bourgeois fakes will have an open field.

Lenin on the National Question

Furthermore, if Marxists abandon Ukrainian nationalists to such bourgeois fakers, they are also abandoning one of the most important intellectual acquisitions of Marxism: Vladimir Lenin’s writings on the national question, and most importantly, the practical lessons he land the Bolsheviks learned during the Russian revolution.  It is unclear why Marxists, particularly those in the tradition of Leon Trotsky, ignore this critical legacy. Trotsky unmistakably came out in support of Ukrainian nationalism in his writings in the late 1930s, calling for an independent, socialist Ukraine. (3)

Lenin’s position on the national question became the dominant one among Marxists and found expression in the programs of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party,  the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) [RCP(B)] and subsequently the Communist Party of the Soviet Union {CPSU] , and was very foundation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics [USSR]. Lenin’s views were sharply affected by his experiences with the “great Russian bullies” in the Caucasus–particularly Joseph Stalin, Sergo Ordzhonikidze and others against Georgian Communists in the early 1920s. And Lenin’s shift in stance further toward the national rights of the oppressed nations as a result of these experiences is vital to understanding subsequent history. (4)

Lenin conclusion was that all nationalisms are not the same: there is a difference between the nationalism of the oppressed  and the nationalism of the oppressor; The two nationalisms serve opposite purposes.

Bourgeois nationalism has its roots in the struggles to consolidate the capitalist system.

This nationalism of the rising capitalist class–the bourgeoisie–was aimed at defeating the disparate feudal powers and establishing separate, competing, cohesive nation states over which the capitalist classes could rule.

The nationalism of the oppressed is aimed against the imperialist or colonial powers–and their bourgeois state– who use their nationalism to demean and exploit the workers, intellectuals, and poor peasantry. Therefore, the nationalism of the oppressed is revolutionary in its impulse.

That is why the Bolshevik party–proponent of proletarian internationalism– supported the nationalism and  struggles of the oppressed peoples and their right to self-determination,  which meant, the right to independence.

It was on this ideological foundation that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was established in 1922 as a union of fifteen republics that, according to the 1922 Constitution of the USSR, had the right to secede from the USSR and become independent countries. In addition, the Russian Republic–the largest–was divided up into a multitude of autonomous regions and provinces. in recognition of the right to self-determination of the vast array of small, oppressed peoples who had been conquered and incorporated into the Tsarist Russia’s “prisonhouse of nations.”


In order to not only protect but actually to promote the national rights of the non-Russian peoples, the RCP(B) at its Tenth Party Congress in July 1919–while the Civil War was still raging– defined immediate tasks that were necessary to support the “non-Great-Russian peoples.” These tasks included developing:

-in the native language, “justice, administration, economic, and government bodies composed of local people who know the way of life and psychology of the local population”;

-“a press, schools, the theatre, clubs, and cultural educational establishments generally, in the native language;” and

-”a wide network of courses and schools, general as well as professional and technical, in the nature language.” (5)

In Ukraine, the implementation of this policy was called “Ukrainization.” As Ukrainian dissident and scholar Ivan Dzyuba reported in his remarkable study Internationalism or Russification, written in 1965:

…during the 1920s in Ukraine the CP(B)U [Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine]

conducted–according to the resolutions of the Comintern, the VIII, X, XII and other

Congresses of the RCP:(B) …–enormous national-educational work which went down in the history of the Party and of Ukraine under the name of ‘Ukrainization’ (or ‘de-Russification’).

The Ukrainian language was introduced into all spheres of social, civic and industrial life, knowledge of Ukrainian history and culture was fostered, there developed a sense of national belonging and of the national culture of a Ukrainian communist; in literature and journalism extensive discussion of nationality problems was permitted, and particularly the satirizing of such shameful phenomena as hatred of one’s native language and culture, national nihilism and betrayal….

This was a truly internationalist Leninist policy which safeguarded the interests and the full development of the socialist Ukrainian nation.” (6)

This policy was actually reinforced by the Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine [CP(B)U]  in 1927:

The  Party must persistently, systematically, and patiently explain to the working class of Ukraine its responsibility for the strengthening of the alliance with the Ukrainian village; it must persuade the working class to take an active part in the Ukrainization by means of studying Ukrainian, etc. The Party must ensure the creation of favorable conditions for the Ukrainization of the proletariat in the industrial centers of Ukraine. (7)

This set of policies allowed Ukrainians, and other non-Russians, to experience unprecedented development.  Unfortunately, however, by 1927 when the above resolution was passed by the CP(B)U,  another process was simultaneously underway that would not only completely reverse Ukrainization but reverse almost all the political gains of the Russian revolution–this was the process of the Russian revolution’s degeneration. It was in this soil of this political degeneration over the next decades that the forces of bourgeois nationalism, and its fascistic variant made its appearance, nourished in the brutal, destructive  policies by the Stalin regime. It made its appearance not so much inside Ukraine, however, as outside it.

Why Doesn’t Bourgeois Nationalism Free The Working Class?

Bourgeois nationalism is not a path toward freedom for the working class because it cannot guarantee to the working class and the poor peasantry self-determination. The direct  purpose of bourgeois nationalism is to establish clear national borders and the possibility to construct a state apparatus and the “bodies of armed men” that will protect capitalist property rights and the possibilities for the capitalists to efficiently and freely exploit the laboring classes. (Of course, bourgeois nationalism also plays a variety of roles in the ideology of the ruling capitalist class, particularly its aggressive variant  “patriotism” used to mobilize the proletariat to fight inter-imperialist wars, justify national aggression against neighboring nations and regions, etc., as it is being used today in Ukraine.)

Therefore, obviously,  achieving “independence” under the system of capitalism–private ownership, commodity production, the rule of the market, etc.– will not bring freedom and democracy for the working class. Instead, the working class will continue to be subjected to exploitation and wage slavery.

That is why the bourgeois nationalists of any stripe are charlatans, i.e., they are lying, when they claim that they are the champions of the national and democratic rights of the masses of workers and peasants of Ukraine–or anywhere else, for that matter. They never have been and never will be because that is impossible. However, if the Marxists do not recognize and champion the national rights of oppressed peoples and expose these lies and this fakery and offer the proletariat of the oppressed nationalities a revolutionary path to power,  the Ukrainians and other oppressed nationality populations will easily be overrun by destructive bourgeois intrigues.

This is no less true today in Ukraine than it was a century ago in Lenin’s time.

What is the function of the fascist forces in Ukraine today?

Imperialism is preparing in Ukraine–and across Europe–to resort to fascist goons to deal–if “necessary”–with working-class resistance to the budget cuts and austerity measures that foreign capitalist lenders (finance capital led by the International Monetary Fund), are imposing on countries wracked by the miseries of the crises of capitalism itself. These budget cuts–these austerity measures– always a precondition for receiving loans from finance capital–are also always aimed against the working class to increase the rate of exploitation,  lower the living standard expectations of the working class, and privatize all resources and services. Nothing can be allowed to stand in the way of maximum capitalist profits.

On June 27, the new President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, signed the European Union Association Agreement. It was the refusal of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to sign this agreement in November 2013, that led to the mobilizations in Maidan in Ukraine’s capital Kiev and the US-backed coup d’etat in February 2014. This coup, of course,  brought to power politicians who supported “European integration.” All of them–including Poroshenko- declared their interest in  “a turn toward Europe” and pledged to  impose tough austerity measures such a “turn” will require. However, these politicians do not take this stand in order to satisfy the needs of the workers and peasants across Ukraine but to win the confidence and support–to please–world finance capital and foreign capitalist investors.  In signing this agreement, the new bourgeois president of Ukraine–called “the chocolate king” because he managed to grab the ownership rights to the Ukrainian branch of a major Soviet chocolate factory complex– is paving the way for Ukraine’s full integration into the world capitalist system. However, Ukraine will not, therefore, become a new world power. Rather Ukraine will become a new colony of the major imperialist powers and a military base for imperialist war drives.

The austerity measures that have came with the $17 billion the IMF pledged to Ukraine in March, e.g., devaluation of the Ukrainian currency,  freezing of wages, ending fuel subsidies, are only the beginning.(8)  One has only to consider the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement since 1994 on Mexico–the devastation of the agriculture, the rise of the maquiladoras, the destruction of the environment, and the proliferation of death squads of all varieties– to get an idea of what imperialism has in store for the Ukrainian people.

The Ukrainian working class can be expected to  mobilize to reverse these and other painful measures. These fascistic so-called Ukrainian nationalist armed goons, who have already been carrying out violent attacks, such as the massacre of dozens of protesters in Odessa on May 2, 2014, can be expected to have broader application against Ukrainian workers themselves down the line.

So much for bourgeois nationalism freeing Ukraine.

Yugoslavia All Over Again?

However, fascistic goons may not be sufficient to crush a working-class rebellion against IMF austerity measures in some of the densely industrialized regions of Ukraine. There is a historic precedent for much more drastic measures. Along these lines, there is not the slightest doubt that the imperialists powers, particularly the US government, are planning to use–if necessary– the same playbook in Ukraine that worked so well in Yugoslavia starting in 1989. That plan is based on fostering wars among the various nationality groups, i.e., to resort to the old “divide and conquer” game that has served colonial and imperialist powers so well over the centuries and is still serving the United States ruling class so well today in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and across Africa, for example.

In Yugoslavia, after Slobodan Milosevic began to implement IMF austerity measures,  miners in Kosovo of various nationalities joined together to strike. They occupied the underground pits where they worked in order to protest the austerity measures Milosevic was imposing so that Yugoslavia could qualify to receive IMF loans. These workers remained underground for months surviving with the support of the local populations and inspiring other mobilizations to protest the IMF dictates. (9)

The response of the Milosevic regime to these manifestations of protests against the IMF austerity measures by the workers united across national lines was to launch the movement of Serbian chauvinism in July 1989.  His aggressive advocacy of Serbian nationalism led to the rise of competing national chauvinist groups in the non-Serb republics of Yugoslavia and led to nationalist conflicts that spiraled into the destructive wars that tore Yugoslavia apart . This war led to massive death and destruction and to the defeat of workers of all nationalities across  the former Yugoslavia. However, destructive as they were for the workers and for the former Yugoslavia, these events performed a vital service for imperialism and allowed finance capital to rule in the region unchallenged.

Turning Ukrainian Nationalism Against Communism

Imperialism–headed, of course, by the US ruling class–has been working very hard, and quite successfully, to turn Ukrainian nationalism into a pro-capitalist, anti-communist movement for almost a century. The results have been noted by many commentators and are well documented.  This process received an enormous boost beginning in the 1930s, that is, during the time when the Soviet bureaucracy headed by Joseph Stalin began to implement destructive policies in Ukraine and across the Soviet Union.  Among the most critical of these were:

1. the reversal of Ukrainization, i.e.the re-Russification of Ukraine. To this end,  thousands of Ukrainian workers and intellectuals were arrested as “counterrevolutionaries” and exiled to labor camps or executed.

2. the forced collectivization of agriculture. In Ukraine this led to millions of deaths.This was accompanied and then followed by

3. waves of terror and repression throughout the 1930s that led to mass arrests, deportations, and executions of Ukrainian Communists, workers, and intellectuals.

The fact that all these actions, these crimes against the Ukrainians was carried out in the name of communism, Bolshevism, and Marxism played right into the hands of the imperialist planners and propaganda spin doctors.

Trotsky, in this same article cited above, referred to the early impact these measures had on Ukrainian communists in exile:

In Canada, for instance, where the Ukrainians compose the bulk of the Communist party, there began in 1933, as I am informed by a prominent participant in the movement, a marked exodus of Ukrainian workers and farmers from communism, falling either into passivity or nationalism of various hues. (10)

Ukrainians actually quit the Canadian Communist party–abandoned what they viewed as communism–because of the crimes against Ukraine and Ukrainians that were being carried out by the Stalin regime in the name of Communism and Bolshevism.

Not Bolshevism but Its Antithesis

Of course, all that was “Bolshevik” about Soviet leadership–commitment to the class struggle and working-class rule, workers democracy in the soviets and the Communist Party, democratic centralism in the party’s functioning, internationalism in foreign policy, Lenin’s policy on the national question– was eliminated by Stalin and his regime a it ascended to power and so that it could consolidate its power. These were replaced by the opposite policies that suited only the interests of the bureaucratic caste Stalin represented. The new policies were based on top-down dictates from the Kremlin elite. Opposition voices in the soviets, the party and the governmental organs were strictly and –ultimately–brutally suppressed. International revolutions, instead of being fostered and nurtured as allies, were seen as not only unnecessary but even harmful to the Kremlin: they ”rocked the boat” you might say when the Kremlin was trying to establish  class peace with imperialism and promote the false idea that the Kremlin could be build “socialism in [only]one country,” that is, only the USSR. And Lenin’s policy of championing and defending the rights of oppressed nationalities in the former Russian empire was replaced with Russification, as happened in Ukraine.

Actually, almost everything progressive that the Russian revolution had achieved was reversed by the Stalin regime except for centralized planning of the nationalized means of production. Meanwhile, it was the nationalized means of production and centralized planning that–despite the tremendous waste and dislocation of the Kremlin’s undemocratic, top-down planning–that allowed the USSR to grow from an imperialist/colonial backwater to a world power over the span of a few decades. The only reason centralized planning and the nationalized means of production were retained by Stalin and the bureaucratic caste was because these were the material basis for the bureaucracy’s access to material privileges and political power.

In fact, It was because of the material foundation for the economic system that were achieved by the overthrow of capitalism–a planned, nationalized economy–that were won by the Bolshevik socialist revolution of October 1917–that Trotsky maintained the USSR was still a workers’ state, despite the counterrevolutionary Stalinist political regime that presided over it.  What was required for the USSR to resume the march toward socialism, he explained, was a political revolution through which the working class would take back political control. This meant that the working class had to organize to overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy and reestablish workers democracy and workers control. The fact that the Stalin regime had to carry out such a far-reaching, brutal campaign of terror and repression against the Soviet peoples in order to consolidate the bureaucracy’s political control testified to its everlasting fear of the working class across the Soviet Union and that the Soviet working class was the Soviet bureaucracy’s greatest and mortal enemy.

In addition to reversing the political gains of the Russian revolution, the regime of Joseph Stalin actually rewrote the history of the revolution and wiped out its ideological heritage. History was falsified to remove or distort the role of the repressed individuals, faces were removed from photos, encyclopedias were continually rewritten to remove Stalin’s latest victims. Even to possess the writings of the Opposition was grounds for repression and probably execution.

How was anyone inside the Soviet Union or anywhere else to really know the truth, or that a truth existed at all.

What If Stalin Had Told the Truth?

The world working class as a whole and the Ukrainian workers in particular could have had a very different history if Stalin and his regime had told the truth, if they had stated plainly that they were reversing directions. What if they had announced that they were out to kill the genuine communists and anyone who criticized them and liquidate all the fundamental principles of the Russian Revolution because these did not serve the bureaucracy’s  interests?  But they could not do that because they relied on the Communist Parties (CP) abroad to be their border guards to maintain the status quo that allowed “socialism to be built in one country.” They needed the foreign CPs to make sure that  international revolutionary proletarian forces were derailed or actually destroyed, as was the case of Spain during the Spanish Civil War, so as to maintain the world status quo. Therefore, when they arrested, imprisoned and executed millions of revolutionaries, it was done IN THE NAME of the Russian revolution and, thereby, poisoned the well for hundreds of millions of workers and intellectuals the world over for generations, including Ukrainians.

That is precisely why Marxism has taken such a beating there over the past ninety years.

Why Didn’t Trotsky and his Supporters Stop This Devastating  Process?

Leon Trotsky, who had organized the Left Opposition to Stalin, was expelled–along with his supporters– from the CPSU and from Moscow. Then he was forcibly deported from the USSR by the Stalin regime in 1929. In exile, he faced a myriad of physical and political obstacles. Nevertheless, with help of his son Leon Sedov who accompanied Trotsky and his wife Natalya into exile, he tried to explain the process going on in the USSR to the world’s working class in his writings, above all in the journal he established in exile called Bulletin Oppozitsii. (The Bulletin of the Opposition) that appeared from 1929-1941, (Trotsky, of course, was assassinated by Stalin’s agent in August 1940).  His voluminous writings in exile included books, pamphlets, and hundreds of articles,  including his articles in 1938-9 that supported the Ukrainian national struggle.

In these articles, Trotsky called on communists and socialists around the world to support the Ukrainians in their struggle for national rights and for an independent socialist Ukraine. “ What does a revolutionist say…to the Ukrainian people he says: ‘Of importance to me is your attitude toward your national destiny and not the “socialistic” sophistries of the Kremlin police: I will support your struggle for independence with all my might.” (11) Trotsky’s view was  that success in this struggle could be an inspiration for workers everywhere.

However, due to the multitude of obstacles arrayed against Trotsky and his supporters–from both the bourgeois governments and the Stalin regime–they were not able to succeed in their mission to see the working class in the USSR regain political control. Trotsky did , however, succeed in his quest to establish a new, revolutionary international organization, the Fourth, in Paris in 1938, the founding document of which–The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution–which is key to resolving the crisis today, about which more later. This new international was necessary because the Third International that was established by the Bolsheviks in 1919 to promote international proletarian revolution had been destroyed as a revolutionary organizing center and converted by Stalin into a diplomatic agency to serve only the needs of the Kremlin bureaucracy. In fact, to try to convince the world capitalist class that his regime was not interested in promoting international revolution, Stalin abolished the Third International during World War II. Of course, this did not stop imperialism from launching the Cold War when WWII ended, in which right-wing Ukrainians in exile, posing as nationalists, played a significant and destructive role.

Trying to Hold Back a Deluge of Lies Having Only A Broom

The false equation that Stalin’s crimes = communism/Bolshevism/Leninism/Marxism that had such a catastrophic impact on the proletariat of the world, including in Ukraine received, of course, an indispensable boost from the Stalinized CPs the world over from the late 1920s, onward. These parties expelled Trotsky’s supporters and also identified Stalin’s policies with Marxism, communism, and Bolshevism.

However, the fact is that  these lies, this false story line, received–and still receives–an enthusiastic echo by a vast array of mercenary, bourgeois intellectuals. Such “scholars”  have for decades willingly and even enthusiastically constructed narratives that reinforce the Stalinists’ lies in voluminous works, and have built stunning literary and academic careers elaborating on this narrative. Their volumes fill libraries and their names number in the thousands and counting. Without all the crimes by Stalin, allegedly committed in the name of advancing “communism,”  the US ruling class  would not have been able to launch its Cold War and McCarthy-era anti-communism that so crippled the workers movements and the mentality of generations of the US workers. And the false narrative continues into our era and is very much alive in Ukraine.

In the meantime, how can workers find the truth? Who is providing a  Marxist analysis? Who is listening to and reading Marxism, Lenin’s writings, Trotsky’s works on these questions or Trotsky’s analysis of why the Soviet Union collapsed, and why the Russian revolution degenerated? Only a tiny handful of honest academics and the Trotskyists themselves. But most of them, likewise, ignore Trotsky’s and Lenin’s writings on the national question.

So why should it be any surprise that the capitalist class has been able to plow ahead with its campaign to create armies of reactionary Ukrainians from the Ukrainian nationalist movement? What Marxist besides Trotsky really continued the genuine Bolshevik policy of distinguishing between the nationalism of the oppressed and the nationalism of the oppressor? Who besides Trotsky wrote of the imperative for Trotskyists, Marxists, proletarian revolutionaries  to champion the struggle for Ukrainian self-determination, calling for an independent, Soviet socialist Ukraine for Ukrainians as the only solution to the Ukrainian national question?

This was not only the just solution from a social point of view. The right of national self-determination is a simple democratic and not even a socialist demand. However, obviously, in the age of imperialism, democratic rights for the proletariat can only be realized by the revolutionary proletariat seizing power, by a socialist revolution. Bourgeois nationalism leads directly to a bourgeois, capitalist system wherein Ukrainian workers and peasants fall under the dictates not of the Stalinist regimes but of the private owners, the market forces and finance capital and where the vast majority of the population will end up as exploited–and most probably super exploited–labor. This process is already well underway in Ukraine where privatization of the nationalized property and the introduction of market mechanisms since 1990 have already led to a drastic decline in the standard of living and the immiseration of the masses of people.

The only kind of freedom that came to Ukraine with the “independence” of 1990 was the  “freedom” for “opportunist scavengers” in Ukraine to plunder at will the national wealth of Ukraine for their own private profit. (12) The vast majority of the workers in both eastern and western Ukraine  have seen their standard of living plummet while gangster clans carried out brutal warfare over who would get to steal how much of Ukraine’s riches.

Ukrainian Nationalism During The Russian Revolution

Many commentators on the Ukrainian crisis and Ukrainian nationalism today refer a great deal to the Ukraine during the years after the Russian revolution of 1917. That Simon Petliura and other alleged nationalists carried out travesties against the Ukrainian workers and peasants is well documented. These included not only pogroms against the Jews. The Ukrainian Rada, the government established in Ukraine after the February 1917 Russian revolution, invited the Imperial German army to invade and occupy Ukraine in 1918 to smash the workers’ and peasants’ soviets and defeat the Bolshevik forces. This German occupation, however, led to the destruction of the Rada itself, a major offensive by the Germans to steal the land and resources of the Ukrainian peasants, the destruction of the Ukrainian towns and villages, and the creation of a vast refugee population. After briefly subsiding with the German revolution of November 1918,  the German counterrevolutionary military intervention in Ukraine resumed after the defeat of the German revolution in 1919, when the German Social Democratic Party betrayed the German proletariat and joined a bourgeois government.  It was not until the Red Army, headed by Trotsky, defeated these counterrevolutionary forces that devastated Ukraine had a measure of peace.

Throughout 1918 and into 1919, despite the official policy of the Bolshevik Party of supporting oppressed nationalities, the discussion of the issue of Ukrainian rights was dominated by Russian Bolsheviks who lived in Eastern Ukraine, the Donetsk Basin–the Donbass–where there are still many Russian-speaking Ukrainians today. That mineral-rich region underwent industrialization during the Tsarist period when Russian workers were brought in to work in the mines and factories. The industrialization of Ukraine was most concentrated there, with the majority of Ukrainians being peasantry working Ukraine’s fertile agricultural soil.

Ukrainians, however,  had been second-class citizens in their own land for centuries, since the 1600s when the area was turned over to Russia and other foreign powers. Not only did the imperial powers demean the Ukrainian language, but in 1876, a Tsarist Imperial order prohibited the use of Ukrainian in any way except in historical documents.  Ukrainians in the regions ruled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire did not fare much better. In general, Ukrainians were confined to the lowest-paid, least-skilled  jobs when the industrialization did take place, with the best-paid and most skilled jobs going to Russians.

Nevertheless, the existence of a politically conscious Ukrainian working class, peasantry and the urban intelligentsia  led to formation of a Ukrainian Social Democratic Party in 1899 and the Ukrainian Social Democratic Labor Party in 1904-5. It was also these three social sectors that fueled the rise of Ukrainian nationalism in 1917  There was no significant Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism because there was no significant Ukrainian bourgeoisie; the capitalist owners of industry in Ukraine were for the most part foreigners.

Ukrainian nationalism was a significant force in Ukraine throughout the period of the Russian revolution. Soviets developed among the peasants and the soldiers, as well as among the workers.  The strength of Ukrainian nationalism is testified to by the very fact that the Ukrainian Rada–council or soviet– was formed. The role of the Ukrainian proletariat in the mobilizations of 1917 and 1918 was affected by the fact that Ukrainian workers had been mobilized into the Tsarist army during World War I and were usually stationed far from Ukraine where they were often involved in other aspects of the Bolshevik party’s mobilizations but not in developments in Ukraine itself.

For a remarkable, inside view of  this period, read On the Current Situation in Ukraine by two Ukrainian Marxists Serhii Mazakh and Vasyl’ Shakhari (13). These two Marxist worker intellectual put up a fight in 1917 and 1918  for Ukrainian national rights and independence against the Russian-speaking Bolsheviks in the Ukraine’s eastern industrial regions. The fact that Shakhrai was selected by the Soviet government to accompany Trotsky to the Brest Litovsk peace talks in January 1918 shows the importance of the Ukrainian question to the Bolsheviks and to the Soviet government. However, the writings of these two Bolsheviks criticizing what they viewed as the hypocrisy of the Russian Bolsheviks on the nationalities question–particularly those Bolsheviks in the Donetsk Basin in eastern Ukraine–led to their expulsion from the party in 1918.

The Bolsheviks of the Donbas region during 1918-1919 failed to acknowledge Ukrainian nationalism as a legitimate, living force. Even Khristian Rakovsky, who represented the  Soviet  government in Ukraine–a prominent Bolshevik leader who later supported the Left Opposition against Stain–failed to acknowledge it. (14)

In 1918, a Donetsk Soviet Republic (DSR) was declared that, like the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in 2014 opposed a reactionary government in Kiev. DSR of 1918 was also dominated, by Russian and Russified Ukrainians. However, unlike the DPR of 2014 in Eastern Ukraine, the DSR in 1918, organized by Bolsheviks, had a full social program for proletarian power. The Bolsheviks in the 1918 DSR, however, also called for Ukraine to be part of Russia and did not even support the demand by the non-Russified Ukrainian Bolsheviks for an independent Ukraine or even for a separate Ukrainian Communist party. (15)  In their writings, however, Mazlakh and Shakhrai present irrefutable proof that Ukrainian nationalism was a legitimate force in the revolution. (16)

Mazlakh won readmittance to the Party in 1919, went on to work for the Ukrainian government during the 1920s and disappeared during the purges in the 1930s. Shakhrai joined the fight against Denikin’s counterrevolutionary offensive in Ukraine and was captured and executed by Denikin’s forces in December 1919. (17)

What Would Lenin Do?

Revolutionists today who are skeptical of Ukrainian nationalism as a force communists should recognize and support and are content to condemn Ukrainian nationalism as a  reactionary–even fascist–front for imperialism, would be well advised to reconsider the events in Ukraine from 1917-22.

How could any forces have been more reactionary than were those counterrevolutionary Ukrainians in the 1917 Ukrainian Rada who invited the armed forces of Imperial Germany to invade and conquer their land in order to defeat the Bolsheviks? How could any forces have been more reactionary than those who fought the Red Army? Yet, in 1922, the Bolsheviks under Lenin recognized Ukrainian nationalism as legitimate force and established a Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

This was followed by the introduction of the policy of Ukrainization in the 1920s under Lenin which led to the most fruitful and only free, and exuberant phase of Ukrainian culture in Ukrainian history. Even the reactionary Ukrainians totally loyal to Washington’s dollars cannot deny that this is true. It was the Russification policies imposed by the Stalin regime that destroyed the Ukrainian national renaissance and the renaissance of the all the other non-Russians.(18)  Moreover, Stalin crushed this renaissance as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in the name of communism and the revolution. Why wouldn’t Ukrainians–and other non-Russians–hate “the communists”?

Stalin Strikes Back

The strength of Ukrainian nationalism was already a vital force to be contended with even before Ukrainization, but it grew infinitely stronger as a result of the free development during the 1920s. The strength of Ukrainian nationalism was attested to again by the fevered repression unloaded on Ukraine by the Stalin regime. Trotsky, again, in 1939:

The bureaucracy strangled and plundered the people within Great Russia, too. But in the Ukraine matters were further complicated by the massacre of national hopes. Nowhere did restrictions, purges, repressions, and in general all forms of bureaucratic hooliganism assume such murderous sweep as they did in Ukraine in the struggle against the powerful, deeply rooted longings of the Ukrainian masses for greater freedom and independence. (19)

The Ukrainian Marxists like Maslakh and Shahrani and tens of thousands of other Ukrainian Marxists perished in the Civil War launched by the Counterrevolution 1919-1921 and later during Stalin’s terror. This history was vividly described by a Ukrainian Trotskyist from the 1920s  Mikhail Baitalsky who managed to survive the Stalin years and lived to write his memoirs Notebooks for the Grandchildren. In these Notebooks, he describes what happened to him and his friends, young Ukrainian Communists during the Revolution who joined the Left Opposition, were arrested, and perished or were executed in Stalin’s camps.(20)

Stalin’s foolish and treacherous pact with Hitler in 1939 along with the beheading of the Soviet Army general staff and officer corp during the purges the late 1930s had left the Soviet Union totally unprepared for the Nazi invasion in June 1941. Ukraine bore the brunt of the Nazi horrors. Millions of Ukrainians perished trying to defend their homes and cities. Millions of Ukrainian soldiers died in the war, which deciminated the work force, not only in Ukraine but across the USSR.  After the German army was driven from the land and Ukraine was shambles, Stalin refused to provide Ukraine the help it needed. More than a quarter of a million Ukrainians died in the post-war famine, and masses of people lived in holes in the ground–dugouts– for years. (21)

It was during this terrible time that the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) emerged.

What was the program of the UPA?

It is true, undoubtedly, that some Ukrainians–including Ukrainian nationalists from within Polish-dominated Galicia — were rabid anti-Semites who collaborated with the Nazis and committed atrocities against their own people, particularly against Jews. Certainly, there were Ukrainians who had hoped, or had illusions that the Germans might be better than Stalin’s regime. However, they quickly learned that the Germans were not a lesser evil at all, and joined the war against them.

During the German occupation and after the Germans were defeated by the Soviet army,  the UPA, developed out of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, a group that had its origins in the Polish-dominated Ukrainian regions during the 1930s. The UPA waged a guerilla war against the Nazi occupiers. Once the Germans were driven from the land, the UPA continued its war of liberation, but now against the Stalin regime. This guerilla war continued into the early 1950s. Stalin’s regime unleashed a bloody, ruthless war to suppress this resistance which led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and mass deportations by the Stalin regime of Ukrainian families and whole villages accused of supporting the UPA.

This entire phase of Ukrainian history deserves serious study. However, one thing is clear: the UPA was not a fascist,  anti-socialist or anti-communist organization as some right-wing thugs in Kiev and Odessa, bourgeois reporters, and many commentators of the left and liberal press are claiming.

The journal Fourth International subjected UPA documents to analysis in 1951 and concluded that the organization was anti-capitalist, and pro-socialist.  This material appeared in the May-June 1951 issue in an article entitled “The Future of the Soviet Union (As the Capitalists Leaders of America See it-and as a Revolutionary Refugee from the USSR Sees It)” by a recent refugee from the USSR . Writing under the pseudonym W. Wilney, the author questioned the views widely disseminated by bourgeois commentators and politicians of what the Soviet people allegedly wanted. Wilney noted that the people who are usually presented as the “voices of the Soviet people” were usually the rich or privileged emigres or their offspring who, obviously, wanted to see the system of private property restored so they could regain their pre-revolution wealth and status. However, Wilney argued that the real solutions to problems in the  USSR should depend on what the Soviet people inside the Soviet Union wanted. However, with the thorough-going repression of the Stalin regime, how could we know what the people inside the USSR want? Wilny felt that the UPA’s program provided some authentic, realistic answers to these questions:

I will quote an extended segment from his report wherein he takes as his starting point the documents that had become available from the UPA.(The groups name is Ukrayins’ka Povstans’ka Armiya–although he refers to it incorrectly as the Ukrainian People’s Party.)

…Let us begin with a brief consideration of the program of the underground resistance movement that really exists today in the USSR. There is the so-called Ukrainian People’s Army (UPA). There can be doubt about the strength of that movement, but there is no doubt whatsoever about its actual existence. It is only necessary first of all to note the feverish speculations among the emigrants around this movement. But there are other sources which confirm its existence. The official Soviet press and radio in the course of recent years has mentioned the struggle against “bands in the Carpathians” a number of times. Public trials have been held of members of the UPA in Warsaw and Prague, when UPA members were caught by Stalinist police during reconnaissance raids in Poland and Czechoslovakia.

Extent of Genuine Resistance in USSR

…The constant crossing of couriers of the UPA over the Czech and German frontiers when they arrive from the Ukraine to inform their exiled Ukrainian comrades in Western Germany about the situation behind the Iron Curtain is probably well known to the US military authorities stationed in occupied Germany. In 1947-1948 several units of the  UPA crossed the German  frontier coming from the  Ukraine and were interned on orders from General Clay of the American camp in Deggendorf, Bavaria. The military police cross-examined these UPA soldiers. UPA couriers have brought and continue to bring documents on the basis of which we can judge the program of that movement as well as the real “mood” of the people in the USSR. Among these documents are several publications issued by the UPA in the USSR as propaganda material against Stalinism.

Program of the Resistance Movement

These documents reveal that the UPA movement is a Ukrainian nationalist underground organization with a very leftist–one can even say, a revolutionary socialist–program. It stands for a revolution in the USSR “for the destruction of the last class of exploiters–the Stalinist bureaucracy,” as they put it. It is opposed to the restoration of capitalism. It is for the construction of independent national states of the peoples in the USSR in a “real classless society based on the socialization of the means of production and genuine political democracy.”

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this movement is the fact that, while it is a nationalist movement, it penetrated the USSR from the outside and adopted its socialist program after it spread into the USSR. The movement originated as a purely nationalist one in the Western Ukraine, which before 1939 was under Polish occupation, and then became part of the Soviet Union. Although this movement came into the USSR from the Western or bourgeois world, it was nevertheless able to fortify its positions in Soviet society and has managed to exist there for several years. Obviously it has found support among the people. Why? The answer is clear: because it has adopted a program which corresponds to the “moods” of the Soviet people. Far be it from us to idealize this movement, but it is plain that its program is the direct opposite of the programs of [US State Department official George F.] Kennan, [US politician Harold E.] Stassen, and their emigre proteges. (Italics added)

It is worthwhile quoting some programmatic statements of the UPA. As far back as July 1945 we can read in the UPA underground magazine Propagandist, whose objective is political training for members of the underground, the following:

“We must give the masses a solution of the social and national problem as a whole. It is evident that this solution cannot be a return to the past, because the masses would not follow such a solution. We cannot propagate a Western European system of class society. Such a system is a step backward from the classless society. We cannot tell the workers and the peasants that the capitalists and landlords will come back, because they would never accept such a system. We cannot hold up life among the Western Peoples as an example, because that is just where the peasant sees the landlords and the worker the capitalists and unemployment and misery. Our solution cannot be copied after the class societies because that would be unacceptable to our people. At the same time we must throw out all that is rotten in the system of Bolshevism ..that is, destroy national oppression and terror. We must go forward, further on the road to a really free, really classless society.”

This was the beginning of the formulation of a program by the UPA. They were not Marxists. They did not approach the solution from the standpoint of any complete doctrine. That is probably their greatest weakness, because a revolutionary party or organization cannot be successful without a scientific doctrine. But in any case, they proceeded in the formulation of their program from the reality of Soviet society, from the real “mood” of the people.

Later in their development, the UPA leaders came to the theoretical negation of the existence of socialism in the USSR. Their young theoretician, O. Hornovy, basing himself on the works of Karl Marx, brilliantly, demolished in the UPA underground publications the Stalinist theory and propaganda of the existence of a socialist society in the Soviet Union. He ridiculed their propaganda about the building of Communism “because socialism does not yet exist in the  USSR.” In Hornovy’s opinion what exists in the USSR is state capitalism.

In his footnotes, Wilney observed that “the primitive, groping political character of this movement was evident from its terminology which makes little distinction between Bolshevism, Communism, and Stalinism” and that “there were two wings developing inside the UPA–one oriented toward Marxism and the other which, while accepting socialism, emphasizes nationalism…” (22)

Smashing Two Identical Myths

As Workers Liberty journalist Chris Ford reported in his study Ukraine: The Unfinished Revolution Part I, there are two myths about the UPA that reinforce each other. The Stalinists claim the UPA fighters were fascist, anti-Semitic counterrevolutionaries, a portrayal that was repeated and passed on by the Communist parties and other leftist groups. The same myth is also promoted by the right-wing, anti-communist Ukrainian emigres, many of whom offer themselves and are presented as the authentic voice of the Ukrainian people. As Chris Ford explains: “In fact, many of these who dominated the Ukrainian Diaspora after the war did not participate in this [UPA] struggle: they were in prison camps, taken as slave labor or collaborators such as in the SS Galicia Division [that actually DID collaborate with the Nazis].” (23)

The Real Story of Ukrainian Nationalism

The point is that we are and have been missing the real story. An anti-Stalinist, pro-socialist UPA waged a guerilla war against Stalin’s regime in Ukraine for almost a decade. They were not anti-Semites or fascists nor did they want to restore capitalism. Not only did these revolutionary fighters perish in the wars or in the prison camps, but their ideas were buried in falsehood. It is time to reverse this historic injustice and learn more about who these people were and what they said and did and revise our analysis of the role of Ukrainian nationalism.


The State Department has generously funded reactionary, anti-communist Ukrainians,  provided them abundant platforms and financed their projects. This unfortunate relationship of forces has had more than half a century to bloom and bear fruit. The consequences of this collaboration are echoed throughout the media and journalistic coverage of the current Ukrainian crisis, and could lead to dire consequences for all of Ukraine if they are not reversed.


However, we must recognize that another history exists, one much more hopeful for Ukraine.  Surely the memory of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and the bloody war to destroy still has a prominent place in the memories and consciousness of some Ukrainians today. The memories of these post WWII conflicts are undoubtedly a much greater part of the consciousness of today’s Ukrainians than what really took place in the 1920s and 1930s. However, a new revolutionary–not State Department counterrevolutionary– party and mentality needs to be built upon the history of what really happened.


The Shestydesiatnyky


Back in the 1970s, as a member of the Socialist Workers party (SWP), which at that time considered itself a Trotskyist organization, I devoted most of my political efforts toward defending Soviet political prisoners and dissidents–including Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars– and translating the self-published samizdat–and samvydav– writings, that were banned in the Soviet Union. Following Trotsky’s advice in his writings in the 1930s, we worked with young Ukrainians in New York and Canada, who were involved in like activities.. It was obvious that the US State Department had reached most of these people and their environment long before we had. They were for the most part very skeptical of socialists/communists. Back then, such US-government anti-communist, Cold War agencies as Freedom House, the National Captive Nations Committee (founded by a Ukrainian born in the US),  Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and many other such outfits were almost the only places offering support for Ukrainian dissidents and the Ukrainian national struggle. The SWP set up a Committee in Defense of Soviet Political Prisoners as a united front publicizing cases of Ukrainian political prisoners working to try to free them. Our political goal–briefly stated– was to push for more democratic openings toward workers democracy and political revolution in the USSR.

Who were some of the Ukrainian nationalist dissidents that we defended?

1.Sviatoslav I. Karavansky, a dissident communist and brilliant Ukrainian linguist who spent 31 years in Soviet forced labor camps who spoke out against “violations of Leninist norms” by the Soviet government in its nationalities policy toward Ukraine. Karavansky called for an international conference of communists parties to discuss the national question.  Karavansky, who had been a dissident communist when he was first arrested, was ultimately freed and shipped to the United States in 1979 where he taught at Harvard. He died in 2006.(24)

2. Ivan Dzyuba, whose open letter to Ukrainian Communist Party chief Pyotr Shelest formed the text for Internationalism or Russification described above, was arrested and forced to repudiate his remarkable work, which, however, still stands as a brilliant contribution to Marxist history.

3. Lev Lukyanenko was sentenced to death in 1961 for trying to form a Ukrainian Workers and Peasants Union and for defending Ukraine right to secede from the USSR, a right guaranteed by the Soviet Constitution. The death sentence was commuted to 15 years in labor camp. He was rearrested in 1977 and sentenced to another 15 years for defending political prisoners. Released in 1990, Lukyanenko served in the Ukrainian rada and continues to be a Ukrainian nationalist. Lukyanenko, unfortunately, appears to have become a bigot.

The Ukrainians we were defending were, for the most part, the “shestydesiatnyky” or  “the sixties group” in Ukraine. They mostly intellectuals, poets, writers, and scholars who charged through the political openings in the Soviet Union provided by “the thaw” after Stalin’s death and Nikita Khrushchev’s “secret speech” to the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956, wherein he exposed some of Stalin’s crimes. They hoped that Khrushchev meant it when he said he would right Stalin’s wrongs against Ukraine. (25)

But Khrushchev had lied. Instead of getting more rights, after a short interval of openness, the repression kicked in again with mass arrests, starting in 1965, of those who were demanding a return to Ukrainization and workers democracy. The repression prompted an international outcry, which our work in the SWP had been part of. In fact, in 1968, even the Canadian Communist Party joined in the campaign for the release of these Ukrainian fighters and sent a delegation to Ukraine on their behalf. But to no avail. (26)

The most amazing and hopeful aspect about the shestydesiatnyky, however, is the fact that even after all the brutality they experienced under the Stalin regime, despite all the horrors, famines, death and destruction–all of it falsely  implemented in the name of communism, etc.–these Ukrainian nationalists were still speaking out as communists, for the implementation of genuine Leninist and communist ideas and policies! Shouldn’t that give humanity hope that the same can be true today?

But the Lies Go On

When I attended a conference in New York in November 2013, on the famine in Ukraine in the 1930s, it was evident that I was in the midst of ideologues working for the class enemy. All the papers had an anti-Bolshevik, anti communist twist to them . Even a Canadian-Ukrainian man I  had worked with in the CDSPP in the 1970s, who knew better, lied about Trotsky in the paper he presented to try to make it seem as though it was Trotsky’s ideas all along that were responsible for what Stalin did so as to perpetuate the lie that Bolshevism = Stalinism.  He asserted this even though, of course,  he had to turn history on its head to do so. When I caught up with him after the session, I expressed my dismay.  He blushed, admitted guilt and  and promised that he would remove that sentence from his paper.

Do you think he will?  I doubt it: That short sentence may have been the one that paid for his trip to New York.atic and national rights which is all these individuals were trying to do.

Who are the real Ukrainian Nationalists Today?

Undoubtedly, some Ukrainians are anti-communist and equate communism with the crimes of Stalin. However, before concluding that Ukrainian nationalism today in Ukraine is only represented by fascist groups, there are additional factors to bear in mind.

One, as most commentators admit, is that the retrograde, hoodlum elements who have presented themselves as the Ukrainian nationalists in Kiev and elsewhere are a tiny minority of the population.

A second consideration is that although these right-wing thugs, such as “the Right Sector,”  call themselves nationalists, their true identity is concealed behind masks. The same, in fact, has been true, for that matter, of many of the armed “pro-Russian militants” in the Donbass region whose building takeovers and resistance to the criminal post-coup government in Kiev has served as the pretext for the Kiev governments to launch military attacks against the working-class, civilian populations there.

Why are the men hiding behind masks? Are they cowards, afraid to be recognized for standing up for what they believe in?  Or are they hiding their faces because they are not who they claim to be? In fact, who really knows who they are or who they represent? Whoever it is, someone is sustaining them.

There is, of course, no doubt whatsoever that the figures in the Kiev government installed by the US-sponsored coup in February 2014, posturing as Ukrainian nationalists (and giving the cause of Ukrainian nationalism a bad name), are acting as agents of the US government. On the other hand, precisely who is behind the “pro-Russian militants” in the Donbass, who declared themselves the Donetsk People’s Republic after the coup, is not clear. They have not shown their ability, or even their intention, to mobilize the masses of workers in this region behind their cause.  Although the US government propagandists insist that these “militants”  are agents of the Russian government and although some key figures–such as “Col. Igor Strelkov” appear to be mercenaries from Russia, it is unlikely that they are actually agents of the Russian government. They could well be financed by powerful Russian or Ukrainian oligarchs or by the deposed President Viktor Yanukovich, who now resides in Russia. His patronage “klan” network, based in the Donbass region, lost a lot of its clout when he was removed from power.

However, one thing is clear: the working class of all Ukraine is being dragged into a tragic and destructive drama that is not of its own making but which it alone can stop.

The Hard Road Ahead

The idea of confronting armed mercenaries raises another issue: the need for the Ukrainian working class to organize to their own genuine self-defense detachments accountable only to their workers organizations. However, in order to be able to organize in their own defense, it appears that the workers, especially the workers in the mines and factories in the Donbass, will also have to contend with another gangster force: the armed detachments of the various oligarchs.

It is well known that the oligarchs in the Donbass, such as Rinat  Akhmetov (“the richest man in Ukraine”) and Yukhym Zviahilskyi, did not attain their power and wealth as a result of polite negotiations but in a bloody war of assassination and plunder.(27) There can be no doubt that the tens of thousands of workers in the large and strategic mines and industries that these gangsters feed on are aware of the dire consequences they would face if they stepped out of line and dared to organize against the oligarchs’ interests.

It will take more than street protests against “corruption” to overpower this new bourgeoisie in Ukraine. That was true even before these oligarchs got the military and political backing of the biggest gangsters of all: those represented by the US government in Washington. It would appear that by moving in during Maidan in December 2013 with masked military detachments, who posture as Ukrainian nationalists, Russian nationalists, fascists, etc. people in powerful places made their move to get a head start on establishing a regime of violence that will enable them to keep the working class in its place,  i.e., under the heel of finance capital. These goon squads, who are already tearing Ukraine apart, are not genuine Ukrainian–or even Russian–nationalists.

 What is to Be Done?

It will take Marxists to explain this and to lead the way out of a really potentially nasty future for Ukraine. This will mean first of all, understanding and supporting the nationalist aspirations of the Ukrainians and not equating them with fascists. The Ukrainian working class will have to lead the way for all the nationalities in Ukraine, to take power over all the resources and means of production in Ukraine and bring them under the control of the workers, to be run and used only in the interests of the working class. The job of Trotskyists, Marxists, is to champion their cause and help them in their struggle.

This leads back to another contribution by Trotsky, mentioned earlier, the Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, which Trotsky considered one of the most important works of his life.  Written by Trotsky and adopted as the founding program of the Fourth International in 1938, The Transitional Program offers a series of demands to “build a bridge in the consciousness” of the workers from the present situation to the conquest of power and the socialist revolution.

A Trotskyist group called “The Internationalist” has actually applied this Program to Ukraine. What they have done is so important that I will close with an extensive excerpt.  It points to the path for the socialist revolution that is so vital today in Ukraine (and throughout the world, of course, including right here in the United States, where it must also be applied.)  Unfortunately, this group also presents Ukrainian nationalism as a reactionary force, which is obvious from the document’s title.  However, the document concludes with a segment that shows the way forward.

It might be objected that Ukrainian workers are not ready to launch a socialist revolution. Surely not, their consciousness having been destroyed by decades of Stalinist class collaboration and the perversion of Marxism, It is precisely in such situations that the Trotskyist transitional program is key to serve as a A”bridge” between the present consciousness of the working class and the conquest of power by the proletariat. In the fact of the squads of fascist thugs who have been dispatched from Maidan to Kiev and have popped up in eastern Ukraine, it is necessary to form anti-fascist workers militias rooted in the factories, mines, and unions. The militias that have appeared in places like Luhansk and elsewhere do not have a class character which is vital to mobilizing workers; power and ensuring internationalist defense of all ethnic, religious and national groups.

To recover the robber barons’ ill-gotten gains and counter the Kiev rulers’ appointments of well-known oligarchs as regional governors, calls for nationalization are wholly inadequate: that would simply place control in the hands of whoever is running the Ukrainian capitalist state. Instead there should be a call for workers to seize the plants of all the oligarchs and capitalists and institute workers control. This would buttress worker/peasant/neighborhood committees to control prices and ensure supplies of food and other necessities, and facilitate the establishment of soldiers councils to win over key sections of the battered military ranks and ensure arming of the militias. It would also point the way to workers councils (soviets) that could be the basis for a workers government to expropriate the oligarchs and overthrow capitalist rule altogether.

What’s needed is to organize class struggle against Ukraine’s predatory capitalist rulers and their imperialist backers–the forces that have condemned the population to penury while they wallow in luxury, and which would now impose the dictates of Brussels bureaucrats, New York bankers and the International Monetary Fund. This would enable overcoming hostilities between east and west, between UKrainian- and Russian-speakers, that have kept the masses divided. Achieving even some transitional demands would set the state for a protracted right for power, and even if unsuccessful in the short run an internationalist struggle for such objectives would point the way forward.

The workes of Ukraine have power. The aircraft and tank plants of Kharkiv, the steel mills and coal mines of donetsk, locomotive works of Luhansk, auto and truck assembly plants of Zaporizhia and Kremenchuk, the bus manufacturing plant of Lviv and heavy industrial plants of Dnipropetrovsk are bastions of proletarian power. If these workers joined in class struggle they could make quick work of bosses who accumulate billions off their labor, swearing devotion to Ukraine while stashing their wealth in Cyprus banks and buying up London real estate. What’s key is leadership, and that requires a revolutionary workers party built on the internationalist program of Lenin and Trotsky, which in 1917-1921 enabled the Bolsheviks to overcome far more powerful enemies than some fascist bands and flabby “oligarchs” who will flee as quickly as Yanukovich if their wage slaves revolt.

But that struggle must begin now, before it’s too late. Ukraine is not yet a fascist dictatorship. although getting their hands on state power will greatly strengthen the neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists…As well, such a revolutionary, working-class struggle against fascism requires close collaboration with the workers of Russia and East and West Europe. A free and independent Ukrainian Soviet Republic as envisaged by Trotsky can only be built under the watchword, “Workers of the world unite! (28)

MARILYN VOGT-DOWNEY  was a Russian translator for many years.  She translated the writings of Leon Trotsky for the Pathfinder Press.Writings of Leon Trotsky series.  She also translated Notebooks for the Grandchildren, the memoirs of a Ukrainian Trotskyist who survived the Stalin era. A collection of her writings on the former Soviet Union appeared in a volume the USSR: 1987-1991: Marxists Perspectives.


1) This article was actually prompted as a response to a two-part article on this theme on June 9 and 10, 2014, on the World Socialist Website. However, there are many other examples.

2) Leon Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky [1939-40], Pathfinder Press, New York, 1977, p. 47

3)  See: “The Ukrainian Question,” Writings of Leon Trotsky [1938-39], Pathfinder Press, NY, 1974; “Independence of the Ukraine and Sectarian Muddleheads,”  “Democratic Feudalists and the Independence of the Ukraine,” and “Stalin–Temporary Holder of Ukraine,” Writings of Leon Trotsky [1939-40] Pathfinder Press, NY, 1977.

4) V.I.Lenin, Questions of National Policy and Proletarian Internationalism, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1970.

5) Dzyuba, Ivan, Internationalism or Russification, Pathfinder Press, NY, 1968, p. 127.

6) Dzyuba, pp 52-53.

7) Dzyuba, p. 53.


9) Branka Magas, The Destruction of Yugoslavia: Tracking the Break-up 1980-92, Verso, London, 1993.

10) Trotsky, Writings [1939-40], p. 47..

11) Ibid, p. 48.

12) Andrew Wilson, Virtual Politics: Faking Democracy in the Post-Soviet World,” Yale University Press, New Haven, 2005, p. xvi.

13) Serhii Mazlakh and Vasyl Shakhrai, On the Current Situation in Ukraine, The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1970.

14) On the Current Situation in Ukraine, pp. 115-116.

15) Instead, the Donetsk Bolsheviks agreed in the summer of 1918 to allow the formation of a Communist Party of Ukraine, a subtle but significant difference to those struggling for recognition of Ukrainian national rights.

16) See especially On the Current Situation, Chapters 10 and 14.

17) On the Current Situation, pp. xvii and xxviii.

18) Actually, some non-Russians suffered an even more deadly blow to their cultural heritage with repeated changes in their alphabets. For example, before the Russian revolution, most of the Turkic languages in Tsarist Russia were written the Arabic alphabet. After the Russian Revolution, in the 1920s, Latin was instituted as the official alphabet for the these languages. In 1939, however, Stalin forced all the Turkic languages to be written with the Cyrillic alphabet. Then, in 1991, the “independence” government of some of the Turkish-speaking republics, such as  Azerbaijan, reinstituted the Latin alphabet.

19) Leon Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky [1938-39], pp. 302-3.

20) Mikhail Baitalsky, Notebooks for the Grandchildren, Humanities Press, New Jersey, 1995. Baitalsky served three terms in the notorious Vorkuta “death camp” and was finally released only after Stalin’s death. In fact, Baitalsky was in Vorkuta camp in 1938 during the mass execution of hundreds of supporters of Trotsky and others at the Brick Factory.

21) Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, Phoenix, London, 2003, pp.  571, 578. He cites the famine death figures 282,000 in 1946 and 520,000 in 1947.  Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1970, pp. 27-229.


23) Chris Ford, “Ukraine the Unfinished Revolution, Part One”


25) For writings and documents from “the sixties group,” see Ferment in the Ukraine, edited by Michael Browne, Crisis Press, Woodhaven,  NY. 1971.

26) Dzyuba, p. xi.

27) Andrew Wilson, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, Yale University Press, 2005, Chapter 2, “The Protagonists.”