Ukrainian Marxists and Russian Imperialism 1918-1923: Prelude to the Present in Eastern Europe’s Ireland


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Ukrainians were ruled by Russia and experienced the coercive genocidal impulse behind Russian universalist Enlightenment rationalism from the horrors of 1708-12 and the 1820s (Arakcheev’s military colonies), to those of 1919-1949. They accordingly have a tradition of anti-colonialist thought, like all peoples who experienced modernization through domination, that is relevant to today’s events. This should be remembered today, when so many in the European  “democratic” and “anti-Stalinist” left, apparently ignorant of Russia’s colonial rule in Ukraine, condone instead of condemn Putin’s renewed  imperialism and its neo nazi fifth-column in Ukraine. This article reviews the little-known Ukrain­ian anti-colonialist Marxist critique of Russian tsarist and Bolshevik rule up to 1923. It summarizes some of the key ideas of Ukrainian Marxist anti-colonialist thinkers noting that they can be placed alongside men like Amilcar Cabral, Tan Malaka, Frantz Fanon and Aime Cesaire.

This article draws attention to the fact that although there is a Ukrainian Marxist revolutionary tradition behind the current anti-Russian struggle, there is no influential Ukrainian socialist party to speak of. There only exists the old soviet Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU), formed in 1918 as a sub-branch of the Russian Communist Party (RCP). This party was overwhelmingly non-Ukrainian in its ethnic composition until the 1950s and has always stood for Ukrainian subordination to and integration with the former imperial power – Russia.1 Today, because of its leaders’ opulent lifestyle and generous financial backing from politically pro Russian oligarchs, the CPU is popularly known as the Capitalist Party of Ukraine.  It supports Putin’s imperialism and the Russian Eurasianist neo-nazis.2


1While anti-imperial and anti-colonialist themes abound in modern Ukrainian literature, early-20th-century moderate Ukrainian intellectuals, like their descendants today,  did not use the word colonialism to describe the adverse consequences of Russian rule and the sense of inferiority or humiliation it produced. The term “colonialism” did not appear in the first modern debate on the question of cultural dependence on Russia that occurred in the 1890s, nor in later ones including the Marxist Mykola Khvylovy.3

It was the Ukrainian Social Democrats (SDs), Ukrainian Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) and Ukrainian Communist Party  (UCP — Ukapisty) in the early 20th century who created a specifically anti-colonialist Marxist critique of Russian rule. They did consider Ukraine a “colony” and did use the term. The strongest exponents of this critique were Ukrainian communists Vasyl Shakhrai and Serhyi Mazlakh who in 1918 wrote Do Khvyli. Shcho diiet’sia na Ukraini i z Ukrainoiu. 4. The UCP, formed in January 1920 by left-wing Ukrainian SDs and dissolved in January 1925, continued that critique. Ukrainian com­munism as a political-intellectual current disappeared in 1933 when Mykola Skrypnyk and Mykola Khvylovyi committed suicide because they concluded that under Stalin, revolution­ary universalism, proletarian internationalism and national revival were impossible. By 1939, former UCP members were either in prison, in exile or dead, and their writings lay forgotten in closed archives. This Ukrainian variant of “anti-colonial Marxism” reappeared in Ivan Dzuiba’s Internationalism or Russification (1965) and then remerged as a topic of academic inquiry in Ukraine after 1991 but remains little-known elsewhere.5

Ukrainian intellectuals at the turn of the last century combined Marxism with nationalism to theoretically justify national liberation. Ukrainian SDs, like their Asian counterparts, lived in societies with a small native working class and faced industrialization, urbanization and moderniza­ tion in conditions of dependency. Ukrainian left SDs also, like their Asian Marxist coun­terparts, faced the problem of state-building and mobilization in dependent under-developed colonized societies wherein capitalism was sooner an ethnic-religious than economic prob­lem because its agents usually belonged to minorities. In both regions, consequently, social­ism and nationalism overlapped in ways they did not in western Europe. Ukrainians failed to establish an independent national state in 1917 but socialists did create a body of anti­ colonialist Marxist thought that condemned not only tsarism but the Russocentric nature of Russian Marxism. They accused the Russian Bolsheviks of invading Ukraine in 1918-19, subverting its indigenous revolution and reinforcing rather than dismantling imperial struc­tures of domination. They documented how Russian Bolsheviks who spread their principles beyond their national borders by force undermined them just as the French Jacobins had a century before. Frantz Fanon in 1961 wrote in his Wretched of the Earth: “Deportations, massacres, forced labour, and slavery have been the main methods used by capitalism to in­ crease its wealth, its gold or diamond reserves and to establish its power.” In 1919, Ukrain­ian Marxists would have had merely replaced “capitalism” in this sentence with “Russian communism” to describe the state of their country.

Alongside Tan Malaka, R.N. Roy, Ho Chi Minh or Mao Tse Tung, Vasyl Shakhrai, Lev Iurkevych, Serhyi Mazlakh [Robsman], Andryi  Richytsky [Pisotsky], Mykhailo Tkachenko, Ivan and Vasyl Mazurenko “nationalized”  Marxism much like Lenin created a Russian national version of Marxism. But unlike Lenin, Ukrainian Marxists, as representatives of a ruled nationality, regarded Bolshevism as a renewed Russian imperialism; an imposed local nationalized communism rather than a universal norm others should emulate. Unlike Russian Bolsheviks, Ukrainian and central Asian anti-colonialist Marxists Sultan Galiev and Turar Ryskulov realized class consciousness cannot transcend the national context within which it evolved and claimed the future order would not be one of classless societies but of classless nations. This was implicit in Marx, while Engels in 1843 wrote: ” GIve me 200 000 Irishmen and I will overthrow the entire British monarchy,”  Only proletarian hegemony within nations would secure amity between nations. For these early anti-colonialists, nationalism was not an ideology that weakened class unity, nor did they assume that the “victorious industrial proletariat of the formerly ruling nation” would stop exploiting the formerly ruled nations. “The socialization of the means of production will not automatically end the domination of one nation over another … for as long as one nation rules and another  submits there will be no socialism even if the means of production are socialized,” wrote Shakhrai. 6

Ukraine as Russian Colony

Ukrainian Marxist thought on Ukraine as a Russian colony is little known. One reason is that it was long unavailable in German, English or French translation. Another was the Rus­sophilia, Russocentrism and faith in the Russian Bolshevik experiment long shared by many foreign specialists on Russian-ruled Eurasia. A third reason was the “modernization” paradigm that either ignored domination, nationality, and exploitation, or considered them insignificant. The influence of Lenin’s Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916), which excluded the tsarist empire, also explains why Ukraine was eclipsed from the leftist and critical liberal intellectual horizon. Lenin later noted he had excluded the Russian empire from his analysis because of censorship. But those who used his text continued to exclude it from their purview nevertheless and did not think it had to disintegrate as other empires were supposed to.  Although the book ex­cluded Russia, was not written to explain domination, and is simply wrong in its analysis, it long defined not only leftist but critical liberal attitudes to empires.7

In addition, most leftist and critical liberals, like Anglo-American and European scholars in general, saw “Russia” not as an empire but a “multi-national state.” They rarely if at all compared it to other empires and, like Lenin, judged the Russian empire differently from other empires. Accordingly, very few saw through Lenin’s double standards. For instance, on the one hand, he condemned non-Russian socialists within the empire who insisted on parties separate from his metropolitan Russian party “nationalists” or “chauvinists” because he regarded his party as the only legitimate Marxist Social Democratic party in the empire. This was despite the Second International Congress of 1900 that included four parties representing countries that either did not exist or were not independent (Bohemia, Norway, Ireland and Poland). The next congress included India. On the other hand, despite his demands for one SD and later communist party in the Russian imperial space, Lenin’s 21 Conditions for Comintern membership did not include organizational subordination of colonial parties to the metro­politan communist parties of other empires. While some foreign socialists agreed with this centralism and thought their empires, like the Russian, should have only one single central­ized socialist party, they could not enforce this preference and eventually accepted that colonies had their own independent parties –that  were then duly members of the Comintern.

Finally, leftists and critical liberals ignored Ukrainian issues because, like Lenin, they re­garded large economic units and ethnic assimilation to be “progressive.” Lenin never speci­fied whether in the final analysis all empires were supposed to be reunited again after social­ist revolutions had temporarily separated colony from metropolitan state but, he did specify all Russia’s dominated nationalities were to remain within the imperial space after a socialist revolution. Secession, like minority national identity, was to be temporary. Lenin rejoiced, for example, when he learned Ukrainian socialists in Austrian POW camps through 1916 had failed to convince tsarist Ukrainian soldiers to support national independence and con­cluded that an ethnic similarity between Russians and Ukrainians he thought existed had trumped “western Ukrainian propaganda” [galitska propaganda]. But why should Marxists rejoice if spurious ideas of ethnic unity inculcated by two centuries of imperialism, trump a national independence that would weaken imperial-based capitalism and result in the dis­integration of empires that Lenin advocated in his “Imperialism”? 8 He did not apply this same logic when he favorably appraised the “bourgeois” Catholic Irish Easter Uprising that same year despite its failure.

Ukrainian Marxists did use Lenin’s “Imperialism” to explain relationships between Russia and Ukraine. They argued that socialists should dismantle “bourgeois” national independence after a revolution but that they then had to use independence as the basis of the new order. They also refused to subordinate themselves to a metropolitan party based in the former imperial centre and matched their theoretical critique with a short-lived armed struggle against Russian Communist rule in the summer of 1919 that can be seen as the first inter-communist  war. Ukrainian Marxists considered Ukraine before and after 1917 a Russian colony–a re­gion ethnically distinct from the metropole; the object of settlement, national and social oppression, and the source of raw materials.9 This was their most fundamental  difference with Russian Marxists, who did not regard Russia’s possessions as colonies and did not compare the tsarist empire, which they called “Russia,” with any other empire, except oc­casionally, the Habsburg Empire, which they called ”Austria” and considered a “multi­ national state” like Switzerland or the USA. Ukrainians did not use “Russia” as a synonym for the Russian empire and did not consider non-Russians “minorities.” For them it was the Russians settled outside “Great Russia” who were the “minorities.” Although the status of Ukrainian provinces within the Romanov Empire and of Ukraine within the Russian Soviet Republic differed in respects from that of colonies in overseas empires, from the Ukrain­ian Marxist perspective Ukrainian lands resembled what today are categorized as “mixed­ settler” type colonies.10  These include Latin American countries, North African countries, Korea and Ireland. Ukraine can perhaps be best compared with Ireland. Not only are both geographically and culturally European but Ukrainians at the turn of the century followed Irish events closely. SD Mykola Porsh wrote: “The Ukrainian national movement will not be a bourgeois movement of triumphal capitalism like the Czechs. It will be more like the Irish case, a proletarian and semi-proletarian peasant movement.” 11

Because there was no internal border separating Ukrainian and Russian provinces to stop Russian workers migrating as there was between the Grand Duchy of Finland and Russia, and because during 100 years of direct rule by Saint-Petersburg ministries, education, administration, the printed media and high culture were in Russian, incoming Russians had no sense of themselves as an immigrant or colonist minority. Since the social mobility of incoming urban Russians did not depend on learning a foreign language and assimilating into a host community, they can be and classified as a dominant settler-colonist minority analogous to Ulster Protestants, as even the poorest among them had no need to learn another language to get a good job or an education.

It was the native socially mobile ethnic Ukrainians who had to learn a foreign language in their own homeland to get an education and non-agrarian-related employment. Status and mobility for the Ukrainian-born in the Ukrainian provinces, like the Irish in Ireland, were contingent on adopting imperial cultural norms and using the imperial language.  Many Ukrainian and Irish-born changed their surnames and internalized “the colonizer’s image of the colonized.”

Most Russians and assimilated Ukrainians, like settler-colonists and assimilated natives in any colony, looked down upon their unassimilated neighbors. Few Russian intelligentsia applied their humanist standards and sensitivities to Ukrainian national issues and regarded “little Russians” much like Robinson Crusoe regarded Friday. They “loved them” but only if Friday accepted his subordination.   Ethnic Ukrainians who admired imperial modernity and identified it with Russian national identity equated their own identity with a ru­ral backwardness and poverty they sought to escape. Divisions ran within families as one brother might become a Ukrainian nationalist and another a Russian imperialist. Individual bilingual declared Ukrainians became administrators, traders, manufacturers, and millionaires, but they did not constitute a national capitalist class. Ukraine’s capitalists and industrialists, overwhelmingly non-Ukrainian, identified with the empire. There were individual Ukrainian capitalists but no Ukrainian national capitalist class.

Although the status of Ukrainian provinces within the Romanov empire and of Ukraine within the Russian Soviet Republic differed somewhat from that of colonies in the major overseas empires, Ukrainian dependency before and after 1917, as Ukrainian communists claimed, can be seen from the colonial/imperial perspective. Of the four types of colonies in this perspective, the Ukrainian lands resembled the “mixed-settler” kind: Latin American countries, North African countries, Korea, and Ireland. Of these Ukraine can be best compared with Ireland as  both are geographically and culturally European.

After 1801 neither country was separated from its metropole by administrative borders, and natives from both could make careers in central government bureaucracies if they knew the imperial language. In Ireland Catholics could work in the internal civil service as of 1829. The ruling English and Russians considered their respective nations to be agents of progress and civilization. Most thought that because the Irish and Ukrainian peasants were basically like their nations – it was possible to “civilize” and assimilate them. Lord Milner considered the Scots, English, and Irish to be a single nation “impossible to destroy.” Nationalist radicals in both nations at the beginning of the century were a minority. The fact they spoke English or Russian, rather than Gaelic or Ukrainian, did not make them any less nationalist or anti-imperialist.12 Both bemoaned how their co-nationals collaborated in their own oppression – as expressed in the aphorism “put an Irishman on a spit and you will always find another to turn him.” The moderate majority sought autonomy in return for loyalty. Few settler colonists in the Irish or Ukrainian provinces assimilated or became creole nationalist separatists on the Latin American model. Most were empire loyalists who divided the majority population that surrounded them into the good (“loyal”) and bad (“treasonous”).
By 1914 few English, unlike the Russians with the Ukrainians, still had illusions about assimilating the Irish, and likely shared Winston Churchill’s opinion about the Irish being odd “because they refuse to be English.” In Ireland extremist empire loyalists formed the Ulster Unionist Council in 1904 to oppose the national movement while their counterparts in Kyiv formed the “Kyivan Club of Russian Nationalists” two years later.14 Both groups opposed reformist moderates in their central governments. One key difference between the two countries was that Ukrainian nationalism was secular and socialist, unlike Irish catholic republican nationalism, within which James Connolly represented a minority. Another difference: was that there were no paramilitary groups in the Ukrainian provinces on the eve of the war, whereas in Ireland loyalists and nationalists had both mobilized volunteer militias approximately 100,000 strong. While critical English liberals accepted Irish independence, their Russian counterparts never accepted Ukrainian independence. The Versailles Treaties did not recognize Ireland or Ukraine and the words of the Irish Republic’s representative in Paris in the summer of 1919 about his country as a lonely symbolic figure “tragically isolated” from the other European nations apply to Ukraine as well. If we replace “British” and “Irish” with “Russian” and “Ukrainian” the following observation would also apply to Ukraine: “Technically, at times, Ireland may not have been a colony at all; but the forms of revolutionary and cultural activism developed by the Irish against the entrenched self-interest of its rule by the British aristocracy and bourgeoisie meant that it remained the standard bearer for all anti-colonial movements in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.”15

In the 1980s there was much debate about Ireland’s colonial status. The debate touched on almost every aspect of domination and dependency and their relationship to Marxism, nationalism, and modernization. What most agreed on was that the Irish both sustained and undermined the empire they belonged to and were simultaneously colonial and imperial. Lines between the metropole and the regions, between centre and periphery, or native and foreign, were not rigid, and class consciousness could not transcend national contexts. Catholics could be imperial loyalists, Protestants could be Irish patriots. English rule marginalized the Irish language and it was difficult to imagine an Irishman who was not also English. Nonetheless, the country produced one of the world’s strongest and longest lasting revolutionary republican nationalist movements.16

The Irish debate is particularly rel­evant to Ukrainian-Russian relations because it shows that colonial-type dependency should not be thought of in spatial terms but as a process through which societies were integrated into a world system that since the 16th century had been centered in northwestern Europe.

Geography, it should be noted, is irrelevant to understanding the mechanism of this integration because it was the same regardless of distance and barriers. National borders defined the specific circum­stances that influenced the mechanism but did not nullify the broader universal context. Accordingly, a region or peoples can be both “European/western” and “colonized.” From such a perspective, Ireland and Ukraine can be compared not only with each other but with Finland, Catalonia, pre-1917 Bohemia, Algeria or Korea, and Marxist anti-colonial­ist writings from these countries can be classified alongside African and Asian writing.

Ukrainians have yet to reconsider their imperial links as thoroughly as the Irish.17 Most leftists and critical liberals, for their part, still ignore Ukraine much as they once ignored the Irish. In 1858 the Irishman (28 August) observed: “Black niggers are much more attrac­tive objects of sympathy …; had he [the Black] a white face and Irish rags your British philanthropist would think marvelously little about him.” Too many leftists today also “think marvelously little” about the millions living in between Germany and Russia and do not  regard the ex-Russian Communist-dominated USSR, or even Putin’s Russia, as they would any other imperialist villain.  As with Sartre, their concern for the victims of Spanish or English capitalist imperialism and race-based killing did  not extend to victims of Russian state-capitalist imperialism and class-based killing – nor today to Russian neo nazi violence against Ukrainians.

Ukrainian Anti-Colonialist Thought

Tsarist subjects Taras Shevchenko, Nicholas Kostomarov, and Mykola Kulish first imag­ined the nine Ukrainian provinces of the tsarist empire as a single cultural/political unit called “Ukraine” that overrode existing borders. They formed Ukraine’s first modem political or­ganization, the Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood (1846) that called for national liberation, social emancipation, and a politically autonomous Ukraine within a Slavic confederation without idle rich or working poor.  By the end of the century, national activists began ques­tioning whether that “Ukraine” was reaping its share of the wealth created by imperial indus­trialization, and to study the interrelationship between it and the metropolis they had to envis­age the Ukrainian provinces not only as a single national cultural unit, but as a single eco­nomic unit. They concluded that the central government was intentionally stifling and impov­erishing that unit.

In 1906 Mykola Mikhnovsky became the first Ukrainian to argue that Russian rule over his country was illegitimate in international law and to organize a  terrorist group in tsarist Ukraine. He did not label Ukraine a colony, yet, like James Connolly, he placed Ukrainian issues in the context of the “oppressed peoples” of the world and specified that imperial tariff and financial policy discriminated against Ukraine in favor of Russian provinces. Mikhnovsky described Ukraine as one of the “oppressed nations” of the world fighting for national liberty under the flag of socialism. He asserted that only national liberation glo­bally would bring social freedom, and that the expropriation of property was a necessary condition of national liberty: “the proletariat of the ruling nation and that of the subjugated nation are two different classes with dissimilar interests”. He classified Ukrainians, Czechs, Irish, Slovenes and Bretons as a “rural and urban proletariat.”  English Democracy, he wrote, never defended the Irish, the Boers, Indians or the colored African races, and English workers and farmers were not troubled by Irish dependency or the deaths of millions of Indians. Analogously, Americans cared little for Negroes or Indians, German peasants and workers for Poles, and Russian socialists for Ukrainians. European nations with colonies, he continued, behave like autocratic tsars there and are worse than the Huns in their attitudes towards native peoples. As a result native populations were eliminated, or survive in deserts and isolated mountains.  ”As we Ukrainians are also an oppressed nation, fighting for our freedom, should we not extend our hand to all oppressed peoples for a common struggle?”18

In 1911, for the first time in Ukrainian thought, Mykola Stasiuk labeled the relationship between Ukraine and its central imperial government as “colonialist.” Five years later, Max Weber compared the non-Russian territories of the Romanov empire with British colonies like Ireland and India.  Familiar with German-language socialist literature on imperialism, the co-op activist Lev Kohut in 1916 wrote an analysis of imperialism, presumably also influenced by the Comtean positivist understanding of it as a deplorable reversion to bygone years that echoed Kautsky. Kohut described Russia as an autocratic corporation whose main shareholders were the royal family and the high bureaucrats. Allied with the French and Belgian plutocracy it was part of a “mercantile imperialism” that, like all profit-making enterprises, had to expand and subjugate its neighbours. Kohut, anticipating Joseph Schum­peter, argued that in the final analysis it was the political and national interests of this mili­tarist bureaucratic and backward elite that explained its foreign policy. In other words, pre-capitalist politics determined economic and cultural oppression in the Russian empire and impeded Russian economic development because it diverted resources to expansion­ism.19  In the summer of 1917 in what is perhaps the first use of the term, the Ukrainian SR Joseph Maievsky wrote a pamphlet titled “Red Imperialism.” The great powers, he wrote, made idle promises of self-determination to colonized peoples like the Ukrainians, Irish Indians and Vietnamese, only because they needed them for their war efforts. In the Russian empire in 1917: “Imperialism only changed its tricolour flag into a red one….”20
By March 1917, when the Central Rada declared “Ukraine” an autonomous legal po­litical unit, the literate had already envisaged it as a cultural/national and economic unit, and created a body of literature examining Russian-Ukrainian relations in terms of coloni­alism and imperialism. Nonetheless, national leaders, of whom the majority were moderate socialists, built their claim to autonomy on linguistic-cultural arguments. The idea of Ukraine as a Russian colony during the revolution was limited to the Ukrainian radical left.

One reason for this marginality was the censorship that restricted the little on colonial­ism that was published before 1914 to specialist academic publications. A second reason was probably tactical. Given the absence of any criticism before 1917 of Russian imperialism among those whom moderate national leaders regarded as potential allies, they would have alienated such people had they shared and disseminated the ideas of those who compared Ukrainians to colonized Boers, or Zulus, or Arabs. A third likely reason was that moderate Ukrainians who sup­ported cultural activities and had government jobs were unlikely to support condemnation of “Russian colonialism.” Finally, some Ukrainians benefited from empire inasmuch as they served as officers or administrators in non-Russian territories radicals condemned as colonies. As national leaders were reformist moderates pleading for autonomy, it made more sense for them to loyally uphold imperial prestige than to hope for its decline. Anti-colonialist ideas were therefore marginal in public discourse in 1917 when, unlike Polish and Finnish socialists, Ukrainian leaders demanded only autonomy within a federated republican Rus­sia- what their Irish counterparts called “imperial federation.”

Anti-colonialist ideas appeared in some Central Rada and later UNR publications during the revolution but it was the Ukrainian left SDs and left SRs that used anti-imperialist anti-colonialist discourse most often. The few Ukrainians and their Russian allies, like Georgi Lapchynskii, in the Ukrainian sub-branch of the Bolshe­vik party after 1919 avoided colonialist discourse much like pre-revolutionary Ukrainian moderates. Since both groups sought reform not secession they avoided radical colonialist discourse.21

The entire corpus of Ukrainian left SR, left SD and communist writings has not yet been published or studied and this article is limited to a review of three key left SD and UCP documents: Do Khvyli, the 1920 Memorandum to the Comintern, and the “Resolution on the National and Colonial Question” adopted by the second congress, also in 1920. The article points out that these Ukrainian Marxist writings classified Russian Bolsheviks as colonialists who judged the Russian empire by one set of standards and other empires by another. It stops in 1923, when the “lndigenization” policy adopted by the 12th Russian Communist Party Congress made most UCP criticisms redundant.

Ukrainian Marxism involved social as well as national liberation. Roy’s account of the founding of the Indian communist party could also describe the situation in Ukraine: “I had only told them that driving the British out of lndia would be no revolution, if it was followed by replacing foreign exploiters by native ones … Instinctively idealists, they read­ily agreed with my opinion and jumped to the conclusion that if the revolution had to liber­ate the toiling masses it would have to be a communist revolution.”22
As a “peripheral” phenomenon Ukrainian Marxism shared with others like it common theoretical postulates: it regarded the exploited or colonized as a “proletarian nation”, considered that changes in the relations of production did not automatically eliminate foreign rule and that the pro­letariat of ruling nations could be as imperialist chauvinist and exploitative in its attitudes towards former subjects as their nobility or bourgeoisie. The colonized were “proletarian” because they were dominated by a foreign ruling class, and their liberation could only be socialist in nature. The future would be characterized not by a classless society but by class­ less nations. National freedom and independent states were impossible for as long as inter­ national capital dominated national markets, but social liberation could not occur without national liberation and the creation of a national state. ”Anti-imperialism” had to include independent socialist republics and parties for every nation that would then be united in a confederation of socialist national states. Two key differences between Ukrainian and Muslim communists were that the latter claimed that the future of the world revolution lay in colonized eastern countries, not western Europe, and that alliances with national bour­geois, which included even religious parties, were necessary for the duration of the liberation struggle. Because national liberation required the participation of the bourgeoisie, class divisions had to be ignored during the struggle. To do otherwise would drive the bourgeoisie into an alliance with their imperial-class allies that could defeat the revolution.23

In January 1919 the Ukrainian left SDs condemned the CPU as a “reactionary anti­ Ukrainian party” subservient to “the imperialist Russian Bolshevik regime.” “It is a party that obeys the Russian imperialist Bolshevik government. As such it is profoundly reaction­ary and has no place in Ukraine.” “To us, under the slogan ‘power to the soviets’ comes a government that calls itself Ukrainian but which we do not and cannot recognize as such.” The CPU government proclaimed in November 1918 was not legitimate because it had not been ratified by the congress of Soviets, they claimed, and they demanded: “the [newly arrived to Kyiv Bolshevik government] must clearly respond as to whether it actively wants to build a socialist Ukraine or whether it regards her as a Russian colony.” Ukrainian leaders had no illusions about Ukraine’s Russian proletarians: they declared them “blinded by Russian Bolshevik chauvinist imperialism” but waxed philosophical about them. With time, they thought, as the Ukrainian revolution developed, the non-Ukrainian proletariat would shed these “old Russian leftovers” and march alongside the Ukrainian nation and Ukrainian proletarians. 24 Like Shakhrai, these Ukrainians again pointed out that the destruction of the bourgeoisie as a class of exploiters does not mean the end of exploitation. The prole­tariat in power needed decades to rid itself of the economic legacy of the bourgeoisie, and that is why Ukraine had to be an independent republic. Ukrainian Left SDs pointed out that in each country socialist revolution occurred in specific national conditions that required the organization of independent economic organs. Citing a February  26th Pravda article about the substantial Ukrainian food exports to Russia and Moscow send­ing thousands of workers to “help Ukrainian peasants organize” those exports, one author condemned that export as blatant exploitation. Behind the slogans of world revolution and fraternity lay the reality of vicious economic exploitation. In return for grain coal and sugar, he observed, we “uneducated honks” get Russian communist agitators and Russian propaganda. 25 “There is only one response [from Bolsheviks] to the demands of the Ukrainian citizen to have at least the same guarantees for [their] national and cultural rights as do the representatives of the ‘fraternal [Russian] nation’ here in Ukraine,” complained an­ other writer: “[this demand is] chauvinism, middle-class and counterrevolutionary.”26

In February 1920 UCP co-founder Iury Mazurenko explained that his party and the CPU had the same goal; only the former acted through “our local proletariat” while the latter were “communist governor-generals.” “…[B]ecause of this we seem to be nationalists to you and to us you represent the metropole desirous of benefiting from the colony; although it is true our mistakes lead us towards petty-bourgeois chauvinism and your mistakes [lead you] towards bourgeois imperialism.” Ukraine was of vital importance as the door to revolution in western Europe, but that door was closed “because of the mistakes of the Russian Communist Party and its filial branch in Ukraine.” Only the UCP knew local conditions and could utilize the national movement against the bourgeoisie. The national movement was a tool that could be used either by the bourgeoisie or the proletariat, but to ignore it like the Bolsheviks was childish. That movement, moreover, was not a matter of language, folksongs, and culture, but of economics -upon which states are built or destroyed. In all empires today, in places like Ireland and India, the revolution has “… the character of national economic liberation and within [those empires] the national movement will be a revolutionary factor if the party of the revolutionary proletariat can take charge of it and use it appropriately.” This included the economic decentralization of the former empire. While the national state may be unde­sirable in the long term, in the short term it was a necessity to retain power and prevent en­emies from exploiting the national movement. As concerned the future: “…we the communists in a former colony can better see which paths and methods best suit the given territory than those who worked and work today in the metropole.”27

Co-leader Andryi Richytsky elaborated on differences in the treatment of “national­ economic liberation,” empires and colonies in the Ukrainian and Russian party programs. Quoting The Communist Manifesto on the importance of national particularities, he noted that the fundamental difference between the two was that the former was the party of a subjugated proletariat: “The Russian Communist Party program is the program of a pro­letariat in a ruling metropolitan nation, [while] the program of the Ukrainian Communist Party is that of a proletariat in an oppressed colonial nation-that is where they differ.” One did and the other did not have to deal with a national issue except as an abstraction. The Russian program referred to the SovietRepublic system as a model but ignored that in prac­tice the system did not work because it was not implemented as written and because “it failed to link the national and the economic.” For that reason, the RCP program contained only vague generalities about colonial and national issues, while the UCP proposed detailed practical policies because it represented “the proletariat of the nation-colony.”

Unlike the Russians, the Ukrainians stressed that because capitalism created nations once the war had weakened the weakest empires, the Austrian and Russian, the communist revolution not only occurred first there, but was based on the national units forged by capitalism. The UCP stood for a communist revolution in the independent Ukraine that the 1917 revolution had separated from imperial Russia. Ukraine’s Bolsheviks talked about autonomy and federalism, but their policies were like those of the Kadets as both their leaders imagined an “economic unity of Ukraine and Russia.” There could be no independent Ukrainian SSR if Ukraine and Russia were economically united. In a polemic with CPU leaders that summer, Richytsky reiterated that the Ukrainian left SDs’ 1919 uprising had not been directed against soviets but the CPU “occupation regime” in an attempt to channel the rage CPU policies had provoked away from supporting the “counterrevolutionary” UNR. “We stand as guilty before the revo­lution [for the uprising] as do you with your russifying occupation policies in Ukraine that demoralized the proletariat and drove the peasant masses to fight against your regime.” Ukrainian communists who had learned from that mistake were waiting that winter for Ukraine’s Bolsheviks to do the same, unite with them into one party and recognize Ukraine as a republic with its own Red Army equal and not subordinated to Russia.28

All three selected documents classify Ukraine as a Russian colony and one important target of condemnation was the Russian claim that economics had “unified” Ukraine with Russia and made separatism impossible. In Do Khvyli Shakhrai and Mazlakh included a detailed rebuttal of the idea that “under contemporary world economic conditions an in­ dependent Ukraine is impossible.” If this was so they asked, why was an independent So­viet Russia possible? Would independence also be impossible within a future socialist world economy? Economic relations between Russia and Ukraine were like those between great powers and their colonies, and the former were indeed, bound together just like the latter. But in that case, what was the difference between the “centralist” Russian Bolsheviks who opposed Ukrainian independence and “Russian counterrevolutionaries, the large landown­ers and capitalists” who also argued “productive forces” united Russia and Ukraine? Colo­nies and metropoles have different interests, they continued, and economic ties and produc­tive forces “sometimes lead not to political union but to political separation”.

All great powers were bound economically to their colonies but the “productive forces of the colonies revolt against union.” Economic reciprocity, they noted, did not preclude political independ­ence as demonstrated by Sweden and Norway who were not poorer after separating in 1905. While Do Khvyli clearly labeled Ukraine’s Bolshevik CPU “imperialists,” it accused Lenin and the RCP of imperialism only indirectly and directed its critique against their CPU sub-unit. In chapter 3, it condemns the U.S. president: ”And Woodrow Wilson manages everything himself, he has taken upon himself the role of world gendarme and hangman of the world revolution.” After analyzing Bolshevik policy in Ukraine, it asserts, “The Russian proletariat made a social revolution and praise and respect is therefore due it. But this does not mean that it did not inherit from tsarist Russia a bit of imperialism or of [so-called] historical and ethnographic rights.” Because the overwhelming majority of Bolsheviks in Ukraine were Russian or Russified, it observes, their party logically could not represent an “oppressed nation” and obviously avoided the issue of national liberation. The book closes with the ob­servation: “When one examines the spread of Bolshevik Russia and the practice of self­ determination from this vantage point, it is very difficult to see to what extent your self­-determination, Comrade Lenin, differs from that of Woodrow Wilson.” 29 A year later the “Memorandum” omitted the comparison with Wilson but explicitly referred to Bolshe­vik rule in Ukraine as “Russian occupation” because it ignored national issues and imagined these could be placated by simple “bourgeois cultural-national autonomy.” It described the CPU as totally dependent on the RCP but explicitly accused only the former for being unable to overcome “the imperialist legacy of old Russia.”30

The UCP’s “Memorandum” to the Comintern contained ideas found in its1920 Manifesto and later “third-world” anti-colonial Marxism. Imperialism, it explained, both developed colonial economies and created nations, while simultaneously threatening the colonized with “the destruction of their national political life as well as their national culture.” Because it created a weak national bourgeoisie in backward countries like Ukraine, national liberation coincided with struggle against capitalism and communists had to lead the national struggle to ensure it became a communist revolution. Inasmuch as colonized nations represented capitalism’s “weakest link”, national revolutions in colonized nations had to be exploited and taken beyond their “bourgeois democratic stage.”

Without a preced­ing national liberation culminating in a national state led by an indigenous party, and not one based in another country, no socialist revolution was possible. Each nation had to have its own socialist soviet republic that would then be closely allied with all others. The problem in Ukraine was that its colonial legacy had left it with a large Russian urban worker settler population isolated from and indifferent to Ukrainian national interests. As a result the CPU leadership, imbued with “the imperialist legacy of old Russia,” ignored the national revolu­tion. Instead of supporting and carrying this revolution through its “bourgeois” stage by creating an independent state, between 1917 and 1920 CPU leaders opposed the Ukrainian National Republic and fostered counter-revolution instead of socialism. Their internal party-dictatorship, centralization and reliance on Russian workers and bureaucrats turned their Soviet Ukrainian republic into a “Russian occupation regime,” alienated Ukrainians from socialism and their party, provoked a “bourgeois restoration,” and ignited a national war between Ukraine and Russia. Only the UCP as an independent indigenous party could reverse these developments by establishing a soviet socialist republic independent of but allied to Soviet Russia.

The task of the international proletariat [the communist party] is to draw towards the communist revolution and the construction of a new society not only the advanced capitalist countries but also the less developed peoples of the colonies taking advantage of their national revolutions. To fulfill this task, it must take an active part in these revolutions and play the leading role in the perspective of the permanent revolution, preventing the national bourgeoisie from limiting them at the level of fulfilling demand of national liberation. It is necessary to continue the struggle through to the seizure of power and the installation of the dictatorship of the proletariat and to lead the bourgeois democratic revolution to the end through the establishment of national states destined to join the universal network of international union of the emerging Soviet republics based on the forces of local proletarian and working masses of each country with the mutual aid of all the detachments of world revolution.

The UCP phrased its position as follows in 1924: “The Ukrainian communist party is the party of the oppressed and colonized Ukrainian proletariat, called forth by life and social evolution to solve the colonial problem in the conditions that exist in Ukraine.” This could only be done via the CI and whoever opposed this opposed the Cl.31

Ukrainian communists characterized Moscow’s local agents in the CPU as men who saw Ukraine from Moscow’s perspective and judged it from the point of view of the Russian instead of the world revolution. Economic ties did not require political union and, in any case, the war and revolution had destroyed those ties and it made no sense to try use them to rejoin “old state formations.” 32 Developing these ideas in February 1920, Mazurenko explained that communists had to use nationalism in the interests of revolution just like they used the state- otherwise it would be exploited by their enemies. These remarks antici­pated Lenin’s idea expressed five months later at the Second Comintern Conference: “…for us communists from colonies the paths and means required on a given territory [to rebuild] are more visible and obvious than they are for those who worked and work in the metropole. What is now happening in Russia will also happen in England, the Balkans, Asia and else­ where; Ukraine, Ireland,  India and Macedonia,  and on and on. Revolution there will have the nature of national economic liberation and the national movement there will be a revo­lutionary factor, if the party of the revolutionary proletariat can take it in hand and use it as it should be used.” Decentralizing the old imperial structures was as necessary as establish­ing a dictatorship of the proletariat on each given territory of each given nationality that would control the economic life of each given nationality. Mazurenko argued that former imperial economies had to be decentralized and placed in the hands of national states con­ trolled by the local proletariat as a temporary expedient. This would ensure “capitalists” could not use the nation-state against the “proletariat” and that nationalism would not be used to “divide the proletariat.” This national state could also begin to deal not only with chauvinist tendencies within the petty bourgeoisie, but also with “that section o f the proletariat that still suffers from it.”33
The UCP “Thesis on the National and Colonial Question” differed from the Comintem’s “Thesis” because it linked revolution and liberation with decentralization and condemned Russian Bolshevik principles as empty rhetoric, instead of advocating centralization and citing the Russian experience as the model for dealing with national issues. Written by Richytsky, it begins with the standard Leninist analysis of how the national bourgeoisie in colonies fighting against their imperialist rivals for a share of the market initially uses their own population, but then turns the struggle for an independent national state against the native proletariat and working masses. For the latter, national independence without the overthrow of the bourgeoi­sie and the dictatorship of labour only means a change of owners and imperial protectors. For the proletariat, freedom means freedom from both their own and foreign bourgeoisie.

The Thesis then asserts that an independent state was the only means through which oppressed nations and colonies could attain their political, cultural and economic liberation. Communist parties were to ensure the ultimate creation of a voluntary union of all nations. Distinguishing between paternalistic-feudal and early bourgeois-type societies, the Thesis, echoing The Communist Manifesto, specified that in the latter the proletariat can fight their own bourgeoisie if “it forms itself as a nation organized within the national framework of its country and solves its national question from the perspective of taking the bourgeois democratic revolution to completion and then struggling to establish its dictatorship.” The only way a former colony could be transformed into a Soviet republic equal in status to its former metropolitan center was if it was independent. Each national proletariat had to free the productive forces of its own country from dependency on the “artificial industrial and financial centers of the former metropolis” and control its own economy.

The “October Revolution” that occurred in a “multinational colonial empire” was the first to place this historical national program before the proletariat but “the Russian proletariat failed to rise to the occasion.” Its chauvinist and colonialist attitudes, which Lenin foresaw, turned class struggle into nationalist wars that only helped imperialist inter­ventionists. “Soviet power in many former outlying regions (Ukraine, Turkestan, Belorus) was taken by colonialist, petty-bourgeois, settler-peasant, bureaucrat, and Russian intel­lectual elements that exploited bolshevism for their own nationalist purposes.” Terminating these nationalist relationships meant destroying “single and indivisible” Russia, the psycho­ logical notion that it had comprised a “centre” with “regions,” and transforming what had been the empire into a union of independent, federated and united “Soviet Republics of the East.” For the Ukrainian proletariat, the national and colonial question involved terminating colonial ties with Russia and freeing its productive forces from dependency on the old centre. The Ukrainian proletariat had to be raised to the level of a national class and Ukraine demanded the termination of all bureaucratic ties to Moscow.34

The question of development of soviet statehood in forms appropriate to the national specificities of various nations, [including use of] their languages in administration was decided, formally, by the ruling Russian Communist Party in all the former outlying regions of Russia. However, because elements of the russificatory petty bourgeoisie and intellectuals usurped soviet power thanks to the weakness and low level of class and cultural development of the proletariat and workers, and the separation of the workers’ aristocracy of the former non-state nations from the people because of russification, this issue is still far from resolved. The entire [governmental] apparatus of the Ukr. RSR is filled with Russifying elements, its language is Russian, it even strongly opposes using Ukrainian assimilating even those few Ukrainian elements in it and thus, [the apparatus], bureaucratically isolated by its desks from the masses, is objectively becoming a tool of russification. That is why the call for Ukrainian as the state language is and long will be actual, and it is the task of the Ukrainian Communist Party to advocate it.35


Indigenization appropriated and nullified much UCP criticism. Adopted to undermine and win over Ukrainian opposition, the policy antagonized most of Ukraine’s urban Rus­sians who, in typical colonialist settler fashion, refused to learn and use the language of the people in whose country they lived –Ukrainian. As Trotsky explained in the 1923 Mayday edition of Pravda, “the Russian core” of the party dominated it. This “core” thought out the question of the relations between the Russian proletariat and the Russian peasantry in Russia. “By simple analogy we [then] extend these relations to the whole of our Soviet Union, forgetting, or insufficiently taking into account, that on the Russian periphery there live other national groups, with a different history, a different level of development and, most importantly, with a mass of grievances. Most of the Great Russian core of the party is as yet inadequately aware of the national aspects [of the alliance (smychka) between peasants and workers], and still more inadequately aware of the national question in its entirety.” This “core” had support among Ukraine’s urban Russian and Russified white collar profes­sionals whose attitudes towards the majority Ukrainians were like those of Euro­pean settlers in Africa towards African and Arabs.

They voiced their opposition to learning and using Ukrainian in imperialist terms throughout the 1920s: “Ukrain­ian is only a language for songs,” “[that language] is vulgar and unsuited for a subject like physics… Ukraine now is nothing but a part of Russia,” “I won’t Ukrainianize; the Revo­lution was in Russian,” “Ukrainian is a dog’s language I won’t study it.”36 The legacy of Russian tsarist colonialism, which made Ukrainian a second-rate non-prestigious bumpkin language and did not use it for education or administration, remained strong under the Soviet regime. Some employees who knew Ukrainian refused to use it while a considerable number did not know it all. An early 1926 report to Ukraine’s central committee reported that of all Ukraine’s industrial and white- collar workers 59 % and 56 % respectively  did not speak Ukrainian and that 78 % of the former and 33 % of the latter were literate only in Russian. Approximately 35-40% of Ukraine’s government bureaucrats and 25 % of its top ministerial personnel were totally ignorant of Ukrainian. The fears of this colonialist urban social stratum predis­posed them to support Stalin after he stopped enforcing indigenization – which made Ukrainian communist criticism relevant again.

Knowing that Lenin in his Imperialism had included the need for resources as a cause of imperialism, Ukrainian Marxists used terms like “Russian colonialism” “proletarian imperialism” and “communist imperialism” to describe Moscow’s policies in Ukraine. Given, however, that Russia had the resources it needed and had no economic reasons to in­vade, Ukrainians also drew attention to preconceptions as motivating forces and analyzed Russian imperialism as the product not only of economic relations but also of pre-capitalist mentalities-a view that appeared conterminously with Schumpeter’s.

Their critique remains relevant today when Putin’s neo liberal capitalist regime  with its renewed imperialist claims on Ukraine is using Ukraine’s urban Russian minority as a base for a neo nazi fifth column in the country.  Under Putin’s patronage  extremist groups  reemerged from the Russian minority after 2004.  Their roots, however, go back to the loyalist tsarist Russian extremist Black Hundreds of the early 20th century who much resembled the Ulster Unionists. 37

Ukrainian Marxists considered Bolshe­vik polices a continuation of tsarist policies and labeled both imperialist and colonialist. Like John Maclean, James Connolly and Jim Larkin, who condemned the Englishness of British Socialists, Shakhrai, Mazurenko, and Richytsky condemned the Russianness of the Bolsheviks. Ukrainian SD relations with the Russian SDs were like those between Scottish and English socialists, and Ukrainian radicals, like their Celtic counterparts, also tended to be ignored by European socialists. Characteristically, the great apologists of Stalin and his Russified USSR, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, were notoriously anti-Scottish and anti-Irish.

Like later colonial radicals, Ukrainian Marxists sought an independent socialist state with its own communist party confederated with other socialist states with their own parties. They argued they had to complete the “bourgeois revolution” by forming a national republic; an act that would end national issues and focus energies on social injustice. In short,  they advocated temporary support for an independent national bour­geois state, like the Comintern dictated in 1920.

The  failed Ukrainian left SD attempt to ally with the UNR  was in line with this reasoning. Thereafter they argued, like Lenin’s rival Roy, that Communists had to respect and use nationalism but not actually ally with a national bourgeoisie. Reminiscent of Trotsky’s 1905 idea of “permanent revolution” and anticipating later Comintern tactics, Ukrainian communists imagined in 1919 that they would overthrow the UNR and then carry out the necessary “bourgeois task” of national liberation before proceeding with socialist changes. Insofar as the drive for social emancipation involved creating a state and mobilizing a population, Ukrainian Marxists did not regard nationalism as a “deviation” but a central aspect of the revolution. They were not nativists but aspired to create a popular front that included sympathetic non-Ukrainians. Their aim was not to expel Russian settlers but to expropriate the bourgeoisie.

Like radicals in any impe­rial dependency, Ukrainian radicals sought not only social emancipation but national libera­tion. Russian Bolsheviks condemned Ukrainian communists as “petty bourgeois nationalists.” They did not condemn Bela Kun, Roddy Connelly or Ho Chi Minh, who, like the Ukrainians, sought independence from their respective empires via communist parties independent of the Russian, English, and French parties

Stephen Velychenko is a Research Fellow at the Chair of Ukrainian Studies University of Toronto and author of PAINTING IMPERIALISM AND NATIONALISM RED. The Ukrainian Marxist Critique of Russian Communist rule in Ukraine 1918-1925 (University of Toronto Press)—forthcoming).


Show 37 footnotes

  1. The CPU can be compared to the early Communist Party in Algeria. Made up overwhelming of settler-colonists, both organizations reflected the interests ofthe imperial metropole and advocated union with them rather than secession. They claimed communist success in the metropole would establish communism in the colonies and opposed independence on the grounds that the native people were opposed to progressive ideas and were exploited above all by their own non-communist leaders and ”bourgeoisie.” The Algerian party supported secession only in 1956. A. Drew, “Bolshevizing Communist Parties: The Algerian and South African Experiences,” International Review of Social History. 2003. Vol.48 (August). Pp.181-185. E. Sivan, Communisme etnationalisme en Algerie,1920-1962  (Paris, 1976).
  2. The nature of the CPU is reflected in on the first page of the 4 January 2006 edition of its newspaper. Above the title “Kommunist”, a picture of Lenin, and the slogan “Workers of the World Unite,” we read: “Greetings on the occasion of the birth of Christ” – all in Russian. Below, a picture and greeting of the party leader is flanked by a picture of the metropolitan of the Ukrainian branch of the Russian Orthodox Church giving Christmas greetings – in Russian.  Besides the CPU the Russian neo nazi Eurasianists in Ukraine include: Slavic Unity, the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, the Social-Patriotic Assembly of Slavs, Motherland and the Russian Bloc.
  3. B. Hrinchenko , M. Drahomanov, Dialohy pro Ukrainsku natsionalnu spravu  (Kyiv,1994).  D. Dontsov, “Natsionalni hermafrodyty,” Nash Halos  1911. No. 9-10; idem. Moderne Moskofilstvo  (Kyiv, 1913). The reaction to Donstov was hostile. His opponents, like Drahomanov, claimed that although Ukraine would reject Russian cultural influences in the long run, in the short run Ukrainians benefited from them.  M. Zalizniak, “Pro moderne moskofilstvo,” Liternaturno-naukovyi vistnyk, 1913. No 11. Pp. 360-371; S. Petliura, “Lysty do Dm. Dontsova,” Liternaturno-naukovyi vistnyk. 1931. No 11. Pp. 984-985. H. Kasianov, Ukrainska intelihentsiia na rubezhi XIX-XX stolit  (Kyiv, 1993). Pp. 138-139. E.  Malaniuk,  “Pro domo sua,” Veselka. 1923. No 7-8. Pp. 54-55.
  4. The Russian edition was confiscated. One hundred Ukrainian copies were allowed into stores – in Saratov Russia. “Do Khvyli” is translated: P. Potichnyi ed., On the Current Situation in Ukraine, (Ann Arbor, 1970). It has yet to be republished in Ukraine
  5. The major English-language works are: C. Ford, “Outline History of the Ukrainian Communist Party (Independentists): An Emancipatory Communism 1918-1925,” Debatte. 2009. No 2 (August). Pp. 193-246; J. Mace, Communism and the Dilemmas of National Liberation  (Cambridge, MA, 1983); I. Maistrenko, Borotbism. A Chapter in the History of the Ukrainian Revolution. 2nd ed. (Stuttgart, 2007). Dzuiba’s book has 14 editions including 3 English, 3 Ukrainian, 1 Chinese and 1 Catalan.
  6. V. Skorovstanskii, (pseud. Shakhrai) Revoliutsiia na Ukraine. 2nd ed. (Saratov, 1918). P. xi. Lev Iurkevych drew attention to this danger in his 1917 pamphlet Russkie sotsial demokraty i natsionalnyi vopros. English translations: M. Yurkevych: Journal of Ukrainian Studies. 1982. Spring. Pp. 57-78; C. Ford. The Future Present. 2011. No 1. Pp. 99-106. K. Marx, F. Engels, Ireland and the Irish Question (Moscow, 1971) 43.
  7. Lenin wrote to explain why war between capitalist states was unavoidable and real wages could rise in Europe and keep workers loyal to their national governments– which Marx had incorrectly claimed was impossible under capitalism. Lenin ignored that workers in colonies (Australia, Canada), or workers in countries without colonies (Denmark, Sweden), could prosper, while workers in imperial countries (Spain, Portugal) could be poor. Because workers in Britain had high wages supposedly because of colonial profits, secession would impoverish and radicalize them. Lenin did not explain how owner profits got into the wages of skilled workers. He wrongly claimed a direct relationship between imperial profits and imperial sentiment, failing to see that willingness to profit from empire was rarely matched by willingness to pay for it. To justify secession, he claimed imperialism impeded development in dependencies. Marx specified that capitalism could profit from dependencies but did NOT need them. B. Warren, Imperialism Pioneer of Capitalism. (London, 1980). A. Brewer,  Marxist Theories of Imperialism: A Critical Survey  (London, 1980).
  8. V.I. Lenin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii. 55 vols. (Moscow, 1959-1965) Vol. 49. P. 377. “I vse zhe blizost k velikorusam brala verkh!” It should be remembered that Lenin supported the Boers not the Bantus that “imperialist” Britain had recently released from slavery.
  9. Colonialism involves a part of the elite in one country cooperating as a junior partner with a ruling elite of another country in a mutually advantageous relationship. Because local elites run local affairs supervised by bureaucrats and soldiers from the centre, colonialism is not only a national but a class phenomenon. Neo-colonialism does not need central supervisory personnel and exercises control via monetary, ownership and trade policies determined by elites in former imperial metropoles. Those who claim non-Russians’ collaboration in imperial governance absolve Russians of imperialist/colonialist guilt are either na1ve or disingenuous.
  10. K. Kononenko, Ukraine and Russia: A History of Economic Relations between Ukraine and Russia (1654 -1917). (Milwaukee, 1958) based primarily on 1920s Soviet publications, is the best account in English for the case that the Ukrainian provinces were colonies of the Russian metropole. There is no study on Russians as settler-colonists in Ukraine analogous to David Prochaska’s Making Algeria French: Colonialism in Bone 1870-1920 (Cambridge, 1990).
  11. M . Porsh, Pro Avtonomiiu Ukrainy, (Kyiv, 1907) p. 131.  Centrist SD I. Mazepa attributed Russian expansionism to the fact that Bolsheviks had come to power in a backward country that needed resources – doctrinally Leninist but not empirically true. He labeled the Ukrainian provinces a Russian colony and Russian settlers as “Ukraine’s Ulster.” Bolshevizm i okupatsiia Ukrainy. Sotsialno-ekonomichni prychyny nedozrilosti Ukrainskoi revoliutsii  (Lviv, 1922) Pp. 83, 148-149.
  12. The leading radical populists of Narodna Volia (Andrei Zheliabov, Semen Iakhnenko, Mykola Kylbachych, Sofiia Perovska, Semen Barannikov, Valerian Osynsky) were Ukrainian-born. Like the Irish Fenians and Republicans they wanted to decentralize the empire and autonomy for Ukraine – for which their Russian counterparts condemned them. Literatura sotsialno-revoliutsionnoi partii “Narodnoi Voli”, (np. 1905) 163-64.
  13. P. McMahon, British Spies and Irish Rebels: British Intelligence and Ireland, 1916-1945 (Woodbridge, UK, 2008) 163-74; D.W. Miller, Queen’s Rebels: Ulster Loyalism in Historical Perspective (Dublin, 1998); G.K. Peatling, British Opinion and Irish Self-Government 1865-1925 (Dublin, 2001); E.G. Lengel, The Irish through British Eyes (London, 2002); M. de Nie, The Eternal Paddy. Irish Identity and the British Press, 1798-1882 (Madison, 2004).
  14. The Kyivan Club, the “Party of Legal Order,” and “Russian Brotherhood” were explicitly anti-Ukrainian organizations. They did not constitute a single coordinated extremist imperial loyalist group in the Ukrainian provinces as did the Ulster Unionists in Ireland. Dozens of loosely related loyalist groups, usually termed “Black Hundreds,” appeared throughout the Russian empire between 1904 and 1914. The largest was the Union of Russian People.
  15. E Childers, “Might and Right in Ireland,” English Review (June 1919) 512-14
  16. L. Kennedy, Colonialism, Religion and Nationalism in Ireland (Belfast, 1996); C. Carroll and P. King, Ireland and Postcolonial Theory (Cork, 2003); K. Kenny, Ireland and the British Empire (Oxford, 2004); S. Howe, Ireland and Empire: Colonial Legacies in Irish History and Culture, (Oxford, 2000); T. McDonough ed.,  Was Ireland a Colony? (Dublin, 2006). See also T. E. Hachey, Britain and Irish Separatism (Washington, 1984).
  17. The study of colonialism in Latin America, where creole elites still dominate the native population and political independence did not include decolonization, also provides insights into the Ukrainian condition. M. Maranda, E. Dussel, C.A. Jauregui eds., Coloniality at Large. Latin America and the Postcolonial Debate  (Durham, NC, 2008). Post 1991 Ukrainian historical discussions are summarized in V. Kravchenko, Ukraina. Imperiia. Rosiia  (Kyiv, 2011) Pp. 391-528.
  18. The Ukrainian National Party (1902) that Mikhnovsky organized was small and not influential. He published its program in 1906. In 1917 he changed its name to the Ukrainian Party of Sovereignist Socialists. It had members in the Central Rada, and dropped its earlier internationalist anti-colonialist perspective. V. F. Shevchenko ed., Ukrainski politychni partii kintsia XIX – pochatku XX stolittia (Kyiv, 1993) Pp. 60-3. The Revolutionary Ukrainian Party (RUP) also called for independence-but did not compare Ukraine with European colonies.
  19. M. Weber, Politische schriften. (Munich, 1921) .The speech was not published unti 1921. S. Velychenko, “The Issue of Russian Colonialism in Ukrainian Thought,” Ab Imperio. 2002. No 1. Pp. 323-366. L. Kohut, Ukraina i Moskovskyi imperialism (n.p. 1916). Pp. 96, 155-156. Schumpeter lectured at Chernivtsi (Chernowitz) University in 1909-1911 where Kohut was a student. His Sociology of Imperialisms (1919) explained imperialism not as the “most advanced stage of capitalism” but the clear sign that pre-capitalistic (feudal) aspects survived in capitalism. Thus, capitalists remained subservient to state rulers.
  20. I. Maievsky, Chervonyi imperialism. Po shliakhu kontr-revoliutsii  (Kyiv, 1917). Reprinted: Khronika 2000. 1999: 27-28, 286-296.
  21. On reformist -“federalist” Ukrainian Bolsheviks see: H. Efimenko, Status USRR ta ii vzaiemovidnosyny z RSFSR: dovhyi 1920 rik  (Kyiv, 2012).
  22. M.N. Roy, Memoirs  (Delhi, 1984) P. 464.
  23. Sultan Galiev wrote at the same time as the Ukrainian communists. Already in 1919 he was condemning Columbus, “freedom-loving America” and cosmopolitan Europe because they were built on the bones of millions of Africans and Native Americans.  M. Sultan¬ Galiev, Izbrannye Trudy (Kazan, 1998)  Pp.141-145, 198-203.
  24. Cited in P. Khrystiuk, Zamitkyi materialy do istorii Ukrainskoi revoliutsii 1917-1920. Reprinted. (New York, 1969 {1921}. IV:  55-56,72. Chervonyi prapor (Kyiv) 6, 9, 12, February 1919.
  25. Chervonyi prapor, 9 March, 17 April 1919.
  26. Robitnycha hazeta. 7 January 1919. Chervonyi prapor. 9 March 1919.
  27. Chervonyi prapor. 8 February 1920.
  28. Chervonyi prapor. 4, 26 March; 19 June 1920.
  29. On the Current Situation… Pp. 60-65, 97, 106, 165, 176. As adopted by the Versailles Treaty, Wilson’s Fourteen Points applied only to the defeated Turkish, German and Austrian empires, not to the British, French or Russian. The Entente recognized neither Ukraine nor Ireland.
  30. P. Bachynsky ed., Dokumenty trahichnoi istorii Ukrainy (1917-1922) (Kyiv, 1999) 535-36, 544. English translation: Ford C. Memorandum of the Ukrainian Communist Party to the Second Congress of the III Communist International July-August 1920,” Debatte. No 2. August, 2009. Pp. 248-262. The Memorandum was published as a pamphlet in Vienna in 1920.
  31. Chervonyi prapor (Kyiv) (mimeographed monthly). May 1924. The article was preceded by a quote from Zinoviev, who that February said that communist parties of those countries whose bourgeoisie oppress colonies should spend 50% of their time on colonial issues; otherwise, they could not be considered communist.
  32. Chervonyi prapor. 1919. 25 February.
  33. Tsentralnyi derzhavnyi arkhiv hromadskykh obiednan Ukrainy (TsDAHO). F. 8. Op. Sprava 13. No 21. Published: Chervonyi prapor, 11 March 1920.
  34. TsDAHO. F. 8. Op. 1. Sprava 48. No 42-44, 47-48. J. Degras ed., The Communist International 1919-1943 ( London, 1955) I: 138-144.
  35. TsDAHO. F. 8. Op. 1. Sprava 48. No. 51v.
  36. Cited in: E. Borisenok,  Fenomen sovetskoi ukraiizatsii 1920-1930e gody  (Moscow, 2006) Pp. 136-142.
  37. Anton Skekhovtsov has written most extensively on todays Russian neo nazi right in Ukraine.
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12 Responses

  1. David

    May 27, 2014 12:06 pm

    This article is an astonishing example of reverse projection.
    The neo nazi elements in Ukraine were nurtured and funded by the USA…not Russia.
    That is why they are so prominent in the Kiev fascist regime installed by the the USA.

    Victoria Nuland is on record boasting the USA invested $5 Billion in recent years; and is recorded prior to the coup giving instructions as to whom she wanted in the coup regime.
    The regime today is constituted as she instructed.

    The peoples in the south and east are rightly rejecting the legitimacy of the Kiev regime.
    The version of events presented by the western corporate media cartel is entirely false.

    • Mary

      May 27, 2014 4:33 pm

      Dear David – please remove yourself from TV and the Internet which, for the most part, is reproducing the old-style Cold War propaganda discourse for people who are unable to do thinking themselves. Take a walk, feel some fresh air, and maybe you will see, at least for a moment, that what seems so clear to you when you watch your TV is actually not so simple and not so clear in “the countries of which you know nothing.” Maybe then you could also realize that someone’s version of events that does not fit within you little picture of the world, is actually worth a little consideration. Poor people of the Ukrainian East, fed by the same propaganda and little money from Russian Empire, are now in the most desperate situation possible. If you could have ever seen the land you are speaking about (with such certainty and knowledge that you think you have about it) and the conditions the people live in there due to the criminal government of Yanukovych, you would have known that most of the pro-Russia fighters do not even know what “legitimacy” means – neither semantically, nor practically. These people were used like slaves to dig coal for billionaires. Even children. People of Maidan put their lives to change that. Try thinking outside your TV-box.

    • SV

      May 29, 2014 6:20 pm

      Neo Nazi’s based on Ukraine’s settler -colonist population alongside RUssian special-ops forces Russia are trying to channel the reginal population’s anger and frustration into a pro Russian political chauvinist platform. Despite the ‘referendum’ of May 11, polls consistently show that the vast majority of people in the Donbas region oppose both separatism and Russian rule. In Sloviansk the recent attacks upon and looting of Romani (Gypsies), distribution of antisemitic leaflets, and hunt for Ukrainian speakers is in line with the racist views of these mercenary forces (See

      Over the last few years Russian authorities have nurtured far-right paramilitary groups — based on early 20th century Black Hundreds. Vladislav Surkov is considered the first to come up with the idea of placing extreme right-wing groups ‘at the service of the Motherland.’ In the century’s first decade, as deputy-head of the President Putin’s administration with responsibility for internal politics, he decided to disrupt political opposition groups of all kinds by using violent gangs recruited from football fans. Then the neo-Nazi organization BORN (Battle Organization of Russian Nationalists) appeared, and implemented more radical ways of ‘solving’ the ‘opposition problem’ by killing human rights activists and journalists (See Lynch,

      Here are some of profiles of individuals fighting in the Donbas.

  2. Larry Gambone

    May 28, 2014 1:25 am

    How could you write such a long article about Ukrainian resistance to Leninist imperialism circa 1920 without ever once mentioning Nestor Makhno and the Makhnovist Army which liberated a huge chunk of the Ukraine – first from the Whites and Germans, then from the right-wing nationalists and then from the Red Army?

    • SV

      May 28, 2014 1:58 pm

      Makhno had nothing to do with the Ukrainian Marxists who are the subject of the article

  3. Aindriu Macfehin

    June 4, 2014 9:46 pm

    Interesting that the first person to criticize this article suffered an ad hominem attack. I also agree with Larry. The author speaks of the history of Marxism and even before and yet omits one of the greatest anarchist armies that has ever been. This does reveal a certain bias. This bias is reinforced by mention of the anti semitic leaflets in Eastern Ukraine which were proven to come from the Kiev government. As things stand, the military of the illegal puppet government in Kiev is using the full force of its army and air force to kill civilians in Donetsk and Sloviansk. The fascist have claimed with pride the murder of civilians in Odessa. You can paint this how you will Mr Velychenko, but don’t you dare attempt to link the heroism of the brave comrades who fought in Easter in Ireland with these fascist rats. This article is thinly veiled Kiev propaganda and I am appalled that it has found its way into the Irish Left review. Are you stoolies for the fascists now comrades?

    • Stephen Velychenko

      June 5, 2014 2:11 pm

      1. The article is about Ukrainian communists not Makhno nor the anarchists. Marx, by the way, condemned anarchism.

      2 The article does not mention Jews or anti-Semitism. The co-founder and major spokesman for the UCP, Richytsky [Pisotsky], was Jewish.

      3 The article makes no mention of current events in Donetsk or Odessa. The “comrades” who fought “in easter” in Ireland were catholic “bourgeois” nationalists who were joined by Marxist James Connolly who was intelligent enough to realize the power of nationalism — a theory that states cultural and political borders should coincide.

      4. In a comparative perspective today’s Kyiv government is also “bourgeois” just like the first Irish government. Just like the first Irish government it has found itself at war with its former Imperial ruler backed by local settler-colonialist loyalists opposed to Irish independence. In so far as the Kyiv government is anti imperialist and represents a continuation of the Ukrainian national liberation struggle,, like the first Irish government, it is progressive. In colonies and neo colonies, for those who have forgotten, communists have always considered imperialism not nationalism or fascism the greater enemy. Thus Ho Chi Minh and Mao both cooperated with the US, for example, against the Japanese.

      4. Those concerned about fascism should sit down and review recent EU election returns that gave pro Russian pro Putin extremist right parties 15-20% of the vote– while Ukraine’s SVOBODA got 1%. Such people should then read Aleksandr Dugin, Putin’s favourite ideologist and founder of the fascist EURASIANIST movement and ask what are leftists doing supporting the Kremlin and its extremist right EU allies? Given the Kyiv government is currently fighting against imperialist Russian neo-nazi’s whose origins are in groups listed in footnote 2, it is clearly an anti-fascist government.

  4. Donagh Brennan

    June 5, 2014 11:23 am

    Perhaps I haven’t been following the details of the back and forth too closely. For example, I didn’t know until you mentioned it that the anti-semitic emails were fake.

    “Pinchas Vishedski, chief rabbi of the Donetsk area’s 15,000 Jews, told Reuters on Saturday that while it was initially shocking, he was now satisfied it was a political hoax – “a crude provocation” – though its authorship was still unclear.

    “I’m asking those behind this not to make us tools in this game,” he said. Anti-Semitic incidents in the Russian-speaking east were “rare, unlike in Kiev and western Ukraine,” he said.”

  5. Chris Ford

    June 5, 2014 4:09 pm

    You would not judge contemporary Irish history through the prism of the Blue shirts, the worst elements of the AOH or the pre-war pogrom? It would be a big error to consider Ukrainian nationalism and contemporary history through the prism of wartime collaborators as is being done often today. To consider the entirety of the popular rebellion against Yanukovych as fascist would be simply wrong. They were present, mainly in Kyiv and the west but not everywhere and did not make up the millions mobilised across Ukraine’s towns and cities. The point of comparisons of Ukraine and Ireland are useful in that is precisely the comparison made by Lenin. n conclusion we may recall Lenin’s neglected speech at Zurich in 1914:
    “What Ireland was for England, Ukraine has become for Russia: exploited in the extreme, and getting nothing in return. Thus the interests of the world proletariat in general and the Russian proletariat in particular require that the Ukraine regains its independence.”
    Understanding the national question in relation to class struggle in Ukraine today is absolutely essential. As such neither Russian imperialist reassertion over it longtime colony or Western rivals should be endorsed.
    The Left-Opposition in Kyiv have outlined very well a clear alternative:

  6. Roger Annis

    June 7, 2014 1:42 pm

    For a Marxist treatment of the Russian Revolution and the struggle of the nations oppressed by the Tsarist empire, read the excellent new essay by U.S. writer Eric Blanc: ‘National liberation and Bolshevism reexamined: A view from the borderlands’:
    For an informed view of current events in Ukraine, drawn from the writings and experiences of those in the region, read my new article, ‘New president in Ukraine deepens civil war course with NATO backing’:
    Chris, the writings of the ‘Left Opposition’ downplay or even dismiss concern for NATO’s intervention, the rise of right wing and fascist forces and the Kyiv regime military offensive in eastern Ukraine. Voices across the left spectrum in Europe and further abroad are unfortunately echoing this. Progressives that ignore the rise of fascism in Ukraine and Europe are playing with fire. The people of Egypt can teach a thing or two of where it leads.

    • Stephen Velychenko

      June 9, 2014 1:25 pm

      I find it odd that those like Roger Anis supposedly concerned about right wing and fascist forces ignores ignore the involvement of the Russian neo Nazi extreme right in South-Eastern Ukraine. This is not limited to fascist Aleksandr Dugin who personally instructed pro-Russian terrorists. Aleksandr Ivanov-Sukharevsky, leader of the Russian neo-Nazi Peoples National Party, for instance, also gives the (pro-)Russian right-wing terrorists in South-Eastern Ukraine full support.

      Moscow bases its EU strategy on support for extreme-right parties, using them as proxies to infiltrate the public discourse, weaken the democratic consensus and, eventually political institutions. In Ukraine, too, the Kremlin relies on, and gives full support to, the extremist ultranationalists rather than the ‘pro-federalisation’ movement. In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, now illegally annexed by Russia, the Kremlin supported and practically installed as ‘Prime Minister of Crimea’ ultranationalist Sergey Aksyonov, leader of the right-wing party ‘Russian Unity’, rather than a representative of the ‘pro-federalisation’ Party of Regions. ‘Russian Unity’ was a miniscule party that obtained only 4.02% of the vote at the 2010 regional elections in Crimea, while the Party of Regions was supported by 48.93% of voters. Ultranationalist Aksyonov was more preferable to the Kremlin, because ‘Russian Unity’ was straightforwardly pro-Russian, in contrast to the simply Russia-friendly Party of Regions. However, since the extremists are only instruments in the Kremlin’s geopolitical game, ultranationalist Aksyonov will most likely be replaced at some point down the line by a Russian bureaucrat.

      In Donetsk, the Kremlin supported Pavel Gubarev as self-proclaimed ‘People’s Governor’ of Donetsk Oblast. Now under arrest, Gubarev is a former member of the neo-Nazi ‘Russian National Unity’ party founded in Moscow in 1990 and a current member of the far-right, misleadingly named, Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine. This party’s leader is Natalya Vitrenko, a long-term associate of American right-wing extremist and anti-Semite Lyndon LaRouche and Eurasianist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin. The latter personally instructed the extremists in Donetsk after Gubarev had been arrested by the Ukrainian security service.

      Meanwhile the Russian occupation forces are reportedly thinking of deporting the Crimean Tatars from the Crimea. Russian right-wing extremists in Crimea fully support the idea of deportation. Russian officials for their part now speak of the “Tatars of the Crimea” rather than the “Crimean Tatars”, thus rhetorically stripping them of the status of the native people of the Crimea. and Russians. This is like Mr. Anis who in his article refers to “people” instead of Ukrainians and Russians — thus avoiding the issue of national liberation, Russian imperialism and colonialism in Ukraine.

      Given Mr Anis’ support for Putin’s imperialist intervention and the local colonialist neo Nazi Russian extremists, it would seem he would have supported the French colonialist OAS in Algeria and the Black and Tans in Ireland. It escapes me by what criteria such man can be considered a “leftist” or Marxist.