Ukrainian Marxism vs. Russian ‘Red’ Imperialism

By Stephen Velychenko. The following is the introduction to Velychenko’s Painting Imperialism and Nationalism Red: The Ukrainian Marxist Critique of Russian Communist Rule in Ukraine, 1918-1925.

Ukrainians were ruled by Russia and experienced the coercive genocidal impulse behind Russian universalist Enlightenment rationalism from the horrors of 1708-1712 and the 1820s (Arakcheev’s military colonies), to those of 1919-1949. They accordingly have a tradition of anti-colonialist thought, like all those 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 condone instead of condemn Putin’s renewed Russian imperialism and its neo-Nazi fifthcolumn in Ukraine. Accordingly, 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.


In addition, all democratic and anti-Stalinist leftists should realize that although there is a Ukrainian Marxist revolutionary tradition behind the current anti-Russian struggle, there is no Ukrainian Communist Party. 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 1960s 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, is it popularly known as the Capitalist Party of Ukraine. It now supports Putin’s imperialism and the Russian Eurasianist neo-Nazis . [2]


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


Do Khvyli. Shcho diiet’sia na Ukraini i z Ukrainoiu

It was the Ukrainian Social Democrats (SDs), Ukrainian Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs), and Ukrainian Communists (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 Ukrainian Communist Party (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) re-emerged as a topic of academic inquiry in Ukraine after 1991 but remains little-known elsewhere. [5]


Skrypnyk Mykola and Mykola Khvylovyi

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 moderniza­tion 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 Russo-centric 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 one 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. For them, 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. 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 — who 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 prisoner-of-war 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 [book] 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 center 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.[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.

In the 1970s, there was much debate about Ireland’s colonial status as not all agreed that Ireland had been a colony. What both sides did agree on was that the Irish both sustained and undermined the empire they belonged to and were simultaneously colonial and impe­rial. Lines between metropolis and regions, center and periphery, native and foreign were not rigid. Catholics could be imperial loyalists, Protestants 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-exist­ing revolutionary republican nationalist movements.[xii] 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.[13] 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 also “think marvelously little” about the millions living in between Germany and Russia and seem reluctant to treat the ex-Russian Communist-dominated USSR 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 does 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 to argue that Russian rule over Ukraine was illegitimate in international law and to organize a nationalist 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?” [14]

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.[15] 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 expansion­ ism. 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….”[16]

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 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 them 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 sup­ ported cultural activities and had government jobs were unlikely to support condemnation of “Russian colonialism.” Finally, 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 Ukrainian National Republic (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.[17]

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 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.” [18]

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.[19]

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 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. [20] 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. [21] “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.”[22]

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.”[23]

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 Soviet Republic 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 soviet socialist Republic 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 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.[24]

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 Bolsheviks “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.” [25] 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.”[26]

The UCP’s “Memorandum” to the Comintern contained ideas found in the Comintern’s 1920 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 UNR 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 Communist International and whoever opposed this opposed the Communist International.[27]

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.” [28] 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.”[29]

The UCP “Thesis on the National and Colonial Question” differed from the Comintern’s “Theses” 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 “multi-national 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 inter­ ventionists. “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 psychological 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.[30]

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.[31]


lndigenization appropriated and nullified much UCP criticism. Adopted to undermine and win over Ukrainian opposition, the policy antagonized most of Ukraine’s urban Rus­sians who refused to learn and use 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 urban Russian and Russified white collar profes­sionals whose attitudes towards the majority Ukrainians were not unlike those of Euro­pean settlers in Africa towards African and Arabs.

They voiced their opposition to learning and using Ukrainian in imperialist 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.”[32] 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.5° The fears of this “colonialist” social stratum predis­posed them to support Stalin after he stopped enforcing indigenization — and 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. Putin’s neoliberal capitalist regime in Russia has renewed imperialist claims on Ukraine and is using its Russian minority as a base for a neo-Nazi fifth column in the country. Under Putin’s patronage these groups revived in Ukraine after 2004. Their origins go back to the loyalist Russian extremist Black Hundreds of the early 20th century who much resembled the Ulster Unionists.

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.

This 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.


[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. Drew A. Bolshevizing Communist Parties: The Algerian and South African Experiences/International Review of Social History. 2003. Vol.48 (August). Pp.181-185. Sivan E. 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.

[3] Hrinchenko B., Drahomanov M. Dialohy pro Ukrainsku natsionalnu spravu. Kiev,1994. Dontsov D. 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. Drahomanov M. Chudatski dumky… P. 555, 557. Zalizniak M. Pro moderne moskofilstvo//Liternaturnonaukovyi vistnyk. 1913. NQ 11. Pp. 360-371; Petliura S. Lysty do Dm. Dontsova//Liternaturnonaukovyi vistnyk. 1931. No 11. Pp. 984-985. Kasianov H. Ukrainska intelihentsiia na rubezhi XIX-XX stolit. Kiev, 1993. Pp. 138-139. Malaniuk E. 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. Do Khvyli is translated: On the Current Situation in Ukraine/ Ed. by P. Potichnyi. Ann Arbor, 1970. It has yet to be republished in Ukraine.

[5] The major English-language works are Ford C. F Outline History of the Ukrainian Communist Party (Independentists): An Emancipatory Communism 1918-1925//Debatte. 2009. No 2 (August). Pp. 193-246; Mace J. Communism and the Dilemmas of National Liberation. Cambridge, MA, 1983; Maistrenko I. 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] Skorovstanskii V. [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 by M. Yurkevych: Journal of Ukrainian Studies. 1982. Spring. Pp. 57-78; Ford C. The Future Present. 2011. No 1. Pp. 99-106.

[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. Warren B. Imperialism Pioneer of Capitalism. London, 1980. Brewer A. Marxist Theories of Imperialism: A Critical Survey. London, 1980.

[8] Lenin VI. 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] Kononenko K. 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]< 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] Kennedy L. Colonialism, Religion and Nationalism in Ireland. Belfast, 1996; Carroll C. P. King, Ireland and Postcolonial Theory. Cork, 2003; Kenny K. Ireland and the British Empire. Oxford, 2004; HoweS. Ireland and Empire. Colonial Legacies in Irish History and Culture. Oxford, 2000; McDonough T. Was Ireland a Colony? Dublin, 2006. See also Hachey T. E. Britain and Irish Separatism. Washington, 1984.

[13] 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. Coloniality at Large. Latin America and the Postcolonial Debate/Ed. by M. Maranda, E. Dussel, C.A. Jauregui. Durham, NC, 2008. Post 1991. Ukrainian historical discussions are summarized in Kravchenko V Ukraina. Imperiia. Rosiia. Kyiv, 2011. Pp. 391-528.

[14] 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. Ukrainski politychni partii kintsia XIX – pochatku XX stolittia/ Ed. by V. F. Shevchenko. Kyiv, 1993. Pp. 60-3. The Revolutionary Ukrainian Party (RUP) also called for independence but did not compare Ukraine with European colonies.

[15] Weber, S., Politische schriften. Munich, 1921 .The speech was not published unti l1921. Velychenko S., The Issue of Russian Colonialism in Ukrainian Thought/Ab Imperio. 2002. No 1. Pp. 323-366. Kohut L. 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.

[16] Maievsky I. Chervonyi imperialism. Po shlaikhu kontr-revoliutsii. Kyiv, 1917. Reprinted: Khronika 2000. 1999: 27-28, 286-296.

[17] On reformist-“federalist” Ukrainian Bolsheviks see: Efimenko H. Status USRR ta ii vzaiemovidnosyny z RSFSR: dovhyi 1920 rik. Kyiv, 2012.

[18] Roy M. N. Memoirs. Delhi, 1984. P. 464.

[19] 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. Sultan­ Galiev M. Izbrannye trudy. Pp.141-145, 198-203.

[20] Cited in Khrystiuk P. Zamitkyi materialy do istorii Ukrainskoi revoliutsii 1917-1920. Reprinted. New York, 1969 [1921]. Tom IV P. 55-56,72. Chervonyi prapor (Kyiv) 6, 9, 12, February 1919.

[21] Chervonyi prapor, 9 March, 17 April 1919.

[22] Robitnycha hazeta. 7 January 1919. Chervonyi prapor. 9 March 1919.

[23]< Chervonyi prapor. 8 February 1920.

[24] Chervonyi prapor. 4, 26 March; 19 June 1920. Also in “Nash Spir.”

[25] 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.

[26] Dokumenty trahichnoi istorii Ukrainy (1917-1922)/ Ed. P. Bachynsky. 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.

[27] 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.

[28] Chervonyi prapor. 1919. 25 February.

[29] Tsentranyi derzhavnyi arkhiv hromadskykh obiednan Ukrainy (TsDAHO). F. 8. Op. Sprava 13. NQ 21. Published Chervonyi prapor, 11 March 1920.

[30] TsDAHO. F. 8. Op. 1. Sprava 48. NQ 42-44, 47-48. The Communist International 1919-1943 /Ed. by J. Degras. London, 1955. I: 138-144.

[31] TsDAHO. F. 8. Op. 1. Sprava 48. Ark. 51v.

[32] Cited in: Borisenok E. Fenomen sovetskoi ukraiizatsii 1920-1930e gody. Moscow, 2006. Pp. 136-142.

14 responses to “Ukrainian Marxism vs. Russian ‘Red’ Imperialism

    • A disturbing position. I wonder if this group would’ve supported the claims that ethnically German/German-speaking minorities in Austria, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, and France were oppressed in the 1930s and determined on that basis that Nazi Germany’s annexations of these areas was somehow voluntary/democratic/supportable.


      • German-speakers were not a minority in Austria… And I wouldn’t consider that “Anschluss” was really the Nazis “original sin”… would you? I would think it was the annexation of the territories of other nations and the genocide of those nations and minority nationalities.


      • Well, I’m not particularly religious so I’m not sure I believe in “original sin” as a concept. Nazi genocide didn’t start until well into the 1940s, long after “Anschluss.”

        My point here with the (perhaps inappropriate) comparison was that the issue of national minorities has been exploited by reactionaries and even fascists in the past and I believe this to be the case today. Aggression by Russian imperialism can and should be opposed and defeated by all internationalists because it — and not the regime in Kiev — is the main impediment to resolving Ukraine’s problems democratically.


  1. Regarding the assessment of Putin and Ukraine today:

    For the historical case, however, I cannot say that I have any sympathy for the idea that the Bolsheviks led by Lenin provided for anything less than full Ukrainian national rights. So when SOME Ukrainian “Marxists” claimed that Russian imperialism remained under Lenin and was crushing some authentic “Ukrainian Marxism”, they were playing games with words. The USSR under Lenin strongly opposed national chauvinism on a cultural level, and prior to Khrushchev the Soviet Union was not an “imperialist” power in the economic sense, whether internationally or with regard to “internal colonies” (which exist in the US and Russia today but did not exist in the Soviet Union under Lenin).


    • “For the historical case, however, I cannot say that I have any sympathy for the idea that the Bolsheviks led by Lenin provided for anything less than full Ukrainian national rights. So when SOME Ukrainian ‘Marxists’ claimed that Russian imperialism remained under Lenin and was crushing some authentic ‘Ukrainian Marxism’, they were playing games with words. The USSR under Lenin strongly opposed national chauvinism on a cultural level…” — So then how do you explain the very real trend of pro-independence, pro-soviet socialists and communists of figures like Skrypnyk Mykola, Mykola Khvylovyi, and Oleksander Shumsky? How do you explain the fact that something like 25% or more of party/state CP/USSR officials in Ukraine did not even speak Ukrainian? I am far from being an expert in this field but some of these facts are shocking.


      • Merely bringing up indivdual examples of self-described socialists and communists who opposed Lenin doesn’t make them real representatives of socialism or communism or even of the will of the Ukrainain people. As libertarians in your country are fond of pointing out, the Nazis called themselves socialists who opposed Bolshevism. We are not obliged to take seriously every self-described “leftist” who opposes Marxism-Leninism.

        As for the estimate of a quarter of CP/Soviet officials not speaking Ukrainian, you must know well that the point under Lenin was that Russians in non-Russian republics were to be trained in exactly this area. Even Mao, who was comparatively non-militant compared to Lenin on the question of national autonomy insisted that Han cadres be trained in the local languages in the “autonomous regions” on the job (and got the idea from Lenin). Considering that Russian speakers were disproportionately represented in all republicans and Ukrainian is mutually comprehensible or very close to mutually comprehensible with Russian (unlike say Kazakh or Georgian), having 3/4 Ukrainian speaking cadres (with the remainder likely all being Russian speakers) AND THEN instituting an official policy of “Korenizatsiya” on top of that seems quite good:

        If tomorrow there were to be a republic for Chicanos in the US Southwest/Aztlán, and only 25% of officials didn’t speak Spanish, and on top of that all party members were expected to learn Spanish on the job for purposes of localisation, I’m fairly certain you would not consider that a chauvinistic and “imperialist” state of affairs by default.


      • Except that these are not “merely” individual examples, they are cyphers for a real political trend. The official Moscow-approved Communist party in Ukraine was undoubtedly dominated by ethnic Russians and by Russifiers which is what gave rise to the so-called ‘national communists’ who were ethnic Ukrainians and pro-independence. Lenin only started to realize how big of a problem this was in the last years of his life when he decided to form a bloc with Trotsky to defeat that group after the Great Russian chauvinists within the RCP leadership made a mess of things in Georgia in 1922. If the RCP handled the national question so well in Lenin’s time he wouldn’t have died fighting around the issue.


  2. Hi Muhsin Y, I am just passing by and have no expertize in this area.

    Broadly agree with your critique of the Ukrainian nationalist arguments here and that the Ukrainian SSR in Lenin’s time (and also Stalin’s BTW) did express self-determination rather than colonization (with of course many limitations and problems).

    But your link expresses Russian nationalism as unambiguously as the post expresses Ukrainian nationalism.

    It mentions that reactionary nationalism affects both Ukrainians and Russians in the Ukraine but instead of working to defeat that it openly sides with aggressive military intervention by the Russian state which exacerbated the problem.

    The national oppression of Russians in the Ukraine could have been resolved far quicker and better in a European (and specifically EU and NATO) framework without a pointless Putinesque war that produced only a Minsk agreement that could have been achieved without war.

    (PS I am not referring to Crimea which arguably was resolved quicker and with less bitterness than if there had been no Russian troops intervening but to Donetsk etc where national bitterness was stirred up militarily purely for the glory of Putin)


    • Putin’s war in Ukraine wasn’t pointless — it was waged in part to keep the country out of the very European frameworks you advocate. Russian aggression in Crimea and and eastern Ukraine were two stages of this same operation.


      • No time for a full discussion and I haven’t been following closely. But my impressions are…

        1. Collapse of pro-Russian government and establishment of pro-Western government with mass popular support made keeping Ukraine out of those European frameworks impossible so cannot have been the aim or explanation. Taking back Crimea then inevitable (ie any Russian government would have) BECAUSE Ukraine had moved to a pro-Western orientation.

        2. Consecutive but not same operation. Nobody seriously thinks Crimea will be returned to Ukraine and beliefs that Putin won something that will become part of “New Russia” in Minsk are very far from confirmed. Pointless since the oppressive anti-Russian measures such as making Ukrainian the only official language (as advocated in this thread) were already reversed under European pressure and the local autonomy agreed on at Minsk could also have been finalized the same way without stirring up national strife and bitterness among the two nationalities in the Ukraine.

        3. Pointless for stated aims. Real point was to whip up nationalist sentiment in Russia as the usual last refuge of scoundrels.


      • Putin’s aggression began precisely after his client in Kiev was overthrown by pro-EU demonstrations (Euromaidan).

        And where did anyone in this thread advocate making Ukrainian exclusively the only official language of Ukraine? Seems you are right about one thing — you haven’t been following closely.


  3. 1. No response necessary. See my previous point 1.

    2. Here: “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.[31]”
    You should read and understand what you post.


    • That was when Russian was the official state language of Ukraine i.e. when Ukraine was an oppressed nation ~100 years ago, so the notion that anyone in this thread anyone is advocating “making Ukrainian the only official language” today is a flat out lie. But then lies are the stock-in-trade for pseudoleft Holodomor denialists like you.

      Don’t bother responding, we have zero tolerance policy for liars here. I get enough of that from the Hillbots.


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