It is not that as an individual he has ridden to success one enterprise after another. It is not that he has shown capabilities far beyond his years, nor yet that his personal energy will not let him stop at one triumph. The importance of him lies in the fact that his influence upon his fellows is all for good, and in a large community of young Negroes the worth of this cannot be over-estimated. He has taught them that striving is worth while, and by the very force of his example of industry and perseverance, he stands out from the mass. He does not tell how to do things, he does them. Nothing has contributed more to his success than his alertness, and nothing has been more closely followed by his observers, and yet I sometimes wonder when looking at him, how old he must be, how world weary, before the race turns from its worship of the political janitor and says of him, ‘this is one of our representative men.’
This, however, is a matter of values and neither the negro himself, his friends, his enemies, his lauders, nor his critics has grown quite certain in appraising these. The rabid agitator who goes about the land preaching the independence and glory of his race, and by his very mouthings retarding both, the saintly missionary, whose only mission is like that of “Pooh Bah,” to be insulted; the man of the cloth who thunders against the sins of the world and from whom honest women draw away their skirts, the man who talks temperance and tipples high-balls—these are not representative, and whatever their station in life, they should be rated at their proper value, for there is a difference between attainment and achievement.
Under the pure light of reason, the ignorant carpet bagger judge is a person and not a personality. The illiterate and inefficient black man, whom circumstance put into Congress, was “a representative” but was not representative. So the peculiar conditions of the days immediately after the war have made it necessary to draw fine distinctions.
When Robert Smalls, a slave, piloted the Confederate ship Planter out of Charleston Harbor under the very guns of the men who were employing him, who owned him, his body, his soul, and the husk of his allegiance, and brought it over to the Union, it is a question which forty years has not settled as to whether he was a hero or a felon, a patriot or a traitor. So much has been said of the old Negro’s fidelity to his masters that something different might have been expected of him. But take the singular conditions: the first faint streaks of a long delayed dawn had just begun to illumine the sky and this black pilot with his face turned toward the East had no eye for the darkness behind him. He had no time to analyze his position, the right or wrong of it. He had no opportunity to question whether it was loyalty to a union in which he aspired to citizenship, or disloyalty to his masters of the despised confederacy. It was not a time to argue, it was a time to do; and with rare power of decision, skill of action and with indomitable courage, he steered the good ship Planter past Fort Johnson, past Fort Sumter, past Morris Island, out where the flag, the flag of his hopes and fears floated over the federal fleet. And Robert Smalls had done something, something that made him loved and hated, praised and maligned, revered and despised, but something that made him representative of the best that there is in sturdy Negro manhood.
It may seem a far cry from Robert Smalls, the pilot of the Planter, to Booker T. Washington, Principal of the Institute at Tuskegee, Alabama. But much the same traits of character have made the success of the two men; the knowledge of what to do, the courage to do it, and the following out of a single purpose. They are both pilots, and the waters through which their helms have swung have been equally stormy. The methods of both have been questioned; but singularly neither one has stopped to question himself, but has gone straight on to his goal over the barriers of criticism, malice and distrust. The secret of Mr. Washington’s power is organization, and organization after all is only a concentration of force. This concentration only expresses his own personality, in which every trait and quality tend toward one definite end. They say of this man that he is a man of one idea, but that one is a great one and he has merely concentrated all his powers upon it; in other words he has organized himself and gone forth to gather in whatever about him was essential.
Less statesmanlike than Douglass, less scholarly than DuBois, less eloquent than the late J.C. Price, he is yet the foremost figure in Negro national life. He is a great educator and a great man, and though one may not always agree with him, one must always respect him. The race has produced no more adroit diplomatist than he. The statement is broad but there is no better proof of it than the fact that while he is our most astute politician, he has succeeded in convincing both himself and the country that he is not in politics. He has none of the qualities of the curb-stone politician. He is bigger, broader, better, and the highest compliment that could be paid him is that through all his ups and downs, with all he has seen of humanity, he has kept his faith and his ideals. While Mr. Washington stands pre-eminent in his race there are other names that must be mentioned with him as co-workers in the education of the world, names that for lack of time can be only mentioned and passed.
W.H. Council, of Normal, Alabama, has been doing at his school a good and great work along the same lines as Tuskegee. R.R. Wright, of the State College of Georgia, “We’se a-risin’ Wright,” he is called, and by his own life and work for his people he has made true the boyish prophecy which in the old days inspired Whittier’s poem. Three decades ago this was his message from the lowly South, “Tell ’em we’se a-risin,” and by thought, by word, by deed, he has been “Tellin’ em so” ever since. The old Southern school has melted into the misty shades of an unregretted past. A new generation, new issues, new conditions, have replaced the old, but the boy who sent that message from the heart of the Southland to the North’s heart of hearts has risen, and a martyred President did not blush to call him friend.
So much of the Negro’s time has been given to the making of teachers that it is difficult to stop when one has begun enumerating some of those who have stood out more than usually forceful. For my part, there are two more whom I cannot pass over. Kelly Miller, of Howard University, Washington, D.C., is another instructor far above the average. He is a mathematician and a thinker. The world has long been convinced of what the colored man could do in music and in oratory, but it has always been skeptical, when he is to be considered as a student of any exact science. Miller, in his own person, has settled all that. He finished at Johns Hopkins where they will remember him. He is not only a teacher but an author who writes with authority upon his chosen themes, whether he is always known as a Negro writer or not. He is endowed with an accurate, analytical mind, and the most engaging blackness, for which some of us thank God, because there can be no argument as to the source of his mental powers.
Now of the other, William E.B. DuBois, what shall be said? Educator and author, political economist and poet, an Eastern man against a Southern back-ground, he looms up strong, vivid and in bold relief. I say looms advisedly, because, intellectually, there is something so distinctively big about the man. Since the death of the aged Dr. Crummell, we have had no such ripe and finished scholar. Dr. DuBois, Harvard gave him to us, and there he received his Ph.D., impresses one as having reduced all life and all literature to a perfect system. There is about him a fascinating calm of certain power, whether as a searcher after economic facts, under the wing of the University of Pennsylvania, or defying the “powers that be” in a Negro college or leading his pupils along the way of light, one always feels in him this same sense of conscious, restrained, but assured force.
Some years ago in the course of his researches, he took occasion to tell his own people some plain hard truths, and oh, what a howl of protest and denunciation went up from their assembled throats, but it never once disturbed his magnificent calm. He believed what he had said, and not for a single moment did he think of abandoning his position.
He goes at truth as a hard-riding old English squire would take a difficult fence. Let the ditch be beyond if it will.
Dr. DuBois would be the first to disclaim the name of poet but everything outside of his statistical work convicts him. The rhythm of his style, his fancy, his imagery, all bid him bide with those whose souls go singing by a golden way. He has written a number of notable pamphlets and books, the latest of which is “The Soul of the Black Folk,” an invaluable contribution to the discussion of the race problem by a man who knows whereof he speaks.
Dr. DuBois is at Atlanta University and has had every opportunity to observe all the phases of America’s great question, and I wish I might write at length of his books.
It may be urged that too much time has already been taken up with the educational side of the Negro, but the reasonableness of this must become apparent when one remembers that for the last forty years the most helpful men of the race have come from the ranks of its teachers, and few of those who have finally done any big thing, but have at some time or other held the scepter of authority in a school. They may have changed later and grown, indeed they must have done so, but the fact remains that their poise, their discipline, the impulse for their growth came largely from their work in the school room.
There is perhaps no more notable example of this phase of Negro life than the Hon. Richard Theodore Greener, our present Consul at Vladivostok. He was, I believe, the first of our race to graduate from Harvard and he has always been regarded as one of the most scholarly men who, through the touch of Negro blood, belongs to us. He has been historian, journalist and lecturer, but back of all this he was a teacher; and for years after his graduation he was a distinguished professor at the most famous of all the old Negro colleges. This institution is now a thing of the past, but the men who knew it in its palmy days speak of it still with longing and regret. It is claimed, and from the names and qualities of the men, not without justice, that no school for the higher education of the black man has furnished a finer curriculum or possessed a better equipped or more efficient faculty. Among these, Richard T. Greener was a bright, particular star.
After the passing of the school, Mr. Greener turned to other activities. His highest characteristics were a fearless patience and a hope that buoyed him up through days of doubt and disappointment. Author and editor he was, but he was not satisfied with these. Beyond their scope were higher things that beckoned him. Politics, or perhaps better, political science, allured him, and he applied himself to a course that brought him into intimate contact with the leaders of his country, white and black. A man of wide information, great knowledge and close grasp of events he made himself invaluable to his party and then with his usual patience awaited his reward.
The story of how he came to his own cannot be told without just a shade of bitterness darkening the smile that one must give to it all. The cause for which he had worked triumphed. The men for whom he had striven gained their goal and now, Greener must be recognized, but—
Vladivostok, your dictionary will tell you, is a sea-port in the maritime Province of Siberia, situated on the Golden Horn of Peter the Great. It will tell you also that it is the chief Russian naval station on the Pacific. It is an out of the way place and one who has not the world-circling desire would rather hesitate before setting out thither. It was to this post that Mr. Greener was appointed.
“Will he go?” That was the general question that rose and fell, whispered and thundered about the new appointee, and in the midst of it all, silent and dignified, he kept his council. The next thing Washington knew he was gone. There was a gasp of astonishment and then things settled back into their former state of monotony and Greener was forgotten.
But in the eastern sky, darkness began to arise, the warning flash of danger swept across the heavens, the thunder drum of war began to roll. For a moment the world listened in breathless suspense, the suspense of horror. Louder and louder rose the thunder peal until it drowned every other sound in the ears of the nation, every other sound save the cries and wails of dying women and the shrieks of tortured children. Then France, England, Germany, Japan and America marshalled their forces and swept eastward to save and to avenge. The story of the Boxer uprising has been told, but little has been said of how Vladivostok, “A sea-port in the maritime Province of Siberia,” became one of the most important points of communication with the outside world, and its Consul came frequently to be heard from by the State Department. And so Greener after years of patience and toil had come to his own. If the government had wished to get him out of the way, it had reckoned without China.
A new order of things has come into Negro-American politics and this man has become a part of it. It matters not that he began his work under the old regime. So did Judge Gibbs, a man eighty years of age, but he, too, has kept abreast of the times, and although the reminiscences in his delightful autobiography take one back to the hazy days when the land was young and politics a more strenuous thing than it is even now, when there was anarchy in Louisiana and civil war in Arkansas, when one shot first and questioned afterward; yet because his mind is still active, because he has changed his methods with the changing time, because his influence over young men is greatly potent still; he is, in the race, perhaps, the best representative of what the old has brought to the new.
Beside him strong, forceful, commanding, stands the figure of George H. White, whose farewell speech before the Fifty-sixth Congress, when through the disfranchisement of Negroes he was defeated for re-election, stirred the country and fired the hearts of his brothers. He has won his place through honesty, bravery and aggressiveness. He has given something to the nation that the nation needed, and with such men as Pinchback, Lynch, Terrell and others of like ilk, acting in concert, it is but a matter of time when his worth shall induce a repentant people, with a justice builded upon the foundation of its old prejudice, to ask the Negro back to take a hand in the affairs of state.
Add to all this the facts that the Negro has his representatives in the commercial world: McCoy and Granville T. Woods, inventors; in the agricultural world with J.H. Groves, the potato king of Kansas, who last year shipped from his own railway siding seventy-two thousand five hundred bushels of potatoes alone; in the military, with Capt. Charles A. Young, a West Pointer, now stationed at the Presidio; that in medicine, he possesses in Daniel H. Williams, of Chicago, one of the really great surgeons of the country; that Edward H. Morris, a black man, is one of the most brilliant lawyers at the brilliant Cook County bar; that in every walk of life he has men and women who stand for something definite and concrete, and it seems to me that there can be little doubt that the race problem will gradually solve itself.
I have spoken of “men and women,” and indeed the women must not be forgotten, for to them the men look for much of the inspiration and impulse that drives them forward to success. Mrs. Mary Church Terrell upon the platform speaking for Negro womanhood and Miss Sarah Brown, her direct opposite, a little woman sitting up in her aerie above a noisy New York street, stand for the very best that there is in our mothers, wives and sisters. The one fully in the public eye, with learning and eloquence, telling the hopes and fears of her kind; the other in suffering and retirement, with her knowledge of the human heart and her gentleness inspiring all who meet her to better and nobler lives. They are both doing their work bravely and grandly. But when the unitiate ask who is “la Petite Reine,” we think of the quiet little woman in a New York fifth floor back and are silent.
She is a patron of all our literature and art and we have both. Whether it is a new song by Will Marion Cook or a new book by DuBois or Chestnut, than whom no one has ever told the life of the Negro more accurately and convincingly, she knows it and has a kindly word of praise or encouragement.
In looking over the field for such an article as this, one just begins to realize how many Negroes are representative of something, and now it seems that in closing no better names could be chosen than those of the two Tanners.
From time immemorial, Religion and Art have gone together, but it remained for us to place them in the persons of these two men, in the relation of father and son. Bishop Benj. Tucker Tanner, of the A.M.E. Church, is not only a theologian and a priest, he is a dignified, polished man of the higher world and a poet. He has succeeded because he was prepared for success. As to his writings, he will, perhaps, think most highly of ‘His Apology For African Methodism;’ but some of us, while respecting this, will turn from it to the poems and hymns that have sung themselves out of his gentle heart.
Is it any wonder that his son, Henry O. Tanner, is a poet with the brush or that the French Government has found it out? From the father must have come the man’s artistic impulse, and he carried it on and on to a golden fruition. In the Luxembourg gallery hangs his picture, ‘The Raising of Lazarus.’ At the Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, I saw his ‘Annunciation,’ both a long way from his ‘Banjo Lesson,’ and thinking of him I began to wonder whether, in spite of all the industrial tumult, it were not in the field of art, music and literature that the Negro was to make his highest contribution to American civilization. But this is merely a question which time will answer.
All these of whom I have spoken are men who have striven and achieved and the reasons underlying their success are the same that account for the advancement of men of any other race: preparation, perseverance, bravery, patience, honesty and the power to seize the opportunity.
It is a little dark still, but there are warnings of the day and somewhere out of the darkness a bird is singing to the Dawn.” Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Representative American Negroes;” in The Negro Problem, edited by Booker T. Washington, 1903.
Prior to the outbreak of the First World War, on August 2, 1914, the greater European powers – Germany, France, England, Austria-Hungary, Italy and others – had witnessed the development of powerful movements of the working class, in their trade unions and their political organizations. Great confidence and hope was placed in the European labor movement. The belief grew that any attempts by the European ruling classes – the Germany of the Kaiser and the Junkers; the Russia of the Czar and landlords; the France of Poincaré and the Third Estate; the England of the King and the “City” et al. – to resolve their imperialist rivalries by war, would be defeated by the mass power of the working classes in all the countries of Europe, even as an earlier outbreak of the World War had been prevented by the mass threats of the working class, and the consequent danger, to the ruling classes, of social revolution itself.
Yet immediately following upon truly dramatic and dynamic signs of working class power or strength, we find a swift backward unfoldment of the workers’ movement, once war has been declared. First, resentment; then despair; a lulling of the class feelings and protests; and then the final complete surrender or capitulation of the official leadership of the European labor and political movements to social-patriotism, supine submission to the war-mad bourgeoisie in each country. National Unity (“Union Sacrée” in France), rather than class struggle, became the guiding star of a once great movement of the masses. Europe was drenched in blood for more than four years until the Armistice of November 11, 1918, finally brought an end to the horror.
The brightest and greatest beacon light of the working class that emerged from this holocaust was of course the historic Bolshevik Russian Revolution, beginning November 7, 1917, and it was its emergence which really terminated the slaughter which bourgeois commentators expected to last five years more. During all these years only a tiny force of revolutionary internationalists expressed and rendered revolutionary opposition to the war. Only a handful of them were able in the early days of the war to convene at the now historic Zimmerwald conference from September 5 to 8, 1915, to draw up a balance of the war and pass resolutions calling upon the working people once again to pursue a class struggle policy against the war.
What men did and why, in great moments and periods of history, is important. Not as information or knowledge alone, but in the lessons that are thereby offered to us for today, a time of even greater significance and decisiveness for the future of labor and the peoples of all the world. The First World War is now history. The Second World War is making history, but not yet history that can be recorded as finished. The working class and exploited peoples of all countries, of all the continents, of all colors, have it within their power to set the sign and seal on this history in its making, and to decide the course of history in their favor. The story of the First World War, in respect to the labor and revolutionary movement, can be a definite aid in the positive determining of labor’s course and destiny in the future.
Wars for “Democracy”
The First World War, history has firmly established, had its basis and deep roots in the economic-political rivalries of the contending military powers or nations. It was never, in its origins, prosecution or consequences, a “war for democracy.” Marxists had long demonstrated the contradictions in the capitalist mode of production and distribution in national and social relations. Hence they accurately predicted an explosion of the capitalist productive forces in the form of imperialist war. Imperialist war is an expression of the necessity of the rival imperialist nations or rival groups of imperialist nations to break through the economic and political boundaries of national states. The constant and self-perpetuating economic and social convulsions culminating in imperialist war are direct proof of the necessity for the workers to struggle against the limitations of the system of private property and the social order of capitalism itself. In their own interests the working class should be the first to learn this lesson. Its interests lie in combating the outbreak of war; and failing to prevent war, not to support the imperialist war while it lasts, but to strive to convert such a war toward its own ends, namely, the social revolution.
The First World War, by its very nature, failed to resolve the imperialist contradictions that were the basic causes for its outbreak in 1914. The Second World War, begun 25 years later, is now in its third year attempting with the same futile methods to resolve the same fundamental contradictions, under far more severe and aggravated economic, political and military conditions. The imperialist nations, whichever group may win a military victory, will fail again. The insoluble remains insoluble – on the basis of capitalist relations of society.
In the First World War the leadership of the working class, and thus also the working class, failed to achieve its historic destiny. In the Second World War the task of the revolutionists and the working class is again the same. Will the masses succeed this time, where they failed before? More certainly than at any time in history the fate of humanity depends on the answer to this question.
The history of the official labor and revolutionary movement, immediately preceding and during the First World War, represents a crushing indictment of the syndicalist (trade union) and socialist leaders in their respective countries. Their traitorous acts, their betrayals of the working class, their complete support of the First World Imperialist War – these things are known in large part by the European masses, and the revolutionaries in all countries. But a knowledge of their acts, and their reasons therefor, can be of value today to the American labor and revolutionary movement in laying out the course of labor here.
One may begin with the French labor movement as an outstanding illustration of the curse of opportunism that struck off the arm of revolutionary opposition and resistance to the war from the body of the French working class. It provides a potent illustration that militancy and desire for class action by the masses are easily frustrated or nullified unless the labor and political arms of the working class are guided always by a well-defined, clear-cut set of principles (theory) as their guide to action. The lack of such a consistent theory and principles in both the trade union movement and the French Socialist Party made inevitable a general policy of opportunism and then capitulation to social-patriotism on their part.
Between the syndicalists (General Confederation o£ Labor – known as the CGT), led by Leon Jouhaux, and the Socialist Party of France, led by Jean Jaurès, there had existed through the year a sharp division and a most intense antagonism.
French CGT – Hybrid of Unionism and Politics
The syndicalists had no doctrine or theory of the labor movement; that is, they professed none, endeavoring thus not to be “doctrinaire.” This lack itself boded ill to the organized French workers. The syndicalists wanted to be as broad as possible in order to avoid even any suspicion of sectarianism. This, in a trade union sense, is correct, if, by this, it is meant that the labor movement – its unions – are made up of the broad mass organizations of the working class. Such bodies admit any worker to their ranks irrespective o£ his political, economic, religious views or lack of them; provided only that such a worker observes the elementary principles of class solidarity and united union action and loyalty in strikes, etc. Such broadness – embracing and organizing every worker into a labor union – is a basic requirement for mass action and striking power for either economic or political purposes by the workers. No question of sectarianism as to the tactics and strategy of the labor movement is involved here, but just common sense. However, every job, every task of the working class requires its particular tools or equipment. Lenin commented succinctly on such matters by pointing out that while ordinary thin shoes may be used on smooth roads, rough roads or mountain climbing require cob-heeled boots. The course of the class struggle also demonstrates the need for ideas (theory) and weapons (tactics and strategy) to fit the situation.
The unique feature of the French Syndicalist Federation  (CGT) was not that it was a labor organization that professed no interest, concern or belief in politics, “politicians” and political organizations (as for instance the American IWW). That would be comprehensible, even if woefully wrong and disastrous in results. The unique feature of the CGT was that it was a hybrid of unionism and politics.  As a result of this hybrid or mixed character, the French syndicalists were unable to get along with the International Labor Union (International Labor Secretariat) or vice versa, since the latter was, in fact, a body limited to exchange information pertinent to the labor movement, wages, hours, etc.
On the other hand, the French syndicalist organization, professing no set theories or “doctrines,” actually had very definite views on working class political strategy and tactics. These unfortunately were not of a consistent or rounded character, as will be shown below. The CGT thus failed to follow through with the logic of its position, views or “politics.” The CGT, forced to react as a living labor organism to life and to the class struggle, put forward its politics or views in the International Labor Secretariat on such significant issues as working class anti-militarism and the general strike. The ILS, regarding itself as only an information body, rebuffed the initiative of the CGT.
French SP – Parliamentarians
The Socialist Party of France could fittingly be described as a party of parliamentarians, its people leaning more and more on electioneering methods and pressure to achieve the objectives of their party. This trend and emphasis on and toward parliamentarianism had continued and increased enormously since the entry of the socialist leader, Millerand , into the French government, as Premier, in June 1899, and of Briand in January 1913. With this early acceptance in essence of the dea of coalition government (which has become known in the contemporary period as the Popular Front), there followed unavoidably more and more general accord with methods of class collaboration on the economic and political fields, finally culminating in the easy surrender by the Socialist Party of France to the crassest and most disastrous epression of class collaboration, namely, social-patriotism.
There were, of course, differences in the French Socialist Party between various groups and individuals, but not of a fundamental character. These divisions were generally ironed out whenever the French parliamentarians wanted to unite against the syndicalists, whom they opposed with great vigor. The best expression of the parliamentarians was Jean Jaurès , the highly popular leader of the French Socialist Party, who can be described more accurately as a democrat than a socialist.
Belief in the utilization of the democratic state to advance the cause of socialism and to prevent the scourge of war was not confined to France but was characteristic of the other socialist or social democratic parties of Europe. Revisionism had taken a dominating hold on the European socialist parties since Eduard Bernstein had, with considerable skill, programmatized the concepts of reformism or evolutionary socialism in his book, Evolutionary Socialism. These concepts more and more were accepted in life, if not always in theory, by both the leadership and ranks of the social democracy. With diminishing success small groups of orthodox Marxists in the various parties struggled to maintain the banner of Marxist theory and practice as the First World War approached. The “Possibilists,” as the revisionists were known in France, came steadily to dominate the life of the French party.
Why the Second International Collapsed
In dealing in this article largely with the French labor and revolutionary movement of the war period, we are, therefore, not singling out an exception. Much is known by the working class of the perfidious rôle of the large and powerful German social democracy in the First World War – abject surrender to the commands of the Kaiser and the Junkers; calling upon the German workers to fight for the Fatherland! – actions that caused consternation in the working class movements throughout Europe.
The entire Second International, excepting the small genuine left wings that existed in the respective parties, was permeated, in fact, saturated through and through, with cretinist thought, with illusions of parliamentarianism as the sure and peaceful path to socialism and as the weapon with which to prevent any imperialist conflict. Even as the syndicalists, with their non-political and anti-parliamentary outlook, surrendered to the state, so likewise the European socialist movement, with the limited outlook of parliamentarianism as the proletarian instrument, capitulated before the bourgeois state when war was at their throats.
The split and wreck of the Second International were rooted in the division among socialists on the theories of reformist and revolutionary socialism; even as the splits and wreck of the First International were already rooted in the diverse doctrines of anarchism and scientific socialism ; and in the modern period the split and wreck of the Third (Communist) International are rooted in the division on the theory of socialism in one country – national socialism or Stalinism – and the theory of international socialism, the permanent revolution, as expounded by Trotsky and the Fourth Internationalists.
Even as the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the fall of the Paris Commune in 1871 were the great objective or external factors that sealed the doom of the First International, the First World War sealed the doom of the Second International; and the rise of fascism and the Second World War will seal irrevocably the doom of the Third International.
The Second International, after the demise of the First, continued to concern itself to such an extent with the anarchist groups, that, indeed, about the only thing that the Second International and its component parts agreed on was the elimination of the anarchist groups. Actually, anarchist doctrine had received smashing blows after the Paris Commune and had ceased to be an important influence in European working class matters, except in Spain , and to a small extent in Italy. In France, the anti-Marxist doctrines were primarily syndicalist and only tinged with anarchist doctrine.
That the Second International could preoccupy its mind with the anarchist groups was evidence of its failure to deal with the living issues of labor and the paramount issue of the war in a class and revolutionary manner. This preoccupation helped to turn these “socialists” in revulsion from anarchism and “direct action” to even cruder and, in its consequences, equally criminal reformist doctrine and parliamentary cretinism.
The Second International, moreover, could hardly be regarded as an International, except in form. It is now easy to say it is euphemistic to have called the Second International an International at all. Like its respective parties, the Second International was only superficially united on basic principles. Its units consisted of large amorphous bodies or memberships, mainly right wing or reformist, with centrist and small left wings.
Impotence Due to False Theory of State
What can be stated at this point, without anticipating the course of events, is accepted as axiomatic by the revolutionary Marxists (Fourth Internationalists) of today. That is, that the theory or principles of a movement are decisive for its life. A theory-less movement or a movement which rejects the known basic tenets of revolutionary Marxism is doomed in advance to defeat, either in surrender or futile struggle. Most surely is this the fate of such movements on the central question that faces them and the working class; that is, war. The French syndicalists, for example, with their lack and outright rejection of explicit and consistent political theory finally found themselves, from top to bottom, unable to move cohesively and able only to spout anti-militarist phrases and to talk about the general strike against war. But, as Trotsky said, “a general strike, be it ever so distinguished by mass strength, does not decide the question of power as yet, but only raises it.” The syndicalists denied or ignored the essential question: what should they and the masses they influenced do about the state power, the very real government of the French bourgeoisie – the very real and not at all fictitious instrument for oppression and control of the masses; and especially for corralling or driving the French workers into the imperialist carnage. The syndicalists did not concern themselves with the fundamental question: how were the masses to destroy the state power of the bourgeoisie and to establish their own political or state power – a workers’ state? Therefore, on the burning immediate issue of war or peace in Europe, all that the French syndicalists in the last analysis could do was to callfor peace and declare themselves against war. In denying the state, they came at last to capitulate or kneel before the state; and not, alas, before a workers’ government (which has yet to materialize) but before the French bourgeois state they professed so strongly either to ignore or despise.
Likewise, the Socialist Party of France, because of its concept of the theory and practice of socialism also inevitably capitulated in the war crisis to the bourgeois state, to the French bourgeoisie. The revisionist concept that the capitalist state would grow by the process of peaceful development into the Socialist Peoples State, was ingrained in the minds and temper of the French Socialist Party. The great speed of development toward war in the months of 1914 entirely engulfed the organization and quickly paralyzed any appeals or action that the French organization could or did contemplate. Revisionist or reformist doctrines on the rôle of the Party and the road to socialist power resulted in early and swift demoralization of the party, its leadership and ranks, when the bourgeois war machinery began to smoke and then to roar its fires.
Masses Need Leadership Against War
The masses of Europe were against the First World War and had the power of numbers as well as of inclination against the war that finally engulfed them. (For example, in 1906 the proletariat of Sweden and Norway were powerful enough to prevent the outbreak of war between Sweden and Norway by a general strike.) It is clear today that the First World War represented the great defeat of the international proletariat. The masses, it can be repeated, were against the war. They had the power of numbers. They had the inclination to struggle against the war. But the masses cannot spontaneously achieve the defeat of the war objectives of the ruling imperialist class and the masses did not have a revolutionary leadership to guide their efforts. A force was lacking which could see the imperialist conflict in its true light and could advise the proletariat and peasants on a correct course o£ action.
What has been said for the European workers and peasants as a whole could be said particularly of the French labor movement. The workers’ movement had become strong and powerful numerically and had the potentialities of enormous striking power in whatever direction it decided to move. Both the trade union movement, the CGT, and the Socialist Party of France had had to live and grow up under the continual threat and menace of war. There may be cited the “Tangier Incident” in 1905; the Agadir affair in 1911, and the wearing and devastating Balkan wars. It is a calamity of the first order, therefore, that this potential great strength of the French masses against war and for workers’ power was nullified by the woeful lack of revolutionary theory and policy of the dominant leadership of the CGT and the Socialist Party.
In the French CGT, strong resolutions against war had been adopted at its various congresses, in 1904, 1906 and 1908. The resolutions each time grew more vigorous in tone. The 1908 congress asserted that the only boundaries that existed were not geographical, i.e., not between the nations, but between the classes. It was necessary, the congress concluded, to prepare for a general strike against war. Pamphlets in this direction had been issued and many demonstrations against war had been held. In the French Socialist Party the danger of war was constantly in the forefront of socialist discussion, literally from 1905 onward.
The last conference of the French Socialist Party before the outbreak of the war took place in Paris in the middle of July 1914 just three weeks before the war actually broke. The French conference considered a resolution for a general strike, which had been submitted to it jointly by Keir Hardie of the Independent Labor Party of England and Vaillant (the old Communard) of the French Socialist Party, for final adoption by the International Congress. Jean Jaurès, A. Thomas and M. Sembat supported the resolution, but Jules Guesde, leader of the left wing of the French SP, contended that general strike could not be decided upon because, first, the resolution under discussion specified the means to be employed to prevent war, whereas the previous International Congress had decided that all means were to be used. Second, Guesde stated, the general strike could not be decided upon as the weapon because inequality (in standards of living, strength, etc.) prevailed between the workers’ organizations in the various countries.
“Masses Won’t Cooperate”
Howsoever motivated, this argument is specious. Reformists have put forward such arguments through the years to justify upholding the practices and attitude of their own labor and political organizations and of their own government, as against the economically and socially weaker and less advanced countries elsewhere. People like Norman Thomas (see the Socialist Call, January 17, 1942) of the American Socialist Party have done so. So-called left wingers have used this argument to justify support of the present imperialist war against Germany since, ostensibly, the United Nations, while concerned mainly with their imperialist interests, are “more progressive” than Nazism. These are the kinds of arguments that have always been the bridge from class struggle and opposition to the imperialist war, to class collaboration and social patriotism. Their presentation by the “left” Guesde foreshadowed his complete capitulation less than a month after the beginning of the war when he entered the defense cabinet. Gustave Hervé, who for so many years had been a vociferous leader against militarism, also came forward against the proposal for a general strike of labor against the war. Said he, the future rabid social-patriot and red-baiter, the general strike could not be supported because the masses would not cooperate. All the features of the renegade, of renegacy, of compromise and vacillation are here revealed. Blame the masses; they aren’t ready; they won’t cooperate. Before the battle, as the bugle itself is to be heard, the leaders say the masses won’t struggle, whereas in fact the masses but await the call to struggle, and direction by their leaders. How often have these arguments and excuses been used by labor and political leaders to betray their supporters and followers just at the crucial periods!
It may be pointed out here, once again, the better to understand the apparent and real confusion among the leaders, that without exception the various socialist parties of Europe had strong beliefs, even conviction, that their respective governments would not attempt war out of fear of social revolution. Would that history had proved true their faith!
We may return, however, to an earlier period than the French SP Conference of July 1914 to give the graphic picture of the attitude and actions of respective labor and political organizations in the various countries with respect to the growing war menace. On several occasions, international solidarity and action had been achieved.
International Conference and Acts Against War
The international congresses of the Second International had passed resolutions against war. In 1907, the Stuttgart Conference unanimously declared that all means possible against war must be employed, and that war must be used as the opportunity to precipitate the end of capitalism. These are big words, meaningful words, coming from an international congress of socialists. Yet time was to demonstrate, only a short seven years later, that only a very few small groups here and there – for example, among the Russians, Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev; a few in France, Rosmer, Souverine, Loriot; in Germany, Rosa Luxemburg and Liebknecht; in the Independent Labor Party of England; in Switzerland, Fritz Platten – understood and characterized the war as imperialist on both sides and not worthy of support by the working people; advocated the continuation of the class struggle by the workers during the imperialist conflict; and consciously aimed to achieve the transformation of the imperialist war into civil war and the struggle for workers’ power (successfully achieved finally and only in 1917 by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia). It was this handful of left or revolutionary groups in the various countries who, because of their sound historical and theoretical conception of the nature of capitalism and imperialist war, were alone able to view the European conflict in its true imperialist light and to advise the working people accordingly on their duties and tasks. But unfortunately, they were only a handful. Theoretical confusion and lack of revolutionary objective and will dominated the overwhelming bulk of the leadership of the trade unions and socialist parties of Europe. Chauvinism, social-patriotism won. Europe was drenched in blood for more than four years. Today, more than twenty-five years later, these same fundamental principles have yet to be grasped on a wide scale and a revolutionary and dominant leadership developed in the course of the Second World War.
In 1910, the international conference at Copenhagen considered the question of a general strike against war, but postponeddecision until the next international congress, which would have taken place in August 1914. Already between 1907 and 1910 a change in attitude on the policy toward war was reflected in the important question of the general strike. The chief opposition at the Copenhagen conference to the general strike came from the German socialists. The workers of France, Germany and Great Britain had held joint demonstrations against war. When there was danger of war between France and Great Britain , the French and English workers had held such a demonstration. From 1911 on, demonstrations against war became a regular feature. Moreover, in 1912 the French CGT and Socialist Party, despite the differences and frictions previously described, had undertaken joint action.
In March 1913 the German Social Democracy and the French Socialist Party issued a joint manifesto on militarism and war. The outstanding features of this joint manifesto were the following: The people wish peace. The ruling classes create national hate. The socialists wish to resolve the danger of military conflict, of war, by arbitration. A militia (people’s army) should be substituted for the regular armies. (With the exception of England’s, all the armed forces were conscript armies). The burden of maintenance of the military machinery, of “defense,” should fall on the rich. The socialists of Germany and France, the manifesto went on to say, are aware of the misuse of the term “militarism” by the respective ruling classes, to incite the people against one another, and to cover their own sins, crimes and persistent preparation and drive for war. Hence the socialists of both countries will fight militarism.
The resolution was an interesting and significant one, both because of what it contained (viz., the above positive propositions) and because of its equally or even more significant omissions. The joint resolution of the great mass socialist parties of Germany and France against war, does not mention capitalism, the class struggle, imperialism. Thereby, these omissions, expressly and implicitly, with or without design, laid the political foundation for the abandonment of class action and solidarity, when the respective governments declared war; and for the passing over of the socialist leaders to “defense of the Fatherland”; to national unity and social-patriotism. When one speaks of “the people” only, and forgets the “working class”; when one speaks of “militarism” and ignores “capitalism and imperialism”; when one speaks of “struggle against war” and forgets “class struggle” – one may state that the militant struggle against capitalist war will not be consummated. This proved to be true in 1914. It has also been proved true in the period leading up to and during the present war with respect to the Comintern’s policy of a “popular front,” “people’s war” and “collective security” against fascism. Where the concept of the class struggle does not prevail, there is guaranteed the betrayal of the masses into war and, as a corollary, the gradual diminution or loss of their democratic and labor rights as well.
It stands out clearly, as we observe the variety of developments in the pre-First World War Period and the manifestations of strength and growth of the labor movement; and as we observe the evidences of weakness and uncertainty on the part of the various governments, that the masses were ready to respond to dynamic, militant leadership in the struggle against war, even as in the lesser struggles they had already carried through. The masses definitely expected international social democracy to give them the necessary leadership at the crucial time.
Capitalist Governments Fear Workers’ Movements
During this period there was evidenced the instability and uncertainty of the bourgeois regimes in their attitude and relations with the laboring masses. Ireland’s long struggle with the British ruling class was about to break into open civil war. In England the “Triple Alliance” (the alliance of the coal miners, railroad and transport workers) of the powerful trade unions was regarded by the British government and The City (the financiers) as a greater menace to its existence and future than the European Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria and Italy) of the powerful bourgeois nations.
Italy, scene of many-sided fights – anti-clerical, republican, peasant struggles and proletarian growth – was growing up politically under the direction of a strong Socialist Party. (Today one may recall that Mussolini was establishing his base for future strength and popularity and for his fascist “March on Rome” through editorial participation on a left socialist newspaper and in the socialist movement itself.) Italy’s famous “Red Week” had approached close to insurrection and the direct struggle for power by the masses. Two million workers had gone on strike. With the nearness of war, the Italian labor movement threatened another general strike unless Italy remained neutral.
Belgium’s labor movement was driving forward for its democratic rights and had engaged in a general strike to achieve universal suffrage. The Austrian Empire was beset and menaced by the various nations under her hegemony. The social democracy of Germany was growing almost from day to day, increasing its strength and influence over millions of workers and peasants, and even over large layers of the petty bourgeois or lower middle classes, as Zinoviev’s article  has so well established. Its numerical growth and representation in the National Reichstag, and in the states and municipalities throughout the German Empire was not just steady but phenomenal.
Only by a vote of 358 to 204 was the French government able to adopt the three-year conscription law.
In Czarist Russia the labor and revolutionary movement continued to find ways and means to manifest its growth and increasing strength. In 1912 numerous strikes took place throughout Russia. Perhaps the most significant action of the Russian workers was upon the occasion of the visit of Poincaré, President of France, to Russia in July 1914 to confer with his imperialist ally. The workers of St. Petersburg greeted the presence of this French imperialist warmonger on Russian soil with a great strike and demonstration against the Czar and Czarism.
The various governments well knew that they could not pursue a course toward war unless they could achieve a considerable degree of unanimity of the people behind them. The French government time and again insisted that it was for peace and that war was not in its mind or objective. Yet all the responsible bourgeois leaders of the various countries were fully aware that a compromise of the imperialist rivalries between the capitalist nations, short of war, was receding further and further into the background. Several times already incidents had been compromised by diplomacy immediately before the powder keg of the war exploded. Almost anything, just an incident, could precipitate the delayed imperialist war. (That incident, ‘an affair of honor,’ was soon to come with the historic assassination of Duke Ferdinand of Austria by a Serbian.) So, loudly, the bourgeois government heads shouted and proclaimed a policy of peace. And feverishly they prepared behind the scenes for the inevitable war. The anxious populations of France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, England, all the countries, were constantly tossed between assurances of peace and predictions of the inevitability of war. It would almost appear that the hearts and minds of the common people were shuttled between war and peace so mercilessly that any conclusive decision, whether war or peace, might be a relief.
With only weeks (as history showed) before the outbreak of the war, the labor leaders began to place more and more reliance on the respective governments and their promises. With Austria putting pressure on little Serbia, the German social democracy found it possible merely to ask the German government to use its influence and good offices with the Austrian government to desist from its pressure and provocations.
[In the next section of this article we deal with the period of ‘national unity,’ i.e., the first days and months of the outbreak of war. Unable, because of inadequate and false theory, to meet the onrush of the war events, the labor leadership capitulates almost immediately, the majority in the European political and labor organizations cowering on their bellies before the imperialist governments.]” Grace Lee Boggs (As R. Stone) & H. Allen, “World War One in Retrospect: An Historical Examination;” Part One, in The New Internationalist, 1942.
What if we wrote about the United States but forgot to mention that slavery was once standard operating procedure? Or about England with no mention or consideration for Charles’ losing his head at a certain point in time? Or about France with neither admissions concerning nor interest in Napoleon? Or, even more pertinently, about Germany with a blithe unconcern for Hitler’s having once been Chancellor and more?
One would imagine that such horrendous contextual gaffes, such hideous historical blindness, might elicit a critique sooner or later. And yet precisely such obtuseness or willful ignorance or hidden agendas govern almost all of the corporate mediation that comes from the United States, England, France, and Germany regarding today’s evolution of Ukrainian crises that could completely eviscerate civilization or even humanity itself.
This article first and foremost offers a corrective to such decontextualized, ahistorical emptiness. These initial remarks give some concrete examples of what has so far been universally absent.
For instance, our narratives of Ukraine must account for the fact that Nikita Khrushchev emerged from the coal mines of Donetsk to grow into one of the world’s most powerful leaders— a true working class hero, at the same time that emigrant scions of substantial wealth moved to England, and Canada and the United States both to flee comrade Khrushchev’s ascendancy and to disparage the diminutive Nikita’s life and work; our stories of Galicia and Kiev must make sense of the truth that Leon Trotsky was as much as a seventh generation Ukrainian from a poor Cossack family simultaneously as Stepan Bandera came forth from a small farmstead near the Polish border to achieve National Socialist prominence.
Additionally, our conception of the meaning of Ukrainian must not only show the palpable interconnections of such countless undeniable polarities of the relatively recent past, but it must also bring into the light and explain more or less exactly how these events and people and days of life and strife evolved into a current context of similar yearning and struggle, in which miners’ militias chase the hapless mercenaries of mammon out of their lands, and airliners full of helpless innocents explode in midair to litter the fields around Luhansk with the bodies of strangers.
In other words, our thinking about this blessed, cursed land must become more than either a projection of latter-day British imperialists, or a fantasy of American billionaires who insist that they know what’s best for the world, and all others should just shut up and do as they are told. Our beliefs about Ukraine must illuminate matters in these ways, that is, unless we intend our mental emanations to be mere scraps of propaganda, intellectual detritus to serve the power agendas of ‘leaders’ who, apparently, would sacrifice as large a swath of humanity as every single living human being in order to maintain their dominance.
This essay seeks to honor these directives. It does not pretend to be comprehensive; it never promises expertise; it reflects no political itinerary other than that of knowledge, no social project other than that of seeking wisdom. It is mostly accurate and fully honest in its statements.
Mistakes, in any case, are easy to correct. If its interpretations represent error, however, then readers should show how and where and why and provide a more robust explication of the litany of facts that appear here as well as of the innumerable eventualities that are not in these lines. Otherwise, a rational participant in this discursive process will have no choice but to think that the presentation here is persuasive and plausible, whatever truth in all of its rotund completeness ultimately turned out to be.
A Bit of a Preface
Werner Heisenberg was a fascist sympathizer, even though he never joined Germany’s Nazi party. Even as we grapple with his leadership of Germany’s nascent nuclear weapons project, we note that his math and science remain critically important. In particular, his uncertainty theorem contains key comprehension for grappling with any attempt to attain knowledge.
His point about certainty was both simple and intuitively obvious. One cannot simultaneously know a particle’s location, frozen in the time-space continuum, and its momentum, the product of multiplying acceleration times mass, while the little bit of matter scoots along at sub-light speeds.
Journalistic, narrative corollaries of Heisenberg’s postulate ought to be obvious. Try as annalists might, attaining an awareness of certain things precludes adequate focus on other matters.
Nevertheless, just as the fact of uncertainty does not eliminate the need for and utility of scientific investigation of location and momentum and more, so too must historical or social scientific thinkers persist in seeking credible contextualization, despite the ambiguity and speculation inherent in such enterprises.
Basically, this section will consider deep paradoxes and noticeable patterns that characterize Ukraine’s experience. The following points, very briefly, are among those that observers ought to note.
- The deep geo-historical background of the region shows the inherent power of Ukrainian geography. Alexander the Great’s conquests during the 4th century BC focused in part on Crimea, as did Tatars almost exactly a thousand years further along; Jewish settlers first arrived on these fertile plains during Hellenic times. A sense of fortuitous placement, this realization that the realm was an irresistible waystation and a fertile swath of soil and rain and sunlight, has thus constantly defined this place on Earth.
- The ebb and flow of conquerors and their impact on societies and cultures, in turn, emanated from this confluence of a more-or-less immutable geography and geology. Alexander, the Persians, the Romans, Byzantine rulers, Viking invaders, Rus royalty, invasions of Mongols and Tatars and other Central Asians, Ottoman and then Russian and then British incursions provide just a partial listing of the vast array of opportunistic interlopers who have first vanquished and then intertwined with earlier social components of this place.
- The longstanding presence and role of Jewish culture and thinking also marks Ukraine. Its presence was at once independent of, and adjoined to, conquerors whose ‘glory’ and import seem on the surface to have greater potency, yet these more memorable contributory elements have no more defined contemporary Ukraine than have Talmudic threads.
- The rise over the last four centuries of Austrian and Russian hegemony, in which Galicia fell under the sway of one empire and Kiev and Crimea and the East identified or bowed down to Czars and Slavic princes, represents the most recent expression of these intertwining patterns.
- The simultaneous presence of nationalist, ultra-nationalist, socialist, communist, anarchist forces, as much so as, or perhaps more so than, anywhere else on Earth flows naturally from this sense of Ukraine as simultaneously a cradle and an abattoir of human development.
Each of the points above might coax dozens of stories—novels, monographs, articles, films, plays, music—from bards and thinkers and citizens. However, the point of their presence here is different. They proffer for readers a sense of intricacy and multidimensionality, a background of vast scope that undergirds the narrative focus ahead, which for its part zeroes-in on periods of revolution and World War on the one hand and reaction and World War on the other hand.
Quarter-Century of Revolution
Near the start of the twentieth century, all of these contradictory tendencies and elements in Ukraine’s past again attained a level of ripeness that necessitated explosive development and transformation. While this presentation does not attempt anything like a complete telling, several groups of occurrences absolutely impress themselves on what was possible for Kiev and its surroundings over the following periods of time, to the present pass and beyond.
<u>Restive Rebels & an Irresistible Impetus to a Reconfigured Social Scheme </u><u></u>
Contemporary U.S. accounts of the region’s past point to the agrarian and peasant predominance not only of Russia, but also of Ukrainian lands as a special ‘breadbasket,’ as if that alone explained anything. In fact, a twisted skein of rebellious and revolutionary organizations manifested tremendous social power in Ukraine as the Nineteenth Century became the Twentieth.
A key ingredient in the uprisings that characterized Kiev’s dominions in this period of time was the massive Russian famine of 1891-92, accompanied by cholera and the ultimate deaths of plus-or-minus a million people, mainly peasants and poor Cossacks. A subtitle of a chapter about the disaster speaks volumes: “The Demonization of the Nobility.”
The result of this practical instruction in class hatred also presented itself in the region’s cities, where anarchistic and communistic and nationalistic youth from the devastated rural areas congregated. Armed robbery of banks and post-offices was a common and popular method for financing activities against the State in all its manifestations.
Under these circumstances, that Ukrainians played an important part in the events of the watershed year 1905 would surprise only the ignorant. And while many of these militants were nationalists first, these incipient practitioners of pogromnever constituted the majority, which always consisted of socialists, anarchists, and communists. That is why these to-the-ramparts rebels have consistently won out over time.
An exemplar of this fact went by the nom-de-guerre Marusya. Maria Nikiforova left home at sixteen and began to bomb courts and city buildings and rob banks in between baby-sitting and factory jobs, on the one hand to dismay the authorities and on the other hand to pay for the costs of organizing and fighting. She became a powerful military and political leader, an Atamansha, though both sexism and a visceral hatred of anti-nationalist radicals by ‘patriots’ who have often enough risen to the top to write ‘official histories’ leave her now a barely known entity .
“Nikiforova was a Ukrainian and her activities in the Russian Revolution and Civil War took place mostly in Ukraine but she has been largely ignored by Ukrainian historians. She was anti-nationalist and, like the Ukrainian anarchist movement in general, she couldn’t be assimilated to a nationalist historical perspective.”
Leon Trotsky himself, though a political opponent of the anarchists, was in alignment in opposing nationalism and insisting on a popular uprising to put into place an anti-imperialist and socially just governing structure. He also wrote the definitive book on the so-called ’First Russian Revolution, in which he reflected both his Ukrainian roots and his unswerving communistic tendencies.’ He made clear that radicals of all stripes recognized the direct line between “Red October,” 1905 and the more effective version of the same name twelve years later.
Both emanated from a failed war, against the Japanese in 1905, and opposed to the Germans in 1917. In fact, the excrescences of this initial case of martial-glory-gone-awry led to one of the most storied narratives of this period. Eisenstein’s film about events at the Crimean port of Sevastopol and the carnage in Odessa’s harbor is merely a dramatic account of what was in fact and deed ’proletarian internationalism’ writ large, even as the outcome of the seamen’s Potemkin uprising was dispiriting at best.
The entire affair not only took place primarily in Ukraine, but it also stemmed from the leadership of a Ukrainian skilled worker who was a member of the Czar’s Navy. “Into this epic drama stepped … Afanasy Nikolayevich Matyushenko, a hot-tempered torpedo machinist from the Ukraine. The peasant boy who had taught himself to read was like a Russian Joe Hill, preaching resistance to czarist oppression. …He conveys a tragic inevitability to the collision between the seamen who can’t take it anymore and the officers (often the dregs of the nobility) who can’t imagine doing anything other than beating, whipping and starving their men. ’The myth of the Potemkin uprising is that the sailors rebelled because they were forced to eat maggoty meat. …(But the more complex reality is that) the ship’s captain ordered the men to eat the stew or be executed…. Thirty sailors were herded for execution, and a tarpaulin—Eisenstein’s famous tarpaulin—was brought on deck to soak up the blood. An enraged Matyushenko shouted, ‘Brothers! What are they doing to our comrades? Enough of [the captain’s] drinking our blood!’ The execution squad turned its weapons on the officers.”
And when one strident commander killed Matyushenko’s “dearest comrade,” the enraged draftee assaulted this murderer and threw him overboard, where the sailors shot him while he floundered in the water. In the aftermath, discussion and clarification of what took place and what it meant occurred constantly among the seamen.
The sailors on the Potemkin, in other words, were both situationally and politically radicalized. They stood for and actively fomented revolution. They did not generally hearken back to a ‘fatherland’ or any such rubric of exclusion. They were internationalists, ready for a world that workers ruled. The case of the Potemkin was an iconic expression of human longing for justice and insistence on empowerment, as well as depicting items of a particularly Ukrainian cast.
Not all who rose up against the Czar and capital stuck around their Ukrainian environs for the next phase of lynch mobs and retribution. Communists, anarchists, and socialists all fled to evade capture, or they faced dire prison conditions or dangling in life’s final throes at the end of a rope.
Marusya was just one such case. Sentenced to die for her robbery and conscious ‘terror against the rich,’ she was of such ‘tender years’ that she elicited a commuted sentence in Siberia, from whence she escaped and trekked to Japan, Russia’s recent partner in the eternal bourgeois war-dance. She made her way from Osaka to the U.S., and after a suitable round of adventures there, snuck back to the Ukraine.
Jacob Abrams is another such peripatetic radical wanderer. Born into a Jewish working class family, circa 1887, he lived through mass starvation and purgative pestilence to grow into a thoroughgoing social anarchist. He detested Czarists and nationalistic patriots with equal diligence. He flew from the noose after he roused himself and whatever ‘rabble’ were at hand to dispose of rulers one and all in 1905.
In the event he ended in New York, about more of which a bit later, where his views and behavior pleased promoters of Palmer Raids and American reaction as little as it excited Nicolas’ henchmen. Back to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic they sent him packing, but he didn’t fare well among Bolsheviks either and absconded with himself once again in 1926, eventually taking himself to Mexico , where he had tried to escape following the announcement of the Supreme Court’s rejection of his appeal nearly a decade before.
Ultimately, as Stalinism and fascism thinned the anarchist ranks and dispersed their persons, he reunited with his equally radical Ukrainian comrades, Molly Steimer and her soulmate, Senya Fleshin, in and around Mexico City, where they all ended their days. Steimer’s story, like Maria Nikiforova’s and Trotsky’s and more, could provide the fodder for all the films ever made from this day forward.
Only twenty-one years old when the raid that netted Jack Abrams also ensnared her, she spent nearly two years in an Ellis Island prison before her deportation. Then, she found herself severely disenchanted with the Soviets and left Russia once again. Then the Nazis almost managed to have her executed.
The words that she wrote to a friend from her cell in New York harbor could serve as testament to human hope and grit. “Yet she refused to despair. In a letter to Weinberger she quoted from a poem by Edmund V. Cooke: ‘You cannot salt the eagle’s tail, Nor limit thought’s dominion; You cannot put ideas in jail, You can’t deport opinion.’” Whatever the ‘crimes’ of Soviet Russia, whatever the faults of anarchists and social democrats and humanists who reject fascism and chauvinistic patriotism, these words would serve to unify such principled fighters.
Lest one give in nevertheless to the temptation to accept the load of manure that all these radicals were as ‘different as night and day’ and shared little in common, one might reflect. Cossack genius and international communist extraordinaire, native too of the realm ruled from Kiev, Leon Trotsky also found himself an exile in Mexico, where he played chess regularly with none other than Jack Abrams, his “ideological enemy,” who became a close friend.
Where one finds an even more striking unanimity, in a similar vein to that which prevailed among variously shaded ‘Reds,’ is among the established authorities. Capitalist and landed, aristocratic and bourgeois, all agreed that rooting out these hideous monsters of democratic upheaval was a priority of the first order. Their chroniclers shovel out the largest portion of the period’s annals.
One might write innumerably more volumes on this topic. However, the story of a single man provides an excellent précis of the point at hand, both in terms of the vile, visceral violence that elites visited on their ‘inferiors,’ and in terms of the way that those ‘subhuman’ strata took matters decisively in hand. An especially incisive summary of a prototype of the stalwart Czarist civil servant, Pyotr Stolypin, comes forth in Edward Crankshaw’s The Shadow of the Winter Palace, which lionizes the bureaucrat’s firm resolve to commit as many homicides as necessary to ‘save Russia’ and suppress revolt.
Stolypin for some time worked as the Czar’s secret-police and ‘security’ enforcer, “Minister of Internal Affairs” and more. He oversaw mass executions in Kiev and throughout both urban and rural regions of Mother Russia and ‘Little Russia’ both. In Ukraine’s cities, partisans referred to the fate of the noose as gifts a of a “Stolypin’s necktie.”
‘Liberals’ railed against the executions of thousands of dissenters. Stolypin’s reply that such action was above the law was worthy of Henry Kissinger or Heinrich Himmler. “’But courts-martial are not a legal institution,’ Stolypin replied. ‘They are a weapon of struggle. You want to prove that this weapon is not consistent with the law? Well, it is consistent with expediency. Law is not an aim in itself. When the existence of the state is threatened, the government is not only entitled but is duty bound to leave legal considerations aside and to make use of the material weapons of its power.’”
But ‘official’ sanction was never the primary means of the political reactionaries and social revanchists. The “Black Hundreds” gangs that enforced order with methods perfect for the ruling class were putatively independent expressions of patriotism and nationalism, much as the ‘Right Tendency’ killers today present the same face to public scrutiny, much as the bands of Stepan Bandera and his ilk served fascist Germany and reactionary ‘White’ counterrevolutionaries in turn.
However, just as today these fascists and ultra-nationalists are indistinguishable from the International Monetary Fund and its hangers-on, so too in the early Twentieth Century these aggregations of thuggish viciousness were part of the police’s tactical response to upheaval. At a trial in Moscow that was dealing with violence against radicals and Jews, an investigator of the court “states that pogrom proclamations, which Witness Statkovsky alleges never to have seen, were actually printed at the print-works of the secret police, where Statkovsky is employed; that these proclamations were distributed all over Russia by secret police agents and members of the monarchist parties; that close organizational links exist between the department of police and the Black Hundreds gangs.”
One could easily write thousands of monographs on this subject. But the point is clear. Pyotr Stolypin and his ilk represented the conscious murdering agency of class repression in Russia and Ukraine.
As such, he met an end that fit this role. In 1912, at the Kiev Opera House, where he was attending a celebratory performance for the Czar, with Nicholas in an adjacent box, a social revolutionary police double agent shot him dead. At no level were these fighters pacifists; neither among the proponents of capital and nobility nor among the people’s champions, whose actions largely, perhaps overwhelmingly, took place to serve a class rather than a nation.
In this context, splitting up the revolutionaries of Kiev and Kharkov and what we now call Donetsk, and so forth, from the insurrectionists who called Moscow or the Caucasus home, or wherever, makes no more sense than stating that the hydrogen in the water of the great lakes is a more special or unique brand of the lightest element than what prevails in the Black Sea. These revolutionaries were the ones whom the majority of the people admired and followed.
Leon Trotsky’s early life, whether one views the recounting from detractors or admirers, illustrates this perfectly. Ukrainian Cossacks and Jews and nationalities of all sorts were likely to be internationalist and radically rebellious both in their outlook and in their actions.
Nikita Khrushchev also completely illustrates this point. His memoirs should be required reading for all those who want a license to talk about Ukraine. He began reading Marx and Lenin and Trotsky because of a sympathetic teacher whose revolutionary proclivities he extols decades later. A key step in this process was his conscious rejection of his mother’s passionate religiosity. His teacher, an atheist, encouraged his agnosticism and materialism.
Following his father into the mines, he joined a union and participated in his first strike at the age of eighteen, which resulted in his sacking. His pipefitting skills—the same as my grandfather’s —nonetheless made his services indispensable, and because of this, he avoided the call to the carnage of the frontlines in World War One.
He refused the continued occupational sinecure of the mines when the nascent Nazis of the White Army rose against the Bolsheviks, however. Fighting at first in the far Eastern regions of Siberia, he ended his part in the successful destruction of the counterrevolution near home, where he experienced nation building first hand, as readers will soon enough discern. The point is that this son of Ukraine was a fighter and a worker and a socialist and a Russian and an internationalist, at the same time that he was deeply and intrinsically Ukrainian. His first wife died of malnutrition-related disease there, his children came into the world there, his family roots remained there.
We might find not scores or hundreds or thousands of such examples, but millions. A failure to countenance this is willful ignorance, which unfortunately goes hand-in-glove with mass collective suicide and ought to be something that we discard.
A final example to consider among these countless instances is that of Rodion Malinovsky, a machine gunner in World War One, a stalwart soldier who rose through the ranks in the Red Army during the civil war, and a key leader during Russia’s annihilation of the Wehrmacht during the 1940’s. His story began like those of many others, humbly and in straitened circumstances, in the city of Odessa.
His father was murdered. His mother, nursing soldiers of the Russo-Japanese War, met a countess who liked her. She married a more genteel servant of royalty, who soon sent young Rolion packing. His stepfather “did not like Rodion and had no intention of adopting him. So the little boy had to start work at the age of 13, first, at a nearby farm and then, after his relatives from Odessa took him in, as an errand boy in a general store. In 1914 Rodion, then 15 and too young for military service, became a solider on his own initiative. He simply hid inside the train with troops on their way to the frontline. He was found as soon as the train reached its destination. However, Rodion managed to convince the commanding officers to enlist him as a volunteer in a machine-gun detachment. His first battles took place on Polish soil. In March 1915 he received his first award, the Cross of St. George, for fighting off a German attack – he was promoted to the rank of corporal.”
Nothing here suggests a fierce revolutionary commitment, but at the cessation of World War One, his proclivities did show up —he was in France at the time, and he stayed to the end in part because France would not permit soldiers to return to the swaddled babe of the Soviet Union. He had to use his own initiative once more to find his way through Japanese-occupied Vladivostok to join the Communist forces.
Again, countless other narratives would permit the same conclusion. Any assessment that Russia was the problem that most Ukrainians experienced, that patriotism was their response, or that revolution was foreign to them, is at best patent nonsense. Not only was the reality of Ukrainian experience vastly more complicated than such a tidy view, but the facts are also indisputable that something like a majority of residents either joined or followed the leadership of rebels and internationalists, rather than adhering to the fantasies and tricky hidden agendas of those for whom nationalistic fervor was paramount.
World War One typifies this complexity. With the help of agents from Russia, Austria, Germany, and France in particular, those who professed aspirations to nationhood and Ukrainian identity rose to control the State at times. Kiev was, after the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, in the hands of such reactionaries.
But the uprisings of the civil war against the occupation of Crimea and other parts of Southern Ukraine, by French, Greek, and Turkish invaders who helped the White Army’s attempts to ’smother the Red babe in its crib’ soon swept away these followers of the fancies of the past and the itineraries of the rich. Their hold on popular consciousness was never more than chimerical.
The writings of Nestor Markho, the insightful and ruthless anarchist opponent of counterrevolution, reveal these tendencies brilliantly. He pointed out how the attacks on Jews that at this point presaged what was to come two decades hence were almost one hundred percent the machinations of the super-patriots and the ’fatherlanders.’ And when an anarchist or a Bolshevik participated in such an atrocity, “they were without exception summarily shot.”
Marusya, after having ascended to the leadership of her own anarchist army in the service of the Red Army, died at the end of White army hemp. Her compatriots called her the “Joan-of-Arc-of Anarchy.”
Before her struggles ended however, she had repeatedly ventured behind enemy lines and convinced Cossacks to defect to the Communists. “Cossacks, I must tell you that you are the butchers of the Russian workers. Will you continue to be so in the future, or will you acknowledge your own wickedness and join the ranks of the oppressed? Up to now you have shown no respect for the poor workers. For one of the tsar’s rubles or a glass of wine, you have nailed them living to the cross.”
In this complicated, often contradictory, multidimensional and many-sided mélange of repression and rebellion, war and civil war, the different regions of Ukraine underwent varied experiences during these first decades of death and devastation and insurrection. But whether one examines Crimea; or further West along the coast in Odessa; or inland at Kiev or Kharkov or what was then Ekaterinoslav; or snug up to the lands of the Don Cossacks in the industrial and coal regions of the East; or Westward into Galicia, the threads are indisputably the same. A dominant radicalism vomited on Czarist Russia not because it was Russian but because it oppressed the common people. The nationalists and the super-patriots, often surreptitiously in league with their erstwhile upper-crust ‘enemies,’ were always in the minority, though naturally they ended up being exceedingly popular among the powers that be.
And with very few exceptions the views of those ruling elites overwhelmingly held sway among the large landholders, the bankers, the substantial merchants, and the industrialists. Moreover, and especially pertinent in apprehending the present pass, these local gentry identified ideologically and connected tangibly in both political and economic fashion, with the upper strata of ‘Western’ capitalist society generally.
<u>Fascist Seedlings That Followed Red Triumph: Twin Crises of Russia & Capitalism</u><u></u>
Even the briefest examination of these events, as here, shows unequivocally an architecture of interconnection between Ukraine and Russia. No doubt, further and deeper assessment would yield additional nuance, marvels of paradox and the unexpected, in addition to mountains of data to support the primary thesis here, concerning this intertwined history and the radical identification that accompanies it.
Another point to note, as this essay develops additional paragraphs about the years 1921-1933, is that crisis bounded previous happenings, dire straits for both Russia and capitalism. Thus, hunger and cholera joined ‘great depression’ at the outset, while typhus and flu and starvation and unparalleled mass murder and social collapse conjoined financial panic and economic ruin at the culmination.
The rout of the so-called White Armies, though they demonstrated Bolshevik political mastery and, at least tentatively, social ascendancy, did not mean that the basis for capital’s detestation of Boshevism had receded. After all, this ‘White Army’ only existed because of Western support—both arms and funds, not to mention spies and advice.
Nor did the battle involve only—or even primarily—such advisory assistance. Probably fewer than one in a hundred citizens of the United States, and only a slightly larger proportion of Western Europeans, know that England and its Commonweal comrades, along with Greece, France, the United States, Japan, and even some remnants of the former enemies of the ‘Triple Entente’ joined together to invade the Soviet Union, to seek to end the ‘madness’ and threat that communism seemed to hold out to the agents of the world’s imperial imprimatur.
Winston Churchill, as much as any other leader, embodied the ferocity of this hatred. He spoke quite explicitly: “We must strangle the Bolshevik infant in its cradle.” He congratulated Italy’s Il Duce. “(Italy under Mussolini) has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter no great nation will be unprovided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism.”
H.G. Wells’ Outline of History spoke forthrightly against what he viewed as this insane rage and loathing. He believed that the United States may have evinced this pathological fury to an even greater degree than Britain.
Certainly, as clever an arbiter of investigation as Upton Sinclair would have agreed with him. In his deeply reported skewering of American media in the first decades of the Twentieth Century, the author of The Jungle noted, “But the perfect case of journalistic knavery … ‘the case which in the annals of history will take precedence over all others, past or present,’ is the case of Russia. …’All the lying power of our journalism was turned against the Russian Soviets; and if you have read this book without skipping, you know what that lying power is. No tale was too grotesque to be believed and spread broadcast.’”
This detestation led to all manner of tactics against the young Soviet regime closer at hand too. Agents from the war period merely adjusted their caps slightly and continued spying and provoking and so forth. Economic warfare occasionally manifested in trade and such, but especially Germany desperately needed any relationships that was not immediately worth less as a result of reparations; this dependency on Bolshevik New Economic Policy commodities and currency fostered Soviet growth and survival.
Both this inherent need for connection and the infiltration of spies that it permitted affected Ukraine, at once beneficence and affliction. Soviet food supplies in any event depended on this fertile region of large and productive farms. And the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, including the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, moved forward, which mortified and further infuriated the upper reaches of capital’s ruling classes no end.
Thus, ignoring counsel to the contrary to show some patience and bide its time, the Polish State, weeks after its creation, with tens of thousands of its citizens languishing from Typhus and a million and a half of its children eating from the bread bowl of the American relief fund, decided to invade the Soviet Union and seize Moscow, though in the event, the Poles decided to seize Ukraine first. Before the Red Army routed these attackers, they gained the outskirts of Kiev, as things then transpired just managing to repulse the revolutionary forces’ counterattack from overwhelming Warsaw, at which juncture both sides were ready to sue for peace.
“Learn Commerce!” Lenin told Khrushchev. But this was not an easy row to hoe in the context of one dirty trick after another, one attempt and then something even more sinister to cause the entire prospect of socialism to come crashing down in a twisted heap of unworkable rubble.
Even the Americans, who had abjured the lure of the Versailles Treaty and the temptations of ‘reparations’ in the form of colonial and imperial perquisites squeezed from the carcass of the Ottoman Empire or the fragile young Soviet States, took an interest in Ukraine. Our Man in the Crimea tells the tale of an adventurer, Hugo Koebler, a precursor to the Cold Warrior agents who financed ‘freedom fighters’ a generation later, and ‘Maidan fascists’ three generations down the pike.
No less a diligent Cold Warrior than George Kennan himself, in his Russia and the West Under Lenin and Stalin, noted this obsessiveness and the passionate hatred that accompanied it. Artifice, plot, and conspiracy were all part and parcel of this view that Bolshevism was at least as despicable as espousing the ascendancy of Satan.
Moreover, though the Communists won the civil war, the state of Russia was a mess. Famine was common in Ukraine during 1922 and 1923, for example. And without trade, both incoming and outgoing, this downward productive spiral would conceivably prove irreversible.
Lenin’s New Economic Policy flowed directly from these exigencies. Muscovite trade bureaus thus became hotbeds of spies in London and Paris and more. And agents of capital poured into Russia, in particular to the Russian South, where Caucasan petrol and Ukrainian coal and grain were ever-fungible commodities.
And just as the Soviets sent spies and provocateurs with its legations, such men and women waltzed into Moscow’s and Kiev’s territory as part of the given necessity of exchange. Relatively obscure monographs and treatments have delved this topic, utilizing the mostly now declassified holdings of the KGB, the American State Department, and the hydra-headed labyrinths of English intelligence in particular.
Moreover, the remnants of the defeated ‘White Army,’ now ensconced throughout Europe and the Americas, remained committed to reasserting their rule and regaining their property and perquisites. In fact, one of the more famous capers of espionage lore involved a Soviet trick, the Trust, promising that all faithful counterrevolutionaries would discover armies of malcontents at their beck and call should they return.
And return they did, to encounter firing squads, bullets in the back, or long and bitter imprisonment. One of England’s storied agents, allegedly the pattern for Ian Flemings 007, was Sydney Reilly, the “Ace-of-Spies,” who had plied the English agenda in regard to oil and commerce in favor of his adopted country from Baku through Crimea and the Ukraine and the Baltic Republics.
He favored the Russian South in part, no doubt, because of the oil and other natural resources, but he could have had other reasons: some sources suggest that he originally hailed from Odessa; in any event, he was certainly Russian of some stripe. He had become a ‘spy in the cold’ by the early 1920’s but continued his organized subterfuge against the Bolsheviks, nonetheless, with or without the backing of British Intelligence.
He too walked into a trap, thinking that resources and manpower to lead an uprising awaited him, instead of days of dire interrogation in a Moscow basement of NKVD. In the end, a bullet in the back of the head, in woods outside of the Kremlin’s lairs, was his fate.
The up-and-coming Comrade Khrushchev, only thirty years old in 1924, encountered both the internal and the external aspects of these matters, difficulties that flowed both from Ukraine’s own almost impossible array of dynamics and from Western ‘interests’ that hoped to undermine or even overthrow communism; that such hopes existed is the only plausible explanation for the unheard of delay in the recognition of the Soviet State: the U.S. did not accede to the Communist’s victory until 1933.
As to what the youthful functionary from Donetsk’s coal fields encountered, we might listen to his own recollections. He left his own heartland reluctantly, but his proficiency as an administrator in the coal mines and factories that he knew so well was threatening his boss.
And he ventured to the Ukrainian capitol. “I’d never been to Kiev before. My own hometown of Yuzovka was a tiny village” in comparison. Straightaway, suitcase still in hand, he went to stand on the Dnieper’s storied banks.
Still, his task was daunting. “The Kiev organization was not considered a very secure outpost of the Party. In fact, the area was notorious as a stronghold of Ukrainian nationalist elements, and its reputation was well-deserved. The local proletariat was weak and unstable; and the intelligentsia…centered around the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences…led…by a nationalist….There was also a formidable contingent of Trotskyites in the area (all of whom) were sure to regard me as a hopeless ‘Rusak.’”
In fact, much of the tangible trouble that Khrushchev encountered evolved out of tensions between Kiev and the industrial East. Unemployed in the capitol, clerks and other wage-earners paraded with red banners, demanding jobs. When Khrushchev met with them, he pointed out that huge demand for labor existed where he had just left. The response was telling. “’We’d rather be out of work in Kiev than employed in the Donbass.’”
In all of these situations that portray the give and take, the push and pull, between Moscow and Kiev, what was also transpiring were various deep games in which Western policies and its agents—both public and private—sought to undercut or even destroy Soviet power. In Ukraine, this pattern was as prevalent as, or even more pronounced than, it was anywhere else in the vast expanse of Soviet Russia.
Despite these remaining legacies of the deepest sorts of contrariety and disagreement, however, for a brief span of years, as much as a decade, things flowered, relative to the previous chaos and cataclysm. Literature, film, music, dance, all of the arts and cultural expressions of modern life mushroomed in Kiev, in Kharkov, in Odessa.
And children in the merest village had schools. They learned to read and write and think and plan. The party provided mentors to its up and coming members. A key ally of Stalin, Dmitrii Manuilskii, advised young Nikita Khrushchev, as he was finishing his tour-of-duty in Kiev. The pair were fellow Ukrainians, from similarly salt-of-the-earth backgrounds, but the elder communist, an intellectual and trained writer, instructed his junior about the overview that one had to struggle to obtain, and undertones that one had to strive to notice, in order to thrive as a proletarian leader.
The period that Bolsheviks encountered at this juncture, in contrast to the carnage of World War, contained a respite from the intense mayhem that characterized the prior pass. Soon enough, at the finish of the decade or so following the Soviet consolidation of political power in Russia and its outlying regions, the dynamic of decline again appeared unstoppable. But before this vortex of pain repeated its body blows to social equanimity, a time of relative calm, of optimism, even if full of struggle and difficulty, prevailed.
In the Ukraine, though one might examine many participants’ lives as typical of this pattern, one would find few likelier candidates for exemplification than the aforementioned Nikita Khrushchev. Though Moscow under Stalin’s rule was, as noted above, highly suspicious of Kiev, in this case , the young rising party star had a good year or so in Central Ukraine, his homeland.
“Despite my forebodings, I must admit that my year in Kiev turned out to be very satisfactory. I have many pleasant memories of that period. I found it easy to work there. The people seemed to like me and trust me. I’d even say they respected me.”
But the boon of this brief interlude of relative harmony, in which amid the fermentation that has typified Ukraine at every period equilibrium was more pronounced, affected much more than politics. The shooting of Eisenstein’s film in Odessa, in which the movie master made of his crowds a ‘caviar’ of the masses, which he then brought into focus with his extreme close-ups, exemplifies this interweaving of play and politics and culture.
“The force of ‘The Odessa Steps’ arises when the viewer’s mind combines individual, independent shots and forms a new, distinct conceptual impression that far outweighs the shots’ narrative significance. Through Eisenstein’s accelerated manipulations of filmic time and space, the slaughter on the stone steps—where hundreds of citizens find themselves trapped between descending tsarist militia above and Cossacks below—acquires a powerful symbolic meaning. With the addition of a stirring revolutionary score by the German Marxist composer Edmund Meisel, the agitational appeal of Battleship Potemkinbecame nearly irresistible; when the film was exported in early 1926, it made Eisenstein world-famous.”
Filmmaking and literature and art and theater enjoyed an upsurge during these years as intense as any earlier renaissance. In a sense, a cultural fertility that matched the fecundity of the land came to the fore as never before. As Ukrainians joined Russians in a communist experiment, vistas opened and walls came down, quite the opposite effect from what observers have come to expect of ‘comrade Stalin’ and so forth.
These things did not happen like Bolshevist comic books, but they did happen. The life and art and career of Oleksander Dovzhenko was illustrative. His stories and drawings nearly matched his movies at the time as popular expressions. He found Ukrainian folklore captivating, and drew both filmic and written narratives from these sources. Criticized for overt nationalism, the party shortened his leash, and he ended up in Moscow. But he never abandoned the themes of conflict and polarity that defined his birthplace. One of his most popular novels was Ukraine in Flames, published in 1943.
Nor was his even close to a unique example, though as early as 1927, film studios named in his honor opened in Kiev. Hundreds of performers, producers, writers, and artists of all sorts flowered under the Soviet regime in Ukraine. Many were Jewish, as in the case of Grigori Kozintsev. He excelled at both theater and film, his still-captivating most masterful achievement an iconic production of Hamlet that he had directed theatrically and made into a film. Others who turned to art were Romanian, or Polish, or Cossack, or Russian, though Ukraine took them all in. Nationalism was palpable, and it was also a façade, a chimera, fatuous nonsense.
Kozintsev summed up these points incisively himself in 1965, speaking of his youth in theater near Kiev. “What we were doing then we were doing in the cold and famine of a devastated country. The conditions of life were very hard. The State, occupied with a full-scale civil war, was undergoing enormous difficulties. Yet the dominant sentiment was the affirmation of life. The young artists felt life in all its richness and color, and artistic forms seemed naturally to take on the artistic forms of a great popular carnival. In the middle of every kind of privation a sort of fair was going on. The young artists bore the common fate gaily, so fine did the time in which they lived appear to them. If this atmosphere is forgotten or neglected, then the art of those times remains incomprehensible.”
Education, too, developed explosively. In part, this was, as always defined the background—and occasionally the foreground—of Russian life after 1921, a result of Party decisions and inputs and supports, which applied in Ukraine equally as in Moscow or Siberia or Korea.
Most to the fundamental point, both primary and secondary education far surpassed what had transpired under the gaze of nobility and factory owners. The careers of some of the world’s top writers and filmmakers and scientists are just a few of the tangible expressions of this massive transformation in the community strength that communism brought to education’s foundations in Ukraine.
Kira Muratova came of age in Kiev during World War Two and went on to world renown as a screenwriter and director. Stansilaw Lem, a pathfinder in literature, grew up in Lvov in the 1920’s and ’30’s and went on to an iconic status as a storyteller and master of science fiction.
Moreover, the same expansionist dynamic applied to college and technical education. New academies flourished. More venerable universities expanded, even as the Party saw in them hotbeds of nationalism. This upsurge of capacity-building and empowerment certainly completely differentiated post-revolutionary from Czarist Ukraine.
Meanwhile, industry advanced apace. In part this reflected Russian concern at what, almost before the ink on the Versailles treaty was dry, Soviet leaders viewed as the inevitable coming of another World War. A key focus in these industrial expansions lied in Eastern Ukraine, as noted above. But the real acceleration of development was largely across the board throughout the region.
This emphasis of industry obviously dovetailed perfectly with the theory and practice of communism, which in actual fact completely depended both on enlarging the presence of workers, of wage earners, of commodity producers, and on fostering their social, economic, and intellectual contributions. This increase in the number and power of workers happened everywhere, perhaps less so in the Ukrainian fields than elsewhere, but nonetheless an identifiable pattern in the coal and metal trades in the East, in the cities, and along the many waterways overseen by Kiev.
All was not sweetness and light, however. Despite the dynamic institutional and organizational growth that Soviet rule facilitated in the arts and sciences and humanities, systematic ideological errors were clearly possible. No case illustrates this as does that of Trofim Lysenko, who was a Ukrainian, both academically tied to Kiev’s scientific circles and fanatically devoted to Stalin—who praised the biologist frequently. To prove his bogus theories that supported a ‘socialist view,’ Lysenko invented results that set Soviet biology back decades.
As Lysenko’s impact to an extent illustrates, behind the scrim of this staging of a better life, of happier times, of open passion and human affection, however, lurked difficult political circumstances. Fulfilling Lenin’s prescient warning, Stalin manipulated more and more the varying threads of all the power strands of Soviet life.
As the expansion of the 1920’s reached a zenith and portended horrendous deflation and the mire of recessionary times once more, the still relatively young Georgian, now the CPSU Central Committee Chair, having expelled one Ukrainian in the person of Trotsky and recruited many others such as Malinovsky and Khrushchev, foresaw the looming rise of fascism and war as clearly as anyone else on Earth. And for whatever reasons outside this clear-sighted vision, the paranoid Georgian dictator insisted on a period of planned production and collectivization that resulted in horrific consequences in Ukraine.
Stalin’s Ascendancy & Its Effects<u></u>
Most people who support ‘free markets’ reflexively, who champion ‘freedom’ generally without much critical distance from the meaning of the term, conflate everything Bolshevist into one primal, nasty stew. Thus, Trotsky is Lenin is Stalin, and so on down the line.
This tarnishing brush often enough applies retrospectively as well, so that Marx and Engels equal Stalin. The miasmic cloud extends to any related concept, at least in the mindset that sees the Wall Street Journal and its ilk as ‘balanced’ and ‘fair.’ Thus, socialism also elicits Stalinism.
And the annalist who would wholeheartedly defend ‘Uncle Joe’ either has a monumentally sized heart or a supremely strong stomach. At the same time that Stalin’s story is a complex one, and much of power and merit emanated from Russia under his leadership, the conclusion is difficult to resist that he was a world class criminal, guilty of dastardly felonies and nasty misdemeanors and, quite likely, crimes against humanity.
Perhaps we might just listen again to Nikita Khrushchev, whose On the Cult of Personality totally condemns Josef Stalin as a leader and admits the many thousands, or more, of murders and other vicious crimes that resulted from his ascendancy to the pinnacle of Soviet power. “Comrades, the cult of the individual acquired such monstrous size chiefly because Stalin himself, using all conceivable methods, supported the glorification of his own person.”
Khrushchev continued, “This is supported by numerous facts. One of the most characteristic examples of Stalin’s self-glorification and of his lack of even elementary modesty is the edition of his Short Biography, which was published in 1948. This book is an expression of the most dissolute flattery, an example of making a man into a godhead, of transforming him into an infallible sage, ‘the greatest leader,’ ‘sublime strategist of all times and nations.’ Finally no other words could be found with which to lift Stalin up to the heavens.”
Khrushchev amplified these remarks, summarizing much of his speech, in his memoirs, Khrushchev Remembers. His recognition of the horror and tragedy of Stalin’s imprimatur was palpable. He lost so many dear friends because of the ‘glorious leader.’
No doubt one might make the point that this is a flaw of Bolshevism. But making that point does not make it altogether true. For example, another element in Stalin’s own downfall was his reliance, almost absolute, on Lavrentiy Beriya, whom Comrade Nikita characterizes like this.
“This unbelievable suspicion(paranoia) was cleverly taken advantage of by the abject provocateur and vile enemy, Beriya, who had murdered thousands of Communists and loyal Soviet people. The elevation of Voznesensky and Kuznetsov alarmed Beriya. As we have now proven, it had been precisely Beriya who had suggested to Stalin the fabrication by him and by his confidants of materials in the form of declarations and anonymous letters, and in the form of various rumors and talks.”
A trial found Beriya, this mass murderer of Ukrainians and others, guilty of being an “agent of imperialism.” He suffered the same fate to which he had condemned thousands, his entire career that of a murderous ‘enforcer,’ Stalin’s fifth such hitman, though prior to that he had led various Soviet intelligence agencies. “Beria was yet another of these murderers, and in one of his first actions upon ascending to the head of the NKVD, Lavrentiy ordered the execution of five officials high in command in the Ukraine.” He also personally dispatched Trotsky’s murderer on his mission.
Furthermore, we could also recall what Lenin—whose maternal grandfather was a Ukrainian Jew, by the way—had to say about his subordinate’s rise to chairing the Soviet Central Committee. “Stalin is excessively rude, and this defect, which can be freely tolerated in our midst and in contacts among us Communists, becomes a defect which cannot be tolerated in one holding the position of the Secretary General. Because of this, I propose that the comrades consider the method by which Stalin would be removed from this position and by which another man would be selected for it, a man, who above all , would differ from Stalin in only one quality, namely, greater tolerance, greater loyalty, greater kindness, and more considerate attitude toward the comrades, a less capricious temper, etc.”
Whatever the case may be, the terror and murder attendant on agricultural collectivization under Stalin created a context of victimization and revenge that continues till the here-and-now. The purges , the blatant, self-serving lackeys who impelled much of Stalin’s vaunted paranoia, all the hideous excrescences that the opponents of Marx and Lenin and Trotsky and socialism trot out, are undeniable, but they also are a story that has yet to have its complete telling.
For many current citizens of the Ukraine, particularly those in rural areas, forgiveness will never happen. This does not change the fact that many there still support communism, socialism, the entire ‘Marxian Project,’ as it were.
And whatever the case may be, the situation was never as simple as the Stalin, bad; Capitalism; good’ school of thought would have it. The reader might listen to the brilliant filmmaker Dovzhenko, whose expulsion from Ukraine for nationalism would not make him a biased witness in favor of Stalin.
Yet his benchmark production, Earth, about the collectivization, that bloody success, did tell a revolutionary story: “Thus, Dovzhenko is belittling not only the landed gentry, but also the church – something not uncommon in Soviet films of this time (see, for example, Strike and Pudovkin’s Storm Over Asia ) – and truly establishing how all pervasive the new workers class is. The fact of a baby being born at the very end cements the idea of the birth of this new order, this new life for all, which the subsequent return to shots of the landscape, and particularly of apples in the rain (cleansing, washing away the old), relates back to the natural order, the natural cycle. Truly has man found his place in the world.”
Industrialization and the preparation for further war, meanwhile, also established capacities that contributed to Soviet ability to resist Germany’s invasion. In the event, the facilities in the Ukraine fell into German hands. Stalin’s distrust, of course, had caused him to make certain that networks remained behind to sabotage and undermine what his stern leadership had brought to pass at such cost.
And this preparedness was soon enough to prove crucial. The section to come tells that tale.
In the meantime, one might reflect about a character such as Stalin, or about an underling such as Beriya. Who gained from their placement atop Boshevism’s operation ? As Khrushchev’s impassioned outcry made clear, the answer was not, “the Russian and the Ukrainian people.”
<u>One particular Individual Topic of Note</u><u></u>
Just as Kiev’s denizens in fact came to inhabit everywhere on Earth, fleeing high-handed Czars and crazy dictators alike, so too in literature observers find much of Ukrainian origin that is powerul and insightful. This piece of the present narrative concentrates on one specific instance of Russian literature in this regard, along with a few other examples from around the world.
Jorge Amado’s Gabriella, Clove & Cinnamon, an irresistible novel of wild love and cacao commerce at the end of the gangland days in Bahia, introduced a cast of characters as memorable as it was vibrant and full of lusty abandon. One of them, just slightly more than a walk-on part, was Gregor-the-Russian. Only he wasn’t from Russia. His home had been Kiev.
Barbara Kingsolver’s work has spanned the globe. Her stories often seem quiet, until they explode repeatedly. One of these unassuming yarns that ends up gripping with a fierce stranglehold is her fairly recent, Lacuna. It tells of a man from Asheville, North Carolina who, through strange twists of fate, ends up cooking for and otherwise serving Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera.
Through them, he ends up working for Trotsky, a truly great man in history and the novel, a leader and undying believer in humanity and justice. Undying he was, even after his assassination at the hands of Stalin’s hitman.
Others too may join this list, as further research adds to what this author has personally read recently. No matter what, Ukraine’s ‘infiltration’ of the world is clearly a fact, both in reality and in the realm of story.
However, the utility of literature as evidence is perhaps nowhere more potently apparent than in Mikhail Sholokhov’s And Quiet Flows the Don, a novel of such sweep and power that it carries a reader along to laughter and weeping again and again, till the ragged ending lets us resume our ways in life as if we’ve lived through World War One and revolution with the Don Cossacks and their Ukrainian neighbors.
Ukrainians repeatedly appear and play key roles in the novel, while much of the fighting that forms a central element of the plot takes place in Central Ukraine and Galicia. The main character’s transformation into a communist results from his Ukrainian roommate at the hospital where both are recuperating from wounds to their eyes. Through relentless factualization of their pass and reasoning about it, this wry resident from Little Russia is a fulcrum for the entire story.
“Most terrible of all, Grigory began to think Garanzha was right, and that he was impotent to oppose him. He realized with horror that the intelligent and bitter Ukrainian was gradually but surely destroying all his former ideas about the tsar, the country, and his own military duty as a Cossack. Within a month of the Ukrainian’s arrival the whole system on which Grigor’s life had been based was a smoking ruin. It had already grown rotten, eaten up with the canker of the monstrous absurdity of the war, and it needed only a jolt. That jolt was given, and Grigory’s artless straightforward mind awoke.”
Sholokhov’s symbolic turn would be useful for many people today to consider. Grigory, who ranks as one of the most flawed and sympathetic heroes of the canon, was at risk from his wounds of going blind. His understanding of the fraudulence that he had accepted as truth helped him to see again.
Few writers, not Crane, not Conrad, not Hemingway, surpass Sholokhov’s ability to describe the horrors of the warfare that Nazis and nationalists so blithely embrace. These words too could help readers not to forget or forego this fact of martial engagement, this carnage of conflict. “His entire face was a cry; bloody tears were raining from his eyes that had been forced out of their sockets. …(O)ne leg, torn away at the thigh, was dragged along by a shred of skin and a strip of scorched trouser; the other leg was gone completely. He crawled slowly along on his hands, a thin, almost childish scream coming from his lips…. No one attempted to go to him.
‘Both legs gone!’
‘Look at the blood!’
’And he’s still conscious.’ Uryupin touched Grigory on the shoulder…. (and) drew Grigory along by the sleeve…. Under Zharkov’s belly the pink and blue intestines were steaming. The tangled mass lay on the sand, stirring and swelling. Beside it the dying man’s hand scrabbled at the ground.”
The aftermath of this event is equally telling. The war’s mayhem, for the Cossacks and Ukrainians, occurred largely on the terrain of ‘Little Russia.’ The survivors of the above engagement, having seen half their number literally cut to pieces by Austrian machine-gunners in Galicia, returned to find Golovachev, the Division Chief-of-Staff, showing off snapshots of the action that he had taken and developed. A lieutenant struck him in the face and then collapsed in sobs. “Then Cossacks ran up and tore Golovachev to pieces, made game of his corpse, and finally threw it into the mud of a roadside ditch. So ended this brilliantly inglorious offensive.”
In the work of Amado, Kingsolver, and Sholokhov, a radical has plenty to watch out for. The businessmen of Bahia might drop an anarchist in a pit after blowing his brains out. Trotsky, in Kingsolver’s astounding work, meets the same end that actually happened to the sixty-one year old Ukrainian-cossack commie internationalist; death by an ice-pick in the brain.
And the Cossacks from the Don region of both Russia and Ukraine felt the ever-looming threat of immolation, whatever side they picked. But their choices did not flow from ideology or patriotism to one or another icon—czarist or Ukrainian, but from chances that represented the hardest sorts of decisions, that might lead to damnation whatever direction one selected.
These Scylla-or-Charybdis encounters in turn emanated from the mortal combat over the world’s first State that sought to put wage-earners in charge, that elevated toilers over property owners and inherited wealth. The looming shadow of a Hitler or a Mussolini, the invitation to install a Franco or any number of other reactionaries, had already at the end of this quarter century of revolution in Ukraine assumed a tangible form, revealing the shape of a social monstrosity that needed only a dire enough economic climate in order to manifest itself completely.
The Rise & Fall & Rise of Fascism; from World War Two to ‘Containment’
Stalin’s depredations, in retrospect, both resulted from and fed into the evolution of fascism as a strategy to impede and destroy the Bolsheviks specifically and communism more generally. Most pointedly, the central element of the dynamic from the perspective of Russia —and the very substantial pro-Soviet citizenry in Ukraine—was the preparation for resistance to bourgeois incursions and the Nazi terror that the ‘propertied classes’ had prepared consciously to unleash. On the other hand, from capital’s point of view, in the capitol’s of Europe particularly, the essential component of the process was to foster developmentsthat would eviscerate the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
In this context, a war of barbaric proportions might appear inevitable. In any event, the capitalist economy did what it always does—collapse—and war drew nigh; when it came, it brought with it slaughter on a scale that dwarfed the starvation that attended agriculture’s and industry’s embrace of ‘planning,’ the intention of which had always been the creation of an industrial capacity equal to the pending tasks of self-defense.
Instead of Nazi destruction of Red Russia, however, the opposite took place. Russian Communism defeated Hitler and the racialist fantasies of an ‘elect Germanic Volk.’ As always, Ukraine’s part in this bloodbath was multidimensional, almost impossibly complex and almost unfathomably dialectical at the same time. The following sections reveal currents in the flow of what happened from the mid-to-late 1930’s to 1950 or so.
Nurturing Nationalism & Fascism, & Soviet Responses<u></u>
While a decade-long fertilization of the fascist curse was occurring in the West, moreover, a parallel seeding of the ground took place on the fringes of Russia. Even inside the Soviet state, agents operated to lay the basis both for upheaval in the present, and, whether intended at the time or not, for future collaboration with Nazis.
England’s ‘safe houses’ in the Ukraine were a good example. They provided escape routes for agents or ‘assets’ that Western governments and leaders of empire wanted to debrief after their missions or interview about their dissatisfactions, longings, and so forth.
From Poland, Austria, Hungary, Romania, as well, and especially Germany too, agents arrived whose purpose was to appeal to nationalism, to make promises of freedom and riches, to vow to honor God’s grace again and return it and obedience to a ‘legitimate’ order to their proper places at the social center. Always, these sallies looked upon Russians and communists and Jews altogether as the enemies to vanquish, as the parties to blame and victimize.
The memories from the prior period made such concerns palpable to those who lived under Soviet imprimatur. After all, Poland’s invasion had only happened a decade or so before. The Soviet Trust scheme, moreover, had only worked due to the way that expatriate elites, supported by their European patrons, had fiercely committed themselves to disparaging and destroying the Soviet Union.
This was the context for the emergence of one of the most ‘heroic’ Nazis in the annals of the aficionados of race and nation and Volk. Stepan Bandera actually incubated in Poland—though now Ukrainian territory—the movement that continues its supremacist actions to this day in Ukraine. He organized almost as relentlessly against the Poles as he sought to undermine and assault all that was communist, any who espoused Marx and Lenin and Stalin, as well as those who were Jewish or otherwise ‘impure’ in their roots and blood.
Nor was Bandera a lone wolf or some sort of unique giant of this social strain. Various other groups, parties, and actors were also prominently present in and around the land putatively ruled by Communist Kiev. In fact, these reactionaries spent nearly as much time arguing with and challenging each other with angry debate as they did in undermining or attacking Reds and Jews and other ‘imperfect’ specimens. Thus the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists bickered incessantly—at the same time that it collaborated in pogroms and murder—with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, or the UPA, which was an OUN offshoot in the first place.
Also pertinent at this juncture were the ways that Germans and their functionaries, who often turned out to be businesspeople of diverse nationalities, facilitated these processes. These were years in which Teutonic ‘tourists,’ about whom spies elsewhere even then joked because the schemers dispatched from Munich/Berlin were so obvious, ambled about taking revealing pictures and seeking contacts with the right sorts of dissenters and disaffected folks.
In any case, in different ways, the Soviets responded in kind. They penetrated and sought to subvert or destroy the fascist bands. They made gestures of solidarity and support to ethnic and religious populations that the Nazis targeted. Not only did Russian agents reach out to fascist targets, but they also threatened those to whom the nationalists were appealing.
Furthermore, they sent their own, Red operatives abroad, to Berlin and Vienna and Paris and London and Miami and New York. In this way, these ‘prewar’ years continued the ‘postwar’ grappling of the 1920’s and readied for the storms that loomed on the horizon, foreshadowing the chill of ‘cold-war’ to come.
In this shadow-boxing struggle, among the pugilists in the ring of history, so to speak, were the organizations, many of them exclusively Ukrainian and almost all of them inclusive of members from Crimea or Kiev or Kharkov, of émigrés in far-flung locations around the world. These networks occasionally ventured to plant operatives in Ukraine or made ‘cultural visits’ or in some way or other sought to make contact and advance plans to weaken Soviet power.
In the midst of all this, at the other end of Europe, Spain’s Republican government was collapsing as a result of hidden German and Italian support for the fascist Franco. Under the leadership of Dmitri Manuilskii, a member of the Politburo, the Soviet Union, in addition to providing armaments and military advisers, both backed Solidarity Brigades in support of the Republican state and offered homes to Spanish refugee children and orphans.
Manuilskii was Ukrainian, from the other side of the Polish border near where Stepan Bandera came into the world, from a poor family whose paterfamilias was an Orthodox priest, whose son became a chief leader and intellectual of the atheistic Soviet Union. In 1937-8, Comrade Manuilskii oversaw the placement of the Spanish youth, a substantial portion of whom came to Ukraine to start, a few of whom stayed there. He was also an ardent Stalinist, having penned The Great Theoretician of Communism in Stalin’s honor.
Such motifs, signatures of a dialectical dance of animosity and belligerence on one side, opposed to solidarity and networking on the other side, defined the region as the Autumn of 1939 approached. While the world witnessed blitzkrieg for the first time, when industrial ordnance and delivery systems field-tested in Galician Spain made the attrition of 1916 obsolescent in Galician Ukraine—then part of Poland—Russia out of desperation and Germany out of opportunism made a devil’s bargain.
The Soviets shipped over a million Poles to Siberia. They put comrades and Jewish activists and party members, mainly from Ukraine, in charge of the realm that had threatened to overrun Kiev a mere eighteen years prior to that early Autumn. They fought off and retaliated ruthlessly against Ukrainian nationalists, whether they belonged to one of the chief organizations or were merely independent minded about their identities.
Though everyone with a brain then knew—and how much more so now must a modicum of intelligence make this point clear—that Slavic blood and Teutonic blood would soon spill in a death match between the Communist and Nazi systems, the two sides parlayed both to ‘carve up’ Poland and Finland and the Baltic States and in general to offer to the world the pretense of a conjunction between Capital and What Is To Be Done, on the one hand, and Mein Kampf and International Jewry, on the other hand.
But of course such an alliance was no more real than a fighter’s feint of vulnerability and trusting confidence that invites a killing blow, only to elicit a deadly counterpunch in reply.
War & the Eruption of Unparalleled, Systematic Brutality & Mass-Murder<u></u>
Even before the façade of the Ribbentrop pact came to pieces, in fact, and for years prior to that, the German Abwehr had been organizing Ukrainian nationalists of any stripe as future militias during the battles to come. And as soon as the Nazis turned the German war machine toward Moscow, all these nationalist factions, but especially the OUN, initiated uprising in Ukraine, particularly in the West, an outburst of nationalist frenzy aimed at Jew and Communist Party member alike. The resulting upheaval and desperation and flight of millions of people, as thousands and tens of thousands died, greased the skids for the Germans as the invasion proceeded, at the same time that the Germans rejected the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists goal of a state of their own.
In July, 1941, as the OUN-orchestrated “Ukrainian Revolution” was unfolding along with German military advances, the Nazis detained Bandera and held him as a ‘friendly prisoner’ under house arrest, at first in Berlin and then at a stockade adjacent to a concentration camp for Jews. While he was under lock and key, through 1944, his comrades-in-arms back in the field formed militias to liquidate Poles, Jews, and Communists.
As one commentator pointed out, “The OUN pursued a policy of infiltrating the German police in order to obtain weapons and training for its fighters. In this role they helped the Germans to implement the Final Solution. Although most Jews were actually killed by Germans, the OUN police working for them played a crucial supporting role in the liquidation of 200,000 Jews in Volyn in the second half of 1942(although in isolated cases Ukrainian policemen also helped Jews to escape). Most of these police deserted in the following spring and joined UPA,” a competitor-nationalist force with which the OUN both often disagreed) and occasionally joined to carry out joint operations.
Yet another wrinkle in this already wildly complicated fabric tied together with gut string and bloody sinew was the fate of Ukraine’s and Poland’s Catholics. These adherents to Rome had hated Communist Russia but in Poland, where many of the Galician Ukrainian papists had settled, they had been socially well-placed.
With the arrival of the Soviets, this comfortable placement quite quickly disappeared. Thus, the elderly archbishop of the region and his ‘flock’ initially welcomed the Wehrmacht. But as the hundreds of thousands of victims of pogroms and decimation mounted, as many as half were Catholic.
In a deal worked out with the Vatican, though, this gory situation eased slightly. The Church was to become both a booster of Nazism in the event of good tidings in the war and a safe harbor in the event of defeat. This infuriated many nationalists and of course isolated Catholics from Orthodox and Jews and stained the Papists , willy-nilly, with the blood of the dead who either resisted or had the marks—ideological or religious—that branded them for elimination.
Ukraine at that point had one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe. Indeed, the identification of Judaism with socialism and the Bolshevik victory had deep roots in fascist thinking. Not only did mass slaughter occur when nationalist rebels assisted the Nazis in their efforts at annihilation, however, but, at Babi Yar and Odessa, local sympathizers and bigots also aided Germans in the former case and Romanians in the latter instance to murder as many as 30,000 Jews and Communists in two days outside Kiev and 50,000 Jews and assorted others over the course of a week on the coast in the Fall of 1941.
Some historians maintain that the nationalist thugs helped the Germans to perfect the logistics and organization of these mechanized homicidal operations, which would have seemed admirable, perhaps, were they processing chickens instead of producing human corpses. These collaborators included police officers, the theretofore disfranchised landowners and merchants who had not fled with the White Army when it retreated in defeat, and ‘ordinary’ citizens willing to participate in mass murder in a context that has witnessed at least its fair share of such mayhem. This furious pace of brutal killing did not continue; it could not.
But as Hannah Arrendt recorded in her witnessing of the trial of Adolph Eichman, this viciousness was part of the German policy in ‘the East,’ where the extraction from the population of the maximum product, of wheat and meat, and labor, in the coal mines and metal works, hinged on a practice of terror and brutality that no other period in history has ever surpassed. And these practices of summary execution and arbitrary attacks did persist until relief came.
In the event, some several hundred thousand Jews, mainly Ukrainian, ventured forth with the Red Army in its retreat, many of whom now lie in unmarked graves, others of whom received only leftovers for food and bare or completely inadequate necessities of life as they fled. Conditions were dire, and the enemy was not a benevolent conqueror. The Soviet military capacity could not trade body blows with the world’s second largest industrial producer, nor did liberal conceptions of ‘human rights’ hold sway as the S.S. slit the throats and splattered the brains of whomever they chose to butcher.
In no way had the Soviet retreat abandoned the field of battle, however. In fact, all during the years of German occupation, different bureaus of Russian intelligence ran networks of partisans that made German life ‘at the rear’ as tense and often nearly as dangerous as existence on the frontlines. Soviet-led groups of Jews and other combatants would emerge from the woods and slaughter entire villages that cooperated with the occupying authorities.
They would assassinate or ambush and execute Germans in carefully planned assaults that guaranteed that the Nazis would retaliate massively against the locals. Recruitment to join the underground armies in the trees increased apace.
The life expectancy of these partisans, who included Jews and gypsies and anarchists and peasants as well as more or less dedicated Marxist-Leninists, was never lengthy. Even women would enlist to fight, and they shot and stabbed and punched and played their martial part with as much fervor and deadly effect as their brothers and cousins and other strange men with whom they found themselves embedded.
They fought without hope. They fought without expectation. They gloried in the ability not to expire with a whimper but to exact a cost for each drop of blood that they shed in dying.
But they didn’t have that long to wait, in the scheme of things, despite the terrible toll of even an hour of such horror and oppression. The siege of Stalingrad marked one of humanity’s turning points. For Ukraine, the late Spring and Summer of 1943 would mark another welcome conjunction of Mother Russia and Little Russia. Leading the liberating Red Army divisions was a Ukrainian whom we’ve met earlier, Rodion Malinovsky.
“In February 1943 Malinovsky again took command of the Southern Front – as in 1941. In March Stalin promoted him to the rank of Army General and gave him command of the Southwestern Front, which would later be renamed the 3rd Ukrainian Front. Malinovsky would stay in this position until May 1944. He drove German troops away from eastern Ukraine, an area rich in coal and other mineral resources. He also once again showed his ability to come up with unusual decisions that could be striking and devastating to his opponents. When his Southwestern Front was taking hold of the Ukrainian city of Zaporozhye in October 1943, Rodion Malinovsky carried out a massive night assault with the help of three armies and two corps – it had never been done in military practice before.
As Commander of the 3rd Ukrainian Front he smashed Nazi troops near the towns of Melitopol and Nikopol, crossed the Southern Bug River and liberated his hometown of Odessa. Malinovsky managed to isolate German forces in the Crimean Peninsula from the rest of the enemy’s troops. For these heroic deeds Malinovsky received the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.”
The turnaround changed history. “The annihilation of the Sixth Army, which had conquered Paris and invaded huge areas of Russia, Belorussia and the Ukraine, marked the beginning of the end for Hitler and the start of the Red Army’s advance towards Berlin. ”
But the cost staggers the imagination. Such sacrifice is beyond the ken of most inhabitants of the ‘free world.’ “The colossal total of nearly 27 million Soviet military and civilian dead in the Second World War was more than twice the death toll of all Americans, Britons, Commonwealth, French and even Germans combined.” And a minimum of five-to-six million of this sum were human beings from Ukraine.
In other words, though, the Russian army’s losses amounted to such an extensive bloodletting that only by conscripting hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians could the battle against the Nazis continue. And more than occasionally, Ukrainians proved willing conscripts.
By late Fall, 1944, the final crushing of the Nazi colossus was at hand, with Russian and Ukrainian soldiers leading the way, joined by partisans at each step whose forebears still overwhelmingly loathe Nazism even as prominent and favored minorities, excused by former Soviet allies, will trot out one or another of the Austrian Corporal’s collaborators now and again. Of course, this is precisely what has happened recently in Odessa and the Donbass, even though people in those places still recall Babi Yar and the fall of Berlin both.
Rescuing Nazis & Cold War As an Intended Consequence of ‘Allied’ Victory<u></u>
Western Europeans remember Anzio, Normandy, and the obliterating tonnage of industrial bombing against the German heartland. And these were mighty expressions of the human capacity for war and destruction. But all who study the Second World War will acknowledge that the attrition of the struggle in the East was what defeated Hitler on the battlefield, just as the communist-organized resistance movements—for which Ukraine was one template—slipped a sharp blade between the third and fourth ribs of the Nazi system behind the lines.
One might recoil in horror or nod in wry recognition that, even in the midst of this victory—as Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin planned the postwar order at the Czar’s Winter Palace in Crimea, one of the supreme ironies of all time was coming to pass. This entailed the already mentioned pre-ordained Catholic sanctuaries, which hid top Nazis away from Soviets’ grasp, in conjunction with the British and Americans, who had espionage networks throughout Ukraine and Eastern Europe that were, for the English, decades old.
The spies and Ivy League gentlemen of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, though newer to the territory, showed themselves to be quick studies, with ready access to money and resources that locals found more than modestly attractive after years that saw cannibalism compete with starvation. These three ‘stakeholders’ joined hands, while civilians struggled to stay alive and soldiers still faced imminent death by trauma or disease, to usher from Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe tens of thousands of Nazi leaders, scientists, and functionaries.
Why did this happen? Why did Roosevelt delay bargaining at Yalta, in the Crimea? Why did Truman, who took Roosevelt’s place, abrogate the deals that his predecessor had made there? Why did several hundred thousand Japanese face instant death by incineration, or slow demise from radiation poisoning, or a combination of sudden end and torture from blunt trauma? The answer to all of these queries is the same. The United States’ leaders of finance and industry and politics, even if Churchill’s dream of an eviscerated Soviet Union had not quite come true, intended to rule the roost in the aftermath of some hundred-odd million corpses, and these very tough minded men wanted as little communism to follow in the lee of the decimation as they could arrange.
If skilled actors, who had recently committed genocide and killed U.S. and English citizens and followers of the ‘one true faith,’ could help, so be it. If duplicity and fraud and corruption had to accompany such eventualities of dominance and hegemony, so be it. If, even as the stench of death and decay still rose fresh from mass graves and killing fields, the grounds for the next war had to be made ready, by God, so be it.
In this context, the Marshall Plan was another weapon, psychological in nature, so that starving Ukrainians in 1947 would see the largesse of America. The Cold War was a strategy instigated by the United States, whose key tactic, ‘containment,’ operated on the basis of a nuclear weapons monopoly the overwhelmingly primary purpose of which was to check any notion that Stalin might have had to advance beyond where his soldiers had bled and hacked their way to stand in place.
Harry Truman and his advisers in government and academia and industry, including a few White Russians, had thought such things out. Gar Alperowitz’s Atomic Diplomacy is no longer controvertible in this regard. The circumstantial and direct evidence is overwhelming.
President Truman, “(e)ven before taking over the Presidency, …had given the problem (of maintaining control over Eastern Europe and Asia)considerable thought. In a May 16(1945)discussion with the Secretary of War, he recalled at great length talks he used to have with his friend Senator Elbert Thomas of Utah—’I would point to a map of Europe and trace its breadbasket, with Hungary a cattle country and Rumania and Ukraine as the wheat area” along with plenty of coal on the Donbass border.
One might develop these points at even greater length. The Central Intelligence Agency’s role, the rise of military Keynesianism, the willful promulgation of warfare among war weary people in Ukraine, the support for nationalistic and patriotic visions that inherently promoted the very sorts of relationships that had ended in such a death spiral, these and other points—and uncountable stories and vignettes and incidents as wild and passionate and bizarre as Ukraine itself, might yet be forthcoming.
But I’ll hope, though providing these additional details would be enjoyable and would serve to teach even more what is happening and what is at stake, that we’ve seen enough for now. The links are obvious. Nationalism is not some high-flown sweet ideal; it is one way of looking at things. Russians are Ukrainians and vice versa at least as much as they are their own unique categories of identity.
Communism and social democracy are equally as valid as pretend ‘free-market,’ bourgeois profiteering, and, without a single doubt, these more economically equitable means are quite definitely as popular as ‘naked capitalism’—at least on the part of the Earth’s surface that considers itself Ukrainian. For both of these qualities—one about cultural cohesion, one about social organization, quite a few folks in this part of the world will ‘go to the mat.’
Fascism has never won through democratic means. Its deployment is always violent and cynical. Yet it does serve a purpose for those who would continue to ply their trade and extract a healthy profit. Thus, this devilish deal is once again in front of our eyes.
It has penetrated to the center of things because those who would manage the world according to ideological fantasy and fatuous propaganda, all in order to extract the maximum return on a dollar and maintain the maximum extent of their empire, have decided, along with Victoria Nuland, “Fuck the EU!” In light of what we’ve learned here, does that seem like a sound approach?
In the Nature of Concluding Something
Unlike in the natural sciences, where a lack of involvement can mean that an actor cares little more about uncertainty than about the upshot of the curiosity that impelled a look, in the social sciences an ignorant citizen can quite often desperately need to pay attention and seek answers. Ukraine, in the course of a busy afternoon, could be the source of the elimination of every human being from our fair planet.
Most importantly, the relationships and complications that characterized the past live on. What Faulkner said about the American South applies with especial force in Ukraine. “The past here isn’t dead; it’s not even past.” Today’s developments, whatever manifestations ultimately predominate, can only result from intersections with and contextualization of these past decades that now seem to have passed away and yet remain potently present.
In such a network of intertwined threat and depredation, willful ignorance counts as more than inexcusable, to become, truly, a crime against humanity. Whereas absolute assurance of truth may be ever elusive, those folks who hope for human thriving and survival must seek out honest ideas and information about Ukraine, be willing to discuss these matters fully and openly, and then seek to act with each other to salvage our skins if not our souls.
Big plusses attend thinking in real terms about the past and its connection with the present. For example, one receives a powerful boost in trying to make sense of multiple contemporary strands that might otherwise seem opaque at best. The following cases are illustrative.
- MH-17 is the situation that most troubles people. The recent report about this particular mass murder makes clear that Russians have cooperated fully with the investigation, whereas outside interests—the same ones that arrogated to themselves the right to invade and otherwise terrorize the ‘infant’ Soviet Union, interests then as now well aware of the social pressure points and rich bonanzas attendant on control of Ukrainian space—have neither shared data nor cooperated much with the process; at the least, this should cause a high degree of skepticism about the allegations against Russia that are purposely empty of content.
- Russia’s annexation of Crimea is another obvious point to ponder. This was the home where the crew of the Potemkin rose up not so long ago, led by Ukrainians; the land where one of history’s storied yet little-told heroines, also Ukrainian, sacrificed her life, beside her Ukrainian husband on the gallows, in order to drive off local bourgeois and gentry and support the revolution that Bolsheviks had led; and on and on ad infinitum. The notion that this place, somehow, has a grudge against Russia and would only join under threat or vicious manipulation, is at best absurd.
- The Maidan uprising and its interlaced factors of hidden agendas, Nazi agents, and fiery rhetoric are additional cases in point. If readers do not see the close correspondence, to the point of identity, between these recent events and a past in which a complex dance that involved more mutuality than aversion occurred between Russia and Ukraine, with various other ‘partners’ looking on greedily, then these perusers need to reread what shows up above.
Another, related advantage is that one gets a very powerful bullshit detector. In relation to Ukraine, corporate media have explained all sorts of recent events in ways that are at best nonsensical, given what we know now about the history of the region and how this intertwines with present. Again, a few unfolding developments are instructive.
- Just as a nuanced explication—one that at least recognized the possibility that present conspiracies fit patterns of past racketeering— of what likely transpired with the downed Malaysian jet might be quite satisfying, so too the ‘standard’ mediation of corporate enterprise is laughably inadequate.
- A similar conclusion is possible in relation to Crimea, Sevastopol, and so forth.
- Nor does the overall ‘establishment’ contextualization of the past year or so escape such a critique. The tropes that show up in America’s ‘Paper-of-Record’ or Jeff Bezos’ new plaything in the District of Columbia most clearly exemplify this fatuous and self-serving reportage. While the reporting of England’s press, perhaps particularly the Guardian—full disclosure: I will receive payment for this writing from Guardian Media—is slightly more robust and less biased, particularly the British Broadcasting Corporation comes close to equaling the foolishness on the other side of the Atlantic. One might make similar observations as one proffers about the better English papers and websites about the French, particularly Le Monde, and the German for-profit media.
Finally, one gains, by tying together the five decades that happened half a century ago with the present situation a capacity to think about what might be coming down the pike, so to say. Once again, a couple specific scenarios are useful to examine, even though many other possibilities also exist.
- The first plausible outcome would mirror what has twice come to pass already—world war of the most total variety; such a thought is, to say the least, bracing. The United States is now on track to spend plus-or-minus another trillion dollars in the next decade or so making its present nuclear weapons strike forces even more daunting. Coincidentally, America’s initial choice to wage the world’s first atomic war also had a Crimean connection; Truman’s diaries and other records show his poker-playing strategy—after the Trinity Test replaced with triumphant pride —while he and his staff were meeting at Potsdam, delaying and preparing to renege on agreements with Stalin when the Manhattan project delivered what soon enough came to pass at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
- The second reasonable expectation is that citizens and all of the so-called ‘stakeholders’ will form some sort of critical mass of empowered action to yield a very different result from what World War One or World War Two ‘special-delivered’ to our kind; though this seems to offer a reassuring potential, clearly, this reassurance only adds up to more than fancy if people are willing to give voice to critical thinking and act toward accomplishing an agenda that fits such an intellectual stance, vocalization and critical thought that are only possible in the context of a deeper and more honest explication, particularly regarding history, than folks have thus far shown the willingness to engage.
One further benefit of contemplating the world in the fashion that this narrative does has nothing to do with Ukraine. It concerns the way that media and storytelling and consciousness form an evolving neural capacity in the citizen’s brain, in an observer’s heart, in a reader’s overall awareness.
If we fail to tie things up with a bow and package that includes a past from which all our present problems and prospects spring, then we have truly understood nothing. And isn’t such a narrative aptitude, when we are ‘on our game,’ as it were, just what we normally attempt? Inquiring minds ought very much want to cogitate about this inquiry, if only because thriving and survival these days may require such an orientation.” Jim Hickey, “Context, Conflict, & Historical Consciousness: Pondering the Meaning of Ukraine;” Contributoria, 2014. http://www.contributoria.com/