27 July 2017

Narodniki against nationalism, 1920

The leadership of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party; Avksent’ev at centre

Here is an excerpt from a document from the agrarian-populist Socialist-Revolutionary Party coauthored by the Blessed Martyr Ilya (Fondaminsky), writing under his nom de guerre Bunakov – along with his fellow Party members Nikolai Avksent’ev, Andrei Argunov, Osip Minor, Evgeny Rogovsky, Vadim Rudnev, Mark Vishnyak and Vladimir Zenzinov, on the subject of Ukrainian nationalist separatism in the year 1920:
Plainly enough, these politics [of Ukrainian separatism], raised to the degree of a system which is nothing less than a continuous treason to the interests of the large masses of the population, are comprehensible and easily understood. What then is the social basis of the separatists and upon which class is the Ukrainian Directory leaning at present?

Most certainly, and above all, it is not leaning upon the workmen. For the working-class population of the Ukraine is almost wholly Russian and is a resolute opponent of separation… The representatives of the workers in the Municipalities and in the deputies’ councils have shown themselves very hostile towards the separatists. These latter were, in fact, compelled to admit that in the Municipalities they could obtain only minorities and that in the big industrial centres they formed only insignificant minorities.

[The separatists] point to the peasantry. But this peasant class has not been able even once to express its opinion upon the question of the separation of the Ukraine. Should the opportunity ever be given to it, the peasant class of the Ukraine will not place itself in opposition to the peasantry of Great Russia. Each of them is united to the other by an historic community of interest, œconomic ties, a similar civilisation and a unity of religion

The nucleus of this [separatist] group is composed of a handful of intellectuals, of small merchants and manufacturers and of officials, to whom the prospect of the transformation of the Ukraine into an independent State holds out advantages of power, even if it has to be established at the price of a nationalist dictatorship of privileged classes

Of all the manifestations of chauvinism the most savage ones came to the fore during the short tenures of power held by these ‘separatists’. Such, for instance, were the prohibition of the publication of Russian periodicals; the interdiction against the Russian signs; the suppression of the use of the Russian language in the few branches of the administration where service could be maintained satisfactorily by Ukrainians themselves, such as the railroads, the post and telegraph; the constant propaganda that the idea of a federative union with Russia carries with it treason to the State; and finally the
pogroms against the Jews, the butchery of their entire populations in the cities and the unheard-of cruelties perpetrated upon them, of which no other government, throughout the course of the Revolution, could be justly accused,—neither the Provisional Government, nor the Bolshevist, nor the Ufa Directory, nor the Governments of Kolchak and Denikine.

How do the representatives of an independent Ukraine explain to us the fact that theirs is the only government during the Revolution that has been splashing in the blood of tens of thousands of Jews, victims of
pogroms? What have they to say to the fact that their rule could not maintain itself for one day without the aid of foreign bayonets, first German bayonets and later Galician bayonets, brought into the Ukraine from across the frontiers and, finally, why is it that in their government there was not a single representative of the Socialists, one not tainted with separatism, who could truly represent the working masses of the Ukraine?

The reply is clear and simple. The separatists are not leaning upon the masses of the people, and their aims are only the aims of a minority. The entire population of the Ukraine has never expressed its will through a free vote, save under the pressure of foreign bayonets, and has never manifested a desire to separate itself from Russia and to create an independent state. The demands of the extreme Ukrainian nationalists, the partizans of nationalistic dictatorship, cannot therefore be recognised by the workers’ Internationale.
For a bit of context, here: Blessed Martyr Ilya is writing this from an agrarian standpoint opposed to Lenin, in the wake of a revolution he opposed; he is very much cognisant of the uses to which the Russian peasantry were being put, against their own interests. But even at this moment of Bolshevist triumph and ascendancy, Saint Ilya and his fellows were already sensitive to the backlash, to the propensity of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie to align themselves with the very ugliest political tendencies of the race-nationalist right: linguistic repressions, political litmus tests, demands for ever-greater expressions of loyalty to the ethno-state, and especially brutal violence and race-hatred against Jews. Bear in mind: Blessed Martyr Ilya would go to his death denouncing the Nazis and aiding Jews – a political act for which he and his fellow-martyrs of Paris would be arrested. After having confessed Orthodox Christianity, he chose to stay with his fellow Jews rather than fleeing Nazi-occupied France, even though it meant death in a concentration camp. But in 1920, the solution advocated by Blessed Martyr Ilya and his fellows in the Socialist-Revolutionary Party to the woes of the Ukraine at the time, was the same one Solzhenitsyn himself would advocate fifty, sixty and seventy years later: a single but devolved and federated state for both Russians and Ukrainians, to be arrived at by free referenda held at the local level.

Sadly, neither Bunakov’s voice, nor Solzhenitsyn’s, would be heeded by the breakaway states which succeeded the Soviets, or indeed by the West. Only Putin listened to Solzhenitsyn, and even then, in the end it does not seem to have done much good. Blood is still being shed there. I pray, for all involved, that that same history will not repeat itself again.

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