The Third International after Lenin

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How communists saw Ukrainian struggle for national rights before World War II

Why Trotsky Called For Independent Ukraine In 1939 


The Albanian struggle for self-determination in Kosova is at the center of the current conflict in Yugoslavia. Brutal suppression of this democratic demand by the bureaucratic regime in Belgrade has led to growing resistance among the Albanians and opened the door for imperialist intervention.

Apologists for the Belgrade government, such as the Workers World newspaper, dismiss the fight for national rights by the Albanians as promoting "national antagonisms in Yugoslavia." They describe those fighting for independence as a U.S.-backed "counter-revolutionary separatist guerrilla insurgency."

In 1939 Communist leader Leon Trotsky took up a similar problem involving the Ukraine in an April 22 article titled "The Ukrainian Question." He elaborated further on this question in reply to a "Marxist" who criticized his earlier document for ignoring the interests of the Soviet Union in a July 22 article called "Independence of the Ukraine and Sectarian Muddleheads." The articles can be found in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1938-39) and Writings of Leon Trotsky (1939-40).

On the eve of the imperialist slaughter of World War II, Trotsky called for "A united, free, and independent workers' and peasants' Soviet Ukraine." He drew on the policies advanced by the Bolsheviks under the leadership of V.I. Lenin, the central leader of the Russian revolution. Lenin insisted on establishing the Soviet Union as a voluntary federation of workers and farmers republics, guaranteeing the rights of national self-determination to all nations and nationalities oppressed under the old czarist empire in Russia.

"Every inclination to evade or postpone the problem of an oppressed nationality," Trotsky wrote, was regarded by Lenin as "a manifestation of Great Russian chauvinism."

Joseph Stalin, who "represented the most centralist and bureaucratic tendency," led the course of reversing the Bolsheviks' policy on national self-determination and voluntary federation, a course that prevailed following Lenin's death. The "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" reemerged as a prison house of nations inherited from tsarism and imperialism. In order to serve the interests of the privileged layer that usurped power in the Soviet Union, the regime of Stalin denied the most legitimate claims of the oppressed nationalities, especially the Georgians and Ukrainians.

"To the totalitarian bureaucracy, Soviet Ukraine became an administrative division of an economic unit and a military base of the USSR," Trotsky explained. The privileged caste strangled and plundered the workers and peasants of the Ukraine, depriving them of any opportunity to express their will.

Under these conditions, "the great masses of the Ukrainian people are dissatisfied with their national fate and wish to change it drastically," said Trotsky. He pointed to the development of separatist tendencies among the Ukrainian people and their hostility to the Soviet bureaucracy. "One of the primary sources of this hostility is the suppression of Ukrainian independence," he noted.

The Ukrainian struggle for national rights exploded in 1917-1919. One of the groups that expressed these nationalist tendencies on the left was the Ukrainian Borotba (Struggle) Party. Convinced that the Bolshevik revolution offered the way forward for workers and peasants of the Ukraine, the Borotba Party merged with the Ukrainian Communist Party in 1920. "The most important indication of the success of the Leninist policy in the Ukraine was the fusion of the Ukrainian Bolshevik Party with the organization of the Borotbists," said Trotsky.

In the late 1920s Borotbists were driven out of leadership as the emerging bureaucratic caste consolidated its domination over the USSR workers state and gutted soviet democracy. Most of the Borotbists were killed by the Stalinist murder machine in the 1930s. "Nowhere did the purges and repressions assume such a savage character as they did in the Ukraine," Trotsky stated.

It was the reactionary policies of the Stalinists that shifted the leadership of the Ukrainian national movement to "the most reactionary Ukrainian cliques who express their `nationalism' by seeking to sell the Ukrainian people to one imperialism or another in return for a promise of fictitious independence," Trotsky explained. This pushed the Ukrainian petty-bourgeoisie and even layers of the working-class masses toward the imperialist camp.

Trotsky called for a political revolution to overthrow the Soviet bureaucracy, while preserving the nationalized property relations made possible by the revolutionary victory of 1917. Sweeping away the Bonapartist caste is a central task of the workers and peasants and key to the defense of the workers state. Trotsky declared the USSR "doomed" under the rule of the Stalinist regime - a statement born out by events in the early 1990s with the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe.

Far from militarily weakening the Soviet workers state, as "the `friends' of the Kremlin will howl in horror," said Trotsky, "an independent Ukraine ... would become, if only by virtue of its own interests, a mighty southwestern bulwark of the USSR."

The fight for self-determination of the oppressed is intertwined with advancing the interests of workers and farmers the world over; without this policy no revolutionary victory of the toilers is possible.

"There is every reason to assume that in the event of the triumph of the world revolution the tendencies toward unity will immediately acquire enormous force, and that all Soviet republics will find the suitable forms of ties and collaboration. This goal will be achieved only provided the old and compulsory ties, and in consequences old boundaries, are completely destroyed," Trotsky asserted. "To speed and facilitate this process, to make possible the genuine brotherhood of the peoples in the future, the advanced workers of Great Russia must... without any reservation declare to the Ukrainian people that they are ready to support with all their might the slogan of an independent Ukraine in a joint struggle against the autocratic bureaucracy and against imperialism."

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