Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
TWENTY-THREE crowded years have elapsed since Germany's "Ukrainian Adventure" ended in disaster. Time has not altered the aims of conquest. Germany still covets the Ukraine's grain, beet-sugar, cattle, coal and iron; its actual and potential industrial capacity; the oil of the Caucasus; and the command of an important land route to the East. But history has made some conspicuous alterations in the drama staged by the Kaiser in 1918.
Frantically suing for peace in February of 1918, Russia had to abandon her protégée, the Ukrainian Soviet Republic; and the latter could offer much less resistance than the Germans are now encountering from the Soviet Union as a whole. Moreover, although the Germans invaded the Ukraine in 1918 at the invitation of a Ukrainian nationalist government, the influence of the nationalists has not yet become an apparent factor in the current conflict. In 1918 the mass of the Ukrainians were war-weary, indifferent to political questions, concerned only with preserving the gains won in the revolutionary upheavals of 1917. Today a large part of the Ukrainian people is evidently behind the Soviet régime. But the drama is not yet concluded. Will Ukrainian nationalism reappear? Will it sway the people as it did for a time in 1917? Will Ukrainian nationalism, if it arises again, act as a friend or as a foe of the invader?
The development of a distinctive Ukrainian nationalism has always been hampered by the historical, linguistic and religious affinity of the Ukrainians and the Russians. The two peoples were united politically from the ninth century to the thirteenth, when the Tartar invasions sundered them. Most of the Ukraine was again joined to Russia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (only about a tenth of the Ukrainians fell under Austrian rule). During the centuries of their separation, Russians and Ukrainians were aligned, not against each other, but against common enemies -- first the Tartars, then the Poles, under whose domination the Ukraine had come. Linguistically, the Ukrainians and Russians are closely related. Their languages differed little until the Ukrainians fell under Polish influence. Even now, although Ukrainian is officially recognized as a "language" rather than a "dialect," it varies so little from Russian that a literate Ukrainian can learn to speak and read Russian fluently within a few months. Hence, some Ukrainian groups have been easily assimilated into the Great-Russian nationality.
In Tsarist times the process of assimilation -- a barrier to nationalism -- had reached most of the upper classes, almost all of the industrial proletariat and a large part of the city population. Although nine-tenths of the inhabitants of the Ukraine spoke the Ukrainian language, these inhabitants belonged overwhelmingly to the peasant class. Until 1917, however, the peasants manifested far less interest in nationalism than did a small number of men, recruited from the "rural intelligentsia," who had settled in Austrian Galicia. The latter joined with some Ukrainians native to Galicia in working out a body of nationalist doctrines centering around the demand for an autonomous Ukraine within a democratic Russian federation. The reply of the Tsarist Government to Ukrainian nationalism was forced Russification: the suppression of the use of the Ukrainian language in government offices and courts, in the schools, and in the publication of newspapers and of all books except original Ukrainian belles-lettres.
But the nationalist movement was reënforced by the existence of an agrarian problem in the Ukraine which stimulated much unrest among the peasantry. Like the land-holding of peasants everywhere in Tsarist Russia, that of the average Ukrainian peasant was pitifully small. The redemption price for the land allotted to him at the time of the Emancipation was very burdensome. Taxes were high. And methods of cultivation were too primitive to provide him with more than a mere subsistence. The peasant's discontent was aggravated by a linguistic cleavage between him and his immediate economic foes. Of the nobles and city bourgeoisie, the classes which owned most of the large estates coveted by the peasants, three-quarters were Russians or Poles. The same proportion of the petty traders -- symbol to the peasants of the process whereby they sold their grain cheaply and bought their manufactured goods at high prices -- were Jews. The tax-collectors, the judges and the Cossacks used to quell agrarian disturbances were mostly Russians. Economic discontent thus gave rise to national friction, which could be used to further the political and cultural aims of Ukrainian nationalism. After the Revolution of 1905 brought to light the wide extent of agrarian unrest, the largest nationalist group -- the Ukrainian Social Revolutionary Party -- preached the idea that, if the Ukrainians threw off the Russian yoke, the peasants would be able to rid themselves of Russian and Polish landlords, of Jewish traders and Russian bureaucrats; and they assured the peasants that a Ukrainian government would give them all the land. Such practical nationalism caught the peasant fancy; and when Ukrainian nationalism -- organized in a Ukrainian National Council, the Rada -- stepped upon the stage after the overthrow of Tsarism in March 1917, it won the peasants' enthusiastic support.
The Rada, however, failed to turn the land over to the peasants; and when the peasants took matters into their own hands and seized the land, the Rada advised patience and even took steps to suppress the increasing "anarchy." As a result, the peasants refused to fight for the Rada against the Communists, and the Rada had to solicit the aid of the Germans. The latter, after having conquered the Ukraine, ousted the talkative Rada and set up General Paul Skoropadsky -- the largest landlord in the Ukraine -- as Hetman of a puppet state. Skoropadsky's régime, intent on restoring the property expropriated by the peasants, aroused a whirlwind of opposition. Even before the collapse of the German Empire in November 1918, his régime was endangered by numerous peasant revolts. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian nationalists had formed a new government, the Directory, and after the armistice of November 11 they managed to seize Kiev. But the nationalists were too weak and divided to hold the center of the stage. The leading parts were now being played by the Communists, who captured Kiev early in 1919, by the White armies of Generals Denikin and Wrangel, by the peasant anarchists under Nestor Makhno, and by the Entente and its Polish protégée. Under the leadership of Simon Petliura, the nationalist government vainly sought foreign support, while its army disintegrated into a multitude of small bands mainly concerned with driving Jews and Communists out of their own local spheres of action.
After the end of the Civil War, the Communists had to decide whether to ignore Ukrainian nationalism or to make political and cultural concessions to it. The latter course was chosen. One political concession was a constitutional structure which gave the Ukraine a considerable degree of self-government. Although the central organs of the U.S.S.R. exercise wide powers and the Communist Party formulates general policies and supervises political life throughout the Union, the government of the Ukrainian Republic administers such matters as education, social security, agriculture and local light industry. Moreover, an attempt has been made to "Ukrainize" political life, first of all by drawing Ukrainians into the Party and the administration. Whereas in 1921 Ukrainians were a minority in the Party's branch in the Ukraine, ten years later they numbered over three-fifths of its membership. The Party has also attempted to teach large sections of non-Ukrainians the language of the majority and to enforce the use of Ukrainian in public life by government employes and trade-union officials, by army officers and factory administrators, even by store clerks and street-car conductors. Stern measures, including criminal prosecution, were taken to suppress opposition to this policy among some officials.
In the sphere of education and culture, the Bolsheviks have reversed the Tsarist policy of Russification. The Ukrainian language is the medium of instruction in the growing number of educational institutions attended by Ukrainian students; it is taught as a special subject in schools for Russians, Poles, Jews and other minorities within the Ukrainian Republic. While the number of students in colleges and technical schools has increased four-fold since Tsarist times, Ukrainian students in these institutions now outnumber students of other nationalities by six to one. The output of Ukrainian books has risen from six hundred thousand copies in 1914 (when only original Ukrainian belles-lettres were permitted) to well over fifty million copies of original and translated books each year. Ukrainization has also been applied to most of the radio programs, to four-fifths of the newspapers, to all except a few theaters and operas; and the foundations of a Ukrainian film industry have been laid. Meanwhile, the authorities have been seeking to make the population conscious of a Ukrainian culture that is "national in form and socialist in content." They encourage popular songs, folklore, dances, embroidery and pottery. They try to stimulate interest in Ukrainian classical writers who, like the poet Taras Shevchenko, are considered to represent the progressive forces of their day. But while encouraging contemporary novelists, poets, playwrights, painters and composers, the government is vigilant in punishing any nationalist "deviation" in scholarship or literature.
The fostering of Ukrainian culture, some observers believe, tends to intensify national feeling and may some day play into the hands of Ukrainian nationalists. To forestall such a possibility, the Soviet régime has in recent years been giving increased attention to the socialist content of Ukrainian culture. It has been making an effort to imbue the Ukrainians with a "Soviet patriotism" based on devotion to the Soviet Union as a whole. Cultural activities and educational institutions stress the advantages of socialism over capitalism, the historical unity of the Ukrainians and the Russians, the solidarity of the working classes of all nations, the urgency of common action to defend the socialist fatherland against its external foes. This emphasis has been accompanied by efforts to popularize the culture of the Russians and of other nationalities, both Soviet and foreign. The time devoted to the study of the Russian language in Ukrainian schools has been increased in recent years. The Soviet leaders had always desired that the Russian language be mastered sufficiently by the minorities to provide the linguistic integration required in a highly industrialized society, but the stress on Ukrainization led at first to a neglect of the "second language." Now even the graduate of an elementary school is expected to write and speak Russian with ease. It is maintained by émigré nationalists that these attempts to make the Ukrainians bi-lingual and multi-cultured will result in assimilation. Some evidence to support this contention does exist. Many of the thousands of young Ukrainians who have been drawn into the cities by the expansion of industry have shown an inclination to adopt the Russian language, which is still extensively used among the workers and which is the most popular instrument for social intercourse among the different nationalities. Indeed, the strenuous efforts to insure priority to the Ukrainian language have removed one of the major sources of the older Ukrainian antagonism to the Russians, to their language and culture.
But even with the elimination of linguistic and cultural friction, Ukrainian nationalism would still flourish in a soil fertilized by economic discontent. Economically, the picture of the Ukraine under the Soviet régime has always presented strong contrasts of light and shadow. The region has been undergoing rapid industrialization. The annual output of coal, iron ore and steel has increased three-fold since 1914. New industries -- tractor-building and chemicals, for example -- have been established. Electrical power production and transportation have been greatly extended. In the allotment of funds for capital investment throughout the Soviet Union, the Ukraine and other non-Russian sections have been favored. But the standard of living of the rapidly increasing body of industrial workers has frequently suffered from the fact that productive energies were being devoted to the further expansion of capital goods industries and to the provision of war materials. During the First Five-Year Plan living standards declined. From 1933 to 1939, wages rose while consumer's goods increased in quantity and decreased in price. This upward trend was arrested by the intensification of the international crisis at the end of 1939, and a decline in the supply of consumer's goods was accompanied by a lengthening of the working week. These losses for the workers, however, have to be evaluated in the light of the previous gains: steady employment, educational and cultural opportunities, and a real-wage trend that rose hopefully from 1933 to 1939. Moreover, because the proletariat of the Ukraine is either Russian by origin or is undergoing a degree of assimilation, it offers far less fertile ground for the growth of Ukrainian nationalism than does the peasantry.
To satisfy the peasantry has been the most difficult domestic problem facing the Soviet régime. In its early years, the régime antagonized the Ukrainian peasants by attempting to collectivize agriculture and by forced requisitions of their crops. Both of these policies were abandoned in 1921, and the peasants remained in possession of the land acquired during the revolutionary upheaval. But the policy of collectivization was again introduced in 1929. To bring the peasants to consolidate their small strips of land into large farms suitable for mechanization, they were sometimes persuaded, sometimes harried, into surrendering their holdings to the collective farm, from the output of which they would then draw shares in proportion to the quantity -- later changed to the quality -- of the work they performed. Many peasants resisted collectivization. Nationalist propaganda flourished in the villages; and sabotage by the peasants, seconded by severe drought, led to the disastrous famine of 1932-1933. The Soviet authorities dealt harshly with the recalcitrants; they set the poorer peasants against their more prosperous neighbors, and introduced strict control into the villages. These steps, together with such concessions to peasant individualism as the grant of a small plot of land and a few head of livestock for private use, resulted in almost complete collectivization and in raising the agricultural output of the Ukraine considerably above the 1914 level. From 1933 to 1939, moreover, the standard of living of the peasants -- measured in terms of manufactured commodities available in the village stores, and in the expansion of medical, educational and cultural facilities -- rose steadily. The international crisis in 1939 brought with it a decline in the volume of commodities available to the collective-farmers. Possibly this has strengthened the discontented elements which still remain in the villages.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian nationalists who might be expected to organize anti-Soviet sentiment have been severely repressed. Many of the nationalists -- important men like Hrushevsky, Shumsky, Efremov and Nikovsky -- were pardoned after the Civil War and given high positions in the political and cultural life of the country. But on frequent occasions, and especially during the period of intense collectivization, they were charged with active or passive resistance to the Soviet régime. Those accused of overt acts, like Efremov and Nikovsky, were imprisoned or executed; others, like Shumsky and Liubchenko, were disgraced and removed from positions of influence. By 1939 almost none of the formerly well-known nationalists remained in the public eye. This suppression has probably sapped the vigor of the older generation of nationalists, but it may conceivably have left behind a legacy of resentment against the Soviet régime. It is entirely possible that there is still a considerable number of nationalists in the Ukraine, and that they might become the nucleus of a separatist movement. Leadership for a Ukrainian state dominated by Hitler may also be drawn from the ranks of Ukrainians abroad. Skoropadsky himself, for example, has lived in Berlin since the collapse of his puppet régime.
Émigré nationalists returning to the Ukraine in Hitler's baggage-train would find many changes in their homeland. Large sections of the Ukrainian population have been bound more firmly to the Russians by cultural assimilation, by industrialization and urbanization, by the inculcation of Communist doctrines and Soviet patriotism, and by the abandonment of forced Ukrainization. Even in the rural areas a large part of the population probably prefers Communism to the alternative of German Fascism. On the other hand, Soviet policy has heightened the cultural consciousness of many Ukrainians, which, together with opposition to Soviet political and economic policies, may provide many potential supporters for an anti-Soviet régime. But if a German-dominated government humiliates the national feeling and violates the economic interests of the Ukrainians, the new cultural consciousness may become a powerful weapon turned against the conqueror.