The Origins of Ukrainian Nationalism, Part I

The Origins of Ukrainian Nationalism, Part I




In no way can a brief article do any justice to a complex idea like the Ukrainian nation. While this author has dedicated his academic life to these and related topics, its poor treatment in the press and distortion by certain emigre circles calls for a certain clarification. One that will no doubt please no one. However, this article purports to be nothing but a scattered set of ideas on a colossal topic penetrated by only a few.

National movements develop a scheme of history. Historical schools in the last two centuries have differed on what form of organization is the prime mover in history: national, urban, or civilizational, or economic. National histories have chosen among them to construct the best narrative. Of course, all histories do this, as the pure “abstract theorist” of fantasy does not exist anywhere.

The specific Ukrainian idea historically is worthwhile. It begins at Kievan Rus (really before that, with a Slavic civilization going far back in time) and does not veer off into Suzdal or Moscow. Rather, the powerful, but short-lived, state of Galicia was far superior as an example. Perfectly situated on Central European trading routes and blessed with endless salt marshes, the constant and usually violent confrontations between noble and crown led to a fairly balanced system. Two monarchs in particular, Roman and Daniel, ruling during the High Middle Ages, brought Galicia to the height of its power.

Suzdal was seen as a foreign state of Finns and northern tribes including Lapps and Permians which sacked Kiev under the prince of Vladimir, Andrei, in 1169. Andrei, nicknamed “Bogolyubsky,” was half Cuman (the Cuman were a Turkic tribe and a long-time enemy of the Slavs) though his mother. Instead, the Ukrainian idea is slowly absorbed into Lithuania, which had called itself the gatherer of Rus before Moscow did. Tver had called itself the Third Rome before Moscow, and some have argued that Novgorod, Suzdal, and even Ohrida claimed that title.

From the fall of the Galician state under the Mongols to the concomitant growth of Rus-Lithuania, gradual Polonization led to the creation of the Uniat, or “Greek Catholic” church, a symbol of colonial rule that attracted the ire of the Cossacks. The Cossack host is normally seen in the early modern era as having two sides: the first, the Hetmanate, or those groups fighting Polish or Turkish forces in that part of Ukraine and the Sich (or fortress) Cossacks at Zaporozhya. The latter had a tendency to be very populist, while the former was split between pro-Russian and pro-Polish wings (see below).

The broader point is that the idea of Kievan Rus and that of Moscow have little in common. The Ukrainian view, of both Orthodox and Uniat backgrounds, is that Kiev is best represented by the royal state of Galicia under Roman and Daniel, and then the decentralized Russian state of Lithuania, where the overwhelming majority of its population was Russian and Orthodox. Only after the Treaty of Lublin (1569) did Poland slowly absorb the Lithuanian elements as the Russian nobility fled to Moscow’s territory.

For historians such as Mykola Kostamarov in the 19th century to Mikhail Hrushevsky and Petro Doroshenko in the 20th, that approach has been dominant. The argument is that there is no quick transfer of the crown from Kiev to Suzdal to Moscow. That scheme of history, formalized in the 19th century by Katkov and even earlier by Karamazin, is still worthwhile and contains some truth, but it suffers by refusing to take Russian-Lithuania into account. Only in understanding, however vaguely, that scheme of history does the Ukrainian nationalist movement make any sense.

Two Ukraines, Two Hetmans

Two figures, distant from one another in time although bearing the same title, serve to show the problematic aspects of Ukrainian nationalism and the eternal question of Ukraine’s orientation. Pavel Teterya, Cossack Hetman (monarch, war leader) of Polish Ukraine (that is, the Right Bank) died circa 1670. He was condemned by many, possibility a majority of Ukrainians at the time, for a pro-Polish outlook based on a strongly aristocratic political orientation. The Ukrainian idea for him was western, European and can become a part of a federated structure with other ethnic groups including Poland. Ukraine was for Teterya and many like him, an integral part of Central, not Eastern Europe.

Another Hetman, Pavel Skoropadsky (the name is of ancient Ukrainian-Lithuanian background. He was related to the earlier Hetman of Ukraine Ivan I Skoropadsky), came to power just as Germany was signing the Versailles treaty. He is condemned equally with Teterya, but due to a pro-Russian, rather than a pro-western, stance. Neither man can be considered anti-Ukrainian in the least, but the means to ensure independence and cultural flourishing were very different. Both realized that Ukraine was too exposed to both east and west to ever be “independent.”

Teterya believed in a strong Ukrainian, Cossack nobility modeled on the Confederations within the Polish Senate. Seeking a cohesive elite, the preservation of noble and church property were essential for the maintenance of some kind of autonomy. Since a totally free independence was out of the question in the 1660s, Teterya sought a confederation of equality with Poland and Lithuania based on the Treaty of Hadiach (1658), negotiated by his predecessor, Ivan Vyhovsky.

This treaty, never made into law, described a political vision with Ukraine in a confederate union with Poland and Lithuania on the following conditions: that Orthodoxy and Catholicism be legally equal, that Polish and Jewish colonists be expelled, that Cossack nobles have the same rights as Polish ones, and that the Hetman be an office of strength, one that can quickly react to any vitiation of the agreement. This was accepted by Poland and the pro-western faction of Cossacks. The Russian invasion and the consequent Treaty of Andrusovo (1667) put an end to that, as this Treaty divided Ukraine into Polish and Russian halves.

Russian agents spread the world that Teterya’s consultation with the Poles means that he wanted the Polish oligarchical system of “government” to be imposed on all Ukraine. They spread rumors that he had converted to Catholicism, which at the time was the same as to cease being Ukrainian. Most of his career was spent fending off rebellion and invasion from all sides, and he died a broken, miserable man. Even the date of his death is uncertain.

The Reds having briefly taken most of Ukraine by 1918, were overthrown by Pavel Skoropadsky (died 1945) who then ruled Ukraine as Hetman for a short time after World War I. German forces, brought into Ukraine due to Lenin’s signing of Brest-Litovsk Treaty (1918), approved the coup and offered limited support to the Hetman. The problem was that neither Bolsheviks nor the “western” camp in Ukraine were satisfied.

In war torn Ukraine, suffering from total dislocation, chaos, warfare and death, Skoropadsky put Ukraine on a solid, independent footing. A former officer in the tsarist army, he mixed the best of Russian, German and Ukrainian traditions in government. Every Ukrainian family under the Hetman was guaranteed 25 acres as a minimum, which was inalienable. This land could not be taken away as debt repayment.

He created a peasant land bank that permitted peasants to buy land at subsidized rates. He created a firm monetary regime that was accepted throughout the nation for the first time. He massively increased education at all levels and created a brand new police force for the collection of taxes. Given the chaos of the age, the state under the previous Rada (that is, Council or parliament) failed to project power outside of Kiev. Skoropadsky realized that, in order for the country to survive, he needed a strong state, a rational army on the Russian model, and a navy. He succeeded on all counts.

His policies were so successful that he was able to loan the White Army of General Denikin 10 million rubles and, at the same time, finance the newly independent state of Georgia. Ukraine was totally self-sufficient in food, and exported a full 35% of the total harvest in 1918. The most impressive achievement of all is that the Hetman did this only between April and December of 1918. Such clear political genius created for him numerous enemies.

Ukrainian “nationalists,” in league with both Poland and Lenin, overthrew Skoropadsky near the end of 1918, forcing him to flee to Germany. Ukraine was then governed by the ineffectual Directory, modeled after the French Revolutionary council of the same name, making the country ripe for the Red takeover. Since Symon Petliura (died 1926), the head of this “nationalist” government, refused to fight with the White forces, he went to Poland for military assistance. This absurd alliance was rejected by nearly all, since Poland had made it clear that it sought to annex much of Ukraine to itself. However, for a brief time, Poland and Petliura had defeated both Whites and Reds during what is sometimes called the Polish-Soviet War that lasted from 1919 to 1921.

Petliura was a member of the “Poltava” Masonic organization, as were several of the major Ukrainian nationalists in the 19th and early 20th century. This was also the organization that initially gave birth to the elite Decembrist movement. It is not, however, fair to conclude from this that Petliura was in any way “illumined” but that he was a member and recruited within its ranks.

Petliura, a Mason and ostensible Ukrainian nationalist, cooperated with the Poles against the Reds, and cooperated with the Reds against Skoropadsky, a policy almost designed to destroy the strong foundation for independence the previous ruler had skillfully laid. These “nationalists” ensured the genocide of Ukraine that both the Poles and Reds would unleash.

The Directory was split between Petliura’s “republican” faction and V. Vinnychenko’s “communist” faction. Like Stepan Bandera, Petliura was a “social nationalist,” believing in a “labor Ukraine” that is governed by both workers and peasants. The real problem was poverty: Petliura held that the present, war torn condition of Ukraine was a breeding ground for opportunism. This means that the poor, the war-weary, and the exhausted will accept any government promising some level of stability. That was not the role either the Rada or Directory was able to play. Only two factions were capable of this: Skoropadsky or the Bolsheviks.

The narrative above summarizes much about Ukrainian life. The Teterya movement was western, aristocratic, and pro-Polish. Other major figures promoting this view were Hetmans Ivan Vyhovsky and Ivan Mazepa. This is the proverbial “western” approach of Ukrainian nationalists. Petliura was clearly in this camp as well, as were most Ukrainian Masons.

The other faction is represented by Gogol and Skoropadsky. Hetmans such as Damian Mnohohrishny (d. 1703) or Ivan Briukhovetsky (d.1688) were pro-Russian, but did not accept any form of direct rule from Moscow. Neither faction wanted anything other than an autonomous or (later) independent Ukraine, but the question was the source of identity and the means for its achievement.

Ivan Franko

The era of Skoropadsky came on the heels of Ivan Franko’s death in 1916. Franko was one of the more interesting figures in the Ukrainian nationalist movement in the early 20th century. Constantly reassessing the nature of the state, Franko made arguments for a national form of state socialism while, in other contexts, direct condemnations of the state in general. The state, at its worst, is an unfairly privileged institution which enshrines political and economic inequality as the “common good.”

He accepted Marxism on four specific points: that dialectics, rather than linear logic, is the best way to understand the social nature of logic. The dialectical method, almost always misunderstood and mangled, is the constant interplay of the ideal and its physical manifestation. In other words, any ideal of the nation is constantly being contrasted to the daily grind of social or civic life. Movement is then the perception of the gap between the two.

Secondly, he accepted Marx’s concept of surplus value. There are two ways to view this: the first is that the act of production has to produce more value that it took to make the product. The surplus value is then what is absolutely required in order to a) replace and maintain capital and b) provide a profit for the capitalist. The profit for the owner of capital is the second element of surplus value. The two both require surplus value, but their social distinctions are very clear. The productivity of labor and its manifestation in wages is another example of how dialectical logic is superior to its Anglo-American linear and bourgeois competitor. Its significance is that, given the massive increases in productivity then and now, man need only work a few hours a week to ensure all basic needs are met.

Third, that history can be understood as being set in motion by changes in the means of production. As those profiting from capital continually use labor to better increase production in both quality and quantity, technology changes. History is then this dialectical adjustment among labor, technology, and the classes that benefit from both.

Finally, he accepted the idea of labor as the sole source of value, something uniting both Locke and Marx.

He rejected Marx on the questions of materialism, the domination of the state and, finally, the fact that centralization of capital has not occurred. Small business has not been destroyed in the west the way Marx had predicted. Franko held that civilization can never be reduced to matter in motion. Thought, social exchange, symbolism, ideals and hopes for the future are not produced by material things. These goods are in fact, not material at all.

Marx was useful, but since he rejected the importance of ethnic ties, he was ultimately rejected. The broader point is that any true nationalism, being based on solidarity, cannot then enshrine competition in economics. For Franko, capitalism was based on three things: the demand of capital for labor at the lowest possible price, to buy raw materials and other necessaries at the lowest possible price, and finally, to sell the product to the public at the highest possible price.

The modern state, however, is different from government. It is not based on solidarity, but comes into existence through force. This force is that of the wealthier elements of the population using their private security as “government.” The modern state is a machine that cannot command loyalty. The ethnic group, the folk certainly can, but the relations between the folk and the state are normally in opposition. Later in his career, Franko would reject anarchism because the human race had been too brutalized by the machine. Self-government and the capitalist division of labor were not only incommensurable, but polar opposites.

Franko’s view was that independence is a necessity for both solidarity and economic reform. Colonialism was a problem in part because it automatically condemned the profits from labor in the country to be shipped out of it. Colonization made no sense unless the colonizer was getting something out of it. For Franko, the colonization of the poorer by the richer was justified by progress and Social Darwinism. The only thing now included in this concept of progress was moral progress.

Franko’s view of history was progressive, but a progress based on moral liberty. Economic development is one thing, but if it does not lead to the emancipation from labor (or at least drudgery), then it is not worthwhile. Progress itself is ambiguous as it has opposing effects on specific human peoples and places. The division of labor, which is main driving force of development, together with the disparity of strength, character and abilities creates and exacerbates inequality among people. Like most nationalists, Franko argues that national belonging must be based on some sort of substantial equality. Nothing can justify the rule of a small handful of rich people and millions of the exploited poor.

Franko’s understanding of history is the growth process of human free activities to expand the limits of the possible. However, man is not abstract: this liberation from necessity and drudgery is also mostly at the level of families and communities, not individuals.

It is essential that defining community through which people able to exercise their pursuit of happiness, Ivan Franko emphasizes the nation as an integral organic and natural part of the historical process. Franko could not be clearer in his book, Beyond the Limits of the Possible:

Anything that goes beyond the frame of the nation is either hypocrisy from people of internationalized ideals which serve to provide cover for ethnic domination of one nation over another. Either that, or a sickly sentimentalism and fiction that could only serve to express one’s alienation from his own people.

The left is failing, so Franko argued, because it has nothing but economic demands to hold society together. This is completely insufficient. The nation is “a natural expression of the soul.” In this sense, the nation is an essential part of one’s individual makeup. Without it, mass society develops: a gaggle of undifferentiated, mostly superfluous “voters” and “consumers.” Each person is responsible for changing himself away from the mass, it’s just that the mass is much easier: there is no freedom or identity to live up to. The nation is as much subjective as objective. He rejected anything that turned man into a machine, which is what he saw modernity doing.

The “savage” is the moral superior of the “Enlightened” English colonialist, since the Enlightenment itself came from England’s exploitation of much of the world. Progress is hence dependent on colonialism, the factory system and the ideology of materialism that turns man into a machine. The problem with Darwin was that freedom is nowhere to be found. The world is a mechanized unit. Therefore, in the human world, there must be something that does not evolve, namely our consciousness and freedom. Franko’s atheism (which waxed and waned throughout his career) was not compatible with the mechanism of Darwin’s theory. For him, the dialectic of freedom and necessity in nature always tormented his work and never found a solution.

Even worse, Franko found no home on either the “right” or the “left” in Ukraine’s complex politics of the early 20th century. As Petliura and Vinnychenko never resolved their differences, Franko’s loathing of the left was based on the fact that they rejected the nation. What sort of society could be based merely on economic self-interest? After all, that’s all socialism was claiming. Without the “national,” the “socialist” is vapid, empty economism.

Since Franko was a socialist and atheist, the Orthodox or ethnic “right” had no interest in him. Since he believed in ethnic solidarity and moral regeneration, the “left” offered nothing to him either. As a secular man, Franko remains in the minority among Ukrainian nationalists, but his poetry and prose electrified activists regardless.


This entry was posted in Civic Responsibility, Inter-Nationalism, Social Criticism, Traditions, Western Culture, White Nationalism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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