Continuing my series, based on this piece in VZGLIAD by reporter Dmitry Lyskov, concerning the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917-1918. As I mentioned yesterday, Lyskov’s piece is written as a historical debate with this particular textbook of Ukrainian history. I have been laying out the POV of the textbook first, and then I will get to Lyskov’s corrections eventually.
We left off on an exciting cliffhanger: What, oh what, shall the intrepid Rada do, when confronted with brutal threats of the Soviet of Peoples Commissars?
So, there was a “legitimate” (according to the textbook) Ukrainian government in place, established in early April 1917, based on the All-Ukrainian Rada (AUR), and headed by renowned Ukrainian historian Mikhail Grushevsky.
A few months later, after the Bolshevik Party came to head the new Soviet-based government in Russia (starting in October, 1917), the Bolshies insisted that the Ukraine follow suit, by dispersing the Rada and switching governmental authority to the Ukrainian Soviets. Which would not have done the Bolshies much good, anyhow, since the Ukrainian Bolshevik delegates were unable to pull a majority of votes even within the Ukrainian Soviets, let alone the Rada.
The Soviet of Peoples Commissars in Moscow then sent a threatening telegram to the Rada, presumably in Morse code, demanding that they support the Soviet war effort: “Stop trying to disarm our revolutionary soldiers. Stop. Stop trying to meet up with Ataman Kaledin on the Don River. Stop. You have 48 hours to comply. Stop whatever you are doing. Full Stop.”
The uncowed Rada refused to comply with the threatening terms of the telegram: “Bring it. Stop. You’re bluffing! Stop threatening us. Stop! Full stop.” But this was no bluff: The war was on. Soviet troops quickly entered Kharkov in January 1918. Where they met up with those Bolshevik delegates to the Congress of Ukrainian Soviets, you remember those guys, they had left the Congress in a huff when they couldn’t muster enough votes to pass their resolutions. But these disgruntled ex-delegates now had something way better than voting slips: They had an army! Hurrah!
Quickly convening a new Soviet Congress, in which they now (miraculously) enjoyed a majority, the Bolshevik delegates proclaimed the Ukraine to be a Soviet Republic. Which meant, in practice, that the Rada would be dispersed, and that all governmental functions would switch to the Soviets. And this, by the way, is the meaning of that much-bandied phrase “All power to the Soviets.” In Russian, the word for “power” is indeed “vlast”, but that same word “vlast” has a more mundane meaning, as the informal term for “government”. Instead of translating as “switching government to the Soviets” which is the correct translation but sounds too gentle, Westie historians generally translate the slogan as “All POWER to the Soviets”, which sounds more violent. I have posted about this translation issue before, particularly in regard to Lenin’s April Theses here: Part I and Part II.
Lenin’s genius consisted in the notion that, maybe just maybe, even in that Darwinian era, Russia should be allowed to “skip over certain phases” of development. And this concept, for anti-Trotskyites out there, is exactly the same as Trotsky’s “Theory of Permanent Revolution”, which Trotsky didn’t actually invent, but stole from Lenin! Permanent Revolution doesn’t mean “Hmm… let’s take a look at ye olde Calendar: Monday, revolution; Tuesday, revolution; Wednesday, revolution, etc etc, every day a new revolution”. It means, simply: Let’s please skip over the phase in which we socialists are forced to bow and scrape to Kerensky, because we want him to be more like Robespierre!
And, Dear Readers, I personally have sworn that if I accomplish nothing else in my sorry life, I will die content if I can get historians to stop translating above phrase as “All Power to the Soviets” and start translating as “Switch government functions to the Soviets“. But what do “governmental functions” mean, you ask? Well, everything that a government does: Run the ministries, run the police and army, conduct foreign policy, build schools and hospitals for the people, make sure the garbage is picked up at least once a week, etc etc. And who runs a government? Well, either a coalition of political parties, or a single party, usually.
But I digress. So, returning to our Ukrainian situation, where we left off, the Bolsheviks had decided to resolve certain political issues the old-fashioned way: With boots on the ground. So, Soviet soldiers, having conquered Kharkov, continued on with their blitzkrieg and marched into Kiev (January 26). Thus putting an end to the Rada, as well as (sob! sniff!) Ukrainian hopes for independence as a social-democratic state.
Next: The Devil is in the Details…
[to be continued]