Continuing my series, based on this piece in VZGLIAD by reporter Dmitry Lyskov, concerning the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917-1918. Lyskov has paraphrased the account of that one crucial year of history as described in this Ukrainian textbook. The events narrated obviously bring into question the legitimacy of the new Soviet-based government in the Ukraine, implying that it took over the government violently, on the boots of soldiers, whilst ousting the legitimate Rada-based government of Mikhail Grushevsky.
“And so,” writes Lyskov, “before us lies a beautiful picture of the formation of Ukrainian statehood, in which the democratically representative organs of the government, relying on the support of the people, attempted to conduct a nationality-based politics, but received an ultimatum out of Petrograd and fell victims of military aggression.”
In the next section, entitled “The Devil is in the Details”, Lyskov makes a few tiny corrections to that account. To better understand this debate, one can see it, simplistically, as a match of two teams: Team Rada vs. Team Soviet.
For starters, Lyskov points out, the decision to organize the Central Rada (and remember that the original organizers were Ukrainian socialists) was not exactly the same thing as the process of actually electing that Rada. Mikhail Grushevsky understood that point perfectly well. During his speech at the All-Ukrainian National Congress (which was convened to elect the Rada), Grushevsky attempted to impart the aura of a “national government” to the Rada, but with an important caveat. In his article “Everybody to the National Congress”, Grushevsky called for the active participation of representatives “of all regions and towns of our national territory, who stand on the Ukrainian political platform.” In other words, he was already pre-determining which political views and parties would be acceptable in the new Rada. With the implication that others, such as those holding non-pro-Ukrainian type views, would be excluded.
Well, we all know, from personal experience, that he who organizes any new endeavour, is going to set the tone of it, and even pick who gets to be involved. And this is true, whether we are talking about a Soccer-Mom club in your local town, or a national political movement. Usually there are a few insiders calling the shots. Same deal here: Grushevsky was calling most of the shots, and laying down his own political views as a prerequisite for participation. His own political views, just to review, being actually quite reasonable, consisting of a moderate Ukrainian patriotism, mingled with democratic-socialism, and a call for Ukrainian autonomy within a democratically-revived Russian Federation. Nothing so horrible there, except that he meant to exclude those who did not share the same views.
Hence, in its newspaper “Nova Rada”, the Rada laid out the criteria for which delegates got to attend the Congress: “All political-minded, cultured, professional, territorial Ukrainian organizations, who support the demand for the broad national-territorial autonomy of the Ukraine and for the fullness of Ukrainian political and cultural life.”
So, which “organizations” was Grushevsky talking about? He explained his own norms thusly: “From every ten Ukrainian-type organizations, people can send one representative to the Congress.” By “Ukrainian organizations” he meant, basically, hobby-clubs of Ukrainian “enthusiasts”, what people now derogatorily call “svidomites”. [For example, in addition to regular political activists, this could also include a club of people who engage in traditional crafts, or embroider blouses, or enjoy ethnic recipes, etc.]
Even the tiniest hobby club or political circle, consisting, say, of 10 people, thus had the right to send one-tenth of a delegate to the Ukrainian National Congress. Is this truly democratic? No. Because it was set up in advance to be a Congress of mini-me Grushevskies. And it was this Congress, not the vast Ukrainian “people”, who elected the Rada! Hence, the Rada’s protestations that it represented the whole of the Ukrainian people, were somewhat exaggerated.
Ukrainian historiography, according to Lyskov, likes to pretend that the Rada was formed in a kind of political vacuum. The naive reader is led to believe that the entire year of 1917 in the Ukraine revolved around this blessed Rada, and that everybody supported it. But Grushevsky’s own writings show that his Rada did not enjoy universal support. He wrote: “Over the heads of our Kiev enemies and slanderers, it was necessary for us to prove, not only to the Provisional Government [of Kerensky], but also to the entire Russian society, that our demands enjoy the support of the people; and that the people are waiting impatiently for them to be met…”
Hence, Grushevsky had enemies and slanderers, even in Kiev, with whom he must engage in battle!
Around this time, the Provisional Government officially ruled Russia. And this same Russian government continued to “rule” Ukraine via an appointed Governor, actually a Commissariat, to which both civilian and military organs were subordinate. Parallel to this “official” government, there was a second, competing government, consisting of the councils (soviets) of workers and soldiers deputies. By October 1917, the Bolshevik Party actually comprised a majority (60%) of the delegates in the Executive Committee of the Kiev Soviet. And this Soviet, in turn, controlled units of the Red Guard, consisting of around 5,000 bayonets plus additional Bolshevized troops, up to a number of around 7,000.
Given this explosive and potentially confrontational situation, when news of the October Revolution reached Kiev, then the feathers really hit the fan…
[to be continued]