Ukrainian Dual Historiographies – Part V

Dear Readers:

Continuing my series, based on this piece in VZGLIAD by reporter Dmitry Lyskov.  Lyskov is debating a few points of Ukrainian history from that important year 1917-1918.    Where we left off, the October Revolution has broken out in Russia, creating a dilemma for Ukrainian leader Mikhail Grushevsky.  Grushevsky took advantage of the earlier bourgeois (February) Revolution, and has been painstakingly putting together a national Rada consisting of delegates who mostly agree with his own political views.  His ideology consisting of moderate socialism combined with a mild (by today’s standards) form of Ukrainian patriotism, leading to fuller Ukrainian autonomy within a moderately socialist and democratic Russia.  Well, one tiny thing got in the way of all that pie-in-the-sky bliss; and that was the vicious class struggle and Civil War breaking out in all parts of the former Russian Empire.  A Civil War unleashed, for the most part, by remnants of the Ancien Régime who would not go gently into that good night of self-oblivion. Not when they had so much to lose: Land, Factories, People, Money.

When news of the October Revolution reached Kiev, the Old Guard Ukrainian army readied itself for the fight.  The HQ of the anti-Soviet forces coalesced in the Kiev Military District and Military Academy, with reinforcements arriving from the Southwest front.  Comprising, in all, around 12,000 bayonets.  (Attached to soldiers, it goes without saying.)  Recall that the other team, the Kiev Soviet, had around 5,000 bayonets plus other soldiers too, amounting to around 7,000 in all.   Despite the mismatch in numbers, Team Soviet was able (by October 30) to capture a major artillery warehouse.  And with this, they were able to storm the Military Academy and also subdue other favorite places of their opponents.  By November 1 [all dates old style] Team Soviet was able to capture the Kiev Military District HQ, whose commanders fled the city.

Despite their victory, the battle had seriously exhausted the members of Team Soviet.  At this moment Grushevsky’s Central Rada appeared on the scene almost like a third-party, neither Red nor White.  Waiting out the battle, in which the two sides exhausted each other, then with the help of Ukrainized troops, Team Rada was able to disarm the Red Guardists and take Kiev back under its control.

This is the part where the Ukrainian textbook, against whom Lyskov is debating, narrates how at the All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets (4 December), the Bolsheviks were not able to win enough votes to prevail.  Out of some 2,000 delegates in all, the Bolsheviks only commanded 125.  The Bolshevik delegates tabled a motion that the Rada should disband and switch the government over to the Soviets.  (Remember:  April Theses = Permanent Revolution.)

The General Secretariat of the Ukrainian Rada

I guess those Bolsheviks never heard of that political truism, that you shouldn’t put something up to vote, if you don’t already know what the result is.  Given that only 125 people voted “Da”, the Bolsheviks lost the vote.  All the other 1,875 delegates said they liked the Rada and wanted to keep it as their government.  The Bolsheviks left in a huff, and the rest of the Kiev Soviet Congress continued on as a love-fest, expressing full support and affection for the Central Rada.  Lyskov not only agrees with this version of events, but underscores the fact that the Soviet Congress had been convened on the initiative of the Bolsheviks themselves.  And for the purpose of switching the government from the Rada to the Soviets.  Hence, losing this crucial vote was a double face-palm for them.

“Selyanska Spilka” was Ukrainian Socialist-Revolutionaries

Next, Lyskov analyzes why such a result occurred, because it was not like the savvy Leninists to commit such a blooper.  Basically, they were outsmarted by Team Rada.  The Rada was not able to forbid or prevent the Bolshies from organizing the Congress of Soviets, but they were able to  subvert the result.  Basically, according to Lyskov, the Rada sent out the call to the various pro-Ukrainian activists and hobbyists, who flooded the Soviet Congress with their numbers.  This was a classically Ukrainian type of political “raiderism”.  For example, 670 uninvited delegates simply showed up claiming to represent the “Peasants Union” (Ukrainian Селянская спилка).  Now, this was no ordinary Peasants Union, it was the political base of the Socialist Revolutionary Party.  And the SR’s were known to vote against anything the Bolshies would propose, even Mom and Borsch.  And then another 905 (uninvited) delegates suddenly showed up claiming to represent the soldiers soviets, but these were particular types of (Ukrainized) soldiers.  Not the right sort of soldiers, no, not at all!

The Mandate Committee of the Congress, when confronted with all these interlopers, simply didn’t know how to deal with them.  They didn’t have badges for these hundreds of new delegates pouring in, these guys weren’t even on the list, but they were aggressive and insistent that they be allowed inside.  The Mandate Committee quit in despair, and the new arrivals simply wrote out their own mandates and badges.  In other words, the whole thing was a farce!  Instead of voting to switch the government to the Soviets, the Soviet Congress voted, modestly, to curb its own enthusiasm, and to continue fealty to the competing Rada government.

As mentioned previously, the Bolshevik delegates left in disgust, moved on to Kharkov, organized a different Congress, this one with a different composition.  It was this Kharkov Congress which voted to switch the government to the Soviets; and on December 25, 1917 they declared the Ukraine to be, officially, a Soviet Republic!

[to be continued]

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