Peter Petroff, Labour, February 1939
Source: Labour, February 1939, p. 18-21;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Through the kind offices of Mr. Chamberlain, Hitler has suddenly attained a kind of suzerainty over half a million Ruthenians incorporated in the dismembered Czecho Slovak State.
The Nazi Gestapo were quick to collect such suitable international adventurers as happened to be in the market, and to bring them to that corner of Czecho Slovakia where half-million of uncultured, mostly illiterate lost Slav tribes going about their daily business are unaware of the role they play in a foreign Dictator’s dreams.
With this capital in hand Hitler plots the establishment of a great national Ukrainian State under Nazi tutelage, incorporating the 3,200,000 Ukrainians in Polish Galicia and the highly cultured 34,000,000 inhabitants of the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic, which covers an area of 216,000 square miles.
The pro-Fascist press in Western Europe suddenly shows a great interest in the future of those “countries of which we know nothing” and does its best to mislead the innocent reader and to supply him with a mirage of an impossible future Ukrainian State.
No doubt, certain champions of “peace” and “appeasement,” certain “pacifists of the right,” acting on behalf of the magnates of international capital, are busy preparing a sacred war of big money against the Soviet Union.
Whenever Russian White Guardists and their monarchist and reactionary foreign supporters dream of a change to their advantage in the Soviet Union, the old lame horse of provincial “nationalism” is invariably trotted out.
There certainly is considerable discontent in the Soviet Union – discontent of workers and peasant with the Stalin regime that is jeopardising some of the great achievements of the October Revolution. There is political and economic oppression, but there certainly is not and never has been national oppression in any part or corner of the Soviet Union .Nor is there national discontent or a nationalist movement in the Ukraine.
The Ukraine holds in the Soviet Union a position comparable with that of Scotland in the United Kingdom. Its language is a dialect of the Russian language; its population an integral part of the Russian family of peoples. Though this “outlying district” of Russia has several times in Russian history fallen a prey to a foreign invader, and has borne the yoke of the Tartar, the Pole and the Lithuanian, the Ukrainian or “Little Russian” people was re-united with their “Great-Russian” brethren in 1667 and 1793.
Since that time Great-Russians and Little-Russians have had a common history, a common administration, and a common literature, some of the greatest Russian writers – like Gogol and Korolenko – coming from Ukrainian stock. They suffered from the same evils under Tsarism, were confronted by the same problems, and waged a common revolutionary struggle against the common enemy. Before the Revolution the Ukrainian “Spilka” was working in close co-operation with the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party.
For centuries the Ukrainian peasants have been downtrodden by the Polish Shlakhta (nobility); the local history and local literature, folklore and legends of Ukraine breathe the hatred and revenge of the Ukrainian people against these inhuman oppressors. Centuries were filled with the local wars of orthodox Ukrainian peasants against the Polish oppressors and their Roman priests. Up to the Revolution a considerable number of the great landlords in the Ukraine were Poles: thus national and class hatred went together.
In the middle of the 19th century there sprang from the Ukrainian peasantry a great poet, Shevchenko, a born serf, who wrote in Ukrainian. Under the influence of some Ukrainians in Austrian Poland who then attempted to form a kind of nationalist centre at Lemberg, he became for a time a romantic nationalist, but he soon found his way to revolutionary internationalism.
The Tsarist government tried to prevent publications in the Ukrainian language, which caused indignation and some nationalist feeling among Ukrainian intellectuals.
The Soviet Government – definitely established in the Ukraine since February, 1920 – granted to the Ukraine complete cultural and administrative autonomy, and now cultivates its language in schools, press and literature.
However, before the Ukrainian Soviet Government was firmly in the saddle, the unfortunate people passed through a terrible ordeal, some parts of the Ukraine changing hands, and therewith their form of government, 15 times!
Soon after the February Revolution an Ukrainian Government had been formed, termed “Rada,” which was lacking backbone even more than the Kerensky government. Its president was V. Vinnichenko, my old fellow-prisoner of the Kiev fortress (1904). The Rada became a tool first of the Allies and then of the Germans. As soon as the Rada had run over to the German camp the large number of French officers in Roumania and Southern Russia found themselves between two fires and, I recollect, in Petrograd when I was in charge of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs the French Embassy appealed to us to get them out of their self-set trap.
The German militarists insisted on the Rada being represented at Brest-Litovsk, and on February 9, 1918, concluded with their puppets a separate peace. When I came to Berlin for the ratification of the peace of Brest-Litovsk, the representatives of the Rada desired to see me. I answered that I would not touch with a barge pole these traitors who had called the Germans into the country to protect them against the Ukrainian people.
However, a few weeks later, in May, Stalin went to Kiev to conclude an armistice with these traitors and agents of the Kaiser.
The German militarists subsequently played the Rada as false as the latter had played their French supporters. When it failed to extort from the peasants the demanded quantity of grain and agricultural produce, the Germans dismissed the Rada, and appointed a more docile and more ferocious tool – “Hetman” Skoropadski.
The object of the Germans was to rob the peasants in order to obtain grain and raw materials. Twenty-nine infantry and three cavalry divisions (about 200,000 soldiers) were sent into the Ukraine, where their cruelty made the Prussian troops in Belgium appear in comparison like gentlemen.
At the Fifth Soviet Congress, in Moscow, in July, 1918, the Ukrainian delegate Alexandrov reported: “In the Ukraine we have at present no trade unions, no co-operatives, no workers clubs, no factory committees. Wherever such spring up their members are being shot. The Central Rada which called in the Germans was overthrown by these who appointed Hetman Skoropadski, and restored all the privileges abolished by the Revolution. In the villages the land has been given back to the landlords, and the members of land committees are being shot. Villages have been surrounded by heavy artillery, and the whole population wiped out. Poison gas is being spread in the forests where our guerilla fighters are hiding. The Germans came to get grain. The peasants decline to give it to them. Instead of the 60,000,000 poods demanded the Germans got 5,500,000. By armed force they are trying to requisition grain. If they succeed the trains are blown up by the peasants. Factories taken over by the Germans are invariably burned down.”
Skoropadski’s regime did not last long. In Summer, 1918, the German commander Eichhorn was assassinated, and in November Skoropadski was overthrown.
The Germans paid for their brutality by the complete demoralisation of their army. “Their morale was bad, and the divisions transferred to the Western front contaminated their comrades,” complained Ludendorf. Since I was assisting at Gomel in the wholesale buying of arms from the German detachments returning to the west, I can testify to the truth of this statement.
Now, after 18 years of Soviet rule the Ukraine has become a highly industrialised country with a mechanised modern agriculture and a completely literate population. One of its enormous power stations alone supplies twice as much electric power as all Tsarist Russia produced. The Ukrainian output of coal and iron has trebled as against pre-war times; tremendous metallurgical, chemical and engineering industries have developed. Agriculture has been collectivised: 27,344 collective farms combine 96 per cent. of the peasantry, 86,000 tractors and 27,000 combines are working in their fields.
Out of a total budget of 5,977,000,000 roubles (1938) the Ukrainian S.S.R. spends 2,856,000,000 roubles on education. There are now in the Ukraine 21,656 schools with 171,000 teachers, attended by 5,567,000 children as against a total of 1,600,000 school children in 1914-15. Illiteracy is completely wiped out. In 1938, in the Ukraine 117 universities and academies gave instruction to 110,000 students, and 476 technicums served 143,000 students.
And to this record of economic cultural progress Hitler and his sponsors dare to oppose a “claim” to the Ukraine based on the record of robbery, murder and debasement attained by his Kaiserist predecessors in the bleakest days of Ukrainian history.
The Ukrainian peasants have turned out the Prussian invaders with rifles and a few machine guns in the hands of untrained partisans. Hitler would have to face a well-equipped model Red Army, a people who hate and detest the organised gangsterism that is keeping the German people in bondage.
The magnates of international capital who feel tempted to support Hitler’s gamble will lose their money.