Gus Fagan

Biographical Introduction

Christian Rakovsky

Rakovsky and the Ukraine (1919–23)

In January 1919 Christain Rakovsky was nominated by Lenin to be head of the Ukrainian Provisional Government. That same year he became Commissar of Foreign Affairs of the Ukrainian Republic and President of the Ukrainian Defence Council. Being at the same time a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Union and member of the Politbureau of the Ukrainian Communist Party, Rakovsky concentrated in his hands considerable personal power. He was to remain in that position until dismissed by Stalin in 1923, and during those years he was, according to Trotsky, in his Notes on Rakovsky, “the soul and true chief of the Ukraine”.

As a leader of the socialist movement in the Balkans, Rakovsky had already had a long experience of the issues and problems of national oppression. Already at the Socialist International Conference in London in 1896 he had delivered an address, later published in Kautsky’s Die Neue Zeit [34], on the issue of national oppression in the East. His strategy for the Balkans had always been for a federation of Balkan states as the best guarantee for the autonomous development of each nation.

His initial attitude towards the national question in the Ukraine was very much a continuation of his earlier views. What those views were with regard to the Ukraine can be seen most clearly in the article [35] he wrote on relations between Soviet Russia and Ukraine and which dealt with the effects of a socialist revolution on the relations between states and nations. The relations between soviet states, said Rakovsky, are essentially different from those between bourgeois states. The difference is due, fundamentally, to the differences in their economic base. The bourgeois state, an outgrowth of capitalist private property and competition, is regarded as the private property of the collective ruling class. Hence the bourgeois state order is characterized by the creation of “separate national states struggling against each other”. But because the socialist revolution eliminates private property, it eliminates also the basis of the state order of the bourgeoisie: “the frontiers between socialist states cease to have a political character, and become simply administrative limits”. Thus, whereas the most democratic of the bourgeois states makes a distinction between its own citizens and foreigners, one of the most fundamental characteristics of the constitution of a socialist state is “a complete suppression of national privileges”. The other side of the coin of suppression of national particularism is centralization. “The tendency of a socialist revolution is political and economic centralization in the form of a temporary international federation.” This international federation was not to be achieved all at once but only by “a process of suppression of particularism, of all democratic and national prejudices”. Rakovsky gives, as an example of this centralizing tendency, the formation by the Ukraine and Russia of joint commissariats of war, finance, labour, post and telegraph. He attacks the petty-bourgeois Ukrainian nationalists for “placing the national question in the first place and sacrificing the social liberation of the working class”. It was natural, he thought, for the nationalists to side with the counter-revolution, whether in the form of the Whites, the Germans or the Poles. Nationalism in the Ukraine was, for Rakovsky, something “imposed on the masses” by the intelligentsia and he saw its significance only as being a force for counter-revolution. Nowhere at this stage does Rakovsky seem aware of the dangers of Russian nationalism and chauvinism. In an article published in Izvestia on 3 January 1919, after pointing out that the ethnographic differences between the Ukrainians and the Russians were “in themselves insignificant”, he claimed that the “danger of Russification under the existing Ukrainian Soviet authority is entirely without foundation”. Very much in the same vein as in his România Muncitoare article of 1912, he maintained that the Russian revolution and the Soviet government would create the best conditions for the free development of each nation.

In Izvestia on 26 January 1919, the month in which he was appointed President of Commissars of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, Rakovsky explained his understanding of the political significance of the task which now lay before him. “The Ukraine”, he wrote, “is truly the strategic nodal point of socialism. To create a revolutionary Ukraine would mean triggering off a revolution in the Balkans and giving to the German proletariat the possibility of resisting famine and world imperialism. The Ukrainian revolution is the decisive factor in the world revolution.” Revolution in the Balkans was essential in uniting revolutionary Russia with the European proletariat. Rakovsky, like Lenin and Trotsky, firmly believed that without revolution in Europe the advance towards socialism begun in October would end in defeat. Everything depended on the spread of revolution and in this the Ukraine was central. Partly occupied by the Whites and the Allies, the Ukraine had become, in the words of the veteran Ukrainian communist Skrypnik, the “arena of international forces, ... the laboratory of internationalism”. [36]

The international spread of the revolution through the Balkans and into Europe was not just a theoretical affirmation with Rakovsky but was an immediate material and practical goal which he pursued with all means, diplomatic, political and military, from 1918 to 1920. His enthusiasm and even military “adventurism” during this period even brought him into conflict with Lenin. His appointment to lead the revolutionary government of the Ukraine was seen by him not in terms of the consolidation of power or territorial gain but as a means of advancing the revolution across the Carpathians and into Europe.

One of the main problems for the Bolsheviks in the Ukraine was the fact that whereas eighty per cent of the population were peasants a large proportion of the urban population was Russian, thus giving the Bolshevik Party, which was largely urban, the appearance of being essentially “Russian and Jewish”. [37] The implantation of Bolshevik roots in the Ukrainian countryside was to be achieved by winning to the Bolshevik Party the left wing of the Ukrainian nationalist parties, especially the left wing of the Ukrainian Social Revolutionary Party.

In June 1918, under the Hetmanate government, with German occupation and active resistance being carried out by the Bolsheviks in the Ukraine, the left-wing elements of both the Ukrainian Social Democrats and SRs passed over to support for the Bolsheviks and participated in the Second All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets. The left SRs formed a separate party generally known as the Borot’bists. During the rising against Skoropadsky in November 1918 the Borot’bists did not join the forces of the National Union (Petliura and Vinnichenko) but organized their own rising, marching under red banners. The Borot’bists were very powerful in the Ukrainian countryside, and according to Vinnichenko during this period “the influence of the Borot’bists’ programme was manifest in nearly all the resolutions passed by peasant congresses”. [38] In January 1919 at the time when Rakovsky took over from Piatakov as head of the Soviet government in the Ukraine, the Borot’bists formed their own government on the right bank of the Dnieper and began talks with the Rakovsky government in Kharkov. According to Rafes, Jewish Bund leader in the Ukraine and at one time member of Rakovsky’s cabinet, “this was not simply a gesture, for the Borot’bists conducted a great operation and collected large partisan detachments.” [39] The Ukrainian Bolsheviks, however, having gained considerable military victories over Petliura, and the Directory in early 1919 rejected the offers of the Borot’bists, despite the directives of Lenin in January of that year.

When in the summer of 1919 the offensive of Petliura and Denikin forced the Ukrainian Soviet government and the Bolsheviks to retreat, the Borot’bists formed themselves into the Ukrainian Communist Party (Borot’bists) and applied to the Communist International for recognition, an application which was ignored. When the second government of Rakovsky established itself in the Ukraine at the beginning of 1920 it began to implement a different policy towards the Borot’bists. The latter applied again in February 1920 to the Comintern for recognition, but the Executive Committee of the Comintern decided on 29 February that it would “refuse admission to the Party of the Borot’bists, into the Communist International” on the grounds that “the Party of the Borot’bists, which calls itself a Communist Party, in reality departs from the principles of communism in several extremely important points: in its demanding the immediate formation of a separate national army, and in its open agitation against Communist of other nationalities, in particular Russian Communists who worked in the Ukraine.” [40] In this the Comintern was simply implementing the policy of the Russian Communist Party. The policy of the Bolsheviks now was to put pressure on the Borot’bists to amalgamate with the CP(b)U and to make concessions to them for this purpose. This policy paid off, and the Borot’bists decided to join the CP(b)U. Lenin intervened to ensure that the mistake of 1919 would not be repeated. Two Borot’bists entered the Central Committee of the Party. The membership of the Borot’bists at the time of the fusion was about four thousand, and according to the Soviet historian, Popov, by this step “the CP(b)U acquired considerable cadres of functionaries who not only had a command of Ukrainian but also had ties with the Ukrainian masses. Most of them were particularly closely connected with the countryside.” [41]

The integration of the Borot’bists had a major influence on the policies of the Rakovsky Government and on the Bolshevik Party in the Ukraine. According to Rakovsky, “the CP(b)U itself did not remain uninfluenced by the UCP (Borot’bists). To a great degree under the influence of the Borot’bists, the Bolsheviks evolved from the ‘Russian Communist Party in the Ukraine’ into a genuine Communist Party of the Ukraine. The “federalist” (i.e. independentist) trend in the Communist Party of the Ukraine was a wedge which had been driven in by the hands of the Borot’bists. The two parties, the Bolsheviks and the Borot’bists, having violent discussions between themselves, met each other halfway, the one rectifying its communist line, the other adapting itself to the peculiarities and specific conditions of the social, economic and cultural life in the Ukraine”. [42]

This integration also meant, of course, a strengthening of the federalist or “nationalist” sentiment in the Ukrainian party, a sentiment which had always been there and had been a source of conflict in the party from its foundation. The issue of independence among the Ukrainian Bolsheviks during those years expressed itself mainly in the debate concerning the relation of the Communist Party in the Ukraine to the Party in Moscow. In this struggle Rakovsky was, during the formative years, an avowed “centralist”.

When the Bolsheviks had to evacuate the Ukraine after the German occupation, they held a conference in Taganrog, in Ekaterinoslav province, in April 1918. This conference decided to form an independent Communist Party of the Ukraine, a motion which was adopted by only 26 votes to 21. This was viewed by the Russian Bolsheviks as a serious “nationalist” deviation, although according to the veteran Ukrainian Bolshevik, Skrypnik, the leader of the federalist wing, the resolution was actually approved at the time by the Russian Communist Party. Both Skrypnik and Piatakov were members of the Organizational Bureau set up at this conference. In the summer of 1918 the First Congress of the CP(b)U was held in Moscow, and the Taganrog resolution on independence was overturned. Skrypnik’s resolution, which was rejected at this First Congress, ran as follows: “The Communist organizations of the Ukraine are uniting in a separate CP(b)U with its own CC, formally tied with the CPR through the International Commission of the Third International.” [43] According to the resolution which was adopted, the Ukrainian Party was subordinated to the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party. The Congress was dominated by the “Ekaterinoslavs”, whose party organization in the Donets Basin and Ekaterinoslav consisted predominantly of Russian proletarians. Skrypnik was not elected to the CC at this Congress.

In the spring of 1919 the Bolsheviks controlled the whole of the Eastern Ukraine, and in March the Third Congress of the CP(b)U was held in Kharkov, the first congress attended by Rakovsky. He defended the position of the CPR and the Ekaterinoslavs: “The Communist Party of the Ukraine regards itself as a member of a single Communist International. It maintains close organizational ties with the Russian Communist Party whose southern detachment is the CP(b)U.” [44] He was elected to the CC, which again excluded Skrypnik and the federalists.

The year 1919 was a year of turmoil for the Ukrainian Bolsheviks. The Soviet government was repulsed from the Ukraine at the end of the summer and the CC of the Ukrainian party elected at the Third Congress was dissolved by the party in Moscow. There were bitter recriminations about the policies to be followed in the Ukraine, the attitude towards the peasantry, the national question, the Borot’bists and the right of the CPR to dissolve the leading body of the party which the Congress had elected. The independentists, led by Slynko and Lapcynskyj, organized a non-official conference in November 1918 in Gomel in the Chernigov province. Rakovsky did not attend this Conference, which demanded once again that “this party has to be a completely independent section of the International”. [45] In March 1920 when the Soviet government had consolidated itself in the Ukraine, the Fourth Congress of the CP(b)U was held. The policies of the previous CC were bitterly condemned by many delegates, who also attacked the action of the CC of the CPR in dissolving the Ukrainian CC. Rakovsky defended the actions of the Russian party, saying that given the weaknesses of the Bolsheviks in the Ukraine, having their own CC was a “luxury”. The antagonism towards the CPR and towards the prominent party leaders in the Ukraine resulted in Rakovsky not being elected to the Central Committee at this Congress, along with Manuilsky, Kossior and Yakovlev. When the Ninth Congress of the Russian Communist Party met later that month in Moscow, Lenin defended Rakovsky, declaring that the CPR did not recognize the resolutions of the Fourth Congress which “criticized Comrade Rakovsky and baited him in a completely inadmissible fashion.” [46] In April the CC of the CPR dissolved the Central Committee elected at the Fourth Congress and created a “temporary” CC which included Rakovsky, Kossior and Manuilsky. In May Trotsky, Joffe and Kamenev went to Kiev for discussions with the Ukrainian CC in an effort to settle the disagreements. This was the last time in the Ukrainian party that the dispute over relations with Moscow reached such a height. A massive party purge removed a lot of separatist sympathy from the party, and when three years later Rakovsky himself entered into open struggle against Moscow centralization, he was easily removed by Stalin.

From the beginning of the 1920 the continuity of Soviet power in the Ukraine was uninterrupted, only small parts of its territory being occupied in May 1920 by Pilsudski and Petliura. The first task of the Rakovsky government on returning to the Ukraine in 1920 was to handle the problem of sovietization and collectivization in the Ukrainian countryside. A more moderate pace of collectivization, a series of laws aimed at winning the support of the small and middle peasantry, the formation of poor peasant unions, and the winning of the Borot’bists to the Communist Party were the main ingredients in Rakovsky’s success in this field in 1920-21.

By the end of 1921 Rakovsky began openly to demand a greater degree of real independence for the Ukraine, and began to insist on real and practical measures in this direction, an insistence which caused no small amount of friction with the government in Moscow. In his speech to the Eleventh Party Congress in 1922 Lenin hinted at this in, as he said, a “polite” way: “The Ukraine is an independent republic. That is quite all right. But in party matters it sometimes – what is the politest way of saying it? – takes a roundabout course, and we shall have to get at them.” [47]

One of the areas in which this friction existed was the question of control of foreign trade and commerce. From January to June in 1919 an autonomous Commissariat of Foreign Trade existed in the Ukraine under A. Chlikhter. When the second government of Rakovsky was formed in the beginning of 1920 this Commissariat was not reconstituted. When the Treaty of Economic and Military Union was signed in December 1920, a Ukrainian office for foreign trade (Ukrzovntorh) was established, but this office was under the control of the Russian Commissariat which was directed at that time by L.B. Krassin. In January 1922, however, on the initiative of Rakovsky, the Economic Council of the Ukraine approved a resolution according to which “the commercial treaties signed by the RSFSR do not apply to the Ukraine”. [48]

This attempt to achieve a real autonomy for the Ukrainian Commissariat of Foreign Trade was in keeping with the general goal of Rakovsky, which he had explained at the Sixth Congress of the Ukrainian Communist Party held on 10 October 1921: “It is necessary to grant more independence to the Ukrainian organs, especially to those that are unified (with the Russian), because the others are already independent.” [49]

In his report to this Sixth Congress, Rakovsky insisted that for purposes of trade and commerce Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Austria should be clearly demarcated as “zones of influence” for the Ukraine, and respected as such by the Russians. An agreement to this effect was signed by Rakovsky and Krassin at the beginning of 1922.

Independent commercial, trading and other treaties were worked out also with France, Poland and other European countries. Finally in June 1923, the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party published a decree according to which foreign companies were permitted to open offices and branches in the Ukraine only with the authorization of the Ukrainian Economic Council. All accords signed up to that time with Moscow were thereby annulled and would have to be renegotiated with the Ukraine. This decree was the logical outcome of the independent line pursued by the government of Rakovsky during the previous two years. It was to be the last independent decision of the Ukrainian government.

One of the major debates at the Twelfth Party Congress was the nationalities question and the relations between the Soviet republics. A dispute had broken out in the party the previous year over the question of Georgia. At the Eleventh Party Cong ress leading Bolsheviks had accused Lenin’s government of forsaking the principle of self-determination and restoring the “one and indivisible” Russia of old. Shortly afterwards Stalin, as Commissar of Nationalities, ordered the suppression of the Menshevik party in Georgia. When leading Georgian Bolsheviks, Mdivani and Makharadze, protested against this, he sought to intimidate them. Trotsky had attacked this ban on the Georgian Mensheviks, but when the case came before the Politbureau, Lenin supported Stalin. The Georgian Bolsheviks were denounced as “national deviationists”. At the end of 1922, however, Lenin had re-examined this conflict with the Georgian Bolsheviks and dramatically changed his position. On 30 December 1922 he wrote his famous memorandum on the national question, the “bombshell” against Stalin. Before the Twelfth Congress, Lenin informed the Georgians that he would back their cause “with all my heart” and that he was preparing documents for them against Stalin, Ordzhonikidze and Dzerzhinsky. [50] In his memorandum on the national question of December 1922 Lenin wrote that he felt “strongly guilty before the workers of Russia for not having intervened vigorously and drastically enough in this notorious issue.” All that had happened in Georgia, Ukraine, and elsewhere was being justified by Stalin and Zinoviev on the grounds that the government must possess a single and integrated administrative machine or “apparatus”. “Where do such statements come from?” Lenin asked. “Do they not come from the same Russian apparatus ... (we) borrowed from tsardom and simply covered with a Soviet veneer?” It was time to defend the non-Russian nationalities from that “truly Russian dzerzhymorda ... The rashness of Stalin’s administrative zeal and his spite have played a fatal role.” Lenin recommended that “it is better to show too much conciliation and softness towards national minorities, rather than too little.” The rights of the Georgians, Ukrainians and others was more important than the need for administrative centralization which Stalin evoked in order to justify “a quasi-imperialist attitude towards oppressed nationalities”. If need be, Lenin concluded, the new constitution being prepared by Stalin (which proposed a Union rather than a Federation of Republics), together with the new centralistic organization of government, would have to be scrapped altogether. [51] On 5 March, one month before the Party Congress, Lenin wrote to Trotsky on the subject of his memorandum on the national question: “If you would agree to undertake its defence I could be at rest.” [52] During that same month Lenin’s memorandum was circulated to the members of the Politbureau and soon leaked to other leaders. Its existence was known at the Congress, but it was kept secret from the party for thirty-one years.

Lenin had urged Trotsky to show, on this vital question, no weakness or vacillation, to trust no “rotten compromise” Stalin might propose. In fact, quite the opposite was to happen. The ruling triumvirate, consisting of Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev proposed a compromise which Trotsky accepted, a piece of behaviour described by Deutscher later as “incredibly foolish”. [53] Stalin had prepared theses to be submitted to the Twelfth Party Congress on policy towards the non-Russian nationalities. Trotsky proposed that Stalin should amend his theses, to denounce Great Russian chauvinism and to give the Georgians and Ukrainians a firm assurance that from now on their rights would be respected. In return Trotsky agreed that Lenin’s notes on the national question and his “testament” should not be made public. It was agreed that Stalin would make the report on the national question and party organization, Zinoviev would make the general report, and Trotsky took over the report on industry. Trotsky would refrain from attacking Stalin and the triumvirate would refrain from attacking Trotsky. “Trotsky observed his understanding so literally that he spoke on no subject at the Congress other than his industrial report. To secure his silence on the nationalities question, in spite of the appeal made to him in Lenin’s letter of 5 March, was perhaps the most remarkable of Stalin’s successes on this occasion.” [54] The Georgians and Ukrainians did not get the strong support Lenin had promised. “Trotsky followed the proceedings impassively or absented himself.” [55]

In this situation, then, it fell on Rakovsky to take up the fight against Stalin on the national question. The opposition between them had already erupted in 1922. In August 1922 the Politbureau had instructed the Orgbureau to form a commission to prepare for the Central Committee of the party a set of theses on the relations between Russia and other republics. The central government was represented by Stalin, Ordzhonikidze, Sokolnikov, Molotov and Rakovsky. During the meetings of this Commission Rakovsky had strongly protested against “the permanent struggle which the so-called independent and autonomous republics had to carry out to safeguard not only their prerogatives but their very own existence.” There were continuous examples of Russian Commissariats which had allowed themselves to sign international accords in the name of the Ukraine “even when, from the Constitution of the Union, they don’t have the slightest right to do so. If the central organs are incapable of mastering their bureaucratic tendencies and instincts, it will be impossible to build socialism.” [56] According to Trotsky, from the end of 1922 Stalin had begun to prepare a veritable “conspiracy” against Rakovsky.

In 1919 Rakovsky had approached the national question in the Ukraine from the point of view of the spread of the revolution through the Balkans into Europe. His view of the nationalities problem was determined by this perspective and he saw the nationalist movements as capable of playing only a counterrevolutionary role. After his four years of experience as the head of the Soviet Ukraine, his attitude on this question had undergone a complete transformation. But, as was always the case with Rakovsky, he approached that question now again in 1923 from the point of view of the international revolution. He wrote to Trotsky later in 1928: “I understand perfectly and I share your point of view; there can be no correct internal policy without a correct and coherent programme concerning the international proletarian revolution.” In the coming revolutions, said Rakovsky in 1923 in his main speech to the Twelfth Party Congress, the conflict between the nations of the East and Western imperialism would have “a colossal revolutionary significance”. The future of socialism in Russia depended on that international struggle and therefore a correct theoretical and practical resolution of the national question in the Soviet Union was something which “touches the foundation of Soviet Russia and our party”.

The crucial problem which Rakovsky posed to the Twelfth Congress was: “If we are to become the centre of the struggle of the oppressed nationalities outside the boundaries of the USSR, we must internally, within the boundaries of the USSR, make a correct decision on the national question.” Hence the serious implications of the “imperialistic” behaviour towards Georgia and the Ukraine, because it made a mockery of the principle of the struggle against imperialism and undermined the confidence of the oppressed in socialism and in the Soviet Union. The strategy for international revolution was once again the decisive framework in which Rakovsky situated the national question. Stalin’s theses to the Congress made no mention of this, and Rakovsky proposed the following amendment: “The colossal revolutionary significance which transforms the struggles of the Eastern nations and colonies for their freedom from the yoke of imperialist oppression, and also the re-formation of the European liberation movements in various occupied countries, makes it even more necessary for the party to assume the responsibility of carrying out a correct theoretical and practical solution to the national question within the boundaries of the Soviet Union.” In the committee which had discussed the theses, Stalin had rejected any reference to the national question in the West because “this could weaken the Eastern aspect”. But, as Rakovsky pointed out to the Congress, the theses presented for voting on by Stalin contained “no mention of the East or the West”. Stalin called for Rakovsky’s amendment to be rejected, and it was.

In his memorandum on the national question Lenin had singled out Stalin and Dzerzhinsky as being especially responsible for this out-and-out Great Russian nationalistic campaign”. Writing in Prinkipo almost ten years later, Trotsky commented: “That the Great Russian Lenin accused the Georgian Djugashvili and the Pole Dzerzhinsky of Great Russian nationalism may seem paradoxical, but the question here is not one of national feeling or partialities but of two systems of politics whose differences reveal themselves in all spheres, the national question among them.” [57] This comment of Trotsky’s is particularly appropriate to the conflict between Rakovsky and Stalin in 1923. The analysis and proposals which Rakovsky presented to the Twelfth Congress transcend in their scope the specific issue of the nationalities problem and contain the seeds of those ideas which were to develop fully in the left opposition, of which he was one of the main leaders.

What was the specific problem which the national question posed for the Communist Party in the Soviet Union according to Rakovsky? In 1919, in the article already mentioned (Relations between the Republics), Rakovsky had analysed nationalism and national culture as specific to the bourgeois state order, an extension of the concept of “private ownership” to the level of the state. Therefore he saw the elimination of capitalist private property as undermining once and for all the basis of specifically “national” consciousness and culture, and he saw the federal and centralizing principle as a characteristic of the socialist order. The problem had presented itself then in terms of the “suppression” of national prejudice, national boundaries etc., and he had been very optimistic in 1919 about the pace at which those would disappear. At the Twelfth Congress that optimism had disappeared: “the more often we discuss this question the further away we are from a communist understanding and solution of the national problem”.

There were many in the party in 1923 who believed that the national problem had already been solved. Rakovsky asked: “Tell me, comrades, how many of you can explain in what way the October revolution solved the nationalities question?” It did not resolve it, nor could it have. National culture does not cease to exist because the state is a workers’ state or because the economy is no longer privately owned. National culture is “the only way” through which the working and peasant masses will gain access to political and cultural life. “And hand in hand with national consciousness comes that feeling of equality which Lenin speaks of in his memorandum. Because of centuries o tsarist domination, the nationalities are now experiencing tha feeling of equality in a much deeper and stronger way than we think.” So the problem posed before the Communist Party was not one of the suppression or “overcoming” of national consciousness. “It (the party) faces the question of how to fin the bond between proletarian communist internationalism and the national development of wide layers of the peasant masse with their aspirations for a national life, for their own national culture, for their own national state.”

But why did this problem exist in the Soviet Union? Stalin had explained the problem as due to what he called “communist prejudice”. This prejudice does indeed exist, said Rakovsky. “It has its roots in our programme, ... and conceals our ignorance of the national question.” But “Stalin has remained only on the threshold of the explanation. There is a second, more importanl explanation, namely, the fundamental discrepancy being created daily and growing larger and larger between our party and out programme on the one hand and our state apparatus on the other. This is the central, the crucial question.” Bureaucracy was the gravest danger and the real explanation for the problems that existed on the national question. “Our central authorities begin to view the administration of the whole country from the point of view of convenience. Naturally it is tiresome to administer twenty republics, and how convenient it would be if the whole lot were unified. From the bureaucratic viewpoint this would be simpler, easier, more pleasant.”

Power, and the bureaucratic viewpoint of “convenience” in the state apparatus, manifested itself not simply in the national question, but in every aspect, and was a threat to the party and Soviet power itself. “I must say frankly, comrades, that when I see the calmness with which especially the Russian section of our party reacts to those arguments, ... I fear for the future of our party.” Five years later, as an imprisoned leader of the Left Opposition, he developed this analysis further in his letter to Valentinov (The “Professional Dangers” of Power). He speaks there of “the differentiation which power has introduced into the bosom of the proletariat”, power which, although initially only functional, “has modified the organism itself”. It was therefore to the question of power and bureaucracy in the central state apparatus that the party should address itself; as far as the national problem was concerned, he proposed to the Twelfth Congress to “take away nine-tenths of the power of the All-Union Commissariats and hand them over to the national republics.”

“Principles never exerted any influence over Stalin”, wrote Trotsky in his biography [58], “and on the national question perhaps less than any other. The immediate administrative task always loomed before him as greater than all the laws of history.” At the Twelfth Congress Stalin maintained that the “primary task” was the “strengthening of the rule of the workers”, i.e. of the state, “and only after this comes the second question, ... the national question.” In this conflict with Stalin the opposition case was hopeless. Although a close friend of Trotsky, and knowing that he had behind him Lenin’s memorandum on the national question, Rakovsky lost the vote at the Congress, which was heavily dominated by supporters of Stalin and the central apparatus.

In November of the previous year Rakovsky had proposed the formation, in the central government, of a second chamber where the nationalities would be represented. Stalin opposed this at the time, but under pressure from Lenin he accepted it, and the Soviet of Nationalities was formed in February 1923. At the Twelfth Congress Rakovsky pointed out that the RSFSR had three times as many representatives in the second chamber as the remaining three republics put together. He therefore proposed a constitutional arrangement to the Congress according to which no republic could have more than two-fifths of the total representatives. Stalin brushed this aside as “organizational fetishism” and had it voted down. In July Stalin’s new centralist constitution of the Union was officially ratified. Rakovsky wrote at the time, in one of his last articles as head of the Ukrainian government (A New Era in Soviet Development):

If by centralism one must understand the concentration of power in the hands of a single central organization and the transformation of the popular masses into a docile instrument destined to execute the orders of the central power; if by centralism one must understand the elimination of initiative, of economic, political and administrative independence; if by centralism one must understand this dead bureaucratic centralization which is synonymous with tyranny, then, evidently there is no greater enemy of Soviet power than centralism ... Against such centralization communists will always fight with the greatest resolve.

During the two months after the Twelfth Congress Stalin replaced important leaders in the Ukraine who were loyal to Rakovsky. On 6 July 1923 The Times announced that the next Soviet ambassador to Britain, replacing L.B. Krassin, was Christian Rakovsky.


34. Die Neue Zeit, XV, March 1897, pp. 820–24.

35. Rakovsky, Relations between the Republics: Russia and Ukraine, in Communist International, July 1920, p. 2321.

36. Autobiography of Skrypnik in Haupt, Makers of the Russian Revolution, op. cit., p. 224.

37. E.H. Carr, The Russian Revolution, vol. 1, p. 290.

38. J. Borys, The Russian Communist Party and the Sovietization of Ukraine (1960), p. 207. This is a very biased book, but has a great deal of source material. According to Borys, Rakovsky was “a typical cosmopolitan Bolshevik of doubtful nationality, almost pathologically ambitious”.

39. ibid., p. 254.

40. ibid., p. 259.

41. Quoted in Borys, op. cit., p. 260.

42. ibid., p. 261.

43. Istorija KP(b)U, p. 356.

44. ibid.

45. Lapcynskyj, Gomelskoe sovescanie, in Letopis Revoliutsii, 1926, p. 36. Quoted in Borys, op. cit., p. 146.

46. M. Ravic-Cerkasskij, Istorija KP(b)U (Kharkov 1923), p. 94.

47. Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 33, p. 208.

48. Kommunist (Kharkov), 29 Jan. 1922.

49. Bjuleten VI-j Vseukrainskoj Konferencii KP(b)U (Kharkov 1922), p. 12. In Conte, op. cit., p. 307.

50. Trotsky, On the Suppressed Testament of Lenin (Pathfinder), p. 34.

51. See Deutscher, op. cit., pp. 69-72.

52. Trotsky, Testament of Lenin, op. cit., p. 33.

53. Deutscher, op. cit., p. 93.

54. E.H. Carr, The Interregnum 1923–24, p. 281.

55. Deutscher, op. cit., p. 98.

56. Quoted in F. Conte, Rakovsky-Staline, sur la question nationale, in Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique, vol. XVI, Jan.–Feb. 1975, pp. 112–17.

57. Trotsky, My Life, op. cit., p. 233.

58. Trotsky, Stalin, p. 39.

Last updated on 16.10.2011