Leon Trotsky

Democratic Feudalists and
the Independence of the Ukraine

(5 August 1939)

Written: 5 August 1939.
First Published: Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 83, 31 October 1939, p. 3.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2018. Creative Commons (Attribute & Share-alike).

In Kerensky’s periodical, Novaya Rossia for July 12, 1939, my article on the independence of the Ukraine (printed in Socialist Appeal, May 9, 1939) is subjected to a “criticism” of its own kind. From the standpoint of socialist, scientific, literary, etc., criteria, Novaya Rossia is of course of no interest at all. But it possesses this merit, that it enables one to peer into the heads of the Russian middle and petty bourgeois democrats. Scratch any of them hard enough and you will find a feudalist.

The periodical fumes over the fact that I wholeheartedly and completely stand for the support of the Ukrainian people in their struggle for national and state independence. “The separation of Soviet Ukraine from the U.S.S.R. doesn’t embarrass L. Trotsky at all.” Absolutely so! As regards Messrs. Democrats, they are not only embarrassed but deeply roused by the prospect of the separation of the Ukraine. The democratic urge of an oppressed nationality to gain its complete independence cannot fail to arouse the ire of feudalists. “The question of how this revolution (the national Ukrainian revolution) will be utilized by Hitler for the realization of his plans is not touched by Trotsky.” The gentlemen of Novaya Rossia consider that “the separation of the Ukraine will lead to the military weakening of the U.S.S.R.,”and they come very close to the conclusion that Trotsky’s politics serve Hitler. The same opinion is held also by the Kremlin. Great minds run in the same gutter,reads a French proverb.”

Let us grant that the separation of the Ukraine does actually weaken the U.S.S.R. What to do then with the democratic principle of the self-determination of nations? Every state which forcibly retains within its boundaries some other nationality considers that the separation of the latter would weaken the state in economic and military spheres. Hitler annexed the Czechs and semi-annexed Slovakia precisely because this leads to the military strengthening of Germany. Wherein does the criterion of our democrats differ from the criterion of Hitler? As regards the nation or the Ukrainians, the democrats of Novaya Rossia following the not uncelebrated democrat Miliukov are perhaps ready to answer to this question that the Ukrainians are “by and large and in general” in all likelihood a nation, but after all there are limits. In other words,if they are a nation, it is a second-class one inasmuch as the fate of the Ukraine must be determined by the interests of Russia, i.e., the Great Russian majority. And this is precisely the viewpoint of the chauvinistic feudalists.

In the sad and sorry days of the February revolution, the Provisional Government brazenly refused to extend to the Ukrainians not only independence – the Ukrainians did not demand this at that time as yet – but also mere autonomy. Messrs. Democrats haggled over, the national rights of the Ukraine like horse-traders. They then took their direct and immediate point of departure the interests of the old Great Russian “masters” of the landlord, bourgeois and democratic type. Today they are translating the very same great and glorious tradition into the language of the émigrés.

From a much higher historical standpoint, namely from the standpoint of the socialist revolution, it would be quite possible to subordinate for a certain period of time the national interests of the Ukraine to the interests of the international proletariat if they came into conflict with one another. But there is no sign even of such a conflict. The Ukraine is being strangled by the very same Bonapartist reaction that strangles the whole of the U.S.S.R. and undermines its capacity for self-defense. The Ukrainian revolutionary movement aimed against the Bonapartist bureaucracy is the direct ally of the international revolutionary proletariat.

The far-sighted democratic feudalists are very much concerned lest Hitler utilize some time in the future the national Ukrainian revolution. They close their eyes to the fact that Hitler already today is utilizing the suppression and the dismemberment of the Ukrainian nation.

In contrast to Messrs. Democrats of the Menshevik and Narodnik variety, we do not at all proceed from the consideration that there is no beast more powerful than the cat. Hitler’s strength in general, and in relation to the Ukraine in particular, lies not in himself but in the worthlessness and rottenness of democracy, in the decomposition of the Second and Third Internationals, in the vast wave of disillusion, decline, and apathy among the masses. The triumphant revolutionary movement in any country will sound the knell for Hitler. The national revolutionary Ukrainian movement is an integral part of the mighty revolutionary wave which is now being molecularly prepared underneath the crust of triumphant reaction. That is why we say: Long Live Independent Soviet Ukraine!

August 5, 1939

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Last updated on: 16 February 2016