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A Noble Cause Betrayed ... but Hope Lives On
Pages from a Political Life, by John Boyd

Chapter 2a

On Ukraine in early 1917

Q. In Our History, Krawchuk tells of the period from March 28 to May 31, 1917, when members of the former Ukrainian Social Democratic Party had expressed their support for the declared government of the Ukrainian People's Republic in Kyiv. What do you know about the events in Ukraine in the post-revolutionary period until the situation stabilized with the Soviet government?

I'm not very well acquainted with the facts in this case, except the little that I read about those events. I understand that the urge for an independent Ukraine was very strong through all the centuries. So when in the February 1917 revolution in Russia the tsar was overthrown, a Ukrainian Central Council was formed in Kyiv that included all the parties and groups that were for independence. But the council was eventually torn by discord. When after the October revolution this discord continued, the Bolshevik faction on the council broke away and unilaterally proclaimed Ukraine a Soviet republic. The Ukrainian Social Democrats in Canada then switched their allegiance to the new Soviet regime. It should be said that for several years there was an upsurge of national freedom and national culture in Soviet Ukraine, but this was quickly squelched beginning around 1928, after Stalin came to power.

Right-Left split deepens

Q. As we know, there were divisions within the Ukrainian community. Prior to the choice of supporting two governments in Ukraine after the revolution, how did the developments in Ukraine affect the relations between the two sides?

For a while both sides supported the efforts to create an independent Ukraine. But the so-called nationalists in Canada the religious and right-wing sector were against the Bolsheviks from the very start. When the split in Ukraine took place, they took the side of those who were fighting the Bolsheviks. The left-wing organizations supported the Soviet regime in Ukraine. Actually, that is when- the split in the Ukrainian Canadian community deepened sharply and irrevocably; there was no looking back on either side, no give and take. After the Ukrainian People's Republic government fell apart, its leaders went into exile, some to Vienna, others to Paris or Berlin. As far as the nationalists here were concerned, they continued their fight for an independent Ukrainian state.

Q. How were the Ukrainian people in Canada informed of the developments in Ukraine in this period?

Each side in the community here had its newspapers. The nationalist papers published what the general media carried, as well as whatever news they could get directly from the exiles, mostly from Vienna and Paris. The Communist side carried whatever they could get from Moscow and Kyiv, from newspapers, by shortwave radio and from letters.

Anti-socialist drive

Q. The Ukrainian Social Democratic Party was banned in March 1917. What were the reasons?

Chiefly because after 1917 they were considered Bolsheviks, or supporters of Russia's Bolsheviks. The Ukrainian nationalist leaders had a lot of influence in Liberal and Conservative party circles, so they were able to denounce the socialist-led Ukrainian organizations as Bolshevik, godless, etc. (Krawchuk cites how these leaders told government and educational officials that these organizations were teaching children to be godless.) That is how they helped to get the Social Democratic Party banned. Moreover, they exploited the fact that the socialists were against the war. As I told you earlier, my father, who was an active socialist, was arrested and jailed for his anti-war activity. Many others were, too. Earlier, of course, thousands of Ukrainians, whether they were socialists or not, were interned. They were considered enemy aliens because they originally came from the part of Ukraine that was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Government officials at that time whether Liberal or Conservative were very jingoistic, and if you weren't an ardent supporter of the British Empire, or of the war, you were a "Bolshevik."

Ukrainians form own section

Q. I found a difference of interpretation between Krawchuk and the Ukrainian Canadian historian Orest Martynowych. Krawchuk refers to the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party as a separate political party and Martynowych portrays it as a section of the Social Democratic Party of Canada. According to Martynowych, it was in the SDPC that the protocols for this federalist structure of affiliation of what he calls the language sections were evolved, protocols that I guess were non-transferable to the Communist Party and ULFTA relationship later. What can you tell me about this earlier relationship between the Social Democratic Party of Canada and the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party? How did those associations form the basis of what evolved later?

Since I was just a kid then, I don't know anything about this from personal experience, only from what I have read. I don't think Martynowych is quite as knowledgeable on this point as Krawchuk is. As far as I can gather, there was a Socialist Party of Canada and also a Social Democratic Party, both led largely by Anglo-Saxons. The Ukrainians, Finns and Jews who joined the latter soon decided to form their own separate sections, chiefly for language reasons. They wanted to conduct their meetings and business in their own language, and they found it difficult to read minutes and other materials from the national office.

They also didn't like to be seen as just flunkies of the leaders of the Social Democratic Party, without having much say. They felt they had some very good leaders of their own, like Matthew Popowich among the Ukrainians and John Ahlqvist among the Finns. They wanted to run their own show, without necessarily breaking away, but with some autonomy. The Anglo-Saxon leaders of both parties couldn't see this need, didn't appreciate the problems the immigrants had, so it was a source of some discord. Later, when the Communist Party was founded, many in the leadership similarly fought against Ukrainian and Finnish sections of the Party. Eventually the latter had to give in, but to a greater or lesser degree there were problems with this right up until about 1928.

Tsarist and Austrian oppression

Q. I am interested in the political background of your parents in western Ukraine. Because of a superficial understanding, perhaps, some might think that the eastern part of Ukraine, having been ruled by the tsar, was always the more radical section of the country. Maybe you could describe the character of the opposition to the Austro-Hungarian regime in western Ukraine and what sort of ideological basis that largely stemmed from.

The Ukrainians were oppressed economically, socially and culturally in both areas. In eastern Ukraine, in tsarist Russia, they were regarded as malorosy or Little Russians, and any manifestations of cultural expression were vigorously suppressed, often by exile to Siberia. In western Ukraine, the Austro-Hungarian Empire did tolerate the use of the Ukrainian language, publication of papers and meetings in chytalni (reading rooms), like the one where my father as a young lad used to read papers to the neighbouring peasants, but kept these under strict limits.

In eastern Ukraine, peasants who sought to escape economic oppression travelled to other parts of the Russian Empire. In western Ukraine, the peasants had very little land, and many of them were landless. Those who did have some land usually had to divide it among their sons, so eventually more and more people lived on such small plots of land that they could not survive. That is why so many of them emigrated to Brazil, Argentina, Canada and the United States at the end of the last century and early in this one.

Socialists form ULFTA

Q. It is my understanding that, before the ULFTA was required to "Bolshevize" or whatever, if you were a member of the ULFTA you were almost automatically considered to be a Party member, because you belonged to a group that was federated with the Party, but after the "Bolshevization" period, membership was required to be on an individual basis. Am I correct?

Not quite. For a better understanding of this, one really should go back to the early years of the Ukrainian community. Krawchuk deals with this at length in Our History. The Ukrainian immigrants were divided into two camps from the time they first came to Canada between those who were religious and conservative in their views and those who were non-believers and had socialist or radical leanings. The division has remained to this day.

In 1918, the socialist-minded members of the community formed a cultural organization, the Ukrainian Labour Temple Association (ULTA), which eventually was renamed the Ukrainian Labour-Farmer Temple Association (ULFTA). Gradually, the members of the ULFTA, through the influence of the press and the propaganda work of its leaders, became more and more pro-socialist. But most people who joined the ULFTA did so largely for cultural reasons. (By the way, the same thing was happening in the Finnish community.) That's the way it was in the ULFTA in the early years. There were members who were socialists, but there were even more members who were at best only supporters of the socialists and who were in the ULFTA mainly for cultural reasons. They chose the ULFTA because they didn't want to go to church and considered the other Ukrainian organizations too right-wing.

Party influence increases

When, in 1921, the Communist Party was formed, many of the more ardent socialist-minded members of the ULFTA, like my father, joined the Party and became active in both organizations. The Party thus had great influence in the cultural organization. In the early 1930s, however, it took a big leap, so to speak, when, at the direction of the Communist International, it brought in a policy of "Bolshevizing" the ethnic cultural organizations under its influence. They called it a "turn to the class struggle."

What this did was to make the ULFTA virtually an auxiliary of the Party, especially in helping it to raise funds. While the ULFTA retained its main character as a cultural organization, there actually were elements in the Party, especially in the 1920s, who wanted to abolish the ULFTA. They said that the main attention should be directed towards class struggle, that on the eve of world revolution we don't need people putting on plays and folk operettas; we need people on the picket lines. Those were the extreme views, of course, but the Ukrainian leaders had to contend with them.

The "double burden"

The leaders of the Party began putting more and more pressure on its Ukrainian members, such as establishing quotas on the amount of money they were expected to raise for the Party organ, The Worker, and later for other Party projects and campaigns. Because the Party had only the ethnic organizations as its base, it had to draw on them as the chief resources for its activities. The members of these cultural organizations, including non-Party members, were counted on to support (financially and otherwise) the Party press, the Party's election campaigns, the peace movement, and numerous other projects. People like my father, for example, would go to non-Party members in the ULFTA and say, "Help us in supporting the Party's work." And the people gave, generously. But for the Party members in the ULFTA this meant they were carrying what they called a "double burden," because they also had to support their own cultural organizations.

In effect, it made the ULFTA much more a Communist organization, rather than just Communist-led. This is how the transformation took place. In its early years, most of the leaders of the ULFTA were Communist Party members, but there were many who were not. For example, in a branch executive or committee of, say, seven members, two or three would be party members, the rest non-Party. After 1931, however, when party members met as "Party fractions", or caucuses, in which they decided how they would carry through the Party line, more and more it was the Party members who were expected to "carry the ball," so to `speak, to serve on the committees and take on responsibilities. Also, more and more members were recruited into the Party. As a result, by the end of the 1930s, most of the executives and committees were made up largely of Party members. And quite a few non-Party people were either shunted aside or bowed out. Many non-Party people became less active, and a number of them left. There was a sort of silent resentment among some of them against what was happening.

Appeal to Comintern

During the late 1920s, Popowich and Navis had numerous battles with the Party leaders on this issue. They were opposed to making their cultural ethnic organization more and more like the Party. Eventually, the Ukrainian National Fraction Bureau decided to do something about it. This bureau coordinated and directed the work of the Party fractions in the ULFTA branches, under the overall direction of the national Party leadership, of course. The National Fraction Bureau sent a formal resolution to the Comintern, complaining against some of the things the Party leadership was doing.

Following the "turn," the pressure on both the Ukrainian members in the Party and on the non-Party people in the organizations to help fund Party activities became even greater. As a result, more and more non-Party members began to sort of take a back seat, confining themselves to taking part in cultural work, while others eventually drifted away and left the organization. It is true that for a time, especially during the 1930s, the Ukrainian left-wing organizations grew, but I believe they could have grown three or four times as fast, especially in recruiting more non-political, non-Party people, had there been a different policy, less Party direction and interference; if the Party members in the organization had worked in a more tactful, less aggressive way to recruit within a broader base. Later, of course, the organization began dwindling more rapidly, especially after the exposure of the Stalin crimes at the 20th Congress of the CPSU.

More Party pressure

Q. Did the "Bolshevization" lead to a constitutional requirement within the ULFTA, or later within the AUUC, that executive members had to be members of the Communist Party, or what sort of informal arrangement developed out of the pressures of that period?

No, there were no such constitutional changes or requirements. There wasn't anything in the constitution of the ULFTA that said you had to be a Party member. It was simply the way things were done. For example, as Krawchuk mentions, at the 1931 ULFTA national convention, at which the "turn" was made, Sam Carr attended as a guest delegate from the Communist Party. He spoke to the convention delegates a real revolutionary speech and was elected to the Presidium, even though he wasn't a member of the ULFTA. Banners around the convention hall proclaimed: "We are making a turn onto the path of general revolutionaryclass struggle!" and "Away with right and left opportunism!" and so on. That convention also elected an honorary Presidium, which included the name of Tim Buck. At the subsequent convention, in 1932, the convention again elected an honorary presidium, and this time it included Josef Stalin, Ernst Thaelmann, Harry Pollitt, Maurice Thorez and others. That's just the way it was done; there was nothing that was changed constitutionally.

[ Continued ... ]

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