Effects of Party pressures
Q. We have mentioned some of the people who were involved in this process of "Bolshevization" between 1928 and 1931. Were the events in this process largely determined at conventions of the ULFTA, or were there other forums at which they were manifest?
Not at the conventions of the ULFTA as such, although, as Krawchuk recalls, the characters of the conventions themselves changed after 1931, when the Party called for a "turn to the class struggle." The actual decisions were reached at fraction meetings, made up of the delegates who were Party members.
There was a great deal of anger and militancy among the people, so it wasn't all that difficult to get most of the members of the ULFTA and WBA to move in a more militant and left-oriented direction. This is when many non-Party people joined the Party. But there was also a great deal of pressure on the members of the ULFTA and WBA, especially by those who were in the Party and by the Party leadership itself, which had a negative effect on those who were less active, who weren't all that enthusiastic about the turn to class struggle; they chose to stand on the sidelines, so to speak, to become less active. Many non-Party people who had been active on committees dropped out. But they stayed on in the organization, or stayed on as supporters, because they weren't ready to join the nationalist organizations or the religious groups.
About "bourgeois tendencies"
Q. Some of the criticisms that Party leaders made in those early years concerned the "bourgeois tendencies" in both the ULFTA and the Workers' Benevolent Association. The latter was likened to a social reformist institution, because they said it promoted the idea that workers could ameliorate rather than change the system by their own actions. The other criticism I recall most about the ULFTA was that its education was "bourgeois." How much truth was there in that analysis?
No truth whatsoever. Rather they reflected the very sectarian and narrow attitudes in the Party at that time. You see, for someone who was very political, who because of his or her convictions was very gung-ho about the class struggle, as I was, politics was a priority. But for others, love of music, song and drama were more important. If they liked acting, they wanted to be in a drama group; if they loved to sing, they wanted to belong to a choir. The problem was that some extremists in the Party looked on these things as bourgeois. Krawchuk in his book gives an example: when a ULFTA mandolin orchestra in Regina played "God Save the King" at the opening of a concert they gave in a theatre, the local Party leaders condemned the Ukrainian Party members for it, saying they were catering to capitalist culture. They chose to ignore the fact that the theatre's rental contract required the lessee to start or end each performance with the national anthem. As for the attitude to the WBA, some Party members did charge that it taught workers to depend on the capitalist system. Indeed, John Weir exemplified this. When someone would ask him, "Don't you carry any insurance?" he would reply, "The working class is my insurance. The revolution is my insurance."
Those were some of the attitudes within the Party prior to 1931. After that fight with the Comintern, however, while the Ukrainian leaders had to knuckle under on most counts, they did win the concession that, after all, these were cultural organizations and some attention had to be given to cultural work, but with the proviso that it "serve the class struggle." So the Party leaders toned down their attacks on the Ukrainian leaders — but at the price of having their organizations serve the Party more directly and more fully, which they did, of course, right through until the late 1960s.
No time for the arts
I should add that the Party leaders had much the same attitude to Party members participating in the arts. Fairly late in my Party career, I became painfully aware that a very active member of the Party, especially a leader or one holding a full-time position, could not take up any of the arts as a hobby. For example, if while I was in full-time work in the Party, let's say in the late 1940s or 1950s, I had wanted to take up painting; I couldn't have done so; it would have been considered a bourgeois frill. And this applied to all branches of art: singing in a choir, playing in an orchestra, belonging to a ballet or folk dance group. A professional artist could join the Party, of course, and a number of them did. Invariably they were asked to contribute their work for the Party, which was okay. But for someone else to take time out for one of the arts would have been considered a waste of time, time away from the class struggle.
All my life I wanted to take up painting, but didn't dare. Not because somebody told me not to; I myself had been conditioned to believe that it would mean taking time away from the "more important things" I was doing for the Party.
That kind of attitude was very prevalent among the very dedicated Party people. We were all "for the revolution." Anything that took people away from the class struggle was a disservice to the cause. In those earlier years, even Party members like John Weir frowned on Ukrainians producing songs and plays, including folk plays, that had no "class content," plays that "didn't lead people to struggle." Weir didn't go all the way with this line; he knew enough not to condemn all Ukrainian culture. He was a highly cultured man who knew and enjoyed reading Shevchenko's work. And Shevchenko's work had a lot of revolutionary ideas. But there were many other renowned Ukrainian authors whose work didn't have any revolutionary content, yet are still considered classical examples of Ukrainian art and culture.
Nationalism and chauvinism
Q. These critical attitudes remind me of something that Lenin himself criticized. If one says this is "bourgeois" or that's "social reformist," it's almost as if the criticism is made from a left-wing, Communist point of view, a kind of "infantile disorder." How would you assess Stalin's ideological perspective vis-à-vis that of Lenin? Would you say he was more to the Left?
Oh, certainly. Let's not forget that early after the revolution Lenin warned against the danger of both bourgeois nationalism and Russian national chauvinism. And he added that the bigger danger was Russian national chauvinism, because he knew that the Russians were the dominant nation and were in the ruling position. He was right, of course. During the Stalin regime and even after it, nobody ever put any emphasis on — or dared to bring up — the problem of Russian chauvinism. Because all too many of the people who were in positions of power were Russian chauvinists, and often anti-Semites too. They looked for bourgeois nationalism in everything the Ukrainian Communists did, but didn't look at themselves for any evidence of Russian chauvinism.
The irony is that Stalin was supposed to have produced the definitive work on the national question, which included a definition of what constitutes a nation. Mind you, I'm sure he didn't produce it alone; it was very likely a collective effort for which he took the credit. In any case, it turned out to be just theory. For a while they applied it to some degree, so that for a few short years after the Revolution there was a flourishing. of Ukrainian culture, but after Stalin came to power, not only were those principles not applied, they were totally distorted. Russian chauvinism reigned supreme.
People were told that Russian was no longer just the language of the Russians, but the language of the Soviet people. The process of assimilation was speeded up, especially among the Ukrainians and Belarusians, because their languages are closest to Russian in form. It was more difficult to impose the Russian language on the people of Georgia and Tadzhikistan or Estonia and Latvia. They did, of course, make Russian the working language. And to a large extent they succeeded, because technological and economic factors played a part. Young people in Ukraine, for example, were more likely to learn Russian, because they knew they could wind up working in Murmansk, Vladivostok or the Urals. It was difficult to fight against that, because there was a need for a common language. And the Russian chauvinists took full advantage of that. As a result, most people in Ukraine, especially the young and those in the big urban centres, spoke Russian rather than Ukrainian.
In Ukraine and Belarus, not only was assimilation encouraged and the Russian language ardently promoted, but their native languages were discouraged and put down as "village languages." By the Brezhnev era, thousands of Ukrainian schools were totally wiped out.
A classic example was how, immediately after the war, this matter was handled in Western Ukraine. In 1939, Western Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union. But unlike Eastern Ukraine, where all the people knew Russian, the people of Western Ukraine had little or no knowledge of Russian. They were never part of Russia. For centuries their land belonged to Austria, then Poland, Romania, or Czechoslovakia. So, when Western Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union, Moscow sent many Russians to help administer the area. Then you'd have a situation where some old Ukrainian peasant woman would come into an office and start speaking to the person in charge in Ukrainian. To which the Russian administrator would arrogantly reply: "Why don't you speak in the universally understood language?"
Effects of Russification
This problem of Russification of the Ukrainian people over several decades still has its repercussions. After Ukraine declared its independence in 1991, Ukrainian was declared the working language. There was no dispute about that. But there are still many Russians in Ukraine, especially in the eastern part, who, while they agree that the working language should be Ukrainian, want Russian to be given equal status.
That, of course, would be unacceptable. The Russian language has been so dominant, has permeated everything for so long, that Ukrainian now has an uphill battle as it is. For example, because to date practically all technical books were printed in Russian, the government now has to start printing them in Ukrainian. And most of the movies are still in Russian. Giving Russian equal status would mean that Ukrainian would have a truly difficult time becoming the operating language in the country. The irony is that Ukraine, like Russia, now also has the problem that too many of the movies being shown are American. From what I hear, they're drowning out even the Russian movies.
Q. Krawchuk goes into a lot of detail about the ULFTA — or at least the Party fraction of the ULFTA — being involved in discussions with the Comintern between 1928 and 1931. The Party's official history doesn't go into this much. It basically claims that one member of the Comintern was sent to Canada to arbitrate the situation in 1931. Is it your understanding that the lengthy discussions were only between the ULFTA and the Central Executive, or were there similar protracted discussions and debate in the Finnish and the Jewish sections of the Party that also involved the Comintern?
Definitely with the Finnish section. I don't know about the Jewish sector. The Comintern sent more than one representative, and more than once, despite what the official Party history says. Delegations of two or three were sent on several occasions. On at least one occasion, it was a Finn. The leader of the Finnish Organization at that time was John Ahlqvist. He was very loyal to the Party, indeed, was one of its founding members, but he had serious differences with the Party leadership, unlike Tom Hill, at that time a youth leader among the Finns, who faithfully followed the Party line. Ahlqvist, Popowich and Navis were of the same opinion: that you have to build the Party, but it was also important to have a strong cultural organization. So these discussions with the Comintern definitely included the Finns.
Mind you, overall, the Finns were more hard-line, more pro-Party than the Ukrainians, and their organization became even more like the Party than did the Ukrainian, although probably not much more. I don't know how that affected the Finnish community, but there was one big difference: the Ukrainian community had the Soviet regime in Ukraine to deal with and was split on that issue.
Speaking of the split in these two communities, it should be noted that in each instance both the left-wing and the right-wing organizations had only a portion of each community. The majority of Ukrainians and Finns in Canada did not belong to these organizations, and some were only supporters. They were either apolitical or just mildly political. Even today, both the mainstream and the left-wing Ukrainian organizations have only a portion of the community. They certainly have very few young people, chiefly because of the inroads assimilation has made.
Q. One person who was observing the protracted debate in the Party in the period from 1928 to 1931 was Matthew Shatulsky. Krawchuk calls his observations an insightful appraisal, basically summing them up as saying it was a fight for direct mechanical control. Would you agree that the fight was more for this mechanistic control, or was it grounded in ideological differences?
That's hard to say. I would lean more to mechanistic control. Because there weren't really any great ideological differences on the need for socialism, on the need to fight capitalism. It was more on what form the fight for those goals should take. The Ukrainian leaders thought there was a need for a cultural organization, which was proven by history, while some Party leaders considered the cultural organizations secondary; indeed, that what was needed was to meld these people into one socialist organization, preferably the Communist Party. But there is no way that the mass of progressive-minded, left-leaning Ukrainians or Finns would have all gone into the Communist Party. That's why in those early years the Ukrainian and Finnish leaders in the Party argued that a cultural organization was needed for the people in their communities. And in the end they won out.
Q. Krawchuk cites the John Navis papers as being instrumental in helping with the-book. The particular instance was to document Matthew Popowich's change of attitude from one supporting the increased Party influence over the ULFTA to one opposing it. But how valuable would the Navis papers be in documenting this period?
Very valuable. Both Navis's papers and Shatulsky's. Popowich was not liked by the Party leadership because he was his own man, wasn't a faithful and unquestioning follower; he had to be convinced. And he had strong opinions. It's true that later he had certain disagreements with the other Ukrainian leaders, but the documents dealing with the period when they were fighting the Party or resisting the Party are very authentic. They are copies of the actual documents that were sent to the Comintern. Navis didn't write a lot, but Popowich and Shatulsky did. Some of Shatulsky's hand-written notes were translated in Krawchuk's book.
Krawchuk has sent most of his papers, something like 80 boxes, to the National Archives in Ottawa and the Ukrainian Canadian Archives and Museum of Alberta. But he told me just recently that he has kept most of Navis's handwritten documents and will ask his daughter, Larissa Stavroff, to take charge of them.
Effects of "labeling"
Q. I'm interested in the practice of labeling. Krawchuk is quite critical of it. He says that in the process of the "turn to the left" the ULFTA was accused of "immigrant tailism," and all Ukrainian nationalist organizations were "fascist." He calls it a narcosis. How effective was labeling in stifling intelligent debate over that period from 1928 to 1931?
Labeling is always stifling And labeling someone you do not agree with has always been a common weapon in politics. In this case, the dispute with the Ukrainians, the recrimination and labeling didn't last long. The Party realized fairly early — I think by the mid-30s for sure — that the ethnic organizations were an important resource base, a resource to maintain and nurture. Some Party leaders were aware of this sooner than others. John Weir was one of them, although he always sided with the Party leadership. Leslie Morris was another. Others, largely Anglo-Saxons and what I call anglicized Jews, said, "To hell with this nationalist culture. The class struggle is the important thing."
When I say anglicized Jews, I mean those who weren't active in the Jewish organization. The Jews in the Party weren't religious, of course, but they were divided into two groups. Most of them wanted to belong to a Jewish organization — for the language, for the culture, and so on. But there were a few — who for want of a better term I call "anglicized" or more assimilated — people like Harvey Murphy or Maurice Spector, who didn't want to have anything to do with a Jewish cultural organization. Then there were people like Norman Freed, Oscar Kogan and Bill Sydney, who were members of the organization but weren't active in it; they gave all their time to Party work. There were a few Ukrainians in this category too — people like Paul Pauk, for example, and in their earlier years Bill Harasym and John Eleen — who did not belong to the Ukrainian organization; they were busy either in trade union or Party work.
I kept my ties with Ukrainians
I myself was very active in the Ukrainian organization in the earlier years, but I was also always very active in the YCL or the Party. Later, I was active in the Ukrainian organization only to the extent my Party work allowed me to be. Some of the Ukrainian leaders thought that I was devoted more to the Party than to work with the Ukrainians, although I was always a member of the ULFTA and later the AUUC until the mid-1970s. And I always took an interest in what was happening in the Ukrainian community. My wife was a member of the mandolin orchestra and was also a Party member. But there were not many like me who were very active in both. There were quite a few Party members who held Party cards but worked mainly in an ethnic organization. There were others, not as many, who just held a membership card in the ULFTA but were mainly active in a trade union or in the Party or one of the other Party-led organizations.
Yes, some of us were singled out to try to build the Party among the Anglo-Saxons. But we were handicapped. You must realize that there was a lot of bigotry in those days. That's why, when I was working in the YCL and in the Party, I changed my name. With my Ukrainian name I had two strikes against me. Some might argue that people who were interested in socialism wouldn't be bothered by that. The trouble was that you first had to get them interested in socialism. But discrimination wasn't new to me; I had experienced it in my school years.
About Lenin School graduates
We didn't succeed much in winning Anglo-Saxons, not because we didn't try, but because of the image the Party had among the people. As I've already mentioned, there was its overwhelmingly ethnic composition. And the mainstream press added to it by portraying the Party as Russian, plus "foreign agents," "Moscow gold," and all that.
Let me give you another example that relates to what I've been saying. In the earlier years, the Party sent its promising younger members to the Lenin School in Moscow, for two or three-year stints. In 1928, Stewart Smith was the first, followed by Sam Carr, Leslie Morris and John Weir. Later there were some who were sent for six-month periods: Harvey Murphy, Charlie Weir, Bill Kardash and a few others. Still later, they decided to send young people of Anglo‑
Saxon origin, YCL members like Dot May, Bill Croft, Stan Buchanan and others. The irony is that none of them stayed in the Party after coming back. Not a single one. I don't know what it was. Partly, I think, it was what they saw happening there, economically, politically and culturally. And the way the Party operated probably turned them off too. In any case, after they came back every one of them either eased out or dropped out of the Party. It all confirms the fact that the Party had a foreign rather than a Canadian image, that in a lot of things we did we copied the Soviet Party.
And that was true in most of the Parties. The Italians and Spaniards were among the first to do something about it. That was the basis of what they called Euro-communism. The Italians said they wanted their methods to be more acceptable to their people. They also said something that was unique for Communists to say at the time: "We Communists don't have all the answers; there are Catholics who are just as dedicated to changing the system. They have some ideas and some answers, so we have to work together." I believe it was the lack of that kind of broader approach that was one of the roots of the Communist failures.
About Communist arrogance
There was also what I would call a kind of Communist arrogance in many members of the Party. It was born of the concept that said: "We are Marxists; Marxism has the answers to all the questions; therefore, we have the answers to all questions." And everybody else was off base, not up to it, or a "revisionist." I'm putting it crudely, I know, but looking back I recall so many instances where this Communist arrogance was at play. The problem is that it was felt by the people. If you think you have all the answers, first thing you know you're talking down, lecturing to people, even while genuinely trying to convince them. It doesn't come across well when you're trying to get people to join the Party. I think that permeated a lot of the Party work, Party thinking.
[ Continued ... ]
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