The Lobay episode
Q. How important was Danylo Lobay and the group that was formed around him? And how many people did they attract?
Lobay was a card-carrying Party member but not a dedicated Communist. He bought into the ideology, but he wasn't enthusiastic or fanatical about it. He was also somewhat of a dilettante. He would never do anything like distribute leaflets or march in a demonstration. But he was a very able editor. Like a lot of other people during those years, he heard about the famine in Ukraine and other crimes being committed by the Stalin regime. He heard about how Ukrainian culture that flourished after the Civil War in Russia until about 1928 was suddenly being set back, being stifled. He began talking about it and was joined by other members in the ULFTA. In those days, however, to be critical of the Soviet Union in the Party or the ULFTA was a dangerous thing to do; one had to be very careful. But he accepted the challenge. This was happening at the very time the Party was pressuring its ethnic organizations to make the big "turn to the class struggle." So it is not surprising that they were quickly labeled as traitors, agents of capitalism, etc. After all, even the 1967 delegation that went to investigate Russification in Ukraine was labeled and vilified after it made a negative report.
He was accused by some of being "the other side of Trotskyism," but he wasn't anything close to being a Trotskyist. When he and his followers were drummed out of the ULFTA, they did publish their own paper for a while and were accepted by the right-wing Ukrainian groups. But they didn't last very long. Later, of course, their criticism was shown to have been valid.
Lobay and his followers were denounced and I went along with that, but, looking back, I'm sure that a lot of people who had similar doubts and were confused about what was happening in Ukraine simply chose not to question things too much and just kept their mouths shut.
Conforming to the Party line
Q. You said earlier that after 1931 the Party's control of the Ukrainian organizations became more obsessive. Can you give an example that would indicate it was consolidated to a greater degree in the late 1930s?
Again, it was not blatant control, with somebody forcing them to do something they didn't want to. Once Popowich and Navis and the others had their arms twisted and knuckled under, they decided to go down the Party line all the way. At times they became "holier than the Pope" and very quickly condemned any criticism of the Soviet Union. As Krawchuk points out, when some of the Ukrainian authors and other cultural leaders were shot during the Stalin regime, they took the Soviet side and said there must have been a good reason for it. And when there were reports in the nationalist papers and the mainstream media of famine in Ukraine, they sloughed it off as capitalist propaganda. They simply went along with the Soviet line, as did the entire Party. There was no reason for the Party to apply any special pressure, because ideologically the Ukrainian leadership and most of the membership was going along with the Party on pretty well everything.
Italian Party compared
Apropos all this, I recall an interesting thing that happened once when I was on the National Executive Committee. As I mentioned earlier, at one point Buck made a tour of several parties in Europe and Australia. On his return, he made a report to the National Committee, and while speaking about what he found in Italy, at one point he said: "You know, comrades, we have made some big mistakes in the way we organized our Party and how we dealt with our mass organizations [that's how the Party then referred to the ethnic organizations]. We made them too much like the Party." He went on to explain: "In Italy I found the Party's structure much looser. In the Italian Party, individuals who just carry a Party card and attend the odd meeting are considered members. Nobody asks them to collect funds or do this or that. The kind of members we have are regarded there as the active. They have about a million members, but the majority of them just carry a Party card and vote for Communist candidates. That's about all that's asked of them. Our ethnic organizations also have much the same kind of discipline." It was the only time we ever heard Buck say that. I suppose it showed that some sort of change was taking place. But by this time, these organizations were beginning to resent the way the Party was controlling them.
How control was implemented
Over the years, the Party developed a system for implementing this control. Because the Ukrainians were the largest group, there was always at least one Ukrainian member on the National Executive and always several on the National Committee. The Party also always had someone on its National Executive in charge of ethnic organizations, or national groups, as the Party used to call them. Early after the war it was
Paul Philips, then for a long time it was Misha Cohen. This representative from the National Executive would be in contact with the leaders of each of the national groups: pass along directives from the Party centre, tell them what the Party wanted done. Very often he would attend meetings of the group's Party committee. If there was any resistance to a particular directive or policy, this would be reported to the Executive, which would then discuss how and what kind of pressure should be applied. Besides that, before the convention of each ethnic organization, the Party wanted to know who was being nominated for its leadership. If they disapproved of someone, they would let it be known. But there weren't many such cases. In earlier years, both Party and non-Party members were elected to the leadership, but eventually it was always Party members who were nominated and elected. That is also how the Party was able to take firmer control. It was somewhat subtle, but not very.
“We don't need a commissar”
One of the problems was that most of the Ukrainian leaders were veteran members of the Party, ideologically developed and organizationally experienced. They resented having someone like Misha Cohen sit in on their Party committee and tell them what to do and not to do, or question some of their decisions. They didn't think it was necessary. For a long time they accepted it, but by the mid-1960s, especially after the delegation to Ukraine and the events in Czechoslovakia, they rebelled and refused to have a representative from the Party attend their meetings and to have to report to him. They said, in effect: we have a Party committee; we will report to the National Executive either directly or through our representative on the National Committee what decisions we have made. We don't need a "commissar" to come and tell us what to do. Eventually, even reporting to the National Executive was abandoned.
Q. At the start of World War II, the ULFTA was banned and its properties seized at the same time as the Communist Party was outlawed. Is it your understanding that the Canadian government took the initiative because of the interrelation of the two groups, or did the government take it in a context similar to that of World War I, when they made ethnic groups propaganda victims?
No, they knew all about the hand-in-glove relationship these organizations had with the Party; that they were fully controlled by the Party; that some of their leaders were members of the Party's National Executive Committee. All these Communist-led organizations were put on one level.
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