Victory Haynes (Jarko Koshiw) Rusian eagle

Whilst the Russo-Ukraine war has faded from the headlines recent years have seen a surge in interest in Ukraine, sadly this has not necessarily been accompanied by greater understanding.  This is because a great deal of what has appeared has regurgitated old narratives which provide little more than a cover for various rivals attempts to rule over the Ukrainian people.  Republished below is an introduction to the Ukrainian question with an outline of the colonial history of Ukraine by the Ukrainian writer and socialist by Victor Haynes (Jarko Koshiw).  The author of numerous books including Workers Against the Gulag ,   Abuse of Power: Corruption in the office of the president,  MH17: The story of the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner .  This article first appeared in International Discussion Bulletin (No. 5, 1977) originally published by the Socialist Workers Party (UK). T

Koshiw cover IST


The theme of this issue revolves around the question of nationalism; a problem that has arisen in a particularly acute form over the last decade. We examine the rise of this phenomenon in three very different countries, in an advanced capitalist country like Canada, in a state capitalist society—Ukraine and finally we have an interview expressing the views of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an example of a national liberation movement forced to take to arms due to the continued aggression of an expansionist state.  

This issue of the Bulletin, we hope, will be of great relevance to socialists in their day to day activity as each of these issues have been on the front pages of the international press over the last few months. ……. Finally the article on the Ukraine demolishes many of the myths surrounding the make-up of the USSR.  On the one hand it provides a detailed analysis of national oppression sixty years after the Russian Revolution proclaimed the right of self-determination for all nations in the Czarist empire. But it goes beyond this to disprove the assertion repeated both by Stalinists and ‘Carterites” [Then President of USA]  that all oppositions in the USSR are necessarily of the right. 

The question of nationalism has caused many problems of analysis for the revolutionary left.  Some groups have uncritically tailed bourgeois nationalist movements without offering any alternatives to the mass mobilisations that have arisen in support of nationalist aims. Others have dismissed such movements as bourgeois plots to divide and weaken the working class and have attempted to use their influence to keep workers from any nationalist contagion.  

Joanna Rollo, Tim Potter, The Editors

Map Ukr 3
Ukraine in 1917 – 1921 


by Victor Haynes (Jarko Koshiw)


In August 1977, the news of the arrest of the British student Andriy Klymchuck in Ukraine appeared in the British and international press. The press in the Soviet Union made the following announcement:

In August of this year, the organs of state security (the KGB), which are attached  to the Council of Ministers of the Ukrainian SSR, detained and arrested Andriy Klymchuk, a citizen of the United Kingdom who came to the USSR with a group of tourists from England, whilst he was undertaking hostile acts.

Films with coded information and directives of one of the foreign emigre centres of Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism concerning the undertaking of hostile anti-Soviet acts on the territory of the republic were confiscated from specially prepared hiding places in his possession. A large sum of Soviet currency earmarked for the financing of these criminal actions was also confiscate. An investigation is taking place.

(Radyanska Ukraina (Soviet Ukraine; 5 August, 1977)

As of 19 September, no more is known  about the case of Klymchuk. Meanwhile the NUS President, Sue Slipman, has written letters to the Soviet Embassy in London and the Student Council of the USSR protesting the arrest. The letters also demand that he have the right to a defence council and an open trial. Others are calling for his immediate release on the basis of the democratic right to carry literature across any state boundary. An NUS led Committee to Defend Andriy Klymchuk was formed on the basis of an open trial. The decision of whether to call for his immediate release has been postponed because of the resistance of the Communist Party students with their allies on the NUS executive.Gulag workers

This article hopes to give the political environment in which the arrest was made. Arrests for nationalism are a common feature of Ukrainian politics. On 2 July, the press reported the sentencing of two Ukrainians, Mykola Rudenko and Oleksa Tikhy to seven and ten years imprisonment for anti-Soviet activities. (Guardian 2/7/77). The two oppositionists were leading members of the Ukrainian Helsinki monitoring group which demanded democratic and national rights.1

In 1972 over 200 Ukrainian oppositionists were arrested and given savage prison sentences ranging from five to fifteen years for ‘anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda’. Among them was arrested Leonid Plyushch, a left wing oppositionist. After an intensive campaign in France for his release, the French Socialist Party, the trade unions and finally the French CP, demanded his immediate release from a psychiatric prison where he was interned. On the 9 January, 1976 the Moscow rulers freed Plyushch and allowed him and his family to emigrate to the West.2

The arrests in 1972 of Ukrainian oppositionists began simultaneously with the arrest of a Belgian student of Ukrainian origin, Dobush, who like Andriy Kiymchuk, supposedly gave literature and money to three leading Ukrainian oppositionists. This was used to arrest the three ; as well as all those associated with them, including Leonid Plyushch who was visiting one of the named oppositionists.

Petro Shelest visiting collective farm
Petro Shelest former leader in Soviet Ukraine, deposed by Brezhnev for ‘Ukrainian nationalism’.

These arrests occurred in an atmosphere of accusations against the leader of the CP in the Ukraine, Petro Shelest, as well as other members of the ruling elite, of deviating towards Ukrainian nationalism. Petro Shelest was deposed as head of the Ukrainian CP as well as many of his close associates.

  1. Scherbitsky, Shelest’s successor, accused Shelest’s clique of ‘tolerance towards nationalism’, ‘incompetence in the selection of leading officials’ and ‘serious violations of party discipline’. In addition he stated:

It    must    be    noted    that    the    unprincipled, ‘Compromising    attitude    in    the   past    of   some functionaries vis-a-vis manifestations of nationalist narrow-mindedness   and local patriotism   had  a negative effect on the state of affairs in the sector of ideology .   .   .  In our land, there is no so-called ‘nationalities problem.

(New York Times, 23 April, 1973)

This article will show that there is a national problem which is due to the colonial policies carried out by Moscow both now and in the past. What a group of Ukrainian communists wrote in 1964 is true today as it was true during Stalin’s time.

Ukraine is proclaimed to constitute a sovereign state. In fact, as the other Soviet republics, it is a territorial administrative part of the Russian Empire.

Without the permission of Moscow, the government of the Ukrainian SSR does not have the power to decide on even the smallest issue. The First Secretary of the CP of Ukraine, Shelest, couldn’t sanction the construction of a pedestrian underpass in Kiev without first having obtained permission from Moscow. Ukraine as a state has been denied the necessary material means of defending its national interest. A huge army of demoralized, privileged, and to a large extent denationalized party functionaries constitute the basis of Moscow’s centralist policies… Everything is done with the aim of making Ukraine a province of Moscow… What do these policies serve: the building of communism or the re-enforcing of the Russian Empire?. . . We know that the fate of the Ukrainian nation is in its own hands. But when we think that the egoistic and chauvinistic policy of the CPSU will sooner or later lead to bloodshed, we are grieved.  

To Communists of the Peoples Deomocracies and Capitalist Countries. To the Central Organs of the Communist Parties and Workers’ Parties of the World. Meta, Vol. 1, no. 2,1976


Ukraine, an area the size of France, is one of the richest territories in Europe in terms of its natural resources, farming land and minerals. The irony of history is that is has been pillaged by neighbouring states who have denied it self-determination  and confined the Ukrainians to the lower sections of the social structure. The national question in the USSR today stems from the combined heritages of the feudal capitalist past and post-1917 periods. Capitalism cemented the feudal Russian empire into a unified economic system. The industrial region of central Russia became the manufacturing area, while the colonies became sources of materials and markets. From Ukraine, besides food, came coal, iron-ore, cast-iron and steel. Transcaucasia provided oil and minerals, while Central Asia manufactured cotton.  In return manufactured goods were sold in the colonies.

The working class in the colonies developed side by side the Tsarist bureaucracy, military outputs and colonialists.  Industrial cities grew in the colonies many populated by Russians. The vast majority of the conquered nationalities were confined to the countryside and belonged to the peasantry. In the Russian Empire non Russians were a slight majority of the population in 1917. 

Kiev central 1917
A demonstration in Kyiv during the Ukrainian Revolution in 1917

During the Russian Revolution, national liberation movements sprouted up against the Russian Empire.  Almost without exception such movements were based on the peasantry, whilst the Russian workers in the colonies were against the national liberation movements viewing them as petit bourgeois.  The Bolsheviks tried to overcome conflict forming the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic and trying to unite the poor peasantry with the workers.  Thus they tried to solve the problem of national oppression and the social transformation of capitalism simultaneously.

However the national question was not to be solved so easily. The formal declaration of the USSR did not mean that national oppression came to an end. In Ukraine, the great bulk of the proletariat was Russian, while the peasantry were Ukrainians. The conflict between workers and peasants was also a national conflict. Ukraine could not be on an equal footing with the Russian Republic if the proletariat there identified with Russia and not the Ukraine. This was intensified by the fact that the economic structure of the USSR was inherited from Tsarism with the metropolitan Russian manufacturing areas dominating the colonies.

But the major problem was that while there was formally a union of equal socialist republics, there was one centralised Communist Party. While democracy and discussion existed within the party and Soviets, the nationalities retained some autonomy. But with the pressures of the Civil War and the rapid rise of Stalinism the freedom enjoyed by Ukraine quickly diminished. Both the Trade Unions and the Red Army became dominated by Russians. The economic organs and decision making centres were also centralised in Moscow. The non-Russian republics supposed equality with Russia became a paper formality.

In his Last Testament4 Lenin argued that a new government be formed of representatives from the Republics. Lenin was against Stalin’s conception of a straightforward conversion of the existing institutions of the Russian Republic into the central institutions of the USSR, thus guaranteeing Russian domination. But at the 12th Party Congress, Stalin’s viewpoint was accepted. Thus Russian nationalism reasserted itself but disguised as communist internationalism in the symbol of the USSR.

Ukrainian school in 1933
A Ukrainian school during the period of Ukrainisation in Soviet Ukraine

Throughout the 1920s the struggle for the equality of the Republics continued. In Ukraine, in 1926, after a prolonged ideological discussion in the Communist Party, it was decided to change the language of the Ukrainian Republic’s institutions from Russian to Ukrainian. In 1928, the All-Ukrainian Trade Union Congress voted for Ukrainianisation, inspite of the fact that most workers at the Congress didn’t speak Ukrainian. The reason for Ukrainianisation by the Trade Union Congress was that with continued industrialisation, the bulk of the new workers would be Ukrainian speaking peasants. Also unity of the Russian speaking workers with the poorer Ukrainian speaking peasants could be maintained against the Ukrainian Kulaks.

But the dynamics of centralism and Russian nationalism destroyed the last vestiges of equality between the Republics and nations with the taking of absolute power by Stalin in 1927, centralisation and Russian chauvinism increased. In the 1930s the combined nature of the forced industrialisation and collectivisation took also the form of national oppression in the former colonies. Forced collectivisation in Ukraine by the peasants was seen as mass plundering of Ukraine by and for Russians.

Bodies in Kharkiv
Dead bodies on the streets of Kharkiv during the ‘Holodomor’ – the man-made famine  which killed millions in Ukraine in 1932-33

The intensity of the struggle was such that out of 23 million Ukrainian peasants, over three million died because of the State imposed famine in 1932-33, and another million were deported to Siberia. The Communist Party in Ukraine was decimated by purges and executions a few times over. The small Ukrainian literacy and artistic intelligentsia was almost totally annihilated. Out of 259 members of the Ukrainian Writers’ Union in 1930, 216 were executed or in concentration camps by 1938. The new rulers led by Stalin used Russian nationalism to centralise power for themselves throughout the USSR.

Some initially welcomed the German Army as a reprieve from Stalin’s terror.

It is not surprising that in the initial phase of the invasion by the Nazi armies of the USSR, Ukraine was easily conquered. It was not only the mistakes of Stalin who not believing that Hitler would invade did not prepare for the surprise attack. The fact was that the mass of the Ukrainian population did not resist the invaders. On the contrary, the Nazis were surprised by the number of people welcoming it and by the number of Soviet soldiers surrendering. In addition youth flocked to join the ‘German army against the ‘Russians’. 

However, very soon after occupying Ukraine, Nazi racism and super-exploitation began to turn the masses against the Nazis. Over two million Ukrainians were taken as forced labour to Germany. The Nazis maintained the Stalinist collective farms as institutions of super-exploitation. Unknown numbers, probably a million, mostly Jews, were murdered by the Nazis.

Reichscommissariat Ukraine
Mass executions in ‘Reichskommissariat Ukraine’

An armed resistance movement began to develop in 1942 against both the Nazis and the Stalinists. The resistance was led by Ukrainian Nationalists, who in the initial phase of the Nazi attack led the welcoming of the invaders. But soon afterwards most of the nationalists followed the population in resistance to the Nazis. A small section of the nationalists continued to serve the Nazis, many coming to the West after the end of the war. The resistance coalesced into the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). Under the pressure of events left-wing currents emerged to dominate the UPA.  In 1943, the old nationalist programme was scrapped. The new programme called for a class-less society based on democracy and socialisation of the means of production as well as an independent Ukraine and equality of nations. 

Hitler and Stalin
Controversial to this day, an UPA Poster – ‘No to Stalin No to Hitler’ 

But also the alliance of Stalin and the west against the Fascist regimes, meant they were internationally isolated. After the end of the war they were vindictively smashed by the Stalinists.  The Stalinists to cover their crimes in Ukraine attempted to dismiss the Ukrainian Insurgent Army as being pro-Nazi.  And this myth is being repeated in the West by both the right and parts of the left. Right wing Ukrainian emigres say the UPA was anti-communist. And this myth is repeated by sections of the western communist parties to suppress both the anti-Nazi and anti-Stalinist programme of the UPA.

The Ukrainian Question Today

After Stalin’s day dozens of political groupings emerged in the Ukraine (see Ferment in the Ukraine, Macmillan, London, 1971). One of the groups, a loose collection of young writers, artists and workers, coalesced around the book by Ivan Dzyuba ‘Internationalism or Russification?’ (Weidenfield and Nicholson, London, 1970) Dzyuba wrote this book in 1965 during a wave of arrests against artists and writers calling for civil liberties and Ukranianisation. Dzuba bookIn the 1960’s the CP in Ukraine was headed by Petro Shelest. As Party chief, he made the Ukraine his personal fiefdom. In response to the growing nationalist currents, he wrote a book ‘Ukraine, Our Soviet’ (Publisher of Political Literature in Ukraine, Kiev 1970); 100,000 copies were printed.  In the book, Shelest lavishly lauded the Ukrainian masses for their democratic history and contribution to the Soviet Union: a thesis reserved until then exclusively for the Russian masses. When Shelest’s book was published in 1970, cronies hailed it as one of the greatest books ever published etc. But when Shelest was deposed from power in 1972, the press in Ukraine wrote that his book ‘could nourish nationalist illusions and prejudices’ (Za sho Usunuly Shelesta, Suchasnist, NYC 1973).

But Dzyuba’s book is much more interesting. Illegally produced and distributed by oppositionists, it became more popular than Shelest’s. Dzyuba attacked the Russification of “non-Russians as being Stalinist and a continuation of Tsarist Great Russian chauvinism. He demanded the internationalist solution to the national problem—the equality of nations and republics in the Soviet Union. Dzyuba and not Shelest became the symbol of resistance to national oppression in Ukraine.

In his analysis of the society in Ukraine, Dzyuba saw language as having a class character:

“. . . here the national question. . . develops into a social one: we see that in city life the Ukrainian language is in a certain sense opposed as the language of the ‘lower’ strata of the population (caretakers, maids, unskilled labourers, newly hired workers from the village, rank and file workers, especially in the suburbs! to the Russian language of the ‘higher’, “more educated” strata of society (captains of industry, clerks and the intelligentsia)…’

This higher, strata in Ukraine is made up of both Ukrainians and Russians. But has as its core a section of the Russian population which plays the role of colonialists. Dzyuba, unlike the leader of the “higher” strata, Shelest, vehemently attacked this layer: “Today, especially in the large cities, there is a very considerable stratum of the Russian petty bourgeoisie which is hopelessly far from being the carriers of communist internationalism and are instead the spiritual heirs of “ten generations of colonizers”… it is semi-officially considered to be the true carriers of correct ideas, the reliable prop of government, and a counter-balance to the “local people…”

The statistical reality of the national question, as shown by the census of 1970 in Ukraine, is that the Russian population as a whole is concentrated in the upper half of the social structure while the Ukrainians predominate in the lower half. The census give Ukraine a population of 47 million, of which 9 million identify themselves as Russians, while 35 million as Ukrainians.  Where as only a quarter of the Ukrainian population lived in the large urban areas of Ukraine, more than half of the Russians lived there. The large urban areas of Ukraine have the most advanced civilized infrastructures, while the villages and smaller towns are the backward economic areas. In 1970, more than half of the Ukrainians lived in the villages, while only 15 per cent of the Russians did. As a consequence the Russian population as a whole is socially more privileged than the Ukrainian population as a whole.

The labour structure by nationality shows the inequality of nationalities around the means of production. There are 23 million people employed in the economy in Ukraine. Of those six million work in agriculture, almost all Ukrainians, and almost no Russians.  As a rule agricultural workers are considered to be a lower caste, with legal restrictions as to migration and to the visiting cities, which is limited to three days and can be only extended with police permission. City residents do not have these restrictions. Also city residents have internal passports, while village residents do not. In the occupational structure, Ukrainians are further discriminated against. Whilst seven out of ten of blue collar workers are Ukrainian the proportion falls in the more skilled and better paid jobs. Thus in the machine engineering industry only six out of ten workers are Ukrainian and Ukrainians make up only a half of skilled workers. On the other hand the proportion of Ukrainians in relatively unskilled jobs like transport and construction rises to 70 and 80 per cent. Thus the tendency among ‘blue collar’ workers is Ukrainians to be concentrated in the less skilled jobs and Russians in the more skilled jobs. The same relationship exists amongst white collar workers. Six out of ten are Ukrainians, but amongst technicians and engineers, the proportion falls to half. The same trend exists in   , education; whereas 26 per cent of the Russian population,  have a university or secondary degree only 15 per cent of Ukrainians are similarly qualified. The universities serve to perpetuate the inequality of the nationalities. In 1970, 18 of every thousand Russians in the Ukraine were at University, among an equal number of Ukrainians only eight attended.

The political significance of the social layer with university degrees is very important. Today almost without exception, the party, government, and industrial rulers came from the layer of university graduates. One of the minimum requirements to enter the ruling group in the Soviet Union today is to have a university degree. Gone are the days when a factory worker could enter the ruling circles. Today it is almost strictly reserved for the ‘upper-intelligentsia’.

Ukraine is ruled both politically and economically by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Very centralised the party is based in Moscow. The Ukrainian CP and the government of the republic (which still retains its seat in the United Nations) have probably less decision making power than a local council in Britain. We have already seen how Shelest, the top man in the Ukraine could not even build a sub-way without asking permission from Moscow, yet the Party is the most important institution in Ukraine. The so-called government leaders and UN representative are completely powerless. The same thing goes for the economy. The largest and most important section of the ruling group are the industrial managers, the ‘red bourgeoisie’ especially those in the big enterprises. Yet the management is strictly controlled from Moscow.

KGB Picture of socialist Dissident Ivan Dzyuba

This group along with leading party officials are very Russified whether or not they are Ukrainians by origin. If they are to remain part of the ruling group they must put foremost the interests of the Great Russian Empire, nationally as well as internationally. The ruling group allows no other nationalism in its midst except Russian and that can be very chauvinist indeed. There is no evidence that anyone has ever been imprisoned for Russian nationalism though that ‘crime’ is often used against non-Russians.

Russian chauvinism in Ukraine is perpetuated by certain sections of the Russian population in the cities of Ukraine. Superficially it takes the form of keeping the Ukrainian language out of the cities and all its institutions. This includes personal abuse for speaking Ukrainian. The most popular chauvinistic abuse is to demand from a Ukrainian to speak in a civilized language (Russian) and not a peasant language (Ukrainian).

One of the main dynamics of Russian chauvinism in Ukraine is the struggle to have a better standard of living at the expensed the majority.  Masses of Russians immigrate
into the Ukraine for the sole purpose of improving their standard of living.   Between the 1959 and the 1970 census the most intense emigration of Russians for any other
eleven year period was recorded. A study (V. V. Onykiyenko and V. J   Popovkin: Kompleknoye Issledovanye Migraciyonnich Prociessov [Statystyka Moskva, 1973]) showed that a million immigrants, mostly engineers, technicians, skilled workers, and by nationality Russian, settled in Ukraine. On the other hand, about 800,000, mostly un-skilled Ukrainian youth left Ukraine for Siberia because they could not find work in Ukraine. The net effect of this population an exchange was to increase the proportion of Russians into the upper layers of the society of Ukraine.

As oppositionist, Svyatoslav Karavansky, wrote in the 1960s of the social consequence of such an exchange of population:

The appearance in the Ukraine of large numbers of Russians. . . who settle in cities and take over the better positions, jobs and professions, forces the native Ukrainian populace into low-paying work as unskilled labourers, sanitary workers, janitors, dock workers and agricultural labourers, (p. 203, V Chornovil, The Chornovil Papers (McGraw-Hill, 1968}.

Ivan Dzyuba in his book lnternatonalism or Russification? shows concretely how the social and national questions in Ukraine are interlinked.

“Let us take as an example one of the great Ukrainian construction projects …At the end of 1963, when the number of workers on the project almost reached its maximum, the labour force was made up of 70-75per cent Ukrainians, 2 per cent Byelorussians, and smaller nationalities. . . The power station seems to be built mainly by Ukrainians. Yet almost all the top posts on the job (construction chief, chief engineer, most sectional and divisional managers) were occupied by Russians. They also constitute the majority among the rank and file engineers and technicians. Among the Russian workers a much higher percentage are highly skilled than among the Ukrainians. Many of the later were dismissed when the construction was nearing completion. Of the 127 Russian members of management division of the main installations, only 11 were born in the Ukraine, the rest came from Russia.’

The immigration of labour with higher social status reinforces the social discrimination against Ukrainians. Russians defend their better economic position with great Russian chauvinism while Ukrainians relapse into nationalism. In this case Russian nationalism is reactionary and oppressive while Ukrainian nationalism is a defensive reaction to national oppression.

The solution to the national and social oppression in Ukraine cannot be a nationalist conflict. This would only bring into power a Ukrainian nationalist ruling class and instate another repressive regime. Further it would not solve any of the social problems existing in Ukraine. What is needed is the solution of the national and social problems simultaneously.

  1. Siryi, a worker from Odessa associated with the Ukrainian Helsinki group, outlined a strategy in a letter addressed to Brezhnev. As there are no political rights for the masses he demands the right to demonstrate, strike and protest in other ways. On the national question he calls for the restoration and expansion of the ‘rights of the national republics, in particular Ukraine. Educationschools, universitiesshould be in Ukrainian. State institutions should also conduct their business in Ukrainian. The republic should have their own national cadres at all levels.

On the social questions he attacks the ‘bosses’, the managers, for paying low wages, rising prices, shortages and rationing of food, lack of aid for large families, distribution of housing based on bribes, and poor medical service. He calls for trade unions to be controlled by rank and file workers, instead of the ‘bosses’.

 ‘This is especially  obvious in the local city trade union committees where, for example, lists of acceptable candidates (lackeys, drinking bodies) are prepared by the Party and given to the local trace union: then the illusion is created that they were chosen by the trade-union meeting . . .’  (The Ukrainian Workers’ Open Letter to Brezhnev, INPRECOR, 31 March, 1977

This programme is just a first step but a necessary one to break down the effects of Stalinism on Ukrainian society. Further steps would be to institute a multi-party state and free elections of all political and economic positions of importance, independently of nationality. What is needed therefore is the democratisation of the state. If the Soviet rulers will not allow even the most basic, bourgeois democratic rights, then those changes will have to be imposed violently. Yet even these rights are a far cry from working class power, the only force that can overcome the social, economic and national oppression which exists within the USSR.

As socialists in the west, we must support the struggle for democratic rights and against colonial and national oppression in Ukraine.  It too is part of the international struggle for socialism and against reaction.


  • The Ukrainian Group to Implement the Helsinki Accords, Committee in Defence of Soviet Political Prisoners, London 1977
  • An Interview with Leonid Plyushch, Diyaloh, 1976; Pluyshch Dossier, Meta, Vol 1 No 2 1976, both available from P.O.B. 325 Station P, Toronto Ontario, Canada,).
  • See Lewin, Lenin’s Last Struggle, Pluto Press, London 1975.