UKRAINE: REVOLUTIONARY NATIONALISM AND THE ANTI-BUREAUCRATIC REVOLUTION (1985)
Zbigniew Marcin Kowalewski
Published in: International Viewpoint, No. 73, April 8, 1985, pp. 23-26. Followed by an update 2015.
In November 1950, near the city of Ivano-Frankivsk, Captain Osyp Diakiv-Hornovy fell in battle against the troops of the NKVD. In the winter of 1951/52, in the Carpathian forests, Major Petro Poltava (his real name is not known) was killed in similar circumstances. They were outstanding leaders of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and commanders of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). They belonged to the same generation of young cadres of the Ukrainian revolutionary movement and were its principal theoreticians. With their names and work is linked the radical ideological and programmatic evolution of the national liberation movement in the Ukraine toward democratic socialism. The political thought of the OUN and the UPA, developed by Hornovy and Poltava, is perhaps the most dangerous legacy of the Ukrainian nationalist movement of the 1940s for the Kremlin and what the Stalinists are most anxious to eradicate from the memory of this revolutionary movement.
In August 1943, the OUN’s Extraordinary Congress adopted a new program. It was in this period that the OUN took the leadership of the insurrectionary and underground struggle of the masses of western Ukraine against German imperialism. At the same time, it was preparing to wage armed resistance against the reconquest of Ukraine by “Bolshevik Moscovite imperialism,” as the nationalists called the system of national oppression imposed by Stalinism. On the one hand, the program adopted at the 1943 congress called for the formation of an independent united Ukrainian state, as well as for collaboration with the liberation movements of other oppressed nations of the USSR, to eliminate the “prisonhouse of nations” and replace it with a system of free national states. The OUN saw such a system as the only possibility for ending Russia’s domination over its neighboring nations.
On the other hand, the new program was based on the assumption that any national revolution had at the same time to be a social revolution, that there could be no real national liberation either in the USSR or in the world in general without social liberation. “By abolishing the exploitation of class by class, we will create a just social order in the Ukraine,” the resolutions of the 1943 congress proclaim.
The statement entitled “What Is the UPA Fighting For?” based on the resolutions of the congress said that in an independent Ukraine, big industry (as well as the major trading enterprises and the banks) would be the property of the nation-state, and that small industrial and trading businesses would be owned by cooperatives and city governments. At the same time, the workers would be guaranteed a role in running the enterprises. The land would be nationalized, to be tilled either individually or collectively in accordance with the will of the peasants .
Poltava later explained: “Ukrainian nationalists are fighting to assure that in the future Ukraine a classless society will be built, that is a society in which there will be no exploitation of human beings by human beings and in which no social layer will economically dominate other layers. The foundation of this system will be social ownership of the instruments and means of production. In this way the economic basis for the formation of exploiting classes will be removed.” 
The OUN and the UPA believed that in the USSR a monopoly of power was held by a “parasitical class of Bolshevik (or Stalinist) masters.” This class exercised a two-fold domination: 1) totalitarian domination (dictatorship) over the working masses of all nationalities in the empire, including the working people of the Russian nation; 2) colonial domination over the non-Russian nations and nationalities (“Moscovite Bolshevik imperialism”). On this basis, they maintained, it also carried twofold exploitation, exploitation of class by class and nation by nation.
Hornovy and Poltava went into great detail in analyzing these two types of domination and exploitation. At the same time, they pointed out that the origin and nature of the power of the “class of Stalinist masters” were different from those of class rule in the capitalist system.
“We see that the exploitation of human beings by human beings,” Hornovy said, “is not based solely in private ownership making it possible to accumulate enormous riches in the hands of a small minority (the landowners and capitalists). We see that in the USSR there is no private property as regards the tools and means of production (land, forests, mines, factories and plants, transport and so forth) and that these have not only been expropriated from the landowners, capitalists and wealthy peasants, but that the former owners of these themselves have been physically exterminated.
“Yet the exploitation of many exists; there exist the exploited masses and the exploiting party masters. There exists in the USSR an exploiting class that has been created not on the basis of private property but on that of the unlimited political power of one party. (…) In the Bolshevik system, we see a process opposite to the one that occurs under the capitalist system. Concretely, in capitalism it is private wealth that confers power in the state, while in the Bolshevik system, it is political power that opens up access to material wealth and makes it possible to use this wealth freely.” 
To topple the totalitarian rule of the “parasitic class” in the USSR over the working masses, what was needed, therefore, was not a revolution that would change the system of ownership but one that would establish political democracy: “The democratic system in the future Ukrainian state, in which the government will be elected by the people and under its control, will make it impossible for exploiting classes to form on the basis of political privileges.” 
With the establishment of genuine political democracy, the means of production would come under genuine social ownership. In order to abolish the colonial domination of “Bolshevik Moscovite imperialism” and keep it from coming back, it was necessary to transform the USSR into a system of free and equal national states defined by the ethnographic boundaries of each nation. These two tasks were closely linked and would have to be achieved simultaneously.
At the same time as saying that in the USSR there was “the class of Stalinist masters that must be removed by force from the path of societal development” and calling “social revolution” what revolutionary Marxists call political revolution, Hornovy said clearly that this “social revolution is bolstered by the trend to national revolutions on the part of the oppressed nations of the USSR.” 
In his works, which were written in the underground bunkers of the UPA, Hornovy devoted considerable space to the ideological struggle against Stalinism. Above all, he implacably and brilliantly exposed the consolidation of the ideology of Great Russian chauvinism, which was undertaken by Stalin in 1945. But he went further.
“A very important place in current Bolshevik ideology is occupied by the thesis about ‘the progressive transition to communism.’ Taking for granted that the first phase of communism, socialism, already has been attained, the Stalinist masters contend that the second phase, a higher phase — that of developed communism — is now being built. In such a society the principle, ‘from each according to ability, to each according to his needs’ will be realised, and there will disappear differences between city and village and between physical and intellectual labour.”
Hornovy’s response to this theory was the following: “There can be no transition to communism in the USSR, inasmuch as there is no socialism. So long as there is no social ownership of the means of production, so long as there exists the brutal exploitation of man and so long as the principle of distribution according to labour done is not realised (from each according to ability, to each according to his work), so long can there hardly be any talk of transition to communism.” 
The OUN and UPA firmly opposed restoration of capitalism in an independent Ukraine. Hornovy and Poltava constantly stressed this. Poltava criticised the Voice of America’s broadcasts for the Soviet Union, saying: “The Soviet masses hate the Bolshevik ‘socialism.’ But that does not mean that the Soviet people are longing for capitalism, which was destroyed on the territory of the present USSR back in 1917-20. The Soviet people in their absolute majority are clearly against the restoration of capitalism. That is the result of the revolution.”
Poltava added: “We, the participants in the liberation struggle in the Ukraine, who are inside the Soviet Union and have connections with the broad Soviet masses, know only too well that they have no admiration for capitalism — neither the old European kind nor the modem American kind.” 
Pointing out that “under capitalism the masses of working people find themselves in the position of being citizens who are economically and politically powerless,” Poltava stated: “A situation in which some social classes grow rich and live in abundance while others go hungry and sink into poverty simply because all that they possess is their own hands, their labour power, is in flagrant contradiction to the concepts of social justice and national solidarity. (…)
“The Ukrainian nationalists do not want there to be exploiters and exploited in the Ukrainian people; they do not want to see this people torn by class struggle. Since there is only one way to put an end to this dangerous situation, that is, by socializing all branches of economy, they consider this solution to be the basis for the new economic and social system.”
Moreover, Poltava said, capitalism generates economic crises and wars, which are the greatest evil humanity faces. “One of the mechanisms for preventing crises is the introduction of planning into economic life, the planned organization of production and distribution. Planning these areas is possible only in a socialised economy. For this reason, the socialisation of the instruments and means of production is also one of the means for averting economic crises.”°
In the light of this presentation of the political thought of Hornovy and Poltava, the question arises of what attitude the Ukrainian revolutionary nationalists took towards Marxism. This query was taken up in their time by a group of Ukrainian revolutionary socialists (Ivan Majstrenko, Vsevolod Holubnychy, Borys Levyts´kyi), who published the periodical Vpered (“Forward”) in the West, and defended the UPA’s struggle in the left wing of the workers’ movement in the capitalist countries.
In this group it was believed that there were contradictions between the positions of Poltava and those of Hornovy, with the latter representing a Marxist current inside the OUN. In 1949-50, Vpered established contact with the OUN leadership in Ukraine and got a letter from Poltava, written in agreement with Hornovy. Among other things, the letter says:
“It is only on the basic things that we agree with Marx’s critique of capitalism. Thus, we make a positive assessment (although not in its entirety) of the socialist concept (as formulated by the various socialist currents) of building the society that is to replace capitalist society. (…) On these two points — in our view of capitalism and our conception of a classless society — at most we come close to some extent to the socialist theories, including Marxism.
„We have formulated our views not as ‘disciples of Marx,’ not as advocates of socialism, without being in the least attracted by Marxism and in a struggle against Marxism as an overall ideology, in the struggle against the pernicious consequences of Marxism on Ukrainian soil. We have worked out our viewpoints in an empirical way, starting off from our nationalist ideological positions. (…) We cannot be linked to Marxism because in the most complete sense of the term, we are a national movement, not a class-struggle movement or a class-struggle internationalist movement, as Marxism would require.” 
In his letter, Poltava stressed that the OUN was formed and continued to operate “as a movement struggling against Marxism, against the corrosive and destructive effects of Marxism on the political thought of Ukrainian intellectuals for the last half century and on our people’s consciousness of the needs of independence and statehood.” But what did Poltava mean by the Marxism against which the revolutionary nationalist movement had declared an ideological war?
In one of his most important writings, Hornovy pointed clearly to two things. First, for OUN members, there was no official philosophy that they had to subscribe to. The only thing that they had to accept was the ideology and the program of the organization, in whose ranks there were both philosophical idealists and materialists. Hornovy considered this variety of ideas natural and proper. Secondly, he said: “It is necessary to distinguish the dialectical and historic materialism of Marx and Engels from Stalin’s dialectical materialism. We regard the first as a specific philosophical school of materialism, and criticizing it is a matter for scholarship.
“Stalin’s version of dialectical and historical materialism we combat with the greatest determination as something unscientific, something contrary to the spirit of science, as an instrument used by the Bolshevik Party to legitimize its exploitative and colonial policy. The Stalinist dialectical and historical materialism has very little in common with Marx and Engels.” 
What is more, in an extensive work entitled On the Bolshevik Ideological Front, in which he demonstrated that the Stalinists’ “creative development” of Marxism represented in fact a break with Marxism, Hornovy said: “It is becoming more and more difficult for the Stalinist masters to manipulate Marxism because it is precisely Marxism which is the theory that constitutes their most dangerous foe, for it is completely at odds with Bolshevik theory and unmasks their policies. Today, Marxism looms up equally as a danger for Bolshevism as once it was for Czarism.” 
In his commentary on Poltava’s letter, Ivan Majstrenko wrote: “Not knowing O. Hornovy’s personal history, judging only from his writings, we characterised him once in the past as a revolutionary Marxist who had come out of a communist Marxist school. Recently we were more cautious in characterising him. In issue No 3 of Vpered, in introducing an article by Hornovy, we wrote: ‘In Poltava, one gets the impression of a nationalist school of thought, in Hornovy, of a Marxist one.’ We still think that Hornovy’s work On the Bolshevik Ideological Front is Marxist.
“If Hornovy himself thinks otherwise, that does not constitute proof. A character in a play by Molière also thought that he spoke in poetry, when he spoke in prose. (…) The information that P. Poltava has given us that O. Hornovy is a veteran OUN activist and does not come out of any Marxist school only confirms our longstanding conviction that in the Ukraine reality the Marxist scientific arguments are so powerful in the fight against Bolshevism that even a veteran nationalist like Hornovy has to resort to them and educate the young generation of nationalists in the country in these arguments.” 
There might be some question whether Hornovy and Poltava represented only a “revisionist” current in the OUN and not the ideology and program of the movement as a whole. This opinion has been put forward from time to time. A careful analysis confirms what the historian Lev Shankovs´kyi said about this, that the two commanders “revised nothing in their works, were not ‘opponents’ of General Taras Chuprynka but rather developed and clarified the official program and resolutions of the OUN, the UPA and the Ukrainian Supreme Liberation Council (UHVR).”  The latter was a political leadership body in which both Hornovy and Poltava held the positions of deputy president of the General Secretariat.
What Shankovs´kyi fails to clarify is the source of the rumor about the unrepresentativeness of Hornovy and Poltava. The fact is that Stepan Bandera, the reactionary leader of the Foreign Sections of the OUN in the West, had a hostile attitude to the democratic and left-wing positions held by the OUN on the Ukrainian lands, and he raised the accusation that they represented adaptation to the prevailing ideology in the USSR or capitulation to it. 
It is clear that the OUN held a position of revolutionary nationalism, not revolutionary socialism. Vsevolod Holubnychy wrote about the OUN leaders: “They were not Marxists. They did not approach the situation from the standpoint of any complete doctrine. That is probably their greatest weakness, because a revolutionary party or organization cannot be successful without a scientific doctrine. But in any case, they proceeded in the formulation of their program from the reality of the Soviet society, from the real ‘mood’ of the people.” 
In an independent Ukraine, the OUN leaders wanted to build a democratic socialist system, in accordance with the aspirations of the working people in the USSR, whom they understood well and to whom they were loyal. On the basis of their program for national revolution they were allies of the revolutionary Marxists, and all the more so because in their critique of Stalinism and capitalism, as well as in their goal of building a “classless society”, they drew inspiration to a large extent from Marxist theory.
Four things, fundamentally distinguished the OUN leaders from the revolutionary Marxists. First, despite what Poltava said in a letter to Majstrenko, declaring “We nationalists do not deny the class struggle, because it is a fact and because without struggle it is not possible to make any progress in life or any social progress either,” nonetheless, the OUN did not give primacy to the class struggle but rather to the “idea of a nation.” It made an error common among fighters for the liberation of oppressed nations.
Secondly, although the OUN leaders were for collaboration and alliances with all national liberation movements as well as for an alliance with the oppressed Russian working people, they rejected proletarian internationalism.
Thirdly, although the OUN leaders recognized the October Revolution as a gain for the workers and defended what remained of it in the property relations, they accused the Bolsheviks of having played a reactionary role in the revolution, of usurping political power and of rebuilding the Russian empire, the prisonhouse of nations. While they made a distinction between Marxism and Stalinism, they did not see the difference between Bolshevism and Stalinism.
Fourthly, they made an error committed by many fighters for political revolution in the Eastern Bloc countries. On the basis of its political character, they considered the regime in the USSR to be the most reactionary in the world, and the Soviet state to be the most dangerous imperialist power, one whose “parasitic class”, as they saw it, aimed to conquer the world.
Regardless of everything that divides us from the revolutionary nationalists, we revolutionary socialists must honor the memory and heritage of Hornovy, Poltava and the other fighters for a Ukrainian national revolution in the 1940s. This is not only because of the respect they earned as genuine revolutionists. We must remember them because their political activity and their theoretical work teach us valuable lessons about the enormous importance of national oppression in the emergence and in the reproduction of the totalitarian Soviet bureaucracy’s system of power. They help us to understand that the political revolution of the oppressed working people is bolstered by the national revolutions of the oppressed nations of the Soviet Union.
Published under the pseudonym Arthur Wilkins. Translated by Gerry Foley.
1. “Za shcho boret´sia Ukraiins´ka Povstancha Armiia (UPA)?” [What Is the Ukrainian Insurgent Army Fighting For?], Diialoh, No. 9, 1983, pp. 85-89. (Published in Canada.)
2. P. Poltava, Zbirnyk pidpil´nykh pysan´ [Collection of Underground Writings], Ukraiins´kyi Samostiinyk, Munich, 1959, p. 145.
3. O. Diakiv-Hornovy, Ideia i chyn: Povna zbirka tvoriv [The Idea and the Deed: Collected Works], Association of Former UPA Fighters, New York, 1968, p. 193-194. There is an English-language edition of the writings of O. Diakiv-Hornovy, entitled The USSR Unmasked: A Collection of Articles and Essays on Soviet Russian Repression in Ukraine, Vantage Press, New York, 1976. But it is incomplete and the translation is not reliable.
4. P. Poltava, Op. Cit., p. 171.
5. O. Diakiv-Hornovy, Op. Cit., p. 258.
6. Ibid., pp. 257-258.
7. P. Poltava, Op. Cit., pp. 213-214.
8. Ibid, pp. 169-70.
9. “Lyst P. Poltavy” [Letter of P. Poltava], Vpered, No. 4 (13), 1950, pp. 3-4.
10. O. Diakiv-Hornovy, Op. Cit., p. 149. The important article quoted here does not appear in the English-language edition published by Vantage Press.
11. Ibid., p 254.
12. A. Babenko [I. Majstrenko], “Zavvahy do lysta P. Poltavy” [Remarks on the Letter from P. Poltava], Vpered, No 4 (13), 1950, p. 5.
13. L. Shankovs´kyi, “Spohady D. Shumuka u svitli faktiv” [The Recollections of D. Shumuk in the Light of Facts], Vyzvol´nyi Shliakh, No. 1, 1975, p. 64.
14. B. Levyts´kyi gives a good explanation of this problem in “Istorychne Znachennia Rozlamu v OUN”, Vpered, No. 2 (11), 1950. This article has also been published in English in the Canadian publication, Meta, Vol 2, No 1, 1978, under the title, “The Historical Significance of the Split in the OUN.”
15. W. Wilny (V. Holubnychy), “The Future of the Soviet Union,” Fourth International, New York, May-June, 1951, p. 80 [see on this web site].