In Dmitriy Kovalevich, Nationalism, Ukraine

The first congress of the far-right Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in Vienna 1929

By Dmitriy Kovalevich,

Published on New Cold War, Nov 12, 2022:

There are many amongst the political left in Western countries who repeat the narratives of the heads of NATO in support of Ukrainian ultra-right nationalists. They hijack the rhetoric of anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggles in the world and draw false parallels to Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s demands for a demilitarized and denazified Ukraine.

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NATO leaders and their associated media talk about “freedom” and a “struggle for the independence” of Ukraine, placing, as it were, an equal sign with the heroic, past anti-colonial struggles of people in such countries as Vietnam, Ireland or Algeria. Pseudo-leftists in the West who use similar language conveniently fail to mention the self-determination and independence struggles of the people of Donbass and Crimea as well as those of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, formerly part of Georgia. These are considered ‘unworthy’ because they are ‘tainted’ by the support they have received from the Russian government and people.

A contributor to the The Guardian, for example, wrote on April 25: “There is a very direct war between imperialism and authoritarianism [Russia] and self-determination [Ukraine] being fought”, while an editorial in the Washington Post on June 13, 2022 declared, “The emergence of a sovereign Ukraine in 1991 was the culmination of a century-long struggle for independence.”

A senior vice-president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC wrote in March 2022, “Every attempt at Ukrainian self-determination has been systematically and forcibly quashed. The 20th century was particularly traumatic.”

Western leftists write in similar terms. Writing in the Europe-based, International Viewpoint (Trotskyist), Yuliya Yurchenko, a lecturer in Britain, wrote in April 2022, “Reducing this war to conflict between the West and Russia overlooks Ukraine and treats it as a mere pawn between powers. That analysis denies Ukrainians our subjectivity and our agency in the conflict. It also suppresses discussion of our right to self-determination and our fight for national liberation.”

She continued, “Of course, there is an inter-imperialist dimension to all of this… But there is also a national dimension to it that must be recognized. To recognize it, you have to put on your decolonial thinking cap… You have to draw on all the lessons learned from national liberation struggles in Africa and elsewhere…”

Paradoxes of Ukrainian independence

Such leftists ignore that Ukraine was independent long before 1991. As a sovereign state, Ukraine was one of the founding members of the United Nations in 1945. There, it occupied a seat separate from Russia. Then, in 1991, Soviet Ukraine declared ‘independence’ once again, this time from the USSR (though ironically, the same government remained in power).[1]

The next stage of this modern-day ‘independence’ was the ‘Orange Revolution’ of late 2004/early 2005, which brought a pro-Western government to power. This was followed by the Euromaidan coup of February 2014. It is obvious that some among the Ukrainian elite are well aware of the charming effect that the words “independence” and “freedom” produce on a Western everyday person’s ears, so they learned how to manipulate the terms in their own interests, proclaiming any and all of their actions as a struggle for freedom and independence, even while talking about skirmishes between competing groups of Ukrainian nationalists. As the Turkic saying has it: ‘Saying ‘halva-halva’ [traditional eastern sweet] over and over won’t make your mouth sweet.’

Among this Western left, the idealized concept of the “people” (nation) is very popular, and such ‘people’ are always supposedly united. In this idealized concept, the owners of large businesses and their employees, bankers and the homeless, embrace and intermingle peacefully. The concept of ‘nation’ embodied in the bourgeois French Revolution of 1789 does not in any way take into account class and economic contradictions, nor interventions by external forces. In practice, the ‘unity of the people’ has rarely existed in history, but there are groups that drape themselves in the concept of ‘the people united’ in order to speak on their behalf as a whole. In a capitalist society, these groups are invariably the wealthy classes.

Many leftists in the West are well aware that their states and their big businesses act in their own interests and are quite pragmatic, operating within the logic of capitalism for the sake of profit. Would they seriously help any country aiming to be truly independent from them?

We know about the progressive national liberation movements in Latin America, but the very conquest and plunder of the vast continent by the Spanish conquistadors was also once presented as “liberation”. The Spanish conqueror Hernand Cortes, attracting to his side the weaker Tlaxcaltecs (Tlaxcalan) Indigenous people in fighting the more powerful Aztecs, although both close peoples spoke similar languages of the Nahuati group. As a result, both peoples became dependent. In 1521, Cortes organized a new campaign against the capital city of the Aztecs, Tenochtitlan (located in the center of today’s Mexico City). The attack was waged by about 900 Spaniards and tens of thousands of Tlaxcaltecs. Tenochtitlan fell, but just 100 years later, by 1625, the population of Tlaxcala fell from hundreds of thousands to just 700 people.

In modern Latin American literature, the accusation against the Tlaxcaltecs of collaboration with Spain in the centuries-long slavery of the Indigenous population of the Americas is a repeated theme. But we should understand that at that time, they could hardly calculate and foresee the full consequences of Spanish support in their own struggle for “freedom”. We don’t need history for a fetishization of the archaic but also for learning from the mistakes of the past.

The same divide and conquer tactics were used by the British colonists in India, helping the “liberation” war of some Indian ‘kingdoms’ against their neighbors but aiding the British in gradually capturing all of India.

Similarly, one cannot expect that if Ukraine were to prevail in the current military conflict with Russia, it would thusly become an independent state. In exchange for Western military and economic aid, Ukraine would have to pay with its natural and labor resources, and NATO troops would never leave the country. In South Korea, for example, the Western invaders of 1950-53 have remained in the country ever since, ostensibly to protect against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (‘North Korea’). In Japan, to take another example, U.S. forces have remained stationed there since 1945, ostensibly to protect against Russia and China. And so on.

In this context, it can be recalled that in 1941, as the armies of Nazi Germany were rushing toward Stalingrad and the Caucasus, a most critical moment for the people of the Soviet Union, the British prime minister of the day suggested the sending of British troops from Persia (Iran) to the Caucasus to help ‘protect’ the Soviet people from Nazi aggression. Despite the catastrophic situation facing the country, the Soviet military command refused the offer, saying, “We will not be able to make them leave the region afterward. They are simply eager for Caspian oil.”

If we assume that Ukraine became truly independent once upon a time, then this would mean that its industry should be able to compete with Western corporations. The country could determine the export of its manufactured and agricultural goods depending on its pragmatic interests, not worrying about looking over its shoulder for the reactions of the U.S. and British embassies. It could freeze or refuse to pay its huge debt burden to the IMF. In such a case, one could expect preparations in the West for some new coup, similar to 2014. Indeed, if a Ukrainian company today tries to sell its goods at better prices than large Western competitors to China, Iran or Belarus, a shout from the U.S. embassy immediately follows and ‘special services’ meet with the company’s management for a chat to tone down its ambitions.

Ukrainian nationalism: from romanticism to fascism

In the multi-ethnic Ukrainian city of Odessa, there is a saying directed to the Western powers that is typically uttered with fatigue in the voice. It goes, ‘Can we finally be free from your freedom and independent from your independence?’

Oddly enough, Ukrainian nationalism was called “Russian nationalism” or even “Russophilism” until the end of the 19th century. This nationalism originated in Austria-Hungary and initially had strong pro-socialist tendencies. A surge of nationalism under the influence of romantic writers, poets and musicians in the mid-to-late 19th century was experienced by many peoples of Europe, especially after the unsuccessful bourgeois revolutions of 1848.

On the territory of the Russian Empire until the beginning of the 20th century, Ukrainian nationalism did not manifest itself practically in any way. This was due, first of all, to the fact that the Ukrainians were then considered a branch of the Russian people, along with the Belarusians to the immediate north. Accordingly, they enjoyed the same rights (and lack thereof) as the Russians. With a common faith, common economic situation, similar language and similar rights in their respective territories, the ideology of nationalism had not yet taken root, unlike in Austria-Hungary, where Ukrainians were oppressed on linguistic and religious grounds due to suspicions of supporting or sympathizing with the Russian Empire.

In the Russian Empire itself, there were tsarist decrees restricting the printing of books in the Ukrainian (Little Russian) language to religious publications only. But in a country where more than 90 per cent of the population could not read and write and where clericalism dominated, this, in principle, could not seriously affect or trouble the majority of the population. Their primary concern was economic survival.

In the Russian Empire, the peoples were indeed subjected to national and religious oppression, but this concerned, first of all, those whom the tsarist authorities considered inorodtsy (people of different descent), namely, Muslim peoples, Jews, the Indigenous peoples of Siberia, etc. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, a number of uprisings of oppressed peoples took place in the Russian empire, including the Poles and the Muslim peoples of the Caucasus. In 1916, an uprising of the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz broke out in opposition to participation in the slaughter of World War One.

Nationalism as a reaction to the revolutionary struggles of the working classes

During the same period, a revolutionary movement was growing throughout the Russian Empire. The Bolshevik Party led by Lenin as well as many groupings of anarchists and Socialist-Revolutionaries conducted an underground struggle against the tsarist government. Strikes and clashes by workers with authorities occurred in a number of cities of today’s Ukraine. But oddly enough, until the revolution of 1917, we did not see any active actions on the part of Ukrainian nationalism. It was as if it did not exist at that time. At a time when many thousands of May Day demonstrations and street battles were taking place against police in the streets of Kyiv, Kharkov and Odessa, the historian cannot find a single mention of even a small rally of Ukrainian nationalists. At most, one finds in the archives a dozen or so moderate, liberal brochures discussing the historical fate of the Ukrainian people, but without any calls for independence.

According to the estimates of the leader of the Ukrainian Radical Democratic Party E. Chikalenko, in September 1910, the number of ‘conscious Ukrainians’ (those who had some sort of nationalist ideas and considered themselves Ukrainians) was no more than 2,000 persons. He also lamented in his diary that “out of 30 million Ukrainians, there may be 300 people who were sincerely committed to the cause [of Ukrainian nationalism]”.

In other words, on the eve of the 1917 Russian Revolution, there were fewer supporters of Ukrainian nationalism, even in its moderate version, than supporters of esoteric teachings or Buddhism, which were fashionable at that time among the educated classes. One typically finds many more Ukrainian surnames during this period among the ranks of the Bolsheviks or anarchists compared to nationalist organizations.

Nationalism in Ukraine spread only after the October Revolution. (This was also the case for other nationalisms in the region, including in Finland, Latvia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.) Prior to that, the future supporters of Ukrainian nationalism were quite loyal to the tsarist government. The reason for the sharp growth in nationalism after 1917 can be found in one of the first decrees of the Soviet government – the Decree on Land. This decree freely transferred to the peasants the lands of the landlords, agro-industrial companies and the churches. Soon after, confiscations of large landholding property followed. Nationalist leaders in Finland, Ukraine, Latvia and Georgia ofttimes had little interaction or common interest with the ethnic groups whose nationalism they were promoting. They were driven solely by their own class interests. Therefore, in Soviet historiography, Ukrainian nationalism was defined precisely as “bourgeois nationalism”, since within it, the class interests of the capitalist and landholding classes prevailed over the national interests of the ordinary people.

A tsarist Russian general Pavlo Skoropadsky, a member of Emperor Nicholas’ personal retinue and a highly decorated officer, would proclaim himself a hetman (ruler) of Ukraine after the revolution in order to fight the Bolsheviks, even though he himself never learned to speak Ukrainian.

Another general of the Russian tsar’s personal retinue, a Swedish baron with estates in Finland, Carl Gustav Mannerheim, would become a supporter of Finnish nationalism and in that capacity, he was the lead executioner of the Red Guards of Finland during the civil war in that country in late 1917/early 1918. He became a president of ‘independent Finland’ from 1944 to 1946 and proudly hung a portrait of Tsar Nicholas II (the last of the Russian tsars) in his office.

Support to small-power nationalism following the October Revolution was not limited to former generals in the Russian emperor’s retinue. Another leader of the Ukrainian nationalists was the nephew of the Austrian emperor, Wilhelm Franz von Habsburg-Lothringen (aka Vasyl Vyshyvani). In 1918, he proclaimed himself ‘king of Ukraine’. In modern Ukraine, this failed king (who was captured in Austria and shot in Kyiv in 1948) is being praised as many nationalists would like to have a monarchy.

The essence of the small-power nationalisms of the era, which did not manifest themselves under tsarist rule but only after the overthrow of the monarchy, was their attempts to maintain the power of the landlords and to keep factories and enterprises under the rich people’s control, at least in some of the detached parts of the former empire following 1917. Nationalism in the former Russian empire and in eastern/central Europe arose after WW1 precisely as an instrument to prevent or derail proletarian revolutions and redistribution of big capitalist property. It was completely reactionary.

In this regard, it is noteworthy that the Ukrainian nationalists of the period following the 1917 revolution entered into an alliance with the Russian White Guards of General Anton Denikin, commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the South of Russia. They proclaimed a “one and indivisible Russia” as their goal. According to the agreement of 1919, the Galician army (West Ukrainian nationalists) was transferred in full force with rear units to the command of Denikin’s army.

After the defeat of Denikin’s White Guards in 1919, the Ukrainian nationalists in the form of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UPR) signed the Warsaw Pact in April 1920. According to its terms, they effectively renounced their independence and transferred the lands of western Ukraine to Poland, this in order to wage a joint fight against the new, Bolshevik-led government in Russia. Simply put, we are dealing with a strange ‘nationalism’ that was ready to cede sovereignty to any other state so long as it was not socialist and would not confiscate the landed estates.

Atamanshchina (the rule of warlords) in the person of Simon Petlyura (Petliura), an anti-Semite and the political/military leader of the Ukrainian nationalists, took measures while in Warsaw to save the nationalists’ power. “They knocked on the doors of the Polish imperialist gentry and also gave land to Polish landowners in Podolia and Volhynia (in the future western Ukraine) in exchange for Polish help to regain their lost power. But these were only their last convulsions,” Vladimir Vinnichenko, a Ukrainian social democrat and political figure in the UPR, later wrote.

And later while in exile in Europe, the nationalists and organizers of the future, fascist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) emphasized in their program that they were going to return private property and preserve the distribution of landlord estates as it was at the beginning of 1917.

During the 1917 revolution and the subsequent civil war and foreign, imperialist intervention in Russia and Ukraine, the ultimate image of Ukrainian nationalism was formed. Most of the Ukrainian nationalists who gravitated towards the left camp and shared socialist or progressive convictions ended up in the Bolshevik camp. Their military units merged with the internationalist units of the Red Army.

The nascent Red Army of the future Soviet Union in Kiev in 1920

The nationalists who supported right-wing ideas (primarily on the issue of the sanctity of private property) were forced to rely on the bayonets of the intervening troops–the Germans or the Entente. These nationalists also acted in their own narrow interests. In exchange for their participation in hostilities against the Bolsheviks and other left forces, they imposed indemnity on the Ukrainian peasants and exported valuable resources. This discredited the right-wing nationalists in the eyes of the people. In fact, during the years of foreign intervention (1917-1920), Ukrainian peasants found themselves facing double taxation – by local nationalists, and by their Western European allies or sponsors. Although all the warring parties carried out food and other requisitions for the needs of their armies, the peasant in Ukraine eventually realized that the nationalists and the Entente were demanding and taking more from him or her because there were so many more of them doing so. No one likes to be exploited, but it’s even worse to be exploited by several different landlords or their interests at one and the same time.

It was the second category of nationalists, those of the right wing, many of whom were living in emigration in Europe, that formed the final image of Ukrainian nationalism. They began to merge during the 1920s with the fascist movements that were popular at that time in Europe and also with a significant part of the Russian white émigrés. It was this, most reactionary, of the currents in the history of Ukrainian nationalism that have been adopted as inspiration in ‘modern’ (post-Soviet) Ukraine. It was necessary in the newly independent Ukraine of the 1990s to eradicate nostalgic, pro-Soviet sentiments among the impoverished Ukrainians. An ideology was needed to explain and justify neoliberal, pro-austerity economic policies in the country, to include massive reductions in social spending and mass privatizations of formerly state-owned industries.

Bet on the strongest

Unlike the leaders of the nationalists, ordinary Ukrainian peasants, conscripted into the Russian or Austrian armies, then into the armies of the Ukrainian People’s Republic or the White Guard during the 1918-20 civil war, became famous for their regular changes of loyalties and shifting of sides as survival, or the perception of survival, dictated. Ukrainian regiments of the UPR might over the course of one month end up in the ranks of the White Army, then in the Red Army or in the army of Poland, depending on who was gaining the upper hand at that moment. Simply put, they joined the military force they considered to be stronger at a given moment in time. Since the time of the revolution and the Civil War, there has been a joke in the Ukrainian rural areas:

– Our side is winning!

– Who is our side?

– Whoever is winning!

The same pattern of action would lead Ukrainian nationalists to a series of defeats throughout the history of the 20th century. Those of them who staked on Germany and Austria-Hungary during World War One were forced in 1918 to urgently reorient themselves to the Entente. In the 1920s and 1930s, in the wake of the growth of fascist movements in Europe, many of them joined the fascists, believing that the latter had the strength and the future belonged to them. The initial defeats of the Red Army in 1941 also led to a significant number of Ukrainian nationalists and their sympathizers joining the Nazis and becoming exceptionally zealous in waging anti-Semitic pogroms in Ukraine.

After 1945, the nationalists allied with the U.S. and the NATO bloc, believing them to form the most powerful military and political bloc in the world. And even now, the loyalty of Ukrainian nationalists to the United States, Great Britain and NATO is due to a banal argument – because they are considered stronger. During the interwar years, the Soviet Union was considered a weak entity and it was believed this would inevitably lead to collapse. This view was actively promoted by Great Britain, Germany and the United States. The desire to become “part of European civilization” was also, as a rule, considered as a desire to join the privileged circle of white colonialists who gain much advantage from robbing the human labor and resources of Third World countries. The behaviour of the nationalists resembled that of a street teenager wanting to join the strongest gang in the neighborhood in the hope of gaining the favorable attention of the strongest gangster.

In September 2022, after the death of the British queen, Ukrainian nationalists proposed to erect a monument to Elizabeth II in order to flatter the British authorities. They decided to erect a monument in Kyiv on the site of the monument to Mykola Shchors, a Ukrainian revolutionary who died in action in 1919. (His monument has been shamefully covered over since 2014). Here lies a revealing symbolism – Ukrainian nationalists prefer a monument to the British monarch over the existing monument to a famous Ukrainian worker and revolutionary.

Waving a foreign flag

The desire in Ukraine to become part of the Western imperialist world manifested itself primarily among the representatives of the bourgeoisie at the beginning of the 20th century. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, a similar desire was manifest among the representatives of the state bureaucracy who had become quite wealthy or enjoyed high positions. In contrast to the years of the Soviet Union (or the earlier Russian Empire), the wealthy and privileged in Ukraine were attracted by opportunities to preserve their position and personal wealth through associating with the West. The very fact that the wealthy families of Great Britain, Switzerland or Italy had retained their wealth since the 16th and 17th centuries seemed promising to the Ukrainian bourgeoisie and officials, especially against the backdrop of historical upheavals in their homeland when even a billionaire cannot guarantee that his son will not become a beggar, and he himself will not be strangled in a prison. In the West, by contrast, the wealthy and celebrities always felt rather safe (that is, after the ‘terrible’ years of the French Revolution when its worldwide influence became history).

Great Britain and Switzerland, as it were, guaranteed that everything the wealthy in Ukraine could steal and remove from the country would find safe keeping and provide their children with a comfortable life. It’s no coincidence that we see a lot of corrupt officials and overthrown dictators from different countries settling in London and Zurich.

A founder of the UN on behalf of Soviet Ukraine and Ukrainian revolutionary Dmitry Manuilsky wrote about the reactionary essence of Ukrainian nationalism in 1945. “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism has always worked like a farm hired laborer working for a foreign master. Ukrainian nationalism has never been national, for it has always served the interests of foreign ruling classes. It was never independent, because it never relied on the forces of its own people, but on the bayonets of foreigners.”

Culture – to us, economy – to foreigners

The result of this reliance on the bayonets of the imperialist states is the complete absence of an independent economic concept or an economic program for the development of Ukraine. The nationalism of the privileged Ukrainians was hostile to the development of industry in Soviet Ukraine, believing that urbanization and industrialization would destroy the foundation of Ukrainian nationalism, which romanticized the pastoral rural life of the Middle Ages.

Salvation from the “sins” of Bolshevism and communism was seen in a return to an archaic and fictional “golden age” in the past. Throughout the 20th century and into the early 21st century, Ukrainian nationalism has focused exclusively on cultural issues. Since 1991, Ukrainian nationalists sought to control only the humanitarian, cultural and educational spheres in the country while leaving the economy under the control of oligarchic groups or Western states. As a result, Ukrainian nationalism is not only financially dependent on infusions from outside but has also turned into a kind of theatrical decoration of statehood, having little consequence for economic development and the operations of financial institutions.

In the 1990s, as Kost Bondarenko, a Ukrainian journalist of pro-nationalist views noted, even nationalists who came from the Canadian and American diasporas could communicate only with a small circle of educated people, mostly on ‘human rights’ topics. They had no practical ideas of how to interact with workers, farmers or student groups, leave alone members of the business class.

Bondarenko wrote, “In the current stage, it is realistic to assume that those who call themselves Ukrainian nationalists are, in fact, no such thing. They do not influence the political situation in the state, that is, they cannot claim to speak on behalf of the Ukrainian nation. The very word ‘nationalism’ now has a completely different content.”

A Ukrainian economist Oleksiy Kushch stressed again last month that even after the Euromaidan upheaval in 2014, Ukrainian nationalism did not manifest itself in the economy, focusing only on issues of language and religion. According to him, Ukrainian authorities needed to launch a model of economic nationalism that would use protectionism to protect and enhance the economic interests of their country. Instead, they brought a whole herd of people into the state apparatus who believed that what was needed was to destroy “inefficiencies” while relying on the “effective outside”, with foreign creditors paying for a veritable “banquet”. Instead of economic nationalism, we got privatization, the IMF, supervisory boards (whose main function is cutting property owners off from their property, with salaries paid by taxpayers), the opening of the domestic market, and much more.

Western loans since 2014, which have always been issued with big strings attached, have actually introduced external management. ‘Supervisory’ boards of Western experts at all large state-owned companies play a decisive role. Deregulation, the privatization of valuable assets, the introduction of an agricultural land market, the abolition of restrictions on the export of timber – all these changes and more have been carried out in Ukraine following the Euromaidan as a condition for Western governments and financial institutions to issue loans that already exceeded the country’s GDP. In fact, the supervisory role is imperialist external control, which is typically carried out through financial mechanisms.

According to V.I. Lenin’s definition, imperialism as a final stage of capitalism acts mostly via the trade, market and financial mechanisms of banks. Bill Gates is a true imperialist even when he donates to an African charity fund. Turkey is not imperialist even when it invades Iraq or Syria in order to fight the Kurds. The confusion or soft-peddling by some on the Western left over who are the true imperialists often stems from the desire for a few crumbs from the tables of people like Bill Gates.

Ukrainian nationalists in power since 1991 have completely given into the economic interests of Western corporations and governments, buying into the false theory of the “invisible hand of the market” as a fair regulator of economic affairs. Be it mass deforestation for timber export to the West, the closure of machine-building plants along with the dismissal of thousands of Ukrainian workers, the increase in electricity tariffs – all of this and more is presented by Ukrainian economic ministers and presidents as issues beyond the control of the Ukrainian government. Such matters are determined by ‘markets’ and the fate they instill.

The governments of Iraq and Afghanistan acted similarly during their years under U.S. occupation. In the parliaments of these countries at the time, verbal battles could be waged for months on end on the permissible length of a women’s skirt or hijab, but rarely did the verbal jousts critically examine the export of raw materials, the robbery of antiquities by Western museums, or the production and sale of opium. After the Euromaidan, Ukraine is just as “independent” and “free” as the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq were during the American occupation. Western NGOs sing in unison, calling them “democratic” and “free”.

Stimulation of nation-building

Since the 1990s, Ukrainian nationalism has been promoted by the authorities of the country in every possible way in school curricula and in the media. They promote “nation-building” projects and national consciousness, although its advocates had little or none themselves. Nationalism was beneficial primarily to the Ukrainian bourgeoisie, which grew out of the Soviet bureaucracy, as well as to the NATO countries for solving geopolitical tasks in their fight against Russia. As a rule, in any small town or village until the 2000s, one could meet no more than a dozen staunch nationalists – a few teachers from provincial schools who read nationalist literature, local officials for whom nationalism was a matter of career advancement, etc.

The majority of the population was very cool to the nationalists’ ideas. The people were preoccupied with material and economic problems, while nationalists, like institutional religion, appealed only to certain spiritual and cultural values. One of my comrades in Ukraine has spoken to me about his father, who at that time was one of the Ukrainian nationalists. In the late 1990s, the father met with an employee of the US embassy in a Kiev restaurant and complained to him that it was impossible to impress the masses of Ukrainians with a national idea. The best advice that the embassy employee could give was to “rub, rub and rub”, that is, long and hard work should produce results. Indeed, this is what happened during the years following

In order to root the ideology of nationalism among the masses, the nationalists were obliged to resort to material incentives. Since the country has a rather high level of unemployment after the deindustrialization policy, young people were offered part-time jobs with Internet-based work, paid by Western funds. They were to implant nationalist ideas and agitation in social networks and among friends and relatives in the way of a religious sect. But this was paid activity.

The emphasis in this case was not on the effectiveness of such agitation but on the persuasiveness of the agitator himself or herself. A similar marketing trick would be the person who advertises and sells a bad and smelly soap to his relatives and friends, knowingly deceiving them but not comfortable with that knowledge. So he or she begins to use the soap themselves, believing it to be of high quality. Even if the person is no longer paid, he or she continues to use the low-quality soap because they wouldn’t wish to realize the self-deception over the soaps’ quality.

Oles Buzina was a Ukrainian writer and journalist. He wrote in 2010: “No one destroys Ukraine as much as those who love it professionally for money. Thinking about why, after independence, Ukraine did not develop but slowly faded away, I came to the conclusion that it could not be otherwise. That’s because nationalism became the ideology of the country, and in Ukraine, from its inception, nationalism was based on a lie. It totally misrepresented the past and lied about an unprecedented prosperity lying ahead for the future. We all live under the rule of an ideological utopia that destroys even those who believe in it. Being afraid to face the truth, our citizens cannot adequately perceive reality. A vicious circle has thus occurred – the myth of the ideal Ukraine has destroyed the real Ukraine.”

In March 2015, Oles Buzina was tragically assassinated in front of his home in Kyiv in broad daylight. The neo-Nazis suspected of his murder were released due to pressure on the court by neo-Nazi organizations. Just prior to his killing, the name, address and phone number of Oles Buzina were published on the notorious ‘Mirotvorets’ website, a hit list published by Ukrainian rightists which continues to publish despite an international uproar over its existence.

Let us imagine that NATO managed to achieve its goals with the Russian Federation. Assume that Russia experienced a regime change, became an ally of the US in the fight against China, allowed employees of the US and British embassies into its state administration, and would allow the export of its natural resources for pennies. In this case, the value of Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Latvian or Georgian nationalism to the West would be reduced to zero. The West would no longer feel compelled to investing there and countless number of its citizens would be left without work on the ‘ideological front’. Ukrainian nationalism and the other nationalisms would slide back to the political margin.

What is more important: class or nation?

In his 1913 work, ‘Critical Remarks on the National Question’ (chapter 3: ‘The nationalist bogey of assimilation”) V.I. Lenin harshly criticized Ukrainian nationalists. He called them “national socialists” (in a time before the German Nazis appropriated the term for themselves) for opposing “assimilation” into broader society and for their strategy of first achieving a national revolution and only then a social one. Lenin said they were putting the cart before the horse.

Lenin wrote, “Mr. Lev Yurkevich [a Ukrainian Marxist who, at the time, leaned toward nationalism] acts like a real bourgeois, and a short-sighted, narrow-minded, obtuse bourgeois at that, i.e., like a philistine, when he dismisses the benefits to be gained from, the intercourse, amalgamation and assimilation of the proletariat of the two nations [Russia and Ukraine] for the sake of the momentary success of the Ukrainian national cause (sprava). The national cause comes first and the proletarian cause second, the bourgeois nationalists say, with the Yurkeviches, Dontsovs and similar would-be Marxists repeating it after them.

“We say the proletarian cause must come first, because it not only protects the lasting and fundamental interests of labour and of humanity but also those of democracy; and without democracy, neither an autonomous nor an independent Ukraine is conceivable. […] If a Ukrainian Marxist allows himself to be swayed by his quite legitimate and natural hatred of the Great-Russian oppressors to such a degree that he transfers even a particle of this hatred, even if it be only estrangement, to the proletarian culture and proletarian cause of the Great-Russian workers, then such a Marxist will get bogged down in bourgeois nationalism’, writes Lenin.

Lenin mentions here one of the main ideologists of the future fascist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, Dmitry Dontsov. In 1918, Dontsov served in the government of Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky, where he became the head of the government’s official news agency. In the 1920s, he took Mussolini’s Italian fascist organizations as inspiration (though Lenin didn’t live long enough to see how Dontsov’s views developed). When Benito Mussolini came to power in Italy, Dontsov became imbued with his politics and held him in high esteem.

The coming to power in Germany of Hitler’s national socialist party in 1933 also met with Dontsov’s approval and enthusiasm. He wrote a preface to Rostyslav Yendyk’s biography Hitler  in which he speaks about the great relevance of “Hitlerism” for the Ukrainians. In his conclusions, Dontsov relied on the ideas of social Darwinism, popular at the beginning of the 20th century, whereby a nation was understood as a kind of species, such as dogs, cats, and lions. According to Dontsov, the Ukrainian nation should have a hierarchy and be controlled by unelected “elites”. At the head should be a leader or a ruler, the next should be the “initiating minority” (an elite or a caste). Beneath are the people, the masses who are not allowed to govern. Those belonging to the ruling caste “know neither mercy nor humanity in relation to the individual”. In his book The Spirit of Our Old Times, Dontsov writes that it is necessary to single out a special “racial caste” from the Ukrainian people – aristocratic Nordics.

In 1947, Dontsov fled from Germany to Canada and lectured at the University of Montreal until the end of his life, notwithstanding his openly fascist views. In modern Ukraine, streets and squares have been named after him. In his hometown of Melitopol, fighters of the Donetsk People’s Republic destroyed a memorial plaque to the fascist Dontsov, installed after the Maidan coup. In his modern biographies and other works about him published in English, one can hardly see a mention of his fascist ideas. This is in order to avoid discrediting his followers in today’s Ukraine, who are fighting for the NATO cause. His Ukrainian followers continue to publish and distribute his works in Ukrainian.

Taking these examples of the ideology of Dontsov and the OUN, we see openly fascist and racist ideas being cloaked in the language of national liberation, with Ukraine presented as a victim of national discrimination. In the entire history of reactionary, racist and Nazi movements, they all sought to present nation as a ‘victim’ and their struggle as a struggle for independence. Such was German Nazism, which appealed to the victim mentality following Germany’s defeat in World War I and the harsh terms of reparations following the war. Its doctrine alleged “oppression” of the German nation by the Jewish people in the country and worldwide.

Similar in essence were the fascist movements in Croatia, Hungary and Romania. Despite the fact that the US is the world’s largest economy, the world’s largest military spender, and has the largest number of military bases around the globe, by far, a modern-day American Nazi will say he or she is waging a war of ‘national liberation’ against those who exploit it – Jews, Black people, socialists, migrants, etc., etc…

In summary, were there something progressive in present-day Ukrainian nationalism, were there something in it pointing to economic and social advances for the entire population of the country, then the likes of Boris Johnson, Jeff Bezos, the Pope, Joe Biden and Jens Stoltenberg would never, ever, ‘stand with Ukraine’. When you see such people supporting an ideology and a political movement, then alarm bells should sound right away that something deeply flawed is being supported.

Note
[1] ‘Independence Day’ in Ukraine marks the declaration by then-Soviet Ukraine to secede from the Soviet Union, on August 24, 1991. (The actual dissolution of the Soviet Union was agreed by the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus in December of that year.) The earlier independence of Ukraine occurred in 1917 when the political forces that would eventually found Soviet Ukraine in 1920 undertook a social revolution against the European powers that had waged the bloodbath of World War One. Today’s supporters of Ukraine ‘independence’ renounce this earlier history. Their forebears fought against the Russian Revolution of 1917 and sought to retain the subordinate status of Ukraine which the empires of Europe had forced upon the future country prior to 1917.

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Dmitri Kovalevich is the special correspondent in Ukraine for New Cold War. This is a special report prepared by him. He writes a monthly ‘Update on Ukraine’ for New Cold War. His two most recent monthly reports are here: September 2022 and October 2022. His previous special report is here: The long history of anti-Jewish prejudice and violence by Ukrainian nationalists, and how Soviet Ukraine fought against it.

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