Ukrainian nationalist guerrillas in the 1940s

Submitted by AWL on 28 February, 2014 - 9:29

The text below, published in The New International, journal of the Workers' Party of the USA, in April 1949, tells some of the story of the guerrilla movement in Ukraine in the 1940s against both Hitler and Stalin.

Whether its judgements stand up to the test of further historical research, we are not qualified to judge. There are claims that the UPA, reported in the article below as an authentically left-wing movement, was responsible for massacres of Poles and of Jews; there is also counter-claim that the UPA has been the victim of demonisation by the Stalinists, and the UPA certainly was demonised by the Stalinists after they finally suppressed it militarily.

The introduction in The New International read as follows:

We are particularly pleased to present this historic and theoretical account of the Ukrainian national-revolutionary movement against Stalin to our readers. The world press has made numerous allusions to the existence of this movement, but we believe this is the first authentic and detailed account to appear in English anywhere. The New International can verify the authenticity and accuracy of this report, as well as the reliability of its author.


I

October, 1948, marked the fifth anniversary of the organization in the north-western forest regions of the Ukraine of the first revolutionary divisions which took the name of Ukrainian Revolutionary Army (UPA). The first detachments of the UPA, organized deep in the German rear, since the Germans at that time had reached Kharkov, immediately began to carry on a struggle on two fronts: against the German military and civil power and the Bolshevist "red" parachutists. The Ukrainian partisans fell upon the German occupation forces, on communication lines of the enemy in the rear, protected the local population against deportation for work in Germany and at the same time did not permit the "red" parachutists to gain influence over the population.

The first slogans of the Ukrainian partisans were: "Against Hitler and Stalin," "For the Independence of the Ukraine." The success of the partisan movement was so great that as early as 1943-44 whole territories of the north and west Ukraine lay under their control: Volhynia, Galicia, Carpathia and a large part of the territories to the west of the Dnieper. Deeply penetrating raids were conducted across the Ukraine, even reaching White Russia (Byelo-Russia, the name of the area lying between Great Russia and Poland; the term "White" is geographical and "not political), and the Baltic coastlands.

When, toward the end of 1944, all the territories of the Ukraine once more fell under Stalinist occupation, UPA continued to carry on the struggle. Carpathia and Volhynia became the base regions for its operations. With their bases and strong points in impassable forests and mountains, the partisans continued to attack the new occupation forces, conducting raids deep into the rear of the enemy. The Bolsheviks conducted their operations against the partisans only with the aid of MVD and MGB [secret police] troops, as a part of the ordinary Red Army troops kept coming over to the side of the partisans.

In spite of strong terror the partisans had continuous support from the population and therefore their actions were largely successful. In 1945-46 the partisans successfully disrupted the attempt at forced collectivization of the peasants in Galicia, and for a long time protected the Ukrainian population of the territories along the Curzon line, which territories had been taken from Poland, from forced deportation to East Prussia and Pomerania. Establishing the centres of its military operations in Volhynia and Carpathia, the Ukrainian Revolutionary Army in 1946 transferred the main part of its work to underground activity of separate small groups throughout the territories of the Ukraine. The underground revolutionary work consists in the strong development of anti-Bolshevik propaganda and in the preparation of the people for a possible revolutionary uprising.

In what field of action is the Ukrainian revolutionary underground in the USSR today?

Much has been written of the military exploits of the UPA, especially in the period from 1946 to the present, in the western European and American press. But this information is not always accurate. Under the influence of Moscow propaganda the UPA is often described as some sort of fascist, nationalist, anti-popular movement having no success among the workers of the USSR. The bourgeois press of the West, reprinting stories from the Moscow, Polish and Czech press and radio gives them a sort of biased colouration, adding to be sure - "even if they are fascists, no matter, so long as they fight Communism." But the thoughtful reader, knowing the value of the propaganda of the Kremlin and the bourgeoisie still raises the question: How can it be that "without the support of the people," the Ukrainian revolutionists have been fighting for six years against the occupiers of their homeland? How could such an "insignificant, criminal band" deal out blows of such great political significance to its enemies as the assassination of the Chief of Staff of the German SA, Lutze, the top commander of the southern Russian front, General of the Red Army Vatutin or the assistant minister of the armed forces of Poland, General Syerchesky? Why should it be necessary for a full secret military treaty to be concluded in 1946 between the three states: USSR, Poland and Czechoslovakia, against some group or other of "wretched fascists"? From all these unanswerable questions there emerges one clear question, demanding a clear answer: What is the UPA lighting for?

II

The initiators of the Ukrainian Revolutionary Army in 1942 were Ukrainian nationalists. From the very first days of its organization, its first political slogan was, "Struggle for an Independent Ukraine." Under the German occupation, UPA carried on actions that were basically military. Its ideology and political propaganda were still developing and being worked out. It is necessary to point out that the organizers of the UPA - the Ukrainian nationalists - matured and hardened into a strong, disciplined organization, even before the war. Since they existed solely in the territory of the Western Ukraine, occupied by old Poland, the nationalists hardened in a struggle with Polish nationalism.

An All-National Army

The ideology of nationalism, completely disregarding social questions and excluding them from its program, developed only in a national framework, quickly passing into the forms of national chauvinism. In Polish territory, this was a completely legitimate development, since on the part of the Polish bourgeois government there was a developing and sharpening of similar forms of Polish nationalism. And it was this Ukrainian nationalist organization which became the progenitor of the UPA. During their struggle with the Germans, the nationalists could still counterpose themselves to the enemy on the basis of their ideology, since the German ideology was also, if not to a greater degree, nationalistic. But already toward the end of 1943, the region of UPA operations started to spread over territories which, before the German invasion, were within the boundaries of the Soviet Union. An influx of former Red Army men, Komsomols [Young Communists], even men who were ideologically Communists and in general the youth, which had grown up under the Soviets, started into the ranks of the UPA, and increased from day to day. Already by 1948 the UPA had become a real international [literally: an all-national] army. And at this point the ideology of nationalism suffered its first and mortal blow: it capitulated, never to return again. It became apparent that the mere slogans of national independence were insufficient to raise the people to the level of revolutionary struggle. It was necessary to put forth social slogans, a social program, to instil a social essence into the national forms of the revolutionary movement. Great changes now took place in the UPA; new men with a new ideology entered its leadership. Already in 1943 in its publications in Volhynia the foremost slogan of the UPA was: ''Only in an independent Ukrainian state can the true realization of the great slogans of the October Revolution be attained." (See the UPA newspaper in Volhynia, No. 1, 1943, "Defence of the Ukraine.")

In the same year (1943), in the impassable forests of the Carpathians, there took place an illegal international congress of representatives of 16 nationalities dwelling within the borders of the USSR. The congress established an international revolutionary organization of peoples under the Moscow yoke. At that time there already existed separate military detachments of the different nationalities in the UPA: Byelo-Russians, Georgians, Uzbeks, Turcomen and others, bound in close cooperation with the Polish, Baltic, Slovak and other partisans. At the same time the entire territory of the Ukraine was reoccupied by the Red Army and the UPA began to function under new conditions. With the end of the war, the UPA transferred the centre of its operations to the Western part of the Ukraine, and changed its tactics in the central Ukraine, passing to propagandistic underground revolutionary work and establishing groups in all the large cities of the Ukraine.

In the period of 1945-46, nationalist ideology had already completely disappeared from all the theoretical, ideological and propagandistic publications of the UPA. Its place was taken by a new progressive ideology with a clear social program. This ideology derives from no doctrine, its direct source is the people and it corresponds to their aspirations. No longer do we speak of struggle "in general" for an independent state, but now we speak of the nature of the state for which we are fighting. Thus the UPA proposes the following as its program for a new social order in the Ukrainian state.

1. For state nationalized and cooperative social property in industry, finance and trade.

2. For state-national property in land with agriculture to be conducted either collectively or individually, depending on the wishes of the population.

3. A return to capitalism in any instance is a regression. (See the book, The Position of the Ukrainian Liberation Movement, published by the UPA in 1947, reissued by the emigration in 1948, in Germany.)

Exclude Restoration of Capitalism

Further on we read: "The complete liquidation of the class struggle demands the destruction of the source of classes itself, i.e., in the capitalist countries - the institution of private property in the means of production; in the case of the Soviet Union - the political monopoly of the Stalinist party, the dictatorial, totalitarian regime." (Ibid.) From this it follows that a return to private property in the means of production in the future Ukrainian state is completely excluded. But this conclusion was not drawn from any doctrinal considerations, but from the actualities of the situation, i.e., that not only is there no desire for a return to capitalism, but even if there were, it could not be realized. The basic support of the new state will be social property. This is the present social program of the UPA.

In other underground publications of the UPA during 1948-49, we read about further extensions of our program and ideology. In the simple sheets circulated among demobilized Red Army men and officers, we find a call to revolutionary struggle, "against the new class of exploiters - the Bolshevik party magnates, for a classless society and real people's democracy." (See the paper, "Revolutionary Democrat." No. 3, for 1948.) Many other similar publications exist. It is interesting that among them we find the articles of orthodox Marxists (for instance, one of the leaders of the underground, O. Gornovskii) ; articles by former nationalists who still curse socialism, but who, upon analysis of their conceptions of revolution in the USSR, support "permanent revolution"; to the use of the term itself (for example, the publicist, P. Poltava); articles not only about socialism but also about the national question, including quotations from Marx, Engels and Lenin, in opposition to the Stalinist position (for example, the publicist, Ya. Busen). All these tendencies exist in the deep Ukrainian underground, and their publications are spread all over the Ukraine.

Thus we see that nationalism no sooner encountered Soviet realities than it capitulated. Its place was taken by the new ideology of the construction of a true socialist society, based on a true popular, political democracy. This ideology, arising from our direct confrontation with the reactionary system of the USSR, a system replete with social contradictions, is its revolutionary antipode, but not on the road back to the restoration of private capitalist society, but rather on the road forward, to socialism and popular democracy.

III

In attesting the accuracy of our theses, we present the following facts to the reader. When in 1947 certain UPA raiding parties on our Western front broke through Czechoslovakia to Austria and Western Germany, they brought with them a large quantity of printed theoretical, ideological and propagandistic material. Additional raiding parties, arriving in the spring and summer of 1948, brought similar materials with them. All of these had been printed in the forests and mountains of the Ukraine, on underground presses, in the USSR. In the end of 1948, a part of these materials was reissued, in the emigration, in Germany, with the aim of informing the Western world about the real ideology of the revolutionary underground movement at present in the Ukraine. These materials were published in a book under the title, The Position of the Ukrainian Liberation Movement (publishing house, "Brolog," Munich, 1948, 140 pp.). In addition several brochures and other material have already been reissued.

Besides the socio-political program of the UPA, set forward by us above, one finds in these publications statements like these:

"The Soviet order ... is not a socialist order, since classes of exploited and exploiters exist in it. The workers of the USSB want neither capitalism nor Stalinist pseudo-socialism. They aspire to a truly classless society, to a true popular democracy, to a free life in free and independent states. Today soviet society, more than any other, is pregnant with social revolution. In the USSR, the social revolution is strengthened by the national revolutions of the oppressed nationalities."

Because of a lack of space, we limit ourselves only to these quotations. But even from these few lines the objectives of the struggle of the revolutionary Ukraine become clear. Against so progressive and revolutionary an ideology present-day Stalinism can counterpose nothing but naked terror and force. But it is evident at the same time that on naked force, terror and lies alone no system will long maintain itself. Social and national revolution in the USSR is inevitable.

Resistance Throughout Russia

Do not think that it is only in the Ukraine that an underground revolutionary struggle is being waged, although it is a fact that the Ukrainian resistance is the strongest by far. From announcements of the Soviet radio and especially from information reaching the emigration from the Ukrainian underground movement, it is known that similar revolutionary underground struggle exists in Lithuania, Latvia, in Poland, in Byelo-Russia, in the Caucasus, in Central Asia. One may assume that the revolutionary movements in these nationalities are based on the same ideological positions as the UPA.

From all that has been written above about the ideology and struggle of the revolutionary underground in the USSR, we can draw the following conclusions :

1. Whereas be/ore the war in 1941 a revolutionary underground movement was impossible, today, after the war, in connection with the instability and rotting of the Stalinist system, and in connection with the existence of a new, revolutionary ideology, a revolutionary underground in the USSR has become possible.

2. The struggle against Stalinism is possible only if conducted on the basis of socialism and revolutionary democracy, since Stalinist ideology capitulates before such an approach, and since only such an approach finds wide support among the workers of the USSR.

3. The ripening revolution in the USSR will be at the same time social and political. It will be no return to capitalism, but the last step to a socialist, classless society, based on a true popular democracy.

4. All this has been proved by the Ukrainian revolutionists by their six-year struggle deep in the Ukrainian underground.

F. S. - Here we must draw the reader's attention to several terms, used by us in this article, since they are used in the same way by the members of the revolutionary underground in the USSR. We refer to such terms as "Bolshevism," "Soviet," "USSR," etc. Of course, this usage contradicts the scientific historical facts: Bolshevism in the USSR had already passed out of existence by 1929, and the Soviet power also; the USSR is only a Stalinist screen, or better, a drape for the old Czarist Empire. But the reader must understand: in the contemporary USSR the agents of Stalinism have been beating with bayonets and bullets into the heads of the people their "socialism," "democracy," "Bolshevism" and "Soviet power." Therefore all these terms have long been accursed to the workers. But essence remains essence and let the reader forgive us this small phraseological inexactness. Let the reader keep the essence in mind.

Vs. F.

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