UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Lenin and the Ukrainian question, 1912-1924. Wodinsky, Marvin Stephen


This thesis is an attempt to describe and analyze Lenin's theoretical and practical approaches to the Ukrainian question in particular and the nationality question in general. It seeks to ascertain the role and importance of the Ukraine, Ukrainian institutions and, to some extent, Ukrainian personalities, in Lenin's published work both before and after the revolution. Furthermore, this thesis attempts to discover the role of the national and Ukrainian questions in relation to Lenin's other concerns of expediting the proletarian revolution and of maintaining organizational and governmental unity. Several conclusions of a general and particular nature have been reached. The national question in Lenin's works is a part of the general question of the socialist revolution, however, it is definitely a subordinate one: socialist concerns inevitably predominate over nationalist ones. It is also evident that Lenin stressed unity and centralism above any other organizational attribute. The highest degree of unity was mandatory if the revolution was to be made and consumated. Nationalism, however, was particularistic and by its very nature contradictory to Lenin's centralist views. Lenin was aware of Ukrainian peculiarities but he preferred to ignore them in most instances until he felt that to continue so doing would retard the revolution. It is for this reason that his attitude on the Ukrainian question seemed ambivalent. Lenin was willing to make concessions of form rather than substance: he advocated the right to national self-determination while ensuring that this right could never be exercised, he established federal relations with the Ukrainian government while arrogating all real power in the center, and he promoted Ukrainization in all Ukrainian organizations and institutions with the exception of the party. The ultimate goal of all these concessions was invariably unity and centralization. This thesis argues that, in order to be fully understood, Lenin's nationality theory and his application of it to the Ukraine must be conceptualized at two levels. At one level Lenin was concerned with the reality of making a revolution and this required allies from the nationalities. For this reason he conducted a propaganda campaign calculated to appeal to the nationalities and especially the Ukrainians. At the same time, while he was ostensibly demonstrating the similarities between the aims of the Bolsheviks and the nationalities, Lenin never lost sight of the concrete historical conditions of that period. His attitude to the nationalities and Ukrainians was a function of the progress of the revolutionary movement. At this level Lenin's nationality-theory and practice was historically relative and in his work he allowed for the possibility that his views would change as the historical situation changed. Lenin saw nationalism as an ephemeral phenomenon and essentially negative concept. The national movement in general and the Ukrainian one in particular was viewed in instrumental terms. Lenin hoped that he could use this movement as a means to more quickly achieve the goals of unity and assimilation in the most expeditious manner.

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