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19 August, 2014  ▪  Yurii Tereshchenko

19th-century Ukraine: Between Conservatism, Liberalism and Socialism

Ukrainian sociopolitical movement between the mid-19th and early 20th century seemed to involve only “conscious Ukrainians”. Even then, however, forces existed which had not yet actively declared their pro-Ukrainian nature but had huge sociopolitical potential

These forces included the more moderate part of Ukrainian society, largely the liberal intelligentsia, nobility and various officials. They gradually became involved in various all-Russian government and non-government structures: city councils, zemstvos, regional branches of scientific and societal institutions, etc. They addressed issues in the local economy, popular education, healthcare, transport network, statistics and cultural work. These efforts went hand in hand with their resistance to assimilation carried out by government agencies and gave rise to “our nice national order”, to quote from the well-known ethnographer and historian Mykhailo Drahomanov.

Ukrainian peasants, too, had extremely important potential that could develop into a Ukrainian movement. After serfdom was abolished in 1861 and a chance appeared to enhance their financial standing and socio-political involvement, they acquired new features as a social group. Traditional Ukrainian politicians believed that the Ukrainian peasantry had grown indifferent, but it exploded with a wave of national self-identification at the turn of the century, pouring millions of its members into cooperative societies and village associations and later supporting the Ukrainian Central Rada as the national movement leader.

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The autocratic Russian regime did not allow open political life and the spread of any opposition sentiments in society. However, the tsarist government could not stop discontent. Taras Shevchenko wrote a number of poems which established, with renewed energy, the idea of uncompromising struggle against the Russian regime which resorted to much tyranny and national persecutionin Ukraine. Shevchenko was a deeply nationalistic Ukrainian poet. He unswervingly condemned the anti-Ukrainian policies of the Russian Empire. His monumental figure was a great catalyst for the formation of national identity in the masses and the establishment of the idea of Ukraine’s independence.

Liberals and Slavophiles against “citizens” and “khlopomans”

In the late 1850s, the Hromada,a Ukrainian society, was formed in Saint Petersburg. Its most active members were Mykola Kostomarov and Panteleimon Kulish. Supported by notable Ukrainian donors, large landowners Vasyl Tarnovsky and Hryhoriy Galagan, Kulish set up his own printing shop in Saint Petersburg and started publishing cheap Ukrainian books for the masses. The authors included, among others, Shevchenko, Kulish, Marko Vovchok, Hryhoriy Kvitka-Osnovianenko, Danylo Mordovets, Hanna Barvinok, Oleksa Storozhenko and others. Hromada’s branches later sprang up in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Poltava, Kharkiv, Katerynoslav and other cities.

Saint Petersburg’s Hromada published the Osnova journal in 1861-62, the key all-Ukrainian periodical that played an important role in the history of Ukrainian spirituality. It was the first national social-scientific and literary journal. For nearly two years, it had a significant impact on the literary process in Ukraine and the development of Ukrainian culture as it entrenched the concept of Ukraine’s independence and the singularity of its historical process in mass consciousness.

Hromada’s activities raised suspitions in Russian society. For a while, government officials simply watched on as Osnova was published and the Ukrainian movement surged, but the Russian liberal press and a number of intellectuals immediately exploded with sharp, negative criticism. The reason was the successful development of the Ukrainian literary process and its increasing public and political influence among various strata of Ukrainian society. While Russian journals quite often published Ukrainian-language literary works early into Alexander I’s liberal rule, the situation soon reversed, and Russian public figures turned into archenemies of the Ukrainian culture as they tried to deny the Ukrainian language and culture and prove that the Ukrainian movement was a Polish plot. For example, Mikhail Katkov, editor of Moskovskie vedomosti (Moscow News) and Russkiy vestnik (Russian Newsletter) and a representative of moderate Russian liberalism, tried to convince the Russian public that the Ukrainian language in the works of Ukrainian authors was completely artificial. He claimed that the intentions of the Ukrainian intelligentsia to develop their literature, culture and science were misguided and at variance with the demandsof real life.

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The Russian liberal intelligentsia viewed Ukrainian culture as a threat to its undivided rule in both spiritual and political life. The fear that the independent development of Ukrainian culture, language and literature could become an important foundation for the political separation of the Ukrainian people persisted among Russian intellectuals, generating suspicions of Ukrainian political separatism.

The position of many Russian intellectuals was not that different from the centralist “point of state coercion”, to quote from Mykola Kostomarov. After all, it was their hidden conviction which contradicted their outward liberal rhetoric. “I don’t believe a common Little Russian (Malorissiyisky, a common name for part of Ukraine at the time – Ed.) literary language could be formed – apart from literary works of purely folk nature; I don’t see any way in which this may happen, and I do not wish or am able to wish any artifical attempts to break the integrity of all-Russian development and disincline Little Russian authors from writing in Russian,” notable Slavophile Ivan Aksakov wrote.

The position of Slavophiles virtually coincided with the traditional assimilatory policy of the Russian state. The activists associated with Osnova (Foundation) were correct in viewing it as thinly veiled centralist intention to stump the development of a new Ukrainian movement and make society hostile towards it.

As can be seen, Russian Slavophiles echoed centralists like Katkov in their demand to use repressions against Ukrainians. This hypocrity was exposed in Kostomarov’s article “The truth about Rus’ for Muscovites”: “There are people in Moscow who call themselves Slavophiles, but they are not what they pretend to be. They want to foster in their own peopleenmity against another Slavic people… O Moscow! How much your children bespeak their fathers and grandfathers!”

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An important sociocultural phenomenon of the time was khlopomanstvo, a movement that emerged in the late 1850s among the Polonized Ukrainian nobility in Right-Bank Ukraine. Khlopomans did not agree with the idea prevalent among the nobility that the restoration of Polish statehood in Ukrainian lands would improve the condition of Ukrainians. They saw their public duty in serving the people, primarily peasants (hence their name, literally ‘peasant-mania’), to enhance their cultural and educational level, etc. The leader of the movement was Volodymyr Antonovych, a student at Kyiv University at the time and later a notable Ukrainian historian. Together with like-minded people (Tadei Rylsky, Kost Mykhalchuk and Borys Poznansky), he believed that the dissemination of education and culture, rather than political struggle, was the only way to economic, political and spiritual liberation of the people. According to the khlopomans, the Polish nobility in Ukraine was faced with a dilemma: either continue to be exploiters of the Ukrainian people, hampering its national development, or return to the ethnic ancestral roots and work for the good of the people. As they joined the Ukrainian movement, khlopomans, former nobelemen, became déclasssé and joined the ranks of the intelligentsia. It took time for the Right-Bank intelligentsia to realize the need to preserve itself as a stratum whose all-around experience was to serve the Ukrainian social movement. This new stage when the Ukrainian nobility rediscovered its identity was initiated somewhat later by Viacheslav Lypynsky.

The new intelligentsia leading the way

In the second half of the 19th century, the leadership of the Ukrainian national movement was transferred to a new societal stratum – the intelligentsia, which was composed of both the nobility and people of other origin. The new generation no longer idealized the Cossacks, as did the the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius, and focused on the people which, they believed, needed freedom, material improvements and spiritual revival. It was in serving the people identified as the peasantry that the Ukrainian intelligentsia saw its mission. Thus, if the previous period was marked primarily by a desire to restore the former Hetman state, the new movement was about protecting people’s interests more than anything else.

Since the 1860s, narodnytstvo (populism) was fully established within the Ukrainian movement and spread its views to social sciences and the humanities, as well as to literary activity. The populist school of historiography (Kostomarov, Oleksandr Lazarevsky, Antonovych and later Hrushevsky) cemented in Ukrainian society for years to come a view on Ukraine’s pastin which the dominant historical force was spontaneous mass movements aimed at satisfying popular socioeconomic interests. In the study of the Cossack period, the state-building activities of the Cossack starshyna (officers) and the Hetman’s power were relegated to the background, while the activities of the rank-and-file Cossacks, sometimes openly destructive, were glorified. This school greatly underestimated Ukrainian statehood in the Princely Era and early modern history (the Ruthenian-Lithuanian period).

The liberal-populist intelligentsia, which viewed itself as the only representative of the Ukrainian people, fiercely opposed the attempts of the traditional Ukrainian nobility to play an independent political role. It hampered the engagement of both individuals and separate social groups in the Ukrainian movement. As a result, this conduct alienated well-to-do, politically and professionally experienced residents of Ukraine.

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However, the emergence and establishment of the populist intelligentsia in Ukrainian sociopolitical landscape did not mean that the ideological influence of the Ukrainian nobility was eliminated. After its representatives and the descendants of the Cossack starshyna joined the Ukrainian national revival, they imposed on the Ukrainian movement traditional autonomist-federalist views of the state system in the context of future relations with Russia. These views held by the Ukrainian nobility, complemented by the ideas of Western liberalism and sociopolitical conceptions of the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius, became central in the ideology of Ukrainian populism. Marked by inconsistency and ambivalence in its approach to the nation’s key goal, i.e., obtaining state independence, this ideology was definitive for the Ukrainian movement as suchfor a long time.

For a while, the tsarist government refrained from repressions against the Ukrainian social movement, which pursued largely cultural and educational goals at this stage. However, the Polish Uprising of 1863 changed the situation. The slogan of radical noble circles “For your and our freedom!” and agitation among Ukrainian peasants raised unjustified suspicions in the Russian government that separatism was possible in the Ukrainian national movement. This suspicion was fuelled by Russian chauvinist circles which believed that the development of the Ukrainian cultural and national movement would lead to Ukraine’s breakaway from Russia and to the empire’s eventual collapse. Katkov and the Russian pro-government press tried to persuade Russian society that the Ukrainian movement was a result of a Polish plot and that the Russian government had every reason to expect a Ukrainian uprising like the one in Poland.

A campaign against the Ukrainian movement, Ukrainian-language schools and Ukrainian literature was launched. The tsar dispatched his man to Ukraine to investigate “Little Russian propaganda which has surged there”.

In 1863, Interior Minister Valuev issued his infamous circular banning the printing of textbooks and popular and religious books in Ukrainian. He wrote in a letter to the Minister of Education: “There is and cannot be any separate Little Russian language.” Russian tsarism persecuted not only attempts to spread ideas about Ukraine’s right to political self-determination but also Ukrainian culture, literature, theatre, education, etc.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Press as a Mirror of National Consciousness

On 18 May 1876, Alexander II added a new page to the history of anti-Ukrainian repressions by issuing the so-called Ems Ukaz in the form of a secret instruction. Under the ukase, Ukrainian-language books were not allowed to enter the empire, original Ukrainian-language works, translations and even lyrics to accompany music were banned from publication. Plays and public recitals in Ukrainian were also prohibited.

Drahomanov and his influence

However, the Ukrainian movement could no longer be stopped. It had entered a new stage and found a new opinion leader in Mykhailo Drahomanov. As an opponent to Russia’s autocratic centralism and a police state, he proposed a programme of evolutionary socialism building, for the most part, on Proudhon’s ideas. His political ideal was a federalist transformation of society: free communities were to form a federation within Ukraine and then establish the federative community of the peoples in Russia, later a Slavic federation and, finally, a federation of the world’s peoples.

However, Drahomanov’s political activity and his socialist ideaswere met with hostility in Kyiv’s Hromada where they exacerbatedinternal tensions and triggeredthe emergence of a radical wing. Finally, after multiple attempts to come to an understanding with the moderate leaders of Hromada in 1886, Drahomanov severed ties with the organization and embarked on highly important activities abroad.

Drahomanov’s importance as a political figure lies in the fact that he introduced a realization of the need to transition to political struggle and stepoutside the limits of heretofore dominant apolitical cultural enlightenment.

Moreover, Drahomanov’s key contribution to the Ukrainian movement was that he familiarized Europe with the Ukrainian problem. While on an academic trip abroad in 1873, he started telling Western Europeans about Ukrainian literature. Among his large-scale works in this area was his contribution to Nouvelle Geographie Universelle where he presented varied information about Ukraine in the fifth volume.

However, Drahomanov’s political stance never allowed young Ukrainian politicians to break out from the firm embrace of Russian centralism. It seriouslyhampered independist Ukrainian political movements and organizations and ultimately eclipsed the need for continued struggle for an independent Ukrainian state. The concept of Ukraine’s traditional autonomy which was, thanks to Drahomanov, combined with the Western European federalism of the time, was to become the foundation of the Ukrainian movement’s political programme for many years to come and led to grave consequences during the Liberation Struggle.

After the assassination of Alexander II in 1881 and increased reactionary policies, the Ukrainian movement entered an even more difficult stage. Hromada organizations partly suspended their activities, and the ones that remained thought it advisable to focus on purely cultural and academic apolitical activities needed to justify the separateness of Ukrainians among other peoples.

Members of Kyiv’s Hromada were active in various scientific societies, particularly the Nestor the Chronicler Historical Society, and rallied around Kievskaia starina (Kyiv Old Times), a journal founded on the initiative of Oleksandr Lazarevsky and Volodymyr Antonovych and supported by Ukrainian donors, sugar refinery owner Vasyl Symyrenko and landowner Vasyl Tarnovsky. The journal published research articles on history, ethnography, archaeology, literature, as well as literary works and historical documents. The authors included Dmytro Bahalii, Orest Levytsky, Mykhailo Hrushevsky, Mykhailo Drahomanov, Oleksandra Yefymenko, Oleksandr Lazarevsky, Ivan Franko, Panas Myrny, Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky and others. Moreover, research on Ukrainian topics was published in Russian by a number of official societies in Kharkiv, Odesa and other cities. Drahomanov tried to convince Ukrainian activists to focus their efforts on democratizing and federalizing the Russian Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which, in his opinion, would put the conditions in place for the free national development of Ukrainians.

According to Franko, Drahomanov as a politician forever remained who he was when he left Russia on foreign trips: gente Ukrainus, natione Russus. In other words, he could not envision Ukraine “without a close connection to Russia”. To Drahomanov, the ideas of federalism stood alongside the European ideals of social equality and political will, which eclipsed the idea of national independence. This position had an impact on entire generations of Ukrainian activists who for a long time remained captive to Drahomanov’s view of the national problem and did not see the prospects of national liberation struggle. “Without harbouring this national ideal in their heart, Franko wrote, the best Ukrainian forces were drowned in the all-Russian sea, and those who stood their ground were discouraged and became apathetic. We now have no doubt that a lack of faith in the national ideal, elaborated to the extreme consequences also in the political field, was the main tragedy in Drahomanov’s life and the reason why his political struggle was hopeless…”

His vision of an autonomous Ukraine within a federated Russian state was adopted by socialist and liberal Ukrainian parties, something they did not fully relinquish even in the course of the 1917-21 national liberation struggle. This was a fatal obstacle to widespread realization of the need for an independent state.

Social or national?

The domination of social tasks over national issues (whether in the interests of higher or lower strata) misguided the Ukrainian movement one way or another, causing social disharmony and inability to consolidate society, which was very much needed for national liberation. The key to solving the most pressing social problems was a wide societal realization of the need for state independence.

Lypynsky wrote that a “true revolution against the populist worldview” was necessary for the Ukrainian movement to leave behind its autonomist-federalist notions about the future of Ukraine-Russia relations . “It was only through a tremendous moral effort, he wrote in a letter to Andriy Livytsky on 16 October 1919, only through boundless love for the Ukrainian national idea and to the state idea as a political embodiment of full national will and only by rallying all honest national forces without exception around internal work towards this idea that it was possible to turn 40 million dark, self-disparaging slaves into heroes who would build Ukraine and secure a better human life for everyone.”

RELATED ARTICLE: Ukrainian State and Elites in the Early Modern Era

The Ukrainian elites that accepted socialist ideology lacked, for a long time, clear orientation towards Ukraine’s independence, but this could not stand in the way of a powerful national-cultural potential which grew as a necessary foundation for national liberation struggle. The 19th century Ukraine was concerned with building this kind of potential.

The resistance of a large part of the Ukrainian elites and many peasants to Russian assimilatory pressure ultimately led to the emergence of independist movements in Ukrainian politics. In 1895, Yulian Bachynsky, an activist of the Ukrainian Radical Party, published a brochure entitled Ukraina irredenta which became the manifesto of Ukrainian aspirations for state independence. That same year, Franko clearly testified to the popularity of this idea in society by observing that it was “a fact of our political life and an expression of the national feeling and national cosciousness”. He noted that the perceptible “need for Ukraine’s political independence … will be on the agenda in Europe’s political life and will stay there until it has been accomplished”.

These aspirations for political independence, which can be found in the works of Galician politicians, were echoed by Mykola Mikhnovsky’s conception expounded in his brochure Samostiina Ukraina (An Independent Ukraine, 1900). Thus, the idea of Ukraine’s independence started to turn into a clear political programme on both sides of the Zbruch River.

Independence, not autonomy, after all!

The growing realization of the need for an independent Ukrainian state led to a better understanding that Ukraine had to develop a differentiated class structure as a precondition. Full-fledged national development had to eliminate social destruction caused by national oppression. It was along these lines that Franko criticized Drahomanov’s unreserved “love forthe common people”. It was also the reason why Franko adopted a pro-independence position and departed from Marxism.

Drahomanov’s narrow view on the place and role of the main social classes, his “peasantophilia”, to use Franko’s description, led to “an excessively narrow understanding of the nation as the plebs also in purely cultural and educational efforts and prevented him from couching the cause of national development in such broad terms in which we formulate itnow.”

In order to overcome this kind of simplistic view on Ukrainian society, the higher social strata of Ukrainian origin, which used to accept the Russian or Polish national state tradition, had to elevate themselves to a higher level of sociopolitical and national identity.

Throughout the 19th century, Ukrainian aristocracy underwent a complicated and ambivalent process of national awakening on both sides of the Zbruch River. This was vividly manifested in the way ancient Ukrainian noble families changed their socionational consciousness and political orientation in Galicia and the part of Ukraine that was under Russia. Despite the dominating positions of liberal democracy and social trends in the Ukrainian movement, this evolution showed a desire to balance ideological and political values and stimulate the underdeveloped right-wing conservative sector.

The prevalent social radicalism of the Ukrainian movement alienated the conservatively minded Ukrainian nobility to the point that some of its members joined monarchic Russian organizations and parties. However, this political preference was not conclusive. Rather, it was a step towards self-preservation and protection of socioeconomic interests. The conservative forces which were not déclassé departed from the Ukrainian liberal-radical movement but preserved their national instincts, which clearly showed after February 1917. Their attempt to realize, in 1918, traditional national statehood was a link in the all-European process of conservative revolutions and a reaction to the triumph of liberalism triggered by the 19th century and dressed in the new democratic attire after the First World War.


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