Staunton, October 6 – Some wits have suggested that Ukrainians should erect the statues of two Moscow leaders in Kyiv for their contribution to Ukrainian statehood, one to Joseph Stalin who added more territory to Ukraine than any Ukrainian leader had and a second to Vladimir Putin who, by invading in 2014, united the nation more than anyone ever could.
In Delovaya stolitsa, Ukrainian journalist Dmitro Polyukhovich suggests that Stalin in fact contributed to the creation of a Ukrainian political nation in another way, by forming a quasi-bourgeosie consisting of Ukrainians from the village who he urbanized and industrialized (dsnews.ua/society/selo-i-burzhui-kak-stalin-porodil-ukrainskuyu-politicheskuyu-27092019220500).
For almost all European countries, national movements arose out of the residents of cities; but after 1648, Ukrainian cities such as they were were populated largely if not exclusively by non-Ukrainians, a pattern that precluded the development of a Ukrainian bourgeoisie and thus of a Ukrainian nation in the modern sense, the journalist says.
“However paradoxical it sounds,” Polyukhovich says, “the father of the Ukrainian nation became Comrade Stalin. True, he did so unconsciously. It happened when ‘the father of the peoples’ unleashed mass industrialization. In the course of a few years, [Ukraine,] the backward agrarian borderland of the former empire was transformed into an industrial region.”
And unlike what had been true from the 17th through the 19th century, Ukrainian cities grew not as a result of the influx of non-Ukrainians but rather from Ukrainian villagers. And as a result, by the end of the 1930s, in sharp contrast to the past, “58 percent of the urban population of the Ukrainian SSR were Ukrainians.”
Polyukhovich continues: “Stalin instinctively felt that the industrialization of Ukraine carried with it a threat to the integrity of ‘the red empire,’ and therefore he adopted a number of limiting measures” to restrict the development of Ukrainian culture, a phenomenon which involved killing off potential intellectual leaders in what is known as “rebirth while shooting.”
“Having reduced Ukrainian culture to a rural ethnographic level, Stalin to give himself greater confidence began the total Russification of Ukrainian cities,” the Kyiv journalist says. This he was completely able to do, “but as we see it did not help him” in the end. Because as a result of Stalin’s industrialization, the Ukrainians received their own bourgeoisie.
A bourgeoisie in the sense of urban resident to be sure and only incompletely in the sense of the owner of the means of production, but an urban stratum that could be the basis for the rise of a Ukrainian political nation and Ukrainian nationalism of a partially modern kind.
“The Ukrainian Soviet bourgeoisie as somewhat specific,” he continues, “as legally everything belonged to the people, that is, too the state. Despite this, by its social status and worldview, the stratum of producers and administrators created by Stalin was little different from the classical Western bourgeoisie.” And close to it in spirit was the party-Soviet nomenklatura.
As long as Stalin was alive, “the newly-minted Ukrainian Soviet bourgeoisie could not to any degree influence social processes. Moreover, it did not even recognize itself yet as something separate.” But that changed under Khrushchev and especially “during late Brezhnev times.”
“Then, among the Ukrainian nomenklatura began almost unnoticed and even unconscious processes of the crystallization of its own interests, ones different from the all-union kind.” And that made Moscow’s continuing demands both offensive and the occasion for this group to define itself in opposition to the center.
With the onset of perestroika, the journalist argues, “the thought that Ukraine must be independent became the leading idea for all strata of the population.” However, “the Soviet quasi-bourgeoisie could give birth only to a quasi-nation and correspondingly to a quasi-state,” and for a long time, Ukraine remained in effect the Ukrainian SSR.
“The complete domestication of a nationally oriented bourgeoisie, small and mid-sized entrepreneurs, farmers, IT professions and others – was formed only in the last two decades. It was this group which was the nucleus of both Maidans, and it was this group which generated charitable works and volunteers.
As a result, Polyukhovich says, finally it is possible to talk about the Ukrainian nation without the slighting prefix “quasi.” But however much many want to deny it, that nation had its roots in Stalin’s policies more than in anything else.