What if we wrote about the United States but forgot to mention that slavery was once standard operating procedure? Or about England with no mention or consideration for Charles’ losing his head at a certain point in time? Or about France with neither admissions concerning nor interest in Napoleon? Or, even more pertinently, about Germany with a blithe unconcern for Hitler’s having once been Chancellor and more?
One would imagine that such horrendous contextual gaffes, such hideous historical blindness, might elicit a critique sooner or later. And yet precisely such obtuseness or willful ignorance or hidden agendas govern almost all of the corporate mediation that comes from the United States, England, France, and Germany regarding today’s evolution of Ukrainian crises that could completely eviscerate civilization or even humanity itself.
This article first and foremost offers a corrective to such decontextualized, ahistorical emptiness. These initial remarks give some concrete examples of what has so far been universally absent.
For instance, our narratives of Ukraine must account for the fact that Nikita Khrushchev emerged from the coal mines of Donetsk to grow into one of the world’s most powerful leaders— a true working class hero, at the same time that emigrant scions of substantial wealth moved to England, and Canada and the United States both to flee comrade Khrushchev’s ascendancy and to disparage the diminutive Nikita’s life and work; our stories of Galicia and Kiev must make sense of the truth that Leon Trotsky was as much as a seventh generation Ukrainian from a poor Cossack family simultaneously as Stepan Bandera came forth from a small farmstead near the Polish border to achieve National Socialist prominence.
Additionally, our conception of the meaning of Ukrainian must not only show the palpable interconnections of such countless undeniable polarities of the relatively recent past, but it must also bring into the light and explain more or less exactly how these events and people and days of life and strife evolved into a current context of similar yearning and struggle, in which miners’ militias chase the hapless mercenaries of mammon out of their lands, and airliners full of helpless innocents explode in midair to litter the fields around Luhansk with the bodies of strangers.
In other words, our thinking about this blessed, cursed land must become more than either a projection of latter-day British imperialists, or a fantasy of American billionaires who insist that they know what’s best for the world, and all others should just shut up and do as they are told. Our beliefs about Ukraine must illuminate matters in these ways, that is, unless we intend our mental emanations to be mere scraps of propaganda, intellectual detritus to serve the power agendas of ‘leaders’ who, apparently, would sacrifice as large a swath of humanity as every single living human being in order to maintain their dominance.
This essay seeks to honor these directives. It does not pretend to be comprehensive; it never promises expertise; it reflects no political itinerary other than that of knowledge, no social project other than that of seeking wisdom. It is mostly accurate and fully honest in its statements.
Mistakes, in any case, are easy to correct. If its interpretations represent error, however, then readers should show how and where and why and provide a more robust explication of the litany of facts that appear here as well as of the innumerable eventualities that are not in these lines. Otherwise, a rational participant in this discursive process will have no choice but to think that the presentation here is persuasive and plausible, whatever truth in all of its rotund completeness ultimately turned out to be.
A Bit of a Preface
Werner Heisenberg was a fascist sympathizer, even though he never joined Germany’s Nazi party. Even as we grapple with his leadership of Germany’s nascent nuclear weapons project, we note that his math and science remain critically important. In particular, his uncertainty theorem contains key comprehension for grappling with any attempt to attain knowledge.
His point about certainty was both simple and intuitively obvious. One cannot simultaneously know a particle’s location, frozen in the time-space continuum, and its momentum, the product of multiplying acceleration times mass, while the little bit of matter scoots along at sub-light speeds.
Journalistic, narrative corollaries of Heisenberg’s postulate ought to be obvious. Try as annalists might, attaining an awareness of certain things precludes adequate focus on other matters.
Nevertheless, just as the fact of uncertainty does not eliminate the need for and utility of scientific investigation of location and momentum and more, so too must historical or social scientific thinkers persist in seeking credible contextualization, despite the ambiguity and speculation inherent in such enterprises.
Basically, this section will consider deep paradoxes and noticeable patterns that characterize Ukraine’s experience. The following points, very briefly, are among those that observers ought to note.
The deep geo-historical background of the region shows the inherent power of Ukrainian geography. Alexander the Great’s conquests during the 4th century BC focused in part on Crimea, as did Tatars almost exactly a thousand years further along; Jewish settlers first arrived on these fertile plains during Hellenic times. A sense of fortuitous placement, this realization that the realm was an irresistible waystation and a fertile swath of soil and rain and sunlight, has thus constantly defined this place on Earth.
The ebb and flow of conquerors and their impact on societies and cultures, in turn, emanated from this confluence of a more-or-less immutable geography and geology. Alexander, the Persians, the Romans, Byzantine rulers, Viking invaders, Rus royalty, invasions of Mongols and Tatars and other Central Asians, Ottoman and then Russian and then British incursions provide just a partial listing of the vast array of opportunistic interlopers who have first vanquished and then intertwined with earlier social components of this place.
The longstanding presence and role of Jewish culture and thinking also marks Ukraine. Its presence was at once independent of, and adjoined to, conquerors whose ‘glory’ and import seem on the surface to have greater potency, yet these more memorable contributory elements have no more defined contemporary Ukraine than have Talmudic threads.
The rise over the last four centuries of Austrian and Russian hegemony, in which Galicia fell under the sway of one empire and Kiev and Crimea and the East identified or bowed down to Czars and Slavic princes, represents the most recent expression of these intertwining patterns.
The simultaneous presence of nationalist, ultra-nationalist, socialist, communist, anarchist forces, as much so as, or perhaps more so than, anywhere else on Earth flows naturally from this sense of Ukraine as simultaneously a cradle and an abattoir of human development.
Each of the points above might coax dozens of stories—novels, monographs, articles, films, plays, music—from bards and thinkers and citizens. However, the point of their presence here is different. They proffer for readers a sense of intricacy and multidimensionality, a background of vast scope that undergirds the narrative focus ahead, which for its part zeroes-in on periods of revolution and World War on the one hand and reaction and World War on the other hand.
Quarter-Century of Revolution
Near the start of the twentieth century, all of these contradictory tendencies and elements in Ukraine’s past again attained a level of ripeness that necessitated explosive development and transformation. While this presentation does not attempt anything like a complete telling, several groups of occurrences absolutely impress themselves on what was possible for Kiev and its surroundings over the following periods of time, to the present pass and beyond.
Restive Rebels & an Irresistible Impetus to a Reconfigured Social Scheme
Contemporary U.S. accounts of the region’s past point to the agrarian and peasant predominance not only of Russia, but also of Ukrainian lands as a special ‘breadbasket,’ as if that alone explained anything. In fact, a twisted skein of rebellious and revolutionary organizations manifested tremendous social power in Ukraine as the Nineteenth Century became the Twentieth.
A key ingredient in the uprisings that characterized Kiev’s dominions in this period of time was the massive Russian famine of 1891-92, accompanied by cholera and the ultimate deaths of plus-or-minus a million people, mainly peasants and poor Cossacks. A subtitle of a chapter about the disaster speaks volumes: “The Demonization of the Nobility.”
The result of this practical instruction in class hatred also presented itself in the region’s cities, where anarchistic and communistic and nationalistic youth from the devastated rural areas congregated. Armed robbery of banks and post-offices was a common and popular method for financing activities against the State in all its manifestations.
Under these circumstances, that Ukrainians played an important part in the events of the watershed year 1905 would surprise only the ignorant. And while many of these militants were nationalists first, these incipient practitioners of pogrom never constituted the majority, which always consisted of socialists, anarchists, and communists. That is why these to-the-ramparts rebels have consistently won out over time.
An exemplar of this fact went by the nom-de-guerre Marusya. Maria Nikiforova left home at sixteen and began to bomb courts and city buildings and rob banks in between baby-sitting and factory jobs, on the one hand to dismay the authorities and on the other hand to pay for the costs of organizing and fighting. She became a powerful military and political leader, an Atamansha, though both sexism and a visceral hatred of anti-nationalist radicals by ‘patriots’ who have often enough risen to the top to write ‘official histories’ leave her now a barely known entity .
“Nikiforova was a Ukrainian and her activities in the Russian Revolution and Civil War took place mostly in Ukraine but she has been largely ignored by Ukrainian historians. She was anti-nationalist and, like the Ukrainian anarchist movement in general, she couldn’t be assimilated to a nationalist historical perspective.”
Leon Trotsky himself, though a political opponent of the anarchists, was in alignment in opposing nationalism and insisting on a popular uprising to put into place an anti-imperialist and socially just governing structure. He also wrote the definitive book on the so-called ’First Russian Revolution, in which he reflected both his Ukrainian roots and his unswerving communistic tendencies.’ He made clear that radicals of all stripes recognized the direct line between “Red October,” 1905 and the more effective version of the same name twelve years later.
Both emanated from a failed war, against the Japanese in 1905, and opposed to the Germans in 1917. In fact, the excrescences of this initial case of martial-glory-gone-awry led to one of the most storied narratives of this period. Eisenstein’s film about events at the Crimean port of Sevastopol and the carnage in Odessa’s harbor is merely a dramatic account of what was in fact and deed ’proletarian internationalism’ writ large, even as the outcome of the seamen’s Potemkin uprising was dispiriting at best.
The entire affair not only took place primarily in Ukraine, but it also stemmed from the leadership of a Ukrainian skilled worker who was a member of the Czar’s Navy.
“Into this epic drama stepped … Afanasy Nikolayevich Matyushenko, a hot-tempered torpedo machinist from the Ukraine. The peasant boy who had taught himself to read was like a Russian Joe Hill, preaching resistance to czarist oppression. …He conveys a tragic inevitability to the collision between the seamen who can’t take it anymore and the officers (often the dregs of the nobility) who can’t imagine doing anything other than beating, whipping and starving their men. ’The myth of the Potemkin uprising is that the sailors rebelled because they were forced to eat maggoty meat. …(But the more complex reality is that) the ship’s captain ordered the men to eat the stew or be executed…. Thirty sailors were herded for execution, and a tarpaulin—Eisenstein’s famous tarpaulin—was brought on deck to soak up the blood. An enraged Matyushenko shouted, ‘Brothers! What are they doing to our comrades? Enough of [the captain’s] drinking our blood!’ The execution squad turned its weapons on the officers.”
And when one strident commander killed Matyushenko’s “dearest comrade,” the enraged draftee assaulted this murderer and threw him overboard, where the sailors shot him while he floundered in the water. In the aftermath, discussion and clarification of what took place and what it meant occurred constantly among the seamen.
The sailors on the Potemkin, in other words, were both situationally and politically radicalized. They stood for and actively fomented revolution. They did not generally hearken back to a ‘fatherland’ or any such rubric of exclusion. They were internationalists, ready for a world that workers ruled. The case of the Potemkin was an iconic expression of human longing for justice and insistence on empowerment, as well as depicting items of a particularly Ukrainian cast.
Not all who rose up against the Czar and capital stuck around their Ukrainian environs for the next phase of lynch mobs and retribution. Communists, anarchists, and socialists all fled to evade capture, or they faced dire prison conditions or dangling in life’s final throes at the end of a rope.
Marusya was just one such case. Sentenced to die for her robbery and conscious ‘terror against the rich,’ she was of such ‘tender years’ that she elicited a commuted sentence in Siberia, from whence she escaped and trekked to Japan, Russia’s recent partner in the eternal bourgeois war-dance. She made her way from Osaka to the U.S., and after a suitable round of adventures there, snuck back to the Ukraine.
Jacob Abrams is another such peripatetic radical wanderer. Born into a Jewish working class family, circa 1887, he lived through mass starvation and purgative pestilence to grow into a thoroughgoing social anarchist. He detested Czarists and nationalistic patriots with equal diligence. He flew from the noose after he roused himself and whatever ‘rabble’ were at hand to dispose of rulers one and all in 1905.
In the event he ended in New York, about more of which a bit later, where his views and behavior pleased promoters of Palmer Raids and American reaction as little as it excited Nicolas’ henchmen. Back to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic they sent him packing, but he didn’t fare well among Bolsheviks either and absconded with himself once again in 1926, eventually taking himself to Mexico , where he had tried to escape following the announcement of the Supreme Court’s rejection of his appeal nearly a decade before.
Ultimately, as Stalinism and fascism thinned the anarchist ranks and dispersed their persons, he reunited with his equally radical Ukrainian comrades, Molly Steimer and her soulmate, Senya Fleshin, in and around Mexico City, where they all ended their days. Steimer’s story, like Maria Nikiforova’s and Trotsky’s and more, could provide the fodder for all the films ever made from this day forward.
Only twenty-one years old when the raid that netted Jack Abrams also ensnared her, she spent nearly two years in an Ellis Island prison before her deportation. Then, she found herself severely disenchanted with the Soviets and left Russia once again. Then the Nazis almost managed to have her executed.
The words that she wrote to a friend from her cell in New York harbor could serve as testament to human hope and grit. “Yet she refused to despair. In a letter to Weinberger she quoted from a poem by Edmund V. Cooke: ‘You cannot salt the eagle’s tail, Nor limit thought’s dominion; You cannot put ideas in jail, You can’t deport opinion.’” Whatever the ‘crimes’ of Soviet Russia, whatever the faults of anarchists and social democrats and humanists who reject fascism and chauvinistic patriotism, these words would serve to unify such principled fighters.
Lest one give in nevertheless to the temptation to accept the load of manure that all these radicals were as ‘different as night and day’ and shared little in common, one might reflect. Cossack genius and international communist extraordinaire, native too of the realm ruled from Kiev, Leon Trotsky also found himself an exile in Mexico, where he played chess regularly with none other than Jack Abrams, his “ideological enemy,” who became a close friend.
Where one finds an even more striking unanimity, in a similar vein to that which prevailed among variously shaded ‘Reds,’ is among the established authorities. Capitalist and landed, aristocratic and bourgeois, all agreed that rooting out these hideous monsters of democratic upheaval was a priority of the first order. Their chroniclers shovel out the largest portion of the period’s annals.
One might write innumerably more volumes on this topic. However, the story of a single man provides an excellent précis of the point at hand, both in terms of the vile, visceral violence that elites visited on their ‘inferiors,’ and in terms of the way that those ‘subhuman’ strata took matters decisively in hand. An especially incisive summary of a prototype of the stalwart Czarist civil servant, Pyotr Stolypin, comes forth in Edward Crankshaw’s The Shadow of the Winter Palace, which lionizes the bureaucrat’s firm resolve to commit as many homicides as necessary to ‘save Russia’ and suppress revolt.
Stolypin for some time worked as the Czar’s secret-police and ‘security’ enforcer, “Minister of Internal Affairs” and more. He oversaw mass executions in Kiev and throughout both urban and rural regions of Mother Russia and ‘Little Russia’ both. In Ukraine’s cities, partisans referred to the fate of the noose as gifts a of a “Stolypin’s necktie.”
‘Liberals’ railed against the executions of thousands of dissenters. Stolypin’s reply that such action was above the law was worthy of Henry Kissinger or Heinrich Himmler. “’But courts-martial are not a legal institution,’ Stolypin replied. ‘They are a weapon of struggle. You want to prove that this weapon is not consistent with the law? Well, it is consistent with expediency. Law is not an aim in itself. When the existence of the state is threatened, the government is not only entitled but is duty bound to leave legal considerations aside and to make use of the material weapons of its power.’”
But ‘official’ sanction was never the primary means of the political reactionaries and social revanchists. The “Black Hundreds” gangs that enforced order with methods perfect for the ruling class were putatively independent expressions of patriotism and nationalism, much as the ‘Right Tendency’ killers today present the same face to public scrutiny, much as the bands of Stepan Bandera and his ilk served fascist Germany and reactionary ‘White’ counterrevolutionaries in turn.
However, just as today these fascists and ultra-nationalists are indistinguishable from the International Monetary Fund and its hangers-on, so too in the early Twentieth Century these aggregations of thuggish viciousness were part of the police’s tactical response to upheaval. At a trial in Moscow that was dealing with violence against radicals and Jews, an investigator of the court “states that pogrom proclamations, which Witness Statkovsky alleges never to have seen, were actually printed at the print-works of the secret police, where Statkovsky is employed; that these proclamations were distributed all over Russia by secret police agents and members of the monarchist parties; that close organizational links exist between the department of police and the Black Hundreds gangs.”
One could easily write thousands of monographs on this subject. But the point is clear. Pyotr Stolypin and his ilk represented the conscious murdering agency of class repression in Russia and Ukraine.
As such, he met an end that fit this role. In 1912, at the Kiev Opera House, where he was attending a celebratory performance for the Czar, with Nicholas in an adjacent box, a social revolutionary police double agent shot him dead. At no level were these fighters pacifists; neither among the proponents of capital and nobility nor among the people’s champions, whose actions largely, perhaps overwhelmingly, took place to serve a class rather than a nation.
In this context, splitting up the revolutionaries of Kiev and Kharkov and what we now call Donetsk, and so forth, from the insurrectionists who called Moscow or the Caucasus home, or wherever, makes no more sense than stating that the hydrogen in the water of the great lakes is a more special or unique brand of the lightest element than what prevails in the Black Sea. These revolutionaries were the ones whom the majority of the people admired and followed.
Leon Trotsky’s early life, whether one views the recounting from detractors or admirers, illustrates this perfectly. Ukrainian Cossacks and Jews and nationalities of all sorts were likely to be internationalist and radically rebellious both in their outlook and in their actions.
Nikita Khrushchev also completely illustrates this point. His memoirs should be required reading for all those who want a license to talk about Ukraine. He began reading Marx and Lenin and Trotsky because of a sympathetic teacher whose revolutionary proclivities he extols decades later. A key step in this process was his conscious rejection of his mother’s passionate religiosity. His teacher, an atheist, encouraged his agnosticism and materialism.
Following his father into the mines, he joined a union and participated in his first strike at the age of eighteen, which resulted in his sacking. His pipefitting skills—the same as my grandfather’s —nonetheless made his services indispensable, and because of this, he avoided the call to the carnage of the frontlines in World War One.
He refused the continued occupational sinecure of the mines when the nascent Nazis of the White Army rose against the Bolsheviks, however. Fighting at first in the far Eastern regions of Siberia, he ended his part in the successful destruction of the counterrevolution near home, where he experienced nation building first hand, as readers will soon enough discern. The point is that this son of Ukraine was a fighter and a worker and a socialist and a Russian and an internationalist, at the same time that he was deeply and intrinsically Ukrainian. His first wife died of malnutrition-related disease there, his children came into the world there, his family roots remained there.
We might find not scores or hundreds or thousands of such examples, but millions. A failure to countenance this is willful ignorance, which unfortunately goes hand-in-glove with mass collective suicide and ought to be something that we discard.
A final example to consider among these countless instances is that of Rodion Malinovsky, a machine gunner in World War One, a stalwart soldier who rose through the ranks in the Red Army during the civil war, and a key leader during Russia’s annihilation of the Wehrmacht during the 1940’s. His story began like those of many others, humbly and in straitened circumstances, in the city of Odessa.
His father was murdered. His mother, nursing soldiers of the Russo-Japanese War, met a countess who liked her. She married a more genteel servant of royalty, who soon sent young Rolion packing. His stepfather “did not like Rodion and had no intention of adopting him. So the little boy had to start work at the age of 13, first, at a nearby farm and then, after his relatives from Odessa took him in, as an errand boy in a general store. In 1914 Rodion, then 15 and too young for military service, became a solider on his own initiative. He simply hid inside the train with troops on their way to the frontline. He was found as soon as the train reached its destination. However, Rodion managed to convince the commanding officers to enlist him as a volunteer in a machine-gun detachment. His first battles took place on Polish soil. In March 1915 he received his first award, the Cross of St. George, for fighting off a German attack – he was promoted to the rank of corporal.”
Nothing here suggests a fierce revolutionary commitment, but at the cessation of World War One, his proclivities did show up —he was in France at the time, and he stayed to the end in part because France would not permit soldiers to return to the swaddled babe of the Soviet Union. He had to use his own initiative once more to find his way through Japanese-occupied Vladivostok to join the Communist forces.
Again, countless other narratives would permit the same conclusion. Any assessment that Russia was the problem that most Ukrainians experienced, that patriotism was their response, or that revolution was foreign to them, is at best patent nonsense. Not only was the reality of Ukrainian experience vastly more complicated than such a tidy view, but the facts are also indisputable that something like a majority of residents either joined or followed the leadership of rebels and internationalists, rather than adhering to the fantasies and tricky hidden agendas of those for whom nationalistic fervor was paramount.
World War One typifies this complexity. With the help of agents from Russia, Austria, Germany, and France in particular, those who professed aspirations to nationhood and Ukrainian identity rose to control the State at times. Kiev was, after the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, in the hands of such reactionaries.
But the uprisings of the civil war against the occupation of Crimea and other parts of Southern Ukraine, by French, Greek, and Turkish invaders who helped the White Army’s attempts to ’smother the Red babe in its crib’ soon swept away these followers of the fancies of the past and the itineraries of the rich. Their hold on popular consciousness was never more than chimerical.
The writings of Nestor Markho, the insightful and ruthless anarchist opponent of counterrevolution, reveal these tendencies brilliantly. He pointed out how the attacks on Jews that at this point presaged what was to come two decades hence were almost one hundred percent the machinations of the super-patriots and the ’fatherlanders.’ And when an anarchist or a Bolshevik participated in such an atrocity, “they were without exception summarily shot.”
Marusya, after having ascended to the leadership of her own anarchist army in the service of the Red Army, died at the end of White army hemp. Her compatriots called her the “Joan-of-Arc-of Anarchy.”
Before her struggles ended however, she had repeatedly ventured behind enemy lines and convinced Cossacks to defect to the Communists. “Cossacks, I must tell you that you are the butchers of the Russian workers. Will you continue to be so in the future, or will you acknowledge your own wickedness and join the ranks of the oppressed? Up to now you have shown no respect for the poor workers. For one of the tsar’s rubles or a glass of wine, you have nailed them living to the cross.”
In this complicated, often contradictory, multidimensional and many-sided mélange of repression and rebellion, war and civil war, the different regions of Ukraine underwent varied experiences during these first decades of death and devastation and insurrection. But whether one examines Crimea; or further West along the coast in Odessa; or inland at Kiev or Kharkov or what was then Ekaterinoslav; or snug up to the lands of the Don Cossacks in the industrial and coal regions of the East; or Westward into Galicia, the threads are indisputably the same. A dominant radicalism vomited on Czarist Russia not because it was Russian but because it oppressed the common people. The nationalists and the super-patriots, often surreptitiously in league with their erstwhile upper-crust ‘enemies,’ were always in the minority, though naturally they ended up being exceedingly popular among the powers that be.
And with very few exceptions the views of those ruling elites overwhelmingly held sway among the large landholders, the bankers, the substantial merchants, and the industrialists. Moreover, and especially pertinent in apprehending the present pass, these local gentry identified ideologically and connected tangibly in both political and economic fashion, with the upper strata of ‘Western’ capitalist society generally.
Fascist Seedlings That Followed Red Triumph: Twin Crises of Russia & Capitalism
Even the briefest examination of these events, as here, shows unequivocally an architecture of interconnection between Ukraine and Russia. No doubt, further and deeper assessment would yield additional nuance, marvels of paradox and the unexpected, in addition to mountains of data to support the primary thesis here, concerning this intertwined history and the radical identification that accompanies it.
Another point to note, as this essay develops additional paragraphs about the years 1921-1933, is that crisis bounded previous happenings, dire straits for both Russia and capitalism. Thus, hunger and cholera joined ‘great depression’ at the outset, while typhus and flu and starvation and unparalleled mass murder and social collapse conjoined financial panic and economic ruin at the culmination.
The rout of the so-called White Armies, though they demonstrated Bolshevik political mastery and, at least tentatively, social ascendancy, did not mean that the basis for capital’s detestation of Boshevism had receded. After all, this ‘White Army’ only existed because of Western support—both arms and funds, not to mention spies and advice.
Nor did the battle involve only—or even primarily—such advisory assistance. Probably fewer than one in a hundred citizens of the United States, and only a slightly larger proportion of Western Europeans, know that England and its Commonweal comrades, along with Greece, France, the United States, Japan, and even some remnants of the former enemies of the ‘Triple Entente’ joined together to invade the Soviet Union, to seek to end the ‘madness’ and threat that communism seemed to hold out to the agents of the world’s imperial imprimatur.
Winston Churchill, as much as any other leader, embodied the ferocity of this hatred. He spoke quite explicitly: “We must strangle the Bolshevik infant in its cradle.” He congratulated Italy’s Il Duce. “(Italy under Mussolini) has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter no great nation will be unprovided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism.”
H.G. Wells’ Outline of History spoke forthrightly against what he viewed as this insane rage and loathing. He believed that the United States may have evinced this pathological fury to an even greater degree than Britain.
Certainly, as clever an arbiter of investigation as Upton Sinclair would have agreed with him. In his deeply reported skewering of American media in the first decades of the Twentieth Century, the author of The Jungle noted, “But the perfect case of journalistic knavery … ‘the case which in the annals of history will take precedence over all others, past or present,’ is the case of Russia. …’All the lying power of our journalism was turned against the Russian Soviets; and if you have read this book without skipping, you know what that lying power is. No tale was too grotesque to be believed and spread broadcast.’”
This detestation led to all manner of tactics against the young Soviet regime closer at hand too. Agents from the war period merely adjusted their caps slightly and continued spying and provoking and so forth. Economic warfare occasionally manifested in trade and such, but especially Germany desperately needed any relationships that was not immediately worth less as a result of reparations; this dependency on Bolshevik New Economic Policy commodities and currency fostered Soviet growth and survival.
Both this inherent need for connection and the infiltration of spies that it permitted affected Ukraine, at once beneficence and affliction. Soviet food supplies in any event depended on this fertile region of large and productive farms. And the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, including the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, moved forward, which mortified and further infuriated the upper reaches of capital’s ruling classes no end.
Thus, ignoring counsel to the contrary to show some patience and bide its time, the Polish State, weeks after its creation, with tens of thousands of its citizens languishing from Typhus and a million and a half of its children eating from the bread bowl of the American relief fund, decided to invade the Soviet Union and seize Moscow, though in the event, the Poles decided to seize Ukraine first. Before the Red Army routed these attackers, they gained the outskirts of Kiev, as things then transpired just managing to repulse the revolutionary forces’ counterattack from overwhelming Warsaw, at which juncture both sides were ready to sue for peace.
“Learn Commerce!” Lenin told Khrushchev. But this was not an easy row to hoe in the context of one dirty trick after another, one attempt and then something even more sinister to cause the entire prospect of socialism to come crashing down in a twisted heap of unworkable rubble.
Even the Americans, who had abjured the lure of the Versailles Treaty and the temptations of ‘reparations’ in the form of colonial and imperial perquisites squeezed from the carcass of the Ottoman Empire or the fragile young Soviet States, took an interest in Ukraine. Our Man in the Crimea tells the tale of an adventurer, Hugo Koebler, a precursor to the Cold Warrior agents who financed ‘freedom fighters’ a generation later, and ‘Maidan fascists’ three generations down the pike.
No less a diligent Cold Warrior than George Kennan himself, in his Russia and the West Under Lenin and Stalin, noted this obsessiveness and the passionate hatred that accompanied it. Artifice, plot, and conspiracy were all part and parcel of this view that Bolshevism was at least as despicable as espousing the ascendancy of Satan.
Moreover, though the Communists won the civil war, the state of Russia was a mess. Famine was common in Ukraine during 1922 and 1923, for example. And without trade, both incoming and outgoing, this downward productive spiral would conceivably prove irreversible.
Lenin’s New Economic Policy flowed directly from these exigencies. Muscovite trade bureaus thus became hotbeds of spies in London and Paris and more. And agents of capital poured into Russia, in particular to the Russian South, where Caucasan petrol and Ukrainian coal and grain were ever-fungible commodities.
And just as the Soviets sent spies and provocateurs with its legations, such men and women waltzed into Moscow’s and Kiev’s territory as part of the given necessity of exchange. Relatively obscure monographs and treatments have delved this topic, utilizing the mostly now declassified holdings of the KGB, the American State Department, and the hydra-headed labyrinths of English intelligence in particular.
Moreover, the remnants of the defeated ‘White Army,’ now ensconced throughout Europe and the Americas, remained committed to reasserting their rule and regaining their property and perquisites. In fact, one of the more famous capers of espionage lore involved a Soviet trick, the Trust, promising that all faithful counterrevolutionaries would discover armies of malcontents at their beck and call should they return.
And return they did, to encounter firing squads, bullets in the back, or long and bitter imprisonment. One of England’s storied agents, allegedly the pattern for Ian Flemings 007, was Sydney Reilly, the “Ace-of-Spies,” who had plied the English agenda in regard to oil and commerce in favor of his adopted country from Baku through Crimea and the Ukraine and the Baltic Republics.
He favored the Russian South in part, no doubt, because of the oil and other natural resources, but he could have had other reasons: some sources suggest that he originally hailed from Odessa; in any event, he was certainly Russian of some stripe. He had become a ‘spy in the cold’ by the early 1920’s but continued his organized subterfuge against the Bolsheviks, nonetheless, with or without the backing of British Intelligence.
He too walked into a trap, thinking that resources and manpower to lead an uprising awaited him, instead of days of dire interrogation in a Moscow basement of NKVD. In the end, a bullet in the back of the head, in woods outside of the Kremlin’s lairs, was his fate.
The up-and-coming Comrade Khrushchev, only thirty years old in 1924, encountered both the internal and the external aspects of these matters, difficulties that flowed both from Ukraine’s own almost impossible array of dynamics and from Western ‘interests’ that hoped to undermine or even overthrow communism; that such hopes existed is the only plausible explanation for the unheard of delay in the recognition of the Soviet State: the U.S. did not accede to the Communist’s victory until 1933.
As to what the youthful functionary from Donetsk’s coal fields encountered, we might listen to his own recollections. He left his own heartland reluctantly, but his proficiency as an administrator in the coal mines and factories that he knew so well was threatening his boss.
And he ventured to the Ukrainian capitol. “I’d never been to Kiev before. My own hometown of Yuzovka was a tiny village” in comparison. Straightaway, suitcase still in hand, he went to stand on the Dnieper’s storied banks.
Still, his task was daunting.
“The Kiev organization was not considered a very secure outpost of the Party. In fact, the area was notorious as a stronghold of Ukrainian nationalist elements, and its reputation was well-deserved. The local proletariat was weak and unstable; and the intelligentsia…centered around the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences…led…by a nationalist….There was also a formidable contingent of Trotskyites in the area (all of whom) were sure to regard me as a hopeless ‘Rusak.’”
In fact, much of the tangible trouble that Khrushchev encountered evolved out of tensions between Kiev and the industrial East. Unemployed in the capitol, clerks and other wage-earners paraded with red banners, demanding jobs. When Khrushchev met with them, he pointed out that huge demand for labor existed where he had just left. The response was telling. “’We’d rather be out of work in Kiev than employed in the Donbass.’”
In all of these situations that portray the give and take, the push and pull, between Moscow and Kiev, what was also transpiring were various deep games in which Western policies and its agents—both public and private—sought to undercut or even destroy Soviet power. In Ukraine, this pattern was as prevalent as, or even more pronounced than, it was anywhere else in the vast expanse of Soviet Russia.
Despite these remaining legacies of the deepest sorts of contrariety and disagreement, however, for a brief span of years, as much as a decade, things flowered, relative to the previous chaos and cataclysm. Literature, film, music, dance, all of the arts and cultural expressions of modern life mushroomed in Kiev, in Kharkov, in Odessa.
And children in the merest village had schools. They learned to read and write and think and plan. The party provided mentors to its up and coming members. A key ally of Stalin, Dmitrii Manuilskii, advised young Nikita Khrushchev, as he was finishing his tour-of-duty in Kiev. The pair were fellow Ukrainians, from similarly salt-of-the-earth backgrounds, but the elder communist, an intellectual and trained writer, instructed his junior about the overview that one had to struggle to obtain, and undertones that one had to strive to notice, in order to thrive as a proletarian leader.
The period that Bolsheviks encountered at this juncture, in contrast to the carnage of World War, contained a respite from the intense mayhem that characterized the prior pass. Soon enough, at the finish of the decade or so following the Soviet consolidation of political power in Russia and its outlying regions, the dynamic of decline again appeared unstoppable. But before this vortex of pain repeated its body blows to social equanimity, a time of relative calm, of optimism, even if full of struggle and difficulty, prevailed.
In the Ukraine, though one might examine many participants’ lives as typical of this pattern, one would find few likelier candidates for exemplification than the aforementioned Nikita Khrushchev. Though Moscow under Stalin’s rule was, as noted above, highly suspicious of Kiev, in this case , the young rising party star had a good year or so in Central Ukraine, his homeland.
“Despite my forebodings, I must admit that my year in Kiev turned out to be very satisfactory. I have many pleasant memories of that period. I found it easy to work there. The people seemed to like me and trust me. I’d even say they respected me.”
But the boon of this brief interlude of relative harmony, in which amid the fermentation that has typified Ukraine at every period equilibrium was more pronounced, affected much more than politics. The shooting of Eisenstein’s film in Odessa, in which the movie master made of his crowds a ‘caviar’ of the masses, which he then brought into focus with his extreme close-ups, exemplifies this interweaving of play and politics and culture.
“The force of ‘The Odessa Steps’ arises when the viewer’s mind combines individual, independent shots and forms a new, distinct conceptual impression that far outweighs the shots’ narrative significance. Through Eisenstein’s accelerated manipulations of filmic time and space, the slaughter on the stone steps—where hundreds of citizens find themselves trapped between descending tsarist militia above and Cossacks below—acquires a powerful symbolic meaning. With the addition of a stirring revolutionary score by the German Marxist composer Edmund Meisel, the agitational appeal of Battleship Potemkin became nearly irresistible; when the film was exported in early 1926, it made Eisenstein world-famous.”
Filmmaking and literature and art and theater enjoyed an upsurge during these years as intense as any earlier renaissance. In a sense, a cultural fertility that matched the fecundity of the land came to the fore as never before. As Ukrainians joined Russians in a communist experiment, vistas opened and walls came down, quite the opposite effect from what observers have come to expect of ‘comrade Stalin’ and so forth.
These things did not happen like Bolshevist comic books, but they did happen. The life and art and career of Oleksander Dovzhenko was illustrative. His stories and drawings nearly matched his movies at the time as popular expressions. He found Ukrainian folklore captivating, and drew both filmic and written narratives from these sources. Criticized for overt nationalism, the party shortened his leash, and he ended up in Moscow. But he never abandoned the themes of conflict and polarity that defined his birthplace. One of his most popular novels was Ukraine in Flames, published in 1943.
Nor was his even close to a unique example, though as early as 1927, film studios named in his honor opened in Kiev. Hundreds of performers, producers, writers, and artists of all sorts flowered under the Soviet regime in Ukraine. Many were Jewish, as in the case of Grigori Kozintsev. He excelled at both theater and film, his still-captivating most masterful achievement an iconic production of Hamlet that he had directed theatrically and made into a film. Others who turned to art were Romanian, or Polish, or Cossack, or Russian, though Ukraine took them all in. Nationalism was palpable, and it was also a façade, a chimera, fatuous nonsense.
Kozintsev summed up these points incisively himself in 1965, speaking of his youth in theater near Kiev. “What we were doing then we were doing in the cold and famine of a devastated country. The conditions of life were very hard. The State, occupied with a full-scale civil war, was undergoing enormous difficulties. Yet the dominant sentiment was the affirmation of life. The young artists felt life in all its richness and color, and artistic forms seemed naturally to take on the artistic forms of a great popular carnival. In the middle of every kind of privation a sort of fair was going on. The young artists bore the common fate gaily, so fine did the time in which they lived appear to them. If this atmosphere is forgotten or neglected, then the art of those times remains incomprehensible.”
Education, too, developed explosively. In part, this was, as always defined the background—and occasionally the foreground—of Russian life after 1921, a result of Party decisions and inputs and supports, which applied in Ukraine equally as in Moscow or Siberia or Korea.
Most to the fundamental point, both primary and secondary education far surpassed what had transpired under the gaze of nobility and factory owners. The careers of some of the world’s top writers and filmmakers and scientists are just a few of the tangible expressions of this massive transformation in the community strength that communism brought to education’s foundations in Ukraine.
Kira Muratova came of age in Kiev during World War Two and went on to world renown as a screenwriter and director. Stansilaw Lem, a pathfinder in literature, grew up in Lvov in the 1920’s and ’30’s and went on to an iconic status as a storyteller and master of science fiction.
Moreover, the same expansionist dynamic applied to college and technical education. New academies flourished. More venerable universities expanded, even as the Party saw in them hotbeds of nationalism. This upsurge of capacity-building and empowerment certainly completely differentiated post-revolutionary from Czarist Ukraine.
Meanwhile, industry advanced apace. In part this reflected Russian concern at what, almost before the ink on the Versailles treaty was dry, Soviet leaders viewed as the inevitable coming of another World War. A key focus in these industrial expansions lied in Eastern Ukraine, as noted above. But the real acceleration of development was largely across the board throughout the region.
This emphasis of industry obviously dovetailed perfectly with the theory and practice of communism, which in actual fact completely depended both on enlarging the presence of workers, of wage earners, of commodity producers, and on fostering their social, economic, and intellectual contributions. This increase in the number and power of workers happened everywhere, perhaps less so in the Ukrainian fields than elsewhere, but nonetheless an identifiable pattern in the coal and metal trades in the East, in the cities, and along the many waterways overseen by Kiev.
All was not sweetness and light, however. Despite the dynamic institutional and organizational growth that Soviet rule facilitated in the arts and sciences and humanities, systematic ideological errors were clearly possible. No case illustrates this as does that of Trofim Lysenko, who was a Ukrainian, both academically tied to Kiev’s scientific circles and fanatically devoted to Stalin—who praised the biologist frequently. To prove his bogus theories that supported a ‘socialist view,’ Lysenko invented results that set Soviet biology back decades.
As Lysenko’s impact to an extent illustrates, behind the scrim of this staging of a better life, of happier times, of open passion and human affection, however, lurked difficult political circumstances. Fulfilling Lenin’s prescient warning, Stalin manipulated more and more the varying threads of all the power strands of Soviet life.
As the expansion of the 1920’s reached a zenith and portended horrendous deflation and the mire of recessionary times once more, the still relatively young Georgian, now the CPSU Central Committee Chair, having expelled one Ukrainian in the person of Trotsky and recruited many others such as Malinovsky and Khrushchev, foresaw the looming rise of fascism and war as clearly as anyone else on Earth. And for whatever reasons outside this clear-sighted vision, the paranoid Georgian dictator insisted on a period of planned production and collectivization that resulted in horrific consequences in Ukraine.
Stalin’s Ascendancy & Its Effects
Most people who support ‘free markets’ reflexively, who champion ‘freedom’ generally without much critical distance from the meaning of the term, conflate everything Bolshevist into one primal, nasty stew. Thus, Trotsky is Lenin is Stalin, and so on down the line.
This tarnishing brush often enough applies retrospectively as well, so that Marx and Engels equal Stalin. The miasmic cloud extends to any related concept, at least in the mindset that sees the Wall Street Journal and its ilk as ‘balanced’ and ‘fair.’ Thus, socialism also elicits Stalinism.
And the annalist who would wholeheartedly defend ‘Uncle Joe’ either has a monumentally sized heart or a supremely strong stomach. At the same time that Stalin’s story is a complex one, and much of power and merit emanated from Russia under his leadership, the conclusion is difficult to resist that he was a world class criminal, guilty of dastardly felonies and nasty misdemeanors and, quite likely, crimes against humanity.
Perhaps we might just listen again to Nikita Khrushchev, whose On the Cult of Personality totally condemns Josef Stalin as a leader and admits the many thousands, or more, of murders and other vicious crimes that resulted from his ascendancy to the pinnacle of Soviet power. “Comrades, the cult of the individual acquired such monstrous size chiefly because Stalin himself, using all conceivable methods, supported the glorification of his own person.”
Khrushchev continued, “This is supported by numerous facts. One of the most characteristic examples of Stalin’s self-glorification and of his lack of even elementary modesty is the edition of his Short Biography, which was published in 1948. This book is an expression of the most dissolute flattery, an example of making a man into a godhead, of transforming him into an infallible sage, ‘the greatest leader,’ ‘sublime strategist of all times and nations.’ Finally no other words could be found with which to lift Stalin up to the heavens.”
Khrushchev amplified these remarks, summarizing much of his speech, in his memoirs, Khrushchev Remembers. His recognition of the horror and tragedy of Stalin’s imprimatur was palpable. He lost so many dear friends because of the ‘glorious leader.’
No doubt one might make the point that this is a flaw of Bolshevism. But making that point does not make it altogether true. For example, another element in Stalin’s own downfall was his reliance, almost absolute, on Lavrentiy Beriya, whom Comrade Nikita characterizes like this.
“This unbelievable suspicion (paranoia) was cleverly taken advantage of by the abject provocateur and vile enemy, Beriya, who had murdered thousands of Communists and loyal Soviet people. The elevation of Voznesensky and Kuznetsov alarmed Beriya. As we have now proven, it had been precisely Beriya who had suggested to Stalin the fabrication by him and by his confidants of materials in the form of declarations and anonymous letters, and in the form of various rumors and talks.”
A trial found Beriya, this mass murderer of Ukrainians and others, guilty of being an “agent of imperialism.” He suffered the same fate to which he had condemned thousands, his entire career that of a murderous ‘enforcer,’ Stalin’s fifth such hitman, though prior to that he had led various Soviet intelligence agencies. “Beria was yet another of these murderers, and in one of his first actions upon ascending to the head of the NKVD, Lavrentiy ordered the execution of five officials high in command in the Ukraine.” He also personally dispatched Trotsky’s murderer on his mission.
Furthermore, we could also recall what Lenin—whose maternal grandfather was a Ukrainian Jew, by the way—had to say about his subordinate’s rise to chairing the Soviet Central Committee.
“Stalin is excessively rude, and this defect, which can be freely tolerated in our midst and in contacts among us Communists, becomes a defect which cannot be tolerated in one holding the position of the Secretary General. Because of this, I propose that the comrades consider the method by which Stalin would be removed from this position and by which another man would be selected for it, a man, who above all , would differ from Stalin in only one quality, namely, greater tolerance, greater loyalty, greater kindness, and more considerate attitude toward the comrades, a less capricious temper, etc.”
Whatever the case may be, the terror and murder attendant on agricultural collectivization under Stalin created a context of victimization and revenge that continues till the here-and-now. The purges , the blatant, self-serving lackeys who impelled much of Stalin’s vaunted paranoia, all the hideous excrescences that the opponents of Marx and Lenin and Trotsky and socialism trot out, are undeniable, but they also are a story that has yet to have its complete telling.
For many current citizens of the Ukraine, particularly those in rural areas, forgiveness will never happen. This does not change the fact that many there still support communism, socialism, the entire ‘Marxian Project,’ as it were.
And whatever the case may be, the situation was never as simple as the Stalin, bad; Capitalism; good’ school of thought would have it. The reader might listen to the brilliant filmmaker Dovzhenko, whose expulsion from Ukraine for nationalism would not make him a biased witness in favor of Stalin.
Yet his benchmark production, Earth, about the collectivization, that bloody success, did tell a revolutionary story: “Thus, Dovzhenko is belittling not only the landed gentry, but also the church – something not uncommon in Soviet films of this time (see, for example, Strike and Pudovkin’s Storm Over Asia ) – and truly establishing how all pervasive the new workers class is. The fact of a baby being born at the very end cements the idea of the birth of this new order, this new life for all, which the subsequent return to shots of the landscape, and particularly of apples in the rain (cleansing, washing away the old), relates back to the natural order, the natural cycle. Truly has man found his place in the world.”
Industrialization and the preparation for further war, meanwhile, also established capacities that contributed to Soviet ability to resist Germany’s invasion. In the event, the facilities in the Ukraine fell into German hands. Stalin’s distrust, of course, had caused him to make certain that networks remained behind to sabotage and undermine what his stern leadership had brought to pass at such cost.
And this preparedness was soon enough to prove crucial. The section to come tells that tale.
In the meantime, one might reflect about a character such as Stalin, or about an underling such as Beriya. Who gained from their placement atop Boshevism’s operation ? As Khrushchev’s impassioned outcry made clear, the answer was not, “the Russian and the Ukrainian people.”
One particular Individual Topic of Note
Just as Kiev’s denizens in fact came to inhabit everywhere on Earth, fleeing high-handed Czars and crazy dictators alike, so too in literature observers find much of Ukrainian origin that is powerul and insightful. This piece of the present narrative concentrates on one specific instance of Russian literature in this regard, along with a few other examples from around the world.
Jorge Amado’s Gabriella, Clove & Cinnamon, an irresistible novel of wild love and cacao commerce at the end of the gangland days in Bahia, introduced a cast of characters as memorable as it was vibrant and full of lusty abandon. One of them, just slightly more than a walk-on part, was Gregor-the-Russian. Only he wasn’t from Russia. His home had been Kiev.
Barbara Kingsolver’s work has spanned the globe. Her stories often seem quiet, until they explode repeatedly. One of these unassuming yarns that ends up gripping with a fierce stranglehold is her fairly recent, Lacuna. It tells of a man from Asheville, North Carolina who, through strange twists of fate, ends up cooking for and otherwise serving Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera.
Through them, he ends up working for Trotsky, a truly great man in history and the novel, a leader and undying believer in humanity and justice. Undying he was, even after his assassination at the hands of Stalin’s hitman.
Others too may join this list, as further research adds to what this author has personally read recently. No matter what, Ukraine’s ‘infiltration’ of the world is clearly a fact, both in reality and in the realm of story.
However, the utility of literature as evidence is perhaps nowhere more potently apparent than in Mikhail Sholokhov’s And Quiet Flows the Don, a novel of such sweep and power that it carries a reader along to laughter and weeping again and again, till the ragged ending lets us resume our ways in life as if we’ve lived through World War One and revolution with the Don Cossacks and their Ukrainian neighbors.
Ukrainians repeatedly appear and play key roles in the novel, while much of the fighting that forms a central element of the plot takes place in Central Ukraine and Galicia. The main character’s transformation into a communist results from his Ukrainian roommate at the hospital where both are recuperating from wounds to their eyes. Through relentless factualization of their pass and reasoning about it, this wry resident from Little Russia is a fulcrum for the entire story.
“Most terrible of all, Grigory began to think Garanzha was right, and that he was impotent to oppose him. He realized with horror that the intelligent and bitter Ukrainian was gradually but surely destroying all his former ideas about the tsar, the country, and his own military duty as a Cossack. Within a month of the Ukrainian’s arrival the whole system on which Grigor’s life had been based was a smoking ruin. It had already grown rotten, eaten up with the canker of the monstrous absurdity of the war, and it needed only a jolt. That jolt was given, and Grigory’s artless straightforward mind awoke.”
Sholokhov’s symbolic turn would be useful for many people today to consider. Grigory, who ranks as one of the most flawed and sympathetic heroes of the canon, was at risk from his wounds of going blind. His understanding of the fraudulence that he had accepted as truth helped him to see again.
Few writers, not Crane, not Conrad, not Hemingway, surpass Sholokhov’s ability to describe the horrors of the warfare that Nazis and nationalists so blithely embrace. These words too could help readers not to forget or forego this fact of martial engagement, this carnage of conflict. “His entire face was a cry; bloody tears were raining from his eyes that had been forced out of their sockets. …(O)ne leg, torn away at the thigh, was dragged along by a shred of skin and a strip of scorched trouser; the other leg was gone completely. He crawled slowly along on his hands, a thin, almost childish scream coming from his lips…. No one attempted to go to him.
‘Both legs gone!’
‘Look at the blood!’
‘And he’s still conscious.’ Uryupin touched Grigory on the shoulder…. (and) drew Grigory along by the sleeve…. Under Zharkov’s belly the pink and blue intestines were steaming. The tangled mass lay on the sand, stirring and swelling. Beside it the dying man’s hand scrabbled at the ground.”
The aftermath of this event is equally telling. The war’s mayhem, for the Cossacks and Ukrainians, occurred largely on the terrain of ‘Little Russia.’ The survivors of the above engagement, having seen half their number literally cut to pieces by Austrian machine-gunners in Galicia, returned to find Golovachev, the Division Chief-of-Staff, showing off snapshots of the action that he had taken and developed. A lieutenant struck him in the face and then collapsed in sobs. “Then Cossacks ran up and tore Golovachev to pieces, made game of his corpse, and finally threw it into the mud of a roadside ditch. So ended this brilliantly inglorious offensive.”
In the work of Amado, Kingsolver, and Sholokhov, a radical has plenty to watch out for. The businessmen of Bahia might drop an anarchist in a pit after blowing his brains out. Trotsky, in Kingsolver’s astounding work, meets the same end that actually happened to the sixty-one year old Ukrainian-cossack commie internationalist; death by an ice-pick in the brain.
And the Cossacks from the Don region of both Russia and Ukraine felt the ever-looming threat of immolation, whatever side they picked. But their choices did not flow from ideology or patriotism to one or another icon—czarist or Ukrainian, but from chances that represented the hardest sorts of decisions, that might lead to damnation whatever direction one selected.
These Scylla-or-Charybdis encounters in turn emanated from the mortal combat over the world’s first State that sought to put wage-earners in charge, that elevated toilers over property owners and inherited wealth. The looming shadow of a Hitler or a Mussolini, the invitation to install a Franco or any number of other reactionaries, had already at the end of this quarter century of revolution in Ukraine assumed a tangible form, revealing the shape of a social monstrosity that needed only a dire enough economic climate in order to manifest itself completely.
The Rise & Fall & Rise of Fascism; from World War Two to ‘Containment’
Stalin’s depredations, in retrospect, both resulted from and fed into the evolution of fascism as a strategy to impede and destroy the Bolsheviks specifically and communism more generally. Most pointedly, the central element of the dynamic from the perspective of Russia —and the very substantial pro-Soviet citizenry in Ukraine—was the preparation for resistance to bourgeois incursions and the Nazi terror that the ‘propertied classes’ had prepared consciously to unleash. On the other hand, from capital’s point of view, in the capitol’s of Europe particularly, the essential component of the process was to foster developments that would eviscerate the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
In this context, a war of barbaric proportions might appear inevitable. In any event, the capitalist economy did what it always does—collapse—and war drew nigh; when it came, it brought with it slaughter on a scale that dwarfed the starvation that attended agriculture’s and industry’s embrace of ‘planning,’ the intention of which had always been the creation of an industrial capacity equal to the pending tasks of self-defense.
Instead of Nazi destruction of Red Russia, however, the opposite took place. Russian Communism defeated Hitler and the racialist fantasies of an ‘elect Germanic Volk.’ As always, Ukraine’s part in this bloodbath was multidimensional, almost impossibly complex and almost unfathomably dialectical at the same time. The following sections reveal currents in the flow of what happened from the mid-to-late 1930’s to 1950 or so.
Nurturing Nationalism & Fascism, & Soviet Responses
While a decade-long fertilization of the fascist curse was occurring in the West, moreover, a parallel seeding of the ground took place on the fringes of Russia. Even inside the Soviet state, agents operated to lay the basis both for upheaval in the present, and, whether intended at the time or not, for future collaboration with Nazis.
England’s ‘safe houses’ in the Ukraine were a good example. They provided escape routes for agents or ‘assets’ that Western governments and leaders of empire wanted to debrief after their missions or interview about their dissatisfactions, longings, and so forth.
From Poland, Austria, Hungary, Romania, as well, and especially Germany too, agents arrived whose purpose was to appeal to nationalism, to make promises of freedom and riches, to vow to honor God’s grace again and return it and obedience to a ‘legitimate’ order to their proper places at the social center. Always, these sallies looked upon Russians and communists and Jews altogether as the enemies to vanquish, as the parties to blame and victimize.
The memories from the prior period made such concerns palpable to those who lived under Soviet imprimatur. After all, Poland’s invasion had only happened a decade or so before. The Soviet Trust scheme, moreover, had only worked due to the way that expatriate elites, supported by their European patrons, had fiercely committed themselves to disparaging and destroying the Soviet Union.
This was the context for the emergence of one of the most ‘heroic’ Nazis in the annals of the aficionados of race and nation and Volk. Stepan Bandera actually incubated in Poland—though now Ukrainian territory—the movement that continues its supremacist actions to this day in Ukraine. He organized almost as relentlessly against the Poles as he sought to undermine and assault all that was communist, any who espoused Marx and Lenin and Stalin, as well as those who were Jewish or otherwise ‘impure’ in their roots and blood.
Nor was Bandera a lone wolf or some sort of unique giant of this social strain. Various other groups, parties, and actors were also prominently present in and around the land putatively ruled by Communist Kiev. In fact, these reactionaries spent nearly as much time arguing with and challenging each other with angry debate as they did in undermining or attacking Reds and Jews and other ‘imperfect’ specimens. Thus the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists bickered incessantly—at the same time that it collaborated in pogroms and murder—with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, or the UPA, which was an OUN offshoot in the first place.
Also pertinent at this juncture were the ways that Germans and their functionaries, who often turned out to be businesspeople of diverse nationalities, facilitated these processes. These were years in which Teutonic ‘tourists,’ about whom spies elsewhere even then joked because the schemers dispatched from Munich/Berlin were so obvious, ambled about taking revealing pictures and seeking contacts with the right sorts of dissenters and disaffected folks.
In any case, in different ways, the Soviets responded in kind. They penetrated and sought to subvert or destroy the fascist bands. They made gestures of solidarity and support to ethnic and religious populations that the Nazis targeted. Not only did Russian agents reach out to fascist targets, but they also threatened those to whom the nationalists were appealing.
Furthermore, they sent their own, Red operatives abroad, to Berlin and Vienna and Paris and London and Miami and New York. In this way, these ‘prewar’ years continued the ‘postwar’ grappling of the 1920’s and readied for the storms that loomed on the horizon, foreshadowing the chill of ‘cold-war’ to come.
In this shadow-boxing struggle, among the pugilists in the ring of history, so to speak, were the organizations, many of them exclusively Ukrainian and almost all of them inclusive of members from Crimea or Kiev or Kharkov, of émigrés in far-flung locations around the world. These networks occasionally ventured to plant operatives in Ukraine or made ‘cultural visits’ or in some way or other sought to make contact and advance plans to weaken Soviet power.
In the midst of all this, at the other end of Europe, Spain’s Republican government was collapsing as a result of hidden German and Italian support for the fascist Franco. Under the leadership of Dmitri Manuilskii , a member of the Politburo, the Soviet Union, in addition to providing armaments and military advisers, both backed Solidarity Brigades in support of the Republican state and offered homes to Spanish refugee children and orphans.
Manuilskii was Ukrainian, from the other side of the Polish border near where Stepan Bandera came into the world, from a poor family whose paterfamilias was an Orthodox priest, whose son became a chief leader and intellectual of the atheistic Soviet Union. In 1937-8, Comrade Manuilskii oversaw the placement of the Spanish youth, a substantial portion of whom came to Ukraine to start, a few of whom stayed there. He was also an ardent Stalinist, having penned The Great Theoretician of Communism in Stalin’s honor.
Such motifs, signatures of a dialectical dance of animosity and belligerence on one side, opposed to solidarity and networking on the other side, defined the region as the Autumn of 1939 approached. While the world witnessed blitzkrieg for the first time, when industrial ordnance and delivery systems field-tested in Galician Spain made the attrition of 1916 obsolescent in Galician Ukraine—then part of Poland—Russia out of desperation and Germany out of opportunism made a devil’s bargain.
The Soviets shipped over a million Poles to Siberia. They put comrades and Jewish activists and party members, mainly from Ukraine, in charge of the realm that had threatened to overrun Kiev a mere eighteen years prior to that early Autumn. They fought off and retaliated ruthlessly against Ukrainian nationalists, whether they belonged to one of the chief organizations or were merely independent minded about their identities.
Though everyone with a brain then knew—and how much more so now must a modicum of intelligence make this point clear—that Slavic blood and Teutonic blood would soon spill in a death match between the Communist and Nazi systems, the two sides parlayed both to ‘carve up’ Poland and Finland and the Baltic States and in general to offer to the world the pretense of a conjunction between Capital and What Is To Be Done, on the one hand, and Mein Kampf and International Jewry, on the other hand.
But of course such an alliance was no more real than a fighter’s feint of vulnerability and trusting confidence that invites a killing blow, only to elicit a deadly counterpunch in reply.
War & the Eruption of Unparalleled, Systematic Brutality & Mass-Murder
Even before the façade of the Ribbentrop pact came to pieces, in fact, and for years prior to that, the German Abwehr had been organizing Ukrainian nationalists of any stripe as future militias during the battles to come. And as soon as the Nazis turned the German war machine toward Moscow, all these nationalist factions, but especially the OUN, initiated uprising in Ukraine, particularly in the West, an outburst of nationalist frenzy aimed at Jew and Communist Party member alike. The resulting upheaval and desperation and flight of millions of people, as thousands and tens of thousands died, greased the skids for the Germans as the invasion proceeded, at the same time that the Germans rejected the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists goal of a state of their own.
In July, 1941, as the OUN-orchestrated “Ukrainian Revolution” was unfolding along with German military advances, the Nazis detained Bandera and held him as a ‘friendly prisoner’ under house arrest, at first in Berlin and then at a stockade adjacent to a concentration camp for Jews. While he was under lock and key, through 1944, his comrades-in-arms back in the field formed militias to liquidate Poles, Jews, and Communists.
As one commentator pointed out, “The OUN pursued a policy of infiltrating the German police in order to obtain weapons and training for its fighters. In this role they helped the Germans to implement the Final Solution. Although most Jews were actually killed by Germans, the OUN police working for them played a crucial supporting role in the liquidation of 200,000 Jews in Volyn in the second half of 1942 (although in isolated cases Ukrainian policemen also helped Jews to escape). Most of these police deserted in the following spring and joined UPA,” a competitor-nationalist force with which the OUN both often disagreed) and occasionally joined to carry out joint operations.
Yet another wrinkle in this already wildly complicated fabric tied together with gut string and bloody sinew was the fate of Ukraine’s and Poland’s Catholics. These adherents to Rome had hated Communist Russia but in Poland, where many of the Galician Ukrainian papists had settled, they had been socially well-placed.
With the arrival of the Soviets, this comfortable placement quite quickly disappeared. Thus, the elderly archbishop of the region and his ‘flock’ initially welcomed the Wehrmacht. But as the hundreds of thousands of victims of pogroms and decimation mounted, as many as half were Catholic.
In a deal worked out with the Vatican, though, this gory situation eased slightly. The Church was to become both a booster of Nazism in the event of good tidings in the war and a safe harbor in the event of defeat. This infuriated many nationalists and of course isolated Catholics from Orthodox and Jews and stained the Papists , willy-nilly, with the blood of the dead who either resisted or had the marks—ideological or religious—that branded them for elimination.
Ukraine at that point had one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe. Indeed, the identification of Judaism with socialism and the Bolshevik victory had deep roots in fascist thinking. Not only did mass slaughter occur when nationalist rebels assisted the Nazis in their efforts at annihilation, however, but, at Babi Yar and Odessa, local sympathizers and bigots also aided Germans in the former case and Romanians in the latter instance to murder as many as 30,000 Jews and Communists in two days outside Kiev and 50,000 Jews and assorted others over the course of a week on the coast in the Fall of 1941.
Some historians maintain that the nationalist thugs helped the Germans to perfect the logistics and organization of these mechanized homicidal operations, which would have seemed admirable, perhaps, were they processing chickens instead of producing human corpses. These collaborators included police officers, the theretofore disfranchised landowners and merchants who had not fled with the White Army when it retreated in defeat, and ‘ordinary’ citizens willing to participate in mass murder in a context that has witnessed at least its fair share of such mayhem. This furious pace of brutal killing did not continue; it could not.
But as Hannah Arrendt recorded in her witnessing of the trial of Adolph Eichman, this viciousness was part of the German policy in ‘the East,’ where the extraction from the population of the maximum product, of wheat and meat, and labor, in the coal mines and metal works, hinged on a practice of terror and brutality that no other period in history has ever surpassed. And these practices of summary execution and arbitrary attacks did persist until relief came.
In the event, some several hundred thousand Jews, mainly Ukrainian, ventured forth with the Red Army in its retreat, many of whom now lie in unmarked graves, others of whom received only leftovers for food and bare or completely inadequate necessities of life as they fled. Conditions were dire, and the enemy was not a benevolent conqueror. The Soviet military capacity could not trade body blows with the world’s second largest industrial producer, nor did liberal conceptions of ‘human rights’ hold sway as the S.S. slit the throats and splattered the brains of whomever they chose to butcher.
In no way had the Soviet retreat abandoned the field of battle, however. In fact, all during the years of German occupation, different bureaus of Russian intelligence ran networks of partisans that made German life ‘at the rear’ as tense and often nearly as dangerous as existence on the frontlines. Soviet-led groups of Jews and other combatants would emerge from the woods and slaughter entire villages that cooperated with the occupying authorities.
They would assassinate or ambush and execute Germans in carefully planned assaults that guaranteed that the Nazis would retaliate massively against the locals. Recruitment to join the underground armies in the trees increased apace.
The life expectancy of these partisans, who included Jews and gypsies and anarchists and peasants as well as more or less dedicated Marxist-Leninists, was never lengthy. Even women would enlist to fight, and they shot and stabbed and punched and played their martial part with as much fervor and deadly effect as their brothers and cousins and other strange men with whom they found themselves embedded.
They fought without hope. They fought without expectation. They gloried in the ability not to expire with a whimper but to exact a cost for each drop of blood that they shed in dying.
But they didn’t have that long to wait, in the scheme of things, despite the terrible toll of even an hour of such horror and oppression. The siege of Stalingrad marked one of humanity’s turning points. For Ukraine, the late Spring and Summer of 1943 would mark another welcome conjunction of Mother Russia and Little Russia. Leading the liberating Red Army divisions was a Ukrainian whom we’ve met earlier, Rodion Malinovsky.
“In February 1943 Malinovsky again took command of the Southern Front – as in 1941. In March Stalin promoted him to the rank of Army General and gave him command of the Southwestern Front, which would later be renamed the 3rd Ukrainian Front. Malinovsky would stay in this position until May 1944. He drove German troops away from eastern Ukraine, an area rich in coal and other mineral resources. He also once again showed his ability to come up with unusual decisions that could be striking and devastating to his opponents. When his Southwestern Front was taking hold of the Ukrainian city of Zaporozhye in October 1943, Rodion Malinovsky carried out a massive night assault with the help of three armies and two corps – it had never been done in military practice before.
As Commander of the 3rd Ukrainian Front he smashed Nazi troops near the towns of Melitopol and Nikopol, crossed the Southern Bug River and liberated his hometown of Odessa. Malinovsky managed to isolate German forces in the Crimean Peninsula from the rest of the enemy’s troops. For these heroic deeds Malinovsky received the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.”
The turnaround changed history. “The annihilation of the Sixth Army, which had conquered Paris and invaded huge areas of Russia, Belorussia and the Ukraine, marked the beginning of the end for Hitler and the start of the Red Army’s advance towards Berlin. ”
But the cost staggers the imagination. Such sacrifice is beyond the ken of most inhabitants of the ‘free world.’ “The colossal total of nearly 27 million Soviet military and civilian dead in the Second World War was more than twice the death toll of all Americans, Britons, Commonwealth, French and even Germans combined.” And a minimum of five-to-six million of this sum were human beings from Ukraine.
In other words, though, the Russian army’s losses amounted to such an extensive bloodletting that only by conscripting hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians could the battle against the Nazis continue. And more than occasionally, Ukrainians proved willing conscripts.
By late Fall, 1944, the final crushing of the Nazi colossus was at hand, with Russian and Ukrainian soldiers leading the way, joined by partisans at each step whose forebears still overwhelmingly loathe Nazism even as prominent and favored minorities, excused by former Soviet allies, will trot out one or another of the Austrian Corporal’s collaborators now and again. Of course, this is precisely what has happened recently in Odessa and the Donbass, even though people in those places still recall Babi Yar and the fall of Berlin both.
Rescuing Nazis & Cold War As an Intended Consequence of ‘Allied’ Victory
Western Europeans remember Anzio, Normandy, and the obliterating tonnage of industrial bombing against the German heartland. And these were mighty expressions of the human capacity for war and destruction. But all who study the Second World War will acknowledge that the attrition of the struggle in the East was what defeated Hitler on the battlefield, just as the communist-organized resistance movements—for which Ukraine was one template—slipped a sharp blade between the third and fourth ribs of the Nazi system behind the lines.
One might recoil in horror or nod in wry recognition that, even in the midst of this victory—as Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin planned the postwar order at the Czar’s Winter Palace in Crimea, one of the supreme ironies of all time was coming to pass. This entailed the already mentioned pre-ordained Catholic sanctuaries, which hid top Nazis away from Soviets’ grasp, in conjunction with the British and Americans, who had espionage networks throughout Ukraine and Eastern Europe that were, for the English, decades old.
The spies and Ivy League gentlemen of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, though newer to the territory, showed themselves to be quick studies, with ready access to money and resources that locals found more than modestly attractive after years that saw cannibalism compete with starvation. These three ‘stakeholders’ joined hands, while civilians struggled to stay alive and soldiers still faced imminent death by trauma or disease, to usher from Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe tens of thousands of Nazi leaders, scientists, and functionaries.
Why did this happen? Why did Roosevelt delay bargaining at Yalta, in the Crimea? Why did Truman, who took Roosevelt’s place, abrogate the deals that his predecessor had made there? Why did several hundred thousand Japanese face instant death by incineration, or slow demise from radiation poisoning, or a combination of sudden end and torture from blunt trauma? The answer to all of these queries is the same. The United States’ leaders of finance and industry and politics, even if Churchill’s dream of an eviscerated Soviet Union had not quite come true, intended to rule the roost in the aftermath of some hundred-odd million corpses, and these very tough minded men wanted as little communism to follow in the lee of the decimation as they could arrange.
If skilled actors, who had recently committed genocide and killed U.S. and English citizens and followers of the ‘one true faith,’ could help, so be it. If duplicity and fraud and corruption had to accompany such eventualities of dominance and hegemony, so be it. If, even as the stench of death and decay still rose fresh from mass graves and killing fields, the grounds for the next war had to be made ready, by God, so be it.
In this context, the Marshall Plan was another weapon, psychological in nature, so that starving Ukrainians in 1947 would see the largesse of America. The Cold War was a strategy instigated by the United States, whose key tactic, ‘containment,’ operated on the basis of a nuclear weapons monopoly the overwhelmingly primary purpose of which was to check any notion that Stalin might have had to advance beyond where his soldiers had bled and hacked their way to stand in place.
Harry Truman and his advisers in government and academia and industry, including a few White Russians, had thought such things out. Gar Alperowitz’s Atomic Diplomacy is no longer controvertible in this regard. The circumstantial and direct evidence is overwhelming.
President Truman, “(e)ven before taking over the Presidency, …had given the problem (of maintaining control over Eastern Europe and Asia)considerable thought. In a May 16 (1945) discussion with the Secretary of War, he recalled at great length talks he used to have with his friend Senator Elbert Thomas of Utah—’I would point to a map of Europe and trace its breadbasket, with Hungary a cattle country and Rumania and Ukraine as the wheat area” along with plenty of coal on the Donbass border.
One might develop these points at even greater length. The Central Intelligence Agency’s role, the rise of military Keynesianism, the willful promulgation of warfare among war weary people in Ukraine, the support for nationalistic and patriotic visions that inherently promoted the very sorts of relationships that had ended in such a death spiral, these and other points—and uncountable stories and vignettes and incidents as wild and passionate and bizarre as Ukraine itself, might yet be forthcoming.
But I’ll hope, though providing these additional details would be enjoyable and would serve to teach even more what is happening and what is at stake, that we’ve seen enough for now. The links are obvious. Nationalism is not some high-flown sweet ideal; it is one way of looking at things. Russians are Ukrainians and vice versa at least as much as they are their own unique categories of identity.
Communism and social democracy are equally as valid as pretend ‘free-market,’ bourgeois profiteering, and, without a single doubt, these more economically equitable means are quite definitely as popular as ‘naked capitalism’—at least on the part of the Earth’s surface that considers itself Ukrainian. For both of these qualities—one about cultural cohesion, one about social organization, quite a few folks in this part of the world will ‘go to the mat.’
Fascism has never won through democratic means. Its deployment is always violent and cynical. Yet it does serve a purpose for those who would continue to ply their trade and extract a healthy profit. Thus, this devilish deal is once again in front of our eyes.
It has penetrated to the center of things because those who would manage the world according to ideological fantasy and fatuous propaganda, all in order to extract the maximum return on a dollar and maintain the maximum extent of their empire, have decided, along with Victoria Nuland, “Fuck the EU!” In light of what we’ve learned here, does that seem like a sound approach?
In the Nature of Concluding Something
Unlike in the natural sciences, where a lack of involvement can mean that an actor cares little more about uncertainty than about the upshot of the curiosity that impelled a look, in the social sciences an ignorant citizen can quite often desperately need to pay attention and seek answers. Ukraine, in the course of a busy afternoon, could be the source of the elimination of every human being from our fair planet.
Most importantly, the relationships and complications that characterized the past live on. What Faulkner said about the American South applies with especial force in Ukraine. “The past here isn’t dead; it’s not even past.” Today’s developments, whatever manifestations ultimately predominate, can only result from intersections with and contextualization of these past decades that now seem to have passed away and yet remain potently present.
In such a network of intertwined threat and depredation, willful ignorance counts as more than inexcusable, to become, truly, a crime against humanity. Whereas absolute assurance of truth may be ever elusive, those folks who hope for human thriving and survival must seek out honest ideas and information about Ukraine, be willing to discuss these matters fully and openly, and then seek to act with each other to salvage our skins if not our souls.
Big plusses attend thinking in real terms about the past and its connection with the present. For example, one receives a powerful boost in trying to make sense of multiple contemporary strands that might otherwise seem opaque at best. The following cases are illustrative.
MH-17 is the situation that most troubles people. The recent report about this particular mass murder makes clear that Russians have cooperated fully with the investigation, whereas outside interests—the same ones that arrogated to themselves the right to invade and otherwise terrorize the ‘infant’ Soviet Union, interests then as now well aware of the social pressure points and rich bonanzas attendant on control of Ukrainian space—have neither shared data nor cooperated much with the process; at the least, this should cause a high degree of skepticism about the allegations against Russia that are purposely empty of content.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea is another obvious point to ponder. This was the home where the crew of the Potemkin rose up not so long ago, led by Ukrainians; the land where one of history’s storied yet little-told heroines, also Ukrainian, sacrificed her life, beside her Ukrainian husband on the gallows, in order to drive off local bourgeois and gentry and support the revolution that Bolsheviks had led; and on and on ad infinitum. The notion that this place, somehow, has a grudge against Russia and would only join under threat or vicious manipulation, is at best absurd.
The Maidan uprising and its interlaced factors of hidden agendas, Nazi agents, and fiery rhetoric are additional cases in point. If readers do not see the close correspondence, to the point of identity, between these recent events and a past in which a complex dance that involved more mutuality than aversion occurred between Russia and Ukraine, with various other ‘partners’ looking on greedily, then these perusers need to reread what shows up above.
Another, related advantage is that one gets a very powerful bullshit detector. In relation to Ukraine, corporate media have explained all sorts of recent events in ways that are at best nonsensical, given what we know now about the history of the region and how this intertwines with present. Again, a few unfolding developments are instructive.
Just as a nuanced explication—one that at least recognized the possibility that present conspiracies fit patterns of past racketeering— of what likely transpired with the downed Malaysian jet might be quite satisfying, so too the ‘standard’ mediation of corporate enterprise is laughably inadequate.
A similar conclusion is possible in relation to Crimea, Sevastopol, and so forth.
Nor does the overall ‘establishment’ contextualization of the past year or so escape such a critique. The tropes that show up in America’s ‘Paper-of-Record’ or Jeff Bezos’ new plaything in the District of Columbia most clearly exemplify this fatuous and self-serving reportage. While the reporting of England’s press, perhaps particularly the Guardian—full disclosure: I will receive payment for this writing from Guardian Media—is slightly more robust and less biased, particularly the British Broadcasting Corporation *comes close to equaling the foolishness on the other side of the Atlantic. One might make similar observations as one proffers about the better English papers and websites about the French, particularly *Le Monde, and the German for-profit media.
Finally, one gains, by tying together the five decades that happened half a century ago with the present situation a capacity to think about what might be coming down the pike, so to say. Once again, a couple specific scenarios are useful to examine, even though many other possibilities also exist.
The first plausible outcome would mirror what has twice come to pass already—world war of the most total variety; such a thought is, to say the least, bracing. The United States is now on track to spend plus-or-minus another trillion dollars in the next decade or so making its present nuclear weapons strike forces even more daunting. Coincidentally, America’s initial choice to wage the world’s first atomic war also had a Crimean connection; Truman’s diaries and other records show his poker-playing strategy—after the Trinity Test replaced with triumphant pride —while he and his staff were meeting at Potsdam, delaying and preparing to renege on agreements with Stalin when the Manhattan project delivered what soon enough came to pass at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The second reasonable expectation is that citizens and all of the so-called ‘stakeholders’ will form some sort of critical mass of empowered action to yield a very different result from what World War One or World War Two ‘special-delivered’ to our kind; though this seems to offer a reassuring potential, clearly, this reassurance only adds up to more than fancy if people are willing to give voice to critical thinking and act toward accomplishing an agenda that fits such an intellectual stance, vocalization and critical thought that are only possible in the context of a deeper and more honest explication, particularly regarding history, than folks have thus far shown the willingness to engage.
One further benefit of contemplating the world in the fashion that this narrative does has nothing to do with Ukraine. It concerns the way that media and storytelling and consciousness form an evolving neural capacity in the citizen’s brain, in an observer’s heart, in a reader’s overall awareness.
If we fail to tie things up with a bow and package that includes a past from which all our present problems and prospects spring, then we have truly understood nothing. And isn’t such a narrative aptitude, when we are ‘on our game,’ as it were, just what we normally attempt? Inquiring minds ought very much want to cogitate about this inquiry, if only because thriving and survival these days may require such an orientation.