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The Ukrainian Rada, July 1917. Vynnycheno front row centre, Petliura front row on the right

In April (6/19-8/21) a National Congress was held in Kiev with 900 delegates from political parties, from cultural organisations, the Ukrainian Peasant Union and the 'Ukrainian Military Club.' This latter had been formed on 29th March (I assume New Calendar) on Mykhnovsky's initiative at 'a conference of Ukrainian officers and soldiers of the Kyiv military district.' According to the Encyclopedia it 'organised Ukrainian volunteer regiments and military organisations. Thanks to its efforts, similar clubs sprang up on all fronts …' 

The National Congress only included groups that favoured some form of Ukrainian autonomy. At this stage it was probably the peasants and Mykhnovsky's efforts with the army that were most important. According to Pipes (Formation, pp.56-7):

'All throughout the second half of March and the first half of April [Pipes consistently uses Old Calendar dates, as does Remy - PB] Ukrainian soldiers stationed in Kiev held impromptu meetings demanding the formation of separate Ukrainian military units and the creation of a Ukrainian national army. In the first half of April an all-volunteer regiment named after Bohdan Khmelnitskii, the Cossack leader of the seventeenth century, was formed in Kiev and sent to the front …

'How violent was the nationalism which had taken hold of the soldiers became evident in the course of the First Ukrainian Military Congress which opened on May 5. During the debates, the speakers attacked the Provisional Government for its failure to treat the Ukraine on equal terms with Poland and Finland, to both of which it had promised independence, and for ignoring demands of the Ukrainians to form military units on their own soil. Some voices were raised in favour of Ukrainian independence and separate representation at the future peace conference. The general tone of the sessions was so extremely nationalistic that Vinnichenko, the delegate of the Rada and a leading member of the USD, felt forced to plead with the delegates to remain loyal to the Russian democracy which had given the Ukraine its present freedom. Vinnichenko's suggestion that the Congress elect Petliura as its chairman was turned down on the grounds that the Rada, for which he spoke, had taken no part in convoking the military congress and consequently had no right to impose candidates on it. The Congress closed on May 8, with the resolution to send a delegation to the Petrograd Soviet to discuss the formation of Ukrainian regiments, and to establish a permanent Ukrainian General Military Committee (UGVK). The delegates recognised the Rada as the organ representing public opinion. Several days after the Congress closed, the Ukrainian delegates to the Kiev Soviet of Soldiers' Deputies separated themselves into a distinct faction.

'When the Ukrainian soldiers at the front learned of the decisions of the Military Congress, they too began to form national units, despite the remonstrations of Russian officers' and soldiers' committees. Among them, as among the Kievans, there was hope that the Rada would take care of their interests by terminating the fighting and helping the Ukrainians get their share of the land. The behaviour of the soldiers left no doubt about their impatience with the status quo. Anxious to win and retain the support of the Ukrainian troops, the Rada included in their platform their demand for the creation of national military units.'

Under pressure from the military congress and also from the rapid spread of nationalist ideas among the peasantry, Vynnychenko in mid May/early June led a delegation from the Rada to Petrograd but they received very little satisfaction either from the Provisional Government or from the Soviet, where according to Remy, (It is Unknown p.702), the Soldiers' Soviet had discussed and rejected the formation of national units in the army before the delegation arrived.

Remy (p.703) quotes a number of markings made by government ministers on the margins of their copies of the Rada's proposals. They include this from the Procurator of the Holy Synod, Vladimir Nikolaevich Lvov (not to be confused with the President of the Provisional Government, Prince Georgii Evgenevich Lvov):

'I proposed elections, but they do not agree to elections, [they] want one party rule; it is unknown where the Little Russians are heading to.'

The demands made by the Rada delegation were at the time relatively modest, falling well short of the instructions they had been given by the Rada: 'Instead of demanding that the government declare Ukrainian autonomy, the delegation only asked it to express a favourable attitude regarding such autonomy. The draft declaration was not included in the memorandum. The delegation also dropped the demand concerning the nominations of commanders of military districts. It is likely that the delegation softened the proposals in order to smooth the expected negotiations. It seems likely that the memorandum reflected Vynnychenko’s views: while Hrushevs’kyi was not afraid of breaking with the government, Vynnychenko strove for agreement' (Remy, p.701). In a footnote Remy mentions that the UPSR (Socialist Revolutionary) member of the delegation, Mykola Kovalesky, did not sign the memorandum the delegation gave to the government. The Ukrainians did, however, declare that an autonomous Ukraine should cover twelve of the existing Russian administrative divisions. This was quite a maximal demand. It would have included the Kuban area, which includes Sochi, and would therefore have covered almost the whole of the 'Russian' Black Sea coast.

By this time, it should be said, the 'dual system' of rule by the 'bourgeois' Provisional Government and the 'proletarian' Soviet had broken down and members of the Soviet - for example the Menshevik Irakli Georgievich Tsereteli - were now in government. Tsereteli noted in his comments on the Ukrainian memorandum: 'Before the Constituent Assembly we cannot decide. We cannot declare the independence of Finland or Poland. So far, only not repress. There is no institution of the Russian people with the prerogative to decide.' They could, however, as they had done in the case of Poland and Finland, have expressed a preference.

In response to what they saw as the contemptuous reaction in Petrograd, the Rada in Kiev, on 10th/23rd June, issued what it called its 'First Universal', the term 'universal' being borrowed from proclamations issued in the days of the Cossacks - and before that, Pipes tells us (p.59) by Polish monarchs. The First Universal proclaimed the Rada as the government of an autonomous Ukraine. It laid out a division of responsibilities between the Ukrainian government and Petrograd. It had at least the potential for a backing by military force. A second Ukrainian Military Congress was in session, in defiance of a prohibition by Alexander Kerensky, who was now, since the demission of the Octobrist leader Alexander Guchkov, Minister for War. (12) The Rada imposed a tax on Ukrainian society to pay for its administrative functions. A 'Mala Rada' (small Rada) of forty five members was formed to sit permanently and exercise legislative functions when the full Rada was not in session. A General Secretariat, equivalent to a Council of Ministers, was established with Vynnychenko as Chairman and Simon Petliura as general secretary for military affairs. The Provisional Government had received thirty one appeals from army units demanding Ukrainian autonomy, According to Remy (pp.707-8): 'In Odessa and the whole Kherson gubernia, the Ukrainian military suspended the deployment of Ukrainians to the front, ostensibly in protest against Ukrainians in the rear being replaced by Don Cossacks.' Ukrainian troops had refused to go to the front on the grounds that they might be needed to defend the Rada, presumably against the Russian government (ibid., p.711).

(12) The 'Octobrists' were monarchists who supported Nicholas II's 'October manifesto' of 1905 which they saw as establishing a constitutional monarchy. Solzhenitsyn holds Guchkov in high esteem and sees him as the man who might have saved the day except that by the time the revolution came along he was very ill and unable any more to cope. Kerensky, as a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, had entered the Provisional Government, becoming initially Minister for Justice (he was a lawyer), in defiance of the Soviet's decision to boycott it, establishing itself as an independent centre of power.


These events need to be put into the wider context of what was happening in the war and in Russia at the time. In what follows I'm making use of Solzhenitsyn. His 'novel' - if that is the right word - The Red Wheel - ends on May 18th (New Calendar - he uses new calendar dates throughout). This was the date he had reached in his massive work (eight large volumes completed) when he himself was overtaken by events in Russia in the 1990s. But the book gives a very summary account of subsequent developments. These begin with the period 22nd June to 25th July. The period from 18th May to 22nd June, which includes the visit of the Rada to Petrograd, is missing but he does mention briefly the First Universal. What concerns us here is that Kerensky, as Minister for War, managed to get the consent of the Congress of Soviets to launch a new offensive against the Germans. This began in Volhynia, in what is now Ternopil oblast, West of Lviv, a part of Austrian Galicia that was still in contention, and initially it was, or appeared to be, successful:

'Our offensive of the XIth and VIIth armies in the Zlotezow and Brzezany sector began, with an abundance never before seen (and which would never be seen again) of heavy artillery … Then, the 1st and 2nd July, we advanced from two to five versts [a couple of miles - PB], made 18,000 prisoners and then stopped … But our gangrened units were not at all committed to the offensive and it was the officers and elite detachments that fell in the war. Under the influence of Bolshevik propaganda, the regiment of the Grenadier Guards, acted on their own initiative to leave its positions and withdraw twenty versts [about twelve miles - PB].' (13)

(13) Alexandre Soljénitsyne: La Roue rouge - avril 17, tome 2, p.527, my translation. 

But as we have seen it wasn't just Bolshevik propaganda that was undermining the army - it may be that Mikhnovsky played a more important part in Russian history than has usually been acknowledged. Nonetheless on 8th July, the Russian VIIIth army under General Kornilov had a further success West of the town of Stanislavov (renamed in 1962 Ivano-Frankivsk in honour of the Ukrainian author and political radical, Ivan Franko) taking, according to Solzhenitsyn, ten thousand prisoners, one hundred guns and advancing thirty versts (about eighteen miles). Meanwhile, a new revolt had broken out in Petrograd on 1st July, when a demonstration allowed by the government as a declaration of support for the new offensive turned into a violent confrontation with forces opposed to the government. And at the same moment the Finnish parliament was in the process of preparing a unilateral declaration of independence.

On 13th July, Kerensky, Tsereteli and Mykhailo Tereshchenko ('the only real capitalist in the government' according to Solzhenitsyn, Minister of Foreign Affairs and scion of one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in Ukraine) were in Kiev trying to repair the damage that had been done since the Rada delegation to Petrograd. After very stormy negotiations with Hrushevsky, Vynnychenko and Petliura, an agreement was reached, authorising the Rada to prepare a project for the establishment of Ukraine as a separate administrative entity with its own legislative assembly. The agreement was announced by the Rada in its 'Second Universal' on the 3rd/16th July and the Mala Rada set about the task of preparing its constitutional proposals.

Meanwhile, on the very same day(16th July) two further disasters hit Kerensky and his July offensive. The Cadet members of the government resigned in protest against the agreement with the Rada, and the Bolsheviks, in conjunction with the First Regiment of Gunners and a number of other army units, launched an armed revolt under the slogan 'All power to the Soviets.' The rising was largely inspired and organised by Trotsky - Lenin was out of the city at the time. Kerensky fled and it was, according to Solzhenitsyn, the Minister for Justice, Paul Pereverzev, who took the initiative to mobilise the remaining loyalist elements in the army by releasing what evidence the government had that the Bolsheviks had been financed, through the efforts of Parvus, by Germany. As a result the revolt, spontaneous and ill-organised as it was, was suppressed by the 18th July. Trotsky was in prison, Lenin went into hiding. A campaign was launched against the slanderous accusation that the Bolsheviks were German agents and Pereverzev was forced to resign.

Solzhenitsyn refers to an army revolt launched in Kiev on the 17th/18th July by the Ukrainian regiment Hetman Polubotok. According to the Ukraine Encyclopedia Mikhnovsky was involved with this but it seems to have been suppressed by the Rada with relative ease.

It seems quite amazing that the Cadets should resign from the government precisely at the moment when a new offensive was being launched and Petrograd was again collapsing into anarchy. Solzhenitsyn was to comment that in 1917 power was being passed from hand to hand like a flaming ball until it reached hands (Lenin's) tough enough to grasp it. In fairness, I begin to think Kerensky was a more impressive figure than he is usually shown to be (including by Solzhenitsyn), the one who saw the whole process of the Provisional Government through to the bitter end. But it might also seem surprising that the issue that prompted the Cadets' resignation was Ukrainian autonomy when we remember from the last article in this series that Peter Struve, leading theorist of the Cadets, had been forced out because of his opposition to the idea of a distinct Ukrainian national identity.

But the Cadets had taken on board, not the idea that nations have a right of self determination, but the idea of national cultural autonomy. The distinction is drawn clearly in Stalin's Marxism and the national question (1913). The idea of national cultural autonomy was developed in Austria by the Socialists Otto Bauer and Karl Renner. It allowed for the intermingling of peoples within a large territory such as the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires. It allowed the 'nation' full rights of cultural self expression, including language rights, but on a non-territorial basis. In principle it rather resembles the system of Jewish self government that existed in Poland prior to the Cossack ('Ukrainian') risings of the seventeenth century. It particularly suited the Jews who had no clearly defined territory of their own and in Russia it had the firm support of the Jewish Socialist Bund and also of the other 'mercurian' people (using the term introduced by Yuri Slevkine in The Jewish century), the Armenians, a people of merchants and traders scattered throughout the Empire. It was very firmly rejected by Lenin and Stalin but they were exceptional in Marxist circles - including among the Bolsheviks - in recognising a right of national self determination. The Bolshevik opposition to the Lenin/Stalin line included the leading Ukrainian Bolshevik, Georgy Pyatakov, a consistent opponent of Ukrainian nationalism. He doesn't feature so far as I can see in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine. Nor, I think, does the Kyiv Soviet.