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Yulian Bachynsky’s struggle for Ukrainian independence

22 June, 00:00
According to Yulian Bachynsky, states strive for independence not to isolate themselves from the outside world but to receive an impulse for further cultural and economic development, which will eventually help them to occupy a worthy place in the worldwide human family of the future.

People who live in post-Soviet countries may find it rather strange that the shelves of any large New York bookstore are stacked with numerous books on Marxism. What’s more, these books are not anti-Marxist propaganda, for they do not expose the fallacy of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s doctrines. You can find not only the Marxist classics but also the latest serious theoretical studies. Unfortunately, so far our own body of theoretical thought can boast of few such achievements. A pity indeed! The “good” old tradition, whereby every new ideology strives to pound into oblivion its predecessor and everything related to it, continues to reign in our society. So it was a pleasant exception to the rule to note that as part of its Heritage Series, Osnovni Tsinnosti (Basic Values), a social-democratic publishing house, has re-issued Yulian Bachynsky’s book Ukraina Irredenta. In this work written in the late nineteenth century, Bachynsky was the first author in the history of the Ukrainian national movement to argue that Ukraine should be independent, and from the viewpoint of historical materialism to boot. Yulian Bachynsky, who was a member of the Ukrainian National Council, chief of the Ukrainian People’s Republic’s Extraordinary Diplomatic Mission to the USA, one of the founders and militants of the Russian-Ukrainian Radical Party and later the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party, is little known among historians and political scientists. Meanwhile, Bachynsky was the first political thinker who sought to provide theoretical proof of the necessity of Ukraine’s independence.

Conflicting perceptions of Bachynsky, ranging from the deliberate suppression of his work to the stereotypical image of the spiritual leader of Ukrainian independence arose partly as a result of an underestimation of the influence of socialist and social democratic ideas on the Ukrainian national movement and the attempt by some right-wing political forces to “privatize” the national idea. According to Kerstin Jobst, a German researcher of Bachynsky’s legacy at Hamburg’s Bundeswehr University, many of today’s non-socialist political movements have created the impression in society that they are the only “gallant fighters for an independent Ukrainian state who are able to solve this problem both theoretically and practically.” This attempt by certain political forces to privatize and eventually mythologize and idealize history in order to legitimize their actions transforms the history of the development of the Ukrainian national movement into a history of ideas that often teeter on the brink of radical ethno-nationalism and even thinly veiled Nazism. Bachynsky’s Ukraina Irredenta presents a different tradition.

Who was Yulian Bachynsky? He was born in 1870 in the Ternopil region into a prominent ecclesiastical family. Yulian’s father Oleksandr was chancellor of the Greek Catholic metropolitan’s assembly of cathedral clergy and rector of Lviv’s Greek Catholic seminary. The Bachynsky family, which lay claim to the Sass coat-of-arms, was of noble origin. After graduating from Lviv University’s Law School, Bachynsky embarked on a political and journalistic career. In 1890 he joined the Russian-Ukrainian Radical Party, where together with V. Budzynovsky, E. Levytsky and N. Hankevych he led its “youth” (social-democratic) wing. As early as 1899 Bachynsky was one of the co-founders of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party. In 1919 he attempted to implement his idea of an independent Ukraine and went to Washington to obtain the US government’s recognition of the Ukrainian People’s Republic. After the failure of his mission, he stayed in Austria and Germany until 1934 and then decided to move to the USSR. Living in Kharkiv, he collaborated with V. Yurnits and S. Rudnytsky on the editing of The Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia until his arrest on the trumped-up charge of membership in the Union for the Liberation of Ukraine. Sentenced to a ten-year term, he died in a prison camp in 1940.

Bachynsky’s assessment of Ukraine’s sociopolitical and economic situation is encapsulated in the very title of his book Ukraina Irredenta, which sounds very much like a political slogan. The word “irredenta” may be translated as “unredeemed” or “non-reunified,” and both translations are valid in this case, which the author must have realized. The term derives from “irredentism” (It. “irredento”- unredeemed), a well — known Italian sociopolitical movement in the late twentieth century that sought to recover for Italy some neighboring regions with a predominantly Italian population, which were under Austrian-Hungarian control.

Ukraina Irredenta was first published in 1895 (later republished in 1900 and 1924), when the author was no more than twenty- five. The book’s epigraph, taken from the writings of Nikolai Chernyshevsky, extols the perpetual change of forms and the rejection of all things transient and obsolete. This motif is also discernible in Bachynsky’s private life. Although he was the son of a priest, he nonetheless took a tough anticlerical stance in his book, asserting the transitory nature of religion. In doing so, he, like many of his confreres, rejected everything that he considered outdated — with no regrets and quite in the spirit of Chernyshevsky. This revolutionary romanticism and youthful, atheistic maximalism, generously drawn from the works of revolutionary democrats, often emerges in the text of Ukraina Irredenta. The works of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and the Austrian Marxists had a dramatic impact on Bachynsky’s views. Historical materialism was not just a theoretical groundwork on which Bachynsky developed his ideas. The author did not view it as a dogma but primarily as a method of studying social processes, which in fact led him to claim that he was not only taking the impartial and unbiased position of a researcher simply recording the “natural” course of social changes, but at the same time declaring that Ukrainian independence is a natural historical stage.

At the beginning of his book Bachynsky explores the emergence of capitalist relations and entrepreneurship, the conversion of Galician peasants into a proletariat in the late nineteenth century, as well as the causes that led to the emigration of Ukrainian peasants. He maintains that the state is a form of domination of a certain class and simultaneously the defender of this class’s interests. Moreover, according to Bachynsky, state-sponsored justice is “a kind of justice that serves the interests of certain classes only, rather than some ‘absolute’ justice.” Therefore, he views any political struggle as the expression of an economic confrontation. These principles formed the basis of Bachynsky’s idea that Ukraine must gain its independence.

The author of Ukraina Irredenta claims that the national idea is essentially a bourgeois idea that emerges when the old feudal economic system gives way to capitalist relations, i.e., when the bourgeoisie is in fact being formed. In the new situation, the very logic of economic relations demands that nation states be established in lieu of obsolescent absolutist monarchies. According to Bachynsky, what knits a nation together is common origin, not blood-based relations between its members. Already in the late nineteenth century the author of Ukraina Irredenta was asserting that the Ukrainian nation should be a political, rather than ethnic, entity. He emphasizes that the struggle for Ukraine’s political independence concerns not only ethnic Ukrainians but all those who inhabit Ukraine, “no matter whether he is an indigenous Ukrainian or a Great Russian, Pole, Jew, or German.”

Bachynsky notes that Ukraine was divided between two empires — the Austro-Hungarian and Russian. This meant that the inevitable disintegration of both empires in a new economic situation (he argues this point with a number of historical examples) will lead to the formation of a Ukrainian nation state, following the internecine struggle between the Ukrainian, Russian and Polish bourgeoisie. As for the Russian Empire, in Ukraina Irredenta Bachynsky maintained that it lacked economic and hence political integrity. According to Bachynsky, the Russian Empire was divided, in economic terms, into three territories — Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian — which would eventually lay the groundwork for independent states. (Incidentally, Bachynsky believed this would be of greatest benefit to Ukraine, which was the most backward area and of the least benefit to economically developed Poland).

So, according to Ukraina Irredenta, aspiration for independence is primarily based on considerations of economic benefit to entrepreneurial circles. The author thus describes the struggle for independence that awaits Ukraine in the future: “This will be a horrible time, the time of a terrible ordeal and patience but, at the same time, the best time for the Ukrainian bourgeoisie.” However, the bourgeois strata appropriate the products of social labor, thus forcing hired workers to fight for their rights and for a society without class privileges. Therefore, the formation of an independent Ukraine as a political reinforcement of its economic independence is not the ultimate goal of development. Capitalist relations logically evolve from national unity to what Bachynsky calls “unity of a higher order,” i.e., international and global unity. This dovetails well with the overall logic of Marxist ideology: as the division of society into classes brought forth the state, so the decline of classes would bring down the state. When Mykhailo Drahomanov asked Bachynsky what Ukraine would do after gaining independence, he replied in no uncertain terms that this was by no means the final stage of development. He claimed that the ultimate historical goal is not the establishment of a nation state but the prosperity of every individual for whom this state is in fact being created. According to Bachynsky, states win independence in order not to isolate themselves from the outside world, but to achieve better cultural and economic development, as a result of which they will be able later to occupy a worthy place in the future “worldwide human family.”

It should be stressed that Bachynsky’s views were not unusual for the times. Ukrainian radicalism, a movement launched by Drahomanov, Ivan Franko, and Mykhailo Pavlyk, was originally based on the aspiration to cultivate a sense of dignity in the socially underprivileged strata. This required, in the radicals’ opinion, the improvement of education among peasants by publishing books in their native, i.e., Ukrainian, language. Bachynsky also insisted that hired labor should be organized for a liberation struggle on social democratic foundations.

The book Ukraina Irredenta does not tally with conventional perceptions of either Marxism or nationalism. Marxists take a dim view of it because it promotes the idea of national independence, while nationalists dismiss it because it asserts that the proclamation of political independence is not the ultimate goal of the historical development of a people. Therefore, to a great extent Bachynsky’s book debunks the myths of the Ukrainian people’s national liberation struggle, which a number of political forces today are naively trying to turn into a state ideology.

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