Ivan L. Rudnytsky, Essays in Modern Ukrainian History, 1987.

Volodymyr Vynnychenko's Ideas in the Light of His Political Writings1

There can be little dispute that Volodymyr Kyrylovych Vynnychenko was one of the most talented and colourful figures in Ukrainian history of the first half of the twentieth century. He achieved prominence both as a writer (of fiction and plays) and as a politician. It is enough to mention that Vynnychenko was the first Ukrainian writer to support himself exclusively by his literary work, and the first to achieve a measure of international recognition in his own lifetime. It is also well known that Vynnychenko the politician played one of the leading roles in the Ukrainian Revolution. In 1917, he headed the embryonic Ukrainian government, the General Secretariat of the Central Rada. A year later, as Chairman of the Directory of the Ukrainian People's Republic, he served as head of state for a few months.

Nevertheless, along with these triumphs, Vynnychenko also experienced monumental defeats. His international literary successes did not last and his plays did not remain in the repertory of the world's stages. Even in Ukraine his literary fame declined to such a low point that he has been recently designated—though with a question mark—as "the forgotten writer."2 Vynnychenko's political record was also severely criticized, or even unconditionally condemned, from various quarters. In Soviet Ukraine he is officially declared a "counter-revolutionary" and "bourgeois nationalist." During the inter-war era, Vynnychenko became an odious figure among Ukrainians outside the USSR, and found himself in almost complete isolation. Only after the Second World War, during the last years of his life, did he again meet with some understanding and a friendly response among the leftist circles of the new Ukrainian emigration.

Vynnychenko's activities were not restricted to belles lettres and politics. In his later years, he developed an interest in painting, which became his favourite hobby. In Sviatoslav Hordynsky's judgment, "Vynnychenko was a painter far above amateur stature, although he did not create anything truly original."3 Here, incidentally, Winston Churchill comes to mind—Vynnychenko's social and philosophical antipode. Both men found in painting a form of creative relaxation.

The flamboyant, many-sided talents of Vynnychenko—one could describe him as a "Renaissance personality"—manifested themselves in yet another area, namely in his politico-philosophical and journalistic writings. He left behind numerous articles, a string of pamphlets, and two large works, Vidrodzhennia natsii (Rebirth of a Nation) and "Konkordyzm" (Concordism). To date, this heritage has not attracted the attention of researchers. Vynnychenko's journalistic writings are difficult to obtain today, except for the lengthy, three-volume historical-political treatise, or rather polemical tract, Rebirth of a Nation, which was published in 1920 in an edition of 15,000 copies.4

Let me state immediately that I do not consider Vynnychenko's writings to possess an intrinsic scholarly and theoretical value. In this respect, he cannot be compared with such original thinkers—to mention only Ukrainians—as Mykhailo Drahomanov and Viacheslav Lypynsky. In spite of this, Vynnychenko's political works are interesting and deserve attention. They provide an insight into his world-view and are an important source for the study of his intellectual biography. And, insofar as his writings display not merely his own ideas, but also reflect the outlook of an influential political trend of the revolutionary era, they contribute to the understanding of that crucial period in modern Ukrainian history. Furthermore, they are rich in factual information, acute observations, and interesting, if often controversial, comments on various personalities and events. Because of the incontestable documentary value of these articles and pamphlets, one might wish that at least a selection of them be made available in book form. It would also be worthwhile to publish the philosophical and political treatise, "Concordism," which still remains in manuscript. Vynnychenko invested much time and effort in it, and it may be considered the testament of his ideas.

The scope of this paper does not allow for a complete study of Vynnychenko's legacy as a publicist. Therefore, I shall concentrate mostly on one topic: Vynnychenko's interpretation of the Ukrainian Revolution and his own role in it. This is the subject of Rebirth of a Nation. The book was written in the span of six months, between July 1919 and January 1920, during the time when Vynnychenko, having withdrawn from the Directory, lived as an exile in Austria. One can only wonder at the energy of a man who made haste to preserve for himself and others the experiences of the immediate past and to draw from them certain programmatic conclusions. While Vynnychenko was working on Rebirth of a Nation, the Ukrainian Revolution was still in progress, and he assumed that his own active political role in it was not over. He wished not only to present an apologia for his activities as revolutionary and statesman during the previous two and one-half years, but also to prepare the ground for the next political action: his return to Ukraine under Soviet rule and his future collaboration with that regime. These expectations surely influenced many of the formulations found in Rebirth of a Nation. However, it would be a mistake to reduce Vynnychenko's interpretation of the history of the Ukrainian Revolution to such opportunistic motives. Although his world-view was to change, his understanding of the Ukrainian Revolution remained constant. The basic tenets of Rebirth of a Nation are repeated in Vynnychenko's political writings of his final years.

Vynnychenko saw the historical tendency of the Ukrainian Revolution in the striving of the peasant and worker masses toward total or "omnilateral liberation" (vsebichne vyzvolennia). In his opinion, the main tragedy of the Ukrainian Revolution was that "the Central Rada lacked sufficient understanding of the moment, unanimity, and determination to stand in forefront of the masses and to become the mouthpiece not only of their national, but also of their social and economic interests."5 Because of this one-sidedness of the Central Rada, its neglect of the social issues, the Ukrainian masses did not give it their support at the critical moment. According to Vynnychenko, the same mistake was also made later by the Directory.

Vynnychenko characterized his own political position as follows: "Therefore, the current to which I have belonged since the earliest stage of my social consciousness ... is the current of universal (social, national, political, moral, cultural, etc.) liberation; such a total and radical liberation is usually known under the name of revolutionary."6 According to Vynnychenko, the "universal current" of the Ukrainian Revolution, which represented a correct synthesis of social and national aspirations, included the Ukapists (members of the dissident Ukrainian Communist Party), the Borotbists (Left Socialist Revolutionaries), and the oppositional elements within the official Communist Party (bolsheviks) of Ukraine —in other words, the partisans of Ukrainian national communism.

Let us take a closer look at the concept of "omnilateral liberation," which occupies a central place in Vynnychenko's political philosophy. What was the actual content of this attractive slogan? As far as national liberation is concerned, the answer is simple. Obviously, Vynnychenko did not belong to the old, pre-revolutionary samostiinyky (supporters of state independence), of whom there were only a handful in Dnieper Ukraine before 1917. At the onset of the revolution, he expected to build a free Ukraine in fraternal union with a regenerated Russia. However, having become disillusioned with the Provisional Government and Russian democratic and socialist parties because of their unfavourable stance toward Ukrainian national demands (the process of this disillusionment is described in the first volume of Rebirth of a Nation), he soon became a partisan of independence. Vynnychenko was one of the architects of the Third Universal (20 November 1917) and the Fourth Universal (22 January 1918), which proclaimed, respectively, the establishment of the Ukrainian People's Republic and the latter's complete sovereignty. He never withdrew from this position, even when he later accepted the Soviet regime's social platform in an attempt to come to terms with the Bolsheviks. There is no cause to question Vynnychenko's sincerity and steadfastness concerning his pro-independence convictions.

It is more difficult to ascertain the precise meaning that Vynnychenko assigned to the concept of "social and economic liberation." From his youth, he had always possessed the temper of a social revolutionary who rebelled against all forms of social injustice, oppression and exploitation of man by man. During the early stages of the revolution, however, he did not take a pro-communist position. It cannot be said that, at this time, he had a clear conception of the future social and economic order in the Ukrainian People's Republic, which was in the process of formation. The most urgent social issue in Ukraine was the agrarian problem. As head of the General Secretariat, Vynnychenko accepted the program of socialization of the land which was advocated by the Ukrainian Party of Socialist Revolutionaries (UPSR), even though the Social Democrats, to whom he belonged, "approached the agrarian program of the Socialist Revolutionaries extremely critically, because, according to the Social Democrats, the Ukrainian SRs had simply copied this program from the Russian SRs, not taking into account the differences in conditions between Ukraine and Russia."7 Vynnychenko realized that the Ukrainian peasantry, in contrast to the Russian, with its traditional obshchina (re-partitional commune), had "a thoroughly individualistic land tenure system,"8 but he failed to draw any practical conclusions from this accurate observation.

Thus, the gist of Vynnychenko's social and economic views can perhaps best be defined by their negative rather than positive objectives. He passionately rejected the social system of his age, "capitalism," in which he saw the embodiment of sheer social injustice. In this, he did not make any distinction between the underdeveloped, semi-colonial capitalism of Russia, including Ukraine, and the capitalism of the advanced countries of the West. He hated from the depths of his heart the landlords and the bourgeoisie, whom he considered parasitical classes, and desired their destruction. He believed that only physical labourers, the industrial workers and peasants, were economically productive and socially useful. In contrast, the bourgeoisie was "a class of non-workers,.. . permanently idle, eternally debauched people."9 Working men starve while the burzhui gorge themselves with caviar and truffles and wash this down with champagne and expensive liqueurs. The image of bourgeois gluttony reappears obsessively in Vynnychenko's writings. He felt sincere indignation against all those who wished Ukraine to become a state "like that of other people (iak u liudei),'" i.e., with class differentiation and the usual social inequalities.

As mentioned above, during the initial stages of the revolution Vynnychenko did not yet adhere to a communist position. However, under the impact of the setbacks suffered by the Central Rada and the Directory, he moved to the left in the course of the next two years (1917-19). One should take notice of the Declaration of the Directory, dated 26 December 1918, the author of which was Vynnychenko, as a milestone in this leftward drift. The Declaration stated that "governmental power in the Ukrainian People's Republic ought to belong to the labouring classes, the workers and peasants. . . . The exploiting, non-working classes, which live off and enjoy the luxury from the labour of the toiling classes,. . . have no voice in the affairs of the state." As a practical consequence, the Declaration resolved that only the workers, peasants, and "the labouring intelligentsia, who directly serve the working people" (elementary school teachers, paramedics, agronomists, employees of cooperatives, etc.) would participate in the elections to the Congress of Toilers (legislature); the "non-working classes" of the population were deprived of the franchise.10 It apparently did not occur to Vynnychenko that such discrimination in reverse was incompatible with the democratic principles he professed. He took a further step in this direction a short time later, after he had gone abroad. His Rebirth of a Nation was written from a national-communist perspective.

Vynnychenko's political opponents attacked him most frequently from a nationalist position, even going so far as to accuse him of national treason. To these charges he gave the following dignified reply:

Never and nowhere did we under any circumstances betray the national side of the liberation struggle. In no negotiations or treaties did we ever consent to giving away into bondage even one part of the united Ukrainian nation.... Never, nowhere, nor for any personal or group [class] subsidies, privileges, or other advantages did we ever agree to reduce the sovereignty of the Ukrainian nation even by an iota.11

In my opinion, the primary target of criticism ought rather to be Vynnychenko's social ideas, which have not been given due attention. It was his erroneous social philosophy that also led him into taking wrong steps in the area of national policy, notwithstanding his patriotism and his good intentions, which must not be doubted.

Let us once again examine Vynnychenko's favourite slogan of "omnilateral liberation." What objections can one raise against this apparently noble ideal? The crux of the matter is that in real life there exists an inescapable necessity of choosing, time after time, among alternatives, of establishing an order of priorities, of concentrating efforts on that which at the given moment is most pressing. Whoever wants "everything, and everything at once," usually ends up with empty hands.

The disintegration of tsarist Russia in 1917 offered the Ukrainian people a unique and, to date, unrepeated historical chance: to break away from imperial clutches and create their own independent state. If they failed to take advantage of that opportunity, the responsibility — discounting external and internal difficulties of an objective nature—lies primarily with the "omnilateralists," the social utopians, whose most typical representative was Volodymyr Kyrylovych Vynnychenko. Disdaining statehood "like that of other people," chasing after mirages of "total liberation," they contributed to the outcome that Ukrainians, whom they loved and whom they wished well, fell into a condition of truly total national and social servitude. This was their tragedy, as well as that of the Ukrainian people as a whole.

By the preceding remarks I do not intend to imply that the Ukrainian governments of the revolutionary era should have abstained from an active policy in the field of social and economic relations. This is not the place to go into details, but it is clear that above all the urgent agrarian question called for radical measures. The Central Rada can be justifiably blamed for not having undertaken promptly an independent initiative toward solving this burning issue, because of a misplaced regard for Petrograd and the future All-Russian Constituent Assembly. (The same could also be said about the delay in concluding a separate peace with the Central Powers.) The "omnilateralists" failed to recognize the primacy of raison d'etat, but instead were motivated by utopian fancies.

The utopian character of Vynnychenko's social and economic conceptions manifested itself, among other ways, in a simplistic egalitarianism. His mind refused to accept the plain truth that the landlords and the bourgeoisie not only "lived luxuriously," but also, despite all their faults, performed certain useful social functions. To remove them suddenly, without providing a suitable replacement (for instance, in the form of a well-trained managerial elite, which simply was not available at the time), meant plunging the country into chaos. In any event, if Ukraine was not to remain an amorphous ethnic mass but to become a modern nation and state, it was imperative that it develop a differentiated social structure capable of performing all the complex functions inseparable from the existence of a modern nation-state. The root of the trouble did not lie in Vynnychenko's humanitarian concern for the well-being of the workers and the uprooted, pauperized stratum of the peasantry. But by orienting himself solely toward those classes, by identifying himself uncritically with their grievances and resentments, he alienated from Ukrainian state-building processes the prosperous and educated segments of the population, including the so-called village bourgeoisie, "the counter-revolutionary kulak forces"—precisely those elements that might have served as the most reliable foundation for a state. It must be acknowledged that these aberrations were more or less shared by most of the Dnieper-Ukrainian socialist "revolutionary democrats."

Vynnychenko's attitude toward Bolshevism was ambivalent. On the one hand, he clearly recognized the chauvinist and colonial character of Bolshevik policy toward Ukraine, and the continuity that in this respect existed between tsarist and Bolshevik Russia. He strikingly and truthfully depicted the misdeeds that accompanied the first and second periods of the Soviet occupation regime in Ukraine (respectively, the beginning of 1918, and the spring and early summer of 1919). On the other hand, he believed, in the historically progressive, socialist character of the October Revolution and that it served the interests of the working masses. In the last chapter of Rebirth of a Nation, he addressed the following panegyric to the Bolsheviks:

The Russian workers' and peasants' revolution has provided an object lesson in the realistic implementation of the proletariat's social tasks. Soviet Russia, by carrying out a gigantic work of destruction of the old social order and by creating a new one,... and by accomplishing this task with such success and such consequences, has truly given Europe the example of a social miracle. This uplifts the revolutionary, vital elements with enthusiasm while it chills with deadly fear the parasitic, criminal and corrupt elements.12
Wishing to be consistent at any price, Vynnychenko excused the system of terror introduced by the Bolsheviks. "The class which seizes power must fight for it and its class objectives by whatever means necessary. ... It was for the sake of such goals that the Bolsheviks used force against the idle people, against a small minority, on behalf of the interests of the huge working masses and all mankind." Vynnychenko felt that it was altogether normal that "the press of the idle classes was suppressed, as well as of those groups of 'democrats' who defended the inviolability of the bourgeois order." Vynnychenko rejected, as a matter of course, the parliamentary system of government which, he asserted, the bourgeoisie used as a "well-tried way to speculate comfortably."13 It is disconcerting to read these apologias for tyranny from the pen of a man who not long before had stood at the helm of a would-be democratic Ukrainian government.

Vynnychenko basically disagreed with the Soviet regime on only one point: the question of nationality policy. However, he did not admit the thought that this policy flowed from the very nature of the regime. On the contrary, he comforted himself with the argument that such expressions of traditional Russian imperialism contradicted the principles of self-determination of peoples and proletarian internationalism solemnly proclaimed by the October Revolution. Therefore, he tended to explain Bolshevik practices in Ukraine as a painful misunderstanding that sooner or later must be overcome, because this was what the logic of history and the interests of the world socialist revolution demanded. The task of the Ukrainian communists ("omnilateralists") was to persuade Moscow of the erroneousness of its policy toward Ukraine. (Similarly, their task was to persuade the Ukrainian patriots ("unilateralists") that they should drop their objections to the social goals of communism.) Characteristically, Vynnychenko called Soviet rule in Ukraine "Piatakovism" (piatakovshchyna), after Iurii Piatakov, the chieftain of the Kiev Bolsheviks. In this one can perceive his attempt to shield the Moscow elite of the Russian Communist Party from responsibility for the "mistakes" allegedly perpetrated by the short-sighted local Bolshevik leaders.

Thus, Vynnychenko sought a synthesis of the two revolutions, the Ukrainian national and the communist. Herein lay the essence of his political conception. While writing Rebirth of a Nation, he strove to convince others and, it seems, primarily himself that such a synthesis was not only desirable, but also historically necessary. However, it may be surmised that in the depths of his heart he doubted whether this synthesis was feasible. The artist's intuition in him pointed toward other conclusions than his pseudo-rational cerebrations. Vynnychenko's brilliant play, Mizh dvokh syl (Between Two Powers), written in 1918 under the impression of the first Soviet occupation of Ukraine, reflects this.14 The play's heroine portrays the tragedy of the idealistic Ukrainian communists who found themselves in a doomed position, at the crossroads between the irreconcilable elemental forces of the national-liberation movement and Bolshevism. In the end, Sofiia Slipchenko, the play's protagonist, commits suicide. In her demise Vynnychenko foretold not only the fate of the whole national-communist camp, but also his own personal political bankruptcy.

A study of Vynnychenko's practical political activities does not fall within the scope of this paper. Nevertheless, while discussing his social and political ideas, we cannot but emphasize that he undoubtedly possessed certain authentic qualities of leadership. For instance, the memoirists of the Ukrainian Revolution frequently mention his exceptional oratorical skills. The Galician journalist Osyp Nazaruk, who had the opportunity to observe Vynnychenko at close range when the latter was Chairman of the Directory, characterized his public personality in these laudatory terms:

He is a man in the full meaning of the word who keeps his promises, knows how to confide fully in others, understands well situations and people, has the necessary energy, and—what I consider particularly important—has a sense of humour.... As a statesman, he was fully equal to his difficult responsibilities and had bold plans. It was not his fault that he was unable to realize them.15
One would like to know what these "bold, plans" were, but, unfortunately, Nazaruk is not specific. However, in another context, Nazaruk reports in his memoirs that Vynnychenko often discussed with him "a glorious dream": the founding of several cultural centres to be located in the most beautiful regions of Ukraine (the Carpathian Mountains, the high bank of the Dnieper near Kaniv, etc.). The centres would consist of complexes of residential buildings, workshops, and other facilities, providing a favourable environment for writers, painters, sculptors, and musicians. Vynnychenko expected that such centres would stimulate a flowering of Ukrainian culture.16

Another sample of Vynnychenko's "bold plans" is to be found in the memoirs of Lonhyn Tsehelsky, a member of the government of the Western Ukrainian People's Republic (eastern Galicia), who in December 1918 and January 1919 negotiated with the Directory concerning the unification of the two Ukrainian states. According to Tsehelsky, Vynnychenko complained to him about the difficulties caused by the pro-Russian outlook of the Orthodox church hierarchy in Ukraine, and then proposed that Andrei Sheptytsky, the Metropolitan of the Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church in Galicia, be made the head of the entire Ukrainian church. When Tsehelsky observed that such a step would imply a break with Orthodoxy, Vynnychenko reportedly replied:

We shall abolish Orthodoxy! It has led us under the Eastern Orthodox tsar and has been instrumental in the Russification of Ukraine. Orthodoxy will always gravitate toward Moscow. Your [Galician] Uniatism is good for separating from both Poland and Moscow. A Uniate naturally becomes a [nationally conscious] Ukrainian. We shall convoke a synod of bishops, archimandrites, and representatives of laymen from all Ukraine, and we shall advise them to accept the Union [of churches] and to put Sheptytsky at the head. We will reach an understanding with Rome in order to make him [Sheptytsky] patriarch of Ukraine. . . . This is a serious plan.17
The examples provided by Nazaruk and Tsehelsky support the notion that Vynnychenko was indeed endowed with great vision. However, as a politician, he also had great shortcomings, which were partly rooted in his character and partly in his intellect. Among his character flaws, one must count Vynnychenko's unrestrained, "man of the steppe" temperament, which threw him into extremes and made him prone to alternating moods of elation and depression. His excitable temper manifested itself in the tone and style of his polemics. Thus, in Rebirth of a Nation he characterized Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky as a "slobbering manikin," "a wretched, politically illiterate figure," "a degenerate," and the Chief Otaman Symon Petliura as "a ridiculous man, detrimental to our whole movement," "a little philistine with a morbid, maniacal vanity," and more of the same kind. It is worth noting that in his polemics against the Bolsheviks Vynnychenko maintained a completely different tone: while criticizing their policies toward Ukraine, he used factual arguments and did not indulge in personal abuse of the Kremlin leaders. He reserved his gross insults for his Ukrainian political rivals.

Nazaruk felt that Vynnychenko "understood well situations and people," in other words, that he was a political realist. To a certain extent, this is corroborated by the political writings of Vynnychenko himself, which contain many keen observations. Along with this, however, we find numerous judgments which impress us with their naivete. Vynnychenko often saw the facts correctly, but under the influence of his ideological preconceptions, he arrived at erroneous conclusions. It appears that in Vynnychenko's mind realistic and doctrinaire tendencies opposed each other in a perennial, unconscious conflict, and it was the latter that usually prevailed in the long run. This was his primary intellectual defect.

The literary critic Mykhailo Rudnytsky made a similar observation concerning Vynnychenko's belletristic writings. According to him, the strength of Vynnychenko's literary talent lay in his ability to grasp scenes and situations of real life. However, he also liked to inject into his novels and plays "ideas" which were replete with didacticism and naivete. "From that moment on, an ever-growing fissure opens in his works, through which an ever larger stream of water flows in."18

As an example of Vynnychenko's political realism, it is worthwhile to quote a long passage from Rebirth of a Nation which shows that he had a clear perception of the immense difficulties of Ukrainian state-building.

For what does it mean, our own national Ukrainian state? This means, first of all, that all the organs of state administration and management should be created in Ukraine, where they have not existed to this day. This does not mean the reconstruction of old, organized apparatuses adapted to life by the passage of centuries, nor the substitution of one set of persons for another. No, it is to create everything from the very beginning, from the smallest details, to create in one or two months all that which in other lands has been formed through the ages. To create these organs without having at your disposal any military power, and, at the same time, having against you the military, police, and administrative power of an old state and facing the hostility of the entire non-Ukrainian population.

But let us assume that the enemy's might has somehow been defeated. Where, then, are those human forces with which apparatuses could be built, that huge, complex machine called the state? There is a need for thousands of experienced, educated, and nationally conscious people in order to fill all the government posts, all the institutions, starting with the ministries and ending with the petty clerks in the offices. Where are they, these people, where could they be found, when we did not have our own schools or the opportunity to develop a mass of our own intelligentsia from whose ranks one could select experienced, educated, and nationally conscious personnel? But even if there were enough of them for the ministries—what next? And all the directors, heads of bureaus, commissars, and the tens of thousands of civil servants—where could they be found? And how were they to be maintained? How could one conduct the whole business of state without any financial resources?19

A question arises at this point. If the quoted statements corresponded with the actual situation at that time, how can one justify Vynnychenko's decision, as a matter of principle, to exclude from participation in Ukrainian state-building the members of the well-to-do and educated strata who might have given the young state the badly needed cadres? It must be said in his defence that, in this matter, Vynnychenko the practical politician was often wiser than Vynnychenko the ideologue. Thus, in the fall of 1917, while chairman of the General Secretariat, he invited to take the position of associate general secretary (vice-minister) of internal affairs Fedir Lyzohub, an experienced public administrator, but—one hardly dares say it—a great landowner, a conservative, and the future premier in Hetman Skoropadsky's cabinet. Following the hetmanite coup d'etat, Vynnychenko advised the leaders of the moderate Ukrainian Party of Socialist Federalists to take advantage of the proposals of Skoropadsky and the German army command to enter the government in order to ensure the Ukrainian national character of the new regime. We know from the memoirs of Pavlo Zaitsev (who at that time was the director of the presidial department of the Ministry of Education) that Vynnychenko praised him warmly when, upon Zaitsev's urging, the collective of the ministry's functionaries decided not to resign (as the Ukrainian employees of the other ministries had done in protest against the hetmanite coup). Rather, they remained at their posts and under the changed conditions continued with the work demanded by national and state interests.20 From the point of view of revolutionary purity, these were Vynnychenko's "sins," of which he later even publicly repented, but, in my judgment, these so-called lapses save his honour as a statesman.

To balance the picture, here are some examples of Vynnychenko's doctrinaire naivete. In Rebirth of a Nation he explained the outbreak of the First World War as "the commercial gentry coming to blows among themselves as to who was to clothe the African Blacks in aprons" — which amounts to a caricature of the familiar Marxist theory of imperialism. Vynnychenko's friend Oleksander Shulhyn recorded in his reminiscences that "he would say outrageous things, such as that under socialism a person would need to work only two hours per day."21

The source of these "outrageous things" in Vynnychenko, noticed by Shulhyn and others, was, despite his exceptional and multiple inborn talents, his lack of solid political education. I say this not to denigrate his memory, but to state a fact. Vynnychenko's writings as a publicist do not provide any evidence that he seriously studied even Marxist political, sociological, and economic literature. It seems that the only thing that Vynnychenko got out of the Ielysavethrad gymnasium was a rebellious spirit and a hatred for all established authority. Even in his old age he still bitterly recalled the humiliations inflicted on him by his teachers and the "young gentlemen" among the fellow students, who treated him as a "little muzhik" and "little khokhol."22 In 1902, when he was only twenty-two, Vynnychenko was arrested for the first time, and in this connection expelled from Kiev University. That same year, he made his debut in literature with his first published short story. In the following fifteen years, up to the revolution, the course of his life ran along a double track, that of a professional writer and that of a professional revolutionary. As a writer, Vynnychenko worked very productively and intensively. New publications of his appeared every year: collections of short stories, novels, and plays. At the same time, Vynnychenko was an active and leading member of the Revolutionary Ukrainian Party (Revoliutsiina ukrainska partiia, RUP) and its successor, the Ukrainian Social-Democratic Labour Party (Ukrainska sotsiial-demokrytchna robitnycha partiia, USDRP). Several times he was thrown in prison, had to flee the country, illegally returned to Ukraine, wandered around various European countries, participated in party conferences, edited party organs, etc. Between literary work and revolutionary bustle, there was no time left for extending his political education. Activity in underground groups gave him a certain practical organizational experience, but not of the kind which would provide training in statesmanship.

What was the specific character of Vynnychenko's Marxism? Throughout the greater part of his life, from his student days to the mid-1930s, he presented himself as a convinced and militant Marxist, but his Marxism was peculiar. It was not without reason that Jaroslaw Pelenski once called Vynnychenko "the illegitimate offspring of Karl Marx and a good-looking and sexy Ukrainian village wench. ... He was extremely representative of our way of thinking, or, to put it more accurately, of our unsystematic and illogical way of thinking."23 In a nutshell, Vynnychenko assimilated from the teachings of Marx and Engels only the eschatological and Utopian, but not the cognitive and scientific, parts. What captivated him in Marxism were topics such as the denunciation of the iniquities of capitalism, the myth of the proletarian revolution, and the vision of a future, perfect socialist society. Furthermore, he appropriated the typical Marxist phraseology. However, Karl Marx was not only the prophet of the proletarian revolution, but also an erudite and eminent scholar and thinker. Marx and Engels adapted and reinterpreted—some will say perverted—the achievements of certain schools of thought which belong to the mainstream of the European intellectual tradition: the French Enlightenment, German classical philosophy, and English liberal economics. All this did not leave any noticeable mark on Volodymyr Vynnychenko's intellectual outlook. In Ukrainian scholarly and political literature, too, there are several authors who more or less successfully applied Marxist methodology for historical and social analysis: Iuliian Bachynsky, Mykola Porsh, Valentyn Sadovsky, Lev Iurkevych, Volodymyr Starosolsky, Volodymyr Levynsky, Roman Rozdolsky. We cannot add Vynnychenko to this list. His understanding of Marxist theory did not rise above the level of popular brochures. One can regard Vynnychenko as an ideologist of Ukrainian national communism in the sense that in Rebirth of a Nation and his pamphlets and articles of the following years the mood, the emotional climate, peculiar to this milieu is clearly expressed. If, however, we were searching for a more logical and intellectually more solid formulation of the conception of the Ukrainian path to communism, of Ukrainian Soviet statehood, we should have to turn to the well-known treatise of Vasyl Shakhrai and Serhii Mazlakh, On the Current Situation in Ukraine, or to the writings of Mykola Skrypnyk.

Soon after his much-publicized journey to Moscow and Ukraine and his unsuccessful attempt to reach an understanding with the Bolshevik regime (May-September 1920),24 Vynnychenko published under the imprint of the Emigre Group of the Ukrainian Communist Party the pamphlet RevoliutsUa v nebezpetsi (Revolution in Danger), in which he voiced a protest against the Soviet "system of absolute centralization" and asserted that "the nationality policy of the Russian Communist Party in Ukraine is a policy of 'one and indivisible' Russia."25 This, however, by no means signified that Vynnychenko had broken with communism. The pamphlet was addressed to "the communists and revolutionary socialists of Europe and America," and was written "from the perspective of the revolution, in the interests of the revolution, and from the standpoint of an ideological, social, and political affinity with that very same Russian Communist Party."26 When the era of "Ukrainization" was initiated in the Ukrainian SSR, Vynnychenko accepted it in the belief that the Bolsheviks had now met his demands and had started to implement his programme in practice. In 1926 he published a pamphlet in which he called on the Ukrainian emigres "to return to Ukraine and take part in the work and struggle for a socialist order."27 In the 1920s, his fiction was often published and his plays staged in Soviet Ukraine.

One can regard Vynnychenko's pamphlet, Za iaku Ukrainu (For What Kind of Ukraine?), published in 1934, as the swan song of his national communism.28 Having taken notice of such alarming facts as the recent suicides of two leading Ukrainian communists, Mykola Skrypnyk and Mykola Khvylovy, Vynnychenko once again declared his devotion to communist ideology and loyalty to the Soviet regime. In the pamphlet, he addressed the Kremlin grandees as "comrades," and reminisced about the friendly discussions he had held with Comrade Stalin while travelling by train from Kharkiv to Moscow in 1920. Next, Vynnychenko asked what was more beneficial for the Ukrainian working people: a (hypothetical) independent bourgeois Ukraine, or the present Soviet socialist Ukraine, "in close alliance with other Soviet republics"? He resolved this dilemma, without reservation, in favour of the second alternative. "One can bet one's head that an 'independent' Ukrainian bourgeois government would not have cared as much for the education, the advancement, and the cultural betterment of the toiling masses as is now being done by the Soviet government."29 This was written shortly after the Soviet government had starved to death several million of the so-called toilers in Ukraine, and at the very time when the Ukrainian cultural cadres were being destroyed en masse, including the entire early leadership of the CPU. One can only wonder at the appalling influence of doctrinaire thinking upon the politics of a man who was lacking in neither intelligence nor patriotism.

Stalinism inflicted the death blow to Ukrainian national communism. Vynnychenko moved away from this conception sometime in the mid-1930s. At the same time, he also abandoned Marxism, but not the final goal that Marxism sets for itself: the striving toward a "paradise on earth," a classless and non-antagonistic social order. Characteristically, in the writings of his last fifteen years, Vynnychenko never overtly repudiated the errors of his former Marxist and pro-communist positions.

Vynnychenko, it seems, belonged to that species of human being that cannot live without a utopia. Perhaps it is because he rejected the idea of a transcendent Absolute so vehemently that he could not do without the belief in an earthly divinity, in the image of an ideal future society. When Marxism failed to satisfy him, he immediately began fashioning his own personal utopia, for which he coined the terms "collectocracy," or "concordism." He expounded this self-made ideology in the large treatise, "Concordism," which unfortunately remains unpublished to this day. However, a fairly accurate idea of the contents of this doctrine can be derived from Vynnychenko's last novels, Nova Zapovid (The New Commandment)30 and "Slovo za toboiu, Stalinel" ("Take the Floor, Stalin!"),31 which are dedicated to propagandizing the ideas of concordism by using fiction as a vehicle; the latter novel even has the subtitle, A Political Conception in Images.

Hryhorii Kostiuk, who read "Concordism" in manuscript, says the following about it:

And so Volodymyr Vynnychenko begins to think and write about a new code of human life, "a new commandment." During many years of hard labour and deep thought, he completed his great philosophical-political work, "his best child" — "Concordism." According to the author's intention, this was to be the primer of a renewed social life. This was his utopian theory of building a new, reconciliatory, and harmonious social order and new people... ."Concordism" is not a dogma. It is merely a number of signposts pointing to a path away from the world's leprosarium onto a path of renewal, toward healing, and to the flowering of a new concordist, reconciliatory, happy co-existence of people, to a "sunny way of life" (sontseizm).32
The practical way to achieve collectocracy, or concordism, is through the establishment of a universal system of producers' co-operatives in which all the workers of a given enterprise would be its co-owners and would receive a share of profits according to a certain scale. Simultaneously, Vynnychenko calls for a moral renewal of mankind through a "return to nature." The first step toward this is abstinence from tobacco, alcoholic beverages, and meat dishes which entail the killing of animals. Vynnychenko himself became a strict abstainer and vegetarian (a "carrot-eater," as he was jokingly called in Ukrainian emigre circles), and he placed a great deal of importance on this issue, considering it a matter of principle.

There will be time for detailed criticism of the theory of concordism once Vynnychenko's work has been published. Here we shall limit ourselves to a few preliminary observations. I do not believe that antagonisms, conflicts, or, using Vynnychenko's terminology, "discords" can be eliminated from social life, because life itself unceasingly and with unfailing necessity gives birth to ever new conflicts of interests and ideas. Social peace is a desirable ideal, but this is not the same as the absence of antagonisms. Rather, it means the channelling of antagonisms into a framework of a rule of law, which curtails them and subjects them to norms. An example of this may be the situation that prevails in a country where, instead of civil war, we have a legal electoral campaign. The struggle of antagonistic social forces, although often entailing dangers, is the motor of progress. Therefore, on principle, one must be suspicious of preachers of ideally harmonious, "reconciliatory" social systems, of inventors of panaceas "for the salvation of mankind." The experience of history teaches that when such cure-all doctrines are attempted in real life, they usually lead to the violent suppression of individual and group autonomy, to tyranny and totalitarianism.

One additional comment concerning Vynnychenko's programmatic vegetarianism may be ventured. At the very time he was working at his "Concordism," there appeared, in 1937, a brochure by a prominent publicist of the Ukrainian integral-nationalist movement, Volodymyr Martynets, entitled Za zuby i pazuri natsii (For the Nation's Teeth and Claws).33 Martynets advised the Ukrainian public to adopt a carnivorous diet, to eat steaks as often as possible in order to foster among Ukrainians bloodthirsty instincts, which he considered most praiseworthy from the point of view of nationalist ideology. Vynnychenko's and Martynets's dietary ideas stand intellectually on the same level of naive stomachic determinism, in accordance with the old German saying "Der Mensch ist was er isst" (Man is what he eats).

The final phase of Vynnychenko's philosophical evolution is interesting in that it coincides with tendencies which emerged later, in our day, among some left-wing circles of the West, especially the young. I have in mind those elements that became disillusioned with official, Soviet-type communism but did not reconcile themselves to the tenets of "bourgeois" parliamentary democracy. There are many things in common between their outlook and Vynnychenko's ideology of concordism: the ideal of a "return to nature," pacifism, concern for special dietary rules and sexual liberation, the call for the formation of small communities (communes) in which people would live and work collectively, and finally the concept of participatory democracy, in opposition to traditional representative democracy. Thus Vynnychenko may be considered a forerunner of the contemporary New Left, or at least of some of its offshoots.

While examining the socio-political world-view of Volodymyr Vynnychenko, I unexpectedly discovered similarities between his ideas and those of the theorist of Ukrainian integral nationalism, Dmytro Dontsov. The similarities are not in the content but in the style of their thinking. To conclude my reflections, I shall attempt to demonstrate this instructive parallel.

Vynnychenko and Dontsov belonged to the same generation. (Dontsov was born in 1883, and thus was three years younger than Vynnychenko.) Both were sons of southern, steppe Ukraine. Both in their youth were active in the Ukrainian Social-Democratic Labour Party, although afterwards their paths diverged.

The main similarity between Vynnychenko and Dontsov was that both were typical Russian intellectuals —"Russian," obviously, not in the ethnic-national sense, but in the style of their political culture. For instance, in their activities both closely tied together politics and literature. (In the case of Dontsov, he combined work as a political publicist with literary criticism.) Such a mixing of the political and literary spheres was characteristic of Russian social and cultural life in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the Western world, these spheres are usually separate and quite distinct from each other.

Both Vynnychenko and Dontsov manifested a doctrinaire turn of mind and an inclination toward ideological extremism, simplified and reductionist formulas, and radical solutions—all of which were typical of the Russian intelligentsia. This made their thinking revolutionary and totalitarian. Roth were more interested in changing the world than in understanding its real structure, Such an outlook brought them to paradoxical conclusions, notwithstanding their great innate talents. It is said that old age makes a person wise, but this did not happen in the case of Vynnychenko or Dontsov. In their later years, both turned into philosophical eccentrics: the former elevated vegetarianism to the rank of an article of faith, and the latter became a devotee of theosophy.

Both Vynnychenko and Dontsov shared a disdain for Western, "bourgeois" democracy, its pluralism, evolutionary methods, and the parliamentary system of government. They had little use for "formal" democratic liberties and civil rights. Vynnychenko fell under the spell of the communist dictatorship of Lenin and Dontsov under that of the fascist dictatorships of Mussolini and Hitler, and they recommended these tyrannical systems as models to their own people. But fate played a joke on both Ukrainian worthies: in their declining years, they were obliged to find sanctuary under the protective wings of democratic countries whose regimes they scorned.

Both Vynnychenko and Dontsov illustrate the paths and dead ends of Ukrainian political thought of the first half of the twentieth century: the crisis of Ukrainian democracy and the appearance in Ukrainian society of left- and right-wing anti-democratic, totalitarian movements. Therefore, these figures have a symptomatic significance and, because of this, deserve the attention of historians and political scientists.

Finally, I see an analogy between Vynnychenko and Dontsov in that both were representative of that type of political ethos which Max Weber calls Gesinnungsethik. In his classic essay, "Politics as Vocation" (1918), Weber defined two models of socio-political ethics, Verantwortungsethik and Gesinnungsethik. The first term translates simply as "the ethics of responsibility." On the other hand, the German word Gesinnung is difficult to translate. It means something like "spiritual orientation"; Weber's translators have rendered Gesinnungsethik in English as "ethics of ultimate ends."34 Politicians of the first type strive to foresee and take into account the probable consequences of their actions. Being guided by the maxim that "politics is the art of the possible," they attempt to attain the optimum of that which might be achieved within a given situation. Politicians of the second type are guided by absolute demands, in the name of which they radically oppose existing reality. In their struggle to attain the ideal, no price is too high to pay. They condemn pragmatic accommodation to reality as rotten opportunism, moral capitulation. What is important to them is the purity of intentions and uncompromising dedication to ideals, not practical results. Their maxim is "let the world perish if justice will thereby come to pass" (pereat mundus, fiat iustitia). In accordance with this view, Dontsov in his Natsionalizm (Nationalism, 1926) and in numerous other works insistently propagated "romanticism, dogmatism, and illusionism"; he opposed "principled" politics to Realpolitik, identifying the latter with opportunism. As for Vynnychenko, he advocated the slogan of "honesty with oneself" (chesnist z soboiu), which corresponds exactly to Weber's concept of Gesinnungsethik.

Let us give Vynnychenko his due: throughout his life he was, indeed, truly "honest with himself." His deeds at all times conformed with his convictions: when, for his revolutionary activities, he was thrown into a tsarist prison; when he was building the Ukrainian People's Republic and stood at the helm of its government; when, for the sake of the phantom of "omnilateral liberation" and utopian social schemes, he was destroying the chances of an imperfect but real Ukrainian state; when, perhaps risking his own neck, he travelled to Moscow to negotiate with the Bolshevik leaders; and when, already an old man, he took up hard physical labour on his small farmstead in southern France, while adhering to strict dietary rules. For this, his brave character and personal integrity, Volodymyr Kyrylovych Vynnychenko deserves sympathy and respect as a human being, no matter how one evaluates the theoretical validity of the ideas by which he was guided and the practical results which followed from the application of these ideas in Ukrainian politics of the revolutionary era.


1.  This paper was originally presented at the Vynnychenko Centennial Conference held at the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the U.S., New York City, 26-7 April 1980. The Ukrainian text, entitled "Suspilno-politychnyi svitohliad Volodymyra Vynnychenka u svitli ioho publitsystychnykh pysan," appeared in the monthly Suchasnist 20, no. 9 (September 1980):60-77. The draft of the present English version, prepared by Bohdan Klid, was revised and expanded by the author.

2.  The title of M. Molnar's introductory essay, "Zabutyi pysmennyk?" in V. Vynnychenko, Opovidannia (Bratislava 1968).

3.  S. Hordynsky, "Maliarski tvory V. Vynnychenka," in the symposium, Volodymyr Vynnychenko: Statti i materiialy (New York 1957), 60.

4.  V. Vynnychenko, Vidrodzhennia natsii, 3 vols. (Kiev and Vienna 1920).

5.  V. Vynnychenko, Rozlad i pohodzhennia. Vidpovid moim prykhylnykam i neprykhylnykam (n.p. n.d.), 6. From the introductory note by the publishing firm, "Nasha borotba," one can deduce that the brochure appeared in Germany in 1948 ("three years after the end of the war").

6.  V. Vynnychenko, Pered novym etapom: Nashi pozytsii (Toronto 1938), 9.

7.  Vynnychenko, Vidrodzhennia natsii, 1:182.

8.  Ibid.

9.  Ibid., 1:150.

10.  Text of the Directory's Declaration in Vynnychenko, Vidrodzhennia natsii, 3:167-76.

11.  Vynnychenko, Pered novym etapom, 45—6.

12.  Vynnychenko, Vidrodzhennia natsii, 3:501.

13.  Ibid., 2:178, 185, 188.

14.  V. Vynnychenko, Mizh dvokh syl (Kiev and Vienna 1919).

15.  O. Nazaruk, Rik na Velykii Ukraini: Konspekt spomyniv z ukrainskoi revoliutsii (Vienna 1920), 66.

16.  Ibid., 67.

17.  L. Tsehelsky, Vid legend do pravdy: Spomyny pro podii v Ukraini zviazani z Pershym Lystopadom 1918 r. (New York and Philadelphia 1960), 193.

18.  M. Rudnytsky, Vid Myrnoho do Khvylovoho (Lviv 1936), 309.

19.  Vynnychenko, Vidrodzhennia natsii, 1:255-6.

20.  P. Zaitsev, "Zhmut spohadiv pro V. Vynnychenka. 3. Hetmanat," Ukrainska literaturna hazeta (Munich), September 1959, no. 9 (51), 2.

21.  "Uryvky zi spohadiv Oleksandra lakovycha Shulhyna," in Zbirnyk na poshanu Oleksandra Shulhyna (1889-1960) (Paris and Munich 1960), 292.

22.  V. Vynnychenko, "Malenke poiasnennia. Odvertyi lyst do redaktsii Ukrainskykh vistei," Ukrainski visti (Neu Ulm), 10 August 1950.

23. J. Pelenski, "Chomu tak malo dumaiemo?", Ukrainska literaturna hazeta, April 1960, no. 4(58), 1.

24. A first-hand account of Vynnychenko's journey is now available in his recently published diaries: V. Vynnychenko, Shchodennyk (Edmonton and New York 1980), 1:427-87. See also H. Kostiuk, "Misiia V. Vynnychenka v Moskvi i Kharkovi 1920 roku," in his Volodymyr Vynnychenko ta ioho doba. Doslidzhennia, krytyka, polemika (New York 1980), 210-25; M. Czajkowskyj, "Volodymyr Vynnychenko and His Mission to Moscow and Kharkiv," Journal of Ukrainian Graduate Studies 3, no. 2 (Fall 1978):3-24.

25. Revoliutsiia v nebezpetsi! (Lyst Zak. grupy U.K.P. do komunistiv i revoliutsiinykh sotsiialistiv Evropy ta Ameryky) (Vienna and Kiev 1920), 11, 50.

26.  Ibid., 7.

27.  V. Vynnychenko, Povorot na Ukrainu (Lviv and Pribram 1926), 13; cited in M. Molnar's introductory essay in Vynnychenko, Opovidannia (Bratislava 1968), 14.

28.  V. Vynnychenko, Za iaku Ukrainu (Paris 1934).

29.  Ibid., 41.

30.  V. Vynnychenko, Nova zapovid (New Ulm 1950); first published in French translation, Nouveau commandement (Paris 1949).

31.  V. Vynnychenko, "Slovo za toboiu, Staline!": Politychna kontseptsiia v obrazakh (New York 1971); posthumous publication.

32.  H. Kostiuk, "Volodymyr Vynnychenko ta ioho ostannii roman," introductory essay in Vynnychenko, "Slovo za toboiu, Staline!", 47-8; reprinted in Kostiuk, Volodymyr Vynnychenko ta ioho doba, 64.

33.  V. Martynets, Za zuby i pazuri natsii (Paris 1937).

34.  H.H. Gerth and C.W. Mills, trans, and ed., From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York 1958), 120 ff.