Independence and Communism
|After the Revolution of 1905 political parties debated whether the Russian Empire was a nation-state or a multi-ethnic empire. But the collapse of the tsarist rule during the February Revolution in 1917 opened the door for an Ukrainian state with a Central Rada (parliament). After the October Revolution an independent 'Ukrainian People's Republic' was proclaimed but it lost the civil wars to the Soviets and its western part to the Second Polish Republic. The debate about Ukrainian independence moved in 1922 to a congress of Soviets where Lenin and Stalin took opposite positions. Lenin's strategy was to treat Russians, Belarussians and Ukrainians as distinct peoples. In the big cities of Ukraine the Communist party had already large support among the Russian or Russified proletariat, but the Ukrainian-speaking countryside was traditionally hostile towards the proletarian revolution. Ukrainian independence could unite farmers and workers.
Stalin advocated the 'autonomisation' of formally independent Soviet republics within a Russian Federation, which could issue economic and financial directives. Lenin criticised the Russian chauvinism of Stalin and offered the nationalities a federal state with Russia as one of the constituent republics. Lenin, the internationalist, won this battle. Hence, at the start of the 'Union of Socialist Soviet Republics' each republic got their right of secession formally guaranteed. However, the USSR became a highly centralised one-party empire through the 'Communist Party of the Soviet Union'. And in 1928 Stalin broke with Lenin's 'New Economic Policy' which included an open market and small capitalism under state supervision. The national communism of Stalin, who saw the Soviet Union surrounded by hostile bourgeois powers, relied only on itself for survival. Now ruthless collectivisation campaigns, especially in Ukraine, drove numerous peasants to cities where the Russian language was dominant and later millions into a devastating famine.