Populism, Russian and Ukrainian

Populism, Russian and Ukrainian. Ukrainian and Russian populism (narodnytstvo in Ukrainian; narodnichestvo in Russian) had certain common traits. Ukrainian and Russian populists idealized the people (narod), which, practically speaking, meant the peasantry. Populists believed that their theories reflected the interests of the peasantry, and that it was their duty to try to help them. Neither Russian nor Ukrainian ideologues developed a doctrine to which all populists of either nationality adhered; within both ideologies and movements there were various trends, sometimes similar, at other times opposed, to one another. Neither was successful in forming modern political parties, although the Ukrainian populist Mykhailo Drahomanov is considered to be the father of the peasant-based Ukrainian Radical party of Galicia. Therefore both Ukrainian and Russian populism were essentially ideologies and movements of the intelligentsia.

Classic Ukrainian and Russian populism began to crystallize following the Crimean War during the reign of the Russian tsar Alexander II, when the Russian government began enacting fundamental reforms to prepare the groundwork for the modernization of Russia. The relaxation of censorship allowed society to express itself more freely. Discussion of the reform program was at times acrimonious, especially over the terms of the emancipation of the peasantry from serfdom. In that debate the Russian radicals Aleksandr Herzen and Nikolai Chernyshevsky laid the intellectual foundations of Russian populism; for Ukrainian populists the intellectual heritage of the Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood, especially of Mykola Kostomarov and Taras Shevchenko, was of primary importance. The era of classical populism came to a close around the beginning of the 20th century, with the birth of modern political parties, many of which were rooted in the populist tradition.

The main tenets of Ukrainian populism were federalism, the emancipation of the peasantry, and the recognition of the cultural distinctiveness of the Ukrainian people (as initially espoused by the Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood, especially Mykola Kostomarov). Study of the Cossacks induced romantic visions of rebellions against landlords and national oppressors and of the existence of a Cossack republic based on equality and brotherhood. Those ideas, reinforced by the fiery poetry of Taras Shevchenko, inspired a younger generation of Ukrainophiles, some of whom were also influenced by Western European utopian socialists as well as Aleksandr Herzen, Nikolai Chernyshevsky, and the anarchist M. Bakunin.

Russian populism, as ideology, was socially more radical and utopian than Ukrainian populism. Idealizing peasant traditions, especially communal farming, Russian populist thinkers came to believe that the obshchina (peasant commune) could serve as the foundation of a future socialist Russia. By modernizing and building on the commune, Russia could bypass capitalist development and move directly to the next, higher stage, socialism. That belief served as the populists' solution to economic backwardness; the proposed reorganization of society would also end economic injustice and the exploitation of the peasantry.

The Ukrainian populist movement began with the return of the old Cyrillo-Methodians from exile, the appearance of the khlopoman movement, and the organization of hromadas in the late 1850s. The Cyrillo-Methodians were the first to formulate a populist political platform based on social and national emancipation, albeit couched in religious and romantic terms. The organization was broken up by the authorities in 1847, and its leading members were exiled. In Kyiv Volodymyr Antonovych, leader of the khlopomany, issued a typically populist manifesto, ‘Moia ispoved’' (My Confession), published in Osnova (Saint Petersburg) in 1862. In it he called on the Polish lords to renounce their privileges and work for the benefit of the people among whom they lived, the Ukrainian peasantry. The khlopomany eventually merged with other young Ukrainians to form the Hromada of Kyiv. Hromadas were organized in several cities at that time. Members, both liberals and radicals, organized Sunday schools to teach literacy to peasants and workers, supported and contributed to Ukrainian populist journals, and promoted Ukrainian scholarship. Some became involved in revolutionary activities, although the dominant trend was for peaceful change. Ukrainian populists were generally known by their contemporaries as Ukrainophiles, and the Ukrainian populist movement has been called national populist. The most prominent among them were Antonovych and Mykhailo Drahomanov, both of whom came to represent two basic trends within the movement; cautious (even apolitical) cultural work (Antonovych) and radical (activist) socialism (Drahomanov).

The fact that Ukrainian populists were involved primarily in cultural work did not protect them from repressions. Ukrainian populists were accused of being separatists, of supporting the Poles, of fomenting discontent among the peasantry, and of socialism. Some were exiled, and the Sunday schools were closed, but the biggest blow was the enactment of Petr Valuev's circular in 1863, which forbade the publication of popular, educational, and religious literature in the Ukrainian language. An assassination attempt on the tsar Alexander II in 1866 reinforced the reactionary tendencies of the government. In those conditions the hromadas became less active, but scholarly work proceeded.

The early 1870s were especially fruitful for Ukrainian scholarship. The period also saw the renewal of hromadas. Ukrainian populists in Kyiv, many of whom were also scholars, helped found the Southwestern Branch of the Imperial Russian Geographic Society in 1873 and developed it into an unofficial Ukrainian academy of sciences. By late 1874 they had gained control of the newspaper Kievskii telegraf. Also in 1874, Ukrainophiles organized and hosted the Third Archeological Congress in Kyiv, which devoted much of its program to Ukrainian topics. Closer ties were established with Western Ukrainian populists (see Western Ukrainian Populism) in the early 1870s, and cultural activists from central and eastern Ukraine helped to found the Shevchenko Society (later Shevchenko Scientific Society) and published their uncensored articles in the organ of the Galician national populists, thejournal Pravda.

The Ukrainophiles suffered major setbacks during a reaction in 1875–6. Mykhailo Drahomanov was removed from his position at Kyiv University and forbidden to teach in Ukraine; the Southwestern Branch of the Imperial Russian Geographic Society was disbanded, and its organizer, Pavlo Chubynsky, was exiled; Kievskii telegraf was shut down. The most crippling blow, however, was the proclamation of the Ems Ukase by the tsar Alexander II in May 1876, which forbade (with few exceptions) the printing of all Ukrainian-language material in the Russian Empire and its importation.

A Russian revolutionary populist movement had also activated itself by the 1870s. In all its phases the Russian movement was well represented in Ukraine as part of a general all-Russian current. Nevertheless it had its own distinctiveness in Ukraine, where objective conditions were different than in Russia. In addressing the national question some Russian populists felt that national differences would be resolved by reorganizing the empire according to federal principles. Yet the federalist concept was weakly developed, and most Russian populists did not consider the national question important. The language issue was likewise not openly addressed, although some revolutionary propaganda work was conducted in Ukrainian.

The revolutionary populist movement in Ukraine was also particularly strong. The Kharkiv-Kyiv Secret Society, founded in 1856, was one of the first revolutionary populist groups established in the Russian Empire. One of its founders, Petro S. Yefymenko, was a well-known Ukrainophile. Ukraine was one of the regions of intense activity on the part of the ‘going to the people’ movement of 1874–5. The first working-class organization in the Russian Empire, the South Russian Union of Workers, was founded by revolutionary populists in Odesa. That city was a center of intense activity on the part of populist groups, as well as Kyiv and Kharkiv. The Bakuninist trend in revolutionary populism, as exemplified by the Southern Rebels, was particularly strong in Ukraine. Narodnaia Volia was also very active there.

In certain instances there was co-operation between hromada members and Russian groups; some members of the revolutionary groups had strong ties with or were among the radical members of hromadas. Andrei Zheliabov had attended meetings of the Odesa Hromada. The radical Ukrainophile Serhii Podolynsky helped establish P. Lavrov's émigré journal, Vpered, an important organ of Russian revolutionary populism. He later argued that Ukrainians needed to establish their own socialist party. Attempts were made to establish Ukrainian revolutionary groups. Volodymyr Malovany of the Odesa Hromada was arrested and exiled for attempting to establish a Ukrainian social-revolutionary party in the early 1880s.

An attempt to form an émigré Ukrainian radical or socialist center was made by Mykhailo Drahomanov. After he was removed as a professor, Drahomanov emigrated. In Geneva he was joined by Serhii Podolynsky and Mykola Ziber. With the financial support of the Hromada of Kyiv and later of Podolynsky Drahomanov established a Ukrainian printing press and published a radical Ukrainophile journal called Hromada (Geneva). The journal was smuggled into Ukraine, where it had some influence among radical Ukrainophiles. Drahomanov initially maintained close ties with Russian revolutionaries, although a few years after emigrating he came to condemn their terrorism, centralism, and disregard of the national question.

Whereas Drahomanov was deeply involved, at least initially after emigrating, in radical politics, the Hromada of Kyiv was becoming more cautious. The government's repressive policies acted to reinforce those in favor of retrenchment and strictly apolitical, cultural work. Following Alexander II's assassination in 1881 by Narodnaia Volia members, repression intensified. By the mid-1880s the Hromada of Kyiv had decided to break with Drahomanov and cease subsidizing him. Drahomanov criticized their action and maintained that it was precisely such apoliticism that caused many young radicals to forsake the struggle for Ukrainian rights and join the Russian movement instead.

The hromadas thus limited themselves primarily to cultural work. In 1882 the Hromada of Kyiv was instrumental in founding Kievskaia starina, which became an important journal of Ukrainian studies. Significant work was done on various projects, such as a Ukrainian dictionary, completed by Borys Hrinchenko as Slovar ukraïns’koï movy (1907–9).

Populist ideals had a profound impact on Ukrainian literature in the second half of the 19th century. Early populist trends were most clearly represented by Taras Shevchenko and Marko Vovchok. By the end of the 1870s Ivan Nechui-Levytsky and Panas Myrny had written some of their most important works, and Ivan Franko had made his literary debut; in the 1880s Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky and the poet Pavlo Hrabovsky began their literary careers. Despite the ban on the Ukrainian language (see Ems Ukase), Ukrainian literature had become established in its own right by the 1880s, that is, during the period when it was most evidently populist in orientation. Populist writers began to examine new, previously unexplored, themes in Ukrainian literature, such as the role of the intelligentsia and the women's question, in addition to the well-worn theme of the fate of village folk. To avoid censorship writers from Russian-ruled Ukraine published extensively in Galicia. Ukrainian theater, also populist in orientation, was established with the formation in 1882 of the first Ukrainian professional troupe in the Russian empire, by Marko Kropyvnytsky.

Populist ideas had a great influence on Ukrainian historiography. The most important early Ukrainian populist historian was Mykola Kostomarov, but Volodymyr Antonovych, as founder of the Kyiv school of populist historiography, had a great impact as well. In addition to making his own contributions he influenced a whole generation of historians, including Mykhailo Hrushevsky and Dmytro Bahalii. Ukrainian populist historians emphasized the role of common folk and popular institutions in their works, wrote much on the Cossacks and haidamaka uprisings, and promoted regional studies. To a large degree theirs was a natural response to the stateless condition of the Ukrainian nation as well as to the statist and official schools in Russian historiography.

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Bohdan Klid

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]

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