Communist Party of Ukraine

Image - Leaders of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine in 1918. Image - Petro Shelest at a Communist Party of Ukraine convention. Image - Nikita Khrushchev and Petro Shelest. Image - Leonid Brezhnev and Volodymyr Shcherbytsky

Communist Party of Ukraine or CPU (Комуністична партія України; Komunistychna partiia Ukrainy). Known until 1952 as the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine, or CP(B)U, the CPU was a part of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), which embraced the Communists of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and controled all aspects of society. The CPU accepted Marxism as its ideology and, according to its political program, claimed to be building communism in Ukraine.

The CP(B)U arose through the association of local groups of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' party (Bolshevik) (RSDRP[B]) in Ukraine. When it came to power, the Party was joined by small groups of the Borotbists and Ukrainian Communist party members as well as Jewish left-wing socialists. The founders and first leaders of the CP(B)U were predominantly Russian or Jewish members of the intelligentsia. The rank and file consisted of Russian and nationally indifferent Ukrainian workers in large industrial cities. At the time of its founding in 1918 no more than 7 percent of the Party’s membership considered itself Ukrainian. The Ukrainian policy of the CP(B)U was defined at its founding conference as follows: ‘The Conference of the CP(B)U considers the task of our party in Ukraine to be: to struggle for the revolutionary union of Ukraine with Russia on the principles of proletarian centralism within the boundaries of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic.’

The Bolsheviks in Ukraine separated themselves from the Mensheviks and formed their own organizations only in 1917. In the summer of 1917 the Central Committee (CC) of the RSDRP(B) brought the Bolsheviks in Ukraine under two territorial organizations: the regional organization of southwest Ukraine, with a central office in Kyiv, and a provincial organization of the Donbas-Kryvyi Rih Basin, with offices in Kharkiv and Katerynoslav. The Kyiv Bolsheviks, influenced by Ukrainian national Communists, had a greater respect for the Ukrainian national revolution and voted against preparations for the October Revolution of 1917, considering it unrealistic under the prevailing conditions in Ukraine. The Bolshevik groups from Kharkiv, however, favored the seizure of power by the soviets. At the Party conferences held in July and December of 1917 Volodymyr Zatonsky, Vasyl Shakhrai, and Yurii Lapchynsky demanded that the Bolshevik organizations throughout Ukraine be merged into one Ukrainian Communist party, which would participate in the Ukrainian national revolution in order to gain control of it. The CC of the RSDRP(B) and the Kharkiv-Katerynoslav organizations, however, underestimated the importance and strength of the national renaissance in Ukraine and tried to separate themselves from Ukraine by creating the ‘independent’ Donets–Kryvyi Rih Soviet Republic in Ukraine’s industrial region. Only in 1918, when events forced the Bolsheviks to recognize the existence of the Ukrainian National Republic and then to begin military operations against it and to set up their own government in Kharkiv to challenge the authority of the Central Rada, did the Bolsheviks agree to form a single Communist Party of Ukraine. At the Tahanrih Bolshevik Conference on 20 April 1918 Mykola Skrypnyk, with the support of the Kyiv Bolsheviks, overcame the opposition of the Russian delegates and forced through a resolution setting up the CP(B)U as an independent party with no organizational subordination to the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) (RCP[B]).

However, the first congress of the CP(B)U, which took place in Moscow on 5–12 July 1918, revoked the resolution of Tahanrih and declared that the CP(B)U was an integral part of the RCP(B) and was subject to its central committee. There was a fierce struggle over revolutionary tactics in Ukraine between the Kyiv and Kharkiv-Katerynoslav groups at this and the two subsequent congresses. After each unsuccessful attempt of the CP(B)U to gain the support of the Ukrainian people, particularly in 1919 and 1920, a Ukrainian national opposition (led by Vasyl Shakhrai, Yurii Lapchynsky, and later the former Borotbists) sprang up in the Party, demanding its separation from the RCP(B). But Moscow and the Russian majority in the CP(B)U consistently suppressed each opposition group, treating it as a manifestation of Ukrainian nationalism.

The CP(B)U came to power in Ukraine only through the support of the Bolshevik occupation army (see Ukrainian-Soviet War, 1917–21) and had to move its headquarters to Moscow several times. It became firmly established only after the final occupation of Ukraine by the Bolsheviks. The Party was not very large or popular (see table 1). Only 19 percent of its membership in 1926 was Ukrainian, even after the left wing of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Workers' party (Independentists) and the Borotbists (Ukrainians constituted 52 percent of the industrial proletariat at the time) had joined the Party. Politically the CP(B)U was sectarian, and its socioeconomic policies encountered popular resistance from the very beginning. In introducing War Communism in Ukraine, the Party did not want to distribute the landowners’ estates among the peasantry; instead it tried to turn them forcibly into state farms and communes. Along with the government requisition of farm products, this policy sparked peasant revolts. In 1920 a Workers’ Opposition emerged in the CP(B)U which, with the help of workersstrikes, took over the leadership of the Party at the fourth congress and revoked the economic policy of War Communism. This faction was suppressed by administrative means by the Central Committee of the RCP(B).

The power of the CP(B)U became firmly established in Ukraine only during the period of the New Economic Policy, and particularly after the Borotbists and Ukrainian Communist party had joined the Party. A struggle over nationality policy continued in the Party throughout the 1920s. When, in 1922–3, Joseph Stalin and the CC of the RCP(B) renewed their proposal to abolish the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and the other Union republics and to incorporate them as autonomous republics into the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, the Politburo of the CC of the CP(B)U rejected the proposal, and the Ukrainian delegates in Moscow, led by Mykola Skrypnyk, Hryhorii Hrynko, and Oleksander Shumsky and supported by the national Communists of other republics and by Vladimir Lenin, overcame the Russian chauvinists in the Party. They saved the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, although they had to accept a compromise in the form of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a federated state (see National communism).

A more serious conflict in the CP(B)U arose over Ukrainization. The non-Ukrainian majority in the Party, led by Emmanuil Kviring and Dmytro Lebid, stubbornly opposed both the promotion of Ukrainian personnel to the Party’s and republic’s leadership and the propagation of the Ukrainian language and culture. This pro-Russian wing was sharply attacked by the national opposition in the Party, led by Oleksander Shumsky and Mykola Khvylovy and widely supported by the Ukrainian intelligentsia and young people as well as by Mykola Skrypnyk. Faced with this united front, the CC of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) (VKP[B]) recalled Kviring from Ukraine. But in 1925 it replaced him at the head of the CP(B)U with Lazar Kaganovich and instructed Kaganovich not to stop Ukrainization, but to divide the Ukrainian national Communists and suppress them. Kaganovich fulfilled his assignment. Skrypnyk and some of the Ukrainian Communists were forced to take a stand against Shumsky and Khvylovy, who, distrusting the Russian chauvinist bureaucracy, issued the call ‘away from Moscow.’ During 1926–8, 36,300 members, or 12.5 percent of the membership, were expelled from the CP(B)U. The Communist Party of Western Ukraine supported the Shumskyists. At the same time the CP(B)U conducted a struggle against the Trotskyist Left Opposition within its ranks.

After his victory over Leon Trotsky and Nikolai Bukharin, Joseph Stalin established his dictatorship over the Party and government. Political power was strictly centralized in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and both the Party and society became bureaucratized. Stalin’s centralization found a natural ally in Russian chauvinism and its champion—the Russian bureaucracy. Local national autonomy was seen as a hindrance; hence, in 1933–4 Stalin abruptly changed the nationality policy of the VKP(B). He condemned ‘local nationalism’ as the principal enemy of centralism and ordered that Ukrainization be stopped. During this period the forced collectivization of the peasantry and the elimination of the kulaks were carried out, accompanied by famine. The CP(B)U went through a severe crisis during these changes of policy: in the first phase of collectivization and the anti-kulak campaign in 1929–30, 26,700 members were expelled, and some of them were arrested. During the Famine-Genocide of 1932–3, 51,000 more members were expelled. The demands of Mykola Skrypnyk and some of the other leaders of the CP(B)U that obligatory grain delivery quotas be lowered and the famine stopped were regarded by Stalin as placing the interests of the Ukrainian peasantry above the interests of socialism, and Skrypnyk’s followers were accused of nationalism. Immediately after this, Ukrainization was halted, and its promoters, as well as numerous Ukrainian writers and cultural figures, were killed. An additional 27,500 members were expelled from the CP(B)U. During the whole crisis 46 percent of the CP(B)U’s membership was expelled and persecuted, including 49 percent of the members of its Central Committee.

The campaign of terror was directed by the second secretary of the CC of CP(B)U, Pavel Postyshev, who was sent from Moscow in January 1933 with a large number of Russians to replace the purged officials and to take over the Party and government machine in Ukraine. Postyshev eliminated every Ukrainian Communist who at any time had been a Borotbist, Ukapist, Shumskyist, Skrypnykist, Trotskyist, or any other oppositionist. Almost the whole generation of revolutionaries that had created the CP(B)U and established Soviet power in Ukraine was destroyed. Although new members were admitted to the Party in 1934 and the proportion of Ukrainians increased to 60 percent, the new members were careerists who blindly accepted every change of policy. Twenty percent of the CP(B)U’s members were apparatchiks, that is, employees of the Party, while the proportion of workers decreased from 58.5 percent in 1921 to 41.1 percent in 1933. The Party’s new statutes of 1934 transformed it into an economic-administrative institution that began to control all sectors of society. The CP(B)U enforced a monolithic discipline among its members by means of privileges and fear.

In 1936–8 the completely loyal CP(B)U underwent another great purge. Considering war with Germany and Japan to be inevitable, Joseph Stalin decided to uproot well in advance all ‘potential double-dealers’ who could become ‘traitors.’ In 1936, 45,000 members of the CP(B)U were expelled and arrested. In 1937–8, during theYezhov terror, another 162,000 members, or over 50 percent of the Party’s total membership, were purged. In the course of this campaign even Pavel Postyshev and Stanislav Kosior (first secretary of the CC of the CP(B)U in 1930–37) turned against Stalin and were executed. In the second half of 1937 almost all the members of the CC CP(B)U and the government of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic were shot. In 1938 Nikita Khrushchev, with a large group of Russian Communists, came from Moscow to take over the leadership of the CP(B)U. He also promoted hitherto-unknown Ukrainian Party functionaries of the raion level to important positions in the Party and the government.

In the 1930s the CP(B)U finally lost all contact with the Ukrainian people. The lack of popular support became apparent during the German-Soviet war, when the Party could neither organize a strong underground in the German-occupied territories nor bring the popular-resistance movement under its leadership. Almost all Party members either fled east or were mobilized into the army. Not more than 1 percent of the CP(B)U membership remained in Ukraine, and most of these members fought with the Soviet partisans in Polisia, not in the underground.

After the Second World War, as a result of its powerful administrative machine, based primarily on the secret police, the CP(B)U quickly consolidated its authority in Ukraine and organized the reconstruction of the economy. But politically and ideologically it remained a lifeless body: no programmatic, theoretical, or international-political problems were discussed at its congresses any longer. There was no opposition in the Party. The mild purges of 1946 and 1949–52, in which 3 percent of the members were expelled from the Party for inactivity, disloyalty during the war, or manifestations of Ukrainian ‘nationalism’ or Jewish ‘cosmopolitanism,’ did not disrupt the general routine. The only ideological problem that perturbed the CP(B)U after the war was ‘Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism.’ In accordance with the directives of Andrei Zhdanov and Lazar Kaganovich, the CP(B)U became a manifest champion of Russian chauvinism: praising everything Russian, it cultivated an inferiority complex among Ukrainians, systematically hampered and destroyed Ukrainian culture, and permitted extensive Russification of Ukrainian education. The Russification policy and chauvinist propaganda reached their greatest intensity during the secretariat of Leonid Melnikov in 1950–3. Joseph Stalin’s death and, particularly, Nikita Khrushchev’s criticism of Stalin at the 20th Congress of the CPSU, followed by the defeat of the opposition led by Viacheslav Molotov, Lazar Kaganovich, Georgii Malenkov, and Georgii Zhukov in 1956–8, ended in the condemnation of Stalinism, but not of Russian chauvinism. The Communist Party of Ukraine continued to be a force hostile to the Ukrainian people. The fact that only a little more than 2 percent of Ukraine’s population belonged to the Party testifies to its unpopularity. In 1956, for every 1,000 inhabitants of Ukraine, only 22 were Communists (38 in the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic).

By the end of 1958 the CPU had 1,095,520 members and candidates. Of these, 60.3 percent were Ukrainian, 28.2 percent Russian, and 11.5 percent of other nationality. Twenty-five percent of the members had joined the Party before the war, 33 percent during the war and 42 percent after the Second World War. According to age, 17.6 percent of the members were 30 or under, 36.9 percent were 31–40, 28.2 percent were 41–50, and 17.3 percent were over 50. Women constituted 17.5 percent of the membership. Forty percent of the members had completed secondary education and higher education (in 1940 only 19 percent had done so). Twenty-nine percent of the members were employed in industry, construction, and transportation, 19 percent in agriculture, and 52 percent in administrative or academic work. (The respective figures for 1949 were 35 percent, 19 percent, and 46 percent.) The Party consisted of 52,983 local cells, attached to various plants, institutions, organizations, villages, and towns.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, when Mykola Pidhirny (Podgorny) and Petro Shelest were first secretaries of the CPU, some elements of the Party adopted a position on the nationality question that diverged somewhat from extreme Russian chauvinism. At the same time cautious attempts were made to increase the Party’s membership. In January 1959 only 5.05 percent of the population in Ukraine over 20 years of age belonged to the CPU, compared to the 6.6 percent of the Soviet population that belonged to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and 7.81 percent of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic population. Pidhorny and Shelest tried to expand the Party rapidly. Between the 20th congress in 1959 and the 24th congress in 1971 the CPU grew from 1,282,500 to 2,534,600 members and candidates, an increase of 97.6 percent. At the same time the CPSU grew by only 43 percent.

With the general increase in membership the proportion of Ukrainians in the CPU increased also (see table 2). In spite of these results, the number of members and candidates, even in 1971, remained disproportionately small. To some extent the continued weakness of the CPU was attributable to its weakness in the western oblasts of Ukraine. The reduced, but by no means eliminated, under-representation of Ukrainians in the CPU also reflected the privileged position of the Russians in Ukraine. Furthermore, the position of Ukrainians in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was relatively weak: in 1967 only 4.9 percent of all Ukrainians (residing in or outside Ukraine) were members of the CPSU, compared to 6.4 percent of Georgians, 6.1 percent of Russians, 5.6 percent of Armenians, and 4.7 percent of Belarusians.

Petro Shelest tried to defend the economic interests of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, particularly its coal and other heavy industries. Some steps were also taken to improve national-cultural conditions in Ukraine. In August 1965, with the approval of the Party leadership, plans were drawn up to partly de-Russify the institutions of higher learning, which are under the Ministry of Higher Education of the Ukrainian SSR. But the plans were never implemented, owing to ‘parental protest.’ Instead, in August and September 1965, on orders from the Kremlin, the first wave of arrests swept Ukraine (see Dissident movement). To protest this persecution of nationally conscious Ukrainian intellectuals, Ivan Dziuba addressed a memorandum to Shelest—a book-length manuscript entitled Internatsionalizm chy rusyfikatsiia? (Internationalism or Russification?). In November 1966 Shelest spoke at the Fifth Congress of the Writers' Union of Ukraine and promised Party support for those who cultivated ‘our beloved wonderful Ukrainian language.’ In March 1968 Fedir Ovcharenko, who was relatively sympathetic to the needs of the Ukrainian intellectuals, was appointed secretary for ideology at the CC of the CPU. Shelest’s book Ukraïno nasha radians'ka (Our Soviet Ukraine) appeared in 1970. In it the development of the Ukrainian SSR into a mighty European state was presented in the spirit of Leninist nationality policy. The book extolled the Cossack period of Ukrainian history, approved of the Ukrainization policy of the 1920s, and avoided excessive praise of the Russians.

This development of the CPU was cut short by the CPSU Politburo, which in May 1972 removed Petro Shelest from office and appointed Leonid Brezhnev’s protégé, Volodymyr Shcherbytsky, first secretary of the CPU. Earlier, in January 1972, another wave of arrests aimed at Ukrainian intellectuals had begun. In October 1972 Fedir Ovcharenko was replaced by Valentyn Malanchuk, who in 1979 was replaced by Oleksander Kapto.

Shcherbytsky’s appointment signaled an intensification of the Party’s anti-Ukrainian policy. The Party purge of 1973–5, connected with the renewal of membership documents, affected the CPU (4.6 percent of the members were expelled) more than the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (2.9 to 3.2 percent of its members were expelled).

At the 25th Congress of the CPU in 1976, Volodymyr Shcherbytsky gave his main speech in Russian, an unprecedented step since Joseph Stalin's death. At this congress I. Sokolov, a Russian, was elected second secretary in charge of cadres of the CC of the CPU. Again, this was the first time since 1953 that a non-Ukrainian had been given such an important post in the Party machine.

On 1 January 1978 the CPU had 2,749,268 members and candidates. By nationality 65.8 percent of the members were Ukrainians, 27.3 percent were Russians, and 6.9 percent were of other nationalities. The number of Ukrainians in the Party remained disproportionately small: according to the census of 17 January 1979, Ukrainians constitute 73.6 percent, Russians 21.1 percent, and others 5.3 percent of the republic's population. The number of Ukrainians in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was also relatively small: in 1976 only 9 percent of Ukrainians over 20 years of age were members of the CPSU, compared to 12.8 percent of Georgians, 12.3 percent of Azerbaidzhanians, 12.2 percent of Kazakhs, 11.4 percent of Russians, and 9.6 percent of Belarusians.

Five percent of CPU members in 1978 had joined the Party before the war, 10 percent during the war, and 85 percent after the Second World War (16 percent in 1946–57, 38 percent in 1958–67, and 31 percent in 1968–77). By age the statistics were as follows: members 30 years and younger, 15.5 percent; 31–40, 26.3 percent; 41–50, 26.1 percent; and over 50, 32.1 percent. Women accounted for 22.9 percent of the members. Of the members, 74.5 percent had completed secondary or higher education (26.7 percent had a higher education). In terms of occupation, 43.2 percent of the members and candidates were workers, 16.2 percent were peasants belonging to collective farms, and 40.6 percent were functionaries, etc. The members were employed in the following branches of the economy: 41.9 percent in industry, construction, and transportation; 16.2 percent in agriculture; and 41.9 percent in other areas.

The members of the CPU belonged to 64,500 primary organizations, which existed at various plants, institutions, organizations, and localities. The primary Party organizations elect delegates to raion Party conferences, which in turn elected delegates to oblast conferences; these then elected delegates directly to the all-Union congresses of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and to the republican congresses of the CPU. The local organizations at each level were directed by Party committees headed by secretaries. The republican congress of the CPU elected the CC of the CPU every five years. The permanent agencies of the CC and the top governing agencies of the CPU were: on political policy, the Politburo of the CC of the CPU (called the Presidium in 1953–66), which consisted of 7–11 members; and, on organizational matters, the Secretariat of the CC of the CPU, consisting of 3–6 members. The entire Party machine was headed by the first secretary of the CC of the CPU.

It would appear that with the possible exception of Vitalii Fedorchuk and Volodymyr Shcherbytsky, leaders of the CPU had not contributed substantially to Yurii Andropov’s or Konstantin Chernenko’s accession to power as general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on 12 November 1982 and 13 February 1984 respectively—quite a difference from the important role that CPU leaders played in the accession of Nikita Khrushchev (1953) and Leonid Brezhnev (1964).

Yaroslav Bilinsky, Vsevolod Holubnychy

[This part of this article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]

The Gorbachev Era, 1985–91. In March 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev was installed as General Secretary of the CPSU, and shortly thereafter he launched his program of perestroika within the Party itself and by extension to the entire Soviet political system. This new policy aimed at rejuvenating Soviet socialism was to be executed in the union republics as well, carried out by local branches of the CPSU, including the CPU in Ukraine. Volodymyr Shcherbytsky, the CPU First Secretary, however, a client of Leonid Brezhnev, was not inclined to follow suit being conservative in outlook and entrenched in position. Gorbachev at first tolerated this non-conformity, apparently preferring stability over unpredictable social change. Yet this did not mean approval; Shcherbytsky, who had received the Order of the October Revolution from Moscow on his sixtieth birthday in 1978, and the same again in 1982, was not so honored on his seventieth in 1988, a significant lapse in Soviet honorific rituals. By 1989, the General Secretary was beginning to show impatience with the lack of transformation within the CPU and its domain. In an apparent effort to undermine First Secretary Shcherbytsky or to encourage him to step aside, the Second and unranked other Secretaries within the CPU central apparat, in addition to other officials, were replaced. Gorbachev even paid a visit to Kyiv in February 1989, indicative of his impatience, but to no avail. Finally, in September, Shcherbytsky was, in the presence of Gorabchev on the latter’s second visit to Kyiv that year, replaced as CPU First Secretary by Volodymyr Ivashko. The latter’s brief time in office was unremarkable, though, being as resistant to change as his predecessor. When Ivashko resigned in July 1990 to take up the post of Gorbachev’s deputy in Moscow, he was succeeded by yet another conservative, Stanislav Hurenko. Of the three tendencies within the Party at the time stimulated by the volatile circumstances of the day (the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe)—reformist, nationalist, and reactionary—the latter won out decisively. Even the formation of a Democratic Platform inside the Party proved unviable. Instead of dividing over reform, the CPU split into advocates of centrism and its opposite. The national communist trend was then taken up by its ideological secretary, Leonid Kravchuk, but he led it as chair of the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR and not as head of the Party. Kravchuk was elected to this post by the ‘bloc of 239’ communists controlling the Supreme Soviet following the 1990 elections. In fact, the nationally-minded communists abandoned the CPU altogether, and the Party was then split between sovereigntists and imperialists. The CPU never did take up Gorbachev’s perestroika in earnest.

In the wake of the abortive August coup in Moscow in 1991, the CPU was banned, its departing national wing trading in their membership cards to follow Leonid Kravchuk’s bandwagon. The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR, in two decrees on 26 and 30 August 1991, froze the assets of the Party and banned it for supporting the coup considered as an attempt to change forcibly the constitutional order. Later, on 27 December 2001, following a decade of controversy, petitioning, and argument, the Constitutional Court by a razor-thin majority struck down the two decrees as an infringement on freedom of association guaranteed by the Constitution. Banned or not, the remaining Communists’ organizational structure was left largely intact. At the start of 1991, the CPU had nearly three million members.

Since 1991. While one group of ex-Communists went on to found the Socialist Party of Ukraine as a replacement for the CPU as early as October 1991, others, along with those dissatisfied with membership in the Socialist party, waited for the suspension to be lifted on 14 May 1993 and held their ‘renewal’ conference in Donetsk in June 1993. Petro Symonenko was elected First Secretary, others in the leadership being L. Hrach, V. Lutsenko, O. Kotsiuba, and Ye. Marmazov. The party was registered with the ministry of justice on 5 October 1993, and in March 1995, at its second congress, adopted its program. In 1996 the party had a membership of 80,000. Its program described the CPU as a party of the working class, convinced of the victory of socialism, and of fighters for communism. Its aims were: displacement of the ‘bourgeois-nationalist’ and ‘anti-socialist’ forces then in power and restoration of the soviets (rady) of toilers’ deputies; restoration as well of social ownership and state direction of the economy and of social processes; leading the country out of the crisis; and renewal of the brotherhood of nationalities. The party was described as being a ‘disloyal opposition’ with a vision that appealed mostly to an older generation nostalgic for the USSR and the Soviet past.

In the 1998 election campaign, the CPU’s platform deplored the ruin brought upon the country by the restoration of capitalism, and emphatically distinguished itself from its own earlier namesake which was said to have contained nothing but timeservers who in the guise of pseudo-democratic parties have been helping themselves to the state trough. It offered to replace by constitutional means the ‘new Ukrainians’ then in power and to return power into the hands of the toilers (to restore Soviet power), to wage a fierce war against shady business, organized crime, and corruption, and to protect working people from foreign exploitation. Its appeal was addressed specifically to workers, peasants, managers, scientists, intellectuals, women, youth, servicemen, veterans, invalids, Chornobyl nuclear disaster victims, and the private producers who did not exploit labor. The platform promised to restore people’s lost savings, pay wages and pensions on time, give more autonomy to local governments, cleanse the Ukrainian language from diaspora impurities, publish the names of whoever had stolen the nation’s wealth, and ensure the supremacy of law.

In the 1994–98 Supreme Council of Ukraine, elected on strict majoritarian principles which delayed final results indefinitely, the CPU had the largest caucus beginning with a maximum of 91 deputies, and thus held the assembly’s speakership as well as chairing its key committees. It also had the highest degree of party discipline when it came to voting. In the 1998 elections it nominated a full slate of 225 for its party list, one of only two parties to do so (the other being the Hromada party). It obtained by far the largest percentage of votes, 24.7 percent, and received 84 party list seats. When combined with its 39 seats won in single-member districts, this gave the Communists 123 deputies, the largest contingent in the 450-seat parliament. Its leader failed seven times to be elected speaker of the Supreme Council, but the party’s Second Secretary, Adam Martyniuk, was chosen as first vice-speaker. The party was staunchly anti-government and anti-President Leonid Kuchma. It published the newspaper Komunist, deliberately intended to underscore continuity with its Soviet namesake. At the end of 1998 the Communist caucus in parliament numbered 122, and was led by Petro Symonenko. It was still wedded to Leninism, historical materialism, and class struggle, opposed to any kind of economic reform or cooperation with any other parties on the left. On 1 January 1999 it had approximately 140,000 members.

Petro Symonenko was his party’s candidate in the 1999 presidential elections, losing to the incumbent Leonid Kuchma in the second round with a total of 37.8 percent of the vote. The CPU’s relative success in the 1998–99 elections was due not merely to nostalgia on the part of its voters, as commonly assumed, but to better organization. It was, of course, limited by competition from the Socialist Party of Ukraine, the Agrarians Party of Ukraine, and various other leftist parties, although it was far more conservative and inflexible. By January 2000 the CPU membership had increased to 160,000, but nearly half were unemployed or retired.

After the formation of a pro-government majority in the Supreme Council of Ukraine in early 2000, the Communists were deprived of all parliamentary offices and relegated to the status of permanent opposition. Despite its strength in the electorate, the party’s influence in parliament waned. Its most dramatic action was to introduce the motion of non-confidence which brought down the government of Viktor Yushchenko in April 2001, but the same caucus refused to vote in his successor, Anatolii Kinakh. On 13 June 2001 the party’s caucus consisted of 113 deputies.

In the elections to the Supreme Council of Ukraine held on 31 March 2002, under a mixed electoral system, the CPU’s platform offered to restore popular power, crush corruption and crime, and put into effect a socialist formula of change to ensure full employment, free education and medical care, as well as security in old age. It undertook to halt theft of state assets, to put working people in charge of government, to end the destruction of the Donets Basin and in particular the mining industry, to abolish the VAT, to stop all privatizations of a criminal nature with strategic enterprises remaining in state hands, to reduce the size and cost of the public service, and to develop closer relations with member-states of the Commonwealth of Independent States while cutting ties altogether with the United States. On a practical level, it promised to liquidate the wages deficit, increase pensions and allowances, lower prices on services and necessities, renew the housing stock, guarantee free medicare, restore personal savings lost through inflation, and change the country over into a parliamentary-presidential republic. It thereby managed to maintain its second-place position on the proportional ballot by winning 20.0 percent of the vote, just behind Viktor Yushchenko’s Nasha Ukraina bloc with 23.6 percent. This gave the CPU 59 seats, which combined with the seven obtained in contests in single majority districts produced a disappointing total of 66, putting it in fourth place over all. The discrepancy in the two ballots was attributable in part to the greater ability of well-heeled ‘independent’ and other candidates at buying votes in the single majority districts by means of the proverbial package of buckwheat groats (hrechka). In part, the CPU’s poorer showing may also have been due to its ambivalent stance toward President Leonid Kuchma in the wake of the Heorhii Gongadze scandal, as the party was reluctant to criticize the President or to advocate his impeachment. There was in general evidently a rightward shift of the electorate in 2002.

In 2002–3, however, the CPU collaborated with the Socialist Party of Ukraine, the Yuliia Tymoshenko Bloc, and Nasha Ukraina in organizing massive anti-government demonstrations.

Petro Symonenko was again his party’s standard-bearer in the presidential contest in 2004, but performed less well, obtaining on the first round just under five percent of the vote. This put him in fourth place, behind Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych each with about 39 percent and Oleksandr Moroz, the Socialist leader, with 5.8 percent. His greatest support came from the south and east; the least, from western Ukraine. This signified the beginning of a serious decline in the fortunes of the CPU under its current leadership, foreshadowing the takeover of its support base by Yanukovuch’s Party of Regions.

The elections of 2006 and 2007 were conducted on the basis of straight proportional representation, with thresholds of four and three percent, respectively. In contesting the 26 March 2006 elections to the Supreme Council of Ukraine, the CPU offered practically the same platform as in 2002. This differed primarily in reverting to the Soviet-style slogan ‘All Power to the Working People!’ It included specific promises: to devote 10 percent of GDP to the needs of villages as well as 3 percent to science and applied research; to prevent the rehabilitation of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army; to strengthen ties to the Russian Federation; and to nationalize strategically important enterprises. In keeping with Russian Imperial traditions, it vowed to prevent ‘the destruction of canonical Orthodoxy’ (i.e., to defend the predominant position of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate), and to make the production and distribution of tobacco and alcohol a state monopoly. On this basis, the party secured 3.7 per cent of the vote, putting it in fifth place with just 21 seats, its worst showing to date. The Party of Regions, meanwhile, obtained 32.1 percent of the popular vote and 186 seats. Nevertheless, the CPU joined the caucases of the Socialist Party of Ukraine and the Party of Regions to form the parliamentary majority.

The extraordinary parliamentary elections on 30 September 2007 motivated the CPU to dramatically revise portions of its platform. Obviously reacting to the preceding session, it offered: to turn Ukraine into a parliamentary republic, abolishing the presidency altogether; to decide critical questions by means of referendums; to elect and to recall judges; to ensure that the economy operates for the working public, not oligarchs; to review the legality of previous privatizations; to make the manufacture of pharmaceuticals a state monopoly; to have 50 percent of agricultural production included in state orders; to provide young families with forgivable homebuilding loans; to increase family allowances and student stipends; to allow dual citizenship; and to bring in new taxes on profits, wealth, and luxuries. As first order of business, a Communist government would, it said: draft a new Constitution designating Ukraine a neutral, non-NATO state; approve the new Constitution; and hold a referendum on the country’s entry into NATO, non-confidence in President Viktor Yushchenko, and giving Russian the status of second state (official) language. By abolishing the presidency as well as by cutting in half expenditure on the public service, among other measures, it would save enough to afford the social services promised. This paid off modestly, giving the CPU 5.4 percent of the popular vote and 27 seats. Indicative of its remaining organizational strength, the CPU had managed to nominate 444 candidates for its party list. On 11 March 2010 the party joined the governing coalition ‘Stability and Reforms.’ On 27 April 2010 the entire caucus of the CPU voted for ratification of the agreement extending the presence of the Russian Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian territory until 2042.

While the party as a whole may have been experiencing a small revival with the electorate and in the national assembly at this time, its leader was not. In the 2010 presidential elections, where the frontrunners were Viktor Yanukovych and Yuliia Tymoshenko, the CPU leader, Petro Symonenko, maintained his fourth place standing with 3.5 percent of the vote. He was eclipsed even by the fallen star of the Orange Revolution, Viktor Yushchenko.

The 28 October 2012 elections to the Supreme Council of Ukraine saw a sudden rise in the CPU’s vote share, to 13.2 per cent on the PR ballot, which translated into 32 seats. But the party won none of the 225 SMD contests, thus remaining in fourth place overall. The Communists could derive some compensation from their victory over Viktor Yushchenko’s Nasha Ukraina and Oleksandr Moroz’s Socialist Party of Ukraine who were shut out of the Supreme Council altogether.

The 2013–14 Euromaidan Revolution marked the beginning of the endgame for the CPU. In January 2014 the entire CPU caucus voted to approve Viktor Yanukovych’s dictatorial decrees, and later declined to vote for their abolition. It failed to support the decree condemning the regime’s use of violence, but did agree with the one on Yanukovych’s desertion of office. It subsequently called the temporary government ‘fascists,’ and defended the renegades in the Donets Basin against the charge of separatism while egging them on. The Speaker of the Supreme Council and Acting President, Oleksandr Turchynov, retaliated by disbanding the Communist faction in the Supreme Council. The popular verdict on the CPU was rendered first in the presidential elections, where Petro Symonenko’s name drew only 1.5 percent of voters, and in the 26 October 2014 Supreme Council elections, when the party obtained 3.9 percent and was denied representation being below the 5 percent cutoff. It still managed to nominate 204 candidates for its party list. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice had begun proceedings to ban the CPU altogether. On the basis of the Decommunization law coming into effect in May 2015, activities by the CPU were forbidden. This prohibition then became subject to endless appeals by the party, which prevented the ban’s implementation. Thus the CPU continued to function in 22 oblasts, to make periodic reports as legally required to the National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NAZK), to recruit members, and to be registered as a political party. As of 2018, according to its leader, the party still had 50,000 members. In December 2019 it held a scientific conference on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of Joseph Stalin’s birth. At the beginning of 2019 the CPU once again nominated Petro Symonenko as candidate for the presidency of Ukraine, but the Central Election Commission declined to register it.

Bohdan Harasymiw

[This part of this article was written in 2020.]

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