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The Permanent Revolution and


the Asian Renaissance: Parallels
between the Political Conceptions of
Leon Trotsky and Mykola Khvylovy
Serhiy Hirik
Available online: 18 Sep 2009

To cite this article: Serhiy Hirik (2009): The Permanent Revolution and the Asian Renaissance:
Parallels between the Political Conceptions of Leon Trotsky and Mykola Khvylovy, Debatte: Journal
of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe, 17:2, 181-191
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DEBATTE, VOLUME 17, NUMBER 02 (AUGUST 2009)

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The Permanent
Revolution and the Asian
Renaissance: Parallels
between the Political
Conceptions of Leon Trotsky
and Mykola Khvylovy
Serhiy Hirik

Mykola Khvylovy was one of the most popular Ukranian writers and thinkers of
the 1920s (the Executed Renaissance period). His ideas had a great
influence on Ukranian intellectuals of that time. This article shows parallels
between the political views of Mykola Khvylovy and Leon Trotsky in such
important questions as the problem of the westernization of culture, the
peasant question, the role of the person in history and perspectives of the
world revolution.

Mykola Khvylovy was one of the best-known Ukrainian communist thinkers of


years 19201930 (the period of the Executed Renaissance). His influence on the
Ukrainian intellectuals was undoubtedly enormous. Naturally, writers paid
attention to his authority (especially concerning questions of literature).1
Khvylovy wrote about different themes which were of great importance at
that time. The problem of the definition of the courses of development of
modern Ukrainian literature was the most significant for him. But he also tried to

For example, the writer Petro Panch, in his speech at the funeral of Khvylovy said: We, soviet
revolutionary writers of the second appeal, almost all went out in a long unexplored journey under
the symbol of indefatigable, flaming and romantic Khvylovy (Panch 147). We should note that the
other speeches pronounced above the grave of Khvylovy differed from Panchs by their critical tone
and emphasizing of errors of the dying writer.

ISSN 0965-156X print/1469-3712 online/09/02018111 2009 Taylor & Francis


DOI: 10.1080/09651560903172241

182

SERHIY HIRIK

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raise the question of the political and economical perspectives of the Ukrainian
SSR, problems of the world revolution and other issues. It seems necessary to
note that in many of his postulates, the views defended by Khvylovy are very
close to those of Trotsky. In particular this touches the Ukrainian thinkers critical
attitude toward Stalins idea of construction of socialism in one country, with
its lack of detailed attention to the problems of proletarian revolution outside
the USSR (in particular, in the countries of Asia). The closeness of Khvylovys and
Trotskys views has already been noted. The party critics of Khvylovy and
khvylovyism, such as Andrii Khvylia, Ivan Kyrylenko, Ivan Mykytenko and others
did this in the 1920s during the Ukrainian literary discussion. Andrii Khvylia
wrote:
It is necessary to tell palazas-grannies that M.Khvylovy is not beaten for his being
a Ukrainian writer, but he is beaten for his storming the party from the tribune of
the Ukrainian literature and for his prophesying the Thermidor for the party after
Trotsky. (Khvylia 600)

In his speech at the writers grave in 1933 Kyrylenko said: In the period of years
192527 Mykola Khvylovy preached Ukrainian nationalism colored by Trotskyism
through his art and public activity (Kyrylenko 142).

Khvylovy and Trotsky as Ideologists of Westernization


It should be noted that part of the literary youth responded to the position of
Khvylovy with hostility. For example, a group of students of Kharkiv Institute
of Peoples Education (KhINO) workers faculty wrote to the editorial board
of Kultura i pobut (Khvylovys pamphlets were first printed in this journal).
The letter contained sharp criticisms of the writers ideas. Despite the fact
that discussion had just got underway and had only touched upon the theory
of art at that time, the letter emphasized political questions. According to
Myroslav Shkandrij, the position of Khvylovy was characterized as
unpatriotic; the ideas of the thinker were put into the context of party
debate between Trotsky and Stalin about the possibility of constructing
socialism in one country and both Trotsky, and Khvylovy were represented as
westernized intellectuals who did not have enough faith in their own people
(Shkandrij 87).
Of course, we cannot say that Khvylovy and Trotsky gave no grounds for such
allegations. The first slogan put forward by Khvylovy during the discussion said
Europe or Prosvita (Khvylovy Pro satanu v bochtsi 401); the term Prosvita
covers all acts of national restrictions. The writer offered to overcome these (in
the first placein literature), by targeting psychological Europe instead of
orientation toward Moscow.
Such accusations against Khvylovy after his suicide in 1933 were not heardhis
ideas were just ignored, because the leadership of Soviet Ukraine considered

POLITICAL CONCEPTIONS OF LEON TROTSKY AND MYKOLA KHVYLOVY

183

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them to be dangerous.2 During the Perestroika and, especially, after Ukraines


independence, such ideas did not irritate any more (even more as nowadays they
are taken as a historical document).
In turn, such views are criticized far more in the case of Trotsky and in 1990
Yuri Yemelianov wrote:
. . . even among the revolutionaries with their characteristic tendency to
breaking the old culture, L.D.Trotsky differed by his extreme nihilism with
regard to the cultural heritage of Russia . . . only through the cardinal westernization of the country did L.D.Trotsky see the possibility of leading it out to
the right way of the world civilization. He believed that the preparatory
phase, during which the Soviet system would be to import, hold and absorb
Western cultural achievements . . . would take a period of history. (Yemelianov
589)

Mykola Khvylovys and Leon Trotskys two similar expressions emphasize this
assessment. In his polemic against Andrij Khvylia, Khvylovy said:
he has felt the same about all young Ukrainian intellectuals and recommended
them to the central authority of the party in the same way. Just consider:
even the daughter of the October Revolution Free Academy3 (even it) in its larger
half has followed the Western European literature for a long time and did not
need Russian translations. And you are talking about all Ukrainian intellectuals.
However, unexpected news for you? (Khvylovy Ukraina chy Malorosia 595)

Khvylovy describes the level of Khvylias training as a Marxist-theorist:


Let me recommend that Napoleon . . . He has the Black sea, the HarkunZadunaiskys baggy trousers of arrogance, but he has practically no erudition.
Unfortunately, he accumulated enough only for one compilation booklet for
children of the average age. (Khvylovy Ukraina chy Malorosia 589)

There was no fully adequate description of Khvylovys ideas in Soviet Ukraine until the end of 1980.
Only his slogan away from Moscow, was mentioned, of course out of context. A typical example is
the publication of Stalins letter to Lazar Kaganovich and other members of Politburo of the Central
Committee of CP(b)U with its criticizing of khvylovyism:

Khvylovys requirements of the immediate derussification of proletariat in Ukraine, his


view that the Ukrainian poetry should flee as soon as possible from the Russian literature,
from its style, his statement that we know the ideas of the proletariat without a Moscow
art, his infatuation with a messianic role of the Ukrainian young intellectuals, and his
non-Marxist attempts to remove the culture from politics,all this and much like in the
mouth of the Ukrainian communist sounds now (it cannot do other than sound), more than
strange. While Western European proletarians and their communist parties are full of
sympathy for Moscow, for this citadel of the international revolutionary movement and
Leninism, while Western European proletarians look with admiration at the banner, flown in
Moscow, the Ukrainian communist Khvylovy has nothing to say in favor of Moscow
anything other than to urge the Ukrainian leaders to flee from Moscow as soon as
possible. (Stalin 1523)
3
The Free Academy of Proletarian Literature (VAPLite).

184

SERHIY HIRIK

The characteristics given by Trotsky to Stalin are very similar:


His political outlook is extremely narrow. His theoretical level is primitive. His
compilation book Fundamentals of Leninism, in which he tried to pay tribute to
the party traditions of theory, is filled by errors of average students. Ignorance of
foreign languages forced him to follow the political life of other countries, only
through hearsay. (Trotsky Moia zhyzn 480)

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Khvylovy and Trotsky about the Meaning of a Personality in History


Khvylovy himself admitted that there must be no class nature in the orientation
towards Europe and emphasized that the main thing that should be taken from
Europe is the type of a western person, a searcher, a revolutionary, and
answering possible remarks about the searching for superman he said:
And what about Lenin, Marx, Newton etc? Are they ordinary humans? Or do you
think that they do not differ from an enlightener? Of course, they are not the
ones creating history. The mass isnot heroes but classes. But we would be
pocket materialists if we were afraid of your ignorant remarks of idealism. It is
the difference of Marxism from alarmism that it always faces the truth directly.
There are no supermen, but there are bright individualities. (Khvylovy Pro
Kopernyka 411)

In arguing on this point with a Marxist Volodymyr Yurynets, Khvylovy refers to


Trotskys authority (let us note that this episode took place in 1926 when
solidarity with Trotsky was already rather a risky step):
Trotsky in his book Where Is Britain Going? compared Lenin with Cromwell. But
did Yurynets know that Cromwell in his time fought against communist sects?
Trotsky himself in the same book compares Lenin with Robespierre as well. But
listen to what he says next: The English social crisis of the XVII century combines
the features of the German reformation of the XVI century with features of the
French revolution of the XVIII century. In Cromwell himself Luther holds out his
hand to Robespierre! In other words the genealogy is approximately the
following: LutherCromwellRobespierre and . . . (how terrible!) Lenin.
(Khvylovy Ukraina chy Malorosia 586)

Defending the type of a western person, embodied in the image of Faust, from
attacks of Yurynets, Khvylovy writes: Dont you understand, that Dr. Faust,
leaving Gretchen at the dawn of capitalistic construction, is an individual human
type, is the European method that we all must follow? Touching the history of
Russia, Khvylovy writes:
Both Lenin and Peter the Great are the same progressive human type for us. Its
precondition is a free will, that influences economics controversially. Lenin and
Peter the Greatquite correctlyare representatives and spokesmen of different
classes, but are the Decembrists and the communist party also absolutely

POLITICAL CONCEPTIONS OF LEON TROTSKY AND MYKOLA KHVYLOVY

185

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identical social factors? Why are we not afraid of comparing ourselves with
landowner Rylyeev but are terrified of being compared with Peter, but for whom
there would be no Rylyeev, as a revolutionary factor. (Khvylovy Ukraina chy
Malorosia 588)

Khvylovy puts the same statements almost word for word into the mouth of
one of the principal characters of his novel Valdshnepy: I stand far from the
vulgar interpretation of the mass. The mass makes the revolution through its
intelligentsia, as any mass explosion becomes a revolution only when it becomes
ruled by Dantons, Lenins or Trotskies (Khvylovy Valdshnepy 228).
This moment became one of the main occasions for Khvylovys critics. Andrii
Khvylia in a brochure written especially with the aim to dethrone Khvylovys
views expressed in Valdshnepy in fact puts the sign of equality between the
character of the novel, Dmitrii Karamazov, and the author, and then he states:
in the main question, in the question of revolution, who makes it, who leads it,
Karamazov brings all to a leader, to one person. Does Karamazov now, in the
tenth year [of the revolution], assume that one person, even a brilliant one, can
make a revolution without an appropriate rise of an organized proletarian class
struggle on the territory of definite countries? Ascribing all to one person in terms
of evolution, Khvylovy gets into a trap of an alien ideology, he becomes a
spokesman of idealistic ideology. (Khvylia 574)

Let us note that we find it possible to use separate utterances from Khvylovys
literary works, in particular the novel Valdshnepy for characterization of his
views, as he could express thoughts different from official ideology more freely
there in comparison to pamphlets. Andrii Khvylia noticed this during his furious
argument with Khvylovy; the same was underlined by a less politically engaged
searcher such as Yury Sheveliov:
one might think that the [factual] writer could speak more directly and
immediately in his pamphlets, than in stories, where he was bound by plot or
style demands. It was not really so, as in conditions of severe censorship there
were more opportunities to express a personal idea through scenery, lyrical
digression, cues of characters, than in pamphlets, where the author is the only
person to speak, and where the thoughts must be expressed more or less directly.
(Sheveliov 8)

Sheveliov speaks more carefully however about Valdshnepy:


It became the custom to cite this work equally with pamphlets . . . All utterances
in Valdshnepy are put into the mouths of two main charactersDmitrii
Karamazov and Aglaia. Surely, what they say furrowed the authors brain, as he
has created them, but these are not necessarily the conclusions of Mykola
Khvylovy himself . . . everything expressed by these two characters can be taken
as Khvylovys doubts, but not everything can be taken as his crystallized views,
only something that finds its parallel in pamphlets, that is not quite everything,
as the characters of Valdshnepy get much further in their criticism of soviet
system than their creator. (Sheveliov 423)

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SERHIY HIRIK

Trotsky defended similar views, though underlining his own contribution to


revolution greatly. It was noticed by such a thoughtful reader as a philosopher
Nicolas Berdiaev. Commenting on the autobiographic book of Trotsky My Life he
wrote:

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L. Trotsky continues to believe that future is his and he wants to go on fighting for
it. The book is written for the glorification of Trotsky as a great revolutionary and
more for the humiliation of his deadly enemy Stalin as a worthless and pitiful
unoriginal follower . . . Undoubtedly, L. Trotsky is much above the rest of the
Bolsheviks if we do not take into consideration Lenin. Lenin, of course, is much
higher and stronger; he is the eyes of the revolution but Trotsky is more talented
and bright.

Berdiaev describes the theme of the book as follows:


Trotskys life highlights a topic touching a dramatic fate of the revolution;
individuality and the collective revolution, the appalling ingratitude of every
revolution crushing down and destroying one of its famous creators . . . the most
active of the revolutionaries proved to be an odd and useless person in the epoch
of revolution. This is the sad destiny of a personality. Talented and bright Trotsky,
who created the Bolsheviks revolution together with Lenin, was crashed down by
the stream of revolution.and found shelter only in Turkey. Untalented compared
to Trotsky, insignificant, not playing an important role, Stalin is a dictator, a head
of the revolution, a ruler of the destinies of Russia and maybe of the whole world
(Berdiaev 80).

In Berdiaevs view, Trotsky is a revolutionary in the old meaning of this word, in


the meaning of the nineteenth century, that is in the western meaning. Berdiaev
emphasizes: Trotsky gives the meaning of individuality, he thinks that an
individual thinking is possible:
an individual thinking, individual critics, individual initiative are possible he
believes in the role of heroic revolutionary personalities, he despises mediocrity
and lack of talent. Not accidently he was blamed for individualism and
aristocratism. He himself, an organizer of the Red Army, a supporter of the
world revolution, doesnt excite disgust as the real communism does, the
communism with a totally switched off consciousness, with no personal thought,
no personal conscience and complete belonging to the collective. (Berdiaev 81)

The Ukrainian literary critic Volodymyr Panchenko, comparing the views of


Vynnychenko and Trotsky concerning the future of human beings and the role of
personality, underlines their closeness and characterizes these conceptions as
raving about the super-human (Panchenko 185). As for Trotsky such statements
are based on the grounds of the chapter The Reshaping of Man in his work
Literature and Revolution. Trotsky laid stress on the idea of the possible
transformation of a future human, delivered from petty bourgeois narrowmindedness. Indeed his intimacy with Vynnychenko in this very case was a
model because Vynnychenko was one of the most concerned (as was Khvylovy)

POLITICAL CONCEPTIONS OF LEON TROTSKY AND MYKOLA KHVYLOVY

187

representatives of the western tradition in Ukrainian literature, public


commentary and philosophy.

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Khvylovys and Trotskys Views Toward the Peasant Question


The parallels between Khvylovys and Trotskys views regarding peasants mainly
as petty bourgeoisie elements are quite significant. It is necessary to emphasize
that in most modern studies of Khvylovy this matter is hidden, deliberately or
notreferences to his negative attitude towards the well-to-do peasantry are
politically unfavorable and that is why the vast majority of modern Ukrainian
investigators simply avoid this matter.
The general foundation for Khvylovys unreceptiveness to the idea of the
peasantry as a class (except its poorest layers) is his negotiation of so-called
hopak-sharovary culture, aspiration for the urbanization and westernization not
only of art (this is simply the most talked-about aspect of such aspiration in his
work) but of all the spheres of life. In 1925 in the very beginning of the discussion of
literature which later was transformed into a political discussion, Khvylovy wrote:
Satan in the barrel from the Hopak-sharovary enlightenment comes out of the
traditional cluster and heads toward the city . . . This is that very dear enlightenment in an embroidered shirt and with a poor outlook which used to be the
ideology of the kulaks. Now because of a lack of principles, having lost any
foundation under itself and having found unexpected possibilities for itself
(speeded up Ukrainization) it blushes and goes to profane the proletarian culture
of the town. (Khvylovy Pro satanu v bochtsi 394)

Trotsky frequently emphasized the lack of self-sufficiency of the slogan with


face to the village and the necessity only to accept it on the basis of a more
precise definition. He wrote: With face to the village and as with face to war
dangers? With face to the world revolution means firstly with face to the industry
(Trotsky Tezisy 162) (that is orientation to the peasantry is impossible without
previous orientation to the proletariat). Trotsky frequently pointed to the petty
bourgeoisie character of the soviet peasantry. According to his own words in this he
follows Lenins characteristics of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic
(RSFSR) as a country of the proletariat with an absolute majority of nonproletarian population. He pointed out: We have a workers state with the
overwhelming majority of petty bourgeoisie population in the situation of being
surrounded by capitalism (Trotsky Voprosy i otvety 71). In the writings of Karl
Radek on the basis of Trotskys program documentations of opposition About the
Opposition he states that: Opposition never denied the working-class character
of the soviet state but together with Lenin paid attention to the fact that our state
had an overwhelming majority of non-proletariat population . . . the petty bourgeois part of the population makes socialist construction by the state more
difficult (Radek 478). Among the most dangerous things in the state to which
Trotsky pointed was the disproportion in the development of agriculture and
industry. In Trotskys view exactly because of this, the economical value of the first

188

SERHIY HIRIK

grew at the cost of the latter and he suggested increasing the pressure on the
peasantry (but only on its richest layers) in order to speed up industrialization: it
is a matter . . . of pumping out extra means for the industry not from the wallet of
the peasantry (theres no wallet at all), but from the savings of the kulaks and halfkulaks upwards (Trotsky Voprosy i otvety 73).

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Views of Trotsky and Khvylovy Regarding the World Revolution


It is possible to trace a lot of parallels between the views of Khvylovy and Trotsky
concerning the future of revolution. To be more exact, the issue is about the
special role of revolutions in the East in the process of world revolution. So, in
the pamphlet Ukraine or Little Russia (Ukraina chy Malorosia (612613))
Khvylovy wrote:
today we are the contemporaries of the fall of Europe as a bourgeois type but we
are also the contemporaries and witnesses of the fall of the creative energy of
the material of people in the territory of Europe. Western society naturally
approaches spiritual impotence. The creative energy is used up, it was enough
only for two periods: it will take a lot of centuries before Europe has again the
prosperous history . . . Rome nowadays glimmers, but no Mussolini wont be able
to return the past mightiness. European communist revolutions as a prologue to
the period of the proletariat wont avoid the foreign initiative as the bourgeois
ones did. And this is understandable because the initiative will be from the place
where the fourth cultural-historical type will be made. Only those inspired by this
period can put an end to the capitalism.
But where is this mysterious country that transforms the world. It is there, in
the east. Ex oriente Lux!4

Khvylovy gave this definition to the Asian Renaissance:


Speaking about it we mean the future unprecedented prosperity of art of such
nations as China, India and so on. We understand it as the prosperity of Asian
backward countries. This Asian Renaissance must come because the ghost
ideology of communism wanders not Europe but Asia? Because Asia, realizing that
only communism can set it free from economic slavery, will use art as a force.
(Khvylovy Pro Kopernyka 417)

Ivan Dziuba characterized these postulates of Khvylovy as follows: these


declarations are either akin to Spengler or provide some alternative to Russian
Eurasians (here for the first time Khvylovy used the term Eurasia but in his
particular context). But their other aspect is more important: the stress on the
impetuous nationally based movement of the nations of the East which the
Comintern considered to be the basis of the world revolution (under the lead of
4

It is noteworthy that the vast part of this extract was quoted in the antikhvylovist publishings when
the author was alive. In spite of this fact Viktor Petrov in his famous work Ukrainian cultural workers
of the USSR 19201940victims of the Bolshevik terror considered Khvylovys views differently.
According to his point of view, Khvylovy thought that the fate of the East to be decided in Europe
(Petrov 27).

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POLITICAL CONCEPTIONS OF LEON TROTSKY AND MYKOLA KHVYLOVY

189

the European proletariat while Khvylovy on the contrary thought Asia would be
the one to wake the sleepy European proletariat) (Dziuba).
Trotsky had had similar thoughts several years before (but in a different period
of the revolution, 1919): now the time is such that big events will not happen
soon in the west. The incubative, preparatory period of revolution in the west
may last a considerably long time. The situation is imagined differently if we face
to the east (Trotsky TsK RKP 1812). That later Trotsky considered the favoring of
revolution in the east to be one of the most important purposes of working, and
to indicate the limits of the Comintern is seen from the considerable number of
his own works and from other documents of the opposition devoted to the events
of the Chinese revolutionthe number of mentions about the events of the mid1920s in China, warnings about the Kuomintang and of the necessity of separation
the communist party of China from it is not less than the number of mentions
about the other important question of Comintern work of that timethe problem
of the Anglo-Russian committee.
Stalins and his supporters postulate about the possibility of forming socialism
in one country is doubtful for Khvylovy. So, mentioning this problem in one of his
works Khvylovys character utters words in defense of this theory that are the
image of petty bourgeois transformation of the party, besides which some of the
lines of his character contain several serious factual mistakes, e.g. a statement
about the imagined proof of this thesis by Marx and Lenin5 (Khvylovy Ivan
Ivanovych 24). The absolute denial of this theory by Trotsky and this thesis: the
theory of socialism in one country is reactive because it pushes back from the
level reached by capitalism (Trotsky Mozhem li my 202) are well known and are
in direct agreement with his theory of the permanent revolution.
Of course, it is impossible to state that the system of views of Trotsky and
Khvylovy contain no differences. Speaking about closeness of their views Myroslav
Shkandrij points out: it is rather possible that Khvylovy had a certain sympathy to
Trotsky in international and common-ally questions though the main problem he
was oriented on, avoided the opposition (Shkandrij 263).6 The moment of
opposition, disagreement with the party mainstream which gave no choice for the
existence of a different point of view might have influenced Khvylovy7. It seems
5

According to the words of Arkadii Liubchenko the proto-image of this character was the editor of
Visti VUTsVK, Yevhen Kasyanenko, who after the publication of pamphlets of Khvylovy in the
newspaper edited by him suddenly took fright and explained it by his intention to show the
nationalism of Khvylovy to the public (Liubchenko 55).
6
It should be mentioned that much later, when Trotsky in 1939 raised national (Ukranian) questions
and advanced a slogan of Independent Soviet Ukraine, American communist Hugo Oehler called him
a Ukranian nationalist (Oehler The Ukraine question). Of course this idea of Trotsky is nothing
more than a curious historical and amusing incident.
7
In recollections about the activities of the Ukranian Communist Party Ivan Maistrenko writes about a
similar incident: Having been taken with the whole UCP to CP(6)U, Patrenko did not bear party
double-dealing, that was becoming Stalins fashion in the party to vote on the meeting according to
Stalins resolution, being privately against deep inside and with friends. Petrento voted for Trotzkys
resolution, first and foremost for the right for Trotskists to speak freely and criticize Stalins policy.
He was later subjected to repression for this as well all other Trotskists (Maistrenko Ukrainska
kommunistychna partia 139).

190

SERHIY HIRIK

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that such a point of view has plausibility when we take into consideration the
authors characterization of the main character of Woodcocks Dmitrii
Karamazov (which is considered to be autobiographical in many aspects) as
being constant opposition to the ruling party and at the same time being the
fanatic of communism (Khvylovy Valdshnepy 229). Anyway the parallels between
the views of Trotsky and Khvylovy testify that the theses spread in 1930 about the
hidden anti-soviet orientation and nationalism of Khvylovy, which have recently
been mentioned by the Ukranian literary critic Lubomyr Senyk (2007), are more
than just doubtful.

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