The Guardian • Issue #2021

The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic

Revolution and Civil War 1897 to 1920

Postcard of a cathedral in Odessa, Ukraine, 1900-1914 c.

Misinformation on the Ukraine is everywhere, especially if you happen to be in a Western country like Australia. Where do we find accurate information, especially from a Marxist-Leninist outlook? The Great Soviet Encyclopedia is a good place to start. Published in three editions from the 1920s to the 1970s, it is one of the largest encyclopedias in the world, with over 100,000 entries written by an army of scholars.

Since the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) was one of the founding members of the USSR (when it was established in 1922), the entry on the Ukraine is long and detailed. It covers geography, climate, flora and fauna, history, and gives significant attention to economic development. The Ukrainian SSR was one of the largest republics in land area and population, and it was a mining, industrial, and agricultural powerhouse of the Soviet Union.

Here I provide an edited translation of the section concerning the period of proletarian revolution and civil war, from the late 19th century to 1920.


In 1897, an organisation called “Union of Struggle” was established in Kiev and Yekaterinoslav. This organisation was inspired by the “Union of Struggle for the Liberation of the Working Class,” which was founded in St Petersburg. The Ukrainian “Union of Struggle” led workers’ strikes, carried out revolutionary propaganda and agitation, printed and distributed leaflets.

The characteristic features of the economy of the Ukraine, as well as of the whole of Russia, at the beginning of the 20th century were the emergence of large monopolistic associations, the dominance of foreign capital in important industries (coal, metallurgy), and the preservation of remnants of serfdom. The bourgeois-landlord exploitation of Ukrainian workers and peasants was aggravated by the great-power, reactionary policy of Tsarism. Ukrainian culture, leading cultural figures, the Ukrainian language, the press, theatres, etc. were persecuted.

The main content of the liberation movement of the Ukrainian people in the early 20th century was the struggle against Tsarism; the struggle for social and national liberation; for the reunification of the Western Ukrainian population with the entire Ukrainian people. In its class content, this movement merged with the revolutionary struggle of the Russian and other peoples of the Russian Empire against Tsarism and capitalism. The defining factor was the unity of the Russian and Ukrainian working class in the spirit of proletarian internationalism.


As a result of mass strikes and revolutionary activities in 1905-1907, Soviets of Workers’ Deputies were established in Kiev, Yekaterinoslav, Odessa, Nikolaev, Yuzovka and other cities of the Ukraine. Revolutionary actions in the army and navy were carried out. The large industrial centres of the Ukraine were gripped by political strikes. An armed uprising began in Donbass, the centre of which was Gorlovka. The ongoing peasant unrest was accompanied by the destruction of landlord estates. In 1906, the gradual decline of the revolutionary wave in the cities began.

During the reaction in 1907-1910, Bolshevik organisations were persecuted. Ukrainian trade unions were closed, thousands of active participants in the revolutionary movement were shot, imprisoned or exiled. The economic depression, which engulfed all branches of industry in the Ukraine, led to a reduction in the number of enterprises, a decrease in the mining of coal and manganese ore, reduced production in the metalworking industry, etc. The agrarian reforms of Stolypin from 1906 deprived Ukrainian peasants of land, and many sought resettlement elsewhere.

During the First World War of 1914-18, the Ukraine’s industry and agriculture declined, with insufficient food in the cities. Hundreds of strikes saw hundreds of thousands of workers turn out. During the February Revolution of 1917, workers came onto the streets in many cities in the Ukraine, establishing Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ deputies.


In March of 1917, the bourgeois-nationalist Central Rada was established in Kiev, a mirror of the Provisional Government in Petrograd. Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks were strengthening their ranks, actively working in the Soviets, playing a crucial role in the creation of trade unions, factory committees, and the workers’ militia, and conducted extensive propaganda work. Bolshevik newspapers, such as Proletarian (Kharkiv), Voice of the Social Democrat (Kiev), Star (Yekaterinoslav), began to be published.

Revolutionary activities in the Ukraine intensified, leading to a joint meeting of the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies in Kiev, on 27th October (9th November) 1917. The meeting adopted a Bolshevik resolution on supporting the uprising in Petrograd and transferring power in Kiev to the Soviets. However, the victory of the revolutionary workers and soldiers was taken advantage of by the Ukrainian bourgeoisie. The Central Rada seized government offices and declared itself the highest authority in the Ukraine. While proclaiming a “people’s republic,” the Rada launched terror against the forces of the revolution: it dispersed the Soviets, arrested the Bolsheviks, disarmed Red Guard detachments and revolutionary military units. The Central Rada became one of the main centres of the all-Russian counterrevolution.

On 11-12th (24-25th) December, 1917, the First All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets was held in Kharkiv, proclaiming the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The Congress decided to establish federal relations with Soviet Russia, elected the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, which on 17th (30th)  December formed the first Soviet government of the Ukraine. It declared the Central Rada invalid.

CIVIL WAR 1918-1920

The period of civil war against the counter-revolution was particularly intense in the Ukraine. The struggle had a number of overlapping stages. The following is a summary from the encyclopedia entry (ed.).

First phase: December 1917 to January 1918. After the declaration of the Ukrainian SSR, the RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) recognised it as the sole legitimate government in the Ukraine. Soviet troops and Ukrainian Red Guard detachments were able to liberate most cities and regions in the Ukraine by January 1918.

Second phase: February 1918 to December 1918. Expelled from Kiev, the Central Rada asked imperial Germany for “assistance.” In return for military support for the struggle against Soviet power, the Rada promised to supply Germany with Ukrainian grain, coal, and raw materials. By April 1918, the Germans realised that the Rada was incapable of keeping its side of the bargain, so it was dismissed. Instead, they appointed General P P Skoropadsky, a big Ukrainian landowner and former aide-de-camp to the Tsar, as “Hetman of the Ukraine.” However, by the end of 1918, Germany and Austria-Hungary had lost the First World War, experiencing internal revolutionary upsurges. Red Army troops and the All-Ukrainian Central Military Revolutionary Committee once again liberated the Ukraine, although the western parts were lost to Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania.

Third phase: April 1919 to February 1920. In the spring of 1919, the offensive of the White Guard troops of General Denikin began, and by autumn managed to capture a significant part of the territory of the Ukraine. During this period, the old order was restored in the Ukraine. Thousands of Soviet people died as a result of the white terror. A powerful partisan movement, directed by the Frontline Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks), unfolded in the Ukraine. As a result of the Red Army’s counter-offensive in the autumn of 1919, the Ukrainian SSR – from the Donbass to Odessa – was liberated by February of 1920.

Fourth phase: May 1920 to November 1920. Instigated by the Western powers, Poland initiated the Soviet-Polish War of 1920. Polish troops invaded the Ukraine and captured Kiev on 6th May, 1920. The 4th All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets, held in Kharkiv on May 16-20th, 1920, called on Ukrainian workers to fight the interventionists. On 5th June, the 1st Cavalry Army broke through the front of the Polish troops. On 12th June, Kiev was liberated. Developing the offensive, Soviet troops managed to liberate Eastern Galicia, where the Galician Socialist Soviet Republic was formed. However, in September 1920 Poland managed to recapture all of Eastern Galicia and part of Volhynia. By October an armistice was signed, and then the Riga Peace Treaty of 1921 was concluded with Poland.

The final stage was the liberation of Crimea, where Wrangel’s White Guard troops had retreated. In a few weeks over October and November of 1920, the Red Army expelled Wrangel’s troops from the whole of the Crimean peninsula.


For Ukraine, as for all other fraternal Soviet republics, the period from 1918 to 1920 was a time not only of the defeat of external and internal counter-revolutionary forces, but also of further strengthening the friendship of the peoples of the socialist state, consolidation of the revolutionary forces of the Ukrainian people, strengthening the union of the working class and peasantry, and the emergence of a socialist way of life in industry and agriculture.

NEXT PART: Socialist Construction Of Ukrainian SSR, 1921-1941

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