Why Lenin, Bolsheviks Backed Independence for Ukraine

The following is a resolution adopted by the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) [C.C., R.C.P.(B)] in November 1919. Russian revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin drafted the original text. The resolution can be found in Vol. 30 of Lenin’s Collected Works under the title “On Soviet Rule in Ukraine.”[1]

World-Outlook is publishing it because it is relevant to the world-wide discussion and debate on the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow’s brutal attack on a sovereign neighboring republic smacks of the Great Russian chauvinism prevalent under the czars, the barbaric monarchy that ruled the Russian empire for centuries before it was overthrown by workers and peasants in 1917. That same chauvinism animated the reactionary policies re-established by the late 1920s in the former USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) during the counterrevolution led by Joseph Stalin—a regime Russian president Vladimir Putin faithfully served decades later as an officer of the KGB, the secret police.

In a February 21, 2022, speech crafted to justify the imminent invasion of Ukraine, Putin denied that Ukraine is a nation and blamed the Russian revolution for the country’s independence. “Modern Ukraine was entirely and fully created by Russia, more specifically the Bolshevik, communist Russia,” Putin said. “This process began practically immediately after the 1917 revolution, and moreover Lenin and his associates did it in the sloppiest way in relation to Russia—by dividing, tearing from her pieces of her own historical territory.”

Putin was lying. The resolution published below illuminates the contrast between the position of Putin and Russia’s capitalists today, with that of the workers and peasants’ government Lenin led after the Russian revolution.

It is noteworthy that Lenin recognized the way that centuries of oppression under the czars fed nationalist sentiment in Ukraine that can take a backward form. Yet he urged “comradely explanation concerning the identity of interests of the working people of the Ukraine and Russia” and opposed any methods of coercion. Understanding Lenin’s political approach explains why Putin’s actions and false justifications today are so antithetical to the policies of a revolutionary government.

Working people in Ukraine fighting to defend their country’s sovereignty today, and those who support their democratic right to do so, will find in the resolution that follows the revolutionary attitude toward national self-determination that Marxists inside Russia, Ukraine, and other former Soviet republics tried to defend after Lenin’s death, often at the cost of their lives.


Lenin addresses crowd in Red Square, Moscow, 1919. (Photo: Heritage Images)

By V. I. Lenin

(1) The C.C., R.C.P.(B.), having discussed the question of relations with the working people of the Ukraine now being liberated from the temporary conquest of Denikin’s bands,[2] is pursuing persistently the principle of the self-determination of nations and deems it essential to again affirm that the R.C.P. holds consistently to the view that the independence of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic be recognized.

(2) The R.C.P. will work to establish federal relations between the R.S.F.S.R, and the Ukrainian S.S.R., basing itself on the decisions of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee of June 1, 1919, and the Ukrainian Central Executive Committee of May 18, 1919 (resolution attached).

(3) In view of the fact that Ukrainian culture (language, school, etc.) has been suppressed for centuries by Russian tsarism and the exploiting classes, the C.C., R.C.P. makes it incumbent upon all Party members to use every means to help remove all barriers in the way of the free development of the Ukrainian language and culture. Since the many centuries of oppression have given rise to nationalist tendencies among the backward sections of the population, R.C.P. members must exercise the greatest caution in respect of those tendencies and must oppose them with words of comradely explanation concerning the identity of interests of the working people of the Ukraine and Russia. R.C.P. members on Ukrainian territory must put into practice the right of the working people to study in the Ukrainian language and to speak their native language in all Soviet institutions; they must in every way counteract attempts at Russification that push the Ukrainian language into the background and must convert that language into an instrument for the communist education of the working people. Steps must be taken immediately to ensure that in all Soviet institutions there are sufficient Ukrainian-speaking employees and that in future all employees are able to speak Ukrainian.

(4) It is essential to ensure the closest contact between Soviet institutions and the native peasant population of the country, for which purpose it must be made the rule, even at the earliest stages, that when revolutionary committees and Soviets are being established the laboring peasants must have a majority in them with the poor peasants exercising a decisive influence.

(5) Since the population of the Ukraine is predominantly peasant to an even greater extent than that of Russia, it is the task of the Soviet government in the Ukraine to win the confidence, not only of the poor peasants, but also of the broad sections of the middle peasantry whose real interests link them very closely with Soviet power. In particular, while retaining the food policy in principle (the state procurement of grain at fixed prices) the methods of its application must be changed.

The immediate purpose of the food policy in the Ukraine must be the requisitioning of grain surpluses to the strictly limited extent necessary to supply the Ukrainian rural poor, the workers and the Red Army. When requisitioning surpluses, special attention must be paid to the interests of the middle peasants, who must be carefully distinguished from kulak elements. It is essential to expose to the Ukrainian peasantry the counter-revolutionary demagogy that tries to impress on them that the purpose of Soviet Russia is to channel grain and other food products from the Ukraine into Russia.

It must be made incumbent on all agents of the central authorities, all Party officials, Party instructors, etc., to draw the poor and middle peasantry extensively into the work of government.

For the same purpose (the establishment of the real power of the working people) measures must be immediately taken to prevent Soviet institutions from being flooded with Ukrainian urban petty bourgeoisie, who have no conception of the living conditions of the peasant masses and who frequently masquerade as Communists.

A condition for the admission of such elements into the ranks of the Party and into Soviet institutions must be a preliminary practical verification of their competence and their loyalty to the interests of the working people, primarily at the front, in the ranks of the army. Everywhere and under all circumstances such elements must be placed under the strict class control of the proletariat.

We know from experience that due to the unorganized state of the poor the large number of weapons in the hands of the Ukrainian rural population is inevitably being concentrated in the hands of the kulaks and counter-revolutionaries which actually leads to the domination of kulak bandits instead of the dictatorship of the working people; in view of this a primary task in organizing Soviet Ukraine is to withdraw all weapons and concentrate them in the hands of the workers’ and peasants’ Red Army.

(6) In the same way, the land policy must be effected with special attention paid to the farming of the poor and middle peasantry.

The tasks of the land policy in the Ukraine are:

(1) The complete abolition of the landed proprietorship re-established by Denikin and the transfer of the landed estates to peasants possessing little or no land.

(2) State farms to be organized in strictly limited numbers and of limited size and in each case in conformity with the interests of the surrounding peasantry.

(3) In organizing peasants in communes, artels, etc., the Party policy must be strictly adhered to, which in this respect does not permit any coercion, leaving it to the peasants to decide freely for themselves and penalizing all attempts to introduce the principle of coercion.Regarding it as beyond dispute for every Communist and for every politically conscious worker that the closest alliance of all Soviet republics in their struggle against the menacing forces of world imperialism is essential, the R.C.P. maintains that the form of that alliance must be finally determined by the Ukrainian workers and laboring peasants themselves.

2. Regarding it as beyond dispute for every Communist and for every politically conscious worker that the closest alliance of all Soviet republics in their struggle against the menacing forces of world imperialism is essential, the R.C.P. maintains that the form of that alliance must be finally determined by the Ukrainian workers and laboring peasants themselves.


[1] This resolution was based on theses written by Lenin. On November 21, 1919, the Political Bureau of the CC., R.C.P.(B.) discussed the theses and submitted them to a commission for final editing. On the basis of the theses the commission drafted the resolution which, with the addition of Clause 2 introduced by Lenin, was adopted by the plenary meeting of the C.C., R.C.P.(B.) on November 29, 1919, and later endorsed by the Eighth All-Russia Party Conference.

The text of the resolution is taken from the Marxist Internet Archive:
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 30, pages 163-166. Translated: George Hanna. Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters & Robert Cymbala. Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive ( 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

[2] Anton Denikin was a commander of the counter-revolutionary White Army in Russia that led a civil war against the Bolshevik government with the backing of all imperialist powers around the world. Denikin’s bands rejected national self-determination for Poland or Ukraine that the workers and farmers government had recognized after the 1917 Russian Revolution. Denikin’s forces were soundly defeated by the Red Army in the fall of 1919.

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