Yevgenia Bosch: A Bolshevik at the heart of the Ukrainian tragedy!


Yorgos Mitralias Andrii Zdorov

August 19, 2019

Sometimes, Ukrainian wanderings bring unexpected results. As when, trying to locate on the map the bases of the - ongoing - Ukrainian 'naval guerrilla' at the mouth of the Dnieper, we came across the small town of Ochakov. Which, according to Wikipedia, has seen only one celebrity born on its soil : the Bolshevik revolutionary Yevgenia Bosh.

So looking to find out more, we began to fall from surprise to surprise. Daughter, according to Wikipedia, of an immigrant from Luxembourg, Bosch was much more than a Bolshevik leader: she was the first head of government (prime minister) of the first independent (Soviet) Ukraine ! And if we are not mistaken, the first female prime minister in the history of mankind !

Being at the heart of the Ukrainian national question, Yevgenia gradually matured, moving from denial to the practical defense of the self-determination of the Ukrainian people and the independence of Ukraine. And of course, for this veteran Bolshevik revolutionary who always defended her freedom of opinion, this could not have been the only reason that made her clash with Stalinist Great Russian chauvinism. As early as 1923, she sided with Trotsky's Left Opposition, and was "lucky" not to live to see the continuation and conclusion of the Soviet tragedy, as she herself chose to end her life in 1925. And Victor Serge wrote at the time : "The most severe comrades have argued that this suicide, however justified by a terminal illness, remains an act of indiscipline. On the other hand, in this particular case, it was proof of her commitment to the opposition "…

The brilliant study, in Ukrainian, by the Ukrainian historian Andryi Zdorov that follows not only pulls Yevgenia Bosh out of the oblivion to which both Stalinism and capitalist restoration had condemned her, but also highlights her as an integral part of the present and ever-ongoing unspeakable Ukrainian tragedy. Precisely this tragedy that is haunted by the ghosts of a past that refuses to end…

Eugenia Bosch: paradoxes of national nihilism

by Andrii Zdorov

For most modern Ukrainians it will be quite surprising to learn that the first woman to head the government of Ukraine was not Yulia Tymoshenko, but Yevhenia Bosch. Although her surname was for some time even in the section "History" on the official Internet portal of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, the word "Bosch" for our compatriots means primarily a brand of German technology, not the name of the leader of the Bolsheviks of Ukraine in 1917 - early 1918. And then her name was shrouded in legends and mysteries.

One of them was created by the former Hetman of Ukraine Pavlo Skoropadsky, who in the 20s proudly wrote in his memoirs how he, then a lieutenant general of the Russian army and commander of the 1st Ukrainian Corps, in late November - early December 1917 saved Kyiv from the offensive of the 2nd Guards Corps "led by the agitator Bosch". Eugenia Bosch really visited this corps, which was then located in Podillia, but a month earlier - October 31 - November 2, 1917 (old calendar). At that time, there were battles between the troops of the old Russian government of Kerensky and supporters of the Council of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies in Vinnytsia, and the 2nd Guards Corps declared support for the Soviet government and launched an offensive on Vinnytsia from Zhmerynka. In the period described by Skoropadsky in November - early December 1917, Eugenia Bosch was in Kyiv, where she participated in the regional congress of the Bolsheviks of Ukraine, was elected to the Main Committee of the RSDLP (b) - Social Democracy of Ukraine, and the First All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets, so she could not lead the 2nd Guards Corps from Zhmerynka.

The same mystery remains the phrase of one of the first biographers of Simon Petliura, Lieutenant Colonel of the UPR Army Vasyl Prokhoda, that after Petliura's Cossacks captured the Kyiv Arsenal plant on January 20 (February 2), 1918, a column of captured workers was taken out of there, led by "proudly walking Eugenia Bosch". In fact, it is documented that in January 1918, Eugenia Bosch was in Kharkiv, where the first Soviet government of Ukraine - the People's Secretariat, of which she was a member, was located. In the January 1918 uprising in Kyiv, Eugenia's daughters Olga and Maria Bosch took part, who then, together with other Bolshevik women, carried food and medicine to the rebels, but they were not captured and could not lead the column of arsenalists. Obviously, officers and generals of the then Ukrainian People's Republic considered it a great honor to fight against Eugenia Bosch herself. It can be perceived as a curiosity now that in the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Ukrainian Studies she is called "Bolshevik activist of Jewish origin". Although in the last additional volume it was corrected to "German".

Who is Eugenia Bosch? The strangest thing is that even in Soviet textbooks and encyclopedias they did not like to mention her. Now among historians one can find the opinion that Bosch was a victim of "historiographical gender discrimination". But I think the point is different. She always belonged to those who had their own position and were never afraid to defend it, even if this position contradicted the views of Lenin or other leaders of the Bolshevik Party. Fortunately, before her death in 1925, Eugenia Bosch managed to write a book of memoirs about the revolution in Ukraine "Year of Struggle" and several autobiographical letters to her daughters, which were published in 1990, a year before the collapse of the USSR.

So, on August 11 1879, in the village of Adragioli, Odesa district, Kherson province, in the family of a landowner, German Gottlieb Meisch, a native of Württemberg, and a Moldavian noblewoman Maria Krusser, a girl named Eugenia was born. However, she herself writes in her autobiography that she was born in the town of Ochakiv in the same Kherson province, but in the gendarmerie documents the place of birth is indicated as the village of Adragioli. Gotlib Meisch had long been working as a mechanic in the landowners' estates of Kherson region, bought 150 acres of land, began to call himself Bohdan Maish. All his children received local names - Nadiia, Oleksandr, Fedir, Yevhenia. The last one was not even ten years old when her father died. A year later, her mother married his brother Fedir Maish in second marriage, so that the land property remained in the Maish family. The stepfather was a wealthy man, he had 1000 acres of land, but he considered the children from the first marriage as extra mouths. It is not surprising that at the age of 16 Eugenia married the owner of a small carriage workshop in the city of Voznesensk, Kherson province, Petro Bosch. In 1897, Eugenia Bosch became a mother, her daughter Olga was born, and a year later her second daughter - Maria.

"Well, I love extremes! And I myself am the embodiment of extremes and not only do nothing half-heartedly, but always overdo it" - this phrase from her autobiographical letter can become the motto of the whole life of a professional revolutionary and mother of two children. How did she manage to combine these two social roles and still remain a woman? In 1901 she joined the RSDLP, soon joining its Bolshevik faction. Having divorced her husband and left the children with her, she was actively involved in underground party work and in 1911 became the secretary of the Kyiv Committee of the RSDLP. In 1912, she was arrested, and soon, despite the tuberculosis she contracted in prison, she was sentenced to life exile in Siberia.

In 1914, while in exile in the Irkutsk province, she entered into a civil marriage with the Kyiv Bolshevik Georgy Pyatakov, who was 11 years younger than her, but fell madly in love with him. Together they fled through Vladivostok to Japan, from there to the United States, then to Switzerland and Norway. In the spring of 1917, both returned to Russia. Heorhii Pyatakov became the chairman of the Kyiv Committee of the RSDLP(b), and in November 1917 he went to Petrograd, where he was appointed by the Council of People's Commissars as a commissioner of the State Bank of Soviet Russia.

In the summer of 1917, Eugenia Bosch became the chairman of the regional committee of the RSDLP (b) of the South-Western Territory, in November she was elected a deputy of the All-Russian Constituent Assembly from Chernihiv province. In December 1917, she headed the Main Committee of the RSDLP (b) - Social Democracy of Ukraine, was one of the organizers of the first All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies in Kyiv and moved the left part of it to Kharkiv, where Soviet power in the Ukrainian People's Republic was proclaimed and the first Ukrainian Soviet government - the People's Secretariat - was elected. In it, Yevhenia Bosch became the People's Secretary (Minister) of Internal Affairs. It was decided not to elect a head of the People's Secretariat. As the administrator of this government, later known as the leader of the Federalist group, Georgy Lapchinsky, recalled, she "impressed us with her erudition, the power of her intellect, oratorical talent and revolutionary temperament", being at the same time a truly European-bred person. Although Eugenia Bosch enjoyed the greatest authority, but "it would be too unusual to put a woman at the head of the first socialist government of Ukraine, one had to take into account the impression it would make on the masses" . However, one of the protocols of this government did state that "the People's Secretary of Internal Affairs will unite the work of the secretariats". In fact, it was Eugenia Bosch who held meetings until March 1918, when Mykola Skrypnyk was elected head of the government.

It is now common among historians that this entire government was just an appendage to the headquarters of Vladimir Antonov-Ovsiyenko, People's Commissar for Counterrevolution in Southern Russia. Antonov-Ovsiienko himself had a slightly different opinion. In his "Notes on the Civil War" we read: "Comrade. Eugenia Bosch, who became People's Secretary of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, ordered, without any prior agreement with me, to remove the commissioners appointed by me". Moreover, Bosch reported Antonov's arbitrariness to Lenin, and he was forced to put Antonov in his place: "Comrade. Antonov! I received a complaint about you from the CEC (Kharkiv). I am extremely sorry that my request to you to explain did not reach you. Please, contact me as soon as possible (by direct wire - one or two, through Kharkiv)... For the sake of God, make every effort to eliminate all and any friction with the CEC (Kharkiv). It is archival in terms of the state. For the sake of God, make peace with them and recognize their sovereignty. The commissioners whom you have appointed, I ask you to remove", Lenin wrote on January 21, 1918.

Eugenia Bosch's views on the national question and the Ukrainian question in particular are usually called Luxemburgism in historical literature. Indeed, even in exile in 1915-1916, together with Georgy Pyatakov and Nikolai Bukharin, she supported the position of Rosa Luxemburg in her discussion with Lenin on the right of nations to self-determination. Let me remind you that Rosa Luxemburg considered this slogan to be erroneous and even harmful to the proletariat and beneficial only to the bourgeoisie, because, they say, under imperialism, the self-determination of nations is impossible, and under socialism, national oppression disappears by itself, so this slogan is superfluous. In his polemical articles of 1915-1916, Lenin devoted many pages to exposing these views, proving their complete theoretical and practical failure, pointing to the great revolutionary potential of national liberation movements around the world, especially colonial ones. Indeed, the history of the twentieth century confirmed Lenin's rightness in this matter.

In particular, at the first regional congress of the Bolsheviks of Ukraine on December 3-5 (16-18), 1917 in Kyiv, the chairman of the Regional Committee of the Bolsheviks of the Southwestern Territory Yevhenia Bosch said: "In the age of financial capital, the national movement ceases to be revolutionary. It ceases to be popular. In Ukraine it is not popular. Before the overthrow of tsarism, it almost did not manifest itself... as soon as the national oppression fell, the bourgeoisie began to fight for national liberation. But it took it up not because of revolutionary goals, but because of the desire to pursue its class policy. The bourgeoisie of Ukraine is under the influence of the Russian bourgeoisie, which, being expelled from Soviet Russia, is heading for Ukraine and under the guise of national liberation seeks to split the proletariat of Ukraine. This is the policy of the imperialist bourgeoisie throughout Europe... Ukraine cannot exist as a separate state under the capitalist system."

These views were especially clearly stated in the brochure of Eugenia Bosch "National Government and Soviet Power in Ukraine", published in early 1919 in Moscow:

"The tragedy of Ukraine in our time of fierce class struggle, socialist transformation and the eve of the world revolution is the tragedy of all small nations. At the moment when the wave of the proletarian revolution is sweeping the working class of the oppressed people, the bourgeoisie and social chauvinists have tried and are trying - Ukraine, Finland, Latvia, etc. - to disrupt the proletarian movement by fomenting the national idea, the idea of their national, which historically belongs only to this people.

...The Russian Revolution, which has overthrown the bourgeoisie and made the first and giant step towards the socialist transformation of society, found the most vivid response in the working masses of all oppressed nations inhabiting the outskirts, and thus killed the idea of national unification of peoples. Having experienced the autocracy together with the Russian proletariat, overthrowing Kerensky together and finally fighting together for the Soviet power, the proletariat of the periphery became closely related to the whole revolutionary movement of Russia. It has no special tasks alien to the Russian proletariat, it is inseparably linked to it by a single irresistible desire to merge with Soviet Russia".

As we can see, here the author considers Ukraine exclusively as the periphery of Russia. But it is characteristic that next to it she puts Finland and Latvia - countries that had just gained independence from the Russian Empire, and in which there were also attempts to establish Soviet power. Stepan Velychenko believes that the views of Eugenia Bosch were identical to the views of Russian monarchists and nationalists such as Sergei Shchogolev, author of the work "Ukrainian movement as a modern stage of South Russian separatism" (1912). In fact, if we compare her views with those of her contemporaries, it should be noted that, unlike Russian nationalists of the time and leaders of the white movement, she does not use the terms "Little Russia" and "Novorossia", but recognizes that Ukrainians have fully formed as a separate people, despite the attempts to suppress their national development by the Russian autocracy until 1917. Eugenie Bosch was guided not by the interests of Russia, but by the interests of the world revolution.

Even Rosa Luxemburg, who at about the same time in the autumn of 1918 wrote her famous "Manuscript on the Russian Revolution" in a German prison, categorically denied the existence of a separate Ukrainian people:

"Ukrainian nationalism in Russia was completely different from, say, Czech, Polish or Finnish nationalism, nothing more than a whim, a fad of a few dozen petty-bourgeois intellectuals, without any roots in the economic, political or spiritual relations of the country, without any historical tradition, because Ukraine has never been a nation or a state, without any national culture, except for the reactionary romantic poems of Shevchenko. Just as if one fine morning the inhabitants of Wasserkant, following Fritz Reuter, wanted to form a new Lower German nation and establish an independent state!".

Eugenia Bosch certainly could not afford such short-sightedness. However, her position of that time, formed under the influence of the ideas of Rosa Luxemburg, which Lenin called imperialist economism, contained many contradictions. If the Ukrainian and Russian peoples had already formed as separate nations, why did she consider the national borders between them artificial and unnatural? If the workers and peasants of Ukraine wanted only unification with Soviet Russia, why was it necessary to create a separate Ukrainian Soviet government?

In fact, as noted by the above-mentioned Heorhii Lapchynskyi, the very work of this government forced its members, including Eugenia Bosch, to check and adjust their views in practice. The official languages of the documents of the People's Secretariat were Ukrainian and Russian. Circulars of the People's Secretary of Internal Affairs Eugenia Bosch to local Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies written in Ukrainian have been preserved. Is it possible to imagine this from the governments of Denikin or Wrangel?

It should also be noted that Eugenia Bosch was able to admit her mistakes. For example, in protest against the conclusion of the Brest Peace Treaty with Germany by the government of Soviet Russia led by Lenin, Bosch resigned from her position in the People's Secretariat on March 4, 1918 and volunteered to the front against the advancing German-Austrian troops. So did some other like-minded left-wing communists. After several months of heavy fighting, Soviet troops retreated to Russia. Here, in the summer of 1918, Eugenie Bosch publicly admitted her mistake regarding the Brest Peace.

Then in August 1918, at the request of her comrades, she began to write a brochure "National Government and Soviet Power in Ukraine". In 1922, in a letter to her daughters, Eugenia Bosch recalled: "Re-reading what I had written, I saw the need for a serious revision and decided, having completed it in draft, to redo everything. But events did not wait. Once Sverdlov summoned me to his office and said that I had to go to Penza to fight against the Socialist Revolutionary domination and banditry…

Three days later I left, and my work in draft went to print. Perhaps it would not have turned out very good, but in draft form it turned out completely bad and not in vain my own people blamed me ".

This brochure was sharply criticized in the first issue of the journal "Ukrainian Communist". In the review signed by G.K. (probably Hryhoriy Klunnyi), the author was accused of barbarism, a cabinet view of life, ignoring the national question, and great-power chauvinism. Probably, the same (even with greater grounds) accusations could be made against the Bolshevik leaders of Ukraine in 1919 - Heorhiy Pyatakov and Khrystian Rakovsky, as Vasyl Shakhrai and Serhiy Mazlakh did in early 1919. But unlike them, the Bohraists were trying to reach an agreement with the leadership of the Central Committee of the CP (B) U, so the current leaders of the Bolshevik Party were not criticized so sharply. And Eugenia Bosch, despite her numerous requests, was never allowed by the Central Committee of the RCP (B) to lead in Ukraine.

In 1918, she headed the RCP (b) gubkoms in Penza and Astrakhan, in the spring of 1919 she was a member of the Defense Council of the Lithuanian-Belarusian SSR, then worked in several minor positions in the People's Commissariats of Education, Food and Workers' and Peasants' Inspection of the RSFSR. But Eugenia Bosch could not fit into the new ruling elite, which would later be called the nomenklatura. As she writes in her autobiographical letters, everywhere she felt the formation of some special group interests of the new bureaucracy, which adopted the worst traditions of the old Russian bureaucracy along with the new methods of the "commissar-state". She noted these traits even in her own half-sister (on her mother's side) - Olena Rozmyrovych (daughter of Fyodor Maish), who managed to make a party career and live until 1953.

Later, shortly before her death, Eugenia Bosch wrote in her book "The Year of Struggle": "the primary issue for Ukraine, its national emancipation, remained in the shadows and was not thought out not only by the Kyiv Committee, but also by the regional one. The item of our program on the right of nations to self-determination until separation remained a bare slogan, and the committee did not have a practical program that would indicate the forms of struggle of the revolutionary masses in an oppressed country fighting for its national liberation."

And she considered this book itself as "the first step to collecting material for 1917-1918 ... for the future historian of Ukraine ". Interestingly, even in the 1990 edition, the above remark by Eugenia Bosch was accompanied by a note from the editor: "The author is mistaken. The issue of national liberation of Ukraine was not a priority, but a derivative of the priority issue of the victory of the socialist revolution, the establishment of Soviet power in Ukraine".

In recent historical literature, the name of Eugenia Bosch is often associated with the Red Terror, because she was among the addressees of Lenin's famous telegram to Penza of August 11, 1918. At the same time, the leading Penza historian dealing with the Civil War, Viktor Kondrashin, in his correspondence with us last year had to admit that there is no reliable evidence of personal participation of Eugenia Bosch in the Red Terror in the Penza province (in particular, she was accused of personal shootings of peasants in the village of Kuchki).

A little more about her family. Both her daughters - Maria and Olga - joined the Bolshevik Party in the summer of 1917. The eldest of them, Olga, became the wife of a Bolshevik and the son of the famous Ukrainian writer Yuri Kotsyubynsky. After his arrest and conviction in 1935 as the leader of a "Trotskyist conspiracy", Olga Bosch-Kotsiubynska moved to Khabarovsk, where her sister worked, but the NKVD caught up with her there as well. In 1937 she was arrested and sentenced to five years in the Gulag, to which three more were added. Yurii Kotsiubynskyi was shot in the same year as an "enemy of the people".

It is interesting to note that in the investigation case of Yuriy Kotsyubynsky there is evidence of participation in his "conspiracy" and his mother-in-law - Yevhenia Bosch (I quote in the original language):"Being the Deputy Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of Ukraine, the son of the famous writer Kotsyubynsky is married to the daughter of Yevgenia Bogdanovna Bosch - Olga Petrovna. Kotsyubinsky took an active part in the intrigues of Bosch, who was preparing a coup d'etat in favor of Trotsky. The conspiracy involved Pyatakov, Kotsyubinsky, Primakov, Antonov-Ovsiyenko. The plan was to arrest the Politburo members and overthrow the triumvirate: Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev. After Trotsky rejected this plan, Bosch committed suicide and the other members were sent abroad: Antonov-Ovsienko to Warsaw, Primakov as an instructor in Chiang Kai-shek's army, where he worked under the name of Ei Lin”.

Of course now, knowing the methods of work of the NKVD, it is difficult to believe in the existence of this conspiracy. But there is no doubt that Eugenia Bosch really supported the Left Opposition in the RCP(b) in the fight against the Stalinist clique. In 1923, already being seriously ill (years of prison and exile passed without a trace), Bosch signed the "Statement of 46", the first program document of the Left Opposition. And her suicide on January 5, 1925 (it is said that since the Civil War Bosch always slept with a revolver under her pillow), was perceived by the left opposition as a protest against the establishment of Stalinism. In Kyiv in the 20s and 30s, there was a street named Eugenia Bosch (formerly Mykolaivskyi), which was renamed into Dniprovskyi by the following decision of the Kyiv City Council of March 19, 1940: "Eugenia Bosch fought against the Lenin-Stalin Party ".

Comparing Eugenia Bosch with later Bolshevik leaders of Ukraine, one can note both common and distinctive features. Unlike the subsequent leaders of Soviet Ukraine, she was not sent or appointed by the Central Committee of the RSDLP(b) - Central Committee of the RCP(b) - Central Committee of the CPSU, but was elected as a leader by the local Bolsheviks. Even Mykola Skrypnyk, Eugenia Bosch's successor as the head of the People's Secretariat, arrived in Ukraine at the end of December 1917 (old calendar) with the mandate of the Central Committee of the RSDLP (b).

Staying at the head of the Ukrainian Soviet government, though not immediately, but gradually forced many of them to care about the interests of Ukraine and recognize the fallacy of centralist views and complete disregard for the national question and the national liberation movement of the Ukrainian people. Christian Rakovsky in this case is a textbook example. Sent to Ukraine in January 1919 by the Central Committee of the RCP(b), he started as a strict centralist who denied the differences between Ukraine and Russia, denied the need for the Ukrainian language, and in 1922 - 1923 in discussions with Stalin during the formation of the USSR, he strongly defended the interests of Ukraine, its sovereign rights, for which he was labeled a "confederate" and was eventually recalled from Ukraine. Eugenia Bosch did not become a confederalist, but the evolution of her views towards the recognition of Ukraine as a separate country is still noticeable in her works, and her contribution to the formation of the Ukrainian Soviet state is undeniable.