Bukharin, Nikolai Ivanovich

views updated May 23 2018


(18881938), old Bolshevik economist and theoretician who was ousted as a Rightist in 1929 and executed in 1938 for treason after a show trial.

The son of Moscow schoolteachers, raised in the spirit of the Russian intelligentsia, Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin was a broadly educated and humanist intellectual. Radicalized as a high school student during the 1905 Revolution, he was drawn to the Bolshevik faction, which he formally joined in 1906. He enrolled at Moscow University in 1907 to study economics, but academics took second place to party activity. He rose rapidly in the Moscow Bolshevik organization, was arrested several times, and in 1911 fled abroad, where he remained until 1917. These six years of emigration strengthened Bukharin's internationalism; he matured as a Marxist theorist and writer and became known as a radical voice in the Bolshevik party. After a year in Germany, he went to Krakow in 1912 to meet Vladimir Lenin, who invited him to write for the party's publications. Bukharin settled in Vienna, where he studied and drafted several theoretical works. Expelled to Switzerland at the beginning of World War I, he supported Lenin's radical antiwar platform, continuing his activities in Scandinavia and then New York City.

When revolution broke out in Russia in early 1917, Bukharin hastened home. Arriving in May, he immediately took a leading role in the Moscow Bolshevik organization, which was dominated by young radicals. His militant stance brought him close to Lenin. In July 1917 he was elected a full member of the Central Committee, and in December he was appointed editor of the party newspaper, Pravda. Bukharin opposed the peace negotiations with the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk and headed the Left Communists who called for a revolutionary war against capitalism; later he also opposed Lenin's view that state capitalism would be a step forward for Russia. In mid-1918, ending his opposition, he resumed his party positions as the burgeoning civil war led to war communism and rebellion by the Left Socialist Revolutionaries. In 1919, when a five-man Politburo was formally established, Bukharin became one of three candidate members and also became deputy chairman of the newly established Comintern. Serving in various capacities during the civil war, Bukharin also published extensively: including Imperialism and World Economy (1918), the popularizing and militant ABC of Communism (1920, with Yevgeny Preobrazhensky sky); Economics of the Transition Period (1920), which celebrated the statization of the economy under War Communism but also began to explore how to build a socialist society after the revolution; and Historical Materialism (1921), a major analysis of Marxism in the twentieth century.

After Lenin introduced the New Economic Policy in 1921, debate swirled around the question of the relative importance that should be accorded industry and agriculture to achieve economic development within the framework of a socialist economy. Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition favored rapid industrialization at the expense of agriculture, in what Preobrazhensky termed "primitive socialist accumulation." Bukharin, disavowing the illusions of War Communism, emphasized the need to find an evolutionary path to socialism based on a strong alliance with Russia's peasant majority and invoked Lenin's last writings to legitimize this position. He argued that forcibly appropriating agricultural surpluses would ultimately lead to the disintegration of agriculture because peasants would no longer have an incentive to produce. While agreeing that industrialization was absolutely critical for the construction of socialism, he favored a gradual approach. Bukharin's path to socialism relied upon a growing consumer market, possible only if there were private merchants to contribute to the growth of domestic trade. He argued for policies that would produce balanced growth at a moderate tempo, speaking of growing into socialism through exchange.

In the mid-1920s Bukharin aligned himself with the Stalinist majority against the Left, becoming a full member of the Politburo in 1924, and played a major role in the government. He was the architect of the pro-peasant policies introduced in 1925 and urged peasants to "enrich yourselves," a phrase that would later be used against him. As editor of Pravda and other party publications, and a member of the Institute of Red Professors, Bukharin moved easily in the world of NEP intellectuals and artists and authored government policies favoring artistic freedom. He became head of the Comintern in 1926 after the ouster of Grigory Zinoviev and saw the collapse of his policy of cooperation with the Chinese Nationalists. In the same period, Bukharin strongly attacked the Left Opposition and helped achieve its total ouster from power in the fall of 1927.

Bukharin supported the 1927 decision of the Fifteenth Party Congress to adopt a five-year plan for Soviet industrialization, but he and the gradualist

policies he advocated fell victim to the radical and violent way Josef Stalin carried out the plan. Bukharin opposed Stalin's harsh measures against the peasants after the amount of grain marketed fell off sharply. In September he published "Notes of an Economist," criticizing efforts to inflate the industrial goals of the plan and defending the idea of balanced growth; it is impossible, he said, "to build today's factories with tomorrow's bricks." Stalin and his allies counterattacked, labeling Bukharin, Alexei Rykov, and Mikhail Tomsky the "Right Opposition." His power already undercut by the end of 1928, Bukharin was removed formally from the Politburo, the Comintern, and editorship of Pravda during 1929 and systematically vilified. In limbo for the next four years after halfhearted recantations, horrified by the destruction visited on the peasantry by collectivization, he served as research director for the Supreme Economic Council and its successor and wrote extensively on culture and science. In the era of partial moderation from 1934 to 1936, Bukharin became editor of the government newspaper, Izvestiya, participated in the commission to prepare a new Soviet constitution, and wrote about the danger of fascism in Europe. The Great Purges ended the domestic truce. Bukharin was arrested in February 1937. In March 1938, along with the Right Opposition, he was tried for treason and counterrevolution in the last great show trial, the Trial of the Twenty-One, where he was the star defendant. Bukharin confessed to the charges against him, probably to save his young wife Anna Larina and their son Yuri (born 1934), and he was executed immediately. In the Khrushchev years, Bukharin came to symbolize an alternative, non-Stalinist path of development for the Soviet Union. He was rehabilitated in 1988, and Larina made public his last written work, a letter to future party leaders, that she had preserved by memory during years of imprisonment.

See also: left opposition; left socialist revolutionaries; new economic policy; purges, the great; war communism


Bergmann, Theodor; Schaefer, Gert; and Selden, Mark, eds. (1994). Bukharin in Retrospect. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.

Bukharin, Nikolai. (1998). How It All Began. New York: Columbia University Press.

Cohen, Stephen F. (1973). Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography, 18881938. New York: Oxford University Press.

Haynes, Michael. (1985). Nikolai Bukharin and the Transition from Capitalism to Socialism. London: Croom Helm.

Heitman, Sidney. (1969). Nikolai I. Bukharin: A Bibliography, with Annotations. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution.

Kemp-Welch, A., ed. (1992). The Ideas of Nikolai Bukharin. New York: Oxford University Press.

Larina, Anna (1993). This I Cannot Forget: The Memoirs of Nikolai Bukharin's Widow. New York: Norton.

Lewin, Moshe. (1974). Political Undercurrents in Soviet Economic Debates from Bukharin to the Modern Reformers. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Medvedev, Roy A. (1980). Nikolai Bukharin: The Last Years. New York: Norton.

Carol Gayle

William Moskoff

Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin

views updated May 23 2018

Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin

The Soviet politician and writer Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin (1858-1938) was a leading theorist of the Communist movement during the Revolutionary period in Russia and throughout the 1920s.

Nikolai Bukharin was born in Moscow, the son of a schoolteacher. As a university student, he became interested in the anticzarist political movement. In 1906 he joined the Leninist faction of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' party, then known as the Bolsheviks. He worked for the party as a successful propagandist and organizer. In 1911 he emigrated to Germany and remained abroad, either in Europe or the United States, until the Revolution began in 1917. At this time he began to establish himself as a major theorist, writing Political Economy of the Leisure Class (1912-1913) and World Economy and Imperialism (1915). Gradually, a split emerged between the position taken by Lenin and that of Bukharin with respect to the conditions under which revolution would succeed in Russia. Bukharin and others, who came to be known as the Left Bolsheviks, took the view that the coming socialist revolution could be successful only in a European-wide context, with the emergence of a socialist United States of Europe.

In 1917 Bukharin returned to Russia, but in 1918 his left-wing attitudes caused him to part company temporarily with Lenin. In the face of Lenin's proposal to end World War I for Russia by a separate peace with Germany, Bukharin, Trotsky, Dzerzhinsky, and others argued strongly for changing the world war into a European revolutionary war. But by the time of the Tenth Party Congress (1921), Bukharin's views had begun to undergo extensive change. He supported Lenin's proposal to consolidate the victories of the party inside Russia by means of the New Economic Policy. During this period and the remainder of the 1920s, Bukharin held numerous high party and government posts, including the editorships of Pravda (1918-1929), the journal Bolshevik (1924-1929), and the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. In addition, he was chairman of the Communist International (Comintern, 1919-1929) and a member of the Political Bureau (executive committee) of the party's Central Committee. At the same time he continued his work in Marxist-Leninist political theory, publishing his Theory of Historical Materialism (1921).

After the death of Lenin in 1924, a struggle for power ensued, and the ideological positions as well as the political self-interests of Bukharin and Stalin dictated their cooperation in the defeat of Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Kamenev. Ultimately, however, Bukharin himself fell victim to Stalin's tactics when he was condemned as a leader of the so-called Right Deviation (1928-1929). As a result, Bukharin was removed from his high positions by mid-1929, though he continued to be a potential threat to Stalin. By 1934 Bukharin had regained a measure of his former power. His position continued to be precarious, however, and he was finally arrested during the Great Purge in 1937. Brought to trial with 20 others, he was accused of plotting the overthrow of the state. Bukharin was condemned to death and was executed in March 1938.

Further Reading

There is no definitive study of Bukharin in English. The definitive bibliography of Bukharin's published works is in German. In English see Sidney Heitman, Nikolai I. Bukharin: A Bibliography (1969). A short synopsis of Bukharin's philosophical viewpoint is in S. V. Utechin, Russian Political Thought: A Concise History (1964). Background reading includes Leonard Schapiro, The Origin of the Communist Autocracy: Political Opposition in the Soviet State; First Phase, 1917-1922 (1955), and Robert V. Daniels, The Conscience of the Revolution (1960). An extensive discussion, together with stenographic reports, of Bukharin's trial for treason is in Robert C. Tucker and Stephen F. Cohen, eds., The Great Purge Trial (1965); see also George Katkov, Trial of Bukharin (1969).

Additional Sources

Bukharin in retrospect, Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1994.

Coates, Ken, The case of Nikolai Bukharin, Nottingham: Spokesman Books, 1978.

Cohen, Stephen F., Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: a political biography, 1888-19, New York, Vintage Books 1975, 1973.

Gluckstein, Donny, The tragedy of Bukharin, London; Boulder, Co.: Pluto Press, 1993.

Larina, Anna, This I cannot forget: the memoirs of Nikolai Bukharin's widow, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1993.

Medvedev, Roy Aleksandrovich, Nikolai Bukharin: the last years, New York: Norton, 1980. □

Bukharin, Nikolai Ivanovich

views updated May 18 2018

Bukharin, Nikolai Ivanovich (1888–1938) Russian communist political theorist. After the 1917 Revolution he became a leading member of the Communist International (Comintern) and editor of Pravda. In 1924, he became a member of the politburo. He opposed agricultural collectivization and was executed for treason by Stalin in 1938.

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