Roy A. Medvedev, a Soviet dissident historian who has become famous during the past decade, has added a new and valuable volume from the “underground press” emanating out of the Soviet Union in his biographical study of the last decade of the life of Nikolai Bukharin. In his Foreword Medvedev notes that even today the public name, reputation, and career of Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin (1888-1938), who was one of the foremost members of the “Old Bolsheviks” and a pioneer founder of the Soviet state, is taboo in the Soviet Union. This the author finds is an absurd case of gross historical injustice. Nikolai Bukharin was, after all, one of the leaders of the Bolshevik (Communist) Revolution of November, 1917, was a member for twenty years of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party and a member of the Politburo for a decade, was the managing editor of the chief Soviet newspaper Pravda from 1917 until 1929 (and editor of the only slightly less influential newspaper Izsvestiya from 1934 until 1937), and was a world-renowned Marxist economist during the 1920’s. In his Last Testament, V. I. Lenin, the founding father of the U.S.S.R., referred to Bukharin as “the greatest and most valuable theoretician in the Party ... deservedly the favorite of the Party.” Yet contemporary Soviet citizens either regard Bukharin as a counterrevolutionary or are totally ignorant of his importance in early Soviet history. This condition exists because the Stalinist regime destroyed Bukharin personally and obliterated his memory. Under the destalinization program of Nikita Khrushchev, some attempt was made to rehabilitate Bukharin’s name and reputation which, however, ceased with Khrushchev’s fall from power in 1964.
In his unceasing struggle against the legacy of Stalin and his regime, Roy Medvedev believes that the memory of Nikolai Bukharin must be restored to its proper place in Soviet history. Medvedev is aware of recent biographical studies of Bukharin by Westerners, of which the most detailed one is the biography done by the American professor Stephen F. Cohen which appeared in 1973. Yet great obscurity still exists in the West about the last decade of Bukharin’s life.
From unpublished memoirs, newspaper articles, and speeches in existence within the Soviet Union, Medvedev carefully reconstructs Bukharin’s twilight years. Briefly, the author describes the earlier successes that Bukharin enjoyed in pre-Stalinist Russia as economist, theorist, academician. His position as one of the leaders of the Soviet Union terminated in 1929, however, when Joseph Stalin emerged as the unquestioned master of the Soviet state. The hostility between Joseph Stalin and Nikolai Bukharin was caused by the debate over the future socio-politico-economic development of Communism within Russia. Bukharin, together with his close friends of the later 1920’s, Aleksei Rykov and Mikhail Tomsky, were labeled by Stalin the “Rightist Opposition” since they believed in the continuation of the New Economic Policy (NEP) introduced in 1921 by Lenin. This policy permitted a semi-capitalist economic structure (especially vis-à-vis agriculture) to exist within the Soviet Union. Stalin and his associates were determined to end NEP by force in order to collectivize agriculture and institute massive industrialization. Stalin, a master at political maneuver and intrigue, cleverly gained the support of the Politburo to his program by a five-month campaign of innuendo and vilification against his opponents in the spring of 1929. By the end of April, Bukharin, the “Rightist Opposition,” and NEP were defeated.
As did all other “Old Bolsheviks,” Bukharin believed that the Communist Party and its leaders were the sole vehicle of Marxism, socialism, and history. Although ideological and political disputes could and did occur between individual members of the Party’s power elite (the Central Committee), open opposition was not permitted once the Central Committee had formulated official Party policy. The belief in the unquestioned authority of the Party and its leadership is a central theme of this book for it explains Bukharin’s willingness to admit openly his “errors” and join in fulsome praise of the new leader of the Party, Joseph Stalin. Both at the end of 1929 and in 1930 at the Sixteenth Communist Party Congress, Bukharin, Rykov, and Tomsky were forced by Party pressure to denounce publicly their former “Rightist Opposition.” These pronouncements allowed them to remain as members of the Central Committee but virtually ended their roles as major political figures within the Soviet Union.
From 1930 until the end of 1933, Bukharin made no attempt to become involved in any major aspect of Soviet political life. He was convinced that the NEP years were gone forever and that any real opposition to Stalin was out of the question. Stalin, in turn, recognized Bukharin’s reputation within the international Communist movement. Therefore, in 1930, Bukharin was appointed to head the research and planning section of the U.S.S.R. All-Union Council of National Economy. He spent the following three years as an editor of journals (the most famous of which was Socialist Reconstruction and Science or Sorena) devoted to the presentation of the most...
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