September 26, 2013

Bukharin: Rise and Fall


Bukharin: Rise and Fall

This Friday, September 27, 2013, Nikolai Bukharin, one of the most popular Russian revolutionaries, would have been a whopping 125 years old. But after crossing Stalin, he met his end in 1938 – at the ripe young age of 49.

 

Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin had everything going for him. As a bright-eyed young revolutionary, he was writing theoretical works, editing publications, and receiving high praise from Lenin himself. As 1917 rolled around, he came back to Russia from exile and immediately found himself a prominent leader in the Moscow branch of the Communist Party. Initially a critic and a bit of a dissident, by 1921 and the launching of the New Economic Policy (NEP) Bukharin was loyal, dependable, and popular, a proponent of moderation and care for the people. He was one of a select group that had brought Russia to socialism, and in the new party ideology that made him one of the most priviledged people in the land.

Lenin (drawn by Bukharin, 1927)

“If we are not to close our eyes to reality,” Lenin wrote in 1922, “we must admit that at the present moment the party’s proletarian politics are defined not by its constituents, but by the enormous, indivisible authority of the thin layer we could call the party’s old guard.” Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? However, he goes on to warn that “a minor internal struggle within this layer would be enough to undermine its authority, or at least weaken it so much that decisions would not longer depend on it.”

Let’s just say Lenin miscalculated slightly. The old guard’s authority was anything but indivisible. Minor internal struggle? More like vicious attack from the inside. After Lenin’s death, it was the era of Stalin’s rise, and Bukharin did not wait on the sidelines. He was the author of “Socialism in One Country,” Stalin’s slogan in opposition to other factions in the power struggle. With Bukharin’s support, Stalin first got rid of Trotsky, then the other major players, his own former allies – Zinoviev and Kamenev, leaving just himself and Bukharin at the top.

Stalin and Bukharin in 1928
 Already not too happy to see each other...

Having brought success both to himself and to Stalin, Bukharin may have expected some well-earned respect and security. Not so fast! By 1929 he had been expelled from the party as a critic of Stalin’s sudden policy reversals – something he maybe could’ve seen coming, judging by what happened to Kamenev and Zinoviev. Like that deposed pair, he remained in the lower levels of the party, laying low and doing the party’s bidding.

Bukharin's caricature of Stalin, 1929,
probably didn't do much to ingratiate him with Stalin...

 

Perhaps in kinder times this fall from grace would have been sufficient punishment for flying too close to the sun. Perhaps it was Stalin’s own rehabilitation of Bukharin – allowing him to edit Izvestia, to be involved with the new constitution – that made his former ally look threatening. Be that as it may, in March of 1938 Bukharin was tried in the last of the Moscow Trials. In his last note to Stalin, he wrote: “Koba, why do you need my death?” There was no answer. On the 15th, he was executed.

Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

In this comprehensive, quixotic and addictive book, Edwin Trommelen explores all facets of the Russian obsession with vodka. Peering chiefly through the lenses of history and literature, Trommelen offers up an appropriately complex, rich and bittersweet portrait, based on great respect for Russian culture.
Moscow and Muscovites

Moscow and Muscovites

Vladimir Gilyarovsky's classic portrait of the Russian capital is one of Russians’ most beloved books. Yet it has never before been translated into English. Until now! It is a spectactular verbal pastiche: conversation, from gutter gibberish to the drawing room; oratory, from illiterates to aristocrats; prose, from boilerplate to Tolstoy; poetry, from earthy humor to Pushkin. 
The Latchkey Murders

The Latchkey Murders

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin is back on the case in this prequel to the popular mystery Murder at the Dacha, in which a serial killer is on the loose in Khrushchev’s Moscow...
The Moscow Eccentric

The Moscow Eccentric

Advance reviewers are calling this new translation "a coup" and "a remarkable achievement." This rediscovered gem of a novel by one of Russia's finest writers explores some of the thorniest issues of the early twentieth century.
Murder and the Muse

Murder and the Muse

KGB Chief Andropov has tapped Matyushkin to solve a brazen jewel heist from Picasso’s wife at the posh Metropole Hotel. But when the case bleeds over into murder, machinations, and international intrigue, not everyone is eager to see where the clues might lead.
93 Untranslatable Russian Words

93 Untranslatable Russian Words

Every language has concepts, ideas, words and idioms that are nearly impossible to translate into another language. This book looks at nearly 100 such Russian words and offers paths to their understanding and translation by way of examples from literature and everyday life. Difficult to translate words and concepts are introduced with dictionary definitions, then elucidated with citations from literature, speech and prose, helping the student of Russian comprehend the word/concept in context.
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.
Driving Down Russia's Spine

Driving Down Russia's Spine

The story of the epic Spine of Russia trip, intertwining fascinating subject profiles with digressions into historical and cultural themes relevant to understanding modern Russia. 
Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar is a hilarious and insightful memoir by a diplomat who was “present at the creation” of US-Soviet relations. Charles Thayer headed off to Russia in 1933, calculating that if he could just learn Russian and be on the spot when the US and USSR established relations, he could make himself indispensable and start a career in the foreign service. Remarkably, he pulled it of.
Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

This astonishingly gripping autobiography by the founder of the Russian Women’s Death Battallion in World War I is an eye-opening documentary of life before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955