Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin (Николай Иванович Бухарин 1888 - 1938)

Nikolai Bukharin, a short man with a red beard, described as "the most valuable theoretician of the Party", by Lenin, was a prominent (and youthful) soviet politician during the Russian Revolution, a 20-year member of the Central Committee, a 10-year member of the Politburo, editor of Pravda and president of the Comintern. His major weakness was his tendency, in Trotsky's words, to act as "nothing more than a medium for someone else's actions and speeches".

The early years

Born on October 9th (September 27 in the old style Russian calendar), 1888, Bukharin was the second son of two primary school teachers, Ivan Gavrilovich and Liubov Ivavnovna, who devoted a lot of time to his education. Bukharin grew up in Moscow and attended the Moscow State University, studying economics, becoming involved in the illegal student movement which on September 7, 1905, adopted a resolution calling for an overthrow of autocracy and the institution of a democratic republic. When he was sixteen, he became involved in the revolution of 1905 and joined the Social-Democratic Workers' Party in 1906. In 1908 he became a member of the Bolshevik wing of the Moscow Party Committee and was arrested for attending the committee meetings. He was released, but was arrested again many times and was, inevitably, exiled to Onega, near the White Sea in 1911. He escaped to Western Europe.

In exile

Like all the best Bolshevik party leaders, Bukharin spent most of the inter-revolution years in exile, spending time in Austria, Switzerland, Sweden and the USA. Meeting Lenin in 1912, as well as all the other important revolutionary leaders. It was during this time that he began to develop his reputation as a leading Bolshevik theoretician, squabbling with Lenin on the details of party ideology.

Leaving Europe after declaring that "Lenin cannot tolerate any other person with brains", he arrived in America in the autumn of 1916, where he took over the editorship of Novy Mir ("New World"), a daily newspaper for the Russian émigré community with Trotsky and Kollontai. He hoped to include Trotsky in a broad socialist coalition, having known him and his family slightly in Vienna and sharing his love of European culture. This partnership would lead to a close friendship.

Then came the revolution.

The revolution

After the Russian February Revolution of 1917, Bukharin returned to Moscow, joining the Moscow Soviet, becoming part of the Central Committee and helping to organize the October Revolution, collaborating with Mikhail Frunze after the fall of the Provisional Government to regain control of Moscow. He justified the terror that occured during the revolution by quoting St Just, a French revolutionary, "One must rule with iron, when one cannot rule with law"

Bukharin and the Left Communists

Bukharin aligned himself with the Left Communists, who are most well known for their opposition of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which would end Russia's involvement in the First World War, although at a great cost to Russia's western territory. Instead, Bukharin advocated a revolutionary war. He also believed that the proletariat should run the economy. When the treaty was signed, Bukharin and other Left Communists resigned from all responsible party and soviet positions and ran the Kommunist paper, agitating against peace for several months. However, after the war ended, they rejoined the party.

After the revolution

It was during the post-revolution period that Bukharin began to build his reputation as a great Bolshevik theoretician in earnest. Writing papers such as "Imperialism and the World Economy" in 1917 and a textbook entitled the "ABC Of Communism" with Evgenii Preobrazhensky (another Left Communist) in 1920. He became editor of Pravda, the Bolshevik newspaper in 1917, a post he was to hold until 1929. In 1924, he was elected a full member of the Politburo and in 1926 became President of the Comintern.

As time passed, Bukharin changed his views on Lenin's economic policy. As War Communism brought the Russian economy to breakdown in 1921, he became an advocate of the NEP, seeing it as a small retreat from rapid collectivization to return Russia (now the USSR) to economic stability, so the progression of communism may continue safely.

This switch to a more conservative policy did not stop there. He became an advocate of the peasant. He believed that poorer peasants could only grow enough to support themselves, and so the food to support the workers in the cities should come from the rich peasants, the kulaks. In order to ensure they produced surplus, they should be given incentives. He coined the phrase of a bourgeois 19th-century French Prime Minister, Francois Guizot, saying they should be allowed to "enrich themselves". He believed that Russia's socialism would be safe, because the Communists would still control the industry, banking and transport. This was not conventional Bolshevik policy.

When Stalin took over

In 1924, Lenin died. Josef Stalin, Leon Trotsky, Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev became the most influential figures of the party. Bukharin became one of the more right-wing members of the Politburo, a private supporter of the "socialism in one country" doctrine, which he would have earlier opposed as an admission of defeat for the revolution. However, when Kamenev and Zinoviev allied with Trotsky in the United Opposition, Stalin allied himself with Bukharin and similarly-minded Bolsheviks, using their support to argue that the United Opposition were creating disunity in the party and they were expelled from the Politburo and the Central Committee. When Trotsky refused to sign a statement promising not to oppose official policy, he was sent to Kazakhstan.

Things were looking good for Bukharin. But then Stalin began his opposition to the NEP and instead started his drive to the forced collectivization of agriculture. Bukharin opposed this, leading the Right Opposition. In 1928, local officials who supportted him began to be dismissed. In July 1928, he went to see Kamenev, having realised that Stalin was playing one group off the other in order to gain power for himself.

Stalin denounced Bukharin as being part of a "Right deviation" in January 1929. Bukharin lost the presidency of the Comintern in April 1929, quickly followed by his expulsion from the Politburo the following November. He quickly recanted his criticisms of Stalin's policies, but he never regained his former political position and he began to edit Izvestia. But his new-found loyalty would be to no avail

The end

In 1937, Bukharin was arrested and was tried for treason (specifically, "being an irreconcilable enemy of the Soviet power) as part of one of Stalin's show trials, the Trial of the Twenty One. He "confessed" and was executed by the NKVD on the 15th of March, 1938.

Like many Old Bolsheviks who met a similar fate, he was officially reinstated as a party member in 1988.

Cyrillic from Using Russian on E2
Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 ISBN: 071267327X
Abraham Ascher, Russia - A Short History ISBN: 1851682422
Robert C. Tucker, Stalin in Power - The Revolution from Above, 1928-1941 ISBN: 0393308693

Mad props to Cazz (a non-participant in E2), who is better at English than me.

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