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 on Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin

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 Biography 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.