Nikolai Bukharin

Nikolai Bukharin books and biography


Nikolai Bukharin


Nikolai Bukharin
Nikolai Bukharin

Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin (Russian: Николай Иванович Бухарин), (October 9, 1888 [O.S. September 27] – March 15, 1938) was a Bolshevik revolutionary and intellectual, and later a Soviet politician.


Before the 1917 Revolution

Bukharin was born in Moscow to two primary school teachers. His political life began at the age of sixteen when, together with his lifelong friend Ilya Ehrenburg, he participated in student activities at Moscow University related to the Russian Revolution of 1905.

He joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1906, becoming a member of the Bolshevik faction. With Grigori Sokolnikov, he convened the 1907 national youth conference in Moscow, which was later considered the founding of the Komsomol.

By age 20, he was a member of the Moscow Committee of the party. The committee was heavily infiltrated by the czarist secret police, or Okhranka. As one of its leaders, Bukharin quickly became a person of interest to them. During this time, he became closely associated with N. Osinskii and Vladimir Mikhailovich Smirnov and met his future wife, Nadezhda Mikhailovna Lukina, the sister of Nikolai Lukin. They married soon after his exile.

In 1911, after a brief imprisonment, Bukharin was exiled to Onega in Arkhangelsk, but soon appeared in Hanover. During this exile, he continued his education and became a major Bolshevik theorist. He developed an interest in the works of non-Marxist economic theorists, such as Aleksandr Bogdanov, who deviated from Leninist positions.

While in exile, Bukharin wrote several books and edited the newspaper Novy Mir (New World) with Leon Trotsky and Alexandra Kollontai in New York. During World War I, he wrote a small book on imperialism from which Vladimir Lenin later drew some of the ideas he put forward in his larger and better known work, Imperialism—The Highest Stage of Capitalism. Upon his return to Russia, Bukharin became one of the leading Bolsheviks in Moscow and was elected to the Central Committee.

The 1917 Revolution to 1928

Bukharin did not play a significant role in the Bolshevik seizure of power. After the revolution, he also became editor of Pravda. In 1920 Bukharin wrote the textbook "The ABC of Communism" together with Evgenii Preobrazhensky.

Bukharin led the opposition of the Left Communists to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, arguing instead for the Bolsheviks to continue the war effort and turn it into a world-wide push for proletarian revolution. In 1921, he changed his position and accepted Lenin's policies, encouraging the development of the New Economic Policy. Whilst some have criticised Bukharin for this apparent u-turn, his change of emphasis can be partially explained by the necessity for peace and stability following seven years of war in Russia, and the failure of Communist Revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe. After Lenin's death, Bukharin became a full member of the Politburo in 1924, and the president of the Communist International (Comintern) in 1926.

After 1926, Bukharin, by then regarded as the leader of the Communist Party's right wing, became an ally of the center of the party, which was led by Stalin and which constituted the ruling group after Stalin broke his earlier alliance with Kamenev and Zinoviev. It was Bukharin who detailed the thesis of "Socialism in one country" put forth by Stalin in 1924, which argued that socialism (in Leninist theory, the transitional stage from capitalism to communism) could be developed in a single country, even one as underdeveloped as Russia. This new theory stated that revolution need no longer be encouraged in the capitalist countries, since Russia could and should achieve socialism alone. The thesis would become a hallmark of Stalinism.

Fall from power

Stalin proposed the idea of collectivisation in 1928, believing the NEP was not working fast enough to achieve industrialisation. Bukharin was worried by the prospect of this policy. He believed that controlling the peasants would make them resentful and, as a result, less productive. Bukharin did want the Soviet Union to achieve industrialisation but he preferred the more moderate approach of offering the peasants the opportunity to become prosperous. This would lead to greater grain production for sale abroad. Essentially, Bukharin supported a continuation of the NEP. Bukharin argued this throughout 1928 in meetings of the Politburo and at the Party Congress, insisting that enforced grain requisition would be counter-productive as War Communism had been. Bukharin attempted to gain support, including from Kamenev and Zinoviev who had fallen from power and held mid-level positions within the Communist party. Stalin attacked Bukharin's views, portraying them as capitalist and declaring that the revolution would be at risk without a strong policy that encouraged rapid industrialisation. He accused Bukharin of factionalism, citing Bukharin's meetings with Kamenev and Zinoviev as evidence of this. Stalin used his control of the party machine to win the debate. He forced Bukharin to renounce his views. As a result, Bukharin lost his position in the Comintern in April 1929 and was expelled from the Politburo on November 17 of that year. International supporters of Bukharin, led by Jay Lovestone of the Communist Party USA, were also expelled from the Comintern. They formed an international alliance to promote their views, calling it the International Communist Opposition, though better known as the Right Opposition after a term used by the Trotskyist Left Opposition in the Soviet Union to refer to Bukharin and his supporters there.


Bukharin was politically rehabilitated by Stalin and was made editor of Izvestia in 1934, where he consistently highlighted the dangers of Facsist regimes in Europe. He was arrested following a plenum of the Central Committee in 1937 for conspiring to overthrow the Soviet state. He was tried in March 1938 as part of the Trial of the Twenty One during the Great Purges, and was executed by the NKVD, on March 15th 1938. Ironically, news of his death was overshadowed by the Nazi Anschluss between Germany and Austria.

Bukharin was officially rehabilitated by the Soviet state under Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988.


Unlike Trotsky, Bukharin was immensely popular within the party throughout the twenties and thirties, even after his fall from power. In his testament, Lenin portrayed him as 'the Golden Boy' of the party. Bukharin made several notable contributions to Marxist-Leninist thought, most notably 'The Economics of the Transition Period' (1918) and his recently reprinted prison writings, 'Philosophical Arabesques', as well as being a founding member of the Soviet Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a keen botanist.

See also: Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Further reading

  • Anna Larina, This I Cannot Forget: The Memoirs of Nikolai Bukharin's Widow, W. W. Norton, 1991, hardcover, 384 pages, ISBN 0-393-03025-3
  • Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A political biography, 1888-1938, Knopf, 1973, hardcover, 495 pages, ISBN 0-394-46014-6; trade paperback, Oxford University Press, 1980, ISBN 0-19-502697-7; trade paperback, Vintage Books, ISBN 0-394-71261-7

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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