Nikolay Bukharin

Nikolay Bukharin

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Nikolay Bukharin, the second son of Ivan Gavrilovich and Liubov Ivanovna Bukharin, was born in Moscow on 27th September 1888. His parents were primary school teachers and they helped him get a good education. He was brought up with progressive political views and took part in the 1905 Revolution.

In 1906 he joined the Bolsheviks. By 1908 he was a member of the Moscow Party Committee. The following year he was arrested while at a committee meeting. He was released but re-arrested several times and in 1910 decided to go into exile. He lived in Austria, Switzerland, Sweden and the USA. He met all the leading revolutionaries in exile including Lenin, Lev Kamenev, Gregory Zinoviev, and Leon Trotsky. Trotsky met him in New York City and later commented that "he welcomed us with the childish exuberance characteristic of him." During this period Bukharin also wrote for Pravda, Die Neue Zeit and Novy Mir.

After the overthrow of Nicholas II, the new prime minister, Prince Georgi Lvov, allowed all political prisoners to return to their homes. Joseph Stalin arrived at Nicholas Station in St. Petersburg with Lev Kamenev on 25th March, 1917. His biographer, Robert Service, has commented: "He was pinched-looking after the long train trip and had visibly aged over the four years in exile. Having gone away a young revolutionary, he was coming back a middle-aged political veteran." Bukharin also returned to Russia where he joined the Moscow Soviet and began editing the journal, Spartak.

On 3rd April, 1917, Lenin announced what became known as the April Theses. Lenin attacked Bolsheviks for supporting the Provisional Government. Instead, he argued, revolutionaries should be telling the people of Russia that they should take over the control of the country. In his speech, Lenin urged the peasants to take the land from the rich landlords and the industrial workers to seize the factories. Leon Trotsky gave Lenin his full support: "I told Lenin that nothing separated me from his April Theses and from the whole course that the party had taken since his arrival."

Lev Kamenev led the opposition to Lenin's call for the overthrow of the government. In Pravda he disputed Lenin's assumption that the bourgeois democratic revolution has ended," and warned against utopianism that would transform the "party of the revolutionary masses of the proletariat" into "a group of communist propagandists." A meeting of the Petrograd Bolshevik Committee the day after the April Theses appeared voted 13 to 2 to reject Lenin's position.

Robert V. Daniels, the author of Red October: The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 (1967) has argued that Lenin now set about changing the minds of the Bolsheviks. "He was distinctly a father-figure: at forty-eight, he was ten years or more the senior of the other Bolshevik leaders. And he had a few key helpers - Zinoviev, Alexandra Kollontai, Stalin (who was quick to sense the new direction of power in the party), and, most effective of all, Yakov Sverdlov."

The Bolshevik Committee was reorganised. It now included Bukharin, Lenin, Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Alexandra Kollontai, Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky, Yakov Sverdlov, Moisei Uritsky, Felix Dzerzhinsky, Andrey Bubnov, Grigori Sokolnikov, Alexei Rykov, Viktor Nogin, Ivan Smilga and V. P. Milyutin. Lenin arranged for two of his supporters, Stalin and Sokolnikov, to become co-editors of Pravada.

In September 1917, Lenin sent a message to the Bolshevik Central Committee via Ivar Smilga. "Without losing a single moment, organize the staff of the insurrectionary detachments; designate the forces; move the loyal regiments to the most important points; surround the Alexandrinsky Theater (i.e., the Democratic Conference); occupy the Peter-Paul fortress; arrest the general staff and the government; move against the military cadets, the Savage Division, etc., such detachments as will die rather than allow the enemy to move to the center of the city; we must mobilize the armed workers, call them to a last desperate battle, occupy at once the telegraph and telephone stations, place our staff of the uprising at the central telephone station, connect it by wire with all the factories, the regiments, the points of armed fighting, etc."

Joseph Stalin read the message to the Central Committee. Nickolai Bukharin later recalled: "We gathered and - I remember as though it were just now - began the session. Our tactics at the time were comparatively clear: the development of mass agitation and propaganda, the course toward armed insurrection, which could be expected from one day to the next. The letter read as follows: 'You will be traitors and good-for-nothings if you don't send the whole (Democratic Conference Bolshevik) group to the factories and mills, surround the Democratic Conference and arrest all those disgusting people!' The letter was written very forcefully and threatened us with every punishment. We all gasped. No one had yet put the question so sharply. No one knew what to do. Everyone was at a loss for a while. Then we deliberated and came to a decision. Perhaps this was the only time in the history of our party when the Central Committee unanimously decided to burn a letter of Comrade Lenin's. This instance was not publicized at the time." Lev Kamenev proposed replying to Lenin with an outright refusal to consider insurrection, but this step was turned down. Eventually it was decided to postpone any decision on the matter.

After the fall of the Provisional Government Bukharin worked closely with Mikhail Frunze to gain control of Moscow. At this time Bukharin was acknowledged as the leader of the Left Communists. This resulted in him disagreeing with Lenin over both internal economic and external revolutionary radicalism. Nikita Khrushchev saw Bukharin speak in 1919 when I was serving in the Red Army. "Everyone was very pleased with him, and I was absolutely spellbound. He had an appealing personality and a strong democratic spirit."

By 1921 the Kronstadt sailors had become disillusioned with the Bolshevik government. They were angry about the lack of democracy and the policy of War Communism. On 28th February, 1921, the crew of the battleship, Petropavlovsk, passed a resolution calling for a return of full political freedoms. Lenin denounced the Kronstadt Uprising as a plot instigated by the White Army and their European supporters.

On 6th March, Leon Trotsky announced that he was going to order the Red Army to attack the Kronstadt sailors. However, it was not until the 17th March that government forces were able to take control of Kronstadt. An estimated 8,000 people (sailors and civilians) left Kronstadt and went to live in Finland. Official figures suggest that 527 people were killed and 4,127 were wounded. Historians who have studied the uprising believe that the total number of casualties was much higher than this. According to Victor Serge over 500 sailors at Kronstadt were executed for their part in the rebellion.

Most Bolshevik leaders accepted Lenin's version of events. Bukharin was one of those who disapproved of this action and at the Third Comintern Congress in 1922 he argued: "Who says that the Kronstadt rising was White? No. For the sake of the idea, for the sake of our task, we were forced to suppress the revolt of our erring brothers. We cannot look upon Kronstadt sailors as our enemies. We love them as our true brothers, our own flesh and blood."

Bukharin gradually moderated his left-wing views and by December 1922 Lenin admitted: "Bukharin is not only the most valuable theoretician of the Party, as he is the biggest, but he also may be considered the favourite of the whole Party. But his theoretical views can with only the greatest reservations be regarded as fully Marxist, for there is something scholastic in him." Simon Sebag Montefiore, the author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2003), described him as "all twinkling eyes and reddish beard, a painter, poet and philosopher" and charmed Joseph Stalin so much that he was admitted into his "magic circle".

Roy A. Medvedev, has argued in Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (1971) that on the surface it was a strange decision: "In 1922 Stalin was the least prominent figure in the Politburo. Not only Lenin but also Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, and A. I. Rykov were much more popular among the broad masses of the Party than Stalin. Closemouthed and reserved in everyday affairs, Stalin was also a poor public speaker. He spoke in a low voice with a strong Caucasian accent, and found it difficult to speak without a prepared text. It is not surprising that, during the stormy years of revolution and civil war, with their ceaseless meetings, rallies, and demonstrations, the revolutionary masses saw or heard little of Stalin."

When Lenin died in 1924 Joseph Stalin, Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev became the dominant figures in the Soviet government. Bukharin was now seen as the leader of the right-wing of the party. He now rejected the idea of world revolution and argued that the party's main priority should be to defend the communist system that had been developed in the Soviet Union.

Bukharin's economic policies also became more conservative and he began advocating a policy of gradualism. He argued that socialism in the Soviet Union could evolve only over a long period of gestation. His agricultural policies were also controversial. Bukharin's theory was that the small farmers only produced enough food to feed themselves. The large farmers, on the other hand, were able to provide a surplus that could be used to feed the factory workers in the towns. To motivate the kulaks to do this, they had to be given incentives, or what Bukharin called, "the ability to enrich" themselves.

Lenin in the past often asserted that a socialist society could not be constructed in a single country. Leon Trotsky agreed and described it as an "elementary Marxist truth". Bukharin disagreed and claimed that "all the conditions for building socialism already exists in Russia". Trotsky was not too surprised by Bukharin changing his view on the need for world revolution: He wrote in My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography (1930) that "Bukharin's nature is such that he must always attach himself to someone. He becomes, in such circumstances, nothing more than a medium for someone else's actions and speeches. You must always keep your eyes on him, or else he will succumb quite imperceptibly to the influence of someone directly opposed to you... And then he will deride his former idol with that same boundless enthusiasm with which he has just been lauding him to the skies. I never took Bukharin too seriously and I left him to himself, which really means, to others. after the death of Lenin he became Zinoviev's medium, and then Stalin's."

Robert Service, the author of Stalin: A Biography (2004), argued: "Stalin and Bukharin rejected Trotsky and the Left Opposition as doctrinaires who by their actions would bring the USSR to perdition... Zinoviev and Kamenev felt uncomfortable with so drastic a turn towards the market economy... They disliked Stalin's movement to a doctrine that socialism could be built in a single country - and they simmered with resentment at the unceasing accumulation of power by Stalin."

In 1925 Joseph Stalin switched his support from Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev to Bukharin and now began advocating the economic policies of Bukharin, Mikhail Tomsky and Alexei Rykov. The historian, Isaac Deutscher, the author of Stalin (1949) has pointed out: "Tactical reasons compelled him to join hands with the spokesmen of the right, on whose vote in the Politburo he was dependent. He also felt a closer affinity with the men of the new right than with his former partners. Bukharin, Rykov, and Tomsky accepted his socialism in one country, while Zinoviev and Kamenev denounced it. Bukharin may justly be regarded as the co-author of the doctrine. He supplied the theoretical arguments for it and he gave it that scholarly polish which it lacked in Stalin's more or less crude version."

Stalin wanted an expansion of the New Economic Policy that had been introduced several years earlier. Farmers were allowed to sell food on the open market and were allowed to employ people to work for them. Those farmers who expanded the size of their farms became known as kulaks. Bukharin believed the NEP offered a framework for the country's more peaceful and evolutionary "transition to socialism". He disregarded traditional party hostility to kulaks and called on them to "enrich themselves".

When Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev eventually began attacking his policies, Joseph Stalin argued they were creating disunity in the party and managed to have them expelled from the Central Committee. The belief that the party would split into two opposing factions was a strong fear amongst active communists in the Soviet Union. They were convinced that if this happened, western countries would take advantage of the situation and invade the Soviet Union.

In the spring of 1927 Leon Trotsky drew up a proposed programme signed by 83 oppositionists. He demanded a more revolutionary foreign policy as well as more rapid industrial growth. He also insisted that a comprehensive campaign of democratisation needed to be undertaken not only in the party but also in the soviets. Trotsky added that the Politburo was ruining everything Lenin had stood for and unless these measures were taken, the original goals of the October Revolution would not be achievable.

Stalin and Bukharin led the counter-attacks through the summer of 1927. At the plenum of the Central Committee in October, Stalin pointed out that Trotsky was originally a Menshevik: "In the period between 1904 and the February 1917 Revolution Trotsky spent the whole time twirling around in the company of the Mensheviks and conducting a campaign against the party of Lenin. Over that period Trotsky sustained a whole series of defeats at the hands of Lenin's party." Stalin added that previously he had rejected calls for the expulsion of people like Trotsky and Zinoviev from the Central Committee. "Perhaps, I overdid the kindness and made a mistake."

Stalin argued that there was a danger that the party would split into two opposing factions. If this happened, western countries would take advantage of the situation and invade the Soviet Union. On 14th November 1927, the Central Committee decided to expel Leon Trotsky and Gregory Zinoviev from the party. This decision was ratified by the Fifteenth Party Congress in December. The Congress also announced the removal of another 75 oppositionists, including Lev Kamenev.

In December 1927 it was reported to Joseph Stalin that the Soviet Union faced a severe shortfall in grain supplies. On 6th January, 1928, Stalin sent out a secret directive threatening to sack local party leaders who failed to apply "tough punishments" to those guilty of "grain hoarding". During that winter Stalin began attacking kulaks for not supplying enough food for industrial workers. He also advocated the setting up of collective farms. The proposal involved small farmers joining forces to form large-scale units. In this way, it was argued, they would be in a position to afford the latest machinery. Stalin believed this policy would lead to increased production. However, the peasants liked farming their own land and were reluctant to form themselves into state collectives.

Stalin was furious that the peasants were putting their own welfare before that of the Soviet Union. Local communist officials were given instructions to confiscate kulaks property. This land was then used to form new collective farms. There were two types of collective farms in the 1920s. The sovkhoz (land was owned by the state and the workers were hired like industrial workers) and the kolkhoz (small farms where the land was rented from the state but with an agreement to deliver a fixed quota of the harvest to the government).

Stalin blamed Bukharin and the New Economic Policy for the failures in agriculture. Bukharin feared that he would be removed from power and made overtures to Lev Kamenev to prevent this. "The disagreements between us and Stalin are many times more serious than the ones we had with you. We (those of the right of the party) wanted Kamenev and Zinoviev restored to the Politburo." This placed Bukharin in great danger as Stalin's agents were listening to his telephone conversations.

Bukharin also wrote an article, Notes of an Economist, where he criticised what he called the Five Year Plan as "super-industrialisation". According to Bukharin, this policy was "Trotskyist and anti-Leninist". He argued that only a "balanced, steady relationship between the interests of industry and agriculture would secure healthy economic development". Stalin disagreed with Bukharin. He believed that fast industrial progress would provide military security. Stalin felt so strongly about this that he was willing to crush anyone who stood in the way of the policy.

Bukharin also clashed with Stalin over foreign policy. At the Comintern's Sixth Congress in July 1928, Stalin declared that anti-communist socialists in Europe (members of labour and social-democratic parties) were the deadliest enemies of socialism and described them as "social-fascists". Bukharin wanted communists and socialists to unite against the fascist menace in Italy and Germany. However, Stalin had little difficulty in persuading the rest of the Politburo that he was right.

In the spring of 1928, Joseph Stalin began dismissing local officials who were known to supporters of Bukharin. At the same time, Stalin made speeches attacking the kulaks for not supplying enough food for the industrial workers. Bukharin was furious and sought help from Alexei Rykov and Maihail Tomsky, in an effort to combat Stalin. Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996), has pointed out: "In spring 1928 Bukharin mobilized his supporters, Rykov, then head of government, and the Trades Union leader Tomsky, and they all wrote notes to the Politburo about the threat to the alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry, naturally invoking Lenin. Stalin did not intend to annihilate Bukharin just yet. He was making a 180-degree turn, and needed Bukharin to explain it from the standpoint of Marxism."

In meetings of the Politburo, Bukharin was joined by Rykov and Tomsky in opposing Stalin's agricultural policy. However, Mikhail Kalinin and Kliment Voroshilov, after initially supporting Bukharin, backed down under pressure from Stalin. At these meetings Stalin argued that the kulaks were a class that needed to be destroyed: "The advance toward socialism inevitably leads to resistance on the part of the exploiting classes... When class war is waged there has to be terror. If class war is intensified - the terror must also be intensified." Stalin called Bukharin to his office and suggested a deal: "You and I are the Himalayas - all the others are nonentities. Let's reach an understanding." However, Bukharin refused to back-down, but agreed to refrain from making speeches or writing articles on this subject in fear of being accused of dividing the party.

In July, 1928, Bukharin went to see Lev Kamenev. He told him that he now realized that Joseph Stalin had played one group off against the other to gain complete power for himself: "He is an unprincipled intriguer who subordinates everything to his appetite for power. At any given moment he will change his theories in order to get rid of someone," Bukharin told Kamenev. He went on to claim that Stalin would eventually destroy the communist revolution. "Our disagreements with Stalin are far, far, more serious than those we have with you," he argued and suggested that they should join forces to end Stalin's dictatorship of the party.

In November, 1929, Nickolai Bukharin, was removed from the Politburo. Stalin now decided to declare war on the kulaks. The following month he made a speech where he argued: "Now we have the opportunity to carry out a resolute offensive against the kulaks, break their resistance, eliminate them as a class and replace their production with the production of kolkhozes and sovkhozes… Now dekulakisation is being undertaken by the masses of the poor and middling peasant masses themselves, who are realising total collectivisation. Now dekulakisation in the areas of total collectivisation is not just a simple administrative measure. Now dekulakisation is an integral part of the creation and development of collective farms. When the head is cut off, no one wastes tears on the hair."

On 30th January 1930 the Politburo approved the liquidation of kulaks as a class. Vyacheslav Molotov was put in charge of the operation. According to Simon Sebag Montefiore, the author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2003), the kulaks were divided into three categories: "The first category… to be immediately eliminated; the second to be imprisoned in camps; the third, 150,000 households, to be deported. Molotov oversaw the death squads, the railway carriages, the concentration camps like a military commander. Between five and seven million people ultimately fitted into the three categories." Thousands of kulaks were executed and an estimated five million were deported to Siberia or Central Asia. Of these, approximately twenty-five per cent perished by the time they reached their destination.

In 1929 Bukharin was deprived of the chairmanship of the Comintern and expelled from the Politburo. He now began work as editor of Izvestia. He now loyally supported the policies of Joseph Stalin. However, when he visited Theodore and Lydia Dann in Paris in 1935 he was very critical of Stalin: "It even makes him miserable that he cannot convince everyone, including himself, that he is a taller man than anybody else. That is his misfortune; it may be his most human trait and perhaps his only human trait; but his reaction to his 'misfortune' is not human - it is almost devilish; he cannot help taking revenge for it on others, any others, but especially those who are in some way better or more gifted than he is... Any man who speaks better than he does is doomed; Stalin will not permit him to live, for this man will serve as an eternal reminder that he is not the first, not the best speaker; if any man writes better than he does, he is in trouble, for Stalin, and only Stalin, must be the greatest Russian writer... Yes, yes, he is a small, malignant man - or rather not a man but a devil."

Bukharin attempted to explain why Stalin was still popular in the Soviet Union: "It is not him we trust but the man in whom the party has reposed its confidence. It just so happened that he has become a sort of a symbol of the party. The lower classes, the workers, the people trust him; this may be our fault, but that's what has happened. That's why we all put our heads in his mouth... knowing for sure that one day he will gobble us up. He knows it, too, and merely waits for a propitious moment."

Nikolai Bukharin was being arrested and charged with treason in 1937. Raphael R. Abramovitch, the author of The Soviet Revolution: 1917-1939 (1962) pointed out that at his trial: "Bukharin, who still had a little fight left in him, was extinguished by the concerted efforts of the public prosecutor, the presiding judge, GPU agents and former friends. Even a strong and proud man like Bukharin was unable to escape the traps set for him. The trial took its usual course, except that one session had to be hastily adjourned when Krestinsky refused to follow the script. At the next session, he was compliant."

Nikolai Bukharin was executed on 15th March, 1938.

Emigration marked a new phase in my life, from which I benefited in three ways. Firstly, I lived with workers' families and spent whole days in libraries. If I had acquired my general knowledge and a quite detailed understanding of the agrarian question in Russia, it was undoubtedly the Western libraries that provided me with essential intellectual capital. Secondly, I met Lenin, who of course had an enormous influence on me. Thirdly, I learnt languages and gained practical experience of the labour movement.

I saw Bukharin speak in 1919 when I was serving in the Red Army. Everyone was very pleased with him, and I was absolutely spellbound. He had an appealing personality and a strong democratic spirit. Bukharin was also the editor of Pravda. He was the Party's chief theoretician. Lenin always spoke affectionately of him as "Our Bukharchik". On Lenin's instructions he wrote The ABC of Communism, and everyone who joined the Party learned Marxist-Lenist science by studying Bukharin's work.

Of the younger members of the Central Committee, I want to say a few words about Piatakov and Bukharin. They are, in my opinion, the most able forces (among the youngest). In regard to them it is necessary to bear in mind the following: Bukharin is not only the most valuable theoretician of the Party, as he is the biggest, but he also may be considered the favourite of the whole Party. But his theoretical views can with only the greatest reservations be regarded as fully Marxist, for there is something scholastic in him.

Tactical reasons compelled him to join hands with the spokesmen of the right, on whose vote in the Politburo he was dependent. He supplied the theoretical arguments for it and he gave it that scholarly polish which it lacked in Stalin's more or less crude version.

It even makes him miserable that he cannot convince everyone, including himself, that he is a taller man than anybody else. That is his misfortune; it may be his most human trait and perhaps his only human trait; but his reaction to his 'misfortune' is not human - it is almost devilish; he cannot help taking revenge for it on others, any others, but especially those who are in some way better or more gifted than he is...

Any man who speaks better than he does is doomed; Stalin will not permit him to live, for this man will serve as an eternal reminder that he is not the first, not the best speaker; if any man writes better than he does, he is in trouble, for Stalin, and only Stalin, must be the greatest Russian writer... Yes, yes, he is a small, malignant man - or rather not a man but a devil...

It is not him we trust but the man in whom the party has reposed its confidence. He knows it, too, and merely waits for a propitious moment.

Bukharin, who still had a little fight left in him, was extinguished by the concerted efforts of the public prosecutor, the presiding judge, GPU agents and former friends. At the next session, he was compliant. All the defendants were condemned to death and shot.

The trial of Bukharin and his fellow oppositionists has broken about the ears of the world like the detonation of a bomb. One can hear the cracking of liberal hopes; of the dream of anti-fascist unity; of a whole system of revolutionary philosophy wherever democracy is threatened, the significance of the trial will be anxiously weighed.

In spite of the trials, I believe Russia is dependable; that it wants peace, and will join in any joint effort to check Hitler and Mussolini, and will also fight if necessary. Russia is still the strongest reason for hope.


Born in Moscow into a middle-class intelligentsia family, Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin joined the Bolshevik Party in 1906 after participating in the revolutionary events of the year before. In 1917 he was one of the leaders of the Bolshevik party organization in Moscow. Shortly after the Bolshevik takeover in October 1917, Bukharin became a spokesman of the "Left communists," who opposed Vladimir Lenin over the role of "bourgeois specialists" in industry and even more over the failure to continue the war with Germany. Bukharin soon returned to the fold and took over the editorship of the party newspaper, Pravda, a post he retained throughout the 1920s. Starting in 1918 Bukharin established himself as the Bolshevik Party's leading theorist. The party textbook ABC of Communism (coauthored in 1919 with Yevgeny Preobrazhensky) had worldwide sales and remains the best introduction to the aspirations that animated the Bolshevik Party during its first years in power.

In the early 1920s, after the civil war had run its course, the Bolsheviks introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP). NEP was based on the realization that the price mechanism was the only available way of managing economic relations with millions of scattered single-owner peasant farms. Bukharin, who provided the most elaborate theoretical justifications of NEP, did not see it as a repudiation of earlier policy but rather as an adjustment to the new challenge of managing the transition to socialism in a peasant country. Relying on Lenin's 1923 article "On Cooperation," Bukharin argued that the cooperatives could be used to transform peasant agriculture gradually by appealing to the peasant's direct material interest. In this way the market would integrate peasants into the state-run socialist sector of the economy—and thus prepare the ground for its own self-negation. In 1925 he wrote: "How will we be able to draw [the peasant] into our socialist organization? … We will provide him with material incentives as a small property-owner.… On the basis of [the resulting] economic growth, the peasant will be moved along the path of a transformation of both himself and his enterprise into a particle of our general state socialist system."

During the NEP period, Bukharin was a political ally of Joseph Stalin and provided the polemical heavy artillery against the leaders of the opposition within the Bolshevik Party, especially Leon Trotsky, Preobrazhensky, Grigory Zinoviev, and Lev Kamenev. In the late 1920s, when Stalin broke with NEP and moved toward collectivization and breakneck industrialization, Bukharin continued to defend earlier policies. Stalin quickly branded him a "right deviationist." The ensuing struggle was sharp but short and ended in Bukharin's complete political defeat.

Bukharin soon recanted and again provided theoretical justification for government policy, this time for Stalin's "revolution from above." In 1934 he became editor of the government newspaper Izvestia. Soon thereafter, however, he fell victim to Stalin's murderous assault on the Bolshevik elite. Bukharin was arrested in February 1937 and spent a year in prison before being condemned to death in one of the last great public show trials of the Stalin era. Bukharin's remarkable achievement during his time in prison only became known after Soviet archives were opened and it was discovered that he had written extensive philosophical notebooks as well as a novel-memoir of his childhood in Moscow (available in English under the title How It All Began). Some analysts have further argued that Bukharin managed to use his courtroom confession of 1938 to deliver a veiled indictment of Stalin.

In the early years of the Gorbachev era (1985–1991), when the reforms were still portrayed as a return to Leninism, Bukharin was regarded by many reform-minded intellectuals almost as the patron saint of perestroika. In 1988 Bukharin was officially cleared of all charges and posthumously readmitted into the party. He became a powerful symbol of supporters of perestroika not only because of his reputation as a defender of NEP but also because he was widely viewed as a representative of the best aspects of the Bolshevik tradition. However, the "Bukharin boom" in Russia was relatively short-lived.

In the early twenty-first century Bukharin is remembered mainly because of his role as a spokesman for the Soviet NEP period, with all its hopes and contradictions. He himself did not view NEP as an alternative model of socialism, since he clearly meant what he said about the market negating itself. He consistently looked forward to a thoroughly organized and centralized socialist society. Nevertheless, Bukharin at his best embodied the vision of an alternative path to socialism—one that avoided the violence and catastrophes of the Stalin era.

Nikolay Bukharin

Lived: 1888-1938.
Nikolay Bukharin was a well-educated son of a school teachers in Moscow. He joined the Bolsheviks in 1905, was arrested and left for Europe and USA in 1910.

After the Revolution, Bukharin held several important positions in the Communist Party. Lenin described Bukharin as the “darling of the party”. He was one of the brightest and cleverest members.

Economic views
After 1921, Bukharin began actively supporting Lenin’s idea of the New Economic Policy (NEP).

In 1925, in a clash with Trotsky’s “Left Opposition”, Bukharin relied on Russia’s peasant majority and urged them to “enrich themselves”.

By 1927, the alliance of Stalin, Bukharin, Tomsky and Rykov suppressed the opposition of Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev. Bukharin was one of the most prominent Bolsheviks near Stalin in the period of 1927-29.

Fall from power
By 1929 Bukharin became Stalin’s next target and he was stripped of all of his positions. Stalin’s excuse was Bukharin’s criticism over the Industrialization plan.

Arrested in 1937 together with Rykov and Yagoda the “Right Opposition” was tried in “The Trial of the 21”. In March 1938 they were all shot.

Bukharin’s wife Anna Larina memorized his 600-word letter to the future generations until 1988.

Bukharin and his Trial

… The investigation instituted by the organs of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs has established that on the instructions of the intelligence services of foreign states hostile to the USSR the accused in the present case organized a conspiratorial group named the “bloc of Rights and Trotskyites,” the object of which was to overthrow the Socialist social and state system existing in the USSR, to restore capitalism and the power of the bourgeoisie in the USSR, to dismember the USSR and to sever from it for the benefit of the aforementioned states the Ukraine, Byelorussia, the Central Asiatic Republics, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan and the Maritime Region….

Lacking all support within the USSR, the members of the “bloc of Rights and Trotskyites” in their struggle against the Socialist social and state system existing in the USSR and for seizing power placed all their hopes exclusively upon the armed assistance of foreign aggressors, who promised the conspirators this assistance on the condition that the USSR was to be dismembered and that the Ukraine, the Maritime region, Byelorussia, the Central Asiatic Republics, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan were to be severed from the USSR

This agreement between the “bloc of Rights and Trotskyites” and the representatives of the aforementioned foreign states was facilitated by the fact that many of the leading participants of this conspiracy had long been agents of foreign intelligence services and had for many years carried on espionage activities on behalf of these intelligence services.

This applies first of all to one of the inspirers of the conspiracy, enemy of the people TROTSKY. His connection with the Gestapo was exhaustively proved at the trials of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Center in August 193 6, and of the Anti-Soviet Trotskyite Center in January 1937.

However, the materials in the possession of the investigating authorities in the present case establish that the connections between the enemy of the people TROTSKY and the German political police and the intelligence services of other countries were established at a much earlier date. The investigation has definitely established that TROTSKY has been connected with the German intelligence service since 1921, and with the British Intelligence Service since 1926….

THE PRESIDENT: Accused Bukharin, do you plead guilty to the charges brought against you?

BUKHARIN: Yes, I plead guilty to the charges brought against me.

THE PRESIDENT: Accused Rykov, do you plead guilty to the charges brought against you?

THE PRESIDENT: Accused Iagoda, do you plead guilty to the charges brought against you?

THE PRESIDENT: Accused Krestinskii, do you plead guilty to the charges brought against you?

KRESTINSKII: I plead not guilty. I am not a Trotskyite. I was never a member of the bloc of Rights and Trotskyites, of whose existence I was not aware. Nor have I committed any of the crimes with which I personally am charged, in particular I plead not guilty to the charge of having had connections with the German intelligence service.

THE PRESIDENT: Do you corroborate the confession you made at the preliminary investigation?

KRESTINSKII: Yes, at the preliminary investigation I confessed, but I have never been a Trotskyite.

THE PRESIDENT: I repeat the question, do you plead guilty?

KRESTINSKII: Before my arrest I was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) and I remain one now.

THE PRESIDENT: Do you plead guilty to the charge of participating in espionage activities and of participating in terrorist activities?

KRESTINSKII: I have never been a Trotskyite, I have never belonged to the bloc of Rights and Trotskyites and have not committed a single crime.

THE PRESIDENT: Accused Rakovskii, do you plead guilty to the charges brought against you?

Citizen President and Citizens judges, I fully agree with Citizen the Procurator regarding the significance of the trial, at which were exposed our dastardly crimes, the crimes committed by the “bloc of Rights and Trotskyites,” one of whose leaders I was, and for all the activities of which I bear responsibility.

This trial, which is the concluding one of a series of trials, has exposed all the crimes and the treasonable activities, it has exposed the historical significance and the roots of our struggle against the Party and the Soviet government.

I have been in prison for over a year, and I therefore do not know what is going on in the world. But, judging from those fragments of real life that sometimes reached me by chance, I see, feel and understand that the interests which we so criminally betrayed are entering a new phase of gigantic development, are now appearing in the international arena as a great and mighty factor of the international proletarian phase.

We, the accused, are sitting on the other side of the barrier, and this barrier separates us from you, Citizens judges. We found ourselves in the accursed ranks of the counter-revolution, became traitors to the Socialist fatherland….

… At such moments, Citizens judges, everything personal, all the personal incrustation, all the rancor, pride, and a number of other things, fall away, disappear. And, in addition, when the reverberations of the broad international struggle reach your ear, all this in its entirety does its work, and the result is the complete internal moral victory of the USSR over its kneeling opponents. I happened by chance to get Feuchtwanger’s book [MOSCOW, 1937 (1937)] from the prison library. There he refers to the trials of the Trotskyites. It produced a profound impression on me but I must say that Feuchtwanger did not get at the core of the matter. He stopped half way, not everything was clear to him when, as a matter of fact, everything is clear. World history is a world court of judgment: A number of groups of Trotskyite leaders went bankrupt and have been cast into the pit. That is true. But you cannot do what Feuchtwanger does in relation to Trotsky in particular, when he places him on the same plane as Stalin. Here his arguments are absolutely false. For in reality the whole country stands behind Stalin he is the hope of the world he is a creator. Napoleon once said that fate is politics. The fate of Trotsky is counter-revolutionary politics.

I am about to finish. I am perhaps speaking for the last time in my life.

I am explaining how I came to realize the necessity of capitulating to the investigating authorities and to you, Citizens judges. We came out against the joy of the new life with the most criminal methods of struggle. I refute the accusation of having plotted against the life of Vladimir Il’ich, but my counter-revolutionary confederates, and I at their head, endeavored to murder Lenin’s cause, which is being carried on with such tremendous success by Stalin. The logic of this struggle led us step by step into the blackest quagmire. And it has once more been proved that departure from the position of Bolshevism means siding with political counter-revolutionary banditry. Counter-revolutionary banditry has now been smashed, we have been smashed, and we repent our frightful crimes….

… I am kneeling before the country, before the Party, before the whole people. The monstrousness of my crimes is immeasurable especially in the new stage of the struggle of the USSR May this trial be the last severe lesson, and may the great might of the USSR become clear to all. Let it be clear to all that the counter-revolutionary thesis of the national limitedness of the USSR has remained suspended in the air like a wretched rag. Everybody perceives the wise leadership of the country that is ensured by Stalin.

It is in the consciousness of this that I await the verdict. What matters is not the personal feelings of a repentant enemy, but the flourishing progress of the USSR and its international importance….

“Enrich yourselves!”

Bukharin defends, like the Left, the legal nationalization and is not for free property. The latter is a safeguard position not to fall back into the past and not lose power. But he understands that for big industry you need big capital. He sees that the industry can hardly start producing manufactured consumer goods (in addition to the production of goods for military use, necessary for the coming conflict, for him “offensive” – his dream rejected by Lenin at the time of Brest-Litovsk), at most it can produce capital goods to expand the industry itself, but not to transform agriculture. His formula is that the land remains in the state but the agrarian capital is formed outside of it.

Trade and the N.E.P. had already given rise to capital accumulation, but in the hands of traders, speculators who were no longer legally smugglers but Nepmen, hated by the peasants (but mostly because of the reactionary attachment of the latter to the management of the plot). This capital, threatened both socially and politically, is sterile from the point of view of production and the improvement of its technical potential.

Bukharin, who was often mocked by his master Lenin, knows his Capital perfectly. He knows that the classical primitive accumulation was born of the agrarian rent, as in England and elsewhere, and it is from this origin that the “bases” of socialism were born. He is nourished by other correct theories: that it is madness to think of having a tremendously expanding business, to treat in a mercantile form, as Trotsky justifies it, the industrial production itself, and not to see the growth of capitalist forms, state or private, but always capitalist. If in industry passing from private forms to state forms represent a progress in the countryside, yet there is no capital, neither private nor owned by the State, it is laughable to think that one can have not only socialism but even simply the statization of capital.

Bukharin is in line not only with Marx but also with Lenin. In the countryside you have to go from form 2 to form 3: from peasant petty production to private capitalism.

The land remains in the State, and the peasant rich “in land” disappears (it is not true that Bukharin and his people defended the kulak), but it is the “farmer of the State” that appears and the latter, with its working capital and its employees (in forms which are not radically different from the wage-earning of State-controlled and then owned factories), it produces on its own land a very large mass of products for the general economy, and it pays the rent to the state and no longer to the former landowner.

For the size of the average enterprise to grow it is needed, clearly, that the average enterprise capital grows as well as the number of rural proletarians. This result cannot be achieved if the agrarian entrepreneur does not accumulate and become larger. Another correct thesis, firm in the intelligent mind of Bukharin, was this: no State has the function of “building” and organizing, but only of forbidding, or of stopping forbidding. By ceasing to forbid the accumulation of social agrarian capital (Marx: the capital that is accumulated by individuals is only part of the social capital) the communist state takes a shorter route to climb the scale of forms, the ladder of Lenin.

The formula, the form of social structure that emerged from history, the kolkhoz, leads less rapidly from peasant fragmentation than the solution proposed by Trotsky (and Lenin), and especially that of Bukharin – and by affirming this we do not say that there was a choice between three possibilities when the controversy exploded. And this formula of the kolkhoz was not invented by Stalin, who was only a fabricator of formulas a posteriori with demagogic effect in which there is no genius (which needs parties and not heads in modern history, and perhaps ever) but great political force.

Yes, the brave Bukharin shouted: “Enrich yourselves!” But Stalin did much worse and was about to shout: “Make money from the land! Leave us only the industrial State, the armed force!”. He did not understand that whoever has the land has the State.

The phrase of Bukharin, which everyone remembers without being able to reconstruct its doctrine (it is difficult to do so from the texts), has this scope: “We open the doors of the land of the State to you enrich yourselves with capital of the agrarian enterprise, and the moment we expropriate you from what you have accumulated will arrive more quickly, passing also in the countryside to step four: State Capitalism”.

For the fifth step, Socialism, one needs neither laws nor Congress debates, but only one force: the World Revolution. Bukharin did not understand it then and this was serious.

Stalin used Bukharin’s thesis to defeat the Marxist Left. When Bukharin saw that history pushed Stalin not to choose routes to economic Socialism but to bring the political state back to the capitalist functions, both internal and external, there was no longer any difference between the Right and the Left, nothing remained right of the Center, and all the revolutionary Marxists were, for reasons of principle much deeper and more powerful, against Stalin. They were certainly vanquished, but they belong to the fertile series of all crushed revolutions whose revenge will come, a revenge that can only be global.

Nikolai Bukharin – a brief summary

Born in Moscow on 9 October 1888 to two primary school teachers, the 17-year-old Bukharin joined the workers’ cause during the Russian Revolution of 1905 and, the following year, became a member of the Bolshevik Party. Like many of his radical colleagues, he was arrested at regular intervals to the point that, in 1910, he fled into exile.

At various times he lived in Vienna, Zurich, London, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Krakow, the latter where he met Bolshevik leader, Vladimir Lenin, and began working for the party newspaper, Pravda, ‘Truth’. In 1916, he moved to New York where he met up with another leading revolutionary, Leon Trotsky.

‘Favourite of the whole party’

Following the February Revolution of 1917 and the overthrow of the tsar, Nicholas II, Bukharin returned to Moscow and was elected to the party’s central committee. Bukharin clashed with Lenin on the latter’s decision to surrender to Germany, thus ending Russia’s involvement in the First World War, believing that the Bolsheviks could transform the conflict into a pan-European communist revolution. Lenin got his way, and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsky was duly signed in March 1918.

Bukharin was a thinker and produced several theoretical tracts, works that didn’t always meet with Lenin’s full approval. In Lenin’s Testament, in which he passed judgement on various members of his Central Committee, Lenin wrote that Bukharin was ‘rightly considered the favourite of the whole Party,’ but ‘his theoretical views can be classified as fully Marxist only with the great reserve, for there is something scholastic about him.’ (Lenin’s Testament was particularly damning of Joseph Stalin but, following Lenin’s death on 21 January 1924, was quietly suppressed).

‘Not a man, but a devil’

In 1924, Bukharin was appointed a full member of the Politburo. It was here, during the immediate post-Lenin years, that Bukharin became an unwitting pawn in Stalin’s deadly power games. Bukharin had opposed collectivization and believed agriculture was best served by encouraging the richer peasants, the kulaks, to produce more. In this he was supported by Stalin – but only in order for Stalin to marginalise then remove those he saw as threats, men such as Trotsky, Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev. Kamenev and Zinoviev soon caved in to Stalin. Trotsky, who did not, was exiled, first within the Soviet Union, then to Turkey and ultimately to Mexico where, in August 1940, he was killed by a Stalinist agent. Having defeated his opponents, Stalin then took their ideas and advocated rapid collectivization and the liquidation of the kulaks, criticizing Bukharin for holding opposite views.

Bukharin realised what Stalin was doing: ‘He [Stalin] is an unprincipled intriguer who subordinates everything to his appetite for power. At any given moment he will change his theories in order to get rid of someone.’

During a visit to Paris in February 1936, where, on Stalin’s orders, he was retrieving the archives of Marx and Engels, Bukharin visited an exiled Menshevik and there, momentarily free from the all-seeing eyes of the Soviet state, talked of his boss: ‘If anyone can talk better than him, that person is doomed, Stalin won’t let him live. Stalin is a little evil man no, not a man, but a devil.’

Bukharin’s downfall was rapid – Stalin removed anyone who showed support for Bukharin and, in 1929, expelled Bukharin from the Politburo. Bukharin, realising the danger he was in, renounced his views. In 1934, speaking at a party congress, he said meekly: “The members of the Communist Party ought to stand together to make the ideals of Comrade Stalin come true.” Stalin seemingly forgave him and appointed Bukharin editor of Izvestia and asked him to oversee the text for the new Soviet Constitution. But it was all part of the cat-and-mouse games Stalin revelled in.

Meanwhile, Bukharin’s old comrades, Kamenev and Zinoviev, were put on show trial, accused of ludicrous crimes, and, in 1936, executed. Bukharin was not sorry, crowing that he was ‘glad’ they had been shot like ‘dogs’. It would not be long until it was his turn.

(Bukharin was a competent cartoonist and pictured is a cartoon he did of the man that would one day order his execution).

‘It is impossible to live’

In February 1937, the arrest duly came. He responded by going on hunger strike. Stalin criticized him: ‘How dare you give us an ultimatum. Who are you to challenge the Central Committee?’ Bukharin responded, ‘With such accusations hanging over me, it is impossible to live’, to which Stalin accused him of blackmail.

During his year of incarceration, awaiting trial within the feared walls of Lubyanka Prison in Moscow, Bukharin wrote. And he wrote a lot – some 1,400 pages, including 200 poems and even a novel, How It All Began. Remarkable – given his circumstances, not just of imprisonment but knowing his life would soon end by an executioner’s bullet. The novel, a semi-autobiographical work, known in Russia as ‘the prison novel’, was left unfinished indeed it ends mid-sentence.

Bukharin was accused, amongst many obviously false accusations, of planning to assassinate Stalin and of being a Trotskyite. (Soon, the word ‘Bukharinite’ came into common usage. To be labelled as such was almost as damning as being labelled a Trotskyite).

Bukharin only confessed when his interrogators used a favourite tack and threatened to bring in his wife and family. Later, however, he retracted his confession. Ultimately, his confession, or lack of it, was immaterial – the result was a foregone conclusion. ‘The monstrousness of my crime is immeasurable,’ he said on the final day of his trial ‘Everybody perceives the wise leadership of the country that is ensured by Stalin.’ The state prosecutor assigned to preside over his trial, Andrey Vyshinsky, dismissed Bukharin as a ‘hybrid: half fox, half pig’.

Bukharin had married three times. All three wives ended up in a gulag. He married his third wife, Anna Larina, in January 1934, and as newly-weds they lived for a while in the Kremlin apartment where Nadezhda Alliluyeva, Stalin’s second wife, had committed suicide in November 1932.

Anna Larina’s Great Ordeal

Soon after his arrest, Bukharin wrote a letter to Anna, in which he warned: ‘A great ordeal awaits you. I beg you, my dearest, muster all your strength, tighten all the strings of your heart, but don’t allow them to break.’ But Anna herself had been arrested. She received the letter fifty-four years later, in 1992. One can only imagine the impact – reading a desperate letter written over a half a century before.

Following Bukharin’s arrest, Anna Larina spent 18 months in a cell, ankle-deep in water, during which time she learned from another prisoner, via the tapping on her cell wall, that her husband had been executed. She served a further eighteen years in a gulag and was only released in 1959. She spent years trying to clear Bukharin’s name which, in 1988, fifty years after his execution, she finally managed to achieve. She wrote This I Cannot Forget, published 1993, about Bukharin and their life together. She died in 1996 – five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Letters of a condemned man

While in prison awaiting his fate, Nikolai Bukharin wrote thirty-four desperate letters to Stalin. Not one was answered. In one he promises that if released he would ‘wage a mortal war against Trotsky’, even offering up his wife as a hostage for six months as an ‘added insurance’. In another letter, he asks of Stalin, ‘Koba, why do you need me to die?’ (‘Koba’ being a revolutionary nickname used by Stalin in his younger days. The letter was found hidden in Stalin’s desk following his death 15 years later.)

In his last letter to Stalin, Bukharin writes pathetically, ‘[I] have learned to cherish and love you wisely.’ He begs Stalin to allow him to die by poison not by a bullet: ‘I implore you beforehand, I entreat you … let me have a cup of morphine.’ Not only did Stalin ignore this request, but Bukharin was forced to sit and watch as others were shot before him.

In the same letter, Bukharin maintains his innocence, writing, ‘My heart boils over when I think that you might believe that I am guilty of these crimes … Standing on the edge of a precipice, from which there is no return, I tell you on my word of honour, as I await my death, that I am innocent of those crimes to which I admitted.’

It did him little good – Nikolai Bukharin was executed 15 March 1938, aged 49, a victim of the system he helped create.

Nikolay Bukharin - History

The Theory of Permanent Revolution

Source : Communist Review, Volume 5, no 10, February 1925, a monthly magazine published by the Communist Party of Great Britain. Scanned, prepared and annotated for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers. Basic spelling errors have been corrected, and spellings of names have been changed to reflect the modern rendering.

Introduction by Editor of the Communist Review

Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin, the author of the following article, was born in 1888. His father being a college professor, young Bukharin passed through the municipal school, and from there to the college where he finished his secondary studies. He next went to the Faculty for Law in the University of Moscow, and worked one year in the Faculty for Law in the University of Vienna.

Bukharin joined the Social-Democratic Party (Bolshevik) in 1906, at the age of 18 years, and from that time devoted all his energy to the service of the Party and of revolutionary action.

After 1905, the revolutionary movement passed through a period of depression and stagnation, particularly following the massacre at Lena. The intellectuals were then frightened by the Czarist Terror, the advanced workers watched and pursued by the police. During these years it was particularly difficult for the revolutionaries to work. Nevertheless, Bukharin continued to be very active.

He helped to organise numerous economic and political strikes of the factory workers in Moscow and St Petersburg (now Leningrad), took part in all the student movements, in the celebrations of the first of May, mass meetings and other activities. In 1908, he was elected to the Moscow Committee of the Party. In 1910 he was arrested by the Moscow police for his revolutionary activity and after a year’s imprisonment he was deported to Siberia.

Escaping from Siberia, he went abroad and remained abroad till 1917. He lived in a number of countries, in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway and America. It was while he was abroad that he made the acquaintance of Lenin, with whom he remained a devoted disciple. He occupied himself with the agitation and propaganda of Bolshevism, and took an active part in the international working-class movement. In the course of his peregrinations in the different countries, he carried on revolutionary propaganda amongst the workers in Germany, Austria, America, etc, organising a large number of workers’ study circles. At the same time, he employed himself in literature and displayed the qualities of a talented writer and Marxist theoretician. An eminent Bolshevik, Bukharin took part in many of the conferences of the Party.

In the early part of 1917, he returned to Russia. At Moscow, he became editor of the Social-Democrat and the reviews Spartacus and The Communist. While he devoted the most of his time to literary activity, he never neglected the practical work among the proletariat of Moscow. Under the Provisional Government, he conducted a fierce controversy against the conciliations. In 1918, he became Editor of the Pravda.

After the October Revolution his literary activity increased. In 1918, he was made a member of the collegium for editing the State edition [sic — MIA], and continued as a member till 1921. In the year 1918, he began his pedagogical career. He was in charge of the First State University of Moscow, and of the Sverdlov University. He was also a member of the Presidium of the Socialist Academy. At the same time he continued his functions as Editor of Pravda.

At the Sixth Congress of the Party in 1917, Bukharin was elected to the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party. Since 1918 he has been a member of the Pan-Russian Central Executive Committee, since 1917 a member of the Moscow Soviet, and since 1919 a member of the Presidium of the Communist International.

* The ABC of Communism (in collaboration with Preobrazhensky)
* The Crisis of Capitalism and the Communist Movement (1923)
* World Economy and Imperialism
* The Revolution and Proletarian Culture (1923)
* The Theory of Historical Materialism
* The Programme of Communism
* From the Overthrowal of Czarism to the Collapse of the Bourgeoisie
* The Economics of the Transition Period (1920)
* The Political Economy of the Rentier

In addition, Comrade Bukharin has written a number of other works on economic and political questions.

In the recent Trotsky discussion, Bukharin made a report on 13 December 1924, to a meeting of the propagandists of the Moscow organisation on ‘The Theory of Permanent Revolution’. The following article is taken from that report and is a brilliant contribution to the theory and practice of Leninism.

The General Estimation of our Revolution.

We come now to the general estimation of our revolution. Comrade Trotsky’s theory is called the ‘Theory of Permanent Revolution’. We have before us, above all, the question of the general estimation of our revolution. Comrade Trotsky, in one of his last, or ‘last but one’, productions, in his pamphlet The New Course, in this connection wrote the following:

As for the theory of permanent revolution, I see absolutely no reason for repudiating what I wrote about it in 1904-05-06, and later. Even now, I con- sider that the fundamental direction of the ideas that it developed at that time is incomparably nearer to the real essence of Leninism than very much of what was written by a number of Bolsheviks at that time. The term permanent revolution [NB — Italics are ours] is Marx’s term. Translated precisely, permanent revolution means constant and unceasing revolution. What political idea is contained in these words? The idea that for us, for Communists, the revolution does not come to an end after one or other political gain has been achieved, but develops further, and for us the limits for it are the establishment of Socialist society. In the conditions prevailing in Russia this implied, not a bourgeois republic as a political achievement, and not even the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, but a Workers’ Government relying upon the support of the peasantry and the starting point of an era of international Socialist revolution. Consequently, the idea of permanent revolution completely and wholly coincides with the fundamental strategical policy of Bolshevism. No attempt at minimising the importance of the peasantry was made in any of my writings at that time. The path of ‘permanent revolution’ led straight to Leninism, and particularly to the theses of April 1917. (The New Course, published by Krassnaya, November 1924, page 50) [1]

In the preface to his book 1905, Comrade Trotsky wrote:

The views of the character of the revolutionary development of Russia, which had received the appellation of the theory of ‘permanent revolution’, developed in the mind of the writer in the interval between 9 January and the April strikes of 1905. Although with some interruptions this estimation has been confirmed completely throughout the course of 12 years. (1905, second edition, Gosizdat, 1922, preface, pp 4-5) [2]

Finally, in his letter to Comrade Olminsky, Comrade Trotsky says:

I do not consider that in my disagreements with the Bolsheviks I was altogether wrong. I consider that my estimation of the motive forces of the revolution was absolutely correct.

Even now I could without difficulty divide my polemic articles against the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks into two categories. (1) Those devoted to an analysis of the inherent forces of the revolution and its perspectives. and (2) devoted to the estimation of the factions among the Russian Social-Democrats, their antagonisms, etc. The articles of the first category I could submit even now without alteration, for they wholly and completely coincide with the position of our party taken up since 1917. [3]

Thus, Comrade Trotsky now asserts that:

1. The theory of permanent revolution has proved to be correct, for it has been confirmed by experience ‘wholly and completely’.
2. The theory of permanent revolution is infinitely nearer to the essentials of Leninism than all the rest.
3. The theory of permanent revolution is in complete harmony with the strategical policy of our party and that of Bolshevism taken up since 1917.
4. The theory of permanent revolution under no circumstances is based upon an underestimation of the peasantry, and generally that:
5. The theory of permanent revolution presents an absolutely correct estimation of the motive forces of our revolution.

In paying so many compliments to his theoretical offspring, Comrade Trotsky to a high degree reveals his internal party policy.

Why is the whole history of our Party right up to 1917, in the eyes of Comrade Trotsky, equal to zero? Because, in his opinion, in 1917 the Party adopted the point of view of permanent revolution. Why indeed was our Party ‘born’ in 1917? Because only at that time was it re-baptised with the sign of the permanent revolution. Why is it unimportant to deal with the pre-revolutionary fight against Menshevism and Trotskyism? Because the theory of permanent revolution acts as a screen to conceal the past, present and future errors of Comrade Trotsky. And so on, and so forth.

To sum up: the essence of Leninism, of that born as Leninism in 1917 (see also ‘Nearer in Spirit’ article of Comrade Preobrazhensky) is the theory of Permanent revolution. It is not surprising, therefore, that Comrade Trotsky comes forth as the chief Leninist and guardian of its covenants (out of modesty he does not claim to be their authority). What is important for Comrade Trotsky is not historical Bolshevism, but Trotskyism labelled Leninism.

But we will leave this question now, for it has been sufficiently dealt with already in our press. We will take up the analysis of Comrade Trotsky’s theory as such.

Comrade Trotsky presents the question in the following manner.

The theory of permanent revolution is a theory the principles of which were laid down by Karl Marx. ‘Permanent Revolution’, that is, ‘unceasing revolution’ is a revolution which in the last analysis has its limits in the achievement of Socialist society. On the strength of this, Comrade Trotsky, in a number of his recent works, says: Very well, that is precisely what has happened — permanent revolution has justified itself because the proletariat in Russia has captured political power. Up till 1917 the Bolsheviks argued against the theory of permanent revolution they constantly insisted that the revolution in Russia will be a bourgeois revolution. Indeed, in 1905 and up till the February revolution, we did say so. But who proved to be correct? The advocates of the theory of permanent revolution or the orthodox Bolsheviks? The advocates of the theory of permanent revolution proved to be correct, and the Bolsheviks became ‘good’ only in 1917 because they abandoned the Bolshevik theory of the revolution, and accepted the Trotskian interpretation.

These are the conclusions that Comrade Trotsky draws. Let us examine them.

First of all, it should be observed that the quintessence of the theory of permanent revolution is by no means the fact that we are confronted by revolution which in the last analysis will reach a stage when the workers will have captured political power. In this sense permanent revolution did come about, for the working class really came into power. [4] But here we have another question. And it is just this other question that represents the ‘quintessence’ of the theory of permanent revolution. And it is of this quintessence that we must speak in the first place. But before doing so, it is necessary to state how Marx understood the theory of permanent revolution. In his pamphlet, Comrade Stalin quotes a decisive passage from Marx, and makes quite a correct commentary upon it. Marx wrote:

While the democratic petty bourgeois desires simultaneously to secure as great a number as possible of the above-mentioned demands, and to bring revolution to an end as speedily as possible, our interests and our tasks demand that the revolution shall become unceasing until all the more or less wealthy classes have been removed from power and until the proletariat has captured political power. (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Volume 3, Gosizdat, 1921, p 501) [5]

What then did Marx understand by the theory of uninterrupted revolution? By uninterrupted revolution Marx conceived the prospect of the revolution taking a course in which the relation of forces continuously changes, and the revolution all the time develops ‘in an ascending line’ [of a chart — translator]. The landlords, let us say, are overthrown. Their place is taken by one of the sections of the bourgeoisie, the liberal bourgeoisie, for example. With this the revolution does not end. The liberal bourgeoisie is overthrown and its place is taken by the radical petty bourgeoisie. The radical petty bourgeoisie is overthrown, and its place is taken by the poor class of the cities in the special meaning of the term, in alliance with the poor peasantry and the working class. Finally, even this government departs and gives place to the government of the working class. Of course, this is only a chart, as it were, of the process, but the chart is a correct one. [6] What then is the essence of the theory of permanent revolution?

The essence of the Marxian, that is, the correct theory of permanent revolution is that the constant changes in the social content of the revolution are taken into account. It reflects the fact that, in the progress of the revolution, the relation between the conflicting classes constantly changes, and that the revolution in its development constantly marches from one stage to another. It marches from the stage of feudalism to the liberal bourgeois stages. It advances from the liberal bourgeois stage to the petty bourgeois stage, and from that it advances to the stage of the proletarian revolution. This is the meaning of the Marxian (and not the Trotskian) theory of permanent revolution.

Can we have any objection to such a theory? No, for it is a correct one. In this sense, our revolution proved to be ‘uninterrupted’. In Russia the revolution passed through a series of stages. In February, 1917, we had a substitution of the landlord regime by the liberal government of the imperialist bourgeoisie accompanied by the establishment of a parallel authority of the workers and peasants (the Soviets). Then followed a fresh regrouping, when the place of the liberal bourgeoisie was taken by various factions of the petty bourgeoisie in alliance with the liberals (’the Coalition Government’ with the Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries, etc). After that, when we took power in October the Bolsheviks and Left Socialist Revolutionaries came into power. After the revolt of the Socialist Revolutionaries, another change took place, and our Party became the sole government party. Thus in Russia, the curve of the revolution, taken as a whole, ascended all the time. (We say ‘taken as a whole’, because in the period of this advancing progress of the revolution, there were some minor halts. It is sufficient to recall the July days. This circumstance must be borne in mind because it is of no small importance in practice.)

This process found its expression in the structure of the state, in the transition of power from one class to another, from one social group to another, until a permanent position was reached by the working class taking power when the dictatorship of the workers established a firm foundation for itself and when the Communist Party became the only party holding political power in its hands. If we approach the question in this manner, that is, from the point of view of the actual progress of historical events, and we ask ourselves — does this represent the quintessence of the Trotskian permanent revolution? — we should have to reply — No. And it is precisely this ‘No’ that is the ‘nigger in the wood pile’ [sic — MIA] [7] . We will approach this central question from various points of view. For the moment we will merely draw the fundamental outline of what will serve as the subject of our further exposition.

Had Comrade Trotsky pictured to himself the situation in accordance with the facts as they afterwards appeared, he would not in 1905 have put forward the slogans which he did in conjunction with Parvus. As we know, in 1905, Comrade Trotsky put forward against the Bolsheviks the slogan: ‘Down with the Czar, Up with the Government of the Workers!’ In other words, Comrade Trotsky in 1905, at the first stage of our revolutionary movement, put forward as an immediate slogan, a slogan which was fulfilled only at the last stage of this process. Comrade Trotsky had no connection with the actual state of affairs as they existed at that time. In other words, the fundamental political charge we make against Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution is that it ignores all the intermediate stages, that is, precisely that which distinguishes permanent revolution.

These various stages of the revolution in which various classes fulfil their task and pass away to give place to others, demand of us special slogans applicable to each of these stages, directed towards a single goal. Only in this way can revolution be conducted. Comrade Trotsky, however, placed the final link of the revolution in the beginning of the chain when there were no grounds at all for doing so. He leaped across a number of intervening stages, and had our Party followed the lead of Comrade Trotsky, and had not conducted the revolution in the manner in which it did, we would simply have collapsed. Curious as it may seem, as a matter of fact, Comrade Trotsky killed the idea of permanent revolution, for if the ‘end’ is placed at the beginning, no process can take place there are no transitions, no ‘uninterrupted revolution’.

Did Comrade Trotsky understand the peculiarities of our Revolution? Did Comrade Trotsky see how each stage passed on, ‘grew into’ to [sic — MIA] the other? Was he able to ‘seize upon’ the necessary link? All these questions must be replied to in the negative. Comrade Trotsky presented the question in a very simplified form: in Russia only a proletarian revolution is possible (Comrade Trotsky denied the possibility of a bourgeois revolution even in 1905):

In Russia only a proletarian revolution is possible, but this proletarian revolution in a petty bourgeois country is doomed unless it receives state aid from the victorious proletariat of Western Europe. Without direct state aid [italics ours — NB] of the European proletariat, the working class of Russia will not be able to maintain power and convert its temporary domination into a prolonged Socialistic dictatorship. Of this there can be no doubt for a single moment. (Our Revolution) [8]

Comrade Trotsky began by failing to understand the peculiar process of our revolution, a peculiarity which consisted in the curious interweaving of a peasant war against the landlords with a proletarian revolution. Comrade Trotsky failed to understand the peculiarity of the first stage of this revolution which consisted in the path being clear of feudalism and in the break-up of big private land ownership (’the agrarian question represents the foundation of the bourgeois revolution in Russia, and determines the national peculiarity of this revolution. The experience of the first period of the Russian Revolution has finally proved that it can be inevitable only as a peasant agrarian revolution.’) [9]

Comrade Trotsky ‘failed to observe’ the stages by which the bourgeois revolution in Russia grew into a Socialist-proletarian revolution. Furthermore, Comrade Trotsky failed to see the peculiarities which distinguish our Socialist revolution from the Socialist revolutions in other countries.

Again, Comrade Trotsky failed to see the special international conditions which — even without the state aid of the victorious Western European proletariat — permit our Socialist revolution to hold on, to consolidate its position, and to grow, ultimately to triumph, together with the victorious working class of other countries. Even here, Comrade Trotsky reasons according to a chart: either a bourgeois revolution or a proletarian revolution either a classical proletarian revolution — in that case permanent victory, or a hybrid proletarian revolution, in that case, death. Either state aid by the Western European proletariat — in that case salvation, or no such aid — in that case there is no salvation.

As a matter of fact experience completely refuted this chart and gave altogether different replies. Both bourgeois and proletarian revolution (one merges into the other), no state aid from the Western proletariat, but for all that aid was forthcoming both from the proletariat and from the colonies (and also ‘aid’ from the capitalists, who by their internecine quarrels assist proletarian states). No classical proletarian revolution and yet not death, but life, etc. Reality proved more full of colour than the dry charts and carefully drawn diagrams of ‘permanent revolution’.

Comrade Trotsky’s political impotence originated in his failure to see actual facts. Because Lenin and our Party saw all these stages, transitions and peculiarities of the process they were really able on each occasion to seize the necessary link and lead the working class and the peasantry to victory. There are absolutely no grounds for our Party substituting the Leninist theory of our revolution by the ‘permanent’ theory of Comrade Trotsky.

General Estimate of Classes in the Progress of Our Revolution.

We spoke above of the stages of our revolution. Now it is necessary to raise the same question, and in the same general form, but to examine it from the standpoint of the struggle of classes and class changes. The controversy among us, as is known to a considerable degree, centred around [sic — MIA] the question of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Alliance, the question of an alliance between the working class and the peasantry, and the question of the hegemony of the proletariat in this ‘alliance’. Now, in the eighth year of our revolution and our dictatorship, we clearly see the enormity [sic — MIA] of this problem, which for the first time was distinctly outlined by Comrade Lenin and which later became one of the corner-stones both of the theoretical and practical structure of Bolshevism.

Only at the present time has this question come up in all its enormous dimensions. For, essentially the discussion concerns not only the problem of unity between the peasants and workers here, in Russia, in the Soviet Republics, but it concerns the greatest and, in a sense, the decisive problem of the international revolution. Such a burning question of modern times as the question of the colonies, which is a question of the life and death of capitalism, is, from the point of view of world revolution, nothing more nor less than the question of the unity between the Western European and American industrial proletariat on the one hand, and the colonial peasantry on the other.

It is true that the colonial question, although to a considerable degree a question of attitude towards the peasantry, is not wholly confined to this. It has its definite peculiar features, and it would be wrong to place it under the mark of complete equality. At the same time, it is absolutely clear that, in its social basis, it is a peasant question. If we ask ourselves in what manner the working class at the present moment can undermine the bases of capitalist society, we may say that the working class, which supports colonial rebellion, is actually imposing its hegemony on the peasant colonial movement. When we ask ourselves what will happen in the sphere of world economy when the working class captures power, immediately the same question arises as to the attitude of the victorious proletariat towards the colonial peasantry. When we ask ourselves why European Social-Democracy absolutely fails to understand the significance of the peasant question, and paid so little attention to it, and failed to raise the problem which was so characteristic for us, we do not merely raise the point that our country was an agrarian country, and the other countries were industrial. The other countries too, had their ‘agrarian supplement’, only they were not in the home countries, but in the remote colonies.

The fact that European Social-Democracy paid inadequate attention to the peasant question is undoubtedly connected with the circumstances that it failed to present the question of the colonies from the revolutionary standpoint. The policy of the Social-Democrats was either directly hostile to the colonial movements (social imperialism) or adopted a reticent policy. When Comrade Trotsky absorbed in his ‘Europeanism’ repeatedly emphasises the Asiatic peasant character of the ideology of the ‘immature’ proletariat (this was precisely his estimation of the Bolsheviks) there was something in his ‘Europeanism’ that smacked of the contempt which the Social-Democrats bore towards the peasant and colonial question, although Comrade Trotsky personally devoted considerable attention to this question.

If Comrade Trotsky substitutes abstract schemes for concrete analysis, it must result in conceiving the proletarian revolution as a classical revolution, and regarding all ‘non-classical’ revolutions as being doomed beforehand. But a classical proletarian revolution in which the proletariat is the only class of the ‘people’ in other words, such an ideal revolution is possible only in a society where there is no peasantry.

Such an ‘ideal’ conception is totally out of harmony with reality. If we examine world economy we will find that the proletariat in the strict sense of the term represents a small minority of the population. If we have in mind the largest countries in the world, we must remember that these represent small sections of densely populated and proletarianised centres in enormous peasant colonies. The greatest part of France is in Africa, the greatest part of Britain is in Asia, etc. What will the British proletariat do after their victory if they do not receive the support and sympathy of the Indian and Egyptian peasants — if it does not lead them into the fight against capitalism, if it does not establish its hegemony, its leadership, over this enormous mass of humanity?

It is most amazing. Comrade Trotsky knows very well the enormous significance of the colonial question. But alas, this correct view of the colonies cannot possibly be reconciled with the estimation of the peasantry which Comrade Trotsky made in 1905, in his theory of permanent revolution, the correctness of which he stubbornly insists upon up to the present day. Comrade Trotsky reveals a complete lack of logic.

It is perfectly clear now what this problem means for the proletariat. Prior to the seizure of power the working class must obtain the support of the peasantry in the fight against the capitalists and landlords. After the seizure of power, the proletariat must secure for itself the support of a considerable section of the peasantry in the civil war, right up to the moment when the proletarian dictatorship has been consolidated. And after that? Can we really limit ourselves to regarding the peasantry merely as cannon-fodder in the fight against the capitalists and the large landlords? No! And once and for all, we must understand the logic of this No. After the victory, the proletariat at all costs must live side by side with the peasantry, for the peasantry represents the majority of the population and has great economic and social weight. Only the failure to understand world economic ties can lead one to ignore this aspect of the question. But sooner or later it will inevitably come up. Consequently, it must be realised that the proletariat has no choice. It is compelled to carry the peasantry with it in its work of constructing Socialism. The proletariat must learn to do this, for unless it does so, it will not be able to maintain its rule.

Of course, there are various ways of leading the peasantry in accordance with the given circumstances. One must be able to see the transition points and all the stages in order to lead correctly. During the discussion on the question of the trade unions, Lenin wrote:

The whole of the dictatorship of the proletariat is a transition period, but the present time is, as it were, a heap of new transition periods. The demobilisation of the army, the end of the war and the possibility of a more prolonged peaceful respite than we have had hitherto, a more permanent transition from the military front. From these facts alone the relation of the proletariat to the peasantry has changed. [10]

The same thing, but to an even greater degree, applies to a number of most important stages of the revolutionary process.

Comrade Trotsky, in his theory of permanent revolution, completely failed to understand:

1. The very problem of the peasantry.
2. The methods by which the proletariat could lead the peasantry.
3. The various stages in the relations between the working class and the peasantry in the course of our revolution.

Comrade Trotsky himself presents the question of the peasantry in great relief in the preface to his book 1905. Formulating the theory of permanent revolution (in 1922) and emphasising the correctness of this theory, Comrade Trotsky wrote:

In order to secure its victory, the proletarian vanguard, in the first period of its rule, will have to make deep inroads not only into feudal, but into bourgeois property. In this it will come into conflict not only with all the sections of the bourgeoisie. but also with the broad masses of the peasantry, with whose cooperation it came into power. This contradiction in the position of a workers’ government in a backward country, with an overwhelmingly peasant population, can be solved only on an international scale, in the arena of the world proletarian revolution. Compelled by historic necessity to break down the limitations of the bourgeois-democratic framework of the Russian revolution, the victorious proletariat will be compelled also to break down its national state limitations, that is, it will consciously strive to convert the Russian revolution into a prologue of the world revolution. [11]

The latter part of this quotation is correct. But that is not the point. The point is that according to Comrade Trotsky, the proletariat must inevitably come into irreconcilable conflicts with the broad masses of the peasantry, that in a country with a petty bourgeois majority, the proletariat will not be able to handle this problem and that as a result of this inevitable conflict the proletarian domination must collapse unless it can obtain state aid from outside.

The first thing one observes (at the moment after considerable experience has been accumulated of the international movement), is that Comrade Trotsky’s ‘solution’ is not a solution at all, just as his ‘permanent revolution’ in fact is not permanent revolution at all. For, if the conflict between the proletariat and the peasantry is inevitable and unavoidable, etc, therefore, it is inevitable and unavoidable even in the case of the victory of the proletariat all over the world. The peasantry represents an enormous majority of the population of our planet. If the proletariat has not the means by which to lead this peasantry, then, either the international revolution is also doomed, or it must be postponed (as Kunow [12] says) until we have a proletarian majority throughout the world. We can hardly believe that we will have to break down the ‘terrestrial frontiers’ and expect aid from the purely proletarian celestial forces, and ‘state aid’ at that.

Thus, if we develop the problem and present it in its full scope, it will be easily seen that Comrade Trotsky merely evades the problem, but does not solve it.

Comrade Trotsky’s error lies in the fact that he considers the conflict between the proletariat and the peasantry as inevitable, whereas it is merely possible, and this is by no means the same thing. It will be inevitable if the proletarian regime proves to be less advantageous to the peasantry than was the bourgeois regime, and if the peasantry throws off the leadership of the proletariat. But it is not at all inevitable and will not happen if the Party of the victorious proletariat will make the corner-stone of its policy solicitude for the maintenance and strengthening of the workers and peasant alliance. The consideration of how this is to be done correctly is beyond the limits of this work.

From the estimation of the peasantry given above, follows the general methods of influencing it, which, by the by, Comrade Trotsky formulated in the period of reaction. This is what Comrade Lenin wrote on this matter:

Finally, the least correct of all is the third of the opinions of Comrade Trotsky quoted by Comrade Martov which appears to Comrade Martov to be reasonable: ‘Even if it [the peasantry] will do this ['associate itself with the labour democratic regime'] with no more consciousness than it usually associates itself with the bourgeois regime the proletariat can neither calculate on the ignorance and prejudices of the peasantry, as did the lords of the bourgeois regime, nor presume that the customary ignorance and passivity of the peasantry will be maintained in the period of the revolution. (’the Aim of the Struggle of the Proletariat in Our Revolution’, Collected Works, Volume 11, part 1, p 229) [13]

And in the epoch of proletarian dictatorship when it was necessary to pass from words to deeds, when the situation was particularly difficult, Lenin wrote:

The greater the extent and scope of historic events, the greater the number of people that take part in them and the more profound the change we desire to bring about, the more necessary is it to rouse interest in these events, to rouse a conscientious attitude towards them and to convince millions and tens of millions of the people of the necessity for them. (From a speech delivered at the Council of Peoples’ Commissaries on 22 December 1920, Collected Works, Volume 12, p 413) [14]

Does this not express an altogether different attitude towards the peasantry? And does not this attitude follow logically from the general estimation of the peasantry as an essential ally in the struggle of the proletariat? But, in order to be able to ‘convince’ the peasantry, we must be able to ‘hook them’ by the proper link, and here more than ever is revealed the incapacity of Trotskyism to approach this question properly.

In 1905, Trotsky evaded the agrarian revolution and failed to understand that this was the outstanding feature of the epoch. The Mensheviks also failed to understand this, and Lenin quite rightly pointed out that they in ‘fighting the Narodniki were simply blind to the historically real and progressive content of the principles of the Narodniki as the theory of the petty bourgeois struggle of democratic capitalism against liberal-landlord capitalism’, and Lenin described this ‘idea’ as ‘monstrous’, ‘idiotic’ and ‘treacherous’ ('Prussian and American Paths of Development: A Letter to Skvortzov’, Proletarian Revolution, May 1924, p 178). [15]

Comrade Trotsky even now asserts that his estimation of the driving forces of the revolution was correct, and that in it there was no ‘leaping across the peasantry’, and that he had no intention of ‘underestimating’ the peasantry, Trotsky is very angry with his critics on this account. He writes:

A favourite argument that became fashionable in some circles [!] recently, is to point to — indirectly on most occasions — my ‘underestimation’ of the role of the peasantry. In vain, however, would you seek an analysis of this question. There was no attempt to ‘leap across’ the peasantry in my writings at that time. (The New Course, pp 50-51, italics ours — NB) [16]

This is how Comrade Lenin estimated the position of Comrade Trotsky in 1915 during the period of the war:

Comrade Trotsky’s curious theory takes from the Bolsheviks the call for a resolute revolutionary proletarian fight for the conquest of political power, and from the Mensheviks the ‘denial’ of the role of the peasantry. As a matter of fact, Trotsky is assisting the liberal-labour politicians of Russia, who, by ‘denial’ of the role of the peasantry, mean to refuse to rouse the peasantry to revolution. (’two Lines of Development of the Revolution’, Collected Works, Volume 13, pp 213-14) [17]

Comrade Lenin then gives a brief but brilliant description of the stages of the revolution and the content of these stages and our tasks. He wrote:

And this [that is, rousing the peasantry] is the most important question of the moment. The proletariat is fighting and will bravely continue to fight for the conquest of power, for a republic for the confiscation of the land. That is to say, for winning over the peasantry, to utilise its revolutionary force, to secure the participation of the ‘non-proletarian masses of the people’ in the emancipation of bourgeois Russia from military-feudal ‘imperialism’ (Czarism). The proletariat will immediately [NB, italics ours] take advantage of the emancipation of bourgeois Russia from Czarism, and of the agrarian power of the landlords, not for the purpose of aiding the working peasants in their struggle against the rural workers, but for the purpose of completing the Socialist revolution in alliance with the proletariat of Europe. [18]

Thus, in spite of Comrade Trotsky, Comrade Lenin considered that Trotsky’s theory did underestimate the role of the peasantry, and however much Comrade Trotsky would like to evade the admission of this fundamental and cardinal error, he cannot evade it. One cannot play at hide and seek. One must clearly, precisely and definitely say who is right. For, it is perfectly clear that before us are two different theories. According to one theory, the peasantry is an ally. According to the other, he is an inevitable foe. According to one theory, it is possible for us to conduct a successful fight for the hegemony over the peasantry according to the other theory, this must fail. According to one theory, a sharp conflict with the peasantry is inevitable according to the other, this conflict may be avoided if our policy is cleverly conducted.

Is it not clear that this ‘permanent’ question of a ‘permanent’ theory is the ‘permanent’ contradiction between Trotskyism and Leninism?


Notes are by the author except where added by the MIA.

2 . LD Trotsky, 1905, Preface to the First Edition. Bukharin has condensed Trotsky’s text somewhat — MIA.

3 . This letter does not seem to have been published in any English-language collection. Mikhail Olminsky (real surname Aleksandrov, 1863-1933), a Bolshevik and historian noted for his studies of Russian absolutism, was head of the Istpart, the Commission on the History of the October Revolution and History of the Communist Party, and approached Trotsky in the early 1920s with the idea of publishing his collected works he subsequently took part in the campaign against ‘Trotskyism’ — MIA.

4 . One must bear in mind here the relative character of the conception ‘unceasing’, for unceasing in the sense of a continuous and uninterrupted zone of revolution did not occur. After the defeat of 1905-07 there was an interval of a complete decade before the ‘second revolution’ broke out. In his article ‘Two Lines of Revolutions’ (Collected Works, Volume 8, Part 2, p 213) Comrade Lenin wrote:

To reveal the relations of classes in the forthcoming revolution is the principal task of a revolutionary party. Comrade Trotsky in Nashe Slovo wrongly solves the problem by repeating his “original” theory of 1905 and refusing to think out why for a whole decade events ignored this beautiful theory. [VI Lenin, ‘On the Two Lines in the Revolution’, Collected Works, Volume 21, — MIA.]

Thus, in the first place, there was a temporary interruption in the ‘uninterrupted’ revolution. Secondly, this interruption and subsequent events repudiated Comrade Trotsky’s theory and his estimation of class forces, for history gave the peasantry a place which had been beforehand excluded from Comrade Trotsky’s conception. But of that we will deal in the text.

5 . The title of the Marx and Engels collection is omitted in the original. Karl Marx, ‘Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League’, cited in JV Stalin, The Foundations of Leninism — MIA.

6 . However, it should be borne in mind that this chart cannot be applied ‘absolutely’ to actual conditions. Here, too, one must calculate the concrete relation of social forces, for example, the peculiarity of the Russian bourgeois-democratic revolution consisted in that it could be conducted to a finish only in the fight against the liberal bourgeoisie, which, already prior to the victory over Czarism, had become a counter-revolutionary force. The failure to understand this led the Mensheviks to commit actual treachery. In this connection Lenin wrote:

These people [NB — Martinov and Martov in the new Iskra], really argue as if they desire to limit, to cut short, their fight for liberty. Such people — said the Vperod [NB — the organ of the Bolsheviks], like Philistines, vulgarise the well-known Marxian postulate of the three principal forces of the revolution in the nineteenth (and twentieth) century, and its three fundamental stages. This postulate is to the effect that the first stage of the revolution limits the powers of absolutism, thus satisfying the bourgeoisie. The second stage is the establishment of the republic, satisfying the ‘people’, that is, the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie generally. The third stage is the Socialist revolution which alone can satisfy the proletariat. ‘Taken as a whole, this picture is correct’, wrote Vperod. We have before us indeed, an ascent to three different stages on a chart differing in accordance with the classes which at best may accompany us on this ascent. But if we understand this Marxian chart of three stages to mean that before every ascent we must measure off for ourselves a modest distance, for example, not more than one stage, if, according to this stage, before every ascent, ‘we will draw up for ourselves a plan of activity in the revolutionary epoch, we will be nothing more than Philistine virtuosi’. (VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 4, p 209) [VI Lenin, ‘On the Provisional Revolutionary Government’, Collected Works, Volume 8, — MIA.]

In other words, we cannot apply the chart directly in every case. ‘Leaps’ are possible. It would be sheer Philistinism to deny all possibility of skipping stages. However:

Let not some cavilling reader draw the conclusion from what we have said that we advocate ‘tactics’ directed towards “inevitable leaps across stages irrespective of the relation of social forces. (Ibid, p 210)

Thus, ‘in the last analysis’ it is the relation of social forces and the calculation of these forces that determines. Fearlessly to lead the revolution forward, but at the same time to be able to start out from the given relation of social forces and in this manner actually to maintain the leadership in the revolution — these are the tactics of Leninism.

7 . Bukharin’s original Russian text will have to be consulted to see if the matter was expressed in a less offensive manner — MIA.

9 . From an unpublished chapter of the work of Comrade Lenin on the agrarian question. See Proletarian Revolution, 1924, no 28, pp 166-69. [VI Lenin, ‘The Agrarian Programme of Social-Democracy in the First Russian Revolution, 1905-1907’, Collected Works, Volume 13 — MIA.]

12 . A reference to Heinrich Cunow (1862-1936), a theoretician of the German Social Democratic Party, editor of Die Neue Zeit during 1917-23, and author of the revisionist work Die Marxsche Geschichts, Gesellschafts und Staatstheorie (two volumes, Berlin, 1920-21). See Bukharin's remarks about him at Historical Materialism - a System of Sociology . — MIA.


This article addresses the ideological context of twentieth-century history of science as it emerged and was discussed at the threshold of the Cold War. It is claimed that the bifurcation of the discipline into a socio-economic strand and a technical-intellectual one (the divide between ‘externalism’ and ‘internalism’) should be traced back to the 1930s. In fact, the proposal of a Marxist-oriented historiography by the Soviet delegates at the International Congress of History of Science and Technology (London, 1931) led by Nikolai Bukharin, set off the ideological and methodological opposition that characterised the later years. Bukharin’s views on science are closely considered, as well as those of his Marxist critics, György Lukács and Antonio Gramsci. It is argued that, despite the fluidity of the positions of the 1920s and 1930s, these theories soon crystallized as demonstrated by the leftist reception of Bukharin’s and his associates’ perspective in the history of science, especially in Great Britain, as well as by the anti-communist reactions. Intellectualist approaches renouncing socio-economic factors, typically those by Alexandre Koyré and Thomas Kuhn, are reconsidered in the light of the ideological confrontation of the Cold War era. Reflection on the political-cultural embedding of the history of science has often been overshadowed by claims about the objectivity and neutrality of science and its historiography. Thus, the seminal discussion of the 1930s remains one of the most lucid moments of reflection about the role of science and history of science as cultural phenomena shaped by political struggles.

Industrialization Debate

The industrialization debate of the mid-1920s was a key turning point in the history of the Soviet Union, and more broadly, of socialism. For better or for worse, the outcome of the debate over the pace of industrialization, sources of investment, pricing and wages policies, and other related matters would determine the Soviet Union’s answer to the question of how to overcome “backwardness” in the modern era, serving for much of the rest of the world as the only real alternative to a capitalist framework of development. The debate, which in many respects overlapped with the controversies surrounding the party’s policy towards the peasantry, began in 1923 and for all intents and purposes was over by the autumn of 1927.

All participants in the debate accepted the notion that industrialization was a desirable end both on national security grounds as well as for the more ideologically inspired purpose of overcoming contradictions between town and countryside. They differed, however, on the timetable for achieving the goal, the kind of industry to be developed, and the means for doing so. So long as there was underutilized capacity in industry, the debate over how to expand industrial production and the sources of capital to make it possible tended towards the theoretical. In this sense, Evgenii Preobrazhenskii’s “fundamental law of socialist accumulation” which required the state-owned industrial sector to squeeze surpluses from small-scale privately owned agriculture via “non-equivalent exchanges” (i.e., taxation, credit restrictions, and a pricing policy that favored industrial goods) stood at one end of the spectrum. At the other was Nikolai Bukharin’s organic metaphor of “growing into socialism” by strengthening the link (smychka) between town and country and the doctrine of “socialism in one country” which both he and Stalin defended. More compatible with the initial thrust of the New Economic Policy and the party’s “face the countryside” strategy of the mid-1920s, Bukharin’s position was essentially the party’s line. Preobrazhenskii’s was identified with the Left Opposition and its “super-industrialization” strategy deemed by the rest of the party leadership as excessively risky.

Towards the end of 1925, though, the upper limits of industrial recovery were in sight. As Stalin announced to the fourteenth party congress in December 1925, “The main thing in industry is that it has already approached the limit of pre-war standards further steps in industry involve developing it on a new technical foundation, utilizing new capital equipment and embarking on the new construction of factories.” A policy of industrialization which emphasized the importance of producing means of production was duly approved by the congress and reiterated by the central committee in April 1926. Still, much remained to be worked out in terms of defining levels of investment and growth possibilities. This task fell to the State Planning Commission (Gosplan) which was dominated by economists who were overwhelmingly not members of the party. They employed two approaches: the “genetic” according to which certain objective “regularities” of the pre-war economy were extrapolated to forecast future possibilities, and the “teleological” which altered proportions in the economy in the interests of maximum growth, in effect, making the market adapt to the state rather than the reverse. Both went into successive drafts of the five-year plan that the party’s central committee debated and sent back for (upward) revision. Politics thus became entwined with economic planning. Once the Left had been defeated, the emphasis on increasing levels of investment in “heavy” (producer goods) industry became more politically attractive. The logic of this shift in the party line towards increasing the tempo of industrialization was to step up pressure against the peasantry (disguised as anti-kulak measures) which soon translated into the all-out campaign for collectivization and the abandonment of NEP.

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