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New Left Review I/109, May-June 1978

New Left Review

Introduction to Medvedev

Nikolai Bukharin, despite the extent of his published work (much of which has now become available in English), and despite a full-scale biography [1] Stephen Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution, London & New York 1974. For a critical assessment of Cohen’s book, see E. H. Carr’s review in the Times Literary Supplement, 20 September 1974, Tamara Deutscher’s in Monthly Review, April 1975, and Marcel Liebman’s in Socialist Register 1975. (something which does not exist for most leading Bolsheviks), remains a curiously elusive and paradoxical figure. A prominent Left Bolshevik until 1921, by 1923 he had nevertheless become the principal exponent of a gradualist interpretation and extension of the New Economic Policy, and was to lead the Right in the Party for the rest of the decade. Having laid the ideological basis for Stalin’s rise to power in the mid-twenties, above all through his concept of building ‘socialism in one country’, he has nevertheless become the symbol for influential currents within Eurocommunism of a classical Marxist tradition that can be seen as implicitly anti-Stalinist. After spearpointing the onslaught on the Joint Opposition of Zinoviev, Kamenev and Trotsky in 1926–7, in a campaign of unprecedented distortion and vilification, under conditions in which prior organizational measures had made ‘discussion’ a farce, Bukharin has nevertheless come to represent for many later Communists a dignified and loyal opposition ‘from within’. [2] Even Stalin was impressed by Bukharin’s ardour at the fifteenth party conference in November 1926: ‘Well done, Bukharin, well done. He does not speak, he slashes.’ The most substantial theorist apart from Lenin and Trotsky among the Bolsheviks, he nevertheless presided over the muzzling of theoretical work within the Communist International. His conduct at his trial has been variously seen as the epitome of capitulation, and as a masterpiece of subtle resistance against all odds. Personally close to Lenin, who described him as ‘the favourite of the Party’, Bukharin was nevertheless to be executed on trumped-up charges which included that of planning to assassinate Lenin—an absurd and shameful slander which millions of Communists were nevertheless to accept for decades thereafter.

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