The beginning of 1936 did not yet seem to presage any tragedy, either for Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin or for our country as a whole. It is true that Kirov’s assassination, and a number of closed political trials, at one of which Zinoviev and Kamenev were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment, had created a state of continuous tension. Nevertheless, it still remained possible for many former members of the Zinovievite and Trotskyist oppositions to avoid repression by once again publicly repenting their past ‘sins’. And in the case of former ‘Right’ oppositionists, including Bukharin himself, more often than not even such expressions of repentance were not demanded.

At this time, Bukharin was absorbed in his work as editor-in-chief of Izvestia. Obviously, Izvestia’s significance and influence, either then or now, cannot be compared with that of Pravda, whose editor Bukharin had been prior to the defeat of the so-called Right Opposition. At the same time, however, it was possible to publish things in the less official Izvestia which could never have appeared in Pravda, whose articles were equivalent to Party directives. Bukharin set himself the task of making Izvestia an interesting newspaper, and he succeeded: in 1935–6, Izvestia was the most popular and widely read Soviet newspaper. The second task he set himself was to give his newspaper a more decisively anti-fascist character, and this too he achieved. The Izvestia collective quickly grew fond of Bukharin. He was simple and accessible, not standing on ceremony. He had an excellent knowledge of, and real liking for, the newspaper world. He possessed huge erudition and a great capacity for work. Articles by Bukharin often appeared in the newspaper. He showed concern for his fellow workers, and on their days off loved to join them on country excursions, during which they would all vie with each other in devising new forms of entertainment.

Bukharin continued to live in the Kremlin and remained on the Central Committee of the cpsu, although no longer as a full but as a candidate member. In his editorial work and in relationships with friends alike, he maintained the utmost loyalty. He never spoke badly behind Stalin’s back either of Stalin himself or his policies, not allowing any hint of what could be termed ‘opposition’. Of course, there were many things he did not know. To many other things he simply closed his eyes. Nevertheless, he could not have been ignorant of the major difficulties being experienced by the country, and in particular by the peasantry. After all, a huge quantity of readers’ letters flowed into the editorial offices of Izvestia from all parts of the country, and Bukharin had to read many of them—but even this did not change his position. In those months, he did not even meet with his recent collaborators in opposition, Tomsky and Rykov.

In the spring of 1936, the question arose of purchasing sections of the Marx-Engels archive, principally from the German Social-Democrats. At that time Germany was under the rule of fascism, while the Social-Democratic Party, like the Communist Party, had been banned. Its local organizations had been dissolved, and many activists had been arrested and were languishing in concentration camps. The majority of the leadership, however, had emigrated, and the bulk of the archives of that party, with which Marx and Engels had been so closely linked in the second half of the nineteenth century, was removed to other Western countries—especially those where socialists were in power. The German Social-Democrats were extremely hard up for resources, and were prepared to sell part of their archive to the Soviet Union (on the understanding that they would keep a copy). The Politburo of the Central Committee appointed Bukharin to head the group that was sent to negotiate purchase of the archive. It is doubtful whether there was anyone better suited in the Central Committee for these negotiations. The group also included Adoratsky, a prominent employee of the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, and Arosev, a member of the Party since 1907 and at that time a well-known writer and political figure. There were others in the group who were less well-known but, perhaps, no less influential.

The Politburo decision also specified those people with whom Bukharin was to meet and negotiate. These included, in particular, Otto Bauer, the Austrian Social-Democrat, who was both a leading figure in the Second International and one of the most eminent exponents of Austro-Marxism. A number of Russian Mensheviks were also to be contacted, because they might be able to play a mediating role in the forthcoming negotiations. The most notable of these were Boris Nicolayevsky, a fifty-year-old journalist, writer and historian, who had himself collected abroad a large archive on the history of the social-democratic movement and of Bolshevism, and the Menshevik leader Dan, who in 1917 had headed the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets. Nicolayevsky had emigrated to western Europe just after the October Revolution. Dan had lived in Russia until 1922, when he was deported ‘as an enemy of the Soviet state’. Bukharin personally knew most of the social-democrats indicated by the Politburo decision, but had not met them since 1917.