A Better Red, but Dead

Nikolai Bukharin, by Prof. Stephen Cohen. Wildwood House, £4.50.

Yet another American biography has appeared of Bukharin, meticulously documented and annotated in the way in which the American universities have made their own. But having waded through 400 pages of the most minute recapitulation of Bukharin’s speeches and articles over twenty years, one is forced to ask: Was it worth it?

What we have here is the painful record of one leading Bolshevik’s repeated somersaults and turnabouts in striving to adjust to the cold hard facts of life: from the famous ABC of Communism, the Russian CP’s in the early years, to the call to the Russian peasants to “enrich themselves” in 1932.

Already, in 1920, Bukharin was at odds with Lenin over the definition of State capitalism, and especially Lenin’s frequently expressed view that a proletarian state could run State capitalism. “State capitalism under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat—this is an absurdity— soft-boiled boots. State capitalism without capitalism is exactly the same sort of nonsense. ‘Non-capitalist capitalism’— this is the height of confusion”, he wrote in the ‘twenties (page 7). History has shown that Bukharin was right and Lenin wrong.

One may also agree with the statement in The Economics of the Transition Period, showing that Marx’s economic laws relate purely to capitalist society:

As soon as we take an organised social economy, all the basic “problems” of political economy disappear: problems of value, price, profit and the like.
Here “relations between people” are not expressed as “relations between things”, and social economy is regulated not by the blind forces of the market, but consciously—by a plan.
There can be no place for a science studying “the blind laws of the market” since there will be no market. The end of capitalist commodity society will be the end of political economy. (page 93)

It was above all by his writings that Bukharin established himself as the leading Bolshevik theoretician. In his Economic Theory of the Leisure Class and Historical Materialism he had endeavoured to answer the criticisms of Durkheim, Pareto, Croce, Weber and other anti-Marxists.

From 1934 on, after the death of Lenin and Zinovieff’s defeat at the hands of Stalin, the luckless was lumbered with the direction of Comintern; with all its growing insurmountable difficulties. Not merely was he committed to its “general crisis of capitalism” rubbish but, above all, the Leninist “theory” of the subjected nations under imperialism. Both he and Lenin produced works on this subject. Lenin’s was largely cribbed from J. A. Hobson, whereas Bukharin (due to his stay in Vienna) was influenced more by Hilferding.

By this fairy-story about “the colonial nations”, the Comintern was induced to instigate uprisings and revolts in almost every quarter of the globe. In our time we have seen the “liberators” Nkrumah, Kenyatta and Amin swindle their “liberating” governments of millions. The “exploited” Arab oil-sheiks invest millions in property, ICI, Krupps and Mercedes. The process has reversed, and Lenin’s thesis of the domination of colonies by Bankers’ Finance Capitalism is about as valid as his nonsense about the State, the workers running State capitalism, and minority dictatorships.

Bukharin now found himself forced into alliance with Stalin, first against Trotsky and then against Zinovieff. From that day on he, like every member of the Politbureau— Kamenev, Zinovieff, Trotsky, Tomsky, Rykov— was doomed, earmarked for destruction by the megalomaniac Stalin who, as Bukharin said:

By political terrorism and by acts of torture on a scale hitherto unheard of, you have forced old party members to make ‘depositions’ . . . You have a crowd of paid informers at your disposal.

On 2nd March 1938 the final trial of Bukharin, with 19 others, began. They were accused of everything except the spots on the sun. As Bukharin himself wrote: “accusing him of being an enemy of the revolution and a capitalist agent was like discovering that the last Czar devoted his whole life to struggle against Capitalist and Monarchy; to the struggle for a proletarian revolution” (page 371).

And so Nikolai Bukharin, whom this writer remembers well as easily the most genial and lovable of the Russian Bolsheviks; Bukharin with his puckish good humour and unfailing quizzical wit, the least like a “steel-hardened” Bolshevik of them all— was dragged forcibly from the dock, howling imprecations on Stalin’s festering head, and died standing up.

In his last letter “To a future generation of party leaders” he wrote:

Know, comrades, that the banner which you will be carrying in the victorious march to Communism is also a drop of my blood.

Such has been the fate of those who have taken part in the minority upheavals of the twentieth century.