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Mike Haynes

The resurrection of Nikolai Bukharin

(Autumn 1978)

From International Socialism 2:2, Autumn 1978.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On 13 March 1938 at 4 p.m. the Soviet Court trying Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin returned to pronounce him and his co-conspirators guilty as charged. Less than twenty-four hours later Bukharin, the man who Lenin had described as ‘a most valuable and major theorist … rightly considered the favourite of the whole Party’ was dead, executed by firing squad. With him died 17 of his fellow defendants in the third and greatest of the Soviet Purge Trials.

Who could doubt his guilt? Had it not been proven before the world that he was in the words of Prosecutor Vyshinsky a ‘damnable son of a fox and a swine’, a ‘counter-revolutionary bandit’? Had he himself not admitted leading the conspiratorial ‘Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites’? Had not volume upon volume of evidence been marshalled against him – evidence which proved how in 1918, he had plotted to assassinate Lenin, Stalin and Sverdlov; evidence which proved that the criminal Bloc had been formed on the instruction of foreign intelligence services; evidence which proved that they were planning to dismember the USSR; evidence which proved that they were wrecking the economy; evidence which proved that they were a terrorist centre responsible for the assassination of Kirov? Who but a fascist or a dupe of the fascists could doubt his guilt? [1]

Certainly there were few in the world communist movement who did. There, Bukharin’s supporters had been dealt with long ago. Pliant tool of Moscow that it was, it rose with one voice to echo the demands of Vyshinsky, ‘crush the accursed reptile’, ‘shoot them like dirty dogs’! What was the trial of Bukharin but in Harry Pollitt’s words ‘A triumph in the history of progress’? Nor was he alone in this estimate. If the Gods demanded a sacrifice then so be it. And so they came, the intellectual cream of the left ‘down on its knees before the Soviet bureaucracy’. [2]

Was there then, no reason for doubt? Of course there was! Logic cried out against the whole charade. The trials themselves, based as they were on confessions, demanded repudiation. Much of the evidence was patently false. There was no excuse for believing the Stalinist propaganda machine, no excuse for suspending judgement and many did not. Not of course that they came out in open political opposition, in support of those who like Trotsky tried to expose the trials for what they were. No, seeing through the tissue of lies laid before them, the larger part of the working class concluded in a simple gut reaction that if Stalinism was socialism then they wanted nothing of either. Against the background of despair and disillusionment created by the failure to fight poverty and unemployment, against the spectre of the rise of Hitler, the purge trials and the doublethink associated with them confirmed for the majority of workers that there was no real alternative. [3]

Today the repression in the Soviet Union is less intense but the trials go on, the popular association of Russia with socialism has yet to be broken. And yet the context is much different. Not only has the small Marxist tradition which opposed the trials in the 1930’s grown in strength but now, with the emergence of Eurocommunism, the orthodox communist parties have moved to distance themselves from the Soviet state. But, more than this, Eurocommunism has not only made it necessary to be critical now, it also-forces a revaluation of the past. Was Stalin really necessary? Can we not find a politically less painful alternative? Are there not other lessons to be learnt on the transition to socialism? And so, gingerly, the questions are posed and each time, it seems, figuring at the centre of the answer, is none other than the former ‘reptile’ Bukharin. Those who once crucified him before the world now demand his resurrection. The cause of Bukharin is in the ascendant.

In the West his major works have been republished and there is also now an outstanding biography by Stephen Cohen. [4] But more than this, his thinking has been and is at the centre of the reassessment of the Soviet past and present. Even in Eastern Europe he talks anew. For years he has been the ‘eminence grise’ behind reform discussions and now it is even possible to openly praise him in some countries. [5] In the Soviet Union, of course, he is still officially ‘non-person’. In the West it is difficult to appreciate how complete this is. It is perhaps understandable that Soviet writers should still be cautious about discussing the contentious debates of the 1920s, that they should follow the official line of the time in describing Bukharin and the Right Opposition as

an expression of a straightforward repudiation of the Leninist policy of the party and as an expression of a frank opportunist surrender of the Leninist position under the pressure of the class enemy.

But, his banishment goes further than this. Even his role in the Revolution and Civil War is still taboo. Thus one recent work on Moscow in 1917 finds space to mention him only once and then in a list of names. One wonders if this is the same N.I. Bukharin who was the most prominent member of the Moscow Bolsheviks at this time? In another work however, he gets a better deal – all of three mentions! Each time, though, it is to condemn him as the leader of the ‘left Communists’. Indeed, this work goes even further and we are told that ‘Certain local party organisations including Moscow, Petrograd, the Urals came under the influence of the “left Communists” ...’ – a masterly understatement considering that the first two were the biggest local organisations and that Bukharin’s position on the war with Germany apart from having an early majority on the Central Committee, was initially at least, probably supported by a majority in the Party. [6] But, if this is the open situation, behind closed doors, even in the Soviet Union, the ghost of Bukharin still walks. In the discussions on economic reform, for instance, one observer has commented that

it was astonishing to discover how many ideas of Bukharin’s anti-Stalinist programme of 1928-1929 were adopted by current reformers as their own and how much of their critique of past practices followed his strictures and prophecies even in their expression … [7]

There is now even an international campaign, supported by western communist parties for his rehabilitation. [8] There is no doubt that such a campaign should have the support of everyone on the left. Limited though it might seem, in the context of Soviet society any move to open a free discussion on the legacy of Bukharin would be a major political advance. But, equally a genuine resurrection of Bukharin demands more than a campaign, more than uncritical adulation, it demands a thorough re-examination of the Soviet experience and his role in it.

Why Bukharin?

It is easy to see Bukharin’s attraction. At the most basic level, for instance, there is Bukharin the human being. Whereas the rest of the old Bolsheviks appear to us as austere, detached figures, isolated by their hagiographers, Bukharin is at once open and accessible – warts and all. Thus we have Bukharin the animal lover, who from his earliest years never ceased to delight in butterflies; Bukharin the theoretician, begging Lenin not to provoke a split by immoderate criticism; Bukharin Lenin’s friend, alone among the old Bolsheviks, trying to ease his last years by constant visits; Bukharin the protector, using his influence to defend the intellectual victims of repression; Bukharin the reluctant henchman, breaking down at Trotsky’s expulsion, and so on, right to the end, when Bukharin managed to extract a degree of human dignity from his last appearance in that Moscow hall in March 1938.

Then there is Bukharin the theoretician. Fluent in languages, he was immersed in Western thought. Here, at last, is a Bolshevik who cannot be explained away by ‘Russian conditions’. Bourgeois social science was something he took seriously and kept up with throughout his life, something he refused to dismiss out of hand, something he saw must be challenged and undermined. Then there is Bukharin the innovator in his own right, producing a pathbreaking analysis of imperialism, drawing penetrating pictures of the growing might of the State.

Then we have Bukharin, the Bolshevik leader. In 1917 both Trotsky and Lenin saw him as their natural successor if they were killed and throughout the 1920s and early 1930s he managed to retain this prestige. He was the one major leader who had managed to remain untainted by a bureaucratic posting. That appeal remains today, distinguishing him from those like Kirov who seem eventually to have moved against Stalin but who were always part of the machine.

Then there is Bukharin the oppositionist. The man who finally realised and realised more completely than the left the threat of Stalin. And it is here that we find the key element in his resurrection, for Bukharin’s opposition was of a particular kind. Not for him the ‘theory of permanent revolution’, not for him an appeal to the working class against the party, nor even an appeal to the party against the leadership – no, firmly committed to the theory of ‘socialism in one country’, firmly within the confines of the emasculated democracy of the time Bukharin developed an alternative. [9]

He developed a set of theories that amounted to a full-fledged counter-programme for Russia’s road to socialism as opposed to the one the majority leaders were embarking upon. [10]

It is this counter-programme which not only now seems so attractive in the West but which has also served as a source of inspiration for the reform movement in Eastern Europe in the post-Stalin years. To appreciate its true significance it has to be set alongside the traditional view of what happened in the twenties and thirties.

The old picture of the economic debates of the 1920’s has been one of a stalemate between the views of the left and the right. The left, wanted to tax more and more resources from the peasantry in order to increase the pace of industrial development. This would have resulted, however, in, among other things, peasant opposition and a falling demand from the countryside for industrial goods. The right on the other hand, wanted prosperity in the countryside to pacify the peasant and to develop a buoyant source of demand. This, however, would have led to a very low ceiling being placed on the level of accumulation – in Bukharin’s fatal phrase, they would develop at a ‘snails pace’. The consequence was, to quote Lewin:

… the left had an industrialisation programme but lacked a clear answer concerning the peasants, whereas Bukharin had no adequate blueprint for industrialisation but offered a plan to the peasantry. [11]

This deadlock became more and more dangerous as external forces gathered against the Soviet Union and internally stability was threatened, economically, by high urban unemployment and the ‘grain crisis’ in the countryside and, politically, by the machinations

of the left and right oppositions and the Kulaks. It was left to Stalin to brilliantly solve the problem, albeit at a high (and, of course, regrettable cost). His solution entailed, firstly, the collectivisation of the countryside. At a stroke, therefore, he both eliminated peasant opposition and created a situation where resources could be pumped out of agriculture for industry. Secondly, it involved rapid industrialisation across a broad front. In this way he created a ‘development bloc’ which fed off its own demand. Stalin was, therefore, seen to have expropriated the policies of the left and taken them to degree that they could never have imagined. [12]

This story is not entirely fictional but much of it needs substantial revision. So far as Bukharin is concerned the essence of the revision lies in a recognition of the fact that during 1926–1928 his thinking underwent a transformation in which he moved closer to the left and began to develop a programme which allowed for a harder line in the countryside and a faster pace of industrialisation. [13] At the same time, he stressed the need for an optimum path of growth in the long run rather than the fastest short run path – the position adopted at the fifteenth Party Congress in 1927.

... we must take as our point of departure not the minimum tempo of accumulation for next year or the next few years, but such a proportion as will guarantee the greatest speed of development permanently and over the long run. [14]

Such a path entailed an emphasis on balance and coordination within the economy, on what he constantly termed ‘equilibrium’. In this way it would be possible to minimise disruption. Thinking along these lines he developed a devastating critique of the chaotic policies pursued by Stalin and his supporters and of their rationale. Let us examine it more closely, looking at his critique of what was happening and then at his alternative.

The ‘Agrarian Crisis’

The keynote of Bukharin’s approach still remained a much more favourable estimate of the situation in the countryside than either the left or Stalin after 1927–28 was prepared to allow. Throughout the 1920’s the main danger to the revolution was seen to be the peasantry. The ‘grain crisis’ of 1927–28 was seen as a confirmation of this. It was widely believed that the cause lay in a discontented peasantry, dominated by the hostile Kulaks, refusing to sell grain to the towns. In this way Stalin’s brutal response was made against economic and political threats.

For Bukharin, on the other hand, this whole account consisted of little more than ‘fairy tales’. From 1921 onwards he moved away from his early radicalism to take up the cause of the peasantry. This shift had a political as well as an economic dimension. He was led to argue that the peasantry was not a hostile capitalist class but a neutral force which could both be won over to socialism and ‘grow into it’ without the need for any ‘third revolution’. At the centre of the Communist International, Bukharin’s line combined with his support of the notion of ‘Socialism in One Country’ led to a general dismantling of the revolutionary perspective and a number of major debacles typified by the Chinese fiasco. [15]

In his economic arguments, however, Bukharin was on much stronger ground. The idea of a Kulak threat supposes three things. Firstly, that social differentiation had gone sufficiently for the creation of a group of wealthy peasants capable of dominating the peasantry as a whole. Secondly, that this group was capable of organising itself and the peasantry, to act in a unified way against the state. Thirdly, that if such a group did exist and did act in this way that it would constitute a real danger. For Bukharin none of these points could be demonstrated and whatever the weaknesses of particular parts of his argument there is little doubt that with hindsight he was right.

In the first place, try as they might the economists of the time could not prove, even with the aid of a few distortions, that a Kulak class existed. Subsequently historians have had the same problem Kulaks it seems, are like God, a matter of faith. ‘It was no longer true that class analysis determined policy. Policy determined what form of class analysis was appropriate to the given situation’. [16] Similarly the notion that peasants were withholding vast stores of grain was false as Bukharin tried to demonstrate. [17]

Today every child knows that the oppositional fairy tales on the ‘frightfully tremendous’ grain reserves held back by the village, the legends of the 900 million puds of grain that have been supposed to be hidden away have burst once and for all like soap bubbles. Nobody believes these fairy tales any longer. [18]

But of course, in a situation where the pressure was on, they did. Not only did Stalin move to adopt the ‘fairy tales’ as his own but they dominated the thinking of the left opposition. It is one of the great tragedies that the left seemed almost to will itself to believe in the Kulak threat to the exclusion of all else. Chasing phantoms they lost sight of the real threat – the growing power of Stalin rising on the backs of the bureaucracy. ‘With Stalin against Bukharin? – Yes’ exclaimed Trotsky. ‘With Bukharin against Stalin? – Never’. Only too late did he realise what a blunder he had made. When Stalin moved against the ‘accursed Kulak’ the left opposition collapsed around him. ‘This was it,’ they argued, ‘at last the left turn has come’! [19]

Bukharin was equally scathing about the potential of collectivisation for improving the rural situation.

Certain comrades among us consider that the main path to socialism is the Kolkhoz. I consider this claim is wrong. The chief path will be through ordinary co-operation; sales, purchases, credit – in other words through agricultural cooperatives. [20]

Again there is little doubt that Bukharin was right. [21] No-one today outside the Soviet Union disputes that collectivisation was a catastrophe. Rather, the argument is that it was a ‘necessary evil’. It was necessary (as was Stalin) to (1) release labour for industry, (2) feed the towns, (3) eliminate peasant opposition, and more important. (4) release the bulk of the capital needed for the investment drive.

The first claim that collectivisation was needed to release labour is particularly strange. In the towns alone in 1928 there were some 1–2 million unemployed, according to official statistics. The countryside was like a sponge holding underemployed labour. Some 8–10 million people could probably have been released even at existing productivity levels without any serious loss of output. Who is to say, therefore, what relatively small improvements might have produced? The claim that collectivisation fed the towns is equally curious. The coercive measures used led to a massive fall in output, mass slaughter of livestock and a major famine in 1933. Grain procurements did indeed increase but at what a cost! In the towns rationing was introduced and inflation ran riot on the black market. Severe hardship occurred to a much greater depth than existed in the so-called crisis that prompted the whole experience. Agricultural production did not consistently reach its 1926–28 levels until the mid 1950’s. Neither did collectivisation eliminate peasant opposition.

But most significant of all is the attack that can be made on the fourth claim – that collectivisation enabled a ‘tribute’ to be secured for ‘primitive socialist accumulation’ to occur in industry. The work of a Soviet historian, Barsov, has made clear what really happened. Such was the destruction and chaos caused by collectivisation that in order to keep production up, even at much reduced levels, it was necessary to push back from the rest of the economy much of the funds that were being taken out of agriculture. [22] In fact there does not appear to have been any substantial net transfer of surplus out of agriculture. In this sense millions of peasants suffered and died in vain. But, if the peasants did not pay for industrialisation, who did? The answer is, of course, that it was the workers in the towns. Just as the substantial component of accumulation in every other country has come from surplus value exploited from the working class, so it was in Soviet Russia too:

From a Marxist point of view, the origin of the huge increase in accumulation during the First Five Year Plan was (a) an increase in absolute surplus value resulting from the increase in the urban labour force (30 percent), and (b) an increase in relative surplus value resulting from the fall in real wages (101 percent), less (c) a decrease in unequal exchange with agriculture (−31 percent). The four key mechanisms for obtaining additional accumulation were: the transition of the unions from trade unionism to production mindedness, the rapid growth of forced labour, the replacement of a market relationship between agriculture and the industrial sphere by a coercive relationship, and an increased differentiation between the elite and the masses. [23]

But if this was so, and few now dispute it, is this ‘socialism’ perhaps little more than capitalism in disguise? Even without the hindsight given by history this was a question which, as we shall see was not far from Bukharin’s mind. [24]

Industry and the five year plan

The New Economic Policy combined market forms with intensive state ownership of large scale industry to create a system where the centre was ‘primarily an administrative coordinator of the socialist sector and a centre of macroeconomic policy for the whole.’ Within this system enterprises had a ‘far-reaching autonomy’ although after 1925 much of this began to be cut back. Given the fact that the economy was recovering for much of the NEP it is difficult to say how effective it was. [25] Bukharin nevertheless came to see it as a practical if not ideal mechanism and in this he was supported by the left opposition. Thus debates largely revolved around issues within NEP rather than the question of overthrowing it.

The real challenge to NEP began to develop in 1925–27. ‘Until 1921 it was not the Politburo that was pressing for higher targets; it was the group of party members in Gosplan, allied first with several radical non-party specialists ...’ [26] In a situation where it was possible to use administrative measures to silence critics and where state manipulation of the economy was already producing disequilibrium these views gathered support. To the leadership in the Politburo the increasingly optimistic forecasts must have seemed like a godsend. Attempting to grapple with internal economic difficulties at the same time as they were subject to both external economic and political pressure from the world economy and the push from the bureaucrat for increased rewards the possibility of speeding up tempos seemed to solve all problems. At first affecting Stalin’s associates this attitude spread as the difficulties increased until the majority in the Politburo saw no solution but to initiate measures which would lead to the elimination of NEP in favour of the Five Year Plan.

Rarely can a more misleading name have been chosen. As politico and economic pressure intensified the original plan became transformed. The atmosphere has been well described in recent works. A technical achievement in itself, the original plan was subject to major revisions in which rationality disappeared as competing groups strove to outdo one another. Riazanov summed up the situation at the Party Conference in April 1929.

every speech ends … Give us a factory in the Urals and to hell with the RIGHTS! Give us a power station and to hell with the RIGHTS! [27]

The voice of moderation was the voice of the opposition, the voice of defeatism. ‘There are no fortresses the Bolsheviks cannot storm!’ became the slogan of the day. This was not planning, it was the unleashing of a totally chaotic form of development ordered only by the dictates of circumstances. [28]

Bukharin viewed this transformation with growing horror. By 1927 he had seen the need for an increased rate of growth. But the 15th Congress also reaffirmed a commitment to NEP – not this monstrosity. Now he strove to defend the Congress line, to attack with the rest of the Right opposition this policy of ‘madmen’. Planning was no simple panacea, ‘With an incorrect policy the cost of the process might be no less than the cost of capitalist anarchy … ‘ [29]

His attack was spelt out in a number of articles published in 1928 and 1929. Foremost amongst these was Notes of an Economist published in October 1928. [30] This article, written as an attack on ‘Trotskyism’, was in fact a very obvious, if veiled attack on the majority line. Bukharin’s argument was that industry was already growing at a fast pace. But even at this level problems – deficits and imbalances – in the economy were growing. In this situation it was absurd to demand more.

If there are not enough bricks and if, for technical reasons, no more than a certain quantity can be produced during the current season, then we must not draw up a building programme which exceeds this limit ... you cannot build factories out of air!

But this was not all. The situation was bound to deteriorate. As shortfalls developed, extraordinary administrative measures would be needed creating more inbalances, more bureaucratism. But already ‘We have too much overcentralised everything. We must ask ourselves ought we not now to take some steps in the direction of the Leninist commune state?’ Above all what was needed was flexibility and balance – that flexibility and balance embodied in the directives of the Fifteenth Party Congress. ‘Isn’t it possible here to demand a Precise carrying out of the decisions of the Fifteenth Congress’.

Of course it was not. Just as over the question of agriculture Bukharin and the Right were overwhelmed. At this point Bukharin proceeded to publish his most memorable article in the form of a book review entitled ‘The Theory of Organised Chaos’. [31] This purported to describe the emerging chaos in the West as a result of increased state intervention. State capitalism was becoming part of the normal functioning of the system, the contradictions of capitalism were now played out on the world market. But far from bringing internal order the resort to administrative measures, to ‘organised capitalism’ created a whole new range of problems as ‘means became ends’. [32] The chaotic method of economic coordination led to huge economic waste; human relations were increasingly distorted – ‘private’ and ‘public’ spheres became inseparable; creeping economic lethargy developed as bureaucratism led to the routinisation of social processes. [33] Developing his arguments at some length Bukharin concluded ‘Soviet readers will be startled by the formal resemblance of certain organisational problems ...’!

What on earth was Bukharin trying to say? That he was attacking the existing situation in the Soviet Union was clear but was it more than this? Could he really be implying that in essence the ‘organised chaos of capitalism’ and the ‘more pressing analogous problems’ of socialist construction reflected the fact that they were variants of one and the same system? This we shall probably never know for this was the last really significant piece he was able to publish. As it is, what is left is a prophetic critique of what happened during industrialisation.

The fact is that the Five Year Plan was simply unfeasible, even in its original form. Two highly optimistic variants had been developed, a base line version and an optional version with goals some 20 percent higher. The latter could only be obtained if a number of highly unlikely circumstances were met – for example, no harvest failure, a significant increase in international trade. There was thus an element of flexibility. In fact a recent reworking of the plan has shown that it was not even internally consistent in its gross magnitudes, let alone its petty details. Even if its optimistic assumptions had been met it could not have worked. [34] But of course the plan was not even applied. It was destroyed by the drive to push up targets. Priority sectors became autarchic empires at the cost of fantastic waste and duplication. Collectivisation destroyed one set of assumptions as agricultural output fell and chaos reigned in the countryside. Another set of assumptions were hit by the world crisis as Soviet exports fell and the economy was pushed towards isolation. The consequence was as Bukharin predicted. Each problem, each imbalance was met by administrative measures.

It was the unplanned character of the whole process which forced upon the state ever more ‘planning’ meaning simply the need to enlarge upon the scope of administrative controls, and the takeover of the whole of the national economy by state apparatuses. [35]

The plan was dead. What was left was a bureaucratically controlled economy whose institutional framework was an ad hoc response to chance. This is the reality of the world’s first ‘planned economy’. [36]

’Organised chaos’ was reflected also in the economic results of industrialisation. In 1932 the plan was declared fulfilled, in reality the whole economy was in crisis as even the distorted Soviet statistics show. When one takes into account the destruction of the time, the decline in quality it seems plausible to argue that the economy actually grew faster overall between 1928 and 1932 than it did in the last year of NEP. Particular sectors were, of course, transformed and the period 1934–1937 was one of general recovery but the years 1938–40 were again a period of crisis as the economy was subject to a major disruption from the purges. [37]

It would seem obvious that a lower rate of economic growth would have achieved the same or even better results. In fact, even Soviet economists are prepared to admit this possibility. [38] A simple extrapolation of the results of the last years of NEP also suggest as much. Bukharin’s critique would seem to be vindicated. But a critique, however perceptive, does not automatically become an historically viable alternative. Even less is it necessarily a socialist alternative. The problem with Bukharin was that his alternative never raised itself above the level of a critique, for it was neither viable nor socialist, as we shall see.

Bukharin’s Alternative

The question of an historical alternative cannot be reduced to a technical decision or a personality issue. It involves taking a position on the nature of the transformation that occurred in the Soviet Union and placing Bukharin’s analysis within the context of this. Viewed in these terms it seems clear that Bukharin provided no real alternative. Almost certainly, had he remained in power, the absurdities of the industrialisation drive, the purges, the repression would all have been moderated and this is important. But it does not mean that the essential nature of the transformation would have been much changed. The fact is that Bukharin’s critique and his so-called ‘counterprogramme’ embodied much the same set of assumptions as the majority line. The essence of the industrialisation drive lay in the final political expropriation of the vestiges of working class power and. consequent upon this, a massive upsurge in the level of exploitation. Yet all of this was implicit in Bukharin too, basing himself, as he did on the thesis of ‘socialism in one country’ and a development of the perspectives of the Fifteenth Congress in 1927.

During the early 1920’s he had agreed with the left opposition that the funds for accumulation should not, indeed could not, come from the working class. [39] The left argued that a solution could only come if the revolution was spread abroad, although it was possible in the short run to extract more from the peasantry. Bukharin, however, quickly shifted to become the theoretical protagonist of socialism in one country. [40] Given that the investment funds had to come from somewhere, his analysis led him directly to see Russia ‘riding into socialism on a peasant nag’. His new perspectives did nothing to bring him nearer to solving this contradiction. It was all very well to espouse the cause of a faster tempo of growth but the resources still had to be obtained. A harder line in the countryside might have helped but he himself continued to show the limits to this. The only alternative was the working class. [41]

The fact is that by 1928, although there had been a recovery in living standards, the level of surplus drawn from the working class was already excessive. This was reflected in the adoption of capitalist organisational forms, and a general pressure for increased output. [42] On top of this, it has now been shown that to have succeeded, the five year plan, even in its original form, would still have necessitated a major cut in personal consumption – a cut that was bound to be opposed if the limited rights of workers were left unchallenged. [43]

Moreover, because Bukharin had no revolutionary international perspective, he too would have been imprisoned by outside developments. The Soviet Union would still have been hit by the world crisis and he offered no perspective for dealing with it. Similarly, he offered no new perspective for the defence of the Soviet Union. Stalin’s solution of an arms drive and a rapid military build-up, while it might have been more extensive than Bukharin envisaged, was essentially his solution too. Indeed, the whole military logic of ‘socialism in one country’ had been worked and affirmed with Bukharin’s support in 1927 both in the party and in the Communist International, then under his leadership. [44] Faced with a deteriorating international situation only a real revolutionary perspective offered any alternative to the assimilation of capitalist defence measures with all their momentous consequences. Bukharin might try to reject the ‘social fascist line’ in favour of his own version of the popular front but he was still imprisoned by the thesis he had done so much create. [45]

Behind this failure to see the contradiction between the revolution and ‘socialism in one country’ lay a deeper fault. Bukharin simply had no concept of the way in which the revolution was degenerating politically. This not only coloured his theoretical perspective but led directly to his political impotence. The man who had once seen the state as ‘the fundamental and principal question of the entire; practice of the revolutionary class’ entirely lost sight of this issue in the twenties and thirties. Whereas the left continued to see NEP as a ‘retreat’, ‘fraught with danger’, he saw it as a long term framework for transition. In this he has been followed by his modern admirers.

True NEP does appear as a period of apparent ‘peace and tranquility’, ‘pluralism and diversity’ but this, of course, was relative to what had gone before and what was to come later. Moreover juxtaposing NEP to other possible ‘models’ obscures the fact that it was a society in motion – and not just any society. [46] It was the peculiar product of the degeneration of a ‘workers and peasants state’ in a backward country. As such it combined a number of conflicting dynamics, different interests and powers, each fighting for supremacy. The apparent ‘pluralism and diversity’ reflects not something intrinsic to NEP, rather NEP reflected a temporary equilibrium of forces in a changing situation. Bukharin, for all his intellectual brilliance, was blind to this. So has been much of the left. [47]

Whereas the cornerstone of the revolution had been the fantastic upsurge in popular democracy, NEP continued the widespread retreat forced by the Civil War. But in the Civil War authoritarian control was what held society together in the face of general collapse. NEP should have changed this, yet the astounding fact is that there was not one serious attempt to transfer any real power below. Each step went progressively in the opposite direction.

A persistent anxiety took hold of us communists... now the cities we ruled over assumed a foreign aspect; we felt ourselves sinking into the mire – paralyzed, corrupted .... a million and a half unemployed ... gambling, drunkenness, and all the old filth of former times ... classes were reborn under our very eyes.... there was a growing chasm between the prosperity of the few and the misery of the many ...

Even the great debates of the time reflected a ‘high level claustrophobia ... rarely pierced by opinion intruding from the Bolshevik rank and file ...’ [48]

At the centre of this general degeneration was the party itself, ‘we could no longer recognize the old party of the revolution’. Already in 1921, a quarter of its membership had been purged for ‘bureaucratic deformations’ but, of course, many of those doing the purging were themselves ensconced bureaucrats. Then, whereas Lenin had wanted another purge to remove more degenerate elements, the party leadership mockingly celebrated his death with ‘the Lenin Enrolment’, opening the doors of the party again and inevitably strengthening the power of the apparatus. [52] The result was that:

A new line of demarcation began to appear between a highly articulated, politically conscious and increasingly authoritarian party central organisation and a passive, dispersed and often bewildered party membership, less and less clearly distinguishable in its political attitudes and in the role which it was called on to play, from other ‘loyal’ elements of the population. The vanguard as a whole was no longer a vanguard or elite leading the masses of workers and peasants: the vanguard was formed of party officials leading and directing both the party and non-party masses. [53]

Against this Bukharin seems to have lived in a cocoon. Even the sympathetic Cohen is forced to talk of his ‘chronic public optimism’. At the beginning of NEP he had been willing to consider the possibility of the political degeneration of the revolution but this line quickly disappeared. [54] By the mid 1920’s any such suggestion was ‘treason’ for him:

For the three or four years when Stalin was building up his impregnable hold over the party and state and beating down the opposition, Bukharin was his zealous henchman. [55]

All that was left off his once vigorous analysis of the state was ‘a distrust of state power’, ‘a liberalising element in his Bolshevism’. The class nature of the state became little more than an abstraction – it was something which had been established for all time by the revolution. It might become frayed at the edges by bureaucratic degeneration but it could not be fundamentally changed. The role of the party and the role of the leadership within it had to be maintained at all cost. [56]

Moreover, whatever radicalism one choses to read into such pieces as his ‘Economics of Organised Chaos’, even when he came to see Stalin for what he was, his opposition was to Stalin as an individual. He had no real conception of attacking the power on which Stalin’s position rested. His opposition was private, ‘he never came out publicly against Stalin’. [57] If Cohen is right to suggest that the Right Opposition had a real popular base in 1928 then how much greater is the condemnation of Bukharin for not having mobilised it? Here was the man who had divided the party at its most crucial hour in 1918! Again, if Cohen is correct in seeing him ‘even in defeat as the symbol of Bolshevik resistance to the rise of Stalinism in the 1930’s’ why did he not do more? To the end his role was pathetic. Why did he remain silent? Why did he not add his authority, even as ‘a symbol of resistance’ to the Ryutin revolt in 1932? Why did he never openly speak out? Whatever gloss one might try to put on his actions, the fact is that his ‘conspiracy of silence’, his veiled attacks counted for little against the consolidation of Stalinism. What did count was the way in which he and the other old Bolsheviks were used to adorn the regime, to give Stalin his legitimacy. And when it came to the crunch Bukharin was even more prepared than some of the others to do this. At the Fourteenth Congress in 1934, for instance, so well did he abase himself that he ‘was one of the few former oppositionist speakers to receive the plaudits of the assembly’. [58] And then, in 1936, came the final irony. Bukharin, it seems, had a major hand in the production of the Stalin Constitution. But, more than this, he initially seems to have seriously thought that a constitution, a ‘scrap of paper’ could influence a regime whose brutality compares only to that of Nazi Germany. In such a way could a once great Marxist degenerate. [59]

Certainly there is a personal failing here. But it is more than this. The fact is that Bukharin was once again imprisoned by the system he had done so much to create. He was constrained both by its institutions and by its assumptions and he would not, could not give them up. Surely anything – anything, was preferable to his role? Opposition, protest, emigration, even suicide – the choices were there and many lesser men took them, but not Bukharin. To step outside the bounds, to dare, to fight – this was unthinkable. And so in the end his opposition became no more than a stream of endless letters to Stalin, " ‘Dear Koba! Dear Koba! Dear Koba!’. And he got not one reply.’’[60]

The other Bukharin

If this were all that remained of Bukharin – a contemptible, crude hounding of the opposition in the 1920’s; a critique of industrialisation which nevertheless accepted its basic assumptions; a half-hearted campaign against Stalin which degenerated into little more than a squalid concern to save his own life and those of his family, while millions perished; and ignominious end, rescued only by his ambiguous attempt to reject the basis of his trial, an attempt which few recognised for what it was – if this were really all, it would, indeed, be little. Yet, if we are to believe the liberal and Eurocommunist version this is all there is. One can understand how in the closed societies of Eastern Europe even this Bukharin could still pose such a threat, but that he should be taken up this way in the East – how, one asks, can this be? Is this really all there is left of his legacy?

Fortunately, it is not. There is another Bukharin – one whose whole being seems to contradict the thoughts and deeds of the later one. This is Bukharin in his early years – Bukharin the revolutionary. However, whereas it was this the younger Bukharin to whom Lenin gave his famous accolade, now, his new found admirers seems to want to keep him hidden, to explain him away in terms of his ‘immaturity’, ‘his Utopian leanings’ and so on. But if there is a real core to the ‘legend of Bukharin’, if there is a real legacy to celebrate then it is here that we will find it. Here, as a magnificant Marxist theorist of the state is a man whose work is of lasting value, for, in this early period we can find works which provide the key to unlocking the explanation of both the way in which modern capitalism has developed and the way in which it must be overcome. Culminating in his remarkable book The Economics of the Transformation Period, published in 1920, he set out to develop an understanding of imperialism and the role of the nation state within it. Then, summarising the experience of the Russian Revolution, he posed some of the key problems of the transition period. [61] No-one has yet satisfactorily explained how this early, radical Bukharin could become transformed into the later version that we have been discussing. But it is one of the merits of Cohen’s biography that« emphasises that there is this Bukharin to consider too. [62] Even Cohen though, has not set him in his true light for his ultimate concern seems to be to suggest that he was a forerunner of those who see the possibility of a third kind of society, neither capitalist nor socialist.

For socialists at the beginning of the twentieth century the fundamental political issue was the question of the nature of state power. Since Marx’s death there had been a major increase in the role of the state under the pressure of economic crisis, monopoly and increased militarisation. While the degree of state intervention was still relatively small compared to today, it still posed a major problem for the left. One reaction was to identify state power with ‘socialisation’ and, thus, to support reformism. Another, more complex reaction, which ultimately led in the same direction, was Kautsky’s vision of ‘ultra-imperialism’. In this the organisation of capitalism was seen to transcend national boundaries, leading to the eventual formation of one massive, global cartel which would subordinate the world economy to itself. It was left to a smaller group of Marxists in Germany and Russia to develop revolutionary alternatives to these views. At the centre of this group was Nikolai Bukharin.

Bukharin’s point of departure was a recognition that capitalism was not a national mode of production but an international one. An understanding of it must, therefore, start from an understanding of the world economy – not this or that national one. Were it the case that capital could be centralised on a world scale, as Kautsky suggested, then certainly capitalism would cease to exist. But, Bukharin argued, reality was different since the trend was towards multiplicity of competing state capitals within the world economy. This reflected the way in which capitalism was always pulled two ways – towards internationalisation and towards nationalisation. As a consequence the contradictions of capitalism were now reproduced on a world scale. This was the argument that he developed at length in his Imperialism and the World Economy and later summarised as an essential part of his argument in the introductory chapters of The Economics of the Transformation Period.

… ‘national economic organisms’ ... have long ceased being a secluded whole, an ‘isolated economy’ ... On the contrary, they are only parts o a much larger sphere, namely, world economy. Just as every individual enterprise is part of the ‘national economy’, so every one of these ‘national economies’ is included in the system of world economy. This is why the struggle between modern ‘national economic bodies’ must be regarded first of all as the struggle of various competing parts of the world economy ...

‘Modern capitalism’, he went on to summarise, ‘is world capitalism’. [63]

But what is this ‘world economy’? Bukharin was at pains to suggest that it was more than just the sum of its component parts. Rather it was characterised by an ‘unorganised unity’ of its own:

The system of world economy is just as blindly irrational and ‘subjectless’ as the earlier system of national economy. [64]

It was precisely this which explains the way in which the role of the nation state had developed. Under the impact of competition on the world economy the state was coming to the defence of its own national capitalists and subjugating its independent units to create a form of what Bukharin termed ‘state capitalism’. [65] It remained capitalism because no unit could exist independently of the competitive world economy. In his particular formulation this state capitalism expressed the basic links between finance capital and the state, but he was not concerned to shrink from the logic of his argument. So long as the state remained constrained by the world economy there was, in principle, no difference between capitalism based upon its monopoly of the means of production and a ‘private’ organisation of that monopoly. [66]

This is the essence of Bukharin’s argument but it is worth emphasising a number of points in it.

  1. He saw the state as intervening both to support the conditions of exploitation and to act as an exploiter and producer of surplus value itself:

State power thus sucks in almost all branches of production; it not only maintains the general conditions of the exploitation process, the state more and more becomes a direct exploiter, organising and directing production as a collective capitalist.

It is because the state can and does produce surplus value that a state capital is theoretically possible internally. [67]

  1. Given that the state regiments the internal economy in relation to the world economy this leads to an increased emphasis on extra-market forms of competition. [68] The most extreme form of these is war itself, a perspective that the First World War confirmed, ‘war in capitalist society is only one of the methods of capitalist competition, when the latter extends to the sphere of world economy’. These extra-market forms did not negate capitalism but represented the development of its contradictions on a higher scale.
  2. He saw the growing role of the state not in terms of the capture of some autonomous force by finance and monopoly capital but as one more developed expression of its basic role. ‘The state is nothing but the most general organisation of the ruling classes, the basic function of which is the maintenance and extension of the exploitation of the supressed classes’. It was not, therefore, possible to rescue the state for the working class.

This last point had tremendous political consequences which led directly to Bukharin’s first major dispute with Lenin. In this, of course, Lenin finally admitted his error and developed Bukharin’s analysis in his own State and Revolution. Bukharin drew two conclusions from his analysis. Firstly, that the Russian Revolution when it came, was not just a revolution against capitalism in general but against its specific contemporary form – an emerging state capitalism. Secondly, because of this, to go forward the revolution had to smash completely the old state apparatus which was fundamentally incompatible with the socialist revolution. It was this that led to the peculiar nature of the transition period. Given that it was necessary to destroy so thoroughly the old system, the transition period inevitably became one of chaos and economic decay as the working class began to organise itself. This was not something specific to Russian conditions but a general characteristic of all future transition periods.

There were, of course, real problems in Bukharin’s analysis. He seems to have moved, for example, to regard war as the cause of crisis in the world economy rather than a cause. He then moved to overestimate the depth of the crisis caused by the First World War, foreseeing imminent, general collapse. His analysis frequently ran ahead of itself. In this way he neglected, for, instance, the very real political contradictions which, in normal circumstances, limited the consolidation of total state control. This failure to deal adequately with politics also led him to ignore the fact that the Russian Revolution occurred in a state which combined a degree of state capitalism with the most backward economic forms.

This last point brought another conflict with Lenin. Lenin’s recognition of the backwardness of Russia led him to argue that even the adoption and generalisation of state capitalism would be a great advance. This was totally abhorrent to Bukharin. This was what the revolution had been against! With hindsight one can see that neither was right. Bukharin was certainly unrealistic in his assumptions about Russia but equally the measures adopted by Lenin did imply and furthered the degeneration of the revolution. The spreading of revolution abroad might well have solved this problem but in its absence, this debate typifies the central contradiction of a revolution in a backward country. [69]

But, these points aside. Bukharin’s analysis retains most of its power and validity. In the sixty years since he wrote, the role of the state has immeasurably increased without eliminating any of the basic contradictions of the system. The need to smash the state is even greater and in this sense his arguments are even more relevant. His analysis of the real problems of the transition in a revolutionary state have still to be taken up by a left which has studiously ignored this issue.

Beyond this we can also see the applicability of his argument to Soviet Russia itself. Reading his analysis of state capitalism the example of the Soviet Union constantly cries out for attention. Here we have a state controlled economy, an economy in which the working class has no power, an economy whose dynamic cannot be explained in any other way but in relation to the world economy. This is not a form of socialism – surely this is Bukharin’s state capitalism? And this is really where Bukharin’s analysis leads, not as Cohen suggests to speculation about a third kind of society. It is not surprising that his current admirers draw back from this Bukharin; it is not surprising either that Bukharin himself, surrounded by the failure of a once great revolution should be unable to follow his earlier password ‘Think through to the end, without shrinking from any consequences’. Concluding his preface to The Economics of the Transformation Period, Bukharin wrote:

The author would consider his work fulfilled if those who have begun an analogous train of thought would put it into a final form, and if those who are holding fast to naive illusions of a reformist nature would at least consider that the thing is more complicated than it looks in the vulgar pamphlets of the renegades.

Real justice to Bukharin will finally come when those who ‘have begun an analogous train of thought’ put it into a final form and make sure that Nikolai Bukharin is not allowed to decorate the ‘naive illusions of a reformist nature’ that he once so much despised.


1. The most accessible source on the trial is G. Katkov, The Trial of Bukharin (London 1969); K. Coates, The Case of Nikolai Bukharin (Nottingham 1978), provides an annotated transcript of the indictment.

2. Trotsky, quoted in D. Caute, The Fellow Travellers (London 1973), p. 133. This is a useful summary of the attitudes of those supporting Moscow. Pollitt is quoted from Moscow Trials Anthology (London, New Park 1967).

3. The limited evidence on the Soviet Union suggests much the same kind of situation. Nadezhda Mandelstam records the opinion of a steelworker in her memoirs: ‘See what they are doing in our name. They’re just making fools of us with that stuff about the working class. They say power belongs to us, but just you try and interfere and they’d soon show us our place’. But alongside this she also notes that ‘our hosts had no patience with any kind of political struggle’. Hope Against Hope (London 1975), pp. 403–405.

4. S. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution (London 1973). This was the subject of a number of useful reviews. Readers of this journal should particularly note Peter Sedgwick’s valuable The Return of Bukharin, International Socialism (First Series), 75, February 1975. Much of his analysis is complementary to my own and I would urge readers to search out his piece.

5. See for example the Hungarian economist L. Szamuely, First Models of the Socialist Economic System (Budapest 1974), and the Polish economists quoted by M. Lewin in his Political Undercurrents in Soviet Economic Debates (London 1975), p. 61.

6. The works referred to are respectively, A.M. Belyanova, O Tempakh Ekonomicheskogo Razviiiya SSSR (Moscow 1974), p. 38; A. Ya. Grunfel, Moskva 1917-i Revolutsiya i Kontrrevolutsiya (Moscow 1976), G.S. Ignat’ev, Moskva v Pervuii God Proletarskoi Diktaturui (Moscow 1975), p. 100.

7. Lewin, op. cit., p. xi.

8. For details see Coates, op. cit. In spite of its role in the 1930s the British Communist party was one of the first to join the campaign. See for example Marxism Today, March 1978, which accords Bukharin their greatest accolade: ‘Many of his ideas bore similarity with those of Gramsci’.

9. These points are developed in Cohen, op.cit., as well as in the fairly abundant more specialised material available in the west.

10. Lewin, op.cit., p. 21.

11. Lewin, op. cit., p. 16.

12. This traditional view which underlies both Soviet and western accounts can be found in its most sophisticated form in A. Nove, An Economic History of the USSR (London 1969). Nove has since made some concessions to some of the revisions discussed below, see his debate with J. Miller, Was Stalin Really Necessary?: A Debate on Collectivisation, Problems of Communism, 1976, July–August, Vol. XXV. Two intellectuals linked to the British Communist Party have produced useful summaries of the recent work which challenges this interpretation: J. Cooper, To Catch Up and Overtake: Soviet Industrialisation, 1929–41, Socialist Europe, 1977, No. 2; M. Harrison, The Soviet Economy in the Inter-war Years: A Survey, Capital and Class, 1978, No. 5. Both pieces, however, totally fail to come to terms with the material they are discussing and exhibit a schizophrenic division between ‘theory’ and ‘history’.

13. This is discussed in detail both by Lewin and Cohen in their works referred to above.

14. Quoted from Bukharin’s Notes of an Economist, his emphasis. This article, published in Pravda in October 1928, is the most important statement of his new line. An English translation of large parts of the article together with summaries of the rest can be found in B.D. Wolfe, Khrushchev and Stalin’s Ghost (London 1957).

15. For a more detailed discussion of this see Sedgwick, op.cit.

16. E.H. Carr, A History of Soviet Russia: Socialism in One Country, Part 1 (London 1970), p. 112. The various volumes of Carr’s history discuss the distortions of the time as they developed. See also M. Lewin, Russian Peasants and Soviet Power (London 1968), Chap. 2 and 3.

17. For a brief but more detailed discussion of these points plus a full bibliography see Harrison, op. cit. It is interesting to note that in the first edition of Let History Judge Roy Medvedev attempts to justify what is basically the traditional view. In the second edition, which incorporates extensive revisions (and is still untranslated) this discussion is omitted (Let History Judge, London 1972), p. 73; K Sudu Istorii (New York 1971), p. 165. Medvedev, however also incorporates the strictures on Bukharin to be found on pp. 64–65 of the English edition.

18. Wolfe, op. cit., pp. 303–304. Unfortunately this only summarises a detailed critique of contemporary statistics and their use.

19. In his review of Cohen’s biography The Legend of Bukharin, Times Literary Supplement, 20/9/1974), E.H. Carr-writes that ‘From the moment of Stalin’s rise to power till the moment of Trotsky’s assassination in Mexico fifteen years later, one theme, one obsession, pervaded and coloured everything that he (Trotsky) did and wrote. He was the supreme adversary of Stalin and everything Stalin stood for’, Carr is then quoted with approval by Tamara Deutscher in her review of Cohen (Monthly Review, April 1975). A moments reflection show the absurdity of this statement. The idea of ‘a degenerate workers state’ contains a basic ambivalence towards Stalinism. In the 1930s Trotsky’s attitude became less ambiguous and this led him to more and more see holes in his old arguments although he could not abandon them. In the 1920s he initially ignored this and some of his actions then contributed to Stalin’s rise to power. The Left Opposition as a whole was even more ambiguous, see A. Nove, A Note on Trotsky and the Left Opposition, 1929–31, Soviet Studies, Vol. XXIX, No. 4, 1977. What really separates Trotsky from Bukharin in this respect, and what made him so dangerous, was his recognition that Stalinism was a social question reflecting the degeneration of the revolution and not a personal issue.

20. Quoted in Medvedev, K Sudu Istorii, op. cit., p. 151.

21. Wolfe, op. cit.

22. On these problems generally see P. Wiles, The Importance of Being Djugashvili, Problems of Communism, 1963 and A. Nove An Economic History ..., op. cit. Work currently being undertaken on Soviet agriculture in the 1930s at the University of Birmingham suggests that part of the responsibility for the poor performance of agriculture lies in bad weather conditions but this in no way alters these basic conclusions about collectivisation as can be seen from its continued problems into the 1970s.

23. M. Ellman, Did the Agricultural Surplus provide the Resources for the Increase in Investment in The USSR during the First Five Year Plan, Economic Journal, 1975, Vol. 85, p. 860. It seems possible that Ellman’s exact figures may be open to criticism but the general conclusion is not.

24. Both Cooper, op.cit., and Harrison, op. cit., follow this analysis but do not draw any conclusions or even suggest that it raises any problems!

25. V.N. Bandera, Market Orientation of State Enterprises during NEP, Soviet Studies, 1971, Vol. 22, No. 1, and his NEP as an Economic System, Journal of Political Economy, June 1963. In both articles Bandera gives a very optimistic assessment of NEP. Bukharin’s support of NEP is often used to suggest, with greater or lesser degrees of caution, that he was a supporter of ‘market socialism’ and continued commodity relations of production under socialism. Here Nove’s comment is pertinent, ‘He was for building socialism using the market. But socialism for him would not be any species of market economy and none of his writings can be cited to support a contrary view’, Some Observations on Bukharin and his Ideas, in C. Abramsky (ed.), Essays in Honour of E.H. Carr (London 1974), p. 199.

26. R.W. Davies & S.G. Wheatcroft, Further Thoughts on the First Soviet Five Year Plan, Slavic Review, Vol. 35, No. 4, 1975.

27. Quoted in Cohen, op. cit., p. 326.

28. A point well made by Cooper, op. cit., but again no conclusions are drawn.

29. Quoted in Lewin, op. cit., p. 57.

30. See note 14

31. Teoria Organizovannoi Bezkhoziaistvennosti, Pravda, 30/6/1929. So far as I know there is no English translation available.

32. This formulation is repeated (unconsciously?) by Cooper in his description of the Plan: ‘One could say that a means was seen as an end in itself’, op. cit., p. 4. In his article Bukharin was at pains to distinguish any such society from socialism.

33. This latter point did not preclude growth but was to be reflected in its retarded character. That technological retardation did occur in key sectors of the Soviet economy is attested to by Cooper on the basis of his research. It was also characteristic of the state dominated Nazi economy in Germany see A.R.L. Gurland, Technological Trends and Economic Structure under National Socialism, Studies in Philosophy and Science, Vol. IX, 1941.

34. See the discussion and bibliography in Harrison op. cit.

35. Harrison op. cit. notes much of this, e.g., ‘a tendency towards disintegration’ [in] the planning system itself but still manages to talk in terms of what one contributor to the Marxism Today debate on Socialist Democracy referred to as ‘mindless platitudes’ e.g., ‘This was the world’s first planned economy’, ‘regularities of Soviet industrialisation’ and so on.

36. Note missing in original – ch

37. See Wiles, op.cit., and B.Katz, Purges and Production in the Soviet Union, Journal of Economic History, September 1975.

38. See Harrison, op. cit., Roy Medvedev is even more forthright ‘... without Stalin we would, probably, have been able to obtain significantly greater results’. K Sudu Istorii, op. cit., p. 232.

39. In 1919 Bukharin had written, ‘The Proletarian state cannot exploit the proletariat, for the simple reason that it is itself an organisation of the proletariat. A man cannot climb upon his own back. The proletariat cannot exploit its own self.’ ABC of Communism (London 1968), p. 312.

40. E.H. Carr, History of Socialist Russia: Socialism in One Country, Vol. 1 (London 1958), p. 185.

41. As we have seen Bukharin’s programme moved closer to the left. Lewin interprets this positively. What it really illustrates is not Bukharin’s ‘realism’ but the way in which the left had politically degenerated. Trotsky was later to write, in 1933, that ‘the correct policy of the workers state cannot be reduced only to national economic construction’ but it is clear that in the late 1920s this was what some of the left, such as Preobrazhensky increasingly did. In this way it became possible for them to capitulate to Stalin, regretting the passing of working class power but arguing that by his policies he was ‘defending the revolution’.

42. ‘Even in 1928, before the progressive redirection of resources from consumer needs into investments, the share of GNP devoted to private consumption was low compared to other major economies at similar levels of per capita GNP’. S. Cohn, Economic Development in the Soviet Union (London 1970), p. 70.

43. See Harrison, op.cit., for a brief discussion and bibliography.

44. E.H. Carr, History of Socialist Russia, Foundations of a Planned Economy, Vol. 2 (London 1971), pp. 329–332.

45. Cooper, op.cit., summarises his own research which shows, amongst other things, that the role of defence was even greater than had formally been supposed. Needless to say he makes no comment!

46. See Cohen, op.cit., and Lewin, op.cit., for the model approach.

47. The historian Roger Pethybridge has emphasised that ‘Most accounts of the Russian Revolution tend to shy away from the problem of reconciling the elegantly and rationally conceived humanitarian ideals of the Bolshevik party with the ugly details of actual Soviet history as it developed into what has come to be known, for better or for worse, as Stalinism’ – The Social Prelude to Stalinism (London 1974), p. 7. Victor Serge’s comment that the revolution began to degenerate the day after it occurred may be extreme but there is more than a little truth in it.

48. V. Serge From Lenin to Stalin (New York 1973), pp. 39–40; Pethybridge, op.cit., p. 6.

49. Note missing in original – ch

50. Note missing in original – ch

51. Note missing in original – ch

52. Serge, op. cit. For details of the change in membership see T. Righby, Communist Party Membership in the USSR, 1917–1967 (Princeton, N.J. 1968).

53. Carr, op. cit., p. 137.

54. See Nove, Some Observations on Bukharin ..., op.cit., for details.

55. Carr, The Legend of Bukharin, op.cit.

56. The best discussion of this crucial failing is J.L. Dallemagne. Justice for Bukharin, Critique, No. 4, 1975. Although I cannot accept all his formulations this article does have considerable merits. It also contains useful references to French translations of Bukharin’s works, otherwise obtainable only in the original Russian.

57. Carr, Legend ..., op. cit.

58. Katkov, op. cit., p. 83

59. For Bukharin’s role see Coates, op. cit., and Cohen, op. cit.

60. There are three major secondary sources on Bukharin’s last years. Cohen, op. cit., is by far the most sympathetic. A. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (London 1973), is the most hostile but in many respects nearer the truth. Roy Medvedev, Bukharin’s Last Years, New Left Review, May–June 1978, No. 109, adds little to Solzhenitsyn and his earlier account in Let History Judge, op. cit. He seems, if anything, to be nearer to Solzhenitsyn in his assessment.

61. There are four key works from this period on which this discussion is based: (1) Imperialism and the World Economy (London 1972). (hereafter Imperialism ...). This was written in 1915 but not published until 1925; (2) Towards a Theory of the Imperialist State, written in 1916 but not published in full until 1925. There is no English translation of this but it is summarised in Cohen, op.cit., and also in R.V. Daniels’ very useful The “Withering Away of the State” in Theory and Practice in A. Inkeles and K. Geiger (eds.) Soviet Society (London 1961); (3) The Economics of the Transformation Period (New York 1971), (hereafter Economics ...), written and published during the Civil War; (4) ABC of Communism, op. cit., from the same period.

62. Bukharin. while identifying this period as one of ‘illusions’, never came to terms with it. Nove, Some Observations ..., op. cit., succinctly draws attention to the problem, without solving it. Cohen, op.cit., does so at greater length with no more success.

63. Imperialism ..., op. cit., p. 17. Economics ..., op. cit., p. 12.

64. Economics ..., op. cit., p. 19. A typical example of the way in which Bukharin has been studiously ignored can be found in the recent ‘State Debate’ see J. Holloway & S. Picciotto, State and Capital: a Marxist Debate (London, 1978). This debate has attempted to understand the nation state in terms of itself. The world economy is then seen as the sum of its parts–exactly the error Bukharin castigated. See C. von Braunmuhl, On the analysis of the bourgeois nation state within the world market, Holloway & Piciotto, op.cit. and C. Barker, A Note on the Theory of Capitalist States, Capital and Class, No. 4, 1978, and C. Barker, The State as Capital, International Socialism (Second Series), No. 1, July 1978, for critiques which support Bukharin’s analysis.

65. ‘Here “economics” is organisationally fused with “politics”; the economic power of the bourgeoisie unites itself directly with its political power …’, Economics ..., op. cit., p. 37.

66. Imperialism ..., op. cit., p. 137. In Economics ..., op. cit., he puts his position more clearly: ‘The mathematical limit of the tendency is given by the transformation of the entire “national economy” into an absolutely closed combined trust ... where the entire economy has become an absolutely unified enterprise of corresponding groups of the world bourgeoisie’, p. 36. (Bukharin’s emphasis)

67. Quoted in Cohen, op.cit. (my emphasis.) Again the ‘State Debate’ has failed to understand this, arguing that the state cannot produce surplus value. On this error which flies in the face of reality see Barker, op. cit.

68. It is often suggested that this led Bukharin to argue that ‘Internal crises’(which no-one defines) would be eliminated. In Economics ..., op. cit., he does say (p. 15) that the anarchy of production within large capitalist countries has been abrogated by finance capital. Against this Lenin wrote ‘has not been abrogated’. What Bukharin actually meant is debatable. The world economy has made a crisis of the national market an anachronism, if it ever occurred. In this sense the transfer of the crisis mechanism to the world scale is only a change of degree. In his later work Bukharin made it clear that within the state capitalist economies market crises were replaced by the constant crisis of rationality. Mandel in his Late Capitalism (London 1975) suggests that Bukharin failed to understand the contradiction between exchange value and use value and therefore the inability of capitalism to organise itself (p. 537). But this was precisely what his piece on the Economics of Organised Chaos was about!

69. For an interesting, but unsympathetic, account of one aspect of this controversy see H. Ray Buchanan, Lenin and Bukharin on the Transition from Capitalism to Socialism: The Meshchersky Controversy, 1918, Soviet Studies, Vol. XVIII, No. I, 1976.

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