I. What was Bukharin's line?
III. The question of the Gulag and repression
IV. Resting on one's laurels and bourgeois ethics
V. Stalin's "pathological suspiciousness"
VI. The Nazi connection
VII. The real issues
This I Cannot Forget is the wrenching autobiography of Anna Larina, the wife of a man who may have been the most feasible alternative to Stalin as the leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) upon Lenin's death in 1924. Like anti-communist Arthur Koestler's novel, Darkness at Noon, Anna Larina's book can offer some lessons to the communist movement. Unlike the anti-communist Koestler though, Anna Larina insists that the Bukharin she champions was a real communist - and that Bukharin himself maintained that identity even as he was executed under Stalin's orders in 1938.
Since Bukharin and his widow claim to be communist we will treat their memoirs separately from those of the bourgeois writers. This distinction is necessary because communist critics claim the same goals as Stalin while having a better way forward. For example, our communist critics will claim they would not support a German imperialist invasion of the Soviet Union. On the other hand, former U.S. foreign service officer David W. Doyle wonders out loud why anti-communist critic Boris Bazhanov did not work with Hitler to achieve his goals. The criticisms of Stalin by the Bazhanovs of the world really should not occupy thousands of pages. They can be boiled down to one of two sentences: "I don't agree with your goals" or "Your goals cannot be achieved and are self-defeating." In contrast, the communists of the world have more to talk about.
As of yet, even though the state capitalist class in the Soviet Union rehabilitated Bukharin just before the Soviet Union fell apart and became an outright bourgeois republic, there is no worked out Bukharinist line or political practice in the international communist movement yet. While there is a recognizable (albeit sterile) ideology called "Trotskyism," the fate of Bukharinism is to serve as a reservoir of hope for those who wish that the Soviet Union did not have to endure the tragedies that it did in the 1920 and 1930s. (1)
With regard to World War I, some have seen Bukharin as foreshadowing Mao Zedong, Tito and Ho Chi Minh. Bukharin said:
"Comrade Lenin has chosen to define revolutionary war exclusively as a war of large armies with defeats in accordance with all the rules of military science. We propose that war from our side - at least to start with - will inevitably be a partisan war of flying detachments. ... In the very process of the struggle. ... more and more of the masses will gradually be drawn over to our side, while in the imperialist camp, on the contrary, there will be ever increasing elements of disintegration. The peasants will be drawn into the struggle when they hear, see and know that their land, boots and grain are being taken from them." (2)
Bukharin took an ultraleft position on World War I and thus opposed Soviet withdrawal - the same way Trotskyists today talk about how the Soviets should have made war on Germany, Poland and other countries to give the communists within those nations a chance to seize power. Furthermore, Bukharin initially opposed Lenin's New Economic Policy (NEP), again from the ultraleft. But he later abandoned those ultraleft positions and fully admitted Lenin's correctness in these questions. Indeed, Bukharin became the most steadfast supporter of the NEP in the party. However, Stalin was the second-most ardent defender of the NEP. Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev all attacked the NEP before its time was up. For this reason, through the 1920s until the very end of the decade, there can't be said to be have been much difference between Stalin and Bukharin. For this alone we must give Bukharin credit and take his ideas more seriously than we take Trotsky's.
Crucially, Bukharin took the correct side in two key two-line struggles in the party. First, partly in reference to the NEP, Bukharin opposed Trotsky. Second, when Zinoviev and Kamenev first attacked Trotsky and defended the NEP and then switched positions to defend Trotsky, Bukharin held steady. (3) Bukharin and Stalin held very similar lines until 1928 and the grain procurement crisis. The decline in grain production available to the cities that year convinced Stalin that the NEP had outlived its usefulness and that capitalism was holding back production in the countryside. Stalin also pointed to the utilization of industrial capacity and argued it was time to expand industrial capacity at the expense of the peasants, though it has been calculated that the peasants enjoyed ever more favorable price ratios under Stalin's Five Year Plans. Bukharin continued to hold that the NEP should be continued and peasants should collectivize agriculture only on a voluntary basis. His most famous slogan (later recanted) was "peasants: enrich yourselves." He told his wife: "Don't you feel sorry for me, Larochka. Feel sorry for the muzhik peasants." (4) His second-most famous statement (because Trotsky repeated it so often in order to criticize it) was that the Soviet Union would build socialism in one country, even if at "a tortoise's pace."
The notion of a more or less permanent NEP that dissolves itself voluntarily has gained support around the world. After the death of Mao Zedong in China, the revisionists in power under Deng Xiaoping's leadership adopted Bukharin's positions on the need for a relatively permanent NEP for China. They anxiously set out to learn of his views and to review the decisions of the Soviet Union from the late 1920s and early 1930s.
The Chinese revisionists were probably happy to discover that Bukharin shared their views of class struggle under socialism. In April, 1929, Bukharin said the following in a party speech:
"This strange theory of Stalin's ... raises the actuality of our current intensification of class warfare to something like an inevitable law for our development. It turns out now, we are told, that the farther we advance toward socialism, the more difficulties accumulate, the more class warfare intensifies - and finally, at the very gates of socialism, we shall either have to start a civil war or waste away from hunger and drop dead!" (5)
Larina reports that "At this, Stalin began raving and ranting. History will decide who was right!" Yes, indeed, history has proved that class warfare intensifies and indeed, no socialist experiment has yet ended without capitalist restoration. Stalin has been vindicated on this point.
In this regard, MIM disagrees with Bukharin. Nonetheless, the mistakes of any communist leader in the Soviet Union of the 1920s should not count as much as holding to those mistaken views decades later when history has proved them worthless. The Revolution in the 1920s was new. It is only by the late 1950s that the international communist movement noticed its own internal differences on these points. What Bukharin thought in 1929 was word for word what the revisionists of later years thought, but Bukharin's circumstances were much more mitigating. In the same way we could forgive Trotsky's views of Germany and international class struggle in 1923, but after decades of the failure of the same Trotskyist line, we must conclude that Trotskyism is nothing less than bourgeois escapism (similar to pacifism) which diverts proletarians from the communist movement.
We should credit Bukharin for noticing that Stalin's formulation of class struggle was contradictory. On the one hand according to Stalin, the bourgeoisie had been smashed (especially within the party and the Soviet Union), but on the other hand class struggle was intensifying. Because the opposition to Stalin by Bukharin on this point was fairly worked out, later theorists were able to advance revolutionary theory. In some sense, no thinker can be too far ahead of his or her contemporaries, because all are limited by their circumstances. Luckily for the world, Stalin did not have a coherent theory of class struggle, but he did know what to do in practice about preparing for World War II. Bukharin did not approach class struggle domestically and with regard to future enemies with the same urgency as did Stalin.
Later Mao summed up Soviet history and concluded that Stalin was correct in his struggles against his opponents who denied class struggle, but Mao took the extra step and developed Leninism into Maoism by showing the basis for the creation of a new bourgeoisie under socialism. Unlike the Maoist movements, all those movements informed by Bukharin's and Stalin's ideas of class struggle under socialism have ended up in contradiction. The bourgeoisie within communist parties in the Soviet Union, China, Albania, Vietnam and others have restored capitalism in their countries while claiming to be socialist proletarians themselves. Of the socialist country leaders, only Mao saw the potential for capitalist restoration clearly. With only 10 years left in life, Mao undertook to lead a revolutionary movement - the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution - against China's new bourgeoisie.
At the time of the Bukharin-Stalin split, Trotsky predicted that Stalin (or at least his line) would be swept out by the Bukharin rightist current. (6) He believed that Bukharin, Tomsky and Rykov would carry the day, because in Trotsky's own detachment from reality, he believed that the NEP had not been progressive for quite some years by 1928. He thought that the rich peasants or "kulaks" and "NEPmen" had already established formidable positions for themselves, with connections to international imperialism. According to Trotsky, Stalin and the "centrists" were oblivious to all this and due for a rude awakening. Trotsky appealed to those who followed the Stalinist "centrist" line to break with Stalin and not do things in a half-way manner because the rightist elements in the party were about to put the idea of collectivization on the scrapheap of history and turn the Soviet Union into an open bourgeois republic. Trotsky attacked Stalin for "empiricism" - paying too close attention to the facts and not enough attention to theory. As a result of not giving theory its due, Stalin adopted a "zig-zag" policy according to Trotsky, one time defending the NEP and another time abandoning it with rhetoric similar to Trotsky's. For his part, Stalin could obviously point to Lenin who explicitly said such "zig-zag" was necessary. Hence, we can see that in the CPSU, there were those who thought that the NEP was evil from a theory standpoint (Trotsky) and there were those who thought it should be permanent (Bukharin). In between was Stalin, who believed that modes of production outgrow their usefulness at some point, and need to be destroyed by force when they hold back production.
Biography of Bukharin
"Don't feel malice about anything. Remember that the great cause of the USSR lives on, and this is the most important thing. Personal fates are transitory and wretched by comparison." - Among Bukharin's last words to Anna Larina (7)
While the substance of Bukharinism is the advocacy of a permanent NEP for dealing with pre-capitalist modes of production, the substance of Anna Larina's memoirs is her lifelong struggle to stand by her husband and his ideas. Her work focuses on the personal lives of the Bukharin family and similar families at the time of Stalin's "Purge Trials," from 1936 to 1938, which Western anti-communist anti-"totalitarian" ideologues refer to as the height of totalitarianism in the Soviet Union.
Anna Larina was born into a communist leader's family in 1914. Her parents trained her to give her blood for the cause when it became necessary. (8) Bukharin watched Anna Larina grow up because he was a friend of the father who adopted her. At age 10, she sent Bukharin something of a love letter, delivered by Stalin. At ages 14, 15 and 16 Anna Larina had strong feelings for Bukharin and in fact it appears that Bukharin would have married her around age 16 or 17, but she was unable to come to a decision. When she married Bukharin in 1934, she was 20 and he was 45.
As he lay dying of some undiagnosed lung and nervous disorder, Anna Larina's father asked her about Bukharin. He replied to her profession of loyalty to Bukharin by saying that 10 years with Bukharin would be more interesting than a lifetime with someone else. (9) Within this context of being borne into a revolutionary intellectual family in a society of inequalities, we easily see that Bukharin was more "interesting" than other men to Anna Larina; even though, Anna Larina knew when she married Bukharin that he was already in a position of semi-disgrace within the CPSU.
The Russian Revolution did not instantly eradicate inequalities left over from previous society, including inequalities of gender. After reading these memoirs, we have no doubt that Anna Larina's love for Bukharin was much greater than that found in the average romance of supposedly greater equality but usually greater brittleness. Anna Larina's identification with her husband was so complete that she spent her life in prison for it and emerged unrepentant. Throughout the book Anna Larina tells of her struggles to defend Bukharin, especially after Stalin had him executed. Politically, it mostly consists of being willing to stand up to what she perceived as unjust insults that Bukharin was a "traitor," "terrorist," "wrecker" and "conspirator." It is quite clear from Anna Larina's own book, most of the Soviet masses hated Bukharin and his wife at the time of the Purge Trials.
The Gulag and repression
Anna Larina spent her life in disgrace, living in internal exile and various prisons. She almost had herself executed as well. Only now as an 80-year-old does she speak freely and agitate with great success. There is no doubt that what happened to Bukharin and Anna Larina was a tragedy. They represent the old revolutionary intelligentsia generally and the sacrifices it made.
Had Bukharin been 15 years younger and a political leader in confrontation with Stalin after 1945 or Mao after 1949, we don't think Bukharin would have been considered a "traitor" and his merits would have outweighed his demerits. We have every reason to believe Bukharin would have made great and relatively unblemished contributions to the revolution.
It is indeed significant that Bukharin lived until 1938. Anna Larina says Stalin toyed with Bukharin for a long time before killing him. However, it can be fairly said that there were no major differences between Stalin and Bukharin until three conditions of extreme urgency changed. 1) The grain procurement crisis of 1928 demonstrated that NEP might be running out of steam. 2) The Great Depression of 1929 which impelled the imperialists toward World War II with greater urgency. 3) The rise to power of fascism in the 1920s (Italy) and the early 1930s (Germany and Spain). With these three major historical events we can say that what was good enough before was no longer good enough anymore. What Trotsky calls a "zig-zag" and what Anna Larina seems to label as pure disloyalty was in fact a change in historical conditions that Stalin accurately gauged. Bukharin himself noted these changes in historical conditions, as did almost all Soviet citizens, who knew years in advance that the Nazis would invade sooner or later. Five years before the Nazi invasion, in Paris in 1936, Bukharin said, "I certainly do not rule out an attack by Hitler on the Soviet Union. I think a military conflict with Germany is unavoidable." (10) Thus having gone through disgrace and argument with Stalin, Bukharin (like everyone else) knew that the Germans were coming. It was just a question of when.
Bukharin also offered a fairly sensible view to the Mensheviks in 1936, but he broke centralism in attacking the Soviet media. This again underscores Bukharin's lack of professionalism, even in the company of Mensheviks:
"Collectivization is a stage that is now complete; a difficult stage, but complete. In time, differences of opinion are outlived; it makes no sense to argue about what kind of legs should be made for a table when the table is already made. At home, they write that I was against collectivization, but this is a ploy of propagandists, a cheap shot. I had indeed proposed another path, more complex and not so pell-mell, that would have led in the final analysis to production cooperatives, a path that did not involve the same kind of sacrifices but would have ensured that collectivization was voluntary. But now, in the face of approaching fascism, I can say, 'Stalin triumphed!' Come to the Soviet Union, Boris Ivanovich, and take a look yourself with your own eyes at what Russia has become." (11)
In the context of the Soviet Union of the 1930s, it is possible someone like Bukharin could be a "traitor" aiding Trotsky, the United States and Hitler. The weakness of Anna Larina's book is typical of biographical material. It does not consider the economic, military and political conditions of the time. It does not address the serious political questions raised by the Stalinists and instead prefers to dwell on bourgeois questions of personal loyalty and honor. The resulting book is a mixture of Judeo-Christian ethics and Marxism-Leninism. To be fair, we should say that Stalin also made use of the masses' ideas about honor and loyalty to further the proletarian cause. Hence, we can understand why Anna Larina feels obliged to reply to the accusations against Bukharin's honor the way the masses understood them and not the way they were debated within the top party circles. After all, Stalin besmirched Bukharin in the eyes of the masses with the masses' own standards.
As a result, all kinds of bourgeois liberals, Mensheviks and anti-communists jump on the Bukharin bandwagon. They like to hear the message that Stalin repressed people inside the CPSU. According to a leading Bukharin advocate, Stephen Cohen: "Embattled reformers in ruling Communist parties had the biggest stake in his rehabilitation." (12) By "embattled reformers" Cohen refers to those people who wanted to transform the state capitalist system into an open bourgeois republic.
At the end of her book Anna Larina includes letters from various people reacting to her campaign to rehabilitate Bukharin. She does not bother to refute the anti-communists in the lot. While she does keep up something of an anti-Trotsky, anti-Menshevik and pro-Bolshevik view, she is often left in the role of resuscitating the memory of her husband instead of championing communist ideas. Even where she does venture into complicated political waters, she does so first to prove that Bukharin was a patriot and not a traitor. Perhaps partly for this reason she paints him as a solid Bolshevik of personal integrity. For this reason she goes to the trouble of refuting Mensheviks who as late as 1965 wrote memoirs saying that Bukharin did in fact work with Mensheviks abroad to bring pressure on the CPSU to change. It was in fact scandalous for a Bolshevik to use the Menshevik press abroad to criticize the internal workings of the CPSU. Anna Larina knew this and addressed the point.
To Bukharin's credit, he was able to separate out his personal problems from those of the communist movement. Amongst his last words to his wife, he told her to raise his son "as a Bolshevik. A Bolshevik without fail!" (13) His very last words were "See that you don't get angry, Anyutka. There are irritating misprints in history, but the truth will triumph." (14) In saying this, Bukharin recognized that there is a process of struggle in the advance of the truth.
"Resting on one's laurels" and bourgeois ethics
One of the ongoing themes of the memoirs is that it is not possible that these "Old Guard" Bolshevik leaders could be guilty of all the charges brought against them. Mao referred to this kind of line as "resting on one's laurels." Again and again, the Old Guard charges the "Stalinists" with having no honor themselves because they don't recognize the place of honor of the Old Guard. While such issues of honor and integrity are important to the masses, they are actually a hindrance to understanding what happened in the 1930s. As we have already indicated there are no timeless morals.
It is scandalous to Christians to think of a world without timeless moral values such as loyalty, honor and integrity - characteristics that God supposedly places in each of us once and for all time, especially in the more hard-line Protestant religions upholding predetermination. These moral characteristics are then referred to by the Christians as our "moral character." The Stalinists' opposition to such an ideology leaves the Christians aghast and hence we "Stalinists" appear as "amoral" to those who claim timeless values. Stalin refuted this kind of thinking quite well in a quote that Anna Larina attributes to him in a dialogue with Bukharin. Bukharin:
"'Koba!' [Stalin's nickname] he said. 'You have to check the work of the NKVD [state security agency which predated the KGB], create a commission to find out what's going on there. Before the revolution, during the revolution, and in the hard days after it was achieved, we served only the revolution. So now, when the difficulties are already behind us, you believe slanderous testimonies? Do you want to toss us onto the filthy garbage pile of history? Come to your senses, Koba!
"Stalin replied in an indifferent tone. 'If you want to talk about your past merits, no one can take them away from you. But Trotsky had them, too. In fact, speaking between ourselves, speaking between ourselves,' he said twice, 'few had as many merits before the revolution as Trotsky.'" (15)
It is idealism to believe that God gave us permanent moral "characters." According to Stalin, people change with their circumstances. Trotsky was a Menshevik at one point, a revolutionary of great merit at another point and finally a counterrevolutionary, the first contra leader of the 20th century. No doubt from Stalin's perspective, the Old Guard rested on its laurels too much and underestimated the situation the Soviet Union was in. Largely from the revolutionary intelligentsia, the Old Guard seemed more and more impractical in its usefulness to Stalin - not Stalin as a person requiring "power" but Stalin as someone evaluating the contribution the Old Guard could make to preparing the Soviet Union for world war and global revolution.
Stalin was correct to see the Old Guard as tending to rest on its laurels and tending to deserve power because of "who" it is as opposed to "what" and "where" it is leading the Soviet Union. It was Stalin who did the most of the Old Guard to assure the professionalism and the place of science in the party.
It is often mistakenly asserted that Stalin was responsible for the creation of a "patronage" system of "vassalage" in the Soviet government. Actually the responsibility for this lies firmly at the feet of the "Old Guard" that believed in the magic powers of revolutionary prestige. They filled themselves up with feudal and bourgeois notions of honor and integrity.
Some of the same bourgeois critics blame Stalin for a widespread "Terror" while they also claim he set up an especially bureaucratic patronage system. It is not possible to have this both ways! If Stalin continuously had his own underlings executed; if even his own family was not immune (16) and if his home province of Georgia had more than its share of executions (17), we must conclude that what drove Stalin and his underlings was not "personal" loyalties and connections, but something else much more professional in demeanor. Yet because of the pre-scientific and hence superstitious and ideological nature of much of the bourgeois intelligentsia, especially in the humanities and social sciences, we hear again and again these contradictory ideas that Stalin made everyone personally loyal to him while he killed off everyone regardless of their personal ties to him! When it comes to criticizing Stalin there are absolutely no limits to how far logic can be stretched by the pre-scientific intelligentsia.
Underlying these pre-scientific criticisms of Stalin is precisely the simple horror that Stalin really was a communist. He did not put his long-time friends, home province, people of similar schooling, people of similar revolutionary credentials or his own family first. Stalin demonstrated too few of these traditional loyalties; although of course even he could not have escaped them entirely.
While Anna Larina demonstrates some willingness to talk about the great issues dividing the communist movement, she has a less than professional attitude toward revolutionary science. In this she seems to have shared some similarities with Bukharin.
Interrogated by Beria and many others, Anna Larina hated having people repeat lines they heard somewhere else. To the revolutionary intelligentsia concerned with its honor and individuality, it is absurd that comrades might actually share the same analysis.
She evaluates Beria's struggle with her as a matter of psychological subterfuge. Speaking of her father, Beria said, "'I had great respect for him ... 'We interred him with honors in Red Square.' (As if he had anything to do with my father's interment!)" (18) Once again the point here is that Beria is some kind of upstart, coming some three generations of administrators after the original revolutionaries in the Cheka. Here Beria simply repeated what the party line on her father was and she interprets it as a matter of his being an upstart.
In another interrogation, the interrogator turns out to be an old schoolmate of hers and another red-diaper baby. "Andrei Sverdlov's new occupation could not be regarded as anything but betrayal. The eyes of Cain were looking at me. Even so, the guilty party behind his catastrophe as well as mine was one and the same person: Stalin." (19) After this Biblical metaphor, Larina continues with the theme of gratitude and loyalty. "I cut him off, telling him that the 'enemy of the people' Bukharin had telephoned Stalin after his, Andrei's, arrest to plead for his release." (20)
In the most important of personal relations, she speaks of Stalin and Bukharin. She points out that they were long-time friends, and lived one floor apart from each other and even switched apartments at one point. Stalin's own family knew Bukharin so well it sometimes sided with Bukharin in arguments. They went to the same parties and socialized at the theater. This led Larina to conclude of Stalin, "Certainly, nothing was really dear to him. . . and yet?" (21) And so it is that Anna Larina sees some ambiguity in her relationship to Stalin and she sees even more ambiguity in Bukharin's relationship to Stalin. (22) They were good friends, but Stalin had Bukharin executed.
While recognizing that Stalin himself needed friends and that Bukharin was one of those friends on the most personal terms with Stalin, she expected this friendship to be above the issues that both men apparently held to be paramount. Larina is simply unable to sort out professional issues from personal ones.
She never raises or refutes what Stalin said on this directly:
"Comrades, I will not dwell on personal matters, even though the personal element played quite an impressive part in the speeches of Bukharin's group. I will not do this because the personal element is trivial and it is not worth dwelling on trivialities. Bukharin spoke of our personal correspondence. He read several letters from which it was plain that yesterday we were personal friends, and now we are parting company politically. I don't think all these complaints and wailings are worth a brass farthing. We are not a family circle or a coterie of personal friends; we are the political party of the working class." (23)
Bukharin himself had the problem of not being able to sort out personal trivialities from what is politically important, despite his large commitment of energy to the revolutionary profession. In recounting his conversation with Kamenev, Larina admits as much:
"Nikolai Ivanovich added an unflattering opinion of Molotov: Stalin, he said, surrounded himself with faceless drones subordinate to him in everything, like the dull-witted Molotov, that 'lead butt,' who was still struggling to understand Marxism. (Actually, Nikolai Ivanovich used ruder expressions to describe Molotov, improper to repeat here. My husband was by nature excitable and outspoken.)" (24)
Once again, the recourse is to the evaluation of the intellectual and moral characters of people in the CPSU. There is no argument of substance, simply insults imitating the old ruling class's traditional justification for its rule - that the masses are too stupid to rule. (See MIM Theory 2/3 "Abolish Psychology" on why MIM prefers to avoid this kind of approach.)
Stalin's "pathological suspiciousness"
As all Bolsheviks of his day when speaking of each other, and even more so the many critics too dumbfounded by Stalin to raise any questions of analysis, Bukharin resorted to attacking Stalin with psychology. When all reasoning fails, resort to besmirching someone's personal motivations is the anti-communist strategy without fail.
In his "To a Future Generation of Party Leaders" and other statements remembered by his wife, Bukharin reduces the "Purges" to a combination of the existence of state power and Stalin's personality. Yet from Anna Larina's memoirs, we learn some more legitimate bases for that "paranoia" that go beyond Stalin's personality and the corruption of state functionaries which exists everywhere there is state power. (25)
The notion that there was a conspiracy of people within the Soviet Union with Menshevik emigre circles in the imperialist countries turns out to have some merit. To her credit, Anna Larina did not simply overlook the "Letter of an Old Bolshevik" published in the Socialist Herald of Paris. At the time of its publication it damaged Bukharin who seemed to be the person behind it using anonymity to make a criticism abroad to pressure the CPSU.
In 1959, for the first time, a Menshevik admitted to having fabricated the letter. Hence, Stalin had no way of knowing it was fabricated since he died in 1953. Anna Larina suggests that perhaps Stalin asked the Mensheviks to fabricate the letter to make Bukharin look bad, but she admits she doesn't understand Boris Nicolaevsky's intentions in doing this and doesn't really know what happened herself.
If this was an attempt to create discord within the communist camp, the Mensheviks succeeded. On the other hand, it also backfired, because it helped confirm the opinions of the "Left" against the "Right" and helped justify the Purge Trials. In this way, the Mensheviks contributed to a "Red Terror," which considering their "peaceful evolution" strategy doesn't seem to fit together. Later, in 1965, Nicolaevsky said that the content of his fabricated article was based on conversations he had with Bukharin in Paris in 1936 just as Bukharin's detractors had said. (At the time of the "Purge Trials" of Bukharin in 1938 Nicolaevsky denied any political conversation with Bukharin whatsoever. (26) Hence it appears that Nicolaevsky was protecting Bukharin at that time.) In 1965 Nicolaevsky published a transcript of things he talked about with Bukharin. Why Nicolaevsky would falsely attack Bukharin when Stalin already had been dead for 12 years, it is not easy to say, and so we should not rule out that Bukharin did inspire the "Letter from an Old Bolshevik." In this regard, Anna Larina seems to understand that the reader is not going to be able to get much satisfaction, since she herself was not present all the days or at all the meetings in Paris in 1936 that Bukharin attended. Nonetheless, while no one is yet able to sort out this political tangle, it is quite certain that whatever happened did justify "paranoid" suspicion. Clearly there is some very high-level maneuvering that went on. In the end, we have found no critics of Stalin other than Anna Larina who believes that Bukharin did not have this connection to the Mensheviks abroad.
The Nazi connection
Anna Larina argues the absurdity of Stalin's charge against Bukharin that he worked with Trotsky while Hitler pulled strings in the background.
In the upper reaches of state power and the intelligentsia, political commerce occurs through the medium of a highly symbolic language. While the vast majority of workers and "socialists" rejected Lenin's anti-war positions and his bold new views regarding imperialism and the labor aristocracy, the German imperialists made a very smart move in helping ship Lenin back into Russia in 1917. The German imperialists did not agree with Lenin, but they understood enough of what he was saying that they believed he could help subvert the Russian war effort against Germany, and the German imperialists were correct. Such commerce between intellectuals such as Lenin, who was out of power, and the people in state power occurs all the time, sometimes so subtlely that no one notices.
We will start with the more elementary cases of treason and then move on to treat more dangerous kinds. Anna Larina is apparently unaware or unwilling to treat the subject of Stalin's judgment concerning his officer corps just prior to World War II. She believes that the purge may have been connected to the military's fondness or feared fondness of Bukharin and other dissidents. As such the military purge was just another example of Stalin's supposed paranoia. "The charge that the commanders had conspired against the Soviet state, in league with Hitler, simply could not be believed."(27)
We have since learned that Stalin had a dossier on military officers from British and French intelligence. These imperialists believed that the officer corps did have a Nazi "fifth column" in it and warned Stalin about it. From what we know about these matters of state, Nazi intelligence had the last laugh in fooling the combined intelligence agencies of Britain, France and the Soviet Union by fabricating the evidence for such an alliance.
In the cases of other countries, especially in Eastern Europe - Romania and Poland for example - there was no need to fabricate evidence concerning Nazi sympathies of military officers. It was quite apparent. Once again it is possible Stalin was fooled in all this, but since others were as well, it is hardly proof that Stalin was anymore "paranoid" than anyone else about Nazi infiltrators. In fact, the various countries of Eastern Europe steamrolled by Hitler were not "paranoid" enough about Hitler. For that matter, even the major imperialist country France ended up having a "Vichy" government and significant fifth column. Compared with the other political leaders of his time, Stalin showed a far greater determination to account for this reality in his handling of the military.
The case of Stalin's political opponents is harder to follow, but once again, it remains true that Stalin had a substantial case and no need to fabricate anything.
Even Trotskyist and Trotsky biographer Isaac Deutscher found Trotsky's "Clemenceau Declaration" to be a blunder. It amounted to saying that Trotsky would ride to power on the back of an imperialist invasion. In 1931, according to Lion Feuchtwanger, Emil Ludwig visited Trotsky in private and received the same impression that Trotsky still had the deliberate strategy of riding to power on the back of German tanks. Later, in the year Trotsky was killed by Stalin and just before Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, Trotsky was found advocating civil war in the Soviet Union - quite conveniently for the Nazis about to invade.
Some years after the "Clemenceau Declaration" marking Trotsky's strategy for a return to power, Zinoviev and Kamenev then made an opportunist bloc with Trotsky against Stalin. At the time, Bukharin agreed that Zinoviev and Kamenev had thus disgraced themselves.
Later Bukharin would make a pitiful attempt to make an alliance with Zinoviev and Kamenev who had already been disgraced like Trotsky before them. Anna Larina does not deny Bukharin's maneuverings in this regard. In July, 1928, Bukharin had a "fateful" meeting with Kamenev:
"I recall also that Nikolai Ivanovich, from what he told me, admitted to Kamenev and Sokolnikov that they had been absolutely right at the Fourteenth Party Congress, in 1925, when they advised delegates not to reelect Stalin as gensek [general secretary]. Bukharin went on to say that Stalin was an unprincipled intriguer who in his pursuit of power would change his politics at any given moment, depending only on whom he wanted to be free of." (28)
In this alone, Bukharin justified the purge trial's contention that Bukharin was part of a Hitler-Trotsky-Zinoviev bloc. Trotsky conjured up the image of a German army invasion that would bring him to power. Zinoviev and Kamenev later flip-flopped from vehemently opposing Trotsky to saying that Trotsky was correct all along. Trotsky loved to quote their statement of repentance to Trotsky for the rest of his life. Then Zinoviev and Kamenev came to their senses and pledged loyalty to the party, led by Stalin or not. Finally, Bukharin repented and told Kamenev that he and Zinoviev had been right all along.
Hence, in actual fact there was a political bloc between Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bukharin, as much as they disagreed about the NEP and the peasantry. The reason is that the four leaders all opposed Stalin and found it useful to make use of anarchist criticisms of "bureaucracy" as if they more than Stalin could eradicate "bureaucracy" before the basis of state power itself could be abolished. When all else failed, there was always anarchism and psychology to fall back on. In the case of these four "Old Guard" leaders, their reasoning failed to persuade a party majority, and indeed on many points they had no disagreements with Stalin. When they fell out of state power, they became critical of all power the way the anarchists are - in a sterile and infantile sort of way. They attempted to blame Stalin personally for the existence of state power.
Luckily for the international proletariat, Stalin had the "strength" or "will" to continue representing the proletariat in the face of such opportunist attacks which are always true no matter who is in power. He did not listen to their psychological babble, though he was somewhat more susceptible to it than subsequent comrades in China who understood more clearly why psychology as an entire subject matter had to be abolished.
These facts about Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bukharin are old and available even in works by Trotskyist biographers. Yet despite the intentions of the revisionist historians and proponents of glasnost, not everything coming to light in recent years about Stalin is negative. Some facts can be ignored and de-emphasized, but nonetheless occasionally they come to light, even in connection to Nazi subversion.
Boris Bazhanov recently published an English translation of the second edition of his memoirs (29) In his second edition, he was able to state freely what he was unable to before because of fear of what would happen to friends and co-workers still in the Soviet Union. Boris Bazhanov was one of Stalin's top four secretaries in the 1920s before fleeing to the West on January 1, 1928. He was a secretary for the Central Committee, the Orgburo and the Politburo at one time or another. He was probably the most powerful person in his twenties in the Soviet government. He had some powers that even Politburo members did not have practically speaking.
Yet when Bazhanov fled to the West, he started exposing the details of the Soviet Union's inner workings to imperialist diplomats and military officials. He also started preaching Christian values.
When the Soviet Union invaded Finland in preparation for war with Germany, Bazhanov took the Finnish side and organized an army of Russian emigres to help. His work subverting the Soviet Army drew the attention of Hitler.
When Hitler took over France, Belgium and other countries of Europe, Bazhanov did not resist. Quite the contrary, he received an invitation to see top Nazi officials in Berlin. Rather than resist these solicitations, Bazhanov went to Germany to negotiate the terms of his aid to the Nazi army. Bazhanov wanted the Germans to set up an anti-communist but independent Russian government. Hitler's underlings agreed with Bazhanov, but Hitler overruled Bazhanov's suggestion by saying that Russia would be a German colony. (30)
If it were not for Hitler's absolutist views regarding racial purity, the Nazis would have won the war. Had intelligent officers staged a coup against Hitler, the scary truth is that the Germans could have mobilized many more people like Bazhanov to set up a pro-German imperialist government in Moscow. As it happened, there was some back-and-forth between Bazhanov and the Nazis, but in the end, Bazhanov did not actively organize for a Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Bazhanov concluded that the fascists' ultranationalism is the plague of the far-right, something that always ends up playing into the communists' hands. Such fine distinctions in the anti-communist right are the only reason that we did not see an army of the like described by Stalin breeze into Moscow. Stalin understood the possible bases of Nazi support. Many of his naive and intellectual critics still don't 50 years later. It is part of the same contradiction that only the minority hold state power and even a smaller minority have held state power on behalf of the proletariat. For this reason alone, much superstition and ignorance surrounds matters of communist state power.
The real issues
What we must understand about the communist leaders is that they debated many things that would seem rather "dry" to the masses. Grain production figures, industrial capacity, relative price ratios and the like are the stuff of the argument over what would work best to move the Soviet Union forward.
How the masses grasp the debate amongst the leaders is crucial. The leaders knew that industrial production was a question of life-and-death importance to the people. However, just printing the figures for the Soviet Union and Germany in the newspapers would not have been enough to spur the masses in a concrete way. Merely to say that the imperialists' economies produce more than the Soviet Union is not enough.
On the other hand, from a long history of national conflicts in the pre-socialist era, the masses could grasp the urgencies associated with fighting "spies," "saboteurs" and "conspirators" from other countries. The idea that the Germans or other imperialists would send people to sabotage Soviet industry is both understandable and an issue of urgent importance to the masses.
The trouble is translating this from the top echelons of power where policy is made to the masses below. To avoid adopting the policies of the bourgeoisie was of life and death concern to the CPSU leadership. As Stalin was famous for saying in 1931, the Soviets had 10 years to catch up with the West or the West would destroy it in war. Someone in the leadership of the CPSU with the wrong plan would do much more damage to the Soviet Union than any spy or "wrecker" because the Soviet Union was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
In the 1930s, Stalin became the slave-driver of the Soviet peoples. After World War II, he himself admitted he killed too many people and that other nations might not have been so generous as to let him continue leading the country.
Where we disagree with Bukharin supporters is that we don't think the Soviet Union could have afforded not to tap the emotional energy associated with fighting foreign "saboteurs," "spies" and "wreckers." They also needed a stringent notion of patriot to spur the people in the 1930s. This is what allowed Stalin to lead the Soviet Union from being an agrarian society to an industrial country in 10 years. No other country in the world had accomplished that before Stalin without murderous repression.
Had Bukharin implemented his policies, MIM believes that Hitler would have won World War II. The Russians lost in war against the Japanese in 1905. When the Germans fought them in World War I, the Russians lost abysmally and had to give up a lot of territory. At that time, the Russians lost even though Germany had to fight on two fronts at once - one facing France and the other facing Russia. The French were the much tougher opponents for the Germans.
In World War II, Germany won on its Western front before it initiated war on the Soviet Union in the East. The Soviet Union faced the most massive military onslaught in history, but this time, under socialist leadership, the Soviet peoples won the war. Even so they had to lose 20 million dead to do it and they very nearly lost. People who do not understand the military and industrial history of Europe from 1900 to 1945 will not understand anything about the validity of Stalin's approach.
What Stalin did was to tap the nationalist energies of his people to defeat imperialism. In contrast, Bukharin would have let the peasants stay peasants and let the economy grow at "a tortoise's pace" (as he said in reply to Trotsky who feared the pace of industrial growth would be slow under Stalin and Bukharin's line of "socialism in one country.") Bukharin also would have allowed more debate and he would not have set an exacting criterion of "patriot." There would have been no mass executions in Lubyanka and no "Great Purges," but there also would have been no Soviet Union after 1941 - just a German colony.
From what we know, both Stalin and Bukharin opposed Lenin's and Trotsky's ideas about military strategy and they would have been the first to take up protracted guerrilla warfare against a victorious Hitler. Nonetheless it would have been too late in many regards. Hitler would have seized substantial oil fields and other wealth. He would have controlled the Russian cities. With another few years, European Jews would have been exterminated as completely as the indigenous people of North America. Next would have been the African peoples Hitler had under his control. With Russia in his hands, Hitler also would have gained successful negotiations with U.S. and British imperialists, perhaps while he conquered and exterminated the Japanese. There would have been another round of imperialist world wars, but this time with no socialist bloc.
1. The exception to this approach to Bukharin is the idea that the revolutions in China, Korea and Vietnam may have learned from Bukharin without acknowledging him or even without knowing of the principal defender of the New Economic Policy in the Soviet Union. (See other MIM literature on the New Economic Policy (NEP), a policy of free trade in rural markets and private farming combined with Bolshevik state control of communications, transport and other strategic industries in what Lenin referred to as a "state capitalist" mode of production used by the Bolsheviks to smash the existing pre-capitalist relations swamping the Soviet Union.)
2. Geoffrey Hosking, The First Socialist Society: A History of the Soviet Union from Within Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985, p. 61.
3. MIM can see no "line" in the Zinoviev/Kamenev struggles against Stalin, only a flouting of revolutionary credentials. The rapid flip-flops of Zinoviev and Kamenev appear to have cost them their widespread support in the party. Nonetheless, we do credit their contributions up until 1924 when Lenin died. It is especially important that Zinoviev was Lenin's first lieutenant on the question of the labor aristocracy in the imperialist countries. He continued to show prescience in this area right through his work in the Comintern.
4. Anna Larina, This I Cannot Forget: The Memoirs of Nikolai Bukharin's Widow. New York: W.W. Norton, 1993. p. 115.
5. Larina, p. 290.
6. Leon Trotsky, The New Course Max Schactman intro. (Ann Arbor, MI: Ann Arbor Paperbacks, 1972), pp. 207-210.
7. Larina, p. 355.
8. Ibid, p. 229.
9. Ibid, p. 229.
10. Ibid, p. 254.
11. Ibid, pp. 256-7.
12. Cohen, p. 20.
13. Ibid, p. 334.
15. Ibid, p. 302; Stalin said the same to Tito about Tito's past, Ulam, p. 667.
16. See Larina, pp. 141-2 for accusation of murder of his own wife.
17. Larina, p. 56.
18. Ibid, p. 194.
19. Ibid, p. 242.
20. Ibid, p. 244.
21. Ibid, p. 291.
22. See also Larina, pp. 289-90.
23. D. Volkogonov, Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1988. pp. 174-5; Volkogonov likewise says Stalin lacked "honor" "pity" and "sympathy" p. 292.
24. Larina, p. 113.
25. Precisely because state power does exist everywhere and is corrupt everywhere it is inappropriate to raise that fact in the context of a struggle within the communist movement. The critique of state power is a given in the communist movement. The question is how best to eradicate the material bases for the need of state power.
26. Larina, p. 271.
27. Ibid, p. 59.
28. Ibid, pp. 112-3.
29. See Bazhanov and the Damnation of Stalin Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1990.
30. Bazhanov, p. 217.
Buy This Book
|Back to bookstore||Home page|