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Nikolai Bukharin: His Early Intellectual Beginnings

another nice one of Nikolai.

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Bukharin visited Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, the United States, and Japan . Nikolai learned to speak English, German, and French. He spent six years in the west before he returned to Russia in 1917. Vladimir Illyich Ulyanov (Lenin) had referred to Bukharin in his Testament as the party's greatest theoretician and as the party favorite. Bukharin had been one of the most prominent Bolsheviks; his name had become known even before the Russian Revolution of 1917. Lenin had called him "soft wax" because he was easily influenced and he was emotional.

Nikolai's intellectual abilities had become apparent when he was still a child. Bukharin's family, brothers, Vladimir and Pyotr, mother Liubov, and father Ivan, were members of the minor nobility. Both of Bukharin's parents were schoolteachers but later on his father became a tax inspector. Born and raised in Moscow, except when he lived for four years in Bessarabia, Nikolai learned to read at the age of four and developed a fascination for animals, especially birds and butterflies, of which he had a collection. He became knowledgeable about animals and his knowledge did not go unnoticed by scientists, including Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov. Nikolai also had a bit of a fascination for literature, art, and painting. Bukharin broke with religion while still a child in primary school and also developed somewhat of an attitude of contempt towards urban life.

When Bukharin completed primary school and the gymnasium with high marks he entered Moscow University in 1907. This was where he began to study economics. However he did begin to spend more and more of his time immersed in politics which he had been involved with since he was a student in the gymnasium. Bukharin joined the Bolsheviks in 1906, however because he was being arrested for participating in revolutionary activity so often, he emigrated from Russia in 1911, went to Germany and there began to study economics, philosophy, and sociology. Here, although a Marxist, he developed an interest in and became influenced by westernized, non Marxist ideas and this made him stand out among the other Bolsheviks. He also developed a fascination for the Marxist philosopher Alexander Bogdanov and in 1921 wrote a book concerning Bogdanov called "Historical Materialism".

Alexander Bogdanov.

Bogdanov was an interpreter of Marxism. Bukharin was well aware of the flaws of Marxism and learned to respect the triumphs of other ideas. Lenin, on the other hand, who Bukharin had met approximately 1912, thought differently, and this caused a kind of disagreement between the two men. Bogdanov used to be one of Lenin's best comrades, but around 1908 he broke off relations with Lenin because he disagreed strongly with him on several things concerning Marxist theory. One of these was that Bogdanov believed that the development of a culture takes time. Therefore, he believed, in order to begin the procedure that would lead eventually to the proletariat having political power, they must first find their own way and to have the chance to develop their culture to its fullest, and they would eventually recognize the need to fight for their own emancipation on their own. Lenin, on the other hand, thought that this wasn't necessary; his theory was that the "proletarian culture" had to be brought and taught to them by intellectual philosophers. Left on their own, thought Lenin, the working class was only able to develop a trade union consciousness to use to negotiate for better working conditions with the bourgeoisie. Bogdanov thought that Lenin's ideas were ridiculous; the intellectuals that were alive at the time, he believed, could not really create a proletarian culture because most of them did not come from the working class themselves but from other classes, and therefore knew nothing about proletarian culture.

Another matter that caused quibbling between Bukharin and Lenin was Bogdanov himself. Bukharin admired him as a great thinker while Lenin disliked the man. Here in the West Bukharin also finished two books about theoretical economics. His first book, one that he wrote himself, was finished in 1914 and was called "The Economic Theory of the Leisure Class". Bukharin believed also that if you were going to criticize something or an idea (for example Marxism) then you should use constructive criticism and back up your opinions with evidence and be kind instead of using abuse and ridicule.

In Austria in 1913 Bukharin first met Stalin. Because Stalin only spoke Russian and Georgian languages Bukharin helped him with translation. Early during WWI Bukharin and two friends, Nikolai Krylenko and Elena Rozmirovich, created a newspaper of their own called "zvezda" (star), which gave rise to another quarrel between Bukharin and Lenin, who did not want any newspaper made that was independent from the party. He thought it was an opposition newspaper, but Bukharin said that it was supposed to add to the Bolshevik Party, not oppose them.

Another source of friction which caused another huge disagreement between Bukharin and Lenin that almost led to Bukharin being expelled from the Bolshevik Party altogether was a man named Roman Malinovsky, a proletariat who came to St. Petersburg from Poland in 1906 and became the general Secretary of the St. Petersburg Metalworkers Union. When he was arrested and exiled from the city in 1909 he went to Moscow and joined the Bolshevik Party. Soon after the Czarist secret police, the Okhrana, purged the Party in April 1910, seizing and placing many of its members, including Bukharin, under arrest. Bukharin suspected that Malinovsky was a spy who was secretly working for the Okhrana because several times when he went to have secret meetings with Party comrades Okhrana agents would be waiting for him there and would snatch the men whom he had been waiting for. Somehow, Malinovsky had known all about the meetings Bukharin had planned.

Roman Malinovsky.

After lying in prison for six months and then being exiled to the province of Arkhangelsk, Bukharin, tired of being betrayed, fled from Russia in 1911. He went to Galicia, where Lenin was staying, and warned him against Malinovsky, but Lenin did not believe him. Malinovsky had had a criminal record back in Poland which included crimes such as rape and robbery, and Lenin believed that a true revolutionary had to ally himself with people in prison. As he once put it "It is in prison that one becomes a real revolutionary." He believed that people of the criminal mind were necessary for the revolution and that it was necessary to ally himself with them.. Then in February 1913, the wife of a famous Bolshevik named Alexander Troyanovsky was arrested by the Okhrana (he later managed to free her). Troyanovsky believed that Malinovsky had been involved in organizing her arrest so together with Bukharin he wrote a letter to the Central Committee. However Lenin, who was very angry with them, told them that treason was not a good enough word to describe their actions and words and that if they did not stop with these crazy accusations they would be kicked out of the Party. Bukharin stopped with his accusations but Troyanovsky quit the Party and never joined again until 1921.

(In 1917 when the Provisional Government under Prince Georgi Lvov opened the secret files of the Okhrana in April after helping to overthrow the Czar in March, they discovered that Malinovsky had served as a spy for the Okhrana under chief Beletsky since 1906. Once captured, Malinovsky was never very likely to emerge alive. In November 1918 when he returned to Russia- he had emigrated in 1915- Malinovsky was put on trial and shot. The amazing thing was that Lenin had continued to hold on to Malinovsky as a high ranking member of the Party and even to savagely defend him long after there was solid proof after 1913 that he was guilty. Even during the trial Lenin still was unsure about whether he wanted Malinovsky shot or not).

On Lenin's revolution in Russia Bukharin as usual was in disgreement with Lenin. Lenin's idea was to enlist the help of the petty bourgeoisie to aid them in the revolution, while Bukharin on the other hand felt that the petty bourgeoisie would not lift a claw to help the Bolsheviks, instead they would join with the big capitalists against the Bolsheviks and their revolution.

In Switzerland Bukharin met Yuri Pyatakov who was later to become deputy to the People's Commissar of Industry, Georgi (Sergo) Ordzhonikidze. About imperialism Bukharin believed that taking over and having colonies and raw materials were an important part of capitalism and that imperialism was a cause of wars among nations.

From left to right: Anastas Mikoyan, another Bolshevik, Stalin, and Sergo Ordzhonikidze, who was to be one of Bukharin's many friends. Ordzhonikidze worked as the People's Commissar for Heavy Industry in the 1930;s. He died under suspicious circumstances in February 1937. No one really knows why, just that he died as a result of a gunshot wound. Historians arent sure if he died by his own hand or if he was murdered.

Grigori "Yuri" Pyatakov. He worked for Ordzhonikidze in the People's Commissariat for Heavy Industry. He was arrested in late 1936 and was put on show trial in January 1937 for being a part of a Trotskyite group that was supposed to have been connected with the murderers of Sergei Kirov (see my Kirov page for information on this) Pyatakov was shot in 1937 after being convicted.

When Bukharin went to New York in 1916 he worked with the newspaper "Novi Mir" (New World). This was published by socialists here. Bukharin wrote down his ideas as newspaper articles. He wanted to create debates and strengthen the left. It was also in New York that Bukharin became aquainted with Lev Trotsky. Bukharin, who believed that political opinions should not affect your friendships with other people, became friends with Trotsky, although later on they were on opposite sides, Bukharin for the Right Bolsheviks and Trotsky for the Left.

Lev Davidovich Bronstein "Lev Trotsky" Stalin's biggest opponent and rival. Trotsky formed the Red Army in 1917-1918 and worked as the People's Commissar of War. He came out as an opponent of Stalin before the others did, and Stalin then accused later opponents of being in cahoots with him, and that was enough for an arrest. Trotsky was exiled from Russia in 1928, and went to live in Mexico. Stalin's agents stalked him throughout his life in exile, and finally managed to kill him in August 1940 when one Ramon Mercardier who was standing beside Trotsky's office, suddenly attacked him, viciously smashing in his head with an ice pick.

When Bukharin returned to Russia in 1917 he was arrested and stayed in Japan for a week, and when he entered Russia he was arrested again, finally returning to Russia in May 1917, three months after the February Revolution had dethroned the Tsar.

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