Nikolai Bukharin on the life of A.A. Bogdanov

Eulogy for a Bolshevik

Image: Bogdanov plays chess with Lenin
at Capri, as Maksim Gorkii looks on (1909)


What follows is an introduction to and translation of a eulogy Nikolai Bukharin delivered upon the death by Evgeni Pavlov originally published in the
Platypus Review. Evgeni had already translated the piece, but I solicited it for publication in the PR. As such, it represents one of my last contributions to the organization’s activities and publications, unless perhaps further transcriptions appear of events I helped put together.


Evgeni V. Pavlov

Nikolai Bukharin opens his “Personal Confession,” written on June 2, 1937, with a list of his “general theoretical anti-Leninist views.”[1] The first item on the list is his “lack of understanding of dialectics and substitution of Marxist dialectics with the so-called theory of equilibrium.” To explain this lack of understanding, Bukharin continues: “[I] was under the influence of A. Bogdanov, whom I wished to interpret only in a materialist way, which unavoidably led to a peculiar eclecticism — simply put, theoretical confusion — where mechanical materialism united with empty schemas and abstractions.”[2] This formulation is revealing in many ways. Bukharin’s renunciation of Bogdanov must be understood in light of the connection between the two. That Bogdanov’s ideas and his very person were influential in Bukharin’s intellectual development is difficult, even impossible, to deny. However, the level of this influence, the amount of alleged “borrowings” and the independence of Bukharin’s own theorizations are up for debate. An additional difficulty arises out of the use that the persecutors of Bukharin made of this relationship in order to discredit his ideas and political positions.

Aleksandr Bogdanov photographed in 1904, while still a close collaborator with Lenin

Aleksandr Bogdanov photographed in 1904, while still a close collaborator with Lenin

The year of Bogdanov’s death — 1928 — was an eventful year in Bukharin’s political life. The fifteenth Party Congress finished its work in December 1927, and the discussions about industrialization and collectivization were heated and fraught with factional conflicts. The grain shortage and the failures in foreign policy greatly contributed to the combative nature of the discussions. On the domestic front, the infamous Shakhty “conspiracy” went from the initial preparatory stages, characterized by intense internal discussions in the Party leadership, to the frenzy of the media’s coverage of the disastrous show trial that took place between May 18 and July 6. In July Bukharin negotiated with Kamenev about a possible opposition against Stalinist hard-liners.[3] In September he penned “Notes of an Economist” for Pravda in which he denounced plans for accelerated industrialization, emphasizing the need to “balance” various aspects of a complex economic system.[4] The political maneuvers by Bukharin and his supporters, attempting to use the Moscow Party Committee in their struggle, ended in defeat with the Central Committee’s condemnation in October 1928. The next month, Bukharin’s views were attacked at the Plenum of the Central Committee, and again in December 1928 at the eighth Congress of Professional Unions. At the joint meeting of the Politburo of the Central Committee and the Presidium of the Central Control Committee in January 1929, Stalin delivered his infamous speech — “Bukharin’s Group and the Rightist Deviation in Our Party.” Continue reading