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Political Testament of Lenin and Bukharin and the Meaning of NEP

  • Lars T. Lih (a1)


Lenin's last writings have given rise to a surprising range of interpretations. Despite this diversity, consensus holds that in these articles Lenin was striking new ground, extending his critique of war communism, and deepening his conception of the New Economic Policy. Another widely held view is that Nikolai Bukharin, inspired by the last articles, went further down the path opened by Lenin. Few agree about the content of Lenin's new direction, although one may note the following coincidence: Lenin is always seen as rejecting whatever the author in question does not like about original Bolshevism.



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This essay is dedicated to my teachers Robert Tucker and Stephen Cohen, who, long before perestroika, emphasized the importance of Lenin's testament and Nikolai Bukharin to the Soviet reform tradition.

1. I include the five final articles, the letter to the congress, and the draft for “How to Reorganize Rabkrin” ; all can be found in volume 45 of Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Institut Marksizma-Leninizma, n.d.), 5th ed. Standard western discussions of the circumstances surrounding the final articles are found in Tucker, Robert C., Stalin as Revolutionary: A Study in History and Personality (New York: W. W. Norton, 1973); Lewin, Moshe, Lenin's Last Struggle (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1968 ; McNeal, Robert H., Stalin: Man and Ruler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988 . On Bukharin, besides the standard works of Daniels, Robert (The Conscience of the Revolution: Communist Opposition in Soviet Russia [Cambridge: Harvard, 1960]) and Cohen, Stephen (Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography [New York: Vintage Books, 1971], I have benefited from the Marxist analyses of Haynes, Michael (Nikolai Bukharin and the Transition from Capitalism to Socialism [New York: Holmes and Meier, 1985]) and Salmon, Christian (Le reve mathimatique de Nicolai Boukharine, 1905-1923 [Paris: Sycomore, 1980]). For a useful collection of recent Soviet articles, see Bukharin: Chelovek, politik, uchenyi (Moscow: Politizdat, 1990). The student of Bukharin will benefit from three new Soviet editions of his writings: Izbrannye Proizvedeniia (Moscow: Politizdat, 1988); Problemy teorii i prcktiki Sotsiclizma (Moscow: Politizdat, 1989): Put'K sotsializmu (Novosibirsk: Nauka, 1990). The last has a useful and comprehensive bibliography of Bukharin's writing.

2. “Politicheskoe zaveshchanie Lenina,” in Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 419-436.

3. Recent Soviet discussions include V. P. Naumov, “Leninskoe zaveshchanie,” Pravda, 26 February and 25 March 1988; V. I. Startsev, “Politicheskie rukovoditeli sovetskogo gosudarstva v 1922-nachale 1923 g.” Istoriia SSSR, 1988, no. 5, 101-122; and Aleksandr Bek's interview with Lenin's secretaries, published in Moscow News, 1989, no. 17 (Bek's novel on this subject is being published).

4. In 1922, Lenin wrote: “The state = the working class, its vanguard, its crystallized organization and cultural power,” PSS 45: 412. The attempt to combine high centralization with democratic enlistment is characteristic of a wider trend in Russian political culture I have termed “'the enlistment solution.” For discussion, see Lih, Bread and Authority in Russia, 1914-1921 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).

5. PSS 45: 383. See also 347, 376, 385, 387, 405, 447. Lewin comments on the limitations of Lenin's analysis in Lenin's Last Struggle, 124; and in Political Undercurrents in Soviet Economic Debates: From Bukharin to the Modern Reformers (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), 64.

6. PSS 45: 397.

7. Ibid. 45: 397. See also 308 (November 1922).

8. Ibid. 45: 361. See also 45: 447, 405. For a similar strategy with Gosplan, see 45: 351-352.

9. Bukharin put the emphasis on examinations (Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 434). See also Lenin, PSS 45: 445-446.

10. PSS 45: 347-348, 394-396.

11. Ibid. 45: 397-400.

12. Ibid. 45: 389.

13. PSS 45: 354. See also the early mention of the scheme in May 1922, 45: 181.

14. Bukharin, Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 434. My understanding of What Is to Be Done? is based on Robert C. Tucker, Political Culture and Leadership in Soviet Russia (New York: W. W. Norton, 1988).

15. PSS45: 387.

16. Ibid. 45: 344; see also 360, 362.

17. Ibid. 45: 344. It is easy to understand why, after years of polemicizing with the opposition and then with Stalin, Bukharin would argue that Lenin was warning against the adoption of actively antipeasant policies. See Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 430-431.

18. Lewin, Lenin's Last Struggle, 128; Igor Kliamkin, Novyimir, 1989, no. 2: 211.

19. PSS 45: 447; see also 45: 384.

20. Ibid. 45: 364, 389-392. Lenin's remarks on this issue should be seen in the context of his longstanding dispute with Aleksandr Bogdanov. For details see Sochor, Zenovia A., Revolution and Culture: The Bogdanov-Lenin Controversy (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1988).

21. PSS 45: 366-368. For an earlier confrontation of Lenin with this question, see Lih, Bolshevik Sowing Committees of 1920: Apotheosis of War Communism? (Pittsburgh: Carl Beck Papers, 1990), 29-32.

22. PSS 45: 376-377. On subsidies for the cooperatives, see PSS 45: 371, 373, 405.

23. Ibid. 45: 370-371.

24. This view was expressed at the time by a western scholar: “It is upon the cooperatives, therefore, that the chief responsibility has had to be placed for bringing the wide masses of the population in touch with socialized production…. Upon the basis of these declarations of Lenin in regard to cooperation, the Party has counted upon it to aid in the maximum curtailment of the life of the New Economic Policy.” Hoover, Calvin B., The Economic Life of Soviet Russia (New York: Macmillan, 1931), 225227 . Viktor Danilov describes Bukharin's outlook as a “cooperative-market conception of economic development,” but this expression is misleading, since the cooperatives were meant to overcome the market. Danilov, “Bukharinskaia al'ternativa,” in Bukharin: Chelovek, politik, uchenyi, 82-130. Danilov's important article greatly aided the revision of my conference paper before publication.

25. Vladlen Sirotkin, “Uroki NEPa,” Izvestiia, 9 and 10 March 1989; Mikhail Antonov in Nash sovrehennik, 1989, no. 2: 125-130. The descriptions of Lenin's new definitions offered by these two authors show almost no simularity—a fact that is not surprising since Lenin said nothing on the subject. For an indication of the emotional nature of the debate on Lenin's phrase, see A. Tikhonov, Ogonek, 1989, no. 51: 19.

26. References to five years of revolution are in PSS 45: 376, 385, 390, 397, 443, 449; references to the civil war 45: 347, 357, 401-402, 410; the inspiring examples of the civil war can be found in PSS 45: 383, 372-373, and 302-305 (November 1922).

27. PSS 45: 312, 397, 401, 387, 381.

28. Despite Lenin's discontent with Stalin, he seemed to envision an expanded role for the secretariat. See PSS 45: 443, 449, 385-386.

29. PSS 45: 397, 401 -406. For other antiwest references, see 45: 378, 379, 399-400; for other prowest references, see 45: 364, 389.

30. Sometimes the tension in his attitude toward specialists results in virtual incoherence, as in Lenin's remarks on a suitable textbook in PSS 45: 395. On workers, see ibid. 45: 390-391.

31. Stalin picked up this formula in Foundations of Leninism with his phrase about Russian revolutionary sweep and American delovitost'.

32. PSS 45: 389ff, 399-401. Compare also the assessments of the rive years since the revolution on 390, 392, 395.

33. PSS 45: 364-365.

34. For Bukharin's analysis of capitalism, see “Mirovoe khoziaistvo i imperializm,” Problemy, 21-93; “Toward a Theory of the Imperialist State,” in Selected Writings on the State and the Transition to Socialism, ed. Richard B. Day (Nottingham: Spokesman, 1982), 6-37 (both these works were written in 1915); Azbuka kommunizma (Moscow: Gosizdat, 1920), 88-91; Ekonomika perekhodnogo perioda (Moscow: Gosizdat, 1920), 7-26; “The Theory of ‘Organized Economic Disorder, '” in Selected Writings, 331-351; “Tekhnika i ekonomika sovremennogo kapitalizma,” in Etiudy (Moscow: Gos. tekhniko-teo-reticheskoe izdat., 1932), 64-107.

35. Bukharin, Etiudy, 106-107.

36. Ekonomika, 73-87. Karl Kautsky is cited as an authority for the last statement.

37. hbrannyeproizvedeniia, 140-143, 171-175. The continuity in Bukharin's aims on this particular point is noted by Lewin (Political Undercurrents, 43) and Danilov ( “Bukharinskaia al'ternativa,” 89). In 1933, Bukharin directly equated the withering away of the state with the withering away of society: “Enlisting everybody into its immediate organization, the state stops being itself; by absorbing society into itself, it dissolves itself into society without trace.” Problemy, 409.

38. Bukharin used the quoted phrase both in 1920 (Ekonomika, 110) and in 1925 (hbrannye proizvedeniia, 175).

39. Mezhdunarodnoe i vnutrenneepolozhenie SSSR (Moscow: Pravda-Bednota, 1927), 35-37; “Theory of ‘Organized Economic Disorder.'”

40. hbrannye proizvedeniia, 142-143. See also his objection to independent peasant organizations: XIV s’ ‘ezd vsesoiuznoi kommunisticheskoi partii (b) (Moscow, 1926) , 131.

41. Mezhdunarodnoe, 37-38; Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 105-108. Bukharin did oppose overcentralization; see Fourth Congress of the Communist International (London: Communist Party of Great Britain, 1923?), 170, and Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 417. The need to find a replacement for market competition was a commonplace of the period (see Kuromiya, Hiroaki, Stalin's Industrial Revolution: Politics and Workers, 1928-1932 [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988]). On the power and unity of the state, see Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 78, 138-139.

42. Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 433-434. For the other quoted statements in the paragraph, see Bukharin, Kritika ekconomicheskoi platformy oppozitsii (Leningrad: Priboi, 1926), 47 ; Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 264. Other references to the state include 71-74, 78-79, 139, 348-350, 358; The Path to Socialism in Russia, ed. Sidney Heitman (New York: Omicron, 1967), 178. See especially the refutation of anarchism in Teoriia istoricheskogo materializma, 9th ed. (Moscow: Gosizdat, 1929), 345.

43. Izbrannyeproizvedeniia, 28-30 (translation in Selected Writings, 105-106). See also “The New Economic Policy of Soviet Russia” in The New Policies of Soviet Russia (Chicago: C. H. Kerr, [1921]); Lenin, PSS 45: 302 (November 1922).

44. Lewin, Political Undercurrents, 46-47.

45. Speech to Comintern Congress in August 1928, Problemy, 213. The most explicit statement of Bukharin's differences with Stalin is his speech to the Central Committee in April 1929, published for the first time in Problemy, 253-308. For Bukharin's views on the use of market forms after collectivization, see G. A. Bordiugov and V. A. Kozlov, “Pozdnii Bukharin: Predstavleniia o sotsializme,” Bukharin, ed., Zhuravlev, 149-161.

46. Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 326; see also 79, 192-198, 237, 325, 397, 405; Put’ k sotsializmu, 270.

47. Izbrannyeproizvedeniia, 196-197, 447-448.

48. For discussions of war communism, see “O likvidatorstve nashikh dnei,” in Path to Socialism, ed. Heitman, 117-182; Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 122-145 (1925), 316-323 (1927). Emergency measures applied in a real emergency could be based on optimism about an underlying unity of interests. Emergency measures as a permanent system could only be based on a more pessimistic outlook. For this reason Bukharin accused Stalin in 1929 of an “ideological capitulation” to the party opposition. Problemy, 266.

49. Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 153; quotation on 97; see also 15-11.

50. Ibid., 356-359. The most extended treatment is “O karakhtere nashei revoliutsii … ,” in ibid., 277-315. At the fourteenth party congress, Bukharin accused Zinov'ev of wanting to return to civil war methods; Zinov'ev indignantly rejected the charge and Bukharin dropped the point (XIV s “ezd, ) 151, 427-429; Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 244).

51. Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 122-134.

52. Ibid., 420 (there is no mention of war communism in this article devoted to Lenin's political testament). See also ibid., 104, 305, 348-50.

53. For a schematic representation of Bukharin's perspective, see the charts added to Ekonomika. These can also be found in Heitman, ed., Path to Socialism, 138-144.

54. Ekonomika, 86-87.

55. Gorbachev has called the testament “a revolution within the revolution, no less profound, perhaps, than October” (Pravda, 21 April 1990).

56. Lenin, 5S45: 302 (November 1922); Bukharin, Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 128.

Political Testament of Lenin and Bukharin and the Meaning of NEP

  • Lars T. Lih (a1)


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