Nikolay Bukharin:
Left Communist
to NEPman 

by Corey Lichtman

by Tareq Rahim

Bukharin's Theory of
the Capitalist World Economy  
by Jennifer Kruczek

By Alexandra Ginieres


Before explaining the economic theories of Nikolay Bukharin, it is imperative to briefly trace his life, in order to show at what point his economic views altered.

Nikolay Ivanovich Bukharin was born on October 8, 1888. At Moscow State University, he studied economics and became a revolutionary. By 1906, he joined the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party, and, in 1908, he became a member of the Moscow Committee's Bolshevik wing. In 1911, he was arrested and deported to Onega, near the White Sea. Escaping to Western Europe, he met up with I. Lenin in 1912 in Krakow, where they worked together on the Bolshevik paper, Pravda. In October, 1916, Bukharin edited the Leninist paper, Mir ("Bukharin, Nikolay Ivanovich" Britannica Online)


When the revolution occurred in February 1917, Bukharin returned to Russia. During the Leninist era, he held various positions in the party's central committee and in the Comintern's Executive Committee, besides editing Pravda. In 1921, he wrote The ABC of Communism with fellow Left Communist E.A. Preobrazhensky and The Theory of Historical Materialism ("Bukharin, Nikolay Ivanovich" Britannica Online).

There were two turning points in Bukharins's life by 1924: his shift from Left Communism to full advocacy of NEP and Lenin's death. Even though by 1920, he started to promote NEP policies, he became an even more avid supporter; indeed, his beliefs and support helped Stalin undermine rivals to become Lenin's successor ("Bukharin, Nikolay Ivanovich" Britannica Online). According to the 1974 book, Political Undercurrents in Soviet Economic Debates: From Bukharin to Modern Reformers, by Moshe Lewin, E.H. Carr called him "Stalin's willing henchman" during this period (Lewin 10). Possibly as a reward, Bukharin became the Comintern executive chairman in 1926. Also, in 1924, he was a full member of the Politburo("Bukharin, Nikolay Ivanovich" Britannica Online). Despite this alliance, Bukharin and Stalin still had different philosophies (Carr 12).


By 1928, this rift furthered when Stalin reversed himself, switching from the balanced and gradual growth camp to the rapid collectivization camp. He denounced Bukharin, who lost the Comintern post in April 1929 and was expelled from the Poliburo in November 1929. Bukharin then recanted his views and was partially reinstated into the party. He edited the government paper, Zvesta, and helped write the 1936 Constitution, but, in 1937, he was arrested and expelled for being a "Trotskyite." In March 1938, he was a defendant in a purge trial where he was falsely accused of counterrevolutionary activities and espionage. He was found guilty and executed during that same year ("Bukharin, Nikolay Ivanovich" Britannica Online).

As mentioned, Bukharin was a Left Communist leader during the early years of U.S.S.R. As a Left Communist, he proposed transforming WWI into a general Communist revolution throughout Europe ("Bukharin, Nikolay Ivanovich" Britannica Online). During War Communism, Bukharin and Lenin held the utopian beliefs that militarization of the economy and society at war produced features of the communist system (Lewin 8). Indeed, he felt it was impossible for the Soviets to build socialism and do away with economic underdevelopment until other revolutions occurred in Western Europe. On industrial issues, Bukharin the Left Communist believed that the proletariat class should run the economy; the workers' control of industrial enterprises in 1917 was an important step to this goal ("Left Communist" Britannica Online). Bukharin's beliefs were embodied in his book, Imperialism and the World Economy, the inspiration for Lenin's famous work on imperialism (Lewin 5).


What did Bukharin the Left Communist think about World War I capitalism? He saw that the capitalist state had a new intervening role in the economy because it was involved in organization and planning; this occurrence during the World War I era did not meet the laissez faire tradition previously embodied by capitalism. Was he implying the commencement to socialist revolution, the next obvious stage after capitalism (as the Marxist paradigm states)? Not necessarily. He intimated through his writings that this is just "organized capitalism," which is unlike Marxist production. In his "Towards a Theory of the Imperialist State." he revised Marxism, affirming that revolution destroys the state apparatus and creates a new proletarian state (6-7). Concluding that capitalism can overcome its problems, Bukharin believed that the socialist state needs to move quickly to the "commune-state." Then, the "state" would dwindle and the "commune" elements would grow (7) Yet, his writings in 1920 began to hint at a switch in his economic beliefs.


Although there are implications in his writings as early as 1920, Bukharin was a staunch supporter of the New Economic Policy (NEP) by 1925. In other words, he advocated a temporary retreat from extreme centralization and the socialism doctrinaire. By 1921, War Communism brought the economy to a virtual breakdown. NEP measures included a return of most agriculture production, retail trade, and small-scale light industry to the private sector, but retaining state ownership and control of heavy industry, transport, banking and foreign trade. NEP supporters, like Bukharin, felt that this temporary retreat could return the U.S.S.R. to economic stability while it recovered from years of civil war and government mismanagement (Economic Growth and Planning: Economic Growth and Planning in Communist Sectors" Britannica Online).

Bukharin's new economic beliefs encompassed other ideas on agriculture, the industrial sector, political alliances, and internationalism. For example, Bukharin opposed rapid industrialization and collectivization in agriculture. Instead, he felt a small portion of agriculture should be still extracted for public ownership through a proportional tax on net output. Also, he believed the political alliance, Smychka, should be maintained between the government and the peasant class. Another belief was that rapprochement with the world should be pursued. Bukharin wanted an opening of society.


What did he see as the problems of superindustrialization and collective agriculture? He felt that there would be unequal exchanges between the city and country through big push industrialization. The state industry would grow faster than the rest of the country so its share in the economy would increase. Seeing the superiority of the state through its increased share in the economy, the peasants would join producer and consumer corporations. The foundations of economic development would be shaken.

Bukharin argued that there should be a linking of the industry and agriculture for balanced growth. There is already a potential interdependence between the two: industry requires agricultural supplies and agriculture exports could finance the purchase of capital for industry. By pursuing methods to link these two sectors without rapid development of one (rather than the other), balanced growth could be achieved in the city and country. He also called for methods to utilize capital efficiently and effectively (improving industrial products) by shifts, complete construction, and appropriate factor productions. Moreover, by expanding and opening these sectors (thus, exposing them to possible competition), prices are lowered and savings are created. This is part of Bukharin's slogan: "Get rich!" Clearly, Bukharin wanted slowdown to socialism, but he admitted that his NEP policies for balanced growth may result in an actual slowdown of growth (Lewin Chap. 1-3).



"Bukharin, Nikolay Ivanovich" Britannica Online. < 180/cgi-bin/g?DocF=micro/91/62.html>

"Economic Growth and Planning: Economic Planning in Communist Countries" Britannica Online. < 180/cgi- bin/g?DocF=macro/5001/96/44.html>

Gregory, Paul R. and Robert C. Stuart. Russian and Soviet Performance Structure. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1998.

"Left Communist" Britannica Online < 180/cgi- bin/g?DocF=micro/343/8.html>

Lewin, Moshe. Political Undercurrents in Soviet Economic Debates: From Bukharin to Modern Reformers. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974.



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