By Alexandra Ginieres


by Tareq Rahim

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

Nikolay Bukharin:
Left Communist to NEPman 

by Corey Lichtman


Nicolai Bukharin proved to be a highly influential Soviet economist and theoretician for the Communist Party during the 1920's and 30's. Although originally aligned with Stalin's economic policy, Bukharin eventually became the leader of an intense opposition against Stalin. It was this opposition that would ultimately bring forth the end of Bukharin's career and life. On March 15, 1938, Bukharin was executed in a Stalinist show trial. Nevertheless, Nicolai Bukharin has been acknowledged as "a splendidly educated Marxist economist" whose errors stemmed largely from his attempt to "think through the specific difficulties of the transition - that agonizing and arduous transition - from capitalism to socialism." (Medvedev, 7)


As an important economist in the Soviet Union, it was Bukharin who had insisted that after Lenin's death, the economic policies which had been worked out by Lenin would be continued and developed. Of these economic policies, the New Economic Policy (NEP) was first and foremost. Implemented in 1921, NEP abolished war communism. It represented a change in the nature of the Soviet economic system. It was different than the pure command economy, for it was based on a partial privatization of the economy. Key industries remained nationalized, but trade was legalized, a new currency emerged, and private owners were encouraged to make profits. Through this plan the economy recovered quickly and reached the level which it had been in 1913, before the outbreak of World War I. According to Lenin, NEP was "the very means by which the Party was to build a socialist society in the backward, peasants' country that was Russia." (Medvedev, 15)


Bukharin was a strong supporter of NEP, and he based his economic theory around it. Initially Stalin had agreed with Bukharin's methods, for Stalin was opposed to the left because Trotsky was a political enemy. However, it was Bukharin's support of NEP and Stalin's move away from it that would cause the eventual political break-up between the two men. Between 1926 and 1929, Stalin slowly began to eliminate NEP, thereby bringing the country on a course that Bukharin was not in favor of. Bukharin and Stalin began to hold critically different views about how the economy should function. Bukharin's fundamental economic theories were based upon moderated, steady industrialization, and were against enforced collectivization. Both of these ideas were opposed to Stalin's.


Bukharin became identified with the interests of the peasants, closely following Lenin's advice for the party to "move cautiously and slowly in pace with the peasants' understanding and acceptance of the state's policies." (Lewin, 13) Bukharin built his economic platform around the concept of socialism as a system of "civilized cooperators". (Medvedev, 14) He opposed a rapid collectivization throughout the country because he foresaw the resentment that the peasants would foster. He opted for a slow, cooperative process of introducing communal land, but this idea quickly deteriorated as Stalin began to force collectivization in the countryside.


It was industrialization, however, that was the main point of contention between Bukharin and Stalin. Bukharin's dictum was "that the country will move at a snail's pace, but will move nevertheless." (Medvedev, 13) He advocated gradualist policies towards industrialization, as set out in NEP. For Stalin, though, this theory was not feasible for the country as it approached the end of the 1920's. he Soviet Union was seriously lagging behind other countries in terms of technology and industrialization. In order to foster a strong military and political presence in the world arena, Stalin chose to side with Preobrazhensky and leftist policies. Bukharin's plan for a cautious, moderate approach towards industrialization was not accepted by Stalin.


The policies set out by Preobrazhensky, located at the opposite end of the spectrum from Bukharin's beliefs, called for a rapid industrialization which started in 1929. The government taxed the peasants and then made massive investments into industry. Collectivization began and forced cooperatives emerged. Between 1929 and 1934, Stalin had enforced the policies of the leftists and had condemned Bukharin for the criticism of his policies. In the political show trials of the 1930's, the right opposition was expelled. With the majority of Stalin's political enemies gone, he was free to put the country on whatever path he chose. This path, however, was not the one which Bukharin had wanted the country to travel.



In terms of the question of collectivization, agricultural production went down once communal land was established. Peasants were not willing to give their property over to the collective farms. They chose to slaughter their cattle and cut down their trees; they did not want the state to benefit from their sacrifice. Much of their produce was hidden from the government. Incentives were low: peasants had little reason to work hard and efficiently. Because of this, there was little surplus to extract from agriculture. This situation was at its worst during 1932-33, but the conditions never improved enough for the peasants to work more productively.


Bukharin's plan for good relations with the peasants and gradual implementation of collective farms might have prevented these circumstances from occurring. Had the peasants been better informed and more involved in state decisions, the feeling of resentment on their part would have been reduced. However, this scenario seems rather unrealistic. It was naive of Bukharin to think that Stalin would accept any form of peasant involvement in economic decisions. The socialist system dictates that decisions will be made at the top and then handed down to the people regardless of popular dissent or approval. Stalin was not a leader who was willing to accommodate to the wishes of those lower than him. The peasants, unfortunately, suffered from this. Bukharin's policy, therefore, proves logical, but highly unrealistic.


In regards to industrialization, the consequences of the rapid build-up of heavy industry seems apparent. Bukharin's moderate policy may have proven more successful in the long term. Under Stalin's economic policy, the belief was that allocations would preferentially go towards investment goods and consumption would be reduced in the short run. This would speed up the economy and industrialize it rapidly. However, the assumptions undermining this method were not realistic. The economy did not grow enough and the people were constantly sacrificing for a future which never came. Even with a reduction of preferential allocations towards heavy industry under Khruschev, consumption did not grow as expected. The huge spending toward industry and armament eventually bankrupt the Soviet economy in the 1980's. The USSR simply could not keep up with the United States and Western Europe.


Bukharin's goal for a steady rather than rapid industrialization would have been more efficient. Had allocations been more evenly divided among Sector I and II goods, the feeling of a constant sacrifice by the people probably would have been greatly reduced. Under perfect conditions, Bukharin's policies may have proven beneficial to the economy of the USSR. It must be kept in mind, however, that despite which policy (left or right) was chosen, the command system in general is an inefficient one. No matter how dynamic or rational the policy may be, it will undoubtedly fail if it is not implemented in an efficient, organized manner. It is hard to say whether Bukharin's methods would have succeeded under the hierarchical system of the Soviet Union. It is not so much the policy, but the implementation of that policy, which defines results in a centrally planned economy.



Lewin, Moshe. Political Undercurrents in Soviet Economic Debates. Princeton University Press, 1974.

Medvedev, Roy A. Nicolai Bukharin. W.W Norton and Co., 1980.



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