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NIKOLAI I. BUKHARIN (1888-1938) Russia

 

Political Theorist

 

 

 

Next to Lenin, Bukharin was the most intellectually gifted among the Russian revolutionary leaders of 1917, and his pre-revolutionary writings on imperialism and the State anticipated many conclusions Lenin arrived and acted upon. His works included Imperialism and World Economy Theory of Historical Materialism (an account of Marxist sociology ) and ABC of Communism (1921,co-authored byEvgenii Preobrazhensky) remain a vision of a Communist Utopia that never had a chance to get off the ground by political events at home. A growing personality cult around Stalin had obviated need for it.

Bukharin allied at first with Joseph Stalin in the mid-20s and took the mantle of Nestor in the coterie around the Georgian. His high visibility as ideological spokesman of Socialism was to prove his downfall. In 1928-29 his *gradualist, pro-peasant economic policy collapsed he rejected Stalin’s solution of collectivization and allied with Trotsky-Zinoviev. His fall from power was complete with his liquidation in 1938. One glimmer of his immense talent wasted may be seen in 1936 Constitution, much of it was written by him but the democratic promise Soviet socialism would be negated by political and international events and the threat of Nazism.

*Gradualism

Bukharin’s economic policies became more conservative as necessary to reap the fruit of revolution of 1917: his policy of gradualism was his belief that socialism in the Soviet Union could evolve only over a long period of gestation. His agricultural policies were also controversial. Bukharin’s theory was that the small farmers only produced enough food to feed themselves. The large farmers, on the other hand, were able to provide a surplus that could be used to feed the factory workers in the towns. To motivate the kulaks to do this, they had to be given incentives, or what Bukharin called, “the ability to enrich” themselves. From hindsight one may appreciate this idea was far ahead of the times.

 benny

 

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Molotov told de Gaulle that he once stood behind Stalin who believed himself alone. With his two hands he covered large parts of the globe that stood in his study. The entire Europe lay covered by his one palm and he was heard muttering,”It’s small, Europe.”

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‘…the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.’ (Wilde-the Preface/The Picture of Dorian Gray)

In the recent times no other ruler would have come close to absolute power than Joseph Stalin, who forged the shape of Soviet Russia. By 1929 he had complete control over the lives of his people and till death he was their undisputed leader. Did such power make him complete? He was vain enough to want be immortalized in verse. There were poets, writers like Ehrenberg and Pasternak but he avoided them lest they should see through the small man with bad teeth and pock marked face. A dictator’s rage at being made ridicule of is like the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass. In his case his power is the face. Stalin’s rationale in not sitting for a painter who daubs in his warts and all is understandable. He has to be made a Colossus or not at all. Do you think the praises sung by bad poets are anymore remembered than the thousands of larger than life statues, all bad art? Power does not necessarily make good art.
“I can make lords of you every day, but I cannot create a Titian,” said the Emperor Charles V to his courtiers who complained that the monarch spent more time with the painter than in their midst.

Michelangelo was another who faced the envy of the powerful because Pope Julius II had him brought over to Rome. However the Pope was too busy to see him. After days waiting in the antechamber of the Papal Palace he had enough. “Tell his holiness, if he wants me, he must look for me elsewhere,” and he left for Florence. Thrice the Pope wrote for his return to no avail. The wilful Julius II threatened war with Tuscany if the celebrated artist didn’t immediately return.
Return he did. As he came for that awkward audience the artist knelt at the Pope’s presence and waited in silence. One bishop dared to mediate on behalf of the artist saying, ‘ these artists are a proud lot’. As Vasari in his Lives tells us, the Pope observed reproachfully, “You speak injuriously of him, while I am silent. It is you who are ignorant.” Raising Michelangelo, the Pope embraced the man of genius. It takes a genius to recognize the patent merit in another. To the eternal credit of the Pope we have works of this genius enshrined in marble. Michelangelo will not go out of fashion even after punk artists clutter galleries with their works, merit of which are encapsulated in its immediacy and shocking value. Like the newspaper of yesterday who cares for it once read?

Art at its best has the power to communicate. What is true for us if stated clearly can touch another no matter if he were far removed in time and place. Poets with their words and artists with their medium delineate truth. The Great masters are who hold a true mirror to our own inner self. Power that Stalin wielded did not really speak for his true self. Nor did in the case of Hitler. The rage of Caliban was not seeing his face in a glass. Their power factor, outrageous in its falsity cannot be captured in art. Why you might ask? For the simple reason it is not the true state of man who is, as King Lear would say,’poor forked animal.’ Even as I write this I am listening to Ombra mai Fú from Handel’s Xerxes,- and it is a consolation for anyone who has lived and longed for perfection and knows that life is a mirage. Art is the blessed salve administrated by man for his kind. He knows truth as seen in a glass darkly but must somehow dare to hit at it in a consistent way. He has dedicated his life, perhaps it is quixotic, and yet he cannot do otherwise.
An artist is foolhardy to think he will buy himself with art into affections of the world. The world in its own muddling ways shall not recognize man but truth has a way of settling accounts. Consider the life of Charles Baudelaire. Two years before his death the author of Les Fleurs du Mal took inventory of his poetic capital. (In this context let me point out that he had, at the age of 21 inherited a modest fortune of 100,000 francs.) Having squandered his inheritance very early on he found he had earned only 15,982 francs and 60 centime from more than two decades of versification.

Baudelaire is still read while fashions of age like clockwork rise and fall. Those who prostituted their art for praise of the mob are forgotten. Art of Baudelaire, Balzac and Van Gogh are for all time. Every generation in coming to terms with the human condition, – of darkness in men to work evil or be agents of that darkness, will discover in Baudelaire something useful and apt for its needs. Our nature makes us find in Baudelaire, ‘not a kindred spirit but a twin,’ the same he described of Edgar Allen Poe. The French poet seems to have also said, ‘if Poe had not existed, he would have had to invent him’. No one can invent what is not there in shadows and as tokens. Baudelaire was grateful there was his alter ego in another continent and he merely served as a medium. Truth shall call to account man’s works and proves from life of man that no sacrifice of life on the altar of truth shall go to waste. Power as wielded by Stalin or Putin shall always be shown by posterity for what it is.
(Ack: 1.Literary Characters-Isaac Disraeli, Pub: Fred. Warne and Co 2.Melvin Maddox review in Time Feb,14,1977 -Alex de Jong biography on CB)

benny

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From the outset the Allies found stymied by Stalin’s hot and cold approach even when he was pestering them for material help. Following the Atlantic Conference in 1941 Churchill sent Lord Beaverbrook while Avrell Harriman from Roosevelt was included. The delegation had service members to help them with assessing actual needs of Russia. Their discussions were frustrating and in Harriman’s words ‘ pretty hard sledding.’ There were also moments of surprise and warmth. General Hastings Ismay, Churchill’s personal representative on the Services committee found Russian soldiery,- from top to lower ranks, was very finicky about saluting. Ismay’s Marine orderly once reported his embarrassment of commanding salutes at every turn by Russian officers but his superior let him a free hand saying, ‘ acknowledge their compliments handsomely’. This Marine in his impressive blue uniform was one day being given a guided tour. The Intourist guide showed a building and said,’This is Eden Hotel, formerly Ribbentrop Hotel’. A little later, ‘We are on the Churchill street, formerly Hitler street. The guide pointing to the Railway station intoned,’The Beaverbrook railway station, formerly Goering railway station..’ Stopping short the guide offered a cigarette,’Will you have one, comrade?’
The Marine took it and thanked, ‘Thank you comrade, formerly bastard!’
When Ismay later reported this to Churchill he relished it so much it became a standard joke, one among his repertoire of after-dinner pleasantries.
benny

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