1	<ONLINE MODERN HISTORY REVIEW>               September 1993
     3	                         Review of Books
     4	                      ====================
     7	ANNA LARINA. <This I Cannot Forget, The Memoirs of Nikolai
     8	Bukharin's Widow>. Introduction by Stephen F. Cohen. Translation
     9	by Gary Kern. New York and London:  W. W. Norton & Company, 1993.
    10	ISBN 0-393-03025-3.
    12	Reviewed by:   Dmitry Shlapentokh
    13	               Indiana University at South Bend
    16		This book is written by an important personality and, more
    17	importantly, written about one of the leading figures in Soviet
    18	history.  Indeed, Nikolai Bukharin was more than a leading
    19	Bolshevik:  As American historian Stephen F. Cohen, the author of
    20	the book's introduction, had discovered, Bukharin was the
    21	alternative to Stalin.  Cohen, in his own well known book on
    22	Bukharin, portrayed him not only as an alternative to the
    23	gruesome brutality of Stalin, but also as man who desired to
    24	build 'socialism with a human face.'  In a more broad historical
    25	context, Mikhail Gorbachev considered himself to be Bukharin's
    26	political heir and received Cohen warmly during his visit to the
    27	U.S.S.R.  As this book is written by Bukharin's wife and provides
    28	a personal account of the events, one reads it with a certain
    29	anticipation.  Yet, despite such marvelous credentials, the book
    30	is of little interest to historians, or to be more precise the
    31	contemporary historian.
    33	     The major problem with the book is that Larina fails to
    34	provide any new information.  Historians in the West, and now in
    35	the East as well, have long known that Stalin was a cruel and
    36	vindictive man who loved to play cat and mouse games with his
    37	victims, that the camps were awful, and that the Soviet terror,
    38	following the blueprint of the French Revolution, consumed its
    39	initiators.  And this was the case with Bukharin's murderer, Ezhov,
    40	who was subsequently consumed in another purge.  Though all of
    41	this is true, it has been written about so many times that it has
    42	become merely a platitude, a sort of historical trivia.  Larina's
    43	elaboration on the nature of the well know letter Bukharin wrote
    44	describing the awful conditions in the country on the eve of his
    45	arrest is also not of much interest.  Whether Bukharin was
    46	actually the author of the letter or if was forged by Mensheviks
    47	to discredit him does not matter much.  The only interesting
    48	episode in the presentation of the monstrosities of the regime
    49	was the portrait of Beria, who interrogated Larina and displayed
    50	some kindness to her, at least his present of fruit to her might
    51	be interpreted in this way.  It is quite possible, however, that
    52	this good treatment might have been encouraged from above or,
    53	merely, was a technique which Beria employed to gain a confession
    54	from Larina.  Of course, it is indeed possible that Beria was
    55	charmed by Larina (pp. 188-189).
    57	     Besides providing little new information about the dark side
    58	of the regime and its protagonists, the book also fails to
    59	provide much new information about the people to whom Larina was
    60	positively inclined.  This is especially the case with Bukharin
    61	whose idealization is understandable for various reasons.  After
    62	all, Larina is writing about her husband with whom she was really
    63	in love, a man brutally murdered by a tyrant.  According to her
    64	account, he exhibited talents in various fields (Larina
    65	elaborates on his love for painting), seemed to love life and was
    66	good-natured.  Finally, he served both for Larina and an array of
    67	politicians, ranging from Western and Soviet liberals, as not
    68	merely a better alternative to Stalin's Russia but rather as the
    69	would be leader of a semi-ideal society.  This is certainly the
    70	reason why Bukharin is described by Larina almost like a Christ
    71	figure.  She directly compares him with Christ: 'In the upper
    72	corner of my cell, just beneath the ceiling, I would see a
    73	tortured Bukharin  crucified on the cross, as on Golgotha.  A
    74	black crow pecked at the martyr's bloody, lifeless body' (p.
    75	103).
    77	     Yet available facts show that from a moral point of view
    78	confrontations between Stalin and his major rivals, Bukharin
    79	included, were clearly simplistic.  Stalin was merely eliminating
    80	the competition.  And though it is certain that things are not
    81	quite so simplistic in the cases where the sadistically
    82	Machiavellian Stalin eliminated some rather nice chaps, what
    83	cannot be certain is that Bukharin can be numbered among them. 
    84	It is well known (and Larina should have been aware of this) that
    85	Bukharin, in one of his comments on Esenin's poetry (Sergei
    86	Esenin was one of the best known Russian poets), made a cruel
    87	joke about the czar's daughters.  Bukharin condoned their
    88	execution, saying that they had become rather useless to the
    89	country.  While these utterances, made long after the actual
    90	execution, could be explained as a slippage of Bukharin's pen
    91	(indeed no one can be safe from such mishaps and Bukharin might
    92	have been carried away for a moment), some of his other actions
    93	can hardly be understood if we accept Larina's icon-like image of
    94	him.
    96	     The Shakhty trial of a group of engineers accused of
    97	sabotage might serve as an example.  The trial, one of several
    98	during the late 1920's, was a grand rehearsal for the Great
    99	Purges of the 1930's which would consume Bukharin along with many
   100	others.  It received wide publicity and was discussed at the very
   101	top; besides being a rehearsal for the purges that would follow,
   102	the Shakhty trial had another important similarity to the trials
   103	of the 1930's.  Bukharin, at the time a powerful member of the
   104	ruling elite, definitely had a chance to investigate the matter
   105	thoroughly, especially as the lives of the accused were at stake
   106	and it was certain that similar types of arrests would follow in
   107	the future.  But Bukharin made no effort in this direction and
   108	even insisted on the toughest punishment for the accused, the
   109	death penalty.
   111	     Moreover, when the terror started to devour the
   112	representatives of the Left Opposition, Bukharin expressed utmost
   113	joy at the news that these people were to be executed.  Larina
   114	touches on this matter in only a cursory fashion, stating that
   115	Bukharin 'felt unbelievable rancor toward "the slanders" Zinoviev
   116	and Kamenev, but definitely not toward Stalin.  His hatred of
   117	these two, especially Kamenev, had deep roots, as should be
   118	obvious from what I have recounted about them earlier' (p. 285). 
   119	The only excuse could be that Zinoviev was a disgusting person
   120	with sadistic proclivities which he had ample opportunity to
   121	display during his rule over Petrograd at the time of the Reign
   122	of Terror during the Civil War.
   124	     Contemporary historians, then, will hardly find any new
   125	facts in Larina's narration, which, as can be expected from
   126	pieces of this sort, is quite biased.  In fact, the book is not
   127	so much as a memoir as a litany.  It is another piece of the myth
   128	about Bukharin that Gorbachev wished to create to legitimize his
   129	reforms.  Yet, though the book is useless to contemporary
   130	researchers, it might become quite important for those who follow
   131	in the future.
   133	     Gorbachev, who had aimed to rejuvenate the regime with the
   134	force of his powerful charisma and the resurrection of Bukharin
   135	from the gutter grave infamy, was chosen by the whim of history
   136	as one of those who buried socialism.  Today, the grave of
   137	socialism is still fresh and this is the reason that figures from
   138	Soviet history have ceased to be of interest to post-Soviet
   139	citizens.  The interest in Soviet history in the West also does
   140	not match the interest shown during the time of Gorbachev's
   141	reforms.  This will definitely change in the future.
   143	     Over the course of time, socialism will be transformed.  It
   144	will be carved in the history of humanity, both in the West and
   145	the East, as a distinct and fascinating period of history.  It
   146	will enjoy a new birth in Russia, or the state which follows it,
   147	as Russians discover that capitalism is far from being as
   148	glamorous as they thought.  As the decline of the Russian state
   149	progresses even further, they will look back with nostalgia at
   150	the past imperial glory.  And at this very moment the history of
   151	the Socialist state will reemerge in all of its mythological
   152	glory, in the same fashion as the Roman Empire or the medieval
   153	church, for it will be detached from political reality.  In such
   154	a mythological capacity, Soviet history might be seen as the
   155	period which provides the people with a guide to a better future
   156	(of course, the future as resurrected past will be in sharp
   157	contrast with the ideology of Soviet communism which looked only
   158	toward the future). Such a movement will also console those
   159	Russian nationalists who, looking at the past, will find symbols
   160	of the greatness of their country.
   162	     In such a situation, what will be required from history is
   163	not so much as definite information, but rather a certain spirit
   164	or examples to follow.  They will not need real historical
   165	personalities who, as all humans, are imperfect, but hero-type
   166	icons.  They will need people who forsook personal gain,
   167	suffering and even death for the sake of the cause.  And these
   168	sort of images one can find easily in Larina's book.  Bukharin
   169	was fully absorbed with the cause (i.e. the victory of socialism
   170	was indistinguishable in his mind with the preservation of the
   171	U.S.S.R).  In his last letter to his young wife, who he loved
   172	passionately, he wrote that the preservation of the U.S.S.R. was
   173	his major consolation in the case of his imminent death. 
   174	Approaching his death at the hand of the Secret Police of the
   175	Soviet state, he asked his wife to bring up his son as a real
   176	Bolshevik.  With a plea as passionate as the final remission of
   177	sin by a medieval priest, he also asked her to proclaim his
   178	message to the future generation of party leaders.  Having made
   179	an appropriate distinction between the Bolsheviks in their early
   180	years and the present 'infernal machine' that was about to engulf
   181	him, he hailed the future generation of liberated mankind: 'Know,
   182	comrades, that the banner you bear in triumphant march toward
   183	communism contains a drop of my blood, too!' (p. 345).
   185	     The behaviour of the other protagonists in the book (e.g.
   186	Larina's father) is drawn in a similar fashion:  the same deep
   187	internalization of doctrine and the search for a deep existential
   188	meaning for their participation in the events.  These emotional,
   189	quasi-religious elements in the book are the most striking and
   190	interesting part of the narrative.  And, while of hardly any use
   191	to the contemporary historian, they are waiting for their future
   192	thankful readers to be read not so much as historical narrative,
   193	but as the recounting of the lives of saints and as inspiring
   194	examples of what to live for.
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