The Prison Poems of Nikolai Bukharin by Nikolai Bukharin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A note to start reading "The Prison Poems of Nikolai Bukharin | Transformation of the World (Verse about the Ages, and About People."
Nikolai Bukharin in Russia's revolutionary and socialist history represented a potentially humane leadership alternative to the catastrophe of Stalinism. We will never know. An economist, a sportsman, an organizer, theoretician and now a poet, you can imagine that someone with such a broad political and cultural background would have created a different result from the ex-Soviet Union. In other words Bukharin was a revolutionary with a different approach to culture and vision that was, could have been, different and had an impact. Yet, he ended up in a Stalinist prison. Bukharin was defeated in political debates by Lenin, though not eliminated. After Stalin took power, through COINTELPRO-like tactics, infiltrated, smeared, hounded, isolated, caused divisions, and persecuted, murdered some and then imprisoned many fellow leaders and members who may have thought that their views and organizing were covered by freedom of expression. Debate, oppositions and differences should have been signs of health and may have been comsidered par for the course towards achieving some semblance of unity of action. Many found out otherwise. The Stalin machine attacked Bukharin, imprisoned him, and finally erased him from official history and he faded from the scene.
Bukharin is probably only known by specialists, historians of the Bolsheviks and partisans of the long-faded communist movements. Even then only his writings, much less about his life and fate and even less so about his poetry.
Now, in a 533 page book, the reader will find out that while imprisoned he wrote a cycle of poems dedicated to telling the stories and histories of revolutionaries and their revolutions, their battles, dreams and defeats. Bukharin, even as he was imprisoned and headed towards death, believed in the machine. Irony of ironies, to believe your executioner is your liberator, that good will overcome evil, that there must have been a big mix-up and in due time will be corrected. Subtitled "Transformation of the World (Verse about the Ages, and About People," Bukharin saw all the way to the edge of the first global darkness called fascism, -- and the impending wars -- writing from the other bank of the river of history called Stalinism. Bukharin's backbone is not promising; as I skimmed the pages I saw him write a poem on the "Stalin charter." Optimism and hope never perish? C|S
“But the most amazing thing is that, despite everything, the time of shining hopes had not passed for him. He would pay for these hopes with his head. Moreover, one reason for his preposterous confessions in the dock – incomplete, but sufficiently egregious confessions – was precisely this: he still hoped that the idea to which he had dedicated his life would triumph.” [Anna Larina, This I Cannot Forget, Pandora, 1994. Bukharin's wife.]