The Bukharin Factor

Brian Morton’s Dissent article on bloggers says nice things about me, so I hate to criticize it, but in addition to what Kevin Drum says about age and Kay Steiger says about gender, I have to take issue with one of Morton’s assertions about “Old Bolshevik” intellectual Nikolai Bukharin:

By saying they’re ambitious, I mean that most of these writers share a politics that is interested in deep-going social reform — you could say it’s a social-democratic politics, although few of them would use that term. (As far as I can tell, they have absolutely no interest in socialist thought, which, in my opinion, is a good thing. At any rate, I can’t see that any of them has been hobbled intellectually because of a lack of opinions about Bukharin.)

I have opinions about Bukharin!

Back in college, I wrote a term paper on him for a slightly weird seminar that Robert Nozick co-taught with a scholar of the Russian Revolution from the History Department. My take was that Bukharin’s right deviationism (and other efforts at “reform Communism”) was ultimately a mirage. The hard-liners were correct to think in Bukharin’s day, just as they were when they crushed the Prague Spring and when they tried to stage a coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, that Communist Party political control couldn’t survive substantial liberalization of the economy.


Beyond that, I’ll admit to not having much interest in socialist thought. I will say that I’m pretty much a believer in Marx-style base/superstructure theory to an extent that most of my friends and colleagues seem to find somewhat appalling. I don’t, for example, believe that William F. Buckley, Jr. exercised any substantial real causal influence on American history not through any fault of his own but simply because I don’t think intellectuals really impact the course of events. This is, needless to say, not a popular opinion among writers.