Once lauded as the most promising young star in the communist hierarchy and a “Favourite of the whole party,” Nikolai Bukharin met his end like just another of Stalin’s victims.
Born in a family of teachers, young Bukharin became enamored with communistic ideas early on. At the age of 17, he took part in the Russian revolution of 1905. Like so many of his Bolshevik friends, constant arrests forced him to flee Russia and live in exile until 1917 and the news of the deposition of the Tsar.
Upon his return, he was elected to the central committee. Bukharin didn’t always saw eye to eye with Lenin and he wasn’t afraid to show his dissent, like in the case of the truce with Germany. Bukharin believed that the war should be continued and used as a catalyst for the Pan European revolution.
When Lenin died and Stalin took power, Bukharin found himself agreeing with the new leader at the start, especially about agricultural issues, which were vital for the starving Soviet Union. Both Stalin and Bukharin held the position that kulaks (rich peasants) are the key to increasing the productivity of Soviet agriculture and that collectivization is a wrong path. However, Bukharin soon discovered that the only reason Stalin held that position was to lure his opponents out in the open and deal with them. Bukharin’s friends Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev were among Stalin’s first targets, together with Trotsky, who refused to yield and fled Russia, only to be killed by Stalin’s agents in 1940.
Once Stalin had no need of Bukharin anymore, he quickly removed him from power, taking away his seat at the Politburo. The writing was on the wall, and Bukharin was sure Stalin would arrest him soon, which he did in 1937. In a show trial, he was accused of collaborating with Trotsky and planning an assassination of Stalin. At first, Bukharin denied these charges, but once his wife was threatened, he relented and admitted to all of them, saying: “Everybody perceives the wise leadership of the country that is ensured by Stalin.”
Knowing all too well that people seldom survived communist prisons, Bukharin started bombarding Stalin with letters, promising everything he could think of in return for his freedom. In one letter he even offered his wife as a hostage. Not one of the letters were answered. In one of them, he desperately wrote: “Koba, why do you need me to die?” (Koba was another Stalin’s nom de guerre) this letter was found in Stalin’s desk after his death.
In the end, Bukharin’s pleas didn’t save him and he was executed on March 15th, 1938.