Forwarded from George Shriver

Richard Fidler rfidler at
Tue Feb 4 08:07:58 MST 2003

George Shriver:

>> (1) Bukharin completed "Philosophical Arabesques" the night of Nov. 7,
1937. (I have edited someone else's translation of that manuscript, and
am very familiar with it.) <<

Great news! Can George give us some indication of when the English
translation will be published, and by whom? Here is Stephen Cohen's
description of the book in his intro to HIAB:

>> By then Bukharin seems to have understood that he was doomed, which meant
the antifascist manifesto would not be published, and to have begun thinking
about his posthumous legacy. He had already started another "big" project,
Philosophical Arabesques, now considering it the "most important thing" and
his most "mature work." Even though he lacked most of the books needed for
such a wide-ranging treatise (Kogan apparently gave him a few from the
prison library and from his own collection), it was full of erudition and
remarkably precise references. It, too, was written very quickly, because
"much of it was in my head."

This third prison manuscript mattered greatly to Bukharin for at least two
reasons. In 1921 he had published a philosophical work, Historical
Materialism, that immediately became a canon of international communism.
Translated into many languages, it established him as a major Marxist
thinker and the Parry's "biggest theorist." Stalin could not really
obliterate that reputation, but serious intellectual and political
challenges to Marxism, in addition to the theory and practice of fascism,
had arisen since 1921. The still proud and intellectually ambitious Lubyanka
inmate wanted to respond to those challenges and complete his long-standing
project of bringing nineteenth-century Marxism fully into the twentieth

Something else equally personal was on Bukharin's mind. In 1922, while
exalting him as the movement's best theorist, Lenin had added a biting
caveat, as only a father figure can: Bukharin "has never studied and, I
think, never fully understood dialectics." Since dialectical understanding
was thought to be at the center of Marxist theorizing, Lenin's paradoxical
qualification rankled and lingered. (Most of all, it reflected generational
differences between the two men: Lenin's Marxism was imbued with
nineteenth-century German philosophy, particularly Hegel, and Bukharin's
with early twentieth-century sociology.) Now on the eve of his own death, in
a last discourse with his dead leader and revered friend, Bukharin
undertook, as "Ilich [Lenin] recommended," a book that would be "dialectical
from beginning to end."

Whether or not Lenin would have approved, the result was anything but
conformist. When Philosophical Arabesques was published in post-Communist
Russia, an eminent Moscow philosopher noted the "illusions Bukharin shared
with many Communists of that time" but emphasized his "secret polemic with
Stalinism." The "tragedy of this manuscript," he continued, was in having
been kept hidden for so long:

"If the ideas Bukharin developed in this manuscript had been made known even
in the 1950s or 1960s, they could have led to a fundamentally new Marxist
philosophical vision. The kind of philosophy Bukharin outlined here was not
the same as the Stalinist version of Marxism, a Marxism crucified .... Many
themes first raised and discussed by Bukharin were new for Marxist
philosophers even in the 1960s! And the people who kept this manuscript
under lock and key . . . are guilty not simply of degrading Marxism, which
was transformed into ideological solder, but of a barbaric attitude toward .
. . culture, and not only Russian culture."

History often inflicts cruel ironies on its most engaging victims. Bukharin
finished his solitary Lubyanka effort to redeem Soviet Marxism just as
Stalin's regime was celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Communist
revolution, overnight on November 7-8, 1937. Five nights later he began this
unfinished novel. ... <<

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