Nikolai Bukharin was arrested in February 1937, and shot in the back of the head thirteen months later. When he was not actually starring in the show trial which provided the culminating moment in Stalin's purge of the old Bolshevik Party, he was engaged in a desperate negotiation with the secret police to save his young wife, Larina, and their baby son, from the executioners. It was already evident to rational observers that by the time Bukharin was brought to trial he was doomed. The fact that he wrote four books while he was being interrogated is remarkable testimony to his self control and personal courage. Thanks to the intervention of Gorbachev, these books were exhumed from the archives. Two of them, the Arabesques and the autobiographical work, were published in Russian soon after, and have been translated into English. Whatever modern philosophers may think about them theirs is no doubt that Bukharin himself regarded his philosophical manuscripts as central to his legacy. (The Spokesman)
While Bukharin was in prison, awaiting the show trial that would lead to him being sentenced to death and executed in 1938 on preposterous trumped-up charges of sabotage and treason, he chose to spend the time writing books. One of these was on philosophy. Bukharin's book would be of interest merely as the writing of someone who knows he is soon going to be killed but it is also worth reading in its own right as a work of philosophy. Bukharin obviously thought this an important subject to choose it as his last writing. He even asked to be executed by poison 'like Socrates'. Stalin let him be shot. (Socialist Standard)
This book on the Marxist philosophy of dialectical materialism was written by Nikolai Bukharin in the year 1937 and completed by him on November 7-8, on the 20th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. He had participated in the revolution as a leading member of the Bolshevik Party, led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. The conditions under which this book were written, however, were a cruel mockery of the celebration of the world's first successful socialist revolution. What he produced is a very competent and easy to follow book on Marxist theory, but one which is saturated with the very scholasticism of which Lenin and Trotsky had accused him. Writing in jail, at the most momentous period in the history of the 20th century, Bukharin manages to produce a book that may be formally correct, but which leaves out the entire developments in which he played no small role. The separation of theory from practice, is complete in this book, which remains on the level of a textbook and not the product of the struggle of a revolutionary Marxist to understand and change the world through acting upon it. Whilst Trotsky and his followers were fighting counter-revolutionary Stalinism with every means at their disposal, Bukharin sat in his cell and immersed himself in an academic exposition of the Marxist method. (Marxist Review)
Languishing in the Lubyanka prison on fabricated charges of treason for which he would pay with his life, the prominent Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin remarkably completed three books in 1937, a collection of poetry, the autobiographical novel Vremena (The Times, published in 1994, and in English translation as How It All Began in 1998) and this philosophical tract. Despite its title suggesting something much more fragmentary, Philosophical Arabesques actually constitutes a single sustained work on materialist dialectics. The scope of this work alone earns it a place alongside that other great Marxist work written in political incarceration, Antonio Gramsci's Prison Notebooks. Bukharin's philosophical work is much narrower in focus, however, and often reads as a belated attempt to disprove Lenin's assessment that Bukharin never really understood dialectics. It is not surprising, therefore, that the 2006 Russian edition is subtitled 'dialectical sketches'. Bukharin was an extremely influential writer on culture in the 1920s and 1930s and was responsible for the shift away from the Leninist cultural policy to one that officially accepted the notion of 'proletarian culture' and legitimized the move against the culture of Soviet intellectuals. these works from the pre-prison period remain untranslated. The appearance of Philosophical Arabesques makes the translation of all Bukharin's major writing on culture highly desirable. (Craig Brandist, Radical Philosophy)
A major work of Marxist theory now available for the first time in English Never-before translated prison writings by Bukharin - themselves a landmark in the history of prison writing Will be essential for all scholars of Marxism and the Russian Revolution Fully contextualised with a new introduction by a leading Marxist scholar Bukharin's Philosophical Arabesques was written while he was imprisoned in the Lubyanka Prison in Moscow, facing trial on charges of treason and execution after he was found guilty. After the death of Lenin, Bukharin co-operated with Stalin for a time. Once Stalin's supremacy was assured he began eliminating all potential rivals. For Bukharin, the process was to end with his confession before the Soviet court, facing the threat that his young family would be killed along with him if he did not. While awaiting his death, Bukharin wrote prolifically. He considered Philosophical Arabesques as the most important of his prison writings. In its pages, he covers the full range of issues in Marxist philosophy - the sources of knowledge, the nature of truth, freedom and necessity, the relationship of Hegelian and Marxist dialectic.
The project constitutes a defense of the genuine legacy of Lenin,s Marxism against the use of his memory to legitimate totalitarian power. Consigned to the Kremlin archives for a half-century after Bukharin's execution, this work is now being published for the first time in English. It will be an essential reference work for scholars of Marxism and the Russian revolution and a landmark in the history of prison writing.
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