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Stalin (L) with Nikolay Bukharin (C). Image Hulton-Deutsch Collection Stalin (L) with Nikolay Bukharin (C). Image Hulton-Deutsch Collection

30 September

On September 30, 1928, the Pravda newspaper, the Communist Party body, published an article by Nikolay Bukharin, “Notes of Economist,” in which the Party leader strongly criticized Stalin’s economic policy.

During the period of economy recovery in 1927 and 1928, Soviet industry and agriculture operated at pre-Revolution levels. Unlike in Tsarist Russia, the young Soviet state didn’t enjoy vast support from foreign investments, so successful industrialization demanded boosting agriculture with significant increase in the agricultural produce.

To achieve that, there were three possible options. The first one was to encourage the development of kulaks, or private land owners, and allow them to use a hired workforce. The second, more radical, way, was to eliminate the social class of the kulaks and instead form large mechanized collective farms. The third way of watching patiently what course agricultural development took. That wasn’t welcome either, being unacceptably too long under the circumstances.

The forceful crop-gathering by the Soviet government in 1928-29, which was undertaken due to insufficient crops, was too violent and provoked around 1,300 riots. However, the first way -- that is, preserving the kulaks -- in its purest sense contradicted the socialist ideology. As a result, such opposition provoked fierce discussions at the top of the Party’s hierarchy.

Nikolay Bukharin, one of the Party leaders, was a fervent advocate of the first strategy, while Leon Trotsky pushed the second one. Stalin, always opposed to Trotsky, at first took Bukharin’s side and stated that they would not be able to perform with 15-18% growth due to lack of funds. However, as the first five-year plan was already in the process of discussion, as part of his political game Stalin and his adherents changed their mind drastically and claimed that such growth was not only possible, but essential.

Worried by this sudden change in Stalin’s policy, Bukharin made an attempt to conduct an open discussion of the burning issue, which he thought would be possible through publishing an article in Pravda. In it, Bukharin warned against the extremely high rate of industrialization. To attack Stalin himself, he chose a sort of detour: criticizing Trotsky's tendencies of intense rapid industrial growth at the expense of robbing the agricultural sector. Such criticisms were undoubtedly against Stalin, as he, by then, had extracted significant amounts of material support for industry from agriculture, gradually starting the collectivization, with its tragedy of famine and repressions of the peasants.

Stalin immediately clamped down after the outright criticisms, ordering the publication of an abridged version of the article and the replacement of the newspaper’s editorial board with people loyal to him. Through the new Pravda, Stalin could manipulate the ordinary party members, only making known what he wanted to be known. Bukharin, from that point on, had placed himself on Stalin’s black list. Fighting on two fronts, Stalin accused Bukharin of impeding the industrialization and encouraging the capitalist tendencies in the country. On the other hand, he kept repeating that “hyperindustrialization” was just as huge a disaster to protect himself from possible criticisms.

As for Bukharin, he was eventually arrested and later executed, along with all of Stalin’s other plausible rivals for the post of Party leader, as a result of his intricate political intrigues.