The Soviet Communist Party on Saturday completed the political rehabilitation of Nikolai I. Bukharin, the leading Bolshevik economist and theoretician executed 50 years ago as an “enemy of the people,” by restoring his party membership posthumously and absolving him of charges of leading a rightist assault on socialism.
The party also exonerated Alexei I. Rykov, Bolshevik leader V. I. Lenin’s successor as premier of the young Soviet state who was later purged, convicted at a show trial and shot with Bukharin in 1938 as a traitor.
Bukharin, who was cleared in February of the criminal charges, including treason, for which he had been shot, was praised for his “great effort in the fight to build socialism” in the 20 years following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
Political Errors Noted
A commission of the party’s ruling Politburo said that Bukharin, who had fought the policies of dictator Josef Stalin, had made some political errors but that he had not opposed the party nor the country’s socialist development.
Long a symbol of a more liberal and humane socialism, Bukharin provided inspiration to anti-Stalinist reformers in the Soviet Union, in Eastern Europe and in China. They found in his political and economic programs ideas that, even 50 and 60 years later, offered alternatives to present policies here and in other socialist countries.
For the Soviet Union under Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the party’s current general secretary, Bukharin is a historical figure of great contemporary importance. Many policies that he advocated are elements of Gorbachev’s reform program; his approach to socialist development often seems a forerunner of Gorbachev’s, and his insistence on a pragmatic thinking-through of policy implications is also shared by Gorbachev.
Gorbachev, who established the special Politburo commission in November to rectify the party’s past errors, has been insistent, moreover, on re-examining the history of 70 years of Communist rule in a search for inspiration, for legitimacy and for alternative policies that have become part of his overall reform effort.
But the party’s rehabilitation of Bukharin, although widely expected, remained controversial enough for a 2 1/2-week delay in the announcement of the decision, made June 21.
Speaking of Bukharin and Rykov, the commission said they had erred--but not grievously.
“In acute ideological struggle, they assumed a special stand in a number of cases in determining the ways and methods of socialist construction,” the commission said, “but their errors and special stands were not of an anti-party nature.”
Until their ouster from the party in March, 1937, neither had been reprimanded for differing with the party on major policy questions, the commission noted, though both had strongly opposed Stalin on many issues, including his own accumulation of power.
Both Bukharin and Rykov are being restored to good party standing due to “the groundlessness of political accusations they faced when they were expelled from the party, their full legal rehabilitation and also their services to the party and the Soviet state,” the commission said.
The commission said that 18 other party and government officials who were convicted in the 1938 trial of what was then described as the “anti-Soviet rightist-Trotskyite bloc” were cleared as well.
A prominent trade union leader, Mikhail Tomsky, who committed suicide during the pretrial investigation, had been confirmed as “a party member in good standing” at the time of his death in 1936, the commission added.
Although long a subject of political debate and insider gossip here, Bukharin’s rehabilitation was opposed--up to the end of last year, according to informed party sources--by conservatives within the Soviet leadership, who felt that such a move would give legitimacy to reformist ideas of such magnitude that the party’s whole ideology would be called into question.
Bukharin, ousted from the Politburo in 1929 after arguing against Stalin’s drive for rapid industrialization and the forced collectivization of agriculture, remained the dictator’s leading political opponent within the party leadership almost until his execution in 1938.
He had continued to favor family farming over collectivized agriculture; he argued for greater use of market forces even as the country moved toward a planned economy, and he sought a socialism that avoided the harshest aspects of traditional Russian authoritarianism.
Rykov, who was Lenin’s deputy in the first Soviet government after the Bolshevik Revolution and later Stalin’s premier, angered Stalin in the late 1920s when he opposed greater pressure on the peasantry to meet the economic targets of the country’s development plan.
Millions of people subsequently died of famine and in mass deportations during the forced collectivization of agriculture that Stalin saw as the basis for all economic development.
Soviet delegation admits that Josef Stalin imposed communism on Eastern Europe. Page 12.