Drawing from Hoover Institution archival documents, Paul Gregory sheds light on how the world’s first socialist state went terribly wrong and why it was likely to veer off course through the story of two of Stalin’s most prominent victims: Pravda editor Nikolai Bukharin and his wife, Anna Larina. Their dramatic story begins with the optimism of the socialist revolution and then turns into a dark tale of foreboding and terror as the game changed from political struggle to physical survival. Told for the most part in the words of the participants, it is a tale of courage and cowardice, strength and weakness, misplaced idealism, missed opportunities, bungling, and, above all, love.
Nikolai Bukharin was only one of the millions of Stalin’s victims. Most were ordinary people, unlike Nikolai and his wife, Anna Larina, who were members of the Bolshevik elite. But his and Anna’s tale provides a more enduring understanding of Stalin and Stalinism than the statistics that tally the dictator’s millions of victims. Their story contains all the elements of high drama: love and devotion interspersed with intrigue, betrayal, hope, weakness, friendship, naïveté, endurance, optimism, bitterness, and ultimate tragedy. In this book, Paul Gregory draws from Hoover Institution archival documents to paint a fascinating portrait of their life together, set against the backdrop of the Bolshevik revolution. Through their compelling story—told largely in their own words—Gregory reveals how the revolution ultimately went wrong.
The Bolshevik revolution unexpectedly brought to power a disparate collection of idealists, misfits, fanatics, intellectuals, scoundrels, opportunists, and some outright criminals and thugs. Nikolai Bukharin belonged in the idealist and intellectual category, whereas Stalin began as a thug, an organizer of bank robberies and murders in his native Georgia. Of the possible successors to Lenin, Bukharin most clearly spelled out a vision, which today would be called “socialism with a human face.” His loss, the author shows, suggests that Stalin’s victory was predetermined by factors deeply embedded in the Bolshevik revolution, as Bukharin proved helpless against a competitor who thirsted for absolute power.
Word of Nikolai Bukharin’s execution came to his twenty-four-year-old wife, Anna Larina, in the Tomsk camp for wives of “traitors of the fatherland.” The morning after her husband’s death, the warden confiscated Anna’s only photograph of her eleven-month-old baby, ordered her to pack, and sent her off to the next camp. She would not be released until 1945; even after her release, she remained in exile for another decade
Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin’s Kremlin: The Story of Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina tells of the tragedy of one death and one ruined life. Stories such as theirs offer more insights than do more-general accounts of Stalin’s purges. As Robert Conquest says in his foreword, “The political infighting stands out as the context of character and feeling—more effectively so than in pure fiction.”