Review: Letter of an Old Bolshevik

Boris Nicolaevsky.

This is one of those books where saying who the writer was is contentious. It was initially published anonymously. Later, the exiled Russian Menshevik writer Boris Nicolaevsky was listed as the author. Nicolaevsky always claimed that the book was based on conversations he and other Mensheviks had with Nikolai Bukharin. Bukharin was a leading figure in the Bolshevik party, one of its top theoreticians, and leader of its “right” wing. By the mid-1930s, as top Soviet figures began to be arrested, tried and executed for non-existent crimes, Bukharin may have known that his days were numbered. This book tells the story — briefly and well — of the first couple of years of the Stalin Terror following the murder of Kirov in Leningrad. Interestingly, Bukharin’s widow claimed that he could not have been the author of this book, as he never told her the things he seemingly told the Mensheviks. But some historians think that Bukharin was protecting her. In any event, she did survive the purges (the wives of others did not) and wrote her own memoirs many years later.