MOSCOW -- On the southwest edge of Moscow an old woman named Anna Mikhailovna Larina lives deep within her memories. Her life has been a Bolshevik romance, a Stalinist tragedy of show trials, prison, exile and, now, a vindication. "It's as if I'm the living story of everything that has happened to the Soviet Union."

Larina is the 74-year-old widow of Nikolai Bukharin, the revolutionist and theoretician whom Lenin once called "the favorite of the whole party." After Lenin's death in 1924, Bukharin, who like Trotsky and others had been a key founder of the Soviet state, fought Stalin for power and the soul of the Soviet future. A weak politician, he was crushed and in the late 1930s jailed on trumped-up charges of treason. He was sentenced to death in 1938 for what Stalin's men called "the most perfidious and monstrous crimes known to the history of mankind."

Larina was the daughter of revolutionaries, a witness to all that came after "the Great October." As a child, she met Lenin and Trotsky; as a young woman in the 1930s, she lived with her husband in the Kremlin, down the hall from Stalin. Perhaps no one still alive had such a clear window on Stalin's murderous rise to power and his eventual creation of what became the modern Communist state.

But perhaps her keenest memory, the one that still burns in her mind, is a letter, eight paragraphs long, a "testament" that Bukharin gave her to memorize just a few days before his arrest.

"I am leaving life," it began. "I feel helpless before a hellish machine."

Read today, the testament's appeal "to the future generation of party leaders" for rehabilitation seems addressed directly to Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet president. "I am confident that sooner or later the filter of history will inevitably sweep the filth from my head," it says. "Know, comrades, that on that banner, which you will be carrying in the victorious march to communism, is also a drop of my blood."

For years, while she languished in prison cells and internal exile as a "relative of an enemy of the state," Larina could not bring herself to write down the testament for fear of informers. "I would just recite it to myself in my cell. Like a prayer," she says. Once she returned home, older and weaker, she clung to her widow's sense of mission, waiting for the right moment in history.

In 1956, after Nikita Khrushchev denounced the crimes of Stalin in a "secret speech" to the party leadership, she wrote out the testament for the first time. "I finally had to get rid of this burden. It was important to write it down exactly as it was, each and every phrase." All through the years she sent letters to the party leadership asking for the return "of my husband's honor and good name," but for that she had to wait until the rise of Gorbachev.

Now, 100 years after his birth, 50 years after he was shot as an enemy of the people, Bukharin has been legally and politically rehabilitated. Pravda, in a long article yesterday, announced that Bukharin's collected writings will soon be published, and a state commission on the Stalinist past has opened the door of history to him. In fact, after so many years of infamy, Bukharin is fast becoming an icon of Soviet possibility, the "alternative to Stalinism" for some historians, the road not taken.

There are Bukharin exhibits at the Tretyakov Exhibition Hall and the Revolution Museum on Gorky Street. His political works, which denounced Stalin's "Genghis Khan" plans for the creation of a "leviathan state," are now published in the official theoretical journals of the Communist Party, as if to give a historical grounding for perestroika. Progress Publishers, which once specialized in dreary tracts on the evils of America and Israel, is about to bring out a Russian-language edition of the definitive biography, "Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution," published in the West 15 years ago by Princeton University Prof. Stephen Cohen.

"I have read your book on Bukharin," Gorbachev told Cohen at a reception during the Washington summit. "It is a very good and useful book. Of course there are things there that one could disagree with."

Standing under a portrait of a smiling Bukharin at the Revolution Museum, the widow (now sometimes called Anna Larin-Bukharin in the Soviet press) surveys this vault of her husband's memory: manuscripts, letters, clippings, photographs, even Bukharin's amateur landscape paintings. She turns to Cohen, who is here on a visit, and, glowing with a sense of occasion, says, "I believed." Later she amends that a bit: "I believed. I wrote letter after letter. I kept hoping. But I never was sure that this would happen in my lifetime."

History's Memory Even now, Larina has the sort of physical confidence, the bearing of someone known as "a great beauty in her day." Her hair is gray, but her eyes, even behind thick glasses, are brilliant. Though her memories span the length of Soviet history, she seems, somehow, quite young. "I'm around to tell this story," she says, "because I had such an early start." When she became Bukharin's third wife in 1934, he was 45 and in the midst of a power struggle with Stalin, and she just 19.

Her first memories are of her father, Yuri Larin, a Bolshevik economist, who is buried in the boneyard of Soviet honor, the Kremlin Wall. Because he was so ill in the '20s -- barely able to lift a telephone -- Larin used to receive Lenin, Stalin, Bukharin and other Bolshevik leaders at home in his study.

"I grew up in a family of professional revolutionaries," Larina says. "One of the first memories I have is of Bukharin and Lenin. I was very small. There was a funny episode. The minute Bukharin left my father's study, Lenin said that 'Bukharin is a golden child of the revolution.' I didn't understand the sense of this turn of phrase, and so I decided that Lenin meant that Bukharin was really made of gold. And so I said, 'No, he's not made of gold, he's alive.' "

In the first years after the revolution, the Bolshevik leaders lived in hotels near the Kremlin. Lenin had rooms at the National, across Revolution Square. The Larins and Bukharins were at the Metropole, near the Bolshoi Theater. On the day of Lenin's funeral, Jan. 27, 1924, Larina stood at her window and watched the cortege pass by.

"Outside it was wildly cold, awful. There were fires burning on the streets, and the procession was 'round the clock, and I could see it all from my window. I couldn't take my eyes off it, but not until later on, with Bukharin, did I understand the tragedy of it."

Larina had known Bukharin all her life. He lived one floor up from her family in Room 205 at the Metropole, and had always impressed the young girl as "brilliant and kind." One day Larina saw Stalin on the staircase. She handed him a love letter to deliver to Bukharin. For a moment, one of the great murderers of the 20th century played mailman for a young girl's crush.

"And by the time I was 16," Larina says of Bukharin, "it was already love."

As the romance deepened, the leadership crisis heightened. In the last years of Lenin's life, Bukharin helped develop the New Economic Policy, which allowed the rise of market mechanisms and led to a measure of calm and prosperity that the Soviet Union had never known.

"Nikolai Ivanovich was no democrat in the Western sense," Larina says. But compared to what was to come in 1929 and thereafter, Bukharin was flexible, realistic, capable of change. While Stalin feared intellectuals and crushed them, Bukharin tried to save them. He was a reliable ally for artists such as Osip Mandelstam, who would later be wiped out in the purges. Years later Boris Pasternak would write a poem in Bukharin's honor.

"It's clear that if Bukharin had won power instead of Stalin, the deaths of millions of people would have been avoided," says Yuri Afanasyev, one of the first Soviet historians to call for Bukharin's rehabilitation.

For Larina, it was hard to see immediately Stalin's paranoia, the hunger for "nothing but power."

"Even now it's impossible for me to look at everything through the prism of those terrible crimes. It's impossible. I saw Stalin more in my childhood. I often saw him at Bukharin's place at the Metropole. I could see nothing criminal in him. I can't say I adored him or hated him. All that came later."

Early on, though, there were hints of Stalin's aberrations, his persecution mania. Larina writes in "Unforgettable," the title of the memoirs she is publishing in the journal Znamya, that one day Bukharin and Stalin's wife were taking a stroll near Stalin's dacha. Stalin hid in the bushes, watching the two, and finally leapt into the clear, screaming to Bukharin, "I'll kill you!"

When Stalin's second wife, Nadezhda Allilueva, died in late 1932 -- Larina, like Stalin biographer Robert C. Tucker, is unsure whether Stalin murdered her after an argument or if it was suicide -- the Father of the People called the Bukharins and said, "It's difficult for me to stay in this flat." They were all living in the Kremlin then, and Stalin switched apartments with Bukharin and Anna Larina.

"Maybe he was thinking of security," Larina says now. "His flat was quite near to Troitsky Gate and one part overlooked Alexander Gardens. He had persecution mania, so maybe he thought someone would penetrate the flat from the garden. There was no access to the place where Stalin lived eventually. There were guards, and when you passed by they always questioned you."

In the Kremlin, the Bukharins lived "simply. Nikolai Ivanovich was not materialistic. He didn't have any extra things. The apartments had no 'facilities.' It wasn't particularly comfortable."

As he began to seize absolute power in the late '20s, Stalin turned on Bukharin and the New Economic Policy, calling the policy "rotten liberalism." Suddenly, Bukharin was known as the "right-wing opposition" and he was thrown out of the Politburo. Stalin began carrying out a massive industrialization program and a forced collectivization of the countryside that led to starvation and the deaths of 14 million people, according to historian Robert Conquest.

As Stalin managed to divide his opponents and rule with an iron, erratic fist, Bukharin confessed to his young wife that he had come to hate him. But even then, Bukharin could not anticipate what was to come, Larina says. Stalin kept the whole party off balance. At various points, most of the major Bolsheviks opposed him, but never at the same time. In the '20s, at a party congress, Stalin had said, "You demand the blood of Bukharin? You must know that you cannot have it." And in 1935, Stalin once more pledged his friendship to Bukharin at a banquet. Raising his glass to Bukharin, he said, "Let's drink to Nikolai Ivanovich."

"It was strange. As late as 1936, it looked as if Bukharin's position was more stable," Larina says. "He was appointed editor of Izvestia, he was on the constitutional commission, and it even looked as if there could be a democratization process going on in the country. But Stalin played his chess game very cleverly."

Bukharin was blind to the chess game, unable to conceive of his own end. "He knew Stalin might kill him politically," Larina says now, "but he was a talented man, and he would have survived. Or so he thought. He thought he could work in the field on biological sciences. It didn't scare him."

Perhaps the only one who anticipated Bukharin's bloody fall was a fortune-teller in 1918 who told him in Berlin, "You will one day be executed in your own country."

Finally, in the winter of 1938, it was clear that Stalin was about to wage a mass purge against his enemies, a campaign that would wipe out millions of political rivals, military leaders, intellectuals and ordinary citizens.

"At last," Larina says, "he lost any hope that he would not be arrested and shot. And so he wrote a very short letter. He quietly read it to me. The rooms were known to be bugged. I had to repeat the words back to him and to learn it by heart, because he was afraid that if the letter was found during a search, I would be hurt. He couldn't imagine that they would persecute me anyway."

Bukharin's trial was a surreal exercise. The prosecutor, Andrei Vyshinsky, compared Bukharin to Judas Iscariot and Al Capone, a "cross between a fox and a pig," and accused him of leading a "bloc" against Stalin, of working as a foreign agent, of organizing a plot to murder Lenin.

"The weed and the thistle will grow on the graves of these execrable traitors," Vyshinsky said in the courtroom. "But, on us and our happy country, our glorious sun will continue to shed his serene light. Guided by our Beloved Leader and Master, Great Stalin, we will go forward to communism along a path that has been cleansed of the sordid remnants of the past."

Larina did not attend. She had been arrested and sent away. She would spend years in prisons and exile in Astrakhan, Tomsk and Novosibirsk. Her 13-month-old son Yuri was given to relatives. "It was the last time I saw Yuri as a child," Larina says. And as for Bukharin, Larina knew he was "dead from the day he was arrested."

In court, Bukharin played an astonishing linguistic and moral game with Vyshinsky, admitting to generalities, but denying specifics. He at once confessed and conducted his own countertrial of the Stalin regime in a kind of Aesopian language. A British diplomat who attended the trial, Fitzroy MacLean, believed Bukharin meant his confession as "a last service" to unity and the party. Arthur Koestler, who based his novel "Darkness at Noon" on Bukharin's trial, also took that view. Prof. Cohen, however, insists that Bukharin was above all motivated by love, that he wanted to save his young wife and child from harm.

While Larina sat in a cell, miles away from the Hall of Columns, MacLean observed the drama of the "show trial":

"On the evening of March 12, Bukharin rose to speak for the last time. Once more, by sheer force of personality and intellect, he compelled attention. Staring up at him, row upon row, smug, self-satisfied and hostile, sat the new generation of communists, revolutionaries no longer in the old sense, but worshipers of the established order, deeply suspicious of dangerous thoughts. ... {S}tanding there, frail and defiant, was the last survivor of a vanished race, of the men who had made the revolution, who had fought and toiled all their lives for an ideal, and who now, rather than betray it, were letting themselves be crushed by their own creation."

According to a death certificate now on display at the revolution museum, Bukharin died on March 15, 1938.

The cause and place of death is not listed.

Stalin's Victim In her cell, Anna Larina thought for hours each day about her son. Yuri was passed around from one relative to the next, and finally lived in a children's home.

She thought, too, of her husband's final hours. At first she felt as if she and Yuri "had been killed along with Nikolai Ivanovich." And: "I was deeply depressed that Nikolai Ivanovich was proclaimed a traitor to his people, a spy," Larina says. "I think for the benefit of the masses he accepted his guilt. For educated people who could understand, well, it's unbelievable now that they could have believed it all. They could not understand the meaning, what it was all for."

She wrote a letter to Stalin: "Josef Vissarionovich, through the thick walls of this prison, I look you straight in the eyes. I don't believe in this miraculous trial. Why did you kill Nikolai Ivanovich? I cannot understand it." Her letter probably never reached Stalin.

Larina's memoirs of the camps and her life with Bukharin may not compare in depth with Nadezhda Mandelstam's "Hope Against Hope" or Evgenia Ginzburg's memoirs of exile in the Soviet far east (though literary judgments must await their complete publication). And yet Larina, in "Unforgettable," offers a different angle of vision on an era, and offers it without self-pity or self-deception.

Her best writing is the plain description of her awakening from despair to a sense of mission; her uneasy, distant interrogations by the feared secret police chief, Lavrenty Beria; the growth of her friendships in the camps, friendships that became the foundation of her later life in Moscow.

Sometimes the camps felt unreal, "as if I were Alice in Wonderland, but not in a land of miracles or in a looking-glass, but in a dictatorship of the proletariat that Lewis Carroll had never managed to write about."

The authorities told Larina she could be free if she would only renounce her husband. She chose confinement. She spent eight years in prison and was in internal exile until the late 1950s. She lived for years near a pig farm in Siberia.

When the authorities finally agreed to let her son visit her in exile, Yuri was already 20 years old. They arranged to meet on a railway platform in the Siberian village of Tirzhin. Larina looked all around for features she recognized, a sign of her own face, of Bukharin's. But Yuri recognized her first, and only seconds after they had embraced, he wanted to know who his father had been. Yuri had no idea at all that he was the son of Bukharin, "the favorite of the whole party."

"I put off the answer for one day after another," Larina says now. "Then he said, 'I'll try to guess, and you just say yes or no.' "

Yuri's grandparents had told him he was the son of a revolutionary leader. But who? Trotsky? Rykov? Kamenev? Zinoviev? When he finally guessed "Bukharin," Larina said, "That's it." It was a strange feeling for Yuri, for at the time Bukharin's name in official Soviet historiography had the moral ring of "Hitler."

"When I finally told Yuri who his father was, I asked him not to spread it around," says Larina. When necessary, Yuri would tell people his father was a professor. To this day, Yuri, a painter who has had exhibitions in New York and Western Europe, is proud of Bukharin but does not use his name. Nor will he when he has his first solo exhibit in Moscow in February. (Bukharin also had a daughter, historian Svetlana, by his second wife, Esfir Gurvich. Both are still alive today. Bukharin's first wife was killed during the terror.)

In the late 1940s, Larina married a fellow exile, but he died within a few years after her return to Moscow a decade later. Her mother was ailing and Larina herself had tuberculosis. "I couldn't work. All I could do was take care of the people closest to me." She settled down to the business of surviving, of reviving family life and Bukharin's good name.

With the testament "to the future Bolshevik leaders" still burning in her mind, Larina began to work steadily for her husband's rehabilitation. She began writing letters to the Kremlin. She also began thinking about the memoirs, jotting down "shining" moments and then hiding the papers.

Life was brutally hard. Larina had long ago been stripped of all the privileges of a widow of a revolutionary leader. She lived on a pension of 100 rubles a month (about $160), and lived with her mother in a cramped apartment near the Institute of History. In one year, Yuri's wife died, and then Yuri himself was struck by a tumor.

The Brezhnev years, which featured a surge of neo-Stalinist feeling, offered Larina no hope for her husband's rehabilitation. Even in 1985, when the world press was writing about a transition to a new era of anti-Stalinist sentiment, Larina says, "I had no idea at all what Gorbachev would be like. When I wrote my first appeal it looked to me that I had to influence his way of thinking right away."

While she waited, there were a few important signs of support. Valery Pisigin, a young activist from the town of Nabarezhnaya Chelni, told Larina that he and his friends were petitioning the government for Bukharin's rehabilitation. More and more scholars and Soviet officials were reading Cohen's biography. "Stephen's book was very important," Larina says. "He opened the cover of Bukharin's coffin."

Last year, Gorbachev gave a major address on the "blank spots" of history. He denounced Stalin's crimes, a kind of public version of Khrushchev's "secret speech." As for Bukharin, Gorbachev dealt with him rather tentatively and, at times, critically. "Frankly I was a bit disappointed when Gorbachev spoke last year," Larina says.

But as it turned out, the acknowledgment was all. On Feb. 5, a party commission reviewing the purge trials issued a formal rehabilitation of Bukharin, Alexei Rykov and eight others. For Larina, there was no advance notice, no phone call or letter from the party leadership.

"I found out like everyone else, by radio, by TV. Then I got a letter from the Military Legislative Collegium about his political rehabilitation. Now I get so many letters I can't even count them."

With the rehabilitation came a better pension. Larina now received 200 rubles every month. She laughs at her "fortune."

"I'm a very rich woman now," she says through the laughter.

Anna Larina's Reward Now Bukharin's name is cleared, but there is more to it than that. In a search for forebears and historical supporters, Gorbachev seems to have drawn a line from the Lenin of the NEP period to Bukharin to Khrushchev to himself. A new sort of Soviet history and lineage is being written.

"It's not really manipulative. Every political culture does this," Cohen says. "The Soviets need a perspective that tells them that it wasn't all sour after 1917. It was never a democracy, but they have to know there is the chance for something other than Stalinism."

Larina seems satisfied with all that, and does not dwell much on the question of what the Soviet Union would have been like under her husband's rule.

"I don't speak in terms of 'if Bukharin had been leader.' It just should have been somebody else. Anyone else: because all the rest were honest people. They were not criminals. And what did happen under Stalin would not have happened, nothing like it."

Larina's quest is over. Even though her mind is quick and her health good enough, she has become, for nearly everyone around her, a symbol, a witness to history, a memoir. She still lives in her memories. And they are as vivid to her as any living thing.

Yuri Larin once told his daughter that to live 10 years with Bukharin would be more fascinating than a lifetime with anyone else. They had fewer years than that, but there are times when Anna Larina still seems to be speaking straight at him:

"He suffered because he thought he had destroyed my life," she says softly. "Oh, he loved me so."