MOSCOW, NOV. 29 -- The widow of Nikolai Bukharin, the Bolshevik leader executed by Joseph Stalin in 1938, has appealed to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for her husband's political rehabilitation in a published article that gives a moving and historic account of Bukharin's final days of freedom.
The publication of Anna Larina's letter to Gorbachev in this week's edition of the magazine Ogonyok is seen as a sign that Bukharin, for 50 years officially depicted as a traitor and enemy of the people, is likely to be rehabilitated as one of the Communist Party's leading theoreticians.
"My appeal is addressed to you not just from myself but on the instructions of Bukharin himself," Larina wrote to Gorbachev, in an excerpt reprinted in the magazine. She said Bukharin, leaving the family's Kremlin apartment for the last time on Feb. 27, 1937, fell on his knees before his young wife and, with tears in his eyes, entreated her to memorize his final political testament.
"He begged me to fight to clear his name. 'Swear that you will do this. Swear it. Swear it.' And I swore that I would. To break that vow would be to violate my conscience," she wrote.
Bukharin's last testament is not reprinted in the article, although Bukharin's wife, who was 23 when they parted, kept it memorized through the years that she spent in Stalin's labor camps. The testament, which calls on "a new young and honest generation of party leaders" to exonerate Bukharin, reached the West in the 1970s. It contains a powerful attack on Stalin, his "morbid suspiciousness" and his "hellish machine."
Bukharin was partially restored to Soviet history books earlier this month when Gorbachev, in a speech marking the 70th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, for the first time mentioned his name in a positive context. But Gorbachev's treatment of Bukharin was less than the full political rehabilitation hoped for by many prominent Soviet historians and writers who see the restoration of Bukharin's reputation as the key to a thorough review of Stalin's legacy.
Well-informed sources said Bukharin's rehabilitation is imminent, to be announced by a special commission first identified in Gorbachev's Nov. 2 speech and said to be headed by the Kremlin leader himself. The highly symbolic, and politically potent, gesture would help counterbalance the disillusionment felt by liberal members of the Soviet intelligentsia at Gorbachev's role in the recent ouster of Moscow party chief Boris Yeltsin, Soviet analysts said.
Bukharin, called the "favorite of the party" by V.I. Lenin, was the main theoretician of the New Economic Policy (NEP) of the 1920s and later an opponent of Stalin during the debate over collectivization of agriculture.
Both the NEP and Bukharin's defense of quasiprivate farming are relevant today as Gorbachev moves to broaden the rights of private cooperatives and family farms in an effort to invigorate the economy.
Anna Larina's letter to Gorbachev is accompanied by an interview with the 73-year-old widow, a dramatic first-person account of the humiliation and mental torture inflicted by Stalin on one of his most-esteemed fellow leaders of the revolution.
Although the pages of Soviet newspapers and literary journals have been filled recently with factual and fictional accounts of the Stalin era, Larina's story is one of the few that describes the fate of one of the Kremlin's inner circle during the terror.
It is also a poignant story of a seasoned revolutionary who fell in love with the schoolgirl daughter of a colleague, Yuri Larin. Larina was described in one account as a girl of "rare beauty."
Larina describes Bukharin as a man of great emotion, given easily to tears, whose nerves sometimes drove him to a "state of hysteria" and poor health.
The effect of Stalin's mounting campaign against him, which began in earnest in 1936 and culminated in a dramatic show trial in 1938, was devastating, sweeping up everyone around the young family, Larina, then the mother of a small son, said. As the end approached, on Feb. 16, Larina wrote, Bukharin went on a hunger strike that he announced to the party as a "protest against the unprecedented accusations" against him. When Larina tried to put a drop of orange juice in his water, he flung the glass across the room. "You are making me break my word to the party," he shouted.
During their final meeting before his execution, Bukharin told his wife to raise their son as "a Bolshevik" and not to get angry. "The situation will change, it will change without fail," she quoted him as saying. ". . . In history there are vexing misprints, but truth will triumph."