How It All Began

The Prison Novel

Nikolai Bukharin. Introduction by Stephen F. Cohen. Translated by George Shriver

Columbia University Press

How It All Began

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Pub Date: February 1999

ISBN: 9780231107310

416 Pages

Format: Paperback

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Pub Date: April 1998

ISBN: 9780231107303

416 Pages

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Pub Date: June 1998

ISBN: 9780585378893

416 Pages

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How It All Began

The Prison Novel

Nikolai Bukharin. Introduction by Stephen F. Cohen. Translated by George Shriver

Columbia University Press

Here at last in English is Nikolai Bukharin's autobiographical novel and final work. Many dissident texts of the Stalin era were saved by chance, by bravery, or by cunning; others were systematically destroyed. Bukharin's work, however, was simultaneously preserved and suppressed within Stalin's personal archives.

At once novel, memoir, political apology, and historical document, How It All Began, known in Russia as "the prison novel," adds deeply to our understanding of this vital intellectual and maligned historical figure. The panoramic story, composed under the worst of circumstances, traces the transformation of a sensitive young man into a fiery agitator, and presents a revealing new perspective on the background and causes of the revolution that transformed the face of the twentieth century.

Among the millions of victims of the reign of terror in the Soviet Union of the 1930's, Bukharin stands out as a special case. Not yet 30 when the Bolsheviks took power, he was one of the youngest, most popular, and most intellectual members of the Communist Party. In the 1920's and 30's, he defended Lenin's liberal New Economic Policy, claiming that Stalin's policies of forced industrialization constituted a "military-feudal exploitation" of the masses. He also warned of the approaching tide of European fascism and its threat to the new Bolshevik revolution. For his opposition, Bukharin paid with his freedom and his life. He was arrested and spent a year in prison. In what was one of the most infamous "show trials" of the time, Bukharin confessed to being a "counterrevolutionary" while denying any particular crime and was executed in his prison cell on March 15, 1938.

While in prison, Bukharin wrote four books, of which this unfinished novel was the last. It traces the development of Nikolai "Kolya" Petrov (closely modeled on Nikolai "Kolya" Bukharin) from his early childhood though to age fifteen. In lyrical and poetic terms it paints a picture of Nikolai's growing political consciousness and ends with his activism on the eve of the failed 1905 revolution. The novel is presented here along with the only surviving letter from Bukharin to his wife during his time in prison, an epistle filled with fear, longing, and hope for his family and his nation. The introduction by Stephen F. Cohen articulates Bukharin's significance in Soviet history and reveals the troubled journey of this novel from Stalin's archives into the light of day.
No one reading this book in context can fail to be moved by its author's valiant struggle to behold his life one last time. Los Angeles Times
A moving personal statement about art and political responsibility, and an epic retelling of the era preceding the Revolution of 1917. Globe and Mail, Toronto
Vivid testimony to [Bukharin's] artistic talent...Intensely emotional, essentially optimistic and filled with a serene inner light. Washington Post Book World

About the Author

Nikolai Bukharin (1888–1938) was a Bolshevik intellectual and revolutionary, as well as the author of more than a hundred articles and books. He was executed as a "counterrevolutionary" on March 15, 1938 and exonerated fifty years later by Mikhail Gorbachev.George Shriver has translated and edited Roy Medvedev's On Soviet Dissentand The October Revolution, as well as Let History Judge (all published by Columbia).Stephen F. Cohen is professor of politics and Russian studies at Princeton University. His books include Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography, 1888–1938 and Rethinking the Soviet Experience: Politics and History Since 1917. George Shriver has translated and edited Roy Medvedev's On Soviet Dissentand The October Revolution, as well as Let History Judge (all published by Columbia).