Of the millions of people murdered in the Soviet Union during the 1930s in the course of Josef Stalin's sweeping purge of enemies and rivals real and imagined, none were more prominent or more esteemed by colleagues than Nicolai I. Bukharin. As early as 1917 Vladimir Lenin had referred to Bukharin as a possible successor. In his famous 1923 "Testament," the same document in which he proposed removing Stalin from his post as general secretary of the Communist Party, Lenin praised Bukharin as "rightly regarded as the darling of the entire party." By 1938, though, Bukharin was dead, executed along with other prominent old Bolsheviks on Stalin's orders. For half a century Bukharin's fate has gone unquestioned in the Soviet Union. Now the once-famed theoretician has been officially cleared of the charges of treason and terrorism that led to his execution.
The exoneration was the work of a special and somewhat secretive commission created by the Politburo last year to review the infamous purge trials that helped make Stalin the unchallenged master of the Soviet Union. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the panel may be chaired by Mikhail S. Gorbachev himself. Certainly the move to overturn the convictions of Bukharin and seven other high party officials can be seen as supporting Gorbachev's efforts to restructure the Soviet economy in the face of powerful opposition from conservatives in the party and bureaucracy.