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Philosophical Arabesques


Bukharin’s Philosophical Arabesques was written while he was imprisoned in the Lubyanka Prison in Moscow, facing a trial on charges of treason and the likelihood of execution. After the death of Lenin, Bukharin co-operated with Stalin for a time. Once Stalin’s supremacy was assured he began eliminating all potential rivals. For Bukharin, the process was to end with his confession before the Soviet court, facing the threat that his young family would be killed along with him if he did not.

While awaiting his death, Bukharin wrote prolifically. He considered Philosophical Arabesques as the most important of his prison writings. In its pages, he covers the full range of issues in Marxist philosophy—the sources of knowledge, the nature of truth, freedom and necessity, the relationship of Hegelian and Marxist dialectic. The project constitutes a defense of the genuine legacy of Lenin’s Marxism against the use of his memory to legitimate totalitarian power.

Consigned to the Kremlin archives for a half-century after Bukharin’s execution, this work is now being published for the first time in English. It will be an essential reference work for scholars of Marxism and the Russian revolution and a landmark in the history of prison writing.

The scope of this work alone earns it a place alongside that other great Marxist work written in political incarceration, Antonio Gramsciʼs Prison Notebooks … It is a work of real philosophical interest, but also of historical importance since, among other things, it underlines the tragedy of Bukharin as a historical figure.

—Craig Brandist, Radical Philosophy

Forty-nine years old, a condemned man, Bukharin remained ever the intellectual, full of fire and fight for his youthful ideals even as his spirit and life’s work were under assault … Against all odds, Bukharin argued for a restoration of the humanist and democratic potential of the Soviet system, which would stand as the principal bulwark against fascist barbarism … Philosophical Arabesques was Bukharin’s respectful reply to Lenin, at once a defense of Leninist orthodoxy on ontological and epistemological issues and a challenge to the petrified official Marxism of the Stalinists. He believed that what he was doing was extremely valuable and wrote to his wife, “The most important thing is that the philosophical work not be lost. I worked on it for a long time and put a great deal into it; it is a very mature work in comparison to my earlier writings, and, in contrast to them, dialectical from beginning to end.” … Bukharin’s engagement with dialectics as a method—his focus on change and contradiction, on overcoming historically generated social institutions and intellectual practices that have taken on the appearance of natural, fixed, permanent realities—may have an unrecognized relevance more than ever in our one-dimensional present.

—Ronald Grigor Suny, The Nation

A highly significant historical document, and anyone interested in the Russian revolution and its fate owes a debt of gratitude to all those who were instrumental in recovering it from secret police archives and making it available in English.

—Lars T. Lih, Science & Society

Will be welcomed by those interested in the history of Marxism and the former Soviet Union, as well as those concerned to develop alternatives to global capitalism. Summing Up: Recommended.


Table of Contents

Introduction: A Voice from the Dead by Helena Sheehan

Editor’s Note



  1. The Reality of the World and the Intrigues of Solipsism
  2. Acceptance and Non-Acceptance of the World
  3. Things in Themselves and Their Cognizability
  4. Space and Time
  5. Mediated Cognition
  6. The Abstract and the Concrete
  7. Senses, Ideas, and Concepts
  8. Living Nature and Its Treatment in Art
  9. Rational Thinking, Dialectical Thinking, and Direct Contemplation
  10. Practice in General and Practice in the Theory of Cognition
  11. Practical, Theoretical, and Aesthetic Treatment of the World and Their Unity
  12. The Original Stands of Materialism and Idealism
  13. Hylozoism and Panpsychism
  14. Hinduist Mysticism and West European Philosophy
  15. The So-called Philosophy of Identity
  16. The Sins of Mechanistic Materialism
  17. The General Patterns and Links of Being
  18. Teleology
  19. Freedom and Necessity
  20. Organisms
  21. Contemporary Natural Science and Dialectical Materialism
  22. The Sociology of Thinking: On Work and Thinking as Two General Historical Categories
  23. The Sociology of Thinking: On the Method of Production and the Method of Representation
  24. So-called Racial Thinking
  25. Social Positions, Thinking, and Emotions
  26. The Object of Philosophy
  27. The Subject of Philosophy
  28. The Interaction between Subject and Object
  29. Society as an Object and a Subject of Possession
  30. Truth: On the Concept of Truth and Its Criterion
  31. Truth: On Absolute and Relative Truth
  32. Well-Being
  33. Hegel’s Dialectical Idealism as a System
  34. Hegel’s Dialectics and Marx’s Dialectics
  35. Dialectics as Science and Dialectics as Art
  36. Science and Philosophy
  37. Evolution
  38. Theory and History
  39. Social Ideals
  40. Lenin the Philosopher



Nikolai Bukharin was one of the most talented of the leaders of the Bolshevik Party that led the Russian Revolution of 1917, a leader of the Soviet government, and the author of important theoretical works on Marxist theory. He was executed for treason in 1938. Helena Sheehan teaches the history of ideas at Dublin City University and is the author of Marxism and the Philosophy of Science: A Critical History.

Format Clear
SKU: mrp1021 Categories: ,

Publication Date: June 2005

Number of Pages: 448

Cloth ISBN: 9781583671023

Paperback ISBN: 978-158367-9531