Yevgeni Preobrazhensky

Yevgeni Alekseyevich Preobrazhensky (Russian: Евге́ний Алексе́евич Преображе́нский, IPA: [jɪvˈɡʲenʲɪj ɐlʲɪˈksʲejɪvʲɪt͡ɕ prʲɪəbrɐˈʐɛnskʲɪj]; 1886–1937) was a Russian revolutionary, economist and sociologist. A member of the governing Central Committee of the Bolshevik faction and its successor, the All-Union Communist Party, Preobrazhensky is remembered as a leading voice for the rapid industrialisation of peasant Russia through a concentration on state-owned heavy industry.

Yevgeni Preobrazhensky
Eugenio Preobrazhenski.jpg
Member of the 9th Secretariat
In office
5 April 1920 – 16 March 1921
Personal details
Born15 February 1886 (Old Style)
Bolkhov, Oryol Governorate, Russian Empire
Died13 February 1937 (aged 50)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Cause of deathExecution
Political partyRSDLP (Bolsheviks) (1903–1918)
Russian Communist Party (1918–1927, 1930–1936)

Closely associated with Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition movement of the 1920s, Preobrazhensky fell afoul of Stalin. He recanted Trotskyism in 1929, but eventually joined a secret alliance with Trotsky in 1932. He was arrested in 1933 and shot in 1937 during the Great Purge.

Early yearsEdit

Yevgeni Alekseyevich Preobrazhensky was born in Bolkhov, Oryol Governorate, Russia Empire on 15 February 1886 (Old Style). His father was the son of an Orthodox priest who taught for seven years in a zemstvo school before his ordination in 1883.[1] Following his appointment as a parish priest in Bolkhov in the summer of 1883, the elder Preobrazhensky opened an elementary school for the parish at his own expense.[1] It was in that school that Yevgeni was first educated.

In an autobiography written for the Great Russian Encyclopedia, he recalled both a religious and an intellectually oriented upbringing, as well as an early loathing of inequality.[2] He was an early and active reader.[2] After leaving his father's private school, Preobrazhensky spent two years attending the state-operated Bolkhov public school.[3] He subsequently left the town to attend the classically oriented gymnasium in the provincial capital of Oryol, where Preobrazhensky remembered himself as the "second-best student in the class".[4]

It was during his years at the Orël gymnasium that Preobrazhensky first became interested in politics, turning from the subjects taught in the classical gymnasium to reading newspapers, intellectual journals, history textbooks, and socially oriented novels.[5] He also later claimed to have abandoned his belief in God at the age of 14 as the end result of his religious upbringing clashing with the pervasive rationalist philosophy which permeated the world of the Russian intelligentsia at the turn of the 20th century.[5]

Preobrazhensky's philosophical rebelliousness brought him into conflict with his priestly father, who in 1902 was appointed dean of the network of church-run schools in Bolkhov parish.[6] The estrangement between father and son would last for decades.[6]

During his fifth of eight years at the gymnasium, Preobrazhensky began to accumulate illegal radical literature, including a proclamation by revolutionary students of the Ekaterinoslav Mining Institute, an account of a beating of protesting students at the hands of Cossacks, and hectographed editions of radical poetry and song lyrics.[7] That summer, upon his return to the family home at Bolkhov, Preobrazhensky closely reviewed this and other illegal material and determined to himself become actively involved in the revolutionary movement seeking the overthrow of the Tsarist regime in Russia.[8]

Underground revolutionaryEdit

An advertisement for a hectograph which Preobrazhensky and other Russian revolutionaries frequently reproduced their underground proclamations and leaflets using this simple printing technique

Preobrazhensky decided to henceforth "devote a minimum of time to the gymnasium's subjects", merely enough to attain passing marks, to dedicate the bulk of his hours to the study of history and economics.[9] Among the budding revolutionaries who were his friends was one Alexander Aleksin, the son of a local printer, whom Preobrazhensky persuaded to steal lead type from his father's printing works, with a view to establishing an illegal print shop of his own that could produce better results than a hectograph could provide.[9]

Preobrazhensky attempted to set type for a pamphlet reproducing revolutionary song lyrics and a declaration "We Renounce the Old World," but his inferior printing equipment fell apart before he could master the process, and the type was eventually returned to Aleksin's printworks, without any printed publications being produced.[9]

During his seventh year at the gymnasium, Preobrazhensky felt himself compelled to choose which revolutionary organisation to support, being torn between the competing strategies of the peasant-oriented Socialist-Revolutionary Party (PSR) and the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP).[10] Influenced by the Communist Manifesto and another work by Frederick Engels, Preobrazhensky cast his lot with the latter organisation, believing its approach to be scientifically based.[10] Together with two friends, Preobrazhensky declared his formal allegiance to the RSDLP late in 1903 and was accepted into the illegal organisation two or three months later.[11]

During the summer prior to his eighth and final year at the Orël gymnasium, Preobrazhensky worked as a RSDLP propagandist to the workers of the Dyatkovo factory in Bryansky raion.[12] Preobrazhensky was able to recruit the son of the Bryansky police to the RSDLP and successfully managed to conceal his small rotary mimeograph machine from searching authorities in a locked drawer of the inspector's own desk.[12] Periodic meetings were held in the neighboring forest.[12]

In the middle of October 1905, Preobrazhensky traveled to Moscow with the approval of the Moscow Committee of the RSDLP.[13] There he was promoted to the position of chief propagandist for the urban Presnensky raion, thereby entering national politics as a party activist.[13]

From autumn 1909, Preobrazhensky was a member of the Bolshevik Party bureau in Irkutsk.

From March 1917, he was a delegate on the Chita Soviet. At the 6th Congress of the Bolshevik Party, beginning near the end of July 1917, Preobrazhensky was elected as a candidate member (alternate) to the party's governing Central Committee.[14]

Years in authorityEdit

Photo showing Christian Rakovsky on the left, Preobrazhensky in the middle and Grigori Sokolnikov on the right during Soviet–United Kingdom negotiations in London, March 1924

From January 1918, a candidate member of the Ural Provincial Committee of the Bolshevik Party. As President of the Presidium of the Ural Regional Committee from May 1918, the killing of Nicholas II and his family occurred on Preobrazhensky's watch.

In 1918, Preobrazhensky joined the Left Communists faction, which opposed the draconian peace with Germany established by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.[14] It was at this time that Preobrazhensky became closely affiliated with Nikolai Bukharin, himself a popular Left Communist leader and member of the party Central Committee.

In 1919, he co-wrote the book The ABC of Communism with Nikolai Bukharin, who would strongly disagree with him on the industrialization issue. He also wrote The New Economics, a polemical essay on the dynamics of an economy in transition to socialism, Anarchism and Communism and The Decline of Capitalism.

Preobrazhensky was elected a full member of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party at its 9th Congress, which opened at the end of March 1920.[14] He was at the same time elected to the RKP's three member secretariat.[14]

In 1920–1921, he was Secretary of the Central Committee. In 1921, he was President of the Financial Committee and a member of the Council of People's Commissars of the RSFSR and Chief of the People's Commissariat of Education. Through the 1920s, he was a leading Soviet Economist, developing the plan for industrialisation of the country and an opponent of the New Economic Policy.

In 1924, he became one of the editors of the newspaper Pravda. From 1924 to 1927, Preobrazhensky was a member of the Board of People's Commissariat of Finance.


As a leading figure in the People's Commissariat of Finance, Preobrazhensky became deeply involved in the problems of taxation and economic planning for the industrialization of peasant Russia.[15] He published a series of articles on the topic in Vestnik Kommunisticheskoi Akademii (Courier of the Communist Academy) in 1924 detailing the argument that the moneys to finance mass industrialization would necessarily have to come from the country's rural peasantry, which comprised about 80% of the nation's population.[15] These ideas were later expanded at book length in a 1926 volume, The New Economics.[15] cementing his political relationship with Leon Trotsky, who argued similarly. Preobrazhensky (and Trotsky) advocated for a rapid pace of industrialization in the context of the Soviet Union's New Economic Policy, arguing that the numerically-limited Communist Party faced a grave danger of being swamped by the richest and most powerful individuals in the villages (the so-called kulaks) and the mass of peasants who might naturally follow these local leaders.[16] Differential pricing needed to be used, the pair claimed, with relatively high retail prices charged for textiles and manufactured goods of utility to the rural population and comparatively-low prices paid for agricultural products, thereby generating a surplus to finance industrial growth.[16]

This program was presented polemically in opposition to the policy of the Communist Party leadership, headed in this period by Stalin and Preobrazhensky's former collaborator on the book The ABC of Communism, Nikolai Bukharin,[16] who felt the rich peasantry to be under control and who advocated reducing prices and improving quality of textiles and manufactured goods to spur peasant production of grain and win the sympathy of the rural and urban working people for the task of socialist development.[17]

Behind these policy ideas lay a personal political struggle in which Preobrazhensky became embroiled. Early in the summer of 1926, Trotsky and his political adherents joined forces with former foes, Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev and their co-thinkers, who shared an aversion to the Stalin-Bukharin party leadership and were in the process of being demoted and removed from influence. Secret meetings took place, including a June 6, 1926 gathering in a forest near Moscow that was addressed by a leading member of the Zinoviev group, Deputy People's Commissar of War Mikhail Lashevich.[18] The organizational effort was immediately found out by the Stalin-Bukharin Party leadership, and Lashevich was stripped of his post and his candidate membership in the governing Central Committee shortly thereafter.[19]

The political battle between the so-called United Opposition and the Communist Party leadership became more acute in the fall of 1926, with Zinoviev, Trotsky and others speaking in factories and attempting to organize workers around the alternative program backed by the alternative leadership.[20] Such organizing was strictly forbidden in the one-party Soviet state, and the numerically weak Opposition was forced on October 16 to renounce factional activity and to accept Communist Party discipline.[21]

The renunciation was only tactical, however, and Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, and their associates continued with their secret political organizing efforts and issuance of factional publications throughout the rest of 1926 and into 1927. They were spied out and found out by the party leadership. On the night of September 12/13, 1927, the OGPU, theSoviet secret police moved in and revealed a private (and highly illegal) printing press in a private house which had been used to print bulletins and leaflets on behalf of the United Opposition.[22] Preobrazhensky was one of four Communist Party members implicated in the affair, a circle which expanded following OGPU interrogations.[22]

A dozen party members were expelled on September 28 by the Moscow regional Central Control Committee (CCC), the disciplinary board of the Communist Party.[22] Implicated in the affair, Preobrazhensky and two others made a statement to the CCC accepting partial responsibility for the press and were expelled from the Communist Party in early October 1927.[23]

From January 1928, Preobrazhensky was sent to the Ural Mountains and worked in the planning agencies.

In the summer of 1929, together with Karl Radek and Ivar Smilga, Preobrazhensky wrote a letter claiming a "ideological and organizational break with Trotskyism".

Opposition and executionEdit

In January 1930, Preobrazhensky was restored to membership in the Communist Party and appointed to the Nizhny Novgorod Planning Committee. In 1932, he was made a member of the Board of the People's Commissariat of the Light Industry, acting head of the People's Commissariat of State Farms. In an unknown date, he joined Ivan Smirnov's secret opposition group, which later by the end of 1932 entered a bloc with Leon Trotsky and some others in the USSR.[24] In January 1933, his group was discovered and he was arrested and interrogated by the State Political Directorate. He was sentenced to 3 years of exile and expelled from the party once again while also being arrested a second time on December 20, 1936. On July 13, 1937 he was sentenced to death and shot. He was posthumously rehabilitated by the government of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988.

Economic ideasEdit

He argued in the new economics policy that the Soviet Union had to undertake the "primitive accumulation" that early capitalist societies had had to. That is, the peasants' agricultural surplus had to be appropriated to invest in industry. Thus, the Soviet Union had to undertake by planning in "socialist primitive accumulation" what England had undergone by happenstance in the 17th century. This theory was criticized politically and associated with Trotsky and the Left Opposition, but it was arguably put into practice by Stalin in the 1930s as when Stalin said in a speech that the Soviet Union had to accomplish in a decade what England had taken centuries to do in terms of economic development in order to be prepared for an invasion from the West. This argument is disputed by Trotskyists and Soviet historians.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Mikhail M. Gorinov, "Foreword," in Richard B. Day and Mikhail M. Gorinov (eds.), The Preobrazhensky Papers: Archival Documents and Materials: Volume I, 1886-1920. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2015; pg. xxi.
  2. ^ a b Gorinov, "Foreword," pg. xxiii.
  3. ^ Gorinov, "Foreword," pg. xxvi.
  4. ^ Quoted in Gorinov, "Foreword," pp. xxvi-xxvii.
  5. ^ a b Gorinov, "Foreword," pg. xxvii.
  6. ^ a b Gorinov, "Foreword," pg. xxix.
  7. ^ Gorinov, "Foreword," pg. xxxii.
  8. ^ Gorinov, "Foreword," pp. xxxii-xxxiii.
  9. ^ a b c Gorinov, "Foreword," pg. xxxiv.
  10. ^ a b Gorinov, "Foreword," pg. xxxvi.
  11. ^ Gorinov, "Foreword," pg. xxxviii.
  12. ^ a b c Gorinov, "Foreword," pg. xxxix.
  13. ^ a b Gorinov, "Foreword," pg. xlv
  14. ^ a b c d Donald A. Filtzer, "Introduction," to E.A. Preobrazhensky, The Crisis of Soviet Industrialization. London: Macmillan, 1980; pg. xiii.
  15. ^ a b c Alec Nove, "Introduction" to The New Economics. London: Oxford University Press, 1965; pg. xi.
  16. ^ a b c Nove, "Introduction," pg. xiii.
  17. ^ In January 1927, Bukharin stated the counterthesis at a conference of the Moscow district conference of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) in this way: "Our motives for production are different. The workers say: No, what we want is lower prices and better goods. The peasants say the same. The Party listens to the voice of the masses, and asks: What is the matter? What is the cause of the discontent? Shall we not put pressure on our economic front? * * * The motive power behind us is not competition, but something else. The driving power impelling us forward is in the last resort growth of the needs of the masses.... Insofar as all economists do not adapt their measures adequately to the demands of the masses, and insofar as our position is monopolist, the danger exists that we do not strive energetically enough for the simplification, improvement, and rationalization of our apparatus, and that we incline to follow the line of least resistance, that is, the direction of the maximum rise in prices. This danger exists, and has found its ideological expression in the economic conceptions of the Opposition. * * * Our economics exist for the consumers, not the consumers for the economics." N.I. Bukharin, "The International Situation and the Inner Situation in the Soviet Union," International Press Correspondence, [English Edition, Vienna], vol. 7, no. 10 (Jan. 28, 1927), pg. 199.
  18. ^ E.H. Carr, A History of Soviet Russia: Foundations of a Planned Economy, 1926-1929: Volume 2. London: Macmillan, 1971; pg. 4.
  19. ^ Carr, Foundations of a Planned Economy, vol. 2, pg. 5.
  20. ^ Carr, Foundations of a Planned Economy, vol. 2, pp. 14-15.
  21. ^ Carr, Foundations of a Planned Economy, vol. 2, pg. 28.
  22. ^ a b c Carr, Foundations of a Planned Economy, vol. 2, pg. 35.
  23. ^ Carr, Foundations of a Planned Economy, vol. 2, pg. 36.
  24. ^ "Pierre Broué: The "Bloc" of the Oppositions against Stalin (January 1980)". Retrieved 2020-08-07.


English translationsEdit

  • ABC of Communism: Volume 1. With Nikolai Bukharin. Patrick Lavin, trans. Detroit, MI: Marxian Educational Society, 1921.
  • Third Anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Glasgow, Scotland: Union Publishing Co., 1921.
  • The New Economics. Brian Pearce, trans. London: Oxford University Press, 1965.
  • From NEP to Socialism: A Glance into the Future of Russia and Europe. Brian Pearce, trans. London: New Park Publications, 1973.
  • The Crisis of Soviet Industrialization: Selected Essays. Donald A. Filtzer, ed. London: Macmillan, 1980.
  • The Decline of Capitalism. Richard B. Day, trans. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1985.
  • The Preobrazhensky Papers: Archival Documents and Materials: Volume I, 1886-1920. [2014] Richard B. Day and Mikhail M. Gorinov, trans and eds. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015.

In RussianEdit

  • О крестьянских коммунах. (Разговор коммуниста-большевика с крестьянином) (On Peasant Communes: Conversation of a Communist-Bolshevik with a Peasant). Moscow: Kommunist, 1918.
  • Нужна ли хлебная монополия? (Do We Need a Grain Monopoly?) Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Vserossiiskogo Tentral'nogo Ispolitel'nogo Komiteta Sovetov R., S., K. i K. Deputatov, 1918.
  • С кем идти крестьянской бедноте? (With Whom Will the Peasant Poor March?) Smolensk: 1918.
  • Крестьянская Россия и социализм. (К пересмотру нaшeй aграрнoй программы) (Peasant Russia and Socialism: Towards Revision of Our Agrarian Program). Petrograd: Priboi, 1918.
  • Азбука коммунизма: Популарное объяснение программы Российской коммунистической партий большевиков (The ABC of Communism: A Popular Explanation of the Program of the Russian Communist Party of Bolsheviks). With N.I. Bukharin. Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatelʹstvo, 1920.
  • Трёхлетие Октябрьской революции (Third Anniversary of the Russian Revolution). Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatelʹstvo, 1920.
  • "Перспективы новой экономической политики" (Perspectives on the New Economic Policy). Krasnyi nov', (1921) No. 3, pp. 201–212.
  • Анархизм и коммунизм (Anarchism and Communism). Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel'stvo, 1921.
  • Бумажные деньги в эпоху пролетарской диктатуры (Paper Money in the Epoch of Proletarian Dictatorship). Tiflis, Georgia: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel'stvo, 1921.
  • Финансы в эпоху диктатуры пролетариата (Finances in the Epoch of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat). Moscow: People's Commissariat of Finance, 1921.
  • Вопросы финансовой политики (Questions of Financial Policy). Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel'stvo, 1921.
  • "Русский рубль за время войны и революции" (The Russian Ruble in Time of War and Revolution). Krasnyi nov', (1922) No. 3, pp. 242–257.
  • "Крах капитализма в Европе" (The Collapse of Capitalism in Europe). Krasnyi nov', (1922) No. 5, pp. 151–165.
  • Причины падeния курса нашего рубля (Reasons for the Declining Course of Our Ruble). Moscow: People's Commissariat of Finance, 1922.
  • Ot NEPa k sot︠s︡ializmu (vzgli︠a︡d na budushchee Rossii i Evropy) (From NEP to Socialism: View of the Future of Russia and Europe). Moscow: Moskovskii rabochii, 1922.
  • Итоги Генуезской кoнфerenции и хoзияственные перспективы Европы (Results of the Genoa Conference and the Economic Prospects of Europe). Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatelʹstvo, 1922.
  • О морали и классовых нормах (On Morals and Class Norms). Moscow-Petrograd: 1923.
  • О нем (About Him). Moscow: Gosizdat, 1924.
  • В.И. Ленин: Сoциолoгичeский набросок (V.I. Lenin: A Sociological Sketch). Moscow: Krasnyi nov', 1924.
  • Русские финансы и европеиская биржа в 1904-1906 г.г. (Russian Finances and European Market in 1904-1906). Moscow: Moskovskii rabochii, 1926.
  • Экономика и финансы современной Франции (Economics and Finances of Contemporary France). Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Kommunisticheskoi akademii, 1926.
  • Новая экономика: Опыт теоретического анализа советского хозяиства (The New Economics: Experience of the Theoretical Analysis of the Soviet Economy). Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Kommunisticheskoi akademii, 1926.
  • Закат капитализма: Воспроизводство и кризисы при империализме и мировой кризис 1930-1931 г.г. (The Sunset of Capitalism: Reproduction and Crises associated with Imperialism and the World Crisis of 1930-1931). Moscow: 1931.

Further readingEdit

  • Robert C. Allen, Farm to factory: A reinterpretation of the Soviet industrial revolution (Princeton University Press, 2003) ch 9.
  • Edward Hallett Carr, A History of Soviet Russia: Socialism in One Country, 1924-1926: Volume II. London: Macmillan, 1959.
  • Edward Hallett Carr, A History of Soviet Russia: Foundations of a Planned Economy, 1926-1929: Volume II. London: Macmillan, 1971.
  • Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography 1888-1938. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1973.
  • Richard B. Day, "Preobrazhensky and the Theory of the Transition Period," Soviet Studies, vol. 27, no. 2 (April 1975), pp. 196–219. In JSTOR
  • Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky, 1921-1929. New York: Oxford University Press, 1959.
  • Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast: Trotsky, 1929-1940. New York: Oxford University Press, 1963.
  • Alexander Erlich, The Soviet Industrialization Debate, 1924-1928. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967.
  • M.M. Gorinov, S.V. Tsakunov, and Konstantin Gurevich, "Life and Works of Evgenii Alekseevich Preobrazhenskii," Slavic Review, vol. 50, no. 2 (1991), pp. 286–296. In JSTOR
  • Michalis Hatziprokopiou, and Kostas Velentzas. "Preobrazhensky and the theory of economic development." The Canon in the History of Economics (Routledge, 2000) pp. 196-211.
  • Moshe Lewin, Political Undercurrents in Soviet Economic Debates: From Bukharin to the Modern Reformers. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974.
  • James R. Millar, "A Note on Primitive Accumulation in Marx and Preobrazhensky," Soviet Studies, vol. 30, no. 3 (July 1978), pp. 384–393. In JSTOR
  • Alec Nove, The Soviet Economic System. Second Edition. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1977.

External linksEdit