Aleksandr Buzgalin: In memory of Nina Ivanovna Buzgalina, a true communist

Nina Ivanovna Buzgalina, 1932-2012

Translation and introductory note by Renfrey Clarke

November 18, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Many members of the international left who have lived in Moscow or visited it during the past few decades will be saddened to learn that Nina Ivanovna Buzgalina, mother of Aleksandr Buzgalin, died on November 9, 2012. Aleksandr has now written this tribute to her.

Nina Ivanovna was a proletarian fighter from her teenage years, and a committed, insightful communist. Her remarkable history stands as a testament to the struggles, sacrifices and triumphs of her generation.

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By Aleksandr Buzgalin, Moscow

People don’t write about their mothers in scholarly journals, or post about them on public e-lists. But I’m doing so. I’m doing this because someone has died whose life reflected the best elements in the world of true communists, just as the ocean is reflected in a drop of water.

Nina Ivanovna Buzgalina was born on April 16, 1932, in the large Soviet family of the Shapovalovs. Her maternal grandfather was a revolutionary who began his struggle as a member of the populist People’s Will, and who later became one of the most active Bolsheviks and fighters for Soviet power in Central Asia. After his death Nina Ivanovna’s grandmother was the centre of a huge family, or rather, commune, made up of her numerous children and their families. In 1941 all my mother’s uncles and aunts set off as one for the war front, as volunteers. Almost all of them perished.

My mother’s parents were members of the professional military. Her mother was severely wounded in the fighting outside Moscow in 1941, and after several years of illness, died in Nina Ivanovna’s arms. My mother’s father, Yan Adamovich Rotkevich, had been jailed during the purges, and it was only with the outbreak of war that he was allowed to return to duty. In 1944 he became an officer in the Polish Forces, but the family was told that he had vanished without a trace. Only after the victory did my mother learn that her father was alive.

At the age of 10 Nina Ivanovna was left alone with her sick mother and paralysed grandmother. Adding several years to her age, she went to work, first in a factory and then as a hospital nurse. Later she would tell me about those years, with warmth for the people involved but without concealing the problems, immersing me from childhood in a world in which the main characters were people for whom serving the homeland and communism, genuine comradeship and a sense of duty, human warmth and self-sacrifice, were not empty words but life itself. And there were also her stories – always containing a vision of the reverse side of the coin as well − of dull-witted philistine indifference.

After the war she accompanied her father to Poland, where without hesitation she joined in combating fascist remnants and bandit gangs. She fought alongside comrades of the Polish Komsomol organisation, which she joined immediately on arriving in Poland, side by side with a remarkable man, Roman Kon, a legend of the Polish anti-fascist movement. They went through hell, enduring the death of comrades, but they knew they were correct. I also know they were correct, and that they did not fight in vain. My comrades and I inhabit the traditions of that struggle.

Next came Moscow, and brilliant studies in the biology faculty of Moscow State University, where the end of her final year found her in love with my father, Vladimir Nikolaevich Buzgalin. Together with him – he was an officer and constructor, one of the many builders of the military rocket complexes – she travelled about the entire country, from the southern steppes to the Northern Urals. She did not work in her area of specialisation, but applying her talents became the centre and soul of cultural circles in the little military settlements, where – and I remember this well – there was always poetry, music and uninhibited discussion on all sorts of topics, on the meaning of life, on love and politics. Invariably, there was the spirit of comradeship. This was not ideal, and had its contradictions, but it was genuine.

In Moscow, where my father was transferred to the central administration of the Ministry of Defence, my mother worked on the trade union committee of the Ministry of Construction. Once again she was the very soul of this collective. Accompanying her as an adolescent, I came to understand both what work in the public arena was all about, and that people can find this work genuinely interesting and necessary to them.

After a heart attack forced her to give up work, she and I studied together in the faculty of economics of Moscow State University, where she had encouraged me to enrol. And we really did study together, thinking over problems of the future of humanity (these weren’t exalted terms for us, but the challenge we saw before us in life). We did this together, aloud, even on the beach, reading the economic and philosophical manuscripts of Karl Marx and the Science of Logic of Hegel, the science fiction novels of Yefremov and the poems of Lermontov.

Together with her, I made my way for the first time to the Hermitage Museum and the Great Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonic, and with her I came to understand the beauty of real music and the quiet of Baltic sunsets.

It was a joy to discuss weighty matters on a Moscow tram with her, while chewing a hunk of fresh bread and washing it down with milk. And it was a joy to sing revolutionary songs together, the songs with which I grew up: “Shchors, the Red commander, goes beneath the banner …”

She was a highly intelligent woman, my mother, complex and perceptive, and very exacting. Surrounding her there were always people who needed advice, help or support. But she always had her own firm position, and stood by it to the end. So it was no accident that she helped me acquire a friend. In my first year at Moscow State University Andrey Kolganov and I became close comrades and friends, and Andrey very rapidly became a member of our family. My parents accepted him as their own, and since that time he has been both friend and brother to me. To my mother as well, he was particularly close.

My mother took great delight in our successes, my own, those of Andrey, of my wife Lyudmila Bulavka and of all our comrades in the “Alternatives” group. She was overjoyed that we were continuing the cause of her relatives, friends and departed comrades, the cause to which she and my father devoted their whole lives, the cause of communism. She loved us very much. For decades we lived in an atmosphere of warmth and love, of the warmth and love my mother and father bestowed on us.

But there was something else I always knew: that in my world and my country there were enemies, and people who were indifferent, who had no convictions whatever. It has been my life and fate, my duty and happiness, to continue as best I can the struggle for the realm of freedom. My mother and I were in a park on the outskirts of Leningrad, during my first university vacation, when we together discovered the lines from Volume III of Marx’s Capital that set out this concept. My mother loved that city a great deal, and throughout her last years, when she was already bedridden, she dreamt that we might once again go there together.

My mother was seriously ill for more than 20 years. After the hunger of the war years, the wounds she suffered in Poland, a heart attack and a stroke, she could barely move. But she lived, and inspired us all to live. My parents’ apartment became the headquarters of the Alternatives group, the home of the post-Soviet school of critical Marxism. And it will remain so, since my mother lives on. She will always be with us.