Yuri Piatakov

Yuri Piatakov

Yuri Piatakov, the son of Leonid Timofeyevich Piatakov, was born in Russia on 6th August, 1890. As a teenager he embraced anarchism but in 1910 he joined the Social Democratic Labour Party. A member of the Bolshevik faction he was sent to the Ukraine to help organize industrial workers.

While he was in Kiev he met Evgenia Bosh. According to Kathy Fairfax, the author of Comrades in Arms: Bolshevik Women in the Russian Revolution (1999): "In 1911 Bosh met Yuri Piatakov, who had come to reorganize the Kiev committee, and they soon fell in love. Together they shared the leadership of the Kiev committee and within a year had created an organisation of three local committees and 12 workers' circles. They were arrested in June 12 and after 18 months in prison, were exiled to Siberia."

In 1912 the couple escaped from Siberia and joined Lenin and his group of revolutionaries in Paris. Lenin was very impressed with Piatakov and described him as "undoubtedly a person of outstanding strength of purpose and abilities." However, under the influence of Bosh, the two men fell out on the "national question". As Kathy Fairfax points out: "With her Ukrainian experience Bosh felt that nationalism of proletarian internationalism while Lenin considered that the nationalism of the oppressed had a revolutionary potential, especially in the tsarist empire."

On 26th February 1917 Tsar Nicholas II ordered the Duma to close down. Members refused and they continued to meet and discuss what they should do. Michael Rodzianko, President of the Duma, sent a telegram to the Tsar suggesting that he appoint a new government led by someone who had the confidence of the people. When the Tsar did not reply, the Duma nominated a Provisional Government headed by Prince George Lvov. The High Command of the Russian Army now feared a violent revolution and on 28th February suggested that Tsar should abdicate in favour of a more popular member of the royal family. Attempts were now made to persuade Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich to accept the throne. He refused and on the 1st March, 1917, the Tsar abdicated leaving the Provisional Government in control of the country.

Prince Lvov allowed all political prisoners to return to their homes. Piatakov and Evgenia Bosh moved back to the Ukraine and headed the Kiev Military-Revolutionary Committee and led troops against the government of Alexander Kerensky. After the arrival of the Red Army Piatakov became minister of the interior in the new Soviet government in the Ukraine. Bosh became prime minister.

When Lenin took power he demobilized the army and announced that he planned to seek an armistice with Germany. In December, 1917, Leon Trotsky led the Russian delegation at Brest-Litovsk that was negotiating with representatives from Germany and Austria. Trotsky had the difficult task of trying to end Russian participation in the First World War without having to grant territory to the Central Powers. By employing delaying tactics Trotsky hoped that socialist revolutions would spread from Russia to Germany and Austria-Hungary before he had to sign the treaty.

After nine weeks of discussions without agreement, the German Army was ordered to resume its advance into Russia. On 3rd March 1918, with German troops moving towards Petrograd, Lenin ordered Trotsky to accept the terms of the Central Powers. The Brest-Litovsk Treaty resulted in the Russians surrendering the Ukraine, Finland, the Baltic provinces, the Caucasus and Poland.

Piatakov and Bosh were appalled by this decision and resigned from the government. They now joined the Red Army led by Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko who was operating in the eastern region of the Ukraine. As Kathy Fairfax, the author of Comrades in Arms: Bolshevik Women in the Russian Revolution (1999): "Despite the treaty, they attempted to halt the spread of the German occupation eastwards. It was a fruitless endeavour. For a month they harried the Germans along the railway lines east of Kiev, retreating until they reached Red-controlled territory."

During the Civil War Piatakov was the head of the Provisional Worker’s and Peasant’s Government formed by the Bolsheviks. Leon Trotsky admitted that Piatakov provided a good administration: "In the Ukraine he enjoyed considerable influence, not by accident but because he is a fairly well-educated Marxist, especially in the realm of economics, and is undoubtedly a good administrator with a reserve of will. In the early years Piatakov showed revolutionary energy, but it later changed to a bureaucratic conservatism".

In March 1919 he attended the 8th Congress of the Russian Communist Party, where he unsuccessfully opposed Lenin's position on national self determination. Lenin continued to have faith in Piatakov and in 1921 was placed in charge of the management of Donbass coal mining industry. The following year he was appointed as deputy Chairman of the Supreme Council of the National Economy of the Soviet Union.

In October 1923, Piatakov drafted a statement that was published under the name Platform of the 46 which criticized the economic policies of the party leadership and accused it of stifling the inner-party debate. It echoed the call made by Leon Trotsky, a week earlier, calling for a sharp change of direction by the party. The statement was also signed by Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, Andrey Bubnov, Ivan Smirnov, Lazar Kaganovich, Ivar Smilga, Victor Serge, Evgenia Bosh and thirty-eight other leading Bolsheviks.

It included the following passage: "The extreme seriousness of the position compels us (in the interests of our Party, in the interests of the working class) to state openly that a continuation of the policy of the majority of the Politburo threatens grievous disasters for the whole Party. The economic and financial crisis beginning at the end of July of the present year, with all the political, including internal Party, consequences resulting from it, has inexorably revealed the inadequacy of the leadership of the Party, both in the economic domain, and especially in the domain of internal Party, relations."

The document then went on to complain about the lack of debate in the Communist Party: "Similarly in the domain of internal party relations we see the same incorrect leadership paralyzing and breaking up the Party; this appears particularly clearly in the period of crisis through which we are passing. We explain this not by the political incapacity of the present leaders of the Party; on the contrary, however much we differ from them in our estimate of the position and in the choice of means to alter it, we assume that the present leaders could not in any conditions fail to be appointed by the Party to the out-standing posts in the workers’ dictatorship. We explain it by the fact that beneath the external form of official unity we have in practice a one-sided recruitment of individuals, and a direction of affairs which is one-sided and adapted to the views and sympathies of a narrow circle. As the result of a Party leadership distorted by such narrow considerations, the Party is to a considerable extent ceasing to be that living independent collectivity which sensitively seizes living reality because it is bound to this reality with a thousand threads."

Isaac Deutscher, the author of Stalin (1949) has argued: "Among the signatories were: Piatakov, one of the two ablest leaders of the young generation mentioned in Lenin's testament, Preobrazhensky and Serebriakov, former secretaries of the Central Committee, Antonov-Ovseenko, the military leader of the October revolution, Srnirnov, Osinsky, Bubnov, Sapronov, Muralov, Drobnis, and others, distinguished leaders in the civil war, men of brain and character. Some of them had led previous oppositions against Lenin and Trotsky, expressing the malaise that made itself felt in the party as its leadership began to sacrifice first principles to expediency. Fundamentally, they were now voicing that same malaise which was growing in proportion to the party's continued departure from some of its first principles. It is not certain whether Trotsky directly instigated their demonstration." Lenin commented that Piatakov might be "very able but not to be relied upon in a serious political matter".

It was now clear that Joseph Stalin was the dominant force in the government. Evgenia Bosh now withdrew from active politics and devoted her time to writing a history of the Russian Revolution in the Ukraine. Her biographer, Kathy Fairfax, argues: "Her work was harshly critical of much of the Bolshevik leadership in the Ukraine in this period. The sombre mood of her book reflected her state of mind in 1924 as the NEP threw up new bourgeoise and careerist lawyers and the left opposition within the party was defeated by Stalin's bureaucratic-apparatus faction."

In January 1925, Bosh, was devastated by the news that Leon Trotsky had been removed from the leadership of the Red Army. Aware that Stalin was now in complete control of the Soviet Union, she decided to kill herself. Her friend, Evgeni Preobrazhensky wrote: "In her character she was made of that steel that is broken but not bent, but all these virtues were not cheap. She had to pay dearly, pay with her peace of mind, her health and her life."

Joseph Stalin now saw Piatakov as a major threat to his rule. In September 1926 Stalin threatened the expulsion of Piatakov, Leon Trotsky, Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev and Grigori Sokolnikov. On 4th October, these men signed a statement admitting that they were guilty of offences against the statutes of the party and pledged themselves to disband their party within the party. They also disavowed the extremists in their ranks who were led by Alexander Shlyapnikov. However, having admitted their offences against the rules of discipline, they "restated with dignified firmness their political criticisms of Stalin."

Stalin gradually removed them from power but Piatakov was allowed to return in 1929. Piatakov told Nikolai Valentinov: "For the Party's sake you can and must at 24 hours' notice change all your convictions and force yourself to believe that white is black." According to Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996): "Professions of repentance came pouring in, and Stalin graciously allowed the repentant leftists to return from exile. Piatakov, Smilga, Rakovsky, Beloborodov and other notables condemned Trotsky and came back into the Party. Their prestige and their energy were very helpful to Stalin in what historians would call the Year of the Great Turn."

Piatakov was rewarded by being appointed as Deputy Director of Heavy Industry where he served under Gregory Ordzhonikidze. He told Nikolai Yezhov that he was willing to "represent justice" at the trial of the supporters of Leon Trotsky. Clearly mentally unstable, he told him that he was willing to shoot his former wife, "the real enemy of the people" in order to show his loyalty to Joseph Stalin.

The first of what became known as show trials took place in August 1936, when Lev Kamenev, Gregory Zinoviev, Ivan Smirnov and thirteen other party members who had been critical of Stalin appeared in court. Piatakov accepted the post of chief witness "with all my heart." Max Shachtman pointed out: "The official indictment charges a widespread assassination conspiracy, carried on these five years or more, directed against the head of the Communist party and the government, organized with the direct connivance of the Hitler regime, and aimed at the establishment of a Fascist dictatorship in Russia. And who are included in these stupefying charges, either as direct participants or, what would be no less reprehensible, as persons with knowledge of the conspiracy who failed to disclose it?"

Soon after their execution, Piatakov was himself arrested. His boss, Gregory Ordzhonikidze is said to have tried to intercede with Stalin to secure Piatakov's freedom, but Nikolai Yezhov, the head of the NKVD, was able to show him details of a confession where he admitted being involved in a plot with Leon Trotsky to "overthrow the Bolshevik regime." According to Nickolai Bukharin, who was present, Ordzhonikidze was invited to a "confrontation" with the arrested Piatakov, where he asked his deputy whether his confessions were coerced or voluntary. Piatakov answered that they were completely voluntary.

In January, 1937, Piatakov, Karl Radek, Grigori Sokolnikov, and fifteen other leading members of the Communist Party were put on trial. They were accused of working with Leon Trotsky in an attempt to overthrow the Soviet government with the objective of restoring capitalism. Robin Page Arnot, a leading figure in the British Communist Party, wrote: "A second Moscow trial, held in January 1937, revealed the wider ramifications of the conspiracy. This was the trial of the Parallel Centre, headed by Piatakov, Radek, Sokolnikov, Serebriakov. The volume of evidence brought forward at this trial was sufficient to convince the most sceptical that these men, in conjunction with Trotsky and with the Fascist Powers, had carried through a series of abominable crimes involving loss of life and wreckage on a very considerable scale."

Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996) has pointed out: "After they saw that Piatakov was ready to collaborate in any way required, they gave him a more complicated role. In the 1937 trials he joined the defendants, those whom he had meant to blacken. He was arrested, but was at first recalcitrant. Ordzhonikidze in person urged him to accept the role assigned to him in exchange for his life. No one was so well qualified as Piatakov to destroy Trotsky, his former god and now the Party's worst enemy, in the eyes of the country and the whole world. He finally agreed I to do it as a matter of 'the highest expediency,' and began rehearsals with the interrogators."

One of the journalists covering the trial, Lion Feuchtwanger, commented: "Those who faced the court could not possibly be thought of as tormented and desperate beings. In appearance the accused were well-groomed and well-dressed men with relaxed and unconstrained manners. They drank tea, and there were newspapers sticking out of their pockets... Altogether, it looked more like a debate... conducted in conversational tones by educated people. The impression created was that the accused, the prosecutor, and the judges were all inspired by the same single - I almost said sporting - objective, to explain all that had happened with the maximum precision. If a theatrical producer had been called on to stage such a trial he would probably have needed several rehearsals to achieve that sort of teamwork among the accused."

Piatakov and twelve of the accused were found guilty and sentenced to death. Karl Radek and Grigori Sokolnikov were sentenced to ten years. Feuchtwanger commented that Radek "gave the condemned men a guilty smile, as though embarrassed by his luck." Maria Svanidze, who was later herself to be purged by Joseph Stalin wrote in her diary: "They arrested Radek and others whom I knew, people I used to talk to, and always trusted.... But what transpired surpassed all my expectations of human baseness. It was all there, terrorism, intervention, the Gestapo, theft, sabotage, subversion.... All out of careerism, greed, and the love of pleasure, the desire to have mistresses, to travel abroad, together with some sort of nebulous prospect of seizing power by a palace revolution. Where was their elementary feeling of patriotism, of love for their motherland? These moral freaks deserved their fate.... My soul is ablaze with anger and hatred. Their execution will not satisfy me. I should like to torture them, break them on the wheel, burn them alive for all the vile things they have done."

Yuri Piatakov was executed on 30th January, 1937.


Primary Sources

(1) David Shub, Lenin (1948)

Lenin was nursed by his sister Maria, while Krupskaya taught him to write with his left hand and to articulate words aloud. Her experience as a former teacher was very useful now and Lenin, like an apt schoolboy, exercised himself in reading and writing.

Driven by his indomitable will, Lenin's body made a terrific effort to recover its normal state. His brain, which had lost the faculty of associating letters with sound, gradually recovered. In the long winter nights he would lapse into a sort of pensive doze. At such moments he wanted to hear music. Piatakov, who was an excellent pianist, would be summoned and would play various selections by Chopin, Brahms and Bach. While playing, Piatakov often noticed that Lenin's face would completely change, become calm, simple and childishly earnest. The usual cunning gleam in his eyes disappeared entirely.

(2) Isaac Deutscher, Stalin (1949)

The triumvirs evaded the issues raised by Trotsky and charged him with malevolence, personal ambition, neglect of his duties in the Government, and so on. They accused him of trying to establish himself as Lenin's successor. This last charge was, in a sense, true, for the fight over the succession was inherent in the situation. Yet this as well as the other charges were beside the point, for the crisis in the party, as Trotsky diagnosed it, was a fact.

In the middle of this exchange forty-six prominent Communists issued a declaration the gist of which was identical with Trotsky's criticisms. Among the signatories were: Piatakov, one of the two ablest leaders of the young generation mentioned in Lenin's testament, Preobrazhensky and Serebriakov, former secretaries of the Central Committee, Antonov-Ovseenko, the military leader of the October revolution, Srnirnov, Osinsky, Bubnov, Sapronov, Muralov, Drobnis, and others, distinguished leaders in the civil war, men of brain and character. Some of them had led previous oppositions against Lenin and Trotsky, expressing the malaise that made itself felt in the party as its leadership began to sacrifice first principles to expediency. Fundamentally, they were now voicing that same malaise which was growing in proportion to the party's continued departure from some of its first principles. It is not certain whether Trotsky directly instigated their demonstration. So far he conducted his dispute with the triumvirs behind the closed doors of the Politbureau. The party at large was under the impression that he had all the time been whole-heartedly behind the official policy. He thus had the worst of both worlds: he had been burdened with responsibility for a policy to which he had been opposed; and he had done nothing to rally in time those who might have supported him.

(3) Yuri Piatakov, Platform of the 46 (October, 1923)

The extreme seriousness of the position compels us (in the interests of our Party, in the interests of the working class) to state openly that a continuation of the policy of the majority of the Politburo threatens grievous disasters for the whole Party. The economic and financial crisis beginning at the end of July of the present year, with all the political, including internal Party, consequences resulting from it, has inexorably revealed the inadequacy of the leadership of the Party, both in the economic domain, and especially in the domain of internal Party, relations.

The casual, unconsidered and unsystematic character of the decisions of the central committee, which has failed to make ends meet in the economic domain, has led to a position where, for all the undoubted great successes in the domain of industry, agriculture, finance and transport - successes achieved by the economy of the country spontaneously and not thanks to, but in spite of the inadequacy of, the leadership or, rather, the absence of all leadership - we not only face the prospect of a cessation of these successes, but also a grave economic crisis.

We face the approaching breakdown of the chervonets currency, which has spontaneously been transformed into a basic currency before the liquidation of the budget deficit; a credit crisis in which the State Bank can no longer without risk of a serious collapse finance either industry or trade in industrial goods or even the purchase of grain for export; a cessation of the sale of industrial goods as a result of high prices, which are explained on the one hand by the absence of planned organizational leadership in industry, and on the other hand by an incorrect credit policy; the impossibility of carrying out the programme of grain exports as a result of inability to purchase grain; extremely low prices for food products, which are damaging to the peasantry and threaten a mass contraction of agricultural production; inequalities in wage payments which provoke natural dissatisfaction among the workers with the budgetary chaos, which indirectly produces chaos in the state apparatus. ‘Revolutionary’ methods of making reductions in drawing up the budget and new and obvious reductions in carrying it out, have ceased to be transitional measures and become a regular phenomenon which constantly disturbs the state apparatus and, as a result of the absence of plan in the reductions effected, disturbs it in a casual and spontaneous manner.

These are some of the elements of the economic, credit and financial crisis which has already begun. If extensive, well-considered, planned and energetic measures are not taken forthwith, if the present absence of leadership continues, we face the possibility of an extremely acute economic breakdown, which will inevitably involve internal political complications and a complete paralysis of our external effectiveness and capacity for action. And this last, as everyone will understand, is more necessary to us now than ever; on it depends the fate of the world revolution and of the working class of all countries.

Similarly in the domain of internal party relations we see the same incorrect leadership paralyzing and breaking up the Party; this appears particularly clearly in the period of crisis through which we are passing.

We explain this not by the political incapacity of the present leaders of the Party; on the contrary, however much we differ from them in our estimate of the position and in the choice of means to alter it, we assume that the present leaders could not in any conditions fail to be appointed by the Party to the out-standing posts in the workers’ dictatorship. We explain it by the fact that beneath the external form of official unity we have in practice a one-sided recruitment of individuals, and a direction of affairs which is one-sided and adapted to the views and sympathies of a narrow circle. As the result of a Party leadership distorted by such narrow considerations, the Party is to a considerable extent ceasing to be that living independent collectivity which sensitively seizes living reality because it is bound to this reality with a thousand threads. Instead of this we observe the ever increasing, and now scarcely concealed, division of the party between a secretarial hierarchy and ‘quiet folk’, between professional party officials recruited from above and the general mass of the party which does not participate in the common life.

This is a fact which is known to every member of the Party. Members of the Party who are dissatisfied with this or that decision of the central committee or even of a provincial committee, who have this or that doubt on their minds, who privately note this or that error, irregularity or disorder, are afraid to speak about it at Party meetings, and are even afraid to talk about it in conversation, unless the partner in the conversation is thoroughly reliable from the point of view of ‘discretion’; free discussion within the party has practically vanished, the public opinion of the party is stifled. Nowadays it is not the Party, not its broad masses, who promote and choose members of the provincial committees and of the Central Committee of the RCP. On the contrary the secretarial hierarchy of the Party to an ever greater extent recruits the membership of conferences and congresses, which are becoming to an ever greater extent the executive assemblies of this hierarchy.

The régime established within the Party is completely intolerable; it destroys the independence of the Party, replacing the party by a recruited bureaucratic apparatus which acts without objection in normal times, but which inevitably fails in moments of crisis, and which threatens to become completely ineffective in the face of the serious events now impending.

(4) Robert Service, Stalin: A Biography (2004)

In lighting the match, Stalin did not necessarily have a predetermined plan any more than he had had one for economic transformation at the beginning of 1928. Although the victim-categories overlapped each other, there was no inevitability in his deciding to move against all of them in this small space of time. But the tinderbox had been sitting around in an exposed position. It was there to be ignited and Stalin, attending to all the categories one after another, applied the flame.

Trotsky's former ally Georgi Pyatakov had been arrested before Yezhov's promotion. Pyatakov had been working efficiently as Ordzhonikidze's deputy in the People's Commissariat of Heavy Industry. Ordzhonikidze, in discussions after the December 1936 Central Committee plenum, refused to believe the charges of terrorism and espionage laid against him. This was a battle Stalin had to win if he was to proceed with his campaign of repression. Pyatakov was placed under psychological pressure to confess to treasonous links with counter-revolutionary groups. He cracked. Brought out to an interview with Ordzhonikidze in Stalin's presence, he confirmed his testimony to the NKVD. In late January 1937 a second great show trial was held. Pyatakov, Sokolnikov, Radek and Serebryakov were accused of heading an Anti-Soviet Trotskyist Centre. The discrepancies in evidence were large but the court did not flinch from sentencing Pyatakov and Serebryakov to death while handing out long periods of confinement to Radek and Sokolnikov. Meanwhile Ordzhonikidze's brother had been shot on Stalin's instructions. Ordzhonikidze himself fell apart: he went off to his flat on 18 February 1937 after a searing altercation with Stalin and shot himself. There was no longer anyone in the Politburo willing to stand up to Stalin and halt the machinery of repression.

(5) John Archibald Getty and Oleg V. Naumov, The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939 (2010)

From the fall of 1936 the NKVD began to arrest economic officials, mostly of low rank, ostensibly in connection with various incidents of industrial sabotage. By the beginning of 1937 nearly a thousand persons working in economic commissariats were under arrest. The real bombshell, however, came in mid-September when Deputy Commissar of Heavy Industry Piatakov was arrested. Piatakov, a well-known former Trotskyist, had been under a cloud at least since July, when an NKVD raid on the apartment of his ex-wife turned up compromising materials on his Trotskyist activities ten years earlier. In August, Yezhov interviewed him and told him that he was being transferred to a position as head of a construction project. Piatakov protested his innocence, claiming that his only sin was in not seeing the counterrevolutionary activities of his wife. He offered to testify against Zinoviev and Kamenev and even volunteered to execute them personally, along with his ex-wife. (Yezhov declined the offer as "absurd.") During August, Piatakov wrote both to Stalin and Ordzhonikidze, protesting his innocence and referring to Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Trotsky as "rotten" and "base. None of this did him any good. He was expelled from the party on 11 September and arrested the next day.

As Sergo Ordzhonikidze's deputy at Heavy Industry, Piatakov was an important official with overall supervision over mining, chemicals, and other industrial operations. His arrest for sabotage and "terrorism" sent shock waves through the industrial establishment. Ordzhonikidze is said to have tried to intercede with Stalin to secure Piatakov's freedom, and he had been successful in protecting lower-level industrial cadres from NKVD harassment. This time, though, Stalin and Yezhov forwarded to him transcripts of Piatakov's interrogations in which the latter gradually confessed to economic "wrecking," sabotage, and collaboration with Zinoviev and Trotsky in a monstrous plot to overthrow the Bolshevik regime." According to Bukharin, who was present, Ordzhonikidze was invited to a "confrontation" with the arrested Piatakov, where he asked his deputy whether his confessions were coerced or voluntary. Piatakov answered that they were completely voluntary.

There are no documents attesting to Ordzhonikidze's protest. Aside from the account of his attendance at Piatakov's confrontation, we have only a couple of oblique references by Stalin and Molotov at the next plenum (February-March 1937) that Ordzhonikidze had been slow to recognize the guilt of some enemies. But there is no evidence that his intervention took the form of protest against the use of terror against party enemies; he was by no means a "liberal" in such matters. Ordzhonikidze, as far as we know, never complained about the measures against Zinoviev, Kamenev, Trotsky, Bukharin, Rykov, Tomsky, or any other oppositionist per se. His defense of "enemies" was a bureaucrat's defense of "his people," with whom he worked and whom he needed to make his organization function. From his point of view, Yezhov's depredations were improper only when they intruded into Ordzhonikidze's bailiwick, when they threatened the smooth fulfillment of the economic plans his organization answered for, and when they infringed on his circle of clients. As a card-carrying member of the upper nomenklatura, Ordzhonikidze was not against using terror against the elite's enemies, but he did fight to protect the patronage rights that he enjoyed as a member of that stratum.

(6) Lion Feuchtwanger, Moskva (1937)

Those who faced the court could not possibly be thought of as tormented and desperate beings. In appearance the accused were well-groomed and well-dressed men with relaxed and unconstrained manners. They drank tea, and there were newspapers sticking out of their pockets... Altogether, it looked more like a debate... conducted in conversational tones by educated people. The impression created was that the accused, the prosecutor, and the judges were all inspired by the same single - I almost said sporting - objective, to explain all that had happened with the maximum precision. If a theatrical producer had been called on to stage such a trial he would probably have needed several rehearsals to achieve that sort of teamwork among the accused.

(7) Edvard Radzinsky, Stalin (1996)

Piatakov had originally been invited to act as the main accuser at the trial of Zinoviev and Kamenev. He had consented, and got ready to slander his old comrades. It was, he said, a task which showed how great was the Party's trust in him, and he accepted it "with all my heart."

After they saw that Piatakov was ready to collaborate in any way required, they gave him a more complicated role. In the 1937 trials he joined the defendants, those whom he had meant to blacken. He was arrested, but was at first recalcitrant. Ordzhonikidze in person urged him to accept the role assigned to him in exchange for his life. No one was so well qualified as Piatakov to destroy Trotsky, his former god and now the Party's worst enemy, in the eyes of the country and the whole world. He finally agreed I to do it as a matter of "the highest expediency," and began rehearsals with the interrogators.

Alas, he found at the trial that he had been tricked. As scripted in the thriller, he informed the court that while visiting Berlin on business he had secretly met Trotsky in Norway. The Boss had made an exciting story of it: Piatakov had flown to Oslo in a German plane to establish contact with Trotsky, Trotsky had told him that he had concerted plans for intervention with the Germans (one of the Boss's favorite themes), etc., etc. Unfortunately, the personnel of the airport at which he was supposed to have landed announced that no foreign planes had touched down at that time....

It was simply that the play had such a great producer. And he had found such an excellent actor The producer thought very highly of him. The trial ended with sentences of death for Lenin's famous comrades-in-arms Piatakov, Serebryakov, Muralov, etc. Radek got ten years. And Radek "gave the condemned men a guilty smile, as though embarrassed by his luck," wrote Lion Feuchtwanger.

The Boss, however, after showing his gratitude to Radek for the trial, stuck to his original principle: the whole of the old guard must disappear. He needed neither clever Fouches, nor geniuses like Talleyrand. He needed only faithful servants. Faithful dogs. Radek too would be killed, in the prison camp to which he was sent.

(8) Maria Svanidze, diary entry (20th November, 1936)

They arrested Radek and others whom I knew, people I used to talk to, and always trusted.... But what transpired surpassed all my expectations of human baseness. It was all there, terrorism, intervention, the Gestapo, theft, sabotage, subversion.... All out of careerism, greed, and the love of pleasure, the desire to have mistresses, to travel abroad, together with some sort of nebulous prospect of seizing power by a palace revolution. Where was their elementary feeling of patriotism, of love for their motherland? These moral freaks deserved their fate.... Poor Kirov was the key that unlocked the door to this den of thieves. How can we have trusted this gang of scoundrels so blindly? It's beyond understanding... My soul is ablaze with anger and hatred. Their execution will not satisfy me. I should like to torture them, break them on the wheel, burn them alive for all the vile things they have done.

(9) Robin Page Arnot, The Labour Monthly (November 1937)

In December 1934 one of the groups carried through the assassination of Sergei Mironovich Kirov, a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Subsequent investigations revealed that behind the first group of assassins was a second group, an Organisation of Trotskyists headed by Zinoviev and Kamenev. Further investigations brought to light definite counter-revolutionary activities of the Rights (Bucharin-Rykov organisations) and their joint working with the Trotskyists. The group of fourteen constituting the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Centre were brought to trial in Moscow in August 1936, found guilty, and executed. In Siberia a trial, held in November, revealed that the Kemerovo mine had been deliberately wrecked and a number of miners killed by a subordinate group of wreckers and terrorists. A second Moscow trial, held in January 1937, revealed the wider ramifications of the conspiracy. This was the trial of the Parallel Centre, headed by Piatakov, Radek, Sokolnikov, Serebriakov. The volume of evidence brought forward at this trial was sufficient to convince the most sceptical that these men, in conjunction with Trotsky and with the Fascist Powers, had carried through a series of abominable crimes involving loss of life and wreckage on a very considerable scale. With the exceptions of Radek, Sokolnikov, and two others, to whom lighter sentences were given, these spies and traitors suffered the death penalty. The same fate was meted out to Tukhachevsky, and seven other general officers who were tried in June on a charge of treason. In the case of Trotsky the trials showed that opposition to the line of Lenin for fifteen years outside the Bolshevik Party, plus opposition to the line of Lenin inside the Bolshevik Party for ten years, had in the last decade reached its finality in the camp of counter-revolution, as ally and tool of Fascism.