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Leon Trotsky 19380307 The Role of Yagoda

Leon Trotsky: The Role of Yagoda

March 7, 1938

    [Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-1938, New York 1970, p. 227-230]

Perhaps the most fantastic element in the entire series of Moscow judicial phantasmagoria is the inclusion of Henry G. Yagoda, for many years head of the GPU, as a "conspirator" in the Trotskyist-Bukharinist center. Anything could have been expected, but not this.

Stalin had to maneuver the Political Bureau for a long time before he succeeded in making the hated Yagoda, his most trusted henchman, head of the GPU. The struggle against all factions of the Opposition had been concentrated in Yagoda's hands since 1923. He was not only the privy executor of all the falsifications and frame-ups, but also the organizer of the first executions of the Oppositionists back in 1929: Blumkin, Silov, and Rabinovich.

In the pages of the Biulleten Oppozitsii, edited by the late Leon Sedov in Paris, the name of Yagoda is recorded again and again with approximately the same bitter indignation as once in revolutionary publications the name of the chief of the czarist Okhrana, Zubarev, was.

Yagoda himself, hand in hand with Prosecutor Andrei Vyshinsky, prepared all the sensational trials since the assassination of Sergei M. Kirov, including the trial of Gregory Zinoviev and Leon Kamenev in August 1936. Systematized, breast-beating confessions will go down in history as the invention of Henry Yagoda. If someone were to say that Joseph Goebbels was an agent of Pope Pius, it would sound considerably less absurd than the assertion that Yagoda is the agent of Trotsky.

But the fact is that for the new judicial structure Yagoda was needed not as architect, but as material. The fate of the all-powerful chief of the secret police was weighed and disposed where all such questions are decided: Stalin's private study. Yagoda was tabbed to occupy a certain place in the trial, as is a pawn in a chess strategy. One problem remained, to force upon him acceptance of the role assigned. But this was the smallest difficulty.

In the first months following Yagoda's arrest there was heard not even a whisper of his complicity in the conspiracy of Marshal Mikhail N. Tukhachevsky, the Trotskyists, and the Rightists. Neither Yagoda nor public opinion had yet matured for this development, nor was there yet any certainty that Vyshinsky would be able to exhibit his new client to the public.

The first accusations given currency by the Soviet and world press against Yagoda listed: licentious manner of living; embezzlement of funds; wild orgies. Were these accusations true? Concerning Yagoda, one is justified in making full allowance for such possibilities. Careerist, cynic, petty despot – he was surely not a model of virtue in his personal life. This picture is completed by adding that, if he permitted vicious instincts to rule his life to criminal limits, it was only because he was convinced of his complete impunity. What is more to the point, his mode of life was known for a long time to everyone in Moscow, including Stalin.

Indeed, all information impugning the private lives of high Soviet functionaries is gathered by Stalin with scientific meticulousness, and is the basis for a special archive brought to light piecemeal, as dictated by the degree of political necessity. The hour struck when it became necessary to break Yagoda's moral fiber. This was done by scandalous disclosures regarding his private life.

Following these body blows, the former head of the GPU for several months was faced with this alternative – to be shot as an embezzler of government funds, or possibly save his life as an alleged conspirator. Yagoda made his choice and was included among the twenty-one on trial. And at last the world learned that Yagoda shot Trotskyists only to "camouflage" his real feelings; actually, he was their ally and agent.

But to whom and why was it necessary to add so improbable and compromising a complication to the juridical amalgam, already so confused without it? Yagoda's name among the defendants is too fantastic a phenomenon to be explained away by generalities. There must have been a reason so all-encompassing, direct, and acute as to force Stalin not to be stopped even before the prospect of transforming his number one agent into an agent of Trotsky. This reason is now disclosed by Yagoda himself.

According to his own words (at the session of March 5), he had ordered his subordinates in Leningrad, of course "under the instructions of Trotsky," not to hinder the terrorist act against Kirov. Deriving from the chief of the GPU such orders were tantamount to saying that the assassination of Kirov be organized.

The most natural supposition: Yagoda assumed the onus for a crime with which he had no connection. Then why and for whom was the sincere or false confession of the former head of the GPU necessary?

Let us recall briefly the most important facts. Kirov was killed December 1, 1934, by the then unknown Leonid Nikolayev The trial of the assassin and his alleged accomplices was held behind closed doors. All the fourteen defendants were shot. From the text of the sentence, partially published in the Soviet press, it was learned that a Latvian consul, George Bissenieks, gave Nikolayev 5,000 rubles in payment for the terrorist act, demanding from him in exchange some sort of "letter from Trotsky."

On December 30, 1934, I stated with assurance in the press that Bissenieks was an agent of Yagoda (Biulleten Oppozitsii, January 19, 1935). I did not then, nor do I now, offer the explanation that the GPU actually meant to assassinate Kirov. What was intended was the preparation of a "conspiracy" involving the Opposition and especially myself, and at the last moment the disclosure of an attempt at assassination. Within less than a month, this hypothesis proved to be officially confirmed.

The military tribunal, on January 23, 1935, sentenced twelve responsible Leningrad officials of the GPU, headed by their chief, Medved, to prison terms ranging from two to ten years. The exact wording of the published sentence was as follows: "They possessed information concerning the preparations for the attempt on Kirov . . . but they displayed . . . criminal carelessness (!)... and failed to take the necessary measures."

Greater candor could not be asked. "Criminal carelessness" signifies nothing less than the direct participation of the GPU in the assassination of Kirov. And with the role of Bissenieks in mind, it becomes even clearer that Nikolayev was but an instrument in the hands of official agents provocateurs. But this instrument turned out to be self-willed. For personal reasons, Nikolayev took his job seriously, made use of the auspicious moment, and shot Kirov before Yagoda succeeded in getting a "letter from Trotsky."

The driving necessity to publish the information for worldwide attention that the twelve responsible agents of the GPU knew in advance about the plot hatching for the assassination of Kirov can be explained only by the fact that it was necessary at any cost for certain very high officials to establish their alibis.

The circumstances that surrounded the assassination of Kirov could not help calling forth whispering among the gentry in the top government circles to the effect that, in the struggle against the Opposition, "the leader" was beginning to toy with the heads of his closest collaborators. Not a single informed person doubted that Medved, chief of the Leningrad GPU, had daily reported to Yagoda on the progress of operations as Yagoda had reported to Stalin, and received from him instructions.

To lay these extremely dangerous rumors to rest, there was nothing to do but sacrifice the Leningrad executors of the Moscow-hatched plan.

On January 26, 1935, I wrote: "Without the direct agreement of Stalin – more precisely, without his initiative – neither Yagoda nor Medved would have decided to mount such a risky enterprise" ["Everything Gradually Falls into Place," in Writings 34-35].

Kirov's death became the point of departure for the systematic extermination of the Old Bolshevik generation. But the more trials the GPU staged around Kirov's corpse, the more insistently clamored in all minds the question: Who benefits from all this? The extermination of the old guard is a manifest and conspicuous political aim of Stalin. The Moscow leaders thus did not doubt for a moment that Yagoda couldn't act without instructions from Stalin.

The suspicion spread in even broader circles, resolving into certainty. It became absolutely necessary for Stalin to disown Yagoda, to dig between himself and Yagoda a deep ditch, and, if possible, throw the corpse of Yagoda into this ditch.

It would be possible to furnish dozens of supplementary facts, quotations, and considerations (now in the archives of the John Dewey commission) irrefutably confirming our conclusion. The assassination of Kirov was nothing more than a by-product of a police amalgam concocted by Stalin and Yagoda in order to accuse the Opposition leaders of terrorism.

To camouflage this collaboration, Stalin tried first to abandon to public opinion only his secondary agents (Medved and others), but the piling up of revelations and the inner logic of the facts themselves forced Stalin finally to sacrifice his ace collaborator.

Thus can the deepest riddle in the present trial be comprehended: the testimony of the former head of the GPU that he participated in the assassination of Kirov "on instructions from Trotsky." Whoever understands this, the most hidden of all springs in the trial, can understand all the rest without difficulty.