The Secret History of Stalin’s Purge (61)

In 1931, Pidakov was appointed Deputy People’s Commissar of the Ministry of Heavy Industry. Stalin only gave him a deputy because he had been active in the Trotsky opposition in the late 1920s. It was for this reason that Stalin appointed Sherdan Orzhoniki as a commissar in the Ministry of Heavy Industry, even though the latter was poorly educated and knew nothing about finance and economic matters. As a result, the post of commissar of the people was a sham, and all the “socialist industrial commanders” and party workers in the country knew very well that the de facto leader of the Ministry of Heavy Industry and the soul of the country’s industrialization was Pydakov. Orzhonich himself was fully aware of this fact. And recognize it. He often said to Mr. Pydakov, “What can I say? As you know, I am neither an engineer nor an economist. Although you think it is a good plan, I will sign it in person with both hands and fight for it with you in the Politburo.”

Moreover, Stalin’s treatment of Pidakov was, on the surface at least, much softer than that of the other former opposition leaders. Stalin knew that Pydakov was indispensable to the industrialisation programme, which was at the heart of the “general party line”. So even if Stalin was displeased with him, he never said so openly. Instead, he always tried to accommodate him, even though he planned to slit his throat once he had squeezed him dry.

Mr Pidakov has a reputation for probity both inside and outside the party. He and his family had been living in two small rooms in an old, deserted building on Gneznikov Street. Pidakov never enjoyed privilege, and his family lived paycheck to paycheck. Stalin knew this. In an effort to woo the Pidakovs, Stalin one day (in 1931), while the Pidakovs were at work, ordered the People’s Commissioners Administration to move their son and a few poor possessions into a new dormitory building. Pidakov was unfazed by Stalin’s ingratiation in his spacious and opulent new home. True, Pidakov had long since broken away from the opposition, but he had stubbornly refused to attack his former kindred spirits, let alone to cozy up to Stalin.

Pidakov, who was accused by some former opposition members of joining Stalin’s camp, vehemently denied it and said he merely wanted to stay out of politics. At one point, in a conversation with a cadre of opposition members, Mr. Pidakov said; ‘The only thing that interests me now is whether I can make sure I have enough money in the Treasury! This happened in 1929, when Mr. Pidakov was appointed chairman of the National Banking Regulatory Commission. Stalin knew all this, but through his Interior Ministry agents he also learned that Pydakov had told several friends:

“I do not deny that Stalin was an untalented man, and not the kind of man who could lead the party; But now the situation is that if we continue to oppose Stalin, we will end up in a much worse situation than we are now, because then we will have to obey Kaganovich’s leadership. But I’m not going to take orders from Kaganovitch any time now!”

Stalin could never forgive this assessment of Pydakov. But he was patient and good at waiting. He also had to bear with it for a long time, because to industrialise the country, it was hard to train a cadre of skilled professionals capable of sustaining rapid industrial growth. Stalin waited eight years. At the end of 1936, he finally ordered Agoda to arrest Pydakov.

Pidakov and I are old friends. We’ve known each other since 1924. At that time, he was in charge of the State Economic Commission, and I was deputy director of the Economic Sub-Bureau of the State Administration of Political Security, and I had regular contact with his department. In addition, as Inspector General, I was a member of the secretive “Judicial Committee” headed by Pidakov. This “Judicial Committee” was established in 1924 by decision of the Politburo to investigate cases against the leaders of the various industrial authorities. The Commission has the power to decide whether to refer a particular leader’s case to the court or to impose only administrative sanctions on the basis of productive or other needs.

Mr Pydakov’s most striking feature is his lack of a private life. He doesn’t belong to himself at all: he goes to work by 11 a.m. and doesn’t leave the office until 3 a.m. His working hours are always full. Too busy to eat more than two or three lunches a week. He was very thin from the strain of work and malnutrition. His face was pale and sickly. With a few thin yellowish whiskers and a long, thin figure, he looked like a Russian Don Gijord. As far as I can remember, he always wore a cheap, poorly made suit. He shopped for cheap clothes and wore them for years. I do not know why, the clothes to his body always seem to be very small, the sleeves are pitifully short.

One year, Pydakov visited Germany, where he made a 50 million mark deal for the Soviet Union, but he stayed in a small hotel and asked for the cheapest room. The German managers who did business with Pidakov couldn’t understand why this famous, financially powerful member of the Soviet government was dressed worse than the junior members of their private companies.

Pidakov had a family, but his family life was not easy. His wife, like him, was a party member, but she was untidy, hardly concerned about housework and particularly fond of drinking. It was a strange thing: Mr. Pidakov needed an urgent business trip out of town or abroad, but when he didn’t have a clean shirt at home, he had to borrow two from his secretary, Korya Moskalev. To make matters worse for Mr. Moskalev and his wife, Mr. Pidakov often forgot about returning the shirts when he returned from business trips, and in the last few years, he effectively divorced his wife. However, they remained very good friends and even exchanged frequently. It was all because of his love for his only son, Pidakov, who was on trial for a year. Their son was only ten years old.

Nikolai Moskalev was Pidakov’s most trusted aide and friend. This is a pretty nice guy. He was thirty-five years old in 1937, and had been working with Pydakov for five years. Moskalev loved the leader so much that he was so close to Pidakov that his wife felt resentful at the mere mention of him: she was jealous.