This is not the place for an examination of he purges which devastated the Soviet Union in the 1930’s, and their impact on the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The aim of this introduction is very limited. It is to give a brief account of the last known public episode of Lev Kamenev, who together with Grigori Zinoviev was the principal actor in the first of the great and tragic trials of 1936–1938.

Stalin moved to destroy Zinoviev and Kamenev before settling his accounts with the other Old Bolsheviks, because these two stood closest to Lenin at many crucial periods in the history of the Bolshevik Party. One incident alone will serve to show how close Lenin felt to Kamenev. When the Kerensky Government launched its bitter attack on Lenin in July 1917, and the Central Committee of the party decided that Lenin must go into hiding, he went with Zinoviev. But before he left, preoccupied with the fate of his then unpublished book ‘The State and the Revolution’ (which he considered his most important theoretical contribution to Marxism) Lenin wrote the following note to Kamenev, appointing him in effect literary executor for the book—no mean honour.

‘Entre nous: in case I am killed, I will ask you to publish my notebook: “Marxism on the State” (left behind in Stockholm). A blue cover, bound. All the quotations from Marx and Engels are in it, as well as from Kautsky against Pannekoek. There are a number of notes and remarks and some formulations. I think that it will only take a week to publish the book. I consider it important that not merely Plekhanov but also Kautsky confused matters. One condition: this absolutely entre nous!’

When Lenin was 50 in 1920 the Central Committee decided to publish the first collected editions of his works, and Kamenev was asked to edit them. He had established a major reputation before the Revolution as an authority on Alexander Herzen and as a bibliographer of social-democratic literature. In 1916 his book on ‘Imperialism’ expounded theses similar to Lenin’s, independently of Lenin’s work (Kamenev was in Russia at the time, and Lenin in Switzerland). Fittingly, his edition of Lenin’s works met the highest standards of European scholarship.

Lenin had considered that the opposition of Zinoviev and Kamenev to the October Insurrection was not ‘accidental’, but in spite of this and their various disagreements in the past, he afterwards urged that their opposition of that time ‘ought as little to be used against them personally as the non-Bolshevism of Trotsky’. It was he who had moved that both men should hold leading positions in the Soviet Party and Government after the Revolution, and it was he who nominated Zinoviev to be head of the Comintern, and Kamenev to be First Deputy Chairman of the People’s Commissars, under himself.

After his death, Zinoviev and Kamenev were drawn into ephemeral alliance with Stalin, but by 1924 they had joined the ranks of the Opposition. And in 1925, at the 14th Party Congress, at the height of the controversy between Stalin and the Opposition, it was Kamenev who uttered the sharpest warning against the danger of what became known after the 20th Congress as the cult of personality.

‘We are opposed to the theory of a leader; we are against the making of a leader. We are opposed to the secretariat’s practice of combining both politics and organisation and placing itself above the political organs of the Party. We cannot consider it as normal, we think it harmful to the Party that a situation should continue in which the secretariat combines politics and organisation, and in fact decides policy in advance.’ He concluded his warning with the following words: