Grigorii Yevseyevich Zinoviev (Григорий Евсеевич Зиновьев 1883-1936)

An old Bolshevik and one of the Russian Revolution's major figures, Grigorii Zinoviev was described by Anatoly Lunacharsky as one of the "most remarkable orators on the international scene". Looking at him, you would not expect this. Indeed, Lunacharsky's first impression was of a "fat young man, pale and sickly", not the kind of person one would expect to be one of Lenin's closest collaborators. However, despite being a great speaker he was, according to Trotsky, "nothing else". He managed to earn the enmity of both Trotsky and Gorky and his opportunism would eventually lead to his downfall and execution after the Trial of the Sixteen, which found him guilty of treason.

The Young Radomylsky

Born Ovsel Radomylsky on the 23rd of September 1883, he was the son of a family of Jewish dairy farmers who lived in Yelizavetgrad (later renamed Zinovievsk). He received no formal schooling and was educated at home. At the age of 14 he began work as a clerk.

After taking an active part in strikes during 1900 and 1901, Radomylsky joined the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party, becoming involved in trade union activities. This led to persecution by the police and so he was driven abroad, living in Berlin before moving to Paris and then Switzerland. Whilst staying there in 1903, Radomylsky met Lenin and George Plekhanov. In the autumn, he attended the Second Party Congress in London, which became the scene of the schism between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. He joined the former. He returned to Russia, becoming involved in the publication of Iskra, but health problems lead to him returning to Switzerland in 1904, where he studied Chemistry at Berne University. He and Kazakov wrote a letter to Lunacharsky, who at the time was one of a minority of Bolsheviks residing in Geneva. It was from the subsequent meeting that Lunacharsky derived his first impressions of Radomylsky, who continued to contribute to Bolshevik journals in Russia, despite his absence.

The inter-revolution years

At the outbreak of the 1905 Revolution, Radomylsky returned to Russia. He helped to organise the general strike in St. Petersburg but was once again taken ill with heart problems and so went back to Switzerland to recover. Arriving in Russia once again in March 1906, he started to work under the name Grigorii Zinoviev. His revolutionary work included agitating the St. Petersburg metal workers who appointed him as their delegate to the Fifth Party Congress, held in London in May 1907, where he was elected as one of the six members of the Central Committee.

In 1908, Zinoviev was arrested by the Okhrana but was released without charge. He moved to Geneva out of fear of being re-arrested and began his close collaboration with Lenin and Kamenev, working on the newspaper Proletary and also helping to organise the publication of Zvezda and Pravda back in St. Petersburg. He also co-wrote several articles with Lenin, including "Socialism and the War" in 1915 and "Against the Current" in 1916. A staunch supporter of Lenin, Zinoviev supported a formal split between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks at Sixth Party Congress in 1912 and was elected to the new all-Bolshevik Central Committee. In the same year, Zinoviev, Lenin and Kamenev moved to Krakow but retreated to Switzerland two years later because of the outbreak of the First World War. Zinoviev became an internationalist, opposing the war, and attended the Zimmerwald conference which called for a general strike in opposition to the war.


After the February Revolution, the three returned to Russia and Zinoviev became editor of Pravda. Like many leading Bolsheviks, Zinoviev opposed Lenin's April Theses which called for seizure of power from the Provisional Government, but he was one of a minority who maintained this view. He opposed a demonstration of Soviet power on the 10th of June, on his belief that the party lacked mass support for what would be a call for the seizure of power. In July, he became the only person who stayed with Lenin when he went into hiding in fear of his safety, the "July days".

A People's Revolution, p434
One true incident during this summer, although it hardly spoke of Lenin's courage, took place in a village near Sestoretsk on the Gulf of Finland, where Lenin and Zinoviev spent several weeks sleeping in the hay loft of a party worker. One day they saw two men with guns approaching them and assumed they were the police coming to arrest them. The two leaders of the world revolution dived for cover into a haystack. "The only thing left to do now", Lenin whispered to Zinoviev, "is to die and honourable death." The strangers, however, walked right past: it turned out that they were hunting for ducks

Zinoviev was not noted for his courageous behaviour. He did, however, make a stand against Lenin over the October Revolution. In the Central Committee on the 10th of October, he and Kamenev were the only open opponents of a Bolshevik insurrection before a meeting of the Soviet Congress. They published articles calling for restraint for which Lenin denounced them as "strike breakers", calling for their expulsion from the party. On the 4th of November he resigned from the Central Committee in protest against Lenin's exclusion of other political parties (namely the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionary Party) from power. Four days later, in a gesture typical of him, he recanted and returned to the committee. Lenin did not forget his rebellion and Zinoviev was deprived of a place in the Council of People's Commissars, the legislative body of the Soviet government. However, this did not prevent him from becoming a principal figure of the revolution. In February of 1917 he'd been elected Chairman of the Council of Commissars of Petrograd Worker's Commune and in March he was elected to the same position for the Northern Region.

The Post-Revolution Politician

Zinoviev continued to support Lenin, one of only five Central Committee members allied with Lenin against the Left Communists. In March 1919, Zinoviev became a candidate member of the Politburo (becoming a full member at the Tenth Congress in 1921) and, at the founding of Comintern, he was elected as Chairman of the Executive Committee (that is, the guy in charge), predicting that "in a year, the whole of Europe will be Communist". The lack of international revolution did not stop him from making various revolutionary efforts in his role, including instigating the March Action in Germany in 1921 with Bela Kun, an attempt at Communist revolution.

Power corrupted Zinoviev. In September 1919, Lenin received a report from the workers' section of the Petrograd Soviet. It said that the "hungry workers" were afraid to confront Zinoviev, the party boss in Petrograd, about the perceived inequalities between them and the "Soviet Tsars" (whose wives, in his own words, walked "with a jeweller's shop-window hanging round their necks") because he was "surrounded by henchmen who threaten the workers when they ask too many questions". As well as his Chekist bodyguards he was followed by a group of prostitutes.

1919, one of the Russian Civil War years, would provide another embarrassing moment for Zinoviev. On the 16th of October, General Yudenich's North-Western Army was in the process of a final push to Petrograd. This created panic amongst the Red Army. Lenin wanted to abandon Petrograd to concentrate on the Southern Front but eventually dispatched Trotsky to take control of its defence since Zinoviev had retreated to a sofa in the Smolny Institute. This is not the only evidence of a tendency to panic. In 1921, faced with the anti-Bolshevik revolt which would lead to the Kronstadt sailors' mutiny, Zinoviev was placed in charge of a Committee of Defense, which took charge when Petrograd was placed under martial law on the 25th of February. He made a hysterical appeal, promising the workers an improved economic situation. After the Kronstadt sailors had been imprisoned on the 17th of March, Zinoviev ordered 500 of them shot without trial. When Lenin, in response to Gorky's outrage, demanded an explanation from Zinoviev, he had a heart attack. Gorky claimed it was a fake.

Zinoviev and Gorky's mutual hatred stemmed from the years of the Red Terror. Zinoviev saw Gorky's home as a "nest of counter-revolutionaries", had his mail opened and his house searched. Gorky targeted many of his denunciations of the Bolshevik party at Zinoviev, although from Lenin's responses it seems that it was he who directed Zinoviev's policies.

The Triumvirate

(Or how Zinoviev fucked it up)

Zinoviev had a similar hatred of Trotsky, opposing him in policy at almost every opportunity. This was one of his motives for forming the Triumvirate with Stalin and Kamenev, hoping to use Stalin in order to gain power of the party after Lenin's death and to keep it from Trotsky. This is when Zinoviev would reach the peak of his power and he took the opportunity to ruin Trotsky. In 1923, at the Twelfth Party Congress, Zinoviev began a whispering campaign against Trotsky, suggesting that "he imagines himself a Bonaparte". In 1924, in response to Trotsky's increasing opposition to the Triumvirate, Zinoviev demanded that the Politburo sanction his expulsion from the party, after they had already ruled against his "factionalism". Stalin, always the voice of moderation in such matters and aware that Trotsky was already ruined, refused but had him dismissed as War Commissar in 1925, followed by his removal from the Politburo in 1926.

With Trotsky gone, Stalin turned the tables on Zinoviev and Kamenev, siding with the right-wing members of the Politburo such as Bukharin and Rykov and openly attacking the idea of an international revolution, attempting to make "socialism in one country" official party policy in 1925. This left Zinoviev and Kamenev in a sticky situation. They were supporters of Trotsky's theory that without revolution in other countries, the USSR would be overthrown by hostile, capitalist invasion. They argued against Stalin at the Fourteenth Party Congress, but the congress simply increased Stalin and Bukharin's power over the Central Committee, which began to oppose the "Leningrad Opposition". At this point, Zinoviev and Kamenev realised that Stalin had just used them to remove Trotsky, but Zinoviev was too proud to side with Trotsky until the summer, when they formed the United Opposition. He was expelled from the Politburo, Central Committee and Comintern and he and Kamenev were forced to sign a statement promising not to oppose official policy. Trotsky refused and was sent to Kazakhstan.


In 1928, Zinoviev recanted, as he had done with Lenin. He did not do much, issuing the occasional denunciation of the Left Opposition. During collectivization, he and Kamenev began to discuss the dangers of the policy. In 1932, the Party Control Commission, part of one of Stalin's purges, expelled Zinoviev from the party for being a member of a Riutin-led counter-revolutionary group and possessing a copy of the Riutin Appeal without informing authorities.

The following year, Zinoviev and Kamenev once again apologised and were readmitted into the party. In 1934, as part of Stalin's reconciliation with the party before the Great Purge, they were allowed some semblance of a political life, making occasional contributions to Pravda and Zinoviev was listed as being a member of the editorial board of Bol'shevik for several successive issues. At the Seventeenth Party Congress, Zinoviev took the opportunity to lavish praise upon Stalin for his presidency over successful socialist construction.

None of this would help. In December 1934, Zinoviev was accused of heading a "Moscow centre" of terrorists who inspired Leningrad oppositionists responsible for the assassination of Sergei Kirov. He was arrested by the 16th, referred to the NKVD Special Board with a suggestion of exile. 'Exposed' as a dvurushnik, a two-faced member of the opposition who pretended to be a loyal supporter of the party with the intention of "wrecking" it, Zinoviev was tried in secret in January 1935 and sentenced to 10 years in exile.

In 1936, Zinoviev was accused of organising a Trotskyist-Zinovievist Terrorist Centre which had plotted to murder Stalin and other Soviet leaders, conspiring with the fascist Gestapo. Held in the October Hall of the House of Unions, the Trial of the Sixteen saw Zinoviev confess to the crime on the understanding his life would be spared. He was found guilty and executed in the Lubianka prison on the 25th of August 1936. According to Anastas Mikoyan, the following exchange occurred:

Stalin In Power, p373
Zinoviev shouted, "This is a fascist coup!" Kamenev said: "Stop it Grisha. Be quiet. Let's die with dignity." The last words were Zinoviev's: "No! This is exactly what Mussolini did. He killed all his Socialist Party comrades when he seized power in Italy. Before my death I must state plainly that what has happened in our country is a fascist coup."

Cyrillic from Using Russian on E2
Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 ISBN: 071267327X
Robert C. Tucker, Stalin in Power - The Revolution from Above, 1928-1941 ISBN: 0393308693

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