Zinoviev, Grigory Yevseyevich

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(18831936), Bolshevik revolutionary leader and associate of Lenin who after 1917 became first an ally, then rival, of Stalin and later fell victim to the Great Purge.

Grigory Yevseyevich Zinoviev was born as Yevsei-Gershon Aronovich Radomyslsky in Yelizavetgrad (later renamed Zinoviesk, now Kirovohrad, Kherson province, Ukraine). Of lower-middle-class Jewish origin, and with no formal education, he joined the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party in 1901. When the party split in 1903, Zinoviev followed Vladimir Lenin's Bolshevik faction. Having gained experience as a political agitator in St. Petersburg during the 1905 Revolution, he became a member of the party's Central Committee in 1907. After a brief term in prison the following year, Zinoviev was released because of his poor health and joined Lenin in western European exile. A fiery orator and provocative political writer, during the next ten years Zinoviev edited numerous Bolshevik publications and supported Lenin against opposition from both within the party and other revolutionary groups. In April 1917, after the overthrow of the tsar at the end of February, Zinoviev returned with Lenin to Russia on the "sealed" train through Germany and took over editorship of the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda until it was banned in July. During the year, however, Zinoviev increasingly took issue with Lenin's confidence in Bolshevik strength and his refusal to collaborate with other socialist groups. In October, Zinoviev together with Lev Kamenev opposed the Bolshevik leader's plans for an armed seizure of power. When Lenin the following month refused to include representatives of other socialist parties in the new Soviet government, Zinoviev (with four others) resigned from the Bolshevik Central Committee in protest. He was readmitted only a few days later after publication of his "Letter to the Comrades" in Pravda, in which he submitted to Party discipline. In January 1918, Zinoviev became head of the Petrograd Revolutionary Committee. In March 1919 he was elected chairman of the Executive Committee of the newly founded Communist International (Comintern). By 1921, he was a full member of the Politburo, chairman of the Petrograd Soviet, and leader of the regional Party organization. After Lenin's death in January 1924, Zinoviev and Kamenev joined with Josef Vissarionovich Stalin in a tactical "triumvirate" to counter the aspirations of Leon Trotsky to the Party leadership. After Trotsky's defeat in 1925, Stalin turned against his former allies, who strove to maintain their authority by realigning themselves with Trotsky in the United Opposition against Stalin. Politically outmaneuvered, Zinoviev lost control of the Leningrad party organization and the Comintern in 1926 and in November the following year was expelled from the Communist Party. By publicly recanting his opposition to Stalin on several occasions, Zinoviev strove in vain to rehabilitate himself. In January 1935 he was arrested on charges of "moral complicity" in the assassination of Leningrad Party leader Sergei Mironovich Kirov, tried in secret, and sentenced to ten years in prison. In August 1936, Zinoviev was brought before the public in the first Moscow show trial. Abjectly accepting all the charges of terrorism and treason levelled against him, Zinoviev was condemned to death and executed on August 25, 1936. He was rehabilitated by the Soviet government in 1988.

See also: communist international; lenin, vladimirilich; show trials; stalin, josef vissarionovich; united opposition; zinoviev letter


Haupt, Georges, and Marie, Jean-Jacques, eds. (1974). Makers of the Russian Revolution. London: Allen and Unwin.

Hedlin, Myron W. (1975). "Zinoviev's Revolutionary Tactics in 1917." Slavic Review 34 (1):1943.

Nick Baron

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