Zinoviev, Grigori Yevseyevich

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ZINOVIEV, GRIGORI YEVSEYEVICH (1883–1936), principal architect of the Communist International and its first chairman. He was Bolshevism's leading advocate of world revolution. He was born Grigori Yevseyevich Radomyslski in Yelizavetgrad (now Kirovograd), Ukraine. His bourgeois parents were Jewish, but Zinoviev, early in his youth, became completely assimilated to Russian life, particularly to the radical Marxist socialism then sweeping broad segments of the intelligentsia. He joined the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party in 1901, and its Bolshevik wing in 1903.

Having played an active role in the 1905 Revolution in St. Petersburg, he was chosen as a delegate to the Stockholm (Unity) Congress of the Social Democratic Party in 1906, where his powerful and inspiring oratory attracted immediate attention and assured him a prominent position in the Bolshevik hierarchy.

During the post-revolutionary period, Zinoviev shared *Lenin's exile and came to be the latter's closest collaborator, writing "everything that Lenin thought was required," whether it be "newspaper articles, circulars to party friends, resolutions, or brochures." He served as an editor of Proletariy and Sotsial-Demokrat, Bolshevik newspapers, and of Kommunist, a Bolshevik journal. In 1912 at the Prague Conference of the Bolsheviks, he was elected to their Central Committee

In the course of World War i, Zinoviev's close relationship with Lenin deepened. Jointly they published a landmark work, Against the Tide, attacking both the war and Social Democratic leaders who had supported the war; jointly, they organized the Zimmerwald (1915) and Kienthal (1916) Conferences of dissident Socialist groups; jointly, they rode the "sealed train" that took them back to Russia in April 1917, following the collapse of the czarist regime; and jointly, they went into hiding after the July uprising against the Provisional Government.

Zinoviev, panicking at a moment of crisis, split with Lenin in October on the question of the seizure of power. He feared that a Bolshevik coup at the time would lead to foreign intervention and a counterrevolutionary peasant uprising. Yet Zinoviev remained in the Central Committee of the party and continued to be one of its key figures until the middle of 1926. Early in 1922 he became a member of the all-powerful Politburo. In Petrograd he was the unchallenged "boss" both of the soviet and the party.

If Zinoviev had his hands on the levers of power within Russia, it was in Comintern activity that his influence was most strongly felt. Indeed, he was relieved of national administrative posts so that he might devote the maximum attention to the international revolutionary movement. Until November 1926 he was the chairman of the Comintern's executive committee and the driving force of its presidium. His ideological pronouncements constituted the major premises for the strategy and tactics of Communists everywhere. During 1919–20 his role was especially prominent, with the Comintern character and structure molded largely by him.

However, the retreat of the international revolutionary wave, beginning in 1921, dimmed his luster. The collapse of the "March Action" in Germany (1921), for which he was largely responsible, and the defeat of the revolution in Germany in October 1923, contributed to the decline of his international image. Yet his power within Soviet Russia was unquestioned. Following Lenin's death in January 1924, he joined with *Stalin and Lev *Kamenev to constitute the "Troika" of preeminent party leaders. Together, they drove Leon *Trotsky into political isolation.

The "Troika" foundered on Stalin's doctrine of "socialism in one country" and his aspiration for sole party leadership. Considering Stalin's doctrine a threat to world revolution, a capitulation to the peasants, and the beginning of "Thermidor," Zinoviev joined Trotsky in the "Joint Opposition" formed in July 1926. An intense struggle for power culminated in his complete defeat and ouster from the party in December 1927 at the 15th Party Congress. Zinoviev was a master of the art of intrigue, but found himself completely outmaneuvered by the general secretary of the party.

Seven years later, following the assassination of Sergey Kirov, Zinoviev was arrested. Stalin was now preparing to deliver the final blow to his political opponents and, in August 1936, the first of the "Great Purge" trials was held. Zinoviev, along with 15 colleagues, was formally arraigned on charges of having organized the "terrorist centers" that allegedly had plotted Kirov's murder. Public admissions of guilt by the accused were followed by death sentences, immediately carried out. Zinoviev's name disappeared down the "memory hole" to be resurrected only on occasion as a symbol of treachery.

Even after N. Krushchev's disclosures at the 20th Party Congress in 1956 which hinted that the Kirov murder may have been a frame-up, Zinoviev was not rehabilitated. Current official histories of the party mention his name but rarely, and then only to castigate him, although the 1936 charge of treason is no longer mentioned.


E.H. Carr, The Interregnum, 1923–1924 (1954), index; idem, Socialism in One Country, 19241926, 2 vols. (1958–59), index; S. and B. Webb, Soviet Communism: A New Civilization (19443), index; L. Schapiro, The Communist Party of the Soviet Union. (19622), index.

[William Korey]

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