The Rise & Fall
Grigory Zinoviev joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) in 1901 and in 1903, when the party broke up into two factions - Bolsheviks and Mensheviks - he stood with the Bolsheviks.
In 1907, at the Fifth Party Congress in London, he was elected to the Central Committee of RSDLP. His revolutionary activities led to his apprehension in 1908; however, owing to his bad health, he was released soon.
When the Bolsheviks faction further broke up into two groups, he backed Lenin. Between 1909 and 1917, he became the righthand man of Lenin.
As a consequence of the ‘February Revolution’ of 1917, the Russian Monarchy was overthrown. Zinoviev and Lenin along with other revolutionaries returned to Russia in April 1917.
In order to direct the Revolution, Lenin formed the Narrow Composition (first Politburo) with seven members including himself, Trotsky, Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Sokolnikov and Bubnov.
Lenin decided to seize power but since Zinoviev was opposed to an open rebellion against the provisional government, differences erupted between the two. Along with Lev B. Kamenev, another Bolshevik revolutionary, he voted against an armed revolt and even published an open letter opposing the idea.
Enraged, Lenin called for their expulsion from the party; however, the idea was dropped. After the ‘October Revolution’ of 1917, the Bolsheviks came to power. He and Lenin clashed again on the issue of whether to share the power with other socialist parties or not.
He backed the idea of coalition government and even resigned from the Central Committee when the negotiation process was stalled.
Just after a few months, in March 1918, he was re-elected to the party’s Central Committee and made the head of Petrograd (later Leningrad) city and regional government.
Continue Reading Below
The year 1919 saw him assuming the chairmanship of the executive committee of the newly formed Communist International (Comintern). In 1921, after the Tenth Congress, he became a full member of the ruling Politburo.
As the head of Comintern, he chaired the Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku in 1920 and delivered a four hour long speech in German language to the Halle congress of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany.
In early 1920s, as its head, he also made numerous attempts to transform Germany into a communist country but failed.
In 1922-23 when Lenin was seriously ill, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin joined hands to create a 'troika' in the party. One of its key motives was to thwart the possibilities of Trotsky succeeding Lenin after his death.
At the Thirteenth Party Congress in 1924, immediately prior to Lenin’s demise, they initiated a whispering campaign against Trotsky and eventually succeeded in marginalizing him in the power struggle.
Soon after, tension began simmering in the alliance. Nonetheless, he and Kamenev still backed Stalin in his effort to keep his General Secretary post of the Central Committee at the Thirteenth Party Congress in mid-1924.
When ‘Lessons of October’ written by Trotsky came out in 1924, it gave Grigory Zinoviev a reason to launch a massive campaign against the former in which it was proclaimed that Trotsky was hostile to Bolshevism.
Zinoviev called for the removal of Trotsky from the Communist Party; however, Stalin effectively handled the situation and refused to do so. Trotsky, nevertheless, had to resign from his position as People's Commissar of Army and Fleet Affairs and Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council in January 1925.
Once Trotsky was removed, there was nothing that could keep the triumvirate together. The two sides began making alliance with other people.
Continue Reading Below
In April 1925, when Stalin announced his wish to implement a new theory of ‘socialism in one country’, both Zinoviev and Kamenev opposed it.
At the Fourteenth Party Congress, with only Leningrad delegation backing them, he and Kamenev suffered a decisive defeat. Very soon, Zinoviev was removed from Leningrad party organization and government.
In 1926, he, Kamenev, Trotsky and their supporters came together to form an alliance, the United Opposition.
Stalin directed his supporters to target Grigory Zinoviev and blame him for using the Comintern to further his own agenda. Consequentially, the latter was removed from the Politburo in July 1926.
Not long after he lost his chairmanship in Comintern, Zinoviev was removed from the Central Committee and finally expelled from the Communist party altogether.
He and Kamenev were re admitted into the party, though at lower positions, after they wrote open letters accepting their mistakes.
In 1932, they were once again expelled from the party for not communicating the oppositionist activities of Martemyan Ryutin and other party members during the Ryutin Affair. They were re admitted after they accepted their mistake.
The Assassination of Sergei Kirov & Moscow Show Trial
The assassination of Sergei Kirov, a member of Politburo, marked the beginning of the Great terror/Great Purge. Zinoviev and Kamenev were forced to accept ‘moral complicity’ in his murder with the former getting 10 years prison term.
In August 1936, retrial of Grigory Zinoviev, Kamenev and 14 others began. The trial, also known as the ‘Trial of the Sixteen’ levelled additional charges including creation of a terrorist organization that assassinated Kirov and an attempt to kill Stalin and other Soviet government leaders. This was the first Moscow Show Trial.
Zinoviev and Kamenev agreed to plead guilty to the fabricated charges provided they were not executed but Stalin went back on his word. Once, the accused were found guilty, Stalin had Zinoviev executed on 25th August 1936.
In 1988, the Soviet Supreme Court finally absolved Grigory Zinoviev and all others of the false charges.