Gregory Zinoviev was a leading member of the Bolshevik Party. Zinoviev was a loyal follower of Vladimir Lenin but after Lenin’s death and the rise of Joseph Stalin to power, his days were numbered by a man who could not tolerate anyone appearing to be the merest of rivals to him and Zinoviev was seen by Stalin as a rival.
Zinoviev was born on September 23rd 1883. His father was a farmer. Zinoviev received no formal education and was educated at home. He joined the Social Democratic Party in 1901 and became involved in trade union activity. Such action almost invariably brought with it the attention of the police. Fearing arrest and imprisonment, Zinoviev went to live in Berlin and then Paris where he met Lenin. When the SDP split in 1903, Zinoviev sided with Lenin who wanted the working class led by a small elite group of professional revolutionaries. Zinoviev rejected the call by Julius Martov who wanted a large group of activists regardless of ability to lead the working class forward.
During the 1905 Russian Revolution, Zinoviev was in St. Petersburg where he helped to organise a general strike. However, he had to stop his work due to ill health. Once he had recovered from his heart trouble, he returned to St. Petersburg to continue with his work with the workers. This included a campaign against the Mensheviks in the city.
In 1907 Zinoviev was elected to the Bolshevik Central Committee. He was arrested by the Russian secret police in 1908 but was released without charge.
However, his arrest gravely concerned Zinoviev and he moved to Geneva where he worked with Lenin and Kamenev in the publication of ‘Proletary’.
In 1912, Zinoviev along with Lenin and Kamenev moved to Krakow, then in Galicia, but the outbreak of World War One forced their return to Switzerland.
The only time that Zinoviev and Lenin seemingly fell out was over Lenin’s call for a workers revolution in October 1917. However, Zinoviev took part in the successful Bolshevik Revolution and in 1919 he was elected Chairman of the Executive Committee.
With the health of Lenin a cause for concern in the early 1920’s, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin formed to ‘Triumvirate’ that was meant to lead Russia after the death of Lenin. However, Stalin had no intention of sharing power with anyone but his first target for removal was Trotsky. Once he had succeeded in driving Trotsky into exile, he had little use for Zinoviev. Stalin was a fervent believer in making the ‘new’ Russia as strong as was possible so that it could cope if attacked by a foreign power. Zinoviev put his faith in Trotsky’s world revolution. It was his undoing as Stalin argued that he was undermining the party’s strength as a whole by creating disunity. Stalin got the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party to expel Zinoviev from the party.
By the mid-1930’s Stalin had complete power in the USSR. But he simply did not trust the likes of Zinoviev, Kamenev and many others. He decided that the USSR had to be rid of such people. In a series of show trials people who were distrusted were put on trial on trumped up charges. Zinoviev was one of these. He was tried for his ‘involvement’ in the murder of Sergy Kirov. His guilt was never in doubt and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. While in prison Zinoviev was charged with plotting to murder Stalin. He had to endure another trial where he must have known that he would be found guilty. The guilty verdict brought with it Zinoviev the death sentence.
Gregory Zinoviev was executed on August 25th 1936.