(1883–1936), revolutionary and Soviet political figure. Grigorii Zinov’ev, known earlier as Ovsei-Gersh Aronovich Apfel’baum or Radomysl’skii, was born in Elisavetgrad, Kherson province, to the assimilated family of an owner of a small dairy farm. Zinov’ev joined the Rossiiskaia Sotsial-Demokraticheskaia Rabochaia Partiia (Russian Social Democratic Workers Party; RSDWP) in 1901. While studying at Bern University, he continued his involvement in revolutionary activities.
In 1903, Zinov’ev joined the Bolsheviks and met Lenin. During the 1905 Revolution, Zinov’ev was elected a member of the Saint Petersburg RSDWP Committee. He immigrated to Switzerland in 1905 and remained abroad until 1917 (with a short break in 1907). He returned to Russia in April 1917 with Lenin and other political émigrés in the famous “sealed” railway car. The provisional government accused him, Lenin, and Kamenev of spying for the Germans; Zinov’ev and Lenin then went into hiding.
Although he generally supported Lenin’s policies, Zinov’ev disagreed with him about certain strategic issues. With Kamenev, he opposed Lenin’s idea of armed insurrection, advocating instead the formation of a united socialist government that would include Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, and Social Revolutionaries. On the eve of the revolution, Zinov’ev voiced his opinion in an official Bolshevik publication; in response, Lenin condemned him. Zinov’ev then joined the Bolshevik Party Politburo, from 1919 to 1921 as a candidate and between 1921 and 1926 as a full member. From 1919 to 1926 he also chaired the executive committee of the Comintern. He was considered Lenin’s ideological heir and was a key figure in the power struggle following Lenin’s death in 1924.
According to his party colleagues, Zinov’ev was ruthless in his pursuit of power and was inclined to intrigue. Originally, he sided with Stalin and Kamenev against Trotsky’s Left Opposition. Later Stalin had him removed from power, accusing him of “anti-Leninist” and fractional activity. In 1925, he headed the New Opposition and was censured at the Fourteenth Party Congress. In 1926, Zinov’ev and Trotsky headed the United Opposition directed against Stalin, but were soon defeated by Stalin. In July 1926, Zinov’ev was excluded from the Politburo and in 1927 from the Central Committee and the party. In 1928, he was readmitted to the party and was appointed rector of Kazan University. From 1931, Zinov’ev was a member of the collegium of the People’s Commissariat of Education. In 1932, he was once again expelled from the party and exiled to Kustanai (Qostanay, Kazakhstan) until 1933, when he was readmitted, only to be expelled again in 1934. That year, after the assassination of Sergei Kirov, Zinov’ev was arrested and indicted for incitement to murder. During his trial in 1935, he confessed to “moral responsibility” for Kirov’s death and was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.
In August 1936, Zinov’ev was accused, with Kamenev and others, of counterrevolutionary activity, Trotskyism, terrorism, and espionage. After physical and psychological torture, he confessed at his trial and was convicted and executed by a firing squad. He was rehabilitated by a plenum of the Supreme Court of the USSR in 1988.
Zinov’ev did not associate with the Jewish community. Nevertheless, he was the target of many antisemitic actions, both in the immediate postrevolutionary period—when a large number of Jews held key party positions—and also during the campaign to discredit him in the late 1920s and 1930s.
Anatolii Chernev, 229 kremlevskikh vozhdei: Politbiuro, Orgbiuro, Sekretariat Tsentral’nogo Komiteta Kommunisticheskoi partii v litsakh i tsifrakh (Moscow, 1996).
Translated from Russian by Chaim Chernikov