Zinoviev and Zinovievism

Submitted by martin on 25 August, 2018 - 8:20 Author: Sean Matgamna
Zinoviev in 1919

Grigori Zinoviev was a leader of the Bolshevik party who in 1926-7 became co-leader, with Leon Trotsky, of the Left Opposition against the Stalinist counter-revolution.

However, when president of the Communist International, especially in 1924-5, he had done much which would undermine the Left Opposition's fight.

He capitulated to Stalin soon after the Left Opposition was expelled (and its leaders exiled to remote parts of the USSR) in December 1927. Stalin never allowed Zinoviev to regain a leading position.

In 1936 Zinoviev was subjected to a Stalinist show trial and shot.

He had joined the Russian Marxist movement in 1901, at the age of 18, and sided with the Bolsheviks from the start of the division between them and the Mensheviks in 1903. He worked particularly closely with Lenin in exile during World War 1.

In 1917 he was one of the foremost orators of the revolution. He opposed the October revolution, and even warned against it publicly in the press, and with others he resigned from the Bolshevik Central Committee after the revolution on the grounds that the Bolsheviks had failed to negotiate a coalition government with the Mensheviks and SRs.

He soon, however, swung back to support the Bolshevik majority.

The term "Zinovievism" is usually taken to apply to the political course of Zinoviev after Lenin was incapacitated by illness and then death in 1923-4, and before Zinoviev broke with Stalin in late 1925.

Account of Zinoviev and "Zinovievism" from "In Defence of Bolshevism"

The Third, Communist, International was founded in March 1919 to regroup socialists throughout the world who wanted to learn from the Bolsheviks. The tragedy of it was that they started to create Bolshevik parties in situations where revolutionary crises were already breaking over their heads. They were disastrously unready, and Stalinism would soon overwhelm them.

The Third International was declared when European revolution seemed imminent. This was a badly attended, almost a scratch gathering, held in Moscow, deep in the heart of war-blighted Russia. Under the banner of the Russian Revolution, they founded the Third International, proclaimed its principles, and presented a bill of indictment of the theory and practice of the preceding socialist movement, the Second International. It had collapsed in 1914 when, with few exceptions, its parties backed their national governments and beat the war drums that marched workers out to kill other workers, under the different national banners. The Third International drew sharp political lines between themselves and Social Democracy.

From the beginning a defining question was what exactly the new International’s relationship with Moscow, with the successful state-power wielding workers’ revolution, should be. The German Spartacusbund, the organisation of Liebknecht and Luxemburg, which had recently (December 1918) become the Communist Party of Germany, had taken the advice of the now-dead Rosa Luxemburg and opposed the immediate declaration of a new International. In existing conditions it would be too much dominated by one section, the Russian. Their delegate at the Moscow Conference, Hugo Eberlein, was persuaded to vote for proclaiming the Third International there and then.

The International was headed by Gregory Zinoviev, one of Lenin’s closest co-workers before the revolution. It was centralised to counter the tendencies towards national self centredness that had wrecked the old international when the countries went to war in 1914. But Zinoviev and his co-workers gradually made the International a bureaucratised and over-centralised organisation, increasingly micro-managed from Moscow.

Rosa Luxemburg, who knew the Bolsheviks, and knew Lenin, with whom she had friendly personal relations, wrote that the Bolsheviks would be the last to think that their exigent actions should be copied everywhere. Lenin wrote in Left Wing Communism — which dealt with work in bourgeois democratic countries — that Russian Bolshevik schemes could not be followed mechanically there. In 1922, Lenin commented on a resolution on organisation adopted by the Third Congress of the Communist International, in 1921: “The resolution is too Russian, it reflects Russian experience. That is why it is quite unintelligible to foreigners, and they cannot be content with hanging it in a corner like an icon and praying to it. Nothing will be achieved that way.” Terrible things could be, and were.

The Second Congress, in Moscow in July-August 1920 had a greatly improved attendance by delegates of political parties, and was, in terms of organisation, the real foundation Congress. There and at the Third and Fourth Congresses the International tackled many questions. The National and Colonial Questions, the nature of Communist Parties, relations with the reformist labour movements, and many others. They confronted the ultra-left, who in recoil from the 1914 collapse and what they thought had led to it, rejected work in bourgeois parliaments, believed that communists should not work in reformist trade unions, etc. The Fourth Congress in late 1922 was the last attended by Vladimir Lenin, already struck down by illness and soon to be incapacitated by it.

There were two distinct but connected phases in the early Comintern that culminated in its political destruction. That of the Zinovievists and then the Stalinists, The Fifth World Congress in June-July 1924 — Lenin was dead — declared the need to “Bolshevise” the parties of the International. The parties were mostly ramshackle, improvised, untrained. In many respects they needed re-modelling. They would be remodelled until they were like, not the real Bolshevik party, but a mutation of it, without right of factions, with the internal life dominated by demagogy and a perpetual hunt for “deviations”. Stalinism would grow out of Zinovievism in the early Third International.

Trotsky commented on what happened in the US Communist Party. His verdict would hold for many others, including post-Trotsky Trotskyist organisations: “A young party representing a political organism in a completely embryonic stage, without any real contact with the masses, without the experience of a revolutionary leadership, and without theoretical schooling, has already been armed from head to foot with all the attributes of a ‘revolutionary order’, fitted with which it resembles a six-year-old boy wearing his father’s accoutrement”.

“Official Bolshevism” was soon modelled not on the Bolshevism of 1917 but on the greatly transformed and bureaucratised post-Lenin ruling party of 1924. This brought destruction on the Communist Parties and the International as a revolutionary force. National section leaders could be and were appointed from Moscow, irrespective of their support in their own party.

A bureaucratic ideal-model of the Bolshevik party was detached from the real Bolshevik Party and, progressively, from what a party had to be and do if it was to lead the working class to emancipate itself from wage slavery in a socialist revolution. This “Bolshevism” became the ideal of parties bred and trained up to serve as local pawns and make-weights for Moscow’s foreign policies.

Progressively, the highest communist virtues came to be discipline, obedience, complete surrender to Moscow of political mind and conscience, of the right to have or express a different opinion. That didn’t happen overnight or in one instalment, but it happened.

A political and organisational culture was created that would soon have an autonomous life of its own, even among some anti-Stalinists. Progressively, bureaucratic intimidation and the cumulative destruction of honest dealing, truth and independent mindedness in politics by demagogy crowded out free, that is real, discussion. This “official Bolshevism” introduced the position of a designated supreme leader, in every party, rewriting the history of Bolshevism and of Lenin, who had been primus inter pares, not a cult-armoured party dictator.

Trotsky wrote of that period later that the Russian bureaucracy was still only feeling its way in exercising the power it already had. In 1924 a tremendous outcry against “Trotskyism”, to which was counterposed a caricatural, falsified “Leninism”and Bolshevism, destroyed rational and honest discussion. Soon the baying, hysterical heresy-hunting against anyone questioning the sacred official line would target Bolshevism in the Communist International — its political programme in 1917, its perspectives, its old leaders, its old methods.

In 1925-6 Zinoviev and Kamenev split with Stalin, who controlled the party machine. With the Trotskyists of 1923 they formed a United Opposition. From November 1926 Bukharin, then Stalin’s close associate, replaced Zinoviev at the head of the Communist International. Sections and elements flaked off from the Communist Parties or were expelled. By 1929 Stalin had broken with Bukharin and his supporters, and a mere tool of Stalin, Dmitry Manuilsky, had taken control of the Communist International.

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