Leon Trotsky

At the Fresh Grave of Kote Zinzadze

(January 1931)

Written: 7 January 1931.
Source: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 4, 15 February 1931, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2012. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

It took altogether extraordinary conditions like czarism, illegality, prisons and deportations, long years of struggle against the Mensheviks and especially the experiences of the three revolutions to produce militants like Kote Zinzadze. His life was bound up entirely with the history of the revolutionary movement for a period of more than a quarter of a century. He passed through all the stages of proletarian, uprising, beginning with the very first propaganda circles to the barricades and the seizure of power. For long years he conducted menial labors of illegal organization, and at the time when the revolutionists were tied up in the net of the police he devoted himself to untying them. Later on he was at the head of the extraordinary Commission of Transcaucasia, that is, at the very center of power, during the most heroic period of the proletarian dictatorship.

When the reaction against the October had changed the composition and the character of the party apparatus as well as of its policies, Kote Zinzadze was one of the first to begin a struggle against the new tendencies hostile to the spirit of Bolshevism. The first conflict took place during Lenin’s illness Stalin and Ordjonikidze, supported by Djerjinsky, had made a coup d’etat in Georgia, replacing the nucleus of old Bolsheviks by careerist functionaries of the type of Eliava, Orechakashvili and others. It is precisely on this question that Lenin was preparing to launch an implacable battle against the Stalin faction and the apparatus at the twelfth congress of the party. On the 6th of March 1923, Lenin wrote to the Georgian group of old Bolsheviks, of which Kote Zinzadze was one of the founders: “I am wholeheartedly with your cause. I am outraged by the coarseness of Ordjonikidze and the connivance of Stalin and Djerjinsky. I am preparing for you some notes and a speech.” The subsequent march of developments is sufficiently well known. The Stalin faction crushed the Lenin faction in the Caucasus. This was the first victory for reaction in the party and opened up the second chapter of the revolution. Zinzadze, tubercular, bearing the weight of decades of revolutionary work, persecuted by the apparatus on every step, did not for one moment desert his post of struggle. In 1928 he was deported to Bakhshi-Sarall where wind and dust did their disastrous work on the remnants of his lungs. Later on he was transferred to Alioubcha where the rainy winter completed the work of destruction.

Some friends wanted to gain admittance for Kote to the Goulpriche Sanatorium at Suchom, where Zinzadze had already several times before succeeded to save his life during some particularly acute aggravations of his sickness. Of course, Ordjonikidze had “promised”, Ordjonikidze “promises” much and to everybody. But the cowardliness of his character (coarseness does not exclude cowardice) has always made of him a blind instrument in the hands of Stalin. While Zinzadze was literally fighting against death Stalin struggled against all attempts to save the old militant. Send him over to Goulpriche on the coast of the Black Sea? And if he recovers? Connections might be established between Batum and Constantinople. No, impossible! With the death of Zinzadze one of the most attractive figures of older Bolshevism has disappeared. This fighter who more than once risked his life and who knew well how to chastise the enemy, was a man of exceptional mildness in his personal relations. A debonaire mockery and an almost malicious sense of humor were combined in this tested terrorist with a tenderness one might almost call feminine.

The serious illness which did not for an instant release him from its hold not only could not break down his moral resistance, but did not even succeed in overpowering his ever jovial state of mind and his tender affection for humanity.

Kote was not a theoretician. But his clear thinking, his revolutionary flair and his immense political experience – the living experience of three revolutions – armed him better, more seriously and more firmly than does the doctrine formally digested by those who lack the fortitude and perseverance equal to Zinzadze’s. As the Lear of Shakespeare he was every inch a revolutionary. His character revealed itself perhaps even more strikingly during the last eight years – years of uninterrupted struggle against the advent and the entrenchment of the unprincipled bureaucracy.

Zinzadze fought organically against everything resembling treachery, capitulation and disloyalty. He understood the significance of the bloc with Zinoviev and Kamenev. But morally he never supported this group. His letters testify to all the simplicity of his repugnance – it is impossible to find another word – toward revolutionaries who while wanting to safeguard their formal membership in the party, deceive it by renouncing their ideas.

No. 2 of the Bulletin of the Russian Opposition has published a letter from Zinzadze to Okudjara. It is an excellent document of tenacity, clearness of thought and conviction. Zinzadze, as has been said, was not a theoretician, and he voluntarily left it to others to formulate the tasks of the revolution, the party and the Opposition But every time he detected a false note, he took his pen into his hand and no “authority” could prevent him from expressing his suspicions and from making his replies. His letter, written on the 2nd of May last year and published in the Bulletin No. 12–13 (p. 27), testifies best to this fact. This practical man, this organizer safeguarded the purity of doctrine more attentively than some theoreticians.

In Kote’s letters we often encounter the following phrases: “a bad ‘institution’ these hesitations”. And further: “woe to the people who can’t wait”, or “in solitude weak people easily become subject to all sorts of contagion”. Sentiments of an unshakable fortitude penetrated Zinzadze and upheld his feeble physical energy. He considered even his sickness as a revolutionary duel. According to one of his letters he was solving in his struggle against death, the question: “who will conquer?” “In the meantime the advantage remains on my side,” he adds, with the optimism which never abandoned him, several months before his death.

In the summer of 1928, speaking of himself, that is, of his sickness, Kote writes to the author of these lines from Bakhshi-Sarail: “... many of our comrades and friends have been forced to separate themselves from life, in prison or in some place of deportation but in the final analysis all this will only serve to enrich revolutionary history which educates new generations. The Bolshevik youth, clarified by the struggle of the Bolshevik Opposition against the opportunist wing of the party, will understand on whose side the truth rests ...”

These words, simple and yet sublime, Zinzadze could write only in an intimate letter to a friend. Now that the author is no longer among the living, these lines may and must be published. They resume the life and the morale of a revolutionist of a high order. They must be made public precisely because the youth must be brought up not only with theoretical formulas but also by examples of revolutionary tenacity.

The communist parties of the West have not yet produced militants of the type of Zinzadze. There is their principal weakness, which is determined by historic reasons, but which for all that does not cease to be a weakness. The Left Opposition of the western countries is not an exception – in this case – and it must well take note of it.

It is precisely to the Opposition youth that the example of Zinzadze can and ought to serve as a lesson. Zinzadze was the living negation of every sort of political careerism, that is to say, of the capacity to sacrifice the principles, the ideas and the tasks of the cause for personal ends. This does not at all mean the negation of justified revolutionary ambitions. No, political ambition is a very important force in the struggle. But the revolutionary begins there where personal ambition is entirely subservient to a great idea, submitting itself voluntarily to it and merging with it. To flirt with ideas, to dabble in them for purposes of a personal career – that is what Zinzadze pitilessly condemned through his life and through his death. The ambition of Zinzadze was an ambition of unshakable revolutionary loyalty. It should serve as a lesson to the proletarian youth.

January 7th, 1931

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Last updated on: 28.11.2012