On the 21st of January 1924 Lenin died. The Conservative government in Westminster collapsed on the same day when Stanley Baldwin lost a vote in the House of Commons. The King invited Ramsay MacDonald, as leader of the second largest Party, to form the first Labour government, rather than dissolving Parliament for a General Election.
Mr MacDonald’s government lasted only ten months. It ended in unhappy circumstances. One of its acts had been to grant diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union, and so establish formal relations with the Bolshevik regime.
Meanwhile, in Moscow, a vicious power struggle began to rage, to be resolved finally in 1929 in Stalin’s favour. In 1924 among Stalin’s rivals, and thought to be more likely to succeed to Lenin’s authority, were Trotsky, Bukharin, Kamenev – and Zinoviev.
And it is with Zinoviev that the defeat of the Labour government at the polls in November 1924 is forever linked.
In the last days of the general election campaign the press printed the English text of a letter purporting to be sent by Zinoviev to the Communist Party of Great Britain. The letter urged the Communists to increase their efforts to gain power by using the Labour Party as a proxy and by recruiting disenchanted military personnel to form the basis of a British ‘Red Army’. Zinoviev wrote with contempt of the Labour Party. Communists were told to exploit and manipulate Labour and galvanise the proletariat.
Mr MacDonald’s government protested. The Soviet authorities denied that the letter was genuine, although, like Lenin and Trotsky, Zinoviev had often written and spoken in such terms, encouraging revolutionary activity in European countries.
Over the years most accounts of the Zinoviev affair have expressed the view that the letter was a forgery. They have disagreed about how much the bad publicity for the Labour Party affected the election’s result, the return of a government led by Mr Baldwin.
From the almost unknown books of Besedovsky and Agabekov, I have shown that Grigory Zinoviev did write the letter in order to use the Communist Party here to move the Labour Party to a revolutionary position. Zinoviev’s letter was not a fabrication by White Russians or by British elements hostile to Mr MacDonald’s Labour Government, as has been widely believed for almost a hundred years.