Born in Adrianople in 1903, the son of an employee of the Ottoman tobacco monopoly. He worked as a seaman on the Black Sea, where he came under the influence of the Bolshevik Revolution. He studied at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East (KUTV) in Moscow.
In 1923, he was sent back to Greece to organise the Federation of Communist Youths of Greece (OKNE). Imprisoned, he subsequently fled to the Soviet Union. In 1931, he was sent back to Greece to restore order in the highly factionalised KKE and in the same year (other accounts claim 1935), he was appointed, by order of Stalin and the Comintern, General Secretary of KKE.
In August 1936, he was arrested by the State Security of the Ioannis Metaxas regime and imprisoned. From prison, he issued a letter urging all Greeks to rally behind Metaxas in resisting the Italian invasion of October 1940. This was given great publicity, although in two further letters he reiterated the standard Comintern line that the war between Britain and Germany was "imperialist".
After the German invasion of Greece, in 1941 the Germans tranferred him to the Dachau concentration camp, from where he was released in May 1945. Returning to Greece, he reassumed the leadership of the KKE from Giorgios Siantos, acting general secretary of the KKE since January 1942.
In November 1948, he purged his arch-rival Markos Vafiadis and assumed control of the communist Democratic Army. After the defeat of the communist side in the Greek Civil War, Zachariadis denounced Siantos as a "British agent".
In 1949, the KKE leadership and the remnants of the Democratic Army fled into exile in the communist states of the Eastern bloc. Zachariadis' tough leadership of the KKE, his harsh treatment of dissenters, and his insistance on keeping units of the Democratic Army on a war footing, provoked serious rioting among exiled Greek communists in Tashkent in 1955.
Following Nikita Khruschev's calls for de-Stalinisation and the intervention of other communist parties, in May 1956, the 6th General Assembly of KKE removed Zachariadis from the post of general secretary, and in February 1957 he was expelled from the party. He spent the rest of his life in exile in Siberia, initially in Yakutia and later in Surgut, where he comitted suicide on August 8, 1973.
|Head of Provisional Democratic Government
February 7, 1949 - April 3, 1949