Irakli Tsereteli was born in Kutaisi (western Georgia, then part of the Russian Empire) in the family of a radical writer Giorgi Tsereteli, of the noble family of Tsereteli, and Olympiada Nikoladze, sister of the journalist Niko Nikoladze. He studied law at Moscow University where he became involved in student protests. After taking part in a student demonstration in 1902 he was briefly exiled to Siberia. On his release from prison Tsereteli joined the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) and at the party's 1903 congress in London sided with Julius Martov against Vladimir Lenin. By becoming a Menshevik, opposed to Lenin's Bolsheviks. Tsereteli became editor of the pro-Menshevik publication 'Kvali ("Trace" in Georgian), but decided to move to Germany to escape increasing harassment from the authorities. He returned to Russia during the 1905 Revolution and was elected to the second Duma, emerging as a leading Menshevik. On the dissolution of the Duma, Tsereteli was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and then exiled in 1913 to Irkutsk; there he became the leader of a circle of moderate Internationalists (mostly Mensheviks but including also SRs and former Bolsheviks) called the “Siberian Zimmerwaldists.”
Tsereteli remained an avowed internationalist and did not go through an evolution to nationalism, like many of his fellow Georgian Mensheviks did. Thus, he was an opponent both to the liberal nationalist Zurab Avalishvili and the social democrat Noe Zhordania. All of them extensively wrote abroad on the Georgian politics. Tsereteli accepted the principle of the fight for Georgia’s independence, but rejected the view of Zhordania and other Georgian émigrés that the Bolshevik domination was effectively identical to Russian domination. Furthermore, he insisted on close cooperation between the Russian and Georgian socialists against the Bolsheviks, but did not agree with any cooperation with the Georgian nationalists. This led to Tsereteli’s isolation among the émigré Georgians and he largely withdrew from political activity. In the 1940s, he moved to the United States where continued to write on a history of the revolution and died in New York City in 1959. In 1973, he was reburied to the Leuville Cemetery near Paris.