Amtorg Trading Corporation

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History[edit]

Amtorg Trading Corporation, also known simply as Amtorg (short for Amerikanskaia Torgovlia, Russian: Амторг), was the first trade representation of the USSR in the United States, established in New York in 1924 by merging Armand Hammer's Allied American Corporation (Alamerico) with Products Exchange Corporation (Prodexco) and Arcos-America Inc. (the U.S. branch of All Russian Co-operative Society, ARCOS, in Great Britain).[1]

Formally a semi-private joint-stock company and American corporation, Amtorg occupied a unique position in the market as the single purchaser for a communist state. Even though it did not officially represent the Soviet government, it was controlled by the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Trade and, prior to the establishment of diplomatic relations between the USA and the USSR in 1933, served as a de facto trade delegation and a quasi-embassy.

Amtorg handled almost all imports from the USSR, comprising mostly lumber, furs, flax, bristles, and caviar, and all exports of raw materials and machinery for Soviet industry and agriculture. It also provided American companies with information about trade opportunities in the USSR and supplied Soviet industries with technical news and information about American companies. The headquarters was located in Manhattan, at 165 Broadway, and after 1929, at 261 Fifth Avenue, with several branch offices, including, at different times, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.[2]

From 1927 to 1930, under the direction of Saul Bron and Peter Bogdanov, Amtorg expanded into a major commercial enterprise, with more than 100 employees. During this formative period, Amtorg was very careful to clear any legal hurdles through the leading New York law firm of Thomas D. Thacher.[3] The main financial consultant and banker for Amtorg at that time was Chase National Bank.[4]

Amtorg was especially useful for the USSR in negotiating contracts with major American companies such as Ford Motor Company, General Electric, International Harvester, Albert Kahn, Inc., Hugh L. Cooper, Arthur G. McKee, Freyn Engineering, DuPont de Nemours, Radio Corporation of America, and more than a hundred other companies during the First Five-Year Plan, taking advantage of the desperate condition of the American economy during the Great Depression.[5] In turn, American businesses, concerned about keeping their factories in operation, were eager to tap into vast Soviet markets despite continuing warnings by the U.S. Department of State that, due to the lack of diplomatic representation in the USSR., the U.S. government was unable to provide security to Americans conducting business there, and any companies transacting such business “must do so at their own risk.”[6]

In May 1930 Amtorg was investigated by the Hamilton Fish Committee on communist activities in the United States of the House of Representatives on charges of distributing communist propaganda.[7] Even though some propaganda efforts indeed must have taken place, the Fish Committee agreed that the main evidence, the so called “Whalen documents,” was bogus. It was found that there was no sufficient competent legal evidence to prove a connection of Amtorg with subversive activities. Ironically, Amtorg would become a more important player in "subversive activities" after 1930 as it became a center not so much for communist propaganda as for industrial espionage.[8]

According to some sources, prior to the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1933, Amtorg served as a front for GRU/OGPU (Soviet intelligence service) operations in the US.[9][10][11][12] However, Russian historian Prof. M. Yu. Mukhin (Institute of Russian History, Academy of Science of Russian Federation) asserts that during that period Amtorg was too important for the Soviets as the only Soviet trade agency in the USA, and its main focus was on obtaining credit and negotiating trade and technical aid contracts, and that systematic intelligence gathering by the Soviets in the USA actually began after President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized the Soviets in 1933, allowing them a permanent embassy in Washington, D.C.[13]

During World War II, Amtorg handled the flow of military supplies to the Soviet Union, including armaments, raw materials, food, and uniforms under the Lend-Lease program.

During the Cold War years, the scope of Amtorg’s enterprise was more limited, but it continued to conduct its business at 49 West 37th Street, in New York City, maintaining a skeleton staff.[14] As an arm of the Soviet state, Amtorg, at that time located at 355 Lexington Avenue in New York City, was targeted in two bombing attempts, in 1971 and 1976, by members of the Jewish Armed Resistance, an extremist group affiliated with the Jewish Defense League.

Surrounded by continuing controversy, Amtorg survived the Cold War but did not survive the collapse of the Soviet Union, quietly disappearing in 1998.[4] Its last address was on the 86th floor of the World Trade Center in New York City.

First Presidents of Amtorg (1924–1934)[edit]

I. Ya. Khurgin (1924–1925), died under suspicious circumstances in a boating accident in upstate New York.[15]
A. V. Prigarin (1925–1926).
S. G. Bron (1927–1930), executed during Stalin’s Great Purge in 1938.
P. A. Bogdanov (1930–1934), executed during Stalin’s Great Purge in 1938.
I. V. Boev (1934–1936), executed during Stalin’s Great Purge in 1938.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Borth, Christy. Masters of Mass Production, p. 110, Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, IN, 1945.
  2. ^ Melnikova-Raich, Sonia (2011). "The Soviet Problem with Two 'Unknowns': How an American Architect and a Soviet Negotiator Jump-Started the Industrialization of Russia, Part II: Saul Bron". IA, The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology 37 (1/2): 5–28. ISSN 0160-1040. JSTOR 23757906. 
  3. ^ Saul, Norman E. (2008). Historical Dictionary of United States-Russian/Soviet Relations. Scarecrow Press. p. 24. ISBN 9780810855373. OCLC 230802271. 
  4. ^ a b Ivanian, E. A. (2001). Entsiklopedia rossiisko-amerikanskikh otnoshenii XVIII-XX veka (in Russian). Moscow: Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniia. ISBN 9785713310455. OCLC 48857764. 
  5. ^ "A Ruble in the Hand". Time. 17 June 1929. 
  6. ^ "44 American Firms Are Aiding Soviets". The New York Times. 30 November 1930. 
  7. ^ Investigation of communist propaganda. Hearings before a Special committee to investigate communist activities in the United States of the House of representatives, Seventy-first Congress, second session. Washington, D.C., U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1930-31. OCLC 739254.
  8. ^ Siegel, Katherine A S (2015). Loans and Legitimacy: the Evolution of Soviet-American Relations, 1919-1933. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky. pp. 134, 184, note 8. ISBN 9780813161334. OCLC 900344942. 
  9. ^ Verdon, Rachel (2007). Murder By Madness 9/11. Rachel Verdon. p. 85. ISBN 978-1-4196-8022-9. Retrieved 2009-04-30. 
  10. ^ Shannon, Elaine; Ann Blackman (2002). The spy next door (illustrated ed.). Little, Brown and Company. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-316-71821-9. Retrieved 2009-04-30. 
  11. ^ Ropes, E. C., American-Soviet Trade Relations, Russian Review, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Autumn 1943), p. 91
  12. ^ Rafalko, Frank J., A Counterintelligence Reader, Vol. III, Chapter 1, pp. 21-22
  13. ^ Mukhin M. Yu. “Amtorg: Nelegal’noe torgpredstvo,” Poligon, no. 2 (2000), pp. 31–34
  14. ^ Zelchenko, Henry L. (Feb 1952). "Stealing America's Know-How: The Story of Amtorg". American Mercury 74 (338): 75–84. Retrieved 9 November 2012. 
  15. ^ Vaksberg, Arkadii (2011). Toxic Politics: The secret history of the Kremlin's poison laboratory – from the Special Cabinet to the death of Litvinenko. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Praeger. p. 92. ISBN 9780313387463. OCLC 669750064. 

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