Maxim Litvinov

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Maxim Litvinov
Макси́м Литви́нов
Litvinoff Profile.jpg
Soviet Ambassador to the United States
In office
10 November 1941 – 22 August 1943
Premier Vyacheslav Molotov
Joseph Stalin
Preceded by Konstantin Umansky
Succeeded by Andrei Gromyko
In office
Premier Vladimir Lenin
Preceded by Boris Bakhmeteff
Succeeded by Ludwig Martens
People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union
In office
21 July 1930 – 3 May 1939
Premier Vyacheslav Molotov
Preceded by Georgy Chicherin
Succeeded by Vyacheslav Molotov
Personal details
Born Meir Henoch Mojszewicz Wallach-Finkelstein
(1876-07-17)17 July 1876
Białystok, Russian Empire
Died 31 December 1951(1951-12-31) (aged 75)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Nationality Soviet
Political party All-Union Communist Party (bolsheviks)
Profession Diplomat, civil servant

Maxim Maximovich Litvinov (Russian: Макси́м Макси́мович Литви́нов; Russian pronunciation: [mɐˈksʲim mɐˈksʲiməvʲɪtɕ lʲɪˈtvʲinəf]) (17 July 1876 – 31 December 1951) was a Russian revolutionary and prominent Soviet diplomat.

Early life and first exile[edit]

Born Meir Henoch Mojszewicz Wallach-Finkelstein (simplified into Max Wallach, Russian: Макс Ва́ллах) into a wealthy Litvak (Jewish) banking family in Białystok, Grodno Governorate of the Russian Empire, formerly part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, he was the second son of Moses and Anna Wallach. He joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) in 1898 at which time the party was considered an illegal organization, and it was customary for its members to use pseudonyms. He changed his name to Maxim Litvinov (a common Litvak surname), but was also known as Papasha and Maximovich. Litvinov also wrote articles under the names M.G. Harrison and David Mordecai Finkelstein[1] His early responsibilities included carrying propaganda work in Chernigov Governorate. In 1900 Litvinov became a member of Kiev party committee, but the entire committee was arrested in 1901. After 18 months of captivity, he led an escape of 11 inmates from Lukyanovskaya prison and lived in exile in Switzerland, where he was an editor for the revolutionary newspaper Iskra. In 1903, he joined the Bolshevik faction and returned to Russia. After the 1905 Revolution he became editor of the SDLP's first legal newspaper, Novaya Zhizn (New Life) in St. Petersburg.

Second emigration[edit]

When the Russian government began arresting Bolsheviks in 1906, Litvinov left the country and spent the next ten years as émigré and arms dealer for the party. Based in Paris he travelled throughout Europe, sometimes posing as a procurement officer from Ecuador, buying rifles in Belgium, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire. Despite some notable disasters, such as the wrecking of a gun running yacht on the Romanian coast, he had some success in smuggling these arms into Russia via Finland and the Black Sea.[2]

In 1907 he attended the 5th Party Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in London. Initially he had to rely on the charity of the Rowton Houses for accommodation in London. However, eventually the party arranged a rented house for him that he shared with Joseph Stalin, who had also been anxious to find more comfortable housing than the Rowton poor hostels.[3]

In 1908 he was arrested under the name Meer Wallach by French police, while carrying twelve 500-ruble banknotes that were taken from a bank in Tiflis during the 1907 Tiflis bank robbery that took place on 26 June 1907.[4] Litvinov was deported from France to North Belfast in Northern Ireland. There, he taught Foreign Languages in the Jewish Jaffe Public Elementary School until 1910.[5][6] He then moved to England and lived in London, where he was active in the International Socialist Bureau. In early 1918, he was appointed as the first plenipotentiary of the Russian Bolshevik state to the United Kingdom by Trotsky, the People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs. His diplomatic status was not officially recognized by the British government, which wanted to maintain an ambiguous stance towards the new regime in Russia. At the same time, Litvinov had a counterpart, R. H. Bruce Lockhart, a British agent, who unofficially represented British interests in Moscow.[7][8][9]

In England he met and married Ivy Low, daughter of one of the most distinguished Jewish families in Britain. Low's ancestors had emigrated from Hungary to England following the unsuccessful 1848 revolution. Her father, Walter Low, was a prominent writer and a close friend of H.G. Wells. They enjoyed frequent exchanges, Low espousing the Jewish point of view, and Wells a secular philosophy. In fact, Wells went on to criticize "Litvinoff" in his 1933 novel The Shape of Things to Come:

There was always a wide divergence in Russia between theory and practice, and Litvinoff, who spoke on behalf of that first great experiment in planning, was too preoccupied with various particular points at issue between his country and the western world, trading embargoes and difficulties of credit, for example, to use the occasion as he might have done, for a world-wide appeal. He did nothing to apply the guiding principles of Communism to the world situation. Here was a supreme need for planning, but he said nothing for a Five Year or Ten Year Plan for all the world. Here was a situation asking plainly for collective employment, and he did not even press the inevitability of world-socialism. Apparently he had forgotten the world considered as a whole as completely as any of the capitalist delegates. He was thinking of Russia versus the other States of the world as simply as if he were an ordinary capitalist patriot."[10]

After the October Revolution[edit]

Universal Newsreel about the visit of Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov to the US (1933).

After the October Revolution of 1917, Litvinov was appointed by Vladimir Lenin as the Soviet government's representative in Britain.[citation needed] His accreditation was never officially formalised, and his position as an unofficial diplomatic contact was analogous to that of Robert Lockhart.[11] In 1918, Litvinov was arrested by the British government and held until exchanged for Lockhart, who had been imprisoned in Russia. The following year he published the English tract The Bolshevik Revolution: Its Rise and Meaning, distributed by the British Socialist Party.

Litvinov was then employed as the Soviet government's roaming ambassador. It was largely through his efforts that Britain agreed to end its economic blockade of the Soviet Union. Litvinov also negotiated several trade agreements with European countries. In February 1929 he concluded the Litvinov's Pact in Moscow, signed by the Soviet Union, Poland, Romania, Latvia and Estonia, in which those countries promised not to use force to settle their disputes (this was seen as an 'Eastern Kellogg-Briand Pact').

In 1930, Joseph Stalin appointed Litvinov as People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs. A firm believer in collective security, Litvinov worked very hard to form a closer relationship with France and Britain. In 1933 he successfully persuaded the United States to officially recognize the Soviet government. Franklin D. Roosevelt sent comedian Harpo Marx to the Soviet Union as a good-will ambassador, and Litvinov and Marx became friends and even performed a routine on stage together.[12] Litvinov also actively facilitated the acceptance of the USSR into the League of Nations, where he represented his country from 1934 to 1938.

Negotiations regarding Germany and dismissal[edit]

After the Munich Agreement, German media derided Litvinov about his Jewish ancestry, referring to him as "Finkelstein-Litvinov."[13][Note 1]

On 3 May 1939, Stalin replaced Litvinov with Vyacheslav Molotov.[15] That night, NKVD troops surrounded the offices of the commissariat of foreign affairs.[15] The phone at Litvinov's dacha was disconnected and, the following morning, Molotov, Georgii Malenkov, and Lavrenty Beria arrived at the commissariat to inform Litvinov of his dismissal.[15] After Litvinov's dismissal, many of his aides were arrested and beaten, evidently in an attempt to extract compromising information.[15]

The replacement of Litvinov with Molotov significantly increased Stalin's freedom to maneuver in foreign policy.[16] The dismissal of Litvinov, whose Jewish ethnicity was viewed disfavorably by Nazi Germany, removed an obstacle to negotiations with Germany.[17][18][19][20][21][22][Note 2] Stalin immediately directed Molotov to "purge the ministry of Jews."[13][24][25] Recalling Stalin's order, Molotov commented: 'Thank God for these words! Jews formed an absolute majority in the leadership and among the ambassadors. It wasn't good."[24]

Given Litvinov's prior attempts to create an anti-fascist coalition, association with the doctrine of collective security with France and Britain, and pro-Western orientation[26] by Kremlin standards, his dismissal indicated the existence of a Soviet option of rapprochement with Germany.[27][Note 3] Likewise, Molotov's appointment was a signal to Germany that the USSR was open to offers.[27] The dismissal also signaled to France and Britain the existence of a potential negotiation option with Germany.[29][30] One British official wrote that Litvinov's disappearance also meant the loss of an admirable technician or shock-absorber, while Molotov's "modus operandi" was "more truly Bolshevik than diplomatic or cosmopolitan."[31]

With regard to the signing of a German-Soviet nonaggression pact with secret protocols dividing eastern Europe three months later, Hitler remarked to military commanders that "Litvinov's replacement was decisive."[18] A German official told the Soviet Ambassador that Hitler was also pleased that Litvinov's replacement, Molotov, was not Jewish.[32] Hitler also wrote to Mussolini that Litvinov's dismissal demonstrated the Kremlin's readiness to alter relations with Berlin, which led to "the most extensive nonaggression pact in existence."[33] When Litvinov was later asked about the reasons for his dismissal, he replied by asking, "Do you really think that I was the right person to sign a treaty with Hitler?"[34]

Litvinov, like Churchill, had misgivings about Munich. Following the invasion of the U.S.S.R. on 22 June 1941, Litvinov said on a radio broadcast to Britain and the U.S., "We always realized the danger which a Hitler victory in the West could constitute for us," which one commentator described as, "in the tactful language which underlings must apply to dictators... tantamount to 'I told you so.'".[35] With the Soviet Union embroiled in the Great Patriotic War, Joseph Stalin appointed Litvinov as Deputy Commissar of Foreign Affairs. Litvinov also served as Ambassador to the United States from 1941 to 1943 and significantly contributed to the lend lease agreement signed in 1941.

Death and legacy[edit]

In 1945, he was mentioned by Halvdan Koht among seven candidates that were qualified for the Nobel Prize in Peace. However, he did not explicitly nominate any of them. The person actually nominated was Cordell Hull.[36]

There have been rumours indicating Litvinov was murdered on Stalin's personal instructions to the MVD: according to Anastas Mikoyan a truck deliberately collided with Litvinov's car as it rounded a bend near to the Litvinov dacha on New Year's Eve 1951; Litvinov later died of his injuries.[37] "The assassination of Litvinov marked an intensification of Stalin's anti-Semitic campaign."[38] However, according to Litvinov's wife and daughter, Stalin was still on good terms with him at the time of his death; he had serious heart problems and was given the best treatment during the final weeks of his life, which ended in a heart attack on 31 December 1951.[39]

After Litvinov's death, his widow remained in the Soviet Union until she returned to live in Britain in 1972. His last words, to his wife, were "Englishwoman go home".

Vyacheslav Molotov later remarked that Litvinov had "remained among the living only by chance."[40] It was Molotov's opinion that, "Litvinov was utterly hostile to us [...] He deserved the highest measure of punishment at the hands of the proletariat. Every punishment."[41]

His grandson Pavel Litvinov is a Russian physicist, writer and a Soviet-era dissident.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Litvinov, who "was referred to by the German radio as 'Litvinov-Finkelstein', was dropped in favor of Vyascheslav Molotov. 'The emininent Jew', as Churchill put it, 'the target of German antagonism was flung aside . . . like a broken tool . . . The Jew Litvinov was gone and Hitler's dominant prejudice placated.'"[14]
  2. ^ In an introduction to a 1992 paper, Geoffrey Roberts writes: "Perhaps the only thing that can be salvaged from the wreckage of the orthodox interpretation of Litvinov's dismissal is some notion that, by appointing Molotov foreign minister, Stalin was preparing for the contingency of a possible deal with Hitler. In view of Litvinov's Jewish heritage and his militant anti-nazism, that is not an unreasonable supposition. But it is a hypothesis for which there is as yet no evidence. Moreover, we shall see that what evidence there is suggests that Stalin's decision was determined by a quite different set of circumstances and calculations"[23]
  3. ^ According to Paul Flewers, Stalin's address to the eighteenth congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on 10 March 1939 discounted any idea of German designs on the Soviet Union. Stalin had intended: "To be cautious and not allow our country to be drawn into conflicts by warmongers who are accustomed to have others pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them." This was intended to warn the Western powers that they could not necessarily rely upon the support of the Soviet Union. As Flewers put it, "Stalin was publicly making the none-too-subtle implication that some form of deal between the Soviet Union and Germany could not be ruled out."[28]


  1. ^ Current Biography, 1941, p. 518.
  2. ^ Rappaport (2010), pp. 136–137
  3. ^ Rappaport (2010), p. 144
  4. ^ Alleged nihilists arrested in Paris
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Review; by Alan Bodger; The Slavonic and East European Review; Vol. 63, No. 4 (Oct., 1985), pp. 604
  7. ^ Robert Service (2011). Spies and Commissars: The Bolshevik Revolution and the West. Pan Macmillan. 
  8. ^ Litvinoff, Ambassador to England, Hopes They Will Compel 'a Democratic Peace.'
  9. ^ Memoirs of a British Agent p201
  10. ^ Wells, H. G. (1933). " The Shape of Things to Come. London: Hutchinson. 
  11. ^ Memoirs of a British Agent p203
  12. ^ Current Biography, 1941, pp 518–20.
  13. ^ a b Herf (2006), pp. 97–98
  14. ^ Levin (1988), p. 330
  15. ^ a b c d Nekrich, Ulam & Freeze (1997), p. 109
  16. ^ Resis (2000), p. 47
  17. ^ Israeli (2003), p. 10
  18. ^ a b Nekrich, Ulam & Freeze (1997), p. 110
  19. ^ Shirer (1990), pp. 480–1
  20. ^ Ulam (1989), p. 508
  21. ^ Herf (2006), p. 56
  22. ^ Osborn (2000), p. xix
  23. ^ Roberts (1992)
  24. ^ a b Resis (2000), p. 35
  25. ^ Moss (2005), p. 283
  26. ^ Gorodetsky (1994), p. 55
  27. ^ a b Resis (2000), p. 51
  28. ^ From the Red Flag to the Union Jack: The Rise of Domestic Patriotism in the Communist Party of Great Britain 1995
  29. ^ Watson (2000), p. 698
  30. ^ Resis (2000), pp. 33–56
  31. ^ Watson (2000), p. 699
  32. ^ Brackman (2001), pp. 333–334
  33. ^ Nekrich, Ulam & Freeze (1997), p. 119
  34. ^ Israeli (2003), p. 110
  35. ^ Harpo Speaks
  36. ^ "Record from The Nomination Database for the Nobel Prize in Peace, 1901–1956". Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 2010-05-14. [dead link]
  37. ^ Tzouliadis (2009), pp. 306–307
  38. ^ Tzouliadis (2009), p. 307
  39. ^ Haslam (2011), p. 75
  40. ^ Chuev & Resis (1993), p. 69
  41. ^ Chuev & Resis (1993), p. 68



External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Georgy Chicherin
People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Vyacheslav Molotov