Maxim Litvinov: Wikis


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Maxim Litvinov
1933 Soviet Envoy Talks With Roosevelt.ogv
Visit of Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov to the USA (1933)

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


Early life and first exile

Born Meir Henoch Mojszewicz Wallach-Finkelstein (simplified into Max Wallach, Russian: Макс Ва́ллах) into a wealthy Jewish banking family in Białystok, Grodno Governorate in Podlasie Region of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, at that time part of the Russian Empire (Northwestern Krai) (some sources say a poor Jewish family,[1]), the son of Moses and Anna Wallach, he joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) in 1898. The party was an illegal organization, and it was customary for its members to use pseudonyms. He changed his name to Maxim Litvinov, but was also known as Papasha and Maximovich. Litvinov also wrote articles under the names M.G. Harrison and David Mordecai Finkelstein [2] 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

When the Russian government began arresting Bolsheviks in 1906, Litvinov left the country and spent the next ten years living in London, where he was active in the International Socialist Bureau. In early 1918, he was frequently reported in the British and American press as the foreign representative of the Bolsheviks in the UK,[3] a claim given some substance by R. H. Bruce Lockhart, a British agent in Moscow at the time.[4] In England he met and married Ivy Lowe, daughter of one of the most distinguished Jewish families in Britain. Miss Lowe’s ancestors emigrated from Hungary to England following the unsuccessful 1848 revolution. Her father, Walter Lowe, was a prominent writer and a close friend of H.G. Wells. They enjoyed frequent exchanges, Lowe espousing the Jewish point of view, and Wells a secular philosophy.

For a while Litvinov also lived in North Belfast in Northern Ireland.

Maxim Litvinov

After the October Revolution

After the October Revolution of 1917, Litvinov was appointed by Vladimir Lenin as the Soviet government's representative in Britain. His accreditation was never officially formalised, and his position as an unofficial diplomatic contact was analogous to that of Robert Lockhart.[5] 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 Narkom (Minister) of 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 [6]. Litvinov also actively facilitated the acceptance of the USSR into the League of Nations where he represented his country in 1934—1938.

Negotiations regarding Germany and dismissal

After the Munich Agreement between Italy, Britain, France and Germany in September 1938 and Western inaction after Germany's occupation of what remained of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 had clearly demonstrated the unwillingness of the Western Powers to participate in collective security against the Axis Powers together with the Soviet Union, Soviet foreign policy was adjusted to face the new realities. In addition, German media derided Litvinov about his Jewish ancestry, referring to him as "Finkelstein-Litvinov." [7][8]

On May 3, 1939 Stalin replaced Litvinov with Vyacheslav Molotov.[9] That night, NKVD troops surrounded the offices of the commissariat of foreign affairs.[9] 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.[9] After Litvinov's dismissal, many of his aides were arrested and beaten, evidently in an attempt to extract compromising information.[9]

The replacement of Litvinov with Molotov significantly increased Stalin's freedom to maneuver in foreign policy.[10] The dismissal of Litvinov, whose Jewish ethnicity was viewed disfavorably by Nazi Germany, removed an obstacle to negotiations with Germany.[11][12][13][14][15][16][17] Stalin immediately directed Molotov to "purge the ministry of Jews."[7][18][19] 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."[18]

Given Litvinov's prior attempts to create of an anti-fascist coalition, association with the doctrine of collective security with France and Britain, and pro-Western orientation[20] by Kremlin standards, his dismissal indicated the existence of a Soviet option of rapprochement with Germany.[21][22] Likewise, Molotov's appointment was a signal to Germany that the USSR was open to offers.[21] The dismissal also signaled to France and Britain the existence of a potential negotiation option with Germany.[23][24] 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."[25]

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."[12] A German official told the Soviet Ambassador that Hitler was also pleased that Litvinov's replacement, Molotov, was not Jewish.[26] Hitler also wrote to Mussolini that Litvinov's dismissal demonstrated that Kremlin's readiness to alter relations with Berlin, which lead to "the most extensive nonaggression pact in existence."[27] When Litvinov was later asked about the reasons for his dismissal, he stated "Do you really think that I was the right person to sign a treaty with Hitler." [28]

Maxim Litvinov

Litvinov, like Churchill, had misgivings about Munich. Following the invasion of the U.S.S.R. on June 22, 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.'" [29]. 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.


Perhaps more than anyone else, the businesslike diplomat helped to bring the Soviet Union out of its post-revolutionary isolation; however, Litvinov bluntly condemned Stalin's policies during and after the war with Germany, although he was supportive of the general Soviet policy during the Great Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33 as evidenced by Welsh journalist Gareth Jones who interviewed him while in Moscow.

After Litvinov's death his wife returned to live in Britain. His last words, directed at his wife, were "Englishwoman go home".

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

See also


  1. ^ Current Biography 1941, p518
  2. ^ Id., p518
  3. ^ Litvinoff, Ambassador to England, Hopes They Will Compel 'a Democratic Peace.'
  4. ^ Memoirs of a British Agent p201
  5. ^ Memoirs of a British Agent p203
  6. ^ Current Biography 1941, pp518-20.
  7. ^ a b Herf 2006, p. 97-98
  8. ^ Levin, Nora, The Jews in the Soviet Union Since 1917: Paradox of Survival, NYU Press, 1988, ISBN 0814750516, page 330. Litvinov "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.'"
  9. ^ a b c d Nekrich, Ulam & Freeze 1997, p. 109
  10. ^ Resis 2000, p. 47
  11. ^ Israeli 2003, p. 10
  12. ^ a b Nekrich, Ulam & Freeze 1997, p. 110
  13. ^ Shirer 1990, p. 480-1
  14. ^ Ulam 1989, p. 508
  15. ^ Herf 2006, p. 56
  16. ^ Osborn, Patrick R., Operation Pike: Britain Versus the Soviet Union, 1939-1941, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000, ISBN 0313313687, page xix
  17. ^ 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", Geoffrey Roberts. The Fall of Litvinov: A Revisionist View Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Oct., 1992), pp. 639-657 Stable URL:
  18. ^ a b Resis 2000, p. 35
  19. ^ Moss, Walter, A History of Russia: Since 1855, Anthem Press, 2005, ISBN 1843310341, page 283
  20. ^ Gorodetsky, Gabriel, Soviet Foreign Policy, 1917-1991: A Retrospective, Routledge, 1994, ISBN 0714645060, page 55
  21. ^ a b Resis 2000, p. 51
  22. ^ According to Paul Flewers, Stalin’s address to the eighteenth congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on March 10, 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.” From the Red Flag to the Union Jack: The Rise of Domestic Patriotism in the Communist Party of Great Britain 1995
  23. ^ Watson 2000, p. 698
  24. ^ Resis 2000, p. 33-56
  25. ^ Watson 2000, p. 699
  26. ^ Brackman, Roman, The Secret File of Joseph Stalin: A Hidden Life, London and Portland, Frank Cass Publishers, 2001, ISBN 0714650501, page 333-4
  27. ^ Nekrich, Ulam & Freeze 1997, p. 119
  28. ^ Israeli 2003, p. 110
  29. ^ Harpo Speaks"


External links


  • Marx, H. Barber, R. Harpo Speaks. 1974. Freeway Press. pp 326–328.
Political offices
Preceded by
Georgy Chicherin
People's Comissar for Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Vyacheslav Molotov


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