Maxim Litvinov: Soviet diplomat, foreign minister 1930–39, ambassador to USA 1941–43 (1876 - 1951) | Biography, Bibliography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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Maxim Litvinov
Soviet diplomat, foreign minister 1930–39, ambassador to USA 1941–43

Maxim Litvinov

Maxim Litvinov
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Soviet diplomat, foreign minister 1930–39, ambassador to USA 1941–43
A.K.A. Maxim Litvinoff, Maksim Maksimovitch Litvinov
Was Politician Diplomat
From Russia
Field Politics
Gender male
Birth 17 July 1876, Białystok
Death 31 December 1951, Moscow (aged 75 years)
Spouse: Ivy Low Litvinov
The details (from wikipedia)


Maxim Maximovich Litvinov (Russian: Макси́м Макси́мович Литви́нов, Russian pronunciation: [mɐˈksʲim mɐˈksʲiməvʲɪtɕ lʲɪˈtvʲinəf]; born Meir Henoch Wallach-Finkelstein (17 July 1876 – 31 December 1951) was an ethnic Jewish Russian revolutionary and prominent Soviet diplomat.
A strong advocate of diplomatic agreements leading towards disarmament, Litvinov was influential in making the Soviet Union a party to the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 and was chiefly responsible in 1929 for adoption of the so-called Litvinov Protocol, a multilateral agreement bringing Kellogg-Briand into force between the USSR and a number of neighboring states. In 1930 Litvinov was named as People's Commissar of Foreign Affairs, the top-ranking diplomatic position in the Soviet state. During the subsequent decade, Litvinov would emerge as a leading voice for the official Soviet policy of collective security.
In May 1939 Litvinov was sacked because he did not believe the West was serious about confronting Hitler and was replaced with Vyacheslav Molotov, who had to continue negotiations about an anti-Hitler alliance. Litvinov would survive the Great Purge and war and a new round of anti-Jewish repression in the postwar years, dying a natural death in the USSR in 1951.


Early life and first exile

Meir Henoch Wallach-Finkelstein was born into a wealthy Lithuanian 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.

His early responsibilities included carrying out propaganda work in the 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 as an 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.

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, the party eventually 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.

In 1908, he was arrested under the name Meer Wallach by French police while carrying twelve 500-ruble banknotes that had been stolen from a bank in Tiflis during the 1907 Tiflis bank robbery that took place on 26 June 1907. 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. He then moved to England and lived in London, where he was active in the International Socialist Bureau.

In England, Litvinov met and married Ivy Low, the daughter of a Jewish university professor. Low's ancestors had emigrated from Hungary to England following the unsuccessful revolutions of 1848. Her father, Walter Low, was a prominent writer and a close friend of H.G. Wells.

Diplomat of the 1920s

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

On the day after the October Revolution of 1917, Litvinov was appointed by the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom) as the Soviet government's plenipotentiary representative in Great Britain. His accreditation was never officially formalised, and his position as an unofficial diplomatic contact was analogous to that of Bruce Lockhart, Britain's unofficial agent in Soviet Russia. In 1918, Litvinov was arrested by the British government, ostensibly on a charge of having addressed public gatherings held in opposition to British intervention in the ongoing Russian Civil War. Litvinov was held until exchanged for Lockhart, who had been imprisoned similarly in Russia.

Following his release, Litvinov returned to Moscow, arriving there at the end of 1918. There he was appointed to the governing collegium of the People's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs (Narkomindel) and immediately dispatched on an official mission to Stockholm, Sweden, where he presented a Soviet peace appeal. Litvinov was subsequently deported from Sweden but spent the next months as a roving diplomat for the Soviet government, helping to broker a multilateral agreement allowing the exchange of prisoners of war from a range of combatants, including Russia, Great Britain, and France. This successful negotiation amounted to de facto recognition of the new revolutionary Russian government by signatories to the agreement and effectively emphasised Litvinov's importance in Soviet diplomacy.

In 1921 Litvinov was appointed First Deputy People's Commissar of Foreign Affairs, second in command to People's Commissar Georgy Chicherin (1872-1936). Although both unflinchingly loyal to the Soviet regime, Litvinov and Chicherin proved to be temperamental opposites and ultimately emerged as rivals. Chicherin was cultivated and polished in personal style and taste but held a strongly anti-Western political orientation and sought to hold Soviet Russia aloof from embroilment in diplomatic dealmaking with the powers of the capitalist world. As diplomatic historian Jonathan Haslam has observed, Litvinov was precisely the reverse, less erudite and more coarse, but more than willing to deal closely and in good faith with the West so as to provide peace and a breathing space for Soviet Russia to pursue its own internal development.

Litvinov was a strong supporter of the principle of disarmament and favored Soviet participation in the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, which pledged signatories to the elimination of the use of war as a tool of foreign policy — a position directly at odds with that advocated by his nominal superior, Chicherin. Frustrated by the failure of the Kellogg Pact's signatories to ratify the treaty, in February 1929 took the lead in concluding in Moscow a related agreement remembered to diplomatic history as the Litvinov Protocol, in which the Soviet Union, Poland, Romania, Latvia, and Estonia and later several other signatories formally proclaimed themselves in mutual compliance with the pacifistic goals of the Kellogg-Briand Pact.

People's Commissar of Foreign Affairs

In 1930, Joseph Stalin appointed Litvinov 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 — a policy seemingly at odds with the "class against class" line of the so-called Third Period being advocated by the Communist International. Litvinov remained the only leading official of Narkomindel during the middle 1930s who had direct personal access to Stalin and who could deal with Stalin's inner circle on terms approaching equality — in marked contrast to other top Foreign Affairs officials such as Litvinov's protegé Boris Stomonyakov and rival Nikolay Krestinsky, for whom access was limited to the level of occasional supplication.

Stalin was largely detached from and uninterested in foreign policy throughout the first half of the 1930s, largely leaving the general operations of Narkomindel and the Comintern to their designated chiefs. This left Litvinov with fairly wide latitude to pursue policy objectives subject only to broad review and approval from the center, with Stalin frequently delegating even this aspect of leadership to members of his personal secretariat, including until the summer of 1936 Karl Radek. As a result, Litvinov's Narkomindel was able to pursue a moderate foreign policy line emphasizing stable relations between governments leading towards general disarmament which was — as one historian has called it — a "curious mismatch" with the revolutionary militance vocalized by the Comintern in the period.

In 1933, Litvinov was instrumental in winning a long-sought diplomatic plum, the formal diplomatic recognition by the United States of 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. 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

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

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

The replacement of Litvinov with Molotov significantly increased Stalin's freedom to maneuver in foreign policy. The dismissal of Litvinov, whose Jewish ethnicity was viewed disfavorably by Nazi Germany, removed an obstacle to negotiations with Germany. Stalin immediately directed Molotov to "purge the ministry of Jews." 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."

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 by Kremlin standards, his dismissal indicated the existence of a Soviet option of rapprochement with Germany. Likewise, Molotov's appointment was a signal to Germany that the USSR was open to offers. The dismissal also signaled to France and Britain the existence of a potential negotiation option with Germany. 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."

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." A German official told the Soviet Ambassador that Hitler was also pleased that Litvinov's replacement, Molotov, was not Jewish. 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." 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?"

Ambassador to the United States

Following his dismissal as head of Narkomindel, Litvinov was dispatched to Washington, DC to serve as the USSR's Ambassador to the United States.

Litvinov, like Churchill, had misgivings about the Munich Agreement. Following the Nazi invasion of the USSR on 22 June 1941, Litvinov said on a radio broadcast to Britain and the United States "We always realized the danger which a Hitler victory in the West could constitute for us."

Death and legacy

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, and he later died of his injuries. British television journalist Tim Tzouliadis stated: "The assassination of Litvinov marked an intensification of Stalin's anti-Semitic campaign." 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 available during the final weeks of his life, which ended in a heart attack on 31 December 1951.

After Litvinov's death, his widow remained in the Soviet Union until she returned to live in Britain in 1972.

In his reminiscences dictated to a supporter when he was an old man, Litvinov's replacement as chief of foreign affairs and right hand man of Joseph Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov, remembered Litvinov as "intelligent" and "first rate" but declared that Stalin and he "didn't trust him" and consequently "left him out of negotiations" with the United States during the whole war.

Molotov declared Litvinov "not a bad diplomat — a good one" but proclaimed him "quite an opportunist" who "greatly sympathized with Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Kamenev. "Litvinov remained among the living [in the Great Purge] only by chance," Molotov declared.

Litvinov's grandson, Pavel Litvinov, is a Russian physicist and writer and was a Soviet-era dissident.


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