Maxim Maximovich Litvinov, Russian pronunciation: [mɐˈksʲim mɐˈksʲiməvʲɪtɕ lʲɪˈtvʲinəf]; born Meir Henoch Wallach (17 July 1876 – 31 December 1951) was an ethnic Jewish Russian revolutionary and prominent Soviet Bolshevik Politician.

Maxim Litvinov
Макси́м Литви́нов
Maxim Litvinov 1932.jpg
Litvinov in 1932
Soviet Ambassador to the United States
In office
10 November 1941 – 22 August 1943
PremierVyacheslav Molotov
Joseph Stalin
Preceded byKonstantin Umansky
Succeeded byAndrei Gromyko
In office
PremierVladimir Lenin
Preceded byBoris Bakhmeteff
Succeeded byLudwig Martens
People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union
In office
21 July 1930 – 3 May 1939
PremierJoseph Stalin
Preceded byGeorgy Chicherin
Succeeded byVyacheslav Molotov
Personal details
Meir Henoch Mojszewicz Wallach-Finkelstein

(1876-07-17)17 July 1876
Białystok, Russian Empire
Died31 December 1951(1951-12-31) (aged 75)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Political partyAll-Union Communist Party (bolsheviks)
ProfessionDiplomat, civil servant

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 emerged 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.[1] Litvinov survived the Great Patriotic War and died a natural death in the USSR in 1951.


Early life and first exileEdit

Maxim Litvinov in 1896

Meir Henoch Wallach was born into a wealthy Polish 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.[2]

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.

However, the most important event in 1903 for the advancement of Litvinov's political career was meeting Lenin in the British Library.[3]

Lenin and Litvinov went to Hyde Park to hear some of the speeches, and continued to remain in touch during this pre-revolutionary period.[4]

After the 1905 Revolution, he became editor of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP)'s first legal newspaper, Novaya Zhizn (New Life), in St. Petersburg.

Second emigrationEdit

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.[5]

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. [6][7]

Litvinov in 1902

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.[8] Litvinov was deported from France and he went to Belfast in Ireland. There, he taught foreign languages in the Jewish Jaffe Public Elementary School until 1910.[9] He then moved to England and lived in London, where he was active in the International Socialist Bureau.

When war broke out in 1914, the Tsar requested that all Russian émigrés who were in England and liable for Russian military service be returned to fight in the Russian army. However Litvinov did not return as he was able to convince the English officer who interviewed him that if he returned to Russia he would be tried rather than fight in the army.[10]

Litvinov regularly spoke in public opposing the war but failed to face up to the fact that if Britain had not declared war they would have broken a treaty to defend Belgium.[11] Litvinov in the 30s at the pinnacle of his power, had constantly stressed the importance of abiding by the terms of treaties.[12]

He addressed the conference of the Entente Labour Parties but they were not persuaded to change course.

"While holding the olive branch in one hand, we have to hold the sword in the other. We have been forced to take up the sword as the only means of defence. We must not forget we are able to assemble here because the Royal Navy hold the high seas and millions of Allied troops hold the line. If Germany was to succeed, the resolutions we pass would be a mere scrap of paper and of no more value than the Russian bank notes of the Russian state bank."[13]

Later, a mutiny took place on a Russian ship in the Mersey. The police having been warned of possible trouble had the ship under surveillance, and when shouts were heard that the crew were threatening to kill their officers the ship was boarded and the crew were arrested. Shortly before the mutiny a police report confirmed that Litvinov had received the sailors very well.[14] Therefore at best Litvinov had failed to try and dissuade the sailors from carrying out the mutiny or condemn the mutiny and at worse had encouraged the mutiny.[15]

Litvinov was also seeking interview with British, American, Australian and Canadian soldiers and inculcating them with Bolshevik ideas, as well as inducing British and American soldiers of Jewish descent to carry on propaganda in their regiments. There was an occasion when thirty Royal Engineers, American and Canadian soldiers were received in Litvinov’s office. It was assumed that similarly Litvinov was encouraging them to state their grievances.[14]

In England, Litvinov met and in 1916 married Ivy Low, the daughter of a Jewish university professor.[16] 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 1920sEdit

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.[16] 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.[17]

Litvinov was still allowed to speak freely even after the treaty of Brest-Litovsk between Germany and Russia which took Russia out of the war.[1]

In January 1918 Litvinov addressed the Labour Party Conference praising the achievements of the Revolution. The land has been given to the peasants. The factories are under the supervision of their shop steward committees. Superfluous apartments of the rich have been made available to provide shelter for the homeless. The banks have been nationalised, and in short,a nationalisation policy has been carried out in all the services of the community. The Army has been democratised and self-determination has been guaranteed to all nationalities of Russia. He then appealed to the Conference.

The Russian worker has been fighting an unequal battle against the imperialists of all the world for democratic principles honestly applied. They have begun the proceedings for a general peace, but it is obvious they cannot finish it alone. I would say to the representatives of British Labour. ‘Speed up your peace.’[18]

Kerensky the Russian leader of the democratic Government which replaced the Tsar and was overthrown by Lenin was welcomed by the British Government on a visit to London and addressed the Labour Party Conference criticising the dictatorship of Lenin’s government saying:

"They have dispersed the Constituent Assembly, abolished freedom of speech, have made human life the easy prey of every red guardsman, have destroyed the liberty of the elections, even in the Councils of the Workmen, that have made an end of all institutions of self-government that have been elected by universal suffrage. The Bolsheviks claim that the present state of Russia is a dictatorship of the proletariat, although the most ruthless repression is applied against the democratic and socialist parties. War has been organised against the helpless population and every Russian citizen who refuses to recognise this method of government as perfect is declared counter-revolutionary."[19]

This was what actually occurred throughout the seventy years of Russian Communism.[20]

Litvinov in the left-wing English press criticised Kerensky for saying:

"The continuance of the government in time of Revolution, for eight months without a standing army, except voluntary detachments, without police and press censorship and indeed with greater freedom of speech and the press than exists in any other country immediately disproves allegations to the contrary. Kerensky and his friends, having convinced themselves of the futility of any counter-revolutionary revolts in Russia, are now coming abroad to seek foreign military intervention for the overthrow of the Soviets under the pretext of fighting Germany. Further, if Kerensky is successful in overthrowing the Bolshevik regime, it will not be replaced by a socialist or even a democratic government but by the most brutal and barbaric military dictatorship resting on foreign bayonets, with the inevitable restoration of Tsarism.[21] Clearly, the reception given to Kerensky indicated that the vast majority of the British Labour movement believed that a safer route to improve the prosperity of the working class was through the parliamentary route rather than by revolution."[20]

Later 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.[16] Litvinov was held until exchanged for Lockhart, who had been imprisoned similarly in Russia.[16]

Following his release, Litvinov returned to Moscow, arriving there at the end of 1918.[16] 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.[16] 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.[16] This successful negotiation amounted to de facto recognition of the new revolutionary Russian government by the other signatories to the agreement and established Litvinov's importance in Soviet diplomacy.[16]

In 1921 Litvinov was appointed First Deputy People's Commissar of Foreign Affairs, second in command to People's Commissar Georgy Chicherin (1872–1936).[16] Although both were 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. He sought to hold Soviet Russia aloof from diplomatic dealmaking with capitalist powers.[16] As diplomatic historian Jonathan Haslam has observed, Litvinov was precisely the reverse: less erudite and more coarse, but willing to deal in good faith with the West for peace and a breathing space for Soviet Russia to pursue its own internal development.[16]

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.[16] He was frustrated by the failure of the Kellogg Pact's signatories to ratify the treaty. So he proposed the Litvinov Protocol, in which signatories formally proclaimed themselves in mutual compliance with the pacifistic goals of the Kellogg-Briand Pact. It was signed in Moscow in February 1929 by the Soviet Union, Poland, Romania, Latvia, and Estonia, and later by several other countries.

People's Commissar of Foreign AffairsEdit

Józef Beck and Maxim Litvinov. Moscow, February 1934

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.[22] 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.[22]

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.[22] 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.[22] 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.[22]

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.[2] 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 dismissalEdit

After the Munich Agreement, German media derided Litvinov about his Jewish ancestry, referring to him as "Finkelstein-Litvinov."[23]

On 3 May 1939, Stalin replaced Litvinov with Vyacheslav Molotov.[24] That night, NKVD troops surrounded the offices of the commissariat of foreign affairs.[24] The phone at Litvinov's dacha was disconnected and, the following morning, Molotov, Georgy Malenkov, and Lavrenty Beria arrived at the commissariat to inform Litvinov of his dismissal.[24] After Litvinov's dismissal, many of his aides were arrested and beaten, evidently in an attempt to extract compromising information.[24]

Maxim Litvinov plays chess with his son Misha in 1936

The replacement of Litvinov with Molotov significantly increased Stalin's freedom to maneuver in foreign policy.[25] The dismissal of Litvinov, whose Jewish ethnicity was viewed disfavorably by Nazi Germany, removed an obstacle to negotiations with Germany.[26] Stalin immediately directed Molotov to "purge the ministry of Jews."[23][27] 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."[27]

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.[28] Likewise, Molotov's appointment was a signal to Germany that the USSR was open to offers.[28] 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."[29]

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."[26] A German official told the Soviet Ambassador that Hitler was also pleased that Litvinov's replacement, Molotov, was not Jewish.[30] 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."[31] 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?"[32]

Ambassador to the United StatesEdit

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."

Grave of Maxim Litvinov at Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow

Death and legacyEdit

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."[33] 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.[34]

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.[35]

Molotov declared Litvinov "not a bad diplomat—a good one" but proclaimed him "quite an opportunist" who "greatly sympathized with Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Kamenev.[35] "Litvinov remained among the living [in the Great Purge] only by chance," Molotov declared.[35]

Litvinov's grandson, Pavel Litvinov, who resides in the United States, is a physicist and writer and was a Soviet-era dissident.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Holroyd-Doveton, John (2013). Maxim Litvinov: A Biography. Woodland Publications. pp. 22–35.
  2. ^ a b Block, Maxine ed. (1941) Current Biography. pp. 518–520. ISBN 978-9997376671
  3. ^ Holroyd-Doveto, p. 2
  4. ^ Pope, Arthur (1943). Maxim Litvinov. L.B. Fischer. p. 51.
  5. ^ Rappaport, pp. 136–137.
  6. ^ Geoffrey Howse (2005). Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in London's East End. Casemate. p. 25.
  7. ^ Rappaport, p. 144.
  8. ^ "Alleged Nihilists Arrested in Paris," New York Times.
  9. ^ "Belfast: 10 Little Known Facts from the Quirky to Downright Unbelievable," Belefast Telegraph.
  10. ^ Holroyd-Doveto, p. 8
  11. ^ Holroyd-Doveto, p. 10
  12. ^ Degras, Jane. Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy vol 3 (Speech, 1 July 1936). pp. 194 196–198.
  13. ^ "Times". Times. 24 February 1918.
  14. ^ a b Foreign Office Document FO/371/3299 p. 52
  15. ^ Holroyd-Doveto, p. 26
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Haslam, Jonathan (1983) Soviet Foreign Policy, 1930–33: The Impact of the Depression. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 11–13. ISBN 0312748388
  17. ^ Lockhart, R. H. Bruce (2008). Memoirs of a British Agent. Read Books. p. 203. ISBN 978-1-4437-8151-0.
  18. ^ "Labour Leader". 24 January 1918: 5. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  19. ^ "Labour Conference Report". 1918: 60. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  20. ^ a b Holroyd-Doveton, John (2013). Maxim Litvinov: A Biography. Woodland Publications. p. 33.
  21. ^ "Herald". 6 July 1921: 14. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  22. ^ a b c d e Haslam, Jonathan (1984). The Soviet Union and the Struggle for Collective Security in Europe, 1933–1939. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 52–53. ISBN 9780333300503
  23. ^ a b Herf, Jeffrey (2006) The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. pp. 97–98. ISBN 0674027388
  24. ^ a b c d Nekrich, p. 109
  25. ^ Resis, p. 47
  26. ^ a b Nekrich, p. 110
  27. ^ a b Resis, p. 35
  28. ^ a b Resis, p. 51
  29. ^ Watson, Derek (2000). "Molotov's Apprenticeship in Foreign Policy: The Triple Alliance Negotiations in 1939". Europe-Asia Studies. 52 (4): 695–722 (698–699). doi:10.1080/713663077. JSTOR 153322.
  30. ^ Brackman, Roman (2001) The Secret File of Joseph Stalin: a Hidden Life. London: Frank Cass. pp. 333–334. ISBN 0714684023
  31. ^ Nekrich, p. 119
  32. ^ Israeli, Victor (2003) On the Battlefields of the Cold War: A Soviet Ambassador's Confession. University Park, PA: Penn State Press. p. 110. ISBN 0271022973
  33. ^ Tzouliadis, Tim (2009) The Forsaken: From the Great Depression to the Gulags: Hope and Betrayal in Stalin's Russia. London: Abacus. pp. 306–307. ISBN 9780748130313
  34. ^ Haslam, Jonathan (2011) Russia's Cold War: From the October Revolution to the Fall of the Wall. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. p. 75. ISBN 9780300159974
  35. ^ a b c Chuev, Felix (1993) Molotov Remembers. Albert Resis, trans. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee. pp. 67–69. ISBN 9781566630276

Cited sourcesEdit

  • Holroyd-Doveto, John (2013). Maxim Litvinov: A Biography. Woodland Publications. ISBN 978-0957296107.
  • Nekrich, Alexander; Ulam, Adam; Freeze, Gregory L., eds. (1997). Pariahs, Partners, Predators: German-Soviet Relations, 1922–1941. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231106769.
  • Rappaport, Helen (2010). Conspirator: Lenin in Exile, The Making of a Revolutionary. Windmill Books. ISBN 0465013953.
  • Resis, Albert (2000). "The Fall of Litvinov: Harbinger of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact". Europe-Asia Studies. 52 (1): 33–56. doi:10.1080/09668130098253. JSTOR 153750.

Further readingEdit

  • Gorodetsky, Gabriel. Soviet Foreign Policy, 1917–1991: a Retrospective. London: Routledge, 1994.
  • Levin, Nora. The Jews in the Soviet Union Since 1917: Paradox of Survival. In Two Volumes. New York: New York University Press, 1988.
  • Lockhart, R.H. Bruce. Memoirs of a British Agent: Being an Account of the Author's Early Life in Many Lands and of his Official Mission to Moscow in 1918. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1933.
  • Osborne, Patrick R. Operation Pike: Britain Versus the Soviet Union, 1939–1941. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000.
  • Phillips, Hugh D. Between the revolution and the West: a political biography of Maxim M. Litvinov (Westview Press, 1992).
  • Roberts, Geoffrey. "Litvinov's Lost Peace, 1941–1946." Journal of Cold War Studies 4.2 (2002): 23-54.
  • Roberts, Geoffrey. "The Fall of Litvinov: A Revisionist View," Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 27, no. 4 (1992), pp. 639–657.
  • Saul, Norman E. Friends Or Foes?: The United States and Soviet Russia, 1921-1941 (University Press of Kansas, 2006).
  • Ulam, Ulam. Stalin: The Man and His Era. Boston: Beacon Press, 1989.


External linksEdit

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