The Bolshevik Banker

One of the most influential bolshevik leaders comes from a banking family and helped create the US-Soviet alliance.

Meir Henoch Wallach 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)

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.

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 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.

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.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.

However, Litvinov undoubtedly tried to intervene in Britain’s internal politics agreeing at the request of the Daily Herald, a newspaper supporting the Labour Party, to ask the Soviet government to give it financial assistance saying:
If we do not support the Daily Herald, which is now passing through a fresh crisis, the paper will have to turn to a Right trade union. On Russian questions it acts as if it is our organ. After Lansbury’s journey to Moscow earlier in the year, the Herald has moved considerably to the Left and decidedly advocates direct action in support of the Soviet regime. It needed £50,000 in six months, after which once again it hoped to be on firm ground. I beg for an early and favourable answer because there is no hope of establishing a purely Communist newspaper at this time.

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 the United Kingdom, 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 in the mid-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.

In 1933, Litvinov was instrumental in winning a long-sought diplomatic plum: formal diplomatic recognition by the United States of the Soviet government. US President Franklin Roosevelt sent comedian Harpo Marx to the Soviet Union as a goodwill ambassador. Litvinov and Marx became friends and even performed a routine on stage together. Litvinov also actively facilitated the acceptance of the Soviet Union into the League of Nations, where he represented his country from 1934 to 1938.

Litvinov was dispatched to Washington, D.C., to serve as the Soviet Union’s Ambassador to the United States.
Like Churchill, Litvinov had misgivings about the Munich Agreement. After returning to Soviet Union, Litvinov became deputy minister for foreign affairs. He was dismissed from his post after an interview given to Richard C. Hottelet on 18 June 1946 in which he expressed a belief that war between the West and the Soviet Union was inevitable.

Sources : 1. Holroyd-Doveton, John (2013). Maxim Litvinov: A Biography. Woodland Publications.

2.Nekrich, Alexander; Ulam, Adam; Freeze, Gregory L., eds. (1997). Pariahs, Partners, Predators: German-Soviet Relations, 1922–1941. New York: Columbia University Press.

3. Rappaport, Helen (2010). Conspirator: Lenin in Exile, The Making of a Revolutionary. Windmill Books

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