(1876–1951), revolutionary, Communist Party activist, and Soviet diplomat. Born to a Jewish merchant family in Białystok, Maksim Litvinov (also known as Meir-Henekh Moiseevich Wallach) received a traditional Jewish education and graduated from a secondary school. He was a member of the Rossiiskaia Sotsial-Demokraticheskaia Rabochaia Partiia (Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party) from 1898 and became actively involved in distributing the illegal Communist paper Iskra.
Arrested in 1901, Litvinov escaped from a Kiev prison and fled abroad, where he remained—with a two-year break—until 1918. He joined the Bolsheviks in 1903 and began to coordinate smuggling cadres and weapons into Russia. Litvinov returned illegally to Russia in 1904, and in 1905 collaborated with Maksim Gorky and Leonid Krasin to publish the first legal Bolshevik newspaper in Russia, Novaia zhizn’ (The New Life). Abroad again from 1906, Litvinov worked in expatriate Bolshevik cells: he was secretary to and a member of the Russian delegation to the International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart in 1907, and later became secretary of the London Bolshevik group and Bolshevik representative at the Socialist International Bureau. Litvinov represented the Bolsheviks at the Socialist Congress of the States of the Entente Cordiale in 1915.
In 1918, Litvinov was appointed Soviet diplomatic representative in Britain; however, the British government did not recognize his credentials. The same year, Litvinov became a member of the Collegium of the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. In 1921, he served as deputy people’s commissar of foreign affairs. As a diplomat, Litvinov made a significant contribution to establishing Soviet diplomatic relations with the West. Between 1927 and 1930, he was in charge of coordinating the Russian positions at the disarmament conference in Geneva. From 1930 to 1939, Litvinov was people’s commissar of foreign affairs and headed Soviet delegations to various international conferences. In 1933, he led negotiations to establish diplomatic relationships with the United States, and from 1934 until 1938 he was the senior Soviet representative to the League of Nations. In 1934, he became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
In 1939, Litvinov, a fervent opponent of the rapprochement with Germany, was removed from office, and in early 1941, from the Central Committee. Following the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, Litvinov became Soviet ambassador to the United States (and from 1942 to 1943 also to Cuba). From 1943 to 1946 he was deputy commissar of foreign affairs. In 1947 he was officially retired.
Litvinov wrote many works on international relations and international law. In 1935, as people’s commissar of international affairs, Litvinov took part in discussions regarding the possibility of using Soviet ships to transport Polish Jews to Palestine. Early in World War II, he headed a commission to gather and investigate information on the extermination of European Jewry. In 1942, as Soviet ambassador in Washington, Litvinov met with Zionist representatives and suggested that they provide a list of Zionists incarcerated in the USSR to be forwarded to the Soviet government. In 1943, he helped coordinate the visit of representatives from the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee to the United States. He also engaged in discussions with Nahum Goldman on prospects for a Jewish state in Palestine after the war. In 1945, as chairman of the Commission for Preparations of Peace Agreements and Postwar Settlement, Litvinov wrote a memorandum entitled “The Question of Palestine,” in which he proposed that Palestine come under a temporary Soviet trusteeship or, if that were unacceptable, under collective Soviet, American, and British trusteeship.
Il’ia Ehrenburg, Men, Years, Life, 6 vols., trans. Tatiana Shebunina (London, 1962–1966), see esp. vol. 6; Zinovii Sheinis, Maksim Maksimovich Litvinov: Revoliutsioner, diplomat, chelovek (Moscow, 1989).
Translated from Russian by Chaim Chernikov