Vyacheslav Molotov

Vyacheslav Molotov

Vyacheslav Molotov, the son of middle-class parents, was born in Kukarka, Russia, on 25th February, 1890. He was sent to Kazan to be educated and while there met a group of students who introduced him to the ideas of Karl Marx.

In 1905 joined the Social Democratic Labour Party and after the 1905 Revolution began to associate with the Bolshevik faction of the party. Molotov was soon arrested and sent to Vologda province.

After his release Molotov left Russia to join other Bolsheviks living in exile. He met Vladimir Lenin and it was agreed that he should return to St. Petersburg to organize the distribution of Zvezda, the party newspaper. Later Molotov was to become editorial secretary of Pravda.

The Okhrana attempted to arrest Molotov in 1913 but he managed to escape and went into hiding. Several times he came close to being captured and so he moved to Moscow. However, several police spies had joined the Bolsheviks in Moscow and Molotov was soon arrested and deported to Irkutsk in Siberia.

In 1915 Molotov escaped from Siberia and managed to get to Petrograd where he soon established himself as one of the leaders of the Bolsheviks in the city. He worked closely with Alexander Shlyapnikov and together they helped organize the strikes that resulted in the February Revolution. Molotov also became a member of the Military Revolutionary Committee that planned the October Revolution.

In 1921 Molotov was elected to the Central Committee of the Communist Party and three years later became a member of the Politburo. After the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924 Molotov switched his support to Joseph Stalin and played an important role in the launching of the Five Year Plan.

In 1930 Joseph Stalin appointed Molotov as his prime minister. When the Jewish origins of Maxim Litvinov created problems for Stalin during his negotiations with Germany in 1939, Molotov became the new Commissar of Foreign Affairs. Soon afterwards Molotov signed the the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

On 25th September, 1940, the German foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop sent a telegram to Molotov, informing him that Germany, Italy and Japan were about to sign a military alliance. Ribbentrop pointed out that the alliance was to be directed towards the United States and not the Soviet Union. "Its exclusive purpose is to bring the elements pressing for America's entry into the war to their senses by conclusively demonstrating to them if they enter the present struggle they will automatically have to deal with the three great powers as adversaries."

Molotov already knew about the proposed German-Japanese Pact. Richard Sorge, a German journalist working in Tokyo, was a Soviet spy and had already told Molotov that Adolf Hitler was involved in negotiations with Japan. In Sorge's view, the pact was directed against the Soviet Union but it was not until December, 1940, that he was able to send Molotov full details of Operation Barbarossa.

During the Second World War Molotov was at Stalin's side during the conferences held at Teheran (1943), Yalta (1945) and Potsdam (1945). He also attended the San Francisco Conference which created the United Nations.

In 1949 Molotov lost his post when Joseph Stalin appointed Andrei Vyshinsky as his Foreign Minister. After the death of Stalin in 1953 Vyshinsky was sacked and Molotov returned to his old job.

In June, 1956, Molotov joined the group that unsuccessfully tried to oust Nikita Khrushchev as the new leader of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev demoted him to the position of ambassador to Mongolia. He was later denounced as being involved in the arrest and execution of Lev Kamenev, Gregory Zinoviev, Nickolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov and other leading Bolsheviks in the 1930s. In 1964 Molotov was expelled from the party.

Vyacheslav Molotov died in Moscow on 8th November, 1986.

Primary Sources

(1) The Granat Encyclopaedia of the Russian Revolution was published by the Soviet government in 1924. The encyclopaedia included a collection of autobiographies and biographies of over two hundred people involved in the Russian Revolution. This included a biography of Molotov.

Revolutionary ideas first reached him in Nolinsk in 1905. It is sufficient to recall that date for it to be clear that the first revolutionary impression on the soul of the 15-year-old boy occurred when it had been made soft, receptive and expectant by events. More eloquently than all conversations and speeches, the students were affected by the bare news of the railway and then of the general strike, the activity of the St Petersburg Soviet of Workers' Deputies, the blazing landowners' estates in Sumara, Saratov, Tambov and Penza provinces, etc.

(2) Victor Serge was a member of the left-wing of the Communist Party. He considered Vyacheslav Molotov and Joseph Stalin to be Centerists.

Centerist was our designation of the Stalin tendency (Molotov, Kaganovich, Mikoyan, Kirov, Uglanov), because its only apparent motive was the preservation of power, to which end it would resort by turns to the policies of the Right and of the Left Opposition.

(3) Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers (1971)

Molotov took the name hammer just as Stalin had taken the name steel, and Stalin did indeed use Molotov to smash his opposition into submission and to pound his own power base into shape. On Stalin's behalf Molotov led the liquidation of the Mensheviks and then, with Voloshilov, went to Leningrad in 1926 to crush the Zinoviev opposition. In 1931 he was promoted to take the place of the deposed "rightest" Rykov as nominal Prime Minister (Chairman of the council of people's Commissars). in 1939 he surrendered the premiership to Stalin and become foreign minister when Maxim Litvinov's policy of collective security was abandoned in favour of Stalin's preparations to make a deal with Hitler. Molotov's first major act as foreign minister was to sign a nonaggression and friendship pact with the Nazi opposite number, Joachim von Ribbentrop.

(4) Joachim von Ribbentrop sent this telegram to Molotov about the proposed German-Japanese Pact on 25th September, 1940.

This alliance is directed exclusively against American warmongers. To be sure that is, as usual, not expressly stated in the treaty, but can be unmistakably inferred from its terms. Its exclusive purpose is to bring the elements pressing for America's entry into the war to their senses by conclusively demonstrating to them if they enter the present struggle they will automatically have to deal with the three great powers as adversaries.

(5) Hugh Dalton, diary entry (7th September, 1942)

All ministers of Cabinet rank are invited to lunch at the Admiralty, and the P.M. makes one of his very attractive, intimate and amusing speeches to his 'pals and comrades'. He recalls our first gathering just before Dunkirk, and how then all seemed very black and we were all prepared to give up everything, including life itself as one of the least things to give up, rather than give in, and how we, by our united determination to go on to the end, sustained him in those days. And now, in spite of all, the prospect is immeasurably brighter. He gave an account, much on the lines that I had heard before, of his visit to the Middle East and Moscow. He said very frankly that Auchinleck had become a very dangerous failure and that the spirit of the troops was not at all good, though he hoped that now it had been improved.

Of Stalin he said many complimentary things. Also "He is very genial out of business hours" and this he had appreciated. He thought that they had got on very well together. The last night, he being due to catch a plane away at 5 next morning, Stalin asked him, when they had finished their formal business about 7 p.m., whether he had any preoccupation that evening. When he said no, Stalin said, "Then let us go and have some drinks together." They then repaired to the Kremlin, to Stalin's private apartments, which were conveniently, but by no means luxuriously, furnished. Stalin then proceeded himself to draw the corks from a large number of bottles, in the midst of which process a pretty red-haired girl entered. She kissed Stalin, who looked to see how Churchill reacted to this. "And I confess", said the P.M., "that I acquired a quite definite physical impression. It was Stalin's daughter."Stalin then asked, "Do you mind if we have Molotov as well?", and added, "There is one thing you can say in defence of Molotov: he can drink." So Molotov was allowed in too. Then they had drinks and food and drinks and talk till 3 a.m., and then the P.M. said that he must go to pack up, as his plane left at 5. The P.M. is quite convinced that the Russians will fight on and on until victory. "Even if we and the Americans were to throw in our hands tomorrow, I am sure that they would go on."

(6) Henry Wallace, diary (3rd June, 1942)

At the USSR embassy I sat beside Molotov, who, I found, was exceedingly interested in postwar problems. He is very deeply interested in an enduring peace and realizes that Russia cannot have the enduring peace which she requires to develop her territory unless there is economic justice elsewhere in the world (as well as complete and enduring disarmament of Germany). I told him I thought one of the great problems of the postwar world was to bring about a rapid industrialization and improvement in nutrition in India, China, Siberia, and Latin America. He agreed completely and felt that there was a 50 - or a 100 - year job in developing these areas and that the job should be done by the United Nations together. No one nation could do it by itself.

(7) Guy Burgess gave information to Harold Nicolson about a meeting between Ernest Bevin and Vyacheslav Molotov in 1947. Nicolson wrote about it in his book Diaries and Letters (1966)

"Now, Mr Molotov, what is it that you want? What are you after? Do you want to get Austria behind your Iron Curtain? You can't do that. Do you want Turkey and the Straits ? You can't have them. Do you want Korea? You can't have that. You are putting your neck out too far, and one day you will have it chopped off.. .. You cannot look on me as an enemy of Russia. Why, when our Government was trying to stamp out your Revolution, who was it that stopped it? It was I, Ernest Bevin. I called out the transport workers and they refused to load the ships. Now again I am speaking to you as a friend... If war comes between you and America in the East, then we may be able to remain neutral. But if war comes between you and America in the West, then we shall be on America's side. Make no mistake about that. That would be the end of Russia and of your Revolution. So please stop sticking out your neck in this way and tell me what you are after. What

do you want?"

"I want a unified Germany," said Molotov.

"Why do you want that? Do you really believe that a unified Germany would go Communist? They pretend to. They would say all the right things and repeat all the correct formulas. But in their hearts they would be longing for the day when they would revenge their defeat at Stalingrad. You know that as well as I do."

"Yes," said Molotov, "I know that. But I still want a unified Germany."

And that was all he could get out of him.