Vyacheslav Molotov

Vyacheslav Molotov
Vyacheslav Molotov

Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov (Russian: Вячесла́в Миха́йлович Мо́лотов) (February 25, 1890 (O.S.) (March 9, 1890 (N.S.))–November 8, 1986), Soviet politician and diplomat, was a leading figure in the Soviet government from the 1920s, when he rose to power as a protege of Joseph Stalin, to the 1950s, when he was dismissed from office by Nikita Khrushchev.

Molotov was born in the village of Kukarka (now Sovietsk in Kirov Oblast) as Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Skryabin (Скря́бин), the son of a shop clerk. He was a relative of the composer Alexander Scriabin. He was educated at a secondary school in Kazan, and joined the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1906. For his political work he took the pseudonym Molotov (from the Russian molot, "hammer"). He was arrested in 1909 and spent two years in exile in Siberia. In 1911 he enrolled at the St Petersburg Polytechnic, and also joined the editorial staff of Pravda, the underground Bolshevik newspaper, of which Joseph Stalin was editor. In 1913 Molotov was again arrested and deported to Irkutsk, but in 1915 he escaped and returned to the capital.


Early career

In 1916 Molotov became a member of Bolshevik Party's committee in Petrograd (as St Petersburg had been renamed), and when the February Revolution broke out in February 1917 he was one of the few Bolsheviks of any standing in the capital. Under his direction Pravda took a "left" position of opposition to the Provisional Government which was formed after the revolution, but when Stalin returned to the capital he reversed Molotov's line. When the party leader Vladimir Lenin arrived, however, he overruled Stalin. Despite this, Molotov became a protege and close adherent of Stalin, an alliance to which he owed his later prominence (and survival). Molotov became a member of the Military Revolutionary Committee that planned the October Revolution which brought the Bolsheviks to power.

In 1918 Molotov was sent to Ukraine to take part in the civil war then breaking out, but he was not a military man and took no part in the fighting. In 1920 he became secretary to the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Bolshevik Party. In 1922, when Stalin became General Secretary of the Bolshevik Party, he recalled Molotov to Petrograd and made him a member of the party secretariat, which soon became the effective centre of power in the party. Under Stalin's patronage Molotov became a member of the Central Committee in 1921 and a member of the Politburo in 1926.

During the power struggles which followed Lenin's death in 1924, Molotov was a loyal supporter of Stalin against his various rivals: first Leon Trotsky, later Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev, and finally Nikolai Bukharin. He became a leading figure in the "Stalinist centre" of the party, which also included Kliment Voroshilov, Lazar Kaganovich, Sergo Ordzhonikidze and Sergei Kirov. Trotsky and his supporters underestimated Molotov, as many others were to do. Trotsky called him "mediocrity personified," but his outward dullness concealed a sharp mind and great administrative talent. He operated mainly behind the scenes and cultivated an image as a colourless bureaucrat - he was the only Bolshevik leader who always wore a suit and tie, for example.

Prime Minister

When Bukharin's ally Alexei Rykov was removed as Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars (Prime Minister) in 1930, Molotov succeeded him. In this post he oversaw the Stalin regime's greatest social revolution, the collectivisation of agriculture. Molotov carried out Stalin's line of using the maximum force to crush peasant resistance to collectivisation, including the deportation of millions of kulaks (peasants with property) to labour camps, where most of them died. He personally led the Extraordinary Commission for Grain Delivery in Ukraine, which seized a reported 4.2 million tonnes of grain from the peasants, leaving them to starve. Contemporary historians estimate that between four and six million Russians and Ukrainians died (either of starvation or in labour camps) in the move to collectivise farms. Molotov also oversaw the implementation of the first Five-Year Plan for crash industrialisation.

The assassination of Sergei Kirov in 1934 (an action now believed by many historians to have been ordered by Stalin) triggered a second crisis, the Great Purge, which gathered pace through 1935 and 1936 and culminated in 1937-38 in the trial and execution (see Moscow Trials) of most of the pre-Stalin Bolshevik leaders on fabricated charges of treason and espionage, and the execution or deportation to labour camps of millions more people. Although the purges were carried out by Stalin's successive police chiefs Genrikh Yagoda, Nikolai Yezhov and Lavrenty Beria, Molotov as Prime Minister was deeply involved. Stalin frequently required him and other Politburo members to sign the death warrants of prominent purge victims, and Molotov always did so without question. There is no record that, unlike some other leaders, he ever attempted to moderate the course of the purges or even to save individuals.

Despite the turmoil, the Soviet Union under Molotov's prime ministership made great progress in industrial development, although the command economy methods used meant that this came at great human cost. The rise of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany gave the development of a modern armaments industry great urgency, and Molotov and industry commissar, Kaganovich, were primarily responsible for guiding this success. Ultimately it was this arms industry which enabled the Soviet Union to prevail in World War II. However, the purges of the Red Army leadership, in which Molotov participated, gravely weakened the Soviet Union's defence capacity and led directly to the military disasters of 1941 and 1942. In the longer run, the destruction of the peasantry and its replacement by collectivised agriculture left a legacy of chronic agricultural under-production which the Soviet regime never solved.

Following the purges Molotov was generally regarded as Stalin's deputy, and as his long-term successor, although Molotov was careful not to encourage any such suggestion. The American journalist John Gunther wrote in 1938: "Molotov has a fine forehead, and looks and acts like a French professor of medicine - orderly, precise, pedantic. He is... a man of first-rate intelligence and influence. Molotov is a vegetarian and a teetotaller. Stalin gives him much of the dirty work to do."

Foreign Minister

In 1939, following the Munich agreement of 1938 by which Britain and France surrendered Czechoslovakia to Hitler, Stalin decided that it would not be possible to form an effective system of collective security against Germany through alliances with the western powers, which remained committed to appeasement, or with Poland, which would not countenance the idea of Soviet troops on its soil. He therefore decided that a treaty with Hitler was necessary, to divert Hitler's attention to Poland and the west and to buy time before the inevitable war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. In May 1939 Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov (who was Jewish and thus not appropriate for these negotiations) was dismissed, and Molotov appointed to succeed him, while Stalin became Prime Minister.

Hitler at first rebuffed Soviet diplomatic hints that Stalin desired a treaty, but in early August, having decided to invade Poland and thus risk a war with the western powers, he authorised Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop to begin serious negotiations. A trade agreement was concluded on 18 August, and on 22 August Ribbentrop flew to Moscow to conclude a formal non-aggression treaty. Although the treaty is known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Molotov and Ribbentrop acted only as agents for their masters, Stalin and Hitler. The most important part of the agreement was the secret protocol, which provided for the partition of Poland and the Baltic States between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and for the Soviet annexation of Bessarabia (then part of Romania, now Moldova). This protocol gave Hitler the green light for his invasion of Poland, which began on 1 September, and guaranteed that he would face no threat from the Soviet Union when he attacked the western powers in 1940.

Under the terms of the Pact, Stalin was authorised to annex Estonia, Latvia and Bessarabia, as well as that part of Poland east of the Curzon Line, an area in which Ukrainians and Byelorussians were the majority of the population. The Soviets were also given a free hand in Finland, but the Soviet mismanagement of the Soviet-Finnish War meant that the Finns escaped with only minor territorial losses. Germany was authorised to occupy the western two-thirds of Poland (much of which was annexed to Germany), as well as Lithuania, but the Pact was later amended to allocate Lithuania to the Soviet sphere in exchange for a more favourable border in Poland. All these annexations led to massive suffering and loss of life in the countries which were occupied and partitioned by the two dictatorships.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact governed Soviet-German relations until June 1941, when Hitler, having occupied France and (as he thought) neutralised Britain, turned east and attacked the Soviet Union. Following the invasion Molotov conducted urgent negotiations with Britain, and later the United States, for wartime alliances, travelling to London in 1941 and to Washington in 1942. In 1942 he signed the Anglo-Soviet Treaty of Alliance; he also secured Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill's agreement create a "second front" in Europe. He accompanied Stalin to the Teheran conference in 1943, the Yalta conference in 1945 and the Potsdam conference which followed the defeat of Germany. He represented the Soviet Union at the San Francisco Conference which created the United Nations. Even during the period of wartime alliance, Molotov was known as a tough negotiator and determined defender of Soviet interests. In this he was of course carrying out Stalin's wishes.

Postwar career

In the postwar period Molotov's position began to decline. In 1949 he was replaced as Foreign Minister by Andrei Vishinsky, retaining his position as Deputy Prime Minister and membership of the Politburo. Following the death of Andrei Zhdanov, who had come to be seen as Stalin's most likely successor, Stalin and Beria began to plan a new purge, which would have removed most of the older party leaders, such as Molotov and Voroshilov, from their positions. New leaders, such as Georgii Malenkov and Nikita Khrushchev, enjoyed Stalin's patronage.

A clear sign of Molotov's precarious position was the arrest of his Jewish wife, Polina Zhemchuzhina, in December 1948 for "treason" (she had been a supporter of the wartime Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and a friend of the purged dramatist Solomon Mikhoels and of Golda Meir, the first Israeli ambassador to the Soviet Union). This was part of the anti-Semitic campaign, orchestrated by Beria, which broke out in 1947 and culminated in the Doctors Plot of 1952. At the 19th Party Congress in 1952, Molotov was elected to the new, expanded Presidium of the Communist Party, but was excluded from the smaller standing committee of the Presidium, although this was not made public. It seems likely that Stalin's death in March 1953 saved Molotov from being purged as part of a "clean out" of the Soviet leadership.

Following Stalin's death there was a realignment of the leadership, in the course of which Molotov's position was strengthened. Beria was purged and executed, and Molotov regained the Foreign Ministry, under Malenkov as Prime Minister. But the new Party Secretary, Khrushchev, soon emerged as the real power in the regime. He presided over a gradual domestic liberalisation and a "thaw" in foreign policy, shown by the reconciliation with Tito's government in Yugoslavia, which Stalin had expelled from the communist movement. Molotov, as an old-guard Stalinist, seemed increasingly out of place in this new environment, but he represented the Soviet Union with his usual tenacity at the Geneva Conference of 1955, which discussed European security, German reunification, and disarmament.

The events which led to Molotov's downfall began in February 1956, when Khrushchev launched an unexpected denunciation of Stalin at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party. Khrushchev attacked Stalin both over the purges of the 1930s and the defeats of the early years of World War II, which he blamed on Stalin's over-trusting attitude to Hitler and the purges of the Red Army. Since Molotov was most senior of Stalin's collaborators still alive, and had played a leading role in the purges, it was obvious that Khrushchev's new line must result in an examination of his past and probably in his fall from power. He thus became the leader of the "old guard" in its resistance to Khrushchev, although whether he actually plotted to overthrow Khrushchev, as was later alleged, is not clear.

In June 1956 Molotov was removed as Foreign Minister, and in July 1957 Khrushchev denounced him, along with Malenkov, Kaganovich and Voroshilov, as part of an "Anti-Party Group" which had plotted to restore Stalinist methods. Molotov was expelled from the Politburo and the Central Committee, and banished as ambassador to Mongolia. In 1960 he was appointed Soviet representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which was seen as a partial rehabilitation. But after the 22nd Party Congress in 1961, at which Khrushchev carried his anti-Stalin campaign to a new level, Molotov was removed from all his positions and expelled from the Communist Party. In March 1962 it was announced that Molotov had retired from public life.

In retirement Molotov remained totally unrepentant about his role during Stalin's period of rule. After the Sino-Soviet split it was reported that he agreed with the criticisms made by Mao Zedong of the supposed "revisionism" of Khrushchev's policies. According to Roy Medvedev, Stalin's daughter Svetlana Stalin recalled Molotov and his wife telling her: "Your father was a genius. There's no revolutionary spirit around nowadays, just opportunism everywhere. China's our only hope! Only they have kept alive the revolutionary spirit." In 1976 he said: "the fact that atomic war may break out, isn't that class struggle? There is no alternative to class struggle. This is a very serious question. The be-all and end-all is not peaceful coexistence. After all, we have been holding on for some time, and under Stalin we held on to the point where the imperialists felt able to demand point-blank: either surrender such and such positions, or it means war. So far the imperialists haven't renounced that."

Molotov was partly rehabilitated during the Leonid Brezhnev years, and was allowed to rejoin the Communist Party in 1984. He died at the age of 96 in Moscow on 8 November 1986, only five years before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow. A collection of interviews with Molotov, Molotov Remembers: Inside Kremlin Politics, was published posthumously by Felix Chuev. In 1990, shortly before the final collapse of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev's government formally denounced the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, acknowledging that the annexation of the Baltic States and the partition of Poland had been illegal.


  • Chuev, Felix (ed), Molotov Remembers: Inside Kremlin Politics, 1993, Dee Ivan Inc
  • Raymond H. Anderson, "Vyacheslav M. Molotov Is Dead; Close Associate of Stalin Was 96", The New York Times, 11 November 1986
  • The Associated Press, "200 Attend Molotov Funeral in Private Rites at Cemetery," The New York Times, 13 November 1986
  • Vladislav Zubok and Constantine Pleshakov, Inside the Kremlin's Cold War 1996, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts

External links


Preceded by:
Alexey Rykov
Premier of the Soviet Union
Succeeded by:
Joseph Stalin
Preceded by:
Maxim Litvinov
Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union
Succeeded by:
Andrey Vyshinsky
Preceded by:
Andrey Vyshinsky
Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union
Succeeded by:
Dmitri Shepilov

Template:End boxbg:Вячеслав Молотов da:Vjateslav Molotov de:Wjatscheslaw Michailowitsch Molotow es:Viacheslav Molotov fr:Viatcheslav Molotov it:Vyacheslav Molotov nl:Vjatsjeslav Molotov ja:ヴャチェスラフ・モロトフ pl:Wiaczesław Mołotow ru:Молотов, Вячеслав Михайлович fi:Vjatšeslav Molotov sv:Vjatjeslav Molotov zh:莫洛托夫


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