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Georgy Vasilyevich Chicherin (24 November 1872– 7 July 1936) was a Marxist revolutionary and a Soviet politician. He served as People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs in the Soviet government from March 1918 to 1930.
A distant relative of Aleksandr Pushkin, Georgy Chicherin was born in an old noble family. His father, Vasily N. Chicherin, was a diplomat in the service of the Russian Empire. As a young man, Chicherin became fascinated with history as well as classical music, especially Richard Wagner, and with Friedrich Nietzsche, passions that he would pursue throughout his life. He also wrote a book about Mozart. He spoke all major European languages and a number of Asian ones. After graduating from St. Petersburg University with a degree in history and languages, Chicherin worked in the archival section of the Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs from 1897 to 1903.
In 1904 Chicherin inherited the estate of his celebrated uncle, Boris Chicherin, in the Tambov region and became very wealthy. He immediately used his newfound fortune to support revolutionary activities in the runup to the Russian Revolution of 1905 and was forced to flee abroad to avoid arrest later in the year. He spent the next 13 years in Western Europe, mostly London, Paris and Berlin, where he joined the Menshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party and was active in emigre politics. While in Germany, he underwent medical treatment in attempts to cure his homosexuality.
With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Chicherin adopted an antiwar position, which brought him closer to Vladimir Lenin's Bolsheviks. In 1917, he was arrested by the British government for his antiwar writings and spent a few months in Brixton Prison.
The Bolsheviks had come to power in Russia after the October Revolution of 1917. The first head of the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs (which had replaced the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Leon Trotsky, secured Chicherin's release and safe passage to Russia in exchange for British subjects held in Russia at the time, including George Buchanan, the British ambassador. By now, Chicherin was in poor health and overweight.
Upon his return to Russia in early 1918, Chicherin formally joined the Bolsheviks and was appointed Trotsky's deputy during the negotiations that led to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. After the treaty was signed in late February 1918, Trotsky, who had advocated a different policy, resigned his position in early March. Chicherin became the acting head of the Commissariat and was appointed Commissar for Foreign Affairs on 30 May. On 2 March 1919 he was one of five men chairing the first congress of Comintern.
Chicherin followed a pro-German foreign policy in line with his anti-British attitudes. He had developed them during his time in the foreign ministry, when Britain was blocking Russian expansion in Asia. He even suggested to Lenin that English workers should be formed into volunteer units. That was in 1920, when Soviet armies were nearing Warsaw. Lenin agreed but nothing came of it.
In July 1918 his close friend, Count Brockdorff-Rantzau, became the new German ambassador after his predecessor, Count Wilhelm Mirbach, was shot in the Left SR uprising.
In 1922, Chicherin participated in the Genoa Conference and signed the Treaty of Rapallo with Germany. He begged Lenin not to wreck the Genoa Conference (he believed this would make it easier to get foreign loans). He pursued a policy of collaboration with Germany and developed a closer working relationship with Ulrich Graf von Brockdorff-Rantzau. During this period, he also held diplomatic negotiations with nuncio Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, on the status of the Roman Catholic Church in the newly formed Soviet Union.
Chicherin is thought to have had more phone conversations with Lenin than anyone else. When Stalin replaced Lenin in 1924 he continued to be Stalin's foreign minister. Stalin valued Chicherin's opinions. In 1928 Chicherin stated that he wanted an improved relationship with the capitalist countries to encourage foreign investment. This policy had Stalin's enthusiastic support and was approved by the Politburo in late 1927 and early 1928. Stalin said: "it can hardly be doubted that Comrade Chicherin is better informed about the mood in foreign investment circles that any of us." It was rare for Stalin to acknowledge that someone was more knowledgeable than himself. Although known for his workaholic habits he became sidelined because from November 1926 to June 1927, and from September 1928 until January 1930 Chicherin was receiving medical treatment in Germany or the French Riviera. Chicherin showed considerable courage in writing letters criticizing current politicians and the policies that were being pursued. In February 1927, Chicherin criticized Bukharin for his speeches that had a negative attitude to the relationship between the USSR and Germany. ‘This was particularly dangerous because of the deterioration of the relationship between the USSR and Britain.’ Chicherin said: ‘At a time when the British are working against us, we must take care of our relationship with other states. We have to nurture such relationships.’
On 3 June 1927 Chicherin, while in a sanatorium in Germany, wrote about incidents that were detrimental to Soviet-German relations. Chicherin was exasperated ‘by some comrades who can do no better than ruin all our work by attacking Germany, spoiling everything once and for all.’ When Voroshilov, at the May Day Parade in 1929, made a speech attacking the Weimar Republic, Chicherin dispatched a letter to the Politburo stating that the speech would do irreparable damage to German-Soviet relations.
In 1930 Chicherin was formally replaced by his deputy, Maxim Litvinov. When Chicherin died in 1936 the official Communist newspaper Izvestiya, summarising his character, described him as highly educated, an exceptional diplomat and a sophisticated art lover. A continuing terminal illness burdened his last years, which forced him away from his circle of friends and active work and led to an early death. This shows the respect Chicherin had gained among the Soviet elite. After his death and until the Khrushchev Thaw he was rarely mentioned in Soviet literature, although he was mentioned in the Soviet Diplomatic dictionary occupying 52 pages in the 1950 Diplomatic Dictionary compared with Litvinov’s 92 pages and Molotov’s 292.
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