Peter Petroff August 1936
Source: Labour, August 1936, p. 306;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
On July 7 George Tchitcherin, the late People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, died.
The Soviet press registers his death by an icy biographical statement through the official press agency, and, strangely enough a peculiar medical certificate attributing his death to not less than seven diseases.
Tchitcherin’s last years have been shrouded in mystery. The revolutionary statesman who, for a decade, had directed Soviet foreign policy, who before the Revolution, as secretary of the Central Bureau of the Social Democratic groups abroad, upheld the banner round which Russian revolutionaries in all parts of the world were gathering, had entirely disappeared from the public eye. His whereabouts were unknown; he was cut off from his nearest friends.
Tchitcherin’s career was an unusual one, Coming from a liberal aristocratic family, he spent part of his childhood in the house of his uncle, the famous historian of Russian law, Professor V.N. Tchitcherin. Having received a splendid education he entered the Foreign Office in 1895 with a brilliant career in front of him.
Transferred in 1904 to the Russian Embassy in Berlin, he became a Social-democrat. Declining wealth and career, he henceforth devoted his energies and inheritance to the cause of the working people, living himself an almost spartan life.
After being expelled from Prussia, he went to Paris where, under the pseudonym Ornatski he developed the organisation of Russian Social-democrats in exile which fulfilled the functions of an Embassy of the revolutionary people of Russia, accredited to the world proletariat.
Tchitcherin was an essentially human idealist, a man of high culture and many interests. Apart from politics he took a great interest in literature and art, especially music. But in the little matters of daily life he was unpractical and sometimes helpless as a child.
He was a remarkable secretary. Those of us who, in the old time, were associated with his work marvelled at his working capacity, and often wondered whether he ever slept. Returning with him after midnight from a meeting, we would on the following morning be roused by letter from him containing the detailed minutes.
The accuracy natural to him, he demanded of others, alas, often in vain. Those who did not reply immediately to his letters received a reminder, an express letter, a wire. Once, sitting together with Martov, I searched for something in my pocket – a couple of unanswered letters fell out. “From Ornatski?” cried Martov, his conscience roused. “O my pockets are full too, I really must reply!” And so it happened whenever refugees met.
During the war Tchitcherin then living in London, took his stand with the internationalists. He was an active member the fighting Kentish Town Branch of the British Socialist Party. But, unlike Lenin, he was alert to the danger to which a victory of militarist Germany in the west would expose the Russian Revolution.
When I was imprisoned for my anti-war activities Tchitcherin visited me regularly and managed to publish some of my articles, written in prison, in Trotski’s Paris Nashe Slovo, to which he himself contributed number of brilliant articles.
Finally Tchitcherin found himself in Brixton prison. The Kerenski Government made an insincere pretence of demanding our liberation. After the October Revolution Tchitcherin – still in prison – was appointed Russian ambassador to St James’ Court. The Serbian Minister thereupon paid him an official visit in Brixton prison.
As People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union, Tchitcherin concluded peace treaties with half the world, led the Russian delegation at the Genoa Conference in April, 1922, where he concluded the Rapallo treaty with the German Republic and at the Lausanne Conference in 1923. In 1925 he signed in Paris the Non-Aggression Pact with Turkey.
Tchitcherin never became a bureaucrat . While some high officials kept an armed sentry outside their door, Tchitcherin’s office was easily accessible to visitors – up to 4a.m.
He selected his staff himself and was reday to fight for his last typist. Once, when he had been deprived by Party measures of an efficient typist, he “went on strike.” Summoned by Lenin to a meeting of the Council of the People’s Commissars, he let his secretary reply that he could not come to the telephone since he had to do his typing himself. The stay-in strike proved successful.
Though for some time a Member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, he studiously kept aloof from Russian internal politics which became increasingly offensive to his democratic notions.
Under Stalin’s regime he found himself in growing disagreement with certain intrigues and the methods employed by Russian unofficial agents abroad such as Borodin in China who often contravened the official policy. When I saw him in Berlin in 1929 he frankly expressed his disgust about the harm done in China and about the stupid handling of the relationship with Britain.
As he suffered from diabetes, Tchitcherin stayed in Germany for a prolonged cure. There he was so well “guarded” by the G.P.U. that he had difficulties even in his private correspondence. He once wrote to me “I am isolated.”
His return to Russia at the end of 1929 was somewhat mysterious. He was taken from Wiesbaden to Moscow without touching Berlin. While still officially holding the position of People’s Commissar (he resigned in July, 1930) he could send a private letter to me only by smuggling it illegally. It was dated January 15, 1930, and was written in English: it reads: “Dear Comrade, My extremely bad physical condition compelled me to go back directly without traversing Berlin, thus I was deprived of the possibility of seeing you and your wife and child. My active life has come to an end. I hope you are successfully struggling on in spite of all your difficulties .... The time when we went back through Aberdeen and Stockholm is very far away ...” Indeed the time when we hopefully returned from prison to a liberated Russia was very far away.