Georgy Chicherin

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Georgy Chicherin
Георгий Чичерин
Bundesarchiv Bild 102-12859A, Georgi Wassiljewitsch Tschitscherin.jpg
People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union
In office
6 July 1923 – 21 July 1930
Premier Vladimir Lenin
Alexey Rykov
Preceded by None—post established
Succeeded by Maxim Litvinov
People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Russian SFSR
In office
9 April 1918 – 6 July 1923
Premier Vladimir Lenin
Preceded by Leon Trotsky
Succeeded by None—post abolished
Personal details
Born (1872-11-12)12 November 1872
Kirsanovsky District, Tambov Governorate, Russian Empire
Died 7 July 1936(1936-07-07) (aged 63)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Nationality Soviet
Political party All-Union Communist Party (bolsheviks)
Profession Diplomat, civil servant
Ethnicity Russian

Georgy Vasilyevich Chicherin (24 November [O.S. 12 November] 1872 – 7 July 1936) (Георгий Васильевич Чичерин) 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.

Childhood and early career

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 indirectly Friedrich Nietzsche), two passions which 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.[1] 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 until 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.[2]

With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Chicherin adopted an anti-war position, which brought him closer to Vladimir Lenin's Bolsheviks. In 1917 he was arrested by the British government for his anti-war writings and spent a few months in the Brixton prison. In the meantime, the Bolsheviks had come to power in Russia after the October Revolution of 1917 and 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.[3] By now, Chicherin was in poor health and overweight.

Bolshevik government

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.[4]

Chicherin followed a pro German foreign policy in line with his anti British attitudes. He had developed these during his time in the foreign ministry, where Britain was blocking Russian expansion in Asia. He even suggested to Lenin that English workers should be formed into volunteer units. This 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.[5]

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. Although known for his workaholic habits from 1918 and until the late 1920s, he became increasingly sidelined by an illness from 1928 on and was formally replaced by his deputy, Maxim Litvinov, in 1930. After his death and until the Khrushchev Thaw he was rarely mentioned in Soviet literature.[6]


  1. G. Gorodetsky, Soviet Foreign Policy 1917-1991: A Retrospective (London, 1994), p.23, ISBN 0-7146-4506-0
  2. My Cousin, Foreign Commissar Chicherin. Baron Alexander Meyendorff. Russian Review, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Apr., 1971), pp. 173—178
  3. Also intervening in London directly with Lloyd George on Chicherin's behalf was Vladimir Rosing, a Russian singer and political activist with high connections. Rosing's controversial secret meeting with Lloyd George was the subject of a House of Commons Debate on January 15, 1918. Andrew Bonar Law, Leader of the House of Commons, was questioned by M.P. Joseph King whether or not Lloyd George had secretly met with Rosing to discuss Chicherin's release. Bonar Law stated that he was told that no such meeting took place. Rosing's personal memoirs confirm that it did.
  4. Dmitri Volkogonov, The rise and fall of the Soviet Empire, page 45
  5. Dmitri Volkogonov, The rise and fall of the Soviet Empire, pp 38-40
  6. Roy Medvedev, Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (London, 1971), p.202, ISBN 0-394-44645-3

Further reading

  • Richard K. Debo, "The Making of a Bolshevik: Georgii Chicherin in England 1914-1918," Slavic Review, vol. 25, no. 4 (Dec. 1966), pp. 651–662. In JSTOR.
  • Timothy Edward O'Connor. Diplomacy and Revolution: G.V. Chicherin and Soviet Foreign Affairs, 1918-1930, Ames, Iowa State University Press, 1988.
Political offices
Preceded by
Leon Trotsky
People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Maxim Litvinov