The Soviet Foreign Service Officer Through The Changing Years
A seminar at the Russian Research Center at Harvard University
March 5, 1951
By Gustav Hilger
SOURCE CITATION: Hilger, Gustav. “The Soviet Foreign Service Officer through the Changing Years.” Russian Research Center, Harvard University, March 5, 1951. UAV 759.275, Russian Research Center, Research Papers 1940-1973, Box 11, Seminars, Folder: “Mar. 5 '51 Gustav Hilger.” Harvard University Archives.
Courtesy of the Harvard University Archives (published with permission)
Mr. [Clyde] Kluckhohn: I am going to ask Mr. Meyer to introduce Mr. Hilger since he has been working closely with him.
Mr. [Alfred] Meyer: The paper Mr. Hilger is going to read to you is meant to be mainly the occasion for a discussion. This discussion might very well circle around the fairly restricted theme of his paper, in order to exhaust its theme. But I suggest that it might be advantageous for this group if the discussion went beyond Mr. Hilger’s topic.
The reason why it was originally suggested that Mr. Hilger come here and talk to you was to acquaint you with the unique range and depth of his experience in Russia, both before and after the revolution. Mr. Hilger was born in Moscow in 1886 and has spent practically his entire life there, except for five or six years in the first decade of this century, when he got a degree in Germany and practiced his engineering profession. During World War I, he was interned in Vologda Gubernia [sic] as an enemy alien but returned to Moscow in January 1918. In November of that same year, he went to Germany and stayed there until the middle of 1920. At that time he was sent back to Moscow by the German government to supervise the care and evacuation of German prisoners-of-war. He was also given consular functions, and the Soviet government regarded him as some sort of diplomatic representative. In any event, he was the first Western official accredited to the Kremlin; and no other Westerner has stayed there as long as he – 21 full years.
After Rapallo, he joined the new German Embassy, officially as head of its economic department. In that capacity, he gradually acquired the reputation of that member of the Moscow diplomatic corps who knew more than anyone else about the Soviet economy. As late as 1932 he undertook a 7000-mile inspection trip of the entire Soviet industry and was shown just about everything he asked to see. But unofficially he was also each of the four German ambassadors’ right hand, and has participated in all the major political negotiations between Germany and the Soviet Union. He has had personal contact with more high-ranking Soviet leaders than any other Westerner I know of; has negotiated with Stalin, Molotov, Mikoyan, Kamenev, Rakovsky, Litvinov, Voroshilov, Kaganovich, and many others past or present. Some of them, for instance, Radek, might be called his friends.
All I want to do with this brief sketch is to whet your appetite for Mr. Hilger, whom I herewith introduce to you.
Mr. [Gustav] Hilger: I want to thank my friend Alfred G. Meyer for his kind words of introduction. I am convinced that the essential condition of mutual trust and confidence, which he thus has established, will help to make this meeting worthwhile and profitable.
I do not intend to trouble you with long-winded discussions. I rather believe that the main value and the emphasis of today’s meeting should be in an active group discussion which is to follow my short presentation.
The topic of my lecture is: “The Soviet Foreign Service Officer Once and Now.” I am obliged to Professor Kluckhohn for his suggestion to speak about this subject. I gladly complied because it appears to me that just at the present time, an interest in this question seems appropriate. Hence, I will try to present to you a concept of how the Soviet official, who is charged with the representation of his country’s political and economic interests abroad, has developed up to the present time.
As early as in January 1918, two months after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, I dealt with Soviet officials for the first time. More than 23 years later, I shook hands for the last time with Mr. Molotov, then Commissar for Foreign Affairs, when the Nazi Government of Germany on 22 June 1941 entered into a military campaign against the Soviet Union.
The great number of Soviet officials with whom I had to deal during this period, and the diversity of circumstances which brought us together, does not make it a simple undertaking to bring all the impressions which I had gathered during this long period to a common denominator. During my long residence in the Soviet Union, I repeatedly experienced that people who had spent only a few weeks there found it rather easy to write a book about their observations, while people who had lived for years or even decades in Russia became more and more aware of their responsibilities as their insight and knowledge deepened. “The wider the horizon the less clear the outlines get” – this was the saying of the people who because of their enlarged horizon became quite conscious of the limitation of their own judgment.
In the beginning of the Bolshevik regime, the character and the composition of the Soviet “Civil Service” was predetermined by the difficulties which Lenin and his associates found in the creation of a state machine. They started literally with nothing since, for obvious reasons, they had to dispense with the services of the former Tsarist top officials, while the larger part of the officials who had composed the middle strata stepped voluntarily aside waiting for the moment when the Bolshevik rule would come to an end.
The Russian Bolsheviks, who before 1917 lived in exile in western Europe, belonged to the intellectual elite of the Communist Party of Russia, or like Trotsky, Joffe, Kopp, Maisky, and others joined this party shortly before or soon after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia. As a consequence, after the October Revolution, most of the decisive positions were occupied by persons who were for many years exposed to European influences. They called many of their comrades from exile to become their co-workers and subordinates in the People’s Commissariats for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. These persons were particularly suited to deal with representatives of other countries since they had mastered foreign languages, something which the Communists who had remained in Russia lacked. Furthermore, it was an additional asset for the Soviet Government that a large percentage of this group consisted of men of Jewish descent who possessed initiative, cleverness, and ability to negotiate. They also had a natural capacity to adapt themselves to the western mentality and were in this respect far superior to most Russians. These men, acting as diplomatic and foreign trade representatives, served the Soviet state remarkably well. I do not believe that the East-West tension would ever have reached its present extent if Stalin and Molotov had not entirely eliminated in the following period this type of official from Soviet foreign politics.
The men who at one time were considered to be best suited to serve Soviet political and economic interest abroad and the men who at present are charged with the same task, belong, indeed, to two different worlds.
A significant illustration is the difference between Chicherin, the first Soviet Foreign Commissar, and Vyshinsky, the present Soviet Foreign Minister.
Chicherin came from the higher Russian nobility and intelligentsia. He renounced the social privileges and material advantages, which were part of this social class, because he believed in the Communist idea. He left the Tsarist diplomatic service but retained the high cultural level and the manners of his class of origin until the end of his life. For years he went hungry and suffered. Later as People’s Commissar, he practically ruined his health trying to find solutions to problems big and small which were connected with his official activity. I still can see the emaciated figure of this “wanderer between two worlds,” when he whisked late at night through the corridors and stairways of the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, acting as his own messenger to speed up the flow of written information and directives to his subordinates. I also remember his having political discussions at night with the German Ambassador Count Brockdorff-Rantzau, a personality of equally high standing, with whom he was connected in friendship and confidence – a situation which is unthinkable today and which now, without doubt, would cost a Soviet diplomat his life. I am also thinking about the almost pathetic naivety with which Chicherin complained at the Politburo about his deputy Litvinov! “Indeed, he is treating me like Xanthippe treated Socrates!” In spite of his helplessness toward his immediate surroundings, Chicherin was able to represent the interests of his country at international conferences with so much personal dignity, his remarkable resourcefulness, and inner convocation that even his opponents could not abstain from giving him their respect.
Whereas Chicherin was completely filled with a deep inner sense of responsibility and while he looked at his task as a holy mission, Vyshinsky let himself only be led by considerations of usefulness to further his own career. Starting with the fact that Vyshinsky decided to join the Bolshevik Party only when it appeared to be considerably secure, his later ascent is due to the fact that he always succeeded in assimilating himself to the will of Stalin. The climax of Vyshinsky’s unprincipledness came during the Show of Purge Trials of 1936-1938, when he acted as public prosecutor. The role he played in these trials has entered into the darkest annals of the history of the Soviet Union. In his capacity as Foreign Minister, Vyshinsky is the typical Soviet bureaucrat who, without any reservations, places his manifold talents and remarkable versatility at Stalin’s disposal. He consciously limits himself to the role of an obedient tool in the hands of the dictator because he is aware that there is nowadays no other means in the Soviet Union for an ambitious man to hold his ground in an important position. Being extremely anxious not to deviate from the line prescribed to him from above, Vyshinsky becomes absolutely desperate when there is even slight evidence that Moscow disagrees with him. In this respect, a characteristic observation was made by American diplomats during their negotiations with Vyshinsky on the Austrian State Treaty when Vyshinsky was ordered by Moscow to withdraw and to rectify a certain declaration he had previously made.
How different from Vyshinsky’s attitude was the behavior of Chicherin or Litvinov who in the twenties even dared to argue with the Politburo on issues of Soviet Foreign Policy! Another example of the relative freedom a Soviet Foreign Commissar previously enjoyed was Litvinov’s talk to a Socialist delegation who visited him in Lausanne in 1932 to stress the danger of rising German Nazism and to suggest a common action against it. At that time, Litvinov dared to admit in his speech to the delegation that though he disagreed with Moscow’s policy toward Nazism, he was not in a position to exert any influence. Can someone, at the present time, imagine an active Soviet functionary admitting his disagreement with his government’s policy!
One arrives at similar conclusions when one draws a comparison between themes whom the Soviet Government is sending abroad as its representatives these days and the men who served in the same capacity immediately after the resumption of diplomatic relations with foreign countries and until the middle of the 30’s. That such a comparison would result in favor of the latter type is illustrated by the fact that everybody who concerned himself at one time or another with Soviet politics does not. Only know very well such names as Joffe, Krestinsky, Kamenev, Krasin, Rakovsky, Romanovsky, Litvinov, Kollontai, and others, but he also connects these names with very definite concepts. Who, however, is in a position to name only a few, without even trying to state their characteristics, Soviet officials who reside these days behind closely locked doors and heavily closed drapes in the Soviet embassies and Soviet missions abroad?
The reason for this difference is that in the past the most important foreign representatives of the Soviet Union were personalities who had reached in their own country a certain status of prestige and who possessed in the eyes of the outside world an individual political identity. These personalities when abroad could use their own judgment and initiative and were only limited by the Party discipline which still permitted them a certain amount of freedom of action. This situation does not exist anymore as far as the contemporary diplomatic representatives of the Soviet Union are concerned. They all went through a training which put their thinking capacity into chains, and which injected into them the conviction that the well-being of the Soviet state and their own individual careers are dependent on their acceptance – without reservations – of the particular general Party line at a given time. By means of the “house cleaning process” of the Soviet Foreign Service, which began in the middle of the 30’s and which in the meantime was brought to a successful completion, Stalin and Molotov have been able to reach their goal without any qualifications. Today, Soviet ambassadors are primarily high-level letter-carriers and it really does not matter if their names are Panyushkin, Kosirev, Molochkov, or something else. However, it is of interest to note that all these names prove the pure Russian origin of their bearers.
When I returned to Moscow in June 1920, after being away from there for 19 months, the general need, caused by lack of food, fuel, means of transportation, etc., was so great that even the members of the government, and therefore also I, could not escape from its effects. However, I must confess that I would prefer to live under these trying circumstances than to endure the isolation of the present foreign diplomats in the Soviet Union, since Soviet citizens are now compelled to avoid fearfully all foreigners, and, it goes without saying, that Soviet officials are anxious to reduce their contacts with foreigners to a bare minimum.
Contrary to this situation, I, during the first years of my stay in Moscow, had many ways and means to learn about the people and affairs in general because at that time, the Cheka, the predecessor of the GPU, respectively the MDV, did not consider every foreigner who came into the Soviet Union outright as a dangerous spy. At that time, it was not considered to be an act of high treason when Soviet officials who could manage it, as far as their time and other duties permitted, entered with foreigners into an exchange of ideas. Scientist and university professors were not in danger of arrest when they tried to re-establish contacts with the outside world, which they had lost because of the war, the Revolution, and the resulting confusion and which, for 6 years, they painfully missed. The entrance to the Kremlin was not yet so hermetically sealed as it is today so that Soviet and Party officials like Radek, Bukharin and others even dared to invite foreign journalists.
The development which brought an end to this situation began gradually when the conditions in Western Europe started to become consolidated and when the Kremlin became convinced that its hope for an immediate outbreak of the world revolution was no longer justifiable. The outside world, which up to this time was considered by the Soviet Government as an object of its dreams, changed them into a subject of its fears.
The desire of the Soviet Government for security against its internal and foreign enemies increased continuously after 1923. This fear showed itself in the following way:
1) Because of the ever-increasing number of foreigners who came into the Soviet Union after diplomatic relations were established and economic intercourse developed, the surveillance of the foreigners was intensified and further organized.
2) In line with the desire for economic independence from abroad and with the definite retention of the monopoly of foreign trade, the Soviet Government undertook security measures which affected the behavior of the civilian population, and especially of the officials, toward foreigners.
3) The struggle for power, which commenced after the death of Lenin, was followed by internal reprisals. These reprisals forced the Soviet officials, because of plain self-preservation to be increasingly more reserved in their relations with foreigners.
4) “Show Trials” were staged because of inner-political considerations and had as their purpose to place the mistakes committed by the Soviet Government before the doorsteps of the enemies of the regime. Since all these trials also involved foreign organizations and individuals, it followed that the relationship between the Soviet official and the foreign representative in the Soviet Union was poisoned with insecurity and suspicion.
May I, in this connection, remind you of only a few examples:
1) In 1925, two young Germans were “designated” by the Soviet Government to serve as objects of exchange for a Soviet terrorist who after being condemned by a German court was sentenced to serve a considerable number of years in a German penitentiary. These two young Germans were accused of entering the Soviet Union with the intention to assassinate Stalin and Trotsky and were forced to make the absurd confession that they had previously assured themselves of my personal assistance.
2) In 1928, the notorious Shakhty Trial took place in which a large German electrical concern became involved.
3) In 1930, during a trial against a group of Russians who allegedly aimed at the overthrow of the Soviet Government, the French General Staff in Paris and the French Embassy in Moscow were also accused.
4) In 1933, a trial took place against members of the British Metro-Vickers Company, in spite of the fact that this firm earned itself undeniable merits in the framework of the industrialization of the Soviet Union.
However, it required the great purges of 1936-1938 to change the appearance of the Soviet officials in a final way. The Red Army lost during this period up to 80% of its higher officer corps, while in some departments and divisions of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade almost all of the old officials disappeared and were replaced by new
Personnel. IN the case in which the offense of the accused person became known, it usually was stated as high treason and espionage in favor of a foreign country. From that time on even the highest officials did not dare to deal with foreign representatives without the presence of some witness. Even members of the Politburo, such as the People’s Commissar for Foreign Trade Mikoyan, were no exception to this rule. For conferences which I had with him after 1937, he always summoned under some pretext (the need for a translator was not possible in my case) a witness who supposedly was a secretary or a man in charge of the minutes of the conference and who carefully wrote down every word spoken during the meeting. These conditions made the diplomatic intercourse with the Soviet Government increasingly fruitless and negotiations with Soviet officials became more and more drawn out because they could not possess the necessary sense of responsibility nor the power to make any decisions. They could never offer a reply without asking for further directives. The only exception to this was the dictator himself. At the conference table, I repeatedly experienced his making a statement of decisive importance without any consultation with his co-workers. The authority which Stalin enjoys and the fear which he exerts upon his subordinates in manifested by their behavior toward him. I have witnessed an obsequious submissiveness to Stalin even by men like the late Chief of the General Staff Shaposhnikov and I have seen men like the People’s Commissar Tevosian stand up like an obedient elementary student every time Stalin desired to ask him a question.
Not a trace is left of the comradeship which ruled during the times of Lenin in the Kremlin and which was at that time described to me by several eyewitnesses. Civilian experts who were requested to attend meetings in the Kremlin told me as early as the second half of the 20’s what rough manners prevailed in the Kremlin, especially toward younger Party members, after Stalin usurped power.
However, one must not forget that the Soviet official received a material compensation for the handcuffs which the Stalin regime had put on him. The “Party maximum,” i.e. the upper limit which a member of the Communist Party was allowed to revive in pay, was abolished even before Stalin had announced that the equalitarian concept was a contemptible remained of the petit-bourgeois ideology and that in the contemporary transitional period from Social to Communism everybody has a right to be materially compensated according to his achievements. This opened for Communists legal possibilities to improve their incomes. The improvement of the living standard of the Soviet Civilization Service proved to be in the long run a very important political factor because it increased the interest among the officials to perpetuate the regime. The number of persons, who in case of an overthrow of the government have something to lose, is continuously increasing, while the number of persons who do not have any stake in the regime is declining.
The tendency to proceed in this direction was further emphasized by the Soviet Government after the last war. Measures such as the introduction of a hierarchy for officials, the securing of advancement, and the conferring of uniforms, all serve to convince the state official that his own fate is closely tied up, for better or for worse, with that of the Soviet state.
The favoritism extended to the pure Russian element in filling official positions, especially in the central officers in Moscow, is in line with the basic principle proclaimed by Stalin, namely, that the Russian people earned for itself through its achievements and loyalty, especially during the last war, the right to play the leading role in the Soviet state. This almost monopolistic position which the Great Russians, with certain exceptions,
Have possessed since 1939, undoubtedly will continue to affect the understanding between the Soviet Union and the West in a negative sense since the Russian political thinking has many of the traditional characteristics which can be traced back to the imperialistic trials of Tsarism.
Not quite in accordance with the concept of Lenin, which is illustrated by one of his statements, namely that “every female cook must be able to govern the state,” the Soviet Government now extends its particular attention to the selection and training of a new generation for the Soviet Civil Service. The Soviet Government benefits thereby by the fact that the “unconsumed” brains of the Soviet youth display a remarkable capacity for absorbing the “knowledge” offered to them. I was able to observe with my own eyes during the years after the great purges of 1936-1938 how quickly the newly employed Soviet officials gathered the required knowledge and know-how and after what short time they were already able to replace their predecessors who fell victims to the purges. However, one should not forget that quite a number of the old and experienced officials who survived the purges are placed in the service to train the new generation. Among them, there are politicians and diplomats such as Litvinov, the former Foreign Commissar and Ambassador; Maisky, the former Ambassador in London; Rothstein, the former press chief of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs; and, last but not least, Boris Stein, a proven co-worker of Chicherin and Litvinov, under whose guidance Gromyko in 1946 made his first steps as representative of the Soviet Government in the United Nations Organization.
Ladies and Gentlemen, what I have presented to you is only a glimpse of the problem, since I have deliberately limited my talk to the circle of Soviet officials who played – or are still playing – a part in the intercourse of the Soviet Union with foreign countries and with whom I was, therefore, personally acquainted. As regards the great numbers of officials who were employed in the service of the Soviet internal offices, financial affairs, transportation, etc., similar observations and conclusions are applicable to them, although with limitations caused by the different nature and orbit of their activities.
And now, any questions coming from you and which I might be able to answer, are most welcome.
Mr. Kluckhohn: Who would like to open the discussion?
Mr. [Vasily] Grossman: You mentioned Litvinov. What is his function now?
Mr. Hilger: He has none. A friend of mine told me that he is now a broken old man. Like Rotten and others, he is used as a lecturer in the Institute that trains students for the foreign service. In 1946 when Gromyko appeared first as the Soviet representative in the United Nations, a picture appeared in which there was an unknown man behind Gromyko, a man who actually gave Gromyko the answers, but who was not identified. He had been sent to help Gromyko. This was my old acquaintance Boris Stein. Stein was head of the Economics Department and later the German Division of the Foreign Commissariat. He was then Minister to Helsinki and Ambassador to Rome after which he was released.
Mr. Grossman: Could you say a few things about what is the attitude of the diplomatic service toward youth today. How are the youths selected and trained for this service? Is there a strong attraction for them?
Mr. Hilger: The Russians have always been interested in foreign countries. They have always been eager about them. This is a characteristic of youth everywhere – to go abroad and to learn foreign languages. But on the other hand, they are aware of the dangers involved. They are graduates of the high schools and then [they] enter special institutes in Moscow for three or four years. Here they learn languages. They are first used in offices at home, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and then sent out, in small capacities, such as secretary, vice consul, etc. If they are capable, they are advanced.
Mr. [Mark] Neuweld: I wonder whether the present international situation doesn’t tend to produce that type of diplomats you spoke about or vice versa, i.e., should Litvinov be resurrected and sent to Washington or the United Nations? Would he belong in the same category as Panyushkin does today? Essentially wouldn’t he be the alter ego of Panyushkin?
Mr. Hilger: I was aware of this contradiction which my remarks contained. Litvinov can’t be resurrected. He “can’t level his own structure.” He would try to develop initiative. The initiative which some people develop would help to prevent tension, but it is excluded.
Mr. Neuweld: What is your impression? If Soviet deputy is laboring under tension wouldn’t his official reports reflect his desire to fit into official patter rather than give reports of things as he sees them?
Mr. Hilger: It is very difficult to answer that question. People are in a hard dilemma. Stalin on one occasion said, in the case of a report from Berlin which did not accord with official views, “I want to read what this man thinks, not what he thinks I want to read.” Soviet representatives already are always in a hard dilemma. They know about this speech of Stalin’s, yet they do not want to get into trouble. But such situations also arise in other countries.
Mr. [Leon] Twarog: I would like to come back to the question of training. Do the students express a desire to go into the foreign service and then apply for it? Or are they appointed to these institutes?
Mr. Hilger: I think certain men, from important families, get chances to go into the foreign service. But most candidates are recommended by the high schools.
Mr. Grossman: Does the High school recommend on its own or does the student ask to be recommended?
Mr. Hilger: In general, the student asks to be recommended. The Party, too, has a decisive voice in this matter. They wish to know if the young man is reliable from the Party point of view.
Mr. [Alex] Inkeles: You have mentioned two aspects of this new foreign service officer (1) many of them are Great Russians, and (2) many are from important families. But what about the rest? Do they tend to be children of the intelligentsia or of the peasants?
Mr. Hilger: They are all new people. None are from the old Russian intelligentsia: they either were sons of the workers who went to high school or were sons of new Soviet officials. No old intelligentsia.
Mr. [John C.] Fiske: Mightn’t both Molotov and Vyshinsky present exceptions? Vyshinsky had an intellectual background.
Mr. Hilger: Yes. But Molotov and Vyshinsky are not new officials. Vyshinsky became a party member in 1920. What I said does not apply to Molotov and Litvinov.
Mr. Meyer: Might I comment on Hilger’s answer to Alex [Inkeles]? Mr. Hilger’s direct experience ended in 1941. By that time the restrictions applying to higher education for the sons of the old intelligentsia had been lifted only so recently that they might not have had time to reach positions of importance.
Mr. Inkeles: My question was not meant to be confined to the new intelligentsia. What I wished to know was from what classes this group was principally drawn: working class or intelligentsia?
Mr. Hilger: The majority were from the working class.
Mr. [Jindřich “Henry”] Kučera: The Great Russians have had their freedom since 1939. It seems to me that this change (in other fields as well) dates back to the day when Stalin came into power. He was a fighter for Georgian independence. It all seems to me to have no connection with his practical foreign policy. What is your opinion?
Mr. Hilger: You want to know how far Stalin’s personal influence is a factor?
Mr. Kučera: After he came into absolute power.
Mr. Hilger: In 1928-29 all the “big shots” were still in positions of importance. They disappeared during the great purges. In the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, the wholesale elimination of non-Russians was after Molotov came in. He was surrounded only by pure Russian boys.
Mr. Neuweld: Is Lozovsky still there?
Mr. Hilger: No one seems to know.
Mr. [Robert Vincent “Bill”] Daniels: As far as nationality goes you may recall Lenin’s remark about the Great-Russian Chauvinism of Russified non-Russians.
[Daniels:] As to the abrupt change in foreign office personnel in the middle thirties from the old type of functionary to the new, I would like to suggest a possible explanation: During the course of the intra-party controversies, the old Bolshevik leaders who lost in the struggle for positions of power in the party were pushed out into the diplomatic service, where they were out of the way as regards domestic affairs, but where they presented a useful front to the outside world. Such, for example, were Krestinsky in Berlin, Rakovsky and Sokolnikov in Russia, and Kamenev in Rome. When, finally, the process of complete elimination of the old-type official reached the diplomatic service in the mid-thirties, the change was much more sudden, as the older men were replaced with bureaucrats of the new type which had been gradually developed in other Soviet institutions.
Mr. Hilger: That is not true. Take the first Soviet representative to Berlin in 1921. His nomination was distasteful to certain outstanding people in the Party in Russia. Yet he was said to be persona non grata to the Germans because of his position in the Party. Lenin said this was an insult. Yet he became Ambassador and stayed for ten years. Krestinsky became a little inconvenient and it may have been because of the party disputes.
Mr. Daniels: The case of Krestinsky is debatable, but the others were definitely out of favor in the party although this fact was not generally appreciated outside of Russia at the time. Krestinsky, before becoming deputy foreign commissar, had been a member of the Trotsky opposition and a “capitulator,” and hence was devoid of influence in the party.
Mr. Hilger: That was much later. He stayed in Berlin until 1931. As Deputy Commissar for Foreign Affairs, he had a position superior to his former one. I do not feel that your theory is correct.
Mr. Meyer: It is nevertheless true, isn’t it, that the people caught in the great purge were foreign service personnel. Could that be linked with the comparatively weak position of this service?
Mr. Hilger: I would say that they had lost influence in the party, because of being abroad.
Mr. Daniels: You might say that they were abroad because they had lost influence.
Mr. [Boris] Syssoeff: Do you think the Litvinov matter was Stalin’s decision or the Politburo’s?
Mr. Hilger: That was Stalin’s. Stalin was the Politburo in 1939. Stalin was preparing a settlement with Germany and he regarded Litvinov as an opposition. He thought Molotov more amenable here, so he was opposed to Litvinov.
Mr. Syssoeff: Did you foresee great change in these lines? Is it possible to foresee such changes?
Mr. Hilger: It is extremely difficult. To judge whether the position of Vyshinsky is still secure – no one knows.
Mr. Syssoeff: Why has he become Minister for Foreign Affairs?
Mr. Hilger: He is versatile, able, a tool in Stalin’s hands – a very able tool.
Mr. Syssoeff: Was he used by the Politburo for special purpose?
Mr. Hilger: As a Stalin prosecutor – certainly.
Mr. [Paul] Zinner: In dealing with the Soviet big wigs could you get the general idea of their thinking on foreign affairs? Do they have a long-range plan based on idealism or do they just respond from day to day to a situation which they didn’t create or attempt to create?
Mr. Hilger: I will tell you something. Hitler said once, so I was told, “It is quite impossible to wage war against Russia because those people improvise, and you don’t know what they will do the next day.” This makes dealing with the Russians and with Stalin very difficult. Overnight he changes his tactics.
Mr. Zinner: Adaptability is one thing. Anyone who has it is well off.
Mr. Hilger: He can’t always use it. American officials are often hemmed in by public opinion.
Mr. Zinner: But you can be adaptable to conditions in a superficial way. Adaptability can be based on rigid outlook. It is a different kind of adaptability. The other way is to tackle problems of the day, each day, without any overall plan.
Mr. Hilger: In former times you could learn what people personally thought. For example, when I first came to Moscow there was a Soviet of German soldiers and workers. The first night I conferred with Chicherin he said, “if you ask me to dissolve this, I will say I can’t do it for certain reasons.” That was possible at that day. Today a foreign diplomat could not give such explanations. Is that clear?
Mr. Zinner: Not quite.
Mr. Hilger: We can continue this later.
Mr. [Donald] Hodgman: I want to rephrase the question. Can you perceive a hard purposeful core behind Soviet foreign policy where it is maintained, or is it always flexible?
Mr. Hilger: The core remains.
Miss [Ruth] Widmayer: What is the strategy?
Mr. Hilger: The great goal always remains the same.
Miss Widmayer: Since the time of Lenin?
Mr. Neuweld: The goal of World Revolution?
Mr. Hilger: World Revolution was an end itself but now it is the means to an end.
Mr. [Franklyn] Holzman: It seems to me that this is no contradiction between inflexible core and this flexibility. Continued flexibility and change and response to situations all fits in and falls into a neat pattern.
Mr. Zinner: I didn’t say it didn’t. I am not in the chair, in a position to give answers.
Mr. Hilger: I am the defendant.
Mr. [Robert] MacMaster: With regard to the purge trials of this era, we in this country perhaps rely too much on Davies’ book. We believe that behind these
purges there was a sincere attempt to eliminate a German plot to counterbalance Stalinism and place pro-German groups in power in Russia. We know it was very much overdone although there were concrete bases for this point of view.
Mr. Hilger: I can answer that. In the 1938 trial, [Nikolay] Krestinsky declares he has been a German spy for ten years. It is the same with the two German students who came to Moscow and said I was going to help them kill Stalin. I never had such intentions.
Mr. Holzman: I’d like to take advantage of Mr. Hilger’s position as a foreign economist to ask two questions (1) to what extent were economic goals set by the Politburo and (2) with what degrees of knowledge of actual economic situations at the time?
Mr. Hilger: I would like to answer from my knowledge of the situation in 1939. When we were negotiating our trade treaties, all important questions were solved by Stalin. All parts of the economic treaty were negotiated by Stalin. He decided on the actual details concerning the grain and cotton Germany was to get. Decisions were concentrated in the Politburo.
Mr. Meyer: Mr. Hilger says Stalin showed a surprising amount of technical knowledge.
Mr. Hilger: Yes. He was very familiar with production figures, etc.
Mr. Hodgman: His negotiations must have been based on a great amount of paper worked out by his subordinates.
Mr. Hilger: It is amazing how empty the Conference table was. He didn’t look at papers at all.
Mr. Hodgman: Is it your impression that the same centralization applied in internal affairs?
Mr. Hilger: I would presume the answer is “yes” but here I have no actual knowledge.
Mr. Grossman: Stalin showed precision. But actually, how accurate was he? Did he just have a lot of figures?
Mr. Hilger: In general, I have the impression he was very well informed.
Mr. Grossman: Do you feel that the economic reporting flowing into Stalin is correct or it is what he would like to read?
Mr. Hilger: I think members of the Politburo really get the information they need. Each member gets 70 pages of foreign news daily. I don’t think Soviet foreign policy would be so successful if members just read Pravda or Izvestia.
Mr. Fiske: It was widely believed that the Politburo had been misinformed about the Hungarian election in 1945. It was said if they had had correct information the election would not have been allowed.
Mr. Hilger: I don’t recall this. Results of elections are sometimes a great surprise.
Mr. Fiske: Assumptions had apparently been made that the Soviet government and the Party were making great progress in Hungary. So the election was held and showed just the opposite. This must have been a shock. But even here elections can be a shock.
Mr. Hilger: The same thing happened in Eastern Germany.
Mr. Fiske: Another question. At the time of Litvinov’s “fall” might not the move away from internationalism and the later rapprochement with Germany have been a contributing factor?
Mr. Hilger: In 1939.
Mr. Fiske: Even before 1937. At the time collective security was given up. Don’t you think these facts influenced changes of personnel at that time?
Mr. Hilger: There was one other reason. Litvinov was very anxious to conclude agreement with France and America. In August 1939. At that time it was well known Litvinov tried to convince Stalin to make an alliance with Britain and France. Stalin said we must take chestnuts out of the fire. I don’t get reluctant promises out of them. That was one of the reasons for getting rid of Litvinov.
Mr. Meyer: I think John [Fiske]’s question implied that in 1937 there was already German-Russian rapprochement.
Mr. Fiske: No. At that time it was simply a departure from the idea of collective security.
Miss Widmayer: Could you tell us anything about the relations between the Comintern and the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs? How were conflicts resolved?
Mr. Hilger: We would like to know more about this. In general, the NKVD played the role of a complaint office or whipping boy for foreign governments.
Mr. [Alexander] Erlich: Churchill mentions that documents about Soviet generals were supplied through Czechs and they may have gotten this information from the Germans. Does that make sense?
Mr. Hilger: I have no evidence that this legend is true. It contradicts everything I know about the men involved.
Mr. Erlich: Did the Gestapo supply Churchill with the documents in order to destroy the Soviet Army?
Mr. Hilger: I can’t reconcile myself with that idea. I know it was said that it was [Reinhard] Heydrich.
Mr. Grossman: One Communist, Krivitsky, in his book says documents were planted, and he places the setting in Paris. Stalin is glen as the originator of the idea.
Mr. [Arnold] Horelick: In relation to the point John Fiske made about the elimination of the Jews in the Soviet foreign service. Is the reason for this that foreign governments were anti-Semitic? Is there an informal explanation of this? Litvinov is a special case. Was the talk about the desire of the Soviet Union not to complicate its foreign service by using Jews.
Mr. Hilger: The dismissal of Jews of which you are speaking goes back to the trials of the Trotskyites.
Mr. Horelick: There still were prominent Jews in the foreign service at this time.
Mr. Hilger: Until 1939. It ended with the appointment of Molotov.
Mr. Neuweld: While we are discussing methods of recruiting for the Soviet foreign service, I was comparing it with the satellite side of the story. There are many similarities. Take the Polish case for example. In 1944-45, when government apparatus was non-existent. There was no selection whatsoever in accepting new people. The responsible positions were taken by responsible party members. In the lower echelons, there was no selection. They would take anyone who could read and write and who wanted to join. The motivations differed. It was the period of Yalta and of optimism. People wanted to do as much as possible. Of course, there was also a large group of opportunists. Salaries were modest. Naturally, the economic ministries became popular because of the possibility of “earning” outside income. But the prestige of the foreign service officer and the opportunities in other countries for a “glass of orange juice every day” made it attractive. When in June 1945 the Polish deadlock was broken, they needed a large group to send abroad. They just sent those they had on hand. There was one man who controlled the situation. The results were sad. The number of defectors was very large.
Mr. Hilger: Was that sad?
Mr. Neuweld: Of the 25 or 30 who came to Washington few have returned. This applies to the countries of the West only. In 1945 they started to organize specific foreign service schools. First gave a three-month course, then a nine month, then a regular school was set up. They began to manufacture new material. Choose men from political parties or youth organizations. The groups coming now represent the really hard core of the Party membership. Defection is about nil. (Of course, there are hostages at home.)
Mr. Hilger: But they stay because of their beliefs.
Mr. Neuweld: This seems to be analogous with the Soviet situation.
Mr. Hilger: It was very interesting to hear this.
Mr. [Harold] Berman: I’d like to ask about the economic relations in 1939-41 between Germany and Russia. Were transactions conducted smoothly? Was there mutual trust? How did the lower levels get on?
Mr. Hilger: Both groups were interested in concluding the treaty. Russia wanted machinery. We wanted grain. There was hard bargaining and no credit. The Russians were to make deliveries of grain and we were to delivery machinery (this took time to manufacture). For the first nine months things went smoothly. But this goodwill decreased, especially after 1940. In January 1941 another treaty was concluded. A clause stated that if one side is in arrears, a special Commission will decide who is in arrears. Then the Russians asked for the Commission or increase in delivery. Pressure was exerted in Russia until April 13, 1941. When, a week after the outbreak of the war with Yugoslavia, Stalin saw Germany was successful, he reversed this policy and didn’t mention the Commission. Even until the night of January 27, Russian trains with grain and oil were crossing the frontier.
Mr. Meyer: I could supplement this by saying that economic cordiality for nine months paralleled a political honeymoon. The Germans delivered a whole battleship.
Mr. Berman: What was to be the composition of this Commission?
Mr. Hilger: It was never created.
Mr. Berman: But how was it to be constituted?
Mr. Hilger: There was to be equal representation of both parties. If no decision, then an arbiter was to be appointed.
Mr. Inkeles: Is the Soviet miscalculating the attitudes of the West? In its estimate of what the German government would do in 1941, we have a seeming example of this miscalculation. Could you elaborate on this?
Mr. Hilger: We had the impression that Stalin did not expect Hitler to attack. He expected a bluff – he expected demands for raw materials. Just before the beginning of the war, Count Schulenburg and I tried to persuade the Soviet Ambassador to join in certain talks. We were worried about the situation. The Soviet Ambassador refused. The only explanation is that “if Hitler is presenting demands, I will not ask questions. He might ask for more.” Stalin hoped for a breathing spell. He sent the Norwegian, Bulgarian, etc. Ambassadors out of the country in March 1941. He hoped to please Hitler. But the impression on Hitler was the reverse. Hitler said, “Hah, he is afraid.” That was a miscalculation. He miscalculated when he concluded the non-aggression pact with Germany. He hoped Germany would have a longer war with Poland. He expected a long war with France. He overestimated the strength of France. His third miscalculation was the treaty with Yugoslavia. He said the Germans will see how it is to wage war in the mountains and within a week they had conquered.
Mr. Inkeles: I am especially interested in your answer for itself and also the relation to what you said before about Stalin’s advice. Were there not many who could advise Stalin that he was making mistakes? Was this diplomatic
miscalculation or inadequate information.
Mr. Hilger: It was a diplomatic mistake. We also made a diplomatic miscalculation. Count Schulenburg and I also made this mistake.
Mr. Neuweld: Churchill warned Stalin.
Mr. Kluckhohn: I would like to ask a couple of questions which go back to the beginning. You told us about selection and training of men for the foreign service. Can you tell us how, from this group, choices are made as to which country men are trained for? Our own foreign service has trained “diplomats” in general – not for any special country. That is no so true today. At what stage are people selected for a particular area?
Mr. Hilger: I myself have not had any experience with this. A friend of mine was sent to Egypt and another to Afghanistan. I knew both these people well and could not see why they were sent where they were. In the German diplomatic service, we used to say: “If you don’t want to go to Moscow, ask to be assigned there.” All foreign officers are sent out, not according to their wishes, but according to certain deals.
Mr. Kluckhohn: The man who went to Afghanistan. Was he briefed on this country?
Mr. Hilger: I don’ know about this man. I do know of others who were so briefed.
Mr. Kluckhohn: How is this now in Russia?
Mr. Hilger: I think they are preparing their men for the areas to which they will go.
Mr. Kluckhohn: I have another question. There were people from the international Communist Movement who went to Moscow for long periods of training. To what extent was there a standard, well thought out system on this? What study for people from China? From Albania, etc.
Mr. Hilger: I have not studied this problem carefully: But I have talked to Radek who says it was very systematic. He was very proud of the consistency of their method.
Mr. [Benjamin] Schwartz: To China they sent back a group of studies from Sun Yat-sen University to take over the Party, but they didn’t do it. The power shifted to the indigenous group – Mao Tse-tung, etc.
Mr. Kluckhohn: I think we have given Mr. Hilger quite a work-out. I want to thank him for a most interesting two hours since it is now time for the formal part of our meeting to come to an end.
[END OF TEXT]
Harvard University Archives
RUSSIAN RESEARCH CENTER
Research Papers (1940-1973)
1/9/1948 – 1/10/1952
Barcode: HA 05OS F
RUSSIAN RESEARCH CENTER
The Soviet Foreign Service Office[r] through the Changing Years
Dr. Gustav Hilger
March 5, 1951