Vyacheslav Molotov

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Vyacheslav Molotov : biography

9 March 1890 – 8 November 1986

In 1918, Molotov was sent to Ukraine to take part in the civil war then breaking out. Since he was not a military man, he took no part in the fighting. In 1920, he became secretary to the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Bolshevik Party. Lenin recalled him to Moscow in 1921, elevating him to full membership of the Central Committee and Orgburo, and putting him in charge of the party secretariat. He was voted in as a non-voting member of the Politburo in 1921, and held the office of Responsible Secretary. His Responsible Secretaryship was criticised both by Lenin and Leon Trotsky, with Lenin noting his "shameful bureaucratism" and stupid behaviour. On the advice of Molotov and Nikolai Bukharin the Central Committee decided to reduce Lenin’s work hours. In 1922, Stalin became General Secretary of the Bolshevik Party with Molotov as the de facto Second Secretary. As a young follower Molotov admired Stalin, but was open in criticism of him. Under Stalin’s patronage, Molotov became a member of the Politburo in 1926.

During the power struggles which followed Lenin’s death in 1924, Molotov remained a loyal supporter of Stalin against his various rivals: first Leon Trotsky, later Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev and finally Nikolai Bukharin. Molotov became a leading figure in the "Stalinist centre" of the party, which also included Kliment Voroshilov and Sergo Ordzhonikidze. Trotsky and his supporters underestimated Molotov, as did many others. Trotsky called him "mediocrity personified", whilst Molotov himself pedantically corrected comrades referring to him as ‘Stone Arse’ by saying that Lenin had actually dubbed him ‘Iron Arse’. However, this outward dullness concealed a sharp mind and great administrative talent. He operated mainly behind the scenes and cultivated an image of a colourless bureaucrat – for example, he was the only Bolshevik leader who always wore a suit and tie. In 1928 Molotov replaced Nikolai Uglanov as First Secretary of the Moscow Communist Party and held that position until 15 August 1929. In a lengthy address to the Central Committee in 1929, Molotov told the members that the Soviet government would initiate a compulsory collectivisation campaign to solve the agrarian backwardness of Soviet agriculture.

Premiership (1930–1941)

During the Central Committee plenum of 19 December 1930, Alexey Rykov, the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars (the equivalent of a Western head of government) was succeeded by Molotov. In this post, Molotov oversaw the Stalin regime’s collectivisation of agriculture. He followed Stalin’s line by using a combination of force and propaganda to crush peasant resistance to collectivisation, including the deportation of millions of kulaks (peasants with property) to labour camps. An enormous number of the deportees died from exposure and overwork. He signed the Law of Spikelets and personally led the Extraordinary Commission for Grain Delivery in Ukraine, which seized a reported 4.2 million tonnes of grain from the peasants during a widespread manmade famine (known in Ukraine as Holodomor). Contemporary historians estimate that between seven and eleven million people 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 rapid industrialisation.

Sergei Kirov, head of the Party organisation in Leningrad, was killed in 1934; some believed his death was ordered by Stalin. Kirov’s death triggered a second crisis, the Great Purge. In 1938, out of the twenty-eight People’s Commissars in Molotov’s Government, twenty were executed on the orders of Molotov and Stalin. The purges were carried out by Stalin’s successive police chiefs, Nikolai Yezhov was the chief organiser and Kliment Voroshilov, Lazar Kaganovich and Molotov were intimately involved in the processes. Stalin frequently required Molotov and other Politburo members to sign the death warrants of prominent purge victims, and Molotov always did so without question. There is no record of Molotov attempting to moderate the course of the purges or even to save individuals, as some other Soviet officials did. During the Great Purge, he personally approved 372 documented execution lists, more than any other Soviet official including Stalin. It is known that Molotov was one of few with whom Stalin openly discussed the purges. Although Molotov and Stalin signed a public decree in 1938 which disassociated them from the then ongoing Great Purge., in private, and even after Stalin’s death, Molotov supported the Great Purge and the executions committed by his government.