Courtesy Reuters

Reconsiderations: The Cassandra in the Foreign Commissariat

Toward the end of his long and distinguished career in the Soviet diplomatic service, Maxim Litvinov tantalized his foreign interlocutors with increasingly candid expressions of dissent from his employers' official line. There are several such incidents on record from May 1943 to February 1947-only some of which have been familiar to specialists in Soviet affairs though never adequately analyzed for what they are worth.1 Yet they raise altogether fundamental questions-about Litvinov and about the whole pattern of Russian behavior during the formative years of the cold war.

There is, to begin with, the obvious question of authenticity, particularly since some of the conversations took place on the premises of the Foreign Commissariat where walls were notorious for having ears. Nevertheless, although Litvinov's views must have been well known in the Kremlin, he was allowed to remain in an official function until August 1946, only to be sent into relatively comfortable retirement afterwards. Why was he able to speak his mind for so long in a country where this was a transgression punished swiftly and routinely regardless of rank?

So anomalous does Litvinov's position seem that his own widow, when queried about it in 1974, flatly denied that he could have possibly said what the various Western accounts of his talks claim he did.2 To be sure, allowance must always be made for a measure of distortion in any account written down from memory-no matter how fresh-after the event rather than recorded simultaneously on the spot. Even so, the different testimonies are unequivocal, independent of one another, and revealing of a consistent train of thought on the part of the Soviet statesman.

Nor were Litvinov's indiscretions of the sort governments sometimes plant in order to test each other's reactions or to influence each other's policies; they expressed truly independent opinion. Can new conclusions therefore be drawn about the extent of permissible dissent during the process of foreign policy formulation even in the heyday of Stalin's autocracy? And if there was a debate, what were the

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