The Soviet statesman Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov (1890-1986) was second in command during Stalin's regime and served as the chief Soviet diplomat in World War II.
Vyacheslav Molotov was born on March 9, 1890, in the village of Kukarka (now Sovetsk) in what is now the Kirov Oblast. His family name was Scriabin, and he was distantly related to the famous composer of the same name. His family sent him to the gymnasium (high school) in Kazan, and it was there, as a teen-ager, that he first became involved in the revolutionary movement, taking a minor part in the Revolution of 1905. The following year he joined the Bolsheviks and, to avoid police harassment, changed his name to Molotov (literally, "of the hammer").
In 1909, just prior to his graduation, he was arrested for political agitation and exiled for 2 years to Vologda Province. Instead of returning to Kazan, he made his way to St. Petersburg, where he studied briefly at the Polytechnic Institute. More importantly, living in the capital afforded him the opportunity for involvement in the new Bolshevik newspaper Pravdaand for establishing his first contact with Joseph Stalin.
Unlike most other Bolsheviks, Molotov spent no time abroad, and when World War I broke out, he was still in Russia. In June 1915 he was again arrested and exiled, this time to the distant Siberian province of Irkutsk. Late in 1916 he escaped from Siberia and managed to get back to the capital, now renamed Petrograd, where he rejoined the revolutionary movement. He was one of the few Bolsheviks of any prominence who were in Petrograd when the monarchy was overthrown, and he became immediately involved in issuing the rejuvenated Pravda. He also joined the Petrograd Soviet, becoming perhaps the most important Bolshevik in that organization until the election of Leon Trotsky to its presidency. After the Bolshevik seizure of power in November 1917, he assumed a variety of government tasks, most of them away from the center of power.
In 1921, probably at the behest of Stalin, Molotov was chosen a candidate member of the Central Committee, and from that time his fortunes were irrevocably tied to Stalin's. In the intraparty struggle he identified even more closely with Stalin and was elevated to the Politburo in 1926. In 1928 he was made first secretary of the Moscow Party Committee and proceeded to purge it of non-Stalinists.
In 1930 Molotov's work was rewarded with his appointment as chairman of the Council of People's Commissars (that is, prime minister) of the Soviet Union. He held this post for over a decade, adding the foreign affairs post in 1939. In the latter post he acquired an international reputation, first negotiating the infamous Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 but later serving as Stalin's top representative at the various wartime conferences: Teheran (1943), Yalta (1945), and Potsdam (1945), and at the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945.
In 1949 Molotov yielded the Foreign Ministry to Andrei Vishinsky but continued as vice-chairman of the Council of Ministers. Upon Stalin's death in March 1953, he emerged as potentially one of the strongest leaders, reassuming control over the Foreign Ministry and forming, with Lavrenty Beria and Georgi Malenkov, an ephemeral triumvirate that presumably controlled the Bolshevik party. Though he outlasted both of his partners, by 1955 it was apparent that Molotov had lost considerable power.
The Twentieth Party Congress of February 1956 and the resultant anti-Stalin line ruined Molotov's chances as he was so closely identified in the public eye with the Stalinist heritage. Later that year, Dmitri Shepilov replaced him as foreign minister. In the summer of 1957 Molotov and others of the "antiparty" group were expelled from the Central Committee. Molotov himself was made emissary to Outer Mongolia, roughly the equivalent of exile, and was forced to remain there until 1960. Then he made a small comeback by becoming the Soviet representative to the International Atomic Energy Conference in Vienna. In 1961 at the Twenty-second Party Congress a renewed denunciation of Stalin led to new cries for punishment for Molotov, but he escaped banishment or any serious penalty and retired from public life. In 1984 he was reinstated to the party, but died in Moscow on November 8, 1986.
Further Reading on Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov
Molotov's views as a foreign minister can be seen in some anthologies of his speeches, for example, Problems of Foreign Policy (trans. 1949). Molotov was sufficiently bland to defy biographers, but there is Bernard Bromage, Molotov: The Story of an Era (1956). Most studies of Stalin devote some attention to Molotov, notably Isaac Deutscher, Stalin: A Political Biography (1949; rev. ed. 1966).