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Alexander Gumberg and Soviet-American Relations

Alexander Gumberg and Soviet-American Relations: 1917--1933

James K. Libbey
Copyright Date: 1977
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Alexander Gumberg and Soviet-American Relations
    Book Description:

    Born in Russia in 1887, Alexander Gumberg immigrated to the United States in 1903. He returned to Russia in 1917 as an American businessman sympathetic to the progress of Russia's Revolution. After the Bolshevik seizure of power on November 7, Gumberg became a secretary, translator, and adviser to the American Red Cross Commission and the Committee on Public Information. Through him a Soviet-American dialogue formed despite the lack of official relations. Gumberg advised congressmen who hoped to establish diplomatic ties between the two countries. He helped American publicists, publications, and institutions which sought to present a favorable, or at least balanced, picture of Soviet Russia. Gumberg did not seek to start a revolution to change the world, or to alter the morality of man. He did contribute quietly to a better understanding between the future superpowers when their normal ties had been broken.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6364-2
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-13)

    A WEEK AFTER Czar Nicholas II abdicated in 1917, the Winter Palace received a visit from the American ambassador. Prince George Lvov, premier of the new Provisional government, welcomed his guest and received the official news that the United States would be the first major power to recognize the new government. In the hectic March days the sixty-seven-year-old ambassador, David R. Francis, had frequent conversations with Michael Rodzyanko, former president of the State Duma and an important figure in the committee of Duma representatives who secured the czar’s abdication and selected members of the Provisional government. When that government emerged...

    (pp. 14-24)

    IN THE DARK of night on that historic day of November 7, 1917, three men and two women departed from Smolny Institute leaving behind them the smoke-filled, stale but excited air of the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets. As headquarters of the Bolshevik party and the Military Revolutionary Committee, this former school for young ladies became the command center for what has been labeled the Bolshevik Revolution.¹ The cool bracing air of Petrograd’s night enveloped the five comrades. They left behind the noise of couriers, soldiers, delegates, and the contemptuous voice of Leon Trotsky describing as so much garbage those...

    (pp. 25-39)

    ALEXANDER GOMBERG’S POCKETS literally bulged with passes and letters of introduction in the aftermath of the November insurrection. While the new Soviet regime supported peace in direct contrast to the aims and desires of Russia’s recent allies, Bolshevik leaders never desired to terminate all contact with the Western democracies, who uniformly declined to recognize the new state of political affairs. Forced by diplomatic ostracism to seek unofficial means of communication, the Soviet government made Gumberg its principal contact with the United States from the fall of 1917 to the spring of 1918. Among his contemporaries in Petrograd, he acquired the...

    (pp. 40-54)

    TWO DECADES LATER a scholar could refer to the talks at Brest-Litovsk as “the forgotten peace.”¹ But in the winter of 1917–1918 the negotiations between Russia and Central Powers were anything but forgotten in the minds of Allied officials. Maintenance of an Eastern Front concerned America’s policymakers. They understood little of Russia’s revolution except that Bolsheviks broke every traditional code of national behavior and sought peace from America’s enemy. The Bolsheviks, however, did not conspire to take Russia out of war. Lenin’s party accepted the obvious. After the disastrous July offensive, a Russian army no longer existed in any...

    (pp. 55-69)

    WHEN ALEXANDER GUMBERG returned to the United States, he expected to operate a part-time information bureau which would provide detached truth about Soviet Russia. Enjoying the spring breezes on board ship, he could not have fathomed the coming storm he would face after landing in America. Within weeks Gumberg saw his plans destroyed. The issue of helping Soviet Russia against the German enemy no longer existed in the American matrix. Intervention and the amalgamation of Bolsheviks with Huns ended all prospects for promoting Russian recognition or even operating a news agency. Gumberg’s lack of ideological commitment further complicated his life....

    (pp. 70-86)

    ALEXANDER GOMBERG NEVER gained fame as a literary figure. Through the years his English improved considerably and he died in the midst of a public relations career with an investment firm, Atlas Corporation. By 1939 he wrote refined prose in the best Wall Street tradition. He always possessed, however, a genuine talent for relaying information through personal contact. At a glance Gumberg seemed poorly suited for the path he cut for himself—a mediator between two societies. A childhood disease impaired the normal function of a leg, and when combined with overly long arms, the slight limp made him ungainly....

    (pp. 87-101)

    BY THE TIME Warren G. Harding delivered his Inaugural Address, Alexander Gumberg’s Union Square apartment had become the unofficial depository of information about Soviet Russia for numerous radical and liberal journalists. The salon over which Gumberg presided was amiably hosted by his wife, who provided tea in glasses after the Russian fashion. Their many guests around the samovar at various times included Bessie Beatty, Jessica Smith, Albert Rhys Williams, Maurice Hindus, Kenneth Durant, William Henry Chamberlin, William Hard, and Floyd Dell. Many members of this group journeyed to Russia and, upon their return, visited Gumberg’s apartment to share impressions with...

    (pp. 102-117)

    IN THE EARLY 1920s Alexander Gumberg found himself in a perfect position to mediate reconciliation between America and Russia. The illness Raymond Robins suffered in 1921 projected Gumberg into an association with American political figures. Later that year he joined a group that evolved into an unofficial consulate for Soviet Russia. Gumberg wove a web connecting private and public American groups favorable to Russia while maintaining his link with Moscow. He moved back and forth to repair or strengthen broken or threatened lines of contact. Finally, the winds of fate destroyed his pattern and forced him to build anew.


    (pp. 118-135)

    FOR SIX YEARS Alexander Gumberg had been a knight-errant tilting at the windmill of American prejudice against Communist Russia. Little wonder the immigrant son of a rabbi perished long before his allotted three-score-and-ten! He had lived a lifetime by 1917 in the culture shock of emigration, in the struggle for livelihood in a strange land, in the chaos of Russia’s revolution. Then followed six strenuous years, years not without their successes and enjoyments, but difficult and heartbreaking years for a man dedicated to a policy scorned by the vast majority of his contemporaries. Gumberg’s work with writers and politicians failed...

    (pp. 136-164)

    BY 1929 THE UNITED STATES government had been bypassed in the realm of Soviet-American relations. Despite nonrecognition, relations existed on a nearly normal scale. The two countries exchanged news services, business and cultural representatives, books, and ideas, and unofficial consulates busily worked in the capitals of both nations. Alexander Gumberg stood astride this activity, an impresario conducting, planning, and strengthening Russian-American affairs.

    Between 1926 and 1929 Gumberg helped revive the American-Russian Chamber of Commerce, create the American Society for Cultural Relations with Russia (ussr), advise Chase National Bank on Russian commerce, and establish through dinners, tours, conferences, and cultural exchanges...

    (pp. 165-180)

    IN 1930 JOHN REED’s ghost rose from the grave and struck, through Veniamin Gumberg, one last dreadful blow at his nemesis, Alexander Gumberg. The Communist party’s folk hero nearly accomplished by memory of his greatness what he failed to achieve during his lifetime—permanently labeling Gumberg a counter-revolutionary. Veniamin reconciled himself with the Bolsheviks after November 7, 1917. In the Russian civil war he worked as special quartermaster supplying a Red Army division with food and supplies. His beneficial service received due reward during the NEP reconstruction period with an appointment as head of Amtorg’s German equivalent, the Russian-German Trading...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 181-210)
    (pp. 211-214)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 215-229)