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In 1919 the Soviet government directed Ludwig Martens to open a trade bureau in New York. Before his deportation two years later, Martens had established contact with nearly one thousand American firms and conducted trade in the face of a stiff Allied embargo. His work planted the seeds for growing commercial ties between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. throughout the 1920s.
Because the United States did not recognize the Soviet Union until 1933, historians have viewed the early Soviet–American relationship as an ideological stand-off. Katherine Siegel, drawing on public, private, and corporate documents as well as newly opened Soviet archives, paints a different picture. She finds that business ties flourished between 1923 and 1930, American sales to the Soviets grew twentyfold and American firms supplied Russians with more than a fourth of their imports. American businesses were only too eager to tap into huge Soviet markets.
Under the Soviets' New Economic Policy and first Five Year Plan, American firms invested in the U.S.S.R. and sold technical processes, provided consulting services, built factories, and trained Soviet engineers in the U.S. Most significantly, Siegel shows, this commercial relationship encouraged policy shifts at the highest levels of the U.S. government.
Thus when Franklin D. Roosevelt opened diplomatic relations with Russia, he was building on ties that had been carefully constructed over the previous fifteen years. Siegel's study makes an important contribution to a new understanding of early Soviet-American relations.
Katherine A.S. Siegel is assistant professor of history at St. Joseph's University, Philadelphia.
Winner of the 1997 Phi Alpha Theta Award for a First Book
"An informative, scholarly study that is a delight to read."—American Historical Review
"Siegel is telling a great story, based on wonderful materials which she has unearthed from the Soviet archives."—Business History Review
"Siegel's work is notable because she has conducted research in the official records of the former Soviet Union. The author demonstrates that the governments of Lenin and Stalin did not merely react to US initiatives but boldly sought American goods and money. . ."—Choice
"As the first American effort to re-examine both sides of pre-recognition American-Soviet relations, Siegel's work marks a significant historiographic milestone."—H-Net Reviews
"Siegel has enhanced our understanding of the relationship through the introduction of documents from the Soviet archives, by exploring in depth the first Soviet trade mission, and by demonstrating that there was a limited degree of flexibility in Republican policy in response to Moscow's initiatives to promote trade and official acknowledgement."—Slavic Review
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
United States, Soviet Union, Foreign relations
Siegel, Katherine A. S., "Loans and Legitimacy: The Evolution of Soviet-American Relations, 1919-1933" (1996). International Relations. 20.