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Yanks for Stalin
Interview Transcript

Abel Aganbegyan

ABEL AGANBEGYAN is currently the Rector of the Academy of the National Economy in Moscow. He was one of Mikhail Gorbachev's chief economic advisors and among the first influential Soviet economists to voice the need for a restructuring of the economic and business infrastructure of the Soviet Union.

The following interview was conducted as a part of the documentary program Yanks for Stalin concerning American aid in the industrial development of the Soviet Union during the 20's and 30's:

Q.  Why did Hammer play such a prominent role in the 1920s-30s?  Why did Lenin like him so well?  Why was he the single representative of so many American companies?

A.  First of all, I think that his role has been highly exaggerated, primarily because he lived for a long time.  Other foreigners perhaps did not stick their chests out as far as he, they faded away after a time.  He certainly was not the only foreigner to help, and did not make the greatest contribution to the development of Soviet industry.  You probably remember that many enterprises, among them the Gorkovskiy Automotive Plant, were built with the assistance of foreign specialists.  Many of our outstanding industrial leaders, such as Tovasian or Likhachov, were educated abroad and returned full of ideas and knowledge.

Q.  But you would agree that he was the first?

A.  I cannot agree.  He was one of the first.  He was a young man then, and did not play any especially vital role.  He did not have much money then, he was not what you would call "rich."  Many things could be bought back then for a song, especially art treasures, and he bought many of these treasures.  He had a magnificent art collection.

Q.  Did his meeting with Lenin do anything to further his fortunes in Russia?

A.  It probably played some part, but it was a brief meeting.  Hammer spoke of this meeting often, but Lenin never mentioned it in any of his writings.  Lenin met with a great number of people in those days; this was just another meeting.  I was in Hammer's office in suburban Los Angeles once, and he had a table next to his desk.  On that table were perhaps 50 or 70 photographs of Hammer with various public figures; with Reagan, with Thatcher, with this king, with that prince, with Brezhnev.  But the place of honor was reserved for his picture with Lenin.

Q.  Did this acquaintance help him with his first concession?  What was Lenin's interest in Hammer?

A.  It wasn't about Hammer.  Our country was trying to escape its isolation.  After all, we were long isolated.  Isolated from world markets.  A country cannot survive for long in isolation.  It is economically detrimental.  That is why our country's representatives, overseas diplomats, sought to break Russia out of that isolation.  Those solitary capitalists from abroad and America who were doing business in Russia were very significant in that they heralded the end of that isolation, and the beginning of the transition to normal trade relations.  We gradually achieved normal relations in spite of the fact that we had a different social and economic system.  This didn't interfere with our ability to engage in effective trade relations.

Q.  What do you think Hammer received from Lenin as a result of that meeting?

A.  I don't remember any details, but I don't think he received anything of concrete advantage or value.  It was almost a social visit.

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