Conducts research and collects data on the global history of labour, workers, and labour relations

Angelica Balabanova

For many years, Angelica Balabanova (c. 1878-1965) played a key role in the European social democrat network. In 1919 she became secretary of the newly founded Communist International in Moscow, but she soon renounced Leninism and became a dedicated social democrat, active especially in the Italian Socialist Party. Balabanova spoke fluent Russian, Italian, French, German, and English.

Angelica Balabanova in 1934During the Second World War she lived in the US. There, San Francisco’s prestigious Jewish Social Club Concordia Argonauts, which still exists today, invited her to deliver a lecture. Balabanova was happy to do so, but she was disappointed to receive no fee from the immensely rich Argonauts. She wrote them a very angry letter that gives some insight, too, into the uneasy relationship between Europeans and Americans. “I wanted to earn money which would enable me to help people in Germany, Austria, Italy, who are menaced and tortured by what is much worse than death. […] The fact that you did not mention the financial aspect of my engagement [earlier] was appreciated by me as a token that you understand that I don’t ‘sell’ anything & that what is understood by itself has not to be dealt with […]”.

This letter (dated 28 January 1940, inventory no. 245) is part of a small addition to the Balabanova archive at the IISH. Balabanova does indeed emerge as a very important fundraiser and benefactor. In her last will she wrote: “If there is some money left on my Banco di Napoli account, distribute it among the needy and the migrants […] The same goes for my clothes and the rest.” Were her wishes in this respect carried out? We cannot be sure, but the stipulation concerning her archive was certainly ignored: “Please, destroy all letters and other papers.” To be found in the same document in the Balabanova archive, inventory no. 5.

See also:  Web expo Zimmerwald and the archives of the Zimmerwald Movement

29 March 2016