Martens, Ludwig Karlovich (1874-1948)

Ludwig Martens

A participant in the Russian and international revolutionary movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries; a Soviet scientist and economic executive.

Martens, whose full name was Ludwig Christian Alexander Karl Martens, was born on December 20, 1874 (January 1, 1875 according to the “old-style” Julian calendar) to a well-to-do German family in the town of Bachmut (now Artemovsk) of the Russian Empire (now the Donbass region of Ukraine). His father, Karl-Gustav-Adolph Martens, was a German-born industrialist who owned a steel mill in the Russian city of Kursk. Ludwig Martens studied at a Kursk “real school” – a six-year school with a scientific emphasis – and took an additional year to study mechanics and technology after graduation in 1892. In 1893, he enrolled at the St. Petersburg State Institute of Technology and also joined the Russian revolutionary movement, taking part in Marxist study circles.

Martens joined the Russian revolutionary movement in 1983 and helped to organize the first Russian Marxist party, The St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, founded by Vladimir Lenin in late 1895. In 1896, Martens was arrested for taking part in the League’s organization and was sentenced to a three-year prison term. In 1899, as a German national, he was deported to Germany, where he joined the Social Democratic Party and continued his education at the Charlottenburg Institute of Technology, graduating in 1902.  In Germany, he continued his work for the Russian revolutionary movement (on the side of the Bolsheviks), particularly after the outbreak of the first Russian revolution in 1905. In 1906, he was arrested in Hamburg with a load of 1.2 ton of explosives for subsequent delivery to Russia, but managed to persuade the German authorities that the load was a consignment for an American company. Still, in 1907 Martens had to leave Germany and to emigrate to Great Britain, where he worked as an engineer at British factories. In 1915, a year after the outbreak of World War I, Martens’s family was driven out of Kursk and the family steel mill was confiscated following a government decision to shut down all business enterprises owned by German nationals. In late 1915 or early 1916, Martens immigrated to the United States, where he continued his revolutionary activities. Within that same year he became vice-president of an engineering firm, Weinberg & Posner, at 120 Broadway, New York City. Over the next few years, Martens became well known in the Russian Socialist colony of New York – as well as in the left wing of the American Socialist Party. Since 1916, he took part in editing of a Russian Socialist paper, “Novyi mir” (“The New World”), which he later described as a “Bolshevik paper.” From late 1916 and until the summer of 1917, he was editing the paper in collaboration with Leon Trotsky and other Russian revolutionaries, who were at that time in New York. 1

Ludwig Martens (right), with Santeri Nuorteva

In January 1919, the Soviet Foreign Commissariat (NKID) designated Martens as its authorized representative in the United States, with the far-reaching goal of winning official diplomatic recognition of Soviet Russia and encouraging American businesses to develop commercial relations with the new government. Martens’s equally important mission was to try to bring an end to American support for anti-Bolshevik forces in the Russian Civil War. He opened a Soviet Russian Information Bureau in New York, commonly known as the Martens Bureau, which immediately began agitating against American intervention in Soviet Russia – and commercial negotiations with a large number of American firms. In March, Martens traveled to Washington, D.C. to deliver his credentials to the Department of State. The State Department refused to recognize Martens, who was soon charged with engaging in Bolshevik propaganda and subversive activity. After months of investigations, interrogations and hearings, the Department of Labor issued an order for Martens’s arrest on January 2, 1920. The order was not served, however, since Martens was then in the custody of the U.S. Senate Committee investigating Bolshevik propaganda. The deportation of Martens and several of his associates was finally approved by President Wilson in December 1920, and on December 24, Martens sailed for Russia. 2

In Moscow, Martens’s U.S. experience and knowledge proved to be in great demand. In 1921, he became a member of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the People’s Economy (VSNH), which was the highest Soviet economic authority from 1917 to 1932. He was also appointed chairman of “Glavmetall,” one of the chief VSNH directorates which were managing large nationalized enterprises in a particular branch of industry. From 1924 to 1926, Martens was chairman of the Committee on Inventions at the VSNH. From 1926 to 1936, he was director of the Diesel Scientific Research Institute and simultaneously a professor at the Moscow Mechanical Institute. His scientific field was diesel engine manufacturing and the theory of reciprocating combustion engines. In 1930, he developed a high-speed, high-compression engine with a single-valve timing system. In 1927, Martens initiated the publication of the Encyclopedia of Engineering and remained its editor-in-chief until 1941. In 1935, he was awarded the degree of the Doctor of Engineering. He also published a number of works on diesel engine building and the theory of reciprocating combustion engines. After his retirement with government honors in 1941, Martens continued his scientific research and editorial activity until his death in 1948. 3

  1. Ludwig Martens’s hand-written personal history in his “Old Bolshevik Society” personal file, Fund 124, description 1, file 1210, pp. 3-7, RGASPI; Article on Martens, Ludwig Karlovich, in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia; Evgen’ev G.E., Shapik B.S. “Revolutsioner, diplomat, uchenyi, Martens.” Moskva, 1960. (G.E. Eugeniev, B.S. Shapik, “Revolutionary, Diplomat, Scientist Martens, “ Moscow, 1960.
  2. America’s Secret War Against Bolshevism: U.S. Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1917-1920, by David S. Foglesong. The University of North Carolina Press, 1995, pp. 281-288; Fund 507 (“L.C.A.K. Martens in the United States of America”), description 2, P. 2, folders 1, 2, 6, 11; description 5a, P. 3, folder 2; description 5b, P. 3a, folder 4; Fund 129 (“Information on the USA”), description 4, P. 3, file 6, AVP RF.
  3. Martens, Ludwig Karlovich, article in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, “Revolutionary, Diplomat, Scientist Martens,” Op. Cit., Moscow, 1960.