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Anglo-Soviet Relations 1929–1931

  • David Carlton

Abstract

Relations between the Soviet Union and Great Britain between the two world wars were marred by a complete lack of mutual trust and understanding. The ill-feeling occasioned by Russia’s withdrawal from the war and the consequent allied intervention was not in itself sufficient to account for the enduring estrangement; and even the difference in social and economic systems was of only marginal importance. Although the so-called Conservative die-hards may have been filled with horror at the Socialist experiments, the more practical men of affairs in control of British foreign policy throughout the inter-war years must have had other, more compelling motives for rejecting the pragmatic course of normal relations with a de facto regime. In essence, the cause of the difficulties lay in the unique attitude of the Soviet leaders to other foreign powers. They were committed to an internationalist philosophy which, if carried to its logical conclusions, was bound to lead them to pursue interventionist policies and to foment revolutions wherever practical. The rule of law, conventions of international practice concerning non-intervention in the affairs of other states, the sanctity of bilateral and multilateral treaties and obligations, all have no secure place in the outlook of an adherent of Marx and Lenin. If lip-service is paid to any of these things, it is, as almost all the architects of British foreign policy have readily perceived, no more than a tactical manoeuvre on the part of the Soviet Union.

Keywords

Labour Party Slave Labour Multilateral Treaty Soviet Leader Interventionist Policy 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    For the views of one who had a deeper insight than most, see Lord Vansittart, ‘The Decline of Diplomacy’, Foreign Affairs xxviii (1949–50) 177–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    The most extreme exponent of the policy of non-recognition was the United States during the years prior to the advent of F. D. Roosevelt. Secretary of State F. B. Kellogg defined his country’s attitude with complete frankness in February 1928 in these words: ‘No result beneficial to the people of the United States, or, indeed to the people of Russia would be attained by entering into relations with the present regime in Russia so long as the present rulers of Russia have not abandoned those avowed aims and known practices which are inconsistent with international friendship’. Cited in Sir Bernard Pares, ‘Anglo-Russian Relations’, Journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, VIII (1929) 490.Google Scholar
  3. 1.
    W. P. and Z. K. Coates, A History of Anglo-Soviet Relations (London, 1944 ) p. 320.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    For the events of 1924, see Stephen Richard Graubard, British Labour and the Russian Revolution, 1917–1924 (Cambridge, Mass., 1956) chap. 13; Lyman, The First Labour Government, esp. chaps. 11 and 14;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 2.
    Lewis Carter et al., The Zinoviev Letter (London, 1967).Google Scholar
  6. Cmd. 3418 of 1929–30. On Dalton’s feeler, which evoked no response from Moscow, see Donald N. Lammers, ‘The Second Labour Government and the Restoration of Relations with Soviet Russia (1929)’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research xxxvii (1964) 68–9. Frank Wise, a pro-Soviet Labour M.P., went to Moscow after an interview with Henderson at The Hague. MacDonald’s view of Wise and his friends was that they ‘have taken Moscow under their wing and think it can do no wrong and that we should play with themselves in an orchestra, under Moscow conductorship’. He told Dalton that there was ‘no reason why you should not use them, being careful lest they give you away if you show them any confidence and give them anything but what the Office is prepared to have published’: MacDonald to Dalton, 3 Aug 1929, Henderson Papers, F.O. 800/280. Henderson wrote of his interview with Wise: ‘though I was friendly, I adhered firmly to the position I had taken up with Dovgalevsky and told him that, in my opinion, he was not likely to help in securing the object he had in view if he gave the Russians the impression that we were always ready to modify our attitude whenever they presented a difficulty real or unreal’: Henderson to Dalton, 17 Aug 1929, ibid.Google Scholar
  7. 1.
    According to Dalton, Arthur Ponsonby, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Dominions, made a personal application to Henderson but to no avail: Dalton Diary, entry for 31 Oct 1929. Another unsuccessful applicant was Sir Daniel Stevenson, formerly a leading figure in the Union of Democratic Control : Henderson to Stevenson, 1 July 1929, Henderson Papers, F.O. 800/280. By refusing to appoint other than career diplomats to British missions, the Labour leaders made it clear that, despite much fierce oratory in Opposition against the class character of the diplomatic service, they were not prepared in practice to challenge the traditional system. For an exposition of the Left-wing point of view, see Robert T. Nightingale, The Personnel of the British Foreign Service and Diplomatic Service, Fabian Tract, no. 32 (London, 1930 ). His concluding words were: ‘a Foreign Service manned by those drawn from the privileged classes will remain antipathetic to the new internationalist ideals’.Google Scholar
  8. 1.
    B.D., 2/vii, nos 66 and 68 (Ovey to Henderson, 22 and 25 Feb 1930). See also Ovey to Henderson, telegram no. 335, 7 June 1930, F.O., 418/72. Whether the Comintern was at this time to any degree independent of Stalin’s will—as it had certainly been earlier—seems extremely doubtful. On the Comintern’s curious history, see Günther Nollau, International Communism and World Revolution: History and Methods (London, 1961)Google Scholar
  9. Jane Degras (ed.), The Communist International, 1919–1943: Documents 3 vols (London, 1956–65).Google Scholar
  10. Milorad M. Drascovic and Branko Lazitch (eds.), The Comintern: Historical Highlights: Essays, Recollections, Documents (New York, 1966).Google Scholar
  11. 3.
    Elaine Windrich, British Labour’s Foreign Policy (Stanford, 1952) p. 73.Google Scholar

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© David Carlton 1970

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  • David Carlton

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