of viewâ€™.31 This resulted in a treaty, signed on 8 August, but it contained
more style than substance. The Soviets accepted that there must be
compensation, but the details were left to a subsequent treaty, which
would also determine the nature of a loan to Soviet Russia.
However, the existing treaty of 8 August had to be ratified by Parlia-
ment. And, at this point, Soviet activities impinged on British politics.
The Liberals withdrew their support for the Labour government. Two
issues were at the heart of this: discontent over the vague nature of the
Soviet trade treaty and a decision by Labour not to charge the acting
Gorodetsky, Precarious Truce, 13â€“35; Andrew J. Williams, Trading with the Bolsheviks.
The Politics of Eastâ€“West Trade 1920â€“1939 (Manchester and New York, 1992), 75â€“7;
and David Marquand, Ramsay MacDonald (London, 1977), 361â€“4. For Anglo-Soviet
trade in the 1920s, see R. Munting, â€˜Becos Traders and the Russian Market in the
1920sâ€™, Journal of European Economic History, 25, 1 (1996), 69â€“96.
Summarized in Otto Niemeyer (controller of finance, Treasury) to Snowden (chancel-
lor of the Exchequer), 25 Jan 1924, and â€˜Financial Questions Which Would be Involved
by Proposals to Grant â€śDe Jureâ€ť Recognition to Russiaâ€™, ns, 22 Jan 1924, both Hopkins
Papers, T 175/5; background in Keith Neilson, Strategy and Supply. The Anglo-Russian
Alliance, 1914â€“1917 (London, 1984), and Vincent Barnett, â€˜Calling up the Reserves:
Keynes, Tugan-Baranovsky and Russian War Financeâ€™, Eâ€“AS, 53, 1 (2001), 151â€“69.
Niemeyer to Snowden, 2 Jul 1924, Hopkins Papers, T 175/5.
Ponsonby to Snowden, 21 Jul 1924, Hopkins Papers, T 175/5.
The period of persuasion 49
editor of the communist Workerâ€™s Weekly for encouraging soldiers used
as strike-breakers to disobey their orders.32 The result was a vote of no
confidence in early October and MacDonaldâ€™s decision to call an elec-
tion. During the election campaign, another Soviet bombshell exploded:
the publication of a letter purportedly from Grigory Zinoviev, the head
of the Comintern, to the Communist Party of Great Britain, calling on
the latter to push for the ratification of the trade treaty and to set up cells
in the British army.33 While the circumstances surrounding the Zinoviev
letter remain controversial, the letter itself is now known to be a forgery.
However, its political impact was to help to weaken Labourâ€™s showing at
The new Conservative government wasted no time in refusing to ratify
the new trade treaty. The government was full of those â€“ Joynson-Hicks
at the Home Office and Churchill at the Treasury â€“ who disliked Soviet
Russia and wished to pursue a hostile policy towards it. Austen Cham-
berlain, the secretary of state for foreign affairs, did not. He preferred
to follow a policy of â€˜aloofnessâ€™ towards Soviet Russia.34 To understand
why, it is necessary to consider the general nature of Chamberlainâ€™s
policy. In January 1925, Chamberlain and senior members of the
Foreign Office met to work out the new governmentâ€™s policy.35 By 20
February, â€˜the basis and outlineâ€™ of Chamberlainâ€™s policy were com-
plete.36 The principal issue was how to reconcile French fears about
security with German demands to rejoin the comity of nations.
Chamberlain wished to guarantee Franceâ€™s security, if necessary by
treaty. This would allow German concerns to be dealt with free of any
French rancour: â€˜until we can quieten France, no concert of Europe is
possible, and we can only quieten France if we are in a position to speak
to her with the authority of an Allyâ€™.
Gorodetsky, Precarious Truce, 32â€“5; N. D. Siederer, â€˜The Campbell Caseâ€™, JCH, 9, 2
On Zinoviev, see Sibyl Crowe, â€˜The Zinoviev Letter: A Reappraisalâ€™, JCH, 10, 3
(1975), 407â€“32; Gabriel Gorodetsky, â€˜The Other â€śZinoviev Lettersâ€ť â€“ New Light
on the Mismanagement of the Affairâ€™, Slavic and Soviet Studies, 3 (1976), 3â€“30; Andrew,
â€˜The British Secret Service and Anglo-Soviet Relations in the 1920s, Part Iâ€™; E. H. Carr,
â€˜The Zinoviev Letterâ€™, HJ, 22, 1 (1979), 209â€“10; Christopher Andrew, â€˜More on the
Zinoviev Letterâ€™, HJ, 22, 1 (1979), 211â€“14; John Ferris and Uri Bar-Joseph, â€˜Getting
Marlowe to Hold His Tongue: The Conservative Party, the Intelligence Services and the
Zinoviev Letterâ€™, INS, 8, 4 (1993), 100â€“37; and Gill Bennett, History notes. â€˜A Most
Extraordinary and Mysterious Businessâ€™: The Zinoviev Letter of 1924 (London, 1999).
A. Chamberlain to Churchill, 5 Nov 1925, Chamberlain Papers, FO 800/258.
Richard S. Grayson, Austen Chamberlain and the Commitment to Europe. British Foreign
Policy 1924â€“1929 (London and Portland, OR, 1997), 38.
Chamberlainâ€™s preface (19 Feb) on â€˜British Policy Considered in Relation to the
European Situationâ€™, Harold Nicolson, 20 Feb 1925, FO 371/10727/C2201/459/18.
50 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
But a French alliance would cut across the bows of the new world
order. What of the League and collective security? Here, Chamberlain
was dismissive. â€˜The League of Nations is a wholly admirable institutionâ€™,
he contended, and â€˜[i]n many minor questions it has already played a
useful part, but at present, and probably for many years, it will be unsafe
to count upon its authority being sufficient to restrain a Great Powerâ€™.
What of the belief that alliances were likely to cause war? Chamberlain
was fully aware of this issue. As he wrote on 19 February 1925: â€˜Public
opinion is this country is intensely suspicious of any particular undertak-
ing, and both the Liberal and Labour Parties in their present mood
are ready to start on the warpath at the first indication that I could
be contemplating a regional pact.â€™37 Chamberlain, however, was not
deterred: â€˜Yet I am firmly convincedâ€™, he concluded, of the need to
â€˜proceed from the particular to the generalâ€™.
How did Soviet Russia fit into this scheme? In Chamberlainâ€™s analysis,
Europe was â€˜divided into three main elements, namely, the victors, the
vanquished and Russiaâ€™. Moscow was a complication in dealing with the
reconciliation of the former pair; an â€˜incessant, though shapeless
menaceâ€™. In fact, Soviet Russia was â€˜the most menacing of all our
uncertainties; and it must thus be in spite of Russia, perhaps even
because of Russia, that a policy of security must be framedâ€™. This
explains why Chamberlain preferred to follow a line of â€˜aloofnessâ€™ to-
wards Soviet Russia. And such a policy might have other benefits. As he
put it in July 1925, â€˜the more indifference we show, the more frightened
the Soviet Govt are of us. The more we talk to them the better they are
pleased. When we court them, they feel that they are dangerous, but
when we ignore them, they begin to ask themselves what is to become of
However much Chamberlain wished to ignore Soviet Russia, it was
impossible to do so completely. This was clear in the negotiations of
the Locarno Pact.39 Locarno was intended to ensure European stability
Quotations in this and the following two paragraphs are from the latter except where
This and the following two quotations are from A. Chamberlain to Crewe, 19 Feb
1925, FO 371/10727/C2450/459/18.
A. Chamberlain to Ida, his sister, 11 Jul 1925, in R. Self, ed., The Austen Chamberlain
Diary Letters. The Correspondence of Sir Austen Chamberlain with His Sisters Hilda and Ida,
1916â€“1937 (Cambridge, 1995), 278. An overview of Chamberlainâ€™s policy towards
Soviet Russia is in Grayson, Chamberlain, 253â€“73.
Jon Jacobson, Locarno Diplomacy. Germany and the West, 1925â€“1929 (Princeton, 1972),
and his re-consideration, â€˜Locarno, Britain and the Security of Europeâ€™, in Gaynor
Johnson, ed., Locarno Revisited. European Diplomacy 1920â€“1929 (London and New
York, 2004), 11â€“32. Compare Grayson, Chamberlain, 32â€“115; Sibyl Eyre Crowe,
The period of persuasion 51
until such things as arms control and the League proved their worth.40
But earlier events had shown that Soviet Russia had the potential to
disrupt the Locarno plans. Rapallo had demonstrated that Moscow had
the ability to complicate British attempts to reconcile Germany and
France.41 When France invaded the Ruhr in January 1923, the British
were concerned that this might create a Franco-Soviet alliance, that
Berlin might turn towards Moscow or that communism might spread
into Germany as a result of the economic dislocation.42 None of this came
to pass, but the threat that Germany might turn to the East remained.
While Locarno was primarily concerned with assuaging French fears
about its security, tying Germanyâ€™s future to the West rather than to the
East and Soviet Russia was also a secondary concern for London. After
Locarno, this concern emerged again in British thinking about the
Treaty of Berlin, which Germany signed with Soviet Russia in June
1926. Designed to reassure Moscow that Locarno did not mean that
Germany was abandoning the Rapallo accords (and to keep German
options open), the Treaty of Berlin also had the potential to mean that,
in a recent writerâ€™s felicitous phrase, the â€˜battle for the German soulâ€™ was
being lost.43 However, British concerns about this possibility were
tempered by a realization that the Germans wished to maintain links to
both the Western Powers and Soviet Russia and by a belief that a willing
acceptance of this desire by London would promote a more stable
eastern Europe and keep the Germans aligned with the West.44 None
the less, the fact that Soviet Russia needed to be considered at all
â€˜Sir Eyre Crowe and the Locarno Pactâ€™, EHR, 87 (1972), 49â€“74; M. Dockrill, â€˜The
Evolution of British Diplomatic Strategy for the Locarno Pact, 1924â€“1925â€™, in M.
Dockrill and B. J. C. McKercher, eds., Diplomacy and World Power. Studies in British
Foreign Policy, 1890â€“1950 (Cambridge, 1996), 115â€“35; Frank McGee, â€˜â€śLimited Li-
abilityâ€ť? Britain and the Treaty of Locarnoâ€™, TCBH, 6, 1 (1995), 1â€“22. For â€˜transatlan-
ticâ€™ approach, see Patrick O. Cohrs, â€˜The First â€śRealâ€ť Peace Settlements After the First
World War: Britain, the United States and the Accords of London and Locarno, 1923â€“
1925â€™, CEH, 12, 1 (2003), 1â€“31.
Philip Towle, â€˜British Security and Disarmament Policy in Europe in the 1920sâ€™, in R.
Ahmann, A. M. Birke, and M. Howard, eds., The Quest for Stability. Problems of West
European Security 1918â€“1957 (Oxford, 1993), 127â€“53.
Salzmann, Great Britain, Germany and the Soviet Union, 33â€“44, 55â€“76 and 119â€“36.
Elspeth Y. Oâ€™Riordan, Britain and the Ruhr Crisis (Basingstoke and New York, 2001).
Salzmann, Great Britain, Germany and the Soviet Union, 55; Gaynor Johnson, The Berlin
Embassy of Lord Dâ€™Abernon, 1920â€“1926 (Basingstoke and New York, 2002), 131â€“4;
Harvey L. Dyck, â€˜Germanâ€“Soviet Relations and the Anglo-Soviet Break, 1927â€™, SR, 25
(1966), 67â€“83; R. P. Morgan, â€˜The Political Significance of Germanâ€“Soviet Trade
Negotiations, 1922â€“1925â€™, HJ, 6, 2 (1963), 253â€“71.
Dâ€™Abernon (ambassador, Berlin) to FO, tel 93 urgent, 1 Apr 1926, FO 371/11791/
N1489/718/38, and Dâ€™Abernon to FO, tel 103, 9 Apr 1926, FO 371/11791/N1593/
52 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
underlined the fact that it could never be far from Britainâ€™s policy
towards Germany and European security generally.
Soviet Russia was similarly important for arms control. Although
Moscow did not formally join the efforts at Geneva, Soviet representa-
tives both attended and participated. Their role reflected Soviet con-
cerns about their own security, and they played the differing aims of the
Germans and the French against each other. The Germans planned to
use the talks to undermine Versailles and regain a position of equality
with France; the French wished to prevent this unless their own security
was guaranteed. Soviet Russia had no desire to see the conference
succeed. First, the secret military collaboration between Moscow and
the Weimar Republic, which would probably vanish if the conference
were successful, was important to Moscow.45 Second, Franco-German
conciliation would move Berlin further into the Western camp,
weakening Rapallo and raising Soviet fears about capitalist encircle-
ment.46 Thus, Soviets were obstructive, much to the annoyance of
Robert Cecil, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who was respon-
sible for Britainâ€™s disarmament policy at Geneva.47 Particularly galling
was the proposal for total disarmament, put forward by the Soviet
commissar for foreign affairs, Maxim Litvinov, a proposal that had no
chance of being accepted, but that could be used to great propaganda
effect. Neither the Conservatives under Stanley Baldwin nor Labour
could find a way to co-operate with Soviet Russia at Geneva.
If we look at the way in which Soviet Russia played into British strategic
foreign policy with respect to the empire, this result was not surpri-
sing. The Soviet threat seemed everywhere, as the Inter-departmental
Committee on Eastern Unrest (IDCEU) noted.48 The IDCEU investi-
gated threats to Britainâ€™s eastern empire, and found Bolshevism to be the
John Erickson, The Soviet High Command. A Military-Political History 1918â€“1941
(London, 1962), 247â€“82.
Soviet policy also moved to block any Franco-German economic rapprochement:
Michael Jabara Carley and Richard Kent Debo, â€˜Always in Need of Credit: The USSR
and Franco-German Economic Coâ€“operation, 1926â€“1929â€™, FHS, 20, 3 (1997),
Cecil to A. Chamberlain, 26 Nov 1926, Cecil Papers, Add MSS 51079.
Orest Babij, â€˜The Making of Imperial Defence Policy in Britain, 1926â€“1934â€™, unpub-
lished Dphil. thesis, University of Oxford, 2003, 25â€“66. For Anglo-Soviet imperial
clashes, see Markku Ruotsila, â€˜The Churchillâ€“Mannerheim Collaboration in the
Russian Intervention, 1919â€“1920â€™, SEER, 80, 1 (2002), 1â€“20; John Fisher, â€˜ â€śOn the
Glacis of Indiaâ€ť: Lord Curzon and British Policy in the Caucasus, 1919â€™, D&S, 8, 2
(1997), 50â€“82; A. L Macfie, â€˜British Intelligence and the Turkish National Movement,
1919â€“1922â€™, MES, 37, 1 (2001), 1â€“16; Macfie, â€˜British Views of the Turkish National
Movement in Anatolia, 1919â€“1922â€™, MES, 38, 3 (2002), 27â€“46; John R. Ferris, â€˜â€śFar
Too Dangerous a Gambleâ€ť? British Intelligence and Policy During the Chanak Crisis,
Septemberâ€“October 1922â€™, D&S, 14, 2 (2003), 139â€“84; Bulent Gokay, A Clash of
The period of persuasion 53
Red thread tying them together. In 1926, the IDCEU catalogued
Bolshevik intrigues in Afghanistan, China, Persia and Turkey and sug-
gested possible responses.49 The timing of the IDCEUâ€™s recommenda-
tions was not accidental. The chiefs of staff (COS) were convinced that
Soviet Russia, no less than tsarist Russia, remained a real threat to India.
They also concluded that Britain could not drive the Soviets out of
Afghanistan should it be seized. On 30 July 1926, the COS were asked
by the Cabinet to investigate the problem further.50 By December, every-
thing was coming to a head. While the minersâ€™ strike had ended, there
were still fears about communist influence in Britain. There was also
unhappiness about the functioning of the Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement
of 1921, felt to be used as a mechanism to dump goods in Britain. The
issue of the defence of India had not been resolved, and the fine hand of
the Comintern was seen behind the efforts of the Chinese Nationalists to
interfere with British interests in that country. As J. D. Gregory, one of the
assistant undersecretaries at the Foreign Office, put it:
the Soviet is to all intents and purposes â€“ short of direct armed conflict â€“ at war
with the British Empire. Whether by interference in the strikes at home or by
fomenting the anti-British forces in China, in fact, by her action all the world
over, from Riga to Java, the Soviet Power has as its main objective the destruction
of the British Power. To that all its other activities are subordinated.51
Despite this root-and-branch condemnation of Soviet Russia, Gregory
did not advocate breaking off relations, a point of view that was broadly
shared by Britainâ€™s leading diplomatists.52
Empires. Turkey Between Russian Bolshevism and British Imperialism 1918â€“1923 (London
and New York, 1997): Houshang Sabahi, British Policy in Persia 1918â€“1925
(London and Portland, OR, 1990); Manoug J. Somakian, Empires in Conflict. Armenia
and the Great Powers 1895â€“1920 (London and New York, 1995), 131â€“252; David Kelly,