Soviet Responseâ€™, JSMS, 13, 4 (2000), 84â€“100: Dennis Ogden, â€˜Britain and Soviet
Georgiaâ€™, JCH, 23 (1988), 245â€“58; John Fisher, â€˜The Interdepartmental Committee on
Eastern Unrest and British Responses to Bolshevik and Other Intrigues Against the
Empire During the 1920sâ€™, Journal of Asian History, 34, 1 (2000), 1â€“34.
Minutes and papers (EU series) in Air 5/485.
Keith Neilson, â€˜â€śPursued by a Bearâ€ť: British Estimates of Soviet Military Strength and
Anglo-Soviet Relations, 1922â€“1939â€™, CJH, 28, 2 (1993), 194â€“200; Sergei Borisovich
Panin, â€˜The Sovietâ€“Afghan Conflict of 1925â€“1926 over the Island of Urta-Tugaiâ€™,
JSMS, 12, 3(1999), 122â€“33.
â€˜Russia: Memorandum by Mr Gregoryâ€™, 10 Dec 1926, FO 371/11787/N5670/387/38.
This was sent to the heads of major missions.
The consensus at the FO can be found in: â€˜Arguments against breaking off relationsâ€™, ns
(but nd), 7 Dec 1926, FO 371/11787/N5452/387/38; the views in Ronald Lindsay
(ambassador, Berlin), 3 Feb 1927, Ronald Graham (ambassador, Rome), 4 Feb 1927,
George R. Clerk (ambassador, Constantinople), 2 Feb 1927, Eric Phipps (counsellor,
Paris), 26 Jan 1927, T. Vaughan (minister, Riga), 27 Jan 1927, all FO 371/12589/
54 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
This was also Austen Chamberlainâ€™s position.53 The foreign secretary
informed his Cabinet colleagues that a breach with Soviet Russia would
not change those aspects of Russian policy which were obnoxious,
would disrupt eastern Europe and would provide ammunition for those
in Germany who wished to forsake co-operation with the West. This
would upset Chamberlainâ€™s cherished Locarno agreements and turn
Germany towards a Bismarckian policy of co-operation with Soviet
Russia via Rapallo.54 Further, he warned that the consequences with
respect to labour relations â€˜might be disastrousâ€™. Another warning was
issued by Philip Cunliffe-Lister, the president of the Board of Trade.55
Despite Chamberlainâ€™s arguments, events and his colleagues proved
too strong to resist. The escalating unrest in China â€“ Joynson-Hicks
argued that the Chinese leaders were â€˜Bolshie in heartâ€™ â€“ forced the
foreign secretary to act.56 A British protest note of 23 February 1927
resulted in a combative Soviet response and a further deterioration in
relations.57 Chamberlain still retained his belief that breaking off relations
was unwise. He â€˜dread[ed]â€™ doing so â€˜not for the sake of Russia but for its
reactions on Europe & especially on Germany and the Baltic Statesâ€™.58
However, the foreign secretary knew that â€˜the toes of my colleagues are
itching to kick them [the Soviets] even thoâ€™ it be but a useless gestureâ€™.
The Foreign Office shared the beliefs of Chamberlainâ€™s colleagues.59 The
final straw came on 12 May, when the Metropolitan Police raided
the premises jointly occupied by the All-Russian Co-operative Society
(Arcos) and the Soviet Trade Delegation.60 Despite the scanty evidence
N590/209/38, and W. Max Muller (Minister, Warsaw), 9 Feb 1927, FO 371/12589/
â€˜Diplomatic Relations with the Soviet Governmentâ€™, CP 25(27), A. Chamberlain, 24
Jan 1927, Cab 24/184; Gregory and Tyrrell on this paper, FO 371/12589/N342/209/
Roger Schiness, â€˜The Conservative Party and Anglo-Soviet Relations, 1925â€“1927â€™,
ESR, 7 (1977), 393â€“407; minutes on Maj. G. M. Mindersley to Locker-Lampson, 13
Jul 1926, FO 371/11786/N3316/387/38.
â€˜Trade Relations with Russiaâ€™, CP (27)27, P. Cunliffe-Lister, 28 Jan 1927, Cab 24/184.
Hodgson had argued for improved trade earlier: disp 348, 6 May 1926, FO 371/11786/
N2241/387/38; Cunliffe-Lister to A. Chamberlain, 21 Jan 1927, Chamberlain Papers,
Joynson-Hicks to A. Chamberlain, 7 Jan 1929, Chamberlain Papers, FO 800/260.
Gorodetsky, Precarious Truce, 211â€“21.
A. Chamberlain to Hilda, his sister, 27 Feb 1927, in Self, Austen Chamberlain Diary
Minute, C. M. Palairet, 5 Apr 1927, FO 371/12590/N1571/209/38.
Harriette Flory, â€˜The Arcos Raid and the Rupture of Anglo-Soviet Relations, 1927â€™,
JCH, 12 (1977), 707â€“23; Christopher Andrew, â€˜British Intelligence and the Breach
with Russia in 1927â€™, HJ, 25, 4 (1982), 957â€“64.
The period of persuasion 55
found to support allegations of espionage, the Cabinet decided to break
off relations with Soviet Russia, a decision effected on 26 May.61
This rupture of relations did not mean that Soviet actions and inten-
tions could now be ignored; there remained the threat posed to India.
The India Office linked the Bolshevik danger on the north-west frontier
to similar concerns about China, and argued that to retreat in one place
was to risk problems in the other.62 This view was widely shared.63 On
18 February, Churchill wrote to Lord Birkenhead, the secretary of state
for India, suggesting that a sub-committee of the CID be created to
examine the menace to India. At the same time, Churchill argued that it
was important to â€˜focus the importance of the Russian danger in our
minds in the same way as the German danger was considered before
the Great Warâ€™.64 On 17 March, at the height of the tension caused
by the exchange of notes, the CID met to consider the matter further.65
Sir George Milne, the chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS),
argued that Russia was a threat to India, and a sub-committee (chaired
by Birkenhead) was struck to consider the problem. Before the sub-
committee could formulate its report, the CID met on 14 July to consider
the Soviet menace.66 Here, Chamberlain made clear that he viewed
Moscow as the chief threat to peace. This was due not only to Moscowâ€™s
actions, overt and covert, against Britain and the empire, but also to the
â€˜war scareâ€™ that the Soviet leadership had created in late 1926 and early
When the Birkenhead committee presented its report late in 1927, it
concluded that the defence of Afghanistan against Soviet Russia
remained a vital British commitment.68 This report was discussed at
For a hard-line opinion, see William Bridgeman to M. R. Bridgeman, 25 May 1927, in
Philip Williamson, ed., The Modernisation of Conservative Politics. The Diaries and Letters of
William Bridgeman, 1904â€“1935 (London, 1988).
Hirtzel (PUS, IO) to A. Chamberlain, 17 Jan 1927, A. Chamberlain Papers, FO 800/
Antony Best, British Intelligence and the Japanese Challenge in Asia, 1914â€“1941, (Basing-
stoke and New York, 2002), 56â€“69.
Churchill to Birkenhead, Churchill to Hankey, both 18 Feb 1927, both T 172/1569.
Minutes, 223rd meeting CID, 17 Mar 1927, Cab 2/5.
Minutes, 229th meeting CID, 14 July 1927, Cab 2/5.
On the war scare, cf. John Sontag, â€˜The Soviet War Scare of 1926â€“1927â€™, RR, 34, 1
(1975), 66â€“77; Alfred Meyer, â€˜The War Scare of 1927â€™, SU/US, 5, pt 1 (1978); Sheila
Fitzpatrick, â€˜The Foreign Threat During the First Five-Year Planâ€™, SU/US, 5, pt 1
(1978), 26â€“35; Kenneth D. Slepyan, â€˜The Limits of Mobilisation: Party, State and the
1927 Civil Defence Campaignâ€™, Eâ€“AS, 45, 5 (1993), 851â€“68; N. S. Simonov,
â€˜â€śStrengthen the Defence of the Land of Sovietsâ€ť: The 1927 â€śWar Alarmâ€ť and Its
Consequencesâ€™, Eâ€“AS, 48, 8 (1996), 1355â€“64; David R. Stone, Hammer and Rifle. The
Militarization of the Soviet Union, 1926â€“1933 (Lawrence, KS, 2000), 43â€“63.
â€˜Defence of India. First Report of Sub-Committeeâ€™, CID 158-D, Birkenhead, 19 Dec
1927, Cab 6/5.
56 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
the CID in January 1928, where Milne argued that Soviet Russia was
the chief threat to British imperial security.69 The CID concluded that
should Soviet Russia attack Afghanistan such action would constitute
a casus belli. Later that year, a second body, the Persian Gulf Sub-
Committee, took the argument further, and warned of potential Soviet
threats to the Middle East.70 Meanwhile, the JPC developed contin-
gency plans to deal with such attacks.71 All of these called for operations
against the Soviet periphery, with British forces operating out of the
Black Sea, Iraq and India, as naval blockade had been judged to be
ineffectual against Soviet Russia.72 Thus, just as was the case before
1914, the â€˜bear and the whaleâ€™ remained potential adversaries, each
unable to use direct force against the other.73 The viceroy of India, Lord
Irwin (the future Lord Halifax), echoed the frustrations of his predeces-
sors when he wrote of the â€˜necessity of getting Russia into the comity of
nations againâ€™ in order to secure the defence of India.74 This was more
easily said than done, and Soviet Russia remained, in Chamberlainâ€™s
words, â€˜by far the most dangerous point in the worldâ€™.75
Thus, when Labour took power in 1929, Anglo-Soviet relations were
at a low point, and Soviet Russia was viewed as perhaps the only major
threat to Britainâ€™s global position. However, Labour had campaigned on
a platform of extending recognition to Moscow. MacDonald intended to
improve relations between Britain and Soviet Russia through a process
of gradual engagement: first, he would â€˜confrontâ€™ the Soviets with their
misdeeds and hope to â€˜bring them to their sensesâ€™; second, he believed
that he could get the Bolsheviks to recognize some of their obligations and
â€˜gradually get an economic hold over them that they could, and would,
not shake offâ€™.76 While the Foreign Office was dubious about the efficacy
Minutes, 232nd meeting CID, 26 Jan 1928, Cab 2/5.
â€˜The Persian Gulf. Interim Report of a Sub-Committeeâ€™, CID 169-D, Hailsham (lord
chancellor and chairman), 29 Oct 1928, Cab 6/5.
â€˜Russia â€“ Possible Subsidiary Operations Againstâ€™, JP 31, Wing Commander R. H.
Peck, 12 Dec 1927, Cab 55/5; â€˜Subsidiary Operations in the Black Seaâ€™, JP 34,
Admiralty (Plans Division), 8 Feb 1928, Cab 55/5; â€˜Russia â€“ Plan for Subsidiary
Operations against Russia in Perso-Iraq Areaâ€™, JP 45, C. L. N. Newall (director of
operations and intelligence, Air Staff), 29 Jan 1930, Cab 55/5.
Minutes, â€˜Russiaâ€™ sub-committee of the ATB, 23 July and 8 Oct 1927, Cab 47/7;
â€˜Economic Pressure on Soviet Russiaâ€™, CID 845-B, C. P. Hermon-Hodge (secretary,
ATB), 28 Nov 1927, Cab 4/17. For the ATB, see Orest Babij, â€˜The Advisory Commit-
tee on Trade Questions in Time of Warâ€™, Northern Mariner, 7, 3 (1997), 1â€“10.
Keith Neilson, Britain and the Last Tsar. British Policy and Russia, 1894â€“1917 (Oxford,
Irwin to Cecil, 8 Oct 1928, Cecil Papers, Add MSS 51084.
Minutes, 242nd meeting CID, 2 May 1929, Cab 2/5.
Minute, conversation with MacDonald (2 Dec 1926) at the FO; minutes by Gregory (3
Dec), Tyrrell (4 Dec) and A. Chamberlain (13 Dec), FO 371/11787/N5425/389/38.
The period of persuasion 57
of such an approach (and Stalinâ€™s attitude towards it, although this was
not known to the British, made its success unlikely),77 MacDonald was
determined to implement his plan.
Here, the prime minister was reverting to what he had attempted
earlier. MacDonaldâ€™s policy had not changed significantly since 1924.
The arguments about trade remained the same, the concerns about
Soviet subversion and propaganda were constant, and there remained
optimistic beliefs that European disarmament and peace would be more
easily obtained if Russia were brought back into Europe, a view particu-
larly held by Arthur Henderson, the foreign secretary.78 The result was
the renewal of formal relations and efforts to obtain a new trade agree-
ment. The negotiations found that the earlier problems still existed.79
There were divided views within the Labour Party itself, the Foreign
Office wanted a cessation of Soviet propaganda, the Treasury was un-
willing to loan the Soviets money, and the Board of Trade wished to
extend credits to the Soviets in order to facilitate British commercial
efforts in Soviet Russia.80 The result was a two-year Temporary Com-
mercial Agreement, signed in April 1930, but no progress on the issues
of Russian debts and British government loans.
Thus, at the beginning of the 1930s, Soviet Russia stood on the
periphery of British strategic foreign policy, certainly more foe than
friend, but a foe whose intentions and capabilities were only dimly
known. There was a great divergence of opinion about its place in British
policy. Labour was more inclined to good relations with Moscow than
were the Conservatives; however, Labourâ€™s leaders, with the exception of
Henderson, were pessimistic. Various departments had equally divided
views. The Foreign Office was hostile to Soviet Russia, as was the War
Office. However, these two departments rarely made common cause
because of their differing views about the Soviet threat in the Far East.
The Foreign Office believed that communist activities in China, despite
the evidence of subversion discovered in a raid on the offices of the
Soviet Embassyâ€™s compound in Peking on 6 April 1927, were unlikely
Stalin to Molotov, 9 Sept 1929, in Lars T. Lih, Oleg V. Naumov and Oleg V.
Khlevniuk, eds., Stalinâ€™s Letters to Molotov (New Haven and London, 1995), 178.
Donald M. Lammers, â€˜The Second Labour Government and the Restoration of
Relations with Soviet Russia (1929)â€™, BIHR, 37, 95(1964), 60â€“72; David Carlton,
MacDonald versus Henderson. The Foreign Policy of the Second Labour Government
(London, 1970), 144â€“62; Andrew Williams, â€˜The Labour Partyâ€™s Attitude to the Soviet
Union, 1927â€“1935: An Overview with Specific Reference to Unemployment Policies
and Peaceâ€™, JCH, 22, 1 (1987), 71â€“90; Selby to Stamfordham (George Vâ€™s private
secretary), 1 Oct 1929, A. Henderson Papers, FO 800/280.
Snowdon (chancellor of the Exchequer) to A. Henderson, 2 May 1930, Henderson to
Goschen, 19 Jun 1930, both A. Henderson Papers, FO 800/281.
Williams, Trading with the Bolsheviks, 189â€“93; Williams, Labour and Russia, ch. 4.
58 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
to be successful.81 The War Office, on the other hand, based on its
intelligence assessments and the pro-Japanese sentiments of Major F.
S. G. Piggott (successively military attache in Tokyo and the head of
MI2, the section of the War Office that dealt with foreign intelligence),
believed that Britain needed to come to terms with Japan and that Tokyo
could act as Britainâ€™s partner in opposing Bolshevism in the Far East.82
Similar differences existed between the Treasury and the Admiralty.
Until 1926, the Admiralty had trumpeted Japan as the most likely naval
threat to Britain, using Tokyo as the lever with which to extract monies
for building programmes and for the construction of the Singapore naval
base.83 The Treasury did not accept this view. The controller of supply
services, Sir George Barstow, described the idea of a Japanese attack on
the British Empire as a â€˜lunaticâ€™s nightmareâ€™.84 This attitude persisted
until the end of the decade and was shared by Churchill.85 In fact, the
Treasury believed that British interests would be best defended by
improving Anglo-Japanese relations. These departmental differences
ensured that, when the British attempted to define the role of Soviet
Russia in Britainâ€™s strategic foreign policy in the Far East, there would be
no easy consensus.
Much depended on British evaluations of Soviet intentions and cap-
abilities. Determining either was not easy due to lack of information. At
the beginning of the 1930s, the British decided to employ new methods
to determine Soviet military strength. This took the form of industrial
intelligence, a by-product of the British experience in the First World
War.86 When an Industrial Intelligence Committee (IIC) was set up by