J. Williams, â€˜Canada and Anglo-Soviet Relations: The Question of Russian Trade at the
1932 Ottawa Imperial Conferenceâ€™, D&S, 1, 2 (1990), 185â€“215; Robert Self, â€˜Neville
Chamberlain and the British World: Anglo-Dominion Relations and the Limits of
â€śBritishnessâ€ť Between the Warsâ€™, unpublished paper delivered at the British World II
Conference, Calgary, 10 July 2003.
The period of persuasion 69
culminated on 12 March 1933 with the arrest (discussed below, 79â€“80)
of a number of British engineers employed in Soviet Russia by Metro-
Vickers.140 During the period from January 1932 to the Metro-Vickers
arrests, Chamberlain formed his view of the Soviets. Economically, he
was convinced that the First Five-Year Plan had been a failure and that
Soviet Russia was near a financial collapse.141 And, while he claimed
that he did not share the view that Russia was â€˜an unclean thing which
we must not touchâ€™, Chamberlain did make it clear to the new Soviet
ambassador, Ivan Maisky, that it was difficult giving credits to â€˜the most
unfriendly country in the worldâ€™.142 However, Chamberlain was willing
to discuss matters with Maisky, but the chancellorâ€™s emphasis on the
purely trade aspects of the Anglo-Soviet dispute drew fire at the Foreign
Office, which saw the abrogation as part of a wider trial of strength
between the two countries. Chamberlainâ€™s inexperience in foreign policy
made him oblivious to this aspect.143 None the less, the trade talks with
Soviet Russia, and particularly the enormous public furore generated by
the Metro-Vickers episode in March, left Chamberlain with the impres-
sion that the Soviets were beyond the pale of European civilization, both
difficult and shifty in negotiations.144 It also made him sensitive to the
possible parliamentary difficulties that dealings with Soviet Russia could
engender. Finally, he came to dislike Ivan Maisky.145
All of these early impressions about foreign relations â€“ his preference
for a compromise with Japan, his dislike of the United States and
Roosevelt and his low opinion of Soviet Russia â€“ would not have been
important had Chamberlain modified them over time. He did not.
Chamberlain was a stubborn, arrogant man, generally contemptuous of
opinions that did not agree with his own and dismissive of his Cabinet
colleagues when they did not share his views. He was an old man in a
hurry, quite conscious of the fact that he had to make a success of his
chancellorship or face political marginalization.146 His approach to any
problem, according to someone who worked closely with him, was to look
Neilson, â€˜Cautionary Taleâ€™; Gordon W. Morrell, Britain Confronts the Stalin Revolution.
Anglo-Soviet Relations and the Metro-Vickers Crisis (Waterloo, Ontario, 1995).
S. D. Waley (Treasury) to Picton Bagge (DOT), 7 Jan 1932, T 160/791/F7436/6.
Quotations from, respectively, N. Chamberlain to Arthur Chamberlain, 24 Oct 1932,
Chamberlain Papers, NC 7/6/4 and Chamberlainâ€™s untitled memo of a conversation
with Maisky, 16 Nov 1932, Prem 1/138.
Minutes (19 and 20 Nov 1932) in FO 371/16321/N6619/22/38; N. Chamberlainâ€™s
minute on Vansittartâ€™s letter, 23 Nov 1932, T 172/1792.
Oveyâ€™s testimony to â€˜Committee on Anglo-Soviet Relations . . .â€™, SRC(33), ns, 3 Apr
1933, Cab 27/550.
N. Chamberlain to his sister, Ida, 19 Nov 1932, Chamberlain Papers, NC 18/1/806.
N. Chamberlain to his sister, Hilda, 3 Jan 1932, Chamberlain Papers, NC 18/1/766;
Greg Kennedy, â€˜â€śRat in Powerâ€ť: Neville Chamberlain and the Creation of British
70 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
at it in a clear sighted, direct way, determined to get all the factors in proper order
and in due perspective. In a methodical matter-of-fact way, keeping his feet on
the ground and avoiding wishful thinking, he would form a judgment upon the
facts and, having formed that judgment, felt so far confident about its rightness
as to be able and determined to follow it by action.147
Had Chamberlain been capable of seeing the complexity of the situ-
ations which confronted him and of changing his plans accordingly,
these would have been admirable traits. However, he was not.
His attempts to â€˜straighten things outâ€™ that â€˜offended his sense of
orderlinessâ€™ in foreign affairs meant that he characterized those (particu-
larly at the Foreign Office) who pointed out that the problems were too
complex and interconnected to admit of simplistic solutions as either
advocates of drift or obstructionist. Chamberlain stubbornly pursued a
particular line of policy (even after it generated untoward consequences)
and ignored other approaches that did not fit into his preconceived
notions. This was particularly dangerous with respect to Soviet Russia.
The latter was an unknown force, whose intentions and inclinations
were unclear. Moscow occupied a fluid position in British planning,
and it required a flexible and comprehensive mind to understand the
manifold ways in which it affected the British position. While the threats
posed by Germany and Japan were manifest, Soviet Russiaâ€™s impact on
British policy was not. Such ambiguity was alien to Chamberlain. The
results were not favourable.
As these new men came to power, they faced the beginning of the end
of the relative calm of the â€˜period of persuasionâ€™. Japanâ€™s actions in
Manchuria in September 1931 escalated into a threat to the British
position at Shanghai by January 1932.148 The League of Nations sent
a commission, under Lord Lytton, to investigate matters. Until the
Lytton commission reported, how should Britain respond and how
would this affect Anglo-Soviet relations? The centre of discussion was
whether Japan and Soviet Russia would come to blows in the region. As
early as January 1932, the British had noted Soviet attempts to sign a
non-aggression pact with Japan in order to ensure that Tokyoâ€™s actions in
Foreign Policy, 1931â€“1939â€™ in Thomas Otte, ed., The Makers of British Foreign Policy.
From Pitt to Thatcher (Basingstoke and New York, 2002), 173â€“89; Greg Kennedy,
â€˜Neville Chamberlain and Strategic Relations with the US During His Chancellorshipâ€™,
D&S, 13, 1(2002), 95â€“120.
Quotations from â€˜Munich 1938â€™, Horace Wilson, October 1941, Wilson Papers, Cab
Christopher Thorne, â€˜The Shanghai Crisis of 1932: The Basis of British Policyâ€™, AHR,
75, 6 (1970), 1616â€“39; Thorne, Limits of Foreign Policy, 204â€“72; Ian H. Nish, Japanâ€™s
Struggle with Internationalism. Japan, China and the League of Nations, 1931â€“1933
(London, 1993), 90â€“106.
The period of persuasion 71
China did not lead to a conflict with Moscow. These efforts were repeated
in May, despite (perhaps because of ) the ongoing series of border inci-
dents between the two countries.149 At the same time, however, Soviet
troops were being sent to the Far East and efforts to improve the countryâ€™s
general war-readiness were being increased.150 This aside, by August,
there were signs that Sovietâ€“Japanese relations were improving, a fact that
both the Foreign Office and the War Office attributed to neither sideâ€™s
wanting a war at the time.151
At the War Office, there were divided counsels about what this
implied for British policy. The head of MI2, Colonel A. G. C. Dawnay,
argued that British interests required Tokyo to establish, â€˜in an orderly
Manchuria, an effective barrier against the unrestricted spread of either
Russian or Chinese communism in the Far Eastâ€™.152 To this end, he
advocated giving Japan â€˜at least the sympathy due to an old ally and an
established friendâ€™, and â€˜avoiding at all costs being drawn into action
which would range us openly among her opponentsâ€™. He contended that
to do otherwise would draw Japanâ€™s â€˜covetous eyes southward towards
the vacant spaces of Australiaâ€™ and endanger â€˜our wide and vulnerable
interestsâ€™ in the Far East.
The deputy director of Military Operations and Intelligence
(DDMO&I), A. C. Temperley, pointed out the political difficulties.
First, to support Japan would require the British to vote against the
Lytton Report, with its attendant negative impact on public opinion.
Second, to recognize the Japanese move as legitimate would undercut
any subsequent attempts to condemn other Powers for similar actions
elsewhere. Third, to act in such a fashion would alienate the United
States â€“ and an â€˜understanding with the USA has been for years the
keynote of British policyâ€™ â€“ at a particularly delicate time, as the war
debts issue was coming to a head. Temperley, too, wished to get on
better terms with Japan, but he felt that nothing could be done until the
inevitable furore that the Lytton Report would create had died down.
Lindley to FO, tel 21, 18 Jan 1932, FO 371/16246/F369/369/23; Lindley to FO, disp
47 confidential, 25 Jan 1932, FO 371/16153/F1844/1/10; Lindley to FO, disp 285, 28
May 1932, FO 371/16246/F5045/369/23; Ingram (charge dâ€™affaires, Peking) to FO,
disp 634, 1 Jun 1932, FO 371/16175/F6069/1/10.
Ovey to FO, disp 318, 21 Jun 1932, FO 371/16334/N3841/1089/38; â€˜The Munitions
Industryâ€™, ICF 313, ns, 20 May 1932, Cab 21/395; Jonathan Haslam, Soviet Foreign
Policy, 1930â€“1933. The Impact of the Depression (New York, 1983), 83â€“97.
â€˜Far Eastâ€™, W. H. Bartholomew (DMO&I, WO), 8 Sept 1932, WO 106/5395; Lindley to
FO, disp 330, 24 Aug 1932, FO 371/16245/F6350/348/23.
This and the following paragraph, except where indicated, are based on Untitled
memo, Dawnay, 9 Sept 1932, minutes, Temperley, 23 Sept 1932, and Maj.-Gen.
W. H. Bartholomew (DMO&I), all WO 106/5397.
72 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
This position was shared up the chain of command; thus, Dawnayâ€™s
opinion was unlikely to be implemented as policy.153
This was evident at the Foreign Office. There, discussion tended to
accept Dawnayâ€™s contentions about the need not to offend Japan un-
necessarily, but laid emphasis on Temperleyâ€™s concerns. Simon decreed
that British policy must take into consideration the need to â€˜(1) be
faithful to the League & act with the main body if possible (2) to not
take the lead in an attitude which, while necessarily futile, will antagonise
Japan seriously (3) be fair to both China & Japan (4) work to keep Japan
in the Leagueâ€™.154 Like many of Simonâ€™s pronouncements, this em-
bodied a comprehensive and balanced position. How it was to be
achieved, however, was left unstated.
In the meanwhile, as the Lytton Report made its slow passage from
Peking to Geneva, reassuring reports reached the Foreign Office about
an improvement in Russo-Japanese relations. From Moscow, William
Strang, the British charge dâ€™affaires, gave three possible explanations for
this: an increase in Russian military strength in the Far East, a Soviet
belief that a Japanese attack was no longer imminent and an awareness in
Moscow that the Chinese Eastern Railway was a financial liability and
thus something that could be given up. In Tokyo, Sir Francis Lindley,
the British ambassador, argued that a Sovietâ€“Japanese war was now
â€˜extremely improbable at the present time for the simple reason that
neither country desires itâ€™.155
This optimism did not last. When the Lytton Report reached Geneva
in early October 1932, the Japanese rejected its conclusions. The
British hoped to work out some sort of conciliation between Japan and
China, but, in the short term, they wished to avoid taking the lead in
condemning Japan at Geneva in order not to antagonize it unnecessarily,
while trying, in Simonâ€™s words, â€˜to keep in touch and in line with the
USâ€™.156 But it was also important to keep an eye on Soviet policy. Doing
so was complicated by the British abrogation of the Temporary Com-
mercial Agreement with Soviet Russia on 17 October. This action meant
that any possible co-operation with the Soviets in the Far East would
â€˜The Situation in the Far Eastâ€™, MI 2(c), 20 Oct 1932, WO 106/5395.
Minutes, C. W. Orde (head, FED), 13 Sept, and Simon, 17 Sept, on Lindley to FO, tel
351, 12 Sept 1932, FO 371/16177/F6664/1/10.
Strang (charge dâ€™affaires, Moscow) to FO, disp 546, 27 Sept 1932, FO 371/16324/
N5605/40/38; Lindley to FO, disp 452, 21 Aug 1932, FO 371/16246/F7126/369/23.
Minutes, Simon (7 Oct) and Vansittart (5 Oct) on Lindley to FO, disp 448, immediate,
30 Aug 1932, FO 371/16178/F7163/1/10; minutes, Mounsey (4 Oct) and Vansittart (5
Oct) on two untitled FO memos, 26 Sept 1932, FO 371/16179/F7421/1/10.
The period of persuasion 73
take place in a charged atmosphere, as Moscow was convinced that the
abrogation had political, not commercial motives.157
None the less, the Soviet reaction to the Japanese recognition of an
independent Manchukuo was central to the determination of Britainâ€™s
own policy. Moscowâ€™s initial policy was cautious. The British suspected
that Moscow wanted a deal: it would recognize Manchukuo in exchange
for an agreement that the latter would not â€˜expand westwardsâ€™. Such an
exchange, Mounsey contended, would â€˜be worth Japanâ€™s whileâ€™ to
accept.158 Soviet reluctance to force the issue was clear. On 13 October,
Karl Radek, a prominent party member and head of Stalinâ€™s foreign
secretariat, published an article outlining the Soviet view of the
Lytton Report. To Sir Esmond Ovey, the British ambassador at Moscow,
Radekâ€™s article made Soviet views and policy manifest:
They regard the Japanese as guilty of a flagrant act of imperialist aggression.
They are not themselves prepared to take positive action against Japanâ€™s act of
aggression, and are not likely to be drawn into hostilities against Japan unless
Japanese aggression should culminate in a threat to Soviet territory itself. Nor are
they prepared to make common cause, diplomatic or military, with other Powers
in resistance to Japanese action.159
Instead, Ovey argued that Soviet Russia would mark time and rely upon
Chinaâ€™s own resistance to Japanâ€™s actions.
The direction of Soviet policy was a matter of debate at the Foreign
Office, especially in light of a proposal by Sir Eric Drummond, the
secretary of the League of Nations and a former British diplomatist,
to get Soviet Russia to participate in the discussions of the Manchurian
question at Geneva. There was a variety of British feelings about
Moscowâ€™s policy. Sir John Pratt, whose long experience in the consular
service in China and acknowledged expertise concerning that country
meant that he â€˜really ran our relations with Chinaâ€™, picked up on Oveyâ€™s
remarks.160 Pratt contended that â€˜Russiaâ€™s immediate aim is to safeguard
her economic interests in Manchuria, [but] her ultimate aim is to spread
Ovey to FO, tel 166, 22 Oct 1932, FO 371/16320/N6015/22/38; untitled memo,
conversation between Ramsay MacDonald and Maisky, 15 Nov 1932, Prem 1/138;
for Franco-Soviet trade, see Haslam, Soviet Foreign Policy, 1930â€“1933, 38â€“45. The
belligerent Soviet attitude was likely due to concerns that the British were aware of
Soviet intelligence-gathering actions against London: Christopher Andrew and Vasili
Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive. The KGB in Europe and the West (London, 2000), 63.
Lindley to FO, disp 501, 17 Sept 1932, FO 371/16179/F7406/1/10; Lindley to FO, tel
378, 19 Oct 1932, FO 371/16179/F7491/1/10, minutes, Orde (20 Oct) and Mounsey
Ovey to FO, disp 604, 25 Oct 1932, FO 371/16180/F7664/1/10.
Frank Roberts, Dealing with Dictators. The Destruction and Revival of Europe 1930â€“1970
(London, 1991), 6.
74 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
the Soviet system in the Far East.â€™ To this end, he felt that Soviet Russia
would reach an agreement with Japan and Manchukuo, let Japan dig
â€˜her own graveâ€™ in China and watch as the â€˜Nanking Government is
weakened and discreditedâ€™. If the League appealed to Soviet Russia to
participate in the attempt to solve the Manchurian issue, the answer
received â€˜will probably be solely aimed at doing as much damage as