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Soviet Russia ˜could do nothing of real value™ to aid Poland or Romania.
Other discussion resulted from Hudson™s visit to Moscow. He had left
for the Soviet capital on 18 March, and his trade talks had inevitably
been affected by the larger political crisis. On 27 March, when it was
´
time to issue a press communique, the Soviets had inserted some phrases
saying that foreign-policy issues had also been discussed.95 Seeds had
´
requested instructions about the contents of the communique, and, in
Lascelles™s irate phrase, ˜if our telephonic reply had not been wilfully
delayed by the Soviet authorities™, the political contents would have been
deleted. However, both Seeds and Litvinov were perplexed as to why the
political subjects should not have been reported. The ambassador, in
fact, went so far as to aver that the omission would make sense only if
Britain ˜desire[s] publicly to abandon after about a week™s trial, [the]
recent policy of consulting [the] Soviet Government and to relapse into
an aloofness which has poisoned relations since Munich™. ˜In fact™, he

95
This and the following paragraph are based on Seeds to FO, tel 49, 28 Mar 1939, FO
371/23681/N1683/92/38, minute, Lascelles (29 Mar).
280 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

´
concluded ˜[the] communique presents a picture of what I would myself
wish Anglo-Soviet relations to be, namely friendliness and contacts but
no obligations.™
This offended Lascelles™s amour propre and touched his prejudices. He
was insistent that the political aspects should have been kept out of the
´
communique. He blamed the Soviets, for ˜if we are not to stultify the
scheme of international collaboration which they themselves ostensibly
desire, we must go very warily™ in order not to frighten the Poles and
Finns. And ˜despite M. Litvinov™s pretence of pained surprise™, the
Soviet commissar knew that Hudson was authorized to discuss only
trade, not political matters. Finally, in any case, the Soviet press had
˜ignored™ the Hudson mission, downplayed the British ˜willingness to
collaborate in the political sphere™ and ˜continued to blackguard the
democratic Powers™. Seeds™s contention about ˜aloofness™ suggested to
Lascelles that ˜he has not yet fully grasped the fundamental quality of
Soviet hostility towards the greatest of the capital and imperialist
Powers. “Contacts” “ yes, we are trying them: but “friendliness” is not
for a moment to be hoped for.™
Collier again disagreed. He argued that if Britain felt that it ˜is to our
advantage to retain at the very least the benevolent neutrality of the
Soviet Government, we ought not, I submit, to blow hot and cold on
this question of political consultation with them™. He pointed out that
everyone knew about Hudson™s mission and thus that ˜a reference to it in
´
the communique could have no appreciable effect on their attitude™.
Collier therefore preferred to treat the entire incident as a misunder-
standing.96 Cadogan picked up on this, and told Maisky on 29 March
that the British desire to omit political matters had resulted simply from
the fact that they ˜had not seen the text™. As ˜M. Maisky, as is his wont,
accepted very grudgingly my explanation™, Cadogan had defused the
situation.97 However, the reactions in both Moscow and London had
underlined their mutual suspicion and hostility. Hudson later warned
Halifax that the British must ˜never forget their [the Soviets™] intense
native suspicion™, an interpretation in which Halifax concurred.98
Events prevented the British from carrying out the plans that had been
agreed to at the Foreign Policy Committee and Cabinet. Fear of what
Halifax termed a German ˜coup de main™ led to Chamberlain and Halifax™s
getting the Cabinet™s approval on 30 March to issue an unilateral

96
His minute (29 Mar) on the document in n. 95.
97
Cadogan™s memo of his conversation with Maisky, 29 Mar 1939, FO 371/23681/
N1721/92/38.
98
Hudson to Halifax, 29 Mar 1939, and reply, 4 April 1939, both Halifax Papers, FO
800/322.
Chamberlain as Buridan™s ass 281

guarantee of Poland™s territorial integrity.99 Soviet Russia was not a
consideration in the Cabinet™s discussion on the 30th. However, at the
Cabinet the following morning, and before his statement in the Com-
mons, Chamberlain noted that several Labour leaders (whom he had
seen the night before) had expressed ˜strong objections to any action
being taken which would imply that Russia was being left on one
side™.100 Chamberlain had promised to speak to Maisky before making
his declaration in the House. Chamberlain also outlined Labour™s atti-
tude to the FPC. There, he explained that he had told the Labour
leaders that ˜the absence of any reference to Russia in the declaration
was based on expediency and not on any ideological consideration™.101
This was true but misleading. Omitting Soviet Russia was ˜expedient™
inasmuch as it avoided any complications with Poland and Romania;
however, Chamberlain™s attitude towards Moscow was entirely negative.
Whether this derived from ideology is difficult to know; what can be
said for certain is that Chamberlain™s entire concept of foreign policy was
based on retaining the power to take final decisions in his own hands.
Chamberlain had not abandoned his fond hope of detaching Italy from
Germany, and had sent to Mussolini the terms of his declaration in
advance of its announcement in Parliament. A unilateral guarantee to
Poland (later extended to Romania and agreed to by the French) main-
tained this control, whereas any attempt to link Soviet Russia to
the guarantee might conceivably give Moscow a say in committing
Britain to action. It was for this very reason that the British generally
had disliked the Franco-Soviet Pact; they did not want it to reoccur in
any Anglo-Soviet agreement.
The Soviet response was predictably irate. In early April, Litvinov was
˜outraged™ at being ignored.102 Litvinov spoke of the likelihood of Soviet

99
Minutes, Cab 16(39), 30 Mar 1939, Cab 23/98. The best account of the decision to
give the guarantee and its consequences is G. Bruce Strang, ˜Once More into the
Breach: Britain™s Guarantee to Poland, March 1939™, JCH, 31, 4 (1996), 721“52. It
is important to note that the British intended the guarantee as more of a declaration of
principle than of intent. By making it clear that an attack on Poland would be a casus
belli, the British hoped to deter Hitler and, if this did not work, to create a second,
eastern front in line with British military planning; see A. J. Prazmowska, ˜War over
Danzig? The Dilemma of Anglo-Polish Relations in the Months Preceding the Out-
break of the Second World War™, HJ, 26, 1 (1983), 177“83; Prazmowska, ˜The Eastern
Front and the British Guarantee to Poland of March 1939™, EHQ, 14 (1984), 183“209.
100
Minutes, Cab 17(39), 31 Mar 1939, Cab 23/98. On this point, see the remarks by
Alexander Hardinge (George VI™s private secretary): ˜The Labour Party will be quite
satisfied with the policy as long as Russia is included™ (in notes, 30 Mar 1939,
accompanying his letter to Buchan of 4 Apr 1939, both Buchan Papers, Box 10).
101
FP(36), minutes of 40th meeting, 31 Mar 1936, Cab 27/624.
102
Harvey diary entry, 3 Apr 1939, Harvey Papers, Add MSS 56395.
282 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

isolation, and Maisky advanced that inviting the Soviet commissar for
foreign affairs to London would be one way of showing Moscow that it
was not being slighted.103 But such a suggestion was complicated by the
fact that Beck had come to London, and had reiterated that Poland
would not accept any alignment with Soviet Russia.104 Sargent also was
convinced that, if Litvinov were to visit, it ˜would of course arouse the
deepest suspicions in every country where the Soviet connection is
feared™. Besides, Sargent was not overly impressed by what he con-
sidered the likely outcomes of such a visit: ˜either a secret Soviet British
political agreement; or some inconclusive formula which I am afraid
would merely arouse suspicions and misunderstandings everywhere “
including Moscow?™ In his view, ˜Maisky™s fictitious grievances and
Litvinov™s assumed sulks™ should not be allowed to ˜push us into action
against our better judgment.™ ˜Personally™, he went on,
I should have thought the best way of calling the Soviet bluff [is] by asking them
point blank to make us a definite and detailed scheme showing the exten[t] to
which & the manner in which they are prepared to cooperate with other govern-
ments & how they propose to overcome the aversion of certain governments to
cooperate with them.

Cadogan agreed: ˜I regard association with the Soviet as more of a
liability than an asset.™ But, like Sargent, he wished to know ˜what they
propose “ [while] indicating that we don™t want a lecture on “more
ideas”, but some practical indication of what they propose should be
done™. The final word went to Halifax, who ˜must admit to sharing all Sir
O. Sargent™s doubts about the Soviet™. But the foreign secretary con-
cluded on a practical note: ˜we want if we can “ Litvinov making a
disproportionate amount of mischief elsewhere “ to keep them with us™.
The issues of how to accomplish this and what the Soviets could do
were constantly confronting decision makers in London. Maisky, ˜as
usual . . . suspicious and inquisitorial™, hounded Halifax on 11 April to
push Poland and Romania to adopt ˜a reasonable attitude towards the
acceptance of help from Russia™. Halifax replied that this might be coun-
terproductive, but Maisky contended that ˜some general undertaking™,

103
Minute of a conversation between W. N. Ewer (diplomatic correspondent, Daily
Herald) and Maisky, 4 Apr 1939, FO 371/23063/C5430/3356/18, and the minutes by
Sargent (6 Apr), Cadogan (7 Apr) and Halifax (7 Apr). The remainder of this para-
graph, except where otherwise indicated, is based on the minutes.
104
Eden to Halifax, personal and most confidential, 5 Apr 1939, and containing a memo
of Eden™s talk with Beck on 4 April, Halifax Papers, FO 800/321; Halifax to Phipps, 6
Apr 1939, FO 800/321; Harvey diary entry, 4 Apr 1939, Harvey Papers, Add MSS
56395; N. Chamberlain to Ida, his sister, 9 Apr 1939, Chamberlain Papers, NC 18/1/
1093.
Chamberlain as Buridan™s ass 283

not ˜bilateral pacts™, was the solution.105 Seeds pointed out that it was
difficult to get any commitment from the Soviets because Britain™s
guarantees already meant that ˜Germany will in case of war fight on
two fronts™, meaning that Soviet Russia will be ˜tempted to stand aloof™.
The ambassador also warned of possible German territorial offers to
Soviet Russia, although he noted that he did not ˜think that the danger
[of this] is more than “possible” as in this too I am not amongst those
who seem incurably suspicious™ of Moscow. Seeds was informed that the
British interest was in keeping Soviet Russia in play and avoiding the
˜natural tendency of the Soviet Government to stand aloof™.106
In an attempt to bind the Soviets to his side and to commit Moscow to
concrete action, albeit informally, Halifax suggested on 14 April that
Soviet Russia offer a guarantee to Poland and Romania parallel to that
already made by Britain. Litvinov™s initial response was to query Seeds as
to ˜how far Great Britain and other countries were prepared to go when
it came to the point and what was expected from the Soviet Union™.107
But, by 17 April, the Soviets had responded with a call for, instead, a
˜comprehensive European plan of mutual assistance and Staff Conver-
sations between Great Britain, France and Soviet Russia, and assurances
to Russia™s Western neighbours™.108 This was discussed at the FPC on 19
April.109 The determining factor was the Foreign Office™s evaluation of
the Soviet offer.
The latter was judged ˜extremely inconvenient™. The crux was that the
Soviet proposal meant that Britain had ˜to balance the advantage of a
paper commitment by Russia to join in a war on our side against the
disadvantage of associating ourselves openly with Russia™. Cadogan™s
presentation made the Foreign Office view clear.110 Soviet Russia™s
military capabilities were judged to be limited to the defensive; joining

105
FP(36), minutes of 42nd meeting, 11 Apr 1939, Cab 27/624, and Halifax™s minute of a
conversation with Maisky, 11 Apr 1939, FO 371/23063/C5068/3356/18.
106
Seeds to FO, tel 61 decipher, 13 Apr 1939, and reply, tel 71, 14 Apr 1939, both FO
371/23063/C5144/3356/18.
107
Minutes, Cab 20(39), 13 Apr 1939, Cab 23/98; Halifax™s interview with Maisky, 14
Apr 1939, FO 371/23063/C5281/3356/18; Harvey diary entry, 14 Apr 1939, Harvey
Papers, Add MSS 56395; FO to Seeds, tel 71, 14 Apr 1939, FO 371/23063/C5144/
3356/18; Seeds to FO, tel 66 decipher, 16 Apr 1939, FO 371/23063/C5382/3356/18.
108
Minutes, Cab 21(39), 19 Apr 1939, Cab 23/98; Dalton diary entry, 17 Apr 1939, in
Pimlott, Dalton Diary, 259.
109
FP(36), minutes 43rd meeting, 19 Apr 1939, Cab 27/624; also included is ˜Foreign
Office comments on the proposal contained in Moscow telegram No. 69™, ns, nd. The
following paragraph is also based on this source.
110
For Cadogan, in addition to ibid., see Cadogan diary entry, 19 Apr 1939, David Dilks,
ed., The Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan 1938“1945 (London, 1971), 175. He was not
alone in this view: see Channon diary entry, 23 Apr 1939, in Rhodes James, Chips, 194.
284 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order

with it would both annoy the Poles and Romanians and allow Germany
to trumpet the Red menace. Thus, ˜from the practical point of
view, there was every argument against accepting the Russian proposal™.
However, to refuse it meant ˜great difficulty™:
We have taken the attitude that the Soviet preach us sermons on ˜collective
security™ but make no practical proposals. They have now made such, and they
will rail at us for turning them down. And the Left in this country may be
counted on to make the most of this.
With Oliver Stanley and Hoare still favouring finding a way to co-operate
with the Soviets, the committee deferred the decision until the COS had
provided an up-to-date assessment of Soviet military capabilities. In
the meantime, the French were adjured not to respond to the Soviet
overtures.
All was considered on 25 April. At the FPC, the COS™s usual evalu-
ation of Soviet power “ useful on the defensive, of lesser value on the
offensive and of limited aid to Poland (but capable of exerting ˜a re-
straining influence on Japan™) “ was aired.111 With the French opposed
to the Soviet plan as it stood and the Romanians sharing the Poles™ fears
that any agreement with Soviet Russia might yield a German attack, the
Soviet offer was declined.112 This had a mixed reception at the Foreign
Office.113 Collier objected to the FPC™s rejection of a French alternative
proposal that he felt, with slight modification would have solved matters.
The head of the Northern Department also did not agree that Soviet
Russia was of little value for the defence of Poland. However, his most
telling criticism was political: ˜I cannot help feeling that the real motive
for the Cabinet™s attitude is the desire to secure Russian help and at the
same time to leave our hands free to enable Germany to expand east-
wards at Russian expense if we think it convenient.™ Collier added that
the ˜Russians are not so naive as not to suspect this, and I hope that we
ourselves will not be so naive as to think that we can have things both
ways™. Collier concluded this thunderbolt with an appeal to Strang:



111
FP(36), minutes 44th meeting, 25 Apr 1939, Cab 27/624; ˜Military Value of Russia.
Report™, COS 887 (also FP(36) 82), 24 Apr, Cab 53/48.
112
Grigory Gafencu, the Romanian foreign minister, had made this point during his trip to
Britain and upon arrival; see Clive (minister, Brussels) to FO, tel 42, 21 Apr 1939, FO
371/23064/C5749/3356/18, and Harvey diary entry, 25 Apr 1939, Harvey Papers, Add
MSS 56395.
113
See the minutes, Collier (28 Apr 1939), Strang™s undated marginalia on Collier™s

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