between the grip & force of our Central Departmentâ€™, he wrote in
December 1926, â€˜& the uncertainties, lamentations, regrets & contra-
dictions of the Far Eastern Department.â€™136 Throughout the 1930s,
such views of the Far Eastern Department continued.
For a list of Foreign Office assistant and deputy undersecretaries, see Appendix I.
For the heads of these departments, see Appendix II. For a list of their members, see
Zara Steiner, â€˜The Foreign Office and the Warâ€™, in F. H. Hinsley, ed., British Foreign
Policy Under Sir Edward Grey (Cambridge, 1977), 516â€“31, is essential.
Valentine Lawford, Bound for Diplomacy (London, 1963), 235, 238â€“50; Strang, Home
and Abroad, 121; J. D. Gregory to Oâ€™Malley, 15 Jan 1927, Oâ€™Malley Papers.
Gill Bennett, History Notes. â€˜A Most Extraordinary and Mysterious Businessâ€™: The Zinoviev
Letter of 1924 (London, 1999), 56â€“66.
Collier to Strang, 22 Nov 1932, Strang Papers, STRN 4/6.
Waterlow to Oâ€™Malley, 4 Feb 1926, Oâ€™Malley Papers, vol. I.
A. Chamberlain to Ida, his sister, 2 Dec 1926, in Robert C. Self, ed., The Austen
Chamberlain Diary Letters. The Correspondence of Sir Austen Chamberlain with His Sisters
Hilda and Ida, 1916â€“1937 (Cambridge, 1995), 297.
These three departments contained a number of individuals whose influ-
ence and tenure require further examination. Collier was the key figure
in the Northern Department. Having dealt with Russia during the war as
a member of the War Department, he served at the British embassy in
Tokyo from 1919 to 1921, before returning to the Foreign Office, where
he worked in the Treaty and Far Eastern Departments until joining the
Northern Department in 1926.137 From that time until he became
minister to Norway in 1941, Collier remained in the latter department,
as its head from 1933 onwards. A small man with a stammer who used to
entertain the junior members of the Northern Department with his
anecdotes, Collier found himself marginalized in the Foreign Office.138
Not only were his politics too liberal for most of his colleagues, but also
he was a strong advocate of a return to â€˜old diplomacyâ€™ in the form of
making common cause with Soviet Russia, despite the fact that he had
no illusions about Soviet sincerity and did not believe in the long-term
compatibility of British and Soviet interests.139
His reasons for advocating improved relations with Moscow were
straightforward: Britain and Soviet Russia both faced the same threats
and this community of peril would be sufficient to bind them together.
Not for him was either the belief in the essential rectitude of the Soviet
position held by the fellow-travellers on the political left or an acceptance
of Litvinovâ€™s sophism that â€˜peace is indivisibleâ€™. For Collier, it was simply
a matter of practical politics. As he noted in 1934 about co-operation
with Soviet Russia, â€˜since we live among a number of Powers, few of
whom really wish us well but some of whom have the same interests as
ourselves, we should, whenever possible, encourage the latter to join
with us in defending the status quo against those whose interests (in their
own view) demand its overthrowâ€™.140 This brought him into conflict with
others within the Foreign Office.
Prominent among these was Orme Sargent, head of the Central
Department from 1926 to 1933, at which time he became the assistant
undersecretary who supervised that department. â€˜Molelyâ€™ as he was
For Collierâ€™s time in the War Department, see Sir Laurence Collier, â€˜The Old Foreign
Officeâ€™, Blackwoodâ€™s Magazine, 312 (1972), 256â€“61, and his â€˜Impressions of Sir Eyre
Croweâ€™, nd [c. 1972], Collier Misc 466.
Barclay, Ernest Bevin, 7. I would like to thank Professor Erik Goldstein for allowing me
to read his entry on Collier for the New Dictionary of National Biography, upon which my
account of Collier, except where otherwise noted, is based.
He likewise rejected the idea that â€˜isolation is preferable to attempts to preserve peace
by pacts and alliancesâ€™; see his untitled memo for Vansittart, 16 May 1935, Vansittart
Papers, VNST 2/21.
Collierâ€™s minute on â€˜Memorandum on Russo-Japanese Tensionâ€™, Randall, 9 Feb 1934,
34 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
universally known, was noted for his cool, detached views. Possessed of a
â€˜dry and caustic sense of humourâ€™, Sargent affected a disinterest in the
doings of the politicians. When they did not follow his advice, he was
â€˜disinclined . . . to do more than shrug his shoulders as though to say: if
they wished to go the shortest way to perdition, who was he to prevent
them?â€™141 However, this â€˜disillusioned dry-humoured stoicâ€™ was by no
means a passive participant in debate.142 Soviet Russia often drew his
ire. He was deeply annoyed by the Franco-Soviet Pact of 1935, feeling
that it threatened to extend Britainâ€™s commitments under Locarno, and
believed that, through the Comintern, Moscow exercised an unhealthy
influence in French politics. While Sargent was an opponent of appease-
ment, he did not wish to tie Britain to Moscowâ€™s coat-tails.
Sir Victor Wellesley was as closely associated with the Far Eastern
Department as Collier was with the Northern.143 He was head of the
Far Eastern Department from 1920 until 1924, at which point he
became an assistant undersecretary. A year later he became deputy
undersecretary, an appointment he held until he was forced to retire
in October 1936. Both as assistant and as deputy undersecretary,
Wellesley kept a close eye on the Far East. He was an advocate of the
Foreign Officeâ€™s being more closely involved in trade matters, and this
involved him in disputes with the Treasury over lines of demarca-
tion.144 This quarrel spilled over into Far Eastern policy generally, as
Wellesley was largely responsible for shaping the new British policy for
China adopted by Chamberlain in 1926, which was opposed not only
by some within the Foreign Office itself, but also by the Treasury.145
With respect to Soviet Russia, Wellesley shared the general view of the
Far Eastern Department that communism did not pose a serious threat
in China, as it was antithetical to Chinese tradition.146 Wellesley be-
lieved that Soviet Russia had a useful role in the Far East: to act as a
check to Japanese aggression. His doubts about the possibility of find-
ing a clear solution to Britainâ€™s problems in the Far East led some to
Sir William Hayter, A Double Life (London, 1974), 82; Lawford, Bound for Diplomacy,
John Balfour, Not Too Correct an Aureole. The Recollections of a Diplomat (Wilton, Wilts,
I would like to thank Professor Erik Goldstein for letting me read his entry on Wellesley
for the New Dictionary of National Biography. Wellesleyâ€™s views about foreign policy are
in his Diplomacy in Fetters (London, 1944), 43â€“125.
Boadle, â€˜The Formation of the Foreign Office Economic Relations Sectionâ€™.
See Edmund S. K. Fung, The Diplomacy of Imperial Retreat. Britainâ€™s South China Policy,
1924â€“1931 (Oxford, 1991), 81â€“104, esp. 92â€“3.
think of him as pessimistic or defeatist, but any inability to produce a
policy reflected only the complexity of the problem, not Wellesleyâ€™s
One other individual, William Strang, played a significant role in
Anglo-Soviet relations.148 Strang was the only person both to serve in
all three departments under consideration and to spend time in Soviet
Russia. Originally bound for academia, Strang joined the Foreign Office
after service in the First World War. After serving abroad he returned to
the Foreign Office and the Northern Department in late 1922. Here he
had an opportunity to observe both the difficult Anglo-Soviet trade
negotiations in 1924 and the uproar caused by the Zinoviev letter in
that same year. He was transferred to the Far Eastern Department in late
1925, and spent just over four years working on what he termed â€˜the
rather sterile and unreal exercisesâ€™ of that department.149 In 1930, he
accepted a posting to Moscow, where he observed first-hand the early
phases of the five-year plans and was intimately involved in the diplo-
matic imbroglio surrounding the arrest and trial of British engineers
employed in Moscow by Metro-Vickers. When he returned to London
in the autumn of 1933, Strang became the adviser on League of Nations
affairs, and accompanied various ministers on their missions abroad,
including Eden on the latterâ€™s trip to Moscow in 1936.
In 1937, Strang became the head of the Central Department. Here he
worked closely with his immediate supervisor, Sargent. While Strang was
an advocate of a strong Britain, he initially did not share Sargentâ€™s and
Vansittartâ€™s deep-seated dislike of Germany. Strang did, however, have
an aversion to Soviet Russia, the product, especially, of his time there
and the Metro-Vickers affair. In 1939, as a result of the Central Depart-
mentâ€™s reputation for getting things done and the relative standing of
Collier and Strang, the latter and his department were put in charge
of the Anglo-Soviet alliance negotiations. This culminated in Strangâ€™s
accompanying the British delegation to Moscow in July 1939 and
produced his final disillusionment with the Soviets.
Opinions about Soviet Russia at the Foreign Office were varied.
Some, like the head of the Southern Department, Owen Oâ€™Malley, and
R. F. Hadow, who served successively as first secretary at Vienna and
Prague from 1931 to 1937 before returning to the FO and the Northern
Strang, Home and Abroad, 59; Kelly, Ruling Few, 210; and Oâ€™Malley, Phantom Caravan,
Strang, Home and Abroad, 50â€“69.
36 Britain, Soviet Russia and the Versailles Order
Department, loathed the Bolsheviks.150 Oâ€™Malley went so far as to
describe Russia under the Bolsheviks as â€˜a spiritual gas-chamber, a
sinister, unnatural and unholy placeâ€™.151 Collier saw Bolshevism as one
of the variants of the twentieth-century tendency â€“ under the guise of
ideology â€“ to suppress the individual in favour of the collective: â€˜the
nightmare of Fascism has been succeeded by the nightmare of Soviet
Communismâ€™. In his view, each person had a moral duty to oppose
these â€˜nightmaresâ€™ vigorously.152 Vansittart regarded Soviet policy as
motivated by a fear of external threats. For some with long experience
of Russia â€“ Sir Lancelot Oliphant was typical of them â€“ Soviet Russia was
just tsarist Russia with a variant ideology.153 Russian foreign policy,
whether driven by autocrats and pan-Slavism or by commissars and
communism, had to be resisted wherever and whenever it threatened
For several reasons, it is now important to consider the nature of
Soviet policy in the period from 1919 to 1939. First, the historical
arguments about what British policy was (and should have been) to-
wards Soviet Russia are embedded in it. Second, it is difficult to under-
stand British strategic foreign policy and the Soviet impact upon it
without some knowledge of Soviet policy, which in turn is difficult to
divorce from the assumptions behind the various historical interpret-
ations. Finally, a discussion of Soviet policy allows us to appreciate that
the wide range of views about its nature held by the British foreign-policy
making elite were dependent on assumptions not dissimilar from those
that underpin modern scholarship.
Scholarly opinion on the nature of Soviet foreign policy is sharply
divided.154 Some, arguing from what might be termed a Cold War
Lindsay W. Michie, Portrait of an Appeaser. Robert Hadow, First Secretary in the British
Foreign Office, 1931â€“1939 (Westport, CT, 1996), 3â€“5, 52â€“5, 147â€“8. Oâ€™Malley had
participated in the Anglo-Soviet trade negotiations in 1924. For the context, see
Lammers, â€˜Fascism, Communism, and the Foreign Officeâ€™.
Oâ€™Malley, Phantom Caravan, 70. This view resulted in part from his journey through
Collier outlined his views of and opposition to political quietism in analytical form; see
his Flight From Conflict (London, 1944). The quotation is from ix. For another analysis
of Bolshevism by a diplomatist, see J. D. Gregory, On the Edge of Diplomacy. Rambles
and Reflections 1902â€“1928 (London, 1928), 151â€“69.
Oliphant supervised the Northern Department from 1929 to 1936 and then became
deputy undersecretary with the same responsibility; see Lancelot Oliphant, An Ambas-
sador in Bonds (London, 1946).
For analyses of the literature, see Teddy J. Uldricks, â€˜Soviet Security Policy in the
1930sâ€™, in Gabriel Gorodetsky, ed., Soviet Foreign Policy 1917â€“1991. A Retrospective
(London and Portland, OR, 1994), 65â€“74; Silvio Pons and Andrea Romano, â€˜Intro-
ductionâ€™, in Silvio Pons and Andrea Romano, eds., Russia in the Age of Wars 1914â€“1945
(Milan, 2000), xivâ€“xviii.
perspective, have argued that Stalin, beginning in 1927, always aimed at
provoking an inter-imperialist war.155 In this version of events, the focus
is on Sovietâ€“German relations. At its most virulent, this school contends
that both Stalinâ€™s policy at Munich and the signing of the Naziâ€“Soviet
Pact were aimed at eventually extending Soviet control over eastern
Europe, a policy which culminated in the post-1945 occupation of that
region.156 For such authors, Stalinâ€™s foreign policy was driven by un-
trammelled revolutionary ideology. Others have argued to the contrary,
that Stalin was not an ideologue; that his policy decisions were based on
pure Realpolitik.157 In this version, â€˜Stalinâ€™s policy appears to have been
rational and level-headed â€“ an unscrupulous Realpolitik serving well-
defined geopolitical interests.â€™ The Soviet leader intended to satisfy these
interests by avoiding any commitments that would put Soviet Russia at
risk and curtail his freedom of manoeuvre. There are also those who
argue that Soviet offers of co-operation with the West against Nazi
Germany and imperialist Japan were sincere.158 According to this â€˜col-
lective securityâ€™ line of argument, the failure to reach any Anglo-Soviet
accord before 1941 was due to the anti-communist prejudices of the
British foreign-policy making elite.
The two extreme interpretations â€“ the â€˜Cold Warâ€™ view and the â€˜col-
lective securityâ€™ approach â€“ provide more heat than light. Both suffer
from the same defects of argument that affect the â€˜guilty men/appease-
mentâ€™ and â€˜declinistâ€™ schools. With Soviet policy viewed as either entirely
honourable or entirely unscrupulous (the British response to it is simi-
larly judged), there is no room to consider other, more nuanced explan-
ations. The argument that Soviet foreign policy was based solely on
Realpolitik, while of more value, is not entirely satisfactory. To accept it
Robert C. Tucker, â€˜The Emergence of Stalinâ€™s Foreign Policyâ€™, SR, 36, 4 (1977), 563â€“
89; Tucker, Stalin in Power. The Revolution from Above, 1928â€“1941 (New York and
London, 1990); Gerhard L. Weinberg, â€˜Germany Diplomacy Toward the Soviet
Unionâ€™, SU/US, 18, 1â€“3 (1991), 317â€“32; Weinberg, The Foreign Policy of Hitlerâ€™s