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Reviewed by:
  • Des hommes d’influences: Les ambassadeurs de Staline en Europe, 1930–1939
  • Ludmila Stern
Sabine Dullin , Des hommes d’influences: Les ambassadeurs de Staline en Europe, 1930–1939 [Men of Influence: Stalin’s Ambassadors to Europe, 1930–39]. Paris: Payot, 2001. 380 pp. ISBN 2228894834. €22.11.

In recent years, a number of doctoral theses have been written on Soviet relations with the West, notably France, in the interwar period. These studies, three of which are in French, are, coincidentally or not, by women researchers. They include La grande lueur à l'est: Les français et l'Union Soviétique, 1917-1939 (The Great Light in the East: The French and the Soviet Union, 1917-39) by Sophie Coeuré, a major study of Franco-Soviet relations during the interwar period; Croire plutôt que voir? Voyages en Russie soviétique(1919 -1939) (Believing rather than Seeing? Voyages in Soviet Russia [1919-39]) by Rachel Mazuy, on French visitors to the USSR; my own Western Intellectuals and the USSR, 1920-40: From Red Square to the Left Bank; and the title under review here.1 All have benefited from the archival revolution that has provided important new material with which to explore Soviet relations with France.

The failures of the "permanent revolution" in the 1920s created a new imperative for Soviet Russia: to survive in a hostile environment. The first Soviet diplomats, Georgii Vasil´evich Chicherin and his team, were called on to break the isolation and foster coexistence between two seemingly irreconcilable systems; later, Soviet foreign policy became marked by the rather different style of Maksim Maksimovich Litvinov, people's commissar of foreign affairs from 1930 to 1939. A man of the 1930s who came to symbolize the USSR's newly respectable image, with its slogans of peace, anti-fascism, and collective security, he appears in Dullin's book as a central and powerful figure: neither Stalin's man nor his opponent but a complex, professionally competent, and independent-minded individual. What made Stalin trust him and work with him for a decade before ousting him in 1939?

Sabine Dullin's book is not intended to be primarily about Litvinov, though one might be tempted to suggest another title as he overshadows the other diplomats by his importance to her study. The author embarks on a detailed [End Page 429] exploration of Soviet foreign policy of the 1930s from the vantage point of the archival revolution of the post-Soviet era. The examination of archival materials allows Dullin to focus on the activities of individuals who, she suggests, were more than mere cogs in Stalin's totalitarian machine. They were the agents of the Soviet foreign policy of the 1930s, these diplomats and ambassadors, many of whom were selected by Litvinov himself: ambassadors Ivan Mikhailovich Maiskii, Aleksandra Mikhailovna Kollontai, Vladimir Petrovich Potemkin, and Iakov Zakharovich Surits; Litvinov's deputies Boris Spiridonovich Stomoniakov and Nikolai Nikolaevich Krestinskii; and such counsellors at embassies abroad as Vladimir Sokolin. The changing dynamics of their operations and the varying degrees and limitations of their influence inside and outside the USSR are the focus of Dullin's study, which uses archival materials to complement previously known sources, including very recent ones.2 Thus, the Russian Foreign Policy Archive (Arkhiv vneshnei politiki Rossiiskoi Federatsii, AVP RF) provided her with correspondence from Litvinov, Molotov, and Potemkin, as well as League of Nations documentation; at the Russian State Archive of Sociopolitical History (Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv sotsial´no-politicheskoi istorii, RGASPI) she had access to the fondy of the Central Committee as well as those of the Comintern, Stalin, and Litvinov; and the State Archive of the Russian Federation (Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Rossiiskoi Federatsii, GARF) is the source of details on the budget of the People's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs (NKID). These were supplemented with documents from other Soviet, French, and Swiss archives.

Dullin's book explores the operations of Stalin's system in a complex historiographical context, essentially chronological and focused mainly on 1930-39. She traces the imperatives of Soviet foreign policy and diplomacy with particular attention to the USSR—France—Germany triangle, thus illustrating how the USSR used what she calls "pendulum tactics" (la tactique...


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