- Silent Conflict: A Hidden History of Early Soviet-Western Relations by Michael Jabara Carley
This book — handsome in appearance, with the watercolor “The New Horseman” by Nicolai Kogut adorning its front cover — is a study of the relations of the USSR and the major Western powers between 1917 and April of 1931. The study begins with the USSR’s inception in October (O.S.) 1917 and concludes with a major agreement between the German and USSR governments. Under the terms of the agreement, the German government advanced 300 million marks to Moscow and the treaty of friendship between the two governments, first signed in 1922, then renewed in 1926, was renewed yet a third time.
Let it be said at once. What Michael Jabara Carley has produced here is indeed a fine and impressive work, one that fills an important gap in the [End Page 648] literature. It is hard to think of anyone else who could have brought the experience, the insights, and the quality of analytical scrutiny that Carley has given to this subject.
The book’s thirteen chapters examine all the great events that marked the hidden history of early Soviet-Western relations in the years between 1917 and 1930 — the struggles of the new government to gain diplomatic recognition from the Western Powers; the treaty of Rapallo and the Genoa conference; the various attempts of the two sides to conclude trade and credit agreements; Moscow’s struggles to achieve military security; Anglo-Soviet disputes over China; and the repeated panics and tensions with France so sharp that at one point in 1927 they resulted in the recall of the Soviet ambassador. These events also provided the background against which the titanic struggle between Josef Stalin and Leon Trotsky played itself out.
The first thing to be said about this volume is the author’s mastery of the overwhelming — indeed (to this reviewer’s eyes) almost unmanageable — abundance of source material, not only the enormous collections of public documentary evidence but, above all, the comparable documents of the Russian Foreign Ministry for the period in question that have never before seen publication. Carley has made extensive use of these new sources and he does so in a vigorous style.
The underlying theme of the book is the conflict that took place between the two sides during the thirteen years in question. “Conflict” is an understatement. It was nothing less than a clash of two worlds: the Western, whose reaction to the other provided precious little room for compromise; and the Soviet which, though certainly animated by an abiding hostility toward the West, often attempted to season dogma with pragmatism — that is, to change Western views. Throughout this period there continued to exist in the West a substantial, politically influential, and aggressive body of opinion to exorcise the spectre of a great and fearful external enemy. The “Die-Hard” triumvirate in Great Britain, the Bloc Nationale in France, and successive Republican administrations in Washington, blocked Soviet efforts to improve relations at every turn.
The same was true in the struggle for diplomatic recognition. Germany did this in 1921; France in 1924; Britain in 1923, but then broke off because of the Zinoviev letter and did not, much to the consternation of the Soviet authorities, establish again until 1930; the USA, only under Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. For the first time, Carley clearly and convincingly demonstrates the Zinoviev letter emanated not from the pen of anyone in Moscow but from that of Eyre Crowe, a leading conservative figure in the foreign office and a staunch opponent of the USSR. The major reason for the delay in diplomatic recognition was the violent and uncompromising [End Page 649] attitude of the Soviet government toward the rest of the world. This argument was generally couched in language of “subversive propaganda.” The charge featured repeatedly in Western protests to Moscow and surfaced in speeches of leading Western figures, and it did much to undermine the efforts of the book’s protagonist, indefatigable Georgi...