Stalin’s Ambassador to London
Gabriel Gorodetsky has done an enormous public service in editing the diaries of Ivan Maisky, Stalin’s ambassador to London from 1932-43. The diaries bring to life the interwar diplomacy of Britain and Russia as they attempt to deal with the rise of Nazi Germany. It will be referenced in all future books on foreign policy of the interwar years. However, for the lay reader it a very long book (633 pages in the print edition).
Maisky working under Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov became one of the architects of Moscow’s policy of “collective security” to contain the Nazi menace. Unfortunately that policy failed and after Munich when Stalin turned towards Germany to make is separate peace. He highlights the degree of mistrust both Russia and Britain had for each other. Each feared, correctly as it turned out, that the other would make a separate deal with Hitler.
What the diaries highlight is that Maisky was among the first of the modern ambassadors who dealt with more than official government to government relations. He established a broad range of contacts outside official channels. He was very close to the then back bencher Winston Churchill and Lord Beaverbrook. Those two contacts would become extremely important after the Nazi invasion of Russia in June 1940. He was also close to such Bloomsbury group personages as Sidney and Beatrice Webb, the Shaws and H.G. Wells. On an official basis he was very close to Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, perhaps too close in the sense he probably learned stuff that would normally have been more secure.
Through his Marxist eyes he sees the rot of the British upper classes and their infatuation with appeasement and the Nazi sympathizers among more than a few of them. However, he fails to see the contradiction of his high living and numerous shopping trips when compared to the privation the Russian people were going through in 1930s Russia.
Although not directly mentioned in the diaries, he must have been living under constant stress as Stalin’s purge enveloped all of the “old Bolsheviks” and Mensheviks who were in positions of authority. This was exacerbated by the replacement of Litvinov with Molotov in 1939 which completely recast the Soviet diplomacy that was in place since 1920. Simply put the professional diplomats were moved out and replaced with party apparatchiks.
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