The Russian Revolution
"What, are we going to have foreign affairs?"
— V. I. Lenin, October 1917
"I shall issue some revolutionary proclamations to the peoples and then close up shop."
— Leon Trotsky, as commissar for foreign affairs, 1917
" Lenin . . . was one of the greatest realists, as well as one of the greatest fanatics."
— William Henry Chamberlin, 1935
The Russian Revolution caused a dramatic shift in the Eurasian balance of power that threatened the interests of the other great powers and pressed them to intervene in the subsequent civil war. The Bolsheviks and the Western powers regarded each other with suspicion if not outright hostility, and the belief that the 1917 revolution in Russia might spark similar upheavals elsewhere led the Soviet government to venture several ill-fated attempts to accelerate the process. The uncertainties unleashed by the revolution made accommodation more difficult, because both sides based their actions on unfounded hopes and fears and were unable to maintain consistent policies in the face of conflicting information.
Coexistence became feasible once these illusions were challenged. By the early 1920s, Western fears of a rising Bolshevik tide were declining, along with the hope that Bolshevik rule in Russia would be short-lived. Soviet leaders were more confident about their own ability to hold power but also were beginning to recognize that the revolution was unlikely to spread quickly. As mutual perceptions of threat declined, a more "normal"—albeit guarded—relationship began to emerge. Efforts to establish normal relations fell short of each side's expectations, however, and the international position of the Soviet Union deteriorated sharply after 1924.
This chapter consists of five parts. In the first I describe Russia's foreign relations from the collapse of the tsarist empire to the end of World War I, focusing on the Bolsheviks' initial responses and the Allied decision to in