Labour and Soviet Russia
In addressing the House of Commons in November 1919, Churchill was asked by the Cabinet to 'make it clear that the British government were not out to destroy a revolutionary Government in Russia'. 1 Government policy had indeed encountered persistent and often bitter opposition from that quarter. Churchill's statement, however, was intended primarily for the benefit of the government's critics outside Parliament, in particular those in Labour and working-class circles. There was indeed 'no doubt', George Barnes, a former Labour MP, informed the Cabinet, 'that the feeling among Socialists and Labour men was that the Government were pursuing a capitalist policy'. 2 Opposition from such sources, as this chapter will be concerned to demonstrate, was not generally inspired by the radical sentiments to which Barnes had drawn attention. It did, however, play a part in first limiting and then bringing to an end the government's direct involvement in Russian affairs; and an account of the change in policy which this represented—not to speak of the impact of the Russian Revolution on British political life more generally—would not be complete without some attention to it.
This is not necessarily to accept the much larger claim, that (as the New Leader put it on 13 October 1922) Labour had 'compelled the abandonment of Mr. Churchill's campaign of intervention ... brought the blockade to an end, [and] stopped the plans for interference in the Polish war' in 1920. The Cabinet's decision to withdraw British troops from Russia, it has already been noted, may in fact be accounted for in terms quite independent of working-class pressure: cost, and the failure of the anti-Bolshevik armies in the field, were altogether more salient considerations. It will be suggested further that, while a degree of suspicion attached to the government's conduct during the Russo-Polish war of 1920, there was in fact little substantive difference between its policy and that of Labour: for both supported Polish independence, but wished to avoid direct military involvement in the conflict.