Silent Conflict: A Hidden History of Early Soviet-Western Relations

By Gassner, Florian | The Historian, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

Silent Conflict: A Hidden History of Early Soviet-Western Relations


Gassner, Florian, The Historian


Silent Conflict: A Hidden History of Early Soviet-Western Relations. By Michael Jabara Carley. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. Pp. xxix, 445. $45.00.)

The centerpiece of this volume on early Soviet-Western relations is the author's findings from the Foreign Policy Archives of the Russian Federation and the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History. Michael Carley complements these findings with current archival research by Russian scholars and with sources detailing the West's earliest dealings with the Soviet Union. The result is the most comprehensive English-language account to date of the interactions between the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs (NKID) and its counterparts in Germany, France, Britain, and the United States in the years from 1921 to 1930.

The author makes a compelling case for a revision of Western notions of early Soviet foreign policy--notions that, he argues, merely reflect Cold War discourses. Foreign policy based on communist ideology may have been the position of the Politburo and the Comintern in the 1920s, but in no way did this apply to the NKID, which made "calculations based on realpolitik, according to Machiavelli, not Marx" (309). Carley's evidence shows that the commissar for foreign affairs and his deputy, Georgy Vasilyevich Chicherin and Maksim Maksimovich Litvinov, respectively, were above all pragmatic diplomats (whose pragmatism often put them at odds with the central government). The main objectives of the NKID under Chicherin and Litvinov were to reestablish bilateral relations with the West, to resolve the question of debts incurred by the tsarist government, and to secure vital loans to rebuild industry and infrastructure in the USSR, not to spread the revolution across Europe. …

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