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

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This deeply informed book traces the dramatic history of early Soviet-Western relations after World War I. Michael Jabara Carley provides a lively exploration of the formative years of Soviet foreign policy making after the Bolshevik Revolution, especially on Soviet relations with the West during the 1920s. The author demonstrates beyond doubt that this seminal period—termed the “silent conflict” by one Soviet diplomat—launched the Cold War. He shows that Soviet-Western relations, at best grudging and mistrustful, were almost always hostile. Focusing on the major western powers—Germany, France, Great Britain, and the United States—the author also examines the ongoing political upheaval in China that began with the May Fourth Movement in 1919 as a critical influence on Western-Soviet relations.

Carley draws on twenty-five years of research in recently declassified Soviet and Western archives to present an authoritative history of the foreign policy of the Soviet state. From the earliest days of the Bolshevik Revolution, deeply anti-communist Western powers attempted to overthrow the newly formed Soviet government. As the weaker party, Soviet Russia waged war when it had to, but it preferred negotiations and agreements with the west rather than armed confrontation. Equally embattled by internal struggles for power after the death of Lenin, the Soviet government was torn between its revolutionary ideals and the pragmatic need to come to terms with its capitalist adversaries. The West too had its ideologues and pragmatists. This illuminating window into the overt and covert struggle and ultimate standoff between the USSR and the West during the 1920s will be invaluable for all readers interested in the formative years of the Cold War.

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Pre-publication Comments

“Michael J. Carley has written a superb history of the first decade of Soviet foreign policy. Based on exhaustive work in the archives of Russia and Western Europe, this lively yet erudite study will be of interest to scholars and general readers alike. Carley’s theme is that Soviet foreign policy was hamstrung by the conflicting and contradictory interests of, on the one hand, the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs, which sought to ‘normalize’ Soviet Russia and strengthen its security by developing peaceful relationships such as trade, and on the other, the determination of the Communist International to foment revolution wherever it could. Nowhere is this theme better explored than in the matter of China, which Carley rightly retrieves from relative obscurity. While Comintern pressure meant that Soviet investment in the Chinese revolution grew from 12,000 roubles in 1923 to five million roubles in 1925, the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs was desperately trying to retain diplomatic relations with Great Britain, one of the first states with which Soviet Russia had established meaningful trading relations; in the 1920s there was no greater threat to British foreign investments than the riotous mix of nationalists and communists who threatened the elite tranquility of life in Shanghai. Marginalized in Politburo decision making, the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs could only look on helplessly as Britain broke off diplomatic relations. No wonder Foreign Commissar Chicherin joked toward the end of his life that the Comintern was ‘internal enemy no. 1.’ This book deserves the widest possible audience.”

---Geoffrey Swain, University of Glasgow

This is the definitive book on Soviet-Western relations in the 1920s. No one has done more research in Soviet and Western archives on this formative decade than Michael  J.Carley, and it shows on every page of this fascinating book. While Carley focuses on Soviet diplomacy, the book also informs and illuminates our understanding of Western foreign policies. A must read for all students and scholars of the history of twentieth-century international relations.

---Geoffrey Roberts, University College Cork

Using hitherto unexplored Soviet archives as well as American,  British, and French documents, Michael J. Carley has produced an original and arresting account of Soviet relations with these powers.  Written for the general reader as well as for the specialist, his book throws fresh light both on Soviet policy making and on many highly  contentious issues of the 1920s , such as the so-called Zinoviev  letter.  

--- Zara Steiner, Cambridge University

Silent Conflict is a tour de force of historical scholarship.  Carley has mined the appropriate archival sources in Russia, Great Britain, France, and the United States to produce a ground-breaking analysis of the Bolshevik regime's troubled relations with the Western powers from the Revolution to the end of the 1920s. His careful assessment of the internal disputes between realists/pragmatists and ideological hard-liners in both camps will force historians  to rethink their conclusions about this transformational period of what might be called the ‘first Cold War’.”

---William R. Keylor, Boston University



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