Continuing with this account of Maisky’s now-declassified diplomatic correspondence, operating from his post as Soviet Ambassador to Great Britain in the 1930’s.
As we saw, Maisky described in detail his cocktail-party conversation with Winston Churchill, who was not even in the government at the time. (He was in the Opposition.) Nazi Ambassador Ribbentrop was at this same cocktail party, in Buckingham Palace, and came schmoozing up to talk to Churchill, but the latter eased away without engaging, by cracking a joke. After snubbing Ribbentrop, Churchill made a big point of striding all the way across the hall to greet Maisky. While they were chatting, the King came strolling up to join them. (That would have been King George VI.) Maisky must have felt like he had died and gone to heaven.
King George exchanged a few words with Churchill, and then returned to tend to his other guests. Churchill continued chatting with Maisky. Maisky bragged, in his dip correspondence, that Churchill’s actions and body language made it extremely clear that he was trying to be friendly to the Soviet Ambassador. It seemed clear that he (Churchill) was trying to say something about his attitude to the USSR. None of the other British officials wanted to broach the possibility of a Great Britain-Soviet alliance, for fear of what public opinion would think of this.
During this period of time, the Soviet Union had no friends or allies, and had to try to navigate through dozens of different grouplets and opposing influences. Churchill was the one beacon of hope, since he had a very clear anti-German attitude, and was also open to pragmatic compromises. The entire pre-war diplomacy of the Soviet Union consisted of striving to find this type of “situational” partner, someone who might put aside naked ideology in favor of a pragmatic alliance against Hitler.
At the same time, the English situation was complicated by the existence of an openly pro-German lobby, which included, not only members of the government, but also members of the royal family.
Maisky deemed the governmental members of this lobby to be “Young Conservatives”, they were from the Tory Party, of course. In his telegram from 25 November 1937, Maisky describes the situation in the British elite after the Lord Halifax trip to Berlin. Technically, Halifax had been invited on a hunting trip, but everybody knew that was just a ruse and he was trying to strike a deal with Hitler.
When the two men finally met, Hitler proved to be a very competent horse-trader. He insisted on the return of Germany’s colonies, which had been lost in WWI, in Africa, China and the Pacific. For Great Britain this was a very sore point, any talk of giving up the colonies invoked pure panic in London.
Hitler was so greedy that even Neville Chamberlain thought he was going too far, according to Maisky. Maisky went on (in his telegram) to posit that Halifax and Chamberlain were becoming “disillusioned” with Hitler. Anthony Eden was busy gloating at the failure of the Halifax trip, and treated his inner circle to a champagne celebration.
Maisky had two major sources of information at that time: (1) Jan Masaryk, who was the Czech Ambassador to London; and (2) Anthony Eden’s wife who, in Maisky’s opinion, served as an accurate barometer of her husband’s moods. What Maisky didn’t know was that Anthony was hopped up on amphetamines most of the time…
[to be continued]