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Michael Jabara Carley. 1939: The Alliance That Never Was and the Coming
of World War II.  Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1999.  xxvii + 325 pp.
Bibliographical References and Index.  $28.95 (cloth), ISBN 1-56663-252-8.

Reviewed for H-Diplo by Igor Lukes <>, Boston University

Note:  H-Diplo recently ran a roundtable discussion on Michael
Carley's book 1939: The Alliance That Never Was and the Coming of
World War II.  The participants were William Keylor, Boston
University; Igor Lukes, Boston University; Sally Marks, Providence,
Rhode Island; and Robert Young, University of Winnipeg.  Each part
of the roundtable will be posted to the Reviews website as an
individual review, with Carley's comments linked to each individual

In the morning of 30 September 1938, Neville Chamberlain and Edouard
Daladier were getting ready to depart from Munich with freshly
signed copies of the Four Power Act in their pockets.  Neither of
them could claim to know with complete confidence whether this
diplomatic maneuver, which had brought them together with Adolf
Hitler and Benito Mussolini, had averted war or contributed to its
outbreak.  As it turned out, the Franco-British appeasement of the
Third Reich was but a prelude to World War II.

The allies' policy of making deals with the Nazis has had its
defenders then and now.  But critics have been in the majority.
They stress the troubling legal and moral dimensions of appeasement,
focusing especially on the fact that France had broken its legal
obligation to stand by its Czechoslovak ally, and they are in
agreement that concessions to Hitler encouraged him to ask for more.
Critics have also shown that the spectacle of Hitler's triumphant
march from 1933, via the demilitarized Rhineland, Vienna, and the
roundtable in Munich, to the gates of war in late August 1939 had
emasculated domestic opponents of the Nazis, especially among the
Wehrmacht officers and members of the diplomatic corps, perhaps more
effectively than the Gestapo would have done.

Michael Jabara Carley's _1939: The Alliance that Never Was and the
Coming of World War II_ attacks not only appeasement, and the
British and French politicians associated with this policy, but also
critics of the Stalinist Soviet Union in London and Paris at the
time.  The author argues that the main cause of the allied failure
to stop Hitler was the blind and self-destructive anti-communism of
the British and French political elites. Carley writes in the
Preface that the only alternative to appeasement would have been an
alliance with the Soviet Union. "And it was precisely this result
that the politically dominant, anti-Communist conservatives of
France and Britain wished at almost any cost to avoid"  (xvii).  He
summarizes his work at the end by suggesting that the anti-Communism
of the allied politicians was "an important cause of the Second
World War." Though Carley concedes that there were other causes (he
mentions three), he maintains that "the root of [the] failure of
Anglo-Franco-Soviet cooperation against Nazism was anti-communism"
(256).  The book charges the French and British politicians with
having been guided by their anti-Communist beliefs rather than the
interests of their respective nations and the cause of peace in
Europe as such (258).

Carley is not the first to propose anti-Communism as the leading
explanation for the unchecked rise of Hitler and the failure of
others in Europe to create a united front against him.  This view
was advanced already in 1937, when a Soviet diplomat complained that
the French government had put "class over national interest" (27).
Izvestia and Journal de Moscou said so while the 1938 Munich
Conference was still in progress and in the months and years that
followed.  It also took root, of course, in the ranks of the
Communist International: appeasement "was dictated by class
interests, by the bourgeois fear of the forces of socialism. . . .
It is linked with class fear and class hatred of the Soviet Union
and socialism."  And it used to be the de rigueur explanation of the
crisis of the thirties in the official press of the Soviet bloc

I am disinclined to believe that western European anti-Communism
explains sufficiently the many complex phenomena that are
discernible in the European crisis from 1933 to 1939.  Nor am I
entirely sure it is necessary to amass archival evidence, as Carley
does, to prove that Chamberlain and others around him were
anti-Communists.  There is no doubt that they were.  The real
question is whether Chamberlain and Daladier had failed to achieve a
collective security arrangement with Stalin against Hitler only
because of their shallow beliefs and selfish interests, as Carley
alleges.  The alternative, of course, is that it was the nature of
the Soviet Union, the values it stood for, its domestic and
international modus operandi, and the conduct of its leader, Joseph
Stalin, that had rendered an alliance between Great Britain, France,
and the Soviet Union impossible.

We must carefully distinguish between what we know now about Stalin,
and what was available to the Allies in the thirties.  It is
unlikely that they knew just how murderous Stalin was.  What they
did know, however, was bad enough: his regime unleashed an orgy of
killing without many historical precedents.  Prominent among them
was the public purge of the old Bolsheviks and the Red Army officer
corps.  Both happened to coincide with the rise of Hitler and
paralleled efforts to create an anti-Nazi security arrangement.

"The Red Army," Carley writes, "was large and well supplied and the
Soviet Union had immense resources.  With Russia on their side, the
Anglo-French would surely defeat Nazi Germany" [4].  Yet, Stalin's
assault on the Red Army and Navy devoured three out of five Soviet
marshals, fifteen out of sixteen army commanders, sixty out of 67
corps commanders, and 136 out of 199 divisional commanders.
Executed were all but five of the eighty members of the Soviet
Supreme Military Council, and all eleven vice-commissars of war.
Within only sixteen months, ninety percent of Red Army generals and
eighty percent of colonels were purged.  Altogether 36,761 officers
were purged from the Army, more than 3,000 from the Navy.
Consequently, only 7 percent of the Red Army officer corps had any
higher military education in 1941; the percentage must have been
even smaller in 1938-1939.  Watching all this, it was surely not
irrational for Chamberlain and Daladier to view the Red Army's
combat worthiness with skepticism.

Carley's response to the Red Army purge?  He suggests that the
"Soviet government did not help itself," and admits, with a glorious
understatement, that it had "decimated" the Red Army (26).  He then
turns around and takes the offensive: the Red Army purge was but "an
ideal pretext" (26) to "the anti-communists who opposed closer
relations with the Soviet Union," and "even the weakened Red Army
could play a crucial role." In evidence, the author brings up the
allegedly impressive Red Army performance in the Far East, but makes
no mention of its fiasco against Finland (257).  Carley's overall
view of the Stalinist purge of the armed forces is that those
western Europeans who were troubled by its consequences for the Red
Army's value against the Wehrmacht were in reality expressing their
"anti-communist animosity" (33).  Undoubtedly, many Russia watchers
in the thirties were anti-communists.  I fail to see how this alone
should make the destruction of the Red Army officer corps less of a
blow to collective security.

It is against the background of the massive blood-letting in
Stalin's Soviet Union that we must read Chamberlain's lament: "I
confess to being deeply suspicious of [Russia].  I cannot believe
that she has the same aims and objects that we have or any sympathy
with democracy as such" (133).  If Carley finds this view puzzling,
or even reprehensible, he needs to engage it critically and show why
Chamberlain was wrong.  He might argue, for instance, that the Nazi
threat was so imminent and overwhelming that Chamberlain, Daladier,
and the Franco-British political and military apparats were
obligated to seek a mutually profitable arrangement with the Soviet
Union in disregard of Stalin's proclivity to murdering his political
rivals, turning parts of the country that resisted his agricultural
decrees into starvation zones, or making Red Army leaders publicly
confess to implausible crimes.  Indeed, one should not overplay the
morality card. The allies were not always uncomfortable with tyrants
in their colonial empires and the British in Ireland did not shy
away from using famine as a policy tool.  But it is precisely this
sort of complex, multi-layered perspective that is lacking in this
strangely one-dimensional book.

In addition to his focus on western anti-Communism, Carley seeks to
tell us about Soviet foreign policy at the end of the thirties.  His
readers might walk away with the impression that it was formulated
and implemented by Maksim Litvinov, whom Carley openly admires, and
Viacheslav Molotov, for whom he has respect, despite calling him a
"cold-blooded son of a bitch" (137).  Those two, with a handful of
others (Potemkin, Maiski, Surits, Merekalov), come out as the sole
architects of Soviet behavior in the international arena.  I should
add that the author allows, via a quotation upon which he does not
comment, that "Stalin would be taking a closer hand in Soviet
foreign policy" with the departure of Litvinov and installation of
Molotov, i.e., as of May 1939 (134).

It is worth remembering that repeated Soviet probings regarding the
possibility of restoring the spirit of Rapallo between the Third
Reich and the Soviet Union (at least since October 1934) took place
under Litvinov's watch.  But a different issue is at stake here.
Generations of western historians have concluded on the basis of
available data that Soviet foreign policy was in the late thirties
set and guided primarily, and sometimes also exclusively, by Stalin,
who was not just a strategist, but an involved tactician.  The
author offers intriguing, albeit indirect, insight into the power
arrangements within the Soviet foreign policy apparat by quoting the
view of Sir Robert Vansittart of the British Foreign Office, who
recalled feeling sorry for the Soviet Ambassador in London, Maiski,
because "I thought he might be killed if he were not a success"
(12).  If such was the case with Maiski one wonders how much freedom
of action Litvinov enjoyed in the Stalinist Soviet Union. Perhaps
Carley has evidence that would allow him to overturn the established
model that has Stalin as the foreign policy decision-maker in
matters large and small. That would be interesting to see.  This
book, however, does not come close to presenting it.

Therefore, one of the fundamental assumptions of this book, viz.,
that the allies could have formed a collective security system with
the kind of responsible and anti-Fascist Soviet Union that was
presented by Litvinov at the League of Nations in Geneva, is hollow.
Carley may be right when he suggests (e.g., 22-29) that Litvinov
challenged the west to close ranks with the Soviet Union against
Hitler.  Alas, Litvinov was not in charge of the country.  Stalin
was, and he had his own objectives and means for achieving them.
One cannot make alliances with fairy-tale kingdoms, and the reality
of Stalin's Soviet Union had little in common with the image created
by Stalin's foreign commissar for the benefit of his western
opposite numbers.

Carley's _1939_ is a book that employs the big power perspective,
concentrating on events in London, Paris, Berlin, and Moscow.  When
the author ventures to deal with events on the margin of his power
map, he is lost.  This is best seen in his treatment of Poland.
Without having reviewed Polish relations with Russia, and having
said but the absolute minimum about the Russo-Polish war, the author
repeatedly blames the Warsaw government for its failure to open its
borders to a Soviet military transfer in 1938 and for its
unwillingness to have the Soviet Union as a military ally the next
year -- with Red Army access to Polish territory. Although he
touches upon complex problems in inter-war Polish history, the
author has made no attempt to learn about them from the works of
Piotr Wandycz; he has much to say about Jozef Beck, but has made no
use of Anna Cienciala's monograph on the subject.  He merely repeats
what the Kremlin and its diplomats thought about them.  This leads
him to parrot the view that the failure of Czechoslovak-Polish
relations had to do with the alleged Polish "craving" for
Cieszyn/Tesin/Teschen [67].  In reality, this was a secondary issue
that could have been solved over time.  What bothered the Poles
intensely was Prague's behavior at the height of the Bolshevik
invasion, and Foreign Minister Benes's suggestions to foreign
diplomats that Poland was bound to collapse sooner or later.  I
cannot help but think that Carley has a problem with Poland.  When
he gets to mentioning the Soviet invasion of 17 September 1939, he
notes that "Poland was finished anyway," it had caused trouble to
the Soviet Union, it was "an obstacle," and so the Red Army now came
to recover territories it had lost previously (215).  It seems to be
a rather weak excuse for the Soviet aggression; hardly better than
whatever Molotov was saying at the time.  One hears nothing of the
lists of names with which the NKVD marched into Polish villages and
towns, and the arrests and deportations of hundreds of thousands of
Polish citizens.

I have dealt with the Soviet Union's relationship with
Czechoslovakia in 1938-1939 quite recently [in Lukes and Goldstein,
eds., The Munich Conference, 1938: Prelude to World War II (London,
1999)], and it would be redundant to review here such issues as the
so-called Red Army mobilization at the time of the 1938 crisis
(Carley believes it was in preparation of Stalin's move to help
fighting Czechoslovakia against the Third Reich, but has no
convincing evidence for this whatsoever) (257). I would also invite
interested colleagues to look at my treatment of the related
allegation, namely, that the Soviet Union had rendered aerial
assistance to Czechoslovakia, or was about to do so, as this touches
upon the question of the Romanian "corridor" that Carley talks about
[41].  Regarding Article II of the Czechoslovak-Soviet Agreement of
1935, which stipulated that Soviet military aid to Czechoslovakia
was premised on a prior French action, I will say only that it was
put into the text by the Czechs.  They feared that, without it, they
could be called upon to take part in any one of the conflicts
involving the Red Army at the time, especially in the Far East.
Carley writes that it was put into the text by Soviet diplomats who
sought protection against France leaving Moscow "in the lurch" (17).
Although he has no footnote for it, I am willing to speculate he
picked it up in a Soviet source as a post factum construction.
Finally, I confess to having no desire to review and analyze
Carley's version of the developments leading up to the
Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August 1939. Carley embraces the obsolete
view that, from the Kremlin's perspective, it was the only option
that the treacherous British and French left to Soviet political
strategists (258).

Carley has no patience for secondary sources.  The reader will
search in vain for signs that he has critically dealt with works
that do not share his perspective.  Given the topic of this book, it
is remarkable that the author has not found it necessary to address
the work of Robert Tucker and others.  Carley's failure to place his
findings within the framework that had existed before he started his
project makes it impossible for the reader to know what was well
known before and which of his findings are new and surprising.
Consulting secondary sources would have spared Carley several
annoying small errors.  He has the wrong date of the May 1938
Czechoslovak mobilization (44); he misspells the name of the
Czechoslovak president, Edvard Benes, on each occasion he brings him
up [41, 57, 64]); he claims erroneously that Sergei Aleksandrovsky
was an ambassador [43], that Stefan Osusky was a Czech (24, 43), and
that Kamil Krofta was in a position to write to his "ambassadors"

Michael Carley reports that, having concluded work on the book, he raised
his "arms in celebration, feet dancing.  Nunc est bibendum."  That might
be premature.  Serious historians will appreciate his industry and passion
for archival research.  Yet, they are unlikely to share his conviction
that Joseph Stalin could have become in 1938-1939 a reliable partner in an
alliance against the Nazis.  It is a claim that might have been advanced
in the forties.  It is now, I suspect, obsolete.

     Copyright (c) 2000 by H-Net, all rights reserved.  This work
     may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit
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Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 06/03/2000
S D Stein

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