Between Fear and Conceit

H.M. Maisky was the Soviet ambassador to Britain from 1932 to 1943.  In June 1943 Stalin ordered him to quit London.  After returning to Moscow, Maisky was posted henceforth to unimportant positions.  In 1953 he was imprisoned; two years later he was released.  He died in 1955.

In London (and from time to time in Moscow) Maisky kept a diary, excerpts from which were published in 1967.  A much larger portion has now been published by Professor Gorodetsky of All Souls College, Oxford, an expert in the history of that period who furnishes extensive explanations and annotations of the text.  Historians in England and in America have gone to extremes in praising this volume.  “Astonishing!  Really remarkable . . . Perhaps the greatest political diary of the twentieth century” (Paul Kennedy, Yale).  “Of major historical importance” (Anthony Beevor).  “Light from a fresh angle . . . an extraordinary document left by an extraordinary man.”  Etc., etc.

I cannot agree.  During Maisky’s entire career (and throughout most of his life) Stalin ruled Russia.  Maisky’s influence on Stalin’s decisions was nil.  When Maisky was appointed ambassador to Britain in 1932, Stalin’s concern with foreign affairs was very limited, and his interests...

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