Soviet Union: Political Reports 1917–1970

ISBN:  (13) 978-1-84097-060-9     First published: 2004
Extent:  12 volumes, 9,000 pages  Editor:  R.L Jarman  
Paper:  Printed on acid free paper  
Binding: Library bindings with gilt finish  
See sample pages: not available


These volumes cover the period from the beginning of 1917 to the end of 1970 during which the political landscape of Russia changed beyond recognition. Beginning with the dying days of Imperial Russia under Nicholas II, the last of the Romanov Tsars, Russia then saw revolution, civil war, the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the rule of Lenin followed by the dictatorship and purges of Stalin, the invasion of Russia by Nazi Germany, the period of the Cold War when the Soviet Union ruled much of Eastern Europe and threatened the rest, the era of de-Stalinisation under the rule of Khrushchev and ending with the collective leadership of Brezhnev and Kosygin.


From 1917 to 1921
This period saw the Revolution in all its stages. There was the initial abdication of the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and the formation of a provisional government under Prince Lvov and then Kerensky followed by the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks under Lenin, resulting in the execution of Nicholas II and most of the former Imperial Family. There was then civil war and foreign (mainly British and French) intervention and the brief existence of non-Bolshevik governments (in North Russia, the Urals and Siberia, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and South Russia) before Russia was re-united under the Bolsheviks.
From 1921 to 1929
These years saw the consolidation of Bolshevik rule in the whole of Russia with the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the formal adoption of a new constitution. They also saw renewed contacts between the new Bolshevik government in Russia and the British government. A British Commercial Mission under Mr R.M. Hodgson arrived in Moscow on 17 July 1921 to discuss the resumption of trade and the possibility of renewing full diplomatic relations. Diplomatic relations were not officially restored and Hodgson and his Mission returned to London in 1924. There were no British representatives in Moscow for the next five years. The British Foreign Office relied for information on the Norwegians who looked after British interests in the Soviet Union and that dearth of information is reflected in these volumes – no Annual Reports or regular summaries of events were produced – all that is available in these years is a short summary of events from February 1924 to December 1927.
From 1930 to 1945
Sir Esmond Ovey was appointed as the first British ambassador to the USSR at the end of 1929, and from 1930 onwards there was always a British embassy in the USSR.
From 1946 to 1955
The years after the end of the Second World War saw Soviet forces in military occupation of part of Germany and Austria as well as Soviet forces based in other countries of Eastern Europe. The formation of communist governments in these countries of eastern Europe and in much of the Balkans led to increased tension with the western democracies and the formation, by the countries of western Europe with Canada and the USA, of NATO to counteract this perceived threat. It was the period of the Iron Curtain (a phrase that was used by Churchill in 1946 to describe the division of Europe into Communist and non-Communist states) and of the Cold War. Such conditions led the Foreign Office in London to demand more information about the Soviet leadership and their policies and about the internal situation of the Soviet Union; and this need continued even after Stalin’s death in 1953.
From 1955 to 1970
These years saw the rise and fall of Khrushchev and then the rule of Kosygin and Brezhnev. The beginning of the period saw the process of de-Stalinisation begin in Russia with a consequent softening of Communist rule internally. With regard to relations with the West, the period started with the suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956, then the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and ended with the suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968 – but overall, there was a lessening of tension compared with the darkest days in the decade after the ending of the Second World War.
From the Editor’s Introduction to the Collection


The documents reproduced in these volumes consist of reports and despatches sent from the British diplomatic representatives based in Moscow and St Petersburg (known during this period as Petrograd and then Leningrad), and for a brief period during the Second World War from diplomats based in Kuibyshev where most of the Russian government and all the foreign embassies were evacuated as a result of the Nazi advance on Moscow in the early stages of the German invasion of Russia in 1941. The documents also consist of reports and memoranda emanating in the Foreign Office in London, either in the Northern Department or in the Research Department (F.O.R.D.). And during the confused period of the Civil War when there were no British diplomatic representatives in (Bolshevik) Russia, there were reports from the War Office in London, military officers and diplomats attached to the various missions with the anti-Bolshevik forces, as well as from British Army General Headquarters in Constantinople. This is the first time these documents have been published in their entirety, with the exception of two collections of reports about the confusing situation in Russia immediately after the Revolution and during the Civil War which were published as British Parliamentary Command Papers in 1919 and 1921.
The collection is arranged in strictly chronological order so that events can be covered from the different angles according to the emphasis in each type of report. Therefore, the long-running series, such as the Annual reports, will be split over a number of volumes. The following is an alternative list of the contents of the collection arranged by type of report to show the dates covered by the respective reports series.
  • Revolution Reviews and Reports 1917–1918
  • Civil War Reviews and Reports 1918–1920
  • Commercial Mission Periodic Reports 1921–1923
  • Annual Reports 1922/1930–1946/1957–1970
  • Periodic Reports from Leningrad 1922–1923/1930–1937
  • Personality Reports 1923–1956
  • Occasional Reviews and Despatches 1923–1969
  • Newspaper Summaries 1930–1931/1946–1951/1958–1959
  • Quarterly Reports from Moscow 1946–1957
  • Monthly Residual Reports from Moscow 1947–1948
  • Weekly/Fortnightly Reports from Moscow 1949–1955
  • FORD (Foreign Office Research Department) Summaries and Chronologies 1949–1962
  • Embassy Monthly Chronologies 1960–1961
  • Embassy Miscellany Reports 1959–1970


Volume 1: 1917–1918
Volume 2: 1918–1920
Volume 3: 1921–1930
Volume 4: 1931–1933
Volume 5: 1934–1945
Volume 6: 1946–1948
Volume 7: 1949–1951
Volume 8: 1952–1954
Volume 9: 1955–1957
Volume 10: 1958–1960
Volume 11: 1961–1963
volume 12: 1964–1970


Extracts from the series of Revolution Reviews
  • Report No. 15, from Petrograd, 15 January 1917.
    [The Tzar purges the Duma Upper Chamber in order to rectify the majority in favour of reform by resort to his right to remove members nominated by him]: “an act which is universally regarded as deliberately intended to show all whom it may concern that neither popular clamour nor political murder will induce the Autocrat of Russia to give way an inch as regards his prerogative to rule as he pleases.
    …I never hear anyone say a good word for either the Emperor or Empress, and their assassination is quite openly discussed by persons in responsible positions.”
  • Report No. 65, from Petrograd, 16 March 1917
    “All through an exceptionally severe winter the people had to wait in queues daily for several hours to obtain a ration which was quite insufficient. By the beginning of March even this supply began to fail and the people were faced with starvation. The supply of fuel was equally insufficient. The people bore with this state of affairs as long as they could. In the bread queues they continually urged each other to endure these hardships for the sake of the war, until at last they could bear it no longer, and began to march the streets demanding the wherewithal to live”…
    [Sunday, March 11, 1917: the Government had imposed the sternest of measures to prevent people from gathering together to protest.] “Throughout the night of Sunday there was violent agitation amongst the workmen and especially in the barracks. The soldiers saw quite clearly that their uncertain position of the preceding days could not possibly continue…and they should not be compelled to shoot against their own fathers, mothers and sisters; if tomorrow such orders were given they would know what to do. The inevitable result followed. Early on Monday morning soldiers of the Preobrazhenski Regiment… being ordered to fire, turned and shot their officers.”
Extract from Civil War Reviews (August 1918-March 1919)
  • [From No. 59, the Progress of Bolshevism Abroad]
    “The Red Army is flooded with propaganda literature and Trotsky is conducting a series of mass meetings. The propaganda train is decorated fantastically in order to make an impression on the soldiers. Trotsky’s present theme is the coming of the Socialistic State. Stoppage of work in factories is almost universal, not only from the lack of fuel but from strikes.”
  • [From No. 60 Appreciation of the Economic Situation]
    “…one is forced to the conclusion that the measures inaugurated by the Bolsheviks, and the means by which they are applied, can have but one end – the bankruptcy of the Government and the country…One may be tempted to wonder that present conditions have subsisted for so long.”
  • [From Appendix to No. 60]
    “Attempt on Lenin”: “Proclamation states that ‘the criminal hand of a member of the Social-Revolutionary Party, directed by the Anglo-French, had dared to fire at the leader of the working class’. This crime will be answered by a ‘massive terror’.”
Extracts from the Personality Reports
The first of the series of personality reports, ‘Who’s Who in Soviet Russia’ was compiled by the Head of the British Commercial Mission to Moscow for 1923. For each of its subjects the report lists their political history in detail and ends with a comment on the personality of the subject. The following two extracts illustrate the level of comment the Foreign Service allowed themselves:
  •  1923: Lenin, Vladimir Ilitch (Ulianof). President of the Council of People’s Commissaries…
    “The chief characteristics of Lenin have always been his power of recognising the decisive features of any given case, his great tenacity and consistency in the pursuit of his aims and his political sagacity. During the long course of his revolutionary work he has never wavered in his faith in the most extreme doctrines, and again and again he has denounced and relentlessly opposed former colleagues whom he considered to have turned to compromise and moderation. Within the limits of its perversions his intellect is keen and logical. He had never acted without thorough calculation, or, except in those wide issues which are outside his sphere of vision, without sound judgement.”
  • 1923: Stalin, Joseph Vissarionovitch (Djugashvilly). Commissary for Nationalities. Member of the Presidium of the Xth All-Russian Central Executive Committee…
    “Stalin is said to be a man of remarkable force of character and considerable ability. Although ruthless in the attainment of his objects, he apparently disassociated himself from the indiscriminate brutality which characterised the activities of the Extraordinary Commissions. He has a reputation for personal bravery. He has been a loyal adherent of Lenin. His influence recently has been on the increase, and he is regarded now as a possible successor to the post of President of the Council of People’s Commissaries.”

Extracts from the Occasional Reports
  • [No. 93, 20 March 1939, ‘The 18th Party Congress’, translation of speech by M. Stalin extracted from the Moscow News]
    “The past five years had, he said, been a period during which the party line had triumphed completely. All adversaries of the party line, the remains of the old Left and Right oppositions and the Trotski-Pyatakov and Bukharin-Rykov degenerates, had been unmasked and wiped out. After the elimination of these enemies of the people the Party had become more than ever united round its Central Committee.”
  • [Enclosure in Report No. 123, 27 September 1941: extract from a radio address by J. V. Stalin]
    “Comrades! Citizens! Brothers and Sisters! Fighters of our army and navy!
    I am addressing you, my friends, while the perfidious attack continues which Hitler’s Germany started against our Fatherland on the 22nd June. In spite of the heroic resistance of the Red Army…the enemy continues to push forward…A serious danger is threatening our Fatherland...”
  • [From No. 102, 28 October 1964, ‘The Circumstances of Mr Khrushchev’s Downfall’]
    “The detailed circumstances of the removal of Mr Khrushchev have not been revealed…Nevertheless it is possible to form a broad picture of events…
    [on the ]15th July Mr Mikoyan replaced Mr Brezhnev as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. This move left Mr Brezhnev to concentrate on his functions in the party and Mr Kosygin became the obvious candidate for the premiership. In effect… this set the stage for Mr Krushchev’s retirement. …
    There is an insistent story that on 12th October members of the Presidium met in Moscow to consider Mr Khrushchev’s faults and mistakes and to take action against him. Something of that sort presumably did occur, since on the following morning Mr Khrushchev…[flew] to Moscow…
    No adequate explanation of the reasons for Mr Krushchev’s removal has yet been given… the causes of the dissatisfaction of his opponents seems to have been numerous, longstanding and cumulative…”
  • [From LR 8/26, 17 August 1965, ‘De-Stalinisation in the Soviet Union’]
    “Could there be a reversion to Stalinism? Has the possibility of a new ‘cult of personality’ been excluded in the Soviet Union? These questions are particularly germane to the post-Khrushchev period, which shows both similarities and dissimilarities to the initial period of ‘collective leadership’ after Stalin’s death…
    The path of evolution of party control over all aspects of Soviet life, from which Stalinism sprang is [hard] to plot. In the immediate future however the more rational approach and the steps being taken by the new leadership to modernise the economy and the Administration are unlikely to be accompanied by any slackening of the party grip or by any significant increase in genuine freedom in the political sphere.”
Extracts from the Quarterly Reports
  • [From No. 54, 8 April 1953]
    “A quarter which began with the ‘doctor’s plot’, took in its stride Stalin’s death and his succession by Malenkov and ended with Chou-en-Lai’s acceptance of the voluntary repatriation of Korean war prisoners, has claims to be historic. The apparent departure from attitudes which, while Stalin was alive, seemed immutable, is astonishing enough. But even more remarkable is that the process of change should have been initiated before he was cold in his grave and by men whom we still have no reason to suppose were not, while he was alive, anything but his devoted associates.”
  • [From enclosure in No. 141, 9 July 1953]
    “An entirely different but equally significant aspect of the concern of the new Government for the internal consolidation of their regime was the emphasis placed and maintained on the principle of collective responsibility…No single member of the new Government was built up as Stalin’s successor, nor was there any overt move by any one of their number to gain for himself the place which Stalin used to occupy.”
  • [From No.41, 22 March 1955]
    “The main event of the quarter was of course Malenkov’s resignation and replacement as chairman of the Council of Ministers by Marshal Bulganin, with Khrushchev in the general estimation achieving the first position among the Soviet leaders… present indications are that, while foreign policy will not change significantly…the changes in internal policy will be more striking…”