A People Passing Rude
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18.   Mrs Churchill Goes to Russia: The Wartime Gift Exchange between Britain and the Soviet Union

Claire Knight

During the years of the Anglo-Soviet Alliance (1941-45), Britain brimmed with an unprecedented enthusiasm for all things Russian. This short-lived approbation was expressed both formally—through government aid and overwhelmingly positive media coverage—and also more personally, through the gifts offered by Britons to their Soviet allies. This chapter investigates the financial gifts proffered by the British public to the USSR and the Soviet response, in order to tease out the complex political tensions that underlay the wartime gift exchange between allies.

In broad terms, scholars have interpreted gift exchange according to two paradigms. First, dating from anthropologist Marcel Mauss,1 gift exchange has been examined as a way of establishing and reiterating social solidarity within and among different social groups. In this approach, the significance of the gift lies in its symbolic, rather than utilitarian, value. More recently, sociologists such as Jean Baudrillard2 have analysed gift-giving instead as a form of challenge—the challenge to reciprocate. In this conceptualization, gift-giving reveals an inequality between the actors in the exchange: the donors exercise their material power and demonstrate their social status through their ability to sacrifice something to the benefit of the recipient, who is then indebted to the donors. I will demonstrate here how both aspects of gift-giving—solidarity and challenge—were present in the wartime gift exchange between Britain and the Soviet Union.

The Gift of Life: Mrs. Churchill’s Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund

From the very outbreak of war on the Eastern Front, Britain expressed unswerving support for the USSR, with the popular press breaking news of the German invasion with headlines declaring that ‘We pledge all our aid to Russia’, and ‘All aid for the Soviet’.3 The press gleaned these phrases from Prime Minister Winston Churchill himself in his 22 June 1941 radio broadcast announcing the entry of the USSR into the conflict. The commitment to aid Russia was swiftly taken up by the public—as evidenced by the hundreds of letters received daily by the Soviet Embassy in London—who supplemented expressions of solidarity with financial donations to support the Soviet war effort.4 As Churchill’s daughter later recalled, ‘[s] pontaneously a warm wave of sympathy swept through Great Britain, as people learned with mounting horror of the sufferings of the Russian civilian population’.5 By the end of September, the press had identified the workers of British tank factories as an object of envy throughout Britain due to their ability to support the Russian cause directly by manufacturing war matériel earmarked for the Red Army.6 Other would-be contributors remained frustrated by the lack of any organised channel through which to aid the Soviet Ally.

It was into this vacuum on 7 October 1941 that Clementine Churchill launched a campaign under the auspices of the Executive Committee of the War Organisation of the Red Cross and St John, to raise funds for the supply of medical aid and clothing to the USSR. The response to Mrs Churchill’s Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund was immediate and enthusiastic to the extent that £370,000 was raised within its first twelve days in operation. The initial goal of £1 million was attained several weeks later, by early December 1941.7 The donations poured in from every corner of the British Empire—Asia, North America, the Middle East, Africa, and the Caribbean8—and from every level of British society, ‘from the King and Queen [who donated £1,000 in the first days of the Fund] to the humblest wage-earner and cottage-dweller’9 who committed to the penny-a-week subscription. Supplementing the occasional spectacular donation, such as Lord Nuffield’s £50,000 cheque, were the offerings of thousands of community groups and organisations that undertook a diversity of fundraising efforts. Cities and towns held Flag Days and festivals; schools hosted pageants; guides sold cookies, schoolboys did chores; women’s groups baked, knitting groups knitted; grocers set up General Timoshenko stalls, Harrods’ hosted special Aid to Russia displays; sporting tournaments, including the 1942 and 1943 Wembley Internationals, donated their proceeds; factory workers took up collections, as did hospital matrons, ministers, newspaper companies, publicans, cinemas, and soldiers; musical groups, including acclaimed pianist Benno Moisewitsch, performed recitals—all for the Aid to Russia Fund.10

By the end of the war, the people of the British Empire had donated more than £7 million to the cause,11 with the accounts finally balancing at more than £7.5 million by the time the Red Cross stopped accepting donations for the appeal in January 1948.12 As of January 1945, £4 million worth of goods had been successfully shipped to the USSR. These deliveries amounted to 11,600 tons of medical aid and clothing, with 2,000 tons of powdered medicines such as phenacetic and the ‘revolutionary’ new antiseptics M. and B. 693; 22,000 units of medical equipment, including 600 autoclaves for sterilising surgical equipment, 600 x-ray installations, and approximately 15,000 sterilisers; over one million ‘rubber goods’; countless blood-transfusion sets, emergency operating outfits, and surgical needles, several types of which were made to order, having no counterparts in Britain; and enough specialised machinery to outfit two factories for the manufacture of artificial limbs.13 Shipments continued sporadically until late 1950.14

Offered as it was at considerable cost to a nation labouring under severe economic and material strain, this gift of medical aid—a veritable Gift of Life—was meaningful. It was also, according to Georg Simmel’s definition, an initiatory gift: the gift that commences a gift-giving cycle, and one that is primarily identified by the spontaneity and freedom of its offering. It is apparently unwarranted, lacking explicit expression of its causality and the response it intends to elicit.15 Letters accompanying donations to the Aid to Russia Fund frame the monetary gifts in precisely this way by refusing to provide explanations for their financial offerings. Instead, donors to the Fund implicitly identify their gifts as natural and instinctive, or to use Simmel’s terms, spontaneous and free. Agnes Maiskaia, wife of the Soviet Ambassador in London Ivan Maiskii and co-worker with Clementine during the first two years of the Fund, also observed this element of spontaneity in the donations:

When Nazi Germany treacherously attacked the Soviet Union a wave of sympathy for our country swept through Great Britain. Hundreds of letters were sent to Soviet organisations and numerous monetary contributions from individuals and organisations were made to relieve the suffering of war victims and the wounded.16

The gifts were also made without any apparent expectations for reciprocity. Of the several hundred donation letters that have been preserved, only three request some form of recognition: an autograph for a pensioner, a note of receipt for an event organiser, and an invitation to tea from a diplomat’s wife. These requests were made of Clementine Churchill or the Aid to Russia administrative staff; none was made of Russia.17

Likewise, the medical supplies purchased with the monetary donations were provided freely, without accompanying demands or requests from the Fund or the British government. At no point did Churchill attempt to use his wife’s Fund as political leverage in his dealings with Stalin. Even at points when British-Soviet relations were fraying, Churchill’s personal papers reveal that he sought to ensure that deliveries were made expeditiously, handling the Fund as ‘a love offering’ from the British people, rather than a political tool.18 In this respect, British gift-giving may represent an attempt to overcome political self-interest, undertaking an act of self-motivated altruism. The question remains, however, as to whether others viewed it in this way as well.

The true test of this conceptualization of the Fund and its Gift of Life as an initiatory gift lies with the Soviet response. This is because an initiatory gift, though it may be offered freely, nevertheless carries a social obligation to respond. An initiatory gift must be followed by a counter-gift or repayment, a ‘thank-you’,19 in order to rebalance relations of status and authority. Reciprocity restores equilibrium in a relationship so that both parties can continue to respect one another without a sense of indebtedness. In the case of the British Gift of Life, the Soviet ‘thank you’ took the form of an official invitation for Clementine Churchill to tour the USSR and view first hand what her Fund had effected across the Union.20

The Counter-Gift: Mrs. Churchill’s Visit to Russia

Just as the initiatory Gift of Life was offered from Britain on two levels—popular offerings co-ordinated into medical aid that was delivered at the behest of the state—so too was the Soviet counter-gift, Mrs Churchill’s ‘Visit to Russia’. The tour served as not only the official ‘thank you’ from the Soviet leadership, but also as the medium through which the Soviet populace were able to demonstrate their appreciation to Mrs Churchill and through her, the British people. From the moment of her arrival at the Moscow airfield, Clementine Churchill and her two companions, Secretary of the Aid to Russia Committee Mabel Johnson and personal secretary Grace Hamblin, were overwhelmed with gifts. The first of these took the form of a ‘huge bouquet of red and white roses and other flowers cut in Moscow hot houses only [that] morning’,21 from Polina Zhemchuzhina, wife of Commissar for Foreign Affairs Viacheslav Molotov. These posies were the harbinger of innumerable bouquets that were showered upon Clementine, as well as countless non-floral tributes from no doubt select representatives of the Soviet people (particularly medical staff, soldiers, and children). The gifts were so numerous that, as Grace Hamblin wrote to her family, ‘at one time we wondered if the ‘plane would carry them’ back to Britain.22 In this way, just as hundreds of thousands of individual donations were implicated in the British gift of the Fund, so too was the Soviet counter-gift—the ‘Visit to Russia’—comprised of hundreds of gifts.

Many of the gifts followed the Soviet pattern of gifts presented to the Leader—a practice analysed at length by anthropologist Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov. According to the findings of Ssorin-Chaikov and Olga Sosnina, the value of the ‘gift-things’ presented to the Soviet leader lay not in their luxuriousness, but in their uniqueness. Apropos Baudrillard, uniqueness defines the object as being beyond exchange-value. As such, it is quite literally priceless and thus implies a symbolic exchange. Gifts to the Leader were to be original and usually handmade objects, suitably reflective of whatever group within the USSR the giver(s) represented.23 Ideally, gifts would also incorporate a portrait of the leader, thus linking the individual who made the object to the recipient and leader. For instance, portraits of Lenin were made from human hair by a barber, tobacco leaves by tobacco farmers, and stamps by postal workers; a life-sized chocolate bust of Stalin was made by the workers of a confectionery factory, while numerous ceramics factories vied to produce the largest, most intricate vase featuring Stalin.24 The gifts functioned as a response to a perceived initiatory gift from the leader, usually identified as the Gift of Socialism or subsequent benefit (for example, ‘A Happy Childhood’). It was through these counter-gifts that the impersonal, yet life-changing gift of the leader was identified. The leader himself did not enter in on the exchange.25

Clementine received many offerings that followed this pattern and even paralleled gifts proffered to Lenin and Stalin.26 One of the most noteworthy of these was a handmade commemorative album presented by the young members of the Leningrad Pioneer Palace. Not only did it capture the ‘type’ of the leader-gift—being a unique, carefully wrought album of original artwork depicting Leningrad, the Young Pioneers, and Clementine herself—but it also skillfully implied an initiatory Gift of Life by dedicating images of happy children and recuperating soldiers to ‘The Great English People’.27 In this way, gifts from the Soviet people responded to Britain as Leader. As can be anticipated, gifts from the Soviet leadership did not conform to this pattern, but instead followed newly emerging traditions of diplomatic gift exchange.

Mrs Churchill arrived in the USSR at the precise moment when in terms of diplomatic gift exchange, the ‘‘simplicity and modesty’ of the 1920s and the 1930s gave way to a distinctly Soviet style of luxury’.28 The ‘key gift’ in this case was the tour itself, with its extensive logistical requirements and demands upon hospitality including several grandly furnished train cars equipped with serving-staff; sumptuous dining and accommodation; guides, translators and a protective Red Army detachment; and endless entertainments including opera, ballet, theatre, cinema, and at least one evening of traditional song and dance, all with backstage visits and introductions to the ‘leading artistes’.29 In addition to several visits to Leningrad and Moscow, Mrs Churchill and her companions toured Kislovodsk, Essentuki, Piatigorsk, Rostov-on-Don, Crimea, Sevastopol, Yalta, Simferopol, Odessa, and Kursk. Save for the last-minute jaunt to Kursk, the tour was planned and executed entirely by the upper echelons of the state apparatus several months in advance of their arrival.30

Accompanying the key gift were countless incidental generosities, including several exemplary diplomatic gifts of the ‘luxurious’ kind: an Imperial Russian painting, a diamond ring, and several awards including the Order of the Red Banner of Labour granted to Clementine Churchill by Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.31 The sumptuousness of these gifts also indicated the capacity of the giver to give. It demonstrated that the USSR was fully capable of providing luxurious goods and experiences, which helped reaffirm an equivalence between donor and recipient. Given that British gifts were largely utilitarian (material aid), the symbolic nature of Soviet reciprocity is particularly significant—it gave of its culture rather than its financial or industrial output.

Perhaps most significant, however, was the gift that Soviet officials repeatedly charged Clementine to pass on to her husband and all Britain: Soviet friendship. This commission was ubiquitous, reaching epic proportions at the hands of one unnamed Soviet official who tendered through Mrs Churchill an invitation to every single contributor to the Aid to Russia Fund to visit the USSR and be thanked ‘personally, individually’. When reminded that, including the penny-a-week subscriptions, there were over seven million donors, he replied, ‘I still say […] we should be glad to meet them all’.32

The excess and abundance saturating Soviet hospitality towards Mrs Churchill, and through her to the British people, demands interpretation. Is this simply another instance of the Soviet leadership striving to ‘over-fulfill’ and overtake the West? It was certainly in keeping with the Soviet use of diplomatic gift-giving in the post-war period to cultivate indebtedness and establish dominant-subordinate relations within its sphere of influence.33 In fact, following the war, the Soviet state assigned a financial value to every conceivable diplomatic gift, creating a virtual checklist to guarantee the Soviet Union remained in a dominant position within the gift exchange.34 Could it be, therefore, that the excessive generosity shown to Clementine as a representative of Britain was an attempt by a losing participant to improve its position in the hidden power struggle of gift exchange? As before, to address this question the response of the other party—this time Britain or more specifically Clementine Churchill—must be examined.

British Indebtedness and the Gift of Death

Far from perceiving Soviet excessive hospitality as an attempt to provide Britain with a counter-gift worthy of the Gift of Life, Mrs Churchill felt deeply indebted to her Soviet hosts and the Soviet people in general for the generosity she experienced. Three specific episodes serve to illustrate her overwhelming sense of appreciation and her determination to reciprocate, commencing with a telegram exchange with her husband. On 5 May 1945, with one week remaining in her twice-extended tour, Clementine received a telegram from Winston begging her to return to London no later than 8 May. He wrote of the mounting international tensions and ‘poisonous politics’, even authorising the British Ambassador in Moscow to show his wife the relevant secret correspondence to convince her of the severity of the situation. The Prime Minister also shared his need for her support as he struggled with worries over the serious illness of his brother Jack, and his own feelings of depression.35 Clementine refused him with regret, holding firmly to her decision to lengthen her stay and remain in Moscow until after Victory Day. In her two messages on this theme, Clementine expressed not only a concern for propriety—how could she abandon her hosts when detailed plans were already in place?—but also a conviction that she and Britain owed this much at least to the Soviets.36

Upon her return to Britain, Mrs Churchill’s sense of indebtedness to her Soviet hosts prompted her to commission a Russian translation of her fundraising booklet, My Visit to Russia (Moia poezdka v SSSR). Penned immediately upon her return to Britain37 and published by Hutchinson & Co. Ltd. of London within the month, the English version of the booklet was distributed throughout Britain, North America and Australia at a price of one shilling. It was printed using cheap materials: rough heavy newsprint paper with a construction paper cover glued to a hastily sewn spine. These were the days of paper rationing, after all. In contrast, the Russian edition was printed on high quality photographic paper with a gold-embossed leather-bound hard cover and neatly sewn binding. It also included a dedication page in which Mrs Churchill wrote of her desire that her Soviet friends know of her appreciation and her hope that they would see fit to accept the gift of her small volume of reminiscences about what was for her such a significant experience.38

Further indicating a sense of gratitude to the Soviets, Mrs Churchill continued her Aid for Russia campaigning long after the Fund itself had ceased, and even after Winston delivered his famed ‘Sinews of Peace’ speech in March 1946 (better known as the ‘Iron Curtain’ speech), describing the deepening rift between the Soviet Union and its former Allies. She also toiled over the construction of a hefty volume entitled From Great Britain to Russia which combined well over a hundred typescript copies of Aid to Russia donation letters, each with a Russian translation on the facing page.39

Nor was Clementine the only Briton to carry a burden of gratitude to the Soviets,40 for a similar air of indebtedness pervades the letters of donors to the Fund. This impression of gratitude is revealed in the adjectives used to describe the Russian people and the Red Army in the letters—‘valiant’, ‘heroic’, ‘brave’, ‘amazing’, ‘patriotic’, ‘deserving’—phrases that were echoed throughout the wartime popular press and the speeches and writings of the Prime Minister.41 In fact, the Fund itself was based on a conviction held by members of the British leadership as to the nation’s indebtedness to the Soviet Union and a need to reciprocate immediately and tangibly.42 As Winston Churchill explained after the war:

My wife felt very deeply that our inability to give Russia any military help disturbed and distressed the nation increasingly as the months went by and the German armies surged across the steppes. I told her that a Second Front was out of the question and that all that could be done for a long time would be the sending of supplies of all kinds on a large scale. Mr. Eden and I encouraged her to explore the possibility of obtaining funds by voluntary subscription for medical aid.43

For her part, Clementine later described the Fund as having ‘provided an outlet for the feelings of sympathy and admiration, respect and gratitude which swept over our People as the noble struggle of the Russians to defend their Country grew through bitterness and agony to strength and power’.44

In other words, far from being the initiatory gift, the British Gift of Life was itself a response to the Soviet gift of heroism, sacrifice, and suffering. In short, the British Gift of Life was a counter-gift to the Soviet Gift of Death. As in the typical Soviet gift-to-the-leader exchange, it was the British counter-gift that identified the Gift of Death and not the Soviets, thus rendering the Soviet Union as the Leader in the gift cycle. The response of the Soviet leadership to the British counter-gift supports this interpretation. As noted by Ssorin-Chaikov, the leader generally does not acknowledge a gift from the people. If he must acknowledge the existence of the gift, he does so in such a way as to deny its function as the fulfillment of the social obligation to respond to the leader’s gift. This could be done either by pointing out the insufficiency of the gift or by ignoring the time-gap and reacting to the gift in an untimely manner: either too quickly, implying ingratitude and the desire to be rid of the obligation to reciprocate; or too late, implying that the gift is unworthy of a timely response. Stalin was a master in maintaining the burden of indebtedness to himself as leader in his relationship with the Soviet people. A prime example involves the vast display of gifts put together for his 70th birthday by the staffs of several museums, officials from multiple ministries, and thousands of gift-makers. Although it remained in place until his death, Stalin never visited the exhibition, refusing to acknowledge the gifts.45

Stalin likewise denied the British people a satisfactory reception of their offering, acknowledging it neither in public—he had no involvement in Mrs Churchill’s tour—nor in private. Early in their visit, Clementine and Mabel Johnson were granted an audience with Stalin during which Clementine offered the General Secretary a gold fountain pen from her husband along with his hopes that Stalin would ‘write him many friendly messages with it’. Her published account concludes the incident with the assertion that ‘the Marshal accepted it with a genial smile’;46 however, she later confirmed to her daughter that ‘although he took the pen with a genial smile, he put it on one side saying, ‘“But I only write with a pencil.” He also added: “I will repay him”.’47 Forced to acknowledge the gift, Stalin immediately pointed out that it was an inappropriate gift, then transgressed the time-gap by declaring far too quickly that he would reciprocate to Churchill.

Similarly, beneath the overtures of appreciation and friendship that made up the rhetorical bulk of the Soviet leadership’s public response to the British Gift of Life, lay undercurrents of criticism that served to deny the fulfillment of Britain’s counter-gift compulsion. For instance, as they arranged for the procurement and delivery of supplies to the USSR, Agnes Maiskaia subjected Clementine to ‘long lists of imperious demands or complaints’.48 Meanwhile, the speeches delivered during the meeting of the Presidium of the Executive Committee of the Union of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies of the USSR (convened to thank Mrs Churchill and present her with the Gold Badge for Distinguished Medical Service), contained countless references to the shortcomings of the Fund. For example, Professor Sarkisov (Mme Maiskaia’s replacement after September 1943) noted that at various points the delivery of the supplies had been ‘unsatisfactory’, while production rates at a British syringe factory were too low. Another speaker pointed out that although Clementine managed to locate 20kg of a scarce drug, this was only a fraction of the required amount (100kg). Yet another speaker mentioned that of four lists of supplies agreed upon during the war, only two had been fulfilled, and only just ‘adequately’.49 In this way, Soviet officials played the role of the Leader in the gift exchange with aplomb, refusing to fully accept the British counter-gift to its Gift of Death. What they refused was acknowledgement of equivalence: no end of material supplies could compensate for the loss of human life experienced by the Soviet Union.

Soviet Anxieties and the Gift of a Partisan Death

Nevertheless, the Soviet leadership harboured a persistent anxiety that Britain might not honour their Gift of Death appropriately, but might instead overlook its gift-ness and thereby shake free of the obligation to reciprocate. While glimpses of this anxiety are visible through numerous small details of the tour arranged for Mrs Churchill, it is most clearly revealed in the final gift presented to Clementine by VOKS (Vsesoiuznoe obshchestvo kul’turnykh sviazei s zagranitsei or the Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries). Conferred by section head Lidiia Kislova at a formal VOKS luncheon in honour of Clementine, the gift comprised a specially-made folder containing a short biography and series of mounted photographs of Soviet partisan Zoia Kosmodem’ianskaia. Although Kislova had accompanied Mrs Churchill throughout her five-and-a-half week tour in her role as VOKS representative,50 this was not a personal gift but rather a gift from the Soviet leadership through a loyal representative on Victory Day.51

It was also a gift of death. Apart from the portrait of Zoia, the eleven 5x7 photographs within the folder centered graphically on death: the empty gallows, Zoia being paraded to the gallows, her hanging body, her frozen corpse, her gravesites (she was exhumed and moved to Moscow), her posthumous award of the Hero of the Soviet Union bestowed for heroism in death. The booklet, apparently written by Zoia’s mother, is the biography of a martyr: a life story defined by its ending. In the final lines, Zoia’s mother quotes her daughter and defines her through her death: ‘“Don’t see me off with tears! I’ll either come back a heroine or die a heroine”. And she did die the death of a heroine’.52 As such a visceral ode to the death of a partisan-martyr, this gift was a transgression of the central tenet of the People to Leader exchange, for it spoke of the Soviet Gift of Death. It made tangible and gift-able what was supposed to be acknowledged solely through the counter-gifts of the People, not declared explicitly by the Leader. No secure Leader would need to remind the People of his gift to them, let alone hand it to them in a tidy folder.

This gift is finally, then, rendered the embodiment of Soviet anxieties with the power struggle of gift-giving in general. Even when Britain fell in so readily with Soviet-style ‘People to Leader’ gift-giving conventions, responding to the Soviet Union as Leader, the Soviet leadership consciously or unconsciously presumed that Britain would fail to recognise their gift properly. To this end, they created new diplomatic gift-giving traditions and strayed from the appropriate behavior of a gift-giving Leader in the attempt to make certain that Britain did not overlook the Gift of Death. Ironically, it was these very measures that revealed the weaknesses of the Soviet position in the gift exchange and ultimately ensured that the Soviet Union would lose this power struggle.

The wartime gift exchange between Britain and the Soviet Union was initiated not by the British gift of life, but by the Soviet gift of death. While this initiatory gift was conceptual and symbolic, mirroring the initiatory gift of the Leader in Soviet society, the British counter-gift was utilitarian with a clear market value (£7.5 million). This counter-gift shifted the gift-giving cycle toward commodity exchange rather than symbolic exchange. It is also this aid gift that highlights most clearly Baudrillard’s notion of the gift as a challenge: the more utilitarian the gift, the greater the sense of challenge because the gift implies that the recipient is unable to provide for themselves and is thus dependent or subordinate. In the Soviet case, the tension between the challenging nature and necessity of the British aid gift elicited an ambivalent response, mixing elements of criticism and complaint (the amounts are insufficient, delivery is untimely, Stalin uses pencils not pens) with a counter-counter gift that was lavish. What is more, this responsive gift was thoroughly non-utilitarian and was instead an elaborately crafted and luxurious experience, thus returning the gift-giving cycle to the symbolic. The Soviet experiential gift was also ephemeral because it was consumed at the moment of its production and contained no lasting presence beyond subjective memory. It could only ever be remembered by its recipients and was never a reminder in and of itself. Yet as such it could provide fuller closure to the giving cycle than could physical gifts.

In the case of these wartime Allies, gift-giving was not simply an added dimension to foreign relations, but a bridge between the realms of public sentiment and diplomatic power relations. This is because national gift-giving takes place on two levels, both privately—through the individuals who commission, craft and present the gifts—and publicly, with these individuals serving as nations during the moment of exchange. As a result of this duality, national gift exchange must balance the private political knowledge of the leadership with public opinion, weighing both when acknowledging and reciprocating the gifts. Because it takes in both the specialized diplomatic sphere and the sphere of public or mass sentiment, the power relations acted out through gift exchange do not correlate precisely with the power struggles of foreign relations. Gift-giving between actors whose political relationship is one of tension or conflict is a way of reaffirming that the underlying relationship is sound and mutually respectful, and that the tension or conflict is contingent and transitory. For this reason, the implications of the study of gift-giving in international relations are immense. Through gift exchange, we may observe both political strengths and weaknesses influencing—yet not clearly evident in—political analysis.


I would like to thank the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for funding this research. I am also grateful to Steve and Tracey Knowles for granting me access to the privately held papers of Grace Hamblin; the staff of the Churchill Archives Centre; and Dr Graham Knight and Robert McGee for their insightful critiques of this contribution.

  1   Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies (New York, 1967).

  2   Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death, trans. Iain Hamilton Grant (London, 1993).

  3   Daily Mirror (23 June 1941), p. 1; Daily Express (23 June 1941), p. 1.

  4   Mary Soames, Clementine Churchill (London, 1979), p. 303. The Mineworker’s Federation, for instance, conveyed a cheque for £60,000 to the Soviet Ambassador, an amount equivalent to approximately £2.3 million in 2010, according to the historical currency calculator Measuring Worth, available at http://www.measuringworth.com/ukcompare/result.php [accessed 25.11. 2011].

  5   Soames, p. 303.

  6   News of the World (21 September 1941), p. 4.

  7   The Papers of Clementine Ogilvy Spencer-Churchill (held at the Churchill Archives Centre: Cambridge, UK), CSCT 3/37, hereafter referenced using code only; Winston Churchill, The Second World War, III: The Grand Alliance (London, 1950), p. 422, hereafter referenced as Churchill, III.

  8   CSCT 5/11.

  9   Churchill, III, p. 422.

10   CSCT 5/11, 5/4, 5/5.

11   The Papers of Sir Winston Churchill (held at the Churchill Archives Centre: Cambridge, UK), CHAR 20/204A/68, hereafter referenced using code only. This £7 million would be equivalent to approximately £234 million in 2010.

12   CSCT 3/37/56.

13   Soames, p. 328; Churchill, III, p. 421; CSCT 3/48.

14   CSCT 3/37/56, 58.

15   Richard Titmuss, The Gift Relationship: From Human Blood to Social Policy (London, 1997), pp. 125-6.

16   CSCT 3/48.

17   CSCT 5/11.

18   Winston Churchill, The Second World War, IV: The Hinge of Fate (London, 1951), p. 854; CHAR 20/214/91.

19   Titmuss, pp. 125-6.

20   Clementine Churchill, My Visit to Russia (London, 1945), p. 15.

21   CHAR 20/204A/61 press release from Duncan Hooper, Moscow.

22   Grace Hamblin, ‘Russian Diary 1945’, The Papers of Grace Hamblin, O.B.E. (held privately), 11 May 1945.

23   Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov and Olga Sosnina, Dary vozhdiam/Gifts to Soviet leaders. Exhibition Catalogue (Moscow, 2006), p. 28.

24   Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov, ‘On Heterochrony: Birthday Gifts to Stalin, 1949’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XII (2006), p. 358.

25   Ssorin-Chaikov and Sosnina, p. 19.

26   CSCT 3/48/48, 3/48/2, 1/29/51, 3/51.

27   CSCT 3/53.

28   Ssorin-Chaikov and Sosnina, p. 29.

29   CSCT 1/29; Hamblin. ‘The food is absolutely delicious’, wrote Grace Hamblin of the up to twelve-course lunches on offer every other day, ‘but our hosts are so kind that it is far too abundant’.

30   CHAR 20/204A/43-44.

31   Ssorin-Chaikov and Sosnina, p. 28.

32   CSCT 3/48/2.

33   During the Cold War era, Soviet-leaning developing countries were frequently referred to as ‘client states’. John P. Willerton, Patronage and Politics in the USSR (Cambridge, 1992).

34   Ssorin-Chaikov and Sosnina, p. 29.

35   CHAR 20/204B/104.

36   CSCT 1/29/63; CHAR 20/204B/103, 121, 133.

37   The booklet, a fairly detailed account of her time in Russia threaded with observations as to the nature of Russia and the Russian people, was based largely on Clementine Churchill’s own telegrams to her husband throughout the journey, as well as letters home written by her personal secretary, Grace Hamblin. CSCT 3/48.

38   Klementina Churchill, Moia poezdka v SSSR (London, 1945), dedication page. Two copies of this publication are held in CSCT 3/50. Published by Williams, Lea & Co., there is unfortunately no information available as to distribution or indeed the size of the publishing run.

39   CSCT 5/6/86-96. From Great Britain to Russia (CSCT 5/11) appears unfinished, and presumably was never presented to its intended audience.

40   Nor was Clementine simply blinded by the ‘wonderful welcome’ or ‘the gilded hospitality’ of the Soviets (Soames, p. 375). Far from it, as can be seen by her correspondence with Eleanor Rathbone (CSCT 3/37) and Kathleen Harriman (CSCT 3/43 & 46).

41   CSCT 5/11; CHAR 20/214/91.

42   The need to appease increasingly strident demands from aspects of British society (including, but by no means limited to the British Communist Party) and from the Soviet state for the opening of a second front also factored into government support for Aid to Russia campaigning (Soames, p. 304).

43   Churchill, III, p. 421.

44   CSCT 5/6/87.

45   Ssorin-Chaikov, pp. 362, 364.

46   Clementine Churchill, p. 17.

47   Soames, p. 369.

48   Ibid., p. 326.

49   CSCT 3/48.

50   Although ostensibly a public society, VOKS functioned as a branch of the state, co-ordinating with and hosting Friendship Societies from around the world (Louis Nemzer, ‘The Soviet Friendship Societies’, The Public Opinion Quarterly, XIII, no. 2 [1949], p. 271).

51   Vladimir Tolts, ‘Istoriia i sovremennost’: Tri dnevnika. Po marshrutu Steinbeka polveka spustia,’ Radio Svoboda, 2004, http://www.svoboda.org/programs/cicles/Stainbeck/st_13.asp [accessed 21.6.2012] (para. 46).

52   CSCT 3/52.