Carr and I first corresponded in 1955, after he had borrowed my thesis on The Development of the Soviet Budgetary System. We met a year later in 1956, when he gave a seminar in Glasgow, where I had my first academic job. In January 1958 he proposed that we should write jointly the economics volume of the instalment of his History of Soviet Russia concerned with 1926–29. I began work in the summer of 1958 and the typescript went to the publishers nine years later in September 1967. Foundations of a Planned Economy, 1926–1929, vol. 1, was eventually published in two physical volumes in June 1969. Our collaboration was comprehensive. We each collected material for and prepared the first drafts of our own sections: Carr was responsible for Agriculture, Labour and Trade, I for Industry, Planning and Finance. But we exchanged a lot of material for each other’s sections, and commented in detail on each other’s drafts, chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, often word by word. We scribbled on the margins, re-wrote paragraphs which
Carr was entirely prepared to receive frank criticisms without taking offence, and was equally frank in return. By careful selection, an unscrupulous enemy could easily demonstrate that profound and bitter hostility lurked beneath the smooth surface of the Carr-Davies collaboration. For example: ‘I don’t believe we want any of this. The interesting part falls outside the period.’; ‘Is all this about coefficients and extrapolation important? I find it dull and it leads nowhere. I would transfer the quote from Kuibyshev (p. 51b) to Teleology and drop the rest’ (ehc to rwd). ‘The rest of this section definitely straggles. It would have been nice if you could have finished on p. 57; most of the points have been made earlier’ (rwd to ehc).
I am reliably informed that I occasionally emerged from these activities ‘slightly tight-lipped’. But there was remarkably little tension throughout the nine years of our work together; and we certainly both found our collaboration fruitful and enjoyable. We took it for granted that our exchanges on matters small and large were part of the normal working routine of historians engaged in a joint research project. It was only in the course of discussing a first draft of the present article with other historians that I came to realize that such close collaboration is rare.
Tamara Deutscher has provided a lively account of Carr’s working methods and on these I have little to add.footnote1 I suppose at least ninety per cent of our time was taken up with entirely uncontroversial matters of detail. At a celebratory meal in his rooms at Trinity, after we had sent off the final typescript, his wife enquired: ‘Was collaboration difficult?’ He replied, to my alarm, ‘Yes, very difficult’, but to my relief went on to add that it had taken a lot of time to straighten out cross-references between our chapters!
The most time-consuming of such minor preoccupations was the arrangement of material between and within sections. At the outset Carr wrote to me: ‘The difficulties of dovetailing and overlapping are great, as I know from experience. One has to divide the economy into sectors: and I do not know of any division less open to objection than mine. But it is none the less controversial and many issues run across several sectors’ (19.1.58). We both found it difficult to arrive at the lucid and logical ordering of the material which eventually emerges in almost all of his books. It also took a lot of time to keep the volumes down to their present bulk. We both got very interested in minor as well as major matters: what was intended as one volume expanded to two, and threatened to become three. Carr tried hard to make his
Carr was also very concerned to make all the thousands of references as consistent and exact as possible, to put in cross-references to help the reader, and to write in good plain English. Then there were the problems of the complexities of the statistics, in which Carr did not feel at home. In his first letter to me (27.6.55) he wrote: ‘The question which worries me most of all, and is a constant nightmare when one approaches Soviet economics and finance, is the diversity of statistics.’ We tried to make our figures as accurate as possible, and eventually produced an appendix set of tables and a couple of Notes on crucial problems of grain and industrial statistics. But many less crucial problems had to be deferred.
Research and writing on this scale, seeking to describe and analyse the development of a whole economy as part of a general history, was entirely new to me, and Carr and I both had to put in a great deal of effort to sort out my first drafts, in which description was entangled with analysis, and organization with policy. The criticism has often been made of Carr’s History that it boosts the victors and dismisses the vanquished. There is some validity in this criticism, particularly in relation to his volumes on The Bolshevik Revolution. But this defect was also a strength. He had a remarkable facility, presumably acquired as a diplomat and a journalist, to sort out the main trends and threads in policy from the trivia, to distinguish the makers of policy and those who influenced them, and to judge which of their actions and pronouncements were significant or important. His suggestions along these lines greatly improved my accounts of economic policy; and on the whole I think we also gave an adequate account of the views of the many economists and officials who criticized or rejected the dominant policies.