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The Inside Story of the Peace Conference By Emile Joseph Dillon Characters: 60608

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

In their dealings with Russia the principal plenipotentiaries consistently displayed the qualities and employed the standards, maxims, and methods which had stood them in good stead as parliamentary politicians. The betterment of the world was an idea which took a separate position in their minds, quite apart from the other political ideas with which they usually operated. Overflowing with verbal altruism, they first made sure of the political and economic interests of their own countries, safeguarding or extending these sources of power, after which they proceeded to try their novel experiment on communities which they could coerce into obedience. Hence the aversion and opposition which they encountered among all the nations which had to submit to the yoke, and more especially among the Russians.

Russia's opposition, widespread and deep-rooted, is natural, and history will probably add that it was justified. It starts from the assumption, which there is no gainsaying, that the Conference was convoked to make peace between the belligerents and that whatever territorial changes it might introduce must be restricted to the countries of the defeated peoples. From all "disannexations" not only the Allies' territories, but those of neutrals, were to be exempted. Repudiate this principle and the demands of Ireland, Egypt, India to the benefits of self-determination became unanswerable. Belgium's claim to Dutch Limburg and other territorial oddments must likewise be allowed. Indeed, the plea actually put forward against these was that the Conference was incompetent to touch any territory actually possessed by either neutral or Allied states. Ireland, Egypt, and Dutch Limburg Were all domestic matters with which the Conference had no concern.

Despite this fundamental principle Russia, the whilom Ally, without whose superhuman efforts and heroic sacrifices her partners would have been pulverized, was tacitly relegated to the category of hostile and defeated peoples, and many of her provinces lopped off arbitrarily and without appeal. None of her representatives was convoked or consulted on the subject, although all of them, Bolshevist and anti-Bolshevist, were at one in their resistance to foreign dictation.

The Conference repeatedly disclaimed any intention of meddling in the internal affairs of any other state, and the Irish, the Egyptian, and several other analogous problems were for the purposes of the Conference included in this category. On what intelligible grounds, then, were the Finnish, the Lettish, the Esthonian, the Georgian, the Ukrainian problems excluded from it? One cannot conceive a more flagrant violation of the sovereignty of a state than the severance and disposal of its territorial possessions against its will. It is a frankly hostile act, and as such was rightly limited by the Conference to enemy countries. Why, then, was it extended to the ex-Ally? Is it not clear that if reconstituted Russia should regard the Allied states as enemies and choose the potential enemies of these as its friends, it will be legitimately applying the principles laid down by the Allies themselves? No expert in international law and no person of average common sense will seriously maintain that any of the decisions reached in Paris are binding on the Russia of the future. No problem which concerns two equal parties can be rightfully decided by only one of them. The Conference which declared itself incompetent to impose on Holland the cession to Belgium even of a small strip of territory on one of the banks of the Belgian river Scheldt cannot be deemed authorized to sign away vast provinces that belonged to Russia. Here the plea of the self-determination of peoples possesses just as much or as little cogency as in the case of Ireland and Egypt.

President Wilson and Mr. Lloyd George had inaugurated their East European policy by publicly proclaiming that Russia was the key to the world situation, and that the peace would be no peace so long as her hundred and fifty million inhabitants were left floundering in chaotic confusion, under the upas shade of Bolshevism. They had also held out hopes to their great ex-ally of efficient help and practical counsel. And there ended what may be termed the constructive side of their conceptions.

It was followed by no coherent action. Discourses, promises, maneuvers, and counter-maneuvers were continuous and bewildering, but of systematic policy there was none. Statesmanship in the higher sense of the word was absent from every decision the delegates took and from every suggestion they proffered. Nor was it only by omission that they sinned. Their invincible turn for circuitous methods, to which severer critics give a less sonorous name, was manifested ad nauseam. They worked out cunning little schemes which it was hard to distinguish from intrigues, and which, if they had not been foiled in time, would have made matters even worse than they are. From the outset the British government was for summoning Bolshevist delegates to the Conference. A note to this effect was sent by the London Foreign Office to the Allied governments about a fortnight before the delegates began their work of making peace. But the suggestion was withdrawn at the instance of the French, who doubted whether the services of systematic lawbreakers would materially conduce to the establishment of a new society of law-abiding states. Soon afterward another scheme cropped up, this time for the appointment of an Inter-Allied committee to watch over Russia's destinies and serve as a sort of board of Providence. The representatives of the anti-Bolshevist governments resented this notion bitterly. They remarked that they could not be fairly asked to respect decisions imposed on them exactly as though they were vanquished enemies like the Germans. The British and American delegates were swayed in their views mainly by the assumptions that all central Russia was in the power of Lenin; that his army was well disciplined and powerful; that he might contrive to hold the reins of government and maintain anarchism indefinitely, and that the so-called constructive elements were inclined toward reaction.

In other words, the delegates accepted two sets of premises, from which they drew two wholly different sets of conclusions. Now they felt impelled to act on the one, now on the other, but they could never make up their minds to carry out either. They agreed that Bolshevism is a potent solvent of society, fraught with peril to all organized communities, yet they could not resolve to use joint action to extirpate it.[260] They recognized that so long as it lasted there was no hope of establishing a community of nations, but they discarded military intervention on grounds of their own internal policy, and because it ran counter to the principle of self-determination. Over against that principle, however, one had to set the circumstance that they were already intermeddling in Russian affairs in Archangel, Murmansk, Odessa, and elsewhere, and that they ended by creating a new state and government in northwestern Russia, against which Kolchak and Denikin vehemently protested.

In mitigation of judgment it is only fair to take into account the tremendous difficulties that faced them; their unfamiliarity with the Russian problem; the want of a touchstone by which to test the overwhelming mass of conflicting information which poured in upon them; their constitutional lack of moral courage, and the circumstance that they were striving to reconcile contradictories. Without chart or compass they drifted into strange and sterile courses, beginning with the Prinkipo incident and ending with the written examination to which they na?vely subjected Kolchak in order to legalize international relations, which could not truly be described as either war or peace. Neither the causes of Bolshevism in its morbid manifestations nor the unformulated ideas underlying whatever positive aspect it may be supposed to possess, nor the conditions governing its slow but perceptible evolution, were so much as glanced at, much less studied, by the statesmen who blithely set about dealing with it now by military force, now by economic pressure, and fitfully by tentative forbearance and hints to its leaders of forthcoming recognition.

One cannot thus play fast and loose with the destinies of a community composed of one hundred and fifty million people whose members are but slackly linked together by a few tenuous social bonds, without forfeiting the right to offer them real guidance. And a blind man is a poor guide to those who can see. Alone the Americans were equipped with carefully tabulated statistics and huge masses of facts which they poured out as lavishly as coal-heavers hurl the contents of their sacks into the cellar. But they put them to no practical use. Losing themselves in a labyrinth of details, they failed to get a comprehensive view of the whole. The other delegations lacked both data and general ideas. And all the Allies were destitute of a powerful army in the East, and therefore of the means of asserting the authority which they assumed.

They one and all dealt in vague theories and deceptive analogies, paying little heed to the ever-shifting necessities of time, place, and peoples, and indeed to the only conditions under which any new maxims could be fruitfully applied. And even such rules as they laid down were restricted and modified in accordance with their own countries' interests or their unavowed aims, without specific warrant or explanation. No account was taken of the historical needs or aspirations of the people for whom they were legislating, as though all nations were of the same age, capable of the same degree of culture, and impressible to identical motives. It never seemed to have crossed their minds that races and peoples, like individuals, have a soul, or that what is meat to one may be poison to another.

One of the most Ententophil and moderate press organs in France put the matter forcibly and plainly as follows: "The governments of Washington and of London are aware that we are immutably attached to the alliance with them. But we owe them the truth. Far too often they make a bad choice of the agents whose business it is to keep them informed, and they affect too much disdain for friendly suggestions which emanate from any other source. American agents, in particular, civil as well as military, explore Europe much as their forebears 'prospected' the Far West, and they look upon the most ancient nations of Europe as Iroquois, Comanches, or Aztecs. They are astounded at not finding everything on the old Continent as in New York or Chicago, and they set to work to reform Europe according to the rules in force in Oklahoma or Colorado. Now we venture respectfully to point out to them that methods differ with countries. In the United States the Colonists were wont to set fire to the forests in order to clear and fertilize the land. Certain American agents recommend the employment in Europe of an analogous procedure in political matters. They rejoice to behold the Russian and Hungarian forests burst into flame. In Lenin, Trotzky, Bela Kuhn, they appreciate useful pioneers of the new civilization. We crave their permission to view these things from another side. In old Europe one cannot set fire to the forests without at the same time burning villages and cities."[261]

Before and during the armistice I was in almost constant touch with all Russian parties within the country and without, and received detailed accounts of the changing conditions of the people, which, although conflicting in many details, enabled me to form a tolerably correct picture of the trend of things and to forecast what was coming.

Among other communications I received proposals from Moscow with the request that I should present them to one of the British delegates, who was supposed to be then taking an active interest, or at any rate playing a prominent part, in the reconstruction of Russia, less for her own sake than for that of the general peace. But as it chanced, the eminent statesman lacked the leisure to take cognizance of the proposal, the object of which was to hit upon such a modus vivendi with Russia as would enable her united peoples to enter upon a normal course of national existence without further delay. Incidentally it would have put an end to certain conversations then going forward with a view to a friendly understanding between Russia and Germany. It would also, I had reason to believe, have divided the speculative Bolshevist group from the extreme bloodthirsty faction, produced a complete schism in the party, and secured an armistice which would have prevented the Allies' subsequent defeats at Murmansk, Archangel, and Odessa. Truth prompts me to add that these desirable by-results, although held out as inducements and characterized as readily attainable, were guaranteed only by the unofficial pledge of men whose good faith was notoriously doubtful.

The document submitted to me is worth summarizing. It contained a lucid, many-sided, and plausible account of the Russian situation. Among other things, it was a confession of the enormity of the crimes perpetrated, on both sides, it said, which it ascribed largely to the brutalizing effects of the World War, waged under disastrous conditions unknown in other lands. Myriads of practically unarmed men had been exposed during the campaign to wholesale slaughter, or left to die in slow agonies where they fell, or were killed off by famine and disease, for the triumph of a cause which they never understood, but had recently been told was that of foreign capitalists. In the demoralization that ensued all restraints fell away. The entire social fabric, from groundwork to summit, was rent, and society, convulsed with bestial passions, tore its own members to pieces. Russia ran amuck among the nations. That was the height of war frenzy. Since then, the document went on, passion had abated sensibly and a number of well-intentioned men who had been swept onward by the current were fast coming to their senses, while others were already sane, eager to stem it and anxious for moral sympathy from outside.

From out of the revolutionary welter, the exposé continued, certain hopeful phenomena had emerged symptomatic of a new spirit. Conditions conducive to equality existed, although real equality was still a somewhat remote ideal. But the tendencies over the whole sphere of Russian social, moral, and political life had undergone remarkable and invigorating changes in the direction of "reasonable democracy." Many wholesome reforms had been attempted, and some were partially realized, especially in elementary instruction, which was being spread clumsily, no doubt, as yet, but extensively and equally, being absolutely gratuitous.[262]

Various other so-called ameliorations were enumerated in this obviously partial exposé, which was followed by an apology for certain prominent individuals, who, having been swept off their feet by the revolutionary floods, would gladly get back to firm land and help to extricate the nation from the Serbonian bog in which it was sinking. They admitted a share of the responsibility for having set in motion a vast juggernaut chariot, which, however, they had arrested, but hoped to expiate past errors by future zeal. At the same time they urged that it was not they who had demoralized the army or abolished the death penalty or thrown open the sluice-gates to anarchist floods. On the contrary, they claimed to have reorganized the national forces, reintroduced the severest discipline ever known, appointed experienced officers, and restored capital punishment. Nor was it they, but their predecessors, they added, who had ruined the transport service of the country and caused the food scarcity.

These individuals would, it was said, welcome peace and friendship with the Entente, and give particularly favorable consideration to any proposal coming from the English-speaking peoples, in whom they were disposed to place confidence under certain simple conditions. The need for these conditions would not be gainsaid by the British and American governments if they recalled to mind the treatment which they had theretofore meted out to the Russian people. At that moment no Russian of any party regarded or could regard the Allies without grounded suspicions, for while repudiating interference in domestic affairs, the French, Americans, and British were striving hard to influence every party in Russia, and were even believed to harbor designs on certain provinces, such as the Caucasus and Siberia. Color was imparted to these misgivings by the circumstance that the Allied governments were openly countenancing the dismemberment of the country by detaching non-Russian and even Russian elements from the main body. It behooved the Allies to dissipate this mistrust by issuing a statement of their policy in unmistakable terms, repudiating schemes for territorial gains, renouncing interference in domestic affairs and complicity in the work of disintegrating the country. Russia and her affairs must be left to Russians, who would not grudge economic concessions as a reasonable quid pro quo.

The proposal further insisted that the declaration of policy should be at once followed by the despatch of two or three well-known persons acquainted with Russia and Russian affairs, and enjoying the confidence of European peoples, to inquire into the conditions of the country and make an exhaustive report. This mission, it was added, need not be official, it might be intrusted to individuals unattached to any government.

If a satisfactory answer to this proposal were returned within a fortnight, an armistice and suspension of the secret pourparlers with Germany would, I was told, have followed. That this compact would have led to a settlement of the Russian problems is more than any one, however well informed, could vouch for, but I had some grounds for believing the move to be genuine and the promises overdone. No reasonable motive suggested itself for a vulgar hoax. Moreover, the overture disclosed two important facts, one of which was known at the time only to the Bolshevist government-namely, that secret pourparlers were going forward between Berlin and Moscow for the purpose of arriving at a workable understanding between the two governments, and that the Allied troops at Odessa, Archangel, and Murmansk were in a wretched plight and in direr need of an armistice than the Bolsheviki.[263]

I mentioned the matter summarily to one of the delegates, who evinced a certain interest in it and promised to discuss it at length later on with a view to action. Another to whom I unfolded it later thought it would be well if I myself started, together with two or three others, for Moscow, Petrograd, Ekaterinodar, and other places, and reported on the situation. But weeks went by and nothing was done.[264]

I had interesting talks with some influential delegates on the eve of the invitation issued to all de facto governments of Russia to forgather at Prinkipo for a symposium. They admitted frankly at the time that they had no policy and were groping in the dark, and one of them held to the dogma that no light from outside was to be expected. They gave me the impression that underlying the impending summons was the conviction that Bolshevism, divested of its frenzied manifestations, was a rough and ready government calumniously blackened by unscrupulous enemies, criminal perhaps in its outbursts, but suited in its feasible aims to the peculiar needs of a peculiar people, and therefore as worthy of being recognized as any of the others. It was urged that it had already lasted a considerable time without provoking a counter-movement worthy of the name; that the stories circulating about the horrors of which it was guilty were demonstrably exaggerated; that many of the bloody atrocities were to be ascribed to crazy individuals on both sides; that the witnesses against Lenin were partial and untrustworthy; that something should be done without delay to solve a pressing problem, and that the Conference could think of nothing better, nor, in fact, of any alternative.

To me the principal scheme seemed a sinister mistake, both in form and in substance. In form, because it nullified the motives which determined the help given to the Greeks, Poles, and Serbs, who were being urged to crush the Bolshevists, and left the Allies without good grounds for keeping their own troops in Archangel, Odessa, and northern Russia to stop the onward march of Bolshevism. Some governments had publicly stigmatized the Bolshevists as cutthroats; one had pledged itself never to have relations with them, but the Prinkipo invitation bespoke a resolve to cancel these judgments and declarations and change their tack as an improvement on doing nothing at all. The scheme was also an error in substance, because the sole motive that could warrant it was the hope of reconciling the warring parties. And that hope was doomed to disappointment from the outset.

According to the Prinkipo project, which was attributed to President Wilson,[265] an invitation was to be issued to all organized groups exercising or attempting to exercise political authority or military control in Siberia and northern Russia, to send representatives to confer with the delegates of the Allied and Associated Powers on Prince's Islands. It is difficult to discuss the expedient seriously. One feels like a member of the little people of yore, who are reported to have consulted an oracle to ascertain what they must do to keep from laughing during certain debates on public affairs. It exposed its ingenuous authors to the ridicule of the world and made it clear to the dullest apprehension that from that quarter, at any rate, the Russian people, as a whole, must expect neither light nor leading, nor intelligent appreciation of their terrible plight. There is a sphere of influence in the human intellect between the reason and the imagination, the boundary line of which is shadowy. That sphere would seem to be the source whence some of the most extraordinary notions creep into the minds of men who have suddenly come into a position of power which they are not qualified to wield-the nouveaux puissants of the world of politics.

To the credit of the Supreme Council it never let offended dignity stand between itself and the triumph of any of the various causes which it successively took in hand. Time and again it had been addressed by the Russian Bolshevist government in the most opprobrious terms, and accused not merely of clothing political expediency in the garb of spurious idealism, but of giving the fore place in political life to sordid interests, over which a cloak of humanitarianism had been deftly thrown. One official missive from the Bolshevist government to President Wilson is worth quoting from:[266] "We should like to learn with more precision how you conceive the Society of Nations? When you insist on the independence of Belgium, of Serbia, of Poland, you surely mean that the masses of the people are everywhere to take over the administration of the country. But it is odd that you did not also require the emancipation of Ireland, of Egypt, of India, and of the Philippines....

"As we concluded peace with the German Kaiser, for whom you have no more consideration than we have for you, so we are minded to make peace with you. We propose, therefore, the discussion, in concert with our allies, of the following questions: (1) Are the French and English governments ready to give up exacting the blood of the Russian people if this people consent to pay them ransom and to compensate them in that way? (2) If the answer is in the affirmative, what ransom would the Allies want (railway concessions, gold mines, or territories)?

"We also look forward to your telling us exactly whether the future Society of Nations will be a joint stock enterprise for the exploitation of Russia, and in particular-as your French allies require-for forcing Russia to refund the milliards which their bankers furnished to the Tsarist government, or whether the Society of Nations will be something different...."

As soon as the Prinkipo motion was passed by the delegates I was informed by telephone, and I lost no time in communicating the tidings to Russia's official representatives in Paris. The plan astounded them. They could hardly believe that, while hopefully negotiating with the anti-Bolshevists, the Conference was desirous at the same time of opening pourparlers with the Leninists, between whom and them antagonism was not merely political, but personal and vindictive, like that of two Albanians in a blood feud. I suggested that the scheme should be thwarted at its inception, and that for this purpose I should be authorized by the representatives of the four[267] constructive governments in Russia to make known their decision. I was accordingly empowered to announce to the world that they would categorically refuse to send any representatives to confer with the assassins of their kinsmen and the destroyers of their country, and that under no circumstances would they swerve from that attitude. Having received the authorization, I cabled to the United States and Britain that the projected meeting would come to naught, owing to the refusal of all constructive elements to agree to any compromise with the Bolsheviki; that in the opinion of Russia's representatives in Paris the advance made by the plenipotentiaries would strengthen the Bolshevist movement, render the civil war more merciless than before, and raise up formidable difficulties to the establishment of the League of Nations.

But the plenipotentiaries did not yet give up their cause as lost. By way of "saving their face," they unofficially approached the Russian Ministers in Paris, whom they had not deigned to consult on the subject before making the plunge, and exhorted them to give at least a formal assent to the proposal, which would commit them to nothing and would enable them to withdraw without loss of dignity. They, on their part, undertook to smooth the road to the best of their ability. Thus it would be unnecessary, they explained, for the Ministers of the constructive governments or their substitutes to come into contact with the slayers of their kindred; they would occupy different wings of the hotel at Prinkipo, and never meet their adversaries. The delegates would see to that. "Then why should we go there at all if discussion be superfluous?" asked the Russians. "Because the Allied governments desire to ascertain the condition of Russia and your conception of the measures that would contribute to ameliorate it," was the reply. "Prince's Islands is not the right place to study the Russian situation, nor is it reasonable to expect us to journey thither in order to tell subordinates, who have no knowledge of our country, what we can tell them and their principals in Paris in greater detail and with confirmatory documents. Moreover, the delegates you have appointed have no qualification to judge of Russia's plight and potentialities. They know neither the country nor its language nor its people nor its politics, yet you want us to travel all the way to Turkey to tell them what we think, in order that they should return from Turkey to Paris and report to your Ministers what we said and what we could have unfolded directly to the Ministers themselves long ago and are ready to propound to them to-day or to-morrow.

"The project is puerile and your tactics are baleful. Your Ministers branded the Bolshevists as criminals, and the French government publicly announced that it would enter into no relations with them. In spite of that, all the Allied governments have now offered to enter into relations with them. Now you admit that you made a slip, and you promise to correct it if only we consent to save your face and go on a wild-goose chase to Prinkipo. But for us that journey would be a recantation of our principles. That is why we are unable to make it."

The Prinkipo incident, which began in the region of high politics, ended in comedy. A number of more or less witty epigrams were coined at the expense of the plenipotentiaries, the scheme, set in a stronger light than it was meant to endure, assumed a grotesque shape, and its promoters strove to consign it as best they could to oblivion. But the Sphinx question of Russia's future remained, and the penalties for failure to solve it aright waxed more and more deterrent. The supreme arbiters had cognizance of them, had, in fact, enumerated them when proclaiming the impossibility of establishing a durable peace or a solid League of Nations as long as Russia continued to be a prey to anarchy. But even with the prizes and penalties before their eyes to entice and spur them, they proved unequal to the task of devising an intelligent policy. Fitful and incoherent, their efforts were either incapable of being realized or, when feasible, were mischievous. Thus, by degrees, they hardened the great Slav nation against the Entente.

The reader will be prepared to learn that the overtures made to the Bolsheviki kindled the anger of the patriotic Russians at home, who had been looking to the Western nations for salvation and making veritable holocausts in order to merit it. Every observer could perceive the repercussion of this sentiment in Paris, and I received ample proofs of it from Siberia. There the leaders and the population unhesitatingly turned for assistance to Japan. For this there were excellent reasons. The only government which throughout the war knew its own mind and pursued a consistent and an intelligible policy toward Russia was that of Tokio. This point is worth making at a time when Japan is regarded as a Laodicean convert to the invigorating ideas of the Western peoples, at heart a backslider and a potential schismatic. She is charged with making interest the mainspring of her action in her intercourse with other nations. The charge is true. Only a Candide

would expect to see her moved by altruism and self-denial, in a company which penalizes these virtues. Community of interests is the link that binds Japan to Britain. A like bond had subsisted between her and Tsarist Russia. I helped to create it. Her statesmen, who have no taste for sonorous phraseology, did not think it necessary to give it a more fashionable name. This did not prevent the Japanese from being chivalrously loyal to their allies under the strain of powerful temptations, true to the spirit and the letter of their engagements. But although they made no pretense to lofty purpose, their political maxims differ nowise from those of the great European states, whose territorial, economic, and military interests have been religiously safeguarded by the Treaty of Versailles. True, the statesmen of Tokio shrink from the hybrid combination of two contradictions linked together by a sentimental fallacy. Their unpopularity among Anglo-Saxons is the result of speculations about their future intentions; in other words, they are being punished, as certain of the delegates at the Conference have been eulogized, not for what they actually did, but for what it is assumed they are desirous of achieving. Toward Russia they played the same game that their allies were playing there and in Europe, only more frankly and systematically. They applied the two principal maxims which lie at the root of international politics to-day-do ut des, and the nation that is capable of leading others has the right and the duty to lead them. And they established a valuable reputation for fulfilling their compacts conscientiously. Nippon, then, would have helped her Russian neighbors, and she expected to be helped by them in return. Have not the Allies, she asked, compelled Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Jugoslavia to pay them in cash for their emancipation?

Russians, who have no color prejudices, hit it off with the Japanese, by whom they are liked in return. That the two peoples should feel drawn to each other politically is, therefore, natural, and that they will strike up economic agreements in the future seems to many inevitable and legitimate. One such agreement was on the point of being signed between them and the anti-Bolshevists of Omsk immediately after, and in consequence of, the Allies' ill-considered invitation to Lenin and Trotzky to delegate representatives to Prinkipo. This convention, I have reason to believe, was actually drafted, and was about to be signed. And the adverse influence that suddenly made itself felt and hindered the compact came not from Russia, but from western Europe. It would be unfruitful to dwell further on this matter here, beyond recording the belief of many Russians that the zeal of the English-speaking peoples for the well-being of Siberia, where they intend to maintain troops after having withdrawn them from Europe, is the counter-move to Japan's capacity and wish to co-operate with the population of that rich country. This assumption may be groundless, but it will surprise only those who fail to note how often the flag of principle is unfurled over economic interests.

The delegates were not all discouraged by their discomfiture over the Prinkipo project. Some of them still hankered after an agreement with the Bolshevists which would warrant them in including the Russian problem among the tasks provisionally achieved. President Wilson despatched secret envoys to Moscow to strike up an accord with Lenin,[268] but although the terms which Mr. Bullitt obtained were those which had in advance been declared satisfactory, he drew back as soon as they were agreed to. And he assigned no reason for this change of attitude. Whether the brightening of the prospects of Kolchak and Denikin had modified his judgment on the question of expediency must remain a matter of conjecture. It is hardly necessary, however, to point out once more that this sudden improvisation of schemes which were abandoned again at the last moment tended to lower the not particularly high estimate set by the ethnic wards of the Anglo-Saxon peoples on the moral guidance of their self-constituted guardians.

An ardent champion of the Allied nations in France wrote: "We have never had a Russian policy which was all of one piece. We have never synthetized any but contradictory conceptions. This is so true that one may safely affirm that if Russian patriotism has been sustained by our velleities of action, Russian destructiveness has been encouraged by our velleities of desertion. We joined, so to say, both camps, and our velleities of desertion occasionally getting the upper hand of our velleities of action ... we carry out nothing."[269]

Toward Kolchak and Denikin the attitude of the Supreme Council varied considerably. It was currently reported in Paris that the Admiral had had the misfortune to arouse the displeasure of the two Conference chiefs by some casual manifestation of a frame of mind which was resented, perhaps a movement of independence, to which distance or the medium of transmission imparted a flavor of disrespect. Anyhow, the Russian leader was for some time under a cloud, which darkened the prospects of his cause. And as for Denikin, he appeared to the other great delegate as a self-advertising braggart.

These mental portraits were retouched as the fortune of war favored the pair. And their cause benefited correspondingly. To this improvement influences at work in London contributed materially. For the anti-Bolshevist currents which made themselves felt in certain state departments in that capital, where there were several irreconcilable policies, were powerful and constant. By the month of May the Conference had turned half-heartedly from Lenin and Trotzky to Kolchak and Denikin, but its mode of negotiating bore the mark peculiar to the diplomacy of the new era of "open covenants openly arrived at." The delegates in Paris communicated with the two leaders in Russia "over the heads" and without the knowledge of their authorized representatives in Paris, just as they had issued peremptory orders to "the Rumanian government at Bucharest" over the heads of its chiefs, who were actually in the French capital.

The proximate motives that determined several important decisions of the Secret Council, although of no political moment, are of sufficient psychological interest to warrant mention. They shed a light on the concreteness, directness, and simplicity of the workings of the statesmen's minds when engaged in transacting international business. For example, the particular moment for the recognition of new communities as states was fixed by wholly extrinsical circumstances. A food-distributer, for instance, or the Secretary of a Treasury, wanted a receipt for expenditure abroad from the people that benefited by it. As a document of this character presupposes the existence of a state and a government, the official dispenser of food or money was loath to go to the aid of any nation which was not a state or which lacked a properly constituted government. Hence, in some cases the Conference had to create both on the spur of the moment. Thus the reason why Finland's independence received the hall-mark of the Powers when it did was because the United States government was generously preparing to give aid to the Finns and had to get in return proper receipts signed by competent authorities representing the state.[270] Had it not been for this immediate need of valid receipts, the act of recognition might have been postponed in the same way as was the marking off of the frontiers. And like considerations led to like results in other cases. Czechoslovakia's independence was formally recognized for the same reason, as one of its leading men frankly admitted.

One of the serious worries of the Conference chiefs in their dealings with Russia was the lack of a recognized government there, qualified to sign receipts for advances of money and munitions. And as they could not resolve to accord recognition to any of the existing administrations, they hit upon the middle course, that of promoting the anti-Bolshevists to the rank of a community, not, indeed, sovereign or independent, but deserving of every kind of assistance except the despatch of Allied troops. Assistance was already being given liberally, but the necessity was felt for justifying it formally. And the two delegates went to work as though they were hatching some dark and criminal plot. Secretly despatching a message to Admiral Kolchak, they put a number of questions to him which he was not qualified to answer without first consulting his official advisers in Paris. Yet these advisers were not apprised by the Secret Council of what was being done. Nay, more, the French Foreign Office was not notified. By the merest chance I got wind of the matter and published the official message.[271] It summoned the Admiral to bind himself to convene a Constituent Assembly as soon as he arrived in Moscow; to hold free elections; to repudiate definitely the old régime and all that it implied; to recognize the independence of Poland and Finland, whose frontiers would be determined by the League of Nations; to avail himself of the advice and co-operation of the League in coming to an understanding with the border states, and to acquiesce in the decision of the Peace Conference respecting the future status of Bessarabia. Kolchak's answer was described as clear when "decipherable," and to his credit, he frankly declined to forestall the will of the Constituent Assembly respecting those border states which owed their separate existence to the initiative of the victorious governments. But the Secret Council of the Conference accepted his answer, and relied upon it as an adequate reason for continuing the assistance which they had been giving him theretofore.

About the person of Kolchak it ought to be superfluous to say more than that he is an upright citizen of energy and resolution, as patriotic as Fabricius, as disinterested and unambitious as Cincinnatus. To his credit account, which is considerable, stands his wonder-working faith in the recuperative forces of his country when its fortunes were at their lowest ebb. With buoyancy and confidence he set himself the task of rescuing his fellow-countrymen when it looked as hopeless as that of Xenophon at Cunaxa. He created an army out of nothing, induced his men by argument, suasion, and example to shake off the virus of indiscipline and sacrifice their individual judgment and will to the well-being of their fellows. He enjoined nothing upon others that he himself was not ready to undertake, and he exposed himself time and again to risks greater far than any general should deliberately incur. Whether he succeeds or fails in his arduous enterprise, Kolchak, by his preterhuman patience and sustained energy and courage, has deserved exceptionally well of his country, and could afford to ignore the current legends that depict him in the crying colors of a reactionary, even though they were accepted for the time by the most exalted among the Great Unversed in Russian affairs. One may dissent from his policy and object to some of his lieutenants and to many of his partizans, but from the single-minded, patriotic soldier one cannot withhold a large meed of praise. Kolchak's defects are mostly exaggerations of his qualities. His remarkable versatility is purchased at the price of fitfulness, his energy displays itself in spurts, and his impulsiveness impairs at times the successful execution of a plan which requires unflagging constancy. His judgment of men is sometimes at fault, but he would never hesitate to confer a high post upon any man who deserved it. He is democratic in the current sense of the word, but neither a doctrinaire nor a faddist. A disciplinarian and a magnetic personality withal, he charms as effectually as he commands his soldiers. He is enlightened enough, like the great Western world-menders in their moments of theorizing, to discountenance secrecy and hole-and-corner agreements, and, what is still more praiseworthy, he is courageous enough to practise the doctrine.

When the revolution broke out Kolchak was at Sebastopol. The telegram conveying the sensational tidings of the outbreak was kept secret by all military commanders-except himself. He unhesitatingly summoned the soldiers and sailors, apprised them of what had taken place, gave them an insight into the true meaning of the violent upheaval, and asked them to join with him in a heroic endeavor to influence the course of things, in the direction of order and consolidation. He gaged aright the significance of the revolution and the impossibility of confining it within any bounds, political, moral, or geographical. But he reasoned that a band of resolute patriots might contrive to wrest something for the country from the hands of Fate. It was with this faith and hope that he set to work, and soon his valiant army, the reclaimed provinces, and the improved Russian outlook were eloquent witnesses to his worth, whose testimony no legendary reports, however well received in the West, could weaken.

How ingrained in the plenipotentiaries was their proneness for what, for want of a better word, may be termed conspirative and circuitous action may be inferred from the record of their official and unofficial conversations and acts. When holding converse with Kolchak's authorized agents in Paris they would lay down hard conditions, which were described as immutable; and yet when communicating with the Admiral direct they would submit to him terms considerably less irksome, unknown to his Paris advisers, thus mystifying both and occasioning friction between them. In many cases the contrast between the two sets of demands was disconcerting, and in all it tended to cause misunderstandings and complicate the relations between Kolchak and his Paris agents. But he continued to give his confidence to his representatives, although they were denied that of the delegates. It would, of course, be grossly unfair to impute anything like disingenuousness to plenipotentiaries engaged upon issues of this magnitude, but it was an unfortunate coincidence that they were known to regard some of the members of the Russian Council in Paris with disfavor, and would have been glad to see them superseded. When Nansen's project to feed the starving population of Russia was first mooted, Kolchak's Ministers in Paris were approached on the subject, and the Allies' plan was propounded to them so defectively or vaguely as to give them the impression that the co-operation of the Bolshevist government was part of the program. They were also allowed to think that during the work of feeding the people the despatch of munitions and other military necessaries to Kolchak and his army would be discontinued. Naturally, the scheme, weighted with these two accompaniments, was unacceptable to Kolchak's representatives in Paris. But, strange to say, in the official notification which the plenipotentiaries telegraphed at the same time to the Admiral direct, neither of these obnoxious riders was included, so that the proposal assumed a different aspect.

Another example of these singular tactics is supplied by their pourparlers with the Admiral's delegates about the future international status of Finland, whose help was then being solicited to free Petrograd from the Bolshevist yoke. The Finns insisted on the preliminary recognition of their complete independence by the Russians. Kolchak's representatives shrank from bartering any territories which had belonged to the state on their own sole responsibility. None the less, as the subject was being theoretically threshed out in all its bearings, the members of the Russian Council in Paris inquired of the Allies whether the Finns had at least renounced their pretensions to the province of Karelia. But the spokesmen of the Conference replied elusively, giving them no assurance that the claim had been relinquished. Thereupon they naturally concluded that the Finns either still maintained their demand or else had not yet modified their former decision on the matter, and they deemed it their duty to report in this sense to their chief. Yet the plenipotentiaries, in their message on the subject to Kolchak, which was sent about the same time, assured him that the annexation of Karelia was no longer insisted upon, and that the Finns would not again put forward the claim! One hardly knows what to think of tactics like these. In their talks with the spokesmen of certain border states of Russia the official representatives of the three European Powers at the Conference employed language that gave rise to misunderstandings which may have untoward consequences in the future. One would like to believe that these misunderstandings were caused by mere slips of the tongue, which should not have been taken literally by those to whom they were addressed; but in the meanwhile they have become not only the source of high, possibly delusive, hopes, but the basis of elaborate policies. For example, Esthonian and Lettish Ministers were given to understand that they would be permitted to send diplomatic legations to Petrograd as soon as Russia was reconstituted, a mode of intercourse which presupposes the full independence of all the countries concerned. A constitution was also drawn up for Esthonia by one of the Great Powers, which started with the postulate that each people was to be its own master. Consequently, the two nations in question were warranted in looking forward to receiving that complete independence. And if such was, indeed, the intention of the Great Powers, there is nothing further to be said on the score of straightforwardness or precision. But neither in the terms submitted to Kolchak nor in those to which his Paris agents were asked to give their assent was the independence of either country as much as hinted at.[272]

These may perhaps seem trivial details, but they enable us to estimate the methods and the organizing arts of the statesmen upon whose skill in resource and tact in dealing with their fellows depended the new synthesis of international life and ethics which they were engaged in realizing. It would be superfluous to investigate the effect upon the Russians, or, indeed, upon any of the peoples represented in Paris, of the Secret Council's conspirative deliberations and circuitous procedure, which were in such strong contrast to the "open covenants openly arrived at" to which in their public speeches they paid such high tribute.

The main danger, which the Allies redoubted from failure to restore tranquillity in Russia, was that Germany might accomplish it and, owing to her many advantages, might secure a privileged position in the country and use it as a stepping-stone to material prosperity, military strength, and political ascendancy. This feat she could accomplish against considerable odds. She would achieve it easily if the Allies unwittingly helped her, as they were doing.

Unfortunately the Allied governments had not much hope of succeeding. If they had been capable of elaborating a comprehensive plan, they no longer possessed the means of executing it. But they devised none. "The fact is," one of the Conference leaders exclaimed, "we have no policy toward Russia. Neither do we possess adequate data for one."

They strove to make good this capital omission by erecting a paper wall between Germany and her great Slav neighbor. The plan was simple. The Teutons were to be compelled to disinterest themselves in the affairs of Russia, with whose destinies their own are so closely bound up. But they soon realized that such a partition is useless as a breakwater against the tidal wave of Teutondom, and Germany is still destined to play the part of Russia's steward and majordomo.

How could it be otherwise? Germany and Russia are near neighbors. Their economic relations have been continuous for ages, and the Allies have made them indispensable in the future; Russia is ear-marked as Germany's best colony. The two peoples are become interdependent. The Teuton will recognize the Slav as an ally in economics, and will pay himself politically. Who will now thwart or check this process? Russia must live, and therefore buy and sell, barter and negotiate. Can a parchment treaty hinder or invalidate her dealings? Can it prevent an admixture of politics in commercial arrangements, seeing that they are but two aspects of one and the same transaction? It is worthy of note that a question which goes to the quick of the matter was never mooted. It is this: Is it an essential element of the future ordering of the world that Germany shall play no part whatever in its progress? Is it to be assumed that she will always content herself with being treated as the incorrigible enemy of civilization? And, if not, what do all these checks and barriers amount to?

In Russia there are millions of Germans conversant with the language, laws, and customs of the people. Many of them have been settled there for generations. They are passionately attached to their race, and neither unfriendly nor useless to the country of their adoption. The trade, commerce, and industry of the European provinces are largely in their hands and in those of their forerunners and helpers, the Jews. The Russo-German and Jewish middlemen in the country have their faces ever turned toward the Fatherland. They are wont to buy and sell there. They always obtained their credit in Berlin, Dresden, or Frankfurt. They acted as commercial travelers, agents, brokers, bankers, for Russians and Germans. They are constantly going and coming between the two countries. How are these myriads to be fettered permanently and kept from eking out a livelihood in the future on the lines traced by necessity or interest in the past? The Russians, on their side, must live, and therefore buy and sell. Has the Conference or the League the right or power to dictate to them the persons or the people with whom alone they may have dealings? Can it narrow the field of Russia's political activities? Some people flatter themselves that it can. In this case the League of Nations must transform itself into an alliance for the suppression of the German race.

Burning indignation and moral reprobation were the sentiments aroused among the high-minded Allies by the infamous Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. For that mockery of a peace, even coming from an enemy, transcended the bounds of human vengeance. It was justly anathematized by all Entente peoples as the loathsome creation of a frenzied people. But shortly afterward the Entente governments themselves, their turn having come, wrought what Russians of all parties regard as a political patchwork of variegated injustice more odious far, because its authors claimed to be considered as the devoted friends of their victims and the champions of right. Whereas the Brest-Litovsk Treaty provided for a federative Slav state, with provincial diets and a federal parliament, the system substituted by the Allies consisted in carving up Russia into an ever-increasing number of separate states, some of which cannot live by themselves, in debarring the inhabitants from a voice in the matter, in creating a permanent agency for foreign intervention, and ignoring Russia's right to reparation from the common enemy. The Russians were not asked even informally to say what they thought or felt about what was being done. This province and that were successively lopped off in a lordly way by statesmen who aimed at being classed as impartial dispensers of justice and sowers of the seeds of peace, but were unacquainted with the conditions and eschewed investigation. Here, at all events, the usual symptoms of hesitancy and procrastination were absent. Swift resolve and thoroughness marked the disintegrating action by which they unwittingly prepared the battlefields of the future.

Nobody acquainted with Russian psychology imagines that the feelings of a high-souled people can be transformed by gifts of food, money, or munitions made to some of their fellow-countrymen. How little likely Russians are to barter ideal boons for material advantages may be gathered from an incident worth noting that occurred in the months of April and May, when the fall of the capital into the hands of the anti-Bolshevists was confidently expected.

At that time, as it chanced, the one thing necessary for their success against Bolshevism was the capture of Petrograd. If that city, which, despite its cosmopolitan character, still retained its importance as the center of political Russia, could be wrested from the tenacious grasp of Lenin and Trotzky, the fall of the anarchist dictators was, people held, a foregone conclusion. The friends of Kolchak accordingly pressed every lever to set the machinery in motion for the march against Peter's city. And as, of all helpers, the Finns and Esthonians were admittedly the most efficacious, conversations were begun with their leaders. They were ready to drive a bargain, but it must be a hard and lucrative one. They would march on Petrograd for a price. The principal condition which they laid down was the express and definite recognition of their complete independence within frontiers which it would be unfruitful here to discuss. The Kolchak government was ready to treat with the Finnish Cabinet, as the de facto government, and to recognize Finland's present status for what it is in international law; but as they could not give what they did not possess, their recognition must, they explained, be like their own authority, provisional. A similar reply was made to the Esthonians; to this those peoples demurred. The Russians stood firm and the negotiations fell through. It is to be supposed that when they have recovered their former status they will prove more amenable to the blandishments of the Allies than they were to the powerful bribe dangled before their eyes by the Esthonians and the Finns?

But if the improvised arrangements entailing dismemberment which the Great Powers imposed on Russia during her cataleptic trance are revised, as they may be, whenever she recovers consciousness and strength, what course will events then follow? If she seeks to regather under her wing some of the peoples whose complete independence the League of Nations was so eager to guarantee, will that body respond to the appeal of these and fly to their assistance? Russia, who has not been consulted, will not be as bound by the canons of the League, and one need not be a prophet to foretell the reluctance of Western armies to wage another war in order to prevent territories, of which some of the plenipotentiaries may have heard as little as of Teschen, becoming again integral parts of the Slav state. Europe may then see its political axis once more shifted and its outlook obscured. Thus the system of equilibrium, which was theoretically abolished by the Fourteen Points, may be re-established by the hundred and one economico-political changes which Russia's recovery will contribute to bring about.

A decade is but a twinkling in the history of a nation. Within a few years Russia may once more be united. The army that will have achieved this feat will constitute a formidable weapon in the hands of the state that wields it. As everything, even military strength, is relative, and as the armies of the rest of Europe will not be impatient to fight in the East, and will therefore count for considerably less than their numbers, there will be no real danger of an invasion. Russia is a country easy to get into, but hard to get out of, and military success against its armies there would in verity be a victory without glory, annexation, indemnities, or other appreciable gains.

It is hard to believe that the distinguished statesmen of the Conference took these eventualities fully into account before attempting to reshape amorphous Russia after their own vague ideal. But whether we assess their work by the standards of political science or of international ethics, or explain it as a series of well-meant expedients begotten by the practical logic of momentary convenience, we must confess that its gifted authors lacked a direct eye for the wayward tides of national and international movements; were, in fact, smitten by political blindness, and did the best they could in these distressing circumstances.


[260] From whatever angle this Russian business is viewed, the policy of the Allies, if it can be dignified with that name, seems to be a compound of weakness, ineptitude, and shilly-shally."-Cf. The Westminster Gazette, July 5, 1919.

[261] Cf. Journal des Débats, August 13, 1919. Article by M. Auguste Gauvain.

[262] There can be no doubt that the Bolshevist government under Lunatcharsky has made a point of furthering the arts, sciences, and elementary instruction. All reports from foreign travelers and from eminent Russians-one of these my university fellow-student, now perpetual secretary of the Academy-agree about this silver lining to a dark cloud.

[263] This latter fact was doubtless known to the British government, which decided as early as March to recall the British troops from northern Russia.

[264] I published the facts in The Daily Telegraph, April 21, and The Public Ledger of Philadelphia, April 10, 1919.

[265] Colonel House is said to have dissociated himself from the President on this occasion.

[266] It was sent at the end of October, 1918, and to my knowledge was not published in full.

[267] Omsk, Ekaterinodar, Archangel, and the Crimea. The last-named disappeared soon afterward.

[268] See Chapter IV "Censorship and Secrecy," p. 132.

[269] Pertinax in L'Echo de Paris, July 5, 1919.

[270] This admission was made to a distinguished member of the Diplomatic Corps.

[271] In The Daily Telegraph, June 19, 1919, and in The Public Ledger of Philadelphia.

[272] In July M. Pichon told the Esthonian delegates that France recognized the independence of their country in principle. But this declaration was not taken seriously, either by the Russians or by the French.

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