THE MAKING OF A STATE: MEMORIES AND OBSERVATIONS, 1914--1918. BY THOMAS GARRIGUE MASARYK, President of the Czechoslovak Republic. An English version by Henry Wickham Steed. New York: Stokes, 1927.

MY WAR MEMORIES. BY EDUARD BENES, Czechoslovak Minister of Foreign Affairs. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1928.

DURING the first year of the World War two university professors, T. G. Masaryk aad Eduard Beneš, escaped from Prague to start a revolution for the Czechoslovaks against Austria-Hungary. Four years later they returned, the one as President of the newly created Czechoslovak Republic, the other as its Minister of Foreign Affairs. Ten years after the World War finds them still in office, the only statesmen of the parliamentary governments in Europe who survived the entire decade of post-war turmoil. A record unique in the annals of history!

It is no wonder that their memoirs should be awaited with eagerness and hailed as important historical documents. There have been war memoirs and war memoirs. Some have been written to conceal, others merely to justify. Some reveal just enough to mislead, others just enough to awaken curiosity by their omissions. Rarely, however, do they bare the soul, and seek objectively and frankly to explain what they did, so that others may learn from their mistakes as well as from their triumphs. It is to the latter group that the memoirs of these two remarkable men belong. And they have been written with an eye to the future. For a nation to regain its independence is one thing. To preserve it is still another task.

Thomas Garrigue Masaryk was born in 1850 in Moravia, now a part of Czechoslovakia. He came of poor Slovak parentage, his father having been a coachman on one of the estates of the Austrian Emperor. His father wanted him to be a blacksmith, but the village school master insisted that he should become a teacher. He tutored his way through the University of Vienna and later Leipzig, and was called in 1882 to the newly created Czech University of Prague as professor of Social Philosophy. He drew to Prague two generations of enthusiastic scholars from all parts of Austria-Hungary and the Balkans and became the leader of the Progressive Party (sometimes called Realist) and thus a member of the Austrian Parliament. Masaryk believed he had a mission. For this he prepared himself by long philosophical, historical, and sociological studies. "I never wanted to be a professor," he writes, "I wanted to be a diplomatist and a politician." He studied the history of his nation and found its philosophy in the religious ideals and motives of the Hussites and the Bohemian Brethren. He became a Czech Puritan, an opponent of Russian Panslavism, and at first advocated a peaceful, evolutionary nationalism which would be just and sober, if Austria permitted a development toward federalism. He rejected Marx and sought social reform by evolution rather than revolution.

After his return to the Austrian Parliament in 1907, events soon forced him to realize that Austria-Hungary would not and could not solve the problems which confronted it. In the crisis which followed the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908 he was forced to indict the Foreign Office for having used forged documents against the Serbo-Croat Coalition in the Croatian Diet. He worked feverishly and daringly to bring about a reconciliation of the Balkan Slavs with Austria-Hungary before the World War, but failed. During all this while he had nurtured a program for solving the problems of his nation, and he had often declared: "If it will work with Austria, very well; the Czech nation is willing to make peace. If it will not, the Czechoslovaks will await a favorable opportunity to pay back to Vienna that which they have suffered for centuries at her hands."

He had worked hard and loyally to change things by methods of peace and reconciliation. When the World War broke loose, he knew what to do. One day he received a visit from his former student, by this time also a university professor, Eduard Beneš. Beneš had reached the point where he could no longer remain a "passive spectator." In fact, he confided his belief in the necessity of a revolution. To this Masaryk replied: "Good. I am at it already." At this point began that association of teacher and pupil which led to a successful revolution and the foundation of one of the most progressive democracies in Europe.

Eduard Beneš was thirty-four years younger than Masaryk. His father was a peasant farmer who brought up a family of seven children. Eduard was the live-wire of the family. He was quick, alert, and endowed with tireless energy. He, also, worked his way through the university. Under the spell of Masaryk he transferred his affections from Romance languages and Germanic philology to philosophy and the social sciences. He spent several years in France and Western Europe as a student and hack-writer for Czech reviews. Here he "learned to look on the world in a different light." Like Masaryk, he saw hope for his nation from the history and experiences of the West. His nation, he argued, must depend upon realism -- it must know how to do things, it must learn to observe, to analyze, to contemplate, sanely. It must free itself from romanticism. Down to the World War his writings had been premised with the idea that the forces which had held Austria-Hungary together from within were still strong enough to hold it together against any destructive forces, whether from within or from without. He had believed in the possibility of a democratic, federalized Austria-Hungary, but when the World War began, Eduard Beneš was among the first to see that such a conflagration could create much more formidable forces against that Empire from without than the German Alliance or any binding forces from within.

This was the opportunity which Masaryk and Beneš utilized. In a few months the secret revolutionary organization, the "Maffia," was created, while Masaryk, who had secured a passport good for three years just before war was declared, left for abroad for the first time to orient himself and the group in Prague. The memoirs, which supplement each other, bear ample evidence of the calm, level-headed, rational way in which the two social scientists went about their work. They were not engaged upon an easy task, nor did they enter upon it with light hearts or the recklessness so often characteristic of such actions. They had for years consciously and with purpose studied the forces which since the Renaissance and Reformation had molded Europe. They realized that the World War was something more than a conflict between Germans and Slavs, between Prussian militarism and nationalism, between German and British merchants and empire builders, and many other rivalries, important as they were. To them it was something more universal, something more fundamental. It was a great struggle between two parts of Europe which historically had developed to different stages. It was a struggle between two ideas. Western Europe, in spite of many contradictory manifestations, had evolved into the democratic conception of the freedom of the individual and of the nation, in which the state existed for the people. It had left behind the feudal and aristocratic conceptions of the Middle Ages. Germany, Austria and Russia had not outgrown them. Prussian militarism, Austrian bureaucracy, and Russian Tsardom had not yet been transformed by the same forces which had so fundamentally transformed Western Europe and America. The future was in the hands of rapidly democratizing forces which in the end would prove far more powerful than the Prussian war-machine.

To Masaryk and Beneš the historical experience of the Czech nation fitted into the scheme of what had happened in Western Europe. Here in the heart of Europe had developed a nation which had shared, even led, in the Reformation, and had lost its independence in the struggles which resulted from it. The Hapsburgs had banished its educated classes and nobility, confiscated their lands and their wealth, converted their people by force, and inflicted on them a serfdom which was not only economic, but political and spiritual as well. But this enserfed peasantry had raised itself by its own endeavor to a nation which had become educated and democratized and which in its competition with the Germans had played them to a standstill. Both Masaryk and Beneš always insisted, and insist today, that the Czechoslovaks must fit their problems and their policy into the general frame-work of European development. They attribute their success to their ability to do this. It was only after a careful scanning of the skies that these two pioneers of new conditions in Central and Eastern Europe concluded that their philosophy of European and Czech history was substantially correct and that the time for action was ripe.

It was necessary not only to create the underground revolutionary organization, the "Maffia," but to secure the consent and, so far as possible, the coöperation of the other political leaders of the nation who would not be able to leave Bohemia and upon whom all the pressure of the Hapsburg machine would be exerted to disavow what was being done abroad. The "Maffia" would act as an agency of liason between the revolutionary leaders abroad and the passive leaders within until the time would come for action. While these preparations were being made both the Austro-Hungarian Government and the nation gave unmistakable evidence of what was to happen. The former proceeded to imprison the political leaders and to enter upon a persecution which could only increase the bitterness of the nation. The nation began to resist passively within, and its sons on the front lines deserted en masse to the enemy. As the young men defiled along the streets of Czech cities they were often enjoined by their sweethearts and mothers, standing on the curb, not to fight against their Slavic brothers in a war about which the nation had not been consulted. The nation in its heart and in its actions, where it could show them, was far more radical than its leaders, and became increasingly so as time went on under the stupid policy of its German and Magyar overlords. From this Masaryk and Benes knew that the situation was developing along lines which they had foreseen. Meanwhile, Masaryk was notified by the "Maffia" that it was too dangerous for him to return from his second trip of observation abroad. He remained in Switzerland. Beneš, who had been twice to visit Masaryk for instructions, now saw that his arrest was only a matter of time after Kramář, Klofač and other leaders had been imprisoned. On September 1, 1915, armed with a forged passport and assisted by a comrade, he crawled through the underbrush of the forests under the very noses of the Austrian sentries on the Bavarian frontiers. "Was it," he asks, "a leap into the dark or into a new life?"

His forged passport got him into Switzerland, where he immediately began his activity alongside of his former teacher. The task which faced them was tremendous. The Czech Question was but little known beyond the borders of Austria. Since the Seventeenth century it had been a "provincial" question. The Germans and Magyars had seen to it that it was not a question of international politics. It now became the duty of these men to educate the statesmen and public opinion of the Entente as to the possible significance of the liberation of the Czechoslovaks. It meant nothing more nor less than the destruction of a world power, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was a huge task, but they accomplished it. The methods they used and the way they went about their job is a long and complicated story. But suffice it to say that it forms one of the most important developments of the entire World War. On this the memoirs speak clearly and give most valuable historical testimony.

On their side worked certain positive factors. They had a nation which was intelligent enough to comprehend the meaning of the struggle -- to engage in it actively where that was possible and to be passive where premature action would have been disastrous. Through the "Maffia" the exiles were able to keep its leaders at home informed on what to do and when to do it and to give them news of what was taking place in the Entente countries. In turn the "Maffia" was able to secure information extremely valuable for their exiled leaders, who put it to the uses of the Entente. They were able by virtue of this information to diagnose accurately what was going on in the Central Powers. Masaryk and Benes, on their side, were favored by their long study of what was taking place in general, were able to criticize intelligently the policies and programs of the Entente and were in a position ultimately to make their views prevail.

Against them was ranged the dense ignorance which existed as to Austria-Hungary, knowledge of which was limited to only a few scholars, publicists, and statesmen in Entente countries. In addition, there were strong Austrophil elements, aristocratic, Catholic, and financial, which labored in every way to minimize Austria-Hungary's blame in the war and hoped to bring about a favorable peace at the first opportunity. It was a relatively easy matter to convince Entente statesmen that provinces might be lopped off from the Hapsburg Monarchy, but it was altogether another thing to talk of freeing a nation in the heart of Europe and breaking up an Empire which some hoped might be detached by a separate peace. Of Tsarist Russia, Masaryk and Beneš were frankly skeptical -- both as to its ability to last out in the conflict and as to its own plans with regard to its Slavic kinsmen.

Having created a Czechoslovak National Council, these two men, joined by Dr. Štefánik, the Slovak astronomer, and by others, organized first the colonies in the Entente countries and subordinated them to their organization. They proceeded next to the task of forming armies out of Czechoslovaks resident in these countries or taken prisoners, as in Russia, Serbia and Italy. As they succeeded in this task they requested and received the attributes of governmental power in respect to the troops and consular and diplomatic rights over citizens of their nationality both in and outside of the armies. The character of their soldiers, who often deserted en masse from the Austro-Hungarian armies, their intelligence and their quality as fighters, soon began to tell. It was hardly necessary to speak of these things after these men were once put under fire. The exploits of the Czechoslovaks in Russia and their anabasis through Siberia made a powerful argument for their leaders.

Step by step, the personality and organizing ability of Masaryk and of his assistants, Benes and Štefánik, began to tell. Intelligent and powerful friends were found in France, England, and America, and a propaganda was developed which day by day undermined the counter-propaganda of the Central Powers. Masaryk was made a professor in the University of London. Beneš lectured in Paris. Štefánik was a genius at making friends and interesting statesmen. On February 4, 1916, Masaryk was received by Premier Briand and was given an opportunity to explain to him his diagnosis of the general situation -- the Pan-German plans of Berlin, the vassalage of Austria-Hungary, and the aims of the Czechoslovaks, which, by the break-up of the Hapsburg Monarchy, would turn Germany back upon her own territorial limits. He outlined a reorganization of Central Europe based on the liberation of the small nations and indicated why this plan was more in harmony with the general development and interests of France and the Entente than any other. Briand, in an official communiqué, immediately expressed the sympathy of France for the Czechoslovak movement. It was the first official recognition which it had received.

Masaryk had from the first foreseen the value of creating armies out of the Czechoslovaks who as Austrian citizens had been interned or as prisoners had been kept in the concentration camps in Entente countries. France had begun to feel the tremendous losses of life which her armies suffered in the first and second years of the war and had turned to Russia for assistance. The latter had promised 400,000 troops, but only 16,000 had been sent. This created such difficulties that the idea arose of sending to France the Czechoslovak prisoners in Russia, who were seen to be more adaptable to the purpose. It was in this way that Stefánik was sent as a French officer with an official mission to Russia, and this is the origin of the development which bulked so large in the events of 1917 and for two years after, and led step by step to the signing of a convention late in 1917 for the regulation of the Czechoslovak army in which the Czechoslovak National Council for the first time received the attributes of a government.

Meanwhile the Central Powers were everywhere victorious and engaged in their first peace offensive. This resulted in the reply of the Entente to President Wilson (on December 30, 1916), which named as one of the war aims "the liberation of Italians, Slavs, Rumanians and Czechoslovaks from foreign oppression." For the achievement of this mention of the Czechoslovaks Beneš is given a great deal of credit. The Central Powers feared to state their aims concretely, and this the Entente fully utilized, thus outpointing them. The declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare followed and with it the entry of the United States into the war. That and the Russian Revolution, which broke out in March, 1917, became the decisive events of the world struggle. Woodrow Wilson's diplomatic broadcasts, playing largely on the self-determination of nations, together with the Russian Revolution, undermined the moral foundations of the Central Powers. Why should German soldiers and the nations of Austria-Hungary fight against Russians who had freed themselves from the reactionary Russian Government? For the small nations, and especially for the Czechoslovaks, these events were the dawn of liberation.

A dark shadow was suddenly cast over their rising hopes when it became known that secret negotiations were being carried on between the Entente and Austria-Hungary. Germany was considered the arch-culprit who must be isolated and then defeated on the battlefield, for, after all, German arms had brought the Allies once more to the breaking point. If the Entente could get Austria-Hungary out of the conflict, they could achieve their object. Moreover, it seemed as though the new Emperor Charles would welcome such a development. So there followed a series of attempts in 1917 and early in 1918 to reach an agreement through various agents. The crux of the matter was that Austria-Hungary should desert Germany, sign a separate peace, and permit the Entente to carry on war from her territory against her former ally. The result of these negotiations was that Austria-Hungary either would not or could not make a separate peace. She then endeavored, under German pressure, to obtain a general peace, but the terms set by the Germans made them impossible of acceptance by the Entente.

This was what Masaryk and Beneš had been predicting all along, and their correct diagnosis made a deep impression on the Entente leaders. After Clemenceau's resolute action in accusing Czernin of lying, the whole affair was liquidated, and there followed in quick succession the convention between France and the Czechoslovak National Council for the creation of the Czechoslovak army (August 4, 1917, officially promulgated February 7, 1918); the expression of sympathy with the national aims of the Czechoslovaks by the United States (May 29), followed by its recognition of the Czechoslovak army as a belligerent army and the National Council as a de facto Government (August 2); the Treaty with France recognizing this status and promising representation at the Peace Conference (September 10); the establishment of the Provisional Czechoslovak Government (September 14), and its admission to the Armistice Conference (November 4). In the same way, step by step, the leaders in Prague, following the directions from Beneš in Paris, made their declaration of aims, defied the Vienna Government, and finally announced that their cause would be dealt with by their representatives at the Peace Conference. On October 28 they established their rule at Prague by a bloodless revolution. Austria-Hungary vanished amidst ill-meant and tardy plans for federalization. The Empire had failed to solve the problems which confronted it.

Upon all these things the memoirs of Masaryk and Beneš throw a flood of light. For their own nation, now celebrating the tenth anniversary of its independence, they bring many valuable lessons for the future.

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  • ROBERT J. KERNER, Professor of Modern European History in the University of California, member of the American delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, American Editor of The Slavonic Review
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