What Russia Got Wrong
Can Moscow Learn From Its Failures in Ukraine?
I AM delighted that FOREIGN AFFAIRS should give me the opportunity of explaining the program of liberal France,--that is to say, of the Radical Party, of which I have had the honor of being the leader for the past four years. During a recent visit to the United States I observed that Americans do not always have an exact understanding of the essential characteristics and activities of the various political parties in France. In particular, they sometimes seem to think that the so-called Radical Party represents ideas even more advanced than those of the Socialist Party. As a result, I was sometimes left with the impression (despite the courtesy of my reception) that I was looked upon as an extremist--almost an anarchist!
So my first task will be to sketch as clearly and precisely as possible the "topographical" position of my party, which, accustomed as it was to power in the days before the war, found itself in the recent Parliament reduced more and more to the role of the Opposition. Here is a diagram indicating the relative positions of the groups or blocs in the recent Chamber: Thus, topographically, our party has as neighbors, on the left the Independent Socialists, so brilliantly represented by M. Briand and M. Painlevé; on the right the group--which, to tell the truth, is a little confused--of the Moderate Democrats, subdivided into many factions, such as the "gauche democratique," the "action republicaine et sociale," etc.
One way of characterizing the Radical Party would be to set down the names of all its principal leaders in past years. Leon Bourgeois has been the most outstanding; to him fell the task of formulating and proclaiming the philosophy upon which our views are based. But after all a political party is to be defined by its doctrines rather than by the individuals which compose it. It is not enough to declare that by our general complexion we hold a position in French politics somewhat analagous to that of the Liberal Party in England. Ideas, like flowers and fruits, vary with the latitude. It behooves me, then, to set forth the fundamental program of the French Radicals against the day when they will once again be called to power. In the following brief survey I shall strive above everything else for clarity.
First, relations with Germany. The United States will be interested especially in our program for a foreign policy. Above all, what is our position with regard to Germany?
It scarcely needs to be said that we associate ourselves in the most explicit fashion with the great national claims of France for reparations. Germany must make compensation for the harm she wrought during the war. To us democrats this seems an even more urgent matter than it does to the nationalistic reactionaries. If one takes, as we take, the introduction of morality into politics as the keystone of our political edifice,--if one believes, as we believe, that the ideal body politic will be that which unites the methods of science to the ideals of morality,--concretely, if a new era is to be proclaimed, if there is to be promulgated a new international code, a liberal charter for the world,--then it is impossible to tolerate, here on the very threshold of this new era, the immoral spectacle of a Germany exonerated from her debts.
Thus the problem of reparations seems to us one of morality even more than one of economics or finance. For the economic solution we cheerfully accept the report of the experts. But Germany must carry out its provisions. We should take it in the worst possible part if, by citing misfortunes which she has in large part brought down on her own head, Germany, where imperialism still lingers, should escape from her obligations with the complicity of certain other nations. That would lead directly and inevitably to war--on that day when German industrial capitalism was able to draw upon the resources accumulated in foreign countries and mobilize against us the wealth which it had not only preserved but increased.
This being said, it must be added that we nevertheless will not associate ourselves in any manner with the policies of nationalists and chauvinists. To wish for the destruction of Germany is stupid from both the moral and political point of view. A people cannot be destroyed. Napoleon, in spite of all his military genius, proved this once for all. We regret sincerely that the French Government has failed to make a distinction between the Germany of the Junkers--which still lives--and democratic Germany, which is still very weak but which should be encouraged to gather its forces.
Not that democratic Germany seems to us to have very deep roots. Walther Rathenau himself wrote that the Germans are still an unpolitical people. The overturn of 1918, provoked by discouragement and weariness, had none of the character of those revolutions which transform the whole morale of a people because they are the culmination of a long period of liberal thought. But because of their very weakness these German democrats ought to have been aided, or even directed, by us.
One of the highest laws of intelligence tells us that nothing frees a conquering nation from the necessity of having a policy that takes into consideration the rights of the conquered. Rome understood this. Without sacrificing any of the rights of France, we should have wished to see this example followed. In other words, we wish success to the German Republic, and if she will accept--not hypocritically, but honestly--the report of the experts, we should willingly try to reach a modus vivendi, the application of which would necessitate a more general agreement for peace.
No one can deny the value--at least in the technical field--of German civilization. It would assuredly be profitable to have it collaborate as fully as possible with French civilization in the common tasks of humanity. We seek to dispel the shadow of Bismarck. But we feel no hostility--quite the contrary--for the immortal spirits of Beethoven and Goethe.
Second, France and Great Britain. A general organization of world peace under which France would resume her traditional role of good-will and magnanimity is, as I have said, our aim. To inject morality into politics, is, I have said, and I repeat, the watchword of all our efforts. But this world is not an abstraction. It does not do merely to enthrone justice and proclaim her power. The task of peace is above all a task of education; and that it may be undertaken forthwith is one of the reasons that we all desire the active coöperation of the United States. Just as in the case of a fleet, justice and peace need bases of support. So, too, we French democrats are earnestly desirous of a permanent and friendly accord with Great Britain.
If one set oneself to compare the British people with the French, one would never solve the problem, for the two systems of national ethics differ profoundly. All would be clear, on the contrary, and the solution brought nearer, if we could but bring ourselves to understand, once and for all, that England and France are two complementary nations whose mutual accord forms the indispensable adjunct for the establishment of world peace. This accord should be based on the community of effort which has characterized the centuries-long struggle of these two great nations for a liberal code. Since the thirteenth century at least,--that is, since the Magna Charta,--England has been the bulwark of modern law. In his memorable "History of English Literature"--a work which has contributed profoundly to the education of my own generation--Hippolyte Taine describes the Anglo-Saxon race as "this new arrival which, in the decadence of its sisters, the Greek and the Latin, has brought to the world a new culture with a new character and a new spirit." "This new spirit," he continues, "void of feeling for the beautiful, is all the more capable of feeling for reality. The deep and vivid impression which it receives from material things will later save it from Latin rhetoric and turn it to deeds at the expense of words."
Even though the course of history has modified certain of their characteristics, the Anglo-Saxons on the whole remain the same. The English character has created this empiricism which certainly is not incapable of rising to the heights of idealism, though by processes quite different from the intuition and sentimentality of the French. In the discussion of the reparation problem one has seen a certain hard practicality on the part of the English in opposition to French theory with its tendencies based on abstract right. But we democrats feel that men of lofty purpose should, despite differences in temperament, maintain between France and Great Britain a very necessary "mariage de raîson." So long as international agencies of arbitration fail to undertake the preservation of world peace, the coalition between the Liberals of England and the Radicals of France appears indispensable, if Europe is to be saved from some of the follies to which she is so often subjected.
Third, France and Russia. In this connection one pauses first to take into consideration that the French and English democracies,--and I would add the American democracy,--must defend the constitutional theory which grew out of the long efforts of thinkers and writers, both French and English, during the eighteenth century. The object of enemy attack at the present moment is the political régime which is founded on principles of human reason and on a belief in human progress. The Radical Party means to protect with all its strength, whether against monarchism or against communism or even against doubtful republicanism, the common creed of all democracies.
The spectacle which confronts all Europe today is a great conflict between democracy and dictatorship. On certain counts democracy has already triumphed. This was the case, for example, with the new-born Greek Republic, over whose cradle we have been watching. It was the case even more clearly with the new Turkey which, not hesitating to exile the Khalif, has sought to found its national unity on doctrines of abstract reason--a difficult enterprise, but one which we French democrats refuse to discredit in the name of inert traditionalism or negative scepticism. Should the Radical Party again be called to power it would at once do its best to strengthen the bonds which unite so many of its members with the Young Turks of Angora.
The shadow across this picture is the present situation in Russia, a country gripped in the last convulsions of Communism. The Soviet Government seems set upon justifying all the prejudices against it.
In its attitude there is much of the Orient. I cannot forget the opening words of Rudyard Kipling's story, "The Man Who Was": "Let it be clearly understood the Russian is a delightful person till he tucks in his shirt. As an Oriental he is charming. It is only when he insists upon being treated as the most easterly of western peoples, instead of the most westerly of easterns, that he becomes a racial anomaly extremely difficult to handle." It is perfectly clear, for instance, to all who have any knowledge of the subject, that Communism is at this moment conducting an incredibly stupid propaganda in France in compelling the party which it claims as its own not only to oppose all the parties of the Left, but to recruit its candidates without taking any account of their intelligence.
These paradoxes fly in the face of common sense. If Communism does not take care it will awaken a terrible reaction. In particular we must take great precautions if there is not to be in Russia and Germany and Hungary and Rumania a great recrudescence of anti-Semitism. That is one of the forms which the spirit of reaction might easily take if Semitic anarchists continue their efforts to break up nations. Against all these provocations, this puerile propaganda, these melodramatic threats, this assault of ignorance, this self-conceit (oh! the pride of the Russian) what is to be arrayed? Barriers of troops? The famous curtains of barbed wire, invented by M. Clemenceau, revolutionist turned reactionary? I say no. I have sufficient confidence in the spirit of liberty to be willing to leave the Russian problem to it; it has solved many others. On the day when the democrats of the world resume normal relations, or at least commercial relations, with the Bolshevists, Europe will not have been Bolshevized, but rather the Bolshevists will have become transformed. On the day when Soviet diplomats are received at Paris and Washington, they will not impose on their colleagues the Russian blouse; they will be the most faithful propagandists of the dinner-jacket.
Here again one must survey the matter intelligently. We must trust in liberty. Nothing can excuse the cruelties of Communist Russia, though in the East torture does not provoke revolt as it would in the West. One must not forget, however, that Russia had to free herself from the most frightful mis-government ever inflicted upon a long-suffering people. To defend herself she had no institutions, no public opinion, no freedom of thought or action. The moujik, once freed, revenged himself as did the slave of ancient times. Moreover, the expeditions organized against Russia with the help of notorious adventurers have had the practical effect of making the Bolshevists appear as the saviors of Russian nationalism--a service like that performed for the Jacobins by the emigrés.
But all that is already of the past; history will be the judge. The man of action looks to the future. It is by charity, patience and tolerance that we can be of service to Russia. One combats violence effectively only by keeping cool.
Fourth, the Italian Question. Equally, though in a different guise, the spirit of dictatorship has burst forth in Italy. The fascisti reaction is nothing but a revulsion against the ridiculous excesses of Italian anarchistic communism.
Here again let us be cool-headed. Italy, justly indignant that her right to be considered a Great Power should be questioned, still bears the scars of a war that brought her nation unity but in doing so imposed upon her heavy losses in blood and treasure. Her long and heroic effort (whatever may be said to the contrary) stretched her nerves to the breaking point. The national pride of a young and ardent country was aroused. Let us not be unduly concerned over it. The day will surely come when Italy will be content to rest in peace inside her enlarged frontiers. The spirit of democracy is only asleep. The individualistic behavior of her leader (I do not, of course, refer to the King) should not lessen our sympathy for a people that is hard-working, sincere and in every respect interesting.
If Signor Mussolini should lay claim to the domination of the Mediterranean, he would find us ready to combat such childishness. But in her legitimate desire to find ways of ensuring life and prosperity for her ever increasing population, Italy will find in us only a friend.
Fifth, the Little Entente. To conclude this rapid and necessarily incomplete survey of the European political situation as seen through the eyes of the Radical Party, there remain to be said a few words on a group of nations that has played a very important role in recent years-- the Little Entente.
Now the Radical Party, like the French people as a whole, has the greatest sympathy for the peoples composing or closely connected with the Little Entente: for brave Serbia; for Rumania, whose importance has been doubled and whose population today numbers 16,000,000; for Poland, martyr of history; for the Czechs, whose past seems one long tribute to virtue. These nationalities, at last redeemed, have been supported throughout their sufferings by some of the greatest intellects in France. (Was not Michelet the spiritual father of Poland and of Rumania?) We do not forget that in 1871 a Czech assembly protested against the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine. We have, therefore, followed with unusual interest the labors of that subtle and discreet statesman, M. Benes, who has many personal friends among us.
Can it be said that the Little Entente, in its own mind or in ours, constitutes a perpetual barrier to Germany? To my way of thinking this would be a dangerous idea. Poland, for all its fine spiritual fervor, unfortunately has frontiers only of sand. Rumania needs time to consolidate Transylvania and the Banat, yet she is exposed in Bessarabia to a possible offensive by Russia, which, Bolshevist or not, refuses to forget the lost Paradise where the vine and the figtree flourish. Bohemia proper opposes sturdy ramparts to a possible "revenge"; yet she bears the burden of an insecure Slovakia. There as elsewhere--as everywhere--democratic duty conforms with national interest. But time is needed for stabilization.
Sixth, the League of Nations. Thus we reach once again the dramatic problem of the League of Nations.
We democrats were filled with hope when, at the head of the Treaty of Peace, we saw the Covenant of the League of Nations. We read: "The High Contracting Parties,
"In order to promote international cooperation and to achieve international peace and security
"by the acceptance of obligations not to resort to war,
"by the prescription of open, just and honorable relations between nations,
"by the firm establishment of the understandings of international law as the actual rule of conduct among Governments, and
"by the maintenance of justice and a scrupulous respect for all treaty obligations in the dealings of organized peoples with one another,
"Agree to this Covenant of the League of Nations."
This reverberated in our ears like a psalm. It seemed a pledge of the dignity of nations and the destiny of mankind; it was the vindication of morality and right on the morrow of the most frightful war in history. An altar was raised on the vast field of carnage. The weak, whether nations or individuals, could henceforth live their own lives. It was the dawn.
To be sure, the newly-made association was still fragile and imperfect in many respects. The Assembly was liberally constituted, but by the terms of the Covenant the Council was composed of representatives of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers and of four other members of the League, with the result that its composition still seemed to have the color of privilege. The connection between the Covenant and the Treaty of Peace was distinctly visible, and to some the knowledge hurt.
Yes, but can peace ever be improvised out of whole cloth? Let me repeat that peace is not an abstraction. The League of Nations seemed to us the embryo of a future international organization; and for the struggle against the internationales, whether Socialistic or Communist, it offered the best possible instrument.
It was a great blow to us when the United States refused to become a party to these hopes. I have no intention of judging the actions of good and true friends, much less to complain of them. I merely deplore them. The arguments used against the League are perhaps valid in view of traditions which have their merit and usefulness. But it was on another plane--on a higher plane--that we wished to place ourselves. We hoped little by little to lead the world to undertake a great task of re-creation. We thought we were to see the fulfilment of the most beautiful words of the Evangelist. Was not this our plain and pressing duty--rising above all the conventions of the past--towards those whose glowing youth is today beaten to the earth? It was a Revolution, the most idealistic, the most noble, that could be attempted,--the Revolution for peace.
But great works require faith. Only faith can create. To create is to believe. Though we are ready to defer to the criticisms of our American friends, we nevertheless beg them to sit down with us at the peace table. It is good to succor orphans; it is a finer thing to leave them their fathers. More, far more, than any political duty is the moral duty which calls us to join forces.
The League of Nations will be reformed. But it is necessary to reform it from within, not attack it from without. I look forward to the day when the democratic people of America will say to the democrats of France: "We are here!"
Having summarized the views of the Radical Party in regard to its foreign policy, I now shall turn to internal affairs. I suppose this is a much less interesting subject to readers of FOREIGN AFFAIRS, but I think certain points should be made clear.
First, let me take up the Radical Party's policy towards what we in France call "la question laïque," and which you would probably call in America "the church question." The Radical Party is often accused, in France and abroad, of being violently antireligious. This simply is not so. I admit that in a country like ours, burdened with a history of several centuries of religious wars, the struggle for freedom of liberal thought has often been bitter. I grant that the polemics launched against Christianity in the name of freedom of conscience often reveal neither sincerity nor grandeur. It is this very sort of thing that has inspired us to urge the Separation of Church and State, which,--by a distinction that seems very elementary to the Anglo-Saxon mind but which is intolerable to certain Latin temperaments,--distinguishes definitely between the spiritual and temporal domains.
For the same reason my party has opposed the reëstablishment of the Embassy at the Vatican. Even courteous gestures, which mean nothing in countries where religious problems are considered coolly, must be used sparingly in a country like ours, where the church, or a certain group of its members, persists in attempting to regain political influence and interferes both in diplomacy and in the internal struggles between the various parties. We fully recognize in the Sovereign Pontiff of Rome the chief spiritual head of a vast section of humanity; but we desire to see him removed from all influence over our political problems, for example, over the Eastern Question.
Joining in one national unity Catholics, Protestants, and Jews,--protecting vast hordes of Mohammedans,--ruling over black and yellow as well as white,--France, we believe, should be unswervingly neutral towards all faiths. It is this neutrality which we call our "Lay Policy." Therein we are opposed to the conservative parties of the Right.
We differ from the Right also in the matter of economics and finance. The Radical Party prides itself on having substituted the income tax for the old French fiscal system based on the celebrated quatres vieilles. To be quite honest, this method of taxation was introduced much too late into our legislation. If we had gone ahead with it during the war, we should have been able, or nearly able, to balance our receipts and expenditure, as Great Britain did. In default of this method we had to have recourse to the onerous system of loans. If the French budget is today somewhat difficult to balance, it is not because ordinary expenses are too high, but because of the arrears of these war loans. We at least are anxious that the income tax be applied now. One problem presents itself, namely, how to handle the tax on personal property. The last Chamber hesitated to take any action. We would undertake the matter vigorously.
In addition, we believe that if our foreign policy triumphs it would be possible to effect important economies by a reduction both of armaments and of the term of military service.
With regard to social questions, the Radical Party remains firmly attached to the principle of private property. But we believe that the best way of supporting this principle lies in combatting its abuse. A due regard for individual property rights does not preclude assigning the state its share in national resources. An industrial state which was itself a producer would not find itself obliged to demand so much in taxes. We do not defend state monopolies in their present form, considering them much too bureaucratic. But we would be glad to see the state take back control of the railways and of organizations which are indispensable to the country's well-being. At least we look with favor on the system of the régie intéressée. We think it ridiculous that the state should intervene solely to meet the deficits of exploiting companies without ever sharing in their profits.
We heartily favor the expansion of production. My personal opinions are set forth in my book, "Crèer," in which I have attempted to define a program grounded entirely on production. To my mind the only statesman worthy the name is one who encourages the development of wealth without himself sharing in it in any way. I believe that government should be the constant auxiliary of commerce and industry. It should always attempt to shape its policy to their needs.
But it would be a very grave error to let political policy be ruled by autocratic economics--a tendency unhappily observable today in many countries. We see at this very moment in France a group called the "Union des Intérêts Economiques" which has raised a considerable sum for fighting the parties of the Left. The day when economics dominates politics will mark the end of democracy. Democracy pre-supposes a moral and reasonable system of continuous arbitration between individual citizens. If economic interests should succeed in securing a domination, Marx would be right. The democratic "balance" would then be destroyed, to give place to a permanent social conflict. The class spirit of the capitalists would then quite justify the class spirit of the workers. Materialism and economic fatalism would emerge triumphant over the idealism which is the foundation of democracy.
Production, then, must be encouraged--but on the understanding that it attempts neither to dominate nor absorb the state.
Individualists, since we recognize private property, we have conceived a social organization entirely different from that of the theoretical socialist. We do not think it is possible to achieve a permanent equality between men, and we say so bluntly. We do not wish to level everyone off, and especially to level them downwards. Social life is not static; it is dynamic. The human being should be regarded as a creator. At the very least, the humblest should be guarded against the inevitable accidents of life--whence the necessity for social insurance.
But the best way to aid the human being to emancipate himself is to educate him. To instruct, in the original Latin sense of the word, is to arm. A democracy does not seem to us, therefore, an arrangement for reducing all men to the same level, and the lowest level at that--as is the childish conception, at least ostensibly, of the Russian Bolshevists--but rather an order of things which, placing all citizens under the conditions most favorable to their development, permits the humblest to rise to the heights by his energy and (I do not hesitate to use the word of Montesquieu) by his virtue.
From this point of view there is much to be done in France. Undoubtedly the present means of instruction are many and varied. But from the very fact that our nation achieved a high degree of civilization at an early date, it harbors institutions bearing the imprint of every sort of regime. Monarchical creations like the Collège de France stand cheek by jowl with Revolutionary creations such as the Ecole Normale Supérieure and with creations of the Third Republic like the Universities. Our secondary system of education still carries the stamp both of the Jesuits and of Napoleon.
The Radical Party thinks it highly important to reorganize the school system according to the plans mapped out clearly by the French Revolution, and particularly in conformity with the ideas of Condorcet. It believes in the doctrine of a single school system, borrowed from Michelet, which provides that all children destined for the university shall begin in the primary school, in contradistinction to the present system whereby children of wealthy parents receive their first actual instruction at the lycée.
This is the method, in our opinion, of inducing true equality.
The limits of my allotted space find me, I fear, still far from a satisfactorily complete resume of the program of liberal France, but I trust that I have at least been specific. Science and morality, I said at the beginning of my article, are the twin bases of all our theory. I repeat it here at the conclusion. We take our stand between theoretical socialism on the one hand and egotistical individualism on the other. The state appears to us as a sort of arbiter, whose obligation it is to deal out justice. In a democracy, we believe, there is no order without progress.
Between energetic and busy reaction, and revolution which is all words, we take our stand in defense of the doctrine of evolution and, through evolution, of progress. We wish to spare our nation all experiments of violence.
It is plain that this sort of wisdom is sadly lacking in the allurement of pretty nonsense. Man, we know very well, and especially the Latin type, orients himself above all by shibboleths. Possibly error is actually more attractive than truth. But that is no reason for surrendering to it. Athwart all varieties and shades of opinion we hold firm to our pursuit of the democratic tradition of France.
We wish our country to shine, not by the power of her arms but by the nobility of her ideal. We wish her to keep her traditional aspect of kindness, of justice and of generosity.