Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
NOW that the smoke of the verbal battles between the Russian and the non-Russian participants in the last two international conferences has lifted, we can begin to estimate what results have been attained by the many weeks of earnest, not to say acrimonious, discussion between the representatives of assembled Europe. Few will deny that these results have been meagre compared with the hopes entertained at the outset. Some will even declare that no progress whatever towards a reconstruction of the world has come from these meetings of "best minds." Others will take a rosier view, but it is too early yet to reach many definite conclusions about questions with such intricate and far reaching ramifications. We can only distinguish certain immediate and obvious phenomena.
One of these is that there has been a clearing of the atmosphere. Europe may feel no nearer to seeing her way out of her difficulties, but she knows better where she stands and what are the circumstances with which she has to deal. This is particularly true in regard to Russia, the great mystery of the last four years. The Soviet republic has come out of its seclusion, it has shown itself willing, nay eager, to talk with other states. As yet it has been officially recognized by but few, but it has reassumed a position in the concert of the powers whether the others like it or not. Its present standing, its attitude and aims, should be clearly understood, for Russia is too large a part of the world to be ignored with impunity.
When in October last Chicherin sent out his first note proposing an international conference on Russian affairs and offering as a quid pro quo for assistance the recognition of Russian pre-war debts, not many people realized just what were the situation and reasoning of the Soviet Government. Their overture was generally regarded as the appeal of a hopeless bankrupt forced at last by desperate necessity to recognize the error of his ways and to beg for succor at the hands of those he had grievously injured. Even if we admit that there was justification for this opinion it was at best only a half truth. It was equally true that the ruling Communists had never felt more firmly on their feet than they did at that very moment, and not without reason.
The Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic was just completing the fourth year of its stormy existence, during which it had had innumerable difficulties to overcome and obstacles to surmount. Although by its own admission it could count on the active support of only a minority of the population and had had arrayed against it the vast majority of those who had formerly been the leaders in every form of public life, private enterprise or intellectual activity, although it had been undermined by the plots of reactionaries, social revolutionists, even anarchists, it had survived. It had fought against Germans, English, French, Americans, Japanese, Poles, Czechoslovaks, against Cossacks and other discontented elements within led by thousands of trained officers and armed and provisioned from without; it had seen most of its territory overrun at one time or another; and yet it had emerged triumphant. By the autumn of 1921 every assault, native or foreign, had failed. Only in the Far East under Japanese protection there was still military opposition, but even there it was diminishing. Peace had been concluded with Poland and with the Baltic states, for these were alien elements in the body politic which Communist Russia let go with little apparent regret and in full conformity with her theories. She had regained control in the Caucasus, she had concluded political treaties and was on friendly terms with Persia, Afghanistan and Turkey. It is true she still professed to fear attack in the east from Japan and in the west from Poland and Rumania supported by France, her newspapers and orators still harped on the evil designs of her capitalistic foes, but such talk was chiefly intended to stimulate the patriotism of the masses and particularly of the army. In reality, never before had Soviet Russia been so free from the menace either of foreign invasion or of serious insurrection.
This last fact was not due to any marked increase in popularity of the Communist regime. There was scant evidence of anything of the sort. But all open opposition had been beaten down. Every conspiracy had been ruthlessly suppressed. The peasantry who formed the immense majority of the population no longer manifested active discontent. What they asked for was to be let alone, and the Soviet Government had learned the wisdom of respecting this wish. The remnants of the former upper and educated classes were now thoroughly cowed by the terror they had lived through. The hundreds of thousands of irreconcilable refugees abroad were innocuous and were getting more and more out of touch even with their like in their native land. The component parts of the loosely federated state acted together with sufficient unity of purpose and were under the same rigorous general control. Doubtless disorder still prevailed in outlying districts and little heed was paid in some regions to the writ of the central authorities, but these were but local manifestations which could be dealt with in time. Altogether, Soviet Moscow felt it had been victorious in both foreign and domestic affairs and it was as far as possible from any such sentiment as contrition.
On the other hand, there were two painful truths which the blindest adherent of Bolshevism could not deny or explain away. First, in spite of Communist propaganda, no other country as yet followed more than temporarily the Russian example; second, in Russia itself the economic situation was utterly disastrous. In the early days the hopes of the Communists had been high. The Bolshevik triumph was to be but a step in the world wide revolution which should soon extend to all lands. For a space, especially in the year 1919, the outlook was promising. In Germany the Spartacus movement threatened the existence of the new republic. At Budapest the red terror was installed by Bela Kuhn, the disciple of Lenin. At Vienna the weak government seemed likely to collapse at any moment. If this happened the example of Hungary and Austria could not but affect Rumania and Jugoslavia. Italy was reported to be full of seething discontent and should Italy raise the red flag France with her traditions of the Paris commune, the precursor of the Moscow one, must surely follow. Then the turn of England would come and sooner or later that of the United States. This was the doctrine which Communist writers and speakers (and none others were allowed) preached to thousands of eager believers throughout Soviet Russia.
But the prophecies did not come true. Every one of the supposedly tottering bourgeois governments succeeded in maintaining itself, growing stronger rather than weaker as time went on. Worse still, the regime of Bela Kuhn was quickly overthrown in Hungary, to the intense disappointment of Moscow. Of course, the certainty of the ultimate triumph of Communistic ideas everywhere was still proclaimed, but as the months followed each other that triumph began to look discouragingly remote. All the strenuous efforts of Bolshevist propaganda had produced but meagre results, and the natural consequence was a feeling of disillusionment and lassitude. The official tone might remain the same, the more ardent spirits might continue to dream and to plot, but the abler and harder headed men at the helm, sobered by stern experience in facing the difficulties of actual administration, had been brought to see that their first task was to make the best of conditions as they were. The capitalistic states of the world existed; they were in no hurry to come to an end; they could help Russia as well as harm her. As they now seemed disposed at least to leave her alone, was it not wisdom to stop wasting efforts on their conversion and to find out on what terms it was possible to live with them?
These arguments were reinforced by the appalling nature of the economic situation in which Soviet Russia found herself. Such a colossal catastrophe the world had never witnessed. Not only had factories and mines almost ceased to produce, but transportation had broken down; t6ols, clothes, shoes and other necessities of decent life were becoming unprocurable. Vast masses of peasantry with no stocks in reserve were raising but a fraction of the crops they formerly had and were concealing and hoarding what they did raise. Thus the threat of famine on a gigantic scale needed only a single bad harvest to make it become a terrific reality.
Of course it was explained that these evils were due to the sins of the former tsarist regime and to bourgeois exploitation, to war, to insurrection, to the intervention of foreign armies, to the blockade which had been instituted against the Russian labor republic by its capitalist foes, and to their continued machinations without and within. But granting all this, though these explanations had been repeated so often that the effect was beginning to wear off, the fact remained that the Communist promised land was becoming a hell on earth, not only to such of the hated bourgeoisie as still managed to survive, but to pretty much every one else within its borders. Something had to be done to remedy the situation, even if certain sacred principles of Communist theory went by the board.
Already by the end of the year 1920 the Soviet leaders and especially Lenin, who with his strange cynical frankness seems to take a positive delight in pointing out the errors which he and his have committed, had made up their minds that they must embark on a new policy. They had come to recognize that in a country where nine-tenths of the people were peasants it was impossible to maintain a government supported only by the factory population. It had become evident, too, that the peasants could not be won over unless they were assured not only of the practical possession of their land but of the right to dispose of its products. Experience had shown that if they were to be deprived of their surplus produce (theoretically in return for manufactured goods which the ruin of industry had rendered it impossible to supply) they would answer by raising only what food was requisite for their immediate needs. There was no escaping the conclusion that they did not appreciate the beauties of Communism and for the present at least were unteachable. Therefore, as the life of Russia depended upon them, their terms must be accepted. The system of compelling them to hand over to the state everything not needed for their own requirements and those of their families had to be given up. The government surrendered, and it was enacted that henceforth after paying a moderate tax in kind the peasant should be at liberty to sell whatever he had raised, which implied in practice a recognition of his ownership of the land.
This enactment made an irreparable breach in the system under which Soviet Russia had been administered since the winter of 1917. It meant the beginning of what was almost a new revolution, for it did not and could not stand by itself. If the peasant might own and sell, then others must be allowed to. Why should he be the only person allowed to dispose of the fruits of his labors, and if people were to sell they must also have the means to buy. The Soviet authorities had never been able really to put an end to all private trade, indeed, in the cities, they had often winked at the illicit sale of food without which there would have been much more actual starvation. They now proceeded to re-establish the right of private property and of buying and selling, the government reserving to itself only the making of regulations and also the monopoly of certain products and key industries, including export. This is the famous "new economic policy" or "strategic retreat," which was elaborated by a long series of decrees in 1921 and the first part of 1922.
Under this policy Russia has reverted to something like her former life. The markets and the business streets of Moscow are once more crowded; many shops have been opened though there is but little variety in the goods, largely second-hand, which they have to offer; tickets for railways, tramways and theatres again have to be paid for. All this is obviously in violation of the principles on which the Soviet republic was proclaimed and which it long tried to enforce, and the process has been watched with disapproval and alarm by the more uncompromising left wing of the Communist party, who have asked where it was to end. But the necessity of a change was so clear that it has been put through without open opposition.
But the "new economic policy" did not relate to internal affairs alone, for the need of assistance from abroad has likewise been urgent. It is true that the Soviet Government and its partisans declared that Russia, the land of boundless natural resources, was capable of recovering her prosperity unaided, yet even they did not profess that in that case her recovery could be other than a slow and painful one. If she wished to get quickly on her feet, to provide a new plant in place of what had been destroyed, to make a vast number of indispensable repairs and to procure necessary articles of many kinds, in order to set her industries going again on their former scale, not to speak of the tapping of new sources of wealth, she could do so only with the aid of a great amount of capital and that capital she could not furnish herself; she must turn to foreigners, however much she might condemn their principles. Foreign capital could be obtained only from loans or in return for concessions, foreign goods could come in only by trade and nothing of the sort could be hoped for as long as Soviet Russia remained an outcast among the nations. If she must get outside assistance from abroad, the sooner she entered into normal relations with the rest of the world the better. The capitalist states might be unregenerate but she could not afford to wait till they had learned the error of their ways. She required immediate help and as a first step to this she wanted recognition.
That this help must be paid for in some way was evident, but the Soviet leaders believed they were in a position to bargain. They too had heard the widespread cry that the peace and prosperity of the world could not be restored until Russia had been once more admitted into the comity of nations and should again contribute by her efforts and from her huge resources to the welfare of mankind. They also know that in the capitalistic countries there were men who hoped splendid things from a reopening of Russian trade. No wonder, then, that the Moscow papers asserted that "Europe needs Russia as much as Russia needs Europe." What they did not perhaps appreciate was that there were millions of good people all over the globe who regarded Bolsheviks as little better than wild beasts.
The Soviet Government itself was naturally well aware that it would be met at the outset of any negotiations by the question whether it was prepared to recognize the tremendous claims against it. It was ready with its reply. The claims of foreign states against Russia could be divided into two categories, first, pre-war debts, and, secondly, war debts and claims for reparation for the destruction and confiscation of foreign property. As an offset to this second class of demands the Russians could bring up their own counter claims which were even more tremendous than the claims of the Allies, or at any rate could be made so if the occasion required. And these counter claims could not be waived aside as midsummer madness. They were based on quite enough international law and precedent to offer a presentable case before an impartial tribunal, could such a one be conceived of. The Allied powers without formal declaration of war with Soviet Russia had for years not only abetted and fostered countless plots against her, and furnished openly or covertly weapons, munitions, military instructors to armed forces who were trying to overthrow her government, but had also actually sent their armies into her territory. If Great Britain had once had to pay more than fifteen million dollars damages (the case had been specially studied up in Moscow) for having allowed the Alabama to sail from England to prey on commerce during the American Civil War, how much did the Allied and Associated Powers owe for their continual intervention in the Russian one? To be sure, the Allies had never recognized the Soviet Government and if it had been overthrown their intervention would have been counted to them by its successor as righteousness. But it had not been overthrown. It had maintained itself and its claims could not be ignored. If the South had been victorious Great Britain would not have had to pay an indemnity for the exploits of the Alabama. As the North was, she did. The logic of facts has to be taken into consideration.
We need not, however, suppose that the Soviet Government has expected that its claims on this score will be satisfied. Their value consists in their capacity of being used as an offset to Allied claims for compensation or war debt. This applies to the United States as well as to Great Britain and France. Some day the Americans may have to charge off the couple of hundred millions Russia now owes them as war debt and put it down as part of the cost of their expeditions to Archangel and Vladivostok.
As to pre-war debts, although Soviet Russia demurred in theory at recognizing an obligation to repay sums which had served to strengthen the former oppressive autocracy and militarism, in practice she could hardly hope to obtain the new loans she so ardently desired if at the same time she calmly repudiated her old ones. Here was her chance to make a concession. While refusing to admit a moral liability for these debts, she would express a willingness to meet them, though just to what extent need not be specified but would depend on the bargain she could drive later.
The country which would profit the most by this concession was the one which had been the bitterest and most active enemy of the Bolshevik regime from the first, and was most cordially detested by Moscow in return, namely France. Her attitude was still one of uncompromising hostility, and crowned with victory she was now the predominant power on the European continent. But it was in France that by far the largest portion of Russian pre-war debt was held and that not by a few millionaires but by tens of thousands of small investors. In order to protect their interests France would have to put her pride in her pocket, forget past grievances and present antipathies and come down to business. If she continued aloof and hostile, she would be in danger of sacrificing what she had invested in the past, as well as the special opportunities now offered.
With England the situation was even simpler. English conservatives might dislike Bolshevism--and England had done much to aid the enemies of the Soviets, especially in the warfare of Denikin--but the English are a practical people who accept the decision of facts. The Soviet Government was now firmly established. As England lives by her exports, her millions of unemployed were a sufficient reason for her to make every effort to open up new markets and to re-establish old ones. Why should she not come to terms with Russia, especially as her holdings of pre-war debts were much less serious than those of France? Lloyd George had intermittently given encouragement to the idea. As early as March 16, 1921, an agreement had been concluded which not only permitted Anglo-Russian trade, but sanctioned the residence of a Russian commercial agent in London. So far this had not led to any particular results, but the ice was broken.
The attitude of the United States presented a peculiar problem. As the richest, most successful bourgeois capitalistic state of the day, the United States embodies the most advanced type of the form of society which Communists regard it as their chief object in life to destroy, but as it has the largest amount of available capital it is the country which can do the most to build up Russia and finally it is the one which has shown itself by far the most generous in relieving Russian distress. Whatever might be the differences in their social conceptions, the advantage to Moscow of cultivating friendly relations with Washington was indisputable. This ought not to be difficult. The Americans have the reputation of caring for the almighty dollar and here was Moscow willing to offer them special opportunities to obtain a great number of dollars by the exploitation of untapped Russian resources. Yet, strange to say, America, which had no particular quarrel with Russia, which had not been injured by the breaking of an alliance with her as had England and France, which had no conflicting ambitions and several common interests and which was showing herself such a friend in need to starving Russians, nevertheless remained coldly aloof, haughtily refusing to recognize the Soviet Government or to have any dealings with it except in dispensing charity. To be sure, President Wilson in a direct communication had urged it not to make peace with Germany and this might be regarded as a recognition of sorts, but his appeal had fallen on deaf ears, and there had been no further official intervention. Later the Bullitt mission had aroused Soviet hopes but it had led to nothing but controversy. Since then not only had the Wilson administration refused recognition but the Harding one, by Mr. Hughes' declaration of March 25, 1921, had taken an equally uncompromising stand, nay, it had gone further, for it had invited other powers to a conference in Washington to discuss questions of the Pacific and of the Far East without the participation of Russia, in flagrant disregard of the fact that she was one of those most interested in just such questions. Chicherin had protested in July and again in November in vigorous but dignified language and had declared that any decisions reached would be for her null and void. The statement that the United States would act as the "moral trustee" for Russia seemed like adding insult to injury, and it was freely asserted in Moscow that America at the Washington conference would try to buy concessions from the Japanese in other places by giving them a free hand in Siberia. Instead she showed she took her trusteeship seriously and did what she could to get them out of there.
Some would say that a bond was created between Soviet Russia and the United States by their similar attitude towards the League of Nations. The reasons influencing the two might not be quite the same, but the tone in regard to it of, for instance, the Boston Transcript differed little from that of the Pravda. If a common dislike draws nations together, abstention of the United States and Russia from the League should help to bring them closer to each other and to Germany.
When in the summer of 1921 in answer to the appeal of Maxim Gorki the American Relief Administration, whose president is the Secretary of Commerce, consented to enter Russia, it was hard for the Communists to believe that these bourgeois dispensers of charity were without secret political aims, and when this became self-evident it was harder still for them to understand why if the American people were willing to feed the hungry they should not be willing to do lasting good in a form that would be advantageous to themselves also by accepting the hand that was proffered them, entering into cordial relations, and taking part in the work of Russian economic regeneration. It was work, too, such as ought to appeal irresistibly to the daring imagination so characteristic of Americans, for it was not a matter of slowly building up a trade or of petty concessions but of immediate enterprises on the grandest scale with the promise of marvelous results. Why then did they hold back? Verily these Americans were strange people.
In the above reasoning there were two flaws which the rulers of the Soviet state did not, indeed could not be expected to, appreciate in their full seriousness. To begin with, in all the states with which they now wished to deal public opinion, or a large part of it, looked on them with unaffected moral reprobation, not to say actual loathing. To recognize the regime they had established was to condone crime. The tales of atrocities they had committed had shocked the civilized world; their denials and counter-charges had found little credence. Their machinations and their propaganda had spread alarm everywhere and their wild rantings as well as those of their controlled newspapers about the wickedness of the bourgeoisie and the necessity of wading through blood to a world revolution were not calculated to win them friends in countries where the bourgeoisie and capitalists were influential, not to say dominant. Secondly, even granting that a good many people were inclined to overlook the misdeeds credited to the Bolsheviks, the question still remained, were they to be trusted? What guarantee could they offer that they would keep their word ? Was it not more than likely that after they had lured foreign capital by fair promises they would so hamper its operation that it could make no profit, and when they were ready they would end by confiscating it as they had done before? Was there anything in their character or record which entitled them to be trusted? The Russian answer to this, that decrees, laws, nay whole codes were being promulgated with bewildering activity, guaranteeing all sorts of rights to foreigners as well as to natives, was not wholly convincing. The Soviet Government in its administrative routine may vie with any other in its wilderness of red tape, but it can turn out as many laws as it wants with incomparable speed. By the same token it can repeal them with equal facility. A realization of this may even have lurked in the minds of the creators of the "new economic policy."
This policy having once been decided upon for foreign as well as for domestic affairs, the next question was that of procedure. The Soviet Government, however desirous of recognition and of financial help, and however prepared to make concessions in return, did not propose to appear as a suppliant, or to give up more than it had to. It trusted to its own wits and in Chicherin it possessed a spokesman who had already proved that he could hold his own in dialectics against any opponent he encountered. He opened his campaign with his note of October 29, 1921, in which while asserting that Soviet Russia was not legally or morally bound by the debts of the former regime, nevertheless in view of her need of immediate assistance he stated she would consent to see what she could do towards meeting foreign claims. He therefore proposed that an international congress should be called which should recognize her government and devise the means necessary to bring about her economic rehabilitation.
This overture met with a chilling reception. Such replies as were received were unfavorable. But Moscow went on its way and though within its borders famine and distress became ever more grievous, its international position continued to improve. German and Norwegian trade delegations arrived in Moscow, the frontier with Esthonia was finally settled and a treaty was signed with Austria. The meeting of the Ninth Soviet Congress showed that there was at least no open dissension in the ranks of the faithful. Trotski's speech which was largely devoted to foreign affairs breathed confidence, and though sharp in its denunciations of the actions of certain other powers, it was not at bottom bellicose. And soon the much desired happened. On January 6, 1922, the meeting of premiers at Cannes invited Soviet Russia to attend a general European Conference at Genoa.
There was no hesitation shown about accepting and few attempts to conceal the satisfaction at what the newspapers called "our victory." A strong delegation was chosen, including in theory Lenin himself, though there can have been little serious intention of having him risk his health, not to say his life, merely to satisfy idle curiosity abroad. Chicherin was competent to conduct the Russian case, which had been carefully prepared long before. Meanwhile the making of reassuring laws continued. On February 6th the famous "Cheka," or Extraordinary Commission, whose ruthless exploits had rendered it a name of terror to millions, was formally abolished.
As a preliminary move, the Russian delegates to Genoa on their way through Riga signed an agreement with Poland, Esthonia and Latvia confirming existing treaties and promising to facilitate trade and communications between the two parties. The representatives of the other three states also officially expressed the opinion that a general recognition of the Soviet Government would be helpful to the reconstruction of Europe. In Berlin the Russian delegates carried on negotiations which were soon to have important results. All told, they were proceeding to a meeting at which they might gain a good deal and stood to lose but little, for if they could not obtain collective assistance they were confident that profiting by mutual jealousies they could make some satisfactory bargains with individual powers.
They had, however, met with one severe disappointment before they started. On March 8 Secretary Hughes definitely declined the invitation to the United States to take part in the Conference. This deprived it of half its value for Moscow. What Russia wanted was recognition and above all money. Without American recognition that of Europe was of less consequence, for only the United States was rich enough to lend on a large scale. We may well surmise, therefore, that the absence of American representatives seriously affected the conduct of the Russians both at Genoa and The Hague. They now felt they had less to gain by making concessions and accordingly less reason for making them. Even Lenin's defiant speech to the Congress of Metal Workers at Moscow on March 6th may have been so influenced, for by that time the American refusal could be foreseen. He declared that if need be Russia would say, "All attempts to impose upon us terms as if we were vanquished are outright nonsense to which it is not worth while to reply. We are entering into relations as merchants and we know what you owe us and we owe you, and what legitimate and even exorbitant profit you may extort from us. We have a great number of proposals, the number of agreements grows and will grow, whatever the relations between the three or four victorious powers; a postponement of this conference will be a loss for yourselves, because by postponing it you will prove to your own people that you do not know what you want and that you are suffering from disease of the will." Turning to internal politics he told his enemies, "You challenged us to a desperate fight in 1917, and in reply we took recourse to terror, and again to terror--and will use it still again if you try it again," and as for 'the new economic policy' "we can say now that this retreat as far as concessions made to the capitalists are concerned is now ended."
In Europe, on the other hand, even it would seem in government circles, there existed a widespread belief that the economic situation in Russia was such that however much her representatives might bluff and bluster at the outset, in the end they would have to submit to almost anything. It would therefore be possible, as well as desirable, to impose not only stringent terms for the repayment of old debts, but elaborate and humiliating conditions for future benefits.
We need not enter here into the story of the Genoa conference. Both sides began by putting forward their demands in extreme form--the principal Allies in the report of the preliminary conference held in London, the Russians in a memorandum they drew up in reply stating counter claims which appeared to the Allied powers utterly extravagant, not to say impertinent. In the weeks of wrangling that followed both sides made concessions but they never were near real agreement. From the first the Russians made it plain that they meant to be treated as equals, not as culprits or supplicants. They took the tone that they came to offer as well as to ask and in debate they did not shrink from irritating their opponents by sharp rejoinders. Yet although their demands made Europe gasp they were quite ready to bargain, indeed it sometimes seemed that there was no principle they would not sacrifice if only they could make sure of a large loan. It is not surprising that the conference ended as it did; it could hardly have done otherwise.
But if, owing to the absence of the Americans, the Russians at Genoa had not expected real financial help, they had no cause to be disappointed with the outcome of the conference. For one thing, they had found what they had long desired, a platform from which they could speak with a certainty of being listened to. They did not particularly care if they were disapproved of and stirred up anger. They had not come for sympathy but to assert themselves, and to obtain practical if not formal recognition. This they had achieved. The recognition they had won might not be friendly but it was real. To pretend not to recognize a government after arguing and trying to reach an agreement with it for long weeks, with the whole world following every move in the game, was almost ludicrous. The Soviet republic had indeed won the de facto recognition of Europe. It could afford to wait a while for the de jure, especially as thanks to American assistance the horrors of the famine were being combatted with some measure of success.
At the same time, the Russian delegates had not forgotten the other string to their bow, the opportunity for conversations with separate powers. The situation was promising. France and of late even Italy, ordinarily the faithful henchman of England, had shown themselves willing, although still theoretically at war with the Ottoman Empire, to make pacts with the Turks at Angora behind the back of their British ally. The desire of the Italians for a commercial treaty with Russia was well known and negotiations were already well under way. There was nothing to hinder the Soviet delegates at Genoa or afterwards at The Hague from dealing secretly with single states as well as openly with a number. This they proceeded to do.
On April 15th the Genoa Conference and the world were astonished by the news that Germany and Russia had just signed a formal treaty at Rapallo a few miles away. In its terms it was sound and statesmanlike. The two countries entered once more into normal relations, granting each other equal rights and privileges. By a particularly sensible provision all the claims each might have against the other were swept away, thus disposing of a vast mass of complicated and contentious matter, which could be handled in no other fashion without endless difficulties and possibilities of trouble. The Treaty of Versailles had recognized the right of Russia to German reparation payments. But now bygones were to be bygones. The two mighty former empires had fallen and their old quarrels were but memories. The two new and struggling republics needed the help which each could give the other.
Later history will show some day whether in the long run Russia or Germany will have profited the more by the treaty of Rapallo. At the time it was signed there is no doubt as to which gained by it. However ultimately advantageous it might be to Germany, she ran just then all the risks and paid all the penalties. She doubtless had a theoretical right to conclude the agreement, which was not unlike the one made by Poland, Esthonia and Latvia with Russia a few weeks before, but she chose the worst moment to do it. She prejudiced her case by an appearance of double-dealing, and she heightened the alarm of France, which it was her interest to allay, as well as weakened the hands of Lloyd George, on whom she depended and who was trying to do what he could for her. As a punishment for putting this spoke in the Allied wheel she had to accept the humiliation of being excluded from all further meetings in which Russian affairs were debated.
But Russia received no punishment. If she had worried England and France, why so much the better. It would make them more amenable to reason by showing them she could turn elsewhere. At the dramatic moment she had won an advantage which not only strengthened her immediate position but laid the foundation for greater things in the future.
Towards the close of the conference the news of the Shell oil concession created another sensation, though of a milder sort. The relations between the Shell Company and the British Government were enough to make the transaction interesting. Presently, too, the conference woke up to the fact that the intention of the Russians to redivide their oil districts in such a manner as to exploit them in large concessions to the best advantage, though economically wise, conflicted hopelessly with the return of oil properties to their former foreign owners. All that the Russians were willing to do was to offer not compensation but a certain priority in new concessions. At the last, when the conference ended without agreement, they took back all offers of any kind they had made and rested on their original positions.
When the time came for fresh attempts at accord at TheHague, the prospect was discouraging from the start. The United States had again refused to take part and the tone of the Russian delegates was not conciliatory, nor did the fact that they were long held aloof by the non-Russians and invited only to meet subcommissions improve their disposition. On the other hand they seemed ready to go on talking indefinitely, it was suspected with ulterior motives, and there was again the feeling that they might be willing to sacrifice many principles if only offered money enough. They boldly asked for a huge amount. But the uselessness of further discussion soon became so increasingly evident that the conference broke up, this time with complete acknowledgment of failure, as it made no suggestion of further meetings.
To the self denying ordinance of the non-Russians, adhered to by the United States, that they would frown upon any acquisition by their nationals of Russian concessions which included property that had once belonged to other foreigners, the Soviet Government replied soon after by granting an oil concession to Germans, Germany not having been invited to The Hague. Although this concession did not include any former foreign property the retort was unmistakable.
On June 5th a treaty was signed between Russia and Czechoslovakia. Some of the provisions are significant. Questions of indemnity or return of property are postponed. Also, although it is stated that the treaty is not meant to anticipate the recognition de jure of the Soviet republic, nevertheless the chiefs and two other members of the principal mission of each country in the territory of the other are to have diplomatic privileges, and local agents are to have consular ones. In other words there is recognition in all but the name.
Since the close of the Genoa Conference the attitude of Moscow has perceptibly stiffened, whether it be owing to favorable crop reports which make the Communist rulers feel more independent of outside help, as is shown in their hampering even the work of the American Relief Administration, or whether it be due to an increase of influence of the left wing of the party, thanks to the incapacitation of Lenin, or whether to some other cause. This has manifested itself in a refusal to ratify the treaty of commerce which Chicherin concluded with Italy just before his departure from there, and still more in the fresh contempt exhibited for the opinion of the outside world. The way in which the recent trial of social revolutionists has been conducted was enough to alienate the sympathies of all but the Communistic fraction of European and American socialists, and the treatment of the clergy accused of resistance to the law confiscating church property for famine relief has looked, in spite of the charitable purport of the measure itself, like odious religious persecution. On the credit side we note a proposition, with whatever intention, to discuss the reduction of armaments.
In her external relations, as in her internal conditions, Soviet Russia presents a changing picture. Predictions as to the future are hazardous. We can do little more than note a few salient facts and guess at certain tendencies.
In Europe Russia no longer borders on any state of the first rank, such as Germany and Austria, but on five smaller ones, Finland (which now separates her from Sweden and Norway), Esthonia, Latvia, Poland and Rumania. All of these are composed, wholly or in part, of territory which until recently was hers, or at least under her sovereignty. Today she has recognized their independence in accordance with the principles she professes, and she has been liberal in the drawing of frontier lines, notably in the case of Finland to whom she has made a pure gift of the district of Pechenga in the extreme north simply because it is of greater value to Finland, which thereby gains a port of access to the Arctic Ocean, than it is to Russia, which has plenty of sea coast on the Arctic, though nowhere else. Examples of such generosity between nations are rare. Nevertheless, Russia's European neighbors are much afraid of her. She is still far larger and possesses far more ultimate resources than all of them put together; she still maintains on paper a standing army of over a million men. They fear that her renunciation of the former borderlands of the empire may have been due only to the necessities of the moment and might be taken back at the first convenient opportunity. There are enough Communists in these states to furnish Moscow with pretexts for interfering if it wishes to do so. They are aware, also, that not only have most of the Russians in exile refused to accept the shrinkage of their country as permanent but that Soviet policy itself seems to be inspired by more nationalistic sentiment than it was a while ago. The example of the way Soviet governments were established with the aid of Russian soldiers in the three republics of the Caucasus is not reassuring.
On the other hand, a policy of reconquest on the part of Russia would inevitably provoke a coalition against her. Poland and Rumania are bound together by an alliance which represents a population of over forty million people and a very considerable military strength. They would have allies and they could count on much indirect assistance and perhaps active support from France. The Baltic states are far weaker and more exposed and one of them, Lithuania, from hatred of Poland leans towards Russia. In their case the danger to their independence lies not so much in their having belonged to Russia for two centuries as in the fact that they constitute her natural sea coast on the Baltic. Many wiseacres declare that it is impossible for her to do without them. One may reply that Germans have held the same views about Belgium, Holland and Denmark, and that these views are today not generally accepted. But peril is there and will continue. To meet it the Baltic republics must rely not only on their own sturdy resistance but on outside aid. Poland, for instance, can hardly leave them to their fate, even if she does not covet them for herself as she is suspected of doing. The condition of the Russian army is not of the best, especially for an offensive campaign, and the difficulties of arming, supplying and handling large masses of men would be great just now. Finally, in fairness to the Soviet Government, one must admit that in spite of rude language and non-fulfillment of some of the minor provisions of its treaties, it has shown no serious signs of deliberate intent to violate them.
With one of her neighbors Russia still has unsettled questions of such importance that under other circumstances they might easily lead to war. Profiting by the Russian revolution and the ensuing confusion, Rumania, on the ground of historical right and more or less with the consent of the inhabitants, about half of whom are Rumanians, has possessed herself of the former Russian province of Bessarabia. This annexation has never been recognized by Moscow, On the other hand, the Bolsheviks appropriated to their own use the Rumanian gold reserve which at the time of the war had been sent to Russia for greater security. Naturally Rumania claims it back. The Soviet Government probably cares no more for Bessarabia (except perhaps the Ukrainian part of it) than it did for other lands it has ceded, but as the Rumanian gold has long been spent and would be inconvenient to return, the obvious course to follow is to keep open the dispute. If Rumania would buy Russian recognition of the fait accompli by abandoning the demand for her stolen gold, Moscow would hardly object, and this may be the ultimate solution, but so far Rumania has been unwilling to accept it. Neither side, however, is ready to go to war over these questions.
The threat of an attack upon Russia herself, in her hour of weakness, by her neighbors, especially Poland and Rumania aided and abetted by France, has been a favorite theme of Bolshevik oratory. We may take it that most of this has been for popular consumption, though she has had some genuine grievances to complain of, for the territory of her neighbors has been used as a base of operations for insurrections in her own. Still, if she has entertained real apprehensions, as she seems to have, this betrays more weakness than she has usually been credited with. Some Communists may even desire foreign aggression, for it would once more rally disaffected elements to the support of the government. But these small states will hardly be foolish enough to molest theirgigantic neighbor,weak as she now is, if she leaves them alone. They have already got in full the boundaries they are entitled to, and even the desire of Poland and Rumania to see a really independent Ukraine which shall serve as a buffer between them and Moscow is moderated by the knowledge that such a Ukraine would be more nationalistic in character and would demand from them their Ukrainian territories with more insistance and asperity than Moscow does.
Of the great powers France is the one whose relations with Soviet Russia are the worst and not improbably may remain so for a good while to come. Some Frenchmen, to be sure, think that it will be easier to reach an agreement by separate treaty than it has been by general international convention. They may be right, but France has much to claim from Russia and comparatively little to offer these days when she no longer has moneys to lend. This puts her at a disadvantage in negotiating with an adversary as unsentimental as the Bolsheviks. But neither country at this moment is in a position to do the other great harm. England has more to offer and fewer claims to present. She is less embittered, and is also in greater need of Russian trade and of tolerable political relations, for she is more vulnerable. Moscow has enough means of action in the Mohammedan and Asiatic world to make trouble for her in several countries, notably in Afghanistan and India.
Many people regard the recent treaty of Rapallo between Germany and Russia as only a first step towards closer relations and perhaps actual alliance. Some would say it existed already. There are indeed many ways in which the two countries might help one another. German industry could furnish Russia with the chief articles of which she is in pressing need; German science and technical skill could guide the upbuilding of her industries, the reopening and the administration of her mines, the construction of great public works and likewise the training of her armies, although at least Trotski would assert they are trained already. The trouble is all these benefits have to be paid for in cash--paper roubles and other forms of Soviet credit will not do--and Russia has not the cash to pay for them. Besides, though she wishes to use the Germans and has a wholesome respect for their abilities, she does not intend to put herself into their hands for exploitation. For her part she cannot give them the thing they would value most, military security. Russian armies today could not keep the French out of Berlin. Even if they could they would not be welcome. It looks, accordingly, as if Moscow and Berlin will not become intimate; but, though they have little trust in each other, they will remain on friendly terms. They have one common bond, which has helped to keep them together in the past and may again, their deep dislike for Poland.
Although in principle the foreign policy of the Soviet republic is based on internationalism and in practice is dominated by the necessities of the moment, some of the traditions of the former empire have not been forgotten. The Russia of today declares she has renounced imperialistic ambitions but that this does not mean she is indifferent to legitimate national interests even if she is not now in a position to assert them effectively. This is true of her policy both in the Near and in the Far East. She no longer menaces Turkey, indeed she is on excellent terms with the Angora Government, but she has not lost her right to be heard in questions regarding Constantinople and the Straits which will always remain of vital importance to her southern trade. She will therefore not accept as valid any international arrangements concerning them made without her participation.
The same principle holds in regard to the Far East. Russia has given fair warning that the agreements reached at the Washington Conference do not exist as far as she is concerned. Her right to take this stand is unquestionable but she will make no complaint if the policy of Mr. Hughes results in the evacuation of Siberia and northern Sakhalin by the Japanese, a thing she earnestly desires but is too weak to bring about unaided. At any rate, she means some day to assert herself once more in this part of the world, though she may do so in the name of the Far Eastern republic which, without being a Soviet state, is none the less in her eyes a member of the Russian Federation. If the Americans, in the meanwhile, are willing to pull her chestnuts out of the fire for her so much the better. And now Japan has just manifested a willingness to enter into conference with her.
In her future dealing with China, as with Turkey, she will have the considerable advantage that she alone of the great powers has agreed under certain conditions to surrender all claim to consular jurisdiction and other capitulations of the sort which have seemed so necessary for the protection of Europeans in the past, but which are so resented by Chinese and Turks today. She has also given back her share of the famous concession of special rights along the Manchurian railway, thereby ingratiating herself with the Chinese and making the position of the Japanese in South Manchuria more awkward.
And finally as to America, the self-appointed moral trustee, the benefactor who has dispensed such charity as no people ever before bestowed on another and at the same time the stern critic who declines to recognize the government she has been cooperating with in feeding millions of its people--what is she going to do? Her position is morally strong, for in her condemnation as in her charity she has been guided by unselfish considerations. In no other country is there more genuine horror of the Bolsheviks as men of blood without ruth or faith who have wrought a havoc unparalleled in history. Are they to be helped and comforted because they have got to the end of their rope and after limitless wanton destruction have shown themselves incapable of creating or rebuilding? Their methods are still those of brutal terror under which no one but the ruling minority can feel secure. Of what value are the promises of men whose highest aim is to subvert the very basis of the society on which our civilization is founded and who believe that every means to this end is justified? Some of these men may be honest fanatics of a dangerous kind, others are mere criminals. To grasp their hand in friendship is to touch pitch and be defiled.
To this some reply denying the accusations or putting much of the blame elsewhere. Still others believe that even granting the truth of the charges it does not follow that because we disapprove of the rulers of a country we should have no dealings with the people who suffer most from their rule. The progress of mankind has come through intercourse, and if we wish to aid the unfortunate millions of Russia, the way to do so is not to leave them alone or even merely to pauperize them with charity, but to help them to get to their feet again. Free communications with the outside world would be an inestimable boon to many of them. Shall we refuse to sell sorely needed farm instruments to the Russian peasants because we dislike the Moscow Soviet? To recognize the government of a country does not imply that we admire it, it is merely to take note of an existing fact. If the crimes of Sultan Abdul Hamid were not deemed a bar to American commerce and to the necessary official relations with Turkey, why should trading with Russia make us responsible for the practices of Lenin and Trotski?
But apart from ethical considerations there are other reasons which explain the hesitation felt by many governments, and notably the American, about recognizing officially the present regime. Among these is doubt as to its duration and to what may succeed it. This is no mere question of change of personnel such as has often occurred in Latin America and elsewhere, but of something much more fundamental. Today we can see four possibilities of development in the case of Russia, any one of which would be of world-wide importance and any one of which might be precipitated by the permanent disappearance from the scene of Lenin, an event which in view of the state of his health may occur at any time, if it has not occurred already. The part which he has played has been so great and the place which he has held has been so commanding that by his departure he would leave a gap difficult to fill. A struggle for power between those next in line, of whose relative strength we know almost nothing, might lead to far-reaching results.
These four obvious possibilities are, first, a counter revolution, though not necessarily in favor of monarchy, such a one as was attempted by Kolchak, Denikin, Wrangel and others. This is still the dream of hosts of Russian exiles and of an unknown proportion of the population of Russia itself. The previous attempts to bring it about have failed and there seems no particular reason for expecting that others would succeed now.
Second, the "new economic policy" may continue to spread and may take deep root, the new codes of law may supplant the arbitrary dictatorship of the proletariat, the bourgeoisie may be able to raise its head again, and the men directing the ship of state, taught by experience, may abandon in practice many of their previous theories and methods. In other words, the Russian Republic may undergo the same sort of transformation as did the first French republic after the reign of terror. Even now a few more changes would make Soviet legislation not very different from that of the other new socialistically inclined republics.
Third, there may be a reaction to the left. If, for instance, Trotski or Zinoviev succeeds to the place of Lenin, we may witness a return to the attempt to govern on purely Communistic principles accompanied by increased activity in propaganda abroad.
Fourth, even without dissension in the Communist ranks or attack from without or within, the economic condition of Soviet Russia may become so deplorable and transportation break down to such an extent that the central government will lose its control and the country fall into anarchy, breaking up into fragments, each mindful only of its own wants. How far such a process of disruption might go and whither it would lead is beyond our ken, but of this we may be sure: it would mean confusion and misery such as would stagger the imagination.