None of the incidents or dialogue in The Great Conspiracy has been invented by the authors. The material has been drawn from various documentary sources which are indicated in the text or listed in the Bibliographical Notes.
1. Mission to Petrograd
IN the midsummer of the fateful year of 1917, as the Russian revolutionary volcano seethed and rumbled, an American named Major Raymond Robins arrived in Petrograd(1) on a secret mission of the utmost importance. Officially, he traveled as Assistant Chief of the American Red Cross Division. Unofficially, he was in the service of the Intelligence Division of the United States Army. His secret mission was to help keep Russia in the war against Germany.
The situation on the Eastern Front was desperate. The ill-led, wretchedly equipped Russian Army had been cut to pieces by the Germans. Shaken by the impact of the war, and rotted from within, the feudal Czarist regime had tottered and fallen. In March, Czar Nicholas II had been forced to abdicate and a Provisional Government had been established. The revolutionary cry of Peace, Bread and Land! swept across the countryside, summing up all the immediate longings and ancient aspirations of the war-weary, famished and dispossessed Russian millions.
| || Britain, France and the United States - feared the collapse of the Russian Army was at hand. At any moment, a million German troops might be suddenly released from the Eastern Front and hurled against the tired Allied forces in the west |
Russia's allies - Britain, France and the United States - feared the collapse of the Russian Army was at hand. At any moment, a million German troops might be suddenly released from the Eastern Front and hurled against the tired Allied forces in the west. Equally alarming was the prospect of Ukrainian wheat, Donets coal, Caucasian oil, and all the other limitless resources of the Russian land falling into the rapacious maw of Imperial Germany.
The Allies were striving desperately to keep Russia in the war --- at least until American reinforcements reached the Western Front Major Robins was one of numerous diplomats, military men and special Intelligence officers who were being hurriedly dispatched to Petrograd to do what they could to keep Russia fighting. . . .
Forty-three years old, a man of boundless energy, extraordinary eloquence and great personal magnetism, with jet-black hair and striking aquiline features, Raymond Robins was a distinguished public figure in the United States. He had given up a successful business career in Chicago to devote himself to philanthropy and social work. In politics, he was a "Roosevelt man." He had played a leading part in the famous "Bull Moose" campaign of 1912, when his hero, Theodore Roosevelt, had tried to get to the White House without the aid of big money or political machines. Robins was a militant liberal, a tireless and colorful crusader for every cause challenging reaction.
| || "What? Raymond Robins? That uplifter? That Roosevelt-shouter? What's he doing on this mission?" exclaimed Colonel William Boyce Thompson |
"What? Raymond Robins? That uplifter? That Roosevelt-shouter? What's he doing on this mission?" exclaimed Colonel William Boyce Thompson, head of the American Red Cross in Russia, when he heard Robins had been appointed as his chief assistant. Colonel Thompson was a Republican and a standpatter. He had a considerable personal stake in Russian affairs - in Russian manganese and copper mines. But Colonel Thompson was also a realistic and clear-headed observer of facts. He had already privately decided that nothing could be achieved by the conservative approach which U. S. State Department officials were adopting toward the turbulent Russian scene.
David Francis, the American Ambassador in Russia that year, was an elderly, opinionated, poker-playing St. Louis banker and former Governor of Missouri. He cut an odd figure in the hectic atmosphere of war-torn, revolutionary Petrograd with his silver hair, his old-fashioned high stiff collars and his black cutaway coat.
"Old Francis," a British diplomat remarked, "doesn't know a Social Revolutionary from a potato!"
But what Ambassador Francis lacked in knowledge of Russian politics he made up for in the strength of his convictions. These he derived mostly from the lurid gossip of the Czarist generals and millionaires who flocked around the American Embassy in Petrograd. Francis was positive that the whole Russian upheaval was the result of a German plot and that all the Russian revolutionaries were foreign agents. At any rate, he thought the whole thing would soon blow over.
On April 21, 1917, Ambassador Francis had confidentially telegraphed the United States Secretary of State, Robert Lansing: -
EXTREME SOCIALIST OR ANARCHIST NAMED LENIN MAKING VIOLENT SPEECHES AND THEREBY STRENGTHENING THE GOVERNMENT; DESIGNEDLY GIVING HIM LEEWAY AND WILL REPORT OPPORTUNELY.
But the Russian Revolution, far from subsiding after the overthrow of the Czar, -was only just beginning. The Russian Army was breaking up, and nobody in Russia seemed capable of stopping it. Alexander Kerenskv, the ambitious Prime Minister of the Provisional Government, toured the Eastern Front staking eloquent speeches to the troops, assuring them that "victory, democracy and peace" were just around the corner. Unimpressed, the starved, rebellious Russian soldiers continued to desert by the tens of thousands. In ragged, filthy uniforms, they streamed endlessly through the countryside, across the rain-soaked fields and along the rutted roads, into the villages, towns and cities.(2)
In the rear, the homecoming Russian soldiers encountered the revolutionary workers and peasants. Everywhere soldiers, workers and peasants, were spontaneously forming their own revolutionary committees, or "Soviets" as they called them, and electing deputies to voice their demand for Peace, Bread and Land! at government headquarters in Petrograd. . . .
When Major Raymond Robins reached Petrograd, hungry, desperate masses of people were spread like a great dark tide over the land. The capital swarmed with soldier delegations, straight from the muddy front-line trenches, demanding an end to the war. Bread riots were occurring almost daily. Lenin's Bolshevik Party-the organization of the Russian Communists, which had been declared illegal and driven underground by Kerensky - was rapidly growing in power and prestige.
| || Raymond Robins refused to accept the opinions of Ambassador Francis and his Czarist friends as the truth about Russia. |
Raymond Robins refused to accept the opinions of Ambassador Francis and his Czarist friends as the truth about Russia. He wasted little time in the Petrograd salons, but went "into the field," as he put it, to view the Russian scene with his own eyes. Robins believed passionately in what he called "the outdoor mind: that thing that is common in America among successful businessmen; a mind that does not take chatter; that constantly reaches out for facts." He traveled about the country, inspecting factories, trade-union halls, army barracks and even the lice-infested trenches on the Eastern Front. To find out what was happening in Russia, Robins went among the Russian people.
All Russia that year was like a vast, turbulent debating society. After centuries of enforced silence, the people had at last found their tongues. Meetings were being held everywhere. Everyone had his say. Government officials, pro-Allied propagandists, Bolsheviks, Anarchists, Social Revolutionaries, Mensheviks; all were talking at the same time. The Bolsheviks were the most popular speakers. Soldiers, workers and peasants constantly repeated what they said.
"Show me what I am fighting for," demanded a Russian soldier at one of these hectic mass meetings. "Is it Constantinople or is it free Russia? Is it democracy or is it the capitalist plunderers? If you can prove to me that I am defending the Revolution, then I'll go out and fight without capital punishment to force me. When the land belongs to the peasants, and the factories to the workers, and the power to the Soviets, then we'll know we have something to fight for, and we'll fight for it."
Robins was in his element in this argumentative atmosphere. At home in the United States, a familiar platform figure, he had often debated with American Marxists: why not with Russian Bolsheviks? Frequently, Robins asked permission to reply to one of the Bolshevik speakers. In crowded factories and trenches, the broad-shouldered, dark-eyed American would get up and talk. Through his own interpreter, Robins told the Russian audiences about American democracy and the menace of Prussian militarism. Invariably, tumultuous applause greeted his words.
| || Everywhere, Robins saw the same evidence of the confusion and helplessness of the Kerensky Government, contrasted with the organization and determination of the revolutionary Soviets. |
At the same time, Robins was not neglecting his Red Cross duties. His job was to get food to the starving cities. Down the Volga, Robins found immense stores of grain rotting in the storehouses. The grain could not be moved because there was no transport. Under the hopelessly inefficient Czarist regime, all transport had gone to pieces, and Kerensky had done nothing to remedy the situation. Robins proposed getting a fleet of barges down the Volga to ship the grain. Kerensky's officials told him it could not be done. A peasant came up to Robins and introduced himself. He was the chairman of the local peasants' Soviet. He told Robins that barges would be made available. Next morning the grain began to move upriver towards Moscow and Petrograd.
Everywhere, Robins saw the same evidence of the confusion and helplessness of the Kerensky Government, contrasted with the organization and determination of the revolutionary Soviets. When a chairman of a Soviet said a thing would be done, it was done. . . .
The first time Robins came to a Russian village and asked to see the local government official, the peasants had smiled at him. "Better see the chairman of the Soviet," they told him.
"What is this Soviet?" said Robins.
"The workers', soldiers' and peasants' deputies."
"But that's some sort of revolutionary organization," Robins protested. "I want the civil organization - the regular civil power."
The peasants laughed. "Oh, that! That doesn't amount to anything. You had better see the chairman of the Soviet!"
Back in. Petrograd, after his tour of inspection, Robins made his preliminary report to Colonel Thompson. Kerensky's Provisional Government, said Robins, was a "sort of paper-and-consent affair superimposed on top, supported by the bayonets in Petrograd and Moscow and some other places." The real government of the country was being exercised by the Soviets. But Kerensky stood for the continuation of the war against Germany, and for that reason Robins believed he should be maintained in power. If the Allies were interested in preventing Russia from slipping into complete chaos, and so under German domination, they must use all their influence to make Kerensky recognize the Soviets and come to terms with them. The United States Government must be made fully aware of the facts before it was too late.
Robins proposed a bold undertaking: the immediate launching of a gigantic, high-pressure propaganda campaign to convince the Russian people that Germany constituted the real menace to their Revolution.
To Robins's surprise, Colonel Thompson expressed unequivocal agreement with both his report and his proposal. He told Robins he would cable Washington outlining the propaganda scheme and asking for authority and funds to carry it out. Meanwhile, since time was precious, Robins was to go ahead and get started.
"But where's the money coming from?" asked Robins.
"I'll stake a million of my own money," said Colonel Thompson.
Robins was to be free to draw up to that amount from the Colonel's own bank in Petrograd. . . .
The main thing, said Colonel Thompson, was to keep the Russian Army on the Eastern Front and Germany out of Russia.
At the same time, the Colonel was well aware of the risks that might be involved in intervening so actively and personally in Russian affairs.
"Do you know what this means, Robins?" he said.
"I think it means the only chance to save this situation, Colonel," Robins replied.
"No, I mean do you know what it means to you?" "What does it mean?"
"It means that if we fail, you get shot."
Robins shrugged. "Better men, younger men, are getting shot every day on the Western Front." He added after a pause, "Colonel, if I get shot, you'll get hung."
"I wouldn't be surprised if you're damned right," said Colonel Thompson.'(3)
As the chill, damp autumn winds swept in from the Baltic Sea and low, rain-filled clouds hung ominously over the city, events in Petrograd were rushing towards their historic climax.
Pale and nervous, wearing his habitual closely buttoned plain brown uniform, his eyes protruding and his right arm bent at the elbow in Napoleonic style, Alexander Kerensky, Premier of the Provisional Government, paced up and down in his room in the Winter Palace.
"What do they expect of me?" he shouted at Raymond Robins. "Half the time I'm forced to talk Western European liberalism to satisfy the Allies and the rest of the time I have to talk Russian Slavic socialism to keep myself alive!"
Kerensky had reason to be perturbed. Behind his back his chief supporters, the Russian millionaires and his Anglo-French allies, were already conspiring to remove him from power.
The Russian millionaires were openly threatening that, if Britain and France refused to take action to stop the Revolution, they would call in the Germans.
"Revolution is a sickness," Stepan Georgevitch Lianozov, the "Russian Rockefeller," told the American correspondent, John Reed. "Sooner or later the foreign powers must intervene here, as one would intervene to cure a sick child, and teach it how to walk."
Another Russian millionaire, Riabushinsky, declared that the only solution was ". . . for the gaunt hand of famine, of destitution of the people, to seize the false friends of the people, the democratic Soviets and Committees by the throat!"
| || The British and French Governments decided to back General Kornilov. |
Sir Samuel Hoare, the chief of the British diplomatic Intelligence Service in Russia, had talked with these Russian millionaires and had then returned to London to report that military dictatorship was the best answer to the Russian problem. According to Hoare, the most suitable candidates for the post of dictator in Russia were Admiral Kolchak - who, Hoare said, was the nearest thing to an "English gentleman" he had found in Russia - and General Lavr Kornilov, the sinewy, black-goateed Cossack Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Army.
The British and French Governments decided to back General Kornilov. He was to be the strong man who would at once keep Russia in the war, suppress the Revolution and protect Anglo-French financial stakes in Russia.
When Raymond Robins learned of this decision, he felt the Allies had made a grave mistake. They didn't understand the temper of the Russian people. They were simply playing into the hands of the Bolsheviks who had prophesied from the beginning that Kerensky's regime would turn out to be a mask behind which the counterrevolution was being secretly prepared. Major General Alfred Knox, the British Military Attaché and the chief of the British Military Mission in Petrograd, brusquely told Robins to keep his mouth shut.
The attempted Putsch took place on the morning of September 8, 1917. It began with a proclamation issued by Kornilov as Commander-in-Chief of the Army, who called for the overthrow of the Provisional Government and the establishment of "discipline and order." Thousands of pamphlets, entitled Kornilov, the Russian Hero, suddenly appeared on the streets of Moscow and Petrograd. Years later Kerensky in his book The Catastrophe revealed that "these pamphlets were printed at the expense of the British Military Mission and had been brought to Moscow from the British Embassy in Petrograd in the railway carriage of General Knox, British military attaché." Kornilov ordered twenty thousand troops to march on Petrograd. French and British officers in Russian uniforms marched with Kornilov's troops.
Kerensky was aghast at the betrayal. He was still being hailed in London and Paris as a "great democrat" and "the hero of the Russian masses." Yet here in Russia the Allied representatives were trying to overthrow him! Kerensky wondered helplessly what to do, and did nothing.
The Bolshevik-controlled Petrograd Soviet, on its own initiative, ordered an immediate mobilization. Armed workers were joined by revolutionary sailors from the Baltic fleet and soldiers from the front. Barricades and barbed-wire entanglements sprang up in the city's streets. Artillery pieces and machine guns were rushed into position. Red Guards -workers in caps and leather jackets, armed with rifles and hand grenades - patrolled the muddy, cobbled thoroughfares.
Within four days Kornilov's army disintegrated. The General himself was arrested by the Soldiers' Committee which had been secretly formed within his own army. Some forty generals of the old regime, who were involved in Kornilov's. conspiracy, were rounded up the first afternoon in Petrograd's Astoria Hotel where they were waiting for the news of Kornilov's success. Kerensky's vice-Minister of War, Boris Savinkov, was forced from office by popular clamor for having participated in the conspiracy. The Provisional Government wobbled. . . .
The Putsch had resulted in the very thing it was designed to prevent: a triumph for the Bolsheviks and a demonstration of Soviet strength.
The Soviets and not Kerensky held the real power in Petrograd.
"The rise of the Soviets," said Raymond Robins, "did the job without any force . . . this was the power that defeated Kornilov."
Ambassador Francis, on the other hand, telegraphed the U. S. State Department:
KORNILOV'S FAILURE ATTRIBUTABLE TO BAD ADVICE, MISINFORMATION, IMPROPER METHODS, INOPPORTUNENESS. GOOD SOLDIER, PATRIOT, OTHERWISE INEXPERIENCED. GOVERNMENT WAS BADLY FRIGHTENED AND MAY PROFIT BY ITS EXPERIENCE.
Events were now moving with lightning speed. Still underground, Lenin had given a new slogan to the revolution: All Power to the Soviets! Down with the Provisional Government!
On October 7, Colonel Thompson anxiously telegraphed Washington: -
MAXIMALISTS (BOLSHEVIKS) NOW ACTIVELY SEEKING TO CONTROL ALL RUSSIAN CONGRESS OF WORKMEN'S AND SOLDIERS' DEPUTIES MEETING HERE THIS MONTH. IF 'THEY SUCCEED WILL FORM NEW GOVERNMENT WITH DISASTROUS RESULTS LEADING PROBABLY TO SEPARATE PEACE. WE ARE USING EVERY RESOURCE BUT MUST HAVE IMMEDIATE SUPPORT OR ALL EFFORTS WILL BE TOO LATE.
On November 3, a secret conference of the Allied military leaders in Russia was held at Colonel Thompson's office. What was to be done to stop the Bolsheviks? General Niessel, head of the French Military Mission, angrily denounced the Provisional Government for its ineffectuality and called the Russian soldiers "yellow dogs." At this point a Russian general strode from the room, his face red with anger.
General Knox upbraided the Americans for not getting behind Kornilov.
"I am not interested in stabilizing Kerensky and his government," Knox shouted at Robins. "It is incompetent and inefficient and worthless. You ought to have been with Kornilov!"
"Well, General," Robins replied, "you were with Kornilov."
The British General flushed. "The only thing in Russia today is a military dictatorship," he said. "These people have got to have a whip hand over them!"
"General," said Robins, "you may get a dictatorship of a very different character."
"You mean this Trotsky-Lenin-Bolshevik stuff -this soap-box stuff ?
"Yes, that is what I mean."
"Robins," said General Knox, "you are not a military man; you do not know anything about military affairs. Military men know what to do with that kind of stuff. We stand them up and shoot them."
"Yes, if you catch them you do," Robins replied. "I admit, General, I do not know anything about military affairs, but I do know something about folk; I have been working with them all my life. I have been out in Russia, and I think you are facing a folk situation."
On November 7, 1917, four days after this conference in Colonel Thompson's office, the Bolsheviks took power in Russia.
| || "Robins," said General Knox, "you are not a military man; you do not know anything about military affairs. Military men know what to do with that kind of stuff. We stand them up and shoot them." |
The world-shaking Bolshevik Revolution came strangely, at first almost imperceptibly. It was the most peaceful revolution in history. Small bands of soldiers and sailors marched casually about the capital. There were a few, sporadic, scattered shots. Men and women gathered in the chilly streets, arguing, gesticulating, reading the latest appeals and proclamations. The usual contradictory rumors were bruited about. Streetcars rumbled up and down the Nevskv. Housewives wandered in and out of the shops. Petrograd's conservative newspapers which came out that day as usual did not even report that a revolution had taken place.
With scarcely any opposition, the Bolsheviks occupied the Telephone Exchange, the Telegraph Office, the State Bank and the Ministries. The Winter Palace, site of Kerensky's Provisional Government, was surrounded and besieged.
Kerensky himself fled that afternoon in a fast car borrowed from the American Embassy and flying the American flag. As he was leaving, he sent hasty word to Ambassador Francis that he would be coming back with troops from the front and "liquidate the situation in five days."
At 6 P.M. Ambassador Francis telegraphed Secretary of State Lansing: -
BOLSHEVIKI APPEAR TO HAVE CONTROL OF EVERYTHING HERE. CANNOT LEARN WHEREABOUTS OF ANY MINISTER. . . .
Toward the middle of that raw damp night, trucks lumbered through the muddy streets, slowing down by the periodic street bonfires where sentinels stood. From out of the trucks white bundles were flung. They contained this proclamation: -
TO THE CITIZENS OF RUSSIA!
The Provisional Government is deposed. The State Power has passed into the hands of the organ of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, the Military Revolutionary Committee, which stands at the head of the Petrograd proletariat and garrison.
The cause for which the people were fighting: of immediate proposal of a democratic peace, abolition of landlord property-rights over the land, labor control of production, creation of a Soviet Government - that cause is securely achieved.
LONG LIVE THE REVOLUTION OF WORKMEN, SOLDIERS AND PEASANTS!
Military Revolutionary Committee
Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies
Hundreds of Red Guards and soldiers had gathered in a dark mass around the brilliantly lit Winter Palace, the last stronghold of the members of the already nonexistent Provisional Government. Suddenly, the mass moved forward, poured across the courtyard, and swarmed over the barricades, into the Winter Palace. Kerensky's former Ministers were arrested in the large, elaborately decorated chamber where they had been sitting all day around a long table. The table was littered with crumpled sheets of paper, the remnants of never-finished proclamations. One of them read: "The Provisional Government appeals to all classes to support the Provisional Government. . . ."
At 10:45 on the night of November 7, the All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies held its opening session in the ballroom of the Smolny Institute, which had formerly been a fashionable academy for daughters of the Czarist aristocracy. The huge, smoke-filled ballroom, with its marble columns, white chandeliers and inlaid floor, now housed the elected representatives of Russian soldiers and workers. Dirty, unshaven, weary, the Soviet deputies - soldiers with the mud of the trenches still on their uniforms, workers in their caps and black crumpled suits, sailors in their striped sweaters and small, round, beribboned hats - listened tensely as the members of the Central Executive Committee arose one after another to speak from the tribune.
The Congress lasted two days. A vast roar and tumult broke out on the evening of the second day as a short, stocky man in a baggy unpressed suit stood up on the platform, his bald head gleaming, a sheaf of papers in his hand . . .
The uproar lasted several minutes. Then, bending slightly forward, the speaker said: "We shall now proceed to construct the Socialist order!"
The speaker was Lenin.
The Congress went on to form the first Soviet Government - the Council of People's Commissars, headed by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.
The morning after the Soviet Government was formed, Ambassador Francis dispatched a note to his friend, Maddin Summers, the American Consul General in Moscow.
"It is reported," Ambassador Francis wrote Summers, "that the Petrograd Council of Workmen and Soldiers has named a Cabinet with Lenin as Premier, Trotsky as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Madame or Mlle. Kollontai as Minister of Education. Disgusting! - but I hope that such effort will be made as the more ridiculous the situation the sooner the remedy."
To Washington, the Ambassador cabled his opinion that the life of the new Soviet regime would be a matter of days. He urged the State Department not to recognize the Russian Government until the Bolsheviks had been overthrown and their place taken by "patriotic Russians.". . .
That same morning, Raymond Robins entered the office of Colonel Thompson at American Red Cross headquarters in Petrograd.
"Chief," said Robins, "we've got to move fast! This idea that Kerensky is going to build up an army somewhere, that the Cossacks are coming up from the Don and the White Guards coming down from Finland, is all bunk! They'll never get here. There are too many peasants with rifles in between! No, this group that's running the show at the Smolny is going to run it for quite a while longer!"
Robins wanted permission from his chief to go out to the Smolny right away and have an interview with Lenin. "These folks are kindly, worthy people in the main," said Robins, referring to the Bolsheviks. "Some of us have been in politics and dealt with American political bosses, and if there is anyone more corrupt or worse in Smolny than some of our crooks, then they are some crooked, that's all!"
| || LONG LIVE THE REVOLUTION OF WORKMEN, SOLDIERS AND PEASANTS! |
Military Revolutionary Committee
Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers'
By way of reply, Colonel Thompson showed Robins orders he had just received from Washington. He was to return at once for consultation. Personally, he agreed with Robins that the Bolsheviks represented the masses of the Russian people, and when he got back to America, he would try to convince the State Department of this. Meanwhile, Robins, promoted to the rank of Colonel, was to take over as Chief of the American Red Cross Mission in Russia. Colonel Thompson shook hands with his former assistant and wished him good luck. . . .
Robins wasted no time. He drove out to the Smolny and asked to see Lenin.
"I was for Kerensky," said Robins frankly, "but I know a corpse when I see one and I regard the -Provisional Government as dead. I want to know whether the American Red Cross can serve the Russian people without injury to our national interests. I am against your domestic program, but it is none of my business what happens in domestic Russia. If Kornilov, or the Czar, or anyone else had the power I would be talking to him!"
Lenin took an immediate liking to the dynamic, outspoken American. He tried to explain to Robins the character of the new regime.
"They say I am a dictator," Lenin declared. "I am for the moment. I am a dictator because I have behind me the will of the mass of the peasants and workers. The moment I cease to do their will, they will take the power from me, and I would be as helpless as the Czar."
As for the economic aspects of Soviet rule, Lenin went on: "We are going to challenge the world with a producers' republic. We are not putting in the Soviet anybody who simply owns stock, and simply has ownership. We are putting in the producers. The Donets coal basin will be represented by producers of coal; the railroad by producers of transportation; the postal system by producers of that communication, and so on."
Lenin described to Robins another essential phase of the Bolshevik program: the solution of the "national question." Under the Czar, the multiple national groups in Russia had been ruthlessly suppressed and converted into subject peoples. All of this, said Lenin, would have to change. Anti-Semitism and other such primitive prejudices exploited by Czarism to pit one group against another would have to be wiped out. Every nationality and national minority in Russia would have to be completely emancipated, given equal rights and regional and cultural autonomy. Lenin told Robins that the man who was to cope with this complex and all-important problem was the leading Bolshevik authority on the national question, Josef Stalin.(4)
Robins asked Lenin what were the chances of Russia remaining in the war against Germany?
Lenin answered with complete candor. Russia was already out of the war. Russia could not oppose Germany until a new army - a Red Army -had been formed. That would take time. The whole rotten structure of Russian industry and transport would have to be reorganized from top to bottom.
The Soviet Government, Lenin went on to say, wanted recognition and friendship from the United States. He was aware of the official prejudice against his regime. He offered Robins a practical minimum program of co-operation. In return for American technical aid, the Soviet Government would undertake to evacuate all war supplies from the Eastern Front, where they could not otherwise be prevented from falling into German hands.
Robins informed General William Judson, the American Military Attaché and chief of the American Military Mission in Russia, of Lenin's proposal; and General Judson went to the Smolny to work out the details of the agreement. Judson had an additional request to make: the hundreds of thousands of German war prisoners in Russian hands were not to be repatriated until after the war. Lenin agreed.
General Judson promptly informed Ambassador Francis that it would be in the interest of the United States to recognize the Soviet Government.
"The Soviet is the de facto government, and relations with it should be established," said General Judson.
But the American Ambassador had other ideas and had already conveyed them to Washington.
A few days later, a telegram arrived from Secretary of State Lansing advising Ambassador Francis that American representatives were to "withhold all direct communications with the Bolshevik Government." The wire added pointedly: "So advise Judson."
A second telegram, dispatched soon after, recalled General Judson to the United States.
Robins thought of handing in his resignation in protest against the State Department's policy. To his surprise, Ambassador Francis asked him to remain at his post and maintain his contacts at Smolny.
"I think it's unwise for you to sever your relations abruptly and absolutely - that is, I mean, to cease your visits up there," Ambassador Francis told Robins. "Furthermore, I want to know what they are doing, and I will stand between you and the fire."
Robins did not know it, but Ambassador Francis needed all the information he could get about the Soviet Government for special reasons of his own.
5. Secret Diplomacy
On December 2, 1917, Ambassador Francis sent Washington his first confidential report on the activities of General Alexei Kaledin, Ataman of the Don Cossacks. Francis described the General as "Kaledin, commander-in-chief of the Cossacks, numbering 200,000." General Kaledin had organized a White counterrevolutionary army among the Cossacks in southern Russia, proclaimed "the independence of the Don," and was preparing to march on Moscow to overthrow the Soviet Government. Secret groups of Czarist officers in Petrograd and Moscow were acting as anti-Soviet spies for Kaledin and were maintaining contact with Ambassador Francis.
At Francis's request, a more detailed report of the strength of General Kaledin was sent to the State Department a few days later by Maddin Summers, the American Consul General in Moscow. Summers, who had married the daughter of a wealthy Czarist nobleman, was even more violently prejudiced against the Soviet regime than the Ambassador himself. According to Summers's report to the State Department, Kaledin had already rallied to his person all the "loyal" and "honest" elements in southern Russia.
Secretary of State Lansing telegraphed the American Embassy in London recommending a secret loan to finance Kaledin's cause. This loan, said the Secretary, was to be made through the agency of either the British or the French Government.
"I need not impress on you," added Secretary Lansing, "the necessity of acting expeditiously and impressing those with whom you talk of the importance of it not being known that the United States is considering showing sympathy for the Kaledin movement, much less of providing financial assistance."
Ambassador Francis was advised to use great discretion in his dealings with Kaledin's agents in Petrograd, so as not to arouse the suspicions of the Bolsheviks.
| || Secretary of State Lansing telegraphed the American Embassy in London recommending a secret loan to finance Kaledin's cause. This loan, said the Secretary, was to be made through the agency of either the British or the French Government. |
Despite the elaborate precautions, the plot was discovered by the Soviet Government, which was keenly alert to the possibility of Allied intervention in Russia. In mid-December, the Soviet press denounced the American Ambassador for secretly plotting with Kaledin. Francis blandly denied any knowledge of the Cossack chief. . . .
"I am making a statement to press," Francis telegraphed Secretary Lansing on December 22, "which shall forward en clair denying all connection or knowledge of Kaledin movement stating your instructions are definite and emphatic not to interfere in internal affairs stating I had observed same scrupulously."
Isolated by Allied hostility, and too weak to face the massive German war machine alone, the Soviet Government had to protect itself as best it could. The most immediate menace was Germany.
To save the new Russia, and to gain time in which to effect essential reorganization and create a Red Army, Lenin proposed to sign an immediate peace on the Eastern Front.
"We will have to conclude peace anyway," Lenin told his followers, after reviewing at length the appalling conditions in Russia's transport, industry and army. "We need to grow strong, and for this time is necessary. . . . If the Germans begin to advance, we will be forced to sign any kind of a peace, only then the peace will be worse."
On Lenin's insistence, a Soviet peace delegation hastily left for Brest-Litovsk, headquarters of the German Eastern Army, to learn Germany's peace terms.
On December 23, 1917, the day after the first session of the preliminary Brest-Litovsk Peace Conference, representatives of Great Britain and France met in Paris and secretly concluded an agreement to dismember Soviet Russia. The agreement was entitled L'Accord Franfais-Anglais du 23 Decembre,1917, definissant les zones d'action francaises et anglaises. According to its terms, England was to receive a "zone of influence" in Russia, giving her the oil of the Caucasus and control of the Baltic provinces; France a "zone" giving her the iron and coal of the Donets Basin and control of the Crimea.
This secret Anglo-French treaty inevitably shaped the policy, these two nations were to pursue towards Russia throughout the next several years.
1. Petrograd was the capital of Czarist Russia. The city, named after Peter the Great, was originally called St. Petersburg. It was changed to the more Russian form of Petrograd at the outbreak of the First World War. After the Bolshevik revolution, Moscow became the new capita; and in 1924, after Lenin's death, the name of the former capital was changed to Leningrad.
2. For three years the Russian soldiers had fought with great bravery and skill against overwhelming odds. In the early months of the war, at the peak of the German aggression, the Russians had invaded East Prussia, thus drawing off two German army corps and a cavalry division, and giving Joffre the chance to close the breach at the Marne and save Paris. In its rear, the Russian Arrny had to contend with treason and inefficiency. The Minister of War, Sukhoumlinov, was a traitor, in German pay. The Czar's court swarmed with German agents and notorious Germanophiles headed by the Czarina and her adviser, the sinister priest, Rasputin. The Russian troops were wretchedly equipped. By 1917, the Russian Army had suffered more fatal casualties than Great Britain, France and Italy combined. The losses totaled 2,762,064 killed, 4,950,000 wounded, 2,500,000 missing.
3. This dialogue between Major Robins and Colonel Thompson, as all other dialogue throughout the book is quoted directly from documentary sources which are listed in the Bibliographical Notes
4. "I first knew of Stalin," Colonel Raymond Robins wrote the authors of this book in November 1943, "when Lenin talked to me of his plans for a Federated Socialist Soviet Republic.... He spoke of his and Stalin's plans to unite for the common co-operation all the diverse groups in Soviet Russia, and told me that Stalin had just been elected Commissar for Nationalities. . Perhaps Stalin's greatest historic achievement for the unity and power of the Soviet People was his matchless work as Commissar of Nationalities. His policies have largely wiped out racial, religious, national and class animosities, and given to diverse Soviet groups a unity and harmony to fight and die in defense of Leningrad, Stalingrad and the Russian Land." In the last sentence, of course, Colonel Robins is referring to the historic part played by the Soviet people in turning back and smashing the Nazi invaders during the Second World War.