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. British Agent
AROUND midnight on the freezing night of January 18, 1918, a handsome young Scot wrapped in furs groped his way by the light of a lantern across a partly shattered bridge between Finland and Russia. Civil war was raging in Finland, and rail traffic over the bridge had been interrupted. The Red Finnish Government had provided the voting Scot with an escort to take him and his luggage across to the Soviet side, where a train waited to take him to Petrograd. The traveler was R. H. Bruce Lockhart, special agent of the British War Cabinet.
A. product of the exclusive English "public school" system, Bruce Lockhart had entered the diplomatic service at the age of twenty-four. He was both handsome and intelligent, and in a short time he had made a name for himself as one of the most talented and promising young men in the British Foreign Office. At thirty, he was British Vice-Consul in Moscow. He spoke Russian fluently and was equally familiar with Russian politics and intrigue. He had been recalled to London just six weeks before the Bolshevik Revolution.
Now he was being sent back to Russia at the personal request of Prime Minister Lloyd George, who had been deeply impressed by what he had learned about Russia from the homeward bound Colonel Thompson. Robins's former chief had fiercely denounced the Allies' refusal to recognize the Soviet regime. Following Colonel Thompson's conversation with Lloyd George, Lockhart had been chosen to go to Russia to establish some sort of working relations - short of actual recognition - with the Soviet regime.
But the handsome young Scot was also an agent of the British diplomatic Intelligence Service. His unofficial assignment was to exploit for British ends the opposition movement which had already arisen within the Soviet Government. . . .
The opposition to Lenin was headed by the ambitious Soviet Foreign Commissar, Leon Trotsky, who considered himself Lenin's inevitable successor. For fourteen years, Trotsky had fiercely opposed the Bolsheviks; then, in August, 1917, a few months before the Bolshevik Revolution, he had joined Lenin's Party and risen to power with it. Within the Bolshevik Party, Trotsky was organizing a Left Opposition to Lenin.
When Lockhart reached Petrograd at the beginning of 1918, Foreign Commissar Trotsky was at Brest-Litovsk, as head of the Soviet peace delegation.
Trotsky had been sent to Brest-Litovsk with categorical instructions from Lenin to sign peace. Instead of following Lenin's instructions, Trotsky was issuing inflammatory appeals to the European proletariat to rise and overthrow their governments. The Soviet Government, he declared, would on no account make peace with capitalist regimes. "Neither peace nor war!" Trotsky cried. He told the Germans that the Russian Army could fight no more, would continue to demobilize but would not make peace.
Lenin angrily denounced Trotsky's behavior at Brest-Litovsk and Trotsky's proposals- "discontinuance of the war, refusal to sign peace, and the demobilization of the army" - as "lunacy or worse."
The British Foreign Office, as Lockhart later revealed in his memoirs, British Agent, was extremely interested in these "distensions between Lenin and Trotsky - dissensions from which our Government hoped much." (1)
As a result of Trotsky's behavior, the peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk fell through. The German High Command had not wanted to deal with the Bolsheviks in the first place. Trotsky, according to Lenin, played into the German hands and "actually helped the German imperialists." In the midst of one of Trotsky's speeches at Brest-Litovsk, the German General Max Hoffmann put his boot on the conference table, and told the Soviet delegates to go home.
Trotsky came back to Petrograd and dismissed Lenin's remonstrances with the exclamation: "The Germans will not dare to advance!"
Ten days after the breaking off of the peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk, the German High Command launched a major offensive along the entire Eastern Front from the Baltic to the Black Sea. In the south, the German hordes swarmed through the flat Ukraine. In the center, the offensive surged through Poland towards Moscow. In the north, Narva fell and Petrograd was menaced. Everywhere along the front the remnants of the old Russian Army cracked and fell to pieces.
Disaster loomed over the new Russia.
Pouring from the cities, hastily mobilized by their Bolshevik leaders, the armed workers and Red Guards formed regiments to halt the German advance. The first units of the new Red Army went into action. At Pskov, on February 23, the Germans were stopped.(2) Temporarily, Petrograd was saved.
A second Soviet peace delegation, this time without Trotsky, hastened to Brest-Litovsk.
As the price of peace, Germany now demanded domination of the Ukraine, Finland, Poland, the Caucasus and enormous indemnities of Russian gold, wheat, oil, coal and minerals.
A wave of indignation against the "German imperialist brigands" swept across Soviet Russia when these peace terms were announced. The German High Command, declared Lenin, hoped by this "robbers' peace" to dismember Soviet Russia and smash the Soviet regime.
In Bruce Lockhart's opinion, the only sensible thing for the Allies to do in this situation was to support Russia against Germany. The Soviet Government was making no attempt to conceal its reluctance to ratify the Brest-Litovsk Peace. As Lockhart saw it, the question the Bolsheviks were asking was: What would the Allies do? Would they recognize the Soviet Government and come to its aid, or would they let the Germans force their "robbers' peace" on Russia?
At first, Lockhart was inclined to believe that British interests in Russia dictated a deal with Trotsky against Lenin. Trotsky and his followers were now attacking Lenin on the grounds that his peace policy had led to a "betrayal of the Revolution." Trotsky was trying to form what Lockhart called a "holy war" bloc within the Bolshevik Party designed to gain Allied backing and force Lenin from power.
Lockhart, as he tells in his British Agent, had established personal contact with Trotsky as soon as the Foreign Commissar returned from Brest-Litovsk. Trotsky granted him a two-hour interview at his private office at Smolny. That same night, Lockhart recorded in his diary his personal impressions of Trotsky: "He strikes me as a man who would willingly die fighting for Russia provided there was a big enough audience to see him do it."
The British agent and the Soviet Foreign Commissar were soon on intimate terms. Lockhart addressed Trotsky familiarly as "Lev Davidovich," and dreamed, as he later said, of "pulling off a big coup with Trotsky." But Lockhart reluctantly came to the conclusion that Trotsky simply did not have the power to replace Lenin. As Lockhart puts it in British Agent: -
Trotsky was a great organizer and a man of immense physical courage. But, morally, he was as incapable of standing against Lenin as a flea would be against an elephant. In the Council of Commissars there was not a man who did not consider himself the equal of Trotsky. There was not a Commissar who did not regard Lenin as a demi-god, whose decisions were to be accepted without question.
If anything were to be done in Russia, it would have to be done through Lenin. This conclusion, Lockhart found, was shared by Raymond Robins.
"I personally have always had a question mark over Trotsky - a question as to what he will do - a question as to where he will be found at certain tittles and places, because of his extreme ego, and the arrogance, if you please, of the ego," said Robins.
Lockhart had met Robins shortly after his arrival in Petrograd. He was immediately impressed by the American's forthright approach to the Russian problem. Robins had no sympathy with the various Allied arguments against recognition. He poured scorn on the absurd theory, fostered by Czarist agents, that the Bolsheviks wanted a German victory. With great eloquence, he described to Lockhart the appalling conditions in old Russia and the marvelous upsurge of the oppressed millions under Bolshevik leadership.
To complete the picture, Robins took Lockhart out to Smolny to see the new regime in action. As they drove back to Petrograd through the softly falling snow, Robins bitterly declared that the Allied Embassies, with their secret conspiracies against the Soviet Government, were only "playing the German game in Russia."
The Soviet Government had come to stay and the sooner the Allies recognized the fact the better.
Robins frankly added that Lockhart would get a very different story from other Allied representatives and secret service agents in Russia, and these persons would produce all sorts of documentary evidence to back up their claims. "There are more forged papers of one kind or another in Russia than ever before in human history!" said Robins. There were even documents to prove that Robins himself was a Bolshevik, and, at the same time, secretly interested in getting Russian commercial concessions for Wall Street.
The two men soon became close, almost inseparable friends. They began taking breakfast together each morning and consulting each other regarding the plan of action for the day. Their common aim was to induce their respective governments to recognize Soviet Russia and so prevent a German victory on the Eastern Front.(3)
2. Zero Hour
The situation confronting the Soviet Government in the early spring of 1918 was this: Germany was preparing to overthrow the Soviet Government by force if the Russians refused to ratify the Brest-Litovsk Peace; Britain and France were secretly backing counterrevolutionary forces which were assembling in Archangel, Murmansk and on the Don; the Japanese, with Allied approval, were planning to seize Vladivostok and to invade Siberia. . . .
In an interview with Lockhart, Lenin told the British agent that the Soviet Government was to be transferred to Moscow in fear of a German attack at Petrograd. The Bolsheviks were going to fight, if necessary, even if they had to withdraw to the Volga and the Urals. But they would fight on their own conditions. They were "not to be made a cat's-paw for the Allies." If the Allies understood this, Lenin told Lockhart, there was an excellent opportunity for co-operation. Soviet Russia was desperately in need of aid to resist the, Germans.
"At the same time," said Lenin grimly, "I am quite convinced that your Government will never see things in this light. It is a reactionary Government. It will co-operate with the Russian reactionaries."
Lockhart cabled the substance of this interview to the British Foreign Office. A few days later he received a coded message from London. Hastily, he decoded and read it. The message conveyed the view of a "military expert" that all that was needed in Russia was "a small but resolute nucleus of British officers" to give leadership to the "loyal Russians" Who would soon put an end to Bolshevism.
Ambassador Francis, on February 23, had written in a letter to his son: -
My plan is to stay in Russia as long as I can. If a separate peace is concluded, as I believe it will be, there will be no danger of my being captured by the Germans. Such a separate peace, however, will be a severe blow to the Allies, and if any section of Russia refuses to recognize the authority of the Bolshevik Government to conclude such a peace, I shall endeavor to locate in that section and encourage the rebellion.
After writing this letter, Ambassador Francis had joined the French Ambassador Noulens and other Allied diplomats in the small town of Vologda, located between Moscow and Archangel.
It was clear that the Allied Governments had already decided not to co-operate in any way with the Soviet regime.
Robins discussed the crisis with Trotsky, who, having publicly admitted his "error" in opposing Lenin at Brest-Litovsk, was now trying to re-establish himself in Lenin's eyes.
"Do you want to prevent the Brest treaty from being ratified?" Trotsky asked Robins.
"Of course!" Robins replied. "But Lenin is for it, and, frankly, Commissioner, Lenin is running this show!"
"You are mistaken," said Trotsky. "Lenin realizes that the threat of the German advance is so great that if he can get cooperation and support from the Allies he will refuse the Brest peace, retire if necessary from both Moscow and Petrograd to Ekaterinburg, re-establish the front in the Urals, and fight with Allied support against the Germans."
At Robins's urgent request, Lenin agreed to draw up a formal note to the United States Government. He had little hope of a favorable response; but he was willing to make the attempt.
The note was duly handed to Robins for transmission to the United States Government. It read in part: -
In case (a) the All-Russian Congress of the Soviets will refuse to ratify the peace treaty with Germany or (b) if the German Government, breaking the peace treaty will renew the offensive in order to continue the robbers' raid . . .
(1) Can the Soviet Government rely on the support of the United States of North America, Great Britain, and France in its struggle against Germany?
(2) What kind of support could be furnished in the nearest future, and on what conditions - Military equipment, transportation supplies, living necessities?
(3) What kind of support could be furnished particularly and especially by the United States? . . .
The All-Russian Soviet Congress was to meet on March 12 to discuss ratification of the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty.
Lenin agreed, at Robins's request, to postpone the convening of the All-Russian Congress until March 14, giving Robins and Lockhart two extra days in which to persuade their governments to act.
On March 5, 1918, Lockhart dispatched a final, imploring telegram to the British Foreign Office pleading for recognition of the Soviet Government: "If ever the Allies had a chance in Russia since the Revolution, the Germans have given it to them by the exorbitant peace terms they have imposed on the Russians ... If His Majesty's Government does not wish to see Germany paramount in Russia, then I would most earnestly implore you not to neglect this opportunity."
There was no reply from London, only a letter from Lockhart's wife urging him to be cautious and warning him that the word was being spread in the Foreign Office that he had become a "Red.".. .
On March 14, the All Russian Soviet Congress convened in Moscow. For two days and nights the delegates debated the question of ratifying the treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Trotsky's opposition was out in full force, trying to make political capital out of the unpopular Peace Treaty; but Trotsky himself, as Robins put it, was "sulking in Petrograd and refused to come."
An hour before midnight on the second night of the Congress Lenin beckoned to Robins, who was sitting on the step below the platform.
"What have you heard from your government?
"What has Lckhart heard?"
Lenin shrugged. "I am now going to the platform," he told Robins. "I am going to speak for the ratification of the treaty. It will be ratified.
Lenin spoke for an hour. He made no attempt to picture the peace as anything but a catastrophe for Russia. With patient logic, he pointed out the necessity for the Soviet Government, isolated and menaced from every side, to gain a "breathing space" at any cost.
The Brest-Litovsk Treaty was ratified.
A statement issued by the Congress declared: -
Under present conditions, the Soviet Government of the Russian Republic, being left to its own forces, is unable to withstand the armed onrush of German Imperialism, and is compelled, for the sake of saving revolutionary Russia, to accept the conditions put before it.
3. Mission's End
Ambassador Francis telegraphed the State Department on May 2, 1918: "Robins and probably Lockhart also have favored recognition of Soviet government but you and all Allies have always opposed recognition and I have consistently refused to recommend it, nor do I feel that I have erred therein."
A few weeks later Robins received a telegram from Secretary of State Lansing: "Under all circumstances consider desirable that you come home for consultation."
As he traveled across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railroad to pick up a ship at Vladivostok, Robins received three messages from the State Department. Each of them carried the same instruction: he was to make no public statement of any kind.
Back in Washington, D.C., Robins submitted a report to Secretary Lansing, vigorously condemning the idea of any Allied intervention against Soviet Russia. Robins attached to his report a detailed written program for the development of Russian-American commercial relations. Lenin had personally handed Robins this program just before he left Moscow. It was to be given to President Wilson.
Lenin's program never reached Wilson.
Robins himself tried to see the President, but in vain. He was blocked at every turn. He tried to get his message into the newspapers. The press either ignored or distorted what he had to say....
Robins was forced to defend himself before a Senate Committee investigating "Bolshevism" and "German Propaganda."
"If I told the truth and did not lie and slander folks, did not say that they are German agents and thieves and murderers, criminals utterly, then I am a Bolshevist!" Robins declared. "But I had the best window or outlook of any Allied representative in Russia and I was trying to keep my feet on the ground. I would like to tell the truth about men and about movements, without passion and without resentment, even though I differed from them. . . . I am perfectly willing that the Russian people should have the kind of government they want, whether it suits me, or whether it is in accord with my principles or not. . . . I think that to know what has actually happened in Russia is of the very first moment, and for us and for our country to deal with it honestly and fairly, rather than in passion or on a statement that is not true . . . I would never expect to stamp out ideas with bayonets. . . .. The only answer for the desire for a better human iife is a better human life."
But Robins's honest voice was drowned in the rising tide of misinformation and prejudice.
By the summer of 1918, although the United States was at war with Germany and not with Russia, the New York Times was already describing the Bolsheviks as "our most malignant enemies," and as "ravening beasts of prey." The Soviet leaders were being universally denounced in the American press as "paid agents" of the Germans. "Butchers," "assassins and madmen," "blood-intoxicated criminals," and "human scum" were some of the typical terms by which American newspapers referred to Lenin and his associates. In Congress, they were called "those damnable beasts.". . .
Ambassador Francis remained in Russia until July 1918. Periodically, he issued proclamations and statements calling upon the Russian people to overthrow the Soviet Government. Just before Francis set sail for the United States, he received from Chicherin, the new Soviet Commissar of Foreign Affairs, a telegram extending greetings to the American people. Francis later related what he did with Chicherin's message. "This telegram was evidently meant for consumption by American pacifists," the ex-Ambassador wrote in his book, Russia from the American Embassy, "and fearing it would be given to the American people by the Department of State, I failed to transmit it."
Bruce Lockhart stayed on in Russia. "I ought to have resigned and come home," he said later. Instead, he remained at his post as a British agent.
"Almost before I had realized it," Lockhart later confessed in British Agent, "I had now identified myself with a movement which, whatever its original object, was to be directed, not against Germany, but against the de facto government of Russia."
1 At Brest-Litovsk, Trotsky, as a "world revolutionist," objected to signing peace with Germany, even though he admitted that the Russian Army could no longer fight, on the grounds that such a peace would represent a betrayal of the international revolution. On these grounds Trotsky refused to abide by Lenin's peace instructions. Later, Trotsky claimed that he had acted from mistaken judgment. At a Bolshevik Party meeting on October 3, 1918, after the Germans had attacked Soviet Russia and very nearly seized Petrograd and smashed the Soviet regime, Trotsky declared: "I deem it my duty to say, in this authoritative assembly, that at the hour when many of us, including myself, were doubtful as to whether it was admissible for us to sign the Brest-Litovsk peace, only Comrade Lenin maintained stubbornly, with amazing foresight and against our opposition, that we had to go through with it.... And now we must admit that we were wrong."
Trotsky's behavior at Brest-Litovsk was not an isolated event. While Trotsky was agitating at Brest-Litovsk, his chief personal lieutenant in Moscow, Nicolai Krestinsky, publicly attacked Lenin and spoke of waging "revolutionary war against German imperialism, the Russian bourgeoisie and part of the proletariat headed by Lenin." Trotsky's associate in this opposition movement, Bukharin, sponsored a resolution which was passed at a special congress of the so-called Left Communist group in Moscow and which stated: "In the interests of the international revolution, we consider it expedient to consent to the loss of the Soviet power, which has now become purely formal." In 1923, Bukharin revealed that behind the scenes during the Brest-Litovsk crisis a plan was actually afoot among the oppositionists to split the Bolshevik Party, overthrow Lenin and establish a new Russian Government.
2. The date February 23, 1918, when the Russians stopped the Germans at Pskov, is celebrated as the birthday of the Red Army.
3. Lockhart and Robins found a valuable ally in the French officer, Captain Jean Sadoul, a former successful lawyer and Socialist deputy in Paris. Captain Sadoul served as unofficial liaison between France and the Soviet Government. He had reached exactly the same conclusions as Robins and Lockhart. His outspoken criticism of the Allied attitude towards Russia had aroused the fierce enmity of the French Ambassador Noulens, who spread the word that Sadoul, Robins and Lockhart had all turned "Bolshevik." Noulens, a bitter reactionary who derived his political opinions from the French "200 families" and the bondholders of the Paris banks, hated the Soviet regime. He took away Sadoul's right to communicate directly with the French Government and even intercepted Sadoul's personal letters and messages.
To prevent Robins from influencing the American Ambassador, David Francis, records Bruce Lockhart in British Agent, Ambassador Noulens started a whispering campaign against Robins. Noulens had one of his secretaries pointedly ask in Francis's present- , "Who is the American Ambassador in Russia-Francis or Robins?" Such maneuvers met with some success. Ambassador Francis began to mistrust Robins and to fear that Robins was trying to take his place. He even suspected Robins of having informed the Bolsheviks of his secret dealings with R II Kaledin.