Raymond Robins' Own Story
THE ALL-RUSSIAN CONGRESS AND THE BREST-LITOVSK PEACE
ROBINS---to attend the Fourth All-Russian Congress of Soviets and to witness the ratification or repudiation of the Peace of Brest-Litovsk---arrived in Moscow on March 10, 1918. Lenin had not yet come. Wise ones in the high world said to Robins:
"Did you say Lenin would come? Don't you know that Lenin can't come? Don't you know that in Moscow he would be murdered? Moscow is the old Russia, the real Russia. Anyway, don't you know that Lenin absconded to Finland last night with all the gold in the State Bank?"
On the morning of March 13th Lenin came. He drove from the railway station to the National Hotel in an open automobile, with no rifles. He walked up the steps of the National Hotel in plain view. He stepped up to the desk like any other traveler and asked for his room. He went up to his room and opened his little satchel and took out his documents and sat down to work.
In that room, that afternoon, Robins had tea with Lenin and Mrs. Lenin and Lenin's sister. Lenin said to Robins:
"Have you heard from your government?"
Lenin was alluding to the memorandum which he and Trotzky, through Robins and the American ambassador, had sent to Washington, asking Washington what it would specifically do in certain specific circumstances.
"I've not heard yet," said Robins. He felt quite free to say "yet."
The President of the United States, in a message to the Congress of the United States, had just recently said:
"It is our heartfelt desire and hope that some way may be opened whereby we may be privileged to assist the people of Russia to attain their utmost hope of liberty and ordered peace."
The President of the United States, in a message to Russia, in a message. to this very Congress of Lenin's at Moscow, a Congress two-thirds Bolshevik, was even now saying in a special cable:
I beg to assure the people of Russia, through the Congress, that the Government of the United States will avail itself of every opportunity to secure for Russia once more complete sovereignty and independence in her own affairs. The whole heart of the people of the United States is with the people of Russia in their attempt to free themselves forever from autocratic government and become the masters of their own life.
If the President of the United States was willing to speak to a Bolshevik Congress of Soviets---that is, to the Bolshevik government---in a mariner so friendly and so verbally encouraging against the Czar and the Kaiser, would he not make good his words of help and by acts of help? Would he not give specific promises of specific assistance?
He surely would. So Robins said "yet." Moreover, Robins had in his pocket a certain document from the American ambassador to Russia, Mr. David R. Francis. It had been written in Petrograd in January of 1918, some eight weeks before Mr. Francis retreated from Petrograd and took his stand at Vologda.
To get the meaning of that document, and to get the meaning also of Lenin's and Trotzky's suppressed memorandum to President Wilson, it is necessary to go back now to a full statement of certain incidents at Petrograd, incidents which formed the complicated prologue to the abrupt drama at Moscow.
In Petrograd, in December of 1917, there was a man called Kalpaschnikov-Kamak---for short, Kalpaschnikov. He was a colonel of the old regime. He had served the old régime as commander of a regiment of Siberian Cossacks. Against the new régime he talked and, to some extent, toiled.
In September of 1917 he had associated himself with persons who welcomed the Kornilov rising and who were prepared to evidence their dislike of the leaders of the revolution as soon as Kornilov should enter Petrograd.. On a day during the Kornilov rising Kalpaschnikov said to Robins, confidently, "The hanging will begin at noon."
It did not begin, because Kornilov did not arrive; but thereafter Kalpaschnikov awaited the next rising confidently.
On the other hand, there was Gen. William V. Judson still chief military attaché to the American embassy. General Judson did not have much confidence in the next rising. He believed that the revolution was stronger than the counter-revolution.
General Judson did not come to this belief by any revolutionary route. He belonged, and belongs, to the most regular of regular army circles. He went to West Point after studying at Harvard; and on graduation from West Point he was assigned to the Engineer Corps for merit. He learned administration through much work on harbor improvements at Galveston and on river improvements along the Mississippi. He learned administration further through being assistant to the Chief of Engineers in the War Department at Washington and through being one of the three commissioners in charge of the government of the District of Columbia. When he afterward observed the Russian army as American military attaché during the Russo-Japanese War, and when he again observed the Russian army as a member of the Root Mission and as chief of the American Russian Military Mission, he observed with eyes accustomed entirely to scientific and administrative facts. His conviction regarding the military strength of the revolution turned out to be right. It was reached by regular and respectable reasoning.
On December 26, 1917, General Judson held a formal conference in Petrograd with his second-in-command, Lieut.-Col. M. C. Kerth. Then, joined by Kerth, he communicated certain formal findings and recommendations to the American ambassador.
General Judson found that the Soviet government was the largest and strongest effective power then existing in Russia. He found that only through this power could the American government exert an influence, favorable to the Allies, on the peace negotiations then going forward at Brest-Litovsk. He found that the exerting of such an influence was feasible. He recommended that for that purpose the American government extend to the Soviet government an offer of friendly and helpful cooperation.
Mr. Francis was destined to veer toward General Judson's views before the Moscow Congress met. He began, however, by veering toward the views of men like Kalpaschnikov. He lent his countenance to the idea that no American representative should go to the offices of the Bolshevik government at Smolny Institute. He received Kalpaschnikov at the Embassy. He gave himself to a little plan of Kalpaschnikov's for taking certain motor-cars out of Moscow; and he found himself the shipwrecked mariner in the wildest teapot tempest of Petrograd's wildest diplomatic days.
Robins got his first breath of the approach of this affair in a telegram he received from Rumania. It came from Col. Henry Anderson., chief of the American Red Cross Mission in Rumania, at Jassy. Colonel Anderson wanted Robins to let him have sixty motor-cars and one hundred thousand rubles out of Red Cross stores and out of Red Cross funds for a certain use. The use was not at first quite clear. But the destination was altogether clear from the beginning. It was Rostov on the Don.
Robins was not enthusiastic for endeavors reaching toward Rostov on the Don. Robins was representing an American mission to Russia; and, like the American ambassador, he was living under the Bolshevik government's protection and under the Bolshevik government's eye. Rostov on the Don was the headquarters of Kaledine, who was now the leading Cossack counter-revolutionary of Russia and who had taken the field openly against the Bolshevik government's army. It was as if a representative of a British mission at Washington in 1901 had been asked to send money and motor-cars to Palawan, the headquarters of Aguinaldo. There would have been two reasons, in his mind, against doing it. Those same two reasons existed for Robins in contemplating any effort to send war-supplies from the Bolshevik capital through Bolshevik territory, abounding in Bolshevik secret agents and Bolshevik machine guns, to an anti-Bolshevik camp. First: diplomatic impropriety. Second: physical impossibility. Robins answered Colonel Anderson by earnestly declining his request.
Colonel Anderson then went, in Jassy, to Mr. Charles J. Vopicka, American minister to Rumania. Mr. Vopicka sent a telegram from Jassy to the American ambassador in Petrograd, in which he asked Mr. Francis to convey a message from Colonel Anderson to Colonel Kalpaschnikov, as follows:
"Arrange to take all motor-cars to Rostov on the Don by the first train possible. Employ any method to accomplish this immediately. If you need funds, call on the American ambassador. I will either have further instructions for you at Rostov or will meet you there."
At the same time Mr. Vopicka sent Mr. Francis a message of his own, from American minister to American ambassador, a wholly diplomatic message, as follows:
Please supply Kalpaschnikov with necessary funds up to one hundred thousand rubles. It is most urgent that this matter be done promptly. So please assist Kalpaschnikov in every way possible.
Mr. Francis did so. Kalpaschnikov was in possession of certain motor-cars belonging to an old unit called the Siberian Ambulance Corps. These cars had been purchased in America with money raised in America by subscription. They were standing in Petrograd. Kalpaschnikov felt that he could take a train-load of them out of Petrograd and a thousand miles through Bolshevik territory inconspicuously and prosperously, if only he had a little diplomatic influence. Mr. Francis provided the diplomatic influence. He gave Kalpaschnikov a certificate, for instance, which said:
I would appreciate it if all those to whom this document will be presented will extend to Colonel Kalpaschnikov all courtesies and co-operation.
Thus equipped, Kalpaschnikov proceeded to apply his plan. The trouble with it was that it was known to the Soviet authorities as soon as it passed Kalpaschnikov's lips. No Russian government, whether of Romanovs or of Bolsheviks, is without a competent installation of listening-posts. Kalpaschnikov's intrigue with the American ambassador was heard sprouting---and was allowed to ripen.
When Colonel Kalpaschnikov asked for a permit to ship motor-cars, the Smolny authorities courteously and co-operatingly granted that permit. When Colonel Kalpaschnikov asked for a train, the Smolny authorities immediately set that train out for him on a siding. The colonel got all his arrangements completed and all his papers accumulated. Then, just as he was starting from his house to step aboard his train and to slip away into the southland, the Red Guards recited their line in the play by mechanically arresting him and sending his papers to Smolny and his person to Peter and Paul fortress.
The papers amply disclosed the American ambassador's interest in the colonel's adventure. Smolny was in a roar. Robins heard it and went to Smolny. His reception was highly disagreeable.
He had been accustomed to going through Lenin's door into Lenin's room, on a pass, without question. This time two soldiers crossed their bayonets in front of him. He sat down. He decided to go away. He rose and approached an outer door. There two other soldiers crossed their bayonets in front of him. He sat down again. After a while he got a really successful idea. He went to a side door, and so into a little private corridor; and he walked along that corridor till he came to a door at the end of it. This door he contemplated for a moment. Then he swung it open. It was the back-exit-door to Lenin's room.
Lenin looked up from his documents and his eyes were narrowed. He looked, and said nothing. Robins said something fast.
"I admit this Rostov affair looks bad," he said. "But I can explain it. I ask you simply, before you attack the American embassy or the American Red Cross give me a chance to make the explanation."
Lenin still looked at Robins and still said nothing; and the way of his looking was as if he wished to resume the reading on his table. Robins turned and left Smolny. He thought he had probably seen Smolny for the last time.
But Kalpaschnikov saved him. Kalpaschnikov, in the course of completing his arrangements, had written a long letter which he. had put in his clothes to carry with him to some safe spot. There he would mail it. It was addressed to Colonel Anderson at Jassy. It happily charged Robins with having done his best to thwart Colonel Anderson and to thwart Kalpaschnikov in the matter of the motor-cars and their shipment. This letter, in time, the Smolny authorities unfolded and read. Trotzky read it.
That night Trotzky made a public speech at the Alexandrovsky Theater. He announced the discovery of documents "proving that agents of the United States are implicated in the Kaledine plot at Rostov on the Don." Such agents, thus implicated, were to be found even in the protected precincts of the American Embassy. They included, actually, the American ambassador himself. Trotzky was profoundly shocked. He could not witness such violations of diplomatic etiquette without grief and horror.
Of course---he went on---it would not be fair to include all American representatives at Petrograd in one general and promiscuous charge. Justice required that distinctions be made. The American Red Cross Mission to Russia, and its chief, Colonel Robins, were unexpectedly proved by the documents to be innocent. But the chief of the American Red Cross Mission to Rumania was proved by the documents to be guilty. And so was the American ambassador to Russia.
"And now," said Trotzky, "now this Sir Francis will have to break the golden silence which he has kept unbroken since the revolution. These documents will force him to unloose his eloquence. Our dignity as a government, our dignity as a revolutionary government, is of the highest importance to us. We shall prove it to all who think they can tread on our toes with impunity. Let them understand that from the moment they interfere in our internal affairs they cease to be diplomatic representatives. They are then private counter-revolutionaries, and the heavy hand of the revolution will fall upon their heads."
The crowd was ready with its response. It stood and shouted:
"Arrest Francis! Hang him! Shoot him!"
The next morning a cable arrived in Petrograd from Washington bringing an order which confirmed Mr. Francis' policy of non-intercourse with the Bolshevik government. It forbade even the officers of the Red Cross to go to Smolny.
At the Embassy Robins mentioned this order.
"What? " said the ambassador. Pay no attention to it."
"But," said Robins, "it's an order."
"I'll take the responsibility," said the ambassador. "You keep on going to Smolny. Tear the order up."
"Well," said Robins, "will you cable Washington to change the order?"
"Certainly," said the ambassador.
"All right," said Robins.
"And now," said the ambassador, "unofficially" but realistically, "what can we do at Smolny about this Kalpaschnikov business? "
There was only one thing to do-to go to Smolny and explain. Through Robins the ambassador went. The Kalpaschnikov business was filed and forgotten. The only difficulty in explaining it was that the truth about it was more romantic than Smolny's theory about it.
The truth about it was that for Colonel Anderson and for Mr. Francis it was not an anti-Bolshevik business at all. Kalpaschnikov may have been an intriguer, but Colonel Anderson and his colleagues in the Rumanian Red Cross were pure knights-errant. They were about to rescue a lady---a fair and noble lady---a queen---the Queen of Rumania. She was in jeopardy at Jassy. The Teutons were approaching. Colonel Anderson and his colleagues had an opportunity to do the Queen a service. They proposed to do it. For Americans it was a small matter. It was simply to take the Queen to Rostov on the Don, and then to carry her---and her retinue and entourage---in motor-cars---four hundred miles across the Caucasus Mountains to Kars, and then four hundred miles more, across Turkey, to Mesopotamia and to the British army. As laid out, it was really one of the great get-aways of all time.
The sticking-point was Rostov on the Don.
There was just one reason why anybody should have thought it possible to send motor-cars---and money-out of Soviet territory into anti-Soviet territory. That reason was that the Soviet government was an eyeless and toothless and tottering thing. But that reason was false; and Mr. Francis, a business man and a practical politician from Missouri, had begun to be shown that it was false.
He was shown its falseness now increasingly from day to day, as counter-revolutionaries fell and the revolution stood. He veered now toward an admission of the existence of the revolution and of its Soviet government. He expressed his change of views in writing. On January 2, 1918, in the American Embassy at Petrograd, he handed to Robins, with his autograph indorsement, the document which Robins had with him in his pocket when in Moscow he talked with Lenin. It was headed: "Suggested communication to the Commissaire for Foreign Affairs."
At the hour when the Russian people shall require assistance from the United States to repel the aggressions of Germany and her allies, you may be assured that I will recommend to the American government that it render them all aid and assistance within its power.
I may add that if the Russian armies now under command of the People's Commissaries commence and seriously conduct hostilities against the forces of Germany and her allies, I will recommend to my government the formal recognition of the de facto government of the People's Commissaries.
This document was not for immediate presentation to Trotzky and Lenin, but it was definitely for authority and guidance to Robins in his line of conduct at Smolny and for his full protection against any later denial of his right to have pursued that line.
He pursued it at once and at length, and it took him into a necessary collaboration with Trotzky. Trotzky, by insisting on democratic terms of peace from Germany, was headed toward resistance to undemocratic terms. Robins' duty, under instructions, was to hold out to Trotzky the diplomatic prospect that resistance would bring American help.
It was therefore that Robins tried to get those American and Allied military officers for Trotzky, to help enforce the embargo against goods going from Russia to Germany. It was therefore that Robins tried to get those American railway experts for Trotzky, to help restore the Russian railway system.
After many weeks Trotzky one day said to Robins:
"Colonel Robins, your embassy sends you here with a big bag marked 'American Help.' You arrive every day, and you bring the bag into my room, and you set it down beside your chair, and you keep reaching into it as you talk, and it is a powerful bag. But nothing comes out."
Trotzky could joke about it. But America remained in his mind. America was the only belligerent country represented daily in his office. When finally Russia was beaten to earth and could not by herself rise up, when finally Russia was forced to seek an ally among "capitalistic" countries, it was to America that Trotzky turned. It was to America that he sent his call. Robins had maintained the relations of intercourse and the channels of communication along which a call could go.
In the mean time Robins maintained similar relations and similar channels wherever else he could among persons of power in Petrograd.
Such a person was Carl Radek. Radek was the most powerful propagandist, as well as the most powerful journalist, among the Bolsheviks. Like many other men prominent at Smolny, he had been badly treated by the Teutonic autocracy which Allied diplomats accused him of loving and serving.
He was an Austrian, and his front teeth had been knocked out by the German-Austrian police in a revolutionary street-battle. Afterward, in Switzerland, in 1915, when Radek was writing socialist revolutionary propaganda for distribution among the German soldiers on the Western front, the German government demanded that the Swiss government expel him from Swiss soil. Radek, at Brest-Litovsk, two years later, met the Austrian and German governments face to face. His specialty was to make them feel insecure about their own peoples and about their own futures.
Count Czernin alluded to him one day as a "Russian." "My nationality, Count," said Radek, "is not Russian. It is the same as yours---Austrian. It's not nationality that puts us on the other side of the table from you."
To Brest-Litovsk Radek carefully carried a certain book. It was a book well known in Germany and suppressed there. It was an argument for the military proposition (not unnoted by Napoleon) that in war the final factor is numbers. Therefore, in the end, against the Germans the Allies must win. The German generals at Brest-Litovsk were fully acquainted with this book. Radek kept it prominently on the table before their eyes. "In the end," he once said, "the Allies will put a Brest-Litovsk treaty on YOU."
Radek also introduced at Brest-Litovsk a practice which frankly revealed the social notions and the social purposes of the Russian delegates. The Germans treated the Russian delegates as professional diplomats, as excellencies, as persons now in the high world of the ruling classes. They treated them so, and they wanted them to behave so. Radek expressed the Soviet contempt for all of it and the Soviet farewell to all of it by shaking hands with the German privates who stood about as attendants and by addressing them cordially and prophetically, in the presence of their officers, as "comrades."
Back in Petrograd Radek's opinion of the Teutonic governments appeared profusely in his daily writings. It was expressed in a hundred such phrases as "Austro-German vultures."
But Radek wrote equally viciously about the "Anglo-French vultures." To him, as to Trotzky, the Allies and the Germans were two equal maws of imperialism, the one opening for Mesopotamia and the scattered ends of the earth, and the other opening for a compact and consolidated prey in mid-Europe from Antwerp to Odessa.
Against all European "capitalistic" governments Radek wrote without compromise. He also wrote without rest and with an eloquence unceasingly and savagely brilliant. He had a slight body, all wire, all electric wire. He had a mind heavily stored with historical facts and economic facts and socialist explosives. He scattered them everywhere. Day after day, in Pravda and in Izvestia and in pamphlets and in leaflets and in journals of the army and in journals of the navy, he blazed out on Russian opinion with a popular power far beyond that of any other journalist or propagandist in the Bolshevik world.
Robins knew Radek's work; and he knew Radek. He kept Radek informed about many things regarding America; and he pointed out to him the special geographical situation of America and the special political character of America; and he found that Radek could perceive that specialness. He often quoted to Radek a saying of President Wilson's which had been cabled to Russia:
"We are indomitable in our power of independent action and can in no circumstances consent to live in a world governed by intrigue and force."
At Moscow, later, when President Wilson's vague message to the Soviet Congress was received, Radek at once seized upon it, in spite of its vagueness, and made it the text of an editorial sermon to all Russian socialists tempted to be anti-American. Radek maintained that an understanding with America would be a quite different thing from an understanding with any European "capitalistic" country. He said:
"The United States, by its position, is directly interested that Russia should be politically and economically strong and independent. The United States, by its own interests, must come to the assistance of the Soviet government, or of any other existing Russian government, for the resurrection of the economic and military might of Russia. Moreover, there is not, and there cannot be, between socialist Russia and democratic America, the irreconcilable contradiction and conflict which exist between socialist Russia and autocratic Germany."
In Radek, and in Trotzky, and in most of the other leaders of Smolny, Robins found no theoretical antipathy to the idea of a special economic co-operation between Russia and America. On the contrary, he found a theoretical leaning toward it. That leaning gave America a special advantage in Russia. The American ambassador was now in a position to make use of it. The American ambassador, by sending Robins to Smolny to make Smolny's personal acquaintance---and by sending him there when no other ambassador was sending anybody there to that end---had built a personal diplomatic thoroughfare along which America in 1918 could have marched to becoming the controlling influence in the economic development of the richest undeveloped country in the world.
The hour for doing it or not doing it came. The Germans, leaving Brest, were approaching Petrograd. Russia met them with three attitudes of mind, produced by the needs of three social classes.
First there was the attitude of the class which we often call "upper" or "better" and which the Bolsheviks call "bourgeois." The "bourgeois" class was much of it inclined to look at the German advance with feelings of satisfaction. The Germans, wherever they went, destroyed Soviets. The Germans, wherever they went, hanged Bolsheviks.
Among the prominent representatives of the "bourgeois" class was Rodzianko. He had been a member of the Duma. He had been president of the Duma. The public press had continually reported his view of a possible German capture of Petrograd. Such a capture, according to Rodzianko, would be no great misfortune. It might indeed be a blessing. The Germans had captured Riga. Did they do any harm? They did good. They abolished the Soviet and restored the old-régime police.
Col. William B. Thompson, Robins' old chief in the American Red Cross Mission to Russia, had noticed this strong streak of welcome for Germany among the Russian "bourgeois" during his stay in Petrograd. He said to Robins:
"Robins, I'm a business fellow. These business fellows in Petrograd are people I understand. I'd like to deal with them. But it can't be done. I've talked to them. I've felt them out. Robins, they're for the Germans."
The Russian "bourgeois," as Russians, might resent the German advance. As property-holders they knew it to be to their immediate advantage. They could rouse themselves, as a class, to no sort of strong resistance.
Next was the greatest class---the supremely greatest class---the peasants. They had already shown their attitude by what they did in the Constituent Assembly.
The Constituent Assembly was dominated by the Socialists-Revolutionists of the Right. They were a peasant party. The Bolsheviks, before they dissolved the Constituent Assembly, withdrew from it. When they withdrew, the Constituent Assembly became an almost purely peasant body. In that condition, cleansed of all Bolshevik votes, it passed resolutions about war and peace. It resolved for a general peace rather than a separate peace; but, leaving distant hopes for immediate recommendations, it resolved specifically that:
The armistice between Russia and Germany must be continued. The separate negotiations for peace between Russia and Germany must be prosecuted. And:
"In the name of the people of the Russian Republic the All-Russian Constituent Assembly expresses the firm will of the people to immediately discontinue the war."
So the peasants voted. And so also they behaved, when the Germans advanced.
The third class was the "revolutionary proletariate"---the class of class-conscious wage-earners. Within this class there was indeed an impulse of desperate resistance to the oncoming Germans. This class was the only class which had everything to lose by German conquest. The "bourgeois," by German conquest, would get humiliation but "prosperity." The peasants, by German conquest, would get their landlords back, but they would still have their own little former parcels of land under their landlords. The "revolutionary proletariate" would lose its whole revolution, its whole "proletarian dictatorship."
Naturally, therefore, it was this class that cried out in special pain as the Germans marched forward into Russia. The high leaders of the Soviet government were pained to a specially high degree. The document which the Germans held out to them to sign was a document threatening their own final personal abdication from all power in the world.
Therefore they never did personally sign it. It was too personally portentous to them. When all resistance collapsed, Trotzky was asked to go and sign. He refused. Radek was asked. He refused. Karelin was asked. He refused. Finally certain very subordinate leaders were outrightly ordered to go. They went. They signed. They signed the document without reading it. They wished the Germans to know that they did not regard it as a binding act of agreement. They regarded it as a revocable act of force.
Out of this spirit, as furious as it was futile, the Council of People's Commissioners issued its summons of February 21, 1918. It commanded a universal resistance to the Germans. The "bourgeois" must be compelled to resist. They must be compelled to at least dig trenches. And "all Soviets and revolutionary organizations are charged with the duty of defending every post to the last drop of blood."
But the mass of the army at once showed that on this point it agreed with the Constituent Assembly and not with the People's Commissioners. Even the "revolutionary proletariate," in most of its representatives in the old army, was finished with fighting. Soviet leaders, in Petrograd and in most other places, passed resolutions for fighting. The army could not and would not fight.
Lenin noted this contradiction acidly in Pravda. He said:
In the week of February 18-24th we were instructed by the comparison between two different sorts of communications which reached us. On the one hand there were the communications telling us of a debauch of "resolutive" revolutionary fighting phrases. On the other hand, there were the communications telling us of the poignantly disgraceful refusal of regiments to hold their positions, of their refusal to hold even the Narva line, of their failure actually to obey the order for the destruction of supplies before retreating.
Russia was in mass-flight. The Allied embassies were leaving Petrograd. They were leaving Russia. The American embassy did not leave Russia. It was able to be calmer. It was better acquainted with Smolny. It knew that Lenin and Trotzky intended to keep all of Russia they could for the Soviets and that they could still keep much of it.
Mr. Francis and Robins decided that to go to Vologda would be to go far enough. Robins accompanied Mr. Francis to Vologda. Lenin gave him a personal letter, written with his own hand, asking the Vologda Soviet to provide the American embassy with every possible assistance. The embassy, arriving at Vologda, cast its eyes on Vologda's best club-house. The members moved out and the embassy moved in.
Robins started back for Petrograd. He arrived there on March 4th. On March 3d the preliminary signing of the peace---in the field---the signing without reading had happened. On March 5th Robins went to Trotzky's office. Trotzky, as soon as he entered, said to him:
"Colonel Robins, do you still want to beat the peace?"
"Mr. Commissioner," said Robins, "you know the answer to that question."
"Well," said Trotzky, "the time has come to be definite. We have talked---and we have talked---about help from America. Can you produce it? Can you get a definite promise from your government? If you can, we can even now beat the peace. I will oppose ratification, at Moscow, and beat it."
"But, Mr. Commissioner," said Robins, "you have always opposed ratification. The question is, what about Lenin? Lenin, Mr. Commissioner, if you will pardon me, is running this government. What about him?"
"Lenin," said Trotzky, "agrees."
"Will he say so?"
Trotzky bared his teeth to reply. "Do you want us to give you our lives? " he said. " The Germans are thirty miles from Petrogad. How soon will your people be within thirty miles?"
"Nevertheless," said Robins, "I will not handle a verbal message to my government. It's got to be written. I'll bring my interpreter back here with me. You tell him what you mean---in Russian. He'll write it down---in English. Then you and Lenin will read it in English and will say you understand it and will promise me to go through with it. Otherwise I can't handle it."
Trotzky yielded. "Be back at four," he said.
Robins went away. He went away confident. He remarks now, regarding Lenin and Trotzky:
"They never convinced me in the slightest degree that they could make Bolshevism work. But they did convince me absolutely that they could keep their word. They made me many promises about Red Cross affairs and about other American affairs in Russia. They always made good on them. Unlike many gentlemen in the government which preceded them at Petrograd, Lenin and Trotzky never gave me any blue-sky talk. They never promised unless they had the will and the power to deliver. They often refused to promise. But, having promised, they delivered---always. The Germans tried to double-cross them, and they doublecrossed the Germans. I tried to deal with them on the square, and they came back on the square---every time. Therefore, when Trotzky told me to be back at four I knew that at four I would get the document and that it would say precisely what Trotzky had said it would say."
So Robins went to get his interpreter, his Russian secretary, Alexander Gumberg. Also he went to see Mr. Charles Stevenson Smith, head of the Russian Bureau of the American Associated Press. Smith was skilled and wary. He had represented the Associated Press in the Far East. He had come to Petrograd soon after the Bolshevik revolution. He was skeptical of Bolsheviks.
"At Smolny," said Robins, "there's a thing going on that may stop the peace. Will you send a despatch on the policy of it?"
"I will," said Smith, "if I can get a satisfactory interview from Trotzky."
"You know," said Robins, "that Trotzky has a rule against ever seeing any representative of the 'bourgeois' press."
"Get me an interview," said Smith. "It's the only way I can send the despatch."
Robins 'phoned Trotzky. He got an angry "Never!" He went back to Smolny at once and into Trotzky's office, and said:
"What is the sense in a rule against talking to 'bourgeois' newspapers when you are entering into negotiations with a whole 'bourgeois' country?"
Trotzky yielded again. "Send him," he said. Robins departed, and sent him.
At four o'clock Robins returned with his interpreter. Trotzky received them at once. He had a sheet of paper in his hand. It was his message to America, already dictated ---in Russian---and typewritten. He conducted Robins and the interpreter to Lenin's room. There were other people there. Lenin left them. He led the way to the Council Hall of the Council of People's Commissioners. There, at the end of a long table, Lenin and Trotzky and Robins and the interpreter sat down. The interpreter took Trotzky's piece of paper and translated the message on it into English, and then read the translation aloud.
Robins said to Lenin:
"Does the translation give your understanding of the meaning of the document?"
"Yes," said Lenin.
"Mr. President Commissioner," said Robins, "I must ask you another question:
"If the United States government answers this document affirmatively, will you oppose the ratification of the Peace of Brest-Litovsk at the All-Russian Congress of Soviets at Moscow? "
"Yes," said Lenin.
"Very well," said Robins, and rose.
The document is in the words following:
In case (a) the All-Russian Congress of 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 its robbers' raid, or (c) if the Soviet Government will be forced by the actions of Germany to renounce the peace treaty, either before or after its ratification, and to renew hostilities.
In all these cases it is very important for the military and political plans of the Soviet Power for replies to be given to the following questions:
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 would be furnished particularly and specially by the United States?
Should Japan---in consequence of an open or tacit understanding with Germany or without such an understanding---attempt to seize Vladivostok and the Eastern Siberian Railway, which would threaten to cut off Russia from the Pacific Ocean and would greatly impede the concentration of Soviet troops toward the East about the Urals---in such case what steps would be taken by the other Allies, particularly and especially by the United States, to prevent a Japanese landing on our Far East and to insure uninterrupted communications with Russia through the Siberian route?
In the opinion of the United States, to what extent ---in the above-mentioned circumstances---would aid be assured from Great Britain through Murmansk and Archangel? What steps could the Government of Great Britain undertake in order to assure this aid and thereby to undermine the foundations of rumors of the hostile plans against Russia on the part of Great Britain in the nearest future?
All these questions are conditioned with the self-understood assumption that the internal and foreign policies of the Soviet Government will continue to be directed in accord with the principles of international Socialism and that the Soviet Government retains its complete independence of all non-Socialist governments.
Such was the document. Robins went with it immediately to Mr. R. H. Bruce Lockhart.
Lockhart was special commissioner in Russia for the Prime Minister of Great Britain. The Prime Minister had sent him to Russia for the special purpose of forming an opinion and of outlining a policy about the Bolsheviks. He had been in Russia before. He had spent seven years there in the British service. He had returned to England for a rest. He was dragged out of his rest and hurried to Russia to study the Bolshevik emergency and to keep the Prime Minister personally informed about it. He had a full mastery of the Russian language and he was the most trusted and the most powerful British representative in Russia at, that moment.
Robins knew him well. Lockhart had been told in London to look Robins up in Petrograd. He did so. He worked with Robins in a close interchange of observations and of conclusions, agreeing or disagreeing. Lockhart was a professional diplomat. Robins was not. Robins wanted to know what Lockhart would think of Trotzky's message.
Lockhart read it. He had been in Russia now, on his special mission, for some eight weeks. He read Trotzky's message, and he measured it by his knowledge of Russia and of the Bolsheviks, and he did not hesitate. He at once sent a cable to Mr. Lloyd George, in which he said:
Empower me to inform Lenin that the question of Japanese intervention has been shelved; that we will persuade the Chinese to remove the embargo on foodstuffs; that we are prepared to support the Bolsheviks in so far as they will oppose Germany, and that we invite his (Lenin's) suggestions as to the best way in which this help can be given. In return for this there is every chance that war will be declared between the Bolsheviks and Germany.
Such was Lockhart's judgment. The matter was then presented to Mr. Harold Williams.
Williams was, and is, one of the most influential of writers about Russia. Besides corresponding with his newspaper in London, he corresponded intimately with the British government. He was a confidential agent of the British government. He was married to a distinguished Russian woman---Ariadna Tyrkova. He had lived in Russia for a total of some twelve years. He was, and is, vehemently anti-Bolshevik.
He was given an outline of the new special situation at Smolny. He knew the whole general situation himself. He knew the background which tested Trotzky's message. He listened, and considered; and then, on the stationery of the British embassy, he wrote a message of his own, saying:
The peculiar revolutionary tactics of the Bolsheviks forbid them to accept this peace as final. . . . At the Congress convened to ratify the peace there will be a strong agitation in favor of revolutionary war with Germany. . . . This movement may supply the nucleus of a real national resistance which would necessitate a broadening of the Bolshevik political platform. . . . For the present the Bolsheviks are the only party possessing real power in Russia. . . . National revival is certain, and the Bolsheviks will by their agitation stimulate it among the masses. It should be our business to foster this revival. . . . Rumors of intended Japanese intervention in Siberia embitter the sense of humiliation in all classes and divert resentment from the Germans to the Allies and endanger the future of our interests in Russia.
Such was Williams' judgment. He sent it by cable, to his newspaper and also to Mr. Lloyd George.
In the mean time Trotzky's message was being prepared for transmission. It was being coded into the military code of the United States War Department by Captain Prince and Lieutenant Bukowski. They had been left behind in Petrograd by the American Military Mission when the mission accompanied the embassy to Vologda. They worked at Trotzky's message together; and they got it coded; and Robins put it on the wire to Vologda; and it was now three o'clock in the morning; and Robins went to see Smith of the Associated Press.
Smith, on being waked, said that Trotzky had talked. He had talked for publication, as Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic, and he had said:
"America and Russia may have different aims. We are what we are in Russia and cannot change; and we do not expect the United States to change. But if the two of us have common stations on the same route, I do not see why we might not go together on the same car. Certainly, at least until revolution comes in Germany, Russia and the United States have an undoubted common route. In October last we did not exclude the possibility of a holy war against Germany. Now we consider it positively possible."
This interview Smith had already cabled. On the following day he cabled an observation of his own, as follows:
Whether Moscow Congress approves or rejects peace apparently depends largely on attitude of Entente Allies toward Soviet Government.
On that following day Robins learned there was an unavoidable stoppage of Trotzky's message at Vologda. Colonel Ruggles, the only man at Vologda who knew the War Department code, had left Vologda for Petrograd. Robins turned to Captain Prince. Would Captain Prince send the message direct to the War Department at Washington from Petrograd at once? He sent it. That was one route by which it went to Washington.
But it went also by the route from Vologda. Robins carried Trotzky's message to Vologda personally. He got there on the night of March 8th. On the morning of the 9th the American ambassador sent Trotzky's message to Washington in the code of the State Department. It went to Washington, therefore, by a double transmission.
On the morning of the 9th the ambassador also sent to Washington a cable of his own, in which he said:
I cannot too strongly urge the folly of intervention by the Japanese just now. It is possible that the Congress of Soviets may ratify the peace. but if I receive assurance from you that the Japanese peril is baseless, I am of the opinion that the Congress will reject this humiliating peace.
Such was Mr. Francis' judgment when the moment of decisive crisis came.
Robins was convinced then, as he is convinced now, that such facts about recent history in Russia cannot be properly suppressed. He was convinced then, as he is convinced now, that the evils of Bolshevism cannot be successfully met by counter-evils of untruthfulness and misrepresentation. If the Bolsheviks asked economic and military co-operation from the United States, Robins will say so. If Lenin and Trotzky were personally reliable in their personal dealings with the American Red Cross Mission in Russia, Robins will say so. He believed then, and still believes, that the only way of successfully meeting the evils of Bolshevism is first to eliminate the imaginary and irrelevant evils from our consideration and then to attack the real ones. His position in his dealings with the Bolsheviks in Russia was precisely his position now-namely:
In Bolshevism there are certain fundamental fallacies. Those fallacies are in the essential political and social method of Bolshevism. They would exist if the Bolsheviks had never executed one counter-revolutionary. They would exist if the Bolsheviks had never seen one German. They are fallacies of fundamental philosophy. They have an immense power over the minds of men in all countries harassed by existing economic injustices and hardships. They are fallacies widely, honestly held. They can never be understood, they can never be exposed, they can never be destroyed, by following side-trails to promiscuous cries of "common thief" and "vulgar murderer" and "bought pro-German." Assailed by such cries, Bolshevism is touched in no vital spot and proceeds unhindered on its way through the field in which it must win or lose---the field of actual political and social controversy and proof.
Farther on in the story Robins outlines the principles on which he believes that the evils of Bolshevism can be effectively combated and on which he believes that existing institutions of injustice and of hardship can be changed into institutions of self-respect and of decent human happiness without the Bolshevik method and in opposition to it.
At Vologda Robins thought he saw an opportunity for the Allies and for America to influence Bolshevism and to moderate it even in Russia itself. Bolshevism, by asking America to stretch out its hand to the Congress of Soviets at Moscow, was giving Western democratic thought a wide entrance into Russian life.
Robins, it must strongly be repeated, was not solitary in the view he took of this opportunity at Moscow. Harold Williams, in his cable to his newspaper and to Mr. Lloyd George, had spoken of the effect which Allied and American help would have on the "political platform" of the Bolsheviks. R. H. Bruce Lockhart and David R. Francis, in their cables to London and Washington, had urged their governments to abandon intervention against the Bolsheviks and to adopt intervention on the side of the Bolsheviks against the Germans and to live on terms of practical recognition, and therefore on terms of practical influence, with the Bolshevik government. London and Washington, through their highest authorized advisers in Russia, had been advised. Their reply would go a great distance toward settling two things-two things reaching far into the future of Bolshevism in Russia and in the whole world:
1. Shall revolutionary Russia, in Harold Williams' language, get a tradition of help from the Allies and from America? Or shall it get a tradition of unfriendliness and of isolation from the Allies and from America?
2. Shall revolutionary Russia, as Williams suggested in his cable, get a "broadening" of its "political platform" through "national resistance " to its national foe and through co-operation with the democracies of the West? Or shall the Russian revolutionary spirit, shut in on itself, grow narrower instead of broader and become the increasingly fanatical and vindictive prophet and agent of an unmodified and finally unmodifiable world catastrophe?
Mr. Francis and Robins listened in Vologda. But Mr. Francis said to Robins:
"Robins, go to Moscow and keep me posted."
So Robins went.
"Have you heard from Your government?" said Lenin to Robins again. It was on the day after he had made his first inquiry.
"I've not heard yet," said Robins again.
"Has Lockhart heard from London?" said Lenin.
"Not yet," said Robins, and added: "Couldn't you prolong the debate?" It was a rather courageous question.
On March 6th, in Petrograd, Robins had gone to Lenin and had told him about the unavoidable stoppage of Trotzky's message to America in military code at Vologda. He had asked Lenin for an extension of time to get his reply from Washington. He had asked for an extension of forty-eight hours. Lenin had made no definite answer, but, therefore, Izvestia carried the announcement that by request of President Commissioner Lenin the Moscow Congress had been postponed from March 12th to March 14th.
Now, in Moscow, Lenin simply said, "The debate must take its course."
"Can I get the credentials of the delegates?" said Robins.
Lenin consented. Robins got them from Sverdlov, chairman of the All-Russian Soviet Executive Committee. There were 1,204 delegates. Robins got 1,186 credentials. He had them examined by two persons.
One of these persons was a follower of the revolution, but not a Bolshevik---a Menshevik. The other was a member of the old nobility.
From their reports he knew that this convention was not a packed convention. He had already put out a supplementary investigation through men in his service who lived among the delegates at headquarters in the National Hotel. This convention was a valid convention of conscious Russia.
It did not represent---it did not pretend to represent---Russia's 7 per cent. of "bourgeois." It did effectively represent Russia's 93 per cent. of peasants and wage-earners.
Certain inert elements among the peasants might not have sent delegates. The really conscious elements had availed themselves of the summons despatched to all councils of wage-earners and of peasants and had come to Moscow with delegates bearing the documentary evidence of their elections.
From as far west as Smolensk, from as far cast as Vladivostok, from as far south as Odessa, from as far north as Murmansk, these delegates of the 93 per cent. assembled. Robins, on going out of Russia, met the Vladivostok delegate at Vladivostok and the Irkutsk delegate at Irkutsk. Such encounters merely confirmed his conviction. The Fourth All-Russian Congress of Soviets was not a Congress of Soviet specialists from Petrograd and Moscow. It was a Congress broadly based on the effective mass of Russia.,
Fig. 6. SVERDLOV, CHAIRMAN OF THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE, ALL-RUSSIAN CONGRESS OF SOVIETS
It was a Congress of a Russia "real"-er and "old"-er than any Russia of any aristocracy. The great boots rising to the knee, the flannel shirts flowing over the breeches, the broad belts, these were the signs of a really antique country-side crowding the Hall of the Nobles.
The debate on the peace began on the 15th. It continued, with scant intermissions, through to the evening of the 16th. Most of the talking was against the peace. At eleven-thirty on the evening of the 16th Lenin spoke. After him no one spoke.
At eleven-thirty he was sitting in a chair on the platform. Robins was sitting on the steps of the platform. Lenin waved to Robins to come to speak to him. Robins came.
Lenin said, "What have you heard from your government?"
Robins said, "Nothing. . . . What has Lockhart heard from London?"
Lenin said, "Nothing."
Then Lenin said: "I shall now speak for the peace. It will be ratified."
He spoke for an hour and twenty minutes. He pointedly wanted to know with what resources, with what resources of fighting men, with what resources of fighting materials, the Russians would fight the Germans. He seemed to agree with the private soldier, who once instructed the learned propagandists of the Petrograd Soviet by saying:
"It's no use approaching German generals with a copy of Karl Marx in one hand and of Friedrich Engels in the other. Those books are in German. But German generals can't understand them."
Lenin spoke, though, above all, for respite for the revolution. His policy remained what it was in Petrograd. He would surrender Petrograd---the imperial, the revolutionary, city. He would surrender Moscow---the immemorial, the holy, city. He would retreat to the Volga. He would surrender anything, and retreat anywhere, if only, on some slip of land, somewhere, he might preserve the revolution and create the revolutionary discipline which did indeed, twelve months later, enable him to fight a war on sixteen fronts and endure all the disabilities inflicted by the Allied economic naval blockade and still precariously revolutionarily live.
He spoke for a necessary peace, a preparatory peace, a peace of respite and return. Red cards rose up in hands all over the house to approve. Red cards rose up to disapprove. The count was had:
Not voting, 204.
Voting against ratification, 276.
Voting in favor of ratification, 724.
Russia was at peace. Russia was alone. Russia was headed for a war with the world.
Robins still sat on the steps of the platform. The count was cried through the house. It was the decision of the most populous white people in the world. It was the decision of the most innovating and upsetting of all peoples in the world. From them, through him, a question had gone to Washington, and an offer, begging a response. No response came to him then. No response came to him at any time afterward.
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