Raymond Robins' Own Story
TROTZKV'S PLANS FOR SOVIET RUSSIA
ROBINS went to see Trotzky shortly after the Bolshevik revolution had put Trotzky into office. I cannot quite think that he went in complete ease and confidence of mind.
Robins had taken part in much propaganda, both by word of mouth and by word of print, in support of Kerensky and therefore against the Bolsheviks. This was known; and Colonel Thompson, Robins' chief in the American Red Cross Mission, once quite naturally said to him: "Robins, do you know what will happen to you if our propaganda fails? You'll get shot."
When Robins came to Trotzky's door, there were soldiers there; and when he got inside, there was a man standing by Trotzky's desk who at once showed much excitement. "Kerensky-ite," he cried, pointing to Robins. "Counter-revolutionary." He had heard Robins addressing the Russian soldiers against peace and in favor of fighting Germany. "Counter-revolutionary," he continued.
Robins raised his arm in a gesture he hoped was commanding and calm, and said to his interpreter:
"Tell Commissioner Trotzky it is true I did everything I could to help Kerensky and to keep the Commissioner from getting into power."
"But tell the Commissioner," said Robins, "that I differ from some of my friends. I know a corpse when I see one, and I think the thing to do with a corpse is to bury it, not to sit up with it. I admit that the Commissioner is in power now."
Trotzky looked mollified.
"But tell the Commissioner," said Robins, "that if Kornilov or Kaledine or the Czar were sitting in his place, I would be talking to them."
Trotzky looked less mollified. Robins hastened to state his whole errand.
"Tell the Commissioner," he said, "that I have come to ask him: Can the American Red Cross Mission stay in Russia with benefit to the Russian people and without disadvantage to the Allied cause? If so, it will stay. If not, it will go."
Trotzky looked at Robins steadily, and considered. "What proof do you want?" he said.
Robins was prepared to ask a certain very definite proof. He mentioned it.
"I have thirty-two cars of Red Cross supplies," he said, "and I want to send them from here to Jassy in Rumania, consigned to the American Red Cross there. I want to change over from Kerensky guards to your guards, and I want those cars to go through to the Rumanian border under your Soviet frank. I want you to order your military people and your railway people to pass my train and to expedite it."
In making this request Robins had two purposes. He wanted to discover two things. First: Did the Soviet have the power to give protection to a train of supplies on its way across all central western Russia from Petrograd thirteen hundred miles to the River Pruth? Second: Would the Soviet be willing to move supplies away from the Petrograd district, where the Germans might get them, to Jassy, where the Germans were very unlikely to get them?
"Yes," said Trotzky, "I'll make the order."
He made it. It began:
To Comrades Podvoisky, Krylenko and Elizarov.
[They were, respectively, Minister of War, Commander-in-chief of the Army, and Minister of Ways and Communications. It continued:]
Kindly issue to the train of the American Red Cross Mission a paper asking all authorities, both military and railway, to give all aid and help.
People's Commissioner of Foreign Affairs.
The train went through on schedule. It went through really on better than schedule. It arrived at Jassy in passenger-train time. And it arrived without having been in any manner molested or marauded on the way. Robins got a receipt in full for it from Colonel Anderson, head of the American Red Cross Mission in Rumania.
Thereupon, when people told Robins that the Soviet would extend no facilities to any Allied mission for any Allied purpose and that anyhow the Soviet had no power and no authority in Russia outside of Petrograd, Robins knew from his own experience that they were slightly in error, at least for that part of Russia extending from Petrograd southward. They were also slightly in error northward.
Fig. 2. KRYLENKO---HEAD OF THE RED ARMY
Robins had four hundred thousand cans of condensed milk, and certain other supplies, medical supplies, lying at Murmansk, the most northerly port of Russia. He wanted to get them down to Petrograd (especially the milk) to use in Red Cross relief work among the destitute. He discussed the prospect with General Poole, head of the British Economic Mission in Russia. The British had war-ships at Murmansk.
"Quite hopeless," said General Poole.
"Probably the Murmansk Soviet has grabbed all your milk and drunk it by this time. Thieves. Might as well give it up."
Again Robins went to Trotzky. Again he got a Soviet frank, a Soviet order. And again it worked. Major Allan Wardwell, under Robins' command, got into a grand-ducal car, a car once a grand-ducal car, now a Soviet car, but still retaining all its luxurious furnishings of the Russian ancient régime, quite beyond the luxury of American private cars; and he proceeded to Murmansk. There the local Soviet perused the order from the headquarters of the national Soviet at Petrograd; and some of the cans of milk that had been stolen from the docks by real thieves were traced and brought back; and all of Robins' supplies were put on Bolshevik trains and were started to Petrograd.
They arrived in Petrograd, and they were distributed in Petrograd, under Bolshevik protection, perfectly safely. There was a little trouble, indeed, from hungry families. Robins wanted to hold the milk in his warehouse for several weeks and to keep it ready for the time when the greatest scarcity in the local milk-supply was due to happen. Some frantic fathers and mothers tried to storm the warehouse and get the milk out of it at once. Robins asked for Soviet guards, on behalf of the property of the United States. He got them, and they were effective. He held his supplies as long as he wanted to, and then he distributed them exactly as he wanted to, under a protection formally promised and scrupulously delivered.
But again he went to Trotzky. This time he challenged him to a sterner proof.
There existed then in Russia certain great accumulated stores of raw materials, useful to the Russians but useful also and attractive to the Germans. There were copper, lead, nickel, cotton, hides, oils, fats. Often these things were hard to reach, because many railroads were broken down or jammed. They were hard to reach, but they were present, and the Germans were making every effort to get them out. There was an embargo forbidding exports from Russia to Germany. But the Germans were finding holes in it, surreptitiously.
At Viborg, a hundred miles northwest of Petrograd, Robins' agents found fifty-four cars loaded with metals and destined to Helsingfors in Finland, and thence to Sweden and to Germany. Robins had prudently provided himself with agents who were vigorous enough to stop those cars, but they could hold them, of course, only temporarily. To do anything with them permanently, they needed an order from Petrograd.
Robins said to Trotzky: "Will you stop those cars permanently, and will you do more? Will you confiscate what's in them? It's all contraband, contraband trying to run the embargo. Will you issue an order of confiscation?"
Trotzky issued the order, and he went still farther. He sent some of that contraband, useful for war, up to Murmansk, where it lay under the guns of the resident British war-ships, quite considerably secure from German seizure.
By this time Robins was convinced of one thing about Trotzky's pro-Germanism, namely, that it took strange forms. Why should Trotzky stop supplies on their way to Germany? And why should he send any such supplies to a remote port, dominated, in the military sense, by the Allies?
Robins knew, of course, that Trotzky had formerly served Germany in ways which are puzzling to people who try to explain him as a German spy. In 1914, for instance, as soon as the war broke out, Trotzky wrote, in Switzerland, a pamphlet entitled "The War and Internationalism." It was addressed to the working-men of Germany and was smuggled into Germany by Swiss socialists. It denounced the German Socialist party, as a party, for supporting the Kaiser's war and it called on German working-men at large and in general to stop supporting it. For this service the German authorities tried Trotzky, then a vagrant refugee on the face of the earth, and sentenced him to imprisonment when caught. Trotzky had a clear recollection of the news of that sentence in the newspapers. Three years later, in 1917, at Brest-Litovsk, when he was invited, as Commissioner of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Republic, to go to a German city to continue the peace negotiations, he remarked: "I have to remind you that I still lie under a certain manifestation of displeasure by the German imperial government."
Robins also knew that in 1905, when the Kaiser was giving the Czar all possible support against the Russian revolution of that year, Trotzky led the revolution in the Working-men's Soviet at Petrograd. He was arrested. He was held in prison in solitary confinement for twelve months. Then he was exiled for life to Obdorsk in Siberia at the mouth of the Obi River on the Arctic Ocean.
But it was his second experience with exile in Siberia by order of the Czar. He had been exiled in 1902 to Ust-Kut on the Lena River north of Irkutsk. He had come to know the ropes. On the way to Obdorsk he broke loose and fled five hundred miles across a roadless wilderness of snow in an Ostiak sled drawn by reindeer.
He fled successfully, all the way to Vienna. There, with Mrs. Trotzky and his two sons, he lived in a house of three rooms and wrote articles for revolutionary papers which went back into Russia underground.
The Austrian government drove him from Vienna when the war broke out. The French government drove him from Paris. The Spanish government drove him from Madrid. At length, via New York, he got back to Russia in the spring of 1917, admiring all governments---that is, all "capitalistic" governments---equally.
But that was just the point. "This man Trotzky," argued Robins to himself, "does not like any of us. He does not like any of us on either side. So why should he be unwilling to trade with the Germans? The Germans need raw materials; Russia has them. Russia needs manufactured products; Germany can furnish them. Why should Trotzky maintain the embargo? Why should he not, from his standpoint, lift the embargo and trade with Germany freely?"
Trotzky soon shed a light on that question. One day, at Smolny, he turned to Robins and bluntly said:
"Colonel Robins, about this embargo on goods going from Russia into Germany, how would you like to put your officers on our frontier to enforce it?"
It was some time before Robins could gather his mind together to speak a word in reply. Then he said:
"Mr. Commissioner, I am not a diplomat or a general, and I can afford to be as ignorant as I am. I don't understand you. Your proposition sounds good, but it sounds too good. In America we would say there must be something on it. I have to ask you frankly, Why do you make it?"
Trotzky was annoyed. Besides his power of being passionate, he has a great power of being supercilious. He showed it now. His black eyes blazed out his impatience. One of his vices is intellectual pride. One of his virtues is that he confesses it. In public speaking he does not flatter an audience. He will even go to the other extreme. He will openly sneer at it. He will freeze it with contempt. A Russian journalist once described him, on such an occasion, as a freezing fire. His face then is the face of a Mephistopheles, diabolically intelligent, diabolically scornful, redeemed only by the eyes of much human suffering in a long and relentless pursuit of a human co-operative Utopia.
His face is the face of a Mephistopheles, diabolically intelligent, diabolically scornful.
"Listen to me carefully," said Trotzky to Robins. "Follow me step by step.
"We have started our peace negotiations with the Germans. We have asked the Allies to join us in starting peace negotiations for the whole world, on a democratic basis---no forcible annexations, no punitive indemnities, and a full acceptance of the principle of the self-determination of all peoples. The Allies have refused to accept our invitation. We still hope, of course, to compel them."
"How?" interrupted Robins.
"By stirring up the comrades in France and in England and in America to upset the policy of their governments by asserting their own revolutionary socialist will."
"Some contract," said Robins, in good American, which was at once put by the interpreter into good Russian. (Trotzky speaks English, but prefers to speak Russian.)
"Yes, a large contract," said Trotzky, "and we may fail at it. In that case we shall, continue negotiations with the Germans alone. Our problem then is this: How to get the Germans to sign a democratic peace for Russia? Now observe.
"Germany, of course, will not want to sign a democratic peace. Germany will want a peace with annexations. But we have these raw materials. Germany needs them. They are a bargaining-point. If we can keep them away from Germany we have an argument in reserve, a big argument, perhaps a winning argument. Therefore I want to keep them away. Do you see?"
"I begin to see," said Robins.
"I want to keep them away," repeated Trotzky, "but you know our difficulties at the front. The front is in chaos. Send your officers, American officers, Allied officers, any officers you please. I will give them full authority to enforce the embargo against goods into Germany all along our whole front."
Robins, seeing, hastened. For a few months, anyway, the Germans would get no goods from Russia. Several months would have to pass before any peace could be signed. (Several months did pass.) During that time the Germans would be cut off completely from Russian raw materials. Robins ran with the good news to the diplomatic and military circles of the Allied and American governments at Petrograd.
But in those circles it was not good news at all. It was news not worth carrying. It aroused only the mild wonder, Why did Robins bother with it?
"Do you mean to tell me," said Robins, "that you aren't interested in preventing hides and fats and oils and nickel and copper and lead from going into Germany?"
The diplomats and the generals looked at him and felt sorry for him.
"Don't you know, " they said, "that these people, Lenin and Trotzky and Chicherin and Radek, and all, are going to last about a month? Don't you know that they are going to last about a week? The White Guards are coming down from Finland . The armies of the Rada are coming up from the Ukraine. The Cossacks are coming up from the Don. Somebody else is coming up from the Urals. The Russian muzhik loves the Little Father. He pines for the Little Father. In a few hours this Lenin and this Trotzky will be gone. Forget them."
Just as under Kerensky, the Indoor Mind was again at work. Its working was miraculous. The Russian muzhik, having got a slice of fresh land for himself out of the revolution, was pining to give it back. He wanted a landlord again. He wanted his rent-tax again. He wanted the knout on his back again.
Robins did not believe in such peasants, and no such peasants appeared. There were serious disturbances later, for other reasons. But the uprisings and upcomings of Czar-loving peasants from the Don and from the Urals and from the Ukraine and from the Finnish marshes were phantoms. Trotzky and Lenin stood. They stood for a week, and for a month, and for a year, and for then some more. But the diplomats were most of them equally stubborn. Never in all that time did they fail to see Trotzky and Lenin falling to-morrow.
Just one responsible military representative of the Allied cause in Petrograd in 1917 was able to think of Russia and Germany and raw materials in terms of actual Russian political fact. He was punished for it by his government.
He was an American---Gen. William V. Judson. He had been official American military observer in the Russo-Japanese War. He had been a member of the Root Mission to Russia. When the Root Mission left Russia, he was retained in Russia because of his special intimate knowledge of Russian affairs. He became head of our Military Mission on the Russian front and also military attaché to our embassy.
General Judson saw that Lenin and Trotzky were going, in fact, to last awhile. He saw, therefore, that if a separate undemocratic peace between Russia and Germany was going to be prevented, it would have to be prevented through Lenin and Trotzky; and he saw also that if Russian raw materials were going to be kept out of Germany in the winter of 1917-18, they would have to be kept out through Lenin's and Trotzky's influence and consent. General Judson was willing to work through anybody, good man or bad man or devil, to keep raw materials out of Germany. He did not want Germany to win. He did not want Germany to get copper to use in shells to kill Americans. He went to see the man in Russia who could keep copper from going to Germany. He went to see Trotzky. For going to see Trotzky he was recalled to America by direct order from Washington.
The Allied and American governments, rather than admit the existence of Trotzky, let the Germans do all the grabbing of Russian raw materials on the Russian frontier.
Nevertheless, it was absolutely necessary for the Allied and American governments to talk to Trotzky on some subjects, at some time, somehow. They had embassies in Petrograd; and these embassies had to get police protection, for instance, and telegraph service, and similar courtesies and facilities. In order to get them, they absolutely had to talk to some Bolsheviks. They would not talk to them "officially." But they talked to them "unofficially."
For the American embassy Robins was the "unofficial" talker. He was not a "diplomat." He was not a member of the club, so to speak; and, accordingly, he could go to Smolny on behalf of the American ambassador without in the slightest degree compromising the American ambassador. He went, and he kept on going, month after month, at the American ambassador's request. He was "unofficial," but he was recognized.
In all that follows it should, therefore, be thoroughly understood that Robins was not going to Smolny in any merely private capacity.
To begin with, he was now head of the American Red Cross Mission. Colonel Thompson had gone back to America in the hope of being able to bring the facts of the Russian situation to American official attention. Colonel Robins had taken his place.
Secondly, and especially, Robins was the American ambassador's "unofficial" aide in all dealings with Smolny. Once an order came from Washington forbidding Robins to go to Smolny any more. The ambassador secured its cancelation. He wanted Robins to go. Months later, when Robins was at Moscow, and when the ambassador was at Vologda, Robins received a certain telegram from the ambassador. It showed Robins' status clearly, and it to-day evidences the nature of the opportunities through which Robins secured his knowledge of Smolny's affairs. It said:
Do not feel I should be justified in asking you to remain longer in Moscow to neglect of the prosecution of your Red Cross work; but this does not imply any lack of appreciation of the service you have rendered me in keeping me advised concerning matters important for me to know and giving suggestions and advice as well as being a channel of unofficial communication with the Soviet Government.
"Unofficially" Robins got protection for the embassy against the anarchists.
In America we think of anarchists as furtive individual criminals. In Petrograd they were a regular organized political party. They had headquarters and local branch offices and newspapers. Their leading specialty was denouncing the Bolsheviks for being too mild, too tame. The Bolsheviks were letting the capitalists live. They were letting the bourgeois survive. The bourgeois should be instantly expropriated, instantly exterminated. The Bolsheviks were not doing it. Lenin and Trotzky were traitors to the proletariate. They were lacking in "true proletarian ruthlessness."
Besides this leading specialty, the anarchists had a minor one. It was to denounce the United States. The anarchists were the earnest anti-American party. They wanted Mooney out of jail in San Francisco---their comrade Mooney. If the Americans did not let Mooney out, so much the worse for the Americans. "Violence will answer violence."
In pursuit of this aim the anarchists used to threaten the American embassy. One morning, at about eleven o'clock, the ambassador spoke to Robins anxiously. A woman had called on the 'phone. She would not give her name; but she had an important message, and she would deliver that message personally if the ambassador would send somebody to meet her. The ambassador sent Mr. Huntington and Mr. Johnson, and the woman told her story.
She had given a party to some friends, at her house. There was a knock at the door. A sailor stood outside, with wine, in bottles, in a sack. He wanted to sell it. It was good wine, he said. He had got it, he said, from the cellar of the Italian Embassy. And he went on to say: "I'll soon have some more. We're going to blow up the American Embassy to-night."
"So," said the ambassador, "that's where we are! These anarchists are getting too strong. They're coming to be the power. Smolny can't control them."
Robins went to the Embassy that night and stayed there till on into morning. There was no blowing up. There never was. But, clearly, there was an intention to frighten the embassy. But why frighten the embassy? Why, except to drive it out of Russia? Robins put detectives on the trail of the woman. They located her and located her record. She was the divorced wife of an American business man, and she was on the books of the British Secret Service and of the French Secret Service and of the Italian Secret Service as a German agent.
Robins went to the secretary of the Council of People's Commissioners---a gentleman named Bonch Bruevich---and told him that "this anarchist business is going too far." Did the Council of People's Commissioners want to drive the American embassy out of Russia? Or did it want the American embassy to stay? If it wanted it to stay, it ought to do something.
That night the Council of People's Commissioners sent its soldiers to the headquarters of the anarchists. The anarchists had machine guns. There was a battle. The chief of the anarchists was shot. Much material---sugar, shoes, tea, and so on---was captured. The next day the anarchist newspaper Burevestnik said, bitterly:
The thieves and murderers from Smolny have broken into our headquarters and have shot our beloved leader and have stolen our supplies. Fellow-workmen, we live under a hell of a proletarian government.
At Moscow also the anarchists were a regularly organized political party. When the Soviet government moved to Moscow, and when Robins moved there after it, there was anarchist trouble again, which again showed the method and the formula of German intrigue in Russia.
Robins got into his motor-car one day to go down to the telegraph station. The ambassador was at Vologda. Every day, at a certain hour, the Bolshevik government placed at the disposal of Robins and the ambassador a telegraph wire between Moscow and Vologda for confidential secret official (or "unofficial") messages. Robins got to the telegraph station, and sent off some messages and received some, and came outdoors again to his car. As he came out, some ten armed men were surrounding his car and saying, "Requisitioned."
"Requisitioned by whom?" said Robins. It did not seem to be clear by whom. But the fact of requisition was perfectly clear. When Robins got into the car, four of the ten armed men got in after him and rested their bayonets on the sills of the car's open windows, Robins' interpreter---Alexander Gumberg---got on the running-board; and a few of the requisitioners accompanied him there. The others climbed up beside the driver. The order to start was given. The driver, very properly, obeyed. An address was shouted. It was the address of the oldest and largest anarchist club in Moscow---9 Povarskaya.
Gumberg, with a revolver held against his body, was still defiant. "You aren't afraid, are you?" he said to the man who held the revolver, as a truck-load of Soviet soldiers approached. Gumberg thought he saw a rescue. But if anybody was afraid at that moment, it was the truck-load of Soviet soldiers. They looked at the requisitioning anarchists, and felt it was none of their business, and went on.
Robins saw it was time to get out. Through Gumberg he told the driver to slow the car. The driver, very creditably, taking a long chance, slowed it almost to a standstill. Robins pushed his way from the seat to the running-board. His captors gesticulated and vociferated, but did not stop him. He and Gumberg alighted. They turned and stood. A man on the running-board was holding a rifle which was leveled directly at Robins' body, and his finger was on the trigger. But he did not shoot. He was lacking in "true proletarian ruthlessness." He only said something. What he said was: "Sprechen sie Deutsch?" I speak only English," said Robins, and his car jumped forward and proceeded in the direction of 9 Povarskaya.
Robins himself proceeded, not without heat, to the rooms of the Committee for the Suppression of Counter-revolution and Sabotage. There he saw a member of the committee---Derjinski. To Derjinski he expressed his indignation. Derjinski was sympathetic and confident. "I'll get the car back for you in two hours," said Derjinski. But the car was not back in two hours and it was not back the next day.
Robins went to see Trotzky. Could he get that car? Trotzky was sure of it. He called Derjinski on the 'phone and talked to him quite awhile. Then he seemed not so sure. In fact, he seemed quite uncertain.
Robins went to see Lenin. This car absolutely had to be got. Everybody knew the anarchists had taken it. "If you can't get it," said Robins to Lenin, "everybody will say that the anarchists are stronger than the Soviet; and all the embassies of all the Allies will be surer than ever that your days are numbered." Lenin listened. On other occasions he was incisive, immediate, all there. On this occasion, as he listened, he seemed very far away. He gave no answer. That is, he gave no order and no promise of one.
The next day Trotzky called Robins on the 'phone and asked him to come to see him. Robins went, and Trotzky said:
"Colonel Robins, I'm going to tell you all about it, and when I've told you you'll understand Russian politics better and you'll see that Russian politics in some ways is very much like politics anywhere else.
"These anarchists of ours in Russia took part in the revolution against the Czar. They helped the revolution. Therefore they had a certain standing when the revolution was successful. Kerensky never dared to attack the club at 9 Povarskaya. The anarchists continued under Kerensky. They continue now. You inform me that they have thirteen centers in Moscow. You are mistaken. They have twenty-six.
"Now I do -not need to tell you that the Germans are working among them. You discovered that fact for yourself in Petrograd. The Germans are working among them here. And every day we are attacked in the anarchist press and at anarchist meetings. Why, then, do we not raid them? Well, we will. We will in a few days. You will see."
"But why not now?" said Robins.
"I'm going to tell you," said Trotzky. "You have elections, I believe, in America. Well, we're having elections in Russia, in Moscow, now. We are the party in power. We are being charged by many of our opponents with ruling by the bayonet. Well, we are cautious. We are not going to use bayonets during the period of these elections, for any purpose. We are not going to have any raids or riots whatsoever. We are going to have perfect peace. So, Colonel Robins, you see! I'm sorry; but you'll have to do without your car till these elections are over."
They happened to be over soon. They were over the very next day. On the night of that day---or, rather, in the early morning of the day ensuing-at 2 A.M.---the Bolsheviks attacked all twenty-six centers of the anarchists in Moscow. They attacked with infantry, cavalry, machine guns, cannon, and tanks. They settled the question whether the Bolsheviks or the anarchists were on top in Russia. They killed fourteen anarchists, wounded forty-two, captured six hundred, and dispersed the rest. They confiscated their stores. Among those stores was one exceedingly interesting entry. The Bolsheviks laid their hands on it and increased thereby both their military equipment and their diplomatic information. It consisted of a set of machine guns of the newest German pattern---a pattern so new, in fact, that these were the first specimens of it seen in Russia.
But the German support of the anarchists was only, after all, to be expected. It was in precise accordance with their favorite formula of intrigue in Russia.
Under the Czar the Germans had spread their influence as widely as they could among the officials of the extreme Right, who were more reactionary than the Czar; and they had also sent their agents among all the revolutionary factions fighting the Czar. Under Kerensky they gave all possible aid to the friends of the deposed Czar---conservatives; and, on the other hand, they added their insincere peace propaganda to the genuine peace propaganda of the radical enemies of Kerensky. Under Lenin and Trotzky they offered support to many friends of the deposed Kerensky, some of whom accepted it, in order to restore "law and order" in Russia; while, simultaneously, they sent munitions from Germany to the anarchists, in order to establish a society in Russia without law and without order. They tried, of course, to keep their fingers in all Russian parties, including the parties in power; but their special favorite formula was to give special attention to the parties at the most extreme conservative Right and to the parties at the most extreme radical Left at any given time, and so at all times to play both ends against the middle and against any existing Russian government at all.
Trotzky, in return, was shooting at the Germans with his own munitions, verbal munitions, merely verbal. But they had an effect which the Germans in time sadly realized.
At Brest-Litovsk a certain German confronted Trotzky. His name was Hoffmann---General Hoffmann. At Brest-Litovsk he was very overbearing. As Trotzky said afterward, with violent resentment: "Mr. Kuehlmann was Germany's diplomatic representative, but General Hoffmann was Germany's military representative---and her real representative. Showing no consideration for Mr. Kuehlmann's diplomatic conventions, the general several times put his soldierly boot on the table around which a complicated judicial debate was developing. And we, for our part, did not doubt for a single minute that just this boot of General Hoffmann's was the only element of serious German reality in these negotiations."
But General Hoffmann lived to cease to despise the power of Trotzky and Lenin and Bolsheviks. Fifteen months later, with the war ended and with Germany in defeat and revolution, he said to Ben Hecht, of The Chicago Daily News:
"Immediately after conquering those Bolsheviks, we were conquered by them. Our victorious army on the Eastern front became rotten with Bolshevism. We got to the point where we did not dare to transfer certain of our Eastern divisions to the West. Our military machine became the printing-press of Bolshevik propaganda. It was Bolshevik propaganda that rotted Germany from the East and broke her morale and gave us defeat and this revolution you now see ruining us."
In an article in a New York Socialist paper in the spring of 1917 Trotzky had foreseen and foretold precisely that result. He had said:
"The creation of a revolutionary labor government in Russia will be a mortal blow to the Hohenzollerns because it will give the final stimulus to the revolutionary movement of the German proletariate."
Trotzky was keen-sighted---and blind. He was blind to the greatest necessity going. He was blind to the necessity of Allied military pressure on the Kaiser's armies. His hatred of "capitalism" blinded him. If these "capitalistic" Allies were physically victorious, said Trotzky, they would make a "capitalistic" and anti-democratic Allied peace, just as a victorious Kaiser would make a "capitalistic" and anti-democratic German peace. Trotzky's propagandist campaign against Germany sprang from no impulse to help the Allies. It sprang simply from an intense impulse to help Socialism.
Robins' view was: "Here is a man who is shooting with a powerful engine of propaganda at all 'capitalism.' But the first 'capitalism' he can hit, and the only one he can immediately and effectively hit, is the one right next door to him on the map ---Germany. For Heaven's sake encourage him to shoot."
This policy, for a moment, we thought good. The government at Washington, of its own motion, thought it good. A considerable sum of public American money, out of the treasury of the United States, came to Russia from Washington and was spent, to Robins' knowledge, in putting Bolshevik propaganda into Germany. It was spent by the American Committee on Public Information. Part of it went through the Russian Revolutionary Bolshevik propaganda bureau. The Germans could accuse us of having used certain Bolsheviks as our "agents." But they were not our "agents." They were serving their own purposes. Robins often saw how completely independent they could be.
He heard once of certain Bolshevik "missionaries" who were about to start for the front, to smuggle themselves into Austria in order to carry on their propaganda there in person. He took seventy-five thousand rubles and went to their farewell meeting. He thought that the seventy-five thousand might do them some good and might do the Kaiser some harm. He made a little speech and offered his little contribution. It was rejected. His hearers had calculated the expenses of their trip, they said, and they happened to have all the money they needed. If any Americans would like to come along personally, they would be welcome. But the money was not necessary. So, with thanks, they departed to dodge the Austrian sentries and to carry Bolshevik words into German cities.
They had a little paper, Die Fackel (The Torch). It was an argumentative paper, showing the dastardly diplomacy of the German "capitalistic ruling classes." Of this paper the Bolsheviks carried tons, in issue after issue, into and through the Austrian lines and the German lines. The Bolsheviks also had an illustrated paper, Die Russische Revolution in Bildern (The Russia Revolution in Pictures), which showed Red Guards in action, and barricades on the streets of Moscow, and the high revolutionary tribunal, and other beauties and happinesses of a land in which the people were ruling.
Also, and perhaps above all, they had innumerable "proclamations" of the sort Trotzky actually took along with him to Brest-Litovsk to give to General Hoffmann's soldiers, and did give to them, in millions of copies. These "proclamations" pointed out Russia's demand for peace, as shown in the votes of the Soviets, and said, for instance: "If you will go back home and start a revolution against. the Kaiser, no Russian soldier will follow you. Our soldiers will not invade your country. If you doubt us, ask them, in the trenches right opposite you. All they want in Germany is that you should have a revolution like ours."
Such was the message of the propaganda, and such also was the message of Trotzky's diplomacy. Everything Trotzky did at Brest-Litovsk, everything he did as Commissioner of Foreign Affairs from the time he took the office to the time he left it, had really just one essential aim: to make a Socialist revolution in Germany, in order to save the Russian Socialist revolution by getting Russia's most dangerous neighbor and Europe's most developed center swung over from "capitalism " to the "co-operative commonwealth. "
Robins saw Trotzky often during the period of the Brest-Litovsk negotiations. It was Trotzky's climax. It was the beginning of his partial decline. He was in his most temperamental temper.
One midnight, at a meeting of the executive committee of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, he appeared in the doorway, pale and exhausted and despairing. "The armistice is gone," he said. "General Hoffmann refuses to agree not to shift troops from the Eastern front to the Western. We do not care for the Allied governments. We are under no obligations to the Allied governments. But it would not be a democratic peace if we allowed that shifting. We will not allow it. Never will we allow it. I have declared to General Hoffmann that we withdraw from the negotiations."
Almost in collapse, he disappeared. At four o'clock he returned. He was fresh, in good color, exuberant. "General Hoffmann has yielded," he cried. "He has agreed to our terms against the shifting of troops. We told him that otherwise we would address ourselves to the working-men of Germany and would say to them: 'Do you know why there is no peace with Russia? It is because German generals whose breasts are covered with medals for the slaughters of masses of working-men on the Eastern front are refusing to make peace with Russia unless they are permitted to take German soldiers from the approaching safety of the Eastern front and plunge them into the hell and death of the Western trenches.' General Hoffmann heard. He has yielded. The armistice, on our terms, is established."
This temperamentalism in speech led to temperamentalism in action. Trotzky sometimes missed the facts of a situation in his passion for his arguments. At Petrograd, in the end, his leadership of the peace treaty failed to hold the Soviet. At Petrograd a greater realism than his was wanted. But at Brest-Litovsk, for Trotzky's purposes, there came the hour when all of Trotzky's qualities, bad as well as good, had their accumulated Socialist revolutionary use.
At Brest-Litovsk, to impress the German proletariate, there was needed a reckless and totally unrealistic propagandist play, which nevertheless had to be sincere. Trotzky furnished it, without effort. When he said, "We refuse to sanction the terms which German Imperialism is writing with the sword upon the bodies of living nations"; when he said, "If the government of Germany desires to rule over lands and over nations by title of military seizure, let it perpetrate its work in the open. We refuse to sanction and sanctify outrages. We leave the war. But we will not sign this peace "---when he said such things, he really believed that they constituted a practicable policy. He really believed that Russia would not have to sign. At Petrograd in secret, as at Brest-Litovsk in public, he insisted that Russia would not have to sign.
He turned out to be totally wrong as a statesman. But in the very moment of being totally wrong as a statesman he came to his peak as a propagandist. His objective at Brest-Litovsk was the German proletariate---the same objective which he had mentioned in his article published in New York before he returned to Russia. Many people said that at Brest-Litovsk he was talking to the world. The speeches Robins heard him make in the Soviet at Petrograd prove that he was not talking to the world at all. The world was, indeed, a gallery; and Trotzky never objects to a gallery. But the audience in the body of the house---the audience for whom the words were chosen---was the working-men of Germany. To them those words were conveyed by channels innumerable. And to them Trotzky said, in sum:
"You are most of you Socialists. Your government is trying to impose imperialistic terms on the first Socialist government in the world. But we, the members of that first Socialist government, cannot and will not connive at imperialism. We are holding out against those terms. We are rejecting them. Are you going to march for them? Or are you going to rise and break your masters who make you march?"
It was penetrating, and it penetrated in time. It was the most poisonous dose in all the propaganda that General Hoffmann finally saw driving his soldiers to sedition and revolution. The Bolshevik propaganda worked---ultimately. But there was an immediate question. Immediately, on the morrow of Brest-Litovsk, would the German soldiers march?
"No," said Trotzky. Like all artists, he believed in the irresistible appealingness of his work. He had shown the German working-men the folly and wickedness of marching, and they would not march.
"But they will," said Lenin.
There was a certain private meeting of certain members of the All-Russian and Petrograd Soviets. It was a time of supreme tension, of the stretching and snapping of many judgments and of many reputations. The German government had made its open and full announcement of its imperialistic and annexationistic policies toward Russia. In the Soviet there was consternation, indignation, fury. But would the Russian army, in the field, fight?
"It Will," said loud voices.
"It will not," said Lenin. "It did not fight at Tarnopol. Kerensky was in power. He used all his power and all his eloquence to make it fight. With the Allies he ordered the great advance. But the Russian army did not fight. It ran, and it had to run. It is not an army any more. It is only peasants wanting bread and land. It is going home. The Russian army will never fight again until it is reorganized into a new revolutionary army. The present army will not fight."
Lenin spoke very calmly. He had written out his ideas into "twenty-one theses," as if he were giving a course of lectures in a college. Those "twenty-one theses" were his reasons for believing that Russia would have to sign the peace. They were crushing. But Lenin did not try to crush with them at that meeting.
He spoke for only about twenty minutes, and he spoke very much without emphasis. He merely stated his position. The Germans would advance; the Russian army would not fight; and the Russian Socialist republic, in order not to be trampled militarily out of existence, would have to sign the peace.
Then Trotzky swayed the meeting. The revolution was afoot in Germany. Trotzky saw it striding on. Comrade Lenin was mistaken. The German comrades were not so base as to fight for the terms of Brest-Litovsk. Besides, there was Poland, and there was Lithuania, and there was Letvia. They must not be surrendered to the Germans. The Polish comrades and the Lithuanian comrades and the Lettish comrades must not be deserted. We must hold them for the revolution, said Trotzky.
"We must not be intoxicated by the revolutionary phrase," said Lenin.
But Trotzky swayed the meeting. And Lenin let him. Robins afterward asked Lenin why. Lenin said:
"I am willing to let Trotzky see if he can put off the peace. I am willing to let him see if he can save us from it. I would rejoice if he could. But I wanted the comrades to know what I am thinking. I wanted them to know it, so that they can remember it a few days from now. I have to keep their confidence."
During those few days, till they ended, Lenin was very unpopular. Most of the leaders of the Soviet were on Trotzky's side. Lenin's position seemed to many of them to be monstrous. At a Soviet meeting Carl Radek, ablest of the Bolshevik journalists, rose in his place and stared at Lenin and said:
"If there were five hundred courageous men in Petrograd, we would put you in prison."
Lenin, in a tone as of thesis seventeen, said:
"Some people, indeed, may go to prison; but if you will calculate the probabilities you will see that it is much more likely that I will send you than you me."
And so it was. Everything was as Lenin said it would be. But as he said each new thing he said it to a storm of protest.
"We will call the Fourth All-Russian Congress of Soviets," he said. "What?" was the answer. "Call the Congress now? It can't be done. Russia can't send delegates now. It can't bring its mind to think of sending them. And the delegates can't come, they won't travel, at this time. Impossible!"
"We will call it at Moscow," said Lenin. "What?" said the answer. "Moscow? The stronghold of the reaction? Go to Moscow and the Hall of the Nobles and the haunts of the old régime? Leave Petrograd, the revolutionary city? Never!"
But it happened. The Fourth All-Russian Congress of Soviets was called, as Lenin had said. The Germans had advanced, as Lenin had said. The Congress met at Moscow in the Hall of the Nobles, as Lenin had said. It ratified the peace, as Lenin had said.
The shadow of Lenin grew upon Trotzky. It grew upon Radek. It grew upon Karelin. It grew upon everybody. More than ever they were eclipsed. More than ever Lenin was master. He had out-analyzed and outseen everybody. His books and his documents and his reports and his theses and all his scholastic methods and manners had not hindered him---perhaps they had helped him---in becoming his party's absolute realist and almost absolute ruler.
The shadow of Lenin grew upon Trotzky. It grew upon Radek. It grew upon Karelin. It grew upon everybody. More than ever Lenin was master.
In his mind, as he went to Moscow, there was, nevertheless, one doubt about the ratification of peace. He had the same view as everybody else regarding the character of the peace. Everybody in Russia called it the "robbers'" peace, the "shameful" peace, the "rotten" peace. Izvestia, the newspaper of the Soviet government, and Pravda, the newspaper of the Bolshevik party, both said that it was a peace of "masked indemnities, veiled annexations, and complete betrayal of self-determination." Lenin said so, too. He said also, however, that Russia could not physically resist it without physically perishing. He was convinced that it would have to be ratified. But in his conviction there was one gap.
The Russian army was helpless and hopeless, yes. But could some support be got from the Allies? Would the Allies promise to intervene with help, with some sort of help, if at Moscow the Russian Soviets, instead of ratifying the peace, should repudiate it?
A memorandum was written. In it an inquiry was addressed to the Allies. Their answer belongs to the third chapter of our diplomacy in revolutionary Russia. In this second chapter there was simply the memorandum itself. It asked the Allies what they would do in certain circumstances.
But Lenin already suspected what they would do. So did Trotzky.
Trotzky had said to Robins one day:
"Haven't you Americans got a Russian Railway Mission of Americans, somewhere?"
"Where is it?"
"Gone to Japan?
"What's it doing there?"
"Eating its head off."
"Why don't you send it in here?"
"Why, Mr. Commissioner, you know there are many Americans----"
"Yes, they think I'm a German agent. Well, now, suppose I am. Just assume, for argument, that I am. You admit I have never told you I would do a thing and then failed to do it. My motives may be bad, but my actions go with my promises. Is that right?"
"Well, then, out of some motive, which you may assume to be bad, I am willing to share the railway system of Russia half-and-half with the United States; and if you will bring your Railway Mission into Russia I promise you that I will give its members complete authority over half the transportation of all the Russia of the Soviets."
"What do you mean---half?"
"I mean this:
" I will accept anybody you Americans want to name as your railway chief and I will make him Assistant Superintendent of Russian Ways and Communications, and his orders will be orders. Then, as well as we can, we will divide all our available transportation facilities into two equal parts. You will use your half to evacuate war-supplies from the front and to carry them away into the interior, so that the Germans will not be able to get them. We will use our half, you helping us, to move our food-supplies from the places where we have a surplus to the places where we have a deficit. You see?"
"Clearly. You want us Americans to reform and restore your railway system for you, so that it can carry food successfully and so that you can feed your people and keep your government going."
"Yes. But I propose to pay you in precisely the coin you most need and want. Colonel Robins, have you ever seen a gunmap of our front?"
Trotzky unrolled it before him. It showed some six hundred miles of locations of cannon and of shells-nests of cannon, dumps of shells, usable stuff, quantities of it, the material leavings of a once mighty army. It showed cannon that had never been fired---cannon new and of the latest type, with their shells beside them.
"There it all lies, " said Trotzky. "It's of no more use to us. Our army does not fight in any more foreign wars just now. Lenin says the Germans will advance. If they do, they will take all that stuff . We cannot move it back. We can do small things on our railways now, but not big things. Most of our technical railway managers are against us. They are against the revolution. They are sabotaging the revolution. Our railways are headless. The whole point is: our railways need new heads. Will you supply them?"
"But be sure you make this clear: My motive, whether good or bad, is entirely selfish. I get a reorganized and effective railway system for Soviet Russia. And your motive, so far as I am concerned, is entirely selfish, too. You save a mass of munitions from all possibility of falling into the hands of the Germans. You get a benefit. I get a benefit. Mutual services, mutual benefits, and no pretenses! What do you say?"
"I'll find out."
So again Robins ran to diplomatic circles with what he thought was good news and again he was received without interest. Again he heard the wisdom of the palaces. The peasants were really rising now. Lenin and Trotzky were really falling now. The real Russia, the Russia loving the whip, the Russia loving the strong man, Kaledine, Alexeiev, somebody, was asserting itself. Up from the Ukraine. Up from the Don. Up from the Urals. No use bothering with Lenin and Trotzky. No use at all.
So those guns and those shells remained where they were, and so the Germans took them and made use of them on the bodies of Frenchmen and Englishmen and Americans in the March drive and in the June drive of 1918 on the Western front; and Lenin and Trotzky were still standing.
Lenin and Trotzky came to think that the Allies would never co-operate with them for any purpose. They came to think the Allies would co-operate with any sort of White government sooner than with any sort of Red. They came to think that the Allies were not so much interested in saving Russia from Germany as in destroying the Red government at Petrograd. They thought too much, but they had much reason.
In Russia, in the territory of the old Russia, along its eastern frontier, there had emerged three governments. There was one in Finland. There was one at Petrograd. There was one in the Ukraine. The one at Petrograd was Red. The other two were White. In all three regions there was a struggle between Whites and Reds. It was the same struggle, involving everywhere the same fundamental social issue.
In Finland the French gave formal recognition to the White government. It was a "law and order" government. It was fighting and killing Trotzky's and Lenin's Red Guards. It was a "good" government. It at once called in the Germans and accepted German troops and turned Finland into a German dependency.
In the Ukraine the Allies gave the White government their active favor and support. This government also was a "good" and a "law and order" government. It also was fighting Lenin's and Trotzky's Red Guards. From Allied money it received an official present of 130,000,000 francs. Four days later it called in the Germans and filled the Ukraine with German troops; and, of its own free will, not under foreign compulsion, but purely for domestic reasons, in order to down its domestic Red enemies, it turned the wheat-fields of all southern Russia into German wheat-fields and Odessa into a German port.
The government at Petrograd, among these three governments, was the only one that was Red, but it also showed another difference. It was the only one that never called in German troops against its domestic enemies and also the only one that at any time ever did Germany the slightest harm. It did it the prodigious harm described by General Hoffmann. It rotted the fiber of imperial loyalty out of a whole section of the German army and out of a whole section of the German population.
But this government was as weak in physical power as it was strong in propaganda. Its army was dissolved---dissolved by economic and moral exhaustion ensuing upon intolerable effort. The American Committee on Public Information, which cooperated with the Bolshevik government in propaganda but then became one of the Bolshevik government's bitterest enemies, said, nevertheless:
"Russia fought on to utter exhaustion, and her army yielded only when the power of further effort was gone."
In these circumstances, looking at the three governments and observing that the government at Petrograd was by far the largest and by far the most important, what did we do?
To the government at Petrograd we refused to give any officers for keeping goods from going into Germany, and to the government at Petrograd we refused to give any railway experts for the restoring of the railway system and for the transporting of munitions away into the interior and away from the Germans; but to the governments of Finland and of the Ukraine, immediately thereafter outrightly pro-German, we gave diplomatic support and even military physical support in combats with the soldiers and with the friends of the government at Petrograd. In the Ukraine, serving the Ukrainian White government, officers appeared and munitions appeared from Allied sources and under Allied orders.
Trotzky made this fact the peroration of his angriest and greatest speech---the one in the Third Congress of Soviets at Petrograd in January. He saw the Russian Soviet government attacked equally by the Allies and by the Germans. He ended: "And at this very moment, while the French ambassador sits at Petrograd, we see French cannon, directed by French officers, shooting our comrades on the plains of Bessarabia."
In that atmosphere Trotzky conducted his diplomacy, and in that atmosphere Lenin went to Moscow to attend the Fourth All-Russian Congress of Soviets and to debate the Peace of Brest-Litovsk. Robins, under orders from the American ambassador, went to Moscow, too. He had now seen another chapter of our diplomacy.
Fig. 5. ON THE ROAD TO MOSCOW. In tonneau of car, left to right, are: Alexander Gumberg, Colonel Robins' Russian secretary; Carl Radek (with pipe), editor of Pravda, organ of the Bolshevik party; Mrs. Radek, and Trotsky's sister.
He had seen it consist of a stifled indoor contradiction. He had seen it consist of staying in Russia and of being unfriendly to the existing Russian government. So he had seen it come to the conclusion described by Gen. William V. Judson, when military attaché of the American embassy, in a letter to the American ambassador. General Judson said:
All American aid to the Russian people is at a standstill, while the German emissaries are everywhere, working day and night in the interests of the enemy.
Robins clung, though, to his one last hope. Lenin and Trotzky had written that memorandum. He awaited, they awaited, in Moscow, the reply from London, from Paris, from Washington.
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