Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview

13

Failure in the "Acid Test"

During the month of March the impulse of the peacemakers to build stability in central Europe was strengthened by the continuing revolution in Russia. The Soviet government was proving to be less evanescent than ill-wishers had predicted it would be. In existence now for more than a year, it had maintained itself in central Russia—in an area comprising hardly a fourth of the czarist empire—against military forces of the old regime. Meanwhile, those forces, operating on the borders of European Russia, were receiving material support from the West.

The Soviet government met the military threat with a novel political weapon. With the formation of the Comintern in March of 1919 a nucleus took shape for proselyting abroad; and this branch of the Soviet system undertook to undermine governments with which the foreign office endeavored to negotiate. 1. It was at this time that Lenin issued his implacable challenge: "The existence of the Soviet Republic together with the imperialist states is in the long run unthinkable." More and more the Soviet regime appeared to Western statesmen as an enemy. 2.

The Western governments had made no perceptible progress in carrying out their intention to remove the troops that they had sent into Russia. 3. Dispatches from General Graves at Vladivostok reported profiteering, wastage of supplies sent by the United States, and worsening of railway operations. Each native faction was asserting that those who were not its friends were its enemies; and Graves, still lacking specific instructions as to political matters, was holding aloof from conflicts among the factions. He declined to join with British and Japanese commanders in using policing measures against elements of the population whose radicalism he thought perhaps less dangerous than the vindictiveness of reactionaries. 4.

____________________
1.
See Theodore H. von Laue, "Soviet Diplomacy, 1918-1930," in Gordon Craig and Felix Gilbert, The Diplomats.

Lenin justified the subversive work of the Comintern in other nations by saying: "Just as during the war you tried to make revolution in Germany ... so we, while we are at war with you adopt the measures that are open to us," Arthur Ransome, Russia in 1919 (New York, 1919), p. 224.

2.
Adam B. Ulam, Expansion and Coexistence (New York, 1971), pp. 96, 98. Kennan, Russia and the West, pp. 158-161, 166.
3.
"Russia does seem to be in a hopeless way," Polk wrote to Auchincloss on March 20, 1919. "We have committed ourselves to assist in the railroad in Siberia, and having just jammed that through, I do not see how we can turn right around and get out," Y.H.C.

In view of the political situation at Washington, the State Department was instructed to take temporary measures, and on March 3 Wilson authorized the expenditure of $117,000 from his Fund for National Security and Defense for "actual maintenance" of the American railway corps in Siberia. He expressed concern about securing funds in the future, Lansing to Polk, January 31, February 9, 1919. Wilson to Polk, March 3, 1919, Wilson papers. The War Trade Board supplied $1 million in March, N.A., docs in R.G. 59, 861. 77 / 62a, 675, 690, 735d, 835; Polk to Ammission, February 10, 1919, Wilson papers.

4.
The awkward position of Graves is explained in George Stewart's The White Armies of Russia (New York, 1933), pp. 250-252. Also see Robert J. Maddox, The Unknown War in Russia (San Rafael, Calif., 1977), pp. 62, 70, 73, 97-100, 103, and William S. Graves, America's Siberian Adventure 1918-1920 (New York, 1931).

-234-

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