§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)
I beg to move that the Bill be now read a Second time.
I should like to make a statement to the House upon the grave condition of affairs in Central Europe. I promised on behalf of the Government that before we committed ourselves to any definite action we should take the House into our confidence and state clearly what we proposed to do. I am still hopeful of peace, but the House rises at the end of this week and conditions may arise, although I am still hopeful that they will not, which will render it necessary for the Government to take certain stops. In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, therefore, I propose to state the steps which we should take in certain contingencies and to seek the approval of the House of those proposals in the Vote which will be taken upon the Consolidated Fund Bill. The last time I spoke upon the Polish Question I gave a summary of the events up to that date. I think it was immediately after the Spa Conference and after the Government had sent their despatch to the Soviet Government. Since then communications between the Soviet Government and the British Government have been either placed on the Table of the House or communicated to the public in some other way, so that both the House of Commons and the public have very full knowledge of the communications which have passed between one side and another. But I should like to restate what I conceive to be the position. With regard to the Polish attack upon Russia, I have expressed my opinion frankly in this House, as I had already expressed it, on behalf of the Government, to the Polish Government itself. 254 In our judgment the Polish attack was not justified, and I sincerely regret that it was made, in spite of the warnings of France and of England. The Soviet Government are entitled, in our judgment, in any conditions of peace, to take those two facts into account. I want to state the facts quite frankly and quite fairly, whether they tell in favour of the Polish Government or against them, because it is essential in a grave situation like this that the country should be taken into our full and frank confidence.
The Soviet Government, in any condition of peace, are entitled to take into account the fact of the attack made by the Polish Army upon Russia. They are also entitled to take into account that those attacks were delivered in spite of the warnings of the Allies. What I mean is that they are entitled, in any conditions of peace, to demand such guarantees as would be exacted by any Power against the repetition of an attack of that kind. I have never challenged that on behalf of the Government, and I am not aware that any of our Allies have done so. What we have challenged is this: Whatever the mistakes may be which are committed by a Government in an act of aggression upon another nation, nothing justifies a retaliation or a reprisal or a punishment which goes to the extent of wiping out national existence. That is why I want to state the case quite frankly and fairly to the House. In 1870 there was an appearance of an act of aggression upon Prussia. We know now that that was not the case, but no one, not even those who claimed that France was the offender at that time, would for a moment have justified Germany in imposing terms of peace which would have destroyed the national existence and independence of France. If they had done so they would have had the whole of civilisation against them. The same thing applies to 1914. There, no doubt, Germany was the aggressor, but if, after the complete defeat and overthrow of Germany, the Allies had insisted upon the extinction of German nationality—the wiping out of German national existence, as a term of peace, the whole civilised world would have been outraged, and justly so. I therefore draw a distinction between guarantees exacted from a defeated nation against a repetition of an act of aggression and any terms which involve 255 the destruction of the national independence of a people.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I do not say anyone suggested it. I want to make quite clear what the position of the Allies is, and I must ask for the patience of the House, because it is a grave situation, and I have to consider very carefully every phrase which I utter under these inflammable conditions. But apart altogether from the question of the moral right of any power to demand the extinction of another nation as a punishment for the acts of its Government, Europe has to be considered, and Europe has something to say in regard to the independence of Poland. The independence of Poland and its existence as an independent nation is an esential part of the structure of European peace, and its extinction could not be regarded with indifference by any of the nations who are interested in preserving the peace of Europe. The re-partition of Poland would not merely be a crime, it would be a peril, and we have to consider both those contingencies as the basis of our policy. That is why we intervened at Spa. When the Polish representatives came to see us at Spa, we made it quite clear that we could not support Poland in any act of aggression upon Russia, or upon any other border States. We made it quite clear that it was an essential condition of any Allied support, whether moral or material, that the Polish armies should retire to the ethnographical frontier of Poland. At that time they were, I think, 50 or 100 miles beyond that frontier, so that it was a condition that it was essential to impose at that moment. We made it a condition that they should apply for an armistice, with a view to negotiations for peace. Poland accepted those proposals, and the first step we took was to telegraph to the Soviet Government proposing a conference, with a view to establishing peace, not merely in Central Europe, but throughout the whole of Europe. We also made it clear that we were interested in the independence of Poland, and that if it were challenged and seriously menaced, we should have to give such support as it was in our power to give to the Polish struggle for independence.
256 4.0 P.M.
I will just give a summary of the events-which took place because they have a bearing on our present position. We sent that telegram to Soviet Russia immediately after the Spa Conference. It took them, I think, six or seven days to reply. They replied upon the very last day on which they could have replied. It was not a difficult telegram to answer, but they took every available day before the answer was sent. When it was sent they rejected the idea of a London conference and said they preferred dealing direct. We wired back to say that the London conference was merely suggested on our part with a view to clearing up not merely the Polish situation but all disputes and differences and to try to establish peaceful relations throughout Europe, and that we did not insist upon it. We advised the Poles to apply for an armistice, and they did so without delay. They applied for an armistice on the 22nd July, and the answer came from the Soviet Army Headquarters on the 24th, fixing July 30th for the reception of the Polish delegates on the Bolshevik front—quite an unnecessary lapse of time. If there had been a real desire to stop fighting and a real desire for peace, I cannot imagine why that interval should have elapsed. When the Polish delegates went there our information is—this we have from our representative at Warsaw—that they were kept there for three days at the Soviet headquarters, that they were treated with great insolence—I am using the words given by Lord D'Abernon—and that during those three days the conditions of the armistice and the conditions of peace were not communicated to them. They challenged, not so much the credentials of the Polish envoys, but the fact that, as they said, they had not full authority and sent them back at the end of three days without having communicated to them any conditions under which the armistice would be granted.
In these circumstances we again communicated with Moscow and urged them to take immediate action with a view to putting an end to hostilities. The Soviet Government armies by that time had crossed the ethnographical frontiers and were inside Poland. Last Friday my right hon. Friend, the Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Bonar Law) and I met Messrs. Kemenoff and Krassin and suggested to them that as there was such considerable delay in negotiating an armistice, and that if 257 was insisted that peace terms should be added on to the armistice such time would elapse that there would be considerable fighting, a good deal of bloodshed, and maybe a good deal of loss of life, and that it might be better to have a truce lasting for a few days which would give time for the negotiation of an armistice and if necessary of peace. They pressed for guarantees, which I thought quite reasonable, that the interval should not be utilised by either the Poles or the Allies to re-equip, to reconstruct, and to strengthen the Polish forces and the Polish position. That was quite reasonable. All these guarantees we were prepared to advise our Allies and the Poles to accept. It is not for me to state what their opinion was, but they promised to communicate at once with Moscow and to inform us by Sunday morning. The answer has been published. It is a refusal of a truce on the ground that the Poles had accepted an arrangement for the discussion of an armistice at Minsk to-morrow, the 11th, and that under these conditions they thought that that would be the speediest way to achieve the purpose which we had in view, namely, the making of peace. That was the position up to the meeting of the Allies at Lympne. I do not know that there is any other fact which I wish to state with regard to the dates in reference to Poland.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
So far as I know there is no condition which has boon put forward in reference to Wrangel which would in the least interfere with the negotiations. I am not aware of any.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
There was no condition at all put forward in regard to General Wrangel, so far as I know. If there had been, I should be glad to give it because I should certainly have taken anything of that kind into consideration. I have no doubt that some reference was made, but certainly there is no impression left upon my mind that any difficulty arose over Wrangel, and if the House will look at the reply which was given they will see that it has no reference at all to Wrangel. It is purely a telegram which bears upon the position of the 258 Polish negotiations. That is the position up to yesterday and that is what the Conference at Lympne had to consider. There have been great delays even m coming to a discussion of an armistice. I think myself, quite frankly, that they are very suspicious delays. I cannot imagine that if there was a real desire to have an armistice, to stop fighting and to negotiate peace that the Soviet Government and the Soviet armies would not have fixed a date at least a week or ten days ago.
After that record of events I come to the view which was taken by the Allies at the Conference yesterday, which I must submit to the House. The first proposition to which we agreed was this—it seems an elementary one, but if hon. Members will look at some of the criticisms which are passed on both sides they will find that it is not so irrelevant as it appears—"that the sole purpose of Allied policy in this matter is to secure peace on the basis of the independence of ethnographical Poland." We are not seeking any other purpose, any ulterior purpose. This is our main purpose, this is our sole purpose in these Polish negotiations. The second point upon which we agreed was this: We suggested to the Soviet Government that they should declare a truce at midnight on Monday. It is perfectly true that the armies would not receive that communication perhaps for three or four days—that was our advice—that we proposed, at any rate, that an order should go forth from Moscow and from Warsaw at midnight on Monday, "Fighting to cease." The answer of the Soviet Government was: "The Poles are coming to see us on Wednesday to discuss that very matter, and we would rather discuss it with them."
Well, we are not going to have a quarrel; we do not propose to involve this country in a dispute, whether it means much or whether it means little, upon the difference between Monday and Wednesday. There the Allies are agreed. I see that someone has said, "You are going to have a war not for the independence of Poland but on a question of forty-eight hours." We are not. That is the second point of agreement. The third point is this: that the Allies should advise Poland to endeavour to negotiate an armistice and to make peace as long as the independence of ethnographical Poland is recognised. It was agreed that that recommendation should go from 259 the Allies, and it has gone. I felt confident that we need not wait for the sanction of the House to that. I felt certain that the House would be absolutely unanimous on that subject, and as it was an urgent matter we sent the recommendation yesterday. The fourth point was this: If Poland accepts the terms the Allies will certainly not intervene either to prevent or to upset that arrangement.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
If they negotiate an agreement at Minsk we do not propose to intervene to upset any arrangement which is acceptable to the Poles. It is their affair. I sincerely trust that it will be peace. But it may not. We have to face that contingency. I hope no one will take any personal or party point into account when there is a grave situation of this kind affecting the peace of the world.
I will now take the two suppositions. Supposing the Minsk Conference fails, there are two alternative suppositions which we have to take into account as to the possible reasons for its failure. Supposing it fails, because the Poles refuse conditions which in the circumstances, having regard to the commencement of the conflict and to the military position, the Soviet are in the judgment of every fair-minded man entitled to exact from them, then the Allies could not support Poland. Take the other supposition. Supposing the Bolsheviks insist upon terms absolutely inconsistent with the independence and existence of Poland as a free nation, and the Poles reject and are prepared to fight for their independence, then undoubtedly a very serious situation will arise. As I have already stated, the Allies cannot be indifferent to the existence of Poland. There is the moral right of the nation. We are responsible for the resurrection of Poland. It is the price of much blood and treasure spent by the Allies. We have entered into a covenant with the nations who signed the Peace Treaty to have recourse to methods other than the brutal method of war for the purpose of settling international disputes, but the whole root idea of that covenant, its whole sanction, depends upon the nations who signed binding themselves together to defend those of their members who cannot defend 260 themselves That is the root idea. Unless that is recognised that covenant is a scrap of paper, and a miserable scrap of paper. It is, if I may use industrial language, the trade union of nations, where the whole of the community engages to defend and protect a weak member. Unless that is recognised in principle, that covenant goes No amount of meetings and pamphlets and speeches and resolutions and prayers for it can keep it alive. Therefore, we cannot, unless we abandon the whole basis of the League of Nations, disinterest ourselves in an attack upon the existence—I am not talking about guarantees against invasion—of a nation which is a member of that League and whose life is in jeopardy. That covenant, as I understand it, does not contemplate, necessarily, military action in support of the imperilled nation. It contemplates economic pressure; it contemplates support for the struggling people, and, when it is said that if you give any support at all to Poland it involves a great war, with conscription and all the mechanism of war with which we have been so painfully acquainted within the last few years, that is inconsistent with the whole theory of the covenant to which we have entered. We contemplate other methods of bringing pressure to bear upon the recalcitrant nations who are guilty of acts of aggression against other nations and endangering their independence.
I have already referred to the second point, but I think it is necessary, when we come to consider action, that I should repeat it. It is not merely that we are morally bound to interest ourselves in the life of a nation which is an ally, and to which we have undertaken to give support in the event of its national existence being challenged; there is, in addition, the danger which is involved to the peace of Europe if you have a great aggressive Soviet Empire co-terminus with Germany. I have pointed out before what that means. There are those who believe that the Soviet Republic is essentially a peaceful one. Let them believe it, but if, in spite of every effort to make peace, the Soviet Government reject conferences for the purpose, postpone them, introduce conditions which involve a practical annexation of another country, then, whatever the Soviet Republic were yesterday, to-day and to-morrow they will become an Imperialist, militarist Power 261 That is the point that I want to put. It has happened once or twice. It is one of those perils which we had in mind. That is the real peril, and if the Soviet Republic insists upon over-running Poland, when she can, not merely get but exact all the guarantees to which she is entitled, and which any other country under the same conditions would exact; if she prefers to over-run Poland and practically to annex it—whether she nominally annexes it or not makes no difference—then from that moment, whatever it was a week ago, or a month ago, the Soviet Republic becomes an aggressive Imperialist State which is a menance to the freedom and independence of the whole world.
I cannot assume that; and I am not going to assume it until I see the result of the Minsk Conference, but I have taken two contingencies, and I am bound since the House is separating in a few days—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why separate?"]—I am bound to take into account both contingencies. Well, even if we did not separate, I should put the whole policy to-day. There is no time to lose, and not merely the House of Commons, but the country is entitled to know to what we are committing them. Therefore I am examining both contingencies. I am hoping that the second contingency will not arise, but I should be blind, I should be, indeed, reckless, if I assumed that it would not arise, and, acting on that assumption, took no precautions. A few days will tell us whether that assumption is a correct one or not. I am not sure that the Soviet Government itself knows which of those two assumptions is correct. I wish I were certain of it. I am going to give an indication of what the Allies have in their mind. As far as I can do so, without giving information which would be injurious to the efficacy of the action which we might take. The first is that no action will be taken except to support the struggle for Polish existence and independence. The second point is that we can only give that support to a nation that struggles itself. The Poles are a brave people—there is no braver people in Europe: they have always made fine soldiers, and some of the greatest military achievements in the history of Europe stand to their credit—but they have got their difficulties. They are a nation that has been 262 split up into three very unequal parts for over a century and a half. They are not a people who have had any control over their own destiny during that period. They have been suddenly called upon, without any preliminary preparation or training, to undertake the functions of nationhood in the most perilous position in which you could place them. There are enemies behind them, enemies in front of them, difficulties to the south and difficulties to the north; great hatred towards them, some of them traditional, some of them racial, some of them religious—furious, savage hatreds surging around them, and they are a nation with no frontier which is a denfensible one.
There is no nation in the world placed in such a position of jeopardy by Providence as Poland. She struggled for centuries; she fell; she was torn to pieces; but there was a resurrection of Poland and she was starting a new life. But it was a new life without training, without discipline, without a tradition, with none of her leaders trained either in government or in war. Of course she made blunders. They were the blunders of irresponsibility. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] It is not a thing to laugh at. They are people who have been trampled upon for a long time. Theirs were the mistakes of inexperience; the mistakes of a people who had had no chance to learn how to govern. Let us remember that. That is their weakness in their struggle for independence. What is lacking is not gallantry, is not bravery, is not heroism, is not patriotism, for there is no more heroic, there is no more patriotic, there is no more gifted race in the world than the Poles but they are people who have not had the necessary training, and the catastrophe has come upon them before they had found themselves or found their natural leaders and found their strength, and before they have been able to organise themselves. I appeal to a party which is organised and claims to be organised to protect the weak, and knows what organisation means in the protection of the weak, not to be too hard on the unorganised and very largely unskilled labour of statesmanship in Poland.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is a very different story. There they had the machinery at their disposal, as everyone 263 knows. It is very old machinery and in many senses very perfect machinery, and everyone knows it is because they had that machinery that they have been able to survive so many attacks. But that is another matter. I must speak very frankly here. The Poles, not having this experience, must trust more to those who possess it. I do not want to disparage the Soviet armies, but with the forces at the disposal of the Poles, if they be well directed and well organised, there ought to be no difficulty in resisting. They are, no doubt, very ably led, but as we know armies in western Europe they are not a formidable force. Their equipment is not formidable; their transport is not formidable; their artillery is not formidable. They have brought no artillery forward that would reduce a second-rate fortress and could not in the time at their disposal. It is therefore essential—I am speaking now from a military inspection of the whole of the facts—that if the Poles are to defend their freedom they must accept the advice and the direction of people who have had four years' experience in the greatest war the world has ever seen, and have shown their capacity. No support will be of the slightest avail unless that is done. That is one point. The next point is this: No Allied troops can be sent to Poland. I made that clear before in this House and it is a position which we definitely take up.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am now talking only about France and those who were present at the Conference. I am speaking only on behalf of the Conference.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
We are sending no allied troops to Poland. There are troops at Dantzig which will be essential for communication with Poland, but we are sendng no allied troops. We have made that clear to Poland, and it is essential we should make it clear to this country. It would not be necessary if the Polish resources were thoroughly organised and well directed. I wish to make it clear that this is all 264 on the assumption that the Minsk Conference fails, and fails not because of any obstinacy on the part of Poland and not because Poland refuses to acept terms which we think, under the circumstances, are as good as she has any right to expect. It is on the assumption that the Bolshevik Government imposes conditions which are inconsistent with national freedom and are excessive. In that event, the Allies, out of the stores at their disposal, will help to equip the Polish people for their own defence.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Next the Poles will be supplied with the necessary military advice and guidance. The further action we shall be compelled to take is an action which has always been contemplated in cases of that kind, and that is that we should exercise an economic pressure upon Soviet Russia to release her stranglehold on the life of the Poles.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
We propose to do so either by naval action or by international action, or by both. I come now to another action which we shall be forced very reluctantly to take in the contingency I have described.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
We are certainly going to appeal to America. I am obliged to my hon. Friend. That is one of the things we shall certainly do. There is the difficulty in America that up to the present she has not ratified the Treaty, and the confusion that exists owing to the fact that the Treaty is the subject of controversy between two great parties. It is not for me to say what view the American Executive will take. I am judging only from the attitude of America at the Peace Conference. America was a strong Protagonist of Polish independence. No man took such an active and determined. and I might say, zealous part in setting up Polish independence and the Polish nation as President Wilson, and whatever differences of opinion there may be in America with regard to the League of Nations, I am certain that there will 265 be no difference of opinion in their general attitude towards Polish independence.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I was coming to another point. Up to the present we have taken no steps—since we declared to the House of Commons that we had altered our policy in that respect—to support any attack upon Soviet Russia inside her own territory. There is a very formidable attack, which has developed upon her in Southern Russia. We have sent no supplies.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is not so, Batum is not in our hands. If they are sent from Batum they are sent by, the Georgians. We have absolutely no control at Batum. We have evacuated Batum. We are not there and, therefore, we cannot possibly be supplying them. I can assure the House that if we had really wished to support General Wrangel we could hare done so much more effectively, and anyone who knows the conditions knows that; there is no country that could have supported him as effectively. But we have not been giving support. We have not done so because we were anxious, to secure peace. The point at which we ceased I have made clear to the House. But in the contingency which I have indicated we shall consider ourselves free to equip his forces. There are very substantial stores which are available in that quarter of the world, captured stores and others, which up to the present have not been allowed to go to General Wrangel. Those we should feel ourselves free to agree to being dispatched to his support. Further, if the negotiations with Poland break down because of the Bolshevist attitude, and if we have to take steps to cut Russia off from contact with the outside world, of course, there will be an end of any trade negotiations. I should regret it deeply. These are measures which we should be called upon to take.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am not going to enter into that question, but I believe the hon. and gallant Gentleman 266 is one of the great supporters of the League of Nations, and he will render the League of Nations futile and nugatory if he says that every time you bring economic pressure to bear upon a nation which is acting in conflict with the dictates of the League such action means war. [An HON. MEMBER: "Through the League?"] We shall consider whether it is through the League or otherwise.
I now come to another point to which I think it is essential that I should refer, not merely in view of statements in the Press—particularly the subsidised Press—but especially in view of representations made to me to-day by Labour representatives. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why did you receive them?"] If any responsible body of men representing a large body of citizens in this country ask that they may be allowed to present their case to me, so long as I am here it is my duty to receive them and I cannot do otherwise. This was a very influential body of men representing very powerful opinion in this country, and in view of some of the statements which they made I am bound to make one or two observations upon it. I gather from them, as I have gathered from the Press, that we are supposed to be engaged in a reactionary conspiracy to destroy a democratic Government representing peasants and workmen. Now, surely, if any one of us was over under that delusion it must have been dispelled since the recent Socialists' visit to Russia. One distinguished Socialist came back and said that the Soviet Government was neither Socialist, democratic, nor Christian, and that the working classes were in a condition which, in many respects, approximate to slavery.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Yes; but I thought that my right hon. Friend's view was that this Government was a very reactionary Government, and if Mrs. Snowden does not put the Soviet Government any higher than this Government, what becomes of this claim that we are a reactionary Government, trying to destroy a free people? After all, it is then only one reactionary Government fighting another.
Now I come to an hon. Member of this House, a very highly respected 267 Member, whom I am sure everybody who has been privileged to hear will regard as a singularly able spokesman of his party. I mean the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw). I am afraid he is not here. This is really rather important in view of the statements circulated that this is an organised conspiracy of great capitalists—like myself—against the workmen and peasants of Russia. It is important that we should understand exactly what it is. This is what the hon. Member for Preston said two or three days ago—I do not think he has returned yet—at a Social Conference at Geneva:In Russia there is no freedom, no democracy, only the autocratic rule of a small group.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Well, I will accept that, and I will quote another statement. It is no use basing your case on a disputed statement where there is really plenty of material which cannot be challenged. Here is what the hon. Member for Preston said in an interview in the "Edinburgh Evening News" on 22nd June. He said there:The people are submitting not only to military compulsion, but to an industrial compulsion, which the workers of Britain have never dreamed of—not even under this reactionary Government. I am reading here about the workers, and this is not a workers' Government.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Really, we have listened a good deal to the hon. and gallant Gentleman expounding Bolshevism in this House, and he must bear with me a few minutes when I just show the House of Commons, and through the House of Commons the people of this country, that this is really not a sort of great trades union organisation representing six millions of down-trodden workmen and ten millions of down-trodden peasants. It is quite the reverse.
268 I trust that Members of this House and the country will read a series of very remarkable articles written by Mr. Bertrand Russell. We prosecuted him and I believe he was sentenced. I should have thought he had everything that would commend itself to Bolshevism. He qualified in every possible way for Bolshevism, and he went there a Communist, a pacifist, a sympathiser with Bolshevism in every respect, and he has written his account of it. He says:All real power—remember this is a great Democratic State of workmen and peasants—is in the hands of the Communist party, who number about 600,000 in a population of about 120,000,000.That means, if you reduce it to the same proportion in this country that 200,000 men would govern and all the rest would be ruled out. It would only mean one-thirtieth of the trades unions of this country, so it must not be imagined that Soviet Government means Government by trade unionists. It means Government by that little section of trades unionists who assume that they have got all the intelligence, all the intellect, all the knowledge, and all the prescience of the party to try and tyrannise over the trade workers. Now let us see how this Democratic Government, this Soviet Government of the people, is constituted. I would like the attention, especially of hon. Members opposite, to this. It is really worth their while, because it is what I am afraid they are trying to negotiate.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I know my hon. Friend is a very good-tempered man, and surely we must not lose our tempers the moment we hear something we do not like. That is all very well in a Soviet, but in a Parliamentary system we are accustomed to listen to disagreeable things about each other and about our friends. This is what Mr. Russell says about this great democratic Government:No conceivable system of free election would give majorities to the Communists either in town or country. Various methods are therefore adopted for giving the victory to the Government candidates.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I can assure my hon. Friends that they have improved enormously upon coupons. If they will only listen, they will see how much better these men understand electioneering than we poor infants.In the first place, the voting is by show of hands, so that all who vote against the Government are marked men. In the second place, no candidate who is not a Communist (the printing works being all in the hands of the State) can have any printing done.That is what Communism means—In the third place, he cannot address any meetings, because the halls all belong to the State. The whole of the Press is, of course, official. No independent daily is permitted.5.0 P.M.
That is how they elect representatives of the peasants and workmen in this great democratic State which we poor, wretched reactionaries are striving to suppress! This is what they do in the towns, where there are working men, not in the country. There are a few Communists among the workmen, but none amongst the peasants. He goes on:In country districts the method employed is somewhat different. It is impossible to secure that the village Soviet shall consist of Communists, because, as a rule, at any rate in the villages I saw, there are no Communists. But when I asked in the villages how they were represented on the Volost (the next larger area) or the Gubernia (the area next above the Volost) I was met always with the reply that they were not represented at all. I could not verify this, and it is probably an over-statement, but all concurred in the assertion that if they elected a non-Communist representative he could not obtain a pass on the railway, and therefore could not attend the Volost or Gubernia Soviet.There is so much of this, which indicates the kind of democratic government representing the workmen and peasants of Russia against which we capitalists are supposed to be fighting! I am all for peace, and I do not think it makes a difference whether it is a Czarist Government, whether it is a Government of which you approve or do not approve; it is a question of peace; but do not let us have the pretence that a Parliament which is elected by practically universal suffrage, whether it be in France or in Great Britain, where the vast majority of the electors are workmen and peasants, is simply out to destroy a workmen's Government in Russia. There are no work[...] and peasants, except one or two 270 possibly, in the Government of Russia. Lenin, I believe, is an aristocrat, and Trotsky is a journalist. In fact, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Churchill) is an embodiment of both. I want to say this, because of the misconception which is in the minds of the people. [An HON. MEMBER: There are no misconceptions.] Yes, there are, deliberately sown in their minds. I listened to the Trade Union Deputation to-day, and I am going to give an answer. I told them I would give it here. This is the theme that was put before me and my right hon. Friends: "You are fighting this because it is a revolutionary Government, and the workmen of this country will not tolerate your overthrowing a Government merely because it is revolutionary." When the revolution took place it was instantly recognised. The first Government was a moderate one, and we recognised that. The second Government was a mixed one, a moderate one with Socialists interspersed. The third Government there was a purely Socialist Government, with as good a Socialist as is sitting on those Benches at the head of it. We recognised that, we supported it, we gave munitions, and as long as they were faithful to Russia's bond—[An HON. MEMBER: "Bonds!"]—I say "bond." What is the good of a nation that will not stand by her word? She was in the War before us. France came in to support Russia, Belgium came in to support France, and we came in to support Belgium and France. Russia was in first and insisted, and we agreed, that no one should go out and negotiate a separate peace. Who broke that word?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member wishes to be heard, he will have an opportunity. He is not entitled to speak now, but he will have plenty of opportunity later.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I want to make it clear to the people of this country, because up to the present moment we have had propaganda, and now is the counterfoil. We will have the real facts in the minds of the people. [An HON. 271 MEMBER: "They are not facts."] I make this assertion here. There were three revolutionary Governments. We recognised and supported them, and if we did break with this one, it was not because it was a revolutionary Government. It was because it broke the bond it entered into, which was to pursue the War to the end. I say now that if they want peace they can get it. The London Conference proposal was intended to establish peace. Sovietism we are quite prepared to fight with the same weapons with which we fight every political creed with which we do not agree. In the end, one or other will triumph, or something else will emerge that will better suit the conditions of the times. I do not mind these conferences. If anyone here wants to preach the doctrines of Sovietism, we can meet them. I trust in the common sense of the people of this country, but peace is essential for all creeds which are worth preserving, and we made an offer which, if the Soviet Government really meant peace, they would have accepted. They could have met all the nations of Europe, and perhaps America, at the Council table and discussed all the conditions.
This is their test. I do not believe that a mere revenge on Poland, mere punishment of Poland, mere destruction of Poland, is enough in itself, unless there is some other motive, to induce the Soviet Government to decline peace with the world. The point is this. Are they for peace, or have they something else in their minds? Frankly, I think they themselves are divided. In every land you get men who urge wild, extravagant, irrational views. [HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear' "] I am glad hon. Members recognise that. In every land you get divisions; you get shades of opinion in every Government, and that is right. The whole point is whether those men—and there are men of that type; they are in the minority in Russia, but whether they are in a minority in the Soviet Government I do not know—those men, who are merely out to destroy and to shatter, and who only dance to the music of smashing furniture, are the men who are to be in control, or whether the saner elements are to be in control, because there are saner elements in every land, and Russia is no exception to that. I 272 saw a crazy charlatan who was writing today that wanted us to widen the conflict, as if this were not wide enough. You get them in every country. If they have a real desire for peace they can get it, but if they are out to challenge the institutions upon which the liberties of Europe and civilisation depend, we shall meet in the gate.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I do. I desire to put a point of Order as to whether it is not in accordance with the usage of this House for one of those Members whose names appear on the Order Paper as moving the rejection of the Measure under discussion, and who speak on behalf of a party which is the largest party in Opposition, to take priority over every other speaker?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
; My answer is no. It depends entirely upon who catches the Speaker's eye. As a matter of fact, the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) rose first, but in any event I think I should have called him, because of the great and distinguished position which he has held for many years in this House.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If there be any other point of Order, I will deal with it, but that was the only point of Order the right hon. Gentleman raised.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
Still on the point of Order, I have no desire to underrate the distinguished position which the right hon. Member for Paisley holds in this House and the country, but I want to say quite frankly, both to you, Sir, and to the other Members of the House—[Interruption.].
§ Mr. SPEAKER
These are not points of Order. The right hon. Member for Paisley has the ear of the House. He caught my eye, and I called him. I said in any event I should have called him, and as a matter of fact he had risen first Mr. Asquith.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I am sure my right hon. Friend will not think me guilty of any discourtesy by interposing between him and the House, and I shall not be more than a very few minutes, but I was not aware that he desired to precede me, as otherwise I should have been quite ready to give way. We are discussing this afternoon, although perhaps we may not have thought it during the last quarter of an hour, one of the gravest issues that could possibly come before the House of Commons—the issue of peace and war. The Prime Minister told us, I am sure quite sincerely, and no responsible head of a Government of this country could say or think otherwise, that he is in favour of peace. If so, it appears to me to be a matter for deep regret that during the concluding part of his speech he should, in my judgment, have contributed to the difficulties of maintaining peace by an attack, unnecessary, I think, and uncalled for, on the de facto Government of one of the parties to this great question. I hold no brief of any sort or kind for a Bolshevist State or a Soviet system of government, and on a fit occasion I should be disposed to enter into a good deal of criticism upon it, but it is the de facto Government, whether we like it or dislike it, whether we approve or disapprove. Being the de facto Government, and whatever the right hon. Gentleman may say, having been, in fact, for weeks and months past in frequent and almost daily official or semi-official communication with His Majesty's Government, I think that is not desirable in the interests of international goodwill and amity to hold it up as an accursed thing. There is another respect in which I regret to say I do not think the Prime Minister's speech is calculated to conduce to the object which he has in view. I do not think I have ever before heard the House of Commons invited to sanction belligerent measures, for such they are or such they are about to be, though they do not include the actual despatch of military forces, upon a hypothesis which is not realised, which the Prime Minister himself says he hopes will not be realised, and which, so far as one can form a forecast of what is, I agree, an obscure and confused situation, does not seem to he the least likely to be realised.
In discussing this matter, and we are obliged to discuss it in view of the manner [...] which the case has been presented to 274 us, and the duties that hypothetical situation may impose on the House of Commons, it is impossible not to go back, as I propose to do for a very few moments, to a survey of the past which has led to the situation with which we are now confronted in Poland. So far, at any rate—I am not making any attack on her freedom and ultimate and permanent independence—but it is the simple truth to say that Poland, so far, is reaping what she has sown. There she was, six months ago, a population stricken with disease and famine, and, it is no exaggeration to say, on the verge of national bankruptcy, and it was under those conditions that she started this campaign. I agree with all my right hon. Friend said about her past, and the fine qualities of her brave, heroic, idealistic people. She started on an aggressive adventure of her own. Poland was a party to the original covenant of the League of Nations, to which, by the way, she is now appealing. She did not apparently even dream of invoking its sanction to her enterprise. What was her object? Her avowed object as the conflict proceeded was to get rid of the comparatively limited frontier, not an ungenerous frontier, which had been accorded to her, or suggested, at any rate, as proper for her by the Peace Conference, and to go beyond it to the ancient boundaries of the Poland of 1772. She demanded an area of no less than nine Russian Governments, something like 400,000 square kilometres, inhabited by a population of 20,000,000, which included not more than about 5 per cent. of Poles. As I say, it was a purely aggressive adventure. She invaded the Ukraine, she even took the city of Kieff. She used the armaments, with which she had been supplied, or promised to be supplied, by the Allied Powers for the purpose of self-defence, in order to prosecute her offensive campaign. It was a wanton enterprise, which ought to have been, in my opinion, formally repudiated by the united voice of Europe.
What was the result? As we know, the Russian Army has not only driven tack the invasion of the Ukraine, but has crossed the frontiers of new Poland, and is now threatening the capital city of Warsaw. When we are told, as we are told constantly, that the army with which Poland has now to deal is a Bolshevist Army and a Tied Army, and a propagandist army, composed of missionaries of 275 the creed which the Prime Minister has just been denouncing, I venture to say that that is a complete mis-statement In all probability a very small proportion either of the officers or of the men of the army which is now invading Poland from Russia are Bolshevists in creed or have anything to do with Bolshevism. Anybody who knows the facts knows that the effect of the Polish invasion, wantonly undertaken, and connived at by the tacit acquiescence of Europe, was to unite Russia, and to fuse into one body that which has proved a most powerful and effective military force, including men of the old as well as the new regime. The army which is now advancing through Poland and threatening Warsaw are not Bolshevists exclusively, or mainly. You will find that they are the flower of the military rule and experience of Russia, and that is the serious situation with which we have to deal. Do not let us when we talk, and very properly talk, of the necessity, or the possible necessity, of providing safeguards against the destruction of Polish independence, do not let us forget that it is to Poland's ambition and the silence of Europe and the League of Nations, which ought to have been brought into operation, that whatever dangers there are now threatening, Polish independence and freedom are due.
There were in this history, which has now extended for something like six months, at least two critical moments on both of which in my judgment the Powers of Europe and this country amongst them might have sought to avert the situation which now confronts us. The first was last February, when I think it was my right hon. Friend, the Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Bonar Law) informed us that the Allied Supreme Council published their view about this Polish adventure. They said, "If the communities which border on the frontiers of Soviet Russia whose independence or de facto autonomy they have recognised were to approach them to ask for advice as to what attitude they should take with regard to Soviet Russia, the Allied Governments would reply that they would not accept responsibility to advise them to continue a war which might be injurious to their own interests, and still less would they advise them to adopt a policy of aggression towards Soviet 276 Russia," a very proper conclusion, if I may say so with all respect, but an impotent conclusion, perfectly impotent. There you had every one of these Allied Powers who were parties to the covenant of the League of Nations which included articles to deal with this specific case. If they had had any faith, I mean a living effective faith, in the agreement into which they solemnly entered, that was the moment at which they would have invoked it and they would have insisted, as they could have upon the case being laid before the Council of the League of Nations, and the whole of these evils might have been avoided. There was another occasion, a little later—I refer to the despatch which was sent on the 8th of April by the Soviet Government to all the Entente Powers announcing that negotiations for a conference between them and the Poles and for an Armistice were breaking down. That despatch stated the relatively small points on which negotiations were breaking down, and asked for the intervention of the Powers to prevent war being resumed on such inadequate grounds. To that Note no reply was made; certainly no reply was made by our Government. There again, at a most critical moment in the course of these proceedings, if the Executive Governments of the Entente Powers had had the insight or, I venture to say, the common-sense to avail themselves of this new machinery which the Covenant of the League of Nations placed at their disposal, these hostilities might have been brought to an end, or at least suspended. It is impossible for a fair and an impartial estimate of the situation to avoid reference to those incidents of the past.
I now come to the situation itself, which might, as I have said, easily have been avoided. The right hon. Gentleman tells us what took place, and the conclusions that were arrived at only yesterday at Lympne. He said—and I was glad to hear him say it, because it lies at the foundation of the whole matter—that if at the interview, which is to take place between the representatives of Russia and Poland to-morrow, an agreement is arrived at, the Powers will accept that agreement. They will not insist upon criticising it. still less upon revising it, if it is a agreement which satisfies both part 277 and the prospects of peace are assured. That is a very welcome announcement. The Prime Minister tells us that the Allies have come to certain hypothetical conclusions; that is to say, they have agreed upon steps which they will take; if the agreement breaks down—not from the unreasonableness of Poland, but from the unreasonableness of Russia, if I correctly interpreted it. Some of their general conclusions, which are of a negative kind, will meet with universal approval, but the positive steps which they propose to take—there is no use disguising the fact—are all steps of a belligerent kind. It does not matter that they do not include the despatch of troops, if they include, as they will, the use of naval power, and the resumption and increased stringency of the naval blockade, and the other measures which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned.
I hope that we shall have another opportunity later on of discussing this matter; but I want to make two points, and it is the whole purpose of my criticism to-day. In the first place, if the negotiations break down, as I earnestly hope, and we all hope, they will not, but if they break down, the question which of the two parties is in the wrong—in the sense, I mean, of being unreasonable, or more unreasonable than the other—is a question about which obviously there must remain a very great latitude for difference of opinion. It is not a clean-cut thing. When you are discussing an armistice, still more, when you are discussing a peace, there are a thousand considerations which enter into the question both on one side and on the other, and it appears to me, in the days in which we are living, and in the stage of opinion which we have now reached, we are assuming an authority we are not entitled to claim or to exercise, to pronounce our own judgment whether this is or is not a reasonable decision. It is a question which ought to be referred to an absolutely impartial and representative tribunal. This is a practical suggestion. It is one which, I am sure, the Government themselves recognise, is made entirely in the interests of peace. If it turns out there is a breakdown or a deadlock—whichever it be—in these negotiations, why not then bring in the machinery of the League if Nations to deal with it? That is my [...] suggestion. I make another suggestion which I lay the same, if not 278 greater, stress. My right hon. Friend's speech was based, as he admitted—the practical part of it—upon the hypothesis that the Soviet Government and armies had as their real objective measures which, if not at once, would ultimately lead to the undermining and overthrow of the independence of Poland.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I do not want to go into that, until we know. We shall have some indication to-morrow, or in a few days. But I would point out, in considering the probability or improbability, two very relevant considerations. In the first place, the Soviet Government has already negotiated peace with two, and, I believe I may say to-day, three of the border States—Esthonia, Lithuania, and, I think, now Latvia. In none of those cases have they ostensibly interfered in any way either with the independence of the States concerned, or with the form of its government. Judging, therefore, by their action in those cases, one may entertain a favourable view of their probable action with regard to Poland. We have, further, another relevant fact in that connection, in the reply which Mr. Tchicherin gave in that document of 17th July, about which some very hard words were used,—both here and in France. Looking at it from purely a literary point of view, I think it was a very good product of the talent of the new diplomacy. In regard to the form and manner of expression, it seemed to me to compare favourably with some of the documents which used to emanate from the Foreign Office in the days when I had some connection with it. However, that is by the way. Quite apart from its literary merits or demerits, it is worth recalling and recording that in that document Mr. Tchicherin, in speaking on behalf of the Soviet Government, declared that they were prepared to give to Poland a wider frontier, including a larger part of what 279 is primâ facie Russian territory, than was accorded to it at Spa. Therefore, I am not disposed myself to regard the hypothesis on which all this policy is based as certain, or, so far as I can see, even probable.
I now come to my second practical suggestion to the Government Surely, from the point of view of the Government themselves, and still more from the point of view of the House of Commons, when these negotiations have come to an end, before any warlike steps are taken, we ought to have an opportunity of reviewing the situation. I know that the Adjournment is fixed for next Thursday; I am not disposed myself to say the Adjournment might not take place next Thursday, because I do not think we shall have material before us then for a fruitful or a prudent judgment, but there is a power which I have exercised myself in days gone by, which is always at the disposal of the executive government of the day, and that is to bring Parliament back at very short notice—in six days—at any time after an Adjournment has taken place. Very likely a simpler plan would be to adjourn for a week and then see how things went; but, in any case, what I wanted to get from the Government was an assurance that we should not leave here on Thursday next with this matter still absolutely undecided, without any opportunity of parliamentary discussion or revision. It appears to me, in view of the promise, or, at any rate, the assurance, they have given to the House of Commons, the Government ought not to ask—it is not right to ask—that the passing of the Second Reading of this Bill should be deemed to have given authority to enter upon warlike operations, until the House of Commons has had an opportunity of reviewing the situation with the fuller light we shall then possess—because the whole thing rests upon conjecture, supposition, hypothesis—as to the real merits and the true policy which we ought to pursue. I do not carry the matter any further than that to-day. I say it, I hope, with a full sense of responsibility, and certainly no desire to embarrass in any way the possibilities and the hopes of peace. But I do earnestly beg the Prime Minister to reconsider whether both the suggestions which I have made might not be reasonably carried out by the Government with- 280 out any derogation from, or any imperilment of, the objects which are common to us all, particularly the object of bringing to an end, at the earliest possible moment, and on the safest and securest basis, a real peace in the East of Europe.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."
The speech of the Prime Minister may be divided into two parts—the part which dealt with the Government's preparations in the event of Poland not having her independence secured, and the second his description of what Government in Russia actually is. I do not know whether the Prime Minister thought that the last part of his speech would be of any service whatever in relation to the objects he tried to attain in the first part, or whether the concluding part of his speech was merely intended to satisfy hon. Members who sit behind him. I am certain, at any rate, that it cannot possibly help to improve relations, especially between the individuals who may have to conduct these negotiations, to have such an attack lodged against the Russian Government at this moment.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I would not have intervened if this had not been the second time that that remark has been made. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith) was not present this morning, and therefore did not hear the speech, but my right hon. Friend, who makes the statement now, was present, and he knows perfectly well the line that was taken. The line that was taken by the spokesman of the Labour organisation this morning was that this was part of a deliberate attack by capitalists, and a reactionary attack upon a revolutionary and advanced Government. I said to them, "I have no time now to answer, but I will answer in the House." But, really, is a statement of that kind, which was made for publication, as my right hon. Friend knows—the Labour Party said they wanted it published—not to be controverted? Are we to allow it to be said, amongst all the working men of the country, that we are a set of reactionaries attacking an advanced and democratic Government, and we are not allowed to defend ourselves?
§ Mr. CLYNES
The right hon. Gentleman, of course, is the best judge of what it is proper to say with regard to state- 281 ments made to him by the deputation this morning. He chose to make his statement in this House. I am choosing to reply to him. I say at such a time as this it is not meet that the Russian Government should be described in the terms that were cited by the right hon. Gentleman in the course of his speech, and I am suggesting that, while it might satisfy the Prime Minister and be a joy to his followers, it will not help to produce the improved relations which we know are necessary between those who have to negotiate the peace. The Prime Minister must not take it that we do not try to acquaint ourselves with what actually is the condition of things in Russia. So far as we can, by deputation, conference, reading, we try to make ourselves fully informed, and the fact that all the quotations used by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon as to what is the actual position of things in Russia were from Labour and Socialistic sources itself stands to the credit of our frankness in this matter.
§ Mr. CLYNES
We try to get at what is really taking place in Russia. We are not trying to conceal the conclusions which privately have been formed by those who have visited Russia. We must not, I say, be taken as approving, in any way, I am not saying all, but most of the methods or principles of the Government upon which now the affairs of Russia rest. We must not be taken as approving them. It is not necessary to approve the present system of Government in Russia to justify the case which we present against the Government here for military intervention between Poland and Russia. It is not necessary to approve all that is occurring, and has occurred, in Bolshevik Russia in order to do everything possible to prevent the recurrence of a new European war. That, then, is the Labour position.
Poland was pictured by the Prime Minister as innocent in diplomacy, as innocent as an infant or a child in moving along these thorny paths of statesmanship Indeed, in several very eloquent and picturesque sentences, the right hon. Gentleman invited our sympathy for Poland, which was not skilled in these arts of wily men. But who has [...] Poland? Who has coached 282 Poland? Who has been stimulating and instigating Poland to these wicked and foolish methods pursued by her during the course of this year? The Prime Minister himself quite recently in this House described Polish action as both wicked and foolish. She had suffered horors because of the Great War. She was reduced to a state of impoverishment, disease, partial famine; she was denuded of nearly all that makes life worth living, yet at the finish of all her sufferings, and in face of these facts, she revived, was able to put an army of half a millon men in the field, to train and drill them, to dress, feed and arm them! Did all that happen by magic? Did that half million army of Poland arise out of the desire for Poland to be even more free, to acquire even greater territory, to have even a greater degree of independence than she had? No! Clearly the prowess of Poland was derived from the support she received from the Allied nations. I refuse to believe that her military competence, that the material wealth required to make her competent as a military power, was provided from her own inner resources, because such resources she had not. Clearly she was supplied from the outside. Those who now ask us to pity Poland because she knew no better are entitled to be told that they themselves ought to have known better—the Allies ought to have known better than to have allowed her to go, though they seem not only to have done this, but virtually to have led her into this reckless and foolish path which has been her undoing.
I do not want to justify the slightest delay on the part of the Russian Governmetn in respect to hastening negotiations for either an armistice or peace, but we can be too virtuous and righteous in our criticisms of another; and if it be that Russia wanted to spend more days in arranging for armistice negotiations, what are we ourselves to say who took several weeks after Germany asked for an armistice in 1918—some five or six weeks—before the point of the actual Armistice was arranged? I do not say there is an exact parallel, but certainly it does not lie with us now seriously to criticise the Russians because of delay. The victor has always in these things claimed a good deal of his own way. When the victor is Britain we assert our right; when the victor is Russia we cannot deny it.
§ Mr. CLYNES
The main feature of the speech of the Prime Minister, as I gathered, was that all these preparations and decisions of policy had been reached upon hypotheses, reached upon "ifs" and "buts," and all seem to hinge upon one point—whether Polish independence is to be guaranteed. I would certainly, if I can speak for hon. Members on this side of the House, say that if Polish nationality or independence were seriously menaced we would have to consider our position. We recognise that an independent Polish nation is essential to the continued peace of the world, but Polish independence is guaranteed in every pronouncement of the Russian Government. I think I can say that when the Russian documents come to us and the Russian pronouncement in these negotiations come here, there will be found included a most emphatic guarantee of the independence of Poland. Therefore, the Government ought not to make its preparations, or hinge its policy on the contrary assumption. It will be found when the documents have reached the hands of the Government that will be a condition of the Russian terms of peace.
§ Mr. CLYNES
For my part I would not regard a nation as either independent or self-governing if some government were imposed upon it from the outside. There are lights, and shades, and degrees amongst the nations of the world in this matter of independence, as well as in other things, but I cannot conceive a nation being independent unless, as I said, it be free to determine its own form of government. The Prime Minister, I think, has forgotten his previous statement in regard to the League of Nations hinging upon this question of Poland and Russia. May I draw his attention to what we on this side of the House, and I think in other quarters so far as I could recall 284 the speeches made by the Noble Lord opposite (Lord R. Cecil), invited him to do in appealing to him to use the machinery of the League of Nations? We asked him to intervene between the combatants, and by diplomatic measures to compose the differences which the two sides proposed to settle on the field of battle. In short, we said that the arts of diplomacy and of the machinery of the League of Nations could and ought at that time to have been used in order to prevent a continuance of the differences, or their actual expression in a resort to arms. We were told that this was not a new war. There was some reason given, whatever it was, but the best of reasons could not have been good enough for not intervening by means of diplomacy. At any rate, sufficient reasons were conjured up by the Government to cause them not to use either the re sources of diplomacy or the machinery of the League of Nations to prevent the unhappy quarrel spreading between Poland and Russia.
I want to put this view to the Prime Minister: It is a view which I personally hold, and I daresay it is shared by many Members on this side of the House. If it was wrong to intervene diplomatically and peacefully when Poland seemed to be getting the best of it, and Russia to be having the worst of it, is it not even more wrong to propose to intervene by force of arms when Poland is getting the worst of it and Russia the best of it? There ought to be some show of consistency in these matters of high policy on the part of the Government. I regret the views the right hon. Gentleman presented to the House this afternoon as to the function of the League of Nations in regard to such a stage of difference as has been created between Poland and Russia. I understood his view to mean that the League ought to be invoked to defend its members in a military sense when attacked. I understand the League of Nations, however, to be an organisation or a machinery for a very different purpose. It is rather a pacific than a military instrument. I should like to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to a pronouncement from one who can speak with very great authority on this particular point, as to how or when the machinery of the League of Nations should be used and in such circumstances as have now been created. I refer to Viscount Grey, who, speaking only a few day 285 ago on this matter of Poland, used these words—as reported in "The Times" of 28th July:Surely everyone who cares for the League of Nations should protest against the statement that we were under an obligation to support Poland because we are a member of the League. The League might, and ought, to have been used months, ago to prevent the Polish offensive and to make peace when peace might have been made. To invoke the League now in support of Poland by arms against the consequences of her action is not merely illogical, it is, in fact, a great misuse of the League. For it perverts it into an institution for carrying on war without having prevented it from exercising its first and greatest function of making peace.6.0 P.M.
I commend that to the Prime Minister as the function of the League of Nations in view of the present point of difference reached between Russia and Poland. I would also recall to the Prime Minister, in face of his description of how Russia broke her bond and deserted us in the War, some of the more eloquent passages in speeches delivered by him within the last 18 months. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that he pictured the enormous sacrifices of Russia, how millions of her men fell, how she was worn, torn and exhausted; how through all the corruption of her Government and the failure of her leaders wisely to guide the people they became starved and distracted until no longer they could hold with the rest of the Allies. Russia continued the War as long as it was physically possible for her to do so. Naturally the general internal elements and the factors of the conflict within Russia all tended to bring about the calamity which fell upon us, but all the disasters which Russia suffered and all the sufferings endured by her people ought not now to be translated into terms of a charge of treachery that Russia failed to stand by her bond. Russia stood by us as long as she was able to do so—
§ Mr. CLYNES
At any rate it was the Government with which the Prime Minister was dealing. I think we are entitled to record the enormous sacrifices which the great Russian nation made in the days when her people and her arms could be kept together, and we are also entitled to look at the facts and remind ourselves of what the factors were and give credit for the enormous losses she 286 suffered in the cause of the Allies when she was able to stand together. The Prime Minister has still left us in some doubt as to what the Government is actually doing at the present moment. We have had quite a clear statement of what, in certain circumstances, the Government would do, but I would like to ask: Are we at the present moment supplying materials, munitions, and money to Poland? Is not material, arms, and munitions at this moment being shipped to the aid of Poland? Our information is that munitions, arms, and materials of war are at this moment being shipped, and in addition to other sources of information I have here a letter from Germany from the working class movement there clearly proving that munitions by way of Danzic are being supplied to Poland, and that there are threats of strikes on that account. Therefore, it will not do for the Prime Minister to leave us in the dark on these points, and we are entitled to know on which side the Government are at the present moment. We want to know where we stand before the conference between the two sides takes place.
The position of the Government at this hour is like its position ever since our unhappy differences with Russia began. We have not played a straight game. I do not mean that there has been double dealing, but our policy has not been clear, and it has been as futile as it has been false to the real interests of the world. I do not know that Russia need fear much from the blockade. If the experience of a two years' blockade can still leave Russia able to raise an army of 3,000,000 men able to resist every internal form of oppression set up against her; if Russia is able to repel the attacks of Poland, despite Poland having the material assistance of the Allies; if Russia could do all those things while the conflict was in its most strenuous form, Russia need not fear greatly the reimposition of this particular form of punishment.
There is a second question which I fear I overlooked with regard to the supply of munitions at this moment, and, if the Prime Minister cannot answer it now, perhaps at some later stage of the Debate a reply will be forthcoming. I am told that in Prance and in Belgium at this moment there are munition dumps being disposed of, and I think I am entitled 287 to ask, are those accumulations of munitions being disposed of regardless of their destination? Where are they going to? For what, purpose are they being removed? Surely it is advisable that the Prime Minister, no matter how numerous his backing may be in this House, should in regard to these high matters of statesmanship proceed upon lines that will retain confidence in his word, and let our actions be something like our utterances. It will not do to say, we are giving no assistance, when men can show us actually that strikes are taking place in certain parts of the world because we are sending materials, if we are not sending money at the moment, to support one side in this struggle.
I want to carry further the view already expressed on this side of the House, that at this moment of crisis, when there is arising what might determine, not merely the fate of nations, but the peace of the world for a considerable time, it is highly advisable that the authority of this House of Commons, such as it is in respect of its general rank and file, should be kept in being. I agree as to what has been said in regard to Ministers as well as Members being overworked, and there is a natural desire for rest and holiday, but what rest can we have in our minds if we do not see these negotiations day by day proceeding to a point of ultimate satisfactory settlement. What rest can there be for us if unhappily these negotiations break down? It may be bad enough for the Government to reach decisions on high questions of policy on hypothetical grounds, but it would be worse for the House of Commons to adjourn in face, I do not say of the prospect, but the danger, of those differences not being composed, and consequently war not only being continued, but being very seriously extended. I appeal to the Prime Minister to find some way of keeping the House in session, in order that collectively we may bring to bear all the influence we can to bring an end to this unhappy struggle.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I must say that the course of this Debate has allayed a large part of the anxiety with which, I confess, that I entered this House. There were all sorts of rumours, which happily 288 have proved to be untrue, as to the policy of the Government, and although I shall have some criticisms to make, it is a matter for great satisfaction that we have a distinct and definite statement by the Prime Minister that in no circumstances will he commit this country to war-like operations except in defence of the independence of Poland. I quite agree that there was some ambiguity in one or two of his statements, but I take that to be an absolute pledge by the Government. In view of certain rumours, that is a great concession, and it is increased by the fact that, so far as the Debate has gone, all those who have addressed the House have agreed that, whatever steps might be necessary, as to which they very properly reserve their opinion, they do regard the independence of Poland as a matter of the highest importance for the public life of Europe. My right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) said, in the course of his speech, that we must not forget that for the present condition of affairs Poland was solely responsible. I entirely agree with that statement, subject only to one criticism. I cannot forget that right away back in January of this year, at the time of the attack by the Poles on Minsk, there were public statements made in Warsaw, and uncontradicted, that that attack was only the prelude to a larger attack to be made later on.
Without wearying the House by going into the whole history of it, I must say that a study of the documents which passed between Poland and the Soviet Government does not redound to the reputation for desiring peace of the Polish Government. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said this House was fortunate in one respect, that it was in possession of all the facts of the case, but that is not really the truth. I regret very much that so few official papers have been presented to this House on this subject. We are left in this House to pick up the course of the proceedings from a perusal of the newspapers, and very often—not through any fault of the newspapers, because they are not published to instruct Members of Parliament, for that is the business of the Government—they merely print what their readers would like to read, and a great many of the facts are necessarily left out.
These negotiations between Poland and the Soviet Government are really vital 289 for anyone to understand who wishes to form a judgment as to where the real rights of the matter rest. I have not seen these documents printed anywhere in English in this country, although they may have been printed in some newspapers which I have not seen. I have got them in a French translation which was furnished to me. I think it very unfortunate that all these documents, which are really vital to a proper understanding of this case, have not been collected and presented to this House, so that every hon. Member might see exactly how the question stands. Not only so, but the Prime Minister told us that he gave a warning to the Polish Foreign Minister and that that warning was recorded in a démenti which was afterwards sent to Paris. That despatch has never been laid before us. There are parts of it which perhaps might be omitted, but I submit we are entitled to know the substance of that despatch and of that warning. It ought to have been presented to this House, so that we might have known exactly what was done last spring. If hon. Members are fortunate enough to obtain copies of the documents which passed between the Bolshevik Government and Poland, they will see that on the face of them—I do not want to put it higher than that, for everyone must form his own judgment on the subject—there was a perfectly definite offer of peace by the Bolshevik Government to the Polish Government, based on a complete recognition of Polish independence. That was sent by wireless to Poland, but the negotiations broke down between the two parties, not on any big question of that kind, but on the question where the meeting place of the Conference should be. The Poles desired that it should be within the zone of military operations, but the Russians insisted that was a bad place, and that practically anywhere else would be better. It is interesting to note, in connection with that, that the Poles refused at that time a general cessation of hostilities, and absolutely declined to suspend hostilities generally while the peace discussions were going on.
I do not cite that only for the purpose of showing that the Poles were in the wrong, but I cite it also to lead up to my next point which was referred to by the right hon Member for Paisley that, 290 following on this imminent breakdown of negotiations, and when it became clear that the negotiations were breaking down, the Soviet Government sent an appeal by wireless to all the Powers of the Entente. I do not know whether that was printed in any English document. It certainly has not been printed in any document laid before this House. But the Soviet Government drew the attention of the whole of the Entente Governments to the fact that the negotiations were about to break down over the question of the place of meeting, and they asked for their good offices to prevent that happening. I do not know what reply was sent to that appeal, or what was done, and whether it was ignored on the ground that it came from a Government which we could not recognise, or for some other reason. But we do know what the attitude of the British Government was right through. Their attitude was that they would take no responsibility for giving any advice to the Polish Government. I must say I regret that attitude very much. I regretted it then and I regret it now. Perhaps it was most clearly stated by the Leader of the House on the 16th February when, in answer to a question, he said:His Majesty's Government have informed the Baltic States, Finland and Poland, that the question of peace or war with Soviet Russia is one which they must decide according to their own judgment and on their own responsibility.Then the Member for Hertford (Mr. Billing) askedMay we take it that there is no pressure being brought to bear upon anybody to make the peace referred to?The Leader of the House replied:The answer says that we are taking no responsibility in the matter one way or the other.Then I askedDoes my right hon. Friend think that we shall be able to maintain a condition of absolute detachment, whatever these powers do?To that the Leader of the House replied:The future must take care of itself. We are only dealing with the present. The policy of the Government in this respect has been very often and clearly put before the House."—["OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1920, col. 502, Vol. 125.]I think that was a most disastrous attitude to adopt. I know it is said that warnings were at the same time given. But it was also said that no advice was 291 given. I do not understand the distinction. If it was right to give warnings it was right to give advice. It was the case that the danger Europe was incurring was a great one. The Government was warned that it was said by a great many people, they were told that the effect of the attack by Poland would be to combine the whole of Russia against the Poles. That is exactly what has happened. It was said over and over again that to stand aside and to refuse to take any action except to give warnings of which we have never seen the exact terms, was most unfortunate. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told us to-day that last Monday they did give definite advice to the Poles to make peace. I was very much surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that it was only done last Monday. It ought to have been done a long time before. It ought to have been done last Spring. It should have been done in the first instance the moment the situation became acute for the reasons I have given. The Prime Minister made a great apology for Poland, an apology which, we all recognise, had in it a great deal of force and justice. It was based on the ground of her inexperience and the difficulties of her position. That being so surely it was all the more necessary that we who had had a principal part in bringing her into existence should have been ready to give her advice.
I do not want to trouble the House with many details, but there is one other diplomatic despatch to which I must refer. It bears the date of 11th July, and is over the signature of Lord Curzon, from Spa. That despatch, I confess, I think was most unfortunate. It was particularly unfortunate because it embodied a reading of Article 10 which, as the right hon. Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes) has reminded us, Lord Grey has recently condemned. The despatch stated that that Article obliged every one of the signatories of the Convention to go to war in defence of the territorial integrity and political independence of every member of the League. Such a statement was most disastrous. I trust I misread the despatch, but that certainly was the impression which it left on my mind, and if hon. Members will read the Article I think they will agree it is a complete 292 misconception. What does Article 10 say?The Members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all members of the League.I have given a very brief summary of the history of previous events. I doubt very much whether the case of Poland even comes within the limits of the Article. I do not think one can describe this as a case of external aggression on the part of Russia. But even if it does come within the purview of the Article it is laid down thatIn case of any such aggression or in case of any threat or danger of such aggression, the Council shall advise upon the means by which this obligation shall be fulfilled.The whole purpose of the Covenant was to remove warlike action from the individual and to confine such warlike action to the League in which all members should bear their share. I regretted very much that passage in the despatch which referred to Article 10. It was most unfortunate to say to the Soviet Government, "If you advance into Poland we shall give all the help we can to Poland." That was in the nature of a threat, and in my judgment, no threat should ever be uttered unless one is perfectly clear what is meant by it and how it is intended to carry it out. Anyone who listened to the Prime Minister must know well that that condition could not have been fulfilled on 11th July, the date of this despatch. I have ventured to call the attention of the House to these facts, because I want hon. Members to bear them in mind when we come to consider what we ought to do at the present stage. I find myself very much in agreement, and I am glad to do so, with the general lines of the policy which the Prime Minister has announced—that is, if I understand him rightly. There are two things we have to bear in mind. As far as Poland is concerned, and as far as this war is concerned, if we were to go back to the old diplomacy and to the old doctrine that we are to consider merely the direct effect on British interests and nothing else, it would be difficult to show that we had any very direct interest in the matter at all.
Our interest does not arise from that at all. It arises from the indirect effect which may be the result of this war. There, I think, our interests are enormous, 293 because of the questions and disputes that may arise—disputes which will cut down to the very root of the foundation of the peace of Europe. I accept myself fully the doctrine laid down by the Prime Minister as to the importance of Polish independence. I accept it, not only on the ground on which he put it forward, but because, after all, it is one of the things secured by the Treaty of Versailles. I am not an unlimited admirer of that Treaty, but it is a Treaty. It is a thing to which the Powers of the world have set their signature and seal, and a disregard or destruction of its provisions would be, in my judgment, a very serious blow to the sanctity of treaties in Europe in international affairs. That is not the only reason. I think the independence of Poland is in itself a matter of great importance to the peace of Europe. Polish history is a very troubled one, and in some respects not a very attractive one. This, I think, we may say, that the Polish feeling of nationality is as strong as that of any country in the world. So long as they were not independent, so long as their independence was refused to them, they constituted one of the danger spots, and were a source of disturbance and trouble in the world. If there is any meaning in the doctrine of self-determination, nationality, and self-government, then I do think that, within proper limits, Poland has as strong a claim to independence and autonomy as any nation in the world. Therefore, I hold very strongly that Polish independence is a very important interest for the peace of the world. It is an interest of Europe primarily, and of the world. It is not specially an interest of this country, nor is it even an interest for the Entente specially. I want to make that clear, because I think it is of vital importance. If we are going back to the old system of the Entente enforcing its will on Europe in matters which, it may rightly claim, are of great importance to Europe, we destroy the very basis on which the new theory of foreign policy is founded. If this be, as I think it is, a vital interest for peace, let it be dealt with internationally—not by this country alone, nor by this country and France alone, not by this country, France, and Italy alone, but by the whole international authority which we have created.
These are the general principles which I would venture to lay down. When it 294 comes to particular action, I say, and, so far I understand, the Government agree—I hope they do—that, until we know what has taken place at the Minsk Conference, no further action should be taken at all. I say quite frankly that I rather regret even the suggestion, which we were told was made, that there should be a truce as from 12 o'clock on Monday night. If Russia insists—as she has a right, in the circumstances, to insist—on making peace herself, and conducting the negotiations direct with Poland, that is a demand which, in the circumstances, you cannot refuse; and, that being so, the less you say about it, until you see what the proposed terms are, the better off you are. It is far better that we should keep ourselves entirely clear. There is an exact precedent for what I suggest. Hon. Members will recollect that, at the conclusion of the Russo-Turkish War, the Russians, under a different kind of régime, made peace with Turkey. They completely defeated Turkey, and made peace, just outside Constantinople, by the Treaty of St. Stefano. Europe stood aside until the peace was made. There was no League of Nations; the only authority was an authority brought into existence ad hoc. It was after the Treaty had been made that Europe intervened, and insisted, rightly or wrongly—I do not want to go into that now—on certain alterations being made in the Treaty which, in their view, would prevent Turkey from becoming merely the subservient vassal of the Russia of the day. That seems to me to be the sort of line on which we ought to proceed. Since the victorious party insists upon it, let these two parties make their own peace, or, at any rate, let them have their own conference. Then, if that peace does really involve the destruction of Polish nationality and Polish independence, that will be the time, as it seems to me, for intervention of the kind which I have described.
There are two definite suggestion which I must make. One is of a domestic kind. I make it without any desire of being offensive, but the course of the history of the last few months has convinced me that it is time these great matters of foreign policy were restored to the Foreign Office. It is really a delusion to suppose that anyone can manage foreign affairs. We have in the Foreign 295 Office an elaborate organisation, a great fund of information, men of great ability, whose business it to prepare for Ministers the necessary material for their decisions, to warn them of any oversight they may make, to keep the thing regular and businesslike and, if I may use the word, professional. I think there is a great danger in the present division between the Prime Minister's Office—which he has established in what is popularly called the "Garden Suburb," and which is manned by people who, from the point of view of foreign policy must be called amateurs—and, the old Foreign Office, which does not, as I understand, deal directly with more important questions. It is time we sent our foreign policy back to the Foreign Office, reserving, of course, the right of the Prime Minister to advise and to be taken into consultation when any large matter of policy is to be determined.
The second and the more important thing that I want to suggest is that the next thing to be done, if you wish to get rid of this danger, is to take the matter out of the hands of the Supreme Council and put it into the hands of the Council of the League of Nations. That is not a mere question of words; it is really a different thing altogether. The Supreme Council is a council of Allies. It is a group of Allies—very beneficent, as we hope, but a group of Allies. It does not affect to represent the public opinion of the world. The Council of the League does represent, if not the public opinion of the world, the public opinion of some 40 or more nations of the world. The Prime Minister described as the very foundation of the League its duty to protect small nationalities. I am not quite sure that I put it so high as to say that that is the most fundamental duty of the League. I should have said that the most fundamental duty of the League is to keep the peace. But, whichever way you put it, the point is that you have to get away from the idea of individual nations or groups of nations taking the law into their own hands. That, really, is the fundamental conception of the League of Nations, without which it will have no meaning at all. Therefore, in my judgment, the most important practical step that can be taken is to take this matter entirely out of the 296 hands of the Supreme Council and put it into the hands of the League of Nations. We are sometimes told that the League of Nations is a failure, that it does not answer the expectations that were held out. To those who think that I commend the history of the Polish negotiations with which we now find ourselves faced. They have been carried on on the principle of the older diplomacy. We have had conferences between two or three nations, a great amount of secrecy—a greater amount of secrecy, perhaps, than we have ever had—except where it has been broken through by the wireless telegrams of the Soviet Government. We have had a great deal of suspicion; we have had the absolute ignoring of all the nations except those which were immediately concerned; we have had the old doctrine that it is an offence to give advice, that it is not part of the interest of all nations, as we hold it to be, to preserve the peace. We have had all the vices of the old diplomacy, and this is the result.
The Prime Minister was rather impatient with me the other day when I ventured again to press the present Govrnment really to put their backs into the League of Nations and support it for all it is worth. I must go on repeating that until I see a change in the policy of the Government. My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council is fond of saying—he has said it three or four times—that the two great enemies of the League are those who are its cynical opponents and those who are its too-enthusiastic supporters.
§ Lord R. CECIL
Yes, Sir; but there is a still greater enemy, and that is the halfhearted supporter. Until the Government—I am not speaking of my right hon. Friend—until the Government as a whole, as a corporate entity, can clear itself from the suspicion of being only a half-hearted supporter, it will not have given the League a fair chance. We shall be landed time after time in the kind of disaster under which we are labouring at present, and the whole hope of a new era which some of us think was the only result worth having that was produced by the Conference of Paris, will 297 be doomed to disappointment and disaster.
In order to understand this matter, you must understand the financial interests which Members on the front Bench and their friends have in Russia. Before coming, however, to that part of what I am going to say, I want to make a few remarks concerning the Prime Minister's speech. To listen to the Prime Minister's speech was like listening to an anti-Socialist orator in Hyde Park—and a very indifferent one, too. I do not think, from the arguments put forward by the Prime Minister this afternoon, that he would have earned the £5 a week which the average anti Socialist orator in Hyde Park is able to earn. He made several very inaccurate statements concerning the internal conditions of Soviet Russia. He selected statements from certain individuals who have been to Russia, and he took care to select individuals whose reports favoured the case he wishd to put before us. He chose the reports of a very few individuals—two out of some two or three dozen—who have reported to the contrary effect; and of those two whose reports he selected, one has been disowned by a large section of the Independent Labour Party. I am told that resolutions of protest are pouring in from every part of the country. [HON. MEMBERS "Name!"] It is Mrs. Snowden. The Prime Minister made three points with regard to that, namely, that Mrs. Snowden is alleged to have reported—I hope for her own sake that she has not reported—that in Russia there is no Socialism, there is no democracy, and there is no Christianity. Let me deal briefly with those three points. With regard to the statement that there is no Socialism, no one has ever suggested that there is either Socialism or Communism in Russia. It is futile to suppose that there is likely to be Communism in Russia in this generation. Even if they had not been subjected to the war of intervention and blockade, and to, other difficulties which have been imposed upon them by the Secretary of State for War and his colleagues, it would have taken a great deal longer than two or three years to pull down the old capitalist system and to build up a new socialistic order. You have to disorganise and reorganise nearly every Government department 298 —education departments, boards of trade, commercial departments. Every department is built up on a new system. Apart from the war which they have been waging—and, I am glad to say, waging successfully—it is not likely that you would have found Socialism in Russia to-day. The second point which the Prime Minister made was that in Russia there is no Christianity. What is the true fact about that? It is true that they have disestablished the old Orthodox Church. Anyone who knew the pernicious, vile political influence which the old Russian Church held over the people in the time of Rasputin knows what a benefit to the Russian people the disestablishment of that Church has been. People who have been to Russia know quite well that religion is free in Russia to-day, with this difference over the past régime, that the clergy have to obtain their pittance from the contributions of the faithful and not from the taxpayer—a very beneficial change. [An HON. MEMBER: "They have all been murdered!"] Not only I, but many other people have seen these priests and bishops, and as there is prohibition in the country I am sure they are not all ghosts. But it is really rather ludicrous to talk about lack of Christianity in Russia. Are we really so Christian in this country that we can talk of another country which has disestablished its old reactionary religion? I believe Russia is just as religious and as Christian as we in this country, and probably more so.
The third point was that there is no democracy in Russia to-day. But have we really got democracy in this country to-day? The Prime Minister spoke about elections. Are our elections really free? Are they any freer than the show of hands he referred to? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] I do not think so. (Interruption.) I got in by the same method as you got in. [An HON. MEMBER: "How did you get in?"] What happens when an election takes place, when great issues are before the country—new housing conditions, better industrial conditions, and all the hundred and one new social improvements that are required? A great newspaper magnate, or some other great financial interest controlling the newspapers, comes along two or three days before the election, and instead of the issues being real, vital issues which are 299 of importance to the country, what comes before the people? Hanging the Kaiser, making Germany pay, and all this futile rot which the people are asked to vote for instead of the real fundamental social basis which they should send people back to legislate for and to improve their conditions. Then even if the people have the sense not to be bluffed, what happens? Last week we saw in this House something of the democratic legislation about which the Prime Minister boasts. In two hours last Wednesday £160,000,000 of the taxpayers' money was voted through the House without a single word, or even half a word, of discussion. That is the democratic legislation about which the Prime Minister boasts. If anyone analyses the electoral machinery of the country, it is the remotest possible form of real democracy. Look at the Press Ninety-nine per cent. of the Press is controlled by financial interests. Only one daily paper is controlled by Labour, and even that paper is in a bad way because it is boycotted on the capitalist bookstalls. It has to struggle against "The Times" and the "Morning Post" and the great papers which represent the financial interests. When I hear the Prime Minister comparing the two systems of electoral machinery I know he is simply talking through his hat. I know he does not mean it. I remember the time when he was living in a little room on the third floor in the City and he was boasting of the day when he would come before this country and lead it to Socialism. I wonder what he thinks of that now. I remember the conference in Glasgow in 1917 when he was howled down and he reminded us of that, too. He said he was going to lead the country after the War to become a great Socialist England. I do, not know whether he is disguising his policy, but if he is, he is certainly disguising it very well. On pure grounds of industrial democracy, election by industrial franchise is obviously and clearly more democratic than election by Parliamentary representation, which confuses, combines, and mixes up hundreds of different interests so that the real vital interests of the people are totally obscured.
I will pass from that to a point which is of more vital interest to-day. I want to deal with the great financial interests in Russia.—the people who are interested 300 in Russia—and I will not leave the Front Bench untouched on this matter. I think there are two causes which are operating in this country in favour of intervention in Russia. First of all we have that large section of Conservatives—perhaps I will call them the people whose thoughts and ideas and ideals are represented by the "Morning Post," who are frankly afraid of Socialism. I admire their outspoken frankness as I admire the outspoken frankness of the Secretary of State for War. At least they have the courage to say what they mean and what they want. They have a legal right from their point of view to oppose Bolshevism and to use every means in their power to fight it, because it is quite obvious that if Bolshevism succeeds the idea is bound to spread, and on that ground they will be quite justified in asking us whether or not we would spend money to fight against this terrible menace which they look upon as a devil, from their point of view. And we of course should vote against it, and we should also use force outside to prevent these troops going to Russia. From that point of view it is quite legitimate. But what I regret is that beyond this there are groups of people and individuals in this country who have money and large shares in Russia, and they are the people who are working, scheming, and intriguing to overthrow the Bolshevik régime, because if Bolshevism continues, what will happen? Under the old régime it was possible to get 10 or 20 per cent. out of exploiting the Russian workers and peasants, but under Social ism it will not be possible to. get anything at all probably, and we find that nearly every great interest in this country in some way or another is connected with Soviet Russia.
I will run through one or two of the big interests. First of all I will deal with the companies, and I will get down to specific individuals later. First of all we have the Russo-Asiatic Consolidated, Limited. That is an amalgamation of the businesses which were formerly controlled by Leslie Urquhart. This concern has interests in the Russian Canadian Development Corporation. In this Sir E. Mackie Edgar is the controlling influence. This gentleman is also the controlling influence in Sperling's, which is the controlling influence in those centres in which there has recently been agitation—I mean in Motherwell, in Glasgow, in Londonderry, 301 and in Belfast. Then there are the British and the French interests. I have been at some pains to try to ascertain the exact extent of British and French investments in Russia, and I find from the Russian Year Book of 1918 it is estimated that approximately they amount to £1,600,000,000. That is a very considerable sum indeed. I should think it is composed, to about a half, of the Franco-Russian Loans, and the Franco-Russian Loans are largely financed by the Rothschild Bank in Paris. I feel it my duty to point out that the Prime Minister carries out these conferences at the house of his private secretary, who is very closely connected with, indeed, I think he is a nephew of, Lord Rothschild. These facts are very unsavoury, but I cannot help drawing attention to them. When we talk about M. Millerand and about Marshal Foch and the French people being opposed to peace with Russia, we do not mean the French democracy, and we do not mean the French peasants or workers, but the French bondholders. Let us be quite clear about that. We mean the people, whose ill-earned savings constitute the £1,600,000,000 which have been sunk in Russia.
I will give one or two other corporations interested in Russia. The next concern of any extent is the British Trading Corporation, which was the outcome of the Farringdon Committee. That corporation has two or three branches. It has a branch in Belgrade to watch the interests in Hungary. Naturally it is not in the interest of the British Trading Corporation that Bolshevism should spread to Hungary. It has another branch at Batoum, and it has another branch at Danzig. It is rather curious that this great concern should have this branch at Danzig, and that after establishing the branch at Danzig the Allies should have decided that Danzig was to be a free port and maintained a free port at all costs, for the sake, I suppose, of trading relations with Eastern Europe. This same British Trading Corporation, which controls millions of pounds, also controls the National Bank of Turkey, whose headquarters are situated at Constantinople, and here again we find that Constantinople is in the hands of the British military. There is hardly a single headquarters of these big financial interests which are not being protected by British soldiers 302 and British blood. The next thing is the Turkish Petroleum Company at Mosul, another outpost of Bolshevism which we have to protect. That Company is controlled jointly by three companies—the British Trading Corporation, the D'Arcy group and the Shell Company. The Shell Company has vast interests all over the world, and it has interests in Russia. These are some of the interests which the Shell Company, with an nominal capital of £23,000,000, has in Russia—the Ural Caspian Oil Corporation, the North Caucasion Oilfield, the New Schibareff Petroleum Company, Limited, and many others. It is quite obvious to any common-sense individual that these great financial interests are going to do everything they can to fight against Bolshevism. It does not matter what the Prime Minister says here. The War Minister and his organisation is supreme, and whether or not he comes to the House and tells us he wants peace, every effort will be made openly or secretly to carry the war on, even if they have to use black troops from Madagascar or elsewhere. When you have £1,600,000,000 invested in Russia it is not likely that hon. Members opposite, who largely control it, are going to risk losing it. I bring this point out so that people may know the influences that are behind the present movement; so that they may know what is going on, and why the people who are sitting here cheer anti-Bolshevik action. Does the House imagine that hon. Members behind the Prime Minister who cheer his rhetoric, who cheer his socialist bosh, do so with any feelings of humanity in them? Do they want to save life, do they want to have peace in Eastern Europe? No, they want to save their bonds and their dividends in their pockets. [HON. MEMBERS: "Names!"] If hon. Members want names they can look at the directors of these companies. The book of directors is a cheap book to purchase. The British Trade Corporation might form an interesting study in other parts of the world. A study of its ramifications in the Levant Company, in which it holds large stocks, and in Syria and the Balkans might also provide useful information as to many of our commitments, naval and military, in different parts of the world.
The ease before the country to-day is whether or not peace is to be established 303 in Eastern Europe, or whether these dividends are to be made up again. Those are the alternatives. Is peace to return to Eastern Europe or are the profiteers who support the Government to continue to get their profits out of the Russian workers? What I do object to, and what I do think is despicable, is that any member of the Government should be connected with this business; that a member of the Government should have financial interests in Russia. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name!"] I have already spoken about the Shell Company. I know it is a very delicate matter, but this is a very serious business, and it is very necessary that the people should know all the facts about the Russian business. Let us put all the cards on the table. Let us know all the facts, and let everybody in the country know exactly who is getting money out of Russia. I find that in the Shell Company the Prime Minister's secretary holds 9,861 £1 shares. [An HON. MEMBER: "Lucky dog!"] In conjunction with another person, whose name I need not mention, because he is not a Member of this House, he also holds 11,500 shares. There are distinguished naval and military officers whose names also appear on this list, but I am going to observe the ordinary courtesy of this House—which I must say is not always extended to me—by declining to give the names. I will read out the names of the gentlemen who control the British Trading Corporation, the Supreme Council which dictates its policy, the people who control hundreds of millions of pounds. [An HON. MEMBER: "What has that to do with it?"] It has this to do with it, that if these men do not look after their interests they ought not to be there. There is Sir Vincent Caillard, who is one of the chief directors of the largest armament concern in this country, Messrs. Vickers, and its associated companies. Naturally a big firm like that are not disinterested in a little war in a country like Russia. There is Sir Dudley Docker, who is chairman of the Metropolitan Wagon Company, and also, I believe, chairman of the Federation of British Industries. This shows that all these big interests are interwoven one with the other. They are all interested in keeping the war going with Russia. Not a single one, with the exception of a few trading companies and a few exporting companies, are really interested in 304 stopping the war. Behind these interests and behind the financiers who sit on the other side of the House are the newspapers and the other influences which go to make up public opinion in this country. In addition to the directors mentioned, there are in the British Trading Corporation Sir Hallewell Rogers, of the Birmingham Small Arms Company, Mr. J. H. B. Noble, of Armstrong, Whitworths, Sir J. Hope Simpson, and Sir Algernon Firth, President of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Great Britain and Ireland. That shows how the big interests are concerned in keeping the war going with Soviet Russia.
What I do object to more than anything else, and what I do think is a matter which ought to be explained, is something which I found while looking throught the list of stockholders. I find in the Anglo-Russian Trust, Ltd., that £500,000 of debenture stock, registered on the 6th June, 1913, are held in the names of the right hon. Walter Long and another gentleman as mortgagee.
The First Lord of the Admiralty is also the trustee for the British Admiralty, the trustee for the British Imperial Navy, and he is also trustee for imposing the blockade on Russia. Is it right that that gentleman should hold this dual position? The £500,000 of debenture stock is not his only interest. Recently his holding in the same company has been increased by a further £3,000. I have here a certificate of copy with an official stamp on it which reads as follows:Extract from the annual return of the Anglo-Russian Trust, Limited, made up to the 14th January, 1920.
§ Sir E. WILD
Is it in Order, Mr. Speaker, for an hon. Member to attack another Member of the House, without giving notice of the step to be taken?
I have been attacked, as the House knows, once or twice in this House, and I have never had notice given to me.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The custom is that, should an hon. Member propose to attack the personal honour of another hon. Member of this House, he gives him notice that he intends to do it.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member's attack seems to be that the First Lord of the Admiralty is the holder of certain debenture bonds, either for himself or as a trustee, and that, therefore, he is actuated by the motive of promoting war in Russia. If that is not an attack upon a man's honour, I do not know what is.
It is a statement of fact. I do not expect the right hon. Member to have any lack of honour, as is suggested. It is simply a statement of fact, and I am putting it forward in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman or his Friends will be able to offer an explanation.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member has taken the trouble to raise a matter which requires some explanation and some reply. He would not make the statement without expecting an explanation and a reply, and that being so, it seems to me to be only natural to give notice to the right hon. Gentleman of the proposed attack, so that he might be in a position to give the explanation and reply.
I did look for the First Lord of the Admiralty before I rose, but I must confess that I did not trouble very much about it. I have made a good many speeches in this House during the last twelve months, but I have not had a single one replied to in detail, especially by the Foreign Office. Therefore when I make a speech I do not expect a reply for a week or two, perhaps by letter, or not at all. It must be apparent that we on this side do not make speeches to get replies. I have only been in this House eighteen months, but I have been here long enough to know that one cannot get a reply, or if one does get replies, they are never to the point. I was in the middle of reading out a statement when the point of Order was raised, and I will now complete it and sit down. This is a very delicate business, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would prefer 306 to reply when he has carefully read what I have said:Certified copy from the Companies Registration Office.It is dated to-day, in fact at 3.30 this afternoon, so that it is not very much out of date.Extract from the annual return of the Anglo-Russian Trust, Limited, made up to the 14th day of January, 1920. Name, Rt. Hon. Walter Hume Long. Address, Rood Ashton, Trowbridge. Occupation, Member of Parliament. Number of ordinary shares held, 3,000.I am sorry to have had to raise all these matters, but we are dealing with men's lives; we are dealing with the lives of hundreds of men. [An HON. MEMBER: "You are dealing with men's reputations!"] There are 180,000,000 people in Russia who have been suffering for two or three years due to the blockade, who have been deprived of the elementary comforts which they require to preserve life. I saw an account a few days ago of a man who came back from Russia, and he had his eye gouged out with an old razor because there was not a single anæsthetic in Russia which could be used. That is only one example of the countless thousands of cases which show the misery and privations and suffering which you, due to your dirty financial interests—
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
Is the hon. Member in order in addressing the House or any portion of it as having acted on the ground of dirty financial interests?
I have too much respect for the Chair to do that, because I know it would be my last speech if I did so. What I was referring to was the dirty transaction—[An HON. MEMBER: "To whom are you referring?"]—I have put evidence enough before the House.
§ Sir E. WILD
On a point of Order. With the permission of the House, will the hon. Member be allowed to repeat his charge now that the right hon. Gentleman has come into the Chamber?
I shall be very glad to read it out again. I looked for the right hon. Gentleman before I made it. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have to take whatever opportunity we get of speaking on these Benches. Perhaps he will reply in the morning when he has read the text of the discussion. The two facts which specifically apply to the right hon. Gentleman are these. In the Anglo-Russian Trust, Limited, I find that £500,000 worth of debenture stock are held in his name as a mortgagee in connection with someone else. But the more up-to-date feature which I read out just now, and which was copied this afternoon at the company's registration office, is his holding of 3,000 shares in the Anglo-Russian Trust, Ltd. Those are the two facts which I read out to the House. [An HON. MEMBER: "Repeat your innuendo."] I merely asked for an explanation. I shall be very glad if any individual concerned will explain his connection with this company. In the mass, these financial interests are behind the Government in waging war against Russia. The right hon. Gentleman may have nothing to do with it, but I cannot leave out one name, however much I may like to. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why do you not repeat the charge?"] The mere fact that millions of pounds are behind the Government—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why do you not say it is a dirty financial operation?"]—I say these are the influences behind the Government in waging war against Russia. I hope, if there is any question of war against Russia, the people of this country, both the ex-service men and the service men, and the workers in the munition factories, and on the ships will have no hand in this foul play against Soviet Russia, and will not lift a single finger or give a single ounce of energy in the dirty work for which British lives, British energy and British material have too long been sacrificed.
§ Mr. LONG
I make no complaint of the fact that the hon. Member spoke in my absence, although he will forgive me for saying that his search for me cannot have been of a very industrious nature as I have been either in my place on this Bench, or in my room, or in the room of the Leader of the House, where I was attending a meeting of my colleagues; so that I could 308 have been easily found. I make no complaint. I understand that the hon. Member has brought a general allegation against His Majesty's Government in regard to the conduct of the operations with Russia. Why he limits it to Russia I do not know. I have no doubt that if he were equally industrious, he would find that Members of the Government have holdings in various financial interests in other countries besides Russia. He tells the House that he finds I have a holding of, I think he said, £3,000 and £5,000 as a trustee. [HON. MEMBERS: "£500,000!"] I presume that is because I am a trustee to the company. I have been a trustee of the company for many years. I had a holding of £3,000, and have now, I believe, although I have had no dividends upon it for a good long time.
But let me tell the hon. Gentleman that there are two ways of bringing these charges. One is in the House of Commons, where he is protected. The other is in the columns of the newspapers. In the Press this charge was brought against me, and I met it by entering an action for libel, as I will meet the charge of the hon. Member, if he chooses to bring it specifically against me in public, where he is not protected by privilege. I went into the witness box, and was cross-examined on oath, and my evidence given on oath is there for him to read if he chooses. If he had been so industrious and so anxious to know the truth, and if he had taken the trouble to read the report of that case which was published broadcast, not voluntarily, he would have seen that I stated quite specifically on oath—this would not affect him, because he would not believe me—in answer to a question put to me whether this interest had affected me in any way in my action as a Minister, that I regretted to say that, which perhaps did not do credit to my business qualities, that I had entirely forgotten that I had this holding. I had no recollection of it, and so far as my public work was concerned it certainly had not affected it.
This charge against myself I have met by making a simple statement of the facts of the case. I have been 40 years in public life. I have lived in what I might term the forefront of politics for 25 years, and I have not been a politician who has worn kid gloves. I have hit as hard as I could, and I have been prepared and expected to be hit back. But I have hit 309 above the belt, and I expect others, whatever their politics may be, to hit above the belt. It is an old English fashion. But the hon. Gentleman is one of those who was described by the late Mr. Chamberlain as a friend of every other country except his own. He does not think it beneath him to come here and suggest that Ministers are actuated by sordid financial interests in what they are doing. As far as we are concerned, the charge is a contemptible one, and I am prepared to stand in this House before my countrymen, and be judged by my actions throughout a long life. I do not attach any weight or any importance to the sort of charge made by the hon. Member. The personal aspect of the case is a mere detail, a mere bagatelle. The individual imputation of the character of an individual Minister is a very small matter. But this is intended to go much further. This charge is deliberately made by the hon. Member in order to create the impression in minds outside, less well-informed and less instructed than the minds of many Members of this House, that Ministers are actuated by low and sordid motives, and that because they have holdings, which may or may not be of importance to them in this or that particular investment, therefore the whole of their policy is dictated by these sordid motives, and that they are governed, not by an honest desire to serve the Empire, or to serve the cause of peace in this particular case, but that they are actuated by the sole desire to maintain their own financial interests and add to their own possessions.
The charge against myself, as I say, I dismiss, because facts are facts; but I am concerned with this deliberate attempt of the hon. Gentleman, at a moment of supreme importance like this, when grave issues are at stake, and when we all want to do our best to keep our heads and to let our minds be well controlled, to create in this country the worst and bitterest form of class feeling and class hatred. That is his contribution to this supreme moment in our existence. I say this, and I do not care whether Ministers come from the Front Opposition Bench or the Treasury Bench, or from other parties or from the party to which I belong, that the charge that any Minister is actuated by motives of this kind, and that every Minister does not bring the most honest and purest motives to bear in the performance 310 of his duties, is one that cannot be substantiated by a tittle of evidence, search where you will. The charge ought not to be made except on evidence that I know the hon. Member cannot command. For myself, I dismiss it, as I have said, as contemptible, and I say for those with whom I am associated, and proud to be associated, and for all Ministers of the Crown, whether they are chosen from one party or from any of the parties, that, equally in their case, this charge is a contemptible one. It does no dishonour to them or to this House, but it does everlasting dishonour to the man who makes it.
Lieut.-Colonel A. MURRAY
I merely rise to emphasise one or two observations which have fallen from the Noble Lord. But before doing so, may I ask the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs a question concerning the attitude of Italy in these negotiations? The Prime Minister referred constantly in his speech to the attitude of the Allies, and I have assumed in saying that he referred to the French Prime Minister and himself. Why I am concerned with the attitude of Italy is this. I see that the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs referred in the Chamber, in the discussion of the Russo-Polish situation, to the Spa Conference, and said that the Prime Minister had informed both M. Millerand and himself of the steps which he had taken with regard to the Bolsheviks, who in their turn proposed to enter into negotiations with Poland. "I myself," he said, "recommended at Spa the Polish statesman to conclude peace." The Italian Prime Minister went on to say what has been emphasised by the Noble Lord and others this afternoon, that the advance on Kief was a mistake, but he then proceeded to outline what we must assume is the Italian policy towards Russia. He said this:There are two policies which can be pursued towards Russia. One is the blockade and the other is what was described by M. Clemenceau as the barbed wire cordon. The barbed wire cordon has given way everywhere. As for the blockade, the moral advantages gained by the Bolsheviks were far more important than the material damage suffered.I think that is true in every respect. He went on to say:We have concluded an agreement with the Moscow Government for the admission of a Russian representative to Italy and of 311 an Italian representative to Russia, to secure the development of economic relations "between the two countries.He added that the Russian representative was expected very shortly in Rome and that he would enjoy the greatest hospitality in the country. On that I would ask, is the Italian Government in full accord with the agreement that has been come to between the British and French Prime Ministers at Lympne? What I have quoted would seem to indicate that the attitude of the Italian Government towards the Bolshevik Government is somewhat different from our own. The Prime Minister said that the Polish attack was unjustifiable and that he regretted it took place in spite of the warnings of the French and British Governments. I suggest that it was within the power of the French and British Governments to prevent the Polish attack taking place. As has been said, many of our difficulties to-day are due to the control of our foreign policy having been taken out of the hands of the Foreign Secretary and vested in the Prime Minister. On more than one occasion I have ventured to draw the attention of the House to that fact, but I am sorry to say that my voice has been the voice of one crying in the wilderness, and I have gained very little support. I was, therefore, more than glad to hear what fell from the Noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil) in this respect. So long as our foreign policy is vested in the Prime Minister—I do not care who the Prime Minister may be—so long will our foreign policy be based upon no principle and no fixity of purpose. All our history for the past year and a half emphasises that—our vacillating policy towards Russia, our policy in the Near and Middle East. Our policy in every quarter of the globe appears to be based neither upon historical precedent nor upon any real knowledge of foreign affairs. I hope the day is not long distant when our foreign policy will again be vested in those who have some knowledge of foreign affairs.
I would add my voice to those who have urged the Government to show a real and living faith in the League of Nations. The history of the League during the past six months has given those of us who are its earnest supporters ground for the belief that the Government are willing to use the League when it suits 312 them and are anxious to throw it aside when it does not suit them. We have had instances of that in the Polish and the Russian negotiations. Now we have the Prime Minister coming down to the House and urging those who support the League to do all in their power to assist in the maintenance of the independence of Poland. I say to the Government that had they employed the machinery of the League at the right time and in the proper way, we should never have found ourselves in the midst of the difficulties that confront us now.
§ Mr. MILLS
Members of the Labour party nave approached this particular problem from a standpoint entirely different from that of other Members. Whatever else we may be charged with, I think that at least we can say with some degree of sincerity that of all the people who compose the British nation, those who comprise the working people have a right, and a prior right, in the decision as to whether or not there is to be peace or war, and at this particular puncture, having regard to what has happened since 11th November, 1918, we feel bound to take the most drastic action it is possible to take in order to bring home to the Government the peril of the steps to which their foreign policy is leading them. We are sometimes charged with showing no efficiency whatever in matters of Government, national or international, but this I would ask of those who speak from the point of view of statesmen. How long has there been this enthusiasm for the independence of Poland? Not very many months ago someone could recall that it was the very Government which conducted this country through the War which agreed with Russia that in the event of an Entente victory Austrian Poland and Prussian Poland should be merged into Russia and that the settlement of Poland after the War was to be a matter of domestic and internal politics within the Russian Empire. No particular cry was raised then as to the rights of small nations, although by the development of the forces within Russia the Czarist régime had been overthrown. I rose this afternoon in order to protest against the statement of the Prime Minister that Russia had deliberately broken the bond she gave to the Allies in withdrawing from the War. The present Prime Minister spoke at the Queen's Hall at 313 a celebration of the Russian Revolution in the early part of 1917. At that meeting he made the statement that but for the Revolution the Czar and his advisers were bent upon, and had almost con summated, a separate peace with the Germanic and Austrian Powers. That statement was made, and, therefore, I suggest that somebody is handling the truth rather carelessly. Since the Armistice the Labour Party are entitled to be somewhat suspicious of the attitude of the British and French Governments towards Russia.
From time to time since I have been a Member of this House we have tried DO elicit information as to what was the policy of the Government with regard to the Bolsheviks. No one reading the notes that have been exchanged between the Soviet representatives and the British representatives over a period of years can deny that this provisional Government in Russia, before it withdrew from the idea of representative government, had secured a majority in the Constituent Assembly at Petrograd. These people could not have carried on this war, blockaded by sea and fighting on nine separate fronts, for over two years, unless they had had the Russian people behind them. No man knows better than the Prime Minister that what he is saying is partly untrue when he suggests that the Russian Government is in the hand3 of a gang of fewer than 600 people, who are ruling with fear and force the destinies of 160,000,000 people. All through these negotiations colour has been given to the suggestion that some other motive, sinister or otherwise, is behind the opposition to any conclusion of peace with the Bolsheviks. If you speak, as the Prime Minister spoke, of the deliberate breaking of the bond which Russia had given to "carry on," then you are not cognisant of the incidents that have occurred in Russia. Everyone knows that some of our greatest writers and publicists in this country wrote optimistically and continuously of the might and power of the Russian steam roller. We know that that roller gradually rolled back and that finally the Czarist Government was overthrown by a combination or coalition of the aristocracy, the middle class and the workers of Russia. Between them they set up a Provisional Government which was to act until a Constituent Assembly could be called together. As that Government 314 officiated, day by day the war weariness of the Russian people was demonstrated beyond hope of contra diction. Then the man who is now eulogised in this House, seeing the position more clearly than any other person, begged that some sort of Inter national Conference should be held between all the belligerents. At once the whole Press of this country set out to misrepresent the position. Kerensky was "turned down" in a storm and tumult by the very people who should nave backed him. The Russian people subsist largely on agriculture. The Russian armies melted away when the cry was raised that the land would be for the people. That was the situation with which the Bolshevik Government had to deal, and a real definition of the word Bolshevism does not convey the sinister meaning at present propagated. There are two schools of Socialist thought in Russia—Menshevik and Bolshevik. The one claims the maximum amount of reform possible, and the other is willing to accept the minimum obtainable. Let me illustrate it in this House. Over there sit the National Democratic party—a party who believe in a coalition; over here sit the Labour party. May I translate Russian terms, and say you are the Menshevik Socialists, and we are the Bolsheviks. We believe that, by independence of any coalition, we shall get more than the Mensheviks will get by coalition. But perhaps events will demonstrate which is the more effective force in the near future. They created the border States, and made the creation of Poland possible. Therefore I say of this Government this is a new-found enthusiasm for the independence of Poland. When Poland found that the whole world was at war, Poland turned to Austria, and the Field-Marshal who leads Poland to-day, Pilsudski, was in the Austrian Army and led a Polish Army Corps against the Allies, because they believed that the Austrians were prepared to give them the utmost they could hope for from a dominating foreign Government, as they found that since the Treaty of Vienna the only Power which had attempted to carry out its pledges was the Austrian Government, which, at least, gave them complete autonomy. The right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) referred to the subscriptions which were raised in the British workshops in 315 support of Poland. I was working in Woolwich Arsenal at the time, and I know the response that was made to the appeal of M. Paderewski towards the relief of the starving Poles in Poland. That appeal met with a response there and throughout the country as favourable as that given in the other cases during the War. I submit we must have an answer to the question as to where Poland received material support for its aggressive attack on Russia, since it could not have done so without some outside help. I submit that the French Government are behind and have been behind that and without hiding the fact. We had M. Clemenceau's speech when he talked about barbed wire entanglements which told us of the facts. They hoped that Poland would take active aggression against Russia and they hoped that Czecho-Solvakia would join and that Rumania would also do so, and it is on record that they offered to Rumania a huge loan on very easy terms. Rumania declined and Czecho-Slovakia had had sufficient of the Imperialistic aims of Poland.
Poland undertook this act of aggression. Protests were made here, and information was asked for, but was declined. We were constantly referred to answers given on previous occasions, and from day to day the question drifted until the Polish forces had been overcome and flung back, not only on their own boundaries, but behind them. The great crime of the Bolshevik Government seems to be that they are demanding, after victory in a fight against aggression, that this time the people who took the measures of aggression against them shall be checked in such a manner that they cannot take aggressive action again. Having reviewed the offers of the Soviet Government, and having tried to arrive at what the true motives were, we have formed the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, in spite of what the Prime Minister may say, that the Notes furnish conclusive proof that the Bolshevik Government are willing to respect the boundaries of Poland, but are determined that never again shall they be threatened with aggression from a nation which, by its very poverty and smallness and area, could not possibly have developed the offensive which it did develop unless outside forces were at 316 work. The Prime Minister stated that they even contemplated, and are, I think, prepared, if things come to the worst, to give military assistance. The "Manchester Guardian," one of the most respected papers in the whole world of newspapers, published from a special correspondent in Warsaw on last Friday a paragraph stating that British guns, heavy and light, were arriving, and that every day one sees columns of heavy guns passing through the streets bedecked with flowers and branches, and that many trains from Danzig are arriving Through the streets passed thousands of troops clothed with English accoutrements and uniform and with brand new English guns. We do not rely on newspapers for information; we have information that leads us to a certain conclusion that, unless we get a satisfactory answer from the British Government with regard to this issue, then the least we can demand is either a satisfactory pledge from the Prime Minister or the continuance in session of this House, irrespective of the desires of the Members for holidays.
I can assure the House we on these Benches are sick and tired of what has gone before in the way of war, and we are determined to take any and every possible step rather than see war start again. We believe that this question should be dealt with in terms of reason. We believe that if once peace is concluded, and Russia is thrown back on its own industrial resources, it will have to create a constituent assembly, because there will be no diversion to prevent that, and that then will come constructive criticism of Bolshevik methods which may lead to a more progressive and more democratic constitution within the boundaries of Russia. We say and we demand that the Russian people have the right to manage their own affairs. We believe that only when peace comes will Bolshevik theories of administration be successfully challenged, and by the people of Russia, who are the only people who have the right to do so. The continuance of any other measures upon which to hang some form of moral, material, or physical support against the Bolshevik Government is leading not only the trade unionists of this country, but a good section of the middle classes and the business people, to wonder what form of madness possesses the Government and keeps them hankering 317 after war, when every person, irrespective of social status, is sick and tired of the sacrifices that have been made during the last six years.
§ Mr. SEDDON
I am quite sure everyone will join with me in complimenting the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken on the temperateness of his speech, on the information he has given, and the intentions to which he has given expression. I have risen to say a few words in support of the request made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith). During the discussion this afternoon I felt somehow or another that we were forgetting the seriousness of the immediate situation which faces Europe and the whole world. There was a tendency to a spirit of levity which did not harmonise with the terrible position facing us and the rest of the world. What was said about Poland will, I think, be acceded to by every hon. Member. Historically, Poland has claims upon the rest of the world for her chivalry, her patriotism, and her bravery. I would almost paraphrase words spoken of Poland many years ago, when a writer said at that time, when she was menaced by Russia and other enemies: "The heart of Poland, though not ceased, though her blood doth drown the fields, and out of every smouldering town come cries lest brute force be increased." We have got to remember that after one hundred and twenty-eight years of the tyranny under which she groaned she was given her liberty, but that liberty did not connote licence to go beyond what was given by the Peace Treaty of Versailles. There she was given all that she was reasonably entitled to. I join with the critics of the Government in saying that they have given if not open at least tacit support to that military spirit which has driven Poland to her present disaster, and to our immediate concern. I know there may be something said by the Prime Minister in extenuation of her wrong. He pointed out that when she had the opportunity of exercising Government on her own behalf and had suddenly thrust upon her these great responsibilities that in new untried hands they became less efficient, and there was also a reference to the military position. After all, there is the plea that, the quality of mercy is not strained, and, whatever may be the faults of Poland, I think it will be accepted by th.3 workers in this country 318 that if the Bolshevik Government have the ulterior motive of destroying that nationality, then Russia will be held responsible before the bar of judgment and before all the peoples of the world. What does it amount to? Poland is in danger of destruction. It is obvious, even if the Government wished it, and I am far from thinking that they do, that armed intervention by this country is physically impossible, apart altogether from the expression of opinion of any political party. The ravages of the late War and the memory of that War in every home throughout the length and breadth of this country make the people revolt against any form of armed intervention at the present time. I want as I commenced to stress the plea put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley.
So far as we on these benches are concerned, we have a very strong objection to Bolshevism as it has expressed itself up to the present. Bolshevism is based upon hatred. It has grown upon destruction of life without rhyme or reason, and I say here that, as far as I am able to follow the history of mankind, no system of society that is based upon hatred has the seed within itself of progress and continuity. We object to Bolshevism in every shape and form as it has expressed itself, and we are fearful that if Poland goes under it will extend its operations, by paid mercenaries, because there is no doubt about it that the men who are forming the Red armies are not merely the peasants and workmen of Russia, but they are the militarists who will fight for any country so long as they are fighting. Therefore, if Poland is to be overrun and Germany is to com6 within the sphere, and all the border States, then what we object to in Bolshevism will become a real danger to the rest of these countries, and to that extent we are prepared to oppose Bolshevism to the bitter end. But this is not a question of fighting Bolshevism; it is a question of saving Poland. If what the right hon. Gentleman said with reference to the intentions of Russia has any substance in it, I say it would be a crime against God and humanity if this or any Government lifted the smallest finger to project us and the rest of Europe into another war. What is the claim of the right hon. Gentleman? He said, "Do not disperse this week," 319 because he recognised that what will go on to-morrow between the Russians and the Poles will take time. According to our time table, we are supposed to leave here on Thursday. This question is too vital to be left to any Government. We know the old theory that wars are made by kings and Cabinets. To-day we are in a democratic age, and I for one object to any Government making peace or war, unless it has given to this House, and through this House, to the whole of the country, all the causes and left this House to decide what shall be the conduct of this country in any collision that may take place. Therefore, the plea of the right hon. Gentleman is that we should not prorogue, but that we should have an adjournment till next week or the week after, and as soon as the arrangements have been come, to and there is any Division, then the House can be reassembled and given an opportunity, as the representatives of the people, of hearing what are the causes of the differences between these two countries.
With the second request the right hon. Gentleman made I am also in agreement. I am getting a bit tired of this lip-service to the League of Nations without giving any outward and visible sign of these expressions, which we think ought to be accompanied by a living faith. The League of Nations, if it is to be anything at all, is to be used in cases similar to the one we are discussing at the present time. Now is the favourable opportunity. The Government can give to that machine its life and spirit, and they can, through that machine, relieve us from the horrible possibilities of engaging in another war. They can also say to the rest of the world for the first time in the history of mankind: "Through the collective brains of all the countries we have brought to the bar of judgment the differences of two countries. We have laid down what is good for both of them and for the world, and woe to any country that declines to take the decisions of this world-wide assembly, which will bring to bear an unbiassed mind in the interests of humanity, peace and progress." I appeal to the Government that the Cabinet shall wholeheartedly, without any reservations whatever, accept the request made by the right hon. Member for Paisley. If they do that, then, without entering the 320 domain of prophecy, I feel confident that war will be made impossible and that these two unhappy countries which are locked in war at the present time will be able to live side by side in peace and amity, for the good of themselves and of the world.
§ Mr. PEMBERTON BILLING
The last remarks of the hon. Member who has just sat down would lead this House to believe that all that it is necessary to do is to call in representatives from a number of minor nations to the Supreme Council to get a mandate which would ensure peace. I also dislike these constant references to the nebulous League of Nations. I do not say "nebulous" in any offensive sense, but, excepting the Supreme Council, what is the League of Nations? It is a League of the only nations, with the exception of America, who have the least political, financial, or military significance in the world, and the fact that some 20 or 30 minor nations, neither of which could give any effective power to its recommendations, either economic or from a naval or military point of view, are not present to discuss the matter does not, in my opinion, influence the possible decision that is being taken in connection with Poland. I think it is a great pity that the League of Nations was ever conceived, not on account of the ideal, but it is a great pity that it was brought into existence in the way that it was. The Supreme Council at Versailles found themselves faced with enormous difficulties, which they were not even prepared to discuss, difficulties which they feared to discuss, and so, just as is frequently happening in this House, they as a representative Government appointed a Committee to which all these things were to be deferred. All these difficult and delicate subjects which they did not wish to discuss they referred to the Committee known as the League of Nations, but it has never functioned.
Let us assume for one moment that this question of Poland was handed over to the League of Nations. If the League of Nations recommended in their wisdom that the powers which they have to enforce their decisions should be invoked, and that the invasion of Poland by Russia should be stopped, is there any hon. Member of this House who would suggest that we, at the dictates of the League of Nations, should send a vast 321 armed force to Poland? What is the position, then? It seems to me that the League of Nations is acceptable to every nation so long as the decisions of the League are in the best interests of that nation, and directly the interests vary, the League will collapse in actuality. It was born in panic, and it will be killed by ridicule. It was born because we were all war-weary. [An HON. MEMBER: "And still are."] Yes, but the mere fact of war-weariness does not bring peace. There is a vast army of military men marching to the westward. Why are they marching to the westward, and what is inspiring them? Are we to understand that the bitterness arising out of the miniature invasion of Russia, the almost flea-bite on its borders, which was made by Poland, is causing this vast army to march to the westward? Are they matching west because they are a starving nation? You cannot fight on an empty stomach. Are they marching to carry the banner of Bolshevism westward? If so, what is the banner of Bolshevism? Some hon. Members would say lust and loot. Yes. and a mercenary army without fixed ideals can always be kept on the march by lust and loot, but what is behind that? There must be something even greater than lust and loot that is keeping this army marching to the westward under the banner of Bolshevism, which, literally translated, means "majority." That is admirable, but the real meaning of a word, in my opinion, is what it conveys to the majority of people, and Bolshevism does not really imply to the average man in the street "majority." It implies "democracy," and I submit that that is wrong, that that is an illusion.
There is not a more Imperialistic State in the world to-day, and there never has been, so far as my knowledge goes, than Russia. There is not another nation in the world which is putting its workmen to the bench at the mouth of the machine-gun, as is Russia. There is not another nation which is driving the army to the westward by the same fear and the same terrible rule, as is Russia. Do we think that because some few hundreds of youths, liberated from the prisons of America and New York for ulterior political reasons, ran amok in Russia for a few months, they could sustain for two years what is known as the Soviet Government? No; in my opinion the 322 Russians are an Imperialist nation today, and the army marching west is an Imperialist army, marching under the cloak of Bolshevism, if you like, but the only thing that Russia lacks is an Emperor. The whole of its Government is an Imperialistic Government, and if it does march to the westward, it will before very long march right into the heart of the second great Imperialistic country in the world, which is Germany. If Germany embraces the Imperialism of Russia she has everything to gain. If she denies it, she has everything to lose. Armed confusion in Europe to-day would create an impression in this country, and the same men would stand up and say, "We will forego the indemnity." Germany knows that if she joined with Russia to-day—call them Bolshevists if you like until the great day comes to put the Emperor at the head of them—she could snap her fingers at the Allies, as Russia is snapping her fingers this very night. Is Germany unarmed to-day? There are 1,000,000 rifles to be delivered to the Allies, to say nothing of what we allowed them to keep; there are hundreds of thousands of the very latest types of machine guns; there are 10,000 heavy cannon still to be delivered to the Allies; there are 45,000 fighting aeroplanes still to be delivered to the Allies.
If Germany gives those up and turns her back on Russia, she has to face two generations of slavery as the price of waging the war that she did wage. If she embraces Russia, that would be abolished, Germany would be a free nation, free of the debt, and allowed to re-establish herself as a great Imperial nation. Is that what the Labour party want? Do the Labour party want to see Germany a great imperialistic armed nation again, and Russia likewise, with Poland and all the surrounding States purely vassals of these two great imperial nations, who would dominate the western hemisphere? So far, this is the only solution of the present position that I can see. I ask the Labour party if they were satisfied that Russia's aims were imperialistic and military, and that she was marching into Poland with the idea of imposing on Poland, as victors can impose upon the vanquished, any form of rule they choose, what would their position be then? Would they still say to the Government, "You must not interfere"? Would they wait till the Russians 323 got to n, or would they wait till they entered the gates of Paris, or the Channel ports? What is the end going to be? That is the thing that occupies my mind. I know that the world is war weary, and that any man who stood up and suggested that an armed force should be raised in this country to-day would be howled down by the most thinking, in fact, by almost everybody. There is not one Member who has stood up during the Debate and suggested that we should do anything of that kind. We have said to the Bolsheviks that if they did a certain thing—and they did it—we would do a certain thing, but we did not do it; and one of the reasons why we have not done it is because the Government really fear the manifesto which the Labour party have sent out declaring they would paralyse this country by a general strike. Does the Labour party call that democratic? We are within two years of the last general election. We had a democratic election by the broadest franchise that has ever been granted to any country, and within two years of it a minority of representatives in this House suggest that unless the majority—unless the Bolshevik section of this House—will accept the dictates of the minority the minority will, by direct action, enforce their will by paralysing the economic life of the country. Is that democracy? It certainly is not Bolshevism. They do that in the interests of peace. Do they think that the country would stand for it? Do they not think that some alternative to direct action will have to be found in this country; or do they think that we, as a nation, are the puppets of the trade unions, to bow down and kowtow to any threats which they care to throw out? Are we to take it lying down? And what if an armed force was brought to bear to stop direct action? Would the Labour party and the trade unions say, "Oh, if you are going to bring an armed force, it means a fight, and we do not believe in fighting, we believe in peace, so we will all go back to work"? Or would they fight the force which endeavoured to destroy direct action? It is the lack of consistency that I complain of. I complain of it not only in the Opposition, but equally in the Gvernment. Everyone says, if you do not agree with the general 324 view, what is your alternative? My alternative is to ask the House to consider what is the real meaning behind these 3,000,000 men who are marching to the West. Do they intend to stop at Poland? Are we as a nation desirous of embracing a Soviet Government, and, if so, do we know what the Soviet Government is? Is Bolshevik rule purely a cloak to hide what is essential in imperialistic movements? This is only a suggestion. I have no right, no more than any other Member has a right, to give anything more than his opinion, based on such scanty information as it has been possible to obtain. There is a lack of reality about this Debate.
§ Mr. BILLING
There is a lack of unreality about it. What did the hon. Member who has just interrupted me say? He said the Government must keep the House in Session in order to be able to appeal to the House for a mandate before anything is done. Quite right. But what a lack of unreality! Does the hon. Gentleman think that the Government cannot muster in the Lobby a sufficient majority to do anything they wish? Has any Division in this House in the past two years, even at times of much advertised and boomed crises, which we have periodically to keep alive in this country political life in despite of the present political apathy—
§ Mr. BILLING
This is a question of war, and the Government have come down to the House and told us that there shall be no war unless Russia refuses to recognise the political independence of Poland, and even under those circumstances, he told us, we will not send an armed force, but only contribute arms and ammunition to strengthen the Polish defence. There is an issue which we can vote about to-night.
§ Mr. BILLING
From what the hon. Member on the Labour Benches says, the Government are going to be defeated to-night. If the Government are going to be defeated, I think it is absolutely essential that we should remain in Session. 325 If there is any possible hope of private Members or the alleged Opposition ever imposing their will upon the Government in the Division Lobbies, we ought not to go out of Session until this question is settled. I quite appreciate that it is the most important question which has faced us since Versailles, because we have to decide now whether or not we wish to embrace Soviet rule. The Noble Lord the Member for Hitchen (Lord R. Cecil) told us that it was only for technical reasons that we could not accept the Soviet rule of Russia and recognise it. I do not know whether he meant that, but presumably he did, because he repeated it. Before this Debate is over I hope we shall have a considered reply from a Minister, at least to the more or less definite questions that have been put to the Government.
There has been, if I may say so, an atmosphere of personality. The hon. Member for East Leyton (Mr. Malone) used the Debate as an opportunity for being rather unnecessarily abusive to a Minister of the Crown. I think if the Minister had considered the position for one moment, he would not have taken the attack quite so seriously, because we have to remember that the Minister in question was the First Lord of the Admiralty, who was responsible for. cancelling the hon. Member's commission in the Royal Navy. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That, naturally, might cause a, certain amount of bitterness, and I think it was more a personal than an Imperial note that was touched on on that occasion. It is not an original thing. Even the Prime Minister has been guilty—as I have reason to know, and anybody has reason to know who will read the Parliamentary Debates—of equally vicious attacks. I remember, in a late war, his attacking the late Mr. Chamberlain, and informing him that "the more the British Empire expands, the more the Chamberlain family contracts," which is quite as offensive as any remark we have heard this afternoon. But I am sorry that that should have been introduced, and I am equally sorry that, although it is the dinner hour now, there is not even a quorum of the House, and there has not been a quorum for the last hour and a half. The Debate will fizzle out, and no matter what the opinion of the Opposition is, they will not be able to enforce it on the Government, because the Government have already given way.
326 I am accused of being a militant. I am not a militant, but I do say that you cannot bring about a condition of peace by keeping on apologising to a person who keeps on spitting in your face, and the condition in Russia to-day ought to be fully debated, not from a personal point of view, not from any desire to score off the Government, but the question I should like to see debated is why the Russian Army is marching to the eastward, and what is the reason it is doing so? What are the limits we intend to allow—we, speaking for the Allied races, who do not recognise and do not appreciate the extraordinary amenities of Soviet rule. Do we intend to stop it? Where then do we intend to stop it—in Warsaw, Berlin or Paris? That is what I want to know, and I should like the Government in replying not to make any threat, but to assure this country that no matter what happens, no matter if they are threatened by direct action from the trade unions of this country, they will take such steps as they, in their wisdom, may consider necessary to keep away from the shores of this land the bloody horrors of the Bolshevist régime in Russia.
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
The House will agree that the problem which we are discussing to-night is one of the most acute difficulty for Labour, not only in this country, but certainly in Europe. The real difficulty of Labour in a controversy of this nature arises, not so much from the old trade unionists, not so much from men and women who have years of experience in the cause, but from many people who have suddenly discovered themselves to be Labour's friends, and who would graft on to this cause in this country and elsewhere, a set of opinions and doctrines which are inconsistent with its history, and, in my view, would bring about its downfall and ruin. I believe, personally, we shall be greatly assisted in understanding the present crisis if we look briefly to labour conditions in Poland, to labour conditions in Russia, and, perhaps, in the third place, to what is happening within the borders of Germany as well. According to a recent review, which indicated, I think, a population of approximately 30,000,000 of people in Poland, it was pointed out that they had an organised trade union movement of only 947,000 souls, and that that so-called organised trade union movement in Poland was divided to the extent of about one-half industrial organisations on the one side, 327 and about one half nationalist and semi-religious organisations on the other. So that, perhaps, only about 400,000 or 500,000 people in Poland could be said to belong definitely to organised labour, and the remainder of the people who had the appearance of organisation belonged to forces whose dominant outlook was either the nationalist faith in Poland or some religious cause. That helps us very greatly to understand the difficulty of Polish labour at this hour, and it should also help us, as a Labour movement in this country, and as a people—because this, of course, is wider than any sect or class—to determine our attitude in this crisis from the point of view of Poland's welfare.
Within the last few days I read a publication, which appeared to be issued by one of the extremist sections in this country, which poured ridicule on organised Polish labour, and it indicated that, if we examined the history of Polish labour in recent times, we should discover that, from the point of view of the working' classes of Europe, it had been in reality a dangerous force, and support for that argument came from the consideration that it had never really been actuated by what we should call economic considerations at all, but it had been dominated by religious, and particularly by nationalist considerations, and that time and again these nationalist considerations had had the effect of placing Polish labour at the mercy of any Imperialist power of aggression or aggrandisement that might come along. That publication went on to argue—and I mention it as a type of mind that might prevail in so-called advanced circles—that it was our business at this time to encourage any movement on the part of Russia which would have the effect of wiping out that so-called organised labour in Poland in the hope that there would then arise in Poland the more advanced conditions which were understood to obtain in Russia, and that there should be built up for the first time in that troubled Polish State something resembling a real labour and Socialist cause.
I have not the slightest hesitation as an individual in saying—and I think in this matter I can possibly claim to speak for the party as well—that we should be violently opposed—I should put it as high as that—to any such doctrine, because, 328 after all, nationality and a great nationalist cause are a very valuable factor, properly interpreted and properly understood, in the world, and, in any event, we are never entitled to support any movement which would have the effect of wiping out labour faith or labour organisation simply because some people here or elsewhere do not regard it as sufficiently advanced. We cannot really superimpose advanced ideas upon a people in that way. Advanced ideas, whether in economics, political or cultural pursuits, must come from a growing power in the individual and in the mass. They must be consciously worked out and understood. They may be imposed in part, but they cannot, as a rule, be suecessfully imposed as a whole, and that appears to me to be the fundamental error of the doctrine which is contained in the publication to which I have referred.
No, Sir, we must set our faces very strongly against any such tendency. We must leave the Polish people and all the peoples of the world to work out their own salvation in their own way; to move from economic process to economic process, from political change to political change by a steady growth and development of education. I therefore lay on one side entirely a doctrine so mischevious, so thoroughly undemocratic, or so much opposed in essence to all that is best and highest in our Labour movement in this country. When I say that, and have tried to indicate that it is our aim to secure Polish independence and to allow the Polish people to express themselves in their own way, I greatly regret that the Prime Minister this afternoon should have introduced what appears to me in many ways to be an extraneous and quite an unnecessary element into his speech, namely, the references to the Soviet System in Russia and to Bolshevism, and to the views which have been expressed in regard to the political and economic system there.
The precise method which has been adopted for the time being in Russia appears to me to have no dominating interest in this problem at all. I am firmly opposed, and here I speak for myself, but I think also for many others, to the Bolshevist system. I am quite satisfied that there is not the slightest danger of the adoption of Soviets in this country, or in hardly any other country, 329 because they are fundamentally contrary to the well-ascertained facts of human nature and human experience. The Soviet System in Russia with its attendant dictorship of the proletariat and the equally marvellous organisation which has undeniably been built up in that country appear to me to have been supported and to be strengthened by two great causes. The first cause is one for which, in the main, I hold ourselves hers in Great Britain responsible, namely, outside interference economic pressure of one kind or another, and, as I regard it, the equally mischevious policy towards the Russian people. Our delegates who have returned have made it abundantly clear that there has been no greater force in binding together the large mass of the people in Russia who had no personal or public sympathy with Soviet tendencies or Bolshevist ideas. I say there has been no greater force in binding these people together in a form of Government which they could understand and appreciate than our pressure, or intervention, or our present policy towards Russia at large. That is the first cause of that, I think, comparative, but as I believe, artificial strength which is attached to the Soviet System and to Bolshevik rule.
There is another cause which is always of the very highest importance in any kind of economic crisis similar to the one through which the world is passing. Russia, above all things at this hour, needs a strong hand and an iron rule, some force which will be able to supply commodities, which will be able to organise labour, to give some direction and lead to all the people who are torn by chaos and confronted by all manner of public and personal problems. There is no doubt whatever, however much we may be opposed to the dictatorship, however much we may resent that system, it has had the effect for the time being, in the present condition of Russia, of supplying those things so far, and to bring to its banners very large numbers of people who would not normally give it support.
To my mind, the Prime Minister indicated in a very large part of his speech that he feared the extension of these ideas to other parts of Europe, possibly to this country, and that it was necessary—this, I think, will not be disputed by Ion. Members as a logical deduction—to establish in Poland some kind of buffer 330 between the system of government represented by Russia and its possible acceptance by the German people. It is on that third point, the present attitude of the German democracy, that I want to speak for not more than a minute or two. Strange as it may appear, I should be prepared at this hour to make the assertion that there is probably less possibility of the adoption of the Soviet system and Bolshevik doctrines, particularly as represented by the dictatorship of the proletariat, in Germany than in almost any other country. Germany is at the present time faced by a great economic crisis. She has not found her feet politically. She has not so far returned to stable government. In pre-War times from 1870 onwards there was in Germany the remarkable movement of the German Social Democrats. There can be no doubt that while that movement represented advanced ideas, while it had a marvellous power with millions of the population, it contained within itself one feature which was always watched with anxiety, if not with dismay, by the much more elastic Labour opinion in other parts of the world, including this country. That feature was the mechanical element, the element of control and regulation. It was just as true of the German Social Democrats in pre-War times as it was true of a considerable body of German thought and doctrine. In short, the very ideals of efficiency and to some extent the ideas of world-power which permeated these people, and dictated their efforts, had moulded in many respects even their Socialist politics. At the present time, if we review the opinions of German democratic leaders, we must be impressed by the very great and very substantial change. No doubt some of them cling to the old pre-War doctrines, but a very large number have realised that progress must proceed from the individual; that there must be great scope for elasticity in thought and outlook. I should say that there is not any real danger, any substantial danger, of any extreme form of organisation on Soviet lines, nor the point of view of the dictatorship of the proletariat, being accepted by the German people. I do not think it is a reality.
If that analysis of the present position of Germany be correct, then the argument for any kind of buffer State, so to speak, to hinder the spread of that 331 doctrine from Russia to other parts of Europe would, to my mind, disappear. What we feel very strongly on these Benches is this: our attitude towards Russia is plain and simple. We say that the Russians have a perfect right to determine for themselves their political and economic organisation. We have no right to interfere. If it is found that their system is better than ours, then it may be copied, if the peoples of the rest of Europe so determine. At all events, there must be a free and unfettered choice. That is our plain, clear, and definite attitude towards the Russian people. Having made that attitude plain, we argue very strongly that nothing should be imported into the present negotiations for peace which would seek to give the Russian people the idea that we were going to do anything to interfere with any form of organisation which they might adopt. I say with great feeling and conviction that nothing could be better calculated than many of the passages in the Prime Minister's speech to give the Russians the idea that we were going to interfere with the choice of their own economic and other organisation. That was the inevitable conclusion forced upon us who have the best desire in the world to find a way out of this difficulty. Let us say to Soviet Russia that they have a right to determine their own system. We may agree or differ with them, but we are not pressing that for the time being. If they are willing to place all the cards on the table, and make a genuine peace consistent with the independence of Poland, and promote the peace of Europe on a stable basis, then we will do everything we can to encourage that movement. And it is because I feel sure that they are willing to make such an offer that I regret the attitude which has been taken up by the Prime Minister in the Debate to-day.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
have had a conversation with the hon. Member for East Leyton (Mr. Malone) apropos of his duel with the First Lord this afternoon, and I want to say, on his behalf, that he at once accepts the personal explanation of the right hon. Gentleman. He made a personal attack, but he was met with a personal denial, and he accepts that at once, and so do I. 332 If the Government want to refute the statement made by the hon. Member for East Leyton that they are actuated by sordid motives in pursuing the war against Russia, then they will have an opportunity of doing so. They already know the peace terms to be offered to Poland, and if the Poles refuse them through sheer jingoism there will not be one shred of excuse for us continuing a blockade or a veiled war against Soviet Russia. I am told that the peace terms offered to Poland are the complete independence of Poland, and, in saying that, I wish to remind hon. Members that the first nation in Europe to acknowledge the independence of Poland was Soviet Russia when we were still bound and shackled by a secret treaty which gave the whole of Congress Poland to the Czar of Russia.
I want to make one or two observations upon the speech of the Prime Minister. What on earth was he thinking about not to ask M. Krassin and M. Kamenoff down to Lympne? You had down there M. Millerand, Marshal Foch and the naval and military advisers of the Government deciding an issue which might mean life or death to thousands and millions of people, and here you have these two Russian plenipotentiaries fully empowered to treat for peace. Why were they not invited to Lympne to give their point of view? Was it on account of an objection raised by the hon. Member for Hythe (Sir P. Sassoon) to having them at his house? They were at 10, Downing Street, and they saw the Members of the Cabinet and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and I presume they shook hands with M. Krassin and M. Kamenoff, and why were they not invited to Lympne? If we have blundered and find ourselves ultimately involved in hostilities with Russia, one of the principal causes will have been that the Government were too proud or too stupid to invite the Russian plenipotentiaries in London to Lympne in order to give the Russian point of view. The Prime Minister says he has his doubts and suspicions, but why did he not ask M. Krassin and M. Kamenoff to give him some explanation? When the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Harmsworth) replies, perhaps he will be able to explain this point.
When the Polish delegates crossed the line to discuss the terms of the armistice 333 and peace in accordance with the suggestion of the Minister for Foreign Affairs by wireless, it was found that these delegates only had a military mandate to discuss the terms of the armistice and they had no mandate to discuss the terms of peace. The representatives of the Soviet Government told them that they should have those powers, and the Polish delegates were told that they could use the Soviet wireless to telegraph to Warsaw and ask for representatives to be sent by courier with full credentials, and that would have saved a good deal of time, but they refused to do this and went back to Warsaw, and it is said that they did this at the behests of the Allied Missions in Warsaw and by their influence. It is all very well for the Prime Mininster to talk about the insolence of these people, but I want to know is it a fact that they were offered the use of the wireless and that they were told that the Soviet authorities would accept the credentials sent by courier, and that this was refused. I want to know whether the Allied Missions at Warsaw had any hand or finger in that matter. Apparently Poland can make as many mistakes as she likes, but if Moscow makes one mistake then it is argued that we must use the whole of the power of this country against Russia. Ministers may propose, but the people dispose. The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Mills) referred to British guns and uniforms in Warsaw, and these must have been sent long before the Polish arms crossed the borders of Poland. In these circumstances it is wicked hypocrisy for the right hon. Gentleman to say that in certain conditions we shall put on a blockade and strengthen Poland.
I think the most remarkable omission in the Prime Minister's speech was the fact that he did not mention General Wrangel. This General must have been supplied with British munitions long after the 31st of March which was the date given to this House, and the voluntary army of General Wrangel was supplied with munitions during April, May, June, and July. We were told by the Lord Privy Seal that these were munitions which were sent to General Dennikin and had not arrived, but were on their way at the time. As a matter of fact some of these uniforms were sent from Egypt, Constantinople and Batum, and it was only in the beginning of July that these supplies ceased. France is now 334 supplying aeroplanes, officers and material support to General Wrangel, and it is useless for the hon. Member for Luton to say that we have no responsibility for this. The excuse of defending the integrity and freedom of Poland has gone. The Bolshevik peace terms will be in the hands of hon. Members in the next 48 hours, and then there will be no excuse for continuing fighting. I am going to prophesy, however, that a very strong effort will be made by the interventionists, in this country and in this House, to use Wrangel as a casus belli for continuing hostilities against Russia. Wrangel, we are told, is defending refugees in the Crimea, but the hon. Member for Luton to-day admitted to me that the Soviet Government had offered a full amnesty to all these refugees, and the position is exactly similar to that which obtained when we withdrew our troops from Murmansk and Archangel. At that time it was desired to keep our lads out there on the ground that we could not abandon the people to the Bolsheviks, but we did abandon them, an amnesty was accepted, they have not suffered, and of the 60,000 of Denikin's men who laid down their arms and were completely amnestied, thousands of officers and men are now fighting in the Red Army against Poland from pure motives of patriotism.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I heard it on very good authority, that of an Englishman. What is the actual position? I accuse the Government of playing a double game on this matter. They burke questions, they refuse to give information, and Wrangel is going to be the next rock on which the ship of peace is to be split. When the House is up, when organised labour has been temporarily satisfied, when the newspapers have told us that everything in the garden is lovely, we are going suddenly to discover that we are helping Wrangel and very soon Russia will again be devastated by Wrangel and his mercenaries. I want more information on this question. I venture to assert that if this Government 335 by these negotiations runs us into war it will not last 48 hours; it will have to go. [An HON. MEMBER: "In favour of whom?"] No body of men could do worse. Not one hon. Member dare stand up here and make a speech in favour of war against the Bolsheviks, not one Member of the Conservative party, whose feelings are well-known, will support publicly the taking of action against Russia, because they are afraid of their constituents.
§ Mr. JESSON
No one wants war any more than you do, but no one is more likely to bring it about than you are.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
The leader of the National party in this House last Session said he would send an army to Russia, but I venture to say that not one Member here has the courage to get up in favour of war with Russia. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO one wants it."] Then let us have peace.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
If hon. Members want peace, and I think they are sincere when they say they do, let them agree to remove this Wrangel. Let us withdraw support from him, let us insist that he and his followers accept the amnesty offered them. Let us cease supporting him, secretly or openly. Let us accept the peace which is offered apparently in good faith.
§ 9.0 P.M.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
The Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil), speaking earlier in the Debate, referred to the difficulty he was under in following the various ramifications of the present position. I submit that if the Noble Lord, with all his training and experience in diplomacy, and with his access to document? which we have not, is unable to follow the trend of affairs, we mere back-Benchers must give up in despair any effort to understand the intricacies of the various stages through which the present trouble has passed. One fact, and one cardinal fact, emerges from it all, and that is that it would be an appalling crime, an unheard-of tragedy if out of this welter in Europe there should come another war. I am perfectly satisfied, whatever the feeling 336 in this House may be, that the feeling throughout the country is absolutely and resolutely opposed to any action which may ultimately land us into a deplorable state of war, Although the clouds have only darkened recently on the horizon, I think we must all have had innumerabl protests from our constituents, in the strongest language, objecting to any action on the part of the Government that might by any chance have such an appalling result.
Possibly the hon. Member's constituents knew that their appeal would fall on hard ground. Most of us who went overseas in the late War did so in the belief that we were waging war for the last time, and that it was a war to end war. We vowed during the time we were there—at any rate, I did so—that if we were spared to come back, we would leave no stone unturned, but would use every effort of which we were capable to protest against the possibility of a recurrence of such a state of affairs. Therefore it behoves all of us to raise our protest on every occasion against any action which might result in that way. Not merely was it a war to end war, but we were told that it was a war which would do away with the old-fashioned diplomacy, secret and dark and devious in its ways, and that we should have the free light of day upon international relations and negotiations. What do we find? We find still that the old diplomatists are at work. If it is not a question of the old bogey of the balance of power in Europe, it is the new bogey of buffer States, which must be organised and arranged in order to keep the peace of the world. It is time that diplomacy and foreign affairs were taken out of the hands of the old school, who, like the Bourbons of old, have forgotten nothing and learned nothing by the experiences of the past. It is time that the ordinary man in the street, and the ordinary backbencher in this House, had some say on questions of foreign policy and diplomacy. When all is said and done, the ultimate result of such action in foreign affairs has to be borne, not by the statesman, but by the common people and by those in humbler positions. It is time it was realised that foreign affairs are no longer the private preserve of certain 337 intellectuals, but that the ordinary man in the street and the ordinary backbencher in this House have the right to decide on the policy—not on the details, but on the broad policy which should govern foreign affairs in such matters. We have heard to-day, from the Noble Lord and others, that we know little of the details with regard to the negotiations in this matter. The Prime Minister told us that we were not going to be at war, so far as assembling men was concerned, but that we were going to send munitions and to give support in other ways. Surely, you cannot be at war and not be at war. You have to be either the one thing or the other. If you start on the slippery slope of playing at being at war, you will have to count what the end will be. I am certain that the Government are deceiving themselves if they think that, when the time came, they could raise another army of many millions. Therefore, they should count carefully the cost before beginning to take the first step which might ultimately lead to such a terrible state of things.
Reference has been made to the League of Nations, and one hon. Member suggested that there was really no difference between the Supreme Council and the League. I suggest that such a criticism shows a want of appreciation of the fundamental principles behind the League of Nations. The Supreme Council is, surely, a league of victors, which is the very antithesis to what we understand by a League of Nations. If our lip service in the past is not to be a fraud and a hollow mockery, surely, as has been already said, there never was a time such as the present when we could put our faith to the testing point, and show that our belief in the League of Nations, is a reality and not a sham, by putting upon the League the responsibility for the broad question which we have at issue. I shall support those who have already advocated giving to the League of Nations the opportunity in this case of enforcing the decision of the Treaty of Versailles. It is said that, because Poland was a party to that Treaty, and we were a party to it, therefore we are bound by our pledge to assist her at this particular time. Surely, however, in invading Russia, and passing beyond the boundaries ascribed to her by the Treaty of Versailles, she has entirely ruled out that obligation. She did not keep her 338 bond; she did not keep faith with the Treaty when she invaded Russia, and therefore our obligation has ceased. Apart from that, it is not for us as a nation, nor for our Allies, to take upon ourselves the enforcement of that Treaty, should it be necessary. It is for the League of Nations, which is bound up with the Treaty of Versailles. The responsibility for that action should be upon the League of Nations. It is one thing for a league of victors to set about a new world war, or even a blockade, but it is another thing entirely to call in the League of Nations, and, by the moral force of the power of blockade exercised through the League of Nations—not by a league of victors—to carry out that Treaty. I join-with others in suggesting that we should not adjourn until this matter is settled. We have gone past the days when foreign affairs were the private preserve of kings, counsellors, and those in high authority. Those who have to bear the burden of the cost, whether it be in wealth or in blood—they, as represented in this House, representing the nation as a whole, should have a decided voice upon such an issue of life and death. Let them have the opportunity of expressing their views when the facts are known, and let the Government decide according to that decision.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HURST
The hon. and gallant Member for Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) was very inquisitive, and wished to have a great many questions answered by the Under-Secretary of State. I think, however, that he would have been performing a public service had he himself given a little information to the House. He told us that he knew exactly what the Bolshevist terms to Poland were. I think the House would have been very grateful if he had been willing to tell them what those terms were and how he learned them. I do not share in the feelings which prompted my hon. Friend (Mr. Thomson) in protesting so vigorously against the policy of the Government. It seems to me that the Prime Minister in his speech struck two notes which are in absolute accord with the main currents of public opinion at the present time. The one dominant note in English public opinion to-day is a passion for peace. I do not think there is any party or any class in the country which is not determined, so far as it can 339 possibly be done, to avert from our country for as long a period as possible the illimitable calamities of war. I think that on that ground everyone will welcome the Prime Minister's declaration that no British life shall be sacrificed in this struggle between Poland and Russia. At the same time, although we want peace, we want to have peace with honour; and British honour and British interests are alike bound up with the maintenance of the independence of Poland.
I should like to give two reasons why the independence of Poland must be supported. I do not share, to the full at all events, the admiration which certain hon. Members, and, I think, also the Prime Minister, expressed for the past history of Poland. Poland has, of course, been very much handicapped by the absence of natural frontiers. She has also been very much handicapped by the absence of a middle class. No state which consists only of an aristocracy and a peasantry can ever prosper. I imagine that the only valuable contribution that Poland ever made to the history of Europe has been the saving of Vienna on one occasion from the Turks. We, however, are concerned with maintaining the rights of little nations, which formed so prominent a part in the British propaganda during the War. It would be an ill sequel to the War if we gave up all those ideas of the, principle of nationality and the rights of little nations which we then championed. It is very remarkable that those members of the Independent Liberal party who have spoken, and who are always such slaves of maxims and catch-words, have now no word of praise whatever for the rights and liberties of little nations. In fact, the hon. Member (Mr. Thomson) alluded to the idea of maintaining the independence of Poland as the new bogey of a buffer State. All I can say is that this new bogey of a buffer State is only the old Whig idea of the principle of nationality brought down to modern times. We are under an obligation to these little nations whom we ourselves have done so much to bring into existence, and the idea of leaving all their concerns to the protection of the League of Nations is absolutely fatuous. Everyone knows that no League of Nations can 340 possibly operate effectively in international diplomacy unless it has some coercive sanction behind it, and the only coercive sanction behind the League of Nations to-day is the armed might of England, France, and Italy.
Let us be frank and face these facts. Do-not let us follow catch-words and think that, by merely appealing to the League of Nations, we can settle all these international problems. The real danger of leaving Bolshevism unchecked, and of allowing Poland to be entirely submerged, is that the Bolshevik force which we have to face in Europe is not content with managing the internal affairs of Russia. We do not care in the least what the internal conditions of Russia is or what constitution the Russians care to adopt for themselves. But in meeting Bolshevism we are not meeting an ordinary national force at all. We are meeting an armed enthusiasm, and there has been nothing more difficult to curb in the history of the world than the armed enthusiasm of zealots. That is what was such a great danger in the Holy Wars which have been waged from time to time by Mohammedan peoples. Europe has had to withstand these onslaughts, not because the men who were making the attack believed in a particular form of religion, but because their propaganda was waged with fire and sword, and if it was not withstood it would simply have overwhelmed the whole of civilisation. In the same way with regard to the French Revolution. Europe had to fight the French Revolution, not because it was revolutionary, but because it aimed at subverting the constitutions of all civilised nations. The reason is that these armed enthusiasms, like Bolshevism, live by war and live on war. The moment you establish peace Bolshevism must necessarily fall to the ground, because it is the rule of a minority founded on force. It is a very old truth that you can do anything with bayonets except sit on them. You can win anything by overwhelming military force, but you cannot establish and live permanently in a stable society when the whole mandate for your rule comes from military supremacy, and that is the reason why the leaders of Bolshevism are bound to start this Bolshevik crusade, to the enormous injury and detriment and danger of the whole of Europe.
I believe the policy which has been indicated by the Prime Minister is based on absolutely sound lines, and makes for 341 the security of our country and of the world. The lesson I think the Government ought to draw from the crisis through which we have been passing, and from the Debate this evening, is the essential necessity of educating public opinion. There are three ways in which it is clear that public opinion on this great subject is at present very uninformed and very unenlightened. First of all it is quite obvious that a very large section of society believes that Bolshevism represents a perfect type of democracy. It is vital for the Government so to teach public opinion that all men and women of every class realise that Bolshevism involves the re-introduction into society of the servile state—a state where the great body of citizens remain in absolute subjection to the rule of a dominant minority whose power is based upon the sword and upon the sword alone. Secondly, and this is an even more important point, the Government has come to a decision which happens to be more or less in accord with the views of the spokesmen of organised labour, so far as the maintenance of peace is concerned, and the abstention from sending armed forces to Russia. Let it be made absolutely clear to the country that that decision has not been come to as a truckling to the Labour movement, merely because the "Daily Herald" has wanted it, or because the spokesmen of organised Labour have demanded it, but because it is the right thing. That seems to me to be all important. No party in England, no class in England wants war, and if the Government has sought peace and has ensued it, let it be set down to the credit of the Government and of the country, and do not let public opinion be so misguided as to believe that that decision has been come to because the Government has found it necessary to surrender to the spokesmen of this uninformed, ill-instructed democracy represented by the Labour party.
We have had a great deal of propaganda about the League of Nations in this country during the past few months, and so far as that represents an education in political idealism, of course no one can challenge it in any way at all, but it is idle for people to imagine that we are going to enjoy, in peace and comfort, an everlasting security behind the fabric of the League of Nations. The price of peace 342 is eternal vigilance. It is a great thing if the country recognises that while we may emerge all right from this crisis, we are not safe in crises in the future; and it is well for the country to realise that there never was greater necessity than at the present time to have our united services absolutely supreme and ready, as in previous ages, to face all comers at all times. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister will be able, by following the policy he has indicated to-night, to steer past this great danger as he has steered past other great dangers. But I hope the opportunity will be taken at the same time to educate public opinion to a, larger, wider and clearer knowledge of foreign affairs, because it is only by having a really enlightened democracy that we can truly establish the peace and security of our country both at home and overseas.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
I wish to draw attention more particularly to some of the concluding statements of the last speaker in which he hoped the Government had taken up the attitude they were taking up with regard to having no war, because they believed it to be the right thing and not because they were truckling to the Labour party and the unenlightened and uninstructed democracy whom they represent. Let me suggest to him that whether the Government have done the right thing or the wrong thing, whether the Prime Minister and the Cabinet have arrived at a right decision or a wrong decision on this important question to-day, if that decision be one that is going to plunge this country into another war, it will not be truckling be the Labour movement in this country. He will find that by refusing to listen to the Labour movement there has been brought into this country a revolution which will sweep him and the party he represents-from power. [HON. MEMBERS: "Threats."] That may be your opinion It is mine that I am expressing, and I have a right to express what I believe to be the feeling in the country. It is not Members of this House of Commons who-will vote in support of the Government who will have to fight, and will have to bear the burden of the war. It is the rank and file of the working classes outside, and they, at any rate, have said in no unmistakable language that they are having no more war in a cause in which they at least are not interested.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir J. Baird)
All classes did their duty in the War.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I tried all through the War to stop it, and I am here because of the attitude I took up during the War. I am quite prepared to take un the same attitude in this war. [HON. MEMBERS: "What war?"] The proposed war. [HON. MEMBERS:"No!"] There have been suggestions, always from your side of the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Your side!"]—from that side. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I am addressing my remarks to you, Sir, as representing the House. Of course, if hon. Members do not desire to listen patiently, it is the general inclination of an individual who IS interrupted to reply to these interruptions. I rose to state the point of view that I believe the people of this country have in regard to any attempts on the part of any section of this House to plunge this country into another war. We know, or at least we believe, that there are certain forces at work doing their best to engineer attempts upon Russia to prevent the Soviet Government from having the proper rule that it ought to have over Russia. We have found that to be the case since Soviet Russia was first established. Sneers have always been raised and misrepresentations have been made against Lenin and Trotsky right from the first. We have had column after column of slanders in the papers regarding the rule in Russia, coupled with platform speeches denouncing anything that is attempted or anything that may be done by the Russian Soviet Government. That has been going on for the last two years, and in no place was it more pronounced than here where from these benches during the Polish advance we questioned the attitude which the British Government was taking in backing up the advance of the Poles against Russia. Then we had jeers from the other side, we had cheers from the Coalition benches, because the Poles were seemingly defeating Bolshevik 344 Russia. Those who were cheering formerly are now demanding that, unless Russia stops her advance upon Poland and unless Russia agrees to the terms which we are prepared to submit to them, we ought to take some steps either by sending troops, by sending munitions, by sending material, by sending naval assistance or in one or other of these forms giving support to Poland against Bolshevik Russia. We have nothing whatever to do with Bolshevik Russia and Poland in their quarrels. The quarrel was brought about by Poland attempting to invade Russia. Russia retaliated and drove her back. Russia is now within easy distance of Warsaw. I hope, no one more sincerely, that there will be no further occasion for fighting in Poland or in Russia. I hope that it will be possible to bring about between these two powers a satisfactory peace that will leave Poland her independence, free and unfettered—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—to work out her destiny—[HON MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—just as I believe we should leave Russia alone to work out her destiny. There are no cheers now. Hon. Members opposite believe in Poland working out her destiny but there is silence when I appeal for Russia to be left to work out her destiny. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I am glad to have elicited that sentiment, and I shall look for support from hon. Members in future when I am urging that Bolshevik or soviet Russia be left to work out her own emancipation. I am sorry that the Prime Minister twitted Soviet Russia in a way that spoilt the whole of his speech. There was no occasion to sneer and gibe at the Bolshevik rule. He pointed to it as being undemocratic and dictatorial.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
When reading those extracts he made gibes in comment upon them and he tried to prove that that Government was one for which we ought not to have respect. That is placing Soviet Russia in a position in which it ought not to be placed. Russia to-day cannot be considered from the point of view of a nation that is at peace. Russia to-day is at war. Hon. and right 345 hon. Members in this House know that we in this country had to submit to dictatorial and repressive measures and restrictions on our freedom during the War, and we were always told that it was because we were at war. The very Prime Minister who has been twitting Soviet Russia for its lack of freedom and its lack of democracy was the very individual who was responsible for deporting from my own city and suppressing a newspaper in my own city for daring to tell the truth about a speech that he himself made there; yet this is the statesman who points to Russia as the only country that is undemocratic and whose Government ought not to be considered in a satisfactory manner by the Government of any other nation. I look to the time when we shall recognise Soviet Russia. I believe that we shall find it to our advantage. Hon. Members will recall that in every speech I have made in this House regarding Russia I have appealed to our Government to recognise Soviet Russia and to bring this nation into trading relationship with Russia. I have pointed out the large amount of commerce in pre-War times that came to this country from Russia, and I have pointed out the shortage of these particular articles in this country to-day. No one knows better than hon. and right hon. Members the vast stores of raw materials and the great resources of economic wealth that lie-latent in the soil of Russia, waiting for the world to be once again placed in a normal condition and for nations to be put at peaceful relationship with each other so that these natural resources can be tapped and the people of the world benefit thereby.
It is not by chiding, by deriding, by sneering and scoffing at the Soviet Government, but by doing our best to realise the difficulties in which they are placed, fenced around by a ring of Poles, righting for their existence not only against actual enemies and against starvation imposed upon them by the economic blockade that we have set up. Paced as we are, or as it has been stated we are, with the grave crisis of the possibility of war in the event of the Soviet Government not doing something which the Prime Minister and the Cabinet desire, I hope that all these questions will be taken into account by the House, as well as the people, of this country, and that if the terms of peace which Soviet 346 Russia is prepared to discuss with Poland—which I understand have been handed to the Government since the Prime Minister made his speech—are Satisfactory they will be accepted, and if they are not satisfactory, I hope the Government of this country is not going to take any part in the particular line of action outlined by the Prime Minister, and that we are prepared to send munitions, material, and naval assistance, if necessary, to the Polish people to fight against Russia. I want to finish in the spirit in which I began and to say that if the Government make any attempt to send munitions, material, or to lend naval assistance to Poland in the fight against Russia, the people of this country will rise against it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Question!"] I am quite prepared to leave it an open question with any hon. Members to face a constituency on this particular question. The people will not have it. They are sick of war, and I hope every hon. Member is sick of war. I hope they will consider seriously any possibility or probability of this country once again being brought into war. If we are going to consider it seriously, let us hope this Government, this House, and the people of this country will decline to give any assistance to Poland or any other country that would involve this country in another war and bring our young manhood once again to the battlefield.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I join with my hon. Friend (Mr. N. Maclean) in his regret that the Prime Minister should have made such an excellent statement for three-fourths of his speech and then have taken a line in the rest of it which seemed quite unnecessarily aggressive. It conveyed the impression to me that the Prime Minister was trying to lead the public to believe that some of us were in favour of the Soviet system. That may be the case with one or two Members, but I know none who are declared believers in the Soviet system. For myself, I should not like to see the liberties which have been won after a century of struggle by the working classes lightly thrown aside for any such new-fangled system, but at the same time that no one can deny the Government has taken a course during the last 18 months which has driven moderate men, who have some reverence for our institutions, into line with those who are called extreme men, just as the Government 347 has also driven the old aristocracy and some of the middle class and moderate forces in Russia into the arms of the Bolshevists because they believed their country was being attacked. No one can deny that. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War attacks Bolshevism. The people of Russia implied that as attacking Russia. It is a well-known fact that in the Army and in administrative posts there are the old aristocrats of Russia, and all sections, who did not hold with Bolshevism, but who rallied to the aid of the Government because they believed they were attacked as a country. On the facts it is very difficult to evade that conclusion. When peace is made, if it be within sight, I do hope it will be a peace without reservation, because, just as all the workers and the mass of the people are tired of war, so I believe every Member here is tired of war. It is time we began to create an attitude of peace, because as a matter of fact every one of these scenes of unrest which we cut off will give us a better chance of narrowing the issue and of dealing with the other parts of the Empire with which we are concerned.
As far as the working classes are concerned, I believe they are not only themselves solid in the attitude they have taken in this matter, but from my own observation I believe they carry with them a great proportion of the thinking part of the middle classes and upper classes in the country. I went to my own constituency this week-end, and I had no hesitation in saying frankly to my constituents what my view of the present situation was. There were not only workers at those meetings, there were tradesmen and people of the middle class generally, and I want to say—it is worth this House remembering and thinking over—that some of the most enthusiastic people at those meetings over the attitude which the Labour forces have taken up were peope who are generally understood to be called the middle classes.
We cannot have any limited responsibility in this matter. It is no good saying we will supply munitions and we will blockade. We cannot do that without involving ourselves in war ultimately. The Chief of the General Staff, Sir Henry Wilson, has made that quite clear in his Memorandum upon the 348 question. You have an army upon land, and for this purpose, if we blockade and if we supply munitions, the Polish Army will be part of the Allied Army upon land, and Sir Henry Wilson says that, once a military force is involved in operations on land, it is almsot impossible to limit the magnitude of its commitments. I repeat that, for the purposes of this war, if we do commit ourselves in a limited way, Poland will have our backing, and it will be part of the Allied Army upon land. Who can tell what will be the effects upon the whole of the Eastern and Western part of the world, even if we do give limited help in that way?
We agree that the independence of Poland will have to be respected. No one doubts it. The Prime Minister said we are not quite sure that they are going to keep faith upon this matter. I submit on the history of the last eighteen months the people we are dealing with have as much right to question our good faith as we have to question theirs; but, for all that, I do not think British Labour will be any party to the violation or to the annihilation of the liberties of a nation. I am not so sanguine as the Prime Minister is as to Poland's future, even if she be left alone. He read us a lecture on history. I am not prepared to take my history from the Prime Minister if he does not give a better outline of Polish history than he gave this afternoon. There are those who question very much exactly what her future will be. But I do hope, if there is a possibility of settling along the lines that have been mooted within the last few hours, that the question will be settled without reservation. Let us clear the air once and for all, in order to give other people as well as yourselves an opportunity of settling down to constructive work for peaceful purposes, so that our people may have some of those gifts which were promised to them, but which have been denied them up to the present time.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
I only desire to make two very short points. The first is this: the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House have repeatedly informed us that this country would never be committed to any warlike preparation until the House had been consulted and had given its consent. I submit that if we are compelled 349 to go to a Division to-night upon the information now before us as to the Government's position, that condition will not have been fulfilled. The Prime Minister has informed us that in certain contingencies it will be our duty to lend full support to Poland, to continue and intensify the blockade against Russia, to supply munitions to Russia's enemies, and to give expert military advice to the Polish army. If it is at all possible, in the interests of the Government itself it ought to be made clear whether that contingency has arisen, and whether the House of Commons believes it has arisen. On the question whether the independence of Poland is in danger, it is obvious that there may be differences of view when the Russian terms are disclosed. I understand that the Russian terms are already in London, that they are in the possession of the Government, and that they are being circulated in this House. I do not definitely press for a reply now, because it may be that further consideration than has yet been possible is necessary before the Prime Minister and the members of the Government can say whether, in their view, those terms endanger the integrity of Poland or not. At any rate, we should have some declaration with regard to their view. In any case the Russian terms will be fully disclosed to-morrow. I suggest that this House should not adjourn on Thursday. It is very desirable, of course, that Members should have their holiday as early as possible. I feel that as much as anyone, but this matter of peace and war is of infinitely greater importance than our convenience The Adjournment of the House should not take place until Tuesday. In the meantime the terms will be published, and the Government would be able to secure a definite decision of this House on a definite issue, and public opinion would have an opportunity of expressing itself. If that course were taken, I would be prepared not to support any adverse Motion to-night. On the other hand, if the Government insist on forcing an issue to-night, the result of which can only be a desire to be able to take these warlike seeps without the approval of the House of Commons and of the country, I shall certainly go into the Lobby in support of the Amendment.
The other point has been dealt with fully by the Noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil). The Prime Minister founded the action taken by the Government upon many considerations, 350 and one of them was that Poland is a member of the League of Nations, and that as this country is also a member of the League, we are bound by Article 20 of the Covenant to go to Poland's assistance if her independence is assailed. I traversed that position entirely. If such an interpretation of the Covenant is to prevail, then, indeed, the future of the League is in jeopardy. Is the doctrine put forward that if the League gives advice to a member of its body, and that member disregards the advice and goes forward in an aggressive war, then the League of Nations is bound to come to its support in the moment of its defeat? It is a doctrine which is absolutely untenable. In any case, if action is to be taken to protect Poland, that action should be taken regularly by the Council of the League after due deliberation. Are all the Allies taking action? It is not merely that the Council of the League has not been convened and has not taken action. Does it come to this, that action is to be taken in the name of the League by two Powers and two Powers only? In that matter the case of the Prime Minister was singularly weak, and would not justify this country being forced into warlike preparations. I strongly protest against the Government assuming to itself power during the Recess to drag this country into all the hazards of war.
§ Mr. CLYNES
With the permission of the House, I would like to state why we wish to go to a Division. In the ordinary course of things we would not think of dividing against such a Bill as this. There has been published to-night in at least one newspaper the terms offered by the Russian Government to settle the differences between Russia and Poland. We hope that in those terms there may be found the material for a peaceful settlement of this trouble, and we should desire to co-operate with any body of public opinion in this country to that very necessary and welcome end. But, in order to emphasise our feeling with regard to what has been the policy of the Government on the question of Russia and Poland up to the present time, and as an act of protest against the conduct of the Government, we intend to go to a Division.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
My right hon. Friend who has just spoken has made an announcement of very considerable, 351 and indeed of vital importance. If it is true that the terms which Russia is prepared to offer to Poland have been made public, and if those terms are in the hands of the Government, obviously an entirely new position has arisen. Hitherto we have been groping about in the realm of conjecture and hypothesis. If the terms have been received, we should have a statement from the Government of their views on those terms. I have here a newspaper containing the terms set out. [HON. MEMBERS: "What paper?"] The "Daily Herald." [HON. MEMBERS: "A special edition."]
Perhaps as the Prime Minister has come in, I may repeat my statement. The right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) two or three moments ago announced that the terms of peace offered by Russia to Poland had appeared in a copy of the daily Press, in a special edition of the "Daily Herald." I was asking if His Majesty's Government had received a copy of the terms, and whether if they had a really new situation has arisen. The country is, of course, entitled to know, and I am sure the Government will be wishful to state what their views are on those terms. I quite agree that I cannot very well ask the Prime Minister on so short a notice as this to express an opinion on them. But certainly it is reasonable to ask that the Government should be prepared, at any rate, tomorrow, on the Third Reading of this Bill, to give us their views on these terms, if they have received them. I leave the matter at that.