§ Colonel GRETTON
I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn."
I rise to move this motion on a matter of urgent importance. It is a matter of public knowledge that a Russian subject, M. Krassin, is present in London, and has had interviews with the Prime Minister to-day, and with the principal Members of the Government. Many of us desire information as to what those negotiations 148 mean. Questions have been asked at Question time, but they have not been answered by giving the information that is desired, not only in this House, but by the public outside, and, I think I may venture to say, by the world at large, and especially by our Allies. Possibly that has been because of the difficulty of giving a full answer to a question on so complicated a subject. The history of the present Government in Russia is not altogether favourable to this country. When the revolution occurred, it overthrew the Government of Russia under the Tsar. The Russian Government immediately became hostile to this country [HON. MEMBERS: "Question!"], and very shortly afterwards entered into the peace of Brest-Litovsk, severing itself from all alliance with the Allies who were engaged in carrying on a desperate war with Germany. I will not pursue any investigation into the terms of the peace of Brest-Litovsk, but it was notoriously a most complete surrender to Germany, without consideration for the previous alliance entered into by the Russian Government and the Russian people with the Allies who were waging war against Germany at that time. The present Government of Russia is, according to the best information available in this country, not a national Government representing the Russian people. The leaders of that Government, M. Lenin and M. Trotsky, were, before the revolution occurred, resident outside Russia. Shortly before the revolution they entered Russia, and took a leading part in the revolution, with the connivance and assistance of the Imperial Government of Germany at that time.
§ Colonel GRETTON
The hon. Member will have an opportunity of speaking later in the Debate. The present Government of Russia has repeatedly committed acts of war against this country. I need only mention the most recent of them—the expedition across the Caspian Sea into Persian territory, and the expelling of a small post of British soldiers established in the port of Enzeli. We know beyond dispute that the Bolshevist Government in Russia has entered into an understanding with the Government of Afghanistan. That understanding was maintained during the period when the Arghans were at war with us upon the 149 North-West frontier of India. The present Russian Government has constantly waged war against Esthonia and the Poles, States established by the Allies in the Treaty of Paris. They have conducted activities on all their frontiers, sending expeditions disturbing the peace which it was the desire of the Allies to establish. The revolution in Russia, by which the present Government was established, has been supported by the most appalling atrocities. Making every possible allowance for the Eastern character which is inherent to some extent in the Russian people, these atrocities have exceeded all bounds and appalled the whole of the civilised world. They have not been only committed against Russian subjects, but against foreigners resident in Russia, and particularly against British subjects. The present Government in Russia has maintained an active propaganda agency in the civilised countries of the world, and we are informed on the very best authority that the one activity above all others in which they excel is their agency for the propagation of information and the principles they support which they have established at Moscow. Under the present Government appalling conditions prevail among the Russian people. There has been constant civil war. Economic conditions have reduced Russia to a state of chaos. The people in the towns are for long periods in a state of starvation, and the transport system has utterly broken down.
That being the condition of affairs we desire to know whether the British Government propose to enter into relations with a Government of violence of this kind. There is abundant precedent for refusing to establish relations with a Government which depends upon violence for its existence. We were constantly pressed during a long period to enter into friendly relations with the late Government of Mexico. We always refused, for reasons which are very well known to the Foreign Office and to a great many people outside, that the Government of Mexico was established by violence and did not represent the people and was hostile to this country. The Government refused to send representatives to Mexico or to establish treaties or trade and that Government has disappeared. The policy of abstention has been abundantly justified in that case. What other reasons which have induced the Government to- 150 day to enter into communication with Mr. Krassin? There has always been a somewhat strange eagerness on the part of the Prime Minister to establish relations with the present Government of Russia. We need only recall the instance of Prinkipo and the proposed conference at Stockholm. Now we have a Russian mission in this country. We are informed by the Prime Minister that the Government refused to receive the representative who was first suggested by the Bolshevik Government—M. Litvinoff. Now Mr. Krassin has arrived. Who is Mr. Krassin? Until a very recent period he was Minister of Industry acting for the Bolshevik Government, and latterly to those activities was added control of communications in Russia. Is he still a member of the Bolshevik Government, or has he come here in an independent capacity to endeavour in some unexplained way to negotiate trade relations? If he represents the Bolshevik Government no doubt he carries credentials. I asked the Prime Minister the other day what those credentials are. I obtained an answer which did not apply to that part of my question. I press on this occasion for full information as to whether Mr. Krassin represents the Government in Russia, whether he holds full credentials to act as their representative in this country, or whether he has plenary powers to conduct negotiations.
I am informed that previously to the arrival of the Russian representatives in this country negotiations took place at Copenhagen which did not proceed very smoothly. In fact, they arrived at a point when he threatened to break them off unless the British Government undertook to receive him in this country within a very short period of his arrival, and that he should have an interview with the Prime Minister and a number of his colleagues in the Government. We are informed that certain preliminary conditions have been laid down—the cessation of hostilities and the return of British prisoners. Is the cessation of hostilities only a cessation of hostilities against Great Britain herself, or does it include the cessation of hostilities against all our Allies and those States over which we have either undertaken a protectorate or for the existence of which we are responsible under the terms of the Treaty of Paris? Has the British Government insisted that as a preliminary to any negotiations with the Russian Govern- 151 ment full satisfaction and reparation should be afforded to British subjects or their families who have been tortured or murdered by Russians during the period of Bolshevist rule? It must not be forgotten that a representative of the British Government has been murdered. Has it been made a condition that full satisfaction should be given for the murder of the British Attaccé at Petrograd? If the Government desire trade relations with Russia I suggest for their consideration that they should taken into account a condition which it is understood has been laid down, that no British traders should be allowed to enter Russia, but that all trade relations must be carried on with representatives of the Russian Government. If that is correct, and I believe it is—
§ Colonel GRETTON
I am asking the Government to inform the House whether it is a condition of trade relations with Russia that British traders shall not enter Russia, but that the trade relations shall be carried on through the representatives of the Russian Government. It is essential that if trade is to be established there should be something to trade with. What has Russia to trade with this country at the present time? Allusion has frequently been made to the bursting corn bins of Russia. Are there any bins in Russia that are bursting with grain? We know that great towns in Russia are starving. If there was an abundance of grain in Russia, why should not Russian subjects in great centres which were formerly Russian be supplied with an abundance of the necessaries of life?
§ Colonel GRETTON
An hon. Member suggests that it is a question of transport. If transport is not available to convey food, which is urgently needed, to large numbers of people who have been starving for long periods in Petrograd or Moscow, how is that transport to be available for conveying the contents of the bursting corn bins of Russia to the supply of Europe? It is well known that the surplus corn in Russia in the years preceding the War was very often sold 152 out of Russia in spite of the needs of the Russian people, and that Russia went short of corn in order that she might supply foreign countries and have a foreign trade. What reason is there to think that Russia is producing any surplus corn at the present time? We know that a state of war has continued over a great area of Russia, and that the greatest disorganisation has continued, and that large estates have been broken up. On the land occupied by the peasants they have grown only enough for their own needs. There has been a constant drain of the Russian armed forces on the country districts to collect food and the necessaries of life. Are we going to endeavour to establish trade relations in order to get a little export of corn from Russia under a system of that kind? I do not think so. What else has Russia to give? Some minerals. I understand there are some minerals, but not a very large amount. There is some timber, but timber which is within reach of any point of export is exceedingly limited in quantity. There seems to be some flax, but not a very large quantity. What else has Russia to export? Gold. No doubt the Government have full information of the gold in the possession of the Government in Russia to-day. The Press in such communications as they have been able to publish from Russia have frequently mentioned £65,000,000. I believe that sum is grossly in excess of any amount which is at the command of the Russian Government to-day. The gold which the Russian Government holds is not all Russian gold. There is a large amount which is not Russian property, which was sent for safety to Russia when Rumania was in danger of invasion by the German Army. That gold is still in Russia. It has not been returned. I cannot think that the British Government will negotiate for payments in gold which belongs to one of our Allies, and is not the property of the Russian Government. It is notorious that Russia owes enormous trade debts and has great financial obligations to France. She has also heavy financial obligations to British subjects. Is trade in gold needed to meet those obligations to be undertaken as a result of negotiations with M. Krassin?
We need very full information upon all these subjects. There is great perturbation and great uneasiness, not only in this House, but outside, as to what is taking 153 place in these matters. We have heard about secret diplomacy. This is eminently a matter where the fullest information is desirable in the interests of everybody in this country, and the fullest information is also desirable to re-establish the confidence of Allied peoples, which has been rudely shaken by reports which have reached them as to what is taking place. Has full consideration been given to the views of our Allies in these negotiations which have been entered into with M. Krassin? Are they fully cognisant of everything that is taking place? Are they prepared to support the British Government in the course which it has taken? These are all matters of vast international importance, and I ask the Government to give full information to the House and the world upon these questions. Is the Government proposing to enter into negotiations with the Bolshevik Government? Have they full information as to the conditions which prevail in Russia? Are they negotiating with a national Government representing the people of Russia and supported by the Russian nation? Are they negotiating with a stable and established Government which will be able to carry out the undertakings into which it may enter? From the information which reaches this country, the Bolshevik Government is not a stable Government, and the economic conditions are producing a most widespread discontent among the Russian people which is dangerous to the stability and continued existence of the present Government. I would implore the Prime Minister and his colleagues not to commit themselves to any undertaking or to enter into any arrangements with a Government whose existence has been so disastrous to the Russian people, and thereby to assist in the prolongation of the state of chaos, misery and starvation which prevails in Russia to-day. It would be wiser and better to stay their hands. So far as any negotiations which they are able to carry out may obtain the release of British subjects who are now prisoners in Russia, there is nothing but commendation. What have they to offer for anything which they may obtain in this transaction? These are matters on which we urgently require information, and it is for the purpose of asking the Government to answer the questions which I 154 have put that I now move the Adjournment of the House.
Rear-Admiral Sir REGINALD HALL
I beg to second the Motion.
I would remind the House that during the War we were faced abroad by a propaganda which, in some cases, caused us considerable perplexity, and which was part of the German plan of campaign. When the War broke out, we were to have a rising in India and in Egypt, and trouble in Ireland. Although the German war is over, it is a curious thing that we are still faced with exactly those same problems, on which Germany depended during the War. We have trouble in India—on the Afghanistan side—trouble in Egypt and in Ireland, and those who then instigated these troubles are doing the same now. The hon. Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) referred to one particular instance which I, as a naval officer, felt deeply—the murder of Capt. Cromie, the British Naval Attaché, inside the doors of the British Embassy, at Petrograd, for which, so far as I know, neither reparation nor apology has ever been forthcoming, nor as to which has there even been any indication of the disgust and horror of the Russian people. That is one instance which we can prove. There maybe thousands of others which we cannot prove. But to receive the representatives of people who have been guilty of that, before there has been any reparation or apology, is not carrying out our traditional policy. If the present negotiations are being carried on from the economic point of view, then, as the hon. Member who has just sat down has asked, what have they to offer in exchange for our goods? At one time during the War I was able, with some pride, to obtain fairly accurate information from abroad. I still have friends, who still keep me informed of certain things.
Sir R. HALL
The hon. and gallant Gentleman apparently infers that I have been tapping other departments. I need hardly assure the House that that is not so. As far as my information goes, the goods which the Russians have to dispose of amount to something less than 80 poods of flax—a pood is 63 lbs. Then as to corn. Towards the end of 1917 a 155 Report was received from Russia regarding the grave situation, and stating that unless corn were sent to Russia, millions might, within the next 18 months, die of starvation. I have no reason to believe that that forecast has not been fulfilled to the hilt. Of flax, hemp, and sawn timber there is a small quantity—a few shiploads—which they are unable to move, because they have no transport. As to gold, the hon. and gallant Member for Burton stated that they are said to have £65,000,000. I would put the amount as nearer £25,000,000, of which a large proportion belongs to Roumania. Of other goods, they have the commandeered or stolen jewellery, and the national treasures in the National Museums. I hardly think that this is the time at which this nation can afford to buy national treasures to store in a museum. That is the economic side, and I fail to see any economic basis which we have for starting negotiations to trade with those people. For those reasons, I have the honour to second the Motion.
I have endeavoured to follow both the mover and seconder very closely, to understand what were their objections to the Government action. The hon. and gallant Member who seconded the Motion spoke not only with wide experience, but indicated that his knowledge tended to show that Russia had nothing to export. The mover of the Motion made the same observation, which presupposes that if Russia had something to export, and if Russia, in their opinion, was full of good things, all the other objections would be waived. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I am within the recollection of the House. If other Members make different deductions from the observations, they are at liberty to do so. I repeat what I gathered was the statement of the mover and seconder. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The mover indicated that he had knowledge that timber was almost a minus quantity, that there was a little flax and some stolen gold. The seconder indicated precisely the same thing, and that they had some corn. I want to submit that, if they did not intend that, the impression which they left, in my mind, at least, was that, because there was little to trade with, it was not very advantageous to do the trade.
§ Colonel GRETTON
The right hon. Gentleman is misrepresenting what has been said. I am sorry that any remarks which I made were not altogether clear to his mind. I did suggest reasons why negotiations should not be entered into, and also that, if those negotiations were entered into, this country was selling its birthright for a mess of pottage.
Whether there is an abundance of goods or not does not affect the principle in the least. Therefore all that we have heard from the Mover and the Seconder with regard to the wealth of Russia has no bearing whatever on the situation. I repeat that that was the conclusion I drew from their observations. The Seconder of the Motion raised another objection. In his judgment negotiations with Russia at a time when we had trouble with India, with Egypt and with Ireland, was very difficult and very dangerous, and he went on to suggest that those responsible for the trouble in Egypt, in India and in Ireland, were responsible for our trouble in the earlier stages of the War. The only answer to that complaint is that we ought to be entering into no negotiations with Germany. It must follow that if there is a valid objection to negotiations with Russia on the grounds mentioned, that objection is as applicable or more applicable to Germany. We may be hopelessly wrong, but the view that we take is that there never was a time when peace in the world generally was more necessary than it is now. We submit that whatever be the objections to Soviet rule or to the Bolshevists' actions in general, we cannot continue the war that is now proceeding without feeling the effects sooner or later in this country. We believe that after the experience of five years of war the one thing essential to the world's progress, and the progress of this country especially, is that instead of continuing to keep open the wound of the past War the sooner we heal it the better. We believe that every prediction with regard to Russia has been falsified so far. There is not a Member of this House who has listened to a Russian Debate, who has heard the predictions with regard to Soviet rule, who would not be compelled to admit that every time Russia was discussed Members got up with complete optimism and predicted that in a few days or a few weeks Bolshevist rule would end. 157 Personally, I do not believe in the methods of Soviet government, and I have never hesitated to say so, but I assert that nothing tends to show that we are consolidating Soviet government and strengthening that government than such action as we have taken in the past. We have tended rather to create in the mind of these people the belief that the world is against thm, and all experience shows that when a Government is being attacked in that way it is strengthened rather than weakened. The best evidence of that is to be found in the position of the Government in Russia at this monent. It is complained that the Prime Minister is entering into negotiations with someone who is a representative of the Soviet Government. A distinction is being drawn between trading with Russia officially and trading with Russia privately. I submit that if we are not to trade officially with Russia because of the Red Terror, there is no justification for trading with Hungary, where there is a White Terror almost as had as the Red Terror. [Interruption.] The amazing thing is that one cannot express a view without interruption. I never interrupt anyone, and I am now merely stating my case from the information that is at our disposal, and I say that the recent investigations made in Hungary, not by friends of Soviet government, but by members of our party who are strong opponents of Russia and its methods, confirm my view. They have come back to this country absolutely convinced that nothing of which the Bolsheviks have been accused is equal to the White Terror in Hungary at this moment. Why do not hon. Members get up and object to trading with Hungary?
The murder of innocent white people—white in the sense that they do not subscribe to the particular methods which the Government in power wish them to adopt. They are being murdered and outraged because they give expression to their political opinions.
The remarkable thing is that all the information one is able to obtain about Russia seems to falsify the predictions of those who have assumed to know most about it.
There are other pepole who do not work and they are never shot. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I did not limit my observation; I made it very general; but I appear to have provoked the hostility of some of those who apparently think I applied it to them. I want to submit that, apart from any personal opinion, we are entitled to take a bigger view than the mere objection to the form of a particular Government. I repeat that our present methods in Russia are affecting the position in this country, because, whether this House realises it or not, there is a large mass of people in this country who feel that the continuance of the war with Russia is the continuance of a war on the common people. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which war?"] One would assume that Members of the House are ignorant of the feeling that existed. They may not agree with that feeling if they like as they are entitled to their opinions, but a profound mistake is being made in ignoring that opinion.
§ 9.0 P.M.
The war that they construe by this British Government previous to these negotiations in not making peace with Russia, or in other 9.0 P.M. words, in the absence of peace, a declaration of war. Whatever may be the position of Members in this House they will be making a mistake in ignoring the opinion of great masses of the people of the country. It is for these reasons we welcome the action of the Prime Minister. We believe that the Prime Minister in this matter is not only correctly interpreting the wish of the great mass of the people, but that he is not necessarily endorsing either murder or outrage such as has been alleged against the Russian Government. Nothing could be a greater libel than to suggest that those who get up and express an opinion contrary to that held by Members of this House necessarily endorse murder or outrage of any sort or kind. If that is not the suggestion the interruptions rather implied it. I merely state that not only in the opinion of the Members of the Party for which I speak, and in the opinion of the great mass of the working classes of this country—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I say "Yes" and 159 you say "No," and I submit that the best test would be to avail yourself of an early opportunity of seeing which is right. We believe that the Prime Minister is not only justified in his action, but that he ought to be encouraged in his action and that the Government in this matter are doing the best service, both to themselves and to the people of this country. I repeat that the position of Europe in general will find a reflex in this country. The second pointed out that we have got trouble in India, Egypt, and Ireland. I submit that those troubles ought to be in themselves sufficient for us to handle wilthout adding to them by bothering and interfering in the affairs of another country. I know there are some people who set up a standard of morality for other folks which they do not usually apply to themselves. So far as the Members of the Labour Party are concerned, we are quite satisfied that it is not the business of this country to interfere in the internal affairs of another country. We equally believe that the one solution for the world trouble at this moment is not to continue war, but to at once bring about peace which will set industry going and enable us at least to make some amends for the difficulties we are experiencing at this moment.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir SAMUEL HOARE
There were several remarks of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Thomas) with which I found myself in entire agreement. The first was that hon. Members have been very often wrong when they made prophecies with reference to the future of Russia. I am afraid that I must plead guilty to that charge, but I would suggest in self-defence that it is quite possible that the right hon. Gentleman may find himself equally guilty in the course of the next few months. I agreed entirely with what the right hon. Gentleman said with reference to other terrors in Europe. I detest just as much as he does the "White Terror" in Hungary. I protested against it often, and I should not like it to be thought that in attacking the "Red Terror" in Russia, I or my friends were for one moment condoning the atrocities which certainly have taken place in other parts of Eastern Europe. Thirdly, I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said as to the very strong feeling there is in this country generally on the Russian 160 question. On that account I regret very much the personal bitterness which has been dragged into this controversy. In saying that particularly I mean the attacks which have recently been made on the Prime Minister. In a humble way I ventured on many occasions during the present Parliament to disagree with the Prime Minister's Russian policy, but that does not mean that I have not realised to the full, and possibly just as much as he does with his far fuller knowledge, the great difficulties of the problem. Although I may differ from him in certain aspects of his Russian policy, I do wish to take this opportunity of protesting against the attacks upon himself, attacks which, if they were only directed against himself, he might well ignore, but attacks which are certainly having the result of greatly compromising our relations with our Ally France. During the last year and a half, whether the Prime Minister be right or wrong in his Russian policy, he has always had at heart, I think, what in my view are the two fundamental necessities of the world. In the first place the need for food and in the second place the need for peace. It seemed to me very often that this country, with no great deficiency of food, has never realised the danger of famine in the rest of the world. Just in the same way we who live in this country, the only country, Great Britain, in which not a single shot has been fired in any of the streets, sometimes fail to realise the need of peace in the rest of Europe. I believe that it is upon the realisation of these two facts that he has based his policy for the resumption of trade relations with Russia. I believe it is also with these facts in mind that our other Allies, including the French, have agreed to the resumption of these trade relations. The right hon. Gentleman only a few days ago in this House quoted at some length the details of the negotiations that have taken place on the subject, and showed quite clearly that from January onwards the French agreed with us that it was worth trying to resume trade relations between the Allies and Russia, and in any criticism that we may make of the policy of the British Government we ought to remember too that fact.
Having said so much, let me point out to him as frankly as I can, and with a full realisation of the difficulties of the problem, that there are certain facts and aspects of the question that make me 161 anxious. I cannot see at the present moment any evidence of the sincerity of the Bolshevik Government. Let me give my reasons. After the Allies agreed that an attempt should be made to resume trade relations with Russia negotiations were opened with the representatives of the co-operative societies and of Russia at Copenhagen. If the Bolshevik Government were really sincere, how has it come about that since that time they have abandoned the idea of negotiations with the co-operative societies and have even gone so far as to arrest the representatives whom they had sent to Copenhagen? Secondly, the original idea was trade negotiations, and in no sense political negotiations. Hon. Members who have followed the course of the negotiations at Copenhagen will not deny this fact, that throughout the negotiations M. Litvinoff put into the background the question of trade relations and did everything in his power to draw the Allies into political recognition of the Bolshevik Government. I understand he went even further, because during his stay at Copenhagen he entered into intrigues with Bolshevik agitators in Denmark with a view to stirring up revolution in Scandinavia. Thirdly, I cannot understand how, if the Bolshevik Government were really sincere in these negotiations, they delayed so long in answering the offer made by the League of Nations to send a Committee of Inquiry into Russia. Indeed, I understand they went further, and when it was suggested to them that a committee or a commission of trade experts should be sent by the Allies into Russia they refused to admit these Allied representatives. If that be so, it makes me wonder how sincere they really are.
Moreover, the House should not forget the great difficulties that stand in the way even of commercial negotiations. Let me allude to one or two of them. It seems to me that if there is corn and timber in Russia, and if we obtain a substantial supply of them for the Allied countries, we should be looked upon in Russia as the expropriators, the capitalistic expropriators, of Russian resources, at the very time when by all accounts that we hear, so far as Russia is concerned, Russia itself is very short of food supplies. If there is no corn, and very small supplies of raw material are sent to this country or the other Allies, and we accept Russian gold, whether it be right or wrong, I am 162 certain that there will be a general opinion here, and certainly in France, that we are receivers of stolen goods. The great objection of all is that which I now come to. I am open to conviction, but I do not see at the present time how the negotiations are going to come to a successful termination when both Governments look towards each other with ineradicable hostility. The Prime Minister has said on many occasions how much he detests the Bolshevik regime, and I do not believe that there is any member of this House who would hesitate to express his opinion if he were asked whether he wanted the Bolshevik Government to be continued or not. I believe every Member, with perhaps some exceptions, would say that he desired the destruction of a Bolshevik Government in Russia. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no"] There might be one or two exceptions [An HON. MEMBER: "Lord Robert Cecil!"] And on the other side, certainly without any exception, every member of the Bolshevik Government would say that one of the things he most desired is the destruction of the capitalistic Governments in this and in the other countries of Western Europe.
I want to put it no higher than this, that it seems to me unlikely that any stable arrangement can be made when the Governments hold such an opinion of each other. In any case, I think there are certain conditions that should be fulfilled, certain guarantees which should be given before we can enter into negotiations, detailed negotiations, official or otherwise, with any representative of the Bolshevik régime in Russia. Let me tell the House what I mean by these conditions. One is that there should be some sign on the part of the Bolshevik Government that they are prepared to adopt civilised principles and sincerely and loyally to carry out any agreement that may be made. I believe the first condition of that kind would be for the Bolshevik Government to recognise the international obligations of Russia. If they did that, they would show that they are prepared to act as every other civilised Government has always acted in the past and not to repudiate the obligations into which their nation has entered. Secondly, I think that the Bolshevik Government should offer a political amnesty to all Russians who desire to return to Russia.
§ Sir S. HOARE
If the Prime Minister will tell me that that has been done, I shall be very glad, and if the hon. Gentleman opposite will allow me to say so, I would rather have some other evidence as to the action of the Bolshevik Government than the ipse dixit even of himself. Thirdly, I should like to see the Prime Minister take this opportunity, I believe a unique opportunity, for making a great effort to bring about peace in Eastern Europe. It is quite obvious that Russia wants to resume trade relations with the West. It is quite obvious that if that can be done with out any infringement of our principles, we wish to resume trade relations with the East. That being so, I would appeal to the Prime Minister. At the present moment he has more authority in Europe—I do not say this in any way to flatter him—than any other statesman in this country or upon the Continent, and I would ask him to bear in mind these two facts when he continues these negotiations. It seems to me that if there is to be peace in Russia, the people of Russia must have some opportunity for saying whether or not they agree with the Soviet Government, and I should like him to take this opportunity for attempting again to push upon the Bolshevik Government a proposal that has often been made before from the West, namely, that there should be a free election in Russia, that there should be a constituent assembly. Speaking for myself, I would say after that, that whatever might be the Government that Russia chose for itself, whether it be a Soviet Government, or whatever be its form, I should be perfectly prepared to recognise it, not only de facto, but de jure. Lastly, I would ask him to use this opportunity, I believe a very great opportunity, for attempting to get these great armies in Eastern Europe demobilised. I do not believe myself that you can have any renewal of trade relations with Russia on any big scale, until the Red Army is demobilised. I recognise at once, that you cannot expect the Red Army to demobilise until the Polish Army is demobilised, and I should like the right hon. Gentleman to take this opportunity for seeing whether he could not get both these armies demobilised, for I am convinced that only in that way can we have peace in Europe, and only in that way, 164 by really having peace in Europe, can we avoid the famine that is certainly threatening the world in the next year or two. May I also humbly suggest that in any negotiations of this kind it would not only be the representatives of Great Britain that should be negotiating, but the representatives of all the Allies. If the Prime Minister is able to re-establish peace in Eastern Europe, he will have gone far to re-establish peace in the world, and he will certainly have deserved the gratitude of every British citizen.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)
I think there is an advantage in my getting up at this stage. I have listened to the different views expressed upon this very important and grave issue, and I hope to sit down in time to enable hon. Members who taken even stronger views on both sides to express them. First of all I should like to give the House a narrative of how the present negotiations have arisen.
The decision to trade with Russia was taken in Paris, with M. Clemenceau in the Chair. He certainly is not a Bolshevik. All the Allies were represented. It was after a year or fifteen months of our efforts to produce some sort of settlement in Russia. To put it quite mildly, those efforts were not a success. Russia—the produce of Russia, the contributions of Russia to the essentials of life were seen to be as remote as ever; peace in Europe was seen to be as remote as ever, and we came to the conclusion quite unanimously that it was desirable, at any rate, to open up trading relations with Russia. We took the evidence of refugees from Russia who had been driven out of the country by the Bolsheviks. We did not act upon Bolshevik evidence—we acted upon anti-Bolshevik evidence. They were Russians who had been associated with the co-operative movement in Russia, and upon their testimony and upon the general review of the situation, we came unanimously to the conclusion that it was in the interests of the world that we should re-open trading relations with Russia. That was the first step.
Then there was the meeting in London at the end of February. There France was represented by M. Millerand; Italy was represented by Signor Nitti; and Japan was also represented. This decision was taken:The Allies cannot enter into diplomatic relations with the Soviet Government, in 165 view of their past experiences, until they have arrived at the conviction that Bolshevik horrors have come to an end, and that the Government of Moscow is ready to conform its diplomatic methods to those of all civilized Governments. The British and Swiss Governments were both compelled to expel representatives of the Soviet Government from their respective countries. Commerce between Russia and the rest of Europe, which is so essential for the improvement of economic conditions, not only in Russia, but in the rest of the world, will be encouraged to the utmost degree possible, without relaxation of the attitude described above.That was decided in February. Action had been taken upon those two Resolutions, and Russia had offered to send over a delegation to this country headed by Mr. Krassin and Mr. Litvinoff. We knew Mr. Krassin"s position in the Soviet Government. With a full knowledge of those facts, the Allies passed this Resolution at San Remo:—The Allied representatives will be prepared to discuss with the Russian delegates the best methods of removing the obstacles and difficulties in the way of the resumption of peaceful trade relations with a desire to find a solution in the general interests of Europe.That is, by a perfectly unanimous decision of the Allies—France, Italy, Japan and Great Britain—it was decided not merely to open up trade relations with Russia, but to open up those relations with the delegation that was then at Copenhagen, including Mr. Krassin, but excluding Mr. Litvinoff. It is upon that we are acting at the present moment. This is a decision taken by the official leaders of all the allied nations—taken after consultation with their Governments. We each were armed with authority from our respective Cabinets before we committed ourselves to this policy. It was discussed fully in Italy, in France and in Great Britain, and all the official allied leaders came to the conclusion unanimously that it was essential in the interests of the world to resume trade relations with Russia. It is a very serious thing to reverse a policy come to reluctantly, with all the evidence of dislike, shrinking, and natural aversion, and do nothing, and so go back upon a policy which you had already embarked upon. In spite of those things, these Governments came to the conclusion unanimously that it was in the interests of the scores and hundreds of millions whom they represent to resume trade relations.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I really do not think it very much matters, but if my hon. Friend thinks that any one of us shrinks from it, I accept full responsibility, not only of taking part, but in promoting it, and I am glad that all my colleagues agreed with me. Why did they do it? Is it not obvious to any man who looks at the facts throughout the world that there was an imperative need of it? Russia is essential to Europe. Russia is essential to the world. Has anyone been looking at the figures of the world production of wheat and raw materials, and will anyone—I mean, will anyone responsible—will anyone who can be called to account, as I could, in every court—the court of public opinion, the court of the conscience of the world and my own—will anyone, I say, with full responsibility stand up, and say that he will deny to the world, to save his own amour propre, because he is afraid of facing clamour, because he is afraid of being misinterpreted and misrepresented, and that he will bar the door of Russia against the millions who are waiting in order to get what Russia can produce? It is because we realised the peril, because we knew the limitations, because we knew the dangers, because we knew the fact that the world was running to a shortage, because it was necessary to deal with a country, which before the War produced 25 per cent. of the imported food of Europe, that steps were taken in order to restore relations with her. You may say "You cannot succeed." If you cannot, then the blame will not rest with you. But you certainly cannot do it unless you try. I am asked, "Why should we try?"
I tread with considerable diffidence upon this ground, because I do not wish to misrepresent anything that has been said. We are told that Russia has not got any grain or raw material. That is more than any hon. Member here can say, but the statement I made in this House originally I make again. There are men who say that there is a prodigious quantity of grain and raw material in Russia. I can quote a telegram which came this morning from Poland, in which the Poles say that they have come to the conclusion that "there is a considerable quantity of wheat for export abroad in the Ukraine alone."
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am dealing with the challenge that there is nothing in Russia. The conclusion to which we came was upon the evidence of these anti-Bolshevist co-operative storekeepers. Is anyone here prepared to say they are wrong? The Poles have come to the same conclusion. May I say how delighted I am to see my hon. and gallant Friend (Admiral Sir Reginald Hall) here to-night? He and I have co-operated together for some years. Glad I was to get his co-operation, and I am sorry to differ in the slightest degree from him now. It is the first time I have ever done it. I agree with him that there are men who say they have got nothing. On the other hand, you have men—I will not say equally well-informed, because who can say "equally informed"?—but men having the same opportunities of obtaining information, who say that there are prodigious quantities in the Ukraine, in the Kuban, and in Siberia—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I agree, and that the peasants are storing because they cannot sell. The mere fact that Central Russia is starving is no proof at all that there is not plenty in other parts. The whole of Southern Russia has until recently been torn by rebellion. Even if there were transport, that transport has been absorbed on one side or other in the carrying of material and men for the Army. Besides, one of the objects of trade is to improve the transport. I agree that it is transport that stands in the way. There is no doubt from the evidence we have that there is grain in Russia. There is oil. There is flax. There is timber. All of these are essential commodities for this country. Equally there is no doubt that the transport is insufficient. In order to get these commodities within the reach of the people, who are starving because of the need of them, what we want is to so re-organise the trading facilities of Russia that they can bring the corn within reach of the people, and unless you begin, you will never deal with the matter.
I am told that "We must not do it because we disapprove of the Govern- 168 ment; we abhor the Government." Surely that is an insufficient reason! Is it really suggested that we are not to trade with a country to whose Government you object—that you are not to trade with a country that is misgoverned? When was that doctrine laid down?
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
The English Government had nothing to do with France at the French Revolution.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am one of those who think that that is a very doubtful precedent. Supposing we had a right to do this; there was a war on between this country and France. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] War was openly declared between the two countries, and, of course, if you are at war, my hon. and gallant Friend must presume that there was a justification for that war. There we accepted full responsibility for the quarrel, and fought it right to the end. Does he, or anyone in this House, propose that war should be made on Russia—should do what we did with the French Revolutionists, put the whole of your resources and reserve of manhood of this country forward, and fight against them? If not, what is the good of provoking them? Let me pursue this line of thought. I say again, unless war has been declared between the countries, there is no precedent for declaring that you cannot trade with a country because you abhor its Government. Take the case which has been given by my hon. Friend—the Case of Mexico. We had a Chargé d'Affaires in Mexico the whole of the time to which reference has been made. Where you have anarchy, and where you have civil war, there trade is impossible. Apart from that, we would have traded with Mexico; we did, as a matter of fact, trade where and when we could. Take another case.
I am told, "You must not trade with Russia because of the atrocities of the Bolshevik Government." Have we never traded with countries which have been guilty of atrocities? What about Turkey? Were not the atrocities in Russia, bad as they were, exceeded in horror, in number, and in persistence by the atrocities perpetrated 169 in Turkey under Abdul Hamid against the Armenians? Violations, wholesale murder, hundred of thousands of people killed! Did we cease trading for a single hour?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
What a misfortune the hon. Member was not in power! Nobody of any party in the House, to my recollection, proposed it. Our trade with Turkey was a very substantial one; our trade with that part of the world was a substantial one. But never was it suggested that we should cease trading with Turkey, or leave off trading relations, or even diplomatic relations, because of these atrocities. It is quite a new doctrine that you are responsible for the Government when you trade with its people. Were we responsible for the Czarist Government? Were we responsible for it, with its corruption, its misgovernment, its pogroms, its scores of thousands of innocent people massacred? We were not responsible for this, yet we continued our relations. Why, this country has opened up most of the cannibal trade of the world, whether in the South Seas or in Kumassie. Have we ever declined to do it because we disapproved of the habits of the population?
But it is really a new doctrine that you must approve of the habits, the customs, the government, the religion, or the manners of the people before you start trading with them. It would be very pleasant if there were no trading relations except with people just like ourselves—those who had a sane government, and who show the same wisdom and judgment. But we cannot indulge in these things; they are a luxury. They are beyond the reach of anyone except a favoured country. We must take such governments as we find them, and thank God how very happy we ourselves are here. I think we have displayed in this matter, even if we had taken the intiative, the sort of rough common-sense that leads the British people in the end to the right conclusion. They may not be able to give good reasons for it, but they are generally sound, and their instinct has led them to that conclusion. Let us look at this matter without prejudice. You cannot afford to have prejudices if you are a trading community. Certainly not. You cannot always examine the records of your customers.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Let us look at this matter from the point of view of the realities of the situation. What is the position? It is very easy to get up in this House, and say, "Look at this horrible thing, look at this and that atrocity—are you going to grasp this tainted hand," and, with a sort of pharisaic principle, say that you must wash your hands for fear you touch a tainted customer. Russia exported 4,000,000 tons of grain before the War, and every grain of it is needed by Europe now, and in Europe I include Great Britain. Millions of tons of timber and scores of thousands of tons of flax were exported before the War—all needed by the industries of the world. When are you going to trade with Russia? Is there any man here who will get up and say, "We will never trade with Russia so long as there is a Bolshevist Government"?
§ Lieut.-Colonel CROFT
So long as a single British subject is imprisoned in Russia, you ought not to trade with them.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My hon. and gallant Friend will perhaps be very shocked to hear that I have in fact said so to M. Krassin, and I hope he will not think less of himself for that, because it would be a personal disaster. I am asking, is there anybody here who is ever likely to win the confidence of the people to the extent of being chosen for the office which I now hold, or the office held by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Bonar Law), who will say that he will never trade with Russia so long as there is a Bolshevist Government? All I can say is if there is anybody who says that, then it would be an act of gross folly of which either he would repent, or the country that trusted would repent.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
He did not say so. I know far more of M. Clemenceau than the hon. and gallant Member does. M. Clemenceau said that as long as the Bolshevist Government are guilty of the atrocities—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Then they will not be recognised, but to say that you 171 cannot trade with a people whose Government is guilty of atrocities is to rule out more Governments than I care to think of. To see peace established in the world is not an easy task. I wonder whether any of my hon. Friends who ride this particular prejudice have ever put themselves into the position of those who have got to consider the whole situation. We are responsible, not merely for what is to be done to-day, but we are responsible for the future. It appals me when I think what may happen unless peace be restored in Russia.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
What is the good of talking like that? That is the sort of flighty, irresponsible talk which is responsible for more mischief than I can tell. How can you win unless you are prepared to lose? What do I mean by that? If you say you are going to crush Bolshevism because it is an evil thing, put your might into it, and put your manhood into it. We have lost hundreds of thousands of lives. Are we prepared to lose hundreds of thousands more? We have £8,000,000,000 of debt, and are we going to pile up another £3,000,000,000 or £4,000,000,000 more? If you are not prepared to do that, what is the good of talking like that? I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend's views about the Polish prospects are right. I wish I could be as sure. I think they were badly advised. I earnestly hope that my reading of the situation is wrong, but is there anyone here who will predict that I have taken the wrong view. It is easy to find quarrels. The world is bristling with them. Hand grenades are scattered all over the ground, and you have to walk carefully. The world is full of explosive matter. You have quarrels here and quarrels there. The whole trouble is that Europe is sick to death of the sacrifice of its flesh and blood, and you will not restore its health until you bring to it something like sustained order. Do not let us stir up prejudices here, quarrels there, and outrages elsewhere. Do not say, "Quarrel with that man, he is not our way of thinking; we do not approve of him." You will never get peace in the world in that way, and until you do get peace I would not guarantee—nor will any Minis- 172 ter holding any responsible position guarantee—stability in any land. You must first get peace in the world.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
It is quite obvious to anybody who has taken a responsible view of the situation that M. Krassin could not possibly be in this country carrying on negotiations of a responsible and official character if His Majesty's Government had not the assent, officially given, of the Allies whom they had previously consulted. I am quite at a loss to understand how it was we could find hon. Members addressing this House in support of what they thought must be the view of France and Italy, and condemning the Government for the action which they are supposed to have taken. I am quite sure, however, the House is indebted to the hon. Members who moved and seconded this Motion, because it has produced a speech from the Prime Minister which has certainly tended, even in the most obtuse minds, to clear ideas on the matter. They know now, if they did not know it before, that the action taken has been taken officially by the Government as a whole, and, further, that it is action taken with the full assent of all the Allies who have been co-operating with the Government during the past few months. I welcome very heartily what the Prime Minister has said with regard to the mistakes which have been made during the past eighteen months in our dealings with Russia. I hope profoundly that that line of policy is a thing of the past. We are not officially, and have not been officially, at war with Russia, and now we shall take every means to prove to Russia, and to onlookers throughout the world, that we are adopting no steps of a hostile character against that country, and that we have determined at least to carry out the British maxim which has operated for so many centuries, that we have no business with the internal affairs of another country. To some of the lighter passages of the Prime Minister's speech, as to the promise of the future, I do not propose to allude. There can be no doubt that the moving reason of the action of His Majesty's Government—of which we entirely approve—was that Europe had to be saved. Central Europe and the Near East are in a condition which at any moment may break out into a state of affairs with which the present condition, squalid as 173 it is, can bear no comparison. Hunger is carrying out its dread work as an active ally of revolution. I am not moved by the complaints which have been made as to the lack of food or other raw materials in Russia at the present moment, nor is my view affected by the optimistic opinion of the Prime Minister as to the grain or other raw material that can be got. What we have to do is to give an incentive to Russia as a whole to get to work. It is vital, as the Prime Minister well said, not only to Russia but to the whole of Europe, and through Europe to the world, that Russia should once again, and as speedily as possible, take her part in the production of the raw materials that are so necessary to the very existence of Europe. You cannot have that you are blockading one part of her shores, and sending expeditions to other parts of Russian territory. The only true way is to start trading in the necessities of life.
Allusion has been made to the deaths of British officials, but I am certain that it would be little consolation to them to know that an attempt was made to avenge their deaths by the starvation of tens of thousands, if not millions, of innocent people throughout Europe. As to what was said by an hon. Member with regard to what happened in the French Revolution, I think he is entirely wrong. Pitt, who was then Prime Minister, steadily refused to budge one inch, notwithstanding the eloquent appeals of Burke and those who worked with him, or to take any action that interfered in the slightest degree with our trade with France, even in the throes of the worst times of the revolution. It was only, as the Prime Minister properly said, when war broke out that trade ceased. We are at last, and, in my judgment, only too slowly, acting in accordance with British precedent in dealing with these matters affecting other nations than ourselves. The only way in which you can get Europe going once again is to recognise the facts of the situation, horrible and terrible as they are. I and those who act with me cordially welcome the decision to which the Prime Minister has come, and we wish well to this first step towards bringing about relations with Russia which will create a condition of things there in which Bolshevism will become impossible in the future. The only way in which that can be done is to make 174 the channels of trade free, and then transport internally will begin to operate far more easily. If this beginning is carried through in a sound, reasonable and common-sense spirit, I have the brightest hope that the day is not so far distant as some of us thought not very long ago, when peace, economic and political, will be restored throughout the Near East.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
The Prime Minister asked whether there was anyone in a responsible position in thin House who would allege that we ought not to trade with the Bolshevik Government.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is not my proposition. The question I put was: Is there anyone in the House who would say you should never trade with the Bolshevik Government, however long they remain in Russia.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
I do not think there is much difference between the two. The right hon. Gentleman went on to define "responsible person" as a person likely to occupy the position he is occupying himself, with such great renown, if I may say so. Of course, there are very few of those persons in the House at present. There is one person, at any rate, who having no aspirations in that direction, can say honestly that as representative of a certain district in this country, he supports the view that we ought not to trade with the Bolshevik Government at all. I interrupted the right hon. Gentleman, and mentioned that M. Clemenceau had held those views and I said I would quote what M. Clemenceau had said. This is from a report made public in the United States of the conference held at M. Pichon's room at the Quai d'Orsai.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
The Bullitt report, but it is an official secret report published by the United States Senate. In discussing this question whether they should negotiate with the Bolsheviks or not, M. Clemenceau said:When listening to the document presented by President Wilson that morning he had been struck by the cleverness with which the Bolshevists were attempting to lay a trap for the Allies. When the Bolsheviks first came into power a breach was made with the capitalist Government on questions of 175 principle, but now they offered funds and concessions as a basis for treating with them. He need not say how valueless their promises were, but if they were listened to the Bolshevists would go back to their people and say: 'We offered them great principles of justice, and the Allies would have nothing to do with us. Now we offer money and they are ready to make peace.'
§ Lieut. - Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
21st January last year. I am only quoting an expression of opinion of M. Clemenceau at that time that if you were to negotiate or trade with them they would only say "It is only when you have got gold."Now we offer money and they are ready to make peace.If we trade with them, or the Russians offer us money, gold or platinum, or whatever it is, we are ready to make peace. That was the gist of his argument, and he said that was a trap. I maintain that M. Clemenceau was perfectly right, although he bowed to the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman and agreed to some negotiations taking place. That is exactly the case to-day. The Bolsheviks are at this very moment making use of this reception of M. Krassin as a splendid propaganda, saying: "We offered them gold and platinum, and now they are ready to talk to us." Then, as a matter of fact, we have the case of Sweden, which tried to trade with them the other day, and this throws another curious sidelight on trading with the Russians. The Swedish people tried to open up trade negotiations and sent them certain goods, and in return they were to get a shipload of copper. But the shipload of copper was held up by the sailors of Kronstadt something like four months ago, and it is still held up, and the Swedes have not got their copper. The beauty of Bolshevism is that there is no law and no order. The Central Moscow Government may give an order, but the sailors of Prinkipo say they will not do it, like the National Union of Railwaymen in Ireland or the dockers somewhere else. Everyone is a law to himself. Therefore how are you going to trade with them? A great deal has been said to-night as to what you are going to get out of Russia, and the right hon. Gentle- 176 man with his usual eloquence talked, not about bulging corn bins, but about Russia having exported 25 per cent. of the food of Europe before the War. How are we going to get 25 per cent. of the food of Europe from Russia in her present condition? It is impossible. Every observer who comes from Russia says that the Russians are short of food. Therefore how on earth can we possibly get enormous quantities of food from the Russians? If we did, it would be unfair to the Russian people, who are not all Bolsheviks. Take the question of gold. I understand that last week large quantities of gold and platinum were insured at Lloyd's, intended for M. Krassin in this country, and word went round at Lloyd's that the people who were doing the insurance were the British Government. If anyone is to answer for the Government in addition to the Prime Minister, will he say whether the British Government have been insuring this gold and platinum? Perhaps the Prime Minister will be able to tell us?
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
At any rate, there are gold and platinum coming over for M. Krassin, and the rumour went round Lloyd's that it was the British Government who are insuring it. Even if it was not insured by the British Government it is coming over to this country for the purpose, I suppose, of establishing trade credits. I do not want to develop at greater length the argument that the gold at present held by Russia is not the property of the Russian Government. I merely state the fact. Then I come to the question, What is the Bolshevik Government? They are the de facto Government of Russia at the present time. That is admitted; but they are a Government, in the first place, who have got into power by the committal of an immense amount of crime in that country. They were not elected by the people. They have never been elected in any constitutional or democratic way. They are purely usurpers who have seized the power in Russia and are in the saddle at the present time; but they are not the honest constitutional Government of Russia. Finally, they have been guilty of the most atrocious crimes ever committed by any Government in any country, measured by the quantity of people whom they have slaughtered and starved. That 177 being the case, I fail to see how we can rightfully trade with Russia, either on the ground that we are going to get a great deal out of Russia in the way of food or raw materials or how we can receive from them money which we know is not the property of the people who are sending it. I can understand, possibly, that there may be an argument that if we do not get the gold the Germans will. That may be a strong argument, but I would rather see the Germans, or some other inferior race, handle this money, which is, in spite of the gibes of the Prime Minister, in the opinion of many millions of people in this country, money which has been stolen, and therefore ought not to be handled by a responsible, honest Government in this country. The Prime Minister said that there is no reason why we should not negotiate with this Government, because we have not approved of many others. There are, no doubt, many Governments with which we are carrying on friendly relations in trade, with which Governments we are not in complete agreement. At the same time it is a very different thing from a government like the Bolshevik Government which, at this moment, is working against us all over the world, in our own country, in Ireland, in Egypt, in Persia. Even in this morning's papers we see that the chief of the Bolsheviks, Lenin, has assured the Indian revolutionaries that the whole of the Russian proletariat were watching with sympathy their attempt to establish a free India.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
Then also we saw where there has been a love feast in Moscow, between some of the Bolshevik emissaries from this country, headed by Mr. Robert Williams, in which M. Lesovski, or some such name, had wished them God speed, and hoped that they would get up a revolution in this country as soon as possible, so as to unite them with the Russian proletariat. Those are deliberate proofs that the Russian Government, with whom we are negotiating, with whom the Prime Minister thinks it right to negotiate on behalf of the 178 Government, are engaged at the present moment in trying to subvert our rule throughout the world. There is no object whatever in negotiating with those people. When he talks about peace, how does it promote peace, to negotiate with these people and put them on the same basis as ourselves, put them on the same pedestal, and say that they are a Government with whom we can negotiate? The best way to deal with the Bolshevik Government is to establish a cordon sanitaire round Russia which you would establish against a country that was affected with cholera, typhus, or some terrible disease which you wanted to keep out of your country. The best way to deal with Russia is to leave it entirely alone. A competent observer who has been talking to me to-day, who has come all the way through from Trans-Siberia, and spent several weeks in Russia, tells me that there is not the faintest doubt that the Bolshevik Government is within a very few months going to collapse absolutely, if left alone. The more we help them in the way suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, the more we are bolstering up their Government. The Bolshevik Government is based on a system antagonistic to the whole scheme of civilisation throughout the world. They have succeeded in bringing their own country into an abyss of misery and chaos. If we allow them to spread their propaganda in this country, we shall only be assisting them in their attempt to destroy our civilisation, and if this country goes the whole of the world goes, because every other country will follow us. Of course, the Prime Minister does not mind a back bencher objecting to his action. He may get a great many Member to support him, but I for one, hope that many Members of this House will refuse absolutely to support him in the attitude which he has taken.
§ Captain O'GRADY
I think the House generally will conclude, from the attitude of my hon. and gallant Friend (Major Archer-Shee), that he is not in his usually temperate mood. At the moment he is, like many others, influenced by a particular prejudice in the discussion of the relations between Russia and the rest of the world. I wish the Debate had concluded with the Prime Minister's speech. I urge the House to appreciate one point—that at the moment very delicate negotiations are going on 179 between representatives of the Soviet Government and representatives of the Entente Powers. Whatever may be our opinions upon the issue at stake, I think those negotiations ought to be given an opportunity to succeed. I have heard speeches to-night that seemed to me to be rather brutal. Because there is a Government in Russia with which some hon. Members do not agree, presumably the whole Russian people are to submit to a system of pressure involving death, ruin, and famine. That is not the old British characteristic at all. Russians themselves have declared that famine and pestilence have been largely the result of our blockade of Russia. Take a single instance. I do not suppose you could collect a basketful of surgical instruments in Russia. I remember the first wounded prisoner who came out of Russia. He was a young Tommy from our own Army. They had had to cut his eye out with a razor, and without an anâsthetic. I cite that case, to show what has been the effect of our blockade. As a matter of fact, the first money that was got out of Russia was solely for the purchase of drugs. It is said over and over again—and I think the "White" Russians will admit it—that the blockade is largely responsible for the state of starvation which now exists in Russia.
I am glad that the Prime Minister has taken the view he has indicated to-night. I want to emphasise what he said, in one way. He asked whether there was any responsible man in this House who had taken the view that we ought not to trade with Russia, because of certain contingencies. As far as I know the commercial men of this country have, with the working classes, quite made up their minds that, whatever may have happened in the past with regard to Russia, the question of commercial relationships being resumed with Russia should be undertaken now openly and freely. I throw out this challenge. I say that if I were to address the Chambers of Commerce of London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham or Glasgow, I should get a vote in favour of the action that the Government are now taking. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I have been approached by gentlemen who are great men in the business life of this country. They belong to great federations of employers. One of them has 180 £400,000,000 of capital behind it, and another has a much greater amount. They are not bothering about the gold, and they are prepared to take the risk if the whole of the commercial relationships are thrown open freely and widely, without the intervention of the co-operative system.
I thought the decision of the Supreme Council at Paris in January of this year was a mistake, but I think if His Majesty's Government would take the commercial men of this country into their confidence, we should see a resumption of commercial relations with Russia. It is well known, for instance, that mills in Belfast are lying idle for want of flax, that spindles are being stopped, and that many people are either out of work or on short time. I was in Leeds the other week, and it is a great centre for the manufacture of boots. In many of the factories the workers are on short time. Many are receiving unemployment benefit from their trade unions, and if a Bill before this House be carried they will receive unemployment benefit from the State. It is a well-known fact that there is a tremendous quantity of hides in Russia, and yet working-class families are paying extortionate prices for boots, and then comes the cry for increased wages. Why can we not connect those hides in Russia with Leeds, and thus cheapen the price of boots? There are 113,000,000 people in Soviet Russia who want boots, and that would keep the boot factories going for the next five years day and night. If the commercial man be not a politician, then let there be no doubt about this question of the resumption of commercial relations.
I desire to controvert two or three statements made with regard to M. Litvinoff. It was said that he drifted off from the negotiations with regard to the release and repatriation of British prisoners and British civilians into trade propositions. I do not know that he did that during the time I was with him, and certainly he did not do it at the time to which the hon. Member refers, which was February of this year. With regard to the question of stirring up strife in Scandinavia, I have heard that statement over and over again, and I submit to my hon. Friends that there is not an atom of truth it in. It is perfectly true that in Copenhagen and Denmark reactionary newspapers were careful every day to publish state- 181 ments that M. Litvinoff was using his mission to stir up strife, but proof is wanting. I suggest that those who make those statements should go to the Press Department of the Danish Foreign Office, where they ought to know. I heard one of the officials there state that there was absolutely no truth in the statement that M. Litvinoff was stirring up strife in Scandinavian countries.
With regard to the interference of the Bolshevik Government with the trade Commission, that point has been made before. What they did was as I understand, when a certain mission was being sent out, to object to certain individuals just as objections were raised to members of the Co-operative Mission. I suggest to the House that a de facto Government has a perfect right to pass an opinion on a body that may be selected for the purpose of going into internal Russia, and making investigations. The Prime Minister took very strong exception to the delegation appointed by the Soviet Government to negotiate the resumption of commerce between Russia and Europe. When we speak about the Bolshevik Government, these facts ought to be borne in mind. I do not agree with the Bolshevik political system or the Bolshevik system of communism, but, as things go on developing in Russia, you will have these systems modified. As a matter of fact, in March this year they had something like a Coalition Government in Russia. There were two Socialist Revolutionaries in the Government, in other words, there were two of the party of the late Kerensky and also one of the Mensheviks. I have been informed on very good authority that the ballot will be subsequently introduced.
We forget the fact that during all these months Soviet Russia has been engaged in suppressing what they consider to be a counter-revolutionary movement, and to expect them to undertake a reformation of their political system while engaged in those operations is to expect from them what we expect from nobody else. If I know the Russians at all correctly, they want their country developed. I feel sure that they would welcome in Russia foreign capital, foreign brains, and foreign energy. If the country is to be developed, why do we talk about this paltry sum of gold? Some say it is £20,000,000, and others £25,000,000. Sup- 182 pose we put it at £500,000,000, what is it against the tremendous resources of that great country? I think that we are peddling when we talk about "tainted gold." Some hon. Members want to earmark £500,000 as belonging to Roumania, and another £300,000 as belonging to Serbia.
§ Captain O'GRADY
Anyone who knows anything about Russia knows that her financial obligations could be met by the development of her resources within the next five years. I was talking to a Russian the other day, and I suggested ten years, but he said that they could do it in five if there were anything like order restored. I beg the House, apart from these questions, to appreciate the point put by the Prime Minister—that you cannot economically lock up half Europe. I expect food prices to depreciate. I feel convinced that, if these negotiations between the representatives of the Entente Powers and Soviet Russia come to a speedy conclusion, we shall get the surplus grain that they have there.
§ Captain O'GRADY
There is no doubt that they have. There are hundreds of Russians in this country who know the circumstances well, and who will agree that there is a considerable quantity of grain which can be exported from Russia. I am very glad the Prime Minister has made the statement heard to-night, and I hope that he will conclude his negotiations speedily, and let us see things come along that will help to right the world politically and economically.
§ Lieut.-Colonel CROFT
The Prime Minister invited me to say a word in answer to what he was saying, but he is not here now to listen. He asked if we would ever have refused to treat with Turkey, who was guilty of all these massacres in the case of Armenia, but I venture to think that even the Prime Minister would never have come to this House at any time of so-called peace with Turkey and suggested that we should suddenly open up for the first time after the War trade relations with Turkey while Turkey was laying hands on British subjects in various parts of the Turkish Empire and throwing them into prison. 183 I do not think the right hon. Gentleman would have come here and suggested that we should open up trading negotiations with Turkey if Turkey had repudiated a debt which she owed to us of some five, six, or seven hundred millions. Therefore, I do not think these arguments are germane, nor do I think his references to the cannibals who were also trusted at different times have very much weight. I think most hon. Members will deplore the fact that he should have coupled with the cannibals and the Bolsheviks the Government of the Czar, because whatever may be thought of the methods of Government in Russia, we ought never to forget that although the Czar may have been surrounded by traitors, he was true to this country to the very end. He is dead now, and I do not think there is anyone in the House who would ever dare to suggest that the Czar would not have seen the obligation of the debt to this country through or that he would have repudiated that debt, and for that reason I think it is rather deplorable that we should have a slur cast upon those who were allies of ours at the time the Czar was murdered.
The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) and the Prime Minister made a great deal of play out of the fact that the hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) and the hon. and gallant Member for Liverpool (Sir R. Hall) had referred to the fact that there was no trade which could be speedily opened up with Russia. I am informed by the most intelligent Russian business men, not with any pleasure but in despair, that their transport system alone makes it impossible suddenly to give any great relief to the parts of Europe which are suffering so much from hunger. It was made a definite point by the right hon. Member for Derby that the reason why my hon. and gallant Friends did not want to have this arrangement made was because there were no goods of this description in Russia to sell. I think that was an unfair argument, for the simple reason that my hon. and gallant Friends, in advancing that point, in no way tried to make out that they thought the change of policy was right. What they did want to point out was that this Conference cannot have been really called into being in order to discuss a trade which cannot come into operation. There must have 184 been some further ulterior reasons other than trade, and I think that is rapidly becoming more and more clear, that Mr. Krassin is no longer a co-operator but comes here as a representative and a member of the Bolshevik Government to talk on very much wider questions of policy. The Prime Minister's principal argument—and I am sure the Secretary of State for India (Mr. Montagu) will be interested in this—with regard to the bulging corn mills of Russia was the fact that he learned there was a great amount of corn in the Ukraine. Is it very difficult to get into touch with the Ukraine without soiling our hands by having conversations with Bolsheviks, who are invading our territory and throwing our people into prison?
The right hon. Member for Derby also told us that he wants to have peace, and the Prime Minister wants to have peace. Is it not a fact that peace is going to be rendered more difficult if we are going to fill the coffers of the Bolshevist Government for them to carry on a military policy against all bordering States and their own country? The right hon. Member for Derby told us he disapproves of the White murders in Austria, and he says that in that case trade ought to stop. He also, I believe, is one of those who disapproves of the murders in Bolshevik Russia, but nevertheless thinks we ought to open up trading relations with the Bolshevist people. Such an inconsistency, I should imagine, even the Labour party would find it very difficult to make plain. The Prime Minister asked us, "Do not you want peace?" and I think it is most important that we should consider the Prime Minister's views last year. He asked us just now, "Will any man bar the door to Russia?" I think really when the Prime Minister says, "Will you for all time prevent any goods coming from Russia so long as it is Bolshevik?" that was trying to get away from the true question we are discussing here. There are a good many people in this country who feel strongly that, so long as the Bolshevik Government carries on the same methods as it is indulging in at present, so long should we refuse to have any dealing with it. If the Bolshevik Government were to abandon its methods and show that we could trust its word for one short hour, they would say, "Whatever the Government of Russia, let 185 us do everything in our power with regard to this particular question." But the Prime Minister himself made this statement in this House on 16th April last year. He said:The Bolshevik Government has committed against Allied subjects great crimes which made it impossible to recognise it, even if it were a civilised Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1919, Col. 2940, Vol. 114.]What has happened to change the Prime Minister's view in this very short space of time? When he asks us what responsible man would be guilty of saying he would not recognise the Bolshevik Government, I say there was a responsible man who, on 16th April of last year, told this House with such emphasis that that was his view. M. Krassin is the representative of that same Bolshevik Government. Are the Bolsheviks more desirable to-day? Is there any evidence of a change of heart? I am prepared to say there is not the same evidence coming through to-day that they are murdering bishops, for the simple reason that nearly all the bishops have been murdered. I am convinced that we are never likely again to hear of the tremendous onslaught on and murders of the middle classes which were disproved by the Labour party, although they were very reticent when the nobility were being wiped out But for all that there is no apparent change of heart amongst the Bolshevik Government at the present time, and I say that there are a great number of people in this country who would sooner see our country poor than have our honour affected by opening up negotiations with a Government which is guilty of the atrocities of the Bolshevik Government.
§ Lieut.-Colonel CROFT
My hon. Friend has been talking to some of the people who are known as profiteers. I say it is better for this country to remain poor—if it is a question of rich and poor—rather than profiteer with what there can be no doubt is stolen goods in the hands of the Russian Government! When people get up here and lightly say, "Surely you are not going to suggest that this or that should be done." Well, the hon. Gentleman who spoke last believes that the money that Russia has—that she has been taking care of—has been taken from Rumania, Serbia, and other of our Allies. 186 Can anyone conceive a policy more fatal to our friendship with these than that it should be bruited abroad that we here had taken this gold in order that we might be the first to start trade with Russia? I remember the Debate on the Bullitt incident in this House. There never was an occasion of such extraordinary unanimity against this talking with Bolsheviks. No Division was necessary, because the Home Secretary promised that he would go straight away and telegraph to the Prime Minister. The result of that was that we had the speech to which I have already referred a few days later. The Prime Minister said to-day: "It is a very-serious thing to reverse the policy which has been reluctantly come to." Then he pointed out that he and his friends had come to this policy unanimously. Who framed this policy? And who does not know that all our Allies were against this policy? But the wonderful personality of our Prime Minister dominated the situation, and after making many efforts and being repudiated by the Allies in this connection, he at last managed to convince his colleagues. But that does not alter the fact that this House was never consulted. There was such an extraordinary unanimity in this House as to this secret diplomacy—I am perfectly certain that the Labour Party are with me—that this matter ought not to have gone forward without an expression of the opinion of this House. For that reason, I say that when the Prime Minister says it is a serious thing to reverse policy, that it is time he was taught that it is a serious thing to reverse the policy of this House—the grand inquest of the nation—who alone ought to be competent to decide such a question. The Prime Minister made no reference whatever to one side of this question. It has, perhaps, influenced opinion in the country more than anything else, that is the question of the prisoners. In this connection would it not have been better for the Prime Minister to have said that he would have no part or lot or talk with M. Krassin until the Bolshevists had proved that they were withdrawing from Persia, and until they had released every British subject, naval, military, or civilian—not until then would he be prepared to meet the representative of the Bolshevist 187 Government? On the very day Lord Curzon went to meet M. Krassin in this country, I received information that one of my greatest friends, a gallant officer in the Navy, and a number of his colleagues, were taken prisoners in Baku. [An HON. MEMBER: "What were they doing there?"] They were doing the duty of their country. It is not consistent with the dignity and honour of this country while the Bolsheviks are seizing the subjects of this country under conditions which we know are terrible, that we should open any conversations whatever. It should be made clear that the power of the British Empire should be fully recognised before conversations take place with a despotic military tyranny such as the Bolshevik Government is in Russia.
§ Mr. TILLETT
I want to bring the House back to the attitude taken up by the Prime Minister. We have to make up our minds whether this is to be a vendetta or not. If the same views could have been uttered at the Armistice or before it, then every Member of this House would have given highly moral reasons against any peace whatever with Germany, but in the interests of humanity we did not do this. I have been charging my mind to understand what hon. Members really desire. Do they wish to restore the régime of the Czar and of the Russian aristocracy and of the Russian capitalists? Do they wish that system restored as a preliminary to allowing overtures with Russia? All of us regret the atrocities of the Russian people and the Soviet Government, but we have to lift our minds from Lenin, Trotsky, Krassin, and Litvinoff. We have to take Russia herself and her people, and we have to take our responsibilities in hand and realise that we are in the aftermath of war. As a matter of fact, there have been more men, women, and children destroyed since the Armistice than there were during the whole of the War. We must have clean hands. Does anyone remember Sir Walter Raleigh, or the Pilgrim Fathers, or the settlers in Australia? Does anyone realise how we built up our commerce? Does anyone appreciate the profiteer during the War? We have got to come down to an attitude of reason. We want to stop 188 murder. The Soviet Government can say: "The world is against us," that a community can always be a horror and a bleeding martyr. They can say: "We are opposed by all civilized nations, and Britain in particular." I trust that this House will reflect a common-sense view, and realise that the workers in Russia have no quarrel with us and we have no quarrel with Russia; and remember that the commercial men of this country will have no quarrel with Russia when they can make a profit out of them.
§ Mr. BILLING
I wish to congratulate the Prime Minister on the most priceless piece of special pleading I have ever heard in this House. No doubt many hon. Members would like to dissociate themselves from what the Prime Minister has said. I thought of what happened six months ago, when exactly the same sentiments were howled down, which this House cheered to the echo when they fell from the lips of the Prime Minister, and when the right hon. Gentleman thought he was losing the confidence of the House he reduced his speech to an element of laughter and applause—
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.