§ LORD NEWTON rose to ask if any communications have parsed between His Majesty's Government and the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics with reference to the money which has been sent into this country in aid of the recent General Strike and of the coal strike, and if so, whether their purport can be stated.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Question which appears upon the Paper has already been practically answered in the shape of the communiqué which appears in the Press to-day representing the very mild protest which His Majesty's Government have addressed to the Soviet Government upon this particular subject. I think that I shall carry the assent of everybody here present if I express the opinion that in the ease of a purely industrial strike there is no reasonable objection to assistance being received from other countries, provided that the assistance takes the form of a genuine relief of distress, provided that it is nonpolitical, and provided also that the 460 foreign Government has no part or share in the despatch of the money. If, for instance, money had come in support of the present coal strike from such a country as France or Germany or the United States it would be difficult to make any reasonable objection but, so far as I am able to gather, not much substantial assistance has come from these countries; in fact, if I may say so, it appears to me that the miners in those countries prefer to send coal rather than money to this country.
§ When you come to the case of assistance proceeding from Russia, then the matter is entirely different, the aspect is completely changed, because, as we all know by this time, no money exceeding the amount of £10 can be exported from Russia without the express permission and approval of the Soviet Government. The question of where this money proceeds from has been hotly debated in this country and, as usual, we are met with a blank denial that this, so to speak, is Government money. I cannot help expressing the opinion that this denial is of a somewhat unconvincing nature, though it may possibly convince noble Lords on the Opposition Bench. I am inclined to think there is not one man in a given thousand in this country who will ever be persuaded that this money does not proceed directly or indirectly from the Soviet Government.
I will deal as briefly as I can with the history of this transaction. On May 5 the Central Soviet of Trade Unions ordered a compulsory levy of 25 per cent. on wages in aid of the General Strike here. No doubt we shall be told in the course of this debate that this particular body, the Central Soviet of Trade Unions, is a completely independent organisation which works quite independently of the Government. As a matter of fact, we all know now that the trade unions in Russia are strictly controlled by the Government and, in the Report produced by the British Trade Union Delegation which visited Russia two years ago, I find this passage on page 142:
Representatives of the unions sit not only on all the councils that control industry but on all the councils of the Soviet Government.
The fact is that the leaders of the Central Soviet of Trade Unions, such as Mr. Tomsky and Mr. Logorsky, and Mr.
Dogadoff are all members of the Central Committee of the U.S.S.R.—that is to say of the Soviet Government. What I wish to ask is, what practical difference is there between a Government ordering a forced levy on trade unionists for the purpose of sending it to a foreign country and sending Government money direct?
To resume my narrative: On May 7 Comrade Dogadoff, who is the secretary of the trade unions, telegraphed to Comrades Pugh and Citrine, of the Trades Union Congress:
The Soviet trade unions are sending you to-day two million roubles. This is the second instalment by the Soviet trade unions from money collected. Collections are being continued. Fraternal greeting.
I hope the House will mark particularly that this is the second contribution which has been received in this country. Of what became of the first we know nothing. I am told it amounted to £25,000, but there is no intimation showing by whom that money was received or how it has been spent. Possibly some light may be thrown upon that subject in the course of the debate. On May 9, two days afterwards it was announced with some ostentation that the Trades Union Congress had refused the two million roubles—that is £200,000.
§ I suppose that something of this kind happened. When the Soviet emissaries made their offer the representatives of the Trades Union Congress said to them: 'Well, we are intensely obliged to you, we are deeply grateful to you for your offer, but we do not quite see our way to accept it. The fact is we are most highly respectable people, some of us are Privy Councillors, some of us have been Ministers and hope to be again, and, altogether, we have got characters to keep up and we feel that if we accepted your money we should be damaging ourselves; but there is no reason why this money should not be employed usefully. Why not hand it over to somebody else? There are other people who are much less particular than we are who call themselves humble apostles of Lenin. It is quite probable that these gentlemen will be delighted to accept any amount of money that you may choose to provide for them." And, of course, they were perfectly right.
§ If I remember aright, when the announcement of the gift of £200,000 to 462 the miners was announced we were told that this money proceeded from the Russian miners. But that is a statement which seems to me in the highest degree improbable, because, all told, the Russian miners do not amount to many more than 150,000, and they only receive in wages roughly as much per month as the English miner receives in a week; therefore it seems highly improbable that this sum can have been provided by Russian miners. It also seems rather strange, in the circumstances, that the English miners should consent to receive money front their miserably underpaid colleagues in Russia. The fund grew. The £200,000 has grown to something like £500,000, and we are now told that this large sum represents, not the contributions solely of miners, but the contributions of all the trade unions in Russia. Even so, there is some difficulty in understanding how so large a sum can be forthcoming.
§ We know perfectly well that nobody in Russia has any money except the Government. Wages are ridiculously low and the unions can hardly be in a very flourishing condition, because I observe from the returns that there were less than 2,000,000 trade unionists employed—I am speaking, of course, of those employed industrially and am not including agriculturists — and there were 1,000,000 trade unionists unemployed. That does not look as if they were in a condition to furnish any very substantial contribution. What is stranger still is this. These contributions are acknowledged in the Russian Press, and I understand that up till June 10 the total sum acknowledged was only 800,000 roubles. In these circumstances one cannot help wondering whether the money has not been provided elsewhere. I confess that I feel considerable doubt as to whether this money really did all come from Russia and I am disposed to think that there must have been other sources of money available, possibly in this country.
§ I do not know whether His Majesty's Government draw any distinction between sending financial aid to the General Strike and sending financial aid to the coal strike. So far as I am concerned I draw no distinction whatever and I am perfectly certain that the Soviet Government also draws no distinction whatever. It may be perfectly certain that they are naturally delighted to have an oppor- 463 tunity to support the coal strike at the present moment, because the coal strike can do just as much harm to this country as a general strike. A general strike is a spectacular thing which is probably over in a short time and is rather in the nature of a prize fight, whereas a coal strike is more in the nature of a poison administered to an individual and, if you can only make it last long enough, you can, industrially, wreck the country where it takes place.
§ What we ought all to realise is that the present coal strike is not a purely industrial struggle. This is a strike which has been promoted to a certain extent by men who are avowed Communists, and it is therefore largely political in its tendency. The object of these men is perfectly well known. It is to wreck private industry and to bring about an industrial collapse in this country with a view to paving the way for the so-called social revolution. It is obviously this feature which has attracted the Soviet Government. In the Soviet Government, just as in the Labour Party here, there are, I understand, moderate men, but the moderate men seldom get their way. When crises like these arise it is obvious that the extreme people have got their way, and it is probable that their moderate colleagues strongly disapprove of what they do.
It seems to me perfectly futile and idle for the Soviet Government to try to shelter themselves under one of their numerous aliases. This dodge of pretending that the money comes from some nominally independent organisation was tried on in 1924 and thoroughly exposed by no less a person than Mr. Ramsay MacDonald. Mr. Ramsay MacDonald may also be quoted with advantage in another connection in this matter. In April, 1924, he expressed these unimpeachable sentiments:—
The first essential of friendly and profitable relations between ourselves and the Soviet Union was that the Union should desist from countenancing directly or indirectly anything that smacks of an attempt to carry on among the people of this country, either at home or abroad, a propaganda which, when internally inspired, may be legitimate, but when controlled or even financed from abroad is not legitimate.
Nobody could express sounder sentiments than that and I only wish I could hear him expressing them at the present moment. But so far as I know he has
not said anything of the kind up to now. He has, however, not only refused to distinguish between one bogus organisation and another, but he has condemned the financial expenditure of the Soviet Government here.
§ That this money should have been sent here by the direction and with the consent of the Soviet Government on behalf of what His Majesty's Government term "an illegal and unconstitutional act"—namely, the General Strike—really constitutes a flagrant interference in our domestic affairs, and in that connection one cannot help wondering what would have occurred if we had done something of the same kind ourselves. I know very well what would have occurred because I can cite a case which is within my own knowledge. About a year ago the refugee Russians in Paris organised an entertainment or dinner at which they collected a certain amount of money for the benefit of their friends residing in Leningrad who belonged to the former aristocracy and were in extremely poor circumstances. This money was sent to a, stockbroker in Leningrad with a list of the persons for whom it was intended. In all the large houses of Leningrad the Soviet. Government maintains a kind of committee which is a spy organisation to report what the inmates do. Unfortunately, the secret police, through these people, got hold of the list. Thereupon the man who received the money was arrested and all the persons to whom it should have been distributed were arrested also. They included old men and old women, with some of whose names I am acquainted. They were taken off to a political prison and all shot within twenty-four hours without any trial whatsoever. That is the way in which the Soviet Government deals with money which comes into their country and of which they disapprove.
§ Here may I say, parenthetically but not I think irrelevantly, that if anybody feels any latent admiration for Bolshevism in the abstract the best cure for it is to go to Leningrad and see it in operation, just as it was once rather unkindly remarked by a celebrated writer that the cure for any undue admiration of this House was to go and listen to its debates on certain occasions. Why should we be surprised at the Soviet Government sending money into this country for the purpose of fomenting trouble? The Soviet Govern- 465 ment have always been perfectly straightforward in this matter. They have always proclaimed to the world that they look on this country as their natural enemy and the enemy which had to be overcome before they could succeed in their plans. Their hostility has been persistent and not directed at one Government of one Party. It has been directed against each Government in turn, the Coalition Government, the Conservative Government, the Labour Government, and now again against the Conservative Government. This attitude has not only been persistent but it has been one-sided. So far as I know, we have done nothing to injure these people since hostilities ceased in Russia.
§ We have not irritated them, so far as I know, in any way. What we have done is to endeavour vainly to conciliate them. It seems to me one of those cases in which conciliation is perfectly hopeless. You might as well talk of conciliating an octopus or a crocodile. There is nothing to be gained by it. I should like to ask any impartial, person what advantage we have gained over other people by recognising them. The American Government have never done so and yet the position of Americans in Soviet Russia is infinitely better than our own. It is no wonder that, when these futile results are apparent, many people are losing patience and clamouring for the breaking off of relations, with these people and the dismissal of their agents in this country. I do not feel competent to express an opinion on that particular point. In any case my opinion would be of very little value to anybody. What we are here for this afternoon is to ascertain the views of the Government and I venture to advance the opinion that the time has come when, without causing unnecessary trouble, His Majesty's Government might well take us into their confidence and inform us generally of the line of policy which they intend to pursue.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (TEE EARL OF BALFOUR)
My Lords, my noble friend who has just sat down made an appeal to the Government to delay no longer before making some statement on the subject which he has brought to our attention, and he has a perfect right to make that appeal for he himself courteously deferred, at least once, putting the Question to the Government with which I rise at the present 466 moment to deal. In most of the positive statements made by my noble friend I am in complete agreement. We ought to look at this question in a broad spirit, not dealing with small technicalities or losing ourselves in all the mysteries of the Russian Constitution. I need not remind your Lordships, especially after the speech of my noble friend, that the Russian Government is really a complex of a great many institutions, all representing a single Party—for only one Party is permitted in Russia—all acting under one inspiration, all one when something has to be done, only dividing up into their multiple units when excuses have to be made. That is not a very easy Constitution to deal with dialectically and I think I should be entirely wasting your Lordships' time if I were to endeavour to give an account of which of the many institutions by which under one system of unified tyranny Russia is controlled—if I were to attempt to elucidate the inter-relation between the various elements in that Government. It is unnecessary, it leads to nothing except empty debate.
The broad fact is, as my noble friend has stated and as I have endeavoured to re-state it, that in dealing with these various units of the Russian Government, by whatever name they are known, you are dealing with a highly organised and centralised unity which pursues persistently one consistent and avowed policy, and under whichever name and by whatever nominal authority a particular action is carried out the inspiring genius behind it all is this single, inflexible and remorseless organisation. That I believe to be a not unfair account. I do not believe it would be denied by one member of the Soviet Government. I rather think that, though they may dislike the spirit in which I have announced it, they would not dispute the accuracy of the speech in which my noble friend brought it to your Lordships' attention and on which I have myself ventured to say a word.
I do not think that the state of things which I have endeavoured to describe is a subject on which we have the least right to make representations to the Russian Government or to deal practically in any manner whatever so long as the 467 Soviet system is applied to the country which gave it birth. Russia has an absolute right to rule itself according to its own views. It had a perfect right to manage its own affairs under the Tsarist system and it has a perfect right to manage its own affairs under the Soviet system. We only come in when the system of government which they have adopted, and which they have a perfect right to adopt, is avowedly used for purposes which go far beyond the Russian frontier; and your Lordships must remember, what you are all well acquainted with, that the very essence of the Russian system is that it goes beyond Russian borders.
The boast of the Soviet Government is that they desire a world revolution. It is not the wellbeing of the Russian people which they pursue—in the main not very successfully, so far as I am able to judge what is the condition of Russia at this moment—it is not the condition of the Russian people which they want to ameliorate, it is the condition of every other part of the world which they want to destroy. They not only have avowedly and explicitly made this announcement to all the world, to all who desire to hear it, but they have paid us the special compliment of announcing to their own people and to anybody else outside their borders who cares to listen to them that one of the great obstacles which stand between them and this world revolution is the country to which we belong. They regard the British system as the very citadel of the system which they think it their, duty to destroy and they never have made any secret of it. Their orators, their writers, their Press, the whole machinery of organisation from newspapers to loud-speakers, is all directed towards propagating this general view of the mission of Russia in regard to the world at large. and the mission of Russia in particular as regards this country, this, country being taken to represent in its most ideal form all the evils which they think themselves born to put an end
These are matters of common knowledge, and as they are matters of common knowledge I see no reason why they should not be mentioned publicly in debate in your Lordships' House or any place where British citizens are collected together. There is here no matter really for controversy at all. A great deal of controversy takes place in this country 468 as to particular actions of the Soviet Government. Excuses and explanations and all sorts of mitigating circumstances are alleged with regard to particular incidents, but on the broad issue which I have laid before your Lordships I do not believe there is any difference of opinion. I even venture to think that it would receive approval as regards its facts from the Russian Government themselves. These being the general circumstances under which events have taken place, that representing the general atmosphere, the background of all that has happened during the General Strike and during the coal strike, what are we to say about the action of the Russian Government in regard to these contributions?
There seems to be no doubt, there is no doubt, that they endeavoured to contribute, that at any rate certain organisations in Russia endeavoured to contribute, to the General Strike and subsequently to the coal strike. It is alleged that these were the spontaneous contributions of enthusiastic workers in Russia in aid of their fellow-workers in this country. I do not propose to argue that point at all. I think what my noble friend has pointed out to your Lordships is quite true, that the amount of the money contributed, the number of contributors, the amount of the wages of the contributors—in other words, the amount of the fund out of which contributions were made—would afford a strong presumption that the large amount, £400,000 or £500,000, which is in question was not paid by the workers but was contributed by the Government. I do not myself think that very material. At all events, I believe your Lordships will agree with me that in all probability through some of the organisations—I do not say the Soviet. organisation, I say "some of the organisations"—of the Central Government of Russia, machinery was put in motion which in some way or another, no doubt partly by direct contributions of the workers, probably also as I am inclined to think—it is only a personal opinion—from other sources over which this central authority had control, the money was provided.
And with what object? The avowed object was, of course, to help the strike. The ulterior object was a quite plainly avowed desire to produce a revolution in this country. The revolution was to have 469 an industrial origin. It was to be based on the ruin of the industry and the organised economic system under which we have lived and flourished. That was the avowed object of the leading spirits who have dealt with this matter in Russia. You have only to read extracts from the Russian Press at the time of the General Strike and now at the later stage of the coal strike to see what it was that they were aiming at arid by what means they desired to obtain it. We draw the great distinction, based upon law, that the General Strike was of a wholly different character from the coal strike, as from a legal point of view it undoubtedly was. One was a wholly illegal effort, while the other falls within the ambit of our industrial system, where it is permitted to the employed to strike and to the employers to lock out and to settle their differences in that somewhat barbarous but apparently, as yet, inevitable fashion.
§ LORD OLIVIER
If I might interrupt the noble Earl for a moment, may I ask to what strike he is referring?
§ LORD OLIVIER
I apprehend that he is referring to the condition of things in the coal industry which arises from notices given by the employers.
§ THE EARL OF BALFOUR
I differ with the noble Lord, but I do not see that the point touches my argument. I do not agree with his facts, but what I was pointing out was that the coal dispute, whether it is a lock-out or a strike, was an industrial quarrel carried on under legal conditions, while the General Strike was in itself inherently illegal. That is the way in which we look at it here, but of course it is not the way in which the Soviet Government look at it. They look at the two strikes as being merely two forms of the same weapon for carrying out the same object—namely, the destruction of British industry. The one, if it had succeeded, would have been rapid, complete, effectual, and, as I think, irremediable. That broke down 470 amid the lamentations upon lamentations of the organs of Russian opinion. But, the General Strike having broken down, they consoled themselves with the thought that the coal strike was still going on and that, though in a less effective and less complete fashion, it might materially contribute to the same great end—namely, the ruin of England.
They are quite indifferent to our legal distinctions; and in one sense, of course, they are right. In one sense a strike—or, to please the noble Lord opposite, I will say a trade dispute—which cuts at the very root of an essential industry of the country might ultimately have the effects, though it differed from it legally, of a general strike. I think my noble friend was quite right there. He made that observation, and I think it is a true one. I think you can imagine a trade dispute in some vital and national industry which would have the effect of as speedily destroying that national industry as the more direct, more sensational and more dramatic methods which were attempted in the General Strike. That, no doubt, is the point of view from which the Soviet Government look both at the coal strike and at the General Strike.
Your Lordships will have noticed that, so far, I have been in entire agreement with my noble friend who asked this Question and introduced it in the able speech to which we have listened this afternoon. He seemed to draw from it the conclusion that, since the Soviet Government had taken the action which I have described to carry out the ends to which I have drawn attention, we should do well to break off all relations.
§ THE EARL OF BALFOUR
I beg my noble friend's pardon. It is quite true that lie carefully guarded himself from expressing an explicit opinion, but I rather thought—I dare say that I was wrong—that his inclinations were in that direction, and I am quite aware that it is in that direction that a large number of gentleman with whom I completely agree upon general principles would like to move.
§ THE EARL OF BALFOUR
I do not doubt that. But I think that they have not sufficiently realised that, after all, there are many things to be considered. America was referred to by my noble friend. America has never had relations with the Soviet Government, he said, and yet how well America gets on with the Soviet Government! I think there may be truth in that observation; I have not sufficient knowledge to give an assured opinion upon it. It is quite true that America has never had relations with the Soviet Government, but it is one thing not to have relations and quite another thing to break off relations which you have. I am not at all sure that we ought ever to have gone into relations with Russia. That, I think, is a doubtful point, and it is certainly an arguable point; but observe that there is a great difference between breaking off relations and not entering into them, because the first of those two operations produces disturbances which may go far beyond the confines either of Russia or of this country. The whole of the industrial, financial and economic world, on this side of the Atlantic at all events, is in a most sensitive and embarrassed condition. Nobody can doubt that it is a condition under which it will be the height of rashness, except for a really serious gain, to introduce a new disturbing element. We have, Heaven knows, disturbances sufficiently great already. Look where you will, at the condition of what country you will on this side of the Atlantic, and you will feel that the last course which any responsible statesman would like to take is one which, without adequate object, will add a new source of disturbance to this over-disturbed world.
What are you going to gain by breaking off relations as so many of my friends desire? It is very dubious whether you would be effectively able to prevent funds being brought into this country. I should like to ask financial experts, if any are present, what they think of that matter, but I want to remind the House that all these contributions from foreign sources to the coal strike are going to have no effect upon the result of the coal strike—no important effect. The money, I understand, is to be distributed to the women and children of the strikers. Out of public funds at this moment we contribute to support the women and 472 children of the strikers incomparably more than you are getting or are ever going to get from any foreign source of contribution. The £480,000 which we are told to be the sum which has been brought over sinks into insignificance beside the funds which, as I have already said, are contributed by local authorities for the purpose of diminishing the hardships of the wives and children.
May I say in this connection that I cannot imagine, while we are talking of diminishing the suffering of the women and children of the coal miners, why we hear so very little of the women and children who suffer indirectly from the coal strike. Their husbands and fathers are in no sense responsible for the sufferings which they undergo, but—I dare say that something is being done—I have never heard any loud appeals on their behalf, and certainly of no contributions from Soviet resources to the innocent victims of those trades which are brought to an end by this unhappy quarrel between employers and employed in the coal trade. Yet far more do I pity them and they more than anybody else deserve the sympathy and assistance which the liberality of the philanthropist may desire to bestow. Therefore I think that from the point of view of the actual coal strike it is very easy to exaggerate the effect which would be produced by stopping these funds, even if you can stop them, and even if more funds are to come, of which I have considerable doubt.
I had an argument which I wanted to lay before your Lordships in this connection, but it has escaped me for the moment. There is, however, one point connected with the subject on which I was occupied—namely, the subscriptions to this fund, which I think is worth the consideration of the recipients of the £480,000 in this country. Either that money comes from the Soviet Government as a direct interference by the Soviet Government with our affairs, or, as the other side maintain, it is a contribution by workers in Russia, moved by the sufferings of their fellow-workers in Great Britain, who have spontaneously out of their resources done what they could to alleviate the distress of the miners in this country. If it is the first, how can any loyal Englishman accept it? If this be, as most of us think it is, a direct attempt on the part of the Soviet Government to inflict such injury upon 473 British industry as may produce a condition of unemployment, of industrial unrest and discontent, as will bring nearer the day for which they long, namely, the day in which we are to be reduced to the level which they have attained; if that is the object, I cannot conceive that there is a citizen of this country who would not imitate the action taken by the trade unions in this country of refusing the gift.
If we are to take the other alternative, if these really are contributions from men who, I suppose, do not receive more than 12s. per week on the average, to men whose wages range, I suppose, between 45s. and 75s.—if that is the state of things, to what level are we reduced? We are told that we are endeavouring to lower the standard of living in this country. The people whose standard of living we are most falsely accused of desiring to lower have wages many times the amount of those who, from abroad, are contributing. Why is not this money used to raise the standard of living in Russia? There is no explanation of that, except that it is not to raise the standard of living in any part of the world that the Soviet Government are out for. They are out for universal revolution. Once adopt that theory, and the whole of their policy becomes plain and obvious. What about the policy of those who direct the action of the miners in this country? Are they out for general revolution?
§ THE EARL OF BALFOUR
There may be, here and there, men who are out fur revolution, but I am convinced that the mass of the miners in this country, as of all citizens in this country, are really fundamentally opposed to that method of operation, and would be horrified if they thought that the result of their action would be that they were to be reduced to the condition in which the Russian worker finds himself, whether from an industrial or a political point of view. Neither their welfare nor their freedom would he promoted by action like that, and I am very much surprised that a comparison between his lot and that of his brother operative or brother miner in the Near East has never occurred to the British miner as a reason why, if monetary assistance is to flow from one to the other, 474 it should not flow from the richer to the poorer instead of from the much poorer to the much richer.
I have attempted quite plainly and explicitly to state my views, which I hope and believe are the views of many of your Lordships, upon the actual naked facts of the situation. I do not know how the situation will develop, but I cannot see what would be gained at the present by breaking off relations with Russia. That carries with it obvious dangers. Does it carry with it any obvious advantages? If it does, I fail to see them. I think that at all events until the situation develops in the manner in which I earnestly hope it will not develop, we should go on diplomatically as we are going on now. Nothing is gained by these formal gestures which show that we greatly disapprove of people whose actions we cannot in any way control. It is an operation which carries with it no substantial advantages. It may give you the excitement at the moment of some effective proceeding, but it is utterly ineffective, it leads to nothing good, and unquestionably, if I may repeat myself, I do think the condition of the world, the condition at least of the European world, at tins moment requires us to walk in all these international matters with a very cautious tread.
Therefore, until it can be shown that some clear advantage is obtained by an alteration of our formal relations with Russia, I am in favour of leaving things as they are, having quite explicitly explained to anybody who cares to listen to our explanations that we are not dupes of Russian policy, having made it perfectly clear that we know what they desire, why they desire it, how they intend to aim at it, by what means they intend to attain it. On our part, we are confident that, with this nation behind us, with its traditions, its common sense, its love of law, its power of seeing to the essentials of a question through all the mists of arguments by which it may be surrounded, we have nothing to fear from the contrivances and intrigues of any nation under Heaven. I do not know whether my noble friend will be satisfied with my answer, but I have endeavoured without disguise to explain to him and to your Lordships the manner in which I venture to survey the subject.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, apart from some of the rhetorical portions of the noble Earl's speech we on this side of the House are entirely in accord with him on the principles and policies which he has laid down. For instance, we entirely agree with his refusal to be carried away by the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, who asked this Question. The noble Earl states, I think with perfect accuracy, that there would be great dangers, both political and economic, in breaking off relations with the Soviet Republic. If I understand aright, the Government are not likely to adopt, however much they may be pressed, a fatal policy of that kind—because I think it would be a fatal policy. I want also to say how profoundly I agree with the noble Earl on another point. I do not think that the sound outlook of all classes of people in this country on questions of law, orderliness, and industrial life is in the least likely to be affected by any attitude which may be adopted by the Russian Soviet Government.
Let me take what the noble Earl said, because it struck me as a matter for considerable satisfaction, besides being of considerable importance, coming from one who has the authority, influence and experience which he possesses. He says that the love of law which influences all classes of this country is such that we need not fear any contamination from Soviet intrigues or interference. I entirely agree with that. From other speakers, not only in this House but elsewhere, speakers far less well equipped in knowledge of facts and general experience, than he is, we have heard again and again that unless we take special precautions, unless we do what we can to dissociate ourselves from Russian intercourse there is a great risk that the Communist spirit in this country, which is a very small thing at the present time, may be aroused. The noble Earl, with all his experience, pas aside such a suggestion, and I think most rightly.
Of course, we cannot break off relations between this country and Russia at the present time. As he knows very well—probablyno one knows better—it would be most unwise in present conditions, and worse than unwise in its immediate or ultimate effect on the industrial conditions in this country. I think it was one of the best acts of the Foreign Minister 476 of the Labour Party when he recognised the Soviet Government as a step towards more intimate and friendly relations with ourselves. I do not want to put him on a pedestal, but I think that he was one of the great Foreign Ministers who has ably represented the interests of this country at the Foreign Office in recent times, and his action on that occasion was all to his credit, being prompted by his desire to promote what the noble Earl himself would desire above all things, a general spirit of peace and reconciliation in Europe.
Assuming for the moment—it is a matter into which I do not intend to go, because it does not seem to me to be very relevant to what we are discussing—all the evils which the noble Earl has attributed to the Russian Soviet Government and to Russian aspirations, I should say without any hesitation that far the best way of putting an end to the conditions which the noble Earl deplores would be by bringing Russia back into the comity of civilised nations in order that they and she might consult on common matters in a friendly spirit.
As regards the industrial side the statistics, which I believe are accurately published from month to month, show that the volume of trade between this country and Russia has been, most fortunately, rapidly increasing in recent times, and, at any rate for the last six months, at a higher ratio. Everyone also knows that the trade of America with Russia and the trade of Germany with Russia is increasing by what I may call leaps and bounds. It would be midsummer madness to cut off our huge industrial working class population, hard put to it to-day to obtain employment, from the employment which would certainly come from opening a wider and larger intercourse between ourselves and Russia. I noted what the noble Earl said and I only quote it again because I agree with it so thoroughly. The advantages of not breaking with Russia are obvious, and the disadvantages—I am only quoting in substance—on the other side of breaking with Russia are equally obvious. And why should we? Let us consider how the matter stands at the present moment.
May I, incidentally, say one word to the noble Earl, because it will give him an opportunity of assisting women and children of which, I hope, he will avail 477 himself. Some years ago I was instrumental, with other persons, in starting what is known as the "Save the Children Fund." it had no reference whatever to miners. The other day I was glad to notice that a memorandum was issued under the name of the Duke of Atholl, who is the head of that excellent institution which has done so much to help women and children in all parts of Europe. The memorandum was an appeal for funds to support this work on the footing that the assistance might be given to those who are suffering from the miners' strike yet who are not themselves the wives or children of working miners. With knowledge of a large number of the efforts that have been made under the present terrible conditions—they are very terrible indeed in some places and cannot be exaggerated—I say that people are giving, and have given primarily no doubt to the miners' children and wives (who want the money most), but they have not by any means limited the application of their charitable gifts to that class alone. I hope when the noble Earl is turning this matter over again in his mind he will apply to the Duke of Atholl, who will give him ample opportunity of assisting the wives and children who may be in great misery owing to the conditions arising from the present strike.
There is one other circumstance that want to bring to the noble Earl's mind. I do riot want to bring it forward Os a matter of political prejudice, but to ask him if he will kindly consider it. I dare say he has seen the estimate of the way in which trade unions—not the miners only—in obtained the funds which, in time first instance, they sent over to the T.U.C. for the General Strike. When that money was sent back they sent over assistance to the miners in this country. I might also refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Newton, said. He said that the objection he took was not to the assistance of the industrial strike, but to one which is now past history—assistance to what was called the general, but which I call the sympathetic strike. There, of course, he is quite right. It is impossible to say that any Government which allows its trade union members to send assistance to a trade union in another country is in any way indulging in a policy that can be called, in an international sense, unfriendly. It has been clone over and over 478 again during the last fifty years to show international solidarity between the workers in various countries.
Let me give the statistics as regards whence the funds come. The calculation was made in this way. I am not giving my own calculation, but the calculation of Dogadoff, who is the head of the Trades Union Presidium, as they call it, in Russia. He said that the average wage in Russia of a trade unionist is 4s. 8d. a day. That does not really include all that the trade unionist gets, for there are incidental payments made to the Russian worker. What the trade unionists generally in Russia decided was to give a third of one day's work towards the assistance of the miners in this country. What does that come to? That is 1s. 2d. As the number of trade unionists in Russia is from 7,000,000 to 8,000,000—I have not the exact figure here, but I can supply it if the noble Earl desires—that works out at, not the figure stated by the noble Lord but the one which I think is accurate, the figure of about £350,000. That is the sum which the trade unionists of Russia indicated they have drawn from their own resources, not from, the Government, which has nothing to do with it.
§ LORD NEWTON
Will the noble Lord excuse me if I interrupt him? According to the figures there are only 1,800,000 industrial trade unionists employed at the present moment in Russia.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My figures differ and I have got them from the best sources I can. I have given the calculation which Dogadoff himself has given and he is the head of the Presidium of the Russian Trade Unions. I admit, of course, that it is difficult in these cases to get absolutely accurate figures, but the figures I have ascertained answer the suggestion that the noble Earl made that these sums of money could not be obtained from the working men in Russia but must have come from the Soviet Government itself. My figures also answer, if I may say so, a proposition made in the course of the noble Earl's speech. It was a proposition which, as I understood it, was this. Any one who received those funds could only receive them, not with gratification but with a sense of shame. He put it in this way: either the money must come from the Soviet Republic, from the Government 479 itself—he stated his reasons why it should not be accepted under those conditions, and I am not going back into that—or it must come from the poor working classes in Russia who were worse off than similar working classes in this country. The statistics I have show that the average pay is 4s. 8d. a day and that if you add the allowances they come to from one-third to one-half more. They have contributed one-third of one day's work and not more than that, although the co-operative societies and other bodies in Russia have themselves contributed considerable sums, quite outside what has come from trade union sources.
§ LORD PARMOOR
The source of my information is a Russian paper and it is the best information you can get. I will put it a little higher than that. It is information that has been sent by Dogadoff, who is the Russian representative in these matters, to the trade unionists in this country in explanation of the source from which the funds came. Now let me come to another matter. I am not concerned to-day to go into the general question of all the evils which are attached to the Russian Government and the Russian people. It struck me as the most unfortunate part of the noble Earl's speech, when he was saying that we must not break off with Russia but must continue our friendly relationship, that he stirred up all the antagonisms to which he appealed in the feeling of Russia towards this country. That is what we desire to palliate in every way if we are to have intimate relations with them. I will only say this to him, that I do not intend to go into these admittedly acutely controversial matters with which he dealt in his references to the Russian Government and the Russian people.
§ LORD PARMOOR
We are one of those foreign countries and that is the reason why I want to abstain from anything which in my view would stir up, as between us and Russia, any undue antagonism or any unduly hostile spirit. I ardently hope that there may be a more 480 friendly spirit on both sides. I agree with him that it is of the utmost importance, not only to the relations of Russia and ourselves, but to the whole outlook and the future peace and prosperity of Europe.
Let me come a little closer to the point in which he gave his answer adversely to the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Newton. I have here, in The Times of this morning, the British Note to the Soviet Government on this particular question:—The following is the text of the British Note to the Soviet Government as issued by the Foreign Office last night:—I suppose one may assume that an extract of that kind, taken from The Times, is accurate. What do we find?His Majesty's Government regret that they cannot pass over in silence"—What?the action of the Soviet Government in specially permitting the transfer to Great Britain of the funds destined for the support of the general strike.That is the whole basis of the objection taken. There is nothing said about the industrial strike. In fact, I agree with what Lord Newton said, that neither through the Foreign Office nor in any other way has this country taken any objection to the funds sent in connection with the industrial strike.
What is it that the Foreign Office said? Is this really the true basis of the objections on which we have the eloquent speech of the noble Earl opposite?The general strike was an illegal and unconstitutional act constituting a serious threat to established order"—I shall not go into that question, I know what the noble Earl's view is; mine is not the same—and the special action taken by the Soviet Commissariat in its favour does not conduce to the friendly settlement which the Soviet Government profess to desire of the questions outstanding between the two countries.The only objection taken there is not that the money came from the Soviet Government—that is not suggested—but that the Soviet Government allowed the money to pass out of Russia into this country. That is the sole objection taken and I want to know what Government is there in Russia or elsewhere that could be asked to interfere in a matter of that kind. If a gift was sent from France no objection would be taken.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
Does the noble Lord really think that the case of Russia is comparable to that of France? Is his argument that the Russian Government would allow a. large sum of money to be sent out unless it was with their privity or approval?
§ LORD PARMOOR
I do not agree with a word of what the noble Earl said and I intend to pursue my course and finish my speech. I say this on information that I have received. The matter came in the ordinary way through Lloyds Bank. Whether it is the Soviet Government or any one else, whether it is money coming from any other country as regards industrial matters—I am not dealing with the other matter at the moment—is that a reason for breaking off relations? Nobody but the most prejudiced individual who cannot even use the word "Russia" or "Soviet" without being alarmed and disturbed and in a spirit of fear and trembling, nobody who was not in that position and whose mind was not distorted as regards Russia—I do not use the word offensively—would say that a matter of that kind was any reason for breaking off the present relations between Russia and this country. It is not an unfriendly act, it is an act which has been done again and again.
I agree that if we broke off with Russia altogether different considerations might arise. That is what the noble Earl will not allow, and quite rightly. As long as Russia is recognised by us as a de facto Government, with whom we are in ordinary diplomatic relations, we have got to look at these matters apart from prejudice and see what would be the ordinary diplomatic procedure on a question of this kind. I have taken up some time on this matter but I do feel strongly that the noble Earl is right there. I am sorry if sometimes I have seemed a little aggressive in what I have said. It was unintentional. I believe the noble Earl is wholly right. It would be the greatest possible disadvantage and misfortune to this country to break off industrial and political relations with Russia at the present time. In what Russia has done, to which attention has been called by the Foreign Office, there is nothing which necessitates any such breaking off of the relations between the two countries, nor can it be said to 482 amount to an unfriendly act towards this country. I entirely agree with the conclusions which the noble Earl has stated.
§ LORD EMMOTT
My Lords, I came down to the House with no intention at all of speaking on this question, but as I have in the past taken so much interest in Russia I should like to speak for a few minutes. I want to express my profound relief at the line taken by the noble Earl in his reply on behalf of the Government. I can imagine what the pressure is that has been put upon the Government by some of its supporters in regard to this question of Russia. I agree that the original question whether Russia should be recognised was a very doubtful thing at the time. I did not oppose it, but I never was able to feel very enthusiastic about it. But it would be obviously an entirely different thing now to break off relations and there are one or two reasons other than those given by the noble Earl opposite that I should like to mention in favour of that view.
May I say that I have listened with considerable interest to the various figures that we have had from both sides of the House? My noble friend Lord Newton spoke of there being only 1,800,000 trade unionists in Russia. I do not know whether that figure is right or wrong, but I have heard the figure of industrial workers given as something like 8,000,000. I do not know whether they were all trade unionists or whether they were not trade unionists. I imagine they have to be trade unionists there now. It is a question of compulsion. That figure was reduced to something like 5,000,000 when there was a great trek to the country in the earlier part of the Revolution. A great many of those people have returned now from the country, but what the actual figure of employed industrialists is to-day I really do not know. In fact, I venture to complain that we are extraordinarily short of information about Russia.
The noble Earl opposite spoke of the wages of miners in Russia being 12s. a week. In the House of Commons quite recently Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister gave the figure greatly to my surprise as from 25s. to 27s. per week and when he was challenged by somebody as to where he got that figure he replied that it came 483 from Soviet sources, from our own Commission in Russia, and from either the Labour Department at Geneva or the Labour Ministry in this country. I wish we could get to know the facts about this. I am told that the Chevronetz rouble is very different from the Moscow rouble, that the Moscow rouble is worth a great deal more and that real wages in Russia are much less than the 25s. stated by the Minister in the House of Commons recently. I really wish we could have more information on that point, but I must not detain your Lordships with these subsidiary matters.
I heard the speech of the noble Earl with great relief because of the conclusion he announced on the part of His Majesty's Government. I know the extraordinary difficulty of dealing with another nation whose views are so fundamentally different in regard to economic and social questions, and even to moral questions. We in this country have adopted a policy of non-interference, I am glad to say, in regard to other countries, largely because by bitter experience we have found that to be much the best plan, but the view of the Soviet Government is undoubtedly as stated by the noble Earl: they desire that every country should have not only a revolution, but they believe it must be a sanguinary revolution, in order to change from top to bottom their economic régime. Some societies certainly exist in Russia in order to stir up such revolutions in other countries. I think there can be no question about that.
At the same time, the Soviet Government, while retaining the name of Communist, has ceased to be Communist for all practical purposes. Every main tenet of Communism is given up in Russia to-day. They have dropped the workers committees that managed industrial undertakings. That was one of their earliest experiments, and it went within the first few months. They have dropped the attempt to divide the products of industry equally and they have had to go back to the system of tempting experts by paying them much higher salaries and wages because without them they were inefficient, and they make great use of the system of payment by results which is adopted from the bourgeois régime. Private enterprise has been allowed to raise its head again. Most important of all, the peasants have got possession of their land and they will retain 484 possession of their land. They certainly will maintain private enterprise and so there is to-day in Russia a great deal of private enterprise.
In regard to money, I remember well that some years ago, in an interview with M. Krassin, I asked him about the value of the rouble and I asked him, in regard to some figures I put before him, whether they were correct or not. He said he had no reason to doubt that they were correct, but he said: "We do not want money, we want to get rid of money, and we want to get to a state of barter." He said in regard to the exchange: "It matters enormously in regard to Germany. I expect Germany to follow Russia because of the fall in exchange." It is curious how that prophecy has not been justified. But the main point, of course, to which the Soviet Government adheres is that of the nationalisation of the great industries. Private enterprise is only allowed to some extent in regard to the smaller industries. They retain control of the greater industries and they retain complete control of foreign trade, so that you have this condition: you have private enterprise applying to eighty or ninety per cent. of the people, the peasants, a certain amount of private enterprise in the smaller industries, and nationalisation of the greater industries. It is in these conditions, after recognition of the Russian Government by His Majesty's Government of the day, that very large contracts have been entered into by traders in this country with Russia.
What is to be the future of Russia? I wonder who knows. I think it is as likely as not—for I hear no probability of the present Government being upset—that by degrees economic conditions there will more and more approach the conditions of private enterprise as they exist in other countries. I do not make any prophecy, but I should myself expect an evolutionary development rather than a revolutionary development. I think that evolution must be in the direction of allowing greater scope to private enterprise and getting further and further away from either Communism or nationalisation. In these circumstances I cannot help thinking that it is the greater wisdom to leave such a country as far as possible alone and not to interfere with or unnecessarily exacerbate the Government of that country. That is one ground 485 on which I strongly welcome the announcement made by the noble Earl. There is another ground and that is in regard to people who have entered into contracts. It would raise a very awkward situation if there was a sudden break in our present relations with Russia. On these grounds, therefore, I welcome the statement male by the noble Earl and I am profoundly thankful that His Majesty's Government have come to that conclusion.
THE EARL OF MAYO
My Lords, before I proceed with what I have to say I should like to take some notice of what the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, said with regard to the Note of the Government. That Note dealt with the action of the Soviet Government with regard to the General Strike. It is interesting to see how the Labour Party took it. I have here the Daily Herald of June 14. I find, under the heading "Cabinet's Action Condemned," the following summary:Strong protests against the British Government's Note to Moscow have already been made on behalf of the Labour movement by the acting secretary of the T.U.C. General Council and by the Chairman of the Labour Party Executive.The Note itself (our Diplomatic Correspondent reveals) in no way supports Sir William Joynson-Hicks' statement that the Russian Government sent money to this country for the purposes of the strike.It is, in effect, a complaint that the Soviet Government did not prevent the Russian Trade Unions from sending money to the British Trade Union Congress.I think that this has been pretty well proved. Russian money undoubtedly came into this country, and I say without fear of contradiction that it was sent to bolster up the strike. That cannot be denied. For some time the daily newspapers have been full of this subject, notably, the Daily Mail. I have no interest in the shares of the Daily Mail or anything of that sort, but it has been hammering at this subject until at last we have this debate in your Lordships' House. I agree with every word that the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, has said about the matter.
Before I proceed further I should like to point out—my noble friend has kindly allowed me to say this—that Lord Newton said that he did not know enough about the matter to express an opinion on the breaking off of relations with Russia. Of 486 course we cannot break off relations with Russia. We know that perfectly well. But I should like to tell noble Lords opposite that Communists, dangerous men, come freely into this country with money in hand. They preach Communism and bribe agitators to preach Communism and, as I have said before, they gave money to bolster up the strike. On Saturday, June 12, the Prime Minister, speaking at Hardenhuish Park, near Chippenham, used these words, as reported in The Times of June 14:—I want to see our British Labour movement free from alien and foreign heresy. I want to see it pursued and developed on English lines, laid by English men.And he went on to say, speaking of the British Labour movement:—I regret to see it as it has been described, the imitator of various Continental groups. The Labour Party, it has been said, has rejected Moscow, but it has tied itself to Hamburg. The Trade Union Congress has fought shy of the Red International, but surrendered itself to Amsterdam, where it plays second fiddle to Germany's lead.That, I am afraid, is a fact.
I should like to give your Lordships my own experiences of the effect of the coal strike on the women and children who, as my noble friend Lord Balfour said, suffer indirectly from its effects. Let me take first an industrial instance. There is sold in certain shops in London a sort of cheap china that is called in the trade "best seconds." I had occasion to get some of it for my shooting box. The dealer said, "My Lord, you have come just in time, because you will not get any more." I asked why, and he told me—this was ten days ago—that in five weeks' time the whole of the Potteries would be closed down for want of coal. You must remember that all the "Five Towns" are well inland. If they were on the seaboard it would be a different matter, but they cannot get coal except by lorry. Let me give another instance of the way in which women and children suffer indirectly from this strike which is bolstered up by the Labour Party. I have been in the country lately, trying to catch some trout. My breakfast this morning was cooked with German coal. You and I can buy German coal or a load of logs, but the bumble poor in those out of the way districts cannot buy them, and they suffer accordingly. I do not see why they should suffer. 487 Why should they suffer because the coal strike is kept up by money that is said to be contributed for the women and children of this country? You should hear them speaking about it. It would do some of the noble Lords opposite a great deal of good if they could hear the remarks that are made with regard to the coal strike. My noble friend Lord Parmoor—I hope that he is my noble friend—ought to take to heart what I have said. He knows just as well as I do the rural districts of England.
It is no use mincing matters. It is no use giving us these figures. We are not going to break off relations with Russia because, as Lord Emmott quite rightly said, there is trade with Russia, and there was trade with Russia, as I have told your Lordships before, a week or two after the Armistice. I know a man who made a great deal of money by sending a ship there to get Russian produce. I have called your Lordships' attention to a disgraceful state of affairs which ought not to continue. I must say that I was heartened by what the Prime Minister said at Hardenhuish Park, Chippenham, and also in another place on June 15, when, speaking of reorganisation and legislation, he said—I am quoting from column 2153 of the OFFICIAL REPORT: —We have in preparation a Bill, which we hope to introduce in a few days, …Your Lordships know what the Bill is. The Government sitting below me know it as well as possible. How was that received by the Labour Party. Here is Daily Herald of to-day: "Premier's Proposals Impossible: Not an Olive Branch but a Sword Unsheathed: Labour to fight every inch of the way on Longer Hours Bill." Do noble Lords on the other side of the House agree with that?
THE EARL OF MAYO
The Daily Herald continues:The miners emphatically reject the Government's latest proposals, announced by Mr. Baldwin in the Commons on Tuesday. Quick confirmation of Mr. Cook's condemnation of the proposals came yesterday from the coalfields, and it is evident, 488 as Mr. Joseph Jones, a Yorkshire leader, declared, that the miners' resistance has been stiffened by the Premier's speech.The real truth of it is that they are going to oppose it tooth and nail. Is that likely to help matters in any way? I do not know what noble Lords opposite want. I suppose they want the nationalisation of the mines, but I do not think they are going to get it. Their policy at present leads to anarchy. If any one has lived under anarchy, as I have, he will know that it is very disagreeable. I will not say anything more about it, but I do not think that anybody in this country realises what it is. I am not going to trouble your Lordships any longer, except to say this: If your Lordships' House for one afternoon could forget all Party spirit and ask the Government to deal with these sneaking Communists, who go about with wickedness in their heads and ready money in their hands—they are living in this country, they go everywhere, they come from other lands and from the Near East—the Government have the power, the will and the money, and they could act. The Government have a large majority in both Houses of Parliament, and if they act they will have with them, with very few exceptions, every man, woman and child, including the tramp on the road and the gipsy lass in the caravan.