§ THE LORDARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY rose to call attention to the present situation as to the oppression of religion in Russia; and to move for Papers. The most rev. Primate said: My Lords, I wish to fulfil this afternoon an undertaking which I gave in this House to make some inquiry into the actual facts, so far as they can be ascertained, about the present position of the oppression of religion in Russia. The matter is one which has so deeply touched the public conscience, and aroused the public feeling, that it seemed only right that some such inquiry should be made and its results should be stated. It is a matter so grave that it ought to be kept outside our Party controversies. It has been, it is, and will be my resolute intention so to keep it, and I hope that that will be the desire of any who take part in any discussion which may follow what I have to say.
§ I can make no complaint that very little information has been given by the Government itself beyond the publication of the Decree of April 8, 1929, respecting religious associations, to which I shall refer shortly. I do indeed ask for Papers. It is possible that the Government may 1132 be able to give us some similar useful information, but I shall not be surprised if that is beyond their power. Indeed it seems to be impossible to expect any satisfactory report from our own Embassy in Moscow. Experience proves to us the uselessness of inquiries assisted by the Soviet Government, and to conduct inquiries apart from them would be obviously, from a diplomatic point of view, most difficult. Certainly I have reason to know that persons who were suspected of being in communication, or who were seen to be in communication with any representatives of our Embassy, would be placed in great embarrassment, if not danger. But after all, what can be told about Moscow and its neighbourhood is of little value in helping us to estimate what is happening in the vast territories of Russia.
§ I have done my best, my Lords, in the interests of truth. I have had the assistance of four responsible men—two of them closely acquainted with Russia, two of them accustomed as public men to weigh evidence. They have conducted most elaborate researches into the official Press in Russia and I am grateful beyond words for the assistance they have rendered. I have had a mass of independent information given to me from leading representatives of the Orthodox Church, of the Baptist community, of the Jews. I have read many reports from eye witnesses who have just returned from Russia. I have had private letters sent to me from different parts of that vast country. I have read apologies for the religious policy of the Soviet Government. I have tried so far as possible to sift and test. It is, of course, almost impossible to give names—frequently I shall have to disguise the names of places—but I think I may say that for every statement that I shall make I have full authority. I have kept to the limits of the last year so far as possible. I shall not rehearse any of the events of that awful time of civil war and of the Red Terror, and I have been careful not to use sources of information affected by admitted allegiance to the old Tsarist régime or active hostility to the existence of the Soviet Government.
§ My difficulty will be to select, and even so I fear that I may have to make considerable demands upon your Lordships' time. But I think I shall be able to prove that in Russia there is still deli- 1133 berate, systematic and persistent oppression of religion. At the outset I think it is necessary that we should have two general considerations before our minds. They seem to me necessary for understanding what is happening. The first is the system of government. It may be described as a pyramid. At its base are the local soviets or councils, supposed to be popularly elected, though the election is by open voting and large classes, as we shall see, are excluded from the franchise. It rises through an elaborate system of district, regional and provincial soviets with their executive committees up to the All Russia Soviet Council or Congress. Its Executive nominally at least elects—if I may give it its full title—the Council of the People's Commissars of the Russian Soviet Federation of Socialist Republics, which is known shortly as the Sovnarkom. That is technically the Government, but it is a Government only in name. It. controls administration but not policy. Policy is controlled by another and greater power—the Communist Party organisation.
§ Here the movement is not from the base to the apex, but from the apex to the base. At its head is the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Communist Party, with its Chief Secretary Stalin, who now occupies the place of the famous Lenin. That is the real Government. The Commissars, the Ministers, are its obedient instruments. As it moves downwards through all the soviets it is able to tighten its hold upon their executive committees and ultimately the whole system of government depends upon its will. Compared with 140,000,000 of the Russian people it is a small number. It is an oligarchy, but it is an oligarchy which wields almost absolute power. It has its own agents everywhere for strengthening its power and spreading its policy. There is, for example, the Comintern, only too well known to us for its activities throughout the world; there is the Union of Communist Youth, generally known as the Komsomol, for lads and girls under 23. These are the actors encouraged to take part in processions and in plays of what seem to us a most blasphemous nature, and they are always ready to send skirmishers to propagate the Communist faith in every part of Russia. Beneath them and feeding them are the Pioneers, the children, answering in many ways— 1134 yet how great is the difference—to our own Boy Snouts and Girl Guides, so that it is the case that from childhood onwards the young Communist is trained and encouraged not only to hold but to propagate the Communist faith.
§ Then there is perhaps the most powerful, the Union of Militant Godless, now numbering over 250,000 organised persons, the most effective agent for carrying out everywhere the anti-religious policy of the Government. All these are formally independent of the Government, so that the Government can at any moment disown connection with their acts, but, inasmuch as they are all encouraged, supported and controlled by the Executive of the Communist Party, and that Executive controls the whole machinery of government, it is really impossible to distinguish between these various activities and those of the Government itself. Each has its own Press, its own flying squadron of emissaries, its own congresses. Moreover, the Executive of the Communist Party has its own Army, distinct from the Red Army, Which it is able at any moment to dispatch when it is desired to promote greater liveliness in any part of the economic or anti-religious front.
§ Above all, in close association with the Executive, there is the sinister secret system of political police, only too familiar, alas! to Russia in every stage of its history, once the Cheka now generally known as the G.P.U., with its spy service penetrating every part of that vast country and watching, punishing, suppressing every counter-revolutionary movement by its own relentless methods. All are parts of one all-pervading machine which has in its grip the life of the people. Make the party which controls it and the policy for which it exists your own, and you share the exhilaration of wielding its power and bringing about its policies. All is well and you are in the light. But be for any reason suspect, and it will hold your life in fear, it will harass it, it will crush it. You are in the dark, beneath that shadow which lies heavy upon the life of millions in Russia.
In the second place you must have in mind the nature of the Communist ideal. It has been said that the average Russian is part savage, part mystic. Your Lordships may remember a cartoon in our valuable periodical, Punch, portraying a fierce and formidable savage declaring
that there can be no other God but himself. It is a most one-sided picture, for with and within the savage we must always see the idealist. You might even see a mystic. The aim which is professed by the Communist Party and passionately held is to create a new world. It must be a world so new that the old world must be destroyed, its mental as well as its economic structure must be removed, all the roots of the old world must be torn out; and the oldest and most stubborn of these roots is belief in God. It was described by Lunatcharsky, then Commissar of Public Education, as—
the repugnant spectre which has caused an evil so diabolical to the whole of humanity over the whole length of its history.
It is not enough to create a new economic system on the principles of Karl Marx. That system must be based upon the result of unflinching materialism, in which there is no place for this haunting spectre of God. Let me use the words of Lenin:—
It is the worst mistake to imagine that the great millions of the people can be liberated from their intellectual blindness and ignorance merely by the direct road of Marxist enlightenment. We must supply the masses with the most varied atheistic propaganda.
It is a charge that has been most abundantly fulfilled.
§ Freedom from belief in God, from any spiritual interpretation of the universe, is an essential part of the great emancipation of mankind through which the new world will come: this is the conviction which fires the imagination of the Communist and which inspires the Komsomol as it roams throughout Russia singing the song of emancipated youth. Faith in a new world, based upon materialistic science, is common enough even in our midst. By the Russian Communists it is held with passionate intensity. God, to many in these days, in view of this apparatus of materialist civilisation, is unnecessary; in Russia He is intolerable. This anti-religious propaganda is an essential part of the economic policy. They are bound up together. The religion of fanatical and dogmatic atheism cannot be separated from politics or economics. Conversely, the teaching of any Christian or even theistic religion must be regarded as a counter-revolutionary agency.1136
Judge of this from the Godless, the official and recognised organ of the Union of Militant Godless, of November 10 of last year. The religious teaching of certain people—and it is worth noticing that these are not Orthodox but Baptists—is thus described—
We, the preachers of the Gospel, must raise our voices to speak God's word of peace and brotherly love. We must declare to all who fight men and classes that all men are brothers, sons of their Heavenly Father.
This preaching is denounced as—
an active attack on Godlessness, Marxism and materialism, and that means a struggle against the Bolsheviks and against the Soviet authorities.
§ It is futile to ascribe this anti-God campaign, as some of the apologists of the system in this country do, merely to the resentment felt against the Orthodox Church because of its association with the Tsarist State. No one laments more than I do the episodes in the history of that great Communion associated with the time when its Holy Synod was a mere department of the State. It is well that that separation should have once and for all taken place. It was the only chance for the liberation of the Russian Church for its true mission, and I have no doubt that there must be—how could it be otherwise?—many angry and resentful memories in the minds of those who have suffered under that régime; and, of course, the Orthodox Church is the oldest and deepest influence in the soul of the Russian peasant, and therefore a special object of oppression. But the campaign, be it always remembered, is directed against every form of theistic religion. Church, Meeting House, Synagogue, Mosque, all alike are declared to be the enemies of social reconstruction. All alike are of their essence counter revolutionary agencies. It has been truly and rightly said that what has been witnessed for the last twelve years in Russia is a long struggle for the soul of the people. The pressure of the struggle may wax or wane, the severity may be turned off or on to meet the exigencies of the moment, but eradication of religion from the soul of the people remains an essential part of the policy of the great oligarchical power in Russia.
§ I have dwelt upon this because without understanding it we cannot understand what is happening. We must always 1137 have before our minds this ideal which so stirs the imagination of the ruling power in Russia—of a new world, of a new man to be its citizen, emancipated from the fear of God and of the doleful image of Christ, rejoicing in its own strength and in the promise which it gives of power, reckless of the cost by which it may be won. This is an ideal embraced with all the defiant faith of a fanatical religion.
§ There have been three main periods in this long struggle—from 1918 to 1923, from 1923 to 1928, and from the beginning of 1929 to the present time. I make no allusion this afternoon to the first of these periods. It was a time when revolution and civil war were being waged together, and history, alas! gives only too many instances of the wild passions which are let loose at such a time. There were excesses on both sides which were met with reprisals. It was an awful time. I do not wonder that the memories of it are burnt into the minds of those who were kindred to the more than eight thousand bishops, priests, nuns and other servants of the Church who were then done to death. So far as its worst atrocities are concerned it is past.
§ The second period, from 1923 to 1928, witnessed a slackening of these severities. It coincided with the introduction of the Lenin new economic policy, and your Lordships will always note how the pressure or relaxation of the anti-religious and social policy always go together. It was also a time when the State made the experiment of creating, in rivalry to the Orthodox Communion, a church of its own. It was called the Living Church, but it was a short-lived experiment and very soon proved to be a failure. What is more remarkable is that it is the time when the much-tried Metropolitan Tikhon made his submission to the Soviet Government, considering that it was useless for the Church to refuse to recognise the reality of the de facto State. This submission was continued by his successor in 1927, Sergius, the present Metropolitan.
§ Perhaps I ought at this moment to make a digression to refer to the statement some time ago published in his name, denying the reality of any persecution or oppression of religion in Russia. I have no doubt that the 1138 questionnaire submitted to the Metropolitan was so carefully framed that it was possible for him to make a conscientious answer, but no one knows what ha4ppened to his answers or under what pressure they were made. Remembering, as I have reason to do, the pressure exerted upon his predecessor Tikhon, and the threats to himself or others which were brought against him, I have grave doubts about the genuineness of that document. I should like to know whether the members of the G.P.U. were present when it was drawn up. Certainly the language which was used, I am assured by those who know best the mind and character of the Metropolitan—especially the references to his Holiness the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury—would never have been used by him. The voice is the voice of Jacob but the hand is the hand of Esau.
§ At the same time it must be remembered and borne in mind that the acting head of the Orthodox Communion is, not in active hostility to the Soviet Government, and for a time that fact had its weight. I ought also to say that it is a point which ought to be kept in mind, that this submission of the Metropolitan to the de facto Government brought an additional problem to the harassed Russian Church. A considerable section of its members renounced their allegiance to the Metropolitan for this reason, and have inaugurated what is really a schism among Russians outside Europe, and in the choice of information it is always well to distinguish what comes from the more intransigent sources.
§ By the end of 1928 and the beginning of 1929 the third and present period of the struggle began. It was marked by a renewed intensity of the anti-religious propaganda. Lunatcharsky, to whom I have already referred, said truly that religion is like a nail. If you hit it on the head it only goes deeper into the wood. So for the time the policy of hitting religion on the head was mitigated; but there was a very widespread effort to uproot religion itself. The Union of Militant Godless met in Congress and announced a programme, to be completed within three years, to eradicate religion. The chief front selected was the schools, which of course are in the hands of the State. In March, 1929, the Ministry of Education drew up a detailed plan for the anti-religious 1139 teaching in the schools, to cover four years, and every effort was made, so we are told by the official Press, to see that the teachers were absolutely godless. In May of last year the Teachers' Gazette announced that the Ministry of Education had ordered all Departments of Public Education to select qualified persons as inspectors of anti-religious propaganda. Then there came the systematising of all the scattered and very confused regulations in the Decree of April 8, 1929, which has been published as a White Paper by His Majesty's Government.
§ I do not know how far your Lordships have been able to read that document, but I expect that if you have you may have been surprised by its comparative mildness. But you must remember what lies behind it. I do not dwell upon the separation of Church and State already achieved. I have said that I think that was good for the religion of Russia. But you must remember that all property of every kind has already been confiscated from religious persons. By Article 69 of the Constitution of the Soviet Union in May, 1925, all servants of religious cults are deprived of the franchise, and remember, that means not only priests, preachers, monks, and the like, but all lay persons who are anyway connected with the worship and life of a religious association, regardless of whether they receive pay for their services or not.
§ Again, I would ask you to note this. Since March, 1929, when the system of food tickets was inaugurated, by which in many cases you can alone receive a ration of daily food, the disfranchised are excluded from their benefit. In many cases it is almost impossible for the disfranchised to get house-room in the new municipalised buildings. The regulations themselves are most skilfully contrived so as to destroy the corporate life of any church. The permitted religious associations, you will notice, are only local. If any church desires a council or congress, it may have it under certain conditions, but it can own no property, it can collect no funds, it can, therefore, have no kind of effective organisation. These local associations themselves have no juridical rights, they are entirely subject to the goodwill of the local soviets, and these, we know, are only too liable to pressure from the Communist Party. Their regis- 1140 tration is necessary, and the local soviet has the right to exclude any individual from membership. The use of their buildings is precarious. It may be terminated if they are wanted for greater public uses, if they are demanded by What is alleged to be the popular demand, or if they are in conspicuous need of repair. Let me give as a mere instance of what lies behind these regulations what happened recently in Leningrad. The Jewish community was informed that their synagogue was in need of repair. The authorities, in order to meet the demand, asked for funds from their members in order that the repairs might be done. These authorities were immediately imprisoned, some of them men over seventy, and the synagogue was turned into what is called a "culture house."
Perhaps the most significant article is No. 17, to which I would invite your attention:
Religious associations may not …. (b) give material assistance to their members; (c) organise for children, young people, and women special prayer or other meetings, or, generally, meetings, groups, circles or departments for biblical or literary study, sewing, working or the teaching of religion, etc., or organise excursions, children's playgrounds, public libraries, or reading rooms, or organise sanatoria and medical assistance.
In other words, all the charitable work which is built round an association is prohibited, and it is impossible for its members to teach their own children, except in their own homes, or possibly with the admission of not more than three from the outside. Against that intensified anti-religious propaganda in the schools which I have already described, how difficult it must be for those who desire to teach their children in the home any kind of religion to succeed when immediately it is subject to ridicule in the schools which they attend.
§ Let me give one or two instances, because I think these instances bring the thing home more clearly than figures or quotations. A school not very far from Moscow. The children are all writing their answers to a questionnaire. "Do you believe in God? Are your parents believers? Do you pray?" A little girl of twelve was observed by an eye-witness, from whom I have an account, to be writing "No." The eye-witness was surprised, because the child was known to be 1141 the child of believing parents. "Why are you writing this?" said the eyewitness. "Because if I don't, teacher will see it, and when the next cleaning of the school comes"—that means ridding it of undesirable pupils— "I shall be removed." Another school. A poor hungry child was asked: "Are you hungry?" There can only be one answer—Yes. "Then ask your God for bread." The child was made to pray. No bread came. A picture of Lenin was produced. "Now ask Lenin"; and immediately a portion of bread was put in the child's hands.
§ So far for this Decree. I have no time to go into it in any detail. The effect of it, of course, is that freedom is allowed only for attendance at acts of worship in such places as may be permitted. Everything else is subject to the most rigorous control. And here, let me note, is the answer to what is said by visitors who return, particularly from Moscow or even Leningrad. They tell us that they see the churches crowded, that they hear these wonderfully moving choral liturgies which are the glory of the Russian Church. That is true. Of course, religion still has its hold upon multitudes of people in Russia. Of course, these churches are the more crowded because the other churches have been closed. Nay, more, I will admit that specially favoured individuals, sometimes workmen in much-needed factories, are even permitted to build new places of worship of their own. But you must see behind all that the background out of which it comes—the corporate life of the Church maimed, if not destroyed, the worship subject to these harassing restrictions, dependent upon the good will of the local soviets. When you realise that you will feel that this Decree contains even more oppression than permission.
§ Now I think I must go on to deal with the question of the closing of churches, monasteries and places of worship, to which so much attention, has been called. I will confine myself to the last two years. It is almost impossible to get accurate statistics. One return, compiled with some care, gives, for 1928, 359 churches closed, seventy-eight monasteries, fifty-seven synagogues, thirty-eight mosques. The process is still going on. The Soviet Press claims hundreds closed in 1929. And evidently 1142 very little heed is paid even to the measure of permission which is given in the Decree of April 8, 1929. Very often it is alleged that the population consent. Usually that is after a visit from some active Communists. Very often the Closing of the churches is resisted. I have read numbers of instances in which the resistance has led even to local riots. I am satisfied that throughout Russia the process is still going on, and there is sufficient evidence of this in the recent call to moderation by Stalin, to which, if there is time, I may call attention later on. But I will not weary you with statistics, taken from the Russian Press.
§ Let me again try to bring home all that this harassing and unrest means in a Russian village. Listen to a conversation in a village co-operative store—which is the centre where the peasants resort. A peasant says to the manager (I have it from one who was present): "Have they closed down the church in the village where your father-in-law lives?" "They have, and old Father Alexieff died last week." "How is that? He seemed to be well." "Will, the doctor said his heart broke. You see, he was more than thirty years in that church and then they came and told him to clear out and close the church." Suddenly a boy of fourteen, who had come in to buy paraffin, exclaimed: "All that is nonsense. We do not want any churches. There is no God, anyway. The priests are all counter-revolutionaries. Teacher said so the other day in school." Then a woman in a corner, addressing no one in particular, said quietly: "That is the way they are growing up now. They do not want any church. The priests are all counter-revolutionaries and there is no God. What will they do when they grow old? "What, indeed?
§ What about actual instances of cruelty and persecution? I have no wish in any way to exaggerate. I keep within last year. I say nothing about what happened in the time of the Red Terror. I have deliberately used the word "oppression" rather than "persecution" in my Motion; but beyond doubt still in Russia professors of religion of every sort are suffering injustice of trial and severity of sentence which would be intolerable in any civilised country. Accurate information, again, is extraordinarily 1143 difficult. We have to depend upon reports in the Soviet Press and these reports are obviously carefully selected. We have no accounts of what is done by the G.P.U. I have received reports of twenty cases from the official Press. Many of them are connected with disturbances in the villages due to the provocation very often of exceptional taxation or requisitions which the priests particularly have been asked to pay. They are all tried at the local tribunals which, of course, are subject to all kinds of local pressure and by the local elected judges. No discrimination is made as to degrees of guilt. All kinds of religions are regarded prima facie as evidence of counter-revolutionary tendencies. I will only give your Lordships two typical instances and, of course, I must conceal the names. Two priests are arrested in a village for failure to give up their surplus of corn. A local tradesman, a nun, and the wife of a kulak, that is a more wealthy peasant, lead a demonstration of protest against what they regard as the unjust treatment of their priests. The two priests and the tradesman are sentenced to be shot, the nun to seven years imprisonment in strict isolation, and the wife of the kulak to five years imprisonment.
§ Take another case of a small and, apparently, harmless monastic community. Two preachers are declared to be socially dangerous and parasitical. Two priests are declared to have preached cunningly masked counter-revolutionary sermons—I have already indicated what that means. As a result of the evidence of these social dangers five of the community are sentenced to be shot. In the twenty cases which I read from the Soviet Press, of which these are samples, 71 persons were sentenced to be shot and 112 to imprisonment from two to ten years. I am satisfied that that process has gone on in a degree far beyond what can be gathered even from the Soviet Press, and all accounts testify to the brooding terror which overhangs all profession of religion.
§ Let me, as shortly as I can, make plain that this is not due merely to dislike of the Orthodox Church. It applies equally to Roman Catholics, to the Baptists and to the Jews. As to the Baptists, I have received very full information from the Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance. 1144 It is the same story. Their pastors and lay-officers are disfranchised, refused food tickets and subjected to special taxation. They, too, are forbidden to teach their children except in the house. They are forbidden to print or to circulate their Bibles. Their meeting-houses are being largely closed. I am told that the arrests of Baptists and other Evangelical Christians in 1929 extended to hundreds, mostly by administrative action without trial. The school for their preachers which existed up to March, 1929, was closed by the mere imprisonment of the teachers. For them also there is a racking anxiety of nerves.
§ I turn to the Jews, about whom I have received full information from the Chief Rabbi. They, too, axe under the same disabilities, extending even to those who, according to ritual requirements, slaughter their animals. They are disfranchised and disqualified from receiving food tickets or house room. The publication of any literature in the Hebrew language is forbidden. Recently two old men of over seventy were sent to prison for teaching some Jewish children, and in one place 200 Jewish children were put in prison for a fortnight because they declined to betray the names or whereabouts of their teachers. In spite of the Decree of April 8, there is a general closing of the synagogues. Out of 1,400 in the Ukraine, by the end of last year 506 had been converted into clubs, factories, cinemas and atheistical centres. There is a peculiar vigour of persecution against the Zionist, because they are described as agents of British Imperialism. Many of them have been imprisoned and sent to camps in the White Sea, even boys and girls of sixteen or seventeen.
I will not weary your Lordships further with these figures. I would rather ask you to listen to a cry from the heart of oppressed Russia. It conies in a letter sent to me by an exile from his niece, the daughter of simple peasants, in a remote village in Russia. I wish I could read the whole of it. It is to me a picture most convincing, because of its simplicity and its spontaneity, of the mingled social and religious oppression under which so many of the peasants are suffering. Let a few words make their own appeal to our hearts. I think it is strange that
the letter of that remote Russian peasant girl should reach your Lordships' House in London to-day:—
If you only knew, our life is only moaning, tears and sighing. Happy those who died before and do not see the ignominy, the desolation, and the persecution of us peasants … We are terrified. They do not let us live. We tremble like a leaf in autumn and life has lost for us all its charm.
I have almost done. I have to apologise for the length of time which I have detained your Lordships. Even so I have only used fragments of the mass of information which has been put at my disposal. I have tried not to exaggerate and to keep strictly to the present situation. But I submit there can be no question as to the rigour, the persistence and the cruelty of the oppression of religion in Russia at the present time.
As I close I have to ask the question which must be in all your minds: Well then, what is to be done? That is a question which is far more naturally asked than easily answered. But I note this sudden call to moderation which, in the middle of last month, came from Stalin, the head of the chief Executive of the Communist Party:
The Executive Committee consider it necessary to take note of the absolutely indefensible departure from Party policy in the struggle against religious prejudices. We refer to the administrative closing of churches without the consent of the overwhelming majority of local populations. Such action usually leads to the strengthening of religious prejudices.
Plainly, my Lords, if the hounds are called off, it must be because they have been more active in pursuing their prey even than their master thought to be permissible. To what is this sudden moderation due? No doubt it is partly a question of expediency. It cannot be severed from its association with a similar call to moderation in the driving of peasants into collectivist farms, and no doubt means that the Government is apprehensive lest this double pressure upon the peasants, religious and social, may affect the spring sowing and the food supply, or the export of grain. Yet I cannot forbear from noting that it is at least significant that these orders were issued on the eve of that week of prayer which was observed throughout Christendom.
§ Is it the sign of some effect, even in the detachment of the Soviet Govern- 1146 ment, of the public opinion of the world? I would take it in its most favourable light. If it means that there is some disposition to listen to what the world thinks, then I would ask our own Government if they cannot press the opening door. It is not for me to describe the difficulties of our own Government. They may take it from me that I most fully recognise them. I have no wish in any way to embarrass them. I know that men like the Prime Minister and Mr. Henderson, and the noble and learned Lord who will follow me (Lord Parmoor) detest oppression of religion and would most willingly abate it. They may have made some representations. I do not suppose this afternoon they can give us much information on the point, but sooner or later some representations must, I think, be made. I am not discussing, I am not even questioning, the advantage, even for those that we wish to help, of having a representative of our own in Moscow, and a representative of the Soviet Government in London, but advantages carry with them special responsibilities. We cannot go on indefinitely merely scraping some facilities for trade, and paying no heed to these offences against the common order of civilisation. That would be like bartering for a mess of pottage the birthright of those principles for which this country has always desired to stand among the nations of the world.
§ Time was, as our relations with the Ottoman Government in the last century showed, when we were able to make some observance of those principles a condition of any alliance. True, there was at that time—as the late Lord Salisbury remarked, in words to which the noble and learned Lord (Lord Parmoor) has more than once called our attention—in the background the application of force. That is no longer possible. The idea that the criticism of the antireligious policy of the Soviet Government implies any sort of threat of war is, of course, a grotesque and calculated exercise of the Soviet imagination. But the world will be a poor place if the pressure of public opinion among nations has no influence comparable to what was once exercised by the influence of force. Sooner or later our own Government must convey to the Soviet Government that if relations are to be diplomatically satis- 1147 factory they must pay some heed to the public opinion of this country, which in this matter I believe to be singularly clear and united. It is for them to decide at what time, in what way, within what limits, such representations should be made.
§ But I would close by venturing to make, with whatever hope of result, a direct appeal to the Soviet Government itself. They have their representative here in London, and he may know what is said here and now. Is it impossible for them to extend these belated signs of a moderating policy? I venture to indicate some special directions in which that moderation might well take place without upsetting their whole scheme of policy and economics. Firstly, let them no longer discriminate between servants of religious cults and other citizens with regard to civil rights, food cards—I specially stress that—housing accommodation, and educational facilities. Secondly, will they not interpret the new five days' week so as to enable believers to observe Sundays and religious festivals of special obligation? Thirdly, will they not be willing to allow believers to print and circulate Bibles and books for religious instruction? Fourthly, will they not remove the restrictions upon the group teaching of the children of believers? Fifthly, might they not release some or the servants of cults and communities who have been languishing in prisons in the Arctic regions? Sixthly, might they not cease the general closing of churches, or see that at least they are carried out in accordance with the Decree of April 8? Possibly His Majesty's Government may be able to bring such points before the notice of their representative. These, at least, would be welcome signs of some change of spirit.
§ We cannot expect, we cannot even ask, the Soviet Government to change its attitude towards religion, for that attitude is its own religion, but we have a right to ask that in pursuing it they would pay some heed to the claims of justice. In spite of their creed of worldwide revolution, they show some desire to be on friendly terms with other countries. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot be in friendly relations and flout the principles upon which the comity of civilised nations rests. Let them he assured that the new world which they 1148 desire to build will have no security, external or internal, unless it has among its foundations the elementary principles of liberty and justice. It is for them either to ignore or to pay heed to this word of protest and appeal. At least I trust that your Lordships will deem it fitting that such a word should have been spoken to-day in this House of the British Parliament.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (LORD PARMOOR)
My Lords, I am sure we have all heard with much emotion and with deep respect the very weighty and touching speech of the most rev. Primate. To a very great extent we shall all agree with him, and certainly there will be no dissentient voice from the present Government. At the same time when he traces, as he has traced with such care of statistics, the gross mechanical tyranny of the present Soviet Government in Russia, he cannot expect the Government, and I think he cannot expect the members of this House, to accept as accurate the whole picture and story as he has told it to us of the conditions in Russia during the last twelve years. He gave us what I may call special statistics of the last two years and a general history over a period of twelve years. At the same time, he has warned us himself that accuracy is not possible. No one who listened to him can have failed to be impressed by his evident desire to give the most accurate account possible, but accuracy at the present time is beyond the scope of any individual or any Government. I shall have to put before your Lordships—not in a spirit of opposition to the most rev. Primate—an accurate, though shortened, account of what is the view of the present Government having regard to their opportunities, such as they are, of obtaining information through the Soviet Republic.
The most rev. Primate, going back over the history of the Russian people in the revolutionary period and since, began by a statement of the conditions as they were during the civil war and the revolution in Leningrad. He used an expression which I think is well applicable to that period, the Red Terror, because during that period I think the conditions were not only tyrannous and un-Christian, but really were a terror, as such revolutionary periods often are, to the whole civilised world. There was a period 1149 second to that which I think he did not emphasise but passed over—that was what I will call the famine time. The famine time in Russia was a time of great stress and misery. I happen to have special information about what was passing then in the famine areas. Although the most rev. Primate did not specially refer to this matter, there was then considerable friction between what I would call, comprehensively, religion in Russia and the Russian Government. It arose because the Russian Government felt that in order to alleviate one of the most terrible famines in history they would have to confiscate, as they did at that time, a very considerable amount of religious property. I do not care whether I use the word religion or church because I mean the same thing. Then after the famine time, until, I think, the beginning of the 1928 period, we heard little of this religious persecution in Russia. I do not for a moment desire either to question or to attempt to diminish the weight of the evidence which the most rev. Primate has given us, but over that period of years, roughly from 1924 to 1928, we heard little in this country and little from other European countries, of the religious persecution which has been depicted in such telling terms in the speech of the most rev. Primate.
Then we come to the beginning of the last period—that is the last year and a half. I have no doubt whatever that during that period there has been a terrible amount of what we should call, and properly call, religious persecution; but there is one light on the horizon which has been indicated by the most rev. Primate himself. It is not for me to say or to suggest to what influence the improvement is clue, but I am glad that he has recognised the improvement and that he is aware that it is going on at the present time. I am not prepared to dissent from his view that the prayers of the civilised world may have had an influence in regard to these better conditions. But whatever the cause may be, or however the improved conditions have been brought about, I am glad that the most rev. Primate acknowledges—as he would, of course, and as we must all acknowledge—that there is some improvement at any rate on the horizon at the present moment.
I do not think that I should attempt to take up your Lordships' time by any 1150 close analysis of the historical survey which the most rev. Primate has given us. I do not question—I am not in a position to question, nor do I desire to question—the statistics which he has brought forward. Of course, there may be a greater emphasis here or there, there may be a difference of view as to the proper lessons to be learned from this or that particular factor. But I am not here to deny, nor would the present Government deny, nor I think would past Governments deny, that for twelve years this religious tyranny has gone on and that for ten years this system of mechanised tyranny—I think that was the expression used by the most rev. Primate—has gone on. The only wonder to me is that there has not been a greater amount of information provided from inside to all of us who are interested outside in bringing forward what ameliorating action we can contrive. It seems to me that the real matter we have to consider here is the matter referred to in the concluding part of the most rev. Primate's speech.
So far as the principle of this question is concerned, there is no difference of opinion. We must all of us realise the strength and truth of what the most rev. Primate has told us, and I have twice in this House expressed the opinion of His Majesty's Government, which I believe is the opinion held throughout our country. Our desire is that so far as we can obtain it there should be complete liberty of conscience and complete liberty of religious practice, and that that should prevail not only, I may say, in the Soviet Union but in every country in the world. We know perfectly well that, owing to the depth of feeling that religious questions involve, the history of Christianity has not been free from the vice of persecution. But that only brings home to us that we, who are what I may call the advanced people of the world in desiring freedom and toleration, ought to do all we can under present conditions to alleviate and change the spirit and practice of government which now prevails in the Soviet Republic of Russia. I say in answer to the most rev. Primate that, in the words of our spokesman in another place, which I have quoted before in this House and which I quote again in order that there may be no doubt or difference of opinion— 1151His Majesty's Government will, when possible or compatible with the interests of those affected, use all its influence in support of the cause of religious liberty and the freedom of religious practice.A question was asked me the other day which arises here: At what point would it be possible to use influence in support of the cause of religious liberty which is calculated to ensure freedom of religious practice? So far as there is a difference between any of us in reference to this Russian question, it is not to dispute in any sense the history or the facts which the most rev. Primate has brought before us, but to consider how and when we can possibly use such influence as we have in order to mitigate these horrors and bring about a different state of feeling throughout Russia. I notice that the most rev. Primate (and I thank him for what he said) realised that the diplomatic relationship was almost an essential element—I think he said it was an essential element—in order to promote that form of communication which might enable us at the right time to influence the course of this religious persecution in Russia.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
If the noble and learned Lord will excuse me, I did not say I thought it was essential. I said it might be an advantage.
§ LORD PARMOOR
It might be of great advantage. In a matter of this kind anything that might be of advantage to palliate the evils to which the most rev. Primate has called attention is not lightly to be laid on one side. At any rate the present Government have no intention whatever, unless the conditions attached to the recognition of Russia are infringed, of severing diplomatic relations or weakening the opportunity that may be afforded through that relationship of influencing these conditions in Russia. I hope that I am correct in re-stating the position that was referred to by the most rev. Primate.
1152 There is another matter that I hope we shall bear in mind. I do not think that the most rev. Primate dwelt upon this point quite to the same extent, but I am sure that when his speech is read it will strike those who read it as one of the most important statements that he made. He said that the remedy for this state of things in Russia could never come from force. Force has been too often tried as a remedy for religious persecution. My reading of history is that it has never succeeded, and I go further and say that it never could succeed, because the use of force for such a purpose is inconsistent with the primary principles of the teaching of Christ Himself. If we come to those two conclusions, the question is: What can we do? It is not an easy question to answer. The most rev. Primate tells us to do what we can in the way of influence. Well, of course, that would be done; but I cannot hold out, so far as I know, any hope of immediate change, although I am glad to say that some change has been going on, as the most rev. Primate has pointed out. In the meantime, the terrors of this movement still undoubtedly prevail in Russia, though I believe, on the information which has been supplied to me, that they are less terrible now than they have been at any time during the last ten years.
I think the most rev. Primate analysed quite accurately the motives and objectives of the Soviet Government. Their doctrine is that all religious belief is an anti-social force, retarding the full development of men and women, and this idea is well expressed in Lenin's words on the walls of Moscow:—Religion is the opiate of the people.That is their motive and their belief and, so long as it is their motive and belief, we must restrain somewhat our judgment of the measure of the evil which we see before us, in the hope at least that this motive, which is at the bottom of their anti-religious campaign, may itself be modified and altered. The anti-clerical and anti-religious movement is bound up with the Soviet mentality. No doubt it is part—I think the most rev. Primate noted this—of the reaction against the Tsarist rule of which the Orthodox Church is regarded (as no doubt it was) as having been an instrument. Just as we should not expect the Orthodox Church in 1153 Russia to give support to an anti-religious Government, so it is not unnatural that the Soviet Government regards the Church as a nucleus of opposition. That is the political side, and it is a very potent factor in the position in Russia.
I have summarised very shortly that which the most rev. Primate has said and the light in which I would represent the history of Russia in recent years. I have no wish to palliate or minimise the revolutionary period. There is no question that in the early days of the Revolution large numbers of religious persons were sacrificed and persecuted. A notice has been brought to me—it came from the United Press and was lately published—showing that during a period of twelve years—I am quoting from that notice—in Moscow a hundred churches out of 1,500 were turned to other uses, or demolished. I do not ask your Lordships to accept those figures, because I have not been able to verify those statistics, but I think it is an illustration showing how difficult, under these circumstances, anything like real accuracy is. Then, passing to between 1924 and 1929, there is no doubt that a painful and steady pressure is still continuing. Whenever there is intensification of the Soviet Campaign, whenever pressure can be increased against those not wholly identified with the Soviet movement, then the Church primarily suffers. So do the kulaks, who represent the richer peasants. The regulations are enforced more strictly on those occasions, and infringements are punished with increased severity.
Before I pass again, quite shortly, to try and indicate what we can do, let me add what the Primate has said as to the estimate of the present position. He has dealt with propaganda. There is a continued pressure by propagandism against all forms of religion. I do not refer merely to posters or to propaganda of that character, but to processions and every other form of demonstration. But Russia is not the only country in which anti-clerical feeling has taken a form which we would regard both as regrettable and offensive. Then as regards legislation and administration, I refer rather to the steady pressure, administrative and legislative, by which the Soviet Government seek to obtain what they conceive to be the public good. There are two passages in the Constitution to 1154 which the most rev. Primate referred, and on which I should like to say one word. The Constitution of July 10, 1918, contains the passage—With the aim of securing to the workers true freedom of conscience the Church should he separated from the State and the school from the Church, and freedom of religious and anti-religious propaganda is granted to all citizens.So far as the legislative enactment is concerned it could hardly go further. The most rev. Primate himself was not averse, having regard to the conditions in Russia, from the separation of Church and State, and as regards the separation of the schools from the Church, lamentable as it is, there have been in other countries than Russia considerable and acute differences of opinion as to the right of the State or of the parents in directing the religious education of the children.
Then I will read another extract, in order that your Lordships may note the difference between the Constitution of 1918 and the Constitution as revised by the Act of May 19, 1929. That is the last revision I know of, and the last revision to which the most rev. Primate referred. These are the words:—In order to secure to the workers true liberty of conscience the Church is separated from the State and the school from the Church"—so far the legislation in 1929 corresponds with that of 1918—and liberty of religious belief and of anti-religious propaganda is recognised as the right of all citizens.Your Lordships will notice that liberty of religious, as distinguished from anti-religious, propaganda, which is made a basic principle in the earlier Constitution, is not repeated in 1929.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
May I intervene to point out that that is vital to the whole position? Up to that change in the Constitution freedom of religious propaganda was secured as much as freedom of anti-religious propaganda. That has been withdrawn.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I think that is what I stated, but I am glad that the most rev. Primate has intervened. I was anxious to make that quite clean Therefore the later form is undoubtedly less satisfactory in that respect than the 1155 earlier form. No doubt, as regards the spoliation of the churches, to the Soviet authorities, unfortunately, a church has no special sanctity. Then, again, ministers of religion are deprived of the franchise, and of the privileges depending upon it; but I must add this, that so also is almost every class of the population which is not either actually in the service of the Government or employed in some literally productive work. I do not pretend to defend a system of that kind, but it is notable throughout that religion is largely attacked in Russia in the same way, and on the same terms, as other non-religious bodies which for one reason or another are not in favour of the Soviet régime and Soviet Government.
I will not refer again to the question of the schools, because I have already indicated what I consider the position to be. Let me say this—and I should like to ask any other speaker who intends to take part in this debate whether he finds fault with this—surely the attitude of any State towards education is purely the internal concern of each Government, and no representation on such an issue could be justified. We have had great differences of opinion upon that point in this country. We have used sometimes harsh terms one of the other. But I do not think any country would be firmer than we should be, whatever our policy might he, in insisting that such a matter was one for our internal consideration, and not a matter for bringing in the outside views of some other Government. Take the position in this country. Suppose the Soviet sought to instigate propaganda to place our education on the same basis as their own. It would be a gross interference. I am sure it would be an interference which we in this country would not stand for a moment, nor ought we to stand it, nor ought any self-governing State to stand it; it is one of those matters on which the Government itself must make up its mind and, having made up its mind, do its best for those for whom it is responsible.
To sum up, we all detest the systematic denial of religious tolerance. We all deplore the disabilities under which those who profess religious belief continue to suffer in Russia. But I doubt whether at the present time the violence of persecution in Russia makes it of the same 1156 character as that which was known in mediaeval times and of some of the worst persecutions of the Inquisition. What, then, should we do?—because, after all, that is the difficulty. So I come back to the question with which I started, and which the most rev. Primate asked me at the end of his speech. No outside Government could, I venture to say, rightly act in such a case unless two conditions were present, and they are very important conditions. First, it would need to have overwhelming accurate proof that great wrongs are being committed, wrongs so grave in their character and extent that they cease to be the concern of the country where they are committed, and become the concern of the whole civilised world. The principle that one country should not seek to interfere in the internal affairs of another is not a mere matter of diplomatic propriety, a convenient excuse for doing nothing when some other country rejects standard's which we ourselves consider right; it is an essential condition of possible relations of any kind between one Government and another. I may pause for a moment to say that some of us who condemn what is going on in Russia have stated in the strongest way our intention not to allow any interference from any such outside authority. And, as I have indicated, we have no such proof that wrongs are being suffered to the extent that I have indicated.
The second condition is that a Government should have good reason to hope that its action would really alleviate such wrongs, or at least not do more harm than good. It was on that point on a former occasion that I referred to a statement made by the late Lord Salisbury, to which the most rev. Primate alluded in passing to-day. I may add that any influence that one country may be able to exert upon another in a matter of this kind can only be exerted if friendly and correct relations are maintained, and not if they are severed. I think that is an essential feature. Your Lordships no doubt have yourselves seen the passages referred to by the most rev. Primate—reports in the Press about instructions issued by the Central Committee of the Communist Party—and I agree with what the most rev. Primate said with regard to the position of what he called the Communist organisation, to the effect that 1157 the anti-religious campaign should be modified. I think we should misjudge the position if we supposed that that represents any fundamental change in the position of the Soviet Government. If they discourage this or that form of Christian activity it is because they calculate that it is likely to impede, rather than to advance, the attainment of their Soviet goal.
Therefore, although, speaking on behalf of the Government, we desire through friendly relationships to do what we can to mitigate the evils to which the most rev. Primate has called our attention, yet at the same time I am bound to say that any influence which we intend to use with Russia must be most carefully safeguarded by the two conditions which I have suggested: firstly, accuracy of proof of overwhelming religious persecution; secondly, more certainty that, if we do intervene, we do not increase the very evil which our intervention would be intended to diminish. To my mind that is the greatest difficulty of all. When this matter was last before your Lordships and Lord Davidson was here, we both referred to the case of Tikhon, and I do not think we can do greater evil to a persecuted bishop, priest or layman than to intervene in a way which is in itself ineffectual, and which has its reaction in accentuating the tortures and terrors under which for the moment he is passing his life. I noted the special points to which the most rev. Primate called our attention. All I can say is that those points will have the most careful consideration of the Foreign Minister and the Foreign Office. It would be wrong of me to suggest that I saw a hope of immediate palliation, but I do desire to say that if the friendly relationship can be maintained there is at least a chance—a growing chance, as I think—of influencing the Soviet Government and the Russian people against the religious persecution which is now undoubtedly going on.
There is just one point in conclusion, and that is the request for Papers. After the Motion had been placed on the Paper by the most rev. Primate a letter was written by the noble Lord, Lord Charnwood—I do not know whether he is in his place at the moment—asking on his own account whether Papers could 1158 not be brought forward in order to deal with some of these great questions which have arisen. He was careful, of course, to say, as the most rev. Primate has been, that it would be impossible in a matter of this kind to give publicity to the communications between the Ambassador on the one side and the Foreign Office on the other. The intention of the Ambassador is to promote friendliness, to promote an atmosphere in which these questions can be dealt with, and if publicity were pressed that advantage would be lost. No one in your Lordships' House would think it desirable for a moment that documents of that kind should be laid, and they certainly cannot be laid in the present case.
The publications which I think might he laid, if the most rev. Primate desires it, are (1) the Decree of January 23, 1918, separating the Church from the State; (2) the relevant portions of the Constitution of the R.S.F.S.R. placing ministers of religion amongst the disfranchised classes; and (3) those portions of the civil and criminal code dealing with religion. I say in addition that if there are, outside of course of any Despatches which have passed between the Government and the Ambassador, any other Papers of a similar character and his Grace the Archbishop would give information to the Foreign Office of what it is that he desires should be published, they will give every consideration, certainly with the desire that everyone should have the information which his Grace thinks desirable, subject only—and in that I am glad to say he entirely agrees with the Government—to the impossibility of giving arty publicity to Despatches which have passed between the Ambassador and the British Government. I cannot, of course, speak again and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Charnwood, will consider what I have said. I know his desire and our only with is to do all we can to meet that desire in the way of publicity.
That is all I have to say. I am afraid I have been rather long, but after all this is a very great question. It is a very big matter with regard to what the future of Christianity in the world may be. I have no doubt of any sort or kind of the ultimate triumph of the great principles divinely taught in the Christian religion. In the meantime I 1159 would do all I could, and the Government would do all they could, to mitigate the troubles which at the present time oppress Christians in the Soviet Republic of Russia.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
My Lords, I will endeavour not to detain your Lordships very long, largely because I do not want to detract from the effect of the weighty and noble speech addressed to your Lordships by the most rev. Primate. I was particularly struck by one sentence in the early part of his speech that seems to me to be very largely an answer to the doubts of the noble and learned Lord opposite. "There is still," said the Archbishop, "deliberate, systematic and persistent oppression of religion." That is a statement made by the most rev. Primate in this House, from his position as Archbishop of our Church and as a Peer of Parliament, and he makes it after having thoroughly investigated the matter. He investigated it largely at the request of the noble and learned Lord who leads the House. On the last occasion when this matter was debated he specifically asked the most rev. Primate that he should make this investigation. That investigation has been made. Now, after the most rev. Primate has summed up the result of his investigation in those remarkable words, a "deliberate, systematic and persistent oppression of religion" is still going on, and the Leader of the House, speaking on behalf of the Government, is asked what can be done, he informs your Lordships that there are two conditions upon the fulfilment of which only can the Government move. The first is that there should be overwhelming and accurate proof that great wrongs are being committed. Does the noble and learned Lord say that there is no overwhelming proof in the speech of the Archbishop, or does he say that though it is overwhelming it is not accurate?
§ LORD PARMOOR
I do not think that the most rev. Primate himself would claim that in making the statement he was accurate in the sense that I have indicated. Of course, he was accurate in the sense that he gave us information, but that does not mean an accurate picture of what is going on in Russia.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
Surely, the noble and learned Lord does not mean to say that it is not an accurate picture? He told us in his own words that there has been a terrible amount of religious persecution since 1929, and the most rev. Primate has told us that it is still going on. I am prepared, and I think that we on this side would be prepared to accept absolutely the bona fides and the accurate and the overwhelming character of the investigation made by the most rev. Primate. We are entitled to ask, as he was entitled to ask and did ask His Majesty's Government, first whether they dispute it—I do not think the noble and learned Lord did dispute it—and, secondly, if they do not dispute it, what exactly they are going to do.
I entirely agree, for the purposes of this debate, with the statement made by the Leader of the House. He seemed, if I may say so, to put up two suggestions which were not made by the most rev. Primate, and which I am not going to make, and to knock them down. The first is that we should not revoke the present diplomatic representation between the two countries and the second is that we should not use force. Neither of those suggestions was made by the most rev. Primate. I want, if I can, to keep this debate on the religious lines upon which it has proceeded hitherto and not to import anything of a Party political character. On previous occasions I have made remarks in your Lordships' House on the question of representation. I shall not make them this afternoon. I want to take the main position which I think has been established by the most rev. Primate as to the condition of affairs in Russia to-day and to ask the Government what more information they want.
The Primate himself did not quote, as he might have done, a great many figures which have been extracted from the Russian Press. I want your Lordships to realise that the Russian Press is an official Press. The Izvestia and the Pravda, in printing statements concerning policy or as to the actions of the Russian Soviet Government, know perfectly well that they are a Department of the Government. At all events, in the absence of any further information which could be given and which has not been given by the Soviet Government, we are 1161 entitled to take the specific statements made in the official Press of Russia.
On the last occasion when I was not present, in February, the noble Lord quoted a letter by my friend Prebendary Gough to The Times, Prebendary Gough being Chairman of the Christian Protest Committee of which, jointly with my noble friend Lord Glasgow, I have the honour to be President. He was perfectly right. This is a non-political body. It is a religious body comprising all religions. Several members of the Episcopal Bench belong to it, including my friend the Bishop of London, and we have been most careful not to attempt to make political capital of this matter. We desire to put the facts before the conscience of the civilised and Christian world, nay of the theistic world—because the noble and learned Lord admitted that this was not a question merely of Christianity. It is all the theistic religions which are attempted to be destroyed by the action of the Soviet Government. May I give a few figures concerning what the most rev. Primate told us, taken directly from the Soviet newspapers? In the Pravda of December 29 it was announced that in the Southern Volga region twenty-eight villages had had their churches closed and the bells melted down. The Troud, which was referred to by the Leader of the House, stated that 287 churches out of 675 only are left open in Moscow. Those figures do not agree with the figures quoted from the United Press by the noble and learned. Lord opposite. But these are figures in an official Russian newspaper and they show that more than half the churches in Moscow have already been closed and that 542 churches were closed in Russia in 1928. In the first eight months of last year 579 were closed, and this year it is expected that a thousand will be closed at least. That is the statement from Moscow official newspapers. The same paper, on February 5 this year, stated that in the Ukraine between 1st October last year and 1st February this year, a period of four months, 202 churches were closed and converted into the offices of local soviet, schools and clubs.
I could go on giving a complete list which has been compiled with great care by the Protest Committee of churches closed throughout the Provinces of Russia. It is a distinct, definite and 1162 systematic attempt on the part of those responsible for the Government of Russia to stamp out—there is no other word for it—the open practice of the Christian religion, and, of course, of all religions. Not only does the most rev. Primate make that very responsible statement here, but a similar one was made by the Chief Rabbi in a letter to The Times, I think on February 13, only six weeks ago. He wrote:—What is trampled underfoot under Soviet rule to-day is conscience, religious liberty, and everything that is most divine in the human spirit.If the noble and learned Lord would refer to the letter of His Holiness the Pope, and the statement of Cardinal Bourne at a conference in this country, he will see that they are even more emphatic. The Church of Rome, with the great knowledge that it has from its own diplomatic services, is even more emphatic than the most rev. Primate has been, and more emphatic than I have been in my statement here this afternoon.
The noble and learned Lord asked us whether we would be prepared to allow any other Government to interfere or to make representations in regard to religion in this country? It is, of course, very easy to ask a question of that kind. One cannot conceive the possibility of any Government in this country deliberately and definitely trying to stamp out religion in the schools of our land, and to ask a question of that kind is really to put this subject upon a very much lower basis than that upon which I desire to put it. Many questions could be imagined upon which no other country could possibly have a right to express any opinion. For instance, if you like, upon any of our laws. The vaccination law occurs to me at the moment. Some other Government might have strong views upon that, but that is not a question of the fundamental importance of the one which we are debating to-day. We are a Christian nation. We here represent a Christian House of Parliament, and the matter which we are discussing is far higher, far more important than any trivial question in regard to our own country such as any other country might quite rightly be forbidden to interfere with. The noble and learned Lord, I know, will agree that this is the greatest question of all questions—the fact of religion being attempted to be abolished altogether in a country 1163 which is, roughly speaking, one-eighth or one-tenth of the population of the whole world.
Lunatcharsky, who was referred to by the most rev. Primate, and is perhaps the most important person in Russia on the subject of education, last year, quite definitely, announced that he was going to begin a campaign against the believing section of the teachers. He said:—Believing teachers are an absurd contradiction.Where is the liberty of conscience there? The noble and learned Lord spoke to us as if the question of anti-religious propaganda was much the same as religious propaganda and that liberty of conscience would be granted if neither was permitted. Surely this is going far beyond any question of propaganda:Believing teachers are an absurd contradiction; the Sections of Public Instruction should take every opportunity to replace them by anti-religious teachers.There have been founded, and are running to-day, anti-religious Universities in Russia.
Perhaps the House will forgive me if I quote one or two statements to show the extent to which this thing is being done. I will quote from an article in the Izvestia just between our Christmas time and the old Christmas time which is kept in Russia:—Let us rouse the masses to a determined attack against the drug of religion.Then it referred to "peace on earth" and so forth, and went on:—The pious announcers of Christ's truth are simple lying.The House will forgive me if I quote one or two more sentences because this really, I think, shows far more than any possible suggestion of Stalin, what is going on:Take my yoke upon you, and to shall find rest unto your souls.' In other words, shove your neck under the yoke, workman, and your heart will be light.To stick a yoke on the workman's neck and hit the revolution on the head with a Cross—this is the vile meaning of the Christmas legend …. But these dreams will never be realised. We will overthrow the kings of heaven as we have overthrown the kings of the earth. Let the parsons shriek themselves hoarse, crying out: 'Christ is born'—the victorious proletariat do not need any saviours.I was in two minds whether I should quote that statement to this House, but 1164 I want your Lordships to realise the intense feeling that there is throughout the country, and very rightly throughout the country. The noble and learned Lord almost says that we can do nothing and that we ought to do nothing. The noble and learned Lord made a speech here in February in which he quoted with approval the statement of the Foreign Secretary in the other House.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
The Foreign Secretary's statement was that—the House may rest assured that His Majesty's Government will, when possible or compatible with the interests of those affected, use all its influence in support of the cause of religious liberty and the freedom of religious practice.And the noble and learned Lord himself added:So far as my influence goes, I shall use every effort within my power to help the Foreign Secretary to carry out the policy that is indicated in the answer given in the House of Commons.That was in February, nearly two months ago. That was before the most rev. Primate had completed his investigations. That was when the noble and learned Lord asked the Primate to make those investigations. They have been made and the most rev. Primate has come before us to-day and told us the results of those investigations, and he has asked, as surely he is entitled to ask, what the Government propose to do. The answer of the noble and learned Lord is: "When we are satisfied that there is overwhelming and accurate evidence." That statement I ask him to withdraw, and I ask him to say that he is satisfied to-day that there is overwhelming and accurate evidence of the cruelties, the oppressions and the persecutions which religion is suffering in Russia to-day.
Then he went on to say: "When we think fit we will do"—what? Do something. We do not know what. I do not want to press him unduly and I do not want to make any suggestions to the Government as to what they should do, but this I think I am entitled to say, that the Government represent the religious feeling of all sections of the community of this land which is united in deploring the position of things from the religious point of view in Russia to-day. They are 1165 our leaders in this matter. We look to them as the rulers of this country to translate into action that deep religious feeling, that deep sense that something might be done and could be done, to register the feeling of the civilised world in this matter. They are in touch with Russia. We are not. They have told us that they have their representative in Russia and that trey think it desirable that he should remain. They have their representative. Have they made any representations even to our own Ambassador in Moscow in the last two months since that answer was given in the House of Commons? Do they propose to make any representations during the next two months even to our own Ambassador? Of course, I know that we cannot ask for—at least we can ask, but we cannot insist upon getting—the Despatch from our Ambassador. I am prepared to admit that we cannot insist upon that, but the very fact—the noble and learned Lord will forgive me for saying this—that we know there has been a Despatch on this subject from our own Ambassador in Moscow makes us wonder, if it is not published, whether the Government can really deny any longer the accuracy and the overwhelming character of the persecution as told to your Lordships' House this afternoon by the most rev. Primate. I do not want to press them, and I am not going to press them, further than that. I merely want to conclude by asking them to realise that this is not a Party question. It is not a political question.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
It is a religious question, a question in which the great mass of the people of the country—Church, Nonconformist, Jew, Roman Catholic—are all united. Practically the whole religious world is united in deploring the present position of affairs. Surely there is a responsibility upon the Government of a great country like this. My mind goes back to a period when the slave trade was rife in various countries. We did not stand back and say: "We can do nothing." We did not stand back and say: "This is the domestic concern of other countries." We at least tried, and in the end we succeeded in abolishing the evil of the slave trade. Whether we can succeed to-day I am not prepared to say, but we 1166 can try. Surely in the name of the civilised world, we can make an intimation in the most friendly manner to the Government of Russia, with which you are in friendly relation's, asking them to consider whether they cannot carry out some of the suggestions made by the most rev. Primate. There is one thing which I had forgotten which I should like to mention. The most rev. Primate did not say that the persecutions had ceased. He only said that Stalin had made that statement. I am within the recollection of the most rev. Primate. He never said, as the noble and learned Lord seems to say, that in consequence of that the persecution had already modified.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
There is no evidence whatever, in my possession at all events, and I imagine there is no evidence in the possession of the Government itself, that there has been the slightest cessation or modification of persecution. There is merely a statement made—I will not say for what purpose, but perhaps for political or other reasons. Until that statement is translated into fact and a real cessation, a real modification of these persecutions takes place, we have no right to found upon that statement a belief that persecution has ceased. I do ask the Government with the very greatest respect to consider that they represent us. Upon them rests more than any Government in Europe a very grave responsibility as being the last to enter into diplomatic relations with the Soviet—a responsibility of doing something before it is too late to modify, or to attempt to modify, the persecutions of which the most rev. Primate has spoken this afternoon.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, the most rev. Primate has expressed this afternoon in language which I could not possibly imitate what I believe to be the feelings of every individual member of this House. He has reinforced his statement by testimony far too valuable to be overlooked. I do not for a moment suppose that he himself would give to all the evidence that he has mentioned equal weight. Some of it was, I think, plainly from its very nature far more intimate and far more trustworthy than other parts. But the overwhelming weight of it 1167 was clear, and it showed that at this moment there is organised oppression in Russia of the Christian Church. It always seems to me that of all the crimes that men commit against each other, that of oppression on the grounds of religious opinion is about the worst. Yet if you look at the history of the world, records of such oppression leap to your eyes from every page. There is no creed and no sect that is free from the reproach, unless indeed we except the Jews, who have stood alone in proud and distant isolation and have never sought either to make converts to their faith or to persecute those who are outside their faith.
But grave and terrible as these records are, there is something that distinguishes this present act from them. I do not say it by way of excuse or palliation of things that I think can neither be palliated nor excused, but there is at least this fact that religious persecutions in the past have had underlying them this: that they regarded temporal sufferings and the material affairs of this world as of no value whatever in relation to the spiritual welfare of man. They thought that his future for all eternity was to be determined, not by his actions but by his opinions, and accordingly they tried to force him into their own mould. But this differs wholly from that.
'There is no God,' the foolish saith, But none, 'There is no sorrow.'Surely the greatest crime that can be committed is to use the whole organised machinery of the State to rob thousands and tens of thousands of troubled and unhappy people of what is to them their only refuge in adversity and their only comfort in distress.
If, therefore, all that the most rev. Primate desired to do was to express our abhorrence of what has taken place and of what, for all I know, may still be taking place, I should join heartily with him. But when he seeks, as the noble Viscount who has just spoken seeks, to ask that his opinion should be enforced in some manner by political action, I think we are on doubtful and even dangerous ground. The noble Viscount appeared to think that this country was to stand alone as representing the civilised world. I do not know what right we have to arrogate that position to ourselves. But supposing you assign to the Government what I regard as their real posi- 1168 tion, that of the Government of a Christian country, does that give us the right to protest, not against persecution—that is one thing—but against a policy which seeks to deny the Christian Faith? We have never done it, and no will say that the occasion has never arisen. In 1906, in the Chamber of Deputies, words were used of far greater resounding power than anything that has been quoted from Russian lips, when M. Viviani used such words as these:We have torn the people from their belief. When at the end of the day a man sinks under the weight of the world to his knees, we have lifted him to his feet. We have shown that there is nothing behind the skies but a chimera. We have extinguished the lights of Heaven, lights that shall never be again re-lit.That speech was, on a Division, in the Chamber of Deputies, by a majority of nearly two to one, ordered to be printed at the public expense and fastened up in every commune in France. Did we protest? Does the noble Viscount say that, as a Christian country representing the civilised world, it was our duty to protest? Of course it was not. We did not protest, and we had no right to protest; and, if the Russian action were merely confined to the enunciation of infidelity in just such terms as those I have quoted, I think that this debate in itself would have been in vain and that nothing that we could have done would have been appropriate.
But it is because they have gone further that the matter is more grave, and I would join with the most rev. Primate in anything that could be done to stop the persecution of people who believe, just as I would join with equal strength to stop the persecution of those who do not believe. I believe that to be the attitude that we should take in this matter. It is not only the question of religion that shocks and offends us when news comes from Russia. The spectacle that Russia presents to our eyes is something from which we shrink with horror. It is not only that they have made what were once busy industrial towns into something like a wilderness. It is not only that, so far as one can see, dirt and confusion and disease have possessed their cities. There is something far worse than that. They seem to have taken as part of their creed the deliberate intent of breaking down the unit upon which the whole of our civilisation is built up, the 1169 unit of family life. There is no longer to be paid honour from child to father, nor love from parent to child. Everything has been broken down, and moralities, laws and the conventions by which we have been strengthened and developed are each and all of them to be denied. If we are going to protest, I would add that protest beyond all others, for the result is in some ways more terrible even than anything to which the most rev. Primate has referred.
I do not know in modern times, and I find it difficult to discover even in ancient history, anything comparable to the horrible spectacle that is presented by bands of boys and girls on the edge of manhood and womanhood wandering about in hordes, untaught, unclad, uncared-for, feeding where they can rob, living where they can shelter, without any rule or order in their lives and only recognised, so far as I can gather from the literature that I have read, by being occasionally drafted into concentration camps or by their leaders being brought to face an execution squad. That, to my mind, is a more terrible thing even than any of the things to which the most rev. Primate has referred, because in that you have the germ of the decay, not merely of what is existing now, but of what is going to come.
There is one other thing that I wish to say. I do not think that the collapse of the Church in Russia is solely due to the action of the Soviet Government. The last thing that anybody desires is to say unkind things about people in distress, but the truth is, surely, that that Church never had its roots really deep in the hearts of the people. This is what the Archbishop said at Moscow:Our Church has striven after external gorgeousness at the expense of inner virtue, after showy splendours at the cost of spiritual perfection. It acquired pomp, power and riches, but lost its soul. That is why it is disintegrating.In the same book in which this is referred to, the author, who seems to write most moderately, says this of the Church:It saw the peasant wallowing in alcoholism, in thievery, in cruelty and other vices and hardly made an effort to regenerate him.I believe that, had the Church in Russia penetrated into the hearts of the people as I believe, to a large extent, it 1170 has done here, this overthrow of the Church would have been an impossibility. After all, it was not when the Priests blew their horns that the walls of Jericho fell; it was when the people shouted. Had the Church had real national support behind it, I do not think it could have fallen.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Somebody says that it has not fallen. Then I will say that it would not have suffered as it has done. The real point upon which I desire to dwell is not the question whether the Church has fallen by State action or by inherent decay, but whether there is, in the course of that struggle, cruelty, oppression, denial of liberty, denial of justice to the people who hold the Faith. If that is so, then, whether they are members of the Church or of any other body, I would join most eagerly with the most rev. Primate in attempting to assist them. I know quite well that there are many here who think that for this reason, as well as for others, all connection with Russia should be severed—that we should treat them possibly as pariahs and outcasts and never touch their hands. I do not think myself that that is the way to accomplish our object. I do not believe that by means of that sort you are going to stop the dissemination of their ideas. Thought is as progressive as the air and as vivid as a star, and you cannot check it by an attempt to break off diplomatic relations. Our present diplomatic relations with Russia give us the best opportunity for doing the best we can to see that oppression ends.
I would desire to see our diplomatic relations strengthened, but anything in the nature of a threat, so far from accomplishing our purpose will only bring heavier and more bitter oppression upon the people we seek to relieve. We over here ought to have no fear if only we realise that Bolshevism is a weed that can only grow in soil that is soured by oppression and made bitter by distress. If we once more brought back to our minds what was said by a noble lady in the eighteenth century, that she regarded the real tenure of her wealth as being for the service of those in need, we need not fear Bolshevism, nor need we fear the spread of infidelity if we made mani- 1171 fest our Christian faith not by Governments but by the real evidence of our daily lives.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I never listen to our frequent debates on Russia without feeling a considerable amount of sympathy—no doubt much misplaced—for members of the present Government. I think it would be much more satisfactory if they would make a clean breast of it and say: "We are very sorry, but we are in a position in which we are unable to help ourselves. We are associated with a Government which it is no exaggeration to say is unhuman, dishonest, and untruthful. We dislike these people particularly, but these people dislike and hate us a great deal more. In fact they are our irreconcilable enemies, but we are not our own masters in the circumstances. There are certain people denominated as 'followers,' but really our leaders, and they have ordered us to come to terms with these very undesirable associates." I cannot help thinking that if the Government were to adopt this line of argument it would be rather more honest, although it would not be particularly dignified; but the excuses and extenuations put forward by the spokesmen of the Government are such as to carry no conviction to sensible people.
The noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House said he required overwhelming proof with regard to this alleged persecution, but there is any amount of proof. There is both negative proof and positive proof. I do not wish to enlarge too much upon it but the negative proof is supplied by the fact that the Government are obviously afraid to publish the Ovey Despatch, not that that would be of very much value, because I cannot see how it would be possible for him to have obtained any information; but it would be of considerable value in regard to one particular point, upon which I will touch later. What I may call the active evidence is supplied from all sources—from Englishmen who have been to Russia, most of whom are men friendly towards the present Russian administration. I am even in a position to supply a little direct evidence myself although it is somewhat belated and not of a very important character.
A few years ago I was in Leningrad, and the thing which struck me most when I arrived there was that there was 1172 not a single priest to be seen. For the three days I was in the capital I never set eyes upon a priest, and when I enquired I was told that they had either been executed or had disappeared. In any case they were not there. When Sunday arrived I made it my business to see what was going on, and with great difficulty I discovered a few frightened peasants in a corner of one of the cathedrals taking part in a service. The only other evidence of activity which I noticed was that in one of the cathedrals an atheist was demonstrating the follies of religious superstition. I very much doubt whether there is any more religious activity in Leningrad now than when I was there, although the Bolshevist Government is quite ingenious enough to provide services for prominent British tourists who have, perhaps, religious inclinations. They are past-masters in doing that sort of thing.
So much has been said with regard to the origin of the persecution of the Church in Russia at the present moment, that I really need not say much more upon the subject, but I would like to insist once more upon the emphatic statement made by Mr. Lunatcharsky, who is considered to be one of the most cultivated and moderate Soviet leaders. Only a few months ago Mr. Lunatcharsky pointed out quite clearly, as the most rev. Primate has explained in his speech, that religion was like a nail; that you must not hammer it in, but root it out. "Root it out" describes exactly the proceeding that is going on in Russia at the present moment, and when Mr. Lunatcharsky and others talk of the painless process by increased scientific methods, and so forth, by which religion is to be destroyed, I would like to call attention to what has actually happened, and to point out that the events which have brought the state of things about are very different from those indicated by Mr. Lunatcharsky as being desirable.
I have here some figures to which I would like specially to direct the attention of the Government. They are figures which have been taken from official sources. I will take, first of all, the religious foundations and religious buildings of all kinds in Russia. When the Revolution started there were in Russia, in round numbers, 114,000 churches, monasteries and all kinds of religious buildings. Up to February of this year 1173 there have been closed 63,000, and there now remain open, marked presumably for closing and doomed eventually to destruction, 51,000. Then there are figures, supplied also from official sources, in regard to executions. They are figures taken from the Police Association, the Cheka, and the organisation which took its place. Up to February, 1921, according to these official figures, 1,243 priests have been executed, and, from February, 1921, to February, 1930, recorded in official documents and the Press, and admitted to be priests and ecclesiastics, 819. These figures are taken from the Izvestia, which pace Mr. Henderson, is the official Soviet organ.
Then, as regards persons who are not described as ecclesiastics, but who were traced to have been really ecclesiastics, 614 were executed within this period. From the same source, the Izvestia, it appears that in round numbers 18,000 clerics of various kinds have been deported or imprisoned, and it has been calculated—also according to the Izvestia—that 10,000 have died from privation. Now, this is where the report of Sir Esmond Ovey, if it were produced, would be useful. If the report is available it is open to the Government to contradict these figures, and to show that I have misled the House. If they are unable to contradict them, we may accept the total as a minimum figure. I believe it to be a minimum figure, because there is every reason to believe that the number of executions has been enormously in excess of the figures which I have quoted.
I do not want to dwell too much upon this, but what I do desire, although it has been done before, is to impress upon the House, though perhaps it may not be necessary, that the Soviet persecution of religion is quite different from any other religious persecution that has taken place in any other age. I need not go back to the persecution of the early Christians, but, roughly speaking, you may say that it was usually a case of one sect being persecuted by another, nominally for its own benefit. The only case which I think is applicable as an analogy, because it comes within a recent period, is the massacres by the Turks of the Bulgarians and the Armenians; and there must be persons present this evening who have a very clear recollection of those occurrences and of the intense indignation 1174 which was excited in this country. That was particularly so in the case of the Armenians. And it is a singular fact that, whereas the Liberal Party and advanced Radicals were all in favour of the most extreme measures on behalf of the Armenians when these persecutions took place under the Sultan Abdul Hamid, when Abdul Hamid was dethroned and his place was taken by the Young Turks, and the massacres were far worse than they were before, hardly any protests were evoked from the Liberal Party in this country. That only shows what licence is permitted to people who have representative institutions.
The case in Soviet Russia is absolutely different. The persecution of religion in Soviet Russia is a persecution, not of a particular Church, but of religion generally. Religion is looked upon, as we all know, as the natural enemy of Soviet rule, and it is quite plain that the Soviet rulers hold that Bolshevism and religion cannot exist together. What is being carried out in Russia is, to use Lunatcharsky's words, a deliberate and cold-blooded and relentless rooting out of religion. And this is a process which is not being carried out by blundering, brutal, semi-civilised people, like Turks and Chinese, but by extremely clever people who know exactly the objects they have in view and how to carry them out.
I was considerably surprised to hear the noble and learned Lord express the opinion that the violence of persecution had lately diminished. So far as I can learn, the exact contrary is the case. There has been a tremendous recrudescence of persecution within the last few months. There is evidence of it on every side. Between thirty and forty anti-religious Universities have been recently founded. Intense activity is being shown by the various trade unions for the purpose of conducting an anti-religious campaign in all the industrial districts. The theatres, the artists, the cinemas—everything that you can think of, even children—have all been pressed into the campaign, and the anti-religious movement is in full blast at the present moment. The amount, for instance, that is spent in propaganda must be almost incredible. I have here a copy of a well known anti-religious paper which is produced by the Soviet Government, and which has been in 1175 existence for a good many years. This paper is very expensively got up, and it is sold at a ridiculously low price. I do not imagine that anybody buys it, because very few people in Soviet Russia have any money to spare. But the point is this. Paper at this moment is extremely scarce in Russia, at least so the Government tell us. It is so scarce that they cannot provide a sufficient supply even for the elementary schools; and yet, in spite of that, here they are spending millions and millions in propaganda, and at the same time they admit that, as has been pointed out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buck-master, there are scores of thousands, if not more, of homeless children wandering about in a state of semi-starvation and semi-savagery.
The noble and learned Lord, if I understood him rightly, deprecated any remonstrance to the Soviet Government because they are now a friendly Power. Personally I do not believe that a remonstrance would do any good, but as for the Soviet being represented as a friendly Power, I dissent altogether from that statement, and I completely disagree with the opinion expressed by my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster. I decline absolutely to accept the definition of the Soviet Government as a friendly Power. It is not only not a friendly Government, but it is a distinctly hostile Government. Not only is it a hostile Government, but we are the people whom it particularly detests. And when we talk about protests I do not for a moment imagine that a protest would have any effect at all. No, the real mistake is that His Majesty's Government have not admitted the irreparable error of entering into relations with these people after they had once got rid of them. And I believe that the time will come, and before long, when they will deeply regret their folly in taking this action.
THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT (LORD PONSONBY OF SHITLBREDE)
My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words in this important debate. I cannot help thinking that there is considerable difficulty in dealing with a subject of this sort and freeing it entirely from political bias. I do not know that any of us, with the exception of the most rev. Primate, 1176 is able to deal with this question from an entirely religious point of view. If I might respectfully say so, I doubt if this House is the proper place in which to bring up a matter of this sort. We are facing each other in very disproportionate numbers and with bitterly opposed views, and if this question is to be kept on the high plane of a purely religious protest I cannot help thinking that this is not the place in which it should be discussed.
The most rev. Primate, in a speech of very great interest, put the case. I was chiefly struck with the extreme moderation of his language, and I thought how very markedly it contrasted with the language which had been used outside both on the platform and in the Press. But the debate has kept away from the political issue except in the few last words which fell from the noble Lord, Lord Newton. I listened to the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, with great interest. He protested that my noble and learned friend had said that we wanted overwhelming and accurate proof of great wrongs and that this had been furnished by the most rev. Primate. My noble friend the Leader of the House was not questioning for a moment the accuracy of the oases which were brought forward by the most rev. Primate. What he intended to convey was that there would have to be undoubted evidence of far more widespread and cruel persecution than we have been able to get at present.
When the speech of the most rev. Primate is analysed, it is reduced to the outcome, which he so very admirably described, of a certain type of thought and belief and policy in the Soviet Government, and that we cannot interfere with. What we could interfere with, conceivably, would be wholesale proof of what has been termed in the newspapers, though they have left that off now, "butchery." There is no proof of that. The difficulty about these questions of interference in the internal affairs of another country, however good we in this country may think our excuse to be, is, first of all; that it always gets tinctured with a political bias. That is inevitable. Therefore, its sincerity may sometimes be doubted, not on the part of the heads of the religious organisations but on the part of those who are only too eager 1177 to use them as a cloak for pursuing their political ends. There is a lack of consistency. Noble Lords will remember that at the time of Denikin's march through the Ukraine there were something like 150 pogroms: Jews were massacred in the most barbarous way by the hundred thousand. The Chief Rabbi made a protest, but I do not think there was any protest taken up in this House, and General Denikin received the K.C.B.
It is very difficult on both sides to detach these questions from their political surroundings. In this case the most rev. Primate has undoubtedly been used outside by those who have whipped up this feeling with such strength, peculiarly enough in the last nine months while a Labour Government has been in office, in order to show the folly of having recognised and had diplomatic relations with the Government of Russia. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, said that we were evidently afraid to publish Sir Esmond Ovey's Despatch. I want to assure him that that is not the fact at all. It would be contrary to usage, generally speaking, to place an Ambassador in such an embarrassing position. If he knew that his confidential Reports from the country to which he was accredited were liable to be published when they got home it would make the position of any Ambassador absolutely intolerable. I do not think there is any demand for that.
The noble Lord, Lord Newton, referred in his speech to the Armenians. The protests and the agitations against the massacre of Armenians make a very good instance as to the quality of the futility of such proceedings. The poor unfortunate Armenians have been almost extinguished altogether. Yet all the great Christian Powers were protesting continually and making representations, which were so resented by the Sultan Abdul Hamid, that he turned the vials of his wrath more violently against those unfortunate subjects of his. I feel from the debate this afternoon that there has been no great demand on the part of noble Lords that His Majesty's Government should make any formal diplomatic protest to the Soviet Government. I do not think that even the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, asked for that. It is a very difficult thing, a very delicate matter, and the noble Viscount who has 1178 been in Cabinets, which I have not, knows better than I do how difficult it is to interfere in the affairs of another country, even though you think you are justified, when you know, as we know in this case, that the Soviet Government very greatly resent any attempt at interference.
I doubt even whether this debate which has been held here this afternoon will do anything but harm. I believe it will be very hotly resented. I doubt if it will do anything to mitigate the persecution, and I feel rather confident that it will make Mr. Henderson's task in pursuing the relations and coming to an agreement with that Government a very great deal more difficult than it is at present. I think that we must give up any attempt at trying to understand the Soviet system or the Soviet character. I do not believe that in old days we understood the Russians at all. They are temperamentally different from us. They are differently constituted, and they have different standards. I always feel, anyhow, some reluctance to get up on a pedestal and turn to others who think differently from what I do and condemn them for their methods. They are indulging at the present time in a form of intolerance and of religious persecution which to us in this country is nothing short of abominable. But when we analyse it, when we see further what their views are, what their ideals are, and what their political creed is, I think we should be rather reluctant to embark on any definite interference. At any rate I do not feel that as a result of this debate there has been any demand on His Majesty's Government to take any step which they are very reluctant to do.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, at this late hour you will not expect me to say much. I am grateful to the House for the patience with which it listened to what I had to say. I am grateful, also, for the evident care which, for the most part, has been taken on all sides to keep the matter clear from the bitterness of any political controversy. I (think, on the whole, the spirit and tone of the discussion has been kept at a high level. The noble Lord who has just sat down seemed to doubt whether your Lordships' House was a proper place in which a matter of this kind should be dealt with. I do not agree with him. I think the Parliament of this 1179 country is a place which has always been ready to speak out the heart of the British people when it is deeply stirred, and do not know what I am doing in this House as a Spiritual Peer unless my presence gives me the right, at all times, to raise any issue affecting the moral and religious life of our own country and indeed of the world.
But with regard to the issue of the debate, may I say just this? The noble and learned Lord who followed me laid down two conditions which the Government would have to observe if they were to make any kind of representation to the Soviet Government. One was the evidence of the wrong that was being done. I so far appreciate the speech of the noble and learned Lord that I would take what he himself said as sufficient answer to that. I could scarcely arrive at the vigour of the adjectives he himself applied to the oppression which was going on in Russia, and I can scarcely imagine that the words which he himself used—quite sincerely used—could be applicable at all unless the degree of oppression in Russia was something that really went beyond what we have been familiar with in almost any civilised country in recent times.
I acknowledge what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, said, and indeed I said expressly, that we have no right to expect or even to ask the Soviet Government to change its fundamental position and attitude towards religion. All that we ask is that it should pay some heed to the ordinary methods of justice in the way in which it fulfils its own particular mission and point of view. I should have thought that there could be no question at all, quite apart from statistics about actual executions, that the wanton way in which the ordinary principles of justice are set aside would suggest a wrong which does entitle a Government to make friendly remonstrances to another Government with which it is in relation.
The other condition laid down by the noble and learned Lord was that the Government would have to be very sure that their action would not do more harm than good to those whom they wished to benefit. That is a very difficult matter, and I quite appreciate the difficulty of the Government in regard to it. I feel one takes a certain measure 1180 of responsibility in even advocating that the risk should be run, but I have in memory the effect of outside expostulation and interference in the case of the Metropolitan Tikhon in the years between 1921 and 1925, when he died, and it is, I should have thought, certain that it was those expostulations which did spare his life and secure his release at least from the worst incidents of imprisonment. Further than that I should have thought that it was common knowledge that it was the expostulation of the whole Christian world expressed, among others, by my predecessor (Lord Davidson), by Cardinal Bourne, by leaders of the Free Churches, and most of all by His Holiness the Pope, that spared the Archbishop Kieplak from execution. Therefore, I am not without hope that representations made from a diplomatic point of view, necessarily in a friendly way, in such time and method as the Government think fit, might have some effect in mitigating the severity and the brutality with which the policy which the Soviet Government decide to take should be pursued.
The noble Lord who has just sat down said the issue of the debate was not to make any very emphatic pressure upon the Government. Neither is it. As the noble Viscount (Viscount Brentford), speaking from his great knowledge of public life, will well understand, it is impossible to press 'the Government in a matter of that kind too hard. What I said was that the inaction, however necessary it may be for the moment, cannot go on indefinitely. We cannot permanently acquiesce in the state of things in which we reap whatever benefits we are alleged to reap from this association with the Soviet Government, and yet make no kind of representations as to what the public opinion of this country feels so intensely. I do not say more than that, and the representatives of the Government will acknowledge that I did, perhaps foolishly, venture to think there was some hope of an appeal made from this House direct to the Soviet Government making them realise, and ask themselves, if it is worth while to go on permanently ignoring, what is the deep and strong feeling of the people not only of this country but throughout the world. I understand that the noble and learned Lord is willing to furnish such Papers as he 1181 indicated—I am quite willing to accept them—and also any other Papers that from time to time he considers could be circulated without disadvantage to the public interest and which might illuminate the situation in Russia. Therefore I hope the noble and learned Lord will allow the Motion to pass.
§ On Question, Motion for Papers agreed to, and ordered accordingly.