The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 3/Results of Allied Intervention in Siberia

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The Czechoslovak Review, volume 3, no. 4 (1919)
Results of Allied Intervention in Siberia by Václav Girsa
4011770The Czechoslovak Review, volume 3, no. 4 — Results of Allied Intervention in Siberia1919Václav Girsa

Results of Allied Intervention in Siberia


Dr. Václav Girsa is the Czechoslovak representative in Vladivostok. Formerly he was a physician at Kiev and during the war became one of the leaders of the movement which resulted in the organization of the Czechoslovak Army out of Austrian prisoners. He has been in charge of Czechoslovak interests at Vladivostok since May 1918, when the first Czechoslovak troops reached the Pacific. He is a man of broad and statesmanlike ideas who knows Russia as well as any Russian, but is able to take a detached view of it. What he has to say of Allied intervention in Siberia deserves careful consideration. Some of the facts expressed here have already been transmitted to America in a condensed form by the Associated Press.

Many months passed, since the Czechoslovak troops attacked by German-Bolshevik treachery on their way through Siberia to Vladivostok took up arms, and after having overthrown the Bolshevik government in Siberia and liberated all that immense country from tyranny took a stand on the Urals in order to protect the whole Siberian population from Bolshevik malice and vengeance. This was an event of first-class importance and through it the Czechoslovaks won boundless love and gratitude of the Russian nation as well as the sympathies of the entire civilized mankind. Allied nations vied with each other to assist the Czechoslovaks and the wretched Russian people. Reporters, politicians, military expeditions and supplies were sent to Siberia to help the fighting and starving people. No one can doubt that the leading idea of all those activities was the best will and a sincere intention to help the unfortunate Russian nation. But what is the result of all this magnimous labor and enterprise?

Many months have elapsed since then, endless months full of terrible distress, both for the troops at the front and for the suffering peaceable people, thousands of the best Czechoslovak and Russian soldiers have given up their lives for freedom, thousands of them are suffering in hospitals and houses for invalids. And yet the whole state of affairs in Siberia and Russia not only has shown no progress at all, but is now—be it said frankly—worse than half a year ago. The strength of fighting troops at the front is diminishing with each day, misery, need and unemployment of working people is increasing alarmingly; the railroads—which at first were working so correctly, have today stopped functioning completely and have become a stage for bribes, frauds, robberies and also a source of astounding profits for unconscientious and criminal speculators. Traveling on the Siberian rail road is today an enterprise perilous to life. This intolerable state cannot last for long, if complete dissolution and general anarchy is to be avoided. It has already demoralized all classes of Russian society and kills in them even the most elementary conceptions of right, justice and civic duties.

Thousands of Russian citizens are returning from German captivity, and the strongest characters among them who could not be prevailed upon by promises or threats to join Bolshevik ranks in European Russia are traveling on foot thousands and thousands of versts, hungry and naked; those of them who do not fall victims to frigid temperature, unable to find any support or shelter and embittered by the indifference of society, become at last—out of despair, victims of Bolshevik propaganda. On the other hand the wealthy classes grow blunt by constant sight of human misery to such an extent that they don’t even feel the obligation to assist others; moreover they will not help the common people at all, because they see Bolsheviks in them.

The political situation presents a picture of the greatest disorganization. The rivalry and struggle among single political parties continues unabated; the Government, which lacking Allied assistance cannot get the confidence of broad masses of population is compelled, in order to strengthen its authority, to apply means that can hardly conciliate discontented minds. Without declaring clearly and openly its program it is fighting the socialistic parties by means of military censorship, curtailment of liberty of speech and of co-operative freedom; it banishes all the popular leaders, but at the same time it is not strong enough to suppress the injurious actions of military organizations of Cossack atamans who acknowledge the authority of no one.

Such is the present situation of that Siberia which last year welcomed the intervention of the Czechoslovaks with such exultation and enthusiasm and has shown such great powers of organization as regards military and political affairs; to such ends has Siberia been brought, because it has found no understanding and no assistance in time. And in this mad chaos far away in the Ural forests the half-frozen Czechoslovak Army side by side with true Russian patriots continues silently to fight and to protect by their blood and lives the chaos in their rear against the vengeance of Bolsheviks. Once enthusiastic dithyrambs of praise and admiration were flying from there into the whole world, now there is only cheap and frivolous criticism and base calumny.

The reasons for this deplorable state of affairs are undoubtedly numerous and may be generally divided into two principal groups: internal and external.

Among the internal reasons for this general decadence I will point out only the chief one, because all the others are derived from it, namely the struggle for control of government among the different political parties. Surely during the whole history of mankind there has not been poured out such a quantity of enthusiastic and patriotic speeches, as in the course of the revolution in Russia. The leaders of political parties speak only in superlatives, and in their speeches the big words of progress, humanity, salvation of the country and regeneration of Russia are continually repeated. Only the silent Czechoslovaks have said nothing, but acted, and therefore most people here cannot understand them yet. The great majority of the Russian people see their only salvation in the constituent assembly and are working for it with great ardor. Others say that the country can be saved without the constituent assembly, believing it to be dangerous and premature for the Russian people who are but little advanced in culture. They favor at this time of unfettered passions the establishment of some form of constitutional government and believe that the nation, worn out by so many privations, will be satisfied with such a government. These people are so afraid of Bolsheviks that they are willing to tolerate any government able to protect their lives and property against the Bolshevik danger, and as regards the future they hope that it will be possible to introduce gradually reforms of a democratic character.

Finally there is a third group of people who cannot forget the old regime and are toiling for the restoration of monarchy by all means at their disposal. Next to the Bolsheviks this is the most contemptible and the most tragic group of Russian people, mastered by thirst for revenge for all the horrors they have endured, or governed by personal ambitions and political views of the epoch of Peter the Great. They are the most efficient allies of the Bolsheviks, even though they stand at the other extreme. With the Bolsheviki they have in common their methods of political struggle: murder, terror, violence. The Russian people fear them so greatly that they are ready to make common cause even with the odious, bloody Bolsheviks against them. This is the saddest page of the Russian revolution; this is the barrier against which all efforts of the best Russian people are constantly breaking down.

To an impartial, unprejudiced observer, thoroughly acquainted with conditions in Russia and with the psychology of the Russian people, to one who does not look upon the regeneration of Russia as temporary repose for a shorter or longer period to be followed again by bloody storms and revolutions, it is clear that a return to the old regime in Russia is impossible and that the only way to better things is through the constituent assembly. The Russian people will accept only such a government as will proceed out of the will of the whole nation, whether the form be constitutional monarchy or republic. All other ways and means could at best establish only a temporary truce, containing in itself germs of renewed bloody tempests. The Russian people will not be satisfied with any other government except the one which they themselves have established.

This diagnosis indicates also the means which must be applied in order to assist effectually the Russian nation.

A year ago the Allies declared that they were willing to help the afflicted Russian people: and they did spend plenty of energy, they have not spared money, they have offered the lives of their citizens, and yet the Russian people have today less confidence in the success of the Allied intervention than they had originally.

Where are we to look for reasons of this failure? The chief cause is of course the passiveness of the intervention, resulting from the principle of non-interference in Russian internal matters; this is interpreted by a great many Russians as support given to reactionary Russian elements, and as a matter of fact these elements do actually profit by Allied intervention. Adhering strictly to this principle the Allies were unable to support or acknowledge either the Siberian Government or the Government of the Directory; they could not tell whether they were strong governments enjoying the confidence of the nation. And on the contrary these governments even with the best programs were never able to grow strong and to win the confidence of the people, because they were not acknowledged or supported by the Allies. The result of this misunderstanding was a vicious circle without a starting-point; it is bound to result in new revolutions, each of which will quite naturally mean new strengthening for bolshevism; for the fact is that all the changes of government were explained by Bolshevik propaganda as being reactionary and dangerous to democracy. This brought into the ranks of Bolsheviks masses of the left socialists who otherwise would not have joined the Bolsheviks at all.

It was the general expectation that the conclusion of the world war would deal the Bolsheviks a deadly blow; it was stipulated in the conditions of the armistice that Germans must withdraw their prisoners of war from Russia. That seemed to deprive the Bolsheviks of the aid given them by their organizers—German officers.

But the result was the very opposite: German prisoners of war and organizers remained in the ranks of Bolsheviks by securing Russian citizenship. On the other hand German troops evacuated Russian territory, where they had not permitted Bolshevik disorder; of course this territory was immediately occupied by Bolsheviks with all the well-known results of such occupation: murder, robbery and forcible mobilization into the ranks of the Red Army. The final result of it will be strengthening of the Bolshevik position.

Experience has shown that the principal of non-interference with Russian internal matters, applied by any intervention what ever, is absolutely impracticable and is not even in accordance with the wish of the Russian people. On the contrary they would like a much more active intervention with direct influence by the Allies on the development of Russian internal matters, but upon one condition only: it must be made clear that all the Allies are co-intervening and acting in accordance with an exact pre-arranged plan and further that the final scope of the intervention is openly declared. That would put a stop to calumnious like the prevailing conviction that the Allies were intent on supporting some one political party.

A Russian has difficulty in understanding the point of view of American and European democracies. According to incomplete information reaching us from the outer world, the democracies of the Allied states have declared against any intervention in Russia. That such a decision might result from a supposition or belief that the Bolsheviks, too, are democrats no Russian democrat will at present be able to understand, because today it is clear to every political infant in Russia that the Bolsheviks have nothing in common with true democracy. How then shall we explain the reluctance of the Allied democracies to intervene in Russia now, when the same democracies as long as the war continued favored intervention? During the war intervention in Russia meant a weakening of the western front; at this time it means an offer of help extended to the suffering Russian people in the name of humanity.

The Russian nation follows with a lively interest, but at the same time with a harsh feeling of bitterness, all the efforts for creating the League of Nations; it comprehends with difficulty, how the Allied democracies can entertain this noble but rather distant idea and at the same time look with unconcern at what is going on in Russia. A Russian democrat cannot readily comprehend how the Western democratic states can negotiate with the Bolsheviki; he knows well that it is quite silly to speak in this late day of the Bolshevist ideal, for the Bolsheviks themselves have murdered the leaders of ideal Bolshevism. High sounding words of right, justice and humanity are flying from all sides to the frozen wilderness of Siberia, but they sound in the ears of the Russian people like sneers and awake distrust and despair.

Allied assistance to the Russian people in Siberia has hitherto been furnished chiefly in a material form. Undoubtedly Russia needs material assistance, supplies of arms, money and of course chiefly and first of all reorganization of railroads. This last question is the most important one, as the Siberian railway line which half a year ago still worked satisfactorily is at present completely out of commission. One important reason for it is lack of money. Mechanics working in railway shops received no wages for the last four months and have had to go to work elsewhere; consequently it is impossible to repair damaged loco motives. Nevertheless all these forms of assistance to Russia are possible and proper only in conjunction with a military expedition able to guarantee that this expensive undertaking will not be destroyed by pernicious rebellion and disorders which have made chronic appearances on the Siberian railways.

In order, however, that such a military intervention and economic assistance to Russia shall have any success at all, it is necessary to carry it out according to a clearly laid down plan and scope, namely, the removal of Bolshevik government in European Russia and re-establishment and maintenance of order and peace throughout the whole country for so long, until it is possible for the Russian people to shape for themselves freely and without any pressure their own definite form of government. Such an Allied intervention, even though it must affect Russian internal affairs, will be accepted with exultation and full confidence by all.