The October Revolution in the American Press

38. Recognize Russia

John Reed’s defense of the Soviet signing of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty came at a time when even radicals and liberals in the United States were upset with Russia’s capitulation, believing that the defeat of Germany was a revolutionary duty. Reed fully supported Lenin’s decision to sign the harsh treaty, explained why it was necessary, and urged recognition of the Soviet government by the Allies as the best way to defeat Germany.

The capitalist press of the Allied countries is loud in its indignation against the so-called "Russian betrayal” at Brest-Litovsk.

At the same time, however, it is full of excuses for the peace treaty signed by Rumania with the Central Powers on 5 March 1918; and even justifies the action of the bourgeoisie of Finland and Ukraine in calling upon German troops to fight their own countrymen.

Yet the Russo-German peace treaty was as much a matter of military necessity as the Rumanian treaty. The Russian army was demoralized and exhausted; Russian economic life had broken down. For all this the Bolsheviki are not to blame. Have we forgotten how the Government of the Tsar deliberately disorganized the economic machinery of the country, allowed the transportation system to go to smash, and deprived the army not only of arms but even of food—in order to force a separate peace with the Germans? The newspapers were full of these things at the time.

Then came the Provisional Government, which was an unworkable compromise between the Socialists and the party of the bourgeoisie. This regime was unable, at first, to accomplish any reorganization of the national life. Even the breadlines instituted under the Imperial Government were never done away with. The soldiers themselves, if they could have received proper support from the country, would have remained in the trenches to defend the country; it was their voice and the voice of the Russian masses which had proclaimed, “No annexation, no indemnities, and the right of self-determination of peoples,” and they would have defended those terms. But under the pressure of the Allied Governments, an offensive was commenced in Galicia, and in that act the majority of the Russian troops refused to participate.

After this the bourgeois wing of the government bent all its efforts to the destruction of the revolution, continuing the process begun by the Tsar, and even conniving, it is generally believed, at the fall of Riga, in order to strengthen discipline in the ranks of the Army. Under their systematic campaign to starve the workers by closing the factories, to break down the Soviets by wrecking the transportation and supply system, and to crush the soldiers’ committees by diverting food and arms from the front, Russia was brought into a complete disintegration. The saving of Russia was the Bolshevik revolution. If that had not happened, the German army would now be garrisoning Moscow and Petrograd.

At Brest the Russians were not supported by the Allies, and for that reason were forced to accept the German terms. Not only that, but they, are wholly abandoned now, and by the pressure of Japan in Siberia, greatly weakened in the heroic struggle they are carrying on against the armed might of the Central Powers.

For the Russian Soviet Government is at war with Germany— has been at war with Germany since last summer. It stands to reason that this is so. The Soviet ruling powers are Socialists, and as such, enemies of capitalism, and most of all, enemies of the German Imperial system, the arch-exponent of militant capitalism. They have been fighting Germany with the strongest weapon in the world—propaganda—the only weapon against which the sword is ultimately powerless. This propaganda, not only among the German troops, but also in the interior of the country, is remarkably successful. Austria is ready to crack open because of it, and during the Brest-Litovsk negotiations the entire eastern front of the German troops was permeated with it to such an extent that the invading force into Russia had to be made up largely of volunteers from the western front. As for the war-prisoners in Russia, they are deeply infected by Bolshevism, and many thousands of them are enrolled in the ranks of the Russian Red Army against their own peoples.

The Red Army is rapidly being organized—as Lenin says, “not for defense of nationalistic interests, or Allied aims ... but to defend the world’s Socialism.” It is a compact little well-drilled force, composed of volunteers, not from the old Russian army, but from the untouched reserves of young revolutionary workers and peasants.

According to figures in possession of the United States Government, there are at present more than eight hundred and fifty thousand German and Austrian troops now engaged in pacifying Ukraine—a country not half as revolutionary as Great Russia, and without any Red Army. The latest moves of German diplomacy indicate that the Imperial Government is not at all anxious to attempt the military invasion of Soviet Russia.

But just as the Soviet Government considers the German Imperial Government its worst enemy, so Germany well knows that Soviet Russia on her flank is mortal to her military autocracy. By every means, by commercial and financial pressure, by capturing the food-supplying countries of the South, Germany is attempting to destroy the Soviets. At the time of the advance into Russia, Prince Leopold of Bavaria, in an army order, said, “our aim is not annexation...but the restoration of order and suppression of anarchy threatening to infect Europe.” And if this "restoration of order and suppression of anarchy” can be accomplished by Japanese intervention, so much the better for Germany. For Germany fears not military force; she fears not a Japanese army in Siberia, nor a bourgeois republic in Russia— whose power of propaganda among German troops would be as limited as that of the French Republic. Soviet propaganda, incredibly contagious, is the only thing that Germany fears. Allied recognition of the value of Soviet propaganda would be a blow at Germany.

At the present moment, however, most of the Allied Governments seem to be acting on their theory that it is more important to defeat the Russian Soviets than to defeat Germany. In the Brooklyn Eagle the American Consul at Helsingfors, Mr. Hayes, is quoted as praising the Germans for having restored order in Finland...And the movement for Japanese intervention in Siberia is actuated as much by the motive of restoring “law and order” in Russia, as by the rather farfetched excuse of combating “German influence.”

The Soviet Government of Russia is there to stay; it is based on the almost universal will of the Russian masses. At the present moment it is being attacked on one side by the Germans, and on the other side by all sorts of bourgeois and reactionary movements based on the Japanese in Siberia. The threat of active, serious Japanese intervention, besides, hangs over it like a stormcloud. When Central Russia was famine-stricken in the past, food could be got either in Ukraine or in Siberia. Now the Germans have the Ukraine, and counter-revolutionary hordes are over-running Siberia. Russia is being starved from both sides. Its ability to make war on Germany is crippled by this and by the possible necessity of making war upon Japan.

Recognition of the Soviet Government by the Allies will immediately put an end to the menace of counter-revolution in Siberia, and strengthen immeasurably the Soviet power against Germany.

Make no mistake, however. Soviet Russia will not re-enter the war as an ally of the Allies; it will defend itself against the capitalist world. But Germany is the nearest, worst, and most active capitalist menace. The time has come for the Allied governments to decide whether their hatred is greater for German militarism or Russian Bolshevism.

- The Liberator, July 1918.

39. NY State SP Endorses Soviets

The following resolution was passed by the convention of the Socialist Party of New York State.

The Russian Revolution since last November has assumed the form of a Soviet government, the natural and inevitable form in Russia, which expresses the will and aspirations of the masses of the people. In spite of counter-revolutionary plots, the hostility of all foreign governments and the general economic disorganization inherited from the old regime and accentuated by the war, the Soviet government has lasted for nearly eight months and progressed in the colossal task of social and economic reconstruction.

We greet with joy and confidence the Russian Soviet Socialist Federated Republic, the first Socialist republic in the world.

We denounce the treacherous attitude of the German and Austrian majority Socialists, who did not tear from the hands of their imperialist masters the brutal treaty of Brest-Litovsk, imposed on the Russian workers and peasants by military force. We call upon the workers throughout the world to insist that the people of Ukraine, Finland and the Russian border provinces, now under the heel of junkerdom, must receive freedom and self-determination.

We denounce equally all attempts on the part of any government to invade Russia by force and overthrow the government of the Russian people. We denounce the counter-revolutionary plots being conducted by reactionary Russian emigres in every capital in the world, which are being supported and stimulated by predatory capitalist interests, greedy to loot Russia.

We protest against the continued isolation of Socialist Russia. We call upon all true believers in democracy in the United States to join with us in urging our government to recognize the Russian Soviet Republic, and to cooperate with and assist it and the Russian people disinterestedly, to the end that the democratic forces in the world may be strengthened and heartened, and autocracy, junkerism and imperialism be banished from the world forever.

We call upon our representative in Congress, Meyer London, to introduce a resolution in Congress urging the speedy recognition of the Soviet government by the government of the United States.

Resolved, that a copy of this resolution be sent to the President of the United States, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President of the Senate, and Meyer London.

- New York Evening Call, 1 July 1918.

40. America’s Course in Russia’s Crisis

President Wilson is about to make the greatest decision of his whole career. He is about to place his hand on the pivot of the whole world’s future. He is about to enter Russia. Let us, therefore, get clearly into our heads the one prime fact about Russia. The fact is not Lenin. That fact is not the Bolsheviki. The prime fact about Russia is the Soviets.

Most of us in America do not believe in Lenin; most of us do not believe in the Bolsheviki. Very well. But it is absolutely necessary for us to believe in the Soviets. The strength of our belief in the Soviet is the strength of our chance of success in Russia.

The Soviet is the soul of Russia—and more. From each village in Russia we see delegations going to the provincial Soviet. From each provincial Soviet we see delegates going to the all-Russian congress of Soviets. Starting with being the dreaming soul of Russia, the Soviet has become its communicating nervous system and its deciding brain.

True, the Soviets are not completely democratic. They exclude the capitalists. This exclusion is wrong. But let us be practical. The capitalists of Russia are very few. They and all their friends and associates are not 5 per cent of the population. Even if they were admitted to the Soviets, they would be overwhelmingly outvoted. The Soviets, in action, would remain what they are. They are Russia....

Let us saturate ourselves with one prime fact. The Russian Republic is precisely what it says it is. It is a republic of Soviets, and in the mouth of every American the word Soviet must become a word of friendship, a word of comradeship, a word of great hope for a great, irresistible alliance against Berlin.

What the president must offer Russia to win Russia is a loyal America. We are that America. Let us be loyal.

- Editorial, Chicago Daily News, 2 July 1918.

41. On Behalf of Russia

In his “Open Letter to America", published in The New Republic and reprinted as a pamphlet, Arthur Ransome, correspondent in Soviet Russia for the London Daily News, described the true character of the February revolution, the nature of the Provisional Government and the Soviets, the Constituent Assembly, peace negotiations between Russia and Germany, and the Soviet government and the Allies. In his preface and conclusion, selections from which are published below, Ransome explained why he made this appeal to America.

Every day brings a ship,

Every ship brings a word;

Well for those who have no fear,

Looking seaward well assured

That the word the vessel brings

Is the word they wish to hear.

Emerson wrote the poem I have stolen for a headpiece for this letter, and Emerson wrote the best commentary on that poem: “If there is any period one would desire to be born in—is it not the age of Revolution; when the old and the new stand side by side, and admit of being compared; when the energies of all men are searched by fear and by hope; when the historic glories of the old can be compensated by the rich possibilities of the new era? This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.” Revolution divides men by character far more sharply than they are divided by war. Those whom the Gods love take youth of their hearts and throw themselves gladly on that side, even if, clear sighted, they perceive that the fires of revolution will burn up perhaps the very things that, for themselves, they hold most dear. Those others, wise, circumspect, foolish with the folly of wisdom, refrain, and are burned up none the less. It is the same with nations, and I send this pamphlet to America because America supported the French Revolution when England condemned it, and because now also America seems to me to look toward Russia with better will to understand, with less suspicion, without the easy cynicism that prepares the disaster at which it is afterwards ready to smile.

Not that I think all this is due to some special virtue in America. I have no doubt it is due to geographical and economic conditions. America is further from this bloody cockpit of Europe, for one thing. For another, even rich Americans dependent for their full pockets on the continuance of the present capitalist system, can wholeheartedly admire the story of the Bolshevik adventure, and even wish for its success, without fearing any serious damage to the edifice in which they live. Or it may be, that, knowing so little about America, I let myself think too well of it. Perhaps there too men go about repeating easy lies, poisoning the wells of truth from simple lack of attention to the hygiene of the mind....

No one contends that the Bolsheviks are angels. I ask only that men shall look through the fog of libel that surrounds them and see that the ideal for which they are struggling, in the only way in which they can struggle, is among those lights which every man of young and honest heart sees before him somewhere on the road, and not among those other lights from which he resolutely turns away. These men who have made the Soviet government in Russia, if they must fail, will fail with clean shields and clean hearts, having striven for an ideal which will live beyond them. Even if they fail, they will nonetheless have written a page of history more daring than any other which I can remember in the story of the human race. They are writing it amid showers of mud from all the meaner spirits in their country, in yours and in my own. But, when the thing is over, and their enemies have triumphed, the mud will vanish like black magic at noon, and that page will be as white as the snows of Russia, and the writing on it as bright as the gold domes that I used to see glittering in the sun when I looked from my windows in Petrograd.

And when in after years men read that page they will judge your country and mine, your race and mine, by the help or hindrance they gave to the writing of it.

- The New Republic, 27 July 1918.