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Influence of the Russian Revolution on the Paris Peace Settlement

Дата публикации: 04 сентября 2007
Публикатор: Александр Павлович Шиманский
Рубрика: RUSSIA (TOPICS) - Imperial Russia →
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Did the Russian Revolution have a meaningful influence on the Paris Peace Settlement?

Viewpoint: Yes. The fear of a pan-European Marxist revolution was a significant consideration at the Paris Peace Conference.

Viewpoint: No. The immediate concern of obtaining an advantageous and lasting peace with Germany and its allies dominated the agenda at the Paris Peace Conference.


World War I officially ended in Paris and its palatial suburbs, in a series of treaties signed between 1919 and 1923. Formally ending hostilities fell against the backdrop of dramatic events in Russia, which experienced its continuing revolution and civil war in those years. This chapter assesses whether Russian developments had any meaningful impact on what was happening at the close of the "war to end all wars."
One argument maintains that this influence was profound. Allied policymakers plainly could not ignore the challenges of the Bolshevik Revolution. Its determination to export revolution to Europe, revisit the earlier peace settlement between Russia and Germany, and create other obstacles for European diplomacy demanded their attention, as did the appearance of representatives of anti-Bolshevik White forces, who successfully agitated for military, financial, and material support in their battle against the Reds. Forming a new world order demanded careful consideration of the nascent Soviet state and its emerging role in the new international order.
Yet, on the other hand, the war, which had been fought largely to contain an aggressive Germany, ended in a way that largely sought to determine it and its allies' place in postwar Europe. All of the major treaties and provisions aimed at securing permanent Allied hegemony in Europe. The most important way to do this was to force Germany to surrender its aspirations and capabilities to disrupt the new order. In this context, Russian affairs appeared peripheral. The Allies declared official neutrality in Russia's Civil War, and Allied support for the Whites was given on an informal basis, designed more to promote Russia's reentry into the war against Germany than anything else.

Viewpoint: Yes. The fear of a pan-European Marxist revolution was a significant consideration at the Paris Peace Conference.

On 11 November 1918, when the guns on the Western Front fell silent, Europe was in tatters. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was falling to pieces as its peoples tried to reconcile nationalism with that ancient empire's multiethnic legacy. Germany's other major ally, the Ottoman Empire, was undergoing a similar dissolution. Germany itself erupted in revolution: Kiel, Wilhelmshaven, Berlin, and scores of other major cities saw soldiers', sailors', and workers' rebellions. Revolt in the vanquished countries alone would perhaps have been acceptable to the Allies, but the context in which these uprisings unfolded was a great cause for alarm: the Bolshevik Revolution had occurred a year before, and its outcome was completely uncertain as the Russian Civil War continued to play out. With Germany collapsing, its substantial military presence in Eastern Europe was bound to disappear, creating the opportunity for even more political chaos. The armistice that ended the fighting on the Western Front itself aimed to hedge against this possibility. Article XII actually called for the Germans to remain in Russian territory until the Allies could ensure peace and order in the area, in other words, until they could ensure the Bolsheviks were not drawn into the vacuum. It is difficult to overstate the general sense that the war had unleashed a catastrophic revolution, and that it was directed by Moscow. There was no way that the Allies would put this concern aside. After all, the Bolshevik credo was an assault on the values of capitalist liberal democracy, which defined the worldview of Britain, France, Italy, and the United States. Whether they wore their ideology on their sleeves, as U.S. president Woodrow Wilson did, or not, like French premier Georges Clemenceau, the question of the day was not just what to do with Germany. In many ways that was easier, because previous experience had shown how to deal with a defeated great power. The unfolding drama in Russia, however, was much more troubling, and made only worse by the Allies' inability to determine who was actually in charge there.

No government, of course, wishes to lose power or to see chaos erupt, but this fear was everywhere in 1918-1919. Practically everyone outside Russia used the words revolutionary, Bolshevik, subversive, and communist interchangeably. They came up repeatedly in public statements and private conversation and denoted dread. What they referred to was an ideologically coherent movement that meant to upend the existing order and replace it with a Marxist order. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 was seen as the first of a series of revolutions. October, November, and December 1918 brought a series of explicitly Marxist or Marxist-inspired revolts across Germany. Even though the armistice went into effect on 11 November, Europe had still not calmed down when the principals opened talks in Paris in January 1919. During the first two weeks of the conference, Russia, not Germany, was the single most discussed topic. The "Bolshevik menace" was not simmering down. As the conference opened, Berlin witnessed a paramilitary force--the Freikorps--crushing an attempted coup by the German Communist Party and its militants, the "Spartacists." The rebels may not have been directed by or even made up of Russia's revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin's followers (indeed, one German communist leader, Rosa Luxemburg, had been a member of the Menshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic and Labor Party), but one should not expect that the statesmen gathering in Paris would have known that. The Freikorps would, with their blessing, head off to the Russian borderlands, where Bolsheviks remained embroiled in the civil war that persisted more than another year. Communism remained a consistent problem during the conference, as Moscow wavered between demonstrating good-faith membership in the community of nations and actively encouraging subversion. The first Soviet emissary to Berlin, sent after the Russo-German peace settlement of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918, was Adolf Ioffe, a career revolutionary. It was easy to conclude that Moscow's relationship with the wider world was increasingly hostile and subversive when Lenin established the Communist International (Comintern) in March 1919.

Negotiations in Paris continued until the signing of the various peace treaties, including the Versailles Treaty concluded with Germany. During the five months of talks among the Allies about the treaty's provisions, Germany experienced yet another Marxist rebellion in traditionally conservative Bavaria. Hungarian communists led by Bela Kun also established a communist regime in 1919. Only a civil war and Romanian intervention ended it.

In short, the fear of a spreading, pan-European Marxist or Bolshevik revolution was palpable at the Paris Peace Conference and was frequently and openly discussed. American secretary of state Robert Lansing spoke of the pressure to act against communism as early as 22 January, when he warned that the "flames of bolshevism [would] eat their way into Central Europe and threaten the destruction of the social order." Similar fears hovered over the British and French delegations. The "Big Four," the conference's main leaders Wilson, Clemenceau, British prime minister David Lloyd George, and Italian premier Vittorio Orlando, were all motivated by a fear of communism spreading from Russia into Central Europe, and ultimately to their own countries.

What to do about its spread, however, was not so clear. After four years of war, there was little interest in direct intervention in Russia, which lessened the scope of any probable Allied response to Lloyd George's January 1919 rhetorical call for intervention. The British, for their part, were actively involved, providing armor, aircraft, money, munitions, advisers, and troops to help the White forces under Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak in Siberia and General Anton Denikin in South Russia. They also maintained a substantial number of troops who conducted offensive operations around the ports of Arkhangelsk and Murmansk in the north, ostensibly to prevent Allied supplies sent to the prerevolutionary Russian governments from falling into German hands. Throughout 1919 the British made some striking operational contributions to the anti-Bolshevik White Armies, even launching naval attacks on the Bolsheviks in the Baltic. This intervention was driven largely by a handful of ministers in Lloyd George's cabinet, the most notable and vigorous of which was Secretary of War Winston Churchill, who called for the "Bolshevik baby" to be "strangled in its crib."

Various steps were taken either to normalize Soviet Russia's position in the world or get it to participate in the peace conference, but the unsettled nature of conditions in Russia rendered attempts at diplomacy or forcing a settlement in the Russian Civil War fruitless. Even in the most promising cases, such as the proposal for talks on the Island of Prinkipo, they were naive and pathetic. In the end, the peace conference's lasting action on the Bolsheviks was a muddle.

Among the Allies, there were generally two visions of the peace, one the liberal "New Diplomacy," the other a more traditional balance-of- power approach. The English-speaking powers generally tended toward the former, while Clemenceau tended toward the latter, with Orlando tending more to weigh in only on matters more directly affecting Italy. Wilson and Lloyd George tended to see World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution as a product of the world's injustices, and the new order they were drawing up at the conference was aimed at eliminating them altogether or at least making them more manageable. In the new circumstances, they hoped, Bolshevism would wither away as the matter of a few crazed malcontents. Wilson warned that if one wished to avoid the destruction of governments by the peoples of the world, it was necessary and critical to approve the League of Nations, an international body established to govern international relations. This sentiment underlay both Wilson's determination to see the Treaty of Versailles ratified by the American Senate and to see the United States join the League. In his famous Fontainebleau memorandum, Lloyd George held the treaty out as "an alternative to Bolshevism because it [would] commend itself to all reasonable opinion as a fair settlement of the European problem."

Clemenceau had as little faith in the magic of liberal democratic values to stave off Bolshevism as he had in their ability to contain Germany. Just as he demanded and got the disarmament of Germany, the creation of demilitarized zones in its border areas, and long-term Allied occupation of some of its strategic areas, so too did he demand real, concrete steps against the spread of Bolshevism. Versailles forced the Germans to renounce their gains at Brest-Litovsk, but Russia's losses were not returned to Russia. These territories were caught in the intersection between Wilson's calls for self-determination and Clemenceau's expectations for the re-creation of its old security alliances. Despite Wilson's lofty visions, Eastern Europe did not offer obvious boundaries for nation-states, and negotiations were protracted. Making matters worse was the fighting between these new countries, as they let the force of arms decide boundaries. In the end, a principle from the Congress of Vienna was resurrected. A buffer zone, now called a "sanitary corridor," or cordon sanitaire, would stretch from the Arctic Circle to the Black Sea to include the new states of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Yugoslavia. All these adjustments were made with an eye toward their effectiveness in isolating Soviet Russia from Europe. More directly affecting the situation in Russia, the Allies resolved to continue their naval blockade of the Soviet Union until further notice, and it would not be lifted until 1920.

The Peace of Paris did not produce a single treaty or agreement to address the Bolshevik Revolution and Civil War. Given the shadow the Bolsheviks had cast over Europe and the number of communist rebellions that flared up in the year and a half since the Bolshevik takeover, however, the question of what to do about communism and communist insurrection always stood out in deliberations. Directly, the negotiations created a buffer zone to contain the spread of the "communist virus," and the blockade against the Bolsheviks was upheld. The powers also maintained their own uncoordinated military presence in Russia until the Civil War seemed to be winding down. Wilson's "New Diplomacy," enthusiastically supported by Lloyd George and less enthusiastically by Clemenceau, also aimed at rooting out the general causes of Bolshevism by presenting a more appealing and hopeful alternative for world diplomacy than subversion and revolution.

-- Phil Giltner, Albany Academy

Viewpoint: No. The immediate concern of obtaining an advantageous and lasting peace with Germany and its allies dominated the agenda at the Paris Peace Conference.

Russia's premature departure from World War I, facilitated by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918, assured its exclusion from the general peace settlement negotiated in Paris. The failure of Russia's war effort, the collapse of first its monarchy and then of the Provisional Government that replaced it, and the ensuing rise of militant communism left both the new Soviet state and its domestic opponents on the margins of European diplomacy.

First and foremost, the Soviet regime effectively removed itself from the affairs of the great powers. Officially regarding World War I as an objectionable imperialist war fought among Europe's elites at the expense of its victimized lower classes, Bolshevik ideology had little time for the formalities of a traditional peace settlement. A significant component of early Soviet ideology, and its primary source of domestic appeal, focused on securing an immediate end to the war without territorial annexations or financial indemnities. The Soviet regime's prompt repudiation of all tsarist and Provisional Government debt, wholesale nationalization of foreign business interests, and speedy publicizing of all secret diplomatic documents served as both symbolic and practical rejections of the prevailing order. Since the treaties under negotiation in Paris involved redefining international boundaries, transferring territory from losers to victors, assessing financial and other reparations, and similar Old World diplomatic conventions, the peace conference represented the values that the Bolsheviks had led their revolution to subvert. Indeed, the Bolshevik Party's prophetic line was that the nations of Europe, like Russia before them, were destined to fall to socialist revolution amid the traumas of war. This contention was central to Vladimir Lenin's argument in favor of "prematurely" (in the orthodox Marxist sense) seizing power in October 1917 and informed the world of his belief that the old "bourgeois" pattern of international politics would become obsolete. Leon Trotsky, the Bolshevik leader first charged with foreign affairs, candidly expressed his belief that his purpose was to remove Russia from World War I as quickly as possible, urge the rest of the world to rise up in revolution, and then, as he put it, "shut up shop." Dissolving the traditional organs responsible for conducting foreign policy in this way represented the utopian communist belief that revolution would ultimately lead to the dissolution of the state. Although the Soviet Union would later strive for acceptance as a "normal" member of the community of nations and seek a place as an accepted great power, its early incarnation did little to make it an actor of great consequence in the World War I peace.

Anti-Bolshevik forces also had a difficult time making the Russian Revolution a major issue in the World War I peace settlement. Various White leaders actively cultivated relationships with foreign governments--including those of the major World War I allies--but the practical results were dismal. Few Western politicians cultivated a serious interest in Russian domestic politics after 1917 and focused more or less solely on Russia's capacity to continue or, after Brest-Litovsk, to resume fighting the Germans. Particularly in Britain and France, furthermore, many Left-wing intellectuals and politicians, some of whom entered national government for the first time during World War I, looked favorably on the Soviet "experiment" and were unsympathetic to using massive military intervention to end it. Less idealistic but more pragmatic figures, including most Allied military leaders and the moderate politicians they advised, agreed that their nations' taxed armed forces and war-weary populations would combine with Russia's geographic vastness in presenting insurmountable challenges to crushing the Bolshevik regime. Although fifteen nations sent troops to Russia in the so-called intervention, their presence had little to do with the Paris Peace Conference. Indeed, most of their forces arrived in mid 1918, while war still raged in Europe. Their activities were for the most part limited to guarding recently arrived supplies, ostensibly to protect them from advancing German forces, and posed little real threat to the Soviet regime. Significantly, the only language pertaining to Russia in the November 1918 armistice agreement that ended the war on the Western Front called for the Germans to withdraw their forces from the Eastern territories under their control. In other words, intervention in the Russian Civil War was defined by Western Allies' wartime conceptions of military necessity. By the time the Paris Peace Conference opened in January 1919, intervention was already on the wane. Responding to mutinies among soldiers and sailors who no longer wished to serve after the armistice--events that only augmented concerns about using exhausted Western armies to fight Bolshevism--France withdrew its forces from the Black Sea region in April of that year. British units that had entered the Caucasus and Central Asia pulled out shortly thereafter. Although American and Japanese forces remained in place, those powers' aims had little to do with the outcome of Russia's Civil War. Japan intervened with the sole purpose of establishing strategic control over Russia's unstable Far East, while an American detachment was deployed there to monitor Japanese ambitions. In any case, all intervening nations but Japan withdrew by 1920, and domestic and diplomatic pressure eventually forced it to reduce and then eliminate its presence as well. No mandate for international forces in Russia, no policy for their employment, and no guidelines for their operations were ever set down in Paris.

Some individual powers, especially Britain, supplied the anti-Bolshevik White Russian forces with arms, military matériel, and training, but no nation, nor any organ of the Paris Peace Conference, ever offered formal diplomatic recognition to the White representatives who attended the conference and attempted to influence the general peace settlement to their advantage. The only public statements on the Russian Civil War issued from Paris were carefully worded declarations of neutrality. The White Russian delegation itself--representatives of the émigré Russian Political Conference--did not present an impressive picture. A collection of notables representing the loosely affiliated White governments of Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak and General Anton Denikin, the Political Conference consisted mainly of figures from the discredited Provisional Government. One of its leaders, the socialist revolutionary Boris Savinkov, had made his name before 1917 as a terrorist assassin, hardly a figure to inspire confidence among staid Western diplomats. The Political Conference's delegates to the peace talks included Sergei Sazonov, a former tsarist foreign minister who had spent much of his tenure frustrating Allied diplomats, and, as chairman, the ineffectual Provisional Government premier, Prince Georgii L'vov. Neither man elicited much sympathy. According to one account, when L'vov met with U.S. president Woodrow Wilson in November 1918, he received only fifteen minutes of pleasantries and not even a promise of help. After the prince's departure, Wilson is said to have commented only on the fullness of his beard. Although the members of the delegation successfully lobbied for British military aid, their overall presence turned out to be more of a curiosity or an annoyance, views that commonly came to be held of most Russian émigré political organizations and, indeed, of Russian émigrés in general.

Russia was ignored because the protocols decided in Paris were resolutely about Germany, its wartime partners, and their future in a Europe dominated by the victorious Allies. This focus was natural since the Allied coalition had barely prevailed in the bloodiest war in human history up to that time and deeply feared a renewed German challenge. The peace treaty signed at Versailles in July 1919 deprived Germany of significant border territories, its colonies, and its capacity for offensive military operations. Germany also had to accept full responsibility for the war and promise to render heavy reparations payments, the precise amount of which was left open to be determined later. Subsequent treaties with Austria, Hungary (the Empire having been dissolved and peace made with its two largest constituent states), Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire, were all similar in tone and effect. The Allies wanted to punish their wartime adversaries, receive almost unrealistically generous compensation for their losses, and ensure that their enemies could pose no threat to the new order for the foreseeable future.

Clearly, most Allied governments developed an antipathy to Bolshevism, regardless of whatever initial interest or hope some of their leftist members may have expressed. Yet, this antipathy developed outside the context of the World War I peace settlement. Britain continued its private support for Kolchak until it became apparent that he had no chance of winning. The French, despite their earlier difficulties, sent a military mission to Poland in 1920 to help prevent its conquest by the Red Army. Even some of the armistice provisions requiring Germany to withdraw its forces from Russian territory were informally reversed in order to safeguard the independence of the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia from the Soviets. As time went on, moreover, it became apparent that the international order fashioned in Paris in 1919 could accommodate the Soviet state. Informal commercial agreements were signed between the Soviet regime and representatives of Allied powers shortly after the Civil War ended, the Soviets accepted tremendous American famine relief in 1921-1922, and the establishment of formal diplomatic relations with most Western nations followed shortly thereafter.

The Soviets themselves quickly abandoned their dreams of world revolution for the more realistic doctrine of "socialism in one country" and--at least formally--solicited favorable trade and diplomatic relationships with the West. In the case of Germany, which also initially faced isolation after World War I, relations developed into a de facto alliance and included substantial military cooperation. As the Soviet Union sought a "normal" place in the world, even the style of its diplomacy betrayed an affinity for traditional forms. The People's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs not only failed to vanish, as Trotsky had predicted, but grew into a powerful and important instrument of Soviet policy. After World War II it, along with the other People's Commissariats, became a ministry again. Young Soviet diplomats were herded into finishing schools to learn etiquette, table manners, and ballroom dancing, among other Western niceties.

In the early phases of their revolution, the Bolsheviks were averse to participating in the normal practice of foreign relations. For several years after 1917, nearly all of their actions indicated that they neither wanted nor expected to function in the prevailing international order but wished to remain outside of it and undermine its foundations. Whatever the Allies thought about communism, in 1918-1919 they realized that their main priority lay in securing, or rather imposing, what they hoped would be a highly advantageous and durable peace with Germany and its allies. The unfolding Russian Revolution and Civil War were problems that few Western leaders understood in any detail and for which even fewer could offer a practical solution capable of attracting far-reaching or long-lasting support. The question of what was to be done about Bolshevism remained absent from the Paris Peace Conference.

-- Paul du Quenoy, American University in Cairo


The Bolsheviks issued the following proclamation in response to the Allied powers' sending troops and money to aid White forces during the Russian Civil War:

Workers! Like a vicious dog let off the leash, the entire capitalist press of your countries is howling for the "intervention" of your Governments in Russian affairs, shrieking, "now or never!" But even at this moment, when these hirelings of your exploiters have dropped their masks and are clamoring for an attack on the workers and peasants of Russia--even at this moment they lie unscrupulously, and shamelessly deceive you. For while threatening "intervention" in Russian affairs, they are already conducting military operations against workers' and peasants' Russia.

On the Murmansk Railway which they have seized the Anglo-French bandits are already shooting Soviet workers. In the region of the Urals they are breaking up the workers' Soviets and shooting their representatives, using for this purpose the Czech-Slovak troops, which are maintained at the expense of the French people and commanded by French officers.

Complying with the orders of your Governments, they are cutting off the Russian people from their food supplies, in order to force the workers and peasants to put their necks once more into the halter of the Paris and London Stock Exchanges. The present open attack of Franco-English capital on the workers of Russia is only the culmination of eight months' long underground struggle against Soviet Russia. From the first day of the October revolution, from the moment when the workers and peasants of Russia declared that they would no longer shed either their own or other people's blood for the sake of Russian or foreign capital, from the first day that they overthrew their exploiters and appealed to you to follow their example, to put an end to the universal slaughter, to put an end to exploitation--from that moment your exploiters vowed that they would destroy this country. . . .

But when they saw that all their attempts were unsuccessful, when it became clear that hired bandits were an insufficient force, they decided to sacrifice you too, and they are now openly attacking Russia, flinging the workers and peasants of France and England into the firing line. . . .

To conceal the true nature of this crusade against the Russian workers' revolution your capitalists tell you that it is being undertaken not against the Russian revolution, but against German imperialism, to which they claim we have sold ourselves. . . .

We are convinced that should we retort to every blow of the rapacious "Allies" by two blows, you would regard our action not only as legitimate defense, but also as the defense of your own interests, for the salvation of the Russian revolution is the common interest of the proletariat of all countries. We are certain that every measure taken against those who on Russian territory hatch plots against the Russian revolution will meet with your sincere sympathy, for these plots are directed against you as well as against us. Driven to fight Allied capitalism, which wishes to add new fetters to those fastened on us by German imperialism, we turn to you with the call:

Long live the solidarity of the workers of the world!

Long live the solidarity of the proletariat of France, England, America, and Italy, with the Russian proletariat!

Down with the bandits of international imperialism, long live the international revolution!

Long live peace between the nations!

Source: "Appeal of the Council of People's Commissars to the Toiling Masses of England, America, France, Italy and Japan on Allied Intervention in Russia, August 1, 1918," in Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy, volume 1, edited by Jane Degras (London: Oxford University Press, 1951), pp. 88-92.



Manfred F. Boemeke and others, eds., The Treaty of Versailles: A Reassessment After 75 Years (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

Ferdinand Czernin, Versailles, 1919: The Forces, Events, and Personalities that Shaped the Treaty (New York: Putnam, 1964).

Howard J. Elcock, Portrait of a Decision: The Council of Four and the Treaty of Versailles (London: Eyre Methuen, 1972).

George F. Kennan, Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin (Boston: Little, Brown, 1961).

Sally Marks, The Illusion of Peace: International Relations in Europe, 1918-1933 (New York: Macmillan, 2003).

John M. Thompson, Russia, Bolshevism, and the Versailles Peace (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966).

Опубликовано 04 сентября 2007 года

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