British policy with regard to Russia and the Caucasus was formed in the Imperial War Cabinet. This was founded in 1916 after Lloyd George replaced Asquith as Prime Minister. Its function was to concentrate power in the hands of the few (rather than the 22 of the normal Cabinet) so that the War could be directed to a conclusion with greater cohesion by 5 or 7 chosen men. The War Cabinet outlived the Great War it was established to win and was maintained for a year after the Armistices of 1918.
The Eastern Committee of the War Cabinet, headed by Lord Curzon, dealt with policy in relation to the Russian periphery. The Eastern Committee, following Curzon’s policy, assumed that a corridor of buffer states would be constructed between the Russian centre and the British Empire. But what happened in the Russian heartland was to have a great bearing on what happened in the periphery.
British policy on Russia and the Bolsheviks was fought over by 3 men – the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, the Minister for War, Winston Churchill and the new Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, who succeeded Arthur Balfour in mid-1919.
Lloyd George and the Democracy
Lloyd George wrote in his Memoirs:
“I would have dealt with the Soviets as the de facto Government of Russia. So would President Wilson. But we both agreed that we could not carry to that extent our colleagues at the Congress, nor the public opinion of our own countries which was frightened by Bolshevik violence and feared its spread.” (David Lloyd George, The Truth About the Peace Treaties, p.331)
While that was only part of the story it was certainly the case that the new democracy was a big part of the reason for poor policy with regard to Russia, particularly in Britain.
A very astute Frenchman, Andre Siegfried, wrote a number of books in the 1920s and 1930s about the character of England in order to understand it and explain it to his countrymen. In England’s Crisis he observed the Transformation of the Political System which had occurred. almost unnoticed, from 1918:
“The political stability of England has always been the admiration of the world. Throughout its entire structure, one feels the weight of order and discipline… Nevertheless, behind this imposing facade, England has been more contaminated than any other Western community by the exigencies of democracy… In appearance her institutions have changed little since the Victorian era, when she was controlled and efficiently governed by her aristocracy… In the last century the system was genuinely hierarchic, and even when the submerged masses began to make demands, all they asked was a programme of practical achievement which was praiseworthy in its moderation. The direction of affairs still remained in the hands of the so-called ruling classes… By creating an entirely different set of circumstances, the War aroused a new spirit and awakened new desires among the people. The immense army of fighting men slowly began to realise that in England, a elsewhere, it was possible to lead a more comfortable life…. We are dealing with a country where the vast majority belong to the working class, and where public opinion reigns supreme. Although this popular will can be canalised or even diverted, and usually remains docile in the hands of its leaders, it is irresistible when roused… From a distance everything looks the same as before – the same morning coat, the same top hat, the same spats – but the spirit has changed. England is now a democracy in the full sense of the world… often inspired by the demagogue… In conclusion, we must emphasise that among the Western democracies, which are all suffering from the same evil, namely lack of responsibility on the part of the people, England is particularly affected.” (England’s Crisis, pp.148-154)
England’s industrial revolution of the 19th Century had produced a huge proletariat which was suddenly unleashed as a power in the land by the Representation of the People Act of 1918. And nothing was ever the same again.
A very important development that had great effect on Britain’s policy toward Russia, the Bolsheviks and the Caucasus, occurred in February 1918, when the UK electorate was nearly tripled at a stroke by the Fourth Reform Act (from the 7.7 million at the time of the last election in 1910 to 21 million). The consequences of this only became apparent after the General Election in December 1918, when the Lloyd George Coalition won a landslide victory to dominate Parliament.
Before the Great War Britain was an oligarchic democracy in which the traditional elite held sway above a limited enfranchisement which had, in 1914, reached about a third of the populace. The British system before the War was one of government by the ruling class eliciting consent of the governed masses. There was no democratic right, as the speech by F.E.Smith (Lord Birkenhead), made in July 1910 against a Bill to give some women the vote, explains:
“For generations it has been recognised that no man has an abstract right to vote. The theory that there is such a thing in existence as a right to a vote is as dead as Rousseau. A vote is not a right. It never was a right. It is a capacity which is given on approved public ground to such sections of public citizens as, in the opinion of the whole State, are likely to exercise that quality with benefit to the community taken as a whole.” (The Speeches of Lord Birkenhead, p.55)
But in 1918 the oligarchic, ruling class that planned and organised the Great War in Britain, behind the scenes, gave way to the democracy which the Great War brought forth. “The whole State” conceded to the masses.
There had not be an election for 8 years in 1918 and Britain became a majority democracy as a result of the unprecedented mass mobilisation it found necessary to invoke – in defiance of the traditional voluntary principle – in order to defeat Germany and the Ottomans. There was no need for conflict because the greatest of the Reform Acts, introduced under cover of the Great War, within the great mass enthusiasm for the War, was done through an act of ruling class patronage, organised in secret conclave. Parliament was only shown the details when the deed was done.
With the sudden advent of adult majority participation in elections in Britain account had to be taken of the masses. They began to be pandered to by “the men who won the war”. Here is a good description of it from a 1922 book by Alfred Zimmern of the Round Table/Chatham House:
“During the week after the armistice the moral thermometer of the British people went down some fifty degrees. During the subsequent month, right up to polling day in the middle of December, it continued to fall. The… sense of national and individual responsibility for the making of a better world… were dissipated in a riot of electioneering, thrown like chaff on the winds of demagogic claptrap and invective… After a few vain attempts at evasion the Premier yielded, and was then led on, floundering and uncomfortable, from one pitfall to another. Ignoring the state of Europe and the appeals which were already pressing in for the services of British troops in maintaining order… he pledged himself to rapid demobilisation… Meanwhile, what was happening in the wider world? The story of the first eight or ten weeks after the armistice can be summed up in three words – delay, confusion, and disillusionment.” (Europe in Convalescence, pp.106-109)
As Zimmern noted, the chief panderer to the masses was the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, the closest thing there was to “the people”. Lloyd George, coming from humble origins, had broken the unwritten rule that until then had debarred from the Premiership all but thorough gentlemen with first-class educations.
The Prime Minister won a great majority in the General Election with the “Hang the Kaiser” slogan exciting the masses. Then Lloyd George began his pandering to the masses by demobilising the massive conscript British Army that he had built up after the voluntary principle had been abandoned in 1916. It was reduced from 3.5 million at the Armistice to less than a million 9 months later and Defence/War spending was reduced from 600 to 200 million Sterling during 1920. (Akaby Nassibian, Britain and the Armenian Question, p.160 and p.184)
This left much Imperial work undone and unable to be done in the areas the British Empire had won for itself. The old Imperial governing class looked on with regret when they saw the dissolution of the forces that could have been used to stabilise the world Britain had won through great sacrifice of blood and treasure. A functional settlement in Europe was prevented in the process by the new British democracy and its “wheeler-dealer” Prime Minister.
Zimmern made this comment about the selfishness of the new democracy:
“History will assess the full measure of the moral injury inflicted upon the world, and the British Empire, by Britain’s sudden swerve towards selfishness. For the moment, it would seem to mark the first step in a process of disintegration which later statesmen, even if, as they surely must, they acknowledge, and seek publicly to retrieve, the sins of their predecessors, will find it hard to arrest; for the accumulated moral capital of a wide-spreading commonwealth.” (ibid p. 122)
The combination of British democracy and “a wide-spreading commonwealth” spelt disaster for the world after Britain had gained its primacy over the earth.
How Lloyd George Ruled
At the same time as admitting the masses to the franchise, to mitigate the effects of the new democracy, “Lloyd George wanted the Coalition to continue in what was almost an attempt at one-party government. It was cleverly disguised dictatorship.” He “introduced methods that would have been more in keeping with a totalitarian state” (The Mask of Merlin: A Critical Study of David Lloyd George, pp.155-7) The Prime Minister promised “to demand the whole cost of the war from Germany at once” and in 20 speeches he committed to “hanging the Kaiser”. With the use of the issuing Coupons to reliable candidates Lloyd George achieved 526 MPs against a combined opposition of less than 90.
Lloyd George was the most powerful Prime Minister that had ever held office in the British system, because of a remarkable shift in power within the British Executive. As Andre Siegfried explained:
“It is natural for the power of a Government to increase in times of war, but it is unusual for it to shift its centre of gravity during its growth. The essentials of power were no longer vested in the Cabinet – considered as a collective body – but in the position of the Prime Minister, seconded by collaborators and technical experts. In this domain, as in every other in which he has exercised his abilities, the personality of Lloyd George acted as ferment. By the creation on his own initiative of the War Cabinet at the end of 1916, a new body, more exclusive and efficient, meeting daily and sometimes twice a day, was born in the very heart of Government… A new organisation known as the Secretariat of the Cabinet came into being as a result of… the need for centralizing the activities of the Government. Many ministers who had hitherto shared in the general direction of policy, now found their activities confined solely to the fulfilling of their departmental duties… Under the brilliant direction of Sir Maurice Hankey, the Cabinet Secretariat became, during the Premiership of Lloyd George, a vital part of the administrative machinery…
Under Mr. Lloyd George the post of Prime Minister thus became a semi-independent institution. He organised his own technical services in order to study various questions at first hand, and often withdrew technical problems from the competence of the various ministries. Thus, for example, all matters pertaining to the League of Nations and the preparation of international conferences passed from the direction of the Foreign Office to that of the Secretariat, which grew into a veritable ministerial department controlled by the head of Government.
From what has been written, it will be seen that Mr. Lloyd George in the last years of his power no longer governed with the spirit and traditions of his predecessors. Rendered independent of his colleagues on all technical matters by the remarkable service he had to hand, he also managed to liberate himself from the restrictive influence of the House of Commons. For the existing Coalition, by uniting men of different political opinions and making them work as a single body, had developed in place of open discussions in the House the practice of those combinations in which the Premier excelled… In short, he created for himself a pre-eminent and isolated position, akin to that of the president of a democracy who addresses himself directly to the people, and obtains his mandate from them.” (Post-War Britain, pp.198-201)
The man who was Prime Minister of Britain in 1918, Lloyd George, had made himself very powerful. But he still had to live by his wits in the company of his social superiors, within a rapidly changing situation, brought about by the sudden introduction of mass democracy, in which he had built himself his singular and predominant power base. He had to be fluid and like quicksilver. He was a man who had shown he had principles but who had largely abandoned them to rise up the greasy pole and stay at the top of it. And he had assumed the character of a weather vane, blowing one way or another, as events affected him, to stay at the top.
It was the character and power of this man, and the unprecedented situation that pertained in Britain at the end of the Great War, that needs to be understood if we are to get to grips with what happened in relation to British policy on Russia and in relation to the Caucasus from 1918 to 1920.
Lloyd George was a Liberal Prime Minister heading a Coalition with a largely Conservative Cabinet. The chief Tories in the War Cabinet, Balfour and Bonar Law, were opposed to large scale Allied intervention in Russia because of fear of Bolshevism spreading to Britain.
A series of peace proposals were advanced by the Bolsheviks after the Armistices with Germany and the Ottomans. The British Foreign Office urged that nothing be done that would give the Bolsheviks recognition and, in consequence, “moral strength” since “beset by internal dangers and struggles and surrounded by enemies” the Soviet government “might well crumble to ruin in the near future” (FO 371/3346, 23.12.1918).
The Prime Minister too initially advocated that “no fixed attitude” should be taken to Bolshevik “Central Russia”. He was “definitely opposed to military intervention in any shape” – meaning direct British force – noting that the British war on the French Revolution a century ago had enabled Danton to “rally the French” and “create a great military machine imbued with a passionate hatred” of Britain (CAB 23/42, 31.12.1918).
Lloyd George advocated a policy of “non-interference in the internal affairs” of the area under Bolshevik control, “any assistance, financial or material… possible, excluding troops” for those occupying the Russian periphery, like Denikin and assistance to states which had declared their independence from the Russian Empire i.e. Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan (CAB 29/28/1, 13.1.1919).
The Prime Minister was against any significantly increased level of British intervention in Russia beyond the forces already there because of fear of costs in both blood and treasure. He advanced the argument in Cabinet that civil wars were won ultimately by the side that is able to attract the greater popular support, and therefore is deserving of victory.
This line facilitated the policy of Britain giving the anti-Bolshevik forces as much support as they needed without actually making the Russian Civil War Britain’s war. If the Whites succeeded in winning the support of the Russian people they would win, if they could not they would lose, and Britain could abandon them as quickly as she had supported them.
The Prime Minister’s policy on Russia held primacy in the British Cabinet and was only really contested by the War Minister, Winston Churchill and to a lesser extent, the Foreign Secretary, from mid-1919, Lord Curzon.
At Christmas 1918 an old Bolshevik and Deputy Commissar, Maxim Litvinov, sent President Wilson a note requesting negotiations with the West with a view to settling accounts. After ascertaining the genuine nature of the offer President Wilson proposed a meeting at Paris where all the parties to the Russian Civil War could meet.
Lloyd George favoured inviting the Bolsheviks to negotiations, along with the other Russian factions, to Paris – or somewhere else, if that was unacceptable. He described his attitude as akin to the Fox Whigs with regard to the French Revolution (Lloyd George, The Truth Behind the Peace Conference, p.331). A meeting was proposed by the British Prime Minister to the Allied Supreme Council in early 1919 to take place on the Princes Islands (Prinkipo) near Istanbul to settle differences among the Russians. But this suggestion was shot down by the French government and the White Russians.
Churchill against Lloyd George
One of the Prime Minister’s social superiors was Winston Churchill, who was to provide the main, indeed only substantial, opposition, to Lloyd George’s Russian policy.
By the time Winston Churchill had become Secretary of State for War and a member of the War Cabinet, British forces were already committed in various regions of the Russian Empire and engaged in battle with the Bolsheviks.
Churchill demanded a clear Russian policy from the British Cabinet. He argued that Britain should either pull out or take determined action in support of the anti-Bolshevik forces in Russia. He was not in favour of the Prime Minister’s Prinkipo policy and said: “One might as well legalise sodomy as recognise the Bolsheviks.” (24.1.1919, Anthony Read, The World On Fire: 1919 and the Battle with Bolshevism, p.104)
At the Imperial War Cabinet on the last day of 1918 Churchill argued for collective intervention to destroy the Bolsheviks. He wanted to use military force to impose an election on Russia that he was sure the Bolsheviks would lose (CAB 23/42, 31.12.1918). Churchill put his proposal to the Allied Supreme Council in February 1919. He also sent two telegrams to the Prime Minister in Paris, outlining his plans for Russia.
Lloyd George replied to his War Minister, explaining the basis of his opposition to large-scale direct intervention in Russia, saying he was
“very alarmed at your… planning war against the Bolsheviks. The Cabinet have never authorised such a proposal. They have never contemplated anything beyond supplying Armies in anti-Bolshevik areas… I beg you not to commit this country to what would be a purely mad enterprise out of hatred of Bolshevik principles. An expensive war of aggression against Russia is a way to strengthen Bolshevism in Russia and create it at home. We cannot afford the burden. Chamberlain (Chancellor of the Exchequer) tells me we can hardly make both ends meet on a peace basis even at the present rate of taxation and if we are committed to a war against a continent like Russia it is the direct road to bankruptcy and Bolshevism in these islands.” (Lloyd George, The Truth about the Peace Treaties, Vol. I, pp. 371-2)
Churchill, in his demand for a “Crusade against Bolshevism”, was supported by Marshal Foch who wished to raise an army of Polish and east Europeans to support the Whites in bringing down the Bolsheviks. However, both Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson opposed such a large intervention and the Allied Council rejected Churchill’s and Foch’s proposals.
A Second Brest-Litovsk?
Determined to pursue the peace initiative President Wilson and Lloyd George took secret steps to advance it, through Colonel House.
In February 1919 there was an opportunity for a settlement to be made between the Allies and the Bolshevik government in Russia. The Bolsheviks, at this point, had made a number of attempts to make peace with those who were supporting armed insurrection on Russian territory.
If a peace settlement had been successfully concluded at this moment it would have changed the history of Russia, the Caucasus, and perhaps that of Europe as a whole. However, it was lost, primarily due to the subsequent evasion and inaction of the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George.
In February 1919 William Bullitt, a US State Department Intelligence Officer, working with Colonel House in Paris, was sent on a secret “fact finding” mission to Moscow. It was more than a “fact finding” mission, though. Prior to his departure, Bullitt had been briefed by the British Cabinet Secretary, Sir Maurice Hankey, and Sir Philip Kerr, a Round Table/Royal Institute of International Affairs man, who was part of the British delegation at Paris. These two influential figures, after conferring with the British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, gave Bullitt the task of obtaining “an exact statement of the terms on which” the Bolsheviks “were ready to stop fighting” (The Bullitt Mission to Russia: Testimony before the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate, pp. 34)
Kerr detailed the terms he ascertained from Lloyd George that would result in a peace settlement – if the Bolsheviks agreed to them. Generous financial assistance was promised to Moscow on the British/U.S. side. In return, after a ceasing of hostilities on all fronts the Soviets had to allow “All de facto governments to remain in full control of the territories which they at present occupy.” (ibid, p.37)
After meeting Chicherin, Litvinov and finally Lenin himself, in long conferences, Bullitt and his colleagues were presented with the terms Lenin would settle for in return for an end to the starvation blockade, trade embargo, military assistance to the Whites and Allied intervention in Russia.
Almost all of the British demands were conceded by Lenin. These included most importantly the Bolshevik concession that
“All existing de facto governments on the territory of the former Russian Empire and Finland would remain in full control of the territories they occupied at the moment of the Armistice, the revision of frontiers to take place only by the self-determination of the inhabitants. Each government would agree not to use force against any of the others.” (ibid pp. 39-44)
Bullitt later commented:
“Lenin’s proposal meant, therefore, that the Soviet government offered to give up, at least temporarily, the whole of Siberia, the Urals, the Caucasus, the Archangel and Murmansk areas, Finland, the Baltic States, a portion of White Russia, and most of the Ukraine.” (William C. Bullitt, The Tragedy of Versailles, Life, Vol. XVI, No.13, March 1944, pp.98-118)
In effect, this was a second Brest-Litovsk, with Lenin and the Bolsheviks prepared to buy off Allied military and economic pressure through the concession of large swathes of territory which could not be conquered at the time. The Russian heartland would be retained by the Bolsheviks in the hope that a spread of the revolution might bring about a future resurrection.
Bolshevik Russia would pay off the Tsarist foreign debt. The financial assistance promised to the Bolsheviks was something of a double-edged sword for Lenin to consider.
After Bullitt received the Soviet terms on 14 March he communicated them to the British and wrote in his Memorandum to the President of the U.S. that he believed it to be:
“an opportunity to make peace with the revolution on a just and reasonable basis – perhaps a unique opportunity… No real peace can be established in Europe or the world until peace is made with the revolution.” (Foreign Relations, 1919, Russia, pp.85-9)
Lenin insisted on a reply within a month, to safeguard against Allied advances before the peace deal.
Colonel House was ready to recommend a separate peace with Moscow on the basis of Lenin’s acceptance of the terms outlined to him in the Bullitt Mission. (John M. Thompson, Russia, Bolshevism and the Versailles Treaty, p.236)
The Bullitt Mission was leaked to the British press and The Daily Mail produced a ferocious editorial against parleying with “an evil thing known as Bolshevism”, penned by the newly appointed editor of The Times, Henry Wickham Steed. This, linking Bullitt’s mission to the pre-War Liberal pacifism, the Prinkipo proposal, Jewish International Finance and the appeasement of Germany, shook Lloyd George, according to Bullitt’s testimony to the Senate Committee (The Bullitt Mission to Russia: Testimony before the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate, p. 66).
By 10 April more than 200 Conservative MPs had signed a petition urging non-recognition of the Soviet government. In the British Parliament on 16 April, under questioning from Conservative MPs, the Prime Minister denied any knowledge of the Bullitt Mission, despite having received the US Intelligence Officer for breakfast in Paris, for a full report on his Mission, only a few days before. Lloyd George then used the occasion to make a major policy statement on Russia which ruled out recognition of the Bolsheviks and any peace moves entirely.
President Wilson also gave Bullitt the brush-off. Colonel House passed him off to hostile subordinates and all was lost as the April 10 deadline was allowed to pass without reply to the Soviet offer.
Frederic Howe, who was part of President Wilson’s staff at Paris, and who gives wonderful descriptions of what happened at the Peace Conference between the British and Americans, later wrote about the Bullitt mission:
“The Mission had been successful. The Russians had acceded to the allied memorandum; a rapprochement seemed established; Russia was to come back into the family of nations. Bullitt and Steffens were elated. A great advance had been made toward international amity. For some reason or other they could not see the President. Lloyd George received Bullitt and the report, but later denied that he knew of the mission or had given his consent to it. No explanation for his change of front was ever offered. That Lloyd George had approved of the mission was obvious to all. It could not have left France, could not have landed in England, could not have secured conveyence to Russia but for British aid and approval. Truth meant little at Paris… Some time after the return of the Russian mission William Bullitt resigned. He felt, he said, that he could not face himself longer in the world of duplicity in which America was being ensnared. Several other experts withdrew with him.” (The Confessions of a Reformer, pp.303-4)
George Kennan later commented:
“An… important cause of Bullitt’s misfortune was no doubt the domestic-political situation in England, which did not permit Mr. Lloyd George to do what he thought would have been sensible about the Russian problem. Here you get into another of the characteristic disadvantages of democratic-diplomacy – the fact that a system of government under which the executive power is sensitively attuned to the waves of popular sentiment, and of parliamentary opinion, is one which finds it difficult to adjust rapidly and incisively to a complicated and fast-moving series of circumstances, especially when controversial domestic issues are involved… All this was doubly true of the representatives of democratic governments who struggled with the Russian problem…” (Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin, p.135)
In short, the British democracy blew Lloyd George away from a peace policy toward the Bolsheviks and prevented a functional settlement being made with Russia in 1919, which condemned the Caucasus to its subsequent fate in the following year.
Churchill’s War on Bolshevism
Without a peace settlement that confined the Bolsheviks to the Russian heartland and gave time for states around the periphery of the old Russian Empire to bed in, what policy was possible?
At this point the Royal Navy was tightening a starvation blockade on Germany in order to secure its capitulation to the Treaty of Versailles. In Parliament, in early March, Churchill warned of the possible consequences of this policy if it was pursued to a finish. He suggested it was now time to make peace with Germany before it was too late:
“We have strong armies ready to advance at the shortest notice. Germany is very near starvation. There was an imminent danger of a collapse of the entire structure of German social and national life under the pressure of hunger and malnutrition. Now is therefore the time to settle. To delay indefinitely would be to run a grave risk… of having another great area of the world sunk with Bolshevist anarchy. That would be a very grave event.” (The Times, 4.3.1919)
Lloyd George, responding to this fear of the starvation blockade resulting in Bolshevism, began to relax the blockade (although it was not wound up for another 3 months.
Another speech by the Minister for War, Winston Churchill, made at the moment of decision for Lloyd George over the Bullitt/Lenin peace proposals, seems to have put considerable pressure on the Prime Minister.
At the Aldwych in London, on 11 April, Churchill told his audience:
“Of all the tyrannies in history, the Bolshevist tyranny is the worst, the most destructive, the most degrading… The atrocities by Lenin and Trotsky are incomparably more hideous… than any for which the Kaiser himself is responsible. There is also to be remembered – whatever crimes the Germans have committed… at any rate they stuck to their allies. They misled them, they exploited them, but… they did not desert or betray them. It may have been honour among thieves, but that is better than honour among murderers… Every British and French soldier lost last year was really done to death by Lenin and Trotsky… by the treacherous desertion of an ally without parallel in the history of the world… A way of atonement is open to Germany. By combating Bolshevism, by being the bulwark against it, Germany may take the first step toward ultimate reunion with the civilised world.” (The Times 12.4.1919)
Churchill’s slogan was: “Feed Germany: Fight Bolshevism: Make Germany Fight Bolshevism!” He held that there should be “Peace with the German people, war with the Bolshevik tyranny”. (Anthony Read, The World on Fire: 1919 and the Battle with Bolshevism, p.166)
When the Prime Minister heard about Churchill’s speech he is said to have exclaimed: “He has Bolshevism on the brain. Now he wants to make a treaty with the Germans to fight the Bolsheviks. He wants to employ German troops, and he is mad for operations in Russia.” (Lord Riddell, Intimate Diary of the Peace Conference and after 1918-23, p.50)
In 1919 Churchill tried to act in accordance with the world he had operated within before the War, on the presumptions that had existed before 1914. He wished to secure the position that had been hard won and defend the civilisation Britain had gained predominance within along with the duty to defend it. The War Britain had won had wrecked much of what was European civilisation and rendered others incapable of its defence against that which had been produced that threatened it.
All the British Government was anti-Bolshevik but Churchill was the most anti-Communist member of the War Cabinet and saw the defeat of “the Bolshevik poison” as the main issue in the world in 1919. In the Aftermath volume of his World Crisis Churchill made clear his hatred of Bolshevism and what he thought it had brought forth:
“… not a wounded Russia only, but a poisoned Russia, an infected Russia, a plague-bearing Russia; a Russia of armed hordes… accompanied and preceded by swarms of typhus-bearing vermin which slew the bodies of men, and political doctrines which destroyed the health and even the soul of nations.” (The World Crisis, V, p.263)
Bolshevism had to be destroyed lest it infect civilisation everywhere. That is why Churchill proposed a British alliance with the Germany Britain had only just defeated, for a war on Bolshevism (instead of it being punished for War Guilt). The appearance of Bolshevism demanded a common civilisational defence and the hysterical moral propaganda of the Great War on Germany needed to be cast aside.
Churchill outlined his views in a Memorandum to the Prime Minister he wrote criticising policy on Russia:
“Since the Armistice my policy would have been ‘Peace with the German people, war on the Bolshevik tyranny’. Willingly or unavoidably, you have followed something very near the reverse… we are now face to face with the results. They are terrible. We may win may be within measurable distance of universal collapse and anarchy throughout Europe and Asia. Russia has gone into ruin. What is left of her is in the power of these deadly snakes.” (Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis, Vol. V, p.257)
It was said that the War of 1914 was a “war for civilisation” on Britain’s part – “Civilisation and the Barbarian” as it was put by Professor Tom Kettle in the Liberal press. Churchill knew that that was all propaganda. In 1919 there was a real war for civilisation taking place.
Churchill was later to lavish praise on both Mussolini and Hitler for defending Western Civilisation against the Bolshevik threat. In 1919 he identified the influence of the Bolshevik state acting upon the situation of flux caused by the Great War and its settlement at Versailles as threatening the foundations of civilisation in Europe. Fascism was needed as a bulwark against Bolshevism and Churchill supported it on this basis as an antidote to poison. He proposed that Germany could atone for its War Guilt by acting as a European bulwark against Bolshevism and Hitler subsequently took Churchill at his word.
Churchill saw a strong link between what happened in Russia and what happened in Germany. In a Memorandum written later in 1919 he described this:
“Generally speaking, it may be said that there are two Russias and two Germanies, a Bolshevik and an anti-Bolshevik Russia, and a pro-Bolshevik and an anti-Bolshevik Germany. Both Germanies look to Russia as their only means of regaining world power. Either by the pro-Bolshevik or anti-Bolshevik road Germany is determined to get hold of Russia… the moment the Allies take steps which are fundamentally injurious to anti-Bolshevik Russia, and make it clear they do not care whether it is crushed or not, both the Russian hands will be stretched out alternatively for Germany to clasp, and either in one way or another these two mighty branches of the human race will come together in effective action.” (CAB 24/89, 16.9.1919 and Winston S. Churchill, World Crisis: Aftermath, pp.251-3)
Churchill evidently believed in the view, most famously advanced by Prof. Halford Mackinder, that the most vital necessity of British geopolitics was to prevent Germany and Russia joining forces and control the “Heartland” of what Mackinder called the “World Island” in his 1919 book, Democratic Ideas and Reality. This is primarily why a series of buffer states – or cordon sanitaire – was erected by the Allied Powers at Paris, between Germany and Russia.
We shall hear of Mackinder in relation to the Caucasus, later.
The bungled British War on Germany of 1939-40 led to Churchill having to enter alliance with the forces of “anti-civilisation” in order to defeat those who he had previously praised for defending civilisation. Such are the vagaries of the British Balance of Power that turned Churchill the Fascist into Churchill the anti-Fascist (see Zionism versus Bolshevism: A Struggle for the Soul of the Jewish People, Sunday Herald, 8.2.1920 and Mr. Churchill on Fascism, Antidote to Soviet Poison, The Times, 21.1.1927 for example.)
The Balance of Power – Britain’s traditional policy of creating conflict and war in Europe – so that England could dominate the world, was everything to Churchill.
Churchill continued to argue that the procrastination of the British Government had worsened the situation in Russia. He saw the early months of 1919 as having been disastrous for the anti-Bolshevik cause, because of the lack of substantial intervention by the Allies. The Allied Supreme Command finally declared its official support for Admiral Kolchak in attempting to overthrow the Bolsheviks in June 1919 but Churchill felt this was too little too late.
Along with putting forward a vigorous anti-Bolshevik policy Churchill subsequently operated something of a private war against Lenin from the War Office, from mid-1919. Frustrated with the lack of a clear Cabinet policy on Russia and the obstructionist tactics of the Prime Minister, he began to pursue his own Russian policy independently of the War office.
Churchill’s private war should be understood as a last aristocratic hurrah against a democracy that was making a mess of the world it had won in its Great War victory.
Lloyd George Blown Away
On 16 April, under pressure from the backbenchers over the suspicion that he had had a hand in peace overtures to the Bolsheviks and Churchill’s call for war on Russia Lloyd George made a major speech on his Russia policy. He said:
“I should like to say a few words about Russia. I have read, and I have heard of very simple remedies produced by both sides. Some say, “Use force!” Some say, “Make peace!” It is not easy; it is one of the most complex problems ever dealt with by any body of men. One difficulty is that there is no Russia. Siberia is broken off. There is the Don, one of the richest provinces of Russia, the Caucasus, and then there is some organisation controlling Central Russia; but there is no body that can say it is a de facto Government for the whole of Russia… To begin with, let me say at once, there is no question of recognition. It has never been discussed.—it was never put forward, and never discussed for the reasons I have given. I can give two or three more. There is no Government representing the whole of Russia. The Bolshevik Government has committed against Allied subjects great crimes which have made it impossible to recognise it, even if it were a civilised Government, and the third reason is that at this very moment they are attacking our friends in Russia. What is the alternative? Does anyone propose military intervention? I want to examine that carefully and candidly… I believe I may say every man in this House wholly disagrees fundamentally—with all the principles upon which the present Russian experiment is based. We deplore its horrible consequences—starvation, bloodshed, confusion, ruin, and horror. But that does not justify us in committing this country to a gigantic military enterprise in order to improve the conditions in Russia.
“Let me speak in all solemnity, and with a great sense of responsibility. Russia is a country which it is very easy to invade, but very difficult to conquer. It has never been conquered by a foreign foe, although it has been successfully invaded many times. It is a country which it is easy to get into, but very difficult to get out of… If we conquered Russia—and we could conquer it—you would be surprised at the military advice which is given us as to the number of men who would be required, and I should like to know where they are to come from. But supposing you had them. Supposing you gathered together an overwhelming army, and you conquered Russia. What manner of government are you going to set up there?… Look at it in another way. We have an Army of Occupation (in Germany). I know what it costs. You cannot immediately leave Russia until you have restored order. It will take a long time to restore order in Russia… I share the horror of all the Bolshevik teachings, but I would rather leave Russia Bolshevik until she sees her way out of it than see Britain bankrupt. And that is the surest road to Bolshevism in Britain… To attempt military intervention in Russia would be the greatest act of stupidity that any Government could possibly commit. But then I am asked if that be the case, why do you support Koltchak, Denikin, and Kharkow? I will tell the House with the same frankness as I put the other case. When the Brest-Litoff treaty was signed,. there were large territories and populations in Russia that had neither hand nor part in that shameful pact, and they revolted against the Government which signed it.
“As long as they stand there, with the evident support of the populations… It is our business, since we asked them to take this step, since we promised support to them if they took this step, and since by taking this stand they contributed largely to the triumph of the Allies, it is our business to stand by our friends. Therefore, we are not sending troops, but we are supplying goods. Everyone who knows Russia knows that, if she is to be redeemed, she must be redeemed by her own sons. All that they ask is—seeing that the Bolsheviks secured the arsenals of Russia—that they should be supplied with the necessary arms to enable them to fight for their own protection and freedom in the land where the Bolshevists are anti-pathetic to the feeling of the population. Therefore I do not in the least regard it as a departure from the fundamental policy of Great Britain not to interfere in the internal affairs of any land that we should support General Denikin, Admiral Koltchak, and General Kharkoff.” (Hansard cols. 2939-2945, 16.04.1919)
At the Supreme Allied Council a couple of months earlier, during the Prinkipo discussions, Lloyd George had repeated that the Bolsheviks were undoubtedly the dominant force in Russia and they had to be come to terms with. And he had attempted to come to terms with them through the Bullitt Mission. But he had changed his tune after the criticism made of the peace overtures and Churchill’s anti-Bolshevik speech.
Dr. Emile Joseph Dillon in his incomparable account of the Peace Conference at Paris makes the following comment about the failure of the Allied policy toward Bolshevism and Russia:
“The Allies… might have solved the Bolshevist problem by making up their minds which of the two alternative politics — war against, or tolerance of, Bolshevism — they preferred, and by taking suitable action in good time. If they had handled the Russian tangle with skill and repaid a great sacrifice with a small one before it was yet too late, they might have hoped to harvest in abundant fruits in the fullness of time. But they belonged to the class of the undecided, whose members continually suffer from the absence of a middle word between yes and no, connoting what is neither positive nor negative. They let the opportunity slip.” (E.J. Dillon, The Inside Story of the Peace Conference, p.399)