International Affairs as the Mirror of the Russian Revolution

15:00 01.03.2012 • Armen Oganesyan , Editor-in-Chief, International Affairs



Late in December 1921, the people's commissariats and other departments of Moscow and Petrograd were informed: "Subscription to the periodicals of the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs (NKID) is going on. The NKID Bulletin has been replaced with the Mezhdunarodnaia zhizn journal, a much wider publication in which N. Iordansky, M. Litvinov, I. Maysky, M. Pavlovich, K. Radek, and G. Chicherin will be personally involved." This was obviously suggested by the new economic policy. The publishing department of NKID deemed it necessary to "inform all Soviet departments as well as Party and public structures that starting with January 1 free distribution of NKID publications will be discontinued... all organizations should subscribe to these editions well in advance." The circular quoted the prices: 2 rubles 65 kopeks in prewar rubles or $2.65 for subscribers abroad.

As distinct from its predecessor the new publication was a journal in the true sense of the word: it carried signed articles stamped with individual style, commented surveys of events in other countries and of emigre publications, foreign press comments, political calendar, and official information.

By 1922, the postwar chaos in Europe had not yet developed into a semblance of order. The editorial of the March 1922 issue written by Ivan Maysky offered a sweeping panorama of the state of affairs abroad: "The world war ended... Europe climbed out of it with nearly ruined economy and a heavy burden of debts which it does not know how to repay. The old society armed with old capitalist methods has no means to disentangle itself from this catastrophic situation. The menacing problems created by the logic of life call for new socialist methods, the methods of organized development of world economy."

The next passage could have been written today: "Europe is in a trap; it does not know what it wants. It has no great dominating idea to determine its life and activities. It has been broken and has squandered all it has on trifles and minor details. It became an entanglement of hopeless contradictions which could have baffled wise Oedipus himself... This ended in a political chaos best presented at the comedy of the Genoa Conference." The author went on to say that "Soviet Russia is the only country in the world with a clear mind, great idea and firm political will." Ivan May sky dwelt on Russia's economic difficulties which he explained by the war rather than by the deplorable results of the failed war communism policy. Fully aware that isolation was pernicious for the Russian revolution the author, who formulated the thesis of incompatibility of the two worlds, contradicted himself by saying that "Russia should join the world economic exchange... There are no alternatives and no other solutions."

It should be said that the capitalists were more inclined to accept the compromise than many of the European left parties. Die Freiheit daily of the German Independents wrote: "Proletariat should not allow either bourgeoisie or the Bolsheviks to dupe it... Bolsheviks arrived to Genoa not as communists but as merchants." The newspaper further wrote that European proletariat could not become a blind instrument of the Soviet government and warned others against the attempts to picture the Russian merchants as fighters for the world social revolution. The very fact that the Soviet delegation appeared in Genoa could have split the European workers' movement, an unpalatable prospect for party ideologists in Moscow.

Former revolutionary Nikolai Iordansky (who at one time had been close to Mikhail Bakunin) deemed it necessary to warn the ideologists of "white socialism" by quoting what a "more responsive" bourgeois economist Keynes wrote about the Genoa Conference: the "bourgeois scholar" realized that what was going on in Genoa "was not haggling of traders or a chess tournament of crafty diplomats but a clash of two ideologies."

"In Genoa," he went on to say, "proletarian socialism clashed with bourgeois individualism... The conference has come to grips with the right of private property, its central issue." The article appeared under a telltale title "The Principles of the Year 1917" which had destroyed the right of private property as the cornerstone of social and political relations. The West, France in the first place, demanded that the former Entente countries should be protected against encroachments at the property rights and insisted that it should be accepted as the foundation of the restoration of Europe (Le Temps, May 5, 1922).

The first issues of the new journal concentrated at the Genoa Conference which suggested that Mezhdunarodnaia zhizn had been set up for propaganda and counterpropaganda purposes. This was a wrong impression.

In his greeting to the journal on the occasion of its 90th anniversary former Foreign Minister of the U.S.S.R. Alexander Bessmertnykh has wisely pointed out that while foreign policy can be frequently ideologically biased professional diplomacy is free from this fault. At first glance this looks like an obvious contradiction: we have all learned to look at diplomacy as a foreign policy instrument and nothing more. A career diplomat, however, much more depends on what is called Realpolitik closely connected with objective geopolitical challenges which change from country to country.

In one of the 1922 issues, Foreign Minister of Soviet Russia Georgy Chicherin wrote: "It is not by chance that the fifth anniversary of the October Revolution coincided with the revival of the Red Navy. Fleets are indispensable for worldwide communication. Ocean offers world routes; it means world trade and economic relations with all nations of the world. Revival of the Red Navy is but the first steps along the world naval routes. It looks as if history deliberately raised the problem of the Straits at this historical moment to be resolved by us and other governments... This extremely complicated strategic and political issue has moved Soviet Russia into the very hub of world antagonisms."

Back to the Straits? Is it the same "accursed question" "dating from the times when the Crimea was conquered and Ochakov fell" which figured prominently in the Russo-Turkish wars, the Crimean War and World War I? Yet, this is it, even if shortly before that, after the successful campaign of the Russian army in 1916 Emperor Nicholas II had consistently and firmly insisted that the Allies should recognize Russia's rights to the Bosporus and Dardanelles and make this recognition public. The issue which for many decades or even centuries had been one of the main concerns of Russian diplomacy was inherited by Soviet diplomacy. Alexander Bessmertnykh is quite right: the journal offered the adepts of the world revolution a rostrum from which they could, more or less skillfully, defend the "principles of the year 1917." Career diplomats, however, many of them with prerevolutionary experience knew better: they were not waging ideological battles - they had to feed the starving, to pull the country out of the quagmire of devastation and nearly total degradation. They positively influenced Chicherin's very contradictory nature. Himself a professional diplomat, he could not contain his indignation with those ambassadors and plenipotentiaries who indulged themselves with leftist phrases instead of doing what they should do abroad. His protests addressed to the very top earned him numerous enemies.

Professional diplomats contributed profound and highly interesting analyses of world processes which retained their topicality till our days. An article titled "American Policies in China" said: "Open doors are interpreted as equal rights for all while in these conditions America which is economically stronger that the rest of the world can count on a victory over all the rivals to gain priority rights and privileges." Here is an example of economic diplomacy at its best: "Economic interests of Britain, a country with highly developed industry, urgently demand that Russia should restore its agriculture. Today, Britain depends, to a great extent, on American wheat prices; America is its biggest creditor which protects its market against British commodities with high tariffs. This presents a great threat to the exchange rate of pound sterling.

"Britain would have found itself in much better conditions had it been able to import Russian wheat. The capacious Russian market would have easily consumed British export which would have supplied the exchange rate of both currencies with a firm foundation."

The journal was closed in 1930 reportedly due to its Trotskyism yet an analysis of the article and materials of that period fail to reveal any Trotskyist biases; geopolitical analyses were well substantiated and dominated over ideology. One cannot refute the fact that many of the authors from among Party functionaries and former revolutionaries were close to Trotsky, Bukharin and Radek. Significantly, Trotsky delivered his last public speech in the Soviet Union at the burial ceremony of his close friend and comrade-in-arms Adolf loffe, the journal's founder and one of its authors.

There was no open struggle between Bolsheviks, Trotskyites and career diplomats; none of the groups proved immune to repressions. Professional diplomats, however, had to stand opposed (a dangerous position) to those who wanted to fan a worldwide revolutionary fire "to spite bourgeoisie." The position of career diplomats and especially those who had come from the "old regime" was highly dramatic: in the eyes of many they were "turncoats" and "traitors." Diplomats who frequently travelled abroad felt betrayed. In a certain sense, military experts (who had served under the old regime) never went abroad, had no contacts with emigration and were, therefore, in a morally more comfortable position.

The emigrant community, on the whole, proved unable to read into the situation and accept the choice of these people. In the same way secular emigration and the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad rejected the famous Testament of Patriarch Tikhon (Belavin) written in 1925 as false. It was the most perspicacious emigrants close to the patriarch, Metropolitan Anastasy (Gribanovsky) being one of them, who accepted the document as genuine. He wrote to Prince Trubetskoy that he was convinced by "the document's inner logic which fully corresponded to the patriarch's train of thought and actions of the last years: no concessions in the questions of faith and the canons but complete obedience, not from fear but from conscience, to Soviet power as permitted by Divine Will."


A diary of one of the diplomats of that time contained a quote which obviously harmonized with his own feelings: "Society is a means. Those who look at it as an aim merely deprive it of an aim and render it empty and lifeless... The forms of service to society may change yet love should never disappear as an awareness of duty unpaid and unpayable till the end of our lives." The diplomat added: "This is very true. We should serve God, Motherland and people with love and 'render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's!'"


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