Lt. Col. Raymond Robins 57 to the Secretary of State

Sir: Pursuant to your request I have the honor to present to you herewith a brief printed statement of my recommendations concerning the Russian situation.

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It seems to me that in all the confusion of statement and conclusion surrounding the Russian situation the following propositions are reasonably clear:

First, that Germany hesitates to employ in Russia armed forces in sufficient number to subjugate the land but desires—as clearly indicated by a consistent course of conduct in Ukrainia, Finland and the Baltic Provinces—to establish so-called governments of law and order which are too weak to support themselves in the great class struggle but which may be maintained and controlled by German force.

Second, that through such governments Germany hopes to control and utilize Russian resources and, if possible, Russian man-power against the Western Allies in this war, and to conclude the war with Russia completely under the economic dominion of Germany.

Third, that forcible Allied intervention opposed by the Soviets would be essentially analogous to what Germany is doing in the Ukraine, in Finland and in the Baltic Provinces.

Fourth, that such intervention unless welcomed by the great mass of the Russian people would be destructive in principle of the entire basis of President Wilson’s democratic war policy.

Fifth, that forcible Allied intervention, if uninvited by the Soviet power, will certainly be opposed and will result in civil war.

Sixth, that forcible Allied intervention can not be justified upon grounds of military necessity, and will not prevent but will hasten and make easy the consummation of Germany’s war aims in European Russia.

Seventh, that American economic co-operation with Russia will open the way for effective Allied intervention with force and the creation of an actual fighting front opposed to Germany in Russia.

The recommendations enclosed herewith are stated with as much brevity as possible.58


Raymond Robins

Statement of Recommendations Concerning the Russian Situation

American Economic Cooperation With Russia

i.—russia will welcome american assistance in economic reconstruction

America’s democratic war aims are such as to make allied intervention by force in Russia inconceivable unless desired by the great mass of the Russian people. Thus far there has been no expression [Page 367] of any such desire, but there is now presented in the invitation coming from the responsible head of the Soviet Government for America’s coöperation in economic reconstruction, the opportunity for taking a vitally important preliminary step toward complete economic and military coöperation in the creation of an effective Eastern front. This suggestion should be considered solely as a war measure, uninfluenced by altruistic concern for the Russian people.

The Russian people and their leaders are learning by bitter daily experience the necessity of organizing resistance to German power. When the peace written by Germany at Brest-Litovsk was signed the condition of the old army was such that it was utterly incapable of resisting any organized force. Demobilization was the first indispensable prerequisite for the creation of an effective force with which German power could be opposed. The next step is the reconstruction of the economic situation. Modern armies cannot survive unsupported by economic and industrial organization.

It was upon the plea of the necessity for economic reconstruction that the peace, frankly described as shameful, was accepted. The leaders of the Soviet Government realize that their social-economic revolution must fail, and that Russia will inevitably fall under the complete domination of autocratic Germany unless immediate and effective assistance in the reconstruction of economic life can be obtained. Their faith in the formulas of International Socialism naturally repels the suggestion of friendly cooperation with so-called Imperialistic and Capitalistic Governments, but the compelling realities and necessities of life have led in this case, as in many others, to readjustment and compromise. Hence the present suggestion coming from the responsible head of the Soviet Government which is an earnest request for America’s cooperation in the internal reconstruction of economic life.

It is my sincere conviction, if this suggestion is acted upon and such economic reorganization is accomplished as is needed to equip and support a revolutionary army, that such an army can and will be formed and that in such event the assistance of armed forces of the Allies will be gladly accepted by the Soviet Power. This Power can not be expected to countenance Allied intervention until convinced that the intervening force will not be used to destroy it.

ii.—general purposes of an economic commission

The aims of an Economic Commission sent to Russia to coöperate in the problem of economic reconstruction will be—

  • First. To so reconstruct commercial distribution as to assure the consumption of Russian resources in Russia where they are vitally [Page 368] needed, thus preventing such resources from being used for the support of the German people and the German armies.
  • Second. To control the use and disposition of surplus resources and through such control to prevent such use in the service of Germany.
  • Third. If possible to re-establish trade with Russia upon a basis which, while facilitating economic reconstruction in Russia, will at the same time furnish to the Allies for use in England and France necessary products shipped from Russia via Archangel, which otherwise would necessarily be brought to England from more distant ports requiring longer voyages and consequently a greater use of tonnage.
  • Fourth. To convince the Russian people that the interests of Russia and the Allies in overthrowing German autocracy are identical, and that American assistance is given solely with a view to hastening the day when Russia will be able to aid the destruction of the German menace.
  • Fifth. To encourage and assist in the organization of a voluntary revolutionary army, creating behind such an army the necessary organization for its economic support.
  • Sixth. To convince the leaders of Revolutionary Russia, whoever they may be, that the Allied Governments have no imperialistic purposes in Russia and will gladly send forces to assist the Russian people in opposing the aggression of German force; and through coöperation with these leaders, to obtain their consent to sending Allied troops which in coöperation with Russian forces may be sufficient to reestablish the Russian front.
  • Seventh. To obtain an accurate understanding of the fundamental social forces at work in Russia and to keep the American and other allied governments advised of the actual facts controlling the development of the Russian, social, economic and political revolution.

iii.—the economic problem

Russia is not suffering so much from a lack of resources as from the break-down of the ordinary processes of distribution. The Russian peasant finds himself with a large quantity of grain and a large amount of depreciated paper currency. If he takes his grain to the local center of trade he finds none of the necessities of his life for sale, and can not exchange his grain except for more depreciated paper money. Consequently the grain is not brought to market. In several instances where shipments of manufactured articles needed by the peasants have been sent to villages, theretofore suffering from the lack of grain, abundant supplies of grain have at once been brought from the surrounding country by the peasants to be exchanged for the manufactured articles.

While this is typical of the situation in many provinces, other neighboring provinces are facing famine conditions because of crop failures or other reasons, and have no grain with which to sow their fields or to feed their people. In a district near Samara, the handling of such a situation was attempted by the local peasant’s coöperative society. Going to the peasants who lacked the seed wheat with which [Page 369] to sow their fields, this organization proposed to procure the necessary seed-wheat, provided the peasants would advance the price of the grain which the society promised to deliver within a fixed period of time. Many of the peasants, ignorant of all methods of business involving even the simplest form of credit, refused this offer made solely in their own interest. A unit of the American Friends Society, which has been doing excellent work in that district, determined to bridge the gap; and sending a man to Omsk found no difficulty in purchasing the necessary seed-wheat, and after procuring the same transported and sold it to the peasants without loss in a majority of cases.

Meanwhile, the factories in the industrial centers have in many cases continued their operations and have produced manufactured articles that are lacking in the country districts. In illustration: The J. M. Coates Company, which produces 60 per cent of all the cotton thread produced in Russia, and which has large factories in Petrograd, continued its operations up to the end of February, 1918, and at that time had on hand the largest stock of manufactured products its books had ever shown. Owing to difficulties of communication, transport, and hauling, the distributing branch of the business had not been functioning. That efficient production is possible under Soviet rule has been demonstrated by the experience of the International Harvester Company which has largely increased its producing efficiency during the past six months under Soviet rule. This experience was made possible through tactful handling of a very difficult situation which resulted in effective coöperation from the Soviet authorities who in order to get results were willing when faced with the practical necessities of the situation, to modify the rigid formulas of their economic theory. No doubt the experience of this company is exceptional, but the tactful handling of daily problems as they arise through a competent American Economic Commission will be the most effective method of accomplishing similar results in like cases.

iv.—government cooperation

Obviously nothing can be accomplished without the coöperation of governmental power. The commission must, therefore, go if it goes at all, willing to deal with the leaders of Revolutionary Russia actually in power, without regard to their principles or formulas of economic, social, or political life, so long as such leaders sincerely desire to recreate forces in Russia which will be used in resisting the force of German arms. Seeking such cooperation, the members of this commission will be asked to advise regarding problems of a most practical and controlling nature. They will be able to exert powerful influence to prevent large commercial transactions with Germany. All of this [Page 370] work will from necessity be done under Government control and protection. Their advice re-enforced by the uncompromising facts of life will lead inevitably to the modification, adjustment, and softening of the hard and impossible formulas of radical socialism; and because of the necessity of finding it, a practical basis for progress will be found. The Russian Revolution has now reached the stage where it is to be controlled, not by theory, but by the unyielding necessities of life. This fact is becoming each day more clear to the radical socialistic group now in control of the Soviet Government.

It is apparent from the informality of the suggestion inviting American coöperation that formal recognition of the Soviet Government is not a necessary prerequisite to coöperation. Acting upon this informal invitation, a commission can proceed to Russia and be placed in direct touch with the entire situation without further formality.

American coöperation will give the Allies effective and controlling influence upon the internal situation. Such coöperation will be able to direct the forces supporting the Soviet Power against Germany. If effective, coöperation will ultimately compel the continued utilization against the Russian people of tyrannical German force, thus preventing German coöperation and increasing the bitter resentment against Germany which is steadily gaining ground in Russia. If the economic life of Russia can be sufficiently organized to make possible the support of an effective army, this growing resentment will surely crystallize in the organization of an army which will effectively oppose the German menace in Russia.

v.—organization of commission

Through coöperation with the Government the work of such a Commission will be concerned with:—

Railway control, management and operation;
Reorganization of credit and finance, governmental and commercial;
Commercial distribution of grain and manufactured articles in exchange for grain;
Food administration and control;
Shipping and foreign trade, with particular reference to Allied war needs;
Industrial management and control in co-operation with labor;
Reorganization of manufacturing and coal mining industries;
Development of agriculture;
Prevention, or utilization, of speculative markets;

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To accomplish substantial results the most competent organizing and technical ability will be required. Members of the Commission must be men of liberal views and sympathetic understanding, capable of meeting fact conditions with practical ability to achieve results under difficult and complex circumstances.

Under the control of the Commission it will be necessary to create an extensive organization with representatives in all important centers of Russian life. For this purpose the distributing and sales organizations of large business concerns, both American and English, which have heretofore been organized in Russia and which are now in danger of being disorganized should be utilized and reorganized to meet the actual demands of the situation. There are many such organizations in Russia as, for instance, the New York Life Insurance Company, the J. M. Coates Company, and the International Harvester Company.

The organization thus created by the Commission will co-operate in the various local centers with various Russian agencies, including the local Soviets, the Peasants’ Co-operative Societies and the local Zemstvos where they are functioning. Thus the commercial and industrial needs necessary for re-creation of commercial life may be effectively ascertained. Through co-operation in railway management the opportunity will be created of transporting manufactured goods from the place of production to the place of consumption. The Commission will be able to control the disposition of manufactured goods by the use of American credit and upon transportation of such goods to the local centers will, with them, be able to control the disposition of large food products.

These products should of course be primarily used for consumption in Russia and will be transported to the centers where food products are lacking. Any surplus will be available for export.

If export trade with the Allies can be re-established upon such a basis as to result in economic use of tonnage in bringing from Archangel products required in England and France it should be possible in exchange for these products to ship to Russia agricultural and other tools and machinery and manufactured products. This trade should be in the absolute control of the Commission, so that the distribution of the goods sent to Russia will be, in so far as possible, under the control of the Commission. With American credit and American goods the Commission will be able to control the disposition of Russian resources, vitally needed by Germany. In this connection it is encouraging to note that there are authentic reports to the effect that Germany has been endeavoring to make large purchases of American bank notes for the purchase of grain from the Ukraine peasants. This fact indicates that Germany has not at her [Page 372] disposal the goods required by the Ukrainian peasants for which they would be willing to exchange their grain. Effective organization combined with the use of American credit and the control of American goods should effectively prevent the commercial exploitation of Russia by Germany during the balance of the war.

The work of this Commission will be so extensive that the burden of responsible supervision should not be placed upon any of the departments of the Government already so greatly overburdened with work. In order to meet this situation and at the same time to obtain proper co-ordination it is suggested that a separate and independent department of the Government be created under the Overman Act; that at the head of this department there should be a man enjoying the absolute confidence of the President, who shall be responsible only to the President; that there be associated with him representatives of the various Government departments having vital interests connected with the prosecution of the war which may be related to the work of the Commission.

The Commission should be responsible only to this independent department and, through it, responsible to the President. This department should be granted an appropriation by Congress adequate to effectively carry on its work. The very large amount of money which will be required is indicated by the character of the work to be done.

Independent facilities of communication in cipher should be established between the Commission and the department to which it is to be responsible.

Time is of the utmost importance. The Commission should be organized as quickly as possible and should proceed to Russia via Archangel so as to reach the center of European Russia without unnecessary delay.

Raymond Robins

  1. In charge of the American Red Cross Commission to Russia, December 1917 to May 1918.
  2. These recommendations were transmitted by Secretary Lansing to President Wilson. On July 3 the President replied: “Thank you for having let me see the enclosed. . . . I differ from them only in practical details. Cordially and faithfully yours, Woodrow Wilson.” (File No. 763.72/10614½.)