File No. 861.00/594
The Consul General at Moscow ( Summers ) to the Secretary of State
[Received October 22.]
Sir: I have the honor to report to the Department in regard to the impression made by the fall of Riga on patriotic and conservative people in Moscow.
Russians as a rule do not give any outward indication of distress in case of national affliction. From the bearing of the crowds on the streets it would be difficult even for the most experienced resident to guess whether military news was favorable or unfavorable. Rarely are there any indications that the people who proceed in the usual way about their affairs or their amusements are giving any thought to matters that go on outside of their immediate circle. The fall of Riga was no exception. At a time when it was uncertain whether the Russian Army would rally at new positions between Riga and Pskov, the subjects of most interest to the people of this city were the difficulties of procuring food supplies, as reflected in lengthening queues, complaints over the curtailment of the bread allowance, and disorderly searches for concealed stores of provisions and other articles of secret traffic.
In this, as in similar cases, the visible reaction almost seems to be in inverse ratio to the weight of the blow. The public mind seems to take refuge in insensibility. In private circles there is of course more expansiveness, but even there one notices the same tendencies as in public, and there is a rapid adjustment to the lower level of the national fortunes. The breach at Tarnopol was accepted, and the loss of Riga has already been accepted, as events that could not be averted and that can not be mended. The “nothing matters” stage was reached, in the attitude of the average man toward the war after [Page 183] the loss of Przemysl. The Brusilov advance of 1916 revived interest in the war for a brief season. There was no general interest in the effort of the present year.
Thoughtful opinion must be looked for in the conservative newspapers with established subscription lists, such as the Russkiya Vedomosti and the Russkoe Slovo, of this city. The former has a limited circulation among the professional, university and Zemstvo circles, in short, it appeals to the more intellectual people of Russia. The Russkoe Slovo has the largest circulation of any Russian newspaper, perhaps exceeding that of any other newspaper in the world except one or two published in France. It is representative of patriotic business men and of the broad masses of the educated people, and is usually regarded as the voice of the Russian bourgeoisie. It will be sufficient to refer to their columns in the present instance.
The military expert of the Russkiya Vedomosti pronounces the loss of Riga and the line of the Dvina as the greatest misfortune in a strictly military sense that has befallen Russia during the last two years of the war. Attention is directed to the importance of the Dvina as a barrier on the road to Petrograd, and to the command of the Gulf of Riga that goes with possession of the city of Riga, and the restriction of the sphere of action of the Russian Navy that must inevitably ensue. Colonel Clergé, the military expert of the Russkoe Slovo, shares these views, which seem to be convincingly commonplace.
After the breach at Tarnopol there were appeals in the press, and in the several councils that represent radical democratic and socialist sentiment, to abandon sloth and partisanship, to subordinate personal and class interests to the public good, in the face of national peril. This was of course the keynote of the Moscow National Conference. The fall of Riga offers a similar occasion for exhortation, but the national stolidity has lamed even the patriotic pen. Warnings and pleas are now set to a lower key. Despondency has chilled even the most ardent. In the issue of September 4 the Russkiya Vedomosti in an editorial asks when there will be a turn of the road. Referring to the short-lived hopes inspired by the cessation of fraternization across the lines and the beginning of the drive through southwestern Galicia, this newspaper registers the successive steps of social and political disorganization and seems to look for renewed agitation against the Government on the part of the more radical socialists. In conclusion it returns to the elementary truth that no change for the better can be expected until the Government exercises the authority vested in it and ceases to look for approval and sanction from the enemies of order.
More mature reflections are set forth in the leading article of to-day. “As a great power, Russia no longer exists,” begins this editorial. [Page 184] “In its place there is a harrassed and enfeebled country threatened by three enemies: the enemy invading its soil, chaos within and hunger.” It is then asked whether the country would not be wiser to admit its inability now to keep its contract with its allies, instead of waiting for further calamities. The necessity of reducing the army to smaller dimensions is resolutely asserted. The editorial thus continues:
But with a reorganized army we must resist the conqueror; our Government must be a Government of national defense; it can make peace only in agreement with our allies. Suppose that this way lie further, grave defeats; suppose that we shall have to remove the capital. Did not the French Government remove to Bordeaux in the autumn of 1914? And would not a separate peace bring us more suffering, more shame, more humiliation, greater losses than these military defeats? When the war ended we should be not merely powerless, we should be despised and isolated. Possibly we should not even be invited to the Peace Congress. And if invited, who would pay attention to what we said? Russia might be changed again into Muscovy, and burdened with foreign debt and ruinous commercial treaties. …
The Russkoe Slovo and the other Moscow newspapers circulating among the middle classes content themselves for the present with stressing the demands of the National Conference for a strong government of national safety and the cooperation of all classes with it in the work of national defense.
The attitude of the radical elements seems to be most accurately shadowed forth in the assertions of army committees, in contradiction to General Kornilov and Assistant Minister of War Savinkov, that the army on the Dvina did its entire duty and only yielded to overwhelming pressure; in the exclusion of bourgeoisie newspapers from sale at the front; and in orders to prohibit the newspapers from discussing the war or printing private correspondence or information about it which does not coincide entirely with official news and comment. Whether there is concealed beneath this attempt to suppress information as to the real state of the army a desire to restore it to health and vigor while it was screened from observation, may be doubted; in any case the near future should tell.
The alleged counter-revolutionary conspiracy has been treated by the conservative Moscow press with contemptuous indifference. The brief notices about it let the reader understand that this affair is regarded as a counterweight to the reintroduction of capital punishment.
Meantime the economic situation is growing steadily worse. Murmurs and minor riots on account of lack of bread are noted all over the country. One of the most disquieting symptoms is the disposition [Page 185] of local food-supply committees to follow the example of the food-supply agents of the old régime in looking after local interests to the neglect of national. A result of this is a tendency to minimize the really excellent harvest in order that the demands made by the consuming provinces on the producing provinces may be lessened. Prohibitions of export from one province to another have never been repealed, and are often enforced. Trade in foodstuffs has been driven underground. With plenty in the country and large hidden stocks in Moscow, the daily allowance of bread has been cut down to less than half a pound avoirdupois. The Government, however, refuses to consider the repeal or the amendment of the present maximal grain prices, which are admittedly unremunerative. Requisitions supported by force are being tried hesitatingly and plans are mooted to introduce a barter of textiles and other manufactured articles for grain. In the present scarcity of manufactures and the diminishing output of factories, it is believed that it will be necessary to resort more and more to force to induce the peasants, who do not care to accumulate more of the depreciating currency, to part with their grain. In this case a war of the village against the city is to be feared. The Russkiya Vedomosti states that armed detachments, sent out in the province of Nizhni Novgorod to search for grain, were confronted with thousands of men, women and children and that the soldiers refused to fire upon them. Similar conditions are reported from Kazan. Food-supply commissioners are received with hostility and in some cases are beaten. As this newspaper adds:
The village refuses to sell its grain at maximum prices two or three times under the costs of production. It does not wish to provide grain for the city where the “bourgeoisie lives and where the workingman, after his eight” hours of labor, sits down to smoke a cigar.”
Truth requires the correction that the eight-hour work day has been in many cases materially reduced. The largest department store in Russia, in this city, is open only from about 10 o’clock to 11.45 o’clock, and from 2 o’clock to 3.45 o’clock. The managers of this store were driven by pressure, exercised in part by the Government, to submit to all the demands of their employees. All the manufacturers that are making manful efforts to keep their works going in order that the country may be supplied with necessaries and that the workingmen may be employed, are meeting with difficulties. They are pressed with repeated demands for wage enhancements and have as much to contend with in the sphere of discipline as the officers of the army. In one American works a foreman was ridden out on a barrow a few days ago after a court [Page 186] of arbitration had upheld him against all complaints on the part of the employees, and the manager who tried to save him this humiliation was threatened with instant death.
In general there is no appreciation on the part of the working-men of the necessity of earning wages. Either there is assumed to be an unlimited fund, public, corporate or private, to be drawn upon, or no thought is taken at all, demands being supported by threats and in some cases by violence.
In these circumstances, unless there is a change for the better, there will be not only hunger but unemployment this winter,
I have [etc.]