File No. 763.72119So
The Diplomatic Liaison Officer with the Supreme War Council ( Frazier) to the Secretary of State
[Received March 20, 1.18 p.m.]
28. For the President and the Secretary:
Conference of the 16th instant. Mr. Lloyd George made the statement that the Allied Governments might soon expect a demand from the Socialists and the Labor Party for an international conference where the Allied representatives could meet those of the enemy. As the last Socialist conference at London had reached an agreement regarding the war aims of the Allies it was probable that the Socialists would make a definite request to proceed perhaps to Berne for the purpose of discussing peace terms with enemy Socialists. He thought it highly important that the Allied Governments should all make the same reply to such a demand.
M. Clemenceau said he would reply by a frank explanation; the question had often arisen in France, but all Governments of all shades of opinion had consistently opposed [desires of] Allied Socialists to meet and discuss peace terms with the Germans. Inasmuch as there existed in Great Britain, France and Italy, Governments which were the sole proper organs to discuss terms of peace and war, it would imply a tendency to substitute some Socialist representatives for the Governments if the request of the Socialists were granted. There were also moral obligations; peace conversations would mean discussion with the enemy and this might prove a serious danger to the Allied nations in view of the enormous effort made and the long duration of the war. M. Clemenceau said he dreaded these discussions, for, although they would be entered into in good faith by French and British Socialists, the German Socialists would not enter them with equally good faith. He went so far as to say that under the present conditions no reasonable basis for a discussion of peace terms existed; only yesterday in Berlin at the by-election the Socialist vote was given for the imperialistic candidate. He deemed it the duty of the Governments to try to [Page 170] make their Socialists understand the position without actually discouraging them; in fact he thought that, at the present time, any proposal for international Socialist conference would be premature.
Signor Orlando said that it was a very difficult and delicate question; he was opposed to any conference; he agreed with M. Clemenceau that the Allied Socialists might enter the conference in good faith while the Germans would enter it in bad faith. No one could say, however, that a resolution taken at the present time could be final for all time.
Signor Bissolati pointed out that the London Socialist conference had thrown out every proposal against the cause of the Allies. He considered, as far as Italy was concerned, that it would be dangerous to allow a meeting to take place with enemy Socialists; the refusal of the Government to allow such a meeting would be well received by all except the pacifists; since the Brest-Litovsk treaty of peace,1 there was a general feeling in Italy that it would not be right to meet the enemy.
Mr. Balfour thought that it would be easy to refuse the Socialists without annoying them by replying in the sense that it was not an occasion when a discussion was desirable with German Socialists, who were the tools of their Government, and Russian Socialists, who lived in the clouds. Mr. Lloyd George said he would refuse on the ground that it was an affair of the Government and not of parties. He himself in addressing the British Labor Party had asked what answer he should give if English Liberals desired to meet German Liberals and if English Conservatives wished to meet German Conservatives. He had pointed out that the Socialists themselves had protested at the idea of British financiers meeting German financiers and yet if one party were allowed to confer with the enemy other parties should have the same right. Such a reply, however, would be inconsistent with Mr. Clemenceau’s suggestion that the proposal was premature. Mr. Clemenceau said, having expressed the whole of his idea on the subject, he wished to leave himself a loophole of escape because he felt that, if at any time he found a party or a group in France capable of engaging serious ideas of peace with a corresponding party in the enemy country, he would not have the courage to oppose it.
Mr. Lloyd George stated that certain Socialist delegates consisting of Messrs. Jouhaux and Cachin for France, Canopa for Italy, and Camille Huysmans for Belgium, desired proceed to the United States to confer with Mr. Gompers and the Socialist Party of that country. They had approached the Shipping Comptroller for permission to sail for New York.[Page 171]
Mr. Balfour suggested that the United States should first be asked whether they desired that permits should be issued to these men.
M. Clemenceau said there was a great difference between associating themselves with permits to an international Socialist conference and those to proceed to America. He himself was quite ready to consider the French delegates’ permits. He has been informed by one of M. Tardieu’s assistants that Socialist delegates could do no harm in America, and would not be listened to by [any] individual. Recommended that the Allies send real working men to America, men who were not only practical workers, but also sound about the war. M. Clemenceau said that he had at once acted on this suggestion and had sent one working man from Lyons, who is a Socialist, and another man from Nancy, who, although not a Socialist, was a miner and has been working in the zone of fire for some time; he thought that [if] the British and Italian Governments were to do the same thing, excellent results might follow.
Signor Orlando accepted this suggestion which he thoroughly approved of.
The Conference decided that Mr. Balfour telegraph to the United States to ascertain if the American Government desired permits to be given to the Socialist deputation.