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Paris Peace Conf. 180.03101/7

BC–3

Secretary’s Notes of a Conversation Held in M. Pichon’s Room at the Quai d’Orsay on Thursday, January 16, 1919, at 10:30 a.m.

  • Present
    • France
      • M. Clemenceau.
      • M. Pichon.
      • M. Dutasta.
      • M. Berthelot.
      • Captain A. Portier.
    • Great Britain
      • The Right Hon. D. Lloyd George.
      • The Right Hon. A. J. Balfour.
      • Lieutenant-Colonel Sir M. P. A. Hankey, K. C. B.
      • Captain B. Abraham.
    • Italy
      • Baron Sonnino.
      • Count Aldrovandi.
      • Major A. Jones.
    • United States of America
      • President Wilson.
      • Mr. R. Lansing.
      • Mr. A. H. Frazier.
    • Japan
      • M. Matsui.
      • Viscount Chinda.

Interpreter: Professor P. J. Mantoux.

1. Publications in press M. Pichon, in opening the meeting, said that M. Clemenceau would like to make an observation before the business of the day began.

M. Clemenceau said that he was in doubt whether the question of the Press had been settled in a practical manner. The censorship was being maintained in France. It had been discontinued in America, and was to be discontinued in Great Britain. Hence, news both true and false would be produced freely in some countries and not in others. He gave as an example a despatch produced in the New York Tribune attributing to President Wilson a threat of withdrawing all his troops from Europe unless the European Allies agreed to some of his desiderata. The statement was absurd, but it was sure to return to France and Great Britain and no obstacle would be placed to its return in the United States. Hence an absurd situation, certain to cause trouble. He therefore suggested that in addition to the Drafting Committee there should be a political Committee, composed of one representative from the United States, Great Britain, Italy, and France, to correct false news and guide public opinion in the right direction.

Baron Sonnino pointed out that such a Committee would not be able to put a stop to pure inventions like that of the Tribune.

[Page 579]

M. Clemenceau suggested that the Committee could at least correct it.

Mr. Lloyd George thought that it would be quite impossible to put a complete check on inventions of this kind. There were opposition papers in all countries anxious to discredit their Governments by backing the Plenipotentiaries of other countries against their own. It was impossible, nevertheless, to have complete publicity, especially in regard to the proceedings of the small Conference, in which it was public knowledge that the bulk of the business would be transacted.

President Wilson enquired whether the protest from the Press addressed to himself and to the British Government did not refer only to the larger Conference.

Mr. Lloyd George thought that the protest really referred to the proceedings of the smaller Conference. He was of opinion that a general warning issued to the whole of the Press against believing unauthorised communications might serve to guide public belief and to protect the freedom of the Committee’s deliberations.

M. Clemenceau thought this warning might have effect if it were signed by President Wilson, Mr. Lloyd George, the Italian representative, and himself.

President Wilson doubted whether anything less than complete publicity would satisfy the American public.

M. Clemenceau pointed out that the French censorship was mainly engaged in preventing such mischief, for instance, as attacks on President Wilson in the Echo de Paris. The only thing he desired to stop was the pitting of one Allied country against another. This he regarded as extremely dangerous, and he believed that the Press must not be allowed to attribute any given opinion to a particular statesman and a controversial view to another.

Baron Sonnino agreed that it was highly desirable that responsibility for all decisions should appear to be joint, but he did not know how this result could be achieved. If the suggested Committee were to attend meetings the numbers present at these gatherings would be too great. If, on the other hand, the Committee did not attend the meetings it would not be in a position to refute false news. There would always be inventions concerning the proceedings of the smaller Conference. False reports would be invented with the deliberate object of obtaining denials. Moreover, if the reports so invented happened to hit the mark, how could they be denied?

Mr. Lloyd George said that he would issue a general caution to the public indicating that these Conferences were held with the object of reaching agreement. The process of reaching agreement necessarily involved debate and a statement of differing views. The differences were transitory, and were eliminated after debate, when the [Page 580]common agreement was reached. It was the agreement that mattered to the public, and not the stages in the discussion.

President Wilson drew attention to another aspect of the case. All the members of the Committee were responsible representatives of their peoples. If it were given out that there was unanimous agreement on any point, their respective Parliaments and peoples would certainly enquire how they had come to consent. They were all responsible to public opinion in their own countries, and the public had a right to know what they had said.

Mr. Lloyd George agreed that in the end each would have to defend himself, but if the defence must be undertaken from day to day as the discussion proceeded, work would be greatly hampered and the Conference would never reach any conclusions at all. He himself believed that the public as a whole meant to allow the Delegates fair play. Some of the newspapers, no doubt, were more concerned with their own tactics. He believed that if the kind of appeal he had suggested were made to the public, newspaper reports unauthorised by the Conference would be largely discredited by them.

President Wilson agreed that this appeared to be the best way. There was a well-known dodge in the American Press by which, after trying falsehood after falsehood and obtaining denial after denial, the seeker after information narrowed down the alternatives to the only possible residuum. He therefore suggested that each Government should through its deputy in liaison with the Press inform the reporters that the purpose of these meetings was to reach agreement, and that temporary disagreement was an ingredient in the process. He suggested that the reporters should be summoned together and asked to suggest their own means of dealing with this situation.

(It was therefore decided that a summons should be issued by each Government to the Pressmen of their own country to assemble that afternoon at 5 p.m. at the Club of the Foreign Press, No. 80 Avenue des Champs Élysées, in order to learn from the Press delegates attached to each Government the difficulty experienced in giving information of debates before their conclusion.

The delegates should inform the meeting that the Governments desired to keep the Press fully informed of the results achieved, and should enquire from the representatives of the Press what means suggested themselves as the best to carry out this intention.)

2. Representation of Siam M. Pichon said that the French Government had received a protest from Siam against the attribution of only one Delegate to Siam at the Peace Conference. It was pointed out that Siam had not only declared war, but had also given assistance to the Alliance in many ways, by preventing Siam from becoming a base for enemy propaganda and [Page 581]for trade after the War, by interning enemy subjects and liquidating enemy firms, by handing over interned enemy ships to the Allies, and by sending a corps of airmen and motor transport to France. The communication ended by expressing the hope that the Press report was incorrect. M. Pichon enquired of the meeting whether there was consent to the representation of Siam by two Delegates instead of one.

(It was agreed that the Royal Government of Siam should be represented at the Peace Conference by two Delegates.)

3. Russia Mr. Lloyd George said that the plan put forward by the British Government had been misunderstood in many quarters. It had never been suggested that the Bolshevik Government should be recognized to the extent of offering them a seat at the Peace Conference. It was only proposed that a truce among the various warring factions in Russia should be suggested. When this truce had been made, representatives of the various Governments should be invited to come to Paris to explain their position and receive from the Allies, if possible, some suggestions for the accommodation of their differences. The British Government was in complete accord with the French Government that the Russians could not be put on the same footing as Belgium, for instance, and M. Pichon had been misled if he thought that the British Government meant to offer them membership in the Conference. He made this proposal for the following reasons:—

(a)
We did not know the facts about Russia. Differing reports were received from our representatives in Russia, and often reports from the same representative varied from day to day. It was clear that, unless we knew the facts, we should not be in a position to form a correct judgment.
(b)
On one subject there could certainly be complete agreement, to wit, that the condition of Russia was extremely bad. There was misgovernment and starvation, and all the suffering resulting from both. It was impossible to know which party was gaining the upper hand, but our hopes that the Bolshevik Government would collapse had certainly been disappointed. Bolshevism appeared to be stronger than ever. Mr. Lloyd George quoted a report from the British Military Authorities in Russia, who could not be suspected of leanings towards Bolshevism, to the effect that the Bolshevik Government was stronger now than it had been some months previously. The peasants feared that all other parties would, if successful, restore the ancient regime and deprive them of the land which the Revolution had put into their hands.
(c)
As to the Ukraine, where we had supposed a firm Government had been established, our information was that an adventurer with a few thousand men had overturned it with the greatest ease. This insurrection had a Bolshevik character, and its success made it clear that the Ukraine was not the stronghold against Bolshevism that we had imagined. The same movement was therefore beginning in the [Page 582]Ukraine which had been completed in Great Russia. The former Government of the Ukraine had been a Government of big landlords only maintained in power by German help. Now that the Germans had withdrawn, the peasants had seized their opportunity. Were we going to spend our resources in order to back a minority of big landlords against an immense majority of peasants? There were three policies from which to choose.
(i)
We could say that Bolshevism was a movement as dangerous to civilization as German militarism had been, and that we must therefore destroy it. Did anyone seriously put forward this policy? Was anyone prepared to carry it out? He believed that no one could be found to do so. The Germans, at the time when they needed every available man to reinforce their attack on the Western front, had been forced to keep about a million men to garrison a few provinces of Russia which were a mere fringe of the whole country; and, moreover, at that moment Bolshevism was weak and disorganized. Now it was strong and had a formidable army. Was anyone of the Western Allies prepared to send a million men into Russia? He doubted whether a thousand would be willing to go. All reports tended to show that the Allied troops in Siberia and in Northern Russia were most unwilling to continue the campaign and determined to return to their homes. To set Russia in order by force was a task which he for one would not undertake on behalf of Great Britain, and he questioned whether any other Power would undertake it.
(ii)
The second policy was a policy of insulation, the policy known as “cordon sanitaire.” This policy meant the siege of Bolshevik Russia, that is to say, the Russia that had no corn, but a large famished population. These people were dying by thousands, if not by hundreds of thousands, of famine. Petro-grad had been reduced from the proportions of a great city to those of a moderate town. Our blockade of Russia would lead to the killing, not of the ruffians enlisted by the Bolsheviks, but of the ordinary population, with whom we wish to be friends. This was a policy which, if only on grounds of humanity, we could not support. It might be suggested that the continuance of this policy in Russia would lead to the overthrow of the Bolsheviks; but who in Russia was able to overthrow them? General Knox1 reported that the Czecho-Slovaks were tainted with Bolshevism and could not be trusted, neither could the Russian troops of Kolchak. He had just seen a map revealing the area held by Denikin. He occupied with an effective force of perhaps 40,000 men what might be described as a little backyard near the Black Sea. Denikin was said to have recognized Kolchak, but he was quite unable to get into touch with him, as an immense Bolshevik area intervened between them. Kolchak, moreover, appeared to pursue the revival of the old regime in Russia; hence the lukewarmness of the Czecho-Slovaks in his cause. They were unwilling to fight in order to set up another Tzarist regime. So also were the British. This would not be helping to create a new world.
(iii)
The only other way he could think of was the plan he had proposed—that of asking representatives of the various Russian Governments to meet in Paris after a truce among themselves. The name of M. Sazonoff had been mentioned as representing the Government at Omsk. M. Sazonoff had been long out of Great Russia. It was questionable whether he knew anything of the conditions at Omsk. He was a strong partisan, and might as well be consulted on the present temper of Russia as the New York Tribune on the opinions of Mr. Wilson. We could not leave Paris at the conclusion of the Peace Conference congratulating ourselves on having made a better world, if at that moment half of Europe and half of Asia were in flames. It had been alleged that if Bolshevik emissaries came to France and England they would proselytise the French and British peoples. It was possible that Bolshevism might gain ground in these countries, but it would not be as a consequence of the visit of a few Russian emissaries. He himself had no fears on this score. Moreover, conditions could be imposed on the delegates, and if they failed to observe them they could be sent back to Russia. With this threat over them it was most likely that they would avoid giving offense as they would be anxious to explain their case.

M. Pichon asked whether the meeting would care to hear M. Noulens, the French Ambassador in Russia, who had just returned from Archangel. If so, M. Noulens could attend the meeting on the following day, and would be able to give very interesting information concerning Bolshevism.

President Wilson said that in his mind there was no possible answer to the view expressed by Mr. Lloyd George. This view corresponded exactly with the information received from Russia by the United States Government. There was certainly a latent force behind Bolshevism which attracted as much sympathy as its more brutal aspects caused general disgust. There was throughout the world a feeling of revolt against the large vested interests which influenced the world both in the economic and in the political sphere. The way to cure this domination was in his opinion, constant discussion and a slow process of reform; but the world at large had grown impatient of delay. There were men in the United States of the finest temper, if not of the finest judgment, who were in sympathy with Bolshevism, because it appeared to them to offer that regime of opportunity to the individual which they desired to bring about. In America considerable progress had been made in checking the control of capital over the lives of men and over Government; yet, even there, labor and capital were not friends. The vast majority who worked and produced were convinced that the privileged minority would never yield them their rights. Unless some sort of partnership between these two interests could be obtained society would crumble. Bolshevism was [Page 584]therefore vital because of these genuine grievances. The seeds of Bolshevism could not flourish without a soil ready to receive them. If this soil did not exist, Bolshevism could be neglected. British and American troops were unwilling to fight in Russia because they feared their efforts might lead to the restoration of the old order, which was even more disastrous than the present one. He recollected making a casual reference of sympathy to the distressed people in Russia, in a speech mainly dealing with other topics, to a wealthy audience in America. The enthusiasm evinced by this remark had surprised him, especially as coming from such an audience, and this incident remained in his mind as an index of the world’s sympathies. These sympathies were against any restoration of the old regime. We should be fighting against the current of the times if we tried to prevent Russia from finding her own path in freedom. Part of the strength of the Bolshevik leaders was doubtless the threat of foreign intervention. With the help of this threat they gathered the people round them. The reports of the American representatives in Russia were to this effect. He thought, therefore, that the British proposal contained the only suggestion that led anywhere. If the Bolsheviks refrained from invading Lithuania, Poland, Finland, &c, he thought we should be well advised to allow as many groups as desired to do so to send representatives to Paris. We should then try to reconcile them, both mutually and with the rest of the world.

M. Pichon again suggested that before coming to a decision the meeting should hear M. Noulens, whose news from Russia was fresh.

Baron Sonnino suggested that M. de Scavenius, who had been Danish Minister in Petrograd and was now in Paris, could also give very valuable information.

(It was decided that M. Noulens and M. de Scavenius should be invited to attend the meeting on the following day at 10.30 a.m.)

  1. Maj. Gen. Alfred W. F. Knox, In command of the British forces In Siberia.