The Acting Secretary of State to Senator James W. Wadsworth

My Dear Senator Wadsworth: In reply to your letter of October 20, 1919,26 concerning the so-called blockade of Petrograd, I beg to inform you that, so far as the United States is concerned, no blockade exists. It is the present policy of this Government, however, to refuse export licenses for shipments to Russian territory under Bolshevik control and to refuse clearance papers to American vessels seeking to depart for Petrograd, the only remaining Bolshevik port. As you are aware, these measures cannot be continued after the ratification of peace, unless there is new legislation.

The policy of non-intercourse with territory under Bolshevik control is based chiefly on two considerations. It is the declared purpose of the Bolsheviks in Russia to carry revolution throughout the world. They have availed themselves of every opportunity to initiate in the United States a propaganda aimed to bring about the forcible overthrow of our present form of Government. They have at their disposition in Russia a large quantity of gold, being partly a residue of the former Russian gold reserve and partly a reserve of gold belonging to the Roumanian Government which was stored in Moscow for safe keeping at the time of the German advance into Roumania. It is considered important that the Bolsheviks should not be given the means through commercial transactions to bring this gold into the United States where it could be used to sustain their propaganda of violence and unreason.

The second consideration relates to the control which the Bolsheviks exercise over the distribution of necessities. All foreign trade has been “nationalized.” This means that there can be no dealing except with the Bolshevik authorities. Moreover, since the fall of 1918 the Bolsheviks have maintained a system of discrimination in the distribution of food. The population is divided into categories along occupational and class lines, and receives food, so far as food may be available, in accordance with a scale which is adjusted with a view to the maintenance of the Bolsheviks in power and the fulfilment of their program for the extinction of the middle classes. The ration given to members of the Red Army is estimated, in the official Bolshevik gazette of February 6, 1919, to be three times the average for the several categories of the civil population. It has seemed altogether inadmissible that food and other necessities of American origin should be allowed to become the means of sustaining such a program of political oppression.

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The Government has not been unmindful of the material distress of many innocent people within the Bolshevik lines. An attempt was made last spring to provide for the relief of these people through the cooperation of a neutral commission to be headed by Dr. Nansen. The project failed because the Bolsheviks declined to agree to the cessation of hostilities which was considered an indispensable prerequisite. The Department of State has subsequently studied other means by which necessities might be provided for the people of Central Russia without being used for purposes of political constraint and wholesale class destruction. No feasible project has yet been found but the problem continues to receive attention.

In the meantime provision has been made for the immediate relief of the people in any areas which may be freed from Bolshevik control as a result of current military operations. Stores of food estimated to be adequate for the relief of Petrograd for nearly one month were delivered to Russians by the American Relief Administration and are now at Viborg, Finland, whence they can be transported to Petrograd whenever that city may come under the control of authorities with whom it is possible to deal. Definite arrangements have, moreover, been made with the United States Grain Corporation to provide further shipments of flour for this region, in the event of its liberation, and for the people in the north of Russia, which is under the control of a democratic government.

I am [etc.]

William Phillips
  1. Not printed.