The Secretary of State to the President of the American Federation of Labor (Gompers)

My Dear Mr. Gompers: I have your letter of the ninth instant with respect to the grounds upon which the recognition of the present regime in Russia has been withheld.

You refer with just emphasis to the tyrannical exercise of power by this regime. The seizure of control by a minority in Russia came as a grievous disappointment to American democratic thought which had enthusiastically acclaimed the end of the despotism of the Czars and the entrance of free Russia into the family of democratic nations. Subsequent events were even more disturbing. The right of free speech and other civil liberties were denied. Even the advocacy of those rights which are usually considered to constitute the foundation of freedom was declared to be counter-revolutionary and punishable by death. Every form of political opposition was ruthlessly exterminated. There followed the deliberate destruction of the economic life of the country. Attacks were made not only upon property in its so-called capitalistic form, but recourse was had also to the requisitioning of labor. All voluntary organizations of workers were brought to an end. To unionize or strike was followed by the severest penalties. When labor retaliated by passive resistance, workmen were impressed into a huge labor army. The practical effect of this program was to plunge Russia once more into medievalism. Politically there was a ruthless despotism and economically the situation was equally disastrous.

It is true that, under the pressure of the calamitous consequences, the governing group in Russia has yielded certain concessions. The so-called new economic policy permitted a partial return to economic [Page 761] freedom. The termination of forcible requisitions of grain has induced the peasantry to endeavor to build up production once more and favorable weather conditions have combined to increase the agricultural output. How far the reported exports of Russian grain are justified by the general economy of the country is at least an open question. Manufacturing industry has to a great extent disappeared. The suffrage, so far as it may be exercised, continues to be limited to certain classes and even among them the votes of some categories count more than the votes of others. A new constitution has just now been promulgated providing in effect for the continuance of the regime of the 1917 coup d’état under a new title. The Constitution, it is understood, contains no bill of rights, and the civil liberties of the people remain insecure. There is no press except the press controlled by the regime, and the censorship is far-reaching and stringent. Labor is understood to be still at the mercy of the State. While membership in official unions is no longer obligatory, workmen may not organize or participate in voluntary unions.

The fundamentals of the Russian situation are pretty generally understood in the United States and have made a profound impression upon the thought of our people. We are constantly made aware of this in the Department of State by the various ways in which public opinion makes itself felt in the seat of government. We learn of the hope of America that Russia should have the opportunity of free political expression and that she should be enabled to restore her economic life and regain prosperity and once more to take her place among the nations on the basis of mutual helpfulness and respect. There can be no question of the sincere friendliness of the American people toward the Russian people. And there is for this very reason a strong desire that nothing should be done to place the seal of approval on the tyrannical measures that have been adopted in Russia or to take any action which might retard the gradual reassertion of the Russian people of their right to live in freedom.

To the Department of State, charged with the conduct of our foreign relations, in accordance with the accepted principles of international intercourse, the problem presents itself necessarily in somewhat less general terms. We are not concerned with the question of the legitimacy of a government as judged by former European standards. We recognize the right of revolution and we do not attempt to determine the internal concerns of other States. The following words of Thomas Jefferson, in 1793, express a fundamental principle: “We surely cannot deny to any nation that right whereon our own Government is founded,—that every one may govern itself according to whatever form it pleases, and change these [Page 762] forms at its own will; and that it may transact its business with foreign nations through whatever organ it thinks proper, whether king, convention, assembly, committee, president or anything else it may choose. The will of the nation is the only thing essential to be regarded.” It was undoubtedly this principle which was invoked by the representative of the Department of State, in the statement which you quote as having been made in February, 1921, before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on the consideration of House Resolution 635, 66th Congress, 3d Session. It must be borne in mind, however, that while this Government has laid stress upon the value of expressed popular approval in determining whether a new government should be recognized, it has never insisted that the will of the people of a foreign State may not be manifested by long continued acquiescence in a regime actually functioning as a government. When there is a question as to the will of the nation it has generally been regarded as a wise precaution to give sufficient time to enable a new regime to prove its stability and the apparent acquiescence of the people in the exercise of the authority it has assumed. The application of these familiar principles, in dealing with foreign States, is not in derogation of the democratic ideals cherished by our people, and constitutes no justification of tyranny in any form, but proceeds upon a consideration of the importance of international intercourse and upon the established American principle of nonintervention in the internal concerns of other peoples.

But while a foreign regime may have securely established itself through the exercise of control and the submission of the people to, or their acquiescence in, its exercise of authority, there still remain other questions to be considered. Recognition is an invitation to intercourse. It is accompanied on the part of the new government by the clearly implied or express promise to fulfill the obligations of intercourse. These obligations include, among other things, the protection of the persons and property of the citizens of one country lawfully pursuing their business in the territory of the other and abstention from hostile propaganda by one country in the territory of the other. In the case of the existing regime in Russia, there has not only been the tyrannical procedure to which you refer, and which has caused the question of the submission or acquiescence of the Russian people to remain an open one, but also a repudiation of the obligations inherent in international intercourse and a defiance of the principles upon which alone it can be conducted.

The persons of our citizens in Russia are for the moment free from harm. No assurance exists, however, against a repetition of the arbitrary detentions which some of them have suffered in the past. The situation with respect to property is even more palpable. The [Page 763] obligations of Russia to the taxpayers of the United States remain repudiated. The many American citizens who have suffered directly or indirectly by the confiscation of American property in Russia remain without the prospect of indemnification. We have had recent evidence, moreover, that the policy of confiscation is by no means at an end. The effective jurisdiction of Moscow was recently extended to Vladivostok and soon thereafter Moscow directed the carrying out in that city of confiscatory measures such as we saw in Western Russia during 1917 and 1918.

What is most serious is that there is conclusive evidence that those in control at Moscow have not given up their original purpose of destroying existing governments wherever they can do so throughout the world. Their efforts in this direction have recently been lessened in intensity only by the reduction of the cash resources at their disposal. You are well aware from the experiences of the American Federation of Labor of this aspect of the situation which must be kept constantly in view. I had occasion to refer to it last March in addressing the Women’s Committee for the Recognition of Russia. It is worth while to repeat the quotations which I then gave from utterances of the leaders of the Bolshevik Government on the subject of world revolution, as the authenticity of these has not been denied by their authors. Last November Zinoviev said, “The eternal in the Russian revolution is the fact that it is the beginning of the world revolution.” Lenin, before the last Congress of the Third Internationale, last fall, said that “the revolutionists of all countries must learn the organization, the planning, the method and the substance of revolutionary work.” “Then, I am convinced,” he said, “the outlook of the world revolution will not be good but excellent.” And Trotsky, addressing the Fifth Congress of the Russian Communist Youths at Moscow last October,—not two years ago but last October,—said this: “That means, comrades, that revolution is coming in Europe as well as in America, systematically, step by step, stubbornly and with gnashing of teeth in both camps. It will be long protracted, cruel and sanguinary.”

The only suggestion that I have seen in answer to this portrayal of a fixed policy is that these statements express the views of the individuals in control of the Moscow regime rather than of the regime itself. We are unable, however, to find any reason for separating the regime, and its purpose from those who animate it, and control it, and direct it so as to further their aims.

While this spirit of destruction at home and abroad remains unaltered the question of recognition by our Government of the authorities at Moscow cannot be determined by mere economic considerations or by the establishment in some degree of a more prosperous [Page 764] condition, which of course we should be glad to note, or simply by a consideration of the probable stability of the regime in question. There cannot be intercourse among nations any more than among individuals except upon a general assumption of good faith. We would welcome convincing evidence of a desire of the Russian authorities to observe the fundamental conditions of international intercourse and the abandonment by them of the persistent attempts to subvert the institutions of democracy as maintained in this country and in others. It may confidently be added that respect by the Moscow regime for the liberties of other peoples will most likely be accompanied by appropriate respect for the essential rights and liberties of the Russian people themselves. The sentiment of our people is not deemed to be favorable to the acceptance into political fellowship of this regime so long as it denies the essential bases of intercourse and cherishes, as an ultimate and definite aim, the destruction of the free institutions which we have laboriously built up, containing as they do the necessary assurances of the freedom of labor upon which our prosperity must depend.

I am [etc.]

Charles E. Hughes