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Art. 10,-THE TRADES UNION REPORT ON RUSSIA.
Russia : The Official Report of the British Trades Union
Delegation to Russia in November-December 1924.
Published by the Trades Union Congress 1925. The bulky volume before us is entitled “Russia,' and, being published by the Trades Union Congress, has presumably been supplied to all the principal British Trade Unions. It is too large a book for the layman to absorb, and will be read straight through by very few. Admirably printed-in a careful examination, we have only come upon three trifling printer's errors—it is equally well divided into sections and provided with a fairly full index. It can hardly fail to be used as a mine of quotations for public speeches. What the size and scope of the volume suggest, is that it should be used as a sort of Bible on Russia, which purpose is plainly indicated in the text of the book more than once. The Trade Unions Delegation, which, if it did not write the book, fathers and issues it, claims that the Government has failed to make any proper investigation of conditions in Russia. Can the Delegation be ignorant of the very detailed report of the Commission of Experts which worked for months under the chairmanship of Lord Emmott? Be this as it may, the Trades Delegation has conducted such an objective' review with the earnest' desire of remaining impartial throughout. In a subsequent pronouncement from the same authority—the report on the Zinoviev letter it has even been demanded that an inquiry should be conducted into the materials on the subject in the British Foreign Office, with the co-operation of its officials, by experts selected by the Labour Party; presumably those who, according to the statement in its preface, are responsible for the present Report on Russia.
Such a claim makes it necessary to examine closely the qualifications of those who have drafted the Report. In this case they are not merely given individuals; they are those whom the General Trades Union Council, by the publication of this work, has commissioned to speak authoritatively in its name. The Report claims to be an accurate and historical account of Russia, and the ques
tion of its value can only be decided by those who, apart from any political predilections, have seriously studied the subject. The present review is written from the standpoint of one who has given most of his life to the study of contemporary Russia, and, on the other hand (as he conceives the relations between the two peoples as something which should never be subordinated party considerations), has kept himself independent of every party, whether British or Russian, and has never even taken part or voted in any political election. Being acquainted for the purposes of his work as a Professor of Russian History with practically all who have written with authority on the matter, he has to state that of the first sixty names of living British authorities on the subject, not one is cited as an authority for this report.
It is necessary to examine the genesis of the Report. Mr A. A. Purcell and Mr R. Williams in 1920 attended a Communist Congress in Russia at which it was decided to permeate the British Trades Unions with Communist cells. About the same time, a British Committee was formed, not at all under the Communist flag, but on a comparatively non-party basis under the title of Hands off Russia,' a title which in the light of the Moscow decision might have been more accurately described as • Hands on England.' This Commitee offered to conduct twenty debates with me, two in each of the largest towns in England and Scotland, beginning with Glasgow, and to defray all expenses, which was evidence of the existence of considerable funds; but only on condition that I should belie all that I had said and written, by taking the side of the Russian autocracy as the alternative to the Bolsheviks. The Communist successes in Great Britain, where indeed a system of Communist cells was established—for instance, in Port Glasgow, Dundee, Cardiff, Camberwell, and Battersea-may be judged from the recent General Election, when the one and only representative of what Moscow calls the 'toiling masses of Great Britain,' proved to be Dr Saklatvala. Indeed, the Moscow estimate of the present number of Communists in Great Britain puts them at five thousand.
The British Communist Party-in execution of the policy of permeation-has repeatedly appealed for
admission to the British Labour Party, which at the same time it is always energetically attacking, and so far the Party has always emphatically refused the request. Moscow has been frank about the failure of Communist propaganda in this country. Meanwhile, a curious political stalemate brought into power here the first Labour Government, which based its policy on the attainable and must surely be admitted to have been at first eminently successful. A sharp turn in policy, apparently adopted very hastily, and still unexplained, brought the last General Election and the striking failure of that Government. This sharp turn of policy had to do with nothing else but our relations with Russia. Thus Russia, very undesirably, became the determining factor in our domestic policy. The decision of the country on this issue was sufficiently convincing. The three main questions of the Election were: (1) The according of a loan to the Soviet Government; (2) the nonprosecution of Communist agitators; (3) the famous Zinoviev letter. The attitude of the Labour Premier towards this last matter is least of all likely to find applause in Communist circles; but the retiring Cabinet took the unusual step of remaining in power to examine the authenticity of this letter, on which it was only able to issue a dubious and negative report.
Assuming, as is obvious, that there are sharp dissensions on the subject of Russia and Communism within the ranks of the discomfited Labour Party, one is not surprised if the extremists thought it essential to make good their position in the matter, the more so as the Labour International of Western Europe-which has its seat at Amsterdam-had, like the British Labour Party, refused admission to the Communists. A decision of the British General Council to re-examine the question of conditions in Russia, and its dispatch of a Delegation to Moscow for this purpose, has resulted not only in this Report, but also in an altogether unexpected swing of the Council towards Moscow, taking the form of detailed agreements. These have yet to receive-in September -the sanction of the Trades Union Congress, which is thus again invited to reverse its previous decision. Meanwhile, in the most vigorous and convincing language, Moscow declares that it is its purpose to disrupt and destroy the Amsterdam International: the recent delegate to England, Mr Tomsky, describes it as '& bayonet attack. These antecedents are sufficiently well known; they have only been summarised here because they cannot be left out in the examination of a document which claims to be so autboritative as this Report of the Delegation which is, to all intents and purposes, the case of Moscow drawn up with the help of the Soviet Government for submission to the Congress of British Trades Unions.
First a word as to the composition of the Delegation. Throughout, in the Report, a contrast is instituted between the conditions of 1920 and those of 1924. One may, then, reasonably ask, why only two of the Delegation of 1920, the chairman, Mr Purcell, and the advisory delegate, Mr George Young, accompanied that of 1924. Why was there no Mrs Snowden, or counterpart of Mrs Snowden, whose presence would have been a guarantee of candid criticism? It need hardly be said that the seven ordinary members of the Delegation-who are attested in the official list (p. 9) almost solely as representatives of workers of various important trades, and of whom only two (Mr Purcell and Mr Turner) seem to have had any previous contact with things Russian, while none of them are stated to have any knowledge of the Russian language-could not possibly make an examination worth the name of so complex and distant a subject as the events of recent Russian history. Nor, in spite of the earnestness with which they plead the impartiality of their investigations, do they make any attempt to claim such authority. On the contrary,
. though the list of their signatures is appended at differ ent points to the various Conclusions-carrying, one may say without disrespect, no more weight in this matter than would the refrain Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all '—the preface states in the frankest way who has drafted each portion of the Report; that is to say, the evidence on which the Conclusions'claim to be based. We have, then, hardly to do with the ordinary members of the Delegation, but almost entirely with the three gentlemen described as 'advisory delegates,' and credited with the drafting of the Report. Under the circumstances in which it is issued, the examination of
their credentials ceases altogether to be a personal matter.
The number of British subjects possessing a firstband acquaintance with Russia was much larger than had been realised, until practically all of them under the effects of Communist rule found themselves compelled to leave the country, generally with the loss of everything they had ; several philanthropic agencies in England since their arrival have been busy in dealing with their immediate needs; in some cases systematic arrangements had even to be made with local authorities to teach them English! Leaving aside these semi-Russianised British, there was still a considerable business colony which remained very British. Some of its origins go back to the time of Queen Elizabeth and the foundation of the Russia Company, which up to the Revolution possessed its own parish church in Moscow and its own charitable institutions. These business men and their families had an intimate understanding of Russia and the Russians, to whom they were sincerely attached, and in particular possessed a first-hand knowledge of the business conditions. Nearly all of them are now in London; many of them could have given great service to an independent investigation. Apart from these settled inhabitants, there were scholars—some of them distinguished — making a detailed study of various aspects of Russian life; as well as British newspaper correspondents, some of whom were practically settled in Russia, and the diplomatic, military, and commercial representatives of our country, greatly multiplied in number by the service of the War and the Alliance. Nothing has been more striking than the practical unanimity (with hardly an exception, save among a few of the latest comers) with which the position was judged at the moment when the Liberal Government that had replaced the Tsar was itself overthrown by the Communist coup d'état-a chapter of history of which the Report betrays an astonishing ignorance. Nothing is more striking than the difficulty of finding Englishmen who have a substantial knowledge of Russia and have made common cause with the Bolsheviks. Two of the more recent students of Russia, Mr Matthew Phillips Price and Mr Arthur Ransome, both of whom have done valued