Current History, Vol. VIII, No. 3, June 1918 online

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Bessarabia. The province was to be evacuated by the Rumanian troops,
which had occupied it at the request of the population, and the guarding
of Bessarabia was to pass into the hands of local militia, while all
evacuated places were to be immediately occupied by Russian troops.
Russia undertook to leave Rumania the surplus of Bessarabian grain
remaining after the local population and Russian troops had been
provided for. The Ukrainian Government refused to recognize the step
taken by Bessarabia.

According to the terms of the Brest treaty the Baltic Provinces Esthonia
and Livonia were to remain under Russian sovereignty, but three weeks
later Germany began intriguing for a union of these countries with the
Kingdom of Russia. The falsity of the assertion that the people of
Esthonia favored a Baltic monarchy was exposed by the following protest
of the Esthonian Provisional Government, published April 22:

Regarding the communication from Berlin that the joint Landtag of
Esthonia, Livonia, Riga, and Oesel has decided upon the separation
of Baltic provinces from Russia and the creation of a Baltic
monarchy in personal union with Prussia, I declare, as
representative of the Esthonian Republic, that this resolution does
not constitute an expression of opinion of the Esthonian people, but
only that of a German nobility minority and its adherents.

On May 5 the British Government informally recognized the Esthonian
Provisional Government and, in the words of Mr. Balfour's communication,
"reaffirmed their readiness to grant provisional recognition to the
Esthonian National Council as a de facto independent body until the
peace conference, when the future status of Esthonia ought to be settled
as far as possible in accordance with the wishes of the population."

On April 26 Transcaucasia declared its independence under a conservative
Government, headed by M. Chkhemkeli.

Count von Mirbach, the Royal German Ambassador to Russia, accompanied by
a Turkish representative, arrived in Moscow on April 23. He was welcomed
by the Chairman of the Central Executive Committee as "a representative
of a power with which a peace treaty has been concluded at
Brest-Litovsk, as a result of which peace, so needed by the people, was
established between the two States." Pravda, the official Bolshevist
daily, greeted the Royal German Ambassador as "the plenipotentiary of an
armed band which with limitless audacity oppresses and robs wherever it
is able to thrust in with a bloody imperialistic bayonet."


Germany has shown eagerness to obtain the release and the use of the
able-bodied German prisoners who are now in Russia. It is believed that
there are at present upward of 1,000,000 German prisoners of war in
European Russia and Siberia. It was reported on April 27 that a special
German commission had arrived in Moscow to take charge of the exchange
of prisoners with Russia, and that exchanges of invalids had already
begun. The number of Russians in German hands is estimated at 3,000,000.
An earlier official German communication explained the delay in
repatriating Russians by the lack of transportation facilities. On
April 29 the State Department at Washington gave out the following

The Department of State has learned that there will shortly leave
for Russia a German commission, consisting of 115 members, which
will take up the question of the exchange of Russian and German
prisoners. It is reported that it is the purpose of the commission
merely to present to the Russian authorities an ultimatum from
Germany requiring, first, the immediate release of all German
prisoners who are in good health; second, that those who are ill
will remain in Russia under the care of neutral physicians, and,
third, that the Germans on their side will release only those
Russian prisoners in Germany who are invalids or who are
incapacitated. In the event of a refusal on the part of Russia,
Germany will order that Petrograd be taken.

Upon the heels of this ultimatum came another one, served on the Council
of the People's Commissaries by the German Ambassador, Count von
Mirbach. According to a dispatch, the new ultimatum, too, dated May 10,
had a bearing on the prisoner question, but in addition demanded
complete cessation of arming troops and the disbandment of units already
formed. This demand produced an unusual stir in Russia. The Commissaries
held an extraordinary session at which the situation created by the
ultimatum was discussed. The Bolsheviki showed no intention of complying
with the German ultimatum.

On May 12 Foreign Minister Chicherin instructed the Russian Ambassador,
M. Joffe, at Berlin to "try to obtain from Berlin cessation of every
kind of hostility." The Germans had announced their intention to capture
Novorossiysk, on the Caucasian coast of the Black Sea, under the pretext
that the Russian warships, which had escaped seizure at Sebastopol and
which are stationed at Novorossiysk, constituted a danger for the German
vessels. The instruction added that the German invasion of Russian
territory was causing much unrest in the country.


On April 18 the State Department at Washington announced that, according
to an authentic report, the Teutons intended to dissolve the Ukrainian
Rada and set up a Government of their own. On April 24 a Ukrainian
financier prominent in aiding the Germans was arrested in the name of
"the Committee of Ukrainian Safety." The German Vice Chancellor,
Friedrich von Payer, in his speech before the Main Committee of the
Reichstag, said that this secret organization aimed at driving the
Germans out of the country and was even planning the assassination of
all German officers. It included a number of prominent Ukrainians,
several Ministers of State among them, and held its meetings at the
house of the Minister of War. An investigation was demanded by the
German Ambassador, but the Rada took no action.

Two days later General von Eichhorn, Commander of the German Army in the
Ukraine, proclaimed "a state of enhanced protection," making all
offenders of order subject to the jurisdiction of German court-martial.
He had previously issued a field-sowing decree, necessitated, as the
Germans explained, by the fact that the Rada had taken no measures
concerning the field sowing, without which the country could not meet
its treaty obligations relative to the delivery of grain to Germany. On
April 28, while the Rada was in session, German troops entered the hall
and arrested a number of its members, the Minister of War among them.
The next day a number of landowners and rich peasants who were holding a
convention in Kiev declared its sessions permanent, voted the
dissolution of the Rada as well as the cancellation of the order
convoking the Constituent Assembly on May 12, and proclaimed General
Skoropadsky Hetman (Supreme Military Chief) of the Ukraine.

The Rada ceased to exist. It had but scant support in the country. A
creature of the Teutons, it was supported by their armed forces. It
proved unable to secure the delivery of the promised foodstuffs to the
Central Powers. Owing to the resistance of the population only 3,000,000
poods (pood, 36 pounds) were delivered to the Teutons, instead of
30,000,000 poods, which the Rada undertook to supply. The Germans then
withdrew their support. According to various reports, the German agents
took an active part in the overthrowing of the Rada.

Speaking of the fall of the Rada, the German Vice Chancellor said that
"stubborn adherence to communistic theories that have gained no sympathy
among the peasant population, which is attached to the soil, seems to
have been principally responsible for bringing about its end." One of
the first acts of the new Government was the restoration of private
ownership of land. The new régime has many features of an autocratic
rule. The following information regarding the extent of the Hetman's
powers is furnished by the German Service of Propaganda:

The Government power in its entire capacity belongs to the Hetman
for all the territory of the State. The Hetman ratifies the laws, he
appoints the President of the Council of Ministers, he is chief
director of the relations of foreign affairs of the Ukrainian State,
he is Generalissimo of the army and of the navy, he declares war,
proclaims martial law and exceptional laws. In the administration of
justice he has the right of pardon and commutation of sentence.

It has been pointed out that, while the reconstructed Ukrainian
Government is emphatically and avowedly pro-German, some of its leading
spirits are Russian patriots and advocates of a union with Russia. Grand
Duke Dmitry Pavlovich is said to have taken an active part in the coup
d'état. A dispatch, dated May 10, announced the beginning of peace
negotiations between Russia and the Ukraine.


United States Minister Morris at Stockholm cabled to the State
Department on May 14:

Swedish press reports from Moscow state that Count von Mirbach
recently transmitted to the Commissariat of the People a note
formulated as an ultimatum and demanding the immediate effecting of
certain financial measures which would practically make Russia a
German colony. The chief points of the note were the immediate
solution of the question regarding the exchange of prisoners, the
complete abolishment of armaments, and the dissolution of units
formed recently; also the occupation of Moscow and some other large
Russian cities.

On the same date it was reported from Moscow that the Germans had
captured Rostov-on-Don, thus gaining control of the Caucasus, the grain
districts in the Donnetz Basin, and the coal, iron, and oil fields.
Northern Russia was thus cut off from the Caucasus, excepting for a
single railroad running through Tsaritsin, in the southern part of the
Government of Saratov, which the Germans were threatening.

The dispatch continued as follows:

The Governmental power in its entire Government, with which it had
made peace, is regarded by North Russia as a step toward its
occupation. Within a few weeks the future of Petrograd and Moscow
probably will be determined, as it is considered that the Soviet
Government either must submit to German domination or retreat
eastward and prepare for a defense against the invaders. Effective
resistance will be difficult without outside assistance, because of
the lack of technical experts and supplies. The bitter feeling
against Germany is intensified by the ruthless seizures in Ukraine,
and a growing disposition to accept allied aid if the Entente Allies
will recognize the Bolshevist Government is evident.


The Commissariat of Commerce on April 10 gave the following summary of
what Russia lost by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk:

Inhabitants 56,000,000
(About one-third total European Russia.)
Territory 300,000 square miles
(About one-sixth total European area.)
Railways 13,000 miles
(About one-third total mileage.)
Coal 89 per cent.
Iron 73 "
Machinery 1,073 factories.
Textiles 918 "
Paper 615 "
Chemicals 244 "
Tobacco 133 "
Spirits 1,685 distilleries.
Beer 574 breweries.
Sugar 268 refineries.

The lost territories used to yield an annual revenue of nearly
$425,000,000 and boasted 1,800 savings banks.

More Bolshevist Legislation

By Abraham Yarmolinsky

Speaking on Dec. 5, 1917, before the Central Executive Committee of the
Soviets on the subject of the right of constituents to recall their
representatives, Nikolai Lenine, the head of the proletarian Government
of Russia, made the following remark: "The State is an institution for
coercion. Formerly it was a handful of money-bags that outraged the
whole nation. We, on the contrary, wish to transform the State into an
institution of coercion which must do the will of the people. We desire
to organize violence in the name of the interests of the toilers." The
April issue of CURRENT HISTORY MAGAZINE contained a general outline of
the manner in which the makers of the social revolution applied this
principle of Statehood to the solution of various problems of home
government. The present article will deal more in detail with some of
the acts of the Bolshevist legislators. There is no better way of
gaining an insight into the views and intentions of the present rulers
of Russia than to study the abundant output of their legislative


Lenine's Government has worked out an elaborate scheme of State control
over national production and distribution as a preliminary step toward
the complete socialization of the country's industry and commerce. The
semi-legislative, semi-executive organs created for that purpose form an
intricate hierarchy of affiliated elective bodies and corporations of a
large and ill-defined jurisdiction.

In the first place, there have been instituted so-called Soviets of
Workmen's Control, (decree of Nov. 27, 1917.) These are made up of
representatives of trade unions, factory committees, and productive
co-operatives, and aim at regulating the economic life of industrial
plants using hired labor, the control in each enterprise being effected
through the elective bodies of the workmen, together with the
representatives of the salaried employes. The executive organs of the
Soviets of Workmen's Control have the right to fix the minimum output
of a given firm, to determine the cost of the articles produced, to
inspect the books and accounts, and, in general, to supervise the
production and the various business transactions. Commercial secrecy,
like diplomatic secrecy, is abolished. The owners and controlling
agencies are responsible to the State for the safety of the property and
for the strictest order and discipline within the precincts of the
establishments. The local Soviets are subordinated to provincial Soviets
of Workmen's Control, which issue local regulations, take up the
complaints of the owners against the controlling agencies, and settle
the conflicts between the latter.

The Central All-Russian Soviet of Workmen's Control issues general
instructions and co-ordinates the activities of this controlling system
with the efforts of the other administrative organs regulating the
economic life of the country.

The members of this central institution of control, together with
representatives from each Commissariat (Ministry of State) and also
expert advisers, form the Supreme Soviet (Council) of National Economy,
instituted by the decree of Dec. 18, 1917. This body directs and unifies
the work of regulating the national economy and the State finances. It
is empowered to confiscate, requisition, sequestrate, and syndicate
various establishments in the field of production, distribution, and
State finances. The Supreme Council is divided into several sections,
each of which deals with a separate economic phase. Among other tasks
devolving upon these sections is the drafting of the law projects for
the respective Commissariats. Bills affecting national economy in its
entirety are brought before the Council of the People's Commissaries
through the Supreme Council of National Economy.


On Jan. 5, 1918, the Institute of Local Soviets of National Economy was
created, "for the purpose of organizing and regulating the economic life
of each industrial section in accordance with the national and local
interests." Affiliated with the local Soviets of Workmen's and Soldiers'
Delegates, they are subject to the authority of the Supreme Council of
National Economy. They are made up of representatives from trade unions,
factory committees, workmen's co-operatives, land committees, and the
technical personnel of industrial and commercial establishments. The
inner organization of these bodies is elaborate. There are sections,
divisions, (of organization, supply and distribution, labor, and
statistics,) and business offices.

Here are some of the functions of these Soviets. They must:

1. Manage the private enterprises confiscated by the State and given
over to the workmen, such as, for instance, a number of factories in
the Ural mining district.

2. Determine the amount of fuel, raw materials, machinery, means of
transportation, labor, &c., needed by the given industrial section,
and the amount available in it.

3. Provide for the economic needs of the section.

4. Distribute the orders for goods among the individual enterprises
and work out the basis for the distribution of labor, raw material,
machinery, &c.

5. Regulate transportation in the section.

6. See to it that all the productive forces should be fully utilized
both in industry and agriculture.

7. Improve the sanitary conditions of labor.


The activity of the Soviets of National Economy is restricted to the
field of industry. Their counterpart in agriculture are the so-called
land committees.

The decree relating to agrarian socialization, voted by the Bolsheviki
at 2 A. M., Nov. 8, 1917, recommends the use of a certain _nakaz_,
(mandate,) based on 242 resolutions passed by village communities, as a
guide in putting the land reform into practice. Article 8 of this
_nakaz_, which is a paraphrase of the agrarian program of the Social
Revolutionists, reads thus: "All the land, upon confiscation, forms a
national agrarian fund. The distribution of the land among the toilers
is taken care of by local and central self-governing bodies. * * * The
land is periodically redistributed, with the growth of population and
the rise of the productivity of agricultural labor."

For the purpose of putting this program into operation and regulating
the economic life of the village generally there have been instituted
land committees, (decree of Nov. 16,) one for each volost, (rural
district including several villages.) They are to be elected by the
population of the district and exist as separate institutions, or
function as an organ of the volost zemstvo, wherever this is found. The
duties of a land committee are many and complex. It takes inventory of
all the land in the district and allots to each village its share of
plow land, meadows, and pastures, seeing to it that the land should be
equitably distributed among the individual toilers and correctly tilled.
It grants lease of lands and waters, not subject to distribution,
receives the rent and turns it over to the national fund. It regulates
the supply and demand of agricultural labor, takes charge of the
forests, fixes prices of timber, receives and fills orders for fuel from
the State, and takes the necessary measures to preserve the large,
scientifically conducted agricultural establishments.

The delegates of a number of volost land committees, together with
representatives of the local zemstvo and the Soviet of Workmen's and
Soldier's Delegates, form a county committee. The latter, in its turn,
sends a delegate to the Provincial Land Committee. The Main Land
Committee, which heads the whole system, is an independent institution
on a par with the central State organizations. It is a large group of
people, consisting of the Commissariat of Agriculture, together with
representatives from the following bodies: The Commissariats of Finance,
Justice, and Internal Affairs, the provincial Land Committees, the
All-Russian Soviet of Peasants' Deputies, the All-Russian Soviet of
Workmen's and Soldiers' Delegates, and the political parties.


The Bolsheviki have been careful to extend the abolition of private land
ownership to city real estate. By a special decree they abrogated the
property rights in city land and in those of the city buildings whose
value, together with that of the ground they occupy, exceeds a certain
minimum, fixed in each municipality by the local authorities, or which
are regularly let for rent, although their value does not exceed the
minimum. The land and the buildings are declared public property. The
dispossessed owners retain the right to use the apartment they occupy in
their former property, provided the apartment is worth no more than 800
rubles of rent per annum. In case the value of the apartment exceeds
this maximum the former owner pays the difference to the local Soviet of
Workmen's and Soldiers' Delegates. All the rent which formerly went to
the landlord is now paid to that institution or to the Municipal
Council. Not more than one-third of the sum thus collected is to be used
to meet the various needs of the community; 10 per cent. of it goes to
the national housing fund; the rest forms the local housing fund for
erecting new buildings, laying out streets, and making other


Municipal socialization of land values, while manifestly intended to
benefit the poorer classes, directly affects all the elements of the
city population. Other measures enacted by the Bolsheviki are restricted
to the proletariat, and properly belong to the field of specific labor
legislation. Thus, a law has been passed limiting the working day in
both industrial and commercial establishments to eight hours, and
further regulating the work of women and children. Furthermore, a
minimum wage of the hired workers has been fixed in each section of the
country. But by far the most radical and characteristic innovations
launched by the Bolshevist Government in this line of legislation are
those relating to compulsory insurance of workmen.

On Dec. 29 there was created the Institute of Insurance Soviets, with an
executive organ in the form of a Chamber of Insurance. It is the
intention of the Government to introduce compulsory insurance for
laborers against sickness, unemployment, invalidism, and accidents. The
regulations published so far relate only to the first two forms of
insurance. The respective decrees rule that throughout the territory of
the Russian Republic all hired workers, without distinction of sex, age,
religion, nationality, race, and allegiance, are to be insured against
sickness and unemployment, irrespective of the character and duration of
their work. Salaried employes and members of liberal professions are not
subject to this regulation.

At the moment the workman is hired by the employer he automatically
becomes a member of two fraternities. In the event of his illness, one
furnishes him free medical aid and a weekly allowance equal to his
wages; the other assures him the equivalent of his wages if he loses his
employment and becomes an unemployed workman. The latter term the law
defines as "any able-bodied person depending for subsistence chiefly
upon the wages of his (or her) labor, who is unable to find work at the
normal rate of remuneration fixed by the proper trade union, and who is
registered in a local labor exchange or trade union." The workmen
contribute no dues to the fraternities. The income of the latter
consists mainly of the payments made by the employers. The owner of an
establishment using hired labor must contribute each week to the health
insurance fraternity 10 per cent. of the sum he pays out as wages, and
at least 3 per cent. of the same sum to the unemployment insurance
fraternity. The administrative machinery of this novel form of insurance
is worked out with much detail.

It is natural to ask how the various institutions described above are
working, if they are functioning at all. It is clear that the smooth
working of a great number of cumbersome and wholly novel administrative
agencies in a body politic torn by an unprecedented social upheaval amid
the horrors of a twofold war would be little short of a miracle.
Moreover, it appears that the Bolsheviki have already grown disappointed
in some of their political dogmas, notably in the unrestrained and
ubiquitous application of the elective principle. Nevertheless, the
query, in its entirety, can hardly be adequately answered at present.
The time is not far off, however, when it will be possible to say
whether the measures decreed in the name of the dictatorial will of the
Russian proletariat have taken root or - and this alternative is more

Online LibraryVariousCurrent History, Vol. VIII, No. 3, June 1918 → online text (page 13 of 30)