They Wanted It

Page

WWI

They Wanted It[1]

We said to them:

“Watch out. Can’t you see where you’re headed? We live in a Republic and you forget too much, you who pretend to be its steadfast defenders! What business does Marianne[2] have with the autocrat, the Emperor-Pope, the most absolute, perfectly despotic regime in Europe[3]? What aberration moves you to link this living symbol with the dying, with the wayward corpse that exploits you?

“There are strings on this puppet. Who is pulling them? Who needs our money, not to build roads, bridges and tunnels, not to improve the railways, not to enlarge the public transport system into the wide-open areas, rich in soil but poor in prospects, and not, finally, to extend the empire’s prosperity throughout its territory, but instead to finance the crown’s whims, the grand dukes’ orgies, the courtesans’ luxuries and Rasputin’s demands! You will regret your trust and cry for your savings because the support is illusory and bankruptcy is certain.”

Wasted words! Begging for more and high interest, the people clutch their nest eggs and rush into slavery, kissing the boots of the tsar and footprints of Alexandra Feodorovna[4]. Ooh, ooh, it’s an Empress!

Already you were looking askance at us, mumbling snide remarks. At best if you did not accuse us of being paid by Pitt and bankrolled by England. Because it was England at the time that was the enemy and between the two shores neither side wasted any opportunity to be nasty. Joan of Arc and Napoleon were back in style; you went wild for Michel Strogoff [by Jules Verne], old Krüger, the little queen of Holland [Wilhelmina] and the heroes of Fashoda[5].

My friends Stead, Moschelès and others got beat up at the Guildhall in London while fighting for world peace against English imperialism, so glorified by Rudyard Kipling. The same with us in Paris, pretty much everywhere.

Both they and us were preaching in the wilderness. The spirit of conquest over there, the spirit of revenge here, and even more so the spirit of profit made the crowds deaf, closed off to everything that did not flatter their monomania or their greed.

Betrayed by the Court of Russia, long before the lack of arms, munitions, supplies and the desertion of their troops had forced the Soviet leaders to sign the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty[6], now able to see the misappropriation of funds used for everything but what they were allocated for and finally knowing—it’s about time!—all about the “steamroller”, the French public, especially the supporters of the fine Russians, let loose their criticism, complaints and recriminations.

And the same press for whom the issue of loans was an inexhaustible godsend, who never had enough good things to say about the Franco-Russian Alliance, are trying to cover up the splendid results of its intervention by blaming others for what it and those who used it as a docile tool did.

Blaming us, of course! We who were warning them, predicting the fraud, bankruptcy and collapse!

#

We told them:

“There’s still time, despite the harm already done. Europe is badly wounded but it can still get better. The bleeding can be stopped. Everything is compromised; nothing is lost. Consider the continual offers of peace. Reason can also sometimes have a say in the matter. Passion has never been a good form of government. Whether you want it or not there exists an economic solidarity between nations, even temporary enemies. You do not triumph over nothingness, a chaos where nothing remains but the winner. This nation you so noisily clamor for, have pity on it, not only for its sacrifices but in its resources, its necessary relations with the rest of the world. Don’t reduce it to a skeletal state to reduce the others to deprivation. Don’t try to make it into the tallest headstone in the graveyard. Have mercy on the survivors!”

They answered us frantically, waving their fists and foaming at the mouth, “To the bitter end! To the bitter end!”

#

We told them:

“It’s a bad and reckless action. You who clamor for it so frantically are denying four years of official assertions of the “right of people to manage themselves”. The personal affairs of Russia have nothing to do with you: leave them alone; worry about bandaging our own wounds, clearing away our own rubble; it will be much smarter. Our coffers are empty. The little that remains to us ought to be devoted to relieving the great misery that resulted from the conflict. Save the public funds, keep them for real suffering; give a roof to the poor in devastated regions, bread to the Austrian and Russian children who are innocent and beyond reproach.

And finally, listen to the great words of Terence about human solidarity[7], hear the more recent cry of Paul Jouve: “You are all men!” No more money, no more soldiers for the venture! Think of the future. You are doing everything you can to throw Russia into the arms of Germany…”

Our masters replied with the picture of Man-with-knife-between-teeth, which made us French the laughingstock of the world because it influenced the direction of our domestic policy. They answered us by sponsoring, one after another—and with such determination!—the expeditions of Denikin, Yudenich, Koltchak, Wrangrel[8], all the gang leaders who attacked and sacked poor Russia. Millions followed upon millions into the money pit of hatred. The press, feeling fine about the great Russian emigration, dumped cartloads of filth on the sister Republic.

Through the genius of Lenin and his companions, through an effort only comparable to that of France in 1792, Russia, despite the losses from hunger and typhus, has survived and remains free. It is useless and vain to try to massacre and enslave it.

And it is allied with Germany. So, don’t pretend to be surprised, you leaders! It was to be expected, a foregone conclusion, you did everything you could to bring it about! You are the only ones responsible, with your unusual alliance, your fierce protraction of the war, your mad hatred for the Russian Republic that asked you for nothing but brotherhood.

What have you done with the public funds? What have you done with our army? What have you done with our future?

 

Next:  Broken Mirror

[1] L’Humanité, April 24 1922.

[2] Symbol of the French Republic representing liberty.

[3] Referring to Russia. The Franco-Russian Alliance was formed in the late 19th century to oppose Germany and further their economic and imperialist interests.

[4] Granddaughter of Queen Victoria, wife of Nicolas II, last ruler of the Russian Empire. She was put to death by the Soviets in 1918.

[5] References to anti-revolution or anti-English affairs.

[6] In 1918 that ended Russian engagement in WWI.

[7] Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto (I am human: I consider nothing human alien to me — Heauton Timorumenos, Act 1, scene 1).

[8] Reactionary generals commanding the White Army against the Bolshevik Red Army.