No. 88 NAI DFA ES Box 32 File 228
I arrived in Reval on February 6th 1921 and on calling at the Russian Mission there was informed that Mr. Litvinoff who has charge of the political and commercial business for the West was in Moscow. He returned on February 9th and I had an interview with him that evening. Before leaving the United States somebody told me that Lincoln Stephens had said that he discussed the Irish question with Mr. Litvinoff and that the latter was of the opinion that on account of conditions both inside and outside Russia it would be inadvisable for the Russian Government to do anything for Ireland. I was also informed that Mr. Stephens had conveyed this information to President De Valera four or five months prior to my departure from the United States. It appears that Mr. Litvinoff expressed this opinion to Mr. Stephens in Reval about the time Mr. Nuratova Secretary of the Russian Bureau was drafting a Treaty of Amity with me in New York. I was not surprised therefore when I found that Mr. Litvinoff was not enthusiastic about my visit. He seemed at first to study me as a sort of curiosity and asked me if I had any programme or plan to submit. As the Cabinet, so far as I know, never sent any recommendations nor suggestions after the receipt of the proposed Treaty and as President De Valera did not give me any specific instructions I was evasive and said that it was considered better to discuss proposals with them as we could only be expected to view the situation largely from an Irish point of view but we desired that whatever agreement, if any, we might make would be to our mutual advantage. He openly expressed disappointment and intimated that it was folly for me to proceed if I had no plan to submit. He asked me many questions about Ireland which showed a certain amount of familiarity with the situation there but it was evident he got his information from English sources and seemed to take the English Liberal press viewpoint of Ireland. He intimated that the Agreement then being negotiated with England would make it difficult at that moment for them to do anything for us. 'The situation was different six or even four months ago' he said. It appeared to me from this remark that he was thinking of the proposed Treaty1 drafted by Mr. Nuratova and myself in New York and wished me to understand that if I had come then they were ready to deal with us. His conversation with Mr. Stephens seems to vary with this view but my delay in arriving gave him sufficient reason if he desired a reason to evade discussion of the proposed Treaty. I agreed that the situation as far as Russia was concerned had changed and inquired if Russia's hands were tied by Section (a) of the preamble in the Anglo Russian Agreement. He started at this suggestion, reached for a copy of the Agreement and read the section aloud. It was apparent that he had feared that something had escaped their attention when studying it. The English, I said, would claim Recognition of Ireland, for instance as a violation of the section referred to inasmuch as they would contend that it was at least indirect propaganda. From our point of view Ireland was not part of the British Empire but I merely tried to look at it from the English side. He said he did not agree with my English interpretation of the Section. This was the information I desired as the English claims did not concern us but the Russian understanding of this Section was all important if the Anglo Russian Agreement should be ratified. I was convinced therefore that he was not so adamant as he appeared to me during the earlier part of our conversation. It seemed to me that he did not wish to appear over-anxious to deal with us but at the back of his head he considered that an understanding with us might be of some advantage to them. In the course of our conversation I asked him if they trusted England. He laughed sarcastically and said of course they did not. He told me I could start for Moscow on Friday and deal with the Foreign Office. Mr. Nuratova was Assistant Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and I believed him more favourably disposed to us. On the whole therefore it seemed as if there was still hope though 'conditions had changed during the last six months'.
On February 14th I arrived in Moscow and was met by a man from the Foreign Office who left me at the hotel and told me that Mr. Nuratova would see me next day at twelve o'clock. I called at the Foreign Office punctually at noon and after about three minutes was ushered into Nuratova's office. At first our conversation was on conditions in general. Later he intimated that conditions had changed since our discussions in New York. He gave me to understand that nothing could be done while the negotiations with England were going on and that we would have to begin in the new and not on the basis of the proposed Treaty. It was apparent from both Mr. Litvinoff and Mr. Nuratova that the Agreement with England was of the utmost importance. Mr. Nuratova claimed that England was the Keystone of the combination against them and that after they reached an agreement with her they could secure agreements with other Governments. One day later in discussing the probability of a breakdown of the negotiations with England he said 'I may tell you confidentially they will not break down for we want the Agreement. It is essential for us'. He would let me know by telephone whether I could see Tchecherin Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs next day or the day after. He called that night at the Hotel 'to see if I were comfortable'. This act I regarded as one of friendship and courtesy and he maintained this attitude until he was thrown into prison on suspicion of being a British agent.
On February 17th I was told by telephone that Tchecherin would see me that evening at 7 p.m. Arrived on the minute but it seemed if he was not punctual. At 7.50 the telephone rang and I was informed that Mr. Tchecherin regretted that he had been delayed as Missions had that day started for England, Finland and Persia. He would see me at 8.15. On the minute I was brought to his office and introduced by Mr. Nuratova who then withdrew. Mr. Tchecherin appeared an extremely gentle sort of man, very polite and a trifle nervous. Both of us seemed embarrassed as to how to start. He mumbled rather than asked whom and what I represented. I submitted my credentials from President de Valera and he seemed to read and re-read them. They were dated Dublin December 15. He asked if I came from Dublin and then asked how I came from New York while the credentials were signed in Dublin. He wanted to know if our Government were in New York. I explained all this. Then he suddenly asked me what I wanted and I said recognition by the Soviet Government and a discussion of co-operation which might be of advantage to both.
He pointed out that we were not in military control and that they had withdrawn recognition from the Ukraine when Germany was in the military occupation of its territory. I replied that we did not expect Russia to judge our case in accordance with the international concepts hitherto prevailing and that we assumed they had standards of their own which would be more in harmony with justice and the rights of peoples. We regarded them as idealists and expected them to apply their ideals to their international relations as well as within Russia itself. But even were we to be judged in accordance with the standards of Capitalist Governments full military occupation was not essential in order to secure recognition from Foreign Governments. Washington was not in full Military control in the American Colonies when he got recognition from France; the Allies recognised a committee of the Czecho-Slovaks in Paris as a Government though Austria was at the time in full military control in Bohemia. Nobody could deny that our Government was the de jure government of Ireland and we were more a de facto government than the British in spite of their superior military machine.
If Russia gave us recognition would the Irish people not expect more assistance than they could give us. They (the Russians) fought their enemies largely with arms and munitions captured from them. I assured him that we only expected moral support. If material assistance were possible it would be very welcome and we would be very grateful for it but we would not be disappointed if none could be furnished to us. The mere act of recognising our Government would have a great effect on the morale of our own people and was certain to have effect all over the world. The people of the world recognised the Soviet Government as the Government of a great country though the Governments of the world withheld that recognition. Recognition of Ireland would make every genuine sympathiser with Ireland an active advocate of recognition of the Soviet Government.
At the time there was some rumour in the papers about a settlement and he asked me if President de Valera would accept Dominion Home Rule. I told him there were no real negotiations and the fact that de Valera signed my credentials on December 15th should be sufficient assurance that he was not then, and I could assure him he was not now, thinking of a compromise. I advised him to pay no attention to what the British press says about Ireland when it pretends to voice Irish opinion. Some of what appears as such is mere English propaganda and some the result of English conceptions of Ireland and Irishmen which may indeed be friendly but by no means accurate. If we said we would accept Dominion Home Rule we would give away our whole case for nothing. Surely he could himself see that it would be very poor statesmanship for President de Valera to say he would accept Dominion Home Rule. There was one real danger of a compromise but it was one with which we were not likely to be confronted. If the British Government threw a genuine measure of Dominion Home Rule at us and virtually said 'take it or leave it' we might be compelled to operate it as many of our people might consider it more than they had ever hoped for in their lifetime. In such a case we would have to accept it or run the risk of splitting the people again into fractions. Such a settlement - which was not probable - would however be like the Treaty between the German Empire and Soviet Russia. Under no conditions other than those would we think of accepting or discussing anything but recognition of the Republic which was ratified by the electoral will of the people. What about Ulster?
The Ulster question in a nutshell I replied was stated by a Belfast delegate to the Lloyd George Convention in a conversation with Mr. George Russell. It was that 'Labor and capital got on very well in Belfast fighting the Pope and Home Rule but it would be hard to say what might happen if these were removed'.
He seemed to have the English view that the whole movement in Ireland was inspired by American dollars and he asked me of the financial assistance we got from America. I said Irish-America had been comparatively generous in the past as well as the present but while they contributed to arm our Volunteers their contributions were only a tithe of what the Volunteers themselves contributed from their slender resources. I referred him to Mr. Birrell's evidence before the British Commission on the Rebellion of 1916 in which he said that the O'Rahilly had an income of £900 a year and Professor MacNeill had £600 a year 'most of which they spent on the Irish Volunteers', the ordinary Volunteer with an income of £1:10:0 a week contributed proportionately as much as MacNeill or the O'Rahilly. The movement was by no means inspired by Irish America though the knowledge that Irish America was behind it and supporting it had considerable effect on the people. How was it that Redmond was supported?
The people, in their hearts, I explained, always desired separation from England and the heart of the nation always went to the Separatist. During Redmond's leadership the people saw no hope of a Republic and regarded his Home Rule as a stepping stone. They therefore supported Redmond even when he preached Imperialism as they assumed such speeches were for the edification of the English: they themselves knew different. They thought Redmond was deceiving the English. They have been informed we are hostile to Communism. I became honestly indignant and said then we were hostile to something that did not exist in Ireland. We concentrated on the fight against England and gave no attention to anything else. The mass of our people were decidedly friendly to Communist Russia not because they understood that Russia was Communist but because they saw England endeavouring to overthrow the present regime in Russia. They concluded therefore that the present Government of Russia must be a good Government. I might if I wished pretend that we were Communists at heart but I would only be deceiving him if I did. I then named the Communists of Ireland and gave him a personal sketch of each. He added Coates to the number and I said I did not know Mr. Coates and was not sure whether or not he belonged to the Communist group in Ireland. I added that the article on Sinn Fein in the Communist International by Mr. MacAlpine and Connolly was by no means accurate.
What armed forces have we in Ireland. I enumerated them and he said 'what about the Citizen Army?' It may still exist. I am not sure - but if so it is on paper. If it were active I would know of its activities. Yes, he says, it still exists. Perhaps it does. It was obvious he was looking for a nucleus around which the Proletariat of Ireland might rally so when I saw what he was thinking of I did not say what the Citizen Army had been or what it likely was then. He knew more about it than I did and I concluded it was better leave him so. Mr. MacAlpine and Connolly returned from the second Congress of the Third International and proceeded to take over the Citizen Army but apparently it meant work and they gave it up. No doubt Tchecherin and others got rosy pictures of what could be done with the Citizen Army with the result that Messrs. MacAlpine and Connolly were promised £3,000 and got £300 on leaving Moscow. They spent the £300 in London on the way to join the Citizen Army so that neither returned to the Congress of the Third International this year. Connolly was there for a month or so after I arrived and a report written by him was submitted to the Secretary of the Communist International after his departure. He evidently got no further instalment of the £3,000 as the £50 he got to bring him home began to run short in Germany. Connolly's last report differed entirely from the articles written by MacAlpine and himself but Lenin had declared for supporting National Revolutionaries. There was also admiration for the men who were fighting in Ireland and Connolly was rather sympathetic and justified his own and MacAlpine's inactivity in organising Communism on the grounds that it was impossible while the fight was on. Every young man who was a man was in the Irish Volunteers. Heron made a similar report. After Connolly's departure I learned from the office of the Communist International that Connolly 'was too lazy to be a communist'. I am certain this was at least an echo of those in authority.
But to get back to Tchecherin. His final question was what will be the outcome?
An Irish Republic or a land in ashes, I replied for it is going to be a fight to a finish.
Well at the moment I was to remain unknown but he told me to keep in touch with Mr. Nuratova and when the opportune time arrived I could put my request in writing. I believe then and later they were seriously thinking of according us recognition. My belief was founded on the nature of his questions rather than upon any statement he made.
On February 28th I again saw Mr. Nuratova as Connolly and Martin were about to go to Ireland and I wished to know what news I could send with them. He wrote a memorandum in advocacy of recognition of Ireland for his colleagues but got no reply as they were busy with events in Georgia. I know this memorandum was written and that it was favourable for an American lady who works in the Foreign Office told me later she had typed it and believed my Mission would be successful. Mr. Nuratova believed the agreement with England would be settled definitely in a week or so. He intimated that they would like a clear test of what was meant by propaganda and that the recognition of Ireland would prove such a test. 'It was the recognition of a fact' and was a clear case. 'Russia could not bind herself not to recognise Scotland or Wales if they declared their independence'. It appeared to me then that they wished to conclude the agreement with England before announcing my arrival in the press and that they also had the intention of according us recognition. If not they would have published the fact that I arrived and use my presence as a threat to secure the best terms for themselves. At that time they believed President Harding would recognise Russia after his inauguration. As far as I could gather from Nuratova they desired to conclude the agreement with England; hoped recognition by America would follow and that they then would recognise Ireland.
The Trade Agreement with England was signed on March 17 and on Monday March 21 I called at the Foreign Office to see how Ireland was affected by it. I was informed that Nuratova was in a Sanatorium for a rest. I decided to wait for his return as I believed he was most friendly to us. On March 15 he told me I would see Lenin next day or the day after 'and he was the first man in the country'. I never heard of this meeting again. It turned out later that the sanatorium in which Nuratova was happened to be the prison and he was still there when I left.
About a week later I saw Mr. Valenski who was doing Nuratova's work. I had met him before and he knew what I wanted but protested that he was no diplomat and knew nothing about diplomacy. I wanted to know how the agreement with England affected my hopes and wished to know if it were worth my while to remain. He promised to ask Tchecherin and I was to come back in a few days. A few days later he informed me that Tchecherin advised me wait for a month and to tell me that 'it was well worth my while to wait'. About five weeks afterwards I called at the Foreign Office and reported that the month had passed and wanted to know if there was any change in the interval favourable to us. Mr. Weinstein was now in charge of the Department. He would see Tchecherin and let me know in a few days. I called several times and got no satisfaction but finally was told that Mr. Litvinoff would like to discuss the question with me. He was leaving Moscow that evening May 13 but would be back in two weeks. I could see him on his return. I called on June 10 as I knew Mr. Litvinoff was in the city. Mr. Weinstein told me he would discuss the matter with Mr. Litvinoff. At this meeting I gave him a notice I had to vacate my room in the hotel. I called again next day and Mr. Weinstein informed me that he discussed my case with Mr. Litvinoff and that if I were not going to remain long they would compel them to permit me to remain in the hotel. I reminded him that I was remaining for the last month at his request and could leave on Tuesday if they considered it advisable. If the situation changed I would come back. He agreed that I could go and we parted on the understanding that if the situation changed they could let their representative in America know and he in turn could inform Mr. Boland. If it was considered advisable I or somebody else could come. In the meantime I said I wished to return to Ireland and see conditions there and make a report.
After making arrangements for my departure Mr. Weinstein requested me to assure you that they in Russia were decidedly friendly but that circumstances prevented them from giving manifestations of their friendship. I am certain this is true and I assured him that I and the people at home realised they were friendly to us. Personally however I saw no signs of friendship nor confidence after Mr. Nuratova had been imprisoned. If he were not sincere in his friendship he is a splendid actor. None of those who took his place had half his ability and while it appeared they did not trust me inasmuch as they always seemed cautious and anxious to get rid of me I believe the truth is they did not trust themselves. Of course they were always polite but all Russians except petty commissars who lived out of Russia for some years are polite.
After the assurance of friendship Mr. Weinstein shook hands and hoped to meet me again. Just to give him an index of how I appreciated the friendship bestowed on me personally I too hoped we would meet again 'but not in Moscow'. Thus we parted.
On arrival in Reval I was told by the man in charge of the Russian Mission that the Foreign Office wished to know if we had any objection to the publication of the truth regarding the Treaty and I replied that we had not. I saw later that Krassin denied it but in the meantime sent the following letter to Mr. Weinstein who has charge of the English and American Department in the Foreign Office:
June 18th 1921
One of your representatives here asked me yesterday if we had any objection to the publication of the truth regarding the proposed agreement now made public in England. Of course we have no objection if your department considers it necessary in the interests of Russia. We are never afraid of the truth, on the contrary we desire the whole truth to be known about practically all our activities and hence court the greatest publicity.
Regarding the wisdom of publishing a denial or explanation that is another question and one with two sides. A Russian and Irish. On the Irish side I have convictions and on the Russian side I hold opinions and will try to give you my idea of both.
The whole thing was published partly or I should say - I think - largely to prejudice our case and partly to have a fling at Russia. Instead of doing Ireland harm the publication will do us good as it will prove to our own people that we are at least fairly vigilant and prepared to benefit by any and all circumstances that appear favourable to us. If there is no denial, explanation nor apology the majority of the people of Ireland and our friends everywhere will be convinced that we have a secret agreement with Russia. The documents themselves show that we are thinking and acting as a Sovereign nation and hence will be useful in helping to kill or refute the charges of anxiety to compromise on the basis of Dominion Home Rule. That is all to the good. Therefore to 'let the hare sit' would serve our purposes best.
Now as to the Russian angle the same policy would in my opinion be best there also. If you wish to command the respect of England you must not crawl nor rush to explain every item of news in the papers. Let the newspapers answer the newspapers. So far I presume you have had no communication from the British Government on the subject and if you had your best policy would be to follow the precedent set by Lord Curzon in replying to your note on the far Eastern Republic. However it does not concern you as a government until you get a communication on the subject from the British. The dates leave you safe as far as the Trade Agreement is concerned and England will have more respect for you if she fears you have a club up your sleeve than if you are constantly exposing your clean arms. Let her keep on suspecting and constantly expecting the arrival of those rifles mentioned in Ireland if she gives you the slightest provocation. When you or anybody else explains or denies they at once put themselves on the defensive. As the French say 'They who excuse themselves accuse themselves'. If you deny or explain this she will keep you constantly protesting your goodness and innocence and thus forcing you to help to prepare the mind of the world for each succeeding attack on Soviet Russia. If, for instance, you deny that Nuratova acted for you in this how can you get the world in other cases to know when your representatives speak for your Government and when they speak for themselves. It was doubt in this respect which prevented President de Valera from seriously considering Martins request in June 1920 for a loan of one Million dollars. It may surprise you to know that I became confirmed in the same doubts in Moscow and sent word home to lend no more money to your representatives in the U.S.A. Nobody there seemed to know anything of the trifle already advanced and even you who were in New York at the time knew nothing of this proposed agreement. I mention this in a spirit of sincere friendship as it may at least interest you to know how others see you.
This may all seem presumption on my part but you can laugh at my apparent egoism if you please. I write thus because I believe we Irish know official England as no people in the world know it and hope that my few stray remarks may suggest something better to yourself or your comrades.
If you publish any reply it should in my opinion be a brief statement to the effect that the proposed Treaty was never discussed by your government and never even discussed with any Irish representative and hence was never ratified. There would be no apology nor denial in such a statement. But as I said if you can you had much better ignore it. As it is it will help Russia and her ideals throughout the world where the Irish have any influence - and they have much more than they ever use. However the Russian side is one purely for you to consider.
I enclose an editorial from the 'Irish Independent' Dublin which will give you the moderate Irish view of the Treaty. The Independent and its proprietor W.M. Murphy fought the strike lead by Larkin in 1913 and was very bitter. Its policy is the same yet and hence this editorial is the more important. From it you can see we have nothing to fear.
Comrade Valenski told me yesterday that according to the latest English papers Premier Hughes of Australia is now for a renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. You will see from that article signed Basil Colhoun I gave you quotations from his speech in Australia in opposition to it. He had that speech circulated extensively in England on arrival. The change of front is due to explanations of British policy received since he reached England - that is to induce America and Japan to go to war in the hope that they will wear each other down and thus leave England supreme in world affairs.
Good-bye and best wishes,
The Royal Irish Academy's Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series has published an eBook of confidential correspondence on the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations.
The international network of Editors of Diplomatic Documents was founded in 1988. Delegations from different parts of the world met for the first time in London in 1989.
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