George Henry Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers
The Reward for Desertion and Betrayal: The Czechs in Russia
The Russian Government decided to form a Czech battalion soon after the outbreak of war, which reached regimental strength in 1916. The ever-increasing number of Czech deserters and prisoners of war enabled them to enlist enough Czech soldiers to form a brigade: by the spring of 1918 they reached a strength of 50,000 men. Masaryk was in Russia from May, 1917, until April, 1918, after which he became President of Czecho-Slovakia. After the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution it was announced that the Czech Legionaries were to take the field in the Allied and White Russian cause. Every White Russian success was announced to the world as a Czech victory. In the tortuous and rapid change of front of the Czech Legion and the intrigues of Benesh at Prague twenty years ago were sown the seeds of a policy which today has borne full fruit, mystified our short-memoried politicians, and brought us again to the brink of war.
In 1918, Masaryk was vaunting in Europe the valiant aid rendered by the Czech refugee army in the diversified causes of the Allies, of Social-Democracy, of the Russian White Army Expeditions and, lest it be forgotten, the cause of Czech aspirations and claims to the lion's share of the dismembered Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is true that their political services were more highly regarded than their military exploits. When the Bolsheviks were driven out of Siberian cities the Czechs invariably remained at their bases - they were more conspicuous after the fighting was over in the conquered sector when their enthusiasm in the cause of democracy made them valued as political instructors.22 Meanwhile Kramár, first Premier of the Republic, and pioneer of pan-Slavism, espoused the Russian emigrés as a contribution to the Czech national cause. Foreign Secretary Benesh, on the other hand, refused further succour to the forlorn White Armies, having concluded a neutrality pact with the Bolsheviks. Thus the latter achieved the difficult task of avoiding a conflict with Moscow in the East, while earning the favours of the anti-Communist, democratic engineers of the Treaty of Versailles in the West.
Some of these events I described in a book, published in 1920:
"Conflict of purpose and a purposeful sabotage ultimately defeated the White cause. The Czech cause and purpose alone triumphed in the end. A system of sabotage began with the first organisation of the Volunteer Army in Siberia, where a few loyal officers rallied around the Czechs, that same Czech army which trekked across Russia and Siberia between 1917 and 1919, and eventually stabbed Admiral Kolchak in the back and secured his defeat, finally surrendering him to the Bolsheviks for execution.
"This act of treachery in betraying Kolchak was confirmed by the Bolsheviks, whose Chairman of the Revolutionary Committee at Irkutsk, Schirjamov, wrote: 'The General's head was the price fixed for a free passage for the Czechs.' Before leaving Irkutsk, the Czechs removed all the money lying at the State Bank, and on their way to Vladivostock were busy printing Russian paper money.
"As a reward for their services the officers of the Czech Legion, returning from Vladivostock in December, 1919, were given tracts of land seized from the dispossessed German peasantry and landowners in Bohemia.
"The Czechs being, as they now are, in a minority in their own artificial state, were able, from 1918 onwards, to reap the fruits bestowed by victors and vanquished alike as, by turn and turn about, new triumphant forces entered upon the stage of international conflict and world revolution."23
With the entry of Soviet Russia into the arena of Genevan diplomacy and the influence of Litvinov at the League of Nations, Germano-Russian relations became increasingly strained. Benesh's ambitions of Czecho-Russian alliances saw their fulfilment after 1930 in the final abandonment of all that was left of early pan-Slav aspirations, which had originally attracted the Czechs towards Imperial Russia, and his final ambition was attained in a closer rapprochement towards Bolshevik Russia and France. In the Soviet-Comintern policy of Bolshevising the world he saw the formation of a block of anti-German and so-called anti-Fascist states allied to the bourgeois democratic governments.
Benesh himself clearly avowed the ultimate aims of Czech policy when he wrote in 1931:
This policy was opportunely aided by the circumstance of Benesh finding himself President of the Council of the League of Nations in 1934, when Russia entered the League. There followed as a consequence the three-power reciprocal undertaking not to conclude any uni-lateral pact without the joint consent of the three powers, Czecho-Slovakia, France, and Russia, signed in Paris on the 6th and 10th of December, 1934, respectively. These commitments were finally cemented in the conclusion of the bi-lateral mutual assistance pacts between France and the Soviet Union, followed by Czecho-Slovakia in May, 1935, which set the seal to Franco-Soviet-Czech military collaboration. The following month Benesh and Litvinov were toasting each other amidst popular ovation in Moscow and celebrated the renewal of friendship and collaboration between the two countries, which dated from the pre-war period.
By the military pact which President Benesh concluded with the Russian Soviet Government at Moscow, assistance was to be provided for the Bolshevik air force and for the Red Army to march through the Carpathian Ukraine when the time should come.
On this festive occasion these two spokesmen of belligerent internationalism toasted afresh the new Russo-Czech entente with as much eloquence as on other occasions under democratic auspices they have been applauded as professors of peaceful nationalism. This Moscow meeting was a prelude to the visit shortly afterwards of Russian military and aeronautical experts to Prague when they assisted at the Czech army manoeuvres.
The ultimate aims of Czecho-Soviet military collaboration were to lay the foundations for military collaboration in the world war which it was hoped to bring about as a prelude to the world revolution and a World Communist Dictatorship. In furtherance of this scheme Czecho-Slovakia was to become incorporated into the Soviet Union. Some details of the scheme are given in a book published in 1938 by the official Orbis Publishing House in Prague, written by the Czech Ambassador, Jan Seba, entitled Soviet Russia and the Little Entente in World Politics: a foreword is contributed by Foreign Secretary Krofta. It has remained impossible to procure this book through the usual channels in England. For this eulogy of Bolshevism the author was presented with the "Masaryk Prize". In his book the author considers it necessary that the Soviet Union should be directly connected with Czecho-Slovakia by means of a corridor, for which purpose he proposes that the land should be taken from Poland and a small strip from Roumania. With the realisation of this scheme the Soviet Union would virtually have incorporated Czecho-Slovakia within her territories.
In this connection it is significant that at the last Congress of the Comintern, Popoff, a delegate of the Ukraine Communist Party, declared that the Soviet Government considered war inevitable but was exerting every effort to complete the necessary preparations while seeking to postpone the outbreak of hostilities before they were ready. Throughout 1937 and 1938 Stalin's Government, in an excess of democratic zeal, were still very busy re-organising the Red Army by shooting their leading generals and senior officers. One of the first objects of the war would be to seize those Ukrainian territories still outside the Soviet Union.
With the collapse of the old Russian Empire and of the Habsburg Dual Monarchy after the War, the Ukraine, which had been partitioned between the two Empires, enjoyed a brief spell of independence. A national movement for an independent Ukrainian state had been actively prosecuted before the War and had been as energetically suppressed by the Russian Police. In 1917, Professor Michael Hrushevsky, a famous Ukrainian historian, who taught in Lemberg University, became President of the Ukrainian Republic, and in 1918 attended the Brest-Litovsk peace negotiations as political adviser to the Ukrainian Peace Delegation. During the War the Ukrainian nationalists co-operated with the Central Powers in order to bring about the independence of the Ukraine. When the German forces retired, the Bolsheviks overran the country, and the Ukraine was split up between Soviet Russia, Poland, Czecho-Slovakia, and Roumania. The total population of the Ukrainian nation, most of which is now included in the Russian Soviet State, is rather larger than that of Great Britain. The Ruthenian province of Ukraine, which was seized by the Czechs, has only a population of some 730,000 people, of whom 78.1% are Ukrainians; Magyars and Jews being the largest minority groups. The strength of the Ukrainian national movement within the borders of the Soviet State is also a source of danger and anxiety to the Judeo-Muscovite dictators.
The lot of the native Ruthenian population has been no whit better than the lot of the other native minorities in Czecho-Slovakia, and famine conditions have prevailed in the Sub-Carpathian province. The large Jewish minority and the Communist emigrants from Soviet Russia, being inimical to Ukrainian national sentiments, were actively supported by the Czechs against the native population. When in 1934 Dr. Benesh, in a speech at Ungvar, declared of Ruthenia, "this part of the Czechoslovakian Republic belongs to us and will always belong to us," he was expressing a boast bolstered with more misgivings than real assurance.
All the rivalries and strivings of national minorities in the polyglot Czech
empire, already crumbling on its insecure foundations, are cut across by the
single big issue of international Communism directed from Moscow and
nationalistic aspirations rooted in the soil where generations have raised
families and left sons to till it, until they, in turn, shelter their bones in its
folds, whether German or Magyar or Slav. And internationalism, however it
be disguised under ephemeral
party-political labels, professing democracy, socialism,
social-democracy, or Communism is, in Czecho-Slovakia as elsewhere,
inevitably fostered and organized by the
all-pervading Jewish minorities. The influx of many thousands of
emigré Jews from Germany into
Czecho-Slovakia during the past twenty years had swollen considerably the
ranks of the Social Democratic Party, which supports the Communists and
their Soviet allies. Before the elections in May, 1935, the Sudetens had a
fierce and bitter struggle with the Communists and Social Democrats, who
did not hesitate to use the weapon of Red Terror when fighting their