Skip to main content

Frontiers of the Soviet World

ISSUE:  Spring 1944

It has long been my conviction that Europe is one, and I contend that no scheme short of a full European Union will avail to restore peace. If we admit as a working hypothesis that there is a Europe, united by two thousand years of common history, and the age-long cross-fertilization of breeds and cultures, our first problem is: “What are its limits?” On three sides it reaches the sea. But everybody knows that the arbitrary line which our maps indicate between Europe and Asia is meaningless. The Russians themselves disregard it altogether. It is impossible to split the Soviet Union into its European and its Asiatic parts. That strange and powerful world must be treated as a single whole.

Now the theory I am offering is that the Soviet world and Europe are different, and that, for an indefinite period, they had better remain friends, but apart.

The objection is made that a European Union not including Russia would necessarily assume an anti-Russian cast. Russia has already vetoed any minor federation on her borders that might remotely resemble the hated cordon sanitaire. Would she not, a fortiori, seek to prevent the rise of a Western Europe more closely knit, more populous, and therefore eventually more formidable than herself?

There was at one time an undeclared but no less real war between revolutionary Russia and the rest of the world. Allied troops appeared at Archangel, Odessa, Vladivostok. We supported every Franco we could discover or invent: Korniloff, Youdenitch, Denikin, Kolchak, Wrangel. We kept up a stringent blockade against the nascent Bolshevik commonwealth. We gave our blessing to the imperialism of Pilsudski. Even after this half-hearted crusade had failed, a spirit of diffidence, rancor, and dread smouldered on both sides. Russia does not find it easy to forget that, as late as

1938,  Czechoslovakia and Spain were abandoned because Russia was understood to be on their side; and that, even in

1939,  Chamberlain was still hoping for appeasement with Germany, while haggling with Russia in the most nig-gardly spirit.

And the West cannot forget the threat of violent upheaval which, for nearly twenty years, paralyzed the normal development of political life, disrupted the liberal forces, and ultimately sapped the resistance of the democracies. If it had not been for the Bolshevist bogey, Europe in 1939 would not have been so helpless before Hitler’s hordes.

This long warfare is a disease of the soul; it must be cured, not by a territorial and political settlement merely, but by a change of mind and heart. For this decisive victory over fear, the leadership of the United States is needed: we almost alone have no serious reason to dread either invasion or revolution. And that leadership, I am proud to say, has not been lacking. I happen to have been in this respect a constant follower of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. I hailed Wilson’s Prinkipo proposal, his early messages to the Soviets, his fine references in his public addresses to the crucial Russian problem. I heartily approved when we finally recognized the Soviet Government; and I rejoiced when such typical Americans as Joseph Davies, Wendell Willkie, and Cordell Hull discovered, with something akin to boyish delight, that the Russians were human beings after all.

But our task of reconciliation is only half-performed. Russia knows that Western Europe, particularly through Great Britain, France, and the Scandinavian countries, will remain in close touch with us. In the welter of conflicting passions, our more impartial attitude will be decisive. If we, who have nothing to fear from Russia, foster among ourselves a spirit of diffidence, the anti-Russian forces in Europe will be polarized through our example. And we may expect retaliation on the Russian side. Our own sanity and generosity are therefore factors of commanding importance in creating an atmosphere of peace.

Now there are two ways in which we can help or mar the possibilities of Russo-European friendship: our policy toward communism, and our policy regarding the Western boundaries of the Soviet Union.

It is plain that Russia could not be the friend of Europe if Europe were to adopt as her first tenet: “Thou shall not suffer a Communist to live.” If this were indeed the front line of defence of our civilization, as Franco and Ramirez would have us believe, then Hitler was right from the first, Laval’s propaganda is truth undefiled, and we are betraying our sacred trust. The democratic Europe of tomorrow must be one in which Communists, so long as they respect constitutional methods, must enjoy all the common rights of law-abiding citizens. In this respect, the Front Populaire adopted the liberal attitude, and so does the French Committee of National Liberation.

Western Europe, I repeat, will closely watch our course; and that course, so far, has been so hesitant that it might be called erratic. We allow the existence of a Communist Party, with a place on the regular ballot; at the same time, we treat membership in that party, by law authorized, as though it were a criminal offense. This is not a rhetorical statement. I was astounded when a close friend of mine, a scrupulous and indeed a timid soul, was “investigated” because his name was found on certain philanthropic petitions, along with the names of bankers, ministers, and other “fellow travelers.” The Communist Party disavows any intention of overthrowing our institutions by violence. Any breach of such a promise would be punishable; but so long as the pledge is kept, a Communist must be accepted as a loyal American citizen.

Similarly, the Soviet Government professes not to interfere in the home affairs of other countries; that assurance was given even before the belated dissolution of the dormant Comintern. We can not refuse to accept such a pledge without giving Russia the lie direct; but some of us are still under the quaint impression that Trotzky and not Stalin is the ruling influence at the Kremlin. Any trace of witch-hunting must disappear from our statutes and our practices, not as anti-Russian, but as un-American.


The second problem is that of Russia’s Western frontiers. I shall not advance any economic argument: if Riga, for instance, is the natural outlet for a vast region of Russia, just as Danzig is for the bulk of Poland, this should lead to a commercial agreement, not to annexation. The St. Lawrence waterway would give us no claim to Montreal; and Germany has no valid title to the Netherlands, although Rotterdam is the logical port for the whole of the Rhineland.

Neither am I impressed with “historic” frontiers: history is constantly in the making. The dream of ancient territorial greatness has been the curse of Poland; but the conquests of the Romanovs give no legitimacy to Soviet ambitions. As for strategic frontiers, they usually are a fallacy: the stronger strives to impose upon the weaker an indefensible frontier. The best guarantee of security is not a Maginot line, but a contented neighbor. Nothing could be less “strategic” than our long border with Canada.

Least of all do I believe that Russia is entitled to whatever she may desire, because she has fought so hard, suffered so much, and triumphed so magnificently. Other lands had their heroes and their martyrs. The ultimate victory will be a joint victory, and we shall be responsible for its fruit. To admit the right of the Soviet sword would be to accept the Bismarckian gospel; and it is against the ghost of Bismarck, reincarnated in Hitler, that we are waging this war.

At present, our minds are shifting uneasily. We hate to thwart Russia; we are not sure that we are in a position to thwart Russia; and yet we refuse to consider, with due sympathy, the Russian side of the case. This ambiguity leads to a vague remorse, from which cynicism seems the only escape. But cynicism breeds distrust, which is a constant danger of war. If we admit, “realistically,” that Russia is Machiavellian and so are we, we had better gird ourselves for the next ordeal; for Machiavellians are inevitably heading for a fight.

We have the greatest sympathy with Poland, pre-eminent as a martyr among the nations; and we have many Poles among us. Sympathy alone, however, is no final argument. We should go back to fundamentals: in this case to the Wil-sonian programme which was endorsed by all the Allies, and accepted by the Germans before they admitted defeat. Article XIII reads: “An independent Polish State should be erected, which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured of a free and secure access to the sea.”

This is the justification of the Corridor, which was 90 per cent Polish. It was also the justification of the provisional boundary traced by Allied experts and known as the Curzon Line. The Riga Treaty, which crowned the aggressive imperialism of Pilsudski, has no more validity than Brest-Litovsk. The Russians needed peace, and bought time at a heavy price. They loyally respected even that unjust peace. They were not averse to an Eastern Locarno. But when Poland crumbled, the treaty of Riga vanished also. It is now as dead as Bucharest, Brest-Litovsk, or Munich. Morally and legally, we return to the Wilsonian settlement, the Curzon Line. We want now, as we did then, the full restoration of ethnic Poland; not of the dim imperium of the Jag-iellos and of Pilsudski. The territories arbitrarily torn from White Russia and the Ukraine must be returned to their proper national groups.

The question is different with the three Baltic Republics, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia. Their governments had ceased to be democratic; they were increasingly drawn into the orbit of Germany. When they were abandoned by Hitler, their semi-Nazi rulers were left suspended in mid air. According to the Russian version, new governments, supported by the majority of the people, came into being. These governments sought admission, on terms of complete equality, into the Union of Soviet Republics.

Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia have not disappeared: they have entered a federation. Their cultural autonomy, if we are to judge by the practice of the Soviets throughout their vast dominions, is absolutely safe. It could not be safer if they were to unite into a Baltic Bloc, one of those unhappy buffer states that conservative diplomats are so fond of begetting. The only problem is: do the masses, or, more courteously, the majority, favor a socialistic or a capitalistic regime? Most of the Baltic capitalists are in exile, and they are exceedingly vocal. Our natural sympathy with their trials should not obscure our critical sense. It is conceivable that the common people, in a given area, should vote for a People’s Republic. At any rate, we shall have a hard time persuading the Soviets that elections and plebiscites were faked, and that the White emigres are in sole possession of the truth. Here again we must choose between giving Russia either the lie direct or the benefit of the doubt.

Finland offers still a different problem. There strategic considerations are predominant; but they must not prevail against the desire of a brave people for independence. The case was well stated by Walter Lippmann in one of his masterly essays. Finland occupies, on the periphery of the Soviet world, a position which could be compared with that of Long Island or New Jersey. We should be extremely reluctant to leave such a position in the hands of a weak power of very doubtful friendliness. Full political and economic freedom must be assured to the Finns: but that freedom was never threatened by Russia. From the military point of view, Russia is entitled to some guarantee against a future Mannerheim, once the lieutenant of the Kaiser, today the auxiliary of Hitler. Through Finland, a hostile power could strike at a vital part of Russia; but, through Finland, Russia can not threaten any vital part of Central or Western Europe. In a similar way, a German base at Guantanamo would have been intolerable to us; but an American base was no menace to either Cuba or Germany.

Sympathy for the Finns is well deserved, no doubt; but we must not forget that their cause was served in this country by two legends. The first is that heroic Mannerheim, twenty-five years ago, a David against the Muscovite Goliath, “liberated” Finland. The independence of Finland had already been recognized. What Mannerheim did, with German assistance, was to win a victory for the Whites against the Reds. The second legend is that sturdy and upright Finland alone did not default on her war debt. Finland had no “war debt,” for in the First World War, she was not associated with us. She was the friend of our sworn enemies. Her indebtedness to us was of a purely commercial nature. The French and the British could plead that they had contributed their blood as well as their gold to the common cause: Finland had no such argument.

When Finland deliberately joined Germany in 1941, she made a great gamble. It looks as though she were going to lose it. Let us strive to get lenient terms for her when she surrenders. But the million dead in Leningrad will not be so easily appeased.

I am not urging that in all things we should blindly accept the Russian solution. I am urging that we should not unthinkingly adopt the anti-Russian point of view. Impartiality—which does not preclude sympathy—is the first condition of peace. If that condition be fulfilled, I see no reason why Europe and the Soviet Union should not be friendly neighbors. The attitude adopted by Mr. Winston Churchill is a favorable omen. Saved from the Nazi scourge by Soviet fortitude, Europe will entertain for Soviet power a wholesome blend of gratitude and awe. A complex union like that of Europe will be absorbed with its internal problems, and is not likely to pursue an aggressive policy. Unless we went far out of our way to forge a reactionary Europe, more Nazi than the Nazis, a crusade of the West against Moscow is inconceivable.

I do not believe that Russia, on her side, will have any desire to attack Europe. For many years, she will be engrossed in the enormous task of rehabilitation. She will very properly desire to cash in on the desperate efforts of three decades: raising her standard of living will be her natural form of expansion. Her dynamism will find full scope in her ample “vital space.” I envisage Russia, if left to her own devices, as a great power for international peace.

No such peace can be hoped for, however, if we have a disrupted Europe—Germany encircled by hostile states, the weak uniting into ententes weaker than any of their members, France and Italy chafing at being reduced to the rank of satellites. Then the present partners, England and Russia, would inevitably be tempted to start playing a complicated game of influence and power. Already Marshal Smuts is warning Britain that she must strengthen her position on the Continent, if she does not want to be over-shadowed by Russia. At first under the veil of flawless amity, Great Britain and Russia would seek partisans among the minor states and within each state. It would be a Paradise for the would-be Machiavellian, a nightmare for those who are working toward a saner world. Divide et impera is an excellent device, if you want to rule, that is to say, if you want to fight. Only among equals does peace cease to be a dream. It is not to Russia’s interest (any more than to England’s) that Europe should remain Balkanized.


I have been pleading, with deep conviction, for a fair deal to Russia. But sympathy need not commit us to a Russian protectorate over Europe. The West, although ruined and disrupted, is entitled to some consideration. Proud historical entities, whatever their resources may be, all the way from Germany and France to Switzerland and Luxembourg, will not submit to any kind of tutelage, either from Russia or from the “Anglo-Saxon” powers. The idea that Russia or England might have the right to arbitrate European affairs, without the fullest reciprocity, will seem preposterous even before the peace treaties are signed. The only way in which Europe can recover the independence indispensable to her self-respect is through Union: Union for internal reasons, to remove causes of future strife, and to reconstruct the shattered continent, but Union also in order to make Europe co-equal with any power on earth. There is no defiance in this challenge to the supremacy of the Big Four. It is purely the assertion of fundamental facts.

Apart from my proposal—a United Europe separate from Russia but on friendly terms with her, two solutions are possible: the reintegration of Russia into the European concert or the absorption of the West into the Soviet world.

A few Russian “Westerners,” Constitutional Democrats of the old school, would like to have Russia take her place again among the European powers. Thus it would be possible to reintroduce into Russia bourgeois liberalism of the nineteenth-century pattern, and to obliterate the work of the last twenty-five years. I do not believe that these “Westerners” are more than a handful in present-day Russia. Most of the exiles have cast in their lot with the West, to which they spiritually belong, and in the West they will remain, to our great benefit and without loss to their native land.

The truth is that Russia is too enormous to be a member of a European Federation on the same terms as, say, Poland or Rumania. Two generations ago, she could still be a part of the European system without throwing it off balance altogether. She was not overweight, because even her Western territories were not fully developed, while her Asiatic holdings were half lost in a gigantic penumbra. She has grown hugely, in numbers and even more in organized strength. Her center of gravity has shifted: from Peter’s artificial outpost back to Moscow, and now from the Moscow region to the Urals. She lives increasingly in a world of her own. She is not the Northern half of Asia, and not the Eastern half of Europe: she is the Soviet Union.

The Western tendency never represented the deepest reality in Russian life. Historically, the Russian world is different from the European. It has never felt, like the rest of the Continent, the direct, unifying influence of Rome. It has never reached the Mother Sea, the Mediterranean. It has not gone through those great synchronous historical processes which have welded Europe into a single cultural unit. The medieval synthesis, the humanistic Renaissance, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, classical rationalism are almost meaningless terms when we take up Russian history. Russia never was part of the European system until the time of Peter the Great. For the last two centuries, she has remained a gigantic and disquieting neighbor rather than a member of the family. Be assured that this is said with no touch of scorn. I do not believe that civilization is identical with the development of Western Europe. The Mohammedan world, India, China, have to be recognized as cultural powers. Russia, younger and stronger, takes her place beside them.

She had her own roots and her own growth. In our own lifetime, the differences between her and the rest of Europe have become accentuated. She has made one grand experiment. I am willing to admit that, at an appalling cost, she has in certain respects jumped ahead of us. Whatever judgment we pass upon that point, the fact remains that the rhythm of her evolution has been different from ours. And now that the efficiency of her system seems vindicated both on the spiritual plane and on the material, she will be in no mood to adjust herself to our more conservative gait. The Russia of Miliukov is but the shadow of a might-have-been.

This leads us to the second hypothesis: the merging of Europe with Russia on a communistic basis. A genuine union implies the free circulation of goods, men, and ideas. Such circulation is feasible within the Soviet world, feasible throughout Western Europe, unthinkable between a Communistic society and a mixed, pluralistic, or liberal state. Europe and Russia would then have to unite on Russian terms. The pattern is ready: all the warring countries could unite as Federated Republics. Poland would be invited to become another Latvia. National culture would freely survive. Indeed, the Soviets would help in their revival. This might be an ideal solution—if Western Europe were ready for it.

I do not believe that this is the case. Apart from ancient pride, which may deserve to be humbled, Europe may well hesitate to enter the Soviet fold. It is not established beyond doubt that Russia has attained even yet the standard of living achieved by the West. It is even less certain that liberty of thought, and the possibility of artistic self-expression, are better assured under Russian totalitarianism than under Western pluralism.

Again I must make it clear that I am not moved by any doctrinaire phobia of the Russian system. I preserve the open mind of the experimentalist. We may be different, and yet be friends. We do not want China to be Americanized overnight, and we have no thought of adopting China’s cultural pattern. Moreover, I do not believe that Europe and the Soviet world will drift further apart. The new technical developments will be common to all mankind, and standardize much of our material life. There is every likelihood that the West will grow more socialistic: a high degree of socialism seems to me the most efficient way of clearing up the mess left by the Nazis. There is every reason to hope that Russia, unchallenged, respected, will discard much of her wartime armor, and grow genuinely liberal.

I am not asking for a cordon sanitaire, a Chinese wall, a Maginot line. I am simply stating this plain fact: the Soviet world is organized, conscious, confident—and different. No Gleichschaltung will be possible for many decades. In the meantime, realists cannot close their eyes to the existence of such a frontier.

A ghost is still haunting us at times: that of Panslavism, It is said that Russia will insist on keeping some kind of influence in Europe, as the natural protector of the Slavs. But if Europe unites on a truly democratic basis, the Slavs will not need any protector, any more than the Teutons, the Latins or the Finno-Ugrians. It would be a boon to Europe if the Slavic populations in Central and Eastern Europe preserved the most cordial cultural relations with Mother Russia. These peoples, and particularly the Czechs and the Bulgars, would be most useful bridges between the East and the West. The kinship which exists between ourselves and Great Britain, between Quebec and France, between Brazil and Portugal, fortunately ignores political divisions. A Panslavist Congress in Prague could do no harm, if it represented only voluntary organizations, without the backing of armed forces. Similarly, a Communist Convention in Berlin, a Missionary Meeting in London, would knit the world together, and not threaten to disrupt it. It is my conviction that the Soviets and Western Europe will not remain alien and aloof: they will increasingly associate in freedom and amity.


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading