Six Red Months in Russia

by Louise Bryant



GERMAN propaganda is by no means as blatant and unfinished a thing as we generally believe. Stories of how German agents bought up whole regiments of Russian soldiers are ridiculously untrue. Along the Russian front it was dangerous even to give away cigarettes. An American correspondent, who was at the front in November, felt so sorry for the soldiers that he went back to the nearest town behind the lines and bought a lot of cigarettes. When he returned to the trenches he began to distribute them rather freely. He was almost mobbed. When his papers were examined and he had explained, they finally let him go. But after that he found it so unpleasant that he decided to return to Petrograd. The rumour that he was a German agent spread and when he was waiting for his train at the little railway station the next day he was again surrounded by soldiers and threatened.... Those of us who tried to find out how the Germans managed their propaganda found their methods very subtle and hard to trace. They never blundered to the extent of trying to openly buy the common soldiers--they purchased the services of those who could directly or indirectly influence them.

When they found they could not buy the revolutionary leaders they did their best to besmirch them. In Russia one can purchase fake evidence by the pound to prove that Lenine and Trotsky are German agents. All this evidence was absolutely disproved by the Provisional Government while it held these men for trial. And yet this German propaganda has been more or less successful. It was not very long ago that one of our officials came rushing home with a trunkful and but for the efforts of a few sane representatives, the Russian situation would have been more complicated than it is.

The German Bureau of Propaganda, which centres in Berlin, has on its staff members of every profession who are expert in their various lines. Their special aim is to study the psychology of the people they wish to reach. For example, if they wish to do propaganda in Russia they secure the services of some one who knows the Russian mind and who has probably lived in Russia a long time and is located in Berlin. The ground is carefully gone over and when the bureau decides what to do they instruct in great detail their agents with whom they are in touch. These agents have been sent to live in different localities and are not generally suspected.

The most illuminating example that I came across extended over a long period and as it unravelled I began to understand many other things. In Stockholm, on the way over, I met a young woman who said that she was an American correspondent. She was frankly pro-German.

A number of us, all reporters, were lunching at the Grand and after luncheon she walked with me towards my hotel. I said that I was looking for a fur coat and she said without any hesitation at all: "Why, don't get it here--everything is so expensive, I'll get it for you in Germany."

I stopped, thinking for a minute that I had misunderstood. But the young woman only laughed. "I know what you are going to say," she continued, "you are going to say that it is trafficking with the enemy, but that is very narrow-minded of you."

By this time we had reached my destination. I watched her swinging down the street; she had blonde hair and a ruddy skin and everything about her seemed more German than American. Remembering some of her remarks at luncheon about how fine the Prussian officers were, I hoped that I was correct in my surmise.

I never saw her again and this story is not altogether to do with her, but she is an important link. Five months later she was ordered arrested by Allied authorities and she fled into Germany where she still remains. Her latest activity was to publish a book called "Mein Lieber Barbars."

In Petrograd there was only one paper published in English. The editor was a weak-kneed, vacillating little person with no opinions of his own and he was dominated by a particularly despicable little character who claimed to be a Russian when he was in America and an American when he was in Russia. In both places he managed to escape military service.

Certain articles written by him caused much hard feeling in Russia against America. He attacked Trotsky and the Bolsheviki just after they came into power. It is easy to imagine how we might have felt if a foreign paper, published in this country, had begun to attack President Lincoln during the Civil War, every day filling its pages with false reports about the "barbaric" actions of the North.

The Bolsheviki were puzzled as to just what to do. The owners kept in the background and paid little attention to the policy. Several times the English and the American correspondents spoke of making a formal protest against the paper, but somehow no action was ever taken. Often in Smolny excited Russians would say to us accusingly: "So this is how the American papers lie about the revolutionists!" And we would explain, with vehemence, that the paper was not an American publication.

A very cleverly worded story about the six days' fighting in Moscow when the Bolsheviki overcame the Junkers, began in this way: "An American returning from Moscow reports that German officers had charge of the Bolshevik guns."

The wicked part of that article was not so much that the whole story was a lie, but that it was put in just that way--an American says...

The man who wrote it told a Russian who worked in the same office not to let certain Americans know that he was sending out news to the young lady who said she could get me a fur coat in Germany. And the Russian, being as curious as a child, hastened to tell us because he couldn't imagine what the mystery was about and because no Russian can keep a secret.

I went in to see this man one day just after he had printed an article about a German officer standing on the Nikolaisky Voksaal (station) and haranguing a crowd of Russians for an hour, calling them dogs, etc. I asked him why he printed that story which he knew to be untrue and he claimed to have seen the officer. He said there were many Germans in Smolny. I answered that I went there almost daily and had never encountered any. "Well," he said slyly, "I have been forbidden to enter Smolny, but as long as you go there freely, why don't you bring me the news? You can name your price and if you don't want to do it, get some one who can."

And this was not all. He made a deliberate effort to get the confidence of the Allied Ambassadors and for a time he succeeded with one of them.

The latest disclosures of German intrigue in the United States directly connect these characters in my story with the Evening Mail fund.

Once when there was a rumour that the Germans would be in Petrograd within a few days--this was just after the fall of Riga--the same man confided to an American girl that she need not worry. All she would have to do, he said, was to mention the name of the woman in Stockholm to the German officers and she would be treated with great respect.

Another sheet which was violently anti-Bolshevik was l'Entente, a paper formerly published in Roumania and later transferred to Petrograd. Finally the Bolsheviki shut it up and the editor, an unscrupulous little man, went to see Dr. Zalkind, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, to make "an arrangement." He explained to Zalkind that if he would give him permission to open his paper again he would make it pro-Bolshevik. Zalkind smiled and the editor decided that he had won his point. In Russia there is a new law that if a paper is closed down it cannot appear again under the same name. And the wily editor, remembering, remarked to Zalkind as he rose to depart: "Now the only thing left to settle is the name ... Could you suggest one?"

Zalkind thought a moment and replied gravely: "Yes... I should call such a paper...'The Prostitute.' "

The best and only authentic information from all parts of Russia was gathered by the French government. Every day a bulletin of multigraphed copies was issued and only a few rubles a month was charged for the service. It contained unprejudiced news, without comment, and also translations of leading editorials from all the Russian papers. An American newspaper pursuing such a neutral policy could not help but be of real benefit.

The German propagandists in Russia have made a tremendous effort to hurt President Wilson in the eyes of the working people. They have held up the Mooney trial as "an example of our supposed democracy." They have made use of our lynching cases and every suppressive measure against our radicals. It is too bad that we continue to have these examples for them to point to because there is no argument to refute them. We ourselves are at a loss. ...

Along the front, on the German side, a huge poster used to be displayed, showing President Wilson pushing the Russian soldiers into battle and holding his own away from the danger.

German propagandists would make little headway if all our diplomats were as sensitive to situations as Colonel Raymond Robbins, head of the American Red Cross Mission. He never spared himself any difficult task to further friendship between Russia and America. He never assumed an antagonistic attitude toward any group of Russian people. He supported the Provisional Government; he supported the Soviets. No matter how fast the changes came or how sweeping they happened to be, he immediately made himself familiar with them. I think every correspondent will agree with me that, according to their best observation, Colonel Robbins did more to offset unfavourable impressions, was more valuable and actually accomplished more than any other man or group of men sent to Russia by the United States Government.

When Colonel Robbins left Russia he was given a special train through Siberia and accorded every honour from the Soviet government. Nothing proves better, to my mind, the common ground for friendship than this confidence of the Russian masses in Colonel Robbins. Robbins has never pretended to be a Socialist nor has he upheld the banners of the conservatives; he has merely made an honest effort to be impartial.

Russia is the greatest undeveloped land in the world; it is infinitely rich in raw materials. Germany realises that. After the war there must be keen competition for Russian trade. And this is where German propaganda must essentially fail. She has tried to take by force what she might have had by extending friendship. Of course it was almost impossible for her to extend friendship because of the incompatibility of the two governments. There is only one course left for her to pursue. The Russians will never forget the forced and unjust "peace" which followed the Brest-Litovsk negotiations. So she must attempt by every means possible to keep Russia and other nations, especially the United States, on unfriendly terms and she must overthrow the Soviet government or even a more moderate government. She must establish a government more like her own. Of course, if we are wise and foreseeing enough, we will not fall into Germany's trap. We will offer aid to Russia and assume toward her a large tolerance and we will officially recognise whatever government there is--without regard to its political views or our own prejudices in the matter.