The War That Will End War

by H.G. Wells

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Chapter VIII - The Liberal Fear of Russia

It is evident that there is a very considerable dread of the power and intentions of Russia in this country. It is well that the justification of this dread should be discussed now, for it is likely to affect the attitude of British and American Liberalism very profoundly, both towards the continuation of the war and towards the ultimate settlement.

It is, I believe, an exaggerated dread arising out of our extreme ignorance of Russian realities. English people imagine Russia to be more purposeful than she is, more concentrated, more inimical to Western civilisation. They think of Russian policy as if it were a diabolically clever spider in a dark place. They imagine that the tremendous unification of State and national pride and ambition which has made the German Empire at last insupportable, may presently be repeated upon an altogether more gigantic scale, that Pan-Slavism will take the place of Pan-Germanism, as the ruling aggression of the world.

70This is a dread due, I am convinced, to fundamental misconceptions and hasty parallelisms. Russia is not only the vastest country in the world, but the laxest; she is incapable of that tremendous unification. Not for two centuries yet, if ever, will it be necessary for a reasonably united Western Europe to trouble itself, once Prussianism has been disposed of, about the risk of definite aggression from the East. I do not think it will ever have to trouble itself.

Socially and politically, Russia is an entirely unique structure. It is the fashion to talk of Russia as being “in the fourteenth century,” or “in the sixteenth century.” As a matter of fact, Russia, like everything else, is in the twentieth century, and it is quite impossible to find in any other age a similar social organisation. In bulk, she is barbaric. Between eighty and ninety per cent. of her population is living at a level very little above the level of those agricultural Aryan races who were scattered over Europe before the beginning of written history. It is an illiterate population. It is superstitious in a primitive way, conservative and religious in a primitive way, it is incapable of protecting itself in the ordinary commerce of modern life; against the business enterprise of better educated races it has no weapon but a peasant’s poor cunning. It is, indeed, a helpless, unawakened mass. Above these peasants come a few millions 71of fairly well-educated and actively intelligent people. They are all that corresponds in any way to a Western community such as ours. Either they are officials, clerical or lay, in the great government machine that was consolidated chiefly by Peter the Great to control the souls and bodies of the peasant mass, or they are private persons more or less resentfully entangled in that machine. At the head of this structure, with powers of interference strictly determined by his individual capacity, is that tragic figure, the Tsar. That, briefly, is the composition of Russia, and it is unlike any other State on earth. It will follow laws of its own and have a destiny of its own.

Involved with the affairs of Russia are certain less barbaric States. There is Finland, which is by comparison highly civilised, and Poland, which is not nearly so far in advance of Russia. Both these countries are perpetually uneasy under the blundering pressure of foolish attempts to “Russianize” them. In addition, in the South and East are certain provinces thick with Jews, whom Russia can neither contrive to tolerate nor assimilate, who have no comprehensible projects for the help or reorganisation of the country, and who deafen all the rest of Europe with their bitter, unhelpful tale of grievances, so that it is difficult to realise how local and partial are their wrongs. There is a certain “Russian idea,” containing within itself 72all the factors of failure, inspiring the general policy of this vast amorphous State. It found its completest expression in the works of the now defunct Pobedonostsev, and it pervades the bureaucracy. It is obscurantist, denying the common people education; it is orthodox, forbidding free thought and preferring conformity to ability; it is bureaucratic and autocratic; it is Pan-Slavic, Russianizing, and aggressive. It is this “Russian idea” that Western Liberalism dreads, and, as I want to point out, dreads unreasonably. I do not want to plead that it is not a bad thing; it is a bad thing. I want to point out that, unlike Prussianism, it is not a great danger to the world at large.

So long as this Russian idea, this Russian Toryism, dominates Russian affairs, Russia can never be really formidable either to India, to China, or to the Liberal nations of Western Europe. And whenever she abandons this Toryism and becomes modern and formidable, she will cease to be aggressive. That is my case. While Russia has the will to oppress the world she will never have the power; when she has the power she will cease to have the will. Let me state my reasons for this belief as compactly as possible, because if I am right a number of Liberal-minded people in Great Britain and America and Scandinavia, who may collectively have a very great influence upon the settlement of Europe that will follow this war, are wrong. They 73may want to bolster up a really dangerous and evil Austria-cum-Germany at the expense of France, Belgium, and subject Slav populations, because of their dread of this Russia which can never be at the same time evil and dangerous.

Now, first let me point out what the Boer War showed, and what this tremendous conflict in Belgium is already enforcing, that the day of the unintelligent common soldier is past; that men who are animated and individualised can, under modern conditions, fight better than men who are unintelligent and obedient. Soldiering is becoming more specialised. It is calling for the intelligent handling of weapons so elaborate and destructive that great masses of men in the field are an encumbrance rather than a power. Battles must spread out, and leading give place to individual initiative. Consequently Russia can only become powerful enough to overcome any highly civilised European country by raising its own average of education and initiative, and this it can do only by abandoning its obscurantist methods, by liberalising upon the Western European model. That is to say, it will have to teach its population to read, to multiply its schools, and increase its universities; and that will make an entirely different Russia from this one we fear. It involves a relaxation of the grip of orthodoxy, an alteration of the intellectual outlook of officialdom, an abandonment of quasi-religious 74autocracy—in short, the complete abandonment of the “Russian idea” as we know it. And it means also a great development of local self-consciousness. Russia seems homogeneous now, because in the mass it is so ignorant as to be unaware of its differences; but an educated Russia means a Russia in which Ruthenian and Great Russian, Lett and Tartar will be mutually critical and aware of one another. The existing Russian idea will need to give place to an entirely more democratic, tolerant, and cosmopolitan idea of Russia as a whole, if Russia is to merge from its barbarism and remain united. There is no cheap “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” sentiment ready-made to hand. National quality is against it. Patience under patriotism is a German weakness. Russians could no more go on singing and singing, “Russia, Russia over all,” than Englishmen could go on singing “Rule, Britannia.” It would bore them. The temperament of none of the Russian peoples justifies the belief that they will repeat on a larger scale even as much docility as the Germans have shown under the Prussians. No one who has seen the Russians, who has had opportunities of comparing Berlin with St. Petersburg or Moscow, or who knows anything of Russian art or Russian literature, will imagine this naturally wise, humorous, and impatient people reduplicating the self-conscious drill-dulled, soulless culture of Germany, or 75the political vulgarities of Potsdam. This is a terrible world, I admit, but Prussianism is the sort of thing that does not happen twice.

Russia is substantially barbaric. Who can deny it? State-stuff rather than a State. But people in Western Europe are constantly writing of Russia and the Russians as though the qualities natural to barbarism were qualities inherent in the Russian blood. Russia massacres, sometimes even with official connivance. But Russia in all its history has no massacres so abominable as we gentle English were guilty of in Ireland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Russia, too, “Russianizes,” sometimes clumsily, sometimes rather successfully. But Germany has sought to Germanise—in Bohemia and Poland, for instance, with conspicuous violence and failure. We “Anglicised” Ireland. These forcible efforts to create uniformity are natural to a phase of social and political development, from which no people on earth have yet fully emerged. And if we set ourselves now to create a reunited Poland under the Russian crown, if we bring all the great influence of the Western Powers to bear upon the side of the liberalising forces in Finland, if we do not try to thwart and stifle Russia by closing her legitimate outlet into the Mediterranean, we shall do infinitely more for human happiness than if we distrust her, check her, and force her back upon the barbarism 76from which, with a sort of blind pathetic wisdom, she seeks to emerge.

It is unfortunate for Russia that she has come into conspicuous conflict with the Jews. She has certainly treated them no worse than she has treated her own people, and she has treated them less atrociously than they were treated in England during the Middle Ages. The Jews by their particularism invite the resentment of all uncultivated humanity. Civilisation and not revolt emancipates them. And while Russian reverses will throw back her civilisation and intensify the sufferings of all her subject Jews, Russian success in this alliance will inevitably spell Westernisation, progress, and amelioration for them. But unhappily this does not seem to be patent to many Jewish minds. They have been embittered by their wrongs, and, in the English and still more in the American Press, a heavy weight of grievance against Russia finds voice, and distorts the issue of this. While we are still only in the opening phase of this struggle for life against the Prussianised German Empire, this struggle to escape from the militarism that has been slowly strangling civilisation, it is a huge misfortune that this racial resentment, which, great as it is, is still a little thing beside the world issues involved, should break the united front of western civilisation, and that the confidence of Russia should be threatened, 77as it is threatened now by doubt and disparagement in the Press. We are not so sure of victory that we can estrange an ally. We have to make up our minds to see all Poland reunited under the Russian Crown, and if the Turks choose to play a foolish part, it is not for us to quarrel now about the fate of Constantinople. The Allies are not to be tempted into a quarrel about Constantinople. The balance of power in the Balkans, that is to say, incessant intrigue between Austria and Russia, has arrested the civilisation of South-eastern Europe for a century. Let it topple. An unchallenged Russia will be a wholesome check, and no great danger for the new greater Servia and the new greater Rumania and the enlarged and restored Bulgaria this war renders possible.

One civilised country only does Russia really “threaten,” and that country is Sweden. Sweden has a vast wealth of coal and iron within reach of Russia’s hand. And I confess I watch Scandinavia with a certain terror during these days. Sweden is the only European country in which there is a pro-German militarist party, and she may be tempted—I do not know how strongly she may not have been tempted already—to drag herself and Norway into this struggle on the German side. If she does, our Government will be not a little to blame for not having given her, and induced Russia 78to give her, the strongest joint assurances and guarantees of her integrity for ever. But if the Scandinavian countries abstain from any participation in this present war, then I do not see what is to prevent us and France and Russia from making the most public, definite, and binding declaration of our common interest in Sweden’s integrity and our common determination to preserve it.

Beyond that, I see no danger to civilisation in Russia anywhere—at least, no danger so considerable as the Kaiser-Krupp power we fight to finish. This war, even if it brings us the utmost success, will still leave Russia face to face with a united and chastened Germany. For it must be remembered that the downfall of Prussianism and the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, will leave German Germany not smaller but larger than she is now. To India, decently governed and guarded, with an educational level higher than her own, and three times her gross population, Russia can only be dangerous through the grossest misgovernment on our part, and her powers of intervention in China will be restricted for many years. But all our powers of intervention in China will be restricted for many years. A breathing space for Chinese reconstruction is one of the most immediate and least equivocal blessings of this war. Unless the Chinese are unteachable—and only stupid people suppose them a stupid race—the China of 1934 79will not be a China for either us or Russia to meddle with. So where in all the world is this danger from Russia?

The danger of a Krupp-cum-Kaiser dominance of the whole world, on the other hand, is immediate. Defeat, or even a partial victory for the Allies, means nothing less than that.


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