Jun 14, 2022
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History Lesson: The 1922 Hague Conference

In Genoa and The Hague, Russia showed the West that it can take a hit

Earlier I wrote about the international economic conference in Genoa, which took place in April-May 1922 and became a serious test for Soviet Russia. The then collective West, in an ultimatum form, demanded from Russia the recognition of international debts of the tsarist and provisional governments, the restoration of the rights of foreign investors in Russia (or full compensation for nationalized assets) and the abolition of the state monopoly of foreign trade. Moscow rejected all these demands, and it was a big victory.

The West, however, did not calm down and literally a month later another international conference started – in The Hague (July 15-20, 1922). In fact, this was the second series of the Genoese conference. On the eve of the meeting in The Hague, the Italian Foreign Minister Carlo Schanzer stated that it was not “about the new conference, since the work of experts in The Hague will be a natural continuation of the work begun in Genoa”.

The Hague conference was almost disrupted by the French president Raymond Poincare. On June 2, he sent a note to the allies (including the United States), in which he agreed not to a representative conference, but only to a meeting of experts. At the same time, draft documents should be prepared in advance by the allies without the participation of Russia (within the framework of the “non-Russian commission”), and the meeting itself should resemble a public presentation by the West of an ultimatum to the Soviet government. “In the program of the Hague Conference,– newsletters, – it is necessary to include the most detailed and clearly drawn up plan of the conditions that Russia must first accept and on which all powers must agree before they are presented to the Russian government ”. At other points, Poincaré insisted that Russia renounce its Memorandum of May 11, which, in his opinion, “in essence, the demand for the surrender of Europe to the Soviet system”.

At the stage of preparation for the Hague Conference, contradictions between the main allies in the Entente once again came to light. Great Britain in its note, which followed Poincaré’s note, demonstrated great “tolerance” on the “Russian question”. For example, on the question of private property, the British government spoke out against the point of view of Poincare (who insisted on the inadmissibility of the nationalization of not only foreign, but also any private property) as contrary to paragraph 1 of the “Cannes conditions” (they were worked out at a conference in Cannes in January 1922 year and represented a common platform for the demands of the collective West to Soviet Russia). “Whether the Russian government will return the confiscated property to the former owners, or whether it will give them compensation, is a matter exclusively subject to its jurisdiction. To impose any principle on the Russian government would be tantamount to a violation of a right to which no sovereign state would ever agree.” .

In the end, the British managed to quench the excessively aggressive fervor of the French leader, and the meeting in The Hague took place. Representatives of all those states that met in Genoa, except Germany, gathered there. Lloyd Georgeexplained her absence. “Germany, by a separate agreement in Rapallo, excluded itself from the upcoming negotiations relating to Russian affairs”. The composition of many delegations has changed. The Hague Conference was less representative than the Genoese.

The conference was divided into two commissions – “Russian” and “non-Russian”. The second commission included all the delegates of the countries represented in Genoa, but without the Soviet delegates. This division already testified that a united front would be created in The Hague against the Soviet country. It was also significant that the “non-Russian” commission began work 10 days earlier than the Russian one. The delegation of Soviet Russia arrived in The Hague only on 26 June. It was headed by Deputy People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs M. M. Litvinov.

There were already many representatives of the business community who had or plan to have commercial interests in Russia. For example, the British delegates were the Secretary of State for Foreign Trade Lloyd Grimformer director of the board of the Russian-Asian Bank and former owner of the Kyshtym and Lena mines Leslie Urquhart. The delegate from France was the director of the Bureau for the Protection of Private Property of French Citizens in Russia Alfan .

As in Genoa, at the Hague Conference, the key issues were the claims of the capitalist countries against the Soviet state related to the nationalization of the property of foreign capitalists and the cancellation of the debts of the tsarist and provisional governments. Also, at the initiative of the Soviet delegation, the issue of the possibility and conditions for granting loans to Soviet Russia was discussed. However, the Soviet delegation proposed to go beyond financial and economic issues and discuss the general conditions for post-war reconstruction and international cooperation in Europe.

Representatives of Western countries, however, were only interested in issues related to receiving debts and compensation from Russia. A last desperate attempt was made to throw a financial noose on Soviet Russia, similar to the one that ended up around the neck of Germany (it had the heaviest burden of paying reparations to the victors in the First World War). The West refused to discuss the issue of loans without the consent of Russia to pay debts, restitution of property of foreign owners, compensation for losses from nationalization. The Soviet delegation tried to at least get the West to write off those debts that Russia had during the First World War. After all, the victory of the Entente in this war was achieved at the cost, first of all, of Russian blood. In addition, the former allies in the Entente expected to cover their losses in the war in excess at the expense of exorbitantly high reparations assigned to Germany.

The Hague conference lasted more than a month and formally ended in nothing. However, after all, Soviet Russia managed to do something from what was planned in Moscow. The Soviet delegation managed to interest Western capital in cooperation with Russia. She stated that Moscow is ready to grant concessions to foreign capital. Even before the delegation’s departure for The Hague, this project was considered in Moscow: it was decided to offer capitalist Europe to take concessions in the oil, coal, railway and some other industries. At the same time, Litvinov repeated once again that the benefit of Soviet Russia was the main condition for granting a concession. Concessions are also investments, but not forever, but for a period and subject to all conditions on the part of the investor. When asked which enterprises were supposed to be handed over for concession, the Soviet delegation handed over to their negotiating partners a developed list. But it was designed in such a way that it did not arouse enthusiasm among the previous owners. Member of the Soviet delegation Mattesaid: “When this list was handed over, there was an incredible commotion. We are reminded of the story of a Greek writer. The story describes the court of the Greek king in Piraeus. In this courtyard there was a monkey who was taught to dance. Once, when the monkey was dancing, someone threw a handful of nuts to it. The monkey forgot everything in the world and rushed to pick up nuts. She became a monkey again. Such a spectacle was the Conference when the Soviet delegation presented a list of concession enterprises. Everyone feverishly rushed to this list, looking for “their” enterprises in it. But the list looked very strange. For example, the Urquhart enterprises were divided into three different concession sites, all of which belonged to different branches of Soviet industry. Thus began a scuffle between future concessionaires.” . Negotiations with Russia on a number of concessions took place after The Hague and ended with the signing of agreements.

Some of the ideas that Soviet Russia put forward in Genoa and The Hague gradually conquered the West. In particular, the most diverse statesmen agreed that the cancellation of inter-allied debts that arose during the First World War is the most correct way to improve the economic life of Europe. Conservative Alexander Ribot in France, liberal John Keynes in England, professor Edwin Seligman in America – everyone, standing on different platforms, sought the annulment of state wartime credit obligations. An American economist and statistician Harvey Fiskprepared a fundamental statistical study on inter-allied debts, which was supposed to help carry out the repayment operation in practice. By the way, this study was promptly translated into Russian in the USSR: Harvey Fisk Inter-Allied Debts. Research on public finance for the war and post-war years. Per. from English.M .: Financial publishing house under the NKF of the USSR, 1925.

On the whole, in Genoa and in The Hague, Russia was able to show the West that it could take a hit, that it was not as weak as it seemed to Russia’s former allies on the eve of the 1922 conferences. After Genoa and The Hague, our country began to participate in other international conferences. For example, in 1922-23. the Soviet state took part in a conference in Lausanne (Switzerland), where the regime of the Black Sea straits was discussed. However, the collective West, realizing the hopelessness of getting what it wants from Moscow, began to hold many conferences of a financial and economic profile without the participation of the Soviet state.

In Genoa and The Hague, the ground was prepared for breaking through the diplomatic and political blockade of Soviet Russia. Less than two years later, a “streak of confessions” began, when diplomatic relations were established with 11 states during 1924. The process began with the UK (February 2) and ended with France (October 30). During this period of time, diplomatic relations were established with such European countries as Italy, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Greece. From large non-European countries – with China.

More information about the events described in this article can be found in the book:V. Katasonov. Russia and the West in the XX century. The history of economic confrontation and coexistence. – M.: Institute of Russian Civilization, 2015.

In the photo: Soviet delegation at the Genoa Conference

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