17 SEPTEMBER 1921, Page 4



CORRESPONDENCE which we have received, and numerous conversations which we have heard, prove to us both that there is a widespread and com- passionate desire to help the victims of the appalling Russian famine and that there are serious doubts about how help can best be given. The wood in which we are all wandering is very thick indeed. We do not pretend that we see daylight shining at the other end. On the other hand, we do think, judging from the situation as it is when we write, that there is one path which offers a better prospect than any other of leading us out of the wood.

The fact that millions of persons are starving is quite enough in itself to move the British public. Ordinary political considerations do not count when the spectacle is daily presented by the Press of women and children reduced to the condition of wild beasts, dying untended and without hope, dying in the tragic yet quiet con- viction that the end is certain and that nothing can be done to evade it. We have never read descriptions of famine more dreadful than those which have been placed before us in various newspapers this week. The want which always follows in the track of war has taught millions of Englishmen during the past seven years in various parts of the world what famine is. Soldiers and sailors know only too well ; and when a public appeal is issued for help the names of distinguished officers are always among the first to be appended to that appeal. But, although political considerations do not count in such circumstances as these, and most people are left cold—when they are not left impatient and irritated— by hair-splitting discussions about whether recognition of the Soviet Government of Russia is or is not involved in sending help, the particular problem with which we have to deal is inseparable from certain political, or quasi- political, considerations which simply cannot be ignored because they go to the root of the mat•t•er. It is not now a question of merely collecting money and sending supplies to the famine centres, with the certain knowledge that every bushel of corn will save a life. If the problem were as simple as that—if, in fine, it were just an ordinary famine problem—we should be happy indeed. The British public would undoubtedly respond, and the misery and suffering would be relieved, hard though we are all driven by the tax-collector and simple and austere though the living of most Englishmen themselves has necessarily become. When the misery in some foreign land is obvious enough, and the means of succour is equally obvious, the average Englishman finds that he can help somehow ; there is a box of cigarettes or cigars which can be given up, a visit to the theatre or a day's golf which can be abandoned. Unfortunately, in the present case people are holding back from subscribing for the victims of the Russian famine because they are in a state of real con- fusion and doubt•.

They ask themselves, and quite rightly, " Is it any use subscribing ? Will the food really reach the right people ? Will it not be used by the Bolsheviks for their own purposes to bolster up their beastly tyranny ? Is it not possible that they will even use it as an instrument of torture, withholding it from those whom they regard as their irreconcilable enemies and bribing others, forcing them into compliance by the pangs of hunger, to support a system of Government which they detest ? "

We fully recognize that the Russian rulers are almost impossible people to deal with. One day they issue a world-wide appeal for assistance, and the next day they issue a manifesto reviling and insulting the very people whom they have invited to open their pockets. The desire of the Governments of the Great Powers to help the sufferers is beyond all question ; but when it is proposed that an Inter-Allied Commission should visit Russia to find out how it can be ensured that food supplies shall really reach the right people, the Bolshevik rulers declare that they will not allow the Commission to enter Russia. 'Yet-again, it is announced that the Bolsheviks are making preparatrons to invade- the Rumanian province of Bessarabia. No doubt there is food to be found there ; both Rumania and Bulgaria are believed to have food to spare. But the integrity of Rumania is guaranteed by the Treaty of Versailles, and if Russia goes to war with a protected State, she will in effect go to war with the Allies. What is to happen then ? The position would be quite impossible if we were supplying food to a country which was at war with us. We should be feeding Russian soldiers only in order that they might defy the public law and steal from a little country whose only desire is to remain at peace. We must hope that this madness on the part of Russia will not be committed. The Allies cannot convey too stern a warning to the Bosheviks that if they behave in such a way they will make our difficulties—formidable enough already, in all conscience—quite insurmountable.

The need for help in Russia is so urgent—every day lost probably means the death of thousands—that it seems to us reasonable to adopt any scheme which, in spite of patent and inherent risks, can be put into operation at once. Now, as the Inter-Allied Commission has been refused permission to visit Russia, there is only one comprehensive scheme—we mean one which, if it could be developed, would cover the whole ground—for Englishmen to support. It is the scheme of the Red Cross Societies.

What has happened is briefly this. About three weeks ago the Red Cross Societies held a conference at Geneva, and the well-known American organizer, Mr. Hoover, and Dr. Nansen were both invited to undertake the organization of relief. Mr. Hoover preferred to go on administering the existing American funds on his own lines. Dr. Nansen, however, accepted. Dr. Nansen is a highly experienced, distinguished, and determined man. His uprightness has never been questioned. For our part, therefore, we feel that, though there are traps and pitfalls in every conceivable scheme, no undertaking for which Dr. Nansen is responsible should be rejected unless more and better reasons for rejection are brought forward than those which we have yet encountered. We are well aware of all that is being said in a contrary sense. It is suggested that Dr. Nansen is temperamentally too much inclined to be sympathetic towards Bolshevism. It is also said that as he is prepared to work with the Soviets, he is really putting himself at their mercy, and that the only desirable plan is to send into Russia a large number of non-Russian inspectors who will be solely responsible for the distribution of the food and will have nothing to do with Russian politicians. Dr. Nansen, no doubt, would reply that as the Bolsheviks have refused to receive foreign organizers, with the exception of a few individuals, it is hopeless to insist upon such ideas. In their fanaticism the Bolsheviks see a political intriguer in every foreign official, and they either believe, or declare that they believe, that foreign officials would be sent to Russia merely to create a counter-revolution. All that is, of course, ridiculous. Everybody here is sick of attempts to take sides in Russia. Everybody is convinced that such attempts are worse than useless—that they prop up rather than damage Bolshevism. Nobody here has the faintest desire to attach a political message to a single cheque or a single sack of corn. Dr. Nansen apparently has good hopes that the Bolsheviks will observe three main conditions which he has laid down. These are to the effect : (1) That if even one truck-load of food is diverted by Russian officials from its proper destination, he can stop all relief ; (2) that all supplies shall be regarded as the property of the Red Cross until they are actually in the possession of the proper recipients ; (3) that he may employ as many officials as he likes so long as he vouches for them and they do not share with him the supreme responsibility. It will be said that Dr. Nausea ought not to have refused the assistance of a British Commissioner equal in status to himself. But the peculiar views of the Bolsheviks— which are a fact, however silly we may think them- acoount for Dr. Nansen's refusal. He wants to get to work on a basis of things as they are. He has, however, expressed his willingness to see a British " supervisor and controller " appointed. This suggestion is, perhaps, a distinction without a difference, and, if so, so much the better. Everything would depend upon the personal relations of Dr. Nausea and the -British representative.- Although the British representative would not be a High Commissioner, he might, for all we can see, be able to do all the necessary part of a High Commissioner's work. Moreover, Dr. Nansen would agree to his having as many subordinate inspectors as he wished. We have dealt so far only with Dr. Nansen's scheme for administering the Red Cross funds. It must be con- fessed that these funds, unless they are enormously increased, will not go very far. Seriously to tackle the Russian famine international credits are said to be necessary ; and here we come to the weakest part of Dr. Nansen's proposals. The loan that he suggests would not be properly secured. Every responsible Finance Minister, judging it purely on its financial merits, would probably turn it down. Nevertheless, as the need is so urgent, we venture to say that the voluntary part of Dr. Nansen's scheme—the distribution of the Red Cross supplies— should be proceeded with until it is proved either that it is radically defective or that it is used by the Bolsheviks for their own purposes. As we have already pointed out, Dr. Nansen proposes to vest himself with absolute power to stop the work at any moment. He evidently thinks that the guarantees which he proposes are sufficient. He could have had larger and further guarantees, which have been given to Mr. Hoover, but he took all that he wanted.

As a matter of fact, there is no fair comparison between Dr. Nansen's undertaking and any other. His machinery, if it can be created, will be co-extensive with the famine area. Mr. Hoover is at work in selected areas, and the same thing may be said of the " Save the Children Fund," whose advertisements are familiar to every newspaper reader. We cannot honestly say, although the intentions of the administrators of the " Save the Children Fund " are admirable, that the title is in itself well chosen. A child can hardly be saved apart from its family. If it is segregated, the father or the mother, or both, may perish, and the child may find itself, in good health, a lonely atom in the world. What is needed now is not only a rationing of all the starving provinces but a provision of seed-corn, in order that crops may be grown and famine averted next year. Moreover, a great deal of medical and hygienic work is required in order to check or stave off typhus and the other epidemics which follow on the heels of famine.

That excellent organization the Imperial War Relief Fund is collecting money for the Red Cross movement in Russia. The surest fact in a very obscure situation is that subscriptions sent to the Imperial War Relief Fund will be most strictly and conscientiously applied to the best purposes. The Imperial War Relief Fund was started as a co-ordinating society. It tries to prevent overlapping, and we must say that the variety of the appeals which are made to the public on behalf of Russia accounts for a large part of the popular misgiving and confusion. The directors of the Fund act as agents, as it were, for all the societies of which they approve— the Friends' Relief Committee, the Russian Relief and Reconstruction Committee, the Red Cross, and so on. All one has to do is to send a donation to the Fund. So far as we know, there is at present no connexion between the Imperial War Relief Fund and the " Save the Children Fund.' If we remember rightly, the " Save the Children Fund " was at one time co-ordinated with the other societies and had the assistance of the Imperial War Relief Fund. We may be wrong about the facts, but if there is some reason for a severance of connexion— if there is a fault or a grievance on either side—it might help people who hardly know how to act at present if the facts were made public. To sum up, the Red Cross proposal holds the field, and as speed is urgent we hold that it ought to be supported until strong reason is shown to the contrary. We fully admit the risks. But there are risks all along the line. Moreover, the Red Cross scheme may be divided into two parts. The first and lesser part is the distribution of sup- plies voluntarily raised, and the second or larger part depends upon Inter-Allied credit. The second part may not mature or something better contrived may be substi- tuted. For ourselves, we hold that the Great Powers should plainly tell the Bolsheviks that it is intolerable than they should spend on Communistic propaganda what might be spent on food. Russia should be informed that any official help will be contingent on her helping herself. She must recall money and energy from improper uses and set them to proper uses. Still, the voluntary part of the Red Cross scheme can, if there is no further hitch, begin to operate at once. Every one who agrees with us in this conclusion, and has it on his conscience that he ought to help, will send his subscription to the Hon. Treasurer of the Imperial War Relief Fund, Fishmongers' Hall, E.C. 4, and earmark it " Russian Famine Relief."