Th. Rothstein, under his pseudonym W.A.M.M. 1918

Prince Lichnowsky’s Memorandum

Source: The Call, 25 April 1918, p.2, (1,328 words);
Transcribed: Ted Crawford,
HTML Markup: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Diplomats are a dangerous set of people. In 1915 the Germans, while ransacking the archives at Antwerp, found among the papers a huge set of reports transmitted by the Belgian Ministers in Berlin, Paris and London to their chief at Brussels between 1905 and July 1914, in which the policy pursued in those years by the Entente Powers against Germany was traced with the utmost candidness and condemned in most un­diplomatic terms as inimical to the peace of the world and to Belgium in particular. The Ger­mans, elated at the discovery of such impartial evidence of the Entente’s guilt, collected the papers and issued them at the popular price of sixpence. Now we have retaliated by publishing at the same price the text of the much-talked-of Prince Lichnowsky’s Memorandum which con­tains equally impartial evidence of Germany’s guilt and exonerates this country from all responsibility for the war.

The document is certainly interesting both historically and psychologically. It was written by the Prince in self-defence, in order to refute the campaign of the Pan-German patriots against the old Chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg, and his agents for the policy of “understanding” they had pursued towards this country before the war. That policy the said patriots regarded and still regard as extremely futile and even mischievous, since Great Britain had been fully determined to have a war with Germany and had merely been duping German diplomacy by a show of concilia­tion, in order to gain time. This explains the par­ticular tone and method of argument adopted by the Prince in his Memorandum. As is invariably the case in polemical discussions, he started with the laudable endeavour to write dispassionately and impartially, and imperceptibly ended by covering Great Britain and, in particular, Sir Edward Grey, her Foreign Secretary, with encomiums and depicting them as innocent lambs incapable of any deceit. To the National War Aims Committee this, of course, is quite a pleasant line of argument, but to the historian it is perfectly useless. One little example will show it. In 1904 Great Britain and France concluded the famous Morocco-Egyptian agreement which was the basis of the Entente. Its terms were pub­lished, and apart from the recognition of the re­spective special rights of the two contracting parties in the two countries they contained nothing. The public at the time did not suspect that there were in addition some secret clauses attached to the Convention by which provision was made for a protectorate of France over Morocco in the teeth of the international conven­tion of Madrid, of 1881, by which the independence and integrity of Morocco had been solemnly guaranteed “in the name of the Holy Trinity.” These clauses were only revealed in 1911, during the Agadir crisis. Yet in 1913 Prince Lichnowsky accepts Sir Edward Grey’s assurance that “England has no secret treaties, and it is contrary to her existing principles that she should conceal binding agreements!” What is more, Prince Lichnowsky quotes this assurance in his Memorandum as evidence of Great Britain’s virtues, knowing well from the revelations made by Sir Edward Grey himself at the outbreak of the war that he had involved Great Britain in a “binding agreement” with France one year before he had given the Prince that assurance, and had concealed it from the nation for the space of two years!

The cardinal error of Prince Lichnowsky’s Memorandum is that it entirely ignores the European situation as a whole and concentrates upon individuals and their isolated acts. The Kaiser may be as black and Sir Edward Grey may be as white as the Prince wants them to be, but their acts cannot be understood outside the general frame of European policy during the ten years preceding the war. What was that frame? For eight years out of the ten it was made up of a series of systematic endeavours on the part of British diplomacy to form a continental alliance against Germany, of which France and Russia were to be the main pillars in the West and East respectively. On at least two occasions, during the Bosnian crisis of 1938 and the Agadir crisis of 1911, British diplomacy, to say the least, was prepared to make war and only found herself baulked in her intentions by her Allies. After the Agadir crisis, however, a marked change in the official British policy set in owing, no doubt, to the discovery that Great Britain was paying much too high a price to her Allies, especially to Russia, for their problematic support, and that it would be much wiser to come to terms with Germany. Lord Haldane was sent to Berlin, Berlin responded by sending first Baron Marschal von Bieberstein and, then Prince Lichnowsky, the friendly co-operation between the diplomats of the two countries during the Balkan crisis fol­lowed, and then the whole was crowned by the conclusion of the African and Mesopotamian treaties. Neither Great Britain nor Germany wanted war any more and Europe began to breathe freely. If another couple of years had been allowed to pass, the friendship and financial co-operation between the two countries would have grown so close that war would have become altogether impossible, because without Great Britain her Allies would never have dared to pick any European quarrel, and Germany, on her part, would have ceased to have any interest in courting the favour of Austria.

But it is just because the situation had become considerably eased that Russia and France grew restless. We know now for certain that as early as February, 1914, the Russian Government had drawn up a complete plan of military action for the conquest of the Straits as part of a general European war, and we further know that when M. Poincaré went to Petrograd in the middle of July the Allied diplomacy was already in posses­sion of the terms which Austria was going to demand from Serbia. The diplomats of these two countries had undoubtedly made up their minds not to allow any opportunity to slip ere it became too late, in view of the growing friend­ship between Great Britain and Germany, and the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia was just such an opportunity. What was the position of this country? Sir Edward Grey knew that both by his agreement with France and on the general principle of balance of power this country would be obliged to take part in a European war should one break out; but just because of that and because this country had no longer any quarrel with Germany, he did not want that war to break out, and did his best to prevent it. But his best, confronted with the best of the Franco-Russian diplomacy, was not of a very high quality: he lacked both subtleness and courage, and he was outmanoeuvred by the Russians and the French at every step. He was, moreover, fighting with his right hand tied by the agreement with France, and weighed down by the whole diplomatic heritage of 1904-1912. And lastly, he was not alone in the manipulation of the diplomatic machinery. All the time there was a semi and unofficial diplomacy going on behind his back carried on by men who were nominally his subordi­nates, but who far exceeded him in dexterity and experience. While he was making frantic efforts to avoid the bitter cup and even to push it aside, those men, by their promises, were encouraging the Russian and French diplomats to push the matter to a crisis so as to confront Sir Edward Grey with accomplished facts. And they succeeded, while he lamentably failed.

Prince Lichnowsky did not see all that. While clearly aware of the double diplomacy of his own country and of the diplomatic developments which had preceded the outbreak of the war on the Ger­man side, he shows himself blind to the exactly parallel phenomenon on the British and, generally, the Entente side, the blindness being due to the peculiar circumstances in which he penned his Memorandum.