In dealing with books of contemporary history, it is always necessary to distinguish carefully between the purely historical element and the point of view and purpose (if any) of the writer. Particularly is this necessary in any appraisal of a book such as Professor Ross's "The Russian Soviet Republic," in which the historical and the personal are closely mingled. In spite of the considerable body of historical narrative and analysis therein detailed, the purpose and character of this book are sufficiently indicated by the dedication "To my Fellow American who have become weary of being fed lies and propaganda about Russia." Indeed in his preface Professor Ross recognizes the impossibility of writing a history of that complex, tangled, and obscure phenomenon known as Soviet Russia, and proffers this volume merely as an Ersaiz history. Hence it is principally upon the basis of a "propaganda" book that judgment must be found.
In point of view of history Professor Ross covers in some detail the period of the Russo-German negotiations during the winter of 1917-18 that culminated in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of March 1918, and he describes briefly the reorganization of Russia under the Soviet regime. He then outlines the various attempts at counter revolution and foreign intervention such as the Archangel expedition, the struggles in Siberia of the Czecho-Slovaks, Kolchak, and Semenov, and the intervention of Japanese and American troops, as well as the attacks of Denikine, Wranged, and Yudenitch. Throughout he emphasizes the policy towards Soviet Russia of the Allied and Associated Powers and particularly stresses their relations to the anti-Soviet operations mentioned above. Indeed he often seems more interested in recording the "impertalistio and roalevolent" policy of the Azlies than in tracing the actual course of the Soviet Government. The last third of the book in taken up with a sketchy and not wholly satisfactory description of the internal policy of the Soviet Government principally in the economic field, but touching on other topics such as the Church, education, and the administration of law.
Historically, no new material is offered than that contained in the current newspapers and periodicals, in government and other reports, and in publications of the day which are a matter of public knowledge. Of these the book may afford a fairly useful summary, but it does not fulfill the promise on the wrapper of making sensational disclosures. He does, to be sure, bring out the fact that Lenin and Trotsky offered to reject the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and renew the war against Germany, and offer which, for as yet unexplained motives, was not taken up by the Allies; but this is hardly news. Likewise his account of the German occupation of the Ukraine, and of the Czecho-Slovaks in Siberia is good but not novel; and the same may be said for his quite spirited narrative of the diplomatic and propagandist duel that led to the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1921. On the other hand there are astonishing gaps and omissions. He is practically silent on topics such as the Third International and its relation to foreign propaganda, the execution of the Czar, the debasement of the currency, Lenin's "strategic retreat" towards capitalism in 1921, and the position and operations of the American Relief Commission. Neither does he go into certain outstanding features of the foreign relations of the Soviets, such as their unholy alliance with Mustache Kemal, their position at the Genoa Conference, the Treaty of Rapailo, and their presence at Lasagna. These are serious defects, and tand to justify the conolusion reaolied above cannoning the focus point of the author's interest.
The personal view point of Professor Ross might be described as slightly pink. Although he saves his bacon by a frank admission and condemnation of the economic theories and policies of the Soviets, the feelings still remains that his sympathies on the whole lie on the side of Russia and her socialistic experiment as against the wrongs of the expropriated "never-works" and the unveiled hostility of the capitalist countries of the world. There is no denying that the Allies and the United States tremendously misjudged the potentialities of the Soviet Revolution, and that to date their policy towards Russia has been anything but a success. Yet is it possible to visit wholesale execration upon them as does Professor Ross? Many facts must yet be brought to light before any attempt at conclusive judgment as to the wisdom or unwisdom of their policy can be fairly made.
Again, there is no denying that the world has been filled with lies and misleading propaganda about Soviet Russia. But can we dismiss the whole body of information and misinformation now at our disposal as an unqualified parcel of lies? In his chapter entitled "The Poison Gas Attack" Professor Ross lists forty nine stories as absolute lies and attempts to refute them by ipse dixit declarations, sarcastic comment, or by demonstrating them to be illogical (surely a risky business). False they may be, in part or in whole, but flat statements unsupported by proff or authority can bear little weight, and this unfortunately is the author's favorite method. Worse yet, he himself is guilty of statements almost as inaccurate as those he seeks to disprove. To cite two examples: his reference to the Sisson Documents as forged papers cannot be accepted without very grave qualifications, and his charge that the Russian Division of the State Department was allowed to become a centre for Czarist supporters and for Czarist intrigue is quite without foundation in fact.
The truth is that Professor Ross does not know very much about Russia. He was last there in 1917, and for his information since then he has been dependent on extracts from current newspapers and periodicals and upon the reports of others. And in using these materials he has been neither critical nor scholarly. As a summary of current information upon Soviet Russia his book may be of some use to the general public; as a record of Professor Ross's opinions it may be interesting to his pupils; but to the student of contemporary Russian history it will be of little help. Even to the confirmed apologist for Soviet Russia it will bring little of real comfort--its "proofs" are not convincing and its inaccuracies are too many. But it will probably be widely quoted.