The United States and National Self-Determination of Minorities in the ‘Russian Space,’ 1914–1920

15 June 2019

Vladimir Romanov

The article discusses the political course of President Wilson’s administration regarding issues of national self-determination in Russia during the First World War and 1917 revolution. It was a period when almost every national minority in the ‘Russian Space’ declared its desire for self-determination, and it seemed that this desire was fully consistent with Wilson’s philosophy and foreign policy aims. His approach, however, was significantly different from that of the Russian authorities, as was already evident during the discussion of the ‘Jewish’ and ‘Polish’ questions. The real prospects for national self-determination for minorities in the territory of the former Russian Empire opened up only after the overthrow of Tsarism. However, only the Poles and Finns gained real independence. Despite all disagreements with the Provisional Government and the Bolsheviks, Wilson nevertheless outlined his goal to safeguard the territorial integrity of almost the entire former imperial space. Moreover, the American administration in 1917-1920 refused official recognition not only of the Bolsheviks, but also of a number of nation states that had declared their independence. This policy was enshrined in the key document known as Colby’s note (1920). The author substantiates the argument that Wilson wanted to preserve a united and democratic Russia as a strong partner of the United States in the international arena after the end of the First World War.

national self-determination, Russia, Wilson, ‘Fourteen Points,’ Colby note.
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  37. Ibid., 318–321, 330.
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  39. И. Г. Церетели, Кризис власти. Воспоминания лидера меньшевиков, депутата II Государственной думы. 1917–1918 (Москва: Центрполиграф, 2007), 9–11.
  40. Листиков, США и революционная Россия, 100–103.
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  42. Документы внешней политики СССР, т. 1 (Москва: Государственное издательство политической литературы, 1959), 11–13, 21.
  43. Betty M. Unterberger, “Woodrow Wilson and the Russian Revolution,” in Woodrow Wilson and a Revolutionary World, 19131921, ed. Arthur S. Link (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 53–55.
  44. An Address in Buffalo to the American Federation of Labor, 12 November 1917, The Papers, vol. 45, 14.
  45. An Address to a Joint Session of Congress, 8 January 1918, The Papers, vol. 45, 534–537.
  46. Документы внешней политики СССР, т. 1, 14–15.
  47. Ibid., 34–35.
  48. Tooze, The Deluge, 125–126.
  49. The Acting Secretary of State to the Consul General at Moscow (M. Summers), 11 March 1918, Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1918, vol. 1, 395–396.
  50. Wilson to Polk, 10 March 1918, The Papers, vol. 46, 595; Baker to Wilson, 23 November 1917, The Papers, vol. 45, 105.
  51. The Secretary of State to Italian Ambassador (Baron Avezzana), 10 August 1920, in Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1920, vol. 3 (Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1936), 467.
  52. Ibid., 468.
  53. Lansing to Lithuanian National Council, 15 October 1919, The Papers, vol. 66, 25.
  54. The Secretary of State to Italian Ambassador (Baron Avezzana), 10 August 1920, in Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1920, 468.
  55. Ibid.
  56. Ronald Radosh, “John Spargo and Wilson’s Russian Policy, 1920,” JAH 52, no. 3 (Dec., 1965): 548–565.
  57. John Spargo, The Psychology of Bolshevism (New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1919); John Spargo, Russia as an American Problem (New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1920).
  58. Документы внешней политики СССР, т. 3, 172–173.
  59. An Address to a Joint Session of Congress, 2 April 1917, The Papers, vol. 41, 527.