Horvath Moves into Russia

In a previous post, we saw how the revolt of the Czechoslovak Legion ousted local soviets along the Trans-Siberian Railway. Anti-bolshevik governments of varying stripes sprung up in their wake. A moderate socialist regime emerged in Vladivostok under P.Ia. Derber and, as the Czechoslovaks advanced from Vladivostok to Nikol’sk-Ussuriisk in early July, emboldened White forces captured Grodekovo on the Sino-Russian border. For Horvath in Harbin, the chance to take his fledgling regime to Russia – and away from the disapproval of the Chinese authorities – was irresistable.

By this stage, Chinese officials had been attempting to thwart Horvath’s organisational efforts in China for several months. Harbin foreign affairs official Li Jiaao, one of several interlocutors charged with keeping the Horvath group in line, described the announcement of the move to Grodekovo.

horvathgrodekovo
Horvath’s cabinet in Grodekovo, including (from left) S.A. Taskin, A.M. Okorokov, V.A. Glukharev, M.O. Kurskii, V.E. Flug, L.A. Ustrugov, S.V. Vostrotin. Source.

五日電計先邀覽。昨赴霍處阻止在路線界內組織政府,渠稱:

「業定今晚赴﹝四?﹞站察看情形,或赴雙城子圖晤赤軍,預備組織,萬一不洽,立即折回。萬一徼幸,當請假一月,即在雙城子組織政府,以扼海參崴西伯利亞政府,免致第二激黨出現。」

旋晤日英領事,談及此事,均贊成,惟美領事似不以為然,恐未能多談。今又赴晤,據稱:「昨晚霍同行者,除彼同志八十八人外,尚有日本國武員八人,英國武員一人。」又聞有日軍四百在軍助戰,詢諸日本領事,亦明認三百,則日英之助霍已確,無怪霍欣然而去。經交涉再三勸阻,且告以:「出境雖異﹝易﹞,入境恐難,二十年心血經營之鐵路,將付諸東流乎。」渠雖嘆息再三,仍難中止,則此中或有他故。

美領事亦經疑及霍與東人有約,勸我及早收回主權,美國必相助。若果落到東人,亦祇能以奉路相看,不承認安置軍隊,管理地方,緣此路合同尚在,不能與南滿洲同日而語。且雲:「霍與美人素來異視,如英日禁其在哈購地,美人則無此權利,萬難甘心,本領事將呈請政府趁此時期交涉,使中國主權得以完全收回。」交涉員告以:「中國與美國交誼最睦,當將尊意電達政府。」渠即欣悅道感。窺此情形,霍之改赴境外組織,系美領事之力也。

美領事既有助我收回主權之意,我國可乘機速圖進行。況近來日本國軍、警、財政人員絡繹來哈,雖以調查為名,似有布置。我國兵力未足,應如何籌備之處,宜未雨綢繆。是否有當,侯電遵。

I trust that the telegram of the 5th has been received. Yesterday, I went to Horvath to prevent the formation of a government in the Railway zone. He said:

‘I have already decided to go to Grodekovo this evening to observe the situation, and may proceed to Nikol’sk-Ussuriisk with the intention of meeting the Czech troops to prepare for an organisation. If we cannot come to an agreement, I will immediately return. If, against the odds, I succeed, I will take a month’s leave and establish a government in Ussuriisk, in order to seize the Siberian [Derber] government in Vladivostok and prevent a second bolshevik party from emerging.’

Li_Jia'ao
Li Jiaao, Harbin foreign affairs official from April 1918 to February 1919. Source.

I then went to meet the Japanese and British consuls. Speaking of this matter, they both approved, but it seemed that the American consul objected and it could not be discussed further. Today I met him [the American consul] again. He said, ‘Last night, among those who travelled with Horvath, apart from 88 of his comrades there were also eight Japanese and one British officer.’ He had also heard that there were 400 Japanese soldiers among the troops, aiding them in battle, and made enquiries with the Japanese consul, who admitted that there were 300 of them. Since it is now clear that the Japanese and British are helping Horvath, it is little wonder that he left so buoyantly. During our negotiations I repeatedly advised him against it, telling him, ‘It is easy to leave the border, but entering it may be difficult. The Railway, run with such toil and sweat over 20 years, will be swept away.’ Although he sighed several times, he could not break things off, or there may be other reasons for this.

The American consul has also already suspected Horvath of having an agreement with the easterners [Japanese], and advised us to recover our sovereignty as soon as possible, which America will support [emphasis mine]. If it does indeed fall to the easterners, they should be regarded as only serving the Railway, not permitted to station troops or manage the area, since the Railway agreement is still in force and it cannot be treated the same as the South Manchurian Railway. He then said, ‘Horvath and the Americans have never seen eye to eye. Like the British and Japanese, who are prohibited from buying land in Harbin[?], the Americans have no such privileges. This is far from satisfactory. I will write to my government to take this opportunity for negotiations, such that Chinese sovereignty may be completely recovered.’ I told him, ‘The friendship between China and America is most cordial, I will convey your opinion to our government.’ He then thanked us warmly. Judging by this situation, Horvath’s shift towards establishing a government outside the border must be the American consul’s doing.

Since the American consul intends to help us recover our sovereignty, our country may take this opportunity and swiftly make plans to proceed. After all, Japanese troops, police and finance officials have recently been coming to Harbin in droves. Although they claim to be observers, they seem to have other assignments. Our country’s military strength is still insufficient and, no matter what preparations should be made, we must plan for all contingencies. As for whether this is appropriate, I await your instructions.

Telegram from Li Jiaao, 10 July 1918 (sent 8 July). Zhong-E guanxi shiliao, Minguo liunian zhi banian (1917-1919). Dongbei bianfang (1), p. 277.
stevensharbin
Chinese officials welcoming the Stevens mission in Harbin. Source.

Even before his departure from Harbin, therefore, Horvath’s ambitions were lofty in the extreme. On 9 July, he proclaimed himself Provisional Supreme Ruler of Russia in Grodekovo, in direct opposition to the Derber government. Unlike in his statement to Li, Horvath undertook this without an agreement with the Czechoslovaks, who controlled Nikol’sk-Ussuriisk. Worse still, he denied them passage on the Chinese Eastern Railway, which they had requested in order to aid fellow legionnaires in western Siberia.

Perhaps even more breathtaking was Li’s claim that the American consul in Harbin, Charles Moser, had openly voiced his support for the recovery of Chinese sovereignty over the Railway zone. Already in March 1918, the American-led Russian Railway Service Corps – helmed by engineer John F. Stevens – had established its presence on the CER in order to facilitate the smooth running of the line. Given the pressing needs of the Czechoslovak Legion, it seems highly unlikely that Moser would suggest anything that would destabilise the Railway. Neither was it in American interests to transplant Horvath to Russia; again, this only antagonised the Czechoslovaks and the Derber government.

Li’s account is in fact directly contradicted by Moser’s own communique. According to Moser, it was a “Chinese governor” who expressed the wish to “regain complete sovereignty” over the Railway, but needed men and money to do so.

He wished my advice. I refused to suggest the possibility of American cooperation and assistance for which he seemed to be fishing, and he left me with the impression that he was unsatisfied and would call again. Chinese attitude in this matter surprising, unless instigated by Japan.

Why, then, did Li present this as an American proposal? A fluent Russian speaker, Li was no stranger to the Railway zone or to diplomacy. His experience in Harbin dated back to the 1911 Revolution and he had fulfilled consular functions in Vladivostok. Li was probably representing Jilin Governor Guo Zongxi, as Moser’s telegram suggests. Both men may have been trying to coax Beijing into a more assertive stance on the Railway; Guo had been appointed President of the Railway Board in December 1917 and this would have helped consolidate his authority.  At a time when America’s moral authority still held sway in China – and before the rise of the May 4th Movement less than a year later – using Moser as a mouthpiece must have seemed the most persuasive choice.

4 thoughts on “Horvath Moves into Russia

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