I just discovered this amazing document recently. (h/t to Mr. David Tenner — thanks, David.)
Durnovo was Russian, and he was the Minister of the Interior for a while under Nicholas II. (His successor was the much more famous Stolypin.) He was a conservative who disliked democracy and was none too fond of capitalism either; his lodestars were Russia’s national interest and the monarchical principle. In early 1914, he was out of office, but still influential… and he was alarmed at the visible drift towards war all around him. So he wrote a 5,000 word memorandum, intended for the Czar’s inner circle, detailing just why this was a Really Bad Idea for Russia. (The text of the memorandum can be found on Google Books here, or as a .pdf over here.)
What’s striking about the memo is how, six months before World War One started, Durnovo absolutely nails it. Nature, conduct, likely outcomes — he’s eerily, astonishingly correct about all of them.
Check it out:
Under what conditions will this clash occur and what will be its probable consequences? The fundamental groupings in a future war are self-evident: Russia, France, and England, on the one side, with Germany, Austria, and Turkey, on the other. It is more than likely that other powers, too, will participate in that war, depending upon circumstances as they may exist at the war’s outbreak. But, whether the immediate cause for the war is furnished by another clash of conflicting interests in the Balkans, or by a colonial incident, such as that of Algeciras, the fundamental alignment will remain unchanged.
Italy, if she has any conception of her real interests, will not join the German side. For political as well as economic reasons, she undoubtedly hopes to expand her present territory. Such an expansion may be achieved only at the expense of Austria, on one hand, and Turkey, on the other. It is, therefore, natural for Italy not to join that party which would safeguard the territorial integrity of the countries at whose expense she hopes to realize her aspirations…
[Romania] will remain neutral until the scales of fortune favor one or another side. Then, animated by normal political self-interest, she will attach herself to the victors, to be rewarded at the expense of either Russia or Austria. Of the other Balkan States, Serbia and Montenegro will unquestionably join the side opposing Austria, while Bulgaria and Albania (if by that time they have not yet formed at least the embryo of a State) will take their stand against the Serbian side. Greece will in all probability remain
neutral or make common cause with the side opposing Turkey, but that only after the issue has been more or less determined…
From the sum of these unfavorable factors we should deduct the Far East. Both America and Japan–the former fundamentally, and the latter by virtue of her present political orientation–are hostile to Germany, and there is no reason to expect them to act on the German side. Furthermore, the war, regardless of its issue, will weaken Russia and divert her attention to the West, a fact which, of course, serves both Japanese and American interests. Thus, our rear will be sufficiently secure in the Far East, and the most that can happen there will be the extortion from us of some concessions of an economic nature in return for benevolent neutrality. Indeed, it is possible that America or Japan may join the anti-German side…
Right off the bat, Durnovo correctly sketched out both alliances. This may seem obvious in retrospect, but in February 1914 it was astonishing; Italy was still officially allied with Germany and Austria, Ottoman Turkey was firmly neutral, and Romania was ruled by a Hohenzollern. The Foreign Ministries of the various great powers would spend years flailing about trying to discover what Durnovo had seen years away.
And he was just getting started:
Are we prepared for so stubborn a war as the future war of the European nations will undoubtedly become? This question we must answer, without evasion, in the negative… The fault lies, in a considerable measure, in our young legislative institutions, which have taken a dilettante interest in our defenses, but are far from grasping the seriousness of the political situation… [T]here are substantial shortcomings in the organization of our defenses.
In this regard we must note, first of all, the insufficiency of our war supplies… the supply schedules are still far from being executed, owing to the low productivity of our factories. This insufficiency of munitions is the more significant since, in the embryonic condition of our industries, we shall, during the war, have no opportunity to make up the revealed shortage by our own efforts, and the closing of the Baltic as well as the Black Sea will prevent the importation from abroad of the defense materials which we lack.
Another circumstance unfavorable to our defense is its far too great dependence, generally speaking, upon foreign industry, a fact which, in connection with the above noted interruption of more or less convenient communications with abroad, will create a series of obstacles difficult to overcome. The quantity of our heavy artillery, the importance of which was demonstrated in the Japanese War, is far too inadequate, and there are few machine guns. The organization of our fortress defenses has scarcely been started…
The network of strategic railways is inadequate. The railways possess a rolling stock sufficient, perhaps, for normal traffic, but not commensurate with the colossal demands which will be made upon them in the event of a European war. Lastly, it should not be forgotten that the impending war will be fought among the most civilized and technically most advanced nations. Every previous war has invariably been followed by something new in the realm of military technique, but the technical backwardness of our industries does not create favorable conditions for our adoption of the new inventions.
[A] war will necessitate expenditures which are beyond Russia’s limited financial means. We shall have to obtain credit from allied and neutral countries, but this will not be granted gratuitously. As to what will happen if the war should end disastrously for us, I do not wish to discuss now. The financial and economic consequences of defeat can be neither calculated nor fore-seen, and will undoubtedly spell the total ruin of our entire national economy.
Bang, bang, bang: too few heavy guns, not enough munitions production, inadequate rail network and rolling stock, too much reliance on imports, financial weakness. Durnovo doesn’t identify every problem Russia would have, but he’s hit about half of the top ten.
And what of the war’s outcome?
[A] general European war is mortally dangerous both for Russia and Germany, no matter who wins… [T]here must inevitably break out in the defeated country a social revolution which, by the very nature of things, will spread to the country of the victor… An especially favorable soil for social upheavals is found in Russia, where the masses undoubtedly profess, unconsciously, the principles of Socialism.
If the war ends in victory, the putting down of the Socialist movement will not offer any insurmountable obstacles… But in the event of defeat, the possibility of which in a struggle with a foe like Germany cannot be overlooked, social revolution in its most extreme form is inevitable… Russia will be flung into hopeless anarchy, the issue of which cannot be foreseen.
No matter how strange it may appear at first sight, considering the extraordinary poise of the German character, Germany, likewise, is destined to suffer, in case of defeat, no lesser social upheavals. The effect of a disastrous war upon the population will be too severe not to bring to the surface destructive tendencies, now deeply hidden.
Durnovo glosses over a lot, and gets some details wrong. His contempt for intellectuals and the Duma is very clear in the last part of the memo, and it leads him down a couple of dead ends. But he’s so right about so many things that picking out his errors is really quibbling. In the last hundred years of European history, I’m not aware of any document that makes so many predictions, of such importance, so correctly. And I’m astonished that it doesn’t get more attention from western historians.
Question for our Russian readers: are Durnovo and his Memorandum taught in Russian schools? Or has he been more or less forgotten in Russia, too?