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On March 26, 1921, the London Times reported on a trade overture by Soviet Russia to the Warren Harding administration:

The American Administration has lost no time in answering the Note from the Soviet Government appealing to President Harding to open trade negotiations. It was only on Tuesday that the State Department received the Soviet Note, which declared, presumably as a sort of bait, that “the Soviet Government has not the slightest intention to interfere with the internal affairs of the United States”…

An issue then, as now.

…which is the same sort of assurance it has given Great Britain. Lenin had recognized that it was hopeless to expect anything from Mr Wilson, but he hoped for different treatment from Mr Harding. He has been disappointed.

The Times reproduced in full the response to the Soviet government by Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes, which the paper paraphrased as “not an absolute refusal to trade with Russia but it must be with a Russia which repudiates Communism, not only in words but in deeds — a Russia, in short, which is no longer under Bolshevist tyranny.” Here is Hughes’s message to the Soviets:

The Government of the United States views with deep sympathy and grave concern the plight of the people of Russia and desires to aid every appropriate means through which commerce can be established. It is manifest to this Government that in the existing circumstances there is no assurance for the development of trade, as the supplies which Russia might now be able to obtain would be wholly inadequate to meet her needs, and no lasting good can result so long as the present causes of progressive impoverishment continue to operate. It is only in the productivity of Russia that there is any hope for the Russian People, and it is idle to expect resumption of trade until the economic basis of production is secure. This is conditioned upon the safety of life, the recognition by firm guarantees of private property, the sanctity of contract, and the rights of free labour. If fundamental changes are contemplated involving due regard for the protection of persons and property and the establishment of conditions essential to the maintenance of commerce, this Government will be glad to have convincing evidence of such changes; and until this evidence is supplied this Government is unable to perceive that there is any proper basis for considering trade relations.

I don’t suppose the Biden administration is in favor of firm guarantees of private property, the sanctity of contract or the protection of persons and property generally, let alone willing to condition trade relations on recognition of such principles by a foreign nation.

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