3/3/1918 Brest-Litovsk: Germany and Russia agree a peace treaty #1918Live

Germany’s unstoppable advance in the East has forced the capitulation of Soviet Russia. Today a Soviet delegation signs a peace treaty with the Germans at Brest-Litovsk. The terms are harsh. Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are all detached from Russia, notionally independent but effectively German colonies.Russia has lost a third of its population, more than half its industry and nearly 90% of its coal mines. Russia has also lost much of its railways and sources of iron ore, as well as the rich agricultural lands of Ukraine. Within Russia itself the treaty grants privileges to Germans: their businesses are immune from nationalisation or other interference by the Bolshevik regime. And Russia must pay an indemnity to the Germany.

Germany has done well out of the treaty, acquiring both the territories in the East it has already overrun and effective control of Ukraine. Austria-Hungary has done less well, having to make do with promises of a share of the grain to be extracted from Ukraine. The other beneficiary of the treaty is Turkey. Russia is obliged not merely to withdraw to its frontiers from before the war but also from the three provinces of Kars, Batum and Ardahan it gained from Turkey in 1878. The future status of the three provinces is to be determined by plebiscite, but one to be conducted by the Turks. Turkish forces are now pushing eastwards to not merely occupy the territory they are being awarded at Brest-Litovsk but as much of Transcaucasia as they can.

Acceptance of the Brest-Litovsk treaty is controversial within Russia. Many leading Bolsheviks oppose the treaty while the support of Trotsky is lukewarm at best (he has resigned as foreign minister to avoid having to sign it himself). The Left faction of the Socialist Revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks’ coalition partner, sees the treaty as turning the country into a German client state; so incensed are the Left SRs that their ministers resign from Sovnarkom (Soviet Russia’s government). But Lenin sees peace as essential to give socialism the breathing space it needs in Russia. With time revolution will spread across Europe, negating the treaty.

For Germany the treaty’s signature is a relief. Grain from Ukraine should alleviate the country’s food problems. And crucially it stops the country’s leaders from having to worry about the Eastern Front. Ludendorff is now free to concentrate on the great offensive he is planning in the West.

images source (Wikipedia)

10/2/1918 “No War, No Peace”: Trotsky’s bizarre coup de theatre #1918Live

The peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk are finally beginning to pay dividends for the Germans. Yesterday representatives of the Ukrainian Rada agree a separate peace with Germany and its allies, agreeing to supply Germany with large quantities of grain in return for an end to hostilities and recognition of its independence from Russia. However the Soviet delegation of Leon Trotsky continue to play for time, hoping that revolution will spread to central and western Europe before painful concessions have to be agreed.

But now Ludendorff has had enough of Trotsky’s delaying tactics. He instructs the German delegation to present the Russians with a harsh set of peace terms on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. If the Russians do not agree then the German army will resume its advance.

In Petrograd the Soviet government is divided by the German ultimatum. Lenin favours acceptance, on the grounds that if the German terms are not accepted now, worse will have to be accepted in the future. But others favour rejection, hoping that a militia war against the Germans will inspire the Russian people and spread the revolution westwards. Lenin thinks such ideas are hopelessly over-optimistic but is unable to railroad his comrades.

From this internal division emerges a strange compromise. Trotsky informs the Germans that Russia is unilaterally leaving the war, without accepting the German peace terms. If the Germans want to keep the war going they can do so on their own.

Trotsky’s rhetorical flourish stuns the Germans. “Unerhört!“, exclaims Hoffmann, one of the generals present. Unconscionable. But as Trotsky and his delegation depart Brest-Litovsk, the German army on the Eastern Front prepares for action.

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Trotsky at Brest-Litovsk (Wikipedia)

26/12/1917 Brest-Litovsk: Trotsky spins out the peace talks #1917Live

The Germans and Russians are conducting peace-talks at Brest-Litovsk. The Germans are eager to conclude a settlement as quickly as possible so that they can redeploy their Eastern Front armies to the West. The Russian delegates are in less of a hurry. Because of the imbalance between the two powers, they know that any final peace terms will be harsh and are seeking to put off the day of reckoning. They also hope that if they play for time then revolution will spread across Europe, bringing the war to an end and ushering in an era of socialist peace.

While the German delegation is comprised of career diplomats and military officials, the Russians are a much more motley crew. Led by Bolsheviks catapulted to prominence by their seizure of power, the delegation also includes representatives of a cross-section of Russian society: soldiers, sailors, women, and industrial workers. The Bolsheviks had initially forgotten to include a peasant in their party, but on their way to the talks they picked one up from the streets of Petrograd. The rustic manners of this Roman Stashkov have charmed his German counterparts, who are particularly amused when he is asked at a formal dinner whether he wants red or white wine and replies “which is stronger?”.

Trotsky has taken over as head of the Russian delegation, his rhetorical flights of fancy ideally suited to the task of preventing the talks reaching any definite conclusion. Kühlmann, the German foreign minister, seems only too happy to oblige. The two men spend their time discussing Marxist philosophy and abstract points of principle, much to the chagrin of Ludendorff and Hindenburg, who want the talks concluded as quickly as possible.

Trotsky cannot however keep the talks in the lofty realm of abstraction indefinitely. When discussion turns to the post-war borders between Russia and Germany, he is on much shakier ground. The Bolsheviks have called for a peace without annexations or indemnities, but the Germans are determined to hang onto their gains in the east. Talks now break down on this point. But again, to the German high command this looks like another of Trotsky’s delaying tactics.

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Bolshevik leaders being greeted by German officers, as depicted in the Illustrated London News (The Illustrated First World War: Russian Armistice signed)

Trotsky greeted by German officers (Wikipedia: Treaty of Brest-Litovsk)

Note: Roman Stashkov’s bizarre adventure is worth reading about in detail. The first edition of Orlando Figes’ A People’s Tragedy covers it on pages 540 to 541. If you do not have that to hand, a useful summary is included here. Stashkov was originally brought along to the negotiations that led to an armistice on the Eastern Front and may have been sent home by the time the full negotiations on a peace treaty were taking place.

22/12/1917 As civil war begins in Russia, Soviet and German delegates meet at Brest-Litovsk

At Brest-Litovsk German and Russian delegates are attempting to negotiate a settlement that will bring a final end to the war between the two countries. The Germans are representatives of the Kaiser‘s imperial government, which effectively means that they are the agents of Hindenburg and Ludendorff; the Russians have been sent by Sovnarkom, the Soviet government of Lenin‘s Bolsheviks. The Germans hope that peace with Russia will allow them to send large numbers of troops to the Western Front; they also hope to seize territory and extract resources from the Russians. The Russian delegates however are playing for time, hoping to spin out negotiations until revolution spreads to the other belligerent nations of Europe. They try to advance the revolutionary agenda by making lofty calls for a peace based on no annexations and no indemnities and call for an immediate ceasefire on all fronts in Europe.

At home meanwhile there are signs that the Soviet government in Petrograd may soon have to fight for its survival. Fighting has broken out in the southern Russian city of Rostov, where Bolshevik forces are under attack from the newly formed Volunteer Army, led by Generals Kornilov and Alexeev. This force is top heavy, with a surfeit of officers, and greatly outnumbered by the pro-Bolshevik forces in Rostov. However the military discipline of the Volunteers means that they have the upper hand in the fighting, a worrying portent for the Bolsheviks if this fighting spreads.

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Soldiers of the Kornilov Shock Battalion (World Socialist Web Site: Volunteer Army captures Rostov)