From October to Brest-Litovsk
by Leon Trotzky
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Kuehlmann's reply made a tremendous impression upon the working masses of Russia. It was interpreted as a result of the fear felt by the dominant classes of the Central Empires because of the discontent and the growing impatience of the working masses of Germany. On the 28th of December there took place in Petrograd a joint demonstration of workmen and soldiers for a democratic peace. The next morning our delegation came back from Brest-Litovsk and brought those brigand demands which Mr. von Kuehlmann made to us in the name of the Central Empires as an interpretation of his "democratic" formulae.

At the first glance it may seem incomprehensible why the German diplomacy should have presented its democratic formulae if it intended within two or three days to disclose its wolfish appetite. What was it that the German diplomacy expected to bring about? At least, the theoretic discussions which developed around the democratic formulae, owing largely to the initiative of Kuehlmann himself, were not without their danger. That the diplomacy of the Central Empires could not reap many laurels in that way must have been clear beforehand to that diplomacy itself. But the secret of the conduct of the diplomacy of Kuehlmann consisted in that that gentleman was sincerely convinced of our readiness to play a four-handed game with him. His way of reasoning was approximately as follows: Russia needs peace. The Bolsheviki got the power because of their struggle for peace. The Bolsheviki desire to remain in power and this is possible for them only on condition that peace is concluded. It is true that they bound themselves to a definite democratic program of peace, but why do diplomats exist if not for the purpose of making black look white? We Germans will make it easier for the Bolsheviki by covering our plunders by democratic formulas. The Bolshevist diplomacy will have plenty of reason not to dig for the political essence of the matter, or, rather, not to expose to the entire world the contents of the enticing formulae.... In other words, Kuehlmann relied upon a silent agreement with us. He would return to us our fine formulas and we should give him a chance to get provinces and peoples for Germany without a protest. In the eyes of the German workers, the annexations by force would thus receive the sanction of the Russian Revolution. When during the discussions, we showed that with us, it was not a matter of empty words or of camouflaging a conspiracy concluded behind the scenes, but a matter of democratic principles for the international life of the community of nations, Kuehlmann took it as a willful and malicious breaking of the silent agreement. He would not by any means recede from the position taken in the formulas of the 25th of December. Relying upon his cunning, bureaucratic and judicial logic, he tried in the face of the entire world to show that white is in no way different from black, and it was our own perverseness which made us insist that there was such a difference. Count Czernin, the representative of Austria-Hungary, played a part in those negotiations which no one would consider inspiring or satisfactory.

He was an awkward second and upon instructions from Kuehlmann took it upon himself in all critical moments to utter the most extreme and cynical declarations. General Hoffmann brought a refreshing note into the negotiations. Showing no great sympathy for the diplomatic constructions of Kuehlmann, the General several times put his soldierly boot upon the table, around which a complicated judicial debate was developing. We, on our part, did not doubt for a single minute that just this boot of General Hoffmann was the only element of serious reality in these negotiations. The important trump in the hands of Mr. Kuehlmann was the participation in the negotiations of a delegation of the Kiev Rada. For the Ukrainian middle classes, who had seized the power, the most important factor seemed to be the "recognition" of their government by the capitalist governments of Europe. At first the Rada placed itself at the disposal of the Allied imperialists, received from them some pocket money, and immediately thereupon sent their representatives to Brest-Litovsk in order to make a bargain behind the back of the Russian people with the government of Austria-Hungary for the recognition of the legitimate birth of their government. They had hardly taken this first step on the road to "international" existence, when the Kiev diplomacy revealed the same narrow-mindedness and the same moral standards which were always so characteristic of the petty politicians of the Balkan Peninsula. Messrs. Kuehlmann and Czernin certainly had no illusions concerning the solidity of the new participant in the negotiations. But they thought, and correctly so, that the participation of the Kiev delegation complicated the game not without advantage for themselves.

At its first appearance at Brest-Litovsk, the Kiev delegation characterized Ukraine as a component part of the Russian Federated Republic that was in progress of formation. This apparently embarrassed the diplomats of the Central Empires, who considered it their main task to convert the Russian Republic into a new Balkan Peninsula. At their second appearance the delegates of the Rada declared, under dictation from the Austro-Hungarian diplomacy, that Ukraine refused to join the Russian Federation and was becoming an entirely independent republic. In order to give the reader an opportunity to get a better idea of the situation which was thus created for the Soviet power in the last moment of the peace negotiations, I think it best to reproduce here in its basic parts the address made by the author of these lines in his capacity as the People's Commissar on Foreign Affairs at the session of the Central Executive Committee on the 14th of February, 1918.


Comrades: Upon Soviet Russia has fallen the task not only to construct the new but also to recapitulate the old to a certain degree, or, rather, to a very large degree—to pay all bills, first of all the bills of the war, which has lasted three and a half years. The war put the economic power of the belligerent countries to a severe test. The fate of Russia, a poor, backward country, in a protracted war was predetermined. In the terrible collision of the military machines the determining factor, after all is said and done, is the ability of the country to adapt its industries to the military needs, to rebuild it on the shortest notice and to produce in continuously increasing quantities the weapons of destruction which are used up at such an enormous rate during this massacre of peoples. Almost every country, including the most backward, could and did have powerful weapons of destruction at the beginning of the war; that is, it obtained them from foreign countries. That is what all the backward countries did, and so did Russia. But the war speedily wears out its dead capital, demanding that it be continuously replenished. The military power of every single country drawn into the whirlpool of the world massacre was, as a matter of fact, measured by its ability to produce independently and during the war itself, its cannons and shells and the other weapons of destruction.

If the war had decided the problem of the balance of power in a very short time, Russia might conceivably have turned out to be on that side of the trenches which victory favored. But the war dragged along for a long time, and it was not an accident that it did so. The fact alone that the international politics were for the last fifty years reduced to the construction of the so-called European "balance of power," that is, to a state in which the hostile powers approximately balance one another, this fact alone was bound—when the power and wealth of the present bourgeois nations is considered—to make it a war of an extremely protracted character. That meant first of all the exhaustion of the weaker and economically less developed countries.

The most powerful country in a military sense proved to be Germany, because of the strength of the industries and because of their modern and rational construction as against the archaic construction of the German State. France, with its undeveloped state of capitalism, proved to be far behind Germany, and even such a powerful colonial power as Great Britain, owing to the conservative and routine character of the English industries, proved to be weaker than Germany. When history put before the Russian Revolution the question of the peace negotiations, we had no doubt that in these negotiations, and so long as the decisive power of the revolutionary proletariat of the world had not interfered, we should be compelled to stand the bill of three and a half years of war. There was no doubt in our minds that in the person of the German imperialism we were dealing with an opponent who was saturated with the consciousness of his immense power, which was strikingly revealed during the present war.

All the arguments made by bourgeois cliques that we might have been incomparably stronger if we had conducted these negotiations together with our allies are absolutely without foundation. In order that we might at an indefinite future date conduct negotiations together with our Allies, we should first of all have had to continue the war together with them. And if our country was weakened and exhausted, the continuation of the war, a failure to bring it to a conclusion, would have still further weakened and exhausted it. We should have had to settle the war under conditions still more unfavorable to us. In the case even that the combination of which Russia, owing to international intrigues of Czarism and the bourgeoisie, had become a part—the combination headed by Great Britain—in the case even that this combination had come out of the war completely victorious—let us for a moment admit the possibility of such a not very probable issue—even in that case, comrades, it does not mean that our country would also have come out victorious. For during further continuation of this protracted war, Russia would have become even more exhausted and plundered than now. The masters of that combination, who would concentrate in their hands the fruits of the victory, that is, Great Britain and America, would have displayed toward our country the same methods which were displayed by Germany during the peace negotiations. It would be absurd and childish to appraise the politics of the imperialistic countries from the point of view of any considerations other than those considerations of naked interests and material power. Consequently, if we, as a nation are at present weakened before the imperialism of the world, we are weakened, not because of extricating ourselves from the fiery ring of the war, having already previously extricated ourselves from the shackles of international military obligations: no! we are weakened by that very policy of the Czarists and the bourgeois classes, which we, as a revolutionary party, have always fought against before this war and during this war.

You remember, comrades, under what conditions our delegation went to Brest-Litovsk last time, right after one of the sessions of the Third All-Russian Congress of the Soviets. At that session, we reported on the state of the negotiations, and the demands of our opponents. These demands, as you remember, were really no more than masked, or, rather, half-masked annexationist aspirations at the expense of Lithuania, Courland, a part of Livonia, the Isles of Moon Sound, as well as a half-masked demand for a punitive war indemnity which we then estimated would amount to six, eight or even ten milliards of rubles. During interruption of the sessions, which continued for about ten days, a considerable disturbance took place in Austria-Hungary; strikes of masses of workers broke out, and these strikes were the first recognition of our methods of conducting peace negotiations that we met with from the proletariat of the Central Empires, as against the annexationist demands of the German militarism. We promised here no miracles but we did say that the road we were pursuing was the only road remaining to the revolutionary democracy for securing the possibility of its further development.

There is room for complaint that the proletariat of the other countries, and particularly of the Central Empires, is too slow to enter the road of open revolutionary struggle, yes, it must be admitted that the pace of its development is all too slow—but, nevertheless, there could be observed a movement in Austria-Hungary which swept the entire state and which was a direct echo of the Brest-Litovsk negotiations.

Leaving for Brest-Litovsk, it was our common opinion that there was no ground to believe that just this wave would sweep away the Austro-German militarism. If we had been convinced that this could be expected, we would gladly have given the promise that several persons demanded from us, namely, that under no circumstances would we sign a separate peace with Germany. I said at that very time, that we could not make such a promise, for it would amount to taking upon ourselves the obligation of vanquishing the German militarism. The secret of attaining such a victory was not in our possession. And inasmuch as we would not undertake the obligation to change the balance of the world powers at a moment's notice, we frankly and openly declared that revolutionary power may under certain conditions be compelled to agree to an annexationist peace. A revolutionary power would fall short of its high principles only in the event that it should attempt to conceal from its own people the predatory character of the peace, but by no means, however, in the event that the course of the struggle should compel it to adopt such a peace.

At the same time, we indicated that we were leaving to continue negotiations under conditions which were seemingly improving for us and becoming worse for our enemies. We observed the movement in Austria-Hungary, and there were signs indicating (this was made the basis for statements by representatives of the German Social Democracy in the Reichstag) that Germany was on the eve of similar events. We went with this hope. During the first days of this visit to Brest-Litovsk the wireless brought us from Vilna the first news that in Berlin an enormous strike movement was developing; this movement as well as that of Austria-Hungary was directly connected with the course of negotiations in Brest. However, as is often the case, by reason of the dialectic of the class struggle, just this conspicuous beginning of the proletarian rising, which surpassed anything Germany had ever seen, was bound to push the property classes to a closer consolidation and to greater hostility against the proletariat. The German dominating classes are saturated with a sufficiently strong instinct of self-preservation to understand that concessions in such an exigency as they were in, under the pressure of the masses of their own people—concessions however small—would amount to capitulation before the idea of the revolution. That is why, after the first moment of perplexity and panic, the time when Kuehlmann deliberately dragged out the negotiations by minor and formal questions, had passed—as soon as the strikes were disposed of, as soon as he came to the conclusion that for the time being no imminent danger threatened his masters, he again changed front and adopted a tone of unlimited self-confidence and aggression.

Our negotiations were complicated by the participation of the Kiev Rada. We called attention to this last time, too. The delegation from the Kiev Rada appeared at a time when the Rada represented a fairly strong organization in the Ukraine and when the way out of the war had not yet been predetermined. Just at that time, we made the Rada an official offer to conclude a definite treaty with us, making as one of the conditions of such a treaty the following demand: that the Rada declare Kaledin and Korniloff to be counter-revolutionists and put no hindrance in the way of our waging war on these two leaders. The delegation from the Kiev Rada arrived, just when we hoped to reach an understanding with it on these matters. We declared that as long as the people of the Ukraine recognized the Rada, we considered its independent participation in these negotiations permissible. But with the further development of events in Russian territory and in the Ukraine, and the more the antagonism between the Ukrainian masses and the Rada increased, the greater became the Rada's readiness to conclude any kind of treaty with the governments of the Central Empires, and, if need be, to drag German imperialism into the internal affairs of the Russian Republic, in order to support the Rada against the Russian revolution.

On the 9th day of February (N. S.) we learned that the peace negotiations carried on behind our backs between the Rada and the Central Powers, had been signed. The 9th of February happened to be the birthday of Leopold of Bavaria, and, as is the custom in monarchical countries, the triumphant historical act was timed—with or without the consent of the Kiev Rada for this festive day. General Hoffmann had a salute fired in honor of Leopold of Bavaria, having previously asked permission to do so of the Kiev delegation, since by the treaty of peace Brest-Litovsk had been ceded to Ukraine.

Events had taken such a turn, however, that at the time General Hoffmann was asking permission for a military salute, the Kiev Rada had but very little territory left outside of Brest-Litovsk. On the strength of the telegrams we had received from Petrograd, we officially made it known to the Central Powers' delegation that the Kiev Rada no longer existed, a circumstance which certainly had some bearing on the course of the peace negotiations. We suggested to Count Czernin that his representatives accompany our officers into Ukrainian territory to ascertain whether the Kiev Rada existed or not. Czernin seemed to welcome this suggestion, but when we asked him if this meant that the treaty made with the Kiev delegation would not be signed before the return of his own mission, he hesitated and promised to ask Kuehlmann about it. Having inquired, he sent us an answer in the negative.

This was on February 8th. By the 9th, they had to sign the treaty. This could not be delayed, not only on account of Leopold's birthday, but for a more important reason, which Kuehlmann undoubtedly explained to Czernin: "If we should send our representatives into the Ukraine just now, they might really convince themselves that the Rada does not exist; and then we shall have to face a single All-Russian delegation which would spoil our prospects in the negotiations."... By the Austro-Hungarian delegation we were advised to put principle aside and to place the question on a more practical plane. Then the German delegation would be disposed to concessions.... It was unthinkable that the Germans should decide to continue the war over, say, the Moon Islands, if you put this demand in concrete form.

We replied that we were ready to look into such concessions as their German colleagues were prepared to make. "So far we have been contending for the self-determination of the Lithuanians, Poles, Livonians, Letts, Esthonians, and other peoples; and on all these issues you have told us that such self-determination is out of the question. Now let us see what your plans are in regard to the self-determination of another people—the Russians; what designs and plans of a military strategic nature are behind your seizure of the Moon Islands. For these islands, as an integral part of an independent Esthonian Republic, or as a possession of the Federated Russian Republic would have only a defensive military importance, while in the hands of Germany they would assume offensive significance, menacing the most vital centers of our country, and especially Petrograd."

But, of course, Hoffmann would make no concessions whatsoever. Then the hour for reaching a decision had come. We could not declare war, for we were too weak. The army had lost all of its internal ties. In order to save our country, to overcome this disorganization, it was imperative to establish the internal coherence of the toilers. This psychological tie can only be created by constructive work in factory, field and workshop. We had to return the masses of laborers, who had been subjected to great and intense suffering—who had experienced catastrophes in the war—to the fields and factories, where they must find themselves again and get a footing in the labor world, and rebuild internal discipline. This was the only way to save the country, which was now atoning for the sins of Czarism and the bourgeoisie. We had to get out of the war and withdraw the army from the slaughter house. Nevertheless, we threw this in the face of the German militarism: The peace you are forcing down our throats is a peace of aggression and robbery. We cannot permit you, Messrs. Diplomats, to say to the German workingmen: "You have characterized our demands as avaricious, as annexationist. But look, under these very demands we have brought you the signature of the Russian revolution." Yes, we are weak, we cannot fight at present. But we have sufficient revolutionary courage to say that we shall not willingly affix our signature to the treaty which you are writing with the sword on the body of living peoples. We refused to affix our signature. I believe we acted properly, comrades.

I do not mean to say, friends, that a German advance upon Russia is out of the question. It were too rash to make such an assertion in view of the great strength of the German imperialistic party. But I do believe that the stand we have taken in the matter has rendered it far more difficult for German militarism to advance upon us. What would happen if it should advance? To this there is but one thing to say: If it is possible in our country, a country completely exhausted and in a state of desperation, to raise the spirits of the more revolutionary energetic elements; if a struggle in defence of our Revolution and the territory comprised within it is still possible, then this is the case only as a result of our abandoning the war and refusing to sign the peace treaty.


During the first few days following the breaking off of negotiations the German government hesitated, not knowing what course to pursue. The politicians and diplomats evidently thought that the principal objects had been accomplished and that there was no reason for coveting our signatures. The military men were ready, in any event, to break through the lines drawn by the German Government at Brest-Litovsk. Professor Krigge, the advisor of the German delegation, told a member of our delegation that a German invasion of Russia under the existing conditions was out of the question. Count Mirbach, then at the head of the German missions at Petrograd, went to Berlin with the assurance that an agreement concerning the exchange of prisoners of war had been satisfactorily reached. But all this did not in the least prevent General Hoffmann from declaring on the fifth day after the Brest-Litovsk negotiations had been broken off—that the armistice was over, antedating the seven-day period from the time of the last Brest-Litovsk session. It were really out of place to dilate here on the moral indignation caused by this piece of dishonesty. It fits in perfectly with the general state of diplomatic and military morality of the ruling classes.

The new German invasion developed under circumstances most fatal for Russia. Instead of the week's notice agreed upon, we received notice only two days in advance. This circumstance intensified the panic in the army which was already in state of chronic dissolution. Resistance was almost unthinkable. The soldiers could not believe that the Germans would advance after we had declared the state of war at an end. The panicky retreat paralyzed the will even of such individual detachments as were ready to make a stand. In the workingmen's quarters of Petrograd and Moscow, the indignation against the treacherous and truly murderous German invasion reached a pitch of greatest intensity. In these alarming days and nights, the workers were ready to enlist in the army by the ten thousand. But the matter of organizing lagged far behind. Isolated tenacious detachments full of enthusiasm became convinced themselves of their instability in their first serious clashes with German regulars. This still further lowered the country's spirits. The old army had long ago been hopelessly defeated and was going to pieces, blocking all the roads and byways. The new army, owing to the country's general exhaustion, the fearful disorganization of industries and the means of transportation, was being got together too slowly. Distance was the only serious obstacle in the way of the German invasion.

The chief attention of the Austro-Hungarian government was centered on the Ukraine. The Rada, through its delegation, had appealed to the governments of the Central Empires for direct military aid against the Soviets, which had by that time completely defeated the Ukrainians. Thus did the petty-bourgeois democracy of the Ukraine, in its struggle against the working class and the destitute peasants, voluntarily open the gates to foreign invasion.

At the same time, the Svinhufvud government was seeking the aid of German bayonets against the Finnish proletariat. German militarism, openly and before the whole world, assumed the role of executioner of the peasant and proletarian revolution in Russia.

In the ranks of our party hot debates were being carried on as to whether or not we should, under these circumstances, yield to the German ultimatum and sign a new treaty, which—and this no one doubted—would include conditions incomparably more onerous than those announced at Brest-Litovsk. The representatives of the one view held that just now, with the German intervention in the internal war of the Russian Republic, it was impossible to establish peace for one part of Russia and remain passive, while in the South and in the North, German forces would be establishing a regime of bourgeois dictatorship. Another view, championed chiefly by Lenin, was that every delay, even the briefest breathing spell, would greatly help the internal stabilization and increase the Russian powers of resistance. After the whole country and the whole world had come to know of our absolute helplessness against foreign invasion at this time, the conclusion of peace would everywhere be understood as an act forced upon us by the cruel law of disproportionate forces. It would be childish to argue from the standpoint of abstract revolutionary ethics. The point is not to die with honor but to achieve ultimate victory. The Russian Revolution wants to survive, must survive, and must by every means at its disposal avoid fighting an uneven battle and gain time, in the hope that the Western revolutionary movement will come to its aid.

German imperialism is still engaged in a fierce annexationist struggle with English and American militarism. Only because of this is the conclusion of peace between Russia and Germany at all possible. We must fully avail ourselves of this situation. The welfare of the Revolution is the highest law. We should accept the peace which we are unable to reject; we must secure a breathing spell to be utilized for intensive work within the country and, especially, for the creation of an army.

At the conference of the Communist party as well as at the Fourth Conference of the Soviet, the peace partisans triumphed. They were joined by many of those who in January considered it impossible to sign the Brest-Litovsk treaty. "Then," said they, "our signature would have been looked upon by the English and French workingmen as a shameful capitulation, without an attempt to fight. Even the base insinuations of the Anglo-French chauvinists to the secret compact between the Soviet Government and the Germans, might in case that treaty had been signed find credence in certain circles of European laborers. But after we had refused to sign the treaty, after a new German invasion, after our attempt to resist it, and after our military weakness had become painfully obvious to the whole world, after all this, no one dare to reproach us for surrendering without a fight."

The Brest-Litovsk treaty, in its second enlarged edition, was signed and ratified.

In the meantime, the executioners were doing their work in Finland and the Ukraine, menacing more and more the most vital centers of Great Russia. Thus the question of Russia's very existence as an independent country is henceforth inseparably connected with the question of the European revolution.


When our party took over the government, we knew in advance what difficulties we had to contend with. Economically the country had been exhausted by the war to the very utmost. The revolution had destroyed the old administrative machinery and could not yet create anything to take its place. Millions of workers had been wrested from their normal nooks in the national economy of things, declassified, and physically shattered by the three years' war. The colossal war industries, carried on on an inadequately prepared national foundation, had drained all the lifeblood of the people; and their demobilization was attended with extreme difficulties. The phenomena of economic and political anarchy spread throughout the country. The Russian peasantry had for centuries been held together by barbarian national discipline from below and iron-Czarist rule from above. Economic development had undermined the former, the revolution destroyed the latter. Psychologically, the revolution meant the awakening of a sense of human personality among the peasantry. The anarchic manifestations of this awakening are but the inevitable results of the preceding oppression. A new order of things, an order based on the workers' own control of industry, can come only through gradual and internal elimination of the anarchic manifestations of the revolution.

On the other hand, the propertied classes, even though deprived of political power, will not relinquish their advantages without a fight. The Revolution has brought to a head the question of private property in land and the tools of production—that is, the question of vital significance to the exploiting classes. Politically this means ceaseless, secret or open civil war. In its turn, civil war inevitably nourishes anarchical tendencies within the workingmen's movement. With the disorganization of industries, of national finances, of the transportation and provisioning systems, prolonged civil strife thus sets up tremendous difficulties in the way of constructive organizing work. Nevertheless, the Soviet Government can look the future in the face with perfect confidence. Only a careful inventory of all the country's resources; only a rational organization of industries—an organization born of one general plan; only wise and careful distribution of all the products, can save the country. And this is Socialism. Either a complete descent to colonial status or a Socialist resurrection—these are the alternatives before which our country finds itself.

The war has undermined the soil of the entire capitalistic world. Herein lies our unconquerable strength. The imperialistic ring that is pressing around us will lie burst asunder by the proletarian revolution. We do not doubt this for a minute, any more than we doubted during our decades of underground struggle the inevitableness of the downfall of Czarism.

To struggle, to unite our forces, to establish industrial discipline and a Socialist regime, to increase the productivity of labor, and to press on in the face of all obstacles—this is our mission. History is working in our favor. The proletarian revolution will flare up, sooner or later, both in Europe and America, and will bring emancipation not only to the Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Courland, and Finland, but also to all suffering humanity.


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