Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk brought about the end of the war between Russia and Germany in 1918. The German were reminded of the harshness of Brest-Litovsk when they complained about the severity of the Treaty of Versailles signed in June 1919.

Lenin had ordered that the Bolshevik representatives should get a quick treaty from the Germans to bring about an end to the war so that the Bolsheviks could concentrate on the work they needed to do in Russia itself.

The start of the discussions was an organisational disaster. Representatives from the Allies, who were meant to have attended, failed to show. Russia, therefore, had to negotiate a peace settlement by herself.

After just one week of talks, the Russian delegation left so that it could report to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee. It was at this meeting that it became clear that there were three views about the peace talks held within the Bolshevik hierarchy.

Trotsky believed that Germany would offer wholly unacceptable terms to the Russians and that this would spur the German workers to rise up in revolt against their leaders and in support of their Russian compatriots. This rebellion would, in turn, spark off a world-wide workers rebellion.

Kamenev believed that the German workers would rise up even if the terms of the treaty were reasonable.

Lenin believed that a world revolution would occur over many years. What Russia needed now was an end to the war with Germany and he wanted peace, effectively at any cost.

On January 21st, 1918, the Bolshevik hierarchy met. Only 15 out of 63 supported Lenin’s viewpoint. 16 voted for Trotsky who wanted to wage a “holy war” against all militarist nations, including Germany. 32 voted in favour of a revolutionary war against the Germans, which would, they believed, precipitate a workers rebellion in Germany.

The whole issue went to the party’s Central Committee. This body rejected the idea of a revolutionary war and supported an idea of Trotsky. He decided that he would offer the Germans Russia’s demobilisation and an end to the war but would not conclude a peace treaty with them. By doing this he hoped to buy time. In fact he got the opposite.

On February 18th, 1918, the Germans, tired of the Bolshevik’s procrastination, re-started their advance into Russia and advanced 100 miles in just four days. This re-confirmed in Lenin’s mind that a treaty was needed very quickly. Trotsky, having dropped the idea of the workers of Germany coming to the aid of Russia, followed Lenin. Lenin had managed to sell his idea to a small majority in the party’s hierarchy, though there were many who were still opposed to peace at any price with the Germans. However, it was Lenin who read the situation better than anyone else.

The Bolsheviks had relied on the support of the lowly Russian soldier in 1917. Lenin had promised an end to the war. Now the party had to deliver or face the consequences. On March 3rd, 1918, the treaty was signed.

Under the treaty, Russia lost Riga, Lithuania, Livonia, Estonia and some of White Russia. These areas had great economic importance as they were some of the most fertile farming areas in Western Russia. Germany was allowed by the terms of the treaty to exploit these lands to support her military effort in the west.

Lenin argued that though the treaty was harsh, it freed the Bolsheviks up to deal with problems in Russia itself. Only those on the extreme left of the party disagreed and were still of the belief that the workers of Germany would rise up in support of them. By March 1918, this clearly was not going to be the case. Lenin’s pragmatic and realistic approach enabled him to strengthen his hold on the party even more and side-line the extreme left still further.

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