The Government moved to Moscow where the extraordinary Soviet-Congress was to take place on the 12 March 1918.
On our arrival in Moscow we were to take up quarters in the Kremlin. The committee in charge of the arrangements proved to be hopeless. They took us to one of the palaces in the Kremlin and suggested we should choose one of the state rooms to live in! That vast palatial rooms with luxurious furniture could not provide a cosy corner for busy public workers did not worry the committee in the least. We smiled and went to seek some small room with some article of furniture that could be turned into a bed. The enormous drawing room which formed the only access to our small room was given to us in addition. We had hardly got so far with our arrangements when workers’ delegates came to fetch me to meetings. Irma accompanied me eager to study the mood of the Moscow population. Late in the night we returned home. But alas! On entering the drawing room we stumbled over a machine gun. Carefully we had to climb over sleeping soldiers in the darkness in order to reach our little room: it appeared that the drawing room had meantime been occupied by a detachment of Lettish soldiers.
The next day we sought a more comfortable place. We were given a room in the “First House of the Soviets,” the late National Hotel, where there was order and cleanliness and where every room was furnished with a telephone. Whenever we were in Moscow thereafter we stayed at this house.
Conditions of life in Moscow at this time were much more pleasant than in Petrograd. There were still a number of private shops functioning where it was possible to buy various requirements at a price low enough judged by Petrograd standards. Every morning we got bread, butter and sugar in quantities that seemed fantastic to us starved Petrogradians. Frequently we would get even such luxuries as jam or caviar. In the restaurant of the First House of the Soviets a simple uniform dinner and supper was provided, cheap and “good” though very plain. This was not a special privilege for high Soviet officials, the food supply for the population generally was arranged in a similar manner. Apart from the numerous private food stores and restaurants the Moscow Soviet had commenced to organise quite satisfactory public dining halls for the population.
So things remained a couple of months until the People’s Commissariat for Supply had established itself properly and began to centralise – then everything grew scarce. As soon as this Commissariat took over the shops these stood empty or had to be closed. Whenever the Commissariat tried to ascertain the stocks of any commodity in order to regulate its price and distribution it invariably disappeared from the market. One day Tsurupa, the “food dictator” of the Republic, issued an order fixing the price of potatoes. Meeting him in the Kremlin I said:
“Just wait, to-day the market was full of potatoes, to-morrow there won’t be any, they will all vanish.”
“Why do you think so?” he asked amazed, “we want to take care that the population should get their potatoes cheaper.”
“But you put the cart before the horse, I replied. “If you had provided sufficient potatoes to supply at any rate 20 – 25 per cent of the requirement your all-Russian regulation would have some sense. As things are the price of potatoes will follow economic laws not your orders.”
I proved to be right. On the very next day it was impossible to obtain potatoes in the open market, only in illicit trading one could get some them, however, at double the price. Thus little by little the market was destroyed in every sphere without being replaced forthwith by a new organisation. The consequence was dearth and scarcity with their accompaniment underfeeding, hoarding, barter, theft and corruption. In Moscow the discontent of the population found expression in countless jokes and sarcasms. What does nationalisation of trade mean? people asked. And they answered, it means that the whole nation is trading. In winter when there was heavy snow the people of Moscow remarked philosophically, it would be an easy matter to get rid of that snow – let the People’s Commissariat of Supply take stock of it; it would disappear at once.
It was a great misfortune for Russia that the victorious Revolution found no extensive efficient co-operatives which could have taken over the distribution and organised the supply of the population. Consequently the so-called “nationalisation of trade” led to chaos which could not be mastered by an inefficient bureaucracy.
The Fourth Soviet Congress took a dramatic turn. This was an extraordinary Congress convoked for the 12 March 1918 that had been summoned in order to decide on acceptance or rejection of the dictated peace of Brest-Litovsk. On the night that Tchitcherin had gone to Brest he and his delegation received on arrival the dictated peace treaty presented by the Germans and, on the 3 March, signed it on behalf of the Russian Government under protest without considering it. Now the people through their representatives at the soviet Congress had to decide whether this atrocious peace treaty should be ratified or not. This treaty meant, for Russia first of all the loss of Courland, of a considerable part of Livonia, of Lithuania and of Poland whose fate was to be decided by Germany. Estonia and the remainder of Livonia were to be policed by the Germans until a new order could be established; however the cessation of Russian sovereignty over these latter territories was not stipulated. As for the Ukraine it was to be torn away from Russia and established as a separate State under German tutelage.
At the Congress opinions clashed violently. The Left Social-revolutionaries declined to have anything to do with this treaty. When it was none the less accepted by a large majority – by 724 votes against 776, 118 abstaining – they resigned from the Government. But the peasants wanted peace. Where the frontier line would be drawn or all the other oppressive stipulations did not concern them. The “Left Communists” raised hell but their opposition too could not affect the decision. On the 15 March the Congress ratified the peace treaty.
I had been present at the Congress and had in the last hour of the meeting, retired to a corner with Irma when Tchitcherin and Bontch-Bruievitch came rushing into the hall pouncing upon me like two vultures. They declared that within half an hour I would have to proceed to Berlin in order to effect the ratification of the peace treaty. To me this proposal came as a total surprise, and I was by no means eager to undertake such a mission. Tchitcherin declared it had been irrevocably decided that I should go to Berlin since it was considered that I was the right man for the job. He explained that there were many questions of great importance that had been only touched upon or not even mentioned in the treaty, at any rate not elucidated, and I would be the most suitable person to clarify these points and attain favourable interpretations. Only I should restrain my wild temperament, he added. Bontch-Bruievitch stated that a special train was waiting for me at Alexandrov station.
So I hurried home to change and quickly collect a few necessary things while Tchitcherin and Karakhan went to the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs in order to prepare the required papers and documents. I still owned a decent suit of clothing from England but my English overcoat had recently been stolen from me while I was addressing a meeting and I had then got a solder’s grey overcoat. Within the half hour at my disposal nothing could be done in this respect – I donned my soldier’s greatcoat, packed a few shirts, collars and socks into a suitcase, and there I was ready to start on my diplomatic mission.
Tchitcherin and Karakhan came panting up the stairs. They handed me the papers in a big envelope and Karakhan assured us that these were in perfect order. I had no time to scrutinise the papers at once. Karakhan gave me money for my expenditure – one thousand tsarit roubles! Tcllitcherin and 1 looked at him in amazement and enquired whether that was all. But this lazy diplomat who apparently did not want to go back for more money, replied this was all he had brought with him and he thought it would suffice. Fortunately Irma had just received her salary of five hundred roubles. This I took and hurried off in the waiting motor car. On leave taking Karakhan promised to communicate at once with the German Government informing them about my departure.
Meanwhile care had been taker of my physical welfare. The motor car had been loaded with all that remained at the refreshment bar: huge loaves of black bread, big lumps of butter, hard boiled eggs partly in shells partly already pealed, big pieces of sugar loaves – there was no danger that I would starve on the way.
My safety, too, had been arranged for. Three Lettish redarmists who knew German and who had happened to be on sentry duty at that moment had been taken from their posts just as they stood there and attached to me as an “armed body guard.” They were waiting for me in the motor car rifles in hand as if ready to attack the enemy.
At the railway station we were met by the station master who led, us to the waiting special train – a steaming engine with one first class carriage. As soon as we had been supplied with hot tea the train moved out into the night at great speed without stopping anywhere till we reached Smolensk. There the railway commissar greeted us, gave us a fresh engine and within a few minutes we were on our way to Orsha.
Orsha at that time bore the character of a frontier station since the line of demarcation ran through this town – the passenger station being occupied by our “partisans” (guerilla fighters) while the goods station was in the hands of the German troops. Our partisans whom I sent to the Germans reported that on the German side nothing was known of my mission and that I had not been expected. The Germans were quite willing to let me and my “suite” pass but they were just preparing for an offensive! Obviously the German general Staff had regarded the acceptance of such a “peace” as impossible, therefore they were making preparations to advance further into Russia on the expiration of the time for ratification. Or was General Hoffmann acting here on his own initiative? I was enraged. Here an offensive was being prepared while I was on my way to Berlin with the infamous peace treaty in my pocket which we had decided to accept in spite of all that it meant. So I unhesitatingly issued an ultimatum to the German militarists: Either you stop your offensive or I am going back: This proved effective. The offensive was stopped and soon I could pass the line of demarcation.
A German general with several officers visited me in my carriage; the general who introduced himself as a reader of the Manchester Guardian where he might have read about my imprisonment in England, greeted me at once in English. We were given a fresh German engine and, accompanied by a German officer, we proceeded to Minsk.
Here again we were received with great courtesy by several German officers. I and my redarmists were invited to lunch at the Hotel “Europa”; when I declined this a luxurious lunch was served in my carriage. So we hid our peeled eggs and lumps of black bread. The news of my arrival spread in the town like wildfire – Russian railwaymen still cut off from the revolutionary fatherland thronged the station where we greeted each other heartily though this caused some nervousness among the German officers.
To my surprise the continuation of my journey was delayed. The courtesy overstepped all bounds. There was so much that the Gorman officers wished to show me. When I became insistent, demanding that the departure of my train be hastened the real reason of the delay was revealed – there was an idea of not letting me pass at all since no instruction about my mission had yet been received from Berlin. Hour after hour passed. Was it that Karakhan, who sympathised with the Left Communists opposing the peace of Brest-Litovsk, had failed to notify the German Government of my mission? Or was it that general Hoffmann was angry that his beloved well-prepared offensive should be frustrated? At all events here I was stranded and there seemed to be no prospect of proceeding further.
My position was not enviable. Meanwhile I had found the time to scrutinise the papers prepared for me by Karakhan, and this made every hair of mine stand on end: The required diplomatic passport was missing. I found in the big envelope that ought to have contained it a handwritten sheet of paper in which the decision of the Fourth Extraordinary Soviet Congress ratifying the Peace Treaty was recorded. This was all! In horror I thought what would be my position if they were to ask for my papers.
Hour after hour passed ....
But we wanted peace and we wanted it immediately – what if the time for ratification were to expire? The German offensive which we had no force to oppose had to be prevented – the fate of the Revolution was at stake. What was I to do?
Meanwhile the crowd at the railway station grew and so did its enthusiasm for the peace desiring Soviet Republic. The nervousness of the German officers grew correspondingly. I considered the psychological moment had come. I declared that since my journey was being obstructed I would return to Moscow. I demanded energetically that my train be made ready for the return journey. That had its effect. My train was really made ready, however, for the continuation of my journey to Berlin. Two German officers accompanied us. Nobody dared to ask for my papers.
In the night we reached Molodietchno. Here the narrow gauge of the German railway system commenced, the track having been altered by the Germans. We had to part with our Russian carriage which was left in the care of our three Russian railwaymen. After much friendly persuasion by the Germans who pointed out we were now under their protection my redarmists finally agreed to leave their beloved rifles in this carriage, but under no circumstances would they, part with their huge revolvers. These they took with them.
In the morning we reached Vilna. Again we were welcomed by German officers. In the station restaurant breakfast was served; officers took snapshots of us; a book for distinguished visitors was brought for me to sign, my signature following on that of Hindenburg; friendly talk by the Germans, very unofficial and frank helped to while away the – alas so precious! – time. An elderly German officer approached me asking whether peace would now really be concluded. He said he could hardly believe that such great people would submit to such conditions of peace. I reassured him: This treaty would not be of long duration, only till the German Revolution and this, I was confident, was not far ahead. A sightseeing tour through the town was arranged and this opportunity was used for a reception at General Head Quarters. Here it was suggested connecting me for a telephone talk with general Hoffmann which I declined as I had to negotiate only with the German Government. As to the continuation of my journey uncertainty prevailed, promises were held out to me for the evening.
The evening I spent with one of my three redarnists, an ex-major of the tsarist army, in the officers’ mess where a splendid dinner had been arranged. The two other Letts had remained at the station where they were also lavishly entertained with wine which they thoroughly enjoyed but which failed to make them talkative. My ex-major, by no means the most intelligent of the three, also enjoyed his wine at the officers’ mess and talked with great vivacity with his German colleagues about the struggles near Riga. “There, in yonder sector we have given it to you,” he exclaimed cheerfully and there followed an animated discussion about some incident at the German-Russian front between these friendly enemies who discussed those bloody encounters as if they had been harmless manoeuvers. I listened in silence with a feeling of distaste.
Late at night the obstacles seemed to have been cleared away. What had been going on behind the scenes? What negotiations between the official government in Berlin and the all-powerful unofficial government of the generals had been necessary to make the latter give up their offensive and make the continuation of my journey possible?
In the evening of the following day we arrived in Berlin. At the station I was met by Herr von Jansen of the German Foreign Office who explained that he had been detailed to me as an attaché during my sojourn in Berlin. He took me and my three redarmists to the Hotel “Esplanade” where rooms had been provided for us. My redarmists, accustomed to barracks, were surprised that each of them was to have a room to himself. Such a luxury apparently disturbed their proletarian conscience, finally two rooms for the three were agreed on while I was given a suite of three rooms in another wing, of the building.
Herr von Jansen enquired whether we would like to go to the theatre. I declined under the pretext of being tired from the journey and that I desired to rest soon after supper. I therefore requested him to call late the following morning.
An army of waiters appeared with polite enquiries as to when and where I would like to dine. The head waiter considered it necessary to address me as “your excellency"! I was horrified – it seemed to me as if I had landed perchance in the middle ages and I replied, somewhat sharply: “Such rubbish no longer exists in our country! If you are a Socialist call me comrade, if not simply say Herr Petroff.” But I must say to their credit, however amazed the personnel of the hotel might have been at this first contact they quickly adapted themselves to my ways. Whenever a worker came to see me he was, after a telephone announcement, at once brought up to my room; if the visitor was some important personage they would bring me his card so that I might make an appointment.
I decided to have supper in the restaurant and was considering how I could, in this strange town, at once establish contact with the German Socialists. On entering the restaurant the waiter met me leading me to a small table. “This table I have specially arranged for you so that you should be able to overlook the whole menagerie,"” he said.
Measuring him with a severe look I asked: “And who are you?”
“A member of the U.S.P.D. (minority Socialists),” he replied.
He brought some plates and with a quick unnoticeable movement he produced his membership book.
“Can you get for me the telephone number of Karl Kautsky?” I asked.
“In the telephone exchange of the hotel there is one of our comrades, he will immediately connect you,” was the reply.
Karl Kautsky was flabbergasted on learning that I was in Berlin and of all places at the hotel “Esplanade.” Briefly I informed him about my mission and suggested we should meet that very evening.
He and Luise Kautsky at once agreed to come to the hotel. Hurriedly I finished my meal and went to my room to await the guests.
After friendly greetings we first of all had a careful look round the room to make sure that there were no devices for listening to our conversation. When we had made sure on this point I gave Kautsky an unvarnished description of the position in Russia, and he informed me in the same honest manner on the situation in Germany. We arranged that I was to come early the following morning to the room of the Independent Socialist Group in the Reichstag in order to meet the leading parliamentarians of the U.S.P.D. It was long past midnight when we parted.
This first conversation left a deep impression on me. Not once during the whole evening had I had the feeling of being in an “enemy country”; I felt nothing of the terrible gulf that tore in twain the Second Socialist International following the line of the trenches – just as in the old days I faced comrades who were striving towards the same ideals as I did. However much our views on particular questions might have differed, never had I the impression that our differences were caused or even influenced by the fact that we belonged to peoples separated by the war. This feeling of solidarity and comradeship with the German Independent Socialists never left me during the ten days of my stay in Berlin.
Early the next morning I took a lonely “walk.” Following Kautsky’s directions I soon found the Reichstag and in it the room of the U.S.P.D. without having to ask anybody. Here I was received with great warmth by the assembled Socialist leaders; apart from Kautsky I met Haase, Ledebour, Oscar Cohn, Eduard Bernstein, Wurm and others. We had no difficulty in understanding, each other. All diplomacy was put aside, frankly and sincerely we tried to make plain the real situation in the two countries and inform each other as to the various tendencies and trends existing with regard to the peace treaty.
I was informed as to the influences in military circles that had been driving the German government to make the peace conditions more severe. And I also learned about the strong discontent roused in Socialist and in left bourgeois circles by the harsh conditions imposed on Russia. I, on my part, described to the German Socialist parliamentarians the struggles over the peace of Brest-Litovsk that had taken place in our Party and in our Government and explained to them what considerations had actuated Lenin and the majority in accepting this atrocious peace.
We soon felt that we were in complete agreement. I was again in my element – I felt not like a foreign diplomat who came to negotiate as a representative of the Russian people with the German Government, but as one of the fighters of the international proletariat carrying on, hand in hand with the German Socialists, a relentless class struggle against the reactionary German Government. The longer I was in Berlin the closer grew our comradeship.
About eleven o'clock Herr von Jansen appeared in the hotel as arranged to accompany me on my first visit to the Foreign Office. On this occasion he asked for my passport to have it visaed. There we are, I thought and replied off hand:
“My passport? Oh, I have not brought one, but here is my document” – I handed him a card with my photo admitting me to the sittings of the Council of People’s Commissars – “please have this visaed.” I noticed what strenuous efforts Herr von Jansen made to hide his surprise. However, he took this rather undiplomatic “passport” and returned it to me later on with the visa.
We went to the Foreign Office where my grey soldier’s overcoat seemed to arouse the curiosity of the attendants though not diminishing their courtesy in any way. Here I was received by Herr Nadolny, the chief of the Eastern Department and by a group of high officials. After a brief initial conversation I handed to Herr Nadolny my handwritten document which certainly amazed them not less than my revolutionary contempt for passports. At the outset they seemed at a loss as to how they should react to the whole matter.
“According, to the treaty the ratification has to take place simultaneously with Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria,” remarked Herr Nadolny.
“That depends entirely on you,” I replied. “After all Germany is certainly at liberty to ratify the peace treaty with us first; the ratification with the other Powers can take place thereafter.”
This first interview was only short; it formed merely a beginning of the many conversations which took place daily during my stay in Berlin.
Never in history has there been a treaty concluded between two great nations that had been so carelessly drafted as this treaty of Brest-Litovsk! The whole thing seemed to have been pieced together in a slipshod manner and it was obvious that here many and not very efficient cooks had thoroughly spoiled the broth. It was really fortunate for Europe that this infamous treaty was soon to be thrown on the dust heap as it was in November of the same year. However, at that moment I was faced with the task of hurriedly presenting this monster at the font.
In view of the many ambiguities and gaps in this treaty it fell upon me to ascertain which were the real intentions of the German Government and what was the attitude of a German public opinion or rather the attitude of the various classes of the German people. Thus there was no lack of material for negotiations. New points requiring clarification were constantly arising. The sharp honest criticism of the Socialists in the Reichstag, who were mercilessly pulling to pieces the treaty as a whole and its various stipulations, gave me many a useful hint. The persistent thorough criticism of Haase, Oscar Cohn, Ledebour, Bernstein and others succeeded in frustrating many a reactionary scheme of the German camarilla.
In my negotiations with the German Foreign Office I had to deal with a well organised bureaucratic machine while I stood alone and was left to my own resources. I was cut off completely from the revolutionary Government in Moscow and there I was without any technical assistance, even without a secretary and without any detailed instructions. None the less I did not feel weak, for the German Social-Democrats were fighting with one for an honest peace. It was largely due to their assistance that after ten days I could return to Moscow with my hard won peace protocol containing many important concessions torn from the teeth of the Germans.
My first efforts were directed towards the prevention of any further advance of the German army. The German Government in whose bosom two antagonistic souls were at loggerheads maintained that they were entitled to any military action against Russia and particularly in the Ukraine so long as the ratification had not yet been finally effected. Of course I resolutely opposed this dishonest game. In several conversations at the Foreign Office when this point was raised violent clashes ensued. It appeared that the gentlemen of the German Foreign Office were by no means clear – as I established during the discussions – as to what was to be understood under the term “Ukraine” although they had already concluded a treaty with this same Ukraine represented by the notorious “Rada.” They were talking of nine gouvernements (provinces) which they desired to be regarded as “Ukraine” but under my arrows of sarcasm they had to draw back to four provinces. Generally in the Kaiser’s Foreign Office they seemed to be at variance with geography or maybe they had not taken the trouble to consult maps in fabricating their draft of this infamous peace treaty. Thus in the clause dealing with the Kars question (the district of Kars was to be ceded to Turkey) this treaty made mention of “neighbouring states” although there are none since the next foreign state – Persia – is too far off to be considered a “neighbouring” country. When Haase in the Reichstag accused the German Government of ignorance in geography they could find no reply.
In one of these conversations Privy Councillor Simons, legal expert of the Foreign Office, asked me where I had studied international law. I replied smiling: “In prison and in fortress.” “But,” he retorted, “you have been studying in the British Museum in London.” However the riddle of my great legal knowledge was not so difficult to solve – I had the advantage of consultation with such eminent lawyers as the members of the Reichstag Hugo Haase and Dr. Oscar Cohn.
I had decided to make no concessions as regards the mediaeval habits prevailing in the sphere of diplomats with whom I had now to deal. And I fared pretty well. Instead of my trying to adapt myself to the conventionalities prevailing in these spheres I had the pleasure of finding those gentlemen not emanating from feudal families pointing out to me with some pride their coming from the people. Thu for instance Herr Simons announced himself the descendent of an old peasant family.
From the very first day the press with its tail of photographers showed great interest in my mission and its bearer. At the “Esplanade” I was virtually besieged; on the corridors and in the street I was photographed in all possible positions. In Germany people had been following events in Russia only from afar as if separated by a thick fog. Now every opportunity was seized to pelt me with questions not only as regards the peace treaty but also concerning the events of the Revolution, the lines of further development and about the philosophy and objects of the ruling Party of which I then was still an ardent member. Apart from this natural objective interest, the Press to my surprise took note also of my general behaviour that seemed to me so commonplace and uninteresting. Thus they emphasised the fact that by rail and undergound I was travelling third class. And this was really not due to any special “considerations” of mine – it had simply never occurred to me that I might travel second class.
Amongst the newspapers that had interviewed me was also the Vorwaerts, central organ of the majority-Socialists. In publishing the interview some mistakes had occurred which I was anxious to correct, I therefore went to the editorial office, to point out the misunderstanding. I was received with great cordiality and had an interesting talk with several members of the editorial board. But it appeared that my friends of the independent Social Democratic Party were not particularly happy about this trespass; on my return to Russia this was duly entered into the register of my sins although Lenin to whom I had mentioned this incident in my report accorded me absolution.
I gave a long interview to Dr. Hans Vorst of the Berliner Tageblatt which was published in two consecutive numbers, expressing my views on some fundamental problems. Replying to a question I expounded my views on the financial problems of the Soviet Republic. I said that by the repudiation of our external and internal debts a good starting point had been created. Since hundreds of thousands of our citizens would be working in an honorary capacity in the Soviets the cost of administration in Soviet Russia would be considerably lower than in any capitalist country. I therefore believed that among the great difficulties with which we would have to grapple, financial difficulties would certainly not take the first place. On recording this now, I cannot suppress a sad smile. How little did I imagine in the enthusiasm I felt what parasitic bureaucratic growth like the broomrape would soon befall the strapping young tree of the Soviet Republic so that to-day it is ailing from its crown to its root! In the same interview I declared, in reply to another question, that no intelligent person in Russia could welcome this peace. If we nevertheless accepted it this was because a continuation of the war was undesirable from the point of view of the Revolution. And I expressed my conviction that the acceptance of this treaty was not so dangerous since in Germany a transformation was approaching, which would lead to a reshaping of the relations between the two peoples.
These articles caused a great stir in the German Foreign Office. I was reproached for my outspoken statements to the press forecasting a Revolution in Germany. “You will see that I will prove right,” I replied innocently, “and as to the frankness of my statement it has always been the habit of Socialists to say what they think. Anyhow, nobody prevents you from contradicting me in the press.” And this led up to an animated discussion in the Kaiser’s Foreign Office on the possibilities of an approaching revolution in Germany. However, as there remained the feeling that something ought to be done in this matter they complained about me in Moscow! Unfortunately I failed later on in Moscow to take a copy of this German protest, but on my return Stalin related to me its contents to this effect: “Petroff sits in Berlin and proves the advantages of Socialism as against capitalist society.” In Moscow this telegram of the German Foreign Office called forth great merriment but they got frightened and considered it necessary to wire to me that I should hasten matters. This wire, delivered to me through the German Foreign Office I put with a smile into my pocket taking no further notice. This was the only communication that passed between me and my Government during my Berlin negotiations.
The interest extended to my person by the press and the all round publication of my photo brought it about that I was frequently recognised in the street. Once when I went through Lindenstrasse and stopped at the windows of Dietst bookshop looking at new socialist publications I soon found myself surrounded by a group of about twenty socialist workers returning from work who had recognised me and utilised the opportunity to put questions to me. In order to prevent this from turning into a street corner meeting I suggested going into a nearby café where I would gladly answer all their questions. My proposal was acted upon; in the café I gave them all the information they desired but the fear that this cheerful café talk might grow into a mass meeting made me terminate this interesting gathering as soon as possible.
My post was growing from day to day. I sorted the letters into “legible” ones (written in Latin letters) and “illegible” ones (in gothic characters). As my time did not permit me to deal even with the former I appealed for help to the Independent Social Democratic Party. Luise Kautsky who was so kind as to help me in all my language and other difficulties being particularly fitted by her knowledge of political trends and personalities rescued me from drowning in this flood of letters. And who was not writing to me! Not only did the revolutionary sympathisers among Russian prisoners of war greet in me the representative of the revolutionary government, but also numerous British comrades now prisoners of war in Germany, who knew me from the Socialist and Trade Union movement in Britain, were writing greeting me and expressing good wishes for revolutionary Russia. The care of the incessantly ringing telephone I had entrusted to my Lettish redarmists who, like myself, were making great progress in the German language during our short stay in Berlin.
From morning to nightfall I was besieged by visitors. Officials from the Ministry of Trade came to discuss the question of establishing commercial relations with Russia; representatives of all sorts of German and international organisations cane to me with a variety of questions; Russian citizens came with their inquiries and wishes; a German bootmaker of the London Communist Club came on a friendly visit; society ladies curious to see the exotic Bolshevik animal came visiting, but they had to be content with my redarmists whom they proudly carried about in their motor cars or took to theatres; even the representative of the Ukrainian “Rada” made an attempt to favour me with his visit, but I indignantly declined to see him.
Germany was experiencing a difficult time as to its food supply. Everything was rationed: in restaurants and on visiting friends one was expected to give a bread card coupon. In our hotel we did not notice anything of these difficulties. On entering one day the room of my redarmists while they were having their dinner I was horrified at the luxurious meal. “My dear fellows,” I exclaimed, “my funds are very low, how shall we pay for all this!” Since I was having most of my meals out of the hotel and was almost daily the guest of the Kautskys and other Socialist friends I finally asked for a bread card which I was given though my request caused some surprise.
Apart from Luise Kautsky there were particularly Oscar Cohn and Haase who were furthering my work in the most unselfish manner. If in spite of all the enormous difficulties my mission did not fail this was due in no small measure to their devoted co-operation.
I was very sorry that it was not possible for me to see Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. But by a lucky accident I met Dittmann, the general secretary of the Independent Social Democratic Party who was also in prison. One day I went to the central office of the Independent Socialists to see Luise Zietz, and behold, during my visit appeared Dittmann totally unexpected. He had attained an “Ausfuehrung”: permission to go to the office accompanied by two police officials in order to hand over his affairs to the new secretary Luise Zietz. We had a long friendly talk while the two police officials did not know how to behave, but they did not dare to interfere. In parting Dittmann quoted: “The earth is round and must turn, what was at the bottom will come out on top.” Unfortunately this completely unexpected meeting had unpleasant consequences for poor Dittmann as I learned later on. Nobody would believe that this meeting was really not pre-arranged, the four-day “Ausfuehrung” already granted to him was cancelled.
The Spartacists had at that time not yet severed their organisational association with the U.S.P.D.; since Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were in prison and Franz Mehring was seriously ill I saw no possibility of getting in touch with this group. One day, however, the publicist Julian Borchardt, leader of a similar group and editor of the Lichtstrahlen came to see me. I must confess, Borchardt did not impress me. I was mistaken in expecting that I would have to answer many questions on the development of the Russian Revolution or on problems connected with the conclusion of peace. Such minor details did not concern him; he had only come to reproach me because the German bourgeois press had made reference to the fact of my imprisonment in England and had mentioned that my wife was a German. I suggested to him to address his complaint to the editors of the offending newspapers and cut short the conversation. This little incident impressed itself on my memory as characteristic of this type of person whom I would describe as the type of the overbearing, officious little commissar that later on in Russia turned into a universal plague.
My negotiations with the German Foreign Office continued. During this time a committee of the Reichstag was in session considering the peace treaty in order to prepare its ratification by the Reichstag. With this the day of my departure was drawing near and in horror I was thinking of the ever growing hotel bill. From Russia I was cut off and my fifteen hundred roubles were gradually melting away. As the German Government had taken me to the Hotel Esplanade I could not very well move to a cheap furnished apartment in Berlin N. Consequently I cut down expenses wherever practicable.
My poor redarmists had their pocket money reduced and. I refrained when possible from taking a taxi, walking far distances. This of course did not solve the problem. Finally it occurred to me that I might wire to Vorovsky, Russian ambassador in Stockholm, but it was doubtful whether money sent from there could reach me in time. I must confess that I cursed Karahhan who was alone responsible for my unenviable position. Unexpectedly the sky was clearing up. In the Committee of the Reichstag, a conservative Member remarked cynically: “Your Bolshevik envoy who is travelling third class, what a hotel he has chosen!” Haase retorted: “It is not he who has selected this hotel, it was our Government who placed their guest in that hotel and it is they who pay the bill.” It is easy to imagine what a relief I felt when this dialogue was related to me.
When the peace treaty was debated by the Reichstag I mentioned at the Foreign Office that I wished to listen adding somewhat thoughtlessly I would ask my comrades of the U.S.P.D. to send me a ticket. This caused indignation. “You are the special Envoy of the Russian Republic,” they said irritated, “do you think the German Government cannot provide you with a place on the diplomat’s gallery?” On the following morning. Herr von Jansen appeared earlier than usual and took me to the diplomats’ gallery of the Reichstag where my appearance was demonstratively cheered by the independent Socialists. It so happened that I wore on this occasion a red silk tie; Irma had knitted it for me in prison, I had worn it during the Soviet Congress and had failed to take another one on my hurried departure from Moscow. Here, however, this red tie was regarded as a demonstration obviously displeasing, the reactionary section of the House.
During the sitting Hermann Mueller, the general secretary of the majority-Socialists – who was later to become Reichskanzler of the German Republic – came up to the gallery to greet me as an old friend and acquainted me with Scheidemann and Ebert. The conversation centered of course round the peace treaty. Mueller pointed out that in the parliamentary group of the majority-Socialists there was a difference of opinion as to the policy to be pursued. Some were in favour of rejection unwilling to take responsibility for these terms of peace. Others considered that, bad though the treaty was, it would be wrong for them to reject it seeing that we in Russia had accepted it. He requested me to make a statement in their parliamentary group as I had done in that of the U.S.P.D. Of course I declined. I said, if we accepted this scandalous peace we were doing so under the threat of the German guns, but this threat had become possible only because German Social Democracy had failed in their international duty. It was their business to attain better conditions of peace from the German Government. Hermann Mueller assured me that their entire parliamentary group were opposed to these shameful peace terms. Ebert enquired what had really induced us to swallow this peace and what was the attitude of the peasant masses. I replied that we were neither inclined nor in a position to continue the war since we had more important tasks to fulfill than to organise national defence.
“To continue the war,” I explained, “would mean to organise our entire industry for destructive purposes instead of catering for the requirements of the people. Instead of stabilising and developing the Revolution we should have to give scope to the powers of reaction; we would become a tail of the Allies who would organise the counter-revolution in our country as they did under Kerensky.” As to the peasants, I remarked, they were demanding land and peace; the party that would satisfy these demands would be assured of their support.
“So you think, Kerensky fell because he wished to continue the war?” Ebert asked eagerly.
“Yes, but also on account of his vacillations in the land question,” I replied.
Scheidemann wished to know what I thought about the possibilities for a general peace now that the Stockholm Peace Conference had not come off. What is the attitude of the Socialists of Britain to this problem? I was asked.
“In England the will to peace has been very strong, among the workers,” I said, “but the German methods of warfare have been grist to the mill of the jingoes and made the position of the internationalists increasingly difficult. This became evident particularly after the sinking of the Lusitania. Yet in England such an active internationalist as the leader of the miners Robert Smilie is offered a ministerial post, which he declined, while in your country the active internationalist Karl Liebknecht is kept in prison.”
This pretty long conversation with the leaders of the majority Socialists convinced me none the less that the impressions I had gained about them from the press was somewhat exaggerated. They did not strike me as such violent jingoes. If they were to be compared with Hyndman and Belfort Bax or particularly with Ben Tillet the comparison would show in their favour.
The Reichstag ratified the peace treaty. Under pressure from the opposition led by the Independent Socialists the Government was compelled to give some interpretations favourable to us and to make various concessions. An attempt to worsen the terms of the treaty was quite out of the question.
The growing sympathy of the population for our cause strengthened my position in my negotiations with the Foreign Office while the latter grew tame under the pressure of public opinion, but they began to develop backbone as against the military camarilla. Our negotiations were going on without interruption and the initial stiffness had latterly given way to a more unconventional atmosphere. It would happen that we were sidetracked occasionally into a conversation not directly connected with the subject under discussion. To my “undiplomatic” habit of calling things by their real names they had become reconciled. I did not mince my words and did not hesitate to express my opinion as a Socialist. So I declared that this Peace of Brest-Litovsk might yet prove a boomerang to Germany, for after these dictated terms in response to our honest desire for peace no other government would be likely to desire to enter into peace negotiations with Germany. On another occasion I said that the military action against the Ukraine at a time when peace negotiations were in full swing was something worse than a crime it was a huge blunder. “While your position on the western front is deteriorating you are sending your armies into the Ukraine in order to pillage foodstuffs which you might have got easier in exchange for industrial commodities. As it is, you will have to face in the Ukraine a guerrilla war whose disrupting effect on your army will in the end be more pleasant to us than to you,” I remarked cynically. This idea seemed to affect some of the gentlemen very much indeed. Far from being annoyed about my frankness they would return to this subject again and again.
After the ratification of the Reichstag the negotiations soon reached their final stage. The Kaiser and Chancellor Hertling signed the specially printed and luxuriously bound treaty in the German language. In exchange I had brought a copy of the Russian text of the treaty as distributed to the delegates at the Fourth Soviet Congress printed on paper of a poor quality. This copy adorned with a red ribbon but without any cover awaited my signature. In the Foreign Office they had prepared a ceremonious formal protocol beautifully printed and in their opinion the matter was as good as settled.
However, the German Government had this time reckoned without their guest. Utilising the Government’s declarations made in the Reichstag, in the Committee of the Reichstag, and in the course of our negotiations I had, with the assistance of some of the lawyers of the Independent Social Democratic Party, Dr. Oscar Cohn in particular, drafted a Supplementary protocol. This protocol contained a number of very important definitions of separate points and out some of the most dangerous claws of the treaty. Amongst other points it contained a declaration of the German Government denying their right to any initiative and recognising Russian sovereignty over Estonia and Livonia.
At last the great moment had arrived. In the afternoon of the 29 March 1918 the exchange of ratifications was to take place. However, instead of simply signing the treaty I presented to the Foreign Office my typed supplementary protocol and the drafted a declaration to be made by the German Government elucidating certain points. Their acceptance by the German Government I made a condition of giving my signature. This unexpected action of mine caused a real storm. Herr Nadolny exclaimed dramatically: “If you now decline to then, sign the peace treaty, then believe me, our armies can march up to the very Ural mountains.”
“You can try,” I replied quietly, “but when your armies make a start on this way the German people will shoot them in the back! I know the position in Germany. If you reject my conditions I shall issue to-morrow a declaration to the press of the whole world that with this German Government even such a monstrous peace as this dictated one of Brest-Litovsk cannot be concluded and I return to Moscow.”
If these gentlemen could have torn me to pieces they would have done so with pleasure at this moment. I sat silently while the representatives of the German Government read and re-read my protocol. What if they declined? I had been confident that I would force the Germans to accept my protocol. If I succeeded I would render a singular service to my country. But if I failed? I was acting entirely on my own initiative and responsibility, I was well aware that the revolutionary Government of Russia wanted the peace and was prepared to sign anything, in order to attain it. The only instructions given to me on my departure had been: Keep your temper! I knew that I was taking great ricks. Minutes seemed hours. With the help of a strong cigar I kept my nerves. Herr von der Busche requested me to give them three hours time for consideration.
At the expiration of the three hours I re-appeared at the Foreign Office. This time I was received with stiff courtesy. A number of amendments to my protocol were proposed. We discussed each of them thoroughly and I rejected them one by one. Finally my protocol together with the declaration was accepted without any alterations.
We now entered a festively lit up hall. There my supplementary protocol, the declaration accompanying it and the formal ratification protocol were signed by Herr von der Busche and confirmed by the attachment of his seal. Then I signed and also impressed my seal. After this I affixed my signature with the golden nib under the Peace Treaty beside the signatures of the Kaiser and Hertling. Peace had been concluded! This event was at once made known to the world by wireless.
The gentlemen of the Imperial German Government thereupon invited me to a festive dinner to celebrate the event. But I declined: “To celebrate such a peace we have no reason.”
I took my “Peace” together with my hard won protocol under my arm and returned to my hotel where Dr. Oscar Cohn was waiting for me. “Well?” he asked anxiously. “All signed,” I said: We took a taxi and off we went to Schoeneberg, to Eduard Bernstein. We found Haase, the Kautskys, Wurm and some other friends waiting for us and here we celebrated my little protocol victory in the great defeat.
While the others were talking and eating, Bernstein, Luise Kautsky and I went to an adjoining room and there I dictated a declaration for the Leipziger Volkszeitung, at that time the central organ of the U.S.P.D.:
“I have come to Berlin representing the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs and of course I have had to come into contact with various personalities. It would be wrong to conclude from that, and particularly from my meetings with representatives of the Vorwaerts and with Herr Scheidemann, that I, the Party to which I belong and the Government which I represent have anything to do with the social patriots or with any other elements who do not adhere to revolutionary Socialism and are not willing to fight their own imperialist government ... Since the first days of the Revolution, in fact from the beginning of this horrible war, the Bolsheviks never tried to call upon the proletariat to wage a revolutionary struggle against imperialism. We are convinced that the economic and social conditions brought about by the war will inevitably lead everywhere to Social Revolution.
Our Revolution and the Soviet Power bear a Socialist character. Our Government is the expression of the working class and of the toiling peasants who are fighting for their political and economic emancipation. The further development of the Social Revolution in Russia depends to a large extent on the development in the countries of Western Europe.
We were compelled to conclude a peace which is not in accordance with our principles. We were forced to do this because the proletariat of the advanced capitalist countries involved in this war was not in a position to give us the necessary active support. Our strength was severely taxed by the long war, this heritage of Tsarism ... We are surrounded on all sides by enemies and faced with the most difficult problems. In order to save the Russian Revolution we had no choice but to end the war ...”
Late at night I returned to the hotel with my “peace load” which I now entrusted to the watchful care of my redarmists. I went to bed with a pleasant feeling of having fulfilled my mission.
On the following morning I went again to the Foreign Office and demanded the release of the Polish Socialist publicist Marchlevsky-Karsky who was interned in Germany. They replied that he was considered a Polish citizen, whereupon I gave an official declaration that we were recognising, him as a Soviet citizen. Soon after I had the pleasure of greeting him in Moscow.
I made an appointment to see the Spanish Ambassador who was in charge of Russian interests during the war. When I arrived the footman who opened the door was doubtful whether to admit me because of my “elegant” soldier’s greatcoat. But as soon as my identity was known I was received with great courtesy. I enquired as to the position of our prisoners of war in Germany, expressed our gratitude for all that had been done for our citizens, and finally I asked for the keys of our embassy building. The polite Spaniard felt embarrassed. “Well, you see, this is an intricate situation,” he said, “your government has not yet been officially recognised by our government!” I laughed. “Will you then seek out Nicolas Romanoff in Siberia in order to hand him the key? I am afraid you won’t find him. At all events the building is our territory and we shall occupy it.” So I went again to the Foreign Office and informed them that the Spanish ambassador declined to return to us the keys of the embassy. “Anyhow,” I declared in a business-like manner, “there are sufficient Russian citizens in Berlin who will be quite willing to take possession of our territory in a revolutionary manner if I ask them to do so.” This, however, proved unnecessary – the Foreign Office at once offered to mediate and we got our house without the recognition by the Spanish government.
Now I was in a hurry to get back to Moscow. In the place of Herr von Jansen who took leave of me in Berlin we were again accompanied by a German army officer. In a reserved compartment we travelled to Molodietchno where we changed into our waiting carriage. While we were still in the territory under German occupation a peculiar incident occurred which proved that our Government had not been so far off the mark in providing me with an armed guard.
We were in the vicinity of Minsk, the train running at full speed when I suddenly heard a hubbub and loud voices on the corridor of the carriage. It appeared that my redarmists had discovered a deadhead in the carriage who turned out to be a Pole and an ex-officer of the tsarist army. What his intentions had been could not be ascertained, at any rate he had the courage to admit that he was an enemy of the Revolution. When I came out I saw my redarmists confronting him, their revolvers at the ready. They seemed intent on shooting him there and then. I pacified them and we handed the prisoner over to the accompanying German officer. Until we reached Minsk he was guarded by the redarmists; there the officer delivered him to the German military authorities.
In Minsk the situation became more tense. Hardly had the train stopped when an armed detachment of Polish legionaries appeared at the railway station and, while the German officer accompanying us was away in the station building, they drew up in front of our carriage adopting, a hostile attitude. Several legionaries tried to detach our carriage from the train and to enter it. My three radarmists, our three railwaymen and myself drew our revolvers and occupied the entrances. “Who dares to come in here will not come out alive,” my Letts threatened the Poles. This incident had of course attracted the attention of the Minsk railwaymen and these, though unarmed, thronged round the Poles scolding and threatening them. This commotion must have been noticed by our Berlin officer – he appeared on the scene, at once grasped the situation, dived back into the building and re-appeared in a few moments with a group of officers who took up positions in front of our carriage. Soon German soldiers came marching up from both sides. They surrounded the Polish legionaries who were still under German command, and finally cleared the station. The Berlin officer then came back into the carriage and we continued our journey without further incidents to the line of demarkation where we parted. What the meaning of these two – obviously connected – incidents was has never been cleared up. Yet the solving of this riddle might have been not devoid of historic interest.
On the morrow of my arrival in Moscow I had a long conversation with Lenin lasting two and a half hours. I gave him an exhaustive report of my mission to Berlin and on the impressions I had gained there. He was greatly amused about the different appearance of the exchanged documents and expressed his warmest appreciation of the manner in which I had fulfilled my task. He was particularly pleased about the protocol I had forced the Germans to accept.
If people in Germany had been able to follow events in Russia only as through a thick fog, for the Russian observer life in Germany was covered in deepest night. Lights flaming up there from time to time failed to reveal a coherent picture of the situation in Germany. In the first stage of the Russian October-Revolution the leading men in Russia had been sincerely convinced that the fire of the Russian Revolution would ignite the explosive material heaped up in all capitalist countries, particularly in Germany. The speeches made in Brest-Litovsk by the Trotsky delegation were intended to serve as a fuse. The German offensive against Petrograd in the last days of February 1918, or rather the fact that the German officers could, without visible tension, make their soldiers embark on such an offensive had been a terrible blow on our widely spread belief that a revolutionary understanding with the German people was round the corner. Germany, where we had expected from day to day the outbreak of a social revolution, suddenly seemed beyond all hope. So deep-rooted and general as had been the belief in the imminent German Revolution so great and general was thereafter the disillusionment.
When I, returning from Berlin, insisted that in war-tired Germany a revolutionary situation was ripening, this information acted like a tonic on the minds of the responsible leaders of revolutionary Russia. Lenin was keen to learn even the smallest particulars I had observed that threw light on the mood of the various classes of the population in Germany. Eagerly he listened to my observations on the economic position, the food situation and the attitude of the various German Socialist organisations towards the October-revolution. He was deeply interested in a conversation related to him which I had had in Berlin with Kautsky and Wurm on the transformation of Russian economic life and on the establishment of a Supreme Economic Council that would, one day, take over the functions of the fading out State. This problem has greatly occupied Lenin’s mind. He tried to borrow of ex-refugee’s works of foreign Socialist authors who had been touching upon this problem and he made a special study of Dan de Leon’s writings.
Lenin was horrified on learning, about the financial difficulties of my mission and the absence of proper papers. “That” he exclaimed, “with a thousand roubles in your pocket they let you go to Berlin and without a passport? How have you solved your financial problems?” I told him that I had talked, matters over with Ledebour who had been willing to find, if required, twenty thousand marks for me but that this had not proved, necessary after all since, as a guest of the German Government, I had not had to pay anything at the hotel precisely as the Mirbach-commission had not been required to pay in Petrograd. “Rather a nuisance that you were compelled to borrow of the German comrades,” remarked. Lenin, “will that not get into the press?” He was much relieved when I assured him that Ledebour would keep the matter private.
When I left, Lenin requested me to come again the next morning as he wished to discuss with me our future policy with regard to Germany. He insisted on this particularly because, after my experience with the sabotage and intrigues of Karakhan and the clique whose puppet he was, I definitely declined to continue working at the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs or even to give a report to its collegiate; I said I would report only to Tchitcherin personally.
Tchitcherin tried hard to persuade me to give up my boycott of the collegiate of his Commissariat. “Your leaving us at this moment would be a catastrophe,” he complained.
“Well, turn out that damned Karakhan,” I replied.
“You think that an easy task, do you?” Tchitcherin sighed, “you don’t know what a strong clique he has behind him.”
“Then let the clique get on with the job. Why don’t you leave them? I for one would not care a hang for any positions or for the People’s Commissar.”
Tchitcherin tried again and again to convince me, but I remained adamant. Lenin suggested a compromise – he proposed that the Central Committee of the Communist Party should call a meeting of responsible workers where I could report on my mission to Berlin. Immediately the clique working in the dark started wire pulling in order to prevent this meeting. Nevertheless it finally took place in the First House of the Soviets. Following upon this the Presidium of the Moscow Soviet invited me to make a statement on the ratification of the peace treaty at a special meeting of theirs called for this purpose.
Lenin still hoped to persuade me to remain at the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs. He therefore proposed to leave the question of my further activity in abeyance requesting me to give my whole time to the Party for the campaign in connection with the elections to the Moscow Soviet that were to take place in a week or two. This I gladly accepted. Meanwhile it had been decided to send the old revolutionary Joffe, a near friend of Trotsky, as ambassador to Berlin. Lenin desired me and Joffe to talk matters over and we met in Sverdlov’s cabinet in the Kremlin. I anticipated a long, serious political talk, and was therefore amazed to find Joffe entirely pre-occupied with questions of external appearances and the formalities of his future embassy. I warned Joffe that with his enthusiasm for the silly formalities he would appear to the German people not as the revolutionary representative of a revolutionary country, he would be regarded simply as a parvenu. The talk seemed to me useless and I broke it off. When Lenin afterwards asked me as to the result of our conversation I said smiling:
“Ioffe is now so concerned about frock coats and silk stockings that he is no longer interested in politics. And as to silk stockings that is not in my line.” .....