Th. Rothstein, under his pseudonym John Bryan 1918

The Austro-German Peace Terms

Source: The Call, 3 January 1918, p.1, (929 words);
Transcribed: Ted Crawford,
HTML Markup: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

One of the greatest war-bubbles has burst. For eighteen months, if not more, every close student of German political affairs has known that Germany, with her Allies, would be prepared to .make peace at any moment on the basis of no forcible annexations, at least, in the West and, since the Russian Revolution, also in the East. The Allied Governments have known this also. They have all along been in touch with unofficial agents of the enemy Powers in neutral countries, and knew perfectly well, in December last, when the Germanic Powers made an official offer to open peace negotiations, that they could have back, for mere asking, Belgium and northern France, with Serbia and Rumania thrown in. If any doubt still lingered in their minds on this subject, the peace resolution passed by the German Reichstag on July 19th, the re­peated declarations of Count Czernin, the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister, and the reply returned by Germany and Austria to the Pope were quite sufficient to dispel it. But it did not pay them to tell the truth to the peoples of the Entente countries. With unabated zeal they continued, through their hireling or backboneless Press, as well as through the mouths of their “eminent” statesmen, to propagate the view that Germany and Austria were out for annexa­tions, for world domination, for the oppression or suppression of small States, in order to con­ceal their own determination to continue the war until they could secure annexations in all parts of the World for themselves. Now, closely fol­lowing the publication of the secret arrange­ments between the Allies on the subject of the future partition of the world among themselves, comes the revelation about the real “war-aims” of Austro-Germany. The reply returned by the Austro-German peace delegates to the Russian conditions of peace states quite plainly and beyond all possibility of equivocation and cavil: First, “it is not the intention of the Allied Gov­ernments to appropriate forcibly the territories which are at present occupied”; second, “it is not the intention of the Allies to rob of its inde­pendence any of the nations which in the course of this war have lost their political independence.” This is as clear as noonday. Germany renounces the idea of keeping Belgium and northern France as well as, in conjunction with her Allies, Serbia, Rumania, Poland, Lithuania and Courland, against the will of their inhabitants, and is pre­pared to restore the independence of Belgium, Serbia, Montenegro and Rumania. Bear in mind: the Austro-German reply does not equi­vocate in the employment of the term: indepen­dence. It does not qualify or limit it by the word political, which might have suggested that it does not provide for the economic independence of the four States mentioned. It simply uses the term independence, which can only mean in­dependence all round.

The public has been surprised at this declara­tion, and we hear that even in Russia the “moderate elements,” that is, those who have hitherto shared the common delusions as to the character of the war, have been taken aback and are praising the Bolsheviks for having “extorted” such terms from the Central Powers. The pub­lic may well be surprised in view of the state of dense ignorance in which it has hitherto been kept by its rulers and its unscrupulous Press. Will it now draw the proper conclusion from this revelation of truth? Will it now at last under­stand that if the war continues it will not be because Germany and Austria want annexations and are bent to destroy the independence of Belgium and Serbia and to appropriate the mining district of Briey, but because its own side aspires to territorial aggrandisement and economic enslavement of weaker States and races?

Exception will be taken to the third clause of the Austro-German reply by which the Central Powers refuse to admit the principle of self?determination in the case of those national groups which have lost or never enjoyed State indepen­dence before the war, and which now dwell within the confines of the existing States. On this point we must be frank. When the Bol­sheviks express their dissatisfaction at this atti­tude, they have a perfect right to do so. They have solemnly proclaimed the principle of self-determination in application to the nationalities inhabiting Russia and do not shrink from grant­ing them even the right of separation and of com­plete independence. But what right have our “democrats” to object to the stand taken up on the question by the Central Powers, seeing that they are only prepared to apply the principle of self-determination to the savages of Central Africa or to the Arab nomads of Mesopotamia, or at best to the non-German national groups in Austria-Hungary and Germany. They carefully avoid all mention of the Irish and the Boers and the Egyptians and the Indians within their own Empire, who by repeated acts of wholesale rebellion or individual “sedition” have proved their resentment against the British connection in a much more convincing fashion than the Czechs and Slovaks, or the Arabs of Mesopotamia have ever shown towards their rulers: Is it not all humbug and hypocrisy and a transparent disguise for piratical and Imperialist designs?

True democrats and honest men will recognise in the terms of the Central Empires a good work­able basis for the discussion of peace. That the Bolsheviks have succeeded in eliciting them only shows what the masses of the people can do if they only want to be honest towards themselves and others and have the courage to assert their will.