Victor Serge

Year One of the Russian Revolution



The development of the Russian revolution was closely linked with international politics. The autocracy collapsed at the moment when the Allied representatives, headed by Buchanan, the British ambassador in Petrograd, were cooperating with the big bourgeoisie and leading generals of Russia to engineer a palace revolution against the junta of Nicholas II, which had become a serious obstacle in the prosecution of the war. [1] On their side the Central Powers provided facilities for the return to Russia of Lenin and other internationalist exiles. The Provisional Government rested on Allied support. It promised the Allies that it would implement the treaties Russia had with them, and Kerensky launched the offensive of July 1917 in response to Allied pressure: this became a crucial turn in Russia’s own crisis. Immediately following the insurrection in Petrograd, the Second Congress of the Soviets broke decisively with the policy of support for the Allied war. The Military Missions from the Allied Powers intervened in the Stavka episode against Bolshevism. Now, at the hour of the Brest-Litovsk negotiations, the destinies of the Soviet Republic had become an extremely serious international problem for the two imperialist coalitions.

The profound causation behind these international alignments is evident in a number of facts. The revolution was born out of war, but of a war that was in no sense Russian: the international significance of the revolution was determined by these origins, as well as by the characteristics of Russia itself. In the first chapter of this book we gave some statistics in support of the historian M.N. Pokrovsky’s dictum that Franco-Russian imperialism can be dated as an entity from the end of the nineteenth century. It is a formula which needs amplifying. The pre-war Russian Empire is one of the five Great Powers of Europe (with Britain, Germany, France and Austro-Hungary), but among these powers, who are characterized by their financial expansionism, Russia is the only one which is not an exporter of capital [2], being indeed a net importer of capital. By 1914 Britain had one hundred thousand million gold francs’ worth of investment in her colonies and overseas; Germany had forty-four thousand million; French foreign investments in 1912 had reached forty-two thousand million, nine-tenths of these in Russia. Of the two-and-a-half thousand million gold francs’ worth of annual income accruing to French financiers from their foreign investments, the profits drained from Russia into France are between five and six hundred million francs. Between 1891 and 1900, the development of Russian industry had been extremely intense. From 1910 Russia ranked fourth in the production of metals in the European countries, with a concentration of industry higher than that of Germany. Such are the results of the influx of capital: French, British, German and Belgian. In respect of the extent of its indebtedness to international finance, the situation of Russia can only be compared to that of China: it is virtually a colonized nation.

Even before the alliance between France and Russia, the Paris Stock Exchange had begun its conquest of the Russian financial market. The enormous loans raised in France by the Tsarist State sank another goldmine in Russia, in parallel with the industrial investments. Meanwhile French imperialism pursued its strategic interests as well as its aims of speculation and colonization. French influence was probably crucial in the development of Russian engineering, an industry which devoted itself first to the opening of the Far East to Western trade, through the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway (the Russo-Chinese Bank, too, was founded in 1895 by Witte with the assistance of the great finance establishments of Paris), and then to the transformation of Russia into a great military power for the coming war. A good part of the loans allowed to the Tsar by France were designated for the construction of strategic roads.

Statistics reveal with impressive eloquence the quasi-colonial character of the dependence of Russia upon foreign, principally French, imperialism. On the eve of the revolution, the Petrograd banks could marshal a capital of some 8,500,000,000 roubles. The share of this belonging to foreign sources was as follows: French banks, fifty-five per cent; British banks, ten per cent; German banks, thirty-five per cent. [3] With the big Russian banks as intermediaries, foreign finance companies controlled Russian engineering sectors in proportions varying from sixty to eighty-eight per cent; locomotive construction in the proportion of 100 per cent; shipbuilding by ninety-six per cent; sixty-eight per cent of machine-manufacture, seventy-five per cent of coal-mining, sixty per cent of oil production. The quasi-colonial character of Russian industry is strikingly displayed in a further fact: the production of the means of production (machinery and equipment) held a distinctly secondary place. [4] The war only intensified Russia’s dependence on the Allied imperialisms, from whom a further 7,500,000,000 roubles (over twenty thousand million francs at the current rate) were borrowed in the course of the hostilities.


An integral part of the imperialist system of the Entente – and its most vulnerable unit – Russia had by January 1918, after forty months of war, reached a desperate economic situation. It was, however, only a little ahead of the other belligerent powers in its positioning on the edge of the abyss. The situation in the rest of Europe at this moment was as follows. Britain, under severe rationing but amply shielded by its navy and its wealth, and well served by its colonies, had now spent some six thousand million pounds on the war, or about a third of its national capital. The expenditures of Austro-Hungary had been at least equal, and its ruin was more complete. Germany’s spending was of a similar magnitude: eighty-five thousand million marks out of a total national fortune valued at 300 to 340 thousand millions. The total war expenditure of the belligerents had, according to the Carnegie Endowment, reached $208,000 million. These are colossal figures, and no figure can be given to assess the destruction, the deaths (about ten million at this stage, with twice as many wounded and mutilated), the growth in the mortality rates among the civilian population, the decline in the birth rate, the senseless waste of the labour of entire nations. The total cost of the war has been valued at $320,000,000,000, or 1,600,000,000,000 gold francs. [5] What is certain is that, in the fourth year of the war, European civilization appeared to be stricken to the heart. The Central Powers – Germany, Austro-Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey – were reduced to living in a ‘brilliantly organized famine’. In Germany, the harvest of 1917 had been forty to fifty per cent lower than the average for the years of peace: the soldier’s bread ration therefore fell to 200 and even 160 grams per day (about seven and five ounces respectively). The consumption of comestibles had in general fallen by about thirty or forty per cent. The situation for the Allies was better, thanks to American support. The winter of 1917-18 was still a harsh one, with rigorous rationing and a fuel crisis in Britain and France. The area of France under cultivation had dropped by thirty-five per cent in 1917. All the countries suffered from severe scarcities of coal, oil, sugar, grain, chemical products and metals. The various military HQs watched helplessly as their ‘human material’ decomposed and deteriorated. The last reserves of fighting men in Germany, Austria and France had been called up.

After their shattering defeat at Verdun, with the impossibility of breaking the British blockade demonstrated in the naval battle of Jutland, the famished Central Powers made peace overtures in December 1916: these were repulsed by the Allies. Germany then decided to fall back on a tactic of last resort which had long been advocated by certain of her military chiefs, i.e. ruthless submarine warfare. This was in January 1917. Up till now neutral ships had generally been left alone by German U-boats, and so could supply Allied countries without running much risk. Henceforth they were sunk without warning. The declaration of war against Germany by the United States, whose commercial interests were threatened, now followed. America threw into the balance on the Allied side her immense wealth – she had just siphoned off Europe’s gold reserves – her technical prowess, her admirable manpower, which was fresh, well-fed, well-equipped and well-dressed. Between February and May 1917, German U-boats sank 1,374 ships weighing over 2,500,000 tons. The tonnage of ships sunk in the whole year came to six million. But the United States alone was building ships at the rate of a quarter of a million tons a month.

The principal events in December 1917 and January 1918 are: in France, the arrival in power of Clemenceau, who, at the age of seventy-seven, was to govern dictatorially and succour for the war-effort the last energies of a half-dead country; the battles of Cambrai; the end, on 15 December, of the second battle of Verdun, which had gone on since 22 August; the end, a few days later, of the second battle of the Isonzo, which had gone on since 24 October; the battles in Palestine; and, finally, the message to Congress of President Wilson of the United States on 8 January, listing fourteen conditions for peace: end of secret diplomacy, freedom of the seas, liberty and equality in trade, limitation of armaments, settlement of colonial questions by reference to the interests of the peoples concerned, evacuation and reconstruction of occupied territories, return of Alsace and Lorraine to France, establishment of an independent Poland with access to the sea, and the League of Nations. In it could be seen a distant echo of the Russian revolution, a bourgeois liberal’s transcription of the slogan of the Soviets: ‘peace without annexations or indemnities’.

At this hour, the problem of the war is presented in these terms:


The armistice that had been signed on 2 December at Brest-Litovsk envisaged the speedy opening of peace negotiations. On 9 December, the Russian delegation led by Kamenev and Yoffe and the delegation of the Central Powers headed by the Foreign Ministers of Austro-Hungary and Germany, Count Czernin and Baron von Kühlmann, with General Hoffmann, the commanderin-chief of the eastern front, met at the Brest-Litovsk Fortress. The Russians put their theses first. Count Czernin replied: ‘The delegation of the Quadruple Alliance is willing to conclude with-out delay a general peace without forced annexations and without indemnities.’ In principle, he said, his delegation condemned the continuation of the war for purposes of conquest, the position of the Quadruple Alliance ‘having always been thus’. It desired the adherence of all the belligerent powers to these conditions of peace; and it demanded the return of the German colonies now occupied by the Allies.

The Russians then clarified their own position. ‘Historical antiquity,’ they said, ‘does not justify the violence committed by one people against another.’

Was an agreement on its way? ‘The Germans are inclined to make many concessions for the sake of achieving a separate peace,’ Kamenev had told the All-Russian Soviet Executive on 27 November. But so far only initial probings had taken place. On 15 November (28, New Style) the Central Powers uncovered their guns; Article 2 of their conditions for peace contained the

The Russian government, having recognized, in conformity with its principles, the right of all peoples who form part of the Russian state, without exception, to self-determination, including the right of total secession, takes account of the decisions expressing the will of the peoples of Poland, Lithuania, Courland, [6] part of Estonia and Finland, which have resolved to secede from the Russian state and constitute themselves as completely independent states.

A counter-proposal from the Russians demanded the evacuation of these countries so that they could decide their destinies freely by themselves. The negotiations were suspended, and the two delegations separated for ten days, in order to give the other belligerents time to define their own attitude and examine the situation created by the peace negotiations.

This situation was serious. The Allies had manifested a hostile silence to the pressing appeals of the Soviets, which were addressed to all peoples and to all governments in the war. They were be-coming increasingly inclined to behave towards the Russians as enemies. The Austro-Germans, once cheated of the hope (which actually they had never held seriously) of a general peace, showed themselves in their true colours: as imperialists devoid of scruple. Kamenev explained the background of the problem to the All-Russian Soviet Executive on 19 December. The Russians were offering to evacuate 120,000 square kilometres of Austrian and . Turkish territory. The Central Powers were offering the evacuation of the Pinsk marshes, and were trying to hold on to 215,000 square kilometres of territory inhabited by nearly twenty million people. The frontier they drew up was purely strategic: it would have kept the road from Petrograd to Warsaw in their hands. ‘All we are defending,’ declared Kamenev, ‘are the limits to which the Russian revolution has extended, not geographical frontiers which are the result of acts of historical violence.’ He concluded:

We are faced by a peace imposed by the mailed glove, which would be a denial of the rights of the peoples concerned and an interference with the development of Russia. Such a peace is inadmissible for the Socialist proletariat and for a party governing in the name of international Socialism.

Would the revolution now be forced to wage a mortal struggle for the workers in the countries that imperialism was trying to wrest from it? The All-Russian Soviet Executive addressed a new appeal to the workers of the Allied nations: ‘Your governments have still done nothing to make peace: they have not even published the aims for which they are making war. Demand their immediate participation in the Brest-Litovsk talks.’ It was a feeble hope.

The great voice of the revolution seemed to be crying in the wilderness.


The anxiety of the Austrian and German officials was no less than that of the revolutionaries. They were clearly aware that the fate of the Central Empires, in the outcome of the war, was being determined at Brest-Litovsk. The memoirs both of Count Czernin and of Ludendorff give many significant details on this point. Austria, now at the end of its strength, was threatening to conclude a separate peace with Russia or even with the Allies; it was held back by a fear of German occupation and subsequent dismemberment (so Czernin relates). Germany’s exhaustion was so complete and the discontent at home so great that mutinies swept the fleet in the summer of 1917, in which the sailors tried to force a peace through coming out on strike. The disciplinary armour of German militarism was crumbling. Morale at home was so bad that the General Staff unsuccessfully demanded control over the press. In the course of the winter of 1916-17 it had proved necessary in feeding the nation to replace the potato with the turnip, a vegetable of far less nutritive’ value. The cruellest ravages of starvation were avoided, in this land of ‘brilliantly organized famine’, only thanks to the grain that came in from conquered Rumania. In the winter of 1917-18 the problem of food supplies was even more desperate. Coal and oil were short, and there was not nearly enough rubber, a serious gap in view of the importance now assumed by motor vehicles in military operations. The Chiefs of Staff were alarmed to see their men physically wasting. Ludendorff and Hindenburg delivered a serious warning to the Chancellor on 10 September 1917: ‘If the army cannot be sent reinforcements, the outcome of the war will become doubtful.’

There were two contrary tendencies at work among the governments of the Central Empires. The party formed by the Austrians, the Bulgarians and the Turks (for famine was even worse in Constantinople than in Berlin), along with a section of the German bourgeoisie, wanted a genuine peace with Russia and the immediate resumption of trading relations. Surrendering before the immediate economic necessities, it realized how impossible it was to continue the war. Czernin and von Kühlmann represented this tendency among the negotiators. The other party consisted of the top General Staff (Hindenburg, Ludendorff, Hoffmann), the Kaiser Wilhelm II, the engineering and chemical employers and the farming interests: these wanted the destruction of the Russian revolution and the dismemberment of Russia, and believed that in this case a speedy victory over the Allies would follow. Ludendorff’s mistake was to believe that America was not in a position to compensate the Allies for the loss of Russia. His plan was to impose peace on Russia or deal the Russians a ‘short, powerful knock-out blow’, and then to launch an irresistible offensive in mid-March on the French front, before the arrival of the Americans. [7] He attributed the loss of morale in the army to the demoralizing effects of a lengthy defensive phase. On the matter of peace with Bolshevism, Ludendorff had no illusions. ‘Even in the event of peace,’ he was to write later, I know that we shall need large forces to marshal against Bolshevism.’ His keen perception as a military commander was juxtaposed with an astonishing blindness when it came to social factors outside the State and the army.

There was a fearsome ripple across Vienna and Berlin when the Russians, who wanted the negotiations held under international supervision, asked for them to be transferred to Stockholm. The Austro-Germans were afraid that the Russians might break off the talks. Czernin notes that they were awaited with anxiety. There was immense relief when they came back. On their side the Bolshevik delegation had to resist a powerful temptation to break off the talks, in view of the growing internal difficulties of the Central Empires.


The conference was resumed on 27 December (Old Style). The new Soviet deputation consisted of Trotsky, Yoffe, Kamenev, Karakhan, the historian Pokrovsky and the Left S-Rs Bitsenko and Karelin. The arrival of Trotsky, ‘the man himself’, who was already being surrounded with world-wide fame as a chief of the revolution, created a sensation, as Czernin tells us. We will not go over the detail of these utterly fruitless negotiations. The Soviet delegation stuck to its position of absolute respect for the rights of nationalities. When asked point-blank over the table which territories the Germans were willing to evacuate, General Hoffmann (‘that gangster in a helmet’, in Trotsky’s phrase) replied bluntly: ‘Not one millimetre.’ The delegations parted again, and arranged a further meeting ten days thence.

Let us try to convey some impression of the confrontation made in these talks, virtually unique in history. Has the incompatibility between enemy negotiators ever been so vast? The negotiations were conducted behind the German lines, in the dismal Brest-Litovsk Fortress. The General Staff, ever attentive to small details, arranged hand-grenade exercises a few hundred yards from the Bolshevik delegates’ quarters, to tax their nerves with the noise of the explosions. [8] The negotiators were well aware that they represented not so much warring States – the very word ‘ State’, applied to the young Soviet Republic, caused smiles in the diplomatic circles of the world in this era – as incompatible worlds. It was difficult for the two sides even to find any language in common. The ancient fine points of diplomatic convention were lost upon the Russians, and the Bolsheviks’ words of revolution left their bargaining partners indignantly uneasy.

The discussions on the Quadruple Alliance side were led by von Kühlmann, Germany’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, a country gentleman with a senior civil servant’s face and an insolent and freezing politeness. Trotsky was quick to note both the quickness and the limitations of his intelligence. He came to Brest-Litovsk as though to a comedy whose script had been prepared beforehand. It was his opinion that the Bolsheviks were desperate, out to buy the favour of the Hohenzollerns at all costs, and would seek only to preserve some appearance. (It was the opinion, too, for a brief while of all Europe’s leading statesmen.) Once this hypothesis was no longer tenable, he fell back on an-other, which was comprehensible to his career diplomat’s mentality: that the Bolsheviks were from the outset in league with the Entente, and, once again, were only there to put up a show. ‘We had over our opponents,’ wrote Trotsky, ‘one infinite advantage: we understood them much better than they understood us.’ [9]

At von Kühlmann’s side the tall and massive hulk of General Hoffmann was often to be seen: a large face, smooth and with pince-nez, all very German. A key figure in the General Staff, Hoffmann aimed for a hardness of character which was intended to be Bismarckian. As for Count Czernin, long and thin, with a ‘pacifist’ reputation, he was incapable of doing anything but follow his two colleagues, even though he disagreed with them (not that they failed to disagree with each other). ‘The Turkish delegates,’ Trotsky reports, ‘were straightforward enough to ask us, in the middle of a sitting of their commission, to spit on principles and get down to business. As they said these words, they put on the artful look of old and experienced counterfeiters [10]: Facing these individuals were Trotsky, Yoffe, Karakhan, Kamenev and their friends: veterans of prison, of exile, of riots, ‘soldiers of the revolution’, in their own description of themselves, men utterly alien from ‘a career’. Karl Radek showed up at the end, as the representative of the Polish Social-Democrats.

The tone of the discussions was inevitably somewhat sour. Between Trotsky, particularly, and von Kühlmann and Hoffmann there was a continuous duel in which the dialectical skill of the former stood out in exasperating relief. The quotation of a few exchanges will give some idea of the discussion that went on, and form a useful indication for the reader of the character of the contest.

VON KÜHLMANN: Every peace treaty has to be preceded by some kind of preamble saying that the state of war is at an end and that the two parties henceforth desire to live in peace and concord ... I suppose that discussion on this point is superfluous.

TROTSKY: I will permit myself to propose the deletion of sentence two of the draft, which by reason of its profoundly conventional and decorative character is out of keeping, I think, with the severely practical purpose of this document [Session of the Political Commission, 29 December (11 January, New Style)].

At the same session Trotsky emphasized the significance of the evacuation of Persia by Russian troops:

VON KÜHLMANN: As Persia is not represented here, and is not, generally speaking, a participant in these negotiations,I think it would be best to leave this question out.

TROTSKY: Most unfortunately for that country, Persia is actually only the object of negotiations.

When von Kühlmann spoke of enlarging the debate on this same point:

TROTSKY: If the question was to be pursued so widely, I should feel forced to mention certain other neutral countries: Belgium, for instance ...

General Hoffmann (‘ I am here as the representative of the German Army!’) made regular protests about the Bolshevik propaganda among the troops of the Central Powers. Trotsky made the following disdainful reply to him at the session of 30 December (12 January):

I deeply regret that I have been unable to understand the attitude of General Hoffmann. To my mind, it must spring from our profoundly divergent points of view. I may say that the nature of this difference is amply registered in a verdict pronounced against me during the war. Its precise wording is located in the archives of the tribunal either at Leipzig or at Stuttgart, I am no longer sure which.

Von Kühlmann asks General Hoffmann at this point: ‘Would you like to say something?’ Hoffmann answers, ‘No, that is enough.’

On another day the Central Powers were trying to get Russia to recognize the right of the bourgeois local institutions of Poland and the Baltic States to represent the ‘will’ of these countries. Von Kühlmann thought he had found one very powerful argument:

VON KÜHLMANN: If, following the orator who has just preceded me, I may touch on the question of India, I should like to ask this gentleman whether he does not consider that, in the event of the evacuation of India by the English troops, the Nizam of Hyderabad would have to be presumed the representative of the Hindu people, if this same people were not able to appeal to the results of a general election?

TROTSKY: I do not have the slightest guarantee that the Nizam will not disappear too, with the end of British rule. In any case, I should like to wait until the stability of his position is attested.

As the determined adversaries of all secret diplomacy, the Bolsheviks had insisted on the publication of the stenographic transcript of the negotiations. Over the helmeted, masked heads of the plenipotentiaries of German imperialism, they would speak to the peoples. Each of their words were heard a long way off, as events were shortly to prove. Von Kühlmann and Hoffmann made numerous protests against the agitational speeches made by Trot-sky and Kamenev. They made hasty efforts to have the transcripts edited, but incidents resulted from this which were not to their advantage. Nothing could be more extraordinary than the impromptu theoretical controversies in which General Hoffmann could be seen as the upholder of an ideal bourgeois justice, reproaching the Bolsheviks for ruling by force. On this point there was a full debate, where the incompetent manglings of the text made the general look even worse.

I must observe [Trotsky said in the Political Commission on 1 January (14 January, New Style)] that General Hoffmann has been quite right to say that our government rests on force. Up to the present moment there have been no other varieties of government in the whole of history. It will always be so, as long as society is composed of hostile classes. But what makes our actions amaze and alarm the governments of other countries is that, instead of arresting strikers, we arrest the employers who organize lock-outs: instead of shooting the peasants who demand land, we arrest and we shoot the landlords and the officers who try to fire upon the peasants ...

By 5 January (18, New Style), the talks were at a dead end: the Central Powers were infuriated with the Bolshevik agitation, and the Bolsheviks were faced with the necessity either of continuing an impossible war or of submitting to a disastrous, outrageous and demoralizing peace.


In this choice, there was no question of principle for the Bolsheviks, who were remote from the illusions of pacifism. As long ago as April 1916, Lenin, in foreseeing the victory of Socialism in one or a few’ countries, had envisaged the possibility even of offensive wars waged by the Socialist country or countries against the capitalist countries. [11] In April 1917 he wrote that if power belonged to the Soviets ‘we would consent to a revolutionary war against any capitalist country because that would in fact be war against the interests of capitalism, not war for the interests of the capitalists of one country’. [12] The principles were not in doubt. But the army was demobilizing itself, the soldiers were going home. The masses no longer wanted to fight. The October insurrection had been made in the name of peace. The transport system was at its last gasp, production profoundly disorganized, food supplies in an atrocious condition. Famine was more of a danger than ever.

A report of the Tenth Army stated: ‘The infantry and the artillery cannons were abandoned in the field.’ ‘There is no longer a fortified zone,’ we were told in a message from the Third Army. The trenches are filled with snow. The material for the defences has been used up for fuel. The roads have vanished under the snow: there are only a few foot-paths leading to dug-outs, kitchens and German brothels. On one sector over ten kilometres long, nobody is left except the Staff HQ and the regimental Committee. [13]

‘Over two thousand cannons were abandoned in the front-line,’ notes M.N. Pokrovsky. On the Russian side, the war was simply over.

The German peace terms were, nonetheless, unacceptable. The situation remained confused still, as there were considerable gaps in the reports about the spontaneous demobilization, and large illusions became fed by revolutionary enthusiasm. On 8 January (21), on the eve of the Third Congress of Soviets, an important meeting of leading Bolsheviks was held at Petrograd. There were three different positions in the debate. Lenin’s was in favour of peace; Trotsky’s position considered that revolutionary war was impossible, but wanted to provoke a breakdown in the negotiations so that any possible surrender would be the obvious result of German aggression; there were also the supporters of revolutionary war. Sixty-five Bolshevik militants attended the conference. Lenin was put in a minority of those present after he had presented his theses on peace. The partisans of revolutionary war got thirty-two votes, Trotsky’s intermediate position sixteen, and Lenin’s fifteen. It was the same situation at the Central Committee meeting on the following day. Lenin invoked the impossibility of fighting any longer, the lack of horses, the inevitable loss of the artillery in the event of retreat, the ease with which the Austro-Germans could capture Reval and Petrograd. ‘The peace that has been offered us is disgraceful,’ he said, ‘but if we turn it down we shall be swept out of power and peace will be made by another government.’ Germany is pregnant with revolution, his argument ran, but the Socialist republic already exists in Russia, and needs a truce in order to gain strength. Trotsky is asking for an inter-national demonstration which will cost us heavily. We are already losing a Socialist Poland, and we are losing Estonia.

The safety of the Socialist Republic is well worth an indemnity of three thousand millions ... If we really believed that the German revolution was likely to break out after the collapse of the negotiations, we ought to sacrifice ourselves, since the German revolution is superior to our own. But it has not even begun yet. We have to hold on until the general Socialist revolution, and we can only do this by concluding peace. [14]

Zinoviev, Stalin and Sokolnikov supported Lenin; Lomov and Krestinsky voted for war; the case defended by Trotsky, Bukharin and Uritsky – to drag out the negotiations at length – carried the majority. The same solution – ‘neither to make war nor to sign the peace’ was endorsed once again a few days later, on 14 January, at a joint meeting of the Central Committees of the Bolshevik and Left S-R parties. This majority realized that resistance was impossible, but judged that a German offensive, if it came about, would provoke a revolutionary explosion on both sides of the front. The Third All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which met in the meantime, left the Council of People’s Commissars with full freedom to act.

Lenin was in a minority then, and not only in the Central Committee. The influential local committees in Petrograd, the Moscow region, the Ural, the Ukraine, etc., declared themselves against his position. The norms of life in this great, disciplined party were so fundamentally democratic that its acknowledged leader yielded before the majority, while continuing ceaselessly to press his own viewpoint. Once more, and this time in his own party, Lenin was battling against the stream.


In critical situations, Lenin was in the habit of expounding his thought in a condensed format, which was both explicit and concise, that of a set of theses. These theses were never long, and he did not waste words. His theses on peace, consisting of twenty-one articles each of five to fifteen lines, is a model of this kind of writing. We will give a summary of them:

  1. The success of the Socialist revolution is guaranteed in Russia by the support of the worker and peasant masses.
  2. The civil war that has inevitably followed is still far from its maximum peak.
  3. Sabotage, corruption and other indirect methods will keep it going for some months yet.
  4. 5. The revolution needs time. It must have a truce lasting at least several months in order to defeat the bourgeoisie and take up its work of organization.
  1. It is impossible to foresee how long it will take the European revolution, though inevitable and near, to come to fruition.
  2. The first discussions at Brest-Litovsk have shown that the military party has the upper hand in Germany, and is giving us the alternative either of continuing the war or of submitting to an imperialist peace, paying a concealed war reparation of three thousand million roubles.
  3. The utmost has already been done to drag out the negotiations as long as possible.
  4. To make peace by yielding to superior force is not a betrayal of proletarian internationalism:

The workers who in the course of a strike accept conditions for a return to work which are disadvantageous to them and advantageous to the capitalists do not betray Socialism. Only those betray it who trade the assets of a worker’s party for the benefit of the capitalists, and it is only transactions like that which are in principle inadmissible.

  1. We are told that, by making peace, we shall be allowing German troops to leave the eastern front, and this will be to play the game of German imperialism. But, from this point of view, surely revolutionary war would be playing the game of the Anglo-French imperialists.

The British have quite bluntly offered our commander-in-chief Krylenko a hundred roubles per soldier per month if we continue the war. The correct conclusion to draw from the situation is that, from the moment of the victory of a Socialist government in one country, questions have to be posed not from the standpoint of which imperialism we prefer to support, but exclusively in terms of the best conditions to develop and strengthen the Socialist revolution which has begun.... We never advocated defeatism except in relation to the bourgeoisie of one’s own country, and we have always repudiated as inadmissible a victory obtained over a foreign imperialism with the aid of a formal or actual alliance with a friendly imperialism ...

  1. We are supporters in principle of a revolutionary war, but we have to reckon with real possibilities.
  2. A policy based on fine gestures in no way corresponds to the actual, existing relation of forces.
  3. The army is in no state to make an effective resistance to the Germans, who are quite able to capture Petrograd.
  4. The mass of the peasants and the soldiers are against the war; ‘It would be an outright adventure, given the complete democratization of the army, to try to make war against the will of the majority of the soldiers.’ The creation of a Socialist army will take months.
  5. Revolutionary war would only be permissible if the German revolution was due to break out within three to four months. Otherwise, defeat would amount to the loss of Socialist power ...
  1. To gamble the fate of the revolution on this chance would be an adventure.
  2. A separate peace will not weaken the German revolution: the example of the Soviets will have an enormous propagandist value.
  3. Peace would liberate us, as far as this is possible, from bondage to imperialism.
  4. A genuine revolutionary war must be an offensive war waged by a Socialist army to overthrow the bourgeoisie of other countries. Such a war is impossible at this moment. We have done all we can for Poland, Lithuania and Courland: the interests of Socialism take precedence over the interests of nationalities. [15]

Lenin’s theory was accurately called ‘the theory of the breathing space’.


A strong Left tendency in the Bolshevik party was already forming round the extreme-Left militants of the Moscow area (Yaroslavsky, Soltz, Muralov, Sapronov, Ossinsky, Stukov, etc.). Since the end of December the Moscow Regional Committee had demanded the breaking off of the Brest-Litovsk talks, and, indeed, of all diplomatic relations with ‘all capitalist countries’. This grouping even thought that economic relations between capitalist and Socialist States were inadmissible. Better, they thought, ‘to perish for the cause of Socialism than to bow the head before Wilhelm II’. A democratic peace would come through the rising of the peoples. [16] This doctrine was quite evidently based on a totally abstract revolutionary romanticism.

Trotsky’s thesis was essentially different from this. He did not pretend that there was any possibility of a revolutionary war. But he did doubt that Germany, in its profound crisis, with its weary army open to the influence of the Russian revolution, was really capable of taking the offensive. It was necessary, he thought, to put the German working class and army to the test. To which Lenin replied: ‘Very tempting – but risky, too risky.’

The press of the Entente made out the Bolsheviks to be paid agents of Germany, and the trying negotiations at Brest-Litovsk as a pre-arranged comedy to keep up appearances, with the bargaining already agreed.

Here [said Trotsky] are the Bolsheviks dissolving the ‘democratic’ Constituent Assembly to make a peace of humiliation and enslavement with the Hohenzollerns, while Belgium and the north of France are occupied by German armies. It is clear that the bourgeoisie of the Entente would be able to steer the mass of the working class into terrible confusion, and even be able to mount an armed intervention against us more easily. [17]

The mass of the people had been in the grip of chauvinism for years. Within the working-class movement, the internationalists formed only tiny groups. If the Bolsheviks did nothing to neutralize the unease that would be created by a separate peace with the Central Powers, would not the attitude of the masses in the Allied countries be disposed towards an intervention in Russia? Whereas if the Bolsheviks only signed a peace when the knife was at their throats, any misgivings would disappear.

To this, Lenin replied obstinately, ‘Too risky. Nothing is more precious at the present time than our revolution. It must be put out of danger at all costs.’

Trotsky argued also from the inner-party situation. Immediate peace could bring about a split, in which the departure of the best elements of the Left would inevitably reinforce the Right wing. Lenin answered, ‘These fancies will pass. A split is not absolutely inevitable. And if it does happen, those who fall away will come back to the Party. But if the Germans crush us, there will be no coming back for any of us.’

‘We remarked,’ Trotsky wrote later (in On Lenin), ‘that if there was only a twenty-five per cent chance that the Hohenzollerns would decide not to make war on us, or simply be unable to, we would have to take the risk.’

Events in Germany began to support this manner of reasoning. In the middle of January, huge strikes broke out in Berlin. On the 18th (31st, New Style), Pravda appeared with the headlines: ‘It has happened! The head of German imperialism is on the chopping block! The mailed fist of the proletarian revolution is raised!

Revolution in Germany! A Soviet in Berlin! The strike movement covered Vienna, Berlin, Kiel, Hamburg, Dusseldorf, Kassel, Leipzig, Halle, etc. Soviets, which were soon to be dissolved, appeared in Vienna and Berlin. The munitions factories closed down.


The negotiations at Brest-Litovsk started again on 18 January. There the Central Powers found themselves fortified by the presence of a delegation from the Ukrainian Republic, whose orators delivered anti-Bolshevik diatribes which were listened to with pleasure by Baron von Kühlmann. The Soviet delegation did not resist the admission of the delegates from the Rada, which still controlled some territory, if only for a few more days. They managed to get a hearing, in return, for a delegation from the Polish Social-Democrats, consisting of Stanislas Bobinski and Karl Radek, who did not mince their words in attacking the régime established in Poland by the German occupation.

The German generals became more and more exasperated. Precious time was being wasted, was it not? Why be made fools of by Bolshevik agitators? ‘I felt I was on burning coals,’ wrote Ludendorff later. Meanwhile, the press was hostile to the boorish interventions made by General Hoffmann. The Austrians, alarmed by the gravity of their situation at home, threatened to abandon their allies and demanded relief supplies from Berlin. ’We are,’ reported Czernin, ‘almost at the point of catastrophe in the food supply. [18] The strikes that broke out in the second half of January bowled them over. ‘If supplies are not sent,’ cabled the Austro-Hungarian Prime Minister, ‘we shall have riots on our hands next week.’ He was quite right.

Ludendorff would have liked to break off the negotiations, take the offensive forthwith, and thus provoke the establishment of a new government for Russia that would prove more compliant. ‘Look how they are treating us!’ he exclaimed. Hoffmann, red-faced, reminded Kamenev, Yoffe and Trotsky that the Central Powers were not the defeated side. The outbreak of the strikes doubtless inclined Wilhelm II to yield to his generals’ protestations. A propaganda broadcast from the Bolshevik radio to the German troops, in which the Kaiser fancied that he was marked out by name for the vengeance of his troops, proved the, last straw: Wilhelm ordered von Kühlmann to present the Russians with an ultimatum. All that Hoffmann desired was to ‘ knock them flat with an ultimatum’. In front of the Russian delegation he calmly unfolded his map where the new frontiers were already traced. This time, the Russians had their backs to the wall.

The meeting of 28 January (10 February) found Trotsky unexpectedly aggressive in manner. He made a brief speech which was intended purely for propaganda purposes:

The peoples are demanding an end to this self-destruction of humanity, caused by the spirit of greed and conquest of the ruling classes of all countries. If the war has ever been defensive, it has long ago ceased to be so on both sides. Great Britain is seizing colonies in Africa, Baghdad, Jerusalem. Germany is occupying Serbia, Belgium, Poland, Latvia and Rumania, and is taking over the Moonsund Islands. This is not a defensive war. It is a war for the division of the world.

We are against any further participation in this purely imperialist war in which the ruling classes are paying for their designs in human blood. We are equally hostile to the imperialisms of both camps, and we will no longer consent to shed the blood of our soldiers for the interests of an imperialist party.

Awaiting the hour, which we believe to be close, when the toiling classes of all countries take power, as the working people of Russia have taken it, we withdraw our people and our army from the war. Our peasant-soldier is returning to his labours to till in peace, from this spring onwards, the land which the Russian revolution has taken from the hands of the landlords and given to the toilers. Our worker-soldier must return to his factory, there to produce, not engines of destruction but tools of creation, and to build, side by side with the peasant, the new Socialist economy.

We are demobilizing our army. We refuse to sign a peace based on annexations. We declare that the state of war between the Central Empires and Russia is at an end.

This was what the Austro-Germans least expected. An extraordinary council meeting was called at Homburg Castle to examine this new situation. Those present were Wilhelm II, Chancellor von Hertling, the Vice-Chancellor, Hindenburg, Ludendorff, the head of the Admiralty and von Kühlmann. Their views were divided. The Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor, von Kühlmann and the Austrians believed that the domestic situation, particularly in Austro-Hungary, did not allow the offensive to be taken against Russia. [19] The possibilities envisaged by Trotsky were thus very real. The generals, on the other hand, demanded an offensive, giving the following reasons: first, without finishing off the Russian front, it would not be possible to take the offensive against the British and French; secondly, the only way by which famine could be avoided in Austria was by occupying the rich grain-lands of the Ukraine; similar economic considerations dictated the occupation of part of Russia; thirdly, it was essential to inflict a serious defeat upon Bolshevism, which could otherwise make a military recovery. The Kaiser shared the opinion of his General Staff.


At this same moment, the Soviet government, in annulling Russia’s foreign debts, broke definitively with the Allied powers. This was a necessary measure: it may even be said that it was one of the aims of the revolution. We have noted the profound, almost colonial dependence of the Russian Empire on foreign powers. The proletarian and peasant revolution, in lifting the yoke imposed by the propertied classes and by Great-Russian nationalism, could not bow subserviently under the burden of international finance-capital. There was, besides, no other way of avoiding inevitable bankruptcy except by cancelling the State debt, which now reached the stupendous total of 80,000,000,000 gold roubles. (In thousands of millions of roubles, it was made up as follows: foreign loans sixteen; long-term domestic loans, twenty-five; short-term internal loans, nineteen; indirect domestic debts, 4.8; various indirect obligations, about fifteen.) The debt account would have necessitated the payment, on 1 January 1918, of the yearly interest amounting to four thousand million roubles, a sum distinctly higher than the total income of the State in 1913 (which was 3,452 million). The amount of the debt now equalled two thirds of the total national wealth. Revolutionary measures were the only way of avoiding bankruptcy and economic bondage. Any agreements with foreign creditors would simply have intensified Russia’s colonial dependence.

The abolition of the national debt was preceded, in a decree of the Council of People’s Commissars dated 26 January, by the confiscation of all the share capital of the private banks, which went to the State Bank. [20] The decree of 28 January cancelled all State debts ‘contracted abroad by the governments of Russian landlords and capitalists’, with retroactive effect beginning in the month of December; dividend coupons for December were in-validated also. Article 3 read: ‘All loans raised abroad are can-celled without exceptions and without reservations.’ The securities held by savings banks, cooperatives, local democratic organizations and small shareholders (at a maximum of ten thousand roubles’ worth of shares) were to be converted into a new stock issued by the Russian Federative Socialist Republic of Soviets. (This scheme was not actually implemented, in the event.) The Soviets were given the responsibility of deciding who were to be the democratic institutions and small shareholders who could benefit from the offer.

This was a sharp blow against international high finance and the Allied imperialisms. Ever since the October Revolution the Allied governments and their representatives in Russia had observed towards the Soviet government – which they still did not recognize – an attitude of sternly hostile expectation. They had refused any reply to the repeated appeals of the Soviet government for a general peace. On the other hand, we have seer how the Allied Military Missions encouraged the resistance of General Dukhonin; the support given by certain French officers to the Rada in the civil war in the Ukraine had caused a diplomatic incident between M. Noulens, the French ambassador, and the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs; General Berthelot was encouraging Rumania’s machinations in Bessarabia. Britain had interned two Russian revolutionary exiles, Chicherin [21] and Petrov, and Trotsky only obtained their release by threatening reprisals against British subjects in Russia. The press of the Entente countries greeted the Russian revolution with campaigns of slander and insult, whose violence and prejudice can only be compared with the insane attacks delivered against the French Revolution by the English press, William Pitt and the Royalist emigrés. In studying the documents of the period, one is taken aback by a striking fact: the capitalist world’s statesmen, journalists and most enlightened leaders of public opinion understood nothing about the Russian revolution. The most stupid rumours were accepted by them as true. Their general opinion was that the Bolsheviks, a set of doctrinaire adventurers brought into power by the chance results of rioting, would disappear in three to six weeks. (later it became three to six months) as suddenly as they had appeared on the scene. Nobody held out any future for them except the gallows. The Allied representatives in Russia shared in this blindness, except for two men whose voices, flung against the stream of opinion, had no effect on their governments: the American Raymond Robins and the Frenchman Jacques Sadoul. [22]

On 18 December, Buchanan, the British ambassador, declared (in what was intended as a conciliatory speech!) that Britain would await ‘the establishment in Russia of a stable government, recognized by the people’. The semi-official press in Paris and London put its hopes in Kaledin, Alexeyev and Kornilov. It began to instigate a scheme for Japanese intervention in Siberia. The United States reserved its position.

On 31 January, two days after the dramatic scene at Brest-Litovsk, with the Rumanian army beginning an offensive against Odessa, tacitly supported by the German Field-Marshal von Mackensen and with the explicit agreement of the French General Berthelot, the Diplomatic Corps at Petrograd confronted the Council of People’s Commissars with an insulting and menacing Note, the key passage of which ran:

The Ambassadors and Plenipotentiary Ministers of the Allied and neutral governments accredited to Petrograd cause it to be known to the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs that they consider all the decrees of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government on the cancellation of State debts, confiscation of property, etc., as non-existent in the degree to which these decrees touch on the interests of foreign countries.

The united front of the two warring imperialist coalitions against the workers’ and peasants’ revolution was now realized. The hints of possible military cooperation against Germany between the Allies and the Soviets, which came out during the worst days of the Brest-Litovsk period, had scarcely any consequence. The politics of the Allied representatives in Russia was dominated, in reality, by their class-spirit: these were no longer British, French or American diplomats or officers, they were members of the bourgeoisie before anything else, and they never forgot it. The partition of Russia began to be considered more and more seriously by the statesmen of the world. As General Hoffmann was launching his offensive against the Russia which had ‘declared peace’ on him, Marshal Foch gave the American press an interview on 26 February, on which the French newspapers thought it best to keep quiet: ‘America and Japan,’ he said, ‘will be able to confront Germany in Siberia.’ Active exchanges were pursued in London, Washington, Paris and Tokyo concerning a possible Japanese intervention in Siberia, in other words the conquest of the Russian Far East by Japan. This plan collapsed owing to the resistance of the United States. [23]

For a brief moment the possibility of an alliance between the United States and Soviet Russia was mooted. [24] Trotsky made a formal request for American assistance. Jacques Sadoul took it upon himself to ask, in the name of Trotsky (who had not re-quested him to do so), for aid from France. On 24 February, [25] he managed to get M. Noulens to telephone Trotsky and say, ‘In your resistance to Germany you may count on military and financial support from France.’ Despite Sadoul’s efforts, this sup-port amounted in practice to precisely nothing.


The Russian-German front formed practically a straight line from Riga down to Kamenets Podolsk on the Dniester. On 18 February, eight days after the close of the negotiations, General Hoffmann, in violation of the clause of the armistice which required the resumption of hostilities to be notified a week in advance, in-formed the Soviet government that a state of war had been resumed. The Right-wing press in Germany justified the attack by the necessity to restore order in Russia. Prince Leopold of Bavaria made a speech before his troops in which he told them that they were marching not to fight for conquests but to wipe out the contagion of Bolshevism. ‘Germany,’ he said, ‘is from now on the rampart of European culture against the Oriental pestilence.’ Ludendorff’s intention, on the other hand, seems not to have been to topple the Soviet power, which (as we know today, but was not known then) would probably have been too much for his forces. He was trying to occupy the Ukraine and deal the Russians a ‘short, sharp’ blow which would gain control of all their artillery and material, thus making it impossible for them to re-create their army in a short spell.

The German offensive encountered no resistance. German troops advanced without firing a shot, using the railways. In a few days (from 18-24 February) they occupied Reval, Rezhitsa, Dvinsk and Minsk, and they invaded the Ukraine.

These were terrible days. As soon as they had the announcement of the offensive, the Council of People’s Commissars cabled the Austro-Germans their consent to a peace. Everyone thought that the Central Powers were not going to reply. An evasive answer came from Berlin: ‘Put your proposals in writing.’ The most common opinion was that the Germans were not making war now on Russia, but on the Soviets, that they might even have an agreement with the Entente on the restoration of order in Russia and that they would occupy most Soviet territory, probably including Petrograd. The last remaining Russian troops retreated in disorder in front of them, without even bothering to follow the order from the Council of People’s Commissars instructing them to destroy arms and munitions if they had to draw back. If the Germans refused the peace offer, there was nothing left for the Soviets except to organize partisan warfare in the occupied territories. On 21 February it was proclaimed that ‘The Socialist fatherland is in a state of danger.’

The order was given to mobilize all the country’s forces and resources for revolutionary defence; to defend all positions to the last; to destroy all railway lines before the enemy’s advance; to destroy all stocks of food, munitions and useful goods rather than leave them for the enemy; to mobilize the population of the towns to dig trenches under the direction of military technicians (’All healthy adults, male and female, belonging to the bourgeois class must join these detachments; those who resist will be shot’); to suspend the publication of all organs hostile to revolutionary defence, sympathetic to the German invasion or to counter-revolution, and conscript the staff of these journals for the work of defence; to ‘shoot on the spot all enemy agents, speculators, looters, hooligans and counter-revolutionary agitators’. The seed of, the Red terror was in this document. As with the French Revolution, it arose from foreign invasion and the sheer immensity of the danger.

But the peasantry in the countryside did not want to fight. Lenin had founded his entire theory of the breathing space on this fact, and he was right. The Germans advanced onwards without encountering any resistance and took possession of a colossal booty. In one week they progressed two to three hundred kilometres. Sometimes they had resistance from the Red Guards: a desperate resistance, doomed to failure. The passivity of the peasant soldiery contrasted with the enthusiasm of the workers, who by entire factories, along with their wives and older children (just as good for the fighting, they thought) poured along to Smolny to be armed. As for yesteryear’s fervent patriots, quite a few of these now welcomed the Germans as liberators.

The Red Guards were now carrying out some of their extra-ordinary operations in the south under Antonov-Ovseyenko’s command (capture of Rostov, defeat of Kaledin), and the Red troops on the Bessarabian front were beating off the Rumanians and keeping Odessa safe. It is worth noting, too, that in fact no terror took place, since the feeling of the masses did not favour terror for a war they did not want to wage.

The capture of Pskov, 257 kilometres from Petrograd (not a very great distance in Russian terms), caused consternation in the capital.

When the new Soviet deputation arrived at Brest-Litovsk on 1 March, they could not improve the situation. The Germans refused to call off their offensive until the peace was actually signed, on the date fixed by them, 4 March. The Soviet delegates informed their government that the Germans intended to penetrate as far as possible into Russian territory, but were using small shock-brigades which were easy to repulse.

In fact, the German offensive had its natural limitations. The partisan warfare, the destruction of highways, the difficulties of the supply line, the state of feeling of the Russian population, the formation of Red bands in the rear of the invader, the strikes, famine and discontent in Germany and Austria, all forced the German command, at the end of the first week of the attack, to face the prospect of large-scale, protracted, difficult and dangerous operations. They were fighting in unknown country against an enemy very different from all those they had encountered previously. All the plans they had for a quick Russian capitulation were now in doubt.


As soon as the resumption of hostilities was announced, Lenin proposed the immediate signature of peace terms, at the Central Committee meeting of 17 February. Once again he was put in the minority, though this time by one vote. Bukharin, Trotsky, Yoffe, Krestinsky, Uritsky and Lomov voted against him; Sverdlov, Sokolnikov, Smilga and Stalin with him.

The Central Committee had two sessions on the 18th, the day of the German attack. Two speakers took the floor for each position on those questions where there were clear differences. Each had five minutes – this was no time for long speeches. At the first session Lenin’s position was again defeated by seven votes to six (this was on his demand for the immediate resumption of negotiations); it was defended by Zinoviev and opposed by Bukharin and Trotsky. At the second sitting Trotsky informed them of the capture of Dvinsk and the entry of the Germans into the Ukraine.

We are in a revolutionary war [said Lenin] against our own intentions. War is not a matter to be played with. This game has brought us to such a crisis that the revolution will inevitably crash now if you continue any longer with this dithering attitude. Yoffe wrote to us from Brest that there was not even the faintest beginning of a revolution in Germany.

Here we are scribbling away while they are capturing our stores and rolling-stock, while we are collapsing.... History will note that you surrendered the revolution! We could have signed a peace and got away with it, but we have nothing, we can’t even blow up the stuff ...

The peasants don’t want war, and they will not fight. A permanent peasant war is a Utopia. Revolutionary war isn’t just phraseology. If we are not equipped for it, we must sign the peace.

The revolution will not be lost simply because we will be giving the Germans Finland, Latvia and Estonia. [26]

Lenin’s potent realism, now terribly confirmed by events, carried the day this time by seven votes to six: it was Trotsky’s vote that gave him the majority. [27] Neither Lenin nor the Central Committee dreamed of accusing Trotsky of inconsistency: indeed, he was given the task of drafting, with Lenin, the radiotelegram to the Germans. The demonstration he wanted to make before the proletariat of the West had now been made, the chance he wanted to try for had been tried.

The situation worsened from one hour to the next. The Germans made no haste to reply, but continued their advance aggressively, collecting their enormous loot. And the party became divided, as the Left militants of the Moscow district resigned their posts (on 20 February) ‘reserving ourselves the freedom to agitate both within the party and outside it’. (Among those who resigned were Lomov, Bubnov, Uritsky and Pyatakov.) It was clearly a step towards a split. The party press covered up what had happened. Two days later, those who had resigned, along with the remainder of the Left, changed their minds, but declared that they would appeal to the Party Congress.

On 22 February, Trotsky informed the Central Committee of a proposal received from the Allies: France and Britain were willing to aid Russia in its resistance to Germany.

Trotsky believed that this offer should be accepted, inasmuch as the independence of Soviet foreign policy was safeguarded. Bukharin demanded its rejection. Lenin was not at the meeting, but he scribbled a few words hastily on a scrap of paper: ‘Please count my vote in favour of accepting support and arms from the Anglo-French imperialist bandits – Lenin.’ [28] By six votes to five, the’Central Committee voted to do so. Von Kühlmann’s reply to the Soviet note was discussed in the Central Committee on 23 February. It announced the stiffening of the German peace terms, to a considerable degree: Russia must accept the detachment of the whole Baltic area, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, the Ukraine and Finland. Lenin, firm as ever, declared that ‘the politics of revolutionary phrasemongering was finished’: he added that if it continued he would resign immediately from the government and the Central Committee. ‘If you want revolutionary war we shall give it you,’ he said. Trotsky judged that the divisions in the party made revolutionary war impossible, and spoke in favour of peace, but he abstained in the vote: Lenin’s thesis was carried by seven votes to four, with four abstentions. [29]


Sokolnikov, Petrovsky, Chicherin, Karakhan and Yoffe came to Brest-Litovsk to meet von Rosenberg, the German ambassador, and General Hoffmann. This time the Soviet delegates refused any parley. ‘We are here,’ declared Sokolnikov, ‘to sign without the least delay a peace which is being imposed on us by violence.’ Again: ‘The peace which we are signing,’ he said to the session on 3 March, ‘has been dictated to us at gunpoint. Revolutionary Russia is compelled to accept it with clenched teeth ...’ He spent a brief time in frankly denouncing the character and class nature of the plunderer, and concluded: ‘Any discussion is useless and we refuse to have any.’

The principal clauses of the treaty, which consisted of thirty articles, were the following. A bilateral undertaking to cease all agitation against the ‘governmental or military status’ of the countries concerned; the demobilization of the Russian army, including the new Soviet units; the renunciation by Russia of all interference in the affairs of the countries to the west of her new frontiers (all the Baltic States and Poland); the evacuation of Russian troops from the areas of Asia Minor they occupied; Soviet recognition of the People’s Republic of the Ukraine and of the treaty it had concluded with the Central Powers; Russian evacuation of Finland and the Aland Isles (which meant the sacrifice of the Finnish revolution); the reciprocal repudiation of war indemnities – though Russia still had to compensate the Central Empires for the upkeep of Russian prisoners-of-war, the damages caused to Austrian and German nationals by the revolution, etc. (a total of three thousand million gold roubles). The exchange of war prisoners was to take place immediately, enabling Germany to recover her fighting manpower. Commercial and consular relations were to be resumed.

Once the peace was concluded, German troops continued their advance into the Ukraine, protected by the treaty; they marched right on to the Don, to the Crimea, to the Caucasus.


Lenin’s policies in this turning-point of the revolution deserve to be thoroughly studied. Lenin put his case with great energy, as was his custom, in his articles for Pravda and his interventions at Central Committee meetings. The whole tenor of his argument was directed incessantly against the Left-Communist tendency. In an article of 21 February (On the Revolutionary Phrase), he set out to refute its theses. His definitions deserve to be quoted:

The revolutionary phrase is usually a malady which befalls revolutionary parties when these suffer from a mixture of proletarian and petty-bourgeois elements, and the course of events necessitates a sharp turn. Revolutionary phraseology consists of the repetition of revolu- tionary slogans without any relation to the objective circumstances of a given moment or situation. Slogans which are excellent, inspiring, intoxicating, but without any basis: that is the essence of the matter.

He went on to observe that the Moscow and Petrograd organizations of the party, which were advocating revolutionary war, did nothing to oppose demobilization in time of war. The old army no longer existed, and the new one had hardly begun to exist. The phrases with which the Lefts were so lavish expressed pure sentiment. The reasoning they invoked was simply pitiful. They appealed to the example of revolutionary France in 1792. But France only made war after her economic revolution;. the French Revolution pitted ‘economically and politicalLy backward peoples against a people who had not been exhausted by a war, and who had just gained land and liberty’. We have only just finished a war and have scarcely begun the revolution. Our peasant ‘still has not enjoyed one year of work in freedom (freed, that is, from the landlords and the disasters of war) ... Feudalism conquered, bourgeois liberty consolidated, a satisfied peasantry marching against the lands of feudalism: such is the economic basis for the military miracles of 1792-3.’

Germany, we are told, cannot take the offensive because of the imminence of revolution at home. But even when our revolution was in full spate we were not able to stop the Russian bourgeoisie from launching an offensive in June 1917. The German revolution is maturing: to proclaim that it is already mature is no more than phraseology.

We shall be helping Liebknecht by making war, it is being said. Not by making war without effective forces: to start fighting without possessing the necessary effectives is sheer adventurism.

Our forces were no larger in October, we are told. But the masses were with us and we knew it.

Would we be ruined by the economic provisions of the separate peace? German imperialism is growing weaker, whereas our resources are growing month by month. ‘The most disadvantageous peace is a hundred times better for us than the lot of a Belgium.’

The peace is disgraceful and dishonourable. Surely we would be betraying Poland, Courland, Lithuania and Latvia, handing them over to Germany? No, for the interests of Socialism take precedence over the rights of nationalities to enjoy self-determination. ‘War must be waged on the revolutionary phrase, so that men will not one day have to repeat this bitter truth: the revolutionary phrase on the revolutionary war destroyed the revolution.’ [30]

On the following day Lenin published another article on the same subject entitled The Itch, under the innocent pseudonym of Karpov. ‘Phrasemongering,’ he said, ‘is a disease as tenacious as the itch.’ The article was partly concerned with refuting the Left-wing argument that saw a desertion of principles in the acceptance of aid from the British against the Central Powers: is it possible to fail to comprehend the difference between Kerensky’s arms purchases, made from the Allied pirates to continue a war of conquest, and the purchases made by Socialist Russia from these same pirates in order to defend itself against Wilhelm II? The difference is the same as that between a murder committed for theft, and a homicidal act of self-defence. [31]

In his article Peace or War?, published on 23 Feburary, Lenin wrote that ‘It must be made clear that anybody who opposes immediate peace, even on the cruellest terms, is working for the defeat of Soviet power.’ [32]

In a third article on 25 February (A Painful but Necessary Lesson) he indicated the roots of the ideology of revolutionary warfare. The ease of the revolution’s victories at home had been too intoxicating. The lesson provided by the week of the German offensive has been severe but necessary.

What an instructive contrast there is between the two sets of dispatches which the government has been receiving in the last few days. On one side we read a barrage of the most ‘determined’ revolutionary phrases ... On the other, the heart-breaking, shameful reports of regiments who have refused to defend their positions, of failures to carry out the order to destroy all stock before retreating: not to mention the stampeding, the chaos, the incompetence, the incapacity, the waste.

It is a crime to accept battle with a powerful enemy when there is no army on one’s side: peace is necessary not for capitulation but for a serious preparation for war. We must be able to help the Socialist revolution in the advanced imperialist countries. ‘This revolution will only be damaged by delivering the Socialist Republic of the Soviets unarmed to the mortal blows of the enemy. Our great motto “We bank on the victory of Socialism in the entire world” must not be changed into an empty phrase. But every abstract truth, when applied indiscriminately to all concrete situations, becomes reduced to a phrase. [33]

We should lack a full appreciation of Lenin’s thought at this moment if we did not have a detail which Trotsky has recounted. [34] Here is Lenin, the supreme realist, the sworn enemy of all adventures. who weighed all possibilities to the full, never abandoning hope but keeping confidence and a blazing will, determined to hold on, whatever might happen, and win in the end:

And what if the Germans keep marching? (Trotsky asked him.] What if they march on Moscow?

Then we will draw back to the east, the Ural. The Kuznetsk basin is rich in coal. We will set up the Republic of the Ural and Kuznetsk, supported by the industry of the Ural and the mines of Kuznetsk, and aided by the proletariat of the Ural and those workers from Petrograd and Moscow who succeed in joining us. We shall hold on! If it becomes necessary we shall move farther away, even beyond the Ural. We shall go right as far as Kamchatka, but we shall hold on! The international situation will see many changes, and from our Republic of the Ural and Kuznetsk we shall return to Moscow and Petrograd. But if we get ourselves tangled up uselessly in a revolutionary war, and allow the flower of the working class and the party to be slaughtered, it is quite clear that we shall never return anywhere ...


At Brest-Litovsk the October Revolution made its appearance in the international arena, face to face with the whole world of imperialism (for the Allies, though formally absent, still played their part). Lenin immediately discerned the essential objective for this conjuncture: to save the revolution and gain time. (Gaining time was synonymous with the salvation of the revolution, which would gain strength while the crisis was maturing within the imperialist coalitions.) Lenin’s tactics were unflinchingly dictated by this consideration. His policy was inspired by a ruthless, unclouded realism whose keenness could not be led astray by any burst of enthusiasm. Neither the dazzling victories of the revolution in the interior, nor the great strikes in Germany and Austria, nor even the coming of the first Soviets (forerunners of revolution) in the Central Empires could blur his clear vision of reality: which was that the revolutionary crisis in Germany was still only maturing, that Austro-German imperialism was still very powerful. Hence his conclusion: to bank on the German revolution is to risk the very existence of the Russian revolution. Lenin’s realism is all the more impressive in that he displays no basic tendency to over-estimate the forces of the enemy.

No basic tendency: the point about the ‘Republic of the Ural and Kuznetsk’ confirms us in this view, as does the relatively slight resistance offered by Lenin against Trotsky’s thesis, as compared with his intransigent opposition, more in the character of an ultimatum, against the proponents of revolutionary war. His sharp awareness of the fragility of Soviet power seems to move him to the idea that a German offensive could cause it to collapse. Today we know how critical the domestic situation was in the Central Empires, the few advantages and the immense difficulties they encountered in their occupation of the Ukraine, the astonishing vitality displayed by Red Russia. We may be permitted to conclude that even the occupation of the capitals by the invader would not have meant the collapse of the Soviet régime, in short that German imperialism, at that moment, was no longer in a position to destroy the Russian revolution.

This reality must be borne in mind in order to appreciate Trotsky’s line at the time. His purpose was twofold, as has been seen: to exhaust all revolutionary possibilities and to convince the proletariat of the West of the intransigence of the Bolsheviks before Austro-German imperialism. The Central Empires hung on for nine months longer after the Brest-Litovsk peace, until November 1918, a proof of the error made in exaggerating the revolutionary chances in these countries during January and February, and a confirmation of Lenin’s thesis on this point. But the necessity for convincing Western workers of Bolshevism’s intentions before the Austro-Germans still stood. It is worth remembering how fearful were the war manias that still held sway over the masses of Europe and America. In the working classes of all the Allied countries the Socialism of patriotism and office still enjoyed unshakable majorities. The voice of the minorities who sympathized with the Russian revolution could scarcely be heard. In France, old Socialists like Varenne, Renaudel, Sembat and Albert Thomas were becoming increasingly outspoken as advocates of an Allied intervention in Russia. The parliamentary group of the Parti Socialiste Unifié [35] appealed to the Bolsheviks, in a message of mixed reproach, warning and advice, not to conclude a separate peace. The bourgeois press was unanimous in presenting the Bolsheviks as agents of Germany, and the Brest-Litovsk talks as a comedy played out according to rule: [36] In the eyes of the masses in these countries – and I personally remember many conversations to this effect with French soldiers – the Russians, in surrendering before German imperialism, were responsible for prolonging a war already hated by all. If this attitude among the masses had lasted, would it not have enabled the Allied governments to mount a large-scale and direct intervention in Russia? Trotsky’s tactic was of great assistance in dissipating this state of mind. After the breaking-off of negotiations, after the disconcerting gesture of the Soviet delegates at Brest-Litovsk, after General Hoffmann’s offensive against a disarmed Russia, after the signing of a treaty presented at pistol-point for all the world to see, how could a British or a French worker still believe of the existing state of affairs. The success of the line ‘neither peace nor war’ therefore seems to have been a possible outcome.

By contrast, the line of revolutionary war advocated by the Left Communists and most of the Left S-Rs was impossible: it simply could not have succeeded. This is already evident through the very ease of the German invasion, and will become more so when we see the difficulties that attend the creation of the Red Army. What were the principal ideas behind this tactic? That of safeguarding the integrity of principles, and that of hastening on the German revolution by an active intervention. The first of these ideas, evidenced in the frequent use of words like ‘shameful’, ‘dishonourable’, etc., proceeded from an abstract and dogmatic conception of honour, alien to true proletarian realism: revolutionary honour is not put in question when, without abandoning the struggle, one submits to an unavoidable defeat. The second has its main source in a sentiment which may well be described as romantic. Certainly there can be no condemnation in principle of a revolutionary intervention which tends to quicken the final crisis of the class struggle in a particular country; still, such an intervention must be timely and must use substantial forces, in default of which its consequences can only be disastrous. A healthier tendency may, however, be uncovered in Left Communism during the Brest-Litovsk period, beneath its abstract and undialectical arguments, its emotional exaggerations, its dangerously doctrinaire thought: we may also see, to its credit, the fear of opportunism. It was an unjustified fear, since no real tendency in the supposed collaboration between the Bolsheviks and Austro-German imperialism? As Rakovsky said: ‘If the signing of the Brest-Litovsk treaty in its second draft put an end to the German offensive, the previous refusal to sign it in its first draft spared us an offensive from the Entente for a considerable time.’ [37]

Through Ludendorff’s memoirs and various statements made by the German representatives at Brest-Litovsk, it is known that the Austrians and Germans hesitated before launching their offensive against Russia. Chancellor von Hertling and Baron von Kühlmann had stated their opinion that the situation on the home front did not allow of an offensive. The generals carried the day, thanks to the Kaiser’s backing. It is still true, though, that the Central Powers seriously considered a pure and simple acceptance towards the Right was manifested in the Bolshevik party, but still a useful one.

We have seen the energy which Lenin devoted to attacking the theses of the Left.

It is beyond doubt [Trotsky has written in this connection] that it is because of the vigour with which Lenin posed the question of the need for a temporary surrender – of a ‘transition to illegality in relation to German imperialism’ as he himself put it at public meetings – that the party and the revolution were spared involvement in a hopeless war which would have ended after two or three months with the total col-lapse of the Russian revolution. [38]


All the responsibilities of this moment rested on the party, or more precisely on its leading ranks in Petrograd and Moscow. What kind of picture do we see here in the crisis?

This party, so disciplined and so little encumbered by an abstract fetishism for democracy, still in these grave hours respects its norms of internal democracy. It puts its recognized leader in a minority; Lenin’s tremendous personal authority does not hinder the militants in the Central Committee from standing up to him and energetically maintaining their point of view; the most important questions are settled by vote, often by small majorities (a margin of one vote, or seven votes out of fifteen present, etc.), to which the minorities are willing to defer without abandoning their ideas. Lenin, when in the minority, submits while waiting for events to prove him right, and continues his propaganda without breaking discipline. Even though impassioned, the discussion remains objective. Neither gossip nor intrigue nor personalities play any important part in what is said. The militants talk politics, without trying to wound or to discredit the comrades on the opposing side. Since the opposition is never bullied, it shows only the minimum of emotion that one would expect in events of this order, and soon recovers from its rash decisions.

Once Lenin gets his majority he does not boast: he has other things to care about. His attitude towards his opponents is both tolerant and firm: tolerant towards persons, immovable towards their ideas. Not that it is his custom to make the typical distinction of liberal-bourgeois parliamentarians between men and their ideas – this although his polemic never stoops to petty personalities. On the other hand, he always does make the distinction between the methods and procedures in struggle that may be used against enemies of the party and those that may be used within the party, among comrades; similarly, his tactics at the beginning of 1917 were based on a distinction between struggles against enemies of the working class and struggles waged within the working-class movement. Here his conception of the leader of a proletarian party is vividly displayed. It is a leader whose authority is founded on a recognized superiority, a resolute, self-disciplined but stub-born man, who is not afraid to be in a minority and swim against the current. His mission is not to follow the masses but to enlighten and lead them, since it is precisely the keenest element in their consciousness which speaks through him. This proletarian conception of a party leader may be contrasted with the example of the old opportunist parties influenced by the petty-bourgeoisie, whose leaders can be seen courting popularity by trailing after the masses – anti-militarist and pacifistic when the masses are, patriots when the masses acclaim ‘the war to end all war’, and ‘revolutionary’ when they return bloody and beaten from the war.

At this hour, the party really is the courageous ‘iron cohort’ of Bukharin’s later description. It is a living organism, teeming with initiative from the lowest to the highest ranks, disciplined even to its most senior leader, regarding with love and respect the mentors it has formed for itself in long years of struggle, but knowing how to contradict them and put them in a minority. It is equipped with a genuine collective of leadership (Lenin’s concern to make leadership a collective responsibility is worth noting), and with healthy political traditions which are able to avoid excesses of authority as well as of democracy. Any differences of tactics were softened by collective habits of thinking, by Marxist education and by the operations of democratic centralization. The centre leads and has to be followed: but this centre is itself the expression of the party and, through the party, of the masses.

If Lenin had been a little more authoritarian, or his comrades had shown a little more excitability, or a little less discipline, or party loyalty, or sense of unity, or if the party’s leading core had been a little more rigid, or a little less collective, or intelligent, or firm-willed, or if their Marxist consciousness had been a little less keen – then, either in the Brest-Litovsk days or shortly afterwards, some excellent Left elements in the party would have been broken, or forced out temporarily, [39] or lost forever. A little more, a little less: every living equilibrium rests upon such slight quantities as this. The equilibrium we have discussed may be termed the proletarian party’s condition of health.


The ‘peace of shame’ of Brest-Litovsk was the first retreat under-taken by the revolutionary proletariat of Russia, isolated in the face of the imperialist powers through the inaction of the proletariat of Europe. It was also the first collision between the young Soviet State and its imperialist environment. The Russian revolution now found itself alone. To live, it had to gain time: time was everything. At that moment it could have been defeated within three months, and to gain those three months was to keep open all the immensity of the future.

It was also, at least for Europe, the first imperialist peace (the treaty of Bucharest came later, followed by Versailles), dictated to the vanquished party at cannon-point, directed openly towards ends of territorial conquest and economic enslavement.

For the Central Powers this proved to be an irreparable error, though inevitable. The German General Staff had been running the war with its own rigorous logic. The terms of the peace reflected no more than its consistency, the powerful intelligence with which it pursued its designs. Once the blockade around the Central Powers was broken, and their supplies assured through the grain of the Ukraine, the coal of the Donetz and all Russia’s raw materials, once their fighting manpower was reinforced through the return of the prisoners-of-war, would not victory now be possible on the western front? That is what the German high command hoped to achieve. It was this hope that impelled Ludendorff, in March, to unleash his great offensive on the Somme, towards Amiens, when he tried to break the Anglo-French lines. But in fact the dialectic of history, following on Brest-Litovsk, made his victory impossible. In the first imperialist peace the peoples of the world thought they saw the first German peace. The example of the Russian revolution and of President Wilson’s propaganda for the rights of nationalities undermined German imperialism from within. The disgraceful peace imposed upon Russia caused fresh enthusiasm for the war among the Allied and neutral peoples. All thoughts of negotiation now went by the board: the idea of a compromise peace, which had been in the air up till then, simply vanished.

Besides this, the calculations of the Austro-Germans on the consequences of Russia’s surrender were falsified by events. Past master in the art of war as it is waged between imperialists, skilful in exploiting an occupied Belgium or a Briey basin which French pilots were under orders never to bomb, the German strategists found the tasks of a class war beyond them. As they had failed to understand the Bolsheviks (who still managed to understand them) during the peace negotiations, so they neither understood nor prevented the results of their seizure of the Ukraine and southern Russia. The Ukraine supplied them only with a proportion of the food supplies they had anticipated, and then at the cost of innumerable troubles. The occupation of the Russian territories encountered resistance from an armed revolutionary peasant population, whose behaviour was quite different from that of the north of France: more German troops were needed for this difficult work than had been budgeted. The occupation troops, harassed by partisans, often influenced by revolutionary propaganda, and weary of the war against a local populace, lost their morale. The prisoners-of-war repatriated from Russia had become ‘Bolshevized’. Conquered Ukraine proved to be the first tomb of German imperialism. [40]


[1] [On this point Serge is too crude; Sir George Buchanan was in contact with Duma circles opposed to the Tsar during January 1917, but the extent of his conspiratorial activity was exaggerated by ultra-Right commentators. Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution (London, 1966), p.91, discounts the story of a ‘palace revolution’ scheme involving the British Ambassador. Buchanan, indeed, seems personally to have been devoted to the Tsar. See M. Paléologue, An Ambassador’s Memoirs (London, 1925), Vol. 3, pp.129-30, and Bernard Pares, The Fall of the Russian Monarchy (New York, 1961), pp.422-4.]

[2] There was, for instance, only a very small volume of capital exports to China.

[3] V. Nevsky, History of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik): A Short Outline (Istoriya RKP (B): Kratki Ocherk) (Leningrad, 1926). See on this topic the interesting little book by N. Vanag, Finance-Capital in Russia (Finanzovy Kapital v Rossii) (Moscow, 1925). At the outset of the March 1917 revolution, Lenin observed that ‘Russian capitalism is no more than a branch office of the world-wide firm which manipulates hundreds of billions of roubles, and whose name is Britain and France’.

[4] In spite of her rapid economic growth between 1890 and 1901 Russia remained a distinctly backward country through a variety of factors: the falling-off of growth after this burst, the backward state of her agriculture, the preponderance of agriculture over industry, the expansion of her population (which outstripped the growth of production), and the small scale of industry relative to population (Russia had 10.2 per cent of the world’s population before the outbreak of war, and only 62 per cent of the world’s iron output).

[5] See M.L. Pavlovich, Balance-Sheet of the World War (Itogi Mirovoi Voiny) (Moscow, 1924).

[6] [Courland was the name of a Baltic province of the old Russian Empire; its territory is now divided between Latvia and Lithuania.]

[7] ‘The Germans believe that they can capture Calais and Paris if peace is concluded with Russia. If Germany refrains from any annexations, the Entente will accept an honourable peace’: thus Czernin in his memoirs, in a note dated 17 November. In the same book by the same author, the following observation can be culled for the sake of light relief: ‘I have been sent some trustworthy information about the Bolsheviks. Their leaders are nearly all Jews, with ideas of the purest whimsy’ (O. Czernin, In the World War (London, 1919)).

[8] This fact is reported by M.N. Pokrovsky, in Russia’s Foreign Policy in the Twentieth Century (Veshnaya Politika Rossii v 20 Veke).

[9] L.D. Trotsky, preface to A. Yoffe (ed.), Peace Negotiations at Brest-Litovsk (Mirnye Perogovory v Brest-Litovskve) (Moscow, 1920). Both these pages and the whole of this little book are of great interest.

[10] Trotsky, ibid.

[11] ‘The victorious proletariat ... having expropriated the capitalists and organized Socialist production in its own country, would stand forth against the rest of the capitalist world, calling to its side the oppressed classes of the other countries, encouraging them to rise against the capitalists, and intervening where necessary by force of arms against the exploiting classes and their States’ (from The United States of Europe Slogan, in the Zurich Sotsial-Demokrat of 23 August 1916: see the collection of N. Lenin and G. Zinoviev, Against the Stream (Protiv Techeniya) (Leningrad, 1925).)

[12] N. Lenin, Collected Works (London, 1969), Vol.24, p.175.

[13] Quoted from material in the Military Academy by A. Anishev, Sketches of the History of the Civil War (Ocherki Istorii Grazhdanskoi Voiny) (Leningrad, 1925).

[14] See the Appendix by N. Ovsyannikov, The CC of the RCP and the Brest-Litovsk Peace, to Vol.15 of the first Russian edition of Lenin’s Collected Works.

[15] Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.26, pp.442-50.

[16] V. Sorin, The Party and the Opposition. 1: The Fraction of Left Communists (Partiya i Oppozitsiya. I. Fraktsiya Levykh Kommunistov) (Moscow, 1925).

[17] Trotsky, Sur Lenine (Paris, 1926), Chapter 3.

[18] A scrap of dialogue between Count Czernin and Baron von Kühlmann may be noted here. KÜHLMANN: ‘The only choice the Russians have is what sauce they’ll be eaten with.’ CZERNIN: ‘That’s just the choice we’ve got.’ (Czernin, op. cit.)

[19] E. Ludendorff, My War Memories, 1914-1918 (London, 1919), Vol. 2. Emperor Charles of Austria, several weeks after the Homburg decision, still resisted implementing the offensive into the Ukraine, and authorized the collaboration of Austrian troops only under the pressure of famine.

[20] Article 5 of the decree reads: ‘Shareholders of banks who fail to hand in their securities, or to provide a list of their certificates, within fifteen days of the publication of this decree, shall be punished by the confiscation of all their property.’

[21] George Vassilevich Chicherin came from aristocratic origins and began a career in the diplomatic service, which he abandoned in 1905 in order to go into emigration as a professional revolutionary. He belonged to Menshevik organizations until the war broke out. An internationalist during the war, he was jailed by the British government until the end of 1917. Since the Brest-Litovsk treaty he has been in charge of Soviet Russia’s foreign policy. [He was succeeded by Litvinov in 1930 and died in 1936.]

[22] [Serge here omits any reference to the only one of the Allied negotiating agents in Russia who had any official standing or any direct access to his government: Britain’s R.H. Bruce Lockhart, who at this point was a warm advocate of Soviet-Allied cooperation for the war effort. Lockhart’s subsequent involvement in anti-Soviet conspiracy and intervention plans (see notes 10, Chapter 9, and 33, Chapter 10) may well have caused Bolshevik writers, including Serge, to doubt (wrongly) the genuineness of his earlier efforts to secure military cooperation with the Soviets.]

[23] [Details of these approaches to Japan, with extracts from the British and United States government archives, are given in R.H. Ullman, Intervention and the War (Princeton, 1961), pp.93-103, 129-30.]

[24] [Recent historians of this episode have tended to doubt whether the Bolsheviks could ever have committed themselves seriously to seeking aid from the Allies against Germany; e.g. G.F. Kennan, Russia Leaves the War (Princeton, 1956), pp.471, 497-8; Ullman, op. cit., pp.119-27; A.B. Ulam, Lenin and the Bolsheviks (London, 1969), p.540. However, Lenin seems to have undergone genuine moods of vacillation before agreeing finally to ratify the peace with Germany; and Trotsky’s measures for Allied cooperation, e.g. in the Murmansk landings (see p.229 and note 24 to Chapter 7, p.396) and in his plan for having US officers sent to the front to remove military stocks, were constructive and specific. See the account in I. Deutscher, The Prophet Armed (London, 1954), pp.385-6, 397-8.]

[25] Until 31 January 1917, Russia used the Julian calendar, which was thirteen days behind the Gregorian calendar that had been adopted from the end of the sixteenth century by all other European countries. Up till now we have given dates in Old (Julian) Style, sometimes with dates in Gregorian style following on in brackets. Thus, the Bolshevik insurrection took place in Russia on 25 October, and (for Europe) on 7 November. A decree of the People’s Commissars made the use of the Gregorian calendar compulsory from 31 January; but thirteen days had to be telescoped to achieve this, so that February actually began on the 14th. This shifting of the calendar must be kept in mind, or the naive reader may receive the illusory impression that the march of events has slowed down.

[26] Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.26, pp.522, 523.

[27] The voting was: for Lenin’s proposal (of immediate peace), Lenin, Smilga, Sverdlov, Sokolnikov, Stalin, Trotsky, Zinoviev. Against: Uritsky, Yoffe, Lomov, Bukharin, Krestinsky, Dzerzhinsky. One abstention: Helena Stasova. The Central Committee of the Left S-Rs, when informed of the position, refused to accept the treaty. See N. Ovsyannikov’s appendix to Volume 15 of Lenin’s Collected Works (first Russian edition).

[28] Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.27, p.557n.

[29] The voting was as follows. For: Lenin, Stasova, Zinoviev, Sverdlov, Sokolnikov, Smilga, Stalin. Against: Bukharin, Bubnov, Uritsky, Lomov. Abstentions: Trotsky; Dzerzhinsky, Yoffe, Krestinsky.

[30] Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.27, pp.19, 22, 27, 29.

[31] ibid., p.38.

[32] ibid., p.41.

[33] ibid., pp.63, 65.

[34] Trotsky, Sur Lenine, Chapter 3. See also Victor Serge, Un Portrait de Lenine par Trotski, Clarte, No.75, June 1925.

[35] [i.e. the French Socialist party (SFIO) formed in 1905 from the unification of the rival currents of the 1890s.]

[36] It may be useful to add some points concerning the attitude of Socialists abroad at this juncture. At the end of January 1918, a number of members of the parliamentary group of the Parti Socialiste Unifié were still occupying ministerial posts in the Clemenceau government, with the approval of their fellow-deputies! See P. Louis, Histoire du Socialisme en France (Paris, 1925), Chapter 11. The Russian revolution was still defended within the working-class movement by a feeble, if growing, minority. As for the German Social-Democrats, we know from their declarations at the Magdeburg trial in January 1925 that they entered the strike-committee movement of 1918 only as antagonists to this ‘weakening of national defence’ and in order to speed its termination, i.e. to sabotage it. At this time their influence was still powerful.

[37] Quoted by Trotsky in his preface to [A. Yoffe (ed.),] Peace Negotiations at Brest-Litovsk (Mirnye Peregovory v Brest-Litovske).

[38] ibid.

[39] But will we ever know how temporary it might have been? Once he has left the party or been rejected by it, even the best proletarian militant is more likely to lose his way than to return to it. It requires an exceptionally developed theoretical consciousness, as well as a rather uncommon control over the emotions, to continue to serve the party side by side with the party.

[40] Ludendorff was only broken when his soldiers followed the example of the Russians and refused to fight. His realization that it was the beginning of the end came when the troops going up into action were met by those with-drawing into the trenches with cries of ‘Blacklegs! Streikbrecher!’ (Ludendorff, op. cit., Vol.2)

Last updated on: 7.2.2009