The decree that announced our willingness to make peace was passed by the Congress of Soviets on October 26, when only Petrograd was in our hands. On November 7, I sent an appeal by radio to the Allied countries and to the Central Powers, inviting them to conclude a general peace. Through their agents, the Allied governments replied to General Dukhonin, the Russian Commander-in-chief, that any further steps in the direction of separate negotiations would entail “the gravest consequences.” I replied to this threat with an appeal to all workers, soldiers and peasants. It was a categorical appeal: When we overthrew our bourgeoisie, it was not to make our army shed its blood at the order of a foreign bourgeoisie.
On November 22, we signed an agreement for a truce along the entire front, from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Once more we invited the Allies to join us in the peace negotiations. No reply was forthcoming, but neither were any more threats; the Allied governments seemed to have learned something. The peace negotiations began on December 9, six weeks after the adoption of the decree of peace, which left the countries of the Entente sufficient time to determine their attitude on this question. At the outset, our delegation made a formal declaration stating the principles of democratic peace.
The opposing side demanded an adjournment. The resumption of the conference was put off time and again. The delegations of the quadruple alliance had to cope with all kinds of internal difficulties in framing their reply to us, finally given on December 25. The governments of the quadruple alliance “subscribed” to the democratic formula of peace – no annexations, no indemnities, and self-determination for the peoples. On December 28, a huge demonstration was held in Petrograd, in honor of democratic peace. Though the masses mistrusted the German reply, they accepted it as a great moral victory for the revolution. The next morning, our delegation returned from Brest-Litovsk, bringing with it the monstrous demands that Kühlmann had submitted on behalf of the Central Powers.
“To delay negotiations, there must be someone to do the delaying,” said Lenin. At his insistence, I set off for Brest-Litovsk. I confess I felt as if I were being led to the torture chamber. Being with strange and alien people always had aroused my fears; it did especially on this occasion. I absolutely cannot understand revolutionaries who willingly accept posts as ambassadors and feel like fish in water in their new surroundings.
At Brest-Litovsk, the first Soviet delegation, headed by Joffe, was treated in a most ingratiating way by the Germans. Prince Leopold of Bavaria received them as his “guests.” All the delegations had dinner and supper together. General Hoffmann must have observed with considerable interest the woman delegate Vitzenko, who had assassinated General Sakharov. The Germans took their seats between our men, and tried to worm out of them whatever information they wanted. The first delegation included a worker, a peasant, and a soldier. They were delegates by mere accident, and they were little prepared for that sort of trickery. The peasant, an old man, was even encouraged to drink more wine than was good for him.
General Hoffmann’s staff was publishing a paper called Russky Vyestnik (The Russian Messenger) for the benefit of the Russian prisoners; in its early phases it always spoke of the Bolsheviks with the most touching sympathy. “Our readers ask us who Trotsky is,” Hoffmann informed his Russian prisoners in his paper, and with admiring affection told them of my struggle against Czarism, and of my German book Russland in der Revolution. “The whole revolutionary world was thrilled by his successful escape.” And farther on: “When Czarism was overthrown, its secret friends threw Trotsky into prison soon after he had returned from a long exile.” In a word, there were no more ardent revolutionaries than Leopold of Bavaria and Hoffmann of Prussia.
But this idyl did not last long. At the meeting of the Brest-Litovsk conference of February 7, which bore the least possible resemblance to an idyll, I remarked, referring to the past: “We are inclined to regret the premature compliments paid us by the official German and Austro-Hungarian press. This was quite unnecessary for the successful progress of peace negotiations.”
In this affair, the Social Democracy was again no more than the shadow of the Hohenzollern and Hapsburg governments. Scheidemann, Ebert and others tried at first to slap us patronizingly on the back. The Vienna Arbeiter-Zeitung wrote eloquently on December 15 that “the duel between Trotsky and Buchanan is the symbol of the great struggle of our day, the struggle of the proletariat against capital.” In the days when Kühlmann and Czernin were trying to strangle the Russian revolution at Brest-Litovsk, the Austrian Marxists were able to see nothing but a “duel” between Trotsky and – Buchanan! Even to-day one views such hypocrisy only with disgust.
“Trotsky,” wrote the Hapsburg Marxists, “is the authorized representative of the peaceful will of the Russian working class that is trying to break the iron-gold chain with which it has been bound by English capital.” The leaders of the Social Democracy voluntarily chained themselves to Austro-German capital, and were helping their governments forcibly to chain the Russian revolution. At the most difficult stages of the Brest-Litovsk negotiations, when Lenin or I would come across a copy of the Berlin Vorwärts, or the Vienna Arbeiter Zeitung, we would silently point out to each other the lines underscored with a colored pencil, lift our eyes to one another for a moment, and then turn away with an inordinate sense of shame for the men who, only the day before, had been our comrades in the International. Every one who consciously passed through this stage realized forever that, whatever the fluctuations of the political situation, the Social Democracy was historically dead.
To end this improper masquerade, I asked in our own papers if the German staff would not be so good as to tell the German soldiers something about Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. We published a special leaflet on the subject for the German soldiers, and the Vyestnik of General Hoffmann bit its tongue. Immediately after my arrival at Brest-Litovsk, Hoffmann protested against our propaganda among the troops. I refused to discuss the matter, and suggested that the General continue his own propaganda among the Russian troops – the conditions were the same, the only difference being in the kind of propaganda. I also reminded him that the dissimilarity of our views on certain rather important questions had long been known, and had even been certified to by one of the German courts – the one that during the war had sentenced me in contumacy to prison. This indecorous reminder created a great sensation. Many of the titled gentlemen almost gasped. Turning to Hoffmann, Kühlmann asked, “Would you like to reply?” To which Hoffmann retorted, “No, that’s enough.”
As chairman of the Soviet delegation, I decided to put an immediate stop to the familiarity that had quite imperceptibly been established during the early stages. Through our military representatives, I made it known that I had no desire to be presented to the Prince of Bavaria. This was noted. I next demanded separate dinners and suppers, under the pretext that we had to hold conferences during the intervals. This was also accepted in silence. In his diary for January 7, Czernin wrote: “All the Russians, under the leadership of Trotsky, arrived before dinner-time. They immediately asked to be excused if, in the future, they did not join in the meals in common. And they generally kept out of sight; this time it seems that quite a different wind is blowing than on the last occasion.” The feigned friendliness of relations gave way to an official formality. This was all the more opportune since we had to pass from academic preliminaries to the concrete questions of a peace treaty.
Kühlmann was head and shoulders above Czernin, and probably above all the rest of the diplomats whom I met in the years after the war. He impressed me as a man of character, with a practical mind far above the average, and with malice enough to cover not only us – here he met his match – but his dear allies as well. During the discussion of the question of occupied territories, Kühlmann, stretching himself to his full height and raising his voice, said: “Our German territory, thank God, is not being held by foreign troops anywhere!” whereupon Czernin’s face went green and his figure shrank. Kühlmann was deliberately aiming at him. Their relationship was far from that of a serene friendship. Later, when the discussion turned to Persia, which was occupied on both sides by foreign armies, I remarked that since Persia, unlike Austria-Hungary, was not in alliance with anyone, it did not cause any of us pious rejoicing that it was Persia’s territory, and not ours, that was occupied. At this, Czernin almost jumped as he exclaimed, “Unerhtört!” (“unheard of”). Ostensibly, this exclamation was addressed to me, although it was really for Kühlmann. Episodes like this were frequent.
Like a good chess-player who for a long time has met weaker players, and who has lost some of his skill, Kühlmann, having met only his Austro-Hungarian, Turkish, Bulgarian and neutral diplomatic vassals during the war, was inclined to underestimate his revolutionary opponents and play his game in a slovenly manner. He often astonished me, especially at the outset, by the primitiveness of his methods and by his lack of understanding of his opponent’s psychology
I was considerably and quite unpleasantly agitated when I went to my first meeting with the diplomats. When I was hanging up my coat in the hall, I came face to face with Kühlmann. I did not know him by sight. He introduced himself and immediately added that he was “very pleased” at my coming, since it was better to deal directly with the master than with his emissary. His face bore witness to his satisfaction with this “fine” move, so calculated to impress an upstart. This made me feel exactly as if I had stepped on something unclean. I even started back, involuntarily. Kühlmann realized his blunder, put himself on his guard, and his tone became instantly more formal. But that did not prevent him from following the same method, in my presence, with the head of the Turkish delegation, an old court diplomatist. As he was introducing his colleagues to me, Kühlmann waited until the Turkish delegate walked a step away and then said to me in a confidential stage whisper, certain that the other would hear him: “He is the best diplomatist in Europe.” When I told this to Joffe, he answered laughing: “At my first meeting with Kühlmann he did exactly the same thing.” It looked very much as if Kühlmann was giving the “best diplomatist” a platonic compensation for certain unplatonic extortions. It is also possible that he was trying to kill two birds with one stone, by making it known to Czernin that he did not consider him the best diplomatist – next to himself. On December 28, Kühlmann said to Czernin, according to the latter’s account: “The emperor is the only intelligent man in all Germany.” One imagines that these words were not intended so much for Czernin’s ears as for those of the emperor himself. In transmitting flatteries to their destination, the diplomatists no doubt were helping each other. Flattez, flattez, il en restera toujours quelque chose!
This was the first time that I had come face to face with this social circle. Of course, even before, I had never had any illusions about it. I had a fairly strong suspicion that “pots were not baked by gods.” But I must admit that I had thought the general level much higher. My impressions of that first meeting were something like this: men rate others cheaply, and rate themselves not much dearer.
In this connection the following episode may be of some interest. At Victor Adler’s instigation – Adler tried in those days to show his personal sympathy for me in every possible way – Count Czernin suggested casually that my library, which had been left in Vienna at the beginning of the war, be sent to Moscow. The library was of considerable interest, for during the long years of foreign exile I had gathered together a large collection of Russian revolutionary literature. I had hardly had time to express my thanks, with a little reserve, before the diplomat was asking me to inquire into the case of two Austrian prisoners who, he alleged, were being badly treated. This direct and underscored transition from the library to the prisoners, who were of course not privates but officers from the circles closest to Count Czernin, seemed altogether too brazen. I answered succinctly that if Czernin’s information should prove correct, it would of course be my duty to do everything necessary, but that this matter had nothing to do with my library. In his memoirs Czernin gives a fairly exact account of this incident, without denying that he had tried to connect the business of the prisoners with that of the library. On the contrary, he seems to consider this quite natural. He ends his story with the ambiguous phrase: “He obviously wants to have the library.” I might add that immediately after receiving the library I handed it over to one of the learned institutions in Moscow.
The circumstances of history willed that the delegates of the most revolutionary régime ever known to humanity should sit at the same diplomatic table with the representatives of the most reactionary caste among all the ruling classes. How greatly our opponents feared the explosive power of their negotiations with the Bolsheviks was shown by their readiness to break off the negotiations rather than transfer them to a neutral country. In his memoirs Czernin says quite plainly that in a neutral country, with the help of their international friends, the Bolsheviks would have taken the reins in their own hands. Officially, he used the excuse that in a neutral country England and France would immediately have launched their intrigues, “both openly and behind the scenes.” I retorted that our political practice had no use for anything behind the scenes, because this weapon of the old diplomacy had been eradicated by the Russian people, together with many other things, in the victorious uprising of October 25. But we had to bow to an ultimatum, and so we remained at Brest-Litovsk.
Barring a few buildings that stood apart from the old town and were occupied by the German staff, Brest-Litovsk strictly speaking no longer existed. The town had been burned to the ground in impotent rage by the Czar’s troops during their retreat. Hoffmann must have chosen this place for his staff because he knew that he could keep its members within his grasp. The furnishings, like the food, were of the simplest, and German soldiers acted as attendants. For them we were messengers of peace, and they looked to us with hope. A high, barbed-wire fence surrounded the staff buildings. On my morning walks I kept running into notices: “Any Russian found in this place will be shot.” This referred to prisoners, of course, but I would ask myself if it did not apply also to us, who were semi-prisoners here, and would turn back again. There was a fine, strategic road running through the town of Brest-Litovsk. During the first days of our stay there, we went out for drives in the staff automobiles, and, as a result, a conflict developed one day between one of the members of our delegation and a German sergeant. Hoffmann sent a formal complaint to me; I answered that we declined, with thanks, to make any further use of the automobiles placed at our disposal. The negotiations dragged on. All of us had to communicate with our respective governments by direct wires, and frequently these wires did not work. Whether this was actually due to physical causes or whether the breakdown was feigned to enable our opponents to gain time, we were unable to say. At any rate, the intervals between meetings were frequent, and sometimes lasted as long as several days. During one of these, I made a trip to Warsaw. The city was living under the rule of the German bayonet. The inhabitants evinced a great interest in the Soviet diplomatists, but expressed it very cautiously, because no one knew how it was all going to end.
The delay in negotiations was to our interest. That was my real object in going to Brest-Litovsk. But I can claim no credit for myself on this score; my partners helped me as best they could. “Time is plentiful here,” Czernin writes melancholically in his diary. “Now it is the Turks who are not ready, now it is the Bulgarians, and now the Russians – and the meetings are adjourned again, or else broken off when they have only begun.” The Austrians, in turn, began to delay the negotiations when they struck their difficulties with the Ukrainian delegation. Of course this did not restrain Kühlmann and Czernin in their public statements from accusing the Russian delegation alone of trying to protract the negotiations. I protested against this insistently, but quite in vain.
Not a trace of the clumsy compliments which the officially inspired German press had indulged in toward the Bolsheviks – and except for the underground sheets it was all officially inspired – was left as the negotiations drew to their close. The Tägliche Rundschau, for instance, not only complained that “in Brest-Litovsk, Trotsky has created for himself a platform from which his voice is carried throughout the world,” and accordingly demanded an end to it as soon as possible – it also stated that “neither Lenin nor Trotsky wants peace, which would in all probability mean either the gallows or prison for them.” The tone of the Social Democratic press was substantially the same. The Scheidemanns, Eberts and Stampfers saw our hope for a revolution in Germany as our greatest crime. These gentlemen were far from thinking that in a few months the revolution would seize them by the scruff of their necks, and put them in power.
After the long vacation from reading German papers, I took them up again at Brest-Litovsk with great interest. The peace negotiations figured in them in a way that showed a very thorough propagandist treatment. But the papers alone were not enough to take all of my time. I decided to make the fullest possible use of my enforced leisure, which I could foresee would not happen again in the near future. We had with us a good many stenographers who had once been on the staff of the State Duma, and so I began dictating to them, from memory, a historical sketch of the October revolution. From a few sessions there grew a book intended primarily for foreign workers. The necessity of explaining to them what had happened was most imperative; Lenin and I had discussed this necessity more than once but no one had any time to spare. And I had been farthest from supposing that Brest-Litovsk would become a seat for my literary work. Lenin was very happy when I brought back with me a finished manuscript on the Russian revolution. In it, we both saw one of the modest pledges of a future revolutionary recompense for the harsh peace. The book was soon translated into a dozen European and Asiatic languages.
Although all the parties included in the Communist International had followed the lead of the Russians and had printed innumerable editions of the book, that did not prevent the epigones, after 1923, from declaring it a poisoned offshoot of Trotskyism. To-day it is on Stalin’s blacklist. In this little incident the ideological preparation for the Thermidor found one of its many expressions. The only way to achieve victory was to cut the umbilical cord of the continuity with October.
The diplomatists who opposed us also found ways of taking up their spare time at Brest-Litovsk. Count Czernin, according to his diary, not only went hunting but also increased his store of knowledge by reading memoirs of the period of the French revolution. He compared the Bolsheviks with the Jacobins, trying thereby to console himself. The Hapsburg diplomatist wrote: “Charlotte Corday said: ‘I killed a wild beast, not a man.’ These Bolsheviks will disappear again and – who knows? – perhaps there will yet be a Corday for Trotsky.” In those days, of course, I didn’t know about these soulful meditations of the pious Count. But I can easily believe in their sincerity.
At first, it may seem difficult to discover exactly what German diplomacy was aiming at when it proposed its democratic formulas on December 25, only to uncover its wolfish appetites a few days later. It was obvious that there was quite a risk to the German government in allowing the theoretical debate on the self-determination of nationalities, which developed chiefly through Kühlmann’s own initiative. It must have been clear to the Hohenzollern diplomatists even before they began, that they were not likely to achieve any great triumphs in that direction. Kühlmann, for instance, was anxious to show that the German seizure of Poland, Lithuania, the Baltic provinces and Finland was nothing more than a form of “self-determination” on the part of each of these countries, since their will was being expressed through “national” organs created by the German authorities of occupation. This was not so easy to prove. But Kühlmann would not give up. He asked me, insistently, if I would not recognize that the Nizam of Haidarabad, for instance, expressed the will of his own people. I replied that if India were cleared of British troops, it was quite improbable that the worthy Nizam would stand on his feet more than twenty-four hours. Kühlmann shrugged his shoulders rudely. General Hoffmann grunted. The interpreter translated. The stenographers took down notes, and the discussion went on ad infinitum.
The secret of this conduct on the part of the German diplomatists lay in Kühlmann ’s apparent conviction that we were ready to play his game. He must have reasoned it out in this way: “The Bolsheviks got their power through advocating peace. They can retain it only on condition that they make peace. It is true that they have committed themselves to peace on democratic terms. But then, what are diplomatists for? If I, Kühlmann, give the Bolsheviks their revolutionary formulas in appropriate diplomatic transcriptions, they will give me the chance to take possession – under another name, of course – of provinces and peoples. In the eyes of the world, the German annexations will carry the sanction of the Russian revolution. As for the Bolsheviks, they will have their peace.” In cherishing these hopes, Kühlmann no doubt was misled by the statements of our liberals, Mensheviks, and Populists, who had been representing the Brest-Litovsk negotiations as a comedy with roles assigned in advance.
When we made it quite clear to our partners at Brest-Litovsk – and in no equivocal manner – that with us it was not a matter of a hypocritical disguise for a backstairs deal, but a question of the principles governing the mutual relations of peoples, Kühlmann, who had already bound himself by his first stand, reacted to us almost as if we had broken some tacit agreement, one that really existed only in his own imagination. He persisted stubbornly in holding fast to the democratic principles of December 25. Confident of his considerable gift for casuistry, he hoped to show the world that white was just the same as black. Count Czernin, in his own clumsy way, played second-fiddle to Kühlmann, and, under his direction, took it upon himself to make even more arrogant and cynical statements whenever the situation had become critical. He hoped in this way to conceal his own weakness. General Hoffmann, on the other hand, brought a refreshing element into the negotiations. With a quite obvious lack of sympathy for the subtleties of diplomacy, the General on several occasions put his soldier’s boot on the table around which the discussion was taking place. For our part, we never for a moment doubted that in these negotiations Hoffmann’s boot was the only reality to take seriously.
There were times, however, when the General made incursions into discussions that were purely political, and did it in his own way. When he had completely lost patience with all the dreary palaver about the self-determination of peoples, he appeared one fine morning – it was January 14 – with a brief-case packed with Russian newspapers, mostly of the Socialist-Revoutionist party. Hoffmann read Russian easily. In short, staccato sentences, as if he were snarling at some one or giving orders, the General charged the Bolsheviks with suppressing freedom of speech and of assembly, and with violating the principles of democracy, meanwhile quoting approvingly from the articles by the Russian terrorist party that since 1902 had sent to the other world quite a number of Russians of the General’s way of thinking. The General denounced us indignantly because our government was supported by force. Coming from him, that sounded really magnificent. An entry in Czernin’s diary says: “Hoffmann made his unfortunate speech. He had been working on it for several days, and is very proud of his success.”
I replied to Hoffmann that in a society based on classes every government rests on force. The only difference was that General Hoffmann applied repression to protect big property-owners, whereas we did it in defense of the workers. For a few minutes, the peace conference was transformed into a Marxian propagandist class for beginners. “The thing that surprises and repels the governments of other countries,” I said, “is that we do not arrest strikers, but capitalists who subject workers to lock-outs; that we do not shoot peasants who demand land, but arrest the landowners and officers who try to shoot the peasants.” At this point, Hoffmann’s face grew purple.
After every incident of the sort, Kühlmann would inquire with malicious courtesy whether Hoffmann wanted to say some thing on the subject under discussion, and the General would reply abruptly: “No, no more!” and look out of the window in a rage. There was something delightfully piquant in this discussion of the revolutionary use of force in that gathering of Hohenzollern, Hapsburg, Sultanic and Coburg diplomatists, generals, and admirals. Some of the titled and decorated gentle men could do nothing at all during these discussions but look bewildered and glance first at me and then at Kuhlmann and Czernin. They wanted some one to explain to them what, for heaven’s sake, all this meant! Behind the scenes, no doubt, Kühlmann was hammering it into them that our length of life was now measured in weeks, and that this brief time must be utilized to conclude a “German” peace, so that the successors of the Bolsheviks would have to accept the consequences.
In debates on matters of principle, my position was as much superior to that of Kühlmann as, in matters of military fact, General Hoffmann’s was superior to mine. That is why the General was trying so impatiently to reduce all questions to the comparative strength of our forces, whereas Kühlmann was making futile attempts to make a peace based on the war-map look as if it were based on principle. On one occasion, to soften the impression made by Hoffmann’s speeches, Kühlmann said that a soldier inevitably expressed himself more pungently than a diplomatist. I replied that “we members of the Russian delegation do not belong to the diplomatic school, but consider our selves rather as soldiers of the revolution” and consequently preferred the rough language of the soldier.
But Kühlmann’s diplomatic civility was entirely relative. The problem he had set himself was obviously insoluble without co-operation from us, and it was just that that was missing. “We are revolutionaries,” I explained to Kühlmann, “but we are realists too, and we prefer to talk plainly about annexations rather than to substitute pseudonyms for real names.” After that, it was little wonder that Kühlmann would occasionally throw off his diplomatic mask and snarl viciously. I still remember the intonation of his voice when he said that Germany was sincerely anxious to restore friendly relations with its powerful eastern neighbor. The word “powerful” was uttered in a tone of mockery so provocative that even Kühlmann’s allies winced. And besides, Czernin was mortally afraid of a rupture of negotiations. I picked up the glove and reminded them, once more, of what I had said in my first speech. “We are not in a position, nor do we desire,” I said on January 10, “to dispute the fact of our country’s having been weakened by the policies of the classes that ruled it until recently. But the world position of a country is determined not by the condition of its technical apparatus today, but by the possibilities latent in it, just as the economic power of Germany cannot be measured by the present condition of its food-supplies. A broad and far-sighted policy rests on capacity for development; on the inner forces that, once awakened, will sooner or later reveal their power.”
Less than nine full months after this, on October 3, 1918, I said at a meeting of the All-Union Central Executive Committee, recalling Kühlmann’s Brest-Litovsk challenge: “No one of us has any feeling of malicious joy because Germany is now passing through a terrible catastrophe.” It is unnecessary to adduce proofs that the major part of this catastrophe was prepared by German diplomacy, military as well as civil, at Brest Litovsk.
The more precisely we framed our questions, the greater was Hoffmann’s ascendency over Kühlmann. They no longer concealed their antagonism – especially the General. When, in reply to one of his periodical attacks, I mentioned the German government with no hidden motive in mind, Hoffmann interrupted me in a voice that was hoarse with anger: “I do not represent the German government here, but the German High Command.” This sounded as if some one had crashed a stone through glass. I looked about the table at our opponents. Kühlmann’s face was all screwed up; he sat looking down. Czernin’s expression was a combination of embarrassment and a sort of vicious rejoicing. I replied that I did not think that I was entitled to judge the mutual relationship between the government of the German empire and its high command, but that I was authorized to conduct negotiations only with its government. Kühlmann crunched his teeth as he noted my declaration and expressed his agreement with it.
It would be difficult to exaggerate the extent of the disagreements between the German diplomacy and the high command. Kühlmann was trying to prove that the occupied territories had already “self-determined” themselves in favor of Germany through their authorized national organs. On the other hand, Hoffmann explained that, in view of the absence of authorized organs in those territories, there would be no question of withdrawing German troops. The arguments were diametrically opposed to each other, but the practical conclusion was the same.
In this connection, Kühlmann tried a stratagem that at first seems almost incredible. In a written reply (announced by von Rosenberg) to a list of questions that we had submitted, a statement was made to the effect that the German troops could not be withdrawn from the occupied territories until the termination of the war on the Western front. I concluded from this that the troops would be withdrawn after the termination of the war, and demanded a more precise indication of the time. Kühlmann got very excited. He had obviously relied on the soporific effect of his formula; in other words he wanted to disguise annexation by means of – a play on words! When this failed, he explained, through Hoffmann, that the troops were not going to be withdrawn either before or after.
I made an attempt toward the end of January – though I did not hope for success – to obtain permission from the Austrian government to visit Vienna for a talk with the representatives of the Austrian proletariat. The Austrian Social Democracy was, I think, more frightened than any one else at the idea of such a visit. Of course, my application was refused, for the quite incredible reason that I had no authority to carry out such negotiations. I replied to Czernin in the following letter:
“Mr. Minister: In forwarding herewith a copy of the letter from Legation-Councilor Count Czakki, dated 26 inst., which is apparently to be considered your reply to my telegram of the 24 inst., I hereby beg to inform you that I note the refusal, stated therein, to grant me permission to visit Vienna to conduct negotiations with the representatives of the Austrian proletariat in the interests of bringing about a democratic peace. I am obliged to record that, under considerations of a formal character, this reply conceals your unwillingness to allow personal negotiations between the representatives of the workers’ and the peasants’ Government of Russia and those of the Austrian proletariat. With regard to the reference in the letter to my lack of plenipotentiary powers for conducting such negotiations – a reference that is inadmissible either in form or in fact – I should like to draw your attention, Mr. Minister, to the fact that the right of determining the scope and character of my powers belongs exclusively to my Government.”
During the last stages of the negotiations, Kühlmann’s and Czernin’s trump card was the independent action of the Kiev Rada , which was hostile to Moscow. Its leaders represented the Ukrainian variety of Kerenskyism, and differed from their Great Russian prototype only in that they were even more provincial. The Brest-Litovsk delegates of the Rada were never intended by nature for any other fate than to be led by the nose by any capitalist diplomatist. Kühlmann and Czernin both engaged in this business with disdainful condescension. The democratic simpletons felt as if they were walking on air, so elated were they at the thought of the two stalwart firms of Hohenzollern and Hapsburg taking them seriously. When the head of the Ukrainian delegation, Golubovich, after making his due comments, sat down in his chair, carefully separating the long skirts of his black frock coat, one was afraid that he would melt on the spot from the intense joy and admiration that were simmering inside him.
Czernin eventually succeeded, as he himself records in his diary, in inciting the Ukrainians to come out against the Soviet delegation with an openly hostile statement. But the Ukrainians overdid it. For a quarter of an hour their speaker heaped rudeness on arrogance, even embarrassing the conscientious German interpreter, who could not quite take his pitch from this sort of tuning-fork. In describing this scene, the Hapsburg count speaks of my bewilderment, pallor, convulsions, and of the drops of cold sweat that gathered on my face. These exaggerations aside, I must admit that the scene was most distressing – the distressing thing about it being not, as Czernin thinks, that our fellow countrymen were insulting us in the presence of foreigners, but the frantic self-humiliation of what was after all a representative body of the revolution before vain aristocrats who only despised them. A grandiloquent baseness and a servility that choked with its raptures flowed like a fountain from the tongues of these miserable national democrats who for a moment had been touched with power. Kühlmann, Czernin, Hoffmann and the rest were breathing heavily, like gamblers at a race-course who have placed bets on the winning horse. With a glance at his patrons after each sentence, as if he were looking for encouragement, the Ukrainian delegate read from his notes all the vituperation that his delegation had prepared in forty-eight hours of collective effort. There is no denying that it was one of the vilest scenes that I have ever witnessed. But even under the crossfire of insults and the maliciously rejoicing glances, I never for a moment doubted that these over-zealous flunkies would soon be thrown out-of-doors by their triumphant masters, who in turn were soon to be ejected from the seats they had been holding for centuries.
At that time revolutionary Soviet detachments were victoriously advancing through the Ukraine, fighting their way through to the Dnieper. And on the very day when the matter came to a head, and it was obvious that the Ukrainian delegates had struck up a deal with Kühlmann and Czernin for the sale of the Ukraine, the Soviet troops took possession of Kiev. When Radek inquired over the direct wire about the situation in the Ukrainian capital, the German telegraph-operator, mistaking the person he was addressing for some one else, announced:
“Kiev is dead.” On February 7, I called the attention of the delegations of the Central Powers to the telegram from Lenin informing us that the Soviet troops had occupied Kiev on January 29; that the government of the Rada, now deserted by everyone, was already in hiding; that the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets of the Ukraine had been proclaimed the supreme power in the country and had taken its seat at Kiev; and that the Ukrainian government had adopted a federative connection with Russia, with complete unity in home and foreign policies. At the next meeting, I told Kühlmann and Czernin that they were treating with the delegation of a government whose entire territory was confined to Brest-Litovsk. (By the treaty this town was to be restored to the Ukraine.) But the German government, or rather the German high command, had already decided by that time to occupy the Ukraine with German troops. The diplomacy of the Central Powers was merely drawing up a passport for their admission. Ludendorff worked magnificently to prepare the final agony of the Hohenzollern army.
During those days, confined in a German prison was a man whom the politicians of the Social Democracy were accusing of crazy utopian ideas, and the Hohenzollern judges of state treason. This prisoner wrote : “The result of Brest-Litovsk is not nil, even if it comes to a peace of forced capitulation. Thanks to the Russian delegates, Brest-Litovsk has become a revolutionary tribunal whose decrees are heard far and wide. It has brought about the expose of the Central Powers; it has exposed German avidity, its cunning lies and hypocrisy. It has passed an annihilating verdict upon the peace policy of the German [Social Democratic] majority – a policy which is not so much a pious hypocrisy as it is cynicism. It has proved powerful enough to bring forth numerous mass movements in various countries. And its tragic last act – the intervention against the revolution – has made socialism tremble in every fibre of its being. Time will show what harvest will ripen for the present victors from this sowing. They will not be pleased with it.” 
1. The Rada, an assembly of representatives of various public organizations in the Ukraine, was formed after the February revolution and claimed to be the spokesman for the Ukrainian nation. After its overthrow by the Bolsheviks, the Rada favored the German occupancy, which, when established, dissolved the Rada government and made Hetman Skoropadsky the sole ruler of the country. – Trans.
2. Karl Liebknecht, Politische Auszeichnungen aus seinem Nachlass, Verlag Die Aktion, 1921, p.51.
Last updated on: 7.2.2007