Trotsky, iii, 2, p. 242
2 January 1918

    As to the principal negotiations on peace held at Brest-Litovsk, there has been a ten-day break, ending 30 December [5 January]. It is unlikely, however, that negotiations will be resumed at Brest-Litovsk. In many respects we consider it most appropriate, at the stage which the negotiations have now reached, to continue them in a neutral country.

    Apart from the declarations of principles, ours and the Austro-German, and the reply of our delegation, we now also have for our consideration a more or less concrete draft of the Austro-German terms of peace with Russia. This is not a draft of a separate peace, but of those relations which, in the opinion of the Austro-German Governments, should be established between Russia on the one hand and Austria and Germany on the other, and in the event of a general peace we shall publish this document, which is only a first draft put forward by the other side, on the same day. The inacceptability of the Austro-German terms of peace is, in the opinion of the People's Commissar, clearly evident. The point at issue is the principle of the self-determination of nations and its interpretation. The Central Powers recognized this principle in their declaration, but, in its application to Poland, Lithuania, and Courland, and parts of Livonia and Estonia, Germany and AustriaHungary think they can give the principle of national self-determination a wholly fictitious content. Just as yesterday we recognized the independent Finnish Republic, without any compulsion, we are ready to recogruze the independence of the Republics of Poland and Lithuania, the independence of Courland, or the union of these countries with other countries, on condition that any such change in frontiers or the formation of any new States is accomplished solely by the will of the peoples concerned. But the German draft peace terms in their application to Russia distort the national plebiscite into a kind of ritual, deprived of all practical content. If the diplomats on the other side think that we regard the principle enunciated in our declaration as a hollow formality, they are profoundly mistaken. We do not for a moment doubt where the sympathies of the propertied classes of Poland, Lithuania, and Courland lie. But for us the real will of these countries is expressed not by the votes of their landlords, capitalists, and bankers— not, that is, by those sections of the nation which oppress the entire working people. We wish, and we demand that the question of Poland's fate shall be decided by the Polish workers and peasants—and, moreover, throughout the whole of Poland.

    Our workers have more than once shed their blood together with the workers of former Tsarist Poland in the struggle against Tsarism. And if now we reject the Austro-German draft terms of peace, it is not because we want to keep Poland for Russia, but because we want the Polish people themselves to say what their political destiny is to be. In this they should be free to express their will without any compulsion or coercion. We do not for a moment doubt that this way of putting the question will win the vigorous and warm support of the workers and peasants of Poland, Lithuania, and Courland, as well as of Germany and Austria-Hungary. After this cruel and senseless slaughter, prolonged for three and a half years, slaughter in which the people have learnt so much, it is the most senseless, militaristic, and bureaucratic of Utopias to think of focing on the Poles, Lithuanians, or Latvians, disguised as self-determination, the open or concealed dictatorship of an alien 'conqueror'.

    How ill-founded this policy is may be seen from the fact that the German press has not informed the German people of that part of our delegation's reply in which we give our interpretation of the principle of self-determination. It is obvious that on this question German diplomacy considers it inexpedient to meet German democratic opinion face to face, since the most important details of the peace negotiations are concealed. But we do not doubt that in one way or another the truth will reach the German people and the peoles of Austrai-Hungary, and that the principle of national self-determination, which we apply most scrupulously to the peoples of Russia, will find wide enough support within the frontiers of the Central Empires and make it impossible for the Governments of these States to apply the wholly intolerable interpretation to be found in the draft Austro-German terms of peace with Russia....

    In French ruling circles, as far as we are informed, they think it necessary to 'suffer' still another military encounter with Germany and Austria-Hungary, to repel their offensive, and then to open negotiations. It is quite clear that in the conditions in which the war is being fought on the western front a new offensive may well be a repetition, with a few changes, of all previous offensives. The front will be moved a few kilometres in one direction or the other, but the relative strength of the two sides will be little changed. The world will simply be poorer by some hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen and Germans. After this the 'psychological' conditions for peace negotiations should have become more favourable. This superstition of the French ruling circles is a highly typical trait. What it amounts to in the end is putting off as long as possible the terrible day of reckoning.

    Our task is clear; we shall continue the negotiations on the basis of the principles proclaimed by the Russian revolution. We shall do all we can to bring the results of these negotiations to the notice of the popular masses of all European countries, despite the truly humiliating censorship which the European Governments have imposed on military and diplomatic communications. We do not doubt that the negotiations themselves will make us stronger, and the imperialist Governments of all countries weaker.

Documents on Soviet Foreign Policy

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