Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Disputes Over Brest-Litovsk and Its Stalinist Caricature

-Rajesh Tyagi/ 24.2.2015

History had been cruel and unjust in imposing the task of world socialist revolution upon the shoulders of Russian proletariat, that existed not more than a droplet in the vast ocean of peasant mass in backward Russia, at the advent of last century. But alongside this, the Russian proletariat was the first to be blessed with two magical weapons- the leadership under Lenin and Trotsky, and the Party oriented ultimately to their program.

Despite all zig-zags before and even after February revolution by the Bolshevik leaders, those epigones of Leninism, ‘Red October’ was created through unique blending of best of Lenin and Trotsky. Trotsky turned to Lenin’s approach on the question of Party, abandoning his misbelief in non-party positions, and Lenin turned to Trotsky’s ‘Permanent Revolution’ abandoning his false theory of ‘two stage revolution’ and ‘two class dictatorship’. Lenin’s April thesis was the beautiful embodiment of this blending and shunning of whatever was disproved and rejected by the February Revolution. Commenting on this secondary aspect of theory vis a vis reality of life, that brilliant genius, Lenin had remarked, “the theory is brown my friend, but the tree of life is green”.

Soviet republic had come into existence through the earth shaking October revolution, tremors of which were felt with notable intensity all over the capitalist world. The spectre of communism, that haunted Europe in times of Marx, and at which ruling classes trembled since then, had incarnated itself.


October revolution was born amidst the World War-I, that had divided the Imperialist world and presented additional hope for survival of October revolution. However, the primary prospects of not only survival but of victory and advance of the revolution onto world scale, had hinged upon the victory of the proletariat in far advanced Europe, especially Germany, where revolution was already in the air. Leaders of the revolution were in high hopes.

Yet, confronted with the ground realities, the route to revolution did not prove to be so smooth. Events unfolded themselves far differently than what the most brilliant leaders of the world proletariat- Lenin, Trotsky, Rosa, Leibknecht had envisioned them in prospect.

Through Organisation of the ‘Third International’ (Comintern) and the agitation conducted by it, the ‘Red October’ had reinforced and reiterated its pledge to prepare necessary conditions for transformation of the war into a World Socialist Revolution.

However, immediately after its victory, the Soviet republic was put to trial in civil-war inside and military aggressions outside.

The incident of Brest-Litovsk, posed such a challenge to Soviet Power. Our understanding on Brest-Litovsk is very important to correctly understand the proletarian internationalism pursued by the Soviet state and its leaders like Lenin and Trotsky.

This understanding is especially important as the Stalinists attempt to distort the struggle of young soviet state against the oppressive treaty of Brest-Litovsk forced upon it by Imperialism, falsely portraying the same as a personal strife between Lenin, supposed to be defending ‘socialism in one country’ and Trotsky bent upon to sacrifice the soviet state for a world revolution.  The same is blatant lie and falsification of the positions of the leaders of the October revolution, who all agreed upon waging a ‘revolutionary war’ against capitalist countries, both through revolutionary upheavals and revolutionary wars of Red Army, as the supreme strategic task of the soviet state.  

Tsarist regime saw its salvation in the war, after its failure to stabilize Russia after the uprising of 1905, even by offering concessions like land reforms and a Duma, and entered the WW-I in 1914, on the side of France and Britain, later joined by the US. WW-I, found Russia in acute political crisis. As the Russian peasants and workers rallied around the call to defend the ‘Fatherland’ Russia’, the Tsarist regime took a respite.

Russia’s entry into war, by forcing the Germans to deploy troops on the eastern front, thwarted the German plan for a swift victory.

However, Russia had to pay the biggest price for this war. In 1914 alone, 250,000 soldiers died on front, more were maimed and disabled. Although the Russian army had a number of successes in 1916, but by the end of 1916 some 1,700,000 Russian soldiers had died. The war resulted in acute food shortages and unemployment, leading to widespread unrest.

As 1917 dawned, partisan riots and mutinies precipitated into a political revolution, forcing Tsar Nicholas to abdicate in February. However, the provisional government under Prince Lvov and then Kerensky, refused to withdraw from the War. Resentment against the war spread to trenches and the Russian armies started to fall apart with soldiers disobeying the officers. During the summer of 1917, Russian soldiers deserted en-masse. The soldiers returned home to support the Bolsheviks, who promised to take Russia out of the war.

Since advent of WW-I in 1914, pivotal to Bolshevik political agitation was the pledge to bring Russia out of the catastrophe of the War as part of the struggle of world proletariat against imperialist war. However, this anti-war program was not the program of pacifism, but was inextricably bound up with the movement of the world proletariat against the Imperialist war, battle cry of which in all engaged countries was: “Enemy is within. Turn your guns away from borders and towards your own capitals. To revolution, comrades”. The revolutionary policy was based upon ‘revolutionary defeatism’ and ‘proletarian internationalism’ that called upon the proletariat of all countries to work for defeat of their own governments in the war and transform thereby war into revolution. This was opposed to ‘social chauvinism’ of false socialists of the Second International that advocated national defencism under the fiction of ‘defence of motherland’.

After victory of revolution in October, Bolshevik government led by Lenin and Trotsky, set out to take measures on national and international scale to subvert the Imperialist war and transform it into a revolutionary war of the world proletariat against Imperialism.

As commissar for foreign affairs Trotsky forthwith published the secret treaties of the Tsarist government to embarrass the Imperialist powers on both sides of the War and to encourage the working class to fight against their own governments, which had shameful secret war pacts with Tsarist government.

Outlining his strategy, Trotsky issued the following note, On 27 October (9 November) 1917, on Secret Diplomacy and Secret Treaties: “In undertaking the publication of the secret diplomatic documents relating to the foreign diplomacy of the Tsarist and the bourgeois coalition governments ... we fulfil an obligation which our party assumed when it was the party of opposition.

Secret diplomacy is a necessary weapon in the hands of the propertied minority, which is compelled to deceive the majority in order to make the latter serve its interests. Imperialism, with its worldwide plans of annexation, its rapacious alliances and machinations, has developed the system of secret diplomacy to the highest degree.

The struggle against imperialism, which had bled the peoples of Europe white and destroyed them, means also a struggle against capitalist diplomacy which has reasons enough to fear the light of day. The Russian people and, with it, the peoples of Europe and the whole world, ought to know the precise truth about the plans forged in secret by the financiers and diplomatic agents ... The abolition of secret diplomacy is the primary condition of an honourable, popular, really democratic foreign policy.”

“….Our programme formulates the burning aspirations of millions of workers, soldiers and peasants. We desire the speediest peace on principles of honourable co-existence and co-operation of peoples. We wish the speediest overthrow of the rule of capital. Exposing to the whole world the work of the ruling classes as expressed in the secret documents of diplomacy, we turn to the toilers with the appeal which constitutes the firm foundation of our foreign policy: Proletarians of all countries unite!” Trotsky added.

Pursuant to its policy of coming out of the imperialist war, the Soviet government, immediately after victory of October revolution, offered to withdraw from the war and proposed separate peace treaty with Germany. The Germans, however, imposed extremely oppressive conditions for the back-out and threatened a military assault on failure.

Formal negotiations between Russia and Germany started on December 9, in Polish town of Brest-Litovsk, then under occupation of Germany. Leon Trotsky, the political and military strategist and co-leader with Lenin in October revolution, Foreign Commissar of Soviet Union at that time, was selected by the Soviet State and Party to make the negotiations.  

Bidding for complete poaching of Russia, the Kaiser regime in Germany, armed from head to toe, sought to impose a very harsh peace treaty upon Soviet Union. In response, Bolshevik leaders were divided in two main factions. 

Majority faction was led by Bukharin, which rejected the peace negotiations outright and advocated a ‘Revolutionary War’ with Germany. The faction was supported by huge majority among the soviets and workers and peasant mass.  Minority faction, was led by Lenin and Trotsky, which instead of entering into an instant war with Germany, proposed to ‘wait’ till upswing of the German revolution.

Though both Lenin and Trotsky deemed it impossible to fight a ‘revolutionary war’, against Germany, as advocated by majority faction, in absence of a Revolutionary Army, yet despite their unity in favour of a ‘wait’ for German revolution and against the proposal of entering into instant war, the two leaders in minority faction differed on the tactics, during this ‘wait’. While Lenin was of the opinion that the Treaty proposed by Germany should be accepted forthwith, only to be repudiated after socialist revolution in Germany, Trotsky argued in favour of prolonging the negotiations with Germany as far as possible and till impending German revolution approaches, and to sign the Treaty only in face of an actual German assault. Trotsky, anticipated that the revolutionary agitation by the soviet state, during these negotiations and even the probable aggression by Germany against Revolutionary Soviet Union, could spark a revolution in Germany and other countries of Europe.

The common objective of the policy pursued by the minority faction was to bargain time at Brest-Litovsk, hoping that very soon the revolutionary movement in the West would overthrow German Imperialism and coincide with revolution in Russia.

The differences among all factions of Bolsheviks were however of mere tactical importance, aimed at dealing with specific situation, presented by history. However, there was no dispute as to the strategic task before the Soviet State to ignite ‘Revolutionary Wars’ hand in hand with revolutionary uprisings, against the imperialist powers. Despite strategic unity among Bolsheviks, the episodic tactical differences among them were merely the product of utter military weakness of the new born Soviet State, which was to vanish very soon, with organization of the Red Army.

Referring to this strategy of ‘revolutionary wars’, unanimously accepted by Bolsheviks, Lenin, far ahead of October revolution, wrote in ‘Some Theses’ in Sotsial-Democrat in 1915: "To the question what the party of the proletariat would do if the revolution put it in power in the present war, we reply: we should propose peace to all the belligerents on condition of the liberation of the colonies, and of all dependent and oppressed peoples not enjoying full rights. Neither Germany nor England nor France would under their present governments accept this condition. Then we should have to prepare to wage a revolutionary war i.e. we should not only carry out in full by the most decisive measures our minimum programme, but should systematically incite to insurrection all the peoples now oppressed by the Great Russians, all colonies and dependent countries of Asia (India, China, Persia, etc) and also - and first of all - incite the proletariat of Europe to insurrection against its governments and in defiance of its social chauvinists."

To be sure, even before 1917, Bolshevism stood for ‘Revolutionary Wars’, the wars against imperialism, combining the armed struggle of the Red Army with the insurrection of the workers of Europe and the toilers of the oppressed nations.

Reiterating the Bolshevik pledge for withdrawal from the ongoing Imperialist war, and to transform the same into ‘revolutionary war’, Lenin wrote in late September, 1917: "If the least probable should occur, i.e. if no belligerent state accepts even an armistice, then the war on our side would become a really necessary, really just and defensive war. The mere fact that the proletariat and the poorest peasantry will be conscious of this, will make Russia many times stronger in the military respect, especially after a complete break with the capitalists who rob the people, not to mention that then the war on our side will be, not in words, but in fact, a war in alliance with the oppressed peoples of the whole world."

The question of Revolutionary wars was so integral to and bound up with October revolution itself, that when Kamenev and Zinoviev argued against the prospects of October Revolution, their prime concern was the fear of a revolutionary war. In their open letter to Party, they wrote: "The masses of soldiers support us because we advance not a slogan of war, but a slogan of peace…If we seize power alone now and if we find ourselves compelled by the entire world situation to engage in a revolutionary war, the soldier masses will recoil from us."

It is not surprising that both Zinoviev and Kamenev, supported the idea of immediate signing of the peace treaty with Germany.

Reasserting his pacifism, Stalin claimed: ‘There is no revolutionary movement in the West, nothing existing, only a potential, and we cannot count on a potential.’

Lenin forthwith repudiated Stalin’s position. ‘Can’t take the revolution in the West into account?’, Lenin exclaimed on Stalin’s position, “It was true the revolution in the West had not yet begun, but if we were to change our tactics on the strength of that ... then we would be betraying international socialism.”

Echoing Stalin, and failing to see the grounds for expecting revolution in the West, Zinoviev added, “... of course ... peace will strengthen chauvinism in Germany and for a time weaken the movement everywhere in the West.”

Lenin opposed Zinoviev, saying, “it is wrong to say that concluding a peace will weaken the movement in the West for a time. If we believe that the German movement can immediately develop if the peace negotiations are broken off then we must sacrifice ourselves, for the power of the German revolution will be much greater than ours.” 

Lenin did not deny the revolutionary potential in the West: “Those who advocate a revolutionary war, point out that this will involve us in a civil war with German imperialism and in this way we will awaken revolution in Germany. But Germany is only just pregnant with revolution and we have already given birth to a completely healthy child, a socialist republic, which we may kill if we start a war.” 

It must be clearly understood that Lenin’s insistence upon a peace treaty at Brest-Litovsk was not aimed at pacifist defence of the Soviet State against Imperialism, but was aimed at bargaining a breathing space to prepare for Revolutionary wars in future, against Imperialism.

Looking back, later, upon Brest-Litovsk, Lenin clarified: "At the Brest-Litovsk peace we had to go in the face of patriotism. We said: if you are a socialist, you must sacrifice your patriotic feelings in the name of the international revolution, which is coming, which has not yet come, but in which you must believe if you are an internationalist."

Trotsky reflected the same sentiments in his writings and speeches on Brest-Litovsk, which were compiled and published in Lenin’s lifetime, but no dispute ever was raised. 

After death of Lenin in 1924, Stalinists started the dirty blame game against Trotsky that he was opposed to Lenin and put the security of Soviet State at stake by refusing to sign the treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The recorded facts, speak contrary to this propaganda of Stalinists. 

The official protocols of the CC meetings, published by the Stalinist State itself (State Publishers, 1929) that probably 
escaped from watchful eye of Saveliev, the editor of State Protocols, speak for themselves. Let us have a look at them to find the truth and forgery of Stalin and Stalinists:

Sessions of January 24, 1918.
Comrade Trotsky moves the following formula to a vote: We terminate the war, but we do not conclude peace. The vote is taken. Carried:  9- for; 7- against.” (Idem., p.207.)

What was Stalin’s attitude to the formula of Trotsky?
Here is what Stalin had to say on record one week after the session at which this formula had been adopted by a vote of 9 to 7.

“Session of February 1 (January 19), 1918.
Comrade Stalin: “... the way out of the difficult situation was provided us by the middle point of view, the position of Trotsky.” (Idem., p.214.)

Session of February 23, 1918.
Comrade Stalin: ‘We need not sign but we must begin peace negotiations’.

Before taking a somersault, as he always did, to keep clinging to the majority advocating an immediate signing of the Treaty, Stalin clearly supported the stance of Trotsky, as the majority in the Party and the Soviets at that time was in favour of rejection of the Treaty and for revolutionary war against Germany and only Trotsky had a 'way out' of the impasse, i.e. a mid-way.    

Even while supporting Lenin on Brest-Litovsk, and speaking for the Party, Kamenev, said about the propaganda conducted at Brest-Litovsk: "our words will reach the German people over the heads of the German generals, that our words will strike from the hands of the German generals the weapon with which they fool the people".

Differences in opinion as to tactical path arose among Bolshevik leadership, only after negotiations at Brest-Litovsk neared a break on January 21, 1918. In this Lenin was in minority and Bukharin in majority.  

Differences were direct offshoot of delay in German revolution and were of episodic significance as to how to survive till German revolution, in the teeth of the disastrous terms of proposed Treaty on the one hand and the German military assault on the other.

Lenin demanded immediate signing of the treaty, Bukharin an outright rejection and Revolutionary War against Germany, Trotsky prolonging the negotiations and signing only in case of an actual assault.
When the three positions were put to the vote, in CC of the Party, Lenin received 15 votes, Trotsky 16 and Bukharin’s call for ‘revolutionary war’ 32.

Trotsky advanced his proposal to the vote: ‘go for armistice, do not conclude peace, and demobilise the old army’. The vote on this proposal in CC was: nine for, seven against. The central committee, thus, formally authorised Trotsky to pursue this policy at Brest-Litovsk.

Against Zinoviev’s solitary vote, the central committee decided to ‘do everything to drag out the signing of a peace’, that was precisely Trotsky’s position.

The overwhelming majority of workers, however, rallied behind Bukharin and opposed the signing of the treaty. 

As the Party turned to Soviets for advice on Brest-Litovsk, among more than two hundred that answered, only two big soviets, in Petrograd and Sevastopol, supported peace, the latter with conditions. All the other major soviets in prime industrial centres-Kronstadt, Moscow, Ekaterinoslav, Ekaterinburg, Kharkov, Ivanovo-Vozuesensk, etc, voted with huge majority to reject the proposed Treaty.

And who were the Leaders that supported Lenin on the question of signing of the Treaty immediately? Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin!  All those who yesterday had supported Capitalist Government under Lvov and Kerensky and opposed Lenin’s April Thesis and the idea to advance to October, with only Stalin falling behind Lenin, later.

Those who supported Lenin in October revolution were all against signing the Treaty and those who had opposed the October revolution, were supporting the immediate signing of the Peace Treaty of Brest Litovsk.

On 7 (20) January 1918, Lenin wrote in his ‘Theses on the Question of the Immediate Conclusion of a Separate and Annexationist Peace’: “That the socialist revolution in Europe must come, and will come, is beyond doubt. All our hopes for the final victory of socialism are founded on this certainty and on this scientific prognosis. Our propaganda activities in general, and the organisation of fraternisation in particular, must be intensified and extended. It would be a mistake, however, to base the tactics of the Russian socialist government on attempts to determine whether or not the European, and especially the German, socialist revolution will take place in the next six months (or some such brief period). Inasmuch as it is quite impossible to determine this, all such attempts, objectively speaking, would be nothing but a blind gamble.”

Lenin was absolutely right in stating, “There can be no doubt that our army is absolutely in no condition at the present moment to beat back a German offensive successfully.  The socialist government of Russia is faced with the question – a question whose solution brooks no delay – of whether to accept this peace with annexations now, or to immediately wage a revolutionary war– In fact, no middle course is possible.”

“One should not derive the necessary tactics directly from a general principle”, he wrote. “Some people would argue that such a peace would mean a complete break with the fundamental principles of proletarian internationalism. This argument, however, is obviously incorrect. Workers who lose a strike and sign terms for the resumption of work which are unfavourable to them, and favourable to the capitalist, do not betray socialism.”

"Would a peace policy harm the German revolution?" asks Lenin, and answers: “The German revolution will by no means be made more difficult of accomplishment as far as its objective premises are concerned, if we conclude a separate peace ...A socialist Soviet Republic in Russia will stand as a living example to the peoples of all countries and the propaganda and the revolutionising effect of this example will be immense.”

On 28 January (10 February) Trotsky broke off negotiations with the Quadruple Alliance, declaring that while Russia refused to sign the annexationist peace, it also simultaneously declared its unilateral withdrawal from the war.

In a bitter indictment of imperialism, Trotsky asserted, “We are removing our armies and our people from the war. Our peasant soldiers must return to the land to cultivate in peace the field which the revolution has taken from the landlord and given to the peasants. Our workmen must return to the workshops and produce, not for destruction, but for creation. They must, together with the peasants, create a socialist state.

We are going out of the war. We inform all peoples and their governments of this fact. We are giving the order for a general demobilisation of all our armies opposed at present to the troops of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria. We are waiting in the strong belief that other peoples will soon follow our example.

At the same time we declare that the conditions as submitted to us by the governments of Germany and Austria-Hungary are opposed in principle to the interests of all peoples. These conditions are refused by the working masses of all countries, amongst them by those of Germany and Austria-Hungary ... We cannot place the signature of the Russian Revolution under these conditions which bring with them oppression, misery and hate to millions of human beings. The governments of Germany and Austria-Hungary are determined to possess lands and peoples by might. Let them do so openly. We cannot approve violence. We are going out of the war, but we feel ourselves compelled to refuse to sign the peace treaty.”

As Trotsky still stayed on at Brest-Litovsk the next day, he learned of the strife between General Hoffmann, who insisted on the resumption of war against Russia, and the civilian diplomats Kühlmann and Czernin, who favoured accepting the soviet proposal of armistice. As General Hoffman was isolated, it seemed peace was on cards. Trotsky returned to Petrograd confident that the policy would work.

Historian Wheeler-Bennett described Trotsky’s achievements at Brest-Litovsk: “Single-handed, with nothing behind him, except a country in chaos and a regime scarcely established, this amazing individual, who a year before had been an inconspicuous journalist exiled in New York, was combatting successfully the united diplomatic talent of half Europe.” 

Pravda excitedly proclaimed, “The Central Powers are placed in a quandary. They cannot continue their aggression without revealing their cannibal teeth dripping with human blood. For the sake of the interests of socialism, and of their own interests, the Austro-German working masses will not permit the violation of the revolution.”

On 1 (14) February Trotsky gave a lengthy report on the peace negotiations to the central executive committee of the soviets, in the conclusion of which he said, “Comrades, I do not want to say that a further advance of the Germans against us is out of the question. Such a statement would be too risky, considering the power of the German Imperialist Party. But I think that by the position we have taken up on the question we have made any advance a very embarrassing affair for the German militarists.”

On February 14, the Soviet Central Executive Committee discussed and adopted a resolution moved by Sverdlov on behalf of the Bolshevik faction, on the action Trotsky had taken in refusing to sign the Treaty and break off the negotiations. The resolution said, "Having heard and fully considered the report of the peace delegation, the Central Executive Committee fully approves of the action of its representatives at Brest-Litovsk." Approving the action of Trotsky, Zinoviev said at the Party Congress held in March 1918, "Trotsky is right when he says that he acted in accordance with the decision of the majority of the Central Committee." None opposed.

Britain and France and their agents inside Russia, like Socialist Revolutionaries had been conducting vicious propaganda that Bolsheviks were German agents, they had been financed by German government to take Russia out of the War and are bent upon signing a treaty with Germany, at Russian expense.

Trotsky’s argument was that a real German offensive would expose the masses to the truth as to how the Bolsheviks were compelled by Germany to give up to an annexationist Treaty. This would lay bare the real intentions of the German imperialism and could spark protests and unrest, not only inside Germany and Austria-Hungary, but also Entente, the alliance led by Britain and France.

Trotsky never advocated an instant revolutionary war against Germany, but he was against signing the peace treaty, outright. He wrote: “A revolutionary war was impossible. About this there was not the slightest shade of disagreement between Vladimir Ilyich and myself…

I maintained that before we proceeded to sign the peace it was absolutely imperative that we should prove to the workers of Europe, in a most striking manner, how great, how deadly, was our hatred for the rulers of Germany ...

To arouse the masses of Germany, of Austro-Hungary, as well as of the Entente – this was what we hoped to achieve by entering into peace negotiations. Having this aim in mind, we reasoned that the negotiations should drag on as long as possible, in this way giving the European workers enough time to acquire a proper understanding of the actuality of the revolution, and more especially, of the revolution’s policy of peace.”
Trotsky insisted to continue the armistice without signing a peace agreement.

Events in Germany in the middle of January, 1918, started endorsing Trotsky.  As Wheeler-Bennett, historian of the Brest-Litovsk negotiations, wrote, “... a wave of strikes and outbreaks struck through Germany and Austria. Soviets were formed in Berlin and Vienna. Hamburg, Bremen, Leipzig, Essen and Munich took up the cry. ‘All power to the soviets’ was heard in the streets of Greater Berlin, where half a million workers downed tools. In the forefront of the demands were the speedy conclusion of peace without annexations or indemnities, on the basis of the self-determination of peoples in accordance with the principles formulated by the Russian people’s commissars at Brest-Litovsk, and the participation of workers’ delegates from all countries in the peace negotiations.” 

On 18 (31) January 1918 Pravda appeared with the headline: ‘It has happened! The head of German imperialism is on the chopping block! The iron fist of the proletarian revolution is raised!’

The first formal discussion at the central committee of Lenin’s Theses on Peace took place on 11 (24) January at a time when the wave of strikes in Germany and Austria was in full flood. At this meeting a number of others who were not central committee members were also present.

Wide sections of the party, including the great majority of the Petersburg committee and of the Moscow regional bureau, were in favour of a revolutionary war. The views of many of the rank and file could be summed up in the phrase used by Osinsky, a member of the Moscow regional bureau,  “….’stand for Lenin’s old position’ Bukharin argued for ‘revolutionary war’ against the Hohenzollerns and Hapsburgs; ‘to accept the Kaiser’s diktat would be to stab the German and Austrian proletariat in the back’. Dzerzhinsky reproached Lenin with timidity, with surrendering the whole programme of the revolution: ‘Lenin is doing in a disguised form what Zinoviev and Kamenev did in October.’ In Uritsky’s view Lenin approached the problem ‘from Russia’s angle and not from an international point of view’. Lomov argued that ‘by concluding peace we capitulate to German imperialism’. On behalf of the Petrograd organization, Kosior harshly condemned Lenin’s position.”

Defending Lenin, but asserting his own position, Trotsky argued: “... the question of a revolutionary war is an unreal one. The old army has to be disbanded, but disbanding the army does not mean signing a peace ... By refusing to sign a peace and demobilising the army, we force the facts into the open, because when we demobilize, the Germans will attack. This will be a clear demonstration to the German Social-Democrats that this is no game with previously determined roles.” 

Germany issued ultimatum after break of negotiations. Lenin, still in minority, advocated for acceptance, but Trotsky resisted.

Unfortunately, by 3rd February the whole German-Austrian uprising ebbed into a lull, for no apparent reason.

Lenin then asked: "If the German offensive begins, and no revolutionary upheaval takes place in Germany, are we still not to sign peace?"

On this Trotsky voted in favour of Lenin, while Bukharin abstained.

Even as German offensive started, and Lenin pressed for immediate signing of the Treaty, Trotsky resisted. CC meeting of 18 February, noted, “Comrade Trotsky, against sending a telegram offering peace, emphasize that the masses are only just beginning now to digest what is happening; to sign peace now will only produce confusion in our ranks; the same applies to the Germans, who believe that we are only waiting for an ultimatum ... we have to wait to see what impression all this makes on the German people. The end to the war was greeted with joy in Germany and it is not out of the question that the German offensive will produce a serious outburst in Germany. We have to wait to see the effect and then – we can still offer peace if it doesn’t happen.”

As the real German offensive began, Lenin, still in minority, threatened to resign from his leading positions in the Party and the State. Lenin’s proposal for signing of Treaty still lost by one vote in CC, 6 for, 7 against.

Disagreeing with Lenin, Trotsky said, “I do not think we are threatened by destruction ... There is a lot of subjectivity in Lenin’s position. I am not convinced that this position is right but I do not want to do anything to interfere with party unity ...”

“The arguments of V.I. are far from convincing; if we had all been of the same mind, we could have tackled the task of organising defence and we could have managed it. Our role would not have been a bad one even if we had been forced to surrender Peter [Petrograd] and Moscow. We would have held the whole world in tension. If we sign the German ultimatum today, we may have a new ultimatum tomorrow. Everything formulated in such a way as to leave an opportunity for further ultimatums. We may sign a peace; and lose support among the advanced elements of the proletariat, in any case demoralise them.” 

Trotsky abstained from voting, to save a split in the Party, giving majority to Lenin, in favour of signing the Treaty. The votes were 7 for Lenin, 4 against, 4 abstentions.

On February 21, 1918, German provocateurs instigated a workers’ uprising in Finland, which was then crushed brutally. Trotsky suspected that the allies might have conspired with Germany against Russia and that Germany may resume the offensive despite a Treaty.

The treaty, now harsher than ever, forced Russia to give up Finland, Poland and the Baltic states plus a third of its agricultural land and three-quarters of its industries.

After signing of the Treaty, Trotsky resigned from his position as Foreign Commissar on February 24, despite insistence of the central committee.

The noting says, “Comrade Trotsky points out that it is just when the peace is being signed that he finds it unacceptable to stay because he is forced to defend a position he does not agree with.”

Despite his resignation, Trotsky alongside Lenin got the highest number of votes for his election to the Central Committee of the Party in the Party Congress, convened immediately after Brest-Litovsk Treaty.
However, the harshness of the treaty, which extracted from Russia its critical means of economic survival, set a precedent that the Allies turned against Germany while imposing reparations on it in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles.

The signing of the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, unleashed a civil war in Russia that became a battle between the old reactionary White and newly formed Red Army. The Whites wanted to continue supporting Britain, France and the newly-joined U.S. The Bolshevik Red army opposed them and eventually drove thousands of White Russians into exile.

The Red army's victories in civil wars, gave Russia confidence of being a strong military power that could stand up to western powers now.

Immediately after the Brest-Litovsk controversy, disputes arose on the question of accepting aid from Britain and France. The motion of acceptance was moved by Trotsky, opposed by Bukharin and the "lefts" and supported by Lenin. Supporting Trotsky in his note, Lenin said, "I request you to add my vote in favour of taking potatoes and ammunition from the Anglo-French imperialist robbers."

Interesting would be note that in 1920, when Russia already had raised a Red Army, similar disputes, but in changed settings, arose among Bolsheviks on the issue of war with Poland too. Trotsky, for political and military reasons, advocated a defence for Russia, but against an aggression inside Poland. Lenin, however, advocated a ‘Revolutionary War’ against Pilsudski regime through military intrusion inside Poland, to incite workers in Warsaw and other cities, for a revolution. After initial successes, the Red Army was defeated outside Warsaw. Defeated, the Bolsheviks were forced to cede a large area of Byelorussia to Poland, which separated Germany and Lithuania from the Soviet Republic.

Despite defeat, the action of Lenin was a significant and salutary example and advance of the Bolshevik policy of ‘Revolutionary War’ against capitalist countries, that needed be followed in closer foot-steps and replicated.

Trotsky’s presence in Brest-Litovsk was of historic significance. Immediately upon his arrival at Brest Litovsk, he made Radek, the editor of German revolutionary paper, ‘Die Fackel’ who accompanied him, to distribute revolutionary pamphlets to the soldiers at greeting ceremony. Trotsky refused to attend the pre-scheduled dinner with the Prince of Bavaria or other leaders and officials of the Imperialist German state.
Count Czernin, the representative of Austro-Hungarian monarchy, underlining the immense moral influence of Trotsky, noted in his diary: ‘The wind seems to be in a very different quarter now from what it was.’

As German representative Von Kuhlmann and Max Hauffman read out the peace treaty, demanding annexation of large regions of Russia to Germany, Trotsky broke negotiations and left for Petrograd. 

On 1 (14) February General Hoffmann denounced the Bolsheviks because their government was supported by force. Trotsky replied: “The general was quite right when he said that our government rests on force. Up to the present moment there has been no government dispensing with force. It will always be so as long as society is composed of hostile classes ... What in our conduct strikes and antagonises other governments is the fact that instead of arresting strikers we arrest capitalists who organise lockouts; 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 ..."

Hoffmann’s face grew purple. Austrian representative to negotiations, Czernin, comments in his diary: ‘Hoffmann made his unfortunate speech. He had been working on it for several days, and was very proud of.’ 

As we look in retrospect at Brest Litovsk, it is all the more clear, that the tactical positions of Lenin and Trotsky were too close to each other, and depended on a whole, unforeseeable series of episodic events for their ratification by the history. Had the workers’ uprising of January in Germany and Austria developed into a revolution, or the WWI turned against the central powers a bit earlier, Trotsky’s formula  would have been endorsed, otherwise Lenin’s was to succeed.

Trotsky dragged the negotiations as long as he could in order to give the European masses the chance of understanding the real meaning of the Soviet state and its policies. The January 1918 strikes in Germany and Austria showed that this effort could have been of crucial significance. The final result could have been otherwise at any turn.

In an act of utmost humility of a revolutionary, Trotsky declared to a session of the central executive committee of the soviet, on 3 October 1918: “I regard it my duty to declare, in this authoritative assembly, that at the time when many of us, myself included, doubted whether it was necessary or permissible for us to sign the peace of Brest-Litovsk, whether perhaps doing this would not have a hampering effect on the development of the world proletarian movement, it was Comrade Lenin alone, in opposition to many of us, who with persistence and incomparable perspicacity maintained that we must undergo this experience in order to be able to carry on, to hold out, until the coming of the world proletarian revolution. And now, against the background of recent events, we who opposed him are obliged to recognise that it was not we who were right.”

However, evidence, emerging later, pointed to a definite yearning of central powers against war, fearing revolutions in their own countries. Austrian representative, Czernin’s diary, crucial piece of such evidence, demonstrates beyond any pale of doubt that the authorities in Vienna were fearing starvation and revolt in their countries, in case of a failure of peace negotiations. As Austro-Hungarian empire already rested on the verge of a real collapse, Czernin had threatened his German colleagues with separate negotiations with Russia.

Wheeler-Bennett describes Czernin’s position in these words: ‘Peace at any price became his motto ... Austria reached the end of her military power, her political structure was doomed.’ On 17 November 1917 Czernin wrote to one of his friends, “To settle with Russia as speedily as possible, then break through the determination of the Entente to exterminate us, and then to make peace – even at a loss – that is my plan and the hope for which I live.” 

An entry in Czernin’s diary of 23 December 1917 states, “Kühlmann is personally an advocate of peace, but fears the influence of the military party, who do not wish to make peace until definitely victorious.” 

Another entry for 27 December 1917 reads, “Matters still getting worse ...I told Kühlmann and Hoffmann I would go as far as possible with them; but should their endeavours fail then I would enter into separate negotiations with the Russians ... Austria-Hungary ... desires nothing but final peace. Kühlmann understands my position, and says he himself would rather go than let it fail. Asked me to give him my point of view in writing, as it ‘would strengthen his position’. Have done so. He has telegraphed it to the Kaiser.” 

Entry of 7 January 1918, says, “A wire has just come in reporting demonstrations in Budapest against Germany. The windows of the German Consulate were broken, a clear indication of the state of feeling which would arise if the peace negotiations were to be lost ...”

On 15 January 1918, Czernin wrote, “I had a letter today from one of our mayors at home, calling my attention to the fact that disaster due to lack of foodstuffs is now imminent. I immediately telegraphed the Emperor as follows: ‘I have just received a letter from Statthalter N.N. which justified all the fears I have constantly repeated to Your Majesty, and shows that in the question of food supply we are on the very verge of a catastrophe. The situation arising out of the carelessness and incapacity of the Ministers is terrible, and I fear it is already too late to check the total collapse which is to be expected in the next few weeks ... On learning the state of affairs, I went to the Prime Minister to speak with him about it. I told him, as is the case, that in a few weeks our war industries, our railway traffic, would be at a standstill, the provisioning of the army would be impossible, it must break down, and that would mean the collapse of Austria and therewith also of Hungary. To each of these points he answered yes, that is so ... We can only hope that some ‘deus ex machina’ may intervene to save us from the worst.”

On 17 January 1918, diary notes, “Very bad news from Vienna and environs. Serious strike movement due to the reduction of flour rations and the tardy progress of the Brest negotiations.” 

On the same day Czernin got a message from the Austrian emperor that stated, “I must once more earnestly impress upon you that the whole fate of the monarchy and of the dynasty depends on peace being concluded at Brest-Litovsk as soon as possible ... If peace be not made at Brest, there will be revolution.” 

On 20 January Czernin writes in his diary, “The position now is this: without help from outside, we shall ... have thousands perishing in a few weeks ... if we do not make peace soon then the troubles at home will be repeated, and each demonstration in Vienna will render peace here most costly to obtain ...”
Diary shows that the Austrians were supported in their attempts to concede to Soviet proposal for peace without annexations, by the Bulgarians and Turks, and, much more important, by the German foreign minister von Kühlmann and prime minister von Hertling.

Czernin describes the reaction to Trotsky’s ultimatum of 10 February to withdraw from the negotiations, “At a meeting on 10 February of the diplomatic and military delegates of Germany and Austria-Hungary to discuss the question of what was now to be done it was agreed unanimously, save for a single dissentient, that the situation arising out of Trotsky’s declarations must be accepted. The one dissentient vote – that of General Hoffmann – was to the effect that Trotsky’s statement should be answered by declaring the end to armistice, marching on Petersburg and supporting the Ukraine openly against Russia. In the ceremonial final sitting, on 11 February, Herr von Uhlmann adopted the attitude expressed by the majority of the peace delegations and set forth the same in a most impressive speech. 

The Austrian delegation wired to Vienna that peace had been concluded, with the result that the imperial capital was even now dressing itself en fête.

With the sincere hope of peace in his heart, Uhlmann brought the conference proceedings to a format conclusion on 11 February and departed for Berlin.

However at this point the tide started to turn against von Uhlmann. On his arrival in Berlin he was summoned, by the chancellor and the vice-chancellor ... to the little watering place of Homburg, where the Kaiser was taking a February cure. There, throughout the 13th, raged a battle royal on the issues of peace and war, with the Emperor flitting in and out like an unhappy ghost.”

The civilians remained opposed to the high command. They feared the effect on the internal conditions of Germany if hostilities were resumed ... Uhlmann, in addition to his general principles, warned them that a new war in the east would strain the alliance with Austria-Hungary almost to the breaking point ... 

The memoirs of Ludendorff and Uhlmann make it clear that for days there was a balance between the war party headed by the German military staff (Hindenburg, Ludendorff and Hoffmann), and the peace party, headed by von Kühlmann and von Hertling. The latter argued repeatedly that the situation on the home front did not permit a military offensive against the Russians. But the German supreme command remained adamant. In the end, with the Kaiser’s backing, a few days later General Hoffman declared the armistice at an end and ordered German troops to march on Petrograd.

In a speech to the Petrograd Soviet on 4 (17) November, 1917, before start of negotiations at Brest Litovsk, Trotsky explained how he visualized the role of Soviet representatives in the peace negotiations: “Sitting at one table with the representatives of our adversaries we shall ask them explicit questions which do not allow of any evasion, and the entire course of negotiations, every word that they or we utter, will be taken down and reported by radio telegraph to all peoples who will be the judges of our discussions. Under the influence of the masses, the German and Austrian governments have already agreed to put themselves in the dock. You may be sure, comrades, that the prosecutor, in the person of the Russian revolutionary delegation, will be in its place and will in due time make a thundering speech for the prosecution about the diplomacy of all imperialists.”

A couple of weeks later, on 23 November (6 December), Trotsky issued an appeal To the Toiling People of Europe, Oppressed and Bled White: “We conceal from nobody that we do not consider the present capitalist governments capable of a democratic peace. Only the revolutionary struggle of the working masses against present governments can bring Europe towards such a peace. Its full realisation will be guaranteed only by a victorious proletarian revolution in all capitalist countries... in entering negotiations with present governments ... the Council of People’s Commissars does not deviate from the path of social revolution.
... In the peace negotiations the Soviet power sets itself a dual task: first, to secure the quickest possible cessation of the shameful and cruel slaughter which destroys Europe, and secondly, to aid, with all means available to us, the working class of all countries to overthrow the rule of capital and to seize state power in the interests of democratic peace and socialist transformation of Europe and of all mankind.” 

As Foreign Commissar in Soviet Union, Trotsky set a precedent as to how the revolutionary agitation must be conducted.

The German revolutionary socialist Karl Liebknecht, from his prison cell, wrote that the policy of prolonged negotiations carried by Trotsky in Brest was of great political advantage to the revolution in Germany, “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 exposure 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.”

“An early signing of peace by the Soviets would have damaged the German revolution”, claimed Liebknecht, “In no sense can it be said that the present solution of the problem is not as favourable for the future development as a surrender at Brest-Litovsk would have been at the beginning of February. Quite the contrary. A surrender like that would have thrown the worst light on all preceding resistance and would have made the subsequent submission to force appear as ‘vis haud ingrata’. The cynicism that cries to heaven and the brutal character of the ultimate German action have driven all suspicions into the background.”

Lenin was not totally against Trotsky’s tactical line. Krupskaya discloses Lenin’s hesitation, how on an evening stroll with her, Lenin kept assuring himself that position of Trotsky was not correct. But way back, Krupskaya tells, “Ilyich suddenly stops and his tired face lights up and he lets forth: ‘You never know’!” – clearly meaning a revolution may have started in Germany! 

Trotsky well knew that had he signed the peace treaty sooner, the Soviet republic might have obtained less harsh terms. In that case, however, German imperialism would not have been completely unmasked, nor would the myth of Bolshevik connivance with it have been so effectively discredited. The German and Austro-Hungarian empire hung on for nine months after the Brest-Litovsk peace, until November 1918, but the propaganda carried on by Trotsky in the peace negotiations played a significant role in their exposure to their own people. History has shown beyond doubt that Brest-Litovsk negotiations had played a crucial role in the inner collapse of the Central Powers.

As history had shown, the hopes of Bolshevik leaders upon a revolution in the West, especially on the one impending in Germany, were not unfounded and misplaced. Revolution started in Germany, later in the year, with sailors of the High Seas Fleet, stationed at Kiel, rising in mutiny, on October 29,1918, heralding the revolution. With this jolt, Germany lost in WWI, Turkey was forced to sign separate armistice with Allied forces, followed by Austria-Hungary on November 3, Kaiser abdicated on November 9, and WWI ended on November 11. However, the betrayal of social-democracy prevented the working class from taking to power and German bourgeois republic was born. 

Despite their tactical differences, on Brest-Litovsk, both Lenin and Trotsky saw the foreign policy of the Soviet republic as subordinate to the needs of the international workers’ revolution. However, in later years Stalinists were to depict Lenin’s policy as one of peaceful coexistence with the capitalist world in favour of ‘socialism in one country’, falsely positing it against that of Trotsky’s world socialist revolution. 

Stalinists attempt, but in vain, to draw analogy between the Treaty of Brest Litovsk imposed upon the young soviet republic by Imperialism, against its will, towards the end of WWI, and the later war-pacts, singed by stalinist bureaucracy with Imperialists,  fascist and democratic both, at the start of WWII, e.g. Stalin-Hitler Pact of 1939, Stalin-Churchill Pact of 1941, or the treaties of Potsdam, Yalta or Tehran. This analogy is outright false on the face of it. While the avowed purpose of revolutionary soviet regime under Lenin and Trotsky, inspired by proletarian internationalism, was to break with all blocs of Imperialists and come out of the Imperialist war at all costs, which they really achieved, the aim of the stalinist bureaucracy in signing war pacts with imperialists, was sectarian and nationalist, to enter the imperialist war, and remain an active participant in it, bound up with one or the other camp of imperialists, throughout. None of these pacts was aimed at withdrawal from the imperialist war. On the contrary, they were outright war pacts for annexations and sharing of war booty. These pacts had tagged soviet union to imperialist wars. 


One cannot fail to see that the reactionary war policy of stalinist bureaucracy during WWII was in fact the obverse side of that under Lenin and Trotsky during WWI. While the policy of Lenin and Trotsky succeeded in bringing the imperialist war, WWI, to a creeching halt, the policy of stalinists, epitomised by the Stalin-Hitler war pact of August 1939, opened the gates for the imperialist war, WWII.

No comments:

Post a Comment