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The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Mike Walsh. Recap. October Revolution: Provisional Government under Kerensky is overthrown. February Revolution: Tsar Nicholas II is overthrown.

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October Revolution: Provisional Government under Kerensky is overthrown

February Revolution: Tsar Nicholas II is overthrown

Power is transferred to Soviets which were overwhelmingly controlled by the Bolsheviks. Some of their first acts are to publish secret diplomatic documents, and to issue The Decree on Land outlining land reform.

“It was an open secret that the Provisional Government’s fate had been sealed by its inability to extract Russia from a war that its peoples were no longer willing to fight. The Bolsheviks … came to power pledged to secure an immediate end to hostilities. Moreover, during the winter of 1917-1918 the Imperial Army effectively ceased to exist”

(Nation 8)

“Decree on Peace” of November 8, 1917, which went unanswered by the Entente.

“Nikolai Dukhonin, commander in chief of what remained of the Imperial Army, was instructed to contact the German high command with the offer of an armistice. Unable to accept this affront to his conception of national honour, Dukhonin refused. He was cashiered several days later and eventually murdered by a revolutionary mob” (Nation 8)

November 26, 1917 – Dukhonin’s successor, General Nikolai Krylenko secures peace talks with Germany at Brest-Litovsk.


December 9, 1917 – Peace talks begin. Bolshevik Central Committee member Adolfe Ioffe heads the Soviet delegation.

December 15, 1917– Armistice between Russia and Germany comes into effect.

December 22, 1917– Ioffe enters Brest-Litovsk with Lenin’s “Outline Program for Peace Negotiations” which included a call for the self-determination of all nations.

“The Germans accepted the Soviet peace terms “but they refused to raise the question of national self-determination outside the territory of the former Russian Empire.” (Suny 66). Much of the former Russian Empire was under German occupation.

“The German diplomats had outfoxed the Soviets and turned the principle of national self-determination into a cover for German expansion. GeneralLudendorff, the strong-willed architect of German policy in the east, envisioned increasing German power by creating new buffer states between Russia and Germany that would dependent on German power” (Suny 66).


November, 1917 – January, 1918 - The Soviet government wires appeals to the Entente Powers six times urging their participation in the talks. The original strategy was to “delay the negotiations while seeking somehow to involve the Entente powers” (Nation 10).Lenin proposed dragging out the process for as long as possible, while intensifying revolutionary propaganda and reorganizing the armed forces.The Entente powers never responded, leaving Russia on its own to deal with the Central Powers.

January 18, 1918– “German foreign minister Richard Von Kuhlmann presented an ultimatum, threatening a resumption of hostilities and demanding the outright cession of Lithuania, Courland, and Russia’s Polish provinces, with the fate of the Ukraine to be left to separate negotiations with the separatist Ukrainian National Council (or Rada). The tactic of delay now seemed exhausted.” (Nation 10).


Divided Soviet Leadership


Soviet Russia is too weak to continue war. The survival of the revolutionary Russian regime takes priority.

‘Annexationist Peace’


Unilaterally declare the war over, and refuse the German terms.

‘No war, No Peace’


Arm and mobilize the people and wage a war to the death against the imperialists. World revolution takes priority.

‘Revolutionary War’


Within the party, many held the expectation that German workers would rise up in revolution in support of their Russian brethren.

Attempts would eventually be made, but the revolutionaries were defeated

The Spartacist League

Rosa Luxemburg


“Berlin was engaged in a life-or-death struggle on the western front, and there were powerful forces within Germany determined to avoid further military operations in the east at all cost; moreover, Germany’s allies were outspoken advocates of peace” (Nation 12)


February 10, 1918 - Trotsky makes his ‘no war, no peace’ announcements to the Germans at Brest-Litovsk.

February 18, 1918 -Max Hoffman, the German military representativeends the armistice and continues the military offensive in the east. Meeting negligible resistance, they advance 150 miles in five days. The Germans respond by issuing another ultimatum with even more severe conditions, including the cession of the entire Ukraine.


“With disaster looming, Lenin was now able to override opposition and force acceptance of the German terms upon the Central Committee” (Nation 12). World revolution depended on Soviet Russia, whose survival depended on peace with the Germans “even under such shameful conditions” (Donaldson & Nogee 51).

“Just as the Germans did [in 1807], and just as the Germans freed themselves from Napoleon, so shall we get our freedom. It will probably not take so long, for history moves more rapidly now than then. Let us cease the blowing of trumpets and get down to serious work”

Lenin, from the party newspaper, Pravda (Suny 69)

the treaties
The Treaties

March 3, 1918 - The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk is signed between the Russian SFSR and the Central Powers

March 7, 1918 – German-Finnish treaty signed

May 7, 1918 – Germany and Romania sign Treaty of Bucharest

August 27, 1918 – Russo-German supplementary treaty signed

March 6 - The Bolshevik Congress confirms the Brest-Litovsk Peace, proposed by Lenin, by 30 votes to 12, with Trotsky and Bukharin voting against” (McCauley 9).

the terms
The Terms

Articles III - VI

“The Bolsheviks surrendered Russia’s former Polish provinces, Lithuania, Courlan, Livonia, Estonia, the Ukraine, a portion of the Grodno and Bessarabia regions, and ceded three districts in the Caucasus to Turkey (Kars, Ardahan, and Batum) – in total over a million square kilometres of territory” (Nation 13)

“Russia loses 26 per cent of its population, 27 per cent of its arable land, 26 per cent of its railways, 33 per cent of its textile industry, 73 per cent of its iron industry and 75 per cent of its coal industry” (McCauley 9).

the terms15
The Terms

Article IX

The contracting parties mutually renounce compensation for their war expenses, i.e., of the public expenditures for the conduct of the war, as well as compensation for war losses, i.e., such losses as were caused [by] them and their nationals within the war zones by military measures, inclusive of all requisitions effected in enemy country.

“In an atmosphere charged with false amiability, the supplementary treaties to Brest-Litovsk were signed on August 27 in Berlin, stipulating the Russian payment of six billion marks in compensation for expropriations …” (Jarausch 395)


Soviet Foreign Policy Style

The case also demonstrates the Bolshevik diplomatic style, which has been termed ‘demonstrative diplomacy’-Using diplomacy as a propaganda forum, to appeal over the heads of diplomats and directly to their people” (Donaldson & Nogee 52)

“it constituted the first step in the establishment of the ‘socialism in one country doctrine’-the belief that Soviet socialism could be constructed even without the assistance of the European proletariat.” (Donaldson & Nogee 52)

The Brest negotiations “served to discredit extremist formulas such as those represented by Bukharin. Revolutionary war simply could not be defended as a feasible strategy under the conditions prevailing in 1918. Lenin’s tactic of manoeuvre, urging compromise in order to benefit from contradictions within the imperialist camp would henceforth go unchallenged [within the Bolsheviks].” (Nation 14).

the repercussions
The Repercussions

We signed the Brest peace, claimed Trotsky, “clenching our teeth, conscious of our weakness … Yes, we are weak, and this is our greatest historical crime, because in history one must not be weak. Whoever is weak becomes a prey to the strong. Utopian preaching, lofty, beautiful words will not save us here” (Nation 15).


“In the space of a single year a defeated nation presumed to be at the end of its tether had mobilized a mass army, assured it a qualified leadership, and successfully projected an inspirational vision of its goals. It was an army that, as events were to demonstrate, could fight and win” (Nation 21)

socialist parties
Socialist Parties

Social Democrats (SDs): Worker-Oriented

- Bolsheviks

- Mensheviks

Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs): Propeasant

- Left: Militant, Internationalist

- Centre: Accommodating

- Right: Victory in the war and strong, stable government

(Suny 37)

March 19, 1918 – The Left SRs resign from the Sovnarkom in protest of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, dissolving the Left socialist coalition “and for the next seventy-three years, from March 1918 to August 1991, Soviet Russia was ruled by a single party, the Russian Social Democratic Worker’s Party (Bolsheviks), soon to be known as the Communist Party.” (Suny 68).

July 9, 1918 - The German ambassador to the RSFSR, Count Wilhelm von Mirbach (left) was assassinated by a Left SR Party member. They seized the main post-and-telegraph in central Moscow. Several revolts happened along the Volga. A Petrograd commissar was also assassinated by the Left SR.

“Lenin told the Petrograd party leaders that the time had come for mass terror against the enemies of the Soviet government” (Suny 70)


July 17, 1918 – The Royal Family is killed.

“The Bolsheviks made little distinction between ‘those who are not with us’ and treated them all as if they ‘are against us’” (Suny 69).


August 30, 1918 - Right SR Fanya Kaplanmade a failed assassination attempt on Lenin. She was executed, and the Red Terror against political opponents of the Bolsheviks began.

“Once the green light was given by the authorities in Russia, violence and retribution moved from the exceptional to the general and became ordinary behaviour on both sides of the civil war” (Suny 71)

the end
The End

Germany capitulates to the Entente on 11 November 1918. Two days later the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk is annulled. Germany would be reminded of the harshness of Brest-Litovsk at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

Soviet borders would continue to be changed following the Russo-Polish war and the Treaty of Riga, the Soviet-Finnish War and the Treaty of Tartu, World War II and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, etc.


Donaldson, Robert H. The Foreign Policy of Russia: Changing Systems, Enduring Interests. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2005

Jarausch, Konrad. “Cooperation or Intervention? Kurt Riezler and the Failure of German Ostpolitik, 1918.” Slavic Review 31.2 (June 1972): 381-398.

McCauley, Martin. The Longman Companian to Russia Since 1914. New York: Longman, 1998.

Nation, R. Craig. Black Earth, Red Star: A History of Soviet Security Policy, 1917-1991. London: Cornell University Press, 1992.

Suny, Ronald Grigor. The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.