Author`s name Michael Simpson

Brest Peace: Indecent Treaty or Rescue of Exhausted Country? - 4 March, 2003

An event that was a real ordeal for Russia is now far behind. On March 3, 1918, in the city of Brest-Litovsk (now Brest) a peace treaty was concluded between Soviet Russia, on the one part, and Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey, on the other part. We mean it was an ordeal only for Bolsheviks who shortly before conclusion of the treaty seized authority in the country and for their political opponents. Majority of the population received information on conclusion of the peace treaty with relief (and those who were anxious about their personal survival didn’t care about the treaty at all).

Despite the fact that the treaty was concluded 85 years ago, estimations of this document are still diametrically opposite. Some people consider the document to be “indecent” peace analogues of which were never concluded in the history of Russia before 1918. At the same time, others think that Vladimir Lenin and his followers in fact rescued the country, and sacrifices made at that were although very severe but justified. The disputes between both camps may never end, until there are people who are interested in the issue. Emotional tension of these disputes is also quite understandable: no matter how we treat the peace treaty concluded in Brest-Litovsk, it was part of the series of changes the country experienced at that period. When we speak about the treaty we should keep a simple and evident thing in mind. Bolsheviks (to be exact, those who supported Lenin) simply had no other chance to retain the power. To tell the truth, this fact was always admitted. And not without reason conclusion of the humiliating peace treaty in Brest was described in Soviet encyclopedias the following way: “The old army was demoralized and didn’t want to fight; and new Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army was in the making at that period.” In other words, even if Bolsheviks had heeded the appeal of the “left communists” and left social revolutionists asking not to give up the cause of the world revolution and to keep on standing up for national interests, they would have hardly been a success.

It would take just several weeks for the German army to occupy Petrograd (then-name of St.Petersburg) and Moscow, which meant that Lenin and Bolsheviks would certainly lose the power (sympathy of the kaiser government to Lenin and his followers were not so great, no matter that it is often said Germany actively helped Bolsheviks with financing). Under those conditions, Lenin actually appreciated this very fact, but not some mythical “world revolution”. Besides, Bolsheviks knew perfectly well about attitudes of some part of the society (mostly prosperous and educated layers of the population) who wanted Germans to come and overthrow Bolshevik “usurpers”.

However, at the same time we should not forget that conclusion of the peace treaty in Brest was one of the reasons why the civil war began. Indeed, besides soldiers who were tired of war, there were also thousands of officers for whom the humiliating treaty with Germany was a real slap in the face. What is more, there were also dozens of parties (rather large among them) that objected to conclusion of the peace treaty. The treaty became one of the reasons for opponents of Bolsheviks to unite. However, Vladimir Lenin took this possibility into consideration when he insisted that a peace treaty must be concluded with Germany. As further events revealed, opponents of Bolsheviks were so mixed that they failed to make up some well-organized and strong power. Lack of organization and amorphism of Bolshevik opponents resulted in their defeat in the civil war. Lenin was right when he said that it was better to trade-off many things than to lose everything.

After all, the Brest Peace Treaty completely justified itself as an instrument for power retention. Certainly, reputation of the country was seriously marred at that. Former Entente allies unceremoniously excluded Russia from the number of the winner countries. Consequently, the Soviet republic gained no benefits from conclusion of the Versailles Treaty that put an end to WWI. It may sound strange but in that case Bolsheviks were the gainer to some extent all the same: at least nobody in Germany could blame them for participation in the “Versailles humiliation”. But this is quite another story.

Vasily Bubnov

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