Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, December 22, 2017

100 Years Ago: Russia Opens Separate Peace Negotiations with Germany

On 22 December 1917, delegations sent by the Central Powers meet face to face with the representatives of the October Revolution. Trotsky later writes, “The circumstances of history willed that the delegates of the most revolutionary regime ever known to humanity should sit at the same diplomatic table with the representatives of the most reactionary caste among all the ruling classes.”

Central Powers' Delegates at Brest-Litovsk (1917–1918): German General Max Hoffmann, Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Czernin, Ottoman Talaat Pasha and
German Foreign Minister K├╝hlman

Leader of the Bolshevik Delegation,
Adolf Abramovich Joffe
The day after the Bolshevik seizure of power on 7 November 1917, the Soviet government promulgated its “Decree on Peace”, urging all combatants to conclude a “just, democratic peace”. The Allies decided on 22 November not to respond. But the Central Powers had been awaiting exactly such an invitation; Germany had funded Vladimir Ilich Lenin’s  return to Russia hoping he would end the war on the Eastern Front. On 15 December Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria concluded an armistice with Russia. The negotiations took place at the German High Command Headquarters East in the fortress of Brest-Litovsk. While the Germans used the role of hosts to woo the Russians with oysters and roast  goose, the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Leon Trotsky (1879–1940), wanted the talks transferred to Stockholm, where the Germans had less power and the world could watch.

Brest-Litovsk brought two utterly different cultures face to face: the traditional diplomacy of the  Central Powers confronting the revolutionaries’ flair for political agitation. Although the Central Powers continued to use French among themselves, it was agreed that the treaty languages should be German, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Turkish, and Russian. Eager to abolish traditional diplomacy, the Bolsheviks sent among the 28 delegates to Brest-Litovsk on 22 December 1917: a sailor, a soldier, a peasant, a worker, and a female terrorist who boasted of having assassinated a governor general.

The Central Powers’ representatives, in contrast, were of aristocratic origin and remained comme il faut in all dealings with their “guests”. The delegation leaders drew the Bolsheviks under Adolf Abramovich Joffe into six days of polite exchanges, only to reach an impasse—each side, invoking the “right of national self-determination”, insisted that on conclusion of a peace the other must withdraw its troops from Russia’s occupied western regions.  The discussions were adjourned to be reconvened after the New Year.  The Russian delegation, now led by Trotsky, returned to Brest-Litovsk on 7 January 1918.
To be continued...

Source: International Encyclopedia of the First World War


  1. Brest-Litovsk is such a wild story.
    Such a contrast to the November 1918 western front cease-fire.

  2. It is surely serendipitous posting this Brest Litovsk piece now since I am currently reading Trotsky’s “Attempt at an Autobiography”, and believe it or not I have just concluded his Brest Litovsk chapter. Further serendipitous that a past Trotsky post on this august site prompted me to obtain his work. He doesn’t have kind words to say of Count Czernin…describing him as sort of bafoon. It is a good read and I am looking forward to your continuation; many thanks for your post.