3 March 2013, 16:26

Treaty of Brest-Litovsk as prelude to civil war

Treaty of Brest-Litovsk as prelude to civil war

95 years ago, on March 3, 1918 the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed. Soviet Russia had to sign this separate peace treaty with the powers of the Austrian-German bloc. Under its terms Russia lost huge territories and was obliged to pay reparations. According to many historians, that treaty was the last push to the Civil War in Russia.

After four years of World War I the situation on the front was not in favor of the Quadruple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria. Suddenly Bolsheviks who had seized power in Russia issued the Decree of Peace November 9 1917 proposing to sign general armistice. Lev Trotsky, who was Soviet Russia’s foreign affairs commissar sent the text of the treaty to the ambassadors of Russia’s allies - England and France. They did not respond and the Russian government decided to take actions without them.

The negotiations in the Brest fortress started on December 22, 1917 and lasted for almost 2 months. The delegation of Soviet Russia proposed to base the treaty on the idea of democratic peace. In its turn Germany did not want to give up its territorial claims and during the talks those claims only grew. In the Russian camp contradictions also grew. Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin found that the Soviet government needed a break to solve economic problems and to join forces to fight anti-Bolshevik groups within the country. He ordered the delegation to hold negotiations as long as possible but to sign peace once there was a threat of ultimatum from Germany. The head of the delegation Trotsky preferred “neither war, nor peace” principle which meant not to sign the treaty but to dismiss the army. He thought that everything would come out in Germany which working class people was to rise against the oppressors showing solidarity with Soviet workers. But everything ended with the ultimatum as. The Austrian-German troops started the offensive threatening to seize Petrograd (St. Petersburg) and the Soviet government had to accept the ultimatum. The Russian army which was demoralized by rumors about the nearing end of the war and the victory of the global revolution did not resist the enemy properly, historian Leonid Katzva says.

"Signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on those conditions was inevitable. The experience shows that any attempts to conduct revolutionary wars and to act as Trotsky proposed sticking to “neither war nor peace” principle turned out to be ineffective. But on the other hand in many aspects it was the fault of Bolsheviks that they found themselves in that situation when there was no choice. For example Bolsheviks did a lot for the army’s demoralization."

Under the Brest- Litovsk Treaty Russia lost Poland, the Baltic States and western part of Belarus. In the Caucasus region Turkey received the cities of Kars, Ardagan and Batum. Russia was obliged to fully demobilize the army and to withdraw troops from Ukraine, Baltic states and Finland. Besides that the Russian government was to pay 3 billion ruble as reparations and promised to stop revolutionary propaganda in Central European countries. Even Lenin who insisted on signing the treaty called that document obscene, historian Yaroslav Vishnyakov says.

"Contemporaries called that treaty “shameful” because the terms were really hard, besides that this treaty was one of the causes of the Civil war in Russia. It helped anti-Bolshevik groups to consolidate forces. It is necessary to mention here the uprisings of left social revolutionaries in Yaroslavl and in Moscow."

The left social revolutionaries who were in the “red” government as well as the faction of left communist led by Bucharin said the treaty was the betrayal of the global revolution because its signing strengthened the regime of Keizer in Germany. Many officers and generals accused the Soviet authorities of betrayal of Russia’s interest because the treaty allowed Germany to continue the war against France and at the same time liquidated the front in Turkey giving Austria-Hungary an opportunity to focus on military actions in Greece and Italy.

The treaty became a catalyst for the formation of democratic counter revolution. Apart from unsuccessful uprisings of left social revolutionaries in Moscow and Yaroslavl there were also successful attempts which ended with the establishment of social revolutionary governments in Siberia and the Volga region. The suppression of the protests led to one party Bolshevik dictatorship and a nationwide civil war. In five years the country lost more than 10 million people and 2 million people immigrated.

The treaty of Brest-Litovsk was effective only 9 months. Soviet Russia cancelled it in November 1918 when a revolution took place in Germany and the Quadruple Alliance was defeated. But the consequences of that 9 months break could be felt for many years.

    and share via