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Russian History: XX century





Russian History: XIX entury





Krupskaya's Reminiscences of Lenin

On November 23, Ilyich spoke at the All-Russian Central Executive Committee. He said that our chances were very favourable. He spoke about revolutionary fraternization. "We have a chance to get in touch with Paris by radio telegraph, and when the peace treaty will have been drawn up we shall be able to tell the French people that it is ready to be signed within two hours and that it depends on them whether an armistice will be concluded. We shall see what Clemenceau then has to say." (Ibid., p. 282.) On November 23, the press began publication of the secret treaties with other countries. They clearly revealed how brazenly the governments had been lying to the masses and fooling them.

On November 23 the Soviet Government requested the neutral countries to officially notify the enemy governments of its readiness to start peace negotiations.

On November 27 a reply was received from the German Commander-in-Chief consenting to start negotiations for an armistice.

Speaking at a meeting of the A.R.C.E.C, on November 23, Ilyich said:

"Peace cannot be concluded only from above. Peace must be secured from below. We do not believe the German General Staff an iota, but we do believe the German people. Without the active participation of the soldiers peace concluded by the commanders-in-chief is unstable." (Ibid., p. 284.)

In Germany the situation was none too good. There was an acute food shortage, and the people were tired of the war. Germany believed that an armistice with Russia would leave her hands free to deal with France, and with Paris under her heel, she would then be able to tackle Russia.

Upon receiving the reply of the German command, the Council of People's Commissars immediately got in touch with the Allies (France, Britain, Italy and the U.S.A.), asking whether they agreed to start negotiations for an armistice with the enemy powers on December 1.

The Allies did not answer, and over the head of the Soviet Government wrote to General Dukhonin, who had been dismissed, protesting against the conclusion of a separate peace.

On December 1 our delegation, headed by Ioffe, left for the front. The other members were Karakhan, Kamenev, Sokolnikov, Bitsenko, Mstislavsky, and one representative each from the workers, peasants, sailors and soldiers.

The next day the Council of People's Commissars issued an appeal to the German workers.

Peace negotiations were started on December 3. The Soviet delegation announced its declaration in which the aims of the negotiations were proclaimed to be "the achievement of universal peace without annexations or indemnities in which the right to national self-determination would be guaranteed." It also proposed that an offer be made to all the other belligerents to take part in the negotiations. On December 5 an agreement was signed suspending military operations for one week. On the 7th the People's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs wrote once more to the representatives of the Allies to "define their attitude towards peace negotiations." No reply was received.

On the 11th our delegation, augmented by Pokrovsky and Weltman (Pavlovich), left for Brest again.

Peace negotiations were resumed on December 13, and the armistice prolonged until January 14. The negotiations fell through.

On December 25 the Germans announced on behalf of the Central Powers that they agreed to peace without annexations or indemnities on condition that the peace treaty was signed by all the belligerents. They knew that I the latter would not agree, and their declaration was merely designed to shift all the responsibility for the continuation of the war on to the Entente.

Until the end of December the nature of the negotiations was agitational rather than anything else. The advantage gained from them was a temporary armistice and the development of a wide agitation for peace among the German troops and ours.

From the beginning of 1918 the negotiations assumed a different character. Early in January Ludendorf and Hindenburg, who stood for a militarist policy of annexation, sent an ultimatum to Wilhelm II threatening to resign unless their demand for the prosecution of a vigorous annexationist policy at Brest-Litovsk and the taking over of negotiations by the military command was complied with. The conduct of negotiations passed into the hands of General Hoffman.

On January 7 our delegation, now headed by Trotsky, left for Brest again. Peace negotiations were resumed on January 9. This time the German delegation began to issue ultimatums. By January 20 the German attitude was clear. The only alternative to continued war was an annexationist peace, that is, peace on the conditions that we ceded to them all the territory that they occupied and paid them indemnity (under the guise of defraying the cost of maintenance of prisoners of war) to the amount of about three thousand million rubles payable over a number of years.

In the middle of January 1918 a general strike broke out in Vienna, provoked by the acute food shortage, the desire for peace and the indignation of the workers at the annexationst policy of the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk. The strike affected almost the whole country and led to the setting up of a Soviet of Workers' Deputies. A few days later a strike broke out in Berlin, which, according to official reports, involved half a million workers. Strikes occurred in other cities as well. Soviets of Workers' Deputies were formed. The strikers demanded the proclamation of a republic and the conclusion of peace. However, no revolution was yet in sight. All the power was in the hands of Wilhelm II, Hindenburg, Ludendorf, in the hands of the bourgeoisie.

Ilyich pinned his hopes in a coming world revolution. On January 14 at the send-off given to the first socialist troop trains leaving for the front, he said: "The peoples are already awakening, they already hear the ardent call of our revolution, and soon we shall no longer be alone. Our army will be joined by the proletarian forces of other countries." (Works, Vol. 26, p. 381.)

But that was still a thing of the future. It was characteristic of Ilyich that he never deceived himself, no matter how sad the realities were; he was never drunk with success, and always had a sober outlook. He did not always find it easy, though. Ilyich was anything but coldly rational, a sort of calculating chess-player. He felt things very intensely, but he had a strong will, he had lived through a good deal and thought things out for himself, and was able to face the truth without flinching. In this particular case he put the matter bluntly: an annexationist peace is a dreadful thing, but are we in a position to fight? Ilyich was constantly talking with soldiers delegations that came from the front; he carefully studied the situation at the front and the state of our army, and attended a delegate conference of the First Army Congress on Demobilization. Writing of that congress in his memoirs, Podvoisky says: "The congress was due to take place on December 25, 1917, but it was opened on December 30.... During the five intervening days conferences were held with the most prominent delegates. Though they were of a preliminary nature, those conferences were of decisive importance. One of them was attended by Lenin, Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, who, after listening to the detailed reports of the delegates from the most important armies, put to them three questions: 1. Was there any reason to believe that the Germans would attack us? 2. Would the army be able, in the event of a German offensive, to remove the munitions, materiel and artillery from the front-line area to the rear? 3. Would the army, in its present condition, be able to hold the German advance?

"The majority of the conference answered the first question in the affirmative, and the second and third in the negative, owing to the spirit of demobilization that prevailed among the soldiers, their increasing defection, and the exhausted state of the horses as a result of short fodder supplies." About three hundred delegates were present at that conference. It fully convinced Ilyich of the impossibility of continuing the fight with the Germans at that particular moment. Without yielding to pessimismindeed, he was conducting an intensive campaign at the time for organizing the Red Army for the country's defencehe framed the question clearly: at the moment we cannot fight. "Go to the front," Ilyich advised the comrades who thought that war was possible. "Hear what the soldiers have to say about it."

Kravchenko recently told me about a talk she had had with Ilyich at that period. She had been working at Motovilikha, in the Urals. Petrograd was one thing, Perm and the Urals another. There was no immediate threat of an enemy advance there, and the homeward-bound soldiers had not come that far yet. The fighting spirit in the Urals stood high. The workers were organizing military detachments and preparing guns. Kravchenko was sent to see Ilyich and tell him that the Urals would back the country. On arriving in Petrograd Kravchenko called on Spunde, a Urals comrade, who was working at the State Bank. He lived on the premises. The simple iron cot on which he slept stood lonesomely and incongruously in one of the large conference halls. This little detail gives a picture of those days and is reminiscent of the conditions under which the arrested director of the State Bank Shipov was kept in custody. Spunde directed Kravchenko to Smolny, where Ilyich was. There, in the corridors, she met Goloshchokin, who had come from the Urals on the same mission. He was also going to see Ilyich. While they stood there talking, Ilyich came out of his office. Seeing Goloshchokin, he went up to them and started asking how things were going in the Urals. They told him what the feeling was among the Urals workers and what they had come here for. "We'll have a talk in the evening," Ilyich said. All of a sudden he looked ill. "Meanwhile go and take a walk, hear what the soldiers say in the streets," he added. "And we heard such an earful," Kravchenko related, "that our heads were splitting by that evening. The impressions of it were so strong that they overshadowed all else." Kravchenko does not even remember whether they had that talk with Ilyich or not.

Goloshchokin, too, recollects that meeting. Ilyich had asked him to interview the soldiers' delegations. Goloshchokin heard out their reports, ascertained the prevailing temper, then went and reported to Ilyich about it. Ilyich came out to the delegates, answered their questions, and told them what the state of affairs was; he kindled them with the fire of his enthusiasm. On this job Goloshchokin had it forcibly brought home to him that Ilyich was right. At the Seventh Congress he no longer needed convincing, he had no more vacillations.

At the Seventh Congress of the Party, held at the beginning of March, 1918, Ilyich said that during the first weeks and months following the October Revolutionin October, November and Decemberwe had passed from triumph to triumph on the internal front of struggle against the counter-revolution, against the enemies of the Soviet power. The reason for this was that world imperialism had trouble enough of its own to be bothered with us. Our revolution had taken place at a time when cataclysmic disasters in the shape of the extermination of millions of people had overwhelmed the vast majority of the imperialist countries, when, after three years of fighting, the belligerent countries were at a deadlock, and the question arose objectively as to whether the nations, reduced to such a state, could go on fighting. It was a moment when neither of the two gigantic predacious groups could immediately throw themselves at one another or unite against us. Ilyich, at the Seventh Congress, described the first period of the Brest negotiations in the following words: "A tame domestic animal lay beside a tiger and tried to persuade him that peace should be without annexations and indemnities." In the latter half of January the Brest negotiations had assumed a different character: the preying wolf of German imperialism had seized us by the throat, and we had to answer immediately, either by agreeing to an annexationist peace or by continuing the war, knowing beforehand that we would be beaten in it. Lenin's point of view, in the long run, prevailed, but the inner-Party struggle, which had lasted two months, told on him very painfully. Ilyich had been pressing for the conclusion of peace. He had been backed whole-heartedly by Sverdlov and Stalin, supported without vacillation by Smilga and Sokolnikov. But the overwhelming majority of the Central Committee members and their following, the men with whom the October Revolution had been made, had been against Lenin. They had challenged his point of view, and drawn the local committees into the struggle. The Petrograd Committee and the Moscow Regional Committee had been against him too. The "Left" Communist faction had begun to issue their own daily paper in Petrograd (Communist) in which they had talked themselves into such ridiculous statements as that it were better to let the Soviet power perish than to conclude a shameful peace, and argued about a revolutionary fight without regard for the actual balance of forces. They held that concluding peace with the German imperialist government was tantamount to surrendering all our revolutionary positions and betraying the cause of the international proletariat. Among the "Left" Communists were quite a number of intimate comrades with whom Ilyich had been working hand in hand for years and whom he had been accustomed to look to for support during critical moments of the struggle. Now a void had been formed round him. The things he was accused of! Trotsky had a good deal to say. A lover of fine words, who liked to strike an attitude, he thought not so much of how to get the Soviet Republic out of the war and give it a respite to recuperate and rally the masses, as to cut a figure ("We conclude no degrading peace, we fight no war"). Ilyich called this a lordly, grand-seignior pose, and the slogan an adventurist gamble which gave the country over to pillage and anarchy, a country where the proletariat had taken over the helm of power and great construction was being started.

The majority of votes on the Central Committee had been against Lenin at first. On January 24 the majority (nine members) voted for Trotsky's motionwe conclude no peace and demobilize the armywith seven voting against. On February 3, on the question whether peace should be concluded now or not, five voted for and nine against; on February 17 five voted for an immediate offer of peace to Germany and six against; on February 18, on the question of whether we should offer the Germans to resume peace negotiations, six voted for and seven against.


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