Peace Talks Begin Between Russia and Germany
The Bolshevik delegates went through the farce of opening "peace parleys" with the Germans on November 28, 1917, crossing over into the German lines under a flag of truce.
The Germans consented to carry on negotiations for "peace," the day and hour of the meeting to be fixed by the Russians. The Russian Parliamentarians fixed upon the Brest-Litovsk headquarters of the German Commander as the place, and midnight of December 2, 1917, as the time for beginning negotiations. It was agreed that during the period of negotiations all warfare and enemy fraternization should cease.
Secret Treaties Exposed
While these negotiations were pending, late in November, Trotsky saw fit to publish certain state documents, discovered in the Russian archives, consisting largely of secret treaties entered into between the Czar and the other Allied nations in the early years of the War. In one treaty, Russia proposed to acquire Constantinople, the Dardanelles and certain territories in Asia Minor. England and France agreed on condition that Russia should guarantee the freedom of the port of Constantinople, the independence of certain Mussulman territories in Arabia, and English joint control with Russia over all Persia.
Another series of documents related to the discussions between the Russians and their Allies in fixing the Western frontiers of Germany, and the insistence of Russia that the Polish question should be excluded from international discussion. Another document revealed the concessions offered to Greece if she would join the Allies. She was to receive all of Albania, south of Avlona, and other territory in Asia Minor at the expense of Turkey. The Bulgarians, too, by another agreement, were to receive Kavala as the price of their support of the Allies.
The text of a treaty between Great Britain, France, Italy and Russia was published, whereby Italy was promised the restoration of her "lost provinces" in Austria as a reward for her active assistance of the Allies; Italy also agreeing to disregard all attempts on the part of Pope Benedict XV to bring about peace discussions. By the terms of other agreements, Italy was to acquire the Trentino, Trieste, Istria and Dalmatia. On the other hand, Italy agreed not to oppose the award to Montenegro, Serbia and Greece of parts of Albania. The agreement also recognized the principle of Italian control of the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean. Certain rights in Libya were also granted to Italy. Should England and France agree to increase their African colonial possessions, Italy would have the right to increase hers at the cost of Turkey. All these treaties were at once repudiated by the new Bolsheviks Government of Russia.
Suspension of Hostilities
On December 2, 1917, the Russian peace delegates again crossed the lines to Brest-Litovsk, where the first session of the conference was opened. Three days later, the German delegate, General Hoffman, consented to a suspension of hostilities for ten days, to enable the Russians to conclude negotiations for an armistice. On December 6, 1917, Trotsky notified the Allied Embassies in Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) that the armistice would only be signed on condition that the Central Powers should agree not to transfer troops from the Eastern to the Western front, and that the Germans evacuate the islands around Moon Island. He urged the Allies to define their attitude toward the peace negotiations, or else declare the aims which they still hoped to attain by a continuance of the War. To this the Allied Powers made no reply.
Kalidin Starts a Counter-Revolution
The next day an attempt at counter-revolution was started by Generals Kaledin and Kornilov in the Don region, and the Bolsheviks took the necessary steps to quell the uprising. General Dutov arrested the revolutionary committee in Orenburg and attempted to cut off the supply of grain flowing from Siberia to the front.
Romanians Agree to an Armistice
The Romanians, after being crushed by Austria and Bulgaria, had denounced the peace negotiations. Nevertheless, on December 7, 1917, Romania agreed to the proposed armistice. The Ukrainian Parliament also agreed to a suspension of hostilities by a vote of 29 to 8. Some 600 delegates had been elected to the Constituent Assembly which was to convene in Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) on December 11, 1917, but only 50 attended. Not being able to muster a quorum, the Assembly was incapable of exerting any authority.
Armistice Agreed Upon
Finally, on December 16, 1917, the terms of an armistice were definitely arranged. The Germans were reluctant to grant two of the points insisted upon by the Russians — namely, that all movements of the troops from the Eastern to the Western front should be suspended during negotiations and that the Russians should have the right to fraternize at will with the German and Austrian soldiers. The armistice was to begin on December 17, 1917, and continue until January 14, 1918.
Titles Abolished, Property Seized
Like their predecessors in the great French Revolution, the Bolsheviks sought by legislative degrees to level all ranks, abolish poverty, extinguish all property rights and paralyze all religion. As early as November 26, 1917, a decree was promulgated, abolishing all class titles, distinctions and privileges, and confiscating the corporate properties of nobles, merchants and capitalists generally. Everybody was a "citizen" merely and placed on a common footing before the law—that is, all excepting Lenin, Trotsky and the rest of the paid agents of Imperial Germany.
Officers to be Elected by Soldiers
On December 16, 1917, it was decreed that henceforth all officers in the Army were to be elected by the soldiers, those who failed of re-election being reduced automatically to the ranks without the privilege of resignation. Within a few days some surprising changes occurred in the Army. Colonels became subordinate to their former orderlies; majors and captains were compelled to clean out the stables at the orders of some filthy Bolshevist private suddenly elevated in rank. Many officers were assassinated by their own men in reprisal for the alleged cruelties of other days.
Uprising in Odessa
Meanwhile, there were riotings and minor uprisings in Russia, especially in Odessa, the capital of the new Republic of Ukrainia. Here the Bolsheviks and the loyal troops had a hand-to-hand battle on December 16th, which ended in the Bolsheviks gaining possession of the water front on the Black Sea. Many strikes took place, the duped workingmen being drunk with the wine of their mock "freedom" and insisting upon impossible wages, often six and eight times the amount they received in normal times.
Peace Congress in Session at Last
Despite the formal protests of the Allied Ambassadors at Petrograd (Saint Petersburg), the Bolsheviks resumed their negotiations with Germany for peace. The first sitting took place at Brest-Litovsk on December 23, 1917, Germany's chief representative being Dr. Richard von Kuhlmann, the Foreign Minister, and Austria's delegation being headed by Count Czernin. Neither Lenin nor Trotsky attended the session, but Russia was represented by twelve citizens, chiefly of the proletariat. After Prince Leopold of Bavaria had welcomed the delegates, Dr. von Kuhlmann was chosen President.
Soviet Russia's Peace Terms
The Russians then presented their terms for peace, which were comprised under 14 headings. They demanded the evacuation of all Russian territory now occupied by Germany, with autonomy for Poland and the Lithuanian and Lettish provinces ; autonomy for Turkish Armenia; settlement of the Alsace-Lorraine problem by a free plebiscite; the restoration of Belgium, and indemnity through an international fund for damages; restoration for Serbia, with a similar indemnity, Serbia gaining access to the Adriatic; complete autonomy for Bosnia and Herzegovina; other contested Balkan territory to be temporarily autonomous, pending plebiscites; restoration of Romanian territory with autonomy for the Dobrudja, the Berlin convention concerning equality for Jews to be put into full force; autonomy for the Italian population of Trent and Trieste pending a plebiscite; restoration of the German
colonies; restoration of Persia and Greece; neutralization of all maritime straits leading to inland seas, including the Suez and Panama Canals; all belligerents to renounce indemnities; contributions exacted during the War to be refunded; all belligerents to renounce commercial boycotts after the War or the institution of special customs agreements; peace conditions to be settled at a Congress composed of delegates chosen by a national representative body, the condition being stipulated by the respective Parliaments that the diplomats should sign no secret treaty ; all secret treaties to be considered null and void; gradual disarr ment on land and sea and the establishment of militia to replace the standing armies.
Germany's Counter Proposals
Germany's reply to the Russian peace proposals was received on December 25, 1917. While accepting the proposal of peace based on the principle of no annexations and no indemnities, Germany refused to concede the right of "self-determination" to any nationalities without independence which may have come under her subjection, holding that such questions must be decided by each government and its people according to the constitution of each government.
Regarding the renunciation of claims for indemnities for war costs and war damages, Germany proposed that each belligerent be required to bear only such expense as had been incurred by its subjects made prisoners, and to indemnify for damage caused in its territory to property of civilian subjects of an enemy country by violations of international law. Only in event that all belligerents agreed, would there be a discussion of the creation of a special fund for this purpose.
Citizen Jaffe, the chairman of the Russian delegation, objected to the vague definition of self-determination of small nationalities made in the German reply, holding that the War could not end without the reinstatement of small and oppressed nationalities in their violated rights, and that Russia would insist on guaranties protecting the rights of such nationalities in a general peace treaty. The lapse of time, he declared, in no case legalizes the violation of one people by another. Germany demanded the restoration of her colonies in Africa, Asia and the South Pacific, and to this the Russians consented. It was then agreed to defer the next session of the Peace Conference until January 8, 1918, to enable the Allied nations to study the full texts of the two proposals. So the matter rested at the close of the year.
In the opening days of 1918, while the Russian Bolshevists were visioning a "democratic peace," the scheming diplomats of Germany were plotting to partition Russia anew and seize upon her fairest provinces. The peace parleys between Soviet Russia and Germany were resumed on January 4, 1918. The Bolshevist delegates proposed to withdraw the Russian troops from Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Persia if the Germans would withdraw theirs from Poland, Lithuania and Courland. This proposal was in accordance with the Bolshevist declaration of the right of all the diverse races living in Russia to self-determination, including separation. These races were to be given opportunity to decide whether they would set up independent governments or unite with Russia, Germany or Austria.
Previously, Germany had submitted the test of a preliminary peace treaty to the Bolshevists. The dodger in this treaty lay in Article II, which assumed that Russia had taken cognizance of the "decisions expressing the will of the people" of Poland, Lithuania, Courland, and parts of Estonia and Livonia, demanding a full state of independence and separation from the Russian Empire.
To this proposal the Russians demurred; it savored too much of a German plot to control the elections in those provinces, separate them from Russia and annex them to Germany. A reply to the German proposal was sent to this effect: "Our standpoint is that only such manifestation of will can be regarded as a de facto expression of the will of the people as results from a free vote taken in the districts in question with the complete absence of foreign troops. We, therefore, propose and must insist thereon, that a clearer and more precise formulation of this point be made. We consent, however, to the appointment of a special commission for the examination of technical conditions for the realization of such referendums and also for the fixing of a definite time for evacuation."
On January 4, 1918, Germany announced that the failure of the Allies to notice the invitation to take part in the negotiations at Brest-Litovsk relieved the Central Powers from all obligations and left them free to conclude a separate peace with Russia, and furthermore that Germany was no longer bound by the general peace proposals submitted to the Russians. The Bolshevists, meantime, had sought in vain to transfer the seat of the peace conference to Stockholm, but hearing that the German delegates were already sitting at Brest-Litovsk they went there on January 5, 1918.
A week after the armistice was signed between Russia and Germany and nearly three weeks after a ceasefire was declared on the Eastern Front, representatives of the two countries begin peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk, near the Polish border in what is now the city of Brest, in Belarus.