Bolsheviks Accept Peace Terms


February 24 1918, Petrograd–Over the last six days, the Germans had moved at a rapid pace, in many places advancing over 100 miles; by February 24 they were quickly approaching Reval [Talinn] and Pskov.  With the threat of further advances looming, the Germans issued an 48-hour ultimatum on February 22 with their new peace terms.  The courier carrying the ultimatum did not reach Petrograd until February 23, however, leaving the Bolsheviks with a single day to consider the offer, or risk the Germans rescinding the “olive branch” entirely and pushing on to Petrograd.  While the Germans had no plans to push beyond the Narva, the Bolsheviks had no way of knowing this.

The terms themselves were far harsher than what had been offered earlier in the month.  Russia was to relinquish all rights to Finland, the Baltic states, Belarus, Ukraine, and the territory taken from Turkey in 1878, and evacuate all remaining forces from those areas.  Various economic concessions and payment of indemnities was also demanded.

Lenin, who had wanted to accept the more lenient German terms, again urged capitulation, threatening to resign if he did not get his way. Still, Bukharin argued for a revolutionary war against the Germans, while Lenin dismissed this as nonsense:

Only those who are blind or intoxicated by phrases can close their eyes to the fact that the policy of a revolutionary war, without an army, brings grist to the mill of our bourgeoisie….Let everyone know: he who is against an immediate, even though extremely onerous peace, is endangering Soviet power.

We are compelled to endure an onerous peace.  It will not halt the revolution in Germany and in Europe.  We shall set about preparing a revolutionary army, not by phrases and exclamations (after the manner of those who…have done nothing even to halt our fleeing troops), but by organizational work, by deeds, by creation of a proper, powerful army of the whole people.

The Central Committee ultimately sided with Lenin by the slimmest margin possible.  Trotsky, whose “no war, no peace” policy had directly led to the German invasion, abstained.

Early on the morning of February 24, the Bolsheviks sent a radio message to the Germans indicating their acceptance of the proposed terms.  While the Russian delegation proceeded back to Brest-Litovsk, and the last details were hammered out, the German advance continued unabated.

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