Primary Documents - Lenin on the Need to Accept Brest-Litovsk Peace Terms, 23 February 1918

Lenin Reproduced below is the text of Lenin's appeal of 23 February 1918 calling for Russian acceptance of peace terms dictated by representatives of the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk.

Lenin was concerned at moves by his associates to first protest at and then unilaterally withdraw from the peace conference.  In his address he explained that his worst fears were becoming evident, i.e. that as the Russian Army failed to respond to orders so the peace terms on offer became ever more punitive and annexationist.

He therefore recommended that the peace terms currently on offer be accepted (albeit reluctantly) and that Russians should remain confident that revolution would similarly sweep over other European nations (including Germany).

Consequently Russia indicated its willingness to sign the treaty on 28 February; it was duly signed on 3 March 1918.

Click here to read the reaction of German Chancellor Count Georg von Hertling to news of the settlement.  Click here to read the reaction of Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Count Czernin.

Lenin's Address Urging Acceptance of the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty, 23 February 1918

The German reply offers peace terms still more severe than those of Brest-Litovsk.  Nevertheless, I am absolutely convinced that to refuse to sign these terms is only possible to those who are intoxicated by revolutionary phrases.

Up till now I have tried to impress on the members of the party the necessity of clearing their minds of revolutionary cant.  Now I must do this openly, for unfortunately my worst forebodings have been justified.

Party workers in January declared war on revolutionary phrases, and said that a policy of refusal to sign a peace would perhaps satisfy the craving for effectiveness - and brilliance - but would leave out of account the objective correlation of class forces and material factors in the present initial moment of the Socialist revolution.

They further said that if we refused to sign the peace then proposed more crushing defeats would compel Russia to conclude a still more disadvantageous separate peace.

The event proved even worse than I anticipated, for our retreating army seems demoralized and absolutely refuses to fight.  Only unrestrained phrasemaking can impel Russia at this moment and in these conditions to continue the war, and I personally would not remain a minute longer either in the Government or in the Central Committee of our party if the policy of phrasemaking were to prevail.

This new bitter truth has revealed itself with such terrible distinctness that it is impossible not to see it.  All the bourgeoisie in Russia is jubilant at the approach of the Germans.

Only a blind man or men infatuated by phrases can fail to see that the policy of a revolutionary war without an army is water in the bourgeois mill.  In the bourgeois papers there is already exaltation in view of the impending overthrow of the Soviet Government by the Germans.

We are compelled to submit to a distressing peace.  It will not stop revolution in Germany and Europe.  We shall now begin to prepare a revolutionary army, not by phrases and exclamations, as did those who after January 10th did nothing even to attempt to stop our fleeing troops, but by organized work, by the creation of a serious national, mighty army.

Their knees are on our chest, and our position is hopeless.  This peace must be accepted as a respite enabling us to prepare a decisive resistance to the bourgeoisie and imperialists.

The proletariat of the whole world will come to our aid.  Then we shall renew the fight.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. VI, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

A "salient" is a battle line that projects into territory nominally held by enemy forces.

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