Primary Documents - Lenin's Decree on Peace, 26 October 1917
With the Soviet takeover of power in Russia in October 1917 Lenin was quick to deliver (to the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies on 26 October, the Soviet state's radically different vision of foreign policy from its Tsarist predecessor.
In his decree Lenin worked to secure an end to the war using the usual (i.e. traditional) diplomatic channels, while simultaneously promoting the expansion of Soviet ideals around the world, thereby encouraging a widening of the socialist revolution.
Decree on Peace
The Workers' and Peasants' Government, created by the revolution of October 24-25, and drawing its strength from the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies, proposes to all warring peoples and their governments to begin at once negotiations leading to a just democratic peace.
A just and democratic peace for which the great majority of wearied, tormented and war-exhausted toilers and labouring classes of all belligerent countries are thirsting, a peace which the Russian workers and peasants have so loudly and insistently demanded since the overthrow of the Tsar's monarchy, such a peace the government considers to be an immediate peace without annexations (i.e., without the seizure of foreign territory and the forcible annexation of foreign nationalities) and without indemnities.
The Russian Government proposes to all warring peoples that this kind of peace be concluded at once; it also expresses its readiness to take immediately, without the least delay, all decisive steps pending the final confirmation of all the terms of such a peace by the plenipotentiary assemblies of all countries and all nations.
By annexation or seizure of foreign territory the government, in accordance with the legal concepts of democracy in general and of the working class in particular, understands any incorporation of a small and weak nationality by a large and powerful state without a clear, definite and voluntary expression of agreement and desire by the weak nationality, regardless of the time when such forcible incorporation took place, regardless also of how developed or how backward is the nation forcibly attached or forcibly detained within the frontiers of the [larger] state, and, finally, regardless of whether or not this large nation is located in Europe or in distant lands beyond the seas.
If any nation whatsoever is detained by force within the boundaries of a certain state, and if [that nation], contrary to its expressed desire whether such desire is made manifest in the press, national assemblies, party relations, or in protests and uprisings against national oppression, is not given the right to determine the form of its state life by free voting and completely free from the presence of the troops of the annexing or stronger state and without the least desire, then the dominance of that nation by the stronger state is annexation, i.e., seizure by force and violence.
The government considers that to continue this war simply to decide how to divide the weak nationalities among the powerful and rich nations which had seized them would be the greatest crime against humanity, and it solemnly announces its readiness to sign at once the terms of peace which will end this war on the indicated conditions, equally just for all nationalities without exception.
At the same time the government declares that it does not regard the conditions of peace mentioned above as an ultimatum; that is, it is ready to consider any other conditions, insisting, however, that such be proposed by any of the belligerents as soon as possible, and that they be expressed in the clearest terms, without ambiguity or secrecy.
The government abolishes secret diplomacy, expressing, for its part, the firm determination to carry on all negotiations absolutely openly and in view of all the people. It will proceed at once to publish all secret treaties ratified or concluded by the government of landlords and capitalists from March to November 7, 1917.
All the provisions of these secret treaties, in so far as they have for their object the securing of benefits and privileges to the Russian landlords and capitalists - which was true in a majority of cases - and retaining or increasing the annexation by the Great Russians, the government declares absolutely and immediately annulled.
While addressing to the governments and peoples of all countries the proposal to begin at once open peace negotiations, the government, for its part, expresses its readiness to carry on these negotiations by written communications, by telegraph by parleys of the representatives of different countries, or at a conference of such representatives.
To facilitate such negotiations the government appoints its plenipotentiary representative to neutral countries. The government proposes to all governments and peoples of all belligerent countries to conclude an armistice at once; at the same time it considers it desirable that this armistice should be concluded for a period of not less than three months - that is, a period during which it would be entirely possible to complete the negotiations for peace with the participation of representatives of all peoples and nationalities which were drawn into the war or forced to take part in it, as well as to call the plenipotentiary assemblies of people's representatives in every country for the final ratification of the peace terms.
In making these peace proposals to the government and peoples of all warring countries, the Provisional Government of Workers and Peasants of Russia appeals particularly to the class-conscious workers of the three most advanced nations of mankind, who are also the largest states participating in the present war - England, France and Germany.
The workers of these countries have rendered the greatest possible service to the cause of progress and socialism by the great example of the Chartist movement in England, several revolutions of universal historic significance accomplished by the French proletariat, and, finally, the heroic struggle against the Law of Exceptions in Germany, a struggle which was prolonged, dogged and disciplined, which could be held up as an example for the workers of the whole world, and which aimed at the creation of proletarian mass organisations in Germany.
All these examples of proletarian heroism and historic achievement serve us as a guarantee that the workers of these three countries will understand the tasks which lie before them by way of liberating humanity from the horrors of war and its consequences, and that by their resolute, unselfishly energetic efforts in various directions these workers will help us to bring to a successful end the cause of peace, and, together with this, the cause of the liberation of the toiling and exploited masses from all forms of slavery and all exploitation.
The Workers' and Peasants' Government created by the revolution of November 6-7 and drawing its strength from the Soviets of Workers, Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies must begin peace negotiations at once. Our appeal must be directed to the governments as well as to the peoples.
We cannot ignore the governments, because this would delay the conclusion of peace, a thing which a people's government does not dare to do but at the same time we have no right not to appeal to the peoples. Everywhere governments and peoples are at arm's length; we must, therefore, help the peoples to take a hand in [settling] the question of peace and war.
We shall of course stand by our programme of peace without annexations and without indemnities. We shall not relinquish [that programme], but we must deprive our enemies of the possibility of saying that their conditions are different and that they do not wish, therefore, to enter into negotiations with us. No, we must dislodge them from that advantageous position by not presenting them our conditions in the form of an ultimatum.
For this reason we have included a statement to the effect that we are ready to consider any condition of peace, in fact, every proposal. Consideration, of course, does not necessarily mean acceptance. We shall submit [the proposals] for consideration to the Constituent Assembly, which will then decide, officially, what can and what cannot be granted.
We have to fight against the hypocrisy of the governments, which, while talking about peace and justice, actually carry on wars of conquest and plunder. Not one single government will tell you what it really means. But we are opposed to secret diplomacy and can afford to act openly before all people. We do not now close nor have we ever closed our eyes to the difficulties.
Wars cannot be ended by a refusal [to fight] ; they cannot be ended by one side alone. We are proposing an armistice for three months - though we are not rejecting a shorter period - so that this will give the suffering army at least a breathing spell and will make possible the calling of popular meetings in all civilised countries to discuss the conditions [of peace].
Delivered at Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, 26 October 1917 and published by Izvestiia, 27 October 1917.
'Case-Shot' was the name for a short-range artillery anti-personnel shell filled with pellets, chain-links, etc.
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