Primary Documents - Leon Trotsky on Russo-German Armistice Negotiations, 5 December 1917

Leon Trotsky in 1917 Reproduced below is the text of Leon Trotsky's report on the progress of negotiations with Germany for a preliminary armistice in early December 1917.

Trotsky's negotiations were conducted exclusively with German Army officers; consequently his repeated demands that an armistice be widened to include all armies on all fronts was rebuffed with the claim that such a discussion was outside the realm of army officers.  Their brief was solely to negotiate an armistice with Russia and no other country.

Click here to read a memoir recounting the initial armistice discussions.  Click here to read the official German view.  Click here to read the text of the preliminary armistice signed on 16 December 1917.

Leon Trotsky on Armistice Negotiations of 5 December 1917

The conference opened in the presence of representatives of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria.

Field-Marshal von Hindenburg and Field-Marshal von Hotzendorf charged Prince Leopold of Bavaria with the negotiations, and he in his turn nominated his Chief of Staff, General Hoffmann.  Other delegates received similar authority from their highest Commander in Chief.  The enemy delegation was exclusively military.

Our delegates opened the conference with a declaration of our peace aims, in view of which an armistice was proposed.  The enemy delegates replied that that was a question to be solved by politicians.  They said they were soldiers, having powers only to negotiate conditions of an armistice, and could add nothing to the declaration of Foreign Ministers Czernin and von Kühlmann.

Our delegates, taking due note of this evasive declaration, proposed that they should immediately address all the countries involved in the war, including Germany and her allies, and all States not represented at the conference, with a proposal to take part in drawing up an armistice on all fronts.

The enemy delegates again replied evasively that they did not possess such powers.  Our delegation then proposed that they ask their Government for such authority.  This proposal was accepted, but no reply had been communicated to the Russian delegation up to 2 o'clock, December 5th.

Our representatives submitted a project for an armistice on all fronts, elaborated by our military experts.  The principal points of this project were: First, an interdiction against sending forces on our fronts to the fronts of our allies, and, second, the retirement of German detachments from the islands around Moon Sound.

The enemy delegation submitted a project for an armistice on the front from the Baltic to the Black Sea.  This proposal is now being examined by our military experts.  Negotiations will be continued tomorrow morning.

The enemy delegation declared that our conditions for an armistice were unacceptable and expressed the opinion that such demands could be addressed only to a conquered country.

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

The Austro-Hungarian declaration of war was the first ever delivered by telegram.

- Did you know?

Primary Docs