All through the autumn, delegates from the front appeared daily before the Petrograd Soviet to say that unless peace was signed by November 1, the soldiers themselves would come from the trenches to make peace in their own way. This became the slogan at the front. Soldiers left the trenches in droves. The October revolution gave a temporary check to this, but not for long.
Thanks to the February revolution, the soldiers had discovered that they had been ruled by the Rasputin gang, which had dragged them into a heinous and futile war; they saw no reason for continuing it because they were asked to do so by a certain young lawyer named Kerensky. They wanted to get back to their homes, their families, the land, and the revolution, which had promised them land and freedom but so far had done nothing but keep them in cold and verminous holes at the front. Kerensky took offense at the soldiers, workers and peasants, and called them “mutinous slaves.” He failed to understand one little thing — that revolution consists in exactly this: in slaves mutinying and refusing to be slaves. Buchanan, the patron and the power behind Kerensky, was incautious enough to tell us in his memoirs what war and revolution meant to him and to his sort. Several months after the October revolution, Buchanan wrote the following description of Russia in 1916 — the terrible year of the defeat of the Czar’s armies and the breakdown of the economic life, a year of bread-lines, with a government leap-frogging at Rasputin’s command. “At one of the many beautiful villas which we visited” (Buchanan is writing of his trip to the Crimea in 1916), “we were not only presented with bread and salt on a silver platter, but found in our motor, on leaving, a case with a dozen bottles of old Burgundy, whose praises I had sung while drinking it at luncheon. It is terribly sad to look back on those happy by-gone days [!] and to think of all the misery and misfortunes which have befallen those who showed us such kindness and hospitality.”
Buchanan refers not to the sufferings of the soldiers in the trenches, or to the starving mothers in the breadlines, but to the misfortune of the former owners of beautiful villas in the Crimea, owners of silver platters and Burgundy. Reading those blissfully shameless lines, one can only say: the October revolution was not in vain. Not in vain did it sweep away not only the Romanoffs but the Buchanans and Kerenskys as well.
When I was crossing the front line for the first time on my way to Brest-Litovsk, our sympathizers in the trenches could not muster up much of a protest against the monstrous demands of Germany because the trenches were almost deserted. After the experiments of Buchanan and Kerensky, no one dared to speak even conditionally of continuing the war. Peace, peace, at any price! Later, on one of my return trips from Brest-Litovsk to Moscow, I tried to persuade one of the representatives from the front on the Central Executive Committee to give a little support to our delegation by a vigorous speech. “Impossible,” he replied, “absolutely impossible. We shouldn’t be able to return to the trenches. They wouldn’t understand us, and would say that we were continuing to deceive them as Kerensky did.”
It was obvious that going on with the war was impossible. On this point, there was not even a shadow of disagreement between Lenin and me. We were both equally bewildered at Bukharin and the other apostles of a “revolutionary war.” But there was another question, quite as important. How far could the Hohenzollern government go in their struggle against us? In a letter to one of his friends, Czernin wrote that if they had been strong enough, they would have sent their troops against Petrograd to establish order there, instead of negotiating with the Bolsheviks. There was certainly no lack of ill-will. But was there strength enough? Could Hohenzollern send his troops against revolutionaries who wanted peace? How had the February revolution, and, later on, the October revolution, affected the German army? How soon would any effect show itself? To these questions, no answer could as yet be given. We had to try to find it in the course of the negotiations. Accordingly we had to delay the negotiations as long as we could. It was necessary to give the European workers time to absorb properly the very fact of the Soviet revolution, including its policy of peace. And this was all the more important since the press of the Entente, like the Russian “conciliatory” and bourgeois press, was portraying the peace negotiations in advance as a comedy with the roles ingeniously distributed.
Even in Germany, among the Social Democratic opposition of that period, which was apt to see its own weaknesses reflected in us, people were talking about the Bolsheviks working hand in hand with the German government. And this version must have been even more credible in France and in England. It was obvious that if the bourgeoisie of the Entente and the Social Democracy succeeded in spreading the wrong idea about us among the masses of workers, the future military intervention of the Allies would be made all the simpler. So I insisted that before signing a separate peace — if that proved absolutely unavoidable — we must at all costs give the workers of Europe a striking and incontestable proof of the deadly enmity existing between us and the German ruling classes. It was these considerations that gave me the idea of a political demonstration at Brest-Litovsk expressing the slogan: “We end war, we demobilize the army, but we do not sign peace.” If German imperialism finds itself unable to send troops against us — I reasoned — it will mean that we have achieved a tremendous victory of far-reaching consequences. But if it were still possible for the Hohenzollerns to strike against us we should always be able to capitulate early enough. I consulted the other members of the delegation, among them Kamenev, and found them in sympathy with me, and wrote Lenin to that effect. His reply was:
“When you come to Moscow we will talk it over.”
“One could want nothing better,” Lenin answered my arguments, “if it turns out that Hoffmann is not strong enough to send troops against us. But there is little hope of that. He will find specially selected regiments of rich Bavarian farmers for it. And then, how many of them does he need? You say your self that the trenches are empty. What if the Germans resume fighting?”
“Then we will be compelled to sign the peace, but every one will realize that we had no choice. By this act alone, we will deal a decisive blow at the story of our secret connection with the Hohenzollerns.”
“Of course, there are certain advantages in that. But it is too risky. If it were necessary for us to go under to assure the success of the German revolution, we should have to do it. The German revolution is vastly more important than ours. But when will it come? No one knows. And at the moment, there is nothing so important as our revolution. It must be safe guarded against danger at any price.”
The difficulties of the question were further aggravated by the inner state of the party. The prevalent attitude in the party, at least among its leading elements, was that of irreconcilable hostility to signing the Brest-Litovsk peace terms. The stenographic reports of the negotiations published in our press intensified this mood; it found its most acute expression in the “left” communist group, which put forward a slogan of revolutionary war.
The inner struggle grew more intense every day. Contrary to the tale later spread about, it was not between Lenin and me, but between Lenin and the overwhelming majority of the chief organizations of the party. On the most important questions, such as whether we were then in a position to carry on a revolutionary war and whether it was generally admissible for the revolutionary power to sign agreements with the imperialists, I was unreservedly with Lenin, and answered, as he did, the first question in the negative and the second in the positive.
The first discussion of the differences before a wider audience took place on January 21, at the meeting of the active party workers. Three points of view came to the fore then. Lenin held that we should try to delay the negotiations and in case of an ultimatum, capitulate immediately. I considered it necessary to break off negotiations even at the risk of a new German advance, so that we might capitulate — if we had to do so — only in the face of an obvious use of force. Bukharin demanded war to extend the arena of revolution. Lenin waged a bitter fight against the advocates of revolutionary war at that meeting, although he made only a slight criticism of my proposal. The supporters of revolutionary war obtained thirty-two votes, Lenin fifteen, and I sixteen. But these figures are not really indicative of the mood of the party. In the upper stratum, if not in the masses, the “left wing” was even stronger than at this particular meeting. It was this fact that insured the temporary victory of my formula. Those who shared Bukharin’s view regarded my proposal as a step in their own direction. On the other hand, Lenin believed, and rightly, that postponement of the final decision would work for his eventual victory.
At this time our own party, no less than the workers of western Europe, was much in need of some visual demonstration of the actual state of things. In all the directing institutions of the party and state, Lenin was in a minority. Over two hundred local Soviets, in response to the invitation of the Soviet of Commissaries, stated their views on war and peace. Of them all, only two large Soviets — Petrograd and Sebastopol (the latter with reservations) — went on record as being in favor of peace. On the other hand, several of the big workers’ centres, such as Moscow, Ekaterinburg, Kharkoff, Ekaterinoslav, Iva novo-Voznesensk, Kronstadt, etc., voted by overwhelming majorities to break off negotiations. The same attitude prevailed among our party organizations, and of course among the left Socialist-Revolutionists. Lenin’s point could have been carried out by means of a split in the party and a coup d’état but not otherwise. And yet, every day was bound to increase the number of Lenin’s followers. In these circumstances, the formula of “neither war nor peace” actually served as a bridge to Lenin’s stand. And it was the bridge over which the majority of the party, or at least of its directing elements, made the crossing.
“All right, let’s suppose that we have actually refused to sign a peace, and that the Germans answer it by an advance. What are you going to do then?” Lenin questioned me.
“We will sign peace at the point of a bayonet. The situation will be clear to all the world.”
“But in that case, you won’t support the slogan of revolutionary war, will you?”
’’Under no circumstances.”
“In that case, the experiment will probably not be so dangerous. We will only risk losing Esthonia or Latvia.” And with a sly chuckle, Lenin added: “For the sake of a good peace with Trotsky, Latvia and Esthonia are worth losing.” For several days, that was his favorite refrain.
It was at this decisive session of January 22, that the Central Committee adopted my proposals: to delay negotiations; in the event of a German ultimatum, to declare war at an end, but to refuse to sign peace; to act, thereafter, according to the demands of circumstance. Late at night, on January 25, a joint session of the Central Committees of the Bolsheviks and the “left” Socialist-Revolutionists (our allies then) was held, and the same formula was voted by an overwhelming majority. As we often did then, we declared that this decision of both the Central Committees should stand as that of the Soviet of People’s Commissaries.
On January 31, I telegraphed Lenin at the Smolny over a direct wire from Brest-Litovsk:
“Among the countless rumors and reports reaching the German press, there has appeared the absurd statement that we intend to refuse, demonstratively, to sign the peace treaty; that there are disagreements among the Bolsheviks on this score, and so forth and so on. I am referring to a telegram of this sort that came from Stockholm and quoted the Politiken as its authority. If I am not mistaken, the Politiken is the organ of Höglund. Could you ask him why his editors publish such absurd nonsense, in case it is true that a report of this nature appeared in the paper? Inasmuch as the bourgeois press is full of all sorts of malicious gossip, the Germans are not likely to attach much significance to this report. But, in this case, the source is a newspaper of the left wing, one of whose editors is in Petrograd. This gives the report a certain authoritativeness that can only confuse the minds of our opponents.
“The Austrian and German press are full of reports of horrors in Petrograd, Moscow, and throughout Russia, of hundreds and thousands of dead, of the rattle of machine-guns, etc. It is absolutely necessary to appoint a level-headed man to issue daily reports on the state of the country, and to make them public through the Petrograd telegraph agency and the radio. It would be a good thing if Comrade Zinoviev would take this upon himself. It is extremely important, and the reports should be sent, first of all, to Vorovsky and Litvinov; this could be done through Chicherin.
“We have only had one formal meeting, so far. The Germans are delaying negotiations, apparently because of their own internal crisis. The German press has begun to shout that we really do not want peace and are only anxious to spread the revolution to other countries. These jackasses are incapable of understanding that it is simply because we want to further European revolution that the earliest peace possible is of the utmost importance to us.
“Have any measures been taken toward expelling the Roumanian embassy? I believe that the King of Roumania is in Austria. According to a report in one of the German papers, we have, stored in Moscow, not the national Roumanian fund, but the gold fund of the national bank of Roumania. The sympathies of official Germany are, of course, entirely on the Roumanian side.
This note demands a little explanation. Cable dispatches from Brest-Litovsk were regarded as safe from listening-in or tapping. But we had every reason to believe that the Germans at Brest-Litovsk were reading our correspondence over the direct wire; we had enough respect for their technical resourcefulness to believe this. It was impossible for us to code all our messages, and we did not consider coding a sufficient protection. At the same time, the newspaper Politiken was doing us no service by spreading its inopportune but authentic information. For this reason, my dispatch was written not so much to warn Lenin that the secret of our decision had been blabbed abroad, but to try to put the Germans off the track. I used the very discourteous word “jackasses” in referring to the newspaper men only to make the message read quite “naturally.” I can’t say to what extent my stratagem succeeded in deceiving Kühlmann. At any event, my declaration on February 10 seemed to impress our opponents as something quite unexpected. In Czernin’s diary for February 11, we read:
“Trotsky refuses to sign. War is over, but there is no peace.”
It is hard to believe, but in 1924 the school of Stalin and Zinoviev made an attempt so to represent this matter as to make me seem to have acted at Brest-Litovsk contrary to the decision of the party and the government. The falsifiers did not even bother to look up the old minutes and read their own statements. Zinoviev spoke at the Petrograd Soviet on February 11, the day after I had made the declaration at Brest-Litovsk, and averred that “our delegation has found the only correct way out of the situation as it now stands.” And it was Zinoviev who moved the resolution which was adopted by the majority of all against one — with the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionists abstaining — and approved the refusal to sign the peace treaty.
On February 14, after I had made my report to the Central Executive Committee, Svyerdlov, on behalf of the Bolshevik faction, moved a resolution that began with the words: “Having heard and fully considered the report of the peace delegation, the Central Executive Committee fully approves of the action of its representatives at Brest-Litovsk.” There was not a single party or Soviet local organization that did not express its approval of the conduct of the Soviet delegation during the interval between February 1 and 15. At the party congress in March, 1918, Zinoviev declared: “Trotsky is right when he says that he acted in accordance with the decision of the majority of the Central Committee. No one tried to deny that.” Lastly, Lenin himself reported at the same congress, that “at the Central Committee . . . a decision was adopted not to sign peace.” All this has not prevented the establishing, in the Communist International, of the new dogma that Trotsky alone was responsible for the refusal to sign peace at Brest-Litovsk.
After the October strikes in Germany and Austria, the question of whether the German government would decide on an offensive was not as obvious, either to us or to the German government, as it is being represented to-day, after the fact, by many “intelligent” persons. On February 10, the delegations of Germany and Austria-Hungary at Brest-Litovsk arrived at the conclusion that “the situation proposed in Trotsky’s declarations must be accepted.” Only General Hoffmann opposed it. At their concluding conference next day, according to Czernin, Kühlmann spoke with complete assurance of the necessity of accepting the de facto peace. Echoes of this reached us at once. All of our delegation returned to Moscow under the impression that the Germans would not start an offensive. Lenin was very pleased with the result.
“And perhaps they will deceive us?” he was still asking.
We shrugged our shoulders. To all appearances it did not look that way.
“Well, if it is so, it’s all to the good,” said Lenin. “Appearances are saved, and the war is over.”
However, two days before the expiration of the week fixed for the German reply, a cabled despatch from General Samoylo, who had remained at Brest-Litovsk, informed us that the Germans had announced, through General Hoffmann, that from midnight of February 18 they would consider themselves in a state of war with Russia, and had therefore invited him to leave Brest-Litovsk. Lenin got the telegram first. I was in his room at the time, where a conference was being held with the left Socialist-Revolutionists. Without saying a word, Lenin handed me the telegram. His face made me realize instantly that something was up. He hurried the conversation with the Socialist-Revolutionists, so that he could discuss the situation after they had left.
“They have deceived us, after all . . . Gained five days. This wild beast will let nothing escape it. There is nothing left, then, but to sign the old terms, provided that the Germans will agree to leave them exactly as they are.”
As before, I insisted that Hoffmann be allowed actually to start an offensive, so that the workers of Germany, as well as of the countries of the Allies, would learn of the offensive as a fact rather than as a threat.
“No,” rejoined Lenin, “we can’t afford to lose a single hour now. The test has been made. Hoffmann wants to and can fight. Delay is impossible. This beast jumps fast.”
In March, at the party congress, Lenin said: “It was agreed between us [that is, Lenin and me] that we hold out until a German ultimatum, but that after the ultimatum we were to surrender.” I described the agreement above. Lenin consented not to attack my point of view before the party only because I promised him not to support the advocates of a revolutionary war. The official representatives of that group — Uritzky, Radek, and, I believe, Ossinsky — came to me with an offer of a “single front.” I made it quite clear to them that our positions had nothing in common. When the German high command gave notice of the expiration of the truce, Lenin reminded me of our agreement. I answered that by an ultimatum I had not meant simply a verbal statement, but an actual German offensive that would leave no doubt as to the real relations between the countries.
At the meeting of the Central Committee on February 17, Lenin put the preliminary question to a vote: “If the German offensive becomes a fact, and no revolutionary upheaval takes place in Germany, are we still to sign peace?” Bukharin and his followers answered this cardinal question by abstaining from voting. Krestinsky acted in the same way. Joffe voted against peace. Lenin and I voted in favor of it. The next day I voted against the immediate despatch of the telegram stating our readiness to sign peace, as Lenin proposed. During the day, however, telegraphic reports informed us that the Germans had opened an offensive, had seized our military supplies and were advancing in the direction of Dvinsk. That evening I voted for Lenin’s telegram; now there was no possible doubt that the German offensive would be broadcast to the entire world.
On February 21, we received new terms from Germany, framed, apparently, with the direct object of making the signing of peace impossible. By the time our delegation returned to Brest-Litovsk, these terms, as is well known, had been made even harsher. All of us, including Lenin, were of the impression that the Germans had come to an agreement with the Allies about crushing the Soviets, and that a peace on the western front was to be built on the bones of the Russian revolution. If this was true, it was obvious that no concessions from us would have been of any use. The developments in Finland and the Ukraine tipped the scales strongly in favor of war. Every hour brought something unfavorable. The news of a German landing in Finland and of the routing of the Finnish workers reached us. I met Lenin in the corridor near his room. He was terribly excited; never before had I seen him like that, nor did I again.
“Yes, we shall have to fight,” he said, “though we have nothing to fight with. There does not seem to be any other way out.”
But ten or fifteen minutes later, when I called at his room, he said: “No, we must not change our policy. Military action on our part would not be able to save the revolution in Finland, but it would most certainly ruin us. We will help the Finnish workers in every way we can, but we must do it with out abandoning peace. I am not sure that this will save us now.
“But at any rate it is the only way in which salvation is still possible.”
I was very sceptical about the possibility of securing peace even at the price of complete capitulation. But Lenin decided to try the capitulation idea to the utmost. Since he had no majority in the Central Committee, and the decision depended on my vote, I abstained from voting to insure for him the majority of one vote. I stated this explicitly when I explained my reasons for not voting. If the surrender should fail to obtain peace for us, I reasoned, we would straighten out our party front in armed defense of the revolution thrust on us by the enemy.
“It seems to me,” I told Lenin, privately, “that it would be politically wise if I submitted my resignation as commissary for foreign affairs.”
“What for? I hope that we aren’t going to introduce these parliamentarian methods.”
“But my resignation would imply, for the Germans, a radical change in our policy, and would strengthen their confidence in our willingness actually to sign the peace treaty this time.”
“There is something in that,” Lenin answered, thinking it over. “That is a serious political reason.”
On the twenty-second of February, at the meeting of the Central Committee, I reported that the French military mission had conveyed the French and English offers to help us in a war with Germany. I expressed myself as in favor of accepting the offer, on condition, of course, that we be completely independent in matters of foreign policy. Bukharin insisted that it was inadmissible for us to enter into any arrangements with the imperialists. Lenin came vigorously to my aid, and the Central Committee adopted my resolution by six votes against five. As far as I can remember now, Lenin dictated the resolution in these words: “That Comrade Trotsky be authorized to accept the assistance of the brigands of the French imperialism against the German brigands.” He always preferred formulas that left no room for doubt.
After I left the meeting, Bukharin overtook me in the long corridor of the Smolny, threw his arms about me, and began to weep. “What are we doing?” he exclaimed. “We are turning the party into a dung-heap.” Bukharin is generally ready with his tears, and likes realistic expressions. But at this time the situation was becoming really tragic. The revolution was between the hammer and the anvil.
On March 3, our delegation signed the peace treaty without even reading it. Forestalling many of the ideas of Clémenceau, the Brest-Litovsk peace was like the hangman’s noose. On March 22, the treaty was ratified by the German Reichstag. The German Social Democrats gave their approval, in advance, to the future principles of Versailles. The Independents voted against it; they were just beginning to describe the futile curve that eventually brought them back to their starting-point.
Reviewing the way already covered at the seventh congress of the party (March, 1918), I described my position with detail and clarity enough: Had we really wanted to obtain the most favorable peace, we would have agreed to it as early as last November. But no one [except Zinoviev] raised his voice to do it. We were all in favor of agitation, of revolutionizing the working classes of Germany, Austria-Hungary and all of Europe. But all our previous negotiations with the Germans had revolutionary significance only in so far as they were received as genuine. I had already reported to the Bolshevik faction of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets how the former Austrian minister, Gratz, said that the Germans only needed some pretext to present us with an ultimatum. They believed that we ourselves were inviting it . . . that we understood in advance that we were to sign anything; that we were just playing in a revolutionary comedy.
“In these circumstances, if we had refused to sign peace, we should have been threatened with the loss of Reval and other territories, whereas, on the other hand, if we had signed too hastily, we should have risked the loss of the sympathy of the world proletariat, or at least of the larger part of it. I was one of those who thought that the Germans were not likely to advance, but that if they did, we should always have time to sign the peace, even if it involved still harsher terms. In due course of time,” I said then, “every one would have become convinced that there was no other way out.”
It is remarkable that Liebknecht wrote at the same time from prison: “In no sense can it be said that the present solution of the problem is not as favorable for future development as a surrender at Brest-Litovsk would have been at the beginning of February. Quite the contrary. A surrender like that would have thrown the worst light on all preceding resistance and would have made the subsequent submission to force appear as ‘vis haud ingrata.’ The cynicism that cries to heaven and the brutal character of the ultimate German action have driven all suspicions into the background.”
Liebknecht grew amazingly during the war; he learned to establish a gulf between himself and the honest characterlessness of Haase. It is unnecessary to say that Liebknecht was a revolutionary of endless courage. But he was only now developing himself into a strategist. This disclosed itself in questions of his personal life, as well as of revolutionary policy. Considerations of personal safety were absolutely alien to him. After his arrest, many friends shook their heads at his self-sacrificing “recklessness.” Lenin, on the contrary, was always much concerned about the safety of the leadership. He was the head of the general staff, and always remembered that, during war, he had to insure the functioning of the high command. Liebknecht was like a general who himself leads his troops to battle.
For this reason, as well as for various others, it was hard for him to understand our strategy at Brest-Litovsk. At first he wanted us simply to challenge fate and advance to meet it. In that period, he repeatedly condemned the “policy of Lenin-Trotsky,” quite reasonably making no distinction in this basic question between Lenin’s stand and my own. But later on he began to see the policy of Brest-Litovsk in a different light. Early in May, he wrote: “One thing over and above all is necessary for the Russian Soviets — and that is certainly not demonstrations and decorations, but a stern, harsh power. For this they need intelligence and time as well as energy; intelligence so that they may gain the time that is necessary for even the most intelligent energy.” This is a complete recognition of the rightness of Lenin’s Brest-Litovsk policy, which was wholly directed toward gaining time.
Truth makes its way, but nonsense is just as tenacious. Professor Fisher of America, in a big book describing the first years of Soviet Russia, The Famine in Soviet Russia 1, attributed to me the idea that the Soviets will never enter into a war with the bourgeois governments, nor make peace with them. Fisher, like many another, copied this nonsensical formula from Zinoviev and the epigones in general, adding to it some of his own lack of understanding. My belated critics have long since taken my Brest-Litovsk proposal from the context of its time and place and turned it into a universal formula in order to reduce it more easily to absurdity. In doing so, however, they have failed to notice that the state of “no peace, no war,” or, more precisely, of neither peace treaty nor war, held nothing unnatural in itself. Exactly these relations exist to-day between Soviet Russia and the greatest countries of the world — the United States and Great Britain. 2 True, it was not by our wish that they became established as such, but that does not alter matters.
Moreover, there is a country with which we have established exactly those relations of “no peace, no war” on our own initiative — I refer to Roumania. While attributing to me a universal formula which they portray as sheer absurdity, my critics seem to be very ignorant of the fact that they are reproducing the “absurd” formula in the existing relations of the Soviet Union with many other countries.
How did Lenin himself regard the Brest-Litovsk episode when it was a thing of the past? Lenin generally considered occasional differences of opinion with me as not worth mentioning. But more than once he spoke of “the tremendous propagandist importance of the Brest-Litovsk negotiations.” (For instance, in his speech of May 17, 1918.) At the congress of the party a year after the peace, Lenin remarked: “Our extreme isolation from Western Europe and all the other countries deprived us of any objective materials for judging the possible rate of development, or the forms of growth, of the proletarian revolution in the West. The result of all this complicated situation was that the question of the Brest-Litovsk peace brought out many differences of opinion in our party.” (The speech of March 18, 1919.)
There remains the question of the behavior, during those days, of my later critics and accusers. For almost a year, Bukharin had fought furiously with Lenin and me, threatening to split the party. Kuybyshev, Yaroslavsky, Bubnov, and many of the other current pillars of Stalinism were with him. Zinoviev, on the contrary, demanded an immediate signing of the peace, forswearing the propagandist possibilities of Brest-Litovsk. Lenin and I were unanimous in condemning this stand. Kamenev agreed with my formula while he was at Brest-Litovsk, but joined Lenin on his return to Moscow. Rykov was not on the Central Committee at the time, and so took no part in the deciding conferences. Dzerzhinsky was against Lenin, but on the last vote went over to him. What was Stalin’s position? As usual, he had none. He was simply waiting and calculating. “The old man is still hoping for peace,” he would nod to me, referring to Lenin. “He won’t get any.” Afterward he would go to Lenin and probably make the same sort of observation about me. He never spoke in public. Nobody was much interested in his contradictions, either. My principal object — to make our conduct in the question of peace understood by the world proletariat in the best possible light — was no doubt a matter of secondary importance to Stalin. He was interested in “peace in one country,” as he later was in “socialism in one country.” In the deciding vote, he joined Lenin. It was not until several years later that he worked out a semblance of a “point of view” for himself on the events of Brest-Litovsk, and that was simply in the interests of his struggle against Trotskyism.
It is hardly necessary to dwell much longer on all this. As it is, I have devoted a disproportionately large space to the disagreements at Brest-Litovsk. But it seemed necessary to disclose at least one of the debatable episodes in all its completeness, to show what really happened, and how it was represented later. And with this I wanted to put the epigones in their places. As regards Lenin — no serious person will suspect that I am guided in my attitude toward him by the sentiment known in German as “Rechthaberei.” Long before anyone else, I made a public appreciation of Lenin’s part in the Brest-Litovsk days. On October 3, 1918, at the extraordinary joint meeting of the higher organs of the Soviet government, I said: “I deem it my duty to say, in this authoritative assembly, that at the hour when many of us, including myself, were doubtful as to whether it was admissible for us to sign the Brest-Litovsk peace, only Comrade Lenin maintained stubbornly, with amazing foresight and against our opposition, that we had to go through with it to tide us over until the revolution of the world proletariat. And now, we must admit that we were wrong.”
I did not wait for the delayed revelations from the epigones to recognize the political courage of Lenin’s genius, which had saved the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Brest-Litovsk days. In the words I have just quoted, I took upon myself a larger share of responsibility for the errors of others than was really my due. I did it as an example to the others. At this point, the stenographic report notes “prolonged ovation.” The party wanted to show in this way that it understood and appreciated my attitude toward Lenin, an attitude devoid of jealousy or pettiness. I realized only too well what Lenin meant to the revolution, to history, and to me. He was my master. This does not mean that I repeated his words and gestures a bit late, but that I learned from him to arrive independently at the same decision.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00