A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

By C. R. M. F. Cruttwell | Go to book overview

XXIX PEACE IN THE EAST

THE peace proposal of the Bolsheviks was addressed to all countries. It called for an immediate armistice, and for a general settlement on the basis of the familiar formula 'without annexations or indemnities'. Lenin did not indeed expect that the Entente Governments would agree, but by broadcasting his terms he hoped to induce 'the more advanced' democracies of England and France to rise against their rulers. From this point of view therefore his manifesto was a move in the great game of creating universal civil war, out of which the new internationalist order should be born.

It was none the less essential that Russia should obtain an immediate, even if an 'indecent', peace from her own enemies now at her own gates. For without such a result Bolshevism would be speedily doomed. So while Lenin based some hopes on the subterranean activity of German and Austrian Socialists (which indeed bore a very meagre fruit in the strikes of January 1918) he was quite prepared to treat with the existing imperialists. It was obvious that Germany's attitude would be decisive. The war-weariness of her three lesser allies would certainly not decline a proffered chance of peace. The Germans hesitated before agreeing to a preliminary armistice. Nothing could have been more repellent to their stiff, hierarchical minds than intercourse with the Bolsheviks. Moreover, it might be expected that to treat with them officially would strengthen their precarious hold on the Russian people.

Germany, however, was in bitter need of an eastern peace and could not afford to be particular as to the instruments of its achievement. It was a 'bread peace', for without the foodstuffs from the Ukraine the civil population of the Central Powers would have been vanquished by famine before the harvest of 1918 could be gathered.1

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1
See the statistics given in Graf O. Czernin, In the World War ( 1919), pp. 251-7.

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