Brest-Litovsk: Analysis & Lessons

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Brest-Litovsk: Analysis & Lessons
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I'm interested to hear what others think about the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk- as an historical event, as an issue of contention within the Bolshevik Party and wider Russian Revolution (including the founding of the 'Left Communists' faction), as a source of lessons for the future.

The idea that the first region or nation-state that overthrew the bourgeoisie in a future working class revolution would be targeted in every possible way by the rest of the states is very likely.

What are the concrete lessons to be drawn from the treaty and the events surrounding it?

Some thoughts

I don't have any definitive opinon on this subject on this topic at the moment, just a couple of thoughs.

First of all, the signing of Brest-Litovsk was one of the factors in the breakdown of democracy in the RSFSR. One of the important features of the Russian political landscape at the time was that of orientation, wether you were siding with the Central Powers, the Allies, or neither. In the revolutionary socialist camp, the Left-SR's supported 'revolutionary defencism' against the central powers and the Menshevik-Internationalists were against both sides. Although the Bolsheviks were ideologically committed to a transformation of the World Imperialist War into a Europe-wide revolutionary civil war, the signing of the Brest treaty was seen as an orientation towards the central powers, an orientation which made them unpopular with the other elements of the revolutionary camp. When Sovnarkom voted in favour of signing, the Left-SR's Commisars, the only non-Bolshevik elements of the CoPC, walked out. Two months later, in July, a couple of Left-SR's assasinated the German ambassador in Russia. The event spiralled out of control, with Left-SR detachment's seizing government buildings, claiming to be acting in order to prevent reprisals by the Bolsheviks. The July uprising and the subsequent quelling of it by the Latvian riflemen on the orders of the Bolsheviks marked the end of any possibility of co-operation between Bolsheviks and LSR's.

The signing of the treaty also led to a stranglehold being put on democracy within the Bolshevik party. The debate over Brest nearly tore the party in two between those for and against signing the treaty, and when they managed to hold together, it was at the expense of the continued existence of vigorous debate. The 'Left-Communists' were mostly appeased by the more radical economic policy which began to be pursued in the summer of 1918 including greater nationalisation of industry, the sending of armed detachments of workers' and the unemployed to requisition grain, the setting up of committee's of the village poor (Kombedy) for the struggle of the poor peasants' against the kulaks and so on. Although debate would spark up again sometime later, the immediate situation stifled it.

On the other hand, when the proposals for a treaty were first put on the table in December 1917, they were much more favourable to the Bolsheviks than the terms that were eventually signed. If the Bolsheviks had been willing to deal with the Germans earlier rather than sloganeering about a revolutionary war which they were in no way prepared to fight, they would not have had to deal with the eleven days war in February and the much harsher conditions which were offered by the Germans afterwards.

One of the main problems was the Bolsheviks position of weakness in terms of military organisation. After the revolution the command structure of the army had collapsed, and the government had begun dembolising it, with the idea that if they had to engage in any wars, they would be able to hold out with armed detachments of workers and revolutionary soldiers until workers in the belligerent country rose up against their government. Although not wrong about the potential for Europe-wide class war, they overestimated the possibilities of it. As it stood the German revolution did not occur until some time after the signing of the Brest treaty. The lack of proffessional and co-ordinated armed forces put them in a position of weakness as compared to German Imperialism. The ease with which the Germans advanced during the eleven days war taught the Soviet government that they would need a proffessional army if they were to have any hope of survival, and the Red Army began to be formed soon after.

So in somewhat contradiction to what I said at the start of the post, I'll put forward the opinion that the Brest treaty showed the need for a revolutionary regime to have a Red Army in order to defend itself against organised aggression from the outside.

Thanks for those

Thanks for those reflections 

Bilan also felt that Lenin's position had been the clearest at the time. Bukharin's position suffered from a certain heroic martyrdom vision, even if the Left Communists were not wrong to point to the dangers of any accommodation with capital, external as well as internal. But until the abolition of exploitation, the working class, in a revolution, is always compelled at certain moments to enter into some form of negotiation with the class enemy, just as it is in the daily struggle.  

Agree that the conditions of siege obliged the Soviet power to equip itself with a Red Army. But this was a step fraught with danger, since the Red Army (like the Cheka) was ultimately to become an instrument of repression against the proletariat. The whole problem of the transitional state is sumamrised in this dilemma.  

I think an added problem that

I think an added problem that did not exist during the October Revolution are the 'socialist' states and 'anti-imperialist' states. It's probably likely that when a new round of revolutionary activity broke out, regimes like those in the DPRK, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Iran, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, etc would likely seek to extend their imperialist influence through monetary, military, diplomatic aid- depending on the nature and location of the uprisings and struggle.

It's very difficult to imagine an imperialist, capitalist nation-state offering the RSFSR aid or solidarity (during the first 2 years of the revolution)- today, I think the problems of building a military-intelligence institution, negotiating with capitalist powers, engaging in foreign policy and trade, will have a new addition to the list of difficulties in the revolutionary and post-revolutionary period in the form of state capitalist 'friends'.

Though with problems like those suffered within the party an the broader revolutionary movement around Brest-Litovsk, it doesn't seem possible that the experience of the class can prepare it to weather such a dividing topic better in the future. There will be intense disagreement and debate that could fracture class or party unity on any one of these difficult topics during the transitional period- and the slightest wavering or hesitation could cost everything.