Courtesy Reuters

The Meaning of Brest-Litovsk Today

TWENTY years ago -- on March 3, 1918 -- the first treaty of peace between belligerent parties in the World War was signed by the Central Powers and Russia at Brest-Litovsk. Few then appreciated the full significance of the event. At the moment it appeared to mark the complete victory of German arms in the East, and, for Russia, the greatest humiliation in her diplomatic and military history. But though these results were of grave importance in themselves, the more far-reaching effects of the treaty could not be guessed at. In retrospect, however, it is possible to say that, with the exception of the Treaty of Versailles, the Peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk had consequences and results more important than any other peace settlement since the Congress of Vienna.

The long expected Revolution had broken out in Russia with the slogan of "Peace, Bread and Land," and the German High Command had added its contribution to chaos by allowing Lenin and his followers to return from Switzerland to Petrograd in the famous "sealed train." As a result, the political complexion of the Revolution changed rapidly from "parlor pink" to scarlet; the Liberal government of Prince Lvov gave place to the Socialist régime of Alexander Kerensky; and he in turn was ousted by the Bolsheviks at the Second Revolution of November 1917.

Capitalizing the deep-felt longing of the Russian masses for peace, Lenin at once declared a cessation of hostilities, and thus it came about that, after some vicissitudes and the murder of the Russian Chief of the General Staff, there sat down on December 20 at the Brest-Litovsk headquarters of Prince Leopold of Bavaria one of the strangest gatherings in the history of modern diplomacy. Fate had decreed that the representatives of the most revolutionary régime ever known should sit at the same table with the representatives of the most reactionary military caste among the then ruling classes, that a Bavarian nobleman, a Knight of the Golden Fleece, and a Prussian major-general should negotiate

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