The Brest Decision for Everyone?

A Picture of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

A Picture of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

The Bolsheviks ascending to power in November of 1917 following the October Revolution is a very significant occurrence that cannot be overlooked in Russian history. Lenin was a capable and determined leader that could easily gather support, especially because of the fact that the Bolsheviks were the one party that constantly supported ending the continuation of World War I.

As Gregory Freeze notes in chapter nine of his text Russia: A History “Bolshevik nationality policy also contributed to their success. Whereas most (especially patriotic whites) sought to reestablish the empire, the Bolsheviks recognized the volatility of the nationality question and promised national self determination…” (299). Because the Bolsheviks knew that gaining more support would mean ending Russia’s involvement in World War I, Lenin Called for a three month armistice with the central powers in December. As the talks commenced, the Bolsheviks stated that they wanted an end to war without any loss of land or reparations. Since that was a bold proposal, the talks stalled, and as Seventeen Moments in Soviet History noted, “Military action continued for several months, as the German army pushed further and further into territories nominally under Soviet control.” This military action occurred in February after the German military became frustrated with the delay.

Pokrovskii, Ioffe, Trotsky at Brest-Litovsk (1917)

Pokrovskii, Ioffe, Trotsky at Brest-Litovsk (1917)

Less than a month after the German military continued to advance and control more of Soviet territory the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed on March 3rd, 1918. This was a devastating blow to the Russian economy, losing about a quarter of its industry and 90% of its coal mines. What many might not realize however is how many men this conquest for Germany took to operate. I think it’s important to notice that soon after this happened the war ended.

I urge you to ask yourself why this might be. Was the amount of men that took to control this whole area too much, and did it take too many troops from the western side of the war? Lenin believed that getting out of the war could allow Russia to focus on itself, but did it really have an impact in the long run? Or hurt Russia in the end because of the massive amount of land and economic resources it lost?


Seventeen Moments in Soviet History:


Treaty of Brest-Litosvk Image:

7 comments for “The Brest Decision for Everyone?

  1. B. Knickerbocker
    16 September, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    That’s an interesting (and difficult) question to answer. Lenin had a determination to steer away from the war to focus on the coming reforms in the domestic front, but this Treaty sacrificed much of the foundations which would have been critical for Russia’s development in the near future. As far as public appeal goes, the Treaty served as proof that Lenin was willing to follow through with the Bolshevik agenda. The cost of public appeal to the Russian public, however, was to severe. Tremendous damage was done to Russia’s economy and much of Russia’s land was lost (as you noted). Russia would have greatly benefited in the long run with more of its industry and land.

  2. Katie
    16 September, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    I clicked on your post because of your title. This was a really great post about a topic not many students chose to explore. I think there is no single answer to the questions you posed, but, from my own interpretation, I think getting out of the war allowed the government to focus on society rather than war. I think it is possible not losing lands/resources could have extended chaos in Russia, as the government fought for control and had to expend resources to maintain the state.

  3. Connor Balzer
    16 September, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    I really enjoyed your post and I appreciate the title. I focused my post this week on Lenin and how much his actions influenced the Bolsheviks rise to power after the October revolution, and after reading this post and others, I realize that I have overlooked some important pieces in Lenin’s master plan. I think that the loss of industry and land was detrimental to Russia’s future as you noted; however, I think that Lenin saw it as a necessary cost for the advancement of the Bolsheviks. Lenin truly believed that his ideals, or those of the Bolsheviks, were the only hope for Russia to survive and without this treaty to show the people that the Bolsheviks would keep their promise of ending Russia’s involvement in the war, the party could never have built up the support it needed to hold power. Lenin felt that if they could not take the reigns of Russia and hold them that Russia would crumble so no matter what the cost was for the future, a weaker Russia was better than no Russia at all in his mind.

  4. Eric Schneider
    16 September, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    The title really drew me in at first, then you posed some very interesting questions. The Germans and the Russians needed peace at that time. Germans were being pushed hard on the western front and those extra troops could provide that necessary force to end the western stall (it did for a little, but as we all know it eventually failed). The Russians were in amidst a civil war that was trying to derail the Communist party, and those troops that would return from war would eventually provide the necessary leadership and experience to end the civil war. Sure the Russians lost a great amount of their territory and resources, but the benefit outweighed the cost-Russians were able to focus on their national identity and build a foundation for the future. The short-term loss was great but the future shows that this inward focus strengthened them for WW2.

  5. Ben Wolfenstein
    17 September, 2013 at 12:44 am

    I believe that the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk saved Lenin and the Soviet experiment. The war had been ravaging the country for years, Russian troops were upset and some were without weapons. In 1917 alone there was a soldier revolt and an attempted military coup. Allowing the new government to survive and build authority that would help them hold on to power through a bloody civil war.
    Did the Treaty help the Allies defeat Germany? I’ve never thought of it causing the Germans to spread their troops too thin in Eastern Europe. It is a very interesting point and it had to have been a factor in not being able to fight the Allies in France. I think the Russians leaving left an opening for the U.S. to step into the war; the Americans wanted to stay out of Europes problems but losing an Allied force scared the Americans that the Germans might win. I think that was more of a reason the Treaty forced the end of the Great War.

  6. jackscher
    18 September, 2013 at 3:38 am

    THis was a very informative post; the title is great, and made me read it. Thats also an interesting question to pose. Great work!

  7. 29 August, 2015 at 12:27 pm


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