Peace At Any Price

Leonid Pasternak: The Price of Blood (on the Fourth Anniversary of the Imperialist War) (191Smilie: 8) Anti-war editorial in a Soviet publication with an image of a bleeding soldier. Source: Hoover Political Poster Database. 2007.

In 1917 the new Russian Revolutionary Government knew that it could never stabilize Russia while still in the midst of WWI.  Russia had to seek peace with Germany and the other Central Powers before the struggle to build a new stable government could begin.

The new Bolshevik government signed the Treaty of Brest Litovsk after two months of negotiations, on March 3, 1918  at the destroyed fortified town of Brest Litovsk in modern day Poland.   The treaty demanded that Russia default on its prior commitments to the Triple Entente as Imperial Russia.  The Bolshevik government was more than happy to accommodate this request since they felt no loyalty to the other governments which had supported the prior imperial dynasty, and this would end their commitment to continue fighting the Central Powers.  However, the Central Powers demanded still more from the new Bolshevik government.  Russia was forced to ceded the Baltic States to Germany, the province of Kars Oblast to the Ottoman Empire, and to recognize the independence of Ukraine. As if this was not enough, the Bolshevik government agreed to pay six billion German marks in reparations to Germany.  These agreements were a strong blow to Russia, but the new Bolshevik government was willing to agree to such stringent and damaging conditions in order to secure peace, and begin their inward campaign of reform.

The first two pages of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, in (from left to right) German, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Ottoman Turkish and Russian.

The terms of the treaty were shockingly harsh even to the German negotiator.  The Russian people wanted peace desperately but even so, these terms were unpopular to them.  Even many Bolsheviks disapproved of the treaty.  Propaganda became extremely important to show the Russian people that peace at any price was worth it for the new Russia.

Pro-Peace Propaganda Video

This video displays images of fraternization between German and Russian soldiers on the German front, showing that peace with Germany is not impossible, the war was not too brutal or cruel for friendships to grow even between soldiers.  It also shows a picture of Kaiser Wilhelm’s signature on the Treaty of Brest Litovsk.  the video attempted to brighten the mood of the Russian people by showing clips of the rear soldiers of the front-line fighting positions, and Germans standing in position.  These images were all intended to show that the war was not so cruel an event that revenge was necessary, or that peace and cooperation could not be achieved, the Germans were willing to make peace and the time to end the bloodshed was right.  This type of propaganda was able to successfully sway most Russian people to accept the harsh terms of the treaty.  However, there still remained many groups of Russians who strongly protested the agreement.



Seventeen Moments in Soviet History:

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. Oxford University Press, Oxford New York, 2009.

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6 Responses to Peace At Any Price

  1. Nice discussion on the Treaty of Brest Litovsk and especially on how propaganda was necessary to convince the Russian people of its worth (also enjoyed the video!). Even though the treaty was harsh, it did buy some time that the Soviet government really needed.

  2. Also I just noticed this after reading Jimmy’s post on the tsar’s abdication ( In Nicholas’s Decree of Abdication, he writes, “the whole future of our dear fatherland demand that the war should be brought to a victorious conclusion whatever the cost.” Very interesting contradiction with the new Soviet government’s view on war – Nicolas believed in winning the war “whatever the cost,” while as you pointed out, the Bolsheviks believed in peace whatever the cost.

  3. This video is a very interesting piece that creates a major question for me.This question: how many Russians did this video actually reach? This was 1917 and film was still a relatively new medium of entertainment. TV did not yet exist, so a citizen would have had to see this in a movie theater. It then appears that propaganda of this type would be more likely to travel by word of mouth by the few who were privileged rather than witnessed by the majority of the Russian population. This leads me to question how influence a video like this would have truly been, and as a result question how much the Russian people really accepted the brutal war treaty.

  4. Thanks for taking on this topic! The war (how to prosecute it, what the goal was, how to end it….) played an enormous role in the radicalizing of the revolution. And even though the Bolsheviks wanted out of the “imperialist” war asap, accepting such a harsh peace was difficult. Nice analysis of the “peace propaganda” video!

  5. They went through so much to establish peace and then go back to war just 20 years later. It is fascinating how the Bolsheviks did not consider Russia to be the same Russia that started the war. The treaty was not seen as defeat, but as a successful way to spare the army and the nation itself. Giving up those pieces of territory would come back to be an issue after the Second World War.

    Alex Apollonio says:

    I’ve always been fascinated by the Treaty of Brest Litovsk, so I’m glad to see it covered and covered so well. Whether or not you agree with political and economic views of the Bolsheviks, this topic displays how much more willing they were to focus on domestic issues than Nicholas II. An almost complete unwillingness by imperial authorities to do so in the late 19th/early 20th century was made even worse with the coming of the First World War.

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