7-7. On the struggle to consolidate Soviet power, the peace of Brest-Litovsk, and the Seventh Party Congress
In the course of a few months, from the end of 1917 to the middle of 1918, a series of measures to consolidate, defend, and advance the gains of the socialist revolution were carried out. These measures undermined the very root of the power of the bourgeoisie and the landlords, the reactionary officials and the counterrevolutionary parties. Such measures strengthened the position of the new Soviet government within the country.
Internal measures within Russia
To consolidate the Soviet power, “the old, bourgeois state machine had to be shattered and destroyed and a new, Soviet state machine set up in its place.” In this regard:
- The sabotage of the officials of the old Ministries was smashed and overcome. The Ministries were abolished and replaced by Soviet administrative machinery and appropriate People’s Commissariats.
- The Supreme Council of National Economy was set up to administer the industry of the country.
- The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission (Vecheka) was created to combat counter-revolution and sabotage.
- Most importantly, “the formation of a Red Army and Navy was decreed.”
Further, it was necessary to “destroy the survivals of the division of society into estates and the regime of national oppression, to abolish the privileges of the church,” to suppress all kinds of counterrevolutionary organizations (including their press), and to dissolve the bourgeois Constituent Assembly.
- The elections to the Constituent Assembly had largely been held prior to the October Revolution. This assembly refused to recognize the decrees of the Second Congress of Soviets on peace, land and the transfer of power to the Soviets. It was thus dissolved.
- To eliminate the survivals of feudalism, the estates system, and inequality in all spheres of social life, decrees were issued abolishing the estates, removing restrictions based on nationality or religion, separating the church from the state and the schools from the church, establishing equality for women and the equality of all the nationalities of Russia. A special edict, “The Declaration of Rights of the Peoples of Russia,” laid down as a law the right of the peoples of Russia to unhampered development and complete equality.
Following on the nationalization of the land, all large-scale industry had also to be nationalized.
- The banks, railways, foreign trade, the mercantile fleet and all large enterprises in all branches of industry—coal, metal, oil, chemicals, machine-building, textiles, sugar, etc.—were nationalized “in order to undermine the economic power of the bourgeoisie and to create a new, Soviet national economy, and likewise at its core a new, Soviet industry.
- The foreign loans contracted by the Tsar and the Provisional Government were annulled to render Russia financially independent of the foreign capitalists and free from exploitation by them. Our people refused to pay the debts incurred for the continuation of the war of conquest and which had placed Russia in bondage to foreign capital.
On the peace of Brest-Litovsk and the struggle with Trotsky and the “Left Communists”
In order to consolidate Soviet power, more than anything else, Russia’s involvement in the inter-imperialist war, particularly its state of war with Germany and Austria, had to be ended. Otherwise the position of the new-born Soviet republic could not be deemed fully secure.
Therefore, once the October Revolution was victorious, the Party launched the fight for peace.
- The Soviet Government called upon “all the belligerent peoples and their governments to start immediate negotiations for a just, democratic peace.” But Russia’s “allies”—Great Britain and France—refused to accept the Soviet proposal.
- In view of this refusal, the Soviet Government decided to start negotiations with Germany and Austria. The negotiations began on Dec. 3, 1917 in Brest-Litovsk. On Dec. 5, an armistice was signed.
The negotiations must be seen in the context of two crucial considerations:
- On one hand, Russia was in a state of economic disruption and universal war-weariness, when its troops were abandoning the trenches and the front was collapsing. Continuing the war under such conditions would have meant staking the very existence of the new-born Soviet state.
- On the other hand, it became in the course of the negotiations that “the German imperialists were out to seize huge portions of the territory of the former tsarist empire, and to turn Poland, the Ukraine and the Baltic countries into dependencies of Germany.”
- Russia’s workers and peasants were thus confronted with the necessity of accepting onerous terms of peace. With no effective army, they had to retreat “before the most dangerous marauder of the time—German imperialism—in order to secure a respite” in which to strengthen the Soviet power and to build a Red Army capable of defending the country from enemy attack.
All the counter-revolutionaries (Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries, and Whiteguards alike) frenziedly campaigned against the conclusion of peace. They wanted to wreck the peace negotiations, provoke a German offensive and thus imperil the still weak Soviet power and the gains of the workers and peasants.
Worse, a group within the Party also demanded the continuation of the war. The group of “Left Communists,” was headed by Bukharin and was supported by Trotsky, who adopted a “No peace, no war, army demobilized” position. They began a fierce struggle with Lenin, who stood for ending the war.
- The Party’s Moscow Regional Bureau, temporarily under “Left Communist” control, passed a resolution of no-confidence in the CC. The Moscow Bureau declared that it considered “a split in the Party in the very near future scarcely avoidable.”
- The “Left Communists” even went so far as to adopt the following anti-Soviet stand: “In the interests of the international revolution,” they declared, “we consider it expedient to consent to the possible loss of the Soviet power, which has now become purely formal.”
Lenin had insisted that peace be signed despite the onerous terms of peace. But at first the CC was not unanimous on this question, and for a time Lenin could only obtain a decision to prolong the talks.
- When the Soviet delegation was leaving for Brest-Litovsk, Lenin instructed Trotsky to drag out the talks to the utmost, but to sign a peace treaty in the event of a German ultimatum.
- Trotsky, however, as chairman of the Soviet delegation at Brest-Litovsk, took it upon himself to respond to a German ultimatum by stating that the Soviet government refuses to sign the peace treaty, but would not fight and would continue to demobilize the army.
On Feb.10, 1918, the peace negotiations in Brest-Litovsk were broken off. Germany broke the armistice and resumed its offensive into Soviet land, with the aim of overthrowing Soviet power and converting the country into its colony. At the same time, this was the signal for a mighty revolutionary upsurge in the country.
- The Germans advanced swiftly, seizing enormous territory and threatening Petrograd. The remnants of the old Russian army crumbled and scattered before the German onslaught.
- But the Party and the Soviet Government issued the call—“The Socialist fatherland is in danger!” In response, the working class energetically began to form regiments of the Red Army.
- Units of the new army heroically resisted the German marauders, repulsing them at Narva and Pskov on Feb. 23 and stopping their advance on Petrograd. Feb. 23 is thus regarded as the birthday of the Red Army.
Lenin and others continued to wage a stubborn struggle on the CC against Bukharin, Trotsky and the other “Left Communists” until a decision was made in favor of the conclusion of peace. At this juncture, the Party rallied around Lenin and supported the CC on the question of peace as on all other questions. The “Left Communist” group was isolated and defeated.
- On Feb. 18, 1918, the CC approved Lenin’s proposal to telegram the Germans offering to conclude an immediate peace.
- Wanting to secure even more advantageous terms, however, the Germans continued to advance. Only on Feb. 22 did the German government express willingness to sign peace. On Feb. 23, the CC decided to sign the peace treaty under the new German terms, which were now far more onerous than those originally proposed.
- Latvia, Estonia, not to mention Poland, passed into German hands; the Ukraine was severed from the Soviet Republic and converted into a vassal of the German state. The Soviet Republic undertook to pay an indemnity to the Germans.
- The resulting delay in the CC decision due to the intransigence of Bukharin, Trotsky et al. cost the Soviet Republic dearly. Their “revolutionary” but empty phrase-mongering, Lenin declared, “actually helped the German imperialists and hindered the growth and development of the revolution in Germany.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Vol. XXII, p. 307.)
The Peace of Brest-Litovsk gave the Party a respite in which to consolidate Soviet power and to organize the economic life of the country. The peace made it possible to take advantage of the conflicts within the imperialist camp to disintegrate the forces of the enemy, to organize a Soviet economic system, and to create a Red Army. The peace made it possible for the proletariat to retain the support of the peasantry and to accumulate strength for the defeat of the Whiteguard generals in the Civil War.
In the period of the October Revolution, Lenin taught the Party how to advance fearlessly and resolutely when conditions favored an advance. In the period of the Brest-Litovsk Peace, Lenin taught the Party how to retreat in good order when the forces of the enemy are obviously superior to our own, in order to prepare with the utmost energy for a new offensive.
The Seventh Party Congress
The Seventh Congress, the first congress held after the October Revolution’s victory, opened on March 6, 1918. Reporting at this congress on the Brest-Litovsk Peace, Lenin said that “. . . the severe crisis which our Party is now experiencing, owing to the formation of a Left opposition within it, is one of the gravest crises the Russian revolution has experienced.” (Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. VII, pp. 293-94.)
The resolution submitted by Lenin on the subject of the Brest-Litovsk Peace was adopted by 30 votes against 12, with 4 abstentions. The congress thus enabled the Party to arrive at the final decision on the question of peace. Following the resolution’s adoption, Lenin wrote an article entitled “A Distressful Peace,” in which he said: “Intolerably severe are the terms of peace. Nevertheless, history will claim its own. . . . Let us set to work to organize, organize and organize. Despite all trials, the future is ours.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Vol. XXII, p. 288.)
The congress saw the inevitability of further imperialist attacks on the Soviet Republic, and declared the Party’s fundamental task of adopting the most energetic and resolute measures to strengthen the self-discipline of the workers and peasants, to prepare the masses for self-sacrificing defense of the socialist country, to organize the Red Army, and to introduce universal military training.
The congress changed the Bolshevik Party’s name to the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks). Lenin proposed to call it a Communist Party for its name to precisely correspond to its aim, namely, the achievement of communism. A special commission was elected to draw up a new Party program based on Lenin’s draft program.
Thus the congress accomplished tasks of profound historical importance:
- it defeated an utterly wrong line being peddled by the “Left Communists” and Trotskyites within the Party’s ranks;
- it succeeded in withdrawing the country from the imperialist war;
- it secured peace and a respite, thus enabling the Party to gain time for building the Red Army; and
- it set the Party the task of introducing socialist order in the national economy.
By way of epilogue, the position of Lenin and his supporters continued to gain ground among the Party masses. Most of the local government organizations polled by the Council of People’s Commissars and the All-Russia Central Executive Committee also favored signing the peace treaty. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed on March 3, 2018. The Extraordinary Fourth Congress of Soviets, held from March 14 to March 16, ratified it.
The November 2018 revolution in Germany overthrew Kaiser Wilhelm II. This allowed the Soviet government to abrogate the said treaty. ###
STUDY GUIDES ON THE HISTORY OF THE SOVIET UNION
We are gradually filling out a set of study guides on the history of the Soviet Union. We are using the History of the CPSU, Short Course (1939) as main reference text for the early Soviet period, a collection of texts for the middle period (1939-1956) and late or revisionist period (1956-1991), and other relevant writings by Lenin, Stalin and other Marxist-Leninist authors as supplements for their respective periods.
For our readers and prospective contributors to keep track of the sequence of the said study guides, we intend to number each guide based on the periodization and outline used in CPSU History up to 1939, and from whence we adopt our own periodization for the next decades up to 1956, then shift to the periodization in Armado Liwanag’s Stand for Socialism against Modern Revisionism until the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
We consider these study guides as works in progress. We welcome comments and suggestions for improvement, and will reissue new editions as needed. (PRISM Editors)