Russia’s participation in the First World War officially ended on March 3, 1918, with the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk between the new Bolshevik government and the Central Powers. The treaty represented Germany’s last real hope for victory, and it soon launched an all-out offensive in Flanders and northern France. Despite a herculean effort and huge losses, the German Army was not able to turn the war’s tide. For Russia, this was no longer a matter of central concern – it had its own problems and a war of its own.
The Soviet delegation to Brest, which was headed by Grigory Sokolnikov, signed away vast territories, committed to pay massive reparations, and pledged to stop spreading revolutionary propaganda in the other signatories’ countries. These concessions were made with no negotiation whatsoever. As Sokolnikov put it, there was nothing to discuss, as Russia was compelled to accept the treaty’s terms “at gunpoint.”
By early March, negotiations were indeed pointless. Germany’s February offensive had shown that Russia no longer had a functioning army: it was disintegrating with each passing day, allowing the Germans to gobble up more and more territory. What had happened to the Russian Army that had fought bravely against Germany and Austria from 1914 to 1917 and begun making significant headway in 1916? By early 1918 it was utterly demoralized. Of course, trench fatigue and the extreme hardships of war played a role. Then again, the armies of Russia’s adversaries faced similar hardships and still soldiered on.
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Officially, Stalin was found on the floor of his study, at his Volynskoye dacha, on March 1, 1953. He had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and spent the next three days on a couch in the same study, slowly dying. He was pronounced dead on March 5. An autopsy later revealed widespread atherosclerosis.
In fact, a socialist revolution did come to Germany in January 1919, after the country surrendered in the First World War and the Kaiser abdicated. During January 4-15, 1919, the Spartacus Uprising led by Karl Liebknecht (above) and Rosa Luxemburg (below) resulted in a general strike, but the movement did not become a full-fledged revolution because the leftist Social Democratic Party (the country’s largest party at the time) was far more powerful, opposed Soviet-style tactics, and successfully pushed for a national parliament (elected on January 19). What is more, it successfully rallied the remnants of the demobilized army, the Freikorps, to quash the rebellion. Liebknecht and Luxemburg were captured and shot.
Born Girsh Brilliant in 1888, Grigory Sokolnikov had returned from abroad in 1917, aboard Lenin’s sealed train, and was a member of the first Politburo. After signing the Brest-Litovsk treaty for Soviet Russia, Sokolnikov worked on the newspaper Pravda and held ongoing negotiations with Germany about the treaty. He was co-commissar of the 8th Army that retook Rostov-on-Don and Novorossiysk from the Whites – decisive battles securing the Bolsheviks’ ultimate victory. He then oversaw the retaking of Russian Turkestan and went on to become Commissar of Finance. In the political struggles of the 1920s, he aligned himself mainly with leftist forces, and called for Stalin’s removal in 1925. A slow but relentless fall from grace followed. By 1934, Lazar Kaganovich summarized his status, saying that “a simple kolkhoz woman is more politically aware than the ‘educated’ Sokolnikov.” In July 1936 Sokolnikov was arrested and confessed to made up crimes after being assured that his wife would not be touched (a lie). Sentenced to ten years in prison, he was murdered in a Tobolsk prison on Stalin’s direct order.
At the time, Brest-Litovsk was still a part of Russia; between the two world wars it belonged to Poland, and since the Second World War it has been a part of Belarus (first, the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic, and now independent Belarus).
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