(POWER to the SOVIETS – continued)

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POWER to the SOVIETS (5 of 6)

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Bolshevik manuevers, peace with Germany and the royal family in early 1918

In January 1918, the long-awaited Constituent Assembly convened. Those supporting Lenin and the Bolsheviks were a minority in the Assembly, and, after the Assembly's first day, Soviet militiamen with bayonets dispersed the gathering. Some Bolsheviks had opposed shutting the assembly down, but Lenin had won a majority of the Bolsheviks to his side. He considered the assembly a "bourgeois" institution opposed to Soviet power, and he defended the move by saying that "the people" would soon realize that the Constituent Assembly opposed their interests and that by abolishing the Assembly the Bolsheviks were fulfilling their goal of "All power to the Soviets." Moderate Socialist Revolutionaries and their urban moderate socialist allies who had been looking forward to the Constituent Assembly decided to oppose the Bolsheviks from within the Soviets.

The Bolsheviks were still trying to extend their control to areas distant from the capital. In February, the Bolsheviks won a majority of the votes in the provincial capital of Archangel, where Allied ships were docked, while elsewhere in the province they won only 22 percent of the vote against 63 percent for the moderate Socialist Revolutionaries. Bolshevik control spread to small cities and towns east of the Ural Mountains, across Siberia – an area without large farming estates and class tensions. And the Bolsheviks won in the city of Vladivostok, on the Pacific coast.

Through January and February, armed detachments of workers and poor peasants continued to confiscate food that farmers had stored, with armed clashes occurring between resisting farmers and the requisition teams. The Bolsheviks distributed food only to those who supported the Soviets, while in some areas hungry gangs were making forays into neighboring villages and waylaying people who were carrying bread.

Meanwhile, the hostility of the Eastern Orthodox Church toward the Bolsheviks was festering. The patriarch of the Russia Orthodox Church anathematized the Bolsheviks, and four days later the Soviet regime decreed the separation of church and state.

There was a continuation of the nationalities issue. Finland had been recognized as independent, but the Bolsheviks disliked the government there. Russian Red Guards drove the recognized Finnish government from Finland's capital, Helsinki, and helped Finnish revolutionary socialists take power. In Estonia, where Bolsheviks had won only 35 percent of the vote, Russia's Bolsheviks were supporting their fellow Estonian Bolsheviks trying to establish rule by force. And in Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, a force of Bolsheviks from Petrograd arrived by train and drove an anti-Bolshevik regime from power.

Much of what had been the tsarist empire was now in the hands of the Bolsheviks -- except for Poland, western Latvia, and Lithuania, three areas that were occupied by the Germans. Lenin and Trotsky were exultant over the spread of Bolshevik power. But they were still waiting for the uprising in Germany in response to Russia's example, an uprising they had thought would take Germany out of the war.

Germany and the Soviet regime were negotiating at Brest-Litovsk, the Germans were demanding parts of what had been Russia's empire: Poland, Lithuania, part of Belarus, Estonia, and Finland. And for their ally, the Ottoman Empire, the Germans were demanding Batum, Ardahan, and Kars – areas also a part of the tsar's empire. The Russian delegation, led by Trotsky, walked out of the conference, declaring "no peace, no war." The Bolsheviks disgusted Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm, who saw them as members of a worldwide Jewish and Freemason conspiracy. With his generals the Kaiser decided to push eastward against the Bolsheviks. And on February 18, following Trotsky's 's armies began taking one Russia town after another.

Lenin saw Germany as intent upon destroying his revolution, and with others he feared that the Germans would overrun Petrograd. Lenin called for labor battalions made up of "all able bodied members of the bourgeois class" to dig trenches in front of the city, and anyone resisting this draft was to be shot. Seeing his revolution threatened, Lenin ordered his security force, the CHEKA, to execute on the spot all who were "enemy agents, speculators, burglars, hooligans, counter-revolutionary agitators, [or] German spies." And fleeing from Petrograd, Bolshevik leaders moved their base of operations from Petrograd to the Kremlin in Moscow – making Moscow 's the regime's new capital.

The advance of the Germans gave encouragement to Petrograd's upper middle class, patriotically hostile to Germany before but now hoping for deliverance from the Bolsheviks. In front of the German advance in the Ukraine, peasants were returning land, furniture and silver to farming estates, and they were calling the owners of estates "My Lord" again. And believing that the Germans would shoot on sight any Red Guards, Red Guards were transforming themselves into docile peasants.

Responding to the advance of the Germans, 170 British marines landed at Murmansk (on the coast in the far north, about 20 miles east of the Finnish border), a small settlement of mostly railway workers. This was in agreement with the Soviet government, the purported purpose being to prevent Germany from taking control of the huge stores of ammunition that the Entente powers had sent to Russia. The London Times, meanwhile, described the actions of Lenin and his confederates as "adventures of German-Jewish blood whose sole object is to exploit the ignorant masses in the interest of their employers in Berlin."

The Germans were not interested in taking Russian territory, but they were interested in taking control of the Ukraine and shipping food and raw materials from there back to Germany to help offset the British blockade. The German and Austrian force in the Ukraine was not large enough to take control of the entire Ukraine, but it did occupy Kiev, and there the Germans supported a new anti-Bolshevik government.

Troskty and Germans at Brest-Litovsk

Trotsky (black coat) greeted by a German military delegation at Brest-Litovsk.


Tobolsk in Siberia, 1910, when the Bolsheviks held the tsar and his family before moving them to their final resting place.

The Germans wished to bring their advance in the East to a halt so they could withdraw troops to the Western Front for their offensive that was to begin in late March. And they were ready to negotiate with the Bolsheviks again. The Bolsheviks were ready for a settlement, Lenin wanting peace at any price. At Brest-Litovsk the Bolsheviks signed an agreement with Germany that declared Poland, Finland, the Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, western Latvia, Estonia and the Caucasus region independent but occupied by German and other troops of the Central Powers. Signing with Germany were its allies Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria.

This treaty had to be ratified by the All Russian Congress of Soviets, and many of the Bolshevik's Left-SR allies were outraged over the surrender of territory. Lenin consulted with an amateur American diplomat in Moscow, Raymond Robins, who was trying to get Britain and US backing to keep Russia in the war. That did not work out, and Lenin went ahead with the ratification. He argued with his supporters that Russia's soldiers had voted against the war with their feet and that their revolution needed to buy time.

The treaty marked Russia's final withdrawal from the war, and news of the agreement diminished Lenin's standing in the world among those seeking peace and elevated President Wilson's approach to peace by continuing the war. And the Allied powers asked the world to take note of what it was like to negotiate with the Germans.

Nicholas and Alexandra were outraged with both Kaiser Wilhelm and the Bolsheviks. At Tobolsk, just east of the Ural Mountains, where the tsar and his family were being held at an estate, Nicholas described the agreement at Brest-Litovsk as a disgrace and "suicide for Russia." He saw the agreement as treason, and he expressed bitterness at his wife having been thought of as a traitor. Hearing rumors that the Germans were planning to rescue Nicholas and his family, Alexandra announced that she was looking forward to being rescued by "good Russian" friends. Many Russians were scheming and contributing money to support an escape, while contacts with the royal family were being organized by a con artist, Boris Soloviev. Alexandra trusted him, while effective plans failed to develop and Soloviev delivered a little of the donated money to her and kept the rest for himself.


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