This Day In History: Lenin Calls for An Armistice With Germany (1917)

On this date in history Lenin, one day after he and the Communists (Bolsheviks) had seized power announced that his government wanted an armistice with the Germans and their allies. Lenin announced this dramatic policy before the All-Russian Congress of Soviets and stated that he wanted to the war on the Eastern front.

Lenin had been in exile in Switzerland until 1917. In the Spring of 1917 revolutionaries had overthrown the regime of Tsar Nicholas II and the old order. They had established a Provisional Government and they sought to democratize and reform the Russian Empire and vowed to continue the war.

Lenin in 1920

The war was very unpopular with the public they were dealing with food shortages and economic collapse. The Provisional Government under Alexander Kerensky refused to back down and ordered a massive offensive in the Autumn of 1917. This was a catastrophic failure and costs the lives of thousands of men. Discipline broke down in the wake of the defeat and many men simply went home and many common soldiers became sympathetic to radical ideas such as Communism. The Germans and their Austrian allies made a lot of gains and were coming ever close to Petrograd (formerly St Petersburg).  They had seized most of the Baltic States and in the south, they had captured large areas of the Ukraine.  The Provisional Government was in a state of near collapse and increasingly authority was in the hands of local councils.

The Bolsheviks had tried to seize power in July but they had been defeated and this led Lenin to retreat to Finland. In September, he returned and began organizing another attempt to seize control of the country. On the night of the 6th November Trotsky ordered detachments to seize the Winter Palace the headquarters of the Provisional Government. The Bolsheviks captured the Palace without any bloodshed. Kerensky and the other members of the Provisional Government went into exile or were imprisoned.

The day following the seizure of the Winter Palace, Lenin appeared before the All-Russian Congress and announced his intention of creating the world’s first Socialist State. He argued that peace was necessary for this and the Congress voted to endorse his calls for an armistice.

A formal ceasefire  was declared between Russia and the Central Powers less than a month later. The fighting on the Eastern Front ended and the Germans were able to withdraw forces from Russia to France. The Western allies were in shock and they believed that Lenin had betrayed them and their cause. Later Lenin signed the treaty of Brest Livtosk which led to the establishment of several new states and the expansion of German territory in the east.  This treaty did not bring peace to Russia and soon the country was plunged into a Civil War between the Bolsheviks and the Whites.