3. formulated in a letter to Lenin at the end of January 1918: 'We
shall declare that we end (the Brest-Litovsk) negotiations but do
not sign a peace. They will be unable to make an offensive
The facts soon called this bluff, to Russia's great cost. In short, Trotsky was incapable of analysing the concrete situation.
The army opposing them having evaporated, the Germans merely had to get into a train to go to Petrograd. This is what they did. They had to be halted by a hurried acceptance of their new conditions and these were much more onerous than the previous ones. However, by signing the peace, the Soviet government obtained a respite which enabled it to mobilise 'a new army into which there was an influx of peasants eager to defend the expropriated lands' (Bukharin).
A few months later, the consequences of the Brest-Litovsk peace were erased.
In retrospect, Lenin's position seems obvious to us and Trotsky's seems absurd. Even if this is an optical illusion, the face [fact?] remains that in those serious circumstances, when the future of the revolution was at stake, Trotsky's formalism, i.e., proceeding from principles and not from reality, led to errors all along the line. These principles were, moreover, those of the permanent revolution, which can be summarised under the formula: 'The Russian proletariat cannot possibly maintain itself in power unless it is aided by a triumph of the revolution in the West'. For Trotsky, the principal contradiction was always the fundamental contradiction of our whole epoch, namely the one between capital and labour. For him, the alternative was therefore: world revolution or world defeat of the proletariat. On the other hand, Lenin saw that in the conjuncture at the beginning of 1918, the principal contradiction was the one between the necessity of maintaining Soviet power and the temporary impossibility of making the peasant majority fight in its defence. The alternatives were therefore immediate peace at any price (an indispensable respite for the Bolsheviks) or the destruction of their power. Resolutely grasping the first alternative was the condition for all later success.