On this day in 1917, Foreign Minister Richard Von Kuhlmann stands before the German Reichstag government to deliver a speech applauding the recent rise to power in Russia of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and his radical socialist Bolshevik Party.
Soon after November 7, 1917, when the Bolsheviks seized control in Petrograd from the provisional government–in place since the abdication of Czar Nicholas II in March–Lenin moved to secure an immediate armistice with the Central Powers in the First World War. Not surprisingly, Austria-Hungary and Germany welcomed this development with open arms; the latter nation had actually helped smuggle the exiled Lenin back to Russia the previous April. The German chancellor, Count Georg von Hertling, went so far as to suggest to Kuhlmann on November 29 that Germany make the new Russia one of its allies.
The following day, Kuhlmann addressed the Reichstag, declaring that “Our eyes at the present moment are turned toward the east. Russia has set the world ablaze.” The mobilization of Russia, he continued, was “the actual and immediate cause” of the entire war; only now was Russia in the hands of leaders who would set things right and seek immediate peace with Germany. According to Kuhlmann, Russia’s allies–Britain and France–would do well to consider following its lead, as “the German people will stand up and be prepared to beat force with force until the dawn of the better and more humane understanding which is beginning to appear in the eastern sky shall arise in the nations of the west, which are as yet filled with greed for money and power.”
While the Central Powers rejoiced at the turn of events in Petrograd, the Allies were filled with a sense of dread. With Russia out of the war, Germany would be free to transfer more manpower to the Western Front; to the south, Austria-Hungary seemed close to overpowering Italy. Although the United States had entered the war on the side of the Allies in April 1917, it was not expected to deliver troops in significant numbers until the following summer. By the end of 1917, with casualties mounting on the Western Front, the Allies looked ahead with trepidation as the possibility of victory seemed to recede ever further into the distance.