Grimm-Hoffmann Affair

Grimm-Hoffmann Affair

The Grimm-Hoffmann Affair was a short-lived scandal that seriously brought into question Switzerland's neutrality during World War One. Robert Grimm, a socialist politician, traveled to Russia as an activist to negotiate a separate peace between Russia and Germany, in order to end the war on the Eastern Front in the interests of socialism and pacifism. Misrepresenting himself as a diplomat and an actual representative of the Swiss government, he made progress but was forced to admit fraud and return home when the Allies found out about the proposed peace deal. Neutrality was restored by the resignation of Arthur Hoffmann, the Swiss Federal Councillor who had supported Grimm.


In 1917 the war was still going on. German troops were divided in fighting the Russians on the Eastern Front and British, French and other Allied forces in the west.

The Allies insisted that this situation be maintained in order to keep German troops busy on both sides rather than all the German forces focusing on one single front.

Then, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia was overthrown in the 1917 February Revolution and Alexander Kerensky took power. Lenin, the leader of the Russian Bolsheviks, was living in exile in Switzerland. Unlike Kerensky, Lenin was willing to make peace with Germany, whatever the cost and regardless of the views of Russia's Western allies. It was for this reason that the Germans assisted in Lenin's return to Russia.

Grimm goes to Russia

Robert Grimm was a socialist member of the Swiss National Council and a known associate of Lenin. He met Arthur Hoffmann, the Federal Councillor responsible for the Political Department and head of the Swiss foreign ministry. Grimm told Hoffmann that if he were to go to Petrograd, the Russian capital, he could persuade the Russian government to make peace with Germany. Hoffman gave Grimm his support.

Grimm appears to have exceeded his mandate though. In Petrograd he claimed to be an actual representative of the Swiss government (when in fact he was not). When a telegram sent between him and Hoffman, stating that a separate peace could be possible, was made public, there was outrage from the Western powers.


Hoffman, who had not consulted his colleagues over his initiative, was forced to resign. He was replaced by Gustave Ador, head of the International Red Cross.

Grimm was expelled from Russia. His plan had been to enable Lenin to seize power and provoke a worldwide Socialist revolution. Back in Switzerland, just as the war was about to end, he called on a nationwide strike. His Russian Bolshevik colleagues were expelled and the strike ended when Grimm realised that the country was not ready for revolution.


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