On 11 November 1918, 100 years ago the first world war ended. In total over 22 million people lost their lives between 28 July 1914 and 11 November 1918. The war was a bloody feud between imperialists of the same family. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, Czar Nicolas II of Russia and King George V of Great Britain were all linked to the British royal house of Queen Victoria. These three imperialists started the conflict and forced millions into their graves. As the ruling class demanded soldiers, leaders of the workers movement betrayed the internationalist ideas of socialism, by calling on workers to fight for their countries. The Social-democratic Party of Germany, the British Labour Party and the French Section of the Workers International sided with the capitalist class in promoting chauvinism and militarism!
World War One could have ended in victories for socialism. This did not happen because the leaders of the workers movement at that time, were reformist and willing to compromise with the capitalist establishment. This is why we now name social democrats to be opponents of socialism. They may look ”red” and use leftist language, but social democracy has always turned on the working class. Before 1914, the name ”social democracy” was a collective term for all leftists. Revolutionaries and moderates were all called social democrats. It was Lenin who choose to use the old name; ”Communist” again, after the first Communist League led by Karl Marx. Those who favored revolutionary socialism started to call themselves communists, while the moderates stayed with the label: social democracy!
There is however a huge difference between social democracy of 1918-1945 and social democracy after 1945. These moderate socialists who rejected the socialist revolution, still held on to a believe that a socialist society was possible in a far distant future. However many moderates started to abandon this view after they entered in coalition governments with capitalist forces. With the Stalinist degeneration of the Communist International, communist parties were told to work with progressive elements of the bourgeoisie. This happened in France and Spain, under the so called ”Popular Front” governments. Neither of these countries became socialist, despite some improvement in the living-standards of workers. Social democracy and stalinism are the direct cause why no revolution against colonialism and capitalism ended in genuine socialism. Social democrats choose to collaborate with the ruling class and stalinists build single party systems with a top-down centralized economy. This model was only abandoned in the late 1980’s, which the ruling class (and social democracy) called the ”failure of socialism” or the ”collapse of communism”!
Back in 1918, the Russian Revolution had scared the ruling class of Europe. German imperialism used their peace treaty with Soviet Russia to move troops to the western front, they hoped to defeat the western allied forces. Imperial Germany was by 1918 on the brink of collapse. Troop moral was low as famine plagued their homeland. It is reported that 763,000 German civilians died from starvation and disease caused by the British blockade up until the end of December 1918. All victims belonged to the working class as the German bourgeoisie kept itself well nourished. Kaiser Wilhelm ordered the ”Kaiserschlacht” the spring offensive of March 1918. The outcome results were only moderate and by August, the allies had recaptured what they lost. Wilhelm was blinded by arrogance and military incompetence. It was field-marshal Paul von Hidenburg who realized in November, that the monarchy and the German Empire was lost. He choose to support the social democratic leader: Friedrich Ebert, to keep his class in power. The Kaiser abducted and left for the Netherlands on 10 November 1918. Next day the German High Command ordered a cease fire and World War One ended!
The peace treaty with Soviet Russia was annulled with the collapse of the empire and the proclamation of the German Republic. Western forces wanted this because they were planning an invasion of revolutionary Russia. Their goal was to support the White Armies and reinstall capitalist rule in the former Czarist empire. Winston Churchill was one of these imperialists who wanted to crush the socialist revolution. In 1919, he ordered 40.000 British troops to fight alongside the anticommunists. Even before the treaty between Imperial Germany and the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, the British planned to overthrow Lenin and install a pro-western capitalist dictatorship. Since nationalists had taken power in the Caucasus, the British Empire planned on turning these new bourgeois states into ”protectorates” of London. Spy and agent: R. H. Bruce Lockhart tried to overthrow soviet rule in Moscow, with support from the French and British. But his co-conspirators turned out to be double agents, working for Felix Dzerzhinsky of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission (secret police). Western imperialism was exposed and Lockhart only saved because of a prisoner exchanged!
100 years after the end of the war, nationalism and far-right populism are winning ground. Again this is because the political left-wing is unable to offer a socialist alternative out of the crisis that capitalism creates. Most European nations lack workers parties that stand for a socialist revolution, those who call themselves ”socialist” or even ”leftist” are often moderate and do not wish to brake with whole system. The old social democratic parties have lost most of their working class electorate, while the far-right is winning workers. They exploit the huge vacuum on the political left with racism and xenophobia towards Syrian refugees. Muslims are stigmatized and discriminated at a rate that is becoming almost equal to the antisemitism of pre-war Europe. Racists and anti-Muslim bigots are hiding their intolerance under a cloak of genuine religious criticism. They claim that they only reject Islam, when in reality they promote an agenda that is based on ethnic hatred. Germany experienced a huge increase in antisemitism after 1918. Far-right nationalists blamed the Jews for the armistice and revolution. The German National People’s Party (1918-1933) was the party of German antisemitism, monarchism and right-wing nationalism, until it was surpassed by a Austrian corporal and his gang of Bavarian thugs!
Despite the horrors of the first world war, the seeds for the second were planted on 28 June 1919. The Treaty of Versailles solely blamed Germany for the conflict. The former empire was forced to pay over 128 million reichsmark, then $31.4 billion or £6.6 billion, roughly equivalent to US $442 billion or UK £284 billion in 2018. Friedrich Ebert accepted German guilt, but he forced workers to pay for it. Because in the 1920’s it was the working class who suffered from the effects of hyper inflation. The newly established Polish state took a huge part of Eastern Prussia. France retook control of Alsace-Lorraine, a region that was annexed by Imperial Germany in 1871. In Africa, all German colonies were transferred to British or French colonial control. The Treaty of Versailles was hated by far-right nationalists and rejected by the revolutionary left. But the social democrats, conservatives and liberals supported it. Since these three had the majority in the Reichstag, the Weimar Republic accepted. Under the terms, the German Army was reduced to 100.000 active soldiers. It was forbidden to own an air-force and its navel fleet was not allowed to extend beyond six pre-dreadnought battleships, six cruisers, twelve destroyers, and twelve torpedo boats!
In 1923, Germany stopped paying money to the allies. In response, France choose to occupy the Rhineland, the most industrial part of the Weimar Republic. French soldiers crossed the border and captured cities like Bonn and Köln. Germany did not offered armed resistance, still over 130 civilians were murdered by the French occupation forces. This happened after the soldiers opened fire on a demonstration against the dismissal of public workers. After the killings, the world turned against France and Germany was viewed more sympathetic. Paris was forced to accept the Dawes Plan which lowered German war payments. In July 1925, French troops were pulled from the Rhineland!
Britain had rejected the invasion because it was ruled by the social democratic: Labour Party in coalition with the Liberal Party. This workers party was moderate and like the Social-democratic Party of Germany, it worked with the liberal bourgeoisie to form a typical capitalist-imperialist government. Ramsay MacDonald was the Labour leader and the first social democratic prime minster of Great Britain. Because he abandoned the idea of socialism in favor of class collaboration, MacDonald is rightfully denounced as a class traitor. His reputation was partly restored by British social democracy after the whole Labour Party turned right-wing and pro-capitalist in the late 1980’s. With the establishment of New Labour by Tony Blair, MacDonald was once again regarded as a ”fine and stable” leader. He can be called the ”Friedrich Ebert” of Britain!
Germany not only lost its colonies, the country was forced to hand over its priced civilian steamships. The USA had interned many German passenger ships after they entered the conflict in 1917. These vessels were then turned into troop transports, carrying soldiers to Europe to fight the nation that had build them.
Famous ocean liners captured by the allies were
SS Kronprinz Wilhelm: Build in 1901 and interned in April 1915, taken over in July 1917. Then renamed USS Von Steuben and scrapped in 1923.
SS Kronprinzessin Cecilie: Build in 1906 and interned in August 1914. Taken over in July 1917 and renamed USS Mount Vernon (ID-4508). She was used as a troopship until 1920. Stored with the USS Agamemnon for 19 years until scrapped in 1940.
SS Kaiser Wilhelm II: Build in 1903 and interned in August 1914. Taken over in August 1917 and renamed USS Agamemnon. She was named USAT Monticello in 1927, but had no active service after the war. USS Agamemnon and the USS Mount Vernon were lying side by side, until both ships were scrapped in 1940.
SS Imperator: Build in 1913, pride of the Hamburg America Line. Taken over by the Allied Food Shipping and Finance Agreement and given to the British, who renamed her RMS Berengaria. She was the flagship of the White Star Line until 1934, when she was replaced by the RMS Majestic. In 1938, the Berengaria was sold for scrap.
SS Fatherland: Build in 1914, sister to the SS Imperator. She fled to the USA and was seized by the United States Shipping Board in 1917. Renamed USS Leviathan and served as a troop-transport until October 1919. The Leviathan returned to civilian life as flagship of the United States Line. She never made a profit and was put out of service in 1933. After five years inactive, the ship was scrapped.
SS Bismarck: Launched in 1914, but not completed until 1922. The ship was given to the White Star Line as a war price, who named her RMS Majestic. The German shipyard-builders however completed her as the SS Bismarck, which forced the British to repaint and remove all German references. She became the flagship of the line in 1934, but was scrapped after a fire destroyed her in 1939.