Next Monday it is 100 years ago, that the imperialist powers of Europe started World War One. The forgotten world war, the war that lay the foundation for World War Two. On 28 July 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, after the assassination of the Austrian crown-prince and his wife, by Serbian nationalists of the Black Hand. Imperial Germany under Emperor Wilhelm the second, joined up with Emperor Franz of Austria-Hungary. These two German speaking empires also made a pact with the Turkish; Ottoman Empire, together they became the Central Powers of Europe. The British Empire, France and the Russian Empire stood with Serbia and after the mobilization of all imperialist armies, the slaughter began. In November 1918 the war was over. The monarchies of the Central Powers collapsed, but also Russia would see revolution and a bloody civil war. In the end, 25 million people died because a few monarchs wanted war and conflict!
European imperialist powers were very powerful by 1914. Britain, France and Germany owned colonies in Africa, Asia and America. The British Empire controlled 1/3 of the world, owning nations like Canada, many African nations and parts of Asia. British colonialists were deeply racists and their government was supportive of the idea that the white Caucasian race was superior to Blacks, Asians and none-whites. This racism led to many crimes against humanity, such as low wages for none-whites, cruel treatment in British prisons and unfair laws that only benefited the whites. Belgian imperialists were among the most cruel Europeans. King Leopold the second, owned the nation of Congo from 1884 until 1908. Unlike other colonies of European powers, the Congo Free State was the private property of the Belgian king!
Leopold wanted his African nation to become rich and wealthy ( only for whites ). In order to build his nation, the white colonialists used black workers as slaves. The Belgians used torture and terror against the population of Congo. 7 million died in labor camps, mines and other workplaces. Those who could not work hard enough were punished very cruelty. Arms and legs were amputated as punishment for not working hard. The killing of 7 million Congolese between 1884 and 1908, remains largely unknown in the western world. Because black people were seen as inferior to whites, the fact that 168.000 slave workers died each year meant nothing for the Belgian king and the white colonialists. But the Belgians were not the only cruel imperialists. The Dutch owned Indonesia which they called OUR INDIA. Like the black people of Africa, the Indonesian people were seen as backward by the Europeans. Indonesians had to be educated by the ”superior” whites in order to save them from their cultural backwardness, this is how the Dutch colonialists justified their occupation.
Marxists were the first major political group who opposed colonialism. They were hated by liberals, conservatives and even socialists who supported European imperialism. By 1914, there was a split inside the socialist movement. Moderate socialists or reformist socialists rejected Marx and his revolutionary socialist ideals. These moderate socialists joined up with the bourgeoisie and came to support imperialism and colonialism. In 1914, this became clear when the Social-democratic Party of Germany, supported the war plans of Emperor Wilhelm. Revolutionary socialists who rejected the upcoming war, were expelled from the party. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were among the revolutionaries who left the SPD!
The German Empire was the youngest imperialist nation in Europe. Founded in 1871, the Germans wanted to show the others, that Germany too would be a great world power. They took control of some African nations and even in Asia, the Germans were able to build a colony in what is today Papua New Guinea. By 1900, Imperial Germany controlled four African nations and two Asian countries. But Emperor Wilhelm wanted more, his greed matched that of the British king and the Russian czar. Massive industrialization made it possible for Germany to build up their nation, but in order to grow they needed land. Back then a strong empire needed land and resources, Germany lacked this in Europe. In fact all imperialist powers wanted more land more resources and more power. Here lay the foundation for the first world war, which erupted in July 1914!
All European governments who participated in the slaughter, used massive nationalist propaganda. They claimed war was a adventure and that it would be over very quickly. Millions of unemployed workers were mislead to believe that they would be home very soon. Because poverty was high among the working class, many male workers choose to enlist in the army. Some did it out of patriotism, others needed the money to feed their families. Although the propaganda claimed the war would be over by December 1914, the ruling class knew far too good that this war was unlike any other!
The patriotic propaganda of Britain, France and Germany was successful. Many young males joined up to fight for their king/emperor. Revolutionary socialists tried to hold demonstrations against the war, but they were soon attacked and intimidated by police officers and nationalists who called them ”unpatriotic”. Also the leadership of the labour parties, told workers to enlist and fight. Revolutionary socialists stood alone as liberals, conservatives and moderate socialists called for blood and death!
Soon however the soldiers realized that the new world war was not the quick adventure promised by the propaganda. The German offensive into western Europe stalled in France, were massive trenches were created. Very little land was conquered as soldiers died for the same piece of rock again and again. Britain and France tried to get the USA involved in the fighting. But the Americans refused to join. It would take three years before they would participate in the war!
Belgium was the only western European nation occupied by imperial Germany. The occupation became known as the Rape of Belgium by allied war propaganda. Many war crimes were committed by Imperial German soldiers. Such as rape, murder and burning of historic buildings. The Belgian city of Leuven was almost completely destroyed after the Germans took it. They expelled the population and murdered 250 civilians, then the university with 30.000 medieval manuscripts was set on fire. The cruelty of the Imperial Germans was the result of fear in the German High Command about Belgian partisans. Civilians were seen as potential resistance fighters, so they had to be eliminated. Adolf Hitler would later praise the cruelty of the German High Command!
The Ottoman Empire fought in the Middle East against British imperialism. The Ottoman Turks had allied themselves with Imperial Germany to keep the Arab world under Turkish control. In 1915 they feared a potential uprising among the Armenian population, so they eliminated more then 1,5 million Armenian’s. This crime against humanity is called the Armenian Genocide. Most died during the death marches into the Syrian desert. Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre!
In Europe, British forces were able to block German harbours, preventing trade and food from coming in. After three years, Germans were starving. There was not enough food to feed the population as all food reserves were send to the Imperial Army in the trenches. In August 1917, sailors of the battleship; Prinzregent Luitpold, stationed in the northern sea port of Wilhelmshaven, went on shore and joined a popular demonstration against the German government. This wave of protests against the war started when the Russian Empire collapsed in February 1917!
Russia was a feudal nation by 1914. Unlike Britain, France and Germany, the Russian Empire was still very medieval. Industrialisations were slow and 80% of all Russians were poor peasants, working on lands owned by the nobility. The capitalists were also a weak class, so was the working class who made up only 20% of the population. Czar Nicolas the second, was a absolute monarch. He was already responsible for the murder of 7.000 revolutionaries including Lenin’s brother. Many hated him for his elitism and luxurious life style. Still the nobility loved their czar as they had always done since the empire was founded in 1721!
Yet in February 1917 the game was up for Nicolas. The Imperial Russian Army was losing on the eastern front and the soldiers were tired of war. After many strikes and demonstrators, the czar was told to abdicate. On 8 March, political power was transferred to a provisional government made up of liberals, conservatives and moderate socialists under Alexander Kerensky. Yet the workers and soldiers had created their own form of government called soviets. These soviets were councils of workers and soldiers. In the capital of Petrograd ( Now Saint Petersburg ) the soviet of workers and soldiers became a bitter rival of the Provisional Government!
Leon Trotsky was a Russian revolutionary socialist, who played a large role in the revolution. In May 1917 he returned to Russia were he was elected as a member of the first All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Congress of Soviets. Trotsky was not yet a member of Lenin’s Social Democratic Workers Party, but would join them around October 1917. Lenin and his revolutionary socialists had opposed World War One since 1914. Their party was called the Bolshevik Party or the party of the majority. Because unlike in Europe, the Russian revolutionary socialists were able to become the majority in the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party. Bolshevik is the Russian word for ”Majority”. The reformist socialists were called the Mensheviks or ”Minority”.
With the USA entering the war in August 1917, the allies were able to turn the tide against Germany and Austria-Hungary. In the Middle East, the British were able to gain support from the Arabs in fighting the Ottoman Turks. The British promised the Arabs they would be freed from foreign imperialism. In reality the British and French would betray the Arab people, as they simple replaced the Turks as colonial rulers. Arab nations like Syria and Iraq were created by the British and the French after WW1. Today’s sectarian conflicts in this region are partly the result of nations created by western imperialists, win-out thinking about the deep diversity among religious and tribal lines!
As the year 1918 came, the first world war was going on for four years. Millions were trapped in the trenches on the western front. Most died from diseases, not because of actual fighting. Germany was starving by now, the blockade of their harbours was deathly. Although the Imperial German Army was not defeated, the people at home had enough of Emperor Wilhelm and his grand plans. The German High Command was forced to accept that the emperor was losing support. SPD leader Friedrich Ebert took his changes and with support from the army and bourgeoisie, he took over as first president!
On 3 November 1918, the working class of Germany rose up. To the horror of the SPD and the military, workers and soldiers rejected the bourgeoisie. Soviet councils were created and the red banner was raised on government buildings Ebert and his government fled Berlin as the workers took power. Karl Liebknecht proclaimed the Free Socialist Republic of Germany, but the SPD refused to accept this. The reformist socialists around Ebert turned against the revolution, they used the retreating army to crush the revolution and all workers councils. 21.000 German revolutionaries were killed between 1919 and 1921 as they fought with the German government. In the end, Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were murdered and the soviets collapsed!
In Russia, the rivalry between the pro-capitalist Provisional Government and the Soviets came to a end in November 1917. After the Provisional Government wanted to keep Russia in the war, the Soviet of Petrograd called for a socialist revolution. Trotsky was elected chairman of the Soviet of the capital and he used the Red Guards to arrest the ministers of the Provisional Government. Liberals, conservatives and moderate socialists refused to support the Congress of Soviets now led by the Bolshevik Party and members of the Left Socialist Revolutionary Party!
Vladimir Lenin was elected chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic ( RSFSR ). For the first time in history, workers councils had created their own socialist republic. But the counter-revolutionaries would not wait. Anti-socialists inside the old imperial army refused to accept the rule of workers councils. With money and support from the imperialist nations, the White Armies were founded. Led by conservative generals, the goal of the Whites was to crush the RSFSR and establish a pro-capitalist regime, that would support the western powers. In order to defend the RSFSR against the White Armies and 200.000 foreign imperialist soldiers ( including 40.000 British ), the Workers and Peasants Red Army was created in February 1918!
The Russian Civil War lasted from November 1917 to October 1922. Eventually the White Armies were defeated thanks to the iron discipline of the Red Army. Still one million supporters of the soviets had died. Five million Russians starved to death because of famine, a direct result of five years of brutal civil war. Lenin himself was forced to stand down due to poor health. On paper he was the first leader of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, but in reality Lenin was never able to be leader of the Soviet-Union. He suffered a third stroke in March 1923 and became paralysed and mute. The icon of the Russian Revolution died in January 1924, leaving the USSR to Joseph Stalin who would betray everything Lenin stood for!
World War One ended with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Germany was forced to pay a lot of money and lost all of its colonies. The Ottoman Empire was dissolved, Turkey was to be occupied by western imperialist powers. Austria-Hungary was also split in many nations, including Czechoslovakia and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The map of Europe looked very different in 1919. In Turkey the western imperialists faced massive resistance from Turkish nationalists who opposed the occupation of their home land. Led by Mustafa Kemal, the Turkish nationalists fought against the allied powers, made up of Greece, Britain and the remnants of the Ottoman Empire who supported western imperialism. In 1923 the Republic of Turkey was founded after the Treaty of Lausanne!
25 million people died because of imperialist greed. Britain was able to take over many German colonies and was the clear winner of the war. The Empire that was Great Britain would last until 1997 when their last colony was returned. Nobody wanted another world war, but the League of Nations was unable to stop the second world war. German nationalism would lead to the formation of the National-Socialist German Workers Party, a party who based itself of white supremacy, German nationalism and dogmatic anti-Semitism. Adolf Hitler became leader of Germany in 1933 and would start WW2 in September 1939. Had Germany not been forced to pay so much money, had the League of Nations not enforced such deep economic punishment, then German nationalism would not have been so strong. Germany’s second defeat in May 1945, showed the world that the punishments of 1919 could not be repeated.
Revolutionary socialists say that World War One was the direct result of imperialist greed. The need of kings, emperors and czars to expand their empires. Their greed led to the death of 25 million people and their mistakes after 1918 would lead to World War Two. World imperialism caused this bloody slaughter and therefore we revolutionary socialists strongly reject the dictatorial system that is capitalism. 85 million people died between July 1914 and May 1945 because of two world wars, started by imperialist powers. Imperial Germany and Nazi Germany may have started it all, but western imperialism went along with it. It is foolish to say that Emperor Wilhelm was the only guilty person, in fact Winston Churchill supported fully the slaughter of Jews and Reds by supporting the White Armies against the Soviets. Also the bombings of Dresden in WW2, were pure terror attacks against the civilian population.
Moderate socialists of the workers parties have a share in the guilt too. They supported their imperialist nations in July 1914 and poisoned the working class with nationalist propaganda. Reformist socialists like Friedrich Ebert and others who supported World War One, have as much blood on their hands as the kings, emperors and czars. Another ironic fact was that the King of Britain, the Emperor of Germany and the Czar of Russia were all relented to each other.
World War One was a bloody slaughter because a few monarchs of the same family wanted to rule the world!!