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Here, we try to discuss: 1) the general causes of World War I, 2) its general course, 3) consequences of the war, 4) general lessons which can be drawn from this experience.

The general causes of World War I are well known, thanks to the publication by the Bolsheviks of the secret treaties concluded between Russia, England and France: imperialism.

Division of Africa1898

Colonial divisions of Africa around 1898

First, we note that WWI was a direct consequence

of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870: France wanted to take a revenge and return the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, which were lost to Germany in that war. Also, France had significant colonial activity in Africa, which it wanted to protect (see map of colonial divisions of Africa, dating from 1898, French extensive possessions are marked in red). Let’s remember an immediate cause which led to the war: the clash between French and German interests in Morocco, when Germany in 1911 sent her gunboat to Agadir (described in W. Churchill’s “The Great War”). In that incident, Britain declared itself firmly on the side of France; the clash was resolved through “an intricate negotiation between the frontiers of French and German territory in West Africa”. 

Making preliminary conclusions, we can say that one war is an immediate consequence of the previous war. World War I has its roots in the Franco-Prussian war and the web of colonial relationships at the time. World War II has had its roots in the results of World War I, specifically humiliation of Germany and its desire to take a revenge. On top of this was added the antagonism between world capitalist order in crisis, manifested by fascism, and the rising socialist order in Soviet Russia.

If there is to be World War III, we can expect that its causes will be based on results of World War II, embody its causes, i.e. imperialism, on the one hand, and contradictions between capitalism and socialism. In addition, some third new factor may present itself.


A cartoon showing a naval arms race between France, England, Germany, Japan and the United States

The Great Britain was against Germany because Germany has embarked upon a program of building battleships, in late XIX century, and this strongly to dislike of Great Britain, which relied upon its large navy to dominate the world trade. Also, Germany with its program of industrialization, was a direct threat to British domination of industry. In addition, Germany has supported Boers in their war against England, during the
Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.

And so, as a preliminary conclusion we note that a world war is preceded by a massive arms race. This arms race reflects the distant causes of the coming war. This is one of the factors that allows us to forecast WWIII, as we see an extensive arms race in the present, with the main nations of the world significanly increasing their military spending.

Germany has completed its unification only since the Franco-Prussian war, and it was a latecomer to the scramble for the colonies, which started in XIX century. Hence, it competed for colonies both with England and France, in Africa and on the high seas. W. Churchill writes in Chapter XXI of "The Great War": "On an August morning behold the curious sight of a British Cabinet of respectable Liberal politicians sitting down deliberately and with malice aforethought to plan the seizure of the German colonies in every part of the world! ... Accordingly, with maps and pencils, the whole world was surveyed, six separate expeditions were approved in principle and remitted to the Staffs for study and execution".

Speficially: "German Samoa consisted of two islands, Savaii and Upolu, of a combined area of one thousand square miles. Recognized as German possessions in 1900 they were occupied by a New Zealand expedition on August 30, 1914". 


Former German colonies in southern Pacific: Samoa, Marshall islands, Caroline islands

And: "A German colony from 1884 to 1914, Togoland, on the West Coast of Africa, fell into the hands of the allies in August 1914. Some 24,000 square miles in area, this territory is now administered partly by France and partly by Britain". 

And: "Tsing Tau, on Kiaochow Bay, Shantung, China, was prior to August 1914, an important German naval base. Germany had 99 years' lease on Tsing Tau, dating from 1898... Blockaded by the Japanese navy and attacked from the north by a British-Japanese force, the fortress capitualated on November 7, 1914". 

Nicholas II declaring war on Germany from the balcony of the Winter Palace.jpeg

Tsar Nickolas II declaring a war on Germany from the balcony of the Winter Palace

Russia wanted to secure entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, and so it desired to take away Dardanelles and Istanbul from Turkey. In addition, Russia wanted to see itself as the leader of all Slavic people, and hence stood in opposition to Austria-Hungary and Turkey in the Balkans. Immediate pretext for WWI was “assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie by Gavrilo Princip, an ethnic Serband Yugoslav nationalist from the group Young Bosnia” (Wikipedia).

Austria-Hungary wanted to keep Bosnia and Herzegovina, which it has formally annexed in 1908 (these lands were under Austria-Hungary’s domination since late XIX century). (see map here ). 

And so, prior to WWI the following set of alliances and opposite blocs of interests formed in international politics (picture on the right).

We can make a generalization and say that prior to every world war a set of alliances is formed. Interests of the allies complement and contradict each other. For example, the interests of Russia and Britain were certainly in contradiction in Dardanelles, as England tried to prevent the entrace of Russia into the Mediterranean. However, overriding concerns relegate the mutual antagonisms to the minor position, as England tried to prevent Germany from occuping primary place in world politics and economics throughout XX century. 

Vickers IWW

A Vickers machine gun, used by the British, during WWI

The general course of World War I was characterized by entrenched warfare, to a large degree because there were really no tanks or airplanes. The field guns and machine guns reigned supreme, and it was almost impossible to overcome their resistance. Tanks, following upon armoured cars, were invented precisely for this reason: to overcome the resistance offered by guns and machine guns. 

The trench warfare leads to mutual exhaustion of all the warring sides. Hence, defeat is not inflicted by a crushing blow in a battle, but by the exhaustion of all the material resources needed in war. The U.S., from the position of declared neutrality, slowly comes to the side of the British. Hence, the industrial resources of the U.S. are thrown into the war, against Germany. 

Sackville Street (Dublin) after the 1916 Easter Rising

Dublin after fighting during the Easter Rising, 1916.

First, trying to take advantage of the situation were the Irish nationalists and socialists. In 1916 there occurred what is known today as "the Easter rebellion". The Irish hoped that the British were too preoccupied with war that they wouldn't be able to defend their colony (which is what Ireland was and still is today). The rising was suppressed by the superior organization and numbers of the British army: 1500 fighters in Dublin against 16000 British troops and artillery. Its leaders, including socialist James Connolly, were shot by the firing squad. Connolly was already so badly injured because of fighting that he was unable to walk to the place of execution, and so was carried in a stretcher. 

Slogans of 1917 in Russia, read "Down with the ministers-capitalists", and "All power to the Soviets"

Russia was next to cave-in to the pressures of war. There were two revolutions in 1917. Both of these were a direct result of the war, specifically a revolt against hunger caused by the war, the mismanagement at the front by the tsar's generals and administration, causing a large number of unnecessary deaths. Russia was defeated no so much by Germany, but by its own decrepit state mechanism. The slogans in both revolutions were aimed against the war: "Down with the Tsar", "Peace". "Land" (for the peasants). "Workers' control of the factories". "Down with ministers-capitalists!" "Down with the Provisional government!" (which attempted to carry on the war) "All power to the Soviets", i.e. workers', soldiers' and peasants' councils, i.e. self-management by the working classes. Power passed to the Bolshevik party.

German communist fighters

German communists, 1918

Next to cave-in was Germany, with a revolution in 1918-19. This started as a revolt of the sailors in the main naval base of Germany, Kiel, and quickly spread to the exhausted troops at the front. Kaiser was forced to flee to Holland. Germany couldn't carry on the war and sued for peace. Capitalist foundations of the German society were seriously threatened, but were saved by the counter-revolutonary elements in the German Social Democratic party, to whom the state power passed. These, headed by Noske and Ebert, quickly formed armed corps, consisting of reactionary officers of the German army, and drowned the German revolution in blood. The result was Nazis coming to power, some 15 years later. 


Bela Kun, a leader of Hungarian communists in 1919.

With Germany out of the war, Austria-Hungary was forced to surrender too. And this meant a break-up of this state into Austria and Hungary. Moreover, the Allies started to re-draw the boundaries of Hungary, which forced the propertied classes of the country to seek an alliance with local communists, and through them an alliance with Soviet Russia. And so this was the beginning of the Hungarian revolution of 1919. Again, this revolution was defeated due to influence of social-democrats on the communist party of Hungary.  In addition to the above, there were rebellions in the English army, in the French army and fleet, among the Italian workers immediately following the peace treaty (the "Red Two Years", "Biennio Rosso ", 1919-1920). Let's take a note that the "Red Two Years" in Italy were followed by the fascist reaction, i.e. the March on Rome by Mussolini in 1922, leading fascists taking power in that country. 

In fact, we're dealing with a law-like tendency: whenever a revolution is defeated (as in Germany, in Hungary and in Italy), there follows the dictatorship of the fascist/nazi parties, with the violent suppression of communist and social-democratic parties, which paved the way for the coup

Another general conclusion: every world war is necessary followed by a world revolution. This may start in "the weakest link in the capitalist chain", but quickly spreads throughout the world. Thus, we didn't have "an Irish" or "a Russian", or "a German" revolution, but a World revolution, which has manifested itself in different countries, according to local conditions: history, party politics, etc. 

Next: revolution in Ireland

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