The Political Dimension of the First World War

The Political Dimension of the First World War

The First World War began as a pure war of power, but won through the Russian Revolution in 1917, the entry of the United States into the war and the “Fourteen Points” of American President W. Wilson as well as a new political dimension with the demand for national self-determination and through the social revolution in most warring states as an answer from below to the war: the Central Powers under the leadership of Germany were predominantly attached to a more or less authoritarian monarchical system of government.

Since the Russian February Revolution in 1917 at the latest, the Allies, reinforced by the USA, had been predominantly organized in a democratic-parliamentary manner internally, so that from now on the slogan of the “war of democracy against autocracy” had an internal justification. The confrontation between democracy and autocracy explains inter alia. also a considerable part of the internal weakness of the Central Powers; B. the conflicts with the national minorities v. a. in Austria-Hungary and in the Ottoman Empire (the latter culminated in the bloody persecution of the Armenians in 1915/16). As a result of the war, the world-political map had changed considerably due to the collapse of three multi-ethnic empires (Danube Monarchy, Russian and Ottoman Empire) and the overthrow of the monarchical order there, which also affected Germany.

According to, the war aims of the German Reich reflected the inner structure of the German Reich with its combination of modern (economic, technical) and traditional (political) in their combination of traditional annexations and more modern forms of economic rule (emerged from the central European concept of the 19th century), ideological) elements. After the peace of Brest-Litovsk, the different war objectives resulted in the vision of an autarkic and unassailable “greater area” in the east, which the two sea powers USA and Great Britain tried to implement in the summer of 1918 were accompanied by plans for resettlement and colonization and, in many cases, by measures of the Nazi Germany in World War II.

Internal tensions in the German Reich were initially covered over by the national united front of the “Burgfriedens” with unanimous approval of war credits (August 4, 1914). a. in the SPD (as early as December 2nd, 1914, the war credits were rejected for the first time by the Social Democrat K. Liebknecht , and in 1917 the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany was split off). Accordingly, the forces for whom the warfare of the Reich leadership was not energetic enough gathered on the right in the Fatherland Party (founded in 1917). The polarization between left and right led to the overthrow of Reich Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg and made possible the veiled military dictatorship of Ludendorff as the de facto head of the 3rd OHL (1916-18). The polarization was initially sparked by the debate about the German war aims, but later expanded to include social and class-political areas. In January 1918 strikes broke out in the German armaments industry, in which around 1 million workers were involved. Their slogan “Peace, Freedom and Bread” met with a great response from the workers. The government only succeeded in ending the strikes with the military power of the state of siege. The military defeat released the pent-up internal tensions, which no longer resulted from the parliamentarization and the armistice request under Chancellor Prince Max von Baden canalized under pressure from the OHL. The overthrow of the monarchy and the November Revolution of 1918 are to be seen as reactions to the military defeat and the postponement of fundamental structural reforms in the German Empire, which was shaped by Prussia.

The two traditional multiethnic states, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, were even weaker domestically. Here essentially only the leading imperial peoples (Germans, Hungarians, Turks) carried the war efforts of their governments. Especially the Czechs and Slovaks (through mass desertions) and Arabs (through their uprising; Feisal I.) anticipated the dissolution of the Danube Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire after the military defeat at the end of October 1918, so that after the end of the war Austria, Hungary and Turkey were accepted as nation states reduced territory remained.

In addition, there were new or expanded successor states in the Balkans and independent or semi-autonomous Arab states in the Middle East, of which at least the new nation states in Eastern and Southeastern Europe (Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia) with strong national minorities continued the internal problems of the collapsed Danube Monarchy through attempts at an assimilation policy. In the former Ottoman Palestine, under the protection of the British League of Nations mandate (1920), the Jewish Zionist settlement developed in conflict with the Arab environment – an elementary prerequisite for the later Middle East conflict.

The most obvious effect was the connection between military defeat and political crisis in Russia, whose revolution in two stages (February and October revolutions in 1917) influenced not only the progress of the First World War, but also the further development of world history. The emergence of Soviet Russia, which was immediately confronted with an existence-threatening civil and intervention war (1918-20 / 21) (Soviet Union), was probably the most important and momentous result of the First World War, as a result of which Poland also rose up again as an independent state. Finland gained its independence from the former Russian sphere of influence. While the independence of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia only lasted for a short time (until 1920/21), the newly formed Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) were able to maintain their independence for around two decades (until 1940).

The other Allies also went through political crises during the war and were affected by the usual consequences of major wars after the war: inflation, economic crises, intensification of internal conflicts that sooner or later had an impact.

The main result in Great Britain was the break-up of the Liberal Party, which made it easier for the Labor Party to become the ruling party. In addition, there was the Irish Easter Rising in Dublin (1916) as the starting point for the guerrilla war of the Irish Republican Army against the British police forces (1919-21), the partition of Ireland (1921/22) and the inner-Irish civil war (1922/23). The independence of Ireland marked the beginning of the dissolution of the British Empire, which continued in full after the Second World War.

The Third Republic held its own in France; However, the country was shaken internally by the loss of people, the destruction in the north-eastern border areas and by numerous cabinet crises during the war. The full effects could only be seen at the beginning of the Second World War, with the rapid collapse of France.

In Italy, the heightened social tensions in the wake of the First World War, combined with general dissatisfaction with the results of the victory, led to a polarization of political forces that favored the rise of fascism (“March on Rome”, October 1922).

Even the USA, which had risen to become the world’s largest creditor country, and Japan, the only economic winners of the First World War, were affected by internal conflicts during the war (“rice unrest” in Japan, 1918) and in the immediate post-war period (economic crisis; race riots in the south of the USA and above all) in the metropolises of the Midwest, 1919/20).

In general, the First World War absorbed an abundance of older regional conflicts and continued them in its global framework: Russia against the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria against the other Balkan states, Italy against Austria-Hungary, Greece against the Ottoman Empire, Turks against Armenians, Arabs against Turks, Japan against China, Irish against Great Britain. Most conflicts continued after the end of the First World War in regional union wars, with new ones being added. In one form or another, the conflicts of the interwar period continued to have an impact and influenced developments in the countries concerned, e. B. in China with the expansion and intensification of the revolutionary ferment as a reaction to the Japanese hegemony efforts.

By expanding the domestic political spectrum to the left (communism ) and right (fascism) as a result of the war, that polarization arose in numerous countries (e.g. in Germany, which despite the defeat had remained the strongest economic and potentially also militarily powerful power in Central Europe, in Italy, in France) and in the international relations (e.g. between the Soviet Union and National Socialist Germany), which disrupted the international system of the Versailles Treaty and the political order in many states in the interwar period. The First World War is always to be seen in the internal connection with the Second World War, which continued and increased numerous of its methods (mechanization, warfare, propaganda, involvement of the civilian population) and world-historical effects.

The Political Dimension of the First World War

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