Germany brings the big guns to Belgium, sacks Louvain and follows the doctrine of terrorizing civilians. The British Expeditionary Force whose commander’s name is French, joins France for some battles. A war of maneuver ends with a non-breakthrough on the Marne and the race to the coast. 1914 ends with no winner, and no one’s home by Christmas after all.
A horrible event shocks the world. The affected power, enraged, threatens war and gives an ultimatum. Looking around for allies, it’s given a “blank cheque” by its powerful patron – one of the great powers of the world. With that patron’s guarantee, the march to war starts. But the smaller power, about to be invaded, also has powerful allies, who mobilize their forces in turn. Once the mobilization and counter-mobilization begins, the march to war seems irreversible. Then, the power who wrote the blank cheque decides to strike first – pre-emptively, to try to take out one of its enemies before facing the others. We’re talking about 1914, and how WW1 started.
The near-revolution in Spain in 1909 turns out to be more of a cause of World War 2 than a cause of World War 1 but it includes anarchism, conspiracy, revolution, and ends in a show trial. Our final pause before we roll into the immediate causes of WW1.
Leading up to 1914 socialist movements all over Europe, notably in France and Germany, had become so strong that they were in the very halls of power. But when faced with the onset of the Great War, the established socialists blinked, unwilling to risk their heard-earned position and possibly be arrested and have their parties driven underground again. This is precisely what they should have done, argued Lenin in 1915. We discuss this possible missed opportunity – why the socialists failed to stop the war before it started.
Was the collapse of the international gold standard – established in 1873 – in 1914, a sure sign that war was coming? Was gold a “peaceful metal”, as Michael Hudson has argued? Does the history of finance and money, tied up with states and war, provide a theory of everything? We go way back to Greek and Roman times and forward all the way to 1914, drawing insights from modern monetary theory (MMT), Indian Political Economy (IPE), advocates of debt-free money creation (notably Stephen Zarlenga), to follow the rise and fall of the gold standard and of bimetallism. It’s a weird world mostly ignored by mainstream economics. But not by Civilizations!
How close did Britain come to a civil war over the issue of Irish Home Rule? We talk about the long parliamentary road led by Parnell, the settler trick culminating in the seditious maneuvers in Ulster, and the final passage of the Home Rule Bill, rendered inoperative by World War I. This issue will be back before WWI is over, though – but the Easter Rising and 1916 is for a future episode.
In the First Balkan War, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Montenegro attacked the moribund Turkey to take its remaining territories and get Turkey out of Europe. In the Second Balkan War, they fought one another over those same territories. The Balkan Republics model themselves after Italy and Germany and hope to unify their nations at the expense first of Turkey, then of one another. The Scramble for the Ottoman Empire cannot but bring colonial-style wars into Europe. The shocking atrocities, the Carnegie Commission, the proliferation of “National Questions”. One of our main guides to all this? A Russian journalist writing for a Ukrainian newspaper who believes only a Federation of the Balkans can resolve these problems. His name is Leon Trotsky…
After losing to Ethiopia, Italy tries to restore its reputation as a colonizer by invading Libya, following directly from France’s invasion of Morocco and leading directly to the Balkan War. The dominoes keep falling as the European colonizers keep grabbing. Libya becomes a battlefront for decades – one we will return to in future episodes.
The short Hafiziyya period in Morocco leads to the Treaty of Fez and annexation; Morocco’s lost its sovereignty but it’s Germany that feels aggrieved. More scrambling for Africa and another inter-imperial spat to inch us closer to WW1.
Japan’s annexation of Korea in 1910 is scramble-like colonial behavior; it is the beginning of a long and bold resistance by Korean patriots whose names will return; it is the occasion for studying Japanese colonialism in East Asia as well as its disputes with Russia. A short episode on Korea’s struggles from the Russo-Japanese War to the 1910 annexation.