Somebody once said to Lenin war is terrible, to which he replied: “yes, terribly profitable”. The European war suited the American industrialists rather well. Capitalism in the USA had developed with whirlwind speed in the last decades of the 19th century. At the beginning of the War in Europe America was already a powerful young nation with a mighty industrial base. In this war it played the role of chief usurer and quartermaster to the European belligerents.

While the armies of the Great Powers were busy slaughtering each other in Flanders, Tannenberg and Gallipoli, their weaker brethren were watching with keen anticipation from the sidelines like vultures waiting to gorge themselves on the corpses of the defeated party. As long as it remained unclear which of the big bandits would prove the stronger, the little bandits had to be patient and wait for their opportunity to arrive.

At the turn of the 20th Century, the Ottoman Empire was in a state of terminal decline. In 1908 Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina. Three years later the Italian bourgeoisie proclaimed its colonial ambitions by grabbing Libya in North Africa from the Ottomans. Later they seized the islands of Rhodes and Kos. A year later a league of Balkan nations drove the Ottomans from their last foothold in Europe.

In the bloody struggle for world domination Russia entered as a second-rate partner of the Entente. The apparent strength of the Russian Empire concealed its internal contradictions and fundamental weaknesses. Russian tsarism combined elements of a semi-feudal, semi-colonial country heavily dependent upon foreign capital with the aggressive characteristics of imperialism. Indeed, despite the economic backwardness of Russia, which never exported a single kopek of capital, Lenin included it as one of the five main imperialist countries.

How do you commemorate a war that swept away four empires, killed 18 million people and left tens of millions of others with their lives shattered? A very good question, and now we have the answer. As the world marks the centenary of the Great Slaughter, our television screens are full of programmes dedicated to the systematic trivialization of that catastrophe.

The tensions between the major European Powers, which were ultimately rooted in the struggle for markets, colonies and spheres of interest, were increasing steadily in the decades before 1914. They found their expression in a series of “incidents”, each of which contained the potential for the outbreak of war. If they did not reach this logical conclusion that was because the objective conditions were not yet sufficiently mature. These incidents are similar to the small landslides that precede a major avalanche in the above example.

The Austrian attack on Serbia did not lead immediately to war with Russia. In St. Petersburg the generals were impatient to take action. However, Russian foreign minister Sazonov seems not to have shared the blind confidence of his generals. He feared the effects of war on the unstable political situation in Russia and was not convinced that the Russian army could win in a conflict with the formidable German military machine.

Self-styled philosophers of the post-modernist kind deny the possibility of finding any rational explanations for human history. It is alleged that there are no general laws, no objective factors that lie behind the conduct of individuals and determine their psychology and behaviour. From this standpoint – the standpoint of extreme subjectivity – all history is determined by individuals acting according to their own free will. To attempt to find some inner logic in this turbulent and lawless sea would be as futile an exercise as to try to predict the precise momentum and position of an individual subatomic particle.

Ninety years ago, on the morning of 13th March 1920, a brigade of soldiers marched into Berlin and declared the German government of the Social Democrats to be overthrown. Not a shot was fired by any side and the response of the leaders of the government was simply to flee. The very forces which the Social Democrats had place so much trust in had turned against them. The Kapp Putsch, as it has become known as, was challenged instead by the workers.

Join us!

Help build the forces of Marxism worldwide!

Join the IMT!

Upcoming Events
No events found