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[Disarmo] Tutti vollero la guerra, tranne... - What Caused World War I?
- Subject: [Disarmo] Tutti vollero la guerra, tranne... - What Caused World War I?
- From: Jure Ellero LT <glry at ngi.it>
- Date: Mon, 28 Jul 2014 22:45:02 +0200
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La verità storica ha la testa dura
100 years later — what caused World War I?
By /John Catalinotto
<http://www.workers.org/articles/author/john-catalinotto/>/ on July 11, 2014
On June 28 just a century ago, Gavrilo Princip, a 19-year-old patriot
from the oppressed nation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, assassinated Archduke
Ferdinand of Austria. Ferdinand was the symbol of the tyrannical rule of
the decadent Habsburg Empire over Princip’s country.
The militarist rulers in Vienna, the capital of the empire, seized on
the assassination in Sarajevo as a pretext to declare war on Serbia.
This decree essentially launched what was to become World War I. That
terrible slaughter killed 20 million people, mostly European workers and
This is the centennial of the war’s start and the corporate media have
already begun to distort the history of the event. The goal is to
deflect blame for the disaster away from the capitalist ruling classes,
especially in the imperialist countries, whose oppressive and
exploitative system made the war inevitable.
No doubt the major media of many of the European imperialist countries
will continue this effort, as will their academic circles in historical
conferences, in the same way they lie about today’s imperialist wars,
from Iraq to Libya to Ukraine. The major U.S. newspaper of record, the
New York Times, has been running a series on “the Great War” as part of
this effort. Several articles published around June 28 played up
Princip’s role in triggering the war.
No one who supports the self-determination of oppressed nations would
fault Princip for wanting to strike a blow at a member of the ruling
royal family of the oppressive empire. But whatever one thinks of his
action, it is patently ridiculous to cite this individual act as a basic
cause of a global conflagration.
The war had been in the making since the turn of the century. Some
regional wars had already broken out in the Balkans. The Russo-Japanese
war of 1905 saw Japan’s rising capitalist power defeat the semi-feudal
Tsarist Empire. German, French and British imperialism had skirmished
over the building of the Baghdad railroad.
*Both sides were oppressors*
The major states on both sides of the war were all oppressor nations.
There was no “good side.”
Britain ruled over an enormous empire that included Australia, Canada,
South Asia, some Caribbean islands and much of Africa. Its wars were
one-sided battles where heavily armed colonial troops slaughtered heroic
Indigenous peoples armed with spears.
Imperialist France’s empire was half as large, but still stretched from
Indochina to the Caribbean, and included large tracts in West and North
Africa. Even “tiny” Belgium controlled and exploited the vast Congo,
squeezing the last drop of blood from the Congolese.
And that was the side considered the “democracies.” Their ally, the
Russian Tsar, ruled over 12 time zones and hundreds of different nations
and peoples with an iron hand.
The more militarist Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman
Empire were just as brutal toward their subject colonies, but the
territories they controlled were smaller.
Washington did not enter World War I until 1917. It had joined the
imperialist competition with a bang in 1898 by seizing Spain’s colonies
in the Caribbean and the Philippines. A relative newcomer to the
European battles, U.S. capitalists expanded their industry selling
weapons to the British-French-Russian alliance, which Washington finally
joined. Though a fledgling imperialist power at the time, the U.S.
rulers were equally brutal to the Indigenous population on this
continent, to their internal Black colony and to the newly conquered
nations that had been ruled by Spain.
In 1881, many of the European powers had met in Berlin, in what can only
be described as outrageous arrogance, to divide up Africa without
consulting the Africans. They aimed at dividing the whole continent into
colonies of the various powers by negotiation, while avoiding a war
among themselves over the plunder. They feared that such
inter-imperialist battles could give the African people an opening to
fight for their freedom against all the colonialists.
This did happen later. When the European colonial powers were weakened
by two world wars after 1945, the Africans were able to drive them out
of much of the continent. Also, the existence of the Soviet Union at
that later time served as a counterweight to imperialism.
Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin had pointed out in his
seminal work, “Imperialism, the Final Stage of Capitalism,” written in
1915, that these colonial powers had divided up the entire world by
1900. The pecking order, that is, how much colonial plunder each got,
was based roughly on their industrial, financial and military power at
The problem was that their relative strengths were constantly changing.
Germany’s industry grew much more rapidly than that of Britain and
France after 1900, as did its military power. German economic expansion,
however, was restricted by British and French control of territories,
resources and markets. Something had to give.
How could rising imperialist powers redistribute the colonial
territories in their favor? Only by war. This war would not be
restricted to the colonies but had to occur among the metropolitan
countries in Europe itself.
*Need to battle national chauvinism*
This sharp competition among the capitalist classes of the different
powers expressed itself in national chauvinism and vicious hostility to
other peoples. The capitalist ideologists and propagandists imposed this
chauvinism on the populations as a whole to line up the people behind
For example, the French capitalists had been willing to concede
territory to the German capitalists in 1871 after a lost war between the
two countries. But they made this concession only because the war
austerity, as always heaped on the backs of the workers and poor, had
led to a rebellion in Paris and the establishment of a revolutionary
commune. The French made a deal with the German rulers that allowed them
to crush the Paris Commune.
But in 1914, the hypocritical French capitalists insisted that the
French workers must hate the German workers.
The workers’ movement in Europe, and especially its most revolutionary
wing, attempted to combat this ever more dangerous national chauvinism.
At earlier gatherings of socialists, and for the last time in Basel,
Switzerland, in 1912, meetings of the workers’ parties of the Second
International issued a manifesto on the war question. We cite the Basel
Manifesto here to show that long before, and independent of, the
assassination at Sarajevo, there was a growing war danger and the
massive workers’ movement was aware of it:
“At its congresses at Stuttgart and Copenhagen the International
formulated for the proletariat of all countries these guiding principles
for the struggle against war:
“If a war threatens to break out, it is the duty of the working classes
and their parliamentary representatives in the countries involved
supported by the coordinating activity of the International Socialist
Bureau to*exert every effort in order to prevent the outbreak of war by
the means they consider most effective*, which naturally vary according
to the sharpening of the class struggle and the sharpening of the
general political situation.
“In case war should break out anyway it is their duty *to intervene in
favor of its speedy termination* and with all their powers to *utilize
the economic and political crisis created by the war to arouse the
people and thereby to hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule.*”
[Emphasis in the original]
This very clearly means building working-class solidarity and refusing
to side with “your own” ruling class against the foreign workers. It
also meant taking the opportunity caused by the horrors of war to
overthrow your own capitalist class.
Throughout the entire manifesto there was urgency in the call on the
working class in all the countries to take whatever actions they could,
from the parliament to the streets, to prevent the impending war.
The capitalist parties ruling the European imperialist democracies,
France and Britain, as well as in the monarchies in Germany,
Austria-Hungary and Russia, entered the war without hesitation, even
with enthusiasm. Each believed their state would win a quick victory.
Their mouths watered at the thought of conquered territory and new
colonies — as was shown later when originally secret treaties were
Regarding the Social Democratic parties, whether or not they could have
stopped the war from starting, it was a blow to the world as well as to
Lenin and his fellow revolutionaries throughout Europe that most of
their leaders failed to follow this Basel Manifesto they had signed
onto. Under enormous pressure from “their own” ruling classes, they
lined up with the war drive.
It was a sobering lesson on the need for revolutionary parties to train
themselves under all situations to stand up against national chauvinism
and against imperialist war. The main enemy of the workers and the
oppressed is the capitalist class at home. This is true in the U.S.
today more than ever.
This article will skip the next three years of that horrible war, a
period that will undoubtedly be reported on — with much distortion — in
this centennial year. Those lies will need further rebuttal.
By the fall of 1917, Lenin and the other leaders of his own party, the
Bolsheviks in Russia, did exactly what the Basel Manifesto called for:
They turned the great imperialist slaughter into a war against the
Russian ruling class and seized power for the workers and peasants.
A year later, the monarchies in Germany, Austria and Hungary, the
defeated powers, were to collapse under mass pressure, although the
revolts stopped short of social revolution.
It was not a Bosnian-Serb patriot, but the imperialist system, that
caused the war. And a revolt of the workers, delayed but decisive,
brought it to an end.