CHAPTER SIXTEEN: THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION AND THE END OF THE WAR
emancipated the serfs
Will of the People
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
Paul von Hindenburg
Paris Peace Conference
League of Nations
Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of St. Germain
Lawrence of Arabia
What were some of the long-term and short-term events that led to the Russian Revolutions in 1917?
What factors helped bring the First World War to an end?
What were the goals of the Paris Peace conference in 1919? What were some of the major outcomes?
What were some of the specific challenges facing the Weimar Republic? What were some of its successes?
The Russian Revolution
Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries
Reforms: the need for reform is evident
Emancipation of the serfs
At the beginning of the 20th century, Russia was a “backwards” empire, behind the times politically, economically, militarily. Before we can examine the Russian Revolution, we need to make sense of the wider historical background, in order to see how and why the Russian people (or some of them, at least), believed in 1917 the time was right for revolution.
In 1861, Tsar Alexander II (1818-1881) emancipated the Russian serfs. This meant that those serfs were now no longer bound to live and work the land of their feudal lords, although the freedoms that were granted to them were perhaps less meaningful than they might appear on paper. This emancipation took place because of the incompatibility of a feudal political and economic system with the demands of a modern industrial economy. That is, western Europe was industrially progressive, but Russia was not (though it desired to be). The limitations of this feudal order led to frequent uprisings by the disgruntled peasants, which consequently provoked a movement among the educated class to end serfdom.
Problems with emancipation
Theoretically, the peasants obtained about half of the land, but it was much less. They also received some of the worst land. These newly freed peasants also had to make redemption payments for the land over a forty-nine-year period. This was obviously a big burden, and the peasants had to pay the state directly. So, these peasants eventually came to resent the government for their plight.
This tense situation bred an increasing radicalization of those on the political left who were critical of the conservative government. This was not just words; there was also an increase in the revolutionary movements and assassination attempts. A secret terrorist organization named, “Will of the People” successfully assassinated Tsar Alexander II in 1881, in the hope that his death would bring down the whole system.
Government reaction set in under Alexander III (1845-94) and Nicholas II (1868-1918).
Temporary regulations that had been announced in 1881, in the immediate wake of the assassination of Alexander II, now became permanent. These included the imposition of a partial state of martial law until the end of the empire (in 1917). Orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationality were all advocated by the government, which only alienated the people. The situation only grew worse under Nicholas II, who was a good man, but a narrow-minded and miserable ruler once he took the throne in 1894.
Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905
The Russo-Japanese War further complicated the situation for the Russian government. This war featured the two imperial powers (Russia and Japan) competing for influence in Manchuria. It began with a Japanese sneak attack at Port Arthur on February 8, 1904 and ended with Japanese victory at the Battle of Tsushima on May 27, 1905. US President Theodore Roosevelt mediated the negotiations for the peace treaty in August 1905. In the wake of this humiliating loss for the Russians, revolution broke out in Russia itself.
This revolution was not so much caused by the loss of the war (see above) as it was the product of social transformations in Russia that were themselves due to the growth of capitalism. These included the rise of the bourgeoisie (the middle class), industrial workers, and the free peasantry, all of whom had problems with governmental policy. Several political parties were formed by the early 1900s to give vocal opposition to the government:
Constitutional Democrats (Cadets) led by Pavel Miliukov.
Social Democrats (Marxists), which split into the Bolsheviks (which means “majority,” even though this group was the numerical minority) and the Mensheviks (whose name means “minority,” even though there were more of them than Bolsheviks) in 1903;
Basically, the Bolsheviks wanted revolution right now, whereas the Mensheviks were willing to take a more pragmatic, gradual approach. The Bolsheviks named themselves “Bolsheviks” to try to promote their case and steer followers away from the Mensheviks.
Social Revolutionaries, a populist party that looked to the peasantry.
The disastrous war with Japan only incensed the opposition and raised calls for a constitutional assembly and civil liberties. Perhaps the most infamous episode in this event was Bloody Sunday (January 22, 1905), the scene of a set of strikes, peasant uprisings, and occasional mutinies—the army shot into a mass of protesters in an effort to regain control and caused numerous casualties. This culminated with a general strike in October. Nicholas cracked under the pressure and granted the October Manifesto, which guaranteed civil liberties and created the Duma (an elective legislative assembly). But the tsar retained complete control over the executive, army, foreign policy, church, etc.
Problems between 1905 and 1914
The government found that it could not work with the first two Dumas, because too many members of parliament were too far on the political left, leading to constant disagreements over policy. Eventually, Nicholas II dissolved the legislatures and changed the electoral law so that the votes of landlords counted more than those of peasants and workers. In this scheme, one landlord equaled four upper bourgeois votes, which equaled sixty-five middle class peoples’ votes, which equaled 260 peasants’ votes, which equaled 540 workers’ votes. Thus, these steps increased the representation of the Right, but it also intensified the opposition of the Left.
Circumstances leading to the 1917 Revolutions
If we look ahead to 1917, we can understand how the background in Russian made another revolution perhaps unsurprising. World War I and the numerous casualties it had inflicted only caused the Russians to distrust their autocratic (meaning one person has unlimited authority) government even more. Because of the enormous casualties and lack of success, Russian forces begin to retreat from World War I in 1916. By that point, the Russians had lost faith in Tsar Nicholas II.
In March 1917, a series of strikes broke out in the capital of St. Petersburg. Soon the soviet (a committee of revolutionary peasants, workers, and soldiers) gained control over the city. The government became scared by the rise in soviet power. A committee was formed by some influential elite that sought to regain power and control over the city.
This committee considered itself a provisional government since the elected government had been dismissed by Nicholas II in early March. In mid-March, the new provisional government urged the Tsar to abdicate. The tsar did abdicate, and this left the succession open, which made Russia a de facto republic. This is important because the Russian Revolution did not take place in just one stage – if it did, then we might end our story here with the provisional government and the communists would be only minor players.
March to November
However, once the tsar had abdicated, this left the soviets or reds, who were representing the interests of the masses, and the provisional government or the whites, which was representing the interest of the aristocracy and nobles, vying for power. In April, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, known more commonly by his pseudonym, Lenin, (1870-1924) returned to Russia from his exile in Switzerland (he had been forced into exile for his revolutionary activity at the turn of the century). Lenin urged the revolution to move on to a socialist phase, which would bring the soviets into full political power.
The urging of the socialist revolution became Bolshevik policy—the Bolsheviks hoped to move toward a civil war, in which the masses would come to power and gain control, as Marx’s theory had suggested. Bolsheviks engaged in propaganda to discredit the provisional government and gain backing. The Bolsheviks revolt in July and fail, but the November Revolution took place with little opposition—the Bolsheviks were able to dominate the soldiers and their government.
Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) joined forces with Lenin to help him stage another revolution – this time, against the provisional government. This second phase is the one we usually think of as the “Russian Revolution.” Trotsky urged Lenin to make this Bolshevik Revolution seem defensive as opposed to counter-revolutionary--Trotsky believed that the soviets would gain increased support this way. A defensive attack against the provisional government was not hard to wage given the dissension among the leaders of the provisional government.
On the night of November 6 and 7, the soviets gained control to all the key points in the city, and surrounded the Winter Palace, which was the seat of the provisional government—when St. Petersburg awoke on the morning of November 7, the Bolsheviks had gained control. The take-over coincided with the Second All-Russian Congress of the Soviets. When they met on November 7, the Bolsheviks had a majority in the Congress. An all-Bolshevik government was approved with Lenin at its head, and with both Trotsky and Joseph Stalin (1879-1953) holding key leadership positions.
Two decrees were also passed: an immediate peace settlement with the Germans over World War I without annexations or indemnities, and an abolishment of all private land. Within the next month, the Bolsheviks gained power in most cities, and the provisional government was destroyed. Lenin’s theory of organization for the Bolshevik government is that the vanguard or leaders lead the people and he will lead the vanguard—in essence, it is a group of professional revolutionaries that lead the Bolshevik Revolution—the Bolsheviks change their name to the Communist Party in 1917.
Bolsheviks in Power
The Bolsheviks began eliminating all opposition—members of the old provisional government, including its leader, Kerensky, were deported. Amid the chaos and confusion, many of the Russian minorities declared their independence—Finland, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. During the negotiations for the peace treaty, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Germans insisted upon sizable annexations—the treaty was reluctantly accepted in March 1918—Russia suffered sizable losses and the treaty was seen as a betrayal because of the humiliating terms. Trotsky begins to build up the Red Army, making service compulsory for all workers and peasants—White forces also grew during this period, many of which were supported by Allied governments in their counterrevolutionary activities. By the end of 1920, Trotsky and his army were able to rid Russia of all the White and counterrevolutionary forces. In 1921, in response to the Kronstadt Rebellion – a counter-revolution against Communism – terror was imposed by Lenin. In January 1924, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was established when the new constitution was accepted—The Soviet Union was a totalitarian regime.
PAUSE for 60-second Quiz #1. What were some of the long-term and short-term events that led to the Russian Revolutions in 1917? Which of the following statements is NOT true?
Russia had only a partially democratic political system, where different classes of citizens’ votes were not all counted equally.
The First World War and the successes of the Russian Army in fighting the Germans spurred the Russian people to demand political reforms that would lead to Communism.
The Russian Revolution of 1905 had been indecisive, with several different political movements all competing over how-to best reform Russia.
The initial revolution in March of 1917 did not end with the Bolsheviks in charge, so they led a second revolution in November 1917 to take power.
The End of the War
Now, we need to turn back to the rest of the First World War. We should note here that the war is increasingly UNPOPULAR in Germany, France, Great Britain, in 1917-1918. Even though patriotic Germans, Frenchmen, and Britons rallied around their flags in 1914, that unity was eventually eroded by the social and economic effects of the war (which only compounded the enormous toll in casualties). Workers had practically abandoned their use of the strike during the first years of the war (remember, the socialist parties almost always voted with their nationalist brethren, not with the international brotherhood of workers).
In Germany as early as May 1916 there were large-scale, yet illegal, strikes taking place. In May of 1916, 50,000 Berlin workers walked off the job in response to the government’s arrest of pacifist and leftist leader Karl Liebknecht, who had been involved in an (also illegal) May Day protest. In early 1917, the German public’s discontent grew from simple expressions of dissent and dissatisfaction, into protests in Berlin. Interestingly, while there was an element of pacifism within this left-wing movement against the war, many of those protesting were motivated by practical concerns related to the war and its disruptive effects on the economy, on politics, and on Germans’ daily lives.
Poorer Berliners were angry over the government's inability to equitably distribute food and simultaneously contain the black market and wartime profiteering. In April 1917, 200,000 Berlin workers struck, upset at their lack of political voice, lack of representation, and the effect of the free market on the basic needs of workers. Later that summer, Berlin witnessed more protests over the lack of foods that were meant to substitute for the foods that were already unavailable. Through the next year (1918), Berliners called for an end to the conflict, changes in the government, voting reform, and peace with Russia, with about 4 million striking in January 1918.
France was also the scene of increasing strikes in 1916. There the frequency of strikes and the numbers of workers who were involved in such actions increased approximately four-fold in 1916, compared to 1915. France was, of course, the location of much of the fighting (at least the Western Front), which makes it all the more remarkable that these expressions of discontent and protest from civilians, albeit living under wartime conditions, was complemented by some mutinous actions within the French Army. Here it was soldiers from the French 5th Infantry Division deserting because they objected to their commanders’ military tactics of fighting in trenches with the bombardments overhead and launching frontal assaults across the No-Man’s Land into German machine gun fire. However, these mutinies were short-lived and did not threaten France’s overall military position (compared to the later experience of the Germans, see below).
In Britain, South Wales’ mining district and the Clydeside shipyards near Glasgow, Scotland were centers of protests. Here miners and workers were upset at the effects the war and wartime production necessities were having on their lives and workplaces. After April 1917, the British government inducted more and more skilled workers into the military and utilized increased dilution of the workforce to cover the resulting slack in production. Up to April of 1917, morale in factories had been high, at least, in support of the war. But when the “combing out” phase began, factory workers’ opinions slowly moved to the anti-war side of the spectrum. At the same time, the anti-war elements in trade unions, as well as the extra-union factory organizations, increased. That is, the socialist agitators in these factories had now a model (Russia in 1917) to present with their ideology to the workers.
These factory organizations became slowly more political as their workers’ opinions slowly swung against the government’s (imperialist) war aims and policies, and later against the war outright. Again, this anti-war sentiment was not representative in 1917 of most workers, but the question of military service was made much more of a political issue once Parliament instituted conscription. In 1917, strikes broke out in huge numbers, but still nearly three-fourths of those strikes concerned wages. Despite the illegality of such industrial actions under the Munitions Acts, the government could not ignore the stoppages or the threats of stoppages in production of war materials.
The problem was, the government could fight and suppress some strikes but did not have the resources to combat each one, all the while depriving the military of necessary equipment and goods. The government had to compromise with the strikers, meeting with them and bargaining to get the workers back on the production line. In January 1918, the government was proposing still wider classifications under which it could recruit men out of the factories and into the military. Simultaneously, the government was trying to cancel the union-classified exemptions for skilled workers, who were also union members. Due to the barrage of threats of strikes and massive upheaval however, the government withdrew its attempt to “comb out” more servicemen.
The Ludendorff Offensive
Back on the battlefield, by early 1918, things seemed to be looking up for the Germans in their war effort, at least on the battlefield. The Russian Revolutions had taken the Russians out of the war (more on that next time) and therefore the Germans could focus on just fighting on the Western Front.
The German High Command under Generals Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff launched one final offensive to try to seize what momentum they believed Germany was enjoying, and made progress up the Marne River (again!) but Germany’s army was unable to get much farther. At this point in April 1918, the German army was exhausted, with no more reserves and little remaining energy or resources (human and material) in the factories to continue the industrial production at home to keep the army supplied, even if they still had had the energy to fight.
To make things worse, for the Germans, the Americans were arriving in ever-greater numbers each day, making it clear that the Allies could keep on fighting for much longer, past the point where Germany and her allies would collapse. Now, Hindenburg and Ludendorff could see the writing on the wall, but they did not want to be the ones still in the driver’s seat when Germany collapsed. That is, these two senior generals did not want to be in the position of having to seek peace terms with an utterly defeated German Army. This is important because when the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, Germany still appeared to hold some military advantage, in terms of territory they occupied. But the generals wanted to make the civilian government of Germany be the ones to surrender.
So while Hindenburg and Ludendorff had been basically running the German government day-to-day (because the Emperor listened to them more than listening to his civilian chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg), Ludendorff now advised the Emperor to allow a new, more democratic government to be established, and then to seek peace terms. The new chancellor, Prince Max von Baden, indicated to the Entente powers (the Allied Powers) that he would accept peace under the rubric of Wilson’s Fourteen Points (which were America’s declared war aims; see below).
When news spread in early November 1918 that the German government was going to enter peace negotiations, the public in Berlin took to the streets in celebration. That is, Germans were not necessarily glad to have lost the war, but they were glad to see an end to the fighting and dying. However, these demonstrations led to widespread domestic chaos in Germany, which was coupled with desertions from the army and navy. (The desertions began in Kiel, when the German sailors refused to board their ships and continue fighting on the eve of peace negotiations.) So, when German went into the negotiating table, their military was falling apart, and the public unrest had forced Kaiser Wilhelm II to abdicate his throne. This is where the Weimar Republic arises. It was this new, Weimar Republic government that signed the armistice (and ultimately the peace treaty).
PAUSE for 60-second Quiz Question #2: What factors helped bring the First World War to an end? Which of the following statements is true?
Growing popular discontent in Germany in 1917 and 1918 made it more difficult for that government to continue fighting while the war was increasingly popular everywhere else.
British and French leaders discovered new ways to enhance industrial production and recruiting of soldiers in 1918, sending more of their own men and more of their own equipment to the front every day.
The German Army suffered a tremendous defeat in April 1918, which led to their immediate and unconditional surrender.
The entrance of the United States into the war and Germany’s dwindling resources convinced the German High Command to advise the Emperor to surrender.
The Versailles Treaty
Paris Peace Conference
Traditionally, Europeans and Americans remember November 11, 1918 as the day that the First World War ended. This is because the armistice was signed at 11:00am on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. However, the armistice only suspended the fighting, so that the two sides could negotiate a lasting peace treaty. Were negotiations to have been unsuccessful, theoretically, the shooting would just start up again. However, that gruesome situation did not come to pass.
The date set for the Paris Peace Conference to begin was January 18th, 1919. This date was chosen because it had been on that same date in 1871 that the German Empire had been formed after the victory of the Prussians over the French in the Franco-Prussian War. The site for peace negotiations was also a symbolic choice – the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles Palace, which is where the German Empire had been proclaimed in 1871.
No negotiated peace.
The Big Four (President Woodrow Wilson for the US, Prime Minister David Lloyd George for Great Britain, Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau for France, and Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando for Italy) dictated the terms to the Germans. In fact, this was not a negotiated peace in which both sides sit down and come to a mutually agreed upon settlement. The only ones present during the drafting of the treaty were representatives from the US, Britain, France, and Italy (ergo, the victorious powers). No representatives from Germany or Austro-Hungary were present for the discussions, so the defeated powers had no one to speak for them. Also, the Russians were not included since the Bolsheviks had pulled Russia out of the war in March of 1918. The Big Four worked out the peace terms amongst themselves and then dictated them to the Germans and their allies. The Germans had no choice but to accept them because at the armistice, they had laid down their arms and abandoned their defensive positions, so they could not resume the fight.
A” soft line.”
Woodrow Wilson called for a “soft line” against the defeated Central Powers, which was itself a product of his more idealistic view of international affairs. Wilson’s outlook for the peace were outlined already in his public speeches and writings advocating his “Fourteen Points.” By January of 1918, these ideas were common knowledge for everyone, including the Germans. The Germans had agreed to the armistice largely because they felt that they would be fairly treated due to Wilson’s fourteen points. In the fourteen points, Wilson advocated for:
A non-punitive peace.
Wilson’s idea of peace in Europe was one in which there would be no assessment of blame for starting the war- it just happened.
Classic 19th century liberal ideas.
Wilson advocated very classic 19th century liberal principles to govern international relations, such as freedom of navigation on the seas, the removal of economic barriers to international trade (free trade), universal arms reduction.
League of Nations.
To avoid future conflict, collective security was to be maintained through the establishment of an international organization in which every country in the world would have a voice to air their concerns. This was to be his League of Nations. In establishing the league, Wilson was calling for an end to secret diplomacy and secret alliances.
Self-determination for nationalities.
Probably the greatest statement made by Wilson in his Fourteen Points was his advocacy for National Self-determination. This was the right of every nation – meaning a group of people with a shared culture, language, and history (think “nationalism” from earlier) – to have their own nation-state or political independence. Wilson was saying that every nation could and should determine its own fate.
This was huge. For the first time, a major world leader had proclaimed that every nation of people had the right to its own nation state, the right to decide its own fate. This is a bold statement recognizing the inherent equality of all peoples to control their own destinies. Or at least this statement can be read as such. As we shall see, the actual actions taken by the Big Four would violate the principle of National Self-Determination repeatedly. And this tendency would continue past the Second World War and into the latter 20th century, to varying extents.
A” hard line.”
On the other side of the spectrum from Wilson coming into the peace talks was French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, who called for a “hard line”. He did not think much of Wilson or his Fourteen Points and scoffed that Wilson had put forth Fourteen Points, whereas the good Lord himself had been satisfied with only Ten Commandments. Clemenceau was close to eighty years old and was from the “old school.” He had become jaded due to his age and his experiences, having been mayor of one of the districts in Paris at the time of the Franco-Prussian War, so he had seen Germany invade France twice in his lifetime. Unsurprisingly, this had instilled in him a great hatred of the Germans. Instead of the Fourteen Points, Clemenceau wanted:
Clemenceau wanted to put clear blame onto Germany for the war. He did not like Wilson’s idea of a non-punitive peace, where everyone accepted a degree of guilt, so no one was punished overly harshly. Rather, Clemenceau felt that the Germans had been totally responsible for starting the war and he wanted them to be blamed.
Since he felt that Germany alone was to blame for the war, Clemenceau felt that the victors should assess reparations. These would be monetary payments that Germany would have to make to its former enemies, to pay for the damage that the war had done to them.
Clemenceau wanted to adjust territory to penalize the losers and reward the victors in the war.
Disunion of Germany.
Closely related to the question of territory was Clemenceau’s desire that they break Germany up into separate states, like it had been prior to unification, so that it could not cause any more problems. France had endured two German invasions in fifty years, and he was determined to eliminate the German threat to France. He wanted Germany to be crippled so that they would not be able to wage war again for a long time.
Clemenceau also wanted to create mutual defense pacts all aimed at protecting the other powers from future German aggression.
In his hatred for the Germans, Clemenceau failed to appreciate that, for the future political stability and economic recovery of Europe, Germany needed to be reintegrated into the European political and economic system. It was just too populous a country with too much economic potential to be alienated without it coming back to bite you.
Vittorio Orlando: spoils of war?
Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando was the junior member of the Big Four. Orlando was mainly concerned with acquiring for Italy the territories that they had been promised in the Treaty of London in 1915, which had brought Italy into the war on the side of the Entente Powers. He would later march out of the Versailles conference when the other powers refused to grant Italy the extensive compensation it had expected along the Adriatic Coast. The other powers had not been impressed by Italy’s performance in war- the Austrians had beat them in every engagement.
A poor compromise.
Given these opening positions, the problem at Paris naturally became that Wilson advocated a soft line and Clemenceau a hard line, with Lloyd George and Orlando falling somewhere in between, making it very difficult to come to a mutually agreed-upon position. Lloyd George himself had started out wanting a harsh peace, but by the time the conference opened, he had modified his approach and became something of a mediator between the extreme views of Wilson and Clemenceau. He later commented that “I think I did as well as might be expected, seated as I was between Jesus Christ [Wilson] and Napoleon Bonaparte [Clemenceau]”. The peace that was established was a mixture of both approaches, which proved disastrous in the long run for Europe. Had either approach been applied consistently, a real peace might have been established. But a poor compromise created a peace with a lot of problems.
Dealing with Germany.
The Treaty of Versailles (signed June 28, 1919) was the most significant of the five treaties signed ending the war. The Big Four essentially dealt with each of the Central Powers and their allied states separately, but the Treaty of Versailles is the most well-known treaty and had the largest ramifications. The Treaty of Versailles dealt exclusively with Germany.
The treaty weakened and humiliated Germany, which is what Clemenceau wanted to do. However, the treaty did not destroy Germany. The most humiliating part of the treaty is the infamous Article 231, the so-called “War Guilt Clause,” which made Germany fully take the blame for starting the war and assume responsibility for the damage that was done. Although the Germans certainly deserved their share of the blame in starting the war – basically because they followed the constraints of the Schlieffen Plan without concern over the consequences – they were not fully to blame for the war. For instance, Serbia contributed to it by their part in the assassination of Francis Ferdinand, Austro-Hungary played a part because they were just looking for an excuse to go to war against Serbia, Russia played a big part by mobilizing its army – which provoked Germany, and Britain had a part to play- because they had not made clear their intentions of maintaining the neutrality of Belgium- which brought them into the war. So, Germany was not solely at fault in starting the war- but the Big Four put the onus on them.
To pay for the damages done in the War, the treaty-imposed reparations in cash and raw materials that Germany had to pay to the winning nations. The value of the reparations was not decided at the Paris Conference, because totals were still being added up, but it was later fixed at $33 billion. Payments were to be made over a period of 66 years, at a cost of $500 million per year. Clemenceau wanted reparations not only to pay for the damage caused by the war, but also, he wanted them as a political and economic weapon to cripple the mighty German economy.
The Versailles treaty sought to pull Germany’s teeth militarily by limiting the German Army to 100,000 men with no tanks, no air force or heavy artillery, no general staff, and no battleships or submarines.
The treaty stripped Germany of their few overseas colonies and caused them to cede territory in Europe as well. France was to get Alsace and Lorraine back which it had lost to Germany after the Franco-Prussian War. Belgium was restored as an independent state and enlarged at the expense of Germany. Poland, which had just come back into being, was given a large part of West Prussia and a strip of territory between Germany and East Prussia known as the Polish Corridor so that they had access to the sea. Although the recreation of Poland went along with Wilson’s policy of National Self-Determination when German areas were given to Belgium and Poland- this was a violation of Wilson’s policy of Self-Determination.
Demilitarization and allied occupation of the Rhineland.
As a further insurance against future German aggression, the treaty declared that the Rhineland was to be demilitarized. This meant that Germany could not fortify or station troops on the Left Bank (i.e. the western side) of the Rhine, nor within 50 kilometers of the right bank (the eastern side) of the Rhine. This meant that the German heartland was open to invasion- which would act as a deterrent. Not only was the Rhineland demilitarized for the Germans, but Allied troops were to occupy the left bank of the Rhine, with Germany paying the expenses.
Since that the French coal fields had been destroyed by the Germans during the war, France pushed for and got economic control of the coal-rich Saar region of Germany for at least fifteen years. A plebiscite was scheduled for 1935 where the inhabitants of the region could vote whether to remain with France or return to Germany (they chose Germany).
The treaty was presented to the German delegation on May 7th, 1919. The only way to describe the German reaction was amazement mixed with consternation. In looking at the treaty, apart from the League of Nations, they saw very little that resembled the Fourteen Points, which they felt was going to be the basis for the peace when they signed the armistice agreement.
In June, the Allies gave Germany an ultimatum, either sign the treaty or be invaded. They had already laid down their weapons and were defenseless. On June 28th, 1919, the German delegates signed the treaty in the Hall of Mirrors, which was another jab in Germany, because it was where the German Empire had been proclaimed. The whole affair was staged to be deliberately humiliating to the Germans.
A League on their own?
Wilson’s most cherished part of his Fourteen Points was the League of Nations. It was written into the treaty, but in the end the US failed to ratify it. What happened was that Wilson had to have 2/3rds of the Republican-controlled Senate to ratify the treaty. Some of the Republicans were just plain against the treaty, some were mad at Wilson that he did not consult them before going to Paris. What did Wilson in was his refusal to modify the treaty at all to get rid of some of the objections that some people at home had. Without the US rejecting the treaty, for Europeans the League of Nations became a League of their own. At the same time, the US also failed to establish the promised mutual defense pact with France that Clemenceau had wanted. After the Senate refused to pass the treaty, the US was no longer a part of the peace proceedings and with them gone, the British quickly took a more conciliatory attitude which virtually left France alone on the continent in trying to uphold the treaty.
Results of the other treaties
Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Under the Treaty of St. Germain, with Austro-Hungary, the Habsburg Empire was dismembered into the newly independent states of Poland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavia was a country created out of the Balkan areas which included the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Czechoslovakia was an amalgamation of the former Austro-Hungarian territories inhabited by Czechs and Slovaks. These were two brand new countries that had never existed in this form. Both were made up of peoples of different nationalities and both would eventually break apart- and in the case of Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s this would be done with great bloodshed, destruction and loss of life.
In this treaty Austria was forbidden to unite with Germany, which violated Wilson’s Principle of National Self-Determination. After the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian empire, many in Austria wanted to unite with Germany and the Big Four was telling them no, they could not do this. The Austrian people were Germanic peoples and spoke German, so the rump state of Austria (shorn of its larger Hapsburg-ruled domains) was more-or-less just another German state. Denying it the right to unite with the other Germans, for better or for worse, was a blatant violation of the idea of National Self-Determination.
Treaty of Sèvres
Another of the antagonists in the war, the Ottoman Empire, collapsed in 1919. The secular state of Turkey emerged from the rubble and the Turks had to renounce all claims in North Africa, the Middle East and basically any non-Turkish holdings.
Britain and France divided the Ottoman Empire’s Middle Eastern possessions into mandates. France got Syria, which included present day Syria and Lebanon. Britain got Mesopotamia, which included present day Iraq and Jordan, as well as Palestine, which is present day Israel and the Palestinian territories. They also got the Hejaz which soon became Saudi Arabia. In their dealings with the former Ottoman Territories in the Middle East, the allies most blatantly disregarded national self-determination.
Lawrence of Arabia
The Arabs in the Middle East had been nominally ruled by the Ottoman Turks for centuries. During World War I, the Entente powers, especially Britain, had incited the Arabs to rise and fight against their Ottoman masters. T.E. Lawrence, the famous “Lawrence of Arabia” was a British officer who had gone to the Middle East and helped bring the Arabs into the war against the Ottomans. Lawrence fought alongside the Arabs and grew to have great respect for them.
During the war, the British had made conflicting promises to different Arab leaders- promising them the same territory. The British had promised Ibn Ali Hussein, the grand sharif of Mecca- who was a great religious and political leader of the Arabs, that he would be given control over present day Syria, the Arabian peninsula, the Sinai peninsula, present day Iraq, Palestine- which included present-day Israel and Transjordan- present day Jordan. However, the British also negotiated an agreement with another Arab ruler, Abdul Aziz ibn-Saud in which they promised him the same territory promised to Hussein.
Also, in November of 1917, the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, made the famous Balfour Declaration in which Britain promised the Zionists, who were those Jews who wanted a Jewish homeland reestablished in Palestine, that Britain would support this after the war. He had done this to try and gain Jewish monetary support for the war. So, Britain had during the war made many conflicting promises concerning the Middle East that would be problematic after the war.
At Versailles the only Arab territory that was given self-rule was the Arabian Peninsula which was given to ibn-Saud- this was the most backward part of the Middle East- so the British didn’t mind getting rid of it- they didn’t know that it had a lot of oil on it. This area became Saudi Arabia in 1932. The big point is that the Allies, mainly the British, blatantly neglected both their war-time promises and the principle of national self-determination in their dealings with the Arab-inhabited areas of the former Ottoman Empire, even though the Arab populations had fought with the Allies against the Turks.
The Italians were mad about territory given to Yugoslavia. By the Treaty of London of 1915, which brought Italy into the war on the Allied Powers side, the Italians had been promised much of the Slavic-speaking lands on the Dalmatian Coast of the Adriatic Sea, which ultimately became a part of Yugoslavia. Wilson blocked the Italians from getting this territory, because it would have been a blatant disregard for his national self-determination, since the inhabitants were Slavic-speaking. The Italian delegation at the conference went home in protest and there was a great outpouring of nationalist feeling in Italy. For years to come, resentment over the promises not kept at Paris would be a disruptive issue in Italian domestic politics.
The Hungarians were angry over their losses to Czechoslovakia. In particular, the lands loosely considered “Bohemia,” which the Hungarians felt they should have acquired, went instead to the new Czechoslovakian state.
The Germans were furious. They were humiliated by the disarmament provisions of the treaty, which they saw as unfair and degrading to a great power, especially one in which the army had enjoyed such enormous prestige. The reparations were hated, but most of all they detested the territorial changes, especially the loss of the lands to Poland.
Some of the worst of the lingering problems were the ethnic conflicts that ensued. Many of the territorially diverse Great Empires had several different ethnic and religious groups living side by side. These groups had been held in check by the authoritarian empires, but following the war many of these groups began calling for their own self-determination, which is hard when you have people of different ethnic and religious background inhabiting the same small area. Making matters worse, often there existed “language islands” of on group living surrounded by much larger numbers of another group. So, it would have been very difficult to cleanly separate the land for distinct nation-states.
In Hungary, the Magyars were the native peoples and the most predominant, but there were also large numbers of Germans and Slavs in Hungary, which created problems for the future.
The newly conceived state of Yugoslavia was made up of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, who were all Slavic peoples, but the Croats and Slovenes were Roman Catholic, and the Serbs were Greek Orthodox. There were also other national minorities in Yugoslavia, many of which were Muslim. Yugoslavia was a powder keg waiting to explode, which is just what it did in the 1990’s.
In Czechoslovakia, there were Czechs and Slovaks, both of which were Slavic peoples, although the Czechs were more numerous and more advanced politically and economically. There were also many German and Hungarian minorities in Czechoslovakia. The Germans numbered around three million and they lived in Sudeten mountains on the frontier of Bohemia and Moravia. This area came to be known as the Sudetenland. This German area would be one of Hitler’s main goals in the 1930’s. Giving this area over to Czechoslovakia was a clear violation of Wilson’s principle of National Self-determination- b/c these people did not want to be a part of Czechoslovakia.
Greeks and Turks
There were also problems between the Greeks and Turks in Asia Minor, which resulted in much violence and bloodshed. Greece and Turkey finally decided to resolve the problem by making a population transfer and they transferred Greeks from Turkey to Greece and Turks from Greece to Turkey. Half a million Turks were involved and a million and a half Greeks, it was a very brutal affair.
Of course, an ethnic problem that has still to be resolved today is the issue of the Jews and Arabs in Palestine. The promises made to the Zionists in the Balfour Declaration by the British government resulted in the establishment of Israel after the Second World War and years of war between the Arab and Jewish populations of this area.
Ultimate results of the war.
The war had led to the collapse of many of the ancient Empires including the Habsburg, Ottoman, and Russian empires, as well as the collapse of the young German Empire. In their place were created several new East European states that were unstable, mainly due to the ethnic/religious division between their inhabitants who were all seeking self-determination. In the end France was left alone on the Continent to defend the treaty, after the US Senate failed to ratify the Versailles Treaty and the British took a more conciliatory attitude towards the Germans. There were many problems with reparations. The German government from the start was determined to avoid paying the full amount. Although the French protested this, the British from the start sympathized with the Germans and urged France to make concessions.
In a larger sense, the war destroyed the sense of optimism and progress of European civilization that had been around since the Enlightenment. Reason had failed to perfect mankind, so some people no longer trusted democracy and liberalism. Uncertainty about the future led to both pacifism and totalitarianism. The war eventually brought three new political forces to Europe: Communism to Russia in 1917, Fascism to Italy in 1922, and Nazism to Germany in 1933.
PAUSE for 60-Second Quiz #3. What were the goals of the Paris Peace conference in 1919? What were some of the major outcomes? Which statement is NOT true?
Germany was assigned sole blame for the war and forced to lose territory and pay reparations.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved, with new nation-states created out of its former territories, which sometimes did not follow the principle of self-determination.
The Allies followed the principle of national self-determination in dealing with the Ottoman Empire’s former territories, allowing each of the different peoples living in the Middle East to form their own nation-states.
The Allies did not consistently follow the principle of national self-determination in dealing with territorial changes inside of Europe, with some peoples allowed to form their own nation-states (like Poland) but others put into new states that were created out of several nations (like Yugoslavia)
The Interwar Period
Economic Roller Coaster, 1919-1939
Great Inflation (1919-1924)
Postwar economic troubles stemmed from problems converting from wartime economies to peacetime economies. Demand exceeded supply and this produced inflation from 1919 to 1924. Industrial stabilization and recovery (1924-1929) were financed by the “cycle of money.” The US lent money to Germany so that the Germans could pay reparations to the Allies, and so that Britain and France could pay their war loans to the US.
The European economy did expand rapidly during the 1920s, but then the Depression hit and its undermined prosperity. The American stock market crash led to a world banking crisis, creating a downward economic spiral (demand contracted, then prices fall, which led to production cutback, which led to layoffs, which led to more contraction of demand. This was a major problem not just for Americans but for people in Europe, too, because American banks were such important lenders to foreign banks and governments. Economic problems would make more challenging the task of many of the newly-created democratic governments in Central- and Eastern Europe (see above), as they tried to recover from the destruction of war but also govern effectively, with the confidence of their people.
A closer look: the Weimar Republic in Germany
Born of the war.
The new Weimar Republic in Germany began with a revolution which began with a mutiny among sailors at Kiel in October 1918. There sailors were among the many people in Germany that were tired of the war and wanted it over. The revolution spread quickly and led to the collapse of the government and the abdication of Kaiser William II. The Social Democratic party proclaimed a republic on November 11, 1918, and Friedrich Ebert became president of the Weimar Republic of Germany.
Problem of legitimacy.
The Weimar Government faced many problems from the start. They had not been allowed to participate in the Versailles negotiations, but had to accept the settlement. They had signed the Versailles Treaty, which was very unpopular in Germany. This led to the mistaken impression that the Republic had lost the war – not the army. Yet the Revolution occurred in Germany and the Weimar government had been formed afterwards, just in time to sign the Versailles treaty.
Nonetheless, many conservative and nationalist Germans felt that they and the German Army had been “stabbed in the back” by the Weimar government, as well as the Allied Powers, because the Fourteen Points had not come to fruition. This pervasive “Stab-in-the-Back Legend” argued that the German Army had performed its duty admirably and positioned German to win the war, and it was only leftists, women, Jews, and other unpatriotic and disloyal Germans who had been too busy striking, sabotaging, and staging the 1918 Revolution, that had caused Germany to lose the war. That is, this myth willfully ignored the fact that the army had been unable to secure a decisive military victory, and that the German High Command had actually suggested suing for peace. Among those on the political right in Germany, there was a pervasive feeling that, if the Kaiser had not have been overthrown, the army could have prevailed, but it had been betrayed. This is a sentiment that Hitler would prey on in his rise to power.
Democracy under threat.
The Weimar Republic was democratic, but not everyone in Germany was happy with democracy and, from the beginning, this democratic government faced challenges from radical leftists (who wanted to install a communist regime) and from radical rightists (who wanted a fascist/totalitarian regime).
On the radical left, there was an uprising of left-wing Marxists, the Sparticists, in January of 1919. Led by Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht, it succeeded in gaining control over most of Berlin before being crushed. Luxembourg did not like bloodshed and had urged the Sparticists to avoid useless violence, but when hotter heads in the movement chose armed conflict, she did not abandon the party. The leaders of the Sparticist Revolt, including Rosa Luxembourg, were shot.
There were several Soviet Republics formed in Germany in Munich, Baden, and Brunswick. (The Munich Soviet lasted from November 1918 to February 1919.) Although the Soviet Republics and the Sparticist each revolt failed, there was still many in Germany who wanted a communist regime. That is, the far-left wing of the German electorate was skeptical of the Weimar Republic, because in their eyes the Republic was not radical enough to solve Germany’s problems. Therefore, they were reluctant to recognize the legitimacy of the government and put their political supporters behind it.
On the other end of the spectrum were the radical right-wingers who wanted a fascist government. The radical right had the backing of a para-military force called the Freikorps (“free corps,” or “independent units”) who had suppressed the left-wing revolts. After suppressing the Communists, the Freikorps marched into Berlin and demanded that Wolfgang Kapp become head of a new, authoritarian, government. A general strike by union workers undermined the attempt of the Kapp Putsch and the attempted coup failed. However, the fact that the professional army stood by and did not stop the Freikorps from trying to overthrow the democratic government was another worrisome sign that the Weimar Republic’s days might be numbered.
Economic problems seemed to be chronic challenges for the Weimar government. The biggest threat it faced initially was the economic crisis brought on by runaway inflation in the early 1920s. The high cost of the reparations, as well as the strain that was put on the economic system from having to switch from a wartime economy to a peacetime economy, caused runaway inflation in Germany. Many people, even if they do not know much else about the Weimar Republic, have seen newspaper images of Germans wheeling carts full of nearly worthless paper bills to the market, just to buy a loaf of bread. Eventually, the Germans were able to get control over the inflation and the economy did resume something approaching normal (see below).
Reparations and Ruhr Occupation.
Due to this runaway inflation, as well as the great hatred that the reparations engendered in Germany, the Weimar government stopped paying the reparations in 1922. This led French Premier Raymond Poincare to order French troops to occupy the Ruhr Valley in January 1923. This was the great industrial area of Germany. The point of this Ruhr Occupation was that the French were trying to extract the coal deliveries that made up a part of the reparation payments (which were being paid not just in money). However, this led to a passive resistance movement by the German workers, who just sort of went on strike, which it made it hard for the French to get the coal out of the Ruhr.
By 1923, Germany was seeing hyperinflation, with 100 Billion Marks barely enough to buy bread, and the exchange rate in US Dollars was 4.2 Trillion Marks = 1 USD. By now, it was not just the economic dislocation caused by the war, or the fact of paying the reparations, but rather the fact that the German government was simply printing a lot of paper money to try to make up for the financial shortfalls it faced. With a tremendous amount of more currency in circulation, inflation is the natural result. Part of the reason they were printing so much currency was to pay wages for those workers on strike, who were carrying out the passive resistance campaign.
Gustav Stresemann became the new German chancellor in August 1923, and Germany capitulated (gave up resistance) to the French and called for an end to the passive resistance campaign. In the meantime, the French were also suffering great inflation and the franc was in trouble. Poincare's cabinet collapsed, and the new Herriot ministry was much more willing to negotiate over a reduction of the reparations. Several international committees were formed late in 1923 to investigate the economic problems in Germany and try to end the inflation.
The result was the Dawes Plan that reworked the payment schedule and tied the German economy to American loans. America was to loan Germany money to stabilize its currency and it gave them temporary relief from reparations. Britain and France were in turn tied to German war reparations, and the Americans depended on repayment of the war loans from Britain and France. The German government accepted this plan as did the new French government. Herriott, the French Premier, announced that France would withdraw from the Ruhr within one year. The Dawes plan accelerated the process of German economic recovery, which took place from 1924 to 1929.
Return to normal?
People felt that a new day had dawned after the Dawes Plan was accepted. Diplomatic reconciliation between France and Germany began to be worked out by Gustav Stresemann and Aristide Briand.
In October 1925, Germany signed the Locarno Treaty, a series of diplomatic agreements guaranteeing Germany’s western borders, permanently demilitarizing the Rhineland, and paving the way for Germany’s admission to the League of Nations in 1926. (Germany’s eastern borders were not covered by Locarno.) France concluded mutual defense pacts with Poland and Czechoslovakia to safeguard itself, in the event Germany decide to try to attack. As part of this strategy of reconciliation, Briand agreed to withdraw the Allied Control Commission from Germany in 1927 and to withdraw Allied troops from the Rhineland in 1930.
1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact.
In 1928, the US and France came up with a multilateral treaty for the renunciation of war. The Kellogg-Briand Pact basically outlawed war. The states that signed the treaty renounced war as an instrument of national policy. Most of the world’s sovereign states subscribed to this and recognized that war was no longer to be used to solve issues.
While the Weimar Republic did, by 1928, appear to be “back to normal,” when the Great Depression struck the US in 1929 and Europe in the 1930’s, it eventually undermined all of these arguments.
PAUSE for 60-second Quiz #4: What were some of the specific challenges facing the Weimar Republic? What were some of its successes? Which statement is true?
Despite their unpopularity, the Weimar Republic successfully financed the paying of war reparations without missing a single payment.
Despite its unpopularity, the Weimar Republic successfully convinced all Germans to accept the Versailles Treaty and Germany’s loss in the First World War.
Despite the political divisions in Germany, the Weimar Republic successfully convinced all German political movements to unite behind the democratically elected government.
Despite the severity of the runaway inflation of the early 1920s, by the mid-1920s, the Weimar Republic had successfully renegotiated its reparations payments and brought the inflation under control.
Key to 60-second Quizzes
b. The First World War went very poorly for the Russian Army, although this unpopularity did not lead most Russian people to call for a Communist revolution.
d. The war was unpopular in both Central Powers and Allied Powers nations. The British and French were facing mutiny and strikes at home (not unending support for the war), the Germans were not soundly militarily defeated on the battlefield but they were unable to keep up with increasing numbers of American soldiers and equipment.
c. The Allies did *NOT* follow national self-determination principles, and instead created “mandates,” where they essentially took control of most of these territories and treated them like colonies until the Allies deemed them ready to govern themselves.
d. The Weimar Republic did skip payments during the “passive resistance” phase, many Germans subscribed to the “Stab-in-the-back” legend and did not support the Republic, and left-wing Spartacists and Soviet Republics, along with right-wing Freikorps, threatened the Weimar Republic’s survival.
Primary Source Exercise
After you have read the primary source listed above (as well as Chapter 16), answer the following questions, based on what you have learned so far:
What do you think is important to know about the authors of these texts? What can you learn from the words each one wrote on the page? What can you infer or piece together from the background information in the textbook chapter? Why is this important?
What are the authors’ goal in writing these texts? To whom did each address their work? What purpose did it serve? Can you point to one or more examples to support this analysis?
What, if any, hidden assumptions can you detect in the text? That is, can you find word choices, phrasing, innuendo, or other examples of the authors (explicit or implicit) bias with regard to the subject matter? Does this bias (or these assumptions) affect how you understand and react to the author’s words? Why or why not?