Sunday 24 February 2008

The First Battle For World Domination

This post continues the series on human history, seen in systematic terms.

The twentieth century needs to be broken down, I realise, for several reasons. The main one, is that we are now so near to our own lives, that we often do not interpret modern history with the clarity we interpret events of the more distant past.

The reasons for this, are numerous.

Firstly, the consequences of these events still lie with us. We are still living out the results, and their interpretation, is political. To be frank about these events, is to be frank about where we are now. And there is a systematic prejudice against honesty.

The First World War, it has been said, ended the nineteenth century fourteen years too late.
This isn’t just a frivolous point. It’s true. The defeat of Napoleon commenced a century in which the values of the Nation of Shopkeepers, took over the world and changed it. The world of 1914, was a vastly changed world.

In a sense, I’m glad I delayed the writing of this post, because I came upon a recent titbit of thought, which I wholeheartedly agree with. Modern geologists are debating whether or not the Holocene Epoch- the geological time period commencing with the Mesolithic period after the end of the last age, is not in fact any longer the Epoch we live in. They create a new Epoch, the Anthropocene, commencing with the Industrial revolution, an Epoch defined as the Epoch when Man rules the Environment, not the other way round.

I concur. The previous systems I described, were systems that improved living conditions over time. The Capitalist system HUMANISED the globe, it CREATED an infrastructure, The Capitalist age, is the first of that brave new period of time, the Anthropocene, the era of global technology, when man first cut the apron strings of superstition and mother nature, when Man started to move away from thinking like an animal, whilst at the same time realising he was exactly that.

The First World War did not happen by accident. Nor is its title quite correct.
There had been conflicts before which touched the whole world. The Seven Years War, the Napoleonic wars. But we dimly realise this war was the first of a new type of war.

What had happened was that the whole world had been turned into producers and consumers. Capitalism, driven by the interest motor, needed feeding.

When I was very young, we used to go for picnics at Witley Court, a burnt shell of the palace of the Earls of Dudley, a kind of Versailles in miniature. Built on the sweat of the Black Country industry, the home of the tenth richest man in the world. And of course, most of the nine richer men, were British too.
It was about markets. One in three guns made in the world was made in Small Heath. Three quarters of the world’s chains, were made in the Black Country.

This country produced goods on a scale other countries did not match- but most importantly it controlled the markets to sell them to. It had exclusive control over the markets of a quarter of the world’s population, a captive market of consumers, themselves lacking the technology to produce. And in hidden terms, it had more. All South America, bizarrely was part of Britain’s hidden Economic Empire.

Material wealth depended on productive industry, productive industry was useless without a captive market outside Europe.
America could escape this, its industry was developing itself, half its territory WAS newly colonised, it was both coloniser and colonised to itself.

But what of the other new competitors in the power game?
The Germans seemed to be making huge leaps forward. But who were they going to sell to?
The German list of colonies was unpromising. Togo, Cameron, Namibia, Tanganyika, New Guinea...Oh, is that it already?

Everyone else seemed to have so much room to grow. It didn’t matter that the French were really not great at this industry business. They had most of Africa to lackadaisically exploit. But more worrying, was the new tiger appearing on Germany’s Eastern Frontiers, the most rapidly industrialising country in the world, Russia. Russia was clearly, after a rapid phase of growth, with swathes of the globe at it’s tail to develop, going to dwarf Germany.
And the Triple Entente, to Germany, was a Union to keep Germany in check, to keep her out of a place in the sun.

Germany needed colonies to maintain momentum, but there were none left to grab. Her best hope, was to seize French West Africa. To do that it needed to repeat it’s easy success of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. This time round however, Russia would come to the aid of France, so there were several basic necessities. It had to take place sooner, rather than later, whilst Russia had not yet developed quick military responses. France had to be defeated with lightning speed, then Germany could turn her whole strength on Russia. The bonus of this double victory, would be the adding of Russia’s newer (and most historically European) territories to the German Economic sphere.

Basically, the Germans were investing everything in the hope of an excuse to go to war against France.

This is often played down today. We place the blame for the Second World War firmly on the shoulders of Hitler, but we ignore the fact that only one European state in 1914 WANTED a war.
The powers at the Versailles conference were sure that the blame lay with Germany, and they were right. Why?

Because the Germans turned a Cold War, into a real war.
The assassination of Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo did not start a war. It caused the government of Austria-Hungary to send an ultimatum to the Serbian government which the Serbian government did not answer.
Austria-Hungary mobilised the day the ultimatum expired. Troops rolled to the border. None crossed.

There had been several wars of this type in the Balkans between 1878 and 1914, paper wars, a bit of a threat, some diplomatic wrangling, everyone goes home. It was a primitive type of UN sanction- though not particularly safe, as things turned out.
The Russians decided the Austrians were being unreasonable and told them to back off. They didn’t, so Russia declared war and mobilised. The Tsar was so sure that it was nothing more than a diplomatic incident, he went off on holiday to the Black Sea.

What happened next, was slightly out of sequence. German troops crossed the Belgian frontier hours after the German government had simultaneously declared war on both France and Russia.

Quite simply, the Germans used a very liberal interpretation of the terms of the Triple Alliance to justify their actions. The official position was that Germany was bound to defend Austria-Hungary, if the latter was attacked (the third member of the Alliance, Italy, didn’t get involved, for the simple reason, Austria-Hungary hadn’t been attacked). Germany then justified its move on France by saying that France was bound to assist Russia (even though France, as yet hadn’t got involved).

The rest of course, is history. The Germans failed to encircle Paris, were beaten back to what becomes the frontlines, the manhood of Europe spent the next four years sitting in wet ditches.
And it was a no win situation. It was a no win situation, because once Britain got involved and once it started bringing in it’s troops from across the globe, Germany and her allies were surrounded on all sides and outnumbered. But the siege could hold out, it was just a question of how long, and whether the ring could be broken.
In 1915, the World’s largest population centre, was London. Second place was held, in its own right, by the western front. It wasn’t just Lancashire Cotton workers and French peasants, it was Canadians, Australians, Hindus, Muslims, Nepalese, the Germans faced a World Power.

This was a new type of war. No war had taken place like this. The petty wars of rifle wielding cavalry in the Balkans, were old style wars.
The colonial wars, waged by the powers against comparatively primitive societies, were not wars, they were no more wars than the Gulf war, they were military operations.
A war, is when two parties fight in physical terms to decide an issue, the issue being in the balance. Up till now, the risks had always been worth the effort. The loser loses, but the winner wins.
The winner wins, because he gains victory, and he goes back home to his untouched homeland.

But there is a type of war which no one wins. A civil war.
A civil war, is a war in which both sides fight within the same culture, where civilians are part of the conflict, where the entire culture is shaken and normal life drives to a halt.
And when a global infrastructure has been created, when global communications have essentially created a global civilisation, all wars between powers become civil wars, in a global context.

Wars may have been good once, in the Anthropocene, they can only be bad.
As an aside, this does beg the question, because it is often pointed out that the two wars sped technology forward in major ways. Not only that, their overall social effect in clearing a lot of societal dead wood, was quite positive.

It's not actually a good point at all. All it proves is that the system doesn’t favour innovation and doesn’t in fact work to maximum efficiency, if it is only capable of bringing about social and technological progress by threatening the end of the species. People who use this argument aren’t really thinking, the point they make doesn’t actually prove that war has its good points, it proves that our system only actually works at its best when you speed up material consumption to a life threatening level.
It proves that wars are good for the capitalist system. But it doesn’t prove that wars are good for humanity, because they are obviously not.

Anyway, back to the war.

I’m not going to dwell on the actual conflict, fascinating though it was.
I’m going to look at the results. Who won?

Britain? France? America?

The victors were several, and they aren’t the ones who put their signatures to treaties.

Women won. The proved that they had a valuable contribution to add, and not just saying ‘Yes dear, you must be right, you’re a man.’
They won the vote, they won their way into commerce, employment and politics.

The people of Ireland, of Eastern Europe, the subject people of the powers, they won. They either won their freedom, or won the right to expect their masters to at least listen to their complaints. The British government was at least forced to tell India ‘You will be an equal partner with us one day’, even if at this stage, we reserved the right to decide that day.
Ordinary people everywhere won, because the old order had shown it needed everybody’s contribution, and people now expected more of a say in how their lives were governed, because they did not want the next generation to face the same ordeal.

Their hopes, were fragile.

Because there were some other winners. Out of the ashes of the monarchies which the war had swept away, came new rulers.
In the west, the war was mainly won by the technocrats, by the bankrollers, the ‘hard faced men who did very well out of the war’. They did not shed their blood, which cannot be repaid, they loaned their money, which can be.
The capitalist system, had a new lease of life. Reconstruction of Europe, meant room for growth. The waste of the war, meant ground to be filled.

But what of Russia? Had not capitalism been overthrown there?

No. No, it hadn’t. The Russian revolution bears no resemblance to the end of capitalism. Capitalism comes to an end, it can’t be overthrown. Russia got rid of a Tsar and an Aristocracy. It remained a cash based system with a rigid apparatus of state. It didn’t bring in democratic control of the infrastructure. It brought in a permanent dictatorship, state capitalism, a state run externally on capitalist principles, because the state still exists within a global capitalist economy, but within, people no longer even have the freedom to determine their own destiny. It took the name of the future system, and applied it to a system that took a step backwards.

In this new world, power derives from the ability to pervert truth, to win minds over by perverting good ideals to serve power structures.

In the new world Freedom will be used to enslave and Equality to preserve power.
And the difference between the ideologies, is more one of grade, than kind.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating post. That's very interesting about the new Epoch name. Not sure that women one - the vote was coing anyway, but maybe their war work accelerated things. But even in WW2, the contribution of women was undervalued - I'm thinking of those who transported planes from base to base because they weren't allowed to go on active service, for instance, yet their work was just as dangerous - and after that war, they were expected to go back to being little housewives.

Anonymous said...

Excellent observations. The Labor Wars also ended, did the people succomb?

Anonymous said...

I really good read, thanks for this.

Anonymous said...

I'm falling behind here, with two posts to read, but this is a very good post Crushed and luckily I see the next one is right there for me. No waiting.

I have never read much about the First World War except in novels but it seems to have been a war which had a huge influence on the world.

I remember being really taken by August 1914, Solzhenitsyn's novel of the Russian Cavalry caught by the superior German army in the forests and trying to fight in the "old fashioned" gentlemanly way. I don't remember much about it except that.

Anonymous said...

> In this new world, power derives from the ability to pervert truth, to win minds over by perverting good ideals to serve power structures.
*Nods* I've considered that; and decided that it wouldn't be worth it. Plus, although we CAN change their minds, and make them believe whatever we want for our own ends; it makes us responsible for them, their souls *depending on what we make them believe*. And being 'God' is not an enviable position.

> In the new world Freedom will be used to enslave and Equality to preserve power.
This reminds me of Animal Farm, again... :-)

Anonymous said...

Welshcakes- I think there was an element of progress each time. I think both wars DID change the public perception. After all, no post war government lacked a female cabinet member.

I think also, we need to look at how the baby boomers felt. Sometimes the impact of one generation isn't felt till the next.

In much the same way, our generation genuinely holds the values our parent's played at.

Helen- I think the General strike in this country in 1926 is interesting. I often think it really would be an idea to try organise something like that globally, and these days it could be done with the internet. Only this time, it would be the salaried average earners doing it.

Now there's a thought.

NB- This section of the series, well, the last few posts in the series, were actually thrashed out months ago in a flat in Manchester at about four in the morning. A lot of these sorts of posts began life as angry diatribes by myself to my bemused friends.

jmb- It brought in the modern outlook in the main, it set the course of the century.

The battle you refer to is Tannenburg, the biggest slaughter (I think) in human history. 5 Million Russian soldiers died in the war, one million of them at Tannenburg. That's as many as the entire British Empire lost.

Eve- It is worth it, because the prize is the prize that we are all driven to strive for.
The underlying reason behind power matrices is really starkly simple.

It's about survival.
A power matrix, is ultimately a defence mechanism. It is a small group of people protecting their lives against the rest of us.

And this is why the cycle is hard to break, because if you free yourself from tyranny, how far do you go in defending that freedom, before you become a tyrant?

The paradox of history.