The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

World War I

Category: 20th century

The First World War was the result of the imperialist monopoly stage of capitalist development and imperialist rivalry between the two main capitalist camps headed by Britain and Germany; V. I. Lenin pointed out that in the war the imperialists aimed at seizing new colonies, pliftfderin^the riva^f’yHuntries and weakening the proletarian movement by setting the proletarians of one country upon the proletarians of another. However, Anglo-German contradictions and rivalry were most important in provoking the world war.

In the course of preparation for the war the main imperialist powers settled their disputes and formed opposing allianqes. Thus the Dual Alliance between German ind Austria was expanded into a Triple Alliance by the adhesion of Italy in 1882. In 1904 the Anglo-French ‘Entente cordiale’ (cordial agreement) was signed and Anglo-French colonial disputes settled. This agreement was of great international importance. From then on Britain and France could join forces against their common rival — Germany/This agreement sharpened the imperialist contradictions between the two blocs, and twice in 1905 and 1911 the rivals were on the brink of war over Morocco.

Tsarist Russia defeated in the war against Japan (1904—5) and weakened by the bourgeois democratic revolution of 1905 — 7 became financially more and more dependent on France and later on Britain. The money was given by the bankers of Paris and London. The British government decided that the time had come to establish strong ties with Russia and make use of her in the struggle against Germany. In 1907 an Anglo-Russian agreement was signed. Great Britain and Russia settled to mutual satisfaction all their conflicts in Iran, Afghanistan and Tibet. Thus the Triple Entente consisting of Great Britain, Russia and France was formed and the old rivals united their forces in the struggle against their common enemy — Germany which headed the Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy. War was becoming imminent. The assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, at Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 was the pretext which led to open conflict.

On August 1, 1914 Germany declared war on Russia, on August 3 it declared war on France. On August 4 Britain declared war on Germany. The invasion of Belgium was a pretext for the British government to disguise a war of imperialist robbery as a war for the upholding of treaty rights and the defence of small nations.

The Germans began the war in the west by the invasion of Belgium, their troops passing through the Belgian capital to make a wide sweep southwards into France. This was their famous Schlieffen Plan — named after Count Schlieffen, former chief-of-staff. The problem was how to knock out France, before the huge Russian armies could come into action. However, the plan failed. The Russian armies foiled the German plans by distracting much of the German war effort to the east. Moreover, the Anglo-French counter-attack known as the battle of the Marne, from September 6 to 10,1914, saved the French armies from the intended encirclement: the Germans were forced back, Paris was saved.JAfter the Marne, the Western front settled down to a vast and prolonged siege warfare. It made a quick German victory impossible and gave time for the great but slowly mobilized material resources of the British empire to have their effect. The stalemate on the Western front was, in fact, a prolonged and bloody struggle: it went on for the four years duration of the war.

In the course of the war a coalition government was formed with the participation of the Liberals, the Tories and a few Labour representatives. Lloyd George emerged as the dominant figure in the government doing his best to divert growing labour unrest by propagating ‘national unity’.

Despite these efforts there was a growing upsurge of working class militancy. In 1915 there were strikes in the great engineering centre of the Clyde under the leadership of the militant shop stewards. Despite government efforts to ban strikes the workers challenged these attempts and in July 1915 200,000 miners in South Wales went on strike and won their cause. In 1916 open rebellion broke out in Ireland on Easter week. Opposition to war and sympathy for the Russian revolution became widespread and in the course of 1917 872,000 workers actively participated in the strike movement which acquired a political character. Anti-war demonstrations took place far and wide.

However, Lloyd George’s cabinet could continue the war effort thanks to the betrayal of the working class cause by the leaders of the Labour party and the trade union movement. These capitulations left the workers leaderless and bewildered. Of all the European Socialist parties only the Bolsheviks carried on the struggle against war on revolutionary lines.

The surrender of the Trade Union leadership gave the government ample opportunities to step up the war effort. On August 8, 1918 the allied forces staged a major breakthrough surrounding and destroying 16 German divisions. Germany was defeated and the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. After the Paris peace conference the British ruling oligarchy vastly extended the empire at the expense of the German colonies. Germany, Britain’s main rival in trade and industry, was greatly weakened.

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