First World War

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World War I
Date28 July 1914 – 11 November 1918
(4 years, 3 months, and 2 weeks)
Location
Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Pacific Islands, China, Indian Ocean, North and South Atlantic Ocean
Result Entente victory
Territorial
changes
• Dissolution of the German Empire
• Dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire
• Dissolution of the Russian Empire
• Dissolution of the Ottoman Empire

World War I, also known as the First World War and abbreviated as WW1 or WWI, was an international conflict that began with the Austro-Hungarian Empire declaring war on Serbia on 28 July 1914, and ended on 11 November 1918, when Germany signed the armistice with the Entente. It is called a world war due to the fact that most countries in the world at the time directly participated in the conflict. Most of these participants were colonies of the main powers, as much of the conflict took place in Europe. World War I ended with a series of revolutions, including the Irish War of Independence, the Russian Revolution, the German Revolution, and the Turkish War of Independence.

Causes

Map of colonial empires in the world in 1914. Note the relative size of each. Smaller possessions would form the Triple Alliance, while bigger possessions would form the Triple Entente.

Although the German 'blank cheque' for the Austro-Hungarian Empire to initiate aggression against Serbia was the immediate cause, structural issues of the world capitalist order at the time can be identified. The main branches of bourgeois historiography pin down Imperial Germany as responsible for the war, though misguided in noting the firebrand nature of Kaiser Wilhelm II (The Fischer thesis), or surmise that the war occurred due to a diplomatic breakdown, with each side 'sleepwalking' into the war.

Imperialism

As Lenin explains in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, as the Industrial Revolution was winding down in several European countries, they were turning towards imperialism to keep capitalism afloat -- for example investing heavily in Tsarist Russia. Yet others that had industrialized later were going through their industrial revolution still. These countries would later form the Triple Alliance.

The former countries had already colonized the world and so had enjoyed the benefits of colonialism and imperialism for decades. The latter countries on the other hand had to start their imperialist phase (as it is a natural progress for capitalism, when markets are so saturated that new ones must be opened by force to keep GDP growing and prevent a recession), but could not as the world was already carved up. As such, they had no choice but to enter a war to redistribute colonial possessions to their advantage.

Contradictions were becoming apparent between the two camps. On the one hand, the Triple Entente had a vested interest in keeping their colonial gains intact and saw it difficult to attack each other (several colonial wars between the British, French and Americans for example resulted in very little change of territory overall) leading to an alliance. The Triple Alliance had a "natural" alliance as they were moving towards their imperialist phase of capitalism, and in case they won, had more than enough territory to share between themselves.

Unexpected participations

Some countries did not participate in the expected camps.

We can note Spain for example, which was also a young colonial power and would have joined the Triple Alliance, but the civil war was starting at the same time, which was the primary contradiction to resolve.

Tsarist Russia was not yet in a phase of imperialism and was an imperialized nation at the time, albeit a large one. French and British investments in production and infrastructure were directly profiting the Romanov family, who were also the ones with the power to declare the war. It is not surprising then that they joined their benefactors and sent their proletarians and peasants to die for their benefit.

Belgium would have naturally joined the Triple Alliance, as a young capitalist country and very small colonial power. However, like Switzerland (who also would have probably joined the same camp), they had not yet reached their imperialist phase, much less their colonial phase of capitalism. Both countries were still going through their industrial revolution in 1914 -- in Switzerland for example, most labour was still organized in manufactures which used manual labour and hand-powered tools, not factories with coal machines like one could see in Great-Britain or France. Belgium was also invaded by Germany first, so as to widen the front with France.

Alliances

Two major alliances faced off in the conflict. The Triple Entente, composed of:

Against the Triple Alliance, composed of:

Major Events

The 'July Crisis'

Entry of Italy and the Battles of the Isonzo

The Brest-Litovsk Treaty and withdrawal of Russia

Reliance on colonies

Colonies played a primordial role in this conflict, with their masters requiring soldiers and resources be sent to aid in the war effort.

A major rebellion against the tsarist colonial government broke out in the Central Asian region in 1916. Another uprising against the British colonists, the Easter uprising also took place in 1916.

In his book The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon recalled a poem by Keita Fodeba, African Dawn, in which a Malian youth is sent to fight for France in World War 1. Picked by the village for his bravery, he leaves in a ship soon after heading for the French front. During his time in the army, his wife receives sparse letters from him and fears for the worst every day. Eventually near the end of the war, she learns that he will be coming back. But on the day his ship arrives back in his home country, he is killed in an undisclosed altercation with two white colonial police officers.

Fanon notes that "There is not a single colonized person who will not re­ceive the message that this poem holds." He further writes that "this is Sétif in 1945, this is Fort-le-France, this is Sai­gon, Dakar, and Lagos".

Consequences of World War I

Ultimately, the forces of the Triple Alliance failed to upset the balance like they sought to, instead surrendering in 1918 and losing their colonial possessions. German and Turkish colonies were redistributed among the remaining imperialist powers in the following way: Syria and Lebanon mandates were taken by France; Rwanda and Burundi to Belgium; Palestine, Tanganyika, Kamerun and Togoland mandates were taken over by the British Empire (along with German Southwest Africa being absorbed by the dominion of South Africa). The infamous Versailles treaty was imposed upon members of the Alliance.

Faced with heavy penalties from the victors and coupled with the fact that they had become unable to enter an imperialist phase and sustain capitalism, fascism was able to take hold in Germany, Italy, and Austria, ultimately leading to World War II. It should be noted that fascism was already starting to appear in Italy under an ultra-nationalist veneer, and as such it wasn't WW1 by itself that was the triggering factor for fascism as an ideology to exist.

Resistance to World War I

Several European socialist parties confirmed their commitment against the warmongering machinations of their respective ruling classes at the Basel Conference in 1912. However, most parties turned back on this commitment and joined their ruling classes to wage war against workers from other countries. Lenin organized the Zimmerwald Conference in 1915 to organize remaining anti-war socialists and continued to call for the imperialist war to be turned to Russia, after having undergone the Bolshevik Revolution, withdrew from the war in 1917 and appealed to all countries to cease the war. The last phase of the war was very revelational in demonstrating the nature of the war while the Entente continued to engage with Germans on the Western front, Reichswehr soldiers were allowed to occupy the Baltics to stave off the Bolshevik "menace."