We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The World in 1913 – Part VI: War

What follows is the final part of a series based on a talk I gave at the end of August at one of Brian’s Fridays. See also Parts I, II, III, IV. & V

When reading about the time it is impossible to be unaware that in less than a year Europe will be plunged into war. It is not as if they are unaware of the risk. Churchill, hardly a pacifist, describes the prospect as “Armageddon”. A recent series of articles have appeared in the Times under the title “Europe’s Armed Camp”.

In the 1900s, Germany began to build up its navy. Britain responded. By 1913 Germany is ready to throw in the towel. Britain has not only shown herself prepared to outbuild Germany at every step but has raised a Territorial Army to fend off a potential invasion. She has also developed plans to send an Expeditionary Force to the Continent should the need arise.

Meanwhile and simultaneously, France and Germany have both expanded their armies.

It is worth spending a little bit of time describing the political systems in Central and Eastern Europe. Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia all had systems that were partly monarchical and partly parliamentary. In Germany the Kaiser made all the appointments. The Reichstag was elected on a wider franchise than the House of Commons i.e. universal male franchise and it had the power to block the Kaiser’s bills including the budget.

Austria-Hungary had parliaments everywhere although the Hungarian was elected on an extremely restricted franchise and there were some magnificently complicated arrangements for making decisions, such as military spending that affected the whole empire.

In the wake of the 1905 Russian Revolution, a parliament, the Duma, was elected on a universal male franchise. It had rather too many socialists for the Tsar’s liking so the franchise was narrowed until he got something more acceptable. The Duma is not entirely powerless but does not appear to have any control over the budget.

The 1905 Revolution took place in the wake of Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War. This severly weakened Russia both on land and on sea. She has been rebuilding her forces but it is a slow process.

In the absence of a strong Russia, Austria has been having a field day in the Balkans. It annexed Bosnia in 1908, created Albania to prevent Serbian access to the Adriatic and has detached Bulgaria from her alliance with Russia.

And yet Austria is worried. Historians of the period love telling us how many times Conrad von Hötzendorf, Chief of the Austrian General Staff, urged war on Serbia. The number is well into the twenties. The Serbs make no secret of their desire to add the Austrian territories of Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia to their own. The Austrians see this has highly destabilising: should Croatia go why not Bohemia, or Slovakia, or Ruthenia?

There are some extraordinarily disturbing ideas knocking around Germany. In his book “The Next War” General Bernhardi talks about the need to smash France, curb Britain and ignore treaties and other promises into the bargain. The Prime Minister, Bethmann-Hollweg, the “Good German”, talks of a coming race war between Teuton and Slav.

In addition to threats abroad they face threats at home. The Socialists are the largest party in the Reichstag and it is becoming ever more difficult to get their army and navy bills enacted.

The Times, 5 August 1914 page 6

The Times, 5 August 1914 page 6

14 comments to The World in 1913 – Part VI: War

  • Brian Micklethwait (London)


    I haven’t commented on any of these pieces yet, but just to say, August 30th at my place was an excellent evening, made all the more excellent for me since then by all these postings.

    My original plan in cranking up these evenings again was to get us all thinking better and blogging better. These postings definitely make me feel that this plan is working.

  • Alex

    Just want to say that I have greatly enjoyed all parts of this series of postings. Very, very interesting and thought provoking.

  • What Alex said. And, we want more!

  • RRS

    There have always been canaries in flight, in song, seeking the appropriate mines for their sounds!

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Me too. I wish I could have been there.

  • chuck

    race war between Teuton and Slav.

    ISTR that Engels spoke of the Teuton and Slav as natural enemies in a letter written in the 1850s. It may be one of those noxious ideas that came with the romantic ethnocentrism that brought so much pain to Europe.

  • Paul Marks

    Even the Pre First World War Hungarian system was far from perfect – although they were neither German or Slavs (no more than Finns are ether Germans or Slavs) and property owners still controlled the Hungarian Parliament (unlike, alas, other Parliaments by 1914). For example, there was state education in Hungary – which allowed (indeed basically made inevitable) the persecution of non Hungarians by the ruling Hungarians (if the state funds the schools what language teaching should be in is a POLITICAL question).

    The Hungarians were not to blame for this – after all the principle of state education has been accepted as far back as the 1700s by the Empress Marie Theresa (copying Frederick the Great – the wild Empress Elizabeth of Russia and her semi sane Cossacks were much better, they did not see a need to copy Frederick and had the Empress Elizabeth just lived a bit longer Frederick would have gone down in history as a FAILURE).

    Perhaps the end of the Hapsburg Empire was decided when Latin was dropped as the language of administration – in favour of German, that made non Germans second class citizens (in fact if not officially) and created both Hungarian and Slav nationalism.

    Future historians may decide that the decline of the Roman Catholic Church (still incredibly strong around the world as late as the 1950s) was caused by the same thing – the choice to (de facto) drop Latin in the 1960s.

    How can a universal Church not have a universal (a NEUTRAL and HISTORICAL) language? And if “the local language” is to be used, WHICH local language should it be? After most modern countries contain people who speak many different languages – if one is picked to conduct Church services in, then all the other people are insulted and….

    Would there still be Jews today if (two thousand years ago) the choice had been made to drop Hebrew in religious services?

    Of course not – such a Tower of B. (with Jews using wildly different languages for scripture in different places) could only have resulted in the destruction of Judaism.

    Historic institutions (such as the Hapsburg Empire) need historic unifying (not dividing – such as German versus Slav) languages of administration.

  • TDK

    I seem to recall (from years ago) that the electoral system in Germany was not quite so simple as one man one vote. Seats were reserved for three different classes based upon tax revenue: voters were arranged in order of tax contribution and the seats were distributed according to equal amounts of tax. Thus a few higher tax payers were equal to many low tax payers. In some case only one person was in the top tax paying group whilst thousands constituted the low tax group in the same constituency. Apologies if some details are off.

    Presumably this was arranged to ensure that the electoral results were conducive to imperial policy. Having said that the 1912 result decidedly Social Democrat. Indeed Some historians, such as Fritz Fischer have theorized that the First World War was partially a result of the strategy of the conservative Prussian Junkers to deal with this result. Not sure I go along with that, even though I highly respect Fischer.

  • Paul Marks

    TDK There were three Houses of the Prussian Parliament – whereas the German Parliament had two Houses.

    The Three Houses of the Prussian Parliament were important because Prussia was so big. It had a dominant role in Germany because of its vast relative size.

    Not so much like New York State now – more like New York State back in the early 20th century when it really was the “Empire State”.

    Indeed Prussia has MORE relative importance in Germany before the First World War than New York State was in the United States.

    I do not have much time for Fischer, or for his “conservative” critics in Germany. The “conservatives” are apologists for Imperial German, and Fischer misunderstands the nature of the place (thinking it “Reactionary” when, in fact, it was “Progressive” – Hegel and so on being Progressive thinkers, although “top down” Progressive thinkers, not “bottom up” Social Democrats like Fischer.

    What mattered in Germany was not the interests of the Junkers (whose wings had been clipped even before the time of Frederick the Great more than a century before – they were not really an independent minded aristocracy, they were servants of the state) – what mattered in Germany was the ideology taught in the schools and universities.

    Ludwig Von Mises is the man to read on this. After all he was a around at the time – and actually personally know the leading German statist intellectuals and statesmen of the German speaking world.

  • TDK

    Paul Marks.

    I misremembered Germany for Prussia concerning the three tier system – my bad.

    Interesting comment about Fischer. My respect derives solely from the work he did on Germany’s contemporary war aims, a fact that is virtually unknown to the average progressive. I reaffirmed this impression as recently as a fortnight ago with an person who claimed Germany was utterly blameless and lay the cause of the Great War at both the arms race and railway timetables.

  • Paul Marks

    TDK – it is easy to make this mistake (I tend to think of “Prussia-Germany” also – because the bleeping Prussians were so powerful).

    Good point about Fischer – there are Progressives and Progressives (they are indeed not all the same – a point I can forget).

    Just as their are Social Democrats and Social Democrats.

    For example the great clash in the German SPD in 1959 (over whether or not it was a Marxist party) is an event of historical importance.

    The American left has NOT had its “1959 moment” – the “Critical Theory” Marxists of the Universities are treated as a Democrats in good standing.

    The American Democrat party refuses to look at itself honestly (to REJECT Marxism) – they just scream “paranoid” at anyone who points out the ideological loyalties of the Frankfurt School academic-politicians (such as Barack Obama) rather than honestly facing up to the problem.

    Indeed the “mainstream” American left has gone backwards – in the time of Jack Kennedy people such as Mr Obama would not have been allowed any leadership role in the Democratic party (and not because of their race – it is their background that would have excluded such people, the British Labour Party once had a similar system, the “proscribed list” which was got rid of by Harold Wilson for factional reasons).

    Just as (till the end of the 1980s) the American union movement (the AFL-CIO) had rules designed to keep Marxists out of leadership positions in American unions. Much as the “Office for the Defence of the Constitution” keeps a watch on totalitarians (both Communists and Nazis) in Germany.

    At the end of the Cold War these rules of the AFL-CIO were quietly repealed.

    Thus leading to the present set of union leaders in the United States – people who will support the agenda of the radical (not the moderate) left, even at the direct cost of their own members interests.

    The “mainstream” American media do not expose any of this – indeed they concentrate on covering it up.

    The 1960s generation are now in senior management positions within the msm.