Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 48 Number 22, November 11, 2018 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Commemoration of the Centenary of the End of World War One

World War I - An Inter-Imperialist War

Mass protest on International Women's Day, 1917 in Russia, demanding peace, land and bread

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, one hundred years passed since the fighting in World War I ended, following the signing of an armistice between, Britain, the Allies and Germany.

World War I was a slaughter of unprecedented proportions. The total number of military and civilian casualties is estimated to have been about 40 million people - 15 to 19 million deaths and about 23 million wounded military personnel. The deaths include some 8 million civilians, of whom 6 million are estimated to have died of war-related famine and disease - such as the 1918 flu pandemic, and the deaths of prisoners of war. From Britain alone, nearly 750,000 combatants had lost their lives, 54,000 were classified as "missing", presumed dead, and 1,500,000 had been disabled.

World War I lasted from 1914 to 1918. It is said to have started on July 28, 1914, when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Russia soon followed, declaring war on Austria-Hungary, and within six days, Britain and France were officially at war with Germany. In addition, large parts of the colonial empires of the belligerent countries in Africa, Asia and elsewhere, some 4,000,000 were automatically at war too, since the war was a truly global conflict and military engagements took place in Africa and Asia, including the so-called Middle East, while troops from Africa and Asia also fought in Europe. From Germany's African colonies 200,000 porters were conscripted, from France's African colonies 450,000 soldiers. In East Africa alone it is estimated that 1,000,000 lost their lives.

Japan participated in World War I from 1914 to 1918 in an alliance with Entente Powers. In this period, Japanese imperialism was also occupying the Korean Peninsula. The Japanese empire seized the opportunity to also expand its sphere of influence in China, and seized German possessions in the Pacific and East Asia

British soldiers on the Somme, July 1916

The terrible conflict between the combatant countries tore asunder the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and German Empires. The end of the war did not end the greed of the power-hungry men who started it in the first place. British troops were deployed to crush Ireland's struggle for independence, giving the lie to its hyperbole of participating in the war to defend the independence of "gallant little Belgium", itself a kingdom which brutally ruled colonies in Africa. British troops, along with troops from ten other countries, at the instigation of Britain and France, were sent to invade Russia following the 1917 revolution, in a vain attempt to maintain the privileges of the Tsarist regime negated by the establishment of the world's first socialist state.

There continues to be massive disinformation about the causes and nature of World War I. In 2014, leading government ministers even claimed that it was fought to defend "western civilisation" and the independence of Belgian or to end "warmongering and imperial aggression". In fact the war broke out because of the warmongering and imperial aggression of Britain and the other big powers.

The First World War was a slaughterhouse of unprecedented proportions. It also marked a turning point in history. In the aftermath of the war, drastic political, cultural, economic, and social change occurred in Europe, Asia and Africa, and even in areas outside those that were directly involved. As four empires collapsed due to the war - the Russian Tsarist Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire - old countries were abolished, new ones were formed and boundaries were redrawn. International organizations such as the League of Nations were established.

A profound anti-communist outlook began to take hold in Europe and North America in light of the New being built by the working class in Soviet Russia which defeated Tsarism in the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917, led by the Bolshevik Party and its leader V.I. Lenin, and embarked on an entirely new nation-building project where power was placed in the hands of the soviets of workers, peasants and soldiers.

Far from being the war to end all wars, World War I perpetuated the colonial system, denied nations the right to self-determination and sowed the seeds of future conflicts and wars in Europe and globally. A hundred years later, the economic and military contention between the big powers is again only too evident.

World War I was an inter-imperialist war for the redivision of the world. Then, as today, the events which led up to World War I show the workers of all countries that unless they establish anti-war governments it is in fact slaughter that awaits them.


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