Armistice Day

by John Q on November 11, 2018

It’s 100 years since the Armistice that brought an end to fighting on the Western Front of the Great War. Ten million soldiers or more were dead, and even more gravely wounded, along with millions of civilians. Most of the empires that had begun the war were destroyed, and even the victors had suffered crippling losses. Far from being a “war to end war”, the Great War was the starting point for many more, as well as bloody and destructive revolutions. These wars continue even today, in the Middle East, carved up in secret treaties between the victors.

For much of the century since then, it seemed that we had learned at least something from this tragedy, and the disasters that followed it. Commemoration of the war focused on the loss and sacrifice of those who served, and were accompanied by a desire that the peace they sought might finally be achieved.

But now that everyone who served in that war has passed away, along with most of those who remember its consequences, the tone has shifted to one of glorification and jingoism.

In part, this reflects the fact that, for rich countries, war no longer has any real impact on most people. As in the 19th century, we have small professional armies fighting in faraway countries and suffering relatively few casualties. Tens of thousands of people may die in these conflicts, but the victims of war impinge on our consciousness only when they seek shelter as refugees, to be turned away or locked up.

In the past, I’ve concluded message like this with the tag “Lest we Forget”. Sadly, it seems as if everything important has already been forgotten.



novakant 11.11.18 at 11:11 am

There’s an interesting review in this week’s TLS (paywall) by Richard J. Evans of

Jörn Leonhard: Pandora’s Box – A History of the First World War


novakant 11.11.18 at 11:12 am

NB: apparently the translation sucks


JohnT 11.11.18 at 12:38 pm

I think it varies per place, even within countries. In my English village this morning, about a quarter of the population gathered in front of the war memorial, closing the only road. They stood there, quietly. A couple of older people spent twenty minutes reading out the names of all the poor souls who had left the village for war and never returned. Then there was two minutes silence, the vicar called for personal peace for all those affected by war, and then demanded that all those who could work for peace do so. A grim soberness marked the whole thing
I had nearly not gone, expecting it to be too jingoistic, but it was nothing of the sort. I am sure across the many communities remembering the Armistice across the world, many will be doing the same.


Donald Coffin 11.11.18 at 2:33 pm

My way of responding to the day:

This is my way of responding to Armistice Day.
Bob Dylan, Masters of War”
“You that fasten all the trigger
For the others to fire
And you sit back and watch
While the death toll gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people’s blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud”

Phil Ochs, “I Declare the War Is Over
“One-legged veterans will greet the dawn
And they’re whistling marches as they mow the lawn
And the gargoyles only sit and grieve
The gypsy fortune teller told me that we’d been deceived
You only are what you believe”

Big Ed McCurdy, “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”
“Last night I had the strangest dream
I ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war”


Reason 11.11.18 at 3:21 pm

Just a personal question on jq. I left Australia 30 years ago. I can remember no jingoism on armistice Day. On Australia Day and Anzac Day perhaps, but never on remembrance Day. Had that really changed?


steven t johnson 11.11.18 at 3:40 pm

Regarding Leonhard, it is always a cause for concern when a reviewer calls a historian “judicious.”

The most important thing to remember about the Great War is that it wasn’t caused by malign ideologies, or nefarious leveling schemes, or crazed utopian economic cranks. It was simply an inevitable breakdown of the normal operation of the capitalist world system. Remember that when the ever growing infestation of libertarians, respected by their peers, trot out their mythology.


WLGR 11.11.18 at 4:09 pm

Speaking of “lest we forget,” how many people and how many commemorations have managed to forget that the armistice came about as a direct consequence of the socialist uprising in Germany, sparked in large part by a mass mutiny among German sailors in Kiel? Two days before the formal armistice declaration, workers led by the left wing of the SPD stormed the Reichstag, an ad hoc governing coalition led by the right wing of the SPD negotiated the abdication of the Kaiser, and both the left and right wings of the SPD simultaneously issued separate proclamations of a socialist German republic (by which they meant two very different things, of course, a divergence that was notoriously written out over the following few years in the blood of revolutionaries like Rosa Luxemburg).

In short, you can toss Armistice Day into the category as things like weekend, the 8 hour work day, the 40 hour work week, social safety nets, and so on: if you celebrate it, don’t forget to thank revolutionary socialism for making it possible.


eg 11.11.18 at 4:40 pm

I’m with John on this one. I’ll wear the poppy in recognition of the sacrifice, but will avoid the local cenotaph ceremony. I find the current temper of Remembrance Day services distasteful and the “our freedoms” trope abhorrent.


Gareth Wilson 11.11.18 at 6:45 pm

Life is too short for me to deal with any more trolls. Gareth, you’re permanently banned from commenting on my posts


John Quiggin 11.11.18 at 7:32 pm

Reason @5 It’s mostly Anzac Day, but the 100th anniversary has made Remembrance Day a bigger deal than usual. And we just had a breathless announcement that “veterans” (I still haven’t got used to this Americanism) would be given boarding priority on Virgin airlines.

To be fair, our PM, who is generally hopeless on this and other issues, gave quite a good speech on the day, which ran under the headline “War is always a failure of our humanity”


michael blechman 11.11.18 at 8:29 pm

the loss of life and the lasting injuries that follow the fighting remain to show the futility of allowing war to arise as an answer to our conflicting ideas. humanity has failed as the dominant species. the fault lies in the hopes of too many to emulate the past society of material greed as a goal. reaching our limits of destroying the clean air and poisoning the seas with chemical and plastic waste as though the planet could absorb an endless spew will cause humanity’s end. honoring the dead is the least we may do to salute those that went before us.


stephen 11.11.18 at 8:38 pm

steven t johnson@6: WWI was “simply an inevitable breakdown of the normal operation of the capitalist world system”.

Remind me how many other “inevitable breakdowns of the normal operation” happened before, or after 1914.

Remind me how far the authorities in Serbia, Russia (or indeed Austria-Hungary or Germany) believed themselves to be operating in the interests of, or governed by, the capitalist world system.

Come to that, for the next catastrophe in 1939, do the same for the authorities in Russia, Poland and Germany.

And explain why there have been no such inevitable breakdowns since.

Best of luck, comrade.


steven t johnson 11.11.18 at 9:55 pm

John Quiggin@10 “To be fair, our PM, who is generally hopeless on this and other issues, gave quite a good speech on the day, which ran under the headline ‘War is always a failure of our humanity'” It seems to me to be quite unfair to blame WWI on us and our depraved human nature. As Norman Angell notoriously demonstrated “us” do not get any benefit from war. Cui bono? Nationalists want to go back to a world where sovereign nations struggle for their place in the sun. Some, like Trump and Putin, want to go it alone. Others like the lords of the EU want a consortium. What all share is a system of capitalist competition which will, like all complex, crisis-ridden systems, eventually break down. Whining about human nature seems to me detestable.


steven t johnson 11.11.18 at 11:40 pm

stephen@12 agrees with majority here, and elsewhere, of course. Nonetheless the confidence the Spanish-American war, the Boer war, the Russian-Turkish war, the Sino-Japanese war, the Russian-Japanese war and either of the Balkan wars would of course not, ever, possibly, have spread like the third Balkan war, er, WWI would be touching were it not so disingenuous. Even if one insists only conflicts between the great powers, the possibility that the Crimean war, the war with Magenta and Solferino, the Schleswig-Holstein war, the Franco-Prussian war (proper,) could not possibly have spread out of control is equally disingenous. Remember 54-40 or fight, the Aroostook war? The monotonously repetitive crises like Fashoda and the first and second Moroccan crises and the brouhaha over the annexation of Bosnia clearly shows crisis is normal operation. stephen’s insistence this is all irrelevant is convenience, not argument.

As to the absurd notion that a capitalist world system, in which states are the protectors of the property of the nation’s ruling class, somehow means the chieftains are pursuing the general interests of world capitalism is delirious twaddle. It is the reformist who pretends globalism means trade and peace.

I am well aware that everyone agrees with stephen on this point, but it is still wrong.


Karl Kolchak 11.12.18 at 12:01 am

Tens of thousands of people may die in these conflicts…

Try 2 million in Korea.
One million in Vietnam.
500,000 in Iraq.
And who knows how many in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Serbia, Somalia and all our various proxy wars in Yemen, Latin America and Africa plus all of the civilians massacred by our client-state dictators in Chile, Nicaragua, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, Congo, Egypt, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guatemala and others I’m likely forgetting.

America is the biggest purveyor of death, destruction and human misery on the globe, but it sounds like we’ve “forgotten” that as well.


Birdie 11.12.18 at 12:35 am

Plenty of horrible things have happened in various American and other war zones since the Western Front. Plenty of busted-up vets in every city. The problem can’t be that we forgot.


Birdie 11.12.18 at 12:44 am

@steven t johnson

… but isn’t the capitalist system an emergent effect based on properties of human nature: individualism, acquisitiveness, aggression. Surely a change of human nature would lead to a change of economics at least; hopefully in a progressive direction but not necessarily so.


Raven Onthill 11.12.18 at 3:11 am

Wasn’t World War I the result of Germany pursuing conquest?

A while back, a native American on Twitter commented that her people had already experienced an apocalypse. This led to the following reflection on my part:

The history of modern Western Europe can be viewed as a series of apocalypses. War after war after war, only at peace after nearly destroying itself. And that is the history of the modern world.


ironoutofcavalry 11.12.18 at 3:20 am


>In short, you can toss Armistice Day into the category as things like weekend, the 8 hour work day, the 40 hour work week, social safety nets, and so on: if you celebrate it, don’t forget to thank revolutionary socialism for making it possible.

Do and the 100 million people revolutionary socialists would murder in the 80 or so years following armistice day, what do they owe the revolutionary socialists?


>What all share is a system of capitalist competition which will, like all complex, crisis-ridden systems, eventually break down. Whining about human nature seems to me detestable.

Ah yes, we all remember how non-violent those non-capitalist systems were, with the gulags and mass killing and terror famines.


Royton De'Ath 11.12.18 at 7:59 am

In an Old Holborn ‘baccy tin somewhere in the house is my grandad’s WW1 medal. He served in the London Labour Battalions. Gassed.

He worked twice between his return and his too early death. Both jobs being very temporary. His family lived in poverty in the East End; the “Panel” was used at times: charity from the worthies. My dad was crippled with diseases of poverty. He was a communist (until the 50s).
He signed up with his mates in ’39. His best mate Jimmy Biscoe killed in a bomber operation in the early 40s.

I got my dad’s medals this year, twenty years after his death. He only told me a bit of his experiences when he was dying. He loved my mum, music and kindness.

My dear, gruff dad-in-law lost his left leg at Monte Cassino. Every few years he’d get a new “fitting”, which was a great strain for him. He loved his family, his garden, rowing; we talked a little about his experiences one quiet afternoon at the RSA. He too died too early.

My Mum’s favourite brother was a boy sailor. He went through the River Plate among other actions. He spent time in psychiatric hospital after the war for his ‘war trauma’. He too died early.

The padre at my daughter’s funeral had been a padre at Arnhem. A quiet, deeply compassionate man who took his own life some three years later.

My best friend at school, dead in his twenties, doing his “duty”.

Not a hero among them: ordinary, flawed, loved and loving human beings.
And the people left behind…? Lives filled with quiet, unresolved sadness and loss; getting by with grit and quiet courage.

I used to go to Dawn Service. Then it got to be political Theatre. I get f….g angry with all the brouhaha, preening and cavorting. None of this helps or helped any of those people mentioned above.

Half a billion for the AWM? And cutting the funding of food banks? Moral bloody Bankruptcy writ large.


reason 11.12.18 at 2:04 pm

@19, @7, @13

You know I could possibly be sympathetic with all of you if it wasn’t the case that utopian ideology didn’t have more victims than all the nationalisms put together. A plague on all your houses.


steven t johnson 11.12.18 at 2:32 pm

Birdie@17 is telling us human nature generated capitalism a hundred thousand years ago? Or is telling us that human nature is only free in a capitalist system? I think neither.

Raven Onthill@18 seems to think it is incumbent on the lesser peoples to surrender without a fight, and accept the status quo as God-given. That Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman empires could be liquidated peacefully, like a common bankruptcy. That is not how it works in a capitalist system of sovereign states defending the property of their respective ruling classes, against other states. The rise of Germany and the US against the relative decline of the British empire meant the balance of forces must change. The new balance could only be found by war.

The relative decline of the US means the current balance of forces must change. That’s why the US government has explicitly declared Russia and China to be revisionist powers. The US state will no more go quietly than the British empire, which would not reach a peaceful accommodation with Germany then any more than it can reach a real accommodation with “Europe” today.

ironoutofcavalry@19 spells out the shared premises of liberal democrats and fascists, the determination that famines and wars under capitalism are acts of God, while everything that happens under socialism is always deliberate. Even if you somehow pretend the depopulation of the Americas and the mass deaths of the Middle Passage somehow had nothing to do with capitalism, there were plenty of holocausts in later days. See Mike Davis’ Late Victorian Holocausts. (Davis contention that famines relatively soon after the revolution are the same as the great Bengal famine or the Irish famine is social-democratic piety, the sort of thing that gives it a bad name.) Idiot theorists of “totalitarianism” are invited to comment upon the Triple War in South America.


WLGR 11.12.18 at 3:18 pm

ironoutofcavalry, the Black Book of Communism is a contemptible far-right propaganda rag whose death tally was denounced by several of its own co-authors due to the main author’s obsession with reaching the nice round 100 million mark by any means necessary, with “victims of communism” including such figures as hypothetical deaths due to lack of population growth during famine periods, Soviet civilian deaths resulting from the economic dislocations of the Nazi invasion, and even Nazi soldiers killed on the battlefields of the Eastern Front. By standards much more rigorous and defensible than those used in the Black Book of Communism, the basic functioning of global capitalist material inequality kills tens of millions of people per decade — which is before you even begin trying to tally the casualties of capitalist conflicts like the two world wars, let alone any of the other massively destructive imperial interventions around the world before and since, which people like stephen seem to have trained themselves not to regard as catastrophic in the same way as WWI/WWII as long as the victims are mostly poor brown people in the Third World. Hell, even at this very moment the US is providing direct political and military support for a campaign of intentional starvation by its Saudi proxy state against millions of people in northern Yemen, a “terror famine” at least as deliberate and premeditated as anything Stalin or Mao ever dreamed of.

If you must insist on spreading uninformed reactionary bromides, at least take it to a less serious discussion space where it belongs, and regardless, don’t forget to thank a socialist if you enjoy not being sent to die in a muddy trench.


WLGR 11.12.18 at 3:49 pm

Stephen, here’s a reasonable summary of how the dynamics of capitalist economic development led inexorably to WWI and WWII, and are leading to a future global conflict that may be much less distant than we’d like to imagine. Now before you click the link, note the following passage quoted in the linked article, by a political commentator writing in 1887 about the prospect of:

…a world war, moreover of an extent the violence hitherto unimagined. Eight to ten million soldiers will be at each other’s throats and in the process they will strip Europe barer than a swarm of locusts. The depredations of the Thirty Years’ War compressed into three to four years and extended over the entire continent; famine, disease, the universal lapse into barbarism, both of the armies and the people, in the wake of acute misery irretrievable dislocation of our artificial system of’ trade, industry and credit, ending in universal bankruptcy collapse of the old states and their conventional political wisdom to the point where crowns will roll into the gutters by the dozen, and no one will be around to pick them up; the absolute impossibility of foreseeing how it will all end and who will emerge as victor from the battle. … That is the prospect for the moment when the development of mutual one-upmanship in armaments reaches us, climax and finally brings forth its inevitable fruits. This is the pass, my worthy princes and statesmen, to which you in your wisdom have brought our ancient Europe.

Now based on what you can guess of my political orientation strictly from what I’ve posted here, try to guess which 19th century European political figure might have written that passage. No, your first guess is wrong, he died in 1883, but close, now guess again. Yes, your second guess is correct.


Mark Brady 11.12.18 at 5:09 pm

Douglas Newton: The Darkest Days: The Truth Behind Britain’s Rush to War, 1914 (Verso Books, 2014).


AcademicLurker 11.12.18 at 6:20 pm

I’ve seen “X is bad” statements receive the “Oh yeah? Well Stalin was worse!” non sequitur in response for many values of X. But this thread is the first time I’ve seen it happen for X = WWI.


Stephen 11.12.18 at 7:25 pm

Too many points to comment on individually, but:

WLGR@7: if you think that revolutionary socialism made possible “weekend, the 8 hour work day, the 40 hour work week, social safety nets” how do you explain that all these things happened in states that did not have to endure the catastrophic misfortunes of revolutionary socialism?

steven t johnson@14
This is the first time that I have ever been told that everyone [on CT? in the wider universe?] agrees with me, but if that is so I do not see it as a reason for supposing I am wrong. Rational arguments dissenting from my opinions are of course always welcome.

stj’s argument that, because conflicts pre-1914 did not result in world wars, therefore WWI was inevitable, has only to be made explicit to collapse.

I am particularly interested by stj’s argument that the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78, between two absolutist non-capitalist monarchies, was in some way the result of international capitalism. If he will reconsider that opinion, he might like to recalibrate his denunciation of other wars as capitalist. I would recommend the works of an intelligent Marxist, Perry Anderson, who explains why pre-Revolutionary Russia and Wilhelmine Germany had many capitalists, they were not actually capitalist states.

As for his denunciation of capitalism in which “states are the protectors of the property of the nation’s ruling class”: there is of course some truth there, but in which system is that not true? In capitalism, unlike some other systems – revolutionary socialism, to start with – whose property has been protected?

Birdie@17: “isn’t the capitalist system an emergent effect based on properties of human nature: individualism, acquisitiveness, aggression?” Human nature indeed; try explaining to Ashurbanipal of Assyria, Alexander, Genghiz Khan why these properties did not apply to their very n0n-capitalist selves.


engels 11.12.18 at 11:25 pm

Well said.


WLGR 11.13.18 at 1:28 am

Stephen, are you under the impression that western Europe and the US never had a revolutionary socialist tradition? If so, I don’t really know what to tell you other than to read even the most passing history of Western mass politics and labor struggles, the upshot of which is that yes of course it was Western ruling classes’ fear of working-class revolutionary agitation that led to the implementation of every single one of those things, up to and including the German ruling class in early November 1918 deciding to hand over power to the moderate reformist wing of the SPD, whose first major policy decision as soon as they’d settled into their desks was to pursue an armistice with the Entente. I can understand maybe a few token Birchers or Randroids poking their heads out here and there, but has the anti-intellectual right-wing fever swamp of our current era really risen high enough that such mild observations are somehow surprising or controversial even in a forum like this one?


eg 11.13.18 at 3:14 am


‘I used to go to Dawn Service. Then it got to be political Theatre. I get f….g angry with all the brouhaha, preening and cavorting. None of this helps or helped any of those people mentioned above.”

My feelings precisely.


bad Jim 11.13.18 at 9:01 am

After Trump’s election, I chose to abstain for a while from the drenching but never quenching fire hose of information of the web, and for a while worked through the stacks of books I had long left unread.

One I avoided for quite a while, not remembering its provenance was “Human Smoke”, by Nicholson Baker. It could not have been a gift; no one in the family still living is familiar with this author.

It’s an assemblage of quotes from various authors from the beginning of the twentieth century up until the operation of the crematoria which furnishes the title, and its general tendency is pacifism, disarmament, the efforts made both before and after the Great War to prevent such catastrophes, and the inhumanity of the conduct of the war. From the outset, the policy of our side was to starve the other into submission through naval blockades, and to a considerable extent it was successful.

In the second round, our side was the first to start bombing civilians, and we got better at it the longer the war went on, though it’s far from clear that this was a useful strategy.

Baker’s book is not, could hardly be, a convincing argument for pacifism, given the drumbeat of fascist pronouncements, threats, denunciations, bragging and swaggering. The first world war was so pointless that it’s hard to understand how it happened, why it couldn’t have been avoided, why it couldn’t have been stopped sooner. The second was different.


MFB 11.13.18 at 10:19 am

It is worth remembering that the First World War was called, by those who opposed it after the fact, the “War to End War”. An organisation was set up to ensure that there would be no more wars, and an international agreement renouncing war was signed.

The organisation was being set up while the war was actually going on, if you count the Western blockade and invasion of Russia, and the Greek invasion of Turkey, as part of the war.

Nevertheless, within less than twenty years you had the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (arguably an after-effect of Italy’s failure to get what it wanted out of the First World War) and soon after that, the Japanese invasion of southern China (inarguably, ditto).

It is possible for people to argue that since there has not been a similar war since 1945, “humanity” has “learned its lesson”. In reality, however, the reason why there has been no similar war has been that the principal protagonists have nuclear weapons and no means of defense against them. If anybody comes up with a genuinely reliable defense against ballistic and cruise missiles, I’d give the world less than ten more years of peace.

Incidentally, I’d give the world less than ten more years of peace at the moment, but that’s because of the preponderance of doltish psychopaths in governments. It’s interesting, however, that a doltish psychopath like Macron is nevertheless capable of realising that France is vulnerable to the intermediate-range nuclear missiles which the U.S. is currently unleashing on the world, and therefore is trying to, er, have a conference about banning the use of naughty weapons and about promoting world peace.

Like 1919, ennit?


steven t johnson 11.13.18 at 3:10 pm

Stephen has won the gallery with the claim that repeated crises failing to result in systemic failure of the world diplomatic system (that is, causing world war,) on a an easily predictable schedule shows obviously it is entirely possible for us to go back to a world of sovereign nations like before the US hegemony and have endless crises with nary a collapse. It’s like the capitalist economy that way. “We” are now so wise that we can avoid the follies of our predecessors, who are obviously stupid, which is proven by their being dead, dead, dead.

I am sure Stephen has also won hearts and minds with the claim Russian conquests
against Turkey meant the extension of the Russian empire rather than the creation of the states of Montenegro, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria. But perhaps people think those new countries came complete with serfdom; extensive church lands and widespread monasticism; aristocratic estates and caste privileges; relative absence of cities, etc. That is, the new states were non-capitalist because absolutist monarchy isn’t capitalist.

(I’m not familiar with Perry Anderson because leftist and foreign means it will not be easily available in the US outside elite libraries. But if Perry Anderson thinks absolutism and mercantilism were not part of the transition to capitalism, I believe he is gravely mistaken. Defining “capitalism” as the most refined bourgeois democracy in the imperial metropole is popular, because it is so usefully apologetic, yet it is still nonsense.)

Mark Brady@25 cites an interesting book on WWI. This is also of interest, especially as it is not scholastically “judicious,” so often a synonym for safe. I think the Amazon blurb grossly exaggerates Pauwels’ argument with regards to workers.

Last and least, reason@21 utters the preposterous claim “utopian ideologies” have killed more people than anything else. (The comment seems to include ironoutof cavalry, but I’m sure ironoutofcavalry, like Stephen and reason, are resolutely complacent about social evils, because, anti-utopian.) Personally I think business as usual, not utopian ideology, had everything to do with the great Bengal famine circa 1770 (not the WWII one.) Etc. etc. etc. in a litany that would sicken the soul, were it not fortified by the conviction it is utopian ideology that is the spirit of evil.


nastywoman 11.13.18 at 6:38 pm

”Sadly, it seems as if everything important has already been forgotten”.

But Von Clownstick just remembered it was ”them Germans” – and sadly not one comment here was about Macron reminding US that ”everything important” is how to deal with ”Nationalism”?


nastywoman 11.13.18 at 9:54 pm

– and about:
”But now that everyone who served in that war has passed away, along with most of those who remember its consequences, the tone has shifted to one of glorification and jingoism”.

Didn’t the French and the Germans mention that it is now 70 years that these ”Archenemies” at peace? – and I think to this ”Armistice Day” the first time even the Germans were… invited? – but how true there was a ”shifted tone” by the German Baron Von Clownstick –
(who somehow still pretends he is ”American”?)


Peter T 11.14.18 at 1:14 am

re @25

Britain tried to negotiate an end to the naval arms race with Germany at least twice before 1914. Germany was not interested. After 1905 Russia was also keen to avoid conflict. The proponents of this policy lost credibility due to German sabre-rattling and insouciant reversals by Vienna.


nastywoman 11.14.18 at 3:41 am

– and for everybody who might have missed it – let me explain what was going on at this ”Armistice Day”.

Baron von Clownstick was very, VERY unhappy -(not only because he was afraid to ruin his hair) BUT also – BE-cause as he always says ”we built the best Arms” – ”the most beautiful weaponry” – and when he always told them Germans and them French and all these other Nato members to pay more for Nato he was hoping for more Sales of US Arms BUT then this Macron dude -(and now also Merkel) suddenly were talking about ”Europeans protecting themselves” -(and NOT buying more US weapons) and that made Von Clownstick very, VERY sad – as his funny tweets about the US not wanting to protect Europe anymore – if Europe wasn’t ”pony up” came to… let’s call it – to ”fruition” – or a classical ”protect me from what I want” – and THAT’s what happened on this –
”Armistice Day” –
(besides the danger for Von Clownsticks hair)


Fake Dave 11.14.18 at 6:06 am

Just wading in a bit to say that “Revolutionary Socialism” is one of those labels that obfuscates more than it reveals. Lenin, Debs, and Luxembourg were all contemporaries who believed in Socialism and revolution, but they didn’t all believe in the same “Revolutionary Socialism.” Just look at the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks for proof that even seemingly small distinctions in what it means to be “revolutionary” have huge implications.

People seem to have settled on using “Revolutionary” as a code word to mean “violent, dangerous, and radical,” or “serious, committed, and effective,” depending on their politics, while “Democratic” is treated as being the opposite (for good or ill), but it’s a false dichotomy. Pacifists can be radical, democrats can be thuggish, and democracy can be revolutionary or counterrevolutionary, and “effectiveness” is subjective. Given that even with conventional definitions, it’s not always easy to see which of the two camps a particular Socialist falls under (and many of them changed factions), it’s probably best to clarify what type of revolution you’re talking about up front.


MFB 11.14.18 at 7:10 am

er, Peter T, Britain wanted to end the naval arms race with Germany because it was ahead and in complete control of European seas. It was Britain which had introduced the Dreadnought battleship and the battlecruiser. It’s rather like the American calls to restrict the number of nuclear weapons and discourage countries which don’t have them from acquiring them.

I won’t say that German sabre-rattling wasn’t a factor in promoting European crisis. However, it’s hard not to see the Russian military buildup in Europe between 1905 and 1914 as anything other than preparation for war (however inept it turned out to be in practice), and of course the Russians were heavily involved (diplomatically) in the Balkan wars. It certainly wasn’t the Austrians who orchestrated the murder of their heir to the throne, and if Britain were to grow grumpy at Syria murdering Prince Charles I would hardly call that “insouciant”.


Dipper 11.14.18 at 9:05 am

Wars are a strategy for male reproduction. Invade. Kill the competing men. Impregnate the women. Enslave and trade women as reproductive property. Repeat. It’s what men have done for centuries.

Eg. Iceland. “”This supports the model, put forward by some historians, that the majority of females in the Icelandic founding population had Gaelic ancestry, whereas the majority of males had Scandinavian ancestry,”


Peter T 11.14.18 at 12:04 pm


Britain had roughly 70% of the world’s merchant fleet, a world-wide empire tied together by maritime communications and was critically dependent on sea-borne trade. This was not new – it had been the situation since 1815. Germany set out to build a fleet specifically designed to challenge Britain’s control of its home waters (heavy on battleships, short range). Britain responded by building the dreadnoughts, then by coming to an arrangement with France so as to free up forces from the Med, all the while seeking a naval truce. One can argue that Germany had every right to seek to diminish British naval dominance, but it was surely both a foolish and an aggressive policy, given that it posed a threat no British government could not respond to (the invasion of Belgium and German plans to annex the Belgian coast were similar, in that they would place the High Seas Fleet across Britain’s major trade artery. In 1914 London was the greatest port in the world).

The Viennese insouciance I had in mind was in regard to the Bosnian annexation in 1909. The details are in Dominic Lieven’s Towards the Flame, but it was a typical bit of Austro-Hungarian over-clever dickishness. It added a layer of distrust that was not helpful in 1914.

What worried Germany the most was Russian railway-building, which threatened to make their military planning more difficult. They saw 1914 as a narrow and shrinking window (much as many of the same people saw war in 1939 as a last military opportunity). Indeed, they had mooted war against Russia in 1906 and again in 1909.

It’s overlooked that Europe had an established mechanism for resolving diplomatic crises – either an international congress or a meeting of the affected powers (as at Vienna 1813, Berlin 1878, London 1912..). The Powers had imposed settlements in the Balkans on several previous occasions, and could have done so this time. Britain and France proposed a congress; Berlin refused.

While they all look similar to us, Germany really was much more militarist and much more inclined to seek salvation from their dilemmas in war than the other powers. While all the elites were in a febrile state, Germany’s were in something close to a collective nervous breakdown, isolated, truculent and fearful.


MisterMr 11.14.18 at 12:08 pm

@stephen 12

I am a big fan of Hobson’s book “Imperialism, a study”, written in 1902, that I believe explain tendencies, that evidently were present in 1902 and before, that later exploded and caused WW1 and WW2.

The book is free online:
(courtesy of The online library of liberty ©Liberty Fund, no less).

The general theory of the book is that capitalist countries face underconsumption problems at home, due to the exceedigly low wage share (Hobson though is not a marxist so he doesn’t believes that this is the normal situation in capitalism).
This underconsumption forces capitalist countries to expand in the colonies, and ultimately also to create an military/financial/industrial complex that becomes the valve through which excess savings (due to underconsumption due to excessively low wages) can be reinvested.

I’ll leave out a discussion if Hobson’s economic theories make sense (I think they do) or wether they are the same of marxist theories (I think they are the same expressed from another point of view and with a more moderate approach), but I want to point out the chapter about “the scientific defence of imperialism” (pp.162 onwards in the link), because it clearly speaks of the “scientific racism” theories that are nowadays associated with fascism and nazism.

Here a cite from p.163:

Admitting that the efficiency of a nation or a race requires a suspension of intestine warfare, at any rate l’ =trance, the crude struggle on the larger plane must, they urge, be maintained. It serves, indeed, two related purposes. A constant struggle with other races or nations is demanded for the maintenance and progress of a race or nation ; abate the necessity of the struggle and the vigour of the race flags and perishes. Thus it is to the real interest of a vigorous race to be ” kept up to a high pitch of external efficiency by contest, chiefly by way of war with inferior races, and with equal races by the struggle for trade routes and for the sources of raw material and of food supply.” ” This,” adds Professor Karl Pearson,” is the natural history view of mankind, and I do not think you can in its main features subvert it.” Others, taking the wider cosmic standpoint, insist that the progress of humanity itself requires the main-tenance of a selective and destructive struggle between races which embody different power and capacities, different types of civilisation.

From this I think it’s obvious how Italian fascism and German nazism were mostly an extremisation of theories that were already present before WW1 (and Japanese militarism and probably many other militarism that we prefer to forget today).
In fact Mussolini justified the entry of Italy into WW2 with the idea of a natural struggle between nations/races/cultures.

Now the main question is: was Hobson correct to say that these theories were just covers for economic interests, that in turn were caused by underconsumption?
Or to say the same thing from a more marxist standpoint, is it true that WW1 was caused by various capitalist countries were forced by the capitalist need for continuous growth/expansion to continually expand their colonial empires, and in the end they had to clash one with the other?

I think it is true.
This doesn’t mean that all war in history were caused by capitalism, before capitalism ever existed. Hower this gives an answer to some of your questions, and specifically:

1) Why didn’t the normal conditions of capitalist production give rise to a world war before?
Because various capitalist powers hadn’t already conquered most of the world, so they didn’t have to go directly at each other’s throat before WW1.

2) Why didn’t the normal conditions of capitalist production give rise to a world war after WW2?
(2.a) after WW2 the capitalist system in developed countries had a much higer wage share due to government intervention and anyway excess savings were repurposed through Keynesian policies and inflation, thus much less underconsuption,
(2.b) because after WW2 for some decades there was only one main capitalist pole, that was the USA, that was the main proponent of this kind of keynesian policies, either because it was wiser, or because of the menace of socialism, or for whatever the reason.


Stephen 11.14.18 at 2:15 pm

WLGR@29: You ask whether I am “under the impression that western Europe and the US never had a revolutionary socialist tradition?” Well, definitely not, and I cannot see that I have written anything that could lead you to form an honest opinion that I am, or even might be. Nor can I see any basis for your belief that, disagreeing with you, I must be wholly ignorant of Western mass politics. I would advise you to have less faith in your own powers of telepathy.

To refresh your memory: I wrote that various good thing happened in states that did not have to endure the catastrophic misfortunes of revolutionary socialism. And I cannot see how you can dispute either that states which were historically ruled by revolutionary socialists suffered catastrophes; or that many European and other states, though never ruled by revolutionary socialists and so avoiding their catastrophes, acquired these good things. Pre-emptive disclaimer: I am not of course claiming that all catastrophes have been due to revolutionary socialism.

stj@33: with regard to Russo/Turkish history, I think you are rather confused. You seem to think I claimed that “Russian conquests against Turkey meant the extension of the Russian empire rather than the creation of the states of Montenegro, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria.” I didn’t: I merely pointed out that the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-8 was not in any intelligible sense a conflict between two capitalist states. But if you want to widen the discussion to cover Russian conquests against Turkey, I must point out that (1) several such conquests did in fact involve extension of the Russian empire: take a quick look at the history of Ukraine and Crimea (2) the creation of Montenegro was a result of Austrian and Venetian victories, not Russian (3) Russia never conquered any part of Serbia from the Turks, though Russian support for autonomously rebellious Serbs was significant (4) a complicating factor in the formation of Romania was the Russian invasion of the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia, followed by an attempt to incorporate them into the Russian empire: many Romanians preferred Ottoman rule (5) Bulgaria, you’re right for once, that was a direct and uncomplicated result of Russian conquest followed by creation of a new state. Which I never said it wasn’t.

I really do think it would be a good idea for you to read Perry Anderson’s thoughtful and erudite works before dismissing them; they may be more accessible than you think. I don’t know if your socialist principles would allow you to use the capitalist outfit Amazon yourself, but if so Anderson’s Lineages of the Absolutist state is available at $29.95 plus postage. I would also recommend on a rather different topic Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism, same price: second-hand copies of either are a little cheaper.

Enjoy the new perspectives.


EWI 11.14.18 at 2:50 pm

Raven @ 18

Wasn’t World War I the result of Germany pursuing conquest?

World War 1 was equally the result of Britain ‘pursuing conquest’, i.e. its decades-long ambition to expand its empire into the Near and Far Easts. Josh Marshall is, I’m afraid, an unreconstructed Anglophile who also believes silly claims that the British went back to ‘peace’ (whatever that may be for a militarised empire) after WWI.

MFB @ 39

Correct. From contemporary accounts, we know that those members of the public who were paying attention at the time could see the various empires building up to war for years beforehand.


LFC 11.14.18 at 3:18 pm

Marxist explanations work better for some events than for others; I don’t think they work particularly well for WW 1, though they aren’t completely irrelevant.

I don’t keep up with the historiography (e.g., the probably endless debate btw the Fischer school and its critics/opponents), but one can distinguish btw contingent and deeper causes. The latter were both ‘ideational’ (e.g., hypernationalism; views of war in general; ‘cult of the offensive’; influence of Social Darwinist and racialist perspectives on intl relations; relative weakness of the peace mvts and their msg; dominant styles of diplomacy; etc.) and ‘material’ (e.g., problems faced by the multinational empires, esp. Austria-Hungary; rigidity of mobilization plans; economic and political pressures on ruling elites; etc.), though the distinction between ideational and material is somewhat artificial.

I’m not sure which among all the historical works is most worth reading (J.C.G. Rohl was mentioned by someone in a past thread on this topic, and there were a lot of books published around 2014 on the centenary of the war’s start); but istm James Joll’s work, among others, has held up pretty well. Political scientists/ IR people have also continued to publish on this. (The last journal article I’m aware of is Keir Lieber’s in Intl Security several yrs ago [and the replies], though I’m sure there have been others since. And even though it’s old, S. Van Evera’s piece from the ’80s, “Why Cooperation Failed in 1914,” is still worth reading, for the copious footnotes to the then-extant historical work in English (and English translation), among other things.)


Layman 11.14.18 at 5:42 pm

MFB: “It was Britain which had introduced the Dreadnought battleship and the battlecruiser.”

Hmm, wasn’t the Dreadnought class a direct response to the Tirpitz Memorandum (1896) and the subsequent German Navy Bill of 1898, the purpose of which was to build a battleship fleet with which to confront the Royal Navy?


engels 11.14.18 at 10:11 pm

Revolutionary Socialism” is one of those labels that obfuscates more than it reveals

I think it’s worthwhile to have a term for wanting to overthrow the system rather than reform it (I don’t think ‘revolution’ has to mean ‘violent’).


John Quiggin 11.15.18 at 3:01 am

As regards the historical arguments about war guilt, there was a strong pro-war faction in nearly every European country, and even in Australia (on this last point, and the links to the British pro-war faction, see Douglas Newton’s Hell Bent). The pro-war faction prevailed nearly everywhere. Arguing about which pro-war faction was most responsible for bringing about the war they all wanted seems pointless to me.

Moreover, once the war started, no-one wanted in power anywhere to bring it to an end on any terms other than victory, annexations and reparations.


John Quiggin 11.15.18 at 3:05 am

Looking specifically at the British government, since it seems to have the most defenders, they first refused an offer of alliance from Turkey and then (when Turkey entered on the German side instead) made a secret deal with France to carve up the Ottoman empire. As mentioned in the OP, we are still dealing with the consequences today. That’s not to excuse the pro-war factions that dominated the governments of Germany, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy etc.


Peter T 11.15.18 at 9:00 am

There was certainly a greater willingness to consider war as an option pre 1914 (military parades, weapon performance on the front page, Minister for War and Foreign Minister as the major cabinet posts, heads of general staffs household names…). But this should no be confused with willingness to launch a general war absent without first testing the alternatives. Britain and France, and to a considerable degree Russia, were reluctant to go to war. Austria-Hungary was eager for war with Serbia and maybe Russia (Hungary as eager as Austria), Germany pretty much determined to force a general war.

It really only takes one state to make war, by imposing conditions which give the other parties a choice of war or capitulation (what could Iraq have done to avoid war with the US in 2003?). In 1914 Germany demanded that France surrender her frontier areas, that Russia disarm, that Serbia acquiesce in any and all Austrian demands and so on.

The alliance structure was much blamed after the war, but it was actually pretty flexible. Italy was allied to Germany and A-H, but went with France and the UK. Turkey had explored options before the war, and was historically aligned with France and the UK against Russia (as recently as 1912, when the other powers had toned down Russian backing for a greater Bulgaria). It had a British naval assistance mission, and took six weeks to decide whether to remain neutral or ally with one side or the other. In the end it attacked Russia and the UK. The UK only had an informal arrangement with France.

We wring hands over World War I, because it smashed the liberal order. We do not wring hands so much over the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, which smashed the Old Regime, even though they caused a proportionately comparable number of deaths and rather more destruction. We see World War I as the inevitable precursor to the horrors of World War II, but both had their genesis in the tensions of elites caught between internal and external pressures, casting about to preserve an order doomed by yielding to either. Germany (and A-H) chose war as a way out; France and Britain chose to yield to the internal pressure and democratise, allow lower class participation. Not without agony – and their example was part of what drove Germany to the other pole (one of the Kaiser’s many fears was ending up like “Cousin Bertie”, a king in name only).


John Quiggin 11.15.18 at 9:59 am

@50 You only need to look at the Agadir crisis to see the opposite dynamic at work. Britain and France threatening general European war over a dispute about colonial spoils and Germany backing down.

Not that I’m giving the German militarists any credit. In part, they judged they’d do better waiting for a few years, and in part the relatively pacific Kaiser was unwilling to fight. They made to sure to keep him out of the loop next time.


Z 11.15.18 at 11:48 am

“Britain and France threatening general European war over a dispute about colonial spoils and Germany backing down”

Britain and France surely threatened general war over colonial spoils, but Germany did not back down: it granted France’s exclusivity in Morocco in exchange of an expansion of Cameroon at the expense of French Equatorial Africa (if one wants to adopt the point of view of colonial powers, at the expense of native populations if one wants to be accurate). That doesn’t change the general message of the post, of course, or the indisputable fact that they were rabid pro-war factions and belligerent actions in all relevant countries.

That being said, I think you know that I disagree with your strict equivalency between Germany and France with respect to WWI: for four years, France waged a war of self-defense on its own territory. A war it did not choose, and which came with a horrendous occupation of a sizable part of its territory (with summary executions and organized malnutrition in proportions not at all unlike those of WWII – extermination of the Jews aside, needless to say). Would France have attacked if Germany had solely assisted Austria in its war against Serbia, or in a war against Russia? Maybe. Would it have been equally brutal in its occupation of Ruhr and Rheinland in the even of a successive offensive? Maybe. But that is not what happened, and I see no reason to confuse what did happen with what might have happened, even realistically (with that standard, one might argue that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was morally fine, after all, Saddam might have attacked Kuwait again in 2002). In addition, it seems to me the citizens of Alsace and Moselle had a moral and legal right to choose the country they were inhabiting, and there is little doubt the side they would have chosen given the choice (and again that does not excuse the appalling behavior of the victors, especially the French, in 1919).


Peter T 11.15.18 at 12:11 pm


I don’t think the Agadir incident shows what you think it does. France shored up its position in Morocco, Germany tried for some “compensation” – ie if France was getting more of the non-European world, then Germany should get some too. The UK backed France with some hesitation, Germany and France agreed that Germany should indeed get some extra bit of Africa and France handed over a slice of Cameroon. All very unedifying but pretty much par for the course in pre-1914 diplomacy (similar negotiations were held over China all the time). The press (and, to be fair, Lloyd George) made a lot of noise, but no-one mobilised. It was all over quite quickly.

France did not threaten general war, nor did the UK (Grey was distinctly unimpressed with the French case, according to Wikipedia). The key issue in 1914 was not colonial squabbles, which were usually settled with some shoving (eg Fashoda, Tsingtao, Agadir), nor even that Serbia should be punished, but German demands on France and Russia, and clear aims on Belgium.

The Kaiser was less pacific than vacillating – he was all-out for war one moment, fearful of the consequences and hesitant the next. In this he was very like many of those who surrounded him – they could see only the doom of their class whichever way they went, and so lurched first one way and then the other.


LFC 11.15.18 at 1:33 pm

I’m inclined to agree w a lot of what Peter T says, but I’d also be inclined to emphasize the causal connections between WW 1 and WW 2, at least the European part of WW 2. Certainly Hitler’s rise was partly facilitated by the way WW 1 ended, the stab in the back myth etc. (There is some historiographical debate about the effect of Versailles’ provisions, but that can be bracketed here.) My point is that those historians, e.g. Hobsbawm and Traverso, who view 1914 to 1945 as a sort of 30 years’ war have at least a plausible case, even if one wants to shade the emphases differently.


Meredith 11.16.18 at 5:59 am

“But now that everyone who served in that war has passed away, along with most of those who remember its consequences, the tone has shifted to one of glorification and jingoism.”

Not in my admittedly limited experience last weekend. Unfortunately, in the United States news media, even of the more thoughtful and sophisticated sort, gave little attention to the ceremonies in France except to observe Trump’s behavior, shockingly disrespectful even for him. And then on Monday, when Veterans Day was observed, there were no pictures to be taken of Trump or Pence or any representative of the administration laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Midterm elections still preoccupied everyone. I do not recall Veterans Day ever being less observed.

At least among my Facebook friends (a motley collection, largely old high school and college friends, former students who are “real” friends now and mostly middle-aged themselves, and an odd assortment of my children’s friends — who, come to think of it, will soon be middle-aged), the older among us have for several years posted on Veterans Day pictures of parents, grandparents, and so forth who served in various wars. These posts are not glorifications of war, much less jingoism, but fond remembrances of the service and sacrifices of people we knew or people we grew up hearing about.

My parents always lamented the change from Armistice to Veterans Day, perhaps because my mother’s father served in WWI, in the Army Air Service and because their generation grew up under the shadow of that war, as mine did under the shadow of WW II. But I also grew up hearing how my grandfather was about to be shipped out when Armistice was declared, a few weeks before my mother’s birth. (He had not been shipped out earlier because of his work on designing ground-to-air radios.)

This year, as it happened, I had been going through some of the literally hundreds of letters my grandfather wrote my grandmother between 1916 and 1918, as he wooed her and then after he’d married her. Much I could relate about his thoughts on the Army Air Service and the war, friends who died, his new wife so soon pregnant, the mother he was supporting along with his wife….

Glory was not on my mind when I posted a picture of him in his WWI uniform (rather than of my uncle who fought at Peleliu and Okinawa or of my great grandfather who fought in the Civil War — pictures I have posted in the past), nor was it on the minds of friends who posted about their fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers who fought in WW I and WW II. Pride, yes, but mostly simple gratitude and affection, always shadowed by a sense of loss, irremediable loss.

I should add that an old high school friend found time, in the midst of the California fires whose smoke she was breathing as she worried about the threats to her son and his family in Chico, managed to post about her father, who served in the U.S. Navy in the South Pacific during WW II.


John Quiggin 11.16.18 at 6:01 am

@Z I don’t claim strict equivalence. The war party was stronger in some countries than others, but it prevailed everywhere.

Peter T @ 53 “Lloyd George made a lot of noise”. More precisely, he threatened war. And, as a leading figure (until then) in the British peace faction, that was a big deal, which played out when he became PM during the war. The fact that it was all over quickly was just good luck, just as it was bad luck that the Archduke’s car took a wrong turn a few years later.

LFC @54 My view, implicit in the OP, is that 1914 was the start of a Hundred Years War, which includes WW2, the Cold War and the current wars in the Middle East.

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