Europe in the Quest for Itself – Horizons 1917–2017 (First Part)



Typical European phenomenon is that Europe’s biggest truths have been said under the gallows, at scaffolds in dungeons and places of martyrdom, and those crucified and spit truths have become European flags that fly proudly for centuries.

                                                                                                                Miroslav Krleža

Author: Boban Batrićević


Sergei Eisenstein entitled his most famous work, after Battleship Potemkin, October: Ten Days That Shook the World. Leon Trotsky said that the Russian revolution was the moment when masses got into the history.

A British journalist, just a few years after “the victory of the proletariat”, stressed out that the new Russian system was lifting the iron curtain, using the phrase that Winston Churchill would later popularize.

Indeed, these three characterizations beautifully describe the October Revolution of 1917, the event that shook, shocked and changed the world; a moment of great broadening of the base and the start of totalitarianism procreation that will mark the 20th century.

One hundred years later, the first association of 1917 for many people is that particular Red October, although it was a year with few more than one significant event.

The seventeenth was the penultimate year of the Great War, the milestone year, since the United States left the comfort of their isolationism for the first time to directly intervene in the European battlefield.

Although by signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk new Russia decided to get out of the war and thus aggravated the situation for former allies, due to the intervention of the United States, anti-German coalition gained huge advantage.

For the illustration purposes, the information presented by Paul Kennedy says that in a year preceding the war, United States, Great Britain and France, without Russia, participated with 51.7% to the world’s industrial production (with Russia, but without United States, the participation would be significantly lower at 27.9%), while Germany and Austria-Hungary participated with 19.2%. In the age of global war like this one, the economic advantage represented the domination.

Consequently, it became clear that in long term the Entente forces had twice the potential for warfare, as evidenced in the production of weapons, especially steel in which the Allies had, even without Russia, significantly greater production: 44.1 million tonnes in comparison to 20.2 million tonnes produced by two hostile empires. United States and allies granted war loans that will significantly burden the European economy and lead to monetary instability after the war.

Hibernated ideological conflicts within the countries participating in the global conflict over the censorship and patriotic duty will once again come to the surface by the end of the war.

Central powers will face internal antagonisms – in Germany, the workers who had been previously producing for the war begun with strike for their rights, along with the women, who became the dominant workforce as large number of men were on the battlefields.

Austria-Hungary, as multinational monarchy will experience the shake of “national revolutions” by nations that composed the great Central European conglomerate.

In Western Europe, although the structures were a bit more stable, ideological non-aggression between the old – conservative fractions and advocators for new ideas – fighters for social rights and democracy, conflicts are in inception phase, but they had “gentlemen’s” agreement that the war should be won first, and later problems of poverty and deprivation should be settled.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]A number of countries in Europe were spared of episodic general national uprisings in 1917 and 1918.[/perfectpullquote]

As a direct consequence of induction of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Italy, short-lasting revolution started that will, without greater success, mark social movements in the future of these countries.

Take the Irish island for example. It will face the symbiosis of two revolutionary impulses – “national” and “social”.

As Tibor Hajdu has noted in Socialist revolution, the war in the West was primarily a struggle between the state and the army for redistribution of power while in the East, the war released crucial national, class and social antagonisms of the state control and opened “The real Pandora’s box of subversion”.

Furthermore, the war has produced a huge migration of people, so riots and revolutionary of 1917, according to Jeff Elijah’s opinion, will be noticed in all spheres of social life – in the relationship between government and the economy, distribution and consumption, labour and capital.

“Governments in the West fuelled national hopes in reforms, while people considered it as compensation for the victims they have experienced during the war, which certainly required a change in mentality, habits and practices”, as most of European countries started differentiation of existing structure.

The time of great expectations

Red Revolution and the World War I will shape the picture of the post-war European continent.

Europe that was established in Vienna in 1815, the concept that tried to prevent global conflict and reduce warfare to the local level, fell apart in the trenches and slaughterhouses of Verdun, Somme, Marne, Passchendaele, Tannenberg.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]New Europe without war, imperialism and oppression of the little ones needed to be built.[/perfectpullquote]

They believed so, but achieved the opposite. Europe of Versailles was a new landmine – desiring to prevent renewed German militarism and German pan-state ideology and spread of communism westward, France, as a force that had the leading role in the reorganization of post-war Europe made several tactical errors.

At the territory of the former powerful state in central Europe, they will create new, much smaller and weaker countries using their discretion, (how Churchill “wept” for Austria-Hungary).

[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]From the Baltic to the Aegean Sea “cordon sanitaire” was established which France was supposed to arm.[/perfectpullquote]

Most of those countries were “adorned” by nationalism and revanchist attitude towards the former oppressors.

Difficult conditions of peace were imposed to the defeated countries.

Weimar Germany lost the right to the army, the territory crucial for economy and industry, and a significant part of the territory inhabited by Germans. Similar fate struck Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey.

Out of all allied countries that have bled for the victory of anti-imperialism, Montenegro had the worst experience. Although its army held 500 km wide battlefield during two years of war and won several major victories over the Austro-Hungarian army, this was not recommendation valid enough for the Montenegrin state and its people.

In the new concept of the Balkans, there was no room for Montenegro, and Serbia has skilfully used its capital acquired by breach of Thessaloniki Front to expand to the wider South Slavic space, which is put under the direct authority of the Karadjordjevic dynasty.

Neither Italy as the winner was satisfied, because it did not get the territories that were promised in London in 1915.

It was clear that the original idea of the Versailles mapmakers would not bring prosperity; liberalism and economic system advocated by the United States, France and Great Britain will not become reality in all parts of Europe equally.

Liberalism and parliamentary democracy had a competitor in Europe, an ideology that promoted itself in the most emancipated system of values that will protect the poor from exploitation and introduce equality – Soviet communism.

Anti-communist coalition formed by the West to help White Gurdyists in an effort to destroy the Soviet system will suffer a defeat.

Ever since, Europe will have a constant dialectic that will become dominant in the 20th century – antagonism between East and West will produce new ideas and each offered value would be examined.

Although abused by the Soviet Union, some left orientation thesis will affect the expansion of freedom in Europe. Already quoted Hobsbawm student, calling the history of the European left – “forging democracy“, beautifully and metaphorically described it.

Liberal Europe was forced to offer concessions to workers; many European countries have recognized the existence of Unions, agreed to the eight-hour work and overtime pay; increasing number of active women in European societies will lead to a discussion on women’s and individuals rights in general.

At the communist monolithic and single-mindedness of the Soviet Union, Europe is willing to respond by redefining electoral legislation and constant increase in number of voters.

Lenin’s cession of rights on self-determination of Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Finnish people, and abandonment of Russian domination after the revolution, will persuade Western leaders to pay greater attention to the people’s right for self-determination.

The famous “Fourteen Points” by Woodrow Wilson from January 1918 has preached, among other, rights for the little in comparison to the big.

European public opinion, thanks to the release of secret diplomatic archives of the communists who thus wanted to discredit the Russian tsarism, have started a campaign condemning the secret diplomacy and secret agreements.

The media role in interwar Europe becomes very important; a communist propaganda for mass enlightenment will have an impact on the emergence of mass culture.

Although the discontent of the defeated was visible, the first decade after the Great War seemed to establish some sort of economic and political balance, especially after the Locarno Pact of 1925 and the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928.

However, European economy was extremely burdened by war credits payment to the United States on one-hand and war reparations payment by defeated on the other.

More difficult social situation has created favourable conditions for a rapid strengthening of the left and right orientation radical movements.

Age of darkness

Western Europe with its conservative heritage looked askance at the rise in popularity of communist ideas Therefore, methods that were more authoritarian seemed appropriate in prevention of communist revolution.

As Todor Kuljić wisely said, the idea of nationalization and the abolition of private property seemed daunting: to the liberal Europe that based on the strength of middle and upper class and business of petty “bourgeoisie”: “The middle class is characterized by private property and possession of personal goods for production, which enables at least some economic independence.

If the communism wins, introduction of classless society is introduced, the proletariat prevails middle class, and private property becomes state owned public good.

If the Communists triumph, big bourgeoisie and industrial magnates would experience catastrophic consequences. “Do not forget that the fear of atheistic communism was spread especially among petty “bourgeoisie” which has been traditionally linked to religious institutions.

Thus across Europe, as a direct response to the most negative consequences of events from 1917 and the World War I, is appearance of fascism and Nazism.

Once persistent Communist François Furet supported thesis expressed by Ernest Nolte, who claimed that Nazism was a direct response to Bolshevism, and that the Gulag is older than concentration camp.

Liberal and democratic Europe personified in France and Britain began to withdraw before hungrier beasts. Their allied politicians from Central and Eastern Europe emulated Mussolini and Hitler more than the French and British diplomats did.

Rechts neben ihm im Auto Rudolf Heß. Vor dem Wagen Hermann Göring, Freiherr von Killinger, Fritz Sauckel.
Aufnahmedatum: 12.10.1930
Aufnahmeort: Weimar
Geschichte / Deutschland / 20. Jh. / NS-Bewegung / Aufmärsche und Treffen / 1930 / Deutscher Tag in Weimar

After the stock market crash in 1929, it became clear that the liberal system was founded on rotten legs and it would require reform, which unfortunately has not been implemented in Europe as in US through new deal.

Even greater problem for European politicians and theorists will be the apparent immunity of Soviet central planning in relation to the economic crisis and inflation records.

After 1933, Europe will completely fall apart into several blocs, unable to control the increasing of militarization with bulky Versailles apparatus.

A collective system of security that was built during the twenties began to crack under (party) boots of armies across Europe that have marched “for justice” and “against Versailles”.

The cry for revisionism grew stronger, and the main instrument of liberalism for the world peacekeeping – the League of Nations, never became a respectful organization that has been capable of preventing the conflict.

A large part of the European continent was captured by totalitarianism, ideology began to dictate every aspect of life – in the Soviet Union, class was considered as fetish, in Germany it was the race, in Italy the state.

Each in its own way exported the ideology to the rest of the free world. Fight against opponents and their removal have become programmed and systematic.

Death was fabricated by establishing gulags and concentration camps. Spain, followed by Austria, then Czechoslovakia, then Albania, a bit earlier Ethiopia, and then at the end Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, were the demonstration of power by totalitarian force toward the League of Nations, and in particular, toward Europe which has not managed to find a way to counteract the constant violations of international law.

Some of the values that the new Europe has established after 1918 completely disappeared.


(First part)