9/3/1919 Unrest in Egypt: British heavy-handedness sparks revolution

Egypt’s status is currently ambiguous. Britain operates a clear leadership role in the country, yet it has not been formally incorporated into the British Empire. Egypt has its own Sultan and government, but these both operate under British control.

Many in Egypt find this situation vexing and long for real independence. The Wafd political party is emerging as the leader of the nationalist struggle and is organising throughout the country. Seeing the Paris Conference as an opportunity, Wafd leaders petition the authorities to be allowed attend the conference and state Egypt’s case. The British response is however heavy-handed. Saad Zaghloul and other Wafd leaders are arrested and deported to Malta.

The British may have hoped that Zaghloul’s removal would decapitate and neutralise Egyptian nationalism. However students in Cairo immediately demonstrate to demand his release and unrest begins to build in the countryside. Disturbingly, it looks like the British have lit a fuse that will cause Egypt to explode.
1919 Revolution (12)

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Saad Zaghloul (Wikipedia: Saad Zaghloul)

Demonstrators (Revolution 1919: The first and last public revolution in Egypt (Flickr))

7/3/1919 Germany continues to go hungry

The British naval blockade of Germany played a major part in its defeat, creating a food crisis in the country by preventing it from importing grain and other foodstuffs from overseas. Germany’s food situation has not improved since the armistice; if anything it has got worse. The British are still preventing Germany’s importation of food, pending a final peace settlement, and they are now also blocking German fishing boats from operating in the Baltic. As a result great suffering continues in Germany. Today Plumer, the commander of British occupation forces in western Germany, reports to Lloyd George that his men are increasingly shocked by the sight of malnourished children begging for food and combing the soldiers’ rubbish for edible scraps; many of his soldiers are sharing their rations with the children, thereby going hungry themselves.

Plumer fears that the food shortages in Germany are driving the country into the hands of the Spartacists. Plumer’s fears are shared by Herbert Hoover, the head of the American Relief Administration, an organisation tasked with providing food aid to Europe. Hoover sees the Allied blockade as the main obstacle to ensuring that Germans are adequately fed and is not afraid to say so. However, the French in particular object to the blockade being lifted before peace is concluded, fearing that Germany may build up its food stocks and then renew the war if food becomes available. For now at least the Germans will continue to go hungry.

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Deutschlands Kindern Hungern (Germany’s Children Are Starving), by Kathe Kollwitz (Wikiart)

6/3/1919 Sinn Féin prisoners released

In Ireland members of Sinn Féin elected to the British House of Commons have assembled in Dublin, proclaiming themselves to be Dáil Éireann, the parliament of a free Ireland. They have attempted to gain international support for their struggle for Irish freedom, with mixed success. The US House of Representatives has passed a resolution supporting Irish self-determination, but attempts to make Ireland’s case at the Paris Conference have unsurprisingly been blocked by Britain and its Allies.

For now the British response to Sinn Féin’s efforts are relatively restrained; the authorities perhaps hope that if they leave Dáil Éireann alone it will fade away into irrelevance. British policy can at times even be conciliatory. Sinn Féin leader Éamon de Valera recently escaped from jail in England, but perhaps the drama of that affair was unnecessary. Today the British release many of the Sinn Féin leaders they had arrested last year on foot of involvement in an imaginary German plot. Griffith, Markievicz and others are now on their way home. Whether their return will calm Ireland or further vitalise Sinn Féin’s struggle remains to be seen.

6/3/1919 More clashes in Berlin between the Spartacists and Freikorps

The recent Spartacist uprising in Berlin was violently suppressed. Since then a certain calm has descended on Germany’s capital, with Lettow-Vorbeck (recently returned from Africa) even being treated to a parade through the city. But the calm is deceptive. Discontent still haunts the working class areas of the city, where life is still hard and the gains of peace and the transition to democracy are slow to materialise. And despite their recent defeat, the Spartacists retain considerable influence in these quarters.

Spartacist leaders Liebknecht and Luxemburg were murdered after the recent failed uprising, but the party’s organisation remains intact. Spartacist leaders now decide to call a general strike in the city, demanding formal recognition of workers’ councils, the release of political prisoners and the disbandment of the Freikorps militias.
The strike soon assumes the character of another uprising against the government. Noske, the war minister, takes a characteristically hard line, sending the Freikorps back into Berlin to restore order. But the task proves tougher initially than in January, with the radical sailors of the People’s Naval Division choosing this time to join the fight against the Freikorps. Bloody street fighting erupts and the rebels besiege the city’s police headquarters.
Today though the Freikorps manage to restore order in central Berlin, clearing Spartacist strongpoints from the city centre. Eventually, with the aid of a tank and air strikes they storm the former royal police in which the People’s Naval Division had based themselves.

But the fighting is not yet over. The Spartacists and their allies withdraw to the working class neighbourhood of Lichtenberg. Here they erect barricades and prepare for the final showdown with the Freikorps.
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Police headquarters, Freikorps with tank, and fighting aftermath (Propaganda Postcards of the Great War: Berlin March 1919 – the second Spartacist uprising)

2/3/1919 Preparing for world revolution: the first congress of the Communist International

Karl Marx had demonstrated that the collapse of capitalism is inevitable and Lenin showed that the socialist transition would begin in Russia, capitalism’s weakest link. The Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia is therefore seen by its supporters as merely the first stage of a revolutionary wave that will soon sweep the world. Unrest in Germany and elsewhere indicates working people are ripe for revolution: perhaps only the slightest push is needed for the capitalist house of cards to fall.

To hasten socialist revolution, the Bolsheviks (now renamed the Russian Communist Party) call a meeting of sympathetic socialist parties in Moscow. Their aim is to replace the now largely defunct Second International of socialist parties with a new Third International, one that will be explicitly communist and which will allow the various parties to better coordinate their efforts to overthrow capitalism. And, crucially, this Communist International will be under Moscow’s control, to ensure that the affiliated parties do not slip into unsound thinking or act in ways contrary to the interests of Soviet Russia.

The founding congress of the Communist International opens today. Transport difficulties and the Allied blockade of Soviet Russia mean that it is difficult for delegates to travel to Moscow; many of those present are exiles who have been living in Russia for some time. Leading Russian communists such as Kollontai, Trotsky and Lenin himself present material to the congress. Zinoviev is appointed chairman of its executive. He reports confidently: “in a year, the whole of Europe will be communist”.

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Delegates at the first congress (World Socialist Web Site: One hundred years since the formation of the Communist International)

27/2/1919 Zionist plans for Palestine

Britain has already declared its support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Now leading Zionists address the Paris Conference in support of their plans, including the well-connected Chaim Weizmann and others from Eastern Europe, who remind delegates of the horrors being experienced by their fellow Jews there (where the massacres at Lemberg and more recently Proskurov have already shocked world opinion). In his presentation and his private discussions with world leaders, Weizmann is deliberately vague as to the political arrangements that will apply in this Jewish homeland; he is careful not to refer to a future Jewish state or even to the prospect of Jews becoming a majority in Palestine. American Zionists are more uncompromising in this regard, but their representatives have not arrived in Paris yet, so Weizmann’s more subtle approach carries the day.

Weizmann does not however have things completely his way. French Zionist André Spire also addresses the conference, suggesting that France’s ancient links to the Holy Land mean that it rather than Britain should be the mandated authority in Palestine. And to Weizmann’s chagrin, the French-Jewish scholar Sylvain Lévy affirms that, like the majority of French Jews, he is not a Zionist at all. He suggests that Palestine would not be able to support the Jewish population of Eastern Europe, should they all move there, and fears the consequences for diaspora Jews if, as some Zionists have suggested, they were to be given a share in the governance of Jewish Palestine. This all causes Weizmann to whisper to Lévy that he is a traitor.

No decision is reached today on Palestine. And, naturally, the people currently living there are not invited to send representatives to the conference.

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Proposed borders of Jewish Palestine (MidEast Web GateWay: Statement of the Zionist Organization Regarding Palestine, Presented to the Paris Peace Conference (with proposed map of Zionist borders), February 3, 1919)

26/2/1919 Armenia asks to become an American mandate

Today it is the turn of the Armenians to make their pitch to the Paris Conference. Somewhat unusually, they are not seeking their independence but rather for a big Armenia to be created as a mandate of the United States. The Armenians have suffered terribly at the hands of the Turks, who sought to exterminate them during the war, and they are fearful that a resurgent Turkey might attempt to finish the job. They also have Russia to their north and fear that without an external patron they will be invaded by either Turkey or the Red Army.

Unfortunately for the Armenians, the Americans are not keen on acquiring a dependency in the Caucasus. Any responsibility of this kind would be difficult to sell to the American public, making it unlikely that it will be included in the peace settlement.

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A proposed big Armenia (Wikipedia: Armenian national liberation movement)

26/2/1919 Influenza: the third wave

Influenza is continuing its march across the world, snatching life even in places that were barely touched by the war. The great and the meek alike are its victims (President Alves of Brazil has recently succumbed) but it is cutting a particular swathe through the ranks of the poor, who are often already weakened by poor diets and live in overcrowded conditions that are ideal for the virus’s transmission.

In Ireland a third wave of the pestilence has arrived. The Irish Times reports today on a shocking incident that recently occurred in Dublin. Neighbours of Frances Phelan noticed that she and her family had not been seen for some time. Breaking into the family’s apartment, they find Mrs Phelan dead in a bed, with her husband, son and sister-in-law huddled around her, all dying of the flu. Scenes of horror like this are being repeated all over the world.

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Influenza cartoon from Sunday Independent, 23/2/1919 (Century Ireland: Dublin struggles to cope with volume of flu deaths)

25/2/1919 More trouble in the west Balkans

As Clemenceau recuperates after his recent shooting, the work of the Paris Conference continues. Albanian delegates have presented their nation’s case to the conference, affirming their desire to remain independent and free of Greek or Italian rule. They also claim the region of Kosovo for their country; this territory has a large majority of Albanians living in it but has been under Serbian control since 1913. Mediaeval historical events mean however that Kosovo is of sentimental value to the Serbs, now a constituent people of Yugoslavia. The Allies are not disposed to transfer territory from a nation that has fought on their side to a chaotic entity like Albania.

Italy is separately doing its best to assert its control over as much of the Western Balkans as it can. Italian forces are occupying the Dalmatian coast and islands off it. Disturbing reports are emerging of their harassment of the local Slav population. The Italians are also blocking the transport of food from the coast to the Yugoslav interior, which is not exactly endearing them to their Allies. In Paris, Orlando and his delegation are doing their best to prevent any arbitration of Italy’s dispute with Yugoslavia; the Italian premier hopes to create facts on the ground that the conference will simply have to rubber-stamp.

21/2/1919 The gun speaks: right wing fanatic kills Bavaria’s ousted prime minister

Although the Spartacist uprising has been defeated in Berlin, Germany’s capital remains restive. The city is deemed too unsafe for the recently elected national assembly, which instead meets in the quieter city of Weimar. There the Social Democrats form a coalition with the Centre Party and the German Democratic Party. The assembly begins work on a new constitution. Ebert is chosen as Germany’s first president and Scheidemann succeeds him as chancellor.
Meanwhile in Bavaria it had appeared as though the local political scene was stabilising after voters decisively rejected the radical left government of Kurt Eisner in state elections. Eisner has remained temporarily in power since the election, but today he finally bows to the inevitable and prepares to offer his resignation to Bavaria’s parliament. However, he is unable to do, as on the way to parliament he is shot and killed by Anton Arco-Valley, a reactionary aristocrat. The assassination triggers disturbances in Munich, with clashes erupting between supporters and opponents of the late premier.

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Kurt Eisner on his Way to the Bavarian State Parliament (GHDI – German History in Documents and Images)