18/5/1917 America introduces conscription

US warships have arrived in Europe to join patrols against the U-boat menace. President Wilson knows however that if the war is to be brought to an end it will be done so on land. Here the USA is at a considerable disadvantage. The country’s army amounts to just 145,000, insignificantly small compared to the great armies of Europe.

In order to make a difference in Europe, the American army will have to be expanded. Today the President signs into a law the Selective Service Act, which allows for conscription. Even so, it will be some time before the army will have been built up to a level that can take on the Germans. Given the task facing the Americans, that of building a large modern army almost from scratch, some wonder whether the USA will be able to deploy troops to Europe in strength before 1919.

In keeping with the traditions of the United States, draftees will be segregated by colour.

image source (Wikipedia)

18/5/1917 Russia’s government reconstituted as unrest spread across the country

Prince Lvov has managed to reconstitute Russia’s Provisional Government. His cabinet is now formally supported by the Petrograd Soviet, several of whose leading figures accept ministries, including Tsereteli of the Menshevik faction of the Socialist Democrats. Kerensky meanwhile is promoted to war minister.

Miliukov, the former foreign minister, is sacked from the government. His addendum to the Soviet’s peace proposal had provoked uproar, making him a deeply unpopular figure. His supporters in the Kadets (the Constitutional Democrats) also leave the government and adopt a more oppositional stance. The Kadets had represented progressive elements within the pre-revolutionary elite but now their reactionary side becomes more apparent. They position themselves as the party of law and order, the true defenders of the Russian Empire from the revolutionary chaos engulfing it.

If Prince Lvov had hoped that bringing the Soviet leaders and Mensheviks into the government would be a moderating influence on the country at large, he is mistaken. Workers are emboldened by the arrival of socialist ministers and there is an upsurge in labour militancy. The Bolsheviks remain outside the government, hoping that they will be able to rally leftist opposition.

Meanwhile in the countryside, peasants have grown tired of waiting for government sanctioned land reform. Instead they are increasingly seizing and dividing up the big estates themselves. Delegates at the All-Russian Peasant Assembly endorse the seizure of the estates, legitimising the revolution in the countryside.

5/5/1917 Pro-conscription party wins landslide in Australia

Australian politics has been in turmoil since the failure of a conscription referendum last year. Prime Minister Billy Hughes had supported conscription but most of his Labor Party colleagues had opposed it. After the vote, Hughes had left his party, taking a good few of the MPs with him but remaining as Prime Minister only with the support of the Liberals.

Since then Hughes’ supporters and the Liberals have merged to create the Nationalist Party, with Hughes as leader. Today Australia goes to the polls in a general election. A drop in Labor’s vote sees the Nationalists win a landslide victory of seats in the Australian parliament. Now Hughes begins to think about having another go at introducing conscription to Australia.

4/5/1917 Unrest continues in Petrograd

It is becoming apparent that the Russian Revolution did not end with the overthrow of the Tsar but remains an ongoing process. The Provisional Government in Petrograd struggles to assert its authority over a fractious nation. Many see the Petrograd Soviet as a more legitimate body than Prince Lvov‘s government, with radical elements hoping that the council of workers and soldiers will seize power.

The actions of members of the Provisional Government do not always endear them to the masses. The Petrograd Soviet is supporting an end to the war, based on a peace without annexations or indemnities. The Provisional Government has agreed to formally endorse this peace offensive, but when the Soviet’s declaration of war aims is sent to foreign embassies, Milyukov, the foreign minister, inserts an addendum saying that Russia remains committed to a decisive victory and will stand by its allies. This undercuts the Soviet proposal and implies that Russia remains committed to the secret deals negotiated by the Tsarist government.

The result is uproar. Radicals take to the streets in Petrograd. Armed revolutionary soldiers hope that the Petrograd Soviet will overthrow the Provisional Government and assume power. Fighting breaks out between the demonstrators and reactionary elements.

Kornilov, the Petrograd garrison commander, wants to deploy loyal troops to clear the streets. But the Provisional Government fears civil war, as do the leaders of the Petrograd Soviet, who also have no desire to assume the reigns of government. The Soviet leaders order the demonstrators to disperse. They meekly obey. Prince Lvov meanwhile enters into negotiations with the Menshevik Irakli Tsereteli, a leading figure in the Soviet. Defusing the situation, the Soviet’s executive and the the Provisional Government issue a joint declaration repudiating Milyukov’s note. Lvov also promises Tsereteli that if the Soviets formally join his government then he will arrange for Milyukov’s sacking.

image source:

Demonstrating soldiers in Petrograd (World Socialist Web Site)

23/4/1917 Scenting victory, German leaders prepare ambitious plans for post-war Europe

German leaders remain confident that the U-boat war will force Britain to its knees in a matter of months. With Russia looking increasingly chaotic that would leave France and Italy with no option but to make peace. This raises the question of what kind of peace this will be. German leaders meet at Kreuznach to discuss the future peace settlement. Chancerllor Bethmann Hollweg and Zimmermann, the foreign minister, are present, as are Hindenburg and Ludendorff.

The expectation of victory has inflamed German appetites. The meeting reaches some far reaching decisions on the reordering of Europe. Belgium is to remain under German occupation, with its intended future being that of a client state, though Li├Ęge and the coast will be permanently attached to Germany. Luxembourg will be absorbed into Germany, as will French mining regions. Germany will also gain territories in the east, with a Polish client state established beyond Germany’s expanded frontiers. Austria-Hungary will gain at the expense of Serbia, Albania and Romania.

Bethmann Hollweg would prefer a more flexible approach, so that the Russians could be lured into a separate peace by offering more generous terms. Although he states that he will not be bound by this agreement in the event of peace negotiations, the decisions at Kreuznach effectively preclude his pursuit of any kind of compromise peace.

23/4/1917 German authorities buy off the Berlin and Leipzig strikers

Strikes erupted a few days ago in Berlin and Leipzig, triggered by a reduction in the bread ration. They soon assumed a political cast, especially in Leipzig, with demands being made for the release of political prisoners and an end to the state of emergency, as well as a government commitment to support a peace without annexations. In Leipzig a workers’ council emerged to coordinate the strikes, worrying similar to the soviets that appeared in Russia during the recent revolution.

Groener in the Supreme War Office (the army-led body charged with running the war economy) wants to invoke emergency powers to smash the strikes by drafting some 4,000 of the most radical workers into the army. But he is overruled and a more conciliatory response causes the strikes to peter out. Pay rises and a reduction in work hours bring the workers back to their factories, though workers in the more radicalised workplaces are threatened with being sent to the front. Hindenburg also appeals to their patriotism, warning that loss of production through strikes weakens the position of the men in the trenches.

19/4/1917 Italy secures its share of the Turkish spoils

The war is not yet won but the Allies have been busily agreeing a post-war division of the Ottoman Empire. Constantinople and the Straits have been promised to Russia while the Sykes-Picot agreement has carved up the Middle East between Britain and France.

Italian leaders have been a bit late to this party, as their main interests are in the domination of the Adriatic. Nevertheless, if there are spoils to be had then the Italians want in on them. So they have staked claims to the entire south west of Anatolia.

French, British and Italian leaders meet today at Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to clarify their plans for the partition of Turkey (Russia’s disordered state means that its allies have gone ahead without Russian representatives). Italy is promised control of the areas around Konya and Smyrna and influence over an area to the north. Given their non-existent contribution to the war against Turkey and their lack of success in the war as a whole, this promise is quite an achievement for Sidney Sonnino, the Italian foreign minister.

image source; this is the map as signed by Arthur Balfour, Britain’s foreign minister later in the year. The A and B areas on the map are the British and French zones from Sykes-Picot, with the areas northwest and southeast of them to be spheres of influence.