4/2/1918 Bolshevism spreads to Ireland? #1918Live

Unrest has been spreading in central Europe, with Germany and Austria seeing a wave of politically-tinged strikes and elements of the Austro-Hungarian fleet at Cattaro mutinying to demand an end to the war. Much of this is inspired by the revolution in Russia, in particular the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, which is seen as having at last put ordinary workers in power there.

Some in Allied nations too are hearing the call of the Bolsheviks. The political situation in Ireland is already tense. Many Irishmen and women want to secure the country’s independence from Britain, while there is also much concern at rumoured plans by the British to extend conscription to Ireland. Support for socialism is just another element in Ireland’s fevered political culture.

In Dublin today the Socialist Party of Ireland holds a rally in the Mansion House in support of the Bolshevik revolution. Attendance is far higher than expected, with some 10,000 people present, far more than the hall can accommodate. Irish supporters of the Bolsheviks spill out onto the street outside while those within hear speeches from radicals including Constance Markievicz and others who had either taken part in the Easter Rising of 1916 or been interned afterwards. ‘The Red Flag’, whose words were written by Irish socialist Jim Connell, is sung with great gusto.

Is Ireland on the brink of a socialist revolution? Conservative newspapers certainly think so, warning their readers to be on their guard lest Bolshevik anarchy extends its tentacles to Erin’s shore.

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The Mansion House (RTÉ: Century Ireland)

see also: Backing the Bolsheviks, Dublin 1918 (Come Here To Me!)

3/2/1918 Austria-Hungary’s naval mutiny at Cattaro #1918Live

A wave of war weariness and unrest has swept across central Europe. First Austria and then Germany have seen a burst of strikes and industrial unrest by workers who have had enough of the war and the privations it is inflicting upon them.

Now unrest has spread to the Austro-Hungarian navy. Sailors at the naval base of Cattaro mutinied on the 1st of February, initially demanding better treatment from their officers but soon progressing to demands for an immediate end to the war. The mutineers’ demands develop an increasingly revolutionary character and seem to be inspired by the example of the Russian Revolution.

If the Cattaro mutiny had coincided with industrial unrest within the empire then perhaps Austria-Hungary might have found itself facing a revolution. Unfortunately the mutineers are too late: the unrest within Austria has already been contained. Now the authorities move against the mutineers at Cattaro, bringing loyal naval units and soldiers to face them down. After a short skirmish the mutiny is defeated and the mutineers placed under arrest.

The incident is nevertheless a worrying one for the Austro-Hungarian leadership, as it shows that anti-war sentiment has spread into the armed forces. The rule of Emperor Karl now rests on increasingly shaky foundations.

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Mutineers at Cattaro (Wikipedia)

31/1/1918 German strikes suppressed, trouble-makers sent to the front

Germany is in the grip of industrial unrest, which has spread from Berlin to other industrial centres. Hundreds of thousands or more workers have downed tools and millions have taken part in demonstrations.

This unrest has rattled Germany’s leaders. Now they respond with a crackdown. A state of emergency is declared and strike organisers arrested. Striking workers are drafted into the army. Some are sent back to work in their factories under pain of military justice if they demure, but the more militant are simply sent off to the Western Front, where they will bulk up the numbers of those taking part in the offensive Ludendorff is planning. They travel in trains daubed with such cheery slogans as “Cannon fodder for Flanders”.

For Germany’s leaders, even though they have been suppressed for now, the strikes are still worrying. Germany cannot continue the war indefinitely; if this is tried then industrial unrest will one day return and perhaps sweep away the established order. It is therefore vital that Ludendorff’s offensive brings the war to a victorious end.

28/1/1918 The Red Army formed #1918Live

The revolutionary regime that came to power after Russia’s February Revolution last year inherited the old Tsarist army. Since then that once formidable military force has fallen apart as revolutionary sentiment undermined its discipline and coherence. Many of the Bolsheviks that have now taken power are not sorry to see the old army depart the stage, viewing it as a tool of reaction that could otherwise be used against the revolution (as almost happened during the Kornilov Affair).

Now though the Bolshevik government finds itself threatened by internal and external enemies. The peace talks with the Germans at Brest-Litovsk are not going well; rather than accept humiliating terms the Bolsheviks may have to face a renewed German advance on the Eastern Front. Meanwhile within Russia counter-revolutionary elements are mustering. Kornilov, Alexeev and their Volunteer Army have occupied Rostov in the south in opposition to the Bolsheviks. Other “White” armies are springing into being across the country to oppose the revolution. It looks like Russia is on the road to civil war.

In response Sovnarkom, the Soviet government, orders the formation of the Red Army. This volunteer force is to be organised on non-hierarchical militia lines, making it a completely different kettle of fish to the old Tsarist army. Whether the Red Army will be able to take on the Germans or the Whites remains to be seen.

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Red Army detachment, Petrograd (Brewminate – Laying the Foundation for the Soviet Union: 1917-1921, from Revolution to a New Structure)

28/1/1918 A wave of industrial unrest grips Germany #1918Live

Austria-Hungary has seen an outbreak of industrial unrest, with a reduction in the flour ration triggering an upsurge of dissatisfaction at the never-ending privations caused by the war. But the unrest does not progress to a full-scale attempt to overthrow the existing order in the Empire. Austria’s socialists are cautious and are not yet pushing for revolution; they appear to be following the masses rather than leading them. The Austrian authorities are able to placate the strikers by promising increased food rations once peace with Russia leads to improved access to grain from Ukraine.

But now unrest spreads to Germany. War weariness and anger at the erosion of their standard of living lead to an eruption of industrial action in Germany. Mass walk-outs in Berlin spread rapidly to other cities across the country. In the capital industrial action is co-ordinated by Richard Müller and his network of radical shop stewards.

Russia’s Bolsheviks had hoped that the Austrian strikes were a sign that their revolution was beginning to spread into central Europe. The German unrest ignites similar hopes. For the German authorities, this hope is a fear. They are determined to crush the industrial unrest, both to prevent revolution and continue the war but also to show Trotsky and the other Russian negotiators at Brest-Litovsk that revolution in Germany will not save them from having to agree to Germany’s harsh peace terms.

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Strikers demonstrate in Berlin (Poppycock – 24 January, 1918: All We’re Saying…)

27/1/1918 Civil war breaks out in Finland #1918Live

In Finland the Red and White Guards have been skirmishing and arming themselves in preparation for a civil war that seems all too inevitable. Now the Red Guards go one step further, taking over Helsinki and declaring a Finnish revolution. The socialist militia quickly establishes a dominance over the south of the country, with the industrial centre of Tampere a particular stronghold.

But their opponents, the Whites, are not giving up without a fight. Under Mannerheim, a former general in the Tsar’s army, the White Guard is arming itself with munitions seized from Russian troops still stationed in the country. Mannerheim is determined to lead the struggle to prevent the establishment of a socialist regime in Finland. Both sides are now mobilised. The civil war is on.

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Red Guards (Wikipedia: Finnish Civil War)

19/1/1918 Discontent boils over in Austria-Hungary #1918Live

Thanks to German help, the military situation for Austria-Hungary looks good. The cheeky Serbs have been overrun, Italy has been chastened by the hammer-blow of Caporetto, Romania has sued for peace and the Russians have agreed an armistice and are negotiating a peace treaty. But the empire’s domestic situation is disastrous, with inflation and declining supply of food leading to industrial unrest and tensions between town and country and the empire’s separate regions.

These pressures are now starting to boil over. Austrian authorities recently announced that the already meagre flour ration was being halved. Workers have not taken this lying down: Vienna is now in the grip of a general strike and unrest has spread to Galicia and Bohemia, with workers in Budapest too having downed tools.

In Russia the Bolsheviks take heart from news of the unrest in Austria-Hungary. Their assumption was that socialist revolution would begin in Russia and then spread across Europe and the world. The strikes in Austria-Hungary seem to indicate that revolution is spreading to the heart of Europe, which would mean that Trotsky can abandon his negotiations with the Germans at Brest-Litovsk.

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Cis und Trans (a cartoon suggesting that the greedy Hungarians are starving their Austrian fellows) (Die Welt der Habsburger)