10/2/1918 “No War, No Peace”: Trotsky’s bizarre coup de theatre #1918Live

The peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk are finally beginning to pay dividends for the Germans. Yesterday representatives of the Ukrainian Rada agree a separate peace with Germany and its allies, agreeing to supply Germany with large quantities of grain in return for an end to hostilities and recognition of its independence from Russia. However the Soviet delegation of Leon Trotsky continue to play for time, hoping that revolution will spread to central and western Europe before painful concessions have to be agreed.

But now Ludendorff has had enough of Trotsky’s delaying tactics. He instructs the German delegation to present the Russians with a harsh set of peace terms on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. If the Russians do not agree then the German army will resume its advance.

In Petrograd the Soviet government is divided by the German ultimatum. Lenin favours acceptance, on the grounds that if the German terms are not accepted now, worse will have to be accepted in the future. But others favour rejection, hoping that a militia war against the Germans will inspire the Russian people and spread the revolution westwards. Lenin thinks such ideas are hopelessly over-optimistic but is unable to railroad his comrades.

From this internal division emerges a strange compromise. Trotsky informs the Germans that Russia is unilaterally leaving the war, without accepting the German peace terms. If the Germans want to keep the war going they can do so on their own.

Trotsky’s rhetorical flourish stuns the Germans. “Unerhört!“, exclaims Hoffmann, one of the generals present. Unconscionable. But as Trotsky and his delegation depart Brest-Litovsk, the German army on the Eastern Front prepares for action.

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Trotsky at Brest-Litovsk (Wikipedia)

6/2/1918 Votes for (some) British women and all British men

A series of Reform Acts in the Nineteenth Century greatly widened the franchise in Britain. This transformed politics, making it far less of a game played by elites and forcing politicians to pay some attention to the concerns of ordinary people. But the Reform Acts still left large numbers of people without the vote. All women remained disenfranchised, as did the 40% of men over 21 who did not meet property requirements.

Before the war there had been an upsurge in campaigning to widen the franchise, particularly to obtain women’s suffrage. The suffragettes attracted much attention with their radical and sometimes violent campaign. The force-feeding of imprisoned suffragettes who were refusing food shocked many across the country.

At the start of the war, the suffragettes largely halted their militant campaign. The government in turn released all suffragette prisoners. Many of the campaigners for women’s suffrage now became vocal supporters of the British war effort.

The terrible sacrifices endured by the men serving in the army have led to a sea-change in British political opinion: it no longer seems reasonable that so many men are being killed or injured for their country but are unable to vote in its elections. Likewise the work of women at home in jobs that had previously been the domain only of men has forced a reappraisal of their potential role in society.

As a result, Parliament has passed a Bill greatly widening the franchise, which today comes into law as the Representation of the People Act. Now all British and Irish men over the age of 21 will have the vote and so will women over the age of 30 who meet certain property qualifications. So women are not yet able to vote on an equal basis to men, but the reform has nevertheless given the vote to millions of them.

The United Kingdom is long overdue an election, with the last one taking place in 1912, but the next one will not take place until the war is over. Given that the war is expected to continue until at least 1919, it will be some time before the newly enfranchised are able to exercise their democratic rights.

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Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst, leading suffragettes (Wikipedia)

Suffragette poster opposing force feeding (Wikipedia)

Pre-war Suffragette poster opposing the Liberal government (Wikipedia)

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!)

Backing the Bolsheviks, Dublin 1918.

When 10,000 people gathered in Dublin to hail the Bolshevik revolution in Russia.

Come Here To Me!

In February 1918, thousands of Dubliners celebrated the Russian Revolution at a packed meeting in the Mansion House. Indeed, the attendance was so great that it spilled out of the Mansion House, with many more filling parts of Dawson Street, with an attendance of up to 10,000 people.

Some of the most interesting characters of the time, such as Maud Gonne, Countess Markievicz and others spoke, and ‘The Red Flag’ was sung with gusto. The song, which has become something of a socialist anthem, was written by Irishman Jim Connell in 1889. Jim Connell was awarded the Red Star Medal by Vladimir Lenin in 1922, which gives an indication of the importance of the song to the socialist movement. While much has been written of anti-communism and anti-socialism in early twentieth century Ireland, this incredibly well-attended meeting is largely forgotten. The meeting was chaired by William X. O’Brien, who had…

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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)

[interlude] “Journey’s End”

This film might be of interest. It deals with a British army unit in France in the run-up to Germany’s spring offensive in March 1918. I have not seen it yet myself and the trailer looks a bit over-blown, but I feel like I must see it. Here in Dublin it is only being shown in the IFI, possibly just for one week, but it is probably getting a wider release in the UK.

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.