7/6/1919 Sette Giugno: Unrest in Malta, killings by British troops

Britain is facing unrest in Ireland, India and Egypt. Now little Malta joins the ranks of territories causing problems for their British masters. The island has seen the price of basic foodstuffs climb out of the reach of ordinary people since the war ended. Today Valetta erupts in rioting, with the material complaints of the Maltese crossing over into a political dissatisfaction with the British that sees building flying the Union Jack attacked. Three Maltese are shot by British troops and many others wounded, but the city remains in a chaotic state.

The unrest and the killing of Maltese rioters has the effect of increasing support in Malta for nationalist politicians, some of whom favour a closer relationship with Italy. But for General Plumer, recently appointed as Malta’s governor general, the lesson is clear: the Maltese must be conciliated by being offered a greater share in the administration and governance of their island.


Student demonstrators at the university (Times of Malta: Malta and Me – colonial politics, Il-Gross and university students)

British soldiers and demonstrators (Maltese History & Heritage: Uprisings & Revolts)

1/11/1918 Sailors mutiny in Kiel, unrest spreads across Germany, but the Kaiser will not abandon Germany in its hour of need

Mutinous sailors forced the commanders of Germany’s fleet to call off their suicidal plan for an advance into the English Channel. In an effort to restore discipline, the naval authorities have arrested ringleaders of the mutinies and sent the most unruly ships to separate ports. However the dispersal of the rebellious ships has served only to spread discontent to previously reliable squadrons. Sailors based in Kiel now start refusing orders and demanding the release of their arrested comrades. They also start to fraternise with dockworkers and soldiers garrisoned in the town, who prove receptive to the sailors’ rebellious message. Souchon, the recently appointed naval governor of Kiel, finds himself unable to contain the unruliness.

Unrest is in fact spreading across Germany, with striking workers demanding an immediate end to the war. People are also calling for the overthrow of the Kaiser and the establishment of a republic. Wilhelm Drews, Prussia’s interior minister, travels to the army headquarters at Spa to bravely tell the Kaiser that calls for him to go are growing. The Kaiser is furious, telling Drews that he cannot abdicate, because if he were to do so the army would disintegrate and Germany descend into chaos. The Kaiser will not abandon Germany in its hour of need.

Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia (Color by Klimbim)

28/10/1918 As his empire disintegrates, Emperor Karl requests an armistice #1918Live

Austria-Hungary is at breaking point, with the Empire’s cohesion being torn apart as the strains of war and the imminent defeat leave the central governments powerless in the face of local unrest. In Cracow the city council confiscates food supplies intended for the Austro-Hungarian army, determined that the needs of Polish people should come first. In Prague the Czechoslovak National Council declares itself the government of an independent Czechoslovakia; across Bohemia and Moravia officials who had previously served the Austrian government in Vienna now row in behind the new regime. Unrest continues in Budapest, where the authorities are struggling to contain nationalist supporters of Károlyi and his National Committee. Meanwhile the military situation remains dire, with every indication that the Italian advance across the Piave will lead to a complete rout of the Austro-Hungarian army.

Seeing that the end has arrived, Emperor Karl now requests an unconditional armistice from the Italians. In Prague the news is greeted with jubilation. Crowds throng the street, shouting the names of President Wilson and Tomáš Masaryk, Czechoslovakia’s exiled leader.

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Karl, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary (Wikipedia)

25/10/1918 Hungarian leaders demand the return of their troops as the Austro-Hungarian army calls for an armistice

Military collapse is feeding the centrifugal forces tearing apart the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As Serbian and other Allied troops push up the Balkans, Hungarian leaders in Budapest increasingly fear invasion of their outlying territories. They fear also that Romania may re-enter the war and launch another invasion of Transylvania. So that Hungarian territory can be defended they they call for the recall of Hungarian troops from the Italian front. Meanwhile on the streets of Budapest increasingly rowdy demonstrations are demanding a new government, led by Mihály Károlyi, a radical nationalist who has long advocated an end to the war and the democratisation of Hungary.

In Italy the Austro-Hungarian army is falling apart. Frontline troops are continuing to resist Italian attacks on Monte Grappa, but the army as a whole is wracked by indiscipline many units mutinying or disintegrating through mass desertion. Logistical failures mean that the army is close to running out of ammunition. So grave is the situation that the army’s high command now tells Emperor Karl that an immediate ceasefire is needed to prevent total collapse.

28/6/1918 In response to industrial unrest the Bolsheviks nationalise industry #1918Live

Bolshevik rule in Russia is threatened by Denikin and Alexeev‘s White Army in the south and by the Czechoslovak Legion and the Komuch in Siberia. Within the heartland of Soviet Russia the Bolsheviks are facing other threats to their rule. Unrest seems to be particularly prevalent in Petrograd, the cradle of the revolution. The economic crisis has led to a wave of strikes that have paralysed industry there. Harsh counter-measures, including the Cheka’s firing on striking workers, have failed to bring Petrograd’s workers to heel. If anything the situation has worsened with strikes continuing to escalate, threatening to spread from Petrograd to the rest of Soviet Russia.

The Bolshevik leadership fears that labour unrest is a prelude to a coup attempt by their Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary rivals. These fears are accentuated when Volodarsky, a Bolshevik press commissar, is assassinated during industrial unrest. To combat this threat the Bolsheviks now take a bold step: the nationalisation of Russian heavy industry. Previously the revolution had meant that factories were coming under the control of workers’ committees. Now they will be brought under state control, self-management replaced by direction from the centre. Striking workers can then be threatened with dismissal and strike organisers arrested.

The nationalisation decree is issued today by Sovnarkom, the Soviet government. In tandem the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries are expelled from soviet assemblies. The last opposition newspapers are shut down and the Cheka let loose on any leftist opposition to the Bolsheviks.

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Russian factory workers (Libcom.org: Russian Labour and Bolshevik Power after October)

9/5/1918 Bolshevik problems: sulky workers and stingy peasants #1918Live

A problem for Russia’s Bolsheviks is that they are strong in the big cities but weak in the countryside. The danger is that if the peasants (the great bulk of Russia’s population) are not forthcoming with food supplies then the city’s will starve and the Soviet government will collapse. The Bolsheviks do not have much in the way of carrots to offer the peasantry so today they turn to the stick, announcing that henceforth the surplus grain of the countryside is state property. They prepare to despatch armed brigades to scour the countryside for surplus grain, at gunpoint if necessary; the brigades will be free to determine themselves what constitutes a surplus.

Even in the cities the Bolsheviks’ situation is becoming uncertain. Incidents of industrial unrest have been occurring in Petrograd and elsewhere, partly driven by the problematic food situation. The Bolshevik response has been somewhat heavy-handed, with members of the Cheka (the political police) firing on strikers outside Petrograd. A workers’ state firing on workers is deeply embarrassing, but it also fails to quell unrest on the factory floors, with more strikes being planned for coming days.

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Requisitioning Grain, by Ivan Vladimirov (Wikipedia Commons: Ivan Vladimirov)

22/4/1918 Cracow: pogroms and inter-communal violence #1918Live

In Austro-Hungarian Cracow, the tensions of war have led to a disturbing outbreak of intercommunal tensions. Enraged by food shortages, Polish citizens of the town blame not the war, the authorities or the capitalist class but their Jewish fellow citizens, accusing them of controlling the black market and keeping themselves well fed while everyone else goes hungry. Tensions boiled over a few days ago when a mob descended on the city’s Jewish quarter to pillage local shops and abuse the quarter’s inhabitants. The police stood by on that occasion so Cracow’s Jews have taken steps to defend themselves from future outrages. Attempts to extract revenge lead to further outbreaks of violence, with traders at a flea market attacked by club-bearing Jewish youths.

By now the army has been called in to restore order, but the city remains in a tumult. The one thing now uniting the Polish and Jewish citizens of the town is a loathing for the Habsburg authorities. Soldiers find themselves stoned and beaten by angry townsfolk; there are even reports of shots being fired against them.

The situation in Cracow is extreme, but it is emblematic of much that is happening across Austria-Hungary. The pressures and privations of war have caused an unravelling of the ties binding the multi-ethnic empire together, with it looking like Austria-Hungary’s disintegration is inevitable if the war continues for much longer.