Fall 2015 -- History 224 -- Professor Patch

Home Up Syllabus Slideshows


  1. The Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894
  2. The Rise of Anglo-German Antagonism: The Crowe Memorandum of 1907
  3. Official Documents on the Outbreak of the First World War, July 1914
  1. The Diary of Kurt Riezler, July 7-27, 1914
  2. Nikolai Bukharin, Imperialism and the World Economy (1916)
  3. Lenin's Plan for Peace in November 1917
  4. Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points (January 1918)
  5. John Maynard Keynes, "The Peace of Versailles" (1920)
  6. Georges Clemenceau defends the Versailles Treaty (1929)

1.       The Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894:


The first chancellor of Imperial Germany, Otto von Bismarck, forged the “Triple Alliance” with Austria-Hungary and Italy in 1882, and he also maintained cordial relations and a nonaggression pact with tsarist Russia.  Bismarck was dismissed in 1890 by the young Kaiser Wilhelm II, however, and his successors refused to renew the nonaggression pact with Russia on the grounds that it was logically inconsistent with Germany’s commitments to Austria-Hungary.  The Russian foreign ministry sought to preserve friendly relations with Germany, but the Russian military insisted that a new alliance with France was essential for Russian national security.  The tsar’s top military aide, General Nikolai Obruchev, took it upon himself to open direct talks between the French and Russian general staffs after a chance encounter with his French colleague, General Raoul de Boisdeffre, while vacationing on the Riviera.  Despite reservations among the professional diplomats of both Russia and France, the generals persuaded Tsar Nicholas II and the French cabinet to endorse their secret military convention, which was signed by the chiefs of the army general staffs in August 1892 and ratified in January 1894 through an exchange of notes between the Russian and French foreign ministers.  That agreement is reproduced below, along with excerpts from a memorandum for the Russian ministers of war and foreign affairs in which Obruchev explains the assumptions that guided him during his negotiations with Boisdeffre. 

SOURCE: George Kennan, The Fateful Alliance: France, Russia, and the Coming of the First World War (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984), pp. 264-72.



(signed by Generals Obruchev and Boisdeffre and ratified in January 1894)


  1. If France is attacked by Germany or by Italy supported by Germany, Russia will employ all its available forces to attack Germany.  If Russia is attacked by Germany or by Austria supported by Germany, France will employ all its available forces to combat Germany.
  1. In case the forces of the Triple Alliance or of one of its members begin to mobilize, France and Russia will immediately and simultaneously mobilize all of their forces and deploy them as close to their borders as possible, as soon as the enemy mobilization is announced, without any need for prior discussions.
  1. The forces available for deployment against Germany will amount to 1,300,000 men on the part of France, and 700-800,000 men on the part of Russia.  These forces are dedicated to combating Germany simultaneously from the East and West in the most effective manner possible.
  1. The military general staffs of the two countries will deliberate together to prepare and execute the measures outlined above.  They will communicate to each other in times of peace all the intelligence regarding the armaments of the Triple Alliance that may come to their attention.  The ways and means for coordinating their actions in times of war will be studied and planned in advance.
  1. France and Russia will not conclude a separate peace.
  1. This convention will have the same duration as the Triple Alliance.
  1. Every clause enumerated above will be kept strictly secret.




            …The armaments of the European countries have now been developed to extreme limits, while their preparedness for mobilization is now measured not in weeks but in days and hours.  Success on the battlefield now depends (other things being equal) on the most rapid possible deployment of the greatest possible mass of troops and on beating the enemy to the punch.  Whoever concentrates his forces and strikes against a still unprepared enemy has assured himself of the highest probability of having the first victory, which facilitates the successful conduct of the entire campaign.  The undertaking of mobilization can no longer be considered as a peaceful act; on the contrary, it represents the most decisive act of war.

            This leads to the conclusion that today, in the light of the unavoidable approach of war, mobilization on the two sides has to take place as far as possible simultaneously, to the extent possible at the same hour, because the side that delays for even as much as twenty-four hours can pay for this bitterly.  The term “mobilization” must now signify the inauguration of military operations themselves, at least by the advance detachments, which on both sides will endeavor to assure the mobilization and concentration of their own forces while hindering the similar operations of the enemy.

            The impossibility of delaying the actual opening of war means that at the moment of the declaration of mobilization no further diplomatic hesitation is permissible.  All diplomatic decisions must be taken in advance on the basis of an entirely clear recognition of the military-political side of the struggle….

            [Obruchev argues at length that the Triple Alliance was very closely bound together, and that Russia must insist that France agree to immediate and simultaneous mobilization of both the French and Russian armies in case any one member of the Triple Alliance mobilized its army.]

            Once we have been drawn into a war, we cannot conduct that war otherwise than with all our forces, and against both our neighbors.  In the face of the readiness of entire armed peoples to go to war, no other sort of war can be envisaged than the most decisisve sort—a war that would determine for long into the future the relative political positions of the European powers, and especially of Russia and Germany.

Back to top

2.       The Rise of Anglo-German Antagonism: The Crowe Memorandum of 1907.  

          Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, Great Britain regarded France as its most serious rival in Africa and Russia as an even more dangerous foe in Asia.  Fear of Germany became so strong in London by 1904, however, as to inspire the conclusion of the Entente cordiale with France, a friendly resolution of all differences in Africa.  Great Britain stood firmly beside France the next year in the First Morocco Crisis, when Germany provoked a major war scare by protesting forcefully against the creation of a French protectorate in Morocco.  In 1907 the influential career diplomat, Sir Eyre Crowe, sought in the following memorandum to persuade the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, that a similar agreement should be concluded with Russia.  Crowe’s argument proved successful, and the “Anglo-Russian Entente” of 1907 paved the way for diplomatic cooperation and joint military contingency planning among Great Britain, Russia, and France.  Some historians have described this shift in British policy as the result of a largely irrational wave of “germanophobia” that followed the “francophobia” of the 1880s and ‘90s.  Does Crowe offer persuasive reasons below for considering Germany the greatest threat to the peace of Europe?  

Source: British Documents on the Origins of the War, 1898-1914, ed. G. P. Gooch and Harold Temperley (London, 1928), vol. III, pp. 397-420.




          . . .With the events of 1871 the spirit of Prussia passed into the new Germany.  In no other country is there a conviction so deeply rooted in the very body and soul of all classes of the population that the preservation of national rights and the realization of national ideals rest absolutely on the readiness of every citizen in the last resort to stake himself and his State on their assertion and vindication.  With "blood and iron" Prussia had forged her position in the councils of the Great Powers of Europe.  In due course it came to pass that, with the impetus given to every branch of national activity by the newly-won unity, and more especially by the growing development of overseas trade. . ., the young empire found opened to its energy a whole world outside Europe, of which it had previously hardly had the opportunity to become more than dimly conscious. . . .The colonies and foreign possessions of England more especially were seen to give to that country a recognized and enviable status in a world where the name of Germany, if mentioned at all, excited no particular interest.  The effect of this discovery upon the German mind was curious and instructive.  Here was a vast province of human activity to which the mere title and rank of a European Great Power were not in themselves a sufficient passport.  Here in a field of portentous magnitude, dwarfing altogether the proportions of European countries, others, who had been perhaps rather looked down upon as comparatively smaller folk, were at home and commanded, whilst Germany was at best received but as an honoured guest.  Here was distinct inequality, with a heavy bias in favour of the maritime and colonizing Powers.

          Such a state of things was not welcome to German patriotic pride.  Germany had won her place as one of the leading, if not, in fact, the foremost Power on the European continent.  But over and beyond the European Great Powers there seemed to stand the "World Powers."  It was at once clear that Germany must become a "World Power."  . . ."Germany must have Colonies," says the new world-policy.  And Colonies were accordingly established, in such spots as were found to be still unappropriated, or out of which others could be pushed by the vigorous assertion of a German demand for "a place in the sun": Damaraland, Cameroons, Togoland, German East Africa, New Guinea, and groups of other islands in the Pacific.  The German example, as was only natural, found ready followers, and the map of unclaimed territories was filled up with surprising rapidity.  When the final reckoning was made up the actual German gain seemed, even in German eyes, somewhat meagre. . . .

          Meanwhile the dream of a Colonial Empire had taken deep hold on the German imagination.  Emperor, statesmen, journalists, geographers, economists, commercial and shipping houses, and the whole mass of educated and uneducated public opinion continue with one voice to declare:  We must have real Colonies, where German emigrants can settle and spread the national ideals of the Fatherland, and we must have a fleet and coaling stations to keep together the Colonies which we are bound to acquire.  To the question, "Why must?" the ready answer is: "A healthy and powerful State like Germany, with its 60,000,000 inhabitants, must expand, it cannot stand still, it must have territories to which its overflowing population can emigrate without giving up its nationality."  When it is objected that the world is now actually parcelled out among independent States, and that territory for colonization cannot be had except by taking it from the rightful possessor, the reply again is: "We cannot enter into such considerations.  Necessity has no law.  The world belongs to the strong.  A vigorous nation cannot allow its growth to be hampered by blind adherence to the status quo.  We have no designs on other people's possessions, but where States are too feeble to put their territory to the best possible use, it is the manifest destiny of those who can and will do so to take their places."

          No one who has a knowledge of German political thought, and who enjoys the confidence of German friends speaking their minds openly and freely, can deny that these are the ideas which are proclaimed on the housetops, and that inability to sympathise with them is regarded in Germany as the mark of the prejudiced foreigner who cannot enter into the real feelings of Germans.  Nor is it amiss to refer in this connection to the series of Imperial apothegms [sayings], which have from time to time served to crystallize the prevailing German sentiments, and some of which deserve quotation: "Our future lies on the water."  "The trident must be in our hand." . . ."No question of world politics must be settled without the consent of the German Emperor." . . . &c.

          The significance of these individual utterances may easily be exaggerated.  Taken together, their cumulative effect is to confirm the impression that Germany distinctly aims at playing on the world's political stage a much larger and much more dominant part than she finds allotted to herself under the present distribution of material power. . . .No modern German would plead guilty to a mere lust of conquest for the sake of conquest.  But the vague and undefined schemes of Teutonic expansion. . .are but the expression of the deeply rooted feeling that Germany has by the strength and purity of her national purpose, the fervour of her patriotism, the depth of her religious feeling, the high standard of competency, and the perspicuous honesty of her administration, the successful pursuit of every branch of public and scientific activity, and the elevated character of her philosophy, art, and ethics, established for herself the right to assert the primacy of German national ideals.  And as it is an axiom of her political faith that right, in order that it may prevail, must be backed by force, the transition is easy to the belief that the "good German sword," which plays so large a part in patriotic speech, is there to solve any difficulties that may be in the way of establishing the reign of those ideals in a Germanized world.

          . . .For England particularly, intellectual and moral kinship creates a sympathy and appreciation of what is best in the German mind, which has made her naturally predisposed to welcome, in the interest of the general progress of mankind, everything tending to strengthen that power and influence‑-on one condition: there must be respect for the individualities of other nations, equally valuable coadjutors, in their way, in the work of human progress. . .

          So long, then, as Germany competes for an intellectual and moral leadership of the world in reliance on her own national advantages and energies England can but admire, applaud, and join in the race.  If, on the other hand, Germany believes that greater relative preponderance of material power, wider extent of territory, inviolable frontiers, and supremacy at sea are the necessary and preliminary possessions without which any aspirations to such leadership must end in failure, then England must expect that Germany will surely seek to diminish the power of rivals, to enhance her own by extending her dominion, to hinder the co-operation of other States, and ultimately to break up and supplant the British Empire.

          . . .[A long catalogue follows of complaints about hostile German gestures and intrigues aimed against British interests in Africa and Asia.]

          . . .

          Either Germany is definitely aiming at a general political hegemony and maritime ascendency, threatening the independence of her neighbours and ultimately the existence of England;

          Or Germany, free from any such clear-cut ambition, and thinking for the present merely of using her legitimate position and influence as one of the leading Powers in the council of nations, is seeking to promote her foreign commerce, spread the benefits of German culture, extend the scope of her national energies, and create fresh German interests all over the world wherever and whenever a peaceful opportunity offers. . .

          In either case Germany would clearly be wise to build as powerful a navy as she can afford.

          . . .It will, however, be seen, on reflection, that there is no actual necessity for a British Government to determine definitely which of the two theories of German policy it will accept.  For it is clear that the second scheme (of semi-independent evolution, not entirely unaided by statecraft) may at any stage merge into the first, or conscious-design scheme.  Moreover, if ever the evolution scheme should come to be realized, the position thereby accruing to Germany would obviously constitute as formidable a menace to the rest of the world as would be presented by a deliberate conquest of a similar position by "malice aforethought."

          . . .it would be neither just nor politic to ignore the claims to a healthy expansion which a vigorous and growing country like Germany has a natural right to assert in the field of legitimate endeavour.  . . .It cannot be good policy for England to thwart such a process of development where it does not directly conflict either with British interests or with those of other nations to which England is bound by solemn treaty obligations.  If Germany, within the limits imposed by these two conditions, finds the means peacefully and honourably to increase her trade and shipping, to gain coaling stations or other harbours, to acquire landing rights for cables, or to secure concessions for the employment of German capital or industries, she should never find England in her way.

          Nor is it for British Governments to oppose Germany's building as large a fleet as she may consider necessary or desirable for the defence of her national interests.  It is the mark of an independent State that it decides such matters for itself. . . .

          [However,] there is one road which, if past experience is any guide to the future, will most certainly not lead to any permanent improvement of relations with any Power, least of all Germany, and which must therefore be abandoned: that is the road paved with graceful British concessions‑-concessions made without any conviction either of their justice or of their being set off by equivalent counter-services.  The vain hopes that in this manner Germany can be "conciliated" and made more friendly must be definitely given up. . . .

Back to top


3.      Official Documents on the Outbreak of the First World War, July 1914.


          From 1905 to 1913 Europe experienced four major diplomatic crises, when a war pitting the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and possibly Italy against the Entente Powers of France, Russia, and Great Britain seemed likely.  Each time, the diplomats succeeded in averting war—until pro-Serbian terrorists assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in Sarajevo, in the southernmost Austrian province of Bosnia, on June 28, 1914.  The following diplomatic documents give some indication of what considerations guided the statesmen who made the pivotal decisions leading up to the outbreak of war on August 1.  Did one of these governments display a significantly more aggressive attitude than the others?  Or should the Great War be blamed more or less equally on all the Great Powers?


Source:  Immanuel Geiss (ed.), July 1914, the Outbreak of the First World War:  Selected Documents (New York:  Norton, 1967), pp. 80-86, 149-50, 170-71, 189-91, 196-99, 296-98, 311-12.



a) THE VIEW FROM VIENNA: "Protocol of the [Austro-Hungarian] Council of Ministers for Common Affairs," 7 July 1914:

          The President [Count Leopold Berchtold, Austrian Foreign Minister] opens the sitting, remarking that the Council of Ministers had been called together to advise on the measures to be taken for meeting the evils which in Bosnia and Herzegovina have resulted from the catastrophe of Sarajevo.  According to his view there would be a number of internal measures which the critical state of Bosnia has made desirable; but before deciding in their favor there should be clearness whether the moment has not come when a show of force might put an end to Serbia's intrigues once and for all.  A decisive stroke of this kind cannot be dealt without previous diplomatic preparation, and for this reason the German Government was informed and consulted.  The discussions with Germany brought about a most satisfactory result, since Kaiser Wilhelm as well as [Chancellor] von Bethmann Hollweg solemnly promised the support and aid of Germany in the eventuality of a warlike complication with Serbia. . . .

          He [Berchtold] is by no means convinced that an expedition to Serbia must necessarily involve us in a war with Russia.  Russia's present policy, which is farsighted, is aiming at a league of the Balkan states including Roumania, which it would at a suitable moment play out against our monarchy.  It is his belief that we must take into account that in the face of this policy our situation must become more precarious as time goes on, all the more because if we do not act, our own South Slavs and Rumanians will interpret our attitude as weakness, and would be all the more disposed to lend a willing ear to the persuasions of our neighbors across the frontier. . . .

          The Royal Hungarian Premier [Count Stephan Tisza]. . . would never consent to a surprise attack upon Serbia. . .  We should, he believed, in this case play a sorry figure in the eyes of all Europe, and should draw upon ourselves the enmity of all the Balkan states with the exception of Bulgaria, which is too weak just now to be of any effective help.

          It is absolutely necessary that we address demands to Serbia and if these are rejected we must make out an ultimatum.  Our exactions may be hard, but not such that they cannot be complied with.  If Serbia accepted them, we should have a splendid diplomatic success and our prestige in the Balkans would gain immensely.  If our demands are refused, he would also vote for a warlike action, but he must call attention to the fact that by a war we could reduce the size of Serbia, but we could not completely annihilate it.  Russia would fight to the death before allowing this and he, as Hungarian Premier, could never consent to the Monarchy's annexing any part of Serbia.

          It is not for Germany to decide whether we ought to go to war with Serbia just now or not.  Personally he holds the belief that it is not absolutely necessary to begin a war at the present moment....  Now that Germany has happily opened the way to Bulgaria's joining the Triple Alliance, a promising perspective for successful diplomatic action in the Balkans opens out….  With regard to European countries it must be considered that the forces of France when compared to those of Germany are diminishing on account of the continual reduction of the French birth-rate, so that Germany will be in a position to muster more troops against Russia.

          ....[Berchtold] remarked that diplomatic successes against Serbia had increased the Monarchy's prestige for the time being, but had in the end also increased the tension in the relations with Serbia. . . . A radical solution of the question raised by the propaganda for a Greater Serbia, which is systematically set to work in Belgrade and whose corrupting effects we feel from Agram to Zara [now the Croatian cities of Zagreb and Zadar], can only be brought about by the exertion of main force.. . .  As to the Hungarian Premier's remark with regard to the proportion of forces between France and Germany, he [Berchtold] thought it right to call attention to the fact that the reduction of the growth of the population in France was more than balanced by the increasing number of inhabitants in Russia, so that the assertion that Germany would in time have more troops at its disposition against France cannot be taken into account. . . .

          [Count Karl Stürgkh, Austrian Prime Minister]: . . .Our decision should be influenced strongly by the fact that where we look to for the most faithful support of our policy in the Triple Alliance, we are promised unreserved loyalty and are advised to act without delay.  Count Tisza should consider this circumstance and remember that by a weak and hesitating policy we might risk not being so certain of German support at some future time….       

          [The Austro-Hungarian Minister of War, Alexander von Krobatin] is of the opinion that a diplomatic success would be of no use at all.  A success of this kind would be interpreted as weakness.  From a military point of view he must remark that it would be better to go to war immediately, rather than at some later period, because the balance of power must in course of time change to our disadvantage. . . .

          A lengthy debate on the question of the war followed.  The result of the discussion may be summarized as follows:

          1) that all present wish for a speedy decision of the controversy with Serbia, whether it be decided in a warlike or a peaceful manner;

          2) that the Council of Ministers is prepared to adopt the view of the Royal Hungarian Premier according to which the mobilization is not to take place until after concrete demands have been addressed to Serbia and after being refused, an ultimatum has been sent.

          All present except the Royal Hungarian Premier hold the belief that a purely diplomatic success, even if it ended with a glaring humiliation of Serbia, would be worthless and that therefore such stringent demands must be addressed to Serbia, that will make a refusal almost certain, so that the road to a radical solution by means of a military action should be opened.




          The Royal Serbian Government will pledge itself to the following: 

          1) To suppress every publication likely to inspire hatred and contempt against the [Dual] Monarchy or whose general tendencies are directed against the integrity of the latter;

          2) to begin immediately dissolving the society called The Black Hand; to seize all its means of propaganda and to act in the same way against all the societies and associations in Serbia, which are busy with the propaganda against Austria-Hungary; the Royal Government will take the necessary measures to prevent these societies continuing their efforts under another name or in another form;

          3) to eliminate without delay from public instruction everything that serves or might serve the propaganda against Austria-Hungary, both where teachers or books are concerned;

          4) to remove from military service and from the administration all officers and officials who are guilty of having taken part in the propaganda against Austria-Hungary, whose names and the proofs of whose guilt the [Austro-Hungarian] Government will communicate to the Royal Government;

          5) to consent that [Austro-Hungarian] officials assist in Serbia in the suppressing of the subversive movement directed against the territorial integrity of the Monarchy;

          6) to have a judicial enquiry instituted against all those who took part in the plot of 28 June, if they are to be found on Serbian territory; the [Austro-Hungarian] government will delegate organs who will take an active part in these enquiries;

          7) to arrest without delay Major Voija Tankosic and a certain Milan Ciganovic, a Serbian government official, both compromised by the results of the enquiry;

          8) to take effective measures so as to prevent the Serbian authorities from taking part in the smuggling of weapons and explosives across the frontier; to dismiss from service and severely punish those organs of the frontier service at Schabatz and Loznica, who helped the perpetrators of the crime at Sarajevo to reach Bosnia in safety;

           9) to give the [Austro-Hungarian] government an explanation of the unjustified remarks of high Serbian functionaries in Serbia as well as in foreign countries, who, notwithstanding their official positions, did not hesitate to speak in hostile terms of Austria-Hungary in interviews given just after the event of 28 June;

           10) to inform the [Austro-Hungarian] government without delay that the measures summed up in the above points have been carried out.

          The [Austro-Hungarian] government expects the answer of the Royal Government to reach it not later than Saturday, 25 July, at six in the afternoon. 

Back to top



[Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's instructions to his ambassadors in St. Petersburg, Paris, and London, 21 July 1914, after he had learned of the provisions of the imminent ultimatum to Serbia]:

          . . .The Greater Serbian propaganda has been continually increasing in extent and intensity under the very eyes of official Serbia, and, at least, with its tacit consent.  It is to the account of that propaganda that the latest outrage, the trail of which leads to Belgrade, can be charged.  It has become unmistakably evident that it would no longer comport either with the dignity or with the self-preservation of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy to regard inactively any longer the mischief-making on the other side of the border‑-mischief-making by which the security and integrity of its dominions are lastingly menaced.  In such a state of affairs, neither the procedure nor the demands of the Austro-Hungarian Government can be regarded as otherwise than moderate and proper.  Nevertheless, the attitude adopted of late by public opinion as well as by the Government in Serbia does not exclude the fear that the Serbian Government may refuse to satisfy these demands, and that it is allowing itself to be driven into a provocatory attitude toward Austria-Hungary.  In such a case there would remain for the Austro-Hungarian Government, unless it wishes to dispense forever with its standing as a Great Power, no other course than to enforce its demands upon the Serbian Government by strong pressure, and if necessary, to take military measures‑-a situation in which the choice of means must be left to itself. . . .

          [Additional instructions for the ambassador to Russia]  Your Excellency will furthermore call Mr. Sazonov's [the Russian Foreign Minister] attention to the serious consequences which might ensue for the Monarchical idea, if, in the case suggested above, the Monarchical Powers should not stand solidly by the side of Austria-Hungary, setting aside for the moment any possible national prejudices or political points of view, inasmuch as it is a question of dealing the death-blow to a political radicalism, now reigning in Serbia, which does not hesitate at making even members of its own rulers' families the victims of its criminal tendencies [Serbia's king and queen had been assassinated in 1903, and a new dynasty installed].  Russia is fully as interested in such a task as is Germany.  I venture to hope that Mr. Sazonov will not be blind to this fact.




(including passages underlined by the Kaiser and his handwritten comments in left column):







It's not for him to decide as to this; that is the business of His Majesty the Emperor Franz Joseph!



That's their business!



What does he mean frivolous?  How can Grey use such a word about that old and honored sovereign?


There isn't any such thing!

 What does 'cannot be met' mean?  The rascals have added murder to agitation and must be humbled.  That is a tremendous piece of British insolence.  I am not called upon to prescribe to His Majesty the Emperor how to preserve his honour!






 Right!  Grey must be told this plainly and seriously!  So that he will see that I am not fooling.  Grey is committing the error of setting Serbia on the

Your Majesty's Ambassador in London telegraphs: 

          Sir Edward Grey [British Foreign Secretary], as I am confidentially informed, is going to state to [the Austrian ambassador] tomorrow that the British Government will exert itself to influence the Serbian Government to accept the Austro-Hungarian demands, in case they are moderate and are made reconcilable with the independence  of the Serbian nation.  He also believes that Sazonov will use his influence at Belgrade toward the same end.  But the condition precedent to his attitude would be that Vienna should bring no unprovable accusations. . . and that the Austro-Hungarian Government should be in a position to demonstrate indubitably the connection between the murder at Sarajevo and the political circles in Belgrade.  Everything will depend on the manner in which the note is drawn at Vienna and on the results of the inquiry up to date.  But it will be impossible, however, to make representations at Belgrade on the strength of frivolous assertions.  I am in the meantime endeavoring to influence matters here so that, in view of Austria's justifiable desire for satisfaction and for the final termination of the long disturbances, they may advocate the unconditional acceptance of the Austrian demands, even if the latter should not fully respect Serbia's national dignity.  In so doing I meet with the expectation that our influence at Vienna has been successful in suppressing demands that cannot be met.  They are counting with certainty on the fact that we shall not identify ourselves with demands that are plainly intended to bring on war, and that we will not support any policy which makes use of the murder at Sarajevo merely as an excuse for carrying out Austrian desires in the Balkans. . .  Furthermore, Sir Edward Grey let me know again today that he was trying to use his influence at St. Petersburg on behalf of the Austrian point of view.  But the fact that Count Berchtold has so far very noticeably avoided discussing the Serbian question with [the British ambassador in Vienna] has not created a pleasant impression here. 

          [Jagow resumes]: Your Majesty's Ambassador at London is in receipt of instructions, for the benefit of his conferences, to the effect that we do not know what the Austrian demands are,* but that we regarded them as part of Austria-Hungary's internal affairs, which it would not become us to attempt to influence.


same plane with Austria and other Great Powers!  That is unheard of!  Serbia is nothing but a band of robbers that must be seized for its crimes!  I will meddle in nothing of which the Emperor [Franz Joseph} is alone competent to judge!  I expected this despatch, and am not surprised by it!  Real British reasoning and condescending way of giving orders, which I insist on having rebuffed!

[Signed] Wilhelm I.R.


*  [In fact, the Austrians had kept the Germans fully informed at every stage of the drafting of their ultimatum, which was completed on July 19:  see Geiss, pp. 93-97.]

c) THE POSITIONS OF FRANCE AND GREAT BRITAIN (from a report by the British ambassador to Russia to the British foreign minister, Sir Edward Grey, on July 24, 1914):

           [Note that the French archives contain virtually no documentation from July 1914 about foreign policy deliberations by the French government, in part because the two most important French leader, President Raymond Poincaré, was on a state visit to St. Petersburg at the height of the crisis and kept no written record of his face-to-face talks with the leaders of the Russian government.  The following report to London by Ambassador Buchanan offers the best summary of those crucial talks, and it is followed below by a revealing minutes on the report written for Sir Edward Grey by Sir Eyre Crow.]

          [Russia’s] Minister for Foreign Affairs [Sazonov] telephone to me this morning saying that he had just received text of ultimatum presented by Austria at Belgrade yesterday that demands a reply in forty-eight hours.  Step thus taken by Austria meant war, and he begged me to meet him at the French Embassy.

          Minister for Foreign Affairs and French Ambassador told me confidentially that result of the visit of the President of the French Republic [Raymond Poincaré] had been to establish the following points: 

          1. Perfect community of views on the various problems with which the Powers are confronted as regards the maintenance of general peace and balance of power in Europe, more especially in the East.

          2. Decision to take action at Vienna with a view to the prevention of a demand for explanations or any summons equivalent to an intervention in the internal affairs of Serbia which the latter would be justified in regarding as an attack on her sovereignty and independence.

          3. Solemn affirmation of obligations imposed by the alliance of the two countries.

          Minister for Foreign Affairs [Sazonov] expressed the hope that His Majesty’s Government would proclaim their solidarity with France and Russia.  He characterized Austria’s conduct as immoral and provocative.  Some of the demands which she had presented were absolutely unacceptable, and she would never have acted as she had done without having first consulted Germany.  The French Ambassador gave me to understand that France would not only give Russia strong diplomatic support, but would, if necessary, fulfill all the obligations imposed on her by the alliance.

          I said that I could not speak in the name of His Majesty’s Government, but that I would telegraph all that they had said.  I could personally hold out no hope that His Majesty’s Government would make any declaration of solidarity that would entail engagement to support France and Russia by force of Arms.  We had no direct interests in Serbia, and public opinion in England would never sanction a war on her behalf.  Minister for Foreign Affairs [Sazonov] replied that the Serbian question was but part of general  European question and that we could not efface ourselves.

          …I suggested that the first thing to be done was to try to gain time by bringing our influence to bear to induce Austria to extend term of delay accorded to Serbia.  The French Ambassador replied that time did not permit of this; either Austria was bluffing or had made up her mind to act at once.  In either case a firm and united attitude was our only chance of averting war….

          As they both continued to press me to declare our complete solidarity with them, I said that I thought you might be prepared to represent strongly at Vienna and Berlin danger to European peace of an Austrian attack on Serbia.  You might perhaps point out that it would in all probability force Russia to intervene, that this would bring Germany and France into the field, and that if war became general, it would be difficult for England to remain neutral.  Minister for Foreign Affairs [Sazonov] said that he  hoped that we would in any case express strong reprobation of Austria’s action.  If war did break out, we would sooner or later be dragged into it, but if we did not make common cause with France and Russia from the outset we should have rendered war more likely, and should not have played a ‘beau rôle’. ,,,

          MINUTE BY SIR EYRE CROWE, July 25:

          The moment has passed when it might have been possible to enlist French support in an effort to hold back Russia.  It is clear that France and Russia are decided to accept the challenge thrown out to them.  Whatever we may thing of the merits of the Austrian charges against Serbia, France and Russia consider that these are the pretexts, and that the bigger cause of Triple Alliance versus Triple Entente is definitely engaged. 

          I think it would be impolitic, not to say dangerous, for England to attempt to controvert this opinion, or to endeavour to obscure the plain issue, by any representation at St. Petersburg and Paris.  The point that matters is whether Germany is or is not absolutely determined to have this war now.  There is still the chance that she can be made to hesitate, if she can be induced to apprehend that the war will find England by the side of France and Russia.  I can suggest only one effective way of bringing this home to the German Government without absolutely committing us definitely at this stage.  If, the moment either Austria or Russia begin to mobilize, His Majesty’s Government give orders to put our whole fleet on an immediate war footing, this may conceivably make Germany realize the seriousness of the danger to which she would be exposed if England took part in the war.

          It would be right, supposing this decision could be taken now, to inform the French and Russian Governments of it, and this again would be the best thing we could do to prevent a very grave situation arising as between England and Russia.

          It is difficult not to agree with M. Sazonov that sooner or later England will be dragged into the war if it does come.  We shall gain nothing by not making up our minds what we can do in circumstances that may arise tomorrow.  Should the war come, and England stands aside, one of two things must happen:

          (a) Either Germany and Austria win, crush France, and humiliate Russia.  With the French fleet gone, Germany in occupation of the Channel, with the willing or unwilling cooperation of Holland and Belgium, what will be the position of a frindless England?

          (b) Or France and Russia win.  What would then be their attitude towards England?  What about India and the Mediterranean?

          Our interests are tied up with those of France and Russia in this struggle, which is not for the possession of Serbia, but one between Germany aiming at a political dictatorship in Europe and the Powers who desire to retain individual freedom.  If we can help to avod the conflict by showing our naval strength, ready to be instantly used, it would be wrong not to make the effort.

          Whatever therefore our ultimate decision, I consider we should decide now to mobilize the fleet as soon as any other Great Power mobilizes, and that we should announce this decision without delay to the French and Russian Governments.


          Mr. Churchill [the First Lord of the Admiralty] told me to-day that the fleet can be mobilized in twenty-four hours, but I think it is premature to make any statement to France and Russia yet.

Back to top


24 JULY 1914:  Early this morning a telegram was received at the Foreign Ministry from Belgrade [revealing the details of Austria-Hungary's ultimatum to Serbia]. . .

          Towards 10 a.m. [Foreign Minister] S. D. Sazonov arrived from Tzarskoe Selo, when Baron Schilling immediately communicated the above-mentioned information to him, which created a very strong impression upon the Minister, who at once exclaimed: `That means a European war.'  The Austro-Hungarian Ambassador was at once called to the Ministry by telephone, and while awaiting him S. D. Sazonov reported to the Czar by telephone from Baron Schilling's office regarding Austria's ultimatum to Serbia.  His Majesty exclaimed, `This is disturbing,' and gave orders to keep him informed as to the further course of events....

          The Council of Ministers met at 3 p.m. . . . The Council of Ministers expressed approval of the proposals of the Foreign Minister, viz. (1) In conjunction with the other Powers to request Austria to prolong the period which she had fixed for the receipt of a reply from Serbia in order to afford the Powers time in which to acquaint themselves, in accordance with the proposal of Austria herself, with the results of the judicial enquiry into the Sarajevo assassination; and (2) to advise Serbia not to enter into hostilities with Austro-Hungarian troops, but, withdrawing her own forces, to request the Powers to compose the quarrel that had arisen.  At the same time it was decided in principle to mobilise four military districts (Odessa, Kiev, Moscow, Kazan) and the two fleets (Baltic and Black Sea) and to take other military measures should circumstances so require.  In this connection attention was turned to the fact that all military preparations must be clearly and exclusively directed with a view to the possibility of a conflict with Austria-Hungary, and could not be represented as unfriendly actions with regard to Germany. . . .

          At 7 p.m. the German Ambassador came to the Foreign Office.  He endeavoured to justify Austria's action on the grounds that the investigation with regard to the Sarajevo assassination established the guilt of the Serbian Government.  In addition, he endeavoured to establish the correctness of the Austrian procedure by reason of the necessity for protecting the `Monarchical principle'.  S. D. Sazonov addressed Count Pourtalès [the German ambassador] in a very firm manner, and sharply criticized the Vienna Cabinet, insisting upon the unacceptable nature of the Note to Serbia and the lack of courtesy towards the Great Powers in that Austria. . .accorded to Serbia so short a period wherein to meet her demands that the Powers were not afforded a possibility of considering the matter and giving their observations in time to be of avail. . . .


29 JULY 1914:  . . . At 3 p.m. the German Ambassador came again to the Minister and read to him a telegram from the Imperial Chancellor, in which it was stated that if Russia continued her military preparations, even though she did not proceed to mobilise, Germany would find herself compelled to mobilise, in which case she would immediately proceed to take the offensive.[1]  To this communication S. D. Sazonov sharply replied, `Now I no longer have any doubt about the true causes of Austria's intransigence.'  Count Pourtalès [the German ambassador] jumped up from his seat, and also sharply exclaimed, `I protest with all my power against this insulting assertion.'  The Minister drily replied that Germany still had an opportunity for proving the erroneousness of what he had said.  The Minister and the Ambassador parted coolly.

          Soon after the German Ambassador's departure, . . .the telephone bell rang, and H.M. the Emperor [Nicholas II] personally informed S. D. Sazonov that he had just received a telegram from Kaiser Wilhelm, who urgently requested him not to allow events to develop into a war.  S. D. Sazonov utilised this opportunity to report to His Majesty concerning the announcement made to him a few minutes previously by Count Pourtalès, and pointed out how little the words of the Kaiser agreed with the instructions conveyed to his Ambassador. . . . His Majesty gave permission to S. D. Sazonov to discuss the question of our mobilisation at once with the Minister for War and the Chief of the General Staff.

          At this moment news was received of the commencement of the bombardment of Belgrade [capital of Serbia] by the Austrians. . . .

           After examining the situation from all points, both the Ministers and the Chief of the General Staff decided that in view of the small probability of avoiding a war with Germany it was indispensable to prepare for it in every way in good time, and that therefore the risk could not be accepted of delaying a general mobilisation later by effecting a partial mobilisation now.  The conclusion arrived at at this conference was at once reported by telephone to the Czar, who authorised the taking of steps accordingly.  This information was received with enthusiasm by the small circle of those acquainted with what was in progress.  Telegrams were at once dispatched to Paris and London to inform the respective Governments of the decision that had been come to. . . .

          At about 11 p.m. the Minister for War informed the Foreign Minister by telephone that he had received orders from the Czar to stop the general mobilisation.


30 JULY 1914:  [Russia's army commanders implore Sazonov to get them permission to mobilize, so he arranges a personal audience with the Czar.]

          At 2 p.m. the Minister for Foreign Affairs left for Peterhof, together with Major-General Tatistchev, and both of them were received together there in the Alexander Palace by His Majesty.  During the course of nearly an hour the Minister attempted to show that war was becoming inevitable, as it was clear to everybody that Germany had decided to bring about a collision, as otherwise she would not have rejected all the pacificatory proposals that had been made and could easily have brought her ally to reason.  Under these circumstances it only remained to do everything that was necessary to meet war fully armed and under the most favourable conditions for ourselves.  Therefore it was better to put away any fears that our warlike preparations would bring about a war, and to continue these preparations carefully rather than by reason of such fears to be taken unawares by war.

          The firm desire of the Czar to avoid war at all costs, the horrors of which filled him with repulsion, led His Majesty in his full realisation of the heavy responsibility which he took upon himself in this fateful hour to explore every possible means for averting the approaching danger.  Consequently he refused during a long time to agree to the adoption of measures which, however indispensable from a military point of view, were calculated, as he clearly saw, to hasten a decision in an undesirable sense.

          The tenseness of feeling experienced by the Czar at this time found expression, amongst other signs, in the irritability most unusual with him, with which His Majesty interrupted General Tatistchev.  The latter, who throughout had taken no part in the conversation, said in a moment of silence: `Yes, it is hard to decide.'  His Majesty replied in a rough and displeased tone: `I will decide'‑-in order by this means to prevent the General from intervening any further in the conversation.

          Finally the Czar agreed that under the existing circumstances it would be very dangerous not to make timely preparations for what was apparently an inevitable war, and therefore gave his decision in favor of an immediate general mobilisation.

          S. D. Sazonov requested the Imperial permission to inform the Chief of the General Staff of this immediately by telephone, and this being granted, he hastened to the telephone on the ground floor of the palace.  Having transmitted the Imperial order to General Yanushkevich, who was waiting impatiently for it, the Minister, with reference to their conversation that morning, added: `Now you can smash your telephone.'

Back to top


4.       The Diary of Kurt Riezler, July 7-27, 1914.


            Riezler (1882-1955) was a professional diplomat who worked in the press department of the German Foreign Office.  He greatly admired and sometimes collaborated with the Imperial German Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, and Riezler was one of the very few people to whom the chancellor spoke freely on the eve of the First World War.  The surviving entries from Kurt Riezler’s diary offer perhaps the best insight into the thinking of Germany’s head of government during the July Crisis.

SOURCE: Karl Dietrich Erdmann, ed., Kurt Riezler.  Tagebücher, Aufsätze, Dokumente (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1972), pp. 181-93.


JULY 7, 1914: 

            Rode out with the Reich Chancellor [to Hohenfinow, Bethmann Hollweg’s country estate outside Berlin].  The old palace, the wonderful, enormous linden trees that flank the road like a gothic vault.  Everyone still mourns the death of the wife [Martha von Bethmann Hollweg had just died on May 11, 1914].  Melancholy and self-control…

            In the evening a long conversation on the veranda about the situation, under the night sky.  The secret reports that he shares with me present an alarming picture.  He regards the Anglo-Russian naval staff talks, which seek agreement on amphibious landings in Pomerania [in case of war], as very serious, the last link in the chain.  Lichnowsky [the German ambassador in London] is much too trusting.  He lets the English trick him.  Russia’s military power growing fast; their strategic construction [of railroads] in Poland making them unstoppable.  Austria grows ever weaker and more immobile; the undermining [through Pan-Slav agitation] from the North and Southeast is already very far advanced.  [Austria is] completely incapable of going to war as our ally for a German cause.  The Entente knows that, so we have been completely crippled. 

            I was greatly alarmed, had not regarded things as so bad….  The chancellor speaks of difficult decisions.  The murder of Franz Ferdinand.  The Serb government was involved.  Austria wants to rouse itself.  Franz Joseph has sent a mission to the Kaiser to inquire about German support.  Our old dilemma with every Austrian action in the Balkans.  If we advise them to act, they say we pushed them into it; if we advise them not to, they say we abandoned them.  Then they approach the Western allies, whose arms are wide open to embrace them, and we lose the last reliable ally.  This time things are worse than 1912, because now Austria is on the defensive against the Serb-Russian agitation.  An attack on Serbia can lead to a world war.  The chancellor expects such a war, regardless of its outcome, to overturn everything that exists.  The existing order is obsolete, without ideas.  “Everything has become very old.”  Heydebrand [leader of the Conservatives in the Reichstag] has said that a war would lead to a strengthening of the patriarchal order and values.  The chancellor is indignant over such nonsense.  In general there is blindness all around us; a dense fog has descended on the people.  It’s the same all over Europe.  The future belongs to Russia, which grows and grows into an ever great weight pressing down on our chest.

            The chancellor is very pessimistic about Germany’s intellectual condition.  Frightful decline of our political niveau.  Individuals are becoming ever smaller and more insignificant; nobody says anything great and honest.  Failure of the intelligentsia and of the professors.  My objection: this is an age of specialization, but also of collective greatness….

JULY 8, 1914:

            A message from Kaiser Franz Joseph has been brought by Hoyos….  The chancellor thinks that the old Kaiser [Franz Joseph] might not be able to decide to act.  If the war comes from the East, so that we take the field for Austria-Hungary and not Austria-Hungary for us, then we have a chance to win it.  If war does not come, if the Tsar does not want it or France loses its nerve and urges peace, then we have a chance to break up the Entente.

JULY 11, 1914:

            Two days in Berlin, with all sorts of tasks.  In Austria Berchtold and Tisza apparently disagree over how to proceed.  It is hardly possible to compose their differences from Berlin.  They apparently want a short-term ultimatum, and then to march in if Serbia rejects it.  They apparently require a frightfully long time to mobilize.  Hoetzendorff says 16 days.  That is very dangerous.  A quick fait accompli, and then friendly toward the Entente, then we could survive the shock.  And by publishing good, overwhelming evidence that will leave no grounds for complaint if one acts against Serbian agitation….

JULY 14, 1914:

            …Our situation is frightful.  If war should come and the veils then fall to the ground, the people will follow, driven by danger and necessity.  Victory will be our liberation.  The chancellor thinks I am too young not to succumb to the attraction of the unknown, the new, the great movement.  For him this action is a leap in the dark and the most solemn duty.  Kiderlen [the foreign secretary who died in 1912) always said we would have to fight.  Berchtold is considering the timing, whether before or after Poincaré’s journey to St. Petersburg.  Before is better; then there will be a greater chance that France, confronted suddenly by the real prospect of war, will take fright and urge peace in St. Petersburg.  Austria has just decided on this today.  But first the Hungarian harvest must be brought in.

            Italy is flirting with Russia.  It demands the South Tirol [from Austria] as its prize.  Article VII of the Treaty.[2]  They have probably decided already on neutrality.  So we cannot confer with them in advance [of the presentation of the ultimatum to Serbia].  Everything would be reported to St. Petersburg.  It [Italy] knows the condition of Austria and the successes of the Russian agitation among all the Slavs; it regards the situation as dreadful and underestimates the resilience of this old state [Austria], which can bear much more internal conflict than all other states.

JULY 20, 1914:

            Again discuss the whole situation [with Bethmann Hollweg].  Russia’s growing demands and incredible power.  In a few years it will be unstoppable, especially if the current European constellation remains unchanged.  We must consider whether it is possible to transform the current alliance system and create a new constellation.  But is that possible?  Only if Russia is not supported to the utmost by the Western powers in the Serbian matter and therefore perceives that it must reach an understanding with us.  But even then we would need to pay a high price for this understanding.  It has grown too powerful, and for domestic political reasons as well it must oppose revolutionary currents by supporting Pan-Slavism.

            Did it have to come to this?  The chancellor ponders with a certain masochism whether he might have made mistakes.  Should he have insisted on resigning back in 1912, when the Kaiser decided in favor of [Grand Admiral] Tirpitz in the question of the three heavy cruisers.[3]  Then Tirpitz or some politician of his stripe would have become chancellor.  Many say that Tirpitz hinders an understanding with England only because he wants the credit for achieving it when he becomes chancellor.  But he could never reach such agreement, because nobody trusts him.  The man is altogether a puzzle – he knows full well that his construction of Dreadnoughts cannot alter the balance of power with England, because the English will always be able to build twice as many as we….  He has great organizational talent but is a political child, but very ruthless, ambitious, and dishonest.  Because of the navy’s independent policy it is impossible to conduct a reasonable foreign policy without being denounced in the press.  For Tirpitz the navy is an end in itself.  His naval base and “cultural center” at Tsingtao [in China] is untenable politically and militarily.  But if somebody says here what everyone in East Asia already knows, that we should give it up to improve our relations with Japan, he would be torn to pieces by the navy’s press jackals.  And would have the Kaiser, Reichstag, and people against him.

            Our earlier mistakes were to pursue simultaneously a pro-Turkish policy against Russia, anti-French policy in Morocco, naval policy against England, to provoke everyone and obstruct everyone without actually weakening anyone.  The reason: lack of planning, a need for small prestige victories, and excessive concern for every current in public opinion.  The “nationalist” parties keep making a clamor about foreign policy to maintain their popularity.

JULY 23, 1914:

            …The Chancellor thinks that if war comes, it will come because of a sudden Russian mobilization, without any talks.  Then there will be nothing left to discuss, because then we would need to strike immediately, in order to have any chance of winning.  Then our whole people will feel the danger and support us.

JULY 27, 1914:

            On Saturday I ride back to Berlin with the Reich Chancellor.  On the train we read the first telegrams about the impact on Paris, St. Petersburg, London, Rome [of Germany’s diplomatic campaign to “localize” the Austro-Serb conflict].  The main point is that Sazonov, although furious, has not yet committed himself….  Everything depends on whether St. Petersburg immediately mobilizes and is encouraged or restrained by the West.  The chancellor is skeptical as always about the favorable first impressions of others.  There is a strong military party in St. Petersburg.  On the trains we have a long discussion about the German people, its fate, its virtues and weaknesses.  The Chancellor thinks that fate, stronger than any human power, is deciding the future of Europe and our people.

            Arrival in Berlin.  Movement on the streets, as crowds gather before the newspaper offices to read the latest dispatches, to see Serbia’s answer.  But people have not yet awoken completely from their dream of peace, which they still take for granted….

            [New dispatches arrive that evening.]  The news all points to war.  In St. Petersburg there are obviously fierce debates over mobilization.  England has altered its language – people in London have obviously just perceived that the Entente will be disrupted if they fail to support Russia.  Lichnowsky has completely lost his nerve.  The danger is that France and England may decide to avoid offending Russia by supporting its mobilization, perhaps without really believing that Russian mobilization means war for us; they might think we are bluffing, and decide to answer with a bluff of their own.

            Tomorrow the Social Democrats plan to hold a peace demonstration.  That would be dangerous.  The French already believe that our Social Democrats would not march.  Of course some generals again want to intervene, open fire on the demonstrators, and “show the Reds.”  The Chancellor intervened vigorously, thank God.  The Social Democrats are being worked on from all sides [to support the government’s foreign policy].

            The Foreign Office is terribly busy.  Nobody gets any sleep any more.  I only see the chancellor for seconds at a time.  He is quite altered; he no longer has time for reflection and is therefore quite fresh, active, lively, and inwardly at peace.

Back to top

5.       Nikolai Bukharin, Imperialism and the World Economy (1916).


          The Bolsheviks developed a comprehensive theory from a revolutionary Marxist perspective to explain the underlying causes of both the scramble for colonies and the outbreak of the First World War.  They argued that Imperialism represented the final stage of capitalism, when leading capitalists were compelled to engineer ever more risky military adventures to exploit backward nations in order to avert economic collapse in the advanced nations.  While living in exile in Switzerland in 1916, Lenin published the most famous exposition of this theory, entitled Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.  His work was largely based on a recently completed manuscript of a brilliant young associate named Nikolai Bukharin (1888-1938).  Their theory about the link between capitalism and imperialism is viewed skeptically by most historians today but proved enormously influential among the war-weary masses of Europe in 1917/18, and it guided Soviet foreign policy until the 1980s.

Source:  Nikolai Bukharin, Imperialism and World Economy (New York: Howard Fertig, 1966; first published in 1918), pp. 122-29, 139-42. 


          The growth of competition outlined in the last chapter reduces itself to the fact that the continuous elimination of competition among smaller economic units calls forth a sharper competition among large economic units.  This process is accompanied by curious changes in the methods of struggle. 

          The struggle of individually owned enterprises is usually conducted by means of low prices; small shops sell cheaper, reducing their standards of living to a minimum; capitalists strive to reduce the production costs by improving technique and lowering wages, etc.  When the struggle among individually owned enterprises has been replaced by the struggle among trusts, the methods of struggle (in so far as it is conducted in the world market) undergo a certain change; low prices disappear in the home market, being replaced by high prices which facilitate the struggle in the world market; the latter is conducted by means of low prices at the expense of the high prices paid in the home market.  The importance of state power grows: tariff rates, freight rates are taken advantage of; the tremendous economic power of the trusts opposing one another, both in the domestic and in the foreign market, allows them, under certain condition, also to apply other methods. . . . 

          When competition has finally reached its highest stage, when it has become competition between state capitalist trusts, then the use of state power, and the possibilities connected with it, begin to play a very large part.  The state apparatus has always served as a tool in the hands of the ruling classes of its country, and it has always acted as their "defender and protector" in the world market; at no time, however, did it have the colossal importance that it has in the epoch of finance capital and imperialist politics.  With the formation of state capitalist trusts, competition is being almost entirely shifted to foreign countries; obviously, the organs of the struggle that is to be waged abroad, primarily state power, must therefore grow tremendously.  The significance for capitalism of high tariffs, which increase the fighting capacity of the state capitalist trust in the world market, must increase still more; the various forms of "protecting national industry" become more pronounced; state orders are placed only with "national" firms; income is guaranteed to all sorts of enterprises, which present great risks but are "useful" from a social point of view; the activities of "foreigners" are hampered in various ways. . . .  Whenever a question arises about changing commercial treaties, the state power of the contracting groups of capitalists appears on the scene, and the mutual relations of those states‑-reduced in the final analysis to the relations between their military forces‑-determine the treaty.  When a loan is to be granted to one or the other country, the government, basing itself on military power, secures the highest possible rate of interest for its nationals, guarantees obligatory orders, stipulates concessions, struggles against foreign competitors.  When the struggle begins for the exploitation by finance capital of a territory that has not been formally occupied by anybody, again the military power of the state decides who will possess that territory.  In "peaceful" times the military state apparatus is hidden behind the scenes where it never stops functioning; in war times it appears on the scene most directly.  The more strained the situation in the world sphere of struggle‑-and our epoch is characterised by the greatest intensity of competition between "national" groups of finance capital‑-the oftener an appeal is made to the mailed fist of state power. . . . 

          If state power is generally growing in significance, the growth of its military organization, the army and the navy, is particularly striking.  The struggle between state capitalist trusts is decided in the first place by the relation between their military forces, for the military power of the country is the last resort of the struggling "national" groups of capitalists.  The immensely growing state budget devotes an ever larger share to "defence purposes," as militarisation is euphemistically termed. . . .

          We are now passing through a period when armaments on land, on water, and in the air are growing with feverish rapidity.  Every improvement in military technique entails a reorganization and reconstruction of the military mechanism; every innovation, every expansion of the military power of one state stimulates all the others.  What we observe here is like the phenomenon we come across in the sphere of tariff policies where a raise of rates in one state is immediately reflected in all others, causing a general raise.  Of course, here, too, we have before us only a case of a general principle of competition, for the military power of the state capitalist trust is the weapon to be used in its economic struggle.  The growth of armaments, creating as it does a demand for the products of the metallurgic industry, raises substantially the importance of heavy industry, particularly the importance of "cannon kings" à la Krupp.  To say, however, that wars are caused by the ammunition industry would be a cheap assertion.  The ammunition industry is by no means a branch of production existing for itself, it is not an artificially created evil which in turn calls forth the "battle of nations."   It ought to be obvious from the foregoing considerations that armaments are an indispensable attribute of state power, an attribute that has a very definite function in the struggle among state capitalist trusts.  Capitalist society is unthinkable without armaments, as it is unthinkable without wars.  And just as it is true that not low prices can cause competition but, on the contrary, competition causes low prices, it is equally true that not the existence of arms is the prime cause and the moving force in wars (although wars are obviously impossible without arms) but, on the contrary, the inevitableness of economic conflicts conditions the existence of arms.  This is why in our times, when economic conflicts have reached an unusual degree of intensity, we are witnessing a mad orgy of armaments.  Thus the rule of finance capital implies both imperialism and militarism.  In this sense militarism is no less a typical historic phenomenon than finance capital itself. 

          With the growth of the importance of state power, its inner structure also changes.  The state becomes more than ever before an "executive committee of the ruling classes."   It is true that state power always reflected the interests of the "upper strata," but inasmuch as the top layer itself was a more or less amorphous mass, the organized state apparatus faced an unorganized class (or classes) whose interests it embodied.  Matters are totally different now.  The state apparatus not only embodies the interests of the ruling classes in general, but also their collectively expressed will.  It faces no more atomised members of the ruling classes, but their organizations.  Thus the government is de facto transformed into a "committee" elected by the representatives of entrepreneurs' organizations, and it becomes the highest guiding force of the state capitalist trust.  This is one of the main causes of the so-called crises of parliamentarism.  In former times parliament served as an arena for the struggle among various factions of the ruling groups (bourgeoisie and landowners, various strata of the bourgeoisie among themselves, etc.).  Finance capital has consolidated almost all of their varieties into one "solid reactionary mass" united in many centralised organizations.  "Democratic" and "liberal" sentiments are replaced by open monarchist tendencies in modern imperialism, which is always in need of a state dictatorship.  Parliament at present serves more as a decorative institution; it passes upon decisions prepared beforehand in the businessmen's organizations and gives only formal sanction to the collective will of the consolidated bourgeoisie as a whole.  A "strong power" has become the ideal of the modern bourgeois.  These sentiments are not "remnants of feudalism," as some observers suppose, these are not debris of the old that have survived in our times.  This is an entirely new socio-political formation caused by the growth of finance capital.  If the old feudal "policy of blood and iron" was able to serve here, externally, as a model, this was possible only because the moving springs of modern economic life drive capital along the road of aggressive politics and the militarisation of all social life.  The best proof may be found not only in the foreign policies of such "democratic" countries as England, France, Belgium (note the colonial policy of Belgium), and the United States, but also in the changes that take place in their internal policies (militarisation and the growth of monarchism in France, the increasing attempts at attacking the freedom of labor organizations in all countries, etc., etc.). 

          Being a very large shareholder in the state capitalist trust, the modern state is the highest and all-embracing organizational culmination of the latter.  Hence its colossal, almost monstrous, power. . . . 

          It follows from the above that the actual process of economic development will proceed in the midst of a sharpened struggle between the state capitalist trusts and the backward economic formations.  A series of wars is unavoidable.  In the historic process which we are to witness in the near future, world capitalism will move in the direction of a universal state capitalist trust by absorbing the weaker formations.  Once the present war is over, new problems will have to be "solved" by the sword.  Partial agreements are, of course, possible here and there (e.g., the fusion of Germany and Austria is quite probable).  Every agreement or fusion, however, will only reproduce the bloody struggle on a new scale.  Were "Central Europe" to unite according to the plans of the German imperialists, the situation would remain comparatively the same; but even were all of Europe to unite, it would not yet signify "disarmament."   It would signify an unheard of rise of militarism because the problem to be solved would be a colossal struggle between Europe on the one hand, America and Asia on the other.  The struggle among small (small!) state capitalist trusts would be replaced by a struggle between still more colossal trusts.  To attempt to eliminate this struggle by "home remedies" and rose water is tantamount to bombarding an elephant with peas, for imperialism is not only a system most intimately connected with modern capitalism, it is also the most essential element of the latter. 

          We have seen in the second section the peculiarities in the structure of modern capitalism and the formation of state capitalist trusts.  This economic structure, however, is connected with a certain policy, namely, the imperialist policy.  This not only in the sense that imperialism is a product of finance capitalism, but also in the sense that finance capital cannot pursue any other policy than an imperialist one, as we characterised it above.  The state capitalist trust cannot become an adherent of free trade for thereby it would lose a considerable part of its capital raison d'être.  We have already pointed out that protectionism allows the acquisition of additional profits on the one hand, facilitates competition in the world market on the other.  In the same way finance capital, expressing as it does capitalist monopoly organizations, cannot relinquish the policy of monopolizing "spheres of influence," of seizing sales markets and markets for raw materials, or spheres of capital investment.  If one state capitalist trust fails to get hold of an unoccupied territory, it will be occupied by another.  Peaceful rivalry, which corresponded to the epoch of free competition and of the absence of any organization of production at home, is absolutely inconceivable in the epoch of an entirely different production structure and of the struggle among state capitalist trusts.  Those imperialist interests are of such magnitude for the finance capitalist groups, and they are so connected with the very foundations of their existence, that the governments do not shrink before the most colossal military expenditures only to secure for themselves a stable position in the world market.  The idea of "disarmament" within the framework of capitalism is particularly absurd as far as the state capitalist trusts that occupy the foremost positions in the world market are concerned.  Before their eyes there always shines the picture of subjugating the whole world, of acquiring an unheard of field for exploitation‑-a thing termed by the French imperialists l'organisation d'economie mondiale and by the German imperialists, Organisierung der Weltwirtschaft.  Would the bourgeoisie exchange this "high" ideal for the pot of porridge of disarmament?  Where is the guarantee for a given state capitalist trust that a pernicious rival will not continue the "abandoned" policy in spite of all formal agreements and guarantees?. . . 

          The entire structure of world economy in our times forces the bourgeoisie to pursue an imperialist policy.  As the colonial policy is inevitably connected with violent methods, so every capitalist expansion leads sooner or later to a bloody climax. . . .  1

Back to top

6.       Lenin’s plan for peace in November 1917.


          Immediately after seizing power, the Bolsheviks delivered the essentials of the program Lenin had outlined in April 1917 with decrees calling for an immediate peace and the parceling of all large agricultural estates among the village poor.  They also embarrassed their former allies, France and Great Britain, by publishing all the secret treaties concluded after the war’s outbreak.  If you were a soldier, munitions worker, or nurse struggling to cope with the Great War in its fourth year, would you find this program appealing?

Source:  Documents of Russian History 1914-1917, ed.  Frank Alfred Golder (New York: The Century Company, 1927), pp. 618-25.



          Comrades, the workmen's and peasants' revolution, the need of which the Bolsheviks have emphasized many times, has come to pass.

          What is the significance of this revolution?  Its significance is, in the first place, that we shall have a soviet government, without the participation of bourgeoisie of any kind.  The oppressed masses will of themselves form a government.  The old state machinery will be smashed into bits and in its place will be created a new machinery of government by the soviet organizations.  From now on there is a new page in the history of Russia, and the present third Russian revolution shall in its final result lead to the victory of Socialism.

          One of our immediate tasks is to put an end to the war at once.  But in order to end the war, which is closely bound up with the present capitalistic system, it is necessary to overthrow capitalism itself.  In this work we shall have the aid of the world labor movement, which has already begun to develop in Italy, England, and Germany.

          A just and immediate offer of peace by us to the international democracy will find everywhere a warm response among the international proletarian masses.  In order to secure the confidence of the proletariat, it is necessary to publish at once all secret treaties.

          In the interior of Russia a very large part of the peasantry has said:  Enough playing with the capitalists; we will go with the workers.  We shall secure the confidence of the peasants by one decree, which will wipe out the private property of the landowners.  The peasants will understand that their only salvation is in union with the workers.

          We will establish a real labor control on production.

          We have now learned to work together in a friendly manner, as is evident from this revolution.  We have the force of mass organization which has conquered all and which will lead the proletariat to world revolution.

          We should now occupy ourselves in Russia in building up a proletarian socialist state.

          Long live the world-wide socialistic revolution. ...



          The Workers' and Peasants' Government, created by the revolution of November 6-7, and drawing its strength from the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies, proposes to all warring people and their governments that negotiations leading to a just peace begin at once.

          The just and democratic peace for which the great majority of war-exhausted, tormented toilers and laboring classes of all belligerent countries are thirsting; the peace for which the Russian workers and peasants are so insistently and loudly clamoring since the overthrow of the tsarist regime is, in the opinion of the Government, an immediate peace without annexation (i.e., without the seizure of foreign lands and the forcible taking over of other nationalities) and without indemnity.

          The Russian Government proposes that this kind of peace be concluded immediately between all the warring nations.  It offers to take decisive steps at once, without the least delay, without waiting for a final confirmation of all the terms of such a peace by conference of popular representatives of all countries and all nations....

          If any nation whatsoever is detained by force within the boundaries of another state; if it is detained against its will‑-whether expressed in the press, national assemblies, party decisions, or restlessness and uprising against national oppression‑-and if not able to vote freely, owing to the presence of troops of the annexing or stronger nation, and to determine, without the least pressure, its form of state life; then such an acquisition is annexation, that is to say, seizure by force....

          Moreover, the Government declares that it does not regard the above mentioned terms of peace in the light of an ultimatum.  It will agree to examine all other terms.  It will insist only that whatever belligerent nation has anything to propose, it should do so quickly, in the clearest terms, leaving out all double meanings and all secrets in making the proposal.  The Government does away with all secret diplomacy and is determined to carry on all negotiations quite openly in the view of all people.  It will proceed at once to publish all secret treaties, ratified or concluded by the government of landowners and capitalists, from March until November 7, 1917.

          The Government annuls, immediately and unconditionally, the secret treaties, in so far as they have for their object, which was true in a majority of cases, to give benefits and privileges to the Russian landowners and capitalists, to maintain or to increase annexation by the Great Russians....

            The Government proposes to all governments and peoples of all belligerent countries to conclude at once an armistice of no less than three months....  In making these peace proposals to the governments and peoples of all warring countries, the Provisional Government of Workers and Peasants of Russia appeals in particular to the intelligent workers of the three foremost nations of mankind, and the leading participators in this war, England, France, and Germany.  The toilers of these countries have rendered the greatest service to the cause of progress and Socialism by their great examples, such as the Chartist movement in England, the series of revolutions of historical and world importance brought on by the French proletariat, and, finally, the heroic struggle against [Bismarck's Anti-Socialist] Laws in Germany, and the example for the workers of all the world given by the German toilers in their stubborn, prolonged, and disciplined efforts to organize the proletarian masses.  All these examples of proletarian heroism and historical development lead us to believe that the workers of the named countries will understand the task before them to free humanity from the horrors of war and its consequences.  By decisive, energetic, and self-sacrificing efforts in various directions, these workers will help us not only to bring the peace negotiations to a successful end, but to free the toiling and exploited masses from all forms of slavery and all exploitation.

Back to top


7.      Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points (8 January 1918).

          As American troops began to arrive in France, President Woodrow Wilson gave a speech defining U.S. war aims in fourteen points.  Wilson sought to refute the Bolshevik argument about the link between capitalism and imperialism by articulating a vision of a harmonious international order based on liberal principles.  Wilson’s commitment to these principles caused friction between the USA and its European allies, however, which sought to achieve national security by expanding at the expense of the Central Powers.  Imperial Germany capitulated in November 1918 on the understanding that Wilson’s plan for a “peace without victors or vanquished” would guide the postwar settlement, but French influence caused the actual peace treaty formulated at Versailles to violate a number of these fourteen points.  Scholars and politicians continue to debate the issue that divided the delegates to the Versailles Conference:  whether foreign policy should be based on morality or self-interest.

Source:  Foreign Relations of the United States, 1918, Supp. 1, 2 vols. (Washington:  Department of State, 1933), vol. 1, pp. 14-16.


          We entered this war because violations of right had occurred which touched us to the quick and made the life of our own people impossible unless they were corrected and the world secure once for all against their recurrence.  What we demand in this war, therefore, is nothing peculiar to ourselves.  It is that the world be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression.  All the peoples of the world are in effect partners in this interest, and for our own part we see very clearly that unless justice be done to others it will not be done to us.  The programme of the world's peace, therefore, is our programme:  and as we see it, is this:

          I.  Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind, but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.

          II.  Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants.

          III.  The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance.

          IV.  Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.

          V.  A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined.

          VI.  The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest cooperation of the other nations of the world in obtaining for her an unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity for the independent determination of her own political development and national policy, and assure her of a sincere welcome into the society of free nations under institutions of her own choosing; and, more than a welcome, assistance also of every kind that she may need and may herself desire.  The treatment accorded Russia by her sister nations in the months to come will be the acid test of their good will, of their comprehension of her needs as distinguished from their own interests, and of their intelligent and unselfish sympathy.

          VII.  Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations.  No other single act will serve to restore confidence among the nations in the laws which they have themselves set and determined for the government of their relations with one another.  Without this healing act, the whole structure and validity of international law is forever impaired.

          VIII.  All French territory should be freed and the invaded portions restored, and the wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine, which has unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years, should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all.

          IX.  A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.

          X.  The peoples of Austria-Hungary whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity of autonomous development.

          XI.  Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territories restored; Serbia accorded free access to the sea; and the relations in the several Balkan states to one another determined by friendly counsel along historically established lines of allegiance and nationality; and international guarantees of the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states should be entered into.

          XII.  The Turkish portions of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development, and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees.

          XIII.  An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant.

          XIV.  A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.

          We have spoken now, surely, in terms too concrete to admit of any further doubt or question.  An evident principle runs through the whole programme I have outlined.  It is the principle of justice to all peoples and nationalities, and their right to live on equal terms of liberty and safety with one another, whether they be strong or weak.  Unless this principle be made its foundation, no part of the structure of international justice can stand. ...

Back to top


8.       John Maynard Keynes, "The Peace of Versailles" (1920). 


          The most influential economist of the twentieth century, John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), first gained international notoriety as a strident critic of the Versailles Treaty.  He had joined the British Treasury Department in 1915 and served as its chief representative at the Versailles Conference.  There Keynes became so disgusted at the treatment of Germany and the refusal by political leaders to acknowledge economic realities that he resigned his position and returned to England.  Shortly thereafter he caused an uproar by publishing The Economic Consequences of the Peace, whose major themes are briefly summarized in the following article, written for the American press.  Widely denounced at first, that book's arguments became enormously influential by the late 1920s.  Reparations were finally abolished in 1932, at the low-point of the Great Depression, and Keynes’s arguments inspired the founders of the European Economic Community after the Second World War. 

Source:  John Maynard Keynes, "The Peace of Versailles,"  Everybody's Magazine, vol. 43 (September, 1920), pp.  36-41.


          There are two separate aspects of the peace which we have imposed on the enemy‑-on the one hand its justice, on the other hand its wisdom and its expediency. . . .

          The nature of the terms which we were entitled in justice to impose depends, in part, on the responsibility of the enemy nations for causing so tremendous a calamity as the late war, and in part on the understanding on which the enemy laid down his arms at the time of the armistice.  In my own opinion, it is not possible to lay the entire responsibility for the state of affairs out of which the war arose on any single nation; it was engendered, in part at least, by the essential character of international politics and rivalries during the latter part of the nineteenth century, by militarism everywhere (certainly in Russia as well as in Germany and Austria-Hungary), and by the universally practiced policies of economic imperialism; it had its seeds deep in the late history of Europe.

          But I believe, nevertheless, that Germany bears a special and peculiar responsibility for the war itself, for its universal and devastating character and for its final development into a combat without quarter for master or defeat.  A criminal may be the outcome of his environment, but he is none the less a criminal.

          The evidence which has become public in the past year has convinced me that, during the weeks preceding August, 1914, persons in power in Germany deliberately provoked the war and intended that it should commence when it did.  If this be so, the accepted standards of international justice entitle us to impose, at Germany's expense, any terms which might be calculated to make good some part of the destruction done, to heal Europe's wounds, to preserve and perpetuate peace, and to terrify future malefactors.

          Even so, however, it was our duty to look more to the future than to the past, to distinguish between the late rulers of Germany on the one hand and her common people and unborn posterity on the other, and to be sure that our acts were guided by magnanimity and wisdom more than by revenge or hatred.  It was also proper for us to feel and practice some measure of humility at the conclusion of so terrible and extraordinary a struggle, and not to elevate ourselves and our Allies, in boastful and unseemly language, to a level of morality and of international disinterestedness which, whatever the faults of others, we cannot claim.  But above all, should not the future peace of the world have been our highest and guiding motive?    Men of all nations had suffered together, the victims of a curse deep-seated in the past history and present weakness of the European race.  The lifting of the curse was a better object in the treaty, if universal justice were our aim, than its relentless execution. . . .

          [Keynes discusses the exchange of diplomatic notes between the German and American governments that led to the Armistice of 11 November 1918, after President Wilson had promised the Germans that his Fourteen Points would form the “basis” of the final peace treaty.]

          The nature of the contract between Germany and the Allies . . . is plain and unequivocal.  The terms of the peace are to be in accordance with the addresses of the President, and the purpose of the Peace Conference is "to discuss the details of their application."  The circumstances of the contract were of an unusually solemn and binding character; for one of the conditions of it was that Germany should agree to armistice terms which were to be such as would leave her helpless.

          What, then, was the substance of this contract. . . .  In a word, we were committed to a peace based upon the Fourteen Points and upon the principle that "there shall be no annexations, no contributions, no punitive damages."

          It is still maintained by some persons that the enemy surrendered unconditionally and that we are in no way bound by the engagements outlined above.  This has been maintained lately, for example, in a lengthy article contributed to the New York Times by General Greene.  Other advocates of the treaty stand upon the other leg and maintain that, while we are bound by the Fourteen Points, the peace treaty is in substantial conformity with them.  This, I understand, is the attitude of President Wilson.  I am reckoned a hostile critic of the President because I believe that he holds this attitude sincerely, having been partly deceived and partly self-deceived, his thought and feeling being here cast in what, for lack of a more descriptive phrase, I termed a theological mold.  His friends argue, however, that he was well aware of what he was doing in Paris and deliberately sacrificed some part of his professions in the interests of the higher political expediency. . . .

          But there remains the question‑-greater than that of the actions and motives of individuals‑-whether in fact we have kept faith with our enemies.  I have maintained that on certain matters we have not kept faith, the most important instance within the economic sphere, which was my particular subject-matter, being the inclusion in our reparation claims of huge sums for military pensions and separation allowances, which greatly swell the bill and to which we are not entitled.  Our treatment of the Saar Valley, of tariffs, and of Germany's river system afford other examples.

          Let me here limit myself to the reparation claims.  I venture to assert that my criticism of these claims has not been seriously controverted by any one.  It has been stated, since my book appeared, that the President's own advisers in Paris informed him that these claims were illegitimate.  Many critics have passed over in silence this particular issue.  Yet if it is in fact the case that we have not kept our engagements, is it not a matter of some importance to the national honor of each one of the allied and associated countries, and to the moral government of the world? . . .

         . . . [As to the treaty's wisdom and its expediency:] Under these heads my criticism of the treaty is double.  In the first place, this treaty ignores the economic solidarity of Europe, and by aiming at the destruction of the economic life of Germany it threatens the health and prosperity of the Allies themselves.  In the second place, by making demands the execution of which is in the literal sense impossible, it stultifies itself and leaves Europe more unsettled than it found it.  The treaty, by overstepping the limits of the possible, has in practice settled nothing.  The true settlement still remains to be made out of the ashes of the present and the disillusionment of the future, when the imposture of Paris is recognized for what it is. . . .

          The German economic system as it existed before the war depended on three main factors.

          1.  Overseas commerce, as represented by her mercantile marine, her colonies, her foreign investments, her exports, and the overseas connections of her merchants.

          2.  The exploitation of her coal and iron and the industries built upon them.

          3.  Her transport and tariff system.

          Of these the first, while not the least important, was certainly the most vulnerable.  The treaty aims at the systematic destruction of all three, but principally the first two.

          Germany has ceded to the Allies all the vessels of her mercantile marine exceeding sixteen hundred tons gross, half the vessels between one thousand tons and sixteen hundred tons, and one-quarter of her trawlers and other fishing boats.  The cession is comprehensive, including not only vessels flying the German flag, but also all vessels owned by Germans but flying other flags, and all vessels under construction as well as those afloat.  Further, Germany undertakes, if required, to build for the Allies such types of ships as they may specify, up to two hundred thousand tons annually for five years, the value of these ships being credited to Germany against what is due from her for reparation.  Thus the German mercantile marine is swept from the seas and can not be restored for many years to come on a scale adequate to meet the requirements of her own commerce.  Germany has ceded to the Allies "all her rights and titles over her overseas possessions."  This cession not only applies to sovereignty but extends on unfavorable terms to government property, all of which, including railways, must be surrendered without payment.  Further, in distinction from the practice ruling in the case of most similar cessions in recent history, the property and persons of private German nationals, as distinct from their Government, are also injuriously affected.  Not only are German sovereignty and German influence extirpated from the whole of her former overseas possessions but the persons and property of her nationals resident or owning property in those parts are deprived of legal status and legal security. . . .

          In a regime of free trade and free economic intercourse it would be of little consequence that iron lay on one side of a political frontier and labor, coal and blast furnaces on the other [i.e., iron ore in Lorraine, labor and coal in the Ruhr basin].  But it seems certain, calculating on the present passions and impulses of European capitalistic society, that the effective iron output of Europe will be diminished by a new political frontier (which sentiment and historical justice require), because nationalism and private interest are thus allowed to impose a new economic frontier along the same lines.  These latter considerations are allowed, in the present governance of Europe, to prevail over the intense need of the continent for the most sustained and efficient production to repair the destruction of war and to satisfy the insistence of labor for a larger reward.

          Thus in its coal and iron clauses the treaty strikes at organization, and by the destruction of organization impairs yet further the reduced wealth of the whole community. . . .

          The treaty's claims for an indemnity may be divided into two parts:  those which, in accordance with our pre-armistice engagements, we were entitled to make if we judged it expedient to do so, and those which, in my judgment, we had no right to make.  The first category includes as its chief items all the direct damages to civilian life and property for which Germany was responsible, more particularly in the invaded and occupied areas of France, Belgium, and Serbia, by air-raids, and by warfare of submarines.  It includes also compensation for the improper treatment of interned civilians and for the loot of food, raw materials, live stock, machinery, household effects, timber, and the like; and the repayment of fines and requisitions levied on the towns of France and Belgium.  I have ventured as a very rough estimate to calculate the total of these items at the following figures:

Belgium $2,500,000,000
France 4,000,000,000
Great Britain 2,850,000,000
Other Allies 1,250,000,000
TOTAL $10,600,000,000

          This is the amount of the claim which we were entitled to present to the enemy.  I believe that it would have been a wise and just act to have asked the German Government at the peace negotiations to agree to a sum of ten billion in final settlement, without further examination of particulars.  This would have provided an immediate and certain solution, and would have required from Germany a sum which, if she were granted certain indulgences, it might not have proved entirely impossible for her to pay.  This sum should have been divided up among the Allies themselves on a basis of need and general equity.

          But the question was not settled on its merits, and the above figure is far from representing the whole of our actual claims under the treaty.  As a compromise between keeping the letter of our engagements and demanding the entire cost of the war, which French and British politicians had promised to their constituents from the platform, Paris decided to include a claim, which seemed plausible in itself, which recommended itself to sentiment, and which amounted to a large sum; and Germany has been required to discharge in their entirety all military pensions and separation allowances paid or to be paid, which have arisen out of the war.  I have estimated that this adds to the bill an aggregate sum of twenty-five billion dollars. . . .  Adding this figure to my maximum estimate of fifteen billion dollars, we have a total claim against Germany of about forty billion dollars. . . .

          It is, in my judgment, as certain as anything can be . . . that Germany can not pay anything approaching this sum.  Until the treaty is altered, therefore, Germany has in effect engaged herself to hand over to the Allies the whole of her surplus production in perpetuity. . . . How is Germany placed, in the situation in which the rest of the treaty leaves her, for discharging a vast obligation?  It is evident that Germany's pre-war capacity to pay an annual foreign tribute has not been unaffected by the almost total loss of her colonies, her overseas connections, her mercantile marine, and her foreign properties; by the cession of ten percent of her territory and population, of one-third of her coal and of three-quarters of her iron ore; by two million casualties among men in the prime of life; by the starvation of her people for four years; by the burden of a vast war debt; by the depreciation of her currency to less than one-seventh its former value; by the disruption of her allies and their territories; by revolution at home and Bolshevism on her borders; and by all the unmeasured ruin in strength and hope of four years of all-swallowing war and final defeat.

          All this, one would have supposed, is evident.  Yet most estimates of a great indemnity from Germany depend on the assumption that she is in a position to conduct in the future a vastly greater trade than ever she has had in the past.

          . . .

          I reach, therefore, the final conclusion that, including all methods of payment‑-immediately transferable wealth, ceded property, and an annual tribute‑-ten billion dollars is a safe maximum figure of Germany's capacity to pay.  In all the actual circumstances, I do not believe that she can pay as much. . . .

          For my part I hold with increasing conviction that the revision of the treaty is the necessary and inevitable first step forward.

Back to top


9.          Georges Clemenceau defends the Versailles Treaty (1929).

          Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929), nicknamed “the Tiger,” led the French government from 1917 to 1920 and was the political architect of French victory in the Great War.  In retirement he found himself under attack by nationalistic successors who alleged that he had undermined French national security by making too many concessions at Versailles.  His wartime military colleague, Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, argued that a golden opportunity had been missed to annex the German Rhineland outright, instead of just securing its temporary occupation.  Meanwhile, critics in Great Britain and the United States alleged that Clemenceau had ruined the chances for a Wilsonian peace of reconciliation at Versailles through his narrow-minded pursuit of French national interests.  In the last year of his life Clemenceau finished memoirs designed to portray the Versailles Treaty as a sensible compromise between “idealistic” and “realistic” considerations.  The great problem of international relations, he insisted, was not the Versailles Treaty but the triumph of isolationism in the United States after 1919, which left a precarious balance of power in the world between those countries seeking to defend the peace and those which hoped to profit from a second world war. 

SOURCE: Georges Clemenceau, Grandeur and Misery of Victory (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1930), pp. 166-77, 185-87, 198-201, 205-07, 379, 386-88. 


          President Wilson, the inspired prophet of a noble ideological venture, to which he was unfortunately destined to become a slave, had insufficient knowledge of the Europe lying torn to pieces at his feet….  He acted to the very best of his abilities in circumstances the origins of which had escaped him and whose ulterior developments lay beyond his ken.

          The Treaty of Versailles will perhaps be able to make a fairly good defense for itself in history….  The chief merit of this attempt at making a lasting peace is the fact that, for the first time in history, a search was made for firm ground on which to build a system of justice between nations who up till this time had lived by violence alone….  Subjected as it was to every hasty and unconsidered criticism, the Treaty of Versailles certainly did not succeed in realizing the many different hopes that everybody had conceived from it, which is by no means surprising.  It did at least dare to put a hand to an attempt at general reconstruction in a Europe completely out of joint….

          [Clemenceau refers to the speech in which President Wilson first announced his Fourteen Points:]  Everyone knows this work of courageous uprightness, which does the greatest honor to the man who conceived and was not afraid to formulate it.  We were thus brought very far away from the days [from 1914 to 1916] when the same President Wilson proclaimed his unconcern with “the obscure causes of so many evils.”  The clouds were at last rent by the lightning of the German guns, and the President of the United States, suddenly enlightened, sought, before the assembled nations, lasting conditions for a European peace founded on justice; not in vain would the blood of Europe have been shed if from so many evils there might come a permanent, or even a relatively permanent, peace of good sense and equity.

          The greater the President’s original error had been, the nobler and richer in its teachings appeared this magnificent appeal to the ideology of outraged justice.  The great American Republic was at length once more playing its part in the world by opening the way to an international solidarity hitherto held of no account….  Perhaps the enterprise was too high to be pursued boldly to extremes.  We owed this effort of nobility in the direst distress to Mr. Wilson, speaking as he did with the decisive authority of the great democracy whose servant he was.  As far as I am concerned, I retain a feeling of most intense gratitude for this to him and to his people….

        However, the general ideal of President Wilson urged him on to seek for means of consolidating his work.  He knew only too well what difficulties were bound to arise at every turn.  To set his machine to work he needed a motor, and this motor he was fain to have found in a “League of Nations,” which was nothing more than an epitome of the Parliaments of all nations, to which all historic disagreements, all diplomatic intrigues, all coalitions of national, or even private, egoisms were to come and concentrate, multiply, intensify, and perhaps sometimes even find some momentary mitigation.

          Parliaments in the past few years have not risen in the estimation of the peoples.  Nevertheless, with all their faults, they are necessary.  This does not imply, perhaps, the need for a super-Parliament whose sole occupation when action was needed would be super-talking.  How could it be otherwise, since all executive power would be denied it?  It must be acknowledged that the reality has entirely fulfilled these expectations, and the members [of the League of Nations] can do nothing but discuss, when they ought to decide and impose their decision.  I am still far from believing that even this would be sufficient for settling questions at issue, for most losers curse their judges, and as long as a loser can argue his point with big guns it will be well to walk warily.

          Six months after the proclamation of the Fourteen Points Mr. Wilson, following up his idea without worrying about ways and means, submitted to American public opinion, in a speech at the Independence Day celebrations at Mount Vernon (July 1918), the notions for a general peace on which his mind was centred [i.e., the “Four Principles”].  …I will only refer to the first clause of it, which proposes to insure “the destruction of every arbitrary power that can separately, secretly, and of its single choice disturb the peace of the world; or if it cannot be presently destroyed, at the least its reduction to virtual impotence.”  And to realize this work of pure ideology, in which the orator imperturbably entrenches himself, he concludes confidently that a simple “organization of peace” will “make this result certain.”

          There are probably few examples of such a misreading and disregarding of political experience in the maelstrom of abstract thought.  Already we can judge it by its first results.  But it remains of secondary importance in comparison with the catastrophic rejection by the American Senate of the Treaty of Versailles by a majority of six votes, which inevitably entailed the disaster of a separate peace.[4]

          I am told that by using this expression on a former occasion I hurt the feelings of a number of Americans.  I regret it deeply; but the simple meanings of the words do not allow me to change it.  What are the facts?  The Wilsonian formulas in the League of Nations proposals were destined to arouse serious opposition in the American Congress, of which Mr. Wilson stubbornly refused to take notice.  There was an extraordinary passage of arms [in the U.S. Senate], and both parties were desperately set on not yielding one jot of a dangerous position, without troubling to consider the dangers incurred in causing a serious prolongation of the world crisis in which we are still struggling today….

          [Clemenceau addresses his American readers directly:]  Your intervention in the War, which you came out of lightly, since it cost you but 56,000 human lives instead of our 1,364,000 killed, had appeared to you, nevertheless, as an excessive display of solidarity.  And either by organizing a League of Nations, which was to furnish the solution to all the problems of international security by magic, or by simply withdrawing from the European schemes, you found yourselves freed from all difficulties by means of a “separate peace.”

          But all this is not so simple as it might appear.  The nations of the world, although separated by natural or artificial frontiers, have but one planet at their disposal, a planet all the elements of which are in a state of solidarity….  Behind your barriers of sea, of ice, and of sun you may be able perhaps for a time to isolate yourself from your planetary fellow-citizens, although I find you in the Philippines, where you do not belong geographically; but, whatever happens to you, there will be civilized people in all the continents, and even if you only consider them from the point of view of trade, is it certain that they will never consider you from any other point of view?

          China and Japan have a history to work out.  In what direction?  The same holds good for Europe and Asia….  Rivalries are not things outside your ken.  You know all that.  But the time it took you to discover that right had been outraged in the case of Belgium [when Germany invaded it in August 1914]…, and also to discover in France “the frontiers of freedom,” showed that you had put your trust in a policy of procrastination that cost us dear, and from which you do not seem inclined to depart.

          It was not enthusiasm that flung you into our firing-lines; it was the alarming persistence of German aggressions.  However, the winning of the victory very reasonably prompted your President to try to ensure a universal peace for ever, a thing with which he had at first most emphatically proclaimed himself supremely unconcerned.  All or nothing, he seemed to say.  Friends, that is no motto for human creatures.…

          Although so much decried by politicians [in France] who did not win the War, and by the war chief [Marshal Foch] who can see only one part of the military aspect of the peace, the Treaty of Versailles can make this boast over the famous Treaty of Westphalia [of 1648], that it did conceive, and even in part bring about, certain relations founded on equity between nations that had been ground against one another by successive outbreaks of historical violence….  What has escaped Foch… is the fact that after Germany’s act of brute force in 1914, accompanied as it was by every villainy at the command of barbarism, there were only two possible kinds of peace for us to contemplate: the maintaining of military domination, which our coalition would retain in its own hands after wresting it from the Germans, or else a grouping of States banded together to represent abstract justice in Europe, and capable of forming an impassable barrier to the unruly outbursts of the spirit of conquest.  In other words, to keep everything in statu quo ante, and to expose ourselves to a repetition of the same experience, or in some form or other to maintain the victorious alliance, one of the great advantages of which was that in no circumstances could it become a force for domination…. 

          Any one who retains as much education as the average boy can pick up in elementary school can understand that General Foch’s chief preoccupations were not concerned with the generalizations of universal justice embodied in war or peace….  The question before the Versailles Conference was whether the greatest outpouring of blood, together with the greatest outpouring of human emotions, was not a sufficient reason for searching for some way to a lasting peace among communities suffering agonies by fire and sword from the too protracted survival of the savage state: out of the convulsions of the War to find a stabilization of the conditions of peace….

          Were we to follow President Wilson, the upholder of an ideology that aimed at nothing less than the establishment of a system of international law that should be more efficient than common law?  Alas! could we be satisfied with vain discussions of this law [i.e., the Covenant of the League of Nations] when we were faced with the unsolvable problem of making it a living thing without investing it with any executive power?  Mr. Wilson did not understand Europe, and his obstinate resistance to the insignificant concessions that were asked from him in Washington [i.e., by the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate] show his knowledge even of America to be insufficient.  He was a doctrinarian in the finest sense of the word; a man with excellent intentions, but with rigidly fixed and crystallized emotions.”

          …I offer my apologies to the memory of Attila and his congeners, but the art of arranging how men are to live is even more complex than that of massacring them.  The real task---and an absolutely new one---was the attempt to make a Europe founded on right.  In spite of some people’s lack of understanding, to have attempted this will be the glory of the Treaty of Versailles….  The realization of a Europe founded on right was the greatest victory of all, the victory that neither Napoleon nor Foch wished to gain….

          Could we really have created an independent Rhineland?  The problem is worth considering….  Are the Rhinelanders Celts, like ourselves?  I am not very sure of it, but it is a thing always possible to say, for it is useless to ask me to describe the positive characteristics of a Celt.  We are especially told that Bavarians are Celts.  [But] they were among the most merciless plunderers of our territory in 1870 and in 1914 against their Celtic brethren of France….  Their ambition today is to become Prussianized….  The Rhinelanders, I grant you, put up a better resistance.  They are visibly chafing under the heavy hand of the Prussian.  Our childishness lies in the fact that we are too ready to believe that their incomplete Prussianization inclines them to become French.

         While the soldiers of the French Revolution were fighting the German invader and calling upon the peoples to a universal recognition of the rights of man, there were men on the Rhine, as in other countries, who were acclaiming France and were offering themselves as a moral conquest to the decrees of justice and liberty….  But since those days what sweeping changes have taken place in both countries!  Napoleon carried the banner of the French Revolution throughout Europe, but in the spirit of a conqueror imposing his will by force of arms.  Since those days Sadowa and Sedan have strongly welded the joints of Germany.  Between Mirabeau and Napoleon we ourselves changed.  Why should not the attraction felt by the Rhinelanders, as by other peoples, have become modified?

          [Clemenceau then argues that, while many Rhinelanders after 1918 agitated for statehood within the federal government of the Weimar Republic, Foch and others grossly misrepresented the facts by depicting this as a movement to secede from Germany.]

          [Near the end of his memoir, Clemenceau comments bitterly on the convening of a conference of financial experts in Paris in the spring of 1929 to discuss a new plan to lower the burden of reparations on Germany, the “Young Plan,” which was ratified in March 1930:] 

          …I call a retrograde peace a peace by which the victor, through whatever shortcomings, surrenders to the vanquished part of the advantages purchased with blood upon the battlefields.  Whether they be due to weakness of mind or faintness of heart, flaws of character are as much to be dreaded in peace as in war, since they lead a man just as inevitably to surrender his dignity, his will, his personality, everything that constitutes his worth in the widely differing circumstances of peace and of war.

          …Grown rich on the War, America is, if we can believe the experts, setting out to ruin us by intercepting, for the extravagances of her budding nouveaux riches, the sums that we are to receive as reparations for the damage caused by Germany.[5] …All the new Central Europe is in a state of turmoil as a result of the recrudescence of violent activity on the part of a Germany who, with the unwitting help of the English and the Americans, is preparing to start on another criminal venture before she has expiated the last….  France will be at her post, ready to fulfil all her duties, and, if she must perish for having done right, we should not be less proud than in the days when the capitulation of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown laid the foundations of the American Republic….

          It is too evident that the logic of the argument would lead us to the darkest prognostications.  I should like to avoid them.  But I scan the horizon in vain for any sign of a recovery.  Day by day the position grows more serious through our inertia, while the designs of German violence shrink from no ways or means or instrument.

Back to top


[1]           Bethmann Hollweg's telegram actually read: "Kindly call Mr Sazonov's serious attention to the fact that further continuation of Russian mobilisation measures would force us to mobilise, and in that case a European war could scarcely be prevented."  (Geiss, p. 285.)  The German government had long since declared publicly that it would regard mobilization by either the French or Russian army as equivalent to a declaration of war, since the superior manpower of the Franco-Russian alliance could only be balanced by Germany’s superior speed of mobilization.

[2]           In the final version of the treaty forming the Triple Alliance, signed in 1891, Austria and Italy promised in Article VII to consult each other if there were any major change in the status quo in the Balkans to assure that, if one party gained new territory, the other party would be “compensated”.

[3]           Tirpitz had demanded in 1911 the construction of another three capital ships beyond what had been planned.  Bethmann Hollweg opposed the demand because he was pursuing a naval arms limitation agreement with the British.  The Kaiser ruled in favor of Tirpitz in March 1912, and the Reichstag accepted this additional naval bill.  Bethmann then submitted his resignation but was persuaded to withdraw it. 

[4]           The Republican opposition won a majority in the U.S. Senate in the mid-term elections of November 1918, but Wilson refused to include any Republicans in the peace delegation to Versailles or to alter his proposed Covenant of the League of Nations to address their concerns.

[5]           Clemenceau comments on the fact that the new reparations plan proposed by the American banker Owen Young in 1929 lowered the annual payment of war reparations by Germany to France to a sum no greater than the payments owed by France to the USA for war loans.