World War I Home Front in Europe
European war preparations
author Paul Boșcu, August 2018
During the Great War the combatant countries had to mobilize for war in order to conduct it successfully. This meant that the industry had to accelerate the production of war matériel. The warring countries also had to galvanize their societies for war in order to maintain morale, and to mobilize their soldiers. The results varied from country to country, depending on the political and social situations of each. The war also brought important social changes, with the working class feeling the brunt of hardships on the home front. Demonstrations and strikes took place in almost every major combatant country, and, in some places, even revolutions during or after the war. The war also saw the advancement of women who took jobs in industry and agriculture that had been, thus far, traditionally associated with men. After the war, in many European countries, universal suffrage was introduced.
There is a tendency to think of wartime as a special time when domestic policy-making lies suspended and the focus shifts to battles and diplomacy. Yet it is important to consider the ways in which domestic social life and politics carry on and change in wartime. The First World War shaped, and was shaped by, the politics of the home front. As the war dragged on and it seemed that victory on the battlefield would be elusive, increasingly both sides hoped to damage each other heavily enough so that people on the home front would grow weary and demand surrender.

While soldiers were struggling and dying at the front, the conflict also profoundly affected those at home. It would not be too extreme to say that the war touched every country of the world, either directly or indirectly. It especially affected people living in the warring states and those on the war’s periphery, such as Scandinavia and Switzerland; but all were affected, even those geographically far removed from the fighting, such as Latin America. Many nations, cut off from their colonial masters or trading partners, out of necessity developed their own industries and forged new market relationships. Japan and the United States especially benefited.

Initially the First World War brought national solidarity for the states involved. Many national leaders had welcomed the war as a means to end social and economic conflict within their states. Even in multinational Austria-Hungary there was near-unanimous support for the government; vocal Czech and Croat dissidents agreed to cease political agitation for the duration of the war, and all but the Empire’s ethnic Serbs supported war against Serbia. Those who had challenged class and political differences vied with one another to demonstrate their patriotism. Such unity, however, did not last.

The effects of the struggle on the Western Front were felt far beyond the battlefields and had a huge impact on domestic life. Each of the belligerents faced their own special problems. For Britain - dependent upon imports - German submarine operations represented a growing menace; Germany was increasingly affected by the naval blockade; and France had to cope with the early loss of the iron and coal of her German-held northern regions.

Certain problems were common to all. Each had to make mammoth efforts to mobilize both human and industrial resources, and take unprecedented steps to control raw materials, food production and distribution, prices and wages, the press and transport. In many respects, the manner in which each country responded to these challenges reflected their different political, social and economic conditions.

The two most cohesive countries before the war, France and Germany, remained solidly supportive of the war effort, even when both countries were severely strained in 1917 and 1918. At the start of the war, people in both countries decided to put aside their political differences for the sake of unity. The war was supported by all political parties as well as by trade unions and religious leaders. If in France censorship was not a main factor in improving morale, the German government, an authoritarian regime, instituted heavy censorship in the hope of maintaining order and morale.

Even while the French army sustained high casualties, the French people remained largely supportive of the war. French territory had been invaded, including France’s most important industrial region, which gave many French people a burning sense of purpose. As a result the French government did not feel as strong a need to censor publications and correspondence, at least not as much as other countries.

The German government engaged in heavy censorship, never allowing defeats or the extent of casualties to be acknowledged. This was not so much a reflection of German regrets about the start of the war as it was of a political culture that was less representative and more authoritarian.

In August 1914 Premier René Viviani established a national government that included Jules Guesde, the first Socialist in a Third Republic cabinet. The government also shelved its plan to arrest dissidents, and suspended laws banning religious orders. But the union sacrée, the ideological union of all French people on the basis of patriotism, was more apparent than real; it foundered in the bloodletting of the war. By 1917 the French government had to contend with army mutinies, anti-war agitation, work stoppages, even domestic sabotage in munitions factories and power plants. Georges Clemenceau became prime minister.

Swelling criticism of the conduct of the war saw René Viviani's government replaced in October 1915 by a broad-based coalition under the Socialist Aristide Briand. In 1916, the year of Verdun, the conflict bit really hard and deep in France, increasing the incipient war-weariness of the civilian population.

France survived because most Frenchmen accepted the direction of their intellectual, spiritual and political leaders, because national living standards were not seriously diminished by the war, and because they had an energetic and capable leader. In November 1917, following the disastrous spring Nivelle Offensive, Georges Clemenceau, a veritable one-man committee of public safety, became premier. ‘War is too important a business to be left to generals’, he said. Determined to have the last word, even in military policy, Clemenceau was also bent on fighting on until final victory. When deputies in the Chamber of Deputies asked what his government’s policy would be, he replied ‘Je fais la guerre!’ (I make war!)

To increase industrial production in France, the government had to demobilize from the army half a million skilled workers; it also temporarily assigned other soldiers to war work. Loss of industrial capacity in territory captured by the German Army in 1914 forced the French into growing economic dependence on Britain. These lands had produced three-quarters of the nation’s coal and four-fifths of her iron and steel. Despite the crippling presence of German soldiers occupying productive areas of the nation, French industry achieved a great deal.

As late as 1916 the French and British were competing in shipping and commodities, and in the process driving up prices, a fact that appalled Jean Monnet, a member of the French purchasing commission in London. His ideas led to the creation of the powerful Allied Maritime Transport Committee, the first institutionalized example of a supranational pooling of resources.

Ultimately French reliance on Britain for essential imports gave Britain control over much of the French economy. Within France itself Minister of Commerce Etienne Clémentel used this to justify his own control over supplies to individual firms. His consortium system helped hold down prices, thereby putting less pressure on wages and living standards.

The French National Assembly introduced an income tax in 1916 but the rates were so low that they generated little revenue. Only about one-fifth of the French war costs were paid by taxation. To raise the money required to fight the war, the French resorted to borrowing and printing paper money. The result was a dramatic rise in inflation and a large post-war debt.

By 1916 the cost of living had risen by 40 percent over its pre-war level and by August 1917 by 80 percent. There were also price controls, at first only on bread. The government introduced piecemeal rationing in 1917, and in 1918 maximum prices were established. During the war there were no serious supply shortages in France, and peasants, farmers and workers all did reasonably well financially. In a material sense the lower middle class was perhaps the hardest hit.

Lack of price controls meant food costs had soared, and higher wages and the booming profits of war contractors had generated a 40 percent rise in the cost of living, but despite the destruction of sugar beet factories in northern France, no critical food shortages had so far been suffered. To reduce the costs of importing wheat, a coarser 'national bread' was introduced in May 1916; the wheat, rye and potato harvests that year were well below normal; and in November a number of restrictions - including meatless days - were agreed in principle, though not all immediately implemented.

French industry, still over-reliant on small workshops, lagged behind that of Britain and Germany (her steel production in 1914 being less than one-third of German output) but as a predominantly agricultural nation she was largely self-sufficient in food.

1917 was the year of maximum strain for France. With the Germans still on her soil, France continued to fight for her very existence although the fierce patriotism of 1914 had largely given way to weary resignation. The malaise and restlessness which followed Verdun was heightened by the Russian Revolution and the failure of the Nivelle offensive, becoming manifest in increased anti-war activities and propaganda from pacifist and defeatist elements in French society. Food shortages worsened in 1917. However, France's food supplies were never so precarious as those of Britain and Germany.

While most French citizens were undoubtedly willing to carry on the struggle, they were, in some respects, less regimented or amenable to discipline than their British and German counterparts, and the national mood was consequently more volatile.

As less than one-third of French sugar factories remained operational, supplies of this commodity were especially meager. Bread was coarser, regulated by size and weight and barely recognisable from the pre-war product. Milk, butter and eggs too were scarce and expensive and, as the nation was forced to tighten its belt yet again in 1918, cafes and restaurants closed earlier than ever while butchers shut their shops up to three days a week.

German unity began to break down with the poor harvests of late 1916 and the harsh winter of 1916-1917. Food prices rose faster than wages, which provoked disgruntlement. In 1916 and 1917, complaints were made more vociferously by socialists and trade-unionists. The government responded to their appeals for more democracy by leaning more to the right. Increasingly, Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff had more of a say in the day-to-day operations of the government at home.

In Germany the old power structure consisting of the army and Prussian aristocracy continued little changed throughout the conflict, except that autocracy by the Kaiser gave way to autocracy by the High Command. Army authority was confirmed on 31 July 1914, in the declaration of a state of siege for all Germany except Bavaria. It gave local army commanders precedence over civilian authorities and provided for the suspension of civil liberties.

Imperial Germany’s constitutional framework denied political parties meaningful control over policy; the Reichstag remained, as Otto von Bismarck intended, largely a debating club. Its positions were often ignored, as the July 1917 Peace Resolution demonstrated.

Germany's autocratic regime could make more rapid decisions than the slower-moving democratic institutions of the Entente and so could marshal the civilian population more rigorously at an early stage than could Britain and France.

Germany was hard hit by the British blockade, certainly one of the most important factors in her defeat. The naval blockades of Germany and Austria-Hungary probably resulted in the death of more than a million people. Even in peacetime Germany imported 20 percent of her food and much of her raw materials. Her military planners knew that after 18 months of a blockade the food situation would become critical, but they expected to win the war before that happened. Under Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff the High Command took full control of the economy, demanding greater production of war goods.

In 1916 General Wilhelm Groener, a highly capable administrator, became head of a new war office to supervise the economy. War socialism (Kriegssozialismus) was already well underway in Germany. Groener worked out what became known as the Hindenburg Program. It called for a reorganization of German industry so that every individual who did not possess essential skills could be released for service at the front. Industries not deemed essential to the war effort would take second place and might be shut down. The plan also provided for substantial increases in the output of weapons.

German industrialists assumed command of what came to be known as the ‘corporatist’ solution to Germany’s wartime production problems. The Auxiliary Labor Bill of December 1916 subjected all German males between the ages of 17 and 60 to war service and to military discipline. The bill was worded so that it applied exclusively to the working class; for all practical purposes, workers could not leave their jobs without the permission of their employers. All this was to give High Command full control over the war economy.

The blockade denied Germany strategic raw materials from overseas, especially nitrates for explosives and fertilizer, foodstuffs, cotton and copper. It was raw materials rather than factories that Germany lacked to sustain her war production. Stripping the occupied Belgian, French, Romanian and Russian lands brought only temporary relief.

The work of Walther Rathenau in securing raw materials to boost Germany’s production was important. On his initiative a Raw Materials Board (Kriegsrohstoffabteilung) was established in Berlin. Rathenau also organized a crash program to develop ersatz, or substitute, materials. The firms of Haber-Bosch and Franck-Caro developed a process that helped provide nitrogen for the explosives industry, and rayon became a substitute for cotton. The Germans had less success in developing substitutes for oil and rubber.

German war matériel production soared. By 1918 she was producing more ammunition than at any time in the Second World War. But the corporate managers took what they could with little regard for the interests of the nation as a whole. Profits soared as business merely passed on the costs to the army and to the German people. This fuelled inflation, which in the last year of the war was running four times that of 1914.

A combination of manpower shortages, lack of fertilizers, and poor weather led to a sharp decline in German agricultural output. When the potato crop failed in 1916 many Germans were hard hit. The winter of 1916-1917 was known appropriately as the ‘Turnip Winter’ (Rübenwinter).

The war deprived the German people of basic necessities. The food problem had arisen early. In the winter of 1916-1917 it was coal. Then came serious shortages of such essentials as clothing (especially shoes) and housing. Even soap was in short supply. Civil unrest began to rise, with strikes and demonstrations on the rise throughout 1917-18.

Food prices in Germany increased 65 percent in the first year of the war alone. A government cut in the bread ration in April 1917 sparked massive workers’ strikes in Berlin and Leipzig, followed by other demonstrations that summer and a January 1918 strike by munitions workers. Such unrest helped prompt the Reichstag’s July 1917 Peace Resolution, which called for peace on the basis of no annexations. But after the defeat of Russia and the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk it was ignored.

For many Germans in the final 18 months of the war, the main diet consisted of adulterated bread, swedes or turnips and - when available - potatoes. Meat supplies were minimal and fats and eggs were hardly ever seen. In June 1918 citizens of Berlin were restricted to one pound (half a kilogram) of potatoes each per week.

Gnawing hunger was certainly the worst aspect of the daily ordeal on the German home front but it was not the only privation to be faced. There was little coal or other fuel for heating, lighting and transport. Closely linked to the shortages of coal and oil was the alarming deterioration of Germany's once-envied railway system. Clothing too was scarce and, with shoe-leather almost unobtainable, many people now wore wooden-soled clogs.

In Italy the government of Antonio Salandra leaned to the right. Factories were put under military control and the press and politics were censored. Socialists gave their implied support by not speaking out against the war, but they tended not to speak out in favor of the war either. By 1916, Italian casualties against Austria and Germany, combined with falling living standards and shortages of food, provided the pretext for demonstrations in a number of Italian cities.

The government’s measures were a response of the state to a certain lack of consensus about the war. Italy had entered the war as part of a bargain struck between the Italian government and the Entente as a way of gaining more territory. Italy had not been invaded or threatened in any way. The opportunism of the Italian government did not translate into long-lasting popular support.

Italy’s situation was different from that of her allies. She entered the war not by popular demand but in a cynical maneuver by her leaders to secure territory. The two largest mass organizations in Italy, the Socialist Party and the Catholic Church, opposed the war, as did some prominent political leaders. In Italy there was no union sacrée.

Italy was hard hit by the war. Less well off economically than her Western allies, she was not well suited to the demands of industrial war. During the conflict about half the males in rural areas were taken into the military. This depleted the countryside of laborers, especially in the rural south where 75 percent of the rural workforce was male.

Women and children did some of the work, but the rural standard of living declined because the government took not only men, but livestock and goods, paying less than fair value for them. The number of Italians in unions increased five-fold between 1914 and 1919. Laborers were radicalized by the war, which seemed to chiefly benefit industrialists and some factory workers.

Britain began the war with unprecedented unity across the lines of class, politics, and religion. In Britain there was unity but there was also robust debate about certain aspects of the war. The British government walked the fine line between repression and democracy. Critics forced the Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith to form a coalition government with conservatives. Continued failure to make progress on the Western Front made it possible for a more right-leaning Liberal, David Lloyd George, to replace Asquith as Prime Minister in December 1916. In Britain, censorship and repression increased, most famously in Ireland.

For the British - beset before the war by industrial unrest, the militant campaign for women's suffrage and the threat of civil strife over Irish Home Rule - the outbreak of the European conflict also brought a temporary suspension of political discord, although the attempts of Herbert Asquith's Liberal government to carry on along 'business as usual' lines soon foundered.

Democratic tendencies were noteworthy in May 1915, when the British public was scandalized by newspaper accusations that British troops in France were not supplied with sufficient quantities of shells. At the same time, the failure of the Gallipoli campaign was becoming evident.

Before the war, Ireland was close to a civil war between nationalists, who wanted varying degrees of Irish independence, and unionists, who wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom. In 1914 the British parliament granted the Irish the right to elect their own parliament, promising that implementation would happen as soon as the war ended. Most Irish remained loyal to the United Kingdom during the war. British expectations were low: when Britain began to draft its citizens into the army in January 1916, the Irish were exempted, although some suspected this would change.

The war had a profound political impact. It led to the demise of the Liberal Party, the rehabilitation of the Conservatives, and the rise of Labour. The politicians in Britain at first yielded to the generals, and Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener was soon running things. Even politicians deferred to him. In the course of the war, civilian leadership reasserted itself.

Prime Minister Asquith, under severe criticism for increased shipping losses from U-boats and heavy casualties in the Battle of the Somme, resigned in December 1916. His successor, Lloyd George, constantly sparred with BEF commander Field Marshal Haig over military matters. Although he shrank from challenging Haig directly, Lloyd George was appalled by the bloodletting on the Western Front and did all he could to sabotage Haig’s strategy in favor of peripheral operations.

The Irish Volunteers, with more than ten thousand members, smuggled weapons from Germany and drilled surreptitiously. At Easter in 1916, a group of more than a thousand armed Irish nationalists seized the main post office in Dublin along with several other buildings, hoping to spark a wider insurrection. The insurrection did not occur, as most Irish remained loyal. In a matter of days the nationalists found themselves surrounded by twenty thousand British troops who pummeled them with artillery. With much of central Dublin ruined, the rebels surrendered. The British court-martialed and shot the leaders.

The Easter Rising was suppressed within five days but 64 of the insurgents, around 130 members of the Crown forces and well over 200 civilians were killed. The Rising was, in fact, initially unpopular in Ireland, but the execution in May of fourteen of its leaders aroused widespread and lasting public sympathy where little previously existed.

In August 1914 Parliament’s Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) gave the government extraordinary power in a number of areas including the economy. DORA’s provisions were periodically amended and expanded as the need to manage the economy grew. With time came price controls, import/export regulation, subsidies for agriculture, manipulation of labor to specific wartime industries, and in 1918 food rationing.

Liberal leader Lloyd George loudly criticized Lord Kitchener and the War Office over the early British shortage of shells. In May 1915 Prime Minister Asquith appointed him to the new cabinet post of minister of munitions; the position itself symbolized the new age of machines in war. Lloyd George’s energy and determination to eliminate red tape and increase shell production became legendary. Lloyd George was instrumental in putting Britain on a war footing and greatly increasing shell production.

For the most part a cooperative spirit prevailed in Britain, as Unions voluntarily collaborated with the government. Britain never resorted to wholesale drafts of civilian laborers or to the construction of government-owned plants for munitions production. Wartime production was achieved with existing privately held facilities.

Once the decision to create a mass army had been made, increased state control of industry and manpower was sure to follow. Paradoxically, an otherwise instinctively anti-interventionist government quickly armed itself with considerable powers with the passage of DORA. As the war went on, DORA encroached into almost every aspect of daily life and led to the abrogation of personal liberties on a scale inconceivable before August 1914.

The principal need was for more efficient mobilization and direction of military and industrial manpower. Unrestricted recruiting in the early months and the absence of a rational overall plan meant that problems were tackled in an ad hoc fashion until May 1915, when Britain faced simultaneous crises in enlistment and munitions production. The formation of a coalition Cabinet and the creation of a Ministry of Munitions later that month, however, heralded the end of the government's haphazard approach to these issues, although it was not until 1916 that a more streamlined War Cabinet was created.

The Munitions of War Act of July 1915 enabled the government to adopt any measures deemed necessary to expand production and helped pave the way for Britain to become a nation in arms. Many inefficient and wasteful methods were cast aside and, with trade unions generally ready, for the time being, to forego some accepted practices and privileges, the number of strikes and disputes decreased. Women would play a key part in the process of industrial mobilization, performing scores of tasks hitherto the province of men.

The fall in unemployment and rise in wages which accompanied government contracts were, as elsewhere, counterbalanced by higher prices - averaging 75 percent in essential commodities by November 1916. Britain had not yet suffered real shortages, though during 1916 the activities of German submarines caused mounting anxiety in a nation that imported most of its food supplies from overseas. In November 1916 shrinking wheat stocks led to the appearance of 'war bread'. The potential seriousness of the situation was signalled with the establishment of a Ministry of Food and the appointment of a Food Controller.

Questions of national identity played a more prominent role in the war effort of Austria-Hungary. In fact, competing national identities played a large role in the disintegration of the empire. Subjects of the Austro-Hungarian emperor, Franz-Joseph, experienced authoritarian rule and censorship that was similar to Germany’s, although the Austrian half of the empire was more repressive than the Hungarian half. Members of the core German-speaking and Hungarian-speaking nationalities remained loyal, as did other groups that stood to benefit from clear association with the Central Powers, while others such as the Slavs preferred autonomy, and even independence from the empire.

Austria’s Poles preferred Franz-Joseph to Tsar Nicholas, while the Croatians stood to lose much of their territory to the Italians. As the war continued, though, the support of these groups dwindled, especially as it seemed that they were fighting only for an emperor and not for some larger principle. Among other groups, especially the Czech-speakers and the Italian-speakers, there was never much loyalty to begin with.

Part of the reason that the empire held together during the war was that the Austrian government simply suspended the Reichstag. When it was reconvened in May 1917, however, separatism had grown past the point at which the empire might be held together. A factor in this was the death of Franz Josef at the end of 1916. Emperor since 1848, he had provided a symbolic continuity and legitimacy to the empire. His great nephew and successor Karl immediately tried to negotiate a way out of the war.

One of the great surprises of the war was how well the Dual Monarchy held together until near the end. There were problems with desertion in the army, led by Czechs who no doubt resented the fact that two-thirds of the officers were Germans and most of the rest were Hungarians. In this the Dual Monarchy’s military merely reflected its political problems. Most soldiers did their duty regardless of their nationality, however.

The Dual Monarchy was hard hit economically. As with Germany, the British naval blockade exacted a toll. Austria-Hungary also suffered from low industrial productivity and corruption in war supply. As historian Robert Paxton summed up, ‘The Habsburg case shows how ineffective political autocracy was in waging total war.’

The war hit hard economically. No provisions were made for a war lasting more than a few weeks and Vienna merely relied on Berlin supplying what it needed. Austrian shell output never reached more than a million rounds per month, even in 1916 when the Germans produced seven million and the Russians more than four million. One of the chief problems was the lack of centralization, with both Vienna and Budapest going their separate ways, and as the war wore on the ties binding Hungary to Austria grew more tenuous.

Shortages and rationing were soon a way of life. Fuel was short and in Hungary even baths became a major event. On one occasion Budapest had no fuel for an entire week. Count László Széchenyi lamented: ‘All my male servants are mobilized; all my female servants are in munitions factories. There is not a scrap of coal in my house. I have no gas, electric lights or lamps, and very little food; the condition of things compels me to spend all my time in bed.’

Vienna’s mid-January 1918 announcement of a reduction in the daily flour ration brought demonstrations and strikes. A greater threat was the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and propaganda calling for peace without victory, which had a considerable impact throughout Central Europe. Efforts to ‘re-educate’ returning prisoners of the Russians after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk were only partially successful.

In January 1918 Czech, Pole, and Yugoslav representatives to the Austria Reichsrat called for sovereign constituent assemblies in the empire’s different linguistic divisions. Three months later, Czechs and Yugoslavs demonstrated in Prague and took an oath to continue the struggle for independence. In June the French government recognized the Czechoslovaks’ ‘right to independence’. At the end of the war the various minorities that were part of the empire seceded from it forming their own national states, or joining the already existing ones, like Romania.

Too late, on 16 October 1918, Emperor Karl issued a manifesto proclaiming federalization. In Budapest this was taken as repudiation of the Ausgleich, the dual monarchy system, and the Hungarian government immediately proclaimed an end to the Dual Monarchy. Romanians and Slovaks then announced their intention to secede from Hungary. Within the next two weeks the old empire completely collapsed as the subject peoples set up their own national congresses.

In the Ottoman Empire, the core Turkish people remained strongly nationalist and supportive of the war effort, while the rest of the empire began to fragment. With the exception of the Armenians, it cannot be said that the many component groups of the Ottoman Empire were nationalist. The Arabs and Kurds who lived under the Ottoman Empire were semi autonomous and did not think of themselves as Arabs and Kurds so much as they thought of themselves as devoted Muslims who spoke different languages and resisted central authority. The war presented them with opportunities to make inroads against central authority.

During 1917 and 1918, problems of identity, combined with military failures, pressed the Ottoman Empire to the breaking point. Military defeats against the Entente, combined with an Arab rebellion led by T.E. Lawrence, led in the end to the collapse of the empire.

The war had profound effects on Russia. While modern in many ways, in others Russia remained virtually medieval. In August 1914 the monarchy benefited from a wave of patriotic support. This soon ended. As the war continued and defeats and economic dislocation multiplied, discontent increased. Tsar Nicholas called the parliament to session only once, in the summer of 1915. When it met, liberals demanded more say in the government but Nicholas refused the request. He and his officials ran the country’s war effort directly and the Tsar even took personal command of the army in September 1915.

Nicholas was not competent to command an army. He tended to be blamed for the Russian army’s defeats, while its victories were attributed to successful generals like Alexei Brusilov.

In Russia, war profiteering and corruption were widespread. Political ineptitude, economic dysfunction and war-weariness toppled the Tsarist regime. But what happened in Russia probably sprang, more than anything else, from a failure of leadership. The monarchy had steadfastly resisted all attempts to modernize the government, regarding these as threats to its authority. The Tsar’s wife, the inflexible, conservative, German-born Empress Alexandra, was ill at ease in court society and withdrew into her family. Increasingly the royal family was isolated from the people over whom they ruled.

Russia’s fate rested with the central government. Throughout the war Russian politics were a contest between the Tsar and his entourage who wanted to maintain the medieval prerogatives of the monarchy, and leaders in the State Duma who wanted to introduce genuine reform. By mid-1915 the crown and the Duma were on a collision course.

Rasputin’s assassination exposed only the tip of the iceberg. In the decade before the war, Russian industrial production had boomed, with many people migrating to the cities in search of work. The war years only accelerated these changes. Working conditions were often terrible. On top of that, working men resented being drafted for the Tsar’s army, while city dwellers resented shortages of food and supplies.

Even as overall productivity rose, individual productivity began to fall as more men left for the front and as the remaining workers suffered from cold and hunger. The Tsar’s government repressed strikes and dissent, but this did not stop the spread of industrial unrest in 1916. Socialists began to organize factory workers, townspeople, soldiers, and sailors with increasing success.

By 1917, largely cut off from the outside world and forced to make do on its own, Russia had made great economic strides, especially in production of war matériel. The problem was that uneven growth and bottlenecks, especially in transportation, brought severe economic dislocation. At the heart of industrial snarls and shortages of food and other goods was the collapse of the railway system. Barely adequate in peacetime, rail transportation could not supply the demands both of the cities and the army.

While the Tsar was away at headquarters in Mogilev, domestic matters worsened. The Tsar’s wife, Alexandra, was deeply unpopular, partly due to her German ancestry, partly on account of the way in which she allowed herself to be influenced by Grigorii Rasputin, a mystic and healer who apparently had the ability to alleviate the hemophilia of Nicholas and Alexandra’s only son, Alexei. Rasputin was assassinated.

In September 1915 with the military situation desperate, the Tsar left for the front, believing that his presence at military headquarters would inspire the army. His departure worsened an already bad situation. He was merely in the way at military headquarters, but his presence there led to his being held responsible for Russian military reversals. This also left the Tsarina in charge of the government. She was far more reactionary than he, and the result was confusion and rampant disaffection.

Increasingly the peasant Grigorii Rasputin, who claimed to be a holy man, influenced government policy and the selection of officials at the highest levels of government. His strong sway over the royal family stemmed from his perceived ability to preserve the life of the young Tsarevich Alexei, who suffered from hemophilia.

That a faith-healer could take part in the highest level of government incensed progressives, liberals, and even aristocrats, who invited Rasputin to a party in December 1916. The aristocrats poisoned him, shot him, and threw him into a freezing river, just to make sure of his death.

On 25 February 1917, female factory workers in Petrograd went on strike, demonstrating for more bread and better working conditions while also demanding an end to Tsarism. Within a few days, several hundred thousand workers joined them. When Tsar Nicholas ordered Petrograd’s troops to disperse the crowds, some units instead killed their officers and defended the protesters. Members of parliament gathered and called on Nicholas to step down from the throne. Members of parliament quickly formed what was called the Provisional Government, intending to rule until a new constitution was put in place.

The government was headed by a prime minister, Prince Georgy Yevgenyevich Lvov, whose moderate socialism and easy manner appealed to many sides but whose leadership was ineffective.

The Provisional Government’s authority was contested by a new type of authority, the soviet, which means ‘council’ in Russian. Throughout Russia, local soviets of workers and educated people, including soldiers and sailors, met together and began to pass and enforce laws, superseding the authority of local governments as well as the central government. These laws extended from mundane matters to matters of national importance. The Petrograd Soviet had enough military and naval force under its control to intimidate the Provisional Government and to force the Tsar to abdicate.

The only reason that the Petrograd soviet did not exercise total control was because it remained divided over its long-term political objectives. The body was dominated by socialists, who were divided into several camps. The dominant Mensheviks were urban revolutionaries who supported gradual change—and the war effort—and preferred to work with the Provisional Government. The minority Bolsheviks were urban revolutionaries who supported rapid change, including the overthrow of the Provisional Government and the ending of the war. The Socialist Revolutionaries, or SRs, were rural revolutionaries who mainly sought land redistribution.

While these divisions were the subject of debate, the members of the Petrograd Soviet did agree on several short-term goals, one of which was to take control of the army and navy before the Provisional Government could. The Petrograd Soviet issued ‘Army Order Number One’, which stated that the soviet could contradict orders given to the army by the Provisional Government. The order also encouraged soldiers to form committees that would control equipment, including weapons, and that would advise senior officers.

By this point, Tsar Nicholas and the idea of Tsarism itself had become irrelevant. Nicholas accepted the advice of his generals and abdicated on 2 March 1917. He asked his brother, the Grand Duke Michael, to take his place, but Michael refused. He understood that the Russian monarchy was finished.

During this time, one leader, Alexander Kerensky, was able to unify the country behind the war effort. Kerensky was a young lawyer and moderate socialist who served as a member of parliament and also served as a member of the Petrograd Soviet. Deriving authority from both bodies, he served first as the Provisional Government’s Minister of Justice and eventually the Prime Minister. He promoted Brusilov to the position of Chief of Staff, and together they began to plan a new offensive against the Austrians. In July the Bolsheviks decided that the time was ripe to seize power in Petrograd, but Kerensky was able to find enough loyal troops to stop them.

Kerensky became Prime Minister but his good relations with his troops were not enough to defeat the Austrians and Germans. Kerensky and Brusilov launched their offensive in July and found that troops who declared their loyalty to Russia were not necessarily interested in taking the offensive against the Central Powers. Some Russian units remained intact and pushed successfully along a three hundred-kilometer front in Galicia. Even so, Russian officers were so undermined by soldiers’ soviets that many of them struggled to keep their units together.

Germany launched an offensive against what had been Russia’s strongest defenses, in the Baltic region just to the west of Petrograd. In October, the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Leon Trotsky, staged a successful coup in Petrograd. Lenin announced that a new government was forming that would redistribute land and make peace. The Bolsheviks declared a truce that the Germans accepted. During that time, the two sides negotiated the terms of surrender at Brest-Litovsk. The Bolsheviks turned their attention to internal problems and began to form a Red Army to defend their territory against their opponents in a looming civil war.

Lenin and Trotsky did not have many followers, but the low morale of their opponents and the atmosphere of defeatism in the army and navy made it possible for their Red Guards to seize control of key centers of communication and transportation.

Trotsky and his fellow Bolsheviks stalled the negotiations, hoping that revolution would break out in Germany. German negotiators lost patience and in February 1918 their government accepted their recommendation to renew the attack on Russia. In a matter of weeks, the German army advanced several hundred more kilometers along the front. Under severe pressure, on 3 March 1918, the Bolsheviks signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, ending the war between Russia and the Central Powers.

The First World War, unlike Europe’s last major conflict (the Franco-German War of 1870-71), involved entire societies. All warring governments greatly increased control over their citizens during the war. Each imposed some degree of censorship, attempting to control the flow of news to their citizens both for reasons of morale and for military security. Governments extended power over their national economies. In this the Entente benefited from its substantially greater economic base, probably the key factor in its victory.

Correspondents were kept from the front, and the candour with which events were reported varied from country to country. Censorship proved most severe in Russia, which had no tradition of a free press. In Germany the military controlled newspapers, which could print only those stories cleared by a central press office. This led to little real war news. In Britain editors were liable to prosecution for publishing anything that might be deemed a military or naval secret. ‘It is not always easy to decide what information may or may not be dangerous’, said Lord Kitchener, ‘and whenever there is any doubt, we do not hesitate to prevent publication.’ The government also authorized the reading of private mail.

The British and French were able to utilize their merchant fleets to tap the resources of their far-flung empires as well as those of the world’s neutral states. In August 1914 no country was prepared for a long war, and few in Europe envisioned its vast wastages and costs. This lack of foresight created serious difficulties for all the powers early on, but it is clear that the Entente were much more successful than the Central Powers in mobilizing their societies for war and coordinating their economic policies; they consequently suffered less.

Because their collective resources were much greater and they had access to the world’s trade, the Western democracies were able to feed their populations. The Central Powers and Russia were unable to do this adequately.

The economic burdens fell unevenly within the warring states. Generally speaking, most people were worse off financially, although some, such as war contractors and munitions workers, did well. Economic disparity heightened the sense of class conflict, which in the case of Russia manifested itself sooner and in the case of Italy later.

Inflation, driven by military expenditure, gripped all the warring states. In order to pay the great costs of the war all governments resorted to borrowing and printing money, which produced inflation. Prices rose less in France and Britain, and Britain paid for more of her war effort by taxation (income taxes went up to 30 percent of income) than any other belligerent. In Italy the cost of living doubled from 1914 to 1916 and then doubled again by 1919. Inflation was highest among the Central Powers, largely because they were less able to wage a protracted war.

Securing workers was a major problem for all the warring powers. Britain utilized her vast empire and France brought many workers from North Africa and Asia to repair roads, unload ships, and till fields. What these non-Europeans saw and learned in Europe had an impact on their own societies later. Vietnamese nationalist Ho Chi Minh spoke for thousands of his countrymen in France when, after the war, he pressed Entente leaders to grant Vietnam autonomy.

Not only did the war affect national economies, it profoundly altered social structures as well. In 1914 political power in European states was still exercised by small groups of men drawn from the upper classes. Seemingly secure, by 1918 these elites had either disappeared or were badly weakened. The war also exacerbated the desire for national homelands.

Although on a positive note the war appeared to have strengthened republicanism, including giving the beleaguered Third French Republic a new lease of life, a profound distrust of governing classes everywhere accompanied a more general disillusionment with government itself. Alienation fostered the rise of communism and fascism after the war.

Many in Europe felt that their only security lay in a state that was inclusive of their nationality. In 1914 all European powers had restive minorities within their borders; even Britain had the Irish and a rebellion in Dublin in 1916. The war, in large part caused by nationalism, only partially resolved this problem; but in 1919 Europe was more aligned along lines of nationality than ever before.

Pre-war socialists generally followed the thinking of Eduard Bernstein, considering themselves ‘evolutionary’ rather than ‘revolutionary’. When war broke out, a rush to the colors in all countries obscured this class conflict but war-weariness brought it to the fore again and made socialism more radical. The most obvious example of this was Russia, but there was serious unrest in other countries, particularly Germany and Italy.

After the war, heightened by cruel economic times, class conflict intensified and became a serious problem in most European states. Even in the Western democracies the working classes became more radical and unionized. The war brought French trade unions a million new members. In 1920 the Socialist Party split, most of its members joining the new, more radical French Communist Party.

The war also brought profound political changes, although some of what seemed significant at the time was actually slight. Europe’s middle classes were hard hit by the war, for inflation robbed them of their savings. Their economic losses, coupled with social changes, produced disillusionment. This in turn led to instability, an instability exploited by radical political groups.

In Germany the revolution of November 1918 consisted mainly of a change at the top: the replacement of the Kaiser with a republic; the actual social and political framework was little changed. Real economic and social change in Germany came later, the result of chronic inflation that was fuelled by the war but was in fact more the product of deliberate government policy to break the shackles of the peace treaty.

Since the middle classes were the backbone of Europe’s democracies, their disenchantment gave a tremendous boost to fascism, especially in Italy and Germany.

The war dramatically affected the status of women, many of whom served the war effort directly. Although some progress was temporary in that it was for the war only, the First World War accelerated trends which were already underway in the professions and politics. Women’s rights achieved greater gains in the four years of the war than during the preceding generation of female activism. In at least one area most European women gained lasting progress: governments granted them the right to vote after the war. In 1919 Lady Nancy Astor was elected to the House of Commons, the first woman to serve in a European parliament.

In Britain, as manpower needs grew, women donned uniforms to fulfill roles that were left empty by the men who were on the front lines. They also worked in industry. In contrast to France, however, few women in Britain moved into jobs that could have translated into post-war industries. In Germany only a relatively small number of women entered the labor force for the first time during the war. But many women worked at home producing goods for the German military. In Italy during the war there was a dramatic shift in the employment of women.

In 1917 the British government created the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) to perform such jobs as cooks, drivers and typists; and the WRNS (Women’s Royal Naval Service) to serve as signallers, make mine nets, and work on torpedoes. In 1918 came the WRAFs (Women’s Royal Air Force), with women as drivers and fitters.

English women joined a number of organizations to support the war effort. The Women’s Emergency League trained army cadets in signalling; the Women’s Auxiliary Force, formed in 1915, trained part-time workers in first-aid, cooking and sewing and provided canteens and entertainment, air-raid shelter stewards, and hospital visitations. English women also joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY), which trained nurses to render battlefield aid.

The war presented new opportunities in high-paying, skilled manufacturing jobs, government service and education, especially after the introduction of compulsory military service for British men beginning in January 1916. Increases were greatest in transport. Between 1914 and 1918 the number of women in public transport rose fourteen-fold; it doubled in commerce and increased by a third in industry. Women came to hold many positions in the munitions industries.

In France the largest increase in female employment occurred in chemical, wood, and transport manufacturing industries. In 1914 women made up only one twentieth of this workforce; by 1918 they were one-quarter. French women were soon bearing a bigger share of agricultural work than ever before, yet many were attracted by the higher wages on offer in the burgeoning munitions factories. Besides those replacing men in public service and commercial jobs, around 75,000 women were working in French munitions plants by October 1915, gaining a previously unknown degree of personal and financial independence.

The situation in Germany was in part because of the increasing difficulty that the war imposed on families in Germany and the traditional custom of doing piecework at home. Other women did move into war-related industries. Germany's quicker transition into top gear was also characterized by her more adroit mobilization of women. Dr Gertrud Baumer, a leading campaigner for women's rights, was instantly recruited to organize German female labor for war work.

For women workers the war was a mixed experience. Laboring conditions were hard and many women lived in barracks and worked 12-hour shifts for wages far lower than those paid to men. Women were also the first to be laid off at the end of the war.