War and Social Revolution: World War i and the ‘Great Transformation’

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


On the eve of World War I, the dominant social, economic, and political system of Europe paralleled those which existed at the time in other regions and which exist still in many areas in the contemporary third world. Its most effective elites were traditional and aristocratic, landowning and rent receiving, religious and oligarchic. Industry was penetrated by feudal forms of organization, and characterized by monopolism, protectionism, cartellization and corporatism; forming small islands within impoverished, backward agrarian economies. Political institutions had not significantly affected the character of popular representation; the great majority of adults were excluded from political participation. Economic expansion was external, rather than internal, and based on the enlargement of foreign markets rather than of domestic ones.
On the eve of World War I, Europe was still ‘pre-eminently pre-industrial’, as Arno Mayer has argued. Except in England, agriculture was still the single largest and weightiest economic sector. Central Europe had not yet begun its industrial take-off; Eastern and Southern Europe had neither developed industrially nor moved significantly into agricultural exports. In 1914, most of Europe was still rural, and most of rural Europe had not changed substantially since the Middle Ages. In fact, on the eve of World War I, Europe as a whole had achieved a level of economic well being about equal with that of Latin America (Halperin 1997, 2004).
With this as a context, the chapter revisits the ‘great transformation’ that began in Europe in 1914, reassessing the lessons to be drawn for today. It focuses, in particular on the impact of the mass mobilisation of labor that began in Europe that year, both for armies and industry; and, in other regions, the suppression of a rising global ‘red tide’.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCataclysm 1914
Subtitle of host publicationThe First World War and the Making of Modern World Politics
EditorsAlexander Anievas
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9789004262683
ISBN (Print)978-1608466344, 978-9004262676
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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