4

Germany was forced to finish World War I with signing peace treaty on very humiliating conditions for them. That's because in 1918 in Germany there was active fifth column of communists who were threat for stability of country, so Germany had to finish war fast to overcome that internal problem. Similar fate met Russia one year earlier.

My question is why the same problem didn't occur in France or maybe in Great Britain? Especially in the former - as far as I know in France there existed in that time plenty of communist adherents. So was there no risk that there would be also communist revolution in France? After all, all countries were exhausted with the war. Why wasn't France forced to finish war fast as Germany?

  • 10
    I'm glad you want to participate, but you should give sources for your nontrivial assertions. – Spencer Jul 1 '18 at 17:24
  • 1
    A contributing factor could have been the fall-out of the fall of the Paris Commune in 1871. Paris was the center for revolutionary activity and a home for revolutionary leftists, but their defeat in 1871 was severe and curbed much of that movement for some time. Revolutionary Paris ceased as an agent of government-toppling revolution. – Smith Jul 3 '18 at 17:09
  • 6
    @Spencer Oh yes. OP seems to accept the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stab-in-the-back_myth – b.Lorenz Jul 6 '18 at 11:43
  • 1
    But nevertheless, France was close to collapse by 1917. No full-on leftish revolution, but massive mutinies in the army were a real concern: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1917_French_Army_mutinies – b.Lorenz Jul 6 '18 at 11:46
  • 2
    @PeterDiehr More like the other way around: Russia was beaten by Germany because Russia imploded in a revolution. – Felix Goldberg Aug 5 '18 at 15:47
5

In short, no. Firm political and military leadership from 1917, eventual victory on the battlefield, and a divided political left facing a basically unified centre-right (among other factors) made a revolution highly unlikely. Also, the aims of the army mutineers of 1917 and the strikers in 1919-20 did not, except in isolated incidents, include demands for the overthrow of the political system.


DETAILS

Concerning the mutinies in the French army which started in May 1917, these were indeed serious and widespread, but were dealt with effectively and decisively by Petain who was appointed Commander-in-Chief on May 15th. In addition to “addressing the atrocious conditions in the trenches and reinstating a revised leave policy”,

Judicial courts-martial of targeted key offenders defused the most outspoken resistance. A final phase allowed for the airing of lingering grievances and a gradual return to order, as long as Pétain kept his soldiers’ losses minimal through limited engagements...

...Instead of killing masses of insubordinate men, courts-martial identified leaders, who were then punished and served as an example of military justice at its highest level. Addressing the legitimate grievances of the men, particularly through the intervention of junior officers, allowed the time and space for morale to begin to recover....

... in the end, French soldiers chose to obey orders and return to the trenches, with a tacit agreement that no further futile offensives would be launched.

Further, the mutinies in France did not take on a political dimension in the way that they did in Germany where the Kiel mutineers rapidly fanned out across Germany with demands for not just an end to the war but also a change in the political system. French mutineers were not demanding a change in the political system; they simply wanted better conditions in the trenches and an end to futile mass attacks against almost impregnable defensive positions.

France was on the winning side of the war. With American soldiers arriving in increasing numbers from June 1917 onwards, and with increasing numbers of British and French tanks being deployed, both French soldiers and civilians had good cause for optimism at a time when defeatism was spreading through the German army. Victory in a foreign war, especially a victory leading to the acquisition of territory, is rarely (if ever) fertile ground for a revolution.

Georges Clemenceau provided firm political leadership after being appointed Prime Minster in November 1917.

... from the outset, Clemenceau gave evidence of his firm determination to revive the will to fight. He struck out against defeatism, whether on the Right or the Left, and dealt directly with trade union leaders with a mixture of coercion and improved conditions.... Clemenceau's position waxed steadily stronger and was never seriously in jeopardy in the chamber.

Source: Keith Robbins, The First World War

A key (though not the only) element in the collapse of the German will to fight was defeatism at the top level; this was in marked contrast to the attitudes of leaders in France and Britain. The French government skilfully trod a fine line between dealing with workers (mostly financial) concerns and maintaining firm political control. In the election of November 1919, Clemenceau’s Bloc National won 412 of the 613 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.

There were divisions in the labour movement and the political left. In 1918, for example:

On 11 May Renault delegates voted for an immediate strike both for pay and for the government to announce its war aims, a demand popular among those opposed to an offensive war. Within two days the strike spread to the Peugeot and Citroën plants to include a total of 200,000 workers. Strike rallies at Billancourt ended with cries of “Down with war!”63 This unleashed the fury of the metal workers’ union with one full-time official condemning the strike for putting the country at risk in the context of a new German offensive. On 16 May the union leaders gave an unconditional surrender to the new armaments minister; Renault dismissed the strike leaders and 146 workers were sent to the front.

Divisions in the working class were also evident on issues such as family allowances. As Paul Dutton in Origins of the French Welfare State says:

Employer control of family allowances and parliament’s consideration of social insurance prompted rancorous debates within the working class. Union leaders failed to stop the family allowance movement because at virtually every turn they were confounded by divisions among their own rank and file.

Further,

This division in the working class was exacerbated in 1919 with the creation of a new union based on social Catholic ideals, the Conf´ed´eration Fran¸caise des Travailleurs Chr´etiens (CFTC). The 1920 Congress at Tours, where the French left split into rivaling socialist and communist parties further fragmented the working class on the question of social welfare.


Note:

The question seems to be partially based on a false premise – that Germany had to surrender because of the “fifth column of communists who were threat for stability of country”. This well-sourced Wikipedia article refutes this cause for the German defeat. Rather, the failure (after initial successes) of the German offensive led to the tide turning decisively from July 1918. Suffering from heavy losses and over-extended supply lines, and facing ever increasing numbers of newly-arrived American troops, the Germans were forced back and had little choice but to surrender.


Other sources

Sian Reynolds, France between the Wars: Gender and Politics

The Anatomy of Revolution

C. L. Mowat (ed) The Cambridge Modern History, vol XII

Edward Shorter, Strikes in France 1830-1968

History of the French Communist Party

3

If someone can give a better, more well-researched answer, then good, but for now I offer this "educated guess": Germany had simply suffered more economically as a result of the First World War, since due to geography they could be subjected to a naval blockade with comparative ease.

Therefore conditions and the state of mind in Germany were simply more desperate, compared to England or France.

As a reference:

The German Board of Public Health in December 1918 claimed that 763,000 German civilians died from starvation and disease caused by the blockade up until the end of December 1918. An academic study done in 1928 put the death toll at 424,000.

From Blockade of Germany

  • 1
    I think the still extant Zone Rouge in France, immediately puts the lie to the claim that Germany suffered more. It is arguable that Germans suffered more than the French, but definitely not that Germany suffered more than France. France continues to pay the cost of that war every year, while German WW1 war debt was erased long ago. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 6 '18 at 11:45
  • 1
    @PieterGeerkens Just one little detail: What is "so long ago" about 2010? – LangLangC Jul 6 '18 at 12:18
  • 1
    @LangLangC: Technically yes - but in reality the remaining sum of €125 million was a pittance, especially when paid off over 240 months at €0.5 million each. For practical purposes the debt was effectively zero by the time payments resumed in 1990. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 6 '18 at 13:22
  • 2
    @LangLangC: The population of Germany in 1990, when debt payments resumed, was ~80 million. The outstanding debt agreed on at that time, €125 million, was thus a bit more than €1.50 per person to be paid off over 240 months, or roughly €0.005 per month per person. – Pieter Geerkens Aug 5 '18 at 17:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.