World War One
The Rise of Communism
The Rise of Fascism
World War Two
The Building of the Nuclear Bomb
The Polarisation of International Politics
The Threat of Global Annihilation
It seems like a lot to have happened within 100 years, but this was the twentieth century; ten decades which would change the course of humanity. The wars, genocides, revolutions and discoveries that took place between 1900 and 2000 demonstrate, for better or for worse, just what mankind is capable of. Sometimes, these included great technological feats, others, great atrocities, yet the twentieth century also saw something never before seen in history: man’s brilliance and creativity catching up with him.
The question is, however, why were these years so dramatic?
Take, World War One, for example. This was a war which Germany predicted long before it occurred, the causes of which, as most agree, were rooted in the geopolitical situation at the end of the nineteenth century. Thus, it would appear that this event was the result of years of tension, and that tension was released in the form of a battle. Many argue that it is because of this war that World War Two occurred, or that Hitler and Stalin came to power. If this was true then it would seem that the entirety of the drama that followed was a result of nineteenth century politics.
I, however, believe it goes deeper than that, and that the root cause of the 100 year long epic was not a singular war. The Russian Revolution is a good example, for it is an event which divided the political scene for the next seventy-four years. It may seem that this revolution only took place because of the damage done to Russia during the war with Germany, but I believe it’s more complicated than that; the ousting of the tsar was almost inevitable, and when the Bolsheviks took power, they were riding on the back of 200 years worth of social change. Perhaps the conflict provided an opportunity for revolution, but revolution would have occurred regardless.
Given that this is the case, events such as the rise of fascism and the Second World War need re-examining. There are certainly reasons that suggest the war was involved, but most agree these two events would have not happened had Europe been stable. This is why I believe that the primary cause of this 100-year-long epic was economics, or more specifically, capitalism.
The war, in fact, ties into this, for World War One was a conflict between the imperialist powers of Europe, all fighting for their own colonial interests, all in, as Lenin called it, the ‘Highest Stage of Capitalism.’ This would mean that the damage done to postwar Germany was as a result of their loss in a financial conflict. After the war’s conclusion, communism should have followed imminently, given the state of the capitalist world, and it very nearly did. The red flame was ignited in the Russian Empire, and spread to Central Asia, Eastern Europe and would have spread to Germany (look at events such as the Spartacist Rebellion), but failed.
This was because Germany’s decaying capitalist system yielded not to socialism, but fascism (or capitalism in decay, to quote Lenin). This led to another conflict, allowing other capitalist countries to strengthen military, and halting the revolution at Berlin. A great percentage of the drama, triumphs and disasters that followed are the shockwaves of the great tension in the world, as capitalism and communism stood side by side, and humanity teetered on the brink of revolution.
Yet the revolution never came, and by the early 1990s, the international bourgeois had prevailed. This was largely due to a number of factors, but perhaps the primary reasons were the immaturity of the revolution, alongside the evolutionary ability of capitalism to change and adapt. But Cold War tensions still exist in the world, and NATO still fears the morals and potential of the Russian Federation. It seems that, after communism’s departure, fresh tensions have arisen in its absence, tensions which have increased in recent years.
Should this continue, the unrest that marked the previous century may spill over into this one.
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You have encapsulated in one page so succinctly what my favourite historian Eric Hobsbawm said in a whole book ” The Age of Extremes”. You are both right and the likes of Fukuyama’s arguments are intrinsically flawed. Economics is at the heart of everything and history does not ever stop. Keep blogging, I enjoy reading your posts, Sarah Willis.
I love your overview of the geopolitics of the last century and I am in full agreement that economics and the battle between competing models of economic engine have been at the source of the conflicts and global tension across that time span. I really like this piece, Jacqueline Casey
Should mention also be made of the emancipation of women in the twentieth century? Certainly it was a long, hard struggle. Mary Wollstonecraft, author of Vindication of the Rights of Women’ was contemporary with the French Revolution and yet the twentieth century dawned and still women were entitled to pay taxes but not to vote. Of course, the First World War played its part in demonstrating that women could bear responsibility – even the responsibility of a vote.