B-17 (Waffen-Arsenal 34) by Steve Birdsall

By Steve Birdsall

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The view that states with a capitalist mode of production are bound to become involved in wars because of internally generated conflicts and clashes with other powers over access to raw materials and territories is a very general proposition which does not fit very closely the particular circumstances of 1914. For a start, there was no shortage of wars in precapitalist eras, and in the nineteenth century there were many wars throughout the world involving noncapitalist states. Neither Serbia nor Austria-Hungary could possibly be regarded as highly-developed capitalist states of the sort Lenin wrote about, and there is little evidence that highly organized financial monopolies and trading interests pressurized the Russian or French governments into pursuing the policies they actually followed in 1914.

Russia was concerned above all to secure an unobstructed outlet for her ships from the Black Sea through the Dardanelles and to establish political influence and, ultimately, eventual military control of Constantinople. Strategic and military considerations were reinforced here by the substantially increased volume of Russian exports, particularly grain, passing through the Straits every year. She was also concerned with the security of The origins of the first world war 14 the borders of her vast empire in Central Asia and the Far East which lay open to attack from Persia, Afghanistan, India and Manchuria/Mongolia.

The Italian Prime Minister, Giolitti, forecast the outcome even before the event, in a remarkably prophetic speech: The integrity of what remains of the Ottoman Empire is one of the principles on which the equilibrium and peace of Europe is based…. Can it be in the interests of Italy to shatter one of the cornerstones of the old edifice? And what if, after we have attacked Turkey, the Balkans begin to stir? And what if a Balkan war provokes a clash between the two power blocs and a European war?

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