Study Guide: World War I and the Russian Revolution College Board Overview (The content below is taken from the Course and Exam Description created by the College Board)
Key Concept Total war and political instability in the first half of the 20th century gave way to a polarized state order during the Cold War and eventually to efforts at transnational union European politics and diplomacy in the 20th century were defined by total war and its consequences. World War I destroyed the balance of power, and the Treaty of Versailles (1919), which ended the war, created unstable conditions in which extremist ideologies emerged that challenged liberal democracy and the postwar settlement. In Russia, hardships during World War I gave rise to a revolution in 1917. The newly established, post war democracies in central and eastern Europe were too weak to provide stability either internally or in the European state system, especially during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The League of Nations, established after World War I to employ collective security in the interests of peace, could not manage the international tensions unleased by World War I. The breakdown of the settlement led to World War II, a conflict even more violent that World War I. During this second great war, the combatants engaged in wholesale destruction of cities, deliberate attacks on civilians, and the systematic destruction of the enemies’ industrial complexes. The Nazi government in Germany undertook the annihilation of Jews from the whole continent (The Holocaust), as well as the murder of other targeted groups of Europeans. At the end of the war, the economic and political devastation left a power vacuum that facilitated the Cold War division of Europe.
During the 20th century, European imperialism, power and sense of superiority reached both its apogee (high) and nadir (low). In the first half of the century, nations extended their control and influence over most of the non-Western world, often through League of Nations mandates. The idea of decolonization was born early in the century with the formation of movements seeking rights for indigenous peoples; the material and moral destruction of World War II made the idea a reality. After the war, regions colonized and dominated by European nations moved from resistance to independence at differing rates and with differing consequences. Yet even after decolonization,neocolonial dependency persisted, and millions of people migrated to Europe as its economy recovered from the war. This immigration created large populations of poor and isolated minorities, which occasionally rioted because of discrimination and economic deprivation. As European governments tried to solve these problems, the apparently permanent presence of the immigrants challenged old notions of European identity.
The uneasy alliance between Soviet Russia and the West during World War II gave way after 1945 to a diplomatic, political, and economic confrontation between the democratic, capitalist states of Western Europe allied with the United States and the communist bloc of Eastern Europe dominated by the Soviet Union (also known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR). During the ensuing confrontation between East and West, called the Cold War, relations between the two blocs fluctuated, but one consequence of the conflict was that European nations could not act autonomously in international affairs; the superpowers – the Soviet Union and the United States – controlled international relations in Europe. Nonetheless, the Cold War promoted political and economic unity in Western Europe, leading to the establishment of a succession of ever-more comprehensive organizations for economic cooperation. In 1957, six countries formed the Common Market, which soon began to expand its membership to include other European states. The success of the Common Market inspired Europeans to work toward a closer political and economic unity, including a European executive body and parliament. The founding of the European Union in 1991 at Maastricht (the Maastricht Treaty) included the agreement to establish the euro as a common currency for qualifying members-states. Following the a series of largely peaceful revolutions in 1989, culminating in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the formerly communist states of Eastern Europe moved toward democracy and capitalist economies, and over time some of these states joined the European Union. One unforeseen consequence of the end of the Cold War was the re-emergence of nationalist movements within states, which led to the Balk wars in Yugoslavia and tensions among the successor states of the Soviet Union as well as the rebirth of nationalist political parties in Western Europe.
World War I During World War I, states increased the degree and scope of their authority over their economies, societies, and cultures. The demands of total war required the centralization of power and the regimentation of the lives of citizens. During the war, governments sought to control information and used propaganda to create stronger emotional ties to the nation and its war effort. Ironically, these measures also produced distrust of traditional authorities. At the end of the war, four empires dissolved – The German, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian empires – but the democratic nations that arose in their place lacked a tradition of democratic politics and suffered from weak economies and ethnic tensions. Even before the end of the war, Russia experienced a revolution and civil war that created not only a new state, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (also known as the Soviet Union), but also a new conception of government and socioeconomic order based on communist ideals.
World War I, caused by a complex interaction of long-and short-term factors resulted in immense losses and disruptions for both victors and vanquished.
A variety of factors – including nationalism, military plans, the alliance system, and imperial competition – turned a regional dispute in the Balkans into World War I.
New technologies confounded traditional military strategies and led to massive troop losses
The effects of military stalemate and total war led to protest and insurrection in the belligerent nations and eventually to revolutions that changed the international balance of power.
Japanese aggression in the Pacific and on the Chinese mainland
Arab revolt against the Turks (Ottomans)
The relationship of Europe to the world shifted significantly with the globalization of the conflict, the emergence of the United States as a world power and the overthrow of European Empires.
The conflicting goals of the peace negotiators in Paris (1919) pitted diplomatic idealism against the desire to punish Germany, producing a settlement that satisfied few.
Wilsonian idealism clashed with postwar realities in both the victorious and the defeated states. Democratic successor states emerged from former empires and eventually succumbed to significant political, economic, and diplomatic crises.
Democratic successor states
The League of Nations, created to prevent future wars, was weakened from the outset by the nonparticipation of major powers, including the United States, Germany and the Soviet Union.
The Versailles settlement, particularly its provisions on the assignment of guilt (war guilt clause) hindered the German Weimar Republic’s ability to establish a stable and legitimate political and economic system.
The Russian Revolution created a regime based on Marxist-Leninist theory.
In Russia, World War I exacerbated long-term problems of political stagnation (lack of change), social inequality, incomplete industrialization, and food and land distribution, all while creating support for revolutionary change.
Revolutionary change in Russia
Military and worker insurrections, aided by the revived Soviets, undermined the Provisional Government and set the stage for Lenin’s long-planned Bolshevik Revolution and establishment of a communist state.
The Bolshevik takeover prompted a protracted war between communist forces and their opponents, who were aided by foreign powers.
In order to improve economic performance, Lenin compromised with free-market principles under the New Economic Policy, but after his death Stalin undertook a centralized program of rapid economic modernization.
Soviet Union’s rapid economic modernization under Stalin
Stalin’s economic modernization of the Soviet Union came at a high price, including the liquidation of the kulaks, famine in the Ukraine, purges of political rivals, unequal burdens placed on women, and the establishment of an oppressive political system.
The Soviet Union’s oppressive political system.
The Interwar Years and World War II
The stresses of economic collapse and total war engendered internal conflicts within European states and created conflicting conceptions of the relationship between the individual and the state, as demonstrated in the ideological battle between liberal democracy, communism and fascism.
Key Concept (Note: The information in this section applies to the whole of the 20th century, not just the interwar years or WWII) During the 20th century, diverse intellectual and cultural movements questioned the existence of objective knowledge, the ability of reason to arrive at truth, and the role of religion in determining moral standards.
The major trend of 20th century European thought and culture moved from an optimistic view that modern science and technology could solve the problems of humankind to the formation of eclectic and sometimes skeptical movements that doubted the possibility of objective knowledge and of progress. Existentialism, postmodernism, and renewed religiosity challenged the perceived dogmatism of positivist science. While European society became increasingly secular, religion continued to play a role in the lives of many Europeans. Religious denominations addressed and in some cases incorporated modern ideas, such as the toleration of other religions, as well as scholarship – biblical and scientific – that challenged the veracity of the Bible. The Christian churches made these accommodations as immigration, particularly from Muslim countries, altered the religious landscape, challenging Europe’s traditional Judeo-Christian identity.
After World War I, prewar trends in physics, psychology, and medical science accelerated. In physics, new discoveries and theories challenged the certainties of a Newtonian universe by introducing the ideas of relativity and uncertainty. Psychology, which became an independent field of inquiry at the end of the19th century, demonstrated that much human behavior stemmed from irrational sources. By the mid-20th century, dramatic new medical technologies prolonged life but created new social, moral and economic problems. During World War II, the potential dangers of scientific and technological achievements were demonstrated by the industrialization of death in the Holocaust and by the vast destruction wrought by the atomic bombs dropped on Japanese cities. It became clear that science could create weapons powerful enough to end civilization.
The art world in the 20th century was defined by experimentation and subjectivity, which asserted the independence of visual arts and realism. Futurism glorified the machine age; Dadaism satirized traditional aesthetics; and Expressionism and Surrealism explored the relationship between art and the emotions of the unconscious. In the interwar period (1919-1939), the slogan “form follows function” expressed a desire by architects to render the space in which we live and work more efficient. Throughout the century, American culture exerted an increasing pull on both elite and popular culture in Europe.
The widely held belief in progress characteristic of much of 19th century thought began to break down before World War I; the experience of war intensified a sense of anxiety that permeated many facets of thought and culture, giving way by century’s end to a plurality (multiple) of intellectual frameworks.
When World War I began, Europeans were generally confident in the ability of science and technology to address human needs and problems despite the uncertainty created by the new scientific theories and psychology.
The effects of World War I and economic depression undermined this confidence in science and human reason, giving impetus to existentialism and producing postmodernism in the post 1945 period.
Science and technology yielded impressive material benefits but also caused immense destruction and posed challenges to objective knowledge.
The challenge to the certainties of the Newtonian universe in physics opened the door to uncertainty in other fields by undermining faith in objective knowledge, while also providing the knowledge necessary for the development of nuclear weapons and power.
Medical theories and technologies extended life but posed social and moral questions that eluded consensus and crossed religious, political, and philosophical perspectives.
Medical theories and technologies (some are post WWII)
Military technologies made possible industrialized warfare, genocide, nuclear proliferation, and the risk of global nuclear war.
Organized religion continued to play a role in European social and cultural life despite the challenges of military and ideological conflict, modern secularism, and rapid social changes.
The challenges of totalitarianism and communism in Central and Eastern Europe brought mixed responses from the Christian churches.
Reform in the Catholic Church found expression in the Second Vatican Council (1962), which redefined the Church’s dogma and practices and started to redefine its relations with other religious communities.
Increased immigration into Europe altered Europe’s religious makeup, causing debate and conflict over the role of religion in social and political life.
During the 20th century, the arts were defined by experimentation, self-expression, subjectivity, and the increasing influence of the United States (post-WWI and WWII) in both elite and popular culture.
New movements in the visual arts, architecture, and music demolished existing aesthetic standards, explored subconscious and subjective states, and satirized Western society and its values
New movements in the visual arts
New Architectural Movements
New Movements in Music
Throughout the century, a number of writers challenged traditional literary conventions, questioned Western values, addressed controversial social and political issues.
Enrich Maria Remarque
Increased imports of United State technology and popular culture after World War II generated both enthusiasm and criticism.
World War II In Italy and Germany, charismatic leaders led fascist movements to power, seizing control of the post-World War I governments. Fascism promised to solve economic problems through state direction, although not ownership, of production. The movements also promised to counteract the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles by rearming the military and by territorial expansion. The efforts of fascist governments to revise the Treaty of Versailles led to the most violent and destructive war in human history (World War II), a conflict between liberal democracies, temporarily allied with communist Russia, and fascist states. When this conflict ended in the total defeat of fascism, Europe was devastated, and liberal, capitalist democracies faced centrally directed, communist states – the only viable alternatives left.
The ideology of fascism, with roots in the pre-World War I era, gained popularity in an environment of postwar bitterness, the rise of communism, uncertain transitions to democracy, and economic instability.
Fascist dictatorships used modern technology and propaganda that rejected democratic institutions, promoted charismatic leaders, and glorified war and nationalism to lure the disillusioned.
Mussolini and Hitler rose to power by exploiting postwar bitterness and economic instability, using terror and manipulating the fledgling (new) and unpopular democracies in their countries.
Franco’s (Spain) alliance with Italian and German fascists in the Spanish Civil War – in which the Western democracies did not intervene – represented a testing ground for World War II and resulted in authoritarian rule in Spain from 1936 to the mid-1970s.
After the failures to establish functioning democracies, authoritarian dictatorships too k power in Central and Easter Europe during the interwar period.
Authoritarian Dictatorships in Central and Eastern Europe
The Great Depression, caused by weaknesses in international trade and monetary theories and practices, undermined Western European democracies and fomented (encouraged) radical political responses throughout Europe
World War I debt, nationalistic tariff policies, overproduction, depreciated currencies, disrupted trade patterns, and speculation created weaknesses in economies worldwide.
Dependence on post-World War I American investment capital led to financial collapse when, following the 1929 stock market crash, the United States cut of capital flow to Europe.
Despite attempts to rethink economic theories and policies and forge political alliances, Western democracies failed to overcome the Great Depression and were weakened by extremist movements.
New Economic theories and policies
Keynesianism in Britain
Cooperative social action in Scandinavia
Popular Front policies in France
National government in Britain
Popular Fronts in France and Spain.
In the interwar period, fascism, extreme nationalism, racist ideologies and the failure of appeasement resulted in the catastrophe of World War II, presenting a grave challenge to European Civilization.
French and British fears of another war, American isolationism, and deep distrust between Western democratic, capitalist nations, and the communist Soviet Union allowed fascist states to rearm and expand their territory.
Fascist states’ expansion allowed by European Powers
American and British industrial, scientific, and technological power and the all-out military commitment of the USSR contributed critically to the Allied victories.
Fueled by racism and anti-Semitism, Nazi Germany – with the cooperation of some of the other Axis powers and collaborationist governments – sought to establish a “new racial order” in Europe, which culminated with the Holocaust.
Nazi establishment of a “new racial order”
Auschwitz and other death camps
The Cold War and Post-War Europe
Key Concept (note, some of this will apply to the pre-Cold War period)
Demographic changes, economic growth, total war, disruptions of traditional social patterns, and competing definitions of freedom and justice altered the experiences of everyday life.
The disruptions of two total wars, the reduction of barriers to migration within Europe because of economic integration, globalization, and the arrival of new permanent residents from outside Europe changed the everyday lives of Europeans in significant ways. For the first time, more people lived in cities than in rural communities. Economic growth – although interrupted by repeated wars and economic crises – generally increased standards of living, leisure time (despite the growing number of two-career families), educational attainment, and participation in mass cultural entertainments. The collapse of the birth rate to below replacement levels enhanced the financial well-being of individual families even as it reduced the labor force. To support labor-force participation and encourage families, governments instituted family policies supporting child care and created large-scale guest-worker programs.
Europe’s involvement in an increasingly global economy exposed its citizens to new goods, ideas, and practices. Altogether, the disruptions of war and decolonization led to new demographic patterns – a population increase followed by falling birth rates and the immigration of non-Europeans – and to uncertainties about Europeans’ cultural identity. Even before the collapse of communism and continuing afterward, a variety of groups on both the left and right began campaigns of terror in the name of ethnic or national autonomy, or in radical opposition to free-market ideology. Other groups worked within the democratic system to achieve nationalist and xenophobic goals.
By the 1960s, the rapid industrialization of the previous century had created significant environmental problems. Environmentalists argued that the unfettered free-market economy could lead Europe to ecological disaster, and they challenged the traditional economic and political establishment with demands for sustainable development sensitive to environmental, aesthetic, and moral constraints. At the same time, a generation that had not experienced either economic depression or total war came of age and criticized existing institutions and beliefs while calling for greater political and personal freedom. These demands culminated with the 1968 youth revolts in Europe’s major cities and in challenges to institutional authority structures, especially those of universities.
Feminist movements gained increased participation for women in politics, and before the end of the century, several women became heads of government or state. Yet traditional social patterns and institutions continued to hinder the achievement of gender equality. While these internal movements and struggles went on, immigrants from around the globe poured into Europe, and by the end of the century, Europeans found themselves living in multiethnic and multi-religious communities. Immigrants defied traditional expectations of integration and assimilation and expressed social values different from 20th-century Europeans. Many Europeans refused to consider the newcomers as true members of their society. In the early 21st century, Europeans continued to wrestle with issues of social justice and how to define European identity.
The 20th century was characterized by large-scale suffering brought on by warfare and genocide as well as tremendous improvements in the standard of living.
World War I created a “lost generation,” fostered disillusionment and cynicism, transformed the lives of women, and democratized societies.
World War II decimated a generation of Russian and German men; virtually destroyed European Jewry; resulted in the murder of millions in other groups targeted by the Nazis including the Roma, homosexuals, people with disabilities and others; forced large-scale migrations; and undermined prewar class hierarchies.
Mass production, new food technologies, and industrial efficiency increased disposable income and created a consumer culture in which greater domestic comforts such as electricity, indoor plumbing, plastics, and synthetic fibers became available.
New communication and transportation technologies multiplied the connections across space and time, transforming daily life and contributing to the proliferation of ideas and to globalization.
New communication technologies
The lives of women were defined by family and work responsibilities, economic changes and feminism.
During the world wars, women became increasingly involved in military and political mobilization as well as in economic production
In Western Europe through the efforts of feminists, and in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union through government policy, women finally gained the vote, greater educational opportunities, and access to professional careers, even while continuing to face social inequalities.
Feminists and feminism
Simone de Beauvoir
Government policies promoting population growth
Subsidies for large families
New modes of managing reproduction
Scientific means of fertilization
Women who attained high political office
Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain
Mary Robinson of Ireland
Edit Cresson of France
New voices gained prominence in political, intellectual, and social discourse.
Green parties in Western and Central Europe challenged consumerism, urged sustainable development, and by the late 20th century cautioned against globalization
Gay and lesbian movements worked for expanded civil rights, obtaining in some nations the right to form civil partnerships with full legal benefits or to marry.
Intellectuals and youth reacted against perceived bourgeois materialism and decadence, most significantly in the revolts of 1968.
Because of the economic growth of the 1950s and 1960s, numerous guest workers from southern Europe, Asia, and Africa immigrated to Western and Central Europe; however, after the economic downturn in the 1970s, these workers and their families often became targets of anti-immigrant agitation and extreme nationalist political parties.
Anti-immigration, right wing parties
French National Front
Austrian Freedom Party
In the post-World War II period, despite the difference of ideologies, states in both the East and West increased their involvement in their citizens’ lives through the establishment of welfare programs, the expansion of education, regulation and planning of the economy, and the extension of cultural opportunities for all groups in society.
As World War II ended, a Cold War between the liberal democratic West and the communist East began, lasting nearly half a century.
Despite efforts to maintain international cooperation through the newly created United Nations, deep-seated tensions between the USSR and the West led to the division of Europe, which was referred to in the West as the Iron Curtain.
The Cold War played out on a global state and involved propaganda campaigns; covert actions; limited “hot wars” in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean; and an arms race, with the threat of nuclear war.
How wars outside of Europe in which the US and USSR supported opposite sides
The Yom Kippur War
The Afghanistan War (1980s)
The United States exerted a strong military, political, and economic influence in Western Europe, leading to the creation of world monetary and trade systems and geopolitical alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
World monetary and trade system
International Monetary Fund (IMF)
General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)
World Trade Organization (WTO)
Countries east of the Iron Curtain came under the military, political and economic domination of the Soviet Union within the Council of Economic Assistance (COMECON) and the Warsaw Pact.
The collapse of the USSR in 1991 ended the Cold War and led to the establishment of capitalist economies throughout Easter Europe. Germany was reunited, the Czechs and the Slovaks parted, Yugoslavia dissolved, and the European Union was enlarged through admission of former Eastern bloc countries.
In response to the destructive impact of two world wars, European nations began to set aside nationalism in favor of economic and political integration, forming a series of transnational unions that grew in size and scope over the second half of the 20th century.
As the economic alliance known as the European Coal and Steel Community, envisioned as a means to spur postwar economic recovery, developed into the European Economic Community (EEC or Common Market) and the European Union (EU), Europe experienced increasing economic and political integration and efforts to establish a shared European identity.
One of the major continuing challenges to countries in the EU is balancing national sovereignty with the responsibilities of membership in an economic and political union.
Challenges to sovereignty within the EU
The creation of a single currency (the euro)
The creation of a European parliament
Free movement across borders
Nationalist and separatist movements, along with ethnic conflict and ethnic cleansing, periodically disrupted the post-World War II peace.
Albanian Muslims of Kosovo
The process of decolonization occurred over the course of the century with varying degrees of cooperation, interference, or resistance from European imperialist states.
At the end of World war I, President Woodrow Wilson’s principle of national self-determination raised expectations in the non-European world for freedom from colonial domination – expectations that led to international instability.
The League of Nations distributed former German and Ottoman possessions to France and Great Britain through the mandate system, thereby altering the imperial balance of power and creating a strategic interest in the Middle East and its oil.
Lebanon and Syria
Despite indigenous nationalist movements, independence for many African and Asian territories was delayed until the mid-even late 20th century by the imperial powers’ reluctance to relinquish control, threats of interference from other nations, unstable economic and political systems, and Cold War strategic alignments.
Indigenous nationalist movements
Indian Nation Congress
Algeria’s Nation Liberation Front (FLN)
Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh
Sukarno in Indonesia
With the collapse of communism and the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the liberal democracies of Western Europe celebrated the triumph of their political and economic systems, and many of the former communist states moved for admission into the European Union and NATO. By the late 1990s, it became evident that the transition from communism to capitalism and democracy was not as simple as it first appeared to be. The West also experienced difficulties because of economic recession and experimented with hybrid (mixed) economies that emphasized the social responsibility of the state toward its citizens.