Scientific research and advancement in medicine in Europe had led to the improvement in human lives hence the increase in population. Industrial revolution on the other hand had created a prevalent phenomenon where mass migration from villages to urban areas where industries were centered. European economy moved towards a very cold and ruthless free market or capitalist system – laissez faire which means, maximum productions means, maximum profits.
Capitalist system resulted in the emergence of a distinct social structure in Europe in form of social class; bourgeoisie and working class as two distinct social strata that define capitalist society. With rapid industrial activities and better means of transportation and communication especially printing press, Europeans in general were exposed to new ideas.
Karl Marx’s revolutionary ideas that mostly concerned with the working class; proletariat vis-i??-vis the bourgeoisie in form of dialectic materialism especially appealed to the general working class in Europe. In sociological context, the emergence of mass society takes the forms of collective movement or social movement, hence collective action. Chris Pickvance defines social movement at abstract level as ‘of opinion or social forces which challenge prevailing views… and at concrete level as ‘made up of organizations existing on a neighborhood, city, regional, national or even international basis to advance the declared aims of the movement’.
1 In the context of pre-World War I until 1920, collective movement and collective action ware translated into mass mobilization. Mass mobilization during this period is provoked by some factors that revolve around, the working class and politicization of the mass at both workers and political levels dominated by the bourgeoisie and the ruling class. Michael D. Biddis argues that what is associated with mass society is the development of politics and culture2 and perhaps economic development in society that should not be ignored.
Those political and cultural developments argues Biddis further are influenced by European intellectualism ‘the intimations of Enlightenment, including that rationalization processes which was central to Weber’s characterization of Western development’. 3 This argument holds strongly as the discourse of mass society and collective action cannot be separated from their ideologue, Karl Marx. Apart from ideological influences, there were also circumstances that shape and even provoke the emergence of collective action as a result of mass mobilization.
These circumstances as far as mass mobilization in Germany and Italy are concerned, revolve around labor movements that are provoked by exploitation and deprivation by the bourgeoisie. Dick Greary argues, collective action of labor movement ‘characterized by the struggle between employers and employees over wages and working conditions, by the use of the strike as a major weapon, by organization locally and nationally over time, has clearly been related to the growth of industrial society’.
4 This factor is argued to be the immediate factor that provoked workers’ collective movement and action in Europe. Politicization of the mass for war entails an exploitation of national sentiment capitalized by the ruling class in Europe before the World War I and it ultimately changes the course of mass mobilization in Europe as in unifying the nation in general. John P. Mackay describes the scenario ‘most people greeted the outbreak of hostilities enthusiastically. In every country, the masses believed that their nation was in the right and defending itself from aggression…..
Everywhere the support of the masses and working class contributed to national unity and an energetic war effort’. 5 Nationalism however is not the only catalyst that precipitates mass mobilization, in the case of Germany, it is supported by extreme doctrine of racial based nationalism, Social Darwinism. This essay highlights factors provoking mobilization in Germany and Italy before the World War 1 until 1920. Ideology as a force that mobilized the German working class In the late nineteenth century, socialism appealed to large numbers of European working class, men and women.
After 1871, numbers of socialist parties were growing to a phenomenal rate. 6 In Germany, rapid industrialization especially in heavy industry such coal, iron and steel, resulted in exploitation of concentrated labour force, produced the most grievances among the workers. The German working class movement before the era of Hitler was inspired by Karl Marx’s economic and social theory. 7 The workers’ movement used his political writings that revolve around class struggles in capitalism as strategic arguments to support their struggle.
8 However, there were also debates within the leadership of the workers’ movements that invalidate the application of Marxist’s theories to their struggle. Regardless of the invalidity of the application of Marxist’s ideas, German working class formed the largest socialist party in the world, as represented by the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). 9 Since the pre-industrial period, there were numerous strikes especially in Britain, France and Germany. In 1890 strikes by trade union movements reached its peak and gained ever larger numbers of followers among the industrial workers.
10 Socialist parties in France and Germany achieved both national and international political importance, with SPD made a breakthrough as the first mass political party in history. 11 ‘To many contemporaries this was a period in which class conflict, the conflict between capital and labour, became increasingly obvious and increasingly bitter’. 12 Neither Bismarck’s antisocialist laws nor his extensive social security system checked the growth of the German Social Democratic Party, which espoused the Marxian ideology. By 1912 it had millions of followers and was the largest party in the Reichstag.
13 Strikes after strikes ruled German industrial cities and town. Class tension did not primarily manifest itself in an increase in spontaneous outbreaks of unrest, of collective protests or of violence. Instead it showed itself in union-organized strike movements and in the increasing confrontation, at the level of political decision making process, between emancipatory forces and those defending the status quo. 14 When collective action intensifies, the practicality of things matter more than some rhetorical political and ideological questions of class struggle.
The conditions of the German working class can be summed up by two words; ‘deprivation’ and ‘exploitation’. Issues of immediate concern addressed and fought for by the German unions were about ‘bread and butter’ such as wages, hours, working conditions and not that of dissemination of socialist ideas. 15 Strikes became synonymous to industrial action, an outlet for the workers to improve and defend their living standards especially concerning wages. The above was the scenario with the working class in Germany and how they were mobilized into collective action. With the Great War approaching, mass mobilization took a different turn.
As an extension of the mobilization of the German workers was the politicization of the mass at political level. To reiterate, it is argued that in Germany mass mobilization in form of politicization towards the Great War was the result of her domestic and social tension. 16 The industrialized and urbanized Germany had led to the establishment of popular elected parliament whereby the monarchy, the army, and the Prussian nobility were wielded political power. Resented by this concentration of power, German working class established socialist movement and held powerful wave of strikes in 1914.
Germany inherited a great legacy from their political realist leader Otto Von Bismarck who led Germany successfully in his foreign affairs thus silencing the political unrest incited by the liberals at home and this strategy was adopted by the German ruling class. It is further argued, fearing the opposition from the socialist movement to intensify and at the same time wanting to maintain their status quo, ‘German ruling class was willing to gamble on diplomatic victory and even war as the means to rallying the masses to its side and preserving its privileged position’.
17 This they hope can silence the working class. It is argued that the seeds of tension between the working class (the radicalized German right-wing that included the petty bourgeois group) and the industrial workers represented by the Social Democratic Party on the Left were already sown in the 1890s. 18 This division and disunity within Germany have to be overcome and imperial expansion deemed to be a legitimate way to unite the nation.
Another aspect of politicization of the masses by the Right was in what a modern but strong phrase would describe, “wag the dog” i.e diverting the Germans’ attention from domestic crisis, with the exception that the war was not fake and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was a good excuse to wage a war and thus precipitated it. Politicization of the mass for total war was also helped by popular press as a brainwashing agent fueling nationalism among European nations that ‘were grouped into alliances that faced each other with ever mounting hostility’. 19 At political level among the ruling class, the plan was;
A campaign to commit the Government to a so-called Siegfriden in which Germany would use her expected victory to demand a large-scale territorial annexations in both East and West and in the form of overseas colonies. This was regarded as vital not simply in order to reestablish Germany as a world power, but also as a means of diverting pressure for democratic reform at home. 20 The liberals would argue war is justified and as “the art to conquering at home”.