Thursday 13 November 2014

Nigel Farage on Invading Imperial Germany

Compare and contrast. One party leader is caught on tape saying he'd like to do away with the NHS and replace it with an American-style health insurance scheme, and has recently said the allies should have invaded imperial Germany, even if it cost an extra 100,000 casualties. Another leader gives a beggar money and looks a bit like an Aardman Animations national treasure. Guess which one the press reserves its opprobrium for?

I just want to say something quick about Nigel Farage's comments about the First World War. While the headline writers have grabbed on the 100,000 number bandied about, what Farage thinks is 'the biggest mistake of the 20th century' is the signing of the armistice that brought WWI to an end. Had the allies pressed on all the way to Berlin, there would have been no doubt that Wilhelmine Germany had been defeated by the force of arms, not the self-serving clique of Reichstag flummeries who plunged a knife into the German army's back. Farage argues had this been the case, the far right would have been robbed of a potent ideological weapon and its unlikely the Nazis would have assumed power with all that entailed.

Yes, for once Farage has fielded a nuanced argument, albeit a counterfactual. A pity he can't bring as much erudition to bear on the lying bollocks his gang of Tory refugees peddle.

Cuddawuddashuddas are always fun with the benefit of hindsight. In this case, had that line of argument won out in 1918, historians of the Great War would probably have condemned an invasion and subsequent loss of life of an obviously defeated Germany as pointless. In fact, a demagogic populist not unlike Farage may later have made similar comments, upsetting the cosy, apolitical celebration of the war's centenary.

However, there are limits to Farage's imagining of an alternative history. The battlefields of the Western front he likes to visit were only the outward manifestation of the war. He forgets that behind the barbed wire and trenches were the most advanced industrial societies of the day primed and mobilised for slaughter. However, break open any society - and this includes the barbarisms of Nazi Germany, North Korea, and fundamentalist Saudi Arabia - all you will find are people producing and reproducing the structures conditioning their lives as they go about their daily business that, ultimately, provides them with the means of life.

Doing the same to the allied nations - Britain, France, Italy (though probably not the USA) on the one hand and Germany on the other, you will find plenty of reasons why the military campaign was called off just as the the front was advancing across northern France and Belgium to the frontier. One very good reason to not push into Germany was the unfolding revolutionary situation. By war's end the Kaiser had gone, the Social Democrats were in government, the navy were in open revolt and soviet-type councils of workers and soldiers were mushrooming. Further advances by the allies could have exacerbated this situation and acted as a recruiting sergeant for the Spartakusbund. After all, German advances into Bolshevik Russia earlier that year did little to weaken its revolutionary forces.

The other very good reason was the state of the allied troops themselves. Its militaries and populations were war weary too. The French army had suffered widespread mutiny the previous year, and discontent was rumbling on the home fronts. Even though the British had not gone the same way, there was not telling what several more months of gruelling fighting across Belgium and northern Germany could have done to the army. Also, politicians and senior military figures would have been alive to the possibilities of contagion. Just as Bolshevik propaganda aimed at German soldiers found its way back home, there was nothing to say something similar would not have happened between German revolutionaries and the allied rank and file.

Had the armistice not been signed and the allied powers resolved on a drive into Germany, Farage is quite right, it's likely the Nazis would never have been in contention. But in doing they may have provoked a tidal wave of revolution that not only cut off the possibility of a second, bloodier conflagration 20 years down the line, but also put capital itself in mortal peril. It's lucky for Farage that the establishment worthies of the time had a class instinct for self-preservation.


Speedy said...


Plus - they could hardly justify an invasion to "avoid Hitler". That kind of fascism was almost unthinkable, although as you point out Bolshevism was not, so why damage the bourgeois state?

"The Wasteland" is a good starting point to understand the psychology of the public post-WW1 - the sense that everything had been lost, torn asunder, the very incomprehensibility (perfect for a sociologist). "So many, I never knew death had claimed so many".

The mothers of Britain would never have forgiven the politicians.

Anonymous said...

It's good to see somebody making the effort to analyse what Farage said. Much of the mainstream reaction to Farage's talking points (including this) is to say "It's a bit odd" without looking deeper at what it says about him.

If the Allies had pressed on to Berlin in 1918 they might have decisively beaten Germany but then they would have to occupy Germany for a number of years and to build a new regime. Even if the new regime was based on a purely agricultural economy, that rebuilding would have been costly and complex. Creating a new regime in the 20th century would have been much more complex than it had been in the 18th century; a lot more complex than slotting in a new king.

Did Britain and France have the resources do occupy and rebuild Germany in 1918? I'm far from sure that they did after 4 years of total war. Would the USA have contributed? Again I'm far from sure; the USA hadn't yet thought about being involved at such a scale in Europe. And would Britain and France have accepted that the USA be involved in Europe in such a way? Again, I'm not so sure.

It is true that Germany, Italy and Japan (and the states that the Nazis had destroyed) were rebuilt after 1945. But it is important to remember how much effort was required, much coming from the USA that was at the peak of its powers. The Allies did not take on the rebuilding of China, which had been destroyed (economically and socially) by more than 10 years of war with Japan. That led to the "Who lost China?" movement in the USA in the 1950s. The reality is that the USA would have been hard-pressed to tackle the complete breakdown of institutions and the economy that had occurred in China between 1933 and 1945.

Farage is tapping into a feeling in some sections of British society that our politician are not decisive enough. This explains some of his comments that could be interpreted as pro-Putin: Putin doesn't hesitate when he fears losing Sebastapol. There is quite a lot of this around, such as the many commentators who say that the UK or Obama should be more decisive about Syria or ISIS (or should have been more decisive in some undefined way and at some undefined time in the past). He is trying to build a coalition of those sections of the population who are alienated from current politics because they think that are leaders are not strong enough (which is different from those who are alienated from modern politics because it isn't accountable).

The USA did not occupy Iraq after the first Gulf War. And then certain sections of the political class began getting worked up that Saddam was still there, so 10 years later Iraq was invaded. The rebuilding turned out to be very difficult and eventually disastrous. There is a lesson there somewhere. Being decisive appeals to people like Farage and Dubya Bush but they know nothing about the difficulties that creates.


George Hallam said...

"One very good reason to not push into Germany was the unfolding revolutionary situation. By war's end the Kaiser had gone, the Social Democrats were in government, the navy were in open revolt and soviet-type councils of workers and soldiers were mushrooming. Further advances by the allies could have exacerbated this situation and acted as a recruiting sergeant for the Spartakusbund."

This was not just a "good reason" it was openly discussed by both the Allies and the Germans. Foch, for example, wanted to continue the war but was overruled because of fear of the (revolutionary) political consequences.

Phil said...

Excellent comment, Guano. "Decisiveness" always underpins demagogic appeal. It worked wonders for Mussolini.

Speedy said...

Mussolini took over an italy that considered it├čelf "humiliated" by the post ww1 setttlement with an economy in turmoil and directionless political class, as did Putin.

It is interesting to note the electoral reforms currently being pushed through by Italian pm Renzi in alliance with Berlusconi are designed to ensure "decisive" leadership, and emulate the two party anglo sacon model, but without even the safety valve of an upper hpuse (which is being abolished). Thus the Italian political class is staging a coup - again in the name of deciseveness - just as support for both the centre-left and right bleeds to a third force - the 5 star movement - or smaller parties, which will be obliterated by the move.

But the biggest losers will be the italian people of course who will be subject to a true elective dictatorship. However Renzi remains popular, perhaps because of his plan to effectively abolish democracy.

Phil said...

At the time of the Armistice the deployment of tanks had only just started. The 1918-19 invasion of Germany would have been heavily mechanised, which would have given the returning Tank Corps enormous post-war prestige. And - unlike the troops coming home from Europe after WWII - they weren't left-wingers; the proto-fascist J.F.C. Fuller was a leading advocate of tank power.

So: revolution in Germany, reaction in Britain. They would have been interesting times, right enough.

Gary Elsby said...

I'm not sure that Farage is wrong but neither am I sure he is right.
We delve into 'what if politics'.
We are therefore left with dealing with reality.
The reality is that WW2 was based on 'unconditional surrenders' which gave antagonists no security as happened in Germany 1919.
Versailles was the problem in emasculating the finances of a post war republic.
The aims of WW1 were gained, the war was over, German expansion stopped and the Kaiser gone.
Hindenburg and Ludendorph both vacated their Leadership to the politicians who then negotiated the armistice and financial penalties.
The 'stab in the back' term is lossely aimed at the politicians (a wide term at war's end) but it was a British invention aimed at Ludendorph who was all too pleased to aim that comment at revolutionary Communists murdered by the Friekorp (returning right wing fully armed un-defeated soldiers called to order (Kaiser's son and Heir).

The WW2 example that Farage forgets is Japan.
An invasion of a fully intact and armed Japan who undoubtedly would have fought to the last woman and child was brought to a surrender unconditionally via atomic means.
A USA army landing and fighting would have cost many lives, 500,000?
France wanted none of it in 1918 and even wanted to invade in 1919 when war reparations were not being met. The French wanted blood and money. Farage makes a good 1919 Frenchman.
There are many good historians who wanted no war in 1914 and still today they make a case of it.
That too would have cost many lives of a retaking of Europe (from where?) in a Europe entrenched by the Kaiser who would have called on the economies of Germany, France, Belgium etc to fight his cause.

Farage should be seen as simplistic as right wing politics often is.
Everyoe is clever after the fact.