5 Steps to a 5: AP European History 2024 - Bartolini-Salimbeni B., Petersen W., Arata K. 2023

STEP 4 Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High
22 Politics of the Extreme and World War I


Summary: This chapter describes how political parties on both the extreme left and right of the political spectrum gained ground at the turn of the twentieth century, as the gradual reform of liberalism lost its appeal. Also included in this chapter is an explanation of how the great powers of Europe constructed an alliance system that divided Europe into two armed camps, leading to a total war of attrition (World War I) with disastrous consequences.


Key Terms:

Image Ultranationalists Political parties which argued that political theories that put class solidarity ahead of loyalty to a nation threatened the very fabric of civilization. Thus, they vowed to fight liberalism and socialism (see Chapter 20 for nationalism).

Image Zionism A movement for the creation of an independent state for Jews, which came into being in 1896 when Theodor Herzl published The Jewish State, a pamphlet that urged an international movement to make Palestine the Jewish homeland.

Image Triple Alliance A military alliance among Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy, forged by Otto von Bismarck after the unification of Germany in 1871.

Image Triple Entente A military alliance among Great Britain, France, and Russia, which countered the Triple Alliance.

Image Bolsheviks A party of revolutionary Marxists, led by Lenin, who seized power in Russia in November 1917.

Image Treaty of Versailles (also Peace of Paris) The name given to the series of five treaties that made up the overall settlement following World War I.

Image Ottoman Empire Successor to the Byzantine Empire with the taking of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Empire would remain the center of trade and cultural interactions between East and West (or between Christian Europe and Muslim Middle East) until 1922, when the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed.

Key Individuals:

Image Anna Maria Mozzoni

Image Otto von Bismarck

Image Emmeline Pankhurst

Image Karl Marx

Image Vladimir Lenin

Image Friedrich Engels

Image Alfred Dreyfus



By the beginning of the twentieth century, more people were participating in politics than ever before, but the majority of them were dissatisfied. For those on the left, the pace of reform was too slow and the nature of reform too limited. For those on the right, reforms were unsettling and threatened valued traditions. As a result, political activism on both the left and the right became more extreme. Meanwhile, the great powers of Europe divided themselves into two armed camps and fought what came to be known as World War I, a war of attrition that permanently transformed Europe.

Labor Unions Begin in Britain, Then Spread to Other Countries

Europe’s working-class population fell into the category of individuals who believed that liberal reform was too slow and too limited; they turned instead to labor unions and socialist parties. In Great Britain, workingmen formed the national Trades Union Congress, an organization that united all the labor unions of the country together for political action, and supported the newly formed Labour Party, a political party that ran working-class candidates in British elections. The working classes of other European countries followed Great Britain’s lead, forming unions and supporting socialist parties.

Socialist Parties in Britain, France, and Germany

As Europe’s labor movement turned political, it turned to socialists like Karl Marx for leadership. In 1864, Marx helped union organizers found the International Workingmen’s Association, often referred to as the First International. The loose coalition of unions and political parties fell apart in the 1870s but was replaced by the Second International in 1889.

While Marx and his communist associates argued for the inevitability of a violent revolution, the character and strength of socialist organizations varied from country to country. In Great Britain, the socialist organization, known as the Fabian Society, counseled against revolution but argued that the cause of the working classes could be furthered through political solutions. The Fabian Society’s ultimate goal was a society in which the parts of the economy that were crucial to people’s survival and comfort, such as heat and water, should be owned by the state and regulated by experts employed by the government. In France, socialist parties banded together to join the French Socialist Party under the leadership of Jean Jaurès. The fortunes of the French Socialist Party in elections improved steadily in the first years of the twentieth century, and by 1914, it was a major power in French politics.

In Germany, the Social Democrats, led by August Bebel, were the most successful socialist party in Europe. The Social Democrats espoused the “revisionist socialism” of Eduard Bernstein, who urged socialist parties to cooperate with bourgeois liberals in order to earn immediate gains for the working class. By 1914, the Social Democrats were the largest political party in Germany.

Women’s Suffrage Movements and Feminism

Always left out of liberal reforms and sometimes excluded from labor unions, women of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries formed political movements of their own. Feminist groups campaigning for women’s rights united in 1878 to convene in Paris for the International Congress of Women’s Rights.

In Great Britain, the movement focused mostly on the issue of women’s suffrage, or voting rights. The movement went through three distinct phases. The first was a pioneering phase, lasting from 1866 to 1870, during which suffrage agitation focused on the Reform Act of 1867 and won a number of successes at the level of local government through petitioning and pamphleteering. The second was a long period of relative dormancy, from 1870 to 1905. The third was a period of militancy, lasting from 1905 to 1914, during which the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, headed by Millicent Garrett Fawcett, campaigned vigorously for women’s voting rights, and the Women’s Social and Political Union, led by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, campaigned, often violently, for a broader notion of women’s rights.

In France and Germany, feminists such as Louise Michel in France and Clara Zetkin in Germany folded their movements into the broader cause of workers’ rights and politically supported socialist parties.

Meanwhile, in Italy, there was a history of feminism dating back to the Renaissance, though it remained confined primarily to the upper classes until the mid-nineteenth century, which witnessed the spread of literacy and education to include women. The Casati law of 1859 established a system that trained women as teachers, and it resulted in women organizing to protect working conditions and wages. Not until 1876, however, were women admitted to universities. Anna Maria Mozzoni spurred awareness of social injustices against women, and inspired changes that were embodied in Italy’s Civil Code following unification. Her work led to legal majority for unmarried women and equal inheritance rights. However, in Italy, women achieved the right to vote only in 1945.

Across the Mediterranean, in Spain, many of these same rights, though inspired by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Enlightenment ideas, came about only in the 1930s. Women’s suffrage there dates from 1945.

Anarchist Activity

People under the more oppressive regimes, where even liberal reform was resisted, turned to anarchism. Theoreticians like Mikhail Bakunin and Pyotr Kropotkin urged the elimination of any form of state authority that oppressed human freedom, and ordinary people enacted the doctrine, first through the method of the “general strike” (massive work stoppages designed to bring the economy to a halt) and later, and more often, through assassination attempts on the lives of government officials. Political assassinations in the first years of the twentieth century included King Umberto I of Italy and President William McKinley of the United States.

Ultranationalism and Anti-Semitism

The international quality of the socialist movement was in direct opposition to the ideology of nationalism that had dominated the second half of the nineteenth century. At the end of the nineteenth and at the beginning of the twentieth centuries, a harder, more extreme version of nationalism came into being. Ultranationalists argued that political theories and parties that put class solidarity ahead of loyalty to a nation threatened the very fabric of civilization, and they vowed to fight them to the death.

Nineteenth-century nationalism had always had a racial component, and ultranationalism quickly merged with the age-old European suspicion of the Jewish people, known as anti-Semitism. The most notorious example of ultranationalist and anti-Semitic political power was the Dreyfus Affair. In 1894, a group of bigoted French army officers falsely accused Alfred Dreyfus, a young Jewish captain, of treason. Dreyfus was convicted and sent to Devil’s Island prison. The evidence was clearly fabricated, and liberals and socialists quickly came to Dreyfus’s defense. Novelist Émile Zola published an open letter, “J’Accuse,” accusing the army of covering up evidence that would have exonerated Dreyfus. (Dreyfus spent five years on Devil’s Island, but was not exonerated until 1906.) His numerous trials (he was eventually exonerated) divided the nation, illustrating how strong ultranationalist and anti-Semitic feelings were in the French establishment.


In the face of anti-Semitism, a movement for the creation of an independent state for the Jewish people, known as Zionism, came into being. In 1896, Theodor Herzl published The Jewish State, a pamphlet that urged an international movement to make Palestine the Jewish homeland. Herzl also distinguished between political Zionism, which referred to the creation of a Jewish state, and practical Zionism, which called for philanthropic support of Jewish settlement in the land of Israel. A year later, the World Zionist Organization was formed, and by 1914, nearly 85,000 Jews, primarily from Eastern Europe, had emigrated to Palestine.

The Causes of World War I

The causes of World War I are still debated by historians, but all explanations include the following to varying degrees. It is useful to remember the mnemonic MANIA (Militarism, Alliance System, Nationalism, Industrialization, Assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand) when recalling the causes of World War I.

Militarism: In general, this refers to the creation and maintenance of standing armies. Germany was convinced that war with the Triple Entente countries was inevitable. Accordingly, it devised a strategy, known as the Schlieffen Plan, for a two-front war that called for a military thrust westward toward Paris at the first sign of Russian mobilization in the east. The hope was to knock the French out of the war before the Russians could effectively mobilize.

Alliance System: After unification in 1871, Bismarck sought security in the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy); Great Britain, France, and Russia countered with the Triple Entente. The Alliance System was supposed to make war between the major powers too costly; instead, its assurance of military reprisal limited diplomatic options.

Nationalism: This refers to an intense pride in one’s nation and its people. Ten distinct linguistic and ethnic groups lived within the border of Austria-Hungary, and all were agitating for either greater autonomy or independence.

Industrialization/Imperialism: Germany’s rise as an industrial and military power generated a heated rivalry with Great Britain. Industrialization promoted imperialism in that it called for the acquisition of colonies to supply the raw materials necessary to same.

Assassination: The June 28, 1914, assassination of the Austrian Archduke, heir to the Habsburg throne, by a young Bosnian patriot, brought the nationalism problem to a crisis point. The subsequent ultimatum issued by Austria-Hungary, and backed by Germany, led to the involvement of secondary allies, particularly Russia, in a series of steps that would lead to declarations of war.

The Beginning of the War: 1914—1915

Within weeks of the assassination of the Austrian Archduke, the lines of World War I would be drawn, thanks in large part to the Alliance System. Austria-Hungary (backed by Germany) issued unpalatable ultimatums to Serbia; Serbia asked for help; the Russians responded and mobilized the army (in part because it needed to keep access to cold-weather ports for its shipping industry); Germany declared war on Russia; and so the allied groups were drawn into war.

Key events leading to the beginning of the war and an early stalemate included the following:

• On July 23, 1914, Austria, at Germany’s urging, moved to crack down on Serbian nationalism by imposing demands that Serbia could not meet (Austrian control of media and police entities), after the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

• On July 28, 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia. Russia began military mobilization as a show of support for Serbia; that mobilization triggered the Schlieffen Plan.

• On August 4, 1914, the German army invaded Belgium, heading for Paris. In the first sixteen months of combat, France suffered roughly half of all its war casualties. Two-thirds of one million men were killed.

• Belgian resistance gave time for British troops to join the battle in late August, but they joined a retreat.

• Russian troops mobilized faster than expected and invaded East Prussia. On August 26, 1914, German Commander Helmuth von Moltke transferred troops from the Western Front to the Eastern Front. The victory by the Germans at the Battle of Tannenberg led to the liberation of East Prussia and began a slow steady German advance eastward. However, the timetable of the Schlieffen Plan was altered, and the Germans were doomed to fight a two-front war.

• On September 6, 1914, French troops met the Germans at the First Battle of Marne.

• October and November 1914 saw a series of local engagements aimed at outflanking the enemy, sometimes known as the Race for the Sea, which extended the front line west until it reached the English Channel.

• The British determination to hold on to the entire French coast stretched the front north through Flanders. In the First Battle of Ypres in October and November 1914, the German advance was halted for good, leading to a stalemate and the beginning of trench warfare.

• The Alliance system pulled six countries (and their allies) into the war initially, with Russia, Great Britain, and France on one side, and Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy on the other. Because Italy’s membership in the Triple Alliance called for aid to Austria only in the case of Austria’s being attacked, Italy quickly left to join the Triple Entente forces, in hopes of regaining the northeastern part of the country under Austrian control.

Total War

When war was declared in 1914, it was met with a joyous enthusiasm all across Europe. Explanations for this reaction include the following:

• A fascination with militarism that pervaded European culture.

• Feelings of fraternity or brotherhood that a war effort brought out in people who lived in an increasingly fragmented and divided society.

• A sense of Romantic adventurism that cast war as an alternative to the mundane, working life of industrial Europe.

Additionally, there were several shared expectations among Europeans as they went to war:

• Recent experience, such as the Franco-Prussian war of 1871, suggested that the war would be brief; most expected it to last about six weeks.

• Each side was confident of victory.

• Each side expected a war of movement, full of cavalry charges, and individual heroism.

The reality was a war of nearly five years of trench warfare and the conversion of entire economies to the war effort. As both sides literally dug in, soldiers fought from a network of trenches up to 30 feet deep, often flooded with water and infested with rats and lice. Military commanders, who commanded from rear-guard positions, continued to launch offensive attacks, ordering soldiers “over the top” to the mercy of the machine guns that lined enemy trenches. Trench warfare, the use of mustard gas, tanks, water-cooled machine guns, and aircraft primarily for reconnaissance were some of the innovations of World War I. They marked the beginning of thoroughly modern warfare characterized by impersonal and efficient killing.

Total war also meant changes on the home front, some of which would have lasting consequences:

• Governments took direct control of industries vital to the war effort. Governments also imposed price, wage, and rent controls; rationed food and material goods; regulated imports and exports; and took over both transportation systems and industry. England’s Defence of the Realm Act and France’s imposition of the same, curtailed civil liberties. Journalists who wrote negative reports were drafted. Protesters were arrested as traitors. A literature of opposition appeared in the works of writers like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.

• Labor unions worked with businesses and government to relax regulations on working hours and conditions.

• Class lines were blurred as people from all walks of life worked side by side to aid the war effort.

• Women were drawn into the industrial workforce in greater numbers and gained access to jobs that had traditionally been reserved for men.

1916: “The Year of Bloodletting”

In 1916, a war of attrition was fought in trenches in France and Belgium. Each side tried to exhaust the resources of the other.

• In February 1916, French troops, led by Marshall Petain, repulsed a German offensive at the Battle of Verdun; 700,000 men were killed.

• From July to November 1916, the British attempted an offensive that has come to be known as the Battle of the Somme; by its end, 400,000 British soldiers; 200,000 French soldiers; and 500,000 German soldiers lay dead.

• On April 6, 1917, America declared war on Germany. Several factors triggered the American entry, including the sinking of American vessels by German U-boats and the Zimmermann Note (a diplomatic correspondence of dubious origin, purporting to reveal a deal between Germany and Mexico).

Russian Revolution and Withdrawal

In March 1917, food shortages and disgust with the huge loss of life (more than a million soldiers dead) exploded into a revolution that forced the tsar’s abdication. The new government, dominated by a coalition of liberal reformers and moderate socialists (sometimes referred to as “Mensheviks”), opted to continue the war effort.

In November 1917, a second revolution brought the Bolsheviks to power. A party of revolutionary Marxists—led by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, who went by the name of Lenin—the Bolsheviks saw the war as a battle between two segments of the bourgeoisie fighting over the power to exploit the proletariat. Accordingly, the Bolsheviks decided to abandon the war and consolidate their revolutionary gains within Russia. They signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany in March 1918, surrendering Poland, Ukraine, Finland, and the Baltic provinces to Germany.

Shortly after the signing of the treaty, Russia was engulfed by civil war. Anticommunist groups, generally called “the Whites” in contrast to the communist Reds, were led by members of the old tsarist elite intent upon defending their privileges. Both sides received support from foreign governments, and for more than three years, from December 1917 to November 1920, the Bolshevik regime was engaged in a life-and-death struggle, which it ultimately won.

Germany’s Disintegration and the Peace Settlement

Germany launched one last great offensive in March 1918 through the Somme toward Paris. The “Allies,” as the French, British, and American coalition came to be known, responded by uniting their troops under a single commander, the French General Ferdinand Foch, for the first time. French troops were reinforced by fresh British conscripts and 600,000 American troops. By July 1918, the tide had turned in the Allies’ favor for good. German forces retreated slowly along the whole Western Front. By early September, the German high command informed their government that peace had to be made at once. On November 9, 1918, German Kaiser William II abdicated, and two days later—at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month—representatives of a new German government agreed to terms that amounted to unconditional surrender.

Peace negotiations began in Paris in January 1919 and were conducted by the victors; Germany was forced to accept the terms dictated to it. The French delegation was led by Georges Clemenceau, whose desire was to make sure that Germany could never threaten France again. The U.S. delegation was led by President Woodrow Wilson, who approached the peace talks with bold plans for helping to build a new Europe that could embrace the notions of individual rights and liberty, which he believed characterized the United States. Great Britain was led by Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who tried to mediate between the vindictive Clemenceau and the idealistic Wilson.

The result was a series of five treaties that have, collectively, come to be known as the Treaty of Versailles. The overall settlement, sometimes also referred to as “the Peace of Paris,” contained much that was unprecedented and much that would sow the seeds of further conflict. Among the more significant aspects of the settlement were the following:

• Germany was forced to pay $5 billion annually in reparations beginning in 1921, with no guarantee as to the total amount (the final amount was set at $33 billion in 1921). Germany made its final reparation payment in October 2010.

• New independent nations were established in Eastern Europe as Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia were created out of the old Austria-Hungary; Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were created out of the western part of the old Russian Empire; and Poland was created out of lands formerly part of Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary.

• Germany, in what came to be known as “the war guilt clause,” was forced to accept full blame for the war. This along with the imposition of reparations would cripple both the post-war economy and the Weimar Republic’s ability to govern legitimately.

• Germany was stripped of all its overseas colonies.

• The territory of Alsace-Lorraine, taken by Germany during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870—1871, was returned to France.

• The Allies were given the right to occupy German territories on the west bank of the Rhine River for 15 years.

• Germany’s armed forces were limited to 100,000 soldiers and saddled with armament limitations.

Furthermore, the Treaty provoked long-lasting effects both in and outside of Europe. The Mandate System, sanctioned by the League of Nations, gave the French administrative (in actuality, colonial) control of Syria and Lebanon and the English gained control of Palestine and three Ottoman provinces of Mesopotamia, these latter coming together to form modern-day Iraq.

With the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire (member of the Axis), Turkey was able to continue the elimination of Armenians, who had allied with Russia during the war and who were considered enemies and traitors. The continued Armenian genocide resulted in an estimated 1.5 million Armenians’ deaths.

Nations and peoples still in search of self-determination expressed their discontent in rebellions such as the Easter Rebellion in Ireland, the Arab revolt against the Turks, and, even, to some degree, the final stages of the Russian revolution.

Review Questions


Multiple Choice

Questions 1—3 refer to the following passage:

In the Second International the German “decisive force” played the determining role. At the [international] congresses, in the meetings of the international socialist bureaus, all awaited the opinion of the Germans. Especially in the questions of the struggle against militarism and war. . . . And what did we in Germany experience when the great historical test came? The most precipitous fall, the most violent collapse. Nowhere has the organization of the proletariat been yoked so completely to the service of imperialism. Nowhere is the state of siege borne so docilely. Nowhere is the press so hobbled, public opinion so stifled, the economic and political class struggle of the working class so totally surrendered as in Germany. . . .

The world war is a turning point. . . . The world war has altered the conditions of our struggle and, most of all, it has changed us. Not that the basic law of capitalist development, the life-and-death war between capital and labor, will experience any amelioration. But now, in the midst of the war, the masks are falling and the old familiar visages smirk at us. The tempo of development has received a mighty jolt from the eruption of the volcano of imperialism. The violence of the conflicts in the bosom of society, the enormousness of the tasks that tower up before the socialist proletariat—these make everything that has transpired in the history of the workers’ movement seem a pleasant idyll. Historically, this war was ordained to thrust forward the cause of the proletariat. . . . It was ordained to drive the German proletariat to the pinnacle of the nation.

Rosa Luxemburg, “The War and the Workers,” The Junius Pamphlet, 1916

1. What did European socialists hope to gain at the Second International?

A. Guidance in political action from German socialists

B. Guidance in political action from French socialists

C. Guidance in political action from the German government

D. Growth in membership

2. When war broke out in 1914, socialist organizations in Germany

A. attempted revolution.

B. supported the government and the war effort.

C. called for widespread work stoppages.

D. united in opposition to the war.

3. How did Luxemburg view the war?

A. As a great opportunity for Germany

B. As the end of European civilization

C. As an event that would end class antagonism

D. As a moment that could ultimately help the socialist cause

Chapter Question (Causation)


4. Briefly explain the role that the Alliance System played in causing World War I.

Answers and Explanations

1. A is correct because the passage states that, at the Second International meeting of socialist parties, “all awaited the opinion of the Germans.” B is incorrect because the passage makes no mention of French socialists. C is incorrect because the passage refers to socialist groups at the Second International, and because European socialist groups did not look to national governments for guidance. D is incorrect because one cannot tell from the passage how many socialist groups existed in prewar Europe.

2. B is correct because the passage indicates that when war broke out, “the organization of the proletariat [joined itself] completely to the service of imperialism,” and that “the . . . political class struggle of the working class so totally surrendered . . . in Germany.” A is incorrect because the passage makes no reference to any attempt at revolution. C is incorrect because the passage does not refer to a call for work stoppages. D is incorrect because the passage implies that the socialist parties of Germany failed to unite in opposition to the war.

3. D is correct because the passage says that the “war was ordained to thrust forward the cause of the proletariat. . . . It was ordained to drive the German proletariat to the pinnacle of the nation.” A is incorrect because the passage does not refer to an opportunity for Germany. B is incorrect because the passage does not refer to the end of European civilization. C is incorrect because the passage does not predict the end of class antagonism.

4. Suggested answer:

Thesis: The Alliance System, created to make war more costly and, therefore, less likely, actually helped to cause World War I by making neutrality nearly impossible.

Paragraph Outline:

I. Bismarck sought to gain security by creating the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy), but this so alarmed Great Britain and its longtime adversaries, France and Russia, that they countered by creating the Triple Entente.

II. The Alliance System was supposed to make war between the major powers too costly; instead its assurance of military reprisal limited diplomatic options and created the specter of a two-front war for Germany, convincing Germany that it had to go to war sooner rather than later. Once Germany attacked, all of the countries of the Alliance were honor-bound to join in.

Rapid Review


At the turn of the twentieth century, political gains were made by parties on the extreme left and right of the political spectrum, as the gradual reform of liberalism lost its appeal. The great powers of Europe constructed an alliance system that divided them into two armed camps. From August 1914 to November 1918, the two camps fought a total war of attrition. In the process, the oppressive police state of the Romanovs fell to Marxist revolutionaries in November 1917. The peace settlement that followed the war sought to weaken and punish Germany.

The ramifications of World War I and the five treaties bringing it to an end are many, varied, and long-lasting; these are what have led historians to call World War I “the defining event of the twentieth century.”

Further Resources

J. L. Carr, A Month in the Country—post—World War I

Dalton Trumbo, Johnny Got His Gun—post—World War I

Pat Barker, Regeneration—post—World War I and antiwar