What were the economic effects of World War I
The First World War
Apl. Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kruse, born in 1957, is an academic senior counselor and adjunct professor in the field of Modern German and European History at the Historical Institute of the Distance University in Hagen. His main research interests include the history of the First World War, the history of the French Revolution, the history of the German and international labor movement and the history of the political cult of the dead. Among others, von Kruse has published: Wolfgang Kruse: The First World War, Darmstadt 2009 (history compact of the WBG).
During the First World War, German civil society was only affected to a minor extent - by bombing in areas near the border - directly by fighting. Nevertheless, the increasingly total war had a considerable impact on the economy and society on the so-called home front. The economy was converted more and more rigorously to war production, and women played a growing role in public life. People began to suffer deprivation and material hardship, and class social antagonisms and social protest potentials developed more and more clearly in society, which soon also took on anti-war characteristics.
"Hunger" leaflet (June 1916)
Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg accuses England of the crime of being to blame for hunger in Germany, and the persecutors and government pimps are chatting it up. Meanwhile the German government should have known that it had to come like this: the war against Russia, France and England had to lead to the cordon off of Germany. It was also always the custom among the noble brothers during the war to inflict economic damage on one another and to cut off the supply of food. The war, the genocide is the crime, the plan of starvation is only a consequence of this crime.
The evil enemies have 'encircled' us, the warmakers blare. Why did you have a policy that led to encirclement? Is the simplest counter-question. [...]
Another crime was added to the crime of instigating the world war: the rise in prices did nothing to counteract this famine. Why did nothing happen? Because the hunger of the masses does not hurt the government clans, the capitalists, junkers and food usurers, but serves as an enrichment. Because if the struggle against hunger and hardship had been taken seriously from the start, the blinded masses would have realized the terrible gravity of the situation. But then the enthusiasm for war would soon have evaporated.
That is why the masses were stunned with howls of victory triumph and at the same time they were handed over to the agrarian and capitalist food usury. [...]
What should be?
You can still wage war for half a year, maybe a whole year, by slowly starving people to death. But then the future generation will be sacrificed. In addition to the terrible victims of the dead and cripples on the battlefields, there are other victims of children and women who, as a result of the shortage, become infirm.
From: German history in sources and representations, vol. 8, p. 415f.
Priority and organization of war productionAs in all other countries involved in the war, the economy in Germany was not prepared for a long war of industrial attrition. This was made more difficult by the lack of necessary raw materials such as saltpetre, which was required for the production of gunpowder, caused by the isolation from the world market. On the initiative of and under the direction of AEG director Walther Rathenau, a war raw materials department was established in the Prussian War Ministry on August 13, 1914. It organized the collection and distribution of raw materials essential to the war effort and the production of substitute materials such as artificial saltpeter using the Haber-Bosch method and thus became the nucleus for the expansion of the German armaments industry. Starting from the metal and chemical industry, under her guidance, more and more economic areas were merged into so-called war raw material societies, in which the distribution of war-essential raw materials was organized through the interaction of economic self-administration and military authority supervision.
Report on the development of public health during the First World War
Privy Councilor Rubner shared among others. with: The censored statements of the press made the health of the population appear to be good. But a confidential survey in December 1917 showed a rapid increase in total mortality, particularly from tuberculosis. The reports from institutions where only the rationed food was given were desperate. A further investigation failed because of the resistance of certain powerful personalities: There is no measure of how far the misery goes, not only in the big cities, but also in small towns, and finally also has seized the land. The secret medical councilor Kraus discussed among other things. the disease “hunger edema” caused by malnutrition, which initially only led to death in older and hard-working people, but later also affected young people and the more resistant age groups. Privy Councilor Ezernh discussed the effects on children in particular. Up until 1916, the children's good looks were deceptive, but the only way to nourish the children was to starve their parents. Now the breast children are already being affected, since the milk of the mothers is insufficient.
The representatives of the Reich Office of the Interior and the City of Berlin mainly gave some statistical material:
The total mortality of the civilian population showed an increase of 32 percent in 1917. H., in the first three quarters of 1918 from 34 per cent. H. compared to 1913. The flu cases are not included. In 1913, 40,334 people died of tuberculosis in cities with more than 150,000 inhabitants. In the first half of 1918 41,800. In 1913, 46,000 died of respiratory diseases, in 1917 61,000. In the first half of 1918, 335,000 people without the flu. For Berlin it was found that the deaths from pulmonary and throat consumption doubled in 1917 compared to the average for 1913 and 1916. The mortality rate for women is particularly high.
From: Sociale Praxis, 28th year 1918/19, Sp. 215f.
Labor shortage and compulsion to workAt the beginning of the war, there was a massive crisis of transition in the German economy with rapidly growing unemployment, despite the fact that millions of men were drafted into the military. However, it was soon replaced by a strong war economy in the armaments factories that were favored by state contracts. A serious shortage of labor became noticeable here, which could only be partially compensated for by reallocations from the peace industries. State and industry tried to solve this problem in various ways: firstly, by retiring highly qualified industrial workers from military service, which, however, came up against narrow limits in view of the growing need for soldiers; secondly, through the use of prisoners of war, a practice which, however, was contrary to international law in the area of war production and could often only be enforced with compulsion; Thirdly, through the use of foreign workers, whereby rigid coercive measures were used, especially against civilians from Poland and Belgium, which triggered violent international protests, especially in the case of the forced deportation of over 60,000 Belgian workers to the Reich; fourth, through attempts to increase women's labor, which were only moderately successful, especially among working women with children; finally by restricting freedom of movement and other coercive measures against the German workforce.
Size and composition of the German workforce in 1913 and 1918
Absolute numbers in each case in 1000 workers; relative changes in percent
|Men and women overall||7387||6787||-8%|
|of it grow up||6816||6185||-9%|
|of which under 16||571||602||+6%|
|of it grow up||5410||4046||-25%|
|of which under 16||384||421||+10%|
|of it grow up||1406||2139||+52%|
|of which under 16||187||181||-3%|
Source: Jürgen Kocka, Class Society in War. German social history 1914-1918, Frankf./M. 1988, p. 27.
Food management and material hardship
Earnings and food supplies during the First World War
Real earnings of male workers, March 1914 = 100
|Sept. 1914||March 1915||Sept. 1915||March 1916||Sept. 1916||March 1917||Sept. 1917||March 1918||Sept 1918|
Source: Jürgen Kocka, Class Society in War. German social history 1914-1918, Frankf./M. 1988, p. 33.
Weight of the official food rations
As a percentage of the weight of the peace consumption
|1916/1917||1917/1918||1.7. until December 28, 1918|
Source: Jürgen Kocka, Class Society in War. German social history 1914-1918, Frankf./M. 1988, p. 35.
Social contrasts and anti-war protests
Report from the Berlin Police President to the Prussian Minister of the Interior on unrest in front of grocery stores in October 1915
Finally, in the district of the 70th police station in the southeast at Reichenbergerstrasse 137, an attack on Leo Intrators' egg shop took place at 7:00 am. There were 500 to 600 people gathered who, as a result of the sudden attack, succeeded in smashing the window panes and the supplies in the shop window without the police being able to intervene and establish the perpetrators. Increased police protection then prevented further rioting, and by 10 a.m. the crowd was lost.
The reason why I am presenting the excesses in a big city like Berlin under the current pressure of the food issue in such detail is that they are not particularly worrying because there is a risk that they will repeat themselves and become ever larger. [...]
From: Documents from secret archives, Vol. 4, pp. 90f.
Demands of the Berlin workers' councils in the January strike in 1918
4. The state of siege is to be lifted immediately. The law of associations comes into force again in full, as does the right to freedom of expression in the press and in meetings. The protective laws for workers must be put back into force as soon as possible. All interference by the military administration in trade union activities must be reversed and new ones prevented.
5. The militarization of factories is also to be abolished.
6. All those convicted and arrested for political acts are to be released immediately.
7. Thorough democratization of all state institutions in Germany, first of all the introduction of general, equal, direct and secret suffrage for all men and women over the age of 20 for the Prussian state parliament.
Since only unconditional solidarity promises success, we vow to fend off any reprimand by our leaders, representatives and agents with all our might. But we are also addressing the proletarians of Germany and the other warring countries as a whole with an urgent request, as our work colleagues in Austria-Hungary have successfully preceded us, to now also enter into mass strikes, because only the common international class struggle will finally create peace and freedom for us and bread.
From: Documents from secret archives, p. 246f.
Selected literature:Roger Chickering, Freiburg during the First World War. Total war and urban everyday life, Paderborn 2008 (Orig. Cambridge / Mass. 2007).
Hans Joachim Bieber, Trade Unions in War and Revolution. Labor movement, industry, the state and the military in Germany 1914-1920, 2 vols., Hamburg 1981.
Hans G. Ehlert, The Central Economic Authority of the German Reich 1914-1919. The problem of the "common economy" in war and peace, Wiesbaden 1982.
Gerald D. Feldman, Army, Industry and Workers in Germany 1914-1918, Bonn and Berlin 1985 (orig. 1966).
Ders., The Great Disorder. Politics, Economics, and Society in the German Inflation, Oxford 1993.
Jürgen Kocka, class society in war. German social history 1914-1918, Frankf./M. 1988 (first Göttingen 1973).
Kai Rawe, "... we'll bring you to work." Employment of foreigners and forced labor in the Ruhr coal mining industry during the First World War, Essen 2005.
Anne Roerkohl, Hunger Blockade and Home Front. The municipal food supply in Westphalia during the First World War, Stuttgart 1991.
A. Skalweit, The German War Food Economy, Stuttgart et al. 1927.
Jens Thiel, "People Basin Belgium". Recruitment, deportation and forced labor in the First World War, Essen 2007.
Friedrich Zunkel, Industry and State Socialism, The Struggle for the Economic Order in Germany 1914-1918, Düsseldorf 1974.
Benjamin Ziemann, Front and Home. Rural War Experiences in Southern Bavaria 1914-1923, Essen 1997.
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