The People Must Be Paid

Paul Smith

  • Capital Cities at War: Paris, London, Berlin 1914-1919 edited by Jay Winter and Jean-Louis Robert
    Cambridge, 622 pp, £60.00, March 1997, ISBN 0 521 57171 5

The war that broke out in 1914 was the first in which highly industrialised and urbanised states were to be found on both sides, and industrial muscle and urban stamina counted for as much as military professionalism, conscript grit and peasant stoicism. How far urban stamina could be relied on was not the least of the questions troubling nationalists in the years before the war. Big cities readily produced outbursts of jingoism in national emergency, or of intolerance when supposedly national values were challenged. But, alongside the clerks who ‘mafficked’ in London and the students of the Action Française who disrupted the Sorbonne lectures of Professor Thalamas (regarded as a traducer of Joan of Arc) stood groups less obviously inclined or adapted to answer the nation’s call. Nationalists feared the great towns as the seats at once of lust for gain and taste for luxurious ease which sapped the will to sacrifice self for state, and of the proletarian alienation and socialist militancy that placed the class before the national struggle. They need not have worried. The ability of each of the states concerned to represent its war as one of defence turned the flank of a socialist movement which was far from having eradicated in its adherents instincts of patriotism and habits of obedience.

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