Germany, Mitteleuropa and the Revolutionising of Russia
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Universität Warschau
Publication date: 2020-06-27
Stosunki Międzynarodowe – International Relations 2015;51(2):305–352
The German programme of war aims in World War I became known only in 1961, when Fritz Fischer, a historian from Hamburg, published the secret memorial called the Septemberprogramm (September Programme), dated 9 September 1914. In this document, the Chancellor of the German Empire Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg declared the intention of breaking the power of France, pushing Russia far to the east and establishing a Central European Economic Association that, while maintaining the pretence of equality of its members, would in fact be led and dominated by Germany, consolidating its economic and political hegemony in Europe. Thus the Septemberprogramm referred to the concept of Mitteleuropa, which had been present in German political and economic thought already since the first half of the 19th century. The proponents of this concept – politicians, columnists, economists, and geographers – advocated the establishment of a European political and economic community that would be centred around a core in the form of the close relationship between Germany and Austria (or Austria-Hungary) and which would be joined by additional countries, especially from Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe; by controlling such a community, Germany would be able to rise to the rank of a global power – next to the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia. Striving to realise its war aims in World War I, including the concept of Mitteleuropa, Germany applied a policy of revolutionising and inciting internal destabilisation in its enemies (primarily the British Empire and Russia). The most spectacular manifestation of this policy was the support the conservative Germany gave to radical Russian revolutionaries (Bolsheviks) and Vladimir Lenin himself. Attempting to cause as great a chaos in Russia as possible, in April 1917 the German political and military leadership organised the passage of Lenin and a group of his associates from neutral Switzerland through Germany and Scandinavia to Petrograd (Saint Petersburg), and then – through considerable financial support – made it possible for the Bolsheviks to seize power in Russia in autumn of the same year. The most important result of Germany’s efforts aimed at destabilising the internal situation in Russia was the conclusion of the Treaty of Brest between Germans and the Bolsheviks – struggling to maintain power in their country plunged in chaos and civil war – in March 1918. Pursuant to this treaty, Germany obtained control over a huge area from Finland to the Caucasus which had previously been controlled by the Russian Empire; this opened the way for Germany to implement its Mitteleuropa programme. This success, however, proved only temporary and was invalidated by the Germany’s defeat in World War I; in the armistice concluded in November 1918, it had to agree to, among others, annul the Treaty of Brest and lose the conquered territories in Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, Lenin and the Bolsheviks managed to stay in power in Russia and later tried to incite a revolution in Germany, which they believed was the prerequisite of a world revolution due to Germany’s high degree of industrialisation, strong worker class and geopolitical location.