Dated: 18 Dec 1999
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THE LAST 100 years of the millennium have been an era of wars and revolutions. The first half of the century saw generations slaughtered in two world wars. It has been the century which produced the Nazi Holocaust and the possibility that nuclear weapons would destroy the world. Capitalism's crazed rule for profit threatens ecological catastrophe.
<LI>1889 Boer War, lasting three years, sees the first concentration camps set up by Britain.
AT THE start of the 20th century people across the world were promised an era of unparalleled peace and prosperity. The growth of capitalism and international trade were supposed to bring order and affluence. But the opposite was true. The Great Powers' struggle for markets and influence brought more conflict-and the wars were more terrible than before. Wars between Russia and Japan, and in the Balkans, were followed by the most bloody war in history up to that point-the First World War.
BY THE start of 1917 the slaughter of the First World War, economic ruin and hatred of the Tsar combined to spark rebellion in Russia. At the front soldiers, spurred on by Bolshevik agitators, deserted in droves and returned home. On 23 February, International Women's Day, the working class women of Petrograd filled the streets demanding bread. A revolution was under way.
"WE DEMAND total control of the branches of industry by the working people. From you capitalists, weeping crocodile tears, we demand you stop weeping about chaos you yourselves have created. Your cards are on the table, the game is up, your persecution can no longer be successful. Go off and hide. Think your own thoughts and don't dare show your faces, or else you'll find yourself without a nose, and without a head to boot." RESOLUTION passed at mass meeting of workers in the Putilov engineering works in Petrograd on the eve of the Russian Revolution
THE LEADERS of the Russian Revolution knew that the new society would be strangled at birth by the capitalist powers if it remained isolated. So revolution would have to be an international phenomenon. The Western powers, realising this, moved quickly to isolate Russia. The country was invaded by 14 capitalist powers which backed the reactionary "White Army" during the civil war that followed. The motor of the revolution, the working class, was slaughtered and atomised.
ON 24 October 1929 the US stock exchange crashed. The Great Depression spread around the world. Countless workers' lives were wrecked as firms went bankrupt. Unemployed workers, angry that they were paying the price of the failure of capitalism, marched and rioted in many cities.
MANY BELIEVED that after Germany, France would also go down the road of fascism. This was a particular fear after the far right tried to launch a coup in 1934. A general strike was called. Workers united in a spontaneous show of unity against the fascist threat. In June 1936 France was rocked by a massive wave of strikes and occupations after the election of a left of centre Popular Front government.
In February 1936 in Spain a Popular Front government was elected by a radicalised working class. People hoped it would be a bulwark against fascism. Fascist General Franco launched a coup in July. He was beaten back by Spanish workers who mobilised to defend the republic. Civil war raged.
THE DEFEAT of the anti-fascist movements had the most horrendous consequences. With the Second World War came the horror of the Holocaust. Some of the great technological advances of the century were turned into instruments of slaughter. Tens of millions of people faced occupation under Nazi rule. That meant repression, hardship and death. In Poland over five and a half million people were killed-some 16 percent of the population. Across Europe, Jews were herded into ghettos from 1939, and from 1942 they were exported to the death camps. In all, the Nazis killed six million Jews.
ACROSS EUROPE the end of the war meant workers had high hopes that society would change for the better. In Britain that was seen with the election of the first majority Labour government under Attlee. It was under pressure to deliver reforms like the welfare state and nationalisation of key industries.
A WORLD divided by the Cold War also saw outbursts of struggle East and West. In Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 workers rose up against the Stalinist regimes, and battled against Russian tanks. In France in 1968 and Portugal in 1974 there were powerful mass movements that challenged the existing order. The long post-war boom had raised people's expectations of a better life. Many were prepared to fight to realise those aspirations.
THE FIGHT for civil rights in the US had been sparked off in 1955 with the boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery in the Southern US. There was increasing discontent amongst many black workers in the North who were living in the same cities as white workers yet were denied the same rights. Throughout the 1960s many cities like Detroit exploded in angry riots.
THE 1980s were characterised by the dominance of Thatcher and Reagan, rabid supporters of the market. Workers were hit by recessions and a ruling class eager to ram through attacks on union organisation. There were important struggles in the 1980s-in Poland the Solidarity movement sparked a wave of protests in Eastern Europe that shook the regimes to the core.