Ch. 14. The Modern Transformation In Central and Eastern Europe

    In the 16th and 17th centuries, as the modern transformation was beginning in western Europe, aristocrat-peasant society became more firmly established in central and eastern Europe. Peasants were tied more tightly to the land, and serfdom became a more onerous legal status. Polish, Ruthenian, and other Slavic aristocrats were increasing their land holdings and turning into the "Magnates" who would run much of eastern Europe up until the 20th century. 1

    The mid-level magnates were gaining more control over the land, peasants, and harvests. The Slavic kings were declining in power, except the Russian Czars who were becoming absolute monarchs. In the 17th and 18th centuries, most of Slavic and Baltic eastern Europe fell under the control of three powerful empires: Austrian, Prussian, and Russian. The Polish, Czech, Lithuanian, and Hungarian magnates were still there, and they still owned or controlled the land and peasants, but they governed alongside German and Russian aristocrats. The Turkish Ottoman Empire ruled the southern portion of the Slavic world in the Balkan Peninsula. 2

The Origin of Future Identity Group Issues

    Large parts of central and eastern Europe had an international cosmopolitan atmosphere. Aristocrats of different nationalities ruled together and intermarried. The educated elite were multi-lingual and studied in all the great universities of Europe. Germans were found in many professional services and dominated the trade in high-end merchandise. Slavic peasants still worked the land and provided most of the wealth that supported the ruling structure. For many of the elite, it was an ideal world, but the modern transformation was arriving, and everything was going to change. 3

    A very serious nationalities problem was developing. As the Polish, Ruthenian, and other Slavic magnates sold increasing amounts of grain to the Dutch through the Baltic trade, they had more money to spend on luxury products. Germans had been filtering eastward for centuries. A network of German towns had developed with merchants and skilled workers who performed many functions, especially the supply of finely crafted merchandise for the aristocrats. There were also numerous colonies of German farmers. 4

    One of the reasons for the growth of German-speaking towns in the east was that Germans were not serfs. They could find work in the commercial cities. The same was true for the Jews. The grain trade from east to west was continuing to increase. Money was flowing and business was growing. The majority of labor that should have been available for economic development was the Slavic peasantry, but they were still bound to the land. In the 19th century, German emigration to the east was happening faster than ever before to meet the demand for skilled workers. 5

The French Revolution in the East

    The French Revolution was the death knell for serfdom and old-fashioned aristocrat-peasant society throughout Europe, although that was not at all clear at the time. In the west, the last remnants of the official, legal, subordinate status of the peasantry were removed during or shortly after the revolution and the Napoleonic wars. In the east, the arrival of the "French Revolutionary Army" was the beginning of the process of liberating the peasant population. The transition from serfdom to freedom happened much faster in the east than in the west, but it was still a chaotic process that continued for most of the 19th century. (Readers who would like more information are encouraged to enter "the end of serfdom in Europe" into any internet search engine.) 6

    The French revolution put the modern transformation into gear in central and eastern Europe, but as usual, the early progress was slow and hesitant. The Austrian Emperor, the Czar, and the King of Prussia had finally defeated Napoleon and were determined to retain the political status quo, absolute monarchy by "divine right," and they cooperated with each other to that end. The monarchs were leery of any kind of change, but economic development was hard to stop, and it meant more wealth and more taxes for the governments. The conservative reaction that set in after the Napoleonic wars inhibited political change, but an economic, social, and intellectual awakening was in progress. 7

Economic Change

    In the 1830s and 40s, the Prussians began laying railroad track and extended it into their eastern territories. Modern development began to accelerate. The Austrians and Russians were forced into building railroads in order to keep up. The three empires may have been cooperating with each other, but none of them was willing to fall behind in military capability. Soon, it was becoming clear to the imperial rulers that they had to have modern industry in order to have a modern army. Strategic requirements finally forced all of them to rush headlong into the development of heavy industry. 8

    Modern development had been slower in the Slavic east, but it was getting ready for takeoff. Between 1807 and 1861, the serfs were granted legal freedom. This was partly the result of agitation and rebellion from below. But heavy industry required lots of industrial workers, and the only choice was to free the peasants. 9

    In the second half of the 19th century, economic development began to explode across central and eastern Europe. Peasant farmers became market farmers. Productivity rose steadily and excess labor was simultaneously released for industrial growth. Markets and capital were available, and manufacturing began to take off. In some ways this was similar to modern industrial development in China since 1980, but the overall situation was very different. 10

German Unification

    Germany was not yet a unified nation, but it was still beginning to take the lead in European technology and industrial development, especially: steel mills, chemicals, and electricity. In the revolutionary year of 1848, liberal groups in the western German states had pushed for unification under a Prussian or Austrian king, with a constitution and an elected legislature. This initiative failed because the conservative absolute monarchs from these two powerful eastern states would not accept any limitations on their authority. But, the surge of modern development that was already taking place demanded some kind of political response. 11

    Part of the problem was that Europe was becoming modern starting in the west and slowly moving east. The German Rhineland and Westphalia bordered on the Netherlands, where modern development was strongest in the early centuries. They were part of the western European nexus of trade and cultural development that began the modern transformation. Prussia and Austria, the largest and most powerful German states with their own royal dynasties were centered in eastern Germany and looked toward the Slavic east for trade and expansion. 12

    The dozens of separate independent German states were mostly spectators as the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, British, and French had conquered half the planet. In the mid 19th century, it was becoming obvious that as soon as the separate German states united into a single nation, they would be the largest and most powerful country in Europe. Germans did not want to remain on the sidelines, while the Western imperialists were getting all the glory and seizing the lions' share of the world's wealth. 13

    It was Otto Von Bismarck, the Chancellor of Prussia, who found a way to break the impasse. Prussia had always devoted most of its income to military spending. Now, the income was larger, the technology was superior, and the Prussian Army marched into battle. Bismarck carefully planned and won two short wars, the first against Austria in 1866, and the second against France in 1871. The first steel artillery ever manufactured was made by Krupp and used to defeat the French. In the process, Germany was unified, with Keiser Wilhelm I as absolute monarch. 14

The Peak Of European Imperial Power and Glory

    During the last quarter of the 19th century, the major powers of western Europe, Britain and France, were at the height of imperial power and glory with their large overseas empires. The Netherlands was still receiving a steady flow of wealth from its centuries-old East-Indies Empire, which is now Indonesia. 15

    The “Scramble for Africa” was on. The Portuguese, British, and French had already staked out most of the continent. The Belgian king had taken possession of the Belgian Congo, and was getting an increasing flow of wealth from palm oil, rubber, and other tropical products. Germans and Italians had only recently become unified nation states. They were in a hurry to grab whatever was left. Wealth from colonial possessions around the world was being shipped back to Europe in ever larger quantities. The quickly-modernizing Japanese were beginning their adventures in Korea, Manchuria, and Taiwan, which would turn into an Asian empire. 16

    How was this possible? The change to modern society was growing in momentum. Modern societies are nation states, not colonies or conquering empires. History is often deceptive. The world was indeed on its way to modern nation states, but it was going to take a detour first. Western Europe had a head start in the modern transformation. They were more modern, and therefore more powerful, than the rest of the world. In the 19th century, it became relatively easy for the West, with their new steamships and machineguns, to defeat and control the traditional aristocratic and tribal societies in Asia and Africa; so that is what they did. 17

    The Western countries who were leading the imperialist charge were no longer run by kings and queens; they were governed by the oligarchic ruling class. These elite families saw imperialism primarily as a business proposition, but the older aristocratic concept of the “Glory of Conquest” also played a role. Heavy industry was growing by leaps and bounds. Technology continued to advance. Railroads, steamships, steel mills, and electricity were in the process of changing the world forever. Imperialism was still expanding, and the European oligarchic ruling class was at the peak of its power and glory. 18

Socialism in the West

    Large-scale heavy industry implies a large work force, which was becoming the industrial proletariat. The socialist labor movement had been growing in size and strength. Heavy industry, which brought large numbers of workers together in one place, made it easier to organize larger trade unions that could exercise greater power. When "industrial action" shut down a railroad or a blast furnace, it cost the owners big money. The same was true for any capital intensive industry. 19

    The oligarchic ruling class had two ways to respond to the growing militancy of the labor unions. First, they tried to beat the strikers into submission, but that caused resentment and generally did not work very well. The second approach was to negotiate with the unions and compromise on pay and working conditions. Over the long run, negotiation and compromise worked much better. 20

    After the French Revolution, royal authority was declining in western Europe, and early democracy was starting to spread. In the mid 19th century, legislative assemblies were becoming more common and more powerful. The oligarchic ruling class was in charge, but voting rights were slowly being extended. Public schools were appearing. The working class was becoming more educated and more vocal. As the century continued, the oligarchic ruling class was still there, but the balance of power was starting to shift. By the 1890s, socialist political parties were becoming a major force in politics. 21

    The growth of democracy was accepted slowly and grudgingly by the western-European elite, but without the need for more guillotines, violent revolution, or civil war. During the French Revolution, they had been there and done that. Everyone still remembered, and no one wanted to repeat the experience. The working class in Great Britain, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands would establish their right to majority rule at home not by fighting their own oligarchic ruling class but by defeating the Germans in two massive World Wars. 22

Nationalism, Identity Issues, and Violence in Eastern Europe

    Nationalism is usually the largest cause of violence in the modern transformation. It includes: identity cleansings, national rebellions, and attempts at national expansion, such as border wars and imperial wars. For centuries, central and eastern Europe had been dominated by Austrian, Prussian, Russian, and Ottoman conquest dynasties. Now the modern transformation was going to retire all of these monarchs. Slavic Europe would be divided and re-divided into modern nation states. It would be a long and bloody process, and there was nothing that anyone could do to prevent it. Many people helped to make the violence a lot worse than it needed to be. 23

    Ethnic tensions between Slavic nationalists and their German rulers were nothing new in central Europe. When modern economic development began in the mid 19th century, there was a distinct change in this kind of conflict. In the past, it had been led by the aristocrats. In the future, it would be led by the ordinary citizens. The Slavic people could be ruled by German, Russian, and Turkish imperial governments as long as most of them were peasants. When they stopped being peasants, they became Serbs, Romanians, Bulgarians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Lithuanians, Hungarians, Ukrainians, and Croats. 24

Early Development of Communism

    Conflict between the working class and the oligarchic ruling class is often the second most violent part of the modern transformation. Class conflicts between workers and oligarchs have sometimes been settled with a minimum of violence and other times with a maximum of violence, which is what was going to happened in central and eastern Europe. 25

    The newly recruited factory workers were often treated like industrial peasants by the new factory owners. Physical punishment was used to enforce discipline, much like the old days when they were serfs. The workers quickly turned to socialism to agitate for better pay and working conditions. The German and Russian emperors and oligarchs who ruled Slavic Europe maintained a hardline stance in opposition to the socialist agenda. Negotiation and compromise often failed. Labor disputes went unresolved. The socialists became more militant. State security forces used violence and repression against Slavic strikers and union leaders. The workers began considering an extreme form of revolutionary socialism called communism. 26

    Toward the end of the 19th century, socialism was evolving in two different directions. The mainstream labor-union leaders and socialist politicians, despite their anti-capitalist rhetoric, were negotiating with big business and accepting compromises to get reforms implemented in a slow step by step process. This led to the separation of a smaller group of hardliners who became revolutionary communists. The “Bolsheviks” were not up for compromise. They wanted the destruction of capitalism and the oligarchic ruling class. Communism was an extreme solution, and it had many problems, but it was clearly part of the modern transformation. Its job was to do battle with the oligarchic ruling class on behalf of the industrial working class. 27

    In western Europe, a majority of the socialist workers and capitalist business owners favored compromise and moderation, which led to negotiations and incremental improvements in pay and working conditions. In central Europe, the situation was more difficult. The mostly German ruling structure was less willing to compromise with the Slavic working class. The result was more friction and a more even split between the number of moderate socialists and hardline communists. In Russian eastern Europe, the autocratic czarist government and the Russian oligarchs were even less willing to compromise with the unions over pay and empowerment issues. The result was communism. 28

The Rate of Change

    The aristocrats of central and eastern Europe had retained control of their peasants for too long. Then, as soon as they were released from serfdom, the development of heavy industry began. It was all much too abrupt. In western Europe, it had taken many centuries for the peasants to slowly free themselves. Then there had been more centuries of adjustment before heavy industry began to dominate the economy. In the east, it all happened at once, with medieval German and Russian conquest dynasties in control of the governments as absolute monarchs. The two most difficult problems of early-stage and middle-stage modern transformation, nationalism and class conflict, were occurring simultaneously. The result would be two massive World Wars. 29

World War I

    At the beginning of the 20th century, the traditional conquest dynasties—Hohenzollern, Habsburg, and Romanov—still reigned in Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia, but they were under fire from all sides. Nationalists, socialists, communists, anarchists, and Slavic rebels of every kind were trying to take them down. The assassination of members of the royal families was a real and constant danger. Most of the plots failed, but some succeeded. 30

    One of the largest problems was the threat of national rebellion and nation-state formation by the Slavs. In the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire was in decline. Serbs, Romanians, and Bulgarians were establishing nation states of their own. Czechs, Croats, and Poles were dreaming of rebelling against German, Austrian, and Russian imperial control, and establishing nation states for themselves. The problem of Slavic nationalism continued to increase through the 19th century. In the early 20th century, it was the primary reason why the German Kaiser and Austrian Emperor felt that it was necessary to take forceful military action to deal with an accumulation of issues. This would lead to conflict with Russia. The Czar was providing aid and support to Serbia, which in turn was secretly supporting Slavic nationalist movements that were opposed to German and Austrian imperial rule. 31

    There were also opportunities to be grasped. The German and Austrian ruling class believed that if the Western powers could continue to conquer and add to their imperial wealth and glory, then the Germanic powers could do the same. The difference was that unlike Britain and France, Germany and Austria were not so much interested in overseas conquests. The Germans wanted to tighten their grip on the Slavic territories that were already in their possession, and to seize control of the parts of Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltic states that belonged to Russia. It was time to show the Slavic rebels and the socialist politicians who was boss. 32

    In the early 20th century, the Germans knew that industrially and militarily they were more powerful than the Russians. They also knew that the Russians were catching up. If the Germans and Austrians wanted to enforce their will on Slavic central and eastern Europe, the time to do it was soon.  The Austro-Hungarians, with German backing, began closing in on the Bosnians and the Serbian state. 33

    The assassination of the Austrian Archduke and heir to the throne in Sarajevo by Serbian nationalists was the last straw and provided a suitable provocation for war. Austria-Hungary issued a severe ultimatum that the Serbs could not accept. The Russians were allied to the Serbs, and the Czar would not back down. All of these monarchs had been educated since childhood to believe that the worst thing in the world was to be a weak king. Their top diplomats were proud of the great power alliances they had woven. 34

    World War I began because of a combination of all the reasons why the modern transformation is so violent. The German, Austrian, and Russian Emperors were fighting to hold on to their crowns, extend their borders, destroy the Slavic nationalists, and to become great Germanic or Russian national heroes in their own right. First and foremost, kings and emperors have always been war leaders. They knew that war was a gamble, but they were ready to risk it. A victorious war would restore the power of their thrones, which was slowly slipping away. The Slavic nationalists and the socialists could then be humbled; the anarchists, communists, and all other “evil plotters” could be wiped out. All that was required was a glorious victory in a major war, but it was not to be. 35

    When the smoke cleared, all of the monarchs had lost, which is rather amazing since they were fighting each other. The Czar was the first to fall (1917), then the Kaiser and Hapsburg Emperor (1918), followed by the Ottoman Sultan (1921) and the King of Italy (1922). It was the nationalists, socialists, communists, and fascists who were triumphant. 36

    World War I is often misunderstood because people wonder why the German Kaiser, the Austrian Emperor, and the Russian Czar started such a horrific conflict. What could they possibly have to gain that would be worth such destruction? This is the wrong question. The modern transformation was slowly taking their thrones away from them, and they all knew it. The kings were fighting for victory in order to hold on to the power and prestige needed to continue their rule as absolute monarchs by "divine right" and to pass it on to the next generation. This was a sacred duty for royalty everywhere, but it was a hopeless cause. The emperors deliberately chose war in an effort to maintain their “divine right” to rule. As a result, they lost everything. 37

    France entered World War I partly because of long-standing border issues with the Prussians in Alsace-Lorrain, but mostly because they would not allow Germans to conquer and control all of central and eastern Europe. The English were in agreement with this view. In order to maintain the "balance of power," the British and French would not allow the Germanic empires to rule all of Slavic Europe. They would fight two World Wars to prevent it. 38

Revolutionary Change in the East

    World War I was extremely revolutionary. The great imperial dynasties that had controlled central and eastern Europe for the last three centuries were gone. They were replaced by over a dozen newly-created nation states, whose boundaries were drawn at the post-war Versailles Conference. The elite oligarchic families were still there, except in the new Soviet Union, but they had suffered greatly in the process of losing the war. Much of their wealth and property were gone, along with most of the special status and the ancient mystique that had accrued to them as a well-born well-educated semi-official ruling class. 39

    The wealthy oligarchs had been the ruling class all right, and they had led their empires straight into total disaster. They had dominated industry but failed to provide enough weapons and ammunition for victory. They had dominated the army officer corps, especially the ranks of general and field marshal, but failed to win enough battles. The feeling among the people was that the ex-ruling class was a bunch of losers. They were no longer powerful enough to dominate the governments of the new nation states in most of central and eastern Europe. 40

Evolutionary Change in the West

    Surprisingly enough, there was a lot of the same attitude in western Europe. Britain and France were victorious, but not in a glorious way. During the war, there had been a serious mismatch between the weapons in use and the battlefield tactics employed by the commanding generals, who were mostly from the elite ruling class. For years, the generals had persisted in lining up their working-class soldiers and marching them straight into the barbed-wire, minefields, and machineguns of the enemy—where they were slaughtered by the millions. This was not considered to be an acceptable way to win a war. 41

    The workers and farmers were the heroes of World War I, and everybody knew it. They had gone into the factories and worked twelve hour shifts to produce the weapons needed for victory. Their sons had entered the ranks in their millions and assaulted across the minefields and barbed-wire and eventually won the blood-soaked victory. 42

    After the war, the ruling oligarchs were mostly still in charge in the west, but only just barely. They too had lost a huge amount of the traditional prestige and mystique, which they had always relied on to justify their authority. Socialism became a much stronger political force. In western Europe, real democracy "rule by the people" was starting to solidify. The greatest source of empowerment for the working class in Britain, France, Belgium, Italy, and Germany was the blood sacrifice that was freely offered by their young men as they fought two World Wars to defend their nations. 43

Early Democracy in Central Europe

    In the 1920s and 30s, the newly-created national republics of central Europe were trying to establish successful elected governments, but that was not working very well. A large number of political factions were vying for power. There were nationalists and extreme nationalists, socialists and extreme socialists, communists, monarchists, and even a few liberal democrats. All of these different factions were vying for votes and trying to put together coalition governments, but they were new at electoral politics, and it was just too difficult for them. 44

    The old elite families were unable to govern, and the elected politicians were unable to govern. That left two choices: either some kind of strongman-dictator or anarchy. Some countries had a military strongman like Pilsudski in Poland and Ataturk in Turkey; others had fascist dictators like Italy and Germany. The Soviet Union had a communist dictator. There was also plenty of anarchy. By far the two largest political movements were the nationalists and the socialists. 45


    It was probably inevitable that some party would come along and claim to be nationalist and socialist. They would wrap themselves in the flag, proclaim the greatness of the nation, have total sympathy and support for the working class, and blame all problems on foreigners or evil “others,” like Jews and Gypsies. They would govern for the exclusive benefit of all true sons and daughters of the glorious fatherland. 46

    Remember, this was still the age of imperial power and glory. The British ruled a quarter of the world. The French ruled nearly a tenth. In order for the fatherland to be truly glorious, it must have a strong army, lebensraum, and an empire. Also, they must do away with the weak, squabbling, petty politicians. This was the program of the National Socialists, and it drew widespread support. 47

    Fascism has been demonized ever since the start of World War II. Originally in the 1920s and 30s, it had been a reaction against socialism and communism. The socialist movement belonged mostly to the urban working class, especially those engaged in heavy industry. On average, this was only about a quarter of the population. A majority of the people were small farmers, craftsmen, or petty traders of one kind or another. Many of them were opposed to the socialist agenda, and opposed to the remnants of the oligarchic ruling class. 48

    Fascism, as it developed in Italy, Germany, Hungary, and Spain was originally intended to appeal to these quite ordinary farmers and workers, but it also had strong militaristic tendencies. It was a time of extraordinary anarchy and chaos. The Austrian, German, Russian, and Ottoman Empires had just disintegrated. The newly formed nation states were highly unstable. Most of them wanted to rectify their borders by taking territory from one or more of their neighbors. Nationalism and militarism were the dominate emotions of the time. 49

    The fascist political parties promised maximum support for heavy industry, a strong military, and an aggressive foreign policy. In central Europe during the 1920s and 30s, this was a winning political program and even attracted support from many of the socialists and remnants of the oligarchic ruling class. In Europe during the inter-war years, fascism and socialism were the two largest political movements; communism and liberal democracy were third and fourth. 50

Border War, Identity Cleansing, and Genocide

    The Germans have taken a lot of criticism since the Second World War for the genocide of Jews and their ruthless cleansing of Poles and other Slavs. This criticism is just, but it tends to overlook the fact that a majority of the two hundred nation states have engaged in similar forms of behavior. Identity cleansings, national expansion by conquest, and the brutal repression of national rebellions were, and are, common features of the modern transformation almost everywhere. Germans believed that because they were late in creating and developing a unified nation, it was necessary to take extreme measures to catch up. 51

    In the 1920s and 30s, central Europe was the cradle of a dozen new-born nation states, few of which were content with the borders that had been drawn for them by the Western allies at the Versailles Conference. It was impossible to draw boundaries that would put all Germans in Germany, all Poles in Poland, and all of the other three dozen identity groups in their own unitary nation state. The populations were too intermixed. No one could draw borderlines that the different nationalities would agree on. Tension and low-level conflicts were common. Extreme nationalism was increasing. Warfare could break out at any time. 52

    The Germans were especially unhappy with their new borders that were drawn at the Versailles Peace Conference, mostly by the French and British. Since Austria had been shorn of its Slavic provinces, it should be part of Germany. The Sudetenland was clearly German; what was it doing in a newly-created Czechoslovakia? Five million Germans were now living in Poland. How could that be? Every German knew that it should be the other way around. It was the Poles who should be living under German government. 53

    There were another five million Germans scattered across eastern Europe from the Baltic States to the Volga River. Most of them lived in German speaking towns and farming communities. When nation states are being formed, where the borders should be and who will rule who are the most difficult questions. Needless to say, the Germans had different answers for these questions than the Slavs. The Germans also had different answers than what the British and French had written into the Versailles Peace Treaty. This is absolutely normal standard-operating-procedure for the modern transformation. 54

    The Germans were well aware of how the English had treated the Irish and the Americans had cleansed their native Indians. In the 1930s, the Boers and English were evicting the Bantu from large areas of South Africa to create "whites only" zones. The Turks and Kurds had recently slaughtered over half a million Armenians. The Germans could not see how their plans for cleansing the Poles and exterminating the Jews were anything out of the ordinary. 55

     An extreme form of social Darwinism had been raging for half a century. It was able to justify all of these tragedies by citing the natural process of “survival of the fittest,” which somehow was turned into a policy of eradicating those who were deemed to be unfit. The Germans did not originate these ideas or start this form of behavior, but they did carry it out on a larger and better organized scale than anyone else. 56

    The problem is that identity cleansings and related massacres are still continuing. In 2012, a thousand Uzbeks were killed in Kyrgyzstan. In Myanmar, the Rohingya Muslim minority is presently being cleansed from their land by Burmese Buddhists. Palestinians are still living in refugee camps after being cleansed from their homes in 1949. If the world is ever going to solve this problem, it must first understand the reason for ethnic and religious violence. The cause is firmly rooted in the modern transformation. Identity cleansings and related problems are sometimes accentuated by dictators, but they are caused by nationalism, the process of creating and developing a nation state. In South Sudan, the world's newest country, the Dinka and Nuer tribal groups are currently dealing with the same difficult and explosive issues of where the borders should be and who should be in charge. 57

The Second World War

    Nationalism and socialism were two of the most important factors in Europe’s modern transformation. That is still true for much of the rest of the world today. The modern transformation also includes: border wars, identity cleansings, national rebellions, social revolution, and imperialism. It is no surprise that all of these things were ubiquitous in central and eastern Europe. They led directly to World War II, just as they had been the cause of the First World War twenty-five years earlier. 58

    The American public has an even greater misunderstanding about World War II than most historical events. That is because popular history on the topic is actually recycled war propaganda. You have heard the expression: “The victors write the history.” That is what happened. No one talks about the real causes of World War II; they only talk about Adolph Hitler. The popular story is all about the titanic struggle between good and evil, between democracy and dictatorship. World War II was not about good guys versus bad guys, or democracy versus dictators. From beginning to end, World War II was all about the modern transformation: nationalism, socialism, border wars, identity cleansings, imperialism, etc. 59

    In 1100 pages, William Shirer (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich) does an excellent job of describing what happened. He never mentions the modern transformation. He could not identify it by focusing on central and eastern Europe in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, but if you read his book, you will find that all of his data and arguments are a perfect fit for the modern transformation that is described here. 60

Evolution of Military Tactics

    The Second World War was extremely revolutionary. Once again, just as in World War I, it was the working-class men and women who were the heroes. In earlier European wars, the rank and file soldiers were formed into disciplined lines and marched into battle by their officers. It was the generals and the officer corps who then took credit for whatever success was achieved. The American Civil War and World War I demonstrated that parade-ground formations were no longer feasible. The organized lines of advancing infantry were obliterated by modern weapons. 61

    World War II was fought with small unit tactics. Soldiers dressed in camouflage, operated in small groups, and tried to stay hidden as they approached the enemy. If the enemy machine gunners could not see them, then neither could their own commanding officers. In the most successful armies, the men fought their own battles under the leadership of their sergeants. Millions of these self-reliant modern soldiers were necessary. They were drafted from every segment of society. Most of them, and the best of them, were the sons of farmers and the working class. 62

Post-War Completion of the Modern Transformation

    At home, it was the working class and the farmers who produced everything needed for victory. Everyone knew that it was not the wealthy social elite who had won the war. It was mostly the ordinary common citizens. The returning soldiers, sailors, and marines were welcomed home as the heroes that they were. After World War II, the entire population of the most developed nation states, including the working class, took control of their countries, essentially by right of conquest. Democratic-market society was the result. 63

    It was not just the common men who had won the Second World War. In the major victorious countries, women played an important role in fighting the war and a huge role on the home front producing the material needed for war. In the occupied countries of Europe, women shouldered most of the work that kept society functioning. 64

    Tradition dies hard. After the war, most men expected them to return to their familiar domestic roles, but the women had other plans. It was not that they were granted liberation; they demanded it and took it. As that happened, their nations’ productivity increased faster than ever before. Women proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that modern nations are much stronger and more capable when they are allowed to contribute their full potential. 65

    The concept of a ruling class and a subordinate class had dominated human society since the 4th millennium BCE. But now, the aristocrat-peasant system had been ended long ago. The resulting oligarchic ruling class had been under continuous attack by nationalists, socialists, anarchists, communists, and other assorted revolutionaries for over a century. The class system had suffered grievous wounds in the trenches of World War I. It finally expired in the foxholes of World War II. 66

    After the war, it took another generation to assimilate and adjust to the new reality. In the United States, this time was used by the "Civil Rights Movement" to clear up the last remaining major fault with American democracy. African Americans had worked just as hard, and when given a chance, they had fought just as courageously as anyone else. On the battlefields of World War II and Korea, black Americans earned the respect which resulted in the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of the mid 1960s. The legal equality of the races was finally established. For the first time, the United States met all the requirements to be a fully-modern democratic-market society. 67

    In Europe, the generation between 1945 and 1965 was used to dismantle the British, French, Dutch, and Belgian Empires. At the same time a majority of the working class were assimilating into the middle class. The 1960s saw the development of real democracy and the birth of democratic-market society. The entire body of ordinary common citizens took control of the most modern nation states. It is now pretty clear that this was the beginning of a new “primary pattern” of society. 68

    Even the losers of the war—Germany, Italy, and Japan—were able to participate in this revolutionary development. Their ordinary, common citizens had worked and fought much harder than anyone could possibly expect. The extreme militarists and imperialists who had led them into war were thoroughly discredited. After the occupation and reconstruction, they became democratic-market societies. 69

The Disintegration of Imperialism

    Germany and Japan had tried to establish a new wave of imperialism. They failed on such a spectacular scale that it destroyed the entire concepts of conquest and empire. The British, French, Dutch, and other imperial nations had no intention of allowing independence for their colonies prior to the war. After the war, they were left with no other choice. 70

    The entire ruling structure of western Europe had shifted, and the ordinary people were taking control. They had no desire to waste their countries’ resources fighting the national rebellions that were endemic in most of the colonies. Between 1946 and 1966, a hundred new nation states became independent, half of them in Africa, and they all began the modern transformation. 71

    World War II was one of the most important events in all of history. The ancient concept that it was right and proper for powerful countries to conquer their neighbors and take their wealth was destroyed. A hundred newly independent nations emerged. Just as important, a new democratic-market, primary kind of society was born. The ordinary common people took control of the most modern nation states. Real democracy "rule by the people" was the result. 72

How Did All This Happen

    Socialism and the Women’s Movement were important factors in completing the development of fully-modern democratic-market society. The prevalence and intensity of war seems to have been equally important. The World Wars wiped out a huge amount of left over baggage from traditional society and allowed fully-modern democratic-market nation states to flourish. 73

    Of course there are many other reasons for the completion of the modern transformation besides working-class solidarity, women’s liberation, and the destruction of traditional institutions through war. The two most important driving forces are the increased productivity of the market economy, and the individual freedom that is required in order for the market system to work properly. These are the real reasons why the modern transformation is happening everywhere and why change continues until the requirements of democratic-market society are met. 74

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