Social, Economical, and Political Effects of World War I

"Everywhere in the world was heard the sound of things

breaking." Advanced European societies could not support long wars or

so many thought prior to World War I. They were right in a way. The

societies could not support a long war unchanged. The First World War

left no aspect of European civilization untouched as pre-war

governments were transformed to fight total war. The war metamorphed

Europe socially, politicaly, economically, and intellectualy.

European countries channeled all of their resources into total

war which resulted in enormous social change. The result of working

together for a common goal seemed to be unifying European societies.

Death knocked down all barriers between people. All belligerents had

enacted some form of a selective service which levelled classes in

many ways. Wartime scarcities made luxury an impossibility and

unfavorable. Reflecting this, clothing became uniform and

utilitarian. Europeans would never again dress in fancy, elaborate

costumes. Uniforms led the way in clothing change. The bright

blue-and-red prewar French infantry uniforms had been changed after

the first few months of the war, since they made whoever wore them

into excellent targets for machine guns. Women's skirts rose above

the ankle permanently and women became more of a part of society

than ever. They undertook a variety of jobs previously held by men.

They were now a part of clerical, secretarial work, and teaching.

They were also more widely employed in industrial jobs. By 1918, 37.6

percent of the work force in the Krupp armaments firm in Germany was

female. In England the proportion of women works rose strikingly in

public transport (for example, from 18,000 to 117,000 bus conductors),

banking (9,500 to 63,700), and commerce (505,000 to 934,000). Many

restrictions on women disappeared during the war. It became

acceptable for young, employed, single middle-class women to have

their own apartments, to go out without chaperones, and to smoke in

public. It was only a matter of time before women received the right

to vote in many belligerent countries. Strong forces were shaping the

power and legal status of labor unions, too. The right of workers to

organize was relatively new, about half a century. Employers fought

to keep union organizers out of their plants and armed force was often

used against striking workers. The universal rallying of workers

towards their flag at the beginning of the war led to wider acceptance

of unions. It was more of a bureaucratic route than a parliamentary

route that integrated organized labor into government, however. A

long war was not possible without complete cooperation of the workers

with respect to putting in longers hours and increasing productivity.

Strike activity had reached its highest levels in history just before

the war. There had been over 1,500 diffent work stoppages in France

and 3,000 in Germany during 1910. More than a million British workers

stopped at one time or another in 1912. In Britain, France, and

Germany, deals were struck between unions and government to eliminate

strikes and less favorable work conditions in exchange for immediate

integration into the government process. This integration was at the

cost of having to act more as managers of labor than as the voice of

the labor. Suddenly, the strikes stopped during the first year of the

war. Soon the enthusiasm died down, though. The revival of strike

activity in 1916 shows that the social peace was already wearing thin.

Work stoppages and the number of people on strike in France

quadrupled in 1916 compared to 1915. In Germany, in May 1916, 50,000

Berlin works held a three-day walkout to protest the arrest of the

pacifist Karl Liebknecht. By the end of the war most had rejected

the government offer of being integrated in the beaurocracy, but not

without playing an important public role and gaining some advantages

such as collective bargaining. The war may have had a leveling effect

in many ways, but it also sharpened some social differences and

conflicts. Soldiers were revolting just like workers:

They [soldiers] were no longer willing to sacrifice their

lives when shirkers at home were earning all the money, tkaing,

the women around in cars, cornering all the best jobs, and

while so many profiteers were waxing rich.

The draft was not completely fair since ot all men were sent to the

trenches. Skilled workers were more important to industry and some

could secure safe assignments at