Armistice Day

Russian soldiers marching to the front line; c. March 1917

Russian soldiers marching to the front line; c. March 1917

Today is Armistice Day, which commemorates the signing of a ceasefire between Germany and the Triple Entente in 1918, marking the end of the First World War.

Around eleven million soldiers died in the four years of fighting, including around two million from disease or missing in action. Nearly six million civilians died.

The Russian Empire suffered the worst casualties, next to the Germans. A combination of war, disease, and poor conditions took the lives of millions. Depending on the study, an estimate of total military deaths range from 1.70 million to 2.25 million. This includes those who went missing and were presumed dead, as well as those who died from wounds and diseases suffered on the front line. Over a million additional civilians died from 1914 to 1917.

To put that in perspective of other countries, the German Empire suffered around, at most, 2 million military casualties. However, note that the Germans were fighting on two fronts, the Western Front against France, Britain, and (later) the United States; the Eastern Front against Russia and Romania. On the Eastern Front alone, Germany had a relatively low death figure of 317,000. Germany’s ally, Austria-Hungary suffered around 500,000 military deaths.

Imagine that: 317,000 deaths from Germany, 500,000 from Austria Hungary; over 2 million from Russia. That is a staggering difference.

This large loss of life, as well as loss of morale, was a significant rallying cry for the Revolutions of 1917 and abolish the monarchy. After all, the Tsar entered the war with enthusiasm to protect fellow Slavs, and look how that turned out. The Bolsheviks, who took control of the government in October of 1917, saw this war as profiting the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the common people.  Vladimir Lenin, in his 1916 work Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism, asks us,

What means other than war could there be under capitalism to overcome the disparity between the development of productive forces and the accumulation of capital on the one side, and the division of colonies and spheres of influence for finance capital on the other?

Within a month of taking control, in December 1917, the Bolsheviks withdrew military forces from the First World War.  After a brief resumption of hostilities, they signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on March 3, 1918, which officially pulled Russia out of the First World War.

This entry was posted in History, On this Day, Russia and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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