Workers Party Logo


A brief history of the political World Order

This Church & State editorial is a summary and brief history of the changing political world order in the era of imperialism, by Brendan Clifford.

Europe In Flux

A political World Order was established a hundred and four years ago.  It was established by the states that won the first World War:  Britain, France, Italy and the United States.  The citizens of those states made up a small part of the population of the world but they dominated the world with their armies.

The Imperial ‘West’

Under that Order the world was to consist of a series of democratically-governed nation-states.  The principles of the Order, which had been strongly propagandised during the War, were Democracy and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination.  The Irish nation, which was organised for democracy and which self-determined itself to be an independent Republic, appealed for a place in that new Order.  Its appeal was brushed aside.  It had to struggle for its independence in the old-fashioned way, just as if the new World Order did not exist.

Most of the world did not then exist in the form of nation-states, or even of organised nations, and the democratic mode of government was something very new—even in the handful of states which decided to impose it on the world.

Britain became a literal democracy only in 1918, just in time for the 1918 election.  And its claim to be a democracy in substance, even though the great majority of its population did not have a vote in elections, could only be dated back to the 1880s.  France, which in 1792 had proclaimed democracy to the world as being the only valid form of government, had not been able to construct a viable mode of democratic government, and had relieved the tensions by having to have Emperors along the way.  Only the United States had long-term experience of something like democratic government, but for much of the 19th century it was pioneering, genocidal, and slave-based, and set an example that could not be followed.

The World Order of 1919 was fashioned according to an ideal which did not correspond to the reality of things in the world.  It was driven by President Woodrow Wilson.  President Wilson was a historian before he became President.  As a historian he had written that, following the victory of the Union in the Civil War, the United States had been saved from internal break-up by the Ku Klux Klan.  An extreme Abolitionist tendency in control of Congress had been intent on establishing the emancipated slaves in supremacy in the defeated Southern states.  The Union could not have survived if the defeated Confederate States were transformed into Black States—a development entirely contrary to Lincoln’s policy.

When Wilson became President, he premiered at the White House a pioneering classic of the film industry, The Birth Of A Nation, which cannot be shown these days because it shows how the Ku Klux Klan saved civilisation from the emancipated slaves.

Whether Wilson was right or wrong in his historical estimate of the situation is not the point.  The point is that American idealism floats on an ocean of blind spots.

Wilson’s scheme for a World Order in 1919 could not be implemented even in Europe.  Britain, half-believing in the scheme—which was implicit in its War propaganda—humoured the President.  It had incurred an immense debt to the United States in the course of the War and had to behave circumspectly.  France, with its honestly nationalist view of things, did not even pretend to believe in the President’s notions.  Britain and France between them ensured that no serious attempt was made to put the scheme into effect.  Congress then rejected the whole thing, and left Europe to the Europeans.

A second World War followed, again initiated by Britain.  Germany was defeated once more.  This time there were only two victor states:  Russia and the United States.  A new World Order was set up.  It rested on an antagonism between Russia, which had defeated Germany, and the United States, which had established itself in sufficient strength in Western Europe to be able to meet the Russians at Berlin.

The world was stabilised by that antagonism until the Russian side crumbled thirty-three years ago.  Disorder has been increasing ever since.  American control, achieved through disorder, increased steadily until a year ago—when the Russian State acted in support of the Russian population in the Ukraine, which was under attack from the nationalist regime in Kiev which took power in a European Union-sponsored coup in 2014.  The United States, driven by the sense of “Manifest Destiny” articulated by John L. Sullivan during the Mexican War in the mid-19th century, cannot rest easy until it dominates the world.  It is now faced with the decision about whether the moment is ripe for the Third and Final World War.

Since taking over from Britain in the 1940s, it has behaved prudently by comparison with Britain, which undermined itself with its two reckless World Wars in the first half of the 20th century.  But, if it reneges on its destiny at this juncture, will the world just slip away from it?  And what will it do with itself then?


The League of Nations was founded after the British mode of Total War had destroyed the great States of Europe and its neighbourhood—the Hapsburg Empire, the German Empire and the Ottoman Empire—and had brought about the collapse of the Tsarist Empire by drawing it into the War on Germany by feeding its ambition to conquer and possess Constantinople/Istanbul.  Only the French Empire survived in Europe.  And France, which had borne the main human cost of defeating Germany, was not allowed by Britain to establish a secure relationship with Germany—which had not only been defeated, but had been plundered, as well as being humiliated and corrupted morally by being obliged to make a false confession of War Guild in order to be allowed to import food to feed its population, which had been brought to the point of starvation by the British naval blockade.

France needed to disable Germany from seeking revenge for what had been done to it, but Britain did not allow that to be done.

France did not pretend in 1914 that it was making War on Germany for some high, universal purpose.  That was the British pretence—or self-deceptive belief.  The French purpose in the War was limited and realisable.  It had lost the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine in 1870 by making war on Prussia in order to disrupt the process of German political unification.  Its invasion attempt was defeated at the outset but it refused to negotiate terms.  The Prussian Army had to fights its way into France, bringing about revolutionary disturbances, before it could find a French Government to make a settlement with.

The punitive damages insisted on by Prussia were slight—considering that the French action had been one of the most naked aggression.  But the War, intended to stop the process of German unification, accelerated it.  The formation of the German national state was announced in Paris as the War was ending.  And it included the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, where the population was a mixture of French and German and was capable of settling down within either.  (They had been German before becoming French.  One of the aims in an earlier British military intervention in European affairs had been to prevent France from getting them.)

France after 1870 made an irredentist demand for their return, but the demand became increasingly hopeless as those provinces settled down as part of the new German state system.  French ambitions revived, however, around 1905 when Britain approached France to become its ally against Germany, and military conversations were begun in preparation for war.

When Germany was finally defeated, and was plundered, and was made to confess War Guilt, France wanted to return to the purpose for which it had invaded in 1870.  It wanted to break up the German State.

In 1870 France was driven by ambition and the dream of “Glory”, rather than by a concern for its safety.  In 1919, however, it had good reason to fear Germany.  Germany was prostrate before it—and safety lay in keeping it that way.  If it was given the opportunity to rise up again, it was not likely that it would forget what had been done to it—and it didn’t.

The French settlement policy was to place the French Border on the Rhine, to establish a French Protectorate across the Rhine, and to encourage separatist developments within Germany—the establishment of a Bavarian state, for example.

The 1919 French policy for Germany was in accordance with what had been said about Germany in the British war propaganda:  the good Germany—the Germany of the many Kingdoms and Principalities—had been forged into a general German nation-state by militarist Prussia, by means of force and guile.  Prussia had dedicated itself to a philosophy of evil which said that Might was Right and that The End justified the Means.  The political unity of Germany had been brought about in an abnormal way—a Sonderweg.  Within this artificial combination, the good Germany of the Rhineland and the South was being poisoned by the regime of Prussian Junkers (minor aristocrats), who had dedicated themselves to Nietzsche’s evil philosophy.  The good Germany needed to be saved, and to be restored to itself.

The British public seemed to believe that farrago of nonsense during the War.  Only a fringe element connected with music and philosophy dissented from that view in the first weeks of the War.  The intellectuals of the Irish Home Rule Party were to the fore, not only in propagating it but in creating it.  But, when the time came to put into effect the practical implications of that propaganda, the British public showed that it did not believe a word of it.  They had affected to believe it as a means towards the end of beating down Germany.

The momentum of that belief carried over into the post-War period for about two years.  Britain acted with France in plundering and humiliating Germany.  It laid the ground for German revanchism.  But then it changed tack, because the disabling of Germany would have restored France to dominance in Europe.

The Irish Home Rule Party, which had fuelled the war propaganda in August 1914, collapsed in December 1918, just in time to evade accountability for its actions in 1914.  It place was taken in the publicity struggle against Sinn Fein by Major Street, who was the official Dublin Castle propagandist in 1919-21.

Major Street had published books on behalf of the Army during the World War.  Those were books for the Army, to protect it from the confusing influence of propaganda  for the masses.  He said frankly that the purpose of the War was to decide who was to be top dog.  Then he wrote two acutely-observed books on Irish affairs, The Administration of Ireland In 1920, and another for 1921.  And then he published a number of pamphlets against what France was trying to do with Germany.

Britain preserved the territorial integrity of the German State of 1871, with the loss of Alsace and Lorraine, and a marginal concession of territory to Belgium.  And it set about enabling Germany to escape the restrictions imposed on it by the Versailles Conference—the Versailles Conference being, in substance, Britain itself acting with France.  It did this covertly and on a small scale in its relations with the unstable German democracy of the Weimar period, and then openly and on a large scale in its relations with Hitler.

Britain was the only possible guardian of the Versailles system of restrictions on Germany after it had vetoed French policy.  And it was as the guardian of the Versailles system that it cooperated with Hitler in destroying it.  The cooperation began with the Naval Agreement of 1934, which gave Hitler permission to build warships.  It culminated in the undermining  in 1938 of Czechoslovakia, which was the special creation of the Versailles Conference.  The Munich Conference gave Germany the status of a Regional Power, both in form and military substance.

After that, all that remained of Versailles was the anomalous position of Danzig as a German city detached from East Prussia, within the territory of the Polish Corridor, but not under Polish authority either de jure or de facto.

The Weimar democracy had never recognised the Polish Corridor arrangement made by Versailles, giving Poland access to the sea.  Hitler made a Treaty with Poland in 1934, recognising the Corridor, but leaving the Danzig anomaly to  be dealt with later.  Early in 1939 he suggested that the matter should be settled by the transfer of Danzig—a German city—to neighbouring East Prussia, and the establishment of an extra-territorial motorway across the Corridor to connect East Prussia with the rest of Germany.

That would have involved a very slight addition to German power (if any addition at all) compared with the Naval Agreement, the Militarisation of the Rhineland, the Anschluss (of Austria to Germany), and the Sudetenland.  But Britain suddenly decided to make it the occasion for another War on Germany—the Germany it had helped to become a major Regional Power.  It offered Poland a military guarantee which seemed to put British military power at its disposal.  France did likewise.  Poland accepted the Guarantee, thus ending its Treaty with Germany and contributing to a military encirclement of Germany. 

When this led to war, the British and French did not deliver on their Guarantees in a way that was of any use to Poland, and Poland discovered that it was less of a Military Power than it had supposed itself to be.

Britain and France declared war on Germany.  That War ended with the antagonistic division of the world between Russia and the United States, which lasted for forty-five years.

Whitehall had, presumably, some purpose in mind when in March 1939 it suddenly decided to make war on the German State which for five years it had been building up into a Regional Power.  The purpose could not have been to preserve the anomaly of Danzig after everything else in the Versailles settlement had been given away.

It was said that the purpose was to prevent Hitler from conquering the world.  That was routine.  England always acted to prevent the world from being conquered—and incidentally conquered it itself.  But, when Hitler came to power in 1933, he could not be seen as a World-Conqueror, even in English propaganda-fantasy.  He had no Army worth speaking of, and no Navy at all.  Five years later he would probably have fallen if England had not broken up Czechoslovakia for him, given him the Sudetenland, and allowed him to decide what should be done with the other bits and pieces of the Czechoslovak concoction.

The last free act of the British Empire in world affairs was to use the Danzig anomaly to provide itself with an occasion for declaring war on Germany, and to prepare to fight that war as a World War.  It did nothing to assist Poland.  Its Declaration of War on Germany lay on the table until Germany responded to it eight months later.  And, during those eight months, it tried to engage in war against Russia in Finland.

Following defeat in France in June 1940, it brought its Army home.  France, having brought German occupation on itself, tried to make a settlement.  Britain denounced it for betrayal and made war on it, destroying its Navy and sending in Special Forces to ensure that there could be no final settlement.  By this means, and by use of its Navy, which was still the strongest in the world, it kept the War going, without any serious intention of bringing it to a conclusion by means of its own forces.  It would not suffer the indignity of calling off the War it had declared.  Anything would be preferable to that—absolutely anything!  And so the War passed into the hands of others, and concluded with a division of the world between Russian Communism and American Capitalism.

That division existed within a world unity such as had never existed before.  It carried the implication that the division must be resolved by one side or the other achieving total dominance.

A New Development

The United Nations was launched as a world institution on a wave of groundless idealism, but it was carefully structured beneath the ideology so that the two major forces in the world—the ones most likely to wage war—were exempt from its rules and laws.

The UN included a World Court with a body of make-believe laws.  We know of only one country that was brought to it.  Nicaragua charged the United States with violating its neutrality.  The Court found in favour of Nicaragua.  The US Government took no heed of the finding.  It was left to the Court to enforce its finding.  With no army at its disposal, that could not happen!

A similar thing had happened within the United States.  An American Indian tribe signed a Treaty which the US Government which the Government violated.  The tribe managed to carry the matter to the Supreme Court.  The Court found against the Government.  The Government took the attitude that, if the Court was going to play silly games like that, it should go and enforce its own verdicts!

Under the world division established in 1945—what is now called “the rules-based order”—each side enforced discipline within its own sphere.  The United States acted freely in Latin America under the Munroe Doctrine, making and breaking Governments at will.  And Russia maintained discipline in Eastern Europe.

There is a difference between the two.   Latin America never made war on the United States.  The relationship was very much the other way around.  The United States took over regions of Spanish America by means of conquest, and the Manifest Destiny of the USA to expand at will was first stated during the Mexican War.

Russia, on the other hand, was in possession of Eastern Europe in 1945 because Europe (with the partial exception of Poland) had invaded it under German leadership in 1941, and Russia had to conquer Eastern Europe in order to free itself.  And, if it had withdrawn to 1941 borders in 1945, those countries would have entered the United States sphere and would have been deployed against it again.

A second difference is that Russia had a network of political organisations within its sphere, dating from before the War—the Communist Parties.  Its influence was exerted through these organisations.  Russian military interventions, of the kind the United States conducted in South America, were rare, but were of course given greater emphasis in Western propaganda.

The “rules based order”, within which it was understood that the major force in each side was free to break the rules, ended in 1990, when the Soviet Union fell into confusion and remained passive as the states in Eastern Europe over which it had exerted control asserted their independence from it.

The world might be said to have become free at that point in the sense that it came entirely under United States influence—which is the sense in which the word was used in the English-speaking world.  The 1990s was the era of freedom and disorder.  The USA did as it pleased, with neither rules nor UN Vetoes to obstruct it.

Within the rules-based world order of 1945-90, small wars were conducted in regions that did not clearly belong to either Washington or Moscow.  The military event which precipitated the decline of the Soviet Union occurred in one of these regions, Afghanistan, where British Imperialism had failed in the course of a century and more to impose a secure foundation for the development of Western ‘civilisation’.  Russia succeeded in rooting an effective Communist Party there.  The Communist Party came to power and appeared to have the means of drawing wider elements of Afghan society into the life of the state.  That regime was of course not liberal-democratic, but it did make a strand of Western civilisation viable in Afghanistan. 

The United States, the leader of liberal democracy, decided to de-stabilise the Communist regime in Kabul.  It discovered that there was no force of liberal democracy being oppressed by the Communist regime that could be stirred up to overthrow it, so it appealed instead to the force that was being suppressed by the Communist regime—the force of Islamist fundamentalism.  So it took the conservative mujahideen in hand, streamlined their ideology for war purposes, and armed them with modern weapons—and that was how Islamic Terrorism was forged.

Moscow came to the military assistance of Kabul, overstretched itself, and collapsed.  But the force developed by the United States to defeat Russia in Afghanistan has remained in being as one of the major forces in world affairs.

And what happened in Europe when the world became free?  What was its normality?  What was European civilisation?

European civilisation would have continued if Britain had not intervened in the European war that began in July 1914, which was a war with limited and realisable objectives, and in August transformed it into a Total War for some transcendental, universal purpose that the mind could not grasp.  And old Europe would probably have survived if Britain, instead doing what it did by means of the Versailles Conference, had made an alliance with Germany in December 1918 to scotch what was happening in Russia—which was the policy advocated by Churchill.

Old Europe did not survive the Versailles revolutions—from above—, the bogus League of Nations, and the continuous British mischief-making.

Was Fascism a development within European civilisation?  The  European Union does not claim it as such.  It does not yet claim that it was a system imposed on Europe by Russia, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it did.

Europe became Fascist within the brittle Versailles order determined by Britain.  That Fascism invaded Russia in 1941 and, in turn, half of the Fascist world was occupied by Russia as a consequence—the other half being taken in tutelage by the United States and enabled to set up on the instant as capitalist democracies.

Then, in 1991, Eastern Europe became independent, eager for nationalist development and to join the system of West European states which are scared of nationalism and imagine they have transcended it.

The only internal development in all of this is the Fascist development.  Everything else is only adaptation to imposed circumstances.  But its Fascist era is to the present European mind nothing but an incomprehensible chasm.  And now, in seeking unity in the War against Russia in the Ukraine, it must shield its mind from the knowledge that the Ukrainian nationalism that has become sacred to it is a vigorous sprout from a Fascist root, and that it was itself responsible for that revival of Fascism by the action it took in 2014 to overthrow a Ukrainian Government which was making trade deals which would have made the Ukraine a link between Russia and the EU.

If the EU had a purpose in committing that action, it could only have been to bring about a rupture between Europe and Russia and to consign Russia to Asia.  It is of course possible, even probable, that it had nothing at all in its mind.

The European Union is a “post-nationalist” construction, to use a phrase that was current in Ireland after it joined the Common Market in flight from the War in Northern Ireland, for which it disclaimed all responsibility, even though its assertion of sovereign right over the North certainly had something to do with it.

The Common Market was a construction based on nationality.  It was a cooperative arrangement between nations organised by Christian Democracy and Gaullism.  The Christian Democracy was a European force which had survived the Fascist period and which eased the transition to the form of liberal democracy after Russia had destroyed the Fascist order.  British propagandists often described it as a kind of soft fascism because it did not stand for Laissez Faire Capitalism.

The Christian Democracy took advantage of the drastic decline of Britain as a result of its World War, and the appearance in its place of the United States (which did not play Balance-of-Power politics), to establish a framework of cooperation between half a dozen like-minded countries.

Common Market Europe was a kind of Co-Op of nations who had experienced the British ‘Peace” of 1919 and were determined to have nothing like it again.  They set up a Protectionist framework with a view to making themselves self-sufficient, and therefore were not expansionist—as the European Union is.  They were guided by a realisable purpose. 

British commentators were baffled by this development.  They described it as a restoration of the Holy Roman Empire.  It was a closed system to them, nullifying their balance-of-power strategy of playing one European state against the others.

Britain needed to join it in order to be able to change it.  The Common Market founders rejected the first British application.  But a second generation of Common Market leaders admitted Britain, and the development began towards the European Union—a greatly expanded Common Market, which has a Parliament as if it was a State, and whose central institutions now see themselves as authorised to lay down the law on all kinds of things to the component countries.

The President of the Commission announced that her next project was to abolish hate.  Bu then the Russian State came to the support of the Russian minority in the Ukraine that was under attack by the Kiev Government and everything changed.

The President of the Commission said she would destroy the Russian economy.  And an explosion of hate erupted in the Ukraine, of an intensity not seen since the EU fostered the break-up of Yugoslavia.

But the Ukrainian affair is different in kind from the Yugolsav.

Yugoslavia consisted of a number of peoples hastily thrown together by Britain as “South Slav”, and declared to be a Serbo-Croat nation.  This was in 1918, when it decided that it would break-up the Hapsburg Empire and remake it into a series of nation-states.  (That was when it was trying to suppress the nation-state that had asserted itself in Ireland.)

The national antagonisms latent in Yugoslavia were evident from the start.  They pulled themselves apart when given the opportunity to do so in the 2nd World War.  They were reassembled into Yugoslavia in 1945 by a Communist Partisan Movement armed by Britain.  Yugoslavia was then functional in the medium of Communist politics for two generations.

Then the Russian Soviet system collapsed, but the Yugoslav Communist system, which was Western-oriented, did not.  Europe decided, however, that it was not proper to have a Communist State in its midst.  It encouraged Yugoslav disintegration by recognising the independence of Slovenia in disregard of the Yugoslav Constitution.  The rest followed very quickly.

If any European thought went into the matter, it could only have been that a Balkan blood-bath would be preferable to a viable Communist State.

The Ukraine was something else.  It was, as the name suggests, a “frontier” region of the Russian Empire, in which many things were going on, including Cossacks, Tartars and Jews.  It had never been a State, until it was made one by the Soviet Union, and its nationalist history consisted of two spasms of fascist activity in the Western Ukraine, at the end of the First World War and at the beginning of the Second.  Its founder was a member of the Russian Social Democracy who split off from it in 1917, when it went internationalist under Bolshevik influence.

As a national socialist, he went into alliance with the leader of the Polish Socialist Party in a War against Russia.  The Polish victory against Russia led to the extension of the Polish State down into the Ukrainian area.  Within the Ukraine, Petliura’s National Socialism declared Ukrainian independence, but never came close to forming a Ukrainian State.  And the main action of Petliura’s followers was the killing of Jews.

Ukrainian nationalist action revived in 1941 under the influence of the German invasion of Russia.  Ukrainian Armies and Militias were formed, which acted with the Germans against both the Russians and the Jews. 

The Germans were defeated, the Ukrainian nationalists were suppressed, and a Ukainian State was formed and became a founding member of the United Nations.

The State was founded as the Nationalists were being suppressed.  Was this a paradox!

The West did not question the suppression of Ukrainian nationalism, which had progressed from being pogromist in 1918 to being exterminationist in 1941.

The fascist nationalism of 1941 took some time root out.  It seemed to persist into the 1950s before being scotched in Ukraine, though keeping the flame burning in Canada.

There is not a trace of it to be seen in 1991 when Ukraine became independent.  If it had been in evidence, it is not likely that Moscow would have let the Ukraine go as casually as it did.

The Ukrainian State, constructed as part of the Russian system of states, did not become independent through conflict with Russia.  Conflict with Russia did not begin until a generation after Russia had negligently conferred independence on it, without any precautionary arrangements, apparently taking it to be a Russian State, in the way that Britain assumed its colonies to be British States—with the difference the Kiev was the source of Russia rather than its colony.

The Ukraine, not having had to fight for its independence, did not quite know what to do with itself for the first twenty years.  It seemed to be a State seeking a nationalist purpose, as distinct from a force of nationalist destiny that had seized control of a state.

The force of nationalist destiny appeared suddenly, as if from nowhere, in the EU-fostered coup d’etat of 2014.  It set about de-Russianising the society.  The Russian State came to the support of the Russian minority last year.  The Banderist revival is now fighting Russia, under apparently hopeless circumstances, with the kind of absolute commitment and determination not seen in Europe since 1944-5, when the Russian forces had to fight every inch of the way to central Berlin.

Winston Churchill hailed Fascism as the saviour of European civilisation from Russian barbarism in the 1920s.  At this moment, when things are being driven back onto fundamentals, shouldn’t we take a closer look at both?

by Brendan Clifford, writer and correspondent for the magazine Church & State, Irish Political Review and the Irish Foreign Affairs. You can read and subscribe using the links. Reproduced with the kind permission of the editors. 

Give us your thoughts...