Thursday, 23 January 2014

France 1917 continued: Mutinies in the Trenches


And at the front…

… news of the Russian [February] revolution had been known since March. The Nivelle offensive opened on 16th April in the Chemin-des-Dames was the spark that ignited the powder. The general headquarters (GQG, grand quartier général) had promised a decisive breakthrough; in the end it was only one more episode of slaughter to gain a few kilometres.

It was this excess of slaughter that brought the discontent in the trenches to a height.

Towards the end of April units deployed in difficult sectors refused to take part in suicidal attacks that were doomed to failure. In May refusals to obey orders multiplied, and the unrest spread in rest zones for troops returning from the front line and also reached transit depots for those going on leave. Their anger found expression in demonstrations of differing importance. Often short-lived, they sometimes developed into riots. The Internationale was sung, the Russian revolution hailed, the  high command  and those settled in the rear denounced ; they shouted « Down with War, Long Live Anarchy ! » and marched behind the red flag. But the overwhelming majority of mutineers rebelled for modest, immediate demands, the main one being to claim the right to go on leave at long last. There are no links with the strikers on the home front, and instances of fraternisation with German soldiers were very rare.  A few attempts to organise the movement and give it a more radical or revolutionary direction were not successful.

At least 60,000 mutineers

If we want to categorise these mutinies, it’s more like a trade-union struggle carried on by « workers in uniform ». Furthermore the term « strike » was the one they used; « mutiny » was rarely employed at the time.

The GQG responded with strong-arm tactics. To break the revolt they had to make some examples. Military courts hurled down guilty verdicts in hundreds, sometimes at random, or else targeted ringleaders. There were many death sentences but in the end few were carried out. The government was afraid that too many executions would provoke a general explosion, so the President made extensive use of his power to pardon.

At the end of the day the repression had a limited impact and if the mutinies began to decline from mid June, it was mostly because the intermediate levels of the military hierarchy gave in to the demands. Increasing the number of passes for leave soon restored calm to the mutinous units, and the allocation of long rest periods to units drained by combat halted the movement’s spread. The general application of these measures as a matter of urgency by the top leaders of the GQG gradually calmed things down. From the end of April until the beginning of September between 60,000 and 90,000 ordinary soldiers mutinied, and at least twenty of them were shot, not counting summary executions that left no trace. Thousands of others were imprisoned or deported to the colonies; those who survived were granted amnesties in the 1920s.

from article by Hervé (AL Marseille)     [Libertarian Alternative].

Il y a quatre-vingt-dix ans
11 avril 2007 par CAL Marseille / 3629 vues

A mainstream view from Britain, c.2014
(Imperial War Museum) 

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