100th Anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles

Self-Serving Inter-Imperialist Treaty for Redivision of the World

One hundred years ago on June 28, the Versailles Treaty that ended the First World War was signed in Paris between Germany and the allied powers of the United Kingdom, France, and the U.S. All of these countries had played major roles in provoking and unleashing this catastrophic four-year long war that was aimed at redividing the world among imperial powers and resulted in the slaughter of an estimated 15 to 19 million military personnel and civilians. In addition to the deaths, approximately 23 million were wounded, and millions died from war-related famine and disease.

The Versailles agreement followed months of negotiations amongst the big powers which, for the most part, excluded defeated Germany. The newly-formed Soviet Russia was also excluded even though Russia had been forced to give up large territories, resources and population to Germany during the war and the subsequent Brest-Litovsk Treaty. Other smaller and weaker countries, like Canada, which had fought on the allied side during the war, were allowed a token number of seats in the negotiations, but there was no doubt that the "big three" victorious powers -- the UK, France and the U.S. -- were in charge and out to wreak vengeance on Germany and its allies including the Ottoman Empire.

Germany signed this flawed, predatory agreement under extreme duress, the allies having issued a statement that if Germany refused to sign the document it would be invaded within 24 hours and the war would resume.

The agreement, which included 15 parts and 440 articles, was particularly harsh and draconian. Indeed, the terms were read out to the German representatives in a humiliating way with no discussion or even questions allowed. New boundaries were drawn up that handed over or ceded substantial territories previously situated within Germany's boundaries to France, Belgium, Poland and other countries. All told, Germany lost 65,000 square kilometres of territory and 7 million people. In addition, it was stripped of most of its colonies, had severe restrictions imposed on its military, and had to accept responsibility for the losses and damages of the allies.

Under the agreement, Germany was required to pay a staggering 132 billion marks (roughly U.S.$442 billion) in reparations, an amount that Germany, in severe economic distress after the war, was unable to pay. For their part, the victorious allies were deeply divided over the extent that Germany should be punished, with France wanting to permanently cripple Germany on the economic, political and military fronts, while the UK aimed to keep Germany afloat just enough to play it off against post-war competitor France.

Across the ocean, the U.S. looked to use the treaty to expand its imperial influence in Europe, as well as collect on huge debts owed to it by European countries, incurred during the course of the war. In the end, the victorious powers came to a compromise with which no one was happy and that sowed the seeds for further colonial expansion and aggression to divide up the world, eventually resulting in the rise of Nazism and fascism, and the outbreak of the Second World War.

There are those who make the curious claim that Canada's token participation in the Versailles Treaty somehow was a "defining moment" in Canadian history where Canada "stood on its own" for the first time as an independent country, and achieved big power status. Such chauvinistic statements are part of the massive disinformation about World War I which claims that terrible conflict was part of the struggle to save "western civilization" and "end imperial aggression," completely obscuring the fact that the war broke out because of the aggression and predatory aims of the same big powers, such as Britain and France, with which Canada was allied.

Far from establishing independent nationhood, Canada participated in the First World War as part of the British Empire. It was given a lackey role in the Versailles Treaty negotiations which underscored its service to empire and the big powers of the day. Canada's subservient role continues to be a main feature of Canada's foreign policy to this day. Then as now, Canada's role in imperialist aggression is in serious contradiction with the desire of working people for Canada to be a country that upholds international peace and defends its own sovereignty and that of all others.

This article was published in

Volume 49 Number 25 - August 31, 2019

Article Link:
100th Anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles: Self-Serving Inter-Imperialist Treaty for Redivision of the World


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