Versailles, Peace Treaty of 1919

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Versailles, Peace Treaty of (1919)


the treaty officially concluding World War I, 1914-18; signed on June 28, 1919, in Versailles (France) by, on the one side, the United States of America, Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and also Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Ecuador, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, the Hejaz, Honduras, Liberia, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Rumania, the Serb-Croat-Slovene kingdom, Siam, and Uruguay and, on the other side, by capitulating Germany.

The conditions of the treaty were worked out (after long secret conferences) at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919-20. The treaty became effective on Jan. 10, 1920, after its ratification by Germany and by the four main allied powers—Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan. Of the powers who signed the treaty, the USA, the Hejaz, and Ecuador refused to ratify it. The US Senate refused to ratify the Versailles Peace Treaty because of the unwillingness of the USA to participate in the League of Nations (in which the influence of Great Britain and France predominated), whose charter was an integral part of the Versailles Peace Treaty. Instead of the Versailles Peace Treaty, the US concluded a special treaty with Germany in August 1921, almost identical to the Versailles Peace Treaty but not containing articles on the League of Nations.

V. I. Lenin pointed out that the Versailles Treaty was “a treaty of robbers and plunderers, ... an unparalleled and predatory treaty, which has made slaves of tens of millions of people, including the most civilized” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 41, pp. 352, 353).

The Versailles Peace Treaty had as its object the strengthening of the redivision of the capitalist world in favor of the victorious powers. According to the treaty, Germany returned Alsace-Lorraine to France (to the borders of 1870); to Belgium went the area of Malmedy and Eupen, and also the so-called neutral and Prussian part of Moresnet; and to Poland went Poznań and parts of Pomerania and other territories of Western Prussia. The city of Danzig (Gdansk) and its environs was designated a “free city.” The city of Memel (Klaipeda) was put under the authority of the victorious powers (in February 1923, it was joined to Lithuania).

The question of which state would receive Schleswig and the southern parts of Eastern Prussia and Upper Silesia had to be decided with a plebiscite (as a result, part of Schleswig went to Denmark in 1920, and part of Upper Silesia went to Poland in 1921—the southern part of Eastern Prussia remained with Germany). A small part of Silesian territory went to Czechoslovakia. Age-old Polish lands on the right bank of the Oder, Lower Silesia, the larger part of Upper Silesia, and other areas remained in Germany. The Saar went under the administration of the League of Nations for 15 years; after the expiration of 15 years, the fate of the Saar was to be decided by a plebiscite. The Saar’s coal mines were transferred to France. According to the treaty, Germany recognized and pledged itself strictly to observe the independence of Austria and also recognized the complete independence of Poland and Czechoslovakia. The entire German part of the left bank of the Rhine and a strip of the right bank 50 km wide was demilitarized. Germany was deprived of all its colonies, which were later divided among the main victorious powers on the basis of mandates of the League of Nations.

In Africa the redistribution of Germany’s colonies was accomplished in the following manner: Tanganyika was put under the mandate of Great Britain; the area of Ruanda-Urundi under Belgium; “the Kionga triangle” (southeast Africa) was given to Portugal (the name of the territory earlier had been German East Africa); Great Britain and France divided Togo and Cameroon; and the Union of South Africa received the mandate on South West Africa. In the Pacific Ocean, Japan received the mandate on the German islands that were north of the equator, the Australian Commonwealth received New Guinea, and New Zealand gained the Samoan Islands.

Germany, according to the treaty, renounced all concessions and privileges in China, the right of consular jurisdiction and all possessions in Siam, and all treaties and agreements with Liberia; Germany recognized France’s protectorate over Morocco and Great Britain’s over Egypt. Germany’s rights in relationship to Chiao-chou (now Chiaohsien) and China’s entire Shantung Province went to Japan (as a result of this transfer, China did not sign the Versailles Peace Treaty).

According to the treaty, Germany’s armed forces were limited to a 100,000-man land army, obligatory military service was abolished, and the major part of the remaining Germany Navy was divided among the victors. Germany agreed to reimburse, in the form of reparations, losses suffered by governments and private citizens of the Entente countries as a result of military actions (the determination of the size of the reparations was charged to the special Reparations Commission).

According to article 116, Germany accepted “the independence of all of the territories which were part of the former Russian Empire on August 1, 1914,” and similarly the abrogation of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty of 1918 and of all other negotiations concluded between Germany and the Soviet government. Article 117 of the Versailles Peace Treaty exposed the plans of its authors, who counted on the dissolution of Soviet power and the dismemberment of the territory of the former Russian Empire; it obliged Germany to recognize all treaties and agreements of the allies and associated powers with states “now existing or coming into existence in future in the whole or part of the former Empire of Russia.”

The Versailles Peace Treaty—the most important of those treaties that form the basis for the Versailles-Washington system—was directed not only against the defeated states but also against the Soviet government and against revolutionary movements in capitalist countries and national-liberation movements in colonies and dependencies. The Versailles Peace Treaty preserved in Germany the supremacy of the reactionary imperialist forces and placed the German toiling masses under the double yoke of their own and of foreign imperialists. The dissatisfaction of the German people with the Versailles Peace Treaty was used by the Hitlerites to create a mass base for their party. The size and conditions of reparation payments were often reviewed; huge loans were given to German monopolies by imperialist circles of the USA and of several other countries (as arranged in the Dawes Plan, 1924, and the Young Plan, 1929). In 1931, Germany was granted a moratorium, after which the payment of the reparation payments was ended. The ruling circles of Western powers looked upon Germany as a shock force for war with the Soviet state.

The USSR was an opponent of the Versailles Peace Treaty and consistently denounced its imperialistic and predatory character, but at the same time it decisively fought against the rising Hitlerites, who, under the guise of a struggle with the Versailles Peace Treaty policies, were unleashing World War II. Preparing for war for the establishment of world hegemony, Hitlerite Germany in March 1935 introduced universal military service, a unilateral act which broke the military articles of the Versailles Peace Treaty.

The governments of the victorious countries shut their eyes to Germany’s violation of the Versailles Peace Treaty. In June 1935 a maritime agreement was concluded between Germany and Great Britain which was a bilateral nullification of the Versailles Peace Treaty. Germany’s seizure of Austria (1938), Czechoslovakia (1938-39), and Klaipeda (1939) and its assault on Poland (Sept. 1, 1939) signified the complete liquidation of the Versailles Peace Treaty. Fascist Germany had set out on a path of imperialist aggression and war.


Versal’skii mirnyi dogovor. Moscow, 1925. (Translated from French.)


Istoriia diplomatii, 2nd ed., vol. 3. Moscow, 1965.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.