Bloch, Jan

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(1836-1902), Jewish-Polish born industrialist, banker, railroad magnate, and adviser to the Russian Ministry of Finance; author of Future War in Its Technical, Economic, and Political Relations (1898).

Jan Bloch, also known as Jean de Bloch and Ivan Stanislavovich Bliokh, was born in Radom, in the kingdom of Poland, to Jewish parents. He converted to Calvinism in the 1850s and to Catholicism upon his marriage into a prominent banking family of Warsaw. Bloch made his fortune in the railway boom of the 1860s, when he funded the construction of rail lines in southwest Russia. He was a strong advocate of liberal reform.

Bloch addressed the technical, economic, and political aspects of modern, industrial war. He combined a detailed analysis of military technology and the changes it was bringing to the battlefield with a strategic-operational assessment of the role of railroads, and concluded that defense would dominate the offense, making impossible a single, decisive battle. Maneuver would give way to firepower and positional warfare. Indecision, when coupled with the capacity of modern economies to generate war materials for the front, would turn a general European war into a protracted and bloody conflict. Modern war in this form would lead to social crisis and revolution. Bloch concluded that a general European war would be so destructive that statesmen would be prudent enough to avoid unleashing one.

Bloch's pacifism was not utopian, but rather was founded upon pragmatism and pessimism. Behind Bloch's analysis of future war stood several decades of sustained study of railroads and their impact on the national economy, national finances, and the study of the so-called Jewish question and modern anti-Semitism. Moreover, his research work rested upon a methodology that was distinctly modern and interdisciplinary, involving the collective research of specialists in a research institute. Bloch's practical influence on the government of Nicholas II was limited and short-lived, culminating in a call for a European disarmament conference. Bloch opposed any military adventure in the Far East. He died in 1902, before the Russo-Japanese War provided a warning of political and military things to come.

See also: military, imperial era; railways


Bloch, Jan. (1991). Is War Now Impossible? Being an Abridgement of the War of the Future in Its Technical, Economic, and Political Relations. London: Gregg Revivals.

Kipp, Jacob W. (1996). "Soldiers and Civilians Confronting Future War: Lev Tolstoy, Jan Bloch, and Their Russian Military Critics." In Tooling for War: Military Transformation in the Industrial Age, ed. Stephen D. Chiabotti. Chicago: Imprint Publications.

Jacob W. Kipp