Summary of Eric’s Hobsbawm “The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914–1991” - Chapters 3. Into the Economic Abyss and 4. The Fall of Liberalism
Since late 19th century, the alienation and disappointment of the middle and lower middle class, which felt crushed between the few powerful wealthy capitalists and the growing, assertive working class, led to a fear about losing their economic position and this fear led to a hate against modernity in general. The seeds of future Fascism and Nazism were sown.
After WW1, the Radical Rightist movements were born as an answer to October Revolution and the rise of communism. The Great War and its brutalization paved the way for more extreme ideas, which seemed horrendous to the 19th century world, a world having faith in progress, science and reason. Μany reserve officers returning from the war, and belonging to middle class or petit bourgeois, viewed their war life, their uniform, their discipline as the best thing they did in their lives, their defining moment (the most famous example being Adolf Hitler). Those “Rambos” (as Hobsbawm names them) were the voting reservoir for the Far-Right parties.
For the majority of interwar Europe, the prerequisites for a functional Democracy; a basis of consensus among the people about the system of governance and the social system, and prosperity, were absent.
There were strong authoritarian sentiments among the Right, especially in Catholic Church, the anticommunists and the anti-liberals. Examples can be found in Finland and General Mannerheim, Hungary and Admiral Horty and General Piłsudski in Poland. Those regimes were parliamentary democracies, but with strong conservative and authoritarian elements.
Their distinction with Fascism/Nazism is that the latter is based on the masses, starting from the lower steps of social ladder. Also, the Fascists/Nazis, challenged the old hereditary traditional conservative institutions; the Church or the Monarchy are presented as outdated, the new champions of old values must be raised by merit, and from the people’s ranks.
The prosperity of the Roaring Twenties was unstable. It was very difficult to find buyers for the vast quantity of industrial products. First, because farmers, who are still numerous, sell cheaply their products and thus earn minimal income. Then, despite the effort made (especially in the US) to raise wages, this raising is at a slower pace than the growth rate of output. This has the effect that products cannot be absorbed by the market, and prices are constantly on the rise.
The Crash of 1929, apart from the closure of many factories and banks, caused economic destruction for agricultural, non-industrialized nations, who based their economy on agricultural exports. This led to state protectionism, which further destabilized world trade. The most important consequence of the Great Depression was that the world abandoned economic liberalism.
At the same time, USSR, detached from the worldwide economic system, was growing (in the period 1928-1938, the soviet share in the worldwide production of processing products rose from 5% to 18%), plus zero unemployment. Even the capitalist countries begun to believe that a central state control was essential for the economy.
Unemployment in 1932-1933 (worst period of the Great Depression)
• 22%-23% in Britain and Belgium
• 24% in Sweden
• 27% in USA
• 29% in Austria
• 31% in Norway
• 32% in Denmark
• 44% in Germany
At the same time, most nations either do not have unemployment benefit (like USA), or this benefit is tiny.
So, three pathways appeared to the desperate of early 30’s:
• Capitalism without Liberalism
The economic demands of Versailles to Germany, made the latter to depend herself upon American loans. When the Depression came, and the loans stopped, Germany was destroyed. The unwritten agreement between the state, capitalists and Labour Movement was finished when the first two saw no alternative but to cut expenses; the unemployment which followed was the final blow to Democracy. The Nazis, who were nothing but a marginal phenomenon in German politics, rose to prominence. After the elections of 1930, the democratic powers lost the majority in the Reichstag, as the Nazis and the Communist greatly increased their votes. In 1932, less than 1/3 of the voters voted for democratic parties. When the Nazi Party acquired power, it didn’t follow the rules of the old political game, but supressed every opposition. For the Nazis, the enemy was not just Communism, but modernity in general, the enemy was every other who was no Nazi; Communism was the convenient bogey.
Nazi theory was not its strong point, as more and more fascist/nazi movements ephasized the supremacy of instict and will against Reason, the complete opposite notion in comparison with 19th century ideals.
Despite the establishment of Italian fascism in early 20’s, the real rise of worldwide fascism occurred after the rise of Hitler in a strong industrialized power like Germany. After 1933, Nazi Germany became a beacon for the Rightists in general, as Soviet Union became an example for many Leftists after 1917.
Fascist/pro-fascist/quasi fascist regimes in Europe during the 1930’s.
• Falange in Spain under Francisco Franco (1937–1975)
• Fatherland Front in Austria under Engelbert Dollfuss and Kurt Schuschnigg (1934–1938)
• 4th of August Regime in Greece under Ioannis Metaxas (1936–1941)
• Iron Guard (founded in 1927), in conjunction with the Romanian military dictatorship in Romania under Ion Antonescu (1940–1941)
• Ustaše in Croatia under Ante Pavelić (founded in 1930, terrorist acts in Yugoslavia before WW2, in power during 1941–1945)
• National Union in Portugal under António de Oliveira Salazar (1933–1974)
• Hlinka Guard in Slovakia under Jozef Tiso (founded in 1913, turned pro-fascist in late 1930’s, in power 1939–1945)
• Arrow Cross Party in Hungary under Ferenc Szálasi (founded as Party of National Will in 1935, banned in 1937, reconstituted as the Arrow Cross Party on 15 March 1939)
• Nasjonal Samling Party in Norway, from Vidkun Quisling, in 1933.
• Rexist Party in Belgium, founded in 1935.
Initially the Comintern believed that the Great Depression was the final crisis of Capitalism, after which, the system would completely collapse, and the Communism was about to take its place. But the isolationist policy that it imposed to the national communist parties (so isolationist that many socialist parties were branded as “social-fascist”) led to the fragmentation of anti-fascists and the unobstructed rise of Nazism to Germany. The rise of Fascism throughtout Europe and the persecution of the Communists in the whole continent, forced Comintern to change course. In 1934, the Communists received new directives, that they should form “Popular Fronts” with all anti-fascist powers, with the aim of stopping the fascist and to establish diplomatic relations with USSR.
USA, from a symbol of Liberty and counterweight to European Colonial powers, became, by late 19th century, the sheriff of the continent, controlling economy through American oil and banana corporations, and through her armed forces. Plus, the Great Depression affected the US image in Latin America. Now the new role model was Nazi Germany and its successful battle against the crisis and unemployment. Many countries had Populist regimes, sometimes based on the Armed Forces, like Getulio Vargas in Brazil, Marmaduke Grove in Chile, the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana in Peru and, immediately after WW2, Huan Peron in Argentina. Those regimes, though, had not as enemy the working class, but the local oligarchs, and thus became quite popular among the workers.
Japan was already a society believing in racial superiority and need for purity, the complete obedience to the state and the divine emperor. The lack of resources on Japanese territory prompted the expansionist/imperialist policy of Japan during the 30’s.