Chapter 23 Revolution, Depression, and the Rise of Totalitarianism

Section 4 Totalitarianism, Authoritarianism, and Militarism

The Great Depression contributed to a growing political crisis around the world. Despite American President Woodrow Wilson's conviction that World War I had been waged to preserve and extend democracy, for many Europeans, as well as others around the globe, the war itself seemed to have shown the flaws inherent in the liberal democratic structures of Western civilization. The crisis of the Depression only reinforced a growing fear in many peoples' minds that liberal democracy was not perhaps the most suitable form of government to cope with the modern industrial age. Moreover, the forces of militarism and nationalism that had helped cause World War I once again emerged in the 1920s and 30s in new forms to disturb the fitful and troubled peace of the world. 

Challenges to Democracy

Although the triumph of the Allies in World War I seemed to have made the world safe for democracy, the peace that followed saw the emergence of a growing crisis of identity throughout much of the world. In Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, new countries and nations sprang up from the ashes of the old autocratic empires. As they struggled to find a new sense of identity and stability, many looked to the democratic model of the victorious powers, especially France, Britain, and the United States. Yet lingering dissatisfaction with the peace settlement had raised doubts about the usefulness of liberal democracy even among some of the victorious powers, such as Italy and Japan, as well as among the defeated powers. In addition, countries still making the transition from traditional agricultural economies to modern industrial economies had to struggle to maintain their social and cultural cohesion and balance. Many began to consider alternatives to liberal democracy that might provide a greater sense of stability and security.

            In Eastern Europe, for example, after World War I the new countries that had been carved out of the old Russian, Austrian, and Ottoman empires had all looked to the democracies of Western Europe as examples for their own development. As efforts to institute democracy undercut traditional values and social structures, however, most of Eastern Europe returned to some form of conservative authoritarianism in which autocratic governments protected the rights of property owners and severely limited social unrest. A few, such as Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria, tried to revive strong monarchies. Others accepted autocratic governments supported by coalitions of Church leaders, the military, middle class business interests, and landowning aristocracies. All were designed to maintain the traditional, hierarchical nature of society and to safeguard private property by allowing conservative leaders to rule with little input from ordinary citizens.

            Yet while many eastern Europeans tried to maintain or restore the traditional hierarchical, conservative patterns and institutions of the past, others responded much as Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes had done during a similar crisis in European civilization during the 16th century. They looked for security to the state, and at the same time redefined the nature of the state itself and the extent of its sovereignty, or control. Like Bodin and Hobbes, these more radical reformers turned to a new kind of political absolutism. They advocated complete control of all aspects of society by the state, including politics, the economy, culture, and even the private family lives of all citizens. Such a total, all-encompassing role for the state came to be called totalitarianism. The first European state to actually move toward a totalitarian regime was Italy. 

The Rise of Fascism in Italy

The first major challenge to liberal democracy among the nations of Western Europe grew out of Italy's experience during World War I. The decision to go to war had itself exposed the deep divisions within Italian political life. After the war, many Italians felt cheated by a peace settlement that failed to give them all the lands they wanted around the Adriatic Sea. After the war, as parliamentary politics in Italy seemed to become stagnant, accomplishing little, the liberal democratic government came under fire from both extreme nationalists on the right and socialists and communists on the left. As Italy began to experience the first effects of the immediate post-war depression, the government seemed incapable of handling the challenges. Even relatively conservative Italians began to feel that a stronger hand was needed at the helm of the ship of state. In 1922 a relatively unknown leader emerged to claim this position, Benito Mussolini.

            Mussolini had begun his political career in Italy in the decade before World War I as a left-wing socialist. The son of a blacksmith and a schoolteacher, he eventually became the leader of the Italian Socialist Party. During the war, however, he broke with the Socialist Party, which condemned Italian entry into the conflict on the grounds that the working class should unite across national boundaries to oppose the “capitalists’ war.” Instead, Mussolini became convinced that nations and nationalism rather than class and international socialism were the strongest forces in history. Consequently, although he continued to reject the ideals of liberal democracy and free market economics, he became extremely nationalistic.

When Italy finally declared war, Mussolini served in the Italian Army. After the war, like many Italians he was disappointed by the little new territory Italy had gained. He became convinced that only strength could achieve Italy's demands, and that strength could not come from a government bound by the rules of democracy to discuss, weigh, debate, and finally compromise on national policies before implementing them.

            In 1919, together with other unemployed and disillusioned ex-soldiers, Mussolini formed the Fascist Party, named after the old Roman symbol of the power of the common people, the fasces, an axe embedded within a bundle of sticks. The initial platform of the new party was nationalistic and anti-communist, as well as expansionist. The Fascists were determined, for example, that Italy would one day obtain all the land she had claimed around the Adriatic.

            During the early 1920s popular dissatisfaction in Italy only got worse. Like the rest of Europe, Italy had gone deeply into debt during the war. As the economy faltered unemployment rose. The fall in world agricultural prices that so contributed to the later Depression particularly affected the still largely rural Italians. As land foreclosures began to occur so too did the general dissatisfaction of the working people of Italy. Farmers burned their crops and killed their animals rather than sell them at low prices. In the cities, factory workers began to strike, demanding higher wages, better working conditions, and in some cases complete control of the factories.

            While conservatives and moderates looked on in alarm, a growing number of radical socialists and members of the Communist Party began to call for revolution. Riven by internal factions, the liberal democratic government seemed unable to take strong, decisive action to restore order and confidence in the nation. At first, Mussolini supported many of the radical demands. Soon, however, he and his Fascists began to oppose the internationalism of the Communists, calling instead for a restoration of national security. Seizing the moment, Mussolini began to portray himself and the Fascists as the protectors and saviors of the nation. Under the pretense of restoring order, Mussolini's followers formed vigilante groups, or squadristi, to break up workers' meetings and strikes. Before long, however, they were simply beating up and intimidating anyone who disagreed with them. They adopted a paramilitary style of dress and discipline. Wearing riding breeches, boots, and black shirts, they became known as the Black Shirts

The "March on Rome." By 1922, the Fascists had become a major force in Italian politics. Although they had only gained 35 seats in the first open elections after the war, their strong-arm tactics commanded considerable respect - or fear - from friends and enemies alike. Many in the government were glad to let the Fascists check the growing power of the radical left. However, when the Fascists openly threatened to march on Rome in October 1922, and to take over the government by force, the Italian Cabinet finally realized their danger. Quickly, they begged the king, Victor Emmanuel III, to proclaim martial law. When he refused, the entire cabinet resigned. Himself fearful of the Fascists' threats of a coup, the king then named Mussolini as his new prime minister - a perfectly constitutional act. Mussolini thus gained power without even having to carry through the march on Rome!

            Once installed as premier, Mussolini manipulated parliament through intimidation by his Black Shirts, as well as Fascist control of the electoral process. Under pressure from the Fascists, the Italian parliament granted the new premier a year of emergency power with which to restore order throughout the country. Although he moved slowly at first, eventually Mussolini committed himself to the complete overthrow of democracy and the institution of a fascist revolution.

            Early in 1925, under the prodding of the Fascist Grand Council, of which he was the head, Mussolini decided to take the plunge to complete dictatorship. "We wish to make the nation fascist," he declared,[5][5] and soon outlawed all political parties except the Fascist Party. Over the next year and a half he decreed the imposition of censorship, the re-establishment of the death penalty, and the arrest of his most important rivals. He also created an official secret police and a new Fascist militia. Methodically, the Fascists crushed all opposition and dissent. Mussolini himself took the title il Duce, The Leader. He called on the Italian people to support his plans as patriotic citizens.

            Mussolini and the Fascists tried to give the Italian people a new sense of identity and purpose that would legitimize and support their own rule. Drawing on the more romantic notions of 19th century philosophers such as Hegel and Nietzsche, they insisted that Italy was not simply a state; it was a living entity, a spirit that was greater than the sum of its parts: 

"The Fascist State is itself conscious, and has a will and a personality--thus it may be called the 'ethic' State....The State is not merely a organization with purely material aims....Nor is it a purely political creation....The a spiritual and moral fact in itself...a manifestation of the Spirit." 

While calling for the sacrifice of individual interests, Mussolini also seemed to promise nationalist Italians a kind of immortality as part of a larger whole: "The State is not only a living reality of the present, it is also linked with the past and above all with the future, and thus transcending the brief limits of individual life, it represents the immanent spirit of the nation." The full extent of the new fascist doctrine of the State was summed up in the phrase "Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state....the state is an absolute before which individuals and groups are relative." [6][6] 

The "corporatist state." Despite this new view of national identity, Mussolini also continued to emphasize the importance of economic class he had embraced as a Socialist. Instead of calling for an international socialist revolution aimed at creating a transnational communist state, however, he called instead for the national development of what he called the "corporatist state." All citizens were classified according to the kind of work they did for a living. Eventually Mussolini divided up all economic activities in Italy into 22 "corporations." These corporations included members of labor unions (strictly controlled by the Fascist Party and forbidden to strike under any circumstances), representatives of company managers and owners, and the government. The three groups together regulated all aspects of the businesses included in the jurisdiction of their corporations, including work-hours, pay-scales, and prices. Corporatism was thus a return to a kind of guild structure - but with the state firmly in control. Even to many liberals and conservatives, Mussolini seemed to have solved the problems of industrial capitalism without destroying the system itself. 

Fascist Imperialism. In addition to his reorganization of the state, Mussolini also preached a new doctrine of imperialism and militarism. Heavily influenced by the ideas of social Darwinism, Mussolini argued that struggle was the nature of the world - those nations that wanted to survive must do so at the expense of weaker nations. Only the strong, he insisted, survived in a world that was full of strife and never-ending conflict. "For Fascism," Mussolini wrote, "the growth of Empire, that is to say the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and its opposite is a sign of decadence." Countries that did not expand could expect eventually to be conquered and destroyed. Fascism thus came to glorify war as a natural part of life. 

The Spread of Fascist Ideas

Mussolini seemed to many Europeans to have achieved a major miracle in Italy. As was said at the time, "he made the trains run on time," in a country where they were notoriously late. His doctrine of extreme nationalism called for enormous self-sacrifice for the greater good of the state, which was supposed to embody the spirit of the entire nation. This seemed a worthy philosophy to many people disillusioned by the war and the depression. Self-sacrifice could be an enormously powerful and compelling force, calling upon people to act not selfishly, but selflessly. Through devotion to the spirit of the nation embodied in the state they might find a new sense of purpose and identity.

            As the Depression ravaged Europe, many countries, especially the relatively new eastern European countries that had been created at the end of the war, began to follow the Fascist example. Yugoslavia, Rumania, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, even Greece, the homeland of democracy, all came under fascist or at least authoritarian military regimes. In Portugal the dictator Salazar instituted a fascist government in 1932. In 1936, a Spanish general, Francisco Franco, overthrew the constitutional government of Spain in a bloody civil war to impose his own version of a conservative authoritarian regime. Although their aims were generally different, authoritarian conservatism and the national socialism of fascism had common ground in their emphasis on nationalism. Both movements felt primarily threatened by the international revolutionary goals of communism. , and secondarily by the ideals of liberal democracy with their emphasis on individual rights and liberty.

            The democracies too, however, felt the pull of fascism. In France, for example, a strong pro-Fascist movement developed fairly early. In response, an anxious coalition of socialist and liberal parties came together in the Popular Front government of the socialist premier, Leon Blum. Even in Britain, during the dark days of the 1930s a well-known Conservative politician and aristocrat, Sir Oswald Moseley, established the British Union of Fascists. Although it drew some support from working people, however, and at its height claimed some 20,000 members, most people simply found Moseley's Fascist Union too un-British. They tended to laugh at its swaggering supporters wearing their paramilitary uniforms designed after the Black Shirts, and especially at Moseley's bodyguard, an ex-prizefighter. Still, the presence of even a laughable fascist movement in Great Britain, as well as the more serious movement in France, indicated the extent to which democracy and democratic ideals had been called into question. 

National Socialism in Germany

Of all the European countries that followed Mussolini's example, the most successful and frightening was Germany. There, in 1932, a relatively small party of the extreme right, the National Socialist German Workers Party, or Nazi Party as the German name was abbreviated, under their leader Adolf Hitler, gained control of the Weimar Government. 

Adolf Hitler. Hitler had been born in Austria, the son of a minor government official and a schoolteacher. As a youth he tried to pursue a career as an artist in Vienna, but was rejected by the Art Academy. Eventually he emigrated to Bavaria in southern Germany. When war broke out he promptly joined the German Army, where after four years service on the Western Front he had won both classes of the Iron Cross, Germany's highest military honor, and the rank of corporal. Like many other German soldiers at the front, however, Hitler was astonished and then outraged by the "betrayal" of Germany embodied in the Armistice. Returning to Bavaria after the war, he joined and soon came to dominate an extreme right-wing nationalist party, the German Workers Party, which he renamed the National Socialist German Workers Party, or Nazi Party as it was abbreviated in German.

            Hitler was convinced that Germany had not really lost the war but had been "stabbed in the back" by a conspiracy of Jewish financiers and communists. He had nothing but contempt for the weak Weimar republic, which he associated with the degrading surrender. Moreover, the republic proved weak in the face of growing economic problems, and seemed unable to stop the growth of socialist and communist activity. Soon Hitler joined forces with more conventional conservative elements in German society to fight the communist threat.

            Impressed by Mussolini's march on Rome, in 1923 Hitler decided the time had come for a similar revolution in Germany. In the so-called Beer Hall putsch, or rebellion, in the Bavarian town of Munich, he and a small number of allies and supporters staged an unsuccessful uprising against the Weimar government. The rising was quickly put down and Hitler was sentenced to prison. While serving his sentence, which was soon commuted, he set out his plans for the future in a major political statement, Mein Kampf, or "My Struggle." Although rambling and disjointed, Mein Kampf made clear all the main elements of Hitler's program. 

The Nazi Worldview. In Vienna Hitler had become fascinated with a mystical German occult tradition that combined elements of extreme romantic German nationalism with a kind of crude social Darwinist biological racism. Out of this bizarre mixture, he developed the idea that the German people constituted a "master race," which he incorrectly called Aryans, from whose pure bloodline would develop an even stronger race -- a race of supermen to use the German philosopher Nietzsche's word. Hitler accepted the Social Darwinist argument that life was a constant struggle for survival - and only the strong survived. Like Mussolini, he came to glorify war, which purged the race of its weaker specimens and insured the continuance of the fittest.

            Also like Mussolini, Hitler believed that the races themselves, not individuals, were the true actors in history. Consequently, he came to preach an extreme nationalism that extolled the German volk, or people, as the greatest race in the world. Grading all others on a descending scale, Hitler saw the Jews as the antithesis of the German race, a kind of human parasite on other races. The main problem was that the Jews had no homeland of their own, and therefore had to insinuate themselves into other peoples' countries. Hitler identified Jewish "cosmopolitanism" and "internationalism" with communism. Both, he believed, were the natural enemies of the German volk. 

"The Jewish doctrine of Marxism rejects the aristocratic principle of nature and replaces the eternal privilege of power and strength by the mass of numbers and their dead weight. Thus it denies the value of personality in man, contests the significance of nationality and race, and thereby withdraws from humanity the premise of its existence and its culture....If, with the help of his Marxist creed, the Jew is victorious over the other peoples of the world, his crown will be the funeral wreath of humanity....I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord." 

Rejecting the social and cultural developments associated with modern industrial, urban civilization, which he viewed as a "Jewish" product, Hitler insisted that the strength of the German race lay in its ties to the soil. His ideal German was the sturdy peasant working the land--not the factory worker in a crowded and dirty city who was probably infected with the virus of communism. He summed up his political philosophy as well as his future policies for Germany in the slogan, "blut und boden," or "blood and soil." Determined that the volk must expand in order to survive, he also saw the need for imperial conquest. In Mein Kampf he outlined the Nazi plans for eastyward expansion into the plains of Poland and Russia. There they would eradicate or enslave the "sub-human" Slavic population, and finally achieve the necessary lebensraum, or living space, in which to grow ever stronger. 

Hitler’s rise to power. Although the Beer Hall putsch ended in failure, Hitler was soon released from jail and continued to organize for the future. His real chance for power only came in 1932, however, as the deepening Depression finally discredited the weak Weimar Republic. Following a pattern similar to that of Mussolini, whom he greatly admired, Hitler presented himself and the Nazis as a bulwark against communism. His well-organized paramilitary organization, the S.A., known as Brown Shirts since they copied the Italian Black Shirts, attacked strikers and communists, as well as Jews, in the streets.

            Although their violence worried many Germans, the Nazis' hardline anti-communism won the support of the more conservative elements in German society.  At the same time, Hitler appealed to the lower middle classes and even many working class Germans with his strong message of nationalism and anti-Semitism. Even students in German universities found the Nazi message of German racial superiority and the calls for self-sacrifice in the cause of the nation extremely appealing. In Nazism, Hitler offered them a new sense of mission and identity to replace that lost in the humiliating terms of the Versailles Treaty.

            By 1932, the Nazis had become the single largest party in the German Reichstag, but still did not have an overall majority. As inter-party fighting, literally in the streets, seemed to paralyze the government, no clear majority emerged to take firm control of the government. Finally, under pressure from conservatives worried about Communist influence, President Paul von Hindenburg invited Hitler to become the new Chancellor of Germany in a coalition government heavily dominated by traditional conservatives. Once in power, however, Hitler soon moved to effect a true National Socialist revolution. His opportunity came on 23 February 1933, when a young Dutch communist named Marinus van der Lubbe set a fire that burned the Reichstag building to the ground.

            Although van der Lubbe almost certainly acted alone, Hitler immediately assumed that a general communist revolution was about to begin and whipped up public opinion with this story. Quickly he appealed for a suspension of the constitution and virtual dictatorial powers "as a defensive measure against Communist acts of violence." By March 1933, Hitler had been granted the power to rule by personal decree without restraint for four years. By July, Hitler had outlawed all political parties except the Nazi Party and Germany had become a full-fledged dictatorship. Other decrees finally transformed Germany from a federal into a fully centralized state and began the imposition of the full Nazi program. When Hindenburg died in 1934, Hitler combined the presidency and the chancellorship in his own person as "Der Fuehrer," "The Leader." 

The Third Reich

With virtually unlimited power, Hitler set about creating what he now called the Third Reich, or Third German Empire. The first had been the Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne, and the second that created by Bismarck under the Hohenzollerns. Both had failed. The Third Reich, Hitler promised, would be "the thousand-year Reich." 

Nazi anti-Semitism. Perhaps the most brutal and vicious result of Hitler's Nazi revolution was the implementation of the Nazi racial ideology and the institution between 1933 and 1935 of the so-called Nuremburg Decrees against the Jews. All Germans began to be scrutinized for the purity of their “Aryan” bloodlines. Jews were deprived of citizenship, forbidden to intermarry with Aryan Germans, and methodically excluded first from the civil service and eventually from all other professions as well. Along with other “undesirables,” like gypsies, homosexuals and political opponents of the regime, many Jews were sent to the new “labour camps” that the Nazis used in place of prisons.

            The consequences of such officially encouraged anti-Semitism became clear in November 1938, when the murder of a Nazi diplomat in Paris by a Jewish assassin resulted in a national rampage. Over 250 synagogues were set ablaze or demolished and some 7500 Jewish storefronts were smashed all over Germany in what became known as the Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. In addition, the Jewish storeowners were forbidden to collect insurance for the damage and the entire Jewish population was forced to pay a collective fine of a billion marks – and another 20,000 Jews were sent to the labor camps. 

Nazi economic, social, and cultural policies. Throughout these violent scenes of persecution of the Jews, however, for most Germans Hitler's popularity only seemed to improve steadily. Like Mussolini, Hitler appealed to the masses of Germans by playing on their sense of patriotism and emotion. At the same time, he instituted massive government spending programs that soon stimulated the German economy and helped bring it out of the depression. Although at first pretending to abide by the restrictions on re-armament included in the Versailles Treaty, in fact Hitler launched a major secret rearmament program. He also built an entirely new road system, the famous German autobahns, and through a regulation of industry similar to that in Italy he subsidized major developments in the manufacturing sector. For example, the German volkswagen, or people wagon, was a product of Nazi inspiration designed to make automobiles available and affordable to all German families.

            Not least, the Nazis created an organized program of indoctrination in the principles of National Socialism. Their goal was to transform the German people into a coherent, unified nation under the leadership of the Fuehrer. A government-created German Labor Front replaced labor unions. In addition to indoctrinating workers in Nazi ideology, the Labor Front also sponsored organizations such as the Strength through Joy movement, which provided inexpensive vacations for working-class families. The children and youths of the nation were encouraged to join the Hitler Youth, the Nazi version of the Scouts, and other groups that also trained them in Nazi doctrine. Methodically, the Nazi regime established program after social program all designed to educate and indoctrinate the German people in the principles of National Socialism. 

The Fuhrer myth. At the center of this revolutionary program was a carefully constructed image of the Leader. As one Nazi intellectual explained in his book on the constitutional law of the Nazi state: 

"The Fuhrer is the bearer of the people's will....In his will the will of the people is realized. He transforms the mere feelings of the people into a conscious will....He shapes the collective will of the people within himself and he embodies the political unity and entirety of the people in opposition to individual interests....Through his planning and directing he gives the national life its true purpose and value." 

            As he slipped into this role as a virtual living god for the German people, Hitler proved himself a master at rallying public support through the use of radio, movies, and elaborately staged open-air rallies. His speeches were carefully designed to appeal to his listeners’ emotions. He was especially good at identifying Germany's "enemies," those who were conspiring to keep the German people from realizing their "greatness" and their "destiny." 

"It is glorious to live in an age which confronts the men who live in it with heroic problems. Need and misery have overwhelmed our people. Germany finds itself without protection and without rights. Destiny sets us the grand task, to fight in these strained times, to fill with faith and truth the hearts of our crushed fellow countrymen, to give work to millions of unemployed, to build up a new society and to check its enemies with an iron fist." 

Nazi propaganda. Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, used every means at his disposal to spread the Nazi message of German regeneration and the myth of the Fuhrer. One of the most successful mediums, for both the positive portrayal of Hitler himself at the center of the cult of the Fuehrer and the spread of Nazi racial ideas, was in motion pictures. The talented and popular German film director, Leni Riefenstahl, soon became the favorite film-maker of the Nazi Party.

Born in Berlin in 1002, Riefenstahl had worked as an actress and a dancer in the booming German entertainment industry of the Roaring 1920s. In 1931, she established her own film company, L. R. Studio-Film Incorporated. After a number of successful films that won wide critical acclaim, in 1934 Riefenstahl agreed to produce what would become perhaps her most controversial film, Triumph of the Will, a “documentary” of the 1934 Nazi Party rally in Nuremburg. Although Riefenstahl herself insisted to the end of her life that it had been an honest effort at a true documentary, for many it seemed a classic example of propaganda.

Filming at night, Riefenstahl captured breathtaking images of thousands of Nazi supporters in uniform, marching in order, carrying torches and performing complicated disciplined drills in the form of Nazi symbols like the swastika. At the center of the film was Hitler himself, portrayed less as a human being than a living god, standing isolated and alone on the massive tribune looking down on the adoring worshippers below him in the arena. Riefenstahl’s own description of the first time she saw Hitler perhaps best conveys the magnetic effect he could have on the people around him – an effect she effectively portrayed in her films about him: 

“It seemed as if the earth’s surface were spreading out in front of me, like a hemisphere that suddenly splits apart in the middle, spewing out an enormous jet of water, so powerful that it touched the sky and shook the earth. I felt quite paralyzed.” 

Triumph of the Will was shown all over Germany and inspired millions of people, as did Riefenstahl’s subsequent films covering the annual Nuremberg rallies. 

Stalinist Totalitarianism

While Mussolini and Hitler were constructing their nationalist visions of the totalitarian state, in the Soviet Union a similar totalitarianism emerged on a rather different foundation – though one that was equally collectivist in nature and that utterly rejected the concept of individualism. Where Fascism and National Socialism saw the state as the embodiment of the nation, Marxism-Leninism theoretically saw the Communist Party as the embodiment of the collective will of the worldwide proletariat. The Party merely used the state to take full control of the economic means of production and to abolish private property in the name of the working class as a whole. Its ultimate goal was the abolition of all classes and the establishment of a completely egalitarian society in which the state itself would fade away as unnecessary.

            Despite this theory, however, in the power struggle that followed Lenin's death, Joseph Stalin outmaneuvered his most important rival, the commander of the Red Army, Leon Trotsky, to take full control of both the Communist Party and the Soviet state. Temporarily abandoning the goal of immediate world revolution, Stalin proclaimed instead the doctrine of building “socialism in one country.” To achieve this, he continued Lenin's policy of tightening the Communist Party's control over every aspect of society. Like the old Russian Tsars, Stalin tried to keep his subjects from outside contacts that might "infect" them with liberal, capitalist ideas. Secret police and informers were everywhere. Thus Stalin made his communist dictatorship even more effectively totalitarian than the fascist regimes. 

Collectivization. As he moved from an international to a national perspective, Stalin also had to face the problems of the continuing depression in world agricultural prices. Grain was the Soviet Union's major export product, and he needed the earnings from grain sales to pay for the Communist program of rapid industrialization. Anxious to increase production to keep pace with falling prices, apparently without realizing that increased production would only drive prices even further down, in 1927 Stalin abandoned Lenin's New Economic Policy and began the forced collectivization, or amalgamation of small, peasant-owned farms into large state-owned farms. The next year he launched the first of a series of Five Year Plans designed to transform the Soviet Union from an agrarian state to a fully industrialized state. Over the next thirty years, the Soviet Union moved from being the 5th largest industrial producer in the world to the 2nd, and the entire character of Russian life essentially changed. The cost in human life, however, was enormous.

            When the peasant landowners resisted his collectivization measures, for example, Stalin declared that he would "liquidate the kulaks [peasants wealthy enough to employ others on their lands] as a class." Using the Red Army he made good on his threat. Many kulaks were shot when they resisted, or simply deported to the new gulags, forced labor camps that Stalin established in Siberia. By 1930 roughly 10 million peasant families had been forced into collective state farms. By 1934, Stalin's program had turned some 25 million family-owned farms into about 250,000 collective farms. In addition to those simply shot on his orders, by his own estimation, Stalin's forced collectivization resulted in the deaths of some 10 million peasants during the famines produced by the policy in 1932 and 1933. Some modern scholars have put the estimates even higher. 

The great purges. As he pursued his plans to transform the nature of Russian society, Stalin also became increasingly fearful about his own position. The collectivization campaign had revealed that even within the Communist Party not everyone agreed with his ruthless methods. One officer, nearly in tears, expressed the feelings of many who had to carry out the dictator's orders: 

"I am an old Bolshevik. I worked in the underground against the Czar and then I fought in the civil war. Did I do all that in order that I should now surround villages with machine-guns and order my men to fire indiscriminately into crowds of peasants? Oh no, no, no!" 

Aware of the resistance to his plans, and anxious to rid himself of every potential rival or serious opponent, Stalin created a vast system of state terror to eradicate all dissent.

            Between 1936 and 1938, Stalin instituted a series of mass purges, removing all suspected or potential opponents from his path. They were either murdered or sent to the gulags. To maintain a semblance of legitimacy to these purges, Stalin ordered a series of so-called show trials, at which his victims were forced to submit to rigged courts in which they publicly repeated false confessions that they had made either under torture or the threat of retaliation against their families. Once again, blood flowed freely in the Soviet Union as thousands were killed or disappeared. Even the ranks of the Red Army officer corps were virtually decimated to sooth Stalin's fears of rebellion and intrigue. Scholarly estimates of the total number of Stalin's own people who died as a direct consequence of his 25-year tyranny range between 20 and 30 million. Such was the price of communist totalitarianism.

Authoritarianism in Latin America

While Europe struggled through the crisis of liberal democracy, similar conditions and problems afflicted many South American countries. They too often turned to authoritarian regimes and even outright dictatorships. Indeed, conservative authoritarian government based on an alliance among the Catholic Church, large-scale landowners, and the military had long been the rule in Latin America since the early 1800s. In part, this alliance was designed to keep power in the hands of the descendants of European immigrants, rather than allowing it to pass to Indians and mestizos, those of mixed European and Indian heritage. Such control was relatively easy so long as Latin America remained overwhelmingly rural. As the industrial revolution came to Latin America countries, however, new classes began to emerge.

            In the cities of Brazil and Argentina, for example, communities of businessmen and industrialists developed. So too did new urban working classes. Industrialization and the growth of cities soon led to the formation of labor unions demanding better working conditions and higher wages for their members. Anxious for more foreign investment from the great industrial powers like Britain and the United States, the new businessmen supported strong rulers and governments that would restrict union activities and provide the kind of stability required by foreign investors.

            After 1930, many Latin American dictators came to power by copying the techniques of fascist leaders in Europe. Appealing to the workers, they often instituted welfare programs. At the same time, they maintained their support among the business classes by implementing protective tariffs and ruthlessly enforcing law and order. In Brazil, for example, Getulio Vargas seized control of the government in 1930. While brutally suppressing all opposition, Vargas also guaranteed employment for Brazilian workers, as well as good wages and even pensions. The same year, an alliance of conservatives, businessmen, and the military brought the so-called Concordancia, or Concordance, Government to power in Argentina. By 1943, however, the corruption of the regime led to a military coup and a junta, or group, of generals and colonels assumed power.  

Militarism in Japan

While Europeans and Latin Americans struggled with the problems of the depression by turning to authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, a similar development was occurring on the other side of the world in Japan. Like the other industrial powers of the world, Japan suffered heavily from the effects of the great depression. As life became increasingly difficult, the flaws in Japan's relatively new and shallow democratic institutions began to become apparent. Older traditions of military tradition and discipline began to re-emerge in new forms. In addition, these new, militaristic traditions represented a continuing and growing dissatisfaction among many Japanese with the apparent unwillingness of the European members of the industrial world to treat them as equals, largely out of a sense of racial superiority among the Europeans.

            In part, the new direction in Japanese society reflected the growing tensions that had emerged in Japanese society during the relatively peaceful and stable years of the Meiji restoration. From a largely feudal, technologically underdeveloped country, Japan had leaped into the modern industrial world in less than 50 years. Yet this economic revolution had occurred under the direction of what was still a highly aristocratic and hierarchical elite. By the mid-1920s, many Japanese began to wonder when the new prosperity that had been created would filter down to them. Economic development, universal education, and the new ideas of liberal democracy coming from the West all contributed to growing unrest in Japanese society.

            For many Japanese, the victory of the Allies in World War I initially seemed proof that liberal democracy was the best kind of government for the future. By 1925 they had demanded and received universal manhood suffrage. Liberalism, trade unionism, even socialism and communism flourished in Japan during the years immediately after the war. Yet not all Japanese were pleased with these developments. Many, especially in the armed forces, began to worry about the effects of all this Western influence on the traditional values of Japanese society.

            As Japan's economic situation began to worsen during the mid and later 20s, however, the appeal of western institutions and culture began to wear thin. Army and navy officers in particular became concerned about the wisdom of pursuing such a pro-Western policy. These men had learned a different lesson from World War I. Observing the nature of modern, technological warfare, they had become convinced future wars would require the complete mobilization of the nation in the case of hostilities. In addition, the cancellation of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance as a result of the Washington Naval Conference, and continuing restrictions on Japanese trade and emigration by some Western European nations, convinced many Japanese officers that the Europeans would never treat them as equals.

            Many Japanese had been especially angry that President Wilson had refused to endorse a clause calling for racial equality in the covenant of the League of Nations. As these officers gained seniority and influence, they argued for a more independent Japanese foreign policy in Asia and the Pacific. Some even called for a Japanese "Monroe Doctrine" in Asia comparable to that of the United States in the Americas. In 1929, the depression made a sluggish economic situation infinitely worse, and Japanese dissatisfaction with the West reached new highs. As a reaction against the West set in, older Japanese traditions of militarism and extreme nationalism began to re-emerge.

            One of the factors that contributed to a growing movement toward military rule in Japan was the Meiji Constitution itself. Under the constitution, for example, the civilian government had virtually no authority over the army and navy. They answered only to their commander, the Japanese emperor himself. This gave the armed forces more leeway to pursue their own policies than most democracies permitted.

            Although in general the military had cooperated with civilian politicians, after 1926 when the young emperor Hirohito assumed the imperial throne under the name of Showa emperor, a new more militaristic faction began to take control of Japanese society. Many officers began to join extreme nationalist organizations dedicated to Japanese expansion. The Black Dragon Society, for example, was made up of officers dedicated to Japanese expansion into Manchuria and even the Soviet Union as a means of solving Japan's overpopulation. Ironically, perhaps, the growing influence of militarism also led to tension between the army and navy. Although both came to advocate expansion, the army favored expansion on the continent of Asia, while the navy favored expansion first into the islands of Southeast Asia. Like the European fascists, these militarists glorified warfare and emphasized the importance of expansion for national survival.

            As the civilian leaders continued to resist the growing demands of army and navy for a more aggressive foreign policy, many younger Japanese military officers decided to force their hands. A series of political assassinations that targeted not only civilian politicians, but also leading industrialists, and even senior military officers who were thought to be too timid began to plague Japanese political life. When convicted in the courts, some of the assassins resorted to the traditional samurai custom of suicide, proclaiming their undying loyalty to the emperor and denouncing their victims as traitors.

            While thus trying to force changes in Japan itself, in 1931 the militarists went even further overseas. In September the Japanese Army in Manchuria launched an all-out offensive against China, in direct defiance not only of the League of Nations but of the Japanese Government itself! When the army quickly completed its conquest of all Manchuria, the enthusiasm of the Japanese public swept away all opposition and the civilian government fell. Although civilian politicians remained in the government, the policies of the militarists had prevailed. Eventually, in 1936, a further wave of assassinations finally brought the militarists to full power, since all their opponents had either been killed or completely intimidated. Unlike the Fascists, Nazis, or Communists in Europe, the militarists in Japan had accomplished their goals without developing an ideology or even a political party. Instead they had relied on age-old Japanese traditions and customs. 

[1][1]1922 campaign platform of the Conservatives under Bonar Law, quoted in A.J.P. Taylor, English History, 1914-45, Oxford, 1965, p. 196.

[2][2]Taylor, English History, p. 239.

[3][3]Watkins, The Great Depression, pp. 64-65. Include a reference to the Dust Bowl, perhaps with the following description from a Red Cross representative in Arkansas:

"The families that are suffering now...are not singled out as by flood or tornado or fire, but are just in their homes, with gardens ruined, sweet potatoes not making a crop, the prospects of being in debt to the landlord when the pitiable cotton crop is gathered instead of having money with which to buy food and clothing for the winter."

Or perhaps include the following as a caption: "Over the next several years the droughts only got worse. Soon, the entire layer of topsoil began to blow away turning the great plains of the mid-western United States into a "dustbowl."As far away as New York City, one observer later recalled "a heavy, slow-moving gray cloud, dust from the drought-stricken Great Plains, blew down in the middle of Manhattan Island and settled like an old blanket over the tower of the New York Times building at Times Square."


"As jobs and farms dried up and blew away, all over the world huge numbers began to migrate in search of both. The drama of the movement in the United States was captured in a 1936 film documentary. Over scenes of men, women, and children leaving dust-ridden homes in a growing flood of human migration, a narrator explained:

"Once again they headed into the setting sun...

Once again they headed West out of

the Great Plains and hit the highways

for the Pacific Coast, the last border.

Blown out--baked out--and broke...

Nothing to stay for...nothing to hope for...

homeless, penniless and bewildered they joined

the great army of the highways."

All quotes are from Watkins, The Great Depression."

[4][4]Quoted in Paul Johnson, Modern Times, p. 244.

[5][5] Paxton, 205.

[6][6] Johnson, 101.