Chapter 3

Post World War I


Evils which are patiently endured and which make them seem inevitable become intolerable once the idea of escape from them is suggested. — Alexis de Tocqueville

After the horrors of World War I, the 1920s seemed to augur a long era of international stability, liberal constitutionalism, and economic prosperity — but serious diplomatic, political, and economic problems remained unsolved. The Great Depression of the 1930s brought these problems to the fore and helped create an environment in which militaristic authoritarianism flourished.

The 1920s

Between 1920 and 1929, an uneasy peace developed as strong nations rubbed shoulders and borders vied for economic superiority through commerce and trade. National sovereignty was in full cry as each nation flexed its economic muscle to demonstrate strength and prosperity. In the United States, it was the “Gatsby” era during which people danced the Charleston and consumed the hard liquor of prohibition.

The parties for the elite of society attained levels of luxury and degeneracy, fueling the fires of envy and enmity among the struggling working classes. During this period, small fortunes were won and lost trading shares and other instruments of financial manipulation on stock markets worldwide. It was during this era of absolute opulence that materialism really took hold and spread its tentacles throughout Western society. This party atmosphere, enjoyed by revelers of the rich and famous, continued unabated until 1929.

With a greatly overheated New York stock market, Wall Street and other powerful bankers decided all at once the party should end. What ensued would become known as the Great Depression. At this defining moment, the world would see the new players of the next era emerge. They would be Winston Churchill,  Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945), and Joseph Stalin (1879-1915) on one hand, and Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), and Hirohito (1901-1989) on the other.

The future allies made up a strange combination of bedfellows represented by Churchill and Roosevelt, from so-called Western democracies, and Stalin, from Soviet Russia, which by now was soaked in the blood-purging of dissidents from the revolution. Trade was the game then, as it had always been, and the great powers of Europe, Japan, and America were all keen to gain the superior position which would feed the materialistic bent of their consumer-hungry populations. Soviet Russia had a different agenda: The Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx had been modified and fashioned to the modern Soviet mindset, which demanded that all nations and their people bow to the "superior" philosophy of communism.

History eloquently records that whenever a void appears in the social or religious structure of evolving civilization, there always appears a dictator or dictators fueled by power and greed who will readily fill these voids. And so we view the circumstances prevalent between World War I and World War II as being ideal for the clouds of destruction and carnage to once again gather.

International agreements reached during the 1920s appeared to portend future peace. The Washington Conference in 1921 and 1922 fixed the ratio of capital ships among the powers and declared open and equal access to China. The Locarno Pact (1925) and the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1928) presented the prospect of arbitration as an alternative to force in Europe. Meanwhile, the League of Nations, which had been established in 1919, provided procedures designed to isolate any would-be aggressor and promote disarmament. The United States did not join the League.

Despite the portents for peace, Italy, Germany, and Japan remained dissatisfied nations in which dangerous tendencies toward bellicose nationalism threatened constitutional government and world order.

In Italy, which had obtained little for its efforts on the victorious side in World War I, internal disorder combined with diplomatic frustration to overturn in 1922 the fragile, shallow-rooted parliamentary system in favor of the Fascist movement of Benito Mussolini. Harboring territorial ambitions, Mussolini established a corporate state founded on chauvinistic nationalism.

The harsh terms imposed on Germany at the end of World War I by the Versailles Treaty were deeply resented in that nation. The democratic Weimar Republic, as a product of German defeat, bore the onus of association with the treaty. Antidemocratic and violently nationalistic right-wing organizations and even private armies, such as the virulently anti-Semitic storm troopers of Adolf Hitler, flourished immediately after the war.

Like Italy, Japan had been on the winning side in World War I. Many Japanese were also dissatisfied with their country’s international status, believing that Japan should be the dominant power in East Asia. This view was particularly common among military officers participating in a revival of nationalism incorporating Shinto, emperor worship, and glorification of warrior virtues. Although Japan had a liberal, pro-Western government during the 1920s, the military remained influential. From about 1927, nationalistic military officers began appearing in cabinet posts and pressing for a more aggressive China policy.

Depression and Frustration

Optimism thrived during the prosperity of the 1920s, but it was a prosperity flawed by, among other things, over-extension of credit and inadequate worker purchasing power. When economic well-being gave way to depression in 1929, the shock discredited constitutional government in those nations lacking a strong liberal tradition and already bedeviled by frustrated nationalists. Leaders complained in Germany, Italy, and Japan that their nations did not have fair access to raw materials, markets, and capital investment areas, all of which were necessary for their economic health. They argued that their nations were the victims of economic warfare with its protective tariffs, managed currencies, and cutthroat competition, and that they had been left behind in the race for economic self-sufficiency and a favorable balance of trade. They made it plain that they would fight, if necessary, for a better economic status.

Because they felt that democracy had failed, the people of those countries looked with increasing favor on antidemocratic elements that glorified war as the means of national salvation. In Italy, Mussolini’s cries that Italians needed both colonies and glory struck a responsive chord. In Germany, Hitler’s National Socialists gained power in 1933. Meanwhile, Japanese militarists won a preponderant influence in the inner circle of their government.

The Great Depression

The depression of the 1930s shook capitalism to its foundations and shaped the public attitudes of people for generations. The shock was so great because it contradicted long-held beliefs in the unlimited possibilities of expansion. The depression made the Western world ripe for revolution as every political faction in society looked frantically for a cure. Finding a cure without determining the causes, however, was difficult. In fact, no economist has ever thoroughly explained why the disaster of 1929 to 1932 came about.

One of the most notable attempts to explain this disaster was made by John Kenneth Galbraith in his book The Great Crash, 1929, published in 1955. He pointed to five significant factors:
1. An extremely unequal distribution of incomes limited the consumer goods market. Most people were not making enough money to buy the goods they manufactured.
2. There was an enormous amount of fraud and corruption in big business and in the marketing of stocks and bonds. The prosperity of Wall Street consisted largely of paper that was not backed up by real wealth.
3. The banking structure, made up of too many banks, had acted foolishly in making loans. When bad times came, the loans could not be called in, and many people lost their savings as a result.
4. Foreign nations that had borrowed money from the United States could not repay their loans. This, coupled with high American trade barriers, damaged their economies because they could not send their exports to the United States at a profit.
5. The amount of information on the operation of the whole economy was much less adequate than it is today. People, even experts, were not as able to spot trends in industrial output, investment, consumer buying, and other factors that are now studied closely.

What Happened

On October 24, 1929, the complete collapse of the stock market began; about 13 million shares of stock were sold. Tuesday, October 29, known ever since as Black Tuesday, extended the damage; more than 16 million shares were sold. The value of most shares fell sharply, precipitating financial ruin and a state of panic.

There had been financial panics before, and there have been some since, but never did a collapse in the market have such a devastating and long-term effect. Like a snowball rolling downhill, it gathered momentum and swept away the whole economy before it. Businesses closed, putting millions out of work. Banks failed by the hundreds. Wages for those still fortunate enough to have work fell precipitously. The value of money decreased as the demand for goods declined.

Most of the agricultural segment of the economy had been in serious trouble for years. With the arrival of the depression, it was nearly eliminated altogether, and the drought that created the 1930s Great Plains Dust Bowl compounded the damage.

Government itself was sorely pressed for income at all levels as tax revenues fell, and government at that time was much more limited in its ability to respond to economic crises than it is today.  The international structure of world trade collapsed, and each nation sought to protect its own industrial base by imposing high tariffs on imported goods. This only made matters worse.

By the fall of 1931, the international gold standard had collapsed, further damaging any hope for the recovery of trade. This started a series of currency devaluations in several countries, because these nations realized that a devalued currency posed at least a temporary advantage in the struggle to find markets for their goods.

The economic depression that beset the United States and other countries in the 1930s was unique in its magnitude and its consequences. At the depth of the depression, in 1933, one American worker in every four was out of a job. In other countries, unemployment ranged between 15 percent and 25 percent of the labor force. The great industrial slump continued throughout the 1930s, shaking the foundations of Western capitalism.

Economic Aspects

President Calvin Coolidge had said during the long prosperity of the 1920s that “the business of America is business.” Despite the seeming business prosperity of the 1920s, however, there were serious economic weak spots, a chief one being depression in the agricultural sector. Also depressed were such industries as coal mining, railroads, and textiles. Throughout the 1920s, U.S. banks had failed, an average of six hundred a year, as had thousands of other business firms. By 1928, the construction boom was over. The spectacular rise in prices on the stock market from 1924 to 1929 bore little relation to actual economic conditions. In fact, the boom in the stock market and in real estate, along with the expansion in credit (created, in part, by low-paid workers buying on credit) and high profits for a few industries, concealed basic problems. Thus, the U.S. stock-market crash that occurred in October 1929, with huge losses, was not the fundamental cause of the Great Depression — although the crash sparked and certainly marked the beginning of the most traumatic economic period of modern times.

By 1930, the slump was apparent, but few people expected it to persist;  previous financial panics and depressions had reversed in a year or two. The usual forces of economic expansion had vanished, however. Technology had eliminated more industrial jobs than it had created; the supply of goods continued to exceed demand; the world market system was basically unsound. The high tariffs of the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Act (1930) intensified  the downturn. As business failures increased, unemployment soared, and people with dwindling incomes nonetheless had to pay their creditors, it was apparent that the United States was in the grip of economic breakdown. Most European countries were hit even harder, because they had not yet fully recovered from the ravages of World War I.

The deepening depression essentially coincided with the term in office of President Herbert Hoover. The stark statistics scarcely convey the distress of the millions who lost jobs, savings, and homes. From 1930 to 1933, industrial stocks lost 80 percent of their value. In the four years from 1929 to 1932, approximately 11,000 U.S. banks failed  (44 percent of the 1929 total), and about $2 billion in deposits evaporated. The gross national product (GNP), which for years had grown at an average annual rate of 3.5 percent, declined at a rate of over 10 percent annually, on average, from 1929 to 1932. Agricultural distress was intense: farm prices fell by 53 percent from 1929 to 1932.

President Hoover opposed government intervention to ease the mounting economic distress. His one major action, creation in 1932 of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to lend money to ailing corporations, was seen as inadequate. Thus, Hoover lost the 1932 election to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Conquest of Ethiopia

Italy had unsuccessfully attempted to conquer Ethiopia in 1896. Mussolini, seeking easy foreign victories to galvanize his country, attempted to avenge that still-rankling defeat by sending forces into Ethiopia from Italian Eritrea on October 3, 1935. Another thrust came from Italian Somaliland. Throwing mechanized troops against untrained and poorly armed Ethiopians, the Italians completed the conquest in 1936. With Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, Ethiopia was organized as Italian East Africa. Although the League of Nations imposed an embargo against Italy, it failed to include a vital item, oil, thereby discrediting itself again.

Spanish Civil War

July 1936 began the Spanish Civil War, a conflict between Spain’s liberal-leftist republican coalition government and rightists led by General Francisco Franco. The war soon brought international repercussions. Hitler and Mussolini sent planes, troops, and supplies to Franco, while Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin gave military equipment to the republicans. The United States adhered to a policy of strict neutrality, and Britain and France, anxious to prevent a general war, forbade the shipment of war material to the republic. Thousands of anti-fascist volunteers from Britain and the United States went to Spain, however, to serve with the republicans and were organized with Soviet Comintern aid.

Cooperation between Germany and Italy in Spain helped cement the vague Rome-Berlin Axis, an understanding that they had concluded in 1936. Franco’s victory in 1939 strengthened Hitler’s and Mussolini’s position in the Mediterranean. In 1936, the Japanese concluded the Anti-Comintern Pact with Germany, and a year later Italy joined; this grouping prefigured the later alliance structure of the general war.

Renewal of Japanese Aggression

A Chinese-Japanese military clash  on July 7, 1937 at the Marco Polo Bridge near Beijing (Peking) provided the pretext for an all-out Japanese campaign of conquest in China. By 1939, Japan controlled populous eastern China.

Reacting to events in China, U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke in October 1937 of the need to “quarantine the aggressors.” A strong negative response to this call indicated the wide extent of isolationist sentiment in the United States. Not until 1940 did Japanese expansionism begin to draw the attention of the American public.

Anschluss with Austria

Proclaiming the unity of the German people, Hitler from 1934 sought Anschluss (union) between Germany and his native Austria. In February 1938, he forced Austrian chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg, under threat of invasion, to admit Nazis into his cabinet. On March 12, 1938, Hitler invaded Austria and incorporated it into his Third Reich.

Czechoslovakia and Appeasement

Almost immediately afterward, the Nazi regime began agitating on behalf of the Sudeten Germans who lived in pockets of western Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland, claiming that they were a persecuted minority. The Czech government made numerous concessions to the Sudeten Germans, but in September 1938, Hitler demanded the immediate cession of the Sudetenland to Germany. On September 29 and 30, Britain and France (Czechoslovakia’s ally) agreed at the Munich Conference to yield to Hitler, who promised to make no further territorial demands in Europe. Czechoslovakia was excluded from participation at Munich. Unlike Austria, Czechoslovakia was democratic, and its president, Eduard Benes, was prepared to resist Hitler, but the two western European democracies insisted on submission.

British prime minister Neville Chamberlain hailed the Munich agreement as bringing “peace in our time.” In March 1939, however, Hitler destroyed what remained of Czechoslovakia by occupying Bohemia-Moravia and making Slovakia a German protectorate. He also took Memel from Lithuania and began threatening the Polish Corridor, a narrow strip of land that separated East Prussia from the rest of Germany. In the meantime, Italy occupied and annexed Albania in April 1939.

End of Appeasement

The Western powers could no longer avoid acknowledging that Hitler’s promises were worthless and that his territorial ambitions were not restricted to German-speaking areas but might, indeed, be limitless. Desperately, Britain and France began to prepare military resistance to Nazi expansionism. In the spring of 1939, they both guaranteed Poland against German aggression. They also sought to begin negotiations with the USSR, whose earlier efforts to form an anti-Axis coalition they had rebuffed.

Stalin, however, had become convinced that Britain and France were conspiring to help throw the full weight of German strength against the USSR. Therefore, despite their bitterly antagonistic ideologies, he sought an accommodation with Hitler. On August 23, 1939, Germany and the USSR signed the ten-year Nazi-Soviet Pact of nonaggression. A secret protocol provided for the division of Poland and the Baltic states between the signatories.

For a delighted Hitler, the treaty meant that he would not have to fight a war on two fronts because Stalin was giving him the way to move against Poland. Britain and France would be without major allies as they belatedly prepared to defend that beleaguered country.

World War II commenced as a localized conflict in eastern Europe and expanded until it merged with a confrontation in the Far East to form a global war of immense proportions. The war began in Europe on September 1, 1939, when Germany attacked Poland, and ended on September 2, 1945, with the formal surrender of Japan aboard the U.S. battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Involving most of the world’s major powers as belligerents, it also included many smaller states on both sides and had a great impact on neutral nations. The victorious Allies included Great Britain and the Commonwealth, France, the United States, the USSR, and China. The losing side comprised Germany, Italy, and Japan, as well as smaller nations. The opponents clashed in two major areas: Europe, including the coast of North Africa and the North Atlantic; and Asia, including the Central and Southwest Pacific, China, Burma, and Japan. The belligerents fought over the central issue of Axis expansion, which was halted at the cost of many millions of military and civilian casualties.

The Democracies on the Eve of Aggression

The major democratic powers — the United States, Great Britain, and France — were not prepared to cope with the challenges to peace posed by the dissatisfied nations. They accepted the international order established by the Versailles Treaty but were unwilling to defend it. Many in the democracies were disillusioned by World War I. The idealistic goals of U.S. president Woodrow Wilson had not been achieved, and it seemed to some that the war had been promoted by war profiteers and deceptive propaganda. The Versailles Treaty was widely regarded as unfair to Germany. Furthermore, the enormous casualties of World War I had aroused pacifist sentiment. Finally, while the depression spurred dissatisfied nations toward expansionism, it turned the democracies inward as they became preoccupied with reviving their economies. Hoping to avert another war, the United States adopted neutrality laws, the British sought to appease the dictatorial regimes, and the French tried to secure themselves behind a network of alliances and the defensive fortress of the Maginot Line.

The Road to War

Territorial aggrandizement by Japan in China, by Fascist Italy in Ethiopia, and by Nazi Germany in central and eastern Europe brought the world to war. The League of Nations failed to take decisive action to curb armaments or stem aggression. The Western powers long pursued policies of neutrality and appeasement until it became clear that the
expansionist nations would not rest content with their gains.

Hitler Rearms Germany

German chancellor Adolf Hitler abandoned the efforts of his predecessors to ease the provisions of the Versailles Treaty through a policy of reconciliation with the World War I victors. Instead, he unilaterally tore up the treaty. Hitler took Germany out of the League in 1933 and began a massive program to build up the German army, navy, and air
force. In March 1935, he restored universal military service. The democracies did not react, and Britain even concluded a naval agreement with Germany in 1935 that permitted greater German naval strength than that allowed by the Versailles Treaty. In 1936, Hitler sent troops into the demilitarized Rhineland.

Hitler’s virulent racism gave rise to a cruel system of anti-Semitism. The Nuremberg Laws of September 1935, which deprived Jews of most civil rights, were supplemented by other measures designed to rid Germany of Jews. These measures were to culminate in a policy of deliberate extermination during World War II, taking the lives of approximately millions of European Jews. More immediately, however, a concerted state program of ending unemployment with public works projects and a restoration of business confidence produced remarkable economic recovery  in Germany. Joseph Goebbels’ efficient propaganda ministry controlled the media to ensure that Hitler would be viewed as a genius and Nazi Germany as the best of all possible worlds. Given this combination of coercion, achievement, and thought control, it is perhaps not surprising there was little resistance, aside from limited opposition from some elements in the churches and the army.

The New Deal

In the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt was swept to power under the socially inspired plan aptly named the  “New Deal.” His plan was for the U.S. government to spend its way out of the Great Depression and post the debt to the future.

The depression brought a deflation not only of incomes but of hope. In  his first inaugural address in March 1933, President Roosevelt declared “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But although his New Deal grappled with economic problems throughout his first two terms, it had no consistent policy.

Roosevelt was a leader imbued with knowledge but totally lacking wisdom. He understood class occupies a central place in the analysis of capitalism by socialists. Capitalism is a society that forms itself into exploiting classes, and members of the working class are, in this view, both the particular victims of capitalism and the basis for opposition to it and for its final overthrow. There has been in socialism an assumption both that desired changes will come about as a result of the rise to power and influence of the working class and that the empowering of the working class is itself a desirable component of socialism.

At first, Roosevelt tried to stimulate the economy through the National  Recovery Administration (NRA), charged with establishing minimum wages and codes of fair competition. It was based on the idea of spreading work and reducing unfair competitive practices by means of cooperation in industry, so as to stabilize production and prevent the price slashing that had begun after 1929. This approach was abandoned after the Supreme Court declared the NRA unconstitutional in Schecter Poultry Corporation v. United States (1935).

Roosevelt’s second administration gave more emphasis to public works and  other government expenditures as a means of stimulating the economy, but it did not pursue this approach vigorously enough to achieve full economic recovery. At the end of the 1930s, unemployment was estimated at 17.2 percent. Other innovations of the Roosevelt administrations had long-lasting effects, both economically and politically. To aid people who could find no work, the New Deal extended federal relief on a vast scale. The Civilian Conservation Corps took young men off the streets and sent them out to plant forests and drain swamps. The government refinanced about one-fifth of farm mortgages through the Farm Credit Administration and about one-sixth of home mortgages through the Home Owners Loan Corporation. The Works Progress Administration employed an average of over two million people in occupations ranging from laborers to musicians and writers. The Public Works Administration spent about four billion on the construction of highways and public buildings in the years 1933 to 1939.

The depression years saw an explosion of union organizing. One cannot fully understand the rise in union membership between 1935 and 1937 without the perspective of the Depression of the 1930s and the New Deal policies put into place during President Roosevelt’s first administration. The Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932, which had limited the power of the federal courts to issue injunctions to stop peaceful strikes, was followed in 1933 by the National Industrial Recovery Act, whose famous section 7(a) established workers’ “right to organize and bargain collectively through representation of their own choosing.”

Although the legislation was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1935, the same language was embodied in the National Labor Relations Act, or Wagner Act, of 1935. Besides the legal status it conferred on unions, the act granted workers the right to strike. It also established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to conduct elections among employees wishing to organize a union. Part of the New Deal legislation, it clearly established workers’ rights to form unions without interference from employers.

New industrial unions came into existence through the efforts of organizers led by John L. Lewis (1880-1969), Walter Reuther (1907-1970), Philip Murray (1886-1952), and others; in 1937 they won contracts in the steel and auto industries. Total union membership rose from about three million in 1932 to over ten million by 1941.

Political and Cultural Effects

The expanded role of the federal government came to be accepted by most Americans by the end of the 1930s. Even Republicans who had bitterly opposed the New Deal shifted their stance. Wendell Willkie (1892-1944), the Republican presidential nominee in 1940, declared he could not oppose reforms such as the regulation of the securities markets and the utility holding companies, the legal recognition of unions, or Social Security and unemployment allowances. What bothered him and other critics, however, was the extension of the federal bureaucracy.

The depression caused much questioning of inherited economic and political ideas. Senator Huey P. Long (1893-1935) of Louisiana found a national following for his Share the Wealth program. The socialist writer Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) was nearly elected governor of California in 1934 with a similar program for redistributing the state’s wealth. Many writers and other intellectuals swung even further left, concluding that capitalism was on its way out; they were drawn to the Communist party by what they supposed were the accomplishments of the USSR.

In other countries, the depression had even more profound effects. As world trade fell off, countries turned to nationalist economic policies that only exacerbated their difficulties. In politics, the depression strengthened the extremes of right and left, helping Adolf Hitler to power in Germany and swelling left-wing movements in other European countries. The depression was thus a time of massive insecurity among peoples and governments, contributing to the tensions that produced World War II. Ironically, however, the massive military expenditures for that war provided the economic stimulus that finally ended the depression.

This socialization of America would have dire consequences for immediate generations; moreover, it would set in place a social framework that would hold sway over the politics and policies of future generations. These social policies would eventually bankrupt the American economy.

The ambivalence between workers’ power directly exercised — which could be seen as an expression of liberty — and power exercised through the state —which could threaten to be a form of paternalism — was evident in the proposals of nineteenth-century French socialist Louis Blanc (1811-1882). He advocated replacement of individual capitalist production by social work shops, which the state would initially fund and administer, but should develop into self-managing communal enterprises. In France also, Georges Sorel (1847-1922) argued for workers’ power through unions, a form of syndicalism aiming at a general strike which would overthrow capitalism and inaugurate a workers’ regime. In the United Kingdom, a non-insurrectionary version of workers’ power exercised from the point of production was elaborated in guild socialism. This sought to combine a rediscovered satisfaction in work with both decentralized producers’ power and an overall coordinating and regulating task for a reconstituted state. Various forms of workers’ control continued to attract socialists throughout the twentieth century.


Fascism was an authoritarian political movement that developed in Italy and other European countries after 1919 as a reaction against the political and social changes brought about by World War I and the spread of socialism and communism. Its name was derived from the fasces, an ancient Roman symbol of authority consisting of a bundle of rods and an ax.

Italian fascism was founded in Milan on March 23, 1919, by Benito Mussolini, a former revolutionary socialist leader. His followers, mostly war veterans, were organized along paramilitary lines and wore black shirts as uniforms. The early Fascist program was a mixture of left- and right-wing ideas that emphasized intense nationalism, productivism, antisocialism, elitism, and the need for a strong leader.

Formed in response to a society reeling from economic hardship and searching for a leader to provide a more comfortable existence, fascism was a synthesis of organic Nationalism and anti-Marxist Socialism, a revolutionary movement based on a rejection of liberalism, democracy, and Marxism — these ideologies were regarded simply as different aspects of the same materialist evil. It was this revolt against materialism which, from the beginning of the century, allowed a convergence of anti-liberal and anti-elitist nationalism and a variety of socialism, which while rejecting Marxism, remained revolutionary. Its opposition to historical materialism made it the natural ally of radical nationalism.

Mussolini’s oratorical skills, the postwar economic crisis, a widespread lack of confidence in the traditional political system, and a growing fear of socialism all helped the Fascist party to grow to three hundred thousand registered members by 1921. In that year, it elected thirty-five members to parliament. Mussolini became prime minister in October 1922 following the “march on Rome” and three years of bloody violence. In 1926, he seized total power as dictator and ruled Italy until July 1943, when he was deposed. A puppet fascist regime with Mussolini at its head nominally controlled northern Italy under the Germans until Mussolini's execution by partisans in 1945.  A neo-fascist party, the Italian Social Movement, was founded after World War II, but its influence was small.

The Philosophy of Fascism

Fascist ideology, largely the work of the neo-idealist philosopher Giovanni Gentile (1875-1944), emphasized the subordination of the individual to a  “totalitarian” state that was to control all aspects of national life. Violence as a creative force was an important aspect of the fascist philosophy. A special feature of Italian fascism was the attempt to eliminate the class struggle from history through nationalism and the corporate state. Mussolini organized the economy and all  “producers” — from peasants and factory workers to intellectuals and industrialists — into twenty-two corporations as a means of improving productivity and avoiding industrial disputes. Contrary to the regime’s propaganda claims, however, the totalitarian state functioned poorly. Mussolini had to compromise with big business, the monarchy, and the Roman Catholic church. The Italian economy experienced no appreciable growth. The corporate state was never fully implemented, and the expansionist, militaristic nature of fascism contributed to imperialist adventures in Ethiopia and the Balkans and ultimately to World War II.

The intellectual roots of fascism can be traced back to voluntaristic philosophers such as Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), and Henri-Louis Bergson (1859-1941) and to Social Darwinism, with its emphasis on the survival of the fittest. Its immediate roots, however, were in certain irrational, socialist, and nationalist tendencies of the turn of the century that combined in a protest against the liberal bourgeois ideas then holding sway in Western Europe. Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863-1938), Georges Sorel, and Maurice Barres (1862-1923) were particularly influential.

European Fascism

Closely related to Italian fascism was German National Socialism, or Nazism, under Adolf Hitler. It won wide support among the unemployed, the impoverished middle class, and industrialists who feared socialism and communism. In Spain, the Falange Española (Spanish Phalanx), inspired by Mussolini’s doctrines, was founded in 1933 by José Antonio Primo de Rivera (1903-1936). During the Spanish Civil War, the Falange was reorganized as the Falange Española Tradiciónalista by General Francisco Franco (1892-1975), who made it the official party of his regime. Of less importance were the Fascist movements in France and the British Union of Fascists under Sir Oswald Mosley.

Fascist movements sprang up in many other European countries during the 1930s, including Romania, Belgium, Austria, and the Netherlands. Fascist groups rose to power in many of the countries under German occupation during World War II. In France, the Vichy Government of Marshal Philippe Pétain (1856-1951) was strongly influenced by the Action Française, a movement that shared many ideas with fascism. The collaborationist Quisling government in occupied Norway also espoused a fascist-like ideology. The defeat of Italy and Germany in the war, however, spelled the end of fascism as an effective, internationally appealing mass movement.

Although national socialism was the most spectacular, and in some respects the most successful, of all forms of fascism, it was intellectually less sophisticated and less interesting than French or Italian fascism. Its political success lay in its ability to synthesize often contradictory elements into a doctrine with universal appeal — “socialism” for the working class, anti-bolshevism for the employers, nationalism for traditional conservatists, and anti-Semitism for all who looked for a scapegoat on whom to pin the blame for the loss of World War I and the economic disasters of the 1920s.


In Germany, there appeared Adolf Hitler, an Austrian-born fascist who,  having studied The Communist Manifesto, determined he would embark on a quest for a totalitarian state in Germany first, then conquer the rest of the world. His plan was simple. Using the distress and despair of the Great Depression, which had impacted heavily on the working classes of Germany, he would herald in the Nazi Party as the Third Reich.

The ideology of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), better known as the Nazi Party, was formed in 1919, and under Hitler it ruled Germany between 1933 and 1945. National socialism essentially combined two doctrines: the fascist belief that national unity could best be secured by an all-encompassing state directed by a party with one supreme leader embodying the national will; and the racist belief in the superiority of the Aryan peoples, implying other races might justifiably be subjugated or eliminated entirely.

Nazism had intellectual pretensions, but they came a poor second to an enthusiasm for brute force and the cult of the leader. It and socialism meant little more than states’ rights transcending those of private owners. Its appeal to the masses was hardly more than an excuse to destroy the secondary organizations of liberal society, trade unions in particular, and to arouse the population for war. Its embodiment in the febrile genius of Hitler is not by accident, for it was his political opportunism and his galvanizing energy that allowed the Nazis to gain support and fill the void created by despair and desperation of the German people. These economic and social voids always suck into themselves, like a huge vacuum cleaner, the populist dictators.

After a checkered beginning, the party gathered strength rapidly in the 1930s until it was able to prevent its opponents from forming a majority in the Reichstag, or lower house of the parliament. Hitler became chancellor and dictator in 1933. Although some tenets of Nazism, such as nationalism and anti-Semitism, had existed earlier in German history, the Nazi ideology as a whole was a product of the beliefs of Hitler, articulated in his book Mein Kampf.

Nazism somewhat resembled fascism, which preceded it in Italy. It spawned several small Nazi parties in the occupied countries, Britain, and the United States. Nazism had  several elements:
• A belief (with a theoretical and pseudoscientific basis in the works of the Comte de Gobineau, Houston  Stewart Chamberlain, and Alfred Rosenberg) in an Aryan German race superior to all others and destined to rule, together with a violent hatred of Jews that led to the establishment of concentration camps and to the Holocaust.
• An extreme nationalism that called for the complete unification of all German-speaking peoples. This led to the occupation of Austria, a German-speaking country, and of Czechoslovakia, which had a large German minority.
• A belief in some form of state socialism, although the left-leaning members of the party were purged in 1934.
• A private army, called the SS (Schutzstaffel).
• A youth cult that emphasized sports and paramilitary outdoor activities.
• The massive use of propaganda, masterminded by Joseph Goebbels.
• The submission of all decisions to the supreme leader Adolf Hitler and the glorification of strength and discipline.

It is one of the great tragedies of modern history that Germany’s first encounter with democratic government was associated with defeat and misery. The Social Democrats, accepting the support of the army in order to maintain order, suppressed several Communist revolts, including those in Berlin and Bavaria. Early in 1919, a freely elected constituent assembly met in Weimar to write a constitution giving direct governing power to the Reichstag. SPD leader Friedrich Ebert (1871-1925) was named president of the new Weimar Republic, and Philipp Scheidemann (1865-1939) formed a coalition government of the SPD, the Center party, and a liberal group. This government soon resigned rather than sign the Treaty of Versailles, the vindictive settlement imposed by the Paris Peace Conference. Germany, however, really had no choice. In June 1919, the Weimar Assembly voted to comply with the treaty, which deprived Germany of large amounts of land, people, and natural resources and forced it to pay enormous reparations.

The attempt to root parliamentary democracy in Germany was beset from the beginning by grave problems. There were so many political parties (at least six major and many more minor ones) it was hard to form stable coalitions for effective government. Militant minorities — the Communists on the far left and monarchists and racists on the opposite extreme — sometimes resorted to force in efforts to overturn the republic. Notable among these efforts was the Munich Putsch of 1923, in which the tiny National Socialist party led by Adolf Hitler made a somewhat farcical attempt to seize power in Bavaria. The continuing unrest made the national government even more dependent on the basically conservative army.

The year 1923 was one of major crisis. The payment of reparations, in both cash and kind, had placed an enormous strain on a country already bankrupted by more than four years of war. As inflation mounted, Germany had suspended payment in 1922, provoking the French to occupy the Ruhr area in January 1923. Workers in Ruhr mines and factories resisted by striking, but such resistance contributed to inflation, which brought on economic collapse. The situation was saved in November 1923 when the ablest of Germany’s republican politicians, Gustav Stresemann (1878-1929), introduced a new currency and improved Germany’s relations with the Western nations, paving the way for foreign loans and a more reasonable schedule of reparations payments.

During the later 1920s, therefore, the German economy revived, and politics settled down. Also, during those years, a remarkable avant-garde culture blossomed in Germany, extending from the epic theater of Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), to the Bauhaus school of functional art and architecture, to the relativity physics of Albert Einstein (1879-1955), and to the existential philosophy of Martin Heidegger (1889-1976).

However, this new Germany was cut down in its infancy by the onset of the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Nazi seizure of power. Depression conditions once more radicalized politics and so divided the parties in the Reichstag that parliamentary government became all but impossible. >From 1930 on, government functioned by emergency decree. The Communists profited briefly from this radicalization, but the main beneficiary was Hitler's National Socialist, or Nazi, party, which had the twin attractions of appearing to offer radical solutions to economic problems while upholding patriotic values. By 1932, it was the largest party in the Reichstag. The following year, President Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1976) appointed Hitler chancellor after allowing himself to be convinced by generals and right-wing politicians that only the Nazi leader could restore order in Germany and that he could be controlled.

Nazi Dictatorship

Most Germans who supported Hitler during his rise to power did so out of desperation, scarcely knowing what he planned to do. They received much more than they had bargained for. After half-persuading, half-coercing the Reichstag to grant him absolute power, Hitler lost no time in founding a totalitarian state, known unofficially as the Third Reich, supposedly in the tradition of the Holy Roman Empire and the unified German Empire set up by Bismarck.

When confronted by demands from Storm Trooper (SA) leader Ernst Roehm (1887-1934) and others for a second revolution that would make good on Nazi claims to socialist ideals, Hitler purged Roehm and his associates on the weekend of June 30, 1934. Four years later, he forced out two of the top generals on trumped-up charges in order to assure himself of full control of the expanding German armed forces. Thanks to a ruthless secret police (the Gestapo) and a concentration camp system under the direction of SS leader Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945), known enemies of Nazism were put away and potential ones terrorized.

The March of Marxism

So here we see the Marxist-inspired Communist Manifesto filtering through the mindset of 1930s Western societies, as shown by the strengthening power of union blackmailing techniques and the intellectual weakness of the authors of legislation, the lawyers, and the elected who are the actual legislators, the politicians. Meanwhile, the masses lived in relative ignorance and apathy to the wider and more influencing picture. At this point, the United States, through Roosevelt, was experimenting with the dangerous doctrine of socialism as derived from The Communist Manifesto. This experimentation, rooted during this period, would continue on ad infinitum through the balance of the twentieth century.

During this fermenting period of world history, we consistently detect the subtle influence of Marxist thinking and the debilitating philosophy of “individualism,” which Marx’s method seeks to create as a weapon against the enemy — capitalism.

The Communist Manifesto, which was intended as a platform statement for a small international workers’ party, the Communist League, was published during the revolutions of 1848. The brief work sketches Marx’s evolving philosophy of “scientific socialism,” a philosophy he fully expounded in Das Kapital. From its opening line, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle,” to its famous closing, “Workers of the world unite!” the Manifesto retains its compelling force for Marxists even today.

In addition to the Manifesto and dozens of newspaper and magazine articles,  Karl Marx authored the following gems:

• 1841: On the difference between the natural philosophy of right economic and philosophic manuscripts
• 1844:  On the Jewish question, The Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts
• 1845: The Holy Family
• 1846: The German Ideology
• 1847: The Poverty of Philosophy
• 1848: The Communist Manifesto
• 1850: Class Struggles in France
• 1852: The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.
• 1853: Revelations of the Communist trial at Cologne
• 1859: A contribution to the Critique of Political Economy
• 1865: Wages, Price, Profit
• 1871: The Civil War in France
• 1867: Capital Volume I
• 1883: Capital Volume II
• 1893: Capital Volume III

So we see that, apart from The Communist Manifesto, Marx was a prolific writer of socialist-inspired works. These works permeated the societies of this post-war era and have done so effectively ever since. The vast majority of students and teachers who have studied these works have a burning desire for social justice burning so brightly that they are simply seduced into believing that these philosophies of secular humanism were the answer to their longings. No sooner had these unwise citizens read and digested these socialist philosophies, than they began to aspire to the “utopia” they promised, only to be deluded and disappointed along the way. Not, however, before the damage had been wrought on the society of their passion. Academics, scientists, religionists, politicians, and a vast majority of the masses were not only seduced by these unwise experiments in social justice, but fervently believed they were right. Such was and still is their delusion.

As history has so eloquently demonstrated, no amount of socialism will bring about these social justice changes. They must be earned by successive generations of men and women through a sincere desire to compete and do better through hard work and the soul-building virtues of discipline, determination, and dedication. There were never meant to be any shortcuts and none have emerged. Civilization and equality are evolving phenomena not achievable by brute force or blackmail. The eventual emergence of the middle class in Western society was an important piece of the scaffolding, as it provides a stepping stone effect for successive generations to acquire and pass on property, the essential ingredient to social equity. During this post-war period, great strides were made in achieving the early stages of a civilized society. Lurking in the shadows of the West , however,  was the taxation regime of the Marxist theory. At the same time, in Russia, outright communism was being practiced in all of its bloody excesses.

This era was the consolidation of both mindsets. On the one hand was the ideal of normal evolution through the establishment and progress of the middle classes shepherded by capitalism. On the other hand was the ideal of socialism spawned by the writings of Karl Marx and being experimented with by a cross-section of the intelligentsia and working classes of this era. The opposing forces were lining up for a long battle that will continue to rage into the closing chapters of this manuscript and the twentieth century.

 The following is a surprising list of Marxist followers who emerged during this and subsequent eras.

Bertolt Brecht  (1898-1956)
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
Albert Camus (1913-1960)
Lózaro Cárdenas (1895-1970)
Fidel Castro (1926-)
Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Charles Chaplin (1889-1977)
Marie Curie (1867-1934)
Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970)
Diego Rivera (1886-1957)
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
William Faulkner (1897-1962)
Sigmond Freud (1856-1939)
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
Mahatma Ghandi (1869-1948)
Maksim Gorki (1868-1936)
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969)
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
John XXIII (1881-1963)
Franz Kafka (1883-1924)
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
Karel Capek (1890-1938)
Charles Le Corbusier (1887-1965)
Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924)
Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961)
André Malraux (1901-1976)
Mao Tse-tung (1893-1976)
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Gamal Nasser (1918-1970)
Oscar Niemeyer (1907-)
George Orwell (1903-1950)
José Ortega Y Gasset (1883-1955)
Pasolini  Boris Pasternak (1890-1960)
Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936)
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Marcel Proust (1871-1922)
Romain Roland (1866-1944)
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
Dimitry Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Josef Stalin (1879-1953)
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Thomas Mann (1875-1955)
Josip Broz Tito (1892-1980)
Lev Nikolayevic Tolstoy (1828-1910)
Leon Trotsky (1879-1940)
Emiliano Zapata (1877-1919)

There would be many more as this century of experimentation and flirtation with new philosophies evolved. Many contemporary so-called democratic socialists of the latter part of the century have learned their particular brand of socialism from students who learned theirs from Marx. And so the weed spreads unobserved and unrecognized by innocent and unsuspecting minds. Of course, these minds would argue, so what? Social justice is our goal. Who cares who the author was?

A most interesting study of how Marx continues to influence history is to be found in trade unionism. This grouping together of workers, the “proletariat,” was, of course, a vital and necessary platform of The Communist Manifesto. Marx’s economic theories made no immediate impact on the workers’ movement or on other thinkers, except after his death  in 1883. This is true of his theories on value and surplus value, accumulation, exploitation, pauperization, crisis and appropriation, class struggle, and revolution. But by the end of the 19th century, several such theories were being hotly discussed within the workers’ movement, while others were gradually accepted as absolutely valid.

We must remember that the Manifesto was a direct appeal to all workers to unite into Unions of Workers and to fight a long, ongoing battle with the enemy, the Capitalists. Of course, Marx’s Manifesto arose out of the squalid practice of worker exploitation. Yet, Marx himself was the son of a wealthy family, his father a well-to-do lawyer. Marx would later study law at Bonn University. He never had a paying job in his life, preferring instead to live off of a meager family endowment. From Bonne he went to Berlin, where he finished his studies. Returning to Bonne, he tried teaching, but his reputation did not serve his purpose. In Berlin, he turned to atheism and became a subversive.

The number of his books and review articles that were actually printed are very few; comrade Marx’s style was not terribly clear, and so, very few were able to grasp his daring and complex ideas. From excellent data accumulated, so very few of the union leaders have ever read the Manifesto and practically none of the members over the century, preferring to follow the doctrine though blind faith. It has only been the elitists of academia who have attempted to decipher the complexities of Marx’s mindset. These academics, through the use of freewill, either rejected out of hand the philosophy or became drunk with the individualistic and secular potential, becoming disciples of the “faith.” The virus spread rapidly in this way,  as university after university fell prey to the converted. Later on, this effect would be witnessed in primary and secondary schools worldwide, as through the growing power of unionism, the virus was carried and passed on from teacher to teacher and teacher to student.

So as we survey this period of the twentieth century, we clearly see the coalescing effects of Marxism as it would impinge on future generations worldwide. It was not until 1917, with Lenin’s victory in Russia, that the works of Marx were heard of throughout the free world, and studied and discussed and put into practice by hundreds and thousands of millions of people.

Britain, Germany, Italy, most of the rest of Europe, the United States of America. the Pacific, South America were all beginning to fall under its domination as the Manifesto and its message filtered through the civilized world, carried wholeheartedly by the oppressed and bitter rank and file of the workers and their unions. All the while, capitalism and capitalists did what they always did — they simply continued to accumulate wealth by exploiting the workers and the weak. The theme of the strong oppressing the weak in society is, of course, unbroken in our long history. We will explore the solutions in a later chapter.
 Chapter 4

Knowledge Without Wisdom