Chapter 9: NAZISM, FASCISM AND THE GREAT DEPRESSION
The 20 years between the First and the Second World wars saw
upheavals in Europe. The consequences of these uprisings led to the
most destructive war in history. The period between these wars was
also known for a crisis that affected the most advanced countries of
those days and threatened Capitalism itself. All these changes not
only affected the War but also the period after the war that saw
rise of aspirations of people in many colonial parts.
The First World War was called The War to End all
Wars by President Woodrow Wilson of USA but due to
the below factors it could not be that.
Europe Between the Wars
The political developments after the First World War led to
turmoil Most of the autocracies were replaced by republican
governments but these couldn't fulfill the peoples expectations.
In Germany a second revolution followed the first and the
demonstration began against the republican government. Many of the
East European countries saw an emergence of Socialist and
communist parties. But these movements were short lived and
inspired by the Russian revolution.
The emergence of dictatorial regimes began in these nations and
most deadly were rise of Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany.
These regimes not only crushed socialism but also democracy and
were the cause of the Second World War.
Fascism in Italy
The "Fascism" term is of Italian origin. It refers to many
political movements that developed in Europe that were against
democracy and socialism and wanted total domination. However the
"Fascists" were the party that was started in Italy by Mussolini.
Italy was a united country and had imperialist ambitions. However
the king couldn't fulfill them. The condition of workers and
peasants were miserable and so socialist parties emerged. The
ruling class of Italy were traders and industrialists that hated
socialism. They entered the First World War in the hope of gaining
colonies but the peace treaties failed it.
The condition of the public became more miserable after the war
as many had died. It was here that Mussolini and the fascists made
their mark. He organized violence against the socialists and so he
became popular. The ruling government didn't stop him. during
elections his party couldn't win but he openly talked of capturing
power by force. He organized a March to Rome and the government
didn't stop him. Finally the King of Italy invited him to form a
Once Mussolini captured power a reign of terror began and
communists and socialists were killed. All other political parties
were banned. Mussolini declared that Italy must expand and pursued
an policy of war for this.
The Fascists emerged in Italy not because they were popular but
because the ruling class hated democracy and socialism.
Rise of Nazism
Nazism was a more systematic revolution than fascism and the
dictatorial regime created by Hitler was to become one of the
The revolution after the First World War ended the dynasty of the
Emperor and a republic government was formed. The people behind
the Emperor like Capitalists, Army and Traders didn't support the
republican government. They hated socialism and so they supported
the Nazi party to expand their power. Like Mussolini, Hitler too
wanted to capture power by a march to Berlin but he was arrested
and imprisoned. His party contested the elections and lost but the
other important parties like Communist Party and Socialist
Democratic Party couldn't suppress the Nazis. In-spite of his poor
showing Hitler became chancellor and ordered a second election.
The Nazis set the Reich-stag [Parliament] on fire. Hitler used
this as an excuse to suppress the communists blaming them for the
Hitler held a second election and in spite of the Reign of Terror
by the Nazi party the Nazis couldn't win. But Hitler assumed
dictatorial power and suppressed all other parties. He crushed
democracy and stopped civil rights. The trade unions, other
parties and anti Nazi leaders were killed. The Nazis also
unleashed a systematic method of exterminating the German Jews
whom Hitler believed to be responsible for Germany's humiliating
defeat in the WWI.
The Nazis started a program of militarization. They discarded the
humiliating conditions imposed by Treaty of Versailles and this
got them public support. Under Hitler, Germany was going to start
another campaign for conquering Europe and the World.
Conditions in Britain and France
The two important democracies in Europe were England and France.
The fascist movement was seen in England too but couldn't succeed.
The country remained a democracy. However the political
instability was seen in England too. Great depression had created
unemployment, Labor unions and parties of socialist lines to were
formed. The foreign policies followed by England were to be blamed
for the Second World War.
France too faced high political instability. Successive
governments came and were dissolved. The economic growth expected
after the WWI wasn't seen and a crisis unfolded during the Great
Depression. Like England the policy followed by France in Europe
of non intervention and appeasement of Fascist forces led to WWII.
United States - Emergence of a Superpower
The outcome of the First World War was in favor of the US. The
country became the richest and the mightiest while the European
nations were facing a crisis. The investments of US were made in
Europe and the economies of the two continents became
In this situation a crisis unfolded that led to collapse of
capitalist system in Europe and US. This was the most disastrous
event to the economy of the World and was called "Great
The depression was caused as factories were producing more than
the demand and in order to make higher profits. However the
domestic demand couldn't satisfy this and so factories had to be
closed till goods were sold. This led to unemployment of the
people. The people couldn't buy these goods as they had no wages.
Thus a vicious cycle led to economic crash. The banks went bust,
stock markets collapsed and people lost their life savings.
The US and European economies being interlinked saw the effects
of the great depression reach Europe. The huge number of workers
were laid off and this caused discontent which further
strengthened Fascists movements like Nazism.
The economic crisis was mitigated by President Roosevelt and his
Plan for reform called New Deal. However the
economy hadn't recovered yet.
Foreign policy wise too the US had failed the World as it
followed a policy of Non Aggression towards the fascists and
entered the War only when it was attacked.
Rise of the Soviet Union
The USSR was formed after the 1917 Russian revolution and the end
of the civil war launched by Foreign powers against Russia. The
initial years of the USSR were in turmoil and hardships were
caused to farmers but these measures were seen as necessary for
After the turmoil had ended, in 1921 a New Economic
Policy was followed. Farmers were allowed to sell in
the market, cash payments were introduced, industry building
started and prospered. The Confiscation of strategically important
industry were done and bore fruit.
The five year plans system was started for national economic
growth and soon the USSR became a superpower. Its isolation by the
west continued. However the nation remained strong in spite of the
global slowdown during the Great Depression 1929-1933. The
emergence of the USSR couldn't be ignored and soon the western
powers recognized it. USSR became a member of the League of
The policy of USSR to support Anti imperialist and Anti colonial
movements around the world weren't liked by the European states.
Hence they welcomed German aggression on Russia. but this mistake
proved costly for them.
The revolution in China began in 1911 and a republic was formed.
But power went in hands of corrupt governors called warlords. In
1917 under leadership of Dr. Sun Yat Sen a revolution was started
in China and the democratic government was formed. Dr. Sun Yat Sen
also created his own party Kuomintang.
The Russian revolution had a deep impact on China as the harsh
measures of Russian Czar on China were withdrawn and the
revolutionary government helped China in its liberation movement.
It also supported training of an army. Communist party for workers
started in China. Soviet representatives also worked in the
Chinese government as advisors. The Communist party and Kuomintang
worked together but later after the death of Sun Yat Sen there was
a civil war.
The parties united to fight Japanese invasion but after the World
War - II , Communist party won the internal civil war and ruled
Fascist Aggression's in Europe and the World
The World was aware of the dangers of Communism and socialism.
the ruling class were afraid that the workers might demand a
revolution and overthrow the establishment. This led it to
passively allow the aggression unleashed by the fascists. The
Fascists were against communism and socialism and Hitler had an
ambition of conquering the USSR. The European powers like England,
France and also the US believed this would be in their interest
too as the emergence of socialism could threaten them. However
this faith in Gangster type violence of fascists was misplaced and
the World had to play a heavy price for this.
The Comintern was an international alliance of communists that
wanted the World to unite against the dangers of fascist forces in
Europe. The popular fronts were formed against fascism in many
nations. USSR being a major policy maker in the communist world
sought a united response to fascism too. But the Anti-Comintern
pact countries didn't support this as they wanted the fascists to
attack the USSR.
Japan was the first to start aggressive stance by attacking
China. It captured Manchuria and formed a puppet government there.
It also started attacking other places in China. England followed
a policy of appeasement towards it as it wanted to protect its own
colonial interest in Asia. It also wanted Japan to attack China
and Russia and stop communism from spreading.
Germany to stepped up militarization and built a huge army, navy
and air force in preparation for a war to conquer Europe. It
occupied Rhineland against the Treaty of Versailles and alarmed
France.However no steps were taken to respond to this. Italy too
invaded Ethiopia and despite economic sanctions on it by League of
Nations it successfully captured it.
Spanish Civil War
A popular government of Anti fascists, socialists and democrats
was ruling Spain. The Fascist forces of Germany, Italy supported
General Franco who had started a war to depose the government and
assume power. The war on a popular government shocked the World.
Anti fascists from all over the world formed an alliance to fight
Franco's forces. The internationalism was at its peak but amongst
the nations only USSR supported the anti fascists, Germany and
Italy allied with Franco's forces and bombed villages and supplied
ammunition to him. England, France and US remained non intervening
and soon General Franco had succeeded in forming a military
This was the final act of appeasement of Fascist forces by
England and France. Hitler wanted Sudetenland a part of
Czechoslovakia. This was known for its munition factories and also
a strategic location for attacking the Soviet Union.
Under pretext that the majority of population of Sudetenland
belonged to German race Hitler demanded that this province should
be surrendered. This claim was recognized by England and France
who wanted to avoid a war. Hence without taking Czechoslovakia
into confidence the Munich Pact was signed but Hitler soon invaded
entire Czech state. This pact made Italy and Germany to make more
The Soviet Union wanted an alliance to check German aggression
but now it was convinced that England and France wanted Germany to
attack USSR. Therefore it signed a Non Aggression pact with
Germany. This action shocked all Anti Fascists of the world.