The Age of Anxiety
The World after the Great War
World War One had brought unprecedented destruction to the world and the Treaty of Versailles, which Woodrow Wilson had envisioned as the instrument of permanent peace, created more problems than it solved. The harsh treatment of Germany, the failure to resolve colonial claims of the Allied powers, and the political upheaval which had begun in Russia but soon spread to other nations together with a massive worldwide economic depression led waste to established values and caused cultural transformations and abandonment of traditional ideas on a scale never before seen. Belief in the superiority of European social and political institutions crumbled while bold new cultural paths emerged. Even the belief in Newtonian physics, considered immutable, was soon challenged.
Uncertainty and Change in the Postwar World:The Great War had been enthusiastically supported by European and American intellectuals, who saw it as a great adventure. The harsh realities of the war left them disillusioned about war and human nature itself. The result was a feeling of despair and fatalism. A number of American writers, such as T.S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway, left America for Europe where they expressed their revulsion with the war in their work. Their disillusionment was so great that Gertrude Stein, also an American author once remarked to Ernest Hemingway, "All you young people who fought in the war; you are a lost generation. The phrase lost generation came to describe all these writers, famous for such works as Hemingwayís A Farewell to Arms, and The Sun Also Rises. Among the more famous European writers was Erich Maria Remarque, who wrote All Quiet on the Western Front.
Among the casualties of the Great War was the idea of human progress. Thinkers of the previous generation, particularly in the United States and Europe had believed that human society was gradually improving. The destruction of the war had destroyed this belief and left many disillusioned and convinced of the meaninglessness of the entire concept of progress. Western society, so long believed by Europeans and Americans to be superior to others, was seen by many writers as in a state of permanent decline. Among them, Oswald Spengler, who wrote The Decline of the West (1918-1922.) Spengler wrote that all societies pass through a cycle of growth and decay, similar to the life cycle of organisms. He concluded from his study of European history that European society had entered the final stage of its existence; nothing remained except inevitable decline, which would be marked by imperialism and warfare. His argument was strangely comforting to those who tried to rationalize their postwar despair. Arnold Toynbee, a British historian, began work at this time on his classic twelve volume work, A Study of History (1934-1961) in which he attempted to analyze the development of societies through time.
Among the casualties of the war: The idea that science would lead humanity to a beneficial conquest of nature. This idea died as scientists spent the war creating poisonous gas and high impact explosives. Democracy, the idea that people should have a voice in choosing their leaders had led to universal male suffrage in most societies and the extension of the right to vote to women. The result was an unprecedented degree of participation by individuals in elections and referendums. This noble concept was sadly seen by many intellectuals as a weak system that championed the tyranny of the average person. Democracy was to them a product of decay; the ideal should be "elite rule." In Germany, an entire group of conservative scholars complained of the "rule of inferiors." A Spanish philosopher, Josť Ortega y Gasset wrote an essay, "Revolt of the Masses," in which he claimed that the masses would destroy the highest achievements of Western society. John Maynard Keynes, the noted British economist, spoke of "The End of Laissez Faire," although he did not indicate what economic system would replace it.
Even theologians joined the chorus of despair. Karl Barth, (1886-1968), considered one of the great theologians of the twentieth century, published his work, Epistle to the Romans, in which he attacked the idea that progress and improvement were the realization of Godís plan for humanity. Other theologians expressed similar ideas, and reminded Christians that Christís kingdom was not of this world. The old Calvinist message of original sin and the depravity of mankind was suddenly appealing as many believers came to the conclusion that human society was not the realization of Godís purpose. Said a Russian Orthodox theologian, Niokolai Berdyaev: "Manís historical experience has been one of a steady failure; and there are no grounds for supposing it will be ever anything else.
The accepted laws of physics were upended by the work of Albert Einstein (1879-1955) whose famous theory of relativity stated that even time and space were not absolute, but were relative to the motion of the observer. The average lay person could not comprehend Einsteinís complicated mathematical formulae; however it did suggest that science had reached the limits of that which could be known with certainty. Even more disquieting was the work of Werner Heisenberg, who in 1927 published a paper: "About the Quantum-Theoretical Reinterpretation of Kinetic and Mechanical Relationships." His paper established the "uncertainty principle," which argued that it is impossible to specify simultaneously the position and velocity of a sub-atomic particle. According to this principle, scientists could not observe the behavior of electrons objectively, because the more accurately one determines its position, the less accurately one can determine its velocity and vice versa. As a result, probability calculations would necessarily replace the exact computations of exact physics.
Heisenbergís work had implications far beyond physics. It led thinkers to question even established notions of truth and the law of cause and effect. Objectivity was no longer a valid concept, because the observer was always part of the process under observation. Thus one observing another society for an anthropological study must necessarily accept the fact that his very presence becomes an integral part of the study.
New developments in psychology developed due to the work of Sigmund Freud (1956-1939.) Freudís work focused on psychological rather than physiological causes of mental disorder. He postulated a conflict between the conscious and unconscious mind and the existence of a repressive mechanism which kept painful memories or threatening events away from the conscious mind. He argued that the key to the deepest recesses of the mind lay in dreams. Freud further argued that sexual drives and fantasies were the most important source of repression. He claimed to have discovered the so-called Oedipus complex, in which male children develop an erotic attachment to their mother and hostility toward their father. Freud believed his ideas, known as psychoanalysis, provided the key to understanding all human behavior. His influence extended far beyond psychology, however, as novelists, poets and painters relied on Freudís influence to focus on the inner world of memory and emotion. Sex was now used in literature as a tool for the interpretation and understanding of human behavior.
Artistic expression also changed with growing disdain for realism and increased concern for freedom of expression. Change had been in process since the nineteenth century; realism seemed doomed by the popularity of photography. Anyone could create natural images with a camera; therefore it made little sense for artists to do so. Painters began to see the canvas as an end to itself; the purpose of painting was not to mirror reality but to create it. The end result was the birth of a series of schools of art commonly housed under the umbrella of "modern art." Among them were those who called themselves les fauves, ("wild beasts,") expressionists, cubists, abstractionists, dadaists, or surrealists. Their work did not depict recognizable objects from the everyday world; rather beauty was expressed in pure color or shape. Some painters attempted to show feeling or emotion through violent distortion of forms and the use of explosive colors. Others, influenced by Freud, attempted to tap the subconscious mind to communicate an inner vision or dream. Asian, Pacific and African heritage influenced many contemporary painters. Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was influenced by Japanese prints whose painters often deliberately violated perspective and stressed flat, two-dimensional surfaces. Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) was inspired by the "primitive" art he found in Central America and Tahiti; and claimed that it held a sense of wonder that "civilized" people did not possess. The work of Pablo Picasso, the leading cubist painter, often displayed the influence of African art forms.
Architecture underwent a similar revolution. Architects deliberately attempted to create building styles that broke with established forms and traditions. These changes came about at the time of the Bauhaus, which adopted the concept that "form follows function. Its chief proponent was Walter Gropius (1883-1969) whose work featured simplistic shapes and extensive use of glass. A second leader was Ludwig Miex von der Rohe (1886-1969) whose work on steel frames became the framework for the glass-box skyscrapers of Chicago and New York. The style soon became worldwide and was termed the "international style;" however although it was embraced by governments and businesses, the general public was not fond of the cold impersonal appearance of the style.
The Great Depression:Although productivity and post-war repairs seemed to restore economic strength, the prosperity of the early post-war years was built on a gossamer support of problems and dislocations which soon wrecked world economies. Among them: the governments of Austria and Germany relied on loans from the United States to finance reparation payments to France and England. The French and British in turn relied on reparation payments to repay loans taken out from U.S. bankers to finance the war. When U.S. lenders began to withdraw capital funds from Europe, the financial system of the continent collapsed. Other problems were caused by improvements in production of raw materials. Rubber prices collapsed as technology allowed recycled rubber to be used in automobile tires; increased use of oil caused coal prices to plummet, and the use of artificial nitrogen ruined the nitrate industry in Chile. Increased agricultural production after the war led to huge surpluses and declining prices. Farmers, who did not understand the relationship between supply and demand, continued to plant more and more acreage, which exacerbated the decline. By 1929 the price of wheat, when adjusted for inflation, was at its lowest per bushel price in 400 years. As farm familiesí incomes were produced, they purchased fewer manufactured goods whose inventory continued to grow.
In the United States, the stock market collapsed on October 24, 1929 (Black Friday) following rampant speculation in the market. Thousands of people lost their entire savings, and before the end of the day, eleven financiers had committed suicide. Financial turmoil led to a drastic decrease in business activity. Consumer demand fell drastically and businesses, unable to move inventory, laid off workers. The large number of unemployed caused the downward spiral of prices to accelerate.
Japan and Germany suffered more than most in the depression. Both were dependent on exports to pay for imports of fuel and food. As American financial markets collapsed, bankers attempted to raise money by calling in loans, including those made to Austrian and German banks. The end result was the total collapse of the German economy, with 35 percent unemployment and a 50 percent decrease in industrial production. German industry had not been damaged in the war, as no fighting had occurred on German soil; however it still suffered tremendously from the depression. In Japan, unemployment skyrocketed as exports to the United States declined precipitously.
The crisis in the industrialized world soon spread to other areas. Latin America, where most economies depended upon the export of raw materials such as coffee and sugar, soon collapsed. In Brazil, the dictator president Getulio Dornelles Vargas attempted to turn the country into an Estado Novo (New State) by beginning a program emphasizing iron and steel production and erecting trade barriers to protect the economy from foreign competition. He also initiated minimum wage limits, work hour limits and health and safety regulations.
Some areas were not so affected. The economies of Africa, which were largely under imperialist control, suffered when the European countries that controlled the exports of their products suffered; however other areas were largely unaffected, as their products were not tied to the international economy. Chinaís economy, largely agricultural, had few ties to the international market, and thus was largely unaffected, other than trade in silk and tea.
With the breakdown of the international economy, governments protected their own resources and practiced economic nationalism by erecting trade barriers and import quotas or prohibitions hoping to achieve economic self reliance, although global interdependence made this virtually impossible. Retaliatory measures in fact had the opposite effect, and the worldwide depression weakened. By 1933, worldwide unemployment was over 30 million. Women, who were often preferred by employers as they were paid less, soon were forced out of the workplace by the notion that a womanís place was in the home. A Nobel Prize winning physician, Charles Richet, insisted that removing women from the workforce would increase the dangerously low birth rate in France. In the meantime, people suffered immensely. Marriage, childbirth and divorce rates declined while suicide rates increased. Class conflict developed as the unemployed poor came to despise the wealthy, who seemed shielded from the effects of the depression. Thousands starved while farmers destroyed crops in a desperate effort to maintain prices.
Contemporary economic thought was that capitalism was self-correcting, and the economy would eventually correct itself. Governments either did nothing, waiting on this self-correction to occur, or followed deflationary policies such as balancing national budgets and curtailing public spending. Again, the actions backfired and the depression deepened. In response, John Maynard Keynes, the leading economist of the age, in his work, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936) urged governments to increase the money supply. He theorized that the cause of the depression was not excessive supply but inadequate demand. An increase in the money supply would lower interest rates and encourage investment. He also advocated large public works programs which would put people to work and create more income. He argued that these measures were necessary even if they created national debt and led to government deficits. Keynesí approach was not influential until after World War II; however President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States implemented them in a series of programs known as the New Deal. Although the New Deal put people to work and gave them hope, the depression was ultimately ended by the outbreak of World War II and the massive military spending it engendered.
Challenges to the Old Order and the Rise of Totalitarianism:With the onset of the depression, Marxists proclaimed capitalism to be on its deathbed. Their belief that a new and better tomorrow was embraced in Russia; which became the worldís first truly socialist society. Vladimir Lenin and his successor, Joseph Stalin, transformed the country into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR.) In Germany and Italy, an alternative to socialism developed, known as Fascism.
Shortly after Lenin and the Bolsheviks (who now called themselves the Russian Communist Party) took control of the government, a civil war erupted, 1918-1920 which Lenin and his supporters crushed. A campaign known as the Red Terror arrested and executed over 200,000 opponents of the regime, known as "Whites." Among the victims of the terror were the Romanov family and their servants, whom Lenin feared might form a nucleus for further rebellion. The rebellion was exacerbated when Western forces, including the United States and Japan, sent troops to support the Whites. Their support was minimal and only had the effect of uniting the peasants behind the Communists, as they feared that a White victory would return the landlords and the monarchy. An estimated ten million Russians died in the rebellion.
After the war, Russiaís leaders adopted a program of nationalization known as "war communism." Private property was abolished and the government seized control of banks, industry and other commercial properties. Large estates and churches were nationalized, although holdings of poor peasants were exempted. Private trade was abolished, which led to a reduction in crop production, and by 1920, industrial production was one tenth its prewar level, and agricultural production one half. Constant strikes, rebellions and a sailorís revolt led Lenin to rethink his policy. The result was his New Economic Plan (the NEP) which restored the market economy and some private enterprise, although large industries, banks and transportation remained under government control. Peasants were allowed to sell produce at free market prices and a program of electrification and establishment of technical schools was implemented. Lenin died in 1924 before the program was completely implemented, however and a struggle for power ensued. The two camps were divided over whether the communist revolution should move quickly to an international stage, or if it should be established in one country alone before its export. The ultimate victor was a Georgian, Josef Dugashvili, who changed his name to Stalin, ("man of steel") and who advocated socialism within one country.
Stalin replaced the NEP with an ambitious First Five Year Plan designed to turn the Soviet economy from agricultural to primarily industrial. The plan emphasized production of heavy industry, particularly steel and machinery, at the expense of consumer goods and under the direction of the state planning agency, Gosplan. Agriculture was collectivized: privately owned land was seized and collective farms formed to be worked by groups of families. This was in keeping with traditional communist philosophy that private property must be destroyed. The policy was most ruthlessly enforced against kulaks, relatively wealthy peasants. Many peasants destroyed crops and livestock in protest, and others moved to cities in search of work. Peasants who could not meet production quotas saw their meager crops seized by government officials, and many starved. When Stalin ended the program in 1931 calling it a "dizzying success," over three million people had died, most from starvation. The Five Year plan itself was unrealistic, but the leadership proclaimed it a success after four years. Its one success was that people were put back to work, but at the expense of consumer goods such as refrigerators and automobiles.
In 1934, at a so-called "Congress of Victors," opposition to collectivization appeared. Stalinís response was to incite a civil war within the party, try former party officials for treason, and purge the party of two thirds of its membership. By 1939, eight million Soviet citizens had been sent to labor camps in Siberia including more than two thirds of the partyís Central Committee and half the armyís officers. Another three million were executed.
Elsewhere, Fascist movements developed in response to economic and political turmoil. The movement (whose name derives from Fasces, a Roman war axe) only overthrew existing parliamentary systems in Italy and Germany, although movements developed in Japan, China and South Africa. Fascism attracted those who feared leftist revolutions, and appealed to the nationalist sentiments of those who felt their country had not realized the glorious objectives for which it had fought in the Great War. Fascist leaders proclaimed that a great crisis was at hand and sought to create a new nation-state based either on nationalist tradition or ethnic superiority. They frequently appealed to allegedly lost national traditions, such as the Roman Empire in Italy, and the Holy Roman Empire in Germany. All fascist movements shared common elements: veneration of the state; devotion to a strong leader; and emphasis on ultranationalism, ethnocentrism, and militarism.
Fascism originated in Italy after the Great War. Disillusion with the results of the war, economic chaos and ineffective government leadership together with widespread fear of socialism provided fertile soil for its growth. Its leader was Benito Mussolini, the editor of a socialist newspaper, Avanti! ("Forward!") After the war, he formed the Fasci Italiani de Combattimento (Italian Combat Veteran League) comprised of war veterans whom he argued would transform society and create a new state. His movement gained support such that he had 35 party members elected to the Italian Parliament in 1921. Much of his success came from armed violence against socialists by armed squads known as Black Shirts. On October 28, 1921, the Fascists organized a "March on Rome," although Mussolini himself stayed safely tucked away in Milan. In the face of the rebellion, King Victor Emmanuel II asked Mussolini to become prime minister and form a new government. He subsequently seized power as a dictator and ruled as Il Duce ("the leader.") All other political parties were banned, freedom of the press, speech and assembly were curtailed, labor unions were crushed and strikes prohibited. Labor disputes were to be settled by a National Council of Corporations which was little more than propaganda. In 1932 after ten years of rule, Mussolini proclaimed "that the twentieth century will be a century of fascism, the century of Italian power." Although anti-Semitism had not been prominent in Italy, after Mussoliniís new found friendship with Adolf Hitler of Germany, Jews were labeled unpatriotic, excluded from government jobs, and forbidden to marry "Aryans." IN May, 1939, Mussolini and Hitler sized the ten year Pact of Steel with the belief that the history of the world would revolve around a Rome-Berlin Axis.
Adolf Hitler, born in Austria, had developed a hatred of Jews and Marxists while in Vienna whom he believed had formed an evil union to destroy the world. In 1921 he became chairman of the National Socialist German Workersí Party, which he had earlier joined, but did not found. When an attempt to take over the government by force, the Beer Hall Putsch, landed Hitler in jail, he resolved to take over by "the path of legality." While in Prison, he wrote his political manifesto, Mein Kampf, ("My Struggles") which became the Nazi testament. The National Socialists ("Nazi" was a pejorative term they never used) appealed to frustrated Germans who were angered by the humiliating terms of the Treaty of Versailles and the devastation of the depression which had wiped out the German middle class. Hitler promised a new order that would restore Germany to greatness. He stressed nationalism and also anti-Semitism. The party appealed mostly to lower middle classes who had suffered and also disenchanted students. The new German government, the Weimar Republic, was weakened as Nazis gained more seats in the German Parliament, the Reichstag. After the Reichstag burned, Hitler blamed the Communists (which in fact was true.) Continuous victories led the president of the Republic, Paul von Hindenburg, to offer Hitler the Chancellorship of Germany. Hitler then transformed the republic into a dictatorship, and promised the German people a new Reich ("empire.")
Like Mussolini, Hitler moved quickly to eliminate all political parties but one, the National Socialist Party. Labor unions were abolished and the civil service and police forces soon came under Nazi control. Nazi leaders also put their policy of racial superiority into practice. The so-called "Nuremberg Laws" forbade Jews to marry anyone but another Jew, and prohibited them from government jobs, teaching, the practice of medicine, or law. In an attempt to increase a falling birth rate, propaganda measures were used to promote the glory of German motherhood. Women who bore many children were awarded special medals. (Many Germans referred to the medals as "rabbit decorations." The efforts failed, however, and birth rates remained below replacement levels. In an attempt to create a "quality" population, those with "hereditarily determined" illnesses, such as feeblemindedness, bipolar disorder, deafness and alcoholism were forcibly sterilized. The mania for "racial health" led to a widespread campaign of euthanasia, under which 200,000 people, many of them children, were put to death by gassing, lethal injection, or even starvation if they were considered useless to society. Among those considered useless by virtue of birth were Gypsies and Jews.
Nazi anti-Semitism was based on the theory that Jews were a race rather than a religion. The Nuremberg Laws deprived Jews of citizenship and much of their wealth was seized by the government. The ultimate plan was to force the Jews to emigrate, which became urgent after Kristallnacht ("the night of broken glass") on November 9-10, 1938 in which thousands of Jewish stores were destroyed and synagogues burned. This was the beginning of a pogrom (Yiddish for "devastation") designed to eliminate Jews from Germany. By 1938, over 250,000 emigrated. Others, who could not, especially the poor and elderly, faced an uncertain future.
The Struggle for National Identity in Asia:Following the Great War, the people of Asia, particularly India and China, saw growing nationalism as a force. Asian leaders used European ideology such as nationalism and socialism but incorporated them into indigenous traditions to their own advantage. Japan, which had previously westernized, was still dissatisfied with its status and used militarism and imperial expansion to enhance its own national identity.
Nationalism in India grew as a result of a vast railway system which, although designed for the export of raw materials, brought the people of the country within easy reach of each other. Also, since the British chose to administer the country with native Indians who had received a European style education. A side effect of this education was the inculcation of western ideals of democracy, freedom and equality. The greatest threat was the Indian National Congress, established in 1885 which stressed cooperation with the British in an attempt to bring about self rule. After the War, however, the Congress advocated opposition to the British, and was soon joined by the Muslim League, created in 1906. which also advocated independence. The issue was complicated as members of the Muslim league worried that Indiaís Hindu majority might replace the British with a policy of subjugation of their own. Indian leaders read Wilsonís Fourteen Points and Leninís writings, and soon called for self determination; a call which was met by increased suppression from the British.
The Indian Independence movement gained momentum under the leadership of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1969-1948), a pious Hindu lawyer who lived for a time in South Africa, and developed a moral philosophy of tolerance and nonviolence. He developed a policy of passive resistance known as satyagraha ("truth and firmness.") H renounced material possession, dressed as a simple peasant, and became a vegetarian. He returned to India in 1915 and turned the Indian National Congress into a nationalist organization. He was soon called Mahatma, ("Great Soul") and worked to eliminate the caste system, calling the Untouchables, "children of God."
Gandhi led the Indian people to boycott British goods and institutions such as schools and courts; and advocated manual labor rather than industry. Although the British initially repressed Indian nationalism, in 1937 Parliament passed the Government of India Act, which would allow India some degree of self-rule. The Act did not work, however, as the 600 sovereign princes of India refused to cooperate, and because Indiaís Muslims worried that an independent India would be largely Hindu controlled. Their leader, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, proposed the creation of a second state called Pakistan ("the land of the pure.") Indian society was largely split, Hindu and Muslim.
In China, the Qing dynasty collapsed in 1911 when the last Emperor, a child, was forced to abdicate. Dr. Sun Yatzen proclaimed a Chinese republic and became President, but problems remained. The government was not stable, and civil war soon broke out as the society disintegrated. Economic control was frustrated by the unequal treaties forced upon China, and foreign powers frequently interfered. Nationalist sentiment erupted after the Great War when Chinese youth and intellectuals expected restoration of Chinese sovereignty from the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. When the conference only approved increased Japanese interference in China, the May Fourth movement was born, whose leaders pledged to rid China of foreign influence and restore national unity. Many were impressed by Marxist thought, and in 1921 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was created. Among its leaders was Mao Zedong, a former teacher and librarian who saw Marxism as the cure for Chinaís problems.
Sun Yatsen had proposed to eliminate special privileges for foreigners and unite China in a democratic national government based on universal suffrage. With help from the Soviet Union, however, the CCP infiltrated and soon controlled Sunís own party. Upon the death of Sun, leadership fell to Chiang Kai-shek (sometimes called Jiang Jieshi) who fought the communists and united China under a single state. The beaten Communists retreated to remote southeastern China and regrouped. Many Chinese were inspired to join the party after the famous "Long March" in which Mao led his followers to re-establish headquarters in Yanían. Mao developed his own form of Marxism in which peasants, not urban proletarians, were the foundation of a successful revolution.
Japan joined the League of Nations after the Great War, and signed a series of international agreements to limit naval development, pledged to vacate portions of China and promised to respect Chinaís territorial integrity. Its economy profited from the countryís limited involvement in the Great War, and it gained markets in Asia which European countries had ignored during the war. However, Japan also suffered greatly during the Great Depression, resulting in social unrest. The public blamed the government for the nationís economic problems and a nationalist movement developed which called for the eradication of "western" influence. A series of assassinations culminated in the murder of the Prime Minister, Inukai Tsuyoshi, in 1932. Militants, who supported a self sufficient Japan which would dominate east Asia gained support from Japanese martial traditions. China became an inviting target, particularly after the unification of China threatened Japanís economic interests in Manchuria. (Although Manchuria was Chinese, the Japanese operated the railroad and kept troops there.) On September 18, 1931, Japanese forces blew up a small portion of rail on the South Manchuria Railway at Mukden, and accused the Chinese of attacking their railroad. This "Mukden incident" led to Japanese occupation of Manchuria, which they renamed Manchukuo. Chiang Kai-shek appealed to the League of Nations which passed a resolution calling for Japanese withdrawal from Manchuria. Japan responded by resigning from the League. The League was doomed, and the Second World War was at hand.