The Roaring Twenties and Totalitarian Regimes: A Historical Overview

Roaring Twenties

Term for Western society culture (1920), a period of sustained economic prosperity and a decade of great economic growth and widespread prosperity, driven by recovery from wartime devastation and postponed spending. A boom in construction led to the economy of the US booming and providing loans for a European boom as well. Some sectors were stagnant, especially farming and mining. The US became the richest country, augmented its status as the largest economy, aligned its industry to mass production, and embraced consumerism. European economies had a more difficult readjustment but began to flourish by 1924.

October 1929

Prices dropped as everybody wanted to sell their shares, hoping the banks would keep the value of shares up artificially. The USA stopped lending money abroad and wanted its loans back. Two thousand banks had collapsed as people wanted to withdraw their savings. The consequences of the Depression affected all countries in Europe. The least affected country was the USSR, which had a communist system. In Germany, people turned to groups like Hitler’s Nazis who promised a strong government and a better life. In Italy, Mussolini wanted to increase the power of Italy abroad. In England, France, and other countries, people also suffered from the crisis.

1932 Democrat

Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president. His economic thinking was based on Keynes’ ideas. He had a New Deal with three main aims: spend money to help people get back to work, rebuild American trade and industry, and improve the lives of ordinary people.

  • Closed the weak banks and loaned money to stronger ones
  • Tried to control the Stock Market
  • Started schemes to feed the poor and help them get back to work
  • To give jobs to young people, started a civilian Conservation Corps where people were paid to carry out projects to help others
  • Helped farmers by introducing Agricultural Adjustment Acts where farmers were paid to produce less food and modernize their businesses
  • Developed the Tennessee Valley, an area of 40,000 square miles across 7 states
  • Passed the Wagner Act to make trade unions legal to help workers campaign for better pay and conditions
  • Implemented the Social Security Act where workers could pay into a fund and receive benefits when unemployed or pensions when they retired

Characteristics of Totalitarianism

  • Authoritarian political system where the state and government were controlled by a single political party with a charismatic leader who was believed to be infallible and had unlimited power
  • No freedom as the system was controlled by a single political party that eliminated any opposition through harsh repression executed by paramilitary forces and political police
  • Economic and social control where regimes maintained the capitalist economic system but controlled different economic sectors. Society was manipulated by propaganda and censorship
  • An ideology based upon inequality and fanaticism where Fascism and Nazism did not believe in equality and promoted irrationalism
  • Nationalism and militarism where most fascists and Nazis fought in WW1 and believed in the right of their nations to territorial expansion, leading to a great investment in rearmament

Fascist National Party

After WW1, a former socialist journalist, Mussolini, founded the Fascist National Party in 1921. This party organized paramilitary groups that violently attacked workers and left-wing organizations. The Fascist Party was supported by landowners, factory owners, middle classes, the Catholic Church, and King Victor Manuel III. The frustration after the results of the war encouraged a growing nationalism that considered workers’ revolution as the worst enemy. After fighting against a general strike in 1922, Mussolini organized the March into Rome where thousands of ‘black shirts’ converged in Rome and claimed power for Mussolini. The king supported this coup, and Mussolini imposed a fascist dictatorship that lasted more than 20 years. Mussolini established a single-party regime, banned trade unions, and political parties.

Fascist Society

  • Fascism counted on the Catholic Church’s support. Mussolini signed the Lateran Treaty in 1929 with Pope Pius XI, where Italy acknowledged the independence of the Vatican as a sovereign state
  • Catholicism was the official religion of Italy
  • Only religious marriages were allowed
  • Mussolini became racist towards Jews after getting closer to the ideals of Hitler

Fascist Economy

  • Mussolini promoted a capitalist economic model
  • Promoted the heavy industrial sector
  • Sought self-sufficiency and limited imports
  • Developed public works under this regime
  • Created Fascist trade unions to represent the workers and banned others

International Policy

  • Mussolini believed in Imperialism and meant to create an Italian empire
  • Consolidated rule over Libya
  • Conquered and annexed Abyssinia in 1936
  • Occupied Albania and Somalia in 1939
  • Mussolini got closer to Hitler’s Germany

Nazi Regime

In 1932, elections took place, and although the NSDAP didn’t have enough seats for an absolute majority, once in power, the Nazis quickly destroyed the Weimar Republic by controlling the mass media, developing a wide use of propaganda, and harassing the opposition. In June 1934, Hitler ordered the arrest of Röhm and others, resulting in several hundred people being killed in what was called the Night of the Long Knives. When Hindenburg died, Hitler became Chancellor, President, and Commander-in-chief of the army, earning the title of Der Führer. The new regime was a cruel single-party dictatorship where all power was concentrated in the Führer.

Nazi Economy

  • Hitler started a huge plan of public works that gave jobs to many people, including motorways and public buildings
  • All men between 18-25 had to go into the National Labour Service and were guaranteed a job
  • Strikes were not allowed, but wages were higher than before, and good jobs had benefits such as holidays
  • Big industrial names like Thyssen, Krupp, or Volkswagen supported the regime and had many benefits

Nazi Ideology

  • Based on racism, where the German nation was considered the superior race, the Aryans, that had to prevail over inferior races like Jews, Gypsies, and Slavic peoples
  • The Nazi totalitarian state controlled society, education, and culture through propaganda, censorship, and repression
  • The SA, SS, and Gestapo crushed all sorts of opposition, resulting in many citizens being arrested and concentration camps being established