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 as 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 the rise of the aspirations of people in many colonial parts.
The First World War was called The War to End all Wars by President Woodrow Wilson of the 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 people’s 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 was the 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 was traders and industrialists that hated socialism. They entered the First World War in the hope of gaining colonies but the peace treaties failed.
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 government.
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 a 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 World’s worst.
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 the 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 Reichstag [Parliament] on fire. Hitler used this as an excuse to suppress the communists blaming them for the fire.
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 WWI.
The Nazis started a program of militarization. They discarded the humiliating conditions imposed by the 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, political instability was seen in England too. The great depression created unemployment, and 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 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 the US were made in Europe and the economies of the two continents became interdependent.
In this situation, a crisis unfolded that led to the collapse of the capitalist system in Europe and the US. This was the most disastrous event for the economy of the World and was called the “Great Depression”.
The depression was caused by factories producing more than the demand 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 the people. The people couldn’t buy these goods as they had no wages. Thus a vicious cycle led to the 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. A huge number of workers were laid off and this caused discontent which further strengthened Fascist 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 the nation.
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, and industry building started and prospered. The Confiscation of the strategically important industries was done and bore fruit.
The five-year plan system was started for national economic growth and soon the USSR became a superpower. Its isolation from 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 Nations.
The policy of the USSR to support Anti-imperialist and Anti-colonial movements around the world wasn’t liked by the European states. Hence they welcomed German aggression against Russia. but this mistake proved costly for them.
The revolution in China began in 1911 and a republic was formed. But the power went in hands of corrupt governors called warlords. In 1917 under the leadership of Dr. Sun Yat Sen a revolution was started in China and a 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 the Russian Czar on China were withdrawn and the revolutionary government helped China in its liberation movement. It also supported the training of an army. The 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 the Japanese invasion but after World War – II, the Communist party won the internal civil war and ruled China.
Fascist Aggression’s in Europe and the World
The World was aware of the dangers of Communism and socialism. the ruling class was 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 pay 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. Popular fronts were formed against fascism in many nations. USSR being a major policymaker 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 an 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 the 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, and 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. 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 the US remained non-intervening and soon General Franco succeeded in forming a military dictatorship.
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 the pretext that the majority of the population of Sudetenland belonged to the 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 the entire Czech state. This pact made Italy and Germany make more demands.
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.