The peace settlements at the end of World War I combined with severe economic problems to produce widespread discontent across Europe. Democratic rule in many states gave way to fascism, authoritarianism, and the totalitarianism of Stalin and Hitler.
Section 1 The Futile Search for Stability
The peace settlement at the end of World War I left many nations unhappy and border disputes simmering throughout Europe. The League of Nations proved a weak institution. Democracy was widespread, and women in many European countries gained the right to vote. However, economic problems plagued France, Great Britain, and the German Weimar Republic. When Germany declared that it could not continue to pay reparations, France occupied one German region as a source of reparations. An American plan reduced the burden of reparations and led to a period of prosperity and American investment in Europe. The prosperity ended with the economic collapse of 1929 and the Great Depression. European governments tried different approaches to ending the depression. Many middle-class Germans began to identify with anti-democratic political parties. The new American president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, pursued a policy of active government intervention in the economy that came to be known as the New Deal.
Section 2 The Rise of Dictatorial Regimes
By 1939 most European democracies had collapsed. Only France and Great Britain remained democratic. Benito Mussolini began his political career as a Socialist, but he abandoned socialism for fascism, which glorified the state and justified the suppression of all political dissent. In Italy, Mussolini outlawed most political opposition, but also compromised with powerful groups and never achieved totalitarian control. After the Russian civil war, Lenin restored capitalist practices to prevent economic and political collapse. After Lenin's death, Joseph Stalin emerged as the most powerful Communist figure. Stalin sidelined the Bolsheviks of the revolutionary era and established totalitarian rule. His program of rapid industrialization and collectivization forced horrendous sacrifices on the population. His political purges caused millions to be arrested, imprisoned, and executed. Elsewhere in Eastern Europe and in Francisco Franco's Spain, authoritarian regimes were mainly concerned with preserving the existing social order.
Section 3 Hitler and Nazi Germany
Adolf Hitler, a failed student and artist, built up a small racist, anti-Semitic political party in Germany after World War I. Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch failed. In prison, he wrote Mein Kampfan account of his movement and his views. As democracy broke down, right-wing elites looked to Hitler for leadership. In 1933 Hitler became chancellor. Amid constant chaos and conflict, Hitler used terror and repression to gain totalitarian control. Meanwhile, a massive rearmament program put Germans back to work. Mass demonstrations and spectacles rallied Germans around Hitler's policies. All major institutions were brought under Nazi control. Women's primary role was to bear Aryan children. Hitler's Nuremberg Laws established official persecution of Jews. A more violent anti-Semitic phase began in 1938 with a destructive rampage against Jews and the deportation of thousands to concentration camps. Increasingly drastic steps barred Jews from attending school, earning a living, or engaging in Nazi society.
Section 4 Cultural and Intellectual Trends
After World War I, radio and film became sources of entertainment as well as propaganda tools. Hitler and the Nazis made wide use of both. Work patterns after the war allowed many people to enjoy mass leisure activities such as professional sporting events, as well as train, bus, and car travel. The Nazis organized events such as concerts for workers. The revolution in physics continued with Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. The uncertainty of the post-war world became a prominent theme in art. Dadaism and the surrealism of Salvador Dalí reflected absurdity in the world. Nazi art was intended to be authentically German. In fact, it was largely derived from nineteenth-century folk art. Literary interest in the unconscious produced the "stream of consciousness" technique of James Joyce's Ulysees. The German novelist Hermann Hesse was influenced by psychology and Asian religions.