|Home||Student Resources||Chapter 29: The World in the 1920s: Challenges to European Dominance|
The Disarray of Western Europe, 1918-1929. In western Europe in the 1920s, new and often troubling political, social, psychological, and economic patterns arose. Fascism gained power in Italy and Germany. Over ten million died in the Great War and millions more were wounded. The governments of Germany and Austria-Hungary collapsed. Western Europes dominance of world markets lost ground and fell behind the United States and Japan.
The Roaring Twenties. A brief period of stability, even optimism, emerged in the middle of the 1920s. Germanys new democratic government promised friendship with its former enemies. The Kellogg-Briand Pact, outlawing war, was signed by a number of nations. However, internal politics was polarized by leftists who wanted to emulate the Communist regime of the Soviet Union and by rightists who sought authoritarian government based on the recovery of national honor. By the latter half of the decade, general economic prosperity and the introduction of consumer items like the radio and affordable automobiles buoyed hopes. A burst of cultural creativity appeared in art, films, and literature. Women, who lost their economic gains in the wars factories, attained voting rights and social freedoms in several countries. In science, important advances continued in physics, biology, and astronomy.
Fascism in Italy. In 1919, Benito Mussolini formed the Fascist Party, which advocated a corporate state to replace both capitalism and socialism and an aggressive foreign policy under a strong leader. Once in power, Mussolini eliminated his opponents, issued a stream of nationalist propaganda, and began a strict program of government-directed economic programs.
The New Nations of East-Central Europe. Many of the problems that beleaguered western Europe also plagued the new nations created at Versailles, from eastern and central Europe. There were also rivalries among the small eastern European states, where authoritarian governments often took hold. Peasant land hunger, poverty, and illiteracy continued despite regime changes.
Industrial Societies Outside Europe. Settler societies, such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, became more autonomous during this era. Canada saw an increasingly strong economy and rapid immigration during the 1920s. Australia emphasized socialist programs like nationalization of railways, banks, and power plants and experienced rapid immigration as well.
The Rise of the American Colossus. Of greater significance was the rise of the United States to international economic prominence, even while it attempted to shrink from the world political stage in the 1920s, after its Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles. (Intervention in Latin American politics continued, however.) The U.S. economy boomed between World War I and the Great Depression and established itself as an innovator in products, technology, and corporate practices. The nation also exported its culture around the world through music and movies.
Japan and Its Empire. After World War I, Japan became Asias leading industrial power. The industrial combines, called the zaibatsu, rapidly expanded in areas like shipbuilding. Like Western countries, Japan saw its political institutions challenged by war and depression. In response, the nation developed an aggressive foreign policy pushed by a government controlled by the military. Advances in education and rapid growth in population were two other features of this era.
A Balance Sheet. Changes in Europe, the settler societies, the United States, and Japan in the 1920s were complex. Political, economic, and social forces fostered varying degrees of change. Continuity was sought after in many quarters, but seldom found.
Revolutions: The First Waves. An unprecedented tide of revolution swept key regions outside Europe. Each, with varying degrees of success, challenged the Western model of the role of government in the economic, political, and social realms.
Mexicos Upheaval. In Latin America, the first of these challenges occurred in Mexico. Calls for political and land reform, education, and nationalism led to the Mexican Revolution. Several key players, like Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, and Victoriano Huerta battled for control of the country, eventually yielding to Alvaro Obregon. The constitution of 1917 made promises of land reforms (slow to materialize) and public education (more successfully met).
Culture and Politics in Postrevolutionary Mexico. Attempts to Indianize the nation were begun by the government. Pro-Marxist artists like Diego Rivera became well known around the world. The government took control of the petroleum industry. The PRI developed into the controlling force in politics and remained so through the end of the twentieth century.
Revolution in Russia: Liberalism to Communism. In 1917, the tsar abdicated and a provisional government, headed by Alexander Kerensky, struggled to maintain control of the country. When reforms seemed slow in coming, popular unrest ensued and by the end of the year a second revolution occurred, bringing into power a radical new form of governmentCommunism. Under the Bolshevik banner, Vladimir Lenin signed a treaty ending hostilities with Germany and ended any semblance of a multiparty system. An ensuing civil war killed millions, but the Communist Red Army prevailed, under the leadership of Leon Trotsky.
Stabilization of the New Regime. Lenin issued the New Economic Policy, a stopgap economic mix of true Communism and capitalism. Food production increased, giving the Bolsheviks time to strengthen their grip on national politics. By 1923, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a fact but was a peoples government in name only, with all the features of an authoritarian system.
Soviet Experimentation. In the middle of the 1920s, the Communist Party encouraged the organization of workers, students, and womens groups, and provided public education. This era of experimentation was short-lived however, as a power struggle broke out among Lenins deputies after his unexpected death. The eventual winner was Joseph Stalin who believed in a strong nationalistic version of Communism which he called socialism in one country. Rivals to his political philosophy were exiled and/or killed.
Toward Revolution in China. The fall of the Qing dynasty in 1912 began a long struggle over the political future in China that involved Western-educated politicians, academics, warlords, peasants, and foreign powers, most notably Japan.
In Depth: A Century of Revolutions. Not since the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were there revolutions like those in the early twentieth century. Differently, the revolutions of the early twentieth century were precursors to later revolutions that struck after 1945. Like those from a century earlier, twentieth-century revolutions had several commonalities: rural discontent, population pressures, high taxes. Unlike the previous era, however, twentieth-century revolutions were also caused by the disruptions of the Industrial Revolution and by a Western-centered global market system. In addition, discontented World War I soldiers were a ready source of militant action for revolutions. Opposition to perceived Western influence was another ingredient. Finally, the Communist theories of Marx, Lenin, and Mao were a factor not in existence a hundred years before.
Chinas May Fourth Movement and the Rise of the Marxist Alternative. Sun Yat-sens Revolutionary Alliance had spearheaded the overthrow of the Qing, but Suns political power was weak from the start. Increasing Japanese encroachment into Chinas internal affairs led to the May Fourth Movement in 1919. The movement sought Western-style reforms but proved ineffective against powerful warlords not interested in yielding power. The example of the Russian Revolution and the ideology behind Marxist theory led Mao Zedong to form the Communist Party of China.
The Seizure of Power by Chinas Guomindang. Sun Yat-sen formed the Nationalist Party of China and forged key alliances with several groups in an attempt to rid the nation of the warlords. Promising social and land reforms, the Guomindang instead focused on international issues. In an attempt to gain support from the peasants and urban workers, Sun even allied with the Communists, Chinese and Russian, and received aid from the latter. Meanwhile, the government largely ignored crises like famine and disease among the rural poor.
Mao and the Peasant Option. Mao was a committed revolutionary who understood the importance of peasant support. Sun died in 1925 and was replaced by Chiang Kai-shek who, with Western approval, quickly turned against the Communists, most brutally in Shanghai. Mao led his supporters in the Long March and regrouped. By this time, Japan was the more imminent threat to China as a whole, and the Nationalists under Chiang had to ally with the Communists to fight the invaders.
Global Connections: The Interwar Decades and the World. Globalization retreated on the political and diplomatic fronts in the 1920s, despite the creation of the League of Nations. That organization turned out to be little more than a debating society incapable of real international influence. On the economic and social level, however, the Westernization of the world, with the United States as its epicenter, continued at a rapid pace.