World between 1924-39

Fascism Rises in Europe

Many democracies, including the United States, Britain, and France, remained strong despite the economic crisis caused by the Great Depression but Italy and Germany turned totalitarian. In response, they turned to an extreme system of government called fascism. This new, militant political movement called fascism emphasized loyalty to the state and obedience to its leader. Fascists promised to revive the economy, punish those responsible for hard times, one party rule and restore national pride. Their message attracted many people who felt frustrated and angered by the peace treaties that followed World War I and by the Great Depression. Fascists did not seek a classless society. In most cases, fascist parties were made up of aristocrats and industrialists, war veterans, and the lower middle class.

Mussolini Comes to Power in Italy

Fascism’s rise in Italy was fuelled by bitter disappointment. Rising inflation and unemployment also contributed to widespread social unrest. They wanted a leader who would take action. A newspaper editor and politician named Benito Mussolini boldly promised to rescue Italy by reviving its economy and rebuilding its armed forces.

Mussolini had founded the Fascist Party in 1919. Groups of Fascists wearing black shirts attacked Communists and Socialists on the streets. They demanded that King Victor Emmanuel III put Mussolini in charge of the government. The king let Mussolini form a government. He abolished democracy and outlawed all political parties except the Fascists. He sought to control the economy by allying the Fascists with the industrialists and large landowners.

Hitler Takes Control in Germany

He volunteered for the German army and was twice awarded the Iron Cross, a medal for bravery his belief that Germany had to overturn the Treaty of Versailles and combat communism. The group later named itself the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, called Nazi for short. Middle and lower middle classes, supported this Nazism. The Nazis set up a private militia called the storm troopers or Brownshirts. Hitler and the Nazis plotted to seize power in Munich in 1923. The attempt failed, and Hitler was arrested. While in jail, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle). It became the blueprint, or plan of action, for the Nazis.

Hitler asserted that the Germans, especially those who were blond and blue-eyed— whom he incorrectly called “Aryans”—were a “master race.” He declared that non-Aryan “races”—such as Jews, Slavs, and Gypsies—were inferior or subhuman. He called the Versailles Treaty an outrage and vowed to regain the lands taken from Germany. He promised to get that space by conquering eastern Europe and Russia. After Great Depression, Germans turned to Hitler, hoping for security and firm leadership. The Nazis had become the largest political party by 1932.

In 1933, Conservative leaders advised President Paul von Hindenburg to name Hitler chancellor. Once in office, Hitler acted quickly to strengthen his position. He called for new elections. The Nazis and their allies won a slim majority. Hitler demanded dictatorial, or absolute, power for four years and turn Germany into a totalitarian state. He banned all other political parties and had opponents arrested.

Meanwhile, an elite, black-uniformed unit called the SS (Schutzstaffel, or protection squad) was created. It arrested and murdered hundreds of Hitler’s enemies. New laws banned strikes, dissolved independent labour unions, and gave the government authority over business and labour. Hitler put millions of Germans to work. They constructed factories, built highways, manufactured weapons, and served in the military. As a result, unemployment dropped . Hitler turned the press, radio, literature, painting, and film into propaganda tools. He believed that a continuous struggle brought victory to the strong.

Hatred of Jews, or Anti-Semitism, was a key part of Nazi ideology. The Nazis passed laws depriving Jews of most of their rights. Violence against Jews mounted. In 1938, Nazi mobs attacked Jews in their homes and on the streets and destroyed thousands of Jewish-owned buildings. This rampage, called Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass), signalled the real start of the process of eliminating the Jews from German life.

In Hungary in 1919, after a brief Communist regime, military forces and wealthy landowners joined to make Admiral Miklós Horthy the first European post-war dictator. In Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania, kings turned to strong-man rule. They suspended constitutions and silenced foes. In 1935, one democracy, Czechoslovakia, remained in eastern Europe.

Elsewhere in Europe, only in nations with strong democratic traditions—Britain, France, and the Scandinavian countries—did democracy survive.

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World Drifts Toward War

Japan: In 1922, Japan agreed to respect China’s borders. In 1928, it signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact renouncing war. When the Great Depression struck in 1930, the government was blamed. Militarists wanted to restore traditional control of the government to the military. Militarists made the emperor the symbol of state power. They planned a Pacific empire that included a conquered China for raw materials and markets for its goods. In 1931, the Japanese army seized Manchuria. The League of Nations condemned Japanese aggression, but it had no power to enforce its decisions. Japan ignored the protests and withdrew from the League in 1933.

Mussolini Attacks Ethiopia

The League’s failure to stop the Japanese encouraged Mussolini to plan aggression of his own. Ethiopia was one of Africa’s four remaining independent nations. Mussolini ordered a massive invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935. The Ethiopians appealed to the League for help. Although the League condemned the attack, its members did nothing. Britain continued to let Italian troops and supplies pass through the British-controlled Suez Canal hoping to keep peace in Europe.

Hitler Defies Versailles Treaty

In March 1935, Hitler announced that Germany would not obey army strength restrictions as per treaty of Versailles. Rhineland formed a buffer zone between Germany and France. Later, German re-occupied Rhineland (1936) marked a turning point in the march toward war. First, it strengthened Hitler’s power and prestige within Germany. Second, the balance of power changed in Germany’s favor. France and Belgium were now open to attack. In October 1936, Hitler and Mussolini reached an agreement that became known as the Rome-Berlin Axis. A month later, Japan also joined. Trio called as Axis Powers.

Dictatorship in Spain

General Miguel Primo de Rivera established the first phase of authoritarian government in Spain during 1923-30. Initially the overthrow of the Spanish Cortes or parliament was intended to be a temporary step. But a dictatorship was institutionalized gradually. After the demise of Rivera, radicalization began in Spain. Soon there was Spanish Civil War (1933-36) that produced a polarized revolutionary-counter revolutionary conflict in which leadership passed completely in the hands of the insurgent Nationalist Army which created the Francisco Franco’s regime. Early in 1939, Republican resistance collapsed. Franco became Spain’s Fascist dictator.

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United States Follows an Isolationist Policy

  • Isolationism—the belief that political ties to other countries should be avoided—won wide support.
  • Why: Isolationists argued that entry into World War I had been a costly error.

The German Reich Expands

 Hitler announced to his advisers his plans to absorb Austria and Czechoslovakia into the Third Reich, or German Empire. The Germans would then expand into Poland and Russia. Treaty of Versailles prohibited a union between Austria and Germany. However, many Austrians supported unity with Germany. In March 1938, Hitler sent his army into Austria and annexed it. France and Britain refused to help. Hitler next turned to Czechoslovakia.

Britain and France Again Choose Appeasement

Mussolini proposed a Munich Conference between Germany, France, Britain, and Italy (September, 1938). Britain and France agreed that Hitler could take the Sudetenland (border of Germany, Czech and Poland). In exchange, Hitler pledged to respect Czechoslovakia’s new borders. Six months later, Hitler’s troops took Czechoslovakia. Soon after, Mussolini seized nearby Albania. Then Hitler demanded that Poland return the former German port of Danzig. The Poles refused and turned to Britain and France for aid. Both countries said they would guarantee Polish independence. But appeasement had convinced Hitler that neither nation would risk war.

Nazis and Soviets Sign Non-aggression Pact

Britain and France asked the Soviet Union to join them in stopping Hitler’s aggression. Once bitter enemies, fascist Germany and communist Russia now publicly committed never to attack one another. On August 23, 1939, a nonaggression pact was signed.

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