TheGreat Depression and Political Extremism



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TheGreat Depression in the 1920s and 1930s had economic and politicalimplications, particularly, in Europe and North America. It resultedin negative effects on the global economy, including, the fall ofmajor banks. Weakened economies and increased industrialization areamong the leading causes of the depression. It is notable that theevents happened at a time when the global politics were shaky.Political and economic pressures were evident in virtually allsocieties. The recession contributed to economic hardships thateventually resulted in political extremism in the 1930s.

TheGreat Depression had both economic and political implications inparliamentary and presidential democracies. Nationalists andright-wing parties engaged in decisions that characterized theirpolitical inclinations. It is evident from historians that hardeconomic times back then generated political extremism in the 1930s.A closer examination of elections that took place between WWIand WWII reflect the effects of economic crisis and interwardepression on the rise of right-wing anti-system parties.


Accordingto Adas (1992), the economic recession witnessed in the 1920sculminated in an international crisis. The First World War led todifficult economic times, particularly, in the European and NorthAmerican economies. Inflation was high in Germany although dynamicactions by the government resolved the crisis in 1923. Devaluation ofthe currency did not help much in restoring the lost savings.Countries such as Britain recovered slowly due to their dependence onexports. Other areas in Europe experienced similar challenges, withreadjustments to peacetime going beyond the predicted period1.In some countries, governments had limited capacity to resolve theeconomic crisis. Further, a majority of the countries did not haveappropriate political and economic structures to generate workablesolutions. It is noteworthy that some western nations concentratedmore on repayment of debts owed to them by other countries.Protectionist approach generated praise and criticisms among thepolitical and business leaders.

Accordingto Frucht(2005), the right-wing extremist parties had made considerable gainsin addressing the fiscal predicament. Nations with a long history ofdemocracy have a tendency to support the prevailing politicalsystem2.As such, the claim supports the notion that extremists benefited fromdepression in countries that had weak democratic systems. Intheir study on the right-wing political radicalism during the GreatDepression, Bromhead, Eichengreen, and O’Rourke (2012) assert thatthe situation altered the voting patterns in several states. Themonetary disaster was good for fascists since such nations lackedstable democratic structures. The new welfare programs initiated inthe European nations triggered radical socio-political experiments.In Germany, the country witnessed the rise and growth of GermanNazism. Before 1929, Hitler’s NSP was little-known in the state.However, the events following the Great Depression played a crucialrole in creating political clout for the party. National SocialistParty was among the extremist political groupings in the country thatopposed the regime. By 1932, the party, under Hitler, becamevictorious after garnering about 37 percent of the total votes3.The win helped him entrench his dictatorial political principles. InFrance, Mussolini’s fascist regime influenced political radicalism.

Allover the European region, the election results reflected theimplications of the Great Depression on politics. The trend was feltin Austria, Germany, and Belgium among other nations. The majority offar-right and extreme-left political parties gained significance intheir respective nations4.In 1930s, fascist and authoritarian regimes started cropping up inEurope hence, putting the democratic rule in jeopardy. It is notablethat political behavior was influenced by the effects of economicdepression. Anti-system and extremist parties offered easy solutionsto the current economic status. Nonetheless, the behavior was notidentical in all nations.

Politicalextremists succeeded in countries that did not have strong democratictraditions such as Germany and Hungary. The two nations were amongthe losers in the First World War. The defeat in the war and theGreat Depression offered an opportunity for far-right extremists tochallenge the incumbent government. They acted as ultra-nationalistswho promised to re-look at the local and global policies5.Suppression by the foreign nations made the citizens susceptible toright-wing extremism. Nonetheless, the success of politicalfanaticism occurred in areas that experienced extended periods ofdepression such as Germany. In fact, observers argue that politicalradicalism contributed significantly to the Second World War inGermany.

InBritain, depression caused disagreements in the Parliament regardingthe economy recovery plan. The Labor Party supported leftist measuresand imprudent spending. The conservative and liberal parties did nothave a workable formula. The 1931 elections saw the Labor Party win aconvincing majority6.Despite the party’s elaborate and protective policies, thecountry’s economy continued to deteriorate. The remaining peacetimeperiod was spent on tangling between multiple policies to generateworkable solutions.

Politicalextremism was not profound in North America although the currentadministration faced great difficulties in formulating convincingsolutions. The contest in the U.S. was between New Dealers andProgressives7.Boththe New Deal and Progressive movements aimed at advancing policies tosolve the socio-economic crisis in the country. The country’sadministration at the time, led by President Franklin D. Roosevelt,support the ideas proposed by the New Dealers. Economic depressionsmotivated both the New Deal and Progressive movements to take theirbattles against each other. Essentially, the two groups believed thatthe government had the potential to support socio-economicdevelopment. According to Lloydand Davenport (2013), theNew Deal recommended the U.S. to use pluralistprinciples, but the progressivism promoted the program ofincorporation with imperialist ambitions. However,the two groups differed on approaches to dealing with the crisis.Proponents of progressive ideals argued that capitalism was the causeof the monetary catastrophe in the country. As such, they called forre-structuring of theAmerican capitalismand institutions. New Dealers, on the other hand, maintained thatcapitalism helped in saving the country’s economy from collapsing.Their idea was to initiate programs that would stimulate the economy.

Inconclusion, the Great Depression had significant political andeconomic implications in Europe and North America. The politicalradicalisation in Europe was higher compared to North America due tolatter’s longer democratic history. The fall of democracies in the1930s culminated in the collapse of the international system. It isworth mentioning that political extremism generated significance inEurope and the U.S. due to the Great Depression. Economic crisispushed the citizens to the limit, therefore, making them susceptibleto demagogy and populism. Itaffected socio-political developments in Europe and North America.Stagnation of the economy benefitted the far-right parties thatcontributed in advancing authoritarian regimes. Anti-system parties,including anti-Semitic and anti-liberal, gained considerablepolitical ground in their respective nations. Historical experienceshows that weak economic status makes people more radical regardingtheir political behavior. Nonetheless, it is prudent to recognizethat economic crisis is not the only factor that influences politicalextremism. Assessing other considerations as social and historicalfacets is crucial.


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BBC.PrimeMinisters and Politics Timeline.2014. 11 July 2016&lt

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Frucht,Richard C. EasternEurope: An Introduction to the People, Lands, and Culture.Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2005. Print.

History.comStaff. NewDeal.2009. 11 July 2016 &lt

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1 Adas, Michael. The Great Depression. 1992. 11 July 2016, para. 4-5.

2 Watts, Duncan. Dictionary of American Government and Politics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010. Internet resource, p. 227.

3 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Hitler Comes to Power. n.d. 11 July 2016, para. 3.

4 Frucht, Richard C. Eastern Europe: An Introduction to the People, Lands, and Culture. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2005. Print, p. 132.

5 Robbins, Lionel. The Great Depression. Auburn, Ala: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2007. Internet resource, p. 57.

6 BBC. Prime Ministers and Politics Timeline. 2014. 11 July 2016, para. 14.

7 Staff. New Deal. 2009. 11 July 2016, para. 2.