The Crises of Democracy (I)
Written by Alfonso Elizondo
The social phenomenon that is creating the current crisis in almost the entire Western world is not something new but has already happened in the recent past, mainly between the two major World Wars. That is why I will try in this article to give a brief summary of what happened in Western democracies when Marxism and Fascism emerged in the early years of the 20th century. It is not exactly the same phenomenon, but its fundamental element is that when nations are entrenched in their individual myths and beliefs, problems arise within their governments that push them towards autarchic, dictatorial or at least radical political models that seek to preserve their laws and their justice systems at any cost.
When the First World War ended, it seemed that everything was going well in the democratic regimes that had spread throughout many European countries. But the reality was that democracy would see the arrival of the authoritarian regimes of a single political party whether they were communists or fascists. And in much of Central, Eastern and Southern Europe, democracy was replaced by authoritarian regimes or by dictatorships.
The consolidation of these regimes would cause confrontation between the different democracies and the outbreak of World War II. The crisis also affected the countries with a democratic tradition due to the economic problems that surfaced and the rise of parties and movements of a totalitarian nature, whether communist or fascist.
After World War I, democracy, as a form of government, went into crisis. And this crisis lasted until the outbreak of World War II which accentuated even further the economic problems that had been created by the financial crisis of 1929.
In opposition to democracy as a political model, two forms of government appeared: communism and fascism. Both forms were totalitarian and led to the disappearance of the multi-party system that was replaced by a one-party regime. During this period, great importance was given to the State and the power of the government, which created dictatorships.
In 1917 the Marxist revolution triumphed in Russia and that country came out of World War I. After a civil war, there was a consolidation of communist power. Communist International was organized in Russia and spread throughout Europe. Something similar happened in southern Europe. There Mussolini controlled and installed another type of dictatorship known as ‘fascism’ that was followed by many countries in Southern and Eastern Europe. These parties also emerged in other Western countries.
A strong political power was needed to direct the conflict during World War II, so the executive branch almost got rid of the legislature. After the war, the liberal economic system was identified with the democratic political model, so much so that when things went wrong with the economy the political system was blamed and that’s how fascist parties started to appear or communist parties gradually gained ascendancy, with both being opposed to democracy.
There were two types of political movements that threatened the stability of the democratic model: the fascist parties that wanted to abolish parliaments and the communist parties that under Russia’s leadership are still trying to conquer power through revolutions and to control the rise of economic fascism.
After the crisis of 1929, the governments of Northern and Eastern Europe tried to stop the rise of workers’ parties with sound social policies and by integrating democracy with the socialists and moderate labor movements, although this could not be done in the south and in the east where the different countries moved towards forms of fascist dictatorial governments.
Something different happened with France, which was the country that suffered the most with World War II. From 1917, France was governed by a coalition of parties ranging from republicans and radicals to extreme right. This coalition tried to solve economic problems by means of loans that it intended to pay with the indemnification that it would have received from Germany in annual instalments. In 1923, when the Germans could not or did not want to pay the annual instalment of the debt to France, their head of government, Poincaré, occupied Germany’s Ruhr Valley to collect the debt.
In France, this led to the separation of the communists who supported the takeover of political power by the proletariat and they separated themselves from the socialists with their bourgeois power. The same thing happened with their unions. The failure of the economic policy, in addition to the 20% increase in taxes, led to the fall of the government and the calling of new national elections.
In May of 1924 a coalition of radicals and socialists won in the elections and formed a government headed by E. Harriot that would pursue a secular and anti-clerical policy. But the economic situation worsened with the growth of the debt, inflation, unemployment and the devaluation of the franc. With the departure of the radicals and the socialists becoming a minority, new elections were called again.
The leftist parties joined to form an antifascist bloc that won the 1936 elections. The government would be headed by the socialist Leon Blum who carried out a major social endeavor by controlling workers and unions. He brought strikes to an end, raised wages and created the 40-hour work week.
Addendum: In Part Two of this article we will look at the evolution of the crises of democracy in Europe up to this point in time.