The Crises of Democracy (II)
Written by Alfonso Elizondo
The effects of World War I were very extreme in Great Britain. Prices went up, wages were frozen and a very tense social climate was created. Politically, the post-war world was very different from the world before the war and the two parties – liberal and conservative – had to adapt and deal with competition from the new ‘Labor’ party that came to power in 1924. It also created women’s suffrage, so that three basic problems emerged in Britain:
1º. It would no longer be the world’s top industrial producer and its markets would move to Japan and the United States.
2º. The pound sterling would lose its value, while Baldwin’s conservative government lasted in power from 1924 to 1929. Although the pound was strengthened, exports dropped by 20% showing an out-dated industry and alarming unemployment.
3º. All these monetary problems, plus the lengthening of the working day led to a general strike in 1926. In the confrontation with the Government, the workers lost the fight and the Government restricted the right to strike and increased working hours, pensions for retirees and a subsidy for unemployment were approved.
The 1929 crisis caused the ‘Labor’ party to come to power and K. MacDonald tried to combat unemployment by creating unemployment benefits that led to a major imbalance in the country’s budget. Then came another crisis in 1931 that caused a devaluation of the pound and raised unemployment to 3 million. The 1931 elections brought the Conservatives to power until 1945.
Another effect of the English crisis was the liberation of Ireland that had been a colony. At the end of 1921 Ireland gained its independence, although the struggles between Catholic and Protestant terrorist groups continued for a long time. In 1926 the Commonwealth of English-populated nations was created and in 1931 came the Westminster Statute through which Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand became independent.
On November 9, 1918, the German Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and the Republic was proclaimed in the parliament. Its future government signed the peace accord and accepted the Treaty of Versailles. The so-called Weimar Republic approved the Constitution of the new regime, although many internal problems arose since an attempt was made to establish a communist state. The German parliament was divided into two chambers, legislative and federal, so there were difficult conditions of peace in Germany from 1919 to 1924.
Then Germany lost its colonies and its richest territories and had to pay a huge war indemnity. In 1923 the German mark fell to 4.2 to the dollar. In this disastrous scenario there were coup attempts, both by the communists of Saxony and by the far right with Hitler’s first attempt to seize power
Then came a consolidation phase between 1924 and 1929 due to the devaluation of the currency and Hindenburg, who was very close to Hitler, was re-elected. And in 1933 the Nazis came to power. Apart from this entire world catastrophe caused by World War II, the United States was the only beneficiary nation because it made loans to the Allies in Europe. The strikes of 1919 and 1920 showed the strength of the unions and aroused the fear of the middle classes. The bosses wielded the phantom of anarchism and communism that led to the Republican Party taking power from 1922 to 1929 in the years known as ‘the happy 20s’ when the Republicans identified with entrepreneurs and with big businessmen.
That was when nationalist, extremist and racist movements like the Ku-Klux-Kan appeared with the arrival of immigrants. So the government passed laws limiting the immigration of Slavs and Latinos, but not of Anglo-Saxons. The position of women in society also improved and there was a growth in Puritanism that created the famous ‘dry law’, which at the same time had an effect contrary to its original purpose since it induced the smuggling of alcohol and created the bloody ‘gangster era.’
The 1929 crisis caused factories and businesses to go bankrupt and increased unemployment, commodity prices skyrocketed and this created a desperate situation for the people in general. The winner of the 1932 elections was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, with his New Deal, devised economic and social measures to end the crisis. He was so successful that his government lasted until 1944, one year before the end of World War II.
Addendum: Right now we are experiencing a new global crisis in all Western democracies, just waiting for a New World War.