What was M5 during World War II

Democracy in the interwar period

The crisis of democracy in the interwar period

Throughout the nineteenth century, it appeared that political progress was embodied in the liberal and democratic movements. The idea of ​​a democratic constitutional state with a separation of powers was on the advance and gained more and more space. With the victory of the democratic western powers in World War I, the democratic principle seemed to have completely triumphed. The monarchical regimes in Germany, Austria and Russia were overthrown and replaced by democratic governments. The new states that emerged in East Central Europe were also constituted as republics or as parliamentary monarchies.

→ [Map: "Political systems in Europe after the end of the First World War 1919"]

yellow: democracies, gray: dictatorships and authoritarian systems

By the beginning of the Second World War, democracy in Europe was increasingly in crisis. One country after the other abolished democracy and replaced it with a dictatorial or at least authoritarian system.

→ [Map: "Political systems in Europe on the eve of World War II, 1939"]

A look at the map of Europe in 1939 shows that only a few countries are still democratically constituted. In Central and Eastern Europe, only Czechoslovakia and Hungary are shown as democracies - and actually that's not true: Hungary is formally a democracy, but has de facto an authoritarian regime since 1919, and Czechoslovakia did not exist on the eve of the Second World War more. Even before the occupation by Hitler in March 1939, the Czech part of the country was transformed into an authoritarian direction as a reaction to the loss of the Sudeten German territories in the Munich Agreement. In Slovakia, which is splitting off as a separate state, an authoritarian regime is also being established. - Thus in 1939 the entire Central and Eastern European area was dictatorial or authoritarian.

This finding begs the question of why. Why did the dictatorship prevail against democracy in large parts of Europe, even though the course had initially been set in the direction of democracy everywhere? There is obviously a transnational trend in Europe that is affecting very different countries - a comprehensive crisis of democracy.

Dictatorship as an answer to crisis phenomena

The causes of the crisis in democracy and the rise of dictatorships can be looked for on different levels of interpretation.

We must first leave our own evaluations aside: Today we uphold democracy and ostracize dictatorial regimes. For the contemporaries of the twenties and thirties this evaluation was not so clear. To many, democracy appeared to be something susceptible to crises, an outdated concept that was not suitable for adequately solving the problems of the present day. The dictatorship, on the other hand, embodied something contemporary, from which one hoped to solve the problems at hand.

One of the problems that arose in many countries was the gap between reality and the ideal conception of the nation state as a whole united in solidarity through a common language, origin, culture and value system. The newly created states of East Central Europe after the First World War claimed to be nation states, but we were either dissatisfied with their borders because part of our own nation lived outside them - Hungary would be an example - or, conversely, they consisted of very heterogeneous ones Split, including large population groups from other nationalities - examples would be Poland or Czechoslovakia.

Excursus: The reorganization of East Central Europe after the First World War

→ [Map of languages ​​in Central Europe 1910]

If one consults a halfway neutral ethnographic map, it quickly becomes clear that a reorganization of East Central Europe on the basis of the nationality principle was an extremely difficult task, because in Eastern Europe it was not at all possible to draw clear boundaries between the settlement areas of the different nationalities .

The belligerent powers had for good reasons not operated with the formula of the right of self-determination of the peoples until 1917, because that would have endangered their own war aims and territories. In the autumn of 1917, however, they came under pressure because the Bolsheviks took up the right to self-determination and tried to use it to spark the world revolution. After the October Revolution, Lenin proclaimed the right to self-determination for all peoples of Russia, including the detachment from the Russian state association. In a second decree, the Soviet government called for a “peace without annexations and contributions”.

The American President Wilson took up the Russian proposals for a peace without annexations in December 1917, but kept a low profile on the right to self-determination because he was aware of the dangers for his own allies. Wilson's famous “Fourteen Points” of January 8, 1918, can be understood as an answer to the Bolshevik proclamations. Wilson applied the nationality principle to concrete examples - namely in favor of the Poles and the nationalities of the Habsburg monarchy, but avoided the universal commitment to the right of peoples to self-determination. Contrary to popular assumptions, the right to self-determination is deliberately not included in the 14 points.

A reorganization of Europe with consistent application of the nationality principle was prohibited for three reasons: In view of the ethnic mix in Eastern Europe, it could not be carried out without resettlements. The bottom line was that it would have strengthened Germany, the loser of the war, and it would have called the colonial empires of France and England into question. So the principle was applied selectively, but by no means completely arbitrarily. It was combined with the principle of historical borders and with economic and military strategic considerations.

→ [Map of Europe according to the peace treaties] For the overall concept of containment of Germany and Soviet Russia it was important to create a strong Poland and a strong Czechoslovakia as allies of France. The victorious powers therefore basically accommodated the territorial wishes of these two countries - with the result that they comprised large populations of different nationalities. Hungary, on the other hand, was treated as a loser state and amputated at the expense of neighboring countries - in some cases with disregard for ethnographic conditions.

Dictatorship as an answer to symptoms of crisis - continuation

The divergence between the claim to a nation-state and a multi-ethnic reality was not a good prerequisite for the development of democratic systems, because such a system requires the common denominator of a community of solidarity and values. The main program points of the subsequently established authoritarian regimes were consequently the bridging of the fierce domestic political conflicts and social distribution struggles, but also the creation of an ethnically, culturally, socially and politically homogeneous society in the sense of nation building.

Another problem of the new democracies was of a socio-psychological nature: European societies had the First World War behind them. In all countries there were hundreds of thousands to millions of former soldiers who came to terms with their war trauma and had difficulties finding their way back to a civil everyday life. The collapse of the old order, combined with economic and social problems, led many people to a need for clear orientations, for a leader personality or for an ideology that told them where up and down is, what is right and what is wrong promised them a better life in the future and which gathered the entire people as a community behind them. Democracy could not do that, it appeared in the perception of these people rather as a place of endless dispute, disagreement, disorientation, helplessness in the face of serious problems.

The need for orientation and for a fixed system of order can be related to the experiences of the First World War and its immediate consequences - this leads to the interpretation of the First World War as the “primal catastrophe” of the 20th century. The need for orientation and a fixed system of order can also be related to the upheavals in European societies caused by modern industrial society since the end of the 19th century. This leads us to a different pattern of interpretation: that of the ultra-modern.

Against the background of these changes, which many contemporaries saw as a crisis of the traditional culture, alternative designs emerged, namely the vision of a communist society and the vision of a national people's community, at the head of which is the integrative figure of a leader.

In this context, the dictatorships of the 20th century are understood as an attempt to cope with the problems and contradictions arising from modernity. The economic and social problems of the twenties, such as inflation, poverty, unemployment and, above all, the global economic crisis, strengthen both the left and the right in their perception of the crisis. Although one has completely different answers to the problems, one agrees that the capitalist-democratic order is in decline.

Case study Poland

The interpretation of the ultra-modern can be applied well to Germany, where modern industrial society was already established around the turn of the century. With regard to the East Central European countries, which were predominantly agricultural, the other factors will tend to be weighted more heavily for the democratic crisis. I would like to explain this using Poland as an example.

Poland had the problem that the three areas of division that made it up were structured extremely differently, had different legal systems and were at different stages of development due to their more than 100 years of belonging to Russia, Prussia and Austria.

→ [Map of Poland in the 20th century]

→ [Railways map 1914]

In the eastern regions half of the population was illiterate, in Upper Silesia it was only 1.5 percent. The yields of agriculture were twice as high in the west as in the east. Only in formerly Austrian Galicia had there been Polish officials and teachers before 1918. This resulted in a transfer of these specialists to the other parts of the country after 1918, where they were attacked as foreigners. In Posen and West Prussia, on the other hand, where they were nationally oppressed before 1918 but enjoyed a significantly higher standard of living compared to the other part of the partition, many Poles felt the conditions in the new common state as a decline to the lower level of the "Russians". as the people from the former Russian partition area were often called.

→ [Map Poland linguistic 1937]

Demographic terms were also difficult: the Poles claimed to be a state nation, but every third citizen was not a Pole: there were 3.7 million Ukrainians, 2.7 million Jews, 2 million Belarusians and 2 million. German. Half of the Germans emigrated to Germany by 1923 because of the discrimination. The remaining million viewed the Polish state as a temporary measure and did not identify with it.

Conversely, the Polish state felt threatened by the “traitorous” Germans and the “disloyal” Ukrainians, but also by the Jews who were associated with Bolshevism. In the first few years the Polish state did little to integrate the non-Polish population into a common state nation, but rather practiced what the Poles had learned from the Prussian Germanization policy, only now in the opposite direction. The Polish state was perceived as repressive not only by the Germans, but also by the Ukrainians, Belarusians and Jews. In particular, the relationship between Ukrainians and Poles was marked to a high degree by violence.

For the crisis of democracy, however, it was not so much the nationality problems as the economic, social and domestic political problems that were decisive. Overall, Poland was still predominantly agricultural. Only four percent of the population worked in industry. Agriculture, in turn, was dominated by unprofitable small businesses. A land reform was, however, hotly disputed domestically, just as there was a deep rift between the left and the right. The left was embodied by the founder of the state Piłsudski, the right by his national-democratic opponent Dmowski. In 1923, Piłsudski, until then Chief of the General Staff and Chairman of the War Council, was ousted by a center-right government. As a private citizen, he used his great authority in the population to rail against the National Democrats and generally against the entire “sejmocratic system”, as he called it, which he branded as the embodiment of corruption, incompetence, division and inefficiency.

The country's political turmoil was reflected in 18 parties competing in the elections and 31 cabinets in office between 1918 and 1939. In 1923 the country was hit by hyperinflation, the state finances were desolate and the unions announced a general strike. The government declared a state of emergency and bloody clashes broke out between striking workers, the police and the military.

A new government under Grabski first had to reorganize the finances. In order for the necessary drastic measures to be implemented, Parliament waived its financial policy powers for half a year. The austerity policy was acknowledged by the workers with further strikes. As a result, Grabski was able to stabilize the currency and even put a land reform into effect, but he was not thanked for this and was the victim of an unprecedented hate campaign: the left insulted him as a bloodsucker and exploiter of the workers, the right defamed him as a disguised socialist and threw him In addition, he presented a policy that was too soft towards the non-Polish population.

There was a fundamental problem behind this hostile treatment of the government: in the 19th century, when the Poles did not have a state of their own, they had adopted a fundamentally negative attitude towards the state in conflict with the partitioning powers, which were perceived as foreign rule. A civic sense of duty towards one's own state first had to be learned again.

After the Grabski government resigned in November 1925, the economic problems worsened again, among other things because Germany, which did not accept the demarcation of Versailles, waged a trade and customs war against Poland. Unemployment rose and governments changed rapidly one after the other. In general, Poland presented a desolate picture in domestic politics in 1925: Anarchy prevailed in the eastern regions of the country, in Warsaw communists fought firefights with the police. Newspaper readers had to get the impression that the state apparatus was steeped in corruption and that parliament was incapable of constructive action and was just a place of intrigue and laziness. Everywhere you could read that an “iron hand” was needed to lead Poland out of the abyss. "Recovery" of the state ( sanacja ) was a common catchphrase. The existing system was perceived as "sick".

In this situation, Piłsudski undertook a coup in May 1926. He marched into Warsaw with some regiments. In bloody battles that left 400 dead and 900 injured, he forced the government and the state president to resign and established a system of controlled democracy for the purpose of "healing" the state.

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