After the Russian Revolution of 1917, communism emerged onto the world stage as a new organized governmental system. Communism’s main principles were to promote civil equality and unification within society. Communism, was a polar opposite system of Europe’s most popular government style, capitalism. Capitalism, a government method focused on industry, and production decreased the quality of life for many Europeans. Particularly between 1920 and 1940, some employers abused the rights of their workers for corporate, financial, and social gain.
Employees strived to end the abuse through unionization and increased workplace equality rights. This mistreatment caused Europeans to consider the benefits communism offered to nations which struggled from the world’s economic crisis of the Great Depression. Communist parties were now able to grow since they had the political backing of some Europeans who saw communism as a way to improve society in the areas capitalism had failed. Increasingly in the years leading up to World War II, Europeans began to vote for national communist parties, to make the desired changes that other leadership styles were not able to accomplish.
Due to the failure of capitalism, multiple labour movements, and the growth of communist parties, communism was perceived by the working class as a great alternative to capitalism or dictatorships. Ultimately, Europe’s poor economic and political state between 1920 and 1940, as well as the failure of European capitalism, allowed communism to become an attractive alternative to nations that struggled politically and economically within Western Europe during the Great Depression Era. Firstly, Europe’s economic instability due to the failure of capitalism allowed communism to become an alternative solution.
Under capitalism, employers fired working class employees from their jobs when the demand for workers was no longer needed. The mistreatment employees suffered caused European workers to resent the capitalist system and desire change in industrialized societies. Economic inflation within Europe became a prominent concern and led to several capitalist nations to take loans from the United States in the years following World War I. However, Europe’s attempt at deflationary methods backfired and ruined both the international trade and financial systems. This meant trade became limited and was no longer a viable source of national income.
After the fall of the stock market in 1929,the Great Depression caused European capitalists to suffer many negative affects due to their dependency on North American trade and inability to handle such a crisis. Since there was very little revenue, Europe’s economy deflated as well as their American counterparts. Similarly to the events in North America, thousands of industrial workers in Europe lost their jobs, which led to mass unemployment as a result of the Great Depression. In Britain and throughout Europe, hunger marches were organized to protest against the rise of capitalism and economic crisis.
The Great Depression was perceived by many Europeans as a tragedy that was created by the growth of capitalism and industrialization. Europeans were desperate to find a solution to their economic problems, and believed a different and distinct government such as communism would save them from a bitter and unhappy life. Furthermore, since the financial crisis proved to grow rapidly in Europe, European citizens sought alternate governments such as dictatorships to end the affects of capitalism that had crippled the continent.
Nations such as Italy and Germany became politically vulnerable and turned to forms of dictatorships such as Fascism and Nazism to help return the nations to economic success. Italians and Germans believed through dictatorships, their countries had an increased probability to return to prosperity and become superior nations. However as world conflicts escalated, Europeans turned away from dictatorships out of fear the reforms were too radical and offer no long term benefits. Consequently, the Soviet government became an inspiration to Europeans due to its apparent successes with communism since the Bolshevik Revolution.
As quoted by several journalists, the Soviet Union was, “avoiding the financial catastrophe that was engulfing Western Economies. ” Since the Soviet Union was perceived to be hardly affected, Europeans began to see the benefits of communist rule in times of economic instability as well as protect the rights of workers. Dictatorships created fear in the minds of many Europeans and was not as widely adopted since not all nations had the will to give complete power and control of the state to one individual (such as Italy and Germany).
Communism was then perceived as a way to keep power closer to the people and avoided conflicts that arose with other popular methods such as dictatorships and capitalism. Secondly, the desire for labour unions and workplace equality, shed a new light on the benefits of communist or communal systems. Within industrialized societies, major class distinctions were present between employers and their employees, where workers had few rights and were often subjected to poor and unfair working conditions.
Pay equity did not exist, which led to some employees to receive significantly greater compensation than their co-workers. Clearly jealously arose and public outcry made an attempt to reach equity in not only pay but also benefits such as healthcare. With increased industrialization, machines replaced the labour of employees and caused many workers to become unemployed, or in extreme cases homeless. Many Europeans were upset about inequality within the workplace, and strived to put an end to the viciousness of the capitalist cycle.
Poor employer-employee relations led to a great amount of distrust and envy towards people in positions of wealth and power. Employees continued to strive to be unionized and worked to propel the Labour Movement forward. With unionization, workers had the opportunity to receive equal and shared benefits, those of which are similar to communist governments and systems. Furthermore, the strong desire for labour unions that emerged, is primarily a communist principle. Karl Marx, the father of Marxism, communism’s predecessor, advocated for the importance of unionization as well as the need to end capitalism.
One of Marx’s basic principles described in his famous document the Communist Manifesto, was equality of employee rights and wages. Though the Labour Movement primarily occurred in the early twentieth century, its aftermath proved to propel communist beliefs. With unionization, the majority of Europeans were able to accomplish a sense of equality as well as reduce both social and economic class distinctions. However, unionization proved to not be enough for some Europeans who believed capitalism needed to be eliminated all together.
Increased unionization caused many Europeans to consider the benefits of communist rule as a government rather than its principles to be restricted to the workplace. Lastly, the growth of national communist parties influenced the politics of several European nations. At the start of the 1930s, nations around the world began to form their own independent communist parties. At this time, Britain and France, two of the world’s most powerful nations, rapidly grew their own national communist parties. Historically, French citizens have had socialist views, since the late 1800s.
French socialism came to a pinnacle when the Paris Commune of 1871, there was an attempt to overthrow the French government and infiltrate socialsim. Though the radical attempt of the protestors was unsuccessful, socialist ideas remained and translated into early twentieth century French politics. France created their own communist party in 1920 which became an important political platform in France. The French Communist Party became a “major political force,” when headed by leader Leon Blum, who had over one and a half million votes in French Parliament in 1936.
Evidently a possibility existed for the French communists to take over parliament. Whereas in Britain, historians are unsure if the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) wanted to change the government or CPGB only strived to influence the parties the unemployed workers voted for. Persuasion through prominent members such as Ernest Darling, became the CPGB’s main political objective. Darling wrote in his journals about how a communist party is able to end the hardships of increased poverty, illness and economic instability in Great Britain.
These journal entries by Darling voiced the opinions of the population as well as demonstrated the importance of prevention of the infringement of rights. Primarily, the French, British and other national communist parties, adopted their beliefs from the works of Karl Marx from the Communist Manifesto. The Manifesto presents several communist principles such as even distribution of property and goods, as well as the promotion of global uniformity through the abolition of both religion and nationality.
Marx’s initiative to end capitalism as well as combat class divisions, became a strong appeal to national populations. Consequently, many Europeans believed the Soviets were not as impacted by the poor economy of the 1930s due to the communist principle of equal distribution of property and wealth. Europeans strived to overcome the economic crisis and placed both their trust and votes in national communist parties as a source of relief. Overall, Europe’s economic and political vulnerability between 1920 and 1940 allowed the idea of communist rule to flourish.
Communism was perceived especially in the 1930s, as a lifestyle with the potential to combat Europe’s deep rooted problem of unemployment. However by the end of World War II, the world perceived communism in a very different light as an evil, threatening, and horrific political system. This dramatic change in perspective, occurred due to the rise of Soviet leader Josef Stalin and the Eastern Bloc as well as leaked information about the Holodomor and other atrocities controlled by Stalin. Due to the fall of Stalin, communism was no longer seen as a great alternative but rather an evil and brutal way of living.
The growth and influence of European and global communism in the Great Depression era, effectively demonstrates the impact, times of national and international struggle has on mainstream politics and citizenry. Rushed economic and social decisions in times of crisis such as in the Great Depression, remains presently relevant in times of war, economic depression, and natural disasters and will continue for generations. European communism during the Great Depression era, became an important aspect of European history and continues to influence modern politics throughout both the Eastern and Western world.