USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Introduction to Three Varieties of Radicalism in the 1930s: Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and Imperial Japan

The global economic crisis—the Great Slump—put tremendous pressure on the new economic dynamics of increasingly globalized capitalism. By the 1920s and 1930s, people were already living in a globalized world. We have seen this in many senses, in the political sense of ideas and ideologies spreading around the world from Russia to China, from Britain to India, from Europe to Latin America. We have seen this in an economic sense, as Latin American commodities flooded the industrialized world, as European and U.S. capital funded corporate and infrastructural developments around the world, building railroads, roads, industrial plants, and mines. We have seen this also in the imperial sense, as Europeans thrust themselves into the world in prelude to the Great War, engendering collaboration and resistance everywhere they went. Finally, we have seen the impacts of globalization in a social sense as Western industrial capitalism reshaped societies and social relationships in countless ways—from dress and daily habits to broad transformations of social class dynamics, the nature of work, and the relationship of people to the “state.”

The economic crisis that began in 1929 shook the world, putting pressure on fragile political arrangements, many of which were still quite new. This pressure added to the general weakness or fragility of conceptions of representative government or democracy, which we saw emerging in the years immediately following WWI. In the 1930s, in part as a reaction to the inabilities of established structures and parties to deal with crisis, we see the rise of a new type of political formation: totalitarianism. In this chapter, we will examine the three most notorious extremist regimes of the 1930s: Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia under Stalin, and pre-war (and wartime) Showa Japan (1926-1945). In the following chapter, we will investigate three additional responses to this so-called “crisis of modernity” beyond the centers of world power.

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