W3.02 Escapes from Freedom
Hi, welcome back. In this presentation, I'm going to focus on the years 1931 through 1933, pivotal second phase in the full onset of the world crisis that will dominate the decade. We're going to focus really on two countries first of all. First of all on Japan. Japan's situation is very interesting in the early 1930s. The rising economic calamities are hitting Japan pretty hard. It's sharpening a dispute between two basic factions. With Japan's enormous modernization, there's a lot of appeal from people who are arguing for liberal ideals at home with a lot of international economic and political cooperation. Now, what that means is, Japan has to work with and depend on others, depend on others for markets, for raw materials, for finance; it also means that Japan is interacting a lot with their cultures, their traditions. But on the other hand, there's a national conservative faction in Japan that emphasizes the preservation of Japanese nationalism and the purity of Japanese traditions. They're more nationalist, but that means Japan must be economically and politically independent. Must not be vulnerable to pressure from Britain, from the United States. Japan needs an empire of its own. It needs to capture its own markets. Capture its own access to raw materials. It needs to reject the culture and dominance from outside foreigners in the West. These two sets of beliefs are pretty stalemated in Japanese politics through the 1910s and the 1920s. If anything, maybe the liberal internationalists have a bit of the upper hand. But you can imagine whom the Great Depression is going to help in this argument. It's going to look like modern capitalism, the reliance on global trade, global finance, has failed. Let me introduce you to one of those Japanese nationalists. This is a photograph of a colonel, Colonel Ishiwara, Ishiwara Kanji. In Japanese, the family name is given first. Colonel Ishiwara believed that Japan needed to become entirely independent, self-reliant, having access to its own natural resources under its own control. It needs to grab an empire using the industrial resources of Manchuria on the Chinese mainland. Then using that, he actually believes empowered Japan should join with China and form a pan-Asian alliance of new strong powers that might, for example, take on Soviet communists to the north. And expand in that way, in Asian solidarity. That's his particular vision. He has a dynamic, Japanese-centered answer to the dilemmas that face his country. The people in charge, from his point of view, they're paralyzed, paralyzed by democratic politics. They can't take the firm and determined action that's needed. So he and his young colleagues figure out ways to force, to shame, their government into doing what it needs to do. The new Chinese republic of Chiang Kai-shek is challenging Japan's sphere of influence, its informal control over some of the resources in Manchuria, and Japan has some forces stationed in Manchuria to help look after its interests. So these colonels also imagine, if we can engineer an incident, that'll create a confrontation between Japan and this Chinese Republic. It'll make it clear who's the strong partner in this future relationship. So imagine this. Here's what happens. These young colonels engineer an incident without the permission of their army bosses to blow up a train, blow up a section of railroad track, which they will then claim has been the work of the Chinese, and they'll demand that Japan initiate a military reaction in response to this Chinese provocation. These Japanese officers do this, they engineer this, and the Japanese government is then faced with the dilemma: Do we expose these officers and punish them? Well, that's politically embarrassing and will get us in trouble with the right wing. Or do we just stand up for Japanese patriotism and kind of conceal the problem? And that's the choice that they make. In a way, for them the easiest answer is to ignore the insubordination of these officers and in fact go ahead and have the incident that the officers have engineered and cover it up. Indeed the officers will be promoted. Ishiwara will become an even more powerful figure in the Japanese military. So in 1931, the Japanese army effectively annexes Manchuria and creates the dependent state Manchukuo. It then installs, as the Chinese ruler of this puppet state, the heir to the Qing Dynasty: the Manchu emperor Puyi, who presumably will be the ally of Japan's new China that it's hoping to create. Of course, as you can see from the point of view of a United States cartoonist, Japan's actions have blown through the pretenses of the whole international system that's built up: the Nine Power Treaty signed in Washington, that guaranteed the territorial integrity of China; a pact signed by an American Secretary of State in which countries were swearing to avoid aggressive war; the covenant of the League of Nations; World Court; et cetera, et cetera. The Japanese position in Manchuria, the growing international outcry about it, debates in the League of Nations, the Japanese government is torn about what to do. Again, the nationalist try to free the paralysis of the Japanese government by making a bold move. They're going to attack Western influence in Tokyo right at the heart, seizing on the visit of the American film actor Charlie Chaplin, they hope to kill both Chaplin and Japan's prime minister when the two of them get together. Here's the prime minister, Inukai Tsuyoshi, who's confronted by nearly a dozen young officers. They shoot him to death. They don't get Chaplin because he's away with others watching a Sumo wrestling match. The so-called May 15th Incident: May 15th, 1932 was when these young officers killed the prime minister. The officers are dealt with lightly. This is a clear turning point in which it becomes clear to the Japanese civilian politicians that no one has the ability to stand up to the military provocateurs. No one can stand up to the army. Japan more and more is moving towards a military dictatorship, with civilian rulers on top. So now, let's turn to the case of Germany. Germany also has its own political struggle intensified by the impact of the Depression, which hits Germany very, very hard. The return of mass unemployment. This is evident in German election results from the beginning of the 1930s. Look at this result for July 1932. You can see how well the extremist parties are doing. The Nazis get the largest vote they will ever get in a free election: 38%. But look at the communist party over here with 15%. The more liberal, center parties over here with only 12%. The National Conservatives, over here, a mere 6%. Democratic socialists and communists: 37%. Nazis: 38%. There's a vivid picture right there for you of the state of German politics during the Great Depression: between socialism, communism, Nazism. That kind of polarized electorate cannot form a stable government. The president of Germany is a figurehead: Paul von Hindenburg, a venerable old general from the First War. They're struggling to figure out who will run the country. The hold another series of federal elections. Here are the results: Interestingly, the share of the Nazi vote has gone down from 38 to 33. Communists are now slightly up. The others are pretty well stable. National conservatives doing a little bit better. If anything, the Nazis are weakening, but some of the national conservatives who are helping Hindenburg think: We can't form a stable government with this kind of result unless we appeal to the center and the left; we're not going to do that. So they think perhaps we ought to give the Nazis the chance to run the government. We can probably manage them anyway. They're a not very competent group of hooligans led by this ridiculous fellow, Hitler. So, those politicians, General Schleicher, Franz von Papen are some of the names among them, make an absolutely crucial decision in January 1933 to give Hitler a chance at running the German Republic. He becomes chancellor. The German Republic will soon be no more. In fact, a year and a half later one of the generals who put Hitler in power, Schleicher, also will be no more. Nazi gunmen will show up at his doorstop and shoot him down. Japan and Germany have both chosen to move into a new world of dictatorship and imperial ambition. Meanwhile, capitalism itself and collective security are going down the tubes. Let's take a look at the situation. World trade begins to completely collapse. In 1932, Britain abandons free trade. Britain had been the very symbol of it. Remember those cartoons I showed you in earlier presentation, the tug of war between the people who wanted imperial preferences, a trade wall around the empire, and the supporters of free trade. Well, imperial preference finally wins out in the desperate days of 1932. Well, if Britain is not going to have free trade, you can imagine what's happening everywhere else in the world as demand plummets. The gold standard goes away. There had been standardized money, easy stable exchange rights, no more. Let's just take a look at the contrast. Here are the gold standard countries colored in kind of of a yellow, kind of sort of like gold, in 1929. You look at that map in 1929, let's see what that map looks like in 1933. [LAUGH] It's shrunk pretty remarkably because Britain and the British Empire are now out of it. Well, Poland and France and the United States at least are still in it. And Holland. And then by 1934, the United States is off the gold standard, too. France and its ally Poland are about the last folks left in in the whole world. No one was hit harder by the declines in world trade than the people who were supplying commodities to fuel the industries of the most advanced countries. So look at what's happening in commodity exports from people selling raw materials to the manufacturers. Huge declines among these countries colored in; the lowest level of decline is 30 to 50%. Look at the situation in China, which is down 70 to 80%, or the situation in India, which is down 60 to 70%. You can see, too, how hard the economic crisis then hits practically all the countries of Latin America, whose economic development had depended on supply of raw materials and commodities. Was all of this simply inevitable, the inexorable product of economic forces? Not necessarily. Could international cooperation have saved the day? Could the countries have gotten together and decided on some new arrangements, either to rehabilitate the gold standard, to rehabilitate international trade, to figure out some way to loan each other money to work together to get afloat? Maybe it was too late. There was a try at it: an international conference held in London in 1933. The new American President, Franklin Roosevelt, in effect torpedoed the conference almost right away. He had decided the United States needed to embark on its own path of national reconstruction. He felt it was hopeless to try to coordinate that with countries like Britain, France, and Germany and that the United States had to cut itself loose from those dead weights and try to recover on its own. The London Economic Conference collapses in failure: 1933. The effects aren't hard to make out. Here's a chart just giving you a lot of numbers on the declines in industrial production, on the increases in unemployment. Here's a similar chart that shows you the picture in the United States. You can see how bad the year 1932 is in unemployment; that's the year Franklin Roosevelt was elected President. But it's still awfully bad in 1934. One of the things that happens in the United States, these green arrows show the migration of laborers, including many African-Americans from the areas that are particularly hard hit: the agricultural South, these wheat growing areas that have become a dust bowl in the southern Midwest, where many people are fleeing to opportunities in California. The political results also are pretty evident. You can almost see it by this map. In country after country, dictatorships take charge. Indeed, if you look at the Rhine River, right here, in all of Europe east of the Rhine only one real democracy is left: Czechoslovakia. Collective security sputters and fails. We talked about the Far Eastern crisis. Japan had confronted the League of Nations. What is the League of Nations going to do? Now, Manchuria itself might seem like a far away issue. But everyone sort of understood it as the test case. Other than Japan, the two major power in East Asia were Great Britain and the United States. Britain and the United States couldn't agree on what to do except that both of them agreed that any kind of military counteraction to Japan was just out of the question under the circumstances. The United States decides that it will, ostentatiously, not recognize what Japan has done. It will disapprove of it. The British shrugged their shoulders. Japan takes offense that the League of Nations has criticized it for its behavior. It resigns from the League of Nations altogether. The disarmament conference that's held in 1933 as one last effort to try to regulate, limit, reduce armies in Europe, also comes to not. Hitler, of course, takes offense at the idea of such a disarmament conference, and he uses that as his excuse to have Germany walk out of the League of Nations. The Italian Empire is on the march. Mussolini had already been expanding Italy's Mediterranean empire here in Libya, as you can see from this map. But in the mid-1930s, he decides to march into Ethiopia, historically independent, where Italy had suffered a humiliating defeat from the Ethiopians in 1896 that I talked about in an earlier presentation. Mussolini believes he is going to avenge that defeat. Mercilessly using aircraft and all the technology of modern warfare against the Ethiopians, he's able to subdue them. The League of Nations threatens an oil embargo, threatens other actions. It's ineffectual. By the end of the Ethiopian crisis in 1935, it's clear that collective security and the League of Nations have utterly failed. Looking back at Europe, any country in Eastern Europe watching these events would no longer put their faith in the League of Nations. They look at the threat they feel from the growing military power of the Soviet Union. They're anxious and uneasy, looking for allies, looking perhaps to the Germans, or to the French to somehow offer them some measure of security. In other words, by the mid-1930s, there are only three solutions left to how to obtain security in the modern world that's taking shape: war, imperialism, or diplomacy. And you can imagine how credible the diplomatic options were looking by 1936. So we look back over this period of world crisis, modern capitalism failing, institutions of security failing. What do we make of this? Well, you start as a historian with structures and circumstances: things like the gold standard, the political environment, the menu of competing ideas. Then you add to that the convergence of issues at the same time. You notice it's not just an economic story. It's the economic story converging with an an ongoing political story, too. The still fresh wounds from the First World War that make economic cooperation unattainable. And then there's also the element of contingency and choice. Above all: choice. Contingency. For example, those 30 days in January 1933, where a group of German politicians decide to make Hitler chancellor. He didn't have to be chancellor. In fact, the Nazis had done less well in the most recent election than they'd done even earlier. At the end of 1932, a lot of commentators thought the Nazi Party's fortunes were finally beginning to ebb. But those politicians gave Hitler the chance to become chancellor. That was the end of the German Republic and a lot of other things followed. There are choices that were made. Political cooperation in the Far East to rally against the Japanese and maybe force the Japanese government to confront the militarists just doesn't come off. Choices about whether to have economic cooperation to head off the collapse of modern capitalism. Choice instead to go with no gold standard, no free trade. Again, choices that were made. Understandable when you look at the menu of options they had in front of them, but you can begin to see how these choices converged and accumulated to have enormous consequences, as people are now figuring out what kind of world they really live in. These choices that we've been looking at seem so tragic: populations plunging themselves into totalitarian dictatorships. You have to just pause and think about that for a minute. What's going on here? Is this just people are just so desperate? Times are so hard? They think this is the way out? The complete sacrifice of freedom? Or are there some other ways to think about it? One explanation that I think you'll find interesting is the one offered by a German psychoanalyst and philosopher named Erich Fromm. Fromm was part of a group of theorists and philosophers sometimes called the Frankfurt School because they were working at an institute in Frankfurt in the 1920s and into the early 1930s, partly influenced by Marxism but partly by other things. Involved in what was called critical theory: trying to find the deeper explanations for the way people constructed the world around them. I'm not sure I agree with some of the arguments that the school makes, but Fromm's argument is a particularly interesting one. Fromm is making an argument that there are really two kinds of freedom: what he calls negative freedom and positive freedom. Negative freedom Fromm describes as freedom, from, oh say, social dictates. People are more independent, more able, more allowed to choose things. Then there's positive freedom which is the freedom to create. What Fromm talks about is also a little bit about what Henry Adams was talking about in that essay that we discussed in our earlier presentation. With these modern changes, people are freed from the old simplicity, unities, social conformities. They've acquired a lot of this negative freedom. But actually with all this negative freedom comes a sense of I don't know what I'm supposed to do. I don't know who I am. I don't know what my identity is. Fromm calls this kind of reaction, at least among some people, the sense of a terror of aloneness and insignificance. Then what Fromm points out is that, at least for some people, dictatorship, the surrender to the rule of others, can actually feel like a blessing, an escape from this negative freedom. And here's the way he puts it. The individual finds himself free in the negative sense, that is, alone with his self and confronting an alienated, hostile world. In this situation, to quote a telling description of Dostoevski [sic], in The Brothers Karamasov [sic], he has no more pressing need than the one to find somebody to whom he can surrender, as quickly as possible, that gift of freedom which he, the unfortunate creature, was born with. The frightened individual seeks for somebody or something to tie his self to. He cannot bear to be his own individual self any longer, and he tries frantically to get rid of it and to feel security again, by the elimination of this burden: the self. Or, the individual can sublimate himself into something much larger and grander. Tie this back to that long excerpt we looked at from Benito Mussolini's explanation of what fascism was all about. The sublimation of the individual into the state. The identity is found in the identity and mission of the powerful state. And it seems to me that these two men, Benito Mussolini and Erich Fromm, are describing two sides of the same coin. Their notion of how to escape from freedom into what Mussolini imagines to be a higher collective purpose and what Fromm fears is a plunge into the abyss.