In this series of posts titled “The World in the First Half of the 20th Century” I have attempted to recount in a nutshell, what took place in the first half of the 20th century, and how four flagrant men with their competing egos drove almost the entire human race to the brink of extinction with their charismatic personalities and grandiose visions.
The four, deemed notorious, are:
- Joseph Stalin – General secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, from April 3, 1922 to October 16, 1952.
- Benito Mussolini, leader of the National Fascist Party, ruling the country as Prime Minister from 1922 until his ousting in 1943.
- Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945.
- Hideki Tojo, who was a general of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA), and the 40th Prime Minister of Japan from October 17, 1941 to July 22, 1944.
The Communists of Russia
The Russian Revolution of 1905 is considered the major factor that led to the February Revolutions of 1917. This series of revolutions, collectively known as the Russian Revolution, led to the creation of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (SFSR) after demolishing the Tsarist autocracy.
The first Russian revolution in February 1917 (March in the Gregorian calendar since the old Julian calendar was in use in Russia at that time) focused around Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg). The February Revolution took place in the context of heavy military setbacks during the First World War (1914–18), which left much of the Russian army in a state of mutiny. The army leadership felt they did not have the means to suppress the revolution and Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia, abdicated. During the chaos, members of the Imperial parliament or Duma assumed control of the country, forming the Russian Provisional Government. The Soviets (workers’ councils), which were led by more radical socialist factions, initially permitted the Provisional Government to rule, but insisted on a prerogative to influence the government and control various militias.
During the second Russian revolution in October (November in the Gregorian calendar) 1917, the Provisional Government in Petrograd was overthrown by the Bolshevik (communist) party, led by the revolutionary, politician and political theorist Vladimir Lenin, and the workers’ Soviets. The Bolsheviks appointed themselves as leaders of various government ministries and seized control of the countryside.
Joseph Stalin was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who took part in the Russian Revolution of 1917. He was named the general secretary of the party’s Central Committee in 1922. Following the 1924 death of Vladimir Lenin, he managed to consolidate power while eliminating any opposition. By the late 1920s, he was the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union.
The Fascists of Italy
Fascism was a unique radical force that emerged in Italy in 1919. It had no clear predecessor, but developed out of World War I. Fascism in Italy was the offshoot of two other movements: nationalism and syndicalism.
Angered by Italy’s treatment after World War I, the nationalists, combined the idea of class struggle with that of national struggle; and the syndicalists postulated that economic life in Italy should be governed by groups representing the workers in various industries and crafts. Italy was a proletarian nation, they said, and to win a greater share of the world’s wealth, all of Italy’s classes must unite.
Benito Mussolini, Mussolini was a syndicalist who turned nationalist during World War I.
Originally Mussolini was a revolutionary Socialist, and editor of “Avanti” (Forward) the socialist newspaper. He was later expelled from the Socialist Party. Mussolini rose to power in the wake of World War I, as a leading proponent of Fascism. At the start of World War I, like all socialists, he condemned the war as workers were forced to fight other workers while the factory bosses got richer at their expense. He forged the paramilitary Fascist movement in 1919 and became prime minister in 1922.
The Nazis of Germany
In 1914, Adolf Hitler joined the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment. He fought on the Western Front and was awarded the Iron Cross for his bravery in battle. In 1918, he was temporarily blinded from a gas attack and was invalided out of the war.
After the war, in 1919, Hitler joined the German Worker’s Party led by Anton Drexler and was in charge of the political ideas and propaganda of the party. In 1920, the party announced its 25-point programme and was renamed the National Socialist German Worker’s Party – NAZIs.
In 1921, Hitler became the leader of the party and soon began attracting attention, with his powerful speeches. Hitler stirred up Nationalist passion, giving the people the fodder to blame for Germany’s problems. Hitler’s opponents tried to disrupt the meetings so for protection Hitler set up the SA – Stormtroopers. Though the actual membership of the NAZI party remained quite low in this period, Hitler, through his meetings and speeches gained a very high profile.
By 1932, the Nazi party was the largest party in the Reichstag, but did not have a majority. On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. A month later, on February 27, 1933, the Reichstag building was burned down. The Communists were blamed for the fire and the Communist party was banned in Germany, giving the Nazis a clear majority in the government.
On August 2, 1934, Paul von Hindenburg, the second president of Germany from 1925 to 1934, died. Hitler then combined the position of Chancellor and president and made himself Fuhrer of Germany and began building his Third Reich. Ignoring the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, he began building up the army and stockpiling weapons. The Nuremberg Laws passed in 1935 defined Hitler’s ideal pure Aryan German citizen and barred Jews from holding any form of Public office.
Statism in Shōwa Japan
Statism in Shōwa Japan also referred to as Shōwa nationalism or Japanese fascism, was a union of Japanese right-wing political ideologies, developed over a period of time from the Meiji Restoration. It was a mixture of ideas such as Japanese nationalism and militarism and “state capitalism” that were proposed by a number of contemporary political philosophers and thinkers in Japan. This statist movement dominated Japanese politics during the first part of the Shōwa period, during the reign of Hirohito.
Hideki Tōjō (December 30, 1884 – December 23, 1948) was a general of the Imperial Japanese Army and the 40th Prime Minister of Japan during most of World War II. Politically, Tōjō was a fascist, nationalist, and militarist. He had a sharp, legalistic mind capable of making quick decisions, and was nicknamed “Razor”.
Even before he became the Prime Minister of Japan, Hideki Tōjō had planned the attack on Pearl Harbor. When he assumed office on October 17, 1941, he put his plan into effect and attacked Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 1941, and thereby initiated the war between Japan and the United States.
- Joseph Stalin (en.wikipedia.org)
- Benito Mussolini (en.wikipedia.org)
- Adolf Hitler (en.wikipedia.org)
- Hideki Tojo (en.wikipedia.org)