Dangerous Times?

Norry LaPorte speaks to BBC History Magazine

The Great Depression of the late 1920s and 1930s has been back in the news this year. Commentators have been pondering the link between economic crises and political extremism, dwelling on the collapse of the Weimar Republic, which fell to Nazism a few years after the crash of 1929. Glamorgan Historian Norry LaPorte has been studying protest and violence in the interwar period, looking at divergent experiences in Britain and Germany. In an interview published in the BBC History Magazine in association with the History and Policy network, he considers the possible consequences of the current downturn. Here are five reasons not to expect the worst:

Electioneering, 1932

1. Historical Background – We’ve entered this crisis from a situation of stability, whereas Germany in 1929 was already struggling with the consequences of military defeat, civil war and hyperinflation.

2. Political Violence – Most of Germany’s political parties already had paramilitary wings by 1929 – democracy was a new and shaky system and political violence was systemic.

3. Mass Protest – Governments were terrified of mass protest in the 1920s and 1930s – what we’ve seen recently in Britain have been protests from marginalised groups like the antiglobalisation protesters at the G20 summit.

4. Political Alternatives – We’re seeing challenges to the governing party, not to the system. Britain reacted to the crash of 1929 by electing a Conservative government, and looks set to respond the same way again.

5. Learning from the Past – Today’s world leaders have learned from the Great Depression and aren’t opposed to any kind of fiscal stimulus – their attempts to stop the slump from becoming a crash may or may not succeed, but they have more options then their predecessors.

To read Norry’s thoughts on the current crisis in full, buy a copy of July’s BBC History Magazine.

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