The year 1936 was a momentous one in the history of communism. This was a time of acute uncertainty and fear, during which the Soviet Union and international communist movement faced unprecedented challenges. This article examines the attempts to build a socialist state in Russia, and to follow new international policies of collective security and the building of popular front alliances. Particular attention is given to the principal developments of the year—the internal crisis in the Soviet Union, the Chinese and Spanish civil wars, the Popular Front in France, the origins of the Great Terror—but also to the more everyday experiences of communists around the world.
This analysis of the origins of the Second World War in Europe challenges several key ideas of the historiography: the ‘thirty years war’ thesis, the notion of a European civil war, and the stereotyping of the 1930s as a seemingly unstoppable rush to war after the internationalism of the 1920s. There was no sharp contrast between decades—the period only makes sense as a whole. Churchill’s ‘unnecessary war’ was preventable. Alternatives to appeasement existed. Though the study of war origins starts with Hitler, his policies were decisively shaped by the actions of others and the instability of an international system, heavily impacted by the Great Depression and ideology. Miscalculation rather than design explains the war of 1939. The outbreak of war should not obscure the significance of the 1930s as a laboratory for ideas and institutions that came to fruition after 1945 and which continue to shape international society.
Kamran Scot Aghaie
The intermediate period marking the transition from the Safavid to the Qajar dynasty was punctuated by widespread turmoil and varied bids to power. This interlude was strongly dominated by the Afghan factor. Two Afghans of humble origins, Nader Quli Khan Afshar and Karim Khan Zand, established rule over large swathes of Safavid domain. Although their reign succumbed almost immediately posthumously, the influence hurtled untill the nineteenth century, the era of the Qajars. The complex political rivalries in the region of Khorasan, bordering Afghanistan, led to the Afghan invasion of the Safavid domain of Isfahan in 1722. The defeat of the Safavid Qizilbash troops and the fall of Herat to the invading Abdali Afghans emboldened the Afghan siege, commandeered by Mahmud Ghilzai. The ascension of Nadir Shah to monarchy was marked by betrayal, violence, and cunningness. His domain stretched from Russian-controlled Caucasus to Delhi in the East. In contrast, Karim Khan's twenty odd years of reign were mostly marked with fighting off various adversaries.
D. W. Ellwood
The First World War cost Europe the leadership of the world. But the United States of Woodrow Wilson was not ready to take its place. The 1920s brought Europe to a crossroads where mass democracy, mass production, and mass communications—the latter two dominated by American innovations— transformed ideas of sovereignty, modernity, and identity everywhere. The financial crash of 1929 destroyed illusions about the United States as the land of the future, and helped legitimize the totalitarians. European democrats looked to the 1930s New Deal as their last best hope. During the Second World War Roosevelt rebuilt the global order, with the United Nations and other new institutions. But the United States was now looking to ‘retire’ Europe from the world scene, and build a new universe based on America’s experience of the link between mass prosperity and democratic stability.
The Atlantic Revolutions in the German lands is the essence of this article. A discussion of the Atlantic revolutions in the German lands begins here with a consideration of the connections between those lands and the Atlantic world. On the eve of the age of revolution, these connections were modest, at best. The German lands had few direct ties to the Atlantic economy; social and cultural connections were sparse as well. New forms of political organization and action, as well as new ideas about the nature of politics were developing in some of the Atlantic countries during the third quarter of the eighteenth century, all of which would resulted in the revolutions of 1776 and 1789. What this discussion suggests is that the external political and intellectual impulses of the American Revolution were, at best, supplemental to trends generated within the German lands themselves. An observation of the political upheavals during the nineteenth century winds up this article.
Helmut Walser Smith
This article focuses on statehood, society, and the failed imperialist powers that continued to rampage Germany in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. A social history of German politics is given in this article. It begins with analyzing the meaning of Kaiserreich and emphasizing its inner logic, and endogenous social and political processes. This article concentrates on the relationship between state, society, and democracy, and argues that the essential conflicts of the Kaiserreich involved the contradictory integration of a newly-formed, authoritarian national state, with an exceedingly dynamic and mobile society, into a competitive world of overseas empires in the process of imposing white hegemony on large parts of the globe. The interpretive emphasis, which is on the national level, rather than the state or local level, does not presuppose that endogenous structural elements brought about the crisis of the late imperial period.
The post-war communist peace movement was a powerful instrument of Soviet foreign policy during the early Cold War. By the early 1950s the movement had eclipsed the Cominform as the centrepiece of communist political strategy. The communist-dominated World Peace Council was supported by many famous Western artists, scientists, and writers and by hundreds of millions of people across the world who signed its anti-nuclear petitions such as the Stockholm Appeal. The relationship between the communist peace movement and Moscow was a two-way affair and the movement’s leaders—Frédéric Joliot-Curie, Ilya Ehrenburg, Alexander Fadeev, Pietro Nenni, and J. D. Bernal—were crucial in cementing the USSR’s commitment to the struggle for peace and in steering Stalin away from the idea that war was inevitable under capitalism. In 1956 the peace movement split over the USSR’s invasion of Hungary and thereafter declined, overshadowed by the rise of non-communist movements of disarmament campaigners.
Common characteristics and objectives united the Axis alliance, composed of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and imperial Japan. All three were ‘latecomers’ to the great power rivalries of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and all attacked the Wilsonian-inspired global order enshrined after the First World War. Hostile to liberalism, ‘open door’ capitalism, socialism, and communism, the Axis championed authoritarianism, autarky, and a variant of capitalism that integrated state management and investment. Finally, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and imperial Japan sought empires as essential to eliminating social divisions. Although wary of the power of their enemies, they accepted that only war would accomplish that aim. Unable to match the resources of the Allies, the Axis powers resorted to murderous occupation practices that contributed to their defeat.
Did Europe’s ‘age of catastrophe’ (1914–1945) represent a break with the past or did it amplify the tensions of the preceding era? Was it a ‘parenthesis’ or a ‘revelation’? Historians have usually taken the latter view and have dismissed popular nostalgia for the period before 1914 as mere hindsight. Yet Europeans had good reason to be nostalgic. The period 1900–1914 had its moments of crisis and ominous trends (e.g. anti-Semitism), but it was essentially defined by stability, democratization, and significant improvements in social conditions. Nor should one exaggerate the desire for war in society or among Europe’s political elites. Prior to the July Crisis, a great Continental war seemed neither inevitable nor likely, all of which has implications for our understanding of Europe’s later descent into barbarism. Simply put, the dynamics of violence and instability that characterized the ‘age of catastrophe’ were largely generated during that period.
Anne E. Gorsuch
Focusing on the transnational flow and exchange of ideas, rather than on divisions and borders, this chapter emphasizes the ways in which early debates about ‘Sovietness’ related to multiple imaginings, understandings, and experiences of the ‘West’. This perspective builds on work that has reconsidered the history of the Soviet Union within the larger framework of European and North American modernity. ‘Being Soviet’ in the formative years of Bolshevism included ideas, technologies, and cultures that were ‘Western’. Some were openly and positively identified as such; others were covert or unacknowledged. The relationship was deeply ambivalent. But the resultant heterodoxy was notably different from Cold War concepts of the Soviet Union as rigid and impermeable.