‘War led to totalitarianism, and totalitarianism in turn led to war. ‘ This statement is valid, accordingly, to Germany and the Soviet Union history in the inter-war period. The First World War triggered the rise of totalitarianism in Germany and in the Soviet Union, and totalitarianism in these two countries contributed to the outbreak of the Second World War, in a cycle. The post-war nationalist discontent and resentment over the Paris Peace Settlement was a vital source to the rise of totalitarianism in Germany.
With the defeat of Germany in the First World War, Germany was pro claimed a republic, the Weimar Republic. It was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles, which was regarded as an unfair and harsh treaty to Germany, as it comprised stern punishments, such as 6,600 million pounds of reparations, demilitarization of Rhineland, territorial loss etc. The Republic was compelled to accept the war-guilt clause incorporated in the treaty, which meant Germany, had to bear the sole responsibility of the outbreak of the First World War. This was considered as a great insult and humiliation to the Germans.
The Republic’s acceptance of the Versailles Treaty made the Germans disappointed, resulting in numerous attempts to overthrow the Weimar government, such as the Kapp Putsch in 1920 by the extreme nationalists and the Munich Putsch in 1923, which brought political instability to Germany. They hoped for a new and strong government and leader which could revive their national glory. The political instability, vehement hatred and indignation of the Germans provided a fertile ground to the rise of totalitarianism in Germany. The most serious problem next to the nationalist discontent in Germany was de facto economic.
The economic chaos was primarily resulted from the Treaty of Versailles. The transfer to France of Alsace-Lorraine, the temporary loss of the highly industrialized Saar district and the ceding to Poland of Upper Silesia with its coal mines, dealt a severe blow to German economy. Early in May 1921, the Reparations Commission announced that the total indemnity at 6,600 million pounds. In 1923, when Germany defaulted on her reparations payment and asked for a moratorium, France dispatched a force to occupy the Ruhr, which contained 80-90% of Germany’s coal, iron, and steel industries.
In the Ruhr the Germans resorted to passive resistance to the French, but the government had to issue more marks and print paper notes in order to pay back the workers. This resulted in rampant inflation. Inflation wiped out pensions, savings, and insurance. The government thus lost the faith of the working and middle classes who lived in fixed income or savings. They were embittered and incensed, and hoped for a strong and capable government and leader which could recover the economy of Germany and people’s living standard. This contributed to the rise of totalitarianism as many people turned to the Nazi for salvation.
The defects of the Weimar Constitution, which was forced to set up after the First World War, was one of the factors indirectly contributing to the rise of totalitarianism in Germany. The parliament comprised two houses, the advisory Reichsrat and the legislative Reichstag, which was elected under the system of proportional representation. The number of seats given to a political party would be proportional to the number of vote it gained. The system of proportional representation resulted in political instability for it was difficult for a single party to get majority votes.
Thus, coalition governments were formed. They tended to be unstable and short-lived inasmuch as their ideological differences. Moreover, the constitution was unpopular. It was neither welcomed by the extreme right and extreme left who thought it too radical and conservative respectively. The defects of the Weimar Constitution had aroused discontent of the people, and they hoped for a stable and capable government and leader, yet indirectly paved a way for the rise of totalitarianism in Germany. The history in the Soviet Union also showed that ‘war led to totalitarianism’.
Before 1917, Russia (the Soviet Union before 1922) was ruled under Czardom. Many kinds of revolutionary movements appeared in Russia, attributed to the people’s discontentment by the Czarist autocratic rule. Although there were numerous revolutionary movements, the revolutionary parties had to work either in secret or in exile without much coordination. It was the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) that they could start a real revolution, as the war revealed the weakness, and corruption of the government. The 1905 Revolution albeit was a failure, it laid a foundation for the future revolutions.
However, Nicholas II’s blunders, especially joining the First World War, triggered to the February Revolution and October Revolution in 1917. The February Revolution had overthrown the Czardom and set up a provisional government. The government failed because it made a fatal mistake of continuing the participation in the First World War. In the end, the government was overthrown in the October Revolution, and the Communist government was set up, the years followed showed the setting up of a totalitarian party control with strict leadership by Lenin.
This paved the road to the rise of totalitarianism in Russia. The adoption of the appeasement policy by Britain and France attributed to the economic percussions and annihilation precipitated by the First World War, failed to check and hastened the rise of totalitarianism in the Soviet Union. After the war, industrial growth slowed down in Europe. There was increasing competition in Europe. Protectionism worsened the position further. Widespread tariffs made the sale of exports more difficult. Another effect of the war on economy was inflation.
The war had to be paid for the device most used was borrowing from abroad. Therefore, by the end of the war, there was a structure of inter-allied war debts with the Western allies indebted to the USA. In order to pay back loans, most states begun to print more paper money and this hastened the inflation which had already begun during the war. Nevertheless, European countries such as Britain and France had to concentrate on solving their domestic economic percussions, and lacked the time to devote to the spread of communism from the Soviet Union to other countries after the 1917 October Revolution.
The adoption of appeasement policy accelerated the rise of totalitarianism in the Soviet Union. War led to totalitarianism, and totalitarianism in turn led to war. The totalitarianism in Germany and the Soviet Union triggered by the First World War contributed to the outbreak of the Second World War. Aggressive expansionist foreign policy was a crucial and significance feature of totalitarianism. In Germany, aggressive foreign policy was carried out by Hitler which dealt a blow to the collective security system and destroyed world peace, eventually led to the outbreak of the Second World War.
In order to capture popular support, solve economic problems and attain world domination, Hitler first attempted to repudiate the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. He withdrew Germany from the Geneva Disarmament Conference in 1932 and the League of Nations in 1933. In March 1935, the German government announced the intention of building up her army by national conscription. Hitler decided to build up the German army to about 600, 00 men. In the following year, Hitler made the next move.
He sent 30,000 troops to occupy the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland in order to reassert German sovereignty there and to proclaim Germany’s right to refortify it. These acts violated the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Treaty, and inevitably breached the world peace. Hitler’s next goal was the annexation of Austria. There had already been a Nazi party in Austria, demanding union with Germany for some time. Hitler threatened to use force against Austria.
Failing to find any support for his government, Chancellor Schuschnigg of Austria announced, as a last desperate attempt to save Austria, that a plebiscite would be held on the question of Anschluss (union of Germany and Austria). This Hitler did not permit. Consequently he demanded that the plebiscite be called off on threat of immediate invasion. Unable to cope with the situation any longer, Schuschnigg resigned. On March 1938, German troops moved in and Austria became part of Germany. At the same year, German annexed Sudetenland, which was part of Czechoslovakia.
In March 1939, Hitler summoned President Hacha of Czechoslovakia, threatened to destroy Prague by bombardment. German troops entered Prague and Hitler’s annexation of the whole Czechoslovakia was completed. On 1 September, 1939, Hitler attacked Poland, starting a general European war without declaring it. The Second World War finally broke out. Aggressive expansionist foreign policy had encouraged other countries to prepare for a war, which threatened world peace. To help Hitler’s aggressive plans, he formed alliances with Italy and Japan to collaborate in foreign adventures.
Germany signed the Rome-Berlin Axis in 1936. In the same year, Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan. The Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis was formed in the following year. Germany further signed a military alliance with Italy, the Pact of Steel in 1939, in which Italy promised full military support if war came. The Soviet Union had also indirectly contributed to the outbreak of the Second World War by encouraging the aggression of Germany. In August 1939, a ten-year non-aggression pact had been concluded between the Soviets and the Nazis.
A secret agreement concerning their spheres of influence was also concluded. The pact pledged the contracting parties to refrain from acts of aggression against on another for a period of ten years. In fact, the pact also showed the expansionist side of Stalin’s foreign policy. ‘Stalin gave the green light to aggression in 1939,’ asserted Snell. These alliances had created a tension and war-like atmosphere throughout the whole Europe, even spread to Asia, which stimulated other countries’ rearmaments and preparation for a war as they distrusted each other. Countries were expecting for a war soon.
Inevitably, the Second World War broke out in this dense atmosphere when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. In conclusion, the history of Germany and the Soviet Union in the inter-war period had proved the validity of ‘War led to totalitarianism, and totalitarianism in turn led to war. ‘ It was a cycle that war prompted nationalist discontent, economic straits, and encouraged the appeasement of other European countries which led to the rise of totalitarianism, and the aggressive expansionist foreign policy of totalitarianism in turn ruined world peace and eventually led to war.