Chapter 26 - Europe Between the Wars, 1919-1939

The Expansion of Mass Culture and Mass Leisure

FOCUS QUESTIONS: What new dimensions in mass culture and mass leisure emerged during the interwar years, and what role did these activities play in Italy, Germany, and the Soviet Union?

The decade of the 1920s came to be known as the Roaring Twenties for the exuberance of its popular culture. Berlin, the capital of Germany, became the entertainment center of Europe with its theaters, cabarets, cinemas, and jazz clubs. The Roaring Twenties were especially known for dance crazes. People danced in clubs and dance halls, at home, and in the streets, doing the Charleston, the Bunny Hug, and various other dances. Josephine Baker (1906-1975), an American singer and dancer, became especially well known in Europe, appearing at European clubs featuring American “Negro” jazz music. One critic said, “She dances for hours without the slightest trace of tiredness.” She became a wonderful symbol of the popular “flapper,” the unconventional and lively young woman of the 1920s. Jazz, a musical form that had originated with African American musicians in the United States, became so popular that the 1920s were also known as the Jazz Age. Admired for its improvised qualities and forceful rhythms, jazz spread throughout the Western world as King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke (BIKS BY-der-bek), Jelly Roll Morton, and others wrote and played some of the greatest jazz music of the time.

Radio and Movies

A series of technological inventions in the late nineteenth century had prepared the way for a revolution in mass communications. Especially important was Guglielmo Marconi’s discovery of “wireless” radio waves. But it was not until June 16, 1920, that a radio broadcast (of a concert by soprano Nellie Melba from London) for a mass audience was attempted. The United States, Europe, and Japan then constructed permanent broadcasting facilities during 1921 and 1922, and mass production of radios (receiving sets) also began. In 1926, when the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was made into a public corporation, there were 2.2 million radios in Great Britain. By the end of the 1930s, there were 9 million.

The technical foundation for motion pictures had already been developed in the 1890s when short movies were produced as novelties for music halls. Shortly before World War I, full-length features, such as the Italian film Quo Vadis and the American film Birth of a Nation, were released, and it quickly became apparent that cinema was a new form of entertainment for the masses. By 1939, about 40 percent of adults in the more advanced industrial countries were attending the movies once a week. That figure increased to 60 percent by the end of World War II.

Mass forms of communication and entertainment were not new, but the increased size of audiences and the ability of radio and cinema, unlike the printed word, to provide an immediate shared experience added new dimensions to mass culture. Favorite film actors and actresses became stars who then became the focus of public adoration and scrutiny. Sensuous actresses such as Marlene Dietrich, whose appearance in the early sound film The Blue Angel catapulted her to fame, popularized new images of women’s sexuality.

Of course, radio and movies could also be used for political purposes. Hitler had said that “without motor cars, sound films, and wireless, no victory of National Socialism.” Radio seemed to offer great opportunities for reaching the masses, especially when it became apparent that the emotional harangues of a demagogue such as Hitler had just as much impact on people when heard on radio as in person. The Nazi regime encouraged radio listening by urging manufacturers to produce cheap radios that could be bought on the installment plan. The Nazis also erected loudspeaker pillars in the streets to encourage communal radio listening, especially to broadcasts of mass meetings.

Film, too, had propaganda potential, a possibility not lost on Joseph Goebbels (GUR-bulz) (1897-1945), the propaganda minister of Nazi Germany. Believing that film constituted one of the “most modern and scientific means of influencing the masses,” Goebbels created a special film section in his Propaganda Ministry and encouraged the production of both documentaries and popular feature films that carried the Nazi message. Triumph of the Will, for example, was a documentary of the 1934 Nuremberg party rally that forcefully conveyed the power of National Socialism to viewers (see the Film & History feature on p. 824). Both Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany also controlled and exploited the content of newsreels shown in movie theaters.

Mass Leisure

Mass leisure activities had developed at the tum of the century, but new work patterns after World War I dramatically expanded the amount of free time available to take advantage of them. By 1920, the eight-hour day had become the norm for many office and factory workers in northern and western Europe.

SPORTS Professional sporting events for mass audiences became an especially important aspect of mass leisure. Attendance at association football (soccer) games increased dramatically, and the inauguration of the World Cup contest in 1930 added to the nationalistic rivalries that began to surround such mass sporting events. Increased attendance also made the 1920s and 1930s a great era of stadium building. For the 1936 Olympics, the Germans built a stadium in Berlin that seated 140,000 people.

TOURISM Travel opportunities also added new dimensions to mass leisure activities. The military use of aircraft during World War I spurred improvements in planes that made civilian air travel a reality. The first regular international airmail service began in 1919, and regular passenger service soon followed. Although air travel remained the preserve of the wealthy or the adventurous, trains, buses, and private cars made excursions to beaches or resorts more popular and more affordable. Beaches, such as the one at Brighton in England, were increasingly mobbed by crowds of people from all social classes, a clear reflection of the growth of democratic politics. In France, the Popular Front government passed legislation that provided paid vacations for all salaried employees or wage earners. Workers were granted a fifteen-day paid vacation in the summer, corresponding to school vacation. Whereas in Italy and Germany (see the next section) mass leisure activities were used to support state initiatives, in France paid vacations became a citizen’s right.

Europeans living in the colonies of the European states also increasingly found opportunities for tourism. They flocked to colonial spas where they could find reminders of European culture and medicinal treatment. Hydrotherapy (treatment with mineral water) was employed to treat malaria and yellow fever, ailments that often afflicted Europeans living in the colonies, especially in Africa.

ORGANIZED MASS LEISURE IN ITALY AND GERMANY Mass leisure provided the Fascist and Nazi regimes with new ways to control their populations. Mussolini’s Italy created the Dopolavoro (duh-puh-LAH-vuh-roh) (Afterwork) as a vast national recreation agency. The Dopolavoro established clubhouses with libraries, radios, and athletic facilities in virtually every town and village. Some clubhouses included auditoriums for plays and films, as well as travel agencies that arranged tours, cruises, and resort vacations on the Adriatic at reduced rates. Dopolavoro groups introduced many Italians to various facets of mass culture and mass leisure with activities such as band concerts, movies, choral groups, roller skating, and ballroom dancing. Essentially, the Dopolavoro enabled the Italian government to provide recreational activities and supervise them as well. By doing so, the state imposed new rules and regulations on previously spontaneous activities, thus breaking down old group solidarities and enabling these groups to be guided by the goals of the state.

The Nazi regime instituted a similar program called Kraft durch Freude (KRAHFT doorkh FROI-duh) (Strength Through Joy). The purpose of Kraft durclt Freude was to coordinate the free time of the working class by offering a variety of leisure time activities, including concerts, operas, films, guided tours, and sporting events. Especially popular were inexpensive vacations, much like modern package tours, such as cruises to Scandinavia or the Mediterranean or, more likely for workers, short trips to various sites in Germany. Some 130,000 workers took cruises in 1938; 7 million took short trips.

More and more, mass culture and mass leisure had the effect of increasing the homogeneity of national populations, a process that had begun in the nineteenth century with the development of the national state and mass politics. Local popular culture was increasingly replaced by national and even international culture as new forms of mass production and consumption brought similar styles of clothing and fashion to people throughout Europe.

Cultural and Intellectual Trends in the Interwar Years

FOCUS QUESTIONS: What were the main cultural and intellectual trends in the interwar years?

The artistic and intellectual innovations of the pre-World War I period, which had shocked many Europeans, had been the preserve primarily of a small group of avant-garde artists and intellectuals. In the 1920s and 1930s, they became more widespread as artists and intellectuals continued to work out the implications of the ideas developed before 1914. But what made the prewar avant-garde culture acceptable in the 1920s and the 1930s? Perhaps the most important factor was the impact of World War 1.

To many people, the experiences of the war seemed to confirm the prewar avant-garde belief that human beings were violent and irrational animals who were incapable of creating a sane and rational world. The Great Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s, as well as the growth of fascist movements based on violence and the degradation of individual rights, only added to the uncertainties generated by the Great War. The crisis of confidence in Western civilization ran deep and was well captured in the words of the French poet Paul Valery (POHL vah-lay-REE) in the early 1920s:

The storm has died away, and still we are restless, uneasy, as if the storm were about to break. Almost all the affairs of men remain in a terrible uncertainty. We think of what has disappeared, and we are almost destroyed by what has been destroyed; we do not know what will be born, and we fear the future.... Doubt and disorder are in us and with us. There is no thinking man, however shrewd or learned he may be, who can hope to dominate this anxiety, to escape from this impression of darkness.

Political and economic uncertainties were paralleled by social insecurities. The war had served to break down many traditional middle-class attitudes, especially toward sexuality. In the 1920s, women’s physical appearance changed dramatically. Short skirts, short hair, the use of cosmetics that were once thought to be the preserve of prostitutes, and the new practice of suntanning gave women a new image. This change in physical appearance, which stressed more exposure of a woman’s body, was also accompanied by frank discussions of sexual matters. In England in 1918, Marie Stopes published Married Love, which emphasized sexual pleasure in marriage and soon became a best-seller. In 1926, the Dutch physician Theodore van de Velde (TAY-oh-dor vahn duh VELL-duh) published Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique. Translated into a number of languages, it became an international best-seller. Van de Velde described female and male anatomy, discussed birth control techniques, and glorified sexual pleasure in marriage. Family planning clinics, such as those of Margaret Sanger in the United States and Marie Stopes in Britain, began to spread new ideas on sexuality and birth control to the working classes.

Nightmares and New Visions: Art and Music

Uncertainty also pervaded the cultural and intellectual achievements of the interwar years. Postwar artistic trends were largely a working out of the implications of prewar developments. Abstract painting, for example, became ever more popular as many pioneering artists of the early twentieth century matured in the decades after the war. In addition, prewar fascination with the absurd and the unconscious contents of the mind seemed even more appropriate after the nightmare landscapes of World War I battlefronts. This gave rise to both the Dada movement and Surrealism, but it was German Expressionist artists who best directly captured the disturbingly destructive effects of World War 1.

GERMAN EXPRESSIONISTS Although Expressionism as a movement began before World War I, the war itself had a devastating impact on a group of German Expressionist artists who focused on the suffering and shattered lives caused by the war. George Grosz (GROHS) (1893-1959), one of these artists, expressed his anger in this way: “Of course, there was a kind of mass enthusiasm at the start.... And then after a few years when everything bogged down, when we were defeated, when everything went to pieces, all that remained, at least of me and most of my friends, were disgust and horror.” Another German artist who gave visual expression to the horrors of World War I was Otto Dix (1891-1969), who had also served in the war and was well versed in its effects. In The War, he gave a graphic presentation of the devastating effects of the Great War.

THE DADA MOVEMENT Dadaism (DAH-duh-iz-um) attempted to enshrine the purposelessness of life. Tristan Tzara (TRISS-tun TSAHR-rah) (1896-1945), a Romanian-French poet and one of the founders of Dadaism, expressed the Dadaist contempt for the Western tradition in a lecture in 1922: “The acts of life have no beginning or end. Everything happens in a completely idiotic way.... Like everything in life, Dada is useless.” Revolted by the insanity of life, the Dadaists tried to give it expression by creating “anti-art.” The 1918 Berlin Dada Manifesto maintained that “Dada is the international expression of our times, the great rebellion of artistic movements.”

In the hands of Hannah Hoch (HEKH) (1889-1978), Dada became an instrument to comment on women’s roles in the new mass culture. Hoch was the only female member of the Berlin Dada Club, which featured the use of photomontage.

Her work was part of the first Dada show in Berlin in 1920. In Dada Dance, she seemed to criticize the “new woman” by making fun of the way women were inclined to follow new fashion styles. In other works, however, she created positive images of the modern woman and expressed a keen interest in new freedoms for women.

SURREALISM Perhaps more important as an artistic movement was Surrealism, which sought a reality beyond the material, sensible world and found it in the world of the unconscious through the portrayal of fantasies, dreams, or nightmares. Employing logic to portray the illogical, the Surrealists created disturbing and evocative images. The Spaniard Salvador Dali (dah-LEE or DAH-Iee) (1904-1989) became the high priest of Surrealism and in his mature phase became a master of representational Surrealism. In The Persistence of Memory, Dali portrayed recognizable objects divorced from their normal context. By placing these objects in unrecognizable relationships, he created a disturbing world in which the irrational had become tangible, forcing viewers to question the rational.

FUNCTIONALISM IN MODERN ARCHITECTURE The move to functionalism in modern architecture also became more widespread in the 1920s and 1930s. First conceived near the end of the nineteenth century, functionalism meant that buildings, like the products of machines, should be “functional” or useful, fulfilling the purpose for which they were constructed. Art and engineering were to be unified, and all unnecessary ornamentation was to be stripped away. Functionalism was based on the architects’ belief that art had a social function and could help create a new civilization.

The United States was a leader in these pioneering architectural designs. Unprecedented urban growth and the absence of restrictive architectural traditions allowed for new building methods, especially in the relatively “new ciry” of Chicago. The Chicago School of the 1890s, led by Louis H. Sullivan (1856-1924), used reinforced concrete, steel frames, and electric elevators to build skyscrapers virtually free of external ornamentation. One of Sullivan’s most successful pupils was Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), who became known for irmovative designs in domestic architecture. Wright’s private houses, built chiefly for wealthy patrons, featured geometric structures with long lines, overhanging roofs, and severe planes of brick and stone. The interiors were open spaces that included cathedral ceilings and built-in furniture and lighting fixtures . Wright pioneered the modern American house.

Especially important in the spread of functionalism was the Bauhaus (BOW-howss) School of art, architecture, and design, founded in 1919 at Weimar, Germany, by the Berlin architect Walter Gropius (VAHL-tuh GROH-pee-uss) (1883-1969). The Bauhaus teaching staff consisted of architects, artists, and designers who worked together to blend the study of fine arts (painting and sculpture) with the applied arts (printing, weaving, and furniture making). Gropius urged his followers to foster a new union of arts and crafts to create the buildings and objects of the future. Gropius’s own buildings were often unornamented steel boxes with walls of windows, reflecting his belief that the “sensibility of the artist must be combined with the knowledge of the technician to create new forms in architecture and design.”

A POPULAR AUDIENCE Important to the development of artistic expression between the wars was the search for a new popular audience. To attract a wider audience, artists and musicians began to involve themselves in the new mass culture. The German Kurt Weill (VYL) (1900-1950), for example, had been a struggling composer of classical music before he turned to jazz rhythms and other popular musical idioms for the music for The Threepenny Opera. Some artists even regarded art as a means to transform society and located their studios in poor, working-class neighborhoods. Theater proved especially attractive as postwar artists sought to make an impact on popular audiences. The German director Erwin Piscator (AYR-vin PIS-kuh-tor) began his directing career by offering plays to workers on picket lines. Piscator hoped to reach workers by experimental drama with political m·essages. Like many other artists, however, he became frustrated by his failure to achieve a mass audience.

The postwar acceptance of modern art forms was by no means universal. Many traditionalists denounced what they considered degeneracy and decadence in the arts. Nowhere was this more evident than in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

ART IN NAZI GERMANY AND THE SOVIET UNION In the 1920s, Weimar Germany was one of the chief European centers for modern arts and sciences. Hitler and the Nazis rejected modern art as “degenerate” or “Jewish” art. In an address at the premiere of the Great German Art Exhibition in the newly opened House of German Art in July 1937, Hitler proclaimed, “The people regarded this art [modern art] as the outcome of an impudent and unashamed arrogance or of a simply shocking lack of skill; . . . these achievementswhich might have been produced by untalented children of from eight to ten years old-could never be valued as an expression of our own times or of the German future. “ Hitler and the Nazis believed that they had laid the foundation for a new and genuine German art, which would glorify the strong, the healthy, and the heroic – all supposedly attributes of the Aryan race. The new German art was actually the old nineteenth-century genre art with its emphasis on realistic scenes of everyday life.

So, too, was the art produced by the school of “socialist realism” in the Soviet Union. After the bold experimentalism of the 1920s, the Stalinist era imposed a stifling uniformity on artistic creativity. Like German painting, Soviet painting was expected to focus on a nineteenth-century pictorial style aimed at realistic presentation. Both the new German art and socialist realism were intended to inculcate social values useful to the ruling regimes.

A NEW STYLE IN MUSIC At the beginning of the twentieth century, a revolution in music parallel to the revolution in art had begun with the work of Igor Stravinsky (see Chapter 24). But Stravinsky still wrote music in a definite key. The Viennese composer Arnold Schönberg (AR-nawlt SHURN-bayrk) (1874-1951) began to experiment with a radically new style by creating musical pieces in which tonality is completely abandoned, a system that he called atonal music. Since the use of traditional forms was virtually impossible in atonal music, Schönberg created a new system of composition – twelve-tone composition – which used a scale of twelve notes independent of any tonal key. Resistance to modern music was even greater than to modern painting, and atonal music did not begin to win favor until after World War II.

The Search for the Unconscious in Literature

The interest in the unconscious, heightened by the impact of World War I and evident in Surrealism, was also apparent in the new literary techniques that emerged in the 1920s. One of its most visible manifestations was the “stream-of-consciousness” technique in which the writer presented an interior monologue, or a report of the innermost thoughts of each character. One example of this genre was written by the Irish exile James Joyce (1882-1941). His Ulysses, published in 1922, told the story of one day in the life of ordinary people in Dublin by following the flow of their inner dialogue. Disconnected ramblings and veiled allusions pervade Joyce’s work.

Another famous writer who used her own stream-of-consciousness technique was Virginia Woolf (1882-1942). Woolf belonged to a group of intellectuals and artists, known as the Bloomsbury Circle, who sought to create new artistic and literary forms. In her novels Mrs. Dalloway and Jacob’s Room, Woolf used the inner monologues of her main characters to reveal their world of existence. Woolf came to believe that for a woman to be a writer, she would need to have her own income to free herself from the expected roles of wife and mother.

The German writer Hermann Hesse (HESS-uh) (1877-1962) dealt with the unconscious in a different fashion. His novels reflected the influence of both Carl Jung’s psychological theories and Eastern religions and focused among other things on the spiritual loneliness of modern human beings in a mechanized urban society. Demian was a psychoanalytic study of incest, and Steppenwolf mirrored the psychological confusion of modern existence. Hesse’s novels made a large impact on German youth in the 1920s (see the box on p. 829). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946.

The Unconscious in Psychology: Carl Jung

The growing concern with the unconscious also led to greater popular interest in psychology. The full impact of Sigmund Freud’s thought was not felt until after World War I. The 1920s witnessed a worldwide acceptance of his ideas. Freudian terms, such as unconscious, repression, id, ego, and Oedipus complex, entered the common vocabulary. Popularization of Freud’s ideas led to the widespread misconception that an uninhibited sex life was necessary for a healthy mental life. Despite such misconceptions, psychoanalysis did develop into a major profession, especially in the United States. But Freud’s ideas did not go unchallenged, even by his own pupils. One of the most prominent challenges came from Carl Jung (YOONG).

A disciple of Freud, Carl Jung (1856-1961) came to believe that Freud’s theories were too narrow and reflected Freud’s own personal biases. Jung’s study of dreams-his own and those of others-led him to diverge sharply from Freud. Whereas for Freud the unconscious was the seat of repressed desires or appetites, for Jung it was an opening to deep spiritual needs and ever-greater vistas for humans.

Jung viewed the unconscious as twofold: a “personal unconscious” and, at a deeper level, a “collective unconscious.” The collective unconscious was the repository of memories that all human beings share and consisted of archetypes, mental forms or images that appear in dreams. The archetypes are common to all people and have a special energy that creates myths, religions, and philosophies. To Jung, the archetypes proved that mind was only in part personal or individual because their origin was buried so far in the past that they seemed to have no human source. Their function was to bring the original mind of humans into a new, higher state of consciousness.

The “Heroic Age of Physics”

The prewar revolution in physics initiated by Max Planck and Albert Einstein continued in the interwar period. In fact, Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937), one of the physicists responsible for demonstrating that the atom could be split, dubbed the 1920s the ‘heroic age of physics.” By the early 1940s, physicists had distinguished seven subatomic particles and achieved a sufficient understanding of the atom to lay the foundations for the development of a sophisticated new explosive device, the atomic bomb.

The new picture of the universe that was unfolding continued to undermine the old scientific certainties of classical physics. Classical physics had rested on the fundamental belief that all phenomena could be predicted if they could be completely understood; thus, the weather could be accurately predicted if we knew everything about the wind, sun, and water. In 1927, the German physicist Werner Heisenberg (VAYRnur HY-zun-bayrk) (1901-1976) upset this belief when he posited the uncertainty principle. In essence, Heisenberg argued that no one could determine the path of an electron because the very act of observing the electron with light affected the electron’s location. The uncertainty principle was more than an explanation for the path of an electron, however; it was a new worldview. Heisenberg shattered confidence in predictability and dared to propose that uncertainty was at the root of all physical laws.

Chapter Summary

The devastation wrought by World War I destroyed the liberal optimism of the prewar era. Yet many in the 1920s still hoped that the progress of Western civilization, so seemingly evident before 1914, could somehow be restored. These hopes proved largely unfounded. France, feeling vulnerable to another invasion, sought to weaken Germany by occupying the Ruhr when Germany failed to pay reparations but gained little from the occupation. European recovery, largely the result of American loans and investments, ended when the Great Depression began at the end of the 1920s.

The democratic states – Great Britain, France, the Scandinavian countries, and the United States-spent much of the 1930s trying to recover from the Great Depression. New governments that aimed at total control and required the active commitment of their citizens came to power in Italy, Germany, and the Soviet Union. Italian Fascism resulted from Italy’s losses in World War I, economic problems, and incompetent politicians. Mussolini organized the Fascist movement in 1919 and by threatening to march on Rome was chosen as prime minister in 1922. Rival parties were outlawed, and Mussolini used repression and propaganda to create a Fascist state. Mussolini failed, however to attain the degree of control achieved in Hitler’s Germany. Heading the Nazi Party, Adolf Hitler became chancellor in 1933 and within six months had seized dictatorial control. Hitler rearmed Germany, abolished all other political parties and the labor unions, and created a police state under the direction of the SS. Nazi Germany excluded Jews from citizenship and beginning in 1938 with Kristallnacht often persecuted and encouraged them to leave Germany.

After assuming leadership of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin followed his own path to establish total control. Five-year plans were instituted to turn the Soviet Union into an industrial society, while opponents were sent to Siberia, sentenced to labor camps, or liquidated. With the exception of Czechoslovakia, authoritarian governments appeared in eastern Europe as well as in Portugal and Spain. In the Spanish Civil War, the fascist states aided Francisco Franco, and the Soviet Union backed the Popular Front.

The new authoritarian governments not only restricted individual freedoms and the rule of law but, especially in Germany and the Soviet Union, sought even greater control over the lives of their subjects in order to manipulate and guide them to achieve the goals of their regimes. For many people, despite the loss of personal freedom, these mass movements offered some sense of security in a world that seemed fraught with uncertainty, an uncertainty that was also evident in popular culture, the arts, literature, and even physics. But the seeming security of these mass movements gave rise to even great uncertainty as Europeans, after a brief twenty-year interlude of peace, again plunged into war.