No man's land: Responses to the despair of the 1930s.

Author:Normey, Rob
Position:Book review
 
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Move then with new desires, For where we used to build and love Is no man's land, and only ghosts can live Between two fires -C Day Lewis, The Conflict The 1930s was a pivotal decade for the whole sweep of European and, indeed, world history. The decade saw the fascist forces move from strength to strength and the failure to check them led inevitably to the cataclysm of World War II. One of my favourite histories of the period is Between Two Fires, by acclaimed historian David Clay Large. Large adopts an intriguing approach to his history of the rising tide of conflict and violence that so fractured European society and led to the consolidation of power for Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, and Horthy in Hungary. He chronicles a growing intolerance for left wing political movements, and for Jews and other minorities. Large writes individual chapters on key events in each of the major European countries. Generally, the chapters illustrate in dramatic terms just why the great poet W. H. Auden would refer to the period as the "low, dishonest decade."

Between Two Fires is much more carefully constructed than most academic histories and is filled with wit and eloquence.

I would like to focus on just two of the book's chapters here, as they provide a neat contrast between Britain and most of Continental Europe in that era. The chapter entitled "The Death of Red Vienna" centers on an important trial, which demonstrated to left-wingers in Austria, and particularly to the highly popular Social Democrats, just how unfair the established institutions were and how they would operate in a way to deny equal treatment and halt progressive movements in their tracks. After the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire at the end of the First World War, the small country of Austria came into being, with Vienna, the capital, dominating what had emerged as a "dwarf republic." Whereas the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been steered by a series of somewhat conservative Hapsburg rulers, the center of power in the new democratic age had shifted to workers and those members of the middle class dedicated to eradicating the inequalities of the past. The new constitution, in affording democratic rights and free speech, and creating a federal structure, opened up splendid opportunities for progressive political developments. The Social Democrats swept into power and throughout the 1920s implemented a series of measures to assist the working class by creating affordable...

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