Monday, May 28, 2012

Another Reason the Depression May Not Have Led to American Fascism

I have stated that I believe the primary reason the Great Depression in the US did not lead to a serious fascist movement was that we have an unusually strong two-party system that largely shuts out third parties.  Another reason may be that fascism, traditionally at least, has tended to be simultaneously openly anti-democratic, nationalist and populist, that is an extremely difficult combination for any American organization, because Americans see democracy as a matter of national identity.

But then again, the far-right anti-immigrant groups arising in Europe today are not openly anti-democratic in the manner of traditional fascism.  They simply want to make democracy narrower and less inclusive.  And Americans, after all, have a longstanding tradition of people who were eager to say democracy for me but not for thee.  My guess is that one reason fascism never posed a serious challenge in the U.S. during the Depression, despite an exceptionally severe economic crisis (see graph below) was  that our nearest equivalent of fascism, the Ku Klux Klan had had its heyday during the 1920's and been discredited.

The 1920's Klan flourished under conditions of economic prosperity, but cultural upheaval.  Immigrants were changing the face of the United States.  Catholicism challenged Protestant supremacy.  Biblical literalism was being increasingly called into question.  Blacks were leaving the South and moving into northern cities.  The country was becoming increasingly urban.  And, of course, there was Prohibition, together with bootlegging, flappers, widespread automobiles, movie theaters, and a general changing and loosening of mores.

The KKK had significant power and held offices at the state and local level, but a strong two-party system limited its national influence.  Over time, the Klan wore outs its welcome.  Its violence and open bigotry lost their appeal.  Its leaders proved to be unprincipled opportunists exploiting gullible followers.  In particular, D.C. Stephenson, head of the Indiana Klan (perhaps the strongest in the country) was convicted of the rape and murder of Madge Oberholtzer, which seriously undermined the Klan's reputation as guardians of law and order.  Stephenson took revenge for his conviction by revealing the web of corruption that the Klan had become.

One can only wonder what might have happened if the Klan had flourished in a time of economic, as well as cultural crisis.  As it turned out, though, by the 1930's, the Klan was thoroughly discredited and despised by respectable people everywhere.  This discrediting of the Klan, I suspect, largely eliminated the hard right as an alternative to Hoover's center-right, and channeling anger over the Depression to the left.


  1. Cowboys aren't fascists.

    When everybody has guns, politicians live with fear / respect for their people.

    The distribution of power coincides with gun owners and property owners.

    The most powerful block is the top 1/3 minus the 1%.

    They all vote, they have all the money and property, and they own all the guns.

    The Republic reigns.

    Democracy we still aren't sure about.

  2. No serious part of the American political spectrum generated the requisite level of "feel seriously personally threatened by significant section of the active political spectrum" sense of crisis to make abandon "ordinary" politics for fascism seem worth taking the risk.

    In Europe, those countries where confiscation of land was a serious political program on the Left (Italy, Germany, Spain) then fascism (or something occupying that space, Spain) got a mass base. In countries where it was not (France, Northern Europe) it did not. (France was a slightly intermediate case, due to the size of the PCF).

  3. The era of Realism which ‘gave birth’ to a pleiad of brilliant writers and poets. If you want to read more about great writers, american authors site right now!