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Social Foundations of Political Order in Interwar Europe

  • Gregory M. Luebbert


Four types of regimes of historic importance appeared in Europe between the two world wars: pluralist democracy, social or corporatist democracy, traditional dictatorship, and fascism. The vast body of literature that has grown up around them has rarely cast these political orders as historical alternatives to each other, however. When it has done so, it. has normally cast pluralist democracy as the alternative to fascism. Most commonly, this has taken the form of contrasts between Germany and Britain, and has been accompanied by the question, why was Germany not like Britain? Yet, pluralist democracy such as appeared in Britain was actually the least relevant alternative between the wars, for the possibility of stabilizing it where it did not already exist had been foreclosed by World War I. Where liberal parties had failed to establish responsible parliamentary institutions before the war, it would prove impossible to stabilize a pluralist democracy afterward. Henceforth, stabilization would require corporatism—in either its fascist or social democratic variant—rather than pluralism.



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1 Among the most influential of these works are those by Ralf Dahrendorf and Karl Die-trich Bracher, both of whom postulate a liberal or Anglo-Saxon theory of the state and contrast it with a German Idealist tradition. See , Dahrendorf, Society and Democracy in Germany (New York: Norton, 1967); , Bracher, Die Auflösung der Weimarer Republik [The Dissolution of the Weimar Republic] (Stuttgart: Ring Verlag, 1955). Two influential but more sociologically grounded analyses that make use of the contrast between Britain and Germany are Moore, Barrington, Social Origins ofDictatorship and Democracy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966), and Gerschenkron, Alexander, Bread and Democracy in Germany (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1943).

2 The interwar Czechoslovakian experience and its corporatist aspects can be found in Klepetar, Harry, Seit 1918 ... Eine Geschichte der Tschechoslowakischen Republik [Since 1918 ... A History of the Czechoslovak Republik] (Moravska Ostrava: Verlag Julius Kittls Nachfolger, 1937), esp. 283–375.

3 Early democratizers are defined as societies that acquired responsible parliamentary institutions, manhood suffrage, reasonably equitable electoral laws, and trade union rights before World War I. The countries that met all four of the criteria were Britain, Ireland (as a colony), France, Switzerland, and the United States. All others failed on at least one count. The classical statement of the pluralist path is found in Marshall, T. H., Class, Citizenship and Social Development (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965), chap. 4.

4 Lorwin, Val, The French Labor Movement (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954), 18.

5 Quoted in Roger Magraw, France, 1815–1914: The Bourgeois Century (New York: Oxford University Press), 373.

6 Flora and Alber use a less restrictive definition of democratic regime (see fn. 3 for the definition employed here). Their “constitutional-dualist monarchies” are Sweden, Germany, Denmark, and Austria. Their parliamentary regimes are Britain, Switzerland, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy, and Norway. Under the more restricted definition employed here, The Netherlands and Belgium almost fit the requirements of early democracies, falling short only on the extent of the suffrage. Norway (electoral laws) and Italy (franchise, electoral laws, trade union rights) clearly do not. Despite the definitional differences, the association between liberalism and late social welfare initiatives remains. Indeed, Flora and Alber's data show that it is strengthened if Italy is properly classified as undemocratic. See “Modernization, Democratization, and the Development of Welfare States in Western Europe,” in Flora, Peter and Heidenheimer, Arnold, eds., The Development of Welfare States in Europe and America (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1981), 3780.

7 The early history of the French labor movement is discussed in Lorwin (fn. 4), chap. 2.

8 The absence of political strikes by French workers—and the feebleness of syndicalism in the French labor movement generally—has been carefully documented in Stearns, Peter, Revolutionary Syndicalism and French Labor: A Cause Without Rebels (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1971), esp. chap. 2.

9 For a discussion of the obstacles presented by early decentralization for subsequent unification of French labor, see Lorwin (fn. 4), chap. 2. For a parallel discussion of the Swiss experience, see Weckerle, Eduard, The Trade Unions in Switzerland (Bern: Swiss Federation of Trade Unions, 1947), 1633.

10 An important study of the impact of the war on political mobilization is provided in Maier, Charles S., Recasting Bourgeois Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), esp. 3–15.

11 On the weakness of liberalism in Scandinavia, see Castles, Francis, The Social Democratic Image of Society (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978).

12 On Czechoslovakia, see Mamatey, Victor, “The Establishment of the Republic,” in Mamatey, Victor and Luza, Radomír, eds., A History ofthe Czechoslovak Republic, 1918–1948 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), 339.

13 Sweden and Denmark are partial exceptions. The Swedish liberal community was divided into separate parties by the high church-low church conflict and by the temperance issue. This is in contrast to France, for instance, where religious conflict solidified rather than divided the liberal community. The Danish liberal community was divided by constitutional, military, and foreign policy conflicts as well as by the usual social reform questions. The classic analysis of cleavage development is Lipset, Seymour Martin and Rokkan, Stein, “Cleavage Structures, Party Systems and Voter Alignments: An Introduction,” in , Lipset and , Rokkan, eds., Party Systems and Voter Alignments (New York: Free Press, 1967), 164.

14 There is no direct evidence that liberal parties in these societies received fewer working-class votes, but—given the less frequent and less successful appearance of Lib-Lab alliances—it seems impossible to infer otherwise. Such alliances are discussed in Lipset, Seymour Martin, “Radicalism or Reformism: The Sources of Working-Class Politics,” American Political Science Review 77 (January 1983), 119.

15 See Malefakis, Edward, Agrarian Reform and Peasant Revolution in Spain: Origins of the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), 219 and passim.

16 On Czechoslovakia, see Klepetar (fn. 2), 283–375; on Scandinavia, see Nilsson, Sven et al. , eds., Kriser och krispolitik i Norden under mellankrigstiden [Crises and crisis politics in the in-terwar Nordic countries] (Uppsala: Nordic History Association, 1974).

17 For fascism, too, the coalition with rural interests provided the social foundations for the stabilization of a new order. Once in power, fascists could obviously rely on coercion (rather than inducement) to a vastly greater degree than could social democrats. Yet, fascists by no means entirely ignored the material needs of their constituents; a plausible case can be made that their regimes, too, acquired widespread legitimacy. See Gregor, A. James, Italian Fascism and Developmental Dictatorship (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), chaps. 5–9.

18 The close association between social democratic power, democratic corporatism, and the worker-peasant alliance in Scandinavia has been extensively discussed. See Esping-Andersen, Gøsta, Politics Against Markets (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), chap. 5; Korpi, Walter, The Democratic Class Struggle (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983), chap. 1; Schmitter, Philippe C., “Modes of Interest Intermediation and Models of Societal Change in Western Europe,” Comparative Political Studies 10 (October 1978), 120.

19 See Korpi (fn. 18), 48 and passim.

20 Haue, Harry et al. , Det ny Danmark, 1890–1978, Udviklingslinier og tendens [The new Denmark, 1890–1978, lines of development and tendencies] (Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1980), 168.

21 Lunden, Rare, “The Growth of Co-operatives Among the Norwegian Dairy Farmers During the Period 1856–1905,” Cahiers Internationaux d'Histoire Economique et Sociale 6 (Geneva: Librarie Droz, 1973), 342.

22 Stein Rokkan, “Geography, Religion and Social Class: Crosscutting Cleavages in Norwegian Politics,” in Lipset and Rokkan (fn. 13), Table 26, 429.

23 Two sources indicate that within the Norwegian trade union movement (LO) agricultural and forestry workers together constituted only 10% of the membership in 1931, and that forestry workers were a majority. See Dahl, Hans Fredrik, Norge mellom krigene. Del norske samfunnet i krise og konflikt [Norway between the wars. The Norwegian society in crisis and conflict] (Oslo: Pax Forlag, 1971), 91, and Furre, Berge, Norsk, historie, 1905–1940 [Norwegian history, 1905–1940] (Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget, 1971), 200.

24 Election data for Sweden are from Hadenius, Stig et al. , Sverige efter 1900 [Sweden after 1900] (Stockholm: Bonniers, 1978), Table I.C., 306–7.

25 , Söderpalm, “The Crisis Agreement and the Swedish Social Democratic Road to Power,” in Koblik, Steven, ed., Sweden's Development from Poverty to Affluence, 1750–1970 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1975), 263–64.

26 Ibid., 264.

27 The rate of participation equals the share of the valid vote cast as a percentage of the population over twenty years of age. See Flora, Peter, ed., State, Economy and Society in Western Europe, 1815–1975. A Data Handbook. Vol. 1: The Growth of Mass Democracies (Chicago: James Press, 1983), 141–44.

28 The rate of participation equals the share of the valid vote cast as a percentage of the population over 20 years of age. Ibid., 105–6.

29 For election data for Denmark, see Ibid.

30 Vaclav L. Benes, “Czechoslovak Democracy and Its Problems, 1918–1920,” in Mamatey and Luza (fn. 12), Table 2, p. 41.

31 Victor S. Mamatey, “The Development of Czechoslovak Democracy, 1920–1938,” in Mamatey and Luza (fn. 12), 129.

32 The rural communist vote came mainly from ethnic minorities. See Burkes, Richard V., The Dynamics of Communism in Eastern Europe (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1976), 42 and passim.

33 Czech land reform is discussed in Klepetar (fn. 2).

34 Seton-Watson, C., Italy from Liberalism to Fascism (London: Methuen, 1967), 303–4.

35 Horowitz, Daniel L., The Italian Labor Movement (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963), 124.

36 Neufeld, Maurice, Italy: School for Awakening Countries: The Italian Labor Movement in Its Political, Social and Economic Setting from 1800 to i960 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University School for Industrial and Labor Relations, 1961), 367.

37 Maier (fn. 10), 311.

38 Horowitz (fn. 35), 124.

39 See Neufeld (fn. 36), 347. Also see Hembree, Michael F., “The Politics of Intransigence: Costantino Lazzari and the Italian Socialist Left, 1882–1919,” Ph.D. diss. (Florida State University, 1981), 232.

40 The agrarian membership is an estimate. For the USI, it was assumed to be equal to the membership taken away from the CGL: 80,000. See Horowitz (fn. 35), 75.

41 Seton-Watson (fn. 34), 599.

42 Malefakis (fn. 15), 292.

43 Ibid., 206.

44 Ibid., 214.

45 Ibid., 219.

46 Urwin, Derek and Aarebrot, Frank, “Socio-geographic Correlates of Left Voting in Wei-mar Germany, 1924–1932,” in Torsvik, Per, ed., Mobilization, Center-Periphery Structures and Nation-Building (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1981), 259–60.

47 Wunderlich, Frieda, Farm Labor in Germany, 1810–1945 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), 35.

48 Ibid.,

49 Ibid. 35–36.

50 Bry, Gerhard, Wages in Germany, 1871–1945 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960), 32.

51 Ibid., 42.

52 Wunderlich (fn. 47), 84, n. 14.

53 Ibid., 126–59.

54 Jostock, Paul, “The Long-Term Growth of National Income in Germany,” in Kuznets, Simon, ed., Income and Wealth, Vol. V (London: Bowes and Bowes, 1955), 109.

55 Münzinger, Adolph, “Eine bäuerliche Betriebserhebung in Württemberg” [A survey of peasant production in Württemberg]; Der Arbeitsertrag der bäuerlichen Familienwirtschaft, Vol. II (Berlin 1929), 873; von Dietze, Constantin, “Die Lage der deutschen Landwirtschaft” [The position of German agriculture], Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik (Jena: 1929), Vol. 130, p. 3; Vol. 75, pp. 659–60.

56 See Risto Alapuro and Erik Allardt, “The Lapua Movement: The Threat of a Rightist Takeover in Finland, 1930–32,” and Simon, Walter, “Democracy in the Shadow of Imposed Sovereignty: The First Republic of Austria,” both in Linz, Juan and Stepan, Alfred, eds., The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes: Europe (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978). On Hungary, see Janos, Andrew, The Politics of Backwardness in Hungary, 1825–1945 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), chaps. 4–6.

57 Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia provide textbook cases of coalitions between liberals and middle peasants leading to traditional dictatorships between the wars. In each case, a brief class-based civil war followed immediately on World War I, and in each case, socialists were active in organizing agrarian labor in the period before the instauration of the dictatorship. See Rauch, Georg von, Die Geschichte der baltischen Staaten [The history of the Baltic states] (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1970).

58 See the discussion of the Czechoslovak case.

59 Moore (fn. 1); Gerschenkron (fn. 1).

60 This is the central theme of the essays in the volume edited by Linz and Stepan (fn. 56).

61 See Juan Linz, “From Great Hopes to Civil War: The Breakdown of Democracy in Spain,” and Walter Simon, “Democracy in the Shadow of Imposed Sovereignty: The First Republic of Austria,” in Linz and Stepan (fn. 56).

62 The levels of Norway's and Sweden's strike activities were among the highest in Europe during the 1920s. See Korpi, Walter and Shalev, Michael, “Strikes, Power and Politics in Western Nations, 1900–1976,” Political Power and Social Theory 1 (1980), 301–34; Hibbs, Douglas, “On the Political Economy of Long-Run Trends in Strike Activity,” British journal of Political Science 2 (April 1978), 2643.

63 Among the most important efforts to account for the origins of radicalism and reformism in labor movements is Lipset (fn. 14), esp. pp. 14–16. Lipset contends that radicalism and reformism were one among several important variables in accounting for regime outcomes between the wars.

* I would like to thank Vinod Aggarwal, Gabriel Almond, Paul Buchanan, David Collier, Giuseppe Di Palma, Joseph Fizman, Ernst Haas, Andrew Janos, Daniel Verdier, and John Zysman for their thoughtful comments on the longer manuscript from which this article is taken. I am especially indebted to Daniel Verdier for his research assistance.

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Social Foundations of Political Order in Interwar Europe

  • Gregory M. Luebbert


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