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VISIONS OF THE FUTURE - An essay
Sam North

The New World Order 1924-1939.

The imagined future was a world where war was no longer possible. A League of Nations would see to that. The future would be one where the new frontiers would be science. The cure for the common cold and cancer, smallpox, measles, polio were all needed. Some would be found.

Above all, freedom from want, the clamour for social security, pensions for all, education for all, was beginning. Henry Ford led from the front with regard to the League of Nations. We are now in the age of the enlightened industrialist. The vision was of an all inclusive society where the rich would be forced to share their wealth and all would be able to live without poverty. This era is also known as the Jazz age and we have the birth of modern architecture, (the Bauhaus movement - Gaudi in Spain), artists such as Picasso, composers such as Stravinsky scientists such as Einstein, art movements such as Dada, music for the masses, art for all, a sexual and social revolution is transforming lives and signalling the future we inhabit now. On the reverse side we see the growth of fascism and communism and nationalism.

The influence of artists, musicians, writers, cinema stars are the new arbiters of taste and public demand more thrills, more change. Gershwin is the man who provides the beat and every modern city is swathed in neon, to prove that progress is being made. On the streets, the suburbs are growing almost unchecked, the cities are choked with car fumes,but the factories now electric powered with modern jigs and mass production methods were able to produce more with less people.

The visionary Keynes wrote in 1924 ‘Does Unemployment Need a Drastic Remedy?’ His argument was that private enterprise was not working, laissez-faire was failing and massive state intervention was the only answer with huge public works programmes. More would be heard from Keynes in the next decade as unemployment went from being a problem to pandemic.

In this period the ‘individual’ is born. Catered to by mass production and the new science of advertising. The modern pension plans are born, insurance for all, shares for all. There are insights to how artists viewed this world. Fritz Lang with his silent film ‘Metropolis’ in 1926 touched on all the elements of fear that were present in the new Germany of that time. The rise of the consciousness of the worker to his or her continued oppression by the bosses. The new cities were taller, grander than anything imagined before, the rich lived in luxury, had a Romanesque lavish, orgiastic lifestyle, whilst the workers were crushed by the demands of the ‘machine’. The workers had one hope, a young radical and beautiful social worker who gave them hope in the subterranean lives. The bosses could not tolerate hope, so they used ‘science’ to subvert it. Recalling Teslas’ robot from the 1890 ‘Worlds’ Fair...the bosses transform the soul of the ‘good’ social worker into a robot they control, which will lead the workers to rebel and give the bosses an excuse to crush them. Their solution to the crisis is to flood the subterranean city and drown the lot. This reflects very accurately the mood of the controlling classes of the time and it is no coincidence that this film, it is said, turned out to be a influential film for a young corporal called Adolf Hitler.

By 1929, with the stock market at an all time high, world prosperity seems as though it will go on forever. People talk of the right to every family to new home with indoor plumbing, in the USA at least, easy payment plans are giving people things they no longer have to save for. The car provides freedom to go wherever you want and plentiful public transport is cheap and ubiquitous. There are dark satanic mills, there is labour unrest and the mines may still be dank and dangerous, indeed coal is still mined by hand, but there is a nationwide consensus about the dignity associated with having a job, even a lousy one, and in the UK the Empire is stronger again. Britain believes it designs the best cars, and indeed, for three quarters of the world, British is best. The Atlantic steamers are the fastest, the cure for mass-diseases is being won, penicillin is reducing the death rate, prosperity is filtering down, even to the north. Boys step into the fathers shoes at the factories and British literature and political influence is at its zenith, equal to, if not more so than the USA. The riots of Sydney Street and the National Strike provide a more insightful view of this new society with haves and many have-nots. The South prospers, the North festers.

The future doesn’t look so bright to a certain Mr Wells either.
Things to Come ’ reflects on the next war- the endless war and touches on the coming of double speak - currently being refined in the powerhouse that the shining new Soviet Republic that Stalin is building. And despite the apparent prosperity, the shiny new hotels and homes in the UK’s south, the development of holiday resorts, streamlined railways and world speed records on the rails; the north, where manufacturing was mostly done, was self-destructing. Unemployment was rising, social discontent seething, standards of sanitation, education, health, falling, the ‘heavy industries’ suffered from a lack of global orders. The glamour industries such as car manufacture based around Birmingham and Coventry may have kept them safe from want, but the rest were suffering in situations that were quite primitive. It was not about to get better.

As Keynes had written, ‘the seeds for the next conflict were sown in the deeds of the settlement of the last...’ and in the calamitous collapse of the World Stock markets in 1930. As capital dried up, the world economy contracted and nowhere faster than in the USA exposing the pursuit of capitalism with no social security safety net as a sham. Millions suddenly found themselves with no work, no means to pay rent or buy food and as shanty towns grew in Central Park in New York, the pundits at that time were wondering if America would follow the Soviet Union down the communism pathway. It was a real and genuine fear and the labour unions certainly flirted with the idea as the U.S. economy continued to sink through 1931-32.
1935. The number of civil servants in the UK approximately 370,000.
Herr Diesel invents the diesel engine
False indicator: Herr Wankel invents the engine of the future ‘The Wankel engine’

1931-1939 Confidence is everything and nothing at all.
America has crashed, production has halved, society is in turmoil. Whole societies in the USA are trapped in a no win situation and must migrate to find work or shelter. The Great Depression began. By 1932 there were ten million unemployed in the USA alone. In Europe and the UK demand fell to catastrophic levels. The existence of the ‘Empire’ enabled the UK to weather the storm, but manufacturing suffered massively and textiles, coal mining, shipbuilding disposed of the majority of their workers impoverishing a generation.

The forces at work are not just the collapse in global economies (it varied from country to country) but in the ever onward march of mechanisation. America and Europe factories are falling silent,but agrarian reform proceeds. Huge farming projects in the USA and Soviet Russia eliminate the need for most land workers. In the USA the land clearance, removing share croppers and families to replace them with huge monoculture fields harvested by mechanical means let to mass poverty and migration. (Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath’ amply testifies to the misery it caused and the dust bowl it left behind.*Fate would record however that those same people driven off the land with their families fortuitously provided the labour for the new defence contractors factories and shipbuilders in California’s prosperous war time economy. Few writers or politicians forsaw this development and many at that time only saw California being ‘spoiled’ by this inward migration of ‘poor’ Americans.

In the UK however at this time, the revolution in farming has yet to begin.
The seeds of the UK’s industrial demise begin now. Modernisation ceases. Research and Development in all but plastics (Bakerlite) seems to be expendable. Coal miners still work by hand, but in the USA, the mines that are still open now use tread-mounted arc-shearing machines, cutting coal in preparation for blasting. The ‘Dragon’ then drags the coal out of the mine at 4-7 tons a minute on rails. A survey in 1939 reveals that man transport is the biggest waste in British mining - getting the worker to the coal face. Output per man-shift figures in 1936 are already indicative of the UK’s future.
UK 1,195 tons Percentage of coal cut with machines 55%
USA 4,080 tons .............................................97%
source international labour offices report 1938

A similar picture is emerging in Europe and America for ship-building and car assembly. No investment in the UK, little or no quality control, but a smug belief in ‘British is best’. Unnoticed at first, as the UK has a vast Empire to export to in controlled markets, the rest of the world is using the ‘Slump’ to shed workers, modernise factories, redesign and establish US style corporate structures, modelled on General Motors and other paragons of mass production such as the progressive FIAT factories in Italy..

The ‘thirties’ are marked by the building of a new world, a more Government interventionist world. The underlying threat to western democracy is the attraction to many of the Soviet Model, which seems to be thriving (still leaving most of the world ignorant of their ruthless programs against their own citizens and massive manipulation of production figures.) For the moment, the Soviet Command economy looks a good bet compared to the agonies of the depression.
Yet the depression brought imaginative relief. The TVA schemes in the U.S. South and a rekindling of the community spirit. Good government was one that applied Keynesian interventionist policies, rebuilding shattered economies with grand civic projects - which might or might not have been needed. Confidence was gaining, inflation was beaten, indeed the enemy now was deflation, but there was a cynical edge to writing and art now. Aldous Huxley (b 1894-1963) wrote ‘Brave New World’ .

In 1932 he was the visionary who understood that the future was science. He could see that the future was the I.G. Farbens of this world who could produce mind altering drugs, use technology to develop perfect babies, perfect workers. Mind control, people control, life control, perhaps benign, perhaps more sinister; it wasn’t a world he wanted to live in. He saw, as many others began to see, that the imagined perfect future at the beginning of the century was turning sour. (He devoted much of his life to literature and visionary forces) Other forces were at work, the old power elite were conniving to curtail new found freedoms by the masses. This period ferments the future as imagined by the author Ayn Rand whose writing celebrated the ego and brutal capitalist that emerged post the depression. Her novel The Fountainhead (1943) is still popular and seems much influence by the rise of fascism and the cult of the super-ego.

The rise of fascism is a separate strand and was not a future that could be avoided, indeed was predicted by Keynes among many. Born in the defeat of the first world war, fascism took hold in a society that wanted to be told that it could rekindle the glory of the past empires and reassert genetic superiority. The war had been predicted and foreseen, yet, as ever, there had been little realistic preparation by the UK or America. Indeed, there was a chance, as the alternative history book by Nial Fergusson 1998 states that the UK and America could have embraced fascism and adopted many of its ideals. It was a war, that not only could have been avoided, but perhaps some felt at the time that Hitler could have been accommodated and his ambitions contained. Revisionist, alternative history is not part of this study because it must deal with real opinions and visions writers and philosophers had at the time events occurred, nevertheless the literature of our times does reconsider the momentous events with contemporary eyes.

In 1939 the war in Europe was seemingly inevitable and given the weapons, the technical and tactical superiority of Germany at that time, it was quickly established that Germany had the upper hand. The fact that America did not join in and remained neutral is disconcerting to us now, looking back with hindsight, but not so then. In 1940, when the Blitzkrieg gave Hitler all of Europe and left the UK isolated, it is tempting to speculate that America could have remained aloof and accommodated Fascism. In the book ‘The Man in the High Castle’ written in 1959. Philip K Dick imagined a world where not only had that happened, but given the new strength of Germany, they defeated the UK, and then attacked the USA, along with Japan. Together America is split East and West. Germany gains the East and Japan the West, leading towards one more final conflict whereby German defeats Japan and owns the world.


It Happened here
Looking at the books written at the time however, one stands out.
A slim book written by Michael Foot MP 1939 ‘Why we must fight ’ stating that Germany must be resisted at all costs and imagines a UK enslaved by the Germans. It ran into many reprints and was an excellent wake up call to the UK population.

The other great prognosticator of war, H.G. Wells, died just prior to the war beginning. But his influence was strong. Fascism had already proven victor in Spain and look set to be the winner in Europe. National Socialism, Communism, Capitalism were all vying for superiority and in 1940 it would have been a astute pundit who could have predicted that sixty years on, capitalism would be the clear winner.

Number of UK civil servants in 1939, 370,000.

Prediction: September 1938, PM Neville Chamberlain after signing the Munich Agreement with Hitler. ‘I believe it is peace in our time.’

Summary: At the turn of the century we saw the introduction of electricity, the petrol driven motor vehicle, the cinema, phonograph, then later radio. Prosperity rose, then was dashed by a crippling war followed by pandemic. The predictions in 1910 were for an ever prosperous world where all the poor would end up living like kings. Few predicted years of war with millions dead. Yet in 1920, the view was quite different. The outlook was universally bleak, yet all new kinds of inventions and social changes was being made and the twenties are looked back on now with envy as one of increasing prosperity with a ‘wobble of instability’ mid-decade. In 1929 the predictions were for ‘prosperity to go on forever, that everyone could have their own home, car, and radio and the economy would grow forever - a commendable proof of social progress’
Source: Chicago Investment Stockmarket Analysis Bulletin July 1929.

A year later things looked a lot different.

And so it was in 1939. The world had changed a great deal in ten years. From bust to a rearmament boom. Not everyone predicted a gloomy future, despite the activities in Germany. After all there were not a few sympathisers in the UK. Appeasement was seen as a viable way forward, war as something that the UK was ‘neither willing to fight or ready to fight’. Somehow, and it is fact,many would have us believe that we were caught by surprise by how evil Hitler was. Yet, in 1933 Dachau opened it’s doors as a Labour camp. The model for the ‘Final Solution’ was up and ready for all to see, had they looked.

Charles Lindbergh the famous Atlantic aviator didn’t see how England could hope to win. In 1939 no serious gambler would have backed the UK against Hitler. America voted to stay out of the war in 1940. The best predictions for 1940, echoing Spengler, would say that Europe would be German for the ‘next 1000 years’.

© Sam North 2000-2007

To continue reading Visions of the Future:
Introduction
1890-1914 1919-1923 1924-1939 1939-1946
2000-2010 - 2010-2050

The Curse of the Nibelung - A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
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