VISIONS OF THE FUTURE - An essay
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.
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
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 doesnt 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 UKs 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
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. (Steinbecks
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 Californias 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
The seeds of the UKs 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 UKs 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 wasnt 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
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
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 its
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 didnt 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
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