The Verge of Revolution
America had had its share of boom and bust before. But the Great Depression of the 1930s was unparalleled in magnitude, scope, and duration. Fifteen to 25 percent of the work force was jobless. Families lost their savings, their homes, and even their lives-to disease and sometimes starvation. The Depression was not confined to the United States. It gripped the world, especially those citadels of democracy, the Western capitalist nations. Worst of all, the Depression showed no signs of letup. As the unrelieved years went by, want and misery became a way of life.
Discontent and despair bred revolution. The nations of Europe seethed-especially Germany, already economically crippled by the punitive Treaty of Versailles, now brought to its knees by the Depression. First in Italy, then in Germany—and to a lesser extent, elsewhere in Europe—two major ideologies came into violent opposition: Fascism versus Communism. To most Americans, both of these totalitarian ideologies seemed clearly repugnant to democracy.
Democracy was not putting beans on the table, however. Among intellectuals and even some radical workers, Communism seemed to offer a viable alternative to what was apparently the nation’s failed capitalism. Slowly but surely, the gunpowder scent of revolution tainted American air.