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Thoughts on ‘Incels’ and Alleged Public Reactions Towards Them: 4

May 21, 2018 23 comments

In the previous post of this series, I made a point that the aftermath of WW1 created a lot of socio-economic instability in Europe which resulted in leaders like Lenin, Mussolini and Hitler (in addition to many other similar less famous ones) assuming power. But have you ever wondered how these men came to power in the first place? I mean.. who supported these leaders anyway? And what does any of this have to do with ‘incels’ in 2018?

As it turns out, a lot. To understand what I talking about, we have to first talk a bit about why WW1 (and WW2) were so different from any wars before them- not just in sheer scale but also their timing and impact on society. The ‘timing’ aspect of both WW1 and WW2 is often glossed over by most historians because the subject matter does not sell as many books or lectures as military descriptions of those wars. So why is their timing important anyway?

Well.. for starters, the era from 1880-1910 was marked by a very significant change in kind of jobs and livelihoods available to most men in European countries. While the industrial revolution might have begun decades earlier, it was not until the 1880s-1890s that it started to change the spectrum of jobs available to most men in those countries. We often forget that majority of ‘jobs’ in those countries were related to agriculture, as late as the 1870s- even in western Europe.

But what effect did this have on those affected by this transition? Some of you know part of the answer, which is birth of the modern labor movement. The other part is however less talked about. The short version is that the change of ‘jobs’ and livelihoods from farm to city resulted in a lot of social dislocation and growth of instability. A rapid increase in number of non-agricultural jobs during that era did however keep a lid on that problem, at least for the time being. And then WW1 started in 1914.

As many of you know, WW1 was the really the first large-scale war in which every major participant nation-state mobilized its citizenry and ended up instituting military conscription. By the end of that war, millions of soldiers on all sides had died or were permanently disabled. But even more problematically, many millions more came back to countries, societies and livelihoods which had ceased to exist. To put it another way, soldiers who returned ‘home’ after WW1 came back to communities and livelihoods which had changed beyond their ability to adapt.

It did not help that post-WW1 austerity type economic measures in many countries and the increased mechanization of work created tons of young and poor men without any real prospects for a better future. Now combine this with the visceral contempt many felt for all those old-fashioned regimes and social structures who were responsible for WW1. It does not take a genius to figure out that the massive young male precariat created by WW1 looked around for new leaders who could promise them a better future.

And this brings us why the October Revolution in 1917 allowed the Bolsheviks to displace the provincial government and all moderates. As you might have figured out by now, the Bolsheviks had far more wiling young men and weapons than their opponents. The sheer number of willing young men and weapons was also why the Bolsheviks won the almost 5-year long Russian Civil War in 1922. And yes, the civil war did resulted in the death of a few million people- but in the end the Bolsheviks won, Lenin assumed formal leadership and USSR was formed in 1923.

Let us now talk about how Mussolini came to power in Italy in 1922. For somebody who literally created the concept of Fascism, it is interesting that Mussolini started out as a socialist. While the many twists in his life until the end of WW1 are too numerous to document here, the relevant part is that he became a well-known populist leader towards end of WW1. It certainly helped that the previous government and system in Italy had lost public support because of its many failures during WW1, even though they came out on the “winning” side.

Long story short, Mussolini correctly assessed the extent of public dissatisfaction with the existing system and took steps to gain power culminating in the March on Rome in 1922. And yes, the core supporters who stood behind him and helped him seize power were young men who had come back ‘home’ after fighting in WW1. As you will see, young men who fought in WW1 and came back to a displaced existence without a decent future somehow always ended up supporting a leader (almost always an outsider) who would promise them a better future.

Which brings us to the issue of how Hitler came to power in Germany. As some of you know, post-WW1 Germany was a hot mess. For one, terms of the Treaty of Versailles had caused a series of massive economic problems in Germany. The lack of perceived public authority and impotence of successive governments in the Wiemar republic combined with their inability to do help all those young men who returned ‘home’ after WW1 had created a huge population of young men who wanted to overthrow the current system.

Again, to make a long story short, the absolutely dismal reputation of the Wiemar republic along with the massive economic stresses caused by the great depression made a person like Hitler look like a reasonable option to the German public in 1933. Of course, the core and most loyal supporters of Hitler came from the ranks of soldiers who had fought in WW1. It is therefore no surprise that all the organisations which enabled Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, such as the Sturmabteilung, Nazi Party, Schutzstaffel and their precursors such as the Freikorps, were almost exclusively made up of young veterans of WW1.

Will write more about how all this relates to the current status quo in the next part of this series. Here is a hint.. history may not repeat, but if often rhymes.

What do you think? Comments?