Spectre of the 1930s raised by global unrest

Rebellion: “The streets will always be ours,” say millions of protestors across the world.

Are we witnessing an ominous replay of the 1930s? In recent days, some historians have warned that a political monster is stirring into life and the parallels are too close for comfort.

A week ago, it was Bolivia — angry people clashed with police after the opposition said it had been cheated in an election.

Just before that, the streets of the Chilean capital Santiago descended into chaos as demonstrators, enraged by a rise in public transport fares, went on a rampage of looting and prompted the president to declare a state of emergency.

Earlier this month, Ecuador’s leader did the same after violent unrest triggered by the decision to end fuel subsidies.

And that was just South America.

Hong Kong has been in turmoil for months.

Lebanon’s capital Beirut has been at a standstill.

Parts of Barcelona resembled a battlefield last week, and tens of thousands of Britons marched through London recently over Brexit.

Lingering economic anger and anxiety. A rebellion against the existing political order. A rise of nationalism and a retreat from international entanglements.

That sounds like a description of the world today.

In fact, it describes the global mood of the 1930s, which many experts say increasingly looks like the best parallel to today’s environment.

So, are we witnessing an ominous replay of the 1930s today?

A stitch in time?

The parallels between then and now are far from exact. In his book The Glory and the Dream, William Manchester summarised the differences: “Before Roosevelt’s second presidential campaign, Mussolini had seized Ethiopia; Spain had burst into flame; Germany had rearmed […]. In Tokyo, militant young officers drove Hirohito’s government toward expansionism.” Nothing like that is developing today.

Still, the parallels are close enough to suggest that nobody should be surprised if a long period of economic anxiety and anger leads to a flirtation with unorthodox, perhaps even radical, political experiments.

You Decide

  1. Is it always inequality that makes people most angry?


  1. If you were to go on a march about one thing next week, what would it be? Make a bold poster that you would take with you!

Some People Say...

“History never repeats itself — but it rhymes.”

Mark Twain (1835-1910), US author

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is a fact that protests have broken out in many countries across the world, with citizens unhappy for different reasons. Some are protesting over the right to independence. Some over economic conditions and inequality. Others are protesting over tax rises and, elsewhere, protests are breaking out over controversial laws or prison sentences imposed by governments.
What do we not know?
How to understand the reasons behind these different events. It is certainly interesting to compare the global upheavals of the 1930s with our present times, and there are certain similarities. But suggesting that history is repeating itself can be too simplistic, and usually ignores too many differences between the times.

Word Watch

Violent and uncontrollable behaviour by a group of people.
Stealing goods from a place, especially during a riot.
State of emergency
When a government can do certain things it wouldn’t normally be allowed to do. A government can call a state of emergency during disaster, civil unrest or war.
Money granted by a government to help an industry or business keep the price of goods or services low.
Great disturbance, confusion or uncertainty.
Lasting for a long time.
A belief that promotes the interests of a particular nation.
Giving the idea that something bad is going to happen.
Against the usual or accepted way of behaving or thinking.

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