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50 Years Ago: Depression

It is a long time since the last great trade depression. Younger people will have little or no clear recollection of it. It occurred between 1929 and 1939, coming to an end after the outbreak of the Second World War. The period was known as the Hungry Thirties. At that time there was something like a million unemployed in Canada,three million in Britain, six million in Germany, eleven million in the United States. In 1934 it was reported that there were between 80,000,000 and 100,000,000 unemployed at that time throughout the world. Even Russia, where unemployment was claimed by its supporters to have lately been abolished, was affected by the depression and had to cope with growing numbers of unemployed. And wherever it existed, unemployment,then as now, deprived its victims of the sources of life other than the limited means made available through charitable groups and government agencies.

The world’s warehouses were filled with goods, the world’s workers were in want and the statesmen were helpless. Bennett, of  Canada, who rose to power in 1930 promising to end the depression, was ushered out of power in 1935, leaving 1,341,000 of the electorate on relief. Roosevelt of the United States called to his service the greater part of the alphabet and won the hearts of the American people – but failed to end the breadlines. Hitler of Germany blamed the evils suffered by his countrymen on the victors of the First World War and he fed the German workers’ national pride, red banners and brown shirts – to go with their black bread and sausages. The Labour Party of Britain, which came on the scene to bring shelter to the underdog from the storms and stresses of modern life, became, after a quarter century, without accomplishment, an unheroic victim of the 1930’s, broken by a Labour Government measure designed to worsen the living conditions of large numbers of workers.

(from a leaflet published by the Socialist Party of Canada reprinted in the Socialist Standard, August 1959).