Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Dieselpunk Politics – Part 2

In the previous installment I proposed that there are three elements to what might be identified as dieselpunk politics: contemporary, decodence (pointing to or found in the 20’s- 40’s), and ‘punk’ (i.e. outside the mainstream with an emphasis on independence). The purpose of this essay is to provide a, very brief, review of the political/ economic systems during the decades of 1920’s through end of the 1940’s.

As I’ve done so before, once again I feel there is a need for a disclaimer. I’m not a historian and the following are topics that minds far greater than my own have written whole volumes on. Therefore, remember that what follows is a very, very brief description of the three mainstream political/ economic systems common in that era and is heavy with my opinion.

Capitalism, specifically as it was in America, took on different characteristics in each of the three decades of that era: The Roaring Twenties (roughly 1920’s), The Great Depression (roughly 1930’s), and The War Years (roughly 1940’s).

The Roaring Twenties
The ever useful Wikipedia states what I consider to be a fairly accurate description of capitalism during the Roaring Twenties. Wiki states that it was, “an era of "monopoly capitalism," marked by government's movement from laissez-faire capitalism and competitive markets to the concentration of capital into large monopolistic or oligopolistic holdings by banks and financiers, and characterized by the growth of large corporations and a division of labor separating shareholders, owners, and managers.”

The Great Depression
From a political and economic standpoint the distinctive characteristic of the 1930’s was the economic collapse by which it gets its name, “The Great Depression.” In the early years of the crisis, which began during the Hoover Administration, the US government took limited action. What little government steps that were taken failed to restart the economy. Some historians and economists go so far as to say that the action taken by the Hoover Administration may have actually exacerbated the situation. In contrast to Hoover, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took a far more active role through what he called The New Deal, which included the restructuring of the financial system along with establishing numerous governmental programs, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration, later renamed the Works Projects Administration (WPA). There were several other government programs initiated by FDR earning it the nickname as the Alphabet Administration. One can find a list of the various programs here.

The War Years
During World War II the American economy was geared primarily to one thing: war production. Factories that had been building cars were now building tanks and airplanes. Women who would never had been allowed to work outside the home were suddenly working in factories and holding jobs historically held by men. Rationing of goods was imposed across the country.

The latter half of the decade saw a period in which the American economy grew at a rate never before seen. In the closing years of the 1940’s America saw itself in a unique position in the global economy. Due to the devastating effects of World War II the European economies were in ruins leaving little competition to American business. American-made products flooded onto the world market as the rest of the world began to rebuild. The average level of education for Americans went up greatly as a result of government-paid education under the GI Bill. Wages and benefits for American workers rose dramatically as the Federal government supported the rights of workers to unionize. The decade ended with the start of the Cold War resulting in the continual growth of military spending by the government, which also pumped large amounts of money into the American economy.


The dominating figure in the Soviet Union starting in 1928 and through the diesel era was Joseph Stalin. As a result Communism as it appeared in that era is often referred to as ‘Stalinism.’ Again Wiki provides a great summation, “Stalinism has been described as being synonymous with totalitarianism, or a tyrannical regime. The term has been used to describe regimes that fight political dissent through violence, imprisonment, and killings.” In addition, Stalinism, unlike some other forms of totalitarian systems, retained the same rhetoric and imagery developed during the Bolshevik Revolution while adding his own additions to communist thought such as “socialism in one country.”

Stalin’s economic policy would best be described by what Trotsky called ‘bureaucratic collectivism.’ Back to our old friend Wiki, “a bureaucratic collectivist state owns the means of production, while the surplus ("profit") is distributed among an elite party bureaucracy, rather than among the workers. Also, most importantly, it is the bureaucracy - not the workers or the people in general - who controls the economy and the state. Thus, the system is not truly capitalist, but it is not socialist either.”


There’s much disagreement among academics as to how to define fascism. To add to the confusion, the details of fascism as it appeared during that era, and ever since, have varied greatly depending on which nation-state one is looking at. That being said there seems to be a consensus on certain common components of fascism, especially during that era. Those features were: 1) they each had totalitarian political systems in which society was organized to service the State in which the military held a central position, 2) each fascist nation-state created a set of myths and symbols that portrayed their own people as being special in comparison to all others, 3) unlike Stalinism the fascist nation-states each maintained Capitalist economic systems (as long as the activity of any specific economic enterprise wasn’t in conflict with the State), and 4) they were highly expansionistic both militarily and economically.

In the next blog entry I’m honored to have a guest writer who will address one of two socio-economic models that I propose should be considered ‘dieselpunk.’ While there are other models beyond these two that I believe fit the criteria I will limit my blog to just reviewing what I propose are two dieselpunk political models.

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