1922, Europe on the Brink: The Rise of Fascism and Birth of Stalinism

Europe after the First World War was a study in contrasts. On the one hand, the victories of the western democracies of Britain and France and the new international organization of the League of Nations seemed to point toward a peaceful future for Europe, one based on the rule of law and the promise of economic prosperity. On the other, the end of the war led to polarized politics in central and eastern Europe, with ultra-nationalist and communist parties resorting to acts of public and private violence. Here, defeat, disappointment, and political and economic instability threatened the immediate future of the continent. The year 1922, from the perspective of 100 years later, appears to be an important turning point, and included important developments such as Benito Mussolini’s rise to power in Italy, Josef Stalin’s election as General Secretary of the Communist Party, and Vladimir Lenin suffering two strokes that effectively removed him from his daily responsibilities of leadership. Stalin's rise to complete power within the Soviet Union began with these events. Under Stalin, the Soviet Union was transformed, provoking both fear and praise. This seminar explores current historical thinking about these events and their consequences for the 20th century and today.