From confrontations during strikes to the street battles of extremist groups, violence was a feature of interwar European politics. As countries entered an age of mass politics, governments searched for ways to integrate their peoples into the political system. Yet violence as a means of political expression and engagement persisted, even in democratic nations. Violent political conflict preceded the establishment of fascist regimes in Italy and Germany, and civil war in Spain. In Eastern Europe, the collapse of empire and the founding of new nation-states gave rise to violent political struggle. In France and Britain, street fighting and rioting raised fears over the breakdown of order in the western democracies. State authorities could respond with implicit approval directed at enemies or with force themselves, especially in colonial territories. Groups that resorted to violence were often part of broader international political phenomenon and organisations such as Communism and Fascism. The development of the ideas and practices of such groups was subject to transfers across national boundaries. Yet most existing histories tend to focus on particular national contexts or countries where extremist governments came to power. Furthermore, accounts take either the left or the right as their subject, but say little about common practices and attitudes.
This conference will examine multiple aspects of interwar European political violence, broadly defined. Were understandings of acceptable conduct common to the left and the right? What rules, explicit and unspoken, governed behaviour during violence? What significance did violence have in the daily life of contemporaries? Was violence a component of political competition in interwar democratic societies? What role did the State play in setting the parameters of political violence? Were aspects of violent cultures transferred across national boundaries? Did colonial violence in the French and British Empires act as a ‘safety valve’ for violence in these countries? How did political groups in colonial territories articulate violence compared with those on the mainland?
Conference organisers: Chris Millington: [email protected]. and Kevin Passmore.