Herbert Hoovers' policies made the depression worse

Ventured into new territory

The Democratic candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced nothing less than a "New Deal" - a "reshuffling of the cards" in 1932 in the race for the US presidency. And with this promise, he also won over his predecessor, the Republican Herbert Hoover, who was in office from 1928 to 1932. Its anti-social austerity policies and market belief had made the misery of the "Great Depression" even worse. And Roosevelt actually kept his word: when he took office in March 1933, he initiated a democratic, economic, social and cultural upheaval that had never been seen before in US history.

Work for many and electricity for all

In an environment of mass poverty and resignation, a huge reconstruction program was started within weeks - on democratic paths and with instruments that had never been tried before. The banking sector was reorganized and regulated, and the stock exchange was placed under state supervision. Within a few months, more than six million previously unemployed people were employed in the construction of schools, playgrounds, kindergartens, roads, green spaces, in programs of reforestation and landscape maintenance as part of employment programs. 3000 creative artists from various disciplines were promoted and brought art to the people. With extensive infrastructure projects, dam systems have been created for the management, irrigation and electrification of entire regions. The resulting state electricity suppliers exposed the private cartels that had prevailed up to that point to sensitive competitive pressure - with the result of a nationwide and inexpensive electricity supply.

As a result, the number of employees grew by more than a third within five years, even if full employment was only achieved in World War II. At the same time, the newly introduced systems of social support succeeded in providing state aid to a third of the population in the course of the 1930s. In 1935 a social security system was introduced for the first time with the core elements of unemployment and pension insurance, maternity protection and the financing of state health services. Attempts to introduce general statutory health insurance failed.

The rapidly rising government budget deficits in the wake of the employment and infrastructure programs led the government, initially hesitantly and then increasingly determined, to drastically increase taxes on high incomes, inheritances and corporate profits.

Initial attempts to achieve minimum social standards such as minimum wages and the right to unionize by means of social partnership agreements with voluntary commitments by the companies did not work. At the same time, however, a new, rapidly growing trade union base movement emerged which, with a series of mass strikes, demanded union rights in large industrial companies. Against this background, the government changed course and from 1935 to 1938 adopted basic employment standards such as the prohibition of child labor, the right to organize and bargain collectively, a minimum wage and a standard working week of 40 hours. Renewed strikes ensured compliance with the rules in large companies.

Diversity as a strength

All of this was fought as "socialist" by opposition lobby groups, media corporations, courts and politicians - including leaders of the Democratic Party who failed to prevent Roosevelt's candidacy in 1932. Parallels to today are striking. In these circles Roosevelt, who himself came from the rich East Coast upper class, was considered a "traitor of his class." The conflict readiness of this bourgeois reformer was once summed up very nicely by a US historian: "He denied the rich the honor of being afraid of them." In November 1936 Roosevelt was re-elected with over 60 percent of the vote. He achieved the largest majorities among wage earners and among the Afro-American and Jewish populations.

The election success was preceded by an unprecedented grassroots social campaign. The wide range of initiatives and alliances included the women's organization of the Democrats, mayors of different party affiliations, a non-partisan organization of the new trade union movement and a "Good Neighbor League" of various religious and ethnic minorities. The diversity of society, the juxtaposition and opposition of separate "communities", was transformed into strength. Today we would call something like that "mosaic left".

nd journalism from the left thrives on the commitment of its readers

In view of the experience of the corona pandemic, we have decided to make our journalism permanently freely accessible on our website and thus make it available to everyone who is interested.

As with our print and epaper editions, our work as an author, editor, technician or publishing employee is part of every published article. It is what makes this journalism possible.

Volunteer now with just a few clicks!