Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The Hungry Thirties


During this world crisis of capitalism a great many on the so-called left like to cunningly conjure up images of the hungry thirties; a time undoubtedly of mass unemployment, hunger marches and the rise of fascism at home and abroad. Many social commentators of the time were fulling over each other trying to paint the picture of a world in poverty Jack London and George Orwell come to mind. It may even be argued that the conceptualisation of the hungry thirties or even what some describe as the 'devil's decade' may have attained for that decade a far worst press stereotyped without escape. This concentration upon unemployment and social distress does much to distort our view of that period. It would be vacuous of course to suggest that the 1930s were not for many millions around the world a time of great hardship and personal suffering, and as if the world was ever free under capitalism from ravishing and assaulting poverty. Even in the 1930s living standards were rising along with new levels of consumption, upon which a considerable degree of industrial growth was based. The economic record shows in the aftermath of the Great Crash and financial crisis of 1931, new industries began to forge ahead at an unprecedented rate. The Central Electricity Board meant that Britain had one of the most advanced systems of electricity supply in the world. As a result consumption of electricity rose fourfold between 1925 and 1939, and it became the driving dynamo of new industry as mass production methods began to be used for the manufacture of consumer goods. Under this new forging capitalism beginning to shape the way we live today, important developments occurred in the patterns of trading and marketing, goods were packaged and priced by the manufacturer, rather than by the shopkeeper. Motor transport allowed direct delivery to multiple branches and the first mail order schemes were introduced. Under the impact of the this retailing 'revolution', almost a thousand chain stores were built in the inter-war period, showing virtually no decline in the depression. Marks and Spencer, for example, one of the most successful of the clothing retailers, opened 129 stores from 1931 to 1935 and extended 60 more. By the outbreak of the Second World War, Marks and Spark's, Lipton's, Sainsbury's and Woolworth's had become household names in almost every medium-sized town. bringing with them a wider range of foodstuffs, clothing and household gods than had been previously available at the traditional corner shop. It is ironical then to think that Woolworth's was born in one recession and then died in another 78 years later. It is worthwhile noting that in the 1930s employment opportunities were expanding for shop workers, clerical staff, transport employees and the professional and managerial salariat. The background to many of these developments is of the thirties wich is most easily forgotten amid the prevailing image of the 'hungry thirties'.

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