Public Works vs. Nature and the Back to the Land Movement

The Great Depression ravaged the economies of the United States and Germany. In an attempt to recover the United States and Germany implemented public works projects to improve not only unemployment rates, but also industry levels and infrastructure. These projects were also used as forms of government propaganda to revive national pride. In Schivelbusch’s chapter on public works he highlights public projects of the United States and Germany as well as the less successful public works attempts of the Soviet Union and Fascist Italy.

In 1933, FDR signed a legislative act that created the Tennessee Valley Authority. The goal of the TVA was to promote regional development in Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky as well as other disenfranchised portions of the South. (( Wolfgang Schivelbusch. “Public Works” in Three New Deals. (New York: Picador, 2006) 153.)). This project sought to integrate technology and agriculture to develop water resources, such as building dams, and to promote land reform that focused on reforesting areas and improving soil quality. ((Wolfgang Schivelbusch. “Public Works” in Three New Deals, 156)).

One of Germany’s public works project was the construction of the Autobahn. Like the United States this construction project also implemented newly-developed technology aimed at modernizing the country. Soon after Hitler rose to power, he planned the construction of a network of highways throughout Germany, with portions to be completed by 1935. ((Wolfgang Schivelbusch. “Public Works” in Three New Deals, 172)). The planners of the Autobahn placed great emphasis on the road’s relationship to the surrounding landscape. They seemed to endorse that the road should emphasize the uniqueness of the landscape and fit in seamlessly with the road’s surrounding terrain, however whether this goal was propaganda or represented actual intentions is something historians debate. ((Wolfgang Schivelbusch. “Public Works” in Three New Deals, 174-175.)). The use of such vague vocabulary by head planners, such as Todt, led to misunderstandings between the differences of “landscape creation” verses landscape preservation. For example, people who protested the construction of the Autobahn for conservation reasons were characterized by the Autobahn planning committee as “faint-hearted nature lovers”. ((Wolfgang Schivelbusch.  “Public Works” in Three New Deals, 176-177.)).

Do you think that Todt’s definition of “landscape creation” (pgs 176-177) contradicted the aims of the back-to-the-land movement as Schivelbusch discusses in chapter 4?

Creating a Modern Public

In the fifth chapter of Three New Deals titled “Public Works,” Wolfgang Schivelbusch compares the motivations for and the goals of the large public projects carried out by Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and the United States during the 1930s. Schivelbusch argues that each country’s project responded developments within the Soviet Union, their shared competitor ((Wolfgang Schivelbusch, “Public Works,” in Three New Deals – Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939) (New York: Picador, 2006), 104)). Although Italy’s drainage of the Pontine Marshes, German’s construction of the autobahn, and the United States’ construction of dams and power plants through the Tennessee Valley Authority Act uniquely reflected each country’s unique social context and needs, all of the projects reflected the modern theme of promoting individualism through collectivism. 

These projects drew the attention of the entire nation while only actually affecting a small portion of the population. Nevertheless, with each project the state created a new national prize and monument around which the people could feel a sense of pride. The projects themselves served as propaganda, they created fantasy’s that masked the national reality. Mussolini galvanized and militarized the Italian people with his “harvest battle” as he marched tractors and people into new cities long before the start of WWII ((Schivelbusch, Three New Deals, 151)). To quote David Lilienthal, a member of the TVA’s board of directors, the new electrical dams and towns created by the TVA  represented “a token of the virility and vigor of democracy” during the depths of the depression and a period where only 20 percent of American home had electricity ((Schivelbusch, Three New Deals, 151)). Hitler preemptively constructed the autobahn before the motorization of Germany ((Schivelbusch, Three New Deals, 170)). These national projects united the people around a sense of achievement while also promoting a sense of individuality. The new Italian agricultural land and towns promoted self sufficiency and an independent lifestyle. In the American and German projects, the myth of widespread electricity and mobility respectively fostered a sense of freedom that technological developments facilitated. All three projects left the majority of the population yearning for a new lifestyle; albeit, a national dream.

As Schivelbush outlines in chapter four titled, “Back to the Country,” the aforementioned states tried to develop the same sense of collective individualism in their efforts to institute economic autarky, national economic stability achieved through individual self-sufficiency ((Schivelbusch, Three New Deals, 107)). Furthermore, each state’s program reinforces one of core characteristics of a modern state outlined by David L. Hoffmann in his book Russian Modernity: Politics, Knowledge, Practices. Hoffman identified the modern state’s ability to “utilize the emotional and mobilizational power of traditional appeals and symbols, themselves disembedded from their original context and recast for political purposes” ((Hoffman, David L, and Yanni Kotsonis. Russian Modernity: Politics, Knowledge, Practices. (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), 247)). Postwar, modern governments seemingly never acted without some ulterior or latent political motive. What other government programs support this thinking? Could a modern government ever implement policy devoid of propagandistic values? How did/has the public works of Italy, Germany, and the United States changed our view of government programs? Did these public works achieve their goals? How are they viewed today?

Catherine II and Enlightenment Reforms

In Catherine’s Statute on Provincial Administration, she hoped to strengthen provincial governments and create a more efficient system than seen before. In the statute, there is a clear desire for a separation and distinction of powers between upper land courts and district courts, followed by a concern for those who are struggling, as evident in the Noble Wardship, which must house noble widows and children.  The Bureaus of Public Welfare’s concern for the establishment of public schools reflects the Enlightenment support of secular education as well.There is also evidence of gentry political participation as the town mayors and officials are elected by ballot every three years. The Charter to the Nobility most obviously reflects Catherine’s hope for gentry participation local administration. After outlining the specific rights and privileges of the elites, the nobility are both permitted and encouraged to assemble and articulate their needs and interests to the Governor. However, the nobility’s most important obligation is always to the state, to whom they may “spare neither labor nor even life itself in service”. In rising the position of the gentry, Catherine also extended and strengthened serfdom. This unfortunate side-effect perhaps reflects the rationalism of the Enlightenment, or more specifically the concept that the end justifies the means.

Public Works- How Well Did Government Intervention Work? Could The Private Sector Have Done It Better?

The economic collapse in 1928 left the United States close to ruin. Jobs didn’t come easily, and when they did, workers often found themselves over worked, under paid, and without viable options for social and economic upward mobility. The same can be said for Nazi Germany. Suffering both from the crushing debt accumulated after the First World War and the global effects of the American economic collapse, the German people found themselves in a similar situation to the Americans. A liberal approach to economic stimulation (fair competition among corporations) where the free market would take control and hopefully ‘right the ship’ of both floundering countries did not suit Hitler or Roosevelt. Instead, both men funneled government money, time, and resources into major infrastructure building programs. Schivelbusch highlights two of these programs: the Tennessee Valley Authority in the United States, and The Autobhan in Germany. Both of these programs brought significant economic stimulation in terms of job creation, infrastructure development, and efficient land usage. They also instilled national pride.

President Roosevelt created the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933 with the aim to redevelop 39,000 square miles of land that boasted an average median per capita income 50% lower than the national average. ((Schivelbusch, Wolfgang. “Public Works” in Three New Deals, 153-154 New York: Picador, 2006.)) The government, in effect, took control of the rivers, dams, and other infrastructure created in the area, which it in turn re-developed into lakes, rivers, and usable waterways for “commerce that now nourish their business enterprises.” ((Schivelbusch, “Public Works”, 159.)).  Doesn’t sound like a terrible deal. A poor, decrepit area gets a government funded revitalization which puts millions to work building dams and creating man-made lakes. The bigger point, however, which Schivelbusch points out, is that it showed Democracy’s ability to “surpass totalitarianism’s achievements in the realm of planning.” ((Schivelbusch, “Public Works”, 162)). This flex of “democratic muscle” created a greater sense of national pride, which contributed to the rising morale of the American people as a whole in the post depression era.

The German Autobahn provided a “symbolic salvation” ((Schivelbusch, “Public Works”, 169)) for the National Socialist party. As Schivelbusch points out, much like Roosevelt, Hitler put the reputation and legitimacy of his regime in a grandiose project meant to revitalize both the economy and national pride of his people. What some might call a major flaw in Hitler’s plan, however, arguably made his achievement greater. Hitler ordered the construction of the Autobahn in 1933, a year in which the automobile existed as more of a novelty to the German people rather than an every day convenience (or perhaps a hassle) as it did to the Americans. Despite this, the creation of the Autobahn, much like the revitalization of the Tennessee Valley, prompted an economic boom- in 1938, the Volkswagen came into being. Hitler’s Autobahn, which could be seen as a highway to nowhere, ended up stimulating the German automotive industry; to paraphrase a voice heard in a cornfield in Iowa, “since he built it, they came.”

The Autobahn and the Tennessee Valley redevelopment both provided massive economic stimulation, national pride, and long term industry revitalization. Which of these endeavors did more for their respective country? Did Hitler’s highway building (and eventual creation of a booming automotive industry) do more to revitalize Germany than Roosevelt’s redevelopment of the Tennessee Valley? Or, had Hitler and Roosevelt relied on a liberal, capitalist approach to the crisis, would either leader have seen similar success? Could the private sector of either the United States or Germany breathe life back into the economy of each state as the government did?


Public Works

The management of a country is like managing a machine.  Occasionally its parts need to be fixed or replaced to keep the machine moving forward.  For a country, a leader must install or fix its parts to help the country move forward.  In the, Three New Deals, WolfGang Schivelbusch spent his fifth chapter on public projects that were introduced in the Soviet Union, Fascist Italy, the United States, and Nazi Germany.  Schivelbusch wrote that Italy, the United States, and Germany, under the conditions of the Great Depression, looked to the Soviet Union for innovation and progress.  He stated that the leaders of these countries introduced programs in which they would help their countries move forward.

One of the more intriguing projects that Schivelbusch discussed in his fifth chapter was   on the ‘Autobahn’.  The autobahn, according to Schivelbusch represented what the TVA represented for the United States: “a promise that……had implied not just an increased convenience but also a kind of symbolic salvation.” ((Schivelbusch, Wolfgang.  “Public Works” in Three New Deals.  New York: Picador. 2006, 169.))  The autobahn represented a sense of progress for German people.  It meant that people did not have to rely on the state as much.  What really intrigued me about this is that Germany decided to complete the autobahn before they completed the Volkswagen.  How could a country like Germany install a major highway in before people had cars?  As Schivelbusch stated, it was about capturing peoples imaginations about the possibilities, making people excited for the future and excited about the prospect of driving along the German landscape. ((Schivelbusch, Wolfgang.  “Public Works” in Three New Deals.  New York: Picador. 2006, 172.))  

What strikes me about the autobahn, to me, is that it represented freedom.  It seemed like a way of venturing off into the German land without any care in the world.  Considering that Nazi Germany had repressed many freedoms, it seems strange to me that the Nazis would build a highway that could give Germans a dream of endless possibilities.  Do you think that the autobahn was part of a greater dream of the Nazis?

Soviet and Italian Planned Industry 1930s

While the United States and Western Europe raised eyebrows towards Stalin’s fantastical collectivization plans, Russia committed to several massive industrial projects in order to mobilize the Soviet Union’s rising communist dream. Many of these industrial projects were characterized by prometheanism, or, newfound strategies to subjugate and conquer lands for means of industry. The project of Magnitogorsk, a massive city constructed in the 1930s under Stalin’s five year plan, prevails as a paragon example of Soviet economic mobilization.

Magnitogorsk is located at the far south-east of the Ural Mountains, close to the Ural River. Unusually large iron deposits located there provided Stalin with enough incentive to build an entire city in proximity to harvest the iron for industry. To ensure efficiency, Stalin placed experienced industrial officials at the forefront of the project, while much of the hands on labor force became peasants, kulaks, or other Soviet agitators whose actions merited deportation out past the Urals to Magnitogorsk.

The first to catch on to the rise in Soviet industry, according to Wolfgang Schivelbusch in his Three New Deals, was Mussolini, who subsequently created plans to develop a series of small cities in order to rebuild a powerful Italy. Similarly to Stalin, but on a less grand scale, Mussolini created his city plans year-by-year called the “nuove citta.” Like Magnitogorsk (pre-perestroika), these impromptu, large industrial projects with little modification turned into “anti-cities.” Sabaudia, the city Schivelbusch uses as an example, is reminiscent of a deserted prison marked by its emptiness and harsh geographic structuring.

Sabaudia, Schivelbusch's example of an "anti-city." (p.147)

Sabaudia, Schivelbusch’s example of an “anti-city.” (p.147)

It seems as though both Stalin and Mussolini planned too far ahead for the immediate future. How beneficial were large construction projects for stimulating long term economic mobility for the Soviet Union and Fascist Italy in the 1930, despite the fact that many of these operations fell flat? Was the actual creation itself the goal?

Public Works

The chapter “Public Works” from Schivelbusch’s Three New Deals covers the transformation of undeveloped land through industrial means as a form of social mobilization. It is first explained that all major powers looked to the Soviet Union’s collectivism for inspiration. Prior to the Great Depression, Western countries perceived the Soviet agenda as “fantasy”- but as capitalism failed those countries leading up the the 1930s, they began to imitate Soviet policies. ((Schivelbusch, Wolfgang. “Public Works” in Three New Deals, 140-141. New York: Picador, 2006.))

Fascism in Italy was the first to take the reigns on this matter through the project of the Agro Pontino. Mussolini’s regime attacked the problematic swampland, transforming it into a productive area through various policy initiatives. They also used it to public effect, presenting the problem as a matter of national participation. Three New Deals contrasts this to the Tennessee Valley Authority, claiming that the Agro Pontino focused more on settlement than development. Following this segue, the reader is presented with a detailed look at the operations of the TVA. Its works are described as “monuments to the New Deal”, a comparison with the symbolism of the public works of the Fascists. ((Schivelbusch, “Public Works”, 160.)) The common vein here, as Schivelbusch argues, was that both regimes used these works as propaganda in themselves, to appeal to the national attitude and move the public to action. ((Schivelbusch, “Public Works”, 167.))

Finally, the German Autobahn is addressed. Finding commonality with the New Deal but difference from Mussolini’s policies in its emphasis on technology, it served as a powerful form of public mobilization. However, emphasis was placed on making it stand out from the environment, unlike the works of the other two nations. What qualities of the Nazi regime, I wonder, led the Germans to try to make more of a distinction?

Catherine The Great’s Enlightened Policies

From the minute Catherine the Great seized the thrown in 1762, enlightened policies were enacted. That very year, She published The Manifesto Freeing the Nobility From Compulsory Service. In this script she grants the release of all nobility from the Table of Ranks, and preserves this right for future generations to come. Within this document Catherine stresses the new right to travel, showing her desire for a more cultured and global perspective for the nobility. Although the Manifesto repeals Peter the Great’s Table of Ranks, it also praises his work for progressing the military as well as civil and educational affairs. These are certainly traits of Peter’s reformist campaign that Catherine wished to continue in later documents such as The State on Provincial Administration along with other enlightened values. In this document Catherine develops multiple administration positions within the Gubernii, after the Pugachev Revolution in the South revealed the lack of control the state had in these regions. She also creates programs that resemble a form of public welfare and programs that had never been offered to the lower class before. These structural adjustments include requiring a health care clinic to be in every region with at least one doctor and apprentice so the trait could be passed down. Education was now public and encouraged for all classes, and also in the control of the state by using administrative boards in each region. Article Sixty-Four includes the process of elections and terms in order to have new ideas always being in a position of authority. In 1785 the Charter to the Nobility provided many privileges to this group of people but also held them accountable for crimes committed as everyone in Russia was now under the law. Catherine’s vision of Russia was a perpetual state of progress where the Monarch continued to act as a patriarch for all of it’s citizens.

1.) Which one of Catherine’s reforms were most well perceived in Russia? How should the Nobility view Catherine after these laws were enacted?

2.) Is Catherine the Great the most effective Tsar in Russia’s History of reformist rulers?

Cynthia Whittaker and the Reforming Tsar

In her article “The Reforming Tsar: The Redefinition of Autocratic Duty in Eighteenth Century Russia” published in Slavic Review in 1992, Cynthia Whittaker claims that the reign of Peter the Great and his reforms led to an era of new rulers with a new mentality and aim of becoming a “reforming tsar” instead a “good tsar.”

Overall, this is a reflection of how Peter’s reign changed rule in Russia.  Firstly, the transition from “good tsar” to “reforming tsar” marks how Peter transitioned Russia from a medieval era to a modern one.  The connotation behind a “good tsar” is one that’s tied more to passivity as well as a strong upholding of the Russian Orthodox faith. The connotations change when addressing the notion of a duty to the people as well as the state, ensuring reform happened for “the common good.”

Whittaker goes on to summarize how Peter’s reign was succeeded by a string of incompetent heirs until Catherine the Great came to rule after a coup d’etat.  In this time (especially during the reign of Anna) Russians looked back to the time of Peter with great nostalgia.  There was a theme to this nostalgia by evidence Whittaker presents of how tales of Peters came into popular culture through traditional legends, such as when “he [brought] two lovers together, save[d] a child from a burning hut, execute[d] a foreman for mistreating his coal miners” (pg. 89).  This entails that Peter the Great was a hero of the common-folk.  His deeds set expectations for his successors from all levels of society.

Because Peter the Great set these expectations of new monarchs, being a “reforming tsar” was a new role they had to fulfill, and each one, especially Catherine II, took the notion of a “reforming tsar” to fit the need and time period of their reign.  For example, when she ascended to the throne, she stated ” . . . state your grievances, say where the shoe pinches you.  We will try to reform it.  I have no particular system.  All I want is the common good” (pg. 92).  Her reforms included reorganization of the Senate, secularization of church land, improvements in town planning and in medicine, as well as new commercial policy, among other things (pg. 92).  Like Peter, her reforms brought enlightenment to Russia and she was able to be a contemporary “tsar of reform” for her time.

Question for class:

Whittaker mentions it is astounding the autocracy could survive until 1917, which is partially due to how the notion of a “reforming tsar” became myth.  What else could have led to the tsar system’s survival for so long?

Cynthia Whittaker’s “The Reforming Tsar”

Cynthia Whittaker explores how the autocracy changed their own definition of a traditional ruling body into that of one that changes and reforms Russia.  Whittaker claims that the fact that the Russian Autocracy was one of reformist ideals was one of the major reasons why autocracy was allowed to be the predominant governing body for over a century.

Whittaker begins her argument stating that the reforms that the autocracy put in place were “dynamic and progressive” in nature.  Peter was able to intertwine the  the crown and the new reforms that he was putting into place and that this tradition would continue with each new generation.  The Tsar would see to the needs of the people and reform the laws as he/she saw fit.  This way of thinking paved the way to the idea of an enlightened absolutist that would be emulated across Europe.

Whittaker also points out that while other ruler such as Louis XIV named ‘Divine Right’ and Reason d’ etat as the reason why he was allowed to rule, Peter cast away the divine right aspect of his right to rule, instead replacing it with “divine duty”, giving him a more secular and enlightened approach to absolutism.  Peters impressive work ethic also made him stand out among other despots.

Whittaker continues, stating that with this removal of the autocracy and religion, Peter changed the idea of the Tsar of being a paternal ruler, to that of one that is a servant to the state.  With this in mind, the populace now was not solely serving Peter, but they were serving the state that “he was entrusted with”.  He even forced his subjects to swear an oath to the ruler, as well as one to the state.  Additionally, Peter decided that he must determine who is to be the next Tsar and that it may not necessarily be his son.  This supported the idea that Peter was doing everything in his power to strengthen the state, even if it meant he must sacrifice some himself.

What other comparisons and contrasts can be drawn to other European Rulers at the time?

Do you agree with Whittaker?  Was the idea of reformation of law the predominant reason why Tsar’s were able to rule for about a century after Peter’s death?