Relations of Class in the Great Depression

Despite the fact that nearly everyone in the country was hurt to some degree by onset of the Depression, the 1930's was a period of exacerbted class conflict. One possible reason for this was the divergent responses which upper and lower class individuals had to the crisis. While many of the richest people in America lost money when the stock market crashed, the upper classes as a whole still retained much of the wealth which they had held before the Depression and in most cases did not suffer from unemployment. Perhaps as a way of displaying their continued prosperity in the face of nationwide suffering (or of trying to show up their social equals who may have been hit harder by the crash) many among the upper classes began to flaunt their wealth more than ever. Working class Americans, many of whom were thrown out of work by the Depression (which they often correctly blamed upon the reckless financial dealings of the upper classes) were shocked and angered by this ostentatious display of wealth.

The upper classes, on the other hand, began to resent their social inferiors (as they saw the lower classes) even more than ever, particularly after the institution of the a number of New Deal programs which were paid for out of taxes on those who still had an income. They often viewed such programs as hand outs, which, as can be seen in this cover, were not somethign which the upper classes felt was their responsibility to provide. They were further angered by the actions of President Roosevelt, who catered to the mass of Americans while largely ignoring the interests of the upper classes. These factors served to heigten class tensions during a period when many Americans (both rich and poor) were already tense over their financial futures.

Amid this tension, class conflicts often became very visible and even violent, especially in cases of worker strikes. New Deal regulations helped foster significant unionization and these unions would often run into conflict with company hired police forces. Such conflicts, like the Memorial Day Massacre in Chicago, often left people dead on both sides. Upper class Americans, sensitized by the Russian Revolution not two decades before, feared that a class war might be on the horizon as a number of workers joined the Communist party. While these violent conflicts never reached such a boiling point (thanks largely to the New Deal programs which many among the upper classes opposed) fears of this sort helped contribute to a general suspicion on both sides for the entire decade of the thirties.


August 10, 1940


October 13, 1934


November 19, 1938

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