The society should be seen as a dynamic system which is in the process of continuous development. Nevertheless, in the course of it there are also periods when the social environment faces tremendous difficulties that are conditioned by internal or external factors. One of such moments in the history of the United States is the Great Depression. By far, this is the period in history which shaped the development of the American society for many decades further. That is why a careful examination of it is likely to provide valuable sociological insights. This paper will analyze the Great Depression from the point of view of Marxism and dwell on various sociological aspects of this event.
To begin with, it would be important to provide an account of causes of the historical period in question from the point of view of the conflict theory. Thus, the primary premise that should be engaged is the notion, according to which the working class is exploited by the capitalists which resulted in unequal wealth distribution (Brussee, 2009, 56). Indeed, there is no doing that prior to the Great Depression the factory workers of farmers could hardly make a living, while the capitalists in the cities were enjoying the money that the former produced.
Another important point which should be mentioned with regard to the causes of the Great Depression as seen through the prism of the conflict theory is the disastrous consequences of overproduction. Thus, the capitalist urged the workers to work more and more while the necessity to produce producing was condition not by the demand, but for the need to exploit the people. As a result, there was excessive amount of good which nobody bought (Robbins, 2011, 14). Such disproportion in the economic life resulted failing prices and the overall collapse.
Finally, the Marxist approach criticizes the free market, arguing that in this case there will be a lot of room for actions which are likely to contribute to destabilization of it. Indeed, prior to the Great Depression the stock market in particular witness a tremendous number of instances of speculation which resulted in the crash (Rothbard, 2010, 1917). What is more important is that speculation appears to be the slippery slope which brought the entire country into disaster from which the United States had to recover for roughly a decade. In other words, lack of strict policy that was implemented by the government greatly contributed to the collapse of the economy.
Class differences: the Great Depression versus contemporary world
A suitable way to start sociological analysis of the historical period in question would be to focuses on the differences between the social classes which can be witnessed during the Great Depression. Thus, unequal distribution of health is what becomes apparent from the first sight. Indeed, only around one per cent of the population controlled the majority of wealth in the country while the rest of the people had to work hard in order to earn their daily bread.
In addition to that, numerous farmers as well as factory worker were forced to leave their houses since they could not pay the mortgage for them. As a result, in the times of the Great Depression there was eviction epidemic which made people live in the so called hoovervilles (Freedman, 2005, 19). Nevertheless, the above mentioned people who were able to get a hold of wealth did not have to leave their houses while the rest of the country had to cover large distances in search of a new living or a job. It is quite obvious that this is another reflection of social inequality which could have been observed at the time.
Finally, one should also note that the devastating impact of the Great Depression varied in the degree of severity with regard to the class. Thus, while people who were located at the top of the social ladder lost a stable source of income, farmer whose crops were devastated lost the very tool of their production, just like the workers who lost their job at a factory (Fearon, 2007, 164). In other words, the crisis in question affected different classes in various ways; however, the most damaging impact was on the working class.
If one takes a look at the modern state of affairs one will be able to see similarities and differences with regard to the social life of the above mentioned time period. Thus, the wealth distribution remains as equal as it used to be. Surprisingly, the notion of one per cent which was widely known due to the actions of Occupy Wall Street Movement can be applied in the same manner to the society prior and during the Great Depression. In addition to that, in terms of income disparity the contemporary times and the ones in question are often being compared as the extremes of social inequality in the history of the United States of America.
However, there are also some differences from that state of affairs. Indeed, the impulse which was initiated by Franco Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal was gratefully adopted by the society; so, nowadays, people are able to enjoy a considerable amount of protection from the government. What is more important is that this protection is distributed among all the classes, making sure that regardless of conditions the population in general will be able to receive the require assistance.
How and why the Great Depression is sociologically interesting?
First of all, it must be noted that the period in the history of the United States that is being analyzed might be regarded as a strict that the society in general took in order to check its ability to adapt to harsh conditions. Indeed, the Great Depression might be seen as a model which shows the way various classes of the society will react to the same set of conditions. That is why, the experience that America received at that time might be utilized in order to predict similar events in future and find the most effective way to cope with them.
In addition to that, the example of the Great Depression shows the way various social frameworks act in times of a crisis. It would not be a mistake to suggest that at first the approach which was utilized by President Hoover reflect the individualistic way of thinking and it appeared to be ineffective. Contrary to the, his successor put emphasis on collectivistic approach and was able to help the entire country to cope with the crisis. In other words, just like the Great Depression might be used as a platform to model behavior of the social classes, it may also be used to analyze the effectiveness of the above mentioned frameworks.
Indeed, it is quite obvious that the crisis in question showed that individualistic approach towards solving problems that the society faces as a system may not be suitable. This means that the Great Depression proved with the help of evidence that collectivism as it was implemented by the representative of the Democratic party was the most effective way when it came to dealing with a social crisis that could not be localized in a particular part of the country or the social environment.
As it has already been mentioned, one of the most significant implications that the times of the Great Depression have for the society is the need to design more thoughtful policies which are carried out by the government. Indeed, 1930s is often regarded as the point of reference when it comes to evaluating effectiveness and suitability of different programs. In other words, the experience that the government received at that time urges it to carefully analyze the policies that it implements in order not to let another Great Depression happen at the present day.
The social context of the Great Depression
One would make no mistake that the key to understanding the historical period in question lies in the decade that preceded it, namely 1920s. In the American history it is known as Roaring Twenties. One of the major aspects of them which sheds light on the causes of the Great Depression is the widely spread notion of credit. Indeed, the majority of the people were enjoying things that they were not able to afford which made taking a credit seem as a suitable way to live (Streissguth, 2007, 286). This distorted the state of public affairs and contributed to the fact that people no longer perceived the reality in the adequate way.
The next aspect of the social context is that people who produced the product were not able to afford them which resulted in a peculiar dilemma when people worked, but could not enjoy the outcome of their labor. In other words, there was little sense to work hard since people could afford only the basis products with their salary. This means that the idea of American dream became impossible: efforts in the workplace no longer resulted in advancement, but simply allowed people to survive, nothing more.
Indeed, while it is thought that Roaring Twenties was the time when the society witnessed overwhelming prosperity, the wage of an average worker did not experience any changes. In other words, while some classes might really refer to 1920s as the decade of their prosperity, the majority of the population would not call it a good time for them. This means, that the social environment was divided into two different worlds that had little points of interaction. It is quite obvious that this contributed to instability of the society and inevitable lead to a crisis.
The Great Depression and the people
It may also be advantageous to take a close look at the way the historical period in question affected the ordinary people on their personal level. Thus, one would not make a mistake, suggesting that to a certain extent the number of people who were influenced by the Great Depression included the entire population of the United States. Indeed, while farmers and worker suffered the hardest hit of this crisis, other people, no matter how wealthy they were, had to adjust their life as well. That is why it would not be correct to point out that the Great Depression might be localized in terms of population.
What is more important is that one is able to see some trends in the way people reacted to the crisis. To begin with, it must be noted that there was a spirit of universal assistance to each other. Indeed, while one person could hardly help another person in terms of money, there were other ways to help compatriots cope with the Great Depression. In other words, in the times of cut through competition not only for job, but also such basis items as food or water, people found room for generosity and humanistic values.
In addition to that, people tried to survive the Great Depression at all costs; that is why they were happy to get any job, even thought they might have not done it before. Indeed, there were tremendous lines in front of offices that offered jobs for desperate men who simply wanted to feed their families. In other words, the Great Depression shows that at times of a crisis people are willing to take up any job in order to have a source of income.
Having examined all the evidence which was brought up in the paragraphs above, one is able to come to the following conclusion: the Great Depression was a difficult time in the American history which largely shaped the development of the latter for many decades. Marxism and Conflict theory are able to explain it causes pointing out the major flaws of capitalism. In addition to that the time in question is extremely interesting from sociological point of view since it provided valuable information about the way different classes as well as framework would react to a crisis which allowed the government to avoid such events in the future.
Brussee, W. (2009). The great depression of debt: Survival techniques for every investor. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons.
Fearon, P. (2007). Kansas in the Great Depression work relief, the Dole, and rehabilitation. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press.
Freedman, R. (2005). Children of the Great Depression. New York, NY: Clarion Books.
Robbins, L. (2011). The Great Depression, (2nd ed.). Piscataway, NJ: Transaction.
Rothbard, M. (2010). America's Great Depression. New York, NY: Laissez Faire Books.
Streissguth, T. (2007). The roaring twenties. New York, NY: Facts On File.