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Luebbert: Social foundations of political order in interwar Europe

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Luebbert. 1984. Social foundations of political order in interwar Europe. World Politics 39 (July): 449-78.

In Brief


X1: Whether traditional liberals had a dominant role in pre-WWI politics

Y1: Whether labor (and other interests) had a plural or corporate organization of labor

If the state has a corporate organization (i.e. if liberals were dominant pre-WWI):

X2: Whether urban socialists organized rural proletariat

Y2: Regime type in interwar Europe (pluralist democracy, social democracy, fascism, or traditional dictatorship)


Key players: In the corporatist systems that emerged after WWI, Luebbert sees three classes of players in each of two arenas. There are urban workers, bourgeoisie, and (presumably) elites, and there are rural workers, middle peasants, and elites. He focuses on alliances between urban workers (socialists) and bourgeoisie (liberals) on the one hand and rural workers and middle peasants on the other. A few outcomes were possible:

Urban liberal-labor alliance: A liberal-labor alliance was unlikely in the corporatist states because labor saw little benefit in joining a highly divided and weak liberal party (unlike in the states that became pluralist democracies, like Britain, where liberals were strong and formed a lib-lab alliance). Thus, each of these urban parties had to seek allies elsewhere.

Urban socialist + middle peasants: When urban socialists could join urban proletarians, they could, but if another group beat them to it, they formed a coalition with the middle peasants instead. This allowed them to avoid getting embroiled in rural class conflicts, and instead to focus on working out consumer-producer conflicts. Resolving these conflicts were vital, but could not be addresses if rural class conflicts got in the way (pages 460-1). This socialist-peasant coalition helped create a stable political base, paving the way to social democracy.

Urban socialist + agrarian workers: For ideological reasons, urban socialists might be highly tempted to organize rural workers. When they could, they did; when another party beat them to it, they did not. As tempting as such a union might seem, however, it would inevitably drag social democrats into a dangerous defense of the rural proletariat, alienating the middle peasants over issues like land reform. Often, these states also had deeply divided liberal parties (divided over "pre-industrial" cleavages like region, language, and religion (458). In Spain, Italy, and Germany, these preconditions allowed fascist movements to strike a bargain with middle peasants against liberal and social democratic parties, leading to fascism (477).

Urban liberals + middle peasants: When this coalition, it tended to remain in power by harassing or undermining unions and social democratic groups. The accompanying limitation of rights make these states traditional dictatorships. They are not fascist, though, because they did not use worker's organizations to keep labor repressed. They tolerated "limited dissent," but were uninterested in "creating substitutes for the working-class institutions they suppressed" (475). This particular coalition was more likely to form in countries with a more cohesive set of liberals.

Compared with Barrington Moore: Moore argued that fascism resulted from a coalition between the landed elite (which brought with it the support of subordinated rural masses) and urban bourgeoisie, but Luebbert observes, first, that rural masses did not vote with landed elites; second, that authoritarianism did not require such control anyway; and third, that the size of the rural proletariat did not matter anyway (477).