“One of the best means in our propaganda”: The Bicycle in Swedish and Danish Political Culture During the Interwar Period
Keywords:bicycles, political culture, street politics, propaganda, interwar period
Using empirical examples from Denmark and Sweden, this article discusses how the modern, mass-produced bicycle became an important tool in the hands of a new generation of political youth. During the interwar years (1918–1939), young people constituted themselves as a social group of their own. For the very first time in history, youth became key actors on the political scene, and they brought with them modern forms of propaganda methods inspired by international trends. This also came to shape the political culture in the Scandinavian countries during the tumultuous 1930s. Political youth mobilisation above all occurred in the urban landscape in the streets and city squares. In this context, the bicycle came to play a remarkable role in terms of how public urban space was utilised politically. The bicycle enabled young people to participate to a greater extent in contemporary political life by creating accessible mobility but also a new kind of spatiality. In this context, the bicycle was not merely a means of transportation; it was a tool in the struggle for public space that came to shape the political culture of the 1930s. Bicycles were used for parades, for disseminating propaganda and even large bicycle demonstrations through which youth activists could create not only the symbolic but also the social space for their politics. They utilised the bicycle as a means of spatial claim-making, resulting in bicycle propaganda becoming part of an ongoing conflict between left-wing and right-wing political youth in which they challenged each other’s claims to the streets, often leading to violent confrontations. Thus, the bicycle became an important tool in a new political culture emerging in the waves of the democratic breakthrough where the struggle for access to public space became more important than ever.