National Socialism offered the lower middle class a way of side-stepping the choice between liberalism or socialism. It offered a return to traditional German values.
By Bryan Greetham
I wanted to take up the claim that fascism was a last ditch response to a failing capitalism, an attempt to rescue it.
One powerful incentive to embrace a radical right party, like the National Socialists, was self-interest. The radical right appealed to all those social groups (teachers, civil servants, army officers, small businessmen, shopkeepers, artisans, agricultural workers, etc.,) whose economic status and privileges were threatened by the two historical forces unleashed by the industrial revolution.
At the end of the First World War, the heirs of the modern world appeared to be liberalism and socialism. One or the other would dominate modern politics, thereby threatening the social and economic position of these lower middle class groups. In such a society, as one writer put it, these groups felt psychologically homeless: they were strangers in their own country. Their traditional values seemed to be under threat.
At the end of the First World War, the heirs of the modern world appeared to be liberalism and socialism. One or the other would dominate modern politics
On the one hand there were the free market principles of liberalism that were promoting the development of ever larger international companies that were taking the markets of small businessmen, shopkeepers, farmers, etc., by undercutting them. They stood for international values, rather than traditional Germanic values represented in the countryside by traditional artisans, farmers and agricultural labourers. This was a conflict between the urbane cosmopolitan values of the liberal classes in cities with their international connections and interests and the traditional values of the countryside.
On the other hand the industrial revolution had also brought to the surface the immense power of an organised working class with trade unions forcing up wages at the cost of small businessmen, and socialist governments increasing taxation on the lower middle class to fund the new social welfare programmes.
Professional groups, like civil servants and teachers who both were prominent among the membership lists of the National Socialists, saw their privileged middle class status under threat. They were faced with a bleak choice: either become members of one of the large trade unions and safeguard their income differentials with other groups of workers, or keep their middle class status by refusing to join a union and see the income gap between themselves and blue collar workers narrow and disappear.
At the same time that National Socialist politicians were talking about Jewish Bolshevik plotters they were also confusingly referring to International Jewish capitalism.
The problem they faced, of course, was that economic problems, like mass unemployment and inflation, could only be solved by resorting to concrete economic and social policies and these were inevitably liberal or socialist. To choose one of these policies was to give power and influence to the very influences that were changing German society in ways that were undermining their privileges.
National Socialism offered them a way of side-stepping this invidious choice – the Third Way: an alternative that promised to reverse these historical forces of liberalism and socialism and return to a pre-industrial society. Its answer was to sidestep the economic problems by arguing that they were not economic at all, but racial. By associating liberalism and socialism with Jews and a Jewish conspiracy they were able to activate latent anti-Semitism and nationalism and save these conservative groups from the threats they were facing.
At the same time that National Socialist politicians were talking about Jewish Bolshevik plotters they were also confusingly referring to International Jewish capitalism. Cities and their urbane culture were associated with Jews, who were said to have no roots in German culture. Here was soulless capitalism compared to the countryside, where traditional Germanic values were still respected.