Mittelstand

(middle estate)
   an elusive medieval term, sometimes in-adequately translated "middle class," that requires definition if one is to appre-ciate much of the social and intellectual complexity that served as a backdrop to the Republic. A diverse combination of modern and preindustrial elements, the Mittelstand lumped together artisans and shopkeepers, small- and medium-sized farmers,* lower-level white-collar employees in industry and government, and professionals—that is, doctors, lawyers, professors, and high-grade bureau-crats. By 1900 the term, which implies the preindustrial division of society into corporate estates (Stande), depicted less an economic or social relationship than fear of a future marked by capital concentration on the one hand and worker solidarity on the other; members of this diverse aggregate believed themselves faced with economic irrelevance and social eclipse.
   The distress perceived by the Mittelstand had grown acute by the 1920s. Unlike big agriculture, big business, and big labor—all organized for political and economic power—the disparate Mittelstand was powerless to form cartels and was consistently hardest hit by each phase of the adversity that plagued the Weimar era. Its acutely patriotic membership lost large chunks of its savings during the war by investing in bonds that the Republic could not honor; thereafter many artisans, shopkeepers, and professionals lost their remaining savings through the inflation*; next, small farmers were driven into debt by the government's tight monetary policies while scores of bureaucrats and other white-collar employees were forced from their jobs by the rationalization that helped end the inflation; finally, during the depression* many throughout the entire Mittelstand spectrum faced bankruptcy and unemployment. Thus at some stage in the Weimar era every segment of the Mittelstand required state aid to survive. Yet successive governments were remarkably indifferent to these crises. When aid was not forthcoming—indeed, draconian measures further weakened the socioeconomic position of the middle classes—the Mittelstand defected in large numbers from Germany's middle-class parties (e.g., the DDP and the DVP), going first to single-issue parties and finally to the NSDAP.
   Mittelstand members rarely found comfort in the self-interested ideology that underpinned either organized labor or big business. Rejecting "proletarianiza-tion" and feeling estranged from both big agriculture and industrial manage-ment, many disdained the notion that society was nothing more than a composite of economic groupings in which they were destined to disappear. As only the NSDAP seemed to speak to this conviction, the Mittelstand served as the pri-mary social basis for Hitler's* success.
   REFERENCES:Bowen, German Theories of the Corporative State; Fritzsche, Rehearsals for Fascism; Gerschenkron, Bread and Democracy; Herf, Reactionary Modernism; Le-bovics, Social Conservatism.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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