The middle classes and social democracy
- Note: This was Geiger's last article for "Die Arbeit", with the exception of three book reviews he wrote in 1932. With the rise of the NSDAP, trade unions were banned and 'Die Arbeit' was disbanded. Due to Geiger's criticism of the NSDAP, he was forced to flee the country and continued his scientific work at Aarhus University in Denmark.
While the number of workers without ownership of the means of production has increased, the alignment of middle-class individuals with socialist politics has not followed suit. Traditional socialist ideology may not fully explain this disconnect and that a critical examination of social democracy's doctrine and practical politics is needed to understand why middle-class support for socialism has not been uniform. The changing composition of the working class, including the rise of white-collar workers, has made it challenging to expect a uniform socialist consciousness among all non-owners. There is diversity in proletarian experiences and outlooks within the working class. The Social Democratic Party has been inflexible in addressing the changing composition of the working class, especially the new middle-class elements. The party's ideology was too rigid to resonate with the diverse aspirations and values of these emerging middle-class proletarians. Socialist ideology needs to be more accommodating of the varied life views and desires of the working class, including white-collar workers. Economic and social differences exist within the working class, and a more inclusive and adaptable socialist ideology is necessary. Alliances may be made between socialist parties and elements of the non-monopolistic bourgeoisie, especially during specific political situations. A pragmatic approach is recommended that allows cooperation with various groups when their interests align with socialist goals. The ideological barrier between the new proletarian class and the Social Democratic Party is primarily due to their different relationships with the concept of the nation. The new proletarian class has a stronger sense of national identity compared to the pre-war industrial working class. The failure of the Social Democratic Party to acknowledge and adapt to the new proletarian class's national sentiments played a significant role in driving them towards the National Socialist movement. Adapting socialism to specific nations like Germany, England, etc. is important, as socialism's realization occurs within the historical context and conditions of individual nations. The propaganda of the NSDAP misrepresents class struggle and misuses the term Proletariat. Unlike the NSDAP proclaims, Marx did not predict universal impoverishment but observed a tendency for workers' conditions to worsen. Volksmarxismus is a dogmatic and outdated interpretation of Marxist theory and socialist theory needs to adapt to contemporary conditions. Intellectual engagement with Marxist theory is essential to keep it relevant. Critical Marxist thinkers and intellectuals can develop and maintain Marxist thought's vitality. Political parties and trade unions differ in their approaches, with trade unions often focusing on practical policies. The future of the socialist movement depends on the choices made by the middle class and the willingness of the working class to embrace a more flexible and adaptable form of socialist ideology, freed from ideological dogma.
While economic proletarianization has increased, the political alignment of the middle classes with socialism has not followed suit. The traditional socialist ideology may not fully account for this divergence. A critical examination of the official doctrine and practical politics of social democracy is necessary to understand why the middle classes have not fully embraced it. The changing composition of the working class, including the rise of white-collar workers, has made it difficult to expect a uniform socialist consciousness among all non-owners. There is a diversity of proletarian experiences and outlooks within the working class.
The Social Democratic Party is inflexible in addressing the changing composition of the working class, especially the new middle-class elements. The party's ideology was too rigid and did not resonate with the diverse aspirations and values of the emerging middle-class proletarians. Ideological flexibility is needed: socialist ideology should be more accommodating of the varied life views and desires of the working class. The socialist movement should adapt to include not only the traditional industrial working class but also the new proletarians, such as white-collar workers and employees. Economic and social differences exist within the working class and a more inclusive and adaptable socialist ideology is necessary to unite these diverse groups under the banner of socialism. Alliances are possible between socialist parties and elements of the non-monopolistic bourgeoisie, particularly during specific political situations. A pragmatic approach is advised that allows for cooperation with various groups when their interests align with socialist goals.
There is an ideological barrier that separates the new proletarian class from the Social Democratic Party, primarily due to their different relationships with the concept of the nation. The new proletarian class is characterized by a closer affinity with the nation and a stronger sense of national identity compared to the pre-war industrial working class. This affinity with the state and national values persisted among the new proletarian class even in the post-war period. Particularly in the aftermath of World War I and the Treaty of Versailles, many individuals within this class were more concerned about the fate of the nation than international socialist solidarity. The economic and political conditions in Germany further reinforced this sense of national identity.
The Social Democratic Party failure to acknowledge and adapt to the new proletarian class's national sentiments played a significant role in driving them towards the National Socialist movement. This tragic outcome could have been avoided if the Social Democratic Party had maintained its fundamental principles of realpolitik while also addressing the national sentiments of the new proletarian class. A different tone and approach, especially concerning internationalism, could have led to a more successful peace policy and cooperation with different segments of society. It’s not necessary for the Social Democratic Party to abandon internationalism or fully embrace nationalism to win over the new proletarian class. Instead, there should be an understanding of the appeal of nationalist sentiments within this class and a more nuanced approach to addressing their needs and concerns. The Social Democratic Party needs to be open to working with the new proletarian class on genuine national issues while maintaining its commitment to socialist ideals.
The socialist movement has sometimes struggled to communicate its message effectively to different social classes. Socialism is inherently international in its societal ideology. However, when it comes to practical implementation in the real world, it needs to be adapted to specific nations like Germany, England, etc. This adaptation is necessary because socialism's realization occurs within the historical context and conditions of individual nations. Instead of describing it as Socialism adapted to the nation, it should be seen as the Practical Manifestation of Socialist Societal Ideals within a Nation.
The NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers' Party) propaganda primarily attacks class struggle, promoting the idea of an organic national community as an alternative. This presentation simplifies and misrepresents the concept of class struggle, portraying it as an arbitrary program of social action that can be replaced with the idea of a national community. This propaganda tries to create a common bond between two social classes, the new proletarian class and the middle class. The term Proletariat has been misused and misunderstood. While it originally referred to those in dependent wage labor, the term has taken on different connotations over time. The working class has progressed economically, socially, and culturally, but the term Proletariat continues to carry negative associations. Replacing the term with a less negatively charged one in socialist propaganda might be more effective in reaching new middle-class supporters.
There is a misconception that Karl Marx predicted the inevitable impoverishment (Verelendung) of the working class under capitalism. Marx did not predict universal impoverishment but rather observed a tendency for workers' conditions to worsen under capitalism. However, due to misinterpretation, this concept has sometimes been exaggerated in the minds of the working class, leading to self-pity and misunderstandings about their actual economic and social progress.
Volksmarxismus (People's Marxism) is a dogmatic and outdated interpretation of Marxist theory. This form of ideology has become rigid and disconnected from the changing social and economic realities. It’s important to adapt socialist theory to contemporary conditions. Socialist ideology should evolve and incorporate new developments in social and economic theory. The socialist intellectual framework should remain dynamic and relevant to address the challenges of the present and future. Critical Marxist thinkers and intellectuals continue to engage with and develop Marxist theory. These intellectuals play a vital role in keeping Marxist thought alive and relevant.
The approach between political parties and trade unions differs. While political parties may be more inclined to adhere to ideological rigidity, trade unions tend to focus on practical social and economic policies that can benefit workers. The future of the socialist movement depends on the choices made by the newly proletarianized middle classes and the willingness of the working class to embrace a more flexible and adaptable form of socialist ideology. Socialist thought must be freed from ideological dogma and intellectual freedom must be fostered to ensure the movement's continued relevance and growth.
Geiger, T. (1931), Die Mittelschichten und die Sozialdemokratie, in: Die Arbeit - Zeitschrift für Gewerkschaftspolitik und Wirtschaftskunde, Heft 8. pp.619-635, Berlin: Theodor Leipart.