Front Page Titles (by Subject) 4.: The Social Democrats within the German Caste System - Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War
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4.: The Social Democrats within the German Caste System - Ludwig von Mises, Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War 
Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War, edited with a Foreword by Bettina Bien Greaves (Indianapolis: Indiana, 2011).
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The Social Democrats within the German Caste System
Capitalism improved the social and economic position of hired labor. From year to year the number of hands employed in German industries increased. From year to year the incomes and living standard of labor went up. The workers were more or less contented. Of course, they envied the wealth of the upper middle classes (but not that of the princes and the aristocrats) and they were eager to get more. But looking back to the conditions under which their parents had lived and remembering the experiences of their own childhood, they had to confess that things were after all not so bad. Germany was prosperous and the working masses shared its prosperity.
There was still much poverty left in Germany. It could hardly be otherwise in a country in which public opinion, government, and almost all political parties were eager to put obstacles in the way of capitalism. The standards of living were unsatisfactory in eastern agriculture, in coal mining, and in some branches of production which failed to adjust their methods to changed conditions. But those workers who were not themselves involved were not much concerned about the lot of their less fortunate fellow workers. The concept of class solidarity was one of the Marxian illusions.
Yet one thing vexed the more prosperous workers just because they were prosperous. In their capacity as wage earners they had no definite standing in German society. Their new caste lacked recognition by the old established castes. The petty bourgeois, the small traders, shopkeepers, and craftsmen, and the numerous class of people holding minor offices in the service of the Reich, of the individual states, and of the municipalities turned up their noses at them. The incomes of these petty bourgeois were no higher than the workers’; their jobs indeed were often more tedious than the average worker’s; but they were haughty and priggish and disdained the wage earners. They were not prepared to admit workers to their bowling circles, to permit them to dance with their daughters, or to meet them socially. Worst of all, the burghers would not let the workers join their ex-warriors’ associations.* On Sundays and on state occasions these ex-warriors, clad in correct black frock coats, with tall silk hats and black ties, paraded gravely through the main streets, strictly observing the rules of military marching. It distressed the workers very much that they could not participate. They felt ashamed and humiliated.
For such grievances the Social Democratic organization provided an efficacious remedy. The Social Democrats gave the workers bowling clubs, dances, and outdoor gatherings of their own. There were associations of class-conscious proletarian canary breeders, philatelists, chess-players, friends of Esperanto, and so on. There were independent workers’ athletics, with labor championships. And there were proletarian parades with bands and flags. There were countless committees and conferences; there were chairmen and deputy chairmen, honorary secretaries, honorary treasurers, committee members, shop stewards, wardens, and other party officers. The workers lost their feeling of inferiority and sense of loneliness. They were no longer society’s stepchildren; they were firmly integrated into a large community; they were important people burdened with responsibilities and duties. And their official speakers, spectacled scholars with academic degrees, convinced them that they were not only as good but better than the petty bourgeois, a class that was in any event doomed to disappear.
What the Social Democrats really achieved was not to implant a revolutionary spirit in the masses but on the contrary to reconcile them to the German caste system. The workers got a status within the established order of the German clan system; they became a caste by themselves, with all the narrow-mindedness and all the prejudices of a social set. They did not cease to fight for higher wages, shorter hours of work, and lower prices for cereals, but they were no less loyal citizens than the members of those other pressure groups, the farmers and the artisans.
It was one of the paradoxical phenomena of imperial Germany that the Social Democratic workers used to talk sedition in public while remaining in their hearts perfectly loyal, and that the upper middle class and the professions, although flamboyantly advertising their loyalty to king and fatherland, grumbled in private. One of the main objects of their worry was their relation to the army.
The Marxian legends, which have misrepresented every angle of German life, have distorted this too. The bourgeoisie, they say, surrendered to militarism because they were anxious to obtain commissions in the reserve of the armed forces. Not to be an officer in the reserve, it is true, was a serious blow to the honor and reputation of a man of the upper middle class. The civil servants, the professional men, the entrepreneurs, and the business executives who did not achieve this were seriously handicapped in their careers and business activities. But the attainment and maintenance of a commission in the reserve also brought their troubles. It was not the fact that an officer of the reserve was forbidden to be connected in any way with opposition parties that made them complain. The judges and the civil servants were in any case members of the parties backing the government; if they had not been they would never have received their appointments. The entrepreneurs and the business executives were, by the working of the interventionist system, forced to be politically neutral or to join one of the pro-government parties. But there were other difficulties.
Governed by Junker prejudices, the army required that in his private life and business an officer of the reserve should strictly comply with its own code of gentlemanly conduct. It was not officer-like for an entrepreneur or an executive to do any manual work in his plant, even merely to show a worker how he should perform his task. The son of an entrepreneur who worked for some time at a machine, in order to become familiar with the business, was not eligible for a commission. Neither was the owner of a big store who occasionally looked after a customer. A lieutenant of the reserve who happened to be an architect of world-wide fame was once reprimanded by his colonel because one day, when supervising the redecoration of the reception room in the town hall of a large city, he had taken off his jacket and personally hung an old painting on the wall. There were men who were distressed because they did not obtain commissions in the reserve, and there were officers who secretly boiled with rage because of the attitude of their superiors. It was, in brief, not a pleasure for a commoner to be an officer of the reserve in the Prussian Army.
The lower classes, of course, were not familiar with these tribulations of the officers of the reserve. They saw only the insolence with which these men overcompensated their feelings of inferiority. But they observed too that the officers—both commissioned and non-commissioned—were eager to harass the so-called one-year men, i.e., the high-school graduates who had only one year to serve. They exulted when the officers called the son of their boss names and shouted that in the ranks of the army neither education nor wealth nor one’s father’s big business made any difference.
The social life of the upper middle class was poisoned by the continuous friction between the pretensions of the noble officers and the bourgeoisie. But the civilians were helpless. They had been defeated in their struggle for a reorganization of Germany.2
[* ]The official name of these clubs was Warriors’ Associations (Kriegervereine). The members were men who had served in the Reich’s armed forces.
[2. ][The Revolution of 1848.—Ed.]