The Petty Bourgeoisie

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Daniel T. Orlovsky

In his diaries, Victor Klemperer, a survivor and a remarkable observer of daily life under the Nazi regime, from time to time described his commonplace surroundings in a Dresden suburb. He referred to the banal decoration schemes of his neighbors and their herdlike passivity in accepting the daily outpourings and policies of the regime. When he wished to describe those people negatively, he frequently called them and their attitudes "petty bourgeois." Herein lies a story with deep roots in European history. Klemperer was after all a university professor, a professional, a member of the intelligentsia, and a converted Jew married to a Protestant. In education and income he was several notches above the traditional artisans and white-collar workers who in the twentieth century were thought of as belonging to the lower middle class. It has been all too easy to overlook the petty bourgeoisie or to follow Klemperer and dismiss or mock them. But the historian does this at great risk.


One of the more fascinating and hard to define topics of European social history is the role and evolution of the petty bourgeoisie. This was a social group or groups that occupied the space between the peasantry and later the factory wage laborers on the lower end of the social spectrum and the capital owning, higher status professionals of the bourgeoisie. It is a hard group to define precisely because it was composed of many groups that changed over time, from the master artisans and shopkeepers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to the white-collar workers, lower- and middle-ranking civil servants, and technical personnel of the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century. The petty bourgeoisie comprised a variety of occupations and social and cultural outlooks but was generally in a precarious economic and social situation. Generally, however, too much has been made of this precariousness. The petty bourgeoisie bore the brunt of industrialization and modernization in all their forms. Yet at the same time they furthered the process of industrialization and in the twentieth century were essential cogs in the vast projects of Soviet-style socialism, fascism, the European interventionist welfare state, and even the conservative, promarket regimes, such as that in Great Britain in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher.

The results of the early challenges of industrialization were seen in the politics of the large numbers of people who filled lower-middle-class occupations. Most often it was a defensive politics of interest or corporation that shifted uneasily between left and right by the mid-nineteenth century. Nonetheless, to overemphasize the weaknesses of this social formation misses the important social and political power generated by the functions of the petty bourgeoisie within both socialist and capitalist societies. The occupations of the petty bourgeoisie were crucial to all the major state-building projects of the twentieth century. Through these occupations, the lower middle classes became a powerful social force despite the fact that they had to fit into the cultural and political hegemonies of classes to which they were in most respects alien, that is, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

It is hard to study the petty bourgeoisie or "lower middle classes." Scholarship made great strides in the late twentieth century, but the groups and layers have been understudied compared to the more attractive histories of the workers, peasants, entrepreneurs, and professionals. The petty bourgeoisie were attacked vehemently by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who predicted their disappearance. Their history does not seem at first glance to shed much light on the profound historical movements and events of modern Europe. But that is the paradox, for these middling people in fact played key roles in the major revolutionary events. Petty bourgeois groups were in the forefront of the politics of "antimodernism" and hostility to liberalism. They formed part of the electoral support for fascist parties in Italy and Germany and fed various right-wing movements in France as well. In Russia, however, the lower middle strata leaned toward the left, an essential social base for the Populist and Socialist Parties, and helped build the world's first socialist state, the USSR.

Thus it is no longer possible to maintain the dominant ideas associated with the petty bourgeoisie in earlier historical writings. The first idea was that the group was nonconcrete, that the petty bourgeoisie had no consistent social or cultural characteristics, lacked definition, and therefore was not a class in a marxist or any other sociological sense. The second idea was that the group emerged out of the concrete guild institutions of the Middle Ages and the early modern period and that its trajectory was inevitably toward a class within "modern" capitalism. Marx and Engels predicted that, despite its high point in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the petty bourgeoisie must inevitably lose its confrontation with capital and disappear. The last image of the petty bourgeoisie was that its discontents fueled and became a mainstay of fascism. According to this view, a straight line existed between the confrontation of artisans and shopkeepers with late nineteenth-century capitalism and twentieth-century fascism. However, the petty bourgeoisie survived and indeed reinvented itself several times during the long history of its confrontation with capitalism. Artisans could and did play an important role in electoral and corporate politics even in the twentieth century. Adding the Russian and Soviet experience to the mix, clearly the lower middle occupational groups in the right circumstances could just as well become state builders on the left as well as active elements of corporatist or fascist movements and politics on the right.


Beleaguered shopkeepers seeking to defend older forms of commerce and turning to the right were not the whole story, however. In Britain the rise of shopkeepers was vital to the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. There, too, shopkeepers were intermediate between middle and working classes, often supporting the latter, on whom their businesses might depend. Concern about department stores and other innovations developed. But British shopkeepers never coalesced politically, certainly not on the right. They hoped for some government protection but with fewer partisan overtones.

The German term Mittelstand (middle class) originated in the Middle Ages in the estate society of central Europe and the orderly world of handicrafts and artisanship. The meaning changed significantly during the nineteenth century. The middling or mediating nature of these groups was captured in the definition, yet the Mittelstand increasingly represented the space between the bourgeoisie and high professionals on the one hand and the proletariat and peasantry on the other. Far from lacking a firm set of characteristics, the classical petty bourgeoisie derived their livelihoods from their own capital and labor. They earned income from small-scale property that they worked with the help of family or limited wage labor. As Geoffrey Crossick and Heinz-Gerhard Haupt put it, petty bourgeois economic activity in both form and manner of operation centered on the family. The foundations of the preindustrial petty bourgeoisie were corporations and guilds of medieval and early modern Europe. These corporations, which organized craft production and trade, were powerful everywhere in Europe except England through the mid-eighteenth century. Monopoly and order were the corporate goals, reinforced and maintained by strict entrance requirements, family origins, and conservative social norms. It was easier for the sons of master artisans, for example, to reach that status, though the typical path was through a formal apprenticeship, followed by journeyman status, and eventually independent practice in the trade as a master, having won the approval of the jury of the corporation. This approval was based on expertise in the craft. The path involved symbolic rituals buttressing the notion of the corporation as a harmonious community that protected its members and looked after its member families in time of need. These corporations in turn were part of the hierarchy of the towns, so citizenship and a place in the guild and family were part of the social identity of the master artisan.

Early challenges to this order came even before the French Revolution and the rise of liberalism and capitalism. Challenges came from the state, stratification within the guilds, and dissatisfied journeymen, who wished to strike out on their own. Corporate structures were strongest in Germany. Though weaker in France, even there small-scale enterprises and artisan life persisted into the late nineteenth century. The corporate traditions were weakest in England, where individual small-scale enterprises developed and flourished much earlier than on the Continent. The corporate traditions permitted German master artisans to organize to defend themselves and their idealized way of life against industrialization, free trade, and liberalism in politics.

In France the shopkeepers organized much later in the century and with volatile, rapid shifts from left to right in politics. The petty bourgeoisie and lower middle classes saw the power of organized labor yet wanted to maintain their separateness from labor, and they were susceptible to the appeals of nationalism. Though French shopkeepers moved to the right, the shift was by no means simple. It involved a thorough transformation of shopkeepers' place socially and politically, their relationship to the state and its various branches of government, and their relationship to other interests, especially big business and employees. After several unsuccessful attempts to organize shopkeepers, the Ligue pour la Défense des Intérêts du Travail, de l'Industrie, et du Commerce was created in Paris in 1888. Quickly growing to 100,000 members, it lasted until the outbreak of World War I. At first the league's political view was radical socialist, and its main demands centered around punitive taxation of the threatening department store. Its code word was "specialization," summarized in the following 1896 appeal in the league's official newspaper, La Revendication:

The money you bring from all over Paris and spend in those commercial agglomerations is absolutely lost to you. . . . If on the other hand, the hatter did business with her neighbor the shoe merchant, and the shoe merchant reciprocated, then both would make money and be all the more willing to do business with the neighborhood butcher, charcutier [pork butcher] and wine-seller. In helping your neighbors to earn a living, you are making customers for yourself and creating an environment of mutual respect. If centralization is bad in political matters, it is even more harmful from an economic point of view. (Nord, 1986)

The enemy was defined as all that threatened the economic independence of the local community—the department stores, financial institutions, cooperatives, and bureaucratic state. In common with representatives of the petty bourgeoisie elsewhere in Europe, the league considered itself a defender of the family, the locality, and the workplace. Foreign competition and by extension foreigners were viewed with hostility. French shopkeepers were protectionists, and as Philip Nord put it, they detested economic liberalism and were not in fact individualists. Rather they saw the family and workplace as "little communities organized hierarchically and cemented by ties of sentiment," not as institutions of free and equal individuals bound by contractual relations. The league spoke of "direct democracy" and invoked the traditions of the revolution of 1789. But the larger political context came into play as the radical right began to use rhetoric that appealed to the shopkeepers.

In addition Christian democracy after 1891 launched a defense of the small shopkeeper as a victim of the anarchy of free market individualism. According to this view, laissez-faire policies imposed by a cabal of Jews and Freemasons threatened the family, small shop, and other natural associations. The cure was economic and political decentralization, which would reenergize local bodies as the source of Christian values. The move to the right was abetted by the need to become more effective politicians. The shopkeepers, insofar as they were small propertyholders, were caught between the socialist movement and the bourgeoisie. Shopkeepers as propertyholders and more importantly as believers in the traditional ideology described above did not necessarily support and were not necessarily supported by the emerging layers of commercial employees and white-collar workers, who saw collectivism in the form of cooperatives, for example, as salvation. The Dreyfus affair solidified the shift to the right. Nationalist electoral victories in 1900 and 1902 were in part blamed by the left on the shopkeepers, whom they now saw as enemies of the working class.

Shopkeeper engagement in nationalist politics had its downside, as the league and other bearers of traditional values lost leadership of the movement. The torch passed to syndicates, professional organizations, and new forms of corporatism that persisted after World War I. The ideology of the movement also was transformed as the syndicate took precedence over the local community in the retailer's life. State protection became less important than demands for a consultative role within the executive branch. Finally, shopkeepers identitified less with the "people" and more with the classes moyennes (middle classes). Such notions and the idea of a full-scale mobilization of the middle classes owed much to the Belgian Catholic publicists Hector Lambrechts and Oscar Pyfferoen, who in 1899 and 1901 organized International Congresses of the Petty Bourgeoisie. These congresses in turn inspired creation in 1904 of the Institut International pour l'Étude du Problème des Classes Moyennes, a permanent body, headquartered in Brussels, to study the problems of the petty bourgeoisie. Interest in the petty bourgeoisie on the part of large capital and conservative politicians derived from a desire for stability and a fear of socialism, similar to the motivations behind fascism later in the twentieth century. The smallholder and artisan were considered virtuous, and most important they occupied a "strategic social location, at the juncture where labor and capital met. The small shopkeeper, by virtue of his middling rank, blurred the lines of social cleavage and tempered the shock of class struggle." This rapid shift in the outlook and political alignment of the shopkeepers illustrates the unique characteristics of the petty bourgeoisie as a whole that cannot be reduced to simple political and social formulas.


A quiet social revolution was taking place alongside the evolution of traditional petty bourgeois social groups. A new social stratum defined as white-collar workers organized by occupation developed. The white-collar workers and the closely related technical personnel were clearly the offspring of late-nineteenth-century capitalism and technological changes. White-collar workers and technical personnel were situated just below the professions in the social hierarchy, though often they adopted and displayed educational and organizational characteristics similar to those of the higher-status professions. The prospects of social mobility for the children of the traditional petty bourgeoisie were limited. The young rarely made it into the higher world of the big bourgeoisie or high-status professions. By the end of the nineteenth century the sons and sometimes the daughters of the petty bourgeoisie, however, were drawn into the new white-collar occupations in commercial or industrial firms, the government bureaucracy, and lower-status professions such as elementary and secondary school teaching. This was one more indication of adaptability and of the new phenomenon of layering within the petty bourgeoisie itself. Henceforth occupation was a more defining characteristic, and place in the layered hierarchy within and among occupations and professions became the essence of social identity.

The rise of white-collar workers raises a host of interpretive questions. The group differed from workers, if only in being nonmanual. But they had routine jobs, often governed by new technologies, such as typewriters and cash registers. Yet they valued their tentative links with the middle class, taking pride, for example, in wearing business outfits to work. Employers also made every effort to keep them distinct from workers, offering salaries instead of wages and often separate benefit plans. This combination helped keep white-collar workers from significant unionization, though some movements developed. The same combination explains why marxists often berated clerks for their false consciousness. The presence of many women in white-collar ranks, as salesclerks and telephone operators, was another distinctive feature of this rising segment. Eager to protect their standard of living, white-collar families were often at the forefront in limiting family size by the late nineteenth century. Finally, many white-collar workers led in developing novel leisure forms and habits, such as cigarette smoking, that might compensate for the routine nature of their work without seeming to proletarianize them.

World War I came as a watershed both for tradespeople and artisans and for the new lower middle class of white-collar workers, commercial employees, technical intelligentsia, and mid- to lower-level bureaucrats. The petty bourgoisie in Germany and Russia exhibited the volatility and capacity for changing allegiances from right and center to left and from left to right that became the hallmark of the lower middle classes in the twentieth century. In Germany, in a major shift during the decades leading up to World War I, traditional artisans adopted a politics and culture of "antimodernism," a term coined by Shulamit Volkov. Reacting to industrialization and the growing power of capitalism, the artisans responded negatively to liberals and socialists alike. They expressed a mood of hostility to democratic institutions and politics linked to a capitalism that was destroying their way of life. These attitudes changed to some extent during the war, as some artisans identified more with wealthier factory owners and store owners under the pressures of the mobilized state.

The ambivalence if not hostility of artisans toward what they loosely labeled "modernity" formed a ready reservoir of support for antidemocratic and fascist movements in the Weimar Republic, including the Nazis. White-collar workers, on the other hand, were more numerous and more powerful as a result of the war and the expansion of capitalist and government institutions. The lower middle classes (or Mittelstand ) were split. A good number leaned heavily to the left and identified with the social and economic plight of factory workers and organized labor. In fact organization of white-collar workers was the order of the day, and numerous large associations were created. The war pressured white-collar workers with inflation and stagnant or falling wages.

In France, where the structure of the economy was more conducive to the traditional petty bourgeoisie, the artisanat (craftsmen) virtually recreated their structure after the war in what has been termed an artisanal renaissance. In March 1922 representatives of artisanal groups met in Paris and formed the General Confederation of French Artisans (CGAF). Skilled tradespeople earlier had formed syndicates and federations that established lines of demarcation from both unskilled labor and capital, but the creation of the CGAF was a major shift from a traditional corporate trade consciousness to a class idea that posited the artisanat as a group with common interests based on skills and limited property. The Artisanal Charter of 1923 presented the artisanat as a tampon social, a "social buffer in a troubled tumultuous time, as a group based on the quality of work, on individualism and regional diversity" (Zdatny, 1990).

The French artisanal movement was unusually cohesive. At its core was the notion of the "profession," or "human activity . . . productive as opposed to speculative . . . manual, full of personality, as opposed to anonymous, mechanical and schematized" (Zdatny, 1990, p. 123). This was music to the ears of corporatists who, like the more radical fascists, believed in the idea of social harmony, an anti–class war notion of society, based on occupation, "the shared skill and holistic labor experience." The occupation or profession was the antidote to class identity and the threat of bolshevism. The occupation was, of course, closely linked to the family. The artisanat in the 1930s was drawn to both corporatism and syndicalism as political movements hostile to market capitalism. Although a significant number of artisans opted in the late 1930s for the rightist utopias of corporatism, they never accepted the authoritarianism of fascism itself.


In Russia the lower middle classes played a crucial role in the development of economic institutions, in three early-twentieth-century revolutions, and in building the world's first socialist state, the USSR. The Russian lower middle strata were truly a "hidden class" both before and after the revolutions of 1917. Their powerful social movement was instrumental in the growth of capitalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Russian experience combined political volatility and ambiguity with economic and institutional staying power, a relevant model for lower middle strata experiences elsewhere in Europe.

In Russia the lower middle strata leaned heavily and quickly to the left and saw factory workers and the peasantry as their natural allies. Russian commercial employees, cooperative workers, shop personnel, teachers, and medical assistants never formed a solid alliance with the liberal parties of the left center or center, such as the Kadets, Progressists, or Octobrists. The magnetism of bourgeois life remained weak, largely because the bourgeoisie was small and fragmented but also because the antibourgeois ideologies of the left, both marxism and populism, were strong. Instead, the Russian or petty bourgeoisie remained well hidden to historians and even to contemporaries because of the dominant marxist paradigm of society that emphasized workers and peasants and their struggles against capital and the nobility. The lower middle strata were full participants in the social and political movements that produced the February and October Revolutions in 1917. They organized according to occupation and profession in a prolific manner and assumed leading roles in professional organizations, congresses, political parties, and the Soviets. The Russian provisional government leaned on them heavily, especially the cooperative movement, in its half-baked attempt to transcend the market amidst the revolutionary turmoil of 1917. This mass of educated and skilled personnel was largely invisible in political discourse, a lesson in how language can obfuscate as well as shape or create social realities.

When the Soviets came to power in 1917 at the head of what was loudly proclaimed as a socialist revolution guided by a workers' and peasants' state, it was convenient to de-emphasize the powerful role of the lower middle strata in the revolution and in building the Soviet state and society. Yet in fact the entire infrastructure of administrative and economic institutions that had grown up in the early twentieth century and had reached maturity during World War I and the revolutions of 1917 was staffed by the burgeoning masses of white-collar workers. Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized and maintained power and built a vast bureaucratic state quickly due to the organizational prowess of this underrecognized social group and the social revolution in which they participated as equal members with the striking factory labor, the armed forces, and the peasantry. Throughout the 1920s the Soviet lower middle class tried to fit in, to become mediators in the new socialist state and society, while avoiding the opprobrium of birth outside the proletariat. Their greatest fear was rejection as members of the socialist commonweal. They fit in and became indispensable. The social revolution continued with the addition of large numbers of women to the white-collar workforce, a feature of the new lower-middle-class life and occupations that was duplicated elsewhere in Europe. Joseph Stalin's revolution from above at the end of the 1920s and throughout the 1930s again created great instability for employees yet increased opportunities in a vastly expanding industrial economy, collectivized agriculture, and the building of new cities. All required armies of white-collar personnel.


Elsewhere in Europe the petty bourgeoisie were influenced by the dominant models of politics emerging from under the rubble of World War I and the Russian Revolution. In all countries some visible patterns were observable and similar questions were framed. Were the new strata of technical and protoprofessionals full members of the middle class, or were they subordinate to those higher up in the professional hierarchies and mediators between capital and labor?

With the Soviets the power of the new lower middle class in twentieth century history is clearer. For example, the self-image of the emerging technocratic lower middle classes was expressed by a twenty-four-year-old industrial chemist in June 1939:

I belong to the lower middle class. From the financial consideration, I should limit this to income ranges of about 200–300 pounds per annum. . . . In a word, the middle class man must be a black coated worker. . . . Although I belong to the blackcoated middle class, I do not think this classification is very hard and fast. For I belong to another division of the middle class, what I may call the "technologically educated" class. This division I consider very important—and interesting from a historical point of view. Soon after the Industrial Revolution when Marx made his classical analysis, and it appeared as though society would divide in the main between the rich capitalist class and the poor, uneducated, unskilled machine-minding proletariat. But there has been an increasing growth of this "technological class" well as the clerical classes, accountants and the like. This technical class does show differences from the working class, and also from the purely "blackcoated" section of the middle class. Its members are highly trained specialists, with or without (generally without) wide cultural interests. It is more independent than the "blackcoated" section . . . but it has not the independence and social solidarity of the almost defunct "skilled artisan" class. And it has less power, and more opportunities for power, than any other class in the modern world. (Jeffery, p. 70)

This group's social parameters are revealing. This lower middle class of public servants, teachers, bank and insurance officials, technicians, draftspeople, and clerical workers in the private sector earned between 250 and 500 pounds per year and received pensions, sick benefits and holidays with pay in generally secure posts. A skilled worker by contrast might earn 4 to 5 pounds per week and a university professor 1,000 pounds per year. They established a considerable social weight and political power by the end of the 1930s. During the 1920s and 1930s the lower middle class adhered to the national governments of the conservatives. The lower middle class was never proletarianized, nor did it find the fascism of Sir Oswald Mosely appealing. A generational shift in the 1930s and threats in the foreign arena radicalized some younger people.


The social history of fascism in Italy only joined historians' agendas in the late twentieth century. Nevertheless, the petty bourgeoisie, particularly the lower middle classes and the intelligentsia, were deeply embedded in the fascist movement. The Italian historian Luigi Salvatorelli labeled them "literate illiterates," and Antonio Gramsci applied the term "monkey people" to this group. Salvatorelli identified a "humanistic lower middle class" found in "bureaucratic offices, scholastic halls and petty professional activities" among the supporters of fascism. According to him these people were half-educated possessors of a "smattering of formulaic and grammatical culture, the literacy of the illiterate." They lacked the critical and synthetic abilities to use their knowledge to evaluate the contemporary political scene. Gramsci described fascism as "the urban petty bourgeoisie's latest performance in the theater of national political life." He warned that the monkey people "supply daily news, they do not create history, they leave traces in the newspapers, they do not offer materials to write books." Teachers, civil servants and white-collar employees became ardent supporters of Italian fascism, turning to the rhetorical ideals of the nation and the utopias of occupational hierarchies directly linked to the state to overcome the threat of class conflict.

In July 1929 the liberal German newspaper Vossische Zeitung claimed that the National Socialists represented "the petty bourgeoisie gone mad." (Crossick and Haupt, p. 224). Similarly in 1930 the German sociologist Theodor Geiger called Nazi electoral success the result of "a panic in the Mittelstand " induced by economic crisis. Indeed many others linked the petty bourgeoisie, romanticism, and irrationality with fascism, defined as an "extremism of the middle." These views repeat the antimodernism arguments of the late nineteenth century. Insofar as such arguments are teleological and monocausal, ignoring the role of other social groups in supporting the Nazis, they can be dismissed readily. As to actual lower-middle-class support of the Nazis, the picture is more ambiguous.

As demonstrated above, specific occupations and trades and their contexts are decisive in determining the actual political behavior of the lower middle class. Evidence, especially in local and regional studies, shows that owners of small retail shops and artisanal enterprises were attracted strongly to the Nazi movement and that the Nazis had entered their organizations by the end of the Weimar Republic. Although both the traditional petty bourgeoisie and the new lower middle class joined the Nazi party in numbers larger than their share of the laboring population as a whole, the majority by far remained outside the party. The German lower middle class was "preoccupied with the power and ritual of voluntary organizations" (Koshar, 1990, pp. 34–35). The party had to mobilize the lower middle class through such voluntary associations, which were often locally based. Nationalism, which in Germany also had strong local foundations, played well into the process of co-optation and mobilization. Still the new lower middle class in particular was well represented among party members. Distinctions are necessary. For example, shopkeepers voted for Nazis more often than did artisans, and Protestant areas in the north did also compared to Catholics in the south.

The Nazi Party benefited only from "shifting support among white collar and civil service groups; collectively these groups were not good predictors of the Nazi vote 'even after the calamities of the world economic crisis descended on the Republic.' " (Koshar, 1990, p. 43). The Nazis had a nucleus of support among artisans and shopkeepers as noted above, but they relied on large votes from elites outside the lower middle class as well as approximately 3.5 million workers in, for example, the Reichstag elections of July 1932.

Nazism used marketing principles to appeal to particular groups. Lower-middle-class political activity emerged out of the particular contexts set in motion by the upheavals of World War I and its aftermath. In a way the Nazis exploited a gap in language. For the more traditional members of the Mittelstand the Weimar experience meant neglect from the state and favors for interest groups representing large economic and social blocs. Most parties of the new democracy did not attempt to win traditional petty bourgeois support. In ideological terms, social democracy could not connect with a retrograde Mittelstand, the Center Party focused on the Catholic population, and the Democratic Party was too weak to effectively represent them. The Communists tried to connect with the traditional petty bourgeoisie, but the latter felt uncomfortable with them because of their nationalism and because the Communists were too closely linked to the Soviet Union. The parties and rhetoric of the right had an open field. The Nazis exploited the gap, but only through the filter of politics and only over time.


The lower middle class or petty bourgeoisie was clearly a dynamic and positive force in European history. It was capable of frequent reinventions and expansions to include new occupations and skilled, semiprofessional positions within the technology and information-driven economies of the twentieth century. Though their appeal and self-conception often were couched in traditional language and their values looked to an idealized "pre-modern social order," they organized for modern mass politics and affected the larger political frameworks in which they operated. Culturally they readily blended in, sometimes to imitate the prevailing cultural norms, whether bourgeois or proletarian, but also as major components of a mass consumer society. Its members were never just the passive victims of larger historical forces such as industrialization. Their attraction to retrograde movements such as fascism was never complete, uniform, or foreordained. Their collective social power in fact grew exponentially in the twentieth century, as they anchored regimes and economic and social systems across the political spectrum. They were, along with the working class, an important vehicle for labor opportunities for women, as entire sectors of the clerical workforce, shop personnel, and professions such as teaching brought in female labor and became feminized.

Members of the twentieth-century lower middle class set themselves apart from factory laborers in appearance, status, and outlook and were located astride sometimes permeable boundaries in relation to the big bourgeoisie and high-status professions. Most professions in fact had lower-ranking analogues, such as paramedical personnel in medicine; technical personnel, draftspeople, or statisticians in engineering; and elementary teachers in education, whose members fit securely into the lower middle class. Much remains undiscovered about these layers of society, their culture, the relative importance of occupational and professional associations and political parties, their relationship to matters of gender and family, and their relationship to the dynamics of post–cold war ethnicity and nationalism.

See also other articles in this section.


Anderson, Gregory. Victorian Clerks. Manchester, U.K., 1976.

Bechhofer, Frank, and Brian Elliott, eds. The Petite Bourgeoisie: Comparative Studies of the Uneasy Stratum. New York, 1981.

Berezin, Mabel. Making the Fascist Self: The Political Culture of Interwar Italy. Ithaca, N.Y., 1997.

Cocks, Geoffrey, and Konrad H. Jarausch, eds. German Professions, 1800–1950. New York, 1990.

Crossick, Geoffrey, ed. The Lower Middle Class in Britain, 1870–1914. New York, 1977.

Crossick, Geoffrey, and Heinz-Gerhard Haupt. The Petite Bourgeoisie in Europe,1780–1914: Enterprise, Family, and Independence. London and New York, 1995.

Crossick, Geoffrey, and Henz-Gerhard Haupt, eds. Shopkeepers and Master Artisans in Nineteenth-Century Europe. London and New York, 1984.

Gellately, Robert. The Politics of Economic Despair: Shopkeepers and German Politics1890–1914. London and Beverly Hills, Calif., 1974.

Kocka, Jürgen. Facing Total War: German Society, 1914–1918. Translated by Barbara Weinberger. Cambridge, Mass., 1984.

Kocka, Jürgen. White Collar Workers in America, 1890–1940: A Social-PoliticalHistory in International Perspective. London and Beverly Hills, Calif., 1980.

Koshar, Rudy, ed. Splintered Classes: Politics and the Lower Middle Classes in InterwarEurope. New York, 1990.

Lebovics, Herman. Social Conservatism and the Middle Classes in Germany, 1914–1933. Princeton, N.J., 1969.

Mayer, Arno. "The Lower Middle Class as Historical Problem." Journal of ModernHistory 47, no. 3 (September 1975): 4.

Morris, R. J. Class, Sect, and Party: The Making of the British Middle Class: Leeds,1820–1850. Manchester, U.K., 1990.

Morris, R. J., ed. Class, Power, and Social Structure in British Nineteenth-CenturyTowns. Leicester, U.K., 1986.

Nord, Philip G. Paris Shopkeepers and the Politics of Resentment. Princeton, N.J., 1986.

Orlovsky, Daniel. "The Hidden Class: White Collar Workers in the Soviet 1920's." In Making Workers Soviet. Edited by Lewis H. Siegelbaum and Ronald Grigor Suny. Ithaca, N.Y., 1994.

Orlovsky, Daniel. "The Lower Middle Strata in Revolutionary Russia." In CivilSociety in Late Imperial Russia. Edited by E. Clowes, S. Kassow, and J. West. Princeton, N.J., 1991.

Orlovsky, Daniel. "State Building in the Civil War: The Role of the Lower Middle Strata." In Party, State, and Society in the Russian Civil War: Explorations in Social History. Edited by Diane P. Koenker, William G. Rosenberg, and Ronald Grigor Suny. Bloomington, Ind., 1989.

Parker, D. S. The Idea of the Middle Class: White-Collar Workers and Peruvian Society,1900–1950. University Park, Pa., 1998. Excellent discussion of theoretical issues.

Pedersen, Susan. Family, Dependence, and the Origins of the Welfare State: Britain and France, 1914–1945. Cambridge, U.K., 1993.

Pennybacker, Susan D. A Vision for London, 1889–1914: Labour, Everyday Life, and the LCC Experiment. London and New York, 1995.

Speier, Hans. German White-Collar Workers and the Rise of Hitler. New Haven, Conn., 1986.

Volkov, Shulamit. The Rise of Popular Antimodernism in Germany: The Urban MasterArtisans, 1873–1896. Princeton, N.J., 1978.

Winkler, Heinrich August. Mittelstand, Demokratie und Nationalsozialismus: Die politische Entwicklung von Handwerk und Kleinhandel in der Weimarer Republik. Cologne, Germany, 1972.

Zdatny, Steven M. The Politics of Survival: Artisans in Twentieth-Century France. New York, 1990.