WAR AND TOTALITARIAN INFLUENCES ON SOCIAL CLASS
When a civilization disintegrates or when a whole social system and all the normal groupings of society are uprooted, the social class structure, a part of the whole, goes down with the rest. The one thing that the social classes cannot withstand is the disorganization of consensus-built community institutions. The old social class system in Russia did not withstand sovietization; the German social class structure was gravely weakened by Nazism. In such times and under such circumstances, there is always a considerable amount of social class mobility. Keen analysis of modern trends, also in the United States, points not to the rigid establishment of the social classes but to the disintegration of older social class structures.Next Page
The destruction of social systems by totalitarians. Emil Lederer believes that dictatorships destroy the whole social system, and with it the social classes. He says: 21
Dictatorship, therefore is bound to destroy society: society has always been a stratified structure with different interests and ideas. This period of dictatorship is a new epoch in history in which all the potentialities of a destructive mass-movement are turned into a political system.
This idea is further explained in the following passage: 22
Thus fascism destroys society as history has known it, and aims at melting it down to a crowd. In order to transform the whole population into a crowd . . . fascism must level down the social structure, destroy any seed of grouping, stamp out free speech . . . in fact fascism must go even farther, it must destroy the family, terrorize thinking and speech even there.
These statements go to the very heart of the matter: family control over children has been taken over by the state, social groups have been disbanded, among which were all the cliques which constitute the molecules of the social classes, especially with regard to their canons of respectability and exclusiveness. Storm troopers smash into every home, especially into those where something hidden might be found. Much as the formation of castes among southern blacks is prevented by the interference of white groups, so is the formation of classes difficult in a country where every family is spied upon, even by its own members.
With the dismemberment of social groups, and their artificial formation into politically dominated "civil battalions," there can be few social class rigidities, in the usual sense of the term. The social class structure cannot maintain itself upright; it slumps under the impact of the dictator's corps of loyal party members. Of course, sons of workers cannot immediately become experienced professionals, but neither can the professions maintain their dignity when relegated to the discard, as were the lawyers, or forced to work for the dictatorship, as were the physicians and university professors. Furthermore, for years in countries ruled by dictators, there has been little surplus left over for the middle and upper classes to use in displaying themselves, in travelling, and in propagating its own brand of art, education, and architecture.
Most serious, perhaps, is the exiling and destruction of some of the most valuable elements in the society -- families whose intellectual and cultural backgrounds gave so much to the countries whose new rulers turned upon them with a vengeance.
Exiled and crushed middle and upper classes. The exiling and destroying of certain families and groups in the modern world and similar events in ancient Greece constitute a parallel not to be overlooked. "So long as the freedom of Greece lasted, the revolutions brought with them mass murders and exilings . . . . One contemplates what a large amoung of intellectual power was destroyed in these suicidal struggles!"
21. Emil Lederer, State of the Masses, The Threat of Classless Society (New York, 1940) p. 18.
22. Ibid., pp. 72 - 73.
23. Otto Seeck, Geschichte des Untergangs der antiken Welt, vol. I (Berlin, 1921) p. 279; translation ours.