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James Burnham

Their Government

(18 September 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 71, 18 September 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

You have probably never heard of Herman Brassert. His name never appears in headlines, nor is it ever listed in the reports of international conferences. Nevertheless, Herman Brassert is one of the most important men in the world, and millions upon millions of human beings are now beginning to feel the effect of his activities.

Herman Brassert is one of the greatest living engineers. His specialty is the design and technical organization of steel mills, and at this he has no equal.

The great economic crisis of the late ‘20’s began in Great Britain several years before it hit the rest of the world. The British industrialists believed that they were handicapped by the outmoded technological character, in comparison with Germany and the United States, of much of the equipment, of their heavy industries. They decided to remedy this by a program of what was then called “rationalization”.

Brassert was called in as a chief consultant for the re-making of the steel plants. From then on he made frequent trips to England.

Steel Gets a New Direction

After a short while, however, it became clear to Britain that the “rationalization” of the steel plants had actually to be made the preparation of the steel industry for war, and that the whole process had to be speeded up. Occasional visits by Brassert were not enough. The British government induced him to transfer residence to England, where five years ago, he settled his family on a beautiful estate which he bought in the English countryside.

The idea that Britain began re-armament only after Hitler had taken over Austria and was threatening Czechoslovakia is a myth. The fundamental preparations were far advanced long before Vienna fell.

Brassert did his work well. The British steel industry is re-located, reorganized and re-equipped. It is specifically and admirably adapted for turning out the maximum quantity of the most destructive implements so far devised by human ingenuity.

A New Assignment

While Brassert was working in England, Hitler conquered and consolidated power in Germany. The German industrialists were also faced with the problem of the reorganization of heavy industry, and from the beginning they were clear about the purpose of reorganization: for war. Through the Nazi Four Year Plan, they proposed to bring all existing plants and mills to the highest technical efficiency, and to add new works of a surpassing order. In particular, they wished to build toe greatest steel plant in the world: the Hermann Goering Works.

There was one man whom they wanted for the job in steel: Herman Brassert. And they got him. In addition to his English estate, he rented a splendid apartment in Berlin; and every week he shuttled back and forth by airplane between the two nations.

The Hermann Goering Works arose in record time, the full flower of engineering art.

What a consolation it should be to the soldiers facing each other from the Maginot and Limes Lines! No favoritism in this war! They can each know that the tanks which crush them, the planes that hurl destruction on them, the shells which tear their guts apart, are on both sides alike the very finest products of the very highest skill. And all of them are turned out with the trademark of the one supreme artist.

But, you ask, did not the two governments and the two sets of industrialists object to Brassert’s double duties? If you ask this question, you have still a lot to learn. Business is business; and patriotism is also business. During this same period it was Britain which supplied the greater part of the coal and ore which built and extended and fed Krupp and Stinnes and the Hermann Goering Works. And, after all, should not a British soldier be far happier to be torn to pieces by steel forged out of exclusively Empire products?

It was this same Brassert, by the way, who was first offered the job (which he finally refused) of building Magnetogorsk. And it was he who was chief consultant in building the great steel plant ordered by Kemal Ataturk – the completion of which task has given Turkey a new weight among the neutrals.

How to Get on in the World

So far, all was well with Brassert. But, when war was declared you would think that he would have found himself in something of a jam, and would have been bound to end in either a British or a German concentration camp. But such thoughts, too, forget that business is business.

Brassert was born in Germany, but long ago he became a citizen of the good, old U.S.A. And you may be sure that his years of European residence did not lead him to give up his U.S. citizenship. The “main office” of his firm continued to be located patriotically in Chicago.

So, four days after the war began, Brassert and his family stepped off the Queen Mary to the unbombed and unbombable docks of New York City.

There is work still to be done! The steel industry of this country is already, from a technical standpoint, primed for the war. But there are last minute changes and revisions and improvements to be tended to, so that we may all be confident that the death which is “Made in America” will be more sure and certain and terrible than any alien death.

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