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Dwight Macdonald

Labor Action Bookshelf

(May 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 20, 19 May 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

L. Hamburger
How Nazi Germany Has Mobilized and Controlled Labor
The Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C., 63 pages, 25 cents

C.W. Guillebaud
The Social Policy of Nazi Germany
Macmillan and the Cambridge University Press. 134 pages, $1.25

Of these two little books on Hitler’s labor policies, the one that costs a quarter is very much better than the one that costs five times as much. In fact, Hamburger’s pamphlet is by all odds the best and most complete study of its subject I have seen. Despite the fact that it is put out by the ultra-conservative Brookings Institution, it approaches its theme from the point of view of the worker (something, as I shall show later, which Guillebaud’s book most distinctly does not do).

The theme of the Brookings pamphlet is stated on page one:

“The position of the workers has been transformed from that of substantial independence to a subservience more complete than that which existed under the feudal system of the Middle Ages.”

He elaborates the historical parallel later on:

“The ‘colonus’ of the later Roman Empire, the ‘serf’ of the Middle Ages, was considered part of the estate of his squire or lord. He was attached to, fixed on, the estate; he had no right to move away. He was, in the language of feudal law, ‘glebae adscriptus.’ Similarly the German worker has now become attached to, fixed on, his job – “glebae adscriptus” if it happened to be an agricultural one. or “factoriae adscriptus” (if one may say so) if it happened to be an industrial one.”

In a word, the free labor market has been abolished in Nazi Germany even more thoroughly than the free commodity market. Hamburger traces the processes in detail, giving each important regulation as it came along, and describing its effect on the workers of Germany, beginning with the compulsory mobilization of thousands of urban unemployed as “farm aids” under the decrees of March 3 and 11, 1933, and ending with measures of complete slavery which were instituted when the war began in 1939. He deals fully with the “work book,” the restrictions on freedom to change jobs, compulsory apprenticeship, the mobilization of women, youth, aged, Jews and criminals, and the compulsory shifting of hundreds of thousands of workers by the state authorities from one region to another, or from industry to another.

“Nazism has completely subjected the worker, in matters pertaining to employment, to a will foreign to his own,” writes Hamburger. “Such subjection is a servile concept. Under the Nazi regime, however, it is not the individual employer, it is the state which wields that will ... Hitler has built up, and successfully operates, a system of regimentation of labor, in scope and intensity such as the world has never seen.”

British “Fair Play”

C.W. Guillebaud is a professor of Cambridge University, England, and his booklet on the Nazis’ social policy was published over there this year. You might think that Prof. Guillebaud would be a little sharp with the Nazis, but you would be quite wrong. If you don’t look at the date, you would swear the book was written by a follower of the Cliveden Set [1] during the appeasement era. The author complains that “the war makes it doubly hard to maintain that objectivity which alone would make such a book worth writing or reading:” But he hasn’t let the war throw him off his balance – in fact, he leans so far to be “fair” to the Nazis that his book sounds like a paid ad for their system. And this in the second year of the war!

Guillebaud (who in 1938 performed the feat of publishing a book on The Economic Recovery of Germany, in which he hardly mentioned Hitler’s war policy) begins with a quotation from John De Courcy, leader of the arch-reactionary “Imperial Policy Group,” to the effect that in April 1939 any “unbiased” observer traveling in Germany had to recognize “a general contentment among the working classes.” Guillebaud says he agrees entirely with this. His book is essentially an attempt to explain this alleged fact by a thorough whitewashing of the Nazi labor policies. He has much good to say of the compulsory Labor Service, of the Winter Relief swindle, of Nazi housing (though he gently chides, “Here, as in many other (though not all) aspects of social policy, the promises of the National Socialists outran their performances”), and of the Labor Front.

All these basic characteristics of fascist labor policy, he sees as good. He does admit – in the most objective possible manner – that the Gestapo and the concentration camp are “a shame and a reproach to the new German order.” And he laments greatly that Hitler took it into his head to go to war, the implication being that the author would hove on the whole heartily approved the Nazi social policies had they been allowed to develop fully without being sacrificed to “the Moloch of preparation for war.” But, he adds with that wonderful British sense of fair play:

“It is but justice to recognize that the aims of social policy were kept continually in view and furthered as far as circumstances would permit. Nor is the record of the regime by any means devoid of achievement in that sphere.”

When you read a book like this, issued by a great English university at a time when England enters her death-struggle with Germany, certain things about the conduct of the war by the Churchill government and the deep silence on war aims become crystal clear. The Cliveden Set is no more, but Clivedenism is deep in the fibre of the British ruling class.

Footnote by ETOL

1. In the print version this read “Cleveden Set” instead of “Cliveden Set” throughout the text.

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