Fascism in Germany. Robin Blick 1975

Appendix I: German Fascism and the Historians

A theme common to almost all non-Marxist accounts of the rise and rule of fascism in Germany is that while owing his success in part at least to the support of big business, Hitler got by far the best of the bargain once in power. Thus we read in Hitler: A Study In Tyranny by A Bullock:

What the German Right wanted was to regain its old position in Germany as the ruling class; to destroy the hated republic and restore the monarchy; to put the working classes ‘in their places’; to rebuild the military power of Germany; to reverse the decision of 1918 and to restore Germany – their Germany – to a dominant position in Europe. Blinded by interest and prejudice, the Right forsook the role of a true conservatism, abandoned its own traditions and made the gross mistake of supposing that in Hitler they had found a man who would enable them to achieve their ends. [1]

William Shirer takes a similar line in his The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich:

The political ineptitude of the magnates of industry and finance was no less than that of the generals and led to the mistaken belief that if they coughed up large enough sums for Hitler he would be beholden to them and, if he ever came to power, do their bidding.

And in a further comment on business subsidies to the Nazis in the pre-1933 period, Shirer writes: ‘What good they eventually did these politically childish men of the business world will be seen later in this narrative.’ [2]

Implicit in both these judgements is that the decisive relationship between the Nazis and the German bourgeoisie was a contractual one – in Shirer this is indeed made almost explicit. Hitler then tricked the ‘blinded’ and ‘prejudiced’, ‘inept’ and ‘politically childish’ bourgeoisie by taking their cash and support, and proceeding to implement his own policies independently of and even against the interests and wishes of those who had been foolish enough to finance and trust him. A more sophisticated version of this theory, and one which at least has the virtue of attempting to grapple seriously with the problem of the relationship between the big bourgeoisie and the Nazi plebeians, is developed by AJP Taylor in his The Course of German History:

The privileged classes of old Germany – the landowners, the generals, the great industrialists – made their peace with demagogy; unable themselves to give ‘authority’ a popular colour, they hoped to turn to their own purposes the man of the people... In January 1933 the German upper classes imagined that they had taken Hitler prisoner. They were mistaken. They soon found that they were in the position of a factory owner who employs a gang of roughs to break up a strike: he deplores the violence, is sorry for his workpeople who are being beaten up, and intensely dislikes the bad manners of the gangster leader whom he has called in. All the same, he pays the price and discovers, soon enough, that if he does not pay the price (later, even if he does) he will be shot in the back. The gangster chief sits in the managing director’s office, smokes his cigars, finally takes over the concern himself. Such was the experience of the owning classes in Germany after 1933. [3]

Taylor has the plebeians not only usurping the political power formerly wielded by the representatives of the possessing classes, but also their property. And this is of course false. Hitler shot no industrialists in the back, and to the author’s knowledge, jailed only one – Thyssen. And Thyssen saw the inside of a Nazi concentration camp not for refusing to pay Hitler his protection money, but because he broke openly with the regime after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact (fleeing Germany, Thyssen was picked up a year later by Nazi security forces in France after the collapse of the Third Republic in June 1940). Thyssen’s fall from grace has since provided anti-Marxists with what they believe to be a splendid opportunity to disprove the bourgeois foundations of the Third Reich. David Schoenbaum’s Hitler’s Social Revolution is a case in point. After making the fatuous claim that ‘the policy of the Third Reich, at any rate as it might have been felt by the average worker, can be scarcely called anti-Labour’, he argues on the flimsiest of pretexts that ‘a generation of Marxist and neo-Marxist mythology notwithstanding, probably never in peace time has an ostensibly capitalist economy been directed as non- and even anti-capitalistically as the German economy between 1933 and 1939’. Proof? ‘The creation and capitalisation of the Reichswerke Hermann Goering – or the flight of Fritz Thyssen – tells at least as much about the status of big business in Nazi Germany’ as the success of IG Farben under Nazi rule. [4]

Taylor’s fellow-Fabian, GDH Cole, also denied the capitalist nature of the fascist regime in Germany:

Fascism, though it wages war upon the working class and uses other classes as its instruments, is not fundamentally a class-movement. Its claim to transcend classes is in a sense quite genuine; for it reaches back, behind the class-distinctions of modern society, towards primitive conditions of tribal solidarity. It is not a class but a horde movement... Far... from controlling Fascism, the great capitalists come to be controlled by it, and are compelled to subordinate their money-making impulses to the requirements of the Fascist state as an organiser of national aggression. [5]

In his The Intelligent Man’s Guide to the Postwar World, Cole throws all economic and class criteria to the winds:

Nazism was not a form of capitalism, or at bottom an economic movement at all. It was a nationalist movement, in a nation possessing a very strong militarist tradition and sweating under a sense of national humiliation. [6]

Fascism is thus reduced to a state of mind which acquires supremacy over the social and economic forces of an entire continent.

Tim Mason, who has made a close study of Nazi social and economic policy in several extended articles, certainly cannot be bracketed with the avowed anti-Marxist Schoenbaum, whose concern to depict the Third Reich as an anti- or at least non-capitalist social formation is all too evident. And Mason quite correctly dismisses as non-scientific vulgarisations the attempts made to analyse German fascism within the framework of the definition enunciated by the Stalinist Comintern leader Dimitrov at the Communist International’s Seventh Congress in 1935, namely ‘the openly terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialistic elements of finance capital’. [7]

Mason, however, errs in conceding the point made by Taylor, that the old ruling classes not only surrendered their political powers and privileges to the Nazi parvenus, but, in the process, failed to retain their social dominance as possessing classes:

From an historical point of view, the incapacity of the political representatives of the propertied classes to formulate and implement their own policies, their abdication in favour of National Socialism... represented a great historical defeat. The political leadership of the ‘Third Reich’ was able, through means unforeseen by anyone, to maintain the independence from the old ruling class which it had gained in the crisis, 1930-33. It did not fulfil its function of becoming obsolete. [8]

Thus Mason quite openly asserts that in Nazi Germany, at least after 1936, politics and political leadership became ‘increasingly independent of the influence of the economic ruling classes, and even in some aspects ran contrary to their interests’. True, Mason does add: ‘This relationship is, however, unique in the history of modern bourgeois society and its governments: it is precisely this that must be explained.’ [9] But the point is surely that for all their apparent political independence, the Nazi leaders held onto power, and were able to exercise it effectively, only because their long-term strategic goals coincided with, or approached, those of heavy industry, the army élite and the agrarians. Moreover, their very formal separation from the propertied classes – an essential ingredient of Nazi ‘socialism’ – was a precondition for the retention of mass support. Nazi Germany could not have been ruled by a political caste which drew its main cadres from the bourgeoisie. This certainly led to the ousting or eclipse of former bourgeois politicians, but the big exploiters and owners never seriously challenged this relationship at any time in the 12-year history of the Third Reich. Their business was to make profits, to accumulate capital, to invest it and to make yet more profits. As in the days of Bismarck, they would support any regime, however despotic and contemptuous of the bourgeoisie’s claim to political hegemony, which facilitated this essential function. No historian of the Third Reich has yet produced any hard evidence which suggests that the bourgeoisie failed to gain immensely as a direct consequence of Nazi rule, through its destruction of the workers’ movement, its repressive labour and social policy, and its orientation towards rearmament and imperialist expansionism.

There is another school which, in sharp contrast to the theory put forward by Cole, argues that the Nazis were super-modernisers, who in the words of Grünberger, dragged Germany ‘half-heartedly kicking and screaming, into the century of the common man’. [10] The most cynical advocate of this theory, however, is undoubtedly Ralf Dahrendorf, a renegade from the Social Democratic Party and now a member of the liberal Free Democratic Party. (Formerly a top-level EEC administrator, he is currently the Director of the London School of Economics.) In his Society and Democracy in Germany, Dahrendorf comes very near to writing an apologia for the Third Reich:

The conclusion is hard to avoid that the road to modernity was not taken spontaneously and happily by men anywhere, that force was always required to make people embark on it... However, brutal as it was, the break with tradition and this strong push towards modernity was the substantive feature of the social revolution of National Socialism... [11]

Common to these theories of National Socialism is the denial of the class, specifically the bourgeois, nature of the German state under the Nazis. The argument is that because the Third Reich came under the political sway of leaders, policy-makers and executors whose social origins were for the most part non-bourgeois, then the Nazi state cannot be described accurately as bourgeois. The fact that the capitalist mode of production continued unhindered by Nazi political rule is thus overlooked, or outweighed, by Hitler’s allegedly politically-oriented policies (that is, racially-inspired imperialism, autarchy, etc). By the same token, and with the same impressionistic method of analysis, one could as easily argue that the USSR, after the mid or later 1920s, had ceased to be a workers’ state, since the Soviet state and its ruling party were in the grip of a bureaucratic caste whose petit-bourgeois mode of existence and consciousness separated it off sharply from the proletariat that had made the revolution of 1917.

One school of thought went even further. It argued that if both Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia were ruled by repressive bureaucracies, quasi-plebeian in origin, and since both ruthlessly excluded from the direct exercise of political power the former dominant social class, then it is legitimate to talk of a new class society, neither capitalist nor socialist, in which the bureaucracy becomes, by virtue of its monopoly of political power, the bearer of a new mode of production. This mode of production and form of society Max Shachtman, a renegade from Trotskyism in 1940, described as ‘bureaucratic collectivism’. Shachtman was more concerned with the Soviet question than Nazi Germany when the theory was first evolved, since he and his co-thinkers had come out in the American Socialist Workers Party against the defence of the USSR as a degenerated workers’ state, the issue being precipitated by the conclusion of the Stalin-Hitler Pact in August 1939. His main co-factionalist, James Burnham, later carried this theory to its logical end, in his book The Managerial Revolution (first published in 1942, when the author was in the process of severing his last links with any form of socialism; he is now a spokesman of the American ultra-right). Burnham says this of Hitler’s Germany:

As compared with the undoubtedly capitalist nations of France... and England (and the United States too), and relying upon the analogies that may be drawn from comparable historical situations, Germany exhibits the signs not of decadence, but of social revolution, of the transition to a new structure of society. [12]

Like the USSR, Burnham argued, Nazi Germany was coming under the rule of the ‘managers’ who, while holding no title deeds to the property of the big industrial concerns and the banks, were not only Germany’s political administrators, but its effective economic rulers as well. Burnham forwards the most tendentious evidence to back up his case, citing the official limit on dividends as proof that capitalism had been superseded by a new type of planned economy that rode roughshod over the private interests of capitalists:

The German capitalists as capitalists... because of their loss of control over the instruments of production – a loss which leads progressively to their loss of legal ownership rights and of income – slip from their position as the ruling class in Germany. They become, more and more, simply tolerated pensioners, rapidly approaching social impotence... In short, Germany is today [1941] a managerial state in an early stage. Structurally, it is less advanced along managerial lines than Russia... [13]

Again we see the inverse mirror image of vulgar, Stalinised ‘Marxism’, which mechanically identifies the dominant social class with the forms of political power (thus in the USSR, the Kremlin bureaucracy is presented as the direct and undiluted representative of the political will of the proletariat; in Nazi Germany, Hitler was simply the tool of monopoly capital). Burnham divorces economics from politics entirely; or rather he inverts their real relationship, one that while always reciprocal, is grounded on the primacy of economics as the necessary foundation of all human existence and social organisation.

Not only the idealist method, but also the theories of Burnham and Shachtman have continued to appear in different pseudo-Marxist guises within and around the workers’ movement. In Britain, they find their clearest expression in the group International Socialism, which, while not holding the USSR to be a bureaucratic collectivist society, denies that it is a workers’ state, and declares it to be a form of capitalism, namely ‘state capitalism’. [14]

The revision of Marxist principles and theory, while being a response to certain reactionary social pressures and forces, also possesses its own inner logic. From revising Marx, Lenin and Trotsky on the nature of the state as their writings pertain to the degenerated workers’ state in the USSR, one leading member of the IS, Peter Sedgwick, proceeded to apply essentially the same anti-Marxist criteria to Nazi Germany.

We refer to his review article ‘The Problem of Fascism’ (International Socialism, no 42). As far as the author has been able to ascertain, no disavowal or critique of or protest against this scandalous article has ever appeared in the press of International Socialism, a group which now commands a growing following amongst industrial workers and declares that it intends in the future to launch a revolutionary socialist party. The simple fact that what amounts to a denial of the counter-revolutionary role of German fascism can not only appear in the IS press, but remain unanswered for four years, testifies to the utterly debauched political character of its leadership, and is proof that this leadership, whatever it pretends to the contrary, has nothing whatsoever in common with authentic Trotskyism. Let Mr Sedgwick, a representative of the quasi-anarchist wing of the IS, speak for himself:

The economic goals of the fascists were totally dissimilar from almost any private capitalist system before or since, in that they deliberately pulled out of the world trading network and tried to build a closed economy based on a self-sufficient nation... There is no evidence of any specific business pressure in the determination of Nazi conquest policy – though of course the big firms moved in eagerly to clean up the spoils of annexation once the policy was implemented. This abdication from political influence is in stark contrast with the role of the industrialists in the Weimar Republic, or even in Schacht’s hey-day in the 1933-36 period... there is so much in Hitler’s behaviour (which, owing to the structure of command, was synonymous with the behaviour of Germany) that defies any but a narrowly ideological analysis. Courses of action were chosen not because they made any kind of economic (or even military) sense but because the belief-system of the leadership demanded these measures... the extermination of the Jews... defies reason no less than conscience... German society was never more ‘progressive’ (in the narrow cynical Marxist sense of the development of the forces of production) than at the height of the war... with output of tanks, for instance, multiplying five-fold between 1942 and 1944... The utility even of a revised Marxist analysis breaks down, however, in the face of the gas chambers. The most dedicated and developed social theory that human civilisation has attained has nothing to contribute towards our understanding of Nazism’s politics of race murder... It is little wonder that so many on the Left have resorted to psychological explanation as the first available alternative to the Marxist vacuum... [But] it doesn’t need Freud to tell us why people cheer a politician who stops unemployment, or why they fight savagely when their homes are bombed. [15]

Let us take stock of Sedgwick’s case thus far, and refute it with facts. First we should note that despite his air of great knowledgeability – ‘there is no evidence of any specific business pressure...’ – his judgements appear to be based largely on the findings and conclusions of Tim Mason, whose contribution to the symposium on fascism (The Nature of Fascism) Sedgwick is reviewing. Be that as it may, Sedgwick offers us also his own anti-Marxist explanation of the nature and role of fascism in Germany. He states that the Nazis ran counter to capitalist interests by seeking to build a self-sufficient economy in Germany. Not so. The Nazi aim was not a closed-in national economy, but a far larger unit embracing the entire continent of Europe from – to quote the EEC slogan of De Gaulle – ‘the Atlantic to the Urals’. Hitler’s views on foreign policy are of course set out in his Mein Kampf, and they include proposals for the annexation of the richly endowed Soviet land-mass to Germany’s east. Perhaps Sedgwick will claim that Hitler’s expansionist programme was politically or even psychologically motivated. Then let us quote from later pronouncements by Nazi leaders which disprove not only Sedgwick’s claim that the Nazis desired a self-sufficient German economy, but his contention that National Socialism not only ignored but constantly ran counter to capitalist-imperialist interests.

On 5 November 1937, Hitler addressed a meeting of armed forces leaders on the main aspects and motives of Nazi foreign policy:

Before touching upon the question of solving the need for living space, it must be decided whether a solution of the German position with a good future can be attained, either by way of an autarchy or by way of an increased share in universal commerce and industry.

Autarchy: Execution will be possible only with strict National Socialist state policy, which is the basis: assuming this can be achieved, the results are as follows: a) In the sphere of raw materials, only limited, but not total autarchy is feasible. b) In the case of foods, the question of an autarchy must be answered with a definite ‘No’...

Participation in the World Economy: There are limits to this which we are unable to transgress. The market fluctuations would be an obstacle to a secure foundation of the German position: international commercial agreements do not offer a guarantee for practical execution. We live in a period of economic empires in which the tendency to colonise again approaches the condition which originally motivated colonisation. In Japan and Italy economic motives are the basis of their will to expand, the economic need will also drive Germany to it... The upward tendency, which has been caused in world economy, due to armament competition, can never form a permanent basis for an economic settlement, and this latter is also hampered by the economic disruption caused by Bolshevism... The only way out... is the securing of greater living space... it is not a case of conquering people, but of conquering agriculturally useful space. It would also be more to the purpose to seek raw materials-producing territory in Europe directly adjoining the Reich and not overseas... The development of great world-wide national bodies is naturally a slow process and the German people, with its strong racial root, has for this purpose the most favourable foundations in the heart of the European continent. The history of all times – Roman Empire, British Empire – has proved that any space expansion can only be effected by breaking resistance and taking risks... The question for Germany is where the greatest possible conquest could be made at the lowest cost... The German question can be solved only by way of force, and this is never without risk... [16]

Early in the war against the USSR, Hitler declared to Otto Abetz, a high official in the German Foreign Ministry, that:

... once the Asiatics had been driven out, Europe would no longer be dependent on any outside power. America too, could ‘get lost'... Europe would itself provide all the raw materials it needed and have its own markets in the Russian area, so that we would no longer have any need of other world trade. The new Russia, as far as the Urals, would become ‘our India'... [17]

Sedgwick is of course a devotee of the counter-revolutionary theory of ‘state capitalism’. For him, the USSR is an imperialist power, not one iota more progressive than American or British imperialism. Therefore its defence against imperialism is of no concern to him. The Soviet-German war of 1941-45 was a war of two rival imperialisms, of two equally reactionary systems of bureaucratic repression. The Nazi leadership saw things in a different – and more realistic – light, despite Sedgwick’s claim that National Socialism is susceptible only to psychological analysis. Unlike the theoreticians of ‘state capitalism’, the Nazis understood with remarkable clarity the principled differences between the German and Soviet economies; as the following document, Economic Policy Directives for War on the USSR (23 May 1941) demonstrates.

Issued by the Wehrmacht Economic Staff East, Agriculture Group, it stated in part:

... the principles must be pointed out... under the Bolshevik system Russia has... withdrawn from Europe and this upset the European equilibrium based on the division of labour. Our task is to reintegrate Russia with the European division of labour, and it involves, of necessity, the disruption of the existing economic equilibrium within the Soviet Union. Thus, it is not important, under any circumstances, to preserve what has existed, but what matters is a deliberate turning away from the existing situation and introducing Russian food resources into the European framework. This will inevitably result in an extinction of industry as well as of a large part of the people in what so far have been food-deficient areas... [18]

Is this programme so very different from the policy outlined by the industrialist von Delbruck to the German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg in September 1915?

We are no longer fighting for the mastery in the internal market but for mastery in the world market. And it is only a Europe which forms a single customs unit that can meet with sufficient power the over-mighty productive resources of the transatlantic world.

All one can deduce is that the EEC has some very dubious ancestors.

More than two months earlier on 1 March 1941, at a conference held by General Thomas (head of the Economic Department of the Armed Forces), a new organisation was formed to supervise the economic exploitation of the occupied territories of the Soviet East – namely, ‘Economic Staff Oldenburg’. At this first meeting, the point was made that ‘the whole organisation was to be subordinated to the Reich Marshal’ (that is, Goering, who was the Nazi Minister responsible for the overall direction of the war economy). A memo taken at the conference recorded that:

... the main mission of the organisation will consist of seizing raw materials and taking over all important concerns. For the latter mission reliable persons from German concerns will be interposed suitably from the beginning, since successful operations from the beginning can only be performed by the aid of their experiences (for example, lignite, ore, chemistry, petroleum). [19]

So the Nazis did need big business, just as much as the heads of the concerns that were to join in the plunder of the USSR required the force of Nazi arms, to accomplish their aim of a Europe dominated economically by the great German trusts.

This joint operation was worked out to the last tiny detail. On 21 March, Working Committee Oldenburg met again under Thomas, and took the following decisions:

In the rear of the army, the Reichs leader of the SS is first of all responsible for the entire control, except for the economic field. The Wehrmacht commanders are made responsible for the exploitation of the country’s industry. Each army is to be followed [into the USSR] by a security division. For reasons of expediency the industrial armaments commands in the beginning will be attached to these security divisions. As soon as operations have made further progress, the industrial armaments commands will come under Wehrmacht commanders. Experts to be appointed to each sphere – oil, agriculture, etc. [20]

The Wehrmacht conquers, the SS ‘secures’ – then the ‘experts’ – the representatives of the trusts – move in for the kill. A vast apparatus to supervise the annexation and exploitation of Soviet resources and installations was created nearly two months before the actual invasion on 22 June 1941. On 29 April, an armed forces conference considered the economic aspects of the impending invasion, setting up, under Major General Schubert, an economic general staff. At its head were five Economic Inspectorates, which were to administer the five main economic regions of European Russia. There were in addition 23 Economic Commands, and 12 sub-offices:

These offices are used in the military rear area: the idea is that in the territory of each army group, an economic inspectorate is to be established at the seat of the commander of the military rear area, and that this inspectorate will supervise the economic exploitation of the territory. [21]

Since this unprecedented undertaking required ‘a gigantic staff apparatus’, the branches of the armed forces involved in the invasion were requested to nominate staff for the key posts in the economic administration, in line with their special skills and needs. They were also circulated with an economic map of the USSR indicating the main targets for seizure and exploitation, and a list ‘showing all [German] firms which are important from the point of view of industrial armaments’. [22]

On 20 April, Hitler appointed his anti-Bolshevik mentor Rosenberg ‘Commissioner for the Central Control of Questions Connected with the East-European Region’. On 8 May, the aspiring Gauleiter of the USSR issued a directive authorising the restoration of all German property nationalised by the revolutionary government after 1917, ‘the manner of compensation and restitution of this national property to be subject to different treatment by each Reich commissariat...’. [23] As Trotsky had warned 10 years previously, when the Nazis had still to seize power, Hitler was ‘the super-Wrangel of the world bourgeoisie’.

Two days before the invasion of the USSR, Hitler held a conference with General Thomas, Keitel and Todt, at which he further developed his ideas on the impracticability of German autarchy:

The course of the war shows that we went too far in our autarchical endeavours. It is impossible to try and manufacture everything we lack by synthetic procedures or other measures... All these... ask for a tremendous amount of manpower, and it is simply impossible to provide it. One has to choose another way. What one does not have, but needs, one must simply conquer... The aim must... be to secure all territories which are of special interest to us for the war economy, by conquering them. [24]

When the Nazi invasion began on 22 June, the German armies ripped their way deep into Soviet territory as the armed spearhead of the capitalist mode of production. The planned, use-oriented, state-owned economy of the USSR was, wherever the Swastika held sway, broken up forcibly and supplanted by a system of production subordinated directly to the capitalist, profit-geared economy of Nazi Germany. Even as the first frontier battles raged, measures were in hand to make permanent the capitalist trusteeship of the plundered Soviet industrial concerns. In his capacity as chief of the Second Four-Year Plan, Goering issued a directive on 27 July 1941, which stated in part:

It will be sufficient for the purpose of safeguarding German interests during the transition period if especially important branches of industry are administered by German firms as individual trustees... It will be borne in mind that the trustee administrator, which is connected with strong state supervision, does not represent the final solution. It must be endeavoured, at an earliest possible date, to lease the enterprises to German... and to local entrepreneurs... In the long run the highest economic performance cannot be expected from Bolshevik collective economy, but only on the proven basis of private economy directed by the state. The system of collective economy shall, therefore, be continued only as long as it is absolutely essential to avoid disruption in the supply of the German army and economy from the Russian territory which might result from a sudden change in the form of economy. [25]

This statement greatly pleased the heads of the giant trusts, many of whose experts and managers had been seconded as trustees to run the captured plants. On 3 January 1942, the Political Department of IG Farben sent a letter to its Executive Board on the prospects of plunder in the USSR:

The companies of the East, the practical function of which is at present to regulate the relationship to the German economy, must be considered as mere expediency institutions which later on, at the proper moment after the end of the war, will be superseded in some way or other by private enterprise. In any case, the basic tendency aims at increasing already the responsibilities of the plant leaders who are, at present, still employed as trustees, and at creating the basis for individual enterprise through participation in profits. In this connection it is particularly interesting that the Führer emphasised in unmistakable terms to the Reich Marshal that state or Party economy was not to be introduced into the occupied territories, but that private enterprise was to be allowed to go its own way as far as possible. The end of the war is envisaged as the date on which private industrial enterprise is finally to be included in the scheme... [26]

Goering never deviated from his declared policy of 27 July. On 2 November 1942, he issued another decree on Nazi economic principles in the occupied Soviet East:

The Bolshevist regime combines its political direction of the economy and the practical management of the plants and commercial enterprises in the hands of the state. This is contrary to the National Socialist conception of economy. The authorities should direct the economic policy, but the economy must look after the practical management... The Reichs groups Industry and Commerce have now offered to take over the selection of businessmen for these branches of the economy according to the principle of private economy and within the framework of a company [this proposal of big business had the support of Rosenberg and Economics Minister Funk – RB]... I agree that the Economic Group East should take over the task of attracting all available German and European economic assets for the branches of industrial economy not yet controlled by the licensed Eastern Corporations, and of supporting firms and enterprises called upon in their practical work... The question of establishing private ownership in the occupied territories cannot be decided at this juncture, out of consideration for those taking part in the war. Industrialists who, in the interest of the war effort, offer their services now for the rebuilding of the eastern economy, may, however, be confident that they will receive preference later, along with the war veterans. [27]

Goebbels was another of the Nazi high command who expressed his opinions on the shape of the planned ‘new order’. Once again, the aim was a Europe united under Nazi Germany hegemony, and not simply a Germany economically self-sufficient. On 13 October 1941, Goebbels said to a conference of his Propaganda Ministry:

Militarily this war has already been decided. All that remains to be done is of a predominantly political character both at home and abroad. The German armies in the East will come to a halt at some point, and we shall draw up a frontier there which will act as a bulwark against the East for Europe and for the European power under German leadership... Certainly this will be a ‘Europe behind barbed wire’, but this Europe will be entirely self-sufficient economically, industrially and agriculturally, and it will be basically unassailable militarily. [28]

Sedgwick, following Mason, talks of the ‘demotion’ and ‘subordination’ of the capitalist class by Hitler, whom he depicts as ‘the pioneer of the permanent arms economy and corporate planning’. [29] Once again, it is necessary to insist that the political subordination of big capital to the Nazi leadership was the precondition of its economic survival, and, between 1933 and the first military reverses suffered in the war, of its expansion. While at the political level, the possessing classes were rudely jostled out of all their former commanding positions (with the exception of the army and the civil service), we find, contrary to Sedgwick’s assertion that big business found itself increasingly demoted and subordinated, that it exercised an influence on government policy and representation on state economic bodies that it had never enjoyed under the Weimar Republic. On Sedgwick’s own admission, arms production comprised an essential and ever increasing segment of German industrial output and investment. Those responsible for the direction of the main arms production committees would, therefore, be wielders of immense economic power. According to Sedgwick’s schema of economic and political relations in the Third Reich, we would expect to find leading Nazis in all the key arms production committees. Not so. The Chairman of the main weapons committee, Dr Tix, was also managing director of Hanomag, a subsidiary of the Flick Steel Trust, the United Steel Works. The Chairman of the aircraft production committee was another leading capitalist, Frydag, managing director of Messerschmitt. General war equipment production was under the control of another United Steel man, Mauterer, as was the steel rolling mills committee, headed by Rohland, chairman of the executive board of the Flick concern. The Steel Trust also exerted its influence over the iron-pressing committee through the managing director of another of its subsidiary companies, Deutsche Eisenwerke AG.

Two-thirds of the top staff of Goering’s Four-Year Plan department were drawn from IG Farben, a concern which acquired enormous political as well as economic power in the later years of the Third Reich. When the Nazi empire reached its maximum extent in 1942, IG Farben’s workforce (many thousands of them being slaves at Auschwitz and other death camps) approached half a million workers. Its directors not only shared in the looting of the occupied countries, but actively prepared and guided it. A leading IG Farben director declared after the war at Nuremberg:

The general policy of the Nazi government in respect to the conquered countries was to take as much out of those countries as possible... IG played an important role in adapting the industries of those countries to the purposes of the Nazi war-machine... IG acquired new companies, augmented its participation in other companies and made a tremendous amount of new capital investments in the conquered countries.

This was born out by another IG director, Dr Kupper: ‘To my knowledge, IG Farben, its directors and officers, fully approved the Nazi aggression against Poland, Czechoslovakia and France. It profited considerably from these conquests.’ A week before the Munich deal between German, French, Italian and British imperialism which led to the Nazi annexation of Czechoslovakia, IG Farben appointed two commissars – Directors Wurster and Kugler – to take over and run the giant Czech firm of Aussiger Verein, the fourth largest chemical concern in Europe and a bitter rival of IG Farben. Within hours of Nazi troops crossing the border into the Sudetenland, the IG takeover operation was under way, and a week later, Directors Kugler and Wurster were safely installed in their new offices in Prague. Thereupon, the IG Farben President Hermann Schmitz sent Hitler a congratulatory telegram:

Profoundly impressed by the return of Sudetenland-Germany to the Reich which you, my Führer, have achieved, the IG Farben Industrie AG puts an amount of half a million RM at your disposal for use in the German Sudetenland territory.

IG could certainly afford such a paltry gift, since its profits were to multiply 16-fold in the years between 1932 and 1943, reaching the global amount of 822 million RM. [30]

The next big target IG Farben had its eyes on was the French chemical concern, Kuhlmann, the second largest in Europe. Here too, the Chemical Trust collaborated closely with the Nazi regime and the armed forces in each stage of the takeover, with Economic Minister Funk even inviting IG Farben to submit its proposals for the economic reorganisation of Europe under German domination. This the concern did on 3 August 1940, less than two months after the French surrender. In its proposals, IG Farben demanded the subordination of the entire French chemical industry to German control and requirements:

In contradiction to the previous forms of Franco-German chemical agreements these syndicates must be placed under a tightly unified leadership, which considering the greater importance of the German chemical industry, must lie in German hands and have its seat in Germany.

Hans Hemmen of the German foreign office informed leaders of the French chemical industry at a meeting in Wiesbaden on 21 November 1940, that the IG proposals ‘are in your interest. They are in the interest of the IG, they are above all in the interest of Europe, since essentially, it is a question of reorganising the continent of Europe.’ Or to paraphrase a well-known American saying, ‘What is good for IG Farben is good for Europe.’

Whilst in the USSR, the Nazi invaders broke up the system of nationalised production and planned economy established by the October Revolution, in the West, the German economy was able to integrate its conquests without any such social overturn. Indeed, much of French ownership and management was left intact, with production now being subordinated to the tactical and strategic requirements of German imperialism. The IG Farben director Schnitzler testified in 1945 that:

... based on the slogan of collaboration, intercourse developed between the German and French industries, which practically included the whole French industry... I may cite the name of M Marcel Boussac, the greatest industrialist in the textile field. His works were occupied to a large extent for direct or indirect orders of the Wehrmacht, and he himself was frequently with German representatives at luncheon and dinner parties. The same applies to the iron and steel industry, and the work done by Schneider-Creusot for the Wehrmacht is publicly known.

Krupp AG also grew fat on the plunder afforded by Nazi conquest, the concern’s assets swelling from 76 million RM in 1933 to 237.3 million RM 10 years later. Quite apart from the vast profits accruing from an ever-increasing flow of state contracts for arms production, Krupp augmented its income through the seizure of the rich iron-fields and installations of the Ukraine. Gustav Krupp’s son Alfried, a fanatical Nazi, and SS man to boot, was the dominating personality on the administrative board of the company established to supervise the plunder of the Soviet iron industry – namely the Mining and Foundry Works Company East, Inc. Krupp was also active on the Western front, along with IG Farben and a horde of lesser looters. As the Wehrmacht advanced through Holland, a group of company officials sat in an exclusive Düsseldorf club listening to radio reports of the battle. Spread out before them was a map. As a town fell, so the industrialists staked their claim for its factories and mines: ‘Here is village – . There is Müller – he is yours. There is Herr Schmidt, or Huber... he has two plants, we will have him arrested...’ Krupp made sure that it had its own man on the state board responsible for iron production, Arms Minister Speer appointing Alfried Krupp deputy chairman of the Reich Iron Association in May 1942.

At the peak of its productive activity, the Krupp Empire employed 115 000 workers exclusive of slaves. Its profits in the year 1939-40 amounted to 12 million RM. Sedgwick insists that ‘even a revised Marxist analysis breaks down... in the face of the gas-chambers’, and that Marxism ‘has nothing to contribute towards our understanding of Nazism’s politics of race murder.’ [31] Is Sedgwick saying that the materialist conception of history is unable to unearth the historical-economic roots of racialism and chauvinism? That Nazi anti-Semitism was a purely self-sufficient and autonomous ideology that neither had material origins nor a political function in the class struggle? He does not make this clear. He is possibly, therefore, concerned mainly with the holocaust that descended on European Jewry in the death camps of the Third Reich. He says:

If the necessity that stoked the Auschwitz crematories was not economic and was not political (in the sense of pursuing rational policy objectives in the public arena) what else can it have been but psychological? [32]

Is it true that there were no economic motives for the extermination of the Jews? Auschwitz became the centre where Jews were collected and gassed in vast numbers – some estimates put the total as high as two million. Whose idea was it to establish a camp at Auschwitz, a camp that not only killed Jews with gas supplied by a subsidiary of IG Farben, but selected the fitter ‘specimens’ for slave labour? On 2 November 1940, a conference was held between representatives of IG Farben and the Ministry of Economics on the question of building a new plant to manufacture synthetic oil, the so-called Buna plant. On 11 November the IG Farben Chemical Committee was in session, where a report was made on the practicability of building a new Buna plant in the occupied East. On 9 January 1941, the Mayor of Auschwitz replied to a letter from IG Farben, dated 23 December 1940, which asked for details of a suitable site for the proposed plant in the regions of the former Polish town. ‘There is a good and suitable site’, wrote the Mayor, ‘of the required size in the immediate neighbourhood, to the east of Auschwitz. It is flat and above flood-level, and also offers favourable rail connections such as are seldom found.’ The Mayor listed the ethnic composition of the local inhabitants, reporting there to be 7000 Jews, ‘concentrated in the town of Auschwitz’, out of a total population of 25 507.

From this point onwards, events moved fast. On 18 January 1941, IG Farben held a joint conference with representatives of the Schlesien-Benzin Co, with whom it was intended to develop the proposed Buna plant. A director of the latter firm, Josenhans, reported on the Auschwitz site:

The inhabitants of Auschwitz consist of 2000 Germans, 4000 Jews and 7000 Poles... The Jews and Poles, if industry is established there, will be turned out, so that the town will then be available for the staff of the factory... A concentration camp will be built in the immediate neighbourhood of Auschwitz for the Jews and Poles. [33]

Right from the beginning, therefore, IG Farben and its partners in crime were not merely privy to the decision to build a slave camp at Auschwitz for Jews and Poles, but were its direct and immediate beneficiaries. By 25 January, we find IG official Faust reporting to the firm’s chief engineer Santo that ‘south of Auschwitz there is a concentration camp with 20 000 Jews’. By this time, Poles and Jews were being considered as the chief source of labour for the proposed plant. On 10 February, a further report by Santo speaks of an impending ‘expansion’ of the concentration camp at Auschwitz, and of the ‘employment of prisoners for the building project after negotiations with the Reichsführer SS’ – Himmler. There were, however, doubts about the quality of the labour force. A team of IG Farben officials who visited Auschwitz and its camp found ‘the ethnic composition very bad’. This was not permitted to hold up the erection of the new plant, the go-ahead for procuring labour being given by Goering on 18 February 1941. Construction of the Buna plant was soon under way, but still there was a shortage of labour. The invasion of the USSR on 22 June solved this problem. A meeting of the IG supervisory board on 11 July 1941 decided that ‘the plants [will] have to make all efforts to get necessary workers. By utilising foreign workers and prisoners of war, the demands could be met.’ [34] As more and more regions of the USSR fell to the Nazi advance, the supply of slave labour became more plentiful. All the leading firms had their share, with Krupps setting up its own plants near Auschwitz close by those of IG Farben. Even under the conditions of barbarism imposed on the workforce by the alliance of SS and big business, there were instances of open defiance. On one occasion, Polish and Jewish slaves were beaten so unmercifully by their SS guards that the entire work force – Germans included – staged a strike. The response of the IG Farben management was immediate. An official of the firm on the Buna site reported:

The exceedingly unpleasant scenes that occur on the construction site because of this are beginning to have a demoralising effect on the free workers (Poles) as well as the Germans. We have therefore asked that they should refrain from carrying out this flogging on the construction site and transfer it to the inside of the concentration camp. [35]

Hear no evil...

By 1944, 7.5 million foreign slaves were employed in German firms on Reich territory, and an even larger number in the occupied territories on various private and state undertakings connected with the war effort. According to Oswald Pohl, head of the SS economic department (which had as one of its tasks the procurement of slave labour), ‘the large Buna Werke in Auschwitz ... was a giant plant with 40 000 foreign workers and inmates employed there’. He adds that the notorious Höss, the commandant of the Auschwitz death camp directly responsible for the gassing of untold numbers of Jews, ‘knew the [IG Farben] managers... they were in frequent contact... there were 800 outside labour camps [at Auschwitz], how many IG Farben had I just don’t know.’ Pohl, who of course worked closely with the heads of the large concerns employing slave labour supplied to them by the SS, also testifies that ‘there were thousands of firms. All the armaments firms that were in Germany came with their requests to us... The names of the main firms... Messerschmitt, Salzgitter, Brabag AG, but there were many, many more...’ [36] The following were firms who hired SS slave labour from one concentration camp – Flossenburg: Messerschmitt AG, Mitteldeutsche Stahlwerke AG, Siemens-Schuckert AG, Zeiss Iken (Dresden), Bernsdorf AG, Universelle Maschinenfabrik AG, Opta-Radi AG, Auto-Union AG.

Sedgwick is not alone in claiming that Nazi racial policy lacked material, specifically economic motives. This is a view shared by most commentators on the history of National Socialism and the Third Reich. Hitler, we are told time and again, was ‘not interested’ in economic questions. How then to account for his already quoted statements on the economic basis of Nazi imperialist policy? How then to account for the following remarks made during the war on the profitability of the Nazi slave labour programme?

[The]... integration of 20 million foreign workers at cheap rate into the German industrial system represents a saving which, again, is greatly in excess of the debts contracted by the state. A simple calculation... will show the correctness of this contention; the foreign worker earns approximately a thousand marks a year, in comparison with the average earnings of two thousand marks by German workers. Work out what this comes to in toto, and you will see that the final gain is enormous. [37]

The bulk of the gain went to the private employers of foreign labour. The lowest rates of pay went, of course, to Soviet POWs. A Soviet worker employed in Germany in a job rated, for a German worker, at between 21 and 24 RM per week would receive the pittance of 2.50 RM. The balance would then be divided between the firm, which pocketed a super-profit, and the prison camp which housed the workers between working hours. The death rate for Soviet workers, even in Germany, where conditions were better than in the slave camps of the East, was appallingly high. This did not worry their employers in the least, however, since for as long as the German army continued to advance, and the SS to round up more workers, there was no danger of demand exceeding supply. German fascism had made possible, over a limited period of time, the intensified exploitation of labour power by denying to it even the basic essentials of its reproduction. This was the barbarous logic of the death-camp system, which Sedgwick attributes to non-economic, psychological factors.

And just as German capitalism enriched itself on slave labour of the doomed Jews and other subject peoples, so it found profit even in their extermination and bodily remains. We find IG Farben well to the fore here also, manufacturing the poison gas crystals – Cyclon B – that slaughtered several millions of Jewish men, women, children and babies in the Auschwitz gas chambers. Cyclon B was pioneered by the firm of Degesh, in which IG Farben had a 42.5 per cent holding. Five of its 11 directors were IG men, four being directors of another firm Degussa, one from a smaller chemical concern Goldschmitt, and one from a subsidiary of Degesh. Even though it was established at the Nuremberg Trials that IG supplied Cyclon B in vast quantities to the SS, the charge of willingly participating in the murder of the Jews by gassing was not upheld by the court. In the words of Judge Morris:

The proof is quite convincing that large quantities of Cyclon B were supplied to the SS by Degesh and that it was used in the mass extermination of inmates of concentration camps, including Auschwitz. But neither the volume of production nor the fact that large shipments were destined to concentration camps would alone be sufficient to lead us to conclude that those who knew of such facts must also have had knowledge of the criminal purposes to which this substance was being put. Any such conclusion is refuted by the well-known need for insecticides wherever large numbers of displaced [sic!] persons, brought in from widely scattered regions, are confined in congested quarters lacking adequate sanitary facilities. [38]

Despite the amazing credulity of the Nuremberg judges, it was established that Dr Fritz Meer of the Central Committee of the IG Farben board of directors, conducted experiments with Tabun, a toxic gas intended for military use. The murder of those killed in such experiments he justified with the comment: ‘No harm had been done as they would have been killed anyway.’ Yes – and by another brand of IG gas. Once gassed with Cyclon B, the mountains of corpses had to be disposed of as quickly as possible, to make way for fresh batches of victims in the chambers. Here too private enterprise was most obliging. Fortunately for the firms concerned with the work, incinerators were in demand not only at Auschwitz, but at most concentration camps throughout the Nazi Empire. The following is a memo dated 10 January 1940from the SS Construction Management Office re the request from the Buchenwald Camp administration for a crematorium:

As a result of the high mortality rate in the Buchenwald concentration camp, it has become necessary to supply an emergency crematorium with oil burning furnace... The furnace is being supplied and erected by the firm JA Topf and Son, Erfurt...

The same firm of Topf and sons secured the lucrative contract to build the crematoria for the Auschwitz camp, which, when running at full blast, was gassing more than 20 000 Jews daily. A letter from the firm, dated 12 February 1943, to the Central Office of SS and Police at Auschwitz, reads:

Subject: Crematoria 2 and 3 for the camp for prisoners of war. We acknowledge receipt of your wire of 10 February as follows: ‘We again acknowledge receipt of your order for five triple furnaces, including two electric lifts for raising the corpses, and one for stoking coal was also ordered and one for the ashes. You are to deliver the complete installation for Crematorium No 3. You are expected to take steps to ensure the immediate dispatch of all the machines complete with parts.’

Topf and Son had their rivals in this murderous business. Tesch and Stabenow of Hamburg wrote to the SS Construction Management on 25 August 1941:

We have still to acknowledge your above letter and thank you very much for the delivery of circulation equipment for two extermination chambers of 10 cubic metres each, 8 transport trucks and 2 spring tele-thermometers as per our offer of 24-7-41... In consideration of the longer delivery dates generally required today, we recommend that you place an order as soon as possible for the equipment needed for operating the chambers, for which make you an offer in our letter of 11 August 1941. At present the delay in deliveries of masks amounts to about 3 months. Heil Hitler! Tesch and Stabenow International Vermin Exterminating Co Ltd.

The high death rate at the SS camp in Belgrade, where captured Communist partisans were interned, also called for similar equipment. The firm of Didier-Werke picked up the contract here:

With reference to your son’s visit and his conversation with our expert, Herr Storl, we note that the Belgrade SS unit intends to build a crematorium for a large camp and construct the building in collaboration with local architects... For lifting the bodies into the furnace, we suggest simply a metal fork moving on cylinders. Each furnace will have an oven measuring only 600 millimetres in breadth and 450 mm in height, as coffins will not be used. For transporting the corpses from the storage point to the furnaces we suggest using light carts on wheels and we enclose diagrams of these drawn to scale.

The firm of Kari were in the same trade:

Following our verbal discussion regarding the delivery of a crematorium installation of simple construction, we suggest our perfected coal burning furnaces for crematoria which have hitherto given full satisfaction... Awaiting further news, we will be at your service. Heil Hitler!

Professional pride was not misplaced, since Kari had built similar crematoria for the death camps at Dachau and Lublin.

Private enterprise muscled in on another undertaking of the Nazis – the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto, ordered by Himmler following the crushing of the heroic Jewish uprising in the Jewish quarter of the Polish capital in the spring of 1943. Pohl reported to Himmler on 19 October 1943, that

... the following efficient firms under the leadership of the firm Merckle, Ostrow-Wartheland, have been engaged: Ostdeutsche Tiefbau, Hamburg, Firma Willy Kemer, Warsaw, Berlinische Baugesellschaft, Berlin. These firms have guaranteed to pull down and to remove 4500 cubic metres daily. [39]

Still German capitalism had not finished with the Jews. It had worked them to death, profited from their extermination and the demolition of their homes. Now it was time to capitalise on their possessions and human remains. Action Reinhardt, as it was called, involved the looting and monetary evaluation of all the personal effects of the Jews murdered in the death camps. Literally nothing was permitted to go to waste, as Oswald Pohl, the SS officer in charge of the operation, later testified when under interrogation at Nuremberg:

Pohl: Foreign currency, rings and other things came from camps to Berlin, packed in cases, and they were given to the Reichsbank by us.

Question: What was the Reichsbank to do with these gold teeth?

Pohl: They were to evaluate them, and their equivalent was to be deposited at the Reichsbank treasury.

Question: Höss [commandant of Auschwitz] has testified that gold bars had also come from Auschwitz.

Pohl: I have seen gold bars, yes. ...

Question: Where did the gold bars – if they came from Auschwitz – originate?

Pohl: Probably from the Jews who were exterminated... Those gold bars were made from the melting of the various things, among other things, gold fillings.

Pohl described the macabre scene at the Reichsbank where after an SS delegation had admired the loot in the vaults of the Reichsbank, Pohl and his fellow officers joined Reichsbank President Funk and his staff upstairs where ‘Funk invited us to have dinner with him.’ [40] More details of Action Reinhardt appear in the directive sent to the SS Administration at Auschwitz by the Nazi governor of Poland, Hans Frank. Dated 26 September 1942, it reads:

Cash money in German Reichsbank notes had to be paid into the account: Economic and Administration Office 158/1488 with the Reichsbank in Berlin-Schönberg. Foreign exchange (coined or uncoined), rare metals, jewellery, precious and semi-precious stones, pearls, gold from teeth and scrap gold have to be delivered to the SS Economic and Administrative main office. The latter is responsible for the immediate delivery to the Reichsbank.

The monetary valuation put on the total spoils of Action Reinhardt had attained, by June 1943, the stupendous sum of 178 745 960.59 RM. Funk’s staff had calculated the plunder down to the last pfennig! The funds thus realised by this modern version of primitive capitalist accumulation were then loaned out at the low rate of interest of three per cent to German firms.

All that remained now were the bodies. Most were disposed of in crematoria. But towards the end of the war, the Nazis decided to put the corpses of murdered Jews in the service of the Third Reich just as they had enriched it with their slave labour. According to an eye-witness at the Auschwitz camp:

From 1943, the Germans, in order to utilise the bones which were not burned, started to grind them and sell them to the firm Strem for the manufacture of superphosphates. In the camp there were found bills of lading addressed to the firm Strem, for 112 tons and 600 kilograms of bone meal from human corpses. The Germans also used for industrial purposes hair shorn from women who were doomed for extermination.

Fat from human bodies was converted into soap at the Danzig Anatomic Institute under Professor Spanner. The Danzig firm AJRD also made soap from human bones, while human skin was tanned and put to commercial uses, as in the manufacture of lampshades. Is it necessary to cite further such examples to prove that economic, capitalist forces were at work in the enslavement and destruction of European Jewry? Or must we still seek the cause of Auschwitz in a mythical German psyche?

No Marxist would deny the enormous force of Nazi racialism, its mystical religious nature, and the dynamism which its pseudo-populism imparted to German imperialism. In this sense, Nazi anti-Semitism was indeed an historically unique phenomenon which has still to be properly accounted for by Marxists. But Sedgwick is saying something else:

What has to be determined is the function of anti-Semitism... in the belief system of the National Socialist movement as a whole. For, despite the programmatic timidity and opportunism of all the wings of Nazism, from Hitler to the so-called ‘Left Nazis’ like the Strassers, the ‘Socialism’ of ‘National Socialism’ has to be taken very seriously. All the militancy and sacrifice, all the hatred of privilege and corruption, all the determination to make a better and cleaner world, which among revolutionary socialists is attached to a class perspective upon society, was present among the Nazi pioneers; only [sic!] linked to a racial vision. Demagogy and conscious deception were practised constantly and consciously, but within the limits of a terrible sincerity... the worst vices come through the corruption of the noblest instincts – and the worst cruelties through the deflection of class militancy upon a non-class target. None but the exalted could triumph in the long and bitter path of struggle that led from the tiny, dingy back-rooms to the rostrum of the Nuremberg rallies... history selected Hitler’s party, as it selected Lenin’s, because it meant what it said. [41]

Sedgwick no doubt would insist that he is a socialist of some sort. Yet here we find him lending credence to the pseudo-’socialism’ of Feder, Drexler, Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler and the Strassers. For we are solemnly advised that their ‘socialism’ ‘has to be taken very seriously’. True, it has defects – it is ‘linked to a racial vision’. But on the other hand, it has much in common with proletarian socialism – ‘hatred of privilege and corruption, all the determination to make a better and cleaner world’. Ethically, we are all on the same side. The Nazis erred ‘only’ in that their ‘class militancy’ was deflected ‘upon a non-class target’. Class militancy? But both in its origins and ideology, National Socialism was an avowedly non-proletarian movement, fostered by elements of the bourgeoisie, and from its inception singling out as the main enemy the socialist-led proletariat. Sedgwick would have us believe that German fascism started out pure and innocent, and only later lost its way as increasingly racially-inspired motives predominated over class ones. Most obscene of all however is his likening of the NSDAP, the party that butchered the flower of the German proletariat, to the Russian Bolshevik Party. Each embodied equally the ‘unity of theory and practice’, and each were equally the executors of the will of history. Not a word does Sedgwick (who would, presumably, claim to be a revolutionary opponent of both Stalinism and Social Democracy) say about the role of the workers’ leaderships in Germany, their active participation in Hitler’s victory. One can only assume that for Sedgwick there was no betrayal of the German proletariat by Stalinism and Social Democracy, that history could have taken no other course than it did, and that Hitler’s victory was history’s reward for the honesty and sincerity of the Nazi Party. Nor is this all. We would, he suggests, be wrong to assume that the Third Reich was a prison for the proletariat:

... no movement without some kind of ideological parallel to Marxism could have hoped to master a society like Germany in which the class contours were so deeply graven... German fascism... in order successfully to assert its cultural dominance... had to avoid cutting across the grain of a class-divided Germany. One consequence was the Nazis’ persistent concern to minimise the burden that fell upon the German working class. [42]

Once again, the attempt is made to deny the bourgeois, and therefore counter-revolutionary nature and role of German fascism. The facts tell a different story. The close links established between the SS and the pro-Nazi industrialists in 1931-32 were further strengthened after Hitler’s assumption of power. Many business leaders became SS officers, and in this joint capacity attended regular sessions of the Himmler Circle, which included in its schedule of activities lectures by leading Nazis and visits to concentration camps. One industrialist member of the Himmler Circle, Lindemann, said at Nuremberg that he remembered ‘an invitation to inspect the concentration camp in Dachau... Himmler himself took us to the camp.’ [43] A typical programme of activities for the Circle’s members ran as follows:

10.00-10.30 hours. Lecture by SS Second Lt and Government Counsellor Hasselbacher. Subject: Jewry... 10.45-12.00 hours. Lecture by Kriminalrat Heller Subject: Communism. 12.15-13.30 hours. Lunch in the Kasino Gestapa... 16.30: Beginning of inspection of Adolf Hitler’s own regiment... 19.30 hours: Dinner in the Kasino of Adolf Hitler’s own regiment...

The next day (9 February 1937) the programme continued:

10.30-11.30: Lecture by SS Lt Col Meisinger. Subject: The fight against homosexuality and abortion as a political task... 20.00 hours: Visit of the Economy Leaders to the House of the Flyers. Himmler present. [44]

Himmler’s appointment as Reich Minister of the Interior in August 1943 produced much satisfaction in the ranks of industry and finance. The Nazi banker Baron Kurt von Schröder wrote to Himmler on behalf of the Circle’s members to ‘convey his great joy’ and ‘heartiest congratulations’ on his new appointment. He continued:

A strong hand is now necessary in the operation of this department and it is universally welcomed, but especially by your friends, that it was you who were chosen by the Führer. Please be assured that we will always do everything in our power at all times to assist you in every possible way. I am pleased to inform you at this opportunity that your Circle of Friends has again placed at your disposal this year a sum slightly in excess of one million RM for your special purposes. [45]

These ‘special purposes’ alluded to by Schröder were the activities of the Ancestral Heritage Institute (Ahnenerbe), founded in 1935 by Himmler for the pseudo-scientific study of the ‘racial’ origins of the Germanic peoples. In 1942, a sub-department of the Ahnenerbe was set up, the Institute for Practical Research in Military Science, which began to assemble a collection of skulls specially severed from the bodies of murdered Soviet Jews. These ‘skulls of Jewish-Bolshevik Commissars who personify a repulsive yet characteristic sub-humanity’ were then inspected for evidence of the political views they once contained, together with their alleged ‘racial’ characteristics. Himmler’s own medical adviser, Professor Gebhart, testified at Nuremberg in the ‘Doctors Trial’ that the SS chief was ‘the centre of the so-called Friends of Himmler circle which he founded. It was a dangerous mixture of eccentric individuals and industrialists:

From that quarter he obtained both the funds and the encouragement to undertake the thousand and one schemes which he put into operation. I have an idea that the extraordinary, newly-founded Institute where all these scientific friends of his met was in fact the Ancestral Heritage Community...

Here too we see that German capitalism was a willing accomplice to the most monstrous crimes of the Nazis, and that it subscribed – quite literally – to their racialist doctrines. It is scarcely surprising therefore to discover that in common with the mass of the big industrialists and bankers engaged in no significant oppositional activities against the Nazi regime, remaining its firmest supporters until almost the very end. In the words of Funk, Hitler’s Minister of Economics after the resignation of Schacht in 1938:

... there occurred very rare and singular instances of an industrialist assuming an oppositional attitude ... Leading industrialists on the other hand maintained good relations and understanding with the Labour Front. There were amongst others Bosch (Stuttgart), Borbet (Bochumer Verein), Blohm (Blohm und Voss), Messerschmitt, Reuter (Deutsche Maschinen Duisberg), and with the reservations also Rochlin (Saarbrucken) who became one of the main supporters of rearmament. [46]

All the old political-bureaucratic élites – Junkers, former bourgeois politicians, army leaders, etc – threw up their belated resistance figures, but not the tycoons of the Ruhr, the plunderers of Russia and the despoilers of the Jews. The many and contrasting programmatic documents produced by the various oppositional currents in the Third Reich all have one feature in common – they betray the total absence of any resistance activities by the leaders of the economy. A memorandum submitted in April 1942 to the British government by anti-Nazi circles in Germany lists the following elements as comprising the resistance: ‘1. Substantial groups of the working class. 2. Influential circles in the army and bureaucracy. 3. The militant groups in the Churches.’ This same document speaks of ‘these three key groups of action’ as having ‘formed the strong opposition movement which, in the given situation, would have sufficient power to overthrow the present regime because of their control over large masses having now arms in hand, and, as regards the workers, at their disposal’. The programme of this alliance included the demand for the ‘reconstruction of the economic order according to truly socialist lines, instead of self-sufficient autarchy a close cooperation between free nations...’. As for the tormented Jews, whom the big employers were greedily exploiting in the slave camps of the East, the document declared that the new anti-Nazi government would ‘announce at once that it would restitute the Jewish part of the population at once to a decent status, give back the stolen property and cooperate with all other nations for a comprehensive solution of the Jewish problem’. [47] What place could there be for Krupps and IG Farben in such a movement which, with all its limitations and contradictory social and political composition, renounced the foul heritage of Nazi racialism? The labour-based wing of the anti-Hitler resistance, even though led in the main by reformists, evolved a programme even more explicitly aimed against the large trusts, the main beneficiaries as well as architects of the Nazi empire. Carlo Mierendorff, the socialist intellectual, was the most prominent and undoubtedly among the most courageous of former workers’ leaders to organise underground proletarian opposition to the Nazi regime in its last years. When Social Democratic and Stalinist bureaucrats alike were fleeing Germany in droves, leaving to their fate the workers they had betrayed, the ‘social fascist’ Mierendorff declared contemptuously: ‘What are the workers to make of us if we leave them in the lurch? They can’t all go off to the Riviera.’ Mierendorff was seized by the Gestapo, and not released from Lichtenburg Concentration Camp until 1938 when he at once resumed his anti-Nazi activities. In June 1943, he drafted the programme of the newly-formed Socialist Action, which brought together various anti-Nazi labour groups. Point five of the Mierendorff programme demanded ‘expropriation of the key firms in heavy industry and for the benefit of the German people and as the foundation of the socialist organisation of the economic system, aimed at putting an end for good to the pernicious abuse of political power by high finance’. [48] The sole instance of a prominent industrialist falling out with the rulers of the Third Reich is provided by Thyssen, who following the conclusion of the Nazi-Soviet pact, accused Hitler of selling out to Communism. His arrest in France after the collapse of June 1940, and his detention in a Nazi concentration camp for the duration of the war, were vastly different experiences from those endured by millions of slave workers in Germany and the occupied East. His captors maintained him ‘in the manner to which he was accustomed’, as Otto Steinbrinck of the Flick combine testified at Nuremberg. The following exchange took place between Steinbrinck, who was feigning ignorance of the Nazi camp system, and the prosecution:

Steinbrinck: The two people whom I knew fairly well and from whom I knew what things were like in concentration camps were [Pastor] Niemoeller and Thyssen.

Question: Do you think it was a general custom for the inmates of concentration camps to get paid as Thyssen did?

Steinbrinck: Certainly not to the extent of 2000 marks per month. That is what Thyssen got. [According to Hitler’s quoted calculation, this was the average income of a German worker for a whole year – RB]

Question: Do you think that wine was usually sent into concentration camps?

Steinbrinck: Obviously it is possible that individual inmates were able to buy drinks and luxury goods through official legal channels. [49]

Even in the Nazi camps, the class system prevailed. Whilst slaves of the ‘inferior races’ toiled and perished in their millions for the greater glory of the Reich and the greater profits of Krupp and IG Farben – Thyssen sipped his wine and calmly awaited the day when he could emerge from his luxurious confinement to reclaim his industrial empire.

Let us quote Sedgwick once again, in the light of evidence that has been presented: ‘German fascism... [avoided] cutting across the grain of a class divided society. One consequence was the Nazis’ persistent concern to minimise the burden that fell upon the German working class.’ Thus does Sedgwick evaluate the most terrible tyranny endured by the working class in the history of world capitalism. If fascism is not at its base a movement of the most extreme bourgeois reaction against proletarian socialism, then one can, of course, legitimately argue for a non-proletarian policy to combat it. Which leads one on to the politics of Stalinist Popular Frontism, and to Mr Sedgwick’s real vocation, that of the decent English liberal fighting to preserve a sane, rational capitalism where none can be found.


1. A Bullock, Hitler: A Study In Tyranny (London, 1960), p 231, emphasis added.

2. William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (London, 1962), pp 141-44.

3. AJP Taylor, The Course of German History (London, 1961), pp 245-47, emphasis added.

4. D Schoenbaum, Hitler’s Social Revolution (London 1967), pp 79, 120, 157.

5. GDH Cole, The Meaning of Marxism (Michigan, 1964), p 147.

6. GDH Cole, The Intelligent Man’s Guide to the Postwar World (London, 1947), p 237.

7. Quite apart from its analytical deficiencies, Dimitrov’s formulation helped to lay the theoretical foundations for Stalinist Popular Frontism, which involved a bloc of the workers’ parties with the ‘least reactionary’, ‘least chauvinistic’ and ‘least imperialistic’ elements of finance capital.

8. T Mason, ‘Economics in National Socialist Germany’, in SJ Woolf (ed), The Nature of Fascism (London, 1968), pp 172-73.

9. T Mason, ‘Economics in National Socialist Germany’, in SJ Woolf (ed), The Nature of Fascism, p 167.

10. D Grünberger, A Social History of the Third Reich (London, 1971), p 17.

11. R Dahrendorf, Society and Democracy in Germany (London, 1967), pp 401-02.

12. J Burnham, The Managerial Revolution (London, 1962), p 210.

13. Burnham, The Managerial Revolution, pp 215-16.

14. Like the Burnham – Shachtman group, International Socialism first saw the light of day at a time when the principled, unconditional defence of a workers’ state was highly unpopular, to say the least, in petit-bourgeois radical circles. Shachtman found himself unable to defend the USSR only after the conclusion of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. The founders of IS publicly renounced the defence of the USSR on the occasion of the outbreak of the Korean war in 1950.

15. P Sedgwick, ‘The Problem of Fascism’, International Socialism, no 42 (February-March 1970), pp 32-33.

16. Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Volume 3, pp 296-300, emphasis added.

17. Document no 327, Documents on German Foreign Policy, Volume 13.

18. ‘Economic Policy Directives for War on the USSR’, EC 126, emphasis added.

19. 1317-PS.

20. 1316-PS.

21. 1157-PS.

22. 1157-PS.

23. 1030-PS.

24. PS-1456.

25. NI-3777.

26. NI-2996.

27. NI-6732.

28. WA Bolcke (ed), The Secret Conferences of Dr Goebbels 1939-1943 (London, 1970), p 185.

29. P Sedgwick, ‘The Problem of Fascism’, International Socialism, no 42 (February-March 1970), p 33.

30. The annexation of Czechoslovakia was a splendid dress rehearsal for much larger operations to come in the Soviet Union. The Völkischer Beobachter of 10 October 1938 reported: ‘... Gestapo men working in close cooperation with the advancing troops immediately commenced combing out Marxists, traitors and other enemies of the state from the liberated territory.’

31. P Sedgwick, ‘The Problem of Fascism’, International Socialism, no 42 (February-March 1970), p 33.

32. P Sedgwick, ‘The Problem of Fascism’, International Socialism, no 42 (February-March 1970), p 33.

33. N1-11784, emphasis added.

34. NI-6099.

35. NI-1453.

36. Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Supplement B, pp 1591-94.

37. Hitler’s Secret Conversations (New York, 1953), p 372.

38. Krauch Case, p 1169.

39. NI-2503.

40. Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Supplement B, p 1538.

41. P Sedgwick, ‘The Problem of Fascism’, International Socialism, no 42 (February-March 1970), pp 33-34.

42. P Sedgwick, ‘The Problem of Fascism’, International Socialism, no 42 (February-March 1970), pp 33-34.

43. Flick Trial, pp 202-04.

44. NI-9983.

45. EC-454.

46. EC-440.

47. Cited in G van Roon, German Resistance to Hitler (London, 1971), pp 360-64.

48. Cited in G van Roon, German Resistance to Hitler, p 378.

49. Flick Trial, p 379.