The Nazis and Industrial Autonomy

Nazi Germany was a centrally planned economy. This meant that, as in the Soviet Union, business served the state. There was a central planning bureaucracy, which organised and directed industrial production, right down to dictating to employers how many employees they should take from the labour exchanges. Unlike the Soviet Union, this was all done through private, not state-owned, industry. The Nazis furthermore claimed to value private enterprise and initiative amongst business leaders, and Nazi rhetoric attacked state bureaucracy in a manner very similar to the denunciation of state planning and bureaucracy by Thatcherite Neo-liberal free-marketeers.

Robert A. Brady also tackles this in his The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism. He writes

Similar to the ideas of Gerard Swope-one of the spiritual fathers of the N.R.A.- the United States Chamber of Commerce, and other similar spokesmen for “self-government in industry,” “the ideal held up to us by The Leader is a new system of self-administration with the emphasis laid on the responsibility of every individual.” In this theory, business men must be allowed so to organise themselves as to avoid the “bureaucracy” assumed to be inherent in state control and to give free play to “ethical” private initiative in business.

“We cannot dispense with the economic willing of individual business leaders and workers,” Schacht said. To do so, he held, would be to destroy the “creative power” of the people. The function of business enterprise is to release this creative power on behalf of the nation.” Under no circumstances,” he continued, “shall we destroy the multifarious individual character of our economic system. For all time to come we shall need the independent employer who for better or worse, is connected with his enterprise.” In other words, business men in the new Germany are to be given free reign to function as before, except now they must be “honest” in the sense that they must not resort to “unfair” tactics to achieve corporate ends. (pp. 265-6).

Likewise as with the N.R.A., the new German economic organisations are supposed not to engage themselves with “economic planning,” since, according to the Nazis, planning can only lead to “bureaucratisation.” “Free economy, private initiative, and personal responsibility are not demands of employers on us, but our demands on the employers,” as a Nazi party spokesman expressed it. But this is only to assert that the totalitarian powers of the new state can and will be used to see that no one escapes whatever the majority of the more powerful German businessmen decided to do. Membership is compulsory in the new “self-administered” organisations. Nobody is to be allowed to stay outside and spoil the game. All must follow where they are “led” by the state-recognised spokesmen for their respective groups. (pp. 266-7).

In fact, as I’ve blogged about before, German industry did form a kind of partnership with the Nazis, but it was always fragile and could be dissolved at any time, such as later in the 1930s when the party began a series of four-year plans. Nevertheless, in theory at least, the Nazis were not hostile to private industry, and claimed to protect personal responsibility and entrepreneurial initiative, which are still the cornerstones of the neo-liberal economic mindset.

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