What was Nazi Germany? – Part III

Having set out the rise and outlook of the Nazi government as well as its economic impulses during the 1930s until the onset of World War II, it is now time to get into the matter of the actual conquest and colonization process itself. In this, it will be necessary to focus as little as possible on the now very familiar history of the diplomacy, the war itself, military tactics and so on. These things, although interesting in their own right and important for understanding the history of the period, do not shed much light on the nature of the Nazi regime as seen from a larger perspective. The essence of this series of articles is, after all, not to answer the question what Nazi Germany did, but what Nazi Germany was: in other words, when seen from a larger historical perspective and put in its post-19th century context, what sort of class society was Nazi Germany and from where did its policy direction come? I hope to have already shown that Nazi Germany’s class support came mainly from the army, from the middle-sized and large farmers/landowners, and initially from those sections of industry (and banking) most affected by the Great Depression. Later, the more competitive and ‘liberal’ sections of industry joined the Nazi effort more fully as the rearmament and strategic investment shifts of the Goering plans led to prospects of an improved position for these industries in case of war. Industry and (large) agriculture indeed have been shown to be the main beneficiaries of the militarist restructuring of German society during the 1930s. I hope also to have shown that Nazi policies aimed at effectively applying colonial methods, which were familiar to German politics both from the cruelties in Africa and the Americas by other nations as well as their own, within Europe itself. Now it is time to address two other, related, topics. The first is that of the war and the full implementation, as could be done during wartime, of the Nazi government’s settlement plans for Eastern Europe and its colonization scheme for Europe altogether. The enormity of the horror of these plans, fortunately curtailed by events although still unbelievably destructive, is still not quite commonly understood, nor is its connection to colonialism as a phenomenon. The second topic is the question of cui bono? – who ended up benefiting from this, and how? These will now be addressed. Continue reading “What was Nazi Germany? – Part III”

What was Nazi Germany? – Part II

As I have shown in the last article, there were six major circumstances or conditions prevailing in Germany at the time the Nazis seized power that determined their thought:

– First, there was large, if finally steady, unemployment in essentially all lower sectors of the economy.
– Second, there was an urgent need for foreign currency reserves to pay imports with: with the loss of Alsace-Lorraine, Germany had almost no major raw resource for its industries in any large quantity except coal. It had to import ore from France and Sweden, cotton and wool from Britain and elsewhere, rubber and oil from other countries’ colonies. Moreover, Germany’s large number of middle-sized farmers were technologically and productively backwards as a result of enormous excess labor in the countryside, a situation not dissimilar to the one the Soviet Union was in at the same time, about which I have written elsewhere. This meant that it also was highly dependent on middle-sized farmer export countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark for butter, animal feed, milk etc. With no regular reserves existing as a result of the reparations payments and the huge debt, this meant that reviving German exports had a priority, as did defaulting on any further debts, as Hitler did in 1933.
– Third, the German military position was weak, as mentioned, and from the point of view of the military needed urgent rearmament, especially faced with the inevitable hostility from France, Britain and the United States its newly nationalist policy would provoke.
– Fourth, it is important to emphasize that the standard of living in Germany was substantially lower than in Britain or America, and although it had very advanced heavy industry, much of its smaller agriculture and small industry (such as textiles and food processing) lagged seriously behind. In 1990 dollars, the German per capita income was about $4500, comparable with mid-level global economies today, such as Iran or South Africa. The United States was already, be it slowly and with great inequality, embarking on the mass production of consumer goods for the upper middle class, such as fridges and cars, which Germany altogether lacked. The British middle class, too, was significantly better off than the Germans, fuelling the fires of revanchism further. Britain’s comfortable arrangements with the other Commonwealth states in the form of the Ottawa Agreement economic union assured it an export market, while at the same time permitting cheap import of raw materials of all sorts from its colonies like India and Malaysia. Hyperinflation, but more importantly the reparations regime had destroyed the German middle class and damaged its industry, while Britain and the US proceeded to increase their growth pace. German capital therefore felt itself truly surrounded and incapable of meeting the challenge of competition on these terms, while the military worried about lack of industrial production potential due to unemployment and the small market, which would weaken the capacity for war production. German housing was terrible even compared with Britain, and general inequality very high (one reason why the KPD had remained large despite its incompetence). At the same time, its technological level at the top of capital was still high and its research excellent.
– Fifth, there was the central issue of Lebensraum. The excess labor in agriculture and its low standard of production, especially with a dual system of great landowners and lagging middle-sized family farms, gave the impression of great overpopulation in rural areas. This, in turn, was translated by Nazi policy into a need for more land. This was nothing new of itself: the mass emigration of some 40 million Europeans to settler colonies outside Europe in the preceding century was the product both of low wages and of land hunger. In 1933, some 29% of the entire workforce was engaged in agriculture; compare this to a country like the Netherlands today, which produces, albeit with significant subsidies, vast excesses for export with an agricultural workforce of a mere 2-3%. Moreover, most of these were agricultural laborers who were quite poor, as well as hard-pressed family farmers, whose infinitely divisible inherited plots became smaller and less profitable as time went on. The end of WWI had seen widespread famine and disease, which killed hundreds of thousands. The population density of Germany was high, especially now that it lacked any overseas colonies, and very unfavorable compared with France or America (or the USSR), meaning it would lag more and more behind and become ever more dependent on imported food. For Hitler c.s., this was a recipe for ‘race death’. The only option was expansion and settlement elsewhere. (It is important to note Italy, Germany’s later war ally, was in much the same position – in fact it had even fewer ha per rural population available than Germany did.)
– Sixth, there is the question of race. National-Socialism on the one hand expressed the unified desire for expansion and settlement on the part of both certain sections of heavy industry, in particular the ‘quantitative’ ones like mining and steel, as well as that of the middle and large farmers; on the other, it expressed the logic of colonialism in its most aggressive form, where all was ranked according to a hierarchy of peoples eternally fighting over their living space and exploitable resources, endlessly warring over their settlements, in a race to the death to have one ‘blood’ win over another. This crude medley of social Darwinism, racial ‘science’ and imperialist apologetics was a poisonous concoction brewed out of the ingredients of Victorian thought, and could not have existed without the prior popularity of each of these elements among the bourgeoisie and intelligentsia of the Victorian-era great powers. This includes, of course, anti-semitism and support for ideas of ‘racial purity’. Truly Nazism went further than any other in this regard, but this was more a matter of boldly boiling down the fluffy mass of Victorian imperial justification to its toxic core than a matter of innovation. In his main work Mein Kampf, Hitler immediately connected this entire ideological framework with the concrete and medium term needs of those larger farmers and heavy industry, as well as the revanchism among military circles, in a maneouvre as brilliant as it was diabolical. This meant of course implacable hatred toward those weakening the race on the one hand, such as ‘impure’ groups, and those opposed to the aforementioned classes on the other hand, such as socialists. In fact, the commentators seem to disagree on whether Hitler hated Jews more than Communists, and whether he hated Jews for being Communists or Communists for being Jews; be that as it may, these aspects followed immediately from these ideological elements. Fitting the combination of Lebensraum policy with support for the Nazis’ particular racial ideology, the agricultural areas of the north and east of Germany were the only parts to ever give the NSDAP a full majority in an election. Continue reading “What was Nazi Germany? – Part II”

What was Nazi Germany? – Part I

Few governments in the history of humanity have been so criminal and so destructive as the National-Socialist regime that prevailed in Germany between 1933 and 1945. When Adolf Hitler in 1939 invaded Poland, thereby firing the opening salvo for WWII, this led to a global conflict and series of massacres which would see over 50 million people dead – more than in any war in the history of civilization. The blame for this is laid first and foremost among all Axis nations on Nazi Germany. Yet what that regime is most known for is not even its destructive wars, but most particularly its genocidal policies of hateful murder called the Holocaust or Shoah, in which millions of Jews, Slavs, Sinti & Roma, homosexuals, Communists and other ‘undesirables’ were ruthlessly destroyed. The memory of these events is still alive very strongly, at least in Europe, and there are few historical periods about which more books have been written than the Nazi period. Yet despite the popular familiarity with the subject, there is still much missing in the common version of events; in particular, the question not of how this came to pass, but why, deserves fuller attention. Fortunately, some excellent works of history have been written about the context of the events leading up to and including the Nazi destruction, aiding us in the task of understanding.

There are two aspects of the Nazi state and its machinery that have remained, at least until recently(1), underemphasized. The first is the economic impetus for Nazi Germany to make its policies as it did, and to wage war the way it did and at its given time. The second is the colonial context within which the entire enterprise of national-socialism, both as a practice and as an ideology, must be understood. These two issues are closely related, as the Nazi party and its ideology would have been impossible if it did not bring out the latent destructive potentials of the late colonial period more generally – what was unique about it was the ruthlessness of its implementation, and most importantly, the fact that it was aimed against Europe. The Nazi state and its ideology was nothing other than the racial-imperial ideology and the extractive-military reality of colonialism combined in the most violent and explosive manner possible, and to the shock of all contemporary observers, it aimed its hammer-blows not against the familiar victims in Africa or Asia, but against the peoples of Europe itself. Moreover, it did so only 30-odd years after the end of the last Great War, which was generally assumed to have been ‘the war to end all wars’. Such a threat to the integrity of the European system had not been seen since the Napoleonic wars, if not the Ottoman siege of Vienna. It is therefore very worth exploring, in as summary a way as can be done, how this was possible. Continue reading “What was Nazi Germany? – Part I”