Discussions on the economic history of the nations taking part in WW2, from the recovery after the depression until the economy at war.
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In his biography of Albert Speer, British historian Martin Kitchen offers the following description of what he sees as the fundamental problem in the German war economy:
Hitler was opposed to further centralisation and bureaucratisation, whether in the
hands of the Four-Year Plan or the Ministry of Economics. This to him smacked
of Bolshevism. Nazi ideology also favoured a decentralised economy that strength-
ened small businesses. The wellbeing of the butcher, the baker and the candle-
stick-maker was an integral part of ‘German socialism’, as against the selfish inter-
ests of the ‘plutocrats’ on the Rhine and Ruhr. A National Socialist war economy
should thus be based on small enterprises, not encourage big business to make
windfall profits and drive their rivals to the wall. But smaller companies saw no rea-
son to switch over to armaments production – a lengthy and expensive undertaking
with uncertain prospects – unless they were forced to do so. They knew that a war
economy meant that they would either be forced to close down or would become
fully dependent on the big industrial combines. They had significant support within
the Nazi Party.
Quoted in Martin Kitchen, Speer: Hitler's Architect
, p. 229
Kitchen repeats this observation throughout his discussion of Speer's takeover of the German armaments ministry. Nazi ideology was equally opposed to strong centralized economic planning ("Bolshevism") as to full fledged profit driven capitalism that would only enrich the large firms ("plutocracy"). All attempts in either direction met with considerable resistance from the Nazi party and Gauleiters. It wasn't until the crisis of the winter of 1941-42 that Hitler finally sided with the plutocrats and put Speer in charge, but even then there was continued resistance within the complex, decentralized system of Nazi governance.
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Another relevant excerpt about the structural limitations imposed on the German armaments industry as a result of the Treaty of Versailles:
Todt seized the opportunity offered by the change of emphasis from munitions to weapons to strengthen his position against OKW. His
intention was that his local Armaments Committees (Rüstungsausschüssen) should work together with the Army Armaments Office’s local bodies, thereby bypassing OKW’s Armaments Inspectors (Rüstungsinspektoren). ‘Panzer’ Rohland gave Todt his energetic support with his apodictic pronouncement that: ‘Industrial self-determination is more effective than quotas. Quotas spell the death of industry.’⁴³ For the time being, however, these hopes could not be fulfilled. The armaments industry remained under military control, but the divisions and rivalries within the armed services still left them vulnerable to a determined attack on their primacy. The basic problem was that the Treaty of Versailles had forbidden Germany to produce a wide range of armaments. These had therefore been produced clandestinely during the Weimar Republic. Since they could not be developed by private industry, an overblown military bureaucracy had evolved to oversee weapons production. This made it all the harder to hand over responsibility to the private sector.
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historygeek2021 wrote:Nazi ideology was equally opposed to strong centralized economic planning ("Bolshevism") as to full fledged profit driven capitalism that would only enrich the large firms ("plutocracy").
I haven't read the book but if this accurately characterizes Kitchen's view it makes the frequent error of taking Nazi ideology far too seriously. Yes, there were economically populist strains to Nazi rhetoric and sometimes policy. But when Hitler actually wielded power these were as often dropped as not (reminds one of today's supposed populists). NSDAP was a coalition of often conflicting interests. Economically left-leaning positions were most common among the lower class strata of Nazis embodied by the SA but of course we know how much priority they were given when the elitist army and industrial interests wanted the SA eliminated in 1934.
historygeek2021 wrote:It wasn't until the crisis of the winter of 1941-42 that Hitler finally sided with the plutocrats and put Speer in charge, but even then there was continued resistance within the complex, decentralized system of Nazi governance.
One could just as well argue that Hitler was "siding with the plutocrats" during the early war years when he refused to crack down on wasteful industrial practices, and that he turned decisively against them after the Moscow Crisis by criminalizing waste. That's not to disagree that the Nazi state was a clusterf*&k and that excessive military control harmed production.
What resolves all these contradictions is there was no "real Hitler/Nazism" except a nihilistic death drive, hatred of Jews, and will to power. Everything else was window dressing that could be dropped as circumstances dictated - even Hitler's love of the German people as the final disaster approached.
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Likely if Hitler was opposed to centralization it was more a matter of his wanting to maintain control by promoting conflict within the bureaucracy that only he could be relied on to solve through his edicts when problems arose. That kept everyone sucking up to him and prevented a challenger from emerging within the ranks to replace him.
Speer's great achievement was convincing Hitler to give him the power to centralize the bureaucracy under him, while also placating competitors; though he might not have really innovated anything (from what I can tell he just implemented Todt's plans that had long been denied by the system) from a production organization standpoint, what he did do was master the politics of the Third Reich's bureaucracy, which was a massive achievement considering what he had to face off against. His miracle then was political more than anything.