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The Myth of Nazi Efficiency
May 18, 2013 7:21 AM   Subscribe

The Myth of Nazi Efficiency
posted by Miko (84 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
Obviously, the Nazis weren't efficient. They lost. And, if our maximize-profit-through-every-means-possible masters have taught us anything, it's that a highly efficient organization will naturally prevail.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:40 AM on May 18, 2013


That is a really interesting article; I didn't know a lot of that history.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:42 AM on May 18, 2013


Good heavens, yes. I remember when, in my late 20s, a little reading showed that the Nazis, rather than being the regime of elite and efficient super-evil supermen of the popular imagination, were a vain and petty mass of backstabbing croneys and thugs dedicated to squeezing every last drop of advantage out of anyone they could bully, intimidate, or murder.

Later, a friend was reading a history of Germany and related a report of a compulsory plan to have workers pay into a "car fund," which would eventually deliver a car to the worker. Money was collected, but no plants, much less cars, were produced. She said "I'm used to Nazis being evil, but they were just confidence men."
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:50 AM on May 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


Obviously, the Nazis weren't efficient. They lost.

This isn't what efficient means. Efficiency is the most profit per unit expended. If I kill two birds with one stone, I'm more efficient than if I kill two birds with two stones - but the guy next to me killing six birds with ten stones is still killing a lot more birds.

In military terms: Imagine you have a tiny city under siege; the defenders kill ten men for every one they lose. That's very efficient. It's just not effective, because the besiegers have fifty men for every one inside the city, so eventually the city's overrun. They lose despite their efficiency.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:54 AM on May 18, 2013 [27 favorites]


There's a lot of interesting stuff in there, but it's too long by half, and (partly to blame for the length) pointlessly tendentious. A great deal of it, especially toward the end, is devoted to hammering home the proposition that Nazis Were Bad and Should Feel Bad (they persecuted Jews! and homosexuals! who knew?); surely at this late date that's unnecessary? Part of the problem, of course, is the cute Star Trek lead-in, which while it catches your attention also apparently made the author feel obliged to refute everything in it. For me this would have been a much better article if it had limited itself to what's genuinely new (for many of us) and interesting, namely the economic history leading up to Hitler's rise and the sources of inefficiency built into the Nazi regime.

Also, I was surprised that the international context was ignored (other than the Depression). The Four-Year Plan was modeled on the Soviet Five-Year Plan, and everything said about the confusion of Party and government organs applies also to the Soviet Union; a comparison of the two systems would have shed light on the general political-economic tendencies of the '30s. But I don't want to complain too much; it was an interesting read and I'm glad you posted it.
posted by languagehat at 7:55 AM on May 18, 2013 [13 favorites]


True -- skip the first three paragraphs, that gets you into the actual history.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:58 AM on May 18, 2013


I agree about those flaws, languagehat. The Star Trek thing is unnecessary; if your audience is history geeks, they don't need that, and if it's Trekkies, there's not enough here to interest them. It saddened me that the one comment it has so far gotten originates from deep within the Trekkieverse. But I had a similar reaction - enough here is interesting and good that it's worth sharing.
posted by Miko at 7:59 AM on May 18, 2013


I'm reminded of the scene from Band of Brothers, where the Nazis have surrendered and are heading home with horse-drawn carriages. Indeed, many German artillery units used horses throughout the war, contrary to a myth of full mechanization. In the scene, an American soldier decries how the Nazis could have ever thought they would be successful.

David Webster: [at a passing column of German prisoners] Hey, you! That's right, you stupid Kraut bastards! That's right! Say hello to Ford, and General fuckin' Motors! You stupid fascist pigs! Look at you! You have horses! What were you thinking? Dragging our asses half way around the world, interrupting our lives... For what, you ignorant, servile scum! What the fuck are we doing here?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:09 AM on May 18, 2013 [13 favorites]


I would post something about how the various three-letter agencies in our own country seem to have overlapping and ambiguously-specified roles, but I don't want to end up on a secret enemies list.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:12 AM on May 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Recommended reading: Mark Mazower's Hitler's Empire and Adam Tooze's Wages of Destruction which both explore the nazi economy, how it evolved and shaped the war.

Short recap: actually, the nazi economy was relatively efficient within the constrains it had to operate in, but hampered by ideology. The original article is actually demolishing a strawman, as nobody seriously believed in nazi super efficiency, but both Tooze and Mazower argue that the opposite view, where the nazis were done in by their own planning failures and ideological shortsightedness is largely wrong too.

That's not to say there weren't conflicts between ideology and economic demands, mostly in the treatment of occupied Eastern Europe and Russia, where it would've made more sense to win the population for the cause, but the longterm plan had been to completely pauperise it and replace by German colonists...
posted by MartinWisse at 8:13 AM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mussolini didn't make the trains run on time either.
posted by jonp72 at 8:14 AM on May 18, 2013


An interesting perspective but the arguments do seem to whitewash cause and effect rather glibly in places. For instance, the author assumes that infrastructure investment was unnecessary or unwise yet many would arguee its importance. Perhaps applying 21st century american economic dogma to 1930's european issues needs such whitewash in order to enhance the impact of the arguments.
posted by BenPens at 8:14 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know who else was efficient?
posted by blue_beetle at 8:21 AM on May 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Damn Nazis can't even get Nazing right.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:22 AM on May 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Interesting to read how the Nazis were anti-state. Reminds of this blog post that argues that “The problem in party-states is not that the formal state structures are too strong, but that they’re too weak to restrain the party.”

Very relevant for today's politics where the right and parts of the left are unified by anti-state ideologies.
posted by AlsoMike at 8:24 AM on May 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Mussolini didn't make the trains run on time either.

I was just about to point out the same thing. You can probably make a general case for authoritarian regimes being better at convincing people of claims like these than they are at actually living up to them. Once the mechanisms of government are so focused on propaganda and suppressing dissent, it almost seems inevitable.

(I recall one of the nicer points in the comic V for Vendetta -- sadly left out in the movie adaptation -- concerned "The Voice of Fate". "Fate" was the name of the fascist regime's central computer. Every day, Fate issued a public report on the state of the nation, which was broadcast on the radio. The report was read aloud by a human, but everyone who wasn't directly involved in the broadcast assumed that the computer itself was talking, and the few who knew this wasn't true encouraged them in that belief, because it made them seem more technologically competent than they actually were.)
posted by baf at 8:34 AM on May 18, 2013


nobody seriously believed in nazi super efficiency

Probably not among historians, but it's a pop culture trope, and so many people have that impression.
posted by Miko at 8:44 AM on May 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Adam Tooze's Wages of Destruction is a good read, if you can find it. The crux of the argument is that the economy was recovering on its own in the 1930's and the Nazis played no part.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:44 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've harboured the stereotype that Germans in general are efficient but not that the Nazis were exemplary examples of German efficiency. I wonder if the impression that the Nazis were hyper efficient was partly a coping mechanism to deal with the reality of the Holocaust.
posted by Mitheral at 8:47 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised that nobody has focused on how the blog post invokes the question, "Does efficiency inevitably lead to brutality?", yet doesn't even bother to begin answering it.
posted by jonp72 at 8:56 AM on May 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


That's the same question I had. Does everything end in Soylent Green?
posted by arcticseal at 9:17 AM on May 18, 2013


For me this would have been a much better article if it had limited itself to what's genuinely new (for many of us) and interesting, namely the economic history leading up to Hitler's rise and the sources of inefficiency built into the Nazi regime.

It largely ignores the Weimar hyperinflation of the early '20s as well, and it always seemed to me that that episode - coming so fast on the heels of WWI - must have had an almost incalculable impact on the German psyche. To see inflation completely destroy the value of what people had scrimped and saved for so long - yeah, that's going to make you really resentful. And the Nazis played on that residual resentment, among many others.
posted by kgasmart at 9:18 AM on May 18, 2013


Does everything end in Soylent Green?

Maybe. Isn't that part of the conservative argument on Obamacare (death panels!) as well as an aspect of the pro-life argument, that while abortion may lower societal costs in terms of unwanted children who might wind up on the dole, that it takes "murder" to achieve this "efficiency?"

Not advocating that view, mind you, but that is part of the rationale.
posted by kgasmart at 9:21 AM on May 18, 2013


AlsoMike: Those who are anti-state on the left (I'm one of them) think of the state as one authoritarian pattern among many (wage labor, patriarchy, racial division) that is unique only insamuch as it has unusual prestige (patriotism, the pledge of allegiance, etc.) and tends to bolster these structures elsewhere (the state enforces property relations, which preserve wage labor, and has only recently been less active in the maintenance of gender/race inequality).

The anti-state left objects to the alienation of political life from civil society that the state is an expression of. Why do we have these elaborate rituals, dominated by those already powerful in civil society, to select men to discuss the minimum wage in a temple on Capital Hill? Why aren't the people doing the work and consuming its products deliberating in situ? The anti-state left wants to politicize civil society, to have the functions of these distinct state organs take place everywhere, obviating the need for a separate authoritarian and hierarchical institution. This is why the political activity of libertarian socialists (e.g. anarchists, left communists) centers mostly on building alternative organizations. The state is to be eliminated by diffusion, if you will.

On so-called libertarian right, the state is opposed for exactly the opposite reason. The power structures of civil society, particularly private ownership of productive means, are fine by them, and they're enraged by the role the state has played in checking the worst excesses of private tyranny. They dream of the preservation of privilege the state makes possible without having to deal with those few constraints added by legislators to quell popular struggles (e.g. the welfare state, civil rights for non-dominant ethnicities and genders).
posted by phrontist at 9:26 AM on May 18, 2013 [23 favorites]


If you really wanted efficiency, or at least the ability to produce huge amount of stuff in a short period of time (even if said stuff was only good for morale and not really useful to the war effort, e.g. the camouflaging of west coast plants), you'd emulate the wartime US, not Germany.

There's also the matter of natural resources. The US and Soviet Union could mine/pump out most of what they needed, but Germany had to rely on imported oil and Swedish iron ore and Spanish tungsten. If it was cut off from overseas commerce, it would eventually run into grave problems. By starting the war before his navy was ready to face the Royal Navy, Hitler all but ensured his ultimate defeat.

So Hitler had learned some things from WWI (Chemical weapons are Not Cool), but not other, also important things (a British blockade may not strangle Germany outright, but it will make her economy and production capacity suffocate over time).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:27 AM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm reminded of the scene from Band of Brothers, where the Nazis have surrendered and are heading home with horse-drawn carriages. Indeed, many German artillery units used horses throughout the war, contrary to a myth of full mechanization. In the scene, an American soldier decries how the Nazis could have ever thought they would be successful...

Horse-drawn artillery is slow, but horses don't need petrol, so it almost makes sense. The Americans had plenty of petrol, but they also had problems getting fuel to the front lines as fast as they would've liked.

Hitler was doomed when he opened up a second front, but he was desperate to get at oilfields in the Ukraine. The Japanese similar problems getting enough oil to run things. The German and Japanese Empires were funded by plunder, which is an inefficient way of sustaining an economy. If you can't properly integrate occupied territories, then you constantly have to be invading new places to keep financing everything, which is highly unstable.
posted by ovvl at 9:38 AM on May 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't think of it as Nazi efficiency, but as German thoroughness and efficiency. Seems to me that any dictatorship will end up turning to evil, because it accrues so much power, and seeks to squash any and all opposition. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc., aren't poster children for efficiency.
posted by theora55 at 9:40 AM on May 18, 2013


I think people place too much emphasis on rationality (eg, Hitler opened a second front to get oil) when trying to explain why dictatorships do certain things.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:42 AM on May 18, 2013


Going to Russia to get oil probably wasn't the goal, initially. Hitler needed to make peace with Britain, but the British wouldn't make peace with him. Barbarossa was aimed at knocking out the USRR in '41, so that afterwards the British would have no choice but to make peace. The Germans only made the Caucasus oil fields an objective in '42.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:51 AM on May 18, 2013


I don't think of it as Nazi efficiency, but as German thoroughness and efficiency.
The myth of German efficiency lives on til today. But a short overview of current screw-ups such as Berlin BER airport, Stuttgart 21, and the Cologne subway show that it, too, stands on nothing.
posted by Jehan at 10:05 AM on May 18, 2013


They did propaganda better than anyone (I don't think efficient is the right adjective). That this article was written says they're still doing it.
posted by tommasz at 10:20 AM on May 18, 2013


It hardly seems efficient or profitable to marginalize and then exterminate millions of your own population. I can see how they used marginalization to help consolidate power, but once they were in power, it was a pointless undertaking. It's a perfect example of how ideology can corrupt an entire civilization.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:21 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the narrative of brutality being the inevitable result of efficiency is popular among those that want to excuse their inefficiency or their brutality.

Also, I think people are just drawn to dilemma narratives. I started considering how much that shapes things, when there was the discussion over Zero Dark Thirty showing torture resulting in useful information. The movie doesn't hide that torture is brutal and inhumane, but there's the temptation to just assume torture gets results, because that makes it fit the dilemma narrative.

For a less brutal example, there was that guy with the $20000 statistical analysis of screenplays. For his news publicity, I think he was trying very hard to get it into a "commerce vs. art" narrative, so then he could claim to be a champion of the commerce side. People were willing to call him on his bullshit, but you can see how that framing tries to justify himself. "Oh, you aren't sacrificing art for no reason, this is to ensure you make money."
posted by RobotHero at 10:37 AM on May 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


"On the other hand, American financiers, such as J.P. Morgan, had monetary reserves, and saw a lucrative opportunity in providing German banks and companies with large, high interest loans. Thus, American banks were encouraged to sink capital into Germany’s recovery. This suited the Americans, since they foresaw massive returns on these investments... In October 1929, after years of heavy speculative trading, the Wall Street Stock Exchange crashed... The banks could do little other than demand German payment."

Hmmm, sounds familiar.

Hitler came to power in '33 and: "Indeed, by 1936, Germany was in such a strong economic position that Berlin was able to host a triumphant Olympic Games, complete with all the pageantry expected of the situation"

Sounds pretty efficient to me.
posted by marienbad at 10:58 AM on May 18, 2013


One thing I missed in the otherwise interesting essay was the pillaging of Jewish property, both in Germany and in the occupied countries, right down to the murdered Jews' fillings. I read something about the effect of that on German economy, but can't remember where.

A lot of the murdered Jews were immigrants and refugees, trapped in Germany on their way from Russia and the Baltic nations to America, and even more were living peacefully in the occupied countries. Native German Jews were only a small part of the Holocaust. So "killing one's own population" was not really the main issue.

The article makes me wonder (again): how did they even get as far as they got? The Germans did occupy huge parts of Europe, and successfully kept the Allied Forces at bay from 1939 till 1944. If the USA hadn't entered the war, they might have been able to get a truce with the UK. The more I learn, the more I'm convinced that Nazi Germany would have collapsed eventually all by itself, but only after even more evil.

Neo-Nazis are on the rise all over Europe. Obviously, the most scary version is in Greece. It is not at all irrelevant to discuss the failure of Nazism today.
posted by mumimor at 11:04 AM on May 18, 2013


Jehan: "The myth of German efficiency lives on til today."
Having lived in Germany for four years now, it seems to me that Germans are generally methodical rather than efficient.
posted by brokkr at 11:32 AM on May 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


"I'm surprised that nobody has focused on how the blog post invokes the question, 'Does efficiency inevitably lead to brutality?', yet doesn't even bother to begin answering it."

and

"That's the same question I had. Does everything end in Soylent Green?"

and

"...that it takes 'murder' to achieve this 'efficiency?'"

That's the thesis of the Star Trek episode (sort of), but the whole point of the article is to refute that this even applies to Nazi Germany because it wasn't particularly efficient. That's why it doesn't answer that question.

I'm extremely suspicious of the claim that efficiency has some causal relationship to brutality. What I think much more likely is that efficiency can be used as a justification for brutality, just as many other reasons can be used to justify brutality. Such as, well, justice. Or peace. To pick two pointed examples.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:34 AM on May 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


"It saddened me that the one comment it has so far gotten originates from deep within the Trekkieverse."

I don't see that — I had the same complaint as that commenter because the author led with a Star Trek episode that basically argued that the brutality of the nazis was part-and-parcel with organizing a society the way that the nazis did, and then ended his article with several paragraphs emphatically making the same point without noting this. It just seemed odd.

I think that because he led the article with the example of the episode — which for his purposes was primarily of interest because it assumed the nazis were efficient — that had as its primary theme the essential nature of nazis brutality, then it made sense for him to deal with that additional aspect (that the nazis were brutal) but that he needed to do so in that context, with reference to it. Because without the mention of the episode, he need not have discussed this aspect. (And probably shouldn't have, and chosen a different example, because it brings in a lot of stuff that's independent of the simple matter of the myth of nazi efficiency and which, in fact, per languagehat, ends up just cluttering the piece up with stuff everyone already knows.)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:52 AM on May 18, 2013


Horse-drawn artillery is slow, but horses don't need petrol, so it almost makes sense.

Horses need hay. A lot of hay. Which may be easier to get to than oil was for the nazis, but which tied up a lot of transport and manpower.

Barbarossa was aimed at knocking out the USRR in '41, so that afterwards the British would have no choice but to make peace.

That's not quite true either. Hitler invaded the USSR basically because that had been his goal all along and he was tired of waiting. For England the entry of the USSR into the war didn't really matter all that much, certainly not in '41, for their war chances. Churchill like Hitler expected the USSR to be out of the war quickly. The UK had resigned itself to fighting the war on its own, though they never stopped looking for allies. It was also much less vulnerable in this period than we believe it was (recommended reading: David Edgerton's Britain’s War Machine.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:54 AM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


phrontist, I am aware of the different, even opposite motivations for critiquing the state. The problem is basically: look at how technical and academic you have to get in order to explain the differences.

This is a real problem. At the level of slogans, the anarchist left and the libertarian right are indistinguishable because the right's version of the anti-state critique is so dominant. But anarchists (typically) don't care. They feel secure in the knowledge that their critique of the state is the genuine one, it addresses the true hierarchical nature of the state whereas the right only concerns itself with the aspects of the state that check private tyranny.

That may be true, but politics doesn't work with precise academic distinctions. It works through vague slogans and rallying people to oppose a common enemy, while allowing for differences of opinion around the exact nature of the enemy. So, speaking in a strictly practical sense, anarchists function as a right-wing faction, but miss that due to intellectual navel gazing and a desire for theoretical purity.

I think this desire for purity is reflected in what you said:
the state as one authoritarian pattern among many (wage labor, patriarchy, racial division) that is unique only insamuch as it has unusual prestige (patriotism, the pledge of allegiance, etc.) and tends to bolster these structures elsewhere (the state enforces property relations, which preserve wage labor, and has only recently been less active in the maintenance of gender/race inequality).
There are many problems here. First, patriotism is a cultural and nationalistic feeling and has nothing to do with the state. That's why you have right wingers who hate the IRS, the post office and the DMV, but are ardently patriotic. Their slogan is "love your country, fear your government." Second is the idea that the victories of the civil rights movements of the last century are examples of the state being "less active" in the maintenance of inequality, when it is obvious that the state has become more active in creating a more equal, less oppressive society: social welfare benefits, federal agencies dedicated to enforcing anti-discrimination laws, labor protection agencies and so on.

And that's part of the third, and most important problem I have: the idea that the state is one authoritarian pattern among many. This is directly contradicted by the rest of your comment talking about the different reasons for rejecting state power, which demonstrates that the state is not simply one authoritarian pattern of many, but in fact, highly ambiguous. The existence of a vigorous libertarian movement dedicated to attacking the progressive aspects of the state emphatically proves that.

For you, all forms of power are part of the same unified harmonious system working together like a well-oiled (and efficient) machine against the oppressed. But things are a little more complex. Society is filled with antagonisms, with different centers of power opposed to others, and it is absolutely justified and necessary to support the more progressive side, not only for practical reasons of improving life here and now, but also because winning even small victories in the right direction makes people want to continue winning.

But anarchists want a stateless society right now, with no intermediate steps. This is like demanding interstellar faster-than-light travel, but opposing moderate improvements like supersonic planes on the grounds that it will make us complacent.
posted by AlsoMike at 12:01 PM on May 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


The article makes me wonder (again): how did they even get as far as they got? The Germans did occupy huge parts of Europe, and successfully kept the Allied Forces at bay from 1939 till 1944.

A bit of luck, a bit divide and conquer, a lot of incompetence on their opponent's side. The big turning points probably were the selling out of Czechoslovakia, when the Czechs may have had a chance at stopping Hitler earlier and the Blitzkrieg into France. Once France had fallen it would always take years for anybody to successfully reinvade the continent, just because of necessary army buildup for it.

Keep in mind btw that apart from Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia, all the other Eastern European countries (Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary) were "willing" allies of Nazi Germany.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:03 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


MartinWisse: "apart from Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia, all the other Eastern European countries (Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary) were "willing" allies of Nazi Germany."
Parts of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were also Axis puppet states, and lots of Danes*, Dutch, Flemish, Walloon and French people joined the SS. Part of Germany's success in ruling the occupied Western European countries was due to the ease with which they found elements of the occupied population who agreed with their crusade against Bolshevism and the international Jewry.

Allegedly more Danes joined the SS than the Resistance, though that's not something many people want to talk about.
posted by brokkr at 12:43 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Horse-drawn artillery is slow, but horses don't need petrol, so it almost makes sense.

Plus, you know, if you have to you can eat a horse. Hooray for multi-tasking!
posted by Cyrano at 12:50 PM on May 18, 2013


"...what's genuinely new (for many of us) and interesting, namely the economic history leading up to Hitler's rise..."

And the little bit he touches upon points to something larger that is extremely relevant today, in several respects.

Particularly what kgasmart wrote:

"It largely ignores the Weimar hyperinflation of the early '20s as well, and it always seemed to me that that episode - coming so fast on the heels of WWI - must have had an almost incalculable impact on the German psyche. To see inflation completely destroy the value of what people had scrimped and saved for so long - yeah, that's going to make you really resentful. And the Nazis played on that residual resentment, among many others."

This is both true and false. It's undeniable that the Weimar hyperinflation was a huge cultural shock that the Germans internalized then, and still have. But the internalized lessons about it are all untrue. Germans (and many others) draw a direct cause-and-effect relationship from the hyperinflation (and its relation to monetary policy) to the rise of Nazism, but that's either totally wrong or almost totally wrong.

Here's what really happened:
  1. In 1914, WWI began and Germany left the gold standard.
  2. In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed and large reparations were imposed on Germany.
  3. Reparations were payable effectively in gold (and a portion of economic output), but Germany wasn't on the gold standard. Additionally, it didn't have the gold reserves to pay the total amount of reparations, anyway. This would have been a heavy burden on the economy and recessionary, regardless, but Germany panicked and began to use its floating currency to buy foreign currency, which it was allowed to use to pay reparations. This is what spurred moderate inflation into hyperinflation in 1921-1923. During this period, unemployment was relatively low (about 10%)
  4. In 1923, Germany introduced a new currency that was moderately "hard" and managed a revaluation, stopping the hyperinflation, basically placing it back into the recessionary conditions of onerous reparations. Unemployment began to rise, peaking at around 25% in 1925.
  5. Per the link, American loans financed a way out of this difficulty, allowing a German economic recovery from the war and allowed the Weimar "Golden Era" from 1924-1929. Unemployment had risen through 1925, but as the American loans buttressed the economy, it fell back to below 10% by 1927. However, unemployment began to slowly rise from 1927 through 1929, moving above 10%.
  6. The US Stock Market Crash of 1929 initiated a worldwide credit shock/bank contagion that plunged the US and Europe into depression. But Germany was particularly vulnerable, because
    1. Germany's gold reserves were greatly depleted by reparations;
    2. Access to (American) foreign capital was creating the liquidity the German economy needed to function; and
    3. Because of the recent experience of hyperinflation and its relationship to the government's monetary policy, there were intense German fears of a repeat in response to the economic shock. So there were particularly intense bank runs.
  7. Germany's plunge into depression was worsened by Heinrich Brüning's deflationary austerity policies and unemployment reached 30% in 1932.
  8. From December 1929 through 1932, the Nazi Party made steady gains.
  9. Hitler was named Chancellor in January of 1933.
From this history, Germans and many others have concluded that inflationary policies of the government are deeply destabilizing and likely to foment extremism and that hard money policies are beneficial...

...even though Germany had recovered from hyperinflation into reasonably healthy economic conditions for five years until a credit shock, resulting depression, and deflationary austerity policies created an astronomical unemployment rate and which all had nothing to do with inflation, but rather its opposite, and created the social unrest that opened the door to the Nazis.

And so now, in 2013, the Germans, in particular, are insisting that as a result of a credit shock and the consequent worldwide recession, the European periphery must embrace deflationary austerity policies and resulting astronomical unemployment rates.

Because otherwise bad things will happen.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:31 PM on May 18, 2013 [31 favorites]


War-horses need a lot more than hay - they need corn and molasses, and clean water. In competition with human soldiers and civilians.
A horse working hard will need at least a kilo of corn a day + a bale of hay, probably more, and unlike cattle, they are very sensitive to rot and other impurities. Also, if the horse dragging your guns and supplies dies, you will die soon, unless you are treated humanely as a prisoner of war. Which was not likely if you were a German soldier on the East Front.

It seems to me now that the success of the Nazis is something we know all too well - a success based on propaganda, or as we call it today: communication. Both inside Germany and outside, people seem to have believed something rubbish against the knowledge they could gain with their own senses. Obviously, terror plays a role here, internally, but how could international observers not notice that there were no cars, even compared to other European countries? The poverty must have been extreme, and visible - how could foreign observers not notice that?
posted by mumimor at 1:32 PM on May 18, 2013


Ivan Fyodorovich, thanks for that insight!
posted by mumimor at 1:35 PM on May 18, 2013


Allegedly more Danes joined the SS than the Resistance, though that's not something many people want to talk about.

Certainly more Dutch fought in feldgrau than khaki, in various Waffen SS divisions.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:47 PM on May 18, 2013


Obviously, terror plays a role here, internally, but how could international observers not notice that there were no cars

Actually, car ownership was nowhere in Europe all that widespread, nor was agriculture all that extensively mechanised yet.

So Germany wasn't all that unusual in civilian car ownership, while the military image it presented could be carefully orchestrated.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:53 PM on May 18, 2013


Though this blog post did touch on it fairly well, I thought it would devote more attention to the utter bureaucratic nightmare of overlapping/hazily defined fields of competence in Nazi Germany. I teach a college course on Nazism and this is something I try to impart on my students. Usually, for any task, there would be both a party and a state organ that was theoretically "responsible" for it. So, they would compete with one another (or "just" do redundnant tasks). To add to the mix, Hitler would sometimes appoint a special commissar on a given issue responsible solely to him, so there would be three entities theoretically in charge of one area. Some scholars have argued that this is, in part, what led to the radicalization of the Nazi regime, as different bureaucracies competed to be "more radical" than the others in order to curry Hitler's favor.

Alongside this is the myth of the Gestapo. See Klaus-Michael Mallman and Gerhard Paul, "Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent? Gestapo, Society and Resistance," in D. Crew (ed.), Nazism and German Society, 1933-1945 (London: Routledge, 1994), 166-196.

The idea that the Gestapo had eyes and ears everywhere is supposedly what caused Germans to be so complacent (and conveniently absolved many of them of responsibility in the years following the war). In reality, the Gestapo was undermanned and overworked. The Gestapo got much of their information from... voluntary informants. People used the apparatus for their own devices; they would "inform" on those competiting with them for a promotion at work, unfaithful spouses, etc.
posted by dhens at 2:04 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the article: At the height of the Autobahn building phase, in 1935, for every sixty people in Germany there was just one automobile, compared to one for every twenty in France, or one for every twenty-five in Denmark; in the United States, one person out of every five owned a car of their own.
This was what struck me - I feel that there must have been tons of other indicators to go with this, stuff like bad clothing, rationing in restaurants, businesses failing to deliver etc.
Also, the other thread, about the ww2 weather stations, made me aware how culturally isolated the Germans must have been. Did none of this alert anyone?
posted by mumimor at 2:10 PM on May 18, 2013


AlsoMike: For you, all forms of power are part of the same unified harmonious system working together like a well-oiled (and efficient) machine against the oppressed. But things are a little more complex. Society is filled with antagonisms, with different centers of power opposed to others, and it is absolutely justified and necessary to support the more progressive side, not only for practical reasons of improving life here and now, but also because winning even small victories in the right direction makes people want to continue winning.

I think that analysis is spot on, and that most classical and contemporary anarchist would agree. Most intellectual anarchists I know are partial to a sociologically-informed view of power relationships (informed by Foucault, Weber, whether they realize it or not). Almost all are sympathetic to the Marxian critique of political economy, but reject Marxist reductionism of the cultural "superstructure" to economic (or "historical materialist") factors. See for yourself in popular anarchist literature (e.g. crimethinc, prole.info, common struggle, workers' solidarity alliance, etc.).

But anarchists want a stateless society right now, with no intermediate steps. This is like demanding interstellar faster-than-light travel, but opposing moderate improvements like supersonic planes on the grounds that it will make us complacent.

This just isn't true, historically or today, and is one of many lazy caricatures used to discredit a presently marginal tendency in American thinking without engaging it's critique. It's not a bad description of the consensus on the anarchism subreddit or the views of Black Bloc-ers in the pacific northwest. I don't mean to throw those people under the bus, but they're not representative of the tradition or organized contemporary elements. To wit, here is Noam Chomsky, probably the most visible libertarian socialist/anarchist/anarcho-syndicalist in the U.S. and a member of the IWW:

One can, of course, take the position that we don't care about the problems people face today, and want to think about a possible tomorrow. OK, but then don't pretend to have any interest in human beings and their fate, and stay in the seminar room and intellectual coffee house with other privileged people. Or one can take a much more humane position: I want to work, today, to build a better society for tomorrow – the classical anarchist position, quite different from the slogans in the question. That's exactly right, and it leads directly to support for the people facing problems today: for enforcement of health and safety regulation, provision of national health insurance, support systems for people who need them, etc. That is not a sufficient condition for organizing for a different and better future, but it is a necessary condition. Anything else will receive the well-merited contempt of people who do not have the luxury to disregard the circumstances in which they live, and try to survive.

The IWW, which is the largest, oldest, and best-organized U.S. organization whose principles are compatible with anarcho-syndicalist thought (talk about a niche, right?), is constitutionally agnostic on "political or anti-political allegiances". In my experience its members tend to be more likely than your average left liberal to show up to municipal hearings or vote in at least local elections.

This is a real problem. At the level of slogans, the anarchist left and the libertarian right are indistinguishable because the right's version of the anti-state critique is so dominant. But anarchists (typically) don't care. They feel secure in the knowledge that their critique of the state is the genuine one, it addresses the true hierarchical nature of the state whereas the right only concerns itself with the aspects of the state that check private tyranny.

I'm not sure I follow. You're saying that because the right's anti-state critique is more prevalent, anyone who hears our critique is just going to latch on to the anti-state bit and go along with the right wingers? I suppose that could happen, but it's completely contrary to my experience in labor organizing and community groups. The state is almost never mentioned, because we only deal with the state when police show up to strikes or demonstrations. Wage labor, patriarchy, and racism are the big targets.

The problem is basically: look at how technical and academic you have to get in order to explain the differences.

We're on metafilter, which is made up largely of educated and politicized people (of a generally left-liberal outlook). I'm just playing to my audience.

In talking to people who are getting organized who haven't spent time a lot of time in school, I actually find I need to explain much less to them. Most of them live this stuff in a way I (a tall, male, cisgendered, European-looking, fairly educated) guy just doesn't. They understand bosses v. workers. Most women sure as hell don't need me to tell them about patriarchy, even if they don't hold progressive views about it. I don't think many poor people in this country old enough to have seen a few elections go by need to be told politicians don't make good on their promises.

The theory comes naturally when they need it. But we start with our immediate problems, and organizing to fix those directly. What could be less like: "GOOGLE RON PAUL! THE GOLD STANDARD WILL SOLVE EVERYTHING!"?

Let me return this really quickly, because I think it's what really upsets some left liberal about libertarian socialist current: winning even small victories in the right direction makes people want to continue winning

To us, how you win those small victories determines to a great degree the trajectory your movement will continue on afterward. It's a huge and complicated topic, but libertarian socialists tend to prefer strategies that directly empower and develop people, rather than petitioning the existing elite (state or otherwise), no matter how benevolent. Historically, improvements in state policy that persist tend to follow movements in civil society, rather than the other way around, though it's often quite a give and take (e.g. Civil Rights Act of 1964).

I think there are plenty of left liberals around to carry forward progressive legislation if ideological tides turn. Who is going to do that? Elizabeth Warren is calling for significant changes in the student loan system. I doubt she would have been taken seriously had Occupy not brought these issues to the fore. Even so, the prospects of passage look dicey at best. How much more feasible would such a bill be if students were organized, as they are in Quebec? Guess who is doing that organizing.
posted by phrontist at 2:29 PM on May 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


That may be true, but politics doesn't work with precise academic distinctions. It works through vague slogans and rallying people to oppose a common enemy, while allowing for differences of opinion around the exact nature of the enemy.

One thing you can't fault the libertarian left on is being bad at catchy slogans and propaganda. For instance, "silent agitators" (1 2 3 4 5 6 7) and songs.
posted by phrontist at 2:46 PM on May 18, 2013


Someone should make a post about the real anarchist societies in the world, and the interesting issues they deal with. I can't without self-publishing.
In this thread, I am more curious about the strange success of Nazi propaganda.
posted by mumimor at 2:56 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, sorry for the derail. Just got my leftist hackles up, is all!

I'd love to hear more about the specifics of U.S. investment in Germany post-WWI, and how it influenced U.S. policy toward the Weimar Republic.
posted by phrontist at 3:02 PM on May 18, 2013


Hitler really was convinced that knocking out the USSR would make the Britain sue for peace. It may have been wishful thinking, but then most of the thinking Hitler did at that point seems to have been of that sort.

So of course cutting out the Lebensbraum was Great, as was his belief that his forces were invincible, but Britain was always on his mind (rightfully so -- it's true that Britain was a great economic, industrial and technological power that could draw on huge resources all over the world).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:05 PM on May 18, 2013


On the one hand, he has some strong points. On the other hand, central casting already has these uniforms and they're just sitting around gathering dust.
posted by ckape at 8:01 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Nazi jerrycan was pretty efficient, so there's that.
posted by Camofrog at 8:19 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


AlsoMike: "Interesting to read how the Nazis were anti-state."

Er - this is not really true. The Nazis were anti-Weimar, not anti-state. In fact they were clearly pro-state, as this article points out over and over again - Hitler was quite quick to attempt to replace what he saw as inefficient Weimer state departments with new departments which were supposed to take their place. The fact that these sometimes originated in the Party doesn't make the Nazi government a "party" government, I don't think; they were still intended to be subsumed and become part of the government.

I mean: this is tied up in the very particular historical circumstance we're talking about. The Weimar Republic, the constitutional democracy the Nazis superseded, was seen popularly as weak and ineffectual. There were a number of reasons for this, but the chief was the Weimar Republic's failure in WW1 and particularly at the negotiation table afterward; the fact that Weimar's leaders had agreed so readily to the terms of Versailles was unconscionable to many Germans, and really that anger was what originally animated the Nazis and put them in power.

But as anti-Weimar as the Nazis were, they were clearly pro-state. They oversaw the greatest centralization of the German economy in history, consolidating whole industries under the state and attempting to take control over everything. Indeed, this goes naturally hand in hand with fascism, which seeks to control and to purify.
posted by koeselitz at 11:24 PM on May 18, 2013


Can anyone recommend a good book which gives an overview of the socio-political landscape of the rise of the Nazi party? Or of WWII generally? I can only ever seem to find books that are all about troop movements and artillery in my local stores, but I could order anything online if I only knew what was recommended. The discussion in this thread is the sort of thing I'm interested in learning more about.
posted by harriet vane at 4:23 AM on May 19, 2013


There were a number of reasons for this, but the chief was the Weimar Republic's failure in WW1 and particularly at the negotiation table afterward; the fact that Weimar's leaders had agreed so readily to the terms of Versailles was unconscionable to many Germans, and really that anger was what originally animated the Nazis and put them in power.

I think there are a couple of things here which are worth noting, in relation to the history.

First up, the Weimar Republic, ipso facto, did not exist in the first World War - the reason it was called the Weimar Republic was because it was initially founded in Weimar, because Berlin was not considered safe in the post-war unrest. Before the war, the membership of the Reichstag was elected, but the cabinet was appointed directly by the Emperor and effectively Imperial mandate directed the nation. During the war, the county was effectively run by the military leadership, advising the Emperor. There was considerable continuity of civilian leadership between the Reichstag of Kaiser Willhelm II and the Weimar leadership, but I don't think they could meaningfully be described as leading Germany in WW1.

Second up, the Weimar leadership didn't exactly fail at the negotiating table. It wasn't allowed into the negotiations at all - Germany, Austria and Hungary, as defeated powers, were excluded (and also Russia, as it had already signed its own peace with Germany at Brest-Litovsk, and of course as a way to isolate the nascent Communist state).

Furthermore, the German leadership very seriously considered rejecting the Treaty of Versailles outright. Chancellor Scheideman resigned rather than sign it. President Ebert inquired into the war-readiness of the army, to determine whether or not it would be possible to resume hostilities if the German delegates refused to ratify the treaty, effectively restarting the war. The Weimar Republic's foreign minister, von Brockdorff-Rantzau, had argued hard for the rapid creation and strengthening of a Republican Army, not only as a hedge against revolutionary unrest but also to provide leverage at Versailles.

The narrative of political liability for Germany's defeat, and of easy acquiescence to Versailles by the civilian leadership, was propounded in particular by Erich Ludendorff, effective leader of the German military campaign in WW1, who sought to keep responsibility for the failure of Germany in the war away from the military leadership. He was later involved in the Kapp putsch of 1920 and the attempted beer-hall putsch launched in partnership with the Nazi party of 1923. It's the "stab in the back" doctrine, which Hitler seemed to believe and certainly advanced - Ludendorff, as a rallying point for right-wing and nationalist elements in particular among the military and veterans, gave the Nazis cover and support during their reinvention as a political party.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:20 AM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have also been told that, in Italy, Mussolini did not, in fact, make the trains run on time.
posted by thelonius at 9:08 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


In fact they were clearly pro-state, as this article points out over and over again

From the article: "The Nazi Party soon began to meddle in the affairs of state, attempting to circumvent the organs of state authorities. Party paraphernalia became de facto symbols of the German state itself; here, a postage stamp, supposedly controlled by federal postal authorities, bears the Party insignia and initials."
posted by AlsoMike at 10:23 AM on May 19, 2013


> Can anyone recommend a good book which gives an overview of the socio-political landscape of the rise of the Nazi party? Or of WWII generally?

I highly recommend Piers Brendon's The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s. It's not just about Germany, but Germany is a featured player, shall we say, and it provides the indispensable international context I was talking about earlier. It's a fat, detailed, and extremely well written book, and by the time you finish it you'll have a pretty good idea of why WWII happened.
posted by languagehat at 11:30 AM on May 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


mumimor: "Also, the other thread, about the ww2 weather stations, made me aware how culturally isolated the Germans must have been. Did none of this alert anyone?"
"Culturally isolated"? Germany ran most of continental Europe, and the neutral countries left (Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal) were on fairly friendly terms with the Nazi regime. If someone were left out, it would have been the English.
posted by brokkr at 12:30 PM on May 19, 2013


Germany ran most of continental Europe after 1940, but before that? From reading about the different occupations, I get the sense that they knew very little of the different countries they occupied, and generally only spoke German. Particularly, it seems absurd to me that they imagined they could take up both the Soviet Union and the US, even with Japan and Italy as partners. Hadn't they looked at a map?
I suppose they were inspired by the British Empire, but that was a completely different age, England was technologically far ahead of the rest of the world when she went out to conquer foreign lands, and the empire was never under as much control as what the Germans tried in Europe.
There were a few great industrial conglomerates in Germany before -39, but the country as a whole were not at all at the level of US industry, even relatively, and both France and the UK were working at higher levels of productivity and knowledge (as TFA says).
In the other thread, someone linked to a story about Germans set ashore on the east coast of the US, with the intent to do sabotage. How could anyone have imagined that would work? I mean, there might have been more fear generated, as we have experienced in our own age, after 9/11, and that would have been a thing. But in terms of actual damage to American industry, it was a ridiculous plot.
I'm no suggesting that the Nazis weren't a threat, not do I intend to diminish their crimes. I'm just wondering out loud that the allies and the countries that were occupied in 1940 might have avoided the long war if they had been less impressed by Nazi propaganda about German strength on one side, and more prepared for the German aggression on the other. For me, this is just the opposite of what I have always believed, even though I have spent a lot of time studying the Weimar republic, and I haven't really digested it yet.
posted by mumimor at 1:45 PM on May 19, 2013


Good article. Thanks Miko.
posted by homunculus at 3:42 PM on May 19, 2013


(On a side note, if we were to be clinical, it can be argued that the Holocaust itself, launched in 1942, is the ultimate, terrible expression of Nazi economic inefficiency; with a huge, captive population of potential slave labour, the Nazis resorted to extermination instead. That many of these victims were indeed forced to work before their gassing in no way alters the fact that the primary reason for the series of camps housing Jews was for their total and irremediable physical destruction as a people. Work, as the Nazis saw it, was a way to mark time while execution was prepared).
I was under the impression that the Nazis did become more dependent on slave labor as the war dragged on. From this article for example:
The numbers astound: 30,000 slave labor camps; 1,150 Jewish ghettos; 980 concentration camps; 1,000 prisoner-of-war camps; 500 brothels filled with sex slaves; and thousands of other camps used for euthanizing the elderly and infirm, performing forced abortions, “Germanizing” prisoners or transporting victims to killing centers.
That's a lot of slave labor. That article was discussed recently in this post, and jamjam had an interesting comment.
posted by homunculus at 3:43 PM on May 19, 2013


In this thread, I am more curious about the strange success of Nazi propaganda.

Nazi propaganda is an odd and fascinating subject. Of course they devoted a lot of resources to new technologies in promoting their ideas. Hitler was very effective at delivering his message via radio broadcast, but Churchill and FDR were good at this too. The interesting thing is the content of the message, which contains a lot of different and sometimes contradictory ideas. There was a big push for industrial modernization, combined with a hearkening back to an idealized rustic peasant past, along with an esoteric dash of paganism. A shaken up blend of the old and the new, which is kinda like politicians promising everything to everyone (except for the scapegoat that is defined as the focus of group hate, a useful element for pushing tribalism to a national level).
posted by ovvl at 3:55 PM on May 19, 2013


I believe it is an error to think of the Holocaust in terms "efficiency", of the diversion of resources from the Nazi war effort, because I believe that it was a primary war aim of the regime, at least as important as conquering the USSR. It is difficult and unpleasant to try to think from within the Nazi worldview, but they seemed to genuinely believe that the most dangerous and important threat to Germany was the Jews, sometimes identified with Communism, and sometimes not. How they came to believe this is not something that I understand.
posted by thelonius at 5:46 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I must second the recommendation Wages of Destruction. It will totally change your understanding of WWII. It manages to distill a really interesting narrative out of the the mountains of economic data produced by the Nazi's and Allies during the war. Many of the myths about Nazi's and Fascist economic efficiency are totally smashed. The Soviets actually had a much bigger economy and more efficient economy than the Nazi's.
posted by humanfont at 7:40 PM on May 19, 2013


Thanks, languagehat, that's exactly the sort of thing I wanted. I've ordered it now.
posted by harriet vane at 7:40 PM on May 19, 2013


AlsoMike - how in the world do you read that as saying the Nazis were anti-state? Seriously, how?
posted by koeselitz at 11:06 PM on May 19, 2013


running order squabble fest: "First up, the Weimar Republic, ipso facto, did not exist in the first World War - the reason it was called the Weimar Republic was because it was initially founded in Weimar, because Berlin was not considered safe in the post-war unrest. Before the war, the membership of the Reichstag was elected, but the cabinet was appointed directly by the Emperor and effectively Imperial mandate directed the nation. During the war, the county was effectively run by the military leadership, advising the Emperor. There was considerable continuity of civilian leadership between the Reichstag of Kaiser Willhelm II and the Weimar leadership, but I don't think they could meaningfully be described as leading Germany in WW1."

Technically, but the point is that the same old constitution was in place, even though it had been modified nominally - that same constitution which people like Carl Schmitt (among others) decried, and which would soon lead many of those same people directly into the arms of the Nazis.
posted by koeselitz at 11:09 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't like this conversation because it omits the elephant in the room: the fact that killing Jews was the prime goal of economic policy. The destruction of Europe's Jews was incredibly damaging to the economy - suddenly a lot of farms had to be nationalised, many doctors and pharmacists had been deported or killed without replacements being available, business and factories were closed or had to reorganised, and in fact there was even a shortage of basic labour. This was obviously not efficient in an economic sense: the only way to make any claim about overall efficiency to is to measure it in terms of so many Jews killed plus so many tons of steel or wheat or whatever produced. I think this is a fundamentally amoral way of looking at things, but a discussion of German "efficiency" that ignores it must necessarily ignore that, e.g., they continued to deport thousands of Jews to Auschwitz every day at at a time when they desperately short of labor, fuel, and rolling stock.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:32 AM on May 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Seems like pursuing the war consumed way more resources than pursuing the Holocaust. And of course depending on how you want to figure it Jews were only half to a quarter of the victims of Nazi racially motivated crimes. The Roma, the handicapped, homosexuals, Ethnic Poles, Slavs, Serbs and relatively minor groups like Catholics and Jehovah Witnesses were also victims of the Nazis in great numbers. The Nazis had plenty of crazy to go around.
posted by Mitheral at 9:55 AM on May 20, 2013


"I believe it is an error to think of the Holocaust in terms 'efficiency', of the diversion of resources from the Nazi war effort..."

and

"I don't like this conversation because it omits the elephant in the room: the fact that killing Jews was the prime goal of economic policy."

To the latter point from Joe in Australia, I think you've misstated your argument a bit in that sentence; and from the rest of your comment it seems that you're making the same point as thelonius — that the holocaust was a primary goal of the Nazis and its impact on the economy was not a concern. It wasn't itself an "economic goal".

With which I completely agree and I think it's important to make this clear.

But it does make sense to think of the Holocaust in terms of efficiency, except not of the economic variety. Just practical efficiency.

The machinery of the Holocaust was evolved from the Himmler's (initially Heydrich's direct responsibility, until his death) SS Einsatzgruppen mass killings during the eastern invasions, which were its primary purpose, beginning in occupied Poland with the killings of intelligentsia and others, particularly Jews. Shootings in front of mass graves proved time-consuming and eventually damaging to the morale of the troops, Himmler searched for better methods. Gassing using carbon monoxide from transport trucks proved more efficient and less traumatizing to the troops (incidentally, initially the regular army was sometimes involved with the mass shootings, which caused serious problems as there was resistance that moved up the chain of command and created conflict).

In this, Himmler was confronted with the problems associated with the scope of the goal to eliminate Jews and others, doing so piecemeal was clearly not going to suffice. And so he was a principal architect of the Final Solution of moving all these people to extermination camps and gassing them there, a genocidal process which was continually refined.

In this way it is very correct to think of the Holocaust in terms of "efficiency" because it became its final, deeply horrifying form as the progression of a very modern, industrial form of institutional striving for efficiency. As people often point out, organized mass killings of millions of people was a common feature of the twentieth century, the Holocaust is not singular in this respect. But it is singular in that it was systematic and very industrial genocide, where industrial efficiency was brought to bear, as opposed to, say, brute resources and isolation, as in Stalin's gulags. This is an important part of what makes the Holocaust especially and uniquely horrifying. (But is not the only reason!)

For those interested in the history of Einsatzgruppen, I recommend Richard Rhodes's Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust, which is my source for the preceding. There well may be superior references, but Rhodes is one of my favorite writers.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:44 AM on May 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mitheral wrote: Seems like pursuing the war consumed way more resources than pursuing the Holocaust. And of course depending on how you want to figure it Jews were only half to a quarter of the victims of Nazi racially motivated crimes.

The war certainly consumed more resources, but killing Jews was at least one of the war aims (around 1.3 million Jews were killed by the Einsatzgruppen, who operated as part of the German invasion strategy) and when push came to shove, the Germans prioritised killing Jews over, e.g., growing or transporting food. This is, of course, one of the reasons they lost.

I don't see the relevance of your suggestion that "Jews were only half to a quarter of the victims of Nazi racially motivated crimes" =to the idea that killing Jews was the Nazis' prime goal: Jews were a small proportion of all Europeans; it stands to reason that non-Jewish civilian deaths would have outnumbered Jewish ones. None the less, about two thirds of European Jews were murdered and "the final solution of the Jewish problem" was an actual aim of the war in a way that, e.g., murdering all Poles was not. Those murders were consequent to the invasions, not the cause of it. Even the persecution of the Romani, which was comparable to that of Jews, was distinctly secondary to Nazi war aims.

The Nazi super-state might have progressed to a general policy of wiping out Poles and Slavs, but this didn't actually happen. Poles and Slavs were not rounded up generally or killed generally and Hitler didn't invade their countries with the idea of killing them. In contrast, when it became clear that Germany was defeated the message was "Well, we may have lost, but at least we got rid of the Jews." And they very nearly did.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:58 AM on May 20, 2013


I am more curious about the strange success of Nazi propaganda…

The longevity of this myth probably has more to do with anti-fascists like the Frankfurt School philosophers and their critiques of instrumental reason and technological rationality.

how in the world do you read that as saying the Nazis were anti-state? Seriously, how?

I have bolded the relevant sections: "The Nazi Party soon began to meddle in the affairs of state, attempting to circumvent the organs of state authorities."
posted by AlsoMike at 1:05 PM on May 20, 2013


AlsoMike: I have bolded the relevant sections: "The Nazi Party soon began to meddle in the affairs of state, attempting to circumvent the organs of state authorities."

Only to then replace those organs of state authority with Nazi party organs. The Nazis recognized the importance of the state, they just didn't want the current system to remain in place. They had to keep it around to get the work of the state done until they had the Nazi-dominated organs of authority to replace it, and during that time they meddled. I don't think you can fairly say that Nazis were anti-state, they simply wanted to replace the existing state with their own apparatus. At least that's how I'm reading koeselitz's comments.
posted by jennaratrix at 1:41 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


AlsoMike: “I have bolded the relevant sections: ‘The Nazi Party soon began to meddle in the affairs of state, attempting to circumvent the organs of state authorities.’”

I guess I can see reading the article as though it were saying that; however, I believe it isn't historically accurate to say that the Nazi Party was anti-state. At the risk of making the Nazis' grievances with German society seem coherent, the issue they had was specifically that the German state was far too weak. This was a theme that occurred over and over again in German society, from the intellectual establishment to the military establishment and everywhere in between. Among intellectuals, and particularly among political scientists, the Weimar constitution, which had been officially drafted in 1919, had attempted to draw in all kinds of older elements of the previous constitution while also bringing in many new ideals of liberal democracy, often in a strange and contradictory way and sometimes just in a hamfisted and confusing way. I mentioned Carl Schmitt above; here he is discussing the vicissitudes and weaknesses of the Weimar Constitution in 1925:
There are countless [unnecessarily mundane or arbitrary] provisions in the Weimar Constitution. From these provisions it is immediately evident that they are not fundamental in the sense of a "law of laws." Take, for example, Art. 123, 2, which provides that "open-air gatherings can be required to give prior notification by Reich statue and can be prohibited if there is a direct danger to public safety." Art. 129, 3, 3 stipulates that "the secrecy of his personal documents is guaranteed the civil servant." "Teachers in public schools," according to Art. 143, "have the rights and duties of civil servants." ...

Such constitutional details are all equally "fundamental" for an approach to law that is indiscriminately formalistic and relativistic. The clause of Art. 1, 1 of the Weimar Constitution reading "The German Reich is a republic," and that of Art. 129 stating that "civil servants are secure in their personal effects," are both "basic norms," "law of laws," etc. However, it is self-evident that in such instances of formalization, these individual provisions in no way retain a fundamental character. On the contrary, the genuinely fundamental provisions are relegated to the level of constitutional law detail... The original sense of the guarantee of a constitution was lost when the constitution as a whole became relativized as a group of individual constitutional laws.
Within a few years, Carl Schmitt quite enthusiastically took up the call and joined the Nazi party, declaring that Nazism was the only way to solidify the state and make it strong again. He was not the only intellectual to do so. Famously, Martin Heidegger also happily and loudly joined the Nazi party; his position seems to have been that only the purity which the Nazis offered could give Germany strength again.

In the military sphere, it was even more evident that strength specifically meant state power, consolidated and bent to the end of exerting firm German control over the region and the world. The model in this was most chiefly Otto von Bismarck, the leading light of Germany's rise in the latter half of the nineteenth century; Bismarck had been an emblem of a strong, unified Germany, but his leadership and ideals had been abandoned in the name of liberal democracy. A writer who was a young intellectual in Germany in the 1920s and who was forced to flee the Nazi takeover in 1933 put it fairly succinctly several decades later, I think:
At that time [1925-1928] Germany was a liberal democracy. The regime was known as the Weimar Republic. In the light of the most authoritative political document of recent Germany – Bismarck's Thoughts and Recollections – the option for Weimar reveals itself as an option against Bismarck. In the eyes of Bismarck Weimar stood for a leaning to the West, if not for the inner dependence of the Germans on the French and above all on the English, and a corresponding aversion to everything Russian. But Weimar was above all the residence of Goethe, the contemporary of the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, and of the victory of the French Revolution and Napoleon – Goethe whose sympathetic understanding was open to both antagonists and who identified himself in his thought with neither. By linking itself to Weimar the German liberal democracy proclaimed its moderate, non-radical character: its resolve to keep a balance between dedication to the principles of 1789 and dedication to the highest German tradition.

The Weimar Republic was weak. It had a single moment of strength, if not of greatness: its strong reaction to the murder of the Jewish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Walther Rathenau, in 1922. On the whole it presented the sorry spectacle of justice without a sword or justice unable to use the sword. The election of Field-Marshal von Hindenburg to the presidency of the German Reich in 1925 showed everyone who had eyes to see that the Weimar Republic had only a short time to live: the old Germany was stronger – stronger in will – than the new Germany. What was still lacking then for the destruction of the Weimar Republic was the opportune moment; that moment was to come within a few years. The weakness of the Weimar Republic made certain its speedy destruction. It did not make certain the victory of National Socialism. The victory of National Socialism became necessary in Germany for the same reason that the victory of Communism had become necessary in Russia: the man with the strongest will or single-mindedness, the greatest ruthlessness, daring, and power over his following, and the best judgement about the strength of the various forces in the immediately relevant political field was the leader of the revolution.
I suppose I could get into the economic end of things, but I feel like the linked article in this post does that pretty well, and moreover what I've said above is probably enough to think about.

Suffice it to say that the main theme of Nazism was that under the Weimar Constitution the German nation was weak because the government was weak – and that what Germany needed was a strong state. This explains the general derisiveness and dismissiveness the Nazis had toward the state as it was formulated by the Weimar Constitution; they felt strongly that such ineffectual, unimportant bureaucracy could happily be swept away in favor of a new, more efficient, more effectual, stronger government. They "circumvented the organs of state authorities" by imposing their iron will on the populace directly, thus assuming the place of the state and treating the civil servant (who had been the cornerstone of the state under the Weimar Constitution) as almost irrelevant. (And I could add that I'm not sure it's even entirely possible for strictly militaristic regimes like the National Socialist regime to truly be anti-state.)
posted by koeselitz at 3:19 PM on May 20, 2013


koeselitz, you're conflating many different things into "strong state". The Weimar Republic was politically fragmented, the Nazis offered unification, therefore a "strong state". After WWI, Germany was humiliated and Hitler sought to restore the country's greatness, therefore this is also a "strong state". You want to add an efficient, effective state bureaucracy and civil service to this list, but this is a spurious connection based in the the vagueness of the word "strong".

Besides the historical evidence presented in the original article about the hostility of the party to the state bureaucracy that demonstrates the incorrectness of this last association, we can also turn to Carl Schmitt, who you evidently misread:
Only months after Hitler's accession to power, the eminently citable political philosopher and jurist Carl Schmitt, in the ominously titled work, Staat, Bewegung, Volk, delivered one of his better known dicta. On January 30, 1933, observes Schmitt, "one can say that 'Hegel died.'"...

It is Hegel qua philosopher of the "bureaucratic class" or Beamtenstaat that has been definitely surpassed with Hitler's triumph. For "bureaucracy" (cf. Max Weber's characterization of "legal-bureaucratic domination") is, according to its essence, a bourgeois form of rule. As such, this class of civil servants—which Hegel in the Rechtsphilosophie deems the "universal class"—represents an impermissable drag on the sovereignty of executive authority. For Schmitt, its characteristic mode of functioning, which is based on rules and procedures that are fixed, preestablished, calculable, qualifies it as the very embodiment of bourgeois normalcy—a form of life that Schmitt strove to destroy and transcend in virtually everything he thought and wrote during the 1920s, for the very essence of the bureaucratic conduct of business is reverence for the norm, a standpoint that could not exist in great tension with the doctrines of Carl Schmitt himself, whom we know to be a philosopher of the state of emergency—of the Auhsnamhezustand (literally, the "state of exception"). Thus, in the eyes of Schmitt, Hegel had set an ignominious precedent by according this putative universal class a position of preeminence in his political thought, insofar as the primacy of the bureaucracy tends to diminish or supplant the perogative of sovereign authority.
posted by AlsoMike at 5:38 PM on May 20, 2013


AlsoMike: “koeselitz, you're conflating many different things into 'strong state'. The Weimar Republic was politically fragmented, the Nazis offered unification, therefore a 'strong state'. After WWI, Germany was humiliated and Hitler sought to restore the country's greatness, therefore this is also a 'strong state'. You want to add an efficient, effective state bureaucracy and civil service to this list, but this is a spurious connection based in the the vagueness of the word 'strong'.”

Er – no, I don't want to do that. Maybe we're talking past each other here. I am arguing that the Nazis did not see themselves as anti-state. They believed in the state, and believed they ought to be the state. I am emphatically not arguing that the Nazis represented an efficient or effective state bureaucracy or civil service. As I said in my last comment, and as the article we're talking about states quite plainly, the Nazis were happy to utterly do away with the civil service, because (as your quotation of Schmitt demonstrates) they saw it as bourgeois and low.

When I hear "anti-state," this sounds to me like a libertarian or otherwise anarchistic approach to government. Which – well, very little could be further from the Nazi project. I begin to think you must have meant something relatively unconventional when you used the term "anti-state." In my reading, it's difficult to imagine a regime that injects itself into every level of civilian life, that centralizes the economy, that militarizes the population to the utmost degree – it's very hard to imagine such a regime being "anti-state."

But now I feel like you must have meant something utterly different; perhaps you meant "anti-constitutionalist" or "anti-republican" or something like that. My apologies if I've misread you (as I seem to have).
posted by koeselitz at 6:07 PM on May 20, 2013


Later, a friend was reading a history of Germany and related a report of a compulsory plan to have workers pay into a "car fund," which would eventually deliver a car to the worker. Money was collected, but no plants, much less cars, were produced. She said "I'm used to Nazis being evil, but they were just confidence men."

Yes, this was the fund for the original (never produced before the war) Volkswagen!

"Fünf Mark die Woche musst Du sparen, willst Du im eigenen Wagen fahren"
("Five marks per week must you save, if you want to drive your own car." Hey, it rhymes in German...)
posted by dhens at 8:59 PM on May 20, 2013


When I hear "anti-state," this sounds to me like a libertarian or otherwise anarchistic approach to government. Which – well, very little could be further from the Nazi project. I begin to think you must have meant something relatively unconventional when you used the term "anti-state." In my reading, it's difficult to imagine a regime that injects itself into every level of civilian life, that centralizes the economy, that militarizes the population to the utmost degree – it's very hard to imagine such a regime being "anti-state."

Yeah, it's a bit counterintuitive, but maybe that's because today's reigning definition of "anti-state" is a right-wing invention that's ultimately used to forge a false connection between fascism and social democracy and downplay the right's connections. We shouldn't feel obligated to follow their conventions.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:24 PM on May 20, 2013


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