The Economy of Nazi Germany Part 1: Hitler's Economic Views

Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany have had no shortage of literature written around them. Every part of their society from home life, politics, and warfare have been thoroughly examined and discussed. Their beliefs on economics is no exception. The literature around the economic views of the National Socialists and Adolf Hitler has come to many different conclusions, however. Some claim that the Nazis were socialists, other claim they were hardcore adherents to private property, with many holding other views in between the two. This two part series will examine the question of their true beliefs, or as close to their beliefs as we can ascertain, and what their economic policies were as well.

The Nazi party was the party of Adolf Hitler, so it is unsuprising that the policies of the party followed his own. Hitler’s own views and opinions on economics has been portrayed, much like the policies of the party, in many different ways. This is in part because of his own sort of Orwellian double-speak, which we be evident in quotations below.

This is why one can find a quote from Hitler supporting almost any economic issue. Because of this, we have to look at not only his words, but also his actions. The two do not always line up.
For instance, Hitler said the following in 1939:

“We are rearming, but do not dream of attacking other nations, providing they leave us alone. ... We have given Central Europe a great fortune—namely, peace, which is protected by the German might.” Speech in Wilhelmshaven (1 April 1939)

Exactly five months to the day from when he gave this speech, Germany invaded Poland in a war of naked aggression on the part of Nazi Germany. One can find many other quotes like the one above from around 1937 to 1939 with Hitler proclaiming that all he and Germany wants is peace! Actions speak much louder than words.

Hitler’s varied views on economics stems from the lack of any real and true principles that he held on the topic. He was, in reality, more of a pragmatist on the matter, which will be detailed below. These views are not very surprising given Hitler was a Fascist. This is because Fascism as such doesn’t contain any inherent economic views. Unlike Marxism, which is encased in economic ideas and builds its system off of them, Fascism generally has little to say on the subject. Fascist thinkers usually see economics as a fake science, or as not worth talking about in the first place. Because of this, Fascist thinkers will vary on their economic views, and countries will take different economic paths. The state generally intervenes into the economy frequently, and different industries may be nationalized, but how this comes about in practice changes. Italy’s system is different from Germany’s, for instance.

First, Hitler had a low view of the individual. Collectives are what build society, not the people themselves. In 1920, he put it simply when he said, "The common good before the individual good" (February 24, 1920 in Munich, Germany). Although he said this very early on in his political career, he still believed it many years later. He said in 1939: "The liberty of the individual ends where it starts to harm the interests of the collective" (Speech in the Lustgarten, Berlin 1 May 1939)

This idea was not just a personal belief, but imbued in National Socialism itself, leading Hitler to say:

"The main plank in the National Socialist program is to abolish the liberalistic concept of the individual and the Marxist concept of humanity and to substitute therefore the folk community, rooted in the soil and bound together by the bond of its common blood." On National Socialism and World Relations, speech in the German Reichstag (January 30, 1937)

Hitler’s distaste for Marxism is discussed below, but he does not disagree with them in glorifying a collective over individuals. The very name, “National Socialism” is an output of this mindset:

"At the founding of this Movement we formed the decision that we would give expression to this idea of ours of the identity of the two conceptions: despite all warnings, on the basis of what we had come to believe, on the basis of the sincerity of our will, we christened it "National Socialist.' We said to ourselves that to be 'national' means above everything to act with a boundless and all-embracing love for the people and, if necessary, even to die for it. And similarly to be 'social' means so to build up the state and the community of the people that every individual acts in the interest of the community of the people and must be to such an extent convinced of the goodness, of the honorable straightforwardness of this community of the people as to be ready to die for it." Munich - Speech of April 12, 1922

When the destiny of a people is at stake, there is little room for any individual person, as Hitler makes clear above.

Hitler made it clear that National Socialism was Socialism. However, it was not the Socialism of the USSR, which was not true Socialism according to him. Although, he took inspiration from it:

"National Socialism derives from each of the two camps the pure idea that characterizes it, national resolution from bourgeois tradition; vital, creative socialism from the teaching of Marxism." Interview by Hanns Johst in Frankforter Volksblatt (January 27, 1934)

Although he claimed to support Socialism, he simultaneously claimed to support private property. This is one of the contradictions of Hitler. He claimed that Marxism and Bolshevism destroy private property, while he did not and wished to keep it:

"We National Socialists see in private property a higher level of human economic development that according to the differences in performance controls the management of what has been accomplished enabling and guaranteeing the advantage of a higher standard of living for everyone. Bolshevism destroys not only private property but also private initiative and the readiness to shoulder responsibility. It has not been able to save millions of human beings from starvation in Russia, the greatest Agrarian State in the world" Speech made at the Reichstag (21 May 1935)

Hitler also claims that true Socialism celebrates and recognizes private property. Well, as long as the interest of the individual are aligned with the interests of the collective, of course:

"'Socialist' I define from the word 'social; meaning in the main ‘social equity’. A Socialist is one who serves the common good without giving up his individuality or personality or the product of his personal efficiency. Our adopted term 'Socialist' has nothing to do with Marxian Socialism. Marxism is anti-property; true socialism is not. Marxism places no value on the individual, or individual effort, of efficiency; true Socialism values the individual and encourages him in individual efficiency, at the same time holding that his interests as an individual must be in consonance with those of the community. All great inventions, discoveries, achievements were first the product of an individual brain. It is charged against me that I am against property, that I am an atheist. Both charges are false." Speech given on December 28, 1938

Good to know Hitler wasn’t an atheist.

As we will see in his speeches on economics, the clause requiring the interests of the individual to be aligned with that of the collective is all too important. Hitler was more than willing to walk over private property if it achieved his goals.

Hitler’s views on economics and the role of the state are best summed up in his own words:

"Germany's economic policy is conducted exclusively in accordance with the interests of the German people. In this respect I am a fanatical socialist, one who has ever in mind the interests of all his people." Adolf Hitler's Speech on the 21st Anniversary of the National Socialist Party (24 February 1941)

"A strong State will see that production is carried on in the national interests, and, if these interests are contravened, can proceed to expropriate the enterprise concerned and take over its administration." As quoted in Hitler and I, Otto Strasser, Boston, MA, Houghton Mifflin Company (1940) pp. 113-114

If individual companies and businessmen were willing to work with Hitler to accomplish his goals, there was no problem. However, as we will see in the next part on Nazi Germany’s economic policies, as soon as entrepreuners failed to give Hitler what he needed, they ceased to be autonomous and recieved their orders from the economic planning boards. Private property is kept only in so far as it gives Hitler and the Nazis what they wanted.

Hitler’s views on the collective taking precedence over the individual applies in economics as well:
"To put it quite clearly: we have an economic programme. Point No. 13 in that programme demands the nationalisation of all public companies, in other words socialisation, or what is known here as socialism. … the basic principle of my Party’s economic programme should be made perfectly clear and that is the principle of authority… the good of the community takes priority over that of the individual. But the State should retain control; every owner should feel himself to be an agent of the State; it is his duty not to misuse his possessions to the detriment of the State or the interests of his fellow countrymen. That is the overriding point. The Third Reich will always retain the right to control property owners. If you say that the bourgeoisie is tearing its hair over the question of private property, that does not affect me in the least. Does the bourgeoisie expect some consideration from me?… Today’s bourgeoisie is rotten to the core; it has no ideals any more; all it wants to do is earn money and so it does me what damage it can. The bourgeois press does me damage too and would like to consign me and my movement to the devil." Hitler's interview with Richard Breiting, 1931

This coming from one who claims to be a champion of private property! An important word choice from Hitler is “misuse”. Anyone who does other than the bidding of the state is “misusing” his property, according to Hitler. This obviously begs the question of who really owns the property in the first place, if any interests other than the state’s are forbidden.

Hitler’s view that private property should be controlled is clearest here:

"What matters is to emphasize the fundamental idea in my party's economic program clearly; the idea of authority. I want the authority; I want everyone to keep the property he has acquired for himself according to the principle: ‍ '‍Benefit to the community precedes benefit to the individual ‍' ‍ But the state should retain supervision and each property owner should consider himself appointed by the state. It is his duty not to use his property against the interests of others among his own people. This is the crucial matter. The Third Reich will always retain its right to control the owners of property." In 1931, as quoted in Nazi Economics: Ideology, Theory, and Policy (1990), by Avraham Barkai, pp. 26–27

If private property is controlled and can only be used in certain parameters, it is effectively destroyed. Ownership entails that one is free to use the property in question in whatever way they wish. Restricting the uses of one’s property to only the uses of the state reduces the owner to a tepid form of servitude.

Hitler saw everything, from schools to businesses and everything else in society as being a means to an end. This end was the glorious destiny of the German people. If private property would get him to that end, private property could stay and function. As shown above, however, the Nazis had no scruples taking over private property and directing how it should be used.

Economics was just another means to Hitler. Businessmen were not to make business decisions by themselves without any regard for the German people! The collective interests always trump the interests of any individual entrepreneur or consumer. Far from being an apologist of private property or free markets, Hitler and the Nazis were believers in controlling individuals and their property to meet their own needs.

Hitler claimed to draw a distinction between him and the property-hating Marxists, but there was no fundamental difference in policy between the two. Any distinctions were only in rhetoric, but never in practice. Marxism and Nazism might disagree on the reasoning for restricting private property, but not the policy itself. Socialism was the rallying cry of his party, and the tune of his economics as well.

Hitler claimed to draw a distinction between him and the property-hating Marxists, but there was no fundamental difference in policy between the two. Any distinctions were only in rhetoric, but never in practice. Marxism and Nazism might disagree on the reasoning for restricting private property, but not the policy itself. Socialism was the rallying cry of his party, and the tune of his economics as well.


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