The Nazi Economy

Apsken at Apsken at
Thu Jan 6 08:56:34 PST 2000

Daniel Davies has a contemptible debating style. He dragged in Brad DeLong's flattering and misleading statement about Hjalmar Schacht to score a point, then complained that I had dragged in DeLong when I replied that Brad's cunning misrepresentation of Schacht reflects an evident political affinity of D and D. While it's true that Brad isn't responsible for Daniel's appropriation of his work, their shared need for Schacht's phony Waldheim-like resume, dished up by Schacht's American sponsors in the teeth of two major convictions for his Nazi crimes in order to support his postwar prominence in the Western powers' Cold War scheme, are of a piece.

Both D and D seek to blame bad Nazis (such as Hermann Goering; Albert Speer's name will probably appear on this chalkboard in due course) for the labor system that incarcerated the entire political voice of the working class and deliberately worked people to death and confiscated their property, while crediting the good Nazi Schacht for Nazi Germany's prosperity. This is humbug history.

In the first place, the accumulation phase of capitalism is bountifully prosperous for capitalists (a "miracle" in Daniel's argot), based as it is on slavery and plunder (absolute surplus value) rather than free labor and the market (relative surplus value). For Daniel to argue otherwise would discredit him instantly, so he doesn't bother trying. Instead, he acts as though the Nazis' ghoulishly methodical implementation of such a system of slavery and plunder in LATE capitalism, with Schacht as its architect, was incidental to Schacht's monetary policies, relying on Brad for support.

I replied directly with two additional points, which Daniel has since sought to obscure.

First, that Schacht's monetary interventions essentially duplicated the ones he had implemented in December of 1923 (effectively repudiating the crushing Versailles debt long enough for domestic prices to stabilize, and isolating German currency from further speculative attack by introducing the Rentenpfennig/Rentenmark), which had only temporarily salved the system. Therefore, attributing the Nazi economic "miracle" to such magic ten years later may be comforting to Daniel's and Brad's shared bourgeois theology, but it cannot be accepted as an explanation by anyone who studies the prior result of that same central banker's genius.

Second, that a prominent economist within the Nazi agriculture ministry, Alfred Sohn-Rethel (eventually forced to flee into exile when his left communist resistance activities were discovered) fully described the real basis of the recovery. Readers of Sohn-Rethel's book (published only in Britain, I think) will find that the shift to below-subsistence production was calculated and understood from the beginning by the central planners, including tabulated figures for each category of nutrient. Schacht secured the industrialists' financing for the Harzburg Front based on those plans. This means that workers were deliberately compensated below subsistence, less than the value of their labor power (the cost to produce and reproduce labor). That is, they were deliberately worked to death. Daniel won't trifle to study such texts; hurling insults at me is more efficient.

Instead, Daniel retreated to obscurantism, seeking to brush off slave labor as pre-capitalist and therefore irrelevant. I replied by pointing out the differences between pre-capitalist and capitalist slavery. (About 25 years ago I wrote an exhaustive pamphlet on this subject, titled "Karl Marx on American Slavery.") Daniel acknowledged the error, then sought refuge in Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman's book Time on the Cross. That study has been refuted as corrupt by every major historian of slavery. Herbert Gutman wrote a book in refutation from a traditional historians' perspective. Herbert Aptheker, George Rawick, and others, including me, showed how evidence was faked. Econometricians Ransom and Sutch refuted F&E on their own turf. Though the Ku Klux Klan, the Wall Street Journal, and the Jackson Daily News loved Time on the Cross, historians condemned it with one voice, and it is universally regarded as junk history. (Eugene Genovese physically assaulted me when I offered my critique of F&E from the floor during a conference on slavery at Ole Miss. He later apologized, said he and other friends of F&E had been deceived, and as penance invited me to critique his next book draft.) Fogel's prize says more about the disgraceful state of economics and elite economists than it credits him.

On the specific point of working slaves to death, and requiring continual imports of slaves and territorial expansion to sustain profits, Karl Marx's specific allegation has been proven on Louisiana sugar plantations, and the general assertion is no longer controversial, though the seven years' working life expectancy is. The "natural increase" in the slave population (i.e., breeding slaves for market) occured outside the cotton kingdom, which used them up faster than they reproduced. Slave families were routinely broken up and sold apart for maximum profit, as both traditional and econometric data prove. Further, the historians' consensus analysis is consistent economically with the planter-capitalists' system of soil spoliation and abandonment, rather than renewal.

But again, all Daniel does is to sputter.

One could demonstrate the point that Daniel resists any number of ways. Absolute surplus value has brought "miracles" to colonial masters over the centuries: to France in Saint Domingue; to Leopold in the Congo; to England, as Cecil Rhodes promised, in Central and Southern Africa. And losses of those opportunities ended the respective miracles -- for example, costing Napoleon all of Louisiana -- which could not have been reclaimed by acts of monetary wizardry. Only in studying the society that Hitler's Nazis created on European soil do mountebanks protest, with monetarist doctrine as their occult explanation.

Finally, monetarist "miracles," though of minor importance to economic recovery, whether in Hitler's Germany or Pinochet's Chile, could never have been implemented without first imposing fascist rule and crushing all political opposition. For all of Daniel's posturing, his postings are empty of facts, except those plucked out of context to bolster his faith.

Oddly, the very academics such as Brad DeLong, who propose that Hitler's economic "miracle" occurred independently of his political system, argue that Stalin's political and economic systems were inseparable and the consequences predetermined. The point for the rest of us is to discern the political motivation that underlies such sophistry.

Ken Lawrence

> Please don't drag Brad DeLong into this -- you are no doubt perfectly
> capable of rubbishing other people's work in general (but never specific,
> helas) terms without needing to resort to these tactics. To accuse Brad of
> attempting to mislead his readers, when I told you prefectly clearly that
> what I posted was an excerpt out of context from a draft not for citation
> is pretty low.
> Schacht was indeed responsible for policies that led to the expropriation
> of Jewish assets (his capital controls), but this has damn-all to do with
> the question of whether the Nazi boom was a monetary phenomenon or not
> (Malaysia reinflated under capital controls, without expropriation) .
> Schacht did not "flop as Weimar's central banker" in any meaningful sense,
> and this question also has damn-all to do with the matter at issue.
> Your refutation of Fogel was no doubt a towering achievement, but, unless
> it included more material than you boast about, it didn't touch the
> question on which I referenced Fogel -- whether or not it was possible to
> get extraordinary levels of output from slaves by working them to death in
> seven years. Therefore (and given the previous pattern of offending) I
> tend to assume that this also has damn-all to do with the matter at issue,
> apart from being useful to insinuate that I too am an apologist for
> slavery.
> If guilt by association is the best you can come up with (when asked
> semi-politely what your model was which allowed a boom of the magnitude of
> the 1933-36 one to be explained by changes in labour practices), then
> "kindergarten for socialists" would probably be a more congenial
> environment for you than you imagine. You might be pleased to know that
> your reference to Schacht's capital controls having facilitated the
> expropriation of Jewish assets puts you on the same side as Milton
> Friedman, who used this fact to help persuade the Israelis into a
> particularly ill-fated Chicago experiment.
> grrrrrrr

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