Was concentrated big business behind the Nazi rise?

No, there isn’t much evidence for that now-common claim:

As I show below, the claim that big business contributed to the rise of the Nazi Party is simply inconsistent with the consensus among German historians. While there is some evidence industrial concentration contributed in Hitler’s ability to consolidate power after he was appointed chancellor in 1933, there is no evidence monopolists financed Hitler’s rise to power, and ample evidence showing industry leaders opposed his ascent.

Here is the longer essay, with much more additional detail, from the soon-to-be-better-known Alec Stapp.

Comments

Didn't Henry Turner's book "German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler" tells us this? And that was back in the 80s.

That is right. Turner demolished the argument that big business had nurtured Hitler. I can't resist citing one anecdote from Turner's book that is emblematic of the relations between German business and Hitler. A few days before the Reichstag gave Hitler dictatorial powers, some Nazi sympathizers among the employees of the Reichsverband der Deutschen Industrie (the national industrial league or Spitzenverband for German industrialists) hoisted a swastika banner above the organization's headquarters. The leadership of the Reichsverband had it removed, whereupon Nazi Storm Troopers forced their way into the building and raised the swastika banner again "in order to teach the Reichsverband respect for the new flag" (Henry Ashby Turner, German Business & the Rise of Hitler, OUP 1985).

'there is no evidence monopolists financed Hitler’s rise to power'

Nobody has ever accused Fritz Thyssen of being a 'monopolist.'

'Fritz Thyssen (b. Nov. 9, 1873, Mülheim, Ger.—d. Feb. 8, 1951, Buenos Aires, Arg.) was a leading German industrialist and a major financial backer of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. Trained as an engineer, Fritz Thyssen entered the family iron, steel, and coal business created by his father, August. After World War I Fritz Thyssen was arrested for refusing to accede to the demands of French authorities occupying the Ruhr. Then, in 1921, the German government charged him with betraying the Ruhr district to the French during the war. It would not be the last time that he would run afoul of his nation’s leadership.
--------------------
Distressed at what he viewed as the socialistic drift of Germany into economic chaos during the 1920s, Fritz Thyssen became an early backer of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party and helped organize the meeting of German industrialists on Jan. 26, 1933, at which Hitler outlined his program. During Hitler’s drive for the German Chancellery, Thyssen contributed three million marks. Hitler then rewarded his financial sponsor by making Thyssen a member of the German Economic Council and a Prussian state counselor.

But Thyssen, viewing fascism as the only bulwark against bolshevism, backed Hitler solely as a nationalist and anticommunist. When Hitler led Germany into war and began persecuting Jews and Catholics (Thyssen was a Catholic), the industrialist broke with the Nazis and in 1939 fled to Switzerland. Hitler promptly confiscated the Thyssen fortune (about $88 million) and stripped Fritz Thyssen of German citizenship. Thyssen later wrote a scathing denunciation of Nazism titled “I Paid Hitler.”'

Wikipedia goes into considerably more detail of the role Thyssen played in fighting the threat of communism and restoring Germany's territory - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fritz_Thyssen#Weimar_Germany

Congratulations. You might throw in the Krupps as well. That is two or three. What about all the rest? That still leaves at least one hundred or one thousand. For instance isn't proof.

'Congratulations.'

Thanks. I assume you also read the comment below in reply to Vivian Darkbloom, where it was not the Nazis that German 'monopolists´supported, but a variety of political organizations opposed to worker movements ranging from Bolshevism to the Social Democrats. To what extent such well supported opposition contributed to the rise of the Nazis (see the Stahlhelm example), to the point that the Nazis were able to consolidate all power, is a complex and nuanced discussion, meaning that it will never be raised here - particularly as the Bolsheviks were about the only group of murderous totalitarians that one can reasonably compare to the Nazis.

"While there is some evidence industrial concentration contributed in Hitler’s ability to consolidate power . . . ." Some evidence? What might that be? 85 million dead, perhaps. The monopolist depends on the ability to compromise any check on the monopolist's market power, just as the dictator depends on the ability to compromise any check on the dictator's political power. They are two sides of the same coin. Of course, Cowen is going to challenge Tim Wu's argument in Wu's new book, as Cowen has written a book in praise of bigness. Alec Stapp, the author of the essay linked by Cowen, argues that big business in Germany did not support Hitler's rise to power. He argues that big business preferred the "center right" political parties. Well, the "center right" folded once Hitler rose to power, just as the "center right" has folded to Trump in today's America. Stapp argues that big business did not support Trump in the 2016 campaign, and that's true. But it's not the rise to power by Hitler or any authoritarian that big business supports - any why would big business support someone who would challenge big business or any threat to the authoritarian's political power- rather it's the consolidation of political power once the authoritarian has risen that is facilitated by big business. That's the distinction, and one that Stapp refuses to acknowledge.

Tim Apple: Have readers not noticed how Tim Apple has surrendered to Trump? Tim Apple has to because Trump can punish Tim Apple's business by revoking the exemption from Trump's tariffs, thereby all but destroying Tim Apple's business. Trump like any authoritarian once in power leverages that power to gain the support (or, more accurately, the acquiescence) of big business. Are we to believe Cowen's homage to bigness and Stapp's revisionist history or our lying eyes?

The WSJ endorsed Bolsonaro. Big capital will always break fascist.

Tyler, I think the framing of your and the linked post is pretty shameful. It's like -

HOW DARE PEOPLE SAY BIG MONOPOLY BUSINESS HELPED NAZIS' RISE TO POWER

then v.quietly: the consensus is it only helped consolidate power

I don't understand your complaint (leaving aside until later the "shameful" part). There is a significant difference between helping someone like Hitler gain power ("rise to power", "ascent to power", "finance his rise to power", etc) and the ability of someone like Hitler to consolidate power after it was obtained. The "consolidation" part does not appear to have been as a result of the willful support (in general) of Germany's industrial owners, but rather than due to the fact that it is easier for someone in power with dictatorial aspirations to commandeer a relatively few large businesses (to his advantage) than a multitude of smaller ones. You will note the use of the term "extortion" in the linked-to article. Hence, the "framing" which was in response to another author who claimed that big business was responsible for *both* Hitler's rise to power and his consolidation of power.

What I do find "shameful" is your accusation that someone is "shameful" without the least attempt to support that characterization by any thoughtful argument contra that put forth by the authors here in question, much less a valid one. Feel free to disagree by responding substantively to their arguments.

'does not appear to have been as a result of the willful support (in general) of Germany's industrial owners'

The in general is noted, but also ignores what was happening during the 1920s - that is, the threat of a broad array of forces, from the Bolsheviks to the Social Democrats, to the pre-eminent position of various industrialists.

It is not so much that large business owners supported the Nazis as Nazis, it is that large business owners threw their resources into opposing those who did not support big business.

One of the most difficult things to understand about the Nazis in the 20s is that they were a splitter group, essentially, which gradually swelled and was able to consolidate power that had previously been held by other nationalist conservatives. And it was only after the Nazis seized power that those other groups were subsumed completely.

Like this group, too literally translated as Steel Helmet, League of Front Soldiers - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stahlhelm,_Bund_der_Frontsoldaten - which basically dwarfed the Nazis throughout the 1920s, though the Stahlhelm did not claim to be a political party per se. 'The league was a rallying point for revanchist and nationalistic forces from the beginning. Within the organization a worldview oriented toward the prior Imperial regime and the Hohenzollern monarchy predominated, many of its members promoting the Dolchstosslegende ("Stab-in-the-back legend") and the "November Criminals" bias against the Weimar Coalition government. Its journal, Der Stahlhelm, was edited by Count Hans-Jürgen von Blumenthal, later hanged for his part in the July 20 plot. Financing was provided by the Deutscher Herrenklub, an association of German industrialists and business magnates with elements of the East Elbian landed gentry (Junker). Jewish veterans were denied admission and formed a separate Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten.'

Like Thyssen, many of the people who provided funds and support to those they trusted to oppose leftist worker movements actually ended up opposing the Nazis, far too late.

I should add many, many people think the Nazis were unique in their ideology. That is not really the case, except in their extremism and devotion to a eugenics vision (one rejected by Catholics) that they did not generally publicize ahead of time (in part to avoid Catholic opposition). The Stahlhelm held many views now associated with the Nazis, for example, but those ideas were not a Nazi creation in the least.

I think dating the end of Hitler's rise to his assumption of the Chancellorship is the wrong way to date it. Without the consolidation of power who would have cared if Hitler was Chancellor? The people that made him Chancellor certainly didn't. The consolidation is what made him Hitler.

Its right to push back on the idea that big business was really invested in Hitler's rise, as it was the broader middle-class and petit bourgeois who were Nazism's base, not the slender class of major german industrialists, but those major industrialists DID realise that Nazism could solve the domestic labour problems and international trade issues and DID swing behind Nazism. Shouldn't fight bad history with other bad history.

as it was the broader middle-class and petit bourgeois who were Nazism's base,

Rubbish. The volkisch element of the German political spectrum was scarcely visible prior to 1910 and during the period running from 1918 to 1929 was generally good for about 3% of the vote in a general election in Germany. It wasn't an abiding feature of the German political landscape.

Fully a third of the German electorate flocked to the Nazi Party during the period running from 1929 to 1933. That's a much larger demographic bloc than the modest (single-digit share) population of merchants and artisans you see in an ordinary modern society. While we're at it, the country's Catholic, conservative, and liberal parties (while damaged) continued to command a quarter of the electorate in Germany; Hitler wasn't getting unanimous support from merchants and artisans. Hitler didn't get from here-to-there without a large shift in allegiances from Germany's wage-earner population.

Oh course there was mass support too, but the petit bourgeois and good burghers or Germany were still essential to the nazis rise. People always get so weird discussing the nazis.

Considering the Nazis were lining up corporate execs and shooting them from behind in 1933....They had little choice. Bolshevism had little chance to spread. In many respects, it was heavily Russian in culture and Stalin knew it's place, which is why he spent 20 yrs e cleaning things up for a Russian autocratic dictatorship with nonrussian figurehead.

Hitler lied all the time. Even the Holocaust was mostly orthodox jews, if you were reform, a good chance you lived......looking at you Bernie Sanders ancestors.

Even the Holocaust was mostly orthodox jews, if you were reform, a good chance you lived......looking at you Bernie Sanders ancestors.

This is a fantasy.

Holocaust denial, oh why do I ever bother commenting on libertarian blogs?

Muh six gorillion!

The professional classes were behind the Nazis rise. Maybe we should ask if big business was behind the rise of Bolshevism?. The blunder historians make with the Nazis is that they were not dialectical opposite of the leninists, but it's dialectical "rival". Most people who call themselves neo nazi do not understand that.

The professional classes were behind the Nazis rise.

Rubbish. You had three stresses laid on German political society: the loss of the war, the deprivation suffered before and after the armistice, the 1923-24 hyper-inflation, and the financial crisis and consequent depression (1929-32). Hitler's was a movement of the fed-up and humiliated. Such people can be found in substantial numbers in just about any stratum.

According to this Orange County Register story, the money was going to various athletic funds, so it is kinda like building a library or something.

https://www.ocregister.com/2019/03/12/newport-beach-is-at-the-center-of-nationwide-bribery-for-admissions-scandal/

It's just that the fraud was more rogue and low-level than the big gifts.

Good essay Tyler. It captures the dual problems of socially acceptable fraud, and the unfortunate fear we now have as a society that success for the next generation will be hard.

Many tweets on the order of "why didn't these parents send their kids to a state school, and put $400k for them into an index fund?" Good question. The answer has to be a tragic FOMO.

Shoot. Wrong page.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ceraweek-energy-pompeo-speech/pompeo-calls-on-oil-industry-to-support-u-s-foreign-policy-agenda-idUSKBN1QT32U

HOUSTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the oil industry on Tuesday to work with the Trump administration to promote U.S. foreign policy interests, especially in Asia and in Europe, and to punish what he called “bad actors” on the world stage.

--------------------

One need not be a Nazi, just being a pure bonehead like Pompous is enough. let me note the counter proposal, that the USA defense budget secure world oil deliveries. So, bonehead idiot thinker is just the start for Pompeo.

For a more nuanced look at this, The Nazis, Capitalism, and the Working Class by Gluckstein is a good read.

Big business wasn't the reason for Hitler's ascent - there were many. But by focusing on weakening/destroying workers rights and labor unions, he effectively courted many industrialists who were willing to ignore the unsavory elements of the Nazis and underestimated the total rise to power. There ultimately was a link between big business and Hitler's rise that shouldn't be ignored, but say it was solely due to that ignores a ton of other factors (bruised national ego after WWI, ineptitude of those leading the Weimar Republic, poor decisions by political parties opposing the National Socialists, etc.)

What does it really matter? At the end of the day the monarchists were the ones that installed Hitler thinking they could control him.

Corporations can and will do any bad thing they can if they aren’t exposed to market competition and made to pay for their negative externalities.

'Corporations can and will do any bad thing they can'

IG Farben is a shining example of that.

'if they aren’t exposed to market competition'

Market competion does not really describe what happened to IG Farben - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IG_Farben#Seizure_by_the_Allies

'and made to pay for their negative externalities'

Courts have their role - 'The United States of America vs. Carl Krauch, et al., also known as the IG Farben Trial, was the sixth of the twelve trials for war crimes the U.S. authorities held in their occupation zone in Germany (Nuremberg) after the end of World War II. IG Farben was the private German chemicals company allied with the Nazis that manufactured the Zyklon B gas used to commit genocide against millions of European Jews in the Holocaust.' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IG_Farben_Trial

I’d hardly call the Weimar Republic free market....much more Galbrathian than Schumpterian if you will...

What would the Weimar Republic have to do with what happened to a company that supplied Zyklon-B for the death camps after the Allies crushed the Nazis?

What does it matter? I dunno - the thread is a conversation about it. Realistically, anyone saying 'oh big business = nazis' probably isn't too serious about anything. But I do think these sorts of analyses help lead insight into what can be expected when people make appointments - cabinet positions, appointments to lead federal agencies, overstating beliefs that one seemingly destructive person can be controlled. It's good food for thought regardless.

I see, so concentrated big business is bad because Nazis. I guess we shouldn't have big business then.
Thanks, socialists, you've finally convinced me!

+1, this whole approach is a rather transparent attempt at tarring by association.

It's the usual socialist mood affiliation: "Capitalism is bad, and is responsible for everything bad. Nazis are bad, so capitalism must be responsible for Nazis. Let's look for ways to show that capitalism caused Nazis."

I used to comment about the libertarian-authoritarian axis, but I stopped because it painted with too broad of a brush; there are actual libertarians. But I suspect that there are many self-identified libertarians who would prefer an authoritarian over a social democrat (which is not to be confused with a democratic socialist). That's what I mean by the libertarian-authoritarian axis. Which is the greater threat to freedom: the libertarian-authoritarian or the social democrat?

"Which is the greater threat to freedom: the libertarian-authoritarian or the social democrat?"

Who are these libertarian-authoritarian strawmen you are referring to? And what percentage of the electorate do they represent? And who are the "social democrats"? Neither of these are well recognized groups in American politics?

I could see preferring a "libertarian-authoritarian" if what you mean by that is a benevolent dictator who only repeals laws and reigns in the bureaucracy, otherwise leaving people alone.

The problem is in our system, it's not the individual that is invested with such power it's the office, so the next guy to take office could turn out to be a tyrannical socialist dictator, and then we'd be screwed. Self-identified libertarians ought to be less concerned about who is in office and more concerned about the powers the office holds by law and precedent.

If this comes down to supporting Trump over AOC then I’ll be with Trump ten times out of ten.

A demagogue, Donald Trump, isn’t an authoritarian. Last I checked, Trump hasn’t comandeered our speech rights, if anything, his foul mouth has tried to broaden them.

When a real authoritarian takes root in America, you won’t have a federalist system in place anymore to protect you. And you certainly won’t have any form of the internet in place.

Until then, Trump is just a short sighted business man with relatively little on offer policy wise. A failed push for a border wall and talking crap to the American left on Twitter doesn’t make him Pinochet, Hitler or Mussolini. It just makes him a slovenly loud mouth hanging out in the Oval Office.

What makes him Pinochet, Hitler, or Mussolini is more like kiddie concentration camps, forced deportations of law-abiding people who have lived here since they were two, and denying entry to legal residents at legal entry points.

Did they ever find all the parents of all the children they seized at the border? Just curious.

Well, there seems to be basically zero new in this article. It is true that the myth that big business brought Hitler to power continues to hang on out there, and probably will continue to do so despite this article. But maybe it serves a purpose to remind those paying attention of how it went down.

I shall simply egomaniacally note that my wife, Marina, and I had this right in the first edition of our comparative systems textbook when it first came out back in the mid-90s, and have kept it in the subsequent editions. Hitler's base as he rose was the small businesses in the smal towns and rural areas of the Protestant portion of Germany. The larger firms largely opposed him, at least partly because until he got into power there were in fact socialist planks advocating nationalizations in the Nazi party plank. But once in power Hitler shelved all that and purged the actuallly socialist faction of the Nazi party and made peace with those large firms, who would come to support his regime strongly.

'The larger firms largely opposed him'

Sure, because he was considered a radical, who had served jail time. However, though they opposed the Nazis, they had no problem with something like the Stahlhelm - whose broad ideology sounds like it was copied from the Nazis. Except that is not the case - it was the Nazis that came second. As noted above, big business supported opponents of various worker movements - in 1926, the Nazis were essentially still a minor party, and not worth really worth supporting, even after Hitler managed to write a book in jail.

Comments for this post are closed