The Social Economy

“Earn it if you would own it!” National Socialist economic theoretician Dr. Otto Wagener and the ‘third way’ between nationalization and socialization

A common misconception I see about National Socialism is that the movement “had no theory,” that it comprised at best a set of mindless slogans and aesthetics which had no solid intellectual footing. The swaggering remarks made by some NSDAP leaders admittedly have not helped allay this perception, as they were often overly keen to define their movement as one of “action” in order to set it apart from the staid, dogma-laden, bourgeois respectability of more mainstream competitors. Yet the claim that National Socialism was bereft of ideas or principles cannot have been particularly convincing to anyone alive when it was at its most active, at least to those with eyes. The movement in its heyday produced massive quantities of publications examining political, economic, scientific, and philosophical issues from the perspective of the “nationalsozialistische Weltanschauung,” including a number of theoretical journals. Particularly central to National Socialist ideology was its economic theory, which had deep roots by way of Social-Democracy and the Kathedersozialisten, and which the Party’s Economic Policy Department (Wirtschaftspolitische Abteilung, WPA) worked into a variety of draft policy proposals in the early 1930s. The head of the WPA was Dr. Otto Wagener (b.1888 – d.1971), a man who for several years was a senior figure in the NS leadership as well as the NSDAP’s chief economic theoretician. One of the potential models for a National Socialist economic order explored by Wagener was that of the “social economy” (Sozialwirtschaft), a system in which the principles of natural selection and worker participation would merge to form a new alternative to both nationalization and socialization. Property rights in Wagener’s “social economy” would not be absolute, with the system instead being characterized by a gradual and continuous transfer of business and industry ownership into the hands of the most capable workers. Wagener’s idea, like many of the draft proposals researched and debated by the WPA, never actually became official policy, but it nonetheless still serves as a perfect example of the theoretical credentials of a movement so often painted as crudely anti-intellectual. The text below is an excerpted chapter from Wagener’s post-War memoirs, in which the author gives an account of the informal economic policy conferences he held with Hitler in 1930 where the idea of the “social economy” was first discussed. The majority of the text is taken verbatim from Ruth Hein’s English translation of Wagener’s memoirs, although I have edited it slightly to add in several sections from the German original which Hein cut from her translation. 

Plans for a “Social Economy”
An Informal Economic Policy Conference, Summer, 1930
From the memoirs of Dr. Otto Wagener

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In the early summer of 1930, Hess asked me on behalf of Hitler whether I had time at a certain hour the next day for an economic policy conference. Strasser and Dr. Wagner,1 at that time Gauleiter of Munich, would be present.

The next day the four of us sat around the round table in Hitler’s office.

Hitler raised the issue of my position on the problem of nationalization and socialization. I had the feeling that he wanted to familiarize himself for the first time with my attitude towards economic policy.

I began by stating something like the following:

“Of course, I am naturally well-acquainted with what the points of the NSDAP programme say regarding this topic. But since you are asking how I feel about these problems, I shall now neither take these into account nor refer to them.”

In wide-ranging remarks on the problem between “capital and labor” in industry, Wagener in the following pages of his memoir then rejects as a solution both nationalization and a “direct socialization” through the takeover of enterprises by workers.2 A “direct socialization” is impractical in the long term, especially with regard to future investment. Nationalization merely replaces the private entrepreneur with the state, while leaving the worker in a service relationship with capital. This entangles the state in the conflict between capital and labor, a development which could have dangerous political consequences. Nationalization also leaves unanswered the question: Who is the state? Its final result would be domination by those groups which control the state, the consequence being the spread of the “spirit of the feeding-trough.” In addition, the “automatic self-healing mechanisms” inherent within “healthy competitive struggle” would also be lost. Wagener therefore warned against the nationalization of those enterprises which the state did not absolutely need to possess. “Completely different methods” would be necessary in order to achieve the transition from individualism to socialism.

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Gregor Strasser on National Socialism

“We National Socialists are socialists, real, national, German socialists!” A 1925 article by Gregor Strasser on the meaning of Fatherland and National Socialism

NSDAP_Wir_Arbeiter_sind_erwachtThe following article by Gregor Strasser was first published on 4 September, 1925, roughly six months after the NSDAP’s refounding following Hitler’s release from Landsberg Prison. I am not sure in what publication it first appeared. Possibly it was in the Nationalsozialistische Briefe, of which Gregor was chief editor for several years and which was founded at roughly the same time this article was originally printed. Regardless of which platform the article first appeared in, it was considered significant enough to be reprinted in subsequent collections of Gregor’s writings – it shows up both in his 1928 booklet, Freiheit und Brot (‘Freedom and Bread’), and in his ‘collected works’ from 1932, Kampf um Deutschland (‘Struggle for Germany’). It is fairly typical of Gregor’s early writing in that it is heavy on sentiment and emotion but light on actual, concrete policy propositions. This was a deficiency which Gregor was apparently aware of and sought to address later on in his career, as in the early ’30s he began working quite closely with economic experts, business figures, and state officials in an attempt to develop workable programs for resolving the unemployment and housing crises (see his famous ‘Work and Bread!’ speech for one example of this). Despite its propagandist tone the article still makes for an interesting read from a number of angles. It is overtly anti-capitalist, espouses a commitment to radical economic restructuring and to concepts of social justice (the ‘community of bread’), and additionally includes a brief recollection from the author’s time as a junior officer in WWI. Like many in the national-revolutionary camp Gregor makes it clear – both in this piece and many others – that his experiences in the Great War are what led him to an awareness of the plight of the German worker, and are what turned him from an ordinary German nationalist into a National Socialist, the belief system of which he attempts to convey within this article.

National Socialism:
“What does ‘Fatherland’ mean?”
Gregor Strasser

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With the Dawes Plan, the intention of Jewish-influenced, American-English capital to use Germany’s national economy as a gigantic profit-extraction operation, to transform German industry into a colossal workshop for Wall Street capital, and to make an industrious Volk of 60 million people into an enormous army of defenseless wage-slaves, will be fully realized within the next few years.

In light of this development we must now and forever set our goals clearly, unambiguously, and openly.

Only in this way will our ideas gain an attractive power with respect to the yearning of a deceived, betrayed Volk.

We National Socialists are socialists, real, national, German socialists! We reject the vulgarization of this concept, the watering-down of the word from “socialism” into “social” – a word which, like no other, has become a hypocritical smokescreen behind which the all-too-visible inadequacy of the capitalist economic system is concealed, or which is, at best, the totally inadequate consolation for the kinds of honest men who believe that they can cure the festering wounds on the body of the economy and the Volk by placing a compassionate sticking-plaster over them. No, we are socialists, and we do not shy away from taking upon ourselves the stigma of this word, a word which Marxism has so terribly distorted. Continue reading

The Programme of the National-Democratic Party of Germany

“Americans to America! Germany for the Germans!” The 1951 political programme of the National-Democratic Party of Germany (NDPD), communist East Germany’s party of ‘German nationalism’

DDR - NDPDThe National-Democratic Party of Germany (NDPD) was officially founded at the behest of communist authorities on 16th July, 1948, only a few months after the official conclusion of ‘denazification’ efforts within nascent East Germany. This timing was not a coincidence. Legally-recognized political parties within the DDR were conceived as having an essentially corporatist function; each party represented the interests of a specific social group, and alongside various mass organizations they were welded directly into the organism of the state through their direct incorporation into various collaborative government structures. Following the dénouement of denazification, the dominant Socialist Unity Party, in conjunction with the Soviet Military Authority, was keen to integrate former members of the National Socialist and broader nationalist movements back into the developing East German nation as productive members of a socialist Germany. The NDPD was intended to be their political home, a means of providing a ‘safety net’ for denazification by giving ‘rehabilitated’ NSDAP members, radical-nationalists, professional soldiers, and nationalist bourgeoisie an official mechanism for representing their interests within the system (thus preventing their alienation), as well as a vehicle for ensuring their continued ‘re-education’. The NDPD was thus as much a communist propaganda tool as it was the political representation of a new ‘socialist nationalism’ – at the same time as the new Party was expending its resources on (often quite successfully) lobbying for the provision of employment rights and property reinstatement to former NSDAP, SA, and Wehrmacht members, it was attempting to inculcate in its recruits a revised form of nationalist ideology acceptable to the Marxist-Leninist tenets underpinning the DDR. The NDPD did this in large part by repurposing certain elements of National Socialist and deutschnational ideology for pro-Soviet ends, such as by redefining the word ‘National’ to give it a progressive and democratic flavor, or by redirecting traditional anti-Westernism into a more overt and aggressive anti-American direction. The following translation of the 1951 party programme of the NDPD is instructive in showing the creative way in which the Soviet-backed authorities attempted to recast German nationalist sentiment into a form that was amenable to their goals. Even the triple-oak-leaf emblem adopted by the NDPD was an attempt to overtly appeal to German nationalists: the oak tree and oak leaf have been a symbol of German nationalism for centuries.

Programme of the
National-Democratic Party of Germany
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The National-Democratic Party of Germany arose at a time of deepest national distress. America was preparing to tear Germany apart; then, on 21st April 1948, a group of patriotic1 Germans in Halle raised a call for the founding of a party that should be both national and democratic. On 16th July 1948 the National-Democratic Party of Germany was founded, two days before America split the German currency unit. This marked the beginning of a series of measures which, from the introduction of a separate West German currency to the creation of a separate West German state (that American protectorate on German soil), would lead to the rearmament of West Germany and were intended to end in a German brothers’ war to the benefit and advantage of American world conquest.

This danger demanded the alliance of all patriotic Germans, with the aim of foiling America’s attack against the existence of our nation. We raised the banner of our national liberation-struggle in the name of our living rights:

Unity, Peace, Independence, and Prosperity!

In the three years which have since passed, our Party has tirelessly and without faltering carried on a policy whose principles were, are, and shall remain:

To place the interests of the Nation above everything else; to advance a national policy which is consistent from beginning to end, a policy whose yardstick and justification is the Nation, a policy that always and only commits itself to the Nation and puts it first at every moment, because it represents the safeguarding of the rights of our German Volk2 just as decisively as it respects the rights of other peoples.

Therefore, the 3rd Party Congress of 18 June, 1951 in Leipzig ratifies the following with the votes of all delegates: Continue reading

Goebbels on the German Revolution

Joseph Goebbels’s article on the German Revolution, the “most bloodless in world history” – i.e. the 1933 National Socialist seizure of power

mjolnir_posterAn accusation commonly leveled against National Socialism (particularly by those on the Left, both during the inter-War era and today) is that it was a “reactionary” movement and ideology. Some of the critiques made in this regard – i.e that it sought a restoration of the Hohenzollerns – are rather silly. Others – such as it being in favor of the financial status quo, rather than being truly anti-capitalist – require a more nuanced examination and produce less clear-cut answers. Whatever the reality, the National Socialists in Germany certainly regarded themselves as a revolutionary movement and took this claim seriously. Hitler in 1923 had created dissension early on within the inter-state National Socialist movement through his insistence on armed revolution as the only legitimate means of achieving power. Even after he dropped this position following the failure of his subsequent Beer Hall Putsch, a revolutionary idealism remained within the NSDAP and increasingly came to dominate the older National Socialist parties across the border. Hitler’s newfound commitment to legality after 1923 was tactical, not ideological, borne partly from necessity and partly from a desire to build up popular support. Violence as an option was still maintained quietly in reserve, as he made clear in Mein Kampf: “…we will not shun illegal means if the oppressor also applies them.” Either way, legal or illegal, the result of the Party’s tactics was still also intended to be the same: the complete, revolutionary transformation of German society. In Hitler’s famous September 1930 speech at the ‘Ulm Reichswehr Trial’, he claimed that the NSDAP’s aim was the “spiritual revolutionizing of the German Volk” in order that the German people might “construct a completely new state” upon the Party’s attaining power. Very similar sentiments are expressed by Goebbels in a short June 1933 essay from the Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte, translated below. He paints Hitler’s ascension to the Chancellorship and the formation of the ‘National Government’ as part of a revolutionary process – the culmination of years of struggle producing “the most bloodless [revolution] in world history” (a popular Nazi claim) and, consequently, a new state driven by a revolutionary Idea which will “conquer all areas of public life in order to integrate them with and subordinate them to its spirit.” Goebbels’s article was published in the same edition of the NS-Monatshefte as this piece on the German Revolution by Röhm. The two complement each other, although Röhm’s is in some ways even more explicitly radical.

The German Revolution
Joseph Goebbels, Reichsminister
for Public Enlightement and Propaganda

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First published in Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte, vol. 4, no. 39, June 1933

The conditions of that world-historical January night,1 whose course of events seized the entirety of a suffering, tormented Volk down to their utmost depths and filled them with new faith and new hope, did not come about by coincidence. Within and behind them lies the great, dynamic principle of a political movement whose countenance bears revolutionary features. A movement which – like all truly creative forces in history – is gradually outgrowing the confinement of the smallest of anonymous beginnings, is rising to the daunting tasks which it seeks to fulfill, and, refined through hard years of persecution and the terror of its opponents, is organically, inexorably, and irrevocably interposing its influence in the great matters of public life. At the end of its path, the breadth and impact of which is determined by the revolutionary drive of its adherents, lies that time when it now seizes the heavy responsibility of state authorities, the time of new powers and new men who provide the structure of the political system with that form which corresponds to its own internal legitimacy.

Revolutions are spiritual acts. They take place initially within people themselves, and then within the manifestations of art, politics, and economy. The upheaval which we can witness today first occurred within the spirit of this movement. Out of its new stylistic sensibility, its creative power, grew the legitimacy of the German Revolution. With its victory it matured to the state principle. Continue reading