The infamous ‘Hugenberg Memorandum’, presented by nationalist politician Alfred Hugenberg at the 1933 World Economic Conference, London
The untitled document below, commonly known as the ‘Hugenberg Memorandum’, was first disseminated by German-National politician Alfred Hugenberg on 16 June, 1933, at the World Economic Conference in London. Hugenberg, with his solidly middle-class Prussian background, his massive media empire, and his web of financial ties to German heavy industry, might seem an unlikely candidate for inclusion on this blog. As an old Pan-German and a leading figure within the bourgeois-nationalist German National People’s Party (DNVP), Hugenberg was typically viewed by communists, socialists, and national-revolutionaries alike as an ossified, backwards-looking reactionary. Yet despite his stolid conservatism, Hugenberg in many respects still represented a particularly radical tendency in German economic thought. Like many Pan-Germans, Hugenberg was an advocate of autarchy as a solution to Germany’s economic woes, promoting vigorous protectionism for German produce, a strict quota system on agricultural imports, wide-ranging debt relief for farmers, and a gigantic expansion of domestic markets by retaking Germany’s African colonies and by ‘clearing’ Slavic land to the east for ‘settlement’. Through Franz von Papen’s influence, Hugenberg in 1933 had been awarded multiple influential positions within the new Hitler Government, finally affording him the opportunity to fulfill his dream as Germany’s “savior from economic misery.” It was for this reason that he insisted on presenting the below memorandum on his personal economic vision to the Economic Conference, despite horrified protestations from other members of the German delegation. The result was disastrous. The Hitler Government at the time was still only months old, and was desperately trying to present a picture of moderation and conciliation to other nations, who viewed the still poorly-armed ‘New Germany’ with deep suspicion. Hugenberg’s memorandum criticizing foreign investment and claiming that the world’s recovery from the Great Depression could only come about through Germany being granted colonial territories in Africa and a free hand to seize land to the east was deeply embarrassing to the government, who were forced to declare that Hugenberg’s statements did not represent official policy. Hugenberg, alienated among his colleagues and with his political reputation in tatters, was left with little choice but to resign from the Hitler cabinet, and by the end of the month the DNVP too ended up being pressured to dissolve itself and to merge into the NSDAP. The text of Hugenberg’s memorandum is reproduced in full below, in part because it represents an excellent example of the radical economic worldview embodied in Pan-German ideology, and in part because of its historical value: histories of the Third Reich and the DNVP commonly reference the document, but very rarely provide substantial quotes from it to inform their readers, much less reproduce it in full.
The ‘Hugenberg Memorandum’
Reichsminister for Economics, Reichsminister for Food and Agriculture
LONDON, June 14, 1933
In my homeland the Westphalians and the Frisians are considered to be among the tribes which are least diplomatic and most rustic, blunt, and stubborn. I am a cross between these two tribes. You must therefore have the great kindness to overlook it as a hereditary fault of mind if you do not like everything I say.
Given the situation in which my country finds itself it is impossible for me to try to skip lightly over the gulf of deep problems which are agitating not only us Germans but to an increasing extent the entire Western world, including America. The philosopher1 who entitled a well-known book Decline of the West thereby pointed prophetically to a danger which appears as a dark storm cloud on the horizon of the world. The government of the country in which this book was written many years ago is today, under the leadership of Reichschancellor Adolf Hitler, fighting the battle against this decline of the West. The esteemed President of this Conference, Mr. MacDonald,2 has described this danger in other words but with all desirable clarity as follows: “The world is drifting toward a state in which life revolts against hardship and the gains of the past are swept away by forces of despair.”3 In the sense of this struggle there is a family of nations. Those that belong to it are basically permeated with this feeling: We do not want to lose the courage and the spirit of our forefathers; nor do we want to let ourselves be exterminated by the subhumanity [Untermenschentum] growing up in our own nations. Continue reading