Hitler’s Welfare State

Hitler, as every schoolboy ought to know, made no revolution, political, economic, or social. He left the old establishment in its entrenched positions in the economy, army, and the state. He erected, at the side of the old establishment, a new, predominantly middle-class, Nazi establishment, with its own bureaucracies, armies, even its own economic enterprises. He corralled the working man by smashing his economic and political organizations, and subordinating him to the joint authority of his employer and the new Nazi Labor Front. He then coordinated and mobilized the whole into that predatory and dynamic warfare society whose glorious national mission—the subjugation and exploitation of non-German (or, rather, “non-Aryan”) populations—was to become the cornerstone of Hitler’s grand design and the substitute for the revolution he never made.

We now know that Hitler came to power with the help of bankers, industrialists, and Junker politicians, on the understanding that he would convert the mass of the population to the “national” cause. He had already captured about a third of the population, and it seemed likely that he could win all of it. The old elites expected him to “discipline” the political parties, “tame” the unions, throw out the “Marxists” (which meant social democrats as well as communists), and build up a powerful military-industrial machine to get Germany moving again.

All of this of course strongly suggests counter-revolution and class interest. But Dr. Schoenbaum will have none of it. In his view, it was a revolution, although a novel one, in which class interest played very little part. For if it were a matter of class interest, his argument runs, how are we to explain the fact that Bosch, a prominent industrialist, eventually opposed Hider, that Fritz Thyssen fled Germany, that Krupp did not finance Hitler before 1933? But there are perfectly good answers to this argument: there is hardly another major industrialist to be placed beside Bosch—most of them stayed with the Führer; Thyssen, who had been one of the first to finance Hitler, did leave Germany, but not until 1939; as for Krupp, he had been a sponsoring member of the SS as early as 1931.

Still, if this was not a revolution, it wasn’t precisely a counter-revolution either, certainly not merely a counterrevolution. The old establishment remained, but it had little power. The magnates who thought that they had “hired” Hitler soon discovered that they had collaborated with him. They had in fact entered into a fluid, ill-defined partnership in which Hitler quickly made himself the senior partner and eventually the undisputed boss.

What began as a cynical but comparatively sedate marriage de convenance ended up as a wild joint venture in mass destruction, far wilder and far more destructive than the plotters among the old elites had bargained for. They had hoped, many of them, for something like the comparatively static fascism of Mussolini. Some had even dreamed of a monarchical fascism under a restored Kaiser (Thyssen was among those dreamers). But they had miscalculated. They found themselves…

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