Back to the Walter Benjamin Research Syndicate Homepage
The Nazi Behemoth:
Book Review of Franz Neumann's
Behemoth: The Structure and Function of National Socialism 1933-1944
by C.Wright Mills
From Power, Politics & People: The Collected Essays of C.Wright Mills, ed. Irving Louis Horowitz, London, Oxford, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967, pp. 170-178. Originally published in Partisan Review, September, October 1942. Copyright, 1942, by Partisan Review.
Franz Neumann's book is at once a definitive analysis of the German Reich and a basic contribution to the social sciences. No book could be both these things and not contain political directives. In looking closely at one complex object, Neumann reveals in sensitive outline many features of all modern social structure. He has that knack of generalized description that describes more than its immediate object; and he sees many things in that object, Germany since 1918, as "the specific working out of a general trend." To lift his style of analysis above the mere depictive and into understanding he pauses in a concrete portrayal to present a typology of possibilities. For example, of the revelations of a state to a party in any one -party system, of the relations of a state to a party in any one-party system, of kinds of imperialism, of the relations between banking and industrial capital, or of political patterns vis-à-vis the Reich and the various sections of her empire. Almost a third of Neumann's sentences are comparatively informed, and when he uses history, as in the reweaving of the rope of charismatic legitimations, he always comes up to face the day before yesterday now more clearly understood.
When events move very fast and possible worlds swing around them, something happens to the quality of thinking. Some men repeat formulae; some men become reporters. To time observation with thought so as to mate a decent level of abstraction with crucial happenings is a difficult problem. Its solution lies in the using of intellectual residues of social-history, not jettisoning them except in precise confrontation with events.
Franz Neumann's book represents the best tradition of the social sciences in Germany, which came to full stature during the twenties. He looks down a neo-Marxist slant further subtilized by Max Weber's distinctions and deepened by a sociologically oriented psychiatry. His thinking is thus sensitively geared to great structureal shifts and to happenings in the human mind.
Such reporting as his book accomplishes is of central facts tied down by the best documentation available. And there is no repeating of formulae in it: Marx may bear a nineteenth-century trademark in some matters, but, as Neumann again makes clear by a fresh intellectual act, the technique the elements, and the drive of his thinking is more than ever relevant, and right now. There are so many who have "forgotten" what they once half understood and who take the easy ways out that it is downright refreshing to experience a book which displays a really analytic heritage with perception and with craftsmanship.
Neumann's Germany is a type of capitalism; he calls it "totalitarian monopolistic capitalism." Those who would deny this characterization are forced by Neumann's study (a) to do some tall (and narrow) defining of "capitalism" which can be justified against his careful usage of the term, and/or (b) to deny the thoroughly documented and, it seems to me, determining facts which Neumann has drawn together concerning the operation of the basic institutions of capitalism in Germany.
One of the generic errors of those who do not see the German economy as capitalistic is Marx's view that capitalism is an anarchy of production. Of course, as Max Weber contended, modern Western capitalism is nothing of the sort. It is rationalized and planned. The more monopolization continues, the more capitalism is controlled and planned. "States" have interfered less in the mechanisms of laissez-faire than have monopoly capitalists. Many of those who would deny the advantages of capitalism to Germany do so within a definition of pre-twentieth century capitalism. However much this may help along the pleasant attitudes held of capitalism in other countries, it is not fair to the capitalists of Germany. They are not so old-fashioned as those who talk about their demise. And they are not so unhistorical.
To define "capitalism" as consisting of the "free competition" of a large number of independent entrepreneurs with freedom of contract and trade is, of course, to speak of the past. A more enduring trait, and therefore one better fitted to be seized upon in a definition, is the major institution of modern society: private property in the means of production. Now rapid technological change, requiring heavy investments, further augments the gobbling up of the little by the big and this monopolization eventuates in an extremely rigid economic structure. Powerful corporations demand guarantees and subsidies from the state. Thus, in the era of monopolization "the administrative act" and not "the contract" becomes "the auxiliary guarantee of property." Intervention becomes central, and: "who is to interfere and on whose behalf becomes the most important question for modern society." In Germany, as seen by Neumann, National Socialism has tied the economic organization into the web of "industrial combinations run by the industrial magnates." By means of the newer implementation of property, the administrative command, the cartellization of German business has proceeded rapidly. The Nazis saved the cartel system, whose rigidities were sorely beset by the depression. Since then their policies have consistently resulted in a further monopolization into the orbit of the big corporations. The cartels and the political authority have been welded together in such a way that private hands perform such crucial politico-economic tasks as the allocation of raw materials.
But who runs the giant cartels? Behind cartellization there has occurred a centralizing trend which has left power decisions and profits in the lap of the industrial magnates, realized many an old dream not shared by the now regimented workers or the small business men now virtually eliminated. The dreams come true in Germany may well be those of the industrial condottiere everywhere. Among specific Nazi politics which have implemented this oligarchification of capitalism is Aryanization: Jewish property expropriated has not gone to the "State," but to industrialists such as Otto Wolff and Mannesmann. (Apart from the Jewish case, there is a definite trend away from any thought of genuine nationalization.) The power of such industrial combines has also been augmented by the "Germanization" of business in conquered territories. The "Continental Oil Corporation" of Berlin is predominantly composed of the most important German banks and oil corporations. Heavy industry in Lorraine was equitably distributed----among five German combines. More important than these processes has been the industrial revolution in chemistry, subsidized by the State, but deriving its dynamic from capitalism, and rendering power to giant combines in the same way that all property in the means of production confers power, but more brutally. The hard outlines of the cartel powers are further confimed by the near assimilation of finance capital by the monopolists of industrial capital.
Neumann has shown that profit motives hold the economic machinery of the Reich together. But given its present monopoly form, capitalism demands the stabilizing support of a total political power. Having full access to and grip upon such power is the distinctive advantage of German capitalism. Profits in a situation of great demand and with plant expansion improving the competitive position and thereby profits---this is the motivating force of the set-up. Gottfried Feder is quite dead. Those who, in the face of Neumann's documentation, would accept Feder's "anticapitalist" mumbling as a true characterization of Germany have many facts to deny.
And they must give an explanation of her belated imperialist war: Any thesis about Germany which does not explain her adventurous role in the war is inadequate. Such explanation cannot be performed by modern curse words (outmoded psychiatry), nor by the finger smugly pointed at bad gangs out for "power," nor by reference to merely formal growth of "bureaucracies." It requires attention tothe economic structure and its political apparatus that lead dynamically into war. Neumann has not resolved this problem with the subtlety which he undoubtedly commands, but the type of characterization he offers of Germany seems to me the only one so far available which not only allows an explanation but which already has the job three-quarters done. Germany's expansion is the result of the dynamics of a younger monopolized capitalism in a situation where trade and investments can only be conquered by political means. Neumann has established in detail that this imperialism is primarily the policy of industrial leadership and the outcome of the internal antagonisms of the German capitalist economy. "It is the aggressive, imperialist, expansionist spirit of German big business unhampered by consideration for small competitors, for the middle classes, free from control by the banks, delivered from the pressure of trade unions, which is the motivating force of the economic system." This does not mean, however, that every element in Germany is a "tool" of industrial magnates.
For the problem of elites is not identical with that of the socio-economic structure, however much the two are linked in a going concern. There are four elite elements dominating Germany today. Monopoly of the means of production and of the means of violence sustain them. And each of them has its bureaucracy. Power lies within and between these four groups. All influential decisions must be understood with primary reference to them; all propaganda is to be understood in terms of their needs to control, conjure, and mask the attentions of the ruled classes from the consequences of their decisions. Power in Germany is deposited with monopoly capitalists, especially in the heavily industrial sectors; the Nazi Party; the state bureaucracy; and the armed forces.
These are the rulers and the rest are the ruled, but these form at times an uneasy front, and the ruled may well be watching carefully. From these four angles, interests, anchored in the entire social structure but especially in violence and production, coalesce into the central aim: continual preparation and maintenance of imperialist war. To grasp this clearly is to see the structure of the regime as a total thing, called Behemoth.
War gives National Socialism not only glory but a stabilization of its power; to industry it gives profits, conquers foreign markets and accumulates booty capital. Neumann sees the bureaucracy, relatively unchanged by the Nazi conquest of power, marching with the victorious. This may be doubtful, but certainly the army has gotten "everything it wanted." In the trade policy, as well as in war, if we may so distinguish, the political and economic elites see eye to eye. Here there is an identity of interests and aims among the divisions of the ruling class. The Nazi elite have further consolidated themselves, as have managers, by climbing via political power into the ownership of heavy industry. The Herman Goering Works, which might well make capitalists everywhere envious, is the grandiose example of this process. "Political power without. . . a solid place in industrial production is precarious." Thus do economic men die. The Nazis used the knowledge and ruthlessness possessed by big industry; big industry used the antidemocracy, antiunionism, and violence of the Nazis. They are not too unhappy together.
In contrast with the profits and the self-manned organizations of business, labor's wages are near-stabilized, and it has no organizations of its own. From 1932-1938 wages and salaries rose 66 per cent, whereas "other income" rose 146 per cent; at the same time production nearly doubled. Neumann's experience with labor organizations in Germany make his detailed statement of the conditions of labor and of labor policy definitive. The labor market is authoritatively controlled to the limit of human recalcitrance. The working class is regimented and fragmented in order to prevent any common basis for movements, and the individual workman is isolated and terrorized. The "interference" of the party and the "State" in "economics" has again helped old dreams to come true. Not only has the prevailing class structure been accepted; in the process of the ruling elites' consolidation, it has been riveted and clinched from the upper side.
The army with its close ties to industrial and agrarian capital would seem to be a further bulwark against any attempt of the party or state to move against capitalism. Profits for capitalists, prestiged positions in the army for their sons; power and prestige for the army---these elements coincide as the system runs into war. Himmler, the party in general, has by no means succeeded in gaining jurisdiction over the army. The uneasy and often indefinite balance of power between the four elites is counter-balanced by the antagonisms which beset the system and lend to the elites a total fear of the working class. Again the analysis is pointed to explain war.
Just as the basic outline of the political and economic structure is teased out from the legal and doctrinal verbiage, so are the ideologies of the regime explained in terms of the composition and developmental trends of the social structure and its various strata. Ideologies and social structure are seen conjointly, which is the only way to see either in accurate and telling focus. For in some situations nothing that is said can be taken at its face value, and it is more important to know meanings than to test for truth. Indeed, the way to political reality is through ideological analysis. This is the way that Neumann has taken, and this is why his account of Nazi ideology is at times definitive and always interesting. His account of the blending of geopolitics and international law to form a "Germanic Monroe Doctrine" is a model for such analysis. If this particular style of imputation is intellectually too brutal, it stands in fortunate contrast to Rauschnigg, de Sales, Vierick, and others who have not controlled their understanding of Nazi proclamations, ideas, and policies by careful reference to their anchorage in the evolving features of the political-economic structure.
Ideas are political cloaks. The ideology of Gemeinschaft, e.g., masks the impersonality of a rationalized society. Those academic sociologists who in American silos learn from a "primary-group" society, take note: Jefferson died in 1826. As human relations become impersonal by virtue of bureaucratic intervention, the ideologies of "community" and of "leadership" have been imposed. In a similar contradiction Neumann shows that as the political power of the state has increased, the doctrine of the totalitarian state has been rejected by Nazi intellectuals.
Anti-Semitism has its economic functions which work conjointly with propagandistic uses: it aids monopolitization by distributing spoils to industrial capitalists whose support is vital, it diverts the discontent of small Aryan businessmen, and attempts to satisfy the anti-capitalist feeling of those areas of the masses who want wholesale expropriation. Thus, anti-Semitism operates as a surrogate for class struggle by heaping hatred upon one "enemy"; in the same act it seeks to "unify" the Aryan community.
The manner in which Nazi doctrine is shaped by the need to ensnare various strata is neatly illustrated by its inclusion of perverted Marxist elements. "Proletarian racism" stands as a strategical surrogate for "proletariat;" nationalist war against capitalism, for "class struggle;" "people's community," for "classless society," and so on. Thus has the Marxist May Day become a national holiday.
Neumann's style of imputation systematically accomplishes two objectives: it makes possible a controlled understanding of doctrinal formulations by referring them to political crises and social structure; and it enables an ingenous use of changes in ideology in detecting which strata of the population was not ensnared by the previous line. The Nazi line has changed frequently.
The analysis of Behemoth casts light upon capitalism in democracies. To the most important task of political analysis Neumann has contributed: if you read his book thoroughly, you see the harsh outlines of possible futures close around you. With leftwing thought confused and split and dribbling trivialities, he locates the enemy with a 500 watt glare. And Nazi is only one of his names.
Not only does acceptance or rejection of Neumann's analysis set the type of understanding we have of Germany, it sets our attitude toward given elements in other countries, sights the act of our allegiance, places limits upon our political aspirations: helps us locate the enemy all over the world. That is why Franz Neumann's book is not only the most important to appear about Germany; it is a live contribution to all leftwing thinking today. His book will move all of us into deper levels of analysis and stragegy. It had better. Behemoth is everywhere united.
The Franz Neumann Project:
Beyond the Behemoth
Toward a Radical Reassessment of
the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
"NATO does not suggest what North Atlantic Treaty Organization says, namely a treaty among the nations on the North-Atlantic--- in which case one might ask questions about the membership of Greece and Turkey."
---Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (1964)
Return to the Walter Benjamin Research Syndicate home page