GERMAN CAPITALISM adapted itself to Nazi rule with a minimum of fuss and bother. This is hardly surprising, since Adolf Hitler and his National Socialists were the capitalists’ best defence against the Communist Party of Germany – the political force which frightened Germany’s ruling-class the most. So long as the critical cultural and scientific infrastructure of Germany’s economic system remained intact, its capitalists neither criticised, nor resisted (to any significant degree) the Nazi regime’s monstrous crimes.
The question raised by German capitalism’s close collaboration with the Nazis nevertheless remains a troubling one. Was its amorality peculiar to the German people, or is a willingness to set aside moral considerations a feature baked into all capitalist systems – including our own?
In spite of their name, and especially after Hitler and the SS had purged its Stormtrooper militia of all those who took the socialist half of National Socialism seriously, the Nazi regime would prove to be a powerfully reinvigorating tonic for a capitalist system brought to its knees by the Great Depression. The full-scale rearmament of Germany, crucial to the Nazi project of securing “living space” in the east, reduced unemployment dramatically, lifted the living-standards of the ordinary German worker, and restored capitalist profitability – all with astonishing speed.
With the outbreak of war, especially its extension to the Soviet Union, and following Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States, German capitalism’s adaptation to the realities of global conflict involved it increasingly in activities of unprecedented human depravity. Not only were German capitalists forced to accept slave labour as indispensable to the maintenance of the Third Reich’s war production, but they were also required to involve themselves in determining the most efficient methods for keeping their slaves alive and working, and for how long.
Paradoxically, the necessity of boosting war production forced German capitalism to become vastly more efficient than it had been in the pre-war years. In Germany, as in the United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain, mass production and the economies of scale rationalised industrial production in ways that would force the world’s most powerful states to shape the “peace” of the post-war world in conformity with the needs of what came to be known as “Military Keynesianism”.
Following Germany’s surrender in 1945, American capitalists were keen to “compare notes” with their German equivalents. All agreed that while the need to fill the depleted ranks of the Wehrmacht with more and more German workers made the use of first, women, and then slaves, unavoidable; forced labour in the context of complex industrial processes was grossly inefficient.
Not that these inefficiencies prevented the I.G. Farben industrial conglomerate from establishing a vast synthetic rubber production plant on the outskirts of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Now in the territory of the Polish Republic, the plant’s successor operation remains in production to this day – one of the largest such facilities in the European Union.
Capitalism, like the cockroach, is infinitely adaptable – and very hard to kill.
Which raises the question of how New Zealand capitalism (and foreign-owned capitalist enterprises operating in New Zealand) are likely to react to a fundamental cultural and political power-shift from Pakeha to Māori – as envisioned in the He Puapua Report of 2019. Would such a radical and racially-charged re-constitution of the New Zealand state prompt capitalist resistance, or would New Zealand’s capitalists, like their German counterparts of the 1930s, simply adapt themselves, and their businesses, to the requirements of the new regime?
The first point to acknowledge is that German capitalists, regardless of their personal feelings towards the Nazis, were, as a class, in broad sympathy with their objectives. Reassured by Hitler that the “socialist” part of national socialism should not be taken seriously, the leaders of German industry and finance poured money into the Nazi Party’s coffers, and endured the street violence and antisemitism of its brownshirts as an unfortunate political necessity. Not only did Nazism hold out the promise of rising profits, but it was also in sympathy, culturally and politically, with the most powerful elements of German society.
Can the same be said of the most powerful elements of New Zealand society? Broadly speaking, the answer is Yes.
The creation of neo-tribal capitalism, via the Treaty settlement process, beginning under the National Party in the early 1990s, was welcomed by New Zealand’s leading capitalists as infinitely preferable to the radical politicisation of a Māori working-class immiserated by Rogernomics and Ruthanasia. A Māori “renaissance”, guided by traditional iwi leaders working hand-in-glove with the Crown, was containable. An angry cultural “revolution”, fuelled by poverty, and sweeping up poor Pakeha in its wake, was not.
The Māori and Pakeha urban poor, united in pursuit of a bi-cultural and socialist Aotearoa has been the New Zealand capitalists worst nightmare ever since their own, neoliberal, revolution in the mid-1980s. Just as the Communist Party of Germany terrified the German ruling-class, a flax-roots alliance of the brown/white poor, is what New Zealand capitalism has always feared the most.
That is why neo-tribal capitalism and the He Puapua prescription are political manna from heaven for Pakeha capitalism. The deep cultural, social and political divisions which the co-governance project is bound to stir up is the perfect prophylactic against the horizontal unity engendered by a flax-roots rebellion of the poor (of all colours) against the rich (of all colours). The deep, deep cynicism of the Crown is almost admirable. To forestall a revolt from below – led by the Māori working-class – it first summoned into existence a neo-tribal capitalist Māori elite, and then joined hands with it to keep the poor in check.
As the machinery of repression is rolled into place in advance of this new, undemocratic – but te Tiriti affirming – Aotearoa, New Zealand capitalists will hold themselves aloof from all the violence directed against the “racist settler” resistance. They may wince at the shutdown of dissenting media, and shake their heads sadly as the “wrong sort” of parties are proscribed, and defiant democratic resisters are carted off to jail, but, like their German counterparts in 1933, they will not lift a finger to save “New Zealand”. Like the Weimar Republic before it, the good and the bad of the doomed “Settler State” will be swept into the dustbin of history.
Aotearoan capitalism, however, now a proudly bi-cultural affair, will survive – and prosper.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 30 August 2022.