I. The German industrial economy in the past
1. Both technologically and scientifically, the German industrial economy peaked between 1918 and 1945. At that time, it could stand up to every comparison with the economies of other countries. This was also true of mining. The most compelling evidence of the technological and scientific heights reached by German industry can be found in statements by foreign statesmen and by newspapers describing the enormous value of the German patents and secret production processes they confiscated. They explain that German science, technology, and industry was in the lead in many areas.
2. There were many grave flaws in the relationship between the German industrial economy and the state, on the one hand, and the people and individual employees, on the other. Here, it is important to realize that many sectors of Germany’s industrial economy were publicly owned before 1933, when there was a transition to a disguised state socialism: this affected nearly all the railways, including the local and streetcar lines, the post office, the telegraph network, broadcasting, gas and water companies, most electric power stations, a large portion of mining in the British Zone, and all of mining in the Saar region.
The cooperative system was also highly developed in all sectors of the German economy, including the financial system. The influence of non-profit organizations was considerable in the financial and banking sector thanks to the Reichsbank, the Staatsbank, regional banks, and savings bank associations. This was also true of the insurance industry due to state and regional insurers.
Yet there were also severe defects in key industries and in the important sectors of mining. The period following 1933 saw the emergence of powerful industrial conglomerates that functioned as monopolies. Their operations became opaque to the public, and they eluded public control. Even if, with a few exceptions such as Krupp, stock ownership of the major industrial corporations was broadly distributed, the composition of the supervisory and management boards was determined by a relatively small circle of men because the shareholders, though large in number, were represented by a limited number of banks. As a result, those belonging to this narrow circle representing the major banks and large industrial conglomerates wielded far too much economic and political power.
Prior to 1933, the relationship between the employee and his company was beginning to develop in a way that took the interests of the employee into account. By 1933, however, this development had not yet come to satisfactory fruition. Between 1933 and 1945, the larger industrial companies were in effect, if not in name, state owned. The Nazi state retained for itself the right to remove, without further ado, any senior executives that resisted it politically or economically. It awarded contracts and allocated raw materials and workers accordingly. It also fixed prices, set wages, and so on.
Employees were powerless in dealings with their companies. There was no such thing as wage movements, wage increases, the chance to switch jobs, or the right to participate in company management [Mitspracherecht]. A disguised state socialism existed on a large scale.