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Fascism and the Economy, Corporations, and Totalitarianism (5:24)

Germany

Hitler jumpstarted Germany’s weak economy by building public works with deficit spending. To employ Germans and move troops easily, Hitler had the autobahn built. Working with corporations, Hitler abolished the unions. He enforced conformity and punished free speech.

Complete Video Script

Inheriting a German economy suffering from the Great Depression including an unemployment rate of nearly 30 percent, Hitler quickly turned to improving the economy. He accelerated the previous government's policy of large public works and infrastructure projects financed with deficit spending. As a result, employment increased dramatically from 1933 to 1936.

Georg: The Autobahn is probably the best-known example — the highway construction program of Adolf Hitler — that gave a lot of jobs to people.

Andreas: The Autobahn was actually invented before the Nazis — one or two years before that, but the Nazis accelerated the construction of the Autobahn to bring Germany to a more modern age.

Georg: They didn't have the money. It was all financed on credits — on a future war.

Andreas: Of course, these Autobahns were empty, because until the war started hardly anybody could afford the cars.

Despite this new focus on jobs, and the German worker, the Nazis had no use for labor unions.

Holger: Well, fascism basically hates everything communist — or "Bolshevik," as they called it — so they would not like trade unions. They were not within the frame of the fascist movement.

Andreas: And so, what the Nazis did one year into their government, they declared May Day a holiday for the first time; the unions celebrated…and the next day, when they were hung over, more or less, they smashed the unions.

They replaced the now-abolished unions with the Nazi Party–controlled German Labor Front, which all workers had to join. Hitler spent large amounts of state money on a comprehensive state welfare program called the "National Socialist People's Welfare." Despite having the term "socialist" in the party name, Hitler was a friend of industry. He privatized many industries, and the corporations that had supported his candidacy continued to back him.

Andreas: Corporations would support the Nazi government of Germany because it was good for their profits.

Holger: I think, you know, bigger corporations — the steel industry in Germany for example was a big one — they were afraid of communism for sure, but they also actually supported Hitler, because it was easier for them to make their business within a stable government.

One German industry that boomed was the auto industry, and one of the world's most famous cars was born during the Nazi era.

Andreas: The VW was the idea that it's an affordable car for everybody, that would then fill these Autobahnen.

With all this economic activity and employment, Hitler reenergized Germany.

Hitler: …weil ich zwei Schichten kannte, den Bauer und den deutschen Arbeiter. ["…because I knew two ranks: the German farmer and the German worker."]

Much of Germany was swept up in Hitler's charismatic vision and the country had a common purpose. Everywhere he went, crowds adored him. Women swooned when his car drove by. In clubs called the "Hitler Youth," boys and girls pledged their allegiance to him.

Andreas: A little boy in 1935, when he looked at Hitler, he would see a god-like person. He was somebody who would elevate the German people; he would elevate the people of this boy to become the perfect master race running the planet.

Hitler became known by a new title that meant he was their leader, their Führer.

Holger: He coined the phrase himself, the Führer, the leader, as also establishing himself as a bit of new god for Germany. So, he was not part of democracy anymore — he was a god-like figure.

Georg: A fascist system needs a Führer. It's the big hero. It's a saint. It's the one and only [figure] people believe in.

Andreas: He has the vision for everybody and the others will follow him.

Andreas: Fascists believed in a fascist system — you can unite everybody that believes in the system. And it will be a strong — a powerful — system that can achieve complicated goals.

Georg: The idea about fascism is to have a big community that all operates exactly the same way, and to have a common opinion that covers all.

Holger: There was one phrase that was called "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer" — "one people, one empire, one leader." Full stop.

But there was a dark side to all this Nazi conformity. Individuality was lost.

Georg: Individualism doesn't even exist in fascism. It doesn't exist in any aspect. It doesn't exist in art, it doesn't exist in lectures at university, it doesn't exist in newspapers, in [the] press…

Holger: Individuality was something that was deemed unfit for a German, basically, so what mattered was the Volksgemeinschaft — the society; the common denominator of the German people.

Georg: All people who tried to make it any different in their private life, in their professions, in the way to express their opinions — they all had to be stopped.