Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi economy UK edition Penguin Allen Lane (2006) 800 pages

In 1939 for the second time in a generation, Germany launched Europe into a war that shook the global order to its foundations. The story of Hitler’s aggression has been told and retold since that moment. Wages of Destruction offers a new way of understanding Hitler’s aggression as a reaction to a world historic shift – the rise of the United States as the looming hegemon of the twentieth century. For Germans of Hitler’s generation, the dominance of the Anglo-American coalition had revealed itself starkly in World War I. Hitler’s anti-Semitic conspiracy theory was a direct reaction to the double shock of the victory of the Western powers and the collapse of Russia into Bolshevik revolution. With liberalism’s worldwide power triumphant, National Socialism mounted a bid to unseat liberal hegemony before it became completely dominant. To launch that insurgent challenge Hitler’s regime undertook a military and economic mobilization of extraordinary scale, the greatest and most rapid mobilization of resources in peacetime the capitalist world had ever seen. Wages of Destruction is the history of that dramatic mobilization effort. Over the arc from 1933 to 1945 it traces how Hitler’s vision of an epic racial struggle, to be waged in the form of World War II, transformed every aspect of the German economy, how the tensions unleashed by that mobilization shaped the most fundamental decision making of the regime, and how that war economy was eventually brought crashing down.

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Ongoing Research

Wages of Destruction was based on pioneering archival research into the German armaments economy. The data collected in the course of those investigations are summarized in an unpublished working paper, “Arming the Reich” available here along with tables here. Please do not cite without permission.

Awards and Press

Wages of Destruction won both the Longman History Today and Wolfson prizes for history in 2006. It was on the book of the year lists of both the Financial Times and the Economist. It has been translated into more than 10 languages.

Since Wages of Destruction offers a materialist analysis of Nazi Germany – albeit one that ends up emphasizing the irreducible autonomy of political ideology – it is of particular interest for Marxist historians and historical social scientist. Wages was the subject of a discussion forum in the journal of Historical Materialism volume 22 3-4 (2014).

The forum involved a spirited discussed with some of the leading exponents of that school. My response to the forum – “The sense of a vacuum” – is available here.

Other Publications

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