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Visions of Utopia: Social Emancipation, Technological Progress, and Anticapitalism in Nazi Inventor Policy, 1933–1945

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 December 2008

Kees Gispen
University of Mississippi


In this paper I would like to relate some of the results of my specialized research on Nazi inventor policy to themes and interpretations with which many students of the Third Reich already are familiar. One of those themes is the relationship between big business and the Nazi state. An influential hypothesis in this area centers on the notion of a “power cartel,” based on the insight that Nazi Germany was not a dictatorship in which all sectors of society were suppressed with equal force. According to the “power-cartel” interpretation, which incorporates elements of the Marxist perspective on the relationship between capitalism and National Socialism, the Third Reich was governed by an informal coalition of the Nazis, the military, and big business. This fundamental idea is then qualified by two additional observations. First, the Nazi movement is broken down into factions comprising the party, Labor Front, and SA on the one hand, and the Gestapo and SS on the other hand. The former are seen to lose power as time went by while that latter gained it, which helps explain the regime's increasing brutality and its accelerating descent into barbarism. Second, the idea of a changing balance of power is also applied to the power cartel as a whole. The point here is to account for the gradual loss of power by the military and big business. Their relatively advantageous positions in the regime’s early years steadily eroded, producing a very different weighting among the cartel’s members by the time World War II ended, without, however, ever completely destroying it.

Copyright © Conference Group for Central European History of the American Historical Association 1999

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1. See, e.g.; Kershaw, Ian, The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, 3d ed. (London, 1993), 5979,Google Scholar and the literature cited there.

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5. Unless noted otherwise, the following remarks are based on the author’s current research. A concise overview of the development of the German patent system can be found in Nirk, Rudolf, “100 Jahre Patentschutz in Deutschland,” in Hundert Jahre Patentamt, ed. Patentamt, Deutsches (Cologne, 1977), 345402.Google Scholar See also the author’s National Socialism and the Technological Culture of the Weimar Republic,” Central European History 25, no. 4 (12, 1992): 387406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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12. See, e.g., Gordon, Thomas and Cookfair, Arthur S., Patent Fundamentals for Scientists and Engineers (Boca Raton, New York, London, Tokyo, 1995).Google Scholar Nations that have modeled their inventor protection legislation on the example that Germany introduced during the Third Reich include Sweden (1949), France (1968), and the United Kingdom (1978). See Neumeyer, Fredrik, The Law on Employed Inventors in Europe (Washington, DC, 1963);Google ScholarPhillips, Jeremy, ed., Employees’ Inventions: A Comparative Study (Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, 1981).Google Scholar

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19. Cf. relevant discussions in the files of the Reich Ministry Justice, Neuregelung des gewerblichen Rechtsschutzes, Bundesarchiv, Abt. Potsdam, nos. 10129–10130.

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21. Karl August Riemschneider, “Empfiehlt sich die Einrichtung von Treuhandstellen zur Förderung von Erfindungen und Patenten? Wie können solche Treuhandstellen wirksam eingerichtet und ausgebaut werden?” memorandum of 23 August 1937, in Deutsches Museum, Bayerischer Polytechnischer Verein/Deutsche Arbeitsfront VIII 290 (1) 2.

22. “Patentgesetz und Wirtschaft,” Völkischer Beobachier (Berlin edition) 26 03 1935, p. 15.Google Scholar

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25. Cf. Gispen, New Profession, Old Order, part III. Also, Meyer-Thurow, Georg, “The Industrialization of Invention: A Case Study from the German Chemical Industry,” Isis 73, no. 268 (09, 1982): 363–81.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

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28. Hitler, Adolf, Mein Kampf, trans. Manheim, Ralph (Boston, 1971), 290.Google Scholar

29. Ibid., 446.

30. Ibid.

31. Barth, Heinrich, “Persönlichkeit und Volksgemeinschaft im Rechte der Erfinder und Erfindungen,” Zeitschrift der Akademie für Deutsches Recht (1935): 823–26.Google Scholar The relevant language by Hitler can be found in Mein Kampf, 443.

32. Mansfeld, Werner, quoted in Berliner-Börsen-Zeitung 374 (10 08 1942),Google Scholar Bundesarchiv Koblenz, Neue Reichskanzlei, R43, II, 1559, Bl. 115.

33. See note 20.

34. On trends in inventing, see, for example, Staudt, Erich et al. , Der Arbeitnehmer im betrieblichen Innovationsprozess: Ergebnisse einer empirischen Untersuchung (Berichte aus der angewandten Innovationsforschung, study no. 78) (Bochum, 1990);Google Scholar Commission of the European Communities, Directorate-General: Telecommunications, Information Industries and Innovation, ed., One Century of Technical Progress: Based on an Analysis of German Patent Statistics, by Slama, J. (Luxemburg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 1987).Google Scholar

35. Ludwig, Technik und Ingenieure, 149, 179.

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37. Suggestions to this effect in Staudt, Der Arbeitnehmer; König, Wolfgang and Weber, Wolfhard, Netzwerke Stahl und Strom 1840 bis 1914 (Berlin, 1990);Google ScholarKönig, Wolfgang, Ingenieurausbildung, Ingenieurberuf, und Konstruktionstechnik in Grossbritannien, den USA, Frankreich, und Deutschland seit der Industrialisierung: Ein vergleichender Essay (Berlin, 1990);Google ScholarStokes, Raymond, “Technology and the West German Wirtschaftswunder,Technology and Culture 32 (01 1991): 122;CrossRefGoogle ScholarNeumeyer, Fredrik, The Law of Employed Inventors and Culture in Europe, study no. 30 of the Subcommittee on Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights of the Committee on the Judiciary, 87th Congr., 2nd sess. (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1963);Google ScholarOrkin, Neal, “The Legal Rights of the Employed Inventor: New Approaches to Old Problems,Journal of the Patent Office Society 56, no. 10 (10 1974): 648–62,Google Scholar and no. 11 (November 1974): 719–45; idem, “Innovation: Motivation: and Orkinomics,” Patent World (May 1987): 34: Orkin, Neal and Strohfeldt, Mathis, “Arbn Erf G—the Answer or the Anathema?” Managing Intellectual Property (10 1992): 2832;Google ScholarGrefermann, Klaus, “Patentwesen und technischer Fortschritt,” in Hundert Jahre Patentamt, 3764;Google ScholarPrahl, Klaus, Patentschuntz und Wettbewerg (Göttingen, 1969).Google Scholar

38. Phillips, Employees’ Inventions: Gordon and Cookfair, Patent Fundamentals; the articles by Orkin and Orkin and Strohfeldt mentioned in note 37; Steele, J. Rodman Jr, Is This My Reward? An Employee’s Struggle for Fairness in the Corporate Exploitation of His Inventions (West Palm Beach, 1968).Google Scholar See also Noble, David, America By Design: Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism (New York, 1977), chap. 6.Google Scholar