Slavery and mechanization

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Jul 28 11:26:25 MDT 2003

Journal of Agrarian Change, Vol. 3 No. 3, July 2003

Plantation Slavery and Economic Development in the Antebellum Southern 
United States


By contrast, capitalists can reduce the size of their labour force to 
adapt new, labour-saving machinery in response to changing competitive 
pressures simply by laying off their ‘redundant’ workers and expanding 
the size of the reserve army of labour. Having consumed their capacity 
to work for a specified period of time, the capitalists no longer have 
any obligation to their former workers who are ‘free’ to compete with 
one another to find other buyers for their labour power. In sum, while 
capitalists have and do attempt to intensify the labour of wage workers 
through speed-up and lengthening working hours, the most effective means 
of increasing output and reducing costs – the mechanization of 
production – is available to capitalists, but not to slave-owners.


Michael Thad Allen. The Business of Genocide: The SS, Slave Labor, and 
the Concentration Camps. Chapel Hill and London: University of North 
Carolina Press, 2002. xii + 375 pp. Illustrations, map, notes, 
bibliography, index. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-8078-2677-4.

Reviewed by L. M. Stallbaumer-Beishline, Department of History, 
Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.

Allen's study focuses on activities of the WVHA, which was formed out of 
a desire by Himmler to introduce modern, managerial practices to the 
financial administration and economic enterprises of the SS. Himmler's 
interests in the economy reflected his goal to bring the SS worldview 
into private industry and to create a new economic order founded on 
productivism and German racial supremacy...

Against the backdrop of how the WVHA emerged and functioned, Allen 
examines the careers of several men in the commercial and engineering 
sectors of the SS economic administration. He convincingly illustrates 
that the SS mid-level managers were driven by a "plexus of ideologies." 
They were neither cogs in a machine, nor trapped in a bureaucratic "iron 
cage," nor banal technocrats. Allen finds that the commercial pursuits 
of the SS were far less successful than the construction engineers. He 
explains the differences in outcome may be due to the engineers' ability 
to combine technical knowledge with ideological commitment. This becomes 
obvious when we compare Allen's study of DESt, TexLed (Textil- und 
Lederverwertung GmbH, Textile and Leather Utilitzation Ltd), and Hans 
Kammler's SS construction corps.


TexLed's success can be explained by several factors, including the 
simple fact that textile manufacturing is a labor intensive job which 
proved perfectly suited to the use of concentration camp laborers. Yet 
sound management also contributed to TexLed's ability to meet supply 
demands and run at a profit. TexLed was managed by Fritz Lechler and 
Felix Krug, who fully identified with the SS plexus of ideologies, and 
they possessed modern, technological management skills. Like Ahrens, 
they purchased the most modern sewing machines that could increase 
output, but did not require skilled laborers. Therefore, their 
operations fully exploited concentration camp labor through modern 
managerial techniques, controlled labor costs, and profit-oriented 
operations. At both German commercial operations, forced laborers were 
exploited and treated cruelly (a topic that is discussed only briefly), 
but TexLed demonstrated to Allen that "ideological extremism" and 
business sense could be integrated coherently (p. 70).



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