by Josiah DuBois
1952, The Beacon Press, 374 pages
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Like Ambruster’s Treason’s Peace, Josiah DuBois’s The Devil’s Chemists highlights how the I.G. Farben chemical firm manipulated trade relationships to the advantage of the Third Reich. In addition, the book illustrates how corporations, businessmen and politicians beholden unto the firm’s non-German cartel partners assisted that manipulation, as well as the postwar rehabilitation and exoneration of both I.G. and its most important personnel. Those personnel are the primary focus of Josiah Du Bois’s The Devil’s Chemists. In addition, DuBois emphasizes the damage done to America’s international credibility by its postwar preservation of I.G. Farben and other Axis/fascist cartels.
One cannot understand the history of the 20th century without understanding the role played in world events of the time by the I.G. Farben company, the chemical cartel that grew out of the German dyestuffs industry. Comprising some of the most important individual companies in the history of industrial capitalism, the firm has dominated the dyestuffs, chemical and pharmaceutical industries before and during World War II. The companies that grew out of I.G.’s official dissolution after the war—Bayer, Hoechst, BASF, and Agfa continued to be decisive in world markets. Among the many products developed by I.G. or its member companies are aspirin, heroin, Novocain, methadone (originally named Dolophine in honor of Adolph Hitler) and Zyklon B (the poison gas used in the extermination centers of World War II.)
Both the Ambruster and DuBois texts set forth the international scope and economic impact of the company, its role as the spine of the industrial war-making economy of the Third Reich and the firm’s elevation of Hitler to his position of power. As one observer noted, “Hitler was Farben and Farben was Hitler.” Much of the impact that the company wielded derived from its international dominance of the chemical, rubber, petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries through its cartel arrangements with partner firms in other countries. Farben’s foreign counterparts had much to do with letting the company and its executives—many of them war criminals of the first order—off the hook after World War II.
Farben’s cartel partners abroad constituted an inventory of the wealthiest and most powerful corporations in the world. In the United States, the major firms with which Farben did business included: Du Pont, the Standard Oil companies, General Motors, Ford Motor Company, Union Carbide, Dow Chemical and Texaco. In turn, these corporate giants wielded controlling political influence in the United States through the elected and appointed officials in their sway. Attempts at reducing Farben’s influence in the United States before and during World War II, as well as efforts at holding the company and its top executives to account for their crimes after the war were neutralized by the cartel’s corporate hirelings. Many of names of the combatants on both sides are important and, to older and better-educated readers, familiar. Farben exerted a profound influence in other countries as well.
Behind the actions of many world figures prominent in the mid-20th century, we can observe the effects of their relationship to I.G. As discussed in The Nazis Go Underground, Neville Chamberlain was a major stockholder in Imperial Chemicals, I.G.’s major cartel partner in the United Kingdom. Chamberlain’s “weakness” in the Munich summit with Hitler assumes a different light when evaluated against his holdings in Imperial. In Falange, Alan Chase describes Wilhelm von Faupel, the prime mover behind the establishment of the Spanish Falange and its international component, the Falange Exterior. Faupel derived much of his considerable influence within the Third Reich from his status as an “I.G. General.”
In The Devil’s Chemists, DuBois details the war crimes trials of key I.G. personnel and, in so doing, illustrates the pernicious nature of the cartel system Farben embodied and successfully, ruthlessly exploited. On page “x” of the preface, DuBois explains:
“ . . . In condensing 150 large volumes of testimony within one average-size book, a great deal of material has necessarily been eliminated. Nevertheless, I believe that every significant aspect of this historic criminal trial has been brought to the attention of the reader. . . .”
DuBois relates how “anti-Communism” was used to mask and exonerate the I.G. defendants who are the focal point of the book. On page 355, DuBois writes:
“ . . . Yet the two judges accepted the fiction that Farben was the simple prototype of ‘Western Capitalism.’ By implication, this placed the Ter Meers and Schmitzes alongside the stockholders and directors of many international firms whose policies sometimes stood out clearly against war. . . . This commercial stereotype reached its greatest exaggeration in the case of Max Ilgner. The Tribunal rewrote into innocence even the aggressive deeds he admitted, raising the clear implication that any society could be filled with such men with no danger whatever to the peace of the world. Having been sentenced to three years for plundering Ilgner was given credit for the time he had spent in jail and was released immediately after the judgment was read. . . .”
Published in 1952, the DuBois text reflects the anxiety provoked in the West by the German “Ostpolitik” that is the primary focus of T.H. Tetens’ Germany Plots with the Kremlin. Noting blossoming German trade with the former Soviet Union in the early 1950’s, as well as the proposals by some German political figures to assume a position of neutrality, many observers pushed to appease the residual Reich elements at every opportunity. Many in positions of influence in the United States felt that the possibility that Germany might align itself with the USSR mandated a Carte Blanche attitude on the part of the US diplomacy.
DuBois discusses one of the most serious outgrowths of the preservation of the cartels in Japan and Germany and the Cold War policy of establishing right-wing “bulwark” states to guard against the spread of communism. Preserving the dominance of fascist economic interests alienated those who had suffered under the yoke of Axis occupation.
“ . . . In the Far East, as well as in Europe, the United States has backed other totalitarian-minded groups [in addition to the I.G.] as a ‘bulwark’ against communism. By the end of World War II, the peoples of China, Korea, Indo-China, and the Philippines had suffered for years under the ‘New Order for Asia’ sponsored by the Japanese equivalent of Farben, the Zaibatsu cartels. These cartels by force of arms won a stranglehold on the economies of these countries. Instead of rebuilding the Far East generally as fast as we could, we have peddled the fear that Russia would rob and plunder the people, while at the same time we backed the very forces which had already robbed and plundered them. The Zaibatsu cartels are as strong as ever. In Indo-China, we have backed the collaborators of the ‘Japanese New Order.’ In South Korea, faced with a variety of truly democratic choices, we backed Syngman Rhee and the few landowners and cotton millers who had cast their lot with the ‘New Order’ gang. . . . Can we expect millions of former vassals in Asia to rally around their erstwhile totalitarian oppressors? Can we rally Europe solely around the fear of Soviet enslavement while we deliberately sustain the forces which twice in recent history have enslaved that continent? On the answer to these questions depends our survival.”
Indeed. (For more about the restitution of the Zaibatsus, see FTRs 290, 426.)
Like the Ambruster, Martin Manning, and Borkin & Welsh texts, The Devil’s Chemists provides a window into a realm of corporate political economics that continues to wield a decisive role in world affairs.
by Josiah DuBois