Pierpaolo Barbieri. Hitler's Shadow Empire: Nazi Economics and the Spanish Civil War. Cambridge/MA.: Harvard University Press, 2015. 349 S. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-674-72885-1.
Reviewed by Fernando Mendiola
Published on H-Soz-u-Kult (July, 2016)
P. Barbieri: Hitler's Shadow Empire
Before all else, Pierpaolo Barbieri’s gaze has produced an interesting book, containing abundant historical documentation and written in a polished prose, that tackles an essential aspect for understanding the outcome of the Spanish civil war: the reasons, importance and economic consequences of the aid that Nazi Germany provided to the armed forces in Spain that rebelled against the II Republic to implant a new fascist regime: Franco’s dictatorship.
To this end, Barbieri sets out a global analysis of the economic relations between Nazi Germany and Francoist Spain from the start of the civil war. He starts from a central thesis according to which the key motive for the Nazi aid to the Francoist side was an attempt to establish an informal empire on the European periphery. This informal empire would provide a cheap and reliable source of some of the main raw materials needed by German industry, while at the same time guaranteeing markets for its industrial production that was experiencing rapid growth. This is the main idea of the book, an idea that is explained in a reiterated and convincing way throughout a narrative in which there is a confluence of two evolutions that the author argues are key to understanding how Spain became part of Hitler’s empire in the shadows.
On the one hand, Barbieri dedicates a large part of his proposal to tracing the intellectual foundations of the economic policy of Nazi Germany in Spain. For this purpose he employs a quasi-biographical analysis which traces the career of the architect of the Germany economic recovery under Nazism, the minister and director of the Bundesbank: Hjalmar Schacht. Irrespective of the support Schacht gave to Hitler’s rearmament plans and his development of financial engineering that enabled colossal public expenditure to take place without generating an inflationary spiral, Barbieri insists time and again in his analysis that this economist’s strategy was not the development of a formal empire. Instead it was to establish advantageous trade alliances that would solve some of the structural problems of the German economy, such as the provision of raw materials. This overall strategy found a favourable place for development in Spain thanks to the outbreak of the civil war.
On the other hand, the second object of analysis of this book is precisely the outbreak of the war and the subsequent need of armaments of those who rebelled against the II Republic. In this respect, Barbieri rightly underscores the importance of the businessman and Nazi party member Johannes Bernhardt, and his role as the main bridge between Franco and Hitler, as well as in founding two business conglomerates (HIMSA and ROWAK) that managed and coordinated Hispano-German trade. Barbieri also traces the attempts, promoted by Göring in Germany and developed by Bernhardt, which aimed to obtain increasing control over the ownership and management of mining companies, at times at the cost of British capital.
These two pivotal ideas, the German need for raw materials and the Francoist need for arms, are the tracks along which Barbieri’s discourse advances, and they form the basis for explaining his central thesis. Without doubt, there are other elements that deserve attention, such as the comparison of the German economic strategy in Spain and that developed by Franco’s other great ally, Mussolini’s Italy (chapter 7), or the change of conjuncture marked by the outbreak and subsequent development of the World War II (chapter 8). However, in spite of their interest, I believe it to be more interesting to focus on the book’s central theses and to raise some questions that can help us to discuss the author’s interpretation.
In the first place, it is necessary to point out that the book’s opening chapter presents Spain and the civil war making use on several occasions of old clichés drawn from a historiography that has in part been surpassed, mainly, but not only, regarding the latest research on the strategies and use of political violence in the months preceding the coup d’état Eduardo González Calleja, La historiografía sobre la violencia política en la Segunda República española: una reconsideración, in: Hispania Nova: Revista de Historia Contemporánea 11 (2013). or the difference between the repressive processes unleashed in the rear-guards of the two sides. Amongst others, see Francisco Espinosa, Violencia roja y azul. España, 1936–1950, Barcelona 2010; Paul Preston, The Spanish Holocaust, London 2012. Evidently, although these shortcomings do not affect the subsequent development of Barbieri’s theses, the book lacks the recent contributions of historiography on Spain in those years, contributions that improve on the clichés that are reproduced in chapter 1.
In the second place, in spite of Barbieri’s presenting his book as a new contribution, the reality is that the greater part of the data he presents in chapter 7, which deals with Spain’s inclusion in that informal empire (with what that implies for the mechanisms of payment for aid and the reorientation of Spanish foreign trade towards Germany), had already been made known years ago by Leitz Christian Leitz, Economic Relations between Nazi Germany and Franco’s Spain, 1936–1945, Oxford 1996. and García Pérez Rafael García Pérez, Franquismo y tercer Reich: las relaciones económicas hispano-alemanas durante la segunda guerra mundial, Barcelona 2010. , authors cited by Barbieri in support of his affirmations. In addition, there is a noticeable absence of references to the monumental and exhaustive work of Sánchez Asiaín José Ángel Sánchez Asiaín, La financiación de la Guerra Civil Española: una aproximación histórica, Barcelona 2012. on the financial aspects of the war or to the study by Martínez Ruiz Elena Martínez Ruiz, Guerra Civil, comercio y capital extranjero: el sector exterior de la economía española (1936–1939), in: Estudios de historia económica 49 (2006), pp. –105. on foreign trade during the war. In spite of that, Barbieri presents the data in a clear and solid way, with the result that the book, and that chapter especially, are a very useful explanation of the way that Germany was able to obtain raw materials, basically minerals, from Spain at good prices throughout the war.
A third question, not free from historiographical controversy, is related to the German motives for helping Franco. In this respect, the book is also – and perhaps above all – an interesting and solid biography on the intellectual and political trajectory of the helmsman of the German economy, Hjalmar Schacht. Chapters 3 and 4 and later sections are dedicated to these questions. The logic of the intervention in Spain is presented as the materialisation of Schacht’s ideas on the informal empire. However, facing debates such as the primacy of economic questions over other political or geostrategic questions, Barbieri’s argument, which is set out emphatically and coherently, does not provide conclusive proofs. In fact, it is not clear to the reader, just as it is unclear in the greater part of the historiography on Nazi Germany, whether the attempt, promoted by Schacht, to create an empire in the shadows and the option of an imperial advance that would satisfy the theoreticians of Lebensraum, were as mutually exclusive as this book makes out. Especially since one of the promoters of the latter line was Göring, who controlled the conditions of the German military aid to Franco. In this sense, the doubt that arises facing Barbieri’s argument is not whether Hitler tried to develop an empire in the shadows (it is clear that he did, and not only in the Spanish case), but whether that empire in the shadows was posed as an alternative to the creation of a formal empire or as a complement to this. In fact, the opposition to starting the war in the East of Europe was often marked more by questions of opportuneness and the conjuncture (also in Göring’s case in 1938) than by any questioning of such a war; this has been pointed out by Adam Tooze Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction. The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy, London 2006, pp. 268–269. , amongst others.
In short, what we have is a very well written and complete book that sets out its arguments clearly. It correctly synthesises the characteristics of the economic relationship between Nazi Germany and Francoist Spain, and opens up interesting debates on the reasons and consequences of that collaboration. All of this is certainly less than what Barbieri’s claims for the book in his introduction, but it is more than sufficient as a recommendation that the book should be read and its arguments debated.
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Fernando Mendiola. Review of Barbieri, Pierpaolo, Hitler's Shadow Empire: Nazi Economics and the Spanish Civil War.
H-Soz-u-Kult, H-Net Reviews.
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