“Social and economic policies in authoritarian states did not always achieve their aims.” Discuss with reference to one authoritarian state.

 From the November 2018Paper 2 IBDP History exam

The assertion that social and economic policies in authoritarian states did not always achieve their aims invariably invites a broad spectrum of viewpoints, diverse interpretations and judicious appraisals of a variety of historical phenomena. This essay will critically examine this proposition within the context of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, with a specific focus on Germany between 1933 to 1945. Recognising the dichotomy between policy aspirations and realities, the examination will encompass both the social and economic dimensions of Hitler's regime, gauging the extent of their success and the consequences thereof. The discourse will engage with various scholarly arguments, such as those of Ian Kershaw, Richard J. Evans, and Richard Overy, to illuminate and critique the complexities of Hitler's Germany. 

The social policies of the Third Reich were vast, encompassing spheres as diverse as education, culture, racial policy, and the restructuring of German society according to the principles of the 'Volksgemeinschaft'. The Volksgeimenschaft, meaning 'people's community', was Hitler's vision of a unified, racially pure German state. Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) sought to create this idealised community by propagating anti-Semitic ideologies, inculcating a sense of German racial superiority, and meticulously designing social engineering policies to this end. These aspirations were encapsulated in the implementation of various policy measures, including the Nuremberg Laws and the Hitler Youth Program. Hitler's control over the educational system was an attempt to consolidate his vision of the 'Volksgemeinschaft'. This objective was pursued with rigorous enforcement, as every aspect of education was permeated by Nazi ideology. Textbooks were re-written to incorporate Nazi racial theories, teachers who refused to join the Nazi Party were dismissed, and youth organisations like the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls were made compulsory. These measures were designed to inculcate Nazi ideology and prepare German youth for their respective roles within the Volksgemeinschaft. Kershaw posits that the success of these social policies is debatable. While he acknowledges that Hitler's Germany succeeded in achieving an unprecedented level of ideological saturation, he highlights that the degree of consensus among the German population is harder to gauge. It remains debatable to what extent Hitler's vision of the 'Volksgemeinschaft' was fully internalised by the German population. Indeed, Kershaw suggests that many Germans may have conformed outwardly while privately rejecting Nazi ideals. Evans echoes this viewpoint, noting that the effectiveness of these social policies was limited by covert resistance and passive non-compliance. For instance, he highlights that despite compulsory attendance, many German youth rebelled against the Hitler Youth and formed independent groups like the Edelweiss Pirates and the Swing Youth. Racial policies, another cornerstone of Hitler's social strategies, also witnessed partial success. The Nuremberg Laws, for instance, successfully marginalised Jews within German society, restricting their rights and steadily eroding their economic and social status. However, the ultimate objective of these policies - the complete extermination of Jews - was not fully achieved, due in part to the intervention of the Allied forces. 

 Economically, Hitler's Germany witnessed a period of rapid recovery from the dire economic conditions of the Weimar Republic. Through measures such as public works projects, militarisation, and autarky, Hitler aimed to rid Germany of the scourge of unemployment, stimulate economic growth, and make Germany self-sufficient and war-ready. However, like the social policies, the economic policies also had their shortcomings and unintended consequences. Hitler's public works projects, such as the construction of autobahns and infrastructure, the introduction of the KdF (Strength through Joy) car project, and the militarisation of the economy contributed to a dramatic decline in unemployment. By 1939, Germany had nearly achieved full employment, a feat that seemed virtually impossible just six years earlier. However, Evans argues that the figures often cited do not tell the full story. Women, for example, were removed from the employment statistics as part of the Nazi policy to encourage them to leave the workforce and focus on their roles as wives and mothers. Jews, too, were not considered in the employment statistics after their removal from the workforce. Additionally, the focus on rearmament and autarky led to some economic successes but also to significant challenges. While the rearmament drive did stimulate the economy, it also strained Germany's finances and resources. Overy notes that by the late 1930s, Germany was facing a financial crisis due to the unsustainable pace of military spending. Furthermore, the goal of autarky was never fully achieved. Despite attempts to make Germany self-sufficient in food and raw materials, the country remained heavily reliant on imports. Hitler's economic policies, therefore, did not entirely achieve their aims, and the economic recovery was largely predicated on the unsustainable model of aggressive militarisation and flawed autarky policies. 

A deeper examination of the consequences of Hitler's policies reveals a complex and intertwined social and economic landscape. One of the major unintended consequences of Hitler's policies was the mobilisation of women into the workforce. Despite the Nazis' ideological commitment to keeping women out of the workforce and their initial policies encouraging women to focus on motherhood, the demands of a war economy eventually necessitated their active participation in the labour market. This is one instance where social and economic policy objectives clearly conflicted, and the pragmatic needs of the state overrode ideological imperatives. Another area of conflict was between the economic demands of rearmament and the social policy of improving the living standards of the German people. Overy points out that Hitler's ambitious rearmament programme came at the expense of consumer goods industries, leading to shortages and declining living standards. As a result, despite the fall in unemployment and the increase in wages, many Germans did not experience a significant improvement in their standard of living. The same can be said for Hitler's racial policies, which had profound economic implications. The removal of Jews from the workforce and the confiscation of Jewish property may have contributed to the German economy in the short term, but in the long run, it deprived the economy of a valuable pool of skilled labour and entrepreneurial talent. Moreover, the cost of implementing the 'Final Solution', including the construction and operation of concentration and extermination camps, was substantial, further straining Germany's already stretched resources. 

In conclusion, the claim that social and economic policies in Hitler's Germany did not always achieve their aims holds considerable merit. Both Kershaw and Evans note the limited success of social policies in achieving their aims of creating a Volksgemeinschaft and instilling Nazi ideology in the German populace. Similarly, despite some economic successes, Hitler's economic policies, as Overy asserts, faced significant challenges, including unsustainable military spending, incomplete autarky, and the eventual necessity of women's labour. Moreover, the unintended consequences and conflicts between social and economic objectives further complicated the landscape. Thus, while Hitler's regime did manage to achieve some of its aims, it also faced considerable obstacles and inconsistencies, highlighting the often complex and contradictory nature of policy implementation in authoritarian regimes.