Announcing the introduction of tariffs on steel and aluminium recently, Donald Trump declared that “A strong steel and aluminum industry are vital to our national security — absolutely vital. Steel is steel, you don’t have steel you don’t have a country.” He also said that the steel tariffs are necessary because the US economy has been “ravaged by aggressive foreign trade practices. It’s really an assault on our country.”
The conflation of steel companies and steel production with national security has a history. Indeed, its history has been entirely about linking steel companies with the preservation of the (white) nation and the aim of eliminating ‘foreign competition.’ both metaphorically and all-too literally.
In 1933, some two months after Hitler was made Chancellor, in a speech to the Nationalsozialistische Betriebszellenorganisation (NSBO) Hermann Göring asked the assembled audience: “would you rather have butter or guns? Shall we bring in lard, or iron ores? I tell you, being prepared makes us powerful. Butter only makes us fat!” Most iron ore, of course, is used in the production of steel.
Göring is also credited with declaring, circa 1934 in a Hamburg speech, that “Steel has always made a nation strong, butter and lard have a people fat” (Erz hat stets ein Reich stark gemacht, Butter und Schmalz haben höchstens ein Volk fett gemacht).
It was Göring’s speeches that John Heartfield quoted and pilloried in his 1935 montage “Hurrah, die Butter ist alle! (Hurrah, There’s No Butter Left!).” [more below]
In 1936, the German National Socialist Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels continued the point, announcing that “We can do without butter, but, despite all our love of peace, not without arms. One cannot shoot with butter, but with guns.”
By 1940, the metaphorical and literal association of the Nazi government with steel production had become widespread. A speech by a Gauleiter of the National Socialist Teachers’ League (NSLB) included this: “As the Führer said: ‘In our eyes, the German youth of the future must be tall and slim, fast as the greyhound, tough as leather, and as hard as Krupp steel’.”
The Krupps were an immensely wealthy dynasty that supported the Nazis, dominated the German steel industry, took over steel works in territories occupied by the Nazis, and used concentration camps as a source of slave labor (around 100,000 people, or a third of the Krupp workforce at the time). After the war, Alfried Krupp was convicted for crimes against humanity (the use of slave labor and plunder) at the Nuremberg trials, but the US issued him with an amnesty in 1951.
As mentioned, Göring’s initial speech was to the Nationalsozialistische Betriebszellenorganisation. The NSBO was the National Socialist Party’s workers’ wing, translated: National Socialist Factory Cells Organization. The speech is an insight into the collocation of nationalism and socialism on the ground of racial productivism. Goring, at least, was clear enough about what distinguishes National Socialism from communism: “You must make clear to the former Marxist or communist that work is no curse, but rather a blessing.” His speech concluded: “My people’s comrades, you are used to working, and therefore in the coming days there is but one slogan: work, work, and still more work for our people, and for our fatherland that must be rebuilt. Get to work, and may God bless our labors!”
As is well-known, the words “Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes Free)” were arced above the entry to Auschwitz.
The Krupp slave labor factory was the largest of all the factories attached to Auschwitz.