One cannot understand the history of the 20th century without understanding the role played in world events 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.)
In his text about I.G., Ambruster sets 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 and political shills. Many names of the combatants on both sides are important and, for older and better-educated readers, familiar.
On the floor of Congress, California Representative Jerry Voorhis waged a valiant, eloquent and, ultimately, unsuccessful fight to bring Farben to heel. After failing to subdue the dragon of I.G. Farben, Voorhis was defeated for reelection by an up-and-coming California Republican—Richard Milhous Nixon. Helping to preserve a state of “business as usual” for Farben on both sides of the Atlantic was John J. McCloy, eventually the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, head of Rockefeller’s Chase Manhattan Bank and a key member of the Warren Commission that covered up the assassination of President Kennedy.
Treason’s Peace is a vivid, remarkable illustration of the workings of great corporate power both in the United States and abroad. It is must reading for any serious student of political economics and the dynamics of contemporary globalization.